Sunday, June 10, 2007

a snarky religious post

I usually don't wander into alt.atheism types of arguments, because, to be blunt, I haven't heard a novel argument against atheism is over twenty years. I tend to be of the Dawkins school that views the entire God brouhaha as a way of creating mental blocks in human beings that are used as mini-taboos to block certain patheways of thought. I think, furthermore (and I don't know if this agrees with Dawkins because, um, I've yet to bother to read him) that these tendencies in the human mind probably have had some evolutionary fitness, as people have historically been so predisposed to self-destructive ways that only deep taboos against certain types of behavior have enabled sub-populations to survive. And, as any population geneticist will tell you, a trait that gives even the slightest fitness advantage will rapidly spread throughout the population.

So I tend to think people are hardwired for the possibility of doctrinaire religious thought - though this is hardly a rigorous theory.

In any case, I was pointed by PZ Myers to an excellent article about the semantic differences between the terms "atheist" and "agnostic" by Trevor Burrus. Most of the comments were along the usual lines of thought for atheist, but there was a brave soul who was pushing a doctrinaire Christian line. As an exerise, I decided to tackle his claim. It wanders a bit. Here it goes:


JK Jones:


The laws of logic are universal (absolute, consistent over time from one person to another and one place to another).


Presumably this is true. But we really do not know this to be true. Indeed, as far as I understand modern physics, all of the laws of physics are constrained to only be true when various prerequisites are in place. Or, to put it differently, we can only observe the laws of physics as having existed from a certain point on after the Big Bang.

And those are the laws of physics. While I tend to think that (d(Mathematical Truth)/dt) = 0, it’s not really something that we could ever test.


One example is the law of non-contradiction.


Non-contradiction is an abstraction. It’s not completely clear that it holds for the physical universe, though it certainly appears to.


These universal laws require an explanation.

Uh, why? Where did “require” come from?


A Christian can provided an explanation for the universal laws of logic: an unchanging God upholds them in His being and knowledge.


That’s really not much of an explanation, if I may say so. It just beggars the question about explanation by creating a circular loop. Existence needs explanation, so there must be a God upholding existence. All the questions about the mysteries of existence have merely been shunted off into the blind ally of this “God” fellow. The “God” entity is interesting because no truth claims are made about it and no actual physical existence is postulated about it. Indeed, almost nothing testable about “God” is said at all.

This is not very close to “an explanation” in my book. It’s just a rhetorical trick - a way of stopping arguments. Usually the people who use the God argument block up all sorts of emotional drives with this idea, and can only respond with anger and/or indignation if the area is probed.


You must supply an alternative explanation for the universality of the laws of logic before we can even disagree on any subject.


I think you’re getting way ahead of yourself here. For starters, the “laws of logic” is a field of mathematics. Many people do very good work in this field without ever referring to a Christian God. Why do you think this is the case? Indeed, one of the seminal consequences of 20th century logic was the realization that certain truth claims are independent of well-devised systems of mathematical axioms and their consequences (aka ‘theories’). Indeed, one can describe fairly comprehensible mathematical postulates (e.g. the Continuum Hypothesis) whose truth or falsity is independent of the commonly used axioms of mathematics (aka ’set theory’).

Here is my take on this: people who want to assert something as being true need to first create a framework where the statement can be comprehended, and then they can describe the framework upon which the truth or falsity can be judged. This is a completely different point of departure than what you are doing. From a logical standpoint, you have simply arrogated to yourself your personal theory of comprehensibility (aka ‘the God Hypothesis’) and are now demanding that any competing theory meet your criteria, and, if it doesn’t, your theory must hold the day by default.

Well, that certainly would be a sweet position to have in the world of abstract nonsense, but I haven’t seen anything to grant you such a default position in the universe of hypotheses. To the contrary, I think that, if you want people to believe in your God hypothesis, the heavy lifting is up to you. You are the one making a truth claim about the nature of the universe, after all.


Otherwise, I’ll just continue on with the assumption that logic can only be accounted for by the existence of an unchanging God.


Logic just is. It doesn’t need a God hypothesis to validate its existence, unless one comes to the table making this demand, as you do. Your demand that your God hypothesis be granted equal standing with the “laws of logic” strikes me to be as unjustified as my nutty neighbor’s demand that his sun-worship be given equal status with the “laws of logic”. Neither his Apollonian beliefs nor your Christian beliefs have ever demonstrated any tangible relationship between their truth claims and the “laws of logic”. Indeed, the situation is worse than that, as the “laws of logic” usually make a fair mess of your religious truth claims, when they are applied with vigor.

If the laws of logic do not apply…


Oh, we needn’t worry seriously about that…


…we cannot even have a conversation because no ideas can be communicated.”


So now all communication skills are tied into your pet metaphysical theory. That’s a neat trick!


If the laws of logic do not apply, we cannot evaluate ideas and systems of thought for internal consistency. If the laws of logic do not apply, we cannot even make generalizations about what we perceive.


(Aside: you are granting more permanence to the “laws of logic” than I think is justified. Indeed, my perspective on the nature of thought suggests to me that logical reasoning is far more complex than would be understood by your epistemology. After all, we know via Godel that any finite mathematical theory will necessarily be incomplete. I suspect that the actual truth content of the abstract nonsense which undergirds the universe is far more rich and complex than is implied by your brutish invocation of the “laws of logic”.)


Rational – “pertaining to or attributable to reason or the power of reasoning”


Sure.


Truth – “conformity of assertions to fact or reality”


Agreed.


Both definitions are from The New American Webster Handy College Dictionary.


Yes, Webster was a good West Hartford boy. I prefer his work to the OED, but that is because of my Yankee upbringing.

I’m waiting for the point where the elevation of the Christian God to a supreme place in metaphysics is in any way related to the various claims about epistemology that you have made. I fear I would have to wait for quite some time.

6 comments:

J. K. Jones said...

Whispers,

You are right in saying that the laws of logic are adstract. That is the point. Even abstract laws must be accouted for.

“…people who want to assert something as being true need to first create a framework where the statement can be comprehended, and then they can describe the framework upon which the truth or falsity can be judged.”

That is precisely my point. What is the framework for understanding an universal law of any type in an atheistic universe?

“From a logical standpoint, you have simply arrogated to yourself your personal theory of comprehensibility (aka ‘the God Hypothesis’) and are now demanding that any competing theory meet your criteria, and, if it doesn’t, your theory must hold the day by default.”

Then give me another theory of comprehensibility that explains the universe we live in. It must be logical and coherent.

“Logic just is.”

Right. It is, and it is undeniable. It does require an explaination. What is your explaination for why the laws of logic apply to every situation we find in life? Any situation which can be described by language presupposes the laws of logic.

“After all, we know via Godel that any finite mathematical theory will necessarily be incomplete. I suspect that the actual truth content of the abstract nonsense which undergirds the universe is far more rich and complex than is implied by your brutish invocation of the “laws of logic””

Abstract nonsense? And you accuse my argument of being as “unjustified as my nutty neighbor’s demand that his sun-worship be given equal status with the “laws of logic”.” Let’s stay away from ad hominem please.

Just give me one little explaination for the laws of logic and I will go away. All you have given so far is allot of insults and retoric.

J. K. Jones said...

And thanks for considering me a "brave soul."

whispers said...

Hi JK,

About the term "abstract nonsense", that's not meant to be derogatory. It's just a playful term that mathematicians use to describe the abstract underpinnings of the logical structure of the term. Please don't take it as an insult.

As for the "nutty neighbor", there is a problem with any theistic claim: as an outsider (or, in my case a former insider become an outsider), I need some way to differentiate between one theistic theory and another. I don't, a priori, see a significant difference between the Christian God's truth claims and those of Apollo.

Well, I suppose the chariot of fire seems a bit silly these days, but a hypothetical "reformed Apollonian" could modify the religion to strip it of the most embarrassing, easily rebutted truth claims. Indeed Catholicism has done this to a great extent: heliocentrism used to be dogma, but has been discarded in favor of modern physics.

J. K. Jones said...

Short version:

Islam postulates a god whose idea of morality changes from this world to paradise (e. g. monogamous sex now vs. promiscuous sex with the virgins in paradise). His moral laws change and are not absolute, so His thinking changes.

Judaism postulates a god very much like Christianity’s, but this god does not forgive based on an adequate atonement (The infinite Christ does not pay the penalty for their sins by suffering all of God’s wrath). If he forgives, his standards are not unchanging.

The god of the process theologians and / or open theists changes himself as time goes on (e. g. he learns things about the undetermined future). He cannot then be the ground of anything like the laws of logic, which do not change.

A finite god who came into being (this is really what a person is saying if they say God had a cause) would be ruled out as well. If God came into being, that would be changing. He could not be the ground of the laws of logic because logic requires an unchanging ground.

Deism does not allow for a God who interacts with His world. The laws of logic would have to be inherent in the universe he made. The universe we live in changes constantly, therefore the laws of logic would change with the universe.

Pantheism, the idea that god and the world are the same in their being, also falls short. In this god is all and all is god. The universe shows it changes. The unchanging laws of logic force us to assume that an unchanging God exists, so the universe must be different from God.

Gnosticism’s god is irrational and illogical as defined by most expressions of that religion. However, I realize that not all forms of Gnosticism are alike.

If any of the worldviews that oppose Christianity are true, we have no reason to think that we can have rational discourse. Long versions are available if requested.

I can also make a strong argument that the Bible itself, and its teaching on the subject of religion, has not changed over time. At its conception, the Old Testament has a very highly developed view of theology. But those things deserve posts of their own.

whispers said...

That's really just not making it, JK. All you are doing is cutting down other religious philosophies, without giving any compelling reason why the Christian God should occupy some kind of default position.

J. K. Jones said...

Thank you for clarifying the statements you made earlier that I had taken to be derogatory. I am touchy sometimes.

I am confused, however. You complain that I cannot differentiate my God from other conceptions of god. Then I give a differentiation or two. Then you complain that I am just cutting down others’ conceptions. I seem to be unable to make a satisfactory point.

Two web addresses I would suggest:

http://www.frame-poythress.org/frame_articles/2005Transcendental.htm

http://www.reformed.org/apologetics/index.html?mainframe=/apologetics/why_I_believe_cvt.html

To quote from the first one:

“If the world were nothing but matter, motion, time, and chance, we would have no reason to think that the ideas in our heads told us anything about the real world. Only if a person had designed the world to be known, and the human mind to know it, could knowledge be possible.” – John M. Frame


My best statement of the argument, with other links, is at

http://jkjonesthinks.blogspot.com/2007/06/logic-and-god-3.html

The argument is straightforward. If B is required for A to exist, and A exists, then B must exist.

God exists => logic exists

God establishes logic because that is the way He thinks and that is the way he set up His universe. His being and thinking do not change.

Randomness, convention, and observation of a changing world cannot account for an unchanging standard. Only an unchanging being can. Other religions postulate gods who change their standards.