Closed and Contradicted

Contradicted

One of the more difficult things about debating with many atheists is the very practical self-contradiction of certain positions they can take[1].  For example, I posted several months ago about someone who argued that “Only an idiot believes that things which cannot be/aren’t proved to exist are facts[2]”  and more recently a gentleman who I have debated with on my last post has argued on his blog “If something is 100% truth then it is not scientifically testable, thus not true. We can only say that things are 99.9(repeating)% truth, but not completely true[3].”  Now, one must ask very simply, how does he know that what he is saying is true?  He seems to say it with the authority of an agreed upon reality, but it is a reality which does not live up to its own test.

In other words, is his statement verifiable only to the point of 99.9(repeating)%?  Has his statement been shown to be consistently true through repeated independent experimentation?  Is there some doubt in his mind that, if further evidence appeared, we might find that his statement is untrue?

The answer, of course, is “no” to all of these questions.  The reason is that the statement “if something is 100% truth, then it is not scientifically testable, thus not true” is not a scientific statement.  It is a philosophical statement.  It has philosophical assumptions that it rests on, like “truth can only be gotten at by scientific means.”  Of course this is a self-contradictory philosophical statement, for it does not rest on scientific experimentation.  It thus fails its own rigorous standards.

This assumption and philosophical position is rampant throughout much atheistic debate.  And it reflects a move to subsume all human knowledge under the rule of scientific discovery.  But there is a category confusion here, as human knowledge is composed of two elements, pieces of information (premises), and the relationships between each piece of information (conclusions).  Now, science can give us new pieces of information, but the relationships between those pieces are left to logic.  And, as much as atheists claim “rationality” as their watchword, they have fallen into a very obvious and illogical blunder by attempting to subsume the logical connections under the rule of the pieces of information.  But this simply will not stand.

For it is only by the laws of logic that we see how things relate, and only by building on apriori truths that we can know anything at all.  Now, by arguing that “the only truth worth knowing is scientific truth” they are in fact obeying the basic laws of logic by asserting an a priori truth, one which is not assailable by any outside means.  However, we need not assail it by outside means, as it destroys itself internally by invalidating itself as a philosophical position.  If all philosophical positions are invalid, as they cannot prove themselves scientifically, so then too is the position that all philosophical positions are invalid.

So as to not be accused of a lack of rigor, let us simply state the argument in its most basic form.

1.  Truth can only be attained through scientific means

2.  Statement 1 is not attainable by scientific means

Conclusion:  Statement 1 is not true, and is self contradictory.

The basic pattern follows for all self contradictory statements:

1.  Only x is true.

2.  Statement 1 is not x.

Conclusion:  1 is not true, and is self contradictory.

This also follows for the basic structure of the negation of all truth:

1.  No statements are true.

2.  Statement 1 is a statement

Conclusion: Statement 1 is not true, and is self contradictory.

That this should not be obvious to anyone arguing for the “rational” position is shocking.  That they do not readily admit to it is not.  For to admit that their view of “worthwhile truth” is itself merely a philosophy (and a self-contradictory one at that) will remove the mystique that what they are doing is SCIENCE, that word that carries with it so much weight in the modern world.  They pass off as professional science done well what is actually amateur philosophy done poorly.

And this is the reason why science can never be sufficient for human purpose.  It is a category of facts, not truth.  Truth belongs to the realm of logic, not experimentation.  Now this too is an a priori position.  However, we can see very clearly that it is not self contradictory, as the statement “truth may be gotten by logical means” is not self-defeating.  It does not prove itself to be true, of course.  And we should point out that there are many positions like this that we fundamentally disagree with.

1.   Josh is the only person who can be right.

2.   Josh is the one who claims statement 1.

3.  Claim 1 is not self contradictory.

The reasoning may be valid here, but anyone knows that the reasoning is not sound.  So the point is not that “truth comes through logic” must be true, but that it is not self-contradictory where the opposite is self contradictory.  And since those are the only two possibilities, we conclude that “truth comes through logic” must be true, because its opposite is self-contradictory.

There seem to be two stances that a skeptic can take here.

1.  “Truth comes from logic, that’s fine.  But logic is incredibly unreliable at delivering that truth, so let’s rely on something else.”  The problem is, once more, how do you know?  You would have to argue from experience here, but that is very shaky ground for a skeptic.  Experience can be falsified.  And if we concede that logic is unreliable at delivering truth (which I do not actually concede), then how can we rely on it to tell us that science is the reliable source of information?

2.  A skeptic might argue that we need to show some evidence that this is the case.  We need not, in fact.  The reason we need not is because we accept that truth can come from logical means, not merely from factual evidence.  We can maintain this without evidence, but with logical certitude without self contradiction.  They however, cannot even say “I will not believe it without scientific evidence because only scientific evidence is truth” because the “because” that connects “I will not believe it without scientific evidence” and “only scientific evidence is truth” is a logical connection, not a scientific connection.

Closed

Now this brings me to the second point of a philosophy based purely on naturalism that insists that no other thing exists.  It can explain everything by means of itself.  This may sound like a positive, but when compared to the other systems that can explain everything, one sees how destructive it is to both rational thought and public discourse.  For the other systems which explain everything by means of themselves are Solipsism and modern Biblical Fundamentalism.

Both a naturalist and a solipsist can explain everything in the universe by means of their own philosophy and make room for no other.  The Solipsist says “I am the only thing that exists, and I, though at my current moment do not know how I am doing it, create all of the sense data that I experience.  Thus, even external verification or lack of verification of my experience is invalid, for it too must come through my senses.  Do you slap me?  I feel it, but that is merely sense data that I am imagining for myself.  Do you tell a different story of an event?  It does not matter, for the event never really happened.”  The naturalist says “you have spiritual experience?  That is really just natural experience.  You have seen miracles?  You are deceived by nature.  You believe historical documents about miracles?  We all know they don’t happen, so once again you are deceived.”

The modern Biblical Fundamentalist does the same when confronted with dinosaur bones or evolution.  They say that the Devil is at work, that God has placed things in the world to test our Biblical faith.  They say that people are deceived by anything other than the Bible.  Their mode of interpreting the Bible explains absolutely everything, and you can say nothing to them to bring them out of the tunnel vision of their monomania.

The closed systems then answer in the same ways, and interestingly enough, with the same paranoid and conspiratorial suspicions.  It is no wonder that paranoia itself is a disorder once diagnosed as a monomania.  If everyone is out to get you, no one, no matter how they tell you that they are not out to get you, can appear as a friend.  No information can come in but that which is filtered through the one single lense that you allow for.

Now what we do with closed systems is first, admit that they might, by logic, be true.  For there is no way to prove them false.  One cannot prove by logic that the outside world does in fact exist.  One cannot prove by science that God or the supernatural exists.  Thus we must admit with all rigor that they are possible systems.  But then, that is as far as we can go with them.  For from their little self-referential positions, they can answer all questions, and they do it in the same way.

They may shout “Yes!  Of course we can answer all questions, that is our point!  You should listen to us!”  But it will not do.  The paranoid person can explain all of your actions as well, sitting in his chair, back to the wall, staring out his window to make sure that “they” aren’t coming for him.  If you say you are a friend, he says you are part of the conspiracy.  If you shake him to get him from his madness, he laughs and says that you have revealed yourself  as part of the plot.  If you can explain all things by a single lens, you really fail to explain anything.

Next, it seems, we should then say about them as Confucious does “Those whose courses are different cannot lay plans for one another.” (Analects 15).  Their course, like the course of a Solipsist, is different.  Their system is closed; they can explain all things without room for other kinds of knowledge.  Our system, however, is open, and makes room for their knowledge, and the knowledge of logic, of experience, and of that special kind of experience called inter-personal experience.

Thus we come to what is an impasse, but it is an impasse between the actually open minded, who accept many sources of information, and the solipsist/naturalist/fundamentalist, who insists on only one piece of information.

Response

There seem to be two ways of responding to this post.  First, a Scientific Naturalist or Positivist might try to argue logically.  This will not do.  They have stated that logic is not useful at getting to truth.  Why then do they insist on using it?  I invite them to stick to their guns, and to argue without logic.  Show me that scientific evidence is a superior source of truth than logic by doing so without logic.  If it really is what they claim, they should be able to show quite easily how this is the case through only evidence.

The problem, of course, is that all argumentation is rooted in logic.  One cannot say “if…then” without using logic.  One cannot say “I answer that…” without logic.  Nor can one even respond without the ground/consequent relationship underlying one’s response.  For the “if…then” of “If I wish to answer, I must respond” or “because I want to show him to be wrong, I will write…” is the ground consequent relationship.  We can see this here.

1.  I wish to answer an argument

2.  To answer an argument I must write/speak the answer

3.  I must then write/speak

All of this happens at such a basic level of human thought that we don’t notice it.  We simply do it.  But that is my point.  You cannot get at truth except by logic.  You can experience things, you can test things, but they do not have “truth” without the logical process that every thought of our minds use.  To show that science is superior, one must somehow stop using logic to how it is inferior to evidence.

The second way is to deny that their system is closed and to accuse theism of a closed system.  This will not work.  For theism allows for unknowns, and allows for doubt.  We allow that information can come from many different sources.  We explain dinosaur bones by science, we explain picnics by way of sunny days and groups of friends, and we explain miracles by way of the supernatural.  We are open to many sources of information.  We utilize all four of Aristotle’s causes, not just one.  And thus our system is open, embracing science, embracing logic, and embracing experience.

In other words, our system is human.


[1] Having argued against the position of fundamentalists myself, I appreciate the frustration they must often feel when arguing against us as well.

[2] http://theologian78.wordpress.com/2011/07/15/truthandtruth/ The current post is an expansion of the ideas contained in this post from last July.

[3] http://garrettspeaks.com/  There is another problem here, of course, other than the one I am going to focus on here in this post.  It is the self-contradiction of the statement “if something is 100% true, it is not true” which equates truth and falsehood with each other.  This is not only an illogical statement, it is also a logically destructive statement, which functions simply and practically the same as the rest of this post indicates the larger philosophical statement does.

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Self Existence

One of the major points of contention between atheism and theism in the modern popular debate, is the question of self-existence, or what theology calls Aseity.  Modern atheists will often critique theists who say that the universe needs to have an origin, but God can exist on God’s own.  The Atheists will often respond that theists give no good reason why God should be able to exist on God’s own, but the universe cannot.  This post is an attempt to explain what is meant by self-existence in its theological usage.

In short, self-existence is the property of a thing that exists and does not depend on any other thing for its existence.  It does not, as might be thought, mean that a thing causes itself to exist.  This would be a logical contradiction.  Instead, a being with self-existence has no cause, and simply exists on its own.  Because it has no cause, it must exist, for when we look for a cause of its existence, there can be none, and therefore no contingency involved in its being.  Thus, if a self-existent being exists, it also necessarily exists.

This should be distinguished from all other things that are not self-existent.  A wombat is composite and caused, and thus might not have existed.  It has its being in the composite parts and the universe that it exists in.  Its being is contingent on its creation in the past.  Thus any of these things might have been different, and therefore is neither self-existent nor does it possess necessary existence.

The concept of self-existence is what traditional theism applies to only one thing, God.  This is because God is believed to be simple, meaning that God is not made up of many different parts.  When we say that God has a mind, and power, and will, we are not saying that God has three different things that are all put together.  We are arguing that God, in God’s own being, is wholly and totally simple such that whatever it is that we call “mind” in God is the same thing that we call “being” which is the same thing that we call “power.”  However, they are not exactly like what we would call mind, being, and power[1].  For the way we define these things is dependent on definitions that exist within our universe.  Mind, power, and being all are categories that we understand as functioning within a physical system.  However, when we say that God has mind, power, and will, we are saying that God is something that we do not know, but that is best described with these terms, for we have no others to terms.

Now, when skeptics propose that the universe could be self-existent, we must be very specific about what we mean.  It seems that there could be two specific meanings to saying the universe is self-existent.

1.  The Material Universe

What some skeptics may mean when they say that the Universe is self existent, is that the whole composite universe of matter and energy, laws, fields, and so on, is itself self existent.  If this is the case, then the universe must be necessary.  But modern physics does not say that the universe is necessary, or at least not the universe defined like this.  Instead, there seems to be a general agreement that the universe as we see it might have been very different if one of a number of different factors had been slightly off, and there is no sense that they must have been the way they were.  As well, any system that involves randomness, which they state that the universe has[2], cannot be necessary as it depends on randomness resulting one way and not another.  Thus we see contingency in the universe when it is defined as the whole composite system.

2.  The Framework of the Universe

What some other skeptics might mean when they say that universe is self existent, is that the basic framework of the Universe is necessary and not contingent.   The very ground of the universe, the laws which determine how things exist, and how they interact, are self-existent.  Now this is far better than saying that the material universe is self-existent.  However, there are some major problems here as well.

First, we would have to postulate that there is in fact only one real law of the universe that defines how everything exists.  If there are multiple laws, we must ask what context they exist in together to interact with the universe.  Do they derive from each other?  If so, then the multiplicity of laws can exist within the context of the first law, and thus we really have only one law, even if we can identify many elements to it[3]. Now this doesn’t seem to be an insurmountable problem, as many physicists appear to be trying to find the one most basic law of the universe, one that unifies Quantum and Newtonian mechanics.

But what does cause a bigger problem is that that one law, or one law with many emanating laws, does not create matter/energy.  The one law determines how matter/energy act and interact, but it does not produce either a context for matter/energy, nor does it produce the matter/energy themselves.  There is no indication that the one law of physics has ever produced a single piece of matter, no indication that it has in fact ever caused anything to happen at all.  It is a descriptor, and the One Law of Physics, if it exists, will simply describe all objects and events in the universe.  For it to have any effect on anything, it must have a universe to work on, it cannot produce it.

Thus we find that even a self existent unified law of the universe, while it could exist, cannot be the origin of the universe…with one possible exception.

If the laws of physics somehow found a way to produce the material universe, we must see that they are outside of the universe.  For they cannot be made of matter or energy, or else they are merely the composite contingent universe we described in section 1.  But if they are neither matter, energy, nor space, nor time (for these are also part of that composite universe), then they are by definition supernatural.  They are outside of the universe in a way that Theists propose that God is.

It is possible that the law behind the universe, the one that determines why things do what they do, is conscious and powerful.  If it were conscious and powerful, it could choose to create matter, and be able to do it.  It could order all things, determine all things, and have the power to create them.  Being conscious, it could choose what laws applied to what objects, and perhaps, sometimes change how the laws apply.  Such a Law would also be a Mind, a mind that stands outside of the universe and determines that it should exist.

But then, this is Theism.


[1] See my previous post on “Beyond Words” to get some idea of what this means.

[2] A dubious assertion.  Instead, it seems that it would be more honest if they said simply “we do not see why these things happen.”

[3] Some may see a connection here between this logic and the logic of begetting and procession in the Trinity.  They would be right to do so.

Beyond Words

One of the major problems in the modern debate between Atheism and Theism is that both the Christians and the Atheists have lost a good understanding of what is called Apophatic Theology.  Apophatic Theology is that theology which insists that we can really say almost nothing about God because all of our language is inadequate to speak about God.  Apophatic Theology says that it is inappropriate to say that “God Exists” because “existence” is a category that we only understand within the confines of our universe.  God is not in the universe, and thus does not fit within the context of this category.  To say that God has a mind is inappropriate because all minds that we know are too small and too material for them to be adequate descriptions of the reality of God’s own self knowledge and knowledge of all other things[1].  To say that God is powerful is wrong, because power as we know it is the application of force within all manner of realms that God is not contained by.

This tradition of Apophatic theology is heavily associated with the mystical tradition of the eastern church.  Theologians and monks who prayed deeply and sought to be drawn into union with God did so because they realized that our words utterly fail us when we try to talk about God.  The greatest theologians, no matter how precise their words, no matter how technical their language, cannot escape the fact that the human mind is, and must, function within the constructs of human thought.  Human thought cannot contain the proper idea of God, because God is prior to human ideas.  Here I do not mean temporally prior, but logically and ontologically prior.  Nothing about God can be properly contained in human thought because human thought is a creation of God, and exists in a far more limited way than God.

Therefore human language is highly inadequate to speak about God in an ultimate sense.  Of course there are modern philosophies that say that human language is highly inadequate to talk about anything at all.  If these philosophies are true (and I don’t think they are) then a mode of communication that is inadequate to talk about cabbages is all the more inadequate to talk about the king of kings.  But we need not think that human language is wholly useless to know that, when we come down to the most rock bottom assertions about God, we do not have the tools to communicate the ultimate realities of a being who transcends our universe.

One might ask, after such a discouraging project as the above paragraphs, why we bother to talk about God at all.  If we cannot get at the real truth, then why are we so adamant about saying things like “God exists” and “God is good” when existence and goodness are, by our own admission, too small to describe God.  One might say that we are conceding ground to the skeptics who say that the “God Hypothesis” is a useless one.  If, they might say, we cannot talk about God, let us stop talking about him.  Problem solved.

First, we should say that those who were most adamant about Apophatic theology were also often some of the greatest Cataphatic Theologians.  “Cataphatic Theology” is the kind of theology that says things like “God is good” where Apophatic theology says things like “God is beyond goodness[2].”  The reason for this is because while Apophatic theologians insist that “God is beyond goodness and being” they also insist that the reality that is beyond those things is far more like them than evil and non-being.  Goodness, though inadequate, is a pointer to God in a way that Evil is most definitely not.  Knowledge, love, peace, mercy, and joy are all inadequate ways of describing God, for the ideas that they convey are limited and created ideas.  But they are all pointers to the unlimited and uncreated reality of God that is in a very real way continuous with them.

Thus peace, as we understand it, is not a big enough idea to describe the unshakable and imperturbable God.  However, peace when it is magnified, exalted, and brought to its uncreated ends, shows itself to be identifiable with God.  This is true for Goodness, being, joy, love, and mercy.  But it is not true for hatred, fear, destruction, and evil.  For when they are expanded, and made transcendent, they are not identifiable with God, they are identifiable with non-entity.  In other words, when peace is made big enough that our word “peace” no longer encompasses it, we say that that transcendent peace is God’s, though we no longer know what to call it.  The same is true for goodness and being and all of the attributes of God.

And for those who wish for a Biblical root for all of this, there are numerous examples of human knowledge failing to describe God well in Scripture.  Paul speaks of a “peace that passes all understanding” (Phil 4:7) and there is of course the well known statement about God whose “ways are higher than [our] ways.” (Is 55:9)  As well, it is important to remember that the highest of all divine revelations is not a statement, or a document, but a man.

What is so important about all of this, is that we must firmly say that there are some things that, when brought to their ultimate and transcendent state, are identifiable with that One who is ultimate and transcendent.  However, there are most definitely things that are not identifiable with God.  God may be “beyond good” in the way that goodness, when elevated beyond our conception of it, is true of God, but God is not “beyond good and evil” in the way that Nietzsche described.  God is beyond good because good is, to the reality of God, what a child’s drawing of the stars is to the real night sky.  God is beyond evil because, being beyond goodness, evil is hateful to God.

Now in our debates with Atheism, we must remember that God is ultimately beyond human predication.  We cannot expect God to be definable in the way that something in nature is definable.  And this is where what Stephen J. Gould calls the “non-overlapping magisteria” comes in.  Science’s job is to tell us about “stuff” in the universe, or about the universe.  God is not “stuff” in the universe.  God is not a “local cause” but a “transcendent cause” that is not compassed by human thought, scientific or logical[3].

Thus when an Atheist asks, as they have several times, “Would you be convinced if science somehow showed that God exists?” the answer must be “no.”   The answer is “no” because the thing is not possible.  Whatever science might show, it cannot encompass God, it cannot prove God.  God cannot be detected in nature, because God is not part of nature.  But neither can God be deduced with logical certainty, because logic does not encompass God.  And this is where revelation comes in.  No one deduces “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth;” it just shows up.  It appears, unlooked-for, and novel.  It is not the answer to a scientific or logical question, it is a lightning bolt from beyond the world.

And this is where I break with some of the more prominent Apologists of the Christian faith.  I do not believe that we can concretely and unavoidably prove God logically or scientifically.  I think that the transcendence of God necessitates this.  The nature of a created order necessitates this.  The thing is too big to prove, too close, to far.

And I think, if we continue to drive people away from the concept of revelation, the concept of personal experience, and into the laboratory, we will find that people will in fact lose their grounds for believing in God.  For it was never in answer to a philosophical question that the “God hypothesis” arrived.  Instead, thoughts came into people’s minds, and words came out of strange and remote places stating new and unlooked-for ideas.  Ideas that had no root in the natural progression of thought that came before them.

And then one idea came to life in a small village, again not looked for in the minds of men and women.  And He dwelt among us to show us what God, whom no idea or theory could encompass, is like.


[1] Even “Knowledge” is an ultimately inappropriate category for what God does, for all of our models of knowledge have to do with data storage, access, and association.  We cannot assume that the utterly simple God stores knowledge, accesses it, and associates it with things.

[2] It should be mentioned there that a thoroughgoing Apophatic Theology will also say that “God is beyond ‘beyondness’” and thus draw God back into the intimate relationship that transcends transcendence.

[3] Here we must say that while God transcends logical bounds, we believe that God is the ground of logic, and thus will not be “illogical” but instead, perhaps, “super-logical” in the sense of transcending what we can deduce.