MANY PEOPLE WOULD RATHER DIE THAN THINK; IN FACT, MOST DO. — BERTRAND RUSSELL

Response to Apologetics V: consciousness, ontology, etc.

In this installment, we will attempt to cover a lot of ground. In the previous post, I covered miracles and how even supposed first-hand accounts of events in which the natural laws of physics are claimed to have been suspended aren’t necessarily credible even today, much less regarding events so far removed from our day and time, much less still events that were first recorded, some of them orally, and then copied and translated unknown numbers of times by priests and the like down through history.

Today, we will deal with Handbook of Christian Apologetics‘ listed arguments from consciousness, the origin of the idea of God and the ontological argument. Time permitting, I will also cover a couple of the remaining points of the authors’ 20 arguments for the existence of God.

Consciousness

Here are four points which put forth the argument from consciousness.

  1. We experience the universe as intelligible. This intelligibility means that the universe is graspable by intelligence.
  2. Either this intelligible universe and the finite minds so well suited to grasp it are the products of intelligence or both intelligibility and intelligence are the products of blind chance.
  3. Not blind chance.
  4. Therefore this intelligible universe and the finite minds so well suited to grasp it are the products of intelligence.

First, a few comments on this train of thought. Just because we are highly intelligent, conscious beings doesn’t give us license, willy-nilly, to assume an even higher being to explain our intelligence, much less a spiritual one. That’s just spiraling back toward an infinite regress. If monkeys had our intelligence (They clearly don’t), they too would have the capacity to know understand the cosmos, life and death and have some idea of their place in the universe, for they would have our ability to learn and cipher and use telescopes. If we suppose that monkeys are as intelligent as humans currently are (And we were markedly less intelligent near the infancy of our species in Africa), would believers be claiming that monkeys too are divinely gifted with their equally high intelligence? Would man, along with monkeys, be granted the spiritual “gift” of eternal life? Further, who’s to say that we are the only species in the universe intelligent enough to grasp our place in the world? As I’ve said before, given the billions of possible worlds out there, the likelihood is quite high that a more highly evolved species does, in fact, exist.  If so — and Richard Dawkins raises this question as well — would that higher intelligent be worthy of our worship too?

Yet, it is the business of believers to be extremely shallow in their thinking to assume that Earth is the premier, one and only planet with life in the gigantic, unfathomable world beyond our atmosphere.

After presenting the four points, the book then turns again to C.S. Lewis, who, in “Miracles,” puts forth an argument against naturalism, one in which, I must admit, is quite sophisticated … but not impenetrable.

On page 66, the authors say:

If naturalism is true, Lewis argued, then it seems to leave us with no reason for believing it to be true; for all judgments would equally and ultimately be the result of nonrational forces.

Shortly after, the authors say they were “highly tempted” to quote the entire chapter three of Lewis’ book  (We can be grateful they didn’t!), but instead, proceeded to provide a shorter version of the argument against naturalism from H.W.B. Joseph’s  Some Problems in Ethics:”

If thought is laryngeal motion, how should any one think more truly than the wind blows? All movements of bodies are equally necessary, but they cannot be discriminated as true and false. It seems as nonsensicle to call a movement true as a flavour purple or a sound avaricious. … if the principles of scientific [naturalism] … are to stand unchallenged, are themselves no more than happenings in a mind, results of bodily movements; that you or I think them sound, or think them unsound, is but another happening; that we think them no more than another such happening is itself but yet another such. And it may be said of any ground on which we may attempt to stand as true, Labitur at labetur in omne volubilis aevum [“It flows and will flow swirling on forever.]” ((H.W.B. Joseph from “Some Problems in Ethics))

What the authors, Lewis and Joseph are trying to get at here, in quite unnecessarily vague terms, is, if naturalism is true, can our own intelligence be trusted. They obviously conclude that our minds can’t be trusted because there exist numerous objective realities, each one based on the individual mind that discovered them, which, again, if we assume naturalism, are really just human mechanisms with no supernatural charge from a god to give them meaning. Thus, when naturalism fails, as they so readily assume, in comes our intelligent creator to save us from our baffled selves.

Further, the argument attempts to prove that our experience of the universe is intelligible to us because we are, indeed, intelligent, but then the authors attempt to flip over naturalism to make the case that we can’t ultimately know anything because of our limited minds of matter. Evolution by natural selection is not a chance process (point three). It may have been brought about by nonrational forces (something other than a designer), but our ability to grasp the universe is because of our intelligence as a species, not in spite of it. Attempting to negate our own intelligence and throw it heavenward is specious reasoning. Who is to say that the higher intelligence of whom we are attempting to prove the existence, is himself, a product of nonrational forces?

The origin of the idea of God and ontology

I’ll move quickly on these two points, since it relates to a previous post about Aquinas and the idea that we can, indeed, think of a perfectly, perfect being without there actually being one. The authors here present the case of René Descartes, who presented the idea that since we have “ideas of many things,” the ideas (whatever they are) must have either come from an outside source or from within ourselves. We have an idea of an all-perfect, infallible god. Thus, since the idea of such a god couldn’t have come from ourselves, since we are fallible and imperfect, the idea must have come from God. This argument is very closely related to the next, which is the ontological argument. This other wittily phrased “proof” suggests that God exists both in the mind and in reality. From Anselm’s version:

  1. It is greater for a thing to exist in the mind and in reality than in the mind alone (No arguments there).
  2. “God” means “that than which a greater cannot be thought.”
  3. Suppose that God exists in the mind but not in reality.
  4. Then a greater than God could be thought (namely, a being that has all the qualities our thought of God has plus existence).
  5. But this is impossible, for God is “that than which a greater cannot be thought.”
  6. Therefore God exists in the mind and in reality.

Obviously, this word-gamery has summoned the ire and able pens of many a philosopher and thinker, not the least of whom were Immanuel Kant and David Hume. Hume had this to say:

…to reflect on anything simply, and to reflect on it as existent, are nothing different from each other. That idea, when conjoin’d with the idea of any object, makes no addition to it. ((A Treatise of Human Nature, Bk. I, Pt. II, sec. 6))

and Kant, this:

By whatever…predicates we may conceive of a thing…we do not make the least addition to the thing when we further declare that this thing is. Otherwise, it would not be exactly the same thing that exists, but something more than we had thought in the concept; and we could not, therefore, say that the exact object of my concept exists. ((Critique of Pure Reason, translated by N. K. Smith, B 627))

Richard Dawkins also included a section on the ontological argument in his book. I reference him often because he really has covered most of the ground that is, conversely, being covered in this apologetics book. Here is Dawkins on Anselm’s argument:

An odd aspect of Anselm’s argument is that it was originally addressed not to humans but to God himself, in the form of a prayer (you’d think that any entity capable of listening to a prayer would need no convincing of his own existence). It is possible to conceive, Anselm said, of a being than which nothing greater can be conceived. Even an atheist can conceive of such a superlative being, though he would deny its existence in the real world. But, goes the argument, a being that doesn’t exist in the real world is, by that very fact, less than perfect. Therefore we have a contradiction and, hey presto, God exists!

Let me translate this infantile argument into the appropriate language, which is the language of the playground:

‘Bet you I can prove God exists.’
‘Bet you can’t.’
‘Right then, imagine the most perfect perfect perfect thing possible.’
‘Okay, now what?’
‘Now, is that perfect perfect perfect thing real? Does it exist?’
‘No, it’s only in my mind.’
‘But if it was real it would be even more perfect, because a really really perfect thing would have to be better than a silly old imaginary thing. So I’ve proved that God exists. Nur Nurny Nur Nur. All atheists are fools.’

I had my childish wiseacre choose the word ‘fools’ advisedly. Anselm himself quoted the first verse of Psalm 14, ‘The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God,’ and he had the cheek to use the name ‘fool’ (Latin insipiens) for his hypothetical atheist: Hence, even the fool is convinced that something exists in the understanding, at least, than which nothing greater can be conceived. For, when he hears of this, he understands it. And whatever is understood, exists in the understanding. And assuredly that, than which nothing greater can be conceived, cannot exist in the understanding alone. For, suppose it exists in the understanding alone: then it can be conceived to exist in reality; which is greater. ((Richard Dawkins, “The God Delusion,” page 80))

And finally, Norman Malcolm:

The doctrine that existence is a perfection is remarkably queer. It makes sense and is true to say that my future house will be a better one if it is insulated than if it is not insulated; but what could it mean to say that it will be a better house if it exists than if it does not? ((http://www.iep.utm.edu/ont-arg/))

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About the Author

Jeremy Styron
Jeremy Styron
I am a newspaper editor, op-ed columnist and reporter working in the greater Knoxville area. This is a personal blog. Views expressed here are mine and mine alone.

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