Archive for the ‘hume’ tag
Sam Harris touches on some of these points in “The Moral Landscape.” In any case, this makes a succinct and detailed case against William Lane Craig’s notion of the source of morality:
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.
Here are four points which put forth the argument from consciousness.
- We experience the universe as intelligible. This intelligibility means that the universe is graspable by intelligence.
- 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.
- Not blind chance.
- 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.]”((1))
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:
- It is greater for a thing to exist in the mind and in reality than in the mind alone (No arguments there).
- “God” means “that than which a greater cannot be thought.”
- Suppose that God exists in the mind but not in reality.
- Then a greater than God could be thought (namely, a being that has all the qualities our thought of God has plus existence).
- But this is impossible, for God is “that than which a greater cannot be thought.”
- Therefore God exists in the mind and in reality.
…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.((2))
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.((3))
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.((4))
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?((5))
On visiting a local Christian private school today on an errand, and while in a waiting area, I began perusing through an old yearbook and noticed that the school actually has a philosophy club. I was immediately stunned. “What could Christian students and teachers possibly have to think or philosophize on?” I thought.
But looking further online, I noticed that many Christian colleges actually go a step further and offer philosophy majors as serious academic endeavors. Of course, as I looked still further, the curriculum for such courses either flatly ignore, or provide only a cursory review of, some of the greatest philosophical minds ever known. Here, I can’t help but mention Nietzsche, Heidegger, Sartre, Camus and Hume, among others, while the same schools pay homage to those who were indelibly on the side of religion, namely C.S. Lewis, Kierkegaard and the like. I’ll begin with a college here in Northeast Georgia, of which, I was quite surprised offered a degree in philosophy. According to its Web site, students in this major will be prepared
with essential critical thinking skills applicable to an extensive choice of educational, ministry, or career preferences. A degree in Philosophy will encourage your pursuit of the classic Christian quest of fides quaerens intellectum, “faith seeking understanding.” Contrary to popular opinion, law schools, medical institutions, seminaries, graduate schools, parachurch organizations, and even business leaders value philosophy majors because they are more likely to be equipped with keen analytical and communication skills. Most importantly, committed Christians trained in philosophy are well-prepared to engage contemporary culture in America and abroad.
Gordon College, in Wenham, Mass., which purports itself as “multidenominational,” offers a full course listing for its philosophy major on its Web site, with curriculum topics spanning the following: philosophical history; knowledge, truth and method; faith and reason; virtue and value; and existence and being (Here, perhaps Heidegger is granted a point or two). Under the faith and reason heading are classes on “C.S. Lewis and the Christian Imagination” (I imagine this covers both Lewis’ Christian polemics and metaphorical aspects of his Narnia series) and a course solely devoted to Kierkegaard.
relative consideration of the nature of humanity (Relative, of course, to the Christian worldview), society, morality, religion, the arts, and the natural world. These courses contribute to the liberal arts education in two basic ways: they help students understand and assess beliefs that are integral to their views of human existence, and they are meant to enable students to acquire philosophical skills and materials which enrich and integrate the study of other disciplines. Essential to the success of each course is an atmosphere of openness to diverse viewpoints and a respect for the high standards of critical thinking.
To cite one more, Greenville College in Greenville, Ill., says via its Web site that the school’s philosophy program
is designed to help students form an interpretation of truth around an understanding of God, human nature, and the universe that sees an essential unity in all knowledge. Philosophy develops the habit of thinking reflectively and consistently. It trains students to consider critically their own and others’ assertions in writing and speaking. It observes the power of ideas in the rise and fall of movements in human history. The major requires the completion of 24 hours and leads to a bachelor of arts degree.
One can suppose that, on some shallow level, the general dictionary definition of “philosophy,”
the rational investigation of the truths and principles of being, knowledge, or conduct,
can be applied in some nebulous way in a Christian context because Christianity makes claims about all of the latter three principles, but that only works if we are interested in investigating these principles for the sake of investigating. Religion, on the other hand, lays an invasive edict on its followers (And well, everyone else) and is interested in much more than just thinking for thinking’s sake. It’s interested in scanning and purifying, with supposed eternal implications, the soul. So, thinking for thinking’s sake takes on a meaningless form.
My aforementioned immediate astonishment of the philosophy club came from the fact that religions have long since let their holy books, pastors and priests do their thinking for them, to the point that such dabblings in philosophy seem, as I’ve said, unnecessary wastes of time. And what we have in religion is a dogma that has not evolved or moved on in thousands of years, and that has, indeed, brought all of its truths to bear in those same long-passed years, with the truths themselves coming from largely illiterate, mystified and wayfaring desert tribes. It has all been laid out for the believer, those millennia ago, with no room for either addition or redaction (Revelation 22:18-19), save for some high-minded affirmations of those same beliefs, perhaps coming from Lewis, Kierkegaard, etc. Given all this, what on Earth could be left to wonder or muse about?
Shew. It’s been a rough week. What with spending time with my family, work, eating, sleeping, Counter Strike:Source and the like, it’s been a challenge to get in as much reading as I would have liked. Right now, among other things, I’m reading Bertrand Russell’s “My Philosophical Development,” and Thomas Paine’s “The Age of Reason.” Those aren’t the types of volumes one can just hop down to Barnes & Noble to pick up, so I went to the local university library and got them, which is something I hope to do more often.
I’ve concluded that for one to develop a reasoned worldview (What other sort of worldview should we seek that ultimately governs our entire journey through life?), the set of ideologies, beliefs or understandings that largely guide how a person conducts his or her life (my definition), one must, first, in this age of religious fervor, read the Big Three in full: the Hebrew Bible (which is the Old Testament in a different order; see Jack Miles: “God: A Biography” for more information), the New Testament and the Koran. This is essential for understanding what might cause someone’s son to annihilate himself via a car bomb or to hijack a jet plane and aim it at a skyscraper or massacre millions of Jews, outright unbelievers, disabled people and gays for the false assumption that they are inferior or drown and burn hundreds women for the false assumption that they are witches. It’s also essential in understanding the opposite: What causes someone to give to the poor, devote one’s life to missions work and build safe houses for the derelict. Is it pure by inspiration, command or calling from God or do some people simply lean toward faith and/or good works as character traits, as others lean toward abuse or bullying?
Second, one must delve into philosophy: Bertrand Russell, Thomas Hobbes, Hume, Heidegger, Hegel, Derrida, Habermas, Nietzsche and scores of others. One must investigate science, as one’s educational capacities allows, since this is weighty stuff: String theory, the universe, etc.
When one takes all these steps then one make a reasoned assessment of how we fit into the cosmos. Some say we fit perfectly: that we are as much a part of it as it is of us. That we are home here in this place. Some say we are not at home here: That this place is merely a stepping off point to eternity. That, for those who accept God or Christ (depending on the belief) can look forward to eternity in a place free from sin, pain and guilt.
One of my favorite poets, John Milton said, “The end of learning is to know God, and out of that knowledge to love Him and imitate Him,” which seems to imply that if one gains all knowledge that is possible to know (Which is impossible because our knowledge of the world and the universe changes daily and one would have to research day and night without sleeping to continually soak in new discoveries.) it will lead to a knowledge of God. Symbolically, this works and is a profound statement, since Milton is clearly stating that all knowledge that can be known points to God. Literally, it would only lead to a learned individual who has a better grasp of these weighty concepts than you or I. My point is this: Many of us spend 20, 30, 50 years or a lifetime floundering in beliefs, and more so, living and dying for beliefs, and giving no evidential proof . Truth-seekers must analyze these works meticulously and obtain a firm knowledge of the great intellectual breakthroughs in our history for a reasoned worldview to surface. All else is conjecture. If, after reading the holy books, investigating the sciences and philosophy, one concludes there is no god or if one concludes God is unmistakable and evident: the same conclusion stands: At least that person has put in the effort. At least they cared enough to find out why they believe as they do. The tragedy today is that most are too lazy or busy to do the work. Perhaps this is where our modern, hustle, bustle society skipped a disc.