Monthly Archives: July 2013

The Indispensability of the God Question

My mind was metaphorically blown by this short interview between Robert Lawrence Kuhn and Philip Clayton:

I couldn’t help but think of my attempt at an indispensability argument.  It seems like Clayton is centering on a similar thought, i.e. that the question of God is one that all must encounter.  I take his point to be broader than the one I developed in my proof.  That is, the concept of God is not just indispensable to our best thought experiments, is indispensable to living as a human. To some, it appears as a regulative idea and to others as an existential conundrum. We all contemplate God, whether as a point or a counter-point to our own world-views.  It would greatly surprise me if this concept, which has provided humanity with vast amounts of insight, from Christian neo-platonism to atheistic existentialism, should turn out to be necessarily false.  But if the modal ontological argument doesn’t force us to deduce God’s existence, it at least informs us that God either necessarily exists, or is impossible.  To take the impossibility horn, I would have to think that this idea, which has inspired the loftiest literature, the most mystifying paintings, the most sublime and evocative music, the most self-evident rights, and the most penetrating philosophies is little more than a squared-circle—a slithy tove gyring and gimbling in the wabe.  Okay, maybe there are impossibilities that rise above utter non-sense.  Still, I find the impossibility of God unbelievable given how seminal the concept is for humanity.  It’s really as simple as that.
N.B. Closer to Truth is an extraordinary show.

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On the Death of my Mother

Wedding098

[A Personal Reflection] My mother died on April 7, 2013.  It’s a plain and ugly fact that can only be said with plain and ugly words.  And since that day I have hoped for the solace that many have reported.  I am speaking of the inexplicable experience of feeling the presence of a departed loved one.  I can’t say that I have had such an incident.  I have not felt as though she were with me — watching me.  I have not felt as though she is embracing me from beyond.  No.  Rather, since the  passing of my mother, in the tiny moments of joy and grief that punctuate each day, I can only say that I have strongly felt an impulse to reach out to her, to call her, to call for her.  And occasionally I will try writing to her.  But when I am finished, I experience only the lack of a response.  I have felt nothing but the absence of her presence.

The absence of the presence of a person is unlike any other absence one can experience.  When I lose my keys, I experience frustration.  The same is true of any other material object that I value.  When those objects go missing, or break,  I feel anger, frustration, sadness, etc.  But with a person, it’s profoundly different.  Yes, I have felt anger; I have felt frustrated, and sad too.  But in addition to these emotions, I have also, in a very real sense, felt the presence of her absence.  It’s a big void that I can nearly touch, and  it is an abyss into which I have occasionally stumbled.  I have felt it strongly.  In fact, just hours ago, when I entered the school library, there it was.  My mind drifted to my mother as I walked by the endless stacks of books.  She loved books.  And I realized that she wasn’t here, nor was she there at home.  She wasn’t sitting in her chair reading a book on healing prayer, or faithfully reciting Psalm 91 from her Bible.  She wasn’t sipping from a big frosted glass of iced tea, nor was she chatting with her sister.  My mind turned to the grave and to the dirt.

As I left the library, it occurred to me how palpably I had felt this void.  It was a disturbing presence–her absence.  But my mother was always keen on exorcising such disturbing presences.  So, I’ve reflect on this paradox for a moment and have decided to turn it on its head.  For the death of my mother entails the absurdity that the absence of her presence could become the presence of her absence—an absence that can transmute itself into a presence, a presence-that-is-not-a-presence.  And yet, it is as truly felt as any sensation I have ever felt.  But that paradox, that absurdity, can only lead me to conclude that death is itself an absurdity—a contradiction that dares to entail further contradictions.  My existential experience of her absence (her death) leads me to the reductio ad absurdum of death itself.  And so with all reductios, and as any good logician should do, I must reject the premise. Though my mother is dead, she yet lives.  Because absences and presences are rectified in the Christian mystery–the beautiful promise that declares: “Therefore we are always confident, knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord: (For we walk by faith, not by sight:) We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord” (2 Cor 5:6-8).

So I trust in this promise, and dispel the presence of my mother’s absence to the foot of the cross.  Because there, “…Death is swallowed up in victory” (1 Corinthians 15:54).

I love you mom!  I can’t hear you, but I know.

Knowability and a Dilemma for the Naturalist

In a previous post I argued that the knowability of truth entails an omniscient mind. But the whole argument is predicated on the knowability principle, KP, which states that truth can be known. But, who would defend such a position? “Only theists” one might suspect. As it turns out, KP follows upon some versions of anti-realism and idealism.1 Of course, in light of the paradox, many anti-realists have modified their form of anti-realism so that it does not fall prey to “paradox”.2 Whether these more subtle anti-realists escape the knowability paradox is still a matter hotly debated (Brogaard 2009).

The (naïve?) anti-realist is not the only one who commits herself to KP. Verificationists, like the logical positivists of yesteryear, also hold to KP, since meaning is predicated on analytic or empirical verifiability.3 If KP is expressed in the slogan “To be true is to be provable”, one can still faintly hear Ayer and his acolytes chanting their implicit consent to KP. Ironically, so long as the positivists admit that there is a maximally big conjunctive truth, they would have to concede that an omniscient mind exists. How embarrassing!

Perhaps less surprising, though also worthy of note, is that Aquinas, a metaphysical realist, would also be a proponent of KP:

There is nothing, however, that the divine intellect does not actually know, and nothing that the human intellect does not know potentially, for the agent intellect is said to be that “by which we make all things knowable,” and the possible intellect, as that “by which we become all things.” For this reason, one can place in the definition of a true thing its actually being seen by the divine intellect, but not its being seen by a human intellect, except potentially, as is clear from our earlier discussion (De Veritate Q. 1,A.2).4

I mention this because the literature on the knowability paradox seems to equate KP with antirealism. But, as Aquinas proves, there is no reason why KP should be restricted to anti-realism.5 It is clear that for Aquinas all things are known to some mind, i.e. God, and knowable to all other minds. Of course my non-theistic interlocutor should hardly be moved by any of this, unless she were to embrace the particularities of Thomistic psychology while eschewing his metaphysics. I suspect dodos would be less rare.

I would also like to consider some objections to KP. Some of my interlocutors have already countered my claims that all truths are knowable by referencing the Münchhausen trilemma or Gödel’s incompleteness theorems. Münchhausen trilemma offers us three options, each of which appear to be untoward for the tenability of epistemology. The trilemma runs as follows:

1. Justifications for some knowledge must be justified, ad infinitum, which abandons foundationalism.
2. Justifications are eventually circular, which means that knowledge is question begging.
3. Justifications are not sought for some truths, which abandons justification arbitrarily.

But before we despair, its readily apparent that the trilemma is answered by various epistemologies. Infinitists take the first horn. Infinitism does not abandon knowability, but argues that knowledge may be justified by an infinite chain. I wouldn’t personally take this horn, but it seems to me that many, especially non-theists, claim to have no problem with infinite regresses. For justification can emerge out of the infinite chain of reasoning much like an effect can arise out of an infinite sea of prior causes. So, if my non-theistic interlocutors reject knowability on the basis of this trilemma, I might ask them to reconsider the force of Thomas’s Five Ways.

The second horn is accepted by coherentists. They reject the charge that these, so called, loops of justification beg the question. Rather, they see knowledge in a holistic way. Beliefs fit within a reinforcing and consistent web. The literature is rife with defenses of this position, so it is at least a plausible alternative to utter skepticism.

Furthermore, it seems to me that the Reformed Epistemology argues that justifications are unnecessary in knowing some truths, i.e. those truths that are properly basic. But this is not to embrace the third horn, since there are specific conditions offered by which a belief can be considered properly basic. Hence, stopping points are not inherently arbitrary, or in violation of some PSR. Even the foundationalist typically will concede that the law of non-contradiction needs no support. But RE allows for stopping points that extend beyond mere logical principles and analytic truths, and so extends the foundation of knowledge out much further.

So the Münchhausen trilemma does not force us into some form of Pyrrhonism, nor does it explicitly assert that some truths are unknowable. It merely forces us to think more clearly about epistemology, which is a good thing. So in my assessment, the Münchhausen trilemma is not a good reason to reject KP.

As for Gödel’s incompleteness theorems, while they do seem to suggest that truth transcends proof, it should be noted that “proof” must be understood within the context of an axiomatic system, and does not mean justification or warrant in some broader epistemological sense. It is for this reason that we cannot simply concede to the highly controversial thesis that the results of the incompleteness theorems are applicable to human minds, or any other minds for that matter. In fact, Lucas and Penrose have argued that Gödel’s theorems are an indication that the mind is not a Turing-Machine, that human intelligence is not restricted to axiomatic proofs, and that truths that no machine could know, can be known to us. If so, AI will never be analogous to human intelligence. In sum, I do not think it is compelling to say that Gödel’s incompleteness theorems count against KP without the additional support of the premise that all minds are functionally equivalent to Turing machines.

So, I have suggested that there are philosophical defenders of the knowability thesis, both realists and anti-realists, theists and atheists. Also, I have defended KP against the two main objections raised by my interlocutors thus far. Still, are there any good reasons to endorse KP? I have no deductive argument or a priori argument to offer. I’m an optimist, and I’d like to think that all truths can be known in principle. Absent a defeater, I think there are good inductive reasons for accepting KP. They can be summarized as follows:

1. No specific instance of a truth that one might point to is unknowable.
2. Therefore, all truths are knowable.

(1) is equivalent to the fact that all specific instances of truth that one might point to are knowable. In other words, KP is continually confirmed, and counterexamples are not forthcoming, and never will be forthcoming. For to confirm the truth of a counterexample would require that we know that something unknowable is true, which is a contradiction. If induction may be used to support a principle, then it certainly offers abundant evidence in support of KP.

One last point, and this is for the naturalists:

Suppose the metaphysical naturalist were to reject the knowability principle in an attempt to escape my argument for an omniscient mind. The rejection of the knowability principle would entail that there are some truths that cannot be known, verified, etc. by our best, or even ideal, natural sciences. If a truth is defined as natural insofar as it comports with and can be subjected to analysis and empirical verification by a natural science, it follows that there would some non-natural truths. This raises an interesting dilemma for the metaphysical naturalist:

1. Either all truths are knowable, or not all truths are knowable. (LEM)
2. If all truths are knowable, then an omniscient mind exists. (see this post for proof)
3. If not all truths are knowable, then some truths cannot be verified by the natural sciences even in principle.
4. If some truths cannot be verified by the natural sciences in principle, then metaphysical naturalism is false.
5. Therefore, either an omniscient mind exists, or metaphysical naturalism is false.

I think both disjuncts are true, but it seems that we are forced to pick one! And its on odd metaphysical naturalist who admits that there is an omniscient mind.

1 B. Brogaard & J. Salerno, 2009. “Fitch’s Paradox of Knowability”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2012 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/fitch-paradox/&gt;.

2 S.A. Rasmussen. 2009. “The Paradox of Knowability and the Mapping Objection”. In New Essays on the Knowability Paradox. Ed. J. Salerno. New York: Oxford University Press. 53-54

3 J. Beall “Knowability and Possible Epistemic Oddities”. In New Essays on the Knowability Paradox. Ed. J. Salerno. New York: Oxford University Press. 113-4

4 Thomas Aquinas. 1952. Questiones Disputatae de Veritate. Trans. Robert W. Mulligan, S.J.Chicago: Henry Regnery Company. Ed. Joseph Kenny, O.P. Accessed July 20, 2013. URL = <http://dhspriory.org/thomas/QDdeVer1.htm&gt;

5 Plantinga seems to identify Thomas as a theistic anti-realist, since Thomas thinks that truth would not exist without minds. However, Thomas is careful to note that “truth”, though found primarily in the intellect, is secondarily found in things. It is for this reason that I reject Plantinga’s assessment. See A. Plantinga. 1982. Proceedings and Addresses of the American Philosophical Association, Vol. 56, No. 1. 47-70

Omniscience on the Cheap: A True Believer with Self-Knowledge

If knowledge is something like justified true belief, then omniscience would appear to require a multitude, if not an infinity, of justifications.  So one might think that omniscience is a costly hypothesis.  But, here is one way to get omniscience on the cheap:

Suppose there is a subject such that this subject believed the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.  Suppose, also, that this subject knew its own nature.

If the subject knew of its nature, then it would know that all beliefs it held were true.  So it would have belief, p, and beliefs about why p is true, etc.  If this subject knew that it only held true beliefs, then that one bit of knowledge would justify every other belief, and every belief believed to justify other beliefs.  Such a being would be omniscient.

How might such a mind apprehend the fact that it believes all and only truths?  If such a mind were to intellectually grasp its own nature, then it would know that it believes all truths and no falsehoods.  It would be a true believer that knows it is a true believer.  This is something like what Aristotle describes when he says that the Divine Mind is thought thinking itself (Metaphysics XII.9; 1074b33-34).

The Existence of an Omniscient Mind

In a previous post I presented an argument for a necessarily existing omniscient mind. However, two readers noted a similar problem in the argument, so that version doesn’t succeed. I used the predicate Kp to mean “p is known by someone”. This was to follow the presentation of the Knowability Paradox as I have seen it in the literature, including the encyclopedia entry to which I linked. However, when I reached (29) in the argument, □(∀p)(p ⊃ Kp) ⊃ □(∃x)(Mx & Ox), an ambiguity led me to move from “necessarily, every proposition is known by someone” to “necessarily, there exists an omniscient mind”. That is, “someone” is ambiguous and does not necessarily mean the same person knows every truth. I had initially hoped that switching to a two-place predicate would help me to avoid the ambiguity, but I don’t think it can be avoided, at least in the way I’ve formulated the argument. So this was a genuine weakness in my original version of the argument.

In the proof derived in this post I’ve employed a two-place predicate for knowability because I think it is more clear and helps me to avoid stumbling into that ambiguity. The additional premise is that there is a truth that may be called the whole truth. This is a truth that, were it known by a mind, that mind would qualify as omniscient. The whole truth could be understood as a maximal conjunction of all necessary truths, contingent truths, and possible truths. The possible truths are indexed according to the worlds in which they obtain such that part of this truth would be that I am bald in w1 and red-headed in w2, etc. This whole truth, or maximally big conjunctive fact, will be named “b.” Thus, my argument shows that the knowability paradox establishes the existence of at least one omniscient mind. This is to advance beyond the mere establishment of omniscience as, say, a collective feature of a world where truths happen to be knowable within a community of knowers.

I should also note that this version of the argument is modally weaker than the earlier post. While it does lead to the conclusion that there is an omniscient mind, it does not prove that this omniscient mind necessarily exists in every possible world. I could not make this move because, even if it is necessarily the case that all truths are known, I could not derive omniscience as a necessary feature of the mind, though I was able to derive that a mind that is actually omniscient necessarily exists. An odd result that falls out of assuming that the maximally big conjunctive fact is de re necessarily the maximally big conjunctive fact in every possible world. I want to revisit this in future posts, but I will not display the result here. Finally, since I am not trying to prove that an omniscient mind necessarily exists, my knowability premise is not modalized. It merely states that all truths are knowable, not that they are necessarily knowable.

Let:

Kxp – x knows p
Mx – x is a mind
Ox – x is omniscient
b – the big conjunctive fact

1. (∀x)[(Mx & Ox) ≝ Kxb] (definition)
2. (∀p)(p ⊃ ◊(∃x)Kxp) (premise)
3. (∃p)[p & (p = b)] (premise)
4. (∀p)(∀q)(∀x)[Kx(p & q) ⊢ ( Kxp & Kxq)] (theorem)
5. (∀p)(∀x)(Kxp ⊢ p) (theorem)
→6. (∀p)(p ⊃ ◊(∃x)Kxp) (assumption for CP)
↑→7. (∃p)(p &(∀y)~Kyp) (assumption for IP)
↑↑8. u & (∀y)~Kyu (7 EI)
↑↑9. (u & (∀y)~Kyu) ⊃ ◊(∃x)Kx(u & (∀y)~Kyu )(6 UI)
↑↑10. ◊(∃x)Kx(u & (∀y)~Kyu )(8,9 MP)
↑↑→11. (∃x)Kx(u & (∀y)~Kyu) (assumption for IP)
↑↑↑12. Kv(u & (∀y)~Kyu) (11 EI)
↑↑↑13. Kvu & Kv(∀y)~Kyu(4,12 theorem)
↑↑↑14. Kv(∀y)~Kyu (13 Simp)
↑↑↑15. (∀y)~Kyu (5,14 theorem)
↑↑↑16. Kvu (13 Simp)
↑↑↑17. ~Kvu (15 UI)
↑↑↑18. Kvu & ~Kvu (16,17 Conj)
↑↑←19. ~(∃x)Kx(u & (∀y)~Kyu) 11-18 IP)
↑↑20. □~(∃x)Kx(u & (∀y)~Kyu) (19 NI)
↑↑21. ~◊(∃x)Kx(u & (∀y)~Kyu) (20 MN)
↑↑22. ◊(∃x)[Kx(u & (∀y)~Kyu )] & ~◊(∃x)[Kx(u & (∀y)~Kyu)] (10,21 Conj)
↑←23. ~(∃p)(p & (∀y)~Kyp)) (7-22 IP)
↑24. (∀p)~(p & (∀y)~Kyp) (23 QN)
↑25. ~(u & (∀y)~Kyu) (24 UI)
↑26. ~u ∨ ~(∀y)~Kyu (25 DeM)
↑27. u ⊃ ~(∀y)~Kyu (26 Impl)
↑28. (∀p)(p ⊃ ~(∀y)~Kyp) (27 UG)
↑29. (∀p)(p ⊃ ~~(∃y)Kyp) (28 QN)
↑30. (∀p)(p ⊃ (∃y)Kyp) (29 DN)
←31. (∀p)(p ⊃ ◊(∃x)Kxp) ⊃ (∀p)(p ⊃(∃y)Kyp) (6-30 CP)
32. (∀p)(p ⊃(∃y)Kyp) (2,31 MP)
33. u & (u = b) (3, EI)
34. u (33 Simp)
35. b (34 ID)
36. b ⊃(∃y)Kyb (32, UI)
37. (∃y)Kyb (35,36 MP)
38. Kvb (37 EI)
39. (Mv & Ov) (1,38 Def)
40. (∃x)(Mx & Ox) (39 EG)

[Edit Janurary 9, 2013: Thank you to my friend Sam Priest who caught an error in an earlier draft of this argument regarding (1) and (3). Previously, the argument suggested that a mind was omniscient if it knew *that* there was a big conjunctive fact. I´ve since corrected the argument such that the mind must know the big conjunctive fact itself]

That Necessarily an Omniscient Mind Exists

[Update: a revised version of the argument can be found here.]

[Update: Some readers have pointed out that “someone” may not mean the same person, and so the move in 29 from “necessrily, every proposition is known by someone (or other)” to “necessarily, there exists an omniscient mind seems illicit. I believe there may be a way to navigate around this objection.  I hope to have a better version of this argument up soon.  I thank my readers for pushing me to tighten my argument].

[Updated 7/13/2012: I found a problem in the original version of the proof.  A minor change simplified the proof and corrected the mistake]

I’ve been thinking about the knowability paradox. I think that it could be considered as a proof that, necessarily, there exists an omniscient mind. The first 26 steps of this proof are my attempt to work out a necessary implication between knowability and the proposition that all truths are known by someone, which is just a reworking of Fitch’s famous paradox to my own ends. From there, one need only to accept (27) the idea that truth is essentially knowable, i.e. that it is necessarily the case that all truths can be known by someone. Given the necessary implication between knowability and the proposition that all truths are known by someone along with the fact that truth is essentially knowable, it follows that (28) it is necessary that all truths are known by someone. I argue that if it is necessary that all truths are known by someone, then necessarily there exists an omniscient mind (29). Hence, necessarily there exists an omniscient mind. The proof is as follows:
Let:
Kp -p is known by someone
Mx – x is a mind
Ox – x is omniscient
1. (∀p)(∀q)[K(p & q) ⊢ ( Kp & Kq)] (theorem)
2. (∀p)(Kp ⊢ p) (theorem)
→3. (∀p)(p ⊃ ◊Kp) (assumption for CP)
↑→4. (∃p)(p & ~Kp) (assumption for IP)
↑↑5. u & ~Ku (4 EI)
↑↑6. (u & ~Ku) ⊃ ◊K(u & ~Ku) (3 UI)
↑↑7. ◊K(u & ~Ku) (5,6 MP)
↑↑→8. K(u & ~Ku) (assumption for IP)
↑↑↑9. Ku & K~Ku (1,8 theorem)
↑↑↑10. K~Ku (9 Simp)
↑↑↑11. ~Ku (2,10 theorem)
↑↑↑12. Ku (9 Simp)
↑↑↑13. Ku & ~Ku (11,12 Conj)
↑↑←14. ~K(u & ~Ku)(8-13 IP)
↑↑15. □~ K(u & ~Ku) (14 NR)
↑↑16. ~◊K(u & ~Ku) (15 MN)
↑↑17. ◊K(u & ~Ku) & ~◊K(u & ~Ku) (7,16 Conj)
↑←18. ~(∃p)(p & ~Kp) (4-17 IP)
↑19. (∀p)~(p & ~Kp) (18 QN)
↑20. ~(u & ~Ku) (19 UI)
↑21. ~u ∨ ~~Ku (20 DeM)
↑22. ~ u ∨ Ku (21 DN)
↑23. u ⊃ Ku (22 Impl)
↑24. (∀p)(p ⊃ Kp) (23 UG)
←25. (∀p)(p ⊃ ◊Kp) ⊃ (∀p)(p ⊃ Kp) (3-24 CP)
26. □[(∀p)(p ⊃ ◊Kp) ⊃ (∀p)(p ⊃ Kp)] (25 NR)
27. □(∀p)(p ⊃ ◊Kp) (premise)
28. □(∀p)(p ⊃ Kp) (26,27 MMP)
29. □(∀p)(p ⊃ Kp) ⊃ □(∃x)(Mx & Ox) (premise)
30. □(∃x)(Mx & Ox) (28,29 MP)

I think the controversial premise is going to be (27), that truth is essentially knowable. Some might object that certain paradoxes contain truths that cannot possibly be known. Or some may point to issues related to Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorems, which purport to show that some truths cannot be derived from within a given axiomatic system. I would respond by saying that the inscrutability of certain paradoxes and/or the non-deriviability of certain truths from within an axiomatic system merely demonstrate the limits of certain minds, or certain systems. But such truths may be knowable from the perspective of other minds, or other axiomatic systems. To say that all truths are essentially knowable is really to say something about truth rather than to say something of minds or systems. Since some truths are knowable, should we think that knowability is incidental to some truths and not others? I’m inclined to think that truth is necessarily knowable, and if you agree, I think you too should think that, necessarily, an omniscient mind exists, whom we call God.

Reference:

Brogaard, B. 2009. “Fitch’s Paradox of Knowability”. In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Winter 2012. Ed. E.N. Zalta.

An Inconsistent Set of Propositions

Some atheists are eliminative materialists and they hold that common-sense mental states, like beliefs, don’t really exist.

Following in the footsteps of the late Anthony Flew (1984) many atheists now prefer to define atheism as a lack of belief in God rather than as the affirmation of the stronger claim that God does not exist. Atheism as a lack of belief in God can encompass both agnostic atheism and stronger atheistic claims. But framing atheism as a lack of belief in God means that the atheist shoulders no burden of proof.

However, it should be noted that a large portion of the world’s population rejects atheism in favor of some form of theism.

So the following three propositions cannot all be true at the same time:

(1) Eliminative Materialism is the case and beliefs don’t really exist.

(2) Atheism is a lack of belief in God.

(3) Some humans are not atheists.

Clearly if (1) and (2) were true, then everyone would be an atheist, which would entail the falsity of (3). But, it seems quite obvious to me that (3) is true. So, I’d have to say that either eliminative materialism is false, or say that atheism is not really a lack of belief in God.

Since you can’t have all three, which proposition(s) will you reject?

A Reflection on Philosophy as Accounting for Beliefs

Philosophy tells you the price you have to pay. But I think it takes some personal integrity to pay that bill. And it’s hard.

I began to think about this when reading about the Cosmological argument. Richard Gale, along with Alexander Pruss, has developed an interesting modal version of the argument.  He thinks the argument is sound and leads to the conclusion that there exists some being that fits, at least in a minimal way, the definition of a”Godlike” being.  The argument depends upon a weakened version of the principle of sufficient reason, which states that for every true contingent proposition, it possible that there is an explanation for that proposition.  Gale is not a theist…  He alludes to lacking an experience of God, and he doesn’t think God would necessarily be morally perfect.   I am perplexed by all of this, to say the least.

Gale says something very interesting towards the end of his argument. He writes:

My anti-theistic opponent might have initially been willing to grant me [the weak version of the principle of sufficient reason], but after it is seen what results from this acceptance it no longer will be granted.  The opponent will now charge the PSRws with begging the question.  It is clear that whatever theistic argument is given, once the antitheist relizes that it works, she will find some premise to reject as question-begging.

The best that theistic argument can accomplish is to make the antitheist pay a greater price for rejecting the argument, because she must reject some rather weak premise(s) and thereby run more risk of being wrong.1

Sadly, this happens time and again in philosophy generally, and in the philosophy of religion especially.  There is a tendency to search out the conclusion first, decide whether or not you like it, and if you don’t, find which premise you’re most willing to “live without”.  This is the antithesis of Socrates’ injunction to follow the argument wherever it may lead. I guess this is the minimum that philosophy can do–the mediocrity of philosophy is that it has become a flimsy receipt…

Still, is there no grand collector, no one who demands payment when we contradict ourselves in words, actions, or beliefs? The cheque bounces. The card is declined. Insufficient funds… but life goes on. The great empiricist, David Hume, practically recommends this con-game after undergoing a particularly brutal bought of skepticsm (see I.4 of his Treatise of Human Nature).

…since reason is incapable of dispelling these clouds, nature herself suffices to that purpose, and cures me of this philosophical melancholy and delirium, either by relaxing this bent of mind, or by some avocation, and lively impression of my senses which obliterate all these chimeras.  I dine, I play a game of back-gammon, I converse, and am merry with my friends; and when after three or four hour’s amusement, I wou’d return to these speculations, they appear so cold, and strain’d, and ridiculous, that I cannot find in my heart to enter into them any farther (THN 1.4.6.9, 175).2

That’s the problem! Philosophy shows us the price we have to pay, and nature leads us to live our normal everyday lives as though those beliefs were irrelevant. You can say that you reject the PSRws, but do you really? Or, to paraphrase another great philosopher, Stinger, is it the case that your beliefs are writing cheques that your lived life can’t cash. I don’t want my world-view to be irrelevant to my actual life. I don’t want to continually live out performative contradiction after performative contradiction in order to preserve my world-view. I think this means that I should strive to follow the argument. And if I can’t do that, I should try my best to live according to my stated beliefs. I don’t think I could live consistently as one who denied the existence of the self, as one who denied the principle of sufficient reason, as a denier of real moral values, or the principle of causality.

But can I live consistently as a Christian? Perhaps there are trade-offs with any world-view. I find my metaphysics cozy, but the moral demands are impossible. Perhaps other world-views offer a more comfortable moral life, but a far more troubling metaphysical outlook. Who is the bigger hypocrite: the philosopher who doesn’t pay her metaphysical bills, or the Christian who continually falls short of the mark? I guess the first step is admitting that you are a hypocrite. This is where Christianity begins, and its where Christ finds us. So I guess I will try to be an honest hypocrite.

1R.M. Gale. 1999. “A New Argument for the Existence of God: One that Works, Well Sort of”. In The Rationality of Theism. Ed. G. Brüntrup & R.K. Tacelli.  Boston: Kluwer Academic Publishers.
2D. Hume. 2000. A Treatise of Human Nature. Ed. D.F. Norton & M.J. Norton. New York: Oxford University Press.

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