Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Strong Atheism: The Case for Evacuating the Middle Ground

In the world of philosophy, those who make the active claim that God does not exist are often viewed as extremists. Taking a positive stand about the nonexistence of God is considered akin to claiming that all forms of matter, energy and consciousness have already been discovered, and that there is nothing new to be learned from the universe. The simple fact that scientific truths are constantly being overturned is considered reasonable justification for a form of scientific agnosticism, which is generally expanded to include the vague possibility of the existence of a supernatural being such as gods. Since we do not know everything about the universe, agnostics claim, it is impossible to rule out the possibility that gods might exist. Thus “strong atheism” – the positive declaration of the nonexistence of gods – is generally viewed as an irrational position, ironically on par with the theist’s assertion that gods do exist.

Thus, like most positions in the post-Hegelian world, the truth is considered to lie somewhere in the midpoint between two extremes. Wildly asserting that gods exists is as irrational as blindly asserting that they do not. The most sensible position is to withhold judgment.

Those with any decent knowledge of philosophy know that the burden of proof lies squarely on the shoulders of those who assert that gods exist, and that no action is required from atheists to disprove the existence of gods. However, the inevitable failures of all attempts to prove the existence of gods never seems to move the theist position into the “not true” category – merely into the “not proven but possible” category. In this essay, I will endeavor to give it just a little push over the line.

Like most problems in philosophy, the conflict stems from imprecisions in definition. “God” is a notoriously fluid concept, able to slosh fashionably into almost any mental container. God can be defined as a “higher power,” or “love,” or “energy,” or “nature,” or “an old man on a cloud,” or “the energy that binds the universe together” or “the first cause” or “hope” etc. etc. etc. Naturally, no philosophical discussions can retain any coherence in the face of such wildly amorphous – and often contradictory – definitions.

Similarly, the definition of “existence” is often confused. Does “existence” mean “any form of matter, energy or consciousness that could conceivably exist in this or any other universe,” or does it mean “a Christian deity whose son came back from the dead”? Does it mean “that which is composed of matter or energy,” or “that which I believe with all my heart to exist”?

Of course, if “gods” and “existence” is defined in a tautological manner, no advance in knowledge is achieved. If “gods” are defined as spiritual beings discoverable through faith, and “existence” is defined to include that which is discoverable through faith, nothing is gained. “Existence” must be an objective state, and “knowledge” must be an objective methodology.

Now, for science, “existence” is a relatively simple concept – it is defined as that which consists of either matter or energy. This is quite different from “accuracy,” which is the correlation between concepts and the behavior of matter and energy in the real world. A concept has accuracy – or validity – if it precisely predicts or describes the behavior of matter and energy in the real world. This, of course, is the basis of the scientific method, which is that all human concepts must bow to the empiricism of physical evidence. Or, to put it another way, in any conflict between consciousness and matter, consciousness must give way, since consciousness can contain errors, but matter cannot.

With this (admittedly brief) introduction in place, we are a good deal closer to understanding the conflict between strong and weak atheists. The central question about the existence of gods – no matter how defined – is this: are gods subject to physical laws?

If gods are subject to physical laws, then the first law that gods are subject to is this: since existence is defined as that which is composed of either matter or energy, if gods exist, they must be composed of either matter or energy.

The opposite corollary must also be true. If gods are not composed of matter or energy, then gods by definition do not exist. Since “existence” is defined as that which is composed of matter or energy, “non-existence” must be that which possesses neither matter nor energy. Thus to argue that gods exist despite a total absence of matter or energy is to argue that existence equals non-existence, which is a complete contradiction. If I define an “orange” as a round citrus fruit that is orange in color, I cannot include in that definition an invisible orange that is the opposite of round, the opposite of citrus, the opposite of fruit, and the opposite of orange. (I mean, I suppose could, but who would believe that I was serious – or even sane?)

If gods are subject to physical laws, then physical evidence is really the only methodology by which we can ascertain that gods exist. Of course, this does not require direct physical evidence – we cannot perceive black holes directly, but we know that they exist due to the effects of their gravity wells on surrounding matter, as well as the flashes of energy that are released as captured matter crosses the event horizon. But since “existence” is defined as that which is composed of matter or energy, the scientific proof of existence must be some evidence of that matter or energy. “Evidence” is basically defined as that which impacts our physical senses in some manner – either directly, or through some translating device such as a spectrograph or an oscilloscope. Since our physical senses are organs designed to transmit the effects of matter and energy, it is essentially through the evidence of the senses that we can determine the existence or nonexistence of things. If I argue that something exists, but that there is no way to detect it, my argument contradicts itself. Let’s say I tell a deaf man that I hear a deep loud sound coming from a speaker. If he lays his hand on it and feels no vibrations, he has every right to be skeptical. If I say that this loud sound does not have vibrations, he may then pull out his trusty microphone or other sound wave detector. If this instrument detects no sound in the vicinity, can I still tell him that this loud sound is occurring? At some point, if my definition of “loud sound” basically boils down to “that which is the opposite of any evidence that a loud sound is occurring” then clearly my approach to truth needs a little work!

This approach helps clarify the truth-value of the proposition that gods do not exist. If gods are subject to physical laws, then sensual evidence of some sort is required to determine the existence of gods. If gods are not subject to physical laws, then gods do not exist by definition, since that which is not subject to physical laws – i.e. is not composed of matter or energy – does not exist.

If gods are subject to physical laws, important ramifications follow. Since gods must be bound by physical laws, miracles are impossible, since miracles are by definition violations of physical laws. Similarly, gods cannot be omniscient and all-powerful, since both attributes would violate the basic tenets of physical laws. Omniscience would require instantaneous knowledge of all matter, past, present and future, which is clearly impossible, while omnipotence would require the ability to break the bounds of physical laws, which brings us back to the realm of nonexistence.

If gods are subject to physical laws, then religion makes no sense whatsoever, and praying to gods makes about as much sense as worshiping a black hole, begging the Sun to grant you favors, or circumcising your son to appease the speed of light. If gods are not subject to physical laws, then the concept of “gods” is synonymous with the concept of non-existence, which makes religion even more deranged. Then, rather than praying to the moon, you would be in fact praying to the empty space between the Earth and the moon.

Why is there such opposition to the proposition that gods do not exist? Many people I have talked to with regards to strong atheism feel extremely uncomfortable asserting that gods do not exist. Or, to be more precise, they feel extremely uncomfortable telling Christians, say, that the Christian god does not exist. Rather than confront faithful believers with the hollow falsehood of their imaginary worship, they redefine “God” within their own minds as “a potential form of matter or energy that has not been discovered yet,” or “that which could exist in an alternate universe,” or something to that effect. This allows them to continue breaking bread – or least avoiding open conflict – with those addicted to superstitious nonsense. However, it could be argued that this is a fairly cowardly position. Either a criterion for determining truth exists, or it does not. If such a criterion exists, then it must be objective, and based on the evidence of the senses and reason, which precludes the existence of any form of religious deities. If no such criterion exists, then both everything and nothing is true, and agnosticism, atheism, superstition, religion and the steadfast belief that shoes can fly and sing songs are all equally valid.

If an objective criterion for truth exists, then it cannot logically be applied according to whim, the expediency of the moment, or only in situations that feel emotionally comfortable. If you wish to take a stand for rationality and truth, then I for one completely applaud you – and sympathize with the attendant social difficulties that often result. If, however, you take a stand for rationality and truth, but then sit back down whenever anybody gets upset, there’s very little point getting up to begin with.

36 comments:

Anonymous said...

Or the entire physical universe is god.

lrC

hooligan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
hooligan said...

If gods are not subject to physical laws, then gods do not exist by definition, since that which is not subject to physical laws – i.e. is not composed of matter or energy – does not exist."

If you are truly asserting that only those entities containing matter or energy exist, you will have a difficult time convincing anyone of the validity of libertarianism, for it does not exist by your own definition. It is a concept, an idea; it has no matter or energy.

The definition of "existence" you give is fatally flawed, because it rules out all things immaterial. Ideas, thoughts, theories, all of these do not exist by your definition.

Anonymous said...

hooligan,

Ideas, thoughts, theories exist only in our mind/brains, which are made of matter and energy.

hooligan said...

Anonymous,

Our brains are composed of matter and energy but ideas themselves are immaterial. We cannot measure an idea: it has no weight, no length, no volume, it does not occupy physical space. By Mr. Molyneux's argument, "ideas" themselves cannot exist, for they are as immeasurable as "gods". Yet we know ideas do exist because we use them to formulate "arguments" about things, like whether "gods" exist. Since we know "ideas" exist, and they have no measurable physical reality, we cannot logically argue the lack of physical reality as a proof for the non-existence of "gods". The question is neither proven nor disproven, it is unanswered.

harmoniousjosh said...

God does not exist. BUT, Santa does. Science has never proven Santa to not exist. Santa gives me presents. God hasn't given me crap.

I guarantee I can prove beyond a doubt that God doesn't exist. But I can only do so after you prove to me Santa doesn't exist.

hooligan said...

I would never try to prove Santa doesn't exist because he gives ME stuff, too!

Aaron Kinney said...

Great post Stefan! I featured it at my blog here:

http://killtheafterlife.blogspot.com/2007/02/stefan-molyneux-on-strong-atheism.html

Aaron Kinney said...

@IrC,

I deny that the universe = god. God, by my definition, is a creator of the universe, not the universe itself.

In addition, I define god as conscious, while the universe is not defined as conscious.

Your god = the universe comment has serious definitional problems, and I think you will be hard pressed to find an opponent who will agree with your definition. Your horse will have a hard time getting past the starting gate.

Lui said...

"The definition of "existence" you give is fatally flawed, because it rules out all things immaterial. Ideas, thoughts, theories, all of these do not exist by your definition."

I find this argument little better than specious, because God is not defined as a thought or a concept or a theory, but as a being that actually exists, and is even capable of interacting with physical matter. Ideas, thoughts and concepts are emergent from brains, which undoubtedly exist. They are manifestations of physical interactions. If God is just an idea, then what is there left to worship?

hooligan said...

Lui,

Read my comments again. I am not saying that God is an idea, I am showing Mr. Molyneux's definition of "existence" to be flawed because it cannot account for immaterial things. I used "ideas", "concepts", and "thoughts" as examples of things we all agree DO exist that by Mr. Molyneux's definition would fail to qualify for existence. Since these things do exist AND are immaterial, it follows that his particular argument for the non-existence of God is wrong. If he wishes to prove that God does not exist, he cannot do it with this line of reasoning.

Lui said...

"If he wishes to prove that God does not exist, he cannot do it with this line of reasoning."

But he can, because God is not supposed to be the same type of thing as an idea or concept. We can argue that they exist, even though they are not physical things that can be grasped, since they are still manifestations of material interactions. So it would be unwise to use the above kind argument in saying that ideas don't exist, but it seems to me more valid when talking about a being with a repertoire of power and consciousness. They're in different categories, so what applies to one does not have to apply to the other.

hooligan said...

"We can argue that they exist, even though they are not physical things that can be grasped, since they are still manifestations of material interactions."

By Mr. Molyneux's reasoning, we cannot. He does not make exceptions for "manifestations of material reactions", he simply and definitively states that only those entities that can be measured do, in fact, exist. Since this is the premise upon which his argument rests, exposing it to be flawed results in the failure of his proof. Such a flaw is the fact that other immaterial entities are accepted to exist.

scottmcgraw said...

Mr. Molyneux,

Please paginate! The current format is a bit unwieldy.

ddubb said...

Would you use a cook book to fix your car?

Why use laws of physics to discuss metaphysics?

I'm sure you're opposed to using the parameters of theology to discuss any of the physical sciences.

Philosophically speaking, all physical phenomena might just be a ruse played on our imaginations... by a god who controls our perceptions... sorry to get dorm-bong-session ridiculous.

Ya got science and philosophy and never the twain shall meet.

Scientific methods can only prove/disprove/hypothesize about issues limited within that realm. Scientific methods cannot address issues outside of its realm.

Science cannot prove/disprove/hypothesize about whether anything exists beyond matter and energy. As others have already intimated at, 'Information' is proof enough. DNA is more than a function of chemistry, it carries information. Can information exist absent physical matter? Don't look to the physical sciences for the answer to what can exist absent physical matter.

Nice try. Back to the drawing board.

Lui said...

"By Mr. Molyneux's reasoning, we cannot. He does not make exceptions for "manifestations of material reactions""

Maybe he should. :)

"DNA is more than a function of chemistry, it carries information. Can information exist absent physical matter?"

DNA is a product of cumulative natural selection, and it obeys the laws of chemistry.

Anonymous said...

>God, by my definition, is a creator of the universe, not the universe itself.

God would not be constrained by your definition. But we aren't sure yet whether the creation of the universe is distinct from the universe.

>In addition, I define god as conscious, while the universe is not defined as conscious.

How would you presume to detect and measure the consciousness of god?

Where you find a watch, you might seek a watchmaker.

lrC

Anonymous said...

Let's see if we can clear up some of the confusion about metaphysical properties as they pertain to the physical realm.

@ddubb (and a bit @IrC)
DNA only "carries information" in the sense that we perceive it and classify it to do so. To suggest that it harbors some abstract concept of a biological blueprint is to attach an intentional stance on something that cannot have intention. DNA is simply a double helix that has the convenient properties that blindly regulate how an organism forms.

It makes no more sense to suggest that a watch "tells time" without a watchmaker or a watch owner. These physical tools that we use books, watches, DNA, whatever have intentional states only so long as something exists to project their intentions.

All of these metaphysical things like idea, knowledge, whatever have no meaning without human existence, they do not exist independently.

Thus I think Mr. Molyneux's argument about the existence of gods rings true. If the Christian God only makes sense if Christians exist, then in what sense does the Christian god exist?

Anti-nonsense said...

Re; the existence of thoughts.

Actually, thoughts are essentinally electrical impluses in the brain. Electricy = energy therefore thoughts = energy and this theory does not disallow the existence of thoughts.

hooligan said...

Describe, then, how you diiferentiate between electrical impulses occurring in the brain to command the heart to beat from those required for thought? You say that thoughts are only these impulses: prove this, with measurable evidence as required by Mr. Molyneux's thesis.

Gabriel said...

Hi

Now, for science, “existence” is a relatively simple concept – it is defined as that which consists of either matter or energy.
I hat my first doubts, but am not sure. There is still information. Despite beeing represented by configurations of energy or matter, many (experts) view it as an independent entity.

Of course, if “gods” and “existence” is defined in a tautological manner, no advance in knowledge is achieved.
It was never intendet to advance in knowledge. Many mystics have used phrases like: "The Thing behind all things" or "That what remains when everything has been removed" or any other fit tautology. But they were not trying to communicate an information. They were giving their disciples an exercise which should result in a different way to think.

Any attempt to find god in the universe must fail. Because then, as you explained, things like omniscience and omnipotence must fail. Only when you define god as the whole of existence you have a definition that makes sense. But there is a second claim that is too often omitted: God (the whole of existence) is sentient (and possibly self-aware).

docrufus said...

The 'idea of god' can still remain just as any unlikely,unprovable, paradoxical,irrational,illogical idea can. It is an idea. However,by any rational definition of reality a personal god/divine intervention can be disproven. Therefore, logically all religion & religious text can be eliminated as completely false.
The next step for humanity is to erradicate irrationality with education. Then religion will have no power & the idea of god will be viewed as a novel & quaint 'idea'.

roadkill said...

Yes, very good.
I think Robert Frost said something to the effect that the white line is the middle of the road, and that is the worst place to drive.
I did not put quotes because I know I did not get it quite right. It is easy to find though.

Yours is one of the best atheist arguments I have read in long time. Thanks

Zachariah said...

I can measure ideas, in fact that is what I am designed to do. We know that ideas exist because we all have them and communicate them to one another. If we define existance as a form of energy and matter, then what is an idea? An idea is the exact form of a piece of matter, namely a piece of matter in organic computers.

This concept of ideas as matter is upheld by the observations of chemical changes in the brain in response to information input through sensory organs. Similarly, this information can also be measured by the input into inorganic stroage devices such as computers. A 'file' exists as the position of electrons in RAM or the orientation of particles in a hard drive.

I find this attack of the concept of existance a little strange. It seems like nothing more than a diversion from the true point of this essay.

No god but knowledge
No savior but science.

hooligan said...

"An idea is the exact form of a piece of matter, namely a piece of matter in organic computers. "

What????

Sorry, Zach, but you've proven nothing. Chemical changes observable in the brain due to thought are not the thought itself, they are the traces of its passage, just as your footprints in the sand are not your feet but merely their impression.

I agree that ideas exist and that we all know this to be true because we all have them. That is the crux of my point: we know they exist and yet they do not have a material nature, hence the flaw in Mr. Molyneux's proof.

Tony said...

I will chime in to agree with Hooligan's claim here.

Mr. Molyneux asserts that "existence is defined as that which is composed of either matter or energy." And from these easily and logically concludes that "gods" cannot exist.

First, no proof of this is offered, we are simply to assume it to be true.

More importantly, the assertion defeats itself. Can the proposition to which the sentence "existence is defined as that which is composed of either matter or energy" refers exist? If it is to be true, then it must, for how can a non-existent proposition have a truth value? But propositions are not composed of "matter or energy," so therefore it cannot exist, and since it cannot exist it cannot have a truth value.

It seems the usual response to this attack is to claim that "thoughts and ideas" are manifestations of brain matter or brain energy or whatnot. But what if there are no brains. What if there were no minds at all, just pure matter and energy floating around out there. Does that mean that there are no propositions? That nothing is true and nothing is false? That there is no truth?

This line of reasoning is very much akin to the verification principle(s) of logical positivism, which has been severely discredited. Essentially, the primary claim cannot be true under its own criteria, and any claim that disproves itself is one that should certainly be rejected.

I think there is another problem with Mr. Molyneux's argument, and that is that one who asserts that god exists must prove it. What the claim usually means is, given all the assumptions I make about what is true and what is false, take those assumptions and prove that "gods" exist. However, a theist would say that the existence of God or "gods" falls into one of those foundational beliefs, and the truth value of such assumptions rests on how consistent the resulting conclusions are. Thus, the argument is not "Prove that God exists" but should be "Prove that believing that God exists is rational."

As an example, instead of arguing about God, lets substitute the logical law of non-contradiction. Prove that it is true? How? Any attempt to do so would have to assume that it is true. (You could attempt to fall back and say that it is a tautology and is necessarily true by definition, but even that assumes it is true, for without it "tautology" is meaningless, since that which is necessarily true could also be false if the law of non-contradiction is not assumed.)

Thus, we take the truth of the law of non-contradiction as a granted assumption, and judge the validity of our belief in its truth based on the conclusions resulting therefrom.

The theist does the same with the existence of God, and unless this necessarily leads to contradictions or inconsistencies of some sort, can be thoroughly justified in his belief that God exists.

Thus, the theists response to "prove God exists" is to state that a world-view in which the existence of God is considered a properly foundational belief is more consistent than a world-view that denies the existence of God.

But jumping into an argument where one side says "Prove X" and then goes on to also require that "Y and Z" are to be assumed to be true, particularly when Y and Z obviously point to not-X, is absurd. But this seems to be exactly what Mr. Molyneux wants in his argument.

Just some thoughts.

Anonymous said...

You've made a lot of assertions, but frankly, it doesn't really sit well.

From the outset we are told, effectively, that anybody who knows what they are talking about will agree with you. Well, thats a nice way to start a balanced debate, rather than a diatribe.

Ultimately, it comes down to how you are defining 'god' and 'existance'. If you want to take a logical/scientific moral high ground, like the article suggests, then surely you have to adhere to the restrictions of logic.

You can't assert that something can or cannot exist with certainty, if neither state can be proven, without making assumptions and curtailing your own ability to accept that you are wrong. A major flaw in any scientist.

Anonymous said...

IF gods are subject to physical laws...

no one has challenged this premise yet. why is it assumed that this is true? seems to me that the claims most have about gods is that they are NOT bound by physical laws.

this whole syllogism is flawed.

jamarchist said...

"The definition of "existence" you give is fatally flawed, because it rules out all things immaterial. Ideas, thoughts, theories, all of these do not exist by your definition."

The problem is that ideas, thoughts, and theories don't exist the way you think they do, hooligan. Ideas and thoughts only exist when formulated by the matter and energy of the brain. There is nothing immaterial... you just have the idea that there are things immaterial.

hooligan said...

Jamarchist,

If "ideas" only existed when your brain "formulates" them, you would be unable to express them to anyone else with any hope of them understanding you, because you do not think for them, you do not "formulate" for them.
The fact that we can discuss general or universal concepts is proof that they exist in and of themselves because we are all able, independently, to bring them to mind, to apprehend them, despite each of us doing his own thinking. It is not your act of thinking that brings a universal concept into being; that act only conjures up your personal image of said concept, which already exists.

jamarchist said...

The fact that we can transmit information across a medium doesn't give that information some ethereal existence outside of the medium.

We don't really discuss universal concepts, we discuss concepts that are unique in our own minds but have a fairly common expression.

I can write some software and store it on a computer to give it existence. I can transmit that software to other machines via a medium (wireless networking, wired networking, one guy typing the code in line-by-line, etc.). The software doesn't have existence outside of the media on which it is present. Arguably, it isn't even the same software (different bits could be corrupted on different machines). The 'idea' of the software doesn't exist outside of physical reality. I may have some conception of it, you may have some conception of it, but when our minds cease to produce the necessary chemical reactions, the idea is lost.

jamarchist said...

Sorry, I didn't realize that Zack had already explained this. Hooligan, you just don't realize that ideas don't exist without matter. No flaws in the argument are exposed on that basis.

People are computers, by the way.

hooligan said...

"We don't really discuss universal concepts, we discuss concepts that are unique in our own minds but have a fairly common expression."

You seem to be splitting hairs here. The plain meaning of the word "unique" precludes it from being used to describe something that is "fairly common".

We are at odds over the existence of "immaterial" objects: so be it. We will instead use your logic to dismantle Mr. Molyneux's argument. His position is that only those things composed of matter and enrgy actually exist. You say that objects of the mind only exist when they are being thought about, that their existence is brought about by the matter and energy in the brain of the thinker. By your argument, thinking about "God" brings "God" into existence. Mr. Molyneux's hypothetical atheist therefore cannot ever argue the non-existence of "God" without thinking about the subject and, by your argument, bringing that subject, "God", into existence. Your argument against "immateriality" defeats Mr. Molyneux every bit as well as my argument in favour of it does. It would seem that, if Mr. Molyneux wants to disprove the existence of a deity, another line of thought will be needed; this one just does not work.

Alex said...

Hooligan,

To clarify over 'unique' vs 'fairly common', I think it's easy to see jamarchist's point. While person A and person B can have two different unique concepts in mind (Xa and Xb respectively) when they think of an idea X, if A describes Xa to B, B may still recognise it as the concept Xb. Thus, the concept could be considered common to them despite the unique way it is stored in their heads.

You are misunderstanding the materialist viewpoint. An idea, God say, is not conjured into existence only when we think of it: the idea is never conjured into existence. Things that seem like ideas to you or I may not actually be ideas. By means of a concrete example, if we sent the transcript of this comments page to someone that didn't understand English but could read it phonetically, would the ideas of this page exist in their head? If we were observing such a person reading the page out loud, we would conclude that they were reading it, understanding it and taking on board the ideas. The fact that they aren't suggests that the tempting concept of an idea is in fact very elusive. As another thought experiment: if everyone that spoke English in the world died, would the idea of this page live on? If the idea does live on, then it is an idea that no one could possibly describe or use or see meaning in. If the idea doesn't live on, where was the idea in the first place?

Let me put the above in a slightly different way. If you and I were to observe a fluent, rational conversation between two people, we would both conceive of a flow of ideas between the two. What we are actually seeing, however, is a flow of words between the two. The difference between a simple flow of words and a conversation is naturally very difficult to describe, but any mechanism capable of mimicing a conversation well enough to fool us would be indistinguishable from a conversation. Now suppose a computer were intelligent enough to mimic such a conversation. Before you complain (and rightly so), I hasten to add that the production of such a computer is a very difficult engineering problem, but not a philosophical one at all. Such a computer would be either producing ideas by an entirely deterministic process, in which case an idea could be thought of as putting all the things I know into a hat, shaking it and pulling some things to talk about. This is hardly a breach in materialism. This thought experiment of course uses the core idea of the Turing Test.

If that were not satisfactory: thinking about the idea of God and so manufacturing the thought of God in the Universe is not the same as thinking about the idea of God and so manufacturing an omnipotent God in the Universe. The contradiction you suggest in your most recent post is fallacious.

I'm surprised that in these exchanges no one has mentioned the most rotten part of the Molyneux's argument: its foundations.

1. Molyneux takes as a premiss that any thing that exists is observable. Besides the fact that we could dismiss its validity on purely philosophical grounds, we can give examples of many real physical objects which are not observable at all. The interior of a black hole (beyond its event horizon) is not observable by any means physicists can imagine because light cannot escape the interior of a black hole. The most distant reaches of the universe are too far away for us to observe - they have journeyed so far away from us since the beginning of the universe that their light has not yet reached us. 1 is false.

2. Molyneux takes as a premiss that anything that exists is bound by physical laws. There is no reason to think this. By definition, all physical laws have been ratified within all the experiments that we have done to within experimental error. It is a leap of faith to assume that the physical laws hold for all things at all times in all the places in the Universe, and without this leap of faith there is no philisophical weight to Science. While such deductive reasoning may be a necessary evil when it comes to science, there is no reason to go along with it when it comes to philosophy. 2 is up for debate.

If you read through all that crap, well done!

Alex

hooligan said...

Alex,
"If you and I were to observe a fluent, rational conversation between two people, we would both conceive of a flow of ideas between the two. What we are actually seeing, however, is a flow of words between the two."

If we would "both conceive of a flow of ideas", it is because the concept of "a flow of ideas" exists for us to compare to our perceptions, in this case the sight of two people talking. Similarly, "
if A describes Xa to B, B may still recognise it as the concept Xb
", it is only because both concepts exist for B to recognize and compare.
As for your two points about Molyneux's premises, my assertion about immaterial entities is a subset of your insight on Molyneux's assumption of "observability" (one cannot "observe" immaterial things), and my whole point here has been to show that Molyneux's "proof" is impossible because he rests it on physical laws alone.
Your comment was not hard at all to read through; I enjoyed doing so.

Conner said...

Although Hooligan's point may be valid, it is beside the point of the argument. As Lui noted, "By Mr. Molyneux's reasoning, we cannot. He does not make exceptions for "manifestations of material reactions"" entails that adding "manifestations of material reactions" would easily solve the problem.

Anyone who's still reading this, check out what Tony and Alex have to say. Thus far, they've made the most astute observations concerning the unsupported or simply fallacious claims that Molyneux has made which underlie his argument.

Nonetheless, I'd say that Tony makes an unreasonable claim when he asserts that "a world-view in which the existence of God is considered a properly foundational belief is more consistent than a world-view that denies the existence of God" can be a proof for God. He should at least clarify why he has made that claim.

As both Tony and Alex point out, science is not sufficient to answer philosophical questions such as "does God exist?" therefore your application of scientific definitions of "existence" and "evidence" are irrelevant. Furthermore, your claim that an objective criterion for knowing truth exists may be accurate, but you assume that subjectively rationalizing beings such as ourselves are able to ascertain the nature of such criterion. You must first make the unsupported claim that the reliability of your cognitive faculties is absolute. You could also say that your cognitive faculties are--objectively speaking--generally reliable, but that would assume that you are rational to begin with. If one is to argue regarding the question of rationality completely plainly, it looks like this.

A) I believe I am rational because my cognitive faculties produce consistent representations of the world around me.
B)But what if my cognitive faculties are fundamentally flawed? What if, let's say, whenever I see the color red, my cognitive faculties tell me it is the color orange. If no one ever points out to me that it is in fact the color red, I will believe that my faculties accurately represent the color orange to me, when in fact I am wrong.
A)What if many other people tell me it's really the color orange, then I can know that, in this instance, my cognitive faculties are unreliable, but that does not mean that my cognitive faculties are largely unreliable.
B)That is true, but what if everyone who sees red believes it to be orange. Then, even if--objectively--the wavelength associated with the color red should produce a representation of the color red to the observer, a whole society, a whole race, could falsely believe that the color red doesn't exist. Such a possibility is perfectly in accordance with evolution as being able to distinguish red from orange consigns no advantage to the possessor of such an ability.

All this points out is that one must make an inescapable leap of faith in believing that one's cognitive faculties are reliable at all. In fact, we can only say that there is evidence for the general consistency and universality of human rationality, and that is merely evidence.

Assuming reliable rationality is practical, so it is a more useful choice, particularly in argument, but that does not preclude the possibility that our rationality--mine, yours, everyone's--is not reliable.

Do I believe I am rational? Yes. But I admit that my claim is unsupported because it is a basic belief. I cannot give a non-question-begging reason why I believe I am rational. So to say that there is an objective criterion of truth that you can know is not very meaningful, because--not only is it dependent on a basic belief that requires a leap of faith to arrive at--it assumes that your capacities are sufficient to arrive at such an all encompassing, objective criterion of distinguishing between that which is true and that which is not true.