North Western Winds

Contemplating it all from the great Pacific Northwest

Overdue

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It’s the last day of my two weeks off (that sucks) and I still have not given a rebuttal to Andrew on our “monotheism vs. Naturalism” discussion. Time to put that right.

His post is here, and the one I wrote that he refers to most is here. His entry also has links to previous exchanges we’ve had. I’ll try to make this post stand alone as best I can.
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The first thing Andrew did in his post was to dismiss the human need for a meaningful life. There are two issues I have to respond to here. The first is to admit that Andrew is quite right in saying that wanting something to be true is a lousy proof that it is true. In fact, I never staked a claim on that. Here is what I said:

The human heart, however, balks at meaninglessness. Why should that matter? A purely rational approach cannot choose either course and leads to agnosticism. Here is why the heart is important. Because the decision to think with only reason is itself purely arbitrary. There is no compelling reason to choose that over what might be called a heart and head decision, the God premise.

Andrew didn’t address the second part of what I said, about how to think. He also appears to have misunderstood what was meant by the word heart. I’m not using it to describe what I want; I’m using it to express judgment about what is reasonable and what is not.

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More detail

In my post I was attempting to show how, using rational methods, Naturalism and Monotheism (not polytheism) share a certain coherence, which is a virtue. This is probably why people from such varying times and places have been attracted to them. My intention in bringing the two theories to that point was to draw out problems with the rational, deductive methodology that was used.

I never made the problems explicit, however, so I’ll do that now.

The first and most important issue is why we restrict ourselves to deduction as if it were all that there was to logic. There is also Induction. Everyone is familiar with deduction, which yields a solid proof like two and two is four. Induction is another method of reasoning whose use frequently goes unnoticed and unremarked on. It is not as solid as deduction, but it is impossible to get through a day without using it. “The sun has come up every day for thousands and thousands of years, therefore, the sun will rise this morning” is an inductive proof. An inductive proof is considered to be stronger if more examples of it are known. “Billy crossed the street here yesterday, so he will cross here again today” is also inductive, but it is weaker than the example of the sunrise. We can see, I hope, that induction is kind of like faith.

Consider:

1) The very mechanical regularity on which all scientific experimentation is based is an inductive premise.
2) Every time scientists move from a specific experiment and extrapolate from it, they are using induction.
3a) There is no deductive proof that deduction itself is the only reasonable method of thinking. The proofs for the virtue of deduction are in fact inductive: It has done X and Y for us in the past, therefore it will do more such things in the future.
3b) Deduction works best in the sciences, where variables can be highly controlled. Invoking scientific “progress” to say that someday those infinite variables will be controlled is no help. Using past progress to draw conclusions about the future is inductive.

It is interesting to point out that Conservatives, relying on past successes (because that is what they want to conserve) are more empirical than liberals, whose aims are too often attached to a future than may never happen. Liberals, and not conservatives, are the religious mystics of our day.

Enough digressing – Induction is not irrational. There are a few extremists who argue that it is. People like David Hume and Karl Popper, for example. Their case remains very controversial. It is often invoked by some scientists and laypeople without proof. Too often, their claims go unchallenged. What they are in fact doing, is using their faith in a certain kind of “pure” Rationalism to prove the truth of “pure” Rationalism, which is circular.

It was only after hinting at the limits of this “pure” rationalism, that I said:

The God premise is unprovable, except that it is better than all the alternatives. This is not a purely rational reason, and that is part of why religious people speak about faith. Faith that we can learn and know, faith that life is not robotic and meaningless, faith that makes our troubles and pains worth suffering.

When I said it was unprovable, I meant it was unprovable to the standard being sought, which is not a reasonable standard, as I hope I have now shown. Inductive faith permeates science, which is itself very useful in many areas but limited in scope. If the ancient and medieval error was to put theology above observation, the modern one is to put a distorted vision of science in places in which it is of limited use.

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Andrew wrote:

Humans do not need an omnipotent God to lead meaningful existences. Our free will allows us to pursue goals that matter to us (which differ from individual to individual) while pursuing the ultimate goal of any species: to survive and to reproduce. Our lives are neither bleak nor meaningless in the absence of a deity.

I respond, “if a tree falls in the forest, does it make a noise?” Most of us would probably say it does. It is an inductive conclusion. How about this? If I murder someone and get away with it, was it wrong? Again, most of us would say that it is wrong, no matter what happens after. Again, it is an inductive conclusion. Are those conclusions wrong because they lack empirical, deductive proof? But if what you say is true, and I kill someone to improve my reproduction (let’s say a husband is in my way), and I get away with it, then I’ve done nothing wrong. We simply don’t live that way. Those few individuals who are capable of killing without remorse are considered by the rest of us to be broken and deficient human beings. But by your measure, they’re the ones who are sane. It’s the rest of us who are held back by morality. That’s a very unbermensch, Nazi, hard left kind of thing to advocate. I’m grateful that most people who advocate it don’t, in fact, live it.

This quote also contradicts the one I started with, where you said that what we want has no bearing on it’s truth.

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C.S. Lewis’ and the Argument from Reason

Andrew compares reason with sight and says that both are tools for gaining knowledge. I beg to differ. All the light that passes through my eyes is filtered through my brain, which makes sense of it. The brain, and not the eye, is the source of ideas that allow visual input to be useful: self and other, near and far, and distinct object from distinct object (the concept of distinct items is not in the light we see). I don’t think this is a strong argument, so I won’t dwell on it.

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Andrew’s conclusions are:

a) Our inner aesthetics should not dictate our sense of reality. We must look beyond what feels good and discover what is.

b) C.S. Lewis’ Argument From Reason is not a death blow to Naturalism, and thus naturalism should not be discounted out of hand.

To which I respond, A) is true and B), if it is true, has not yet been demonstrated.

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Written by Curt

December 17, 2004 at 5:10 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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