Monday, May 4, 2009

Atheism, Reason, and Lingistics

God exists. Is this reasonable? Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens would have you believe that faith and reason are on opposite side. I have been meditating on the rise of militant atheism. Many of their arguments rest on weakness of words. God as all powerful is shown to have internal contradictions, which then they claim prooves God could not possibly exist. While it is easy to bring out a Wittenstein and show that most of those arguments simply violate the use of langauge... ie if the concept all powerful pushed to its literaral end always invokes a contradiction, then the problem is with the concept of all powerful and not with God's existence. Logicians have long known these problems with language. "A white horse in not a horse," Barber paradox and a host of others point to what can called the limits of language. The facts that the above writers use such arguments and that they found such a large audience makes wonder why has theism been laid so low. I will be writing these thoughts in the next few days. For now let us look at what is reason.

Many simply go along with them in thinking that reason in and by itself is opposed with faith, shows a misuderstanding of what reason is and how it functions. I can a reasonable Christian as they can be a reasonable Atheists. While this seems to be a contradiction, it is not. If I believe in the Gospel of Jesus, I organize my live accordingly. If I assume Jesus is God, and God wants his followers to pray, then I pray to Jesus. If I don't believe that Jesus is god, then I should not pray to God. Both stances are reasonable, as reason is an operation done after premises are made. As for the premises, they are made outside of reason. Most attempts to found knowledge on reason have been unsuccessful.

The most famous case has to be Logical Positivism's attempt to base knowledge on science with Verification prinicple: "Only propositions that are verified are valid." Verification prinicple seem to be simple and straight forward, except that it cannot be verified and by its own rules void. The answer that was given then is that is the starting point, because you have to start somewhere. Agian, everyone has to start with a premise. I say God exist, and I can be reasonable human being.

8 comments:

rogueminister said...

I look forward to this series of posts! My atheist friends often lean heavily on the work of Dawkins etc. and I havent had time to read them yet, so I look forward to what you have to say.

Samuel Skinner said...

" then the problem is with the concept of all powerful and not with God's existence. "

Er, no. It just means that a God that is all powerful cannot exist. You can have extremely powerful, but all good, powerful or all anything is almost impossible.

"As for the premises, they are made outside of reason. Most attempts to found knowledge on reason have been unsuccessful."

That is why we use evidence to check our premises and see if they are supported.

"I say God exist, and I can be reasonable human being. "

That isn't a starting point. Than you have to define God and explain how God can be used as a starting point by which time you have massively bloated the premise to the size of an entire argument.

"My atheist friends often lean heavily on the work of Dawkins etc. and I havent had time to read them yet, so I look forward to what you have to say."

Here:
http://www.secularism.org.uk/uploads/russell001.pdf

Bertrand Russel. 11 pages explaining what takes other authors hundreds.

Tito Tinajero said...

Thanks rogueminister,
I do want to answer Dr. Dawkins. So stay tune.

Tito Tinajero said...

Dear Samuel,

You are right about Russell being a better case against Christianity than many of the current thinkers like Dr. Dawkins. Dawkins is just revisiting Russell's arguments, anyhow. I very familiar with "Why I am not a Christian" I access his most brilliant student, Wittgenstein to answer many of his arguments. To quickly answer a couple of your points, first if by any x (God, universe, US President, or the dog down the street) is all powerful produces a contradiction, then all powerful is being misused. The fact I can plug anything into x of the proposition, and still come up with a contradiction, reveals the fallacy comes from how all powerful is being defined. It is not false but as Wittgenstein's says nonsensical. The term "all mighty" is used to describe how all of God's abilities are beyond human understanding and to define it as denoting all possible potentialities only leads to nonsense.

Second, your proposition: "That is why we use evidence to check our premises and see if they are supported." (A variation of the verifiable principle) If turned on itself, cannot be supported. Can you support that proposition through evidence? You run right into the Epistemological problem. The verifiable principle cannot be verified and fails its own test. Again, being Rational cannot say anything meaningful about the world.

Samuel Skinner said...

"The term "all mighty" is used to describe how all of God's abilities are beyond human understanding and to define it as denoting all possible potentialities only leads to nonsense. "

Of course, logical contradictions only disprove some of the many possible gods. Since the ones that have logical contradictions are finite in number and the pool of possible gods is infinite, it does not really affect the argument for gods in general, just specific ones.

"Second, your proposition: "That is why we use evidence to check our premises and see if they are supported." (A variation of the verifiable principle) If turned on itself, cannot be supported. Can you support that proposition through evidence? You run right into the Epistemological problem. The verifiable principle cannot be verified and fails its own test. Again, being Rational cannot say anything meaningful about the world."

That is why I don't use pure reason. Aside from reason and evidence I also use definitions! In this case evidence is pieces of reality and examining it gives me information about reality. The circle is complete... but only as long as I examine reality. If I do something else, I need to get a new series.

There hasn't been a new argument against God since "On the Nature of Things". Russels advantage is he speaks modern English- all that has changed is the constant poking into the gaps.

Jake Barlow said...

I am confused. You begin your post by challenging Dawkins's, et al. arguments as based on problems with linguistics, but your argument is based entirely on a linguistic misunderstanding. You are simply using the word (small r) reason in a separate context of (capital R) Reason.

You certainly can't be serious that this is also the underpinning of all of [their] arguments against the existence of God, can you? You may need to re-read (or just read) their complete works. Samuel's recommendation of B. Russell is also a great place to start.

Keep in mind that atheists are just one rejected God away from all of the other gods you have rejected as a Christian.

As for your linguistic challenge, again, you are getting stuck on "all mighty". Think of it more in terms of physics. It is mathematically impossible for an Abrahamic God to exist. That God is supposedly the creator of all things, so in order to have created all things, he would have to have a knowledge of all things to begin with, which is infinite knowledge. Infinity cannot be duplicated. There is no duality in infinity.

There remains precisely one consistent way for God to be able to "know" everything, and that is for God to BE everything. If God equals Universe, then the information content of God precisely matches the information content of the Universe.

That is, God can't be part of the Universe and also contain the information content of the Universe. The Universe cannot be a part of God because the word "Universe" means "everything that exists" and if God exists he is a subset of everything that exists. To be consistent, they must be equivalent.

Tito Tinajero said...

Dear Samuel,
Thanks for your response. I agree that using definition is important, and that is my point. To simply define God out of existence is intelluctually lazy. Making God the God of the gaps, misses the real phenomena of Faith. I know of very few people that comes to faith through the classical proofs of God. Most of those coming to faith have an experience, which even Sam Harris acknowledges.

Tito Tinajero said...

Jake,

Not confused at all. I know that Dawkins doesn't bring in much modern linguistics or take on Paul Van Buren. (Nor does it take on any of the many great contemporary modern theologians. He is happy taking on TV evangelists and silly internet proofs. One wonders how he would do with Braithwaite, Moltmann, or even Tillich. Dawkins answer this criticism by saying, "Do you have to read up on leprechology before disbelieving in leprechauns." Sounds like an intellectual coward to me.

The linguistic challenge to Modernistic Atheism is not mine and has its roots in Wittengstein. Without getting into it too deeply, religious discourse is different than scientific discourse. Even powerful non-believer thinkers like Rorty would agree with this. Dawkins when he claims to try to do justice to the "God Hypothesis," but by framing it as God Hypothesis, he already going do the wrong tunnel. The function of religious discourse dose not present itself as hypothesis. As for your mathematically challenge, whole numbers are an infinite set, Odd numbers as an infinite set as is even numbers. Even and Odd number sets are infinite and yet share no number. I would point you to Kurt Godel's proof.