Monday, 13 February 2012
Our minds are indeed filled with great questions, most of which don't even begin to express the enormity of the task of providing accurate answers to those questions. One of the most humbling aspects of asking those questions is encountering the realization that we may not even be equipped to find the answers yet...or ever.
I really enjoyed the description of the three basic positions on the question of God's existence, primarily because it was more even-handed than most such descriptions. The list does omit some important distinctions, but it's pretty impossible to include them all if there's a character limit.
"On the question of God there are three basic positions. They are the Theist, the Agnostic, and the Atheist. Then in those positions people tend to lean on two sides.
- Theists lean from moderate to fundamentalist. (Though I prefer to use the word fanatic to describe them)
- Agnostics tend to lean towards theism or Atheism. (I lean theist)
- Atheists lean from moderate to fanatic as well. (Secular fanatic, specifically)"
So here they are, our contestants in the fight to answer what many people consider to be a great question, some consider to be an interesting question, and others consider to be a meaningless question. Who will win the battle?
Nidan accurately points out that, in recent history, the public debate between theists and atheists has taken place largely on the battlefield of the questions of origins. Folks want to put forth their favored answers to the following questions: 1.) How did our world come about? 2.) How did we come to be in this world?
Obviously, there are related questions, (i.e. How long did it take for our world to come about?), and there are a variety of disagreements over the answers to those questions as well.
Rather than focusing on the questions and the various answers to them, which makes a discussion about answering the initial question either into a heinously long attempt to provide a comprehensive treatment of the subject or an impossible attempt to provide an account of the topic that is both concise and accurate...
Let's look at the tools we have available to answer questions about our existence, and see if we can pick the right tool for the job before heading into the fray.
As it turns out, we human beings don't have a large number of options when it comes to answering questions about our reality. There are two tools available:
Our combatants can use their experience or the experience of others to support their positions. They can use reason to construct and deconstruct arguments in support of their positions. And using both is often a possibility. Unfortunately, neither of these weapons work perfectly well in answering questions.
If we use reason to construct arguments in support of our positions, inevitably our opponents will use reason to deconstruct those arguments or attempt to falsify them using experience. If we use experience, our opponents will inevitably provide other experiences with which to counter it, or attempt to use reason to argue that the experience isn't sufficient to provide support for our positions. If we use experience and reason in tandem, those difficulties do not decrease. Sometimes the difficulties are compounded by using them in tandem because our opponents have more opportunities for effective rebuttal.
Some might suggest that if all we have are two lousy blunt weapons that we can't use to win the fight anyway, we should just stop fighting. I would agree that we should stop fighting over the answer to the question. It generally doesn't accomplish anything but headaches and hurt feelings. At the same time, the process of attempting to use those tools in the search for answers can be a great learning experience, especially if we do it in honest collaboration with those who do not share our views and are willing to challenge us in a constructive way.
In any battle, the terrain must be considered. We need to know which ravines we may fall into and which mountains we may have to climb. Speaking of which, I just noticed a boulder in our path.
The Law of Causality
I'm sorry, what law of causality? The Problem of Induction as laid out by David Hume demonstrates fairly well that even if causality exists, we have no rational justification for believing that it does. In addition, any inductive argument we make for our belief tends to simply beg the question or in some cases answer a slightly different question.
And even if we assume that the problem is solved by the means proposed to have solved it in the article referenced above, we still have a ways to go. If the Problem of Induction is solvable, and our belief in causality is rationally justified, then we just get turtles all the way down. I'll just apologize in advance to any turtles in may step on. But up ahead lies a jagged ravine. Let's take a look and see if those turtles can get us across.
Exclusion a Priori
I sympathize with your points about the use of Occam's Razor. I think it's overused and often abused in the debate over God's existence. There are too many instances of simple and yet horrifically wrong theories as well as complex correct ones for folks to be wielding that razor all willy-nilly.
And let's face it, Berkeley's idealism is a devastatingly simple approach to metaphysics, and yet is commonly rejected by the same folks who champion simplicity.
So when we have competing theories regarding the existence of God, how do we decide which is true if not using the principle of parsimony? Here we run into the Problem of the Criterion. I suspect that crossing this particular chasm, if it's possible, could take as many of our years as it takes light years to cross the universe. I don't think we have enough turtles for that.
This isn't intended to be a demonstration that the existence of God cannot be proven, or even that God's existence cannot be supported via rational or empirical means. What I would like the audience to consider is that the attempt to demonstrate God's existence or lack thereof is extraordinarily problematic, and that we may not have so much room to judge our opponents for their lack of solutions to those problems given that we often haven't solved them effectively either.
I look forward to your thoughts on the questions about Christianity and Jesus.
Do you agree or disagree with the above conclusions? Do both sides of the argument have a lack of solutions to the problem? If so, why do we always judge each other so harshly? How can we have a more friendly discussion about the existence of God?