Saturday, November 20, 2004

A Quick Response for Andrew

It's a busy weekend, what with the Grey Cup and a lot more going on, but I find myself with a few moments in which I can quickly respond to some questions raised by Andrew at Bound by Gravity.
Argument 1: And if free will is only an illusion anyways? What if God-given free will is an illusion as well? What basis do you have to claim that our so-called "free will" is authentic? Since you are the one claiming that naturalistic free world is less authentic than god-given free will, I belief the burden of proof lies with you.
Well... I would respond that the theory that we are all unknowing, unthinking, immoral robots has the virtue that you claim - it has some ring of coherence to it. I grant that. But if you were to "win" our debate on that theory it would be a Phyrric Victory. Our debate, not to mention our very existence, would be quite meaningless. I find that quite unattractive. You could say that you believe this and live this, but if it is true you could take no credit for it.
Argument 2: It does not immediately follow that a mechanical process cannot give rise to authentic free will. This especially true when the mechanical process we're talking about (in this case the universe) is neither fully defined nor fully understood. It can be argued that given the knowledge that we have today, authentic free will could not arise naturally. My problem with that is that in order to accept that "fact" you have to stomach the time-honoured human conceit that we know enough about ourselves to make any clear statements about how we work.
A mechanistic universe simply could not give us free will because it is simply not made that way. It would be like a assembly line for making cars that suddenly started to make cats, all by itself. No amount of evolved complexity could grant this because it simply would not be there to give. I certainly don't claim that humans know how it is that we came to be, to have the sense that we really do know some things (and not just a theory that fits the facts), and that we are bound by a Natural Law to do some things and avoid others, not for mere survival (although that plays into it), but because they are Wrong. One of the things that we rely on very heavily, for example, is logic itself. And logic tells us that our universe is either run by rote, or it is free. The notion of one leading to the other has a square circle quality to it. This is like argument one, where you could argue that logic itself can be doubted, but it would seem that you loose more than you gain by doing so. Andrew then asked me to elaborate on the following from an earlier post:
If we look at the God premise, we have something that would allow free will and some degree of rationality. We are lead to discuss our differences in terms of what we think the nature of reality is, and how we ought to respond to it. In other words, we discuss God.
He asks, "If I understand correctly you just defined your conception of God as reality. Please confirm and/or clarify." I can see how this was misleading. What is missing is that reality is God's creation, and as such it tells us a great deal about him. The idea here is a bit like art telling us about the artist. Such reading is a bit out of fashion today, where every work is merely a "text" into which anyone can read just about anything. I find these new schools to be narcissistic, like much modern philosophy, in which we never seem to engage with anything other than ourselves. It's a masturbatory outlook. Lastly, we agreed that The Raving Atheist didn't have particularly strong arguments, with the exception of this, which Andrew thought had some merit:
Fourth, any person asserting a special individual right or attempting to dictate social policy based about a belief in god must first 1) define the god, 2) prove that the god exists and 3) demonstrate how the right or policy follows from the belief in god. Because there is no god, nobody will ever be able to do this.
I'll say right off the top that a cold, hard, purely rational reason for God is not forthcoming, because there is no such thing. This brings up some very interesting points. The first is why such a proof is demanded, when they alternatives we discussed above are so unpalatable. They have coherence but they are empty. The God premise has the same virtues, but not the drawback of a useless empty existence. There is no purely rational reason, however, to pick one over the other. 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. The question of an axial point from which all thought begins is quite an interesting one, but the desire to find one with only reason as a guide is inevitably an infinite regress. Reason can't prove it's own objectivity. And that is why I chose the C.S. Lewis quote the sits at the top my of blog:
To see through all things is the same as not to see. C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man
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. If we claim to choose the alternatives, we deny the possibility of choice itself. Andrew writes:
The burden of proof should lie with the people making the claims of an omnipotent being, even if those claims have been accepted without proof for thousands of years. Considering that early in the Bible's history you could be killed for questioning the existence of God, it's easy to see how people came to take what the church said on blind faith.
The kind of proof I just outlined has always been available. Our ability to put a man on the moon has no affect on this kind of question. It is not an empirical question, but a logical one. So to say that it was accepted without proof for thousands of years is wrong. Plato's works come quite close to some of the ideas here, so they have always been available. In fact, Plato hits on one of the best arguments any theist has to face, namely the Euthyphro Dilemma: "Is an act good because the gods command it, or do they command it because it is good? I think this is a serious problem, and that it arises from the limits of human knowledge. C.S. Lewis (who else?) puts it like this:

When we attempt to think of a person and a law, we are compelled to think of this person either as obeying the law or as making it. And when we think of Him as making it we are compelled to think of Him either as making it in conformity to some yet more ultimate pattern of goodness (in which case that pattern, and not He, would be supreme) or else as making it arbitrarily … But it is probably just here that our categories betray us. It would be idle, with our merely mortal resources, to attempt a positive correction of our categories. … But it might be permissible to lay down two negations: that God neither obeys nor creates the moral law. The good is uncreated; it could never have been otherwise; it has in it no shadow of contingency; it lies, as Plato said, on the other side of existence. [But since only God admits of no contingency, we must say that] God is not merely good, but goodness; goodness is not merely divine, but God. These may seem like fine-spun speculations: yet I believe that nothing short of this can save us. A Christianity which does not see moral and religious experience converging to meet at infinity … has nothing, in the long run, to divide it from devil worship.
Lewis' explanation (it might not be original with him) is the best solution I've seen. All of existence, all that is good, comes from God. This property, something that is dependent on nothing else - the holy grail of philosophy - is called Aseity.

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