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The “Accumulative Existence” Argument Against God’s Existence

This is a redo of my previous post, “The ‘Accumulative Past’ Argument Against God’s Existence”. After some discussion on Facebook I decided to change it up. I thought #1 was a weak premise, even for a skeptic, seeing as time as we know it is an abstraction by itself, and if it’s applied to a transcendent being it pretty much loses enough meaning to really talk about it. But I decided to go with it since that was my initial thought.

Here’s the revamped argument:

1. For God to be God He must embody all the properties He has to the maximal degree.
2. The universe and things inside it (people, rivers, quarks) are all separate from God.
3. God plus the universe is greater than God.
4. Therefore, there is at least one property, the quantity or “amount” of being, that God (or “God”, now) does not hold in the maximal degree (1-3).

To put it in a single sentence: all of existence (God plus anything He has created) is greater than God alone, therefore existence itself, not God, is the holds the trophy for being the category holding the most “stuff” in it.

Still, this needs a lot of discussion, and I’m going to assume this has been thought of before in a different, more academically rigorous form. Stanford’s ontological arguments page should probably have it, but I have yet to really dive into it.

In the end, though, providing arguments for this or that logically when speaking of metaphysical truths butts up against boundaries but doesn’t break through. It can’t. The nature of God should be elusive; I personally wouldn’t be satisfied in believing in a god that is perfectly logical.

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The “Accumulative Past” Argument Against God’s Existence

You are not this guy.

You are not this guy.

Most Christians are too scaredy-cat—skeptics, too dull-witted—to really step into the thinking process of someone different. I, on the other hand, can spend inordinate effort doing so.

This argument is very weak because it’s just a framework. A more realer philosopher-guy needs to put some meat on the steps. Additionally, this can only work for skeptics, who by dint of their beliefs must claim to know a lot more about metaphysical truths than theists*, and in purely materialist epistemological terms.

Enjoy!

1. God has a past.

2. God is such a being that holds properties to the greatest conceivable degree.

3. Therefore, God’s past must be the largest out of anything (1 + 2).

4. Creation (humans, rivers, quarks, etc.) has a past.

5. God’s past plus the past of all created things is greater that God’s past (deductive logic/math).

6. Therefore, God does not exist or cannot exist as currently conceived since He has one thing (His past) that is not the largest out of anything conceivable (3 – 5).

* Real theists are painfully aware of how unknowable God really is, but skeptics spin like lassos their arguments like the matter is settled. Most of those frumpy-minded theists among us that self-glorify themselves as God’s direct mouthpiece can be safely ignored.

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Thomism.org’s Proofs Against Theism

Flawless.

Flawless.


A Facebook friend linked to these recently. Most of them are satirical strawman proofs; no need to take them seriously, but some do point out actual weak arguments. There’s too many good ones to point out, but check out one of the Carl Sagan Dragon arguments, number 90:

CARL SAGAN’S DRAGON IN MY GARAGE ARGUMENT (I)
(1) God is like an invisible, incoporeal, floating dragon who spits heatless fire in my garage.
(2) You can’t disprove that such a creature exists.
(3) However, claims that cannot be tested and are immune to disproof are “veridically worthless.”
(4) That’s just a convoluted way of me trying to tell you not believe in God for absolutely no reason because we can’t come up with any reasons to justify our position in any way.
(5) Therefore, God does not exist.

One is reminded of Russell’s teapot and the Flying Spaghetti Monster with this argument—both of which are also somewhere on that list.

The fatality is hidden in first premise. Dragons and fire are things sensually perceived. That is, someone must have had perception of the dragon and fire yet is ascribing physical properties to an incorporeal thing. This is something that the Bible does with God only by way of analogy or by actual physical manifestations (pillars of fire and smoke, Jesus, the burning bush, etc). There’s no possible way to receive sensual data unless the thing is corporeal; there’s a reason why someone claimed a fire-breathing dragon is in the garage*. What is it?

One good reason is if the dragon were perceived, say, at one point in time, but before the dragon disappeared it claimed to actually always be there yet not perceptible**. Well, then you have sensual evidence via memory of the dragon—though the evidence is not “transferrable.” The other person would have to take his word for it.

* Unless the person is crazy, lying, mistaken, or being kind of dick about things. But those are different arguments to make. This proof is one questioning empirical evidence, not the mental state of the person making the claim.

** The point could be raised that the dragon is lying or mistaken about actually being there without being perceived. Again, that is another argument to make and depends on whether the person is already open to the supernatural or not. Although the fantastic notion of a dragon appearing in your garage and communicating meaningfully to one person is good grounds for questioning a non-spiritual worldview in itself.

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“There is no X, except there is X.”

I found it.

I found it.

One of the dumbest comments I’ve seen goes to this one, on an article about some schmuck brain surgeon who killed people. See bolded part:

There is no regulation in Texas of ANY kind. Regulation in Texas only exists to protect the businesses and individuals from the consequences of their actions, just like this so called physician was protected. This is why Angie’s List is the best place to screen your physician. (No, I am not a cyber shill.)

So, is there health care regulation in Texas or isn’t there?

The commenter’s misstep reveals a truth about state-enforced regulations: “deregulation” really means regulation for most and deregulation for a few. Those “few” are the ones big enough to pay off the state mafioso, and most likely sponsored (bribed) for the legislation to begin with.

NWB also hinted at a semantic curiosity with the Angie’s List reference. Namely, that deregulation can never exist because market forces provide regulation as a matter of course—Angie’s List being a market outcome product, not a state outcome. If you have trouble understanding that, think of it microcosmically: when you go shopping at the grocery store, do you regulate what you actually buy or a bureaucrat do it?

See Cafe Hayek’s timely post on regulation here.

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Having Your Head in the Scientific Sand

aristotle_teaching_alexanderExperience the horror of this very crudely paraphrased argument I had with someone on the IMDB message boards. I searched my darndest to find the original but it’s been lost in the black hole of Internet history, possibly for the sake of its participants’ sanity.

When you are raised in a philosophical climate—the techno-Enlightened West—that tries to reduce every epistemic phenomenon to Science, Baby!™, this is the result: an equivocation fallacy (I think) of the highest order.

[A bunch of posts about science vs. religion, Galileo, spherical vs. flat earth theory, etc.]

Guy: Well, the church taught everyone that the earth was flat, so there ya go…

Me: There were different theories but the Church went with the prevailing opinion of a spherical earth from what they got from the Greeks. There was always a little debate. You don’t need science to know the earth is round anyways. You can just look at it.

Guy: How is that?

Me: Well, find the nearest spaceship, climb in, go into orbit (or further), and look at the earth. Bam. If there’s no spaceship available you can climb on top of a mountain and observe the curve of the earth and reasonably conclude a spherical form. Or you can induce it by looking at the spherical shape of other planets. Probably other ways, but those are pretty much nearing science anyways.

Guy: That makes sense. But going into space…you need science for that.

Me: Yes, but the science of shooting into space isn’t going to tell you the earth is round*. It’s your sensory input concluding it, not the scientific method. Sphericity is primarily a sensed thing. You can theorize with a blind man that the object in front of him is a ball but he can’t really understand sphericity until he touches it with his hands.

Guy: I disagree. There would be no conclusion that the earth was a sphere if science didn’t make the orbiting aircraft possible.

Me: Again, in this example, orbiting didn’t prove sphericity*, someone observing the earth’s sphericity from space did. If I were born on a space station, I would know the earth is round as a toddler by looking at it, long before I knew the any formal geometric proofs.

[Guy continues to reinforce science as the only way of knowing earth’s sphericity. Conversation disintegrates.]

* I actually think I was wrong on this point. Is it possible to orbit around non-round objects?

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Zach Braff Is Kind of a Knucklehead

Zach Braff doesn’t always tweet about penises:

I get it. The implication with this statistic is that all religious belief systems can’t all be right, but that declaring them all wrong is more tenable.

He has it backwards, though, if that’s what he is implying. Person A who believes Religion X is free to believe that Religion Y has at least some bit of the truth, by dint of religion’s definition.

It’s gradations of truth strength. Not only is Person A free to believe this, he is logically compelled to, no matter what his feelings are toward Religion Y.

Skepticism and atheism shut the door on that completely. It actually suffers from the categorical defect that religion is diagnosed. All claims to metaphysical/supernatural events are false—end of. Religious people are either mistaken or outright lying. If I don’t make tables at all I have no choice but to reject all table-making offers, but if I specialize in creating one type of furniture—tables—I can, though not as competently, create chairs or desks as well.

Not that I care deeply about being tolerant (not of us are, in the end), but which belief system, theistic or non, has more possibility for broad-mindedness, forgiveness of error, or a thin but common bond between strangers?

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Socrates in the Athens School

What God Can Do and Can’t Do

Socrates in the Athens SchoolA pastor I follow online posted a quick rebuttal of a boilerplate criticism of theistic belief. In his blog is mainly concerned with theistic belief qua theistic belief, not as interpreted via Western modes of reasoning, though this post shows his strong grip on formal logic. To wit:

Smart-aleck atheist wannabe asks, “Do you believe your God can do anything?”

Christian kid says, “Yeah, sure.”

Smart-aleck: “Do you believe He can make a rock too big for Him to lift? Yes or no?”

We’ll make this quick and merciful. Three category errors, a false dichotomy and a charge of intellectual dishonesty.

My reply always went something like, “Yeah, He could maybe do it to prove that He could. But what makes you think He’d bother to prove it to begin with?”.

It reminds me of a C.S. Lewis’ line from Miracles: nonsense is still nonsense even when we talk it about God.

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Hmm: Russell’s Teapot

Russell's hair and Russell's pipe.

Russell’s hair and Russell’s pipe.

I came across Russell’s teapot the other day, and I thought I had unearthed the source of the “evidence or GTFO” argumentation. But it seems that Russell only throw his skeptic torch on a strawman:

If I were to suggest that between the Earth and Mars there is a china teapot revolving about the sun in an elliptical orbit, nobody would be able to disprove my assertion provided I were careful to add that the teapot is too small to be revealed even by our most powerful telescopes. But if I were to go on to say that, since my assertion cannot be disproved, it is intolerable presumption on the part of human reason to doubt it, I should rightly be thought to be talking nonsense.

Eh. I just don’t understand why he would even bother addressing that kind of “argument” seriously. No philosopher or theologian in academia would get a paper past its initial publishing stages if they ever included an “x is true until it’s proven false”. So I don’t think he’s responding to a peer.

Maybe he was responding to some lay sentiment floating around, but why would he do that? That’s like a topographer correcting a child who thinks his school is “like a hundred” miles away. Just stick it with the argument from ignorance inoculation and call it a day (note that Russell’s photo and teapot reference are at the top of that wikipedia page).

Regardless, the criticism from Eric Reitan mentioned on that wikipedia page comes close to what I’ve mentioned before about the overreach of skeptics who want material data for propositions that cannot be addressed by the scientific method.

Photo by aldoaldoz.

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About Religious Beliefs Being A-Rational

beetlejuice_hammer_handsI left this comment on Mike Duran’s blog post/sort of review of A Shot of Faith (to the Head): Be a Confident Believer in an Age of Cranky Atheists. The comment has some weird [sic] moments but you should understand what I was getting at.

Basically, it doesn’t follow that religious presuppositions should be thrown on top of the “evidence* or GTFO” pile while sense and memory data are not and cannot be treated with the same epistemological gloves. In that sense, religious faith is a-rational (I call it “pre-rational”, because I don’t know) because it’s taken as true without it being subject to the two forms of logic*.

This obsession with requiring externalized, material evidences for non-material presuppositions is reaching damned-near critical mass, but the theist’s philosophy-lite “science is faith too!” is a response so involuntary it’s maddening. It’s just two hammer-handed people seeing everything as nails.

I’ve probably said it before on here, Mike, but I believe belief in god to be a presupposition, not a conclusion we reach based on evidence. Evidence can remove barriers to accepting the presupposition but the belief itself doesn’t come from the evidence. In that way it can be said that belief (or non-belief) in god is a-rational. It might be more accurate to call it pre-rational, in that we accept it before the rationalizing starts.

For instance, my memory (memory being one of the ways we know things) tells me that yesterday at around 4 PM I blew my nose. No one else saw (or heard) me do it so people can believe I blew my nose only on my authority, another legitimate way of knowing things. This is possible if they trust me, don’t think I have a reason to lie, is a reasonable action to take, etc.

However, if they doubt me for some reason I can present material evidence: the used tissue in the trash, the fact that I’ve been blowing my nose often lately…indicating that it’s not unusual for me to do it, demonstrating that it’s not out of character for me or that I stand to gain from lying about it.

All of these may remove barriers to this nose blowing belief but they aren’t conclusive. They can all reasonably be falsified evidences, but that is up to the determinations of the individual. All of those reasons could exist *without* me blowing my nose at 4 PM yesterday, so in the end all other people have my authority *only* as a basis for their belief, nothing else.

So in that case, some things are pre-rational but very reasonable to believe. Belief in supernatural things can follow suit in a similar fashion.

* I’m assuming “evidence” to mean some sort of raw, probably physical, data that we can input into our logicizing. I’m equating “rationalizing” with “logicizing”. But I don’t know if people define these terms as such when talking epistemology or science-religion dichotomies.

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The Good Godless Humanist

I had the thought to reboot Jesus’ message of the Good Samaritan into more modern terms after last Sunday’s sermon. Doubtlessly this has been done before, but the point of this was to use people I would expect to be good or bad neighbors in a role reversal, which I think is part of the novelty of what Jesus was getting at. Feel free to substitute your ideal good and bad guys and watch the magic unfold. It’s like a Choose Your Own Adventure book but a little more weirdly wish-fulfillmenty.

I feel like I overplayed my hubris by paraphrasing Son of Big Guy. I really want to know if scripture translators ever question themselves when they get to the red letters because screwing those words up is like giving God a swift crotch-kick. Yeah, it hurts but it’s more embarrassing than anything. And another hang-up: this feels so much like evangelical cheapshot-ism, the “Jesus was the original rebel, dudes!” kind of silliness. We need less Mountain Dew-flavored pop culture references to God being our homeboy in our youth groups and I’m afraid doing a rewording plays into it just a little.

I don’t mean to place myself in the “rah rah the Church sucks” Christian faction by doing that because it presupposes a dangerous thing. Christians who say this imply a disclaimer which appends “except for me and the few close friends that agree with me” after the “sucks” proposition. It’s a criticism of the generalized church as a ghost in the room but it uses special pleading to exclude ourselves from that criticism. I try not to do these things but instead if I disapprove of something I will be specific and avoid generalities about “all Christians”. Is my meta-criticism justified? Well, I sure think so if I’m voicing it.

In reply Jesus said: “A man was walking a few blocks when he was attacked by robbers. They took all his clothes and beat him up, leaving him half dead on the sidewalk. A Christian happened to be going down the same street, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a pastor, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a godless humanist, traveling the same way, walked past; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, and gave him medicine to ease the pain and speed healing. Then he drove him to a hotel and took care of him. The next day he paid the attendant at the front desk with his credit card. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and charge whatever you need to in order to take care of him until I return.’

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