Leitmotif

Reason as the Leading Motive

Posts Tagged ‘existence of god’

Deriving Atheism from Philosophy

Posted by Jerry on March 14, 2008

It is a matter of fact that science can never disprove the existence of God. The tools of science–experimentation, observation, and empiricism–are inherently inadequate for the job. At best, empiricists can only reach approximations of certainty–and can claim, like Richard Dawkins does, that they have a very high degree of certainty that god does not exist.

This, however, does not indicate any weakness in the position of atheism as such; rather, it highlights the fact that science is inferior to philosophy and that philosophy is and should be the foundation of all scientific thought. Once reason and objectivity are evicted from their epistemological base in philosophy, a free floating set of rules like that of pragmatism and relativism or a blinded philosophy like that of the skepticism is spawned: neither of these philosophies can agree on what can be known or indeed whether anything at all can be known.

As Ayn Rand said: “Science was born as a result and consequence of philosophy; it cannot survive without a philosophical (particularly epistemological) base. If philosophy perishes, science will be next to go. It is philosophy that defines and establishes the epistemological criteria to guide human knowledge in general and specific sciences in particular.”

It is philosophy that reveals to man the proper methods of thinking and the laws governing sensible, valid, and rational thought. In other words, it is philosophy that identifies the axioms of knowledge and the non-contradictory nature of existence, and then devises the epistemic rules of thinking (logic) that mimic the nature of existence. 

The lack of absolute certainty in the non-existence of god actually indicates the categorical confusion of metaphysics and nature that scientists like Dawkins commit. Atheism is often reinterpreted as being a naturalistic worldview; and although this is not false, it has resulted in the belief that atheism is actually a position reached at the end of a personal scientific and empiric quest. And often, this is indeed how many people become atheists: they start with their studies in evolutionary science, physics, or astronomy; they begin to ask the right questions and push for honest answers; they examine claims of miracles and seek scientific explanations; and eventually, they reach a point where atheism becomes the only plausible and default position to hold. Quite correctly, they see no empiric evidence to believe in the supernatural.

However, such atheists arrive at their conclusion through very weak and fundamentally unsubstantiated grounds. Indeed, such atheists can never deny that the next scientifically inexplicable event may suddenly turn them into theists or agnostics: in fact, some atheists (misguidedly) consider such “open-mindedness” in the face of an inexplicable even to be a sign of honorable intellectual honesty–the mark of a skeptic who is even proudly skeptical of atheism.

In essence, such atheists hold their belief at the mercy of the next concrete event, discovery, alleged sighting, or claim that would dictate whether or not they remain atheists or turn into agnostics.

The only way to rescue this unhinged concept of atheism from total collapse into subjectivism is to extract it from the domain of science and place it back where it belongs–in philosophy.

The position of atheism is a particularly philosophical position, not a scientific one. This is because atheism belongs to a subset of ideological positions, namely, the ideological position pertaining to metaphysics and spiritual belief. Particularly, atheism is the ideological position that holds as fact that there is no god. The only way to ascertain the validity of this assertion is by applying the laws revealed by philosophy, not by the implementation of any empiric, experimental, or observational method of scientific enquiry. In other words, the only permanent path to atheism is one primarily or fundamentally grounded on rational philosophical enquiry, not a scientific one.

Ayn Rand identified that existence exists and that existence is identity. It is on the basis of these fundamental and irrefutable metaphysical axioms that we know–with absolute certainty–that god does not, and indeed cannot, exist.

Existence is identity; that is, to be is to be something. A thing cannot be and not-be at the same time: this is a law that identifies a fact of existence. The supernatural not only means something outside of our Earth or our galaxy, but literally outside of everything in the Universe, including the Universe itself. Therefore, to be supernatural is literally to be outside existence qua existence, since existence is the totality of all that exists. Therefore, for the supernatural to exist, it must not exist. Therefore, the supernatural does not exist.

Likewise, if god is omniscient, then he must know everything; but then he cannot know what it is like to not know something. Therefore, god is an omniscient being who does not know everything. Therefore, god does not exist.

Likewise, if god is omnipotent, then he should be able to do anything; but god cannot kill himself. Therefore, god is an omnipotent being who cannot do everything. Therefore, god does not exist.

Likewise, if god is infinite, then he must transcend space, time, and measurement; but then he cannot have an identity–or be an entity–because to exist is to be an entity (to be is to be something; like the Universe is itself an entity). Therefore, god is an entity who is not an entity. A is non-A. Therefore, god cannot exist.

Likewise, if god is intelligent, then he must be rational, logical, and sensible. In other words, god would also have to obey the laws of rationality and logic; but then, our use of logic and reason above has demonstrated that were such an entity to exist, he would have to be full of contradictions; since logic does not permit contradictions, and contradictions do not exist, god does not exist.

And so on…

It is only at the end of such personal philosophical enquiry in the context of metaphysics–by employing the tools of logic and reason and holding objectivity as the standard of knowledge–that absolute atheism can be arrived at. And this pure atheism is immune to whatever claims or random events that may give someone a sense of wonderment or of being inexplicable. This kind of atheism knows that there is–and can be–no gods.

Posted in Atheism, Ayn Rand, Culture, General Work/Life, My Theories and Ideas, Objectivism, Philosophy, Religion, The Best of Leitmotif, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 28 Comments »

First Principles of Atheism

Posted by Jerry on June 30, 2006

D. Eastbrook offered me a link to Anton Thorn’s site on Atheism. I haven’t had the time to peruse Anton’s site entirely, but based on what I have read so far, I believe Anton’s case for atheism is based on a weak definition of the concept “atheism”.

In his Atheological Credo, Anton defines his atheism as “absence of god-belief.” His essay is pretty much his answer to the question, “Why I have no god-belief.”

I believe this definition is weak and could possibly reveal holes in the arguments that he bases on that definition.

Atheism, as I define it, is not merely an absence of god-belief, but an assertive credo stating that there is no god to believe in! In other words, atheism belongs to the genus of ideology, the subset of metaphysics, and its differentia is the answer in the negative. Therefore, atheism is a resounding “No!” to the metaphysical question “Does god exist?”

Thus, if someone posed the question to me, “Why do I have no god-belief,” my response would be simply to say that I have no such belief because there is no such entity to have a belief in.

Atheism is the recognition that there is/are no god(s). It is not merely a belief that there is no god, but a recognition of that fact, and therefore, a metaphysical truth. A belief could be mistaken, or proven wrong at some future point. A recognition of fact is a recognition of reality as is. One can choose to not believe in something, i.e., have an absence of belief in something arising out of ignorance or error in thought; that however, does not necessitate the absence of the entity or experience that you reject belief in.

Further, note that most of Anton’s arguments in support of his “absence of god-belief” appeal to principles of logic, reason, rationality, axioms of reality, and other Objectivist principles. While he is right in doing so, and his arguments are valid and even impressive, they have little potency or relevance in the face of religionists who fundamentally accept faith over reason, contradictory premises, illogical arguments, and irrational beliefs.

It is futile to engage in logical persuasion with such people because they will simply say: okay, yes. All that makes human sense. All that is logical. But everything does not have to be logical. God is above and beyond our logic and worldly principles. God cannot be bound by principles of logic. Faith is illogical. Your arguments are good, but simply human arguments. Your absence of belief is actually agnosticism, not atheism, because given your statement that you do not believe in a god, you do not therefore claim that a God in fact does not exist.

It is my view that the starting first premise for an atheist to successfully engage a religious believer into considering arguments for atheism is by drawing strict boundaries of discussion. Force the discussion to be situated on rational and logical grounds because nothing is outside the province of reason–not even God:

1) State that whatever concept one has of God, that concept most likely includes their contention that this God is a supremely intelligent Being; They will concede this “intelligent” premise because they would not want to admit that they may be worshipping a stupid, ignorant, dumb, or unintelligent god. Nor would they want to concede that this Universe is not intelligently designed. So, assume God is a supremely intelligent Being.

2) If God is supremely intelligent, then God knows that a circle with 4 corners cannot be drawn. It is impossible for such a figure to be drawn, and God is well aware of that because He is intelligent. This means, God must certainly know (like we humans do) that there are basic logical principles that cannot be violated, in this case, it is the logical principle of identity. Similarly, other logical principles that are derived from identity and non-contradiction are also (and must be) applicable to God.

3) Given that we now accept that God also subscribes to some basic principles of logic — like A is A (a circle is a circle and cannot be a square with 4 corners at the same time), we can introduce further arguments that are strictly rational. For example, we can argue that since God is also immortal and eternal, God can never kill himself or cause himself to cease to exist; God cannot do that because he cannot violate the law of identity, i.e. A is A. It’s His nature to be immortal.

4) Thus, we slowly begin introducing further logical arguments once we have firmly laid the foundation that a supremely intelligent God must also concede to basic principles of logic. Once that has been settled, one can begin, as Anton does, shooting all the logical, philosophical ammunition you have. [See my posts in “Atheism“]

Note that my method requires the we set clear boundaries of discussion with religionists to accept the validity of logic as the most basic premise in analyzing God-concepts. Thus, in a way, I am introducing to them the fact that all beliefs are subject to logical and rational scrutiny–even beliefs accepted on faith. By dragging them into the field of logic and reason, and away from the murky, nebulous territory of faith, I get them to see the veracity and validity of my arguments. If beyond that, they still disagree, one must simply ignore them, because a mind not open to rational persuasion is not a mind worth engaging with: such a person may be evading reason, is fearful of the consequences of being persuaded, or may simply be intellectually inequipped to handle the complexity of rational thought.

Now, I can forsee that someone might interject my argument by saying, what if one holds a Spinozist conception of God, i.e. pantheistic, identical with nature? Or what if one concedes that this “super power, higher Being” does not have to be Intelligent? If such argument is put forth, then its not too difficult to point out the uselessness of even introducing such a concept of God that is not already taken care of by our current understanding of the Nature, evolution, existence, and its processes. A “god” identical with “nature” is nature itself–why bother introducing such a bromide as “God?”–and based on what premise, reason, or belief? If it is merely an assertion of faith, then anything goes. I can assert that Superman exists, and construct an entire religious paradigm around Him as deity.

UPDATED:

The more I read Anton’s site on atheism, the more I believe that his arguments are weak in some fundamental ways. First, for example, take his argument that the claim “God exists” is a contradiction and thererefore, is self-refuting. His argument basically takes us on a tour of the Objectivist axiom of existence (and its corollary, consciousness) in order to reach his conclusion. He says:

To claim that god exists, you must both assume the truth of the primacy of existence and deny it at the same time.

What he means is that, to make the claim that “God exists” and that existence exists because of God created it, is to arrive at a contradiction. Objectivism states that consciousness is only meaningful if something exists in the first place (primacy of existence). In other words, consciousness cannot exist without something independently existing also. Consciousness is awareness; and if there isn’t anything to be aware of, then one cannot be “aware.” So, how does this apply to God? Anton claims that stating that God exists is making a claim for the primacy of existence (i.e., existence exists), but making the claim that God brought “existence into existence” makes a claim to the primacy of consciousness.

In other words, Anton claims that by proposing God’s existence, the theist is claiming that God is essentially conscious (i.e., aware) without needing anything existing to be conscious of! This, according to Anton, brings us to a contradiction, and therefore the claim that God exists is self-refuting. [For a different approach to arriving at this contradiction, see “We Exist. Therefore, God does not.“]

I find his argument to be logically sound, but fundamentally weak in its ability to persuade a theist to accept it. Why? Because, Anton’s argument of contradiction necessarily depends upon separating existence and consciousness as two distinct premises (or the only two exhaustive metaphysical primacies); and that is a centuries-old debated premise.

In fact, Hegelian Absolutism and Spinozistic Pantheism fundamentally rests on the view that existence and consciousness are not distinct and opposing primacies, but actually one and the same–each implying the other. Further, some Idealistic Rationalists also claim that the Absolute Consciousness contains within itself the awareness of itself and of “existence.” In other words, existence (like us, animals, rocks, buildings, etc.) are nothing more that the imaginations or thoughts of an Absolute Consciousness (whether it’s an entity or some kind of “collective consciousness” is debated among themselves) that thinks existence into existence!

Moreover, the premise that consciousness cannot precede existence has also been challenged by many theistic and atheistic philosophies. Existentialism (of both the secular and the religious kind) asserts the primacy of the consciousness. God, as understood by some theists, is an integrated, infinite entity that is essentially and fundamentally existent and aware of its existence at the same time. Contradictions, according to these theists and others, do not always lead to invalidation but possibly to a synthesis of opposites, or a transcendence of apparent opposites (Hegelian dialecticism). 

Now, why do I state these as objections to Anton’s arguments even when I know that they are absurd? Because, those are the kinds of arguments a theist could legitimately pose as a challenge to his argument and feel vindicated.

In fact, even in Objectivism, one must be careful in explicating the axioms. Rand said that the axiom of existence “implies two corollary axioms: that something exists which one perceives, and that one exists possessing consciousness” (Atlas Shrugged). In other words, Rand does not state that existence and consciousness are opposites and that one must choose one over the other, but that each implies the other. That if there is consciousness, there necessarily must be existence. Or, to state it in another way, when I make the claim that Existence exists, I am at the same time also making the claim that I possess consciousness.

Thus, a theist could in typical Hegelian fashion claim that God is the metaphyical primary that entails the primacies of existence and consciousness in Himself: He is infinitely existent and is omnisciently conscious of existence.

The question Anton should be asking himself is this: why should a religionist accept Objectivist axioms in this discussion on the existence of God? Because Objectivism is the true and rational philosophy? Yes. But as Anton readily admits, theists are fundamentally irrational! Their whole belief system is based on faith, which is whim! So, why would one hold the hopes that the rational axioms of Objectivism will have any ability in convincing these fundamentally irrational believers?

I myself discovered atheism before I discovered Objectivism and its rational principles. I still hold that my approach of “seducing” the irrationals into the territory of rational, logical sense by using their own concept of God as a “supremely Intelligent Being,” and then proceeding to analyze what “intelligent” i.e. logical and rational would mean when applied to God, is the most potent way of persuading and convincing them of the truth of atheism.

Posted in Atheism, My Theories and Ideas, Objectivism, Philosophy, Religion, The Best of Leitmotif, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 8 Comments »

 
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