5/30/08

The State of AID

As of late there has been some concerns among our readers regarding the state of AID and its contributors. Recently, our admin William had to take leave due to issues which cannot be addressed here in public. At the same time that this occurred, many of the contributors (including myself) were rather busy with finals and work related activities. In essence, it has been a hectic past two months for all of us.

There is no need to worry, however as we are now back and running in full and will soon bring some new and fresh minds to contribute to this blog. On a side note, I have assumed William’s previous role and will do my best to make this an enjoyable place for both reader and contributor alike.

Peace be with you all,

M
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5/29/08

Creationism and Intelligent Design

This post provides a link to an audio interview between DJ Grothe and biochemist Michael Behe on Point of Inquiry (Nov. 9, 2007).

Play the interview from here.

I found it to be a very telling discussion in that Grothe asks various questions that are meant to display the various question, curiosities and even charges made with regards to Intelligent Design (ID). Behe does his best to qualify the various issues raised. They discuss everything from the difference between Creationism and ID and from evolution being taught in schools to the court case for which Behe testified.

I thought that this discussion may be useful in clearing up some confusion that is virtually ubiquitous. I though to post this because so very many people, from readers of this blog to PZ Myers, Richard Dawkins, et al, constantly refer to “creationism” or “creationists” when the issue is ID and ID proponents. In fact, someone recently asked me if ID was not a specified form of creationism. Nay, rather, Creationism is a specified form of ID. ID is not creationism which is why there are atheists, agnostics, Moonies, Jews, Christians, Muslims, et al, who are ID proponents.

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5/15/08

My Thesis Against Atheism

Is belief in God rational? This question is still debated among philosophers to this day, among theists and skeptics alike. This question, though it may seem trivial compared to the burdens of financial instability, hunger, or striving for better education, is one that can either help to define ones worldview or destroy it. Most individuals of western thinking are attracted to that which is considered rational or more evident when in search of the truth. I shall define the term rational as that which can be justified by way of logical consistency and evidence. Evidence will be claimed to be data, which can be gathered by sensory experience and corresponds with reality. One can argue that our senses do not correspond with reality directly or even at all, but for the sake of the issue at hand it will be assumed that our thoughts do correspond accurately with what is really there. The epistemological position that I wish to adopt is akin to Aristotelian Rationalism. While I may admit that we can only come to know certain things through sensory experience the way we interpret such experiences is not inherent within our experience, but within ourselves:
“…some knowledge of reality is acquired only on the occasion of sensory experience (and is thus empirical) but that such knowledge is acquired through a non-empirical use of reason (as in the case of rationally intuiting the relationships among the Forms).”(Moser, 19)
The ideas that shall be argued against are those held by Core Empiricists and Concept Empiricists. Core Empiricism is a position that states that one, “cannot have the knowledge of reality through the non-empirical use of reason” (Moser, 19), the strongest of these being Logical Positivists who’s, “tenet is the Verification Principle: [which states] A non-analytic proposition is meaningful if and only if it is verifiable or falsifiable solely on the basis of sensory experience” (Moser, 19-20). Concept Empiricists on the other hand are defined as, “Most empiricists…holding that all concepts are directly or indirectly acquired through sensory experience” (Moser, 19). A middle position to both of these is called Classical Empiricism, which is a combination of both Core and Concept Empiricism. The combination reduces the Verification Principle into what is called the Falsification Principle (Craig & Moreland, 154-155) by way of saying that there is no need for meaningful statements to be limited to observational content, but that they merely need to have some empirical content and can be falsified or supported through sensory experience (Moser, 20).
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The problem that this paper wishes to address refers to these three positions and those that adopt them. Many modern Atheists seem to implement these positions as a way of justifying their denial of God’s existence or any supernatural entities. Such popular Atheists of our time include Sam Harris who boldly states, “While believing strongly, without evidence, is considered a mark of madness or stupidity in any other area of our lives, faith in God still holds immense prestige in our society” (Harris, 67). Richard Dawkins, a prominent atheist biologists even thinks that the belief in God is more an act of self-delusion rather than mistaken belief, “Admittedly, people of a theological bent are often chronically incapable of distinguishing what is true from what they’d like to be true” (Dawkins, 108). The common theme between the two is that theists and other super-naturalists have no evidence for their claims; therefore it is irrational to believe in such things as God or something that exists outside of the material universe we live in. While these are certainly not claims to knowledge of the non-existence of some sort of supernatural realm or entity that occupies it, it is a claim that we should not believe in such things because there is no rational reason to do so. Are these accusations by that both these and other atheists like them justified based on the above positions of Empiricism they invoke? I will argue that these accusations are not justified. It will first be shown what problems exists within the empiricists mindset related to the concept of God and the supernatural, which will then be followed by my own attempt at rebutting the accusations made by these atheists.

Modern day empiricists work off of the arguments of their predecessors; primarily those such as Hume and his Problem of Induction and reliance on probabilities, A.J. Ayer, who promoted Logical Positivism, and especially today, a naturalistic interpretation of epistemology advocated by Daniel Dennett. I consider these three thinkers the foundations of all current religious epistemological skepticism today.

Beginning with Hume, we see an appeal to sensory experience that automatically excludes the justification of such things as ‘miracles’ or anything related to the supernatural. Hume believed that in no way could human beings observe the actual cause and effect between one event and another, but rather we only assumed this relationship by way of habit and experiencing the effects of certain actions:

We suppose that there is some connexion between them [objects]; some power in one, by which it infallibly produces the other, and operates with the greatest certainty and strongest necessity. (AECHU, 181)

He would later justify these habitual experiences by way of probabilities, suggesting that the higher probabilities justified the closest we could come to genuine knowledge of an event and its effects (Hume, 70). Later, he would apply the same reasoning to religious claims. While he may have admitted that religious experiences could be authentic of a supernatural reality, he would argue on the basis of his epistemology that miracles could not be trusted as true forms of knowledge because things that occurred naturally could probabilistically outweigh them:

A miracle is a violation of the laws of nature; and as firm and unalterable experience has established these laws, the proof against a miracle, from the very nature of the fact, is as entire as any argument from experience can possibly be imagined. (Hume, 122)


The first problem with Hume’s criticism of miracles is that he has no justification for assuming that genuine knowledge is to any extent related to the most probable event that occurs. He is assuming that something is considered more credible simply because it occurs at a greater number, but this greater number of occurrences could be just a anomalous as an event that doesn’t occur as often. Take, for instance, weather patterns based on region. Simply because we experience more warm weather patterns near the Equator does not mean that there are no cold weather patterns in the same region. We understand there to be because at some point, we have experienced that there is a shift in pattern. According to Hume, we are justified in believing that there are different seasons because we experience these seasonal changes every year, but if we use Hume’s reasoning further, we are not justified in believing there are cold weather patterns at all, because we know, by experience, that there are more warm patterns than cold. The cold patterns we experience can equally be attributed to a miracle insomuch as they defy the more frequent pattern. Hume has no justified criterion for assuming that a set of different patterns is any different than an event that occurs only once in a person’s natural experience of the world. We can no less apply a hallucination experience to the individuals that experience a short winter than to those that have experiences of the supernatural. Hume may appeal to natural laws and that these shifts are merely a part of a cohesive whole, but he has no way of justifying this view. If one set of patterns, which occurs less than another can be observed as something that naturally occurs, then no differently can an event that happens once over certain periods of time. Similarly, if certain individuals were to concur over having supernatural experiences, we can no more think them crazy than those that see shorter winters. Hume’s dictum then of, “…that no testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle unless the testimony be of such a kind that it’s falsehood would be more miraculous than the fact which it endeavors to establish” (Hume, 123) cannot be true because then Hume would naturally have to believe that winters do not exists within warmer regions because their occurrences are less. Hume either must discard this view or think that even within normally occurring changes in patterns, there is no reason to believe that there are changes in patterns at all. An individual may rebut this sort of argument by asserting that we can verify these different patterns by observing the greater whole. For instance, we may be able to justify the difference in weather patterns by knowing that the Earth tilts on its axis and rotates around the Sun, however, the way that this fact is confirmed is by observing the changes in seasons to begin with. If the ancients had followed Hume’s epistemology and criticism of particular events, there would have been no way to affirm the reality of the Copernican principles we see today.

A second problem that Hume faces is how he would have to view historical data. In essence, he is restricted to human testimony on the basis of a majority consensus within that specific time, place, and circumstance. At the same time, these human testimonies could only be established by verifying that what they had experienced was similar to previous things we have experienced. For instance, if a group of people recorded in times past thought they saw a large cloud of smoke speaking to them we would have to deny this event occurred because we do not see large clouds of smoke talking to us today (or see the possibility of it happening at all due to the same lack of experience or general knowledge on clouds of smoke). Concerning Hume, this seems a false way of approaching whether or not something has happened. First, Hume has no way of verifying how other people think other than by the experience of himself and the outside testimonies of others. Even if he were to account for particular things or patterns by way of probabilities he could never tell the value of those probabilities, such as whether the person’s in question were lying or not. Second, Hume cannot accurately interpret history in this manner because it would exclude new discoveries of any kind within the universe we live in. It seems then, that Hume has no justified reason for rejecting miracles based on his criterion unless he wishes to similarly reject everything else he believes.

Moving on, there has always seemed to be a difficulty regarding religious language insomuch as finite beings (humanity) cannot adequately comprehend which transcends our understanding. To some, the mere fact that God or other supernatural entities transcend our understanding excludes us from knowing these supposed realities completely. Thomas Aquinas writes such an objection in his work The Trinity: “That which remains unknown to us at the highest level of our knowledge is in no way knowable by us. But God, in the most perfect level of our knowledge, is attained only as unknown”(Aquinas, 115).

In the early 1900’s, a verification principle of language (later to be recognized in name as “The Verification Principle”) was being promoted by a group of philosophers known as “the Vienna Circle”. These individuals, called Logical Positivists, would present a new challenge to the religious mind by suggesting that all meaningful statements must be backed by sensory experience. The greatest problem facing these thinkers, however was that the principle they had created and endorsed would soon turn on them as a self-refuting idea; The Verification Principle could not itself be verified by sensory experience (Moser, 218-219). A.J. Ayer, a member of this group would later reject the vague and simple principle for a revised version that focused on the convention of the Verification Principle in regards to statements that were only capable of being true or false. These statements, he would confess, were the only statements that could literally be meaningful (Moser, 219). He would also distinguish between two types of verification: a weak and strong. A weak form of verification would focus on the probability of something being verified by experience whereas a strong form would only be so if and only if it could be established conclusively by experience (VOP, 248). The problem this poses for the supernaturally minded is that their claims to the existence of transcendent entities cannot be verified by sensory experience. One could argue that the claims of religious experience (direct experiences with God or other entities) were adequate, but the Empiricists could simply prefer a more naturalistic explanation to the event as the entities in question are necessarily beyond the physical world and are not like material objects. Of course, this objection could be established against a form of strong verification, but would it leave room open for a weak verification based on the probability of sense experiences justifying the existence of these entities? The Design Argument may be good example of this in inferring that the qualities of our world necessarily point to a supreme intelligence that created us, but even then the empiricists need not submit to this sort of reasoning because the characteristics of the material do not relate to that of the supernatural; all that need be inferred is yet another naturalistic explanation for such experiences or intuitions. The problem that the Logical Positivists must face then is how they can verify such things as mathematical statements. How can 2+2 = 4 be verified by sensory experience other than in the weak sense by way of analogy? If the Logical Positivists is to accept that 2+2 = 4 need no sensory experience (and one would hope that all of them do) to be affirmed as a meaningful statement in and of itself then they must be open to other statements that have equal status. What if concepts of the supernatural were such statements of basic belief, such as Alvin Plantinga endorses (Craig & Moreland, 161), which could only be described by analogy?

Finally, we come to a more recent critique of religious thinking by evolutionary biologists Daniel Dennett who attempts to explain away religious thinking by way of looking for the source of such thinking. Now, while it may be claimed a Naturalistic Fallacy to construe the truth of something from its source, this is more a matter of whether we should believe in something if the source does not fit our set of beliefs. Take, for instance, the claim that there is such thing as a Tooth Fairy who comes into your bedroom at night to take your missing teeth and exchange them for money. If you were to find out (and you may have by this time in your life) that the real cause for the exchange were your parents sneaking into your room late at night and then telling you that there had been a fairy that had done so, would there be any reasonable evidence to suggests that there was actually a Tooth Fairy to begin with? Many individuals may say that the fairy simply works through their parents to make the exchange, but there is no reasonable evidence to suggests this at all. In fact, it would be more reasonable, it seems, following Ockham’s Razor, to adopt the more simple and naturalistic of explanations. In the same way, Dennett suggests an epistemology that is founded in naturalistic principles without the need for baseless assumptions:

Do they want a miracle? Do they want culture to be God-given? A skyhook, not a crane?…[things] must grow out of something less, something quasi-,something merely as if rather than intrinsic, and at every step along the way the results have to be…evolutionarily enforceable. (Dennett, 341).


Dennett believes that things called “memes”--a word coined by evolutionary biologists Richard Dawkins--form ideas. A meme can be copied and exchanged between people, but in a manner not like its physical counterpart, the gene. A meme transfers by way of language and empirical observations and then stored in the memory. A meme is basically a pattern of concepts that convey specified meanings (Dennett, 344-345). More complex memes, called “memeplexes” are combinations of ideas that form together to create an advantage in human survivability. The purpose of these memes then, is help human beings adapt to their surroundings for the benefit of survival (Dawkins, 197). Following a Darwinian paradigm, memeplexes that exhibit better potentiality for survival are accepted over other memes that no longer procure that advantage. What Dennett and Dawkins both advocate is that the reason religion has originated within society and survived within society is because it still benefits human survival. For instance, the concept of the afterlife was derived from man’s need to survive. Over time, by developing this meme of immortality that allowed them to stop focusing on the great emotional stresses of this world. Individuals who lacked sufficient social interaction within their species formed belief in God, as another instance, they had projected their own experience of themselves to an imaginary friend for comfort, which then evolved into the concept of a supreme being. The problem here is that while both Dennett and Dawkins seem to have believed to find the origins of religious belief through evolutionary psychology, they have only found the origins of the motivation for religious belief.
What of these concepts of transcendence, a supreme being, a realm outside of the one we live in, etc.? It could be argued that a greater memeplex is at hand that has yet to be discovered that allows us to think these strange thoughts for the sake of survivability. For instance, the concept of God is merely our anthropomorphizing our thoughts on the ultimate reality. Why would this be necessary for survivability though? Why isn’t an imaginary friend good enough? Also, why do some of these memeplexes, such as the concept of life after death also help to cause human beings to do things that they would otherwise not in terms of survivability, like risk their lives for a greater reward or give up all their possessions? It seems that these sorts of things are unnecessary within the grand scheme of the Darwinian paradigm, if not completely impossible.

Understanding the empiricist positions against religious belief I have already offered several small objections, however now I wish to offer my own analysis of religious belief as well as a thorough refute of the above criticisms. Beginning with Hume again, I only agree with Hume to the extent that miracles are lesser pattern of the universe created by an outside force. I would not agree with Hume that miracles are a violation of natural laws in regards to the word meaning to oppose. Perhaps the word violate could be used to mean that miracles violate the natural pattern, but not the natural laws themselves. While I believe my objections above have adequately refuted Hume’s methodology, I think another point that can be added is that I think the presence of the supernatural (such as the likes of a Divine Creator) must necessarily violate the natural patterns of the world in order to be identified as a supernatural occurrence. If the natural universe is defined by habitually sensed patterns then such things as supernatural occurrences--if they did occur in a set pattern akin to the natural--would not be distinguishable from natural occurrences. This goes to show that even if Hume’s methodology were correct to some degree, it could not be a way to verify whether or not the supernatural existed anyways, being that it defines out the supernatural from the very beginning. A follower of Hume may then question how we can come to verify the presence of miracles. I simply offer that we do so by way of deduction. If we try to explain the particular event by way of naturalistic explanations and neither of these explanations agrees with how the natural world appears to operate, then we need only to adopt that the natural world was not responsible for the event at hand. Some might think this to be a gap-filling argument where one assumes a truth by way of debasing another explanation, but this isn’t what I’m trying to do at all, rather I am merely stating that when in need of an explanation the more rational is that which still has explanatory power. This changes things from being gap-filling arguments about truth to how we rationally accept out of a set of explanations. While it may be true that we have yet to find the naturalistic explanation for an event, this does not mean that we still accept the naturalistic explanation if we gather that such an explanation would violate how we presently view the natural world. The explanation chosen over the others would therefore be falsified if a naturalistic explanation were found to replace it. The follower of Hume may further raise the question as to why we should accept a supernatural explanation over the possibility of a naturalistic one. I find this to be a good criticism of my method, but not one that I will leave unanswered. For this particular criticism I will introduce what I call the Law of Non-Multiplicity, which implies that nothing can be more than what it possibly can be at any given time unless acted upon by a force or object that surpasses those limitations. This seems to be a self-evident principle, in that something cannot be more than what it truly is or ever will be. Take, for instance, any object we see in the material universe, such as a tree. A tree cannot be more than a tree unless it is changed by something else, like a human turning it into a chair. The tree ceases to be a tree once it changes. Something must act upon that tree for it to change. This is the general rule of cause and effect. What may be called into question here is what constitutes as “what it possibly can be at any given time”. The possibly infers the number of possible things that something can be from something else. There are only a set number of possibilities within a particular setting and time, so therefore a thing cannot be more than what it can change in to. Now, this may appear simplistic at first, but it has great consequences for the empiricists’ objections towards religious belief and experience. Take for instance, the material realm. If the material realm as we know it is all that exist, then it cannot be more than what it possibly can be following the Law of Non-Multiplicity (meaning it cannot be more than itself or violate its own set patterns). The possibilities can only be inferred by what we know of the material realm; so if something violates current knowledge, then we must accept on the basis of the Law that something greater is acting upon it. This is only rational. While we can never infer that there is no naturalistic explanation, we must on the basis of this Law and our current knowledge accept the supernatural explanation. The argument can be summed up as thus:

(1) Law of Non-Multiplicity suggests that something cannot be more than what it can possibly be at any given time unless acted upon by a force or object that can surpass the limitations of that which is being changed.
(2) If the material realm is all that exists, then it cannot be more than what it can possibly be following (1).
(3) If an event that does not correspond with how the material realm is known to work occurs within the material realm, then we have a violation of the Law of Non-Multiplicity.
(4) Therefore, it is more rational to accept a supernatural explanation over that of a natural one till a naturalistic explanation can be found.


The first objection that could be raised against this argument relates to premise (3). What exactly is an event that doesn’t correspond with how the material realm is known to work? While I could cite several observational examples from individuals who claim to have had personal religious experiences or have been historically recorded as having such, I prefer to infer that the very concepts of supernatural or God themselves are evidences of events or anomalies that do not correspond with how the material realm is known to work. Going on to the Logical Positivists and their critique of language (especially language that tries to convey metaphysical concepts), I believe that concepts such as mathematics and even that of the supernatural are innate principles that are only fully realized when the senses gather data from the known world. Anselm, in his Proslogion was even more right to infer his argument that God is understood by all individuals and must necessarily exist by this understanding:

And surely that than which a greater cannot be thought cannot exist only in the understanding. For if it exists only in the understanding, it can be thought to exist in reality as well, which is greater(Anselm, 7).


Why? I need only ask how Anselm can understand something to exists necessarily and greater than the material world we live in if the Law of Non-Multiplicity is true. From what is Anselm abstracting from directly to understand that such a thing exists or to even conceive of it? It’s one thing to know what a horn and a horse are and then to add them together to create a unicorn, but it’s another to add finite objects from a finite reality to construct an infinite reality. Descartes would be criticized for making a similar move by inferring that the cause of these thoughts was infinite, because it is impossible for finite creatures to think of the infinite in an infinite way, but I think that Descartes critics are not seeing the true force of his argument for Gods existence. While it may be true that we think of the infinite in a finite matter, it doesn’t make sense that we still attempt to conceive of something that is beyond the finite. There is nothing infinite about the finite by which we can attempt to do so. It isn’t necessary or reasonable to believe that the finite, much like the material-only universe, would allow us to be able to conceive or entertain the idea of something beyond itself. It only seems rational then, even on the limitations of our understanding, to believe that there is something beyond that which we observe through the senses. It can still be said that such a view can be falsified, as empiricists such as Dennett and Dawkins would appreciate, but it can no longer be inferred, based on this Law, that it is less rational to believe in the supernatural than the purely natural.

One argument that I was particularly interested in before always bothered me because its first premise could not be fully justified and seemed to me to be more of an assumption. Victor Reppert’s revision of C.S. Lewis’ Argument From Rationality goes as follows:

(1) No belief is rationally inferred if it can be fully explained in terms of non-rational causes.
(2) If materialism is true, then all beliefs can be fully explained in terms of non-rational causes.
(3) Therefore, if materialism is true, then no belief is rationally inferred.
(4) If any thesis entails the conclusion that no belief is rationally inferred, then it should be rejected and its denial accepted.
(5) Therefore materialism should be rejected and its denial accepted.
(Reppert, 57-58)


This argument seems sound until we examine premise (1). The statement that a belief cannot be rationally inferred because of it coming from non-rational causes only assumes that non-rational causes cannot create rational beliefs, but if we apply the Law of Non-Multiplicity as a qualifier to the first premise, then we have it so that believing that non-rational causes creates rational beings is a contradiction of what the material universe allows until the time being that it can be falsified that this is exactly what the material realm is capable of.

In conclusion, it appears that neither the probability objections of Hume, the Logical Positivists claims to meaning, nor the contemporary empiricists and their claims to the origins of religious belief, ultimately have no rational justification over that of religious experience. If my arguments are sound, then I have still left the empiricists room for falsifying religious claims, but I have allowed a proper justification for rational belief on behalf of the super naturalists.




References



Dawkins, Richard. The God Delusion. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2006.

Moser, Paul, and Arnold Vander Nat. Human Knowledge: Classical and Contemporary Approaches. 3rd ed.. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.

Hume, David. "An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding."Human Knowledge: Classical and Contemporary Approaches. 3rd ed.. 2003.

Ayer, A. J.. "Verification and Philosophy."Human Knowledge: Classical and Contemporary Approaches. 3rd ed.. 2003.


Dennett, Daniel. Darwin's Dangerous Idea. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1995.

Reppert, Victor. C.S. Lewis's Dangerous Idea. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2003.

Aquinas, Thomas. "The Exposition of Boethius on the Trinity."Thomas Aquinas: Selected Writings. 1998.


Anselm. Proslogion. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., 1995.

Craig, William, and J.P. Moreland. Philosophical Foundations For A Christian Worldview. Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 2003.

Hume, David. An Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding. New York: Macmillian Publishing Company, 1955.

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