Nature And Choice

Some should think for a minute about what it means to say “God is love”. If love is God’s nature, and if God cannot act against His nature, Hell and blood sacrifice, satisfaction, and substitution have no place in a theology purporting that God is love. However, if one wants to maintain those ideas, then saying “God is love” either entails to love not being God’s nature but is instead a revokable choice, or that God can indeed act against His nature and then is just as incomplete and imperfect as you or I. To say “God is love” is to say that God can do nothing other than, or it’s to say God loves on condition. One of these ideas makes the idea of God matter while the other makes God out to be nothing more than a powerful person. To hold that God is love, that love is God’s nature, that God cannot act against His nature, and that Hell, satisfaction, blood sacrifice, and substitution are consistent with love is simply perverse.

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Atheism Justified

Global atheism — that is, the belief that no gods exist — is no more problematic to justify than local atheism, which is merely the denial of a particular conception of God. Any failures in justifying global atheism are likely due to a person’s lack of understanding the difference between the two. It’s not that one or the other is justifiable more readily. There are several very good, simple, understandable ways to do it and I’ll maybe do two here.

First is a type of A.J. Ayer practicalism found in Language, Truth, And Logic, in that if God is said to exist yet only manifests in reality identically as any other phenomenon in reality, then no separate conception of God exists and so God (as people using the term unfailingly mean “other than nature” in some respect) doesn’t exist; nature does and God is simply another word for nature. If one takes the metaphysical challenge of God and “supernature”, then we follow George Smith’s epistemic problem onboard as articulated in Atheism: The Case Against God. That is, we have no possible conception of deity, any deity that is “beyond”. So then dialectically, if one supposes a supernatural God exists and if the reasons suggesting its existence are again natural, then God can only be an ill-conceived idea; we can’t know what the idea of God actually is except for “nature” or in other words, “reality” and in that case, there’s no telling about any God and every God can be rejected. The rejection is either justified via clear equivocation or because “God” and “No God” entail phenomenally to the very same natural world one only supposes would be different based on the existence of this ill-conceived synonym.

Second is far too simple. Functionally, there are only conceptions of deity and there can be no evidence for deity. Given that God manifests in reality indistinguishably from “nothing” if imminent, and given that only logical descriptions define what the nature of diety are, and given that logic doesn’t entail truth or tell us about anything at all, the statement that “Gods do not exist” is justified because of deflation. That is, any possible conception of God entails to a claim of ambiguity (ie. “otherness” which is incomprehensible) and equivocality (“sameness”, yet only through synonymnity or pure reasoning rather than observation). So, “Gods do not exist” arises from paying attention to the history of god-concepts and the justified expectation that there are no other possible ways to assert God. In other words, the success of global atheism entails the clear justification of local atheism, and even better, in an historical rather than merely immediate sense of god-talk. Even more simply put, the atheist who believes there are no Gods simply has the belief that no god-concept is novel or could be and history bears this out. This sort of atheist isn’t required to have his own concept of God to deny. In essence, there is genuinely only local atheism.

For those interested in my references but not so much as to want to look them up:

For if the existence of such a god were probable, then the proposition that he existed would be an empirical hypothesis. And in that case it would be possible to deduce from it, and other empirical hypotheses, certain experiential propositions which were not deducible from those other hypotheses alone. But in fact this is not possible. It is sometimes claimed, indeed, that the existence of a certain sort of regularity in nature constitutes sufficient evidence for the existence of a god. But if the sentence “God exists” entails to more than that certain types of phenomena occur in certain sequences, then to assert the existence of a god will be simply equivalent to asserting that there is the requisite regularity in nature; and no religious man would admit that this was all he intended to assert in asserting the existence of a god. He would say that in talking about God, he was talking about a transcendent being who might be known through certain empirical manifestations, but certainly could not be defined in terms of those manifestations. But in that case the term “god” is a metaphysical term. And if “god” is a metaphysical term, then it cannot be even probable that a god exists. For to say that “God exists” is to make a metaphysical utterance which cannot be either true or false. And by the same criterion, no sentence which purports to describe the nature of a transcendent god can possess any literal significance.

(A. J. Ayer, ‘Language, Truth, And Logic’, Dover, Second Edition, 1952, pg. 117)

To exist beyond the sphere of natural law means to exist beyond the scope of human knowledge; epistemological transcendence is a corollary of ‘supernaturalness’. If a god is a natural being, if his actions can be explained in terms of normal causal relationships, then he is a knowable creature. Conversely, if god can be known, he cannot be supernatural. Without mystery, without some element of the incomprehensible, a being cannot be supernatural – and to designate a being as supernatural is to imply that this being transcends human knowledge. Epistemological transcendence is perhaps the only common denominator among all usages of the term “god,” including those of Tillich, Robinson and other modern theologians. While some “theists” reject the notion of a supernatural being in a metaphysical sense, it seems that every self-proclaimed theist – regardless of his particular use of the term “god” – agrees that a god is mysterious, unfathomable or in someway beyond man’s comprehension. The idea of the “unknowable” is the universal element linking together the various concepts of god, which suggests that this is the most critical aspect of theistic belief. The belief in an unknowable being is the central tenet of theism, and it constitutes the major point of controversy between theism and critical atheism.

(George Smith, ‘Atheism: The Case Against God’, 1973)

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On “Anti-Yahwehism”, Sometimes Passed Off As Atheism …

I think it’s mistaken to say that one’s atheism is grounded, or justified, based on any particular conception or tradition or mythology about deity. On the one hand, there’s the question of whether there are deity and what we mean by the term. On the other is a swath, a rather large one, of what folks say about it and how they talk about it. Clearly if Yahweh is asserted, one could admit that there are good reasons to think that deity isn’t real or doesn’t exist, but this could simply imply one is a theologian rather than an atheist. Consider the aphorism that “everyone is an atheist to at least one god”. It’s a poor trope. One rejects a conception of deity and can do so without being atheistic. If not a theologian, then perhaps a cultural critic or historian or any number of other things which also don’t entail to atheism. Consider the entire Hebrew tradition of saying what God is while rejecting that what they just said God is is what God is. Certainly the historicity of the fact seen in the Talmud exemplifies the point. Too, as another example, this is a hallmark of god-talk with respect to Brahman. It is in rejecting all conceptions that one is an atheist. Chiefly, it’s rejecting the existence of any inarticulable, organizing principle (which doesn’t necessarily need to be thought of as a personality or even some object which exists as what we mean when we say “this object exists … here it is”).

It is true, generally speaking, that everyone rejects the existence of at least one god but not true that an atheist accepts at least one.

When one sets about rejecting all conceptions of the divine, one has entered into metaphysics because one is no longer connecting atheism with god-talk, but rightly, with the idea of deity itself … in which case, only logic, sans any empirical means of vindication, stands as possible justification. In that case, since logically sound arguments for and against the existence of deity are completely easy to proffer, and since these will contradict each other in most cases given the binary nature of the proposition (foregoing the fact that logic tells us nothing about reality), justifying atheism or theism isn’t genuinely important to the question itself, “Do gods exist?” but instead to all other motives one may have for asserting it.

There is the question, “Do deity exist?” The motive to answer the question must be honest and the answer can only be that “It seems to me, deity [do/don’t] exist”, if one is an atheist or a theist. The motive to say Yahweh et. al. doesn’t exist is completely irrelevant to that question but to the question of whether or not someone has offered a reasonable description of what such “deity” may be like if they do exist.

Just a thought.

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Correspondence, Simplified

In Metaphysics, Aristotle described that “To say that that which is, is not, and that which is not, is, is a falsehood; therefore, to say that which is, is, and that which is not, is not, is true”. But this makes something apparently presumptuous; namely, that one doesn’t determine when to declare a sentence true but instead, that one comes to recognize a property of a sentence, and that being that of truth. We should interpret Aristotle in a new way without such presumption. That’s simply that when a person declares something true or false, he believes what he’s saying is the actual state of affairs.

If one persists in wanting Aristotle to be offering a theory of truth, there’s not one here to be presented except tautology. For, how does one come to believe what is true? He will have been persuaded either from experience, perception, or by reasoning. And though some sentences are beliefs uttered about the world without justification at all yet are warranted (“I exist”, “There are other minds”, “There is a hand”), the only way one can genuinely make a case for correspondence is through justifying “This sentence is true about the world.” In that case, one must produce evidence not only that sentences can correspond to reality rather than merely suggesting “This sentence does better at describing what I think about the world than others may,” but that some sentences actually do correspond in some non deflationary or more-than-just-a-practical way.

If there is no mechanism by which a sentence about the world can be said to link to the world in some genuine rather than artificial way, or if one merely proposes such a mechanism exists, then it is only tautology and of no value in the least to assert such a claim in the first place.

If one says, “Here are the reasons why P corresponds,” then one isn’t employing a theory of correspondence but of justification and justification alone is then what makes any proposition “true”; and “true” then once again, deflates into “assertable”, “warranted”.

It is enough to say that some sentences do a better job for us than others in how we’re thinking and talking about the world; not that “truth” in correspondence doesn’t entail reifying confidence and so-naming it, or that “accuracy” in comparing sentences to reality doesn’t also entail “ding an sich”, remanding any need for justificatory practices at all.

To say what is that is and what isn’t that isn’t simply means one isn’t lying, not that one has at all accounted in any way for some definition of what people mean by “true” given their use of the term.

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When Truth, Not Because Of

To say there is a sentence that is descriptive of the world doesn’t require that the description is correspondent with states of affairs. It suffices to simply say that we are, for various reasons, speaking in some useful way about them. Of course there are reasons we are speaking the way we are. We’re consequences of place — of culture, geography, history, and so on — and of human psychology. And in addition, reality is ultimately what our descriptions must apply to.

To say something is true isn’t ever done in any legitimate sense by appealing to some mind-independent reality so-named “truth” or by suggesting there’s some mysterious linking function that the world uses to alter our sentences about it. We come to a belief because we’re persuaded what we’re thinking about reality is the case. This however, requires no such linkage; just a mind with an idea and some way to vindicate holding onto it as somehow useful. To say some sentences and some ideas are true independent of our thinking so is to say nothing at all. We realize this because we know simply believing something is the case doesn’t make it the case, saying a correspondence exists doesn’t make it so, saying it may or may not be true doesn’t make it the case either. It is warrant that makes it so. Actually, there is no “making it so” but simply “makes it assertable”.

There is no difference between “it is true” and “it is warranted”. No difference between correspondence and utility. There’s no sense to saying we are doing anything but assessing a sentence’s usefulness when we call it “true”. It’s the stamp of approval that “it is warranted” after all. After all, there is no descriptive sentence called true where there’s little value in having a description or where there are better descriptions available. Having better descriptions, it should be noted, belies the utilitarian nature of truth-telling. That is, seven descriptions may all describe some state of affairs perfectly well. In the end, one of those may however be best, but is that because of functional utilitarianism, or that somehow the world has begun speaking for itself rather than we for it?

In all cases, we fuss about justification, about warrant and the hopes that a sentence corresponds in some ontological sense, in some mind-independent way is an irrelevant one. Of what use is correspondence, or the idea of some truth “out there”, when the only occasion we assert truth is exactly and only when we have warrant to do so? Descriptions are more or less useful, not more or less accurate, given that accuracy entails knowing the bulls-eye and the distance from it the arrow has flown. Knowing the bulls-eye removes any need to hurl arrows, it should go without saying. All of this entails to what we know and what we know are beliefs we’re confident of and nothing more; made confident only by either psychology or through our justification practices, not appeals to Truth or correspondence.

We assert because we have warrant and unless warrant is another word for “true”, then truth is by all rights nothing we appeal to in order to assert our claims to what we think we know.

Truth is an event. It is when a sentence is warranted. It is what we call a sentence, because warrant for it exists, not because truth does; not because there’s something more to a description than fitness.

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On Correspondence …

If anyone asks “What is truth?” and the answer is “That which corresponds to reality”, “truth” and “that which” aren’t and can’t be reality itself. It’s then only at best “ideas about” or “sentences about” reality. Of course this entails truth as mind-dependent rather than strictly “out there” as some property of reality. This naturally exposes that ideas and sentences about reality are subjective because we’re producing them, and, that these ideas and sentences are still objective, given they must relate to reality somehow. So, this brings us to “correspondence” and the idea that “corresponds” can only mean “descriptive of”. In that case, A or B (two different descriptions of reality) may or may not “correspond to reality”. The questions are then which best describes and which is more justified to take on.

Since the epistemological task is to say whether, or how A or B is assertable, justification is synonymous with truth, not correspondence.

That is to say, there is no property of A or B that we rely on to suggest correspondence. So at least in our asserting either using those two terms (truth, correspondence), the truth and correspondence of A or B only obtain via justification. Both A and B may seek to describe reality, however, only one may end up being a better description, or the best description. Saying then that A corresponds, or that B corresponds, is to say nothing about correspondence. It’s that A is better at being descriptive than B; or vice versa. Whether warrant for A or B is “one seems to do a better job than the other” or whether A or B is a rational conclusion, or whether A or B is concluded from some reliable methodology or is evidential, these are all about which has warrant, justification.

The only imaginable response to “That which corresponds to reality”, it at least seems to me, is the dialectic translation: “A descriptive idea about reality that warrants assertability”.

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On Street Epistemology …

There’s a difference between the Socratic method — as described as continually questioning a person’s reason for belief in some proposition, P — and participatory pedagogy. The former is patronizing and disingenuous as it has an interlocutor who won’t be up-front with why they are asking the questions to begin with. It’s not because of any genuine interest in an answer or an openness to having those answers change minds. The later is invested in teacher and student, as both hope that in having the goal of learning, both may have something to gain from each other.

Street Epistemology, or SE as folks generally shorten it to, takes on the feel of a child continually asking “why”. Eventually, everyone will hit a wall in offering up explanations. For the most part, I think the honest move is to take “epistemology” out of any description of what is going on at all.

If one cared for Epistemology, one would likely eventually note that truth is not objective in the sense that “it” is mind-independent, but that when we use the word “true” what we mean is “there are good reasons any reasonable person would agree with this claim”. In fact, Street “Epistemology” is exactly getting at “good reasons” rather than “just reasons” and it doesn’t at all rely on any idea of warrant from a mind-independent “truth”. Truth is both “objective” and “relative” instead. It is relative to reasons, to circumstance and conditions, to “place”, humanity and history. That any “perfectly rational person” (an actual standard in Epistemology proper) would agree to some P given reasons R demonstrates the polysemy of “objective”; hence truth is relative and objective.

The important part is this — if the goal of SE is Boghossian — there can be no evidence for the supernatural by definition, therefore no disposition about the existence of deity is evidence-based. Moreover, logic doesn’t entail truth and is simply a formal description of how folks think; so, good reasoning about the question of the existence of God doesn’t warrant thinking there are or are not gods. The Engelian notion that Philosophy embraces (that all ideas are rooted in reality), that of “place”, entails that inferences about the existence of deity are actually “entitlements” and not artificial; dispositions that only have impressions from experience leading to the various inferences one could form about the question.

That’s not to say that cases for and against the existence of deity cannot be made or that good reasoning about one’s disposition shouldn’t be had. It is to say that lacking articulable reasons for one’s belief isn’t a mark against that belief being warranted. Simply, it’s just that reason alone, and that there can be no evidence, leaves these two features of justification outside of relevance as to why a disposition exists and the role experience plays in its warrant; Boghossian fails here. SE is asking for justification without realizing that warrant is what matters and not all warrant is through justification (i.e. reasoning about evidences).

Warrant for theism and atheism doesn’t obtain through evidence. Either are much more about practicalities. This is why i see SE as a failed enterprise, if Epistemology is the chief concern … ultimately, the theist and atheist are left with only reasons that make sense to themselves, but make sense because of, and only because of, personal experience and impression; not because one has run across a set of questions that left uncertainty in their wake.

Whittling a person down to having no articulable reasons for a belief, or even to conflicting reasons and in some cases, even incoherence only demonstrates that Foundationalism lacks warrant, which seems the predicate epistemology of most Street Epistemologists.

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Doubtless, Faithless

When you express doubt to some believers, they respond by saying you just have to have faith.

Some believers are certain of their faith; not that they are faithful with a particular set of rituals, but that “Jesus, not Janus” is the case.

Often, it’s the very same believer expressing both ideas.

When doubt exists, certainty cannot; that’s axiomatic.

This is when we have to realize that every question before us is one where we can have countless attitudes about. This sort of person isn’t being incoherent. They simply have fine distinctions that are hard maybe for even themselves to see. For this believer, his witness to doubters will be far more honest in seeing that faith in this context isn’t about having justified beliefs. Faith here is a choice against justified doubt. That’s also axiomatic.

A doubtful believer certain that his faith is warranted is one who should admit doubters have every reason to doubt, but that the reason faith is warranted is because risking into the unknown can be validated, can be vindicated here and now; faith is vulnerability to being wrong for all the best reasons.

Instead, the often dishonest reaction to doubt isn’t this sort of faith. It’s claiming to know what others are simply too blind to see. It is supressing one’s own genuine doubt for a refusal to being vulnerable to being anything less than perfectly right in every questionable matter that this faith could apply to.

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The Leap Of Knowledge

Gina stood remembering the first time she had made the jump. She had no idea what would happen. Could she do it? Just as then, she had confidence she could. The distance seemed reasonable, she was strong, she knew she could hold on to the bar on the other side if she could just reach it. But, the fall wouldn’t be so easy if she couldn’t.

She remembered everything about that day as a little girl on the playground and that jungle gym. She remembered making it. She remembered too that after that first jump, she never worried again; she jumped from one side and back all day because she knew she could do it, she had done it before.

Gina isn’t eight anymore, she’s twenty eight and a P. E. teacher at that same school. Could she do it? She used to know. She doesn’t know anymore. Everyone had gone home for the day, so she climbed up, smiled, then lept.

What is knowledge? Is it simply “confidence from good reasons”? What is faith? Is it simply “confidence for good reasons”?

If “acting with confidence” describes both knowledge and faith, then the only difference is motivation; “because of good reasons” and “for good reasons” respectively.

“I know that P because of good reasons.”

“I have faith that P for good reasons.”

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I Know!

The only difference between “I think”, “I believe”, and “I know” are degrees of justification. There is no other sense to knowledge than a belief one is very confident of. No other way of talking about knowledge suffices, including justified belief. When warrant includes entitlements, and when reason counts as justification yet admittedly logic doesn’t entail truth or tell us anything about the world, what is knowledge but confidence? It turns out, knowledge isn’t some absolute about the world; it’s that we’re more absolute in our certainty.

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