Responding to Chris
Oh Dawson, you've incinerated me. I admit that I cannot keep up with you. Your verbal gymnastics are extraordinary.
I suppose I should be flattered that you felt the need to devote an entire post to little ole me. My wife will be jealous. Better cut it out. Of course your brilliance is only surpassed and mightily dimmed by your arrogance. Perhaps you can put down your verbal sword and have a civil discussion?
I had hoped that Chris would consider the points that I posted in response to him. But given what he wrote back to me in the comments section of Theism and Its Piggyback Starting Point, it does not appear that he has pondered on my points very deeply. He does not demonstrate that he has grasped what I have presented, nor does he interact with what I have stated. Instead, he accuses me of arrogance and complains over the prospect that I might think that I “have it all figured out.” I don’t claim to “have it all figured out,” but so what if I did? I know that I don’t believe in any gods. And I know why. Chris has not shown that my reasons for disbelieving theistic claims are flawed or insufficient. His reaction to what I have provided suggests that he is in fact frustrated. But this can hardly be due to incivility on my part, even though he wonders if we could “have a civil discussion.” I come prepared for a civil discussion. I have defined my terms and have traced the course of reasoning supporting my conclusions and verdicts. I am patient and willing to teach. I am willing to consider what Chris presents. When I think Chris is wrong, I point it out. Am I being uncivil? How so? Does Chris want me to go along with where I think he’s mistaken, just to be chummy? I won’t. Friends don’t let friends drink and drive. Friends don’t let friends mismanage their premises, either.
If theism is not useful in man's natural desire to know why he exists, what is? Do you not seek greater understanding of life's many mysteries? Are science and philosophy your religion? Are you confident that in time you will be able to figure it all out? Or perhaps you already have? Yes, I think that must be it, because your steadfast foreclosure of all things theistic is a clear indication that you have it all figured out.
You must know something that I don't know (other than all those neat words and verbal deconstructions), otherwise you wouldn't spend so much time telling me I'm wrong for believing as I do.
The universe existing is not in question. The questions are why it exists and how did it come to exist? I believe you made the claim, perhaps it was someone else, that the universe is eternal. It doesn't have a starting point. That claim can be nothing more than a statement of faith, since no evidence is offered to back it up.
1. Why does the universe exist?
This kind of question is invalid because it commits the fallacy of the stolen concept. The fallacy of the stolen concept occurs when a thinker makes use of a concept while denying or ignoring concepts or conditions on which that concept depends. As such, it constitutes a breach of the knowledge hierarchy. For example, suppose someone told you that geometry is a valid science, but basic arithmetic is always wrong. The problem here is that geometry builds on the truths of basic arithmetic. So if arithmetic is always wrong, how can geometry, which makes use of arithmetic principles, be valid? Suppose someone makes the claim “There is no such thing as consciousness.” Would you accept this claim? Does not the individual making that claim need to be conscious in order to make that claim? Do his hearers not have to be conscious in order to hear and consider his claim? In fact, he is performatively affirming the concept 'consciousness' by forming and making a statement, but his statement is denying the existence of the faculty which makes this possible.
Now consider the question “Why does the universe exist?” Let’s focus first on the nature of questions which ask “why” something happened or is the case. Typically these are purposive inquiries: those who ask them are seeking to discover the purpose or motivation of an action or decision. We can ask, for instance, why did Billy stay home from school today? Naturally we suppose there is some rationale behind Billy’s decision to stay home from school, but not knowing what it is, we ask the question. There’s purpose here: Billy tells us that he was sick, and he stayed home to recuperate. We can accept this because Billy is a human being, and human beings possess the faculty of consciousness capable of conceptual thought, and are thus capable of making purposive decisions like this. What’s clear here is that Billy has to exist in order to make any decisions, and he exists in the context of other things existing around him in making decisions. So existence is obviously a precondition to purposive action, and therefore also of questions inquiring about purposive action.
But when we get to the universe, are such questions valid? Well, what is the universe? I have already stated what I mean by this term. The universe is the sum total of all that exists. If something exists, it is by virtue of its existence a member of this sum totality called the universe. To ask why the universe exists is to ask why the sum totality of everything that exists, exists. But since questions of purpose can only be meaningful in the context of what exists, such questions can only apply within the universe, not to the universe itself. The universe exists by itself; it does not exist within something greater than itself. This follows from its definition as the sum totality of what exists. Since the question applies purposive inquiry to the universe as a whole, it ignores the fact that the universe is all there is, thus committing the fallacy of the stolen concept. If the universe is everything that exists, there's nothing outside the universe to satisfy the question on its own terms.
Also, the question “why does the universe exist?” begs the question against the position affirming the eternal universe by assuming what the advocate of the non-eternal (or "created") universe is called to prove, namely that the universe is here to satisfy or fulfill some extra-universal purpose. Where does the theist validate this assumption? Indeed, he seems unaware that this assumption is built into his question, and yet it is plainly there.
2. How did the universe come to exist?
The theist does not have a problem with something existing eternally, so long as it is a form of consciousness, namely his deity. But if a deity exists, it would merely be a part of the totality of what exists, by virtue of its existence, whether hypothetical or actual. That is, it would be a part of the universe, since the universe is the totality of what exists. But the theist finds this unsatisfying, not for intellectual reasons (for we will see that an eternal universe is intellectually valid), but for emotional reasons. The alternatives to his god-belief are considered depressing, therefore he will deny all reasoning which conflicts with his god-belief claims.
And yes, I do affirm that the universe is eternal. My reasons for supposing this are already suggested in the foregoing. But an additional point which even many atheists overlook or misunderstand is the fact that time is not metaphysical, it is epistemological. I do not accept the idea that the universe is "a space-time continuum." Time is not a thing existing out in the world that we find and pick up and hold in our hands; figurative expressions such as "I have a lot of time on my hands" notwithstanding. On the contrary, time is a measurement of motion, and requires a fixed standard, such as the earth's revolution around the sun. One revolution around the sun we call a year, and this standard is taken as a unit and broken into various subdivisions to give us the calendar and the clock. When we get to the universe as a whole, however, it's clear that there can be no relationship which can be taken as a standard. The universe is not revolving around some other object to provide a basis for temporal measurement. Time simply does not apply to the universe itself, it only applies within the universe. The universe thus exists outside of time, i.e., eternal.
That's my position, and Chris is free to dismiss it or make fun of it or anything else he likes. I don't really care.
I understand that you don't buy the theistic reasons for creation, because your mind requires evidence and a logical progression of cause and effect. You cannot contemplate a Divine hand in creation because it is not tidy, it is not mathematical, and it is not sensory based. You require facts, evidence, and logic. Nothing short of God revealing himself to you personally will do. So you retreat to the discernable universe and instead of asking the questions of why and how, you make yourself comfortable with the notion that it just is.
However, I have no choice about my reliance on sense perception, because this is part of my nature. My awareness of the world is made possible by sense perception. Everything I know about the world finds its ultimate basis in sense perception. Theists want to play a little game at this point, asking something like “Did you perceive with your senses the fact that everything you know about the world finds its ultimate basis in sense perception?” But if they practice a little more care in grasping what my statement says, they should see that I did not claim that every truth I know is a truth that I perceive directly. The ultimate basis of knowledge is sense perception, but through the formation of concepts I can build a body of knowledge upon that basis. Because I am able to form concepts, I am not bound to the perceptual level of awareness; I am able to develop broad abstractions which take the perceptual awareness of the world as their basis. I need this perceptual basis in order to build a body of knowledge in the first place. Knowledge of what? Knowledge of the world, of reality, of things that exists. Knowledge requires reason, which is the faculty which integrates and identifies what we perceive. It is not bound exclusively to the empirical level, for concepts are not empirical.
Yes, I do require facts, evidence and logic, because knowledge of the world is based on facts, evidence and logic. I want knowledge, so I go by the facts, the evidence and the logic that connects them together. I have found no gods there. Theists tell me that I need something in addition to these, namely something they call 'faith', which they treat as a kind of faculty like reason, but which operates completely mysteriously, even to the user. What’s noteworthy is that the products of faith contradict the products of reason, so there’s no valid way to integrate the two. Also, different people claim to know different things by means of faith, so those who claim to know things by faith quite often tend to disagree with each other, unless of course they're reciting from the same playbook. Since it remains completely unclear what faith's 'processes' are (supposing it has any processes to begin with), there’s no way to determine whether a mistake has been made, or whether its basis is true, or whether its conclusions (if they can be called that) in fact rest on their stated basis in a rightful manner (we can’t say “validly” here because validity is a property of rational thought, not of faith-mongering). So appeals to faith only complicate things, and bring us no closer to actual knowledge of the world. Besides, if one is honest, he has no need to resort to faith to substantiate his position. Either he knows on the basis of reason, or he simply doesn't know - he merely "believes," and even this is questionable.
As for the Christian god revealing itself to me... Well, it allegedly did this for Saul of Tarsus, did it not? The Christian god doesn’t play favorites, does it? It seems that, if the Christian god exists and wants me to believe it exists and become a devoted follower and witness, it is free to do for me what it did for Saul of Tarsus. In fact, according to the legends we find in the New Testament, Saul was a violent persecutor of Christians. I’m quite the opposite: I’m trying to help Christians. Perhaps if I become a persecutor like Saul of Tarsus, the Christian god will pay me a visit?
To answer your challenge of how I am aware of my God (to spare my jugular), my spirit attests to his spirit. My heart knows God, even as my mind struggles to keep up. I have felt God’s spirit in my life. I have felt his directing hand. I have felt his assurances. When I become agitated, my appeals to him for relief are answered. This of course, is unsatisfactory to those whose requirements for belief are completely captive to the “sense modalities”.
What's noteworthy is that adherents to different religions claim their truths on a similar non-basis, saying that they "know" by some internal testimony which we're expected to accept on their say so. And when we don't, they get upset at us, sometimes calling us names, condemning us to imaginary realms of eternal punishment, sometimes even taking up arms against us for the threat of doubt and non-belief that we represent. If what they claim is all so true, why do we get such attitude when we express doubts or question their claims?
Also noteworthy is the fact that Chris does not enlighten us on how we can distinguish what he calls "God" from something he is merely imagining. This was my other question to him. To make matters worse for him, he appeals directly to his feelings when he says "I have felt God’s spirit in my life. I have felt his directing hand. I have felt his assurances." Basing one's knowledge on his emotions is called subjectivism. Essentially it is the claim that something is true because we want it to be true. Typically subjectivists are not so openly brazen about their reliance on emotions as their epistemological rudder, seeking instead to camouflage their noetic vice.
Chris concluded his comments, writing:
Yes, I say that the universe is neither a cause nor an effect, and I have given substantial reasoning to say this. This has to do with what we mean by 'universe'. I have given my definition for this term; Chris has yet to give his. By universe I mean the sum totality of all that exists. Since the concepts 'cause' and 'effect' both presuppose existence as a necessary condition, they can only have meaning within the universe. They cannot refer to the universe as a whole. My reasoning is my evidence, and crucial to understanding my reasoning is an understanding of my definitions. If the universe is everything that exists, how can one say that it is an effect of something beyond it? The sum totality of what exists is the sum totality of what exists, i.e., nothing exists outside that sum totality.
You say that the universe is neither a cause nor an effect. Again, I say that a statement like that requires faith, because you cannot present evidence supporting it. I say that God is the cause and the universe is the effect. Evidence? Plenty, but none to your satisfaction. Again, I assert impasse.
Chris says he has "plenty" of evidence to support his claim, whose "truth" he apparently "knows" by means of consulting his internal feelings," that "God is the cause and the universe is the effect." From what I have seen, he has not presented his evidence for this claim, and what he has stated gives me no confidence to suppose that he has any objective evidence to present in support of it, and what he has left unstated (namely how we as his hearers can confirm that he is not mistaken or how we can distinguish between what he calls "God" and what he may merely be imagining) gives little confidence that even he truly believes these claims deep down.
by Dawson Bethrick