Lord Oda's "Problem with Pain"
Lord Oda began by quoting from my blog Singhing the Greg Bahnsen Blues:
But this simply raises the question: what objective inputs from reality suggest this?
"No man knows another's pain." This Scriptural view is contrary to the psychological expression of empathy.
Also, if it's the "Scriptural view" that "no man knows another's pain," then how can the Christian believer know how much pain that Jesus supposedly experienced on the cross? I've heard many believers - ministers, in fact - preach that no ordinary man has ever had to endure the kind of pain that Jesus experienced on the cross, that it was the worst pain ever suffered by any man in all history (presumably even more than other men who were executed in the same fashion). I don't know how one would be able to know this, but I have heard this claimed on many occasions.
Lord Oda continues:
So which is true? A man's pain is a subjective reality. He may know it as objective, but only in himself. He may even express it objectively to another. But, the other cannot know that pain which is subjectively experienced by the one expressing it.
Also, a man's experience of pain is real, and it is part of reality. No doubt Lord Oda agrees with this. He should, as it is essential to his case. But where Lord Oda and I differ at this point is on the matter as to whether pain is subjective or objective. In my view, pain is not subjective at all. Not even close. On the contrary, pain is objective in the sense that anything else in reality is objective: it exists independent of one's knowledge, understanding, wishes, desires, ignorance, denials, pretenses, imagination, preferences, etc. One may not know why he has pain, but he has it anyway; he may not understand what caused the pain, but he suffers it regardless. He may wish that the pain go away, or desire it to subside, but his pain does not conform to his wishes and desires. He may try to deny the pain, or pretend that it isn’t really there, but it’s there all the same in spite of his denials and pretenses. He may imagine that it isn’t there, or prefer that it’s really nothing, but the pain persists uninhibited by these feats of conscious activity. If pain were subjective, this would mean that the subject of consciousness holds metaphysical primacy over pain, and consequently one could, for instance, wish pain away (wouldn't that be nice?). But that's not the case at all. So pain is in fact not “a subjective reality,” but an objective part of reality that man has to learn to cope with, for it does not obey any subject’s intentions. That is because pain has a biological cause, just as pleasure does. It can be scientifically tested, understood and repeated. It can even be treated, such as with chemicals which inhibit pain receptors in the brain. A trip to the dentist would be far more unpleasant without the novocaine that he injects into your gums.
Now it is true that another man cannot feel the pain that I am feeling. But it does not follow from this fact that pain is subjective or that it is not objective. There are factual reasons why one individual does not experience another's sensations. A man is an indivisible unit. He possesses the faculty of consciousness, and he possesses only his own faculty of consciousness. His senses and nerves are connected to his own brain, not to someone else's brain. So we should not expect one man to experience another man's pain.
Lord Oda continues:
So, how do you establish that you are not just imaginining that you have pain?
So how does one know that he is experiencing pain? He knows that he is experiencing pain by means of his direct, firsthand experience of it. He may not have even identified it as 'pain' (he may be an infant who hasn't learned this concept yet), but he still experiences it. His experience of the pain gives him the objective inputs which serve as the initial units of the concept 'pain' once he does form it. Those inputs are just as objective, due to their causal nature, as any other sensory inputs in his experience.
But Lord Oda's question seems to be: How does one establish that he is not just imagining the pain he experiences to others? Interestingly, I've never had difficulty convincing my dentist that I was experiencing pain during a procedure. However, there are some reasonable questions we can ask to probe this apparent difficulty in the event of any doubt. For instance, are the others to whom one is attempting to establish the reality of his experience of pain human beings? Do they know what pain is? Do they understand that certain actions, such as those which damage the body in some way, can cause pain? Do they acknowledge that damage to the body which would result in pain has in fact taken place? Are they being honest? Etc. If the individuals to whom the hurting person is called to "establish" his experience of pain understand, at least basically, the causal nature of pain (and anyone who avoids an activity which has caused him pain in the past does), then all one needs to do is show that the causal conditions for the pain he reports have been fulfilled. For instance, if he's got a two-inch bleeding gash on his arm, he could point to it as the cause of the pain he is experiencing. He could also point to his own facial grimaces and squeals of distress as corroborating evidence. And although these can be faked, that would not necessarily indicate that the person is actually imagining that he is experiencing pain (he might want others to imagine it).
It is, in fact, quite difficult to constrain evidences of pain, especially if they are external. Try bringing a sledge hammer down on your pinky at high velocity and see if you can keep from blurting a yelp or a few expletive as it happens. But even if there is no apparent wound, a painful leg is hard to walk on, and a limp can be very difficult to conceal. Of course, if the pain is extreme, it could result in the victim falling unconscious or even worse.
Lord Oda gives his answer to his own question:
There are no external inputs to objectively establish your subjective experience.
Lord Oda continues:
The observations of another can only establish that he is observing what appears to be the experience of pain, but since pain can be faked, visual observation can not establish the existence of pain let alone the experience of it.
Lord Oda tries to exacerbate the problem:
Now, you may want to argue that with modern technology, pain centers can produce measures that when associated with self-reports, substantiate that pain is occuring. Yet with that, there may not be any physiological cause.
Now it may be case that in a particular instance there is no known cause of the pain one reports to be suffering. Philosophically speaking, however, this is not problematic, certainly not in the way that Lord Oda might want to construe it for apologetic purposes. We already know that the capacity to experience pain is an objective part of human life, given our biology. And although the cause may not be known initially, it often can be discovered; as Lord Oda himself indicates, modern technology - such as ultrasound, X-Ray, MRI, etc. - can overcome many limitations in unaided perceptions.
Also, and importantly, the recognition that pain is possible is wholly consistent with the primacy of existence metaphysics. This cannot be said on behalf of god-belief.
Lord Oda then tries to complicate the matter in order to weigh the burden even further:
Another problem of course is in the objective measures of quantity and quality, for which, there is yet no means to establish a baseline for the experience, individually, which can be used acrossed populations. In the end the experience of pain is just your imagination by any external measure.
Lord Oda shows that he's anxious to ratchet up the onus when he states:
Your example of a drip simply involves you in the infinite regress.
Lord Oda shows a tendency to allow his anxiety to confuse him:
You state the processes that can be observed without discovering the source of those processes. You simply presuppose their existence, eternally, unsuccessfully avoiding the tautological, recursive, said so is so, redundancy.
But consider: when a drop of water falls from the leaf of a plant in the early morning dew, why suppose that some conscious activity makes this happen? Sure, one can imagine that a magic being is causing this. But this simply raises the question: what objective inputs from reality suggest this? The lack of objective inputs does not stop a thinker from imagining that a magic consciousness resides "behind" everything in the universe. But that's one of the major points which Bahnsen continually fails to confront: since there is a fundamental distinction between what is real and what is imaginary, those who assert a god need to explain how a thinker can distinguish between what the believer calls "God" and what the believer may simply be imagining.
Lord Oda then suggests:
You might likewise presuppose that because you experience pain, that there must be an objective measure of its experience.
Lord Oda muses some more:
You might even presuppose, that since technology advances, what was unable to be observed, since it can be experienced, that some day there may be a means to objectify it.
Then Lord Oda issues his personal ruling on the matter:
There is no such thing, and never will be.
Lord Oda drifts around another turn:
The only true measure of pain is always, and ever will be, relative to the subjective experience of it. So, how do you know that pain exists, as opposed to your just imagining it does?
Lord Oda asked a question:
Or, how do you know what you know of pain?
Lord Oda asked another question:
Or, what is the basis of your epistimology of it?
Then Lord Oda asked yet another question:
Similarly, how can an observer know what you know?
Lord Oda attempted to preempt certain avenues of response by anticipation:
Like pain, he can only experience the knowledge of what you say you know.
Lord Oda states:
He cannot experience your knowing it.
Lord Oda asks:
So, how does an objective observer establish that you are truly knowing what you say you do.
Lord Oda states:
You may be able to argue that you do.
Lord Oda again:
You may be exact in your expression of any given data.
Lord Oda asks:
You say you exist, another may observe that you exist, but how do you establlish for the observer that you know you exist[?]
Oddly, Lord Oda states:
The observer cannot know with certainty that which he cannot see, namely your experience.
Lord Oda opines:
Empathy is a false reality. We say, "I feel your pain." The reality is that "No man knows another's pain."
Lord Oda continues:
Now, you would not deny that anyone but yourself can experience pain simply because you cannot know their experience of it.
Lord Oda rushes to judgment:
You've experienced pain, so you presuppose that others do, also.
Lord Oda asks what he probably thinks is the clincher:
What is the difference between your presupposition of the existence of the experience of pain, (your presupposition of eternal existence), and another's presupposition of the existence of God?
The notion of a god, however, couldn't be more different. Unlike pain, which one feels directly and is an inherent part of our nature as biological organisms, a god is supposed to be an entity distinct from the universe and everything within it, including human beings. Pain is an aspect of our experience which comes and goes depending on certain conditions, while a god is supposed to be an eternally existing and unchanging consciousness separate from man and existing independent of man's conscious activity. As such, a god would be a consciousness distinct from man's own consciousness, not an aspect of his experience that undergoes what man undergoes. Since "God" is supposed to be a distinct entity separate from man, an objective process would be required to discover its existence and acquire any understanding of its nature. To dispute this is to concede that god-belief reduces to subjectivism.
Also, as has been pointed out, pain is independent of imagination, it can be reproduced, and its causality can be scientifically understood and medically treated. In contrast to this, theistic belief has no alternative but to rely on the believer's imagination to inform it. Even according to advocates of belief in a god, its existence cannot be discovered by a perceptually based cognitive process (e.g., by means of reason), and that it is not subject to scientific study, testing, evaluation, experimentation, etc.
But Lord Oda, without providing any rationale behind his opinion, disagrees with me. In answer to his own question above, he asserts:
I also deny that the Tooth Fairy exists. Does this condemn me of “blind [prejudice]”? I don’t think so. But in the minds of those who insist that the Tooth Fairy is real, it probably does. Likewise I deny that Valhalla is a real place. Does this also condemn me of “blind [prejudice]”? Those who wish that Valhalla were real probably think so.
There is none. You simply, out of blind predudice deny that God exists. Because of that, you deny that anyone can know Him.
I simply don’t believe there is a god, and accusations such as the one that Lord Oda recites here are not going to change this. Accusations are not going to intimidate me. People claim to have knowledge from another reality, and under scrutiny such claims fall apart at their very roots (since they assume the primacy of consciousness). Does not believing that Geusha exists constitute “blind [prejudice]”? I don’t think so. What Lord Oda calls “blind [prejudice]” is actually my honesty and the integrity of my rational judgment, both of which Christianity would have me sacrifice on the altar of pretended piety and submission. Believers will of course resent me for my unwillingness to sacrifice my honesty and rationality, so they accuse me of “blind [prejudice].” Since they cannot defend their position rationally, they have no alternative in continuing the discussion but to attack my character. Have they stopped to consider that they themselves are guided by a “blind [prejudice]” against reality? After all, someone who insists that a fiction is true is very likely going to accuse those who do not accept his fiction as truth of some nefarious bias of one sort or another. Christian apologist Phil Fernandes himself admitted how prone believers are to fabrication when he stated (in his debate with Jeff Lowder):
One certainly does not need to prove that the non-existent does not exist. One can simply and honestly just point it out. What’s clear is that nothing in Lord Oda’s comments reasonably establishes what he claims here. It is not a conclusion which follows from anything he has hitherto presented. Moreover, I have already answered the charge (unargued in your case) that my atheism is borne on “blind [prejudice]” by exploring how one of Christianity’s “finest” apologists (according to Christians themselves) attempts to explain how he can “know the ‘super-natural’.” (See here.) If Lord Oda agrees that there is a fundamental distinction between what is real and what one may merely be imagining (and maybe he doesn’t), then he should also agree that it would be of fundamental importance to provide a means of distinguishing between the claim that a god exists and what one may merely be imagining (as I have done in the case of one’s experience of pain).
I just believe that we are very good about lying to ourselves, and only accepting, uh, or interpreting the evidence the way we would like to.
Lord Oda then asks:
That's simple: consciousness is one of my worldview's axioms. Consciousness is an inherent attribute of man, and the capacity to experience pain is universal to mammals (of which man is a species). Why would I dispute someone's claim to be in pain, for instance, if I saw that he had a fresh laceration on his arm? I know enough to realize that had I the same laceration on my arm, I would be in a lot of pain.
But, how is it, that you cannot know another's pain and establish that they can know it?
But if that same person said that the gash was caused by Zeus throwing thunderbolts from the clouds, why would I suppose he is not either imagining or simply pulling my leg? Even Lord Oda should see that there is an astounding difference here, and yet he exclaims that "there is none."
Lord Oda drones on:
It seems contradictory to say, on the one hand, “they cannot show you their subjective experience,” and, on the other, to then also say “they can display it.” Also, if one "might be able to demonstrate scientifically that pain is materially happening," as Lord Oda concedes, then there's no problem on my side. Science deals with reality by means of an objective process.
They cannot show you their subjective experience, they can display it, you might even be able to demonstrate scientifically that pain is materially happening, but you cannot demonstrate by any means a value of experience.
Lord Oda strains his loins even further:
I hope Lord Oda does not propose this as a serious defense of his god-belief. But maybe he does. (Again, I do not assume that reality conforms to my hopes.) For one, I have never argued that one "cannot know that God exists" if this is to mean one “cannot know whether a god exists.” I am an atheist, not an agnostic. Furthermore, since I argue that god-belief is irrational, it would be inconsistent for me not to suppose that someone who claims to know that a god does in fact exist is either irrational or dishonest. Philosophically, as I have shown time and time again in my writings, god-belief assumes the primacy of consciousness. But this view is self-contradictory and invalidates any claim which assumes it or reduces to it. Charitably, I can say, then, with full confidence, that anyone who claims to "know God" has misidentified whatever it is he is calling "God." Typically what has happened is that the believer has confused his imagination with reality. Lord Oda's response to my challenge shows that he has no answer to my challenge for believers to explain how we can distinguish between what they call "God" and what they may merely be imagining. I don’t think his is an isolated case.
Conversely, though you use all your means to demonstrate that you do not know that God exists and therefore cannot know that God exists, you cannot demonstrate that another does not.
Lord Oda goes on:
And all individuals can experience it. And I’ve not met one who has not experienced pain.
The problem with pain is that it can only be truly known by the individual experiencing it.
But Lord Oda invests this fact with theological significance:
Of course, anyone believing in any invisible magic being can use this defense. The Muslim can just as easily say that he has experienced Islam’s Allah. The Lahu tribesman can likewise say that he has experienced his deity Geusha. The Wiccan says she has experienced the God and Goddess of Wicca. Etc. Lord Oda’s preferred approach supplies no safeguards against contradiction or ad hoc, arbitrary claims which simply have no bearing whatsoever to reality. He figures that, if one can experience pain, then he can experience invisible conscious entities which exist independent of himself. But this is a most dubious non sequitur if there ever were one.
The problem with knowing God is likewise. Unless one experiences God, he cannot know. This is faith.
Lord Oda makes an appeal to the storybook defense:
If one "knows" the Christian god through reading or studying the bible, then my point stands unscathed. Similarly, one can "know" Harry Potter by reading a Harry Potter book. The narratives found in the gospel stories, for example, supply inputs for one's imagination to enlarge on. These are not the same thing as objective inputs indicating the truth of what one reads in those stories. To miss this is to miss the distinction between fact and fiction. But this is endemic to religious experience, so I expect believers to resist this in some way.
Jesus put it this way, "You study the Scripture because in them you think you know God. But, they are that which speak of Me."
Lord Oda admits:
It is good that Lord Oda admits that his god "cannot be known through objective means." Tacking "alone" at the end of this confession does not alleviate its subjective implications. However contrary to Lord Oda's insinuation, this is not at all like pain. Pain is not an independently existing entity. But "God" is supposed to be an independently existing entity. This is a fundamental distinction which Lord Oda fails to integrate into his case.
Just like pain, apart from experiencing it, God cannot be known through objective means, alone.
by Dawson Bethrick