Thursday, October 31, 2013

Twerking for Jesus

Just in time for Halloween, TUaD is at it again over on Theological Bullsushi, twerking for Jesus as he so lovingly does. This time TUaD posted a link to an article titled “Computer Scientists ‘Prove’ God Exists.” Presumably we are expected to be impressed by the titular statement, that is of course until we learn that it’s yet another version of the tired, outworn ontological argument.

In fact, one wonders how closely TUaD has read the article that he himself linked to in his own comment. TUaD does quote a section of the article in his comment, but he skipped over some key statements about the nature of the article and the significance of the accomplishment it showcases.

For example, the very first paragraph of the article states that “the God angle is somewhat of a red herring” and, a bit further down, it goes on to say that “the real news isn't about a Supreme Being, but rather what can now be achieved in scientific fields using superior technology.” These and other statements in the article suggest that the “’Prove’ God Exists” portion of the title ought not to be taken so literally. The newsworthiness of the accomplishment referred to in the article seems to be little more than that some scientists have found a way to automate certain complex functions by using a laptop computer which previously required more sophisticated hardware. It states that “formalizing such complicated theorems can be left to computers opens up all kinds of possibilities” and quotes one of the scientists as saying “It's totally amazing that from this argument led by Gödel, all this stuff can be proven automatically in a few seconds or even less on a standard notebook.” One can only wonder what the gentleman means by “all this stuff.”

But as with any computer program, output will be ultimately governed by input. Naturally one would suppose that the computer itself or the program it uses did not come up with the notion ‘God’ by itself; that was no doubt input into the formalization process by its authors. If they replaced “God” with “Blarko,” would it somehow draw a different conclusion? I’m guessing not. A brief published by the scientists themselves (PDF) shows what terms they entered into their formalization process. The brief indicates that the authors have taken Dana Scott’s version of Gödel’s ontological argument (which itself draws from Leibniz), laid its premises out in a formal manner (“a detailed natural deduction proof”), formalized its axioms, corollaries, definitions and theorems in a particular syntax (identified in the brief as “TPTP THF” – something I know nothing about; a “TPTP problem library” can be found here for anyone interested), subjected the resulting formulation to a number of “theorem provers,” and called the result a success.

With regard to concerns about “garbage in, garbage out,” the authors explicitly state that
The critical discussion of the underlying concepts, definitions and axioms remains a human responsibility, but the computer can assist in building and checking rigorously correct logical arguments.
So I take this as confirmation from the authors that input is a significant factor in whatever output is ultimately attained. Take a look at the formalized version of the argument which the authors of the study used (with the symbolic gobbledygook removed):
A1 Either a property or its negation is positive, but not both  
A2 A property necessarily implied by a positive property is positive  
T1 Positive properties are possibly exemplified  
D1 A God-like being possesses all positive properties  
A3 The property of being God-like is positive  
C Possibly, God exists:  
A4 Positive properties are necessarily positive  
D2 An essence of an individual is a property possessed by it and necessarily implying any of its properties  
T2 Being God-like is an essence of any God-like being  
D3 Necessary existence of an individual is the necessary exemplification of all its essences  
A5 Necessary existence is a positive property  
T3 Necessarily, God exists:
Here A = axiom, C = corollary, D = definition, and T = theorem. (Somehow I doubt the authors got the content of their axioms, corollaries, definitions and theorems from Leviticus.) But right off, I would question much of the input content here. For one, I would not qualify any of the proposed axioms here as genuine axioms. But let’s say they can be taken as true and disregard their categorization as axioms here. T1 says that “positive properties are possibly exemplified.” What exactly does this mean, and why should anyone consider it true? Depending on what a property is (I’m assuming it’s just another word for attribute, but TUaD may say I’m stupid for doing this), I would think that a “positive property” is something actual, and therefore that it would exist in specific measure. But that’s just me. At any rate, I find the use of “exemplified” here to be indicative of a throw-back to Platonic idealism, which of course I reject. So it’s suspicious at best. Then coming out of nowhere is D1, which states “A God-like being possesses all positive properties.” Where did that come from? How does one determine this? It is included here as a definition, but definitions need to be validated. They also need objective input. Should we substitute this with “A Blarko-like being possesses all positive properties”? What would happen to the argument then? And what exactly qualifies as a “positive property”? I have a heart which pumps blood throughout my body. Does that qualify as a “positive property”? If so, then Christianity in general, and TUaD in particular, is out of luck here. How about just having a body proper? I have a body. Isn’t that a “positive property”? You can see where this is going – it does not raise my hopes on behalf of Christian apologists springboarding prematurely off the parent article’s provocative title.

Moving down the argument, we have A3, which states: “The property of being God-like is positive.” If that is true, then why are theists continually describing their god in terms of negation? We are continually being told that their god is not material, not physical, not finite, not corporeal, not accessible to man’s perceptual faculties, not corruptible, not changeable, etc. Insofar as positive terms are concerned, typically all we are given is that their god is a “spirit,” which in turn is described negatively: “a spirit hath not flesh and bones” according to Luke 24:39.

The argument includes one “C” term, which is stated as: “Possibly, God exists.” But again, where does this come from? It is identified as a “corollary,” but it is hard to see what exactly this follows from, and if it follows from anything, it could only follow from D1 (“A God-like being possesses all positive properties”) which itself comes from out of nowhere here, and which does not seem to be true at all. Indeed, I frankly see no reason why one should take this any further with regard to the theism-atheism debate, since it does not seem to have any apologetic promise going for it whatsoever.

Additionally, I noticed that in the brief (PDF), the authors state “our work opens new perspectives for a computer-assisted theoretical philosophy.” I’m sure that would make Jesus proud. Perhaps they should try formalizing the Sermon on the Mount and see what results they get.

But aside from this, perhaps one might nonetheless put stock in the ontological argument, being taken with its apparent craftiness and persuaded that it offers a knock-down case for the existence of a god. I suppose I could try to muster up some pity for such a poor soul, but I admit not much.

One of the fundamentally damning problems of every argument for the existence of a god that I have ever examined, is that it invariably leaves anyone considering it with no alternative but to imagine the god whose existence it is supposedly proving. This means that the god in the conclusions of these arguments is still just as imaginary when we get to these conclusions as it was before we considered their first premise. In spite of how impressive such arguments might be in terms of stringing premises together or raising emotional hopes among the faithful members of the choir, such arguments fail to make any progress in terms of exhuming any god out of the pit of human imagination.

Things are even worse in the case of the ontological argument. While some arguments, such as the cosmological and design arguments, attempt to secure some kind of connection to the world around us, however tenuously, by at least referring to it, the ontological argument confines itself explicitly within the limits of what one can imagine. Of course, the ontological argument does not use the word ‘imagine’ here; it prefers the word ‘conceive’, which is apparently sufficient to catch many off guard. Its trick is to deliberately corner a thinker in his own imagination without him realizing it. The conclusion of the ontological argument is made to seem inescapable simply because the imagination has been encouraged to run away with itself.

Now soon I will be posting a blog entry in which I examine the ontological argument more closely, but I have to admit that it is rather puzzling to find Christians so readily enamored with the ontological argument. I think this has more to do with the very nature of their worldview, which is so fractured, disintegrated and compartmentalized that positions whose diametric opposition to one another is obvious to outsiders, are accepted together as if they were part of some coherent unity. This coherent unity, it turns out, is just as imaginary as the believer’s god itself.

The ontological argument notoriously trades on the cumbersome notion of a thing “greater than which nothing can be conceived.” Accordingly, the ontological argument seeks to prove that a god is “that than which nothing greater can be conceived.” Of course, aside from the silly notion that something’s existence can be proven simply because it is said to be the greatest thing we can imagine, I have often puzzled over how one goes about determining whether or not something one is specifically imagining is indeed the greatest conceivable thing. From my examination of such arguments, no guidance on this key point is ever given.

For instance, it is often said in defense of the ontological argument that possessing consciousness is greater than not possessing consciousness. Okay, but how is this determined? This seems to be a very human-sided assumption. After all, rocks do not possess consciousness, and they out-exist human beings by a long shot. Similarly, rocks do not face the fundamental alternative of life vs. death, so wouldn’t that be “greater” than continually having to act in the interest of securing pro-life values and avoiding threats to one’s existence? Such matters never seem to enter into the equation, and yet it is hard to see how they would be irrelevant.

But let’s grant that possessing consciousness is greater than not possessing consciousness. Let’s even go further and concede that possessing volitional consciousness is greater than possessing a consciousness with no volition whatsoever. So now we’re on the turf of making choices, since volition is the ability to select between available alternatives. This puts us into the territory of morality. Thus it seems that a perfectly moral something would be greater than an imperfectly moral something, and even greater still than an immoral something.

Let’s conceive of two gods competing for the prize of being “that than which no greater can be conceived.” Both gods are parents of a child, and in each case the child is being brutalized by vicious persons who intend to kill that child. Both gods are aware of this, and they both have the ability and opportunity to intervene on the situation and rescue its child. But God A chooses to allow the situation to continue and watches from the sidelines as its child is brutalized and executed, while God B immediately intervenes to protect its child and rescues it from its brutalizing captors. Now which god is morally greater: God A, who chooses to allow its child to be brutalized and tortured to death, or God B which acts to preserve its values and saves its child from such brutalization?

Assessing which is morally greater here, God A or God B, is where one’s own moral character comes into play. A person who thinks that God A is morally greater than God B is making the autobiographical statement that a god which would surrender its own child to evildoers is morally superior to a god which would act to preserve its own values. But on what rational basis would one make such an assessment? What moral code is involved here if not one which explicitly condones the sacrifice of values?

In such a way, then, it seems that, aside from the express subjectivism involved in the ontological argument, it requires one to come to the argument with some theory of values already in mind. And yet, this is what is so insidious about the ontological argument: while ignoring the need for a rational methodology for determining what is greater and what is not, the ontological argument avails itself to those who would pretend that the Christian god is somehow the greatest conceivable being while secretly suckering people into a worldview that requires them to be willing to sacrifice their values, just as the Christian god is portrayed as having done in the case of its son Jesus when, according to the gospel tales, he was being tried, tortured and nailed to a cross to die. At no point does the argument make this aspect of Christianity explicit; it is intended to be slipped in unnoticed, like one of the hundreds of ancillary regulations in the Obamacare legislation. It just goes in along with everything else, and we are expected to accept it indiscriminately. In Nancy Pelosi fashion, only later do we find out what’s involved in what has already been ratified as “the greatest conceivable being.”

So the best piece of advice regarding the ontological argument, and any theistic argument for that matter, is: don’t let yourself get twerked around by apologists. They want you to accept hundreds of unexpressed, unexplained and unargued assumptions as part of an enormous package which they themselves cannot keep straight. The evangelist’s goal is to get people to swallow Christianity whole, at least on confession, and then later, as the indoctrination ensues, the finer details hidden within the larger package start to unfold in one manner or another, and quite typically without explanation, let alone justification, since the new believer is lead along to believe that he has already accepted the whole, so now he has to accept all of its parts, or lose everything. It is precisely in this manner that the confessional investment takes over an under-defended psychology. The apologist’s twerking is all part of the sales pitch, to get you to take the bait, to get you netted along with other fish. If you think like a fish, you’ll be caught by a fisherman twerking for Jesus. If you think like a rational human being, you’ll be safe. You might be scolded and harangued by the apologist, but you will have preserved your own mind – something the apologist dearly wants you to sacrifice.

by Dawson Bethrick


Justin Hall said...

Still reading through this and checking sources but I can say that all they appear to have done is shown the argument is valid. That does not mean it is automatically sound. Also as they say, acceptance of the premises is a human affair.

NAL said...

... it requires one to come to the argument with some theory of values already in mind.

Exactly. The Christian will then turn around and claim that their values come from their god.

The ontological argument is so riddled with holes, see Kant, that it's surprising that apologists still use it.

Unknown said...

Completely off topic to this post, but check this article out. Who needs gods when men can do the trick?

In Humanity,