The Wright Perspective: Arguments for Everything and Nothing

My latest is up at Every Joe.

http://www.everyjoe.com/2014/08/20/politics/existence-of-god-rational-arguments/

So why do Progressives pretend there are no rational arguments for the existence of God?

The various arguments in favor of the existence of God and the truth of Christ do not find favor among secular, that is, antichristian philosophers of this generation. However, such arguments are not any more nor less sound and clear as arguments in favor of the existence of the law of cause and effect, the existence of an objective external universe, the existence of a universal standard of morality, the prudence and fairness of the death penalty, the gold standard or any other topic debated and settled by argument.

The fact that such arguments are rarely discussed is not a sign of the alleged enlightenment of this generation. It is not a sign that this generation is too savvy to waste time discussing abstract matters.

Rather, it is a sign that this generation suffers from severe educational retardation, and no longer regards the use of the faculty of reasoning as a proper method to distinguish true from false. Look on any modern talk show. Now they are shout shows.

The intellect of the intellectual class has diminished sharply within the last fifty years.

Next time you come across an argument for or against the existence of God, look and see what standard is being used. Before you pass judgment on the merits of the argument itself, look at the form of the argument, and see whether it is sound. Make sure you understand what the argument is trying to say before you decide whether you personally find it persuasive.

Is the Argument from First Cause, for example, any less reasonable than whatever argument you can provide to defend, for example, a belief in female suffrage, or a belief that quantum mechanics will one day be reconciled with relativity?

Whole books have been written about every nuance of these deep questions for centuries, but in the final analysis, there are four strong philosophical arguments for the existence of God.

Read more: http://www.everyjoe.com/2014/08/20/politics/existence-of-god-rational-arguments/

I am trying something rather subtle here, not to prove or disprove the case for or against, merely to argue that the case is not one unworthy of a hearing, that is, it is not to be dismissed out of hand, without pondering the arguments on both sides. I somehow doubt any readers of the Leftwing persuasion reading the piece will comprehend that point.

I notice with a supercilious arch of my eyebrow that no comments have been posted as yet on this column, which deals with a serious topic, whereas I got a zillion comments on a column which made the rather trite and tried observation the Political Correctness types care more about political correctness, that is, what will help their party, cult, movement and worldview, than about correct correctness, that is, matters of fact.

Immediately in the comments section of that column, the first Leftist insisted earnestly that it was an uproven assertion, nay, a slander, for my column to say that Leftists do not believe in objective truth; and the next comment by a Leftist equally loud in insisting earnestly insisted that it was an unproven assertion, nay, an absurdity, for my column to say that objective truth exists. Neither bothered to argue with the other, or explained how the logical conundrum was to be resolved.

I assume the arguments for and against the existence of a divine and necessary being are so well known to the well read, rational, and calm readers of the internet that the column provokes no controversy.

Or perhaps the subject was too deep, and hence of no interest to the readership. Either that, or I am off my game and it was boring.

Not to worry. I will write something in a lighter vein next week.

56 Comments

  1. Comment by CoyoteKhan:

    Mister Wright,

    I think you have two problems. The first, the major one, is that pretty much everyone is a barbarian now. Solid classical education has gone out the door for pretty much everyone, it’s rare to find anyone with even a smattering of Latin and Greek. I must admit that I’m among the barbarians in that respect, being a young twenty six year old.

    The other problem is on you though and I never thought I’d be accusing you of this but…you were too brief. You merely gave the simplest overview of the various arguments without going into much detail. On a technical question like this, I’ve always felt that you really need to start at the beginning assuming that the readers knew nothing on the subject of philosophy. They usually don’t, making them poorer than even the poorest of pagan. Even the Aztecs sacrificing their fellow man knew more about the philosophical world than my generation does.

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      Alas, the editor only expects a one thousand word essay. That is about a page and a half. Brevity is required.

      • Comment by CoyoteKhan:

        I understand. This is more of a journalistic piece than an academic one. Still, philosophical topics I find are usually better served in longer treatises and tomes. For instance I’m reading Cardinal Mercier’s ‘A Manual of Modern Scholastic Philosophy’ currently(granted a translation of it into English – my French is about as good as my Latin) and I still feel that the august Cardinal goes too quickly over some topics.

  2. Comment by roylofquist:

    Dear Mr. Wright,

    Please do not interpret the following as contentious. I am in no way questioning your beliefs or your conclusions. With that:

    The actual nature of God(s) is irrelevant to the core question: are there phenomena that cannot be explained by naturalism, “science”? If so, then then the remaining choice is supernaturalism (I just coined that word). The usual rejoinder to that question is that “science will eventually explain it”. This is called scientism, and is the not so subtle hint that you are talking to a very adamantly closed mind.

    When you posit the nature of God – omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent – you invite sallies against the minutiae, attacks against the details and are not pressing the essential point. If you can’t disabuse the militant naturalist (atheist) of his mistaken notion then you will get nowhere. He will continue to skirmish at the flanks.

    I think that the best argument that I have seen was that advanced by one of the eminent atheist philosophers, Antony Flew, on his rejection of atheism:

    ‘Flew stated that “the most impressive arguments for God’s existence are those that are supported by recent scientific discoveries” and that “the argument to Intelligent Design is enormously stronger than it was when I first met it”.’

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antony_Flew

    From there you have a solid base for a spiritual or religious view.

    Regards,
    Roy

    • Comment by Andrew Brew:

      Mr. Lofquist,

      You are correct that the existence and nature of God are two separate questions. Also that, given half a chance, most atheists willing to even pretend to address these questions will equivocate, pretending that, for instance, their feeling a distaste for some aspect of God’s character (say, his inability to reconcile the agency of free will with the impossibility of suffering) is equivalent to proving His non-existence.

      One of the strongest arguments, I think, is a variant of Mr. Wright’s second – that nature implies supernature, and that physics necessarily implies metaphysics. This is typically dismissed as “word-games” by those not willing to follow such an argument to where it leads.

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      Um. I am a little taken aback that you would trouble yourself to comment on an article you have not read. Supernaturalism is an old and longstanding word that goes back at least a century, and is not used to answer questions about the natural causes of things naturalism attempts to explain. I said that in the article, which has nothing to do with Intelligent Design versus Darwin one way or the other.

      While I am personally happy for Mr Flew having reasoned his way out of the swamp of atheism, it has nothing to do with the topic under discussion, which was philosophical rather than scientific arguments.

      • Comment by roylofquist:

        Dear Mr. Wright,

        I did, in fact, read the article. I apologize for the digression. The point I was trying to make is that you are preaching to the choir. As I read the comments I see that others have raised the same point.

        You wrote: “it has nothing to do with the topic under discussion, which was philosophical rather than scientific arguments.” And yet, before the term “science” became in vogue these types of inquiry were called Natural Philosophy.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Natural_philosophy

        The denouement of these arguments comes down to a matter of faith, on both sides. The atheist/materialist relies on scientism.

        “Scientism is belief in the universal applicability of the scientific method and approach, and the view that empirical science constitutes the most authoritative worldview or most valuable part of human learning to the exclusion of other viewpoints.”

        As I see it, the way out of this impasse is to prove, scientifically, that science is incapable of addressing these questions.

        Science is essentially the study of the ropes and pulleys, the strings and springs of nature – forces. And yet the miracles of God are expressed most forcefully by organized information, specified complexity, life. The study of these matters is addressed mathematically by Information Theory. Nary a force to be found there.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Information_theory

        A key concept of IT is entropy. It is analogous to entropy of thermodynamics.

        “Second law of thermodynamics: The entropy of any isolated system never decreases. Such systems spontaneously evolve towards thermodynamic equilibrium — the state of maximum entropy of the system.”

        The IT equivalent is that information is always degraded, lost, absent the intervention of an intelligent actor.

        To wrap this up before I bore everybody to tears, I quote Saul Alinsky: “* RULE 4: “Make the enemy live up to its own book of rules.”

        With respect,
        Roy

        • Comment by John C Wright:

          You raise a false point, then. The choir does not necessarily agree with me. It is commonplace among Christians to dismiss philosophical arguments about God as well as for Leftists to do so. It is part of the general de-intellectualization of our culture.

          I am well aware that science was once called Natural Philosophy, but, nonetheless, scientific questions are settled empirically, no matter what one decides to call it, and philosophical questions are settled by deduction from first principles. The two methods have no overlap.

          The arguments have nothing to do with faith on both sides, or either side. Your statement is gratuitous and false.

          The impasse is due to an inability of science worshippers to think logically. Nothing will get them to do so.

          Your idea is based on a logical fallacy called argument from ignorance. You assume that if the present day, or decade, or generation, does not find a scientific explanation for some phenomenon or another, the science worshippers will leap to the metaphysical conclusion about the limitations of scientific learning. Unfortunately, the limitations of scientific learning are already well known and abundantly well known to all by the science worshippers.

          I am somewhat offended that you would dare to quote Saul Alinsky, that fan of Lucifer to whom his book on destroying America is dedicated, and offer him to me as an authority whose advice I should follow.

        • Comment by Sylvie D. Rousseau:

          “Make the enemy live up to its own book of rules.”

          Chesterton did answer a like objection from atheists by saying that if Christians did not live up to their book of rules, the Church should not be blamed, but blessed to still be there to help them trying.

          Note that the “enemy” is not the so much the Christians themselves, but their Mother, the Bride of Christ, and that the many Christians who lived saintly lives and died saintly deaths are a “cloud of witnesses” to her fulfilling her mission.

        • Comment by gsteventucker:

          Sir,
          While I admit I do not comprehend much of what you are trying to say, I do actually comprehend the 2nd law of thermodynamics – and you have got it quite twisted up. It is a mathematical construct, not really expressable in non-formal language; but if it were to be attempted to express it in normal language, I assure you that the words “spontaneous” and “state” and “equilibrium” would greatly confuse the issue. Perhaps, before you use, and present your use, of this theory as evidence or support for larger concepts, you should study a bit of mathematics and quantum mechanics, which I strongly suspect you have not.

          If you have studied such, please forgive my impertinence, but you did not get it at all.

          Perhaps the best demonstration of entropy is your use of language to describe the mathematical concept of entropy…(said, of course, with a wink!)

          • Comment by roylofquist:

            @gsteventucker

            You wrote: “I do actually comprehend the 2nd law of thermodynamics – and you have got it quite twisted up.”

            Did you notice that the reference was in quotation marks? It can be found here:

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laws_of_thermodynamics

            “Perhaps, before you use, and present your use, of this theory as evidence or support for larger concepts, you should study a bit of mathematics and quantum mechanics, which I strongly suspect you have not.”

            I successfully completed formal courses in Quantum Mechanics and General Relativity before your daddy was in knee pants. It was harder in those days. You could flatass wear out a good slide rule in a week calculating the Eigenvalues of the Ricci and Einstein tensors.

            • Comment by gsteventucker:

              Please accept my apology for rudeness, born of a late-night work-fest fueled by too much coffee.

              If you studies quantum mechanics, then you know that it cannot be stated in non-mathematical language without a great deal of confusion. And I would suggest that quoting from Wikipedia is a crapshoot, at best.

              Your study surely informed you that a theory of thermodynamic systems involves energy, not objects. by Newtonian mechanics, an “object” in motion stays in the same state of motion (even if at rest, thus zero motion) unless acted on by another force. In a quantum mechanical theory of a thermodynamic system, an “energy” does not stay in any “state” of motion, but is in a dynamic flux, ever expanding and accelerating or whatever word you choose to apply that means quite the opposite of “static.” No “equilibrium” or “state” of motion is ever achieved except within an enclosed, defined, limited system; and that can only be achieved through the application of a great deal of energy from outside this defined, limited system. But – and this is the crux of thermodynamic theory – the application of such informing, ordering energy from without this enclosed system will itself increase the entropy ( or dynamic flux, or expansion/acceleration of the energy) of the ENTIRE system that includes the first limited system AND the external source of ordering energy, when observed from yet another reference point external to this larger system.

              This is also imprecise to an inexplicable degree. But I maintain that the use of the words “equilibrium” and “state” are confusing to the point that many people, including the dictionary makers at Webster’s, interpret such words to mean exactly the opposite of what is being said by the mathematics of thermodynamic theory.

              Here’s a better presentation of the 2nd Law:

              “In the beginning, God created the Heavens and the Earth, and the Earth was without form and void, and the Spirit of God was moving…
              And God said “Let there be Light!” and there was Light, and God saw that the light was Good. And God separated the light from the dark…”

              All that has followed since that introduction of a differential of heat/light energy – a thermodynamic flux – has been an acceleration and expansion of that energy, not a movement towards static equilibrium, which was the “state” of creation PRIOR to the creation of light.

              Again, my apologies if I was rude, but I have a pet-peeve about people mis-representing math with language and I admit it makes me uncharitable. I am working on this personality flaw, I promise you!

    • Comment by The OFloinn:

      are there phenomena that cannot be explained by naturalism, “science”?

      Why should there be? If the Author of Nature were halfway competent, He would look at all he had created and consider it to be good. At the very least, this means that everything works right. Recall that the first premise of Aquinas’ Fifth Way is essentially that Nature follows natural laws.

      However, there is a difference between “naturalism” and “science,” despite how often they are confused. One is a philosophical stance, the other is a method of analysis.

  3. Comment by gsteventucker:

    “I notice with a supercilious arch of my eyebrow that no comments have been posted as yet on this column, which deals with a serious topic,”

    OK, I’ll bite…

    Logically, none of the arguments PROVE the existence of God. The argument seeking to prove the existence of God is almost a denial of the EXPERIENCE of God, and the truth about God encoded in the Bible. They are VALID enough to counter the arguments against God’s existence in the minds of anyone who misunderstands logic enough to think that the non-existence of a metaphysical being is a provable proposition, and perhaps open their minds to an experience of reality (and thus they perhaps have value beyond the fun of playing with words). If one thinks logic can disprove God, then these ‘proofs’ are way beyond their own fuzzy logic and should blow their minds. And so your premise that they ought not be dismissed is true, for sure – but only in the context of the existence of false arguments against God. They are still insufficient to the task of actual ‘proof.’

    Experience is the only real way to know of the existence of God. We experience God everyday, and no amount of logic or other formal structure of words or other symbols can prove the existence of the creator of symbols – and their antecedents, and the coding/conceptualizing system itself – if experience has not made such a reality clear and obvious.

    As for the TRUTH of God as it is found in the Bible, I would not offer such as proof of God’s existence or his will. If someone can reject the existence of God in spite of their experience of reality, then no logic will suffice to show them the truth, because they have already demonstrated that they accept their own neural/cognitive constructs as being more real than reality. Thus, to a person who rejects the God implicit in reality and experience, the Bible is just another language construct to be used or abused.

    A person who accepts or rejects God not based on experience but through logic or other language structures IS God, creating a universe and naming it and calling it “good.” Such a person’s acceptance of God based on logic will be a false knowledge, even if it comes from the Bible, because such an acceptance of God and his Truth will be based on symbols rather than the reality being symbolized, and so they still will not know God, only their neural/cognitive construct of God as extracted from language. (The Bible is the word of God, but comprehension of the word is OUR responsibility! Otherwise, He would just upload the truth into our minds without the linguistic intermediary.) They will still be enamored of their own god-ness, and will simply be projecting their conceptions onto a new concept of an external analogue to their own thoughts. (I say “projecting their conceptions” rather than “projecting their concepts” because it is not the concepts they create that they are enamored with, it is their process of conceiving, which the philosopher mistakes for “creation.”)

    As for the Truth encoded in the Bible – wow, we have, all of us humans, really, truly failed to understand that text, even after Christ gave us the key to comprehension. But such is the nature of “knowing good and evil.” A phrase which, by the way, I would invite you to attempt to parse in your spare time.

    • Comment by Mary:

      C.S. Lewis observed that he had never known an adult convert who had not been influenced by arguments for God’s existence that seemed at least plausible to the convert.

      As for the Bible, your advocacy is keeping you from taking the necessary step backward and asking why they SHOULD believe the Bible, unless they believe it is the Word of God — and therefore no man could accept it without believing in God’s existence. (I observe also that we are promised (collectively) that our Bible reading will be guided by God — and that our individual comprehension will not necessarily lead us to God.)

      • Comment by Sylvie D. Rousseau:

        Mary said:
        “I observe also that we are promised (collectively) that our Bible reading will be guided by God — and that our individual comprehension will not necessarily lead us to God.”

        It makes me think of some Bible texts, particularly the Disciples of Emmaus’ episode, but I would like very much if you would provide specific quotes.

        • Comment by Mary:

          first off, the warning against individual comprehension:

          “Know this first of all, that there is no prophecy of scripture that is a matter of personal interpretation, for no prophecy ever came through human will; but rather human beings moved by the holy Spirit spoke under the influence of God.”

          Remember that prophecy does not mean “predicting the future” but “inspired speech.” All Scripture is inspired, so all of it is prophecy.

          • Comment by Sylvie D. Rousseau:

            Thank you.
            2 Peter 1:20 is blindingly clear. I do not remember ever reading it, but then I never paid much attention to the epistles other than Paul’s. I wonder how they translate that in Protestant Bibles, or maybe they dismiss both Peter’s epistles as papist…

            • Comment by Andrew Brew:

              I believe Luther wanted to excise them, along with Jude and Revelation. Philip Melancthon talked him out of it, but not out of the removal of the OT deuterocanon.

              • Comment by Mary:

                with the deterocanon, they could fudge up an excuse: the Jews didn’t use them. Of course, that was set in stone after Christianity began.

                • Comment by Andrew Brew:

                  Quite so. The Jews at the time of Christ (like, say, Christ and the apostles) did use them (OK, not all of the Jews) so it was a pretty weak excuse – just enlightening to pass muster. Leaving out the NT works on the basis that “maybe it wasn’t really Peter” and “Revelation is really non-obvious in its meaning” was more than Melancthon could stomach.

            • Comment by Mary:

              I have personally read a Protestant trying to claim that it means you can’t read any verse in isolation from the rest. . .

              And one that maintained in great dungeon that didn’t mean everyone, just those mentioned later. “In them there are some things hard to understand that the ignorant and unstable distort to their own destruction, just as they do the other scriptures. ”

              The Spirit-filled Christian can be sure he’s not ignorant and unstable.

              Yeah. Right. Imagine any two-bit fantasy novel where the merchant warns the swordsman, “Don’t go into the mountains without a guide. Many fools have left their bones there.” Do the readers think, when he goes, “It’s okay, he’s not a fool”? Nah — “What a fool.”

        • Comment by Mary:

          God-guided:

          “We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the things freely given us by God. And we speak about them not with words taught by human wisdom, but with words taught by the Spirit, describing spiritual realities in spiritual terms.”

    • Comment by distractedbrony:

      I think you’re messing with the word “prove,” trying to use it to indicate something more like an existential harmonization of one’s self with a given fact, rather than in its ordinary usage as an intellectual demonstration of a fact using reason. Your real position is that nothing at all can be “proven” by logic, as you are using the word “prove”.

      • Comment by gsteventucker:

        No, sir, I am explicitly stating that logic, while completely sufficient for understanding physical realities, is not sufficient to the task of completely or consistently understanding metaphysical realities. It was not designed to do such a task. In the area of the existence of God, we are not, as a matter of fact (HA!), dealing with a “fact” as that word is ordinarily used.

        It is very confusing to use words to describe the very intricate, multi-dimensional, multi-leveled, full-colored, animated graphic that I have in my own mind when I think of God and the knowledge of his existence. Language and math are not the only symbolic codes usable by humans to represent concepts of experience, they are just the ones we use mostly to communicate.

        • Comment by John C Wright:

          “No, sir, I am explicitly stating that logic, while completely sufficient for understanding physical realities, is not sufficient to the task of completely or consistently understanding metaphysical realities.”

          That cannot be the case, because if it were, the statement would disprove itself, would it not? Unless you are using the word ‘metaphysical’ to mean ‘divine’? For philosophers, the word metaphysics refers to the fundamental axioms of reality which are beneath and behind the physical appearances, such as the belief in cause and effect. Now, arguments about whether cause and effect exist are metaphysical arguments, and surely those are conducted with scrupulous logic, and reach a definitive conclusion.

          • Comment by gsteventucker:

            Yes, indeed I was tired and used the word “metaphysical” to mean “divine.” My mistake, but I guess in the context of a discussion about proving the existence of God (the divine) I used a word wrongly knowing full well what I meant. Such is the nature of a poor self-editing job compounded by a lack of sleep following an all-nighter!

            I do indeed state with some assuredness, born of experience and formal education, that logic cannot prove the existence of the “divine,” if I understand that word at this point – I am working too much lately!!

            • Comment by John C Wright:

              Logic alone cannot prove anything. One needs a true axiom or first principle from which to derive a correct deduction. To speak of logic without experience is like speaking of form without matter. It is an abstraction.

              That having been said, I hold, as the Catholic Church teaches, and for the same reason she teaches, that philosophy unaided by revelation is sufficient to prove the existence of the fundamental divine being we call God. Absent revelation, very little other than His mere existence, and a few obvious qualities, can be deduced. Logic suffices to make one a Deist. One cannot be a Christian without God revealing Himself.

              Throughout this conversation, we are speaking of proving God exists as an intellectual matter only. The Devil knows God exists, but the Devil does not bow the knee, nor love, nor serve. To love God is not an intellectual matter, and requires something considerably more than a mere philosophical assent to a proposition.

        • Comment by Andrew Brew:

          Surely observation is also required for understanding physical realities, and indeed can go quite a way by itself without logic being introduced. Metaphysics, on the other hand, can be dealt with only by means of logic, and with no other tool whatever. Then again, there are matters of revelation, which can be defended with logic but discovered only by faith.

    • Comment by Hrodgar:

      “Experience is the only real way to know the existence of God.”

      I am afraid I must, if I understand you correctly, here disagree with you, sir.

      If you mean merely that all reasoning begins with and/or incorporates experience, that I will allow without argument. The cosmological argument, for example, depends on our experience that things happen.

      If you mean simply that all men with eyes to see and ears to hear thereby have sufficient evidence for God’s existence, granted. This is not at all what you in fact said, but I have often enough encountered people saying something other than what they meant, and often enough done the same myself, that if you tell me it is so, I will believe you and agree with you.

      And as for your points about symbols, I freely concede that symbols (and all rational thought is done by means of symbols) are incapable of completely and consistently describing God, or even his creation; this is in fact one of the reasons I reject the doctrine of Sola Scriptura. It is akin to saying that the Word of God is the whole of God, which is in a sense true, in that He is one essence and substance with God, and in another false, because God is not nothing but the Word. And indeed serves as a decent demonstration that symbols are incapable of completely and accurately describing God. So far so good.

      I am not sure what you mean when you say that “no amount of logic or other formal structure of words or other symbols can prove the existence of the creator of symbols – and their antecedents, and the coding/conceptualizing system itself – if experience has not made such a reality clear and obvious.” Logic is not merely a formal structure. Specific forms of it may be. But 2+2=4 is true however you write it, and that a thing cannot both be and not be at the same time remains true in any language. Symbols express logic, and man needs symbols to think at all, much less logically, but logic does not consist of symbols, certainly not of nothing but them.

      Now, it is true that logic needs premises to operate on and that these premises are gotten by means of experience. For instance, the classic example of “if A then B, if B then C, so if A then C” still requires observation to know that A is true, and thus C. The teleological argument depends on our experience that things have a purpose. Again, if this is all you mean, there is no dispute.

      I do not say that it is impossible to know God or know of His existence by means of “a particular incident, feeling, etc. that a person has undergone.” Indeed, our host himself was convinced of God’s existence by just such an experience. Far be it from me to make such a claim. I also realize that few men, possibly none, have ever been convinced of a position on so weighty a matter and one in which they have so much invested by reason alone. This might result from either a lack of confidence, as in a man not trusting his capacity for reason, or a lack of humility, as when men use their conclusions for premises, or from simple inability to comprehend the reasons fully and properly, or from a belief, like Martin Luther, that “Reason is a whore,” or for any number of other reasons. Fair enough. Pretty much everybody believes what they belief for more reasons than pure metaphysics.

      I do say that it is not impossible to be convinced of God’s existence without such an experience, as I have been m. Furthermore, I reject utterly the idea that reason is insufficient for the demonstration of God’s existence, given observable premises. And I view as a false and dangerous view leading into horrible and grievous error that “argument…is almost a denial of the EXPERIENCE.”

      From the first Vatican Council:

      “If anyone says that the one true God, our Creator and Lord, cannot be known with certainty by the natural light of human reason by means of the things that are made, let him be anathema.”

      “If anyone says that divine revelation cannot be made credible by external signs, and that therefore men should be drawn to the faith only by their personal internal experience or by private inspiration, let him be anathema.”

      I realize that my conclusion amounts essentially to a counterassertion more than a counterargument, but this comment is already much longer than intended, and I hope for you to clarify your position before I take up even more space arguing against a position you may not hold. I eagerly await your reply, and hope that there may prove to be no dispute after all.

      • Comment by gsteventucker:

        Please check tomorrow for a thoughtful response – I believe very much that you deserve a thoughtful response, but I have not yet eaten a good meal! Experience, not logic, tells me I will say something stupid on an empty stomach!

      • Comment by gsteventucker:

        OK – I am MAYBE a bit more lucid now than last night. Please forgive my poor editing skills, I have been working 14 hour days and then typing in a sleepless state. I am enjoying this web site and these conversations, and it is helping me relax, so please, again, give me some latitude??

        First, to also answer the wonderful person who quoted about God “directing” our reading of the Bible – I would interpret the word “directing” not as God somehow reaching into our minds and manipulating our neural patterns while we read the Bible so that our comprehension is correct. This would seem to fly in the face of free will, which is the greatest of gifts bestowed on us by that same God, and also ignore the absolute fact that some people (me for 40 years!!) do misread and mis-comprehend the Bible.

        I instead see this word “directs” in the sense that God “informs” our reading, through our experience of the actual, living God, much in the same sense that we would say “Newton’s understanding of gravity was ‘informed’ by, or ‘directed’ by his observations of falling apples.” Again, this interpretation of “direction” is ‘directed’ by my own personal experience of having completely and utterly misread the Bible for most of my life, and my observation that MANY others also mis-comprehend that book.

        Now, concerning logic, Hrodgar:

        “If you mean merely that all reasoning begins with and/or incorporates experience, that I will allow without argument.”

        I would remove the word “merely” and add a bit, but this is the gist of the matter. Reasoning, and meanings (of symbols, that is) are part of a system of encoding that includes not just the symbols and their antecedents, but also a set of, let’s say ‘rules’ by which the codes are abstracted and then decoded. This entire system, including the codes, the thing encoded, and the process of encoding/decoding, is a gift that we have received from God, and my experience of this entire system is one of the experiences that has brought me closer to knowing God.

        To me, the logic and language itself is but a speck of dust compared to the reality of our minds not only having the capacity for such systems, but the capacity to objectively observe our own manipulations of these systems. And to then observe our experience of observing those manipulations, ad infinitum… The fact that we can use faulty logic for years (we all have done it!!), then see our mistake AND know, by self-observation, how and why we made such errors, is a powerful experience and has taught me much more about God than the logic system itself ever did.

        I have experienced myself coming to new understandings of symbols and the symbolic systems our minds employ, and that experience has itself brought me closer to God, and has informed my other experiences which have, in turn, also brought me closer to God. Wow, this is amazingly difficult to put into words!! – But if, through this conversation, I can find a way to better encode my thoughts so that others can comprehend, I will have, again, come closer to comprehending and relating honestly with God. Does this make any sense??

        “If you mean simply that all men with eyes to see and ears to hear thereby have sufficient evidence for God’s existence, granted.”

        Again, I would remove the word “simply” and then I pretty much was saying that. I believe – because I experienced such – that an experience (without, say, a true reading of the Bible) can lead a person to a relationship with God, but I do not accept the idea that a reading of the Bible, without an experiential knowledge of the living God of actuality, can lead a person to knowing this living, dynamic God of actuality. I probably have not worded that well, but let’s say, in metaphor, that if someone was born into complete darkness, and locked in said darkness all their lives, it would be pretty much impossible to explain “light” to them with words, however logical and precise. But a simple walk out of their dungeon into the actual light would make it immediately clear…

        Let me try to tell a story, rather than just an abstract explanation of my experiences:

        This was, in fact, my experience of knowing God. I was born into darkness – a house of pain and rage where God was nothing but an invective used to damn the targets of this rage. Through this experience – where my experience was destroyed by fear and violence, and falsified by fear and disgust – my reading of the Bible, and my application of reasoning, lead me to a horror show of a concept of God.
        The so-called “direction” I received from others, like pastors and evangelists, who told me about a ‘vengeful’ God, a ‘jealous’ God, etc., lead me to an understanding, informed by my experience of rage and violence, that God was a tyrant that demanded blind obedience and punished disobedience with wrathful, vengeful violence. There was no benevolence, only control through coercion. I hated God, and I despised the Bible. Blind, intense hatred, born of misguided but still consistent reasoning, informed by horrific experience.

        When I left home, and through education and a new community came to know something other than fear and loathing and rage and violence and hatred, I became open to new thoughts and experiences of the divine. When I married my wife – now of 24 years – I experienced, for the first time, peace, security, love, benevolence. And I came to know God through not simply this experience, but the experience of having my entire experiential framework transformed.

        My reading of the Bible was still horrid, as I failed to comprehend the truth of Christ and the word of God. My entire conception of the Bible was still informed by the behaviors of those I knew who used (ABused!) the Bible as a weapon or a cloak to hide their own hatred of life and free will. The direction of these people (a sister, mostly, whose rage still subverts, inverts, and perverts the Truth of Christ and who evangelizes with hatred and disgust, not love and hope) was still a detriment, not a help in this matter. Only when I acquired the ability to read the Bible and have that reading “informed” by my experience of the loving, dynamic God of actuality did my reading convey to me the TRUTH about Christ and God encoded in the Bible.

        If others had an easier time with the Bible, I would guess that their experiences as a child were more ‘informative’ to a comprehension of benevolence and love and the truth of Christ.

        In short, I comprehend God as a living, dynamic existence beyond space and time, indeed the creator of space and time, and beyond logic, indeed the creator of logic. My relationship with God is informed not by reason and reality per se, but by experiencing my own interactive matrix of experiences with reason and reality, including the reality of this multi-leveled experience of experience of experience of…reality.

        We can learn. And we can observe ourselves learning, and know how we learn, and learn to learn better, more easily and precisely. And we can see reality, and then observe our seeing, and see how we see and thus understand our visions more precisely and truthfully. We can employ reason, and we can apply reasoning to our reasoning and observe this, as well. This entire matrix of abilities to see, and reason, and learn, and more, is, to me, the primary evidence of the existence of God and His benevolence and omniscience. Without this capacity, and without the application of these abilities, I, personally, could never have known God or the Truth of Christ, no matter how many times I read the Bible or was told, however logically, of such things.

        I am certain that my intended meanings will be clear to some and opaque to others. Hopefully my ability to communicate will be enhanced by this conversation. That is why I am here, in fact, not to pretend that I KNOW and can speak the truth, but explicitly because I admit that I do not know everything, nor can I speak about what I do know in a precisely comprehensible way.

        Please be patient with an over-educated idiot who is working way too much without enough rest!!

    • Comment by Brian Niemeier:

      You bring up an important epistemological question: “Which is a more trustworthy source of truth–reason or experience?”

      My understanding is that setting reason against experience is a false dichotomy. Experience is necessary to be sure, but reason, which we have by virtue of our creation in the image of a rational God, is how we ensure that the way we interpret our experiences conforms to reality.

      Animals also experience the world through their senses. They’re limited to imaging those experiences without conceptualization. Without the ability to derive abstract concepts from our experiences through reason, humans could never know God, since He’s beyond the realm of physical stuff.

      Note, by the way, that the original argument against learning the truth of God through reason relies on reason.

      • Comment by gsteventucker:

        My personal argument against learning the truth of God through reason alone relies on my reason, to be sure; but my reason is informed in this case by my comprehension of the meaning of the fall of mankind via the acquisition of the “Knowledge of Good and Evil.” I do not totally trust that even the most righteous, reasonable man is in tune with the Truth of God and the Truth of logic, because even the most righteous, reasonable man is an imperfect creature, full of sin, prone to pride and arrogance and inclined to a mistaken belief that he is righteous and reasonable as God because he is “like God, knowing good and evil.” I take this into account as I process logic concerning the existence and nature of God. The results of such processing are very enlightening.

        Only Christ was righteous and reasonable enough to be trusted fully on these matters. And he spoke mostly in parable, not logic. I must believe that He did so quite intentionally, with good “reason.” (pun intended, of course!)

        • Comment by Mary:

          yet you trust your reason enough to deduce this. . . .

          It’s one thing to say that it’s not perfect. It’s another to dismiss it for imperfection. After all, a Bible probably has some misprints.

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      I think you mistake the point of arguments of this sort. It is to remove irrational reasons for disbelief. I do not think anyone has ever been talked into loving God with a philosophical argument. However, many a man has had his props holding up his leaning wall of disbelief kicked aside by a logical argument.

      • Comment by gsteventucker:

        I think this is exactly what I said in my first paragraph above. Perhaps I should have stopped there! Again:

        ” They are VALID enough to counter the arguments against God’s existence in the minds of anyone who misunderstands logic enough to think that the non-existence of a metaphysical being is a provable proposition, and perhaps open their minds to an experience of reality (and thus they perhaps have value beyond the fun of playing with words). If one thinks logic can disprove God, then these ‘proofs’ are way beyond their own fuzzy logic and should blow their minds. And so your premise that they ought not be dismissed is true, for sure – but only in the context of the existence of false arguments against God.”

        • Comment by John C Wright:

          And perhaps I should have paused to applaud that sentence. I once spent three years arguing with a dunderhead who could not comprehend that no empirical evidence of any kind whatever can either prove or disprove a metaphysical hence non-empirical reality. He simply defined non-empirical to mean ‘that which does not exist’ and no matter how often I pointed out to him the simple fact that the statement ‘no non-empirical reality exists’ is itself a non-empirical statement, he could not get it.

          This is a guy who claimed to have a scientific education, indeed, claimed to have a doctorate in physics! He would sit there and tell me, without cracking a smile, that A is Non-A, and just blink in slow, dumb puzzlement when I pointed out the paradox.

  4. Comment by AstroSorcorer:

    I expect that the main reason there have been few posts on this is that the subject is, literally, the biggest and most complex issue ever. I must say, you have done an excellent job of laying out arguments over which men have argued for centuries.

    On argument 2 I can add a little:
    The argument I often hear about how an eyeball could evolve is not the most effective argument. While the entire linear process has never been observed, intermediary stages of eyeball have. There are single celled animals, such as some paramecium, able to sense the presence, absence, strength, and direction of light. There are simple creatures, such as flatworms, where light sensitive cells are clustered under a transparent membrane. Some species of nautalis where the eye uses a crude pinhole camera effect, rather than a lens, to focus light into a recessed cavity similar to a crude eyeball. While none of these creatures is a linear ancestor of modern mammals, they give a possibility of how complex eyes may have progressed over time.

    Each version of a eye does not have to be dramatically better, just a little better at helping the organism in finding food, or evading predators. While no one has seen anything a complex as an eye evolve, selection pressures have been observed shaping simpler organisms such as bacteria and the like.

    The effects of natural selection are essentially a tautology: that which survives survives. There is nothing to really prove or disprove. Nor can I think of anything there to prove or disprove God within it.

    Mutation: the source of new genes, and the expression of genes never before seen, may be a place to look. Did the base pair coding for that new protein come from ionization by a random gamma ray, or is a greater had at work? Science has no answer.

    The beauty, wonder and majesty of it all does seem to suggest the hand of the Divine. Many scientists have remarked on it, and the beauty, scope and wonder of it all brought me to that belief one night.

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      You have specifically addressed the argument I specifically said it is was not. This is not an argument about evolution. It is an argument about telos, ends, final cause, purpose, goal, point. The light sensitive spot pm the surface of a flatworm cannot be described, understood nor defined without reference to the purpose it serves, which you list nicely as “helping the organism in finding food, or evading predators.” In a godless universe, there is no purposes outside of those humans decide upon. Even animals, moved by instinct, do not decide to use something as a tool or instrument to achieve a goal.

      “The effects of natural selection are essentially a tautology: that which survives survives.” Be that as it may, nothing in the argument has anything to do with natural selection. This argument would have equal force if nature were blind and operated by some other means, or if life arose or species differentiated due to magic, or life energy bubbling up from the core of the earth, or was a by product of spacetime, or any other fanciful explanation one can imagine, just so long as the explanation does not involve deliberation.

      So you have entirely and utterly missed my point. I will restate it: no non-deliberate process can deliberately aim at an end-product. But to speak of the eye (or the light sensitive cells) as arising without serving a purpose (because no one designed or selected the eye cells) yet serving a purpose (to avoid predators and find food) is a logical self contradiction. There is no such thing as purposeless purposefulness.

      • Comment by AstroSorcorer:

        Ah, thank you.

        I have seen scientists in many field wonder at the origin of order, apparently without cause, from chaos. It is clear that this universe is one in which ordered form and structure will come to being. Aside from a mathematical description of such processes, science has no answer for this phenomenon. Order from chaos.

        On another part of the item, while I have seen many cases where people use the existence of evil to “disprove” God, few seem to talk about the miraculous effect of the existence of good. When someone still does good, even with all of the social and biological pressures to the contrary, it certainly seems heavenly to me. Would this fall into the Moral Argument?

        • Comment by A Spectator:

          “If God indeed does exist, what is the source of evil? But if He does not exist, what is the source of good?” — Boethius, The Consolation of Philosophy, Book 1, Chapter 4

          Some people consider the former question more telling, others the latter. But the latter question ought to have priority over the former, just because good has priority over evil.

          This proposition is called the privation theory of evil. To have a lapse of sanity, which is bad, one must already have a mind, which is good; to have a disease, which is bad, one must already have a body, which is good. In general, the only way to get any evil whatsoever is to take something good and ruin it.

          So Boethius has not just answered a question with a question, which might be dismissed as a mere debater’s trick. He has answered a good question with a better one.

          J. Budziszewski had this on his website The Underground Thomist on August 12. When I read your comment, I was certain I’d heard something somewhere on the topic very recently. After racking my brain about it all day, it finally came to me. Now, I’m telling you.

  5. Comment by Stephen J.:

    Welcome back from vacation, by the way, and I hope it was relaxing and enjoyable.

  6. Comment by Zaklog the Great:

    Welcome back, Mr. Wright. We missed you (as well as the interesting discussion frequently found here even if you’re not personally involved.

  7. Comment by Jeff Hendricks:

    Had to sign up to comment on this one, John. I’ve been following your blog for a while, and I figured it was about time.

    I’ve noticed more and more that the “intellectually geeky” crowd, which I used to consider myself a member of, has become increasingly hostile towards anyone or anything that doesn’t immediately accept evolution/science/theory as absolute fact. Instead of asking real questions, they have simply relegated anyone who doesn’t believe as they do to “idiot” status, regardless of logic.

    It’s not enough to have a logical discourse on theories… oh no, they are now dismissive of anything that doesn’t partake in their canon. Because *science!* And everybody knows “real” scientists couldn’t possibly believe in a creator, right?

    I think you’ve hit the nail on the head (once again). They don’t debate Theism anymore because they are *incapable* of an unbiased, fair debate. They didn’t come to the conclusion themselves, they are merely echoing a philosophy that lets them do what they want. The people that do come to atheism legitimately tend to end up extremely bitter and lonely. To everyone else, it is just a convenient means to an end; they are only invested in it so long as it gives them what they want.

  8. Comment by John Hutchins:

    I gave a link to it, can’t vouch for the quality of the comments that my linking is/may generate, but you are getting some comments. Figure that is better then splitting hairs, straining at gnats, and restarting old arguments myself.

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      I assume any mention of God without disrespect gives the Lefties hives, and they must react. In much the same way any mention of race without oriental degrees of elaborate kowtowing gives them hives.

      • Comment by John Hutchins:

        As long as I stay far away from Calvinists, I have determined that in general debating the nature of God and the specific differences, while informative (and often more interesting), is also not as important as debating that God exists and the nature of faith and God with those that claim otherwise. In no case is the debate itself going to cause someone to believe in God, but showing that faith isn’t unsupported irrational belief and that God should never be considered to be a magical genie fairy brings people closer to truth generally than debating whether authority from God is retained in the Catholic Church or not (or differences about the nature of God).

        • Comment by John C Wright:

          showing that faith isn’t unsupported irrational belief and that God should never be considered to be a magical genie fairy brings people closer to truth generally than debating whether authority from God is retained in the Catholic Church or not

          I agree entirely.

  9. Comment by TheConductor:

    Update: One commenter at EveryJoe has indeed decided to engage in debate, although his skills, shall we say, leave something to be desired. As a sample, he engaged in the old atheist bit of cherry-picking Bible quotes. When it was pointed out to him that few Christians take all passages in the Bible literally, he responded that there are some who do, and that it’s easier therefore just to assume that his interlocutor does. In other words, he insisted on his strawman argument, even while openly admitting it was a strawman argument.

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