Consider the Obvious!

It’s quite possible that when it comes to worldviews, they are incommensurable, that is, they have no common ground. I say this not because I believe they are incommensurable, since I do my best here to argue against the Christian worldview by seeking ways to express myself that might help Christians see what I do. But maybe they are incommensurable after all. We just live in different intellectual universes. Everything I consider a fact, another may dispute, and everything a theist considers a fact, I might dispute.

What do we all agree about? We agree that there is existence; that something exists. An eastern pantheist claims there is no such thing as the self, and an Idealist claims there is no material universe. So we cannot get much farther than saying that something exists, and that’s not much.

So how can people inhabiting different intellectual universes discuss and debate these things? Let me suggest that we must try as hard as we can to find common ground. But that’s easier said than done. We should resist the temptation to insulate our beliefs from critique by stressing that outsiders cannot critique our beliefs. That’s a first step. Once we insulate our beliefs from an external critique we have cut off the possibility of dialogue and debate in the mutual attempt to come to the truth of it all. In fact, the more we stress that our beliefs cannot be critiqued from the outside, then the more we insulate our beliefs from a critique at all. A healthy measure of skepticism is, after all, a virtue in any other scientific or historical or criminal investigation. That’s why I have argued on behalf of the Outsider Test for Faith here at DC and in my book. An insider to a faith system doesn’t evaluate his own faith with the same kind of skepticism he uses to evaluate other faiths, so he uses a double standard. Why not approach his own faith with the same standard of skepticism he uses to evaluate the others? I claim he should. Even if not, at a very minimum he should not continually be arguing that an external critique of his faith cannot be made. He should consider these arguments anyway.

Is it possible to construct a worldview that is internally consistent but false? I think this is obviously true. Keep in mind that since no human being is a logic machine, what one sees as internally consistent may not actually be so. There are always additional premises which, when taken together with other things he believes, makes a system of belief consistent to the adherent. Here I have in mind Calvinist attempts to exonerate his God from the evil of human deeds and desires, even though the bottom line is that his God sovereignly decrees all of the evil human deeds and desires.

Let's say you are an Idealist disciple of George Berkeley and you don't believe there is a material universe. Kicking a rock and claiming to refute you won't work, will it?

Berkeley probably cannot be refuted any other way. In fact, a professor friend of mine claims Berkeley cannot be refuted. Why? Because he argued for a consistent and coherent system of beliefs.

This same professor friend argues that relativism cannot be refuted, too.

Pantheism probably cannot be refuted, either. To do so one must assume something exterior to what a pantheist believes, so it cannot be refuted from his perspective.

If we grant presuppositionalism to the Christian, then Christianity probably cannot be refuted either. But that's granting him everything!

There are other internally consistent systems of belief too. Barthianism (Neo-Orthodoxy) probably cannot be refuted.

But, these systems of belief cannot all be right. So even though these beliefs probably cannot be refuted, they cannot all be true, though they may all be false.

Unless a claim is made that can ground a belief outside the system, such a view has insulated itself from any all any critiques from the outside.

And herein lies the rub. Knowing that internally irrefutable positions cannot all be correct, the adherent of any of these religious belief systems must consider the obvious, like kicking a stone when it comes to Idealism, and the presence of intense evil when it comes to a good, omnipotent, all-knowing God.

So once again, if God is perfectly good, all knowing, and all powerful, then the issue of why there is so much suffering in the world requires an explanation. The reason is that a perfectly good god would be opposed to it, an all-powerful god would be capable of eliminating it, and an all-knowing God would know what to do about it.

So, the extent of intense suffering in the world means for the theist that: either God is not powerful enough to eliminate it, or God does not care enough to eliminate it, or God is just not smart enough to know what to do about it. The stubborn fact of evil in the world means that something is wrong with God’s ability, or his goodness, or his knowledge.

An adherent to a belief system that cannot be critiqued externally, has an intellectual obligation to consider these external "obvious" arguments. While internal consistency is definitely a test for truth, if it does not "touch ground" somewhere, it may be a castle built in the sky in a delusional world. The only way to evaluate such a delusion is to consider an external critique, and it takes a healthy measure of skepticism to do so. It means stepping outside his system of beliefs for a few minutes to consider them. Many theists won't even attempt this for fear of God's displeasure and/or his wrath.

There are Calvinistic Christians on the web who continually tell me that what I offer is not an internal critique of their beliefs, then they proceed to show me what one looks like, without reference to their own particular belief system. I know what one looks like when it comes to logic itself. But unless these same Christians can show me what an internal critique looks like WHEN APPLIED TO THEIR OWN FAITH, then they still have not acknowledged one is possible. If they want to maintain that only an internal critique of their faith can be made, then it behooves them to offer one up. They cannot continue to argue I must offer an internal critique and not acknowledge one is even possible. That's doing a dance. That's logical gerrymandering. That's peforming magic. At that point their whole belief system is unfalsifiable.

6 comments:

Prup (aka Jim Benton) said...

John:
Solipsism is equally 'internally consistent' and 'undisprovable.'
But if we are looking at 'worldviews' to test them, we have to realize that ANY logical system starts with certain axioms or postulates that are 'taken on faith,' i.e., accepted as true without being proved -- just as there are certain terms that are, of necessity, undefined. You have to start somewhere or you run into the problem that you have 'defined A through B' and 'defined B through A,' that you have 'proven A through B' and 'B through A.'
(Whether the way you operate on these premises -- i.e., the 'laws of logic' -- should be considered a separate category or another postulate is arguable, but I think it is unnecessary to decide, as long as you realize that this, too, is 'taken on faith.')

The necessity is to make list of the postulates as 'simple' as possible, to make sure that they don't lead to a contradiction -- and reexamine them if they do, and to 'check your results against reality.'

(I am not going to get into Godel's theorems here, nor am I going to pretend my arguments are anything but somewhat sloppy simplifications. Russell and Whitehead took over 350 pages to 'prove' that 1+1=2, but even I am not that longwinded.)

I would start with the following postulates:
A: The Universe exists, independent of our own perceptions of it.

B: There is a relationship between the Universe and our perceptions of it. (This relationship is not exact, obviously, because e.g., we interpret vibrations in the atmosphere as sound.)

C: That the Universe includes, as a necessary part of itself, certain consistencies which we may discover -- i.e., that 'scientific laws' are real. (From here on, 'The Universe' means both the 'thing itself' and the 'laws' or 'consistencies.')

D: That these laws -- or many of them -- may accurately be described in mathematical terms.

E: That, correcting for variations in our senses, that there is a consistency in the perception of the Universe from person to person -- though our interpretation of those perceptions may vary.

F: That we may, through the use of instruments, increase this consistency.

G: That, within limits, this consistency is constant over space -- that the Universe would be the same if viewed from a different solar system or even galaxy as it does from Earth

H: That, within limits, this consistency is constant over time -- that while the Universe has changed over time, that there would be a consistency in how it appears -- and the laws that are a part of it -- whether it is viewed in the 'present' or five billion years in the past or future.

I: That while 'verbal language' is not as accurate as mathematical language, it is possible to use it to convey our perceptions of the Universe to others.

J: (This one is controversial) That the structure of the verbal language we use can and does affect our perception of the Universe, and that we must take this into account in relation to "I" above.

Okay, that's the list. It's a 'quick and dirty' attempt, accepts -- without attempting to define -- 'consciousness' and assumes that it is present in all observers to a greater or lesser extent. It says nothing about the existence of emotions -- though they are inherent, I would say, in the act of perceiving. (I would argue that 'thinking,' 'feeling' -- i.e., having an emotion -- and 'perceiving' are not independent but rather cannot exist without the others. But that is tricky, and I'll reserve that for another discussion.)

This gives us a place to start in discussing 'the Universe' and even the possible existence of a diety, but it does not discuss the 'human factor' or quesytions of ethics. (Actually, I would argue that it DOES give us a starting place to discuss ethics, but that too is for future discussion.)

I have no idea if this is useful or not, but I believe it is relevant. (I also started this before any comments had been posted, so I have no idea if anyone else has taken the discussion in a different direction.)

Cassandra said...

Relativism hasn't got a logic leg to stand on. You are not searching for truth. You are an anti-Christian activist. How about some serious critique of your own fundamentalism/dogma.

Shygetz said...

How about some serious critique of your own fundamentalism/dogma.

OK, cassandra, go for it.

Prup (aka Jim Benton) said...

Cassandra:
Don't know if your comment was meant for John or for me. I'd always welcome criticism and questions about my belief -- though you know by now that I will usually answer them in my usual *ahem* shall we say, detailed manner.
But the most important thing is to have my ideas challenged. How could I ever know if they are right or wrong unless I have to defend them against a strong challenge.
And the question is too important for me not to want to know if I am right or not.

Anonymous said...

Unfalsifiability is unfalsafiable as well.

Conor Gilliland said...

John, even if you were granted all your points in this post, it is still riddled with problems.

It may be, as Plantinga says, that God's existence is as obvious to me as an external world or other minds.

Also, methodological naturalism would suffer the same problem of unfalsifiability. There is good evidence through modern design arguments for the existence of a designer. However, methodological naturalism (by definition) is not open to this evidence.

Consider the implication. I have methodological naturalists claim that if Jesus materialized before their eyes they would believe. Something like the "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence." Suppose you were transported to Biblical times and it turns out that Jesus existed and did all the things the Bible records. The methodological naturalist STILL would not accept it for evidence of the supernatural.

Of course, you take methodological naturalism as the default, which you have done nothing to establish as anything other than presupposed and axiomatic.

You should really consider the role of the will in this.