Author Topic: On proving God  (Read 319 times)

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Offline Philosopher_at_large

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On proving God
« on: June 17, 2014, 04:27:50 PM »
I think that there is a fundamental misunderstanding about the debate as to whether or not there is a God, and I find it most frequently when it comes to Theists arguing that (as they put it), “Atheism is not true”.

It is a linguistic fallacy that an Atheist would have to demonstrate that there is no God, but it goes farther than that; the supposition is that all reasons ‘not’ to believe in god are wrong or fallacious.

This is where I draw the line, there are plenty of good reasons not to believe in God, and this is why I would never conclude an argument for the existence in God by stating or implying that my argument logically obligates the reader to believe that there is one.

I want to briefly quote Adler, whose cosmological argument I find the most convincing affirmative argument for God: immediately after stating it, he wrote the following:

“The conclusion that God exists has not been proven or demonstrated, nothing that has been said should result in conviction or certitude. I for one have been left with something less than that, but something that is, in my judgment, more desirable than its opposite. I am persuaded that God exists either beyond a reasonable doubt or by a preponderance of reasons in favor of that conclusion over reasons against it. Each reader must decide for himself weather or not he is willing to make a statement to the same effect.”

Ladies and gentlemen (of religious faith), this is as far as we can go.
"A moral philosophy that is fact based should be based upon the facts about human nature and nothing else." - Mortimer J. Adler

Offline skeptic54768

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Re: On proving God
« Reply #1 on: June 17, 2014, 04:32:54 PM »
I can tell you that in all my years of reading famous atheists and famous skeptics, I can honestly say that I have never seen a compelling reason to NOT believe in God.

I believe the case for God's existence is a lot stronger than the case for non-existence.
Matthew 10:22 "and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved." - Jesus (said 2,000 years ago and still true today.)

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Re: On proving God
« Reply #2 on: June 17, 2014, 06:25:11 PM »
And once again, skep misses the actual point. 
My tolerance for BS is limited, and I use up most of it IRL.

Offline Philosopher_at_large

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Re: On proving God
« Reply #3 on: June 18, 2014, 01:56:58 AM »
I can tell you that in all my years of reading famous atheists and famous skeptics, I can honestly say that I have never seen a compelling reason to NOT believe in God.

I believe the case for God's existence is a lot stronger than the case for non-existence.

Speaking for my self, I am not left with a preponderance of arguments in favor of god and a disparity of arguments against. For me the scale is tipped just slightly in favor of believing that God exists.
"A moral philosophy that is fact based should be based upon the facts about human nature and nothing else." - Mortimer J. Adler

Offline penfold

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Re: On proving God
« Reply #4 on: June 18, 2014, 02:29:52 AM »
...the supposition is that all reasons ‘not’ to believe in god are wrong or fallacious.

...there are plenty of good reasons not to believe in God...

“... I am persuaded that God exists ... by a preponderance of reasons in favor of that conclusion over reasons against it. ...”

Ladies and gentlemen (of religious faith), this is as far as we can go.

While I applaud the admirably moderate tone of this, I think that there is a degree of equivocation here regarding the word 'reasons'. It is worth trying to clarify what exactly is going when we say "I have reason to believe that x is the case".

The first observation is that for many, if not most, matters of fact a reason is something that is public and observable. The paradigm case of this is scientific propositions; for example I can take the public and observable result of experimentation as reasons to believe in facts as diverse as f=ma, lsd is toxic to elephants, zinc burnt in air increases in weight etc... However a similar, if looser, method lies behind most everyday transactions of fact. Put in antiquated philosophical terms our reasoning about such matters of fact are a prosteriori. Thus our certainty about matters of fact is (or should be) proportional the the weight of a posteriori evidence. This, upon reflection, makes sense, if I allowed matters of fact to be established by reference to an a priori I can in fact provide reasons for anything at all[1]!

A second observation is that there are plenty of utterances which, while appearing to take propositional form, are in factual not at all. I never have any 'reason' to accept Shakespeare's claim that "all the world's a stage"; nor for that matter the claim "I love you"[2] . These non-factual statements may be meaningful but are not true or false. They do not take 'reasons', their meaning and force come from elsewhere.

So what about the statement "I believe that God exists"? Is it a factual or non-factual statement? It seems to me clear that it is the latter. Every reason ever given for believing in the existence of God relies upon a priori considerations[3]. I have detailed some of these in the footnote, but in fact we do not even need to engage in such analysis, the very possibility of metaphysics requires a priori reasoning; no a posteriori, and thus necessarily physical, reason can of itself be a reason to accept any metaphysical proposition.

So I am afraid I think you (& Alder) have misconceived the situation; the theist and atheist do not merely disagree about the weight of reasons to believe the proposition "God exists". Rather the atheist and theist fundamentally disagree about the very scope of reason. We are not even playing the same game!

Interesting OP though :)
 1. At the most brute level all I need to do is take the proposition I hope to justify and make that my a priori.
 2. of course it is possible to lie about this, but it cannot be false in the way that a factual statement is; there is a difference, as every child learns, between dishonesty and falsehood.
 3. Ontological: a priori conception of existence as qualitative.
Cosmological: a priori conception of (a)necessity of efficient causation, (b)impossibility of infinite regression
Teleological: a priori conception of (a) necessity of intelligence for complex physical structure, (b) impossibility of infinite regression
Moral: a priori conception of necessity of moral structure/fact.
"Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away." - P.K.D.

Offline Disciple of Sagan

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Re: On proving God
« Reply #5 on: June 18, 2014, 02:55:02 AM »
I believe the case for God's existence is a lot stronger than the case for non-existence.

...Said the devout Muslim about Allah.

Said the devout Hindu about Brahma.

Said the devout Greek about Zeus.

Said the devout Aztek about Quetzalcoatl.

etc. etc. etc....
The cosmos is also within us. We are made of star stuff.

The only thing bigger than the universe is humanity's collective sense of self-importance.

Offline Add Homonym

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Re: On proving God
« Reply #6 on: June 18, 2014, 04:02:56 AM »
I can tell you that in all my years of reading famous atheists and famous skeptics,

By "years", you mean .00000000001 years, as the English language allows plural on numbers lower than 1.

Quote
I believe the case for God's existence is a lot stronger than the case for non-existence.

How exactly would you structure the case against God, given that "God" can be redefined to be anything you like?
Humans, in general, don't waste any opportunity to be unfathomably stupid - Dr Cynical.

Offline penfold

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Re: On proving God
« Reply #7 on: June 18, 2014, 04:23:21 AM »
I can tell you that in all my years of reading famous atheists and famous skeptics, I can honestly say that I have never seen a compelling reason to NOT believe in God.

Can I ask; what would it take for you to find a reason not to believe in God compelling?

"Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away." - P.K.D.

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Re: On proving God
« Reply #8 on: June 18, 2014, 04:35:55 AM »
In all my months of reading skeptics posts i have never read one that is displays anything over than dodges, cliche answers and uncritical shallow thought.

I assume he only posts his half ass arguments to score brownie points with god, sux havin to be seen trying to save others in order to get credit towards savin yr own ass.
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Offline jdawg70

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Re: On proving God
« Reply #9 on: June 18, 2014, 10:49:00 AM »
So I am afraid I think you (& Alder) have misconceived the situation; the theist and atheist do not merely disagree about the weight of reasons to believe the proposition "God exists". Rather the atheist and theist fundamentally disagree about the very scope of reason. We are not even playing the same game!
And not playing the same game would be all good and well if we weren't all on the same playing field.  People playing football on a football field and people playing baseball on a baseball field generally have no qualms with each other and the games are played smoothly.  But put them all on the same basketball court and someone is going to get hurt.
"When we landed on the moon, that was the point where god should have come up and said 'hello'. Because if you invent some creatures, put them on the blue one and they make it to the grey one, you f**king turn up and say 'well done'."
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Offline stuffin

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Re: On proving God
« Reply #10 on: June 18, 2014, 10:57:16 AM »
I can tell you that in all my years of reading famous atheists and famous skeptics, I can honestly say that I have never seen a compelling reason to NOT believe in God.
I believe the case for God's existence is a lot stronger than the case for non-existence.

It is a waste of time and money.

Now you can say you've seen two. .
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Offline Philosopher_at_large

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Re: On proving God
« Reply #11 on: June 18, 2014, 10:58:25 AM »
Quote from: penfold
While I applaud the admirably moderate tone of this, I think that there is a degree of equivocation here regarding the word 'reasons'. It is worth trying to clarify what exactly is going when we say "I have reason to believe that x is the case".

 There is truth and error in a lot of what has been said here.

First let me say that, even if I accept everything you said as true, my point still stands and would even have been enhanced. We (believers) would have even more reason not to insist that arguments affirming god are “proofs” of god.

Second, none of this was intended to draw equivalence between religious faith and scientific knowledge. There is no equivalence and what I quoted from Adler said as much. As for the weight of propositions, that was clearly addressed in the quote: “nothing that has been said should result in conviction or certitude.”


Quote from: penfold
The first observation is that for many, if not most, matters of fact a reason is something that is public and observable. The paradigm case of this is scientific propositions; for example I can take the public and observable result of experimentation as reasons to believe in facts as diverse as f=ma, lsd is toxic to elephants, zinc burnt in air increases in weight

What about the proposition "Totalitarian states are unjust"? or "All men are by nature equal"?


Quote from: penfold
Put in antiquated philosophical terms our reasoning about such matters of fact are a prosteriori. Thus our certainty about matters of fact is (or should be) proportional the the weight of a posteriori evidence. This, upon reflection, makes sense, if I allowed matters of fact to be established by reference to an a priori I can in fact provide reasons for anything at all[1]!
 1. At the most brute level all I need to do is take the proposition I hope to justify and make that my a priori.

But that isn't the reason you give for why we shouldn't accept a priori arguments, I'll get to that....

Quote from: penfold
A second observation is that there are plenty of utterances which, while appearing to take propositional form, are in factual not at all. I never have any 'reason' to accept Shakespeare's claim that "all the world's a stage"; nor for that matter the claim "I love you"[2] . These non-factual statements may be meaningful but are not true or false. They do not take 'reasons', their meaning and force come from elsewhere.
 2. of course it is possible to lie about this, but it cannot be false in the way that a factual statement is; there is a difference, as every child learns, between dishonesty and falsehood.

Shakespeare's was not a "claim" and he was not being literal; he used an analogy to say something about human society, and, at least in my experience and I suspect most people's experience, he was right.

That I love my wife is a factual statement. I can't demonstrate it, but I also can't demonstrate that I have a headache. Both are subjective experiences that I have privately.

In both cases here you are confusing the truth of a claim with the ability and means of demonstrating it.

If you tell me that all human beings have a common genetic ancestor, I can verify that by checking the available evidence from a multitude of scientific disciplines.

If you tell me that governments should be secular and not theocratic, I can not consult any of the scientific disciplines that I consulted for the first question. I must instead examine the nature of human beings, which involves, but is not limited to, our biology.

If you tell me that you feel sad because your grandmother just died, how do I know what "sad" means? How do I know what a "grandmother" is? What correlation is there between the death of one and your emotional state? I need not ask any of these questions and I need not conduct any scientific research or have a preponderance of evidence to know what you're talking about or what you're experiencing (or 'that' you're experiencing). I also had a grandmother who died, and when she died, I was sad too.

This is knowledge based on our common experience. It requires no specialized observation, it's knowledge that is apparent to anyone who is awake, just awake, not even trying to answer any questions.

These are the kinds of variables that we deal with when it comes to the "kinds" of claims that we make about the world, about our selves, our societies and our world.  The a priori/a posteriori dichotomy is, I think, a false one. It's true as far as it goes, but it doesn't go far enough.

Quote from: penfold
So what about the statement "I believe that God exists"? Is it a factual or non-factual statement? It seems to me clear that it is the latter.

The statement "I believe that God exists" is a true statement, the statement "God, in fact, exists" is the one you're addressing.

Quote from: penfold
but in fact we do not even need to engage in such analysis, the very possibility of metaphysics requires a priori reasoning; no a posteriori, and thus necessarily physical, reason can of itself be a reason to accept any metaphysical proposition.

Not only do I whole heartedly agree, but this is a point that needs to be driven home to all apologists and particularly creationists and people who promote "Intelligent Design". What we have, when it comes to arguments in the affirmative for the existence of god is an intellectual construct. We can't look at any aspect of nature and say "Hence there is a god."   
 

Quote from: penfold
So I am afraid I think you (& Alder) have misconceived the situation; the theist and atheist do not merely disagree about the weight of reasons to believe the proposition "God exists". Rather the atheist and theist fundamentally disagree about the very scope of reason. We are not even playing the same game!

Now you're going farther than you can given what you've said. Atheists and Theists may well be playing the same game in this sense, the people who are playing different games are Super naturalists and Materialists.

I think I made it clear in the OP and even more so (I hope) in this response that neither I nor Adler did say that the reasons for belief in God are the same kind, of the same nature, and are held with the same certitude and weight of evidence as scientific claims. In fact, the whole point of the OP was that they aren't.

But you went a little bit farther than that, you said that, not only are they different in degree and character, but when it comes to the metaphysical, we shouldn't ask the question at all. You are not here arguing Atheism, you're arguing philosophical materialism, which is outside the topic of the OP. I don't mind it being so, and I don't begrudge you the point, but I think you either conflated the two or came dangerously close to doing so.

In closing I'll say that Materialism may be true, stating that it is true is not wrong. Stating that it is an established truth is an error to be avoided.

Thank you for your response, it was well written and thought provoking.



« Last Edit: June 18, 2014, 11:00:34 AM by Philosopher_at_large »
"A moral philosophy that is fact based should be based upon the facts about human nature and nothing else." - Mortimer J. Adler

Offline penfold

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Re: On proving God
« Reply #12 on: June 19, 2014, 05:25:14 AM »
P_a_l Thank you for your thoughtful reply. I want to pick up a point about languge where I think you've misunderstood me and then move back to the general point on metaphysics.

I would like to apologise in advance, your post was very rich and I have not addressed all of it, if you feel that I have missed out something crucial please let me know and I will try and respond directly.

I: Language:

What about the proposition "Totalitarian states are unjust"? or "All men are by nature equal"?

[…]

That I love my wife is a factual statement. I can't demonstrate it, but I also can't demonstrate that I have a headache. Both are subjective experiences that I have privately

[…]

If you tell me that you feel sad because your grandmother just died, how do I know what "sad" means? How do I know what a "grandmother" is? What correlation is there between the death of one and your emotional state? …

All of the above examples you give are, it is undeniable, meaningful. What I deny is that they are all factual. In order to be a factual claim a statement, in principle, be discernable by reference to the world. A factual proposition takes a truth value, and this value then corresponds to the world and ultimately is set by it[1]. Just to be clear I am not saying that correspondence is a requirement for meaning (as you correctly identified “all the world’s a stage” garners meaning without correspondence), but I do maintain that it is a requirement of factual propositions. I struggle to really understand how we could mean anything else by fact. Here’s the really important point Truth and Falsehood only apply to factual statements; a non-factual statement may be meaningful or meaningless, may be honest or dishonest, powerful or impotent; but it cannot be true or false; your first two examples “Totalitarian states are unjust" & "All men are by nature equal” are just such statements.

I wanted to demonstrate this briefly by picking up on a few of the examples you gave: “I love my wife”, “I have a headache”, and “I feel sad”. You claim (at least for the first, and I assume for the others) that they are counter-examples to my theory of what makes a statement factual, in that these statements can be true or false, but given their private nature are not open to the kind of verification process which I seem to require for factual statements.

For an utterance like “I love my wife” to be factual it must correspond to something in the world. This correspondence is what makes the statement true or false. So it is worth asking what does “I love my wife” correspond to? At a behavioural level it corresponds to a set of behaviours (up to an including neurological/hormonal patterns in the CNS); to this extent, and only this extent, “I love my wife”, “I have a headache”, “I am in pain” are factual, in that by observing the expected associated behaviours we can find reasons to believe/disbelieve them. However this kind of behaviourist analysis misses the ‘private’ aspect of these experiences which you are interested in.

Wittgenstein deals with this problem far more neatly that I can, so I will be lazy and quote him:

Quote
293. If I say of myself that it is only from my own case that I know what the word "pain" means—must I not say the same of other people too? And how can I generalize the one case so irresponsibly? Now someone tells me that he knows what pain is only from his own case!——Suppose everyone had a box with something in it: we call it a "beetle". No one can look into anyone else's box, and everyone says he knows what a beetle is only by looking at his beetle.—Here it would be quite possible for everyone to have something different in his box. One might even imagine such a thing constantly changing.—But suppose the word "beetle" had a use in these people's language?—If so it would not be used as the name of a thing. The thing in the box has no place in the language-game at all; not even as a something: for the box might even be empty.—No, one can 'divide through' by the thing in the box; it cancels out, whatever it is. That is to say: if we construe the grammar of the expression of sensation on the model of 'object and designation' the object drops out of consideration as irrelevant.

- Philosophical Investigations Ludwig Wittgenstein

Wittgenstein’s point, and I think he is exactly right, is that when we use words like “pain” or “love” we are not, as you claim, referring to a private experience at all – there is no ‘object’ of correspondence and so such utterances are not factual. This however does not imply they lack usefulness or meaning.

II: Metaphysics:

I think I made it clear in the OP and even more so (I hope) in this response that neither I nor Adler did say that the reasons for belief in God are the same kind, of the same nature, and are held with the same certitude and weight of evidence as scientific claims. In fact, the whole point of the OP was that they aren't.

But you went a little bit farther than that, you said that, not only are they different in degree and character, but when it comes to the metaphysical, we shouldn't ask the question at all. You are not here arguing Atheism, you're arguing philosophical materialism, which is outside the topic of the OP. I don't mind it being so, and I don't begrudge you the point, but I think you either conflated the two or came dangerously close to doing so.

In closing I'll say that Materialism may be true, stating that it is true is not wrong. Stating that it is an established truth is an error to be avoided.

Forgive me, I may not have been clear. I am not arguing materialism at all; my point is purely epistemological, I am making no ontological claims, moreover, I deny the feasibility of making such claims. I am not a Materialist; to my mind materialism is just as much a metaphysics as idealism.

You are correct in pointing out that I am not really talking about atheism vs theism; it is entirely possible that there are atheists who allow for metaphysical a priori[2] reasons for belief. I would contend such atheism is a minority sport[3] however I should not have conflated my own position with all atheism, it was sloppy.

My objection to your OP was simply this: when you use the word ‘reason’ to believe that ‘God exists’ you are using the word ‘reason’ in the following sense: a motive for asserting the truth or falsehood of a belief. My claim is that only factual statements can be meaningfully found to be true or false, and the only possible ‘reasons’ for this are a posteriori. I then observed that no a posteriori reason can, itself, point towards the truth of falsehood of a metaphysical proposition (precisely because no correspondence could ever be established). Thus metaphysical propositions, by definition, cannot be factual, and so are not things which can be true or false. In conclusion you cannot have ‘reasons’ (in the ordinary sense of the word) to assert the truth or falsehood of the statement “God exists”.

Just to be clear that is not to say religious language is not meaningful/powerful/useful; I am only saying it is not factual (ie. Something that is true/false).
 1. For the sake of simplicity I am ignoring tautologies & logical truth.
 2. I accept that (following Quine – Two Dogmas of Empiricism) the a priori / a posteriori distinction is unsatisfying and unclear but it is a decent enough ‘rule of thumb’ for the purpose of this discussion, and unless you are proposing an anti-realist position then surely you will accept the general distinction being pointed to.
 3. Another minority sport is materialist theists, see Lewis and Hick
« Last Edit: June 19, 2014, 05:42:38 AM by penfold »
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Offline junebug72

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Re: On proving God
« Reply #13 on: June 19, 2014, 06:35:16 AM »
I can tell you that in all my years of reading famous atheists and famous skeptics, I can honestly say that I have never seen a compelling reason to NOT believe in God.

I believe the case for God's existence is a lot stronger than the case for non-existence.

There are plenty of compelling reasons to NOT be religious.  Which you are.
Belief in a cruel God makes a cruel man.
Thomas Paine

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Offline junebug72

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Re: On proving God
« Reply #14 on: June 19, 2014, 06:48:53 AM »
Wow you two are impressive, PaL and Penfold.  Just super duper wow. 
Belief in a cruel God makes a cruel man.
Thomas Paine

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Offline Philosopher_at_large

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Re: On proving God
« Reply #15 on: June 20, 2014, 12:55:47 PM »
What about the proposition "Totalitarian states are unjust"? or "All men are by nature equal"?

[…]

That I love my wife is a factual statement. I can't demonstrate it, but I also can't demonstrate that I have a headache. Both are subjective experiences that I have privately

[…]

If you tell me that you feel sad because your grandmother just died, how do I know what "sad" means? How do I know what a "grandmother" is? What correlation is there between the death of one and your emotional state? …

All of the above examples you give are, it is undeniable, meaningful. What I deny is that they are all factual. In order to be a factual claim a statement, in principle, be discernable by reference to the world. A factual proposition takes a truth value, and this value then corresponds to the world and ultimately is set by it[1]. Just to be clear I am not saying that correspondence is a requirement for meaning (as you correctly identified “all the world’s a stage” garners meaning without correspondence), but I do maintain that it is a requirement of factual propositions. I struggle to really understand how we could mean anything else by fact. Here’s the really important point Truth and Falsehood only apply to factual statements; a non-factual statement may be meaningful or meaningless, may be honest or dishonest, powerful or impotent; but it cannot be true or false; your first two examples “Totalitarian states are unjust" & "All men are by nature equal” are just such statements.
 1. For the sake of simplicity I am ignoring tautologies & logical truth.

You know....

Most of the time on this forum I've ended up engaging in "Philosophical Theology". I've made arguments about cat's and needles, attempted to demonstrate that "god" can only be spoken about in the negative, tried to explain the difference between a claim and a posit, but in the end, I'm just giving examples of the reasonability behind something that can't really be described or argued for outside of the subjective experience and culture of the people who believe it. When I get to the crux of my position, though I think it's sound, it's also depressingly vague and depressingly tentative. It's like working really really hard in the kitchen and laboring over a stove for hours to make vanilla pudding. I did a great job! I made the best vanilla pudding ever! But it's still just vanilla pudding!  /cry :*(

THIS... The point you made above.... This is where I lick my chops and salivate in anticipation of a warm juicy stake and exclaim, Ladies and Gentlemen, here comes the philosophy!!!!

The questions and points you made above have been made and argued by philosophers for centuries. I assure you, we will reach no eureka moment here in our conversation, but these questions and the answers we give are the real fundamentals of our existence.

Oboy oboy oboy! here we go! :D

Quote from: penfold
I wanted to demonstrate this briefly by picking up on a few of the examples you gave: “I love my wife”, “I have a headache”, and “I feel sad”. You claim (at least for the first, and I assume for the others) that they are counter-examples to my theory of what makes a statement factual, in that these statements can be true or false, but given their private nature are not open to the kind of verification process which I seem to require for factual statements.

And they don't need it. they are based on our common experience, they are apparent to us merely by virtue of the fact that we are both human beings and both, at the moment, awake. If they didn't correspond to anything in the world, how could they possibly have meaning for us, let alone the same meaning? Same enough to where I merely say the word and you are not at all confused as to what I'm talking about?

Quote from: penfold
For an utterance like “I love my wife” to be factual it must correspond to something in the world. This correspondence is what makes the statement true or false. So it is worth asking what does “I love my wife” correspond to? At a behavioural level it corresponds to a set of behaviours (up to an including neurological/hormonal patterns in the CNS); to this extent, and only this extent, “I love my wife”, “I have a headache”, “I am in pain” are factual, in that by observing the expected associated behaviours we can find reasons to believe/disbelieve them. However this kind of behaviourist analysis misses the ‘private’ aspect of these experiences which you are interested in.

Yet, even if you and I never studied neurology, biology, sociology, or any other ology, you would not need to ask me what I mean when I say "I love my wife". You require no specialized observation in order to understand it or even to affirm it your self.

Quote from: penfold
Wittgenstein deals with this problem far more neatly that I can, so I will be lazy and quote him:

I knew Wittgenstein had to come into this sooner or later! :D

Quote from: penfold
"If I say of myself that it is only from my own case that I know what the word "pain" means—must I not say the same of other people too? And how can I generalize the one case so irresponsibly? Now someone tells me that he knows what pain is only from his own case!——Suppose everyone had a box with something in it: we call it a "beetle". No one can look into anyone else's box, and everyone says he knows what a beetle is only by looking at his beetle.—Here it would be quite possible for everyone to have something different in his box. One might even imagine such a thing constantly changing.—But suppose the word "beetle" had a use in these people's language?—If so it would not be used as the name of a thing. The thing in the box has no place in the language-game at all; not even as a something: for the box might even be empty.—No, one can 'divide through' by the thing in the box; it cancels out, whatever it is. That is to say: if we construe the grammar of the expression of sensation on the model of 'object and designation' the object drops out of consideration as irrelevant." -Wittgenstein

Say you come over to my house for dinner. I prepare boiled dog and garnish it with fried grasshoppers. You recoil in horror at the ghastly meal I've prepared and politely tell me that it appears unappetizing to you.

I reply, "Me too! the Dog is so juicy and the grasshoppers are so fresh that they practically wiggle on the way down!"

Was there a miscommunication here? Well, according to Wittgenstein there couldn't have been. I understood you perfectly, Boiled Dog is one of your favorite foods and it looks delicious to you!

If our subjective experiences are not held in common, but are like a beetle in a box that very from person to person: IE: Everyone has one but they're all different, and we assign a name for this morphs thing that differs from person to person, then I couldn't possibly have misunderstood you.

But I did misunderstand you, and I misrepresented what you said when you recoiled.

how is any of this possible if our subjective experiences don't correlate with anything outside of our minds and differ from person to person?   

Let me give you another example: Say you come to my house to visit and you tell me that watching a movie in the dark gives you a migraine. How do I know to keep the lights on while the movie is playing in order to prevent your having a migraine? I don't get migraines when I watch movies in the dark. that isn't what I mean when I say "Cause of a migraine". How can I possibly understand you well enough to keep the lights on during the movie when your "beetle" is different from my "beetle" and I can't look into your box? 

Quote from: penfold
Wittgenstein’s point, and I think he is exactly right, is that when we use words like “pain” or “love” we are not, as you claim, referring to a private experience at all – there is no ‘object’ of correspondence and so such utterances are not factual. This however does not imply they lack usefulness or meaning.

How could it have any meaning at all if there was no object to which we referred and we had no experience of it? 

Quote from: penfold
Forgive me, I may not have been clear. I am not arguing materialism at all; my point is purely epistemological, I am making no ontological claims, moreover, I deny the feasibility of making such claims.

Oh thank god, that makes things MUCH simpler! lol.


Quote from: penfold
I am not a Materialist; to my mind materialism is just as much a metaphysics as idealism.

Interesting, I'm tempted to have you describe your position about the observable world, but without digressing into a new thread altogether.

Quote from: penfold
You are correct in pointing out that I am not really talking about atheism vs theism; it is entirely possible that there are atheists who allow for metaphysical a priori[2] reasons for belief. I would contend such atheism is a minority sport[3] however I should not have conflated my own position with all atheism, it was sloppy.
 2. I accept that (following Quine – Two Dogmas of Empiricism) the a priori / a posteriori distinction is unsatisfying and unclear but it is a decent enough ‘rule of thumb’ for the purpose of this discussion, and unless you are proposing an anti-realist position then surely you will accept the general distinction being pointed to.
 3. Another minority sport is materialist theists, see Lewis and Hick

I find that most Atheists today make that mistake, not by accident as you did; I think that most of them (in my experience anyway) don't know what an epistemological or an ontological position is, and that scares me. I think it represents a decline in education. In most cases, I would MUCH rather they reject the proposition that there is a God for the reasons that you do.

Quote from: penfold
My objection to your OP was simply this: when you use the word ‘reason’ to believe that ‘God exists’ you are using the word ‘reason’ in the following sense: a motive for asserting the truth or falsehood of a belief. My claim is that only factual statements can be meaningfully found to be true or false.

I think the crux of our difference here is how we use the word "factual", and I think it's not just a semantic difference.


Quote from: penfold
and the only possible ‘reasons’ for this are a posteriori. I then observed that no a posteriori reason can, itself, point towards the truth of falsehood of a metaphysical proposition (precisely because no correspondence could ever be established).

Give me an example. I whole heartedly agree that nature doesn't admit of "non-nature" in and of its self. Let "A" stand for "the Natural" and "Non-A" stand for everything that is not "The Natural"

Because A can not be Non-A, it is impossible to infer "Non-A" from "A" there would have to be some quality of "A" that contains "Non-A" which is a logical impossibility (This is why creationism, ID and all other forms of "natural theology" fall on their face before they even get out of the gate by the way). We can say that "If A requires a cause and A can not be the cause of A, then "Non-A" must be the cause, which is one reason that I am not a materialist. (But that's a LOT different from saying "A must have come from somewhere and so Yahweh did it, now go to church and read the bible. But I digress")...

Quote from: penfold
Thus metaphysical propositions, by definition, cannot be factual, and so are not things which can be true or false. In conclusion you cannot have ‘reasons’ (in the ordinary sense of the word) to assert the truth or falsehood of the statement “God exists”.

Here again, I don't think I have a clear understanding of what you mean when you say "factual", does it refer to "true and false", or does it refer to the means by which it can be tested? Does it refer to weather or not it corresponds to something in matter? All of the above?

I don't think I can proceed until I understand your meaning better.

What is the criteria by which we can say that the following three statements are factual or not factual:

1. My father was Abraham Lincoln

2. My father was not Abraham Lincoln

3. My father liked to wear his hair short

4. Abraham Lincoln liked to wear his hair long

*EDIT: FOUR, there are FOUR Statements, how do I know? That's the subject we're currently debating. *Insert smug giggling over how clever I am here*


« Last Edit: June 20, 2014, 01:20:32 PM by Philosopher_at_large »
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Offline penfold

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Re: On proving God
« Reply #16 on: June 21, 2014, 03:13:36 AM »
Factual utterances:

I think the crux of our difference here is how we use the word "factual", and I think it's not just a semantic difference.

[...]

Here again, I don't think I have a clear understanding of what you mean when you say "factual", does it refer to "true and false", or does it refer to the means by which it can be tested? Does it refer to weather or not it corresponds to something in matter? All of the above?

I don't think I can proceed until I understand your meaning better.

What is the criteria by which we can say that the following three statements are factual or not factual: ....
[...]

In designating an utterance as factual I am primarily concerned (as I am with all utterances) with its use. Take the utterance "the door is open", this statement could have many uses; it could be an imperative (if my aim was to tell someone to shut the door); it could be a warning (if my aim is to dissuade someone from a course of action); I could even be using it as a metaphor (say, for example, in reference to an opportunity). The utterance could also be used factually[1].

So what is it to use words factually? A factual utterance aims to communicate truth. So far so simple. The next question is how do I determine if the utterance is successful in doing so? To go back to imperatives: an imperative's success is determined by the effect it has upon the people it is addressed to. If a librarian utters the imperative "Silence!" it would erroneous to ask if it is true or false (what would that even mean?), instead we judge its success on whether or not the other users of the library continue to talk. So too a warning is determined as successful/unsuccessful by reference to whether or not the danger was averted etc..

With factual utterances the question of success revolved around truth. How do I establish this truth? The only possible answer is by reference to the world. If there is no way of looking at the world to establish if a putative factual utterance is successful then it is not factual, but pseudo-factual. A factual statement without reference to to the world is 'wrong' in exactly the same manner as an imperative addressed to no one. This criteria of fact is exactly as simple as it sounds (it would surely surprise us if it were complex; trade it facts is part of day-to-day life). So the utterance “the door is open” is factual if, and only if, it is being used to make the claim that the world corresponds, ie. That the door being referred to is actually open. This can only be established by observation of the world – by ostensive demonstration.

It is important here to make one qualification. There is a difference between what observations of the world I cannot make for practical reasons, and what observations I cannot make for logical reasons; it is only the latter which excludes an utterance from being factual[2]. All of the four examples you gave could (depending upon their usage - see above) be factual; as they are all statements which could be tested by reference to the world, even if there are practical limitations on those tests. To be clear, if a statement is factual but the test is not practically available, or the evidence (as often is the case) is ambiguous, then we must respect that, just because an utterance is factual does not mean its truth value is known. So the utterance that “on his thirtieth birthday King Stephen ate an apple” is factual (as if one had been there one could have observed) even if its truth-value is unkowable.

So: a statement is factual if it is used to communicate a truth, the success of a factual statement (its truth-value) is determined by correspondence with the world, this correspondence can only be established by observation of the world (ostensive demonstration).

This brings us to:
Quote
... We can say that "If A requires a cause and A can not be the cause of A, then "Non-A" must be the cause, which is one reason that I am not a materialist. ...

We can indeed say it but it is it factual? Let us run it through the test. First, is it being used to communicate a truth? The answer is clearly yes. Does it correspond to something in the world? Unfortunately not, your category of Non-A is, by definition excluded. This means that there is no correspondence to be established, and no observation (ostensive demonstration) is possible. Just to be clear the barrier here is not merely practical, the character of Non-A renders all putative observations impossible (if Non-A could be observed it wouldn't be Non-A!).

If you think about it this is why cosmological arguments never convince anyone. You can assert them freely, and someone else can deny them freely; you will protest saying something like “but everything needs a cause, that is obvious”, but in doing so you reveal your hand. You can progress no further; you must rest on obviousness not upon demonstration; you can only persuade you can never show. This is because your argument does not rest on factual utterances; they are pseudo-factual and so lack any truth-value at all.

Private language:
...Was there a miscommunication here? Well, according to Wittgenstein there couldn't have been. I understood you perfectly, Boiled Dog is one of your favorite foods and it looks delicious to you!

If our subjective experiences are not held in common, but are like a beetle in a box that very from person to person: IE: Everyone has one but they're all different, and we assign a name for this morphs thing that differs from person to person, then I couldn't possibly have misunderstood you.
[...]

Let me give you another example: Say you come to my house to visit and you tell me that watching a movie in the dark gives you a migraine. How do I know to keep the lights on while the movie is playing in order to prevent your having a migraine?

The error you are making here is to assume that words gain their meaning through reference. In some cases they do (factual utterances being the paradigm case!) but in most they do not. Words like 'delicious', 'revolting' and 'pain' get their meaning from their use within a language.

Imagine a child learning a language. They will quickly learn that when someone says “that hurts” is used to try and stop an activity; the child itself will learn to use that phrase to avoid its own pain; and, if it is a good child, will cease actions which cause others to say it. At no point does the child require insight into the private experience of others; merely it understands how the words are used.

In your examples we know how the word migraine is used without having to have one ourselves. There is no great mystery here; language gets meaning through use, reference follows later, if at all. Think for example of languages which involved perfectly meaningful discussions of personal 'spirit-animals' (or 'souls' in our language); I can still follow the sense of it without having some personal point of reference.

In fact if we really followed your view that words get meaning via reference to subjective its conclusion you will find that the privacy of experience prevents communication, as we could never 'compare notes' on our private experience of pain, thus, following your argument we could never meaningfully use the word 'pain'! So the very fact that language exists (the fact of this conversation) should tell you that your view cannot be right.
 1. Just to be clear these uses are exclusive: “the door is open” could be an imperative, warning and fact all at the same time!
 2. Schlick uses the example of “there are mountains on the far side of the moon”, when he was writing no rocket existed which could test this, but, as he points out, the statement is still factual, because the barriers were practical not logical (as it happens only 30 years on those practical barriers were overcome). Compare with, say “there are undetectable mountains on the far side of the moon”.
« Last Edit: June 21, 2014, 04:08:39 AM by penfold »
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Offline Philosopher_at_large

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Re: On proving God
« Reply #17 on: June 21, 2014, 11:41:22 AM »
In designating an utterance as factual I am primarily concerned (as I am with all utterances) with its use. Take the utterance "the door is open", this statement could have many uses; it could be an imperative (if my aim was to tell someone to shut the door); it could be a warning (if my aim is to dissuade someone from a course of action); I could even be using it as a metaphor (say, for example, in reference to an opportunity). The utterance could also be used factually[1].

So what is it to use words factually? A factual utterance aims to communicate truth. So far so simple. The next question is how do I determine if the utterance is successful in doing so? To go back to imperatives: an imperative's success is determined by the effect it has upon the people it is addressed to. If a librarian utters the imperative "Silence!" it would erroneous to ask if it is true or false (what would that even mean?), instead we judge its success on whether or not the other users of the library continue to talk. So too a warning is determined as successful/unsuccessful by reference to whether or not the danger was averted etc..

With factual utterances the question of success revolved around truth. How do I establish this truth? The only possible answer is by reference to the world. If there is no way of looking at the world to establish if a putative factual utterance is successful then it is not factual, but pseudo-factual. A factual statement without reference to to the world is 'wrong' in exactly the same manner as an imperative addressed to no one. This criteria of fact is exactly as simple as it sounds (it would surely surprise us if it were complex; trade it facts is part of day-to-day life). So the utterance “the door is open” is factual if, and only if, it is being used to make the claim that the world corresponds, ie. That the door being referred to is actually open. This can only be established by observation of the world – by ostensive demonstration.

It is important here to make one qualification. There is a difference between what observations of the world I cannot make for practical reasons, and what observations I cannot make for logical reasons; it is only the latter which excludes an utterance from being factual[2]. All of the four examples you gave could (depending upon their usage - see above) be factual; as they are all statements which could be tested by reference to the world, even if there are practical limitations on those tests. To be clear, if a statement is factual but the test is not practically available, or the evidence (as often is the case) is ambiguous, then we must respect that, just because an utterance is factual does not mean its truth value is known. So the utterance that “on his thirtieth birthday King Stephen ate an apple” is factual (as if one had been there one could have observed) even if its truth-value is unkowable.

So: a statement is factual if it is used to communicate a truth, the success of a factual statement (its truth-value) is determined by correspondence with the world, this correspondence can only be established by observation of the world (ostensive demonstration).
 1. Just to be clear these uses are exclusive: “the door is open” could be an imperative, warning and fact all at the same time!
 2. Schlick uses the example of “there are mountains on the far side of the moon”, when he was writing no rocket existed which could test this, but, as he points out, the statement is still factual, because the barriers were practical not logical (as it happens only 30 years on those practical barriers were overcome). Compare with, say “there are undetectable mountains on the far side of the moon”.

So far we don't disagree on any of this. My definition of truth is roughly the same, "A statement that corresponds with the way things are". This becomes a syntactical error when applied to a statement that is an instruction for a person or group of people to do something. That is not a statement about the world or a description that can be correct or incorrect.

This brings us to:

Quote from: philosopher_at_large
We can say that "If A requires a cause and A can not be the cause of A, then "Non-A" must be the cause, which is one reason that I am not a materialist. ...

We can indeed say it but it is it factual? Let us run it through the test. First, is it being used to communicate a truth? The answer is clearly yes. Does it correspond to something in the world? Unfortunately not, your category of Non-A is, by definition excluded. This means that there is no correspondence to be established, and no observation (ostensive demonstration) is possible. Just to be clear the barrier here is not merely practical, the character of Non-A renders all putative observations impossible (if Non-A could be observed it wouldn't be Non-A!).

You're quite right sir, but direct observation is not the only means by which we determine of something corresponds with reality, we are, occasionally, forced to infer the existence or operation of something that can't be observed by examining the behavior of objects around it.

If you think about it this is why cosmological arguments never convince anyone.


Tisk tisk, cosmological arguments are convincing to plenty of people, my self included they just aren't convincing to naturalists, they can't be. 


You can assert them freely, and someone else can deny them freely; you will protest saying something like “but everything needs a cause, that is obvious”, but in doing so you reveal your hand.

It was "obvious" that the earth was flat, how else did we explain waterfalls? One should never use the word "obvious" when arguing something like this. Heaven forbid. The crux of this problem hinges on the necessity not the obviousness of "Non-A". It hinges on answering the first question in the formula, not the last: IE "If everything requires a cause".

You can progress no further; you must rest on obviousness not upon demonstration;

Nay, Necessity. 

you can only persuade you can never show.

BINGO! This is why people don't like metaphysics! what you said is absolutely true! We can not show that there is anything "immaterial" at all. We can demonstrate that such might be inferred, but that demonstration is very slight. I'll skip the litany of philosophical arguments, I'm sure you've read Plato and Kant. What makes it the more difficult case is that we could all assume, for the rest of our lives that only matter exist and that every apparent discrepancy between how matter operates and how our minds and certain aspects of nature works, is emergent from some hitherto unknown natural process, and nothing would change.

We know that we live in a universe that is in matter, we have direct evidence and direct observation of the material world, if there is a "Non-A", we have neither and our ability to examine it is very slight.

This is because your argument does not rest on factual utterances; they are pseudo-factual and so lack any truth-value at all.

Not so, Assuming that "only A exists" because "A" is all we can experience and measure still begs the question.   

...Was there a miscommunication here? Well, according to Wittgenstein there couldn't have been. I understood you perfectly, Boiled Dog is one of your favorite foods and it looks delicious to you!

If our subjective experiences are not held in common, but are like a beetle in a box that very from person to person: IE: Everyone has one but they're all different, and we assign a name for this morphs thing that differs from person to person, then I couldn't possibly have misunderstood you.


Let me give you another example: Say you come to my house to visit and you tell me that watching a movie in the dark gives you a migraine. How do I know to keep the lights on while the movie is playing in order to prevent your having a migraine?

The error you are making here is to assume that words gain their meaning through reference. In some cases they do (factual utterances being the paradigm case!) but in most they do not. Words like 'delicious', 'revolting' and 'pain' get their meaning from their use within a language.

How did they come to be used within the language if not through reference? In France, the word for pain is douleur. If I were in France with no translator and I was having chest pain I would need to open an English to French dictionary I order to tell them what I'm experiencing. If I said the word heureux by mistake, they would all be confused. Realizing my mistake I then say douleur and the hospital staff immediately understands what's happening to me.

I am not trying to discover "how the word is used" I'm trying to find the word that means the thing that I'm experiencing.

Hence; between different languages, we have different words that all designate the same thing. How is this possible unless those words got their meaning through reference? The reference in this case was to something that all human beings experience and that we designate. In English, with the word "Pain" and in France with the word "douleur"

Imagine a child learning a language. They will quickly learn that when someone says “that hurts” is used to try and stop an activity; the child itself will learn to use that phrase to avoid its own pain; and, if it is a good child, will cease actions which cause others to say it. At no point does the child require insight into the private experience of others; merely it understands how the words are used.

But it did require insight into the experience of others, if the child didn't know that "that hurts" referred to the experience of the speaker, then how would it know that "that hurts" means to stop hitting but not to stop running or playing?

"That hurts" "ouch" "owww" "owie" and other's do give the child insight into the private experience of speaker, based on the childs own experience. If that weren't the case, then "that hurts" would be interchangeable with "stop".

In your examples we know how the word migraine is used without having to have one ourselves.

I've never had a Migraine, tell me how the word is used without referencing anything that you or I experience.


There is no great mystery here; language gets meaning through use, reference follows later, if at all.

Not so sir. Words are derived from meaning, not the other way around. 

Think for example of languages which involved perfectly meaningful discussions of personal 'spirit-animals' (or 'souls' in our language); I can still follow the sense of it without having some personal point of reference.
We have all kinds of references to "Spirit animals" and "souls", we refer to our sense of consciousness and wonder which is experienced in common, and people who argue against the soul insist that those feelings are part of our biological instincts that help us deduce, investigate, innovate, etc. When we talk about spirit animals, we are referencing things in nature, "animals" and anthropomorphizing them. Endowing them with traits based on their stereotype: "A bear is a spirit of strength", "A fox, a spirit of cunning", etc. We reference all kinds of experiencial things when we talk about souls, ghosts, spirits, etc.

In fact if we really followed your view that words get meaning via reference to subjective its conclusion you will find that the privacy of experience prevents communication, as we could never 'compare notes' on our private experience of pain, thus, following your argument we could never meaningfully use the word 'pain'! So the very fact that language exists (the fact of this conversation) should tell you that your view cannot be right.

It is not my position that words get meaning from the subjective, quite the opposite, words are derived from meaning.
« Last Edit: June 21, 2014, 11:46:01 AM by Philosopher_at_large »
"A moral philosophy that is fact based should be based upon the facts about human nature and nothing else." - Mortimer J. Adler