Thursday, December 03, 2009

God: A Summing Up Along the Way

If you give reasons for believing in God, you've just admitted that you believe in some higher God-like authority that is referenced to decide the issue.

However, it works both ways. Both believer and atheist assume God-like rules for minds, in order to determine whether or not God exists, and to generally construe the total reality that confronts us. So what is the status of our most basic assumptions? And are those assumptions vulnerable to the same criticisms leveled against belief in God? Or do they get a free ride?

The reasons one gives either for theism or atheism exert some God-like authority over one's beliefs, so that one must acknowledge some ultimate mind authority, namely the irreducibly basic assumptions of thought, regardless of what one believes. It's like an invisible mind-friend, to put a spin on a common objection to belief in God.

Any reasons given for believing in God assume criteria which themselves do not require the existence of a deity to be authoritative in determining what is true. This is a terrific problem for both sides of the issue, on several fronts, although for respectively different reasons.

Reasons offered for God's existence or non-existence necessarily play a god-like role in being the determining factors for deciding the issue.Those criteria are going to be just as ultimate, obligating, and exceptionless as any notion of divine essence, since that is the point of an argument, to use criteria and criteria-parsed premise statements to determine belief-propriety.

This doesn't directly require the existence of God, but it requires a set of ultimate ruling factors that themselves are treated as a sort of invisible mind-god, ruling over the god issue itself, functioning as an ultimate neutral arbitrating criterion.

Any rational distinction between X and non-X already assumes a god-like authority to parse particulars universally. Hence we believe God is different from heartburn (non-God objects) or that one thing generally is different from some other thing. We operate by assuming these rules of absolute distinctions in order to think anything, since to think that something is known or is meaningful is to think that thing as what it is, in contradistinction to any other thing at the same time and in the same sense. We have, in other words, a set of god-statements that function much like an operating system in a computer. Without some kind of basic system of control statements, we could not do anything with a computer. In the same way, without fixed and universal statements about meaning, communication, criteria, definitional constructs about basic distinctions and identities between terms, names, language rules, and so on, we could not function at even a basic level of biological survival, much less as reflective conscious entities.

To reason about God, is to assume premises which infer one or more things that are true of God by the authority of those premises in combination and their logical relation to some other statement that is inferred from those premises. Since this is about God, that means that those statements and what they infer, are the final court of appeal for what counts a valid and efficacious argument for God. Hence, those statements and relations play the epistemic role of God with regard to determining that God exists. Same thing is the case with regard to atheism. Hence the atheist is the God of their own belief, but so are believers. Each person is the God of their own belief choices, by the power of choice itself, and by the role that one's criteria of thought plays in the determination of what should be believed as true of one's reality as a whole.

Any attempt to explain this away somehow, ends up playing the same role as ultimate authority with regard to the status of the issue in question, knowledge per se, etc.

My issue with atheism pertains only to the status and implications of atheistic background assumptions, and the relation of those assumptions to the nature of personhood. I have no problem with the ultimacy and adequacy of reason or my use of it as the ultimately authoritative factor in determining what to believe is true. (I also agree with Rand, Browne, and randian objectivism in general with regard to the principle of rational self-interest. But that is another story.) In general, my position is that rationalist-objectivist atheism is the only adequate logical foundation for a reasoned belief in God. Reason is an aspect of God's ultimate nature, and necessarily so.

Meaning is non-controversial in any dispute of the term. Any dispute about meaning assumes non-disputed meaning.

To even merely recognize incoherence or some other inadequacy assumes a set of god-level construance rules. Furthermore, this is an integral set of statements that pertain to God. So it's god-level in two senses. One, in the sense of a universal thought tool and two, god-like in passing judgment about any and all god-issues, without appeal to anything but that same tool all over again.

A dispute over perception would be the pursuit of some at least partial idealization of a third party factor in the minds of all disputants, a non-controversial factor that would criterially arbitrate the dispute. That factor necessarily plays a god-like role as determiner of what is the case about God.

The denial of a norm of truth is just a claim, but the questioning I agree directly assumes a norm.

There is no reason why criteria of thought exert god-like authority, they just do in being the epistemic gods of the god question. And in relation to tennis-playing, the ground rules are god-like in that context. They are constructed to be the operational constants, in spite of the possibility of conflict over interpretation in specific instances.  True, the rules could be changed because of a recurring issue related to some vagueness or internal contradiction in the rules themselves, but those rules, once agreed on, are not questionable in specific instances of normal play.  But even in the case of a game such as tennis, given the desired conditions which define the game, the background criteria for rule-construction are non-controversial and ultimate.

It is precisely my point that there are necessarily hierarchic ultimates including one that is general for everything from the standpoint of thinking and believing. This ultimate is a set of statements, although I think there is much more to it than that. Everyone has a set of god-statements, and is the god of their own respective belief choices. It's referencing a standard of mind that is part of oneself yet is referred to as ultimate, exceptionless, indicative, and signifies the good in relation to pursuing goals of thought. Separate from myself in some sense yet functionally omnipresent.

One proceeds only on the basis of an ongoing set of operational rules. Those rules determine the possibility and range of thoughts but also the entire operational scheme. Procedural operations without prior and experientially enduring rules are not just blind, but indistinguishable from no procedural operations at all.

We are gods of our own thoughts insofar that we still hold a unique and privileged vantage point from which to assess and decide what is true or in our best interests concerning the implications of those criteria based on limited considerations as a finite knower, however automatic those criteria are always being assumed as the instrumental rules of construance, notwithstanding the philosophical loadedness of our instrumental assumptions in thinking. Reason is repressively tolerant with regard to finite knowers.

You can try to construct a definition, but this has some unique difficulties because meaning is a necessary assumption of all possible thought. Meaning (even in definitional identities, for example) is a component of all possible thoughts, all possible statements. So in some sense, meaning is already presupposed even in the statements that make up discussions of meaning. But it's not a far cry from definition. Many terms are known as to their meaning, however hard-pressed one might be to define them explicitly. And there are many non-controversial understandings of time, shown by people who use time-sensitive factors in dealing with each other in work and other affairs all the time.

Belief choice is not isolated or in a vacuum. We do in fact on many occasions choose whether or not to use or abide by certain necessary assumptions such as reason or the value of analysis, but they are always there nonetheless, and our minimal adherence even in the midst of defecting or attempting to defect from conformity to their strictures is telltale of their ultimacy. We can and do choose what to believe in the sense that our appraisal for the reasonability or probability of a belief being true is determined to be adequate to the available evidence, including theoretic evidence when a problematic situation presents itself. We choose to believe (or to continue to believe) in God usually by means of an appraisal of intuitions that ground the notion and give it its rationality and therefore acceptability. Reactions to objections to belief give evidence that this choice of what to believe is not set in stone and might even be threatened by alternative views.

To submit to any set of ultimate standards is to withhold a veto on them, thereby making an ongoing god-like decision to conform to a god-like set of rules of thought. And even though some atheists would agree with the ultimacy and adequacy of rational principles, they make a choice to stop at inescapability or meaningful undeniability instead of believing that this is some kind of operative aspect of the mind of God, for example. The fact that both atheist and theist can agree on the standards yet disagree completely on the conclusions of those standards is one kind of evidence that ultimates can be and are chosen. Not all of those absolutes, which is one aspect of the basis of my argument for God. But the other kind of evidence would be people who even reject those instrumental background presuppositions of knowing and thinking. Although I agree that this cannot be done without severe logical and self-referential consequences. The key to countering such denials, in fact, lies in strategically illustrating how certain fundamental truths are always running in the background, even if they are explicitly and consciously denied. The rejection is always operationally selective. But we are the ones who choose to give those norms and standards their ultimacy, adequacy, transcendence, and normativity, even though we think them with limited and subjective means at our disposal. We grant God an ultimate status, necessarily functioning in the image of God. We arbitrate the status we give to ultimates, even though this may involve contradicting them and suffering the consequences. The fact that people disagree on this point itself shows that it's a choice of conscious belief.

God-level construance rules are the ultimate assumptions for any discussion including discussions about God. To know the difference between spirit and heartburn requires background assumptions pertaining to the types and categories of experience, distinguishing them in relation to empirical objects, sensations, their role (lack of a role) in consciousness, and so on. To know the difference between reason and emotion is itself a rational distinction, and when we return from error, it is always through reason, even if that return originates in in a spiritual or intuitive experience that virtually defies analysis. That's why you cannot rule out, in advance, the insights of mystics, charismatics, intuitives, seers, and so on, even though I might completely disagree with their views denying reason is a possible means to the knowledge of God.

As stated previously, if you give reasons for believing in God (even if they are intuitive or mystical), you have just admitted that there are principles that are in some sense higher than God, since they decide whether or not God is to be believed in, and are offered as the ultimate court of appeal when belief in God is questioned.

So both the believer and the atheist have a problem with the status of ultimate principles underlying all thought.

QUESTION: Who's to say the principles themselves aren't God?

Roger: That is the subject of my dissertation. Has to do with the nature of personhood and the fact that statements (which are what principles are) exist only in minds.

QUESTION: Perhaps, like gravity, principles exist and for lack of understanding, we've simply chosen to call these principles "God".

Roger: Well, few would call principles God. But that is precisely the issue.

QUESTION: Does one have to be mystical to be "spiritual"?

Roger: It depends on how those terms are defined. But what is problematic about both arises when they go beyond merely being mystical or spiritual and start making grandiose universal claims about what can or cannot be known or that God cannot be known or reasoned about, and so on. That's when they bait and switch with regard to reasoning about God and knowledge. First, they prate on about the limitations of knowledge, logic, rational inquiry. When challenged, they retreat into the land beyond reason as a defense and a supporting rationale for their cognitive pecking order.

QUESTION: Roger, Your point about inconsistency would seem to apply to strong atheism but not weak atheism, which, as I understand it, is simply the lack of a belief, a much more modest proposal than strong atheism. Also, in terms of the principles that would adjudicate such matters as God being 'higher' in some sense, if by higher, you mean 'epistemically prior,' I would agree. But epistemic priority is not necessarily ontological priority. In my own opinion, all of thought arises out of some primordial acceding or trust, trust in one's own mind and in an unconditioned truth norm. These principles, I'd say, are 'higher' in some sense than any belief deriving from them because they act as a necessary precondition for thought. I can't see how they're chosen, unless you argue that one chooses to think.

Roger: I agree, but it is the universal scope of our adjudicating bedrock assumptions which gives them the same ontological status as God. They are just as recalcitrantly real, as mental objects, as any extramental object. They are epistemically (or epistemologically) inert, and yet pervasively affect all thought, including all thought concerning the real.

Concerning choice of beliefs, I merely mean that we often choose whether or not to be rational, or follow the dictates of reason, depending on the subject matter and the circumstances. I'm not finding any other place where I talked about choosing assumptions, but if I did just let me know. I did say, concerning our most basic assumptions that "they are always there nonetheless, and our minimal adherence even in the midst of defecting or attempting to defect from conformity to their strictures is telltale of their ultimacy."

So I agree that there is an unconditional primordiality of our irreducibly prior assumptions that renders them unchoosable, although many do choose to question or deny their foundational status, which is precisely what has happened in philosophy over the last 50-70 years in analytic and postmodern philosophy. But any anti-foundationalist view can be shown to derive its own explanatory adequacy only on the basis of foundationalism and can reject foundationalism only by means of a foundationalist approach. Post-modernism and analytic philosophies themselves implicitly depend on supervisory foundationalist assumptions merely to give their views theory status.

I do believe, however, that in the case of irreducibly basic background assumptions, their unique priority is as ontological as it is epistemic. Part of the reason for this is that they arbitrate ontology itself.

QUESTION: So you're saying that the ultimacy of these foundational assumptions is inescapable, even for those individuals pursuing an alleged 'anti-foundationalism'? I would definitely agree with that. And you're saying that the ultimacy of these bedrock assumptions as arbitrators about ontological questions, e.g. "Is there a God?" problematizes such questions, because these assumptions are as foundational as the questions they are being used to attempt to arbitrate? There is where you begin to lose me. Let me know if I'm following you so far.

Roger: Those background assumptions are part of the ultimate actuality because they arbitrate the ontology of everything including themselves. Consequently, they ultimately determine the outcome of any question including the question of the existence of God. They are therefore as godlike as anything can be, since they are the ultimate mind-ruling factors of belief. And it is the assumed relation of these assumptions to personal minds that is the key to why God must be construed as a person, and not just some principle of intelligence or the "actuality of thought" as Aristotle held. Principles exist only in minds and yet they are necessarily referenced by finite minds as in some sense separate and inert and determining all else as the criterial foundation of thought.

Ultimate assumptions determine the nature of personhood. To decide necessarily what is and is not a person is itself an act of personhood. So either the assumptions are not ultimate with regard to personhood, or else non-personal assumptions are somehow used as determinative of personhood, which begs the question. If the assumptions do in fact arbitrate the definition of personhood, they do what we normally consider possibly only by a personal mind.

Furthermore, it's difficult to know how a principle in and of itself could apply to persons unless there is some kind of personal aspect to that principle at the outset. To merely know a principle as something independent from persons and yet determinative of what constitutes personhood itself implies either an invisible intellectually-obligating friend or else some kind of non-intelligent intelligence, which not only begs the question all over again, but is self-contradictory. And if this can be allowed, then there is no difference between personal and non-personal in the first place, so the distinction between a personal God and impersonal God is an illusion, and therefore persons and rocks would qualify equally for the name. Hard to see how one can have it both ways here.

People can and do believe in God as being whatever they want, but the implicit arbitration status of the criteria for however they construe God remains an issue. If God is not a person, it's difficult to see how that being can influence persons without playing the role in some sense and to some degree. This is similar to faith beyond reason, which, as soon as it's distinguished from sheer credulity or dread or whatever, loses its beyond-reason status and is shown to be a rationally qualifiable notion after all, no longer insulated from analysis.

Another way of looking at it is: in how many aspects of my life would an allegedly magic rock have to influence me (or at least send me messages about) before it became relationally indistinguishable from a rock-embodied person telling me what to do?

QUESTION: I used the word 'problematize' because your account seems to lead to the conclusion that there is no mind-independent truth that we can know. That's a philosophically problematic claim.

'Problematize' also refers to the claim that these background assumptions determine the outcome of any question, so that besides a sort of rationalism, you also seem to claim some sort of determinism, but not one that operates at the level of physical causes, as most determinists would claim, but at the level of 'assumptions' or 'principles.' How could that possibly be?

"Problematize' also refers to the claim that we don't choose these assumptions - they're givens, so I assume they're universal for all reasoners. And yet there's this dizzyingly wide array of conclusions people come to on questions of God and everything else. Whatever factor(s) is contributing to this diversity of conclusions would strongly suggest that these background assumptions are not determinative after all.

Your account seems to contradict the sense I, and nearly everyone else, have of deliberating over and deciding on questions on the basis of consciously held reasons that have some sort of external content. Because your account contradicts most people's experience of their mental processes does not invalidate it but seems to require more of an argument than you've made so far.

Perhaps you're arguing for some sort of compatibilism, but what kind could that possibly be?

These background assumptions would have, at most, a regulatory function, but to regulate implies that there is something there that is being regulated. What is it that these assumptions refer to or represent? If nothing beyond themselves, then they're simply reiterating and ratifying themselves endlessly and purposelessly. 'Regulate' does not necessarily mean 'determine'. The rules of tennis regulate my game but don't determine my game or who wins. Driving rules don't determine where I drive.

Roger: There's mind-independent truth in the sense that the background assumptions never change but are presupposed, even in the case of a disagreement as to what they are. This is verifiable-falsifiable in the sense that one can express some statement, then list the reasons for that statement, then list the reasons for those initial reasons, then list the reasons for the reasons for the reasons of that first statement, until those ultimate criteria appear explicitly.

By 'determine' I mean that everyone necessarily assumes them as decisive, as the determiners of truth, even if honest people disagree as to the specific conclusions from them. This status, however, remains problematic since they are taken as pointers or criterial factors that somehow obligate minds to construe truth in one way as opposed to some other. The question is how a set of inert abstract objects can have any bearing on persons without thereby being personal itself.

This does not contradict people's experience of their mental processes. People's naive pre-theoretic or non-theoretic experience of their mental processes simply does not explicate the exact nature and role of their most basic assumptions, which is probably the source of a great deal of unnecessary disagreement.

These assumptions, which are necessarily taken together due to their mutual inferential relations (definitions, predicate calculus, value hierarchy within the system, meaning elements, and so on) , constitute an integral object whose status is indistinguishable from a mind. To differ on this point assumes that same architectonic as the intellectual authority for how to proceed, and so the question is begged all over again.

Again, to be clear, we use this construct as the determiner in the sense of a guide, much like the rule book for tennis. Specific applications may be controversial (and they are), but this does nothing to remove the rule book from consideration, or even diminish its status.

Concerning the regulatory functions of background assumptions, this is precisely the issue. How many regulatory statements could there be before one's regulated experience becomes indistinguishable from that of individuals who have an invisible friend or constantly hear voices telling them to do things? Because this set of assumptions is the universal instrumental regulator of mind, this is indistinguishable from a mind god.

The point is that what is required to determine whether or not an ultimate object must be construed as a person depends on what is meant by ultimate, what is meant by person, and on what basis one determines whether and how a nonpersonal object can influence a person beyond the influence of some obviously nonpersonal object such as a rock.
Objection: Assumption sets are not epistemologically or ontologically basic constituents of reality.  These necessarily presuppose the existence of subjects and owners of assumptions or assumption sets,  i.e., minds or persons.    An assumption set is a paradigm; paradigms do not have existence per se; they are ontological parasites on real, existing minds.  Adoption of a belief or a set of beliefs necessarily presupposes an existing mind, thus again, the order of existence and the order of knowing is that persons are basic not later in life adoption of beliefs, assumptions and paradigms.  Also, paradigms come and go, they undergo flux, and there are endless numbers of them.  Also, as your argument presupposes the existence of persons, these entities (!) are in need of being argued for these days as all forms of Physicalism -- except Panpsychism -- reduce them out of reality.  Thus arguments for the existence and nature of persons is basic to and prior to paradigmism.

My answer to this objection is that any argument assumes personhood already (or at least a discursive i/o entity, which is fine by me since even algebraic labeling would not change the issues), in much the same way that Descartes' doubt assumed an already-existing noncontroversial doubting agent or thing, and to have to refer to a set of criteria (non-cartesian object dualism) assumes a nonlocal object of mind, which to my way of thinking is all that God needs to be, to be fully theistic or even fully biblical for that matter. Moreover, such assumptions themselves seem to also be basic and necessary constituents of reality, precisely because they are required in advance to arbitrate such epistemological and ontological constituency.

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