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A Discussion About Our Pre-Commitment to Logic (Is It Proof of God?)

August 24, 2010

Bill: “Because the LoNC (law of non-contradiction) cannot be false. Any attempt to prove it false necessarily assumes its truth. That’s precisely what “impossibility of the contrary” means. If you think it’s possible to prove it false or to limn and defend ANY situation …in which it could be false, please, by all means, illuminate us.”

Me: “Bill, you saying the LoNC cannot be false doesn’t preclude you from contradicting yourself anyways! I infer God’s existence b/c of the fact that us human sentient beings have a pre-commitment to be rational, as opposed to non-rational, which other animals could do. Do you account for this special behavior of yours by being created in God’s image (who has an eternal mind), or star dust (which the naturalstic guy on the Discovery channel says is our ancestor)?”

Bill: “Nothing I’ve said is self-contradictory; your argument has nothing whatever to do with Sye’s. It’s certainly possible that we are rational beings because we’re created in the Imago Dei; it’s also possible that we are rational beings because we evolved to be so. The argument from consciousness has at least the benefit of being intellectually respectable.”

Me: “Bill, I never said you were self-contradictory. I said you’re not precluded from being so. Since you realize that you ought to be rational, you fulfill my argument all the more. A pre-commitment to be rational can’t come from something mindless. “Nature” only gives us “what is”, not “what ought to be”, hence we ought to be rational. An eternal mind (like Yahweh’s) can account for why this pre-commitment is a reality in humans. Mindless “nature”, or star dust can’t.

Further, the LoNC can’t exist unless the law of identity first exists, thus something is what it is and isn’t what it isn’t. Yet, these are abstractions, not entirely derived from the observable, i.e. the concept of “infinite” and “future” are not based upon anything which we can possibly derive from the observable. So in your worldview can account for these abstractions?”

Bill: “Cameron: Abstractions certainly can come from the observable and in fact that’s where they do come from. “Infinite” and “future” are both abstractions derived by reason from the observation of reality which contains both “space” and “time”…. “Infinite” and “future” are simply possible measurements of these.

There’s no need for a “pre-commitment” to rationality; it’s inbuilt by evolution: we don’t have a choice. Now, one must indeed choose to LIVE BY reason and one should choose reason because: reason = life; non-reason = death. It’s flatly wrong to say that nature only give us “is”; failing to pay attention to nature can lead to death, which is the end of all possibilities. If we want to stay alive, it’s clear that nature gives us both “is” and “ought”.”

Me: “Wow, so when/how did you measure an infinite amount of things?! That’s amazing! Are you God? And since you live in the present at all times, how did you observe the future? If concepts are ONLY derived from the observable, then don’t borrow from my worldview and act like you can account for them without observing them. Or just change your worldview all together.

Now you’re assuming that “nature” or “what is” accounts for some reality that “we ought to live”. Not true. Nature also evolves us to die very soon compared to forever, so according to your own standard, it doesn’t matter if there’s an end to all possibilities. Further, staying alive is a separate issue then saying we ought to be rational. Non-human animals don’t have a pre-commitment to be rational, yet they survive. Even if a pre-commitment to be rational was required to survive, that still doesn’t mean we ought to be rational, or ought to survive. Going back, how do you account for this pre-commitment? God, star dust, etc?”

Bill: “Sarcasm doesn’t become you. Please re-read what I originally wrote:

“Infinite” and “future” are both abstractions derived by reason from the observation of reality which contains both “space” and “time”…. “Infinite” and “future” are simp…ly POSSIBLE measurements of these.”

One does not have to be able to measure an “infinity” or observe the future to derive their possible existence from that which we can observe in the present. For example, once the principle of addition was discovered (rather early in the history of mathematics), the idea of an infinite set of numbers becomes a trivial inference. The existence of a “future” is also a trivial inference from the observed duration of existence from past to the present. Really, none of this is controversial in the least.

If you don’t believe that Nature places demands upon us that determine how we ought to live, I invite you to ignore your body’s demand for sustenance. I’ll check back in a couple of months to see how you’re getting along…”

Me: “Two problems. 1. If it’s only a “possible” measurement, then you still haven’t observed it, and 2. you never will observe an infinite amount of things because you’re finite. You’re still conceding to the original argument and aren’t upholding your own standard for how you claim to account for abstractions. You can’t go beyond what you observe to derive concepts if concepts ONLY derive from what you observe.

My body doesn’t demand sustenance when it gets old, breaks down, and dies. “Nature” brings this about too. So according to your own standard we ought to not provide sustenance as well. You’re arbitrarily saying we should as opposed to shouldn’t if “what nature does” is your criterion for “what ought to be”. Again, a pre-commitment to rationality isn’t necessary for survival since even non-rational animals (all others) survive (for a while).

So you have every reason to go around contradicting yourself while still shopping at the food store in order to survive until nature kills you. But for some reason you have a pre-commitment to be rational instead. Is this because of God, star dust, or something else?”

Bill: “1) It IS only a possible measurement. Not everyone agrees that infinities actually exist. For example, among others Christian apologist William Lane Craig argues there are no actual infinities (of course, he exempts god from this argument).

2) Quite irrelevant. Whether or not I ever physically observe extra-solar planets or quarks doesn’t prevent them from existing nor from our being able to infer their existence from those parts of reality we CAN observe.

The remainder of your first paragraph leads me to believe you’ve never heard of “induction”. It is the process of reasoning whereby one goes from the specific (the observed) to the general (the inferred). It is the basis of science and of just about all synthetic human knowledge. No one’s ever observed a black hole, but their existence has been demonstrated via mathematics. For that matter, no one has ever observed “god”, but plenty of people seem to think that his existence can be inferred from observations of reality (it’s called Natural Theology and is one of the bases for the currently popular analytic strain of philosophy of religion).

I’m unsure as to what you’re arguing in your second paragraph. If you’re trying to argue that humans can survive without rationality, you’re simply mistaken. It’s essentially the only real advantageous tool we have to make our way. Without it, we would have surely been fodder for the numerous stronger and better equipped hunters with whom we’ve been forced to compete throughout our history.

Moreover, I never said that “what nature does is my criterion for what ought to be.” I used an example from nature to demonstrate that one can get an ought from an is via nature, NOT to suggest or argue that ALL oughts come from biology. Moral values stem from the nature of the moral agent, which, in our case, is partly biological and partly metaphysical. In this fashion, “why be rational” is due partly to biology (survival) and partly to metaphysics (to be a “human being” is to be a rational being; it is, imprecisely, a part of our telos).”

Me: “Let’s stick to the original topic. You asserted that concepts only derive from physical observation. You’ve conceded that “infinity” isn’t observable. If you’re going to say that you can extrapolate additional concepts by things you can observe, then this still doesn’t account for non-observable concepts which you can only know via observation. Inferring such concepts via induction is only begging the question. To have the induction to begin with requires you to use concepts which you can’t account for the only way you say you can account for them. If you borrow from my worldview you can make all these inductions just fine. In your worldview, you need to first derive all concepts from the observable before you can make the induction using those concepts. Thus, you’re just proving my worldview when you acknowledge you can do something you also can’t account for.

You have not shown that we can go from “what is” to “what ought to be”. I’ve said many times, “nature” also has us die and not survive as well. So we should all die and not survive according to your standard. It’s only your OPINION that we ought to do one over the other which is arbitrary. I’ll grant you we may survive a little longer by being rational. 1. you’re assuming we ought to survive as opposed to not survive. 2. you’re assuming whatever helps us survive is what ought to be. You only have the illusion that survival is important as “nature” doesn’t care and brings about death way longer then survival, so that can’t be your standard. Also, in the future if there was a way for us to survive without being rational, then you’d have to concede that we no longer have to be rational and can be irrational all we want. Yet, you’d still have a pre-commitment to rationality. Why is that? God or star dust? I’m still waiting…”

Bill: “Cameron: I NEVER wrote that “concepts only derive from physical observation” I was specifically referring to ABSTRACTIONS, which, to me, means concepts that are derived via observation. We also have concepts that are determined via intro…spection (deduction). Logical truths are of this nature. Induction as a process is grounded in the ontology of existence, which concept is derived via deduction (as a logical truth).

Contrary to your assertion, I have indeed shown that we can in principle go from “what is” to “what ought to be”. I gave a specific example of this to which your objections seem to me to miss the point. Consider: “1. you’re assuming we ought to survive as opposed to not survive.

You’re correct in that this is a foundational assumption. However, it’s not arbitrary at all. Survival is that which makes possible all other possibilities. “What ought to be” is meaningless to someone who doesn’t first find survival important. However, once having made that choice, certain “oughts” can become imperative, derived from both physiological and metaphysical nature.

What’s more, it’s clear that the telos of biological organisms IS survival, therefore this fundamental choice also admits of some degree of metaphysical imperative. The fact that we survive for a limited time and then die is not a sign that it is our telos to die; that’s simply absurd and would encumber a complete negation of the meaning of telos.

“Also, in the future if there was a way for us to survive without being rational, then you’d have to concede that we no longer have to be rational and can be irrational all we want. Also, in the future if there was a way for us to survive without being rational, then you’d have to concede that we no longer have to be rational and can be irrational all we want. Yet, you’d still have a pre-commitment to rationality. Why is that? God or star dust? I’m still waiting…”

Yes, that would be correct, but I cannot conceive of any situation in which such a future would be possible. However, if at any point this were to occur, by definition we would no longer need to worry about “ought” at all. So really the entire question becomes moot. We wouldn’t have ANY commitment to rationality. Why would we? If at some future point humans were to degrade to the point where our rational faculties were no longer of any importance we would by definition no longer be humans…we’d be something closer to the rest of the animal kingdom: not moral agents (possibly not agents at all).

I’ll end this here: this discussion is interesting to me because although it seems you assume as much, nothing that I’ve argued necessarily requires a non-theistic worldview. My position on Universals is most closely identified with Conceptualism, which was developed by and espoused by such Christian philosophers as Peter Abelard and William of Ockham. My meta-ethical view is something closely akin to Natural Law (as developed by Aristotle) and although later thinkers like Aquinas developed it within a Christian worldview, it’s clear from the writings of such proponents as Grotius that at least some recognized that it would hold REGARDLESS of whether or not a Creator actually existed. In fact, I’m not attempting to adduce an atheological argument; all I’m doing is noting that a little epistemic humility is in order: the facts are not as clear cut as “presuppositionalists” like to believe.”

Me: “So now you’re saying you can account for some abstract concepts by non-observation. So you’re not a strict empiricist. Did you know that about yourself? You also shouldn’t require direct observation of God to infer He exists. Did you know that about yourself too?

You’re still begging the question that we can go from “what is” to “what ought to be” because now you’re assuming that achieving all other possibilities is what we ought to do. Again, “nature” doesn’t care about “all other possibilities” and you’ve evolved with the illusion that this ought to be the case as opposed to not be the case. Another arbitrary standard.

And even if biological systems appear to “want to survive” now, doesn’t mean they always will. Thus, if this is a standard for “what ought to be” then it is subject to change, thus ceases to be a real standard whatsoever.

Then you’re trying to account for telos by what happens to be the case now, not by what always has been or what may happen in the future. Yet, you arbitrarily want to say that living is our telos, not dying. It comes down to your opinion. You have no concrete standard, yet you try so hard to have one apart from God. Keep trying.

You don’t hold the ultimate definition of “human”. Some would disagree that even if we didn’t need rationality for survival, we still would be human, just not humans who need rationality for survival. And it’s not hard to imagine us not needing to use rationality for survival. Like I’ve already said, every other animal apart from sentient humans don’t have a pre-commitment to be rational, yet they survive. But if we found a way to keep contradicting ourselves, yet still survive, then we’d still evidence that we had a pre-commitment to rationality because we’d still know we were contradicting ourselves.

It is pretty clear cut. You’ve been assuming a-priori realities this entire discussion, and at best try to attribute it to “nature” which we have no idea what that even is, where it starts or stops, what it can’t do, what it can do, etc. The standards you offer prove to be inconsistent, arbitrary, and subject to change. A-priori can only consistently be accounted for by the personal and eternal. That’s my assertion as a presup and I’m sticking to it b/c everything you’ve offered and every philosopher in history has offered as an alternative doesn’t work in the end. Since you accept the meta-physical to some degree, then you can use presup apologetics yourself and tell all the strict “naturalists” why they’re inconsistent. Thank you for that help and for being on my team to a degree!”

Bill: “Cameron, it’s clear you either don’t want to or are unable to engage with what I’m really saying rather than your strawman versions of what you’d like me to be saying. There’s no way we’re going to be able to continue a discussion under those circumstances. If you’ve got anything else to say that actually engages the points I’ve made, I’m happy to respond. Continue along your current line and you’ll simply be ignored.”

Me: “I think I’ve dealt with all your assumptions just fine. No one should be convinced of your ultimate starting point, namely, the assumption that “nature” wants us to survive, because this is subject to change and isn’t entirely the case. My starting point is that which is eternal, personal, and immutable. There’s no straw man there. It’s called presuppositionalism showing why you’re inconsistent, which probably makes you twitch.

So your underlying assumption is that our unique pre-commitment to rationality comes from it supposedly being required for survival. Let’s say we could conclude that, which I’ve already shown why we can’t, but anyways tell me which came first? A pre-commitment to rationality or survival? If the pre-commitment, then you’re wrong. It’s accounted for by something else. If survival, then you’re wrong. How did we survive without the pre-commitment?”

Bill: “And, predictably, you’re ignored…”

Me: “I enjoyed our little conversation Bill, have a good one! :)”

NOW PLEASE TELL ME YOUR THOUGHTS! WHY DO YOU THINK BILL WAS NOT ABLE TO ANSWER MY FINAL QUESTION?

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