Self-Referential Arguments for God

Responding to my post about the argument from morality for the existence of a deity, Mike Barrett rebuts with a different argument: God exists because we can discuss whether it exists or not.

I read this post and went upstairs to ask my 13 year old son “What proof do you have that God exists?” He thought for a minute and sarcastically said. “I don’t think you could have asked that question if there was no God”. So, at least to the average 13 year old, the best proof we have of a God existence is seen in your ability to abstractly discuss the lack of that existence.

Personally, I prefer the ontological argument. It’s just as self-referential, and problematic in similar areas, but the logical trick it uses is ingenious.

As for Mike’s argument, I abstractly discuss the nonexistence of God because there are about 5-5.5 billion people who disagree with me on it. I could just as well abstractly discuss the nonexistence of dragons, the astral plane, and magic with geeks who ODed on AD&D. However, if such geeks exist, they’re not a potent political or philosophical force.

It’s similar to my attitude toward radicals. Ordinarily, I prefer to ignore them, because they’re politically irrelevant. I pay attention to them when the blogs I read become embroiled in arguments with them, or when they’re intellectually respectable on their own. No matter what I think of Chomsky, he’s important enough even politically to deserve to have his points addressed.

As it happens, religion is nothing if not politically relevant. A supermajority of the world believes in some deity; hence, it makes sense to abstractly discuss the non-existence of those deities. Thirty years ago, it made sense to abstractly discuss the minutiae of Marxist theory – after all, one of the two global superpowers adhered to it.

Even so, note that my discussions of God’s nonexistence mostly revolve around refuting arguments that God does exist or that religious faith is rational. It’s been four years since I last sought to logically prove that no god can exist. Surely my desire to refute wrong arguments that underlie common beliefs can’t be taken as evidence these beliefs are true.

And even if I did actively seek to prove God didn’t exist, it would say nothing about whether God actually exists. Many anthropologists publish research showing that the biological concept of race just doesn’t exist, and any genetic differences across populations are too minor to be bases for traditional ethnic divisions. That in itself doesn’t make race a real concept. Even people who reject that view argue with facts rather than make an abstract claim that the debate itself makes them right.

38 Responses to Self-Referential Arguments for God

  1. whig says:

    Do you believe that you are conscious and have free will? Can you modify your environment to suit yourself? What is God but the being who conceives and does the arranging of things to make it better for life?

    Let me put it another way, would you care to prove your own non-existence?

  2. Emma says:

    Alon, could you point me to something you’ve written that addressed Chomsky’s points?

  3. Bruce says:

    Whig –

    It is not self-evidence that consciousness or free will or the capacity to modify one’s environment (i.e. agency) requires a conceiver or an arranger, nor that such conceiver or arranger fit any known or current definition of “God.” As for proving one’s non-existence, it is difficult to see this as other than a flying non sequitur.

    If I have misread you, please correct me.

  4. whig says:

    Bruce, are you capable of conceiving and arranging? I am not asking you to define God, I am asking you whether you believe you exist.

  5. Bruce says:

    Yes. I conceive. I arrange.

  6. Alon Levy says:

    Emma, I’m not sure whether it counts, but I wrote about Chomsky’s totalization of class a few months ago. A better example would be Tony Judt’s hit piece on liberals, which I skewered more recently.

  7. Mike Barrett says:

    Alon, come back down to earth buddy. Besides, none of this talk is going to help us pay our bills next month. I was just pointing out what a 13 year old said and thought is was insightful for his age. When he is older he may stumble onto your writings and take a much different path. For now, simplicity rules!

  8. whig says:

    Bruce, then I could say you are God, by one definition. This is only a solipsist problem if you don’t recognize that everyone else is God too.

  9. I take the same attitude toward the ontological argument for the EoG that I take toward consciousness mysterians. I find that arguing against them is invariably non-productive. The pattern of argument followed by consciousness mysterians, for an example, goes a bit like this:

    1. Assert the existence of a vague, ill-defined and semi-mystical property of consciousness.

    2. Shift goalposts every which way upon demand for definition for vague, ill-defined and semi-mystical reasons.

    3. Assert that cognitive science and/or some equivalent field will never discover an explanation for consciousness because of said vague, ill-defined and semi-mystical property for vague, ill-defined and semi-mystical reasons.

    The ontological argument is similar. Take vague and ill-defined properties (necessary existence), shift goalposts upon demand for definition for vague and ill-defined reasons (that’s not a counter-example, it destroys it’s own identity!) and assert that Gods existence is proven for vague and ill-defined reasons because the vague and ill-defined premises.

  10. Emma says:

    Alon, I take issue with some of your statements about Chomsky. These are just cursory impressions, maybe I’ll add more later.

    1. “Radical anti-Americans like Chomsky have no trouble rationalizing violence whenever it’s committed by groups that aren’t allied with the United States.”

    Can you back this up with anything? Also, how do you justify the use of “anti-American”?

    2.) You mentioned Brad Delong’s criticism of Chomsky. Have you read Edward Herman’s response to Brad Delong? Any thoughts?

    http://www.counterpunch.org/herman07262003.html

    3.) You say: “Chomsky’s argument is typical for a class warrior. Class warriors, such as Chomsky and Howard Zinn, portray The People as essentially good creatures, corrupted and made fatalistic by predatory capitalism. In their conception, sexism is a historical accident that only a few misguided whiners rail specifically against, and racism is either that or a deliberate ploy by the rich to divide the underclass against itself.”

    Can you back this up with more specific quotes? I don’t think you’re characterizations are very accurate (or fair).

    Thanks for taking the time to reply to my previous question.

  11. whig says:

    Tyler, very pretty strawman. Do you often debate imaginary ideologues in your mind?

  12. Tyler, very pretty strawman. Do you often debate imaginary ideologues in your mind?

    And of course I get a vague objection to my objection that ontological arguments for God mysterian arguments on consciousness are vague. Some people have no sense of irony.

  13. whig says:

    Tyler, you aren’t making objections, you are arguing with yourself.

    You never even asked a question.

  14. Tyler, you aren’t making objections, you are arguing with yourself.

    I was talking about an experience with consciousness mysterians and people who make the ontological argument, and making the general objection that the arguments are vague, ill-defined and (often, at least) quasi-mystical.

    I see you’ve provided an example of that in this thread yourself:

    Do you believe that you are conscious and have free will? Can you modify your environment to suit yourself? What is God but the being who conceives and does the arranging of things to make it better for life?

    Let me put it another way, would you care to prove your own non-existence?

    To which Bruce objected:

    It is not self-evidence that consciousness or free will or the capacity to modify one’s environment (i.e. agency) requires a conceiver or an arranger, nor that such conceiver or arranger fit any known or current definition of “God.” As for proving one’s non-existence, it is difficult to see this as other than a flying non sequitur.

    And you responded:

    Bruce, are you capable of conceiving and arranging? I am not asking you to define God, I am asking you whether you believe you exist.

    Following the pattern of argument I laid out almost to the letter. You started out with some vague, ill-defined, semi-mystical property (arranging and coneiving) leading to vague, ill-defined, semi-mystical goalpost shift (your last quote above, where you ask a question without even bothering to explain it’s relevance). And in the end, this is all supposed to justify the EoG for vague, ill-defined, semi-mystical reasons.

    Good job.

  15. whig says:

    Tyler, you view your role as critiquing a conversation rather than engaging the question?

    I have nothing to sell you, so your insistence upon keeping your eyes closed is counterproductive. If you ask me to demonstrate something to you, I ask you to do something to open your own eyes.

    Take some cannabis and get back to me.

  16. Take some cannabis and get back to me.

    So by drugging myself with a neurotoxin I’m going to have a view of reality that is encrypted when I’m sober?

    You’re not making any sense. And, FYI, I take medications for manic-depressive disorder, of which cannabis can exacerbate the negative side-effects.

  17. […] of Criticism, and Race I don’t want to interrupt Tyler and Whig’s flamewar in my comment thread, so I’ll respond to Emma’s questions about Chomsky here. I criticized Chomsky’s […]

  18. whig says:

    Tyler, you are being drugged with synthetic chemicals that suppress your normal neural activity on the assumption that your neurons are too active and/or otherwise misbehaving otherwise.

    Cannabis is not a neurotoxin, and it does treat bipolar condition by helping your neurons to relax, however I would advise you not to discontinue prescription medication as withdrawal symptoms can be significant.

  19. […] a comment thread on my own blog, Emma asks questions about Chomsky. I criticized Chomsky’s totalization of class a few months […]

  20. whig, I’m not going to get into a discussion about why your sort of mental-illness denialism is destructive and dangerous. I’m just going to say this: you don’t know me, and you don’t know my life. You are not a doctor and you have no clue what “normal brain activity” is, and furthermore you have no clue what it is like to fly in and out of manic and depressive episodes. It may make you feel messianic in some fashion to go on some quixotic quest against the Evil Scientist Conspiracy that just wants to drug everyone, but this is in your imagination only. You don’t have a clue what your talking about.

    This is my last post in this thread, I can see that Alon is already annoyed.

  21. Alon Levy says:

    Annoyed? Tyler, do you have any idea what this thread’s doing to my traffic?

    I was going to refer to this flamewar as “delightful,” but decided it was too condescending.

  22. Breaking my own decree:

    Annoyed? Tyler, do you have any idea what this thread’s doing to my traffic?

    No, but then again I never check my stats either. I think that’s good though!

  23. Alon Levy says:

    Yeah, it is good. Blog-prostitution is an exploitative, mentally draining occupation.

  24. whig says:

    Mental-illness denialism, eh?

    How about this, Tyler. Go find one study that supports a claim of cannabis neurotoxicity. Just one study.

  25. whig says:

    Alon, to be honest I don’t think I flamed anyone, but I’m glad it’s good for your traffic anyhow.

  26. whig,

    It took me a whole 4 seconds of research to find these:

    One.
    Two
    Three

    Here is the search I did on Pub Med.

  27. BTW, cannabis contains THC which is classified as a neurotoxin as a matter of basic chemistry (ever wonder why you get high when you smoke it?). Cannabis is neurotoxic, just not very dangerous in that area in terms of overdose (though there is plenty of evidence that it negatively affects preexisting neurochemical conditions).

  28. whig says:

    Study one is about MDMA and cannabis effects on cognition, i.e. they alter consciousness. This is undisputed. There is no toxicity shown in the case of cannabis.

    Study two is animal research, and they point out the virtual impossibility of death due to overdose.

    Study three is intravenous delta9-THC. Inapposite, not cannabis.

  29. whig says:

    Tyler, you cannot just make unsupported assertions like that without being called out. Factually, cannabis treats disorders of aging related neural decline, such as Alzheimer’s disease.

    Source.

  30. whig says:

    Here’s where I think we will agree, Tyler. Cannabis affects your neurons. Yes, indeed, it does.

  31. whig says:

    Sorry to keep on going but I hadn’t asked a question so that kind of left the discussion hanging… You can certainly ask me questions as well, but be fair about it. On both our parts, we are conversing because we want to, and I don’t want to put you out in any way.

    Do you know what the LD-50 is for the medications you are prescribed? I ask you this question not to dismiss their benefits to you, but to speak of the toxicity/benefit ratio. There’s some toxicity there. There’s some benefit there, presumably, or you would not be taking them willingly.

    There are few things in nature that are so benign that you can consume them in any quantity, that are safer than those things Generally Regarded As Safe. Water can be overdosed to death. Oxygen can be overdosed to death. Cannabis cannot.

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