The Moral Landscape’s Definition of Good

In The Moral Landscape, Sam Harris claims that we must “define ‘good’ as that which supports well-being” (12). While this is along the lines of my own axiology, I do not take this to be the very definition of good, and that is what I’ll take issue with. I understand “good” to mean that which has value, either intrinsically or instrumentally. The question then turns on what can have value. Value is not a bare quality, possessed by some things and not others. Value is grounded in the act of valuing. We did not discover that some things have value like we discovered that some things have mass, velocity, or solidity. Instead of that, we valued our lives, the lives of others, and various other things. We valued first, then said that the things we valued had value.

This line of thinking suggests that all value is subjective, but that would be mistaken. Yes, valuing is a subjective act. Value has its roots in subjectivity. But it is not a matter of anything goes. I cannot confer value on a life of drunken debauchery, for example, just by subjectively valuing it. There is a logic to value. When I value my life, that is a basic value. What will support my life best is an objective matter that I cannot change by subjectively valuing one lifestyle over another. This is indeed open to scientific investigation.

But what difference is there between valuing my life and valuing a particular lifestyle? When I value my life, I am treating my life as an end-in-itself, but in valuing a particular lifestyle, I am regarding it as a means to another end, namely the best life I might live. I could be mistaken about whether it suits this end, causing my subjective value of it to differ from its true instrumental value to me. But when I value my life, I am not making this mistake. I am not mistaking my life as a means to what truly has value. Rather, I am asserting that my life has intrinsic value to me. Indeed, without valuing my own life, the concept of value would fall apart and have no application to my life. By taking my own life as the root value, it becomes meaningful to me to value things subjectively, and it allows for things to actually be of instrumental value to me.

This act of valuing myself is the origin of real value. Without it, value is just an unintelligible concept. Without experiencing what value is by valuing our own lives, we could not even imagine that something beyond human experience, such as perfection or Platonic forms, could possess value.

To take value as a meaningful concept, and so to intelligibly speak of morality at all, we must accept the origin of value in the act of valuing, as I have described. Consistency adds the demand that we recognize intrinsic value in the lives of others who do the same thing, not just in ourselves. It can be tempting to fall into egoism, recognizing the intrinsic value of my own life without recognizing the intrinsic value of anyone else’s. But falling into this temptation fails to make the connection between valuing my life and recognizing that my life has value. When I recognize that valuing my life makes it truly worthwhile, I must recognize, to be consistent, that the same conditions making my life worthwhile make the lives of others truly worthwhile. This opens us up to the possibility of genuine morality, which begins with the recognition that each of our lives is of real, intrinsic value.

So what has intrinsic value? Something has intrinsic value when it does (or at least can) value itself. This requires two other properties. One is subjectivity, a phenomenological experience of what it is like to be oneself. The other is enough intelligence to conceive of oneself. Human beings possess both of these properties. Many animals may possess them too. This gives us a basis for saying that human life (and some other life too) has intrinsic value. Since well-being is the measure of how well off a life is, it follows that well-being is a measure of value. So I agree with Sam Harris that morality should be focused on improving and safeguarding well-being, and I agree with him that scientific investigation can be useful for figuring out how best to do that. My main issue with him here is that he hasn’t provided the philosophical foundation for stating this. This has opened him up to charges of scientism and the naturalistic fallacy. But by spelling out the meaning of “good” and explaining why well-being is good, as I have done here, these charges can be bypassed.

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Was Your Brain Intelligently Designed?

In a video called A Simple Question, a YouTuber named The Atheist Nightmare asks the question, “Was Your Brain Intelligently Designed?” Now, this is not just about creationism vs evolution. He goes on to say, “If you want to claim that your brain was not intelligently designed, then shouldn’t your entire belief system come into question? It would seem to me that you would have no reason to trust your own thoughts.” The Atheist Nightmare is not the first Christian to argue along these lines. I have previously addressed this issue in a post called How can we trust our senses and thoughts?, which was a response to much the same idea, as asserted by someone else in another video. So, instead of rehashing the same ideas over again, I’ll just refer him to that.

There are some issues I didn’t address in that post. One issue was memetics. Richard Dawkins, writing in The Selfish Gene, invented the word meme to describe an idea that can reproduce from mind to mind. A meme is like a gene. Like a gene, it can replicate, and it can mutate. A lot of what people believe is the result of memetic evolution, not the result of clear thinking. This is a very good reason to call a lot of what people believe into question. We have to seriously examine our beliefs and question whether they are just successful memes or can actually stand up to scrutiny. A lot of religious beliefs, for example, are merely successful memes. Even if you’re a religious person and consider your beliefs true, you must admit that many other religious people have plenty of false beliefs. The reason so many false beliefs are current in the world is that certain memes, regardless of truth, have been more successful than others. Generally put, memes evolve and spread a lot like genes do, spreading not because they are true or revealed by God, but simply because the meme has a reproductive advantage. Consider the faith meme, for example. This meme says it is good to have faith in certain beliefs. When this meme gets attached to other memes, they become harder to shake, because you take them on faith instead of scrutinizing them under the light of reason. As a result of how it works, the faith meme has attached itself to all kinds of nonsense, and people around the world believe in all kinds of nonsense on faith, even when it conflicts with the nonsense believed on faith by others. In Virus of the Mind, Richard Brodie gives a detailed account of how memetic evolution works. In The Religion Virus, Craig A. James describes in detail how memetic evolution has shaped religious belief. Although memetic evolution has been such a driving force in shaping the beliefs of people, knowledge of memetic evolution is an important tool in critiquing the memes we believe in. It gives us the ability to ask whether a given belief is sound or just the result of memetic evolution. So even though it gives us a reason to question our beliefs, it also gives us a tool for identifying more reliable and trustworthy beliefs.

Another issue is knowledge of how the brain works. People who know more than I do about this have elaborated on this for whole books. I will recommend a few good books on the subject.

In full disclosure, I have finished only Steven Pinker’s book. The books by Pinker and Dennett both go into some detail on how the brain does certain things. The book by Medina is more of a self-help book, focusing on how knowledge of how the brain works can be put to practical use. One idea to take away from these books is that the brain does not do everything perfectly, but we can use knowledge of how the brain makes mistakes to correct some of those mistakes. So, there isn’t a false choice between believing in a brain that was intelligently designed to be trustworthy or an undesigned brain that just can’t be trusted. There is a third alternative, which is to believe in a brain that is capable of error but also capable of finding truth through error-correcting procedures, such as the scientific method.

And this brings up a third issue. We are able to correct our beliefs through self-corrective processes, such as the scientific method. Before I wrote the blogpost I referred to above, I made a video response to the same issue from the same YouTuber. You will find it in the blogpost Is There Real Proof That God Exists?. In that response, I pointed out that I am able to use trial-and-error to correct my beliefs, and this gives me reason to trust my thoughts despite not having any divine guarantee that they are correct.

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Black Christians are not Uncle Toms

Dusty Smith, of the Cult of Dusty YouTube channel, has made a video claiming that black Christians are Uncle Toms. The argument goes that the Bible was used to justify the slave trade, and by endorsing the Bible, black Christians are endorsing as the word of God the scriptures used to justify the enslavement of their ancestors. It is true that the Bible was used to justify slavery. However, justification is not the same thing as explicitly calling for something. The Bible never calls on white people to take black people as slaves, and it never asserts that black people are inferior to white people. In fact, the books of the Bible were written by Hebrews, not by Europeans, and nothing in the Bible addresses differences or relations between white and black people. The motive for slavery is not the same thing as the justification for slavery, and the motive cannot be found in the Bible. The motive was economics. White people wanted cheap labor, and slavery was a way to get it.

The problem was that slavery is evil, and in order to proceed with the slave trade while continuing to call themselves good people, the white people who wanted slaves needed a justification for it. Since these white people at this time in history were Christians, it is natural that they turned to their own Christian scriptures to justify slavery. They found verses that allowed the Hebrews to make slaves of foreigners, and they applied these verses to themselves. This allowed them to do the evil they wanted to do under the delusion that God approved of it, which allowed them to tell themselves that it was not evil.

It is important to understand the difference between motive and justification. Motive provides the reason why someone does something. Justification provides the reason why someone allows himself to do something. In Freudian terms, motive proceeds from the id, and justification is used to soothe the superego. As I mentioned in my dissertation, evil has two components. One is active, and one is passive. The active element is wickedness, which provides the motive for evil; the passive element is immorality, which allows evil to happen without opposition. The Bible never provided the motive for slavery. The motive for slavery has existed in many cultures throughout history. The Bible’s role here was to dull the recognition that slavery was evil.

And it should also be noted that the Bible was being used selectively here. The Bible is not a coherent document that speaks in one clear voice. It is a record of the evolving religious and moral beliefs of Hebrews over thousands of years. It records laws from when the Hebrews practiced slavery, but it also records moral reform. One of the most important is the golden rule, which says to do unto others as you would have them do unto you. A thorough application of the golden rule would condemn slavery as immoral. After all, what slave master ever wanted to be treated as a slave? Slavery is the epitome, the very essence of, doing unto others as you would not want them to do unto you. It is about treating other people merely as means to your own ends without considering that they have ends of their own.

Furthermore, slavery is theft, which is prohibited in the Ten Commandments. Slavery is the theft of a person’s means to an independent livelihood. It robs a person of the very ability to labor for himself. It also robs a person of the ability to live as he chooses, where he chooses, and among whom he chooses. Slavery robs people of freedom, and a thorough application of “Thou shalt not steal” prohibits slavery.

Besides that, the story of the Exodus was a story about God liberating his people from slavery. In this story, there was a recognition that slavery was evil and that liberation from slavery was a good thing. Naturally, the story of the Exodus came to play a prominent role in the Christianity of African-Americans. When I searched Google for let my people go, the very first link was to a YouTube video of a black man named Paul Robeson singing the hymn “Let My People Go.”

Given all this, it was natural for abolitionists to find ammunition against slavery in Christianity. In light of this, it is unfair to call black Christians Uncle Toms. The Christianity of African-Americans is the Christianity of the abolitionists, who found in Christianity moral teachings that could be used to condemn slavery. Again, it is important to stress that the Bible is not a consistent document. It contains moral codes to which it sometimes makes exceptions or which it sometimes fails to carry out to their logical conclusion. For example, there is “Thou shalt not kill” in the Ten Commandments, and then there are commands for the Hebrews to kill groups of Canaanites and to leave no survivors. Some of the most renowned Hebrew heroes are mass murderers, such as Samson and King David. Even though Hebrews tell of the story of their release from slavery and have a commandment, “Thou shalt not steal,” which condemns slavery when carried to its logical conclusion, there were Hebrews who wanted to have slaves, and the Hebrew law contained exceptions to allow them to have slaves. In the New Testament, slaves were told to obey their masters, but Christians weren’t being told to go out and make slaves of people. In its fullest application, the golden rule would condemn slavery, but the New Testament did not take its application this far. Even so, it did tell Christians to give up their wealth, and taken to its logical conclusion that would include giving up having slaves. Of course, this is one of the first things that Christians have long ignored. Jesus said it is harder for a rich man to get into Heaven than for a camel to get through the eye of a needle. Apologists for the rich have tried to reinterpret what is meant by the eye of a needle. Slavery has always been about furthering one man’s wealth at the expense of others. It is a means to wealth that clearly violates the golden rule, and taking the words of Jesus to their logical conclusion, no Christian should enslave another person.

The white Christians who used the Bible to justify slavery were practicing covert blasphemy toward the end of justifying evil. When you think of blasphemy, you might normally think of overt blasphemy, which is speaking out against God. But it’s not the only kind of blasphemy. There is also covert blasphemy, which is the use of religious beliefs to justify evil. For example, Christians who condemn homosexuality on the grounds that “God hates fags” are practicing covert blasphemy. Ted Peters has made the distinction between overt and covert blasphemy in his book Sin: Radical Evil in Soul and Society. He describes seven steps to radical evil, and self-justification and blasphemy are the fifth and seventh steps he lists. Stated in more ethical terms, overt blasphemy is the rejection of what you associate with goodness, and so a rejection of goodness itself, whereas covert blasphemy is the association of your ultimate moral standard with evil. It is to take what is your ultimate moral standard, which for Christians has been God, and misapply it in support of evil. In rejecting slavery while accepting Christianity, black Christians are recognizing that the use of Christianity to justify slavery was a misuse of Christianity and of the idea of a good and loving God. Therefore, being a black Christian does not make someone an Uncle Tom.

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The Impossibility of Omniscience

Do you need to be omniscient to know that God doesn’t exist?

Not if God is supposed to be omniscient. If God is omniscient, as many philosophers, theologians, and apologists have claimed, all you need to know is that omniscience is impossible.

What is Omniscience?

First, what is omniscience? Omniscience is the full knowledge of everything there is to know. If anyone knows anything, it will also be known to any omniscient being. And beyond that, an omniscient being will know tons of things no other non-omniscient being knows. Whatever can be known will be known to any omniscient being. Omniscience comes up in theology, because Rene Descartes and others have attributed omniscience to God. Descartes defined God as a perfect being, and he maintained that omniscience is a perfection. Many other theologians and religious people have continued in the belief that God is omniscient. But omniscience is impossible, as I will demonstrate here.

Physical Impossibility

Let’s begin with something small, relatively speaking. An omniscient being should be familiar with every image my monitor is capable of displaying. How many images is this? Let’s calculate. First, the color of each pixel can range from 0 to 255 for red, green, and blue. So, the number of colors each pixel may display is 2563, which is 16,777,216. Since my monitor is 1680 pixels wide by 1050 high, it has 1,764,000 pixels. So, the total number of images my monitor can display is 167772161764000. That’s well over a googol, which is just 10100, and it’s approximately 7.9 E+12744405, which is 79 followed by 12,744,404 zeros. Now let’s put this into some perspective. The age of the universe is estimated to be about 13.8 billions years. The number of seconds in a year is approximately 60 seconds * 60 minutes * 24 hours * 365.25 days for a total of 31,557,600. So, the age of the universe in seconds is approximately, 13.8 billion * 31.6 million, which is about 436 quadrillion. And bear in mind that this is rounding things up. The estimated age of the universe is something less than 436 quadrillion seconds, but 436 quadrillion is still far short of one googol by several factors, which itself is far short of the possible number of images my computer monitor can display. So, if a computer program had been running from the beginning of the universe, displaying one possible image my monitor could display each second, it wouldn’t be near completion yet. In fact, it wouldn’t even be one percent done.

Let’s now consider the number of atoms in the universe. This is estimated to be 1078 to 1082. That’s a big number for sure, but it is still less than one googol, which is still far less than the number of possible images my computer monitor can display. The number of subatomic particles, at least of the kind we know of, will be larger, but it will still fall short of one googol. So, if we wished to store an image file of every image my monitor can display, we would need more bytes of memory than there are atoms in the universe. The consequence of this is that no being in the known universe has enough memory capacity to remember every image my monitor is capable of displaying. This shows the physical impossibility of omniscience for any natural being in the known universe.

Temporal Impossibility

If omniscience is possible at all, it will be possible only to some kind of supernatural being. But there aren’t just a large number of facts for an omniscient being to know, there are an infinite number. Consider the set of strings of Unicode characters of any length at all, beginning with a length of 1 and having no upper limit. This is an infinite set. This set is going to contain the text of just about every book ever written in any of the languages Unicode supports, as well as books that have never been written but could be, as well as books in future languages that may use characters in the Unicode set, as well as a whole bunch of garbage and gobbledygook. For any member of this set, it is a coherent and meaningful work in some past, present, or future language, or it isn’t. For any coherent and meaningful work that appears in this set, it can be classified as fiction or non-fiction. For any coherent and meaningful non-fiction work in this set, it may be completely true or partially true. An omniscient being will know every work in this set, and it will know whether it is coherent and meaningful, which language it is in, whether it is fiction or non-fiction, and how much truth it expresses.

This set will also contain computer programs, binary representations of images, game rules, and other things. An omniscient being will understand each computer program expressed in this set and how it will handle any kind of input given to it. An omniscient being will have knowledge of every image represented in this set. An omniscient being will know how to play every game described in this set, and it will know how to play it as well as possible. I could go on, but you should get the point that full knowledge of this set requires an infinite capacity for knowledge.

But even with an infinite capacity for knowledge, no being would ever have enough time to learn everything. Even if an immortal being began learning things much more rapidly than humans are capable, it would be impossible to reach omniscience. The reason for this is the same as the reason why you can’t count to infinity. There is no endpoint. You could count by googols or by googolplexes (10^Googol), and you wouldn’t reach infinity any sooner than if you counted by ones. Likewise, no matter how rapidly a being learned, it would never reach a point at which there was no more to learn. Therefore, omniscience is temporally impossible.

The Improbability of Instantaneous Omniscience

If omniscience is to happen at all, it must happen instantaneously. But this creates new problems for the idea of omniscience. One problem is how it could ever happen. In normal human experience, we gain knowledge by learning, which takes time. If knowledge is to be instantaneous, there can be no time for learning. God can’t just know what we’re doing by watching us, for example. Instead, God must know ahead of time, from the very first instance of his existence, what the entire course of our lives will be. But how is such a thing possible without any time to learn anything? It seems like the most improbable, most far-fetched thing ever. The only thing that could give it any credence is if it were necessary. This is how Descartes has tried to argue for the existence of an omniscient being. He used the ontological argument to argue for the necessary existence of God, a perfect being whose perfections include both omniscience and omnipotence. The ontological argument is a fallacious argument, and I will fully address it another time. For this discussion, I will just point out that instantaneous omniscience is incompatible with omnipotence. If God knows everything that will ever happen ahead of time, he can never choose to do anything other than what he already knows he will do. But without the ability to make free choices, he is utterly impotent, a mere witness to the unfolding of what he already knows will happen, unable to do a single thing about it. Since omniscience is incompatible with omnipotence, the perfect being imagined by Descartes is not only unnecessary but impossible. Omniscience requires tremendous, even infinite, complexity, making omniscience the most improbable thing that could ever happen, if even that. Omniscience is just too improbable to ever appear without being necessary, and arguments that it is necessary do not stand up.

Instantaneous Omniscience of Experience?

Another problem with instantaneous omniscience is how it could ever account for experiential knowledge. If omniscience comes instantaneously, how could an omniscient being ever know what it is like to listen to a piece of music, to ride a bike, or to write a book? Knowledge of an experience comes from having the experience, and that takes time. Yet omniscience, given the requirement that is must be instantaneous, takes no time at all. It might be claimed that God just instantaneously knows what every real or potential experience is like. This in itself seems ridiculous. This would include every experience ever experienced, that ever will be experienced, and that might ever possibly be experienced. This would include the worst of experiences, such as extreme torture, painful death, overpowering guilt, grief, and hatred, as well as the best, such as marital relations with a beloved spouse, creating something great, helping people live better lives, and having that “Eureka!” moment of figuring something out for the first time. Besides that, omniscience is not just belief, it is knowledge. An omniscient being wouldn’t just be aware of what every real or potential experience is like, it would know for sure what each real or potential experience is like, not only for itself but for each and every being that has ever experienced (or ever will experience) anything. There seems to be no way of knowing for sure what an experience is like short of having it. So, even if God somehow had full awareness of all experiences, he would not have full knowledge of them without actually living through them. But this takes time. And once we introduce the requirement of time for knowing any class of knowledge, omniscience becomes unreachable.

Infinite Intentionality

One more problem with the idea that omniscience happens instantaneously is that an instantaneous acquisition of all knowledge creates new objects for there to be knowledge about. These new objects are the beliefs held by the omniscient being. These are called intentional objects. This has to do with what philosophers of mind call intentionality, which has nothing to do with the more commonplace psychological definition of intentional as describing what you intend to do. An intentional object is what a belief is about. This may be a real object, such as my computer, or it may be a concept, such as omniscience. In my belief that omniscience is impossible, the intentional object is omniscience. But in the complete thought expressed by the last sentence, the intentional object is my belief that omniscience is impossible. And in the preceding sentence, the intentional object is the thought expressed by the sentence before it. Beliefs can be intentional objects. Not only do I have beliefs. I have beliefs about my beliefs. I can also have beliefs about my beliefs about beliefs, and so on. Any belief, even a belief about beliefs, can be the intentional object of another belief. Therefore, every belief is a potential intentional object for another belief. Human knowledge puts practical limits on this, but omniscience would not have these limits. Each belief of an omniscient being would be a new intentional object it must have complete knowledge of to be omniscient. To be truly omniscient, an omniscient being must believe everything true of each of its beliefs. The problem with this is that this recursively creates new beliefs that must themselves become the intentional objects of new beliefs, and so on, ad infinitum. If this happens in time, we have another instance of a temporal race toward omniscience. There will be no catching up to omniscience, even if knowledge is gained in leaps of complete knowledge, because it will always recede further away. If all meta-knowledge, including all meta-knowledge of meta-knowledge and so on, is acquired instantaneously, then an omniscient being must possess infinite awareness of an infinite number of real intentional objects. Each belief would be a real thing, as distinguished from the members of the set of all Unicode strings, which have no more concrete reality than numbers have. An infinity of real things would require a real infinity.

Mathematical Impossibility

But there is a problem with this. Infinity is not a real number. An infinite number of individual beliefs can have no more reality than infinity has. Although there are an infinite number of real numbers, each real number is finite. For omniscience to be real, every belief the being holds must be a real belief. For a belief to be real, it must be part of a real quantity of beliefs. But any real quantity of beliefs is going to be finite. So, for omniscience to be real, the beliefs of the omniscient being must be finite in number. But the Unicode strings example and the recursive intentionality example both require an infinite number of real individual beliefs. Since infinity is not a real number, this is impossible, making omniscience as mathematically impossible as a real infinity.

Incompatibility of Omniscience with Some Experiential Knowledge

Now, if you’re a true believer, you might want to bite the bullet on this one and assert that a real infinity is possible. Then there is another problem. This is the incompatibility of some experiential knowledge with other experiential knowledge. If God is omniscient, then he cannot know what it is like to be ignorant. He cannot know what it is like to wonder about something, to forget something, or to learn something. He cannot know what it was like for Helen Keller to realize that the motions Anne Sullivan made on her hand were letters that formed words with meanings. He cannot know what it was like for Charlie Gordon, the protagonist of Daniel Keyes’ story Flowers for Algernon, to gain great intelligence and then gradually lose it all. Such experiences would be foreign to a being with complete omniscience. Yet any omniscient being, by definition, would know these things. That gives us a contradiction, that an omniscient being cannot know what it is like to be ignorant and must know what it is like to be ignorant. This contradiction disproves omniscience by reductio ad absurdum.

The Problem of Privileged Experience

Beyond the incompatibility between certain types of experience, there is the problem of privileged experience. Some knowledge seems to be privileged. While some knowledge is about external facts, there is also knowledge about internal experience. Thomas Nagel once wrote an article called What is it like to be a Bat? The point of his article was that there was a phenomenological experience to being a bat that was beyond our ability to ever know. Likewise, for each being capable of having phenomenological experiences, its phenomenological experience would be private to itself. So, for example, I can never know what it is like to be you, and you can never know what it is like to be me. We might be able to imagine each other’s experience and understand something of it through the lens of our own experience, but that will never be the same as fully knowing what it is like to be the other person. Each being with a mind has its own perspective, through which it filters and interprets the experience of other minds. For anyone to fully know what it is like to be me, he would have to experience the same experiences, make the same decisions, suffer the same limitations, and possess no other memories of ever being anyone else. If any being possessed my memories and yours, it would not perfectly understand what it is like to be either one of us, because my experiences would contaminate its interpretation of yours and vice versa. This problem would be compounded even further for an omniscient being who knew the experiences of every living being. Therefore, it is impossible for any being to possess full and accurate knowledge of what it is like to be each being in the universe. Since the possession of some knowledge, such as what it is like to be me, requires the absence of other knowledge, such as the knowledge of what it is like to be anyone else, it follows that the possession of all knowledge, even it it were finite, is impossible. Therefore, omniscience is impossible.

Summary

So, we have seen multiple ways in which omniscience is impossible. It is physically impossible for any natural being in the known universe. Since facts are infinite in number, it is temporally impossible for any being, even a being with unlimited memory, to ever learn fast enough to reach omniscience. For omniscience to exist, it must occur instantaneously. But this is the most improbable thing that could ever happen. Instantaneous omniscience also seems to preclude experiential knowledge, which is acquired over time. Omniscience also creates new intentional objects, about which full knowledge must be had to be omniscient. This creates an endless recursive cycle of intentional objects, which requires a real infinity. A real infinity of beliefs is also required by the Unicode strings example. Yet infinity is not a real number, and a real infinity is a mathematical impossibility. There are also experiences that are incompatible with each other, such as the experience of perfect omniscience with the experience of being ignorant. Finally, there is the privileged nature of phenomenological experience. An omniscient being should not be able to access the phenomenological experience of other beings, and even it it could, its omniscience would contaminate its knowledge of the experience of others. An omniscient being could not know, in a pure sense, what it is like to be me, because this knowledge will be held side-by-side with the knowledge of what it is like to be other people and animals whose personal experiences I have no personal knowledge of. So omniscience is impossible, and if God is supposed to be omniscient, then it follows that there is no God.

Omniscience and the Biblical God

But atheism is not a foregone conclusion here. The idea of an omniscient God appeared late in Christianity, and it is not found in the Bible. In the book of Genesis, God asks Adam and Eve where they are, and he sends angels to Sodom and Gomorrah to find out how bad things are there. I did a search on omniscience bible and found What Does the Bible Say About Omniscience?. It lists Bible verses, all from the English Standard Version, that seem to address the subject of God’s omniscience, but they are actually about God’s greater knowledge, and none frames this in terms of omniscience. A few verses come close. 1 John 3:20 says “for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything.” When it says “he knows everything” that could be interpreted as God is omniscient, but that would be ignoring the context here. It’s not about how God knows everything in an omniscient sense but about how God knows more than our own hearts do concerning the matters our hearts condemn us for. It’s not all that different from when one person tells another “I know everything.” There is normally a context behind this statement, such as “I know about that crime you committed” or “I know that you are really taking the blame for something someone else did.” Job 37:16 says “Do you know the balancings of the clouds, the wondrous works of him who is perfect in knowledge.” The expression “perfect in knowledge” sounds even more like omniscience. But the context is crucial here. These are not the words of a prophet with inside information on God. These are the words of a man named Elihu, who was arguing with Job, and the point he was making was that God knows about things that Job doesn’t, such as how lighting works and why clouds float. Knowing such things does not require omniscience, and thanks to science, many people do understand these things these days. Romans 8:32 says “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” The use of the word “predestined” suggests the doctrine of predestination, which may follow from omniscience and is part of Calvinism. In contrast, the Contemporary English Version speaks of God’s choice and decision, not of predestination. God does not have to be omniscient to make choices and decisions and carry them through. In general, Bible prophecies do not imply that God knows how the future will inevitably unfold. Bible prophecies are not predictions of the future so much as they are promises or warnings from God about what he will do. In some instances, Biblical characters get God to change his mind, as when Abraham pleads with God to spare Sodom and Gomorrah for the sake of some number of righteous men. In others, God’s warning is conditional, and what his prophet warned does not come to pass, because the people did as God wanted. This happens with Jonah, who warns the people of Ninevah to repent or face God’s wrath. They repent, and much to Jonah’s dismay, God does not inflict his wrath upon them. Like the Biblical God, human beings often give warnings or promises about what they will do. Unlike the Biblical God, they die too soon to enact long-range plans. The Bible makes no clear declaration of God’s omniscience, and it never portrays God in a way that requires an assumption of omniscience. At best, the God of the Bible possesses a limited omniscience, which is the ability to witness everything as it happens. This is suggested in Jeremiah 23:24, which says “Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? declares the Lord. Do I not fill heaven and earth? declares the Lord.” And again in Hebrews 4:13, which says “And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” The idea that God is a witness to all, sort of like 1984‘s Big Brother, fits with the Biblical portrayal of God. The idea that God is omniscient does not.

None of this is to say that the Bible is true. This is just to point out the limits on how far the conclusions of this post should be taken. Philosophers, theologians, and apologists have often held a concept of God that presumes omniscience, and this concept of God is busted. There is no omniscient God. But the Biblical conception of God is not affected, because the Bible does not portray God as omniscient. If people wish to have faith in such a God, the arguments in this post do not prove their faith wrong. Other reasons may be given for not believing in the Biblical God, but the impossibility of omniscience is not one of them. The important thing for those who remain Christians to take from this is that the Biblical God is not omniscient. The Biblical God is one that is capable of learning, of being reasoned with, and of changing his mind. An omniscient God is not.

Posted in Religion | Leave a comment

How can we trust our senses and thoughts?

Here I’m returning to an issue originally covered in another post. The Christian YouTuber mytruepower2 has made the following argument for God’s existence:


Proof #1: Dependability

We Think That Our Senses and Thoughts Are Dependable When They Function Properly

But … Why?

Unless There’s Some Connection Between

Proper
Functioning
&The
Truth

How Can we be Sure That Our “Proper Function” is to Understand the Truth?

God, and Only God, Provides us With a Reason, in Theory, to Think There is Such a Connection

The background behind this argument comes from Rene Descartes, who, in his Meditations, sought a firm basis for knowledge by systematically doubting everything he could. He doubted even his very senses and his understanding of the world. The first unassailable piece of knowledge he found was “I think, therefore I am.” In the very act of doubting, he was thinking, and this implied his own existence. Moving beyond this, he used a form of the ontological argument to argue for the existence of God. He defined God as a perfect being, stated that necessary existence was a perfection, and concluded that a perfect being must exist. Relying on the other perfections he attributed to God, he concluded that God was not a deceiver, and that he could therefore trust his senses.

The first point to make here is that Descartes did not assume that his senses and thoughts were reliable and conclude from this that God must exist. He employed an entirely separate argument to conclude that God exists. Given the existence of God, he then concluded that he could trust his senses. So, the first problem with this argument is that it puts the cart before the horse. It is committing the fallacy of affirming the consequent. Based on Descartes’ reasoning, we might be able to assume “If God exists, then our senses and thoughts are dependable when they are functioning properly.” But affirming the consequent of this conditional does not let us infer the existence of God. It’s not logically valid. Descartes himself went in the other direction. He first concluded that God exists, then he used modus ponens to conclude that our senses are dependable. Given the premise here, we could, after establishing the existence of God by some other means, conclude by modus ponens that our senses and thoughts are dependable when functioning properly. But this premise is useless in an argument for the existence of God.

The second point is that the ontological argument, in any form, is a very bad argument. Briefly, it commits the fallacy of equivocation, it makes the mistake of treating existence and/or necessary existence as a predicate, and its definition of God is meaningless or impossible. This will be covered in greater detail in a separate examination of the ontological argument.

That aside, mytruepower2 needs a different premise to argue for God’s existence from the dependability of our senses and thoughts, and this is “If our senses and thoughts are dependable when functioning properly, then God exists.” There are two problems here. The first is that this premise is not self-evident. Mytruepower2 seems to have in mind “Our senses and thoughts are dependable when functioning properly only if God exists,” which is logically equivalent to this. But this assumes that there can be no other reason for trusting our senses and thoughts than the existence of God. Second, it is not yet established that our senses and thoughts are dependable. In fact, if we first need to know that God exists to trust our senses and thoughts, then we cannot establish what this conditional needs to conclude that God exists. At best, this just leads to circular reasoning, in which we conclude that God exists because our senses and thoughts are dependable and conclude that our senses and thoughts are dependable because God exists. But circular reasoning cannot prove the existence of God.

Let’s now turn to the question of whether our thoughts and senses actually are dependable. It’s not only evident to me that I am thinking. It is also evident to me that I have sensations. At this point, I will not assume that sensations have a certain cause. Although I normally assume my sensations are of external objects, I will not go that far right now. I will just stick to the phenomenological fact that I have sensations. These might be caused by sensory organs reacting to external stimuli, or they might be entirely fabricated, perhaps by the evil demon of Descartes’ imagination, or perhaps by computers creating a virtual reality for me, as in the Matrix. They might even be entirely random. So far, it is established that I have senses, but it is not yet established that I can trust my senses are an accurate representation of an external reality. Mytruepower2 would have us believe that we need to assume God’s existence to make this connection. But we don’t. All we need to do is rule out the other possibilities.

It is not only evident to me that I have sensations. It is also evident to me that my sensations are consistent, orderly, and detailed. I routinely have sensations that are either similar to or identical to past sensations, and these normally occur in predictable ways. When I seem to sense the same thing with multiple senses, my senses normally agree on its attributes, and it’s normal for me to expect sensations of one kind, such as touch, based on sensations of another kind, such as sight. Moreover, my senses are normally meticulously detailed. As I look out my window, I can focus on individual leaves and branches of the trees outside. As I look about my room, I can see many different things in exquisite detail. I can also read books, listen to music, and watch movies or television programs that are filled with orderly detail. And when I return to the same books, music, movies, or programs, I can experience the same orderly detail all over again. It is evident from the consistency, orderliness, and detail of my sensations that they are not randomly caused.

If they are not randomly caused, they are caused either by an external source or by my imagination. My dreams seem to be caused by my imagination, but my dream sensations routinely lack the consistency, orderliness and detail I’m experiencing right now. In my dreams, I can’t read books, I rarely listen to any music, my perspective and understanding of things routinely shift, the unexpected often happens, experiences routinely differ from past experiences, people change into other people, the usual ways of doing things don’t work, and on occasion I can do things that are impossible to me right now, such as leap without returning to the ground or put on clothes by imagining myself to be wearing them. In short, my dreams give very little hint of being caused by an external reality. I can easily rule out the possibility that my dreams are of external reality while my present experience is due solely to my imagination. This leaves three possibilities, that they are both caused by imagination, both caused by an external source, or that dreams are caused by imagination while my present sensations are caused by an external source.

If my dreams and present experience are both caused by the same source, then I’m not sure what could account for the difference between them. If they are both caused by my imagination, why should my imagination have periodic breaks in which my experience of reality becomes much less concrete? And how could my imagination possibly create such a detailed, orderly, and consistent experience? I would have to be a creative genius of incredible magnitude to be able to create my sensations through my imagination. I would not only have to create a virtual reality for myself; I would also have to write every book I read, compose all the music I listen to, and script and direct every movie and television program I watch. And if I have such an incredible imagination, why don’t I use it to lead a better life than I’m currently living? Things just don’t add up under the assumption that my present experience is caused entirely by my imagination. So, the possibility that my dreams and my present experience are both due solely to my imagination can be ruled out.

This leaves only two possibilities, and both agree that my present sensations are caused by an external source. So my present sensations are caused by an external source. But what is the nature of this source? Is it an external environment, a supernatural deceiver, or a virtual reality? Descartes didn’t address a computer-generated virtual reality, but he did attempt to rule out a supernatural deceiver by arguing for God’s existence. He reasoned that God, possessing omnibenevolence as one of his perfections, would not be a deceiver. But the existence of God is not the only way to rule out the supernatural deceiver scenario. Another way to rule it out is to deny the possibility of the supernatural. Descartes lived in a world that took the supernatural for granted and ruled out one supernatural being with another. But if there is no supernatural reality, then there is no supernatural deceiver, and Descartes’ evil demon does not exist. I won’t try to disprove the supernatural here, but I will point out that God is also supposed to be supernatural. If there is no supernatural, then there is no God and no evil demon, and the evil demon scenario is ruled out without appealing to the existence of God.

Putting aside that issue, this deceiver would have to be an incredible genius, capable of writing all the books I read, composing all the music I listen to, etc., as well as capable of immersing me in a flawless virtual reality. This already seems very far-fetched. Then there is the question of where all this complexity comes from. A being capable of creating all the consistent, orderly, and detailed complexity of my senses must itself be very complex. It’s very unlikely that such a being just appeared and then made it his mission to provide me with the illusion of an external reality that doesn’t exist except within his imagination. After all, complexity needs a credible explanation, and the most credible explanation for complexity is growth through evolutionary processes. The evil demon scenario leaves me with no credible explanation for the complexity I routinely experience.

The virtual reality scenario doesn’t face this objection. If I am in a computer-generated Matrix-style virtual reality, its origin is presumably in advancements in technology. But it still faces another objection. It would take tremendous computing power to create an illusion of reality as complex and detailed as my experience. Daniel Dennett brings this up in Consciousness Explained. Writing before the Matrix movies, he frames this in terms of the brain in a vat scenario. He writes:

The problem of calculating the proper feedback, generating it or composing it, and then presenting it to you in real time is going to be computationally intractable on even the fastest computer, and if the evil scientists decide to solve the real-time problem by precalculating and “canning” all the possible responses for playback, they will just trade one insoluble problem for another: there are too many possibilities to store. In short, our evil scientists will be swamped by combinatorial explosion as soon as they give you any genuine exploratory powers in this imaginary world. (5)

It’s looking like the only viable explanation for the complexity and detail of my sensory experience is that it is caused by interactions with an external environment. This is in fact what my sensory experience seems to be caused by. My senses seem to be biological functions of a body within an environment. Furthermore, it makes sense that lifeforms within an environment would evolve sensory organs. Sensory organs allow a lifeform to understand and navigate its environment, which helps it better survive and reproduce. These selective advantages naturally lead to improvements in the sensory organs. So, the most plausible scenario is that my senses are responses to an external environment. This is why I can trust my senses when they are functioning properly. In fact, this is the only scenario in which it makes sense to say that my senses could be functioning properly or improperly. In the other scenarios, I am being fed a fake reality.

From all this, it follows that there is no need to invoke God to account for the dependability of our senses. Our senses evolved as means to comprehend and navigate our environment, and they evolved in the direction of being more and more successful at this, because accuracy is what gave them their survival advantage. So, when they are functioning properly, they are normally accurate.

Now, even accepting that our sensations are of an external world, mytruepower2 would still maintain that God-formed senses would be more dependable than those shaped by natural selection. This is assuming some degree of creationism, even if it is just God’s intervention in the evolution of life, and creationism has no scientific evidence for it whatsoever. But let’s grant that God-formed senses could be more dependable. Our senses are only as dependable as natural selection has made them, and assuming that God could have made them more perfect instruments for perceiving the world only counts as evidence against God’s existence.

After all, our senses are very limited. They do not reveal the true nature of whatever we sense, what we may call the thing-in-itself, and they are not capable of sensing everything around us. Our senses are the result of interactions between our bodies and the environment. This gives us valuable intelligence concerning our surroundings, but it does not reveal a complete picture. We cannot see what is very small or far away in great detail. We cannot see the infrared or ultraviolet spectrums. We cannot hear much beyond the 20 to 20,000 hertz range. We cannot smell as well as a dog. We lack the electric sense found in sharks and bees, and we lack the sonar system of bats and dolphins. We also lack telepathy, clairvoyance, clairaudience, and other forms of extra-sensory perception. Our senses are limited by our biology, and some people’s senses being more limited than others. If God has created us, only God knows why we don’t have better senses. But natural selection without divine intervention accounts for our limited senses quite well.

Moreover, our senses are just raw data. While our senses may correspond fairly well with our external environment, it is the interpretation we put on our senses that is subject to being called true or false. This brings us to thoughts. We have been focusing on the senses, but the other part of the question is, Does God make our thoughts dependable?

If mytruepower2 and I listen to the same piece of music, we are going to have essentially the same experience of it. We don’t know each other personally, but I think we routinely experience very similar things, such as grass, trees, wind, animals, people, buildings, cars, computers, etc. My point here is that sensory experience is not wildly varying from person to person. Yet what people think does vary wildly. On some very fundamental issues, my beliefs and mytruepower2′s beliefs differ very much from one another. For example, he is a Catholic, and I believe that Catholicism is a bunch of ridiculous nonsense. And there are many other beliefs that people differ on, such as whether Bigfoot exists, whether E.S.P. is real, whether young earth creationism is true, whether O.J. Simpson killed his wife, whether superstring theory is true, etc. Differences in what we think are much more widespread than differences in how we experience our senses. In fact, no matter what is true, countless people are wrong. Therefore, it doesn’t appear that God is playing any role in making our thoughts dependable.

Moreover, those who believe in God do not seem to believe things with any greater degree of accuracy than those who don’t. Apart from sharing a belief in God, those who do believe in God have been known to disagree on just about everything else. In fact, when it comes to God and religion, there is much more disagreement than there is on other matters. Praying to God for answers has never resulted in universal agreement among believers, and it has never resulted in scientific or technological progress. In fact, during the time when religion was most predominant, science and technology stagnated. Yet when science started to make headway again, it gave people of differing religious beliefs reason to believe the same things. It’s because of science, not because of God, that the Pope and I both agree that evolution is true. It’s because of science that Muslims, Christians, Communists, and Buddhists are all willing to fly in planes. It’s because of science that the same technology has spread around the world, allowing people on different continents and of different religious faiths to communicate with each other over the world wide web. It’s because of science that the Americans, Russians, Europeans, and Chinese all have space programs. So, it appears that God does not play any role in making our thoughts dependable.

Moreover, it appears that our thoughts are not automatically dependable, but the difference between the results of science and the results of religion does suggest that there are steps we can take to make our thoughts more dependable. One of these is to follow the scientific method. This is a self-correcting method that tests beliefs, weeding out less accurate beliefs in favor of more accurate beliefs. Science is not an absolute guarantee of reliability, but it does let us move toward greater accuracy, and the fruits of science can be seen in advances in technology in recent history. Another step is to apply reason and to avoid logical fallacies. In this post, I have provided an analysis of an argument for the existence of God, and I have demonstrated that it commits logical fallacies and doesn’t work. We don’t need to believe in God to trust in reason. All we need to do is recognize such inescapable truths as the law of identity, the law of non-contradiction, and the law of excluded middle and rigorously apply them to our thinking. So, when we rely on science and reason, our thinking is more dependable than it is otherwise. And this is something we do for ourselves, not something that God does for us.

In conclusion, it is evident that God plays no role in making our senses or thoughts dependable. Our senses are dependable by being biological responses to our environment, and our thoughts are made more dependable through science and reason, but not through faith in God. Therefore, the dependability of our senses and thoughts, inasmuch as they are dependable, does not imply the existence of God.

Posted in Philosophy, Religion | Leave a comment

Morality or Meaning Without God?


This is a response to the following arguments from a video called Is There Real Proof That God Exists?:

Proof #3: The Moral Argument
If God Doesn’t Exist, Objective Moral Right and Wrong Lack a Concrete Foundation
However, Objective Moral Right and Wrong do Exist, and Must be Founded on Something
As Proof of This, the Following Argument Seems to be the Strongest;
Torturing Someone For Fun is Morally-Wrong, and Anybody Who Disagrees is Wrong.

Proof #4: The Argument from Evil
Evil Exists, and Must Therefore Have an Objective Foundation
See Previous Argument For the Implications of This

Proof #6: Value
Many Things Clearly Have Value
However, That Value Can’t Exist Unless There’s an Ultimate Measuring Stick/Source For Value
[But they can't have any intrinsic value unless there's a measuring stick for value which represents the greatest possible value.]
God and Only God Provides This

Proof #5: The Meaning of Life
There is a Meaning to Life
However, There Can’t be a Meaning to Life Unless It’s Given Meaning by Someone
However, we Don’t Give Our Lives -Objective- Meaning; we Just Make Choices About Our Future Actions
God Explains How Our Lives Could Have Such Meaning

I agree that torturing someone for fun is morally wrong. I’ll explain
why in terms of values, goals, and character. First, value. My life
has value to me. I enjoy living and wish to continue. This is not a
mere subjective value. Without being alive, I could not value
anything at all, and nothing could be of value to me. This makes the
value of my life fundamental and invariable. In recognizing the value
of my life, I recognize that life is also a fundamental and
invariable good for others sufficiently like myself. I cannot value
something for another person unless I first value that person’s life.
And it’s not just mere life that matters. Bacterial life, for
example, is not as significant as human life. What also matters is
sentience and the ability to value one’s own life. If a lifeform has
no mind and does not consciously value its life, its life has no
inherent value. But a sentient life that can value itself does have
inherent value. And this is typical of human life. In recognizing
that life is a good for me, I recognize that it is also a good for
other people. In recognizing that happiness is good for me, I
recognize that it is good for others. In recognizing that suffering
is bad for me, I recognize that it is bad for others. My measure here
is the value of my own life, as I experience it. This may not be the
ultimate measuring stick of the greatest possible value, but it is
the fundamental measure of value from my own experience. It is what
makes the concept of value meaningful to me. In recognizing the value
of other human lives, I reaffirm the value of my own life. If I were
to torture others for fun, I would be treating the humanity of others
as something worthless, as something that does not matter in a real
and fundamental sense, and in doing so, I would fail to affirm the
value of my own humanity. To truly value my own humanity, I must
value humanity in others. To fully value my life, I must value the
lives of others. Acting in accordance with this, I should not torture
others for fun.

Second, goals. It is in my vested interest to live in a society where people
do not torture each other for fun. After all, I don’t want anyone to
torture me for fun. Society is not a single being I can control with
my might. Society includes myself and others. All those who have a
vested interest in society following certain rules also have a
responsibility to follow those rules. Therefore, I have a
responsibility to not do to others what I don’t want them to do to
me. Since I don’t want anyone to torture me for fun, I have a
responsibility to not torture others for fun.

Third, character. Virtuous character is character that helps a person live
the good life. In The Risk of Being: What it Means to be Good and
Bad
, Michael Gelven distinguishes between the experience of glee
and the experience of joy. Glee is a kind of pleasure felt in doing
bad things, and joy is a fullness of being and a true appreciation of
life. I might feel glee in torturing someone for fun, but this
activity is not conducive to feeling joy. If I torture someone for
fun, I cannot share glee with my victim. But if I help someone, I can
share joy with that person. To engage in activities that produce glee
rather than joy is to diminish my capacity for joy and my experience
of true happiness. Furthermore, true happiness is about appreciating
what I have in my life. I appreciate my life best when I have a
productive and helpful orientation, and I undermine my ability to
appreciate my life if I follow an orientation that is malicious and
destructive of value. To develop a character that is best for
appreciating life, it is best for me to avoid such destructive and
malicious behavior as torturing someone for fun.

So, there you have it, three good reasons for regarding torturing someone
for fun as morally wrong. It is wrong for failing to recognize the
value of human life. It is wrong as a failure to uphold my
responsibility to not do to others what I don’t want others to do to
me. And it is wrong for being destructive of the sort of character
most conducive to happiness. The notable thing about each of these
reasons is that none involves God. Clearly, I have good reasons to
not torture others for fun even if there is no God. For me, these are
reasons for considering it objectively wrong to torture someone for
fun. And on that basis, I deny the claim “If God Doesn’t
Exist, Objective Moral Right and Wrong Lack a Concrete Foundation.”

Now, you might try to save this claim if you use a very strict sense of
objective. But if you use a sense of objective that is so strict it
is impossible without God, then it becomes less evident that
“objective” moral right and wrong actually exist. So,
attempts to support the first premise with a strict sense of
“objective” undermine support for the second premise. If
you choose to go with the sense of “objective” that best
supports each premise, you would have to equivocate on the meaning of
objective, which destroys the validity of the argument. Therefore,
the argument either has an unsupported premise or it is invalid.
Either way, it is an unconvincing argument.

Beyond what I have already mentioned, there is a more fundamental objection
to the first premise. This can be called the Euthyphro objection
after the dialogue of Plato in which it comes up. If morality is
defined in terms of God, such as the Divine Command theory, then that
leaves God with carte blanche to do anything, and the
assertion that God is good has no more content than the assertion
that God is God. This actually leaves us without any objective
criterion for distinguishing right from wrong. When we look at moral
systems that use God as an authority, we actually find a lot of
diversity. Compare, for example, Jewish law, Muslim Sharia, and
Christian morality, and you will find lots of differences right
there. There are also differences between Jews, between Muslims, and
between Christians. For example, some Christians consider
homosexuality a sin, and other Christians condemn homophobia as evil.
If God is supposed to provide the criterion for objective morality,
it’s a wonder that so many of his followers differ on the subject.
But in fact, God cannot be the basis for objective morality. If God
determines what is moral, then morality is ultimately subjective, not
objective. Subjective morality is not limited to what is personally
subjective. It also includes what is subjective to an authority. A
God-based morality would just be God’s subjective morality. Objective
morality, if there is such a thing, follows an objective standard
that is independent of anyone’s particular wishes or preferences. An
objective standard must be applied not only to people but to any God
we may conceive of as real. If we assert that God is good, an
objective standard of morality gives that real content. It tells us
that God promotes what is truly of value, which includes the value of
human life, human happiness, and human character. But any truly
objective standard is going to be independent of God. It is a
standard God may meet and educate us about, assuming there is a God,
but it is not a standard God may dictate. If there is a God, it would
make sense that God, in his omniscience, would be the ultimate expert
on morality, but this is far from the idea that God can decide what
is moral by fiat. Might does not make right, not even the might of
God. God cannot determine what is moral. All God can do, if there is
one, is abide by objective morality or ignore it. Consequently, the
objectivity of morality has nothing do with whether there is a God.
There is no relationship between the existence of God and the
foundation of objective morality. Therefore, the existence of
objective morality does not imply the existence of God.

That takes care of the moral argument for the existence of God. The
argument from value and the argument from evil are just variations on
this, and they fail for similar reasons. I’ll point out that I have
already given an objective criterion for value that does not depend
upon God. Although God, if there is one, could destroy my life or
make my life miserable through endless torture, there is nothing God
could do that would destroy the role my life plays as a source of
value. My life makes possible real value that would not be possible
without it. The same goes for your life and the lives of other
people. This value is real, and it exists independently of any God.
This makes human life an objective value.

As for evil, there is going to be plenty of it in a world that is not
guided by the hand of an omnipotent and omnibenevolent deity. Human
life is a real, objective value, and its inevitable end is a real,
objective evil. The misery that often besets human life is another
evil. The existence of these evils is not a sign that God exists, and
our hatred of them is justified without assuming that there is a God
who also hates them. In fact, far from being used as evidence to
support belief in God, the existence of evil is often taken as
evidence against the existence of God, and the practice of theodicy
is about reconciling belief in God with the existence of evil. In
fact, one of my old college professors wrote a book on the subject.
Whether or not the problem of evil disproves the existence of God,
and that’s not what this video is about, it is normally admitted,
even by Christians, that the existence of evil challenges belief in
God.

As for moral evil, that is a matter of bad character, and character
matters whether or not there is a God. For an in depth discussion of
moral evil, you can go read my doctoral dissertation. The essential
point to make here is that moral evil cannot be defined in terms of
God, and its existence does not point to the existence of God.

Finally, meaning is dependent on value. My actions have meaning when they
support or create value. My actions have meaning when I do good for
others, when I express myself creatively, and when I stand up for the
value of my life by facing suffering with dignity. None of this
depends upon some external entity bestowing meaning on my actions.
Certainly, the objective meaning of my life, if there be such a
thing, cannot come from the whim or fiat of an external being. That’s
not objective at all. That’s subjective, as I already explained while
discussing morality. My life has meaning through helping others,
through educating others, through creating games, through writing my
own programming language, through learning about the world I live in,
through not letting hardships break me, and through enjoying life,
among other things. None of this is meaningless unless and until some
external entity imparts it with meaning.

That said, these four arguments for God’s existence all fail. The key word
in each one of these arguments is objective. But God cannot
possibly be the source for objective value, objective morality, the
objective foundation of evil, or objective meaning. If there is a
God, God may create things of objective value, abide by and encourage
the practice of objective morality, fight objective evil, and
contribute to the objective meaningfulness of people’s lives. But God
cannot define objective value, morality, evil, or meaning by fiat.
That goes against what it means for something to be objective. What
is objective is so independently of anyone’s whim, desire, or
preference, and that includes God. Therefore, God’s existence is not
implied by the existence of objective value, objective morality,
objective evil, or objective meaning.

Posted in Ethics, Religion | Leave a comment

Solutions to Proofs with the Rules of Inference

1. P // Premise
2. P ⊃ Q // Premise
3. Q ⊃ R // Premise
Prove: R
4. Q // 1, 2 Modus Ponens
5. R // 3, 4 Modus Ponens
or:
4. P ⊃ R // 2, 3 Hypothetical Syllogism
5. R // 1, 4 Modus Ponens
1. P & ~Q // Premise
2. P ⊃ Q // Premise
Prove: R
3. P // 1 Simplification
4. ~Q // 1 Simplification
5. Q // 2, 3 Modus Ponens
6. Q ∨ R // 5 Addition
7. R // 4, 6 Disjunctive Syllogism
1. P ⊃ R // Premise
2. R ⊃ Q // Premise
3. P ∨ T // Premise
4. (P ∨ T) ⊃ (T ⊃ S) // Premise
Prove: Q ∨ S
5. T ⊃ S // 3, 4 Modus Ponens
6. P ⊃ Q // 1, 2 Hypothetical Syllogism
7. (P ⊃ Q) & (T ⊃ S) // 5, 6 Conjunction
8. Q ∨ S // 3, 7 Constructive Dilemma
1. P ⊃ (Q ∨ S) // Premise
2. ~Q ⊃ P // Premise
3. Q ⊃ R // Premise
4. ~R ∨ T // Premise
5. ~T // Premise
Prove: Q ∨ S
6. ~R // 4, 5 Disjunctive Syllogism
7. ~Q // 3, 6 Modus Tollens
8. P // 2, 7 Modus Ponens
9. Q ∨ S // 1, 8 Modus Ponens
1. P ∨ (T ∨ R) // Premise
2. U ⊃ ~P // Premise
3. (T ⊃ Q) & (R ⊃ S) // Premise
4. W & (U & V) // Premise
Prove: Q ∨ S
5. U & V // 4 Simplification
6. U // 5 Simplification
7. ~P // 2, 6 Modus Ponens
8. T ∨ R // 1, 7 Disjunctive Syllogism
9. Q ∨ S // 3, 8 Constructive Dilemma
1. P ⊃ Q // Premise
2. Q ⊃ R // Premise
3. S ⊃ T // Premise
4. T ⊃ U // Premise
5. ~U ∨ ~R // Premise
Prove: ~S ∨ ~P
6. P ⊃ R // 1, 2 Hypothetical Syllogism
7. S ⊃ U // 3, 4 Hypothetical Syllogism
8. (S ⊃ U) & (P ⊃ R) // 6, 7 Conjunction
9. ~S ∨ ~P // 5, 8 Destructive Dilemma
1. P ⊃ Q // Premise
2. Q ⊃ R // Premise
3. S ⊃ T // Premise
4. T ⊃ U // Premise
5. ~U ∨ ~R // Premise
Prove: ~S ∨ ~P
6. (T ⊃ U) & (Q ⊃ R) // 2, 4 Conjunction
7. ~T ∨ ~Q // 5, 6 Destructive Dilemma
8. (S ⊃ T) & (P ⊃ Q) // 1, 3 Conjunction
9. ~S ∨ ~P // 7, 8 Destructive Dilemma
Posted in Logic | Leave a comment