Friday, June 08, 2007

The Source: Part 1

I find that as I ponder the deeper mysteries of life I'm driven further and further backwards. Not in a bad way though. I feel like I'm being forced to evaluate my presuppositions, and that evaluation causes me to dissect them to reveal the presuppositions they are composed of. But as I do this, I'm finding fewer and fewer presuppositions. This leads me to conclude that my quest is like following the branches of a tree from their tips down to the trunk of the tree. This is a placeholder visual for me. It could be totally wrong, but I can't conceptualize my exploration any other way yet.

Here is my thinking… For anything to exist there has to be a source. I can't prove that by the way, it is simply an extrapolation of my experience with the physical world. For us to be able to observe anything, there has to be a set of standards by which interpret what we observe. This has to occur internally, I'm not even talking about how we need to agree to standards of interpretation for communication with others. But when I see a car, I know (with relative certainty) that it is a car, not a shoe or the essence of joy. The only way I could do this is if there are stable interpretive faculties operating in my mind. And the only way such a mechanism can exist is if there is a transcendent source of organization, or a higher standard from which my standards are rooted. If this is not the case then I could have shifting standards that could define a cow as an animal one day, and as a lamp the next day.

The atheist will deny the necessity of any transcendent source outside of one's own mind because they view our mental activity as purely mechanical and self-validating. I think this could be true if other minds did not exist. But if they do, then the process of communication opens a whole can of worms. Now we have to count on a standard that has consensus. We have to agree on what a cow is and what a lamp is before we can communicate in any sort of meaningful way. And once there is an agreement, the other party is going to want to hold you to it.

But why? Because there must be some transcendent standard hovering above both minds. That standard can be called reason, logic, or something else I haven't thought of yet, depending on the context. And there are clearly rules that we hold each other to. One standard is the law of noncontradiction. This may be the root from which all other thoughts flow. If the rule of noncontradiction is not established it is impossible to establish anything else as far as I can tell.

So the question I'm led back to is this: From where do the rules of logic and reason originate? The atheist says they come from consensus about nature itself. One mind agrees with another mind that hot can not be cold, and lo, it was so. The problem I see with this argument is that in the construction of agreement, the rules of logic and reason were employed without consensus. And if we are bound by saying that all logic and reason is the result of only a mind operating then it has to be merely coincidence that our minds apprehend logic in the same manner.

This seems to make perfect sense: if our biology is shaped purely by nature, then our minds will be as well. But it is our apprehension of nature that requires a consistent rational view that causes me pause. If we operate solely in nature, and our interpretation of reality and our basis for logic is rooted exclusively in a material world, then I would think our conception of reality would be quite different. What I mean is: our more creative approach to the world is sharply distinguishable from out animal cousins. We universally (with a few exceptions) understand that there are other layers of reality that our naturally observable world can not explain. We have different ways of speaking about them and appeal to different evidences regarding them. As Dr. Bahnsen said in his famous debate with atheist, Dr. Stein,

"The assumption that all existence claims are questions about matters of fact, the assumption that all of these are answered in the very same way is not only over simplified and misleading, it is simply mistaken. The existence factuality or realty of different kinds of things is not established or disconfirmed in the same way in every case. We might ask, "Is there a box of cracker in the pantry?" And we know how we would go about answering that question. But that is a far, far, cry from the way we go about answering questions determining the reality of say, barometric pressure, quasars, gravitational attraction, elasticity, radio activity, natural laws, names, grammar, numbers, the university itself that you're now at, past events, categories, future contingencies, laws of thought, political obligations, individual identity over time, causation, memories, dreams, or even love or beauty. In such cases, one does not do anything like walk to the pantry and look inside for the crackers. There are thousands of existence or factual questions, and they are not at all answered in the same way in each case. Just think of the differences in argumentation and the types of evidences used by biologists, grammarians, physicists, mathematicians, lawyers, magicians, mechanics, merchants, and artists. It should be obvious from this that the types of evidence one looks for in existence or factual claims will be determined by the field of discussion and especially by the metaphysical nature of the entity mentioned in the claim under question. Dr. Stein's remark that the question of the existence of God is answered in the same way as any other factual question, mistakenly reduces the theistic question the same level as the box of crackers in the pantry…"

I think this sufficiently establishes the fact that we humans communicate about things that the natural world doesn't have a way to put into us. Evolutionary anthropologists come up with all sorts of theories about how we evolved such ideas and communication, but the fact that there can be evolutionary anthropologists communicating about how they came to be, seems to me to point to a fundamental disconnect between nature and the human mind. But that is a judgment call that I don't have the expertise to prove yet. And this entry isn't about proving the existence of God to skeptics. It's about my own exploration and search for Truth. But in so doing I think it's important to lay out my presuppositions.

And one of them is that I believe the claims of atheism do not provide an adequate variety of questions and solutions to the way the world appears to us. Its inherent reductionism forces a flattening and discounting of our perceptions. In other words, I can't prove that they are wrong, but I can say with utter conviction that their approach to life is shallower and bereft of the spirit that defines our humanity. In the same way a bunker is different than a palace; the stripping down of every "unnecessary" element can take a place where you would want to live and turn it into a place you would rather not. When you reduce the world to only what you can observe or measure, you lose what it is that life can bring.

So there is one of my biggest presuppositions. Two others are as follows: I believe that I exist as a mind that inhabits a physical reality, and I believe there are others here with me. I am listing these as beliefs, not facts, as I have no way of proving them without a circular argument. This is what the radical skeptics discovered early on. (Yes, even before the Matrix came out!)

And I'm inclined to remain within the bounds of logic as I explore these deep questions. When you get circular, there are only two things you can do: accept your argument as a presupposition, or keep backtracking. The problem with backtracking when you are at the depth of questioning reality is that there is no where left to backtrack. C.S. Lewis commented on this when he said something about the skeptic seeing through everything until the whole world was transparent. So once you get to the place where you are asking if you exist, you either stay there in a perpetual state of flummox, or you make a supposition. And once you've moved past that stage, it becomes a presupposition.

I think that is why Descartes came up with that catchy slogan, "I think, therefore I am." It employs a circular argument: there has to be an I for him to make any assertions regarding the I. The presence of a being is presumed. And I think rightfully so, because otherwise, as I've said, no other propositions can be made. It's possible that there is no being, no "I", but if that is the case there is no reason to do anything except to entertain yourself, and no reason to speculate further.

I'm hoping to make a case for accepting a circular argument for the sake of utility, and then show that circular arguments must be discarded directly afterward. I think the reason can be made abundantly clear by showing a few examples. 1. I am trustworthy because I always tell the truth. 2. Ghosts are real because I saw what can only be a ghost. 3. Supernatural explanations are not allowed in science. Science is the only way to know reality. God is supernatural. Therefore God can not be real. 4. The Bible is authoritative because it says it is true in the Bible.

Now these are short, easy to spot examples, they are laid out like so: A implies A… supposed A is true… therefore A is true. But most circular arguments are successful because they throw in more complications: A implies B… B implies C… C implies D… Suppose D… Therefore C… Therefore B… Therefore A is true. So to spruce up the first example, I could say, "I am trustworthy, just ask John. How do you know you can trust John? Well David will vouch for him! How do you know you can trust David? Because Lucinda trusts him. And I can personally vouch for Lucinda's honesty. And if you can trust Lucinda, you can trust David, who trusts John, who, as you know, will tell you that I always tell the truth." Or this famous Christian argument, "God must exist because we have a Bible that was written by God. And since God wrote the Bible, it must be true."

Now I'm not saying that every part of a circular argument is automatically false. A circular argument could be true; it just can't be proven in and of itself. For instance, I agree with this circular argument: "Abortion is murder. Murder is illegal. Therefore abortion should be illegal." But I don't agree with it because this argument won me over. (The premise is also the conclusion: abortion is an activity that should be illegal.) I agree with it because of additional evidences that support the premise that "Abortion is murder." But the evidence for this conclusion is not contained in the argument. Once the evidence is presented, and the point is made convincingly that abortion is murder, than the argument is no longer circular because it resides within the context of a larger argument. The premise is not supported by the conclusion, but rather by additional evidences.

So when I encounter a question-begging assertion, (another way of saying 'circular argument') I look for the premise or premises and go back a step. And that process has, as I've said, been like going down branches, leading to bigger, thicker branches that eventually must lead to one trunk. And I see it this way because I am trying to adhere to logic and reason. Logic tells me that off can not be on, and right can not be wrong, and white can not be black. (Vanilla Ice successfully proved this point in the early 90s.) I trust this logic because of the testimony of nature. My brain simply can't grasp an object that is both hot and cold, or loud and quiet.

Because logic is so natural to us, it's easy to submit the idea that logic must be the trunk from which all the branches of reality flow. It keeps everything together and understandable. But we run into a problem if we go that route. How do we determine that logic is the correct way to validate any given claim? The fact that it comes natural to us is no proof. If you use logic to prove that logic is correct you are in a circular argument. If you use some other means to prove that logic is correct then you have just undermined it as the trunk of validation for everything else. So we must choose: circular argument, or something that is more authoritative than logic. Here the atheist is trapped with only a circular argument on which to ground everything they believe. And here, as a theist, I think I've found the Source of everything. If logic needs validation from something that transcends it, then we are left with two alternatives: endless regress, or an Ultimate Source.

In an endless regress we run into the same problem we have conceptualizing the origin of the universe. What caused the big bang? Matter colliding in alternate universes? What caused those universes? Matter colliding in alternate universes? Etc. Without, as Aristotle coined it, an unmoved mover, there is no way to break free from this problem. The same thing applies to the validation of logic. What validates logic? Nature? What validates nature? Logic? What validates logic? Etc. Without, as I'm coining it, an unvalidated validator, (I get to spell it however I want since I'm coining it!) we can't stop the regression.

The desire to avoid the regression in these two very vexing philosophical dilemmas drives me toward a Source. The Trunk from which all the branches of reality grow. How a scientific mind can be comfortable with two infinite regressions at the root of their worldview is a mystery to me.

And yet, here I am as a Christian with two major presuppositions at the root of my worldview. 1. I, and others, exist. (The atheists share this one with me.) and 2. A God is the Source of logic and everything else. I feel like I'm stuck with these presuppositions because I don't have any better alternatives available to me. I'm not upset about being stuck with them, but never the less, I am stuck. I have no alternative but to operate out of the worldview that they provide. Well, I guess that's not completely true. I could, if I wanted to, strip away my belief in myself or others, become a solipsist and just start doing whatever the hell I wanted. But that doesn't really appeal to me. Besides, that philosophy (That only my mind actually exists) still leaves an infinite regress with the question of self origin. I could also call the Source of logic and the universe something besides God. I'm going to go into that more in the next installment.

I'm taking great pains to explain exactly how I've come to these conclusions because the process of going back to the Source has shown me some fundamental issues that affect the way a person approaches the world and proposes their ideas. In part 2 I will show how these issues are affecting me, my philosophical understandings, and their theological ramifications.

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1 Comments:

Anonymous mom said...

Josh, you have got to go to NewCritters.com and check out the assasin spider and crustaceans.

10:08 AM  

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