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My Conversation With A Presuppositionalist

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posted on Jun, 13 2013 @ 09:50 AM
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Mods: This is a repost of the one I planted in "Religion/Faith". Considering it didn't go anywhere, I thought I would try to place it here to see if we could get a better conversation going. Please feel free to delete the other one. Thank you.

Warning: This is a long post that requires a good deal of reading.

A little while ago I decided to spice things up a bit and post on my social media account that, "I am an atheist". That was the totality of the update and that was all I needed to say (considering I come from a strong Fundamental Baptist up bringing and have several of my class/christian school mates on my contact list).

Much to my surprise the comment garnered a much lower response than I anticipated, with one exception. It did peek the interest of one of my old acquaintances who is currently the proud bearer of a P.h.D. in theology, as well as being an active pastor and teacher of religion and theology.

I feel as though I may have bitten off more than I can chew so, I've decided to jump right in and post my exchanges here so that I may get a little help for thinking more clearly about exactly what it is he is saying to me. Being that I have no formal training in any esoteric type of studies, I need all the help I can get.
Below I begin with the first real topical message he sent me and we go from there.



From Him,

You've brought up an astonishingly large number of potentially fruitful topics for discussion. Let me begin by answering the questions you've posed to me, and then I'll try to sharpen the discussion by asking one of you.

By the three proofs, I assume that you mean the cosmological, teleological, and ontological. As they are typically formulated, I find the first two to be awful, especially if an apologist suggests that they prove the truth of the Christian God. At *best*, they prove some kind of abstract, god-in-general. Even that much is doubtful.

As for the ontological argument, it depends on the day, barometric pressure, moon phase, etc. Most days I find it unconvincing. Other days, when the light hits it just right, it seems compelling. So, I typically set it off to the side.

In place of these, I would employ what has come to called a "transcendental" argument for the existence of God. For the sake of the discussion, I'm going to simply employ it, rather than define it.

As for Plantinga, I tend to enjoy him a great deal. As you likely know (if you are familiar with him), he is largely credited with the restoration of the respectability of theism in analytic philosophy over the last three decades. As for, more specifically, his claim that belief in God is properly basic, I am uncommitted. I disagree with his exact formulation of it (I don't think it's fully faithful to Romans 1). That said, I think his work on epistemology and naturalism is very compelling, and it is to something close to this that I want to turn my attention.

My main question for you, given naturalism, is this: how can naturalism account for the kind of conversation that we think that we're having? Given naturalism, mind is reducible to brain. (Sam Harris has, more than many of the other New Atheists, attempted to bite this bullet, denying free will, etc.) But if a brain is just a really complicated clump of electro-chemical activity, in what way is our conversation here meaningful? As one apologist put it, aren't we just doing what our brains do at this temperature and pressure? The kinds of judgments that we seem to be making about truth and morality, without which this conversation is simply pointless, don't seem to be possible given physicalist assumptions.

In a fully Christian worldview, however, this conversation makes complete sense. As image-bearers of God, we would expect to find ourselves discussing these kinds of things, and we would expect that the universe around us is ordered in such a way that our conclusions *matter*.

This is why I ask about the purpose of the universe. If the universe is indeed purposeless (as it must be, given naturalism), this conversation is truly pointless (although we can pretend otherwise). You might be "right" in some sense about the universe, but if you are, does it matter? In the absence of any real meaning in the universe, you have to invent some purpose for your life, to make daily living possible. Maybe I've just done the same thing, with Christianity. Given naturalism, neither your fairy tale nor mine is relevant. We're all just pretending.

But I don't think that you think that. I think that you think your ideas are *right* and *meaningful.* Rational people *ought* to hold them. But I can't see naturalism accounting for these legitimate inclinations.

This is the nature of a transcendental argument. What I contend is that, if you're worldview is right, you can't rationally account for our having this discussion.


From Me,
In your last response to me, you asked several questions pertaining “meaning” in regards to its valuation in an atheist worldview. I was not expecting that you would jump right to that particular aspect of the God/no-God debate, but O.K.

It has taken me some time to answer you back partly because I've been busy, partly because I've been refining the 10 page response I produced down to just 5, and partly because, as I promised I would, I've been brushing up on transcendental presuppositionalism. My response was so voluminous at first due to some troubles I was having in understanding exactly what you were asking me to expound upon. So, in this message I hope to get somethings straight so that I may answer you with more clarity. I've also asked you some questions regarding your world view and I hope that I have done so assiduously enough that you are able to answer them.


In the course of my research I found “The Defence of Faith”, by Van Til. Now mind you, I am only a few pages in, but I have already got the gist of where he and you are coming from. For instance, he writes this found on page 40:


“Our existence and our meaning, our denotation and our connotation are derived from God. We are already fully interpreted before we come into existence. God knows us before and behind; he knows the thoughts of our hearts. We could not have meaning and existence aside from the meaning and existence of God.”


I think this is a fair summery and assertion of the position you must hold based on the angle and flavour of the questions that you posed to me. It is a good summary of the presupposition as I seem to remember it to be. So, that being said, it seems to me that I could classify the subtext of your questions into to distinct but concomitant categories. You asked me these questions:

“My main question for you, given naturalism, is this: how can naturalism account for the kind of conversation that we think that we're having?”

“But if a brain is just a really complicated clump of electro-chemical activity, in what way is our conversation here meaningful?”

Here, if I am understanding you correctly, you are not so much asking me to speak towards my confidence of my ability to reason as much as you are asking me to speak towards the my confidence of the meaningfulness of my consciousness. If our brain is just a glorified computer what gives the data output any value? What is the greater meaning of reason on a personal scale? But before I can answer this, you will have to humour me and help me understand exactly what you are driving at.

(cont...)
edit on 13-6-2013 by Philodemus because: (no reason given)
edit on 13-6-2013 by Philodemus because: (no reason given)




posted on Jun, 13 2013 @ 09:54 AM
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reply to post by Philodemus
 


What does “account for” mean?
What sort of conversation do we think we are having?
The nature of this conversation has many distinct elements.
What are the underlying faculties that we are employing?
For instance, we are employing an understanding of identity, consciousness, existence.


We are presupposing mental capabilities such as induction and deduction.
We are presupposing an almost complete understanding of the cognitive function of both mankind and the rest of nature.
What possible origins can these faculties have?
Does the evidence point to them being dropped in our laps all at once or does nature show gradations in cognitive abilities?
Does our consciousness give our reason meaning or does our reason give our consciousness meaning?
In what way is our conversation meaningful?
What other word could we use in place of the ambiguous word, “meaning”?
By what system do we arrive at the meaning of something?
Do all things have the same meaning for all people? Is it subjective or objective?
If our brain is just a blob of physical matter, can it produce things that are not physical?
If yes, do these non-physical products have any relevance to the world around us?
What role does the world around us play in the production of these non-physical products?

Then, you asked me the following question and made the following statement:

“ You might be "right" in some sense about the universe, but if you are, does it matter? In the absence of any real meaning in the universe, you have to invent some purpose for your life, to make daily living possible.”

Here, you are asking me to speak towards my confidence of ultimate meaning and how it relates to my personal “meaning”. What is the meaning of life on a universal scale? At least, that's what I think you're attempting to get at. These questions by their very nature seem straightforward, but in actuality are really rather vague. I am not willing to concede to your assertion that universe is absent of any real “meaning” within my world view just yet. Not until I understand exactly what we are talking about.

What better word could be substituted for “meaning” in regards to the existence of the universe?
Would we determine the “meaning” of the universe by epistemological or metaphysical means?
Does the fact that universe recycles itself and we are just along for the ride, oblige us to be defeatists concerning the perceived end?
Can we (as humans) give things meaning?
Does the absence of meaning in the universe imply no meaning can be given?
Am I forced to create meaning to my life or is it inherently built-in to my existence?
Is a lack of meaning to one's life make one's life inherently impossible to live?

The question you present are important, but I think they are presupposed by other questions. All other considerations regarding the topic at hand are ultimately superfluous. The questions you pose me of course, can not be adequately answered unless we first, understand the terminology and wordage that we are using and secondly, unless we look at the implied choices that they offer. The words that are used when we are speaking of subjects so ensconced in metaphysics and so esoteric in nature are going to be metaphorical in nature. It is almost unavoidable. I know that a lot of thought has gone into trying to determine just how much heuristic value these sorts of metaphor really have for us and our thinking process.

(cont...)



posted on Jun, 13 2013 @ 09:56 AM
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reply to post by Philodemus
 


This problem has been under investigation since the birth of philosophy. I read this paper on this precise topic a few years back by Juliana Goschler, entitled “Metaphors in Cognitive and Neurosciences” that addresses just this issue in what I think is a very related way. As near as I can figure, the real problem in talking about the issue of the meaning of consciousness (and pretty much every other issue known to man) is that we have a choice of communicating our ideas in metaphor or in the language of science. But what really complicates matters to the utmost in using the language of science and/or philosophy (when it comes to topics like brain function, consciousness, the purpose and meaning of reason) is that we are either using metaphoric language unconsciously because of inveterate reasons or because we have little-to-no-other options at the current level of our understanding regarding these topics. And what really gets your goat, is that we actually can't seem to agree on what we can't seem to agree on. Goschler says this:


“Interestingly, in the research on metaphors in science there are two strands of discussion: one is developing from Conceptual Metaphor Theory and focuses on the nature of language and thought, the other one is much older and dominated by philosophical arguments about the nature of truth and science. The aim of this article is to bring together the two questions that have been crucial for these discussions: How are metaphors used in scientific language? What does that mean for scientific arguments and theories? In order to combine these two questions one has to face a serious problem: How are metaphorical language and metaphorical thought related?”

For yours truly, this is where the problem really lies. The moment our brains evolved to rely on metaphor to form conceptions of things currently out of reach of our intellect or linguistic prowess, was the moment that the flood gates where opened to a whole host of cognitive trouble spots. Our mental lexicon is beguiled with trouble in almost every area. But let me start by pointing something out to you that I've given a bit of thought. Our lines of questioning presume that a world view can provide the necessary groundwork for the comprehensibility of reality. Have you ever consider whether this even an accurate assumption? We would all love to think so, wouldn't we? But let's be stalwart and continue on like a blind guy whacking at a pinata, shall we?

I can help direct our conversation a little bit though. I might be able to elucidate my position a little bit better. You said:

“Given naturalism, mind is reducible to brain. (Sam Harris has, more than many of the other New Atheists, attempted to bite this bullet, denying free will, etc.) But if a brain is just a really complicated clump of electro-chemical activity, in what way is our conversation here meaningful?”

First of all, although I don't like it and although I find it a trivializing and understated way of putting it, I will grant you that mind is reducible to brain in the naturalistic approach. But it is reducible in the same way wood is reducible to ash. You can't turn a brain into a mind (so far) any more than you can turn ashes into a spruce. Secondly, your thinking might be pre-judging of atheism. Not all atheist believe the same thing, much the same as Protestants. Atheism is not a worldview in and of itself. We must look at other ideologies to help with a worldview. Whether Sam Harris or anyone else wants to make free will a write-off is entirely up to them. Considering our vague understanding of the topic of free will, any definitive statement one way or the other is merely speculation. Just because some atheist are explaining away free will doesn't mean we all are.

But again, what makes our thought processes possible are basic cognitive tools such as object awareness, automatically formed perceptions, memory of perceptions, volitional consciousness and the mental process of measure-omitted induction to name a few of the basic. Our sciences and understanding of the issues related to cognition are just beginning to bud so it is still unclear to what natural process we owe our thanks, but studying our relatives here on earth will inevitably give us insight. It is undeniable that we have come a long way since the days of Aristotle and Christ and we have made leaps and bounds since the days of Descartes. Give science some more time and there will be a whole host of enlightening things come to our attention. I happen to hold to volitional consciousness and I do so without any compromise to my belief in naturalism. I hold to free will and I hold that we can have interactions meaningful to us all based on our level of evolved consciousness.

(cont...)



posted on Jun, 13 2013 @ 09:57 AM
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reply to post by Philodemus
 


You said:

“The kinds of judgments that we seem to be making about truth and morality, without which this conversation is simply pointless, don't seem to be possible given physicalist assumptions.”

The fact that you can't see how an opposing world view can find a source for truth and morality is autobiographical. Which is fine. Nothing wrong with that, if that's the kind of conversation we're going to have. But I am intrigued by your choice of words here. You are switching my worldview of naturalist for that of a physicalist. Either way, I am neither. I would never argue that all that exists is physical. All that exists, exists. Consciousness exists but it is not physical. But it does arise biologically. I am a methodological naturalist in that, I do not believe in the supernatural (as opposed to a metaphysical naturalist) and this worldview, though related to materialism is not synonymous with it. I believe all that we see and know is from natural origins. To go beyond my methodological naturalism I must look to other philosophies to inform my view. But as a volley, given that the Christian God has no respect or concern for human values, how does having him as your starting point, in any way, help you to determine human values? But in regards to the assertion you made above, I have the following questions:

What exactly is the nature of the “judgements” that we are making?
By what means do we arrive at them?
What is truth?
What is meant by objective?
What is objective truth?
What is morality?
Is there objective morality?
Where do we find these definitions?
“By their fruits ye shall know them”. Can your worldview provide something mine can't?

You said:

“Maybe I've just done the same thing, with Christianity. Given naturalism, neither your fairy tale nor mine is relevant. We're all just pretending.”

“But I don't think that you think that. I think that you think your ideas are *right* and *meaningful.* Rational people *ought* to hold them. But I can't see naturalism accounting for these legitimate inclinations.”

I am not going to attack your fairy tale; not yet, anyway. But you're right in that naturalism doesn't have a built-in system for making truth and value judgements. But that's like finding fault with evolution because it can't explain the evolution of a species that is yet undiscovered. But it does allow that our faculties for rationality developed natural without appealing to supernatural agents. It is by this natural rationality that we then determine “right” and “meaningful” “should” and “ought”. And if we do not pay close attention to the epistemology of our reason we are prone to stray. We stray precisely because there is no supernatural agent guiding us. It is precisely because we do not receive revelation from an omniscient and perfect being that we are all prone to err. No one is exempt. But there is an assumption in your above assertion that assumes that I can not derive an “ought” from my worldview. While it is true that I can not derive a duty from a fact, it is not true that I have no tie between the two. I have my objective values as a biological entity, which are based on my “fundamental alternative” (life vs. death) and facts based on reality that do not conform to conscious intent, and I have my consciousness. These serve to help me form a code to apply to the task of living on first, an individual basis and secondly, a social basis. This is just a cursory view and depending on how you want to delve into this topic we can leave a detailed argument for later times.


Thank you for your time. I really appreciate you taking time out to discuss these things with me. Until we speak again....


Yours in humanity,

Daniel

(cont...)



posted on Jun, 13 2013 @ 09:59 AM
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reply to post by Philodemus
 


From Him,

OK, on to the discussion. I’ve found that in these conversations, it’s always good to try to state the other person’s position back to him, so that he can affirm that he’s being understood properly. In your reply, you summarize what you think I’ve said, but want me to clarify the notion of “meaning” in this context. That’s a very fair request, and I'll pursue that immediately after seeking some clarification from you.

In order to move forward in this conversation, I suppose the biggest thing I am trying to clarify in my understanding of your position is the nature of your naturalism. You say this: “I would never argue that all that exists is physical. All that exists, exists. Consciousness exists but it is not physical. But it does arise biologically. I am a methodological naturalist in that, I do not believe in the supernatural (as opposed to a metaphysical naturalist) and this worldview, though related to materialism is not synonymous with it. I believe all that we see and know is from natural origins. To go beyond my methodological naturalism I must look to other philosophies to inform my view.”

I find this paragraph very difficult to untangle. Perhaps you will find this unfair, but I typically assume that naturalists need to affirm something like this: consciousness arises from biology (as you say) which arises from physics. That is to say, at root, everything is matter and motion. But again, perhaps I’m mistaken: you identify yourself as a methodological naturalist, and not necessarily as a metaphysical naturalist. But epistemology and metaphysics, if they are to be meaningful, must be linked in some way. I embrace my epistemology because I believe that, in some deep way, it accords with the way things really are.

For this reason, I am going to press on in the (perhaps mistaken) critique of metaphysical naturalism: that what *is* is matter and motion.

(As a quick aside that, at least for me, helps me justify this move: you contest the idea that mind is reducible to brain, offering the parallel of a tree being reducible to ashes [but ashes being unable to make a tree]. I can’t see how your parallel holds: given evolution, mustn’t it be the case that brain *does* give rise to mind? Maybe in a way we can’t yet explain, but it seems to me that this move has to be made.)

Given, then, the assumption of metaphysical naturalism, why does it matter what I think about metaphysical naturalism? In other words, if I (by choice or sheer neglect) opt to reject naturalism, have I made a *bad* choice? One that I *ought* not make? If so, on what basis would you make that claim?

I take it that the conversation that we are having is one that is aimed at “truth.” Furthermore, I take it to be the case that both of us believe that *something* obligates us to argue in certain ethical ways, and that, when faced with certain kinds of arguments or evidencethat we *ought* to concede the point. This kind of conversation, then, assumes that a person who will not abide by these strictures is in some relevant way derelict in his duty. He has failed in terms of his obligations.

But I believe that, if our conversation is aimed at “truth,” the obligations that such a person fails to follow are not merely arbitrary, like rules in a chess game. If you try to play chess with someone who insists on moving rooks diagonally, you will be frustrated. Eventually, you’ll stop playing with that person, because they’re not playing the game correctly. But it doesn’t seem to me that our conversation is exactly of that sort. The kind of fault that you’d find with me, if I announced that I believe that Christianity is true simply because saying so gives me a good paycheck, seems to be of a *qualitatively* different sort than if I insisted on making illegal chess moves. And I don't merely mean the ethical problem of taking the paycheck: I mean that you would find me *rationally* deficient for believing anything for this reason.

Which suggests to me that the pursuit of truth is not simply a game that we occupy ourselves with. We think that this is transcendentally important. And so again what I’m asking is this: given the commitment to the metaphysics of naturalism, how can this conversation be of that kind? Where is the sense of obligation grounded? *This* is what I mean by the meaningfulness

(cont...)



posted on Jun, 13 2013 @ 10:00 AM
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reply to post by Philodemus
 


You rightly ask, in one of your chains of questions, about the possibility that we are able to create meaning, even if the universe, taken as a whole, is without purpose. It seems to me that, given the assumption of naturalism, that really would be the only viable option. But it doesn’t seem to me that this explains the kind of conversation that we’re having. Such a move seems to reduce the value of rationality to something as arbitrary as the rules of chess: “That idiot over there won’t play right!” someone might exclaim. But no one would say that there is a reason that he *must* play chess right. I think, again, if I violate principles of good thinking and argumentation, you’d want to make a stronger claim against me. And I don’t think that the notion of “creating our own meaning” allows you to make that claim.

When I raise Sam Harris as an example, I don’t do so because I expect that all atheists agree with him. After all, many atheists are so, at least partially, because they are opposed to the notion of a fixed canon of books to which they must swear allegiance. I cite Harris because I admire his attempt at a consistent embrace of naturalism. And I also cite him because I think he illustrates so well that this kind of consistency reduces to something that is literally *unbelievable*: in other words, if it’s true, there is no real person left to exercise belief in it. It is, in this way, utterly self-defeating.

Your closing thoughts get the closest to providing an answer to my basic claim. You say that “by this natural rationality that we then determine ‘right’ and ‘meaningful’ ‘should’ and ‘ought’…. But there is an assumption in your above assertion that assumes that I can not derive an “ought” from my worldview. While it is true that I can not derive a duty from a fact, it is not true that I have no tie between the two. I have my objective values as a biological entity, which are based on my “fundamental alternative” (life vs. death) and facts based on reality that do not conform to conscious intent, and I have my consciousness. These serve to help me form a code to apply to the task of living on first, an individual basis and secondly, a social basis.”

Let me get right to the heart of this: there exist organizations that insist that humanity is a plague on this planet, and that the world would be better if we went extinct. They advocate for voluntary extinction, not by murder or suicide, but simply by refraining from reproducing. Are they wrong? If so, why? Is there a non-speciesist answer to that question, given naturalism?

One last thought. You raise the prospect, in your last message, that perhaps it is not the case that "a world view can provide the necessary groundwork for the comprehensibility of reality." I think this an absolutely important line of inquiry, and another reason that I find naturalism unsatisfying as a rational position. Given naturalism, there is simply no good reason to assume that our cognitive faculties give us truth (this is Plantinga's Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism). If Christianity is true, however, we have reason to believe, being image-bearers of God, that our thoughts (in an admittedly finite way) comprehend reality.

This would be another way of stating the argument I've already presented: the kind of conversation that we're having here *presupposes* certain things that only hold given Christianity. This conversation is quite groundless otherwise.

Regards,

Him




And this is where we sit as of right now. I'm not realy sure where to proceed from here. My instinct though tells me to send him something like this:


From Me,


O.K. I am still having trouble with expressing myself. I read over your last message at least a dozen times and if it is alright with you, I would like to reduce the number of things we are discussing down

to just one. The problematic elements of this conversation are most likely due to a deficiency on my part and for that I apologize, but it still seems to me as though you are using different (although related) conceptions of “meaning” as synonymous terms and I am having difficulty following you. If I could be constructive, it feels (to my brain at least) as though micro and macro-meaningfulness are being interchanged in a very subtle way. Again, I mean no offence and I will admit to any shortcomings in the adequacy of my hardware. I know it should make very little difference which we are talking about, but for some reason it is really causing a singultus in my mental process.


(cont...)



posted on Jun, 13 2013 @ 10:02 AM
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reply to post by Philodemus
 


By the way, you are right in pointing out the confusing nature of how I presented my worldview in regards to the division of epistemological and metaphysical systems. You are right, they must be linked. I will think on this and attempt to find some label that might help you understand my position. I do however, understand that it is important to communicate my position because I feel that metaphysics underwrites epistemology. Perhaps there are specific questions you can ask me that might help you tell me what label best fits my metaphysics. I've not given much thought to labels as I have been studying this for the past 5 years, so knowing what camp I fall into would be enlightening even to me. I will say, however, that I feel that the sciences (and all the issues raised and answered by it), should be methodologically naturalistic and this was the gist of what I was getting at originally. (Have highlighted the specific “brain = mind” conundrum in your last message so that I do not forget to get back there when I have given it more thought. I will practice writing it out a few times and send you something when I feel I'm communicating more clearly.)


In an effort to help delineate my metaphysics from my epistemology I would like to proceed by attacking what I believe is the most rudimentary question raised so far and that is; Can a worldview provide the necessary conditions for intelligibility? I would like to start here because you are very interested in the nature of my naturalism but I feel the essence of a worldview is moot if we can not agree on its function in the first place. If I am thinking in simplest terms it's a question of which comes first; “meaning” or the means of finding “meaning”? The meaning I give to something or the intelligibility that something holds for me would be the product of a system, right? Based on what you wrote in the latter of the two messages you sent me, I feel that it is a fair and accurate deduction to say that you feel that a worldview is such a system. Perhaps from there we can go on to the next preliminary step? If I am wrong, can you please explain how and delineate the precise nature of your take on the subject? If you do not agree that this is probably the best place to bench, I am open to finding another very specific place to settle down for awhile. It will help the scattered feeling in my brain if we could do so.


So, in summary these would be the questions I would like to start with:

1. What is a worldview?

2. What is the function of a worldview?

3. What is intelligibility?

Yours In Humanity,
Daniel


Thank you for reading. The floor is yours. What would you tell him? How would you better explain your worldview? Do the axioms of Objectivism have an appropriate application in this conversation?

In Humanity,
Daniel



posted on Jun, 13 2013 @ 10:20 AM
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Dear Sir,

Your words have broken my central nervous system and I am now a vegetable.

Kind regards





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