10.24.2006

Atheism...

Welcome all who have visited and browsed. My apologies for the slow start. It has been a combination of finding the time to gather my thoughts and type as well as avoiding topics that I think about very often but simply don't have the energy to dive into just yet (we'll get there...). I have, however, been contemplating the idea of original sin to a certain degree lately, and I'm thinking I might start there.

But first, I've been having a conversation with a very good friend of mine on a MySpace blog that he actually started (I don't want to take the credit). So far, I've been the only one to reply, so it's been limited to a two-way conversation thus far. So after the last post, I asked him if I could re-post the conversation thus far over here to see what interest it may spark. Please join in and share your thoughts. Let's learn from each other (although I really mean that, I concede that it does sound a bit like an after-school special :) ).



AUTHOR:


Subject: Atheism

"...atheism turns out to be too simple. If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there is no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be without meaning."

~C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

I am not sure anyone ever reads these blog things, however I am interested in what people think. I am not looking for "Christian" answers I want real thoughts based upon this quote I found while reading. Please critically think about it and write. If you are not a Christian, please write write write. I really what to know what you think. Thank you, hope I get some good well thought statements.

MY RESPONSE:

As a philosophy major I am forced to think about this sort of stuff every day. Approaching this from the subject of logic, here's what I have to say:

"If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning". This argument implies that humans need to have meaning in order to be able to think and reason. It's an interesting notion, but one would have to prove that first, and I'm not sure that it could be done.

Also the comparison that is being made here is committing a classic fallacy known as Weak Analogy. It is suggesting that there is an accurate correlation between "meaning" and "light." This is hard enough to do when comparing two things that might both be physical objects. Here, it's even more difficult because the two things being compared are 1) an idea and 2) a form of energy. The same problem arises with the Teleological argument for the existence of God, also known as the argument from design. To suggest that the complexity of a watch inferring the existence of a watchmaker is the same as the complexity of the universe implying the existence of a universe-creator is another classic Weak Analogy. The primary focus here is that we have a very good understanding of how a watch is made because we (humans) invented the watch, whereas we have no proven idea (only a few theories) of how universes are made. It's certainly possible that there could be a correlation between the two, but it isn't proven as of yet and therefore isn't enough to make an analogous claim.

As I think about it, it commits yet another fallacy known as Begging the Question. It poses a premise that implicitly relies on the conclusion that it is trying to prove. In other words, if the universe has no meaning --> we shouldn't be able to find that out because we wouldn't have meaning --> but the reason we wouldn't have meaning is because the universe doesn't have meaning --> but if the universe has no meaning, we shouldn't be able to find that out because we wouldn't have meaning.....and so on. It's simply a circular definition.

For the record, I don't believe any of this necessarily disproves the existence of God, it's just an evaluation of an argument.

AUTHOR RESPONSE:

"This argument implies that humans need to have meaning in order to be able to think and reason."

What are we reasoning about if or thinking about if there is no meaning? When thinking about something aren't we trying to understand the meaning of that thing? Asking the why?? Question at least modern science continues to ask that question and modern Christianity. Most are lost if there is mystery. I also could be talking out of my butt.

<> Tony-I am still thinking about the rest. I will answer soon enough. But this is my initial though after a couple of days. :)

MY RESPONSE:

I think we need to definite the word "meaning." Does it just mean that something has a nature, a form, a predictable (or even unpredictable) behavior? Or are we defining it as something that has an intelligent design of some sort.

And with regard to meaning and reasoning, I'm not suggesting that our ability to reason isn't the result of our having meaning. I'm only saying that you cannot logically use something to define itself.

Premise + Premise = Conclusion.

If one of the premises relies on the conclusion (which by the definition of logic must rely on its premises), you end up with a circular definition. You would have to go back and think more about why reasoning implies meaning (whatever "meaning" means). But you can't say that reasoning implies meaning simply because that seems to make sense.

This is a circular definition.

P: reasoning
C: meaning

P: meaning
C: existence of god

P: existence of god
C: why we're able to reason

I will admit, I could also be talking out of my butt, this is a tough one to digest, mostly because words like "reasoning" and "meaning" are really difficult to define.

AUTHOR RESPONSE:

You are right that it is circular reasoning, however in this case what's the problem with that? I also agree that it is hard to define "reasoning" and "meaning". Go ahead and post this on your blog and lets keep talking about it.

8 comments:

Todd said...

First of all, in response to "using something to define itself," try defining the word Luck without using the word luck. Not good luck or bad luck, just luck itself. I haven't explored this too much so it's entirely plausible that someone could answer this, but when I try to ponder it, I can't.

Now, to respond to the Lewis quote, I say the following. I agree that atheism is too simple in that if atheism were "the way", it basically works itself out of a job. Tony, you can dissect what I'm saying here if it's bad argument, but this is just my mind spewing.

Frankly, if you believe in nothing, you have to believe that you believe in nothing. At its origin and simplest roots, I think atheism is less of a belief in nothing and more that we want to actually ignore the possibility of things other than mundane day-to-day routine.

I'm assuming atheists believe in stuff like evolution because it's there; not that they're "against God" per say, just that they don't need more of an explanation. It's intellectual laziness if people really are just ignoring the existence of things; true atheists would seek to disprove the possibility of deities or the supernatural in general, and that's something I could at least understand.

Maybe it's just me, but from what I can tell Christians are the only ones that have some kind of "Campaign Against Atheism." I've never heard anything about Atheists attacking Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, etc (or vise-versa). This bothers me a little... I haven't really "tackled" atheism in my research or my private thoughts; I'd rather take it as a given that people-at-large do believe in a God.

Mike said...

i am no philosopher, i am just a construction worker, but when i read the quote it seems to ask why we would look for something if we didn't have hints that it existed. i am not sure he was saying that light and meaning are the same in the analogy. but simply that we don't go around looking for things that we don't know don't exist.

when it is dark we look for light because we have experienced light.

maybe you could say that we look for meaning because we have reason to believe it exists. if it didn't exist then we wouldn't know to look for it.

i guess you could say it doesn't exist but then you would have to explain why there are hints to its existance and why so many people accross all cultures feel the drive to create or find meaning.

Todd said...

Also, I said this out loud so Tony told me I had to say it to Mike.

People don't need to prove something is true before they believe it. Or rather, they don't need that "proof" to know something is true; they'll believe it anyway.

Tony said...

Slight confusion there. When Todd made that comment in person, I said he should tell Mike that, but I meant a different Mike, not DM. But eh, it's all good nonetheless.

stephen said...

i just wanted to say that i'm reading. i don't have much new thought for this topic right now, but i wanted to let you know that what i've read so far has been thought provoking. keep writing.

i'm out.

linda said...

oooh, my head hurts reading this but it's a good pain. ;) thanks for linking to my blog and i'll be checking in with yours.

Todd said...

Hey, I was doing some thinking this morning and realized that we hadn't talked much about this stuff lately. Weird.

Anyway, I came to a sort of conclusion (and there's probably already an -ism or -ology associated with this thought) regarding this particular post.

I think Atheism is reactionary. I think if you remove the obstacle/consequence of Hell, arguing the existence of God is kind of moot.

What do you think of that?

Lee Johnson said...

Wow, I love your blog. I like reading the things you're thinking about. I found your blog through Mike's blog. I realize this is an old blog to you, but I'd like to leave a comment, nonetheless, and I look forward to reading more from you. Anyway...

The analogy... I don't know if it's as weak as you assume. I agree that making analogies between ideas and the physical is difficult, but this is often why analogies are used (for understanding the abstract).

The strength of the analogy is this: (keep in mind, I don't assume I'm right, just thinking out loud for you)
"Darkness" is the absence of "light" as "no meaning" is the absence of "meaning".

Darkness cannot be understood without the concept of light as "no meaning" cannot be understood without the concept of "meaning".

Both require the "perceived" and the "perciever". Light requires eyes as meaning requires a thinking and reasoning mind.

"Begging the question"... I don't know if it's so transparently "begging the question". It may just be what we call a biconditional in logic. Define "P" as the perceived and "Q" as the perceiver... the biconditional would read P <-> Q, or (P implies Q) & (Q implies P). Therefore, the perceived requires the perceiver AND vice versa.

Simply put, this means that if the universe has no meaning, then the universe also lacks the tools to perceive meaning (reasoning creatures), and if the universe lacks reasoning creatures, then it also lacks meaning (nothing to perceive meaning). You could be right that this "begs the question", but I don't think I've used one to define the other here.

I realize I've said nothing about the connection to God, but I haven't got that far in my thinking about this yet.

One last thing I find interesting about Lewis' quote is the premiss "the WHOLE universe has NO meaning"... notice the quantifiers... The athiest has to assert "the WHOLE universe has NO meaning" while the theist only has to show "the WHOLE universe has SOME meaning" and not that "the WHOLE universe is ALL meaningful". I have no point here, I'm just making an observation.

Thanks for giving me something to "chew on." I look forward to reading more of your writings.

peace out!