Sunday, July 19, 2009

Life after the end of life

Today's topic is the afterlife. The one offering up the case for it is a man named Peter Kreeft, in a short essay here. It's entitled "The Case for Life After Death". I wonder if he actually made it, don't you? Let's see.

Whenever we argue about whether a thing can be proved, we should distinguish five different questions about that thing:

  1. Does it really exist or not? "To be or not to be, that is the question."
  2. If it does exist, do we know that it exists? A thing can obviously exist without our knowing it.
  3. If we know that it exists, can we be certain of this knowledge? Our knowledge might be true but uncertain; it might be "right opinion."
  4. If it is certain, is there a logical proof, a demonstration of why we have a right to be certain? There may be some certainties that are not logically demonstrable (e.g. my own existence, or the law of non-contradiction).
  5. If there is a proof, is it a scientific one in the modern sense of 'scientific'? Is it publicly verifiable by formal logic and/or empirical observation? There may be other valid kinds of proof besides proofs by the scientific method.
The answers seem pretty easy: maybe, no, no, no, and only if you take great liberties with known facts.
The fifth point is especially important when asking whether you can prove life after death. I think it depends on what kinds of proof you will accept. It cannot be proved like a theorem in Euclidean geometry; nor can it be observed, like a virus. For the existence of life after death is not on the one hand a logical tautology: its contradiction does not entail a contradiction, as a Euclidean theorem does. On the other hand, it cannot be empirically proved or disproved (at least before death) simply because by definition all experience before death is experience of life before death, not life after death.
Yes, and this is all good reason to consider it a moot question considering current limits to our knowledge, and it is an idea that is simply that: an idea. It is unfalsifiable.
If life after death cannot be proved scientifically, is it then intellectually irresponsible to accept it? Only if you assume that it is intellectually irresponsible to accept anything that cannot be proved scientifically.
It's not just about being proven scientifically: it is not it cannot be proven through any somewhat reasonable means at all. There is no reason to accept such an idea as true.
You cannot scientifically prove that the only acceptable proofs are scientific proofs. You cannot prove logically or empirically that only logical or empirical proofs are acceptable as proofs. You cannot prove it logically because its contradiction does not entail a contradiction, and you cannot prove it empirically because neither a proof nor the criterion of acceptability are empirical entities. Thus scientism (the premise that only scientific proofs count as proofs) is not scientific; it is a dogma of faith, a religion.
Wouldn't scientifically proving that scientific proofs are the only acceptable kind be circular logic anyway? The thing is: empirical and scientific evidence is the best indicator that we have to whether the premises used in logic are true, and logic is the best indicator to whether the conclusions we draw based on that evidence is accurate. I cannot state this as a proof, no. What I would rather see is someone propose a reliable alternative method of discovering truth. For all the bloviating about the evils of assuming science to be the only method of such proof, the alternatives are either easily shown to be pathetic and unreliable, or are simply not brought up at all.
The first reason for believing in life after death is simply that there is no compelling reason not to, no objection to it that cannot be answered.
I'll take your word for it...
Now this objector either means by 'evidence' merely empirical evidence, or else any kind of evidence. If he means the latter, he ignores all the following proofs for life after death. There is a lot of evidence. If he means the former, he falls victim to the self-contradiction argument just mentioned. There is no empirical evidence that the only kind of evidence we should accept is empirical evidence.
Can't wait to hear this "evidence". But, then again, since you are essentially arguing that anything can serve as evidence because you can't empirically prove empiricism, you might as well as just offer up the fact that you say that it exists as evidence and settle it right here.
In most supposedly scientific objections of this type, an impossible demand is made, overtly or covertly-a demand for scientific proof-and then the belief is faulted for not satisfying that demand.
And whose fault is it that the demand is impossible? You are only claiming this to be a category error because there is no method for determining the existence of an afterlife. You are trying your damndest to suggest that making an unfalsifiable claim made out of gut instinct is on par with making with a claim that actually has evidentiary basis in observable reality. I am not quite sure that they are on equal footing. But don't accuse of me of scientism for such a remark! I know some things can't be proven through scientific examination. But, most of them are abstract concepts or descriptions of feelings that can in fact be examined in some way. So.....
This is like arguing against the existence of God on the grounds that "I have not found Him in my test tube," or like the first Soviet cosmonauts' "argument" that they had found no God in outer space. Ex hypothesi, if God exists He is not found in a test tube or in space. That would make Him a chemical or a meteor. A taxi trip through Cleveland disproves quasars as well as a laboratory experiment disproves God, or brain chemistry disproves the soul or its immortality. The demand that non-empirical entities submit to empirical verification is a self-contradictory demand.
So, "the afterlife is elsewhere" is the jist of this. Here's the thing: there is no reason to believe that this thing exists. For the very reasons you are expounding upon in fact. We cannot prove it through our most reliable methods of proof. It is a bald assertion, and when asked for facts to support it, you question the very merit of facts itself. This does not make your claim more credible as much as simply providing for the possibility that any given inane speculation may be true. So, yes, non-empirical entites shouldn't be expected to be verified empirically. Why you would assert that such a thing exists in the first place though is the question, and what kind of non-empirical evidence for such a thing could be considered reliable.
The belief that something exists outside a system cannot be disproved by observing the behavior of that system. Goldfish cannot disprove the existence of their human owners by observing water currents in the bowl.
And yet a goldfish that could not observe outside of its bowl and had never been outside of it would have no credible reasons for believing humans to exist at all. In this scenario, the goldfish is using the same methods of observation outside and inside of the bowl, same senses but different visible locations are focused on. This is not comparable to what you are suggesting. There is no sense applicable to our observable environment linking the proposed outside of our system and us. Trying to frame it as if there is seems underhanded. Once again, this isn't about disproving things outside of this "system": it's about there being no reason to believe that there is such a place at all, let alone believe that there is a certain definable nature to it.
What does the observed dependence of mind upon matter prove, if not the mortality of the soul? Wait. First, just what do we observe? We observe the physical manifestations of consciousness (e.g. speech) cease when the body dies. We do not observe the spirit cease to exist, because we do not observe the spirit at all, only its manifestations in the body. Observations of the body do not decide whether that body is an instrument of an independent spirit which continues to exist after its body-instrument dies, or whether the body is the cause of a dependent spirit which dies when its cause dies. Both hypotheses account for the observed facts.
Key words: "We do not observe the spirit". This is true, obviously. And the spirit has the problems of the supernatural mentioned above (i.e. no reason to posit that such a thing exists). In fact, in so many words, you explain that the spirit is only observed in "its manifestations in the body". Problem? You are merely ascribing the already observed activities of the body to this "spirit". It is affirming the consequent. Same thing that creationists do when explaining existence.
"A creator creates things
We have a thing
Therefore, a creator created it"
In your case, you are saying:
"A spirit causes certain types of human activity
We have this kind of activity.
Therefore, we have a spirit"
This wouldn't be as bad if you had something backing it up. But, by your own admittance, you are using the presence of this activity as the sole evidence for the existence of a spirit, even though the idea of the spirit was itself only made to explain that very thing. The fact that it serves as an alternative explanation to those that are focused on the neurons and brain doesn't matter in the least because not only is the spirit an unevidenced hypothesis, but it is far less evidenced than the alternatives. You might as well be claiming that human locomotion is explainable by extradimensional goblin puppeteers.
When a body is paralyzed, the mind and will are still operative, though deprived of expression. Bodily death may be simply total paralysis. When you take a microphone away from a speaker, he can no longer be heard by the audience. But he is still a speaker. Body could be the soul's microphone. The dependence of soul on a body may be somewhat like the dependence of a ship on a dry-dock. Ships are not built on the open sea, but on dry-dock; but once they leave the dry-dock, they do not sink but become free floating ships. The body may be the soul's dry-dock, or (an even better metaphor) the soul's womb, and its death may be the soul's emergence from its womb.
I will grant that all of this is possible. But that means fuck-all, to be honest. You can try to explain the intricacies of a body-soul distinction all you like, but if there is no rational reason for believing that such a thing exists, it is frankly irrelevant. So many "maybe"'s, so little "why there is any reason to believe that this particular 'maybe' is in any way likely and relevant".

But what of the need for a brain to think? The brain may not be the cause of thought but the stopping down, the 'reducing valve' for thought, as Bergson, James and Huxley suppose: an organ of forgetting rather than remembering, eliminating from the total field of consciousness all that serves no present purpose. Thus when the brain dies, more rather than less consciousness occurs: the floodgates come down. This would account for the familiar fact that dying people remember the whole of their past life in an instant with intense clarity, detail, and understanding.

How the fuck would this work! First, I'm not even sure if the last sentence is true outside of drama. Second, if a brain is a forgetting machine, why the fuck would getting brain damage give you amnesia? And why does brain damage never seem to give you enhanced memory? Would a person whose brain was severely damaged in almost all areas, but who was still capable of movement and speech, be super-conscious or effectively comatose? These are testable predictions, so I would not suggest trying to bullshit too much about this.
In short, the evidence, even the empirical evidence, seems at least as compatible with soul immortality as with soul-mortality.
Yeah..."compatible" because it doesn't outright contradict it. Because it's been described in a manner especially to make it so that it cannot be disproven.
According to the medievals, the most logical of philosophers, "the argument from authority is the weakest of arguments." Nevertheless, it is an argument, a probability, a piece of evidence. Forty million Frenchmen can be wrong, but it is less likely than four Frenchmen being wrong.
Good points. Though the last sentence is attempting to lend credibility to an argumentum ad populum not an argument from authority. I guess they are kind of similar in effect though...
The first argument from authority for life after death is simply quantitative: "the democracy of the dead" votes for it. Almost all cultures before our own have strongly, even officially, believed in some form of it. Children naturally and spontaneously believe in it unless conditioned out of it.
Really? I had no idea that children would come to believe that their mind would survive death without being culturally conditioned into it. I do accept that children seem to be natural dualists, but I just don't think the idea of an afterlife naturally follows from that (though it is obvious to see why it is necessary to believe that the mind and body are separate entities to springboard into the idea of an afterlife). I also accept that children seem to be naturally "superstitious" in that they can be accidentally conditioned to see human agency in nature. So, this is interesting, but it could equally be an indication of errors in human cognition as much as of "maybe they were on to something".
But thinkers considered wise for other reasons have believed; why should this one belief of theirs be an exception to their wisdom?
This is the real argument from authority.
We can believe them wrong for the same reason that you can believe that a brilliant historian did a math problem incorrectly. Proven intelligence in many different areas, on many subjects, is not an indication of intelligence of equal amount in all areas and subjects. And past correctness is not proof that you are correct about a given claim. It is evidence that you are reliable, but that itself is insufficient.
Finally, we have the supreme authority of the teachings of Jesus....Even if you do not believe He is the incarnate God, can you believe He is a naive fool?
Ugggh. Yes. Or a liar. Or a lunatic. Or whatever the fuck you would call everyone else that had a similar idea of an afterlife throughout history, be it in the form of Samsara, Asgard, Tartarus, or whatever crazy ass Ancient Egyptian extra-dimensional afterlife location the pharaohs tried to get to by using their bling-laden sarcophagi as canoes. Just because "Jesus" seems to have an extra gallon and a half of authority with you and others born in a modern Christian culture doesn't make him much more credible than the countless others who believed in different afterlives that you would gladly scoff at.
Arguments from reason are logically stronger than arguments from authority. The premises, or evidence, for arguments from reason can be taken from three sources, three levels of reality what is less than ourselves (Nature), ourselves (human life), or what is more than ourselves (God). Again, we move from the weaker to the stronger argument. Nature is less than us? Somebody is just begging for Gaia to come kick his ass. Where are rabid hyenas and hurricanes when you need 'em?
We could argue from the principle of the conservation of energy. We never observe any form of energy either created or destroyed, only transformed. The immortality of the soul seems to be the spiritual equivalent of the conservation of energy. If even matter is immortal, why not spirit?
Okay, hold on to your seats.
First off, I will henceforth assume you are talking about "consciousness" rather than "spirit" and "soul" because not only is the former more coherent, it also makes it seem less like you are doing less inane blathering about the nature of those still unproven, still irrelevant hypothetical entities than you actually are.

Second off, it is a mighty big leap to assume that our consciousness either is a form of energy or is subject to comparable laws. I could argue according to Newton's laws that the soul (a force) is equal to its mass times its acceleration, and is therefore nothing. But doing so would be incredibly stupid. Especially for such a "non-empirical" construct.

Third, while energy is conserved, it isn't conserved in the same package. In other words, it moves around in the sense of dispersing, rather than as a unbreakable (immortal?) chunk. Our consciousness energy in such a scenario would more accurately exist forever as little consciousness particles tossed all over the place, functionally distinct from how it was when we were alive. It would live in much the same way that our body does: not as an immutable corpse, but as an ever decaying body whose parts are gradually spread across the region. The particles that were once part of us last, though each individual is so negligible of a part that it scarcely matters.

So, even granting your bizarre conflation of consciousness and energy, there is still reason to believe that we would live on in any meaningful way after death.
The next class of arguments is taken from the nature of Man. What in us survives death depends on what is in us now. Death is like menopause. If a woman has in her identity nothing but her motherhood, then her identity has trouble surviving menopause. Life after menopause is a little like life after death.
So, if a person has their identity in nothing but their living self, then they will not survive death? How do you manage to have an identity for yourself that does not have to do with you being alive in some way? And isn't claiming that it is possible to do so almost presupposing the existence of life after death anyway?
The simplest and most obvious of these arguments may be called Primitive Man's Argument from Dead Cow. Primitive Man has two cows. One dies. What is the difference between Dead Cow and Live Cow? Primitive man looks. (He's really quite bright.) There appears no material difference in size or weight immediately upon death. Yet there is an enormous difference; something is missing. What? Life, of course. And what is that? The answer is obvious to any intelligent observer whose head is not clouded with theories: life is what makes Live Cow breathe. Life is breath. (The word for 'soul', or 'life', and 'breath' is the same in many ancient languages.) Soul is not air, which is still in Dead Cow's lungs, but the power to move it.
Life becomes associated with breath and vice versa. And soul is associated with that breathing and therefore life as well. So...the soul basically was just a weird construct meant to explain "life". Which, I believe is what I've already mentioned (in slightly more words).
Life, it is seen, is not a material thing, like an organ. It is the life of the organs, of the body; not that which lives but that by which we live. Now this source of life cannot die as the body dies: by the removal of the soul. Soul cannot have soul taken from it. What can die has life on loan; life does not have life on loan.
Way to talk on about nothing. Of course life isn't a "material thing": it is a state of material things, which is what you suggest but do not explicitly illustrate in your next convoluted sentence. Oh, and will you look at that: trying to prove that souls are immortal by assuming that "death=soul release", ergo souls can't die. And, yes, life cannot die: the living die. Life can end, however, and we call that death.
The 'catch' in this argument is that this 'soul' may in turn have its life on loan from a higher source, and transmit it to the body only after having been given life first. This is in fact the Biblical teaching, contrary to the Greek view of the soul's inherent, necessary and eternal immortality. God gives souls life, and souls can die if they refuse it. But in any case the soul survives the body's death.
Above: shit no one cares about.
Another quite simple piece of evidence for the presence of an immaterial reality (soul) in us which is not subject to the laws of matter and its death, is the daily experience of real magic: the power of mind over matter.
Add "real magic" to the big list of oxymorons, please. "Immaterial reality" is on the razor's edge for that as well.
Every time I deliberately move my arm, I do magic. If there were no mind and will commanding the arm, only muscles; if there were muscles and a nervous system and even a brain but no conscious mind commanding them; then the arm could not rise unless it were lighter than air.
Movement means soul. Non-human animals move. Ergo animals have souls. Therefore your arguments have betrayed your religion's view of the afterlife. Congrats.

Anyway, the problem here is that you are assuming that "brain" and "conscious mind" are too disparate things. It remains to be seen whether this is the case.
When the body dies, its arms no longer move; the body reverts to obedience to merely material laws, like a sword dropped by a swordsman.
I am actually starting to think that you aren't playing, but you are really this ignorant about this subject. The body is not defying physical laws, it is in fact using them to its advantage. The problem is you are viewing the body as a uniform object, like a chunk of meat, rather than a series of complex systems. Which is odd, considering that this complexity is often conflated with "design" for those who would argue for the existence of deities rather than souls, so I wonder if overlooking it is deliberate. You are also ignoring that bodily death is caused by the very systems that support life (cardiovascular, nervous, etc.) stopping. Why you need to throw in a departing soul into mix is beyond me.
Even more simply stated, mind is not part of the system of matter, not measurable by material standards (How many inches long is your mind?)
How profound. Yes, it is somewhat distinct from the material. This still does not change the fact that changes to the material brain itself will have an effect on the "mind". Though it may not be measurable by material standards, it is still dependent on the material to a high degree.
Therefore it need not die when the material body dies. The argument is so simple and evident that one wonders who the real 'primitive' is, the 'savage' who understands it or the sophisticated modern materialist who cannot understand the difference between mind and brain.
It doesn't need to, but we have many reasons to believe it will and none to believe it won't. Very nice insult. I understand the distinction between brain and mind well enough. But I find that you have overzealously separated them into two completely independent things when it quite simply is not the case. They may not be completely identical, but the "mind" (our collection subjective mental experiences) is largely connected to brain activity in many observable ways. So, I'd say you're still the real primitive. My condolences.
A traditional Scholastic argument for an immortal soul is taken from the presence of two operations which are not operations of the body (1) abstract thinking, as distinct from external sensing and internal imagining; and (2) deliberate, rational willing, as distinct from instinctive desiring. My thought is not limited to sense images like pyramids; it can understand abstract universal principles like triangles. And my choices are not limited to my body's desires and instincts. I fast, therefore I am.
This does not argue for a soul at all. You are arguing for the existence of a mind. Which, I've already mentioned, is contigent upon the brain to a large degree. Stop playing games.
Still another power of the soul which indicates that it is not a part or function of the body and therefore not subject to its laws and its mortality is the power to objectify its body. I can know a stone only because I am more than a stone. I can remember my past. (My present is alive; my past is dead.) I can know and love my body only because I am more than my body. As the projecting machine must be more than the images projected, the knower must be more than the objects known. Therefore I am more than my body.
First, what part of "being more than a stone" is necessary to "know" a stone save assuming that the cognitive process of knowing inherently makes you "more" due to the existence of the mind again? There is no logic here unless that is what you are saying. But, if that is what you are saying, it is goddamn irrelevant. The possibility of "more" does not allow you to assert what that "more" must be.
Still another argument from the nature of soul, or spirit, is that it does not have quantifiable, countable parts as matter does. You can cut a body in half but not a soul; you can't have half a soul. It is not extended in space. You don't cut an inch off your soul when you get a haircut.
....what does this matter?
Since soul has no parts, it cannot be decomposed, as a body can. Whatever is composed (of parts) can be decomposed: a molecule into atoms, a cell into molecules, an organ into cells, a body into organs, a person into body and soul. But soul is not composed, therefore not decomposable.
Oh, all that was babble was to try to prove that the soul is elemental. Well, that's fantastic. I am not going to debate with you over whether an unverified abstract entity specifically defined to not be verifiable and to explain life itself allows for immortality if it exists. That is irrelevant to the actual concerns most people have about the idea of the afterlife. So you claim that souls are whatever the fuck you want, but I want to know why I should believe that such a thing exists.

It could die only by being annihilated as a whole. But this would be contrary to a basic law of the universe: that nothing simply and absolutely vanishes, just as nothing simply pops into existence with no cause.

But if the soul dies neither in parts (by decomposition) nor as a whole by annihilation, then it does not die.

It could very well still "die": by turning into something that isn't a soul. That way, it wouldn't be annihilated, wouldn't decompose, and still wouldn't be a soul, therefore "dying" in the sense that it is no longer representative of the person that the soul came from. If souls are atoms, these would be molecules. And they would be necessarily different entities. Of course, this is all bullshit, but why shouldn't I get a turn?

One last argument for immortality from the present experience of what soul is, comes from Plato. It is put so perfectly in the Republic that I quote it in its original form, adding only numbers to distinguish the steps of the argument:

  1. Evil is all that which destroys and corrupts. . .
  2. Each thing has its evil . . . for instance, ophthalmia for the eye, and disease for the whole body, mildew for corn and for wood, rust for iron . . .
  3. The natural evil of each thing . . . destroys it, and if this does not destroy it, nothing else can . . .
    (a) for I don't suppose good can ever destroy anything,
    (b) nor can what is neither good nor evil,
    (c) and it is certainly unreasonable . . . that the evil of something else would destroy anything when its own evil does not.
  4. Then if we find something in existence which has its own evil but which can only do it harm yet cannot dissolve or destroy it, we shall know at once that there is no destruction for such a nature. . . .
  5. the soul has something which makes it evil . . . injustice, intemperance, cowardice, ignorance. Now does any one of these dissolve and destroy it? . . .
  6. Then, since it is not destroyed by any evil at all, neither its own evil nor foreign evil, it is clear that the soul must of necessity be . . . immortal.
It is unclear what a soul is, how we would know it was destroyed, why we would accept that those abstract notions are its evils, why we would accept that those are exclusively the evils relevant to it, and why those evils cannot be unevidenced conjectural metaphysical entities (or UCME's) like the soul itself. Very bizarre.
We turn now to a stronger class of arguments: not from the nature of Man but from the nature of God; not 'because of what I am, I must be immortal' but 'because of what God is, I am immortal.' The weakness of this type of argument for practical apologetics, of course, is that it does not convince anyone not already convinced, because it presupposes the existence of God, and those who admit God usually admit life after death already, while those who deny the one usually deny the other as well.
Oh goodie! He realizes that it is pointless!
We could first argue from God's justice. Since God is just, His dealings with us must be just, at least in the long run, in the total picture. ("The long run" is the answer to the problem of evil, the apparently unjust distribution of suffering.) The innocent suffer and the wicked flourish here; therefore 'here' cannot be 'the long run,' the total picture. There must be justice after death to compensate for injustice before death.
It's just a damn shame that he apparently will punish everyone, because even the slightest infraction means that you are deemed not-innocent, and in some perspectives we are born "wicked". So...the justice after death doesn't help when that's the kind of justice you are offering.
The next argument, from God's love, is stronger than the one from His justice because love is more essential to God. Love is God's essence; justice is one of His attributes-one of Love's attributes.

Love is "the fulfillment of the whole law." Each of the Ten Commandments is a way of loving. "Thou shalt not kill" means "Love does not kill." If you love someone, you don't kill him. But God IS love. Therefore God does not kill us. We want human life to triumph over death in the end because we love; is God less loving than we? Is He a hypocrite? Does He refuse to practice what He preaches?

Only if God does not love us or is impotent to do what He wills, do we die forever. That is, only if God is bad or weak-only if God is not God-is death the last word.

God kills us plenty. Whether the soul lives on is an entirely different matter. So, yeah, He does refuse to practice what He preaches, because He is far too powerful to be worried about restrictions He has placed on us. And I would think that a God who makes death the last word is still better than a God who tortures you forever for being born human unless you converted to Christianity...

Whether the premises be taken from the nature of the world, of man, or of God, the last three arguments were all deductive, arguments by rational analysis. More convincing for most people are arguments from experience
Those people fail.
These can be subdivided into two classes: arguments from experiences everyone, or nearly everyone, shares; and arguments from extraordinary or unusual experiences.
.....can't wait....
The first class includes:

  1. the argument from the demand for ultimate moral meaning, or long-range justice (similar to the argument from God's justice, except that this time we do not assume the existence of God, only the validity of our essential moral instinct)- this is essentially Kant's argument;
  2. the argument from our demand for ultimate purpose, for a meaningful end, or adequate final cause-this argument is parallel, in the order of final causality and within the psychological area, to the traditional cosmological arguments for the existence of God from effect to a first, uncaused cause in the order of efficient causality and within the cosmological area;
  3. the argument from the principle that every innate desire reveals the presence of its desired object (hunger indicates the existence of food, curiosity knowledge, etc.) coupled with the discovery of an innate desire for eternity, or something more than time can offer-this is C. S. Lewis' favorite argument.
  4. the argument from the validity of love, which insists on the intrinsic, indispensable value of the other, the beloved-if love is sighted and not blind and if it is absurd that the indispensable is dispensed with, then death does not dispense with us, for love declares that we are indispensable;
  5. finally, the argument from the presence of a person, who is not a thing (object) and therefore need not be removed when the body-object is removed-the I detects a Thou not subject to the death of the It.
  1. Evidence for a desire for a secure and stable society and a realization that people who disrupt society and then die cannot pay for what they have done.
  2. Evidence for human desire for relevance, collectively but, above all, for themselves individually.
  3. Stupidest fucking thing I've ever heard. It would be fine if there was a stricter definition of "innate desire" but wanting something does not mean that what you want exists. That is why "idealist" and "realist" aren't the same thing.
  4. Love may declare that we are indispensable to our loved ones, but that does not mean that death gives a flying fuck about that. It will dispose of us as it deems suitable. And you will like it.
  5. Were these last two even in English!?
From one point of view, these five arguments are the weakest of all, for they presuppose an epistemological access to reality which can easily be denied as illusory. There is no purely formal or empirical proof, e.g., that love's instinctive perception of the intrinsic value of the beloved is true. Further, each concludes not with the simple proposition 'we are immortal' but with the disjunctive proposition 'either reality is absurd or we are immortal.'
Not only do they talk about things that could be deemed illusory, but most of the arguments are themselves absurd. Not to mention that the first two presumed universal desires may be fostered by cultural climates that focus on such things as universal morals and meaning and may not, in fact, be too important otherwise.
Finally, each is less a demonstration than an almost-immediate perception: in valuing, purposing, longing, loving, or presencing one sees the immortality of the person.
Ahahaha. Or simply imposes "immortality" on them due to how important they are to that person. Again, why does imagining that something exists, wanting something to exist, or exagerrating the world as you see it to the degree that you think it exists assure us that the something in question actually exists?
These are five spiritual senses, and when one looks along them rather than at them, when one uses them rather than scrutinizing them, when they are innocent until proven guilty rather than proven innocent, one sees. But when one does not take this attitude, when one begins with Occam's razor, or Descartes' methodic doubt, one simply does not see. They are less arguments from experience than experiences themselves of the immortal soul.
So, in other words: "if you believe that gut feelings are accurate and stop using logic, then you will see the light".
Three arguments from unusual or extraordinary experience are:

  1. The argument from the experience of medically 'dead' and resuscitated patients, all of whom, even those formerly skeptical, are utterly convinced of the truth of their 'out-of-the-body' existence and their survival of bodily death. To outside observers there necessarily remains the possibility of doubt; to all, who have had the experience, there is none. It is no more deceptive than waking up in the morning. You may dream that you are awake and in fact be dreaming, but once you are really awake you are in no doubt. Unfortunately, this waking sense of certainty can only be experienced, not publicly proved.
  2. A similar sense of reality attaches to an experience apparently even more common than the out-of-the-body experience. Shortly after a loved one dies (most usually a spouse), the survivor often has a sudden, unexpected and utterly convincing sense of the real here-and-now presence of the dead one. It is not a memory, or a wish, or an image from the imagination. It is not usually accompanied by an image at all. But it is utterly convincing to the experiencer. Only to one who trusts the experiencer is the experience transferable as evidence, however. And that link can be denied without absurdity. Again, it is a very strong and convincing experience, but not a convincing proof.
  3. What would be a convincing proof from experience? If we could only put our hands into the wounds of a dead man who had risen again! The most certain assurance of life after death for the Christian is the historical, literal resurrection of Christ. The Christian believes in life after death not because of an argument, first of all, but because of a witness. The Church is that witness; 'apostolic succession' means first of all the chain of witnesses beginning with eyewitnesses: "We have been eyewitnesses of His resurrection. . . and we testify (witness) to you." This is the answer to the skeptic who asks: "What do you know for sure about life after death anyway? Have you ever been there? Have you come back to tell us?" The Christian reply is: "No, but I have a very good Friend who has. I believe Him, and I follow Him not only through life but also through death. Come along"
  1. Glorified dreaming. As you mention, only convincing to the person who actually had the Near Death Experience. And don't try to suggest that everyone who has been resuscitated at that point has had one.
  2. G-g-g-ghosts. Seriously, start bringing up ghosts if you want to go down this road the whole way. Or are you too afraid that doing so might get you stumbling on your foot if you accidentally contradict your theology in bringing up certain anecdotes?
  3. Fantastic. Your evidence for believing the afterlife claims of Christianity is that you accept the Resurrection claims of Christianity. I am convinced!
So, in summary, the case for life after death that isn't applicable to those who basically accept every other tenet of Christianity except for that part is that we can't prove it doesn't exist, anecdotes are just as reliable as scientific and logical proof, the soul couldn't possibly be mortal, and the "mind" exists, so why not suggest that unverified but equally immaterial things exist as well. It's really a case for one's ability to make baseless claims in order to explain things around them as long as you make it so that such claims can't possibly be contradicted, despite having no support either. Which, is fine by me, even if it is ridiculous. I just wish he had the honesty/self-awareness to realize that that is what he is essentially making the case for.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Saying one thing, doing another

The place where I occassionally "work" often has a local radio station playing. Much of it is just varied genre songs which, save for the token 2009 releases, are usually pretty good. But, recently, I have been hearing more advertisements on the station. As in, they are drawing my attention more. And one recurring ad in particular caught my ear.

The advertisement was for a church (or something like that, I don't really pay that much attention). It began by expressing the idea that the people do not like to go to church because they do not like to be around "hypocrites". Frankly, I do think that this is a factor for people deciding that they do not want to delve too deep into organized religion, despite potentially still believing in (most of) the doctrines relevant to it. Not necessarily the only factor, of course, but one that can't be shrugged off as insignificant. The idea of "hypocrites" existing within the confines of strict religious institutions is a potent and widespread one, to the point where "hypocritical devout church-goer" has become a modern archetype that seems pervasive in both fictional and news media, appearing frequently perhaps due to the inherit intrigue and outrage caused by such a figure. How big of a problem they actually are, in terms of actual negative influence on communities or in terms of sheer numbers, is hard to say, but probably less than we would be led to believe, and not more.

But, regardless, this particular advertisement proceeded to then say that if the speaker himself did not want to associate with hypocrites, then he could not associate with himself due to the difficulty he has in living up to his own moral standards. The implication being that, just like everyone is a sinner, everyone is a "hypocrite" in some way. But, this conveniently ducks under the very problems that people have with folks who are labelled as "hypocritical".

Hypocrite, in the case of this advertisement as well as the standard complaints against "hypocritical behavior" is best described here as "a person who acts in contradiction to his or her stated beliefs or feelings". Obviously, a person could do such a thing innocuously and in fact it may be very hard not to do so. But, you see, the problem is that the typical hypocrite who actually earns the ire of other people is somewhat more than this definition suggests. Not due to an omission in the description it gives, but due to the nature of the "stated beliefs" involved.

You see, your standard hypocrite, the kind expressed most clearly by that definition and that the person speaking in the ad refers to himself as, has stated beliefs in the forms of ideals. These stated beliefs are things that a person should do, because they are the things that result in the best outcomes, and are even often applied to person holding those beliefs alone. These are the beliefs about manners, achievement, and other such areas that naturally allow for a little bit of laxity. If these kind of hypocrites have beliefs that are more strict and absolute, they either do not express them (thus failing to count as hypocrites because no-one will know if they have contradicted what they believe if those beliefs are unstated) or they are beliefs that they actually can actually live up to.

But, there are some hypocrites who are just a cut above the one described above. They warrant more scorn because their stated beliefs are not merely beliefs about ideal practices, or how they themselves can best behave. The stated beliefs about the kinds of hypocrites that people actually give a damn about are those that are spoken vocally, applied to everyone, and are about things that those people must do. That is to say, where the other beliefs were wishy-washy and just focused on best possible outcomes, these kind of beliefs are strict, set-in-stone, and, in order for anyone to even notice them, brought up in order to scold others and restrict behavior. And, as a result, the people who present such opinions about how people need to behave, do so allowing no room for exceptions, and then violate their own rules, it is a matter that brings into question both the character of the person who loudly offered up the rules and the tenability of the rules if their loudest proponents cannot even manage to adhere to them.

Oh, but there is of course a step up from that as well: actual activists who are hypocritical about the behavior they were advocating against. That is to say, a hypocrite who disobeys their own rules about what people must do and wants/wanted to turn their own personal rules into actual laws. You know them well: anti-prostitution johns, anti-gay glory hole strollers, anti-adultery adulterers, pro-life women getting abortions, pretty much any politician you can name on one subject or another. They are not just people who proved to have a touch of human frailty, but people who adamantly insisted that others acknowledge as a law a set of beliefs about behavior that they could not live up to, restricting others through the legal system due to moral standards that their own behavior suggest may in fact be too strict for even its greatest devotees to hold themselves to.

Obviously, when the man on the radio admits to being a hypocrite, he doesn't mean that he is actively saying that all people have to act in a way that he himself does not. Nor would he wish (I hope) to frivolously brush aside the concerns about cases of people who do just that, and how it reflects upon the standards being put forward as much as the "hypocrite" themselves. Yet, this is exactly what the popular conception of hypocrite is when it is brought up as something that is actually problematic. Whether it was intentional or not, attempting to push such concerns under the rug by suggesting that the hypocrite who can't live up to personal standards is equivalent to the hypocrite who can't live up to standards he expects others to live up to is either completely underhanded, incredibly self-effacing, or just unknowingly dishonest. Anyway you slice it...boy have I been there!

[Please forgive me for overusing the word "hypocrite" in this post. I know that it is already overused enough by teenagers across the country. Ba-zing!]

Saturday, July 4, 2009

On absolutism

Back a few posts ago, I alluded to a post about a website alleging to have a proof for God's existence I made and to PZ Myers of Pharyngula fame making a post about that same website almost a year after the fact. Well, apparently the person responsible for the site is a well known internet crusader named Sye TenB, and he is a bit of a one trick pony. The lines of argument illustrated on the Proof God Exists site who proceeded to fill up the Pharyngula comment thread as well as the comment thread of another site linking to that thread with his unique versions of "Oh yeah? Prove it!". I call it "unique" because he supposes his arguments prove that those who do not believe in the Christian God have no basis for using the "laws of logic" which supposedly can only exist with said God, and feels that this argument is so self-evidently compelling and accurate that the only comments he needs to offer after that are those asking for skeptics to offer up a comprehensive explanation of how they can have logic before they can even begin to ask Sye to support his own claims. Luckily, on the site linked to in the last link, he compiles his list of questions he would like skeptics he's been assailing with nothing but questions to answer, about a 150 comments into the discussion. And, I just can't resist presenting them in order to have something to talk about over here. So...
1. How you account for the universal, abstract, invariant laws of logic according to your worldview, and on what basis you proceed with the assumption that they WILL hold.
For some interesting subtext, the idea of "laws" as abstract entities is a common assumption, unstated or otherwise, that Sye makes. The idea of laws of logic is really not that hard to explain without using God as a method of support, in that the laws of logic are abstract in the sense of being concepts, rather than extant things, and serve as a human description of the observed tendencies of nature. Where that ends, the rest is extrapolation from those observations. So, this is where problems begin: the laws of logic aren't necessarily the things that we are supposed to prove them to be. They aren't necessarily invariant, aren't necessarily universal, and they do not need to hold in all situations. In a way of thinking, we hold the laws of logic to be those things in the same way that we hold the idea that the sun will rise tomorrow to be true: based on inductive reasoning and experience. It only gives us a certain level of assuredness that they are accurate, and only within the confines that we normally use it in. There is always the possibility that the uniformity of nature is a flawed assumption, but it is one that we need to make in most cases in order to function. So, the laws of logic aren't universal or invariant, they simply are assumed to be so for all that we can tell.
2. According to what standard of logic do you make logical determinations, how do you account for that standard, and why does it necessarily apply?
I frankly have no idea what this is asking.
3. If the law of excluded middle is not absolute, then why should it matter that you feel it is violated?
[Note: he mentions this particular law because he was apparently accused of violating it. Which is odd, because it is a logical law saying that there is no third possibility in an "either P or not P" situation, and Sye is good for sticking to such kind of dichotomous thinking.]
The assumption that something is either "absolute or not absolute" is a good example of the law of the excluded middle, and it is something that Sye uses in spades. But, the interesting thing about being shy of absolute, either in the sense of having a 100% chance of being true or being applicable to 100% of circumstances, is that "not absolute" lumps "accurate in 99.999% of circumstances" with "no accurate at all". They actually give an example on the wikipedia page for the law that has a similar problem: "Either it is red or it is not red". True, maroon may not be "red", but it may have "redness" to it than say, yellow.
What does this have to do with the question? Well, it is obvious that one should not care if a not-absolute law (in the sense of having an obscene number of exceptions) is violated, but that is irrelevant to whether a not-absolute law (in the sense of not being perfectly applicable or known to be an accurate description of reality in all situations) being violated warrants a raised eyebrow or not.
4. Does truth exist, and how is it possible for you to know if anything is true?
Truth does exist, somewhere out there. It's the things that aren't false. Whether or not we know what exactly is true or not with absolute certainty doesn't really matter as much. There is always the possibility that we are mistaken due to the possibility of indisprovable methods by which our perceptions are altered. We just can't be certain that we aren't in the Matrix, or aren't insane, or aren't being tricked by a demon into viewing an illusory world. Even if you posit a God as your basis for logic, the possibility of being deceived remains, and may in fact be increased unless you can find a method to verify that the posited agency would have no desire or ability to deceive you as well as the others. The appeal to below-perfect certainty is old and something that kind of has to be shoved aside for practical reasons.
5. How do you know that the law of excluded middle is true?
It's based on extrapolation, similar to the law of non-contradiction. It can also be determined inductively, by observing that either something is A or it isn't, in every case that you and everyone else can find in your everyday lives. Granted, I don't esteem the law too highly in that it almost intentionally seems to leave levels of gradation out of the picture. But, in most cases, it seems to be accurate.
6. Is the law of excluded middle true everywhere?
Have no idea. Considering that there are plenty of cases that we can find in which it is only trivially true in the "wheres" that we are aware of, however, it is very possible that there is something out there blatantly defying the human-constructed concept that the law expresses.
7. Is the law of excluded middle true at all times?
Pretty much the same question, gets pretty much the same answer.
8. How do you know that the ‘remaining laws of logic’ are true?
FAITH! Seriously, though: induction. They work when applied to everyday life, at least to some degree, so they are accurate enough to be considered "true" enough.
9. Are the ‘remaining laws of logic’ true everywhere?
10. Are the ‘remaining laws of logic’ true at all times?
Again, pretty much the same question (s).
11. On what basis do you proceed with the assumption that the’remaining laws of logic’ WILL hold 5 seconds from now?
Experience and lack of a conceivable reason for expecting that there would suddenly emerge an exception to one or more of them, since they work adequately to explain our collective experiences thus far. So, in other words: induction again.
12. How do you know that ’true and false are all that is relevant?’
13. Is it true everywhere that ‘true and false are all that is relevant?’
14. Is it true at all times that ‘true and false are all that is relevant?’
15. On what basis do you proceed with the assumption that the statement ‘true and false are all that is relevant’ WILL be true 5 seconds from now?
Pretty much the same damn question.
16. By what standard of logic is the argument on my website fallacious, how do you account for that standard, and why does that standard necessarily apply to my argument?
The standard of logic that accounts for middle grounds, doesn't reify abstract concepts, and doesn't presume that "almost certainly true in almost all situations" can be disregarded due to not qualifying for the almighty criteria of "absolute truth".
17. What do you know to be true, and how do you know it to be true?
Depends what you mean by "know" (i.e. what level of certainty you are requiring of me), because if you want things that anyone can be absolutely certain of, you would get an answer of "nothing" from any honest person. Even "I think" and "I am" are a bit much, because the latter is arrived at by the former, with the former itself presuming that "I" is a meaningful concept when being skeptical of one's own existence, and also by not giving the experience of "thought" the same level of skeptical doubts that other material sensations were given. We effectively know nothing with 100% certainty without making assumptions at a certain level.
18. Please give an example of how ‘argumentation and refutation’ lead one to ‘that which is true?’
By necessity, argumentation and refutation involving people who are not inordinately stubborn and committed to their perspectives will eventually result in arrival at "the truth" (i.e. the best and most accurate possible answer that they can arrive at with the information available) if both arguers and refuters are doing their jobs. By offering up possibilities, and either refining them or simply discarding them if they are deemed incorrect based on alternate information, eventually, they will arrive at a possibility that is irrefutable, and that will most likely "the truth" as defined above. It is similar to natural selection in a way: critical selection, if you will. May only the best explanations survive.
19. How do you know that logical axioms cannot be refuted?
20. How do you know that logic is irrefutable?
Induction. If it can be refuted, someone should get cracking on it.
21. How do you know that your reasoning about logic is sound?
Sound means that the premises involved are both in good logical form (deduction) and that they are "true" (determined, again, via induction). So, we can know that our reasoning about logic is sound if it is logical. If you want to call that circular, go ahead. The answer was phrased in a manner to make it so that a circular explanation was the only one possible. If we had another accurate method of verification it might be something to note. Otherwise, it's not all too egregious.
22. You say that you know that logic is true by the impossibility of the contary, how do you know that the contrary is impossible?
If you've been keeping count, this is the sixth question with "how do you know?" in it, with three "how do you account for" and two "on what basis?". As his posting style has been described by most who have met him, he is like a child continually asking "why?", not in order to gain information, but simply to annoy. Of course, he also uses it in order to avoid having answer any questions pointed in his direction, even if people try to show that the very basis for his assuming that atheists have to answer all of his questions before he even needs to bother to answer theirs is ill founded. Here I have to say that "impossibility of the contrary" should be restated as "severe improbability to the point of effective impossibility of the contrary" and that this is known through....induction.
23. How do you know that you are (were) typing on a keyboard?
Because virtually all accounts from others that I can find refer to this object that I subjectively experience in a consistent manner as "a keyboard". And because I can see the letters corresponding to the key that I desire to press appearing on the nearby screen and because I can see my hands moving to correspond with not only that desire, but with the sensations I experience in those hands. Of course, it could all be a dream or a hallucination, but, then again, couldn't anything? So, in other words, I "know", within certain limits, that I am typing on a keyboard, save some remote circumstances that are applicable to almost every human experience to make us possibly doubt their validity.
24. With regards to my question: “Could the universe have both existed, and not existed, at the same time and in the same way before there were humans in it, you finally answered:”No it could not.” Why not?
Violates law of non-contradiction, but then again it also could be true and human conceptions of reality, logic concluded, cannot accurately articulate or imagine how or why. Like quantum physics, sort of.
25. What in quantum physics has been deemed a “possible exception to the law of identity.
Why is there no question mark? Also: speak of the devil. Have no idea what the answer to the question is. Oh well.
26. Why does ”What could or could not happen in the absence of consciousness” have no bearing on a discussion of logic?”
27. How do you know that ”What could or could not happen in the absence of consciousness” has no bearing on a discussion of logic?”
Because we have no idea how to verify anything about such speculation (?). Also: is it too late to propose a drinking game?
28. Can new evidence ALWAYS change truth?
The emphasis should have been on CAN. New evidence can change "truth" as we perceive it, and it always CAN, but that does not mean it will in any given situation, let alone "ALWAYS". Depends on the nature and amount of said evidence.
29. If new evidence is presented, then the truth can change that new evidence can change truth, such that it is true that no new evidence can ever change truth, or is that one of those truths that can’t change?
Ooooo. What clever wordplay. Why do I get the feeling that this man wouldn't know "truth" even if it slowly eviscerated him in front of his loved ones? This up there with his favorite "is it absolutely true that there are no absolute truths?". By making every claim an absolute claim, rather than a tentative one, he can play a hell of a shell game. Here, it's pretty much the same thing, except he also words it in such a way that he makes it sound like finding new evidence could possibly make one reach the conclusion that future new evidence should have no bearing on our perceptions of reality. What that evidence could possibly I cannot possibly conceive. Therefore, it cannot possibly exist. (That was a joke, just for clarity's sake).
30. How do you know that your perceptions are valid?
That's a good question to direct at yourself. Anyway, I've already dealt with the idea that perceptions aren't perfect a lot. Unless you have some method of verifying that it is or is not the case, you mostly have to assume that human perceptions, at large, are valid in order to function in life. It is a necessary assumption, to save us from solipsism.
31. How do you know that the reasoning with which you interpret your perceptions are valid?

32. What is your basis for assuming that the universe IS orderly?
Who are you talking to? Induction would be the answer if it was true, but the universe is NOT orderly. Don't get me wrong, it does have a certain amount of "order", especially locally, and laws of logic as well as nature have been constructed in order to describe and subsequently make predictions based on the certain level of order that we can extract from our surroundings. But, aside from those patterns that we natural pattern-seeking homo sapiens find, the universe really is rather jumbled. It is a blend of order and chaos, not wholly one or the other.
33. On what basis do you proceed with the assumption that the universe will be ordlerly 5 seconds from now?
It's at this point that I say: fuck off. I think anyone else who had been reading the questions by now, or listening to a child spout off similarly inane and repetitive questions, would have said something similar far before this point.
34. If the laws of logic can change, how is it possible for you to substantiate knowing anything with them???
Triple question marks!!! Let me reframe this question for you:
"If the laws of logic have a .000001% chance of changing, how is it possible for you to substantiate knowing anything with them???!!!11!explosion!"
The answer should be obvious: depends on your definition of "know" once again. If "know" means "hold something as true with 100% certainty", then it requires a leap of faith. If "know" means "hold something as true with 99% certainty or greater," then I think there isn't a question to answer.
35. How is it possible to derive the law which states that A cannot be both A and not A at the same time, and in the same way using observation, argumentation, and refutation?
Drumroll please:........................

You observe that there are "A's", there are "not A's", but there are no "A's and not A's", and any attempt to make or find such a thing has failed. (And it's also kind of tied up in with semantics and word meanings: if it is raining, then, by definition, it cannot be also be "not raining" at the same time. In a way, it's not so much logic as a limit on wordplay at that point, since you are disallowed from describing a drizzle as "raining and not raining" or using the same to describe the conditions underneath an umbrella or a tree during a storm).

Of course, to note is the fact that nowhere is it shown why the existence of God would in anyway help to explain "the laws of logic", and these questions are in fact brought up entirely in order to avoid answering such questions about the flimsy case he makes for such a thought. I will admit this much, however: he has brought to my attention a few aspects of the "laws of logic" that are rather primitive. At very least, the degree to which the laws of the excluded middle and of non-contradiction can be applied depends upon the nature of the "A" involved in the propositions and on whether "A" is a distinct, independent group or a part of a larger alphabetic gradient.

Well, that's about all I have to rant about for this post. Remember, the truth is out there!