Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Sophistry And Illusion

"If we take in our hand any volume; of divinity or school metaphysics, for instance; let us ask, Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number? No. Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence? No. Commit it then to the flames: for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion." - David Hume, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding

A counter-argument to the cosmological argument, that who created God, is not a valid response because God is eternal and needs no creator. Asking who designed the designer for arguments to design, likewise, is not valid for the same reason. God isn't affected at all by the Euthyphro dilemma, as morality cannot be conceived in the absence of God.

Sometimes I get the impression that philosophy of religion is practised in order to buttress faith; in order to give a validation to something they already believe in. It's the only way I can comprehend how such definitional arguments are made and maintained.

What good does it do to say that God is an undesigned designer, or an uncreated creator? Do we know those are even coherent propositions? Let alone making God a possible answer to questions of creation or design. After all, all the creators/designers we know are designed so it only seems fair to question whether that is possible.

I was once asked why I thought aliens in another universe were a better answer than God to explain fine-tuning. The reason is that aliens are a proposition by which we can account for designers. We know that intelligent beings can evolve, that they have physical bodies by which they can manipulate their environments, that they fit into a framework of space-time, and that designers are accounted for in terms of something other than design - abstract processes. By contrast, what is the supernatural? What does it mean to be a supernatural intelligence? If the supernatural is outside of time, then how can it act? While aliens might not be the only answer to why the universe is fine-tuned, at least it's an answer that's explicable.


There might be a reason for all this, found within a deep understanding of the philosophy of religion. For that reason, however reluctantly, I push on trying to learn more. Though it is so tempting to subject the arguments to Hume's Fork and be done with it, because such arguments as far as I can tell have no substantial content to them whatsoever.

2 comments:

Richard T said...

I can't see how aliens from another universe is any different. Don't you hit the exact same problem that aliens/god needs to be designed/undesigned? All it seems to do is shift the question from the immaterial world to the material.

With aliens, it would seem that either they were created in their universe in which case you have some vicious infinite regression thing going on or they weren't in which case why would we "need" this for this universe to exist.

I tend to find a lot of philosophical arguments for a god seem to be mostly just inane wordplay.

Kel said...

"I can't see how aliens from another universe is any different. Don't you hit the exact same problem that aliens/god needs to be designed/undesigned?"
Yes, exactly; but we have a way of accounting for biological design through known processes. They're an unknown entity, but it's derived from a known process.

"I tend to find a lot of philosophical arguments for a god seem to be mostly just inane wordplay."
Indeed. My only problem is that it's inane wordplay done by people who hold doctorates of philosophy - like Alvin Plantinga, Greg Gannsle, or William Lane Craig. And since they are the leading defenders of belief, I feel obliged to take them seriously.