Wednesday, 21 May 2014

The best argument for the existence of god - two-sidedness of knowledge, revelation-reception


What follows is the argument I personally find the most convincing to support the existence of a deity; but I mean it is the best argument - I don't mean that an argument is the best reason for believing in god. (It isn't.)

And it is not an argument for specifically the Christian God, nor for just one god - but it is a particular argument for a particular kind of deity.


If it was not for god, then we could not know anything about anything.

'Revelation' - direct communication from god - is the basis of all possible true knowledge.

The reason, is that real knowledge is a two-sided thing - there is a communication and something which is capable of receiving the communication - there is revelation and there is reception of that revelation.

This means that true knowledge requires a true message - which requires god, because only a deity could know the truth and communicate it; and also that Men have the capacity to receive truth; which requires that this capacity was 'implanted' in Men by god.


If god did not have a hand in 'implanting' the capacity to receive truth into Man, then there would be no reason to believe that Man could receive truth. There is no reason at all to assume that a being that had arisen by accident, or by evolution/ natural selection, would be able to know truth.

Natural selection merely explains how an organism may process information to enhance its reproductive success - this has nothing to do with truth. The 'knowledge' arising from natural selection is purely expedient, contingent, and retrospective - not 'true'.

And if natural selection did, by some chance, lead to an ability to perceive truth - then this could never be known; because truth would be evaluated by perceptual and cognitive systems which had evolved due to their reproduction-enhancing qualities - not due to their truth-recognizing qualities.


(If you cannot grasp this logical point about natural selection having nothing necessarily to do with truth, and wholly naturally selected entities being in principle unable to recognise truth, then it is unlikely you will understand this argument. So this may be a point to pause for thought.)


So, for us to know anything about anything - it is necessary that a deity communicated knowledge to us, and that the deity had a hand in making us capable of understanding knowledge in a full and relevant sense of understanding.


So, there must be revelation, and revelation must be two-sided.

So a deity must exist, and the deity must be the kind of 'god' who wants or needs to communicate with Men, and also had a hand in the creation of Men.

That narrows things down quite a bit!


The most obvious response to this argument is on the lines of pointing out that there are many, many different versions of what god has revealed to man, a huge amount of disagreement, much uncertainty (for instance there are many religions, and many who disbelieve in any deity), and even one man can change his mind in that topic throughout his life: what seemed like a revelation may become regarded as an error, and vice versa.

The idea is that if god was indeed communicating with us, and had also made us capable of understanding revelation 'how come' there is so much disagreement over what is being communicated? 

All I would point out is that this is a second order matter of pragmatics, which is logically unconnected with the main argument.

It is perfectly possible (indeed I believe it is true!) that there really be a god who really reveals true knowledge to all Men who he has made such that they are capable of understanding correctly that revealed knowledge - all this could be true - and yet it could also be true that that true and revealed knowledge be rejected, resisted, misunderstood, reversed, or in some way rendered inoperative - for whatever reason; and there may be many such reasons.


In other words, the truth of revelation is a metaphysical necessity for us to make sense of the world. It is about the necessary structure of reality for anything to make sense at all.

And the truth of revelation is therefore unconnected with our empirical observation or experience.


This argument leads to a picture of deity, of god, which is a long way short of the Christian god.

But the argument does have value, because it establishes revelation as the basis of all possible knowledge.

And that, for the typically confused, self-refuting modern atheist skeptic, may be a vitally important first step.

Because the mainstream atheist skeptic needs to know his beliefs are strictly and logically nonsensical - non-sensical, does not make sense - that he has zero basis for any belief in anything at all except by accepting the necessity of the principle of revelation. 


Anyway, this is the argument I personally find the most-convincing one for establishing the existence of god - however I acknowledge that it is a difficult argument to follow, and an easy one not to understand or to reject on false grounds.

The argument certainly requires at least a few minutes of hard and focused thinking - and that is something way beyond the capacity of most modern people.


Note added:

This 'revelation-reception' argument leads to an understanding that there is such as thing as truth and it can in principle be known.

In contrast, the mainstream modern atheist skeptic has a paradoxical understanding that that he personally knows something like the following:

1. There is no such thing as 'the truth';
2. But if there was, there is no way that anybody could know that they knew it;
3. And even if there was truth and somebody knew they knew it - they could not communicate this to anybody else (they could not know whether the truth had actually been communicated, and that the other person was capable of understanding the truth, and that the truth had actually been understood).

The modern atheist skeptic is only sure of one thing - which is that he never can be sure of anything (except that he never can be sure).

Of course, thoughtful skeptics recognize this simple and obvious paradox - however they see no way out of it.

Well there is a way out! - which is the above 'two-sided' argument.



Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

Two points:


If God himself knows things without their having to be revealed to him by some meta-God, then knowledge is in principle possible without revelation.


We certainly could have evolved the ability to know truth, if that ability happened to be expedient for survival and reproduction (and it certainly stands to reason that the ability to know true facts about one's environment would be a useful adaptation). All we can say is that we didn't necessarily evolve to have that ability -- and that, for the reasons you describe, we can never really be sure whether or not we have it.

But something very similar is true if we were created by and/or receive revelation from a God. God could have created us with the ability to recognize truth, and he could communicate truth to us -- if that happened to be his will. But perhaps it wasn't his will -- and how could we ever know?

The fact is that there are plenty of creatures in this world that don't have much in the way of truth-recognizing ability. They didn't evolve with (or weren't created with) that ability, and God doesn't reveal truth to them. Therefore, this world is not one in which creatures necessarily have the ability to recognize the truth. Therefore, whatever our beliefs, we can never be sure that we have that ability, God or no God.

In practice, of course, we just have to assume that we have some ability to recognize truth -- which means either assuming that we evolved to have that ability (which, while obviously not an inevitable result of evolution, is certainly not impossible) or assuming that God gives us that ability (which is also neither inevitable nor impossible).

Bruce Charlton said...

@Wm - I said the argument convinces *me* - but I recognize it is harder to convince you!

1. "knowledge is in principle possible without revelation." - I suppose that this point is what led to the 'classical' conception of deity as 'including' everything, and having created everything from nothing - as a way of explaining how the deity knows everything without revelation.

(It doesn't really *explain* it, in the sense that it introduces something incomprehensible - the black box of creation ex nihilo - as the key term. But anyway...)

But I have the Mormon view of deity as within a pre-existing universe - so I can't use that argument. So all the above argument has done is push back the question to how does God know?

My answer is that perfect, complete, infallible knowledge is not available to anyone or anything - not even to God - God simply knows (much, much, much) *better* than we do.

I strongly suspect that the desire to base life on *nothing less than* perfect, complete, infallible, eternal knowledge - omniscience - was implanted by the adversary. It has tortured mankind, to no avail, since Ancient Greek times at least.

But from the human perspective, we rightly sense that our own fallibity is excessive; but wrongly lurch to extreme and impossible answers (God knows everything, or nobody knows anything).

2. "We certainly could have evolved the ability to know truth, if that ability happened to be expedient for survival and reproduction" - I think this is wrong. Evolution is driven by 'reproductive success' - which is itself a fuzzier notion than it sounds - but the point is that however it is conceptualized, it has nothing to do with the truth.

We can infer abstractly that truth is useful in promoting reproductive success, but there are an infinite number of ways in which this might be happening; and this is balanced by the opposite recognition that any hypothetical truth we recognize as a basis for reproductive success is constrained by our own natural selection for reproductive success.

Truth just isn't in the 'natural selection' equation, anywhere.

Truth comes-in to consideration only when an evolved entity (a human) is abstractly trying to represent, to describe, what is going-on in the world.

To really *get* this point about natural selection NOT leading to truth, I had to imagine the evolution of self-replicating order from nothing, by chance; and then how things proceed. Natural selection is just an hypothetical self-reinforcing algorithmic process which arises by pure chance but once self-replication is established, the systemic entity is able to evolve with a much higher probability, much faster - because it can retain (replicate) previous beneficial adaptions.

Whether natural selection is happening in any specific situation is itself, of course, hypothetical - whether and to what extent natural selection is real or capable of generating and elaborating complexity without assistance from any other process is also hypothetical.

A decade ago (following systems theorists like Luhmann) I built *everything* on selection processes (in my 2003 book The Modernization Imperative) - in the end you find that NS is purely descriptive, like a physical process.

You get to the point of saying - assuming these premises are correct, then this stuff may happen. But accurate knowledge is impossible, a system does not even 'know' what is happening inside itself (just as we do not know what is happening in our own bodies or brains) - there are just nested models of systems which have not yet been disproved - and disproved (in natural selection terms) simply means extinction, ceasing to be.

In that sense, natural selection implies that anything still alive (self-replicating) is (operationally) true, and if you are false then you are dead and don't know it!

Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

"'reproductive success' - which is itself a fuzzier notion than it sounds - but the point is that however it is conceptualized, it has nothing to do with the truth."

This is like saying that reproductive success has nothing to do with being strong, or fast. Certainly there is no necessary connection (i.e., evolution has also created weak, slow animals), but it is nevertheless obvious how these traits could be advantageous and how evolution might have favored them in some cases. When it comes to the ability to acquire true knowledge, the potential advantages are even more obvious. It goes without saying that access to true information about food sources, predators, potential mates, etc. could increase reproductive success.

Evolution could have given us the ability to know the truth. So could God. But the operative word is could. We cannot know whether or not we can know things; we can only assume it -- and, indeed, must assume it. Having assumed that we have that ability, we can proceed to speculate about how we got it.

"I strongly suspect that the desire to base life on *nothing less than* perfect, complete, infallible, eternal knowledge - omniscience - was implanted by the adversary"

Yes! But isn't your whole argument based on a felt need to know for sure that there is a truth and that we can know it, and on the belief that God alone can provide that guarantee? But perfect knowledge is a pipe dream. It's good enough to assume that there is a truth and that it is knowable -- to make that one's working hypothesis.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Wm - saying that NS could give rise to humans who knew the truth is really saying nothing at all - truth is just one possibility among an infinite number of others, and there is nothing whatsoever to sustain that possibility if by chance it arose...

"isn't your whole argument based on a felt need to know for sure that there is a truth and that we can know it, and on the belief that God alone can provide that guarantee? "

Not really, that isn't how I do metaphysics, or why. I do it so solve pressing problems that trouble me, and in doing so I recognize that I am doing nothing more than kicking the can further down the road - solving one set of problems at the price of creating another set.

I think that this is all we can do, but I do think it is worth doing IF the metaphysics is getting in the way of faith and functioning.