Friday 9 June 2023

Thinking-about the reality and nature of God - our assumptions dictate the outcomes

When we are thinking-about the nature of God (probably the single most important thing anybody needs to think-about), as with thinking about any subject: assumptions dictate outcomes. 

Metaphysics is primary. 

And if we are making several assumptions about 'what kind of a thing' God must be; then that is what will be found. 

This statement about assumptions dictating outcomes is not because of errors in reasoning, nor from dishonestly twisting the argument; I am here assuming the Best Case Scenario of correct and honest reasoning. 

Even when we assume there no errors of reasoning; and (which is also frequent) no errors in asserting the real-world applicability of abstract thinking - even then, assumptions dictate possible outcomes. 

...Because reason is just like a 'bridge' between assumptions and conclusions. Where we build the bridge from, determines where it can arrive - no matter how solidly that bridge is constructed.  

In other words, we cannot discover the nature of God by reading the Bible, or by studying the evidence of nature, or by examining the human condition or human society... or from any source of 'information' or any kind of 'evidence'. 

None are any use in telling us what really is the nature of God. 

Because: what counts as evidence, and how we interpret it, is dictated by the assumptions we bring to it. 

This is a particularly important issue for Modern Men, because we often approach God from the position of assuming that there is no God; and that everything which possibly happens (now, everywhere, past ad future) is and must-be either random and meaningless; or determined in accordance with science. 

If that is what we assume, then we can never discover God. 

Furthermore; if someone is instead religious, and comes to the discussion of God with assumptions about what God must be like (to count as really God): then that kind of God is what he will find (or else what he finds will not count as God).

The lesson is simple; which is to be aware of the assumptions you bring to this task of understanding God. 

And make Absolutely Sure that you personally - by your deepest intuitions - believe these are the correct and only assumptions you endorse.

Otherwise, you will just be fooling-yourself. 


Kristor said...

Exactly correct, and brilliant as usual. Thanks, Bruce.

Two things, though, not in disagreement, just stuff that occurred to me as I read.

First, you write that "we cannot discover the nature of God by reading the Bible, or by studying the evidence of nature, or by examining the human condition or human society ... or from any source of 'information' or any kind of 'evidence.'" OK, fair enough; but then, do not the disclosures of our own private intuitions about God count as another sort of 'evidence' that we cannot rely upon? What *can* we rely upon?

Second, surely we can at least *test* our metaphysical presuppositions by examining whether their logical sequelae are at odds with scripture, nature, the human condition, and so forth, no? I mean, if our metaphysical presuppositions entail some conclusion absurdly at odds with life as we encounter it, then (provided our arguments from them are valid) surely something must be wrong with them, no? E.g., if our metaphysics entails that we do not ourselves actually exist, or that we can't know anything, or that we don't do anything - as is the case with so many latterly fashionable metaphysical principles - then we can be pretty sure that our metaphysics is somehow whacked, no?

Something like the cycle of the iterative scientific method begins at this point to appear from the obscure deeps of our epistemological predicament: experience => hypothesis => test => theory => experience ...

Then there is the test of logical coherence among our metaphysical presuppositions. Where there is such incoherence, some error is at work. But then, we can count logical validity as itself no more than another sort of deliverance of our intuitive intelligence; as, i.e., just another sort of 'evidence.'

That leads back to the question: what *can* be relied upon in the formation of our metaphysical presuppositions? NB: even private Revelation won't do, despite the fact that it appears to those who have enjoyed it to be more real and more reliable and more true than anything else of whatever sort that they have ever experienced; for, it is in the end just another sort of experience.

This question may not be answerable. Dewey thought it probably couldn't be answered; so he arrived at his purely operational notion of the generation of knowledge.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Kristor - I would say that people *do* rely on their "metaphysical presuppositions"; but that in *most* cases (it seems like a very large majority) these MPs are not conscious, nor are they intuitively-derived.

If we looked at someone who is in the mainstream majority of nowadays; we would see someone who - to his satisfaction - found that that 'life', science/ literature - and scripture if he was 'religious' - would all seem like they fitted-together coherently, and made 'sense'... once he had rejected what he regarded as 'false news', right-wing propaganda, pseudo-science, hate-speech, conspiracy theories and so forth.

My point is that false metaphysical assumptions are Not contradicted by 'experience', and seem to be confirmed by their 'logical' consequences. Even people who believe that we can *really* choose our sex and change it, do not find this view contradicted by life; because the belief acts as a metaphysical frame for what counts as *real* evidence.

"the test of logical coherence among our metaphysical presuppositions" - Yes, I think this is one way that MPs *ought* to be evaluated - and for this to happen they need to become conscious.

Most people's MPs are unconscious, and have been passively absorbed from culture. Once established, they are also assumed to be necessarily true - because 'all' evidence (evidence that is regarded as *valid*) is on their side; and those who deny this validity are generally-regarded (by everyone who matters most) as dumb, insane or evil.

So, if external sources try to induce some person (or institution) to reveal the MPs upon which they depend, it will be denied that they exist (because they are unconscious) - and the claim made that everything said and done is empirical, scientific, 'obvious', practical etc.

"what *can* be relied upon in the formation of our metaphysical presuppositions?"

I would regard that question as ill-formed. The proper question should be more on the lines of: 'How should we proceed in this mortal life, where everything material is apparently subject to entropic change and therefore nothing is stable?"

The bottom-line Question is Not, therefore, "What is eternally and everywhere valid - and how can I know it with 100% certainty"; but something more like: "What nature and degree of knowledge is necessary for my salvation and theosis?".

...The first question is unanswerable, the second question not only can but will be answered.

And how we should proceed is to become conscious of our MPs, and - once conscious - examine whether we *really* (intuitively - and by means of divine guidance as it impinges upon intuition/ meditation/ prayer) desire to endorse them, whether we regard them as *necessarily* true.

Bruce Charlton said...

Comment continued from below:

If this happens, we will recognize that most MPs are no more than cultural assumptions that we have passively absorbed from 'society' (education, bureaucracy, mass media) and personal interactions; and - when they stand revealed - many will seem obviously untrue, made-up, arbitrary, designed to manipulate or demoralize us, evil-intended etc.

Then, according to our personal innate needs (in terms of salvation and theosis) we can begin to explore and compare these MPs and how they fit together.

One major pitfall is to conflate this personal quest with the separate "rhetorical" problem of how we convince other people of what we conclude. From observing modern society, it seems that - in practice - this problem has become merely a matter of power and The System. Many/ most people can be convinced - instantly - of anything-at-all that The System is currently-saying.

So, when so many people are so System-controlled, and choose to remain unconscious-of or deny-the-existence-of their MPs; this business of persuading/ convincing other people is almost certain to be a wasted effort.

The absolute need is to sort things out metaphysically for our-selves and by-ourselves; and take it from wherever that may lead.

Deogolwulf said...

‘... as with thinking about any subject: assumptions dictate outcomes.’

I appreciate that you are making and stressing an important point, and that it is likely on the whole that this is how things turn out, but, considering individual persons, would this not be a little bit of mechanistic systems-theory creeping in? Certainly assumptions (basic assumptions, presuppositions, especially) can set us along a path and blind us to other ways, and we can be lazy and thoughtless and a little machine-like; and, at our worst, when we are mindless, assumptions do dictate outcomes. (Mindlessness strikes me as the thrust of modernity and the condition in which our rulers would like us to be: input-output machines; and sovereign is he who decides the inputs.) But we are not, after all, machines. A mind, unlike a computer, can step outside its own inputs (basic assumptions, presuppositions, axioms, impressions, etc) and look from outside the ‘system’, as it were. (JR Lucas, following Gödel, had much to say about this.) We have free will, reason, intuition, imagination, and maybe even faculties so subtle that we don't even have words for them. Not even reason (especially not reason!) is mechanically rule-bound, though it be wrongly identified with mere calculation. (Nor is reason definable.) A mind not yet overthrown is still unbound, free to step outside its own walls, and thus its assumptions do not dictate its outcomes.

Bruce Charlton said...

@D - I don't know how much of this blog you have read; but my fundamental units of metaphysical understanding are Beings - I mean living, purpose, (to some extent) conscious Beings.


By contrast; when I am talking about assumptions and outcomes, or indeed stating and communicating I am dealing in abstract models - which are always false in an ultimate sense.

So to get closer to what I most deeply believe, this would need to be re-expressed in terms applicable to beings, and under the assumptions that any explanation that distinguishes aspects of a Being, cannot be regarded as describing a possible division - because the Being is assumed to be the primary - hence indivisible - unit.

When I say (for instance) that Beings are alive, have consciousness and purpose - these must be understood as distinguishing attributes, that "cannot" be separated out: "cannot" because I am assuming Being to be the bottom line reality (because if the attributes could be divided and separated, a Being would not be the fundamental unit).

So, you will need to take simple abstract and publicly communicated explanations for what they are. In an ultimate sense these are always and inevitably wrong. Nonetheless, they can still form the basis for an act of direct apprehension of the truth.

Deogolwulf said...

Thanks. I shall give it some thought.