Tuesday 2 June 2015

Metaphysical subversion: 1. Why do you so credulously accept that God exists? (Then) 2. Why doesn't God provide clear evidence that He exists?

The term 'metaphysics' refers to the most fundamental assumptions upon which Men base their explanations.

A metaphysical belief, therefore - and by definition, has no 'evidence' to support it: none whatsoever.

This means that in an unthinking, habitual age of 'science', empirical investigation and 'data'; any person's metaphysical assumption can be destroyed by pointing-out that there is 'no evidence' to support it. 

This is the strategy of Metaphysical subversion.


Metaphysical subversion is a false argument - because:

1. There never is any evidence to support metaphysical assumptions - else they would not be metaphysical assumptions; and

2. The concept of evidence is necessarily built upon metaphysical assumptions - all 'why-type' questions eventually lead to an assumption - even when, as in the case of 'science', these assumptions are seldom talked-of except to deny their reality or necessity.

I wonder how many millions of intellectuals and educated people have fallen for this rhetorical trick?

I certainly have!


We are born into this world, it seems, already believing in the supernatural, in gods/God, and believing that many features of our environment are alive and aware and purposive.

(I regard this knowledge as having been built-in.)

In other words, we naturally have in-place the necessary metaphysical assumptions to 'believe in God'.


In the modern West, these spontaneous inborn assumptions are attacked by the prevalent secular Leftist society; and they are attacked mostly on the basis that there is no evidence for our assumptions.

(There is no actual evidence against these natural metaphysical assumptions!; in the sense that there is no evidence against them which does not depend upon equally evidence-free metaphysical assumptions.)

The only 'respectable' position to hold in modern Western society is therefore that there is no evidence for the existence of gods/ God, because the assumptions which lead people naturally to believe in gods/ God have 'no evidence to support them'.


Having been mislead into abandoning his in-built metaphysical assumptions, having decided - in other words - to reject many of his own spontaneous beliefs about the nature of reality, modern Man then finds himself wondering why it is that God has failed to provide compelling, overwhelming, evidence of His existence!

(A trap: a fly bottle! Wander in, and there seems no way out!)

In other words, Modern Man decides to reject the evidence for the reality of God on the basis that this evidence rests on (natural, spontaneous, inborn) assumptions for which there is no evidence; Man therefore overthrows his in-built assumptions; finally Modern Man complains that there is 'no evidence' for the reality of God!

This is metaphysical subversion triumphant: completely incoherent, deeply dishonest, wholly lacking in rigour - and (almost-completely) successful!...



Leo said...

Two thoughts:


In mathematics assumptions are just assumptions. And we see where we go from there.


What would the universe look like if God did not exist? It is not as if we can have two flasks in the manner of a chemistry demonstration, one with a sample of the universe with the existence of God and one with a sample of the universe without the existence of God, so that we could compare the two.

It is like the story where God and the modern scientist are having a discussion, and God asks the scientists if he can make man out of dust. The scientist reaches for some dust to start the process, and God says, "Wait a minute. Get your own dust."

Simon said...

Indeed so.

The metaphysical frame of the question "Does God exist?" already assumes God does not exist; ergo...

Bruce Charlton said...

@Leo - I would emphasize that there is no assumption-free ground from which the question "Does God exist?" can be evaluated.

Always, we necessarily start with assumptions.

(And this is metaphysics - or evidence of it.)

Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

Free will is the kind of metaphysical assumption that makes sense to me, because it is the sort of thing for which there could be no evidence one way or the other. (This is because it is an assumption about the ontological status of things that don't happen -- namely, that some of them "could have" happened.)

But many (most?) religious beliefs don't seem to be like that. Their subject matter is the sort of thing for which we could expect evidence, and so just assuming they are true doesn't seem legitimate.

To take one obvious example, "The Book of Mormon is a true history of the ancient Americas" is a claim about which ordinary textual and archaeological evidence should have something to say. Treating it as a "metaphysical" claim and just assuming its truth, the way one would assume the reality of free will or the existence of other minds (i.e. claims which are "metaphysical" in the usual sense of that word), just seems wrong.

Everyone has to assume something, but that doesn't mean we can legitimately assume anything. Instead of just saying that assumptions are always necessary, you need to show that religious propositions are the kind of thing that it is legitimate to assume without evidence.

Bruce Charlton said...

@William - I disagree with the way you have framed this - you have changed what I am saying into treating every belief asif it was potentially a metaphysical assumption - as your namesake would say, the point is whether this is a real, living, vital, genuine, consequential choice of assumptions for actual people.

That the BoM is true is, if believed, something with many ramifications - but it is not really a metaphysical assumption (or, if taken as one, is likely to be misunderstood as such).

Also, Mormon metaphysics is the kind of thing discussed by Sterling McMurrin - and what he discusses is often the implicit metaphysics in and behind Mormonism; and not the up-front beliefs (dozens of hundreds of them). Until McMurrin discussed this, these distinctions were not really explicitly articulated in metaphysical discourse; not really something which could be (or was being) discussed as a subject matter.

But of course Mormonism had existed and been thriving for more than a century by that time! Having a coherent, structured, metaphysical set of beliefs, and knowing what they are, are two different things.

Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

Well, that's kind of my point: Many fundamental religious propositions (like the truth of the BoM) are not metaphysical, and so ordinary evidence is not irrelevant to them. Religions do have their metaphysical aspects, of course, but you've made a pretty convincing case in the past that metaphysics is not the core, not what makes Christianity Christian (which is why Platonists, Aristotelians, pragmatists, etc. can all be good Christians).

Perhaps you can spell it out for me: What specific metaphysical assumptions do you think I and people like me fail to make, which, if made, would allow us to become Christians? (Consider this one of your Reader Questions if you like.)

Bruce Charlton said...

@WmJas - Not exhaustive but - that there is a soul, that it survives death, that everything is alive (to some extent and indifferent ways), that there are gods/ God, that dreams can yield significant knowledge, that there is 'telepathy'...

Anonymous said...

Ambiguity of ambiguities, all is ambiguity.

We get into this problem because we are dealing with a non-trivial system. Hence as per Kurt Godel, the axioms can never be proven in the system upon which they are based.

This would leave a free-for-all, but for one important thing - empiricism. Empiricism allows what is falsifiable to be culled. Hence with regard to the physical universe we can make observations, create hypothesis and test them. The computer you are using to read this demonstrates many physical properties at work - no faith required. This is why the scientific method is superior - at least with respect to things that occur physically in the universe. If you build an airplane on principles of religious faith rather than those of aerodynamics then I would not advise you to attempt a flight. The truth value of the scientific method is demonstrated by the fact that the process works. And yes, we are still left with Godel's conundrum, but at least we can use the tools of science to obtain largely predictable results and cull some error. Science is actually extremely well suited to the Godel conundrum because error is acknowledged and a process exists to get closer to the truth.

The problem with theological axioms is that they are not explicitly falsifiable if the base axioms include a God that is omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient. If God has those attributes then absolutely anything is possible including the erasure of evidence that shows the hand of God. Hence if such an entity exists and wants to hide the evidence that is perfectly acceptable. It is also, however, totally useless because things can morph in any direction at any time.

Theologically, not applying the tri-omni axioms presents its own set of problems. If God lacks these characteristics then God is contingent and dependent upon something more fundamental, which leads to the problem of regress until we arrive at the tri-omni characteristics via a more circuitous route, or the regress is infinite.

So then what should a person do?

You can:
1) Build a belief system on axioms and just accept that the axioms are not subject to proof and are True;
2) Use the scientific method solely and just leave God alone since of that nothing can be said;
3) Use the scientific method with regard to matters physical, and build a philosophy/ideology/theology that has cultural, social or religious value.

1) is faith; 2) is science; 3) is pragmatic.

You pay your money, you take your chances.

There are, however, theological ascertains which can be falsified. If someone says, "I belief that the universe is 6,000 years old", then that can be falsified. All one has to do is show something older than 6,000 years. (The easiest method is to look into space towards objects that have to be greater than 6,000 years old because of the time required for light to traverse the distance.)

Bruce Charlton said...

@Anonymous (please use a Pseudonym!)

I don't agree with your analytic scheme, or your definitions. Your listed options, therefore, are not the real ones. And there is no such thing as scientific method - http://corruption-of-science.blogspot.co.uk

Thordaddy said...

"If you build an airplane on principles of faith rather than those of aerodynamics then I would not advise you attempt a flight." -- Anonymous

Lol... No, my friend, YOU ONLY ATTEMPT TO FLY because of religious faith. Absolutely no need to BUILD an airplane with religious faith as it has already done its job of motivating you to fly.

Bruce Charlton said...

@ThD - An inspired and deeply insightful comment!

Heaviside said...

Absolutely right. The question of "whether God exists" is, like so much of modern discourse, a Trojan horse. It assumes that the question of existence applies to God. God is already beyond such finite determinations as existence/non-existence. Eriugena and Eckhart already told us this. A God who was really God would be able to overcome the trivial obstacle of his own non-existence. If we ask "does God exist" we assume that His existence is just an arbitrary fact decided on by some higher power, but a world where such a fact was arbitrary, decided on by some implicitly absent higher power, is already without God. Not only does God exist, but it is neither possible nor conceivable for Him not to exist. If we believe that we can conceive of a world without Him, then that only proves that our own thoughts, which seem so deceptively familiar, are in fact deeply mysterious. He exists in any possible world, which means that it is a matter of pure universality and logical necessity, and that His existence must be deducible from pure Reason, which is why the ontological argument exists.

Bruce Charlton said...

@H - That is the interpretation from the perspective of Classical Greek/ Roman metaphysics - that God is necessary, His existence can therefore be proven by reason, and unbelief is simply irrational. It is not a view I hold.

ajb said...

I respond here


Bruce Charlton said...

@ajb - What must be borne in mind is the extent to which a set of fundamental metaphysical assumptions can structure what counts as evidence and how it is interpreted.

What goes against this is the incompleteness of many metaphysical systems - and that people hold several, partial but incompatible sets of assumptions, which may come into conflict and lead to change in one or another system.

As an example of incomplete metaphysical systems, one of the clearest is mainstream modern scientist - which explains-away all human reasoning as contingent and arbitrary accidents - including the reasoning process which led to that conclusion. This type of incoherence ought to lead to change, but seldom does.

In the post on your blog you conclude with: "The problem with this approach is that it makes absurd almost any conclusion one has. If there’s no strong evidence for anything, why believe one thing as opposed to another? Why, indeed, believe that one ought to choose to believe in God? The answer comes down to personal choice – because it pleases one to believe one thing as opposed to another. "

That seems to be making the implicit assumption that 'personal choice', preferences, feelings, what pleases are inadequate forms of evaluation - and that such factors ought to be subordinated to some other form of evaluation.

But it would be possible to have a metaphysical system in which such feelings were potentially (with qualifications) regarded as valid because (according to the set of assumptions in this system) they derived from an evaluation system that we derived from God by virtue of being his children (this is indeed more or less what I believe).

I certainly agree that we evaluate foundational assumptions in terms of their consequences - indeed that is the only way they could in principle be evaluated! But it is hard to get out of the loop created by the assumptions themselves.

This is not a problem for me, because I do not regard philosophy as primary, and I do not expect it to be fully coherent because it is not complete - at root, philosophy is 'a subject'; it is not reality.

ajb said...

"it would be possible to have a metaphysical system in which such feelings were potentially (with qualifications) regarded as valid"

Yes, but again, what follows from that? How does it fit with other things? What are its epistemic strengths and weaknesses?

In this way, we can test this belief, and see whether it is epistemically strong or weak.

I realize that, practically speaking, these matters are often difficult, complex, with evidence being interpretable in various ways given different beliefs. Yet, we ought to attempt to figure these things out - which beliefs make more sense or less of the available evidence and considerations we have? Which ones are epistemically stronger, and which weaker? Practically speaking, we *have* to make judgments on at least some of these, as concrete actions depend on our beliefs.

"This type of incoherence ought to lead to change, but seldom does."

This is exactly right. It is probably an epistemic short-coming of those who do not think this through. If their beliefs undermine the possibility or rational inquiry, yet they hold those beliefs through rational inquiry, then that suggests there's something wrong about their world view!

It is one thing to say people adopt lots of bad reasons for the views they hold (certainly, this is the case), and that they ignore or unreasonably subject to criticism certain data or beliefs. It is another to say that, *therefore*, there are not beliefs with overwhelming evidence!

Bruce Charlton said...

@ajb- "It is one thing to say people adopt lots of bad reasons for the views they hold (certainly, this is the case), and that they ignore or unreasonably subject to criticism certain data or beliefs. It is another to say that, *therefore*, there are not beliefs with overwhelming evidence!"

Yes, but what I think of as 'bad reasons' they think of as compelling reasons - in other words, their primary world view (actual, but inferred, metaphysical assumptions) have other priorities than what I consider 'good reasons'.

Their 'bad reasons' are *evidence of* the nature of their actual underlying metaphysical assumptions.