Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Considering a minimal god hypothesis

For this post, I will restrict my argument to a minimal god hypothesis that was proposed to me by somebody on the Butterflies and Wheels website.

This god is defined as follows:

1. Rational
2. Omnipresent in physical space, with the universe being part of God, rather than as a separate creation.
3. Neither omnipotent nor omniscient in that the future is undetermined, and human actions are free.

Now, at this point, I think that we need to answer a very pertinent question. Does this god have any observable effect upon the material universe? That is, does the existence of this god make our universe different in any predictable and observable way from how it would have been if this god didn’t exist?

Of course, the trite answer to this is yes, as without god the universe wouldn’t exist at all. However, that merely begs the question, and so gets us nowhere. So, are there any other predictions that we can test by observing the universe? If yes, then we are at liberty to test these predictions, and compare with reality. Most theists do in fact attribute all sorts of characteristics to their god. We can then make predictions about how such a god would be expected to manifest itself, order the universe, and to act. However, if you wish to declare that your god is transcendental and immaterial, is undetectable by any scientific means, and that we can make no predictions about the type of universe that we would expect to see if it exists, then I think that you have a problem. For, if the existence of your god entails exactly the same observations already entailed by naturalism, then there is no reasonable argument to be made for believing it - as I shall seek to demonstrate.

Although I can never hope to prove that such a transcendent and immaterial god doesn’t exist, the principle of Occam's razor dictates that we should reject such a hypothesis. For, if we have perfectly good explanations for how the universe behaves that are based upon what we can observe, and what we can infer from this, then why would we want to introduce into our theories a supposed entity of a type never encountered before in science, and whose existence we can never verify or falsify – even in principle? To be sure, our explanations are not complete yet, but I see no reason to believe it better to introduce such an ad-hoc entity as an explanation, rather than to just say that we are still working on it. Is it more rational to say that we have just a material universe (which is all that we can observe), and which is ordered in such a way that we can attempt to fathom the way that it operates; and to then attempt this fathoming by adductive, deductive, and inductive reasoning based upon what we know? Or is it more rational to say that, in addition to the material universe that we can observe, there exists some universe-creating transcendental, immaterial entity whose existence or effects we can never observe – and hence which we can never verify or falsify? I would say that the former is more rational.

This logic still applies if you are to contend that this god does, in fact, do all sorts of things that we can observe, but that it makes it appear as if these things happen purely by some non-intelligent mechanistic process.

Now, one way around this is to suggest that the god hypothesis is actually a more rational answer in the absence of any other evidence, as it actually explains the existence of the universe in the most parsimonious way. However, I would contest this, as there are already plausible scientific explanations for the existence of our universe. We are able to construct viable working scientific theories to explain how the universe might have come to exist from a prior state of ‘nothing’ (which I would define for this purpose as an absence of space, time, energy, and matter. See this, or this for more information), or might have arisen spontaneously as a quantum fluctuation in the quantum foam as part of an Eternal Inflation model, and then evolved to what we currently see. These theories are based upon our observations, and our scientific knowledge and understanding of the world, and are able to predict exactly the type of universe that we observe. They do this without the necessity of positing some ad-hoc creator, or introducing any other ad-hoc assumptions, and are therefore more plausible, parsimonious, and powerful explanations than the god hypothesis.

For my purposes here, I shall concentrate on the Eternal Inflation theory. Now, you may object that this theory doesn’t explain why there exists a multiverse in the first place, nor why there is some sort of process that allows universes to come into existence from it, so we still don’t have a complete explanation. That is indubitably true. However, your god hypothesis gets you no further, as you need to explain why your god exists at all; never mind why it has the characteristics that it does, and why it would choose to create the particular universe that we see (which is almost entirely lethal to our type of life), rather than one far more suited to us, and far more economical in scale and age. So, if you are proposing that there is no way, even in principle, that we can attempt to verify or falsify your god hypothesis by recourse to observation (as it is immaterial, transcendental, etc…), then I think that the most rational option is to disregard it. Contrary to what one might initially imagine, I would say that such a god hypothesis is not the most parsimonious or plausible one available.

However, you may choose to go another route. You might say that the apparent fine-tuning of the universe is evidence for the existence of your god. Such a statement does indeed constitute an explanation for the observations. However, if we are able to formulate a scientific hypothesis that also explains these observations, but does not require the introduction of this ad-hoc universe-creator, then it will be both more parsimonious and plausible than the god hypothesis. In fact, we do have such a hypothesis. The Eternal Inflation multiverse theory follows naturally from the combination of the Big Bang and Inflation theories – both of which are sound scientific theories. If we are to accept these two as our starting point, then the existence of a multiverse is the de facto conclusion. In fact, to deny the existence of a multiverse, we would need to propose additional ad-hoc laws that force the Big Bang (followed by Inflation) to have happened only once.

I should stress here that the Eternal Inflation theory (and other multiverse concepts) was not just pulled out of a hat in order to explain away the apparent fine-tuning found in the universe. Rather, it followed naturally from previously accepted theories. However, it does nevertheless explain the apparent fine-tuning as, in an infinite set of ‘pocket universes’, there is bound to be one with our particular characteristics. In such a universe, we are able to exist to have these thoughts, and to make the observations.

As a further observation on this, the proponent of the fine-tuning argument is also required to explain why a universe designed to ultimately produce us would be a huge and almost entirely radiation-filled vacuum, and why it would take billions of years before we would evolve. The scientist can explain this, as any apparent teleology is purely the result of natural processes. As a matter of interest, from a scientific point of view, teleology has been almost entirely expunged from our theories. Apparent teleology in the evolution of life (which, incidentally, is a fact. The explanation for this evolution is the theoretical part) has been explained by Darwin’s Theory of Natural Selection. In addition, from a scientific point of view, any apparent teleology in the ordering of the cosmos is now explained as the result of mindless natural laws.

Of course, there are some interesting loose ends here. An obvious one here is consciousness. I believe that consciousness is ultimately reducible to configurations of matter/energy within space/time. It is possible that we may never have a full explanation of consciousness, but I think that giving up on this venture now would be rather premature. Even if we are never able to explain it fully, we are not justified in inferring that consciousness requires some other ‘something’ that is not part of the material universe. I also tend to think that the problem of qualia is a bit of a red herring, as I suspect that it is not dependent upon consciousness at all – but merely upon perception. Ultimately, I feel that any inability to explain these things by natural means would be as a result of our lack of imagination, ingenuity, language, or knowledge, and is not because they are dependent some non-material stuff for their existence.

Another interesting case is that of mathematics. I tend to think that mathematics is in some sense a fundamental property of the structure of our universe, and is not a purely human construct (although, obviously, some aspects of it are a human construct). So, I do not subscribe to the Conventionalist position, but am inclined rather more towards the Realist stance. However, I think that whilst mathematics is in some sense 'out there', this is a result of the fundamental structure of space/time, and it is not in some way transcendent. Of course, we are still left having to explain why we find that mathematics is a part of our universe, but that is just one part of the overall problem of the existence of the universe - and for which the god hypothesis is not the best answer. Interestingly, Max Tegmark's Ulimate Ensemble does allow for worlds in which mathematics is radically different from ours (for example, in which 2 + 2 = 5).

Perhaps at this point I should attempt a summary of my points.

· We only know that the material universe exists (in as much as we can ever really ‘know’ anything).
· A theory that explains the existence of our universe by recourse to what we already know to exist, using and building upon existing theories that are logically sound and evidentially well supported, and making reasoned inferences from these theories, has to be more plausible than one that does not.
· In addition, a theory that requires the introduction of entirely ad-hoc elements has to be less parsimonious than one that does not.
· A theory that predicts the specific universe that we observe, rather than just some universe, has to be more powerful than one that does not.
· A theory that can be tested (and possibly falsified) has to be preferred over one that has no such options available.
· The god hypothesis as proposed by you requires the positing of some ad-hoc ineffable and immaterial universe-creating entity. The existence and characteristics of this entity cannot be explained in terms of the things we know to exist in the material universe, and by known physical laws. In addition, it cannot be observed as some distinct entity within the material universe. Further, its existence alone makes no predictions about the structure of the universe that we would expect to observe. However, by means of the introduction of a further set of completely ad-hoc assumptions, it can be made to fit with the evidence that we see around us. By such means, the existence of this entity becomes entirely untestable and unfalsifiable.
· By contrast, the Eternal Inflation multiverse theory explains the existence of our universe in terms of things that we know to exist, and of other well-founded and evidentially supported theories. It requires the introduction of no entirely ad-hoc elements. Further, in many specific ways it does predict the type of universe that we see around us. As yet, it cannot be tested or falsified directly. However, physicists are currently working on indirect methods by which it might be tested. Hence, the Eternal Inflation is a more parsimonious, plausible, and powerful hypothesis than the god hypothesis. It might not be true, but is at least a better explanation of what we observe to be the case than is the god hypothesis. Therefore, it is less rational to opt for the god hypothesis as one’s explanation of the existence of the universe, as better explanations exist.

At this point, the ‘sophisticated’ theist might be tempted to reach for one of the standard arguments for the existence of a god. However, this doesn’t really get them anywhere, as all of these arguments have well-known rebuttals.

For example, three perennial favourites are:

The Kalam Cosmological Argument takes the following form – 1) Everything that begins to exist has a cause. 2) The universe began to exist. 3) Therefore, the universe has a cause. 4) This cause is God. However, this argument fails, as the first and second premises are not demonstrably true. Current cosmological theories propose an eternal multiverse; and physicists have already proposed mechanisms whereby uncaused events can happen. Even apart from this, if we were to accept the conclusion of point 3, this does not imply that the cause is any particular god (or even a god at all: it could be a highly advanced alien civilisation), so the argument fails doubly.

The Cosmological Design Argument states that the precise fine-tuning for life of the fundamental constants appears more epistemically probable given theism than it does given naturalism. However, this fine-tuning for life arises as a natural consequence of cosmological multiverse theories, by means of the weak anthropic principle. That is, a universe in which we have evolved must necessarily have the appearance of fine-tuning for life. Within the infinity of possible ‘pocket universes’, some will allow for life to develop, and some others will not. We necessarily exist in a universe that does. As with the previous argument, this argument does not imply that the universe creator is any particular god, or even a god at all.

The classic Ontological Argument has the following form: 1. God is the most perfect ('the greatest') being conceivable. 2. It is more perfect ('greater') to exist than not to exist. 3. Therefore, God must exist. However, as Kant pointed out, existing is not a property of a thing at all i.e. existence is not a perfection. Therefore, the second premise is false. Even if we were to allow the second premise to stand, we could substitute things other than God in the first premise i.e. X is the most perfect Y conceivable, and thereby prove its existence – which is an absurdity. Even if we were to grant the validity of the argument, we would have to ask whether the entity whose existence we are proving bears any resemblance at all to the god commonly conceived of by the Abrahamic religions? The God depicted in the Bible, for example, is far from perfect by any normal definition of the word. In fact, I would go as far as to suggest that such a ‘perfect’ entity is not the god of any known religion.

So, all of these arguments fail, and, even if they didn’t, do not lead to the conclusion that the god in question is one of those commonly conceived of. It might instead be a committee of gods, a supremely evil god, or a highly advanced alien civilisation etc. Actually, this same reasoning applies to almost any argument in favour of the minimal god hypothesis.

Now, back to the previous discussion. There is one fundamental problem with the Eternal Inflation theory. We are left with no fundamental explanation of why there is some universe-creating mechanism at all, and why the proposed mechanism works in the way that it does. We are just forced to accept this as our ‘brute fact’ – our starting point from which to deduce everything else.

It is at this point that one might be tempted to think that the god hypothesis scores its knockdown win by positing god as the ultimate explanation. However, a little more thought shows that this victory is in fact illusory. For, why does god have the characteristics that it does, and why create the particular universe that we see? More to the point, why does this god exist at all? Why not just no god and no universe? In other words, the proponent of the god hypothesis is forced to accept the existence of such a god as their ‘brute fact’. This god does not come from anywhere, or exist for any reason (since this would imply some Meta rule of existence and attributes applicable to gods) - it just exists. So, the proponent of the god hypothesis has the same problem here as the proponent of the Eternal Inflation theory – with the addition that their hypothesis is less parsimonious, plausible, and powerful, so it loses again.

The proponent of the god hypothesis might try to insist that their god is somehow a ‘necessary being’, but no formulation of this argument has ever avoided rebuttal, so this line of reason is not at all persuasive. As Hume pointed out, insofar as this concept coheres at all, we might as well just posit the universe (or multiverse) as that thing which is essential.

So, to conclude, I contend that the minimal god hypothesis that I have been considering is not the argument to the best explanation, and so should be rejected on the grounds of rationality. Whilst the Eternal Inflation theory may not be the correct explanation of reality, or even the best one, it is nevertheless a far more reasonable one than the god hypothesis, and so is to be preferred.

6 comments:

PSSST(KA) said...

Hi Nick.

Just a quick question before I reply to your other points - are you really sure that science can explain the emergence of the universe from nothing, meaning a total absence of existence of anything? Because I don't see how such a thing could even be remotely scientifically explicable. Or do you mean by 'nothing' some kind of prior state with some definite characteristics?

- Merlijn

Nick said...

Merlijn,

According to some quantum cosmological theories (Hartle Hawking, and also Vilenkin), the universe really did appear from nothing - which I would define for this purpose as an absence of space, time, energy, and matter.

Personally, I prefer the concept of Eternal Inflation, in which 'pocket universes', such as ours, arise as quantum mechanical fluctuations within the overall cosmic landscape – which has always existed.

However, in both cases, we have the problem of apparently requiring some sort of overarching Meta laws that govern the potential for a universe to exist, the process by which it comes into existence, and the possible universes that can exist in. This question remains unanswered.

However, theists can't avoid this problem either to explain why god exists, unless they posit that their god exists as some sort of ‘necessary being'. However, all attempts to express this concept logically have been rebutted (such as the various Ontological arguments), and so are not persuasive.

Nick said...

Merlijn,

By the way, I have added a few citations, and clarified the wording slightly in the part that you refer to.

PSSST(KA) said...

Hi Nick,

Some quick and by no means exhaustive comments (your arguments are thoughtful and intricate and I will perhaps revisit them later):

I am a priori suspicious of a scientific theory explaining existence, not of the universe as it is, or of the universe in general, but of anything. Because in order for the explanation to be scientifically arguable, they need to refer to regular, law-governed processes and it seems to me that emergence from nothing cannot be any such thing. Now, most of the theories you refer to seem to posit some kind of scientifically treatable prime: quantum foam, previous universes, etc. I don't think science can escape the same kind of 'infinite regress' arguments levelled at theism - which does not necessarily mean the two are equivalent (one possible defence of the atheistic approach would be based on skepticism and the notion that the existence of the universe is rather more widely accepted philosophically and commonsensically than the existence of God - and indeed you raise something of this type). But all explanations stop somewhere.

I am not happy myself with arguments of the Kalam cosmological type. Even without positing a multiverse, it doesn't seem to be obvious to me that the universe "began" to exist as the emergence of time as a seperate dimension seems to have come after the universe. More broadly, they posit some kind of temporal, causal structure on the origin of the universe which is in my opinion unwarranted. This would not necessarily invalidate cosmological arguments without that temporal structure (e.g. God 'caused' and 'causes' and 'will cause' the universe to exist). I understand that Aquinas indeed proposed a cosmological argument of this particular type, i.e. a 'sustaining', 'ongoing' causation. Whatever the merits or demerits of this particular line of argument, it seems to me that it does not necessarily conflict with scientific hypotheses that do not necessarily posit any ultimate origin of the universe (in its widest sense) at all.

I'm reading up on the ontological argument, notably Hartshorne's defense of it. Hartshorne claims Kant's objections are invalid, i.e. modal existence (necessary or contingent existence) would be acceptable as a predicate. I am only in the process of getting my head around this issue and it would be premature for me to comment. However, what I think the ontological argument does establish is that the kind of existence we would associate with a Deity is of a rather different kind than those of tables or protozoa: either God exists necessarily, or the very concept of a perfect being/God is incoherent. The argument thus cuts both ways: it can and has been put forward as a disproof of God (for example Findlay in Mind, 1958 though I think Findlay may have later repudiated the argument - which of course doesn't compell anyone else to do so). In any event, the objection that the God of the ontological argument is not the God of religion is valid if God is conceptualized as changeless, out of time, etc. but at least according to Hartshorne (and I would tend to agree with him), the concept of 'perfection' does not need to entail that. I.e. a perfect being may yet be self-surpassing, and thereby realize potentialities, and change. This seems more in line with Anselm's original argument as God as "nothing greater than which can be conceived", i.e. which is not surpassable by anything else. I may thwap you or OB around the head with the ontological argument later if it convinces me (which is not at all sure).

You mention:

Is it more rational to say that we have just a material universe (which is all that we can observe), and which is ordered in such a way that we can attempt to fathom the way that it operates; and to then attempt this fathoming by adductive, deductive, and inductive reasoning based upon what we know? Or is it more rational to say that, in addition to the material universe that we can observe, there exists some universe-creating transcendental, immaterial entity whose existence or effects we can never observe – and hence which we can never verify or falsify? I would say that the former is more rational.

I'm not sure on that point. I think our explananda go beyond the material universe: they also include the laws that govern it, they include consciousness (at the very least, our own), and they include at least arguably the existence of reason, logic, mathematics, etc. A God hypothesis as an 'argument to the best explanation' would include these as well, not just the material universe - even if that may be the only thing we can observe scientifically (in the narrow sense of 'science').

On the mind/matter issue, you mention:

It is possible that we may never have a full explanation of consciousness, but I think that giving up on this venture now would be rather premature. Even if we are never able to explain it fully, we are not justified in inferring that consciousness requires some other ‘something’ that is not part of the material universe.

Here, I am in conflict. On the one hand, I would agree that giving up on this venture would indeed be premature, as even though I believe a full scientific explanation of consciousness is unattainable, the attempt to get at one may add to our knowledge in a lot of other ways. But the reason I believe the explanation is forever out of our reach is that rationality, to me, seems to be prior to any kind of knowledge, including that of ourselves. An explanation of the emergence of mind from matter would necessarily entail an explanation of the emergence of rationality itself and at the same time rely on logic and rationality. In other words, it seems to me that a materialist account of logic, rationality etc. risks running into some kind of epistemic relativism.

This does not mean that a materialist account of the mind/body problem would be wrong. On the other hand, it does make accepting mind and matter as both basic, irreducible properties of the universe a comparatively more attractive alternative for me. Based on the notion that the existence of mind, free will, and the like are intuitively very hard to deny - so a reductionist account could only be acceptable if there are very good reasons for it. (Of course, another possibility is emergent materialism. I am not well-versed in the issues here, but I am not entirely convinced the concept of emergence would actually work here).

I would accept your criticism of fine-tuning arguments on the condition that a multiverse theory is valid. I lack the expertise to evaluate them, though - I am still in the process of getting my head around the implications of quantum theory, MWI or otherwise, and doing so will take quite some time. But obviously, if we are dealing with a multiplicity of universes with varying physical laws, fine-tuning arguments lose their force.

I broadly accept your criticism of cosmological arguments of the Kalam type, and other 'in fieri' arguments, to the extent that the problem posed by the origin of the universe itself is not in and of itself a compelling reason to accept Theism. I think the case may be different for non-temporal 'in esse' arguments - but they tread on the territory of ontological arguments, i.e. God as an explanation for existence itself.

Except if there are certain features of the universe that fit intuitively well with a Theistic hypotheses. And I think that despite your criticism on the consciousness question, the issue of the mind/matter problem, the position of rationality in our world, logic etc. are potentially fruitful in that regard. In other words, one's attitude towards a Theistic hypothesis would be determined in part by one's metaphysics. For a materialist, what's left are fine-tuning arguments and the issue of origin, neither of which are quite compelling (then again, a materialist account has its own problems by aprioristically reducing a lot of phenomena that colour our experience of the universe). For a dualist or a panpsychist, not to speak an idealist, the hypothesis is much more attractive because a (panen)theistic hypothesis would account for mind as a fundamental property of the universe. (of course, this account has problems of its own and does certainly not imply theism with any kind of deductive certainty).

On ontological arguments - I have a lot of reading to do before I can comment. They are at the same time fascinating and highly attractive, and inspire suspicion because they promise some kind of unassailable logical certainty.

Nick said...

Merlijn,

Thanks for your interesting comments.

A few points that occur to me immediately. Firstly, I should perhaps have avoided the mention of the universe coming from nothing, as by doing so I have inserted my own red herring. Although some versions of quantum cosmological ideas do really seem to posit that nothing existed before the moment of creation (notably the Vilenkin interpretation. By contrast, the Hartle Hawking version involves quantum tunnelling from a prior universe), this is not the theory that I wish to defend. Even Vilenkin himself is now a supporter of the Eternal Inflation theory. As a matter of interest, he has written an article about Eternal Inflation, and how it might be tested indirectly, see:

http://edge.org/3rd_culture/vilenkin06/vilenkin06_index.html

In my post, I am suggesting that the Eternal Inflation theory gives a plausible and parsimonious explanation for how our universe came to exist (certainly far more so than any competing god hypothesis). However, I freely admit in my post that this theory does not explain how the multiverse - from which our universe would have sprung - came to exist in the first place. It cannot, and does not claim to. So, as an explanation of how our universe came to exist, I submit that the Eternal Inflation theory is a plausible option, but also concede that it is not the ultimate explanation of everything.

However, and here’s the important thing, I don’t think that the god hypothesis can justifiably claim to be the ultimate explanation either. Not only is the god hypothesis (in my opinion) a weak hypothesis for the existence of our universe, but it cannot be the ultimate explanation, as we are entitled to ask why god exists, why that god, why create our universe etc. Answering these questions involves introducing more ad-hoc reasons.

Of course, one option for the person who wishes to circumvent some of these issues is to hypothesize that god is a ‘necessary being’. However, this type of ontological reasoning is not very persuasive, and most philosophers seem to find its logic to be rather dubious – even if they cannot pinpoint exactly where it goes wrong. Even many theists – from Aquinas to Plantinga – are unconvinced by it. I have yet to read any version of it that I find remotely convincing. To me, it appears to be mere sophistry.

[. I think our explananda go beyond the material universe: they also include the laws that govern it, they include consciousness (at the very least, our own), and they include at least arguably the existence of reason, logic, mathematics, etc. A God hypothesis as an 'argument to the best explanation' would include these as well, not just the material universe - even if that may be the only thing we can observe scientifically (in the narrow sense of 'science').]

To this, I would say that an argument to the best explanation can still be such, even if it doesn’t explain everything. Within the remit of what we are able to explain scientifically, I think that this approach gives a more plausible and parsimonious explanation than does the god hypothesis. If we separately consider the items that you mention, then it doesn’t really strengthen your case i.e.

• Laws that govern the universe: naturalists say that they may one day be able to fully explain the laws operating within our universe, but will ostensibly never explain the ultimate origin of these laws (due to the infinite regress problem). By contrast, the god hypothesis posits that god created the laws. However, it is still unable to explain the origin of any Meta laws governing the existence and characteristics of god. Rather, it just tries, unconvincingly in my view, to evade them. So, it doesn’t really get us any further with this question at all – as it just replaces it with other questions.
• Consciousness: naturalists concede that they don’t have a theory that fully explains this. However, they do feel that it is reducible to natural process occurring within the brain and, in principle, such a theory, or set of theories, is attainable. Even if such a theory can never be formulated, they do not accept that this implies that consciousness requires anything other than matter/energy operating within space/time, and certainly do not accept that a god is implicated. Naturalists point out that there is no evidence that any disembodied mind exists. Moreover, damaging the human brain can result in a loss of consciousness. Further, we have identified within a brain where different types of memory are stored, where emotions and reason operate, and where each kind of sensory experience is processed.
1. On your hypothesis: what exactly is this other ‘stuff’ that mind consists of, and what is its purpose?
2. What does it do that the material brain does not do, and how does it do this?
3. Why is the material brain required to play a part in consciousness at all?
4. At what point in our evolution did we acquire this ‘mind stuff’, and how did that happen?
5. Where did it come from?
6. Do lower animals have any of this stuff, lying dormant?
7. How, exactly, does the existence of this ‘mind stuff’ imply a god?
• I won’t expound any further upon a naturalistic theory of reason, logic, and mathematics, but would suggest the following paper: http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/richard_carrier/reppert.html
I would ask, though, what does the god hypothesis have to say on this matter that is so compelling? How does the god hypothesis account for this? Moreover, can you formulate this answer in some coherent way that neither begs the question nor suffers from the infinite regress problem?

[But the reason I believe the explanation is forever out of our reach is that rationality, to me, seems to be prior to any kind of knowledge, including that of ourselves. An explanation of the emergence of mind from matter would necessarily entail an explanation of the emergence of rationality itself and at the same time rely on logic and rationality. In other words, it seems to me that a materialist account of logic, rationality etc. risks running into some kind of epistemic relativism.]

I’m afraid to say that I find this argument to be a non sequitur. I don’t see at all how your conclusion follows from your premises. Why cannot logic and rationality explain the emergence and existence of rationality itself? Perhaps you could explain?

So, where does that leave us? I get the impression that the existence of consciousness is the most compelling reason for you to consider the existence of a god. Is that so? In this case, does your reasoning imply merely that there exists some other ‘stuff’ within the universe that you would call mind, and which scientists have not yet been able to isolate? Or, do you feel that the existence of mind directly implies the existence of a god? If so, exactly what is this connection?

PSSST(KA) said...

"I’m afraid to say that I find this argument to be a non sequitur. I don’t see at all how your conclusion follows from your premises. Why cannot logic and rationality explain the emergence and existence of rationality itself? Perhaps you could explain?"

Basically, logic and rationality are normative. They deal with "ought"s, as opposed to the "is" of physical science. Now the whole predicability/falsifiability etc. of physics is pretty much based on that: when we observe a particle being in position A, we usually can conceive it being in a wholly different location, and perhaps observing it in a wholly different location would falsify our theory.

With language, logic, and rationality this kind of empirical falsifiability doesn't really come into the question. I can confront you with the letter sequence "prshcts" and proclaim it means 'elbow' in English, but you have no reason at all to assume that your knowledge about English is falsified. Rather, "prshcts" would be quite meaningless and definitely not English to you. But the same goes for rational behaviour. Behaviour that does not correspond to any kind of rational means-end framework is simply incomprehensible. Banging one's head to the wall instead of walking over to the tap because one wants to drink water is an incomprehensible action - and, if we were to witness such a thing, would be interpreted as a plea for attention, imposing a rational means-end framework on an otherwise irrational behaviour.

In other words, we're dealing with essentially normative systems which crucially involve ourselves, the norms we have internalized, and interpret the world around us with.

What this means is that in making sense of the world around us, we cannot "get out of the box" of rationality, logic etc. and find some neutral third position from which to observe the world. Any scientific theory which for example would explain the emergence of rationality, logic and indeed thought itself out of biochemistry in some kind of predictive, deterministic manner would also need to specify the limits of our thoughts, and paradoxically be able to state what we 'cannot' think. In other words, the vantage point from which such a theory could work is lost from us.

So, rationality and logic as normative establish, for example, what are valid and unvalid arguments about the world around us. Our putative scientific theory would conceivably turn this "ought" into a contingent "is" - but it would itself be defended with the same kind of normative reason and logic. In that sense, it would run into the riddle any kind of relativism relating truth and validity of argument to class, gender, etc. would run into: it would have to except itself from relativism, or it would be self-refuting, losing the criteria upon which scientific theories are normally judged.

I hasten to add that this does not necessarily refute philosophical reductive materialism, though I do believe it lessens the intuitive attraction of it. It does, however, place limits to the extent to which we ourselves can be scientifically explained.

I only recently stumbled upon the argumentation above: it's raised in Popper's "The Open Universe" (p. 81 and further) and also in Thomas Nagel's "The Last Word", if you're interested. But it has a long history before that as well. I like the argumentation a lot, though I may modify my opinion as I read up on it.