happymurtad vs. Ishina
Reply #4 - August 19, 2013, 06:08 PM
Rather than take each of the good gentleman's arguments point by point, I'd like to concentrate on just a few areas of contention for my first rebuttal, mainly the idea of intuitive belief, the propensity of belief in God, and the concept of intelligence as it pertains to the prime mover. While this may not address all of my opponent's argumentation directly, I think there will be enough overlap to cover most of it, indirectly at least. If the gentleman feels I have missed anything important, I would be happy to revisit any point at a later time.
As is the case with most religious apologia, there are two arguments being made in tandem; an appeal to the plausible, and an appeal to accept God. These two threads criss-cross and interweave each other into a single narrative so that as we follow it, it comes across as a compelling argument for God. There is a kind of bait-and-switch going on. The apologist will feed you some good stuff about cosmology perhaps, the mystery of the early universe, some neat-sounding logic about causation, or an appeal to complexity, or gentle nudges towards the limits of our understanding, where only speculation exists. Stuff to get you nodding along. Then when you decide to buy into the package, it's switched with God and all the other unjustified baggage that comes with it. And when the savvy buyer clocks onto it and points out the baggage, the apologists flip-flops back to the agreeable stuff. If you're not careful, you find yourself arguing against something unassailable in place of the easily assailable God.
The gentleman appeals to our intuitions once more. He rightly suggests human beings are intuitive creatures. We apprehend and navigate the world around us to a large extent with our intuitions. We have a certain degree of 'working wisdom' that amounts to a certain provisional, reactive, immediate-access interface with the world. Our spacial awareness, our sense of motion, speed, balance, gravity, our sense of distance, heights and depths, weight, space, place, and time, are all generated real-time with very little conscious effort. Mostly an unconscious, reflex grasp. And we have those visceral feelings of foresight, fear, or confidence and faith in our ability or security, that are not always rationally or intellectually derived, and yet employed because they work, more or less. They are sufficient to get around.
Somewhere in this mix of incidental, causal and interpretational relationships lies the truth about our universe and our existence. We yearn to understand. We have to make sense of it all. Intuition is a great starting point for acquiring knowledge. It gives us that immediate handle on the universe. But intuition is not a bedrock. It turns out that very little actually works the way we intuitively feel it does. The Earth is flat, intuitively. The Sun is smaller than the Earth, intuitively. Intuition tells us that, apparently, the Sun rotates around the Earth and, apparently, is similar in size to the Moon. And both are bigger than the stars.
We form all kinds of superficial and premature beliefs about the universe. Flat Earth theory and Geocentricism are just two examples of where we end up when we rely too much on our limited intuitions. It seems to me that, historically, intuition has failed spectacularly to paint an accurate picture of what is factual or real beyond what is directly in front of our noses. And much of modern science is an endeavour to de-program our intuitive biases and to remove them from the equation of knowledge. The universe we know now is very different to how the ancients perceived it. Is it any wonder, then, that the cosmology reflected in ancient scriptures seems to reflect this intuitive human understanding of the world rather than the more accurate findings of the scientific method?
The gentleman's second appeal is to the widespread disposition to believe in God. This is a huge error. Religious people simply do not believe in the same thing. They have vastly different ideas what God actually is. They are not all praying to the same God, do not all envision the same kind of God or the same idea of the cosmos, have a whole spectrum of hypothesis about where we came from and where we are going. You have thousands of ideas competing in a marketplace of ideas. Hundreds and thousands of different God concepts, different cosmic hypothesis, different universe models, many completely incompatible with each other. Some religious demographics reject entirely the notion of a personal deity. And monotheism itself is a newcomer to the world stage, at barely two thousand years old. Modern theology can be vastly different from classical theology, too. They can bear almost no resemblance at all, even within a narrow religious tradition. They can be as different as night and day, as different as fire and brimstone versus gentle spiritual guru. Not to mention be at complete odds on many fundamental moral and legal issues. Even Islam itself is divided into denominations, incompatible with each other and contradicting each other, often violently. The religions of the world do a great job of discrediting each other. They tell a thousand lies before they happen to stumble upon a single truth. It's absolutely impossible for them all to be right. But it's entirely possible that they are all wrong.
Lastly, I'd like to address intelligence. The gentleman makes firm allusions to his God's intelligence, agency, wakefulness, authority – as though he is speaking about a person. I'm glad he does because this allows me to articulate some of my foremost misgivings about theism.
Agency, intelligence, design, comes with a heavy price. Consider how we determine intelligence. Intelligence is a function or capacity of an agent, arising when it is tested or tasked, where a problem must be overcome, where a goal must be met, or where options are presented and decisions need to be made, where something is approached logically or laterally. The consequence of this is that an intelligent agent must have obstacles, difficulties, limits, options, unmet goals, and so on, in order to be functionally intelligent. It must be imperfect, existing in an imperfect state, with an external, pre-existing reality to navigate with mechanics at least partially unfamiliar to it or uncongenial to it. So it seems to me that intelligence and perfection cannot both be features of the same entity. If this follows, then what are the implications of God's non-perfection for theism? It would seem to me that the entire idea is a write-off. You have deism, at best. A universe architect of unknown character and attributes and of unknown origin. It cannot be a perfect being. Unless it is perfect for a task it has been put to by external influences. It also cannot be said to be the source of all things, only some things within the set of all things.
Moreover, how could one conclude the architect was intelligent if one cannot properly ascertain the agenda of the architect and how completely and efficiently that agenda has been met? Let's suppose there is agency for a moment. Let's suppose that it did indeed cause the universe to arise. What does this assumption alone tell us about the attributes of said cause? It doesn't tell us if there was intent or not. It doesn't tell us if it was ingenious or a clumsy accident. Or a completely unconscious action. This doesn't rule out the potential of the universe being just a wasteful by-product of some other kind of production. Or pure luck. It could be the case that the universe is nothing like the end goal, not at all resembling the task it was set, inefficient, ineffective. The agency might be a blundering incompetent fool getting something wrong all the time. The universe may be its waste bin. All of these scenarios are more plausible than a perfect creation by a perfect being. And all of them are still low down on the list of most plausible explanations on offer, which we might perhaps explore later.
I content that God cannot be a perfect being, and that imperfections open up a big problem for the theist: how did God come to be this way? Did he decide to? From what options? Or must he be this way and no other? If so, who or what determines God's nature?
Too fucking busy, and vice versa.