There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
– William Shakespeare, Hamlet Act I, Scene 5
It’s been a while since my last post, but frankly, the last couple have kept me somewhat preoccupied with the amount of feedback I received, particularly from the Christian community. It was good, though not exactly fruitful, to have such an outpouring of discussion from both camps. I’m not sure we resolved anything except to harden our respective positions with regard to the Question of Suffering, a/k/a the Problem of Evil, and by extension, the existence of god. One of the reasons I feel this occurs is because of the nature of the setting in which the discussion takes place. I don’t mean this blog, but rather the philosophical environment. It strikes me that the freewheeling, almost limitless, ability to analyze philosophically actually acts as a limitation or impediment to resolution of any given question. Let me see if I can explain what I’m thinking.
Philosophy: n., pl. -phies.
1. Love and pursuit of wisdom by intellectual means and moral self-discipline.
2. Investigation of the nature, causes, or principles of reality, knowledge, or values, based on logical reasoning rather than empirical methods.
3. A system of thought based on or involving such inquiry: the philosophy of Hume.
4. The critical analysis of fundamental assumptions or beliefs.
5. The disciplines presented in university curriculums of science and the liberal arts, except medicine, law, and theology.
6. The discipline comprising logic, ethics, aesthetics, metaphysics, and epistemology.
7. A set of ideas or beliefs relating to a particular field or activity; an underlying theory: an original philosophy of advertising.
8. A system of values by which one lives: has an unusual philosophy of life.
[Middle English philosophie, from Old French, from Latin philosophia, from Greek philosophiā, from philosophos, lover of wisdom, philosopher. See philosopher.]
For purposes of this discussion, I’m going to restrict myself to the second and fourth definitions, as I think those best describe the process of analyzing these questions.
Anyone following the comments in the post The Christian Response might have noticed a certain disconnect between the two sides of the discussion. Those who I’d place in the atheist camp embraced the introduction (by a theist, ironically) of the Epicurean Dilemma because it so succinctly sets forth a logical and rational quandary, the existence of which leaves one with serious doubt about the existence of an omnipotent and omni-benevolent god. However, those who I’d place in the Christian camp seem to find all sorts of reasons to obfuscate the dilemma, by posing what we affectionately called four “flawed suppositions” or “flawed exceptions” that tried to counter Epicurus by presuming alternative explanations for his dilemma.
I’m not going to rehash that argument here. If you want to contribute to that thread, feel free, but keep Epicurus out of this one. What I want to point out is how thoroughly obfuscatory the philosophical attack on reality can be. The human brain, most of us would agree, is an incredibly complex and complicated organ, and the mind, the conscious part of the brain, is capable of hypothesizing all kinds of scenarios, many of which could not exist in reality. The square circle. The married bachelor. Angels dancing on pinheads. Oxymorons in general.
While Philosophy (and its little sister, Theology) pretends to attempt to explain reality (see definition #2, above) by its very nature of stringing out hypothesis after hypothesis, testing it against reason and logic, and ultimately rarely, if ever, arriving at a conclusion, it simply continues to allow those with strongly held beliefs, often not based on any evidence whatsoever, to continue believing unsubstantiated notions ad infinitum, ad nauseum. By using the imagination, and the brain’s ability to conceptualize things beyond the ability to prove, philosophy just sets us up for disappointment, while leading us to beleive we are actually accomplishing some intellectual legerdemain. If one wants to understand reality, philosophy is a poor vehicle for getting there. The Exterminator calls it a “masturbatory exercise“.
The point of philosophy is to start with something so
simple as not to seem worth stating, and to end with
something so paradoxical that no one will believe it.
– Bertrand Russell
The Dilemma we batted around is fairly straightforward, almost self-explanatory. By taking a philosophical approach, one Christian in particular seemed to delight in muddying the water, rather than trying to explain away the quandary, as if making the issue murkier somehow showed the pointlessness of the Dilemma. At its heart, however, the Christian approach always works backwards. As usual, the Christian assumes the existence of god, one who is omnipotent and omni-benevolent, but one who also is apparently unburdened by, or even blind to, the question of human suffering. Once this assumption is made, the logic and reasoning twists backwards to find a premise to support the conclusion, rather than the other way around, as logic and reason would dictate, and as the Epicurean Dilemma insists. This is a nice example of Christian apologetics at work.
Reality shouldn’t be that hard to grasp. Philosophy, by it’s very nature, makes it hard, shrouding what feels right in a mist of irrelevancies, undue complexities and misdirections. While it uses mental mechanics that sharpen the intellect, ultimately the results are unsatisfactory.
If one would like to have a good grasp of reality, a better vehicle is science. Science makes use of some of the same tools as philosophy – logic, reason and critical thinking – yet attempts to arrive at a consensus of facts, rather than esoteric notions of probability. The strong indication that science is on the right track, while philosophy is stagnant, is that we are still arguing the same philosophical questions posed 500 years ago, without resolution, while at the same time science has answered almost all of the questions asked of it, and has repeatedly progressed to new levels of questions unimagined a half-millennium ago.
The explanatory power of science so far exceeds that of philosophy, it’s no wonder the latter seems like a dead subject, constantly debated and re-debated by dead philosophers. Science has explained the previously thought of unexplainable, and continues to do so on a daily basis.
Philosophers say a great deal about what is absolutely
necessary for science, and it is always, so far as one
can see, rather naive, and probably wrong.
– Richard Feynman