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.
First, because a lot of the difficulties in the last couple of posts involved agreeing to the definitions of the concepts we were discussing, let’s set forth a definition of philosophy.
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
Man, I couldn’t agree more.
The other day, after I wrote my silly little post about Socrates, I decided to reread some Plato for fun. I remembered the dialogues I’d studied in college — just a handful — as being kind of humorous, but not as hilarious as I found them to be now.
The Protagoras is my favorite for yucks so far. There I was, and so was Philly and Evo and even you, SI. And chappy and (((Billy))), too. And, of course, every nutzoid Christian we’ve been talking to lately. There was no one-to-one correspondence; the characters in the dialogue took turns being each of us.
Everybody was arguing over what a fair answer should be like, and which answers were and weren’t unnecessary digressions, and how specific words should be defined, and what an author meant when he said this or that, and who should judge the various arguments, and who one-upped whom and when and how. I didn’t even bother to try to follow what they were discussing because it all seemed so outrageous and, unfortunately, familiar. At the end, Socrates appeared to “win” (although he was telling the story, so it’s not clear whether or not he was lying), but the two main debaters just decided to stop arguing — with each person still thinking the other was full of shit.
As I’ve said many times: it’s fun and it gets your rocks off. But philosophy is mental masturbation.
I don’t think the human brain can imagine a square circle: it can repeat the words, and list the relevant concepts involved in the description, but it cannot actually envision the thing: it’s self-contradiction makes it impossible to conceive of directly.
The very objection to philosophy is absurd, for the process of formulating and assigning value is a philosophical exercise.
To SI, I think your objection is with engaging in both metaphysics and obfuscation, and haphazardly attacked all of philosophy just to get to those two things.
To Ex, I think you’re just absurdly getting your rocks off.
I am just getting my rocks off, but I don’t think I’m doing it absurdly. Can you define “absurd”?
Excellent post, SI. I think you put your finger on the button with your quote from Russell and the subsequent paragraph. Too much of the “philosophy” we encounter starts with the conclusion (for the purposes of this discussion: “God exists”/”God doesn’t exist”) and works backwards to rationalise it. Rene Descartes, wrong though he was about so many things, had the right idea – philosophy should begin by working back to the bare minimum of premises and only then start to forge towards a conclusion. Unfortunately, most of the main schools of philosophy have been established for so long that their arguments have entered the realm of the unassailable – we take as read that greater minds than ours have already built the foundations (Epicurus is good example – and that’s the only mention he gets, honest!) and so do not question their construction.
Yes, philosophy has stagnated – but does that mean we should abandon it? Surely it would be better to clean off what we have and put it to use. Science has indeed conquered some realms that were previously regarded as philosophy’s sovereign territory, but what of such regions as morality, the nature (and existence) of the soul or the purpose of life? I would argue that we still (at this point in time anyway) need philosophical models to discuss these ideas.
And anyway, I have a very attractive navel – it’s nice to gaze at it now and then.
Arrgh! Attack of the random smiley!
That is actually antithetical to philosophy, where there is no recognition of authority and everything is questionable. A logical argument is a mathematical construct. We refer back to great arguments that have come before just as we refer back to great mathematical formulas like the Pythagorean theorem.
Philosophy hasn’t stagnated, nor has science conquered realms of philosophy. Science uncovers facts, but what do those facts mean? What can we conclude from them? What are the implications of those facts? How do we apply them? That is philosophy. It’s not an either/or, it’s a symbiosis, and in fact philosophy gave birth to science. We can be surrounded by reality, but what of it? What does it mean when I observe this or that? What does it mean that it’s better to trust in an answer that can be repeatedly demonstrated over one that can’t? What does it mean to require evidence? These are philosophical ideas that lead to the scientific method. Without philosophy, an apple falling on your head has no meaning, and has made the difference in such an event being a mere pain sensation to humans walking on the moon.
What has been objectionable in the comment sections that SI points to is not the failures of philosophy but rather the refusal to properly participate in a discussion by either blatant muddying of the waters with tangential arguments and other misdirections or arguing from premises which are merely assumed and unsupported and the arguer is completely unwilling to have held up to scrutiny. Much like there are rules to mathematics that mathematicians must adhere to, there are rules for engaging in philosophical discussions. Mathematics is not to blame for poor mathematicians or ones who fudge their numbers, and neither is philosophy to blame for antics by asshats.
Oh, I agree, but that’s exactly my point. It’s the fact that we can arrive at a self-contradicting notion, without our brain exploding, that makes philosphy so insidious. We are able to construct the impossible in our brains. The impossible is not always that obvious, though. We construct things like god, a very complex entity(at least in its current incarnation – in the beginning, gods were animistic and must simpler), we know it is difficult to envision, but we rationalize, through philosphy and theology, that it exists anyway. But the fact that we can create these mental impossibilities, and then use them to philosophize, is something humans have to be very wary of. It’s the hypothesizing process that runs us around in circles.
Good point. I have a hard time disagreeing with this. I’ll leave that to Ex.
I hope I didn’t come across as saying that Philosophy was totally worthless. I just think that given it’s nature of using both real and fabricated mental constructs, with very little in the way of differentiation between the two, that philosophical discussion such as we had here are really pointless.
Maybe professionals can moderate themselves into useful philosophical discussions, but we amateurs just get bogged down. I wouldn’t get into a deep discussion over complex mathematical subjects with a math professor, as I’m way out of my element there. Likewise, with philosophical discussions. I can only go so far before I find we’re all slowing sinking in quicksand.
I would contend that PhillyChief’s description and questions (and I may get my ass handed to me here (which is part of the learning experience (and part of why I comment)) because I managed to take bare minimum of philosophy in college and could never wrap my head around it) would apply more toward the old ‘natural philosophy’ of the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, rather than the modern experimental sciences. I agree that philosophy helps to mould the questions to be asked an the hypotheoses posed, but the application, implication, and conclusion gained from facts arrived at through experementation and physical observation are constrained by the facts. The philosophy of SI’s post seems, to me, to be talking about unconstrained philosophy — facts are not needed, only the elegant, almost mathematical, logical equation itself.
Did any of that make sense?
What is theoretical physics then but a contemporary attempt to explain reality or parts of reality without definitive data? Einstein theorized that a great mass could bend space around itself. In 1919 (I think) photos were taken of the sun (or a planet, my memory is foggy) and a star that was behind it was visible to the left. Did the star move, or did this prove Einstein’s theory by showing that light was bent around a large mass? The latter explanation was agreed upon. So was Einstein engaging in mental masturbation? Was his philosophical exercise incapable of explaining reality?
That’s how it came across to me, and most definitely from Ex, aside from temporary self gratuity
The reasons one wouldn’t engage in deep discussions about a particular subject with an expert on a subject is because we lack the expertise in that subject. However, there are applications of the subject and ways of looking at the subject which are universally accessible, as are the means by which we engage in discussion. The issues surrounding a subject can be discussed without full knowledge of the specific subject. For instance, someone could be a biblical scholar and you may be over your head discussing finer points of the bible, yet the basic questions of Epicurus can still be asked and you can engage him with them.
Imo, the problem of evil is very real and Epicurus’ questions have not been answered. Neither has the issue of Euthyphro. These issues make the concept of a perfect god impossible. The fact that people over the ages don’t want to accept that and try anything to thwart them is not a failing of philosophy any more than people who choose to accept faith over reason is somehow a failing of reason. Indeed, science very clearly shows evolution is a fact, yet people don’t accept that. Is that a failing of science?
You’re not suggesting that Einstein was engaging in philosophizing when he theorized that light bent around mass, are you? I suspect that there were mathematical calculations that substantiated his theory, long before it was observed in the field. That’s not the type of philosophizing I’m talking about. I object to the subject of philosophy being used, because it’s a respected academic subject, as if it provides answers just by inventing philosophical rationales for something.
If Joe Pastor, reading about Einstein’s theory before it was confirmed, philosophized that light, otherwise thought to travel in a straight line, could be bent by the will of god, and because the human mind could hypothesize such a state of affairs, it was given credence, under that circumstance the use of philosphy is suspect.
The main objections, and hence the main controversy, involves people who have made up their minds about creation, and who then, looking at the same evidence scientists look at, concoct alternative scenarios that have their base in philosophy, not science. The idea that everything that appears to be designed, IS designed because it appears to be, is philosophical in origin. That, then, is a failure of philosophy, not science.
Science explains the evidence, philosphy tries to explain it away.
Yes, and the elegance more often than not becomes more important than the substance. It lulls people into a false sense of understanding.
Philly: What has been objectionable in the comment sections that SI points to is not the failures of philosophy but rather the refusal to properly participate in a discussion by either blatant muddying of the waters with tangential arguments and other misdirections or arguing from premises which are merely assumed and unsupported and the arguer is completely unwilling to have held up to scrutiny.
SI: Good point. I have a hard time disagreeing with this. I’ll leave that to Ex.
Well, Philly’s point is good only if everyone accepts his definition of what a philosophical argument is and should be. But that itself is open to philosophical argument. So …
I feel like I’m on an out-of-control Tilt-a-Whirl.
I think I need to visit this one. Join me if you want to. http://youtube.com/watch?v=teMlv3ripSM (the Monty Python argument/contradiction sketch).
Well I can’t see why you posted that link. It isn’t very funny, is it?
I’m quite new to blogs, and certainly have found a mountain of interesting topics popping up on people’s pages. Having never studied philosophy at any great depth, I do admit to taking a scientific route through life. This post, in many ways works, on all sorts of levels and has made we reassess my thoughts. Could we not say say that one’s ability to imagine is just as useful as someones who is merely calculated? A person who sits and day dreams may philosophise about very serious matters, but it isn’t until they focus their attention on finding a solution does anyone take any notice.
I think the modern world pushes us all to find solutions. We want creative, artistic and thoughtful people, but we are generally fueled by greed and one’s own need to fit in with society. We all must understand a genius may give us answers to things others could never have even consider calculating. Some spend all their lives dependent on finding just one result, others spend their whole life just wondering what their purpose was – almost philosophising.
When I think about it, our modern way of living doesn’t encourage a lot of thought, but then we could be going towards finding something so spectacular we will wonder how we ever missed it. Science is always looking to find answers in everything, but without a philosophical question in the first place would we all just stand around waiting for our next instructions? Maybe we need to lose our inhibitions to think so mechanically and look towards something which we have ourselves. Something far more powerful than even science can yet see – our souls! There is definitely something beyond our comprehension and neither a philosopher or scientist has answered or even asked the right question yet.
Philosophy needs to be rather simple. While science can not resolve each and every (or even many) philosophical problems, it can inform the process and as long as the philosophical reasoning remains simplified down to basic human universals (for if it’s not universal, then claiming “truth” is an absurdity). Then one can get answers from science. Start with a basic proposition of universal human rights and responsibilities, and let science inform it.
Ex: Every time I read (or participate in) an argument, I flash on this particular (almost funny) Monty Python sketch. Many (not all (I try not to make blanket statements)) thiestic commenters do not understand how to form an argument, be it philosophical, scientific, historical, or even theological. Morphing definitions, red herrings, argument from personal crudulity or popularity, knee-jerk contradiction and lots more (it’s morning, I’m taking a week off, my son graduate’s this afternoon, I’m not sleeping too well (no AC and we have a heat wave going) so that’s what I can think of right now) tend to populate the arguments (or attempted arguments) which show up in many theistic discussions (usually, but not always, on the theistic side). Though this clip does not fit perfectly (after all, contradiction rather than argument is the subject covered), I thought (adn I may be wrong) that it might help illustrate one of the major problems I see on atheist blogs — an inability (among some commenters) to argue. I apologize. Maybe this was not the apropriate thread in which to make this tangential reference.
I actually view this inability to argue rationally as an ASSET to the religious side. Most Americans are never trained in logic. Most Americans do not know how to write a research or term paper (or thesis). Most Americans view arguments through the lense of whose sound bite sounded better on TV (and I use ‘most’ based upon our twice-elected moron-in-chief). Scoring a point, whether correct or not, convinces many people. Additionally, free-thinkers and rationalists tend to spend an incredible amount of time and ink (and phosphors) attempting to refute the non-arguements and logical fallacies, and teach people (including me) how to argue. Logic and reason, in most venues, do not fair well in the popular consciouseness to illogic and faith.
Sorry about the long post. It’s an occupational hazard.
Well, you paid me for an argument, so I thought I’d better start one. Now that you refuse to pony up any more cash …
Yes, the clip was hilarious. And extremely appropriate.
Ahhhhhh. Humour. I didn’t recognize it. Sorry. My bad.
The point SI was when looking at data, we have to make sense of it. Einstein looked at that data and envisioned space bending as a solution. People laughed. Where does he get this stuff? It’s absurd! Then proof. Likewise, there’s a guy (I can’t think of his name) who looked at the problem of certain stuff being further out from the center of the universe then it should be according to Big Bang Theory, and has put forth the idea that MAYBE the speed of light is not a constant, that maybe it was faster in the initial moments of the Bang. Where’s this come from? Simply doing equations didn’t lead to this, it took something more, a logical mind examining the problem and asking questions, any and all questions, even if they conflict with all conventional opinions. THAT is the essence of philosophy.
It’s not mine, it’s THE definition, and gets back to what I said was REALLY the point of this post, and that’s objecting to the antics of asshats and not actually objecting to philosophy.
It’s not mine, it’s THE definition.
So it sounds like you’re saying that the definition is part of the thing itself. Is that what you mean? “Philosophy” is a unitary something that has only one specific definition, to which it’s attached and inseparable.
Getting your rocks off?
I believe the context was “philosophical argument”. To that, I’ll clarify that argumentation is applied logic, and doesn’t require a modifier like “philosophical” since the application is the same regardless of the topic, like the act of drawing is the same regardless of what you’re drawing.
The very idea of some asshat engaging in an application of logic by being illogical, is absurd from the get go, which is what you get often enough when debating the religious. How can one argue that logic has it’s limits by employing logic to do so? Absurd. How can one argue the logic in abandoning logic for faith? It’s looney. That’s why they don’t really argue logically but rather employ tricks, logical fallacies and emotional appeals, and when you think about it, it makes perfect sense since if they do put stock in faith over logic then they have a disdain for logic, so why expect them to honor it in a discussion? The goal is to win, by any means necessary, which is yet another offense since the point in argumentation is to be open to the possibility that you’re wrong, which they never are, so they don’t listen to what you say except to find a buzz word or phrase to go look up the suitable apologetic rebuttal to it or cook up some suitable trick to wiggle away from it.
The very idea of some asshat engaging in an application of logic by being illogical, is absurd from the get go, which is what you get often enough when debating the religious.
I agree completely with that statement and with everything that follows. I think when we get into debates with asshats we should toss out one or two simple questions and insist on answers. If a comment comes back without an answer, we shouldn’t respond to any points, but just return to the questions, over and over, hammering them home until the question is answered. If and when the question is answered, then we can ask further questions or respond to questions of theirs.
That would be a really interesting debate format. Actually, I’d love to see the media enforce something like that with the candidates.
Actually, that’s exactly how logical argumentation is supposed to work. Start with a premise or premises, throw in a new statement, see if it fits the premise, and work logically from it. Ask questions that pertain to the last answer, then proceed in an orderly, logical fashion.
All to often the theists try to divert you from that course, by running off on tangents, making illogical assumptions, or simply inane statements (God already abolished evil. OK. That really solves the problem of evil, now doesn’t it?).
That one is my new favorite, and I didn’t think anything could top “external critique of the bible is fallacious” but evil has already been abolished? Priceless. Oh I do hope he one day explains that, I really do. Ok, now THAT admittedly is getting my rocks off. 🙂
I’d say that you’re evil, but, of course, we know that’s impossible now that evil is no more. Does sarcasm count as Evil.
Shit, I sure hope not.
Nice post. After our latest banter, I was also thinking of a way to better regiment and clarify these things. Funny thing is, all the points in which Ex, Philly and yourself feel I failed upon are also points I feel yourselves failed upon. If you can think of a leaner, more transparent way to debate the so-called problem of evil, please, drop me a line.
Now SI – I do have mixed feelings about your reluctance to remove the comments of obvious trolls! Since you didn’t remove any of mine, I assume you don’t think I’m a troll. 🙂 However, you didn’t remove the admittedly entertaining spewings-forth of one rather phonetically-challenged troll, and I’m curious to hear your justification of this special pleading. 🙂
I think it was you that wrote, “..blatant muddying of the waters with tangential arguments and other misdirections or arguing from premises which are merely assumed and unsupported and the arguer is completely unwilling to have held up to scrutiny.”
Now call me a morbid, egotistical narcissist, but part of me thinks this comment was inspired by one or more of mine. If not, then the following is all strawman, but just for the record, I will say that in SI’s post in question regarding the problem of evil, I didn’t intentionally muddy anything. Tangential arguments may have been introduced, but certainly not relied upon or used to eschew any of your questions. And many if not all of the premises I assumed were the premises we all assumed in order to have the discussion.
I agree with your proposed treating of asshats and actually employed your suggested tactic in the thread in question. That’s why I kept asking a simple question everybody eschewed but nobody answered (see below). I think in debate, the debaters should pin one another down to specific answers to specific questions.
In the general context of future banter, now that we’ve “got our rocks off” as you say, I’m more than willing to directly answer any question you can throw my way, not to be right but to engage, mostly because you seem like a smart guy who’s thought a lot about these types of things. Like any piss-ant intellectual worth its worth, I want to be somewhat confident I’ve not missed any valid arguments in any direction on any topic.
Which quality of an omnipotent, omnibenevolent, omniscient, omnipresent God is violated by allowing other sentient beings to manifest their position regarding the phenomenon of evil?
declare your formula of debate “The Asshat Format” – I take part credit.
The moment you decide to go to Paris, you’ve made an instantaneous decision to go to Paris, yes or no? I suspect you’ll say yes, and I also suspect you might further argue that if you were omnipotent, then your instantaneous decision to visit Paris would be supplanted by an instantaneous visit to Paris. I would say you were correct. In other words, it is only because of your own lack of omnipotence that a decision to visit Paris is not carried out instantaneously, right?
So if God makes an instantaneous decision to abolish evil, but the decision is not effected or carried out instantaneously, under what conditions is this a contradiction and why? And are there any conceivable conditions under which this is not a contradiction?
I leave all posts up, except spam and people who become abusive.
I don’t understand the question. “…manifest their position”?
No. I may have a reason for not going to Paris instantly. Perhaps I want to take the scenic route for instance.
Unlike a 3-omni god, I have no absolute obligation. In other words, I can delay my trip to Paris since I’m not obligated to go to Paris, but a 3-omni god is obligated to rid evil instantly. Why?
• He has to get rid of evil due to that pesky omnibenevolent thing
• Knows how to do it because he’s omniscient
• Can do it instantly because he’s omnipotent
Taking the scenic route for him would be a violation of omnibenevolence.
He has a reason for allowing evil, and he’s all good so his reason must be good; therefore, evil serves a good reason making it good. This removes the problem of evil by erasing evil from the 4 premises. We’ve been here before.