Reason and the First Person -- the sceptical threat

[Note: the contents page for this series can be found here. The previous entry, the second for chapter 17, can be found here.]

[This entry continues chapter 17, part 3 of 4.]

(Picking up from the end of the previous part...)

Reed (the theist): Why should I agree that your evaluation of those clues is rational?

Chase (the atheist): What?! That's rather rude!

R: Pardon me; let me try a different approach. Would you say you have drawn some reasonable conclusions, about the development of our sentience from non-purposive Nature, from these clues?

C: Yes. Would you like some examples?

R: No, thank you; it isn't really necessary.

C: You aren't even going to look at the examples for yourself!? That seems rather like you're afraid you'll find something that disarms your point!

R: It could only disarm my point if the inferences drawn from those clues could possibly be rationally established.

C: I assure you, they can.

R: Really? Would you mind explaining again why we would be drawing inferences from those clues in the first place?

C: To explain how it is possible, in principle, for non-rational causation to produce rational thinking.

R: And you're confident that this explanation is rational?

C: There is in fact a wide battery of explanations along this line that I think are rational, and I would be happy to show them to you.

R: If you're confident these explanations are rational, why are you bothering with the inferences from these clues?

C: Excuse me?

R: Supposedly, you're going to show me these inferences drawn from experiments or principles or whatever, so you can explain that it is functionally possible for non-rational causation to produce rational thought.

C: Yes, and I will if you'll just let me!

R: But you apparently don't need them; you are already confident that your thought processes are at least possibly rational even though you consider them to be produced ultimately by non-rational causation.

C: Well, I'm not doing it for me; I'm doing it for you, since you're the one having a hard time with the concept!

R: All right; I say it is intrinsic nonsense to claim that non-rational causes and only non-rational causes can produce rational behaviors. What types of things are you going to show me?

C: I have a whole boatload of data and arguments which demonstrate that you are wrong, and that such things are possible--although you seem suspiciously afraid to look at them!

R: And these arguments (including the analyses of the data) will be reliable because they are rational?

C: Yes!

R: So I must begin by jettisoning my contention, and then accepting instead from the getgo that it is possible for non-rational behavior to produce rational behavior, before you get to the arguments explaining that this is possible. How convenient!

C: No, all you have to do is look--

R: All I have to do, is accept that your arguments which purport to justify that your ability to justify your arguments is possibly rational, are themselves possibly rational.

C: I think you are twisting my words around.

R: Let's start again. These arguments of yours are rational?

C: Yes!

R: And you claim these arguments of yours are themselves rational behaviors ultimately produced by non-rational causation?

C: Yes; that is what it means for me to be an "atheist", among other things.

R: And your arguments will make it clear that this is a possible situation?

C: Yes!

R: So we have to sheerly accept first that this must be a possible situation, before we get to the arguments that show it is (or even can be) a possible situation.

C: No, you don't have to sheerly accept it, that's what the arguments are for.

R: If I offered to demonstrate to you that God does exist if you would only begin by accepting that God must exist, I suspect you would refuse my offer.

C: Absolutely: that's a circular argument. It can't go anywhere.

R: So if you offer to demonstrate to me that your demonstrations can possibly be rational, if only I will accept first that your demonstrations can possibly be rational, what should I do?

C: You should refuse it: that’s a circular argument. It can’t go anywhere. But my strategy is different than that.

R: What is the difference in principle?

C: Well, I'm not talking about God.

R: I said "in principle", not "in topic". What's the difference between the two tactics?

C: But it isn't really necessary to demonstrate that I might be rational. You said it yourself earlier.

R: True; we can start with that as a necessary presumption: you and I can be rational. It is entirely proper to go on to ask: "What produced this characteristic of ours?"

C: Nature.

R: Non-rational Nature.

C: Right, not a pantheistic or theistic God.

R: Are you claiming non-rational Nature produces rationality so often, that the odds are pretty good you and I are rational no matter what possible physical condition we have?

C: Of course not. Rationality only comes with certain physical structures in Nature, as you are well aware.

R: So, overall in Nature, it's rather rare?

C: Taking Nature as a whole, yes. Solar fusion is rather rare in Nature, too, considering the physical space of Nature as a whole. Nevertheless: there's the Sun (and billions of other stars besides)!

R: I agree. So why do you think that this particular physical arrangement has done the trick?

C: I don't have to justify it. You said I can just stoutly assume it.

R: We can (and in fact do) stoutly presume that it is possible for us to reason. Do you stoutly presume that every given case of human mental behavior is rational?

C: No, of course not!

R: Neither do I. So evidently, we both share some kind of criteria as a fairly reliable clue when we're no longer talking about our human ability in general, but about particular instances of that ability instead. Let us see if we can put our common agreement into play. I claim that Christianity is true; and let us say that I claim this because of automatic knee-jerk reactions to the cultural stimuli that have pummeled my mind since childhood. Any comments?

Next up: will Chase accept and believe Christianity, or at least theism, when grounded this way!?

(spoiler: no. {g})


Jason Pratt said…
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