The Kodachi (Part 2 of 5) -- Reductions and Absurdities

[Note: for Part 1 of this auxiliary series, click here.]

There are certainly some scholars, past and present, who would say that true love is basically drivel.

There are no scholars, past or present, who can consistently say that their own thinking is basically drivel.

There are some scholars (past, and especially present), who do propose that 'human thinking' per se is essentially drivel. Yet they don't propose their own theories, as thinking humans, concerning 'human thinking', are essentially drivel. On the contrary, they would prefer that we judge their own theories as coming from responsible humans who are actively discerning truth.

Furthermore, they usually (and quite charitably, although inconsistently) presume we judgers are capable of more than essential drivel, to be able to do this--for their theories.

Go back and read the first part of the Kodachi again. Or (if you can wade through it!) anything I’ve already written in SttH. I am not doing anything different in regard to myself and to you, my reader--am I?

It really is quite a striking distinction, though. It would almost amount to a comedy routine.

Have you heard the one about the atheist who walks into a church, and offers to free the congregation from a belief produced by knee-jerk reactions to cultural pressures, allowing them to finally think for themselves as responsible people? He will do this, he says, by teaching them a more accurate truth: that all behaviors (including all thinking) by all humans (including himself) are produced and maintained by blindly automatic reactions and counterreactions.

The ignorant simpletons laugh him out of church.

And yet--some people believe him and follow after.

To be honest, this isn't exactly what the majority of such thinkers teach.

They aren't usually quite this straightforward about it.

There is another version of this story. When the simpletons of the congregation point out that the atheist is only proposing an even worse enslavement to automatic reactions, he promises this isn't so. These automatic reactions are what (by themselves and only by themselves) produce the intentional actions necessary for free-thinking people. When the simpletons ask him to explain why they should accept actions from reactions, instead of actions from Action, the atheist resorts to the appeal of inscrutable mystery.

Some of the simpletons thank him politely and say they will stick with the inscrutable mystery that proposes kind from kind.

But some of the simpletons, having been taught to value inscrutable mystery, perceive the superior audacity of claiming actions from reactions for no good reason, and so follow after the atheist.

I do not know what your opinion is about inscrutable mystery. But this is a certain truth: if you spend every Sunday encouraging a respect and veneration for inscrutable mysteries, it is silly to expect this respect and veneration to disappear Monday morning--when the other people show up, proposing inscrutable mysteries.

Especially when their mysteries are more inscrutable than yours.

There is a logical fallacy common among arguments: in Latin, 'reductio ad absurdum', 'a reduction to the absurdity'.

But there is a version of this argument which is not considered a fallacy. It is a tool to ensure that false claims are not being hidden by complexity. If the implications of a claim amount to absurdity, when their basic form is discovered, then the claim must be false.

The danger comes from falsely reducing to the basic form: from creating an 'absurd reduction'. This is very easy, and tempting, to do in an argument. A false 'straw man' is thus created, to be easily slain by the protagonist.

And this happens very often, on all sides of our metaphysical disputes. Which is why the tool is often considered to be fallacious by default.

I say this, to acknowledge there is a real danger of falsely simplifying the claims of atheism--just as an atheist ought to admit there is a real danger of falsely simplifying the claims of not-atheism. (Or both for someone who is agnostic on this topic!)

But not all simplifications must end with the creation of false straw men.

It is possible that the notion being proposed, was itself a straw man all along.

There is a story told in these parts (whether true or false I do not know) about a daring raid during our American Civil War. The Confederate cavalry commander Nathan Bedford Forrest (eventually of Ku Klux Klan infamy) decided to drive Northern troops out of a supply depot set up near Union City, TN (about 25 miles north of where I am sitting). Under cover of night, Forrest and his men rigged a wide spread of false artillery positions in an arc around the depot. The next morning, the Union soldiers saw what seemed to be a power they could not possibly withstand; and so withdrew from the depot.

It is unlikely, had they held their ground or countercharged the positions, that the Union soldiers would have needed to construct some fake Confederate artillery to fight against, instead of fighting against the real fake Confederate artillery.

It is even more unlikely that Forrest and his men would have accepted their own fake artillery to be real.

Yet I think this is precisely what has happened, philosophically speaking, among even serious and otherwise competent atheistic proponents. For reasons I will discuss next.

[Next up, distinguishing between two main metaphysical branches: Atheism, Theism, and Artificial Intelligence]


Jason Pratt said…
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