Reason and the First Person -- the theistic argument from active reasoning (3 of 3)

[Note: the contents page for this series can be found here. The previous entry, the second for chapter 19, can be found here.]

[This entry concludes chapter 19, "The Theistic Argument from Active Reasoning".]

19.) I could sheerly assert, that the proposition 'actions can be produced by an ultimately reactive reality' is not self-contradictory. But what use is it to assert this? I can assert 'the moon is made of green cheese' or 'there is a God' just as easily. Why make that assertion?

20.) My mere say-so doesn't make the assertion true; it is not a necessary presumption for logical disputation, either. The vast bulk of evidence I find in Nature seems to lead to the conclusion that a reactively or non-rationally produced behavior is at least usually non-rational or reactive; further leading to the question of why my behaviors should be (or even can be) considered rational or active instead; and this question cannot in principle be answered without begging the question in favor of presuming my own rationality before the justification. (This would still be true, even if the vast majority of natural processes clearly led to rational behavior. But the evident characteristics of Nature, certainly as accepted by naturalistic atheists, make this easier to perceive.)

Beyond all this, the sheer assertion (that reactions can possibly produce actions) cannot even reliably be said to be a belief of mine; for I can assert all sorts of claims I don't accept with belief. So to merely flatly assert 'yes I believe it' produces the same problem of reliability--for I am entirely capable of asserting a belief about something I don't really believe.

21.) This leads me to the conclusion that I must be required to give logical grounds for such a proposition. I can give logical grounds for the proposition 'actions can produce reactions', because I always tacitly assume for purposes of argument that I act; I then 'choose' to do something, and observe the consequences. Using my earlier example, I pick off a scab and study the behaviors that follow. Perhaps those behaviors could be considered an extension of my initiated action; but I would draw the line at the point where my intentions failed.

If I aim a gun and pull the trigger, then the chemical and physical behaviors which immediately follow might be considered reactions (because I didn't intend and initiate every single one of them); or the chain might be considered a single action on my part, because I intended--I chose--to behave in such a way that the target a quarter-mile away was blasted to pieces. But I certainly did not choose for the bullet, continuing through the flimsy target, to ricochet off the nearby lake at a shallow angle and careen through a car window one mile away, embedding itself in the driver's skull; nor did I intend for the driver's dead muscles to thus be given electrochemical impetus to stomp the gas-pedal and yank the wheel, swerving the car into a Girl Scout camp nearby. (I recall this being an example from a gun-safety film in high school, by the way.)

Yet, while I might call those events 'reactions', the fact would be that my choice had contributed to the chain of events in an initiatory fashion; and a court of law would attempt to establish to what extent I was intentionally responsible for the deaths of those people. That I pulled the trigger, starting the sequence of events (considering the sequence as itself), would be an undeniable fact; one the insurance companies (not the courts involved in justice) would see as closing the case. All behaviors have consequences; so consequences are not themselves the distinguishing factor of an 'action'. 'Intent' is the distinguishing factor.

Be that as it may (and it is something worth returning to later in the question of ethics), I can easily demonstrate that intended behaviors can produce unintended behaviors. I can thus give a logical and even experimental defense (if anyone cared to ask for it) for the proposition that 'actions can produce reactions'.

But I cannot give a similar defense for the proposition that 'reactions can produce actions'. I could show that reactive behaviors provide data and material for an 'act-er' to 'act' upon, but that is not the same thing as causally producing the 'action' behavior. I could show that reactive behaviors might produce other behaviors which are as effective as actions; but that by itself is not the same thing as claiming the produced behaviors are actions. (Indeed, in some ways such a claim might be a tacit refusal to ascribe action ability to the behavior. A practical definition of 'instinct' is 'behavior as if from reason', which tacitly affirms that the instinctive behavior is not itself rational behavior.)

The moment I attempt to logically ground the proposition, I find that I am trying to logically ground the effectiveness of my attempt at providing logical grounds; which requires that I already accept my ability to do so exists--thus, no justification can or does occur. Yet if I do not justify the proposition that reactions can produce actions, then I am left with a sheer assertion which by itself has no reliability, not being a necessary presumption (with equally necessarily presumed reliability).

23.) The proposition that ultimate reality (which produced, causally, my action ability, including my reasoning ability) is itself incapable of intended behaviors, thus leaves me no formal grounds to continue. If only automatically blind non-rational behaviors exist, then my own behaviors must also be of the same sort; and this defies the Golden Presumption ('you and I are not utterly non-rational', to put it another way). If I propose that my intentive action ability was causally produced by ultimately non-intentive automatic behavior, then sooner or later I will have to justify my own presumed ability to think--a justification which is circular and cannot succeed. If I sheerly assert such a condition as being (despite the formal appearance) reconcilable with the Golden Presumption, then I still cannot treat the presumption as reliable, for it is not a necessary presumption; indeed, it is likely to be a conclusion derived from observations about my environment, and thus not a sheer presumption anyway. (If I decide that observable reality is largely reactive, then my first inductive inference would be that reality as a whole is utterly reactive. But this turns out to be deductively falsified once the Golden Presumption is identified.)

24.) This means I should logically reject the proposition of an ultimately non-sentient, non-active, non-intentive, non-purposive reality. The proposition either has no grounding, or it contradicts the Golden Presumption.

I consider atheism thus to be logically deducted from the theory pool. If I take my own rationality seriously (and yours, my reader's, as well--even if you are an atheist), then whatever ultimate reality is, I will not consider it to have specifically 'atheistic' characteristics.

Does this mean atheism is necessarily false? No. I may not in fact be capable of thinking. If I am not capable of thinking, then my deductive removal of atheism falls immediately to the ground, of course! But at the same time, if I am not capable of thinking, then my qualification (in atheism's favor) concerning this deduction cannot be considered reliable, either.

I have therefore discovered that atheism either is not true, or at best can neither be discovered nor even usefully (appearances notwithstanding) proposed.

I should therefore, for all practical purposes, conclude that some type of 'not-atheism' is true.

Notice I have been saying "should therefore conclude". This is, in some respects, weaker than a 'must': logical conclusions do not equate to a necessary behavior on my part. I can act. I can choose to reject this and flatly assert atheism, if I wish. I can pretend that atheism 'makes sense', if I wish; and at this point such an action on my part (not necessarily on the part of other people) would be pretending, as I would no longer have certain complex and difficult barriers insulating me and allowing an honest mistake due to miscalculation.

Thus, 'should' is the correct word; for it also carries a moral imperative, itself not necessarily binding in the behavioral sense (else it would not be a 'mere' 'should'). Having gotten to this point, I find that I 'should' conclude (and by assenting to the conclusion thereby 'believe') God exists. (I am not yet saying that I should believe in God; that's a related matter, regarding personal trust, but I will discuss it later.)

The normal opinion among theologians (and anti-theologians), and among practicing advocates of religion (and anti-religion), has often been that the existence of God cannot be established deductively. In a way--a paradoxical way--I have found that this is both correct and incorrect. God's existence (and, as I shall demonstrate, a wide range of God's characteristics) can be deductively established; yet, a loophole does remain.

It is a logical loophole, in the sense of being a 'formal' loophole; yet it is also an anti-logical loophole, insofar as a person who takes the loophole either begins to commit cognitive suicide, or begins to deal with reality dishonestly, or perhaps both. At the end of this phase of my positive argument, there is, after all, a step to be willed; a step that can be rejected, although for (literally) no good reason. The path branches here; one side leading to truth and to further truths, the other to (literal) 'self'-destruction: and in either case, a willful choice precedes the step.

If there is a 'must' at this point, then it is the necessity of choice itself, one path or the other. To refuse to choose is the same as taking the path to cognitive suicide, or at best to a self-crippled perception of reality: it would be a refusal to deal with reality as reality is being revealed to be, which is the same as a claim to be able to ignore reality at the preference of our own wishes.

[Footnote: This assumes my argument is formally correct, of course, and that I have properly understood its meanings.

I am not, by the way, attempting to sneak a conventional 'damnation clause' into my presentation here. All I have said so far, is what I think is common sense: committing cognitive suicide is foolish; and holding a doctrine that requires committing cognitive suicide while shuffling contentions around to avoid that implication, is cheating. (There have been some 'Christians' to whose theories I would apply the same principle.) I will have more to say later about ethical implications of such choices.]

Understand: I am not saying anything about 'religion' yet, nor anything to do with a personal relationship to this God as a Person. But I have now reached the stage where even discussing such issues becomes a shatteringly practical question: will I continue?

I do not say that a choice either way at this point is irretrievable; I am not talking of other chances I may have to retrace the steps, or to jump from one side to the other. I could still choose to jump to the path of disbelief at any point--and I assure you, there are times when I am strongly tempted to do so. But if I did, I would be doing so in defiance of what I have already concluded about reality. I would not be a true man.

Trying to be true, admittedly involves checking carefully to see if I am perhaps mistaken. But being true also means I am obligated to stay the course as well as I can in deeply painful situations (as I have done); because pain and grief can drive us to think irrationally. For what it is worth, I can therefore respect an oppositional commitment to what you, my reader, think is true; including in the face of a merely emotional doubt (of whatever strength). The question is, why do you disbelieve me--or perhaps why do you think I am mistaken? And, are you checking to be quite sure you are not salting the pizza in your own favor?

But speaking of salting the pizza in one’s own favor: an especially astute reader may see in my argument during the last few chapters, a hole I have so far left untouched. It is a very subtle hole, that I myself discovered while working on this book; but from which, once I discovered it, I learned something new about what I could argue concerning the character of ultimate reality.

I will explore this hole in my next chapter.

[Next up: sauces for ganders may strike again, against me this time!]

[Also, a more colorful summary of the precepts and argument from this Section so far, can be found starting here: the Argument From True Love.]


Jason Pratt said…
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