Reason and the First Person -- the theistic argument from active reasoning (2 of 3)

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

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

15.) This leaves, on the atheism side, the proposition that a fully automatic system can produce behaviors which are themselves non-automatic.

16.) This proposition entails, that even though true action capability (such as what I must presume you and I have) exists now, it did not always exist. The reactive process has brought into existence (eventually, having gotten into the correct configurations) active abilities. Against a primary sceptical threat, which necessarily calls into formal question the presumption we make in favor of (at least) the possibility of our own rational competency, can this proposition be a defense?

17.) The attempt to justify the proposition breaks down on the same problem as proposing that no active ability whatsoever exists.

To explain how reactions have become actions, is to concurrently claim that those reactions did not produce merely more reactions. The question has become: can we reliably say that the behaviors in question are qualitatively and sufficiently different from prior (reactive) behaviors and from currently surrounding (reactive) behaviors--qualifiably different enough that they can be concluded to be possibly reliable in the special sense of reliability we presume for ourselves when engaging in any argument?

Any answer we give, however, assumes from the start that we can at least possibly reliably discover the answer to the question. To answer the question of how our answers can possibly be reliable, is to beg the question in favor of possible reliability to start with. And it must; for you and I must presume before any argument that we are in fact capable of reliably analyzing data. (To presume that we are in fact 'capable' of analyzing data, does not mean we will always necessarily be correct.)

If I hypothesize that 'Reality', considered fundamentally, is incapable of reliably judging an event; then the question must arise of how I am capable of behaving in a fashion that is qualitatively different from the behavior of ultimate reality.

(Note: I will deal much later with the related and pertinent question of how sin can be sin and yet be a behavior not utterly alien to God's characteristics as God.)

I could perhaps understand if the behavior I am supposed to be exhibiting is a declension or reduction of the ultimate quality of reality: if my behaviors were qualitatively different because I am a derivative entity, then it would be contradictory to propose that my behaviors are at all points qualitatively similar to that which is my ultimate Producer.

But now, I am being asked to accept that I, as an entity derived from this (hypothetically proposed to be) automatically reactive ultimate reality, can accomplish something qualitatively superior to ultimate reality!

A particular action may at times be less effective than reaction in particular circumstances: if I have to 'stop and think' to do something, I may be less successful than the entity who, however it came about, can instinctively react to the same end. But any entity--any person--who affirms that she can 'act', affirms that this ability of 'acting' grants her greater qualitative efficiency in at least some affairs than any automatically reactive behavior could achieve.

'Reality is not ultimately sentient: there is no God.' -- 'You were raised in an environment wherein this idea was pressed in upon your psyche, and so you are only reflecting your environment, regardless of whether God exists or not.' -- 'No! I say this because I have analyzed such-and-such data and have thereby responsibly reached this conclusion.'

This is a person who affirms she is capable of achieving greater efficiency thanks to her independent action ability; indeed, she affirms even that she must affirm this, or her beliefs will be cast, at very best, into a cloud of suspicion as regards their reliability. Here is a clear situation where automatic behavior, far from being considered the epitome of efficient behavior, is itself proposed as evidence of dangerously un-reliable behavior; and our exemplary atheist accepts this as a true principle, which is why she expends so much effort to show she is not behaving in such a knee-jerk automatic fashion. (Indeed, she may even say she has chosen atheism precisely because she discovered she was unreflectively accepting her earlier environment, if her earlier environment was permeated by theism; thus she might very well claim 'I have broken free from irrationally dogmatic religion', etc.)

Even when the automatically reactive behavior set is clearly superior in raw power to act-er, indeed even when the reactive set is such that it can easily destroy our action capability (insofar as this system of Nature is concerned anyway), we still perceive a superiority in the act-er to the mere reactions. Our planet may be at any moment blasted into nothing by the electromagnetic pulse of a star that went supernova thousands or hundred of thousands of years ago (which, by the way, is a real threat astrophysicists have discovered); yet although that would destroy all natural life on our planet, we rational entities have this superiority: we can understand and consciously appreciate that threat (for better or for worse).

We may stand under an unimaginably huge number of dangerous and intoxicating things (in several senses of ‘intoxicating’)--humanity has always been aware that the world is unspeakably large and dangerous (up until recent industrial societies anyway, when we tend to forget such things due to the insulating effects of our own increasing power). But at least we can truly understand something about them; whereas those things cannot even begin to approach understanding anything, whether us or themselves. An avalanche can kill a skiing town; but the skiers can understand the tragedy. Indeed it is especially a tragedy for the skiers, whether considering themselves or considering damage done to other entities: a skier may mourn for a rabbit or a cougar, but neither the cougar nor the rabbit, despite each having emotional reactions of their own (including to an avalanche and its results), will mourn for the skier (much less for each other).

18.) But does it make any kind of real sense, for me to accept a claim that my behaviors are qualitatively superior to the characteristics of reality that produced me? Granted, such a claim might please me very much to believe, but that is not the issue; the issue is whether it is self-consistently proposable. It is, at best, not defensible, nor any kind of defense, against a necessary sceptical threat derived from proposed characteristics of that reality; because the defense of the proposal requires the proposal to be accepted first, after which the defense is moot.

A totally non-rational behavior results in unjustifiable claims--more precisely, any entity that only exhibits non-rational behavior cannot itself justify anything--and my Producer is (according to atheism) utterly and ultimately non-rational; yet I can produce justifiable claims. If I attempt to defend the disparity of this proposal, then I cannot win; because my defense would involve the tacit claim, to be accepted by everyone involved in the discussion, that I truly can in fact possibly produce justifiable claims. But I cannot justify that my claims can be justifiable.

Very well: what happens if I sheerly assert this instead?

[Next up: assertive conflict and the conclusion of the argument.]


Jason Pratt said…
Registering for comment tracking
you still have one more coming?
Jason Pratt said…
Yes, the final entry turned out to be 14 pages, so I decided to split it again to ~7 pages each. It should be up this morning later (i.e. Monday Nov 15. Happy Birthday to me, I guess. {wry g})


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