“Both the Christian and the Atheist stand before death and make an act of faith — the atheist that he knows the unknowable, and the Christian that he expects the unexpected.” – BadCatholic
Not so very good, actually. Note that if the argument worked, it would also show that we cannot conceive of our having not existed in the past, or of our possibly not having had existed, had things gone differently. Thus it would show that we are in some sense mandated to think of ourselves as eternal and necessary beings. But that we are not is common ground for most atheists and Christians.
As it turns out, the argument doesn’t work. It relies on conflating conceiving that p and conceiving experiencing that p. Of course one cannot conceive of experiencing one’s non-existence, since that very non-existence entails the absence of experiential states. But it does not follow that one cannot conceive that one does not exist.
(Philonous’ argument in Berkeley’s Three Dialogues is relevant here, since it has a similar fallacy. And Carnap’s response to Heidegger on nothingness is also relevant.)
Note that if the argument worked, it would also show that we cannot conceive of our having not existed in the past, or of our possibly not having had existed, had things gone differently.
Or, put differently: if that counts as inconceivability, then it’s an uninteresting inconceivability. Because it’s an inconceivability that’s compatible with my knowledge that I once did not exist, and could have failed to exist.
On behalf of the other two readers who may share my confusion: What argument are you referring to? It seems to me that the quoted sentence is simply highlighting the fact that when we look at death and what comes after that, we are all acting on faith, of one type or another. I don’t see how this is an argument for anything. But I will greatly appreciate being educated on the subject
Mark’s post indirectly refers back to this blog post:
Thank you! My thoughts are at a much lower level than that But now I understand what you were referring to.