The intolerant antinomy revisited

“If it’s what I think it is,” said Lenore, “it’s a sort of joke. A what do you call it. An antinomy.”

“An antinomy?”

Lenore nodded. “Gramma really likes antinomies. I think this guy here,” looking down at the drawing on the back of the label, “is the barber who shaves all and only those who do not shave themselves.”

Mr. Bloemker looked at her. “A barber?”

“The big killer question,” Lenore said to the sheet of paper, “is supposed to be whether the barber shaves himself. I think that’s why his head’s exploded, here.”

“Beg pardon?”

“If he does, he doesn’t, and if he doesn’t, he does.”

— David Foster Wallace, The Broom of the System

Sometimes I can’t get the thermos open. This is frustrating because: A) There is coffee in the thermos, and I want coffee; and B) I twisted the thermos lid shut myself, and thus it seems logical to expect that I should also be strong enough to untwist it myself.

This recalls a popular antinomy involving the idea of an omnipotent God. If such a being is all-powerful, it asks, then can this God create a rock so heavy that even He can’t lift it? (The omnipotent deity of this antinomy always seems to be masculine.)

Like Gramma Beadsman’s paradoxical barber, that’s an entertaining little semantic pretzel. If he can, he can’t, and if he can’t he can, etc.

But unfortunately most of the time this antinomy is invoked, the speaker doesn’t seem to realize, as Lenore Beadsman did, that it’s “a sort of joke.” They seem to think they’re saying something — neither I nor they can figure out quite what — about omnipotence or about God. But this little sort-of-joke antinomy is no more about God or omnipotence than Gramma Beadsman’s puzzle is about barbers or shaving. The big killer questions of such antinomies have nothing to do with whatever subjects they latch on to as pretexts. Those pretexts are incidental to their real subject — the inadequacy of language itself.

It’s tempting to try to answer such questions on their own terms. I sort of want to say that the barber shaves himself for the same reason that 1 is a prime number. But the point isn’t to try to answer such questions correctly, the point is that there cannot be a correct answer. These antinomies imitate the form of yes-or-no questions, but they’re actually neither-yes-nor-no questions semantically constructed as to make either, or any, answer impossible.

Such sort-of-jokes can be quite fun and the source of musings both playful and profound (see, for example, Lewis Carroll and Wittgenstein, respectively, and vice versa). But it’s less fun when the artfully deliberate nonsense of such antinomies is conscripted by those who mistakenly believe they are scoring points in some kind of debate.

As in, “Oh yeah, well if you’re so tolerant, how come you can’t tolerate my intolerance. Hah!”

As with the bit about the all-powerful God and the unliftable rock, the people citing the intolerant antinomy seem to have no idea that they’re not really saying anything at all about tolerance or intolerance, but merely providing yet another illustration of the elasticity and limits of language. They’re really just presenting another illustration of Russell’s paradox, the set of all normal sets, which Bertrand Russell himself illustrated with the example of the barber above.

I think the unwitting (or half-witting) invocation of the intolerant antinomy involves a more aggressive form of stupidity than the bit with the unliftable rock because tolerance is a much easier concept to understand than omnipotence. When you encounter someone who boasts of their inability to understand the concept of tolerance it’s difficult to imagine that they’re not just being willfully obtuse. Omnipotence, on the other hand, is the sort of transcendent concept that’s bound to force us up against the limits and inadequacy of language. (That’s what “transcendent” means, after all.)

Like most Christians, I believe that the Almighty is, you know, all-mighty. That means: A) I believe that God is omnipotent; and B) I cannot really comprehend precisely what that might mean. To be honest, I don’t really spend much time trying to comprehend precisely what that might mean. “All-powerful” is not the attribute of God that ought to concern us most since it doesn’t seem to be the attribute of God that concerns God the most. “All-loving” — that’s the attribute that matters most when it comes to what God is actually doing. As handy as omnipotence might be, it’s nearly useless when it comes to redemption and reconciliation.

I try to remember that whenever my patience is tried by the gleeful morons congratulating themselves every time they mistakenly cite the intolerant antinomy as some kind of rebuttal of the virtue of tolerance. Reminding myself that love trumps power helps keep me from wanting to crush them beneath the Almighty’s unliftable rock.

Oh, and as for the thermos, I find running hot water over the lid for a bit usually does the trick.

 

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  • http://plantsarethestrangestpeople.blogspot.com/ mr_subjunctive
  • Viliphied

    but it is the magic number

  • http://plantsarethestrangestpeople.blogspot.com/ mr_subjunctive

    The magic number? By what definition of “magic?”

  • Anonymous

    I thought it was loneliest number, though I suppose an omnipotent God could change that if He wanted to…

  • http://tobascodagama.com Tobasco da Gama

    Indeed, the smallest prime is also the only even one… that we know about? ;)

  • Anonymous

    Indeed, the smallest prime is also the only even one… that we know about? ;)

    :p by definition even numbers are divisible by two and some other number, so the only one among them that can possibly be prime is two itself, which is divisible only by itself and one.

  • Si

    ah, very good. I often think about this from the other side: Does my belief in tolerance extend to those who are intolerant of others? In other words: Does my belief in IDIC require me to accept the Borg?

    The problem with the Borg – and with majoritarians and extremists and supremacists and others who want to Take Over the World – is that they leave no room for others to live and grow. So my love for their difference has to end where their difference begins to encroach on the freedoms of others.

    In fact, “is it encroaching on the freedoms of others?” is pretty much a good test for whether something is protected under IDIC or not.

  • http://mistformsquirrel.deviantart.com/ JJohnson

    I’ve always liked the simple phrase “Your right to swing your arm ends at my nose.”

    It’s not perfect, it’s not the kind of thing one can use as a legal framework or anything… but it’s easy to understand and the gist is what’s important.

  • Anonymous

     

    This recalls a popular antinomy involving the idea of an omnipotent God.
    If such a being is all-powerful, it asks, then can this God create a
    rock so heavy that even He can’t lift it? (The omnipotent deity of this
    antinomy always seems to be masculine.)

    I see this sort of thing as closely allied to “who would win, Superman or Doctor Manhattan?”-type arguments.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_5V7WB5LWONXO22R6D4CYEZGYFE Alan

    Sometimes I can’t get the thermos open. This is frustrating because:
    A) There is coffee in the thermos, and I want coffee; and B) I twisted
    the thermos lid shut myself, and thus it seems logical to expect that I
    should also be strong enough to untwist it myself…. Oh, and as for the thermos, I find running hot water over the lid for a bit usually does the trick.

     
    Interestingly, in the last line, you solve the logical paradox suggested by the first line. You should be able to untwist a thermos that you twisted yourself, but it’s not the same thermos which you twisted — as it cooled, the metal expanded so it’s shape is qualitatively different than it was when you put hot coffee into it. Which, of course, you knew, but the larger point that what “seems logical” often isn’t when an omitted detail is added to the equation.

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    You should be able to untwist a thermos that you twisted yourself, but it’s not the same thermos which you twisted — as it cooled, the metal expanded so it’s shape is qualitatively different than it was when you put hot coffee into it.

    What was that old Greek saying, about how you can never twist the same coffee thermos twice?  

  • bread and roses

    Metal generally shrinks when it cools.  How that affects the screwing of the thermos cap is complicated.  But the simple bit is that the liquid inside the thermos has cooled, and therefore is pulling a partial vacuum on the lid.  That makes it harder to open than it was to close.  That’s how I figure it anyway.

  • Carl Muckenhoupt

    My favorite response to the “Can God create a rock so heavy he can’t lift it?”: Yes. To lift something is to move it in a direction opposite to the pull of gravity on it. If God created a rock with more mass than the entire rest of the universe, gravity would necessarily pull towards its inside. Lifting this rock wouldn’t just be a difficult feat of strength, it would be logically impossible. And according to Aquinas, God’s omnipotence does not extend to logical impossibilities.

  • Jo Walton

    A friend of mine came up with an even better one for making your head explode thinking about it — can God make a rock so orange he can’t lift it?

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

    A friend of mine came up with an even better one for making your head explode thinking about it — can God make a rock so orange he can’t lift it?

    That’s a neat point, as it reflects one issue with the question: you change the definition of “power” halfway through. In the first half of the sentence, “all-powerful” is taken to mean “possessed of an unbounded capacity for rock-creation”, and in the second, to mean “possessed of an unbounded capacity for rock-lifting.” 

  • Anonymous

    Oddly, Fred doesn’t actually provide the way out of the big-rock problem. It’s an easy one: No, God can’t create a logically impossible rock, because that’s not what omnipotence means. The big-rock problem is not just an antimony, it’s a way of expressing a difficult concept – the limits of omnipotence – in simple terms.

    The tolerant-of-intolerance meme is similar. Aside from being a play on words, it teaches a more nuanced definition of “tolerance” than simply “tolerates everything”. There are serious points of disagreement about these boundaries, so dismissing the entire thing as semantics does it a disservice.

  • http://twitter.com/shay_guy Shay Guy

    Don’t know why this didn’t post before.

    When you encounter someone who boasts of their inability to understand the concept of tolerance it’s difficult to imagine that they’re not just being willfully obtuse.

    I think it might be more boasting that they, unlike whoever they’re talking to, have thought it through enough to “realize” that it’s nonsensical. The problem with this, of course, is that they’re working from a faulty definition of “tolerance.”

  • Anonymous

    The more interesting question for me is what happens when the irresistibly incisive meets the infinitely obtuse.

  • Chunky Style

    If we want to talk omnipotence, let’s not constrain omnipotence.  God can create a rock so big he can’t lift it, and not have it compromise his omnipotence.  Or it CAN compromise his omnipotence, if he so wills it.  God can create four-sided triangles if he wants to, if we’re going to not impose limits on omnipotence.  (Why would an omnipotent God be limited to the school of logic that works in this universe of his creation?  That would be like Parker Brothers employees having to roll dice before they walk down the street.)

    I am a tolerant man; I tolerate differing points of view until they can be shown to be harmful.  That’s a pretty good standard, I find.

  • Cenebi

    The reason God’s omnipotence must be limited to the logically possible is that it would meaningless otherwise. Example: The only way he could create a four-sided triangle would be redefining a triangle as a four-sided shape, because by definition a triangle has three sides, thus a four-sided shape cannot be a triangle.

    His omnipotence is not compromised, but the act is meaningless. All God has done is change the name of what we refer to as rectangles.

  • Chunky Style

    There’s “meaningless” and then there’s “meaningless to us”.  I say that, within the universe as we know it with our natural laws and so forth, three cannot equal four; that’s the only way things make sense to you or to me.  But it doesn’t follow that a transcendant being is similarly limited; in its way that would be like asserting that God obviously has to eat and digest food just like you and me.  (I don’t assert that there ARE four-sided triangles either, I’ll grant you that.  It was just an example of how our basic assumptions may not hold.)

  • http://twitter.com/mcclure111 mcc

    As with anything else, mathematics allows me to answer your question in a way which is simultaneously precisely accurate and not particularly helpful. Three is equal to four in the null ring.

  • Joshua

    If we want to talk omnipotence, let’s not constrain omnipotence.

    Discussing logical contradictions is not constraining anything, least of all God. Logical contradictions are not just ideas in our heads.

    God can create four-sided triangles if he wants to, if we’re going to not impose limits on omnipotence.

    It’s not us imposing a limit – triangle is a word defined to mean a polygon with three sides. An entity with four sides is not a triangle. QED. Words mean things and to speak of four-sides triangles is meaningless whether or not the word God also appears in the sentence.

    Why would an omnipotent God be limited to the school of logic that works in this universe of his creation?

    Logic is not a property of this or any other possible universe.

    And, if your understanding of the logos that St John was talking about is that it is not logical, then your understanding is well and truly different from mine. And, I’d argue, St John and most of Christian history.

  • Chunky Style

    “And, if your understanding of the logos that St John was talking about is that it is not logical, then your understanding is well and truly different from mine. And, I’d argue, St John and most of Christian history.”

    Explain the Trinity then, logically.  It can’t be done.  Christian theology has long held three can equal one and one can equal three, where God is concerned.

    Even if you don’t want to delve into the particulars of Christian theology, and simply want to discuss a Prime Mover that requires no outside cause because it is its own self-sufficient cause, that defies logic as well.

  • Joshua

    Explain the Trinity then, logically.  It can’t be done.  Christian theology has long held three can equal one and one can equal three, where God is concerned.

    Well, as far as I know it doesn’t. Christian theology (obviously, I’m simplifying here) has held since St Basil the Great (the wikipedia article for Tertullian also attributes the phrase to him, but that seems very unlikely to me) that God is one οὐσία (essence) distinguished in three ὑπόστασις (persons). It does not, to my knowledge, equate one and three.

  • Chunky Style

    Quoting from the Catholic Encyclopedia:


    Thus, in the words of the Athanasian Creed: “the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God, and yet there are not three Gods but one God.” In this Trinity of Persons the Son is begotten of the Father by an eternal generation, and the Holy Spirit proceeds by an eternal procession from the Father and the Son. Yet, notwithstanding this difference as to origin, the Persons are co-eternal and co-equal: all alike are uncreated and omnipotent. This, the Church teaches, is the revelation regarding God’s nature which Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came upon earth to deliver to the world: and which she proposes to man as the foundation of her whole dogmatic system.

    This is not just a matter of God occasionally taking the form of an old man, a young man, or a ghost.  This is not a matter of three distinct entities who join together to form Megazord Tetragrammaton.  This is a matter of three being one or one being three, depending.

    It may all be gibberish in the end, but by gum it’s gibberish that’s been there for 1700 years or so.

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

    This is not just a matter of God occasionally taking the form of an old man, a young man, or a ghost.  This is not a matter of three distinct entities who join together to form Megazord Tetragrammaton.  This is a matter of three being one or one being three, depending.

    In the name of the father, and of the son, and of the holy Tyrannozord, Amen.

    (I do wonder sometimes how much Voltron colored my understanding of the concept of the trinity when I was first taught about it)

  • Joshua

     “the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God, and yet there are not three Gods but one God.”

    Yes, but you’ll notice that it doesn’t say “the Father is a God, the Son is another God, and their Insubstantial Friend is yet another God, and together they make one God” like Voltron (? – that’s a long time ago).

    Using the language from just slightly later than Athanasius, when this stuff was held to be resolved, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit all share the same God substance or essence, although they are distinguishable as three hypostases. The trinitarian God is one God that happens to be a bit more like a community of three individuals than like a single individual.

    This is obviously a mystery to Christians, and perhaps just wacky word games to others who may see no reason to believe there is a there there. But there’s a difference between a mystery – something we don’t fully understand, lacking either the data or the mental faculty – and illogical 3=1 maths, which is something we do understand and understand to be wrong.

  • Chunky Style

    “Yes, but you’ll notice that it doesn’t say “the Father is a God, the Son is another God, and their Insubstantial Friend is yet another God, and together they make one God””

    Not in terms of specific wording, though.  However, the Son is generated from the Father, and the Holy Ghost is generated from the two of them, which is an impossible state of affairs unless they are distinct.

    “like Voltron (? – that’s a long time ago).”

    The Voltron metaphor quite obviously doesn’t apply to Christianity because it takes FIVE lions to make Voltron, not three.  Unless you want to talk about the other crappier Voltron made out of 25 vehicles, but at that point it’s most likely Hinduism.

    Then again, if we assume the Holy Spirit is “feet and legs”, the Son is “arms and torso”, and the Father forms the head, perhaps that works.  I’ll have to write a letter to the pope to get his opinion.

    “Using the language from just slightly later than Athanasius, when this stuff was held to be resolved, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit all share the same God substance or essence, although they are distinguishable as three hypostases. The trinitarian God is one God that happens to be a bit more like a community of three individuals than like a single individual.”

    Is, or isn’t?  There’s no “a bit like” here, though there certainly seems to be both “is” and “isn’t” simultaneously.
    By the way, I got my wording straight from the Catholic Encyclopedia as available online today, so apparently there is at least one major Christian sect that is fine with the Athanasius formulation.

    “This is obviously a mystery to Christians, and perhaps just wacky word games to others who may see no reason to believe there is a there there. But there’s a difference between a mystery – something we don’t fully understand, lacking either the data or the mental faculty – and illogical 3=1 maths, which is something we do understand and understand to be wrong.”

    It’s wrong here among us mortals in this universe, yes.  But I don’t see how anyone can claim a rule we that’s inviolable in this universe would necessarily be inviolable to a being that transcends this universe.  We don’t know what rules God is constrained by, neither of us.

  • Caravelle

    Discussing logical contradictions is not constraining anything, least of
    all God. Logical contradictions are not just ideas in our heads.

    Neither are physical impossibilities, yet the notion of “omnipotence” is often related to miracles and a God’s ability to make them happen. At the very least the idea is that many of the constraints we labor under – which aren’t just ideas in our heads – don’t apply to God. The main difference I see between basic logic and other kinds of constraints is that we’ve got an instinctive understanding of basic logic that flags impossibilities in a way we can’t ignore. But that’s a statement about our brains, not constraints.

    Logic is not a property of this or any other possible universe.

    How so ?

  • Joshua

    Caravelle, if you are still reading:

    The main difference I see between basic logic and other kinds of constraints is that we’ve got an instinctive understanding of basic logic that flags impossibilities in a way we can’t ignore. But that’s a statement about our brains, not constraints.
        Logic is not a property of this or any other possible universe.

    How so ?

    Two answers:

    Firstly, the way predicate logic was taught in the philosophy dept at my university (or so I was told – I learnt it differently over in the maths department), since logical truth come from axioms and inference, and never contingent on actual facts about the universe, it was referred to as being true in all possible universes. IOW, since being wrong about any particular fact won’t alter the validity of your logical argument, it was true in whatever hypothetical universe you were in.

    I think that way of thinking about it works quite well – the universe might be this or that, depending on what you measure and what the error bars were, but an invalid deduction is wrong no matter what the facts are. The conclusion one came to may be accidentally true, but the reasoning was wrong. A four-sided triangle is a meaningless statement because it depends on 3 being equal to 4, which it isn’t. There’s no set of facts about the universe, no hypothetical universe, that could make it meaningful.

    Secondly, I believe that logic comes from God, and so is a property of his character, not inherently of our brains or of the universe. If you accuse me of having a bit of christianised  Plato in me, I guess you’d be right. We have evolved a degree of ability in logic, but it does not come from us, our logic ability has converged on something real outside of us, because of the utility of it doing so.

    To analogise, the lenses of our eyes have converged reasonably precisely on a perfectly focussing mathematical curve, not because we, our eyes or evolution necessarily know anything about maths, but because of the utility of doing so. The maths doesn’t reside in or come from our eyes, they copy as best they can something true outside of them.

    So I disagree with the quoted statement – the main difference I see between logic and other constraints is that logic has universal truth regardless of whatever the facts happen to be or what abilities we have, and that is not a statement about our brains. Four-sided triangles are meaningless regardless of what shapes may exist in the universe, and of what mental abilities we, or God, may have.

  • Caravelle

    Hey Joshua, thanks for the reply.

    since logical truth come from axioms and inference, and never contingent
    on actual facts about the universe, it was referred to as being true in
    all possible universes.

    Still not seeing it. Why aren’t things like existence, cause and consequence (which allow us to have axioms and rules of inference) “actual facts about the universe” ? You’re begging the question.

    I think that way of thinking about it works quite well – the universe
    might be this or that, depending on what you measure and what the error
    bars were, but an invalid deduction is wrong no matter what the facts
    are.

    I’m not convinced. In my experience, I’ve found that when I imagine a counter-factual about the universe and try to imagine the actual mechanism by which it happened, the more in detail I go the more impossible the thing seems. And tellingly, the more I learn about a scientific field the less plausible I find counter-factuals that have to do with it.

    So, how do you know your way of thinking is a true representation of the world, and not an artifact of us having a complete and to a large extent instinctive grasp of logic, but a very imperfect and non-intuitive understanding of science ?

    Secondly, I believe that logic comes from God, and so is a property of
    his character, not inherently of our brains or of the universe.

    I’m afraid I don’t understand what that has to do with anything. All I said is that our brains have an instinct for logic, which you yourself agree with (“We have evolved a degree of ability in logic”). Sooo… not sure whether you were agreeing or disagreeing or what there.

  • Joshua

    Why aren’t things like existence, cause and consequence (which allow us to have axioms and rules of inference) “actual facts about the universe” ?

    Well, can you devise an experiment to test or measure that cause and consequence are real? I can’t, and I don’t think it’s possible. You always wind up assuming your conclusion.

    They are axioms you use when you try to understand your experience of the universe.

    I’m not convinced. In my experience, I’ve found that when I imagine a counter-factual about the universe and try to imagine the actual mechanism by which it happened, the more in detail I go the more impossible the thing seems. And tellingly, the more I learn about a scientific field the less plausible I find counter-factuals that have to do with it.

    I’m afraid I understand neither your point here, nor how it relates to what you were replying to. I mean, yeah, sure, the more you examine something incorrect, the less plausible it should appear, if you are doing it right. And so?

    So, how do you know your way of thinking is a true representation of the world, and not an artifact of us having a complete and to a large extent instinctive grasp of logic, but a very imperfect and non-intuitive understanding of science ?

    I don’t know my way of looking at the world is right. It works, insofar as it makes sense and allows me to make sense of my experiences, as far as the limits of my brain take me, but I guess the same is true for most people.But I disagree that we have a good instinctive grasp of logic. It has to be taught, and is part of our culture and methods of education, but people still make simple mistakes all the time. I think it’s just that logic was figured out a couple of millenia earlier than the scientific method, and so is built in to modern culture at a more basic level.We have a brain that is able to work logic, to some extent, but is still prone to a range of logical errors, and getting taught it formally is still hard work.

    I’m afraid I don’t understand what that has to do with anything. All I said is that our brains have an instinct for logic, which you yourself agree with (“We have evolved a degree of ability in logic”). Sooo… not sure whether you were agreeing or disagreeing or what there.

    The point of difference, if I understand you correctly, is that I think logic is not solely, or primarily, something in our brain. We’ve evolved something in our brain that reflects the real, true logic in the same fashion that we’ve evolved something in our eyes that reflects the real, true mathematics of optics. The real, true thing lies elsewhere – I say God.

    Therefore, God is subject to the same rules of logic as anyone else, although presumably understands it all perfectly as we do not. Therefore, he can’t create a rock too heavy for him to lift: that really is meaningless, not just something in which *we* cannot see meaning.

    Hope you enjoy long posts. :)

  • Caravelle

    Well, can you devise an experiment to test or measure that cause and consequence are real?

    You mean, like every experiment in science ever ? We can test that some events are reliably followed by other events in a predictable manner consistent with the concepts of “cause”, “consequence” and “mechanism”. It’s as testable as anything is in science.

    They are axioms you use when you try to understand your experience of the universe.

    Indeed. But what does that have to do with whether those axioms are a property of the universe or not ?

    I’m afraid I understand neither your point here, nor how it relates to
    what you were replying to. I mean, yeah, sure, the more you examine
    something incorrect, the less plausible it should appear, if you are
    doing it right. And so?

    You’ve been drawing a distinction between some ways the universe could be different, and some ways it couldn’t (namely, logic). The point I was trying to make is that I don’t know if such a distinction exists (i.e. at the bottom it could all be logic). But maybe it would clarify the discussion if you gave a few examples of ways in which you think other “possible” universes could differ from this one.

    But I disagree that we have a good instinctive grasp of logic. It has to
    be taught, and is part of our culture and methods of education, but
    people still make simple mistakes all the time. I think it’s just that
    logic was figured out a couple of millenia earlier than the scientific
    method, and so is built in to modern culture at a more basic level.We
    have a brain that is able to work logic, to some extent, but is still
    prone to a range of logical errors, and getting taught it formally is
    still hard work.

    I said “a large extent”, not “perfect”. And I would say it’s a large extent. For one thing, there’s the most basic instinctual things we that “know” are absolutely, undisputably true, like how if you pour water from a thin glass to a wide glass the quantity of water won’t change – that’s a property of the brain, we know that because children under the age of 6 don’t know it.

    And then there’s the way that even with more difficult non-intuitive or even counter-intuitive logical facts we’re still able to understand that they’re true. Not always, and probably not to the same extent with everybody – I’ve had times when working through the correction of a problem I’d gotten wrong where I could see how the correction was right but I couldn’t see how what I’d done was wrong. But usually I do see it. Study helps, but it would be useless if I didn’t have the built-in ability to understand basic inference. I mean, no matter how hard I study maths I’ll never be able to visualise four-dimensional objects. Given all the stuff our brains can’t do, I wouldn’t take our seemingly limitless ability to infer true statements for granted. It’s like the talking dog thing – forget doing it well, it’s doing it at all that’s impressive.

    And I doubt the millennia of study have much to do with it either – look at physics vs psychology, one of the youngest sciences (enough that some still don’t consider it a science) vs one of the oldest. Yet it is said that folk physics is completely wrong while folk psychology is remarkably accurate (to the point three-fourths of social science studies are greeted with “they had to do a study ? Everyone knows that already !”. While laypeople have given up on understanding cutting-edge physics altogether).
    The key is what kind of stuff our brains evolved to be good at.

    The point of difference, if I understand you correctly, is that I think
    logic is not solely, or primarily, something in our brain.

    Apparently you don’t understand me correctly, because as I said in my previous post I agree with you there. We both agree that logic is external to the brain and that the brain’s capacity for logic is an evolved property. The only point of difference I see is that you think logic is a property of God, and I think logic is a property of reality. But I’m not sure that difference is relevant to the discussion.

    Hope you enjoy long posts. :)

    Apparently I do ^^

  • Joshua

    You mean, like every experiment in science ever ?

    Well, no, if cause and consequences weren’t valid, then you would be unable to take your experimental data and arrive at any conclusion, whether about your experiment, the scientific method, or logic. Therefore, to do an experiment and expect to be informed thereby implies you’ve accepted cause and consequences. You can’t examine your axioms with a method that assumes them. At least, if the assumption being false would lead to no predictable outcome.

    I said in my previous post I agree with you there.

    You did? OK, cool. I can’t find it.

    The only point of difference I see is that you think logic is a property of God, and I think logic is a property of reality. But I’m not sure that difference is relevant to the discussion.

    Um, if the only difference between us is one you don’t think is relevant, I’m not sure what we are talking about. Still, it’s been fun.

     I mean, no matter how hard I study maths I’ll never be able to visualise four-dimensional objects.

    I did, once. I visualised the shape of the graphs of sin and cos (log as well? I forget, it was a long time ago) in complex numbers, C -> C. I was writing a program in Commodore128 basic to draw them as animated 3D graphs and I wanted to know if I’d gotten it right. High school, fun times.Yes, I am a massive nerd.

  • Caravelle

    Well, no, if cause and consequences weren’t valid, then you would be
    unable to take your experimental data and arrive at any conclusion,
    whether about your experiment, the scientific method, or logic.

    Are you suggesting that if events occurred in completely random and unrelated ways we’d be unable to tell? That world wouldn’t be even a teeny bit different from the one we live in ? (of course we wouldn’t exist in such a world but that’s besides the point)

    But either way… again, I don’t see what assuming one’s axioms has to do with whether logic is part of the universe or not. I’m not examining the axioms; you’re the one making a positive statement about them here (“logic is not a property of this or any other universe”). I’m just asking you to justify that statement, either logically or pragmatically.

    You did? OK, cool. I can’t find it.

    All I said is that our brains have an instinct for logic, which you
    yourself agree with (“We have evolved a degree of ability in logic”).

    Um, if the only difference between us is one you don’t think is
    relevant, I’m not sure what we are talking about. Still, it’s been fun.

    As far as I can tell, we’re talking about whether logic is part of the universe or not. You say it isn’t, I’m saying we don’t know. Whether the logic we experience in the world comes from God or from reality doesn’t tell us whether it could be absent in other universes or not. But if you think it’s relevant then by all means explain how.

    I was writing a program in Commodore128 basic to draw them as animated 3D graphs and I wanted to know if I’d gotten it right.

    You managed to visualise the fourth dimension and you only did it once ? Really ? If I had that ability I’d do it all the time. Sure that wasn’t a nifty projection of a four-dimensional object onto a moving 2.5D image, i.e. what we usually see ?

    Okay, we seem to have completely lost the plot here. I’ll try and reframe the question the way I see it and see if that’s better.

    The idea that the laws of logic are more fundamental than, say, the laws of physics (so that different universes could have different physics but they’d all have the same logic) isn’t alien to me. I can see a few reasons why I’d think it :

    – I’m much more confident of logic than of the laws of physics. Our understanding of the former seems to be pretty much complete and accurate, but we’re still figuring out the latter and all our theories are understood to be approximations of reality.

    – The laws of logic are blindingly obvious. The laws of physics aren’t.

    – I can imagine the laws of physics being different; I can’t imagine logic being absent. Authors who mess up the laws of physics are called SF/F authors. Authors who mess up the laws of logic are called absurdist.

    The first one is merely a statement of my state of knowledge. We don’t know the complete laws of physics, but presumably such true laws do exist otherwise our approximation methods wouldn’t work the way they do. When discussing whether the laws of physics or logic could be different in other universes, it’s those true laws I’m talking about, not our approximations. So the fact we know one field better than the other isn’t really relevant.

    The second one appears more convincing, except that a little digging shows that something’s “obviousness” in our minds has less to do with how true it is, and more to do with whether our palaeolithic ancestors needed to know it. Thanks to evolution those things that seem obvious to us are usually true, but tons of things are just as true and don’t seem obvious at all. See humans confronted with a stats problem formulated as probabilities vs frequencies for a blatant illustration. The problem is identical; the obviousness of the answer isn’t. If “obviousness” had a direct correspondence with “truth” that difference wouldn’t exist.

    So if the obviousness of something has more to do with the brain’s evolution than with something’s level of truth we can’t take logic’s obviousness as a reason why it would be somehow more true than physics.

    As for the third, our ability to imagine things is even more clearly an artifact of our brains than obviousness is. I can picture interventionist time travel resulting in small differences in the timeline quite easily even though AFAICT that’s physically and logically impossible. But to understand quantum wavefunctions or astronomical scales I need to resort to everyday metaphors even though those things are very good approximations of the true state of the universe.

    So my ability to imagine something being different seems even worse a guide to how fundamentally true it is than obviousness was.

    So what other reasons are there to think that logic is more fundamentally true than the universe ?

  • Joshua

    Are you suggesting that if events occurred in completely random and unrelated ways we’d be unable to tell? That world wouldn’t be even a teeny bit different from the one we live in ? (of course we wouldn’t exist in such a world but that’s besides the point)

    As you say, we couldn’t exist, but if we did we’d be unable to tell anything, because we’d be unable to say, “Gosh! Everything is random, therefore no such this as causality exists.” It’s the therefore that would be denied us. You’d be unable to reliably make any inference or deduction, so you’d just have a collection of unrelated facts.

     I’m not examining the axioms; you’re the one making a positive statement about them here

    I’m not saying you are, I’m saying the hypothetical person doing the experiment would necessarily be.

    You managed to visualise the fourth dimension and you only did it once ? Really ? If I had that ability I’d do it all the time. Sure that wasn’t a nifty projection of a four-dimensional object onto a moving 2.5D image, i.e. what we usually see ?

    Well, I wouldn’t call it an ability as much as something I did once. The equations were fairly simple ones, of two-dimensional surfaces in 4-space, not an actual 4D solid. You could say they were animated 3D curves that move over time – although I did manage to reflect the shapes along an axis in my head and come up with a new shape that, when projected into animated 3D space, looked largely unrelated. And my program agreed with me as to what it should look like.

    So what other reasons are there to think that logic is more fundamentally true than the universe ?

    For me, one is that since logic doesn’t make any assumptions about the universe (as there are only axioms and inference rules, all of which are assumed) and is not contingent on the universe, then it can’t be invalidated by the universe (or our experience of it) in the same way that some idea about physics could be.

    The main reason, however, is that there is a long history in Christian theology, starting in a big way with St John, linking Jesus, the Word of God, with the Greek idea of the logos. Logos literally means word, with connotations of thought and reason rather than physical speech, but in the philosophy of the time the Logos was the ordering or creative principle of the universe. Wikipedia is a good starting point if you haven’t met the Logos before. e.g. Heraclitus, from that page:

    For Heraclitus logos provided the link between rational discourse and the world’s rational structure.

    Also the Stoics on the same page.

    So, John and his followers linked Jesus as Logos to the rational principle of the universe, and to the creation of the universe (slight tangent, more than one early theologian read the personified Wisdom at creation in Proverbs 8:30 to Jesus, also interestingly, she’s female), so I say, the rationality of the universe came from him. Another word for rationality, and one that is cognate to and could translate logos, is logic.

  • Caravelle

    As you say, we couldn’t exist, but if we did we’d be unable to tell anything, because we’d be unable to say, “Gosh! Everything is random, therefore no such this as causality exists.”

    We wouldn’t say such a thing because we probably wouldn’t have a concept of “causality” at all. But I’m not talking about what hypothetical inhabitants of such a world would say, I’m talking about whether such a world would be perceptibly different from ours. And besides, the only options don’t have to be “totally random” and “totally causal”. After all if we’re throwing logic out the window we don’t need consistency even in the inconsistencies… You could have a Lewis Carroll-like world which is mostly causal but contains exceptions. Can you tell the difference between your world and Wonderland ?

    For me, one is that since logic doesn’t make any assumptions about the
    universe (as there are only axioms and inference rules, all of which are
    assumed) and is not contingent on the universe, then it can’t be
    invalidated by the universe (or our experience of it) in the same way
    that some idea about physics could be.

    You still haven’t explained how that isn’t begging the question. You say “logic doesn’t make any assumptions about the universe”, which assumes that logic itself isn’t an assumption about the universe, which is the statement I’m disputing. And what do you mean by “it can’t be invalidated in the same way that some idea about physics could be” ? “Some idea about physics” is invalidated by the universe if and only if it’s incorrect. But how could the true laws of physics be invalidated by the universe ?
    In other words, how do you know the reason our ideas about logic can’t be invalidated while our ideas about physics can isn’t simply because our ideas about logic are correct but our ideas about physics aren’t ?

    And thanks for your overview of the concept’s history, but that doesn’t tell me much as to whether the concept is correct or not. Greek philosophers and Christian theologians said lots of things, and the Wikipedia page gives Heraclitus’ position, not his reasoning.

    EDIT : And reading the Wikipedia page on the Stoics, it sure looks as if they thought logic was part of the universe.

  • Joshua

    You say “logic doesn’t make any assumptions about the universe”, which assumes that logic itself isn’t an assumption about the universe, which is the statement I’m disputing.

    But, it isn’t? It isn’t an assumption about anything. A formal system like propositional logic is a set of axioms and rules of inference, for you to take or leave as you see fit. The idea that it is useful in understanding the universe is definitely an assumption, or rather to me a faith statement, but you don’t need to make it in order to do propositional logic. And ditto for other formal systems.

    And what do you mean by “it can’t be invalidated in the same way that some idea about physics could be” ? “Some idea about physics” is invalidated by the universe if and only if it’s incorrect. But how could the true laws of physics be invalidated by the universe ?In other words, how do you know the reason our ideas about logic can’t be invalidated while our ideas about physics can isn’t simply because our ideas about logic are correct but our ideas about physics aren’t ?

    Any theory about physics can be tested, that’s the scientific method. You can devise an experiment that would have a definite outcome if general relativity is false. You can then perform the experiment, assuming technology and funding. General relativity lives or does depending on the actual behaviour of the universe.What possible experiment could test, say, de Morgan’s laws? I have no idea. If you do, please tell. Barring that, it’s a consistent claim that de Morgan’s laws don’t live or die depending on the behaviour of the universe.

    And thanks for your overview of the concept’s history, but that doesn’t tell me much as to whether the concept is correct or not. Greek philosophers and Christian theologians said lots of things, and the Wikipedia page gives Heraclitus’ position, not his reasoning.

    Well, I’m a christian, so I hold that John’s gospel is inspired by God and reveals God, and that the writings of later theologians accurately reflect and explain that revelation, so what he said carries a lot of weight with me. If you or other readers don’t accept John’s gospel, or don’t believe in God at all, I’d hardly expect you to find “John said it” convincing, but you asked my reasons for it.

  • Caravelle

    The idea that it is useful in understanding the universe is definitely
    an assumption, or rather to me a faith statement, but you don’t need to
    make it in order to do propositional logic.

    I simply don’t understand what you’re saying here. You seem to think that because a given logical statement doesn’t have to apply to the universe that means logic is independent of the universe. But again… How do you know logic doesn’t have to apply to the universe ? Is there any logical property in existence that isn’t reflected in some aspect of reality ? Given our brains, that we use to reason, are part of the universe, and that every single thing we observe is also part of the universe, how can we possibly know that this reason (or the external reality it reflects) are independent of the universe ?

    What possible experiment could test, say, de Morgan’s laws?

    The logical conclusions derived from them could prove to be fundamentally inconsistent. Or I could consider some actual pair of statements and discover that the negation of their conjunction isn’t the disjunction of their negation.
    What, have you never done this ? When you’re given a mathematical or logical property you don’t try and apply it and then go “oh yeah, it is true” ? That’s a test.

    Barring that, it’s a consistent claim that de Morgan’s laws don’t live or die depending on the behaviour of the universe.

    If there is no universe, i.e. no statements or anything for those statements to apply to, do de Morgan’s laws still exist ? And if there are no objects with mass/energy, do the laws of gravity still exist ? If the answer to those two questions is different, why ?

    If you or other readers don’t accept John’s gospel, or don’t believe in
    God at all, I’d hardly expect you to find “John said it” convincing,
    but you asked my reasons for it.

    Fair enough.

  • Joshua

    How do you know logic doesn’t have to apply to the universe ?

    All valid statements in a formal system, such as one of the varieties of logic that have been fully formalised like prepositional or predicate logic, can be found by iteratively applying the formal system’s rules of inference to the axioms and other valid statements found previously. The rules of inference and the set of axioms completely and perfectly define the set of valid statements for that formal system. Nothing outside is needed.

    This would continue to be true no matter how the universe is found to be, or even if none existed at all. Yeah, I’ve got a bit of Plato in me.

     Is there any logical property in existence that isn’t reflected in some aspect of reality ?

    I dunno, but I don’t think my point would fail even if it turned out that every bit of logic turned out to be useful for something.

    The logical conclusions derived from them could prove to be fundamentally inconsistent. Or I could consider some actual pair of statements and discover that the negation of their conjunction isn’t the disjunction of their negation.What, have you never done this ? When you’re given a mathematical or logical property you don’t try and apply it and then go “oh yeah, it is true” ? That’s a test.

    That’s not a test. At least not of de Morgan’s laws. It may be a test of oneself, to see if one has learned the laws correctly. Since they have been proved, in that they are implied by the axioms of propositional logic, testing is both redundant and impossible. (At least in theory – as Donald Knuth aptly pointed out in the first quote listed, we are all too human.)

    Considering actual pairs of statements is a foregone conclusion, unless one makes a mistake and fall short of the Platonic ideal. That’s what distinguishes it from physics, say.

  • Caravelle

    The rules of inference and the set of axioms completely and perfectly
    define the set of valid statements for that formal system. Nothing
    outside is needed.

    Again, why aren’t the rules of inference and the set of axioms and all valid statements themselves part of the universe ? You realize that by basing your argument on the fact that they aren’t you’re assuming your own conclusion right ?

    This would continue to be true no matter how the universe is found to be, or even if none existed at all.

    I’m not talking about how the universe is found to be here. That’s a statement of our own knowledge. I’m talking about how the universe is. How can you know that logic would be necessarily be the same if the universe was different from what it is right now ? Not different from what our current models say it is (we already know it’s different from that), but different from what it actually is.

    … Let alone not existing. I notice you haven’t answered my question about whether either the laws of logic or the laws of physics would exist in the absence of anything to follow them.

    I dunno, but I don’t think my point would fail even if it turned out
    that every bit of logic turned out to be useful for something.

    What would it mean for your point to “fail” ? We’re not trying to prove that logic is a emanation of the universe here; I have no idea one way or the other. You’re the one who asserted that logic isn’t part of the universe and I’m trying to figure out what evidence you have for that assertion. If you mean that “if all logic turned out to describe a bit of the universe it wouldn’t disprove my position”, sure. But if all logic was reflected in the behavior of the universe, what evidence would there be for it being independent ?

    That’s not a test. At least not of de Morgan’s laws.

    And why on Earth not ? Why is looking at the trajectories of planets and saying “yep, they’re at the place they’d be if they followed ellipses all right” a test of Kepler’s laws but looking at statements and seeing that they do follow de Morgan’s laws isn’t a test of them ? Other than one of them being a wrong approximation and the other being true, I mean.

    Considering actual pairs of statements is a foregone conclusion, unless
    one makes a mistake and fall short of the Platonic ideal. That’s what
    distinguishes it from physics, say.

    Yeah, it’s a foregone conclusion BECAUSE DE MORGAN’S LAWS ARE TRUE. Unlike all scientific theories, which are approximations.

    By that standard, if we ever discovered the true fundamental laws of physics you’d call them untestable because every test would confirm them.

    Actually you probably wouldn’t, because the true fundamental laws of physics would be so weird and counter-intuitive that no human would imagine them to be true without exhaustive testing, unlike de Morgan’s laws which we apprehend pretty well. But that’s an artifact of our brain and the kind of things it needed to know in its evolutionary history, not a statement about how relatively true the real laws of physics and de Morgan’s laws are.

  • Joshua

    I’m finding myself tempted to repeat myself, so I think I’ll just say that we can agree to disagree. I expect everyone else has left. However, just to clear up something:

     You’re the one who asserted that logic isn’t part of the universe

    That would seem to imply that I felt the universe wasn’t logical, which isn’t the case. My position is not that the universe lacks rationality, but that the Platonic ideal of logic comes from God, and that the rationality of the universe comes ultimately from God, not itself, as a reflection of his character as the creator.

  • Caravelle

    I’m finding myself tempted to repeat myself, so I think I’ll just say that we can agree to disagree.

    Looks like. Do you understand what I meant when I said your justifications were begging the question, though ? What I think happened is that you’re assuming that logic isn’t a property of the universe. Which is fine. But don’t confuse assumption with established fact.

    That would seem to imply that I felt the universe wasn’t logical, which isn’t the case.

    It wasn’t meant to imply any such thing, and I can’t imagine what I could have said to make you think I intended it to. Surely this whole discussion has been premised on the universe being logical. It’s just a rephrasing of what you actually said, which is “logic isn’t a property of this or any other possible universe”.

  • Consumer Unit 5012

    Tehanu summed it up pretty well the last time one of our resident trolls tried this bit: 

    “Tolerance is for things that are not harmful in themselves — only different. I can be tolerant of people who like football, who believe in vegetarianism or astrology, who practice kinds of sex that don’t involve coercing children but don’t interest me.  What I can’t be “tolerant” of is beliefs that harm people, racism and sexism and authoritarianism.  This stupid “argument” of yours that “lefties are intolerant of my intolerance, so they’re not really tolerant!” is just bullshit because tolerance isn’t about letting you get away with stuff that actively causes pain and damage.  It’s about recognizing that you — like every other human being who’s ever lived — don’t have all the answers and don’t know everything and aren’t always right, and ought to be left alone to think whatever you want as long as it’s not hurting others.”

    (Emphasis mine)

  • Caravelle

    Yeah, I kind of disagree with that post.

    That the question “Who shaves the barber ?” has no answer isn’t just a joke, it’s an important result of set theory, that a lot of modern mathematics is based on.

    That tolerance doesn’t imply tolerating intolerance means that behind the word “tolerance” is a complex set of concepts, more than can be expressed in a pithy aphorism. But they can be expressed in a more long-winded and detailed conversation. There’s a there there.

    The question of whether God can make a rock they can lift means that “omnipotence” in its simplest expression is an impossibility, just like some sets are mathematical impossibilities.

    Now it could be that like “tolerance”, “omnipotence” isn’t a simple concept, and needs lots of explanation. But I’ve never seen such an explanation that made sense. You end up with “omnipotence can’t be understood”, which is nice but won’t do anything to convince the unconvinced that it’s a meaningful concept in the first place.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Eric-Oppen/594893122 Eric Oppen

    Of course, the question becomes: “Intolerance of what?”  I rather doubt that anybody here would object to me being intolerant of, say, thieves, rapists or arsonists.

  • Kevin Alexander

    Whenever someone asks the god and rock thing I answer ‘Yes, he made your pride didn’t he? Only you can lift that.’ 

  • http://plantsarethestrangestpeople.blogspot.com/ mr_subjunctive

    Whenever someone asks the god and rock thing I answer ‘Yes, he made your pride didn’t he? Only you can lift that.’

    If you said that to me, you’d just get a baffled “he doesn’t really think he answered the question, did he?” look in return.

    But then, I wouldn’t have asked you the god/rock question in the first place, so I guess we’re cool.

  • Kevin Alexander

    “If you said that to me, you’d just get a baffled “he doesn’t really think he answered the question, did he?” look in return.”
    Fred pointed out that the rock thing is a kind of a joke so I respond with a kind of a joke. Usually when someone seriously poses the rock thing they think that they have a ‘gotcha’ to baffle the faithful. If I use the pride angle it means to puncture the smug. 

    so I guess we’re cool.

  • Tonio

    Usually when someone seriously poses the rock thing they think that they have a ‘gotcha’ to baffle the faithful.

    That’s how George Carlin’s routine on Catholic school presented the rock question. MontyPythonScrapbook has a scene in a British school where a student condemns Christianity for failing to explain how an all-loving omnipotent god could create evil, and the teacher orders him out. It should be possible to question the assumptions and contradictions in any theology without being smug. There’s just as much smugness among some defenders of the theologies.

  • Anonymous

    But can an omnipotent God make a 12-sided squeek? Or a left-handed mauve? Or an onion-flavored meme?

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    Or an onion-flavored meme?

    Mortals already do that.

  • http://mistformsquirrel.deviantart.com/ JJohnson

    Onion rings need to be a meme.  … Or really I just need to go buy some.

  • Anonymous

    Well, goatse has always left a bad taste in my mouth…

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=667708632 Kenneth Raymond

    God exists in a state of quantum indeterminacy where He/She/It both can and cannot create and/or lift the rock until observed, a thought experiment also known as Schrodinger’s Deity. Now, the trick is to figure out how to observe God…

  • Anonymous

    Assume a perfectly spherical Holy Spirit.

  • http://twitter.com/mcclure111 mcc

    You have invoked Bertrand Russell, which means I feel comfortable busting in to talk about SET THEORY and also AGNOSTICISM.

    So Fred mentions the well-known Russell Paradox here but doesn’t mention the lesser-known fact that Russell actually *solved* the Russell Paradox. Fred suggests the real problem with the vicious circles here is the “inadequacy of language” and this actually is a good way to look at it; Russell’s solution in fact was to develop a more adequate language. Specifically Russell suggested we introduce an idea to our language called “types” and affix the types to nouns. So under a Russell type system “God exists” is a statement, “Fred believes God exists” is a 2-statement and “mcclure111 believes that Fred believes that God exists” is a 3-statement. There are rules for when and whether you’re allowed to mix these types, and if you follow these rules things become very clear and simple. Under Russell’s system, you aren’t allowed to make statements about statements, and a set isn’t allowed to contain another set. You are however allowed to make 2-statements about statements, or 3-statements about 2-statements, or put a set inside of a 2-set. When you follow these rules, the classical vicious circles can’t even be constructed as sentences; the answer to the question of [who shaves the barber who shaves everyone who doesn’t shave themselves] is not “true” or “false” but “grammar error”. 

    None of this of course is terribly practical in day-to-day speech (although the basic idea lives on day-to-day mathematics as the modern distinction between sets and classes) but Russell wasn’t actually thinking about day-to-day speech, he was trying to construct an axiomatized proof system where “sentences” were mechanically constructed chains of symbols and where an entire system of mathematics could be rigorously proven top to bottom without ambiguities or paradoxes. He didn’t *totally* succeed, in that he never truly banned the vicious circle– Gödel later proved that no matter how you set up your axioms, you can still with enough contrivance construct a sufficiently crazy circular sentence that is grammatically legal, but can’t be proven or disproven. But what Gödel did was only really important as part of a separate argument about whether you can have a system of mathematics which is provably consistent using its own rules (you can’t), since the unprovable sentences Gödel found are all highly contrived and there’s nothing useful or “important” about them except for just the fact of their existence. For practical purposes, you can defeat the Russell paradox; Russell’s rules, or others, mean you can develop ways of talking about logic where for “natural” sentences you won’t get stuck on a vicious circle.

    So that’s formal math; is any of this this useful to Fred’s real-world antinomy discussion? Well, I think maybe so, because it suggests one way to think clearly about things that seem at first circular. With the “tolerant of intolerance” thing, for example, a somewhat literal application of Russell’s typing idea would suggest that it’s *meaningless* to talk about tolerance or intolerance of “tolerance”; rather you’d need something like 2-tolerance to describe the idea of tolerating positions on tolerance itself. But we don’t need to introduce silly pseudo-mathematical ideas like “2-tolerance”, we can translate basically the same idea into simple plain English. If someone says, if you were really tolerant you’d be tolerant of my intolerance, we can respond with just: that’s silly, that’s not what we mean by “tolerance”. And that’s of course what Fred just said, and what we were thinking to begin with. That’s not going to be the end of the discussion with Mr. or Mrs. Intolerance, of course, but at least it cuts through the circle and forces us to move to a more useful discussion about what we mean by tolerance, and if we’re maybe really talking about things like inclusiveness or respect and why we want these things, instead of allowing the other party to get off with word games.

    But then we start talking about God… and, well, suddenly things get messier and I don’t think Fred’s analogy to the barber paradox or the intolerant-tolerance thing holds up so well. I think Fred’s right that the “rock so heavy he can’t lift it” sentence is a byproduct of not thinking clearly about the subject. But the problem is that “God”, as a concept, resists any effort to think about it in a clear-headed way. Let’s say we take Russell’s approach and try to banish the circle here by suggesting when we talk about god’s powers we only mean powers that you can describe without making reference to god’s other powers. I guess that works. But suddenly we’re building castles of air on top of other castles of air– on what authority do we introduce this rule? Why *not* suggest god can modify god’s own powers (2-powers?), isn’t it a bit presumptuous to suggest god can’t? Why not suggest god can modify the laws of logic themselves, or move the universe to a paraconsistent logic? Do we need to introduce a 2-god? We can’t say any of these things are *wrong*, but suggesting they’re right is even more ridiculous and presumptuous, and we can’t just banish them because they’re natural questions that lead directly from the idea of God as we’ve introduced it. Any attempt to decide exactly what we even meant when we suggest god is “almighty” leads to obvious silliness and the kinds of Dungeons-and-Dragons theology that Fred so often decries when talking about the rapturologists and creationists.

    So then there’s Fred’s dodge– to just throw up his hands and say, I don’t know, I can’t know. I don’t see how this is supposed to be satisfying either. You’re the one telling me this concept (omnipotence) exists, and it’s important, and eventually you’re probably going to claim to me it has various properties (like loving us). But you can’t even describe it? And you’re not going to, in future, try? Science, by comparison, is totally comfortable with tossing out “I don’t know”s, but the difference there is that when science people say “I don’t know” they really mean “the question is too vague” or “I don’t know *yet*”. But here we have something we can’t *ever* know anything about, and we can’t rephrase the question because we can’t ask any questions about it at all. Here the “rock so heavy he can’t lift it” problems wind up not being an artifact of approaching the subject in a confused manner but more just a symptom of the way the entire subject we’re discussing is very poorly thought out.

    This is why I consider myself an agnostic and not an atheist: I think describing belief in God as “wrong” is giving the idea too much credit. There’s just nothing *there*, the idea is not specified enough to be able to say anything useful or interesting about it. If you’re going to come to me and say, listen, there’s this thing I’ve decided to base my life around, but I can’t actually describe it to you; my response is basically, um, okay, well get back to me when you’ve decided what you’re talking about, I’m going to change the subject now.

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    Any attempt to decide exactly what we even meant when we suggest god is “almighty” leads to obvious silliness and the kinds of Dungeons-and-Dragons theology that Fred so often decries when talking about the rapturologists and creationists.

    In the defense of Dungeons & Dragons theology, their pantheons actually have some consistency and provide believers tangible evidence of their existence.  They usually grant their most devout followers boons for following their principals and furthering their goals, and since there is a pantheon of them, each with different areas and outlooks, it is hard to say someone’s belief in another deity is “wrong”.  If they display those boons, then their deity exists.  There is hardly any room for theological argument.  

  • Consumer Unit 5012

    In the defense of Dungeons & Dragons theology, their pantheons actually have some consistency and provide believers tangible evidence of their existence.

    Plus, you can solve doctrinal disputes with the Commune spell or similar.

  • http://profiles.google.com/marc.k.mielke Marc Mielke

    The rock thing seems just wrong to me: what ass-backwards magic system links Matter Creation to STR anyway? 

  • Anonymous

    I think you just turned me on to mathematical theory.

    Do you have any suggestions for where one could read/learn more, such as a good introductory text?

  • Joshua

    Do you have any suggestions for where one could read/learn more, such as a good introductory text?

    If what you are after is a good head trip, rather than a dusty formal tome, I’d recommend “Gödel, Escher, Bach” by Douglas Hofstadter. Of course, just because it’s not a formal textbook, doesn’t mean it fails to reward the work you put into it.

  • http://twitter.com/mcclure111 mcc

    “Do you have any suggestions for where one could read/learn more [re the foundations-of-mathematics spew], such as a good introductory text?”

    You know, I really wish I had an answer to that, I don’t. The first thing that comes off the top of my head is “Fermat’s Enigma” by Simon Singh, which is actually about Fermat’s Last Theorem, but that’s a fantastic story unto itself and the author uses Fermat’s theorem as a springboard to give a beautiful overview of the entire history of mathematics and what it means to “prove” something. And I *think*, though I don’t remember clearly since it’s been years since I read it, that the book contains a section where it does a good job of covering the entire Hilbert Programme-Russell-Godel story. 

    The extended Hilbert story is the one you’re probably really interested in here, as it’s just plain fantastic as a story. Not only does the story of David Hilbert’s life have a really dramatic bit at the end where one of the greatest female physicists of all time narrowly escapes the clutches of the nazis, but it would probably be of interest to anyone following this comment section because of the Bishop Berkeley bit. That’s the whole thing where an Episcopal bishop was presented with a mathematical proof claiming to prove God does not exist; angered, the bishop turned around and attempted to write a book disproving Mathematics. AND SUCCEEDED. Really. Calculus in the 18th century had not yet been axiomatized and was founded on wildly invalid grounds and a bunch of duct tape, and Berkeley successfully managed to write proofs that 18th century calculus was invalid. The book was titled “A Discourse Addressed to an Infidel Mathematician”, which is a fantastic title; the damage it wrought was not fixed for, checking Wikipedia here, about a hundred years, and mathematicians as a community were shaken by the implications for much longer, which is part of why the Hilbert Program happened in the first place.

    There’s also a book by Rebecca Goldstein called “Incompleteness” that I’ve seen on a lot of peoples’ bookshelves but haven’t read and can’t specifically vouch for.

    I also kind of really want to suggest, although I shouldn’t suggest this, trying to find and read a copy of the Principia Mathematica, by the aforementioned Bertrand Russell and one Alfred Whitehead. That’s the book that starts out with five logical principles, and 379 pages later successfully proves that one plus one equals two. It’s… not as hard a book to read as one might think, as long as you’re willing to just ignore the stuff you don’t understand! It’s got this weird structure where each chapter, the first half is English language summaries which are actually somewhat readable if you have a bit of vocabulary coming in, and then the back half of each chapter is literally written in an completely invented language of pure mathematics that does not appear in any other book ever written before or since. Like completely insane stuff, just pages of inscrutable symbols before dropping back to dry British English. It’s actually kind of funny. Basically if you’re looking for the math equivalent of black tar heroin, make an attempt to read this book once in your life

  • Rikalous

    God could make a rock so big he couldn’t lift it, and then he’d lift it anyway.

    And Doctor Manhattan would beat Superman, because the latter can’t reconstitute himself.

  • http://www.blogger.com/home?pli=1 Coleslaw

    Whether or not God can make a rock so heavy he can’t lift it, people can make things so heavy they can’t lift them. Even some animals (like beavers) can make things so heavy they can’t lift them. So I guess the question is, can God do something that engineers and contractors (and beavers and termites) do every day?

  • Marshall Pease

    Regarding God and Big Rocks, one of those SciFi guys, I forget who, suggested “He could … but he won’t.”

    Personally, I wonder if God set out to create a Universe (from a rational set of parts) that’s so complicated he can’t understand it himself; if so, he has succeeded brilliantly for all of me. That’s a theodicy of sorts. 

    @ ChunkyStyle: “I tolerate differing points of view until they can be shown to be harmful.”
    I’ve just been reading William James’ Pragmatism; he agrees with you, but it doesn’t apply to people who are contrarian for the sake of being contrary. We know who we’re talking about here.

  • http://twitter.com/shay_guy Shay Guy

    I’ve just been reading William James’ Pragmatism; he agrees with you, but it doesn’t apply to people who are contrarian for the sake of being contrary.

    Yes it does.

  • Chunky Style

    “I’ve just been reading William James’ Pragmatism; he agrees with you, but it doesn’t apply to people who are contrarian for the sake of being contrary. We know who we’re talking about here.”

    Humor me, whom are we talking about here?

  • Anonymous

    For me, omnipotency and omniscience is easier to understand in so much as “I believe it to exist” but it’s really the all-loving that trips me up.  It goes back to the age-old problem of evil: if he is all-loving, then s/he/ it would not have introduced evil into the world.   Heck, over at Daylight Atheism there are a whole series of posts that would make it easier to be “good” based on what most people decided was good.  And if a limited being can conceive of a way to do it, then an unlimited being should know even better ways.  

    I realize that a lot of people find comfort in the idea of a god and their various faiths, and I’ve been slowly figuring out on an emotional level that not even the majority of Christians are like the kind I grew up with.  But, I don’t know how you get around that problem of evil, and I think it is extremely relevant to the idea of Christian god.  I see no evidence of a god, particularly one of the Christian stripe, but I get tripped up even further with the idea that if there was one, I have no good reason to worship it.

  • Tonio

    From my limited exposure to theology, I’m confused by the apparent tendency of theologians to treat the all-loving and omnipotent qualities as though they were enormously self-evident, when they seem to be merely assumptions. Fred is right that the two concepts conflict with the limits and inadequacy of human language. But theologians seem to assume that something exists that our language cannot codify, when we don’t know if all-lovingness and omnipotence are any more than concepts. Perhaps it’s we as a species who have created rocks so big that we can’t lift them.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    I don’t know how you get around that problem of evil

    Speaking for myself, you don’t.

  • Anonymous

    Well, I feel pretty comfortable in my agnostic atheism, but it is something that bothers me when I talk with theists.  Why would you worship a being that allowed evil into the world? If it is a being so high above us that we can only barely understand it, what’s the point of worship in the first place?  What creator god demands we get up early on Sunday and sing atonally?

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    Well, I feel pretty comfortable in my agnostic atheism, but it is something that bothers me when I talk with theists.  Why would you worship a being that allowed evil into the world? If it is a being so high above us that we can only barely understand it, what’s the point of worship in the first place?  What creator god demands we get up early on Sunday and sing atonally?

    This is tough, because I don’t want to dismiss or ignore your question, but I’m not sure I can respond adequately, in part because I don’t have a settled answer myself. I will give it a go, not to attempt to convince but to demonstrate that this very serious issue isn’t one we have gib answers to or even refuse to acknowledge. But I’m in the middle of several things at the moment so I’ll come back later when it’s quiet and have a go.

    I *can* fairly easily answer the last question: God doesn’t demand I get up early on Sunday and sing atonally. What I do believe about corporate worship services is that reationship is fundamental to humanity, and that it’s important that my relationship with God intersects with relationship with other people. Ritual is also a valuable part of building and maintaining relationships. So I think there’s great value in the community of believers getting together frequently and reguarly to exercise various parts of their spiritual life. The fact that it might be on Sunday mornings is just tradition. Singing atonally is not part of my tradition :)

  • Anonymous

     Singing atonally is not part of my tradition :)

    Clearly you were not raised Midwestern Lutheran. 

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    This thread is almost dead but I said I’m come back and have a go at a decent response, so here’s a theist’s answer to the question “how do you deal with the problem of suffering (aka the problem of evil)?” It’s categorically not the answer to the problem of suffering, because I don’t have it.
     
    First, an acknowledgement of two of the major responses to the problem:
     
    1. Suffering is a consequence of the exercise of free will. This holds that our freedom to choose good is the ultimate good itself. I agree that a lot of suffering is caused by people – but a lot isn’t, and there’s the complicating factor of the reality of psychopathy, so this answer isn’t entirely satisfactory.
     
    2. Suffering builds virtue, including fortitude, faith, empathy and most importantly love. OK, this is true sometimes (certainly in my own experience), but often the payoff seems extremely unbalanced. You could counter that only God has a truly “long view” of the ultimate cost-benefit anaysis which doesn’t make me any happier about things from my perspective but OK. There’s also the probem that a lot of my suffering is mainly about someone else, and I’m really not OK with the idea that their pain is justified if I get spiritual growth out of it. Other people are not tools in my self-development course. The biggest obstacle for me, though, is the knowledge is that trials are not aways edifying. Sometimes they destroy people. So this answer has some useful insights but doesn’t satisfy me either.
     
    The thing is, my faith is not the result of a thought experiment. I had an active, relational belief in God and experience of God as loving prior to the point in my life when the problem of suffering was of the keeping you awake at night, making you physically sick scale. So I couldn’t look at the problem, see that it conflicted with my perception of God, and choose to ditch belief in God because unbelief contradicts my experience.
     
    What I did do, for an extended period of time, was stop praying. That didn’t go down so well. Turns out I don’t work properly without a relationship with God. So I started praying again with the problem of suffering front and centre. There was a fair bit of “I believe in you, and fuck you,” which actually turned out to be some of the best prayer I’ve experienced and in hindsight I don’t repent of that attitude at all :) I’ve simultaneously been furious at God, wanted to hate him, but also loved him which made me wonder if I was in an abusive relationship with the divine. I don’t have any good arguments against that analogy, except that I don’t believe that it’s accurate.
     
    Ultimately the answer I get to the question of why a loving god allows this awful shit to happen is I don’t know, and yet I believe in and experience a loving god. I sort of doubt God’s omnipotence, but I don’t doubt God’s love. I don’t know why things happen but I do believe, more than anything else, that when they do happen God’s heart is broken too, and that the more important question than ‘why’ is ‘what is your response?’ A priest recently told me that “why” is the wrong question; the right question is “where is God in this?”, to which the answer is “where ever there is love”. That helps. I’m still not satisfied and I still want to know why, but it helps.
     
    I’m sure that won’t make any sense to you but it doesn’t make much sense to me either…gets kinda mystical and stuff at this point. Hopefully at least the anecdote about swearing at God might dispell some notions about prayer being a particularly uptight form of manners :)
     
    ———————–
    tl;dr – I have no idea what the answer to the problem of suffering is, but the concept of divine pathos helps me deal with its existence.

  • Anonymous

    There’s also the probem that a lot of my suffering is mainly about someone else, and I’m really not OK with the idea that their pain is justified if I get spiritual growth out of it. Other people are not tools in my self-development course. 

    “I believe that God put these people here for a purpose, because if we didn’t have them to look after, we would lose our humanity.”
    PATRICIA TAYLOR, whose quadriplegic brother, James, drowned in a bathtub at a group home for the developmentally disabled near Schenectady, N.Y.

    There is something WRONG HERE.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    Agreed. The idea that some of us have innate human dignity while others of us exist only for the betterment of the first group is one I reject utterly.

    For a flip side of the argument you cited: Most people don’t like to acknowledge it, but the extremely vulnerable members of society are at increased risk of all types of abuse. No one would say that God “put these people here” to give abusers an easy target to violate, and yet…

    I’m not sure if this is related, but there seems to be a common tendency to get the descriptive and prescriptive mixed up. Yes, I do often grow in compassion etc through relationship with someone more vulnerable than me; no, that’s not what the person is for.

  • Anonymous

    Well, I appreciate your response even if the thread is mostly dead.  

    I have to admit, your description does sound rather alien to me.  The day I quit praying, way back in the day, was a day of huge relief for me.  It was suddenly as if I could stop digging up holes just to fill them in again.  It does, from the outside looking in, look like an abusive relationship.

    I can respect though, that you don’t try to make it seem like that there isn’t evil in the world.  I have heard those two responses before, and I’ve found them to be on the level of “How are you good without god?” in disturbing responses.  If the answer, for right now, is “I don’t know how you reconcile an all-loving god with evil in the world, but I do” I will try to accept that is the answer for most people.  The the line “my faith is not the result of a thought experiment” is probably the one that jumps out at me the most, because I was nearly exactly the opposite.  One of the many, many catalysts on my journey of non-belief* was the rejection of the Christian god due to the problem of evil.

    Anyway, yeah.  I appreciate the answer, but it still doesn’t hit me on any kind of deep level yet. Maybe this is just something that’ll come with time, and hanging around Slacktivst and Former Conservative some more :)

    *It started when I was about 5 and learned about Greek myths and ended around, I’m going to say 18.  Since then I’m now on the journey of “Accept that until someone can make the perfectly objective machine, your view of reality is neither superior nor inferior** to anyone else’s”.
    ** Just because my view of reality isn’t perfect doesn’t mean that the other person isn’t wrong.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    If the answer, for right now, is “I don’t know how you reconcile an
    all-loving god with evil in the world, but I do” I will try to accept
    that is the answer for most people.

    I haven’t reconciled anything, I just live with the tension unresolved. It’s more like “I don’t know how you reconcile an all-loving god with evil in the world, and yet…”

    I haven’t been inside anyone else’s head so I don’t know how common it is for a person’s faith to be acceptance of a series of precepts or arguments entirely divorced from experience. I don’t know how I’d deal with that and I certainly won’t fault anyone for ditching such a faith when it runs into the significant stumbling blocks that human existence throws up.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    This thread is almost dead but I said I’m come back and have a go at a decent response, so here’s a theist’s answer to the question “how do you deal with the problem of suffering (aka the problem of evil)?” It’s categorically not the answer to the problem of suffering, because I don’t have it.
     
    First, an acknowledgement of two of the major responses to the problem:
     
    1. Suffering is a consequence of the exercise of free will. This holds that our freedom to choose good is the ultimate good itself. I agree that a lot of suffering is caused by people – but a lot isn’t, and there’s the complicating factor of the reality of psychopathy, so this answer isn’t entirely satisfactory.
     
    2. Suffering builds virtue, including fortitude, faith, empathy and most importantly love. OK, this is true sometimes (certainly in my own experience), but often the payoff seems extremely unbalanced. You could counter that only God has a truly “long view” of the ultimate cost-benefit anaysis which doesn’t make me any happier about things from my perspective but OK. There’s also the probem that a lot of my suffering is mainly about someone else, and I’m really not OK with the idea that their pain is justified if I get spiritual growth out of it. Other people are not tools in my self-development course. The biggest obstacle for me, though, is the knowledge is that trials are not aways edifying. Sometimes they destroy people. So this answer has some useful insights but doesn’t satisfy me either.
     
    The thing is, my faith is not the result of a thought experiment. I had an active, relational belief in God and experience of God as loving prior to the point in my life when the problem of suffering was of the keeping you awake at night, making you physically sick scale. So I couldn’t look at the problem, see that it conflicted with my perception of God, and choose to ditch belief in God because unbelief contradicts my experience.
     
    What I did do, for an extended period of time, was stop praying. That didn’t go down so well. Turns out I don’t work properly without a relationship with God. So I started praying again with the problem of suffering front and centre. There was a fair bit of “I believe in you, and fuck you,” which actually turned out to be some of the best prayer I’ve experienced and in hindsight I don’t repent of that attitude at all :) I’ve simultaneously been furious at God, wanted to hate him, but also loved him which made me wonder if I was in an abusive relationship with the divine. I don’t have any good arguments against that analogy, except that I don’t believe that it’s accurate.
     
    Ultimately the answer I get to the question of why a loving god allows this awful shit to happen is I don’t know, and yet I believe in and experience a loving god. I sort of doubt God’s omnipotence, but I don’t doubt God’s love. I don’t know why things happen but I do believe, more than anything else, that when they do happen God’s heart is broken too, and that the more important question than ‘why’ is ‘what is your response?’ A priest recently told me that “why” is the wrong question; the right question is “where is God in this?”, to which the answer is “where ever there is love”. That helps. I’m still not satisfied and I still want to know why, but it helps.
     
    I’m sure that won’t make any sense to you but it doesn’t make much sense to me either…gets kinda mystical and stuff at this point. Hopefully at least the anecdote about swearing at God might dispell some notions about prayer being a particularly uptight form of manners :)
     
    ———————–
    tl;dr – I have no idea what the answer to the problem of suffering is, but the concept of divine pathos helps me deal with its existence.

  • Tonio

    To, the “problem of evil” is artificial because it starts with the twin assumptions of omnipotence and all-lovingness. We don’t know if a god has those qualities, and we don’t even know if a god exists in the first place. But more disturbing to me is the tendency by some by blame humans for the “problem,” claiming that natural disasters are punishment for wickedness.

  • Anonymous

    mcc:

    You’re the one telling me this concept (omnipotence) exists, and it’s important, and eventually you’re probably going to claim to me it has various properties (like loving us). But you can’t even describe it? And you’re not going to, in future, try? Science, by comparison, is totally comfortable with tossing out “I don’t know”s, but the difference there is that when science people say “I don’t know” they really mean “the question is too vague” or “I don’t know *yet*”. But here we have something we can’t *ever* know anything about, and we can’t rephrase the question because we can’t ask any questions about it at all. Here the “rock so heavy he can’t lift it” problems wind up not being an artifact of approaching the subject in a confused manner but more just a symptom of the way the entire subject we’re discussing is very poorly thought out.

    That sounds to me like you’re equating “we can’t ever fully understand this concept” with “we can’t ever know anything useful about this concept/use this concept in any useful way”. (Please do correct me if I’m misreading you.)

    Also, I might be misunderstanding the phrasing, but it also sounds as though you’re eliding omnipotence and an omnipotent deity in the first sentence I’ve quoted there (I can see someone claiming that an omnipotent deity loves us, but not that the property of omnipotence in itself loves us, unless they’re using Omnipotence as poetic shorthand for the deity in question, in which case: Hi, Charles Williams!)

    I think I’d be inclined to say that omnipotence describes a level of supremacy that I’d attribute to God, and that that level of supremacy – in the context of a universe which is full of marvellous unknowns as far as I’m concerned – is one that I can’t understand at the moment.  I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of coming to understand it more fully, but because by its nature it involves everything about everything (all that omni that the potence is over) I’m not going to say that I see myself coming to understand it any better in the forseeable future, and I think it possible (even probable) that I will never understand it at all. So in that sense I suppose it’s “I don’t know yet” with “and I might never know” tagged on, followed by “but that doesn’t limit the possibilities of what might exist”.

    And if the ‘it’ in the first sentence is the deity then, well, yes, I’m going to spend the rest of my life trying to understand and explain it (though probably not very well, as I’m inexcusably lazy about the spiritual stuff). But I’m not intending to try to tease any more meaning out of the rock so heavy God can’t lift it because it does sound nonsensical (as in, Out Of Cheese Error style nonsensical).

  • http://twitter.com/mcclure111 mcc

    “That sounds to me like you’re equating “we can’t ever fully understand this concept” with “we can’t ever know anything useful about this concept/use this concept in any useful way”. (Please do correct me if I’m misreading you.)”

    Well– I’m trying to hold those two categories apart as separate, but I’m arguing that the ideas of “god” or “omnipotence” are in the second category. The problem with god isn’t that it can’t be “fully” understood, it’s that we we can’t even begin to understand it. We aren’t given any line of attack to start saying anything sensible about it positive, negative, or anything else. There’s no single property someone might assign to “god” in an argument that they can’t then retract a few sentences later if they feel like it by just silently shifting to a slightly different definition of “god”. *Some* specific gods might be a little easier to specifically define than “god” in general is, but then again maybe not. The Christian god for example is barely more well-defined than “god” as an abstract, given all the different ideas about god that fit under the umbrella of “Christianity” (to say nothing of how many different ideas about god are in the bible itself).

    “eliding omnipotence and an omnipotent deity in the first sentence I’ve quoted there (I can see someone claiming that an omnipotent deity loves us, but not that the property of omnipotence in itself loves us”

    Practically speaking, very, very few people claim “an omnipotent entity exists” or that omnipotence exists as a concept without also claiming that the omnipotent entity is in some way loving or benevolent. YWH, Allah, the Goddess, Brahman (that last one confuses me, isn’t Brahman supposed to be a featureless absolute?) all are described as benevolent, usually infinitely benevolent. In religions which admit fallible or actively malevolent gods (and there aren’t many of those religions anymore, unless you count satan as a “god”) usually the malevolent gods aren’t omnipotent just very powerful. Basically, I’m just observing, nobody seems to want to bother believing in Cthulhu. I’ve always thought this is interesting and maybe a little suspicious. Why *not* an omnipotent, evil god?

    “[paragraph snip] So in that sense I suppose it’s ‘I don’t know yet’ with ‘and I might never know’ tagged on, followed by “but that doesn’t limit the possibilities of what might exist”.”

    Okay, but again, you’re the one making a positive claim here, a “this is what I believe about god”. If your basis for your claims is “I don’t know, but I can’t rule out the possibility I will know better in future?” then you haven’t really given me any reason to accept your claims about god, or even really any grounds on which to make a decision on whether I consider your claims sensible, or just in general any reason to take anything you’re saying seriously. If your answer to “but how can I find out?” is, well I don’t myself know, then there’s not really anywhere to go from there.

    A contrast: Quantum physics. I don’t know how quantum physics works [in the sense of what underlying mechanism is producing the mysterious things taken as fundamental in the “Shut up and calculate” interpretation], and it’s most likely I won’t and neither will any other human by the end of my lifetime. It’s even possible that our universe is set up in such a way that we CAN’T, no matter what we do, look “outside the box” and see what machinery makes the equations of quantum physics work the strange way they do. But: If you want an answer to the question, “but how does quantum physics work?”, I can at least point you toward specific, sensible things you can do to explore an answer to that question. Some of these things are so difficult you will never in fact do them (like trapping a black hole with a giant electromagnet to experiment on it, or building a particle accelerator the size of Jupiter) but they’re *possible*, they’re things which can be done in principle. We can at least look for an answer if we feel like it’s a good use of time, instead of yelling “unknowable!” and having to give up before we have started.

    “…But I’m not intending to try to tease any more meaning out of the rock so heavy God can’t lift it because it does sound nonsensical”

    I guess what I’m saying is, you’re pointing out (and I’d agree) that the rock is nonsensical. But I’m also not being given anything to make me think that the rock is any more, or less nonsensical than god itself is. And I think it’s darn suspicious that the instant we have god *do* anything, instead of just quietly sit outside of existence benevolently ignoring us, nonsensical rocks like this start popping up everywhere.

  • Rikalous

    Why *not* an omnipotent, evil god?

    The only moral response to an omnipotent, evil god is to deny it what it wants. Gods are usually assumed to appreciate worship, or at least respect. Thus, evil gods should be ignored, and all religious reverence be directed to their potentially-nonexistent benevolent counterparts.

  • Consumer Unit 5012

    The only moral response to an omnipotent, evil god is to deny it what it wants. Gods are usually assumed to appreciate worship, or at least respect. Thus, evil gods should be ignored, and all religious reverence be directed to their potentially-nonexistent benevolent counterparts.

    I’d argue the only “moral” response is to GROVEL AS HARD AS YOU CAN, since Evil God’s Wrath towards the disobedient probably will not only kill them, but Smite a large area and a lot of other people.   And do you want that on your conscience?  (yes, it’s ultimately the Evil God’s fault, but having the common sense not to taunt Cthulhu is a necessary survival skill.)

  • http://profiles.google.com/marc.k.mielke Marc Mielke

    On the other hand, I like to take a little boat right over the site of R’lyeh and chow down on as much Kim Chee Tako Poke as I can handle. Eat Me? I EAT YOU FIRST!

  • Rikalous

    I’d argue the only “moral” response is to GROVEL AS HARD AS YOU CAN,
    since Evil God’s Wrath towards the disobedient probably will not only
    kill them, but Smite a large area and a lot of other people.   And do
    you want that on your conscience?  (yes, it’s ultimately the Evil God’s
    fault, but having the common sense not to taunt Cthulhu is a necessary
    survival skill.)

    I figure that Evil God is going to find a reason to smite you regardless, because zie’s a dick like that, so you might as well go out in a blaze of defiance. If said blaze of defiance involves you loving your neighbor and helping old ladies across the street, so much the better.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    mcc:

    All that math theory bowled me over. I am officially bowled over nao. :P

    *sits quietly, reading discussion*

  • Nomuse

    In the web comic “Freefall” there are a small number of Omniquantists.  They believe in multiple monotheistic beliefs simultaneously, despite the apparent contradiction.  “Omnipotence,” says Dvorak.  “Think about it.”  On the other hand, many that do think about it have their brains explode as a result.

  • Consumer Unit 5012

    “YOUR THEOLOGY CAUSES OTHER ROBOTS TO LOCK UP!”
    “Only one in three.”

  • hapax

    I always wondered why the solution to the barber paradox wasn’t “The barber is a woman, who doesn’t need to shave.”

    As for omnipotence, I kind of see it as a subsidiary corollary to All-Loving;  I can’t imagine the capacity to love oh, say, me-before-I’ve-had-at-least-two-cups-of-coffee without it.

  • Joshua

    [T]he barber who shaves all and only those who do not shave themselves.

    I always wondered why the solution to the barber paradox wasn’t “The barber is a woman, who doesn’t need to shave.”

    That doesn’t work – the barber shaves *all* those who do not shave themselves, whether they need it or not, ex hypothesi. Perhaps the women (a hypothetical female barber included) just need other bits shaved. Perhaps the barber suffers from a compulsive disorder.

  • http://twitter.com/mcclure111 mcc

    “That doesn’t work – the barber shaves *all* those who do not shave themselves, whether they need it or not, ex hypothesi. Perhaps the women (a hypothetical female barber included) just need other bits shaved. Perhaps the barber suffers from a compulsive disorder.”

    Actually, a surprising amount of the time when I see the barber paradox posed, it’s specifically phrased as “all men who don’t shave themselves”, so “perhaps she does not shave?” is a valid response. I’m guessing the barber is always male for the same reason the god that can’t lift the rock is always male, i.e. too many male logicians; in any case, again we see the perils of failure to axiomatizatize. Another possibility is that the community where the barber resides is an encampment of radical faeries.

  • Anonymous

    I always wondered why the solution to the barber paradox wasn’t “The barber is a woman, who doesn’t need to shave.”

    Me, too.

    Also, as to the Trinity, I don’t see it as this huge mystery.  We’re all several things at the same time — the child of our parents, the parents of our children*, employees and citizens and friends and lovers*. 

    The only difference is that God is infinite, so where we’d have a problem exercising our right as citizens to vote and our obligation as employees to go to work simultaneously, God has no such limitation.

    *Where applicable

  • Anonymous

    mcc:

    The problem with god isn’t that it can’t be “fully” understood, it’s that we we can’t even begin to understand it. We aren’t given any line of attack to start saying anything sensible about it positive, negative, or anything else. There’s no single property someone might assign to “god” in an argument that they can’t then retract a few sentences later if they feel like it by just silently shifting to a slightly different definition of “god”. *Some* specific gods might be a little easier to specifically define than “god” in general is, but then again maybe not. The Christian god for example is barely more well-defined than “god” as an abstract, given all the different ideas about god that fit under the umbrella of “Christianity” (to say nothing of how many different ideas about god are in the bible itself).

    Ah, right, that makes much more sense.  I’m starting from an experience of the universe that appears to contain something or someone that can be defined as God, which is (at least in my experience) an internally consistent thing that I can begin to understand.  So I’m thinking of God as ‘this thing – with consistent properties – that I only get a glimpse of’ and then looking at the assembled other evidence as a source to build a more consistent picture.  The wildly contradictory nature of most of the other evidence doesn’t mean to me that I can arbitrarily change my definition of God half-way through an argument, because that’s not going to take me any closer to understanding at all (though it might win the argument, in which case it will have done the other person a disservice as well).  It does indicate that there’s a lot I don’t know about the subject.  But I can understand how, without the starting axiom that there is a god, the multiplicity of opinion makes the concept pretty much useless.

    Basically, I’m just observing, nobody seems to want to bother believing in Cthulhu. I’ve always thought this is interesting and maybe a little suspicious. Why *not* an omnipotent, evil god?

    I’ve wondered that myself, and I can’t answer for anyone else, but to me the essential amazing goodness of the universe (despite all the hideously evil stuff that happens in it) is a powerful argument against omnipotent Cthulhu.

    If you want an answer to the question, “but how does quantum physics work?”, I can at least point you toward specific, sensible things you can do to explore an answer to that question. Some of these things are so difficult you will never in fact do them (like trapping a black hole with a giant electromagnet to experiment on it, or building a particle accelerator the size of Jupiter) but they’re *possible*, they’re things which can be done in principle. We can at least look for an answer if we feel like it’s a good use of time, instead of yelling “unknowable!” and having to give up before we have started.

    Hmm.  To answer the question, “how does (G/g)od work?”, I can think of some specific things to do (read up on all the sources, pray regularly, learn as much as possible about the universe so that creation can shed light on its creator) but I can also see that the question isn’t quite the same.  With quantum physics you’ve already got some quantifiable effects – definite evidence that something odd is happening – and you’re looking to explain them.  With god, to a lot of people, there are no effects.  I mean, I can say “this experience I have is a sign that there is something here to understand” and can then apply the various recommended techniques, but if I don’t have the experience then there’s no starting point.  I’m not yelling “unknowable!” and giving up.  I’m postulating “unknowable!” about some parts of the nature of God and then looking to find out whether I’m right.

    Also (as is probably clear from my posts) I’m not a mathematician and my knowledge of mathematical theory is sort of hazy – your descriptions are fascinating and I may have to read some of these books.  Thanks!

  • Tonio

    but to me the essential amazing goodness of the universe (despite all
    the hideously evil stuff that happens in it) is a powerful argument
    against omnipotent Cthulhu.

    While ‘ve never read Lovecraft, I can imagine an omnipotent evil deity creating a universe with both amazing goodness and hideous evilness as a way of tormenting humans. Torment in the sense that humans couldn’t reliably expect the universe to be consistently good or consistently evil, and thus they would lack security. Almost like gaslighting.

  • Anonymous

    Actually that might be one case in which the humans could successfully rebel by learning to be happy without security, or to find hope and comfort whether the deity liked it or not.

    Now I’m trying to work out whether you would best irritate gaslighting god by seeing through hir and acknowleding hir existence without desperately begging for some consistency, or by ignoring hir altogether.

    You could also imagine a deity like that waiting until humanity had finally cracked subatomic particle physics and developed FTL travel before going “Nuh-huh-huh!” and changing the rules.

  • Alicia

    To me, that makes even less sense than the “omnibenevolent” argument. I can’t imagine what would be the actual point of that.

  • Tonio

    I can’t imagine what would be the actual point of that.

    Do you mean the point of the god acting that way, or the point of postulating such a god? If it’s the former, I suppose the god’s goal would be suffering for its own sake.

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    While ‘ve never read Lovecraft, I can imagine an omnipotent evil deity creating a universe with both amazing goodness and hideous evilness as a way of tormenting humans. Torment in the sense that humans couldn’t reliably expect the universe to be consistently good or consistently evil, and thus they would lack security. Almost like gaslighting.

    One of the interesting things about Lovecraft’s “gods” was that they were not exactly actively evil, as humans think of it.  They did not necessarily exist to torment people, and if they did, it was only incidental.  Their thoughts and sense of morality was so throughly alien and beyond anything a human mind could conceive of that to try to understand their motivations could drive a person mad with its enormity (and often did.)  The demigod like Old Ones were largely indifferent to humanity, seeing us as being a minor nuisance at best, like buzzing misquotes they would occasionally swat down if bothered by.  

    The actual Outer Gods were even further beyond the Old Ones than the Old Ones were beyond humans.  Azathoth was the Demon Sultan of the cosmos, sitting on his black throne at the center of ultimate chaos, ruling over all existence.  But he was not good or evil, he was simply dumb, all powerful and utterly without thought or reason, acting purely on whims determined by nothing in particular, content to be entertained by the piping of its demonic courtiers for eternity.  

    I think that if there is one of the things that would make Lovecraft’s mythos effective horror for Christians in particular, it is the concept that God is real, all powerful, and does not even notice nor care one bit about humanity.  

  • Tonio

    I think
    that if there is one of the things that would make Lovecraft’s mythos
    effective horror for Christians in particular, it is the concept that
    God is real, all powerful, and does not even notice nor care one bit about humanity.

    Why do you think such extreme indifference would be more horrifying for Christians than malevolence?

  • Rikalous

    Why do you think such extreme indifference would be more horrifying for Christians than malevolence?

    If you hate something, you acknowledge its importance more than if you’re just irritated or indifferent to it. Satan thinks humans are special enough to be worth corrupting and and tormenting, Cthulhu doesn’t.

  • Tonio

    If you
    hate something, you acknowledge its importance more than if you’re just
    irritated or indifferent to it. Satan thinks humans are special enough
    to be worth corrupting and and tormenting, Cthulhu doesn’t.

    I’ve heard a few creationists argue that evolution equates to humans being “nothing special,” and certainly their reading of Genesis gives humanity an exalted status in the universe. But what you’re suggesting is that all Christians believe in that status. That might be insulting to them, as if you’re calling the entire religion a massive exercise in “It’s all about me!”

  • Rikalous

    I’ve heard a few creationists argue that evolution equates to humans
    being “nothing special,” and certainly their reading of Genesis gives
    humanity an exalted status in the universe. But what you’re suggesting
    is that all Christians believe in that status. That might be insulting
    to them, as if you’re calling the entire religion a massive exercise in
    “It’s all about me!”

    Whoops. My comment was more about the horror of indifference to humans in general, not Christians specifically. I don’t think that Christians are necessarily more susceptible (I don’t think Christians are a homogenous enough group to make any broad statement like that), nor do I think the horror comes from selfishness. For instance, I’m agnostic, but I am firm in the opinion that we’re pretty hot stuff as a species. I’ve heard some about some impressive cognition from, say, ravens, but I don’t see any of them landing on the moon. So I see Indifferent God as scarier than Evil God more because of humanism than anything else.

    To put my reactions into more geeky terms: The ideal character in a campaign where Satan is the main threat is a badass packing holy water and a BFG-9000. The ideal character in a campaign where Cthulhu is the main threat is an illiterate Olympic sprinter.

  • Tonio

    Thanks for the clarification. So you’re suggesting that indifference from a god would inherently undermine humanism? I rarely hear anyone suggest that such indifference might have its positive aspects, such as not having to try to please the god or endure its criticism.

  • Rikalous

    Thanks for the clarification. So you’re suggesting that indifference
    from a god would inherently undermine humanism? I rarely hear anyone
    suggest that such indifference might have its positive aspects, such as
    not having to try to please the god or endure its criticism.

    I’ve never really thought about all this before, so beware of stream-of-consciousness rambling.

    I wasn’t thinking so much that Indifferent God (hereafter IG) would undermine humanism. It’s more that the principles of humanism make IG scary. IG is a violation of the laws and axioms of humanism. People are supposed to be, by and large, pretty dang nifty. We’ve developed all these arts and sciences and metacognition. Other intelligences are supposed to think we’re nifty or threatening or at least worthy of notice. IG thinking that we’re no more interesting than the next mote of dust breaks the rules. So I guess zie’s scarier for me, and probably for most Christians (and theists of various other stripes), because Evil God fits into the framework in a negative sense, and IG breaks the framework. Hamburgers with e. coli in them will turn people off of fast food for a while, but hamburgers that spontaneously combust when you bite into them are terrifying, because they break the framework of how hamburgers work.

    I don’t think that humanism would necessarily be undermined by the presence of IG. I think people might continue on with it in a spirit of defiance towards the uncaring universe. There’s a scene in The Silver Chair, a Narnia book, where the heroes are being mind-whammied by the villain into thinking that they’ve never been to Narnia, and the whole world consists of her underground realm. One of the heroes makes a speech about how he’s going to stand for Narnia even if it doesn’t exist, because it’s better than the villain’s reality. I figure a lot of people would do the same thing, except with Narnia replaced by humanism/Jesus/Mom’s apple pie. It’d be similar to the reaction to EG, except that I don’t think defiance towards indifference is as easy to make forceful as defiance towards hate.

    I’m not sure how to respond to your suggestion about positive aspects, because I’m not sure what you’re comparing IG to. The options I can think of are the Benevolent God most theists seem to worship, where everything would be hunky-dory in the human-divine relationship, and EG, where you’re screwed regardless (and with something less “criticism” and more I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream) but at least you’ve got something to oppose. I guess there’s also Flawed God, but if god isn’t automatically morally better or worse than any given human, there exists the possibility that zie can learn moral behavior from humanity, which sounds pretty cool.

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    Thanks for the clarification. So you’re suggesting that indifference from a god would inherently undermine humanism? I rarely hear anyone suggest that such indifference might have its positive aspects, such as not having to try to please the god or endure its criticism.

    Sorry for the long delay in reply, I had not been keeping up with the thread.  

    The horror that Lovecraft evokes is the feeling of being small, powerless, and insignificant in the face of forces far larger and inscrutable than oneself.  Now, you could say that this already exists in many people.  The belief in God or gods is generally an expression of this, as is a more naturalistic view of the vastness of the material universe.  However, both of those previous models can be understood and manipulated.  An all-powerful God could certainly smite people in an instant, but generally does not, suggesting that either such a god cares about humanity, or can at least be placated with the proper observances.  And just looking at the vast universe with an eye for things like physics and chemistry, certainly its scale is far more vast than humanity can manage, but it also follows its own internally consistent rules which can be understood and exploited.  Such belief systems certainly imply forces beyond what we can control, but they are still forces which we can understand and affect.  Having that gives us an “out”, a source of hope we can cling to.  

    The horror of Lovecraft’s deities is that they cannot be affected or stopped, and do not care what happens to us.  People who are smited and consumed were not done so because they were sinners against the Old Ones, but simply because there were there.  Trying to understand whatever sort of logic they follow is equally futile.  The human brain is so tiny in its ability to conceive compared to these other forces than any attempt to do so will fail, and often result in madness as the mind struggles to accept things that simply cannot fit into it.  It is true that many of these Old Ones have worshipers, cultists who try to hasten their awakening, sorcerers who try to tap them for power with careful sacrifices, etc.  But these too are insignificant.  The cultists are like moths drawn to a flame.  Overwhelmed by the sensation of it, they find themselves drawn to a source of power they do not understand but cannot turn away from, even knowing that they will be burned by a force that does not care one whit about them.  The sorcerers are like the mosquito which has figured out that it can make a larger creature scratch by biting it in the right place.  It just has to be sure that some other insect is in its place when the hand comes down to swat the bug away, turning that swat to its own purposes.  

    A caring god can be trusted to love creation.  A malevolent god takes enough interest in mortals that it can at least be placated or avoided.  But an uncaring god can be trusted to do neither.  It cannot be fought, it cannot be reasoned with, and it cannot be understood. For these reasons, many who confront them end up going mad with despair, knowing that all they do is ultimately meaningless.  Nihilism overcomes any hope or optimism they had.

  • Bificommander

    I’ve never liked that Rock-God question. Though I did like Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal’s variation of it on “How to piss off theology mayors”: Do you think God could create a degree so useless even He couldn’t get a job with it?

  • Joshua

    And now there is a curious typo.

  • Joshua

    Do you think God could create a degree so useless even He couldn’t get a job with it?

    It’s not useless if I can argue on the internet late at night with it!

  • Anonymous

    Joshua and mcc, thanks for the book recommendations!  They are on the Pile at the moment… the Pile that never gets smaller….

  • Anonymous

    You know this is what I think about omnipotence: The more you give love away the more you have it.

    That is what I believe comes closest to infinity.

  • http://twitter.com/mcclure111 mcc

    “That doesn’t work – the barber shaves *all* those who do not shave themselves, whether they need it or not, ex hypothesi. Perhaps the women (a hypothetical female barber included) just need other bits shaved. Perhaps the barber suffers from a compulsive disorder.”

    Actually, a surprising amount of the time when I see the barber paradox posed, it’s specifically phrased as “all men who don’t shave themselves”, so “perhaps she does not shave?” is a valid response. I’m guessing the barber is always male for the same reason the god that can’t lift the rock is always male, i.e. too many male logicians; in any case, again we see the perils of failure to axiomatizatize. Another possibility is that the community where the barber resides is an encampment of radical faeries.

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    As usual, there is an xkcd for that.  

    Though we are in real danger if the Raptures figure out how to open doors.

  • Anonymous

    “2. The laws of logic are blindingly obvious.”

    Not to Plato they weren’t. The “laws of logic” pretty much start with Aristotle. Which of course isn’t to say that humans were all illogical before that or any such nonsense, but the idea of a formal method of reasoning that could lead unerringly from true premises to true conclusions was not realised before Aristotle (or at least no records from earlier have survived).

    For that matter, there are no universally agreed upon “laws of logic”. There exist paraconsistent logics* (reject the law of non-contradiction*), fuzzy logics (reject the law of the excluded middle), intuitionist logics (reject the laws of the excluded middle, double negation, and De Morgan’s laws), probability theory as logic (extends truth values to any real between 0 and 1, not the same as fuzzy logic). Even within classical logic there are non trivial differences between predicate and propositional logics, and between first, second, and higher order logics. Not to mention philosophers like Quine who famously attacked the very idea of propositions being true independently of matters of fact.

    But then, I’m with Lakotos’ “Proof and Refutations” in thinking that even mathematical proof is ultimately empirical and contingent*, so I’m not exactly the voice of the mainstream here.

    * Sort of anyway, some types accept as axioms both the law of non contradiction and its negation, but lack an certain rules of inference that lead to the explosion in classical logic. I’ve actually had the good fortune to meet and talk with Graham Priest, one of the most prominent advocates of paraconsistent logics. He’s quite serious about the idea that some contradictions are simply true, like Russell’s Paradox, and that logic should reflect that.

    ** Which actually bothers me a lot more than it should. Platonic forms are to me the most aesthetically pleasing idea in all of philosophy and it drives me up the wall that I find the counter arguments ultimately compelling. I’m an atheist who has never felt the “God shaped hole” people talk about, but I definitely have a “Plato shaped hole”.

  • Caravelle

    “2. The laws of logic are blindingly obvious.”

    Not to
    Plato they weren’t. The “laws of logic” pretty much start with
    Aristotle. Which of course isn’t to say that humans were all illogical
    before that or any such nonsense, but the idea of a formal method of
    reasoning that could lead unerringly from true premises to true
    conclusions was not realised before Aristotle (or at least no records
    from earlier have survived).

    lol, I knew I’d get into trouble over that :)
    I don’t think that affects my argument much, as you point out humans weren’t illogical before formal logic was developed and it’s that basic capacity I’m referring to. Kind of like when I bring up 2+2=4 I’m not referring to number theory, I’m talking of the experience of holding 2 fingers and 2 fingers and the result obviously being 4.

    I don’t know half enough about formal logic to address anything else you’ve said, but it was a very interesting post and I’ll certainly read the links. And given I don’t know that much about formal logic, if I am wrong and it does affect my point I’d be glad to know how.

    Which actually bothers me a lot more than it should. Platonic forms are
    to me the most aesthetically pleasing idea in all of philosophy and it
    drives me up the wall that I find the counter arguments ultimately
    compelling. I’m an atheist who has never felt the “God shaped hole”
    people talk about, but I definitely have a “Plato shaped hole” (or
    perhaps “Plato shaped shadow” would be more appropriate).

    Yeah, I think I have the opposite thing. I always found the idea of Platonic forms to be contradictory and confusing, and it was a great relief when I discovered they can be explained in terms of reality and the way our minds understand it.

  • Anonymous

    Explain the Trinity then, logically.  It can’t be done.  Christian theology has long held three can equal one and one can equal three, where God is concerned.

    One being, three parts.  Like the old clover analogy… there are three leaves, but it’s all part of the same plant.

    In the defense of Dungeons & Dragons theology, their pantheons actually have some consistency and provide believers tangible evidence of their existence.  They usually grant their most devout followers boons for following their principals and furthering their goals, and since there is a pantheon of them, each with different areas and outlooks, it is hard to say someone’s belief in another deity is “wrong”.  If they display those boons, then their deity exists.  There is hardly any room for theological argument.”

    Not neccessarily, you can apparently channel divine energy yourself if you believe hard enough.  It’s… not incredibly consistent.  And, of course, there is in universe debate on what exactly a ‘god’ is…

    I always wondered why the solution to the barber paradox wasn’t “The barber is a woman, who doesn’t need to shave.”

    Because the original paradox specifically states that the barber is a man.

    Basically, I’m just observing, nobody seems to want to bother believing in Cthulhu. I’ve always thought this is interesting and maybe a little suspicious. Why *not* an omnipotent, evil god?

    Cthulu is/was hardly omnipotent.

    To put my reactions into more geeky terms: The ideal character in a campaign where Satan is the main threat is a badass packing holy water and a BFG-9000. The ideal character in a campaign where Cthulhu is the main threat is an illiterate Olympic sprinter.

    The ideal character in a campaign where Cthulu is the main threat is a boat captain.Or an mech/ersatz-Eva pilot.

    Whoops. My comment was more about the horror of indifference to humans in general, not Christians specifically. I don’t think that Christians are necessarily more susceptible (I don’t think Christians are a homogenous enough group to make any broad statement like that), nor do I think the horror comes from selfishness. For instance, I’m agnostic, but I am firm in the opinion that we’re pretty hot stuff as a species. I’ve heard some about some impressive cognition from, say, ravens, but I don’t see any of them landing on the moon. So I see Indifferent God as scarier than Evil God more because of humanism than anything else.

    Huh?  Whether the god cares about humanity or not is irrelevant to our ‘hot stuff’ status.  Besides, it *is* a pretty big universe, so we’re probably not the only awesome dudes around…

    You mean, like every experiment in science ever ? We can test that some events are reliably followed by other events in a predictable manner consistent with the concepts of “cause”, “consequence” and “mechanism”. It’s as testable as anything is in science.

    Yeah… but now try an experiment falsifying that.  And rembember that ‘random’ is a valid cause/consequence/mechanism.  As is Godwillsit.
    “I don’t think that humanism would necessarily be undermined by the presence of IG. I think people might continue on with it in a spirit of defiance towards the uncaring universe.”Considering that secular humanism is basically already this (just skipping the ‘god’ portion of ‘uncaring’, yeah, I’d think so.

    – I can imagine the laws of physics being different; I can’t imagine logic being absent. Authors who mess up the laws of physics are called SF/F authors. Authors who mess up the laws of logic are called absurdist.

    They still follow logic.  It just might not be *earth logic* so to speak, or even logic related to the story, but there’s still a correlation.  The street curves in on itself because it represents the futility of modern life.  The train station suddenly turns into a burger because the author was hungry. 
    “We wouldn’t say such a thing because we probably wouldn’t have a concept of “causality” at all. But I’m not talking about what hypothetical inhabitants of such a world would say, I’m talking about whether such a world would be perceptibly different from ours. And besides, the only options don’t have to be “totally random” and “totally causal”. After all if we’re throwing logic out the window we don’t need consistency even in the inconsistencies… You could have a Lewis Carroll-like world which is mostly causal but contains exceptions. Can you tell the difference between your world and Wonderland ?”Just because events appear unconnected doesn’t mean they really are.  There might be events working behind the scenes, it might be what the local diety finds amusing, it may follow the laws of Narrative Convention, and ‘It happens randomly’ is still a cause.

    Again, why aren’t the rules of inference and the set of axioms and all valid statements themselves part of the universe ?

    Because they’d work for arbitrary axioms and valid statements?

    … Let alone not existing. I notice you haven’t answered my question about whether either the laws of logic or the laws of physics would exist in the absence of anything to follow them.

    Well, the statement that ‘nothing exists to follow them’ is a logical statement…The laws of physics are a property of the universe, the laws of logic are a property of reality.


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