rational rejection of supernatural mythologies

Ineffable Excuses

That is, when all religious arguments fail because of internal inconsistency, retreat into the inexplicable (ineffable).

“But they only fail because of the frailty of the human condition.”

The argument has obviously convinced you, but I submit that this is only because you wish to believe for the reasons that you have already explained – rewards are offered for  faith. (I also do think that the emotional process of faith offers emotional comfort in the only life the believer will have, though fear of eternal torment tortures some people uneccessarily.)

Let me explain it this way: if God Sent his Son, via Immaculate Conception, to Die For Our Sins, and if Christianity is a Revealed Religion, why did God not bother to leave better Evidence of His Existence or provide us with better arguments when He was dictating the Word of God? If God wished man, his Special Creation, to Worship Him, why would He maintain Himself as Unknowable where it matters? 

Oh, yes, I remember – faith.

The answer, of course, is that the ineffable is a clever theological retreat. When all arguments fail, claim that the basis for the arguments remains true but blame human intellectual frailty for inability to generate a convincing argument.

(Don’t trouble yourself to elaborate all the “excuses” that apologists make, we’re probably all familiar with them.) I do understand the objection that you raised. I understand the concept of ineffability – I think that it is a clever artifice.

However, the problem with the objection is that theological arguments were invented by humans and are only intended to convince humans. This means that it should be within human capacity to convince fellow humans if the argument had solid grounds.

So, even if there were a God and that God had elements incomprehensible to a mere mortal, if it were beyond our capacities to understand or explain them, we should not even have discovered those elements that are inexplicable. Think of a fly buzzing around a room – it has absolutely no understanding of the nature of a room, and it has no notion that it does not understand. (I feel safe that most would concur that flies have limited cognitive capacity.)

“There are some religious arguments that fail because they are wrong (since all religions and the arguments that support them are not correct). There are other religious arguments that make seem internally inconsistent, but only because as aspects of them are not known.”

I’d agree on the first statements only.

I was attracted to science for many reasons. Amongst those reasons were the fact that science offers our best opportunity for consistently understanding the natural world and that science is a self-modifying discipline in that it refines and improves itself. Facts are facts, but scientific theories tie observations together into a coherent, logical whole that provides for an Aha! reaction. In a sense, the logic of science is tautological just as any explanation with logical foundation is tautological. If a scientific theory fails to fit the known facts, then it is scrapped and a better explanation is sought. Good explanations can be difficult to induce from empirical facts, but this is part of the intellectual appeal of science. I suppose that this is a little akin to saying that science seeks to conquer the inexplicable. As to the infinite, cosmology indicates that space curves back on itself and that time is event-limited, so infinity and eternity are mere concepts rather than possibilities.

Religions do not provide tautologies. Oh sure, some who believe for emotional reasons will accept the argument for ineffability, but they are in fact merely accepting the arguments because they like the conclusions and the implications of those conclusions, usually because they have been familiar with the concepts since childhood. I’m not knocking the emotional motivations, I’m merely saying that it is not possible to build a completely logical explanation for something that does not actually exists as The determining force for what we observe.

“To use a concept to prove a concept, particularly in a fallacious argumentum ad ignorantium, is simply a form of circular fallacy.”

“You are correct. I took too many shortcuts. Let me further explain what I was saying. If one accepts the existence of a transcendent being, one thereby accepts that empirical evidence is of limited value. It is possible to use the various empirical evidence that can be interpreted as supporting the evidence of such a transcendent being, but the existence of such a being is ultimately based upon faith.”

That’s a good explanation of your position. I think that the existence in question is confined to the act of faith. To some degree, the difficulties lie around how we are to understand “existence”. Faith ‘incorporates’ that same nature of existence in which emotions and ideas exist. 

The burden of proof rests with the claimant.”

“Unless the claimant feels no burning need to prove anything, especially if the claimant is convinced that belief is only possible with faith, not merely the intellectual assent to a set of postulations.”

No, the burden of proof still rests with the claimant. It is obviously the claimant’s prerogative whether or not to bother to take up the burden.

Faith is emotional assent to that set of postulations in the absence of empirical evidence. (I’d also say absence of logical validity, where I’d define that as logic without resort to artificial premises.)

If it left absolutely no trace within human experience, then nobody would ever be discussing that whatever.

“So you are saying that since people are the discussing the whatever, it must have left a trace within the human experience, thus validating its existence?”

No, I’m saying that the truly ineffable would no more have occurred to us than a room does to a fly. 

I maintain that there is another, better explanation than the existence of supernatural entities for the human invention of religion:

Start with a brain that has evolved to recognize patterns in the world along with a psychological need to understand our own existence and a desire to control the phenomena that govern survival. Next, toss in the fact that the earliest humans had few interventions and fewer reasonable explanations that were obvious within the phenomena (essentially what Hume said – we infer the cause-effect relationship from the relationship but we don’t directly perceive the cause). Add a little human need to have others behave as we wish, or as leaders order. Add a little human creativity and love of ritual.

What do we now have? The plethora of creation myths and religious beliefs that are observed across almost all societies.

Refine and promote these package through the operation of human intellectual creativity and organizational skill and we have survival of the fittest religious organization.

What do we now have? If there were truly an obviously correct single creed, then only one religious doctrine would have prevailed. If only one creed had predominated, we’d have a lot less strife.

Either supernatural entities are believed to exist, with the associated pantheon of divisive religious dogmas, or supernatural entities are believed not to exist with the concomitant possibility that people could cease to divide one another on the basis of arbitrary enemy beliefs. I am not saying that I think that universal acceptance of atheism would unite the world, but the possibility of questioning arbitrary rules and divisions could reduce conflict. At least the conflict would be ideologically confined to politicoeconomic issues and it is easier to find compromises to reduce those causes of conflict.

Follow-through from Transcendant rhetorical devices and Comments.


September 3, 2007 - Posted by | atheism, critical thinking, logic, philosophy, religion, science

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