Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Catholic Philosophical Musings - Interlude to Human Existence Two

Another dialogue with a YouTube Atheist - I have yet to hear back from him. Hopefully, this will serve as more stimulation to thought. God bless!

By way of explanation, I was referring to my own speculation into metaphysics. My logic and epistemology are simple: I did not claim that atheism was true, and then contradict myself saying that there is no such thing as truth or error. I was extrapolating the proposition, "There is no God," to it's full logical end.

Here is the general point of my posts: human reason is constantly striving to encounter "the truth" in all things precisely because we are under the impression that discovering more of our concept of reality, what is most real, is beneficial and good, and that distancing ourselves from reality in the form of illusion or lies is harmful and bad.

Thus through our Reason as human beings, we constantly either subconsciously or consciously assign a certain essential 'permanency' to various things, ideas, or concepts. This is necessary for human reason to function at all, because fixed points are necessary to make any judgments in the realms of truth vs. lie, good vs. bad, helpful vs. harmful, right vs. wrong, beautiful vs. ugly, love vs. seeking the ill; all human reason is predicated to the practice innate to us of assigning a solidity to something, and then reasoning off of it. Philosophers sometimes call this the axiomatic principle of an argument or idea, or simply the axiom. Thing single most basic axiom is that of Pascal's famous statement: I think, therefore I am. The existence of self as Observer is the first axiom that must be assumed in order to reason from that fixed point.

There are other fixed points of reasoning erected by human reason, however. Such things as the biological reliability of the human mind to know truth at all given evolution removed from the context of any sort of theism or divine principle acting in man (Darwin struggled with this one), the existence of reality exterior to the mind (a la Bertrand Russel and his temporary stint as a believer in solipsism), and the reliability of the evolved senses to convey to you anything truly based on an exterior reality given that there is one and solipsism is not true. These are just some of the axiomatic principles that have to be accepted for human reason to argue off of in the pursuit of truth and of objective reality; there are, however, many more like them. Without these sort of fixed points, human reason is powerless to know *anything.*

Perhaps a sort of rough analogy would be helpful: imagine a car that is sitting in a driveway with the key in the ignition. This state represents the state that the mind is in when not thinking about any given thing. Turning the key and starting the engine is akin to the mind thinking of a given thing and trying to ask questions to encounter external reality in that thing, ie, truth vs. falsehood, right vs. wrong, etc etc. The will for the car to move from point A to point B is representative of the desire for the mind to encounter this external reality. A car revving in neutral is as powerless to get from point A to point B as a mind is to encounter an external reality that influences what it believes through reason without fixed points to adjust itself and its thoughts by. Putting the car into drive and traveling to the desired destination is representative of the effect that reasoning off of fixed points has on discovering reality: to put it simply, you're not going to get metaphysically anywhere without acknowledging and operating based on the principle that basic, unproved suppositions and axiomatic principles, ie fixed points, precede arguing from reason to a reality external of thought itself. Without that, your mind is a car stuck in neutral.

This is my argument: Only a foolish man who is comfortable with possibly living in a complete illusion would argue off of all of these miniature and erected fixed points of human reason without considering the relative solidity and permanency of each of these individual axioms. Their solidity is just that: relative and illusory, and with their illusory nature goes human reason and thought itself down the proverbial drain. This is because human reason is intrinsically ordered to the finding out of what is *most* true, since anything less than the truest reality would be holding human reason bridled under the yoke of living in a partial illusion, which defeats the purpose of asking questions and pursuing truth at all.

Now, apply that argument to its logical end in the speculation that neither God, nor anything like God, exists.

If there is not an eternal Being that is the Fixed Point of Reason in the truest sense of the term axiomatic principle, that supports and upholds the permanency of all other fixed points of human reason; if you do not identify God as the foundational basic assumption of human reason that you base all other fixed points and all other arguments on, then all other fixed points that we erect and reason off of are just our own projections of solidity that are not really fixed, but are illusions. This is perfectly logical, because all other axioms we erect, having no support outside the human mind, would then be simply products of the human mind superimposed on our experiences, *and not actually true reality external to the mind.* What this means is that our human reasoning would then have come into existence and evolved as our brains evolved, and will die when we die as a species. Anything that was at one time nonexistent and will be nonexistent in the future, and is currently only upheld by human brain chemistry, is the very definition of an illusion and a wish projection of man superimposed on the Nothing to help him survive. I say, "Nothing," as an alternative to saying "absurd universe" because absurdity still reflects a feeling within man of reaction against something. Nothingness comes far closer to getting a feel for the abyss of total lack of cognition and knowable reality that existed prior to mankind's evolution and that is the ultimate end of all of our fevered reasoning when we all die as a species. These are the logical outworkings of an atheistic worldview, and it is only once you descend into the pit of the darkness of this logic that you realize the truth: atheism is at core a proposition that can be likened to a man who is standing on a stack of books, which stack is resting dubiously on a chair, which chair is perched even more precariously on a large wooden table, that is threatening to topple off the top of the roof of a large car just big enough for it, which car is resting firmly and solidly on the resolute and unyielding driveway that is holding it up. The books, chair, table, and car all represent various fixed-point axioms that the mind accepting atheism is obliged to perch on in order to reason to external reality at all; the unyielding ground represents the unyielding Eternal ground of Reason itself that is found in God. Thus intellectual atheism could be likened to that man perched way up there denying the existence of the ground, but never stopping to question what is holding up the books, chair, table, and car that he is standing on.

Unfortunately, there is another intellectual path to tread: it is called despair, or even downright evil. Nietzsche dived deeply into both of those categories by denying not only God, but following atheism to its logical end and becoming a proponent of utter nihilism and absurdity; in doing this he more or less eliminated the unfounded and illusory bases of human reason that were represented by those books. And, again likening it to the man perched on the books, this can be illustrated by a man doubting *everything* under his feet, even down to the very books he's standing on, becoming wildly suspicious that everything, even the most basic fixed points, are illusions due to the fact that none of them are supported by anything eternal or absolutely true. Having become convinced of this, the man topples off the books, falls to the ground, and dies after smacking his head on the concrete. Nietzsche was the perfect example of this, as at the end of his life he went insane and died without his human Reason in an insane asylum.

Bottom line: if the ultimate reality is assumed not to be God or anything transcendent like God that can be fathomed by human beings and reasoned from, but rather to be the opposite, nothingness, then the human mind is living in an illusion of knowable reality that is only as real as our own, impermanent and fleeting existence. Accordingly, all things, ironically, hinge on death and the impermanence of humanity in death. If this is reality for human beings, then we have effectively come full circle, since it would be just as 'true' from the human perspective to believe in God as it would to believe in nothingness and to disavow God while keeping a faith in human reasoning ability and thought, since both would be only true insofar as they are wish projections of human beings (not even worth the dignity of that title - in such a world, I prefer Voltaire's apt description: 'Tortured atoms in a bed of mud') in the face of their own impermanence and death. I say, therefore, that questions of truth vs. error are only valuable in the context of theistic belief, and as goes God, so goes human reason. And if humans lose their Reason, we are in Hell right now, being in an Sisyphus-like existence of constantly twitching to ask questions and seek truth and reality. We have become the evolutionary laughingstock of creatures evolutionarily advanced enough to extrapolate their curiosity and consciousness and thirst for meaning and truth to the infinite nothing, and, receiving only silence in return, return to die in the mud or else commit suicide. Perhaps this is why there are so little intelligent life in the universe - there's a self-destruct program embedded by the blind watchmaker (thanks for the term Dawkins) in this self-organizing meaningless tornado we call life that destroys itself once it realizes that the more sentient it gets, the correspondingly more it thirsts for reality and permanence only to find the Void. If, in this construction of atheism, you hold anything as true or beautiful or hold any human joy, you are a fool.

Theism is the only proposition that renders human reason tenable.


  1. I am in agreement, Jonathan. Beyond making human reason tenable, only an external and objective trueness would enable communication between two beings of like intelligent capacity. Atheists deny this when they deny the existence of God.

    The biggest problem with atheists and pseudo/semi-atheists is that they strike out on an "intellectual" path by first denying the intellective first principles:

    - The truth can be known with certitude.
    - One knows one's self exists.
    - One knows one's self thinks straight.
    - One knows contradictions cannot exist.

    Without these, any further axiomatic principles are merely phantoms...or wishful thinking.

  2. Hi it is me again and you have proven once again to be a kindred spirit with the whole way you tackle the issues. You are a better writer than I was though. Having gone through a similar journey I would like to pick your brain about certain thoughts you are laying down.
    First of all, the gift of faith gives a clarity to reason that makes us forget what darkness is generally found in the human mind. Do not expect to convert the atheist by argument, this is the "philosopher's stone" of apologetics but it leads to a tendency which is usually divisive. We need only present logical arguments that do not require them to start from premises that they do not hold and then we need to live a more liberated life in Christ so that they pine for our happiness over their selfishness. Treat the atheist's mind as a divine gift that is capable of embracing the beatific vision and be patient and slow. Meet him as close to his starting point as your understanding can allow and work from there. If you find any weakness in his argument show him how he can make it stronger before you dismantle it gently and thoroughly.

    If you'll let me make a few remarks about the points I read in your post.
    God doesn't have to be the fixed point at the beginning of an argument because He can be the conclusion of our logical deductions starting from the contingency of matter, movement etc. To posit that the existence of God is necessary for our thought to occur is different then to maintain that he is necessary to the argument. Evidence is necessary for argument and God is not self-evident. Man in God's image has the capacity to reason and this faculty was given by God seemingly because God wishes to be found and recognized in the gifts he has given. Things are not illusions when I fail to posit God first, because it is the fact that things are not illusions that allows me to argue toward God.
    The atheist does indeed seem to be in a dubious position if we believe that all arguments are illusions unless they begin with God as a given. The strength of Christian Philosophy a la Thomas and Maritain is that we can start right where the atheist finds himself so solid...the evidence of the senses with a little help from the principle of identity or of non-contradiction.
    Also, remember that it is the objects of the mind that have truth-for truth is the mind's conformity to reality. We are not trying to find a truth outside of our minds but rather we are trying to bring the objects of our minds into conformity with being. We are right to maintain that there is an objective truth that the mind is meant to contain but we must be careful not to equate the truth with the precise formula we have devised to express it. There is a subjectivity to the formula of truth because the definitions of words are influenced in significant ways by our individual experiences.

    Great post. I certainly don't pretend to have ascertained the full depth of your "thinking out loud" but I know how valuable it has been in my life to have friends who question and clarify and demand clarification and sometimes rethinking.

    Sophomorov aka Manuel

    I think therefore I am, I believe this is Descarte.

  3. Also it looks like Media cova decided to take a break. I emailed the Administrator for clarification, ironic timing. I'll keep you posted