This is a continuation of a Twitter discussion I am having with wrf3 on the applicability of mathematics and reason to physical reality. We have moved it here for a more convenient forum for lengthy responses. Wrf3 is a mathematician and software engineer.
I’ll briefly restate my position on this question and then respond to certain specific points and questions from wrf3’s last reply.
I recognize two distinct innate modes of human thought: rational objectification of events in the world; and esthetic experience of Being.
Borrowing from Kant’s epistemology, I understand objective rational thought to be a subjective ordering of chaotic and manifold sense data by means of innate reason working through the capacities of understanding and drawn in the imaginary sensibilities of space and time. The resulting representations do not exist as such in the external world, but are also not purely arbitrary constructions. Unique aspects of events in physical reality condition the stimulus on our senses in unique ways, and these unique stimuli provide unique content for our forms of representation. This creates a degree of correspondence between representation and thing-in-itself, without which we would have no success in manipulating our environment, and evolved reason would have had no adaptative benefit as we would not have been able to distinguish predators from prey.
This objectification is a sort of vastly simplified sketch of an imagined representation of a manifold reality existing outside time and space and not directly knowable. This simplified sketch reduces our representation to what we predict to be crucial for our immediate attention, and from it we plan our actions. Over time we expanded this faculty to contemplation of the cosmos and our place in it. Philosophy and science are emergent extensions of this basic capacity.
This capacity has succeeded within certain limitations. We can only imagine (or conceive of) the world as in space and time obeying causal law. That in no way implies the world actually is that way, but only that as conditions of our understanding we have no choice but to reduce the world to those elements. Beginning in the late 19th century and greatly expanding since is a perceived conflict between deeper aspects of reality and our limited understanding. This understanding evolved within the very narrow band of reality we call Newtonian or classical physics, and it works reasonably well within its home boundary. When we roam too far afield, however, the world becomes stubbornly counterintuitive as in the case of relativity and quantum physics. We have approached the depths where our limited representational faculty is confounded by events that defy space, time and causality. To describe these events, we can only resort to purely abstract models rather than sense data, and almost unnoticed, physics reverts back to metaphysics.
This brings us to Poincare and Wigner. Poincare demonstrated the hermetic nature of rational constructs through the examples of Euclidean, Lobachevskian, Riemannian and his own fourth type of geometry, where each is perfectly internally consistent but each with its own assumptions contrary to the other three. In physics the analog is the contradictions among Newtonian physics, Relativity and quantum theory. In his Empirical Law of Epistemology, Wigner demonstrates the applicability of mathematics to physical reality as an epistemological issue rather than an ontological question, thus demystifying any apparent applicability. Building from Poincare, he shows natural laws to be mathematical descriptions valid within limited boundaries of space, time and chosen events to include in the description. Other chosen events, or space/time boundaries will yield different laws. He describes this as the inherent epistemological limit of the invariability principles.
Wigner shows the primordial connection between mathematics and physical reality as a practical application of reason-derived mathematics. Practical mathematics evolved from a purely esthetic pursuit about 5000 years ago when the world “suggested” events to our understanding which we reduced to our idea of number. We abstract from multiple events, focusing on likeness and de-emphasizing difference in order to count things, such as grain shipments. The further we abstract from events, however, the more complex the mathematics leading to a hermetic rational construct. As we further abstract and expand the scope of applicability, we reach a point where the bands of invariability principles snap, and another construct is necessary. The application of purely subjective reason to the universe is thereby demystified as approximate and provisional epistemological constructs. Wigner concludes that we have been fortunate up to now that the correspondence between mathematics and the universe has been beneficial but we have no right to expect that to continue forever.
Our older primordial mode of understanding is esthetic. It was our primary mode of knowledge in the West until the time of Socrates. Pythagoras saw mathematics as a purely esthetic pursuit connected to music and the rite of Dionysus. For him, mathematics gave us understanding of music as vibration, and vibration as the fundamental cosmic element. An idea that eventually reappears with quantum field theory.
This pre-Socratic world was essentially pre-metaphysical. Reality was understood as unmediated sensed experience (Heidegger’s “Ereignis”) of the cosmos. It was experienced musically or understood as Logos; i.e. the fullness of poetic language as originating language from the experience of Being still dripping with music. It was our sympathetic voicings of the cosmic vibrations.
This mode of knowledge is our intuition of the profound mystery and power of Being, of which we are a part. Most importantly, it is not a metaphysical construction, but dwells purely within the sensed experience. This is in contrast to Socratic reason, where Logos attenuates to logic – thought and language with the music wrung out of it. A dry rational abstraction of the world. Heidegger describes this as the beginning of metaphysics, where the Logos of A is A becomes the logic of A=A. The uniqueness of A as its own being is denied for the sake of practical representation, as we saw above with Wigner’s origin of practical mathematics. The “is”, which once had expressed the fullness of Being itself and was the most urgent element becomes reduced to a mere copula.
Each of the two modes of thought has its own purpose and is beneficial within its limits. I retain Heidegger’s distinction between them as “Truth” arising from esthetic experience, and “Correctness” inhering in objectification. Unlike some, I do not diminish the importance of scientific objective discovery when seen within its proper boundary. It is, however, a superficial correctness revealing measurement and imputed causality. It gives us critically important information from correspondence without which we might not have survived at all, and certainly would not have achieved our current level of existence. I am equally aware of the threat inherent in the common contemporary assumption that it fully describes Being. It can never tell us what something is, but merely superficial dimensionality. Again, Being is reduced to copula.
The two major thrusts of Western thought since the Enlightenment are the overcoming of metaphysics and the primacy of esthetic knowledge over reason; or restoring the “is”. The former began with Francis Bacon, who set the trend of methodically moving areas of knowledge from the realm of metaphysics to objective physical science. The Enlightenment solidified the claim that only knowledge through the senses can ground valid judgments. With knowledge now grounded in the senses, the Romantic period began the process of re-establishing esthetics as the mode of profound truth of the universe as experience. It could be said that there is more profound truth in a great work of Beethoven than in all of Einstein’s writing. Both of these trends come together through the two great 20th Century thinkers, Heidegger, and the later Wittgenstein.
Discussion Points from wrf3
1. 1/ How do you know it (Reason) is literally nothing like that (sensation)? Do you not experience your thoughts? Rain is the motion of atoms in ways that you can feel on your skin. Reason is the motion of atoms in other, more constrained, ways. If you don’t experience that motion, you can’t reason.
1/ It shouldn’t be hard. First, you make a distinction between internal/external for thoughts vs. experiences. “Inside your head” vs. “out in the world”. But it’s the same nature in both places, the same atoms, same principles.
The above are responses to my claim that reason is essentially different from reality as an a priori condition of objective thought projected onto the world, and therefore no direct ontological applicability exists. We do seem to start with a surprising basic assumption that consciousness itself is a feature of the physical universe and not some metaphysical ideal existence. Thankfully, we have no need to go through another tedious debate about duality.
To the first response, I will repeat my original answer to that question: while we have dedicated receptors and neural paths for each sensation, no such thing exists for reason. I cannot experience reason the way I do light. It is a pure idea with which I can construct an understanding of the world from the light that impinged upon my retinas. The only way I can perceive reason is to transfer it to the a priori imaginary sensibilities of space and time, where I can create mathematics or logical forms, but this is entirely without external sense data. Without converting to the imaginings of space and time, I have no intuition of reason at all.
In your second response you seem to be making the same claim for reason that I make for esthetic experience: the removal of subject/object metaphysics for unmediated connection between consciousness and reality. Consciousness can be measured physically as various types of brain waves. Coincidentally, quantum theory describes all of existence as wave. In addition, both quantum events and the consciousness seem to exist beyond mechanistic causation. The new subject of quantum mind is attracting top physicists and neuroscientists and perhaps offers the path to understanding. I can see a possible physical connection between quantum wave fields and brain waves that eliminate any separation of subject and object. That is, in fact, what I claim for poetry and music as unmediated experience of truth.
You would make that same claim for reason and mathematics to justify the applicability of mathematics to the physical universe. Your model, however, centers on atoms, not waves, and leaves the exact principles unspecified. Where I have sympathetic vibration, you have an assertion that a certain atomic arrangement creates reason, and since atomic arrangements are part of nature, that implies an exact connection and description of truth. That would imply, however, that all ideas would be equally true since they are all atomic arrangements. It would also leave unexplained the limitations of Wigner’s invariability principles, which seem to demonstrate the inability of reason to grasp anything larger than a very limited set of events within limited space and time.
At this point I won’t go into your other responses, but would rather save them for later as the above is the crucial difference between our views. Instead, I would ask you to demonstrate why reason is an atomic arrangement, and why it being a part of nature would imply truth; and along with that how you would explain erroneous ideas and the limits of the invariability principles. I would like to hear an analogous process to my notion of immediate sensation of vibration.
On Cameron Bertuzzi’s YouTube channel, Capturing Christianity, William Lane Craig appears on a recent video entitled “Dr. Craig Rebuts the Best Atheist Arguments”, to which I’ve linked above. I am convinced that Craig is a dishonest apologist who knowingly presents false arguments and empty rhetorical tricks, not to actually convert anybody, but to play to his own audience of the credulous. In response I made a video to analyze and refute of all his rebuttals. Due to the length of that video, I’m posting a text version of that video here.
The first of the fourteen responses concerns Hitchens’s comment regarding the occurrence of miracles. Hitchens argues that the breaking of all the laws of the physical universe is far less likely than a natural explanation.
Apologetics, especially since Plantinga, has been forced to concede quite a bit. In his development of reformed epistemology, Plantinga retreats from a claim of proof of god to a plea to accept that under certain assumptions it is at least reasonable to believe in a god. A sort of universal “if” preceding the apologists’ otherwise unjustifiable premises. But to make even that work, he had to insist that we loosen the requirements for properly basic assumptions to include testimony and belief. Here we see Craig put that to use while trying to conceal the concessions. He claims that IF we posit a god who created the rules of the universe, this god could also suspend those rules and perform a miracle, providing a logically valid explanation. The problem, which we will see Craig try to evade through rhetorical trickery in the next cut, is that there is no compelling reason to assume a god. He implies that the Christian narrative is so unique that it does compel us to make that assumption, but again we are not compelled to accept that claim either. Many other religions also make that same claim with equal justification, or lack thereof.
He starts by dismissing Hume as ignorant of the modern probability calculus and claims entirely without explanation how that mathematical theory would improve the likelihood of miracles. It’s simply a throwaway designed the impress the naïve. The calculus couldn’t really be applied to the truth of a miracle, but if one were to make the attempt they wouldn’t get very far. The calculus assigns a value of 1 or 0 to every statement under a set of rules. For example, if a statement is a tautology its probability is 1. If the statement is a self-contradiction its value is 0. Statements such as Jesus was a man who rose from the dead is a self-contradiction because men cannot rise from the dead, and would be assigned a value of 0.
For the obvious reason, Craig doesn’t actually apply the probability calculus, but instead gives a misleading interpretation. His claim that Hume erred in calculating probability according to the laws of nature gives the false impression that modern probability theory would allow statements with a value of 0 or statements with no determinable probability to tip the scale in favor of miracles, but that isn’t how probability works. He makes a similar error other places in his attempt to apply Bayesian analysis to prove that intelligent design is more probable than evolution, even though it is impossible to make such an analysis through the Bayesian methodology. Bayesian analysis requires that the all factors come from the same and relevant data set operating under the same rules. The problem is that the only data set we have and the only rules we know appear after the beginning of the universe, but to understand the likelihood of the creation of our particular laws of nature we would need to observe the data set of the pre-universe state of affairs from which our laws developed to understand anything about that probability. Of course, that’s impossible, so his focus is solely on post big bang occurrences which tell us nothing at all about the likelihood of the laws which enabled these occurrences.
In short, he’s obfuscating, and he knows it. Let’s look at his exact words a bit more carefully. Craig states:
“Demonstrably mathematically fallacious. What he fails to consider is the likelihood of the evidence occurring on the hypothesis of the miracle compared with the likelihood of the evidence occurring on the likelihood of hypothesis of the miracle not occurring.”
An utterly meaningless statement. First, the question isn’t one of the likelihood of the evidence: the evidence either is apparent and valid, or it isn’t and is invalid 1 or 0. The likelihood centers on the hypothesis. As I said, he knows this is mumbo jumbo, so he pivots away in hopes nobody has noticed and reverts back to what Plantinga had already conceded with his universal if: “The likelihood of the laws of physics alone can’t be shown to be improbable if there is a god.”
But that simply returns us to the original weakness in all this: There is nothing compelling in the premise there is a god. His argument now is a mere baseless claim that miracles occur because there is a god. No more and no less, despite his dishonest attempt to use high-sounding language to say nothing at all. Plantinga conceded the that the Kalam Ontological argument was fallacious but would be reasonable if we simply inserted the word “if” before the assumptions. Plantinga didn’t make that concession just for the fun of it, but because the rules of foundationalist epistemology made it impossible to successfully argue for the existence of god without the if. Yet, here, Craig attempts to regain ground already conceded to resurrect the pre-Plantinga insistence on the truth of the various false proofs of god and dropping the if as he concludes:
“Hume would Need to include on the background information not just the laws of nature, but also the existence of god as established by the Cosmological, teleological, moral arguments and so forth.”
Rather than establishing anything, Every one of those alleged proofs was refuted long ago as containing obviously false or questionable premises and fallacies such as special pleading and category errors. Nobody outside the hermetic cadre of apologists still takes those arguments seriously because they establish nothing at all.
No, William, the principle isn’t exactly the same, and as somebody with a Ph.D. in philosophy you certainly know you just committed the fallacy of equivocation. The example that Ricky Gervais gave stems directly and solely from Christianity. Stalinist horrors came directly and solely from the brutality of totalitarianism and communal economics, not atheism. Two different and unrelated categories. There are Christian Marxists but no Christian Atheists. We’ll count this as just one more example of Craig’s dishonesty.
Again, he repeats the same baseless claim that Christianity possesses more evidence than other religions, which simply is false. We will see him repeat this throughout as a leitmotif.
Then he pivots to an outright lie:
There are countless examples of evangelical Christians threatening their kids with hell, including for homosexuality. The most interesting aspect of this answer is that Craig and Bertuzzi feel the need to deny it.
Craig tries to imply that myth isn’t necessarily untrue but that it was only a later popular definition that gave myth that connotation. Craig’s claim is baseless and ignores the original Greek use of mythos. In ancient Greek the word was used to mean story or fiction and was contrasted to logos which referred to that which can be demonstrated. From its very conception, myth has implied fiction.
He then claims that demon possession has not been disproved, thereby evading the burden on the claimant to prove its existence and the fact that not only does no such proof exist, but scientific evidence demonstrates purely mundane causes for what were once thought to be possessions.
Again, Craig tries to evade criticism he can’t counter by dismissing it as unserious. It is satiric comedy, however, which has been used for millennia for serious criticism and can’t so easily be brushed aside. George Carlin is exposing the conflict between a loving god and one who monitors your every thought and deed with the threat of eternal damnation. This is an essential feature of Christianity and it’s fun to watch Craig try to squirm his way out of it.
Craig claims the Christian concept of god is Not a man in the sky. Perhaps he’s never heard of the Trinity of Father, Son and holy ghost.
It is true that for most of the Old Testament there is no concept of being thrown into hell for violating the commandments, although according to the myth there certainly was some retribution for some of those unfortunates wandering Mt Sinai when the commandments were handed down. But eternal damnation is more of a Christian invention. Let’s look more closely at what Craig presents as the Christian concept. A loving god has thrown us into a world where we are already judged guilty at birth for breaking these commandments and sentenced to eternal damnation. However, if we are one of those born into this absurd predicament who happened to be convinced of the divinity of Jesus, we can choose a pardon. Of course, this would render god a perverse monster and the world a joyless and cruel joke. Despite Craig’s pretense of understanding superior to the crude comedian, he ends up reinforcing Carlin’s message.
Here Craig claims it is not a point of Christian theism that god created the universe just for us. Of course, the whole intelligent design movement holds that as its primary premise, otherwise what was the point of the design? And nowhere in the Bible is there even the slightest hint of other life in the universe. Just the opposite, Genesis describes the mythical creation of the entire universe with Adam and Eve as the crown of creation. This is just more dissembling on Craig’s part to distract from the absurdity of creating an unimaginably vast universe for the purpose of man’s existence in one microscopic spec. In fact, Craig argues just the opposite when he defends intelligent design.
Here we see Craig purposely strawmanning Harris’s point. Harris was obviously referring to sexual behavior between consenting adults and Craig is obviously evading the Christian condemnation of sex outside marriage, homosexuality, and certain sexual practices other than traditional intercourse. Bringing rape and other nonconsensual acts of aggression into the conversation is a red herring designed to deflect from the point he can’t counter while also facilely dismissing the claim as mere comedic timing.
But then Craig is directly confronted with this issue in the next clip. Watch for the strawmanning and equivocation.
The strawmanning starts when Craig suggests that the implication of homosexuality not being a choice does not mean we are morally free to act out. Of course, the argument was quite different: that homosexuality is morally neutral and any condemnation of it is unjust, and ALSO that Christians claim that homosexuality is a choice that can, for example, be overcome through quackery such as conversion therapy. He then presents the false equivalency between homosexuality and congenital defects that incite one to violence. The two have nothing to do with each other and Craig is simply obscuring his real belief that homosexuals are not entitled to a fulfilling sex life simply because of their inclination – and this after earlier proclaiming the central role sexuality plays in the human experience. It is a sign of great moral progress that people like Craig can no longer just come out and say this without being dismissed. He ends this point with more of the projection I mentioned at the beginning:
This is amusing when we realize Craig is a pop apologist who throughout this video displays superficiality and a lack of anything approaching a legitimated argument.
This coming from a man with pretensions to understanding physics but was shown to be an empty fool when he dared to debate Sean Carroll on cosmology. What do you think the odds are that Craig has read Einstein’s two volumes of relativity or any of the seminal papers on Quantum field theory or multi-worlds theory? As Craig goes on in his response, he ironically demonstrates the irreconcilability between Christian faith and science.
No, William, the context makes clear what is meant, and you are again trying to obscure a point you can’t refute. Faith here means a belief in the word of the Bible. Reason means scientific interrogation of the physical world. Either you are a dishonest hack or a dullard unable to follow the conversation.
And he has the nerve to call others superficial. Claiming that Genesis parallels modern cosmology is laughable and again reveals Craig to be a dishonest hack or a fool. Let’s consider his claim that modern physicists have determined the universe has a finite beginning. This misleads for two reasons. First, there are important Physicists such as Roger Penrose who posit we are just a small pocket of a much larger eternal universe that continuously gives birth to new universes out of itself. That is the opposite of finite. Second, even among physicists who believe that our universe had a finite beginning almost 14 billion years ago, there is a recognition that that description misses the larger question of what existed before our universe came about; that is the big bang was a change in state, not a finite beginning. Genesis describes a void before our universe came about, whereas modern physics understands that something existed before the initial inflation, but we can know nothing about its state because the very laws of physics by which we understand reality only arose post-inflation. The idea of finite/infinite is probably an illusory dichotomy anyway, as Kant pointed out in the First Antinomy, and our current universe is simply a change in state from an earlier physical state that Craig misrepresents to accord with the Biblical account. The misrepresentation is effected through Craig’s use of the words “Absolute origin of the universe”, when it is more likely it wasn’t absolute but a continuation.
Very few, if any prominent cosmologists agree that there is any valid argument for the claim that a being fine-tuned the universe for our existence. In fact, such a claim can easily be shown to be a tautology as one has to assume the universe was created just for human existence to conclude the universe is fine-tuned, or as mentioned earlier, employ an invalid use of statistics. And once again, this argument contradicts Craig’s previous statement that there is nothing in Christian ideology that assumes the idea of man as the privileged goal of creation. One universal characteristic of a fraud is the willingness to substitute contradictory claims according to situation.
I wish Craig had gone on to explain how a seeming correspondence between reason and reality points to a god, but it doesn’t matter because the very claim itself again reveals a complete ignorance of post-Kantian epistemology, evolutionary psychology and modern neuroscience, all of which demonstrate the conflict between subjective reason and a world that operates outside that constraint. Epistemology since Kant has posited that reason is our innate and inherited principle according to which we make subjective sense of a chaotic external world. Evolutionary psychology traces how this facility developed as our unique adaptative advantage. Modern neurology backs this up with demonstrations of how our brain constructs its own coherent reality out of the chaos of sense data by imposing its own conditions of thought, which have evolved to work well within the very narrow band of reality we have inhabited, but break down at the macro level of relativity and micro level of quantum physics. In short, through innate reason and sensibilities of space and time we project our reason-derived subjective creation onto to the external world. Seen in the light of contemporary physics, Craig’s claim of “extraordinary applicability of mathematics” to the external world, which diminishes at the macro and micro levels of reality and disappears altogether as we approach the singularity before inflation, is false.
Craig again repeats his false claim that it is demonstrably false that faith and reason cannot be reconciled after failing to show any reconcilability at all. Then he suddenly abandons the claim that Genesis is compatible with a scientific explanation be reversing and claiming that Genesis isn’t offering a natural account of the origin of the world anyway. In other words, he simultaneously claims that Genesis is an accurate account of the origin of the world, and never mind that it isn’t because it wasn’t meant to be. Pure double talk.
Well, yes it certainly is written within the naïve and ignorant presuppositions of the people of that time, which of course is exactly what you expect from manmade myth. My guess is a real god might have been a bit more accurate. If the point were to differentiate god’s word in respect to the deities of stars and other natural objects, one might expect he would have made that point a bit more explicit and tried to differentiate it a bit more from the earlier Babylonian epic, Enumu Elish, from which it appears he did some heavy borrowing.
This argument is often used by amateur apologists who, along with Craig, have no idea what they are talking about. What they think is a subtle argument is their claim that naturalism denies the ability to know anything as true. Since the naturalist method of inquiry depends on capacities that have been selected for survival value and not for truth, it cannot know that we evolved consciousness based on adaptive advantage. Of course, that is a gross distortion of the argument and a false assumption that survival value did not include some element of truth. That the primary evolutionary impetus was survival does not mean there is no correspondence at all between our representations and reality. It would have no evolutionary benefit at all if that were the case because we would have had no ability to distinguish between predator and prey. The epistemological progress we have made is in determining the limits of knowledge, not that we cannot know anything. For example, an understanding of epistemology can tell me that I cannot know what is in a locked box, although I know that such a locked box exists. That doesn’t imply I cannot know anything at all, but rather that making metaphysical assertions about the unknowable inside of the box is a fool’s game. In addition, there is nothing in the naturalistic understanding of consciousness that precludes our further intellectual development to investigate reality within our limitations to further true knowledge in addition to survival.
Perhaps Einstein’s problem was he lacked imagination:
“Neither can I believe the individual survives the death of his body, although feeble souls harbor such thoughts through fear or ridiculous egotisms.”
Or maybe the problem is too much imagination sparked by fear that creates the delusion of an afterlife. If we refrain from imaginary comforts and concentrate on reality there is no reason at all to believe in an afterlife.
Then we all agree about tolerance. I assume that includes the tolerance of atheists and their right to not be governed by biblical precepts.
I’ve ignored Cameron’s responses to this point as irrelevant and uninteresting, but here I’ll make an exception:
No, Cameron, your ignorance is once again showing. There is no conflict between moral knowledge and atheism. The error is thinking that morality derives from Christianity. Morality has been around a lot longer and more broadly than Christianity, and as we have progressed, we have moved steadily away from the primitive and brutal morality of the Bible.
And Craig shares Cameron’s ignorance. We not only have political rights, we have freedom of conscience, which means we are not bound to Christian morality, or any other dogma. We have a right to believe as we choose, and that includes morality that contradicts Christianity. Again, Craig falsely presupposes that Christianity is the source of all morality, and any other source is invalid. What happened to that tolerance he mentioned before?
Whenever Craig accuses others of being confused this is a signal he is about to confuse the issue in order to obfuscate. Tyson clearly distinguished the star as being in Revelations, and not in Genesis in making the point that the Biblical descriptions of the cosmos share a common ignorance typical of the people at that time.
Here we have a repeat on the B theme of Genesis that its not a natural description, but a theological message that physical objects are not deities. Again, it’s too bad there is nothing in the Creation myth to back that up and that the Genesis myth does in fact purport to explain the creation of the universe. But as we’ll see, Craig can’t leave it at that, and we have a reprise of the A theme that Genesis indeed does portray an accurate development of the cosmos.
And here we have man as the crown of creation again, which he tried to avoid in the argument of man’s insignificance in the vast universe. This guy just can’t keep his story straight. More to the point, his claim that Genesis gives us a coherent and logical order of creation is laughable.
God starts by creating heaven and earth, and then creats light and separated it into day and night. Craig would have us believe that it was possible to create the light of the universe before stars formed and that day and night existed before earth’s orbit and spin. Next god created a firmament, which was like a dome that divided the waters of earth from heaven and also somehow gets confused with separating land from water. Of course, no such firmament actually exists.
Craig would also believe that it is chronologically logical that god now brings forth all the plants before stars even exist. That would mean we would have to believe that before stars existed and created the elements and provided heat and light, somehow water, earth and plants existed. This is what he calls chronologically logical.
And all this avoids mentioning the second creation story in Genesis which follows a different chronology. He would have been much better off sticking to his claim that Genesis is not a description of nature after all, as lame as that was.
There is really nothing funnier than the inventiveness of apologists when confronted with the contradictions of their beliefs. The convenient thing about metaphysics is that you can always amend or redefine your way around these contradictions because you are never restrained by reality, only by the limits of your imagination.
Here Craig appeals to the 16th Century Jesuit Luis de Molina, who attempted to resolve the conflict between god’s infallible foreknowledge and free will. Typical of metaphysical speculation, which survives yet today in theism, it is an imaginary solution to an imaginary problem and was a hot topic among metaphysicians in the 1500’s. It attempted to resolve this conflict by inventing what was called Middle Knowledge, which stood between god’s absolute knowledge of necessary truths and his knowledge of his own will. In this Middle Knowledge stood all possible contrafactuals concerning the decision a free will would make in any situation. God then conforms his creation by taking into account what these free wills would decide in the future. All this does, however, is bury the contradiction in the Middle Knowledge since if it is possible predict an action the action cannot be of free will. A free will could always surprise you at the last moment just like the exact position of a photon. To be 100% predictable, an action must be the result of a mechanistic causally determined chain, rendering free will impossible.
Once again, the mere superficial comedian sees more clearly than Craig.
Next, Cameron only makes things worse:
If Cameron wants to join the upper ranks of grifters he will really need to improve his game. All he attempts here is to obscure the contradiction by listing other types of prayers that aren’t affected by this contradiction. We often call this a red herring.
Notice how Craig begins with misdirection. The point Harris makes is that Religion contains irrational beliefs that would be considered insane in an individual because they contradict all known reality and are without evidence. Because that is an obvious fact that cannot be attacked head-on, Craig pivots to his belief in objective moral law in order to claim that Naturalism also fails to provide a solid objective basis for morality. Besides equivocating irrational belief with objective morality, Craig also offers a false choice between objective moral law and no basis for morality at all. As a Ph.D. in philosophy, certainly he is aware that he just committed the fallacy of bifurcation. The third choice is morality based on innate sensibility that provides no legal code but does provide emotional guidance toward the moral. Basically, Craig has conceded that a rationally-derived moral law such as Harris’s and a metaphysically derived moral law are equally ungrounded. What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. The third option of innate sensibility offers the advantage of grounding in something knowable – our own nature. And in the end, all understanding of morality stems from our innate nature regardless of claims otherwise.
Then he makes his case even worse:
Again, what is good for the goose is good for the gander, and the entire non-Christian world can with equal justification claim that Craig believes in a god that doesn’t exist and that any moral code derived from this imaginary god is ultimately the product of men interpreting from their own innate sensibility. But here he takes his obfuscation one step further. At the heart of the Christian objective moral law as espoused by Craig and others is that God grounds objective moral law out of his own perfect nature, which is purely and essentially good. This leaves evil ungrounded, and therefore unexplained. And on this point his claim is directly contradicted by Isaiah 45:7, where Yahweh proclaims:
“I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I Yahweh do all these things.”
Craig also has a Ph.D. in Theology and is well aware of his obfuscation here, and therefore must know his argument is simply false. But truth is not valued by the apologist.
If we are going to ground morality in a nature, it can only be our own nature, which contains both light and darkness, to stay within the oversimplified biblical terms, since it is the only nature we know actually exists. The moral is that innate sensibility that champions our inner light over the darkness.
And to top it all off, Cameron chimes in to destroy his own point:
Cameron is obviously not one of the brightest people around, and here he unwittingly destroys the point he thought to make. It is true that Religion provides countless impossible and irrational examples. It is also true that contemporary physics presents things that are counterintuitive. As Cameron points out, though, the only important deciding factor is evidence. We accept superposition, entanglement, relativity, etc., even though they directly contradict our prior rational understanding because we have solid evidence for them. There is no evidence for religious irrationality, and therefore no reason to accept it. The counterintuitive aspect of science results from the hard limitations of our faculties of understanding, which simply cannot grasp the true state of macro relativity and micro quantum activity. In the religious examples we see the opposite, the difficulty of an untrained mind to distinguish objective reality from illusion.
Craig rushes in with some more obfuscation to cover up Cameron’s mess:
Again, Craig invokes the giant “if”. But there is no evidence of his god and he repeats his fallacy of bifurcation concerning the grounding morality.
And now for the 14th and final response:
More than a little irony in that. The guy who has been morphing issues all throughout now accuses Dawkins of this as HE morphs Dawkins’ response. This is Another example of Craigs favorite rhetorical trick: under cover of accusing someone else of intellectual dishonesty he proceeds to commit that very thing. To be clear, Dawkins was pointing out that the questioner was not speaking from some privileged ground of knowledge but could equally be wrong. The result is that if we are to take her premise seriously that there is one true god on whom our salvation or damnation rests, it could just as easily be one of the gods she rejects. The point is nobody is in a position to make that determination. To evade that predicament, Craig gives a superficial denial by dismissing it as religious relativism, whatever that might mean in this case.
And that is exactly the rhetorical trick he employs. It might be argued that the risk for the atheist is much more than the theist, but of course that evades Dawkins’ point. Rather, Dawkins pointed out that the risk for the atheist is exactly the same as for the Christian in light of all the other gods.
Another of those false choices Craig is so famous for. Ignoring for the moment the impact of probability on this decision, which in favoring the atheist greatly mitigates the risk, let’s look at the mischaracterization of the rewards. For the Christian, the reward would be a promised heaven of some sort, the details of which are unknown. But if the atheist is right, his reward is nothing like what Craig tries to minimize and dismiss as the temporary enjoyment of sin. I sometimes think only a former believer can fully appreciate how much is gained by the unburdening of religion, but it is found in the overwhelming joy of freedom and the sudden profound appreciation of this strange, alluring and almost impossible life we suddenly find ourselves immersed in. When I realized Christianity was false and emancipated myself from slavery to Jesus Christ, that odd Christodoulosian delusion, several things overcame me. First was the immense relief from the self-imposed paranoia of some judgmental god listening to my every thought and knowing my every action. How perverse that sort of life was. Next came the immense relief of no longer having to lie to myself in order to maintain faith. With this came the immense joy of freedom. Freedom to enjoy my life, to deeply experience and explore what life in this world really is. With the rejection of metaphysics, including religion, I for the first time saw the vibrancy, profound musicality, and unfathomable wonder of this very physical world that I for no earned reason was so improbably given to enjoy.
That is what I win in this wager, and would not choose any other way.
William Lane Craig and his sidekick, Cameron Bertuzzi, recently responded to a video by Rationality Rules’ rebutting Craig’s five-minute cartoon presentation of his argument for god from mathematics that was based on a paper by Eugene Wigner. Being mired in the reductionist and trivializing nature of analytic philosophy, Rationality Rules did not mount a very impressive challenge and we won’t deal here with his arguments, but instead will focus on just a few of Craig’s responses. Craig’s argument rests heavily on a paper delivered in 1959 by Eugene Wigner titled The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences to a gathering at NYU. Craig makes claims about the Wigner paper that betray a combination of misunderstanding and distortion born of religious fervor. From this, Craig attempts an argument dependent on empty metaphysical speculation and the inevitable theist argument from ignorance: god of the gaps. The entire Bertuzzi and Craig video lasts over an hour and consists of no more than the above theme and several variations on the same distortions and plea from ignorance, so we will focus on just a few statements. The entire video, however, is linked below.
Before getting to the issues Craig offers this prefatory comment:
(All videos are cued to the start time, nut not end time. The relevant segments should end after Craig finishes his statement)
Craig usually praises those who present the weakest opposition, and I proudly contrast my last video on Craig’s 14 ridiculous responses to any irenic approach. Grifters and charlatans need to be exposed and becoming one of those that Craig welcomes is nowhere on my agenda, although I would love the opportunity to debate him. He also went on to say that the 71,000 views to Rationality Rules video warranted a response. Again, my approach here will be different. Unlike Craig’s cartoonish presentation (Literally. His five-minute video is actually a cartoon), I will go into a substantive discussion of Wigner, mathematics, epistemology and physics. I doubt there are 71,000 people on YouTube who could even understand the Wigner paper and I would be happy to get 71 views from those who do. What follows requires serious attention to fully grasp, and in the next several days I will have a text version available on my blog: toolateforthegods.com
Let’s start with an overview of the Wigner paper. Wigner was a physicist and mathematician of enormous importance in the development of quantum mechanics. He won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1963 for his contributions to the theory of the atomic nucleus and the elementary particles, particularly through the discovery and application of fundamental symmetry principles. It is important to note that as a mathematician he was a formalist, which means he understood mathematics to be inventions logically derived from reason and not ontologically connected to the physical world. He was also an atheist.
His paper was delivered at an event to celebrate the 70th birthday of Richard Courant, a mathematician who emphasized the creative and esthetic nature of mathematics rather than any practical application. From that perspective, the seeming ability of a purely rational a priori sort of “game” to describe the laws of nature is simply inexplicable – a wonder and mystery, and Wigner’s paper was to address that mystery. In presenting Wigner as that night’s guest speaker, Kurt Friedrichs said:
“One may think that one of the roles mathematics plays in other sciences is that of providing law and order, rational organization and logical consistency, but that would not correspond to Courant’s ideas. In fact, within mathematics proper Courant has always fought against overemphasis of the rational, logical, legalistic aspects of this science and emphasized the inventive and constructive, esthetic and even playful on the one hand and on the other hand those pertaining to reality. How mathematics can retain these qualities when it invades other sciences is an interesting and somewhat puzzling question. Here we hope our gift will help.”
And indeed, Wigner went on to explore this dual nature of mathematics: an essentially esthetic pursuit enjoyed by pure mathematicians through the simple elegance and harmony of proofs on one side, and practical instrumentality employed in everyday life and physics on the other. The central question then becomes why such a subjective esthetic enterprise should have any practical application at all in the physical world. Throughout the paper Wigner refers to this applicability as a “miracle”, or sometimes as a mystery, but as an atheist he did not mean this in the sense Craig twists it into, but rather as a dramatic effect for what seems inexplicable. He resolutely refrains from offering any supernatural element to this mystery. He does, however, suggest an explanation which he subtly develops through his paper. A solution that Craig fails to grasp.
Wigner starts with the beginning of mathematics as the invention of arithmetic, algebra and geometry. This had a purely practical motivation and was based on what was observable in the surrounding environment. Numbers of goods for sale and the geometric aspects of construction were the founding drivers of these inventions. Wigner identifies these practical concerns as the first tier of mathematical thought, ground in actual events encountered in the world. As he wrote in the paper:
“[they] were formulated to describe entities which are directly suggested to us by the actual world”
This is the first ontological connection between pure mathematics and the physical world, which ultimately demystifies the approximation of math as description of reality. Its importance will come to light later.
The next tier is abstraction from these practices, which gives us concepts that can be generalized. The third and highest tier is then shown to be invariability principles, which allows these concepts to be extended as laws of nature. These posit that within a limited scope of space, time and chosen events, the observed abstractions hold as a law of nature. It is critical to understand, however, that he limits the applicability to the physical. For example, what appears invariable within Newtonian physics does not hold for Relativity, and what appears invariable for relativity does not hold in quantum physics. We will return to this fundamental point in a moment, but first we need to also look at the esthetic nature mathematics which precedes any practical function.
As mentioned earlier, Wigner was a formalist who viewed mathematics as the playing out of pure reason in the faculties of the mind. While initially practical in purpose, these founding elements of mathematics were only possible as the result of turning this purely esthetic rational faculty toward the practical through the invention of tools formed specifically by physical questions. This is the initial ontological contact and relation between mathematics and the physical world – the application of the pure concept of numbers to physical objects suggested by encounters in the world and the logical manipulation of these numbers. The pure abstraction of mathematics is thus causally shaped by external events to answer questions of physical reality. But keep in mind these events are exceptions to the real practice of mathematics as essentially esthetic and unconcerned with practicality, as seen for example in the mystical mathematics of Pythagoras.
Starting with Newton, however, the increasing demands of physics conjoined science with mathematics and fostered the invention of new mathematical tools. The invention of calculus by Newton and Leibniz, for example, was intended to quantify the laws of motion without any regard for its esthetic qualities. From that moment on, physics appropriated mathematics as its official language. This led to the consensus among physicists that the universe itself was a mathematical construct that naturally cohered with the rational mind. To this day many physicists naively retain this belief, which Wigner will go on to subtly amend.
Now back to where we left the issue of the limitations of invariability principles. Despite what we will see as Craig’s claims to the contrary, the shifting of the time, space and event framework resulted in a need for new mathematics. Not as Craig will claim as merely a new physical law, but a mathematics with new axioms contradictory to earlier invented mathematical systems. This brings us to the seminal paper by Henri Poincaré on non-Euclidean Geometry which is crucial for Wigner’s paper. Poincare demonstrated that it is possible to devise internally consistent rational systems with contradictory basic assumptions. To do so he compared Euclidean, Lobachevskian and Riemannian geometries, where “The number of parallel lines that can be drawn through a given point to a given line is one in Euclid’s geometry, none in Riemann’s, and an infinite number in the geometry of Lobachevsky.” To this, Poincare added a fourth geometry even stranger than the other two non-Euclidean geometries, yet equally internally consistent. The significance of this points to Wigner’s limitations on the law of invariability, where each is a rational construct which can differ from other rational constructs formed with different assumptions and chosen events. This is exactly what Wigner refers to when has asks
“How do we know that, if we made a theory which focuses its attention on phenomena we disregard and disregards some of the phenomena now commanding our attention, that we could not build another theory which has little in common with the present one but which, nevertheless, explains just as many phenomena as the present theory?” It has to be admitted that we have no definite evidence that there is no such theory.”
Wigner refers to this as “nightmare of the theorist”: the existence of numerous examples of theories, with elegant mathematical formulation, and “alarmingly accurate” description of a group of phenomena, which are nonetheless considered to be false.
This takes us to the final crucially important element of Wigner’s paper: what he calls the Empirical Law of Epistemology. With this he eliminates the mystery inherent in the metaphysical question of why the universe operates under the same laws as our innate reason by transforming it to the epistemological question of how our faculties of understanding create our representations, concepts and explanatory systems of the universe. The answer: our innate reason is the source of pure mathematics. 5000 years ago, this was put to practical use, and in that process the ontological connection was shaped by observed events which we then abstracted to generalizations. This formed a connection between mathematics and the physical world that worked in two directions. Our innate reason provided the framework for how we intuit the world and the events we encountered formed the contents of those shapes. Through further abstraction, which is enabled through the esthetic nature of reason, we generalized from our observed events and found we could form systematic understandings of the world that held within certain limits. The coherence between the universe and our subjective reason isn’t a “miracle”, but rather a constructed understanding conditioned by external events ans formed through our faculties of understanding. This enabled our creation of modern physics. In time this engendered the illusion of a mathematical universe.
As we will see, Craig confuses this. He first claims that the immutable laws of nature and their mathematical precision, along with our innate ability to understand it, point to a divine creator. Without the claim of a mathematical universe, his argument disintegrates. Yet, he later discusses the nature of mathematical understanding of physics as epistemological representation, which in fact was Wigner’s point but contradicts the belief in a mathematical world.
Let’s now turn to the opening of Craig’s comments:
It’s clear we can reasonably claim that Craig has also failed to digest Wigner’s paper. Craig diverts attention from his own indefensible argument to a claim that the critic’s real problem is with Wigner’s argument, which Craig himself fails to understand, and the claim that Wigner has refuted all of Rationality Rules’ objections. Craig fails, however, to tell us what the objections and refutations are. This is a typical Craig move. He rests assured that his followers are never going to read Wigner, and even fewer could ever understand the paper. This frees him to make unsupported claims exploiting the trust of the less educated.
Craig then makes an early introduction of his god of the gaps argument:
He takes what Wigner initially terms inexplicable and in literally the exact same breath concludes that it then must be god.
The segment starts with a cut from Craig’s cartoon which explicitly claims that “the physical universe operates mathematically”. This is important because without that claim there is no miracle to assert, although the claim is actually at odds with Wigner’s paper. Maybe it’s Craig whose argument is with Wigner:
Here Craig moves to obscure the issue by focusing on logicism, which in fact is a failed enterprise but in no way detracts from the derivation of mathematics from logic. This was not only Wigner’s view, but was famously demonstrated in Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason as the working of pure reason within the innate sensibilities of space and time. Again, Craig counts on the ignorance of his followers in his facile and false dismissal of a much larger issue. In doing so Craig evades the stickier issue for him that logical truths are entirely dependent on premises verifiable through the senses, or else they themselves are as empty as pure mathematics and as such merely constructions. Pure reason, including mathematics, can never make existential claims, which is a defeating fact for Craig’s entire metaphysical enterprise. His assertion that a god exists as an explanation is no more valid than the assertion that “an infinite set exists.” His criticism of logicism equally applies to his own metaphysics, and his continued god of the gaps arguments are errors of this kind.
The next segment brings about all at once Craig’s failure to understand Wigner, his own confused mishmash, and eventual undermining of his own argument.
He begins by dismissing the element of invention in mathematics as a post-modern view held by a small minority. Despite the obvious fallacy of argumentum ad populum, it dishonestly characterizes the role of invention. As noted several times, Wigner also saw mathematics as invention separate from external ontology, as did Courant and most formalists. As Wigner wrote in the paper: mathematics is
“a science of skillful operations with concepts and rules invented just for this purpose”
Craig then attempts to make some indiscernible point by claiming that Wigner considers mathematics a purely esthetic pursuit, ignoring that Wigner presented both the esthetic and practical natures of mathematics and grounded the beginning of mathematics in the practical – the observed events.
Perhaps he hoped to demonstrate that the ability of such a pure esthetic mode of thought to describe reality is truly miraculous. However, what he claims as support is false.
He then makes the preposterous claim that new discoveries in physics did not cause changes in mathematics, but merely a change in physical laws. The major problem Einstein faced in developing the theory of relativity is that the assumptions of Euclidean geometry failed to describe the newly discovered reality. As a result, Einstein embarked on the struggle to devise a new geometry which allowed for parallel lines to meet in the curvature of space until his friend Grossman pointed out to him that Riemann had already done so. Soon after, quantum mechanics, which had no use for Riemannian geometry, reintroduced calculus to account for relative motions, but had to introduce the infinite dimensionality of Hilbert space, again a reinvented geometry. It is also interesting that the further removed from the initial observable reality which was the beginning of mathematics, the more abstract and unreproducible in reality the mathematics becomes, leading to unimaginable results such as many dimensions and superposition – all artifacts of mathematical invention. Again, the limitations of the principles of invariability come to the fore, with Relativity describing a world essentially incompatible with quantum physics, yet both mathematically internally consistent – a sure indication that reality is far different from one calculable mathematical universe. Again, this demystifies the original question in that there is no magical correspondence between mathematics and the universe, but rather various rational systems of understanding that are approximately true within limits of space, time and chosen events. Later, Craig tries to obscure his problem by again claiming the mathematic axioms never change by misrepresenting the differences between Euclidean, Lobachevskian and Riemannian geometries as merely differing in the shapes they apply to, omitting Poincare’s demonstration of conflicting axioms that make the systems contradictory.
Craig then further demonstrates his failure to understand Wigner when he claims that Rationality Rules has confused natural law with mathematics when Wigner explicitly demonstrated that in modern starting with Newton physics natural laws are in fact mathematical expressions.
Now listen to this statement and keep in mind his previous claim that the universe is mathematically knowable because of a divine creator. Afterwards, we’ll listen to a segment where he contradicts this and undermines his own argument:
Craig is right for once. Wigner was addressing the epistemological question of why our representations approximate reality under limited conditions. That is why Wigner terms his law the Empirical Law of Epistemology. And as Craig concedes, this does not assume a mathematical universe, only our mathematical representations of it. Without this mystical connection between reason, mathematics, and a mathematical world, which Craig earlier posited as proof of a divine creator, his argument from god collapses. Clearly, Craig has lost the plot here.
The critical point is that with the Empirical Law of Epistemology Wigner has shifted from the mystery of metaphysics to epistemology – the connection of innate sensibility to the suggested world events as founding of mathematics, the abstractions from the observations, and within the limits of the invariability principles, the determination of Natural laws, which are conditioned by time, space and chosen events and are provisional.
After having created a muddle, Craig seems to abandon Wigner entirely and attempts to return to long-discarded metaphysics in order to posit god as the answer.
Once again, Craig’s last gasp is the dying metaphysical breath of god of the gaps.
This is a response to a question arising from my recent video on the error of the argument for god from mathematics, which Eckels raises the question of messiness. The video can be seen here:
This becomes somewhat demystified if we take Kant’s view of mathematics as our starting point and focus on Poincare’s demonstration that rational constructs can be contradictory to each other yet internally consistent and Wigner’s demonstration of limits of invariability principles and approximation.
Kant showed pure reason as the top tier organizing principle of our objective thinking. This was an innate subjective principle that, in light of modern biology, would best be seen as an evolutionary adaptation. Of course, Kant would not be aware of the evolutionary aspect. Our senses of time and space would also be purely subjective sensibilities that, along with reason, form our conditions for ordering sense data, i.e. making sense of the world. All of our representations of the world necessarily follow these conditions, although the external world is in itself quite different. On the other hand, our representations aren’t purely arbitrary either, because they are interpretations of unique sense data conditioned by the external object. This gets to what Wigner called the first tier of practical mathematics, where the world “suggests” events to our understanding. This happens with number, for example, where what we intuit from the external world “suggests” multiplicity of objects like enough to be abstracted and counted. This is the most primitive and surest of objective representation, and most likely the evolutionary adaptation early in our development that enabled us to manipulate our environment and calculate future probability. This is the ontological connection between our rational thinking and the world. It is conditioned by our forms of understanding by which we organize sense data, and stimulated (suggested) by sense data uniquely conditioned by each intuition.
In Wigner’s second tier, we are able to further abstract and manipulate these concepts according to the laws of Reason and we do so mathematically when the abstractions are numbers. At this point the apparition of miracle appears, but only if we think metaphysically. In reality, there was an approximation of the world through our understanding at the point where events suggested multiplicity of objects, the sense of which was conditioned by certain unique properties of what is intuited. It is only an approximation, though, because we impose the form on what the world provides (suggests) as content. Number is, from the beginning, an abstraction that omits much information that would favor uniqueness over likeness of these objects.
Wigner’s third tier is the invariability principles, which allow the abstractions in the second tier to be further generalized. This allows for universal laws, but with a crucial limiting factor. These abstractions can only be stretched so far until the world conflicts with the premises. In that case another limited space of invariability needs to be set off, which will likely conflict with the premises of the first, as do Newtonian physics and relativity. At these points new mathematical systems built on new premises must be invented. This builds from Poincare’s demonstration of our ability to construct inherently coherent rational systems in essential conflict with each other, which highlights the provisional nature of our universal laws. Wigner goes on to show that it is possible to construct such conflicting systems through our choice of suggested events to include in the model, and how we delimit space and time.
The point is we are stretching our faculties of reason, space and time which we originally adapted for survival on the savannahs to understand the universe. Because of the primordial joining of our subjective faculties to the events suggested by the world, there is an approximate correlation between our thoughts and reality. If there weren’t, we would never have survived the perils of the savannahs. But there is a point beyond which our stretching snaps the bands of the principles that held the understanding together.
That is the simple explanation. If we were to take a more Heideggerian approach we would necessarily reintroduce mystery in another form, but that’s a story for another day.
An overview of Heidegger is extremely difficult, dangerous in that it can give a trivialized impression that obscures the great profundity of his thought, and perhaps even impossible. Consider what follows to be less than even a mere introduction, and if it interests you then ask lots of questions. First let’s put him in historical perspective. He is in many ways the beginning of an entirely new approach to thought (he discards the term philosopher as used up by metaphysics and prefers the term “thinker”) after the culmination of the two major thrusts in philosophy starting with the Enlightenment and ending with Nietzsche: 1. The destruction of metaphysics; 2. The overthrow of reason as the privileged mode of knowledge which is given over to the senses.
He was the single most important thinker of the 20th Century and, despite more often than not being misunderstood, the most influential. The only other 20th Century figure who would compare is Wittgenstein, who followed a similar path of beginning within an academic approach of systematic philosophy, rejecting that approach as insufficiently free of metaphysics, and in the end focusing on language as the key to understanding our place in the world.
Heidegger is probably the thinker that the most people regard as impossibly difficult to understand. Part of this stems from the initial strangeness of non-metaphysical thought, and much comes from Heidegger’s use of the German language. I’ll state at the beginning that it is impossible to understand Heidegger in translation since his meaning derives from the poetic/musical nature of German. Poetry can never be translated. I’m fortunate enough to speak fluent German and when I think of Heidegger’s thought I think it in German. All I can do in English is give you hints at the meanings.
The next thing to consider is the “Turn”. This marks the sharp break in his thought from the earlier Being and Time. I always suggest that we skip Being and Time, What is Metaphysics and other pre-turn writing altogether. It merely adds considerable and needless complexity as an approach he disavowed. Being and Time, which Heidegger left more than half unfinished, was written in order to justify his offer of a teaching position and adheres to the systematic hermeneutic phenomenology of his mentor, Edmund Husserl. It necessarily trapped him in subject/object metaphysics and has no real impact on his later important work. He later referred to it as the mistake of writing too soon. It is interesting that many traditional academics still consider that his major work because it is the most accessible to them, working within the limits of early 20th Century academic philosophy.
Being is the key to everything in Heidegger. In metaphysics, Being is a metaphysical conjecture which grounds the world, but is not part of it. Heidegger inverts that to accord with its more apparent meaning of actual existence in the world, and that which engenders the world. It is one unifying force, but much more than the English word force conveys. Being reveals itself in individual beings which we encounter, but all beings along with man are connected and stem from the essence of being. In German, Being and essence are etymologically and grammatically related words which we can’t use the same way in English. Man is a special case of being as Dasein. Sein is the word for Being – the manifold essence of all that exists, and man is the case of Being that is aware of its being-there. In as sense, man is the evolved consciousness of Being and destined to be the experience of/for Being and its expression. He sees Hölderlin’s line in the poem “In Lieblicher Bläue” as an expression of the authentic dwelling of man on this earth:
Voll Verdienst, doch dichterish wohnet der Mensch auf dieser Erde
(Fully industrious, yet poetically man dwells on this earth)
We strive but as the experience of Being in this world. The experience is a poetic one, not an analytic exercise. This is seen again in Heidegger’s poem: Aus der Erfahrung des Denkens:
Wir kommen für die Götter zu spät und zu früh für das Sein, dessen angefangenes Gedicht ist der Mensch.
(We come too late for the gods and too soon for Being, whose just begun poem is man.)
The meanings of this line are too much to go into at this moment, but it again poses man as the poetic experience of/for Being itself who at this moment in history has unburdened himself of the metaphysical gods but is yet to discover the essential truths of Being in this world. Until that truth is experienced we remain rootless and stuck in the vertigo of Nietzsche’s madman as he proclaimed god’s death.
Being is in a sense the same mystery sought by physicists, but from a poetic mode of thought. It is the search for the fundamental truths of the universe, which always hides more than it shows yet irresistibly fascinates us.
I started a conversation with my good friend, the Christian philosopher John Mark Reynolds, on Shakespeare’s pivotal cultural role with this article published in John’s blog: Eidos.
He responded here, but due to events surrounding the Covid virus he wasn’t able to publish my counter-response:
Due to several requests, I present my last response below:
As he so often does, Dr. Reynolds has presented an emotional reaction to an argument I never presented. I could easily dismiss his response as mere strawmen and sweeping generalizations, but I think it would be instructive for us to trace his false claims about the Renaissance, the Shakespearean texts, and twisting of what I actually wrote.
I think it would be best to first restate my thesis. The Renaissance introduced humanism and secularity after the long darkness of Medieval scholasticism and the authority of the Catholic Church. One key theme of Humanism was to reconnect Europe to its pre-Christian classical and pagan past. This is a prevalent theme in Shakespeare, whose plays have elements of Christianity, Classical pre-Christian Greece and Rome, and Northern European pre-Christian paganism. Although nobody really knows if Shakespeare was a believer in Christianity or not (it is commonly said of him he was certainly Catholic… or Pagan, or an atheist), all three elements appear in his works. I explicitly stated I was not addressing the question of his religious belief but offering him as an example of what I call the first symptoms of Europe rejecting the graft of Christianity. In concert with the theme of the Renaissance, Shakespeare used these elements to reconnect his contemporary Europe to this pre-Christian past in order to regain what had had been lost to the culture during the time of church rule. It is possible that, like Marlowe, Shakespeare did lean toward an anti-Christian sentiment but was more careful about not overstepping boundaries, and it is equally possible he tried to moderate Christianity to accord more with prior European culture. Either way, it was a beginning of the rejection of total authority of the church and reintroduction of classical and pagan Europe – a rejection that accelerated over the next five centuries. This is a bit more nuanced than Reynold’s strawman distortion of Shakespeare as radical anti-theist.
Dr. Reynolds presents a false and fatally restrictive description of the Renaissance. He characterizes Renaissance England thus:
“We need not explain away anything about his plays if we merely accept Shakespeare as the consistent product of his time and his education, which produced his preference for classical, Christian culture.”
In so doing, he conceals the essential aspects of Shakespeare’s time and culture in an attempt to make it appear a mere extension of Medieval Scholasticism and Church. At great peril of appearing to snobbishly appeal to authority (with my apology to those of a more delicate nature to whom this habit of mine seems to cause psychic offense), I will contrast Reynolds’ assertion to a more conventional and scholarly understanding of the English Renaissance. The British critic, author, and Shakespeare scholar, Andrew Dickenson, writes in an article for The British Library:
“Though historians debate the precise origins of the Renaissance, most agree that it – or one version of it – began in Italy some time in the late 1300s, with the decline in influence of Roman Catholic Christian doctrine and the reawakening of interest in Greek and Latin texts by philosophers such as Aristotle, Cicero and Seneca, historians including Plutarch and poets such as Ovid and Virgil.”
“Gradually, the concept of a ‘humanistic’ curriculum began to solidify: focussing not on Christian theological texts, which had been pored over in medieval seats of learning, but on classical ‘humanities’ subjects such as philosophy, history, drama and poetry. “
Contrary to Reynold’s unfounded claim, the Renaissance was not a simple continuation of Medieval Christianity, but a return to secular humanism and reattachment to European pre-Christian culture. As the early first step in this rejection of the graft, it was not a dismissal of Christianity but rather the important act of removing Christianity as the central focus and once again contemplating European origins and man as the measure of things.
Dickenson then describes education at the time of Shakespeare, which contrasts starkly with Reynold’s unhistoric claim that Shakespeare was reflecting his classical Christian education:
“In Britain, humanism was spread by a rapid increase in the number of ‘grammar’ schools (as their name indicates, language was their primary focus, and students were often required to speak in Latin during school hours), and the jump in the number of children exposed to the best classical learning. Shakespeare, Marlowe, Spenser, Jonson, Bacon: almost every major British Renaissance intellectual one can name received a humanist education. Shakespeare’s plays and poems are steeped in writers he encountered at school – the magical transformations of Ovid’s poetry infiltrate the worlds of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Tempest, his Romanhistories are cribbed from the Greek historian Plutarch, The Comedy of Errors is modelled closely on a Greek drama by Plautus, while Hamlet includes an entire section – the Player’s account of the death of Priam – borrowed from Virgil’s Aeneid.”
Reynolds then employed a typical apologist rhetorical trick of projecting his deficiency of stance onto his opponent when he accused me of allowing my bias to distort the culture and education of Shakespeare when in fact that is exactly what he did with his unfounded sweeping claim of the centrality of Christianity. My approach is to allow the facts their primacy of place. As we will see later, this rhetorical trick is further applied to the text of Shakespeare’s plays themselves.
The Question of Shakespeare and Religion
Reynolds gave us another unfounded sweeping claim that Shakespeare was undoubtedly a Catholic in response to what I presented as the conventional view among scholars that we cannot really know his true beliefs as in the texts we see prominent examples of Paganism, Catholicism and nihilistic atheism. The preeminent scholar of English Literature with special expertise in Shakespeare, the Renaissance, and Medieval England, Harold Bloom, better explains the nuance and complications of this question in Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human:
“We cannot know, by reading Shakespeare and seeing him played, whether he had any extrapoetic beliefs or disbeliefs. G. K. Chesterton, a wonderful literary critic, insisted that Shakespeare was a Catholic dramatist, and that Hamlet was more orthodox than skeptical. Both assertions seem to me quite unlikely, yet I do not know, and Chesterton did not know either. Christopher Marlowe had his ambiguities and Ben Jonson his ambivalences, but sometimes we can hazard surmises as to their personal stances. By reading Shakespeare, I can gather that he did not like lawyers, preferred drinking to eating, and evidently lusted after both genders. But I certainly do not have a clue as to whether he favored Protestantism or Catholicism or neither, and I do not know whether he believed or disbelieved in God or in resurrection. His politics, like his religion, evades me, but I think he was too wary to have any.
“Though G. K. Chesterton liked to think that Shakespeare was a Catholic, at least in spirit, Chesterton was too good a critic to locate Shakespeare’s universalism in Christianity. We might learn from that not to shape Shakespeare by our own cultural politics. Comparing Shakespeare with Dante, Chesterton emphasized Dante’s spaciousness in dealing with Christian love and Christian liberty, whereas Shakespeare “was a pagan; in so far that he is at his greatest in describing great spirits in chains.” Those “chains” manifestly are not political. They return us to universalism, to Hamlet above all, greatest of all spirits, thinking his way to the truth, of which he perishes. The ultimate use of Shakespeare is to let him teach you to think too well, to whatever truth you can sustain without perishing…
“Do Shakespeare’s modes of representation in themselves betray any ideological turn, whether Christian, skeptical, hermetic, or whatever? The question, difficult to frame, remains urgent in its implications: Is Shakespeare, in his plays, ultimately a celebrant of life, beyond tragedy, or is he pragmatically nihilistic? Since I myself am a heretical transcendentalist, gnostic in orientation, I would be happiest with a Shakespeare who seemed to hold on to at least a secular transcendence, a vision of the sublime. That seems not altogether true; the authentic Shakespearean litany chants variations upon the word “nothing,” and the uncanniness of nihilism haunts almost every play, even the great, relatively unmixed comedies.”
What commands the attention in the above passages is the contrast of Shakespeare’s textual Paganism to the spacious Christianity of Dante’s texts, as acknowledged by the Catholic Chesterton, and the indeterminacy of Shakespeare’s religious beliefs, if any at all.
Interpretation: The Play is The Thing
As mentioned above, Reynold’s repeats his rhetorical trick of painting his opponent with the color of his own deficiency, here in regard to the texts themselves. Ironically, he retorts the play is the thing, while he himself bases his own claims and remarks almost entirely on external examples with almost no basis in the text. What I attempted to do was just the opposite: interpret from Shakespeare’s own words, or in Bloom’s locution, hew to the “authentic Shakespearean litany”.
At the expense of even further expansion of this writing, I need to present the opening quote of my last essay which well encapsulates my thesis. It appears at the beginning of Act V of A Midsummer Night’s Dream:
The lunatic, the lover, and the poet Are of imagination all compact. One sees more devils than vast hell can hold: That is the madman. The lover, all as frantic, Sees Helen’s beauty in a brow of Egypt. The poet’s eye, in a fine frenzy rolling, Doth glance from heaven to Earth, from Earth to heaven, And as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing A local habitation and a name.
I further demonstrated from examples of the text of the play itself that what is at work here are:
1. A departure from the madness of devils and hell characteristic of the theocracy of the Medieval Church.
2. A Renaissance refocusing on the earthly powers that buffet and excite man in this world, reaching back to classical Greece and northern Paganism through the wandering in the dark of moonstruck lovers.
3. And most importantly of all, the urgent role of the authentic poet to hear the music of these earthly powers and play this music in the authentic poetry of originating language: to give heretofore unknown things form, place and name.
Reynolds merely rejected this out of hand, with absolutely no support from the text, nor any substantive rebuttal of the textual examples I provided. More importantly, he offered no counter interpretation. In another forum (Twitter) I successfully pressured him to finally provide an interpretation which I found stunningly absurd. His claim, briefly stated, was that this was all about the role of Christian rationalism; the madness of devils and the madness of the lovers were the same and driven by non-Christian sensuality; and the role of the poet was to reconcile these with reason and moderation inspired by his Christianity.
The problem, of course, is all of this directly contradicts the “thing” of the play. It is important to note that it was Oberon and Puck who brought about the final reconciliation as Pagan Fairy King and Fairy – the very opposite of a Christian God. All inspiration of the characters of the night came directly from paganism, while only the day characters of Theseus and Egeus characterize rationality and come off the worse for it.
Reynold’s restrictive and contrived interpretation conceals the true importance of the play, the essence of which is the poetic creation of our world from the earthly music and dreams of man. This accords well with Bloom’s thesis that Shakespeare accomplished the greatest act of poetry in history through his creation of man as individual rather than type. Through the music he heard and his inspired dreams, the heretofore unknown thing to which Shakespeare gave form, place and name was nothing less than the soul or nature of man himself and the mystery of his place in the cosmos. Not an answer to that mystery, but the awesome revelation of the mystery itself.
And with the realization of the immensity of the mystery and depth of our nature, the primitive answers of a strange Eastern religion begin to lose their power to explain.
This is in response to a conversation between Chris Rhodes and me on Twitter. The subject is too involved to attempt on Twitter, so I am answering here.
1. Why should we believe it to be true and what evidence is there for it?
A. The physical structure of perception and cognition suggest it. The brain sits inside a box with no windows and is entirely reliant on electrochemical impulses through the neural network for information about the external world. Vision, for example, is not like a camera that throws a picture against a screen, but rather eyes take light within a very narrow bandwidth and transform that energy into electric impulses conducted through the optic nerve to a part of the brain that operates to make some sense of the data. It produces a picture through innate sensibilities and categories of understanding that are not present in the real world. For example, color doesn’t exist outside our imagination, but is created in the imagination as response to specific electromagnetic wavelengths. Hoffman has done experiments where he disrupts that part of the brain with magnets and causes the subject to perceive the world without color. That indicates the color is created in that section of the brain. Second, there are experiments which show how radically our expectations reduce the pictures we draw from vision out of the overwhelming confusion of sense data. The vast majority of what exists in front of us is never represented because we naturally focus on what we expect to be important. There was a famous experiment where a man was giving a lecture during which a man in a bear suit slowly walked behind him from one end of the stage to the other. Nobody in the audience saw him and disbelieved it happened until shown a video. The result of the experiments clearly show that we format sense data according to our expectations of what will happen next, and this is decisive in editing and focusing the picture in representation. The same types of experiments have been done in time and space representations.
B. There are certain conditions of thought which shape all representations and ideas, and further, we cannot even conceive outside those conditions. Space and time are among those conditions. It is impossible for us to think other than in space and time, even though reality outside the Newtonian band of existence seem to confound space and time entirely. This would indicate that space and time are merely our modes of drawing the world and not a feature of the world itself. One of the great challenges Einstein faced was trying to describe ultimate reality, which did not exist in space and time, because it is beyond our ability to conceive outside those conditions. No matter how you describe it, you always resort to spatial and temporal terms because we can do no other. That led to describing the absence of time as block time, which relied on a spatial metaphor. The paradoxes caused by relativity force us to talk of successionality, where in extreme relative motion we encounter situations where effect can precede cause. Here we are forced to use a temporal term to a reality where time doesn’t exist, and our inner sensibility leads to paradox. The same applies to the question of what happened before the big bang, where there was no time or space. There is no before, which is a misplaced concept.
C. We know from quantum field theory that the world itself does not exist anything like how we perceive it. Back to the case of the bus hurtling at us, we represent it to ourselves as a solid object in space and time. In reality it is an inconceivably complex interaction of various quantum fields existing mostly of empty space. Even the notion of solid matter dissolves at this level, where quanta are no more than coagulated energy along the field, and what we perceive as mass is merely the effect of the Higgs field slowing the flow of quanta in other fields. Consider that the wall in front of you is almost all empty space. The particles that make up atoms are very far from each other and what you perceive as a solid in space is quite different. What we perceive as the space of the wall is mostly empty, and what we perceive as a smooth solid is the result of the energy of this field not allowing light of certain wavelengths through. They refract back to us evenly and we draw a colored solid space in our mind. If we punch the wall. we physically encounter that energy and are repelled. At the deepest level of existence that we know, the world is entirely made of vibrations. The vibrations along the 24 quantum fields, and the vibrations of quanta themselves. All else is our representations. That is the basis of Hoffman’s analogy of bits to icons.
Under experiments with psychedelics we can see how these subjective determinations can be altered in all sorts of ways and still appear to us as realistic because we are altering our conditions of perception and thought, and in doing so we see its independence from the world in itself.
2. His theory is based on evolution, which we know as fact through experiments and observation. However, if you apply Hoffman’s theory to the thing that supports it, we have no reason to believe it. How do we know what we observed as evolution was really that? It could have been something else our brains
This is a question I deal with quite a bit and is my departure from pure Naturalism as we commonly understand it. There are two modes of thought, objectively technological and ontological. That is my major focus but far too wide to go into detail here. In the technological mode we adhere to our objective representations and what can be verified through them. Hoffman, Kant, et al. do not deny there is correct information here. If there were no correspondence between our representations and external world, there would be no adaptive benefit. But there is a degree of correspondence that derives from the unique conditioning of sense data by what is observed. If not, we would be eaten by tigers we thought were rocks, we could never catch any prey, airplanes wouldn’t fly, and we would never have reached the moon. Our objective representation of the world is what allows us to manipulate it because our attempts to measure objects and reason relationships between them are in close correspondence to innate properties of these objects beyond our understanding. This gives us correct information about measure and relation within certain limits of scale but can never tell us what these things we perceive actually are. That requires ontological thinking, which is in essence pre-rational.
We can observe phenomena over time that allow us to build a view of evolution which is as reliable as our building a view of aerodynamics. We can trace how understanding has developed throughout mammalian history, for example, and through the various phases of man. We can study DNA to get a picture of a mechanism for these developments. But that is all we can know scientifically.
The deeper questions are beyond measurement and comparison, such as the question of intentionality in the universe. Man’s intellect and morality has perceptibly developed in a discernable direction, and at a superficial level the science of evolution can explain much of it. The problem is not that this explanation is false, but rather radically incomplete. What is DNA essentially? We can measure and relate scientifically, but never know what it is in its essence. It certainly has the appearance of a will or intention, but where does that come from? Is it a reflection or revelation of Being itself? And if so, are we intended as the development of consciousness of Being – a sort of Being in self-regard and self-experience? That’s where the mystery is, but beyond the objective understanding of technological objectivity.
3. Hoffman’s theory is not compatible with Kant’s epistemology or Seth’s theory. To give an analogy, Kant believes that if the actual world is a man, our vision is a shadow. Seth believes that if actual reality is a 6 ft tall man, we might see a 5’ 8” woman, and Hoffman believes that if actual reality is a man, we would see any number of things that could fill the role of a man’s relation to us. This is further exacerbated by their ideas of consciousness, which differ radically, with Seth thinking that it’s generated by the neurons in our brain as a the conscious experience of reality, while Hoffman thinks it’s the fundamental part of reality.
We need to separate epistemology from the question of consciousness at this point. I’m not sure that your epistemological analogy is quite right. Kant wouldn’t see it as a shadow at all because that implies external space and time. The same would apply to Seth and Hoffman. I think it is closer to the case that all three see our conception of the world as a construction derived from sense data through innate conditions of understanding and perception.
Consciousness is far more speculative and there are various theories that borrow from contemporary physics. Hoffman adheres to a theory among some physicists that consciousness is basic to the universe and progresses to higher levels of complexity and development in the same way as the cosmos. Others look to the wave behavior of the deepest level of reality and its similarity to wave behavior of the brain and posit a model that is like the wave interaction among quantum fields. All of this is, however, very early and speculative, although promising.
4. Hoffman’s theory is too ill-defined. He thinks we see representations of actual reality with some semblance of truth, but what truth stays through the representation? Does the color of the thing? The shape? How does our brain decide which representation to create?
I believe I addressed this above, but if you had other thoughts concerning this that I didn’t, let me know.
5. Assuming that Hoffman wishes to be consistent, he must also assume that what we call reason or logic is also a faulty, inaccurate perception of reality, that would mean that nothing we believe is valid, because we came to the conclusion through a process not aimed at truth, including his own theory.
Again, I believe I covered that above. In short, it is correct to a usable degree at the Newtonian level but becomes stretched to incomprehension beyond that.
6. Hoffman’s view of consciousness/mind is inconsistent. On one hand, he claims consciousness is a fundamental aspect of reality, and that the world is inhabited by conscious agents who create reality. However, this is incompatible with his view that our conscious experience is created and altered by evolution, and therefore something that gradually developed, rather than something fundamental.
Again, I addressed above the theory of progressive cosmic development and complexity from which he derived his theory. Our consciousness would be just one step along this development. He also entirely ignores the more primordial and deeper mode of ontological consciousness. There is far more profound truth in Beethoven and Shakespeare than in both volumes of relativity.
7. And aside from Hoffman’s theory, I think your characterization of WLC and certainly your characterization of Aristotle are both strawmen. First, when WLC dismisses the antimony, he does it on the basis that we have good scientific evidence that the universe began.
Let’s leave Aristotle aside for the moment because I don’t think it is all that relevant to this discussion. When WLC bases his claim on the assertion that there is good scientific evidence the universe he again is knowingly evading the real issue. First of all, there is no consensus among physicists that the universe indeed had a beginning. Roger Penrose would be a prime example of physicists who contest that notion.
More important, he ducks the crux of Kant’s Antinomy by obscuring the meaning of “beginning”. Most physicists who adhere to a beginning of the universe are careful to distinguish that from the beginning of physical reality, where the big bang is no more than a change of state from what we are forced to think of as pre-big bang (even though the concept of time does not actually exist beyond the big bang) to our particular universe where entropy set in motion what we perceive as time and space.
The critical point is that we cannot possibly know anything about any origins of our universe nor can we apply the concept of time or our natural physical laws. Concerning the Kalam, that means that the premises assume things we cannot possibly know and therefore are not compelling.
This a partial reproduction of the script of a video I recently released on my YouTube channel and some further clarification of certain points. The video is a response to Michael Millerman’s argument for a Heideggerian approach to a new political beginning and can be seen here:
I made the video because I disagree with Millerman’s interpretation of Heidegger, which appears to me to be solely grounded in the pre-Turn thinking of Being and Time. Despite Millerman’s occasional allusion to post-Turn Heidegger, his methodology is solidly in the framework of Being and Time, which Heidegger came to reject. I find this an important issue for us today because this interpretation has led to much mischief in the past and continues to do so yet today in the works of far right writers.
Millerman’s position is that we are in a time of political crisis and Heidegger, whose task was to prepare for a new beginning for our thinking of man’s essence and relation to Being, has some important things to contribute. I think he errs when he attempts to substitute political crisis for Heidegger’s crisis of man’s relation to Being, which is far more fundamental and cannot be skipped over. Even in Being and Time, Heidegger stressed that we can never come to times with the basic concepts we employ born of metaphysical thinking until we have come to terms with the most fundamental question of all: the question of Being, and to try to build without that foundation of understanding of Being can only lead to more metaphysical error. Millerman’s attempt to think a new Heideggerian beginning to politics violates this precept and ultimately points to another far right political disaster, this time in the writing of Alexander Dugin.
Millerman’s interpretation of Heidegger is limited to Being and Time and the pre-Turn Heidegger, which Heidegger himself rejected after his famous Turn. Academics, especially philosophers in academia, generally consider Being and Time to be Heidegger’s seminal work and focus on it to the exclusion of his post turn thinking. This is because Being and Time was still written in the tradition of academic philosophy that is accessible to the academy, being grounded in Husserlian phenomenology and its methodology. The post-Turn Heidegger resolutely rejected philosophy as the dead end of metaphysics and took another path. It is at this point that Heidegger came into his own as the giant of 20th Century thought and left the academy blinking in confusion.
Millerman describes the Heidegger of Being and Time as concerned with addressing the crisis of science, which is its captivity to metaphysical objectification that uproots science from Being itself and obscures its grounding. Heidegger approaches this through philosophical methods and tools to understand the fundamental Being which precedes all our concepts and interpretations, which he called fundamental ontology. Heidegger put it this way in Being and Time:
Basically, all ontology, no matter how rich and firmly compacted a system of categories it has at its disposal, remains blind and perverted from its ownmost aim, if it has not first adequately clarified the meaning of Being, and conceived this clarification as its fundamental task.
The Seinsfrage, or question of Being remained his sole focus for the rest of his life, but his approach turned 180 degrees after Being and Time, as Heidegger himself described it. Before we go further with Being and Time and Millerman’s interpretation, it’s critical to understand Heidegger’s place and time within Western thought. Heidegger stood at the end of the last two major thrusts of Western philosophy: the first being the two-century long journey toward the destruction of metaphysics beginning with Francis Bacon and ending with Nietzsche. The other major thrust, which began about a century later with the Romantics, was the overturning of reason as the mode of apprehending truth in favor of esthetics, which again Nietzsche brought to fruition.
Being and time focused on the first of the two trends and attempted to build upon what he saw as Nietzsche’s ending of metaphysics. He sought a way of grounding the sciences in Being itself, thereby eliminating all metaphysical speculation and the subject/object dichotomy to which metaphysics gave birth. It attempted this project through the phenomenological analysis of Dasein and its cognitive structure as it interprets Being. Dasein here is the essence of man as Being and as the self-awareness of Being in the world.
The fatal flaw here is that in this approach there still lurks the dark figure of metaphysics in the assumed Kantian Transcendental Idealism and Husserlian Transcendental Hermeneutics. The only overcoming of the subject/object dichotomy Heidegger could manage within this framework was what he called Zuhandensein, which is the entanglement of man and tool in work. This would be radically rethought after the turn when he finally includes the second thrust of late philosophy: esthetic experience of truth.
It’s important to note that Heidegger never bothered to finish Being and Time. It was planned as a two-part work, the first covering Being, the second on Time, but he only wrote 2/3 of the first part on Being and put it away. In his later years he referred to it in an interview as an example of writing too soon. Through the thirties and into the forties we can trace the move of his thinking away from philosophy and toward what he called poetic thinking. This turn is clearly seen in his collection of essays, Holzwege, which appeared in 1947 and fully presented in the lecture: Was Heißt Denken?
The most important aspects of this turn are:
1. Replacing the focus from the modes of Dasein in interpreting Being to Being itself and man’s nature as a part of Being.
2. Replacing analytical methods with esthetic exploration of Being through poetry, i.e abandoning the methodological approach that Millerman suggests in his argument.
3. Ereignis as the experience of the revelation of Being
This move to esthetic mode of knowledge replaced phenomenological explanation of interpretation of Being with this notion of Ereignis, where we experience the truth as Being reveals itself through a partial unconcealing of its nature. We experience this poetically as originating language as Being speaks through man. Here truth is not something we interpret or determine, but something we experience through poetic language if we open ourselves to the experience. This is The real fruition of Nietzsche’s esthetic, much as Zarathustra experienced atop the mountain at midnight, looking at the moon through the laciness of the spider web and, experiencing the most profound truth, sang the Drunken Song.
Millerman’s argument is problematic. First, it attempts to solve the problem of a crisis of politics before we have addressed the underlying question of Being through Heidegger’s phenomenological methodology which Heidegger himself rejected. This is a common mistake, which we see in Sartre’s application of Heidegger’s analytics to existentialism, and Derrida’s exploiting the notion of hermeneutics as a way to deconstruct metaphysical assumptions lurking in all Dasein interpretations of Being. Uprooted from Being, the latter two end up either declaring truth as an invention or not existent. It is interesting that at the end of the clip I presented, Millerman actually says the deconstruction of metaphysics, the Derridian term, rather than Heidegger’s destruction of metaphysics. But For Heidegger, it is no longer a matter of method by which we deconstruct the past or other such superficial games, but rather building on the destruction of metaphysics in order to prepare the way to a poetic relation to the truth and essence of Being. This, and only this, is the new beginning Heidegger has in mind. We can not hope to understand anything else authentically until we learn to think the question of Being, which implies a rejection of philosophy for a new mode of authentic knowledge, free of metaphysical speculation and focusing completely on the world presented to us as Being while resisting all temptation to relapse back into metaphysics when we come before what we cannot yet know.
Let’s compare the attempt to construct a politics of Dasein with a question once asked of Heidegger: why he never wrote anything on morality. He answered we don’t yet even know the questions to ask. He meant we first need to pursue the Seinsfrage and only then can an authentic morality emerge out of our nature and the nature of Being. The same would apply to the question of politics. In his famous interview in the German magazine, Der Spiegel, Heidegger dismissed all political formations and instead pivoted to the one true appropriate question before we can address any others, our relation to Being and the essence of technology. Again, this is the new beginning he had in mind and necessarily precedes our ability to address other questions.
What Millerman proposes is not an authentic application of Heidegger. We are not ready to even know the right questions to ask about politics or any approach to political philosophy. Early in his career Heidegger had given up on philosophy’s ability to resolve anything. When we do learn the right questions from a true grounding in Being, political formation will emerge.
In his long poem of 1965, Aus der Erfarhrung des Denkens, Heidegger gives us a line that perfectly encapsulates all of what I described and what serves me as the touchstone to Heidegger and our place and time:
Wir kommen für die Götter zu spät und zu früh für das Sein, dessen angefangenes Gedicht ist der Mensch.
(We come too late fort he gods and too late for Being, whose just begun poem is man)
Here we are in Nietzsche’s time of the great vertigo as a result of the Madman’s announcement of the death of god, the last effect of the destruction of metaphysics. Or as Heidegger calls it, the time of destitution in his essay in Holzwege, Wozu Dichter. We are ungrounded and in a vertiginous floating stuck between the time of the gods and the time of Being until we discover the way to Being, and that way cannot be through philosophy or science, but through poetic experience of Ereignis. And that is what poets and authentic thinkers are for. Our own essential destiny is that of the poet. Our purpose is to be the poetic experience of Being for Being itself – its just begun poem. Being speaks through us as the manifestation of experience itself in which we and Being share. Poetry is not just some avocation for Heidegger but the only way to recover what we lost through metaphysics, when Logos in its original and full meaning of word as the musical revelation of Being in the world, with its resonance full of the manifold presence of Being, that is Being speaking through man, was attenuated to the desiccate impoverishment of logic.
To conclude, much political mischief has been committed by attempting to derive political theory from Heidegger’s early and abandoned phenomenology, starting with Heidegger himself and his early support of Nazism, Sartre’s embrace of Communism, and Alexander Dugin’s use of it as dressing and camouflage over Putin’s thugocracy, as well as lesser lights in America who distort and name-drop Heidegger in an attempt to legitimize their crude and ugly populist nationalism.
I fear Millerman fails to see the danger such an approach entails, especially in light of its past disasters. Dugin’s faux_heidegarianism only mimics Heidegger’s tracing of words to their authentic beginnings in order to reveal a supposed authentic Russian interpretation of Being and culture, an enterprise that leads not to any originating logos but rather a maze of fallen language which easily elides into nationalism. He furthers this through his concept of communal Dasein, which eerily echoes Heidegger’s early embrace of Nationalism as an authentic mass experience of Nietzschean Will, as described by Juergen Habermas in his criticism of Heidegger, and echoes the dark myth of Volk with the Russian Narod. Make no mistake, Dugin’s fourth political theory is no authentic thinking of Being, but inauthentic window-dressing for authoritarian brutality. It could not possibly be further removed from the poetic inquiry of Being.
So where does this leave us concerning the political crisis? The simple answer is: in danger with no authentic solution at this point. I believe that in such a crisis the best approach is to look to politics and government for as little as possible until the day comes when (if that day comes) we have sufficiently thought the question and Being and are able to ground a state authentically in Being itself. To reach that state requires the freedom for such thought to take place. Coercive governments, right or left, can only stifle that thinking and oppress the people by enforcing inauthentic myths of culture and values, as is the goal of all nationalism. For that reason, I am a rare breed indeed: a Heideggerian libertarian.
One of the most common responses among apologists is the employment of the psychological defense mechanisms of cognitive distortion and projection. SJ’s video is a clear example of distorting the arguments of atheists to avoid the cognitive dissonance and threat to religious beliefs that would result from processing these arguments and facing them head on, as well as projecting onto atheists her own doubts about faith. Here SJ reimagines atheists’ legitimate opposition to god in general and the example of the bible as an attack on the god of the bible as if we thought he were real. We attack the character of the god of the bible as we would other literary characters who symbolize a disagreeable belief and the inanities that apologists blurt out when cornered in their own contradictions, such as “There’s nothing wrong with babies being born with cancer. It’s all relative.” But we don’t for a second actually believe this god exists. We argue against the religions that accompany the Bible and the claim that it’s anything more than primitive mythology and superstition. In the West we tend to focus on Christianity since that is the predominant belief among those who still persist in religion. In the US we do so for several reasons, including philosophical and political grounds. It isn’t remarkable that those of differing philosophies debate their positions, and many of the arguments with theists are of that sort. There is also the political element of countering Christian claims that the US was founded on Christian principles and is grounded in Christian culture. The growing number of nonbelievers rightfully strive to remove religion from its assumed place of privilege to safeguard our own freedom of conscience. Apologists rarely, however, listen to these opposing arguments but instead dismiss them without consideration with the same rote responses, much like a mantra.
The more interesting aspect is projection, in which apologists such as SJ project a violent fear of crisis of belief onto atheists. SJ’s performative and much too long laugh at the end of the Turek and Silverman clip is a clear expression of psychological defense in the form of denial and projection. We see apologists try to imagine atheism as a religion taken on faith and its adherents as subconsciously accepting the existence of god as the mirror image of their own fears and doubts. The claim that a theist podcast that appears every Sunday at 4:30 is a religious act is as absurd as claiming Rachel Maddow appears religiously at 9:00 every evening. Adhering to a schedule does not imply religious observance or belief. Another telling example was the critique of Richard Dawkins acknowledging he can’t know the origin of life but positing possible hypotheses. SJ reflexively jumps to the conclusion that Dawkins accepts the position of panspermia on faith when in fact he doesn’t accept it. He merely holds it out as one possibility, but SJ cannot let herself distinguish between the weakness of her own position which proclaims absolute truth on nothing more than faith and a scientist positing various possibilities but not proclaiming anything beyond scientific knowledge as truth.
She concludes this exercise of psychodrama with a return to her comforting and prophylactic mantras repeating the claim that Christianity is true until her doubt subsides for now.
Excellent display of how trivial and silly most of academic philosophy has become, although admittedly these wouldn’t be the brightest representatives. But before the video even starts Cameron has introduced his confusion into the mix by conflating soul with nonphysical. It is possible that if duality were true, it would not consist of anything like a soul, and certainly not an eternal soul, but rather some mysterious state where consciousness inheres, but for an apologist, this is really the only important issue.
Sadly, the video is mistitled as there were no credible, let alone powerful arguments for duality. The first argument by Dustin is a simple tautology. It also suffers from false suppositions and terms, which I will get to later, but for now the issue is that he assumes a difference between “mental states” and “physical states” in order to conclude that difference. Roughly, he posits a material landscape and contrasts it with a mental representation of that landscape and our ability to construct other possible but imaginary landscapes from that representation. He points out that there are an infinitely greater number of possible imaginary landscapes than there are material, and therefore the imaginary states are unconnected and substantially different from physical state. The problem, of course, is he erroneously compares the physical state of the landscape itself to the nonphysicality of each imagined landscape when the issue is the physicality of the consciousness that produces these imagined landscapes. That the process of consciousness can produce multiple thoughts about an object in no way implies the consciousness producing the thought isn’t physical or that the thoughts themselves are not physical. Common printers can produce many copies or variations of a representation, yet the printer is as physical as are the outputs. In other words, the thoughts themselves can be physical even if they concern an idea that doesn’t physically exist.
Justin’s argument is mired in the obsolete metaphysics of mereology and never even gets off the ground. It also shares the same false assumptions and terms with Dustin’s arguments, which I will now address. At the beginning of the video where they attempt to define terms as well as later in their arguments they falsely assume neurons and atoms to be the fundamental layer of existence; an assumption that underlies the failure of their arguments before the logic of their arguments even comes into play. Almost all physicists accept quantum field theory as the deepest state of existence that we know, especially since being confirmed by the production of a Higgs Boson. This replaces the idea of material with waves along fields. The question of consciousness is not one of whether or not we can find it inherent in what we perceive as the material nature of neurons and atoms, but whether the most fundamental state of reality as waves can yield an understanding of a physical existence of consciousness. There is, in fact, a great deal of similarity between brain activity and quantum wave physics, including a freedom from deterministic causality and its mode as waves. At this deepest level, where any real substance differences would have to have their basis, there is no such thing as substance, essence, or matter, which means they are chasing illusions. This error is behind their definition of non-reductive physicalism as “existence of neurons and atoms and nothing else.” Brian Greene has some excellent videos I could recommend to those three to attempt to catch up with the rest of the 21st century. As a side note, I enjoy the irony that Pythagoras seems to have gotten the ultimate nature of reality as resonance right from the very beginning.
The point is there is no good reason to assume a soul or non-physical consciousness for two compelling reasons. First there is not a shred of evidence that such a thing exists, but rather the idea can be traced to a Cartesian metaphysical error. The fact is we never encounter consciousness apart from a functioning brain. ( https://toolateforthegods.com/2020/02/23/genealogy-of-an-error-cartesian-dualism/ ) And second, the new mysteries of the physical universe now coming to light hold out promise of answering this question within a better understood concept of physical.
I had hoped to do a live debate with SJ on the topic linked to above, but after first agreeing she backed out – ostensibly because I’m too arrogant. How a simple semiliterate biker who lives somewhere under a bridge could be too arrogant remains a mystery, but even if it were true it is hardly an honorable reason to renege on the agreement, and I’m certainly no more arrogant today than I was last week when she agreed to the debate. I considered just remaining silent if there were to be no debate, but SJ’s article is literally the silliest and worst-reasoned writing I have ever encountered. Such a rare event should not be left unremarked – it may never come my way again.
Overall, the article is a sad mixture of stawmen, sweeping generalizations, false comparisons, and a conflation of humanism and atheism. The first half never even mentions humanism, secular or otherwise, but bemoans the wane of Christianity in the west to the gain of atheism and agnosticism, and in doing so she presents a strained and inaccurate comparison of secular Europe to the Christian Europe of the past. Finally, in the second half of her article she defines “secular humanism” by quoting an article in “Free Inquiry” that proposes three essential characteristics of secular humanism, which we will explore below. First, however, we should note that humanism in general, and secular humanism in particular, covers a wide range of opinion and “Free Inquiry” no more speaks with authority for all of humanism than SJ does for Christianity. As usual, the subject is far more manifold and nuanced than SJ allows, and her attenuated representation enables a more easily constructed strawman by allowing her to obscure the fact that not all atheists are humanists and not all humanists are atheists. As a result, she conflates Nazism and Communism with humanism – a ridiculous association.
The Comparison of Secular Europe to Christian Europe
I won’t address the first half of her article in detail since the topic at least claims to be secular humanism which is presented in the second half, but will briefly recite the main points.
She begins by quoting statistics showing the decline of Christianity and growth of non-believers in Europe and the US. From there, she proceeds to claim a causal relationship to what she deems to be Western devaluation of human life. In doing so she avoids all mention of the fact that the most atheist countries in Europe are also the least violent and most contented populations in the world. Rather she cites without reference to controversy various practices such as suicide among the terminally ill, abortion, and a claim of addiction to pornography as proof of this devaluation. Of course, there are competing views on the morality of each of these categories, but again there is not only no argumentation for her claim, there is no mention of the differing opinions – merely an assertion. It can be argued that suicide in such cases is the more humane approach when suffering reaches the point of no longer bearable, that there are arguments to consider that a fetus is not yet a human individual, and that pornography does no harm but rather is a personal choice that leads to a healthier life than does Christian sexual repression. But, of course, we find not a hint of such unwelcome complexities.
More egregiously, she moves to an implied causality of atheism and possibly secular humanism to the barbaric murder by fascist and Communist regimes. But not all atheists are humanists and the totalitarianism of fascism and communism are the driving force behind the murderous oppression, not atheism, which does not appear in the vast majority of nonbelievers. To repeat, the least religious countries in Europe are the least violent and most content. More pointedly, most fascist societies, including the Nazis, were Christian.
I will cite one passage from the later section because it sheds light on what follows:
Let us not forget that Friedrich Nietzsche portended what the world would be like without God. In the Godless communist regimes of the USSR, China and Cambodia, estimates indicate that around 120 million perished in the last century.
” Where is God gone?” he called out. “I mean to tell you! We have killed him, – you and I! We are all his murderers! But how have we done it? How were we able to drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the whole horizon? What did we do when we loosened this earth from its sun? Whither does it now move? Whither do we move? Away from all suns? Do we not dash on unceasingly? Backwards, sideways, forewards, in all directions? Is there still an above and below? Do we not stray, as through infinite nothingness? Does not empty space breathe upon us? Has it not become colder? Does not night come on continually, darker and darker? Shall we not have to light lanterns in the morning? Do we not hear the noise of the grave-diggers who are burying God? Do we not smell the divine putrefaction? – for even Gods putrefy! God is dead! God remains dead! And we have killed him! How shall we console ourselves, the most murderous of all murderers? The holiest and the mightiest that the world has hitherto possessed, has bled to death under our knife, – who will wipe the blood from us? With what water could we cleanse ourselves? What lustrums, what sacred games shall we have to devise? Is not the magnitude of this deed too great for us? Shall we not ourselves have to become Gods, merely to seem worthy of it? There never was a greater event, – and on account of it, all who are born after us belong to a higher history than any history hitherto!”
What SJ sees as a simple portent of trouble ahead is far more profound and meaningful. It is a poetic presencing of the vertigo that persists yet today, caused by the death of God whom we killed in the Enlightenment. This is not a reversible event because the Enlightenment removed the very possibility for a rational thinker to believe – an event only equaled by the myth of the Garden of Eden, where humanity dared to surpass the dim delight of the animal to become self-aware human responsible for his own actions. Now we are taking the final step of devising our own values since the primitive values of Christianity died along with God. The result, of course, is shock and vertigo from which we have no choice but move forward. The old values proved false and groundless and it is up to us to find a ground for more authentic values. Or as Heidegger put it almost a hundred years later: “We come too late for the gods and too early for Being..” And as we toil to connect to Being, which reveals true values, we bury the dead.
She is, of course, referring to the seminal Aphorism 125 of The Gay Science; a work she very likely never read and certainly doesn’t comprehend. The relevant portion reads:
The aphorism ends with these words:
– It is further stated that the madman made his way into different churches on the same day, and there intoned his Requiem aeternam deo. When led out and called to account, he always gave the reply: “What are these churches now, if they are not the tombs and monuments of God?”
And yet today, there are those who remain in the darkness of these tombs and cling to the corpse, SJ among them. The rest of the world, however, and in fits and starts, discovers in freedom the beginning of these new values – values rejected and hated by the tomb dwellers. But values that move in the direction of individual liberty and responsibility and away from ignorance and superstition. It is that direction that SJ hates in the form of liberty and science, but doesn’t realize all other paths are closed for good.
Three Elements of Secular Humanism
1. A Naturalistic Philosophy
“A naturalistic position is a position where people believe that everything we experience can be explained by natural causes or properties, excluding supernatural or spiritual explanations. People who endorse naturalism believe that everything can be explained by science. This belief is also known as scientism.”
She conflates all naturalism with scientism. It is certainly true that humanists generally believe everything exists in the physical universe absent any unseen metaphysical manipulation or power. That, however, doesn’t necessarily mean all humanists believe everything in the universe can be reduced to scientific formulation. Many of us believe scientism, as superficial objectivism, can be as great an error as religion as we search for a broader and deeper understanding of the world while resisting with all our strength any relapse to metaphysical assertions. It is only along this path that Being reveals the ground of values.
2. A Cosmic Outlook
“According to SecularHumanism.org, “Secular humanism provides a cosmic outlook—a world-view in the broadest sense, grounding our lives in the context of our universe and relying on methods demonstrated by science. Secular humanists see themselves as undesigned, unintended beings who arose through evolution, possessing unique attributes of self-awareness and moral agency.”
Here we see the above-mentioned hatred of science. Merely through unargued assertion, she claims that without Christianity we cannot explain the deeper nature of humanity and resorts to the long-debunked claim that DNA is a literal code and proof of intelligent design. This is a stark example of an attempt to replace hated Enlightenment science with the old myth and superstition – a hopeless task. While it just might be true that science alone cannot explain our universe, there are other complementary approaches than confine themselves to physical reality. It is certainly true that Christianity was a false attempt to do so.
I have written of this in more detail in other pieces on this blog.
3. A Consequentialist Ethical System
“Our conscience further speaks to God’s intense love for us. The moral argument states that if we have objective moral values and duties that transcend eras and cultures, we must have an objective and transcendent moral lawgiver. Numerous studies have indicated we have objective moral values and duties to follow the Golden Rule and these transcend people and generations. Accordingly, we have a Divine moral lawgiver.”
This is the companion piece to the hatred of science as an expression of hatred of freedom. It is a baseless claim for the reality of a dead metaphysical source of values. Rather than repeat myself, I refer to previous criticism of this idea:
There is one passage, however, that reveals the essential problem at the core of her moral assertions:
“The secular humanist who endorses objective morality may be able to call on a standard, but he also believes that there is no ultimate punishment for evil. In his worldview, Adolf Hitler will never be punished. He will never face justice for his evil infliction of extreme pain on millions.”
Her implied belief in a need for cosmic justice in no way implies anything such thing actually exists. Instead, this is merely the psychological desire to remake the world as she would have it rather than take the universe on its own terms. It would be terribly frustrating for her to realize that no matter how strong her desire, such an invention is impossible. The strength of this need, however, is again the expressed hatred of freedom for others.
Nietzsche was exactly right that Christianity is the religion of resentment, and that resentment would, if it could, hold back the rest of humanity and refasten the chains that would bind us back to fearful primitive need.
Here I critique a debate on 3/24/2020 between William Lane Craig and Alex Malpass on the validity of Craig’s version of the Kalam Cosmological Argument, although Craig succeeds in bogging down the discussion in diversionary examples of metaphysical conundrums. The debate can be seen here:
Craig’s enterprise is to defend a primitive religion by means of 13th Century Scholastic metaphysics. In light of what humanity has learned in the ensuing centuries, especially in the areas of physics, neuroscience and the progress of philosophical thought, this is an enterprise that cannot be honestly accomplished. Thirteenth century speculations are no match for 21st century knowledge and discovery, and for that reason Christian apologists routinely resort to rhetorical tricks and sophistry. William Lane Craig is preeminent among them in his rhetorical skill and, sadly, intellectual dishonesty.
At the 5:30 mark of the video, Craig slips in his major sleight of hand and manages to steer the rest of the debate into the murkiness of metaphysical contradictions in an attempt to justify the contention of the impossibility of an eternal past based on impossibility of infinite regress. I will focus solely on this move because once it is seen in the light of analysis the rest of the debate becomes tedious and unimportant.
He starts by presenting a brief history of the argument of prime mover but suddenly ends it with a superficial and inaccurate account of Kant’s First Antinomy in The Critique of Pure Reason. The Critique of Pure Reason was a critique of metaphysics itself and sought to ground knowledge of the world solely in the empirical realm of objects of perception. He demonstrates that reason, which underlies our objectification and ordering of random sense data, loses any ability to provide knowledge when it operates purely rationally with no sense data content, i.e. metaphysically. Craig can usually get away with these tricks because he knows few of his followers have ever read Kant, and even fewer are able to understand him.
The First Antinomy
For reasons that will become clear, at the 5:30 mark Craig focuses on the First Antinomy in Kant’s Critique. He begins with this description of the antinomy:
“The question of the finitude of the past has decisive rationally compelling arguments for opposite conclusions, and that therefore it shows the bankruptcy of reason in giving us knowledge of reality.”
He then glibly dismisses Kant’s critique by claiming that the argument concerning infinite regress has come roaring back largely as the result of modern physics and cosmology pointing to the finitude of the universe “leaving people more open to the idea that the universe began to exist.”
We will examine both statements in detail, but first let’s set forth Kant’s position in the Critique.
1. Kant begins with the sections: Transcendental Aesthetic and Transcendental Analytic. These set forth our innate capabilities of intuition and thought and demonstrate how we construct objective representations from sense data. In the Aesthetic he shows time and space to be a priori subjective sensibilities through which reason constructs representations of the external world. Accordingly, time and space are not part of the world external to our understanding but faculties for constructing a representation of the external. We will later compare this to Einstein’s concept of spacetime.
In the Analytic he sets forth our innate a priori categories of understanding under the guide of reason which order these intuitions in our spatial and temporal imagination. While we can never know the thing-in-itself as it exists outside our subjective representations, we can gain knowledge of the world through these representations because the thing-in-itself does condition the sense data which enables a degree of correspondence. When we venture to speculate in the absence of sense data, however, we lose our ability to gain any knowledge but instead venture off into transcendental illusions. Kant writes:
“For if no intuition could be given corresponding to the concept, the concept would still be a thought, so far as its form is concerned, but would be without any object, and no knowledge of anything would be possible by means of it. So far as I could know, there would be nothing, and could be nothing, to which my thought could be applied.” B146
Through this he declares the premises of metaphysical arguments invalid and limits validity solely to empirical objective knowledge while stating that “concepts without intuitions are empty” (A52/B76). Those who persist in the Medieval Scholastic tradition of metaphysics have never really overcome this insight, which is why Craig resorts to misconstruing and simply dismissing it.
In the later section on Transcendental Dialectic, Kant explores the fallacies of empty metaphysical argumentation and presents four antinomies, which are expositions of inherent contradictions in metaphysical argument. An antinomy presents a dialectical occurrence of two seemingly justifiable yet contradictory metaphysical conclusions. They all share the basic fallacy of the ambiguous middle:
If the conditioned is given, then the whole series of conditions, a series which is therefore itself absolutely unconditioned, is also given
Objects of the senses are given as conditioned
Consequently, the entire series of all conditions of objects of the senses is already given. (cf. A497/B525).
Kant demonstrates the term “conditioned” changes meaning from P1 to P2. P1 uses conditioned in the transcendental (metaphysical) sense of pure concept void of content. It assumes to know the noumenal world of thing-in-itself which it could never possibly conceive. In P2 it refers to objects of the senses, which are objectively conditioned. The error is applying the necessity of conditioned in the phenomenal world to the unknowable noumenal. We cannot know that there exists anything unconditioned at all there. All we have access to is the world of appearance, where there is only a matter of known conditions and the yet to be discovered conditions. Subjective knowledge is limited and the entirety of series of conditions could never be grasped. In effect, the metaphysical argument projects the necessity of conditions inherent in understanding the world of appearances onto things in themselves and assumes an unconditioned condition:
“[They] take a subjective necessity of a connection of our concepts…for an objective necessity in the determination of things in themselves” (A297/B354).
The antimonies are apagogic, which means they cannot themselves be directly proven but rather rely on the indirect approach of disproving the other. This arises from the false choice given in the dialectic. The First Antinomy is apt for discussion of the Kalam:
The world has a beginning in time, and is also limited as regards space.
The world has no beginning, and no limits in space; it is infinite as regards both time and space.
This is an example of reason and the a priori sensations of space and time misapplied to pure and empty ideas. The world as it is in itself is neither finite nor infinite as space and time have absolutely no meaning outside our subjectivity. The world in itself exists in a state we literally cannot conceive, and we simply create transcendental illusion when we attempt to project our modes of understanding onto it.
A couple centuries later, contemporary neuroscience gives support to Kant’s basic epistemology. For Craig, this is an argument he cannot overcome, so let’s take a closer look at how he tries to evade it.
If you remember, he characterized the First Antinomy as:
“The question of the finitude of the past has decisive rationally compelling arguments for opposite conclusions, and that therefore it shows the bankruptcy of reason in giving us knowledge of reality.”
Here we see the habitual apologist move of creating a strawman. I have no doubt at all that Craig correctly understands Kant, therefore I can only conclude he is willfully misconstruing the argument. First of all, the Antinomy is apagogic, meaning that neither side of the dialectic can provide a rationally compelling argument, but can only disprove its opposite. Why might Craig make this misrepresentation? Because to deny the Kalam, or any syllogism, we need only show that the premise is not one that we are reasonably compelled to accept, and by acknowledging the apagogic nature he would lose right at the start. Second, notice the characterization of reason as bankrupt and incapable of giving us knowledge of reality. As I mentioned, Craig can rely on the ignorance of his followers in these matters, but at this point it should be obvious to us that Kant showed no such thing. Reason is not bankrupt for Kant, but rather enables understanding of sense data from the external world – the only reality to which we have access. It is neither bankrupt nor incapable of providing knowledge. It would be correct to say that reason devoid of sense data provides no knowledge, but that is the exact point Craig is desperate to conceal.
As we see, Craig has no honest rebuttal to Kant, so let’s now look again at his mere dismissal by claiming that the argument concerning infinite regress has come roaring back largely as the result of modern physics and cosmology pointing to the finitude of the universe “leaving people more open to the idea that the universe began to exist.”
Again, I trust that Craig knows better and is once again misconstruing the issue. Many (not all) physicists do posit a beginning of our universe, but the frame of reference has changed. For Medieval metaphysicists our universe was the totality of the physical world. We now know that our universe resulted from an instantaneous and massive inflation, but that something existed before that big bang. While we can know nothing of the state of existence before the big bang, it seems very likely that the laws of physics and what we perceive as time and space originated with that initial inflation, leaving us in the same position as Kant describes when we try to grasp what existed beyond our ability to perceive and with no attributes of space or time. Of course, without space and time there is no sense in considering eternity of finite existence, but rather we would be imposing the conditioned of the empirical world onto something quite inappropriate and unknowable.
Finally, Craig acknowledged that he bases his argument on a tensed theory of time. As we will see, there is no compelling reason to accept that theory and good reason to doubt it, which again allows us to reasonably reject his premises, defeating him once again right at the start.
This hinges on the somewhat crude dichotomy of A Theory and B Theory of time, although in reality there are much more subtle distinctions at work. A Theory of time posits that time is not subjective, but an inherent property of the physical world. Craig’s tensed theory of time would fall under A Theory and posits that only the present is real. B Theory is usually described as time being a subjective experience of flow while in reality past, present and future are equally real and present, and time is tenseless. I believe it is more accurate, however, to say time does not exist outside the subjective mind and therefore tenseless is a misused concept since there is no time to tense.
B theory is more prominent today, especially among neuroscientists and a large number of physicists. An essential element of Einstein’s Relativity is that time is merely the subjective experience of relative motion, and at the speed of light that experience disappears altogether and we would experience the essential timelessness of the universe. That is how Einstein explains all the counterintuitive temporal occurrences that relativity describes. The experience of time is always relative to any individual observer, and his time is not the time of another. For Einstein, everything past, present and future in the physical universe exists outside our consciousness in a static state of timelessness. Again, this precludes the question of eternity or finite existence of the universe as inappropriate projections of subjective understanding where it cannot possibly apply. By the way, the same applies to space as the combined spacetime, but is less counterintuitive. When we look at objects in space we are used to the changes in apparent dimensions as we move about, such as distant objects appearing smaller than closer objects. We automatically adjust our understanding of space relativistically, but lack that capability for time, which relativity has proven works in the same way. This might be because as we evolved our mental capabilities on the African Savannah small changes in spatial relativity were meaningful for our survival, while meaningful temporal relativity becomes apparent only at a much larger frame of reference.
There are physicists who are proponents of A Theory of time, but not in a way helpful to Craig. Typically, they consider time and space to be actual physical aspects of the universe, but not necessarily of everything before or outside our universe. For them time and space are effects of increasing entropy which drives time forward and creates space. Before the Big Bang, however, which initiated the increasing entropy, time and space didn’t exist which again precludes the dialectic of eternal vs. finite.
Having succeeded in his sleight of hand at the 5:30 mark, Craig then managed to mire the debate in the minutia of meaningless metaphysical speculation that brings to mind counting the number of angels on the head of a pin.
Cameron Bertuzzi once again reveals that his intellectual side of Christianity plays at the shallow end. In this video he attempts to refute Matt Dillahunty’s statement that there is no evidence for the resurrection of Jesus, where Dillahunty distinguishes anonymous claims from evidence that backs up claims. In doing so, Bertuzzi builds a strawman, piece by piece, right in front of our eyes starting with an amazing sleight of hand in this video:
Bertuzzi starts with a quote by Dillahunty from a debate with Mike Winger, transforms it through two modifications and concludes that Dillahunty’s claim fails by begging the question and is refuted by “advancements in probability theory”. The conclusions are as laughable as his modifications to the Dillahunty’s claim. It would be easy to just dismiss this video as nonsense, but it is representative of a specious argument spreading throughout the YouTube apologist community desperate to “prove” the resurrection of Jesus, for which there is no reliable evidence or firsthand account. This is of primary urgency since Paul wagered everything on it:
“If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15 More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised.”
Claims are not evidence
This is the quote by Dillahunty that Bertuzzi addresses:
“When you said Jesus appeared to the 500, that’s just a claim. We’ve spoken to no one from the 500, no one who was even there to even speak to the 500, or anything else. When you present these things as evidence, they are in fact just more and more claims from essentially the same sources – from anonymous authors. And what Mike as kind of done at the start of this is to say, well, really here’s all this evidence, and it’s the evidence for the supernatural and you don’t get to just throw all of it out. But it’s not the evidence. It is the claim. It is a bunch of claims, and it is claims upon claims as well. What we have here is this list of claims coming from a source, the Bible. The Bible is the source, not the evidence.”
We will follow his steps to refute this position, starting with:
In this section Bertuzzi moves to redefine “claims” in order to demonstrate that claims can be at least insufficient evidence, starting with the sleight of hand I alluded to above.
(1A) “Claims in the form of reasonable assertions can constitute evidence”
The issue hangs on what a “reasonable” assertion would be, which Bertuzzi defines as “sometimes people make assertions because they have a deeper reason for thinking that assertion is true.” After having just presented double talk where he makes a diversionary assertion that he’s unable to perceive any difference at all between a claim and evidence, he imperceptibly executes his sleight of hand by conflating those two very different things in his definition. It should be obvious to anyone not overly-susceptible to sophistry that what separates a “reasonable claim” from an “unreasonable claim” is accompanying evidence, either a direct firsthand account, as supplied in Bertuzzi’s example of his daughter’s account of an occurrence at school, or some other physical evidence that gives the claimant this deeper reason to think it’s true.
Those are the exact elements Dillahunty presented as missing from the anonymous claims of those not present for this supposed miracle. Unlike Bertuzzi’s daughter in his example, we have no idea who is making the claim or even if these 500 exist at all. We lack any deeper reason at all to believe the claim precisely because there is no evidence such as the kind in Bertuzzi’s example.
He then muddies things further by altering his example to where the teacher called his wife who then relayed to him the incident at school; but of course that isn’t analogous to the case of the resurrection. Bertuzzi knows both the wife and the teacher and can trust their motives. It would be less reliable evidence than the first example because of the added chance of error by adding an additional participant, but it is close. The resurrection account, on the other hand, gives us no direct statement from any firsthand witness nor does it tell us anything about the transmitters of this account, leaving us with no real evidence at all.
(1B) “Claims of miraculous are not evidence of the miraculous”
In this next move Bertuzzi emerges from the fog he created to further distort what Dillahunty said by asserting that Dillahunty’s statement really only refers to claims of the miraculous. Oddly enough, the clip he then plays shows Dillahunty saying nothing of the kind, but rather: “So a claim is an assertion that something is such and so”. Once again, a sleight of hand while we’re still blinded by the fog created above. He does this because he is eager to conceal the original problem of no firsthand accounts or other evidence of the resurrection and divert instead to the question of the possibility of evidence for a miracle. We are seeing the strawman now taking on limbs as he morphs the question to “if we now see that claims can be evidence, why can’t claims of the miraculous be evidence?” But of course, that isn’t the issue at all, but rather if there is evidence to support the claim.
He concludes this section by arguing that in situations where regular explanations fail in the event of something inexplicable, we should keep an open mind to extraordinary explanation, which he based on accounts of alien abductions too silly to recap here. The point is this isn’t a question of keeping an open mind to new interpretations and theories based on novel experience but of basing those on verifiable evidence – something that fails both for alien abductions and the resurrection. It is that failing that Bertuzzi again attempts to obscure by the reasonable sounding advice to keep an open mind.
As practitioners of sophistry almost always do, he then strikes the pose of the honest purveyor of fairness:
“Here’s my point with all of this, and I’m going to be very blunt. It’s intellectually dishonest to just ignore evidence that goes against what you already believe… If you’re going to say that [I just want to follow the evidence] then you can’t arbitrarily choose what explanations you’re going to consider and what you are not.”
Putting aside the total lack of self-awareness, reasonable people most certainly do get to choose what explanations to consider based on existence of evidence.
(1C&D) “Some evidence is not the same as sufficient evidence; We have some evidence of miracles”
This move is no more than, having fallaciously claimed evidence for the resurrection, he now points out that evidence need not be sufficient to prove the claim in order to be considered. That’s fine as far as it goes but isn’t really relevant. Rather than leave it at that, though, he will later try to make the case that this evidence (which in reality doesn’t exist but are really mere claims) is in fact sufficient. We’ll leave that as a bit of levity for the end.
In this conclusory part of the video Bertuzzi tries to establish sufficient evidence for the resurrection by claiming that Dillahunty is guilty of begging the question and that “advancements in probability theory” justify the evidence as sufficient. Both of these attempts are both laughable and show actual contempt for the intellectual capacity of his followers.
He bases his claim of question begging on David Hume’s essay “Of Miracles”. This question of miracles relies on far more than Hume’s essay, but that’s another matter. As is his custom, Bertuzzi provides no evidence or argument that Hume begs the question, but quotes another apologist, David Johnson:
“Hume’s argument against miracles obviously either begs the question, or becomes obscure…”
Well, that surely settles that matter. Although, maybe he was just obscure and not begging the question. It’s hard to tell from that quote. But the funniest part is when he follows that up with a quote from C S Lewis:
Now of course we must agree with Hume that if there is absolutely “uniform experience” against miracles, if in other words they have never happened, why then they never have. Unfortunately, we know the experience against them to be uniform only if we know the reports of them all are false”
Obviously, in addition to lacking all self-awareness Bertuzzi also has no firm grasp of the concept of begging the question. Rather he has turned the onus of proof of the claimant on others to disprove every positive claim. Of course, it doesn’t work that way and without credible evidence there is no reason to credit the claim – the very point Bertuzzi has been trying to conceal the whole time.
He ends with the funniest of all when he claims support from “advancements of probability theory”. This probably sounds really impressive to the unenlightened among his followers, but this grandiose claim is no more than regular inductive logic employed in science since the days of Francis Bacon – only misapplied. The scientific method explicitly requires verifiable and reproducible evidence from which to draw inductive inference. For Bertuzzi, however, it merely means the number of people who make the claim, and if somebody says 500 people say so, that is sufficient evidence. As he puts it: “Enough evidence can overcome any nonzero probability.” True enough, but there is again that pesky distinction between evidence and mere claim. Perhaps he is aware of some advanced theory of probability that demonstrates that enough mere claims become sufficient, but I would be comfortable betting he doesn’t.