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Friday, January 23, 2009

Peter Pike: A Matter of Intellectual Integrity

Peter Pike, a Triablogger, has called my intellectual integrity into question. He has accused me of "steamrolling" and "obfuscation." I want to defend the behavior in question and also reveal just how intellectually dishonest Peter's accusations are.

I plan on responding to Peter's philosophical argument in my next post here. The main issue there will revolve around proper usage of the term "logic" and related concepts. I will explain how Peter has failed to use the term "logic" (also, "logical" and "logically") in a coherent manner, and how a proper understanding of logic allows us to avoid the obstacles Peter has placed in front of us. Here, however, I am only going to deal with the matter of intellectual integrity. It begins with the word, "logic."

Summarizing what he thinks is my position, Peter wrote, "The universe isn't logical; it just happens to at this point behave in a way that approximates logic."

I responded with a question: “What is the word "logic" supposed to mean there, Peter?”

Peter never answered this question, even though this was not the first time I had brought up the issue of his confusing use of the term “logic.” (The problem, incidentally, is that I had clearly been using the term "logic" to refer to rules of inference, and not to behavioral characteristics of the universe in general. Peter fails to recognize this distinction, so his discussion of logic is equivocal and only leads to confusion. More on this point in my next post, as I said.) Instead of addressing this problem, Peter reposted his original arguments (starting a new discussion thread for the occasion, here) and accused me of ignoring them, as if my question had never been asked.

At the start of his new thread, he accused me of “steamrolling” and announced that he was limiting my posting rights in that thread to two at a time. If I post three times in a row, the third post will be deleted regardless of its content. I did not object, because it’s Peter’s thread and he can make the rules. But we should pause to consider Peter’s reasoning here. Why did he accuse me of such disreputable behavior and decide to limit my posting rights?

First, he says my post count was exactly half the total post count for the original thread. As I have already pointed out to Peter, this makes sense, considering that the thread in question was wholly devoted to my ideas, and that almost all of the posts not made by me were addressed to me. If I had responded to every post addressed to me with a single post, then my post count would have constituted almost half of the total number of posts. On a few occasions, however, I responded to a single post with more than one post, for the sake of clarity and convenience. You might thus expect my posts to account for more than half of the total, as would be the case were it not for the fact that some of my posts included responses to more than one post. Thus, as one would reasonably expect, my posts accounted for only half of the total. Peter has provided no reason for why I should be criticized or sanctioned for this.

Also, there is the issue of posting in tandem. In that initial thread, I occasionally posted several responses in a row. Peter claims that, by doing this, I was “obfuscating” and avoiding the issues. Yet, Peter has not presented any evidence of obfuscation or avoidance. All he has is evidence of me parsing my arguments into smaller chunks, which are much easier to manage and read. Why would Peter use this as evidence of obfuscation or avoidance?

If one were going to engage in obfuscation and avoidance, it would not be through short, clear, and concise posts; it would more likely be through lengthy tangents with hard-to-follow prose. Thus, his charge of obfuscation and avoidance here is not only unfounded; it doesn't even make sense.

Maybe Peter just doesn't like it when people post multiple times in a row. That is possible, but it doesn't explain his behavior. Peter apparently has no problems with Triablogger Steve Hays posting several posts in a row. (Did I complain when Steve addressed no less than seven posts to me in tandem? Of course not. Why would I?) Peter even acknowledged that other people are allowed to post more than twice in a row in his new thread, just not me. So posting in tandem is not the problem. It's only a problem for Peter when I do it.

That boat doesn't float. While I respect Peter's right to make the rules in his own threads, I don't respect his thinking on this matter. If anything, Peter's actions here call into question his own intellectual integrity.

Incidentally, I cannot currently post a link to this in Peter's offending thread, because I posted twice in a row, and nobody's posted there since. (I posted once to offer a link to my recent post on the invalidity of presuppositionalism, and again to provide the correct link, because I got the html wrong the first time around. So sue me.) So I'm posting the link in the original thread.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

An Argument For Theological Noncognitivism

Here is the next installment in my series of responses to the Triabloggers. In the last one, I presented a proof showing that presuppositionalists cannot maintain both that all valid arguments do not beg the question and that all knowledge presupposes the existence of God. Thus, they must either abandon their presuppositionalism or claim that some valid arguments beg the question. If they claim that some valid arguments beg the question, then they should provide a compelling argument for why the rest of us should abandon such a basic rule of logical argument. At this point, it seems we have a choice between logic and presuppositionalism. I'm choosing logic.

I will now turn my attention to theological noncognitivism. This is the view that theological terms (such as “God” and “the supernatural”) are non-sensical, and cannot even be entertained as concepts. I will focus here on the term “God” as defined and used by Steve Hays, one of the Triabloggers.

The term “God” has been defined by Steve as aspatial and atemporal mind. God and mind are one and the same. This is not to confuse God with the human mind, however. According to Steve, the human mind is aspatial yet temporal. Atemporality is God’s alone, apparently.

But what is mind? By taking the human mind to be aspatial, Steve is refusing to locate it in the human brain. Yet, Steve says that neuroscientists, by studying the brain, can study “manifestations” of the human mind. This implies that the human mind is at least in some way spatial. Steve has not presented a clear view of the physicality (or lack thereof) of the human mind.

Generally, when we think of the mind, we think of thought. Minds are thinking things. But thought takes time. That is presumably why Steve says that the human mind is temporal. Yet, this would preclude the possibility of there being an atemporal mind.

By failing to present a clear understanding of the term "mind," Steve makes it that much more difficult to understand what he means when he defines "God" as "atemporal and aspatial mind." As problematic as this is for Steve's position, it does not fulfill the argument for theological noncognitivism. So let's try to ignore the problems with Steve's usage of the term "mind" and move on.

Steve also says that God does not interact with or respond to the physical world, which is both spatial and temporal. (We may pause to note that the Bible offers many examples of God interacting with spatio-temporal events; e.g., God is depicted as engaging Job in conversation. This runs contrary to Steve’s usage.) Steve notes that “events are inherently temporal.” Events happen; God does not.

Steve also says that God “can instantiate any compossible state of affairs.” Steve is here coupling the term “God” with the verb "instantiate." Like all dynamic verbs (as opposed to stative verbs), “instantiate" denotes an action. To instantiate something is to do something. Actions are events. Thus, God cannot instantiate anything. This is a contradiction in Steve’s usage.

Since the term “God” is said to refer to an entity which cannot perform any actions, the term “God” cannot be used in conjunction with any dynamic verbs. Similarly, the term “God” cannot be used in conjunction with any stative verbs. For example, the sentence “God loves mankind” indicates that God maintains some feelings about mankind. The maintaining of feelings requires time. God thus cannot maintain any feelings, or any state of affairs whatsoever.

As we can see, the term “God” cannot be used in conjunction with any stative or dynamic verbs. This exhausts the possibilities of using the term “God” as the subject of a sentence. Therefore, “God exists,” “God instantiates compossible states of affairs,” and all other sentence about God's actions, states, or attributes, are meaningless. In sum, there is no sense in regarding “atemporal and aspatial mind” as anything at all.