Saturday, December 27, 2008

A Goal for the New Year

If you recall, a few days ago I blogged about my desire to write a book. This book would serve as a comprehensive rebuttal to all the Abrahamic faiths as well as theism in general. It would also present a positive case for metaphysical naturalism (The view that all things are natural, there are no supernatural phenomena).

I've just begun to do some research on the subject, and although I feel that I have (for the most part) a good idea of what I will read, watch, and think on, there are a couple of issues which I have very little idea of what to look for in the way of research. Here are two:

1. Philosophy of Logic. What exactly are the different positions philosophers take about the origin and nature of logic? My own thought is that the existence of language necessitates logic (I'll explain this at the end of the post). Then again, I picked up this idea from reading Richard Carrier's book, Sense and Goodness without God, and although I think Carrier is an excellent thinker, it would be foolish of me to write a book without thoroughly examining the different philosophical positions on the issue. And that's the problem: I have no idea where or how to research this seemingly obscure and peripheral philosophical issue. If anyone could tell me I would be greatly appreciative.

2. Cult Psychology and Paranormal Phenomena. I need to figure out what the plausible explanations for Jesus' alleged resurrection are. If there are any such explanations (Maybe there aren't, I am open to, though highly skeptical of, the possibilty of a miracle) I expect them to be found within the study of cult psychology as well as within the study of alleged paranormal phenomena (How often do people experience someone after they are dead? Have they ever experienced them in groups?

I also am looking for those with any sort of degree or experience in the following areas:
Biology, Physics, Philosophy, New Testament Studies, Psychology (particularly dealing with the things I mentioned in item 2).

I need people with experience in these areas who would be willing to read drafts of the chapters I write dealing with those relevant topics so that I can have someone to critique (and offer suggestions for) the chapter.

P.S. I said I would explain my views on logic being necessitated by language. Here is a quote from Carrier which explains his view:

Logic is analytical, and all analytical statements are artificial. What we call "logic" or the "rules of reason" are actually nothing more than language. If a language exists, then by definition logic exists, because without logic you can communicate nothing. It follows, then, that if you are communicating something, logic exists, for it must be inherent in the very rules which allow the communication to occur.

It works like this: the only way I can communicate to you that "my cat is white" is if you and I both agree to certain arbitrary rules, called a 'code', which we invent and decide to follow. This allows me to know that you will know what the sounds "my" and "cat" and "is" and "white" will stand for. They are "code words" for our experiences. I point to a white wall and you and I agree that we will call what we both see there "white," and so on. It takes a bit more effort than that, but learning a language reduces to essentially this. Then, when I shout "white" to you, you will remember our agreement about what that would be a code for, and I will have communicated something to you. We invent these rules for this very purpose. If you and I refused to decide on any rules, or did not obey the rules we decided on, we would be unable to communicate.
All logic arises from these manmade rules. Consider the universal, fundamental principle of non-contradiction: something cannot both be and not be. For example, my cat cannot be both all white and all black. Why not? Suppose I were to tell you "my cat is all white and all black." You would look up these words and follow the rules in our mutual codebook, but you would not be able to make this statement correspond to anything in your experience. The rules would not be able to match this code with any agreed-upon meaning. Consequently, I have communicated nothing to you. This is because "black" means, among other things, not white, as we have agreed.
Since this is all manmade you might think that all we have to do is assign a meaning to this statement, and it will then be able to communicate something. But what meaning will we assign? There's the rub. Can we assign it a meaning that will be consistent with all our other rules? No, we cannot--because we decided beforehand that we would use the word "black" to refer to certain non-white things. Thus, the only way to create a meaning that will obey our own rules is to change the rules, and hence the meaning, of the words that conflict, but then they won't conflict. In other words, the law of non-contradiction is simply a natural feature of any consistent set of rules. Indeed, this is a tautology: What is a consistent set of rules? A set of rules that never produces a contradiction.

So then you might think we can escape this by "deciding" not to have a consistent set of rules. But we have already seen that we cannot communicate anything with an inconsistent set of rules--because we have to follow the rules in order to communicate, and we can't "follow" inconsistent rules. Thus, we are stuck. Either we have contradictions, but no language, or we rule out contradictions and communicate. This is a simple fact that we observe about the universe. Now, you might say that perhaps there are things that can exist but cannot be communicated. But if they can be experienced, then they can be given a code name, and can thus be communicated to anyone who has experienced the same thing and knows the code word for it.
Perhaps you might propose instead that it is possible to have a universe where a contradiction could communicate something, where it could actually describe something that we can experience or imagine. But since we all see that we do not live in such a universe, since we cannot even imagine it, it doesn't matter if it is possible. More sophisticated versions of either TAG or the argument from reason claim that this inability to experience or imagine a contradiction may simply be a limitation in our construction, or an error in our brain or senses. But if something can affect us in any way, it follows that we can experience it, and thus imagine it, by reference to that effect. If something existed that could never, even in principle, affect us in any way, its existence would be of no consequence to us. More importantly, no kind of sensation could ever experience that thing, because to sense something is, by definition, to be affected by it in some way. Thus it follows that even a god could not make us capable of sensing something that can never affect us. All he could do is make it affect us. Thus, the argument that we are missing some feature of reality is moot--so long as any part of reality can affect us, we can experience it.

If we should discover the ability to imagine and communicate contradictions, we would simply change the way we thought about things, just as we did when the axioms of non-Euclidean geometry were discovered. There is thus nothing that needs to be accounted for here. Logic is explained by what we observe, and it arises automatically the moment we try to create a set of rules for describing those observations. And since reason amounts to nothing more than communicating with ourselves, reason can only exist when we actually communicate something, even if only to ourselves, and such communication is only possible if we construct and use a logic.

There is something more fundamental than that, however: all language begins with discrimination between things that are the same and things that are not, and so if language exists, it follows that the universe has things that are the same and things that are not, which is the very reality that "non-contradiction" refers to. This is even more obvious in the case of inductive inference, where the entire structure of inferential arguments is justified solely and entirely by prior experience: by recalling the reliability of all prior inductive reasoning, we conclude that it works. After all, no one believes that inductive inferences are guaranteed to always work--by definition, they only suggest, they do not "prove" in the same sense deductive inferences do. But either way, why are we justified in trusting inferences? Because they work. Period. Experience completely explains logic, and completely justifies it--as well as it can ever be justified. So why must we look for some other "ground" for reason?

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