Jump to content

Do You Believe In An “a Priori” God?


pandora
 Share

Recommended Posts

Do you believe in an “a priori” God?

 

Many moderate Christians reject intelligent design as science in favor of evolution. So how exactly do they justify their belief in God? Many use a priori arguments—clever feats of mental gymnastics that are designed to be immune to evidence and thus as indestructible as The Great Pyramids. But are they logically valid, or is atheist Sam Harris correct to describe them as "Ponzi schemes"?

 

Side note: In case you're wondering as I initially did, a Ponzi scheme is a form of investment fraud that promises huge returns but relies on other investors and not on actual profits. You might have heard the synonymous term pyramid scheme—and about the investment pyramids that have famously collapsed under their own weight.

 

Pascal's Wager

 

As an example of an a priori argument, let's take Pascal's Wager. Blaise Pascal suggested that we should believe in God and accept Christianity because it's a safe bet. After all, according to decision theory, if we're right, then we receive an eternal reward—and if we're wrong, we lose nothing. But if we fail to accept Christianity and we are wrong, then we are eternally punished.

 

In a 1992 episode of that brilliant philosophical treatise known as The Simpsons, Homer the Heretic pointed out the absurdity of Pascal's Wager to his wife Marge:

 

Homer: Whats the big deal about going to some building every Sunday? I mean, isn't God everywhere?

Bart: Amen, brother!

Homer: And don't you think the almighty has better things to do than wonder where one guy spends one measly hour of his week?

Bart: Tell it, daddy!

Homer: And what if we've picked the wrong religion? Every week we're just making God madder and madder!

Bart: (claps and waves his arms) Testify!

 

Outside of the obvious heresy of gambling with God, it doesn't take long to see that Pascal's Wager is an argumentum ad consequentiam (or appeal to consequences) fallacy. Pascal was indifferent to the truth in his religion, he only cared about its eternal risks and rewards. Obviously, Pascal's Wager is more scheme than pyramid.

 

Kierkegaard's existential leap of faith

 

Perhaps less seedy than Pascal's Wager but no less absurd is Søren Kierkegaard's existential leap of faith. Kierkegaard reasoned that because religion is a realm in which reason can't successfully operate that we must rely on faith to make decisions about the supernatural. Many religious scientists make this claim as well. The problem for Kierkegaard and those scientists is that matters of faith aren't true/false questions—they're multiple choice.

 

Let's run with Kierkegaard for a moment. Suppose I agree to make a leap of faith and believe in God. But which God? Yahweh? Allah? Brahma? I think Richard Dawkins said it best when he wrote:

 

Today, everyone takes it for granted that we are all atheists with respect to Thor and Wotan, Zeus and Poseidon, Mithras and Ammon Ra.

 

Although we might find it crazy now, at one point in history people had faith that these gods were real. Apparently, all of us apply truth tests of one sort or another when choosing a God to worship or not to worship, so faith is insufficient reason to believe anything, and humans have never really exempted supernatural ideas from scrutiny. Using faith as a foundation will cause your pyramid of reason to collapse.

 

Anselm's ontological argument

 

Finally, there's the ontological argument. It's essentially a trick of semantics suggesting that because we can understand the idea of God that God must exist. According to St. Anselm:

 

Therefore, if that than which nothing greater can be conceived exists in the understanding alone, the very being than which nothing greater can be conceived is one than which a greater can be conceived. But obviously this is impossible. Hence there is no doubt that there exists a being than which nothing greater can be conceived, and it exists both in the understanding and in reality.

 

This, I grant you, is heady stuff. Yet I believe the ontological argument is an argumentum ad logicam (or "argument from fallacy") fallacy. Because St. Anselm began by equivocating actuality with possibility (a fallacy unto itself), he jumped to a conclusion that wasn't really there. Indeed, Immanuel Kant pointed out the primary equivocation behind Anselm's argument:

 

There is already a contradiction in introducing the concept of existence—no matter under what title it may be disguised—into the concept of a thing which we profess to be thinking solely in reference to its possibility.

 

Worse yet, I can imagine a supreme being who is morally superior to the one whom theists believe is actually pulling the strings in our universe. Surprisingly, although the ontological argument is an a priori assertion, it too fails to withstand the blows of evidence because it too is a pyramid scheme.

 

Conclusion

 

Why might religious people make these silly arguments? Do they believe that they are persuasive to others? Perhaps. The ontological argument certainly sounds smart. But, more likely, they believe that these arguments immunize their own from the criticisms of atheists like me. They are preaching to the choir, reassuring them that they're smart too and that they've bet on the right horse. Honestly, I think religious apologists have taken a page from the world of marketing:

 

When consumers are involved in a brand purchase but perceive little brand differentiation or lack the ability to judge between competing brands, the advertising should reduce post-purchase dissonance through providing reassurance after the purchase. (Leslie de Chernatony and Malcolm McDonald, Creating Powerful Brands, 1998)

 

So my advice is that we all hone our abilities to differentiate between the quality of different "brands" of religious and philosophical thought, lest we fall victim to a religious pyramid scheme ourselves. Sure, the commissions are great, but the long-term returns may be disappointing.

 

 

My husband wrote that and is looking for feedback. I copied it from his blog that he just started, so some of the formatting may be off.

 

He is welcoming anyone to poke holes in his arguments and critique his writing. :) He's not being facetious, he's just looking for opinions. Thanks!:)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

My husband wrote that and is looking for feedback. I copied it from his blog that he just started, so some of the formatting may be off.

 

He is welcoming anyone to poke holes in his arguments and critique his writing. :) He's not being facetious, he's just looking for opinions. Thanks!:)

Pandora... your husband did a great paper! Thanks for sharing these many insights! :thanks:

 

What if someone believed all things are parts of God, and God is experiencing everything through all things?

 

Additionally, what if there is a part within us that has come to be considered the consciousness of God, or perhaps now just referred to as our actualized self, in that we seek to achieve a meaning and purpose in life that makes us joyful as it also reflects a reverence for life and earth?

 

Could an ALL inclusive God be found in recognizing ALL being part of the one?

 

Once a poster on here said about God, 'it is what it is.' :shrug:

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Once a poster on here said about God, 'it is what it is.' :shrug:

 

To which another poster replied, "which is nothing."

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Once a poster on here said about God, 'it is what it is.' :shrug:

 

To which another poster replied, "which is nothing."

Yes, which is profound in itself. The first error is trying to perceive what this nothing is. It doesn't mean it isn't there because then, how would we recognize something? Can consciousness project itself and become a object of inquiry? Who would be inquiring? :shrug:

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Your husband should participate in these forums. I would enjoy discussions with him. I think this is well written. I'll take a shot at one point here:

 

Kierkegaard's existential leap of faith

 

Perhaps less seedy than Pascal's Wager but no less absurd is Søren Kierkegaard's existential leap of faith. Kierkegaard reasoned that because religion is a realm in which reason can't successfully operate that we must rely on faith to make decisions about the supernatural. Many religious scientists make this claim as well. The problem for Kierkegaard and those scientists is that matters of faith aren't true/false questions—they're multiple choice.

 

Let's run with Kierkegaard for a moment. Suppose I agree to make a leap of faith and believe in God. But which God? Yahweh? Allah? Brahma? I think Richard Dawkins said it best when he wrote:

 

Today, everyone takes it for granted that we are all atheists with respect to Thor and Wotan, Zeus and Poseidon, Mithras and Ammon Ra.

 

Although we might find it crazy now, at one point in history people had faith that these gods were real. Apparently, all of us apply truth tests of one sort or another when choosing a God to worship or not to worship, so faith is insufficient reason to believe anything, and humans have never really exempted supernatural ideas from scrutiny. Using faith as a foundation will cause your pyramid of reason to collapse.

 

What was Kiekegaard and other existentialists really driving at? That their God was the one true God and all others are false? I'm not sure that's the intent of existentialism. It's not so much about finding accurate knowledge, as it is about finding meaning. A leap of faith is what follows a choice to believe, for the sake of belief, at least how I seem to see it. Neo Orthodoxy is what came from this, and what Fundamentalism was born as a counter to that.

 

Fundamentalists hate the term leap of faith, because it's premise declares that belief in God is irrational. A "Leap of Faith" is about choosing irrationality for the sake of finding meaning, which in itself is a "truth".

 

Existentialism was born to counter Positivism and Rationalism:

 

Emphasizing action, freedom, and decision as fundamental, existentialists oppose themselves to rationalism and positivism. That is, they argue against definitions of human beings as primarily rational. Rather, existentialists look at where people find meaning. Existentialism asserts that people actually make decisions based on what has meaning to them rather than what is rational.

I guess what I'm getting at is that not everyone approaches religion as the search for historical/scientific facts. Whether it's factual or not is an irrelevent question.

 

With that in mind, is the premise of finding meaning outside a purely rationalistic approach building your life on a house of cards, or a pyramid scheme in your analogy? A great many theist and atheist alike disagree with that, which would include names like Jean Paul Satre, Albert Camus, Nietzsche, and Kirgegaard.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 1 month later...
Guest bruce_p

Hi there....n00b in town.

 

My position is kind of a blend of the existential position of Kirkegaard's and the ontological position. The best example of the existential position would be found in the book/movie "Contact" by Carl Sagan. The astronaut had experienced "something" but there was no empirical data to support her claims. All she had was her experience and a period of time of white noise - unaccounted time.

 

The way I look at the ontological position is that in many people there's a "God-shaped void". I'd point to the schmaltzy book "The Purpose-Driven Life" by Rick Warren. This book was hardly a brilliant treatise of theology, but what it does point to is that based upon its sales, one could infer that people are searching for something larger than themselves - and something which things, relationships, ideologies and even religions have failed to satisfy. I understand this could be explained by some evolutionary holdover where it was beneficial to believe in something outside of ourselves during hard times, but I do offer one more experiential defense.

 

I really shouldn't be alive. I deal with bipolar disorder, correction, I have dealt with it for the majority of my life. I've had four or five significant suicide attempts. I've tried pills, I've tried carbon monoxide, I've tried using a garrote on myself. I failed each time.

 

My last period of suicidal ideation was over a year ago. I'd given myself over to atheism due to a number of events which occurred in my life. In December of 2005, I watched the movie "The Chronicles of Narnia" in a theater and I thought to myself "what if this is nothing more than a child's tale". Five days later I was admitted to the hospital because I wished to die by suicide by cop. During this time, I woke up one morning and realized "atheism damn near killed me".

 

Can you pick this apart? Oh I have no doubt that what I have written can be easily dismissed. The only problem is that I cannot.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

You are actually quite easily dismissed. you need a crutch to stop you killing youself in some messy way and that's fine. Don't make it true, just the thing that gets you to the end of the next day.

 

If you'd REALLY meant to kill yourself, you'd have managed it. It sounds to me like you not only have a serious bipolar disorder, also a real drama fixation... even now, it's a case of 'look at me'...

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Hi Bruce P,

 

Welcome to Ex-C. We are a supportive group for those dealing with life's issues and problems. Though, you may get challenged to think, but then we challenge each other also.

 

You seem like a very intellegent person and it's refreshing to see such an analysis of belief without the "Jesus rescued me" analogy. I'm impressed at your sincerity and honesty, as I think everyone who reads your post will be.

 

I think what may be suprising to you is that there are many people here in the forums who have dealt with situations similar to yours and we can offer you support and understanding without any judgement or expecting you to give up your Christianity. That is your decision and yours alone. We respect that.

 

Although, I should add, we are not all a bunch of atheists. We all have differing beliefs; we just are no longer Christian.

 

Again a warm welcome!

 

Taph

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Guest bruce_p

Well, through one post you managed to diagnose the core issues of my life, a priori as it were. I didn't think this was supposed to be a place for ad hominem attacks. I give up! You win!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Grampa Harley,

 

What Bruce is describing is very common to many of our members with mental illness. We've seen this a lot. It's not his fault. We try to be supportive when Christians like him come on the boards, who don't attack us first or make judgements about us.

 

Taph

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Grampa Harley,

 

What Bruce is describing is very common to many of our members with mental illness. We've seen this a lot. It's not his fault. We try to be supportive when Christians like him come on the boards, who don't attack us first or make judgements about us.

 

Taph

since when is a diagnosis an attack? He said it all. As to mental health issues... well the world of being a literal psycho-burnout has been where I live for the past three years. OK, I'm more likely to kill someone than kill myself, but I don't make a great production about it to strangers.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Guest bruce_p

Thank you Taph.

 

The reason I arrived here is that I am less than certain of my own faith. I crave reasonable discourse.

 

And Grampa, an attack on a person's character is an ad hominem attack, at least from the training I've had.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Guest bruce_p

Grampa, I actually do see your point. Too much disclosure on my part, but I felt it was appropriate in that I wished to set the situation up as I see it.

 

The last thing I want to do is to come on a board on the first day and start a fight.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Guest
This topic is now closed to further replies.
 Share

×
×
  • Create New...

Important Information

By using this site, you agree to our Guidelines.