Argument from reason – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Published 5 June 2011 by lordgriggs

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The Argument from Reason is an argument for the existence of God (at least as a supernatural instantiater of human reason) largely developed by C.S. Lewis who once delivered this compendious formulation of the argument:

One absolutely central inconsistency ruins [the popular scientific philosophy]. The whole picture professes to depend on inferences from observed facts. Unless inference is valid, the whole picture disappears… unless Reason is an absolute[,] all is in ruins. Yet those who ask me to believe this world picture also ask me to believe that Reason is simply the unforeseen and unintended by-product of mindless matter at one stage of its endless and aimless becoming. Here is flat contradiction. They ask me at the same moment to accept a conclusion and to discredit the only testimony on which that conclusion can be based.”

C.S. Lewis, Is Theology Poetry

Contents

[edit] The argument

The argument against materialism holds:

  1. For an assertion to be capable of truth or falsehood it must come from a rational source (see explanation below).
  2. No merely physical material or combination of merely physical materials constitute a rational source. (i.e. anti-panpsychism)
  3. Therefore, no assertion that is true or false can come from a merely physical source.
  4. The assertions of human minds are capable of truth or falsehood
  • Conclusion: Therefore, human minds are not a merely physical source (see explanation below).

The argument for the existence of God holds:

  • (5) A being requires a rational process to assess the truth or falsehood of a claim (hereinafter, to be convinced by argument).
  • (6) Therefore, if humans are able to be convinced by argument, their reasoning processes must have a rational source.
  • (7) Therefore, considering element two above, if humans are able to be convinced by argument, their reasoning processes must have a non-physical (as well as rational) source.
  • (8) Rationality cannot arise out of non-rationality. That is, no arrangement of non-rational materials creates a rational thing.
  • (9) No being that begins to exist can be rational except through reliance, ultimately, on a rational being that did not begin to exist. That is, rationality does not arise spontaneously from out of nothing but only from another rationality.
  • (10) All humans began to exist at some point in time.
  • (11) Therefore, if humans are able to be convinced by argument, there must be a necessary and rational being on which their rationality ultimately relies.
  • Conclusion: This being we call God.

[edit] Limits and explanations of the argument

As can be seen, this is not strictly a proof of God’s existence because it requires the assumption that humans can assess the truth or falsehood of claims or, what is the same thing, that humans can be convinced by argument. This may or may not be true, but there is no sense in arguing about it. That is to say, the assumption that humans can assess the truth or falsehood of claims is undeniable because its very denial requires one to assess the truth or falsehood of a claim, namely the assumption itself. The only possible alternatives are either to accept the claim or be content to accept or reject no claims whatsoever. This argument fails to address the validity of human assessment. Assuming that all assessments of truth and falsehood made by humans are valid, and therefore rational. Moreover, the argument assumes panpsychism away as axiomatically false. Thus it is better not be thought of as a proof of God’s existence, but as an attempt to disprove naturalistic materialism. Naturalistic materialism is the worldview held by most atheists and, therefore, the argument often is referenced as a proof of God’s existence.

With regard to element one, for example, the sound made by wind in the trees cannot be true or false because it comes from a non-rational source. The wind in the trees, therefore, is not about anything for which it could be true or false. The statement that a premise is true or false implies an answer to the question “about what?” that non-rational premises cannot possess. For example, the assertion that President Bill Clinton‘s remark “I did not have sexual relations with that woman” is true or false implies that the President’s remark was about something, in this case Clinton’s prior behavior, against which the truth or falsehood of the statement could be tested. If, like the wind in the trees, Clinton’s statement were about nothing, then it could be neither true nor false.

To explain conclusion one in Miracles, Lewis quotes J. B. S. Haldane who appeals to a similar line of reasoning:[1] when he says “If my mental processes are determined wholly by the motions of [physical materials] in my brain, I have no reason to suppose that my beliefs are true … and hence I have no reason for supposing my brain to be composed of [physical materials].” J. B. S. Haldane Possible Worlds, page 209.

This argument further assumes that rationality cannot arise out of non-rationality, element eight. Why not? Why could not material elements at some point have arranged themselves in such a way that rationality would arise?

The answer given is that rationality is something different in kind than physical material. By using one’s reasoning power we by direct power force particles in our brain to move in ways they would not have moved apart from this power. Rationality is the governor not the governed. Particles that before moved only as the result of physical causes now move in response to logical grounds, i.e. rational causes. If they did not, then choice is an illusion because choice implies a decision made for reasons beyond physical compulsion. And thus, if we could not control physical particles rationally, we therefore could not choose whether an assertion is true or false (see element five).

Defenders of the argument believe that one cannot form a combination of one thing to create another which is different in kind from it. As example, say we definitively found that there exists two and only two kinds of irreducible physical particles A and B. One could not combine A with itself to produce B. B is different in kind than A. Similarly, Hume teaches that you cannot reach a conclusion in the imperative mood from premises in the indicative mood (i.e. you can’t get an ought from an is). Assertions in the one mood are different in kind from assertions in the other. Therefore, likewise the rational ability to control matter cannot arise from mere matter itself (i.e. element eight).

The argument claims, even if the universe has always existed and is uncreated, this argument holds that it would not be possible for non-rational materials to arrange themselves in such a way that rationality would arise. Therefore, a rational being that did not begin to exist is required for the assumption that humans can be convinced by argument to be upheld.

Some believe there is a problem with denying element nine. If rationality could spontaneously enter our experience, where would it come from? That is, the denial of element nine implies existence springing forth from non existence, which is impossible (See Aristotle, Metaphysics III, 4, 999b, 8; Arguing that the impossibility that generation should take place from nothing is self-evident).

Some note that the rationality of a computer is not a counter to this argument. A computer derives its rationality from its rational creator, a human mind. The argument holds (element eleven) that human rationality ultimately has a rational source that did not begin to exist, namely God (element twelve). Only rational entities that do not ultimately trace back to a rational being that did not begin to exist run counter to the argument.

Further defenses include, the assertion that, per quantum mechanics, some particles might enter the universe wholly randomly does not thwart the argument. This does not satisfy the need, see element five, for a rational process in order to assess the truth or falsehood of a claim.

The argument does not portend to provide a proof of anything but a non-physical, rational being that did not begin to exist. This is all that is meant by conclusion two.

[edit] Criticism

On 2 February 1948, Elizabeth Anscombe read a paper criticizing the third chapter of C.S Lewis’s Miracles to the Oxford Socratic Club. Anscombe was a student of Wittgenstein, a student of philosophy but also a convert to Catholicism. At the Socratic Club debate, she argued against Lewis’s position: she was not attacking his faith, but the philosophical validity of his argument. Lewis must have accepted the criticisms, since he later rewrote the chapter: changing the title from “Naturalism is Self-Refuting” to the less ambitious “The Cardinal Difficulty of Naturalism.”

According to George Sayer, Lewis’s friend and biographer, Lewis regarded the debate as a defeat, and felt humiliated by it:

He told me that he had been proved wrong, and that his argument for the existence of God had been demolished. …The debate had been a humiliating experience, but perhaps it was ultimately good for him. In the past, he had been too proud of his logical ability. Now he was humbled ….’I can never write another book of that sort’ he said to me of Miracles. And he never did. He also never wrote another theological book. Reflections on the Psalms is really devotional and literary; Letters to Malcolm is also a devotional book, a series of reflections on prayer, without contentious arguments.

Victor Reppert, an American philosopher and proponent of Lewis’ argument, has made the case that Sayer misrepresented the events at Anscombe [2].

Additionally, the Socratic Club did not report such a dramatic and humiliating defeat, merely recording that:

“In general it appeared that Mr. Lewis would have to turn his argument into a rigorous analytic one, if his motion were to stand the test of all the questions put to him.”

Anscombe herself did not remember “humiliating” or “defeating” Lewis. She wrote:

The fact that Lewis rewrote that chapter, and rewrote it so that it now has those qualities, shows his honesty and seriousness. The meeting of the Socratic Club at which I read my paper has been described by several of his friends as a horrible and shocking experience which upset him very much. Neither Dr. Havard (who had Lewis and me to dinner a few weeks later) nor Professor Jack Bennet remembered any such feelings on Lewis’s part… My own recollection is that it was an occasion of sober discussion of certain quite definite criticisms, which Lewis’s rethinking and rewriting showed he thought was accurate. I am inclined to construe the odd accounts of the matter by some of his friends — who seem not to have been interested in the actual arguments of the subject-matter — as an interesting example of the phenomenon called projection.

Elizabeth Anscombe

[edit] Similar views by other philosophers

Philosophers such as Victor Reppert, William Hasker and Alvin Plantinga have expanded on the so-called “Argument from Reason” and credit C.S. Lewis—who called it “The Cardinal Difficulty of Naturalism,” the title of chapter three of the book—with first bringing the argument to light in Miracles.[3]

In short the argument holds that if, as thoroughgoing naturalism entails, all thoughts are the effect of a physical cause, then there is no reason for assuming that they are also the consequent of a reasonable ground. Knowledge, however, is apprehended by reasoning from ground to consequent. Therefore, if naturalism were true, there would be no way of knowing it—or anything else not the direct result of a physical cause—and one could not even suppose it, except by a fluke.[3]

By this logic, the statement “I have reason to believe naturalism is valid” is self-referentially incoherent in the same manner as the sentence “One of the words of this sentence does not have the meaning that it appears to have.” or the statement “I never tell the truth” [4]. That is, in each case to assume the veracity of the conclusion would eliminate the possibility of valid grounds from which to reach it. To summarize the argument in the book, Lewis quotes J. B. S. Haldane who appeals to a similar line of reasoning:[1]

If my mental processes are determined wholly by the motions of atoms in my brain, I have no reason to suppose that my beliefs are true … and hence I have no reason for supposing my brain to be composed of atoms.

J. B. S. Haldane, Possible Worlds, page 209

New York University philosopher Thomas Nagel thinks the argument rules out the coherence of physicalism. He writes in The Last Word[5]:

To put it schematically, the claim “Everything is subjective” must be nonsense, for it would itself have to be either subjective or objective. But it can’t be objective, since in that case it would be false if true. And it can’t be subjective, because then it would not rule out any objective claim, including the claim that it is objectively false.

Arthur Schopenhauer makes a similar claim in The World as Will and Representation

…materialism is the philosophy of the subject who forgets to take account of himself.

Arthur Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Representation, II, Ch. 1

In his essay Is Theology Poetry, Lewis himself summarises the argument in a similar fashion when he writes:

“ If minds are wholly dependent on brains, and brains on biochemistry, and biochemistry (in the long run) on the meaningless flux of the atoms, I cannot understand how the thought of those minds should have any more significance than the sound of the wind in the trees.

Lewis is frequently credited with bringing the argument to prominence; however a roughly contemporaneous version can be found in G.K. Chesterton‘s 1908 book Orthodoxy. In the third chapter, entitled “The Suicide of Thought,” Chesterton elaborates on a very similar argument. He writes:

That peril is that the human intellect is free to destroy itself…It is idle to talk always of the alternative of reason and faith. It is an act of faith to assert that our thoughts have any relation to reality at all. If you are merely a skeptic, you must sooner or later ask yourself the question, “Why should anything go right; even observation and deduction? Why should not good logic be as misleading as bad logic? They are both movements in the brain of a bewildered ape?”

G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, page 25[6]

Similarly Chesterton asserts that the argument is a fundamental, if unstated, tenant of Thomism in his book St. Thomas Aquinas: The Dumb Ox

Thus, even those who appreciate the metaphysical depth of Thomism in other matters have expressed surprise that he does not deal at all with what many now think the main metaphysical question; whether we can prove that the primary act of recognition of any reality is real. The answer is that St. Thomas recognised instantly, what so many modern sceptics have begun to suspect rather laboriously; that a man must either answer that question in the affirmative, or else never answer any question, never ask any question, never even exist intellectually, to answer or to ask. I suppose it is true in a sense that a man can be a fundamental sceptic, but he cannot be anything else: certainly not even a defender of fundamental scepticism. If a man feels that all the movements of his own mind are meaningless, then his mind is meaningless, and he is meaningless; and it does not mean anything to attempt to discover his meaning. Most fundamental sceptics appear to survive, because they are not consistently sceptical and not at all fundamental. They will first deny everything and then admit something, if for the sake of argument–or often rather of attack without argument. I saw an almost startling example of this essential frivolity in a professor of final scepticism, in a paper the other day. A man wrote to say that he accepted nothing but Solipsism, and added that he had often wondered it was not a more common philosophy. Now Solipsism simply means that a man believes in his own existence, but not in anybody or anything else. And it never struck this simple sophist, that if his philosophy was true, there obviously were no other philosophers to profess it.

G.K. Chesterton, St. Thomas Aquinas[7]

The argument is, in effect, one for mind-body dualism. In 21st century philosophic discussion, the argument is closely related to David Chalmers‘s hard problems of consciousness, Jaegwon Kim and the problem of mental causation, and debates concerning the incompatibility of naturalism and free will.

Supposing there was no intelligence behind the universe, no creative mind. In that case, nobody designed my brain for the purpose of thinking. It is merely that when the atoms inside my skull happen, for physical or chemical reasons, to arrange themselves in a certain way, this gives me, as a by-product, the sensation I call thought. But, if so, how can I trust my own thinking to be true? It’s like upsetting a milk jug and hoping that the way it splashes itself will give you a map of London. But if I can’t trust my own thinking, of course I can’t trust the arguments leading to Atheism, and therefore have no reason to be an Atheist, or anything else. Unless I believe in God, I cannot believe in thought: so I can never use thought to disbelieve in God.”

C.S. Lewis, The Case for Christianity

The original version of Miracles contained a different version of chapter 3 entitled “The Self-Contradiction of the Naturalist.” In it, Lewis made virtually the same argument but did not distinguish between physical causes of beliefs and rational grounds of beliefs. He also referred to atomic motions in the brain as “irrational.” In a Socratic Club debate, G.E.M. Anscombe criticized this, accusing him of taking advantage of ambiguous meanings of the words “why”, “because”, and “explanation”, which prompted Lewis to revise the chapter. The revised chapter presents a more detailed elucidation of the argument, distinguishing clearly between the causes of beliefs and the grounds of beliefs, and also changing most uses of “irrational” to “non-rational”. G.E.M. Anscombe commented on the process after Lewis’s death:

The fact that Lewis rewrote that chapter, and rewrote it so that it now has those qualities [to meet Anscombe’s objections], shows his honesty and seriousness. The meeting of the Socratic Club at which I [i.e. Anscombe] read my paper has been described by several of his friends as a horrible and shocking experience which upset him very much. Neither Dr. Harvard (who had Lewis and me to dinner a few weeks later) nor Professor Jack Bennet remembered any such feelings on Lewis’s part […] My own recollection is that it was an occasion of sober discussion of certain quite definite criticisms, which Lewis’s rethinking and rewriting showed he thought was accurate. I am inclined to construe the odd accounts of the matter by some of his friends—who seem not to have been interested in the actual arguments of the subject-matter—as an interesting example of the phenomenon called projection.[8]

[edit] References

  1. ^ a b The Cardinal Difficulty Of Naturalism
  2. ^ John M. Dolan. “G. E. M. Anscombe: Living the Truth”. First Things, 113 (May 2001): 11-13.
  3. ^ a b Victor Reppert C.S. Lewis’s Dangerous Idea. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2003. ISBN 0-8308-2732-3
  4. ^ A Response to Richard Carrier’s Review of C.S. Lewis’s Dangerous Idea
  5. ^ Nagel, Thomas (2001). The Last Word. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0195149831. 
  6. ^ G.K. Chesterton Orthodoxy. New York, New York: Barnes and Noble, Inc., 2007; originally published 1908.
  7. ^ G.K. Chesterton St. Thomas Aquinas.
  8. ^ G. E. M. Anscombe, Metaphysics and the Philosophy of Mind, (1981)

[edit] Further reading

  • John Beversluis C.S. Lewis and the Search for Rational Religion. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. erdmans, 1985. ISBN 0-8028-0046-7
  • C.S. Lewis Miracles. London & Glasgow: Collins/Fontana, 1947. Revised 1960. (Current edition: Fount, 2002. ISBN 0006280943)
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Religious experience is just ones own mental states at workd, and one begs the question by claimng that God uses those states.

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