Monday, March 23, 2009

Another "Does Science Make Belief in God Obsolete" Post

It will be interesting to see if this attracts any comments on the Templeton Foundation's "Big Questions" site. I know that I noted that I'd post again around May 15, but this condenses Peirce's idea better than my previous post on this argument. I'll be reading through background info on this argument in the meantime. I will post further "conversation" on this topic, if it arises. Otherwise, posts will resume by 5/15.

RE: Whole Series
Tracy Witham
From C.S. Peirce's point of view, science confirms the God hypothesis. If we entertain the idea that an analogue of mind is suggested by the universe, the only way to test the hypothesis is to investigate the world in a way that sees to what extent it does conform to human understanding. Thus, the ongoing march of science is the basis for belief in God.

But Peirce was careful to separate the reality of God from an understanding of God that supposes God's "[reacting] with other like things in the environment," which he called "fetishism" ("A Neglected Argument for the Reality of God"). If so, neither can the kind of understanding science provides undermine Peirce's God hypothesis.

Peirce begins with a simple analogy that suggests the reality of God; the operation of science confirms it in the only possible way; and yet the analogy cannot be critiqued by science without implying "fetishism." This fine little conundrum deserves a name: how about "Peirce's Pretty Pickle"?

Saturday, March 21, 2009

On Religious Right

How can "being religious" be about "being right" if it means believing that something greater than you or I can understand requires us to affirm each other?

If the creeds of my faith are ways of affirming that something greater than I can understand makes that demand of me, then I believe in those creeds. If not, then not. I do affirm that something greater than I can understand requires that of me. That is my creed.

Friday, March 20, 2009

I'll Be Back at Metaponderance by 5/15

Ice will be out on Minnesota's lakes in a couple of weeks!!!!! That along with the annual meeting for my little company coming up in May means I need to focus on prototypes and presentations. I look forward to returning to blogging on 5/15, or so. Here are some things I'll be thinking about between now and then.

1. Is sacrifice essential to faith? And if so, what kind or kinds?

2. Where does religious authority come from? and where should it?

3. What, if anything, is unique to faith, and is it essential? And,

4. We'll revisit Peirce's "Neglected Argument" with the hopes of making the name a misnomer--or at least determining whether it deserves better.

There is a provisional theological circle forming in my mind around these topics, so we'll see what happens.

Best wishes till May!


Monday, March 16, 2009

Peirce's "Suggestion" of God

Peirce's "A Neglected Argument for the Reality of God" has two very interesting features:

1. It overturns the usual view that science and belief in God are at odds.

And 2. It has a one-way valence with respect to logical entailment. It will be helpful to review the latter before moving on. Peirce claimed that an analogue of mind is "suggested" by the universal feature of a scientific understanding of the universe, that it provides for "later stages in earlier ones." (Peirce, "A Neglected Argument for the Reality of God.") Presumably he meant to call attention to the fact that both human understanding and the universe proceed by "working towards" their "conclusions." And to use Chomsky's words, quoted in the comment to the previous post, "...our mental constitution permits us to arrive at knowledge of the world insofar as our innate capacity to create theories happens to match some aspect of the structure of the world." ("On Interpreting the World" in Problems of Knowledge and Freedom, p. 20.) Presumably, then, the human mind's unfolding understanding of the world and the world's unfolding that the human mind studies share common features. Peirce's God hypothesis simply notes this.

But in noting "this," how could anyone reach a deeper understanding of the "suggestion," or "hypothesis" in order to critique it? The clear problem is that the needed commonality that supports the suggestion underlies any ability to critique itself. Stated metaphorically, we can't get "behind" the point of view that Peirce uses to suggest his God hypothesis, and yet every explanation that science does succeed in making furthers the suggestion. The valence is, therefore, one-way.

But the argument is a form of the teleological argument, only brought to the level of the core assumption of any ability of ours to understand the world. As such it bears some similarity to the critique of the fine tuning argument by way of the anthropic principle.

My aim in this (last) post on Peirce's argument is to eliminate a reason why a scholar looking at it might discount its worth prior to examining it carefully. (And my hope in posting on it here is to do my small part in drawing attention to it as possibly an important--but "Neglected," as Peirce claimed--argument.

But those who critique the fine tuning argument by way of the anthropic principle do so by suggesting that we shouldn't be surprised to live in a universe finely adapted to supporting human life: Otherwise we wouldn't be here! Therefore the apparent improbability of such fine tuning has no implicative force (and I am being simplistic with the purpose of just "suggesting" the argument here). See here.

But that move will not work to critique Peirce's argument. For to claim that any universe that we can understand will have to share basic features with the human mind is exactly Peirce's point: the universe suggests an analogue of mind--in fact human understanding of the universe implies it.

That the universe works like a mind cannot be doubted by a mind that claims to understand the universe. And a mind that doesn't claim to understand the universe cannot comment. One-way valence.

How strong is the suggestion? That question implies the ability to critique the "suggestion," which is precisely what cannot be done by a mind that assumes it.

That's why the suggestion of God cannot be eliminated...

Friday, March 13, 2009

A Fascinating Feature of Peirce's "Neglected Argument"

C. S. Peirce’s “A Neglected Argument for the Reality of God” possess this extraordinary feature: It blocks critique on the level at which it is presented. That feature is at once, potentially, a troubling and/or exciting feature of the argument. It deserves our attention.

Recall the core of the extremely short presentation from last week.

A universal feature of our scientific understanding of the universe is “its provision for later stages in earlier ones.”1

This line of reflection “will inevitably suggest the hypothesis of God’s Reality.”2 (By “God” here Peirce meant “an analogue of mind.”3)

Since you can refer back to the previous post, I will get right to the extraordinary feature, and to make it stand out, I will present it in the starkest possible terms.

The extraordinary feature becomes apparent when we review how science confirms Peirce’s “God hypothesis.”

The only way to confirm the hypothesis that an analogue of mind is suggested by the universe’s “provision for later stages in earlier ones,” is to examine it to the best of one’s ability to see whether it conforms to human understanding. Thus, the success of science becomes the basis for belief in God.

Peirce, however, was careful to separate the Reality of God from this misunderstanding: that God “reacts with other like things in the environment,” which he called “fetishism.”5

But if so, neither can the kind of understanding science provides undermine the God hypothesis. For that would be to analyze the God hypothesis at the logical level of fetishism. (See comments for further explanation.)

Consequently, Peirce’s argument advances a hypothesis that science and only science can support, but cannot critique.

Peirce sometimes calls his “Argument” a “suggestion”; other times a “hypothesis”; it is in fact a hypothesis based on an analogy. He goes into some depth, actually, to explain the “retroductive”—-yes, yet another word for it--reasoning used in this “Argument” as a form of what he elsewhere called “an appeal to one’s own instinct, which is to argument what substance is to shadow…”6

In summary, Peirce begins with an analogy, and science supports it, but cannot critique it without falling into “fetishism.” That's the "feature." If I were to write a monograph explicating the idea, I would call it "The Flaming Sword of God" to make use of the Genesis Chapter 3 metaphor.

In the following comment to the Templeton Foundation’s Big Question site on “Does Science Make Belief in God Obsolete” I suggested that the Foundation might “assign an investigation of Peirce’s view to a real scholar." (I had actually posted the comment with the thought that it was for internal use, not public, and addressed it to “The Editors” of the site to explicitly make that designation. After the fact I realized that it is customary for publications to post letters “To the Editor.” If my web readers think that in meeting me they would be impressed by my evident brilliance, keep that in mind. :-) That said, this post shows that my hubris is tenacious: I fear that any “real scholar” who evaluates of Peirce’s argument may very well miss the “extraordinary feature” I just pointed out. That's the reason for this post. At any rate, it will be interesting to see whether anything comes of this.)

RE: Whole Series

Tracy Witham
I just came across an article by the founder of pragmatism, C.S. Peirce, titled "A Neglected Argument for the Reality of God." Its content is tremendously relevant to this conversation. Peirce thought that "many of the [scientists] of [his] generation" believed in the reality of God, without knowing it. Why? Because "the discoveries of science, [with] their enabling us to predict what will be the course of nature, is proof conclusive that . . . we can catch a fragment of [God's] thought."

Peirce's view follows from his claim that a universal feature of our scientific understanding is "its provision for later stages in earlier ones" and from his view that the statement in quotes entails an analogue of mind, and therefore God. In Peirce's view, science is the confirmation of the God hypothesis. Since a famed philosopher of science and the founder of America's only native philosophy framed a view of the relationship of science and God that turns your "Big Question" upside down, I thought you'd like to know about it.

It's an idea that brings to mind Paul Davies's "The Mind of God" and Einstein's famous statement to the effect that the most incomprehensible thing about the universe is its comprehensibility. So the idea's been around, but Peirce was correct in calling it a neglected argument. It deserves better. Maybe someone at your foundation should assign an investigation of Peirce's view to a real scholar. My guess is that people of good will on all sides could applaud it.

1. Charles Sanders Peirce, "A Neglected Argument for the Reality of God," here.
2. Ibid.
3. "The Concept of God," in Philosophical Writings of Peirce, (Dover Publications, Inc., New York, 1955) 376.
4. "Neglected."
5. Ibid.
6. "Concept," 377.)

Monday, March 9, 2009

Microclesia: What the World Needs Now

Would you like to see some great thinking about the present world and national crises--energy, environmental, financial, cultural? Or are the problems just too overwhelming? Do yourself a favor and check out John La Grou's blog, Microclesia. The March 3 post with a video of Willie Smit's "TEDTalk" is a good place to start, but don't stop there.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

"A Neglected Argument"

God Doesn't Exist, but Is Real

As this quote from Charles Sanders Peirce states, saying that God is real but does not exist seems like "overscrupulosity," but it has important implications: "I...take the liberty of substituting 'reality' for 'existence.' This is perhaps overscrupulosity; but I myself always use exist in its strict philosophical sense of 'react with the other like things in the environment.' Of course, in that sense it would be fetishism to say that God exists." ("The Concept of God," in Philosophical Writings of Peirce, ed. Justus Buchler (Dover Publications, Inc., New York, 1955) p. 375.)

Whether one calls it "fetishism" or not, the important point is that from the workings of the world we cannot detect the hand of God in operation. Therefore, no "argumentation" (distinct from "argument" in Peirce's lexicon) about God is possible; that is, no specific understanding of the operation of the world of the kind science gives us can terminate in a conclusion implicating God as in, "Therefore God must have begun or entered the causal sequence leading to this observable effect." This view makes "creation science" oxymoronic.

But, surprisingly, it does not eliminate a kind of "argument" (distinct from "argumentation" in Peirce's lexicon) for God's reality from being used.

"Arguments," Not "Argumentations," Can Be Made for God's Reality

"An 'Argument' is any process of thought reasonably tending to produce a definite belief. An 'argumentation' is an Argument proceeding upon definitely formulated premises." (From "A Neglected Argument for the Reality of God." Public domain.) See here.

The point here is that as soon as one gets specific about the idea that God is real, one changes from a (legitimate) argument to (illegitimate) argumentation. This follows from the view that by using "definitely formulated premises" one references specific aspects of the world that must be explained by God. This lands one's "argumentation" in the sphere of oxymoronic "creation science."

Yet that seems to leave any possibility for acceptable "arguments" in a very weak position. How can an argument that lacks specificity produce any conclusion that isn't too vague to be of use? After all, Peirce did define "An argument" as "any process of thought reasonably tending to produce a definite belief." ("Neglected," Part I.)

To "A Neglected Argument"

To answer that objection, it is best to actually present Peirce's "argument."

(a) The study of metaphysical problems runs into difficulties "that logical analysis will not suffice to solve. Some of the best [metaphysicians] will be motivated by a desire to comprehend universe-wide aggregates of unformulated but partly experienced phenomena." ("Neglected," Part I)

(b) A universal feature of our scientific understanding of the universe is "its provision for later stages in earlier ones." ("Neglected," Part I.)

(c) This line of reflection "will inevitably suggest the hypothesis of God's Reality." ("Neglected," Part I.)

That's it, and I must confess that when I read through the argument--not having any "that's it" to notify me of its passing--I continued reading on as if there must be more. Well, in a sense there is, in the form of how it is that the hypothesis of God is "suggested." But before we turn to that, it is important to recall one thing and note another.

Recall that Peirce informs us that it is fetishism to think of God functioning within the causal nexus of the world, thereby making any definite formulation of God's action in the world a misunderstanding to begin with. From that we cannot be surprised to see no "argument" set forth that uses specific attributes of the world or arguments depending on specific understandings of the world. Defending his approach, Peirce wrote, "[Those] who are given to defining too much inevitably run themselves into confusion in dealing with the vague concepts of common sense." (Concept, p. 376.) To state the obvious, perhaps, Peirce puts God's "Reality" in the sphere of common sense. And to designate the "confusion" to which Peirce refers, it is that of logical levels: If one begins an argument on the level of the specifics of the kind that science can analyze and investigate, one must end it on that level. But to do so is to leave God out of the question: Peirce's very point.

Consequently--and this is the point I wanted to note--any idea that is supported by scientific understanding is, by that fact, not supported by faith. It would seem, then, that if one has faith in God that one does not do so on the basis of any specific information that science relates. (Note too, that the possibility of general metaphysical ideas related to God's Reality are not thereby placed out of bounds.)

"Suggesting" the Reality of God...

Peirce made the outlandish-sounding statement "that pretty nearly everybody [does believe in the Reality of God]...including many of the scientific men of my generation who are accustomed to think the belief is entirely unfounded." (Concept, p. 375.)

How could that be? First, they correctly observe that "Argumentation" in Peirce's sense cannot conclude in God's existence. And second, they do not understand that the God of common sense is suggested by an understanding of the world that contains no "Argumentation."

Peirce explains this common sense suggestion of God's Reality in his account of pragmaticism's (sic--the term replaced "pragmatism" when Peirce's idea became popular and he lost control of its meaning) answer to the meaning of "God." "...just as long acquaintance with a man of great character may deeply influence one's whole manner of contemplation and study of the psysico-psychical universe can imbue a man with principles of conduct analogous to the influence of a great man's works or conversation, then that analogue of a mind--for it is impossible to say that any human attribute is literally applicable--is what he means by 'God.'" (Concept, p. 376.)

Does this "suggestion" escape the trap--in Peirce's view at least--of originating in some definite attribute of the world that God is held to "explain"? His point is that as we can recognize the cast of a strong mind's effect on the world without being able, even in principle, to say precisely what or how that cast of mind produces its effect, since it is bound up with a holistic impression of a person's character and cast of mind, so we can get from the world as a whole an impression of "that analogue of a mind..." called God. (Peirce's "argument" above that it is universal to our understanding of the universe that "its provision for later stages [is found] in earlier ones" was framed as indicating that the world depicts development or "growth." As such the universe is open-ended, a feature that I think Peirce wanted his readers to align with the open-ended development of a human mind--which makes his "suggestion" (analogy) stronger: a human mind is open to the future, in which its freedom lies, and so the universe seems to us. But it would be unrealistic to try to critique this "suggestion" in any further detail here. It is enough to show that it has initial credibility.)

Still, how does that show that "many of the scientific men of [Peirce's] generation" believed in the Reality of God while opining that they did not? "...the discoveries of science, their enabling us to predict what will be the course of nature, is proof conclusive that, though we cannot think any thought of God's, we can catch a fragment of His Thought..." (Concept, p. 376.) What he means here is that if we entertain the hypothesis that an analogue of mind is suggested by the universe, then the only way to confirm that suggested hypothesis is to experience the world in a way that conforms to our minds': When we predict the course of nature, that is just what we do. The ongoing march of science is the basis, in Peirce's analysis, for belief in God: Science is the confirmation of the God hypothesis.

One almost cannot fail to recall Einstein's famous opinion that the most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is comprehensible. Peirce's argument can be reduced to the simple fact that the universes comprehensibility can be taken to suggest an analogue of mind--in just the way that Paul Davies' best seller, The Mind of God, used the "suggestion" or analogy a few years back. But what i enjoyed most about coming to terms with Peirce's view of God is this, it turns the Templeton Foundation's Big Question, "Does Science Make Belief in God Obsolete?" on its head. To investigate Peirce's point of view we would have to ask, "Does Science Make Belief in God More Credible?"

A Last Point

In thinking through these kinds of ideas there is a continual--for me at least--awareness of how the thoughts bear on traditional religious beliefs. Here the view that God is seen as a fetishism if his presence is thought to be found in the nexus of cause and effect in the world. What is left out in this view is that it would be possible for God to create new forms of being without violating Peirce's view. The New Heaven and the New Earth and spiritual bodies all conform to that possibility. Keith Ward has some interesting things to say in that regard, which might, for that reason come up in future posts.

As ever, I am posting this without taking the time to proof it. Sorry, and I can only hope that my haste doesn't make the ideas unreadable--because they are worth thing about. On a brighter note, I see that my first attempt at creating a link worked. So just maybe I'll get better at this!

Monday, March 2, 2009

Planting One's Foot in One's Mouth as Revelation

There are layers of our experience that lie deep enough for us to be unaware of them, till they surprise in an unguarded moment or during an emotional outburst. Those times can be revelations. They reveal ourselves in ways that we would otherwise hide to others or even ourselves. A word spoken in anger; an untimely laugh; or a Freudian slip can expose an inappropriate undercurrent of thought. Today I have a particular instance of foot-in-mouth disease in mind. I performed the psycho-social contortion last summer.

I will give an account of it here because doing so will place my appreciation of Paul Tillich's thought on a very personal level. Tillich's shorthand definition of faith is "ultimate concern." Clearly, one's ultimate concern is the animating core of who we are as conscious, intelligent beings. That's what it means, and by defining faith as ultimate concern he designated it as that which forms the animating center of our personal life--that than which nothing can affect us more personally. (Of course in the context of a post relating moments of unwitting personal revelation, it must be admitted that what we assume to be our ultimate concern may be burlesqued in a moment of passion or vulnerability to be different than we had thought--which is to say that it is entirely possible that a person fails to understand her- or himself in the most radical possible way. But we set that possibility aside here, since it is difficult to write about something that one does not realize to be the case.)

I must set the stage for the faux pas. My wife and I used to attend a Bible study with a group of people, most of whom share an interest in music and cooking with us. We still go to Christmas and Valentine's Day parties and summer picnics with the group and count ourselves to be graced by the wonderful persons we have met through the study. One couple--Jim and Jennifer--started getting together with my wife and me when Jim and I were conscripted to cook for the Valentine's Day party and we decided that we should test our recipes in advance. (Jim has worked as a baker and I as a cook.) Because Jennifer is a talented musician, and I went to college years ago with a failed determination to become one, there is that connection too, in addition to a love of theology and philosophy that all four of us share to one degree or another.

Imagine, then, hearing me say aloud during a meal hosted in Jim and Jennifer's home that I used to be interested in gourmet food and fine music. In the first place, it branded me as a boor. Second, it contradicted the common interests on which the blossoming friendship we as couple's were sharing was based. Third, it seemed to indicate that I had found our friends' interests to be somehow beneath me. And last, it was just plain stupid and insensitive. It's the kind of remark that is difficult even to apologize for, since it's so wildly obtuse. "I apologize to you for being acquainted with me."

So how does a bright person find himself saying something so bizarre? The facts of my biography stated above can account for it. For a time during my young adulthood I wanted to be a musician more than anything else. Paul Tillich would have called that my "ultimate concern." When that didn't happen, despite my best efforts, I turned from my actual ultimate concern to the one sanctioned by by upbringing, and decided to go to seminary. But in the course of preparation that I entered into for seminary, my faith was undercut, leaving me skeptical, cynical, disappointed, and disillusioned. My almost involuntary reaction was to make philosophy my ultimate concern in a reactionary determination not to be duped or disappointed again. I have referred to myself as an amateur philosopher in the past, but more accurately I have been more desperate for wisdom than a lover of it. It is Tillich's connection of my personal history to the hinges of past ultimate concerns that best accounts for the twists and turns of my life--including the occasional foot-in-mouth remark that begs for an accounting.

Very simply, as the conversation turned to interests my wife and I share with Jim and Jennifer, the wounds of lost hopes and dreams and faith welled up and reminded me not to be too taken in. "I used to be interested..." I said to persons who had presumed that I shared a passionate interest with them. A boorish, foolish comment. On another level an honest, understandable one.

It is central to Paul Tillich's thought that only an ultimate concern that opens us outward to others and the world in a spirit of good will can fulfill us as human beings. By contrast, anything that limits our ability to remain outwardly focused in a spirit of love for others and the world leaves us diminished. Music, food, theology, philosophy, friends, and any of thousands of other good things and pursuits can be ways of expressing love and concern and good will. In that case they can be fulfilling. But they can become our focus in a way that we look to them to fulfill us. They can become our ultimate concern. In that case we will be disappointed, and my personal history, including an occasional inappropriate remark, bears that out.

The Ten Commandments begin by directing us to have no Gods before God and to make no idols. Tillich saw his thought as an extrapolation of those commands: "[That] is what ultimate concern means..." (Dynamics of Faith, p. 3.) The gospel story can best be seen, according to this hermeneutic, as Jesus' refusal to become a national idol so that he could depict the real end of human life, agape love. Every once in a while I say something so foolish that I give myself an opportunity to meditate on the wisdom of that message.