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!

1 comment:

Richard Beck said...

Hi Tracy,
Thanks for pointing me to this post. Of the American pragmatists the only one I haven't read is Pierce. And he's generally considered to be the most brilliant of the lot. His argument here is intriguing. I don't have anything by way of addition, but it has given me something to chew on.