Stray thoughts: congressional review of state secrets »« Causes, creations and preconditions

How do we know?

Picking up where we left off yesterday, we’ve seen that Pastor Stephen Feinstein would be ill-advised to propose that there are any material preconditions for the universe, “reasonable standards,” and epistemology. That which exists in the same form at all points in time is necessarily uncaused and uncausable, since there’s no point in time where it was not already what it is now, and therefore no opportunity for it to be changed from “non-existent” to “existing.” The laws of physics, the laws of logic and reason, the fundamental material aspects of the space-time continuum, and so on, are all uncreatable and have no material preconditions.

That leaves logical preconditions, i.e. the relationship between A and B that allows us to say B cannot be true if A is false, and thus if B is true then we know A must be true also. Given that there is no possibility that the universe, “reasonable standards” and epistemology could have supernatural causes, can we nevertheless reason our way from B (the universe, reasonable standards, and epistemology) back to some A that must also be true? Can we, in other words, find Pastor Stephen’s logical preconditions for the existence of the universe, reason, and epistemology?

Before we answer that, let me first raise a point about the difference between a pantheistic God and a creator God. A pantheistic God is a God whose nature and extent coincide with the nature and extent of reality itself: everything that actually exists is ultimately an aspect of God, and nothing exists apart from the various aspects of God. With a pantheistic God, there is no difference between the nature of God and the nature of reality because they are literally the same thing, (and if you do have a pantheistic God then you’ll find no better priest than a scientist, even if that scientist is an atheist).

A creator God, by contrast, is an entity that is somewhat less than reality itself. That is to say, a creator God has to exist within the larger context of a reality which contains some things that are God and some things that are not God. By being separate and distinct from His/Her/Its/Their creations, the creator God(s) necessarily exist as part of a larger whole. That’s important, for reasons we shall see shortly.

The next point to consider is the principle that real world truth is consistent with itself. This is a two-fold self-consistency: negatively, it means that real world truth does not contradict itself, and positively it means that real world truth is cohesive and coherent, i.e. all the different aspects of the truth are related to one another in ways that allow us to start from one fact and proceed to another. This self-consistency is the necessary and sufficient precondition for the universe, for reason and reasonable standards, and for a working and reliable epistemology. Plus if we think about it, we can even rule out the possibility that a non-pantheistic God could be a logical or material precondition for our universe/reason/epistemology.

Just to clarify, though, when we talk about self-consistent real world truth, we’re talking about reality itself—not just ideas and perceptions about a thing, but the actual thing itself, as it exists independently of our perceptions of it. Self-consistent real world truth is reality, and “to exist” means to be part of this unified, cohesive whole. Whatever is not part of this self-consistent whole is, by definition, neither true nor real.

This quality of reality is what makes reliable epistemology possible. Despite any possible flaws in our perceptions, our real world experiences are experiences of this self-consistent real world truth. We may misinterpret our perceptions and overlay them with conceptual patterns that are not consistent with the truth, but the root causes of our perceptions are still bound to self-consistent real world truth that is their source, and thus continued observations and experiences will reinforce the correctness of our accurate perceptions and interpretations, and the contradictions and inconsistencies of our untrue perceptions and interpretations. Remember, we ourselves are also part of the same cohesive, self-consistent reality we are perceiving!

Thus, the universe, reason and reasonable standards, and epistemology, all have the same precondition: the existence of self-consistent real world truth. If self-consistent real world truth did not exist (i.e. if a cohesive and non-self-contradictory reality did not exist), then not only would meaning be impossible, but existence itself would be. If reality does not exist, then obviously nothing, not even God, can be a part of that reality.

In fact, we can’t really even discuss what conditions would be like in such a world, because its nature would make any meaningful discussion impossible. Imagine if real-world truth were not self-consistent, and if the contradiction of the truth no longer meant “false,” and if there were no longer any meaningful distinction between “X exists” and “X does not exist.” Can we describe what did or did not exist in such a universe? Even our material universe would be impossible, because how could any physical laws exist in a cosmos where there was no way to make a meaningful distinction between obeying the law and violating it?

Under such conditions, it would no longer be meaningful to speak of there being any God or Gods, nor would it mean anything to speak of any preconditions for anything else. Not only would God have no meaningful existence, but meaning itself would not exist. To experience such a world would be the same as not experiencing it, or experiencing something that was not the real world (assuming the phrase “the real world” could signify anything under such conditions). Such a world would be unknowable and unworkable, being simultaneously the negation of itself and irrelevant to itself.

The existence of self-consistent real world truth is the logical precondition for the existence of the universe, for reason and reasonable standards, and for epistemology, because if the former does not exist then the latter cannot either. Now, let’s consider our non-pantheistic God. Can He/She/It/They be the precondition for the self-consistency of real world truth? No, because His/Her/Its/Their own existence is contingent on the existence of a greater, self-consistent reality of which God Himself is only a part. A pantheistic God could be a precondition by virtue of being synonymous with the self-consistent reality itself, but a creator God must be a part of a greater whole, and the self-consistency of the whole must reside in the whole itself, and not in any lesser part like God. Otherwise there’s no way for God’s own existence to be consistent with the greater reality of the real world.

I’ll grant you, that’s a lot of stuff for one blog post, and I’m really only skimming the surface here. But that’s a taste, at least, of the reasons why Pastor Stephen’s argument is going to fail. His God is a non-pantheistic God, and his attempt to sabotage epistemology is only an attempt to block out the nagging of a reality that keeps reminding him that his God doesn’t really exist outside his own head. Truth—meaning the real world truth as it exists outside of our perceptions of it—is consistent with itself, and this self-consistency both defines what it means to exist and exposes his God’s failure to do so.