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Sunday, April 22 2018 @ 05:47 PM CEST

God and Existence

This is a response to Don Berg's Do you believe in time and mind?.

I fear that this will not be a fully cohesive response, as I want to present something in reasonable time, and I think I see some really fundamental confusion in your text.

To start toward the end.

Your knowledge may be superior for certain purposes you subscribe to, but, if the people you claim are ignorant don't share your purposes then your problem is not properly with their a lack of knowledge, its with the purposes they subscribe to such that they know things to be a different way.
Let me note that “properly” seems to be carrying a great deal of weight here, and I think it will need considerably more foundation if it is to support that weight. I would also submit that it is quite simply wrong, in that it seems to confuse ‘ignorance’ with ‘irrelevance’. I have next to no interest in early Christian theology, and thus have no idea what were Augustine’s views on transubstantiation. So far as I know, such has nothing to do with any of my purposes, and so it is irrelevant to me. But that does not change the fact that I am also ignorant. I do happen to know that Augustine was born in North Africa, something that is also irrelevant to me, but which I happened to acquire as a bit of trivia. Moving in the other direction, it is possible that even now a heretofore unknown asteroid has crashed into North Africa and within the next hour my home will be devastated. This would be something about which I am ignorant, though (as it would happen, if it were true) it is very important to my purposes.

When you write

I do not subscribe to the view of children as ignorant in the sense of lacking essential information. I do subscribe to the view that they are independent human beings with their own purposes and have access to a lot less information than older people.
I am just confused, because lacking information is precisely what ‘ignorance’ is. Of course one could argue whether some particular piece of information was or was not “essential” (however one might wish to define that), and perhaps thus whether some particular instance of ignorance was important in some case (or for some purpose), but that is a different issue, and the two should not be equated. I don’t see how there can be any serious question as to whether “knowledge is superior to the knowledge of those who are ignorant”. Yes, in some cases the knowledge may be trivial or irrelevant, but certainly it is “superior”, at least as knowledge, even if such might to utterly irrelevant to some purpose.

I add here that the question of knowledge and ignorance is not just some power game that I’m engaging in, here. After all, your argument was founded on ‘god’ as a placeholder for ignorance.

There also seems to be confusion regarding the real. First, you say, “Faeries are real to her”, but then you qualify that by saying “for the time being faeries are ‘real‘“, using what appear to be “scare” quotes, suggesting that you don’t actually mean to equate the two. But then the question immediately arises of what we are to make of your “real”. And this cannot be (I don’t think) merely a question of whether you “share her beliefs”, for even if you want to endorse some sort of Realism (regarding universals or concepts) you don’t want (I don’t think) to make “real” equivalent to “believed”, for then you have so denatured your concept of “real” as to allow to encompass “imaginary” and thus rendered it useless. But if that is not what you intend, then the whole matter of the little girl and faeries seems irrelevant.

Turning to the Lakoff and Johnson quote, I don’t see anything in it to object to, but there is one caveat. Yes, “there can still be many correct descriptions”, but also many incorrect descriptions. Indeed, the very concept of a “correct” description entails the possibility of incorrect ones. And this is because there are things that are true and false about the world. We can “get near universal agreement” about the existence of chairs and tables, and the nonexistence of unicorns and faeries, not merely because we “share the same conceptual structures”, but because there are referents in the world for the concepts of chairs and tables, but not unicorns and faeries. Indeed, even the idea that “we share the same biological structures” depends upon the actual existence of things like biological structures in the world.

I will add that there is a potential ambiguity in the text from Lakoff and Johnson. “What we mean by ‘real’ is what we need to posit conceptually...” can be read in at least two ways. One way is to focus on the “need”, and therefore define the ‘real’ as that which is necessary for human experience (something along the lines of Kant, perhaps), while the other is to ignore the “need” and read it merely as whatever happens to be posited. While the former might well be a reasonable candidate for the ‘real’, it must be noted that it sets an extremely high bar for concepts to be considered “real”. The bar for the latter is much lower, but is almost certainly too low, for it allows the demonstrably false and the imaginary to become “real”.

Finally, turning to your new argument (or sketch), it seems to me that there is a problem at the fourth and fifth step. ‘Mind’ and ‘time’ can (at least arguably) be justified as “real” in the strong sense (as ‘necessary’) in the L&J framework. But ‘god’ cannot, unless you have an argument that only minds make things happen. If not, and if there are other things that make things happen in the world, then, while it is possible that there is some “mind-like entity with causal agency in the world”, it is also possible that there is not such an entity. I further submit that such a challenge cannot be met, given that many instances of apparent agency in the world turn out to be the result of (sometimes quite simple) algorithms.

Thus, I conclude that one can present ‘god’ as “real” only by conceiving ‘real’ so broadly as to encompass the imaginary, the false, and the nonexistent. You can conclude that ‘god’ is just as “real” as faeries at the bottom the garden or Santa Claus, but (Francis Church notwithstanding) I don’t think that gets you very far.

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God and Existence on hold
Authored by: Don Berg onTuesday, July 12 2011 @ 10:48 PM CEST
Good feedback, unfortunately reality is intruding so I need to focus on more practical issues for awhile. I look forward to wrestling with this, though. Thanks!
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God and Existence Reply
Authored by: Anonymous onMonday, August 08 2011 @ 07:57 PM CEST
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