DiaBlogue: Putting Descartes Before Da Hearse

In my previous DiaBlogue entry, I made three assertions which underly my belief in “hell”:

a. Ethics: Choices have real consequences
b. Epistemology: Character, not facts, drive belief
c. Theology: God is just not fair

Alan responded primarily to the third point, in a way I might summarize as a syllogism:

1. God claims to be just, which implies fairness
2. Existence is manifestly unfair
3. Therefore, God either lies or has nothing to do with existence

That is perhaps stronger than what Alan is currently claiming, but I believe it captures the essence of his argument. So, is that in fact a valid proof? If not, do I disagree with his premises or his logic? And what does the corny pun in the title have to do with any of this?

Click [Read More] to find out…

I would claim that Alan arguments — at least as I interpret them — reflect both the standard problem of theodicy (“Is God just?”) and classic “proofs” of the (non-)existence of God. I suspect he’d be willing to accept that categorization. However, I’d go a little further. I believe that the former (theodicy) is primarily an emotional/spiritual issues, whereas the latter (proof) is a logical/rational one, and it is essential to separate the two.

I’ll leave that claim hanging in the ether for now, and focus on the matter of logic. I would argue that all the arguments against God (and most of the ones for God) depend on so-called Aristotelian logic; probably because when Aquinas started the whole thing such Medieval logic was all he had available. The key problem with such logic, IMHO, is that it is “integer -al”. That is, it implicitly assumes an ontology of discrete entities: everything has its own specific, well-defined meaning, and statements are either completely true or utterly false.

To be sure, this is a reasonable assumption in many circumstances, and forms the basis for practical items like number theory and the Boolean logic underlying computers. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work in general. There were hints of this even back in antiquity due to paradoxes such as Zeno’s, but it took
a relatively long time for even logicians to realize that there were other forms of logic. In particular, Descartes is often credited with the birth of modern logic, which allows for concepts like fuzziness and categories (not to mention infinities). More technically, it is a second-order (“for all”, “for any”) rather than first-order (“there exists”) logic.

Why does this all matter? Well, as implied in the title, before you conclude that God is dead (and thus ship Him off in “Da Hearse”), I think it wise to revisit the foundations of your logical thinking in light of Descartes. In particular, let us rephrase (my interpretation of) your argument using set qualifiers:

1. God claims to be completely just
2. All meaningful claims of justice imply fairness
3. Existence is incompatible with any meaningful understanding of fairness
4. Therefore, there it is impossible for any meaningful concept of God to be true

This new syllogism may or not be true, but I would argue that it is at least valid, and provides much greater insight into the underlying premises. Of course, it may or may not reflect Alan’s thinking, so let me pause to give him a chance to reply. To be sure, i realize he’s still digesting part of my earlier post (and I haven’t even replied to all of his), but I think this is a good point to focus on first. To make things easier, I’ve tagged these posts as “DiaBlogue<A>” so y’all can distinguish them from my regular devotionals.