Are there any words to be said about words? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.
Our review of Sense and Goodness Without God (SGWG from now on) continues with a look at the importance of philosophy and of words. Having been a Master’s student before I left the Seminary I was at studying in philosophy, I do agree it is important. It’s also why on my own podcast I’m working to bring in more philosophers to talk on important topics in philosophy.
But I do not think Carrier is the one to be telling us about philosophy. As I’ve said, those wanting a more thorough philosophical analysis of the material of Carrier are invited to see the work of David Wood, who is in fact a credentialed PH.D. philosopher. I invite others skeptical of my stance on Carrier here to by all means go check with those who are more authoritative in whatever field and see what they say as well.
So getting to what we have, Carrier has a revealing line saying “This is a little known secret of thinking like a genius; it doesn’t matter where your ideas come from, or how many turn out to be harebrained, so long as you only trust the ones that are soundly proved.”
My first thought in reading this is what kind of way must a person think about themselves to think that they can tell us the secret of thinking like a genius. For saying that there is not much in the Bible, it would have been well to have gone to Proverbs 27:2 and read about how you should let another man praise you and not your own lips.
My second thought is how far does this go? I should only trust that which is soundly proven. Okay.
Is that proven?
I figure I could keep going on and on. Part of the problem is that if we just go by what is proven, we have to at some point reach some claims that are unproven, but that we think would be absolute nonsense to deny. “The universe did not pop into existence five minutes ago with false memories in our minds and false foods in our stomachs.” No way you could prove this, but only a fool would think the universe if five minutes old.
There are also statements that you do not prove or disprove because they are tautologies and contradictions.
“At this time, my wife either exists or she does not.”
This statement has zero predictive power and in fact it would be bizarre to think about proving it. It is entirely true regardless of which one it is! (She just went up to my mother’s to wrap Christmas gifts, but I am certainly hoping the former is the case and no mysterious sink hole has swallowed her or something of the link.)
Now here’s another statement.
“Right now, my wife is married and not married.”
This statement could not be proven at all as it is nonsense. Someone cannot be both at the same time. Of course, you could say that she is married to me and not married to any other man out there, but that requires adding information to the claim.
And finally, we can ask how a statement is proven. Too often in the book, Carrier holds to a mild form of scientism that places science on the highest level. Science is great for scientific predictions. It’s not for everything else.
For instance, if I am studying Shakespeare and I am being told that when saying X, Shakespeare is really making a comment about Y in his day, how should I verify this? Do I do so scientifically? No. I go and use literary methodologies including asking literary experts who know the field far better than I do.
There is a great danger we have in our day and age of thinking science works so well where we apply it that it just has to work everywhere else and if we do that, we will end up missing out on other truths that could, for the sake of argument, be out there. Let’s consider it with the metal detector analogy of Edward Feser. In this short section of that post, Feser presents the common view and then responds with the analogy.
1. The predictive power and technological applications of [post-Galilean, post-Cartesian, mechanistic] science are unparalleled by those of any other purported source of knowledge.
2. Therefore we have good reason to think that [post-Galilean, post-Cartesian, mechanistic] science can explain everything that there is to explain.
And that sort of argument is no better than this one:
1. Metal detectors have had far greater success in finding coins and other metallic objects in more places than any other method has.
2. Therefore we have good reason to think that metal detectors can reveal to us everything that there is to be revealed.
For those interested, Feser also deals with an objection to that here.
Thus, I wish to warn my readers about a mild scientism coming up in the future in the book. The sad reality is too many readers will think I am anti-science. Not a bit. I am for using a proper methodology in its right field. A table knife is a just right tool to spread peanut butter on a sandwich for lunch. A chainsaw doesn’t work as well, but that says nothing about one’s overall view of table knives or chainsaws.
On page 26 Carrier says “Above all, I have a clear sense of always improving myself and my worldview, a sign that I am indeed approaching the truth, and am with every step closer to it.”
It is a wonder to read this and see how this could be known. An obvious problem that should leap out to anyone is there are numerous Christian philosophers who would say the same thing. There are Christians in history who would all say the same thing. We all think we’re approaching the truth and we all think we’re improving ourselves and our worldview. Does that mean we’re all closer to the truth? Carrier is getting deeper and deeper in his atheism. Okay. Mike Licona is getting deeper and deeper in his Christianity. Are both of them approaching the truth? How could they both be when both of them are diametrically opposed?
There are other steps one would take. One would want to read that with which one disagrees. One would interact with disagreement. One would seek to get the best scholarship in any field. There would definitely be any testing and living out of one’s ideas to see how they apply in the schoolhouse of life.
After all, everyone thinks they’re approaching the truth. I can say I have refined my view drastically in all my years of study. I would certainly say I am closer to the truth, but I am constantly reading to see where I am at and interacting with others who disagree. Does that mean I’m necessarily approaching the truth. I would hope I am, but it could be tomorrow I will make a discovery that leads in the opposite direction. What then? Will I then turn and say the same thing after a few years?
As we move on to the chapter on words, there’s really not much to critique here. I will instead pull out a few points to consider.
On page 29, Carrier writes that
“Naturally, applying this first principle to itself, it follows that if we can find any proposition that has meaning but does not make any predictions, or that makes predictions that does not have any meaning, or that can be confirmed as true or false without any reference to what it predicts, then this principle would have to be revised, and my entire philosophy reconstructed from the ground up (unless the revision has no other consequence than to expand or qualify what was already established). So it is important to see if I’ve got it right here, and equally important that I help you grasp what I am talking about. In the process, you will get a taste of different aspects of my whole philosophy, on which I expand in later chapters.”
But as David Wood has said, these statements do exist. Tautologies and contradictions. See the examples above.
I suppose it’s time for a total overhaul.
Carrier also goes against Plantinga’s idea of Warranted Christian belief. I’d leave it to Plantinga to defend it, though I doubt he’d even bother. My own position is more of a common sense realism. Yes. The world outside of my mind exists. How do you know?
You tell me why I shouldn’t.
As soon as I accept the claim that I need to demonstrate this, I am no longer a realist. I see no reason to deny the reality of the material world any more than I see a reason to think the universe popped into existence five minutes ago with false memories in my mind and false food in my stomach. Carrier could say could exist anyone why they believe in the material world and they’d point to evidence. I wouldn’t. Every bit of evidence could be assumed under an idealist system. Kicking a rock done not refute Berkeley. (Berkeley was a bishop who was an empiricist and held to the non-existence of matter. While I disagree, it would be difficult for many of us to refute the arguments he puts forward in his dialogues.)
Eventually, the idealist path gets us to where Carrier arrives, and I’m not surprised, and that is the place of the Cartesian demon. Maybe it’s really an evil power outside of me that’s causing everything and just leading me to think my beliefs are true.
And again, I do not take such an idea seriously since I do not hold to any idealism. Could it be that such a power exists and is tricking me? Perhaps, but it would be up to my opponent to demonstrate that. Note also in my Thomistic arguments for God, His goodness is entailed as well in the arguments, hence many atheistic arguments against God really don’t even touch the arguments that I prefer to use. To critics out there, I also do not prefer to use most arguments used by Christian apologists today, such as the Kalam argument or the design argument. Part of that is also realizing my limitations. I have no study in science and therefore would not comment on the scientific aspects of such arguments.
In our next review, we will spend time looking at Carrier and method. There will not be much, but I hope it will provide some fun and informative interaction. For those wanting to get to the heart of the issues, be patient and wait. We will. (Though I will be regularly interspersing with posts about the podcast and some Christmas post as the holidays draw near.)