More of an actual "proof" there is no (transcendent) God

Chris Cathcart's picture
Submitted by Chris Cathcart on Sat, 2006-05-13 00:19

This ties into a couple recent SOLO blog posts, one titled The proof there is no god and another on Spinoza on Freedom, Ethics, and Politics. The thoughts here are those occurring to me as I've been recently coming down quite hard on Kant's metaphysics on HPO. I won't speak to the apparent naturalistic pantheism of Spinoza; rather, I'm concerned here with a non-naturalist, transcendent God, the kind which Kant held out a metaphysical possibility for.

Here's the basic point: Metaphysics concerns what's possible to the nature of existence. For Rand, this was summed up and contained in the basic axioms. Now, Kant didn't directly assault the axioms of consciousness and identity, but a deadly undermining of these axioms is contained in his view that perceptible reality need not be thought to exhaust all of reality, metaphysically speaking. Here, I'm distinguishing cosmology from ontology; Kant didn't place any principled limits on what can be known within the realm of natural experience. Rather, the realm of possible natural experience itself bumped up a certain inherent limit in the Kantian system. And that limit is expressed in terms of the following: The world as we experience it can not be considered determinative of the nature of being qua being. Now, it may well be such that perceptible reality does in fact exhaust all that there is -- just that we are not in a position to make that determination one way or the other. That's why he holds out for the possibility, expressed in his famous statement about denying knowledge to make room for faith, that a transcendent, non-physical, non-natural God may very well have an ontological existence. (I can't say "God may very well be there," as the term "there" is one of those spatio-temporal natural cosmological notions; again, we're here dealing with being qua being, a concept which takes hierarchical precedence over space and time. See the ITOE appendix from the 2nd ed. for more on this.)

Problem being, I don't see how this can be consistent with the axioms of consciousness and identity. (I'm not clear on whether it would be consistent with the axiom of existence, without explicating, anyway, the relation between the axiom of existence and the other axioms.) The idea is that consciousness is the faculty of perceiving that which exists, and on this basis you don't legitimately posit consciousness as something capable of being thought to fail to perceive existence in some respect. Now Kant doesn't come right out and say that consciousness fails to perceive existence in some respect. Rather, he's more subtle about it, holding that consciousness could be thought to fail to perceive existence in some respect. I.e., that consciousness could be thought to be perceiving something other than existence as such, such that consciousness could instead be thought to perceive some imperfect-at-best form of existence -- that perceptual experience could be thought of as not giving us the whole story. And that's a necessary consequence of Kant's metaphysics insofar as he holds out the hope for faith, applying to some realm of being inaccessible to us.

That's why it strikes me as particularly untenable and a prime instance of double-speak to say, "Oh, what you perceive is real, but it may not show you all that is real. We have to at least accept that possibility." Thing is, there is no basis for accepting that possibility. Further, either consciousness is the faculty of perceiving existence, or it isn't. It isn't a faculty for perceiving only some aspect or shade of existence (shades of Plato, indeed!), some sort of "it's real, but (possibly) not fully, not quite". That consciousness perceives or gleans a kind of non-A out of the (possibly) underlying A. For Kant, consciousness becomes treated as a faculty for (possibly) not perceiving such-and-such.

This is why a "proof" of God from what we see in Aristotle or Aquinas or maybe even Spinoza, rests on a fundamentally sound and healthy metaphysics. At least in Aristotle's and Aquinas's case, they are arguing from the facts of existence and as such are termed cosmological arguments. Kant's metaphysics is a descendent of Plato's, where we're told that whatever consciousness perceives, it could be spoken of as (actually, as in Plato's case, or possibly, as in Kant's) not perceiving all there is, that the facts of the world as experienced do not constitute existence as such.

I think quite a number of theists may simply be confused on this. The axiom of consciousness implies that there isn't a realm of existence inaccessible to consciousness; many theists nonetheless speak of their consciousness (their spirit, or what have you) as being in contact with a transcendent God. The healthier amongst these theists might point to the facts of existence to demonstrate God's pervasive effect on the world. The less healthy amongst them eschew accountability to method in demonstrating the relationship between their minds and their supposed God. At this point, I think of even the healthier stance as more of a muddled pop-philosophical understanding, that doesn't take into account the real full force behind philosophers' treatment of the subject from the standpoint of metaphysics and epistemology. I think it breaks down into three distinct essential approaches: the Aristotelian, the Platonic, and the Kantian. If it's within the Aristotelian tradition, it's bound to be at the least a healthier treatment of the subject. Aristotle's basic approach affirms (a) that we know reality through experience (b) by means of a method.

(Disclaimer: it's my Sciabarrian-influenced thinking related to the untenability of dualism in all its manifestations that spurred my thinking on this. The dualism here, of course, is existence/consciousness. Plato's and Kant's metaphysics are just two primary variants of this dualism -- Kant accepting the possibility that our minds don't have access to some realm of existence, Plato asserting the possibility that we do, but defaulting on an explanation of the means by which it could be done.)

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>>"How would that [the idea

Utility Belt's picture

>>"How would that [the idea that it's possible that your mind can't access some realm or aspect of being] square with your understanding that consciousness is the faculty of perceiving that which exists?"

Well obviously, if you define conciousness as being the faculty of percieving that which exists, then any being with conciousness would be able to percieve anything which exists...but that's true by definition. A tautology. The question would then be "Does man have conciousness", in the narrow sense in which you've defined it, and Kant would say "No, he has some other faculty which allows him to percieve some aspects of existence but not others." Which would be a silly thing to say, but it would be a valid response to your argument, which seems to just proceed from a definition to a conclusion...


Chris Cathcart's picture

Yes, a lot of arguments in philosophy of religion involve discussion pertaining to probability, which is an epistemological category. The question here, though, is whether it makes any sense at all to speak of consciousness as "possibly" (i.e., possible given the nature of being) being inherently cut off from some aspect of being. What sort of metaphysics is being invoked there? And why should it be given any credence?

What do you think when someone tells you that it's possible that your mind can't access some realm or aspect of being, and then gives you no reason for that assertion? Or the best that they might muster as a "reason" is, "well, it's possible because it doesn't entail a contradiction." How would that square with your understanding that consciousness is the faculty of perceiving that which exists?


Rex Wilkinson's picture

The real world or as I refer to it the known universe is quite happy letting nerds pontificate on obscure math and theory,I prefer the most probable and in the real world there most probably isn,t a god devil or life after death,you can argue that these things are theoreticaly possible ,but not probable,and I stick to the most probable when deciding what I believe is real.the chances that there is a god I believe are very remote and would put the odds at about the same as the odds for the imaculate conception,that is all the babies ever born,against the one who said god did it,if you are prepared to accept those sorts of odds, go for it,me I need a little more reality than that,mary was most probably gotten pregnant by a brother or father which is why the truth never came out.

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