Plato’s Cave Image / God and the Atheist

[Note: It has been drawn to my attention than not everyone reads classical Greek. I apologize, but I honestly forget this fact. It is so transparently clear to me that such an enormous part of what we Westerners believe is derived either from Greek philosophy or Christianity, that it just seems evident that a knowledge of Greek is needed to understand where we are and how we got here.  And it seems equally evident from that that every educated Westerner should have at least a passing familiarity with Greek.  I use Greek words because I want to be precise—I’m aware that “being precise”, which we philosophers regard as a critical virtue of rational discourse, is often viewed by the wider public as a vice, that of “nit-picking” or “hair-splitting.” (I’ve never really understood the “nit-picking” charge though—I mean, if you don’t engage in that very fine grained activity of picking off nits, you get lice. How is nit-picking bad? It is a task that requires a good deal of precision in order to avoid the bad outcome of lice infestation.)  Anyway, I’ve added Latinate transliterations of the Greek words, so people can at least read them.]

Part 1: Plato’s Image of the Cave

Plato’s Socrates, in the very center of the Republic, gives an account of what is probably the most famous image in Western philosophical thought: the Image of the Cave.

It is an image, says Socrates, of us, of human beings “in our education and ignorance.”  It is an image of the fundamental human condition.  It is also a retelling, in miniature, of the entire Republic.

Since the Cave Image is an image, let’s start with pictures:

plato-cave

caveimage

Socrates asks us to imagine a dark cave which opens onto the sunlit world above, but deep within which there are prisoners chained to a wall, in such a way that they cannot turn their heads and see behind them, but can only see the back wall of the cave in front of them. This wall is like a giant movie screen.  Far up behind the prisoners, there is a fire, which casts light down into the cave.  The prisoners cannot see the fire.  Between the fire and the prisoners, there is a wall, and behind this wall some men walk, carrying “artificial things”, that is, things they have made, which they hold up over the wall, in such a way that the light from the fire causes the artificial things hold up to cast shadows upon the back wall of the cave.  The men behind the wall also make noises, which echo off the back wall, and seem to come from the shadows.  You can think of this whole set up as Plato describing a movie projector and a movie screen (many centuries in advance), but also not letting us overlook the fact that people make movies.  The images we see that present reality to us, on television or the internet, are images made by people, or at the very least, placed inside a narrative by people.  They are storytellers.

These shadows and echoes are all that the chained prisoners see and hear, so they are all that they know.  They therefore take these things to be WHAT IS, or reality.  Their reality, what they think is real and true, consists of the shadows of artificial things.  Their “knowledge” of reality consists entirely of images they are shown by others and stories they are told by others. Ask yourself, how much of what you ‘know’ is really something you have been told by someone, a person, a book, a television show, a website?

Now Socrates puts his image in motion.  What would happen, he asks, if one of the prisoners were freed from his chains “by nature”? This freed prisoner would be able to move around freely for the first time in his life.  He would be able, for the first time in his life to TURN AROUND.  The Greek word here is μετάνοια [metanoia] and it is very important. It means a turning around of the intellect or νοῦς [nous].  Just to give you a hint, it comes into Latin as convertio or “conversion.”

Just as a man cannot turn his eyes alone around to look behind him, without turning his whole body around, a man cannot turn the “eye of his soul,” his νοῦς, around without turning his whole soul, his ψυχή [psychē], around as well.  This is the fundamental Platonic teaching that TURNING ONE’S INTELLECT THE RIGHT WAY REQUIRES THE COMPREHENSIVE RIGHT ORDERING OF ONE’S WHOLE SOUL BY VIRTUE.  This is something we moderns often overlook, because we tend to conceptualize knowledge as a kind of technical mastery—the kind of thing Descartes taught us to do—the kind of thing natural scientists do—which as mere technique is largely indifferent to virtue. But virtue or goodness is not irrelevant to our capacity to attain wisdom, σοφία [sophia]; there are certain things that those with disordered souls simply cannot comprehend.  Everything depends on one being “turned” the right way.  Some kinds of knowledge, that is to say, are not existentially neutral; they depend upon the right disposition of our souls. Ethical knowledge, or knowledge of what is good, is particularly like this: bad people are particularly blind to goodness (and to their own badness) which is both a consequence of their badness, as well as a further cause, such that evil (like depression) is a self-feeding cycle.

Back to Socrates’ story. The prisoner has gotten free, and he is now able to turn around; at some point, he certainly will, but since his eyes are accustomed to only the shadows on the wall of the cave, looking up directly at the light of the fire at first causes him “great pain and distress” and also, at first, blinds him because his eyes are unused to the bright light. His first reaction, then, to what he has never seen before, will be to recoil from it, as alien and painful and blinding.  He will be lost and bewildered, no longer compelled to look only at the shadows, but pained whenever he looks in the other, upward direction.

This is where another mysterious character enters the story. Socrates refers to this figure only as “somebody.”  Personally, I think of him as “Mr. S”, because Socrates is very clearly describing himself here. What if, Socrates asks, somebody (or Mr. S) were to take the freed prisoner in hand and tell him that what he saw before are “ridiculous nonbeings” and firmly compel the prisoner to face the light? With time, and the (somewhat ungentle) guidance of Mr. S, the prisoner starts to have his eyes get used to the sight of what is up above, and he sees the artifacts that cast the shadows.

A little aside here: What are these artifacts? And who are the “puppeteers” who make the artifacts and hold them up above the wall to cast the shadows? I won’t argue the point at length, but simply give you my interpretation: they are the poets or storytellersποίησις in Greek means “making” so poets are “makers” in the primary sense.  They make the framework whereby  human beings, being fundamentally creatures of reason and speech—in a word, of λόγοςunderstand the world. Yes, we have senses, but it is through words and speeches that we understand and interpret the world we live in.  Whoever controls the narratives of a culture controls their thoughts and beliefs.  Who tells our “stories” today? Who are our authorities for what is and what is not? Politicians, the media, scientists, and others.

The prisoners are the persons who never get free of conventional opinion and belief. They take to be truth and reality what they are shown (told) to be so. The puppeteers are the ones who have realized, as the sophists did, that reality is not “obvious,” but is a matter of interpretation and narrative.  Plato himself is telling a story, the Republic, in which Socrates is using words to paint an image—with the aim of ultimately relegating images and stories to a lesser place than TRUTH.  It is no accident that the anti-Platonist par excellence, the arch-enemy of Plato, Nietzsche, says things like:

nietzschefacts

and

nietzschearttruth

Later in the Republic, in Book X, Socrates will speak of “the old quarrel between the poets and the philosophers.”  Nietzsche is the philosopher who sides with the poets against the philosophers (that isn’t quite right: Nietzsche is using the poets as his tools, just as much as Plato, but not in the service of truth, but of the will to power and his—Nietzsche’s—own master narrative of the Übermensch.

I suppose it is possible that the freed prisoner, without Mr. S’s intervention, could end up becoming a storyteller, a poet, a manipulator and shaper of reality with his words.  But this isn’t what happens in Socrates’ story. Instead, Mr. S drags him, kicking and screaming “up the long, steep, upward way”, up past the fire, up and out of the cave entirely.  (In a masterpiece of ironic understatement, Socrates asks “wouldn’t he be vexed and annoyed at being so dragged?”)

Now the poor freed prisoner is really blinded. Now it isn’t just a big fire he has to contend with, but THE SUN.  It takes him a good deal of time, in which he has to look first at shadows of real things (better than shadows of artificial things), and then their reflections in water, before moving on to looking at the real things themselves, and eventually, he will raise his eyes up high and see “THE SUN itself in its own place”—even though THE SUN is “scarcely to be seen”—not because it is invisible, but because it is too visible. One who looks directly at THE SUN risks blinding himself permanently.  THAT at least, is not something which one can become, in time, accustomed to.  And yet, in a way, the freed prisoner does see THE SUN, and he knows that it is that upon which all else depends.

Thanks to the previous Sun Analogy and the Divided Line, readers of the Republic understand that, in the Cave Image, the fire in the cave is the actual, physical sun, the “ruler of the visible world”, that gives not only the light of day by which we see all things, but also the warmth which gives us life.  THE SUN on the other hand, is still higher: it is something so bright that it makes the actual sun appear to be a tiny fire … compared to a sun! This is ἡ ἰδέα του ἀγαθού or the Idea of the Good—the ruler of the higher invisible realm, of which the physical world is only a kind of copy, and which far, far exceeds the visible sun is splendor and magnificence.  If the sun gives light and life, what does THE GOOD give? THE GOOD radiates its equivalent to the light of day by which we see, which is TRUTH, which makes it possible for us to KNOW all that we can KNOW, and MORE:

“Therefore, say not only that being known is present in things known as a consequence of THE GOOD, but also existence and Being are in them as a result of it, although THE GOOD is not Being, but is still beyond Being, exceeding in dignity and power.

And Glaucon said, quite ridiculously, “Apollo! What a daemonic excess!”

Just as THE SUN gives light and life, THE GOOD gives truth and Being, while it itself is “beyond Being, exceeding it in dignity and power.” No wonder Glaucon cried out! What a thing to say! THE GOOD “is” beyond BEING?

At this point, words fail.  “Beyond Being.” What else could one say but the words of St. Thomas? Quod omnes dicunt Deum, “this everyone calls God.”

The lesson of the Cave is the lesson of the human quest for wisdom, which begins in darkness, bondage, and ignorance, with the merest hint of truth, glimpses of shadows of artificial things, totally at the mercy of others, and ends after a long and very arduous journey with the vision of GOD or THE GOOD.

To end the story of the Cave where Socrates begins it, after the initial description, Glaucon comments, “It’s a strange image, and strange prisoners you speak of,” to which Socrates replies simply “They’re like us.”

Indeed, they are us, or rather, we are them.

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Part 2: God and the atheist

I regularly get in discussion with atheists, both on and off social media.  Most of them say the same things, over and over. One constant refrain I hear again and again is that “atheism” is “just a lack of belief in God” and that the atheist would believe in God if presented with “sufficient evidence.”  And, almost invariably, if one gives evidence, the atheist immediately, almost reflexively, pronounces “That’s not evidence!”

The problem here is one of chains and μετάνοια. Atheists typically think they are “free thinkers” because they have “shaken off the chains of religious dogma,” but they are, for the most part, utterly conventional people. They all believe very mundane and predictable things, almost always some kind of naturalism wherein scientific knowledge has an almost mystical pride of place, an obsession with empirical evidence (in Platonic and Nietzschean terms, an inability to rise to levels of thought above the animal senses, what Hegel calls “picture thinking”), and a host of utterly conventional post-Christian beliefs, to which they really have no genuine epistemic right:

nietzscherighttochristianmorality

The lesson of the Cave is: you cannot see THE SUN, that is, THE GOOD, that is GOD, without (1) getting free of the chains of conventional opinion, and (2) making, with help, the journey up “the long steep upward way,” a process that at best will take years.  Wisdom is not cheaply bought.

THIS is the primary problem with the atheist demand about God, “prove it!” They want EVIDENCE.  E-VID-ence is “what can be made manifest, what can be brought before one’s eyes”—hence the VID root in “evidence,” which means “to see,” and is cognate with the Greek ἰδέα, Plato’s term for the most real part of reality, which means the eternal “looks” of things, the forms.  But with the atheist, the problem is NOT with the evidence, but with the atheist’s eyes. So long as he remains facing the directly AWAY FROM what he needs to see, he will not, cannot, see it. And so long as he is in chains, he can neither turn around nor be turned around.

And in the story of the Cave, it is clear that Socrates or “Mr. S” does not have the ability to free the prisoners from their chains. That happens “somehow, by nature.” We are not told how. It isn’t clear whether Socrates knows. He makes it his business to find and help those who are able to be turned around, that is, those who have “somehow” got free of their chains, but he cannot himself free anyone from their bonds.

It is also unclear from Socrates’ account whether he can always manage either to turn people around or drag them along the “long steep upward way.”

As an Orthodox Christian, I suspect he cannot.  It seems to me that God’s grace is required at every step: to get free of one’s chains, to be turned around, and to struggle upwards on the long, daunting, and difficult path. Indeed, the Platonic idea of a turning around of the νοῦς and the ψυχή, a μετάνοια, is an absolutely central idea of Orthodox Christianity.  One cannot come to see God or understand God without turning towards God and approaching God, with God’s help and grace, as God approaches you. But turning towards God and approaching God requires God’s help and grace to do at all.

As an Orthodox Christian, I also have faith in the promise of the Lord Jesus Christ, that one need only to

“Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.  For every one who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.”

and

Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.

jesus-knocking-the-door-e1375921604955

The invitation is open. In the traditional iconography of Christ at the Door, there is never a handle on Christ’s side.  It is the seeker who must open the door for Him. He is patient. He knocks and waits. But we are also told that all too many will not open the door:

Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few.

So, to the question “Do I have evidence of God?”, my answer is “Yes, I certainly do.”

But that’s not the most relevant question.

The first question is: Are you free of your chains such that you are capable of turning around?

The second question is: Will you open the door to let in the light and be guided along the path?

Like Socrates, and anyone, I have no power to free you from your chains, especially not those which are self-forged. I doubt you have the ability to free yourself, either. I would counsel prayer and asking God for help, but this advice, which is the only effective counsel I know, is not the sort of thing that will be listened to by most atheists.

On the other hand, it is not impossible either. The experience of atheist writer John C. Wright says everything that needs to be said, in better words that I can,

A reader I hope is young and not being serious asks:

Let me get this straight: you, a presumably rational individual who writes science fiction stories for a living, sincerely believes that the creator of our 13.7 billion year-old universe of 70 sextillion stars magically impregnated a human female about 2000 years ago – a woman who then gave birth to a son named Jesus who performed miracles, rose from the dead and served as the creator’s messenger to humanity?

This might make for a mildly interesting, if outlandish, science fiction story, but the source of your belief system? If you’re going to base your life philosophy on absurd myths, why not choose something a bit more interesting? Why not master the Dark Side of the Force or the Golden Path, becoming a Sith Lord or a God-Emperor and strive to rule a Galaxy? Why choose something as ridiculous and wretched as Christianity? I must admit I am rather perplexed…

My answer:

I am more than a presumably rational individual, I am a champion of atheism who gave arguments in favor of atheism so convincing that three of my friends gave up their religious belief due to my persuasive reasoning powers, and my father stopped going to church.

Upon concluding through a torturous and decades-long and remorseless process of logic that all my fellow atheists were horribly comically wrong about every basic point of philosophy, ethics and logic, and my hated enemies the Christians were right, I wondered how this could be. The data did not match the model.

Being a philosopher and not a poseur, I put the matter to an empirical test.

For the first time in my life, I prayed, and said. “Dear God. There is no logical way you could possibly exist, and even if you appeared before me in the flesh, I would call it an hallucination. So I can think of no possible way, no matter what the evidence and no matter how clear it was, that you could prove your existence to me. But the Christians claim you are benevolent, and that my failure to believe in you inevitably will damn me. If, as they claim, you care whether or not I am damned, and if, as they claim, you are all wise and all powerful, you can prove to me that you exist even though I am confident such a thing is logically impossible. Thanking you in advance for your cooperation in this matter, John C. Wright.” — and then my mind was at rest. I had done all I needed to do honestly to maintain my stature as someone, not who claimed to be logical, objective and openminded, but who was logical, objective, and openminded.

Three days later, with no warning, I had a heart attack, and was lying on the floor, screaming and dying.

-Then I was saved from certain death by faith-healing, after which–

-I felt the Holy Spirit enter my body, after which–

-became immediately aware of my soul, a part of myself which, until that time, I reasoned and thought did not exist-

-I was visited by the Virgin Mary, her son, and His Father-

-not to mention various other spirits and ghosts over a period of several days–

-including periods of divine ecstasy, and an awareness of the mystical oneness of the universe-

-And a week or so after that I had a religious experience where I entered the mind of God and saw the indescribable simplicity and complexity, love, humor and majesty of His thought, and I understood the joy beyond understanding and comprehended the underlying unity of all things, and the paradox of determinism and free will was made clear to me, as was the symphonic nature of prophecy. I was shown the structure of time and space.

-And then Christ in a vision told me that He would be my judge, and that God judges no man. I mentioned this event to my wife. Then about a month later, when I was reading the Bible for the first time beyond the unavoidable minimum assigned in school, I came across the passage in the book of John, a passage I had never seen before, and to which no Christian in my hearing had ever made reference, which said the same thing in the same words.

-And then I have had perhaps a dozen or two dozen prayers miraculously answered, so much so that I now regard it as a normal routine rather than some extraordinary act of faith.

So I would say my snide little prayer was answered with much more than I had asked, and I was given not just evidence, and not just overwhelming evidence, but joy unspeakable and life eternal.

(I also regard this overwhelming deluge of evidence to be shameful before my fellow Christian, since the saying told to Doubting Thomas, blessing those who believe without seeing, is a blessing denied me. In hindsight, if only I had not been so arrogant, I could have glanced around at the earth and sky, and seen the intricacy, wonder, and beauty of nature, regarded the unanswerable authority of the conscience within me, and known that I was a created being inside a created cosmos, not a random sandheap blown for a season into a meaningless shape by blind winds. Any child can see it, and all children do.)

To me, the universe was death row, and I was a condemned prisoner who believed everything outside death row was delusion and wishful nonsense — and then I got a call from the governor of the universe, commuting my sentence. I will live forever. As will we all. This was my repayment for a life spent in blasphemy and hatred and slander against God. Instead of smiting me as I damned well deserved, He spared me, and exulted me, and showered me with grace.

I was converted.

This is a μετάνοια. And then some. Wright asked God to convince him, even though he didn’t think he was convincible.  God showed him how wrong he was, and then some. It may seem like overkill, but we can trust that God knows what He is doing. My own μετάνοια was much more gradual and less dramatic (although there were some dramatic events), but God knows what we each of us need. And believe me, God got my attention no less unmistakably, if not quite so dramatically, as He got John C. Wright’s.

I know this bothers you atheists, but I’m sorry to tell you, you are wrong. Totally and completely wrong.  And there really isn’t any possibility of a two-way argument, because when God announces His presence to you, it carries the same kind of evidential force as the Cartesian cogito sum, that is, the certain and indubitable knowledge I have of my own existence—but moreso.  To seriously doubt that God IS is more impossible than something that is impossible, which is to seriously doubt that I am.  What argument could you give me, that could convince me, rationally, even in principle, that I do not exist? It cannot be done. The very act of arguing TO ME that I do not exist defeats the argument. The very fact that I am attempting to ENTERTAIN the idea that I do not exist, refutes the idea I am attempting to entertain. Formerly, I had thought that one could not be more certain of anything than this, since it seems to be absolute certainty. But in a way I cannot put into words, God’s existence, when He made Himself known to me, is even more certain that the already absolute certainty of my own existence.

And again, I know it bothers you atheists, but not only is this certainty absolute beyond all other certainty, so is the certainty of the veracity of God. Once again, when God reveals Himself to you, He does so in such a way as to make it utterly impossible to think the thing was an hallucination or a fantasy or anything other than what it was, the presence of God. Not only do you become certain beyond absolute certainty that God exists, you know you cannot be wrong—its truth-making character is truer than truth. Or, I could say, one understands why one must say “God is truth.”

As the theologian John Baillie puts it,

johnbaillieatheism

And this too is true. Atheism, although I used to be an atheist, is an absurd and academic hypothesis, a kind of blind and childish conjecture that doesn’t really even know what it is trying to express. It is literally and totally unbelievable and absurd.

Let me return to John C. Wright’s blog post, because again, he expresses very well the aftermath of his dramatic μετάνοια:

So I was prepared to say adieu to logic and reason and just take things on faith, when I then found out that the only people who think you have to say adieu to logic and reason in order to take things on faith are crackpots both Christian and atheistic.

Every non-crackpot thinks faith is that on which you rely when unreasonable fears tempt you to disbelieve that to which your reason has consented. If your father says you can dive off the high dive with no risk of death, and he has never lied in the past, and your reason tells you to trust him, it is rational to take his word on faith and jump, and it is irrational to let your eyes overestimate the danger poised by the height.

I then discovered that the Christian world view makes sense of much that the atheistic or agnostic worldview cannot make sense of, and even on its own philosophical terms, is a more robust explanation of the cosmos and man’s place in it, answering many questions successfully that atheists both claim cannot be answered, and then, without admitting it, act in their lives as if the question were answered, such as how to account for the rational faculties of man, the universality of moral principles, the order of the cosmos, how best to live, etc.

Turning to my atheist friends, I then discovered none of them, not one, could give me even so reasonable an argument as I was expert in giving in favor of atheism.

They reasoned as follows: “God cannot possibly exist. Therefore any evidence that you encountered that God exists must be hallucination, mis-perception, faulty memory, self-deception, coincidence, or anything else no matter how farfetched and absurd. Since any evidence that you encountered that God exists must be hallucination, mis-perception, faulty memory, self-deception, coincidence, or anything else no matter how farfetched and absurd, therefore none of your evidence proves God exists.”

I found their perfect, childlike faith touching.

No matter what they saw, no matter what they heard, no matter how the world was against them, they would go to the lions rather than look at the evidence, lest their faith in their faithlessness be shaken.

Eve breaking in a second to second this: yes, this is exactly how atheists behave. They rely on the a priori syllogism “God does not exist; there cannot be evidence for the existence of what does not exist; therefore, there cannot, logically, be evidence that God exists.” This is why they automatically respond to any evidence by declaring “That’s not evidence!”

When I pointed out that this was circular reasoning, they called me bad names.

One skeptic, in a bit of a lapse of his vaunted presumably rational character, told me solemnly that I could not possibly have had Jesus tell me something from a book in the Bible I had never read before. He said that I had read it afterward, and developed the previously undiscovered ability to edit and rewrite my memories, which I then used on myself, so that I only thought I remembered Jesus telling me about the nonjudgmentalism of God. The memory was created after I read the passage, and then back-dated. Then I used this power again to make myself forget that I had the power to make myself forget things.

I asked him if I also had the power to rewrite my wife’s memory, since she remembers me telling her about the passage before I read it. He then tried to cut the conversation off, while accusing me of being irrational.

Another atheist told me I induced a heart attack in myself with my previously undiscovered heart-attack inducing power. And then cured the heart pain with my previously undiscovered heart-attack-curing power. I did both things in order to convince myself falsely of a doctrine I did not believe and had no interest in believing, but, unbeknownst to myself, my secret desire to believe was so great that it overwhelmed my sanity and seized control of my subconscious biological and cardiovascular processes. When I questioned him about such things as whether he was familiar with my medical record, or when I asked to see the evidence supporting this theory, he called me names.

I did not get the opportunity to ask him by what means he discovered the hidden workings of my secret unspoken desires, since he had never spoken to me, and he was not within normal mind-reading range. I did not get a chance to ask him whether this strange ability to harm and heal myself at will was something all people had, or whether he thought I had a superpower due to being bitten by a radioactive spider or something of the sort.

Another atheist told me that that heart failure was a coincidence, not a direct result of my prayer tempting God Almighty, and if that had not happened, something else like a car accident would have happened, and since I am irrational, I would have drawn an improper post hoc ergo propter hoc conclusion no matter what happened, on the grounds that God cannot exist no matter what the evidence says nor how obvious it is, and so anyone who draws the obvious conclusions from the evidence MUST be irrational.

He, at least, did not call me names, aside from making the claim that I would have made an irrational lapse in judgment no matter what had happened after praying my one experimental prayer to a God in which I had no particle of belief, in order to sustain and support my (nonexistent, at that time) belief.

He continues to suffer the false to facts belief that he can read my mind back through time and see the internal workings of my psychology during events where he was not present. For a skeptic, he is really, really gullible.

I tried gently to point out the logical error in trying to use reason to persuade me that he, a stranger to me, knew that I suffered from a mental illness that prevented me from reasoning, whereas I, who have access to things like my past history and my medical records and the contents of my thinking, have more authority to speak to the issue than does he, until and unless I am impeached as a witness.

In general, the argument that I am impeached as a witness on the grounds that my testimony did not confirm the prejudices and assumptions of a third party is not one likely to prevail in a court of law, or as a debate among sober philosophers, scientists, nor anyone trained in rigorous reasoning.

And so far not one atheist has approached me with a legitimate argument, such as the Problem of Pain, or the Paradox of Determinism, or any apparent inconsistencies in the Bible. The only feeble effort in this last direction was from someone who insisted that the Gospels were written in the late Third Century, but could give no argument to support this extraordinary revolution in the standard model of history, nor quote an authority in the field in support.

None have even erected a child’s argument, such as asking whether God could create a stone too heavy for Him to lift.

I used to be one of you, my dear atheists, and I was good at my job, and you all embarrass me with the feebleness and silliness of your attempts to do what I once upon a time did so well. You are a disgrace to the powers of evil.

But enough about me!

My question for you is this: if science discovered tomorrow that the universe was half its apparent age, and estimated the stars as half their current number, would the belief in God somehow be twice as credible in your eyes?

If so, why so?

If not, then, logically, the age of the universe and the number of stars has no bearing on the credibility of belief in God or in the Incarnation.

Again, if you are attempting to persuade me that I should not believe in unusual events or unheard-of or hard-to-believe on the grounds that no unusual nor unheard-of nor hard-to-believe events never happen, simple logic shows that this cannot be the case:

Logically, every ordinary event is unheard-of before we hear of it; and the first example of even repeated events is unusual until the second example occurs; and events are hard-to-believe when and only when our expectations and our experience does not match: therefore every novelty is as incredible as the platypus when first encountered. Therefore not only do incredible events happen, they must happen, for if they did not, the concept of credibility could not exist.

If, on the other hand, you are arguing that I ought not believe reports of miracles on that grounds that miracles do not exist, and that we know miracles do not exist on the grounds that no believable reports of them are heard, you are arguing in a circle.

You are also implying that the human race, all of whom believe in gods, ghosts, magic and miracles of one sort or another, except for that exquisitely tiny minority of persons who are consistent atheists, just so happened to have all made the same lapse of judgment in the matter of paramount and foundational importance in their lives, and continue to do so, some of whom would go to the lions rather than reexamine the aforesaid lapse of judgment. While it is possible that everyone during the parade is out of step except the fond mother’s son in the old joke, this would seem to be as unusual, unheard-of and hard-to-believe as a Virgin birth, if not more so.

It really is completely absurd of you to think you are rationally superior to others—precisely on the basis of your total ignorance of the matter in question.  The silliest fundamentalist creationist isn’t that absurd in his conceit of knowing things! This is not a fallacious appeal to authority, but rather to the consensus gentium—which is more along the lines of the view that (say) time and space exist. Anyone denying this will be, rightly, regarded as deranged or dishonest. It is not true because everyone believes it; it is believed by everyone (except perhaps the seriously deranged or mentally defective) because it is universally evident to all.

But as the great Jonathan Swift said,

jonathanswiftnonesoblind

Just remember, my dear atheists, that yes, we do have the evidence you say you want.  But are you capable of doing what you must do in order to receive it?

The evidence is there, waiting to be seen by you, but I cannot do more than point to it. I cannot make you open your eyes, and I cannot make your turn around and look where I am pointing. That is all up to you. And if you are unable or unwilling, that is neither a defect in the evidence nor in me, but in you.

If you are unwilling, no one can help you but you.

And if you are unable, that too I cannot help you with, although there is One who can, and who will, if you but ask Him:

Ἐγώ εἰμι ἡ ὁδὸς καὶ ἡ ἀλήθεια καὶ ἡ ζωή· 

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The Definition of Evolution

I have very little interest in debating evolution. If I found the subject deeply interesting, I would have become a biologist. I do not, so I did not. I am largely agnostic on most matters pertaining to evolutionary biology, because it is very evident that from the first “evolution” was never merely a scientific theory, but was always used as a mythological basis in support of a naturalistic worldview.  The long and short of the matter is, too many scientists are dishonest about the matter for me to trust what they say, and absent years of study on my own, of a subject I care little about, I cannot  reasonably judge for myself.  Thus, for the most part, I suspend judgment.

I do maintain, as I have elsewhere, that to the extent that evolution is a legitimate scientific account of nature, that it does not and cannot, even in principle, conflict with Christianity.  Truth cannot conflict with truth—and a scientific model of a naturalistic mechanism is not even, properly understood, a competitor with truth.

But since atheists never seem to tire of discussing evolution, I am going to present what I have found most helpful as a philosopher, which is, of course, DISTINCTIONS.  Specifically, distinctions in how the concept of “evolution” may be used.

This is an excerpt from John Lennox’ God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God?, which I highly recommend.

The nature and scope of evolution

‘Nothing makes sense in biology except in light of evolution.’

– Theodosius Dobzhansky

‘Large evolutionary innovations are not well understood. None has ever been observed, and we have no idea whether any may be in progress. There is no good fossil record of any.’

– Robert Wesson

‘Well, as common sense would suggest, the Darwinian theory is correct in the small, but not in the large. Rabbits come from other slightly different rabbits, not from either [primeval] soup or potatoes. Where they come from in the first place is a problem yet to be solved, like much else of a cosmic scale.’

– Sir Fred Hoyle

The definition of evolution

Thus far we have been using this term as if it had a single, agreed meaning. But this is manifestly not the case. Discussion of evolution is frequently confused by failure to recognize that the term is used in several different ways, some of which are so completely non-controversial that rejection of them might indeed evidence some kind of ignorance or stupidity (but, even then, scarcely wickedness).

What, then, is evolution? Here are some of the ideas for which the term ‘evolution’ is used:

1. Change, Development, Variation. Here the word is used to describe change, without any implication for the kind of mechanism or intelligent input (or lack of it) involved in bringing about the change. In this sense we speak of the ‘evolution of the motor car’, where, of course, a great deal of intelligent input is necessary. We speak of the ‘evolution of a coastline’, where the natural processes of sea and wind, flora and fauna shape the coastline over time, plus possibly steps taken by engineers to prevent erosion. When people speak of the ‘evolution of life’ in this sense, all they mean is that life arose and has developed (by whatever means). Used in this way, the term ‘evolution’ is neutral, innocuous and uncontroversial.

2. Microevolution: variation within prescribed limits of complexity, quantitative variation of already existing organs or structures Such processes were observed by Darwin in connection with the Galapagos finch species (see also Jonathan Weiner’s detailed study1). This aspect of the theory is scarcely controversial as such effects of natural selection, mutation, genetic drift etc. are constantly being recorded.2 One classic example with which we are, sadly, all too familiar right round the world is the way in which bacteria develop resistance to antibiotics.

It is worth recording that the changes in average finch beak lengths, which had been observed during the drought period of 1977, were reversed by the rains of 1983; so that this research is more an illustration of cyclical change due to natural selection than it is of permanent improvement (or even change). This reversal is, however, not always mentioned in textbooks.3 However, one of the main studies that has been copied from textbook to textbook and heralded as one of the main proofs of evolution has come in for very serious criticism in recent years. It concerns the occurrence of industrial melanism in the peppered moth (Biston betularia). The claim is that natural selection produced a variation of the relative numbers of light moths to dark moths in a population. Light moths were more easily seen by predators than dark ones, against the dark, polluted surfaces of tree trunks, and so eventually the population would become dominated by dark moths. Of course, if this account were true, it would at best only be an example of microevolution and that only in the sense of cyclical change (no new moths were created in the process since both kinds existed to start with). Therefore it would not be controversial except insofar as examples of microevolution are frequently cited as sufficient evidence for macroevolution.

However, according to Michael Majerus, a Cambridge expert on moths, ‘the basic peppered moth story is wrong, inaccurate or incomplete, with respect to most of the story’s component parts’.4 In addition, there appears to be no evidence that peppered moths rest on tree trunks in the wild. Many photographs in textbooks, showing them doing so, have apparently been staged. In the Times Higher Educational Supplement,5 biologist Lynn Margulis is puzzled by the fact that Steve Jones still used the peppered moth in his book update of Darwin, entitled Almost like a whale,6 even though, according to her, he must know of the dubious nature of the research. When University of Chicago biologist Jerry Coyne learned of the difficulties with the peppered moth story, he wrote: ‘My own reaction resembles the dismay attending my discovery, at the age of six, that it was my father and not Santa who brought the presents on Christmas Eve.’7,8

3. Macroevolution This refers to large-scale innovation, the coming into existence of new organs, structures, body-plans, of qualitatively new genetic material; for example, the evolution of multicellular from single-celled structures. Macroevolution thus involves a marked increase in complexity. This distinction between micro and macroevolution is the subject of considerable dispute since the gradualist thesis is that macroevolution is to be accounted for simply by extrapolating the processes that drive microevolution over time, as we shall see below.

4. Artificial selection, for example, in plant and animal breeding Breeders have produced many different kinds of roses and sheep from basic stocks, by very careful selective breeding methods. This process involves a high degree of intelligent input; and so, although often cited, in particular by Darwin himself, who argued that what humans can do in a relatively short time nature could do in a long time, provides in itself no real evidence for evolution by unguided processes.

5. Molecular evolution Some scientists argue that, strictly speaking, evolution presupposes the existence of self-replicating genetic material. For instance, Dobzhansky’s view was that, since natural selection needed mutating replicators, it followed clearly that ‘prebiological natural selection is a contradiction in terms’.9 However, the term ‘molecular evolution’ is now commonly used to describe the emergence of the living cell from non-living materials.10 This language usage can easily obscure the fact that the word ‘evolution’ here cannot mean a Darwinian process in the strict sense.

Of course, the term ‘evolution’ also covers the theories about how these things happened; the most widespread being the neo-Darwinian synthesis, according to which natural selection operates on the basis of variations that arise through mutation, genetic drift, and so on.

In light of these ambiguities in the meaning of evolution, Lewontin’s and Dawkins’ accusations become more understandable. If ‘questioning evolution’ means questioning it in senses 1, 2 or 4, then an accusation of stupidity or ignorance might be understandable. As we have already said, no one seriously doubts the validity of microevolution and cyclic change as examples of the operation of natural selection.

Confusion can easily arise, therefore, particularly when evolution is defined as microevolution. Take, for instance, the following statement about evolution by E.O. Wilson: ‘Evolution by natural selection is perhaps the only one true law unique to biological systems, as opposed to non-living physical systems, and in recent decades it has taken on the solidity of a mathematical theorem. It states simply that if a population of organisms contains multiple hereditary variants in some trait (say, red versus blue eyes in a bird population), and if one of those variants succeeds in contributing more offspring to the next generation than the other variants, the overall composition of the population changes, and evolution has occurred. Further, if new genetic variants appear regularly in the population (by mutation or immigration), evolution never ends. Think of red-eyed and blue-eyed birds in a breeding population, and let the red-eyed birds be better adapted to the environment. The population will in time come to consist mostly or entirely of red-eyed birds. Now let green-eyed mutants appear that are even better adapted to the environment than the red-eyed form. As a consequence the species eventually becomes green-eyed. Evolution has thus taken two more small steps’ [italics original].11

Quite so. But this seems to be no more than a description of microevolution – indeed, since we have red-eyed birds and blue-eyed birds in the initial population, Wilson is only describing the kind of uncontroversial cyclic change mentioned above in connection with Darwin’s finches. Thus Wilson completely bypasses the question as to whether the mechanism described can bear all the extra weight that is put upon it in any full-blown understanding of evolution – for example, answering the question, ‘Where did the birds come from in the first place?’ Yet he claims elsewhere in his article that natural selection does bear that weight. For instance he says, ‘all biological processes arose through evolution of these12 physicochemical systems through natural selection’ or again, humans are ‘descended from animals by the same blind force that created those animals’.

Furthermore, it has been repeatedly noted that, at the level discussed in Wilson’s definition, natural selection itself is essentially self-evident. Colin Patterson, FRS, in his standard text on evolution,13 presents it in the form of the following deductive argument:

  • all organisms must reproduce
  • all organisms exhibit hereditary variations
  • hereditary variations differ in their effect on reproduction
  • therefore variations with favourable effects on reproduction will succeed, those with unfavourable effects will fail, and organisms will change.

Thus natural selection is a description of the process by which the strain in a population that produces the weaker progeny eventually gets weeded out, leaving the stronger to thrive.

Patterson argues that, formulated this way, natural selection is, strictly speaking, not a scientific theory, but a truism. That is, if we grant the first three points, then the fourth follows as a matter of logic, an argument similar to that advanced by Darwin himself in the last chapter of The Origin of Species. Patterson observes that ‘this shows that natural selection must occur but it does not say that natural selection is the only cause of evolution,14 and when natural selection is generalized to be the explanation of all evolutionary change or of every feature of every organism, it becomes so all-embracing that it is in much the same class as Freudian psychology and astrology’.15 By this Patterson seems to be suggesting that it fails to satisfy Popper’s criterion of falsifiability, just as the Freudian statement that adult behaviour is due to trauma in childhood is not falsifiable. Patterson is warning us of the danger of simply slapping the label ‘natural selection’ in this generalized sense on some process, and thinking that we have thereby explained the process.

Patterson’s description highlights something very easily overlooked – the fact that natural selection is not creative. As he says, it is a ‘weeding out process’ that leaves the stronger progeny. The stronger progeny must be already there: it is not produced by natural selection. Indeed the very word ‘selection’ ought to alert our attention to this: selection is made from already existing entities. This is an exceedingly important point because the words ‘natural selection’ are often used as if they were describing a creative process, for instance, by capitalizing their initial letters. This is highly misleading as we see from the following illuminating statement by Gerd Müller, an expert on EvoDevo, an increasingly influential theory integrating evolutionary theory and developmental biology that aims to fill some of the gaps in standard neo-Darwinism. Müller writes: ‘Only a few of the processes listed above are addressed by the canonical neo-Darwinian theory, which is chiefly concerned with gene frequencies in populations and with the factors responsible for their variation and fixation. Although, at the phenotypic level, it deals with the modification of existing parts, the theory is intended to explain neither the origin of parts, nor morphological organization, nor innovation. In the neo-Darwinian world the motive factor of morphological change is natural selection, which can account for the modification and loss of parts. But selection has no innovative capacity: it eliminates or maintains what exists. The generative and ordering aspects of morphological evolution are thus absent from evolutionary theory’ [italics mine].17

Müller thus confirms what logic and even language would tell us: natural selection, by its very nature, does not create novelty. This flatly contradicts Richard Dawkins’ bold assertion cited earlier that natural selection accounts for the form and existence of all living things. Such polar opposition of views on the central thesis of neo-Darwinism raises disturbing questions as to the solidity of its scientific basis and prompts us to explore a bit further.

We now turn to the fact that the hereditable variations on which natural selection acts are random mutations in the genetic material of organisms. However, Dawkins and others are careful to inform us that evolution itself is not a purely random process. He is sufficiently impressed by calculations of mathematical probabilities to reject any notion that, say, the human eye evolved by pure chance in the time available. In his inimitable way he writes: ‘It is grindingly, creakingly, crashingly obvious that, if Darwinism were really a theory of chance, it couldn’t work. You don’t need to be a mathematician or a physicist to calculate that an eye or a haemoglobin molecule would take from here to infinity to self-assemble by sheer higgledy-piggledy luck.’18 What then is the answer? That natural selection is a law-like process that sifts the random mutations so that evolution is a combination of necessity and chance. Natural selection, we are told, will find a faster pathway through the space of possibilities. The idea here is, therefore, that the law-like process of natural selection increases the probabilities to acceptable levels over geological time.

Putting it simply, the essence of the argument is this. Natural selection favours the strong progeny over the weak in a situation where resources are limited. It helps preserve any beneficial mutation. Organisms with that mutation survive and others do not. But natural selection does not cause the mutation. That occurs by chance. The quantity of resources (food) available is one of the variable parameters in the situation. It occurred to me as a mathematician that it would be interesting to see what happens if this parameter is allowed to increase. I invite you to do a thought experiment. Imagine a situation in which resources increase so that, in the limiting case, there is food for all, the strong and the weak. As resources increase, there would seem to be less and less for natural selection to do, since most progeny would survive. What would neo-Darwinists say to this? Would they say on the basis of their chance arguments that evolution would now be less and less likely? For it would now seem that chance is doing all the work: and the neo-Darwinists have ruled that possibility out of court.

When I thought of this I was sure that it must have occurred to someone earlier, and not surprisingly it has. Indeed, in 1966, British chemist R.E.D. Clark drew attention to the fact that Darwin had been disturbed by a letter from the eminent botanist Joseph Hooker in 1862 in which Hooker argued that natural selection was in no sense a creative process.19 However, Clark had to reconstruct Hooker’s argument from Darwin’s reply as he thought Hooker’s original letter had been lost. Hooker’s letter has not been lost, however. It reads: ‘I am still very strong in holding to impotence of crossing with respect to [the] origin of species. I regard Variation as so illimitable in {animals}. You must remember that it is neither crossing nor natural selection that has made so many divergent human individuals, but simply Variation [Hooker’s emphasis]. Natural selection, no doubt has hastened the process, intensified it (so to speak), has regulated the lines, places etc., etc., etc., in which, and to which, the races have run and led, and the number of each and so forth; but, given a pair of individuals with power to propagate, and [an] infinite [time] span to procreate in, so that not one be lost, or that, in short, Natural Selection is not called upon to play a part at all, and I maintain that after n generations you will have extreme individuals as totally unlike one another as if Natural Selection had extinguished half.

‘If once you hold that natural selection can make a difference, i.e. create a character, your whole doctrine tumbles to the ground. Natural Selection is as powerless as physical causes to make a variation; the law that “like shall not produce like” is at the bottom of [it] all, and is as inscrutable as life itself. This it is that Lyell and I feel you have failed to convey with force enough to us and the public: and this is the bottom of half the infidelity of the scientific world to your doctrine. You have not, as you ought, begun by attacking old false doctrines, that “like does produce like”. The first chapter of your book should have been devoted to this and nothing else. But there is some truth I now see in the objection to you, that you make natural selection the Deus ex machina for you do somehow seem to do it by neglecting to dwell on the facts of infinite incessant variation. Your eight children are really all totally unlike one another: they agree exactly in no one property. How is this? You answer that they display the inherited differences of different progenitors – well – but go back, and back and back in time and you are driven at last to your original pair for origin of differences, and logically you must grant, that the differences between the original [MALE] & [FEMALE] of your species were equal to the sum of the extreme differences between the most dissimilar existing individuals of your species, or that the latter varied from some inherent law that had them. Now am not I a cool fish to lecture you so glibly?’20

It is interesting to note the force with which Hooker writes in ascribing ‘half the infidelity of the scientific world’ against Darwin to his failure to deal with this argument. Darwin’s reaction came in a letter (after 26 November but actually dated 20 November 1862). ‘But the part of your letter which fairly pitched me head over heels with astonishment; is that where you state that every single difference which we see might have occurred without any selection. I do and have always fully agreed; but you have got right round the subject and viewed it from an entirely opposite and new side, and when you took me there, I was astounded. When I say I agree, I must make proviso, that under your view, as now, each form long remains adapted to certain fixed conditions and that the conditions of life are in [the] long run changeable; and second, which is more important that each individual form is a self-fertilizing hermaphrodite, so that each hairbreadth variation is not lost by intercrossing. Your manner of putting [the] case would be even more striking than it is, if the mind could grapple with such numbers – it is grappling with eternity – think of each of a thousand seeds bringing forth its plant, and then each a thousand. A globe stretching to furthest fixed star would very soon be covered. I cannot even grapple with the idea even with races of dogs, cattle, pigeons or fowls; and here all must admit and see the accurate strictness of your illustration. Such men, as you and Lyell thinking that I make too much of a Deus of natural selection is conclusive against me. Yet I hardly know how I could have put in, in all parts of my Book, stronger sentences. The title, as you once pointed out, might have been better. No one ever objects to agriculturalists using the strongest language about their selection; yet every breeder knows that he does not produce the modification which he selects. My enormous difficulty for years was to understand adaptation, and this made me, I cannot but think rightly, insist so much on natural selection. God forgive me for writing at such length; but you cannot tell how much your letter has interested me, and how important it is for me with my present Book in hand to try and get clear ideas.’21

Darwin clearly feels the force of Hooker’s argument to the extent of agreeing with it though astonished at the way in which it was put. The argument seems rather important because it raises very serious questions about the kind of argument that purports to render probabilities of macro (or molecular) evolution acceptable within the timescale constraints supplied by contemporary cosmology.

Lennox, John. God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God? Lion Hudson. Kindle Edition.

 

“You Can’t Prove a Negative” Part 2

As I wrote in my post “You Can’t Prove a Negative”, this claim—that you can’t prove a negative—is a silly urban legend of logic that needs to die.

So it came up again on Twitter, and someone was kind enough to direct me to an essay by another philosopher addressing this same absurd bit of “folk logic” (as he aptly calls it). I also think his view that “you can’t prove a negative” is largely a view held by people who  have “a desperate desire to keep believing whatever one believes, even if all the evidence is against it.” In other words, “you can’t prove a negative!” is code for “you can’t prove I’m wrong, so I’ll continue to think I’m right!”

I think it is worth reblogging, so here is Steven D. Hales “You Can Prove a Negative”:

________________________________________________________________

THINKING TOOLS: YOU CAN PROVE A NEGATIVE
Steven D. Hales

A principle of folk logic is that one can’t prove a negative. Dr. Nelson L. Price, a Georgia minister, writes on his website that ‘one of the laws of logic is that you can’t prove a negative.’ Julian Noble, a physicist at the University of Virginia, agrees, writing in his ‘Electric Blanket of Doom’ talk that ‘we can’t prove a negative proposition.’ University of California at Berkeley Professor of Epidemiology Patricia Buffler asserts that ‘The reality is that we can never prove the negative, we can never prove the lack of effect, we can never prove that something is safe.’ A quick search on Google or Lexis-Nexis will give a mountain of similar examples.

But there is one big, fat problem with all this. Among professional logicians, guess how many think that you can’t prove a negative? That’s right: zero. Yes, Virginia, you can prove a negative, and it’s easy, too. For one thing, a real, actual law of logic is a negative, namely the law of non-contradiction. This law states that that a proposition cannot be both true and not true. Nothing is both true and false. Furthermore, you can prove this law. It can be formally derived from the empty set using provably valid rules of inference. (I’ll spare you the boring details). One of the laws of logic is a provable negative. Wait… this means we’ve just proven that it is not the case that one of the laws of logic is that you can’t prove a negative. So we’ve proven yet another negative! In fact, ‘you can’t prove a negative’ is a negative  so if you could prove it true, it wouldn’t be true! Uh-oh.

Not only that, but any claim can be expressed as a negative, thanks to the rule of double negation. This rule states that any proposition P is logically equivalent to not-not-P. So pick anything you think you can prove. Think you can prove your own existence? At least to your own satisfaction? Then, using the exact same reasoning, plus the little step of double negation, you can prove that you aren’t nonexistent. Congratulations, you’ve just proven a negative. The beautiful part is that you can do this trick with absolutely any proposition whatsoever. Prove P is true and you can prove that P is not false.

Some people seem to think that you can’t prove a specific sort of negative claim, namely that a thing does not exist. So it is impossible to prove that Santa Claus, unicorns, the Loch Ness Monster, God, pink elephants, WMD in Iraq, and Bigfoot don’t exist. Of course, this rather depends on what one has in mind by ‘prove.’ Can you construct a valid deductive argument with all true premises that yields the conclusion that there are no unicorns? Sure. Here’s one, using the valid inference procedure of modus tollens:

1. If unicorns had existed, then there is evidence in the fossil record.
2. There is no evidence of unicorns in the fossil record.
3. Therefore, unicorns never existed.

Someone might object that that was a bit too fast  after all, I didn’t prove that the two premises were true. I just asserted that they were true. Well, that’s right. However, it would be a grievous mistake to insist that someone prove all the premises of any argument they might give. Here’s why. The only way to prove, say, that there is no evidence of unicorns in the fossil record, is by giving an argument to that conclusion. Of course one would then have to prove the premises of that argument by giving further arguments, and then prove the premises of those further arguments, ad infinitum. Which premises we should take on credit and which need payment up front is a matter of long and involved debate among epistemologists. But one thing is certain: if proving things requires that an infinite number of premises get proved first, we’re not going to prove much of anything at all, positive or negative.

Maybe people mean that no inductive argument will conclusively, indubitably prove a negative proposition beyond all shadow of a doubt. For example, suppose someone argues that we’ve scoured the world for Bigfoot, found no credible evidence of Bigfoot’s existence, and therefore there is no Bigfoot. A classic inductive argument. A Sasquatch defender can always rejoin that Bigfoot is reclusive, and might just be hiding in that next stand of trees. You can’t prove he’s not! (until the search of that tree stand comes up empty too). The problem here isn’t that inductive arguments won’t give us certainty about negative claims (like the nonexistence of Bigfoot), but that inductive arguments won’t give us certainty about anything at all, positive or negative. All observed swans are white, therefore all swans are white looked like a pretty good inductive argument until black swans were discovered in Australia.

The very nature of an inductive argument is to make a conclusion probable, but not certain, given the truth of the premises. That just what an inductive argument is. We’d better not dismiss induction because we’re not getting certainty out of it, though. Why do you think that the sun will rise tomorrow? Not because of observation (you can’t observe the future!), but because that’s what it has always done in the past. Why do you think that if you turn on the kitchen tap that water will come out instead of chocolate? Why do you think you’ll nd your house where you last left it? Why do you think lunch will be nourishing instead of deadly? Again, because that’s the way things have always been in the past. In other words, we use inferences — induction — from past experiences in every aspect of our lives. As Bertrand Russell pointed out, the chicken who expects to be fed when he sees the farmer approaching, since that is what had always happened in the past, is in for a big surprise when instead of receiving dinner, he becomes dinner. But if the chicken had rejected inductive reasoning altogether, then every appearance of the farmer would be a surprise.

So why is it that people insist that you can’t prove a negative? I think it is the result of two things. (1) an acknowledgement that induction is not bulletproof, airtight, and infallible, and (2) a desperate desire to keep believing whatever one believes, even if all the evidence is against it. That’s why people keep believing in alien abductions, even when flying saucers always turn out to be weather balloons, stealth jets, comets, or too much alcohol. You can’t prove a negative! You can’t prove that there are no alien abductions! Meaning: your argument against aliens is inductive, therefore not incontrovertible, and since I want to believe in aliens, I’m going to dismiss the argument no matter how overwhelming the evidence against aliens, and no matter how vanishingly small the chance of extraterrestrial abduction.

If we’re going to dismiss inductive arguments because they produce conclusions that are probable but not de nite, then we are in deep doo-doo. Despite its fallibility, induction is vital in every aspect of our lives, from the mundane to the most sophisticated science. Without induction we know basically nothing about the world apart from our own immediate perceptions. So we’d better keep induction, warts and all, and use it to form negative beliefs as well as positive ones. You can prove a negative — at least as much as you can prove anything at all.

Steven Hales is professor of philosophy at Bloomsburg University, Pennsylvania.

“Where is the Lord?”

Prayer LXXIX of Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich from Prayers by the Lake (partial):

Like a good host, the Lord sets His table and awaits His guests. The Lord listens attentively for knocking, and is quick to open the door to every guest.  Around His table are clustered undreamed-of mansions; at His table are many seats. Whoever strikes His door and knocks, will not be turned away, and yet you say: “Why did the Lord not open when we knocked?” Because you knocked at the door of the Lord with doubt, but at the door of the world with faith.

The Lord stands at the door of your soul with a broom, ready, at your invitation, to clean the horrendous filth out of your soul, to make your newly-cleaned soul fragrant with incense and fragrance, and to adorn her with virginal jewelry—the Lord is standing and waining for your invitation.

At the edge of your heart the Lord is standing with a tall candle that burns without smoking or melting. The Lord is standing and waiting at your invitation, to bring the candle into your heart and enlighten it, to burn up all the fear in your heart, all its selfish passions, and all its ugly desires, and to drive out of your heart all the smoke and foul stench.

At the edge of your mind the Lord is standing with His wisdom and with His tongue, ready, at your invitation, to enter into it and drive out all its foolish thoughts, all its filthy fancies, and all its mistaken notions, and to erase from your mind all nonexistent images—the Lord is standing and waiting introduce His reason, His seals, and His words.

Yet you say: “Where is the Lord?” At the edge of your life. Therefore your life has become hunchbacked. If the Lord were in the center, where He was in the beginning and where His rightful place is, your life would be upright and you would see the Lord, and you not be asking “Where is the Lord?”

You have become bad, therefore you ask: “Where is the Lord?”

The Lord is too good, therefore the bad do not recognize Him.

The Lord is too translucent, therefore the dusty do not see Him.

The Lord is too holy, therefore the unholy do not perceived Him.

If there are not enough people, who will confess the name of the Lord, the Lord will manifest Himself through objects.

If even the stars of heaven forget the name of the Lord, it will not be forgotten by the countless hosts of angels in heaven.

The weaker the confession of the Lord’s name in one realm, the stronger it is in another. Neither can the uttering of the name of God be decreased, nor can it be increased. If one brook dries up, another will begin to rise, and thus—the sea maintains the same level.

The Unbelievers

Prayer LXXXII of Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich from his Prayers by the Lake.

The unbelievers have girded for war against the Lord of heaven and earth—like dry leaves against the mountain wind! As long as the wind is soundless, one hears the rustling of the leaves. But once the wind begins to howl, it will scatter the leaves over the marshes and roadways, and left there, leaf upon leaf, they will perish like rumors and will be blinded with mud.

For an unbeliever feels strong in a crowd and makes noise. In solitude fear and weakness devour him. But when a believer is in a crowd, he shares the weakness of the crowd., while in solitude he shares power with You; therefore, solitude is his strength and his song.

Against whom do you wage war, you lunatics? Is it against the One who kindles suns with His thought, and goads His flocks of suns and stars with His staff? Truly, it would be a less ridiculous war for the willows to declare war on the thunder, or for the loach fish to carry out a war against the awesome condors.

You have forged weapons, with which you crush one another, and so you have risen up to battle against Him with the same weaponry. But behold, He can walk over your swords like soft moss. Nor is He intimidated by your fortresses, any more than He is by your graves.

You have concocted petty words, with which you insult and humiliate one another, and so you think that with your petty words you will humiliate the One who alone knows what a word is and whence it comes? Indeed, He created your vocal cords in your throat, and expanded your lungs beneath these cords, and cut open your mouth and attached your tongue to your mouth. Truly, it would be less ridiculous for a shepherd’s flute in a shop to rebel against its master craftsman, or for the strings on a harp to rebel against the hand that plucks them.

You have declared war not against God but against yourselves, and God watches your suicide with compassion. Dry leaves are declaring war on wheels of iron!

The more seriously you war against Him, the more unimpededly is He drawn out of you.  The Lord withdraws His strength out of you, as well as His beauty, His health, His wisdom, and His blessedness. This is the way the Most High Lord wars with His adversaries.

What remains of you, embattled battlers, once the Lord has drawn out from you what is His? Does anything remain other than weakness, ugliness, sickness, madness and wretchedness? The Lord will not take from you anything of what is yours. And what is yours is weakness. And once He takes away His power, which you are abusing, He will leave you with your own sepulchral weakness, which can be neither used nor abused.

The Lord will pull His health out of you, and your blood will be transformed into sweat, and your odor will be pleasing to worms, an odor that will cause cities to close their gates.

The Lord will return His wisdom to Himself, and in your madness you will run through the groves and quarrel with caves.

The Lord will retract His blessedness and His peace to Himself, and even the springs will be frightened by your anxiety and flee; and the vines in the hills will wither from your wretchedness, and the earth in the fields will return its fertility back to the earth.

This is the way the Most High Lord wars with His adversaries.

Like a child, He is powerless to do evil. He does not return evil for evil, for He is destitute when it comes to evil. Instead He merely gathers His good gifts and walks off with them, away from the one who gnashes his teeth at Him. And the Lord leaves the unbelievers to be by themselves. And they disintegrate like worm-eaten wood, from which the moisture has evaporated and throughout which worms wend their way for food, as through a deserted home.

Thus does it happen with a people, who declares war on the Life-Giver.

I have told my people—remember: such is the victory of the Life-Giver, and such is the defeat of the Godless.

Abusus Non Tollit Usum

Abusus non tollit usum is a Latin expression, which articulates a fundamental principle, both of life in general and in law.  It means “abuse does not take away use.”

This is a very obvious principle, which essentially states that we should not get rid of a good or useful thing because said thing can also be misused—since literally everything that can be used can be misused in some way.

A hammer or a screwdriver can be used to commit a murder. This is not an argument for banning hammers or screwdrivers.  Words can often be misapplied; this is not an argument to stop using the word in its proper, useful application.

This principle is so obvious that it shouldn’t need to be said.  But I have learned from experience that a favorite fallacy of certain ideologues is the “argument to abuse,” which goes:

  1. Some case of X did something bad.
  2. ∴ All X are bad.
  3. ∴ We should get rid of X.

Among anarchist-libertarians, it looks like this:

  1. Some governmental actions are bad.
  2. ∴ Government as such is bad.
  3. ∴ We should get rid of all government.

Among feminists it looks like

  1. Some men are bad.
  2. ∴ All men are bad.
  3. ∴ We should get rid of men, either literally or by forcing men to stop being men.

Among the Politically Correct word police it looks like

  1. Word W can be used as a hurtful insult or a “microagression.”
  2. Word W is bad.
  3. We should ban the use of word W

The fallacy should be obvious. It’s an argument from “some” to a conclusion about “all,” containing the hidden, self-evidently false premise that “Whatever is true of some Xs is true of all Xs.”  This doesn’t work unless you can demonstrate that in all cases the thing in question is bad—but of course this is just what pointing to only some cases fails to do.

I once again apologize for insulting your intelligence with ridiculously simple graphics, but some people seem to need them:

euler-circles-use-abuse

euler-circles-all-some

Why Kristi Winters’ Recent Attempt at Politically Correct Shaming Fails

Recently, a group of feminists and social justice warriors made a YouTube video called “Reasonable Questions for Anti SJWs“.  The first thing to note is that the SJWs in question simply could not restrain themselves  from virtue signaling in the title—they just had to add that “reasonable” to the standard “Questions for Xs” title.  It’s almost as if our default assumption is that SJWs would be unreasonable—which is of course a safe assumption and borne out very well in this video.

I want to discuss one “question” by Kristi Winters, which wasn’t a sincere question, but an attempt at politically correct shaming couched in the form of a question.  She asked, given the loathing of feminist misandry among anti-SJWs, whether the anti-SJW community would “call out” instances of what Kristi Winters asserted were cases of misandry in the anti-SJW community, specifically the use of such terms as “beta male,” “cuck,” and “mangina,” particularly towards male feminists.

There is a slight amount of cleverness here, in that Winters is trying to catch the anti-SJWs out in a moral contradiction, of practicing something they condemn when feminists do it.  Unfortunately, her attempt fails. And I am going to explain why.

Feminist misandry is grounded in a genuine hatred and/or fear of natural, healthy masculinity—invariably stigmatized by feminists as “toxic masculinity.”  Hatred of nature is one characteristic of feminism, which leads very easily into biology denialism and, as a consequence, science denialism.

The main trope here is “gender is a social construct,” which anyone who has bothered to investigate the science of the matter knows to be false.  Human beings are a sexually dimorphic species, conditioned by hundreds of thousands of years of natural history.  Men and women are, in short, different by nature, and everyone not deeply in the grip of an ideology knows this.

If gender were not grounded in nature, it would be shapable by society in radical ways—anyone could, more or less, “choose” to be transgendered.  But transgenderism and gender dysphoria are real conditions that people have. They are not choices.  Similarly, we have overwhelming evidence in the case of John Money’s disastrous attempts to have boys born with abnormal genitalia raised and “socialized” as girls.  For years, he assured parents that gender was a function only of socialization and that a child raised as a girl would, in effect, be a girl.  This led to monstrously cruel suffering on the part of the children he had forcibly misgendered, placing their parents in the the unwitting role of tormentors of their own children, whom they only wanted to help.  I refer you particularly to the sad case of David Reimer, thoroughly documented in As Nature Made Him: The Boy Who Was Raised As A Girl.

Now, it is true that gender expression is in part social and variable from culture to culture. But what is necessary to keep in mind is that CULTURE is always built on the foundation of NATURE.  In this way, gender is somewhat analogous to language. It is natural for human beings to speak language.  It is not, however, natural to speak any given language, e.g. English or Chinese; this must be learned.  It was once assumed that human language was infinitely variable across cultures, that is, socially constructed in a way totally unconstrained by nature.  We now know this to be false.  Languages do vary in superficial respects, but all human languages reflect a universal underlying human grammar—this is what makes translation possible, among other things.  So, while gender expression can and does vary somewhat due to social factors and conditions, it does so within natural parameters. There is, in other words, a kind of natural grammar and syntax of gender.

And again, we all know this. Men and women do not act just alike or interchangeably, but with their own characteristic masculine and feminine modalities.

What does all this have to do with the matter at hand?

This: Kristi Winters and feminists like her, female or male, are misandrists because they hate or fear and want to suppress, extirpate, and replace natural, healthy masculinity (and to a large degree natural healthy femininity as well).  This is what misandry is—a hatred of men grounded in the way men are by nature.

Now, it is also human to become either virtuous or vicious (as Aristotle says) and the two sexes have their own characteristic “styles” in this regard, men being manly, and women being womanly.  It is probably going too far to say that men and women have different virtues, but I would say they perform the virtues in different ways—the virtue of modesty is a case in point. No matter how much and how often feminists whinge about double standards, promiscuous females are always going to be looked down on in a way promiscuous males are not.  There are reasons for this.

What do terms like “beta male”, “cuck”, or “mangina” signify? Are they misandric? Do they reflect a hatred of men?

No. They reflect a degree of natural contempt for males who are, in one way or another, failed men. Such men are emasculated males, who fall short of the proper realization of their masculine nature, for whatever reason.

They are contemptible, and especially so to women, who are not attracted to such emasculated males. It is something of an open secret that feminists despise male feminists—at least as potential mates.  Here is a literal cuckold, virtue signaling about how good a feminist he is to let is wife sleep with other men: What Open Marriage Taught One Man About Feminism. This man’s article was greeted with near-universal contempt. And rightly so. I defy you to read this article and not hold this man in contempt. I have no doubt that his wife holds him in contempt. If you succeeded, congratulations—you have managed to eradicate your natural sense of contempt by means of ideological brainwashing.  Good on you.

So, no, Kristi, we don’t hate men. That’s your thing. We do, however, have a degree of contempt for failed men. I know you think that their failure is really a “victory” over “toxic patriarchal masculinity”—but you are wrong, and the dating and mating preferences of women prove it and will keep proving it again and again. Pathetic, contemptible beta males will never be valuable commodities in human sexual interactions, no more than ugly, fat feminists will be, no matter how much both groups whinge about how unfair nature is.  Beta positivity is as doomed as body positivity.

I don’t mind being the one to break it to you: Nature is anti-SJW.  Nature could not care less about gender fairness.

And human beings will always judge others by the standards of judgment which are natural to them, because these are the natural standards.

When you declare war on nature, Kristi, you can’t win. All you can do is make a lot of human beings unhappy if they listen to your bullshit.

I recommend listening to a couple of Romans on this point:

ciceronaturecustom

horace