Truth, God, and the Sun Rise: Karl Popper

popper-smA friend of mine, Twinkle, whom I know through Second Life, made a nice response to my last post, The Absolute Nature of Uncertainty pt. 2.  As is my unfortunate nature, I got a little long winded in my response, so I decided to make a separate article out of it.  I hope that she does not take offense to it, as absolutely none is intended.  I just felt that my response helps to give a clearer idea of the General Uncertainty Principle (see the bottom of this link).

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Twinkle: Popper said that nothing is true if you can’t prove its opposite.

Having done extensive research into Karl Popper (i.e. having skimmed the Wikipedia article article about him), I believe that he is skating along the edges of the General Uncertainty Principle without completely identifying it as such, and is thus making mistakes in interpretation. If I am reading the article correctly, I believe that what Popper said is that no amount of evidence can prove that something is true, but a single example of its opposite can disprove it. I.e., no amount of instances of sun rising will prove that the sun will rise tomorrow, but a single instance of the sun not rising will disprove the idea that the sun always rises.

Again, the concept that NOTHING is provable beyond unreasonable doubt comes in. Popper seems to be toying with the principle of proof beyond ALL possible doubt, which I’ve demonstrated as an impossibility.

So, that the sun always rises is provable beyond reasonable doubt, and is therefore true (depending upon one’s definition of truth).  It is not, however, proof beyond unreasonable doubt. If the sun does not rise tomorrow, it merely demonstrates that an unreasonable assumption proved to be the correct one.

Twinkle: So, if you can reckon what’s God’s opposite and prove it exists, you’re done with your theory :)

So on to God. Firstly, it depends on how one defines “truth”. Absolute truth is unknowable by the General Uncertainty Principle. General truth I define as something proven beyond reasonable doubt.

Secondly, God’s opposite depends on what definition of God you prefer. If one accepts the definition of God as a supernatural being that created the universe, then, according to Popper, to prove that God is true requires that there exists no proof of its opposite, a universe created by completely natural processes.

I would submit that we have come a long way to proving our universe is created by completely natural processes beyond reasonable doubt.  In fact, by definition, science cannot use supernatural explanations, as science holds them by definition to be beyond reason and unprovable.  By the nature of science, a supernatural God is, definitionally, ruled out as an explanation.

This is not to say that science could not demonstrate strong evidence of the supernatural.  If, for example, prayer were proven to increase the likelihood of survival of  people undergoing open heart surgery, then we would have little choice but to conclude that something supernatural was indeed happening (alternative explanations, such as alien intervention, could be determined to be less likely via Occam’s Razor.)  Incidentally, this very experiment has indeed been conducted, in fact, and the results indicated that prayer did nothing to improve chances of survival.  This result proves almost nothing, for reasons that I’m not going to go into for time’s sake.

If this is a bias of science, then it is an absolutely necessary one.  Proof of natural processes cannot be found if we constantly throw “goddidit” into every unknown.

Therefore, if one (not unreasonably) redefines “truth” by throwing in the possibility of the unreasonable, then “truth” can never be proven.

What seems “reasonable” to me is that if God exists, He clearly does NOT want us to demonstrate his existence through our study of the natural world.

Twinkle: But at the end…does it really matter?

Well, in the “end”, it certainly DOES matter, as it could mean the difference between eternal hellfire and torture; 70+ virgins in assorted colors and flavors; or becoming worm food.

But I’m just playing and I know what sense you meant this in. And in the sense you meant it, then I would say no, it doesn’t matter in the least.

Twinkle: I’ve had so much proof of humanity’s evilness that I am positive that Love is somewhere out there…or maybe just inside myself… A secret recipe for serenity ;)

As to evil, mankind is imperfect and suffers from many mental illnesses and brainwashing resulting from unreasonable arguments. Hitler very likely had a mental illnesses (Narcissistic Personality Disorder, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and who the hell knows what that mustard gas did to him). Whether these illnesses are in anyway treatable does not change this fact. When what we perceive as evil is in fact something that is beyond the conscious control of a mentally ill mind, can we truly call it evil?

This is not to say that Hitler wasn’t a nasty, dangerous son-of-a-bitch who needed to be killed far, far earlier then he actually was.

So evil is definitional. Love? I have no doubt of it. Love, too, is definitional, but “generally” doesn’t follow under anyone’s definition of mental illness. Most people have love within them. This is a statement of faith on my part.

And if you could more clearly express your secret recipe, I would greatly appreciate it. 🙂

Love,

Alphonsus

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The Absolute Nature of Uncertainty pt. 2

Venusians

Venusians

 

I learned why the teacher mentioned Descartes in step two of my Proof of the Mischievous God (see my previous post).  Descartes had essentially devoted his life to the question expressed in step two.

To reiterate, step two states the following.

2) God can, then, influence the human mind and make one believe whatever He wants us to believe.  This would certainly fall under the heading of what an all powerful person could do.

Descartes had asked himself the same question.  Is there anything that God couldn’t possible fool us about?  Anything that is, to use his word, indubitable, that is, free from all doubt?

Descartes spent years on the question.  He was a deeply religious man, and wanted to believe that there was some absolute in the universe, some gift that God had given that was beyond all doubt, that we could use to build all of our other proofs about the universe from.

His answer finally came out as the famous expression, one that I hadn’t understood until then.  “Cogito Ergo Sum”, or, more commonly, “I think, therefore, I am.”

What Descartes concluded was that God could not possibly be fooling us about our own existence.  How could God possibly be tricking us into believing that we exist?  If we didn’t exist, who, indeed, would he be tricking?

How could He, indeed.

God could, if He was mischievous and chose to do so, make us believe that two plus two equals five with the same certainty and conviction that we believe, “Cogito Ergo Sum.”

The point is, there could be a flaw in the logic of, “Cogito Ergo Sum.” that we are missing, or something obvious that we are being kept from seeing.

Can I point out what this flaw is?  Of course not, because I believe it to be true.  The logic of his point seems to be irrefutable.

But Descartes was the one who made the rules here.  The legal system tells its jurors that, to find someone guilty, they must be guilty beyond “reasonable” doubt.

By Descartes’ rules, the word “reasonable” no longer applies.  We are no longer talking about “reasonable” doubt, but to be completely beyond “any” doubt.

Descartes’ question is, in essence, is there anything that we can know for sure that is beyond unreasonable doubt.  The problem, of course, is that once one throws out reason, anything goes.  Logic no longer applies.  A madman who is convinced that he is being tricked by God into believing he exists will except no demonstration that he is wrong.

Cogito Ergo Sum depends upon reason, but reason is one of the conditions that doesn’t apply under Descartes rules.

The General Uncertainty Principle does not require that the flaw be pointed out.  All it does is state that a flaw could exist beyond our ability to see it.

To reiterate, NOTHING can be proven beyond all possible doubt, for all possible doubt includes unreasonable doubt, and without reason, the very concept of proof becomes meaningless.

Thereby, if I were to introduce unreasonable “what ifs” to any statement, such as, what if a statement, such as “a=a”, is wrong and God / Venusians / The Flying Spaghetti Monster / The Invisible Pink Unicorn is only making you BELIEVE the statement to be correct, then the statement has not been proven beyond ALL possible doubt.

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After I wrote out my little principle, I turned stupid for the next decade or so.

I loved this theory.  I loved the logic of the theory.  And, like a man who falls in love with and marries an axe murderess because she’s got nice boobs, I paid too much attention to the outstanding attributes and almost lost my head.

I spent the next several years of my life believing that absolutely nothing was provable ‑ ‑ that nothing could really be demonstrated with certainty, therefore anything was possible.  I became deeply philosophical during this period of my life.  No one could ever get a straight answer out of me.  I would respond to peoples concerns with relaxed, knowing smiles.  Nothing mattered, so no decision was demonstrably better than any other in the long run.

This is the same fallacy that the nihilist falls into.  Its a basic belief that just because nothing can be proven beyond all possible doubt that nothing can be known or proven at all.

The problem with this kind of thinking is that it gives equal weight to reasonable doubt and to unreasonable doubt.  There is absolutely nothing in the argument that suggests that this is necessary.  In the tautological statement “a=a”, we are faced with the overwhelming logic of it’s obvious correctness.  This statement is the cornerstone of all reason.  If it is not true, then nothing else we have ever thought of can be true.

The only way it can be stated as being possibly false is by invoking the Venusian clause.  But, even if the Venusians existed, there is absolutely no reason for us to believe that they would be able to, much less want to, make us believe this.  One would have to be unreasonable to the point of insanity to seriously doubt that this statement is correct.

In other words, just because something is not provable beyond all possible doubt does not mean that it isn’t true.  Just because it is possible to doubt something does not mean that it is wrong.  To believe otherwise is not … uh … reasonable.

Therefore, I retract my argument that it is impossible to prove God’s existence.  God could very easily prove his existence by making his existence known beyond reasonable doubt in a multitude of ways.  Sending the same message to everyone on earth while simultaneously making all the non-believers walk around and quack like a duck would go a long way toward demonstrating His existence.  I still maintain that it is unlikely that we will ever be able to prove His existence beyond a direct demonstration on His part, but I don’t have a proof for this; it’s just a statement of belief.  I can imagine several ways by which science could come up with reasonable proofs for God.  Nothing yet, but that doesn’t mean anything either.

Love and peace,

Alphonsus

The Absolute Nature of Uncertainty pt. 1

Symbol of Uncertainty

Symbol of Uncertainty

I did not want to bring up this particular argument here at this time, but, after trying to write my next post, I found that I could not effectively make my arguments without laying down these logical foundations first.

What follows is a major rewrite of a section of my haphazard book, “Emergence.” The book itself is quite hopeless, and I would never consider trying to publish it without starting from scratch.

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In college, I took a class called Philosophy 101 in which I was given an assignment. The assignment I was supposed to do would have involved critiquing or supporting the arguments of St. Thomas Aquinas in his proofs of God’s existence, or of critiquing or supporting a non saint named W.I. Matson’s arguments against them.

Well, I didn’t know it at the time, but I have been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder (non-hyperactive).  This means, among other things, that I have a great deal of difficulty paying attention to arguments that I find to be mind-boggling boring.   I did not then, and have not to this day, read either of these arguments.  It was my contention at the time that God’s existence could neither be proved or disproved. So, basically ignoring the assignment, I decided to come up with proofs for these contentions instead.

As a first step, I demonstrated that no proof could ever exist for the non existence of God. I called this . . .

The Proof of the Mischievous God

1) Suppose that God exists, and that this God is all powerful and all knowing.

2) God can, then, influence the human mind and make one believe whatever He wants us to believe. This would certainly fall under the heading of what an all powerful person could do.

3) God could, for example, cause one to believe a false proof for God’s non existence, and to believe it for as long as He so chooses.

4) Therefore, there can exist a situation where a proof for God’s non existence exists despite God’s persistent existence.

5) Under these circumstance, the proof would be false

6) There would be no way to determine if these circumstances exist, because God, being all powerful and all knowing, could keep us from finding out.

7) Any proof for God’s non existence could therefore be false beyond our ability to prove otherwise.

8) Since a good proof, by its definition, can never have a false conclusion, it follows that God’s non-existence can not be proved.

At this point in the paper, I pointed out that here, at last, was definite proof of something of a philosophical nature. I also noted that the proof had the really cool side affect of disproving the proofs of virtually everything that man had ever done. All one has to do is insert the appropriate proof name in the appropriate places and watch its truthfulness erode.

I pointed out at this point that I wasn’t stating that I believed that God would actually do anything as mischievous as what He does in the proof, only that He could, and that even this possibility is what makes the proof work.

I went on to point out that probably the one proof that this proof doesn’t disprove is the existence of a proof for God’s existence, which was my original goal. How could it be possible, after all, for a non-existent God to make a proof of God’s existence incorrect.

As I hadn’t thought my paper through, and as I was writing it roughly 6 hours before it was due, I did have a moment of panic at this point. After all, at the beginning of the paper, I promised that I would find a way to not only demonstrate that no proof for the non existence of God exists, but also that no proof would ever exist for His existence.

And I didn’t know how to do it.

I knew that such a proof existed. I never doubted it for a second. It just seemed so obvious to me, almost like a gimme. But, now that I had committed myself to the gunfight and was walking the eighth step of the ten paces away from my opponent, I realized that the time had come for me to check to see if I had a gun!

It crossed my mind, briefly to be sure, that if I couldn’t think of a proof that would satisfy me, I might actually have to read the stuff that I was supposed to read!  Not only did this run contrary to my sense of ethics, I simply didn’t have the time to properly sit down, analyze the stuff, and then write about it in any way that would most do it justice.

Finally, I seized on a principle that I had gathered from reading science fiction.  The more ridiculous and far out the example, the better it can sometimes illustrate the point that needs to be gotten across.   A situation that is incorrect at the extremes of reason will show where the same situation falters within the bounds.

To demonstrate that no proof for God exists, therefore, was much more subtle then the Proof of the Mischievous God, and relied on a chain of unlikely events.  It was based on the idea that one doesn’t require an all powerful being to deceive us.  That is, a lesser being may be able to get the job done.  Human beings can be very gullible sometimes, after all.  I called this proof . . .

The Paranoid Principle

1) Let us suppose that God does not exist.

2) Let us further suppose that there exist more advanced civilizations than ours that wish to deceive us, for whatever reason, into believing that our proofs for God’s existence are correct.

2a) As these civilizations are not God, they are not all knowledgeable or all powerful.

3) Since the civilizations are not all knowledgeable or all powerful, the possibility exists for us to find a way to disprove the false proof which the advance civilization could not anticipate or prevent.

4) It is possible, however, that a more advanced civilization could then offer us another proof in which the disproof of the previous proof doe not apply.

5) To this proof it will be possible to apply 3, and to this it is possible to apply 4, ad infinitum.

6) We could never be certain that we are not being deceived into believing our proofs until we ourselves become all powerful and all knowledgeable, at which point the question becomes academic.

The reason why I called this the paranoid proof is that it pre supposes that everyone in the universe is against us. The mere fact that this pre supposition is ludicrous does not rule it out as being a possibility.

At the end of the paper, I concluded that, in using these two proofs, it is possible to disprove virtually any other proof in the known or unknown universe, and that the mere possibility of a mischievous God necessitates it. I then said that, as these proofs will never get us anywhere in the practical living of our lives, it would probably be best to ignore them and get on with the business of living it.

Well, looking back at it now, I can see an obvious omission in the second proof, in that I never gave reason to support my supposition.

I’m not going to bother to fix this problem now, as I never really did like either proof. The thing that bothered me most about them is that they seemed to work.

My instructor did nothing to dispute them, not really. Other than one comment about Descartes and a few spelling corrections, she did not find fault with my proofs at all. In fact, she told me that I ought to take up philosophy as my trade. She said that the paper was excellent and a lot of fun to read as well, an unusual combination. This gave my ego an extremely unhealthy boost.

But the fact remained that my evidence for there being no proof for God’s existence relied on a bunch of mind-bending Venusions who had nothing better to do than to spend eternity messing wit the earthling brain. It did not seem credible, that the proof for the non-existence of a proof something so overwhelmingly important had to rely on something so absolutely ridiculous.

What was it that made the Paranoid Proof work?  What was the work that the aliens were accomplishing that made them seem necessary?

Well, the aliens were fooling us, weren’t they?  They were there to make us think that our proofs were correct when in fact they weren’t.   They were causing us to be blind with respect to the flaws in our logic.

Was there anything else that could cause us to be blind with respect to flaws in our logic?

Well, that’s no real trick, is it?   A large percentage our population still smokes, despite overwhelming evidence that smoking adds absolutely nothing to our lives and in fact causes us great physical harm.   Many of the smokers of the world have managed to justify their habit in some way, but whatever way it is, it is pretty safe to assume that there is a flaw in their logic, somewhere.

And it’s not just the non scientists that use flawed logic.  Scientists used to be able to say quite logically why the sun went around the earth, and more recently, that the planet Mercury always kept just one face to the sun

Even Sir Isaac Newton was wrong, wasn’t he?   I mean, Einstein came along later and showed that the Newtonian universe was not quite correct, or, at least it didn’t apply to objects that began to approach the speed of light.  Of course, at the time, the speed of light was not really understood. The proper inconsistencies hadn’t been discovered yet.   Newton had no reason to suspect . . .

But what were the aliens in the Paranoid Principle?  We had no reason to suspect them, either.   Weren’t they just an expression of . . . uncertainty?

So its obvious that aliens are not needed in order for us to have flaws in the logic of our proofs.  Reality and our own lack of total omniscience has a neat way hiding flaws all on its own, doesn’t it?

I thought about this for about two weeks after I turned in my paper.  Finally, I had a new idea.

The General Uncertainty Principle

1) Let us suppose that we have created a proof for something, and we believe it to be true.

2) Let us further suppose that there exists a flaw somewhere in our logic in the proof. Perhaps we added two numbers together wrong somewhere and nobody has caught it. Perhaps there is some unknown law of reality operating that would point out an obvious flaw in the proof if we knew about it.

3) As mankind is a thinking and inquisitive species, it is possible that at a later time we will find the flaw in our proof.

4) It is possible, however, that another, more subtle error in our logic still exists in our new proof. Perhaps we still do not have a complete understanding of the necessary laws of reality

5) To this proof it will be possible to apply 3, and to this it is possible to apply 4, ad infinitum.

6) We can never be certain that our proofs do not contain some flaw that is beyond our current ability to recognize. Therefore, nothing is provable beyond all possible doubt.

I’ve never called the General Uncertainty Principle a proof, because, if I did, it would have the somewhat ironic effect of disproving itself. I would have preferred to call the this idea simply, “The Uncertainty Principle,” but alas, quantum physics was already using that name.

This post has gone on long enough. I will continue with critiques and implications of these arguments in part 2.

Emergence – Chapter 3: Believers

The first book I ever seriously started was called Emergence, and it basically had to do virtually entirely with religious / philosophical topics.  This book will never be published as it never really had a sense of theme or coherence.  I had a general idea, but never really developed it to a book level document.

What’s more, my ideas are constantly changing and evolving.

In any event, I broke my readership at the beginning of the book into three breakout sessions, one for Theists (believers), one for atheists, and one for the unsure.  This is one of the breakout sessions.

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Emergence – Chapter 3: Believers

“Hello.  Yes, this is the breakout group for the believers.  Come on in.  Take a seat.  There’s plenty of room up front.  Barbara, it’s great to see you again.  Clyde, Diane, I’m glad you could make it.  Please just take a seat over there so we can get started.

“Is everyone comfortable?  Good.

“My name is Steve, and I’m going to be hosting this breakout group.  This is a smaller group, and we’re kind of informal here, so please feel free to ask questions at any time.

“But, before we do that, I have a couple of questions for you.  These are important questions, but I’m sure that everyone here knows the answers, as they are very, very simple.

“First question.  Who created the Universe?

“See, that wasn’t so tough.  That’s right . . . God.  I think I heard a couple of Allah’s out there.  You’re right, too.  For the moment, and for simplicity, let’s just call Him God.  Is that ok?  I see some reluctant nods.  That’s good enough for me.  The problem is I was brought up in the western culture so I just have a God / Bible kind of mind set.  This shouldn’t matter too much at this point, for what I have to say is applicable to all religions.  Can you just bear with me on this prejudice for a while?  It will make the writing here a lot easier.

“More reluctant nods.  Good.  At least give me the benefit of the doubt for a little while longer.  Thanks.

That last one was an easy question.  One of the reasons you’re in this breakout group is because you were sure of the answer to that question.  The next question is a little bit trickier, so pay attention.

Ok then, who wrote the Bible?

. . .

Same answer, very good.  But let me re-state the question.  I didn’t ask who authored the Bible, I asked who wrote it.  These are very different questions.  Who physically put the words down on paper, or parchment?  Who took pen, or quill, in hand to do the physical labor involved in the Bible’s creation?

. . .

Hmmm . . . a lot of murmurs . . . not quite as certain on that one.  And that’s good.  The fact is, virtually all Biblical scholars agree that many different individuals wrote out the Bible in many different time periods.  The Bible is actually a library of different books; 66 to be exact for the King James, 39 of which are in the Old Testament.  The word Bible is in fact derived from biblia, the plural of the Greek noun biblion, therefore meaning books.  Latin readers mistook the word for the feminine singular, which is why we use a singular noun for something that is very much a collected work.  We’re not even quiet sure as to whom the actual writer was in many parts.

My point here, and I want to emphasize this, is that the Bible is a document written by the hand of man.  No religion I know of states, or even believes, that the Bible was written by the hand of God.  There are other religions which believe that their Bible equivalent was written by men who were as gods.  Some followers of the Koran believe Archangel Gabriel wrote it, and while he might have been well connected, he still was not God Himself.

The Ten Commandments may have been written by the hand of God; written on tablets; etched in stone. The tablets themselves, unfortunately, are no longer available.

Why do I talk about this?  It’s because I want all of you to know exactly where I’m coming from.  Of all the breakout groups, this is the one I worry about the most; because where I place my faith is just a little bit different.  And while the placement is just a little different, the implications of that little difference are profound.

The placement of my faith is based on the answers to the above two questions, and it comes down to the question of authorship.  I am, as I said earlier, a librarian.  In library school, I learned about three different kinds of sources.  The first kind is called a primary source.  These are the original words, written by the hand of the original person.  These could be research notes, diaries, some magazine articles, and some books.

The second kind is called, naturally, the secondary source.  This is most of the stuff we see out there.  This is interpreted stuff, written by people who studied the primary sources and interpreted it for us.  Because it is interpreted, it is subject to the prejudices of the person doing the writing, and is therefore considered less reliable than primary sources.  It is, in effect, one level removed from the original work.

The third source level is called a tertiary source.  This is basically a compilation of secondary sources, and stands one level further removed from the primary, and is therefore just that much less reliable.  Examples of this are encyclopedias and textbooks.

Now, there are those who would argue that the Bible is a primary source, and that might include most of the people here in this room.  The Bible was supposedly dictated to its writers by God Himself, and is therefore supposedly just as good as if God had done His own writing.  The argument goes that God would not let any corruption happen to his words, and that God never lies, and that, therefore, what is in the Bible must be believed as if God were standing in front of us saying the same words.

And this argument is indisputable, as far as it goes, at least to the extent that it is not un-provable.  Not in an absolute sense, anyway.  We don’t have any other original works by God to compare it against.

Or do we?

Here is where we come back to my original question.  Who created the Universe?

For, of all the works of God, about God, and for God, only one was not written by the hand of man.  Only one can be said to bear God’s signature.

And that one is the Universe Itself.

By this argument, then, if you accept the idea that God created the Universe, then the Universe must be considered indisputably to be the Primary Source of God.

And here is where our slight difference in faith lies.  If God exists at all, then the Universe is indisputably God’s Primary Source.  The Bible can also be considered a primary source, but it is disputable.  If any differences exist between the Universe and the Bible, I take it on faith that it is the Universe that has it correct, because it and it alone was created by God’s hand.

Ok, that’s all I have to say for now.  Thanks for listening, and you can now join everyone else in Chapter 5 if you still wish to.  You are certainly welcome to peruse the other chapters if you so choose.  Through the miracle of the written word, the breakout sessions in those chapters are just starting to begin right now.