Proving Jabberwocky

August 23, 2005 § 15 Comments

“1. If anyone says that: the one, true God, our creator and lord, cannot be known with certainty from the things that have been made, by the natural light of human reason: let him be anathema.” – Vatican Council I

Catholics who claim that you can’t prove the existence of God by observing nature and using reason have to do a lot of semantic dancing with the word “prove,” it seems to me. They have to argue (implausibly, I think) that “prove” means something other than “show with certainty to be true,” and that under that odd construction of “prove” the existence of God cannot be “proven”. Sort of like showing that the bandersnatch is not really so froomious.


§ 15 Responses to Proving Jabberwocky

  • William Luse says:

    TSO notes your contribution to the dialogue < HREF="" REL="nofollow">here<>.“Catholics who claim that you can’t prove the existence of God by observing nature and using reason have to do a lot of semantic dancing with the word “prove…” Actually, they have to be something other than Catholic. That a proof can be valid in spite of one’s inability to apprehend it is “anathema” to the modern mind.

  • c matt says:

    I also liked your further clarification on OB that one can prove God’s existence with certainty, without proving any particular character of His nature (other than, of course, existence). I think many confuse the proof of existence with proof of His characteristics/nature, and if the latter cannot be proven through nature and reason, then niether can the former.

  • c matt says:

    Another good distinction. Valid proof does not mean “I am convinced”. Although one would hope that a person would find a valid proof convincing.

  • A Philosopher says:

    Well, the dogmatic claim is trivial as it currently stands (trivially true if God exists; trivially false if he doesn’t). Without some constraining of the evidence base, the claim follows immediately, since among the features of “things that have been made” is their coexistence with God — of course one can from that feature deduce the existence of God.It seems to me that the most serious problem facing any suitably guarded reformulation of the claim is that, as it happens, the majority of working philosophers do not think that there is any argument establishing the existence of God (and even fewer think that there’s an argument establishing it with certainty). If one wants to hold on to the dogmatic claim, then, it looks like you need one of the following three positions:(1) There is an argument establishing the existence of God with certainty, but that argument is not currently known to us.(2) The majority of working philosophers are misevaluating the evidential strength of one or more of the currently available arguments for the existence of God.(3) An argument can establish a claim with certainty even though people correctly applying their reason are unpersuaded by the argument.What’s your preference among these three?

  • There is no argument establishing the existence of anything, including me, that would necessarily be convincing to anyone, since to be convincing, an argument must be valid and based on true premises <>that are accepted by the person being convinced<>. There are many valid arguments based on true premises–the most trivial being “God exists; therefore God exists” (unfortunately to be convinced by it one must already accept the conclusion as true)–but some people would not be convinced by any of them. At one time in my life I was not certain of the existence of the external universe, so arguing from the “things that are made” would not have done much good anyway. It is possible, moreover, that the dictum of the Council is not speaking of proof, at least not in the sense of a syllogistic proof or one that might be accepted as certain by “working philosophers.” There are other modes of knowledge besides proof, and these can provide greater certainty than logical proof for many, if not all, people. The passages in Scripture, for example in Wisdom 13 or Romans 1, that assert the obligation to accept natural knowledge of God, appear to be referring as much to an intuitive knowledge as to a logical proof.

  • c matt says:

    2 or 3.

  • c matt says:

    Persuasion is a completely personal decision. One can be told and know with certainty that eating this pizza will causeon to gain weight and should therefore not eat it, yet not be persuaded to refrain from doing so anyway.For most in this category the reasoning goes:“I want to do X; God says I can’t do X; therefore, God does not exist.”

  • zippy says:

    Yes, or even the more mundane, “Right reasoning R says I can’t believe X. I really want to believe X. Therefore, reasoning R must not be right reasoning.”Sometimes people genuinely do not see, though, and the reasons why are more mysterious than just willful ignorance. Supposedly Kurt Godel thought that with his proof, people would be convicted with certainty about the self-contradiction within positivism and positivism as a mode of thought among respected intellectuals would disappear as quickly as the mystique of Oz revealed behind the curtain. If anything though positivist modes of thought infect more people today than in his time. There is no accounting for the human capacity (and here I do not exclude myself) to reject right reason.

  • Ronny says:

    <>…the majority of working philosophers…<>Lordy, it was just recently that “a philosopher” was taken to task by someone on another blog for making a similar claim on behalf of a profession full of rival camps that can’t even agree on what the heck it is that they do under the name “philosophy.” Even if the “majority” demonstrably does hold the position claimed in this case, they would likely have a lively debate about whose arguments for holding that position were more valid and whether their semantically similar conclusions actually differed due to substantively different principles.Having been trained in philosophy both as an undergraduate and a graduate and encountering “working philosophers” daily through my job, I would venture that this generic invocation of “philosophers” as though they were some homogenous professional group that took meaningfully univocal positions as a guild on particular issues would be risible to most philosophers themselves. I am hardly opposed to arguments from authority, but I do think that this isn’t the strongest one to call to to one’s defense.

  • c matt says:

    Curious, and perhaps OT, but have any of you erudite gentlemen heard of or tangled with Euthyphro’s dilemma?

  • Ronny says:

    Are you referring to Socrates question to Euthyphro, “Is the pious being loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is being loved by the gods?” If so, what do you think is the connection to the topic at hand?

  • c matt says:

    Are you referring to Socrates question to EuthyphroyesIf so, what do you think is the connection to the topic at hand?Not much of a connection (hence, my reference to Off Topic), but some have used it as a “proof” to deny existence of God or at least an ability to know God’s will, which in practical terms is almost the same thing. If you can’t know God’s will, what good does it do to know that God exists?

  • zippy says:

    It looks to me like it is just a version of divine command morality, that is, “it is good because God commands it” rather than “God commands it because it is good” or “it is good and God commands it”.Divine command morality strikes me as a transparent attempt to undermine morality in general by denying the natural law. It reduces morality from objective principles ordered to charity to a pure appeal to authority, and of course once something is a pure appeal to authority then whomever grabs the Crown has dictatorial power over everyone else. The usual practical effect is a mix of moral tyranny and moral anarchy, it seems to me.It isn’t completely off-topic because the same sort of “blind faith” appeal to arbitrary assertion is how people tend to think about both morality and God’s existence, with the same basic kind of practical outcome (reason is banished and replaced by tyranny/anarchy).

  • DannyWatt says:

    All your english words are so.. bombastic.. hardly understood any of it.

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