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On the limitations of philosophy

#1JonWood007Posted 4/7/2013 6:34:36 PM
Okay, so just a common theme I've noticed among a lot of people both on here and other sites, is an overuse of philosophy in approaching religious issues. This seems to be primarily an issue among theists, although I have to say I just got done debating something on another site in which an atheist used a similar kind of approach.

So here's the thing, philosophy has its uses. If you have certain premises available, you can use deductive reasoning to come to some conclusions. And the conclusion should be valid in theory, as long as the premises are true.

It's also useful as outlining possibilities. What is the meaning of life? What makes us, us? When does life begin? Are we living in the matrix? How do we know what we know? Etc.

Philosophy can point to conclusions and possibilties we would otherwise be unaware of. It has its uses.

HOWEVER, I notice many people in discussing issues relevant to religion and even naturalistic approaches toward life related to atheism is that philosophy has its uses. Personally, I find philosophical discussions to get very very abstract very very fast. I notice some people who are like super big on it throw out all of these premises and come to some of the weirdest conclusions possible. Like, what inspired me to make this topic was an atheist on another board talking about existence, and nonexistence, and the permanency of death, and he was going on about because life exists, nonexistence is not permanent, and therefore it's not logical to say that there is no such thing as an afterlife. Now, the problem with such an argument is it fails to take into consideration what we are. We are atoms configured in a way, almost like a machine, that gives rise to consciousness (according to naturalism). Our atoms will become disorganized after death, and our brains will rot, and the information will be lost. We will also likely never have our brains in the same configuration with the same atoms again. So yeah, it's pretty safe to say that the consciousness that makes us, us, will likely die with us, naturalistically. That means that pointing out that "life is a contradiction" if nonexistence is permanent is kind of a nonsensical question to ask. The problem here is that while there is nothing wrong with the problem he brings up in theory, I mean, obviously nonexistence can't be permanent if we're here in a way, but that doesn't mean we will ever be alive again. And his idea completely fails to take into consideration what makes us us.

Likewise, WLC's cosmological argument argues that because matter cannot be created nor destroyed and because everything has to have a cause, therefore God. The problem here is the logic is bad.

The thing is, logic is nice, logic can outline possibilities, but unless your logic is in tune with the universe, so to speak, it's wrong. Logic, by itself, cannot figure out how the universe works. It only outlines the possibilities. So are we all brains in a vat? Well, maybe, but is there any proof of this? So, logically, God can make a universe, does that mean he did? How do we know this? There are so many things we don't know about our universe that in terms of questions about God, and until you attempt to test such things, all you're stuck with are abstract possibilities. Basically, what I'm saying is philosophy is too "ivory tower" sometimes for my tastes. It fails to take all variables into consideration a lot of the time, and also fails to indicate which theoretical reality is real. Philosophy needs to be combined with science in order to find truth.
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#2JonWood007(Topic Creator)Posted 4/7/2013 6:34:46 PM
There's also the problem of "framing". This is an issue in politics, and is also an issue in philosophy, especially as far as religion goes. Apologists like WLC, I notice, like to frame issues on their terms. They come up with these arguments and end up trying to trap atheists in logical quagmires by framing the issue in a manner favorable to them. I noticed in the 1960s debate between Madalyn Murray O'Hair and Walter Martin that Martin REALLY abused this concept to his advantage. He tried to define atheism for O hair, which more or less is defining your views for your opponent in order to attack them (in other words a strawman). WLC also does this as well. WLC sets out these big fancy deductive arguments and browbeats opponents for not using his logic. He did this against Lawrence Krauss, who proposes a universe from nothing. To be fair, Krauss didn't express his views very well and sounds like he was rambling on at times, but that the thing, WLC FRAMED the issue in a way that his opponent had trouble countering and Krauss didn't frame his perspective as well. And this is how Craig wins debates, even if his arguments are awful.

So that's another thing you gotta be careful of in debates with logic. You gotta be very careful how a debate is framed. Because logic, IMO, can be used deceptively. It can be used to manipulate the discourse to one's favor, to make one's opponent look bad. And as long as you're forced to play to your opponents tune, you will never control the debate, and you'll look bad, even if you actually have the better perpsective.

So in short what I'm saying (TLDR version) is that logic and philosophy are limited. Philosophy has its uses, no doubt. But in itself, it can fail to take all premises into its consideration, leading to faulty conclusions. It also needs to stay closely in touch with reality or it will go off into never ever land (ie, fantasy world of abstractions completely out of touch with how the world works). At worst, philosophy can be used dishonestly, to frame an issue in favor of one perspective and again another, regardless of the validity of either.
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#3almasbabyPosted 4/7/2013 6:51:53 PM
Are you talking about sophistry? Socrates didn't like it either.
#4JonWood007(Topic Creator)Posted 4/7/2013 7:20:39 PM
You mean when discussing intellectually dishonest arguments? i guess I am.
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#5Moorish_IdolPosted 4/7/2013 10:00:01 PM
Normally I agree that we should approach issues with both a scientific and philosophical approach -- but I tend to make an exception when it comes to God/gods/the "supernatural" in general. Reason being: science has nothing to say about these things. At best, you can choose to use science to make inferences regarding these things. But personally I think that approaching them from a purely philosophical standpoint is entirely excusable since it's addressing them directly in the only way we are able to address them directly.
#6JonWood007(Topic Creator)Posted 4/7/2013 11:29:05 PM
Hmm....do you reject science's claim in the matter because science REALLY has nothing to say on the matter, or because you don't like the conclusions it reaches?

I believe you, along with many Christians, may be a victim of the whole framing the debate concept I touched on above. Let me explain this a little further. Framing is used a lot in politics. Do you want your taxes to go up? Of course not. Do you like being in control of your own life? Have a sense of rugged individualism? Vote republican! Think the system is unfair and favors the rich? Do you think everyone should have affordable health care? Vote democrat! It's all framing. In political debates in particular, the respective sides frame the issue on their own terms to draw people in. Sometimes the two parties really have totally different priorities on the issues, and come to opposing conclusions as a result. But both side frame the issue in a way favorable to them. The points they address, how they present them, the terminology they use and how they use it, they're trying to sell you a version of reality to buy into and vote for.

Religion is the same way. And it tries to frame the issue in a way to evade the need for science. They may claim God can't be tested. Thou shall not put the Lord your God to the test. You can't test God, he won't respond to your tests because he doesn't owe an explanation. Christianity also attempts to make people who use such methods, as opposed to buying into their system of unfounded belief, a moral weakness. The Bible calls people fools for not believing in their god at best, and wicked at worst. It looks down on the greeks for seeking wisdom, and the jews for seeking signs (in other words, evidence), and takes pride in the fact that it is views as a "stumbling block" or a "folly" to these groups. It tells you that to enter the kingdom of God you must be like a child. Someone in another topic mentioned this means having not the curiosity of a child, but the faith of one. In other words, you must be gullible and naive. And to top it all off, Doubting Thomas is often portrayed as showing moral weakness in his skepticism, and Jesus teaches that those who are blessed believe without seeing.

It's all framing. Christianity teaches that science is useless in matters regarding it because you can't come to a favorable conclusion that supports it. If Christianity were supported by science, they'd be pushing peer reviewed papers proving it in everyone's face. Heck, looking at their contempt for greek logic, I think if they could not use philosophy as a tool to promote its agenda, that would be irrelevant too. Christianity uses philosophy because it can reach favorable conclusions when they frame the issue on their terms, like so many apologists do. Honestly, I haven't heard a single convincing argument from apologists that isn't flawed or manipulative in some way. At best, Christianity poses itself as a viable alternative, working in the gaps in our knowledge (science hasn't proven we're right but it hasn't disproven it either!), taking advantage of our psychology (confirmation bias is a big issue I see), and relying on a heavy dose of faith in absence of the facts.

I can't talk of your personal experiences, what in particular convinces you, just something I notice about how the psychology of a believer works. In short, Christianity frames a worldview that creates an illusion of being true, or at least not falsified/falsifiable, takes advantage of the psychology of the believer, works in the gaps of our knowledge, and tries to frame science as irrelevant to compensate for its short comings. I don't think it's that science doesn't have anything to say about Christianity, it's that it doesn't support its worldview. You may argue it doesn't contradict it either, but the thing is it doesn't support it.
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#7bratt100Posted 4/7/2013 11:29:36 PM
Almost everything is measurable. The concept of god or what people have written about him makes it so that you can't be wrong with god. It's a bad argument for his existence.
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#8JonWood007(Topic Creator)Posted 4/7/2013 11:33:45 PM
^^TLDR version of my post. Check out the big brain on Bratt! (lol sorry, been wanting to use that line for a while, Pulp Fiction reference if you don't get it).
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#9Julian_CaesarPosted 4/8/2013 12:40:43 AM
From: JonWood007 | #006
Religion is the same way. And it tries to frame the issue in a way to evade the need for science. They may claim God can't be tested. Thou shall not put the Lord your God to the test. You can't test God, he won't respond to your tests because he doesn't owe an explanation. Christianity also attempts to make people who use such methods, as opposed to buying into their system of unfounded belief, a moral weakness. The Bible calls people fools for not believing in their god at best, and wicked at worst. It looks down on the greeks for seeking wisdom, and the jews for seeking signs (in other words, evidence), and takes pride in the fact that it is views as a "stumbling block" or a "folly" to these groups. It tells you that to enter the kingdom of God you must be like a child. Someone in another topic mentioned this means having not the curiosity of a child, but the faith of one. In other words, you must be gullible and naive. And to top it all off, Doubting Thomas is often portrayed as showing moral weakness in his skepticism, and Jesus teaches that those who are blessed believe without seeing.


This is a long-winded way of saying "I disagree with the foundational premise of Scripture which says that God is beyond scientific understanding." You're free to disagree all you want, it's your opinion.

But saying that religion is actually "wrong" for that belief is only logically possible if you "frame" the issue from the perspective that nothing beyond scientific understanding can possibly exist (thus anything which requires suspension of scientific proof shouldn't be accepted). Which is quite ironic since you're accusing religion of framing the same issue from the opposite direction.

What you call "framing" I call "establishing premises with the intent to mislead." Fact is, you can't have arguments without premises. And while you can explain the majority of premises by backtracking, somewhere down the line a premise has to exist without a preceding argument. This isn't a weakness on the part of the argument, it's simply how logic works. And in this case, your original premise is what I summarized above.

So while it's perfectly fine for you to explain what "framing" is, it's very inconsistent for you to accuse religion of being "all about framing", even though your only logical recourse for making that claim is to frame the discussion from your own point of view.

Hmm....do you reject science's claim in the matter because science REALLY has nothing to say on the matter, or because you don't like the conclusions it reaches?


Do you reject religion's claims in the matters of reality because religion REALLY has nothing to say about life/existence, or because you don't like the conclusions it reaches?
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#10Moorish_IdolPosted 4/8/2013 12:42:25 AM
JonWood007 posted...
Hmm....do you reject science's claim in the matter because science REALLY has nothing to say on the matter, or because you don't like the conclusions it reaches?

I can't speak for the Christians, and they may be guilty of framing as you say. I'll let them defend themselves.

However, speaking for myself, I am not worried about the conclusions science reaches. Primarily because it reaches no conclusions about god in the first place -- but even if it were able to, that would make things much easier for me. If science somehow concluded a god does not exist or can't exist, I would adjust my beliefs accordingly. I have yet, to this day, blatantly rejected anything that science has demonstrated, so I don't see any reason why I'd all of a sudden start. My career is in the sciences, after all.

That said, what can science truly say about god? What are these claims you refer to? At most it can say, "No measurement or observation we've made suggests the existence of god." As true as that may be, it's far from a conclusion. If anything it's an invitation for philosophical thought: why haven't we observed evidence for god? Is such evidence even possible in the first place? Will we never have evidence? And (perhaps most relevant here) what conclusions are appropriate in consideration of the lack of evidence?