Deist Logic

There are desists of many sorts. Some just believe. Some insist on creating a logic structure to justify said beliefs, and some try to get others to accept their constructs as an external validation. I suppose that is to be expected; if you forgo the responsibility of having to account for your own purpose in the universe then you may always be looking for external validations. Personally I find the general desist argument more interesting since it can jink and dive into many more areas of philosophy and semantics than can the believer in a specific faith.

A common misdirection used by apologist deists goes like this: what I say is logical; therefore, it is true. One problem is that these notions, logic and truth, are not inextricably linked. Logic, intuition, etc are useful. But absent rigorous evaluation of the central premises or assumptions of either, they are often false. Wrong far more often than gives us comfort. Take this recent example of deist logic.
  1. Absent gods there can be no moral truth
  2. There are moral truths
  3. Therefore god exists.
This statement is logical. But is it true?

The nonbeliever may agree with '1'; probably does in fact. But '2' becomes the lynch pin. Are there moral truths? The nonbeliever usually says no. Human history certainly supports this position. Deists try to gloss over '2' as a given. It isn't by any stretch. The burden lies with the deist to prove that '2' is true. For '2' to be true, the deist must prove the existence of objective moral truths that cannot be reasonably discounted as no more than simple feelings or perceptions (no matter how deep or seemingly true) which are known to be vulnerable to cognitive bias. Science has proven many times that intuition is often false no matter how intense. Although logical, the previous logic statement is meaningless since it’s based upon false assumption of fixed moral truth absent any objective proof of the existence of such a thing. Absent fact (not the same as flowery philosophy and semantic misdirection) the deist may counter that the depth of feelings and numbers who share them has some importance to truth (sorry, only in elections). But these don't when actually subjected to rigorous testing. Truth and perception are often at odds. With these facts in mind, it is more correct to counter the deist 's logic as follows:
  1. Absent gods there can be no moral truth
  2. We have no objective evidence that there are moral truths
  3. Therefore the existence of gods cannot be gleaned from what we know of moral truth
Which blows a hole in the deist’s position. The fixed navigation point of rigid morality is crucial to the deist's position since at its source must be god. Take it away and they are adrift. But the deist will often counter with the knee -jerk response of ‘have you considered the consequences of this?’

I’m not quite sure why deists imagine that nonbelievers haven’t considered what this means. We do. Probably more than deists who have the benefit of shifting responsibility to god X. As I stated before, humans are responsible for creating our system of morality. Yes it is relative but justice and fairness can be obtained through the use of empathy. Perhaps the purest sense we have. The deist insists that moral relativism prevents the nonbeliever from making or defending a moral position relative to any other. Not true.

As example, let’s consider pedophilia. As a father, I am revolted by the notion of harming my children in any way. Nor am I open to someone else doing it. Don’t need any god to tell me that. As a father, I can be empathetic. I can extend my sense of duty to my children, to children in general. Through empathy, imagining what harm could come to my own dear children, I cannot allow anything like it to be permissible to any children. Therefore I am supportive of the relative moralistic position that children should be protected. I am eager to enter into a social contract that holds this position as moral. I am willing to accept it as a fact that kids are off limits. I refuse to accept it as permissible despite historical evidence that other cultures do not agree. I know that it is historically a relative position. Does not mean I am unwilling to push this as an absolute. It’s also pragmatic. If I am comfortable that my children are safe from predation it leaves me more time to do other things than killing pedophiles or defending my offspring. Other fathers feel the same. By agreeing that my offspring are safer when yours are too, the morality becomes easy and the argument that one position equals another becomes specious. Thus does a relative social contract become canon. Why should one accept the premise that you should keep your hands off my kids? Because enough fathers and mothers have banded together to get this canonized and to create a penalty structure should you chose otherwise. Yep, just the power of the majority.

Sorry believers - you of all people should accept the notion of ‘might makes right’. After all you invoke the power of a god to enforce your moral claims. Nonbelievers just have to resort to the power of consensus. (the power of democracy compels thee, the power....)

Deists make the mistake of thinking that basic morality is based upon philosophy. It isn't. It's based upon pragmatic social contracts enforced by the will of the strong or the well organized. As individuals have gained in stature over countless generations, the basic morality has evolved from what's good for the leader to what's good for the tribe. Over time it is aided by repetition and assumption so that future generations just assume it as a given (Much like how religion keeps hold). It seems natural because that's what we've been indoctrinated to believe.

Moral relativism is harder. It’s dangerous. It’s the truth we face. Wishing it were not so does nothing but complicate the real work of creating workable long term social structures based upon the interactions of short sighted biological entities most concerned with their own immediate needs (you and me).

So where does that leave us with respect to the deist? Back to the importance of the moral truth argument. If we invoke some science into the assumptions, we can turn this around on the deist. in any number of logical ways. For example:
  1. Absent gods there can be no moral truths
  2. People have a strong sense of the existence of moral truths despite vast scientific and historical proof to the contrary.
  3. Therefore people invent gods to account for their sense.
  1. People are uncomfortable with the notion of moral relativism
  2. Invented gods provide an pseudo-external source for fixed morality
  3. Therefore people embrace invented gods to ease their discomfort with moral relativism.
  1. Revealed morality is intellectually and socially cheap
  2. Moral relativism is intellectually and socially costly.
  3. Therefore, people embrace revealed morality to avoid the intellectual and social costs of moral relativism.
Notice that each of these positions is logically consistent. Furthermore, they are culturally and scientifically more sound than the deist’s position since the assumptions can be validated. The deist is claiming that we are essentially doomed if gods don't exist - who will guide us? Humans cannot determine reasonable moral values absent higher authority. Therefore our only salvation is a higher authority, regardless of objective proof. So it has to be true! Wishful thinking must be true? Seems a poor foundation for truth. It also seems like poor support for the existence of gods - if they don't exist we are screwed. It may be true if we don't get our collective act together but debating nonexistent parental figures isn't helping address our real problems.

Still, this logic often fails to persuade a believer. Many will continue to hold to the notion 'that it just feels right' to believe thus and so. Deists are often dogged in their belief of the claim that depth of feeling is a valid gauge of reality regardless of the objective evidence. Not surprising since long ago the promoters of religion realized that pushing the faith argument (belief regardless of fact) was the key to spiritual enlightenment. Clever of them since it allows believers an out regardless of the weight of evidence. That the god works in ever more mysterious ways seems not to bother anyone all that much. I know it's redundant to rehash why this isn't so, but since it's such a common tactic, it's worth repeating. To paraphrase a recent quote that illustrates this:
If we strongly perceive that something is obviously amiss in the world we are justified (absent some error theory) in believing our perceptions.
Do people do exactly that a lot of the time? Absolutely. It is human nature. Is it justifiable from a scientific perspective? No. Not justified at all. In fact, one can argue that the scientific method was invented as a means to mitigate our known perceptive biases. The above is a typical human response. Nevertheless it slams head first into a brick wall of objective science which refutes it. There exists ample ‘error theory’ to explain these run away feelings. Cognitive science demonstrates conclusively that people believe many things in their hearts that are not objectively true. This is my area of study and the limits of human delusional thinking are vast. The studies are compelling and reproducible. It’s science after all. We aren’t justified in concluding anything purely on the basis of our strength of feeling. Deists may counter that science cannot disprove the existence of god, yadda, yadda, however science can prove the existence and impact of cognitive biases on human thinking. Epistemology can't provide the usual sanctuary when you cross the borders of hard science as the above quote clearly does. Much in science may begin in the far less structured land of philosophy but most is discarded and any that remains must cut objective muster. And the validity of strong perceptions absent evidence has been ground into dust through science.

Rejecting the unproven concept of absolute morality in light of what we know of cognitive bias we can take a stab at alternative statements of logic for the deist to consider. It is logical to propose:
  1. People deeply believe many things
  2. Cognitive science demonstrates that many deep feelings point to false beliefs
  3. Therefore deep beliefs may not be true.
Or, a bit more bluntly:
  1. Cognitive bias research demonstrates how people falsely believe in extraordinary things absent proof.
  2. Gods are extraordinary things absent proof.
  3. Therefore, gods are a form of cognitive bias.
It may not be comforting, but that doesn't make it false. Truth is not the result of a popularity contest or an ad campaign. It cares not one bit how many feel otherwise or how strongly. You can't phase the truth by not believing in it. You can only prevent yourself from dealing with it.


mac said...

I'm sure someone will try to argue that morals are absolute, and god given.
They'll be wrong.

GearHedEd said...

Eric should see this...

Harvey said...

Ditto,ditto, ditto for Eric. As always, cogently put.