Apr 11, 2023
"How do we know that something is true? We deduce it, or we demonstrate it. When we say we ‘proved’ something, we mean that we deduced something from other somethings that we believe to be true with extraordinary certainty."
The historical period known as The Enlightenment (c. 1700 – 1900 CE) gave us many things, some quite fortunate, others less so: the Industrial Revolution, Capitalism, Socialism, Communism, Nationalism, Militarism, Electoral Democracy, Civil Rights and Modern Science, to name just a few.
But the Enlightenment’s proudest achievement is God-proofing the world. According to the illuminati of our age, the Enlightenment made it impossible for any rational person ever again to believe in God, at least not in the Judeo-Christian sense. Just as World War I made the world ‘safe for democracy’ (not!), so the Enlightenment made the world ‘safe from theology’.
How do we know that something is true? We deduce it, or we demonstrate it. When we say we ‘proved’ something, we mean that we deduced something from other somethings that we believe to be true with extraordinary certainty.
A proof’s chain of reasoning goes back to a very small set of ‘self-evident’ principles (axioms) and ‘undefined’ terms. When we say that we have ‘proven’ that something is true, we mean that it is true in any world where our axioms are true and our undefined terms operative.
On the other hand, when we say that we’ve ‘demonstrated’ something, we are referring to certain patterns exhibited by empirical events. Beginning with hypothesis, we proceed through experiment, measurement, repetition, confirmation, peer review, and publication in Nature (or another universally respected academic journal).
The existence of God cannot be proved by logic or demonstrated by science. Too bad, because the concept of God would have been very convenient. It could have helped us answer some of life’s most difficult questions:
➢ Why is there something rather than nothing?
➢ Why is there order rather than chaos?
➢ What does it mean to be ‘me’?
But convenience is not the same thing as truth. Just ask Al Gore about Inconvenient Truth. So, let’s come at this problem from the other end. What must we believe if we assume that the world is real, but that God is not?
First, we must believe that a cosmic epoch, characterized by spacetime and energy, spontaneously came into existence with more than 90 ‘mission critical’ physical constants (e.g., the relative masses of the subatomic particles) in tow. A variation of less than 1% in any one of these quantities or ratios would preclude the existence of the universe as we know it.
So far as we can tell, the values of these essential constants are not dependent on one another. A is not correlated with B; A is not caused by B; but without both A and B, no universe!
Remember Bayes’ Theorem: if the probability of A is 0.01 and the probability of B is 0.01, then the probability of A and B is 0.0001. Now imagine carrying out this same calculation but with 90 such variables, each with a probability of less than 1%, each absolutely mission critical to project universe. How many zeros can you write before your hand cramps?
Second, we must believe that our universe came to be without the existence of any transcendent values. Either the universe operates without objective values. or those values emerge subsequently in the course of events.
Novel events (e.g., Big Bang) occur, apparently spontaneously, for no reason, and without any goal, purpose, or meaning. Without objective values, we have no criteria with which to judge those events. We can choose to call A ‘good’ and B ‘not so good’, but the distinction is subjective, if not arbitrary. And on what authority can we say that A is normative?
Rebuttal #1: “Values don’t need to be transcendent to be objective or normative.”
Says who? Which values? Were values operative at the moment of Big Bang? If so, they are transcendent by definition. If not, if values emerged out of the course of events, how can those values be normative for all events, including Big Bang itself, and even including the emergence of those values per se? A deadly circularity?
Rebuttal #2: “Values can be objective, normative and transcendent without God.”
First, we define God in terms of his values; in fact, we define God as his values. God is the Summum Bonum. According to Jean-Paul Sartre, God is the one being whose essence (values) precedes his existence. Second, even if values could be both transcendent and free floating, how would they enter into the universe and become relevant to the events that constitute universe? On what authority can we say, ‘values are relevant’ and move on?
No doubt, this debate could go indefinitely, but to what end? Nietzsche ended the argument once and for all in 1882:
“There exists nothing which could judge, measure, compare, condemn our being for that would be to judge, measure, compare, condemn the whole…but nothing exists apart from the whole.”
Nietzsche stands out from other intellectuals of the Enlightenment and Post-enlightenment eras for having the unflinching courage of his convictions: No God, No Values, end of!
No event can be objectively any better, i.e., any more beautiful, true, or just, than any other. Without transcendent values, there is no objective way to distinguish Mother Theresa from Adolf Hitler. It’s all just a matter of ‘personal values’, aka taste.
Oh, how convenient it would be if only there was a God! But we can’t prove that there is. We can only say that those who preclude the existence of God, a priori, have “a lot of ‘splainin’ to do”. (I Love Lucy)