Dialogue With an Atheist on Logical Positivism, and the Existence and Cause (or No Cause) of the Universe

Dave Armstrong vs. Steve Conifer (Stevenconifer@cs.com)

From an atheist discussion list: January 2002; uploaded with Steve's editorial consent. His words will be in blue.

Consider the following argument:

(1) Nobody can (or ever could) entertain in thought the proposition that Socrates is a prime number.
(2) Therefore, the proposition that Socrates is a prime number is literally unthinkable (or incoherent).
(3) Unthinkable propositions are necessarily false.
(4) So, the proposition that Socrates is a prime number is necessarily false.
Probably you would accept this argument, since (1) seems reasonable enough and you have
explicitly assented to (3).

Yes.

Now consider THIS argument:

(1') Nobody can (or ever could) entertain in thought the proposition that nothing exists.
(2') Therefore, the proposition that nothing exists is literally unthinkable (or incoherent).
(3') Unthinkable propositions are necessarily false.
(4') So, the proposition that nothing exists is necessarily false.
I think (1') is clearly false, so in my opinion the argument utterly fails. To get behind (1') (logically prior), one must distinguish between the following two concepts:
A. "Nothing" does not partake of the characteristic of existence, because it is "no thing."

B. One can conceive a state of affairs in which no things ever came into existence. Existence itself would therefore be a meaningless concept, not possessing "being."

My meaning was B. Furthermore, spirit, insofar as it is conceived as not a thing, being non-material (as a matter of definition), could exist in a "world" with no matter, or one can imagine absolutely nothing existing, including spirit. In any event, one can easily imagine a spirit existing in a non-material universe. This is harmonious with the theist's God, before creation.

There are several ways in which (1') might be supported. One way is to argue that spacetime simply cannot be conceived as nonexistent, that it is not only an eternal (and irreducible) component of the universe but a conceptual necessity as well (and is therefore necessarily actual).

1. Things exist.
2. Any thing that exists can be conceived as not having existed, or coming into existence, or ceasing to exist.
3. Spacetime is a thing.
4. Therefore, spacetime can be conceived as not having existed, or coming into existence, or ceasing to exist.
[whether this happened in actuality or not is another question]
The pre-Socratic philosopher Democritus argued along these lines, suggesting that space, time, and matter are irreducibly basic and necessary constituents of existence. Thus conceiving the nonexistence of the world (i.e., the existence of something) is impossible.

It is not impossible, according to modern science, since the space-time continuum is a constituent of the universe and laws of matter. The universe is running down (entropy). If it can run down, it is able to not (and, we are told, will not) exist at some point in the future, and spacetime goes with it, being part of it. If it always existed, it would have run down a long, long (infinite?) time ago.

Either way, the notion that this scenario is inconceivable, impossible, or unthinkable is contradicted by modern physics and astronomy. Pre-socratic is also not only pre-Newtonian but pre-Einsteinian. :-) Old Democritus didn't know the stuff we know today. So he had luxuries of theoretical thought which we don't have, having been constrained by certain facts of scientific discovery.

Kant seems to agree in a general sense, declaring things like space and causality preconditions of experience (or conceptual necessities).

Kant is also prior to Einstein, last time I checked his life-dates.

More recently, Wittgenstein wrote the following:

To say 'I wonder at such and such being the case' has sense only if I can imagine it not [being] the case... But it is nonsense to say that I wonder at the existence of the world, because I cannot imagine it not existing.
       - "Wittgenstein's Lecture on Ethics," THE PHILOSOPHICAL REVIEW, 74 (January 1965).

"Conceptualize logically" and "visually imagine" are two different things. One can easily conceptualize the present universe simply not being here: not being, period. We don't have to visualize absolutely everything in order to believe it. Sub-atomic physics or black holes or the mass of the entire universe being initially contained in a point are quite difficult to visualize or imagine, too, but so what? We know that those things exist, or once existed, through the results of scientific inquiry and inductive and deductive reasoning.

An alternate view is that while spacetime might be conceived as nonexistent, laws of logic (for example) could not be.

That is a more plausible and convincing argument. I find it far more difficult to imagine a non-logical world than a non-physical world, so this is more-or-less compelling to me.

And since laws of logic are something, (1') must be true.

:-) Would that not be "spirit" as opposed to matter, though? If logic exists -- eternally to boot -- without a material brain to conceptualize and think it, then it is "spirit" in some sense. How could it not be? If spirit can exist eternally, then so can a God, in whose Eternal Mind logic would then find its grounding, "absolutism" or Being (this is how the theist would relate God and logic, as well as God and love). Yet I thought you (or someone here) argued earlier that Christians are inconsistent when they can imagine the physical world not existing, but not God not existing. The eternal existence of God would be logically akin, it seems to me, to the eternal existence of the non-physical and eternal laws of logic.

Another way in which (1') might be supported is by appeal to logic itself. It might be said that the
negation of "something necessarily exists" entails (or implicitly constitues) a contradiction, namely, that there could exist the state of affairs of there existing no state of affairs. Put formally:

 (a) If there were to exist nothing, then there would exist no state of affairs whatever.
 (b) But if there were to exist no state of affairs whatever, then, necessarily, there would exist the state of affairs of there existing no state of affairs.
 (c) However, that is (of course) self-contradictory and thus impossible.
 (d) Therefore, there must exist some state of affairs.
 (e) It follows that something must exist.
This strikes me as the "ontological argument for the eternal (godless) universe." Just as I don't value the theistic ontological argument nearly as highly as the cosmological, teleological, or even moral arguments for God, likewise, I take a dim view of the "atheist's ontological argument for the matter-god of the universe." While you play around with words, I appeal to modern physics and cosmology and highly-verifiable things like the law of entropy. The universe began, and it will end.

If something must exist, then nothingness cannot be conceived to obtain and so (1') must be true.
I should hasten to add here that I am not committed to any of the foregoing views, as each has its drawbacks and certainly current work in physics seems to point in the direction of a finite universe.

(However, it must be remembered that while the present-day universe might be finite, "something exists" could nonetheless express a necessary truth.)

I think it certainly does. And that something was (is) God.

. . . you seem to agree that laws of logic must exist and that nobody could ever conceive them as nonexistent.

I didn't say I was certain about that, but I think it is a pretty solid proposition, more so than the denial of being able to conceive no matter.

So, you must accept (1') [and so accept the argument as sound], after all.

No; in context, I was referring to matter, because right after that, I said that one might also be able to conceive of absolutely nothing, including spirit or non-material entities also. I think one can conceive or conceptualize (though very dimly) absolutely nothing existing, even including logic. I'm not saying it is easy, mind you. It's certainly a mind-stretcher. But I don't deny that one could do this in some minimalist, fleeting sense, as you do.

What is a "non-material universe" supposed to be

A universe with no matter! Why is that so hard to conceptualize? Don't make this more complicated than it is . . .

and how can a spirit, which has no spatial location at all, exist inside it?

Not "inside," but "in" that world, in the sense of "present alongside."

If X exists within Y, then X is normally understood to exist within the spatial boundaries of Y. But in a nonmaterial universe there would be no such boundaries (for there would be no space) and so "X exists within Y" would have to be understood differently there. But how else might it be understood? Can you tell me?

I don't believe I said "within" or "inside." If I did, I spoke incorrectly, as you point out. Spirit (God) in this instance transcends matter and the universe, being the Creator of it. The Creator is not in, within, or inside space or time. Time cannot be applied to absolute Being because there is no referent point in order to relationally compare point A and point B "in time." This God always was and always will be. All temporal events to Him are "now." This is part, I suppose of what it means to be omniscient. He IS. That's why (to digress into Christianity for a moment) YHWH called Himself "I AM" and why Jesus repeated that description, applied to Himself.

1. Things exist.
2. Any thing that exists can be conceived as not having existed, or coming into existence, or ceasing to exist.
3. Spacetime is a thing.
4. Therefore, spacetime can be conceived as not having existed, or coming into existence, or ceasing to exist.
2 might be construed as begging the question ("How can you show that spacetime can be conceived as nonexistent?")

A bare logical conception is not the same as demonstration or visually imagine, which is why I was careful to draw that distinction.

and 3 might be questioned. Your use of "thing" in that step is rather vague. Do you mean by it "object" or (more broadly) "existent" or what?

I mean that it is a thing (in both senses, I reckon) insofar as relativity is correct and spacetime is the fourth dimension, and because it is affected by the laws of physics. The entire universe can come initially from a point, and (it is thought) can and will collapse back onto itself (as it does in a black hole, right?). This includes both space and time.

If the former, then I deny 2.

Why? If something can exist, why is it impossible to conceive that it may not have existed also?

On the other hand, if you mean the latter (or something like it), then whereas 3 is definitely true, 2 seems dubious, as spacetime is one existent whose nonexistence I have great trouble conceiving.

"Great trouble" and impossibility are two different things. :-) I have great trouble, too; all I'm saying is that it is dimly, weakly conceivable as an intellectual concept, and Big Bang cosmology flatly asserts it, no matter how well we can comprehend it. There are lots of things which are very difficult to grasp in our heads.

I understand that current work in physics indeed suggests that spacetime began at the big bang and will eventually come to an end when stars or galaxies collapse under their own gravity to form blackholes.

Exactly.

However, I still have difficulty imagining any state of affairs in which spacetime itself ceases to exist. How about you? Can you easily imagine a universe sans space and time themselves? If so, what would such a non-place BE like?

I can't, but bowing to a mystery causes me no difficulty, because I don't expect to have all knowledge and be able to figure everything out, let alone to be able to visualize such an extraordinary world. We all bow to "authority" at some point and accept the word of people who are ostensibly experts in a field where we know relatively little. Einstein acknowledged the mystery and wonder of the universe. So can you and I.

. . . there could have been very long periods during which entropy actually DECREASED (or remained stable).

Maybe, but that ain't the case now. And besides, science assumes uniformitarianism as a working premise, at least regarding the present universe, if not your "bubble worlds."

As far as I know, physicists cannot rule that out. At any rate, again, you are right that modern science tells us that spacetime both could and likely will cease to exist in the distant future.
However, it is still rather difficult to conceive that, and it may well be that while spacetime as WE KNOW IT (or as the term "spacetime" is commonly defined) will cease to be, a different kind of spacetime will forever remain in existence. (Maybe that is the kind that Democritus had in mind).

You won't get any argument from me that it is extremely difficult even to conceive. I still say it is possible, though. All kinds of things might happen, indeed. Materialistic reverential faith in, and worship of "matter-god" knows no bounds . . . :-)

. . . keep in mind here that I am discussing a purely a priori issue (namely, conceivability), not an empirical one.

Sure. But in these matters, it seems to me that we must try to incorporate what science has told us about the material universe. It's the hyper-compartmentalization and lack of a unified theory of knowledge (one of my BIG pet peeves) which has gotten modern thought into the mess it is in.

You say that "one can easily conceptualize the present universe simply not being here." But that is precisely what is at issue here!

As a bare conceptualization, yes. One doesn't have to have all the details worked out. It would be like seeing a distant mountain on a cloudy day. This is a "mountain" which is always cloud-covered, revealing only fleeting instances of itself to our minds, but it is still there.

So, you are just begging the question when you say that.

You asked me if I could conceptualize it and I said I could. The discussion is your great difficulty in doing so.

Again, I, for one, have great trouble indeed conceiving the universe as nonexistent (where "universe" is defined as "all there is").

If matter is your god and eternal principle, I could see why you would want it to always exist, and have the greatest difficulty imagining the contrary, for what else is there? The atheist knows as well as the theist that it is nonsense to say that "something comes from nothing."

I find this utterly fascinating as to what it reveals about your thinking:

I.

I believe that God (a spirit) is eternal and self-existent.

You believe that matter is most likely eternal, in the form of prior bubble universes or hyper-universes.

[each view has an eternal component, which is not absolutely provable philosophically or logically]

I never said that the multiverse model presupposes that matter (let alone any individual bubble universe or group of bubble universes) is eternal. I have no idea if it does. All I said as regards the issue is that it may be (contingently) impossible to explain the origin/existence of the bubble universes on account of their being contingently uninvestigatable (due, perhaps, to their no longer existing). [Assuming, as seems reasonable enough, that the given explanation indeed lies within the laws of one or more of the bubble universes.]

So you do accept the possibility that the universe sprang from nothing at all? If you wish to now state that something came from nothing (as there is no spirit, in your view), or concede that there exists an eternal spirit, feel free. Otherwise, I assume that you believe matter-energy is eternal; merely transformed at the Big Bang from some previous universe. Either matter-energy always existed or it began at some point. Is there any other option?

In order for x to come from y, y must at least exist.

We agree on that. Is that true in every possible world? :-) If so, you assume that logic is unquestionable and true at all times. But I thought you said you are now questioning that?

No, I question only whether the laws of logic are best taken as necessarily extant abstractions.
Perhaps they are better taken as descriptions of what is coherent and incoherent. Then it might be argued that they exist as mere concepts in the mind and so could be reducible to brain states/events. However, in neither case can one intelligibly assert that they might be false, for the notion that, e.g., something is not identical with itself is simply unthinkable. Besides, from a contradiction anything follows and thus coherent thought, and along with it meaningful discourse, becomes impossible. You yourself agreed with that at the start of this thread.

So in order to intelligibly assert that the universe came from nothing, it would have to be the case that nothing once existed. But saying that nothing once existed is equivalent to saying that there was a point in time at which nothing existed. So, if time did not exist prior to the universe (as is the consensus among cosmologists), then there was never a point in time at which the universe did not exist.

More playing with words, using "time" in different senses, as dealt with in many posts elsewhere. I substitute "logically prior to" the Big Bang so as to bypass this silly game of semantics. Just answer the question, plainly and directly: Has matter-energy always existed or not?

Yes. There was never a time when matter/energy did not exist.

II.

I can conceive a world in which God never existed.

You have the greatest difficulty in conceiving a world in which matter never existed.

[your faith is greater than mine because you can't even conceive a contrary position. This is a truly profound faith, impervious to skepticism, where even the categories are submitted to so faithfully, with such great trust, that virtually no argument can tear down the fortress constructed, contraries having been defined out of existence beforehand]

Suppose I say, "Quadruplicity drinks procrastination." You reply, "Say what???" I repeat, "Quadruplicity drinks procrastination. Furthermore, your faith that that isn't so is greater than MY faith that it IS so because while I, at least, can conceive the converse of MY position (that it is not the case that quadruplicity drinks procrastination), YOU cannot conceive the converse of YOURS (that quadruplicity drinks procrastination)." How would you respond here, Dave? Would you describe your "faith" that quadruplicity does NOT drink procrastination as "truly profound,  impervious to skepticism, where even the categories are submitted to so faithfully, with such great trust, that virtually no argument can tear down the fortress constructed, contraries having been defined out of existence beforehand"? If not, why not? What is the difference between your "faith" that quadruplicity does not drink procrastination and my (alleged) "faith" that matter must exist? Please be clear and specific.

This has no bearing on my comment because it is a critique of your own position, as stated by you many times: that you can't conceive of God and my position, that it is impossible to do so. Now, you can believe that classical philosophical theism is as silly and insubstantial as your little clever saying if you like. My point was that you have excluded contrary worldviews for any consideration at all, by the very framework in which you think, and your categories, and how you define words. To me, this appeared to me much like a blind faith.

You're the one who claimed you couldn't comprehend my view. Now, as I have said, I think your view is self-defeating, when closely scrutinized, but I don't say it is meaningless nonsense from A to Z, where the very concepts are meaningless Alice-in-Wonderland gibberish. I think it starts from false, unprovable premises and builds a house of cards on top of it, which collapses once the falsity of the premises are exposed. But you think mine is absolute gibberish, with no meaning wholly apart from the charge of internal inconsistency and incoherence.

Do you believe it is a possibility that (a) matter at one time did not exist, and/or (b) perhaps an eternal spirit existed as First Cause? If so, you have to either believe, it seems to me, that something came from nothing, or in creatio ex nihilo.

I reject both (a) & (b). There was never a time at which matter did not exist and probably no eternal spirit caused matter to exist (since current work in physics suggests that the universe began to exist acausally).

So what this boils down to is:

(1) I believe that matter and the universe is finite, and that a Creator Spirit God created it (consistent with the Big Bang, though not provable).

(2) You believe that matter has always existed, since "there was never a time at which matter did not exist."

I agree with the first conjunct of (1), i.e., that matter and the universe are both finite. But since the beginning of both was simultaneous with the beginning of time, it is necessarily true that there was never a time when when either didn't exist. That is, the universe (including matter) has been in existence for precisely as long as time has been in existence, and so while the existence of the universe (including time) is finite in duration, it is nonetheless necessarily true that it has always existed, viz., existed at every point in time.

A. (1) does not require a clashing with the presently-known laws of science. It is also self-consistent and coherent. (2) does clash with science, because matter is not eternal, according to present cosmology and entropy (i.e., based on all that we know about the laws of science in this world).

B1. But Deo-Atomism (the belief that Atoms are in effect God, because they possess all the attributes that Christians say their God possesses) requires eternal matter because there must be some reason for the present universe as it is, in all its complexity and beautiful orderliness.

B2. Therefore, Deo-Atomism must be held in faith, expressly against present science and the principle of science. It requires a denial of uniformitarianism, as in Hawking's thought, and that denial is exactly what Dr. Ted Drange and others have argued is fatal to science itself, if abandoned (in effect, it is the logical equivalent of a miracle - a deviation in the laws of nature). Ergo: if something is fatal to the entire scientific enterprise itself, it surely isn't consistent with science. Therefore, it is unscientific.

B3. If something is unscientific, it is non-empirical.
B4. Whatever is non-empirical is not positivist.
B5. Whatever is not positivist must fall back on spirit as an explanation at some point.
B6. But you have denied the possibility of spirit in the universe.
B7. Therefore, your position collapses as altogether incoherent.

III.

I believe that spacetime is a thing, and that it could have a beginning and an end.

You have the greatest trouble believing that spacetime is a thing, and that it could have a beginning and an end.

[Because spacetime is your Ultimate and your "god," it is quite difficult to imagine it not existing, as it would then cease to be your Ultimate and your "god" and another would have to replace it]

IV.

I have no particular need or urge to posit hyper-universes or multi-verses or bubble universes, so as to overcome the "difficulty" that Big Bang cosmology presents for the concept of an eternal universe according to presently-known laws of nature.

You seem to have a particular need or urge to posit hyper-universes or multi-verses or bubble universes, so as to overcome the "difficulty" that Big Bang cosmology presents for the concept of an eternal universe according to presently-known laws of nature.

[I can accept the findings because they do not clash with my own prior dispositions. To engage in your endeavor, however, you must go beyond the present laws of science, back to mere speculative metaphysics, denying uniformitarianism, which is one of the bedrock foundations of science to begin with. This causes a methodological discord and problems of circular reasoning much like that which the materialist charges the atheist, concerning the latter's belief in miracles -- which also transcend natural laws.

The notion that there is more than present-day science and that we are free to speculate upon it requires not a whit less faith and unprovable assumptions than does the theist belief in a Designer and Creator Who can serve as a First Cause prior to the Big Bang. Both views are super-scientific; they transcend mere science. Thus, the speculative metaphysics of the materialist and his fanciful, wishful bubble universes, etc. possess no more epistemological justification than theism and a Creator (if not much less). Theism is again more coherent and explanatory in that it can account for design and origin of matter, whereas bubble universes merely push the problem back further and further, rather than atempt to truly and coherently resolve it]

Huh??? When did I ever "deny uniformitarianism"?

By accepting as a live possibility multiverses or bubble universes which operate by different laws of nature than those we know. I don't see how that is essentially different from the acceptance of a miracle, which you and others on the list seem to think would be the death of science, based on the exact same denial: of uniformitarianism and the applicability of the laws of nature everywhere and at every time.

Uniformitarianism, traditionally understood, applies only to the OBSERVABLE universe.

Then why does Hawking "feel" it should apply to the non-observable events pertaining to the origin of the universe and other possible manifestations of the universe?

Do I think that the laws of nature of THIS universe remain uniform over time? Certainly. Do I think that the bubble universes had/have similar laws of nature, or that their laws of nature remain uniform over time? I have no idea.

So to believe in them you transcend science and enter the realm of non-science and the pure faith of Deo-Atomism, thus abandoning science itself, according to Ted and others here.

Laws of logic are taken by some (like Ted) to be abstractions. Though I am not convinced that such folks are right, certainly I sympathize with their position and much about it appeals to me. Although it introduces various conceptual difficulties (e.g., Platonic entities are quite difficult to conceive), it also solves many (e.g., how laws of logic can hold independently of minds and thus account for there being no possible world in which said laws break down). Anyway, abstractions are one thing; conscious, eternal, personal spirit-beings that interact with matter are quite another.

There are differences, but my point is that you have no trouble accepting one non-material entity as eternal, yet you bristle at the very notion or possibility of another non-material entity: eternal spirit. Why? The vehemence of the denial of even the possibility or logical sensibility of the latter is not itself logical.

I find the notion of an abstract law of noncontradiction much easier to conceive than the notion of a conscious, eternal, personal spirit-being who created the universe and exists both everywhere within it and nowhere within it (as God must, since he is both transcendent and omnipresent).

Why is it so difficult to conceive? You manage to conceive any number of amazing things, being no dummy, but when it comes to the very conception of God (not belief in God), suddenly your powers completely fail you and you fall limp into intellectual stupor and non-comprehension. I say the only sensible way this can be explained is the invulnerability of your faith, which won't allow any category of thought contrary to it to exist. A quite irrational and unscientific mode of thought . . . .

. . . probably most cosmologists/physicists do not think the universe was created, or that God caused the Big Bang.

They wouldn't have to, for my case to stand. They would merely have to take a properly agnostic, rather than a deluded and arrogant "know-it-all" attitude, with regard to such mysterious matters of origin, just as Darwin and T.H. Huxley did (paraphrasing THH): "The universe could have been created by a Creator and the laws of natural selection and evolution would then begin and explain everything else . . . " This is all the cosmologist has to do: either say he doesn't know or state that belief in a Creator is at least as plausible (given our ignorance) as the materialist option. But to go on and get religious and dogmatic and irrational (like you do) by saying that, in effect, "we don't have the slightest idea what happened before the Big Bang, but it couldn't involve God, because that is meaningless nonsense," is itself an attitude that is neither required by, nor does it reflect very well upon, science itself.

In any case, the whole notion of a timeless, bodiless, personal being creating the universe out of nothing is so unbelievably obscure to me that I could never seriously entertain it, regardless of how little science can tell us about the possible origins of the cosmos.

Case in point of the profound and irrational, closed-minded dogmatic ("never," etc.) faith that you possess, Steve. You seem to know the future, too, since you know you will "never" believe in God.

I gather, then, that you deny that to assert "X exists" is to implicitly assert "there is a conceivable observation whereby the existence of X might be directly confirmed."

Yes.

But why?

Because empiricism is not the sum of all knowledge. It can't be, because it begins from axioms which are themselves unproven and ultimately unprovable. Therefore, that system which is built upon non-airtight assumptions cannot itself explain all there is to know about the universe. This, as I see it, is the essential self-contradiction and incoherence of your positivism (and everyone else's).

You may be right that empiricism and positivism cannot be proven. It may be that both must be adopted simply as a pragmatic measure, so as to avoid giving significance to purely metaphysical speculations that could themselves never be proven. Perhaps axiomatic outlooks such as the pair in question can only be suggested, but never shown. Perhaps one can say, "Look, Dave, this way of thinking makes sense and facilitates understanding and so forth"; yet one can never say, "Look, Dave, here is why this way of thinking is objectively correct." That is, maybe the best way to take such outlooks is as heuristic principles, useful guides for separating sense from nonsense.

Or, alternately, it might be said that positivism, for example, represents a linguistic proposal that provides a reasonably close analysis of the explicandum "cognitively meaningful locution," and that this claim consitutes an empirical assertion (thereby escaping the self-refutation charge). On the same account, if it could somehow be demonstrated that alternate ways of thinking (e.g., rationalism) involve some kind of incoherence, then perhaps the given outlooks COULD be shown. The endeavor, I suspect, would resemble the far easier effort required to substantiate the claim that "Socrates is a prime number" cannot express a truth because nothing that is a man can also be a number. It would resemble that effort in that the crux of both is proving the contention that a given proposition is incoherent and so cannot be true . . .

What is called for here, then, is a justification of positivism by appeal to a proof that metaphysical sentences express nothing that is conceivably true. The project utterly fascinates me, and likely it shall play a major role in my future work as a philosophy student. Incidentally, the chief problem with the major positivists of the early twentieth century, such as Carnap and Ayer and Russell, is that none of them really seemed to ARGUE for positivism; instead, they just kind of dogmatically insisted upon it. Later philosophers jumped all over this and produced numerous counterexamples to the positivists' thesis. In the final analysis, I see no reason whatever why any neutral person should be even marginally persuaded by the case for positivism presented by the early positivists.

Interesting comments. Thanks.

. . . Have you an example of something, S, such that one could assert "S exists" and yet NOT thereby (implicitly) assert that there is a conceivable observation whereby the existence of S might be directly confirmed? If so, please present it.

1. My memory of busting my lip in a sledding accident in 1969.
Certainly it is possible that memories consist in nothing more than brain states/events, which are of course directly observable. Reductive materialists argue just that: reputedly nonphysical phenomena (e.g., memories, thoughts, images, pains, etc.) are in fact purely neurological phenomena and so are actually physical. This view definitely has its defects, but it seems question-begging to simply reject it out of hand. Of course, it was my contention that there exists nothing direct confirmation of which is impossible. Thus, it is my job to show that your counterexample fails. However, I cannot do that; I can only point out that there is no good reason to believe that your counterexample succeeds. I guess, then, that I should revise my claim as follows: there is no known entity the existence of which is clearly immune to direct confirmation.
2. My knowledge that I exist (which is distinct from me as a person who is).
Knowledge that P is merely justified true belief that P. So, it is just a belief. Beliefs could also consist in brain states/events.
3. My opinion that you are sometimes an obscurantist in dialogue (which, of course, can never be verified by any examples of your actual writing). Can you observe an opinion in a microscope?
Opinions are just beliefs (see above).
4. My conversion to Catholicism (the moment I became convinced couldn't be verified by empirical observation). Would you deny that I am now a Catholic and once was not?
The event of your conversion is certainly observable in principle, for one can perfectly well imagine what it would be like to be present at that event and thereby witness it first-hand. Your wife, for instance, could probably conceive that very easily, as she was likely there.

No; the precise moment when I was convinced came while I was reading a book alone. I'm not talking about the formal ceremony.

5. My thoughts right now, as I type this (which is, how absurd absolute positivism is). You would say that my papers provide no evidence of any thought on my part, so for you that is an unverifiable hypothesis as well (especially since you are discounting indirect evidence).
Thoughts could also consist in brain states/events. So, I must conclude that none of your counterexamples clearly succeeds.

These are all yet more examples of the "just around the corner" syndrome. "One day we will observe all this in a microscope." But that day hasn't arrived yet, so I contend that my examples stand, at least in an empirical sense, because they haven't been observed, and you can only speak of hopeful theoretical possibilities. The present discussion is on empiricism, not purely abstract philosophy.

There are hundreds of such non-material realities.

Well, there MAY be.

Good! There's hope for you yet then! LOL

Consider the following argument:

(A) Every known entity the existence of which is universally recognized is such that direct observation (and thus direct confirmation) of that entity is possible at least in principle.

Great; then explain all five of my examples above, to the contrary. To deny their existence because you have no "direct" observation, would entail the five following results:

1. I had no sledding accident in 1969, and no busted lip.
2. I have no knowledge of my own existence (talk about amnesia!).
3. I always believe that you are unanswerable and objective in discussion. LOL
4. I am not now a Catholic, and never had a different religious belief.
5. I have no thoughts as I type, and I consider positivism compellingly true.
(B) Furthermore, nobody has every clearly explained what it would be like for there to exist an entity the existence of which NECESSARILY defies direct observation (and thus direct confirmation).

Again, please alternately explain my five examples, then (and these are just five of thousands of possible examples).

(C) Therefore, there is good reason to deny that there does or even might exist an entity the existence of which NECESSARILY defies direct observation (and thus direct confirmation).

Untrue because of the clear falsity of (A).

Certainly (C) seems to follow (inductively) from (A) & (B).

Sure it does.

Do you deny that?

No, but I deny that (C) is true, because (A) is untrue.

Or do you deny, instead, (A) or (B)? Please explain why you deny whatever you do.

Bingo. See my five examples above, and what their denial by you, on the false principle you have set up, entails. Good luck (and that wish is another unverifiable conceptual reality, in principle).
Your response to my five examples ought to suffice to concentrate into one concise argument the fatal flaws I see in your position. Positivism is more basic to you than is atheism, correct? If positivism falls to the guillotine of illogic, then you have to explain by what other means you arrive at atheism.

What determines the unthinkability (or unintelligibility) of a given proposition is, quite simply, the (inherent) inability of anyone to ever think that proposition. I deny that anyone can or ever could think the proposition that God exists (where "God" is defined as a "personal being outside time and space"). Therefore, the proposition that God exists is unthinkable.

Is it "unthinkable" because you claim it is, and can't think it yourself, or because in fact no one has ever thought it?

You shall undoubtedly object, "But how can you prove that 'nobody can or ever could think the proposition that God exists'?" That is a good question, and I do not have any one simple answer to it. It would all depend on how "God" is defined. In the case at hand, where "God" is defined as "a personal being outside space and time," one way to show that nobody could ever think the given proposition would be to argue that the very concept of a person is of something that (among other things) performs actions and that performing actions is something that takes place in time (inasmuch as it involves change) and so is inherently temporal. Hence, a timeless being could not be personal. Thus, the given proposition is conceptually impossible; the definition of "God" involves a certain inconsistency, namely, that God is both personal and atemporal.

I don't see how time is fundamental and necessary to the notion of self-conscious personhood.

Do you agree that even a minimal conception of a person would need to include the property of performing actions? If so, do you agree that actions involve change? If so, do you agree that change involves (the passage of) time?

God can do these things, yet remain out of time. So I deny that being in time is necessary for personhood.

You haven't proven your premise. You can appeal to our human experience, in time, but so what? Who's to say that there aren't other creatures (or gods, or God) in a different sort of time, or out of time? Physics talks about other dimensions and possible worlds running right through ours without either knowing it.

I understand what it means for laws of logic to be necessarily true, yes. I think they must be, for their negations are self-contradictory and contradictions (as we agree) cannot be true. By contrast, I do not see that the proposition that God exists is necessarily true, viz., I can (of course) readily conceive God's nonexistence. And, from what you say immediately below, I gather that you can as well. What, then, is the source of your confusion here?

None that I am aware of. My point is that you, too, accept an eternal non-physical thing, just as I do (logic, and also God). I know that persuades you of nothing, but it was just a thought.

Do you or do you not agree that "the laws of logic are false (or nonexistent)" is a proposition which nobody can (or ever could) entertain in thought?

It can be entertained; it will simply be an illogical thought. I see those on this list all the time, so they are indeed quite possible!

If not, then you must agree that it is conceptually possible that that proposition is true.

Sure, as a concept is not logic per se. I think positivism is logically impossible, but people entertain it all the time, don't they?

But that entails that there is a possible world in which the laws of logic are false (or nonexistent).

How does one prove that there couldn't possibly exist such a world, which to us would appear like a dream-world, an acid trip, or Alice-in-Wonderland? It is extremely counter-intuitive, but so are many concepts in physics, and some in theology.

One can easily prove that there couldn't possibly exist a world in which the laws of logic are false, as follows:

 (1) If there were to exist such a world, then it would be possible for something to be both square and circle.
 (2) But it is impossible that such a thing should exist.
 (3) Therefore, it is impossible that such a world should exist.
C'mon, Steve. You can do much better than this. This is circular, in that all you do is superimpose the laws of logic as we know them onto a posited world in which they don't exist. The question is, "can such a non-logical world exist?," not, "are logical principles true?" (i.e., in our world, which is distinct from the proposed other world where this may not be true).

As I explained in my previous post, it makes no sense to talk about a contradiction being true in one world and yet false in another. For suppose it were true in W1 (the actual world) that

       (P) In W2 (a hypothetical world), some ravens are non-ravens.

Then it would be true in W1 that some ravens (namely, some ravens in W2) are non-ravens. That is, if (P) were true in the actual world, then there would be a true contradiction in the actual world, as (P) constitutes a contradiction. Yet you deny that there can be true contradictions in the actual world. You must therefore reject the claim that there is a possible world in which a contradiction is true.

Perhaps you'll protest, "But in W2 (P) is NOT a contradiction." However, that is irrelevant, for in OUR world (P) most certainly IS a contradiction and so if (P) were true in our world, then in our world it would constitute a true contradiction (the logical possibility of which you deny).
And it won't do you any good to reply simply, "Yes, yes, I grant all this; however, it is only true
according to the laws of logic as we know them. Maybe there is a world according to whose laws of logic it ISN'T true." That reply would be wrongheaded, as it was your claim that it is according to the laws of logic AS WE KNOW THEM that there could be a true contradiction in another world!

Moreover, a possible world is a world which could be actualized. Yet by your own admission not
even God could actualize a world in which some squares are circles. Hence, again, you must agree that there is no possible world in which a contradiction is true.

Once the possibility of a non-logical world is accepted, then a contradiction wouldn't be noteworthy in it, since it would be a nonsensical concept itself. In other words, I suppose that sense would become nonsense in that world. Again, I see many worldviews which are like that in our world, so it isn't absolutely inconceivable to me. The question is whether such a non-logical world can exist. Your "argument" is like saying: "Our world has elephants. I can't conceive of a world without elephants, because ours has elephants. Therefore, such a world can't exist."

You don't seem to understand that it is logically impossible for an a priori proposition (such as a law of logic) to be true in W1 and yet be false in W2.

Logic is irrelevant in a non-logical world! That's what you don't understand . . . In a two-dimensional world, one can't conceive of a cube, and in a one-dimensional world, one can't imagine a square. So what? A logical world can't imagine a non-logical one, either. But we can posit it in some sense.

That is so because, unlike empirical propositions, a priori propositions do not derive their truth-values from any contingent state of affairs in any world whatever. Rather, they derive their truth-values from logically necessary, non-contingent states of affairs.

So you do still accept logic as an eternal, unquestionable principle after all? Or are you still confused as to where you come down on it, and are merely playing devil's advocate?

We do not say that "all married men are married" is necessarily true because in fact all married men are married, but rather, because if x is married, then, necessarily, x is married. That is, a priori propositions cannot fail to possess the truth-values that they possess. Thus, if, for example, "everything is identical with itself" is necessarily true, then it must be true in all possible worlds.

One need merely question the existence of men or marriage, just as you blithely question the proposition "God is God."

Suppose there were to exist no married men whatever. Then the statement "all married men are
married" would be best interpreted to mean that for any x, if x is a man and x is married, then x is married. (Actually, that is the best way to interpret the given statement regardless of the state of the world). So, the nonexistence of married men has no bearing whatever on the truth of the given statement.

Indeed, part of the definition of 'necessarily true' is 'true in all possible worlds.' Hence, since laws of logic are generally regarded as necessarily true, it is definitionally impossible that
there should exist a world in which a law of logic is false.

The proposition, "it is logically impossible for logic to not exist in a theoretical world in which it doesn't exist" is itself an absurdity. Logic has no bearing in such a world, and is meaningless, just as you think God is meaningless in ours.

It follows that either you accept (1') or else embrace an absurdity. So, what's it gonna be, Dave? :-)

I embrace the widest possible scope of the mental imagination for possible worlds. I do think, personally, that logic is likely an eternal principle, true at all times and places and all worlds.

Then you must concede (1') and so concede that, necessarily, something exists.

If "something" includes spirits as well as matter, I certainly do believe that. I don't believe that matter must necessarily exist. Logic is spirit, not matter. You can't make a chair out of logic.

I agree that one cannot construct physical objects from the stuff of stuffless stuff. :-)

And since you regard God's existence as merely contingent, you cannot very well reply, "Yes, something must exist, and that something is God."

I don't think God's existence is contingent. All I said was that a world without God was conceivable. not that I personally believe it is possible in actuality.

If a world without God is conceptually possible in actuality, then in what sense is it IMPOSSIBLE in actuality? Do you mean to imply merely that a world without God is EMPIRICALLY impossible?

I agree that if laws of logic are taken as something OTHER than necessarily existent abstractions, then it may be possible to conceive their nonexistence. However, you take them as necessarily existent abstractions, do you not? If not, then how DO you take them?

In the universe as we know it, yes.

If x is necessarily existent, then x cannot fail to exist, and so must exist in all possible worlds. Thus, it makes no sense to say, "Laws of logic necessarily exist, but only in the universe as we know it."

You continually miss the fact that I am making two arguments at once: one about my own actual beliefs in the present world (actually, mostly mere statements), the other about possible worlds or states of affairs in a purely hypothetical, abstractly-conceived sense.

. . . My point here is that I have difficulty even understanding what it would be like for there to obtain the state of affairs that is denoted (or picked out) by the proposition that spacetime does not exist. I am not saying that I am totally incapable of doing it, but it does pose something of a challenge for me. In any case, as it is not the allegedly possible nonexistence of spacetime but rather the allegedly possible nonexistence of EVERYTHING (i.e., the alleged possibility of there existing nothing whatever) that is our main focus here, and since I agree that conceiving the given proposition is possible if rather difficult . . .

We agree on this. I have said I think it is exceedingly difficult to imagine, but not absolutely impossible to conceive in dim fashion.

Either you don't grasp my argument because you don't and won't accept the categories of thought I operate in, not even for the sake of argument (because, as you say, you can't comprehend them), or you don't have the slightest inkling what the words I use mean. That's why we have so much trouble! You seem unable to "get into" any other thought-world than the one you have constructed for yourself. You have freely admitted this, at least in part. How could you dialogue with a view if you can't make head nor tail of the central concept in it (God)? Why are we even doing this? You should admit that we can't dialogue, from your own presuppositions, because it is simply impossible, or extremely difficult to make any progress, with all these mental and linguistic hindrances.

It is my claim that the God of Christianity cannot exist, for the proposition that he does is literally unthinkable (or incoherent).

Case in point, exactly.

Remember, I never claimed that EVERY conception of God is incoherent. The pantheist conception, for instance, strikes me as perfectly coherent . . . I agree . . . that one can believe in God (and maybe even show that belief in God is explanatorily superior to materialism) without ascribing to him all the properties that Christians ascribe to THEIR deity.

It simply isn't the case that "I have no trouble accepting one non-material entity as eternal." You here refer to my sympathy with taking the laws of logic as necessary and eternal, but sympathy is hardly equivalent with acceptance. As I endeavored to make abundantly clear in a previous post, I have recently come to adopt a view of the laws of logic whereby they are NOT "necessary and eternal" (abstract) entities at all.

Ah! That might explain some of our confusion. Good! And that would explain why you seem to be more and more lacking in logic, in our discussions. You have now devalued logic (or are seriously considering doing that). One would expect this, the more you delve into various modern philosophies. Pretty soon, then, I suspect it will be even more difficult for someone with another view to converse with you than it is for me now. And that would be a shame, because you are a lot of fun, even if excruciatingly exasperating too often for comfort.

There are various reasons why I cannot conceive the proposition that GC exists. In this particular case, I cannot conceive that proposition because it entails a contradiction, namely, that something is both wholly within spacetime and wholly outside it (as must be anything that is supposedly both immanent and transcendent, e.g., GC).

I don't see that this is any more difficult to conceptualize than a black hole or a "bubble universe." Do you have the same trouble with them?

If it makes you happy, based on recent work in cosmology, I am roughly 62.57372% certain that the universe had a beginning. However, there is still too little information regarding the matter to make a DEFINITE (or even near-definite) judgment  concerning it.

Get out! I coulda sworn your certainty was closer to 62.57369%!

How is positivism logically impossible?

You can't explain the entirety of the universe by starting from unproven axioms. One must also appeal to non-physical entities in order to do the science which a positivist takes, in effect, as the sum of all knowledge.

From "P is unprovable" (or "P is explanatorily bankrupt") it does NOT follow that "P is logically
impossible." In order for P to be logically impossible, P must either constitute or entail a contradiction. But logical positivism does neither. Therefore, logical positivism is logically possible.

We both agree, I assume, that "quadruplicity drinks procrastination" expresses an incoherent and thus necessarily false proposition.

It is sheer linguistic nonsense, first and foremost, and logical nonsense. Nothing else can be said about it.

 How is it "sheer linguistic nonsense"? Do you mean by that that it does not express a
 coherent proposition to the extent that quadruplicity is not the type of thing that can drink,
 nor procrastination the type of thing that can be drunk? If so, then we agree that the given
 sentence expresses an incoherent and so necessarily false proposition. Otherwise,
 please clarify what you mean by the expression "sheer linguistic nonsense."

 Neither of us regards our belief that that proposition is necessarily false as a dogmatic or closed-minded or faith-based belief.

It is simply reason and the rejection of nonsense sentences.

Indeed, neither of us can even conceive what it would be like for that
proposition to be true. Likewise, I cannot conceive what it would be like for GC to exist.

It's certainly amazing that you can't see the profound distinction between "GC exists" and your nonsense sentence. I'll just chalk it up to your usual rhetorical excess.

 No, don't do that. First hear me out:

The reason I regard "quadruplicity drinks procrastination" as a cognitively
 meaningless sentence is because it ascribes to one type of thing (abstraction) a
 property (drinking) which can be possessed only by a DIFFERENT type of thing
 (concrete entity). By contrast, the reason I regard "GC exists" as a cognitively
 meaningles sentence is because I interpret it to mean the following: "there exists a
 person who is outside time and space." And THAT sentence ascribes to one type of
 thing (person) a property (being outside space and time) which the given type of thing
 cannot possess (and which, perhaps, NOTHING can possess). Why? Because persons
 are conceived as beings who (among other things) perform actions and yet the
 performance of actions cannot take place outside time insofar as actions involve (the
 passage of) time. That is, acting is inherently temporal in character. For one thing, it
 takes place over the course of a period of time, and for another, it necessitates the loss
 of an intention (e.g., before eating I intend to eat, whereas after eating I no longer have
 that intention). Thus, timeless entities cannot act. (Neither, I might add, can immutable
 beings, since being immutable entails never changing and yet losing an intention
 obviously entails changing).

The proposition that he exists is, to me, every bit as incoherent as the proposition that Socrates is a prime number. Yet you call that belief of mine dogmatic and closed-minded and faith-based. That is because you do not regard that belief to be every bit as incoherent as belief in GC. I realize that.

Good.

However, you do not seem to realize that, in MY estimation, the two propositions are equally unthinkable and hence equally absurd.

That proves to me very clearly that your thinking processes are absurd at some point, and that you are incorrectly applying logical principles. We would expect this, because you now question whether logic is a self-existent thing and an immutable principle of all possible worlds. The more one accepts that notion, the more confused and hopelessly illogical and incoherent their own thought tends to become. You have boundless faith in Deo-Atomism, in the face of all plausibility, requests for explanations which you freely admit you can't offer for your fideistic faith, science, etc. You start from an untruth (Deo-Atomism) and proceed to construct a surreal, instantly-collapsible super-structure, based on the initial unproven and unprovable, inexplicable, mysterious and unfathomable Blind, Pure, Absolute Faith in Deo-Atomism.

The biggest problem with theists like you . . .  when it comes to the atheist's (or noncognitivist's) assertion that the proposition that GC exists is incoherent is, in my view, that you guys regard it as a kind of subjective reaction, an emotionally-driven and unsophisticated reply to what initially strikes him as "silly, unscientific talk." You blur conceptual difficulties with empirical difficulties. You think that he means "I don't get it, because I don't think like you" when in fact he means "NOBODY could get it, because it's ungettable; the only reason you THINK you get it is because you've been trained to think in certain ways and spout out certain sentences, but you've never actually REFLECTED on just what those sentences are trying to say and so you fail to see that they actually say nothing at all."

It's highly curious that you believe "NOBODY" can comprehend the notion of GC at all, when many fellow atheists on this list (and elsewhere) seem perfectly able to comprehend GC in a theoretical, possibly-existent sense. So you wish for me to accept as the explanation for my supposed misunderstanding and "blurring" of your position (which I understand perfectly well), your word-game theory, which is an extreme one even amongst atheists, even among other analytic thinkers? Ted can conceive of a possible God quite readily: the one who writes John 3:16 in the stars. You cannot.

 Ted cannot conceive a personal being who is outside time and space. Neither can
 Sue, I suspect, though I may be wrong about that. I'm not sure about Stafford.
 Is positivism extreme? Certainly, to the extent that it is extremely unpopular in
 philosophical circles these days. However, it is not yet outright defunct, as Nielsen is a
 positivist and philosophers like Ted and Michael Martin are pretty sympathetic to it. Even
 some scientists (including Hawking) call themselves "positivists." Besides, even if I were
 the last positivist alive, that wouldn't make positivism wrong. Nor would I be even slightly
 inclined to abandon it. For truth, as you say, isn't determined by majority vote, and I
 cannot help but hold the beliefs I do. So, what you say here is totally irrelevant to both the
 correctness of positivism and the present discussion.

So why continue to talk about incoherent, impossible-to-think nonsense? Your attitude is the death of philosophy and discussion, at least in reference to those things you place in a category of "meaningless, incoherent, unthinkable nonsense," as you do with God. So you should cease to talk about it, as unworthy of your time and intellect, just as it would never remotely occur to me to talk about (let alone want to talk about) your nonsense mumbo-jumbo of "quadruplicity drinks procrastination."

 For a long time I thought God-talk not only coherent, but true (at least in the main). I
 assented to all the same sorts of sentence (e.g., "God is outside time and space") to
 which you assent. It was by reading the works of philosophers like Ted and Nielsen and
 others that I finally came to abandon both my belief in God and my belief in the
 coherence of God-talk. So, it cannot be entirely fruitless for a positivist like me to
 discuss theism and related issues with a Christian like you. I am living proof that
 conversions are always possible.

As regards the "death of philosophy," it is true that positivism entails that many
 philosophical propositions are incoherent and that the principles of many philosophical
 subjects (esp. metaphysics) consist in but elaborate linguistic illusions. Perhaps the
 best-known logical positivist of the previous century, A.J. Ayer, even wrote an essay
 entitled "The Elimination of Metaphysics," in which he attempted to show that the whole
 of metaphysics rests on the absurd supposition that metaphysical sentences express
 conceivably true propositions. However, by no means does positivism entail the death of
 philosophy, for logic and epistemology and the philosophy of language (among other
 branches of philosophy) would remain fully intact pursuits even if positivism
 were widely accepted. (We would always need analysts to analyze the sort of language
 that gives rise to philosophical confusion, particularly the kind engendered by
 metaphysical nonsense.)

 Furthermore, even if my position DID entail the death of philosophy, I would happily
 maintain it, as I would rather hold to true beliefs than hold to false ones in order to
 preserve an obsolete discipline. It would require my choosing another career, of course,
 but c'est la vie, n'est pas?

You want to make out like the two propositions are equally nonsensical (someone else mentioned Fleeney Monsters in the same vein). Yet I would never -- could never -- talk about the one (I don't even know what it means, as you say), and you want to constantly talk about the other (God), which is its alleged epistemological and linguistic parallel. What gives? How can you talk at all about what you don't have the slightest idea, IS? I couldn't construct a single sentence, let alone an argument, about "quadruplicity drinks procrastination" (which is why I made a joke about it).

But you seem to be able to talk about God all day long. So I don't even believe you anymore when you say that God is a concept of that sort of ridiculous, absurd, meaningless ilk. I think it is just a game of words and playing around with concepts, trying to be clever with those who won't catch on to your game (which you probably don't even know you are playing, as with many modern "philosophers"). And that is proven by the very fact that you are able to argue about God in the first place. How can you argue at all about sheer gibberish? How does one begin an argument about, "(&$(&^%*$%$%YJTFHVUYT&^%$ R&% $R&(O^U% C&^% + 4,785 ompantinantetainghes = shaphsophilustong ninkempoop  foot-in-mouth doggydoo-doo &%&%^%$^%%(&*^)*)* %^%%$#@$@$@$@$@$@ GEEU2EEEFBIEEBeatlesEEEEERR(!!!)xxxRRR CIABrianWilsonRRR ioioRRRRR4R 6O8OO3STOOOGESNN#IMOO<OO>OEE[2+2=5[[*(*(*" ??? You tell me, Mr. Incoherent and Inconceivable?

  None of that is even grammatical, let alone linguistically intelligible. It is just a random
 arrangement of symbols that expresses no proposition whatever. By contrast,
 "quadruplicity drinks procrastination" is both linguistically intelligible and perfectly
 grammatical. Moreover, it expresses a proposition, namely, that quadruplicity drinks
 procrastination. That is obviously an INCOHERENT (and so necessarily false)
 proposition, but it is a proposition nevertheless.  By the way, I love the Beatles too.

The bottom line is that you are inconsistent with your own principles of thought (inasmuch as they exist at all, in your evolving intellectual state at the moment). You can't put together your clear love of real philosophy and your growing acceptance of radical anti-philosophy, wherein concepts are ruled out of the possibility of discourse from the outset (thus eliminating the need and utility of several of the greatest debates in the history of philosophy). This causes confusion and (no doubt) frustration on your part and resultant fluctuating, hard-to-follow arguments, which I have to respond to in some sort of rational manner.

When I say "that sentence is meaningless" I do not mean "that sentence expresses an idea around which I cannot wrap my 'finite human mind'"; I mean, rather, that that sentence expresses concepts which cannot be combined in thought, NOT because of our "limited finite minds," but because people define concepts in certain ways and the ways in which they've defined THOSE particular concepts precludes them from being thus combined. In short, the unthinkability of P is not the result of our bottomless stupidity compared to God's inscrutable wisdom; it is the result, rather, of the incompatibility of the concepts expressed (or allegedly expressed) by P.

Or, I respectfully submit, the outsider's inability to understand them in the first place, to more or less degrees.

Is that so in the case of "quadruplicity drinks procrastination"? If not, why should it be
so in the case of "GC exists"?

Thus, as I see it, "a transcendent person sends people to hell" is absolutely no different from "square circles exist," save that the latter can be disproven by appeal to mere definitions whereas the former cannot. That one requires serious and honest consideration of what people mean by the words "transcendent" and "person" and "sends."

Case in point. Actually, as a matter of fact, the vast majority of Christians believe that God sends no one to hell, but that they choose this state for themselves in their willfull rejection of a God Whom they know to exist. C.S. Lewis said, "the doors of hell are locked on the inside." It is only in an extreme form of Calvinism, called supralapsarianism (held by very few, and disdained by most Calvinists) that God predestines someone to hell without their free will being involved at all, in terms of reversing the outcome.

All the words above are easily-defined and understood. They get more complex in the course of subsequent theology, but this is true of words in any field, especially philosophy itself, and particularly in, e.g., poetry. Transcendence means, literally, "to climb over." Thus, it attains a meaning of "go beyond the limits of, exceed, excel." So we apply this to God. That is certainly conceivable in your brain, just as you can conceive bubble universes and suchlike, which "climb over" the present laws of science. You can do that with no problem because you are Deo-Atomist, and you see with the eyes of faith that which others can't see so clearly as you. So you need to stretch out a little, get out of your skin and try real hard to conceptualize that which we call God.

 I've tried, believe me. Yet, hard as I might, I cannot conceive a person who never
 acts. I respectfully submit that, since I understand perfectly well what it means to be a
 person and to act, the concept of a person who never acts is therefore incoherent. It is
 thus impossible, I conclude, that there should exist such a person. Yet God is supposed
 to be just such a person. I thus conclude, further, that God cannot exist.

You know what a "person" is; you know what "people" and "send" mean. As for hell, that is simply a state or place which entails the utter absence of God. That is no more hard to conceive (as opposed to believing in) than to conceive a dark room, the leading attribute of which is the absence of light. I think your "inability" to comprehend the word "God" is proportional to your ignorance of theistic philosophy and theology, not an inability which exists due to the nature of things, as you absurdly fancy. So who are you to pronounce such words (which people like Augustine and Aquinas spent a lifetime studying) meaningless and unable to even be talked about, while at the same time proceeding to talk about them day in and day out? Only a fool rejects out of hand what he doesn't understand in the first place.

 Who are you to pronounce "quadruplicity drinks procrastination" meaningless and
 incapable of even being intelligibly talked about, while at the same time proceeding to
 talk about God's existence day in and day out? Only a fool rejects out of hand one
 incoherent proposition (because it is unfamiliar and obviously absurd) while accepting
 another (because, perhaps, it is familiar and not so obviously absurd)?

Only then will you . . . and other "the-human-mind-is-puny-and-pathetic" folks

LOL This is delicious: You sit there and say that "God" is a nonsense phrase that you can't make head nor tails of and yet you accuse us of thinking that the human mind is "puny and pathetic"?

realize why you're talking nonsense when you utter such sociologically fascinating strings of words.

Well, if you and I keep arguing about nonsense, maybe you can knock some sense into my own "puny" mind, okay Steve?

A. Therefore, there is such a thing as a non-physical, eternal,
unquestionable entity, as an axiom.
. . . it is only very recently that I firmly switched to my current view that A is more likely false than true.

Then why do you continue to make the argument that logic is immutable, since no one can conceive a non-logical world? Do you easily forget what it is that you just changed your mind on or something?

I agree that it makes sense to say that God is eternal (but not timeless, or necessary, etc.).

How can something make sense when it is stated as an attribute of that which makes no sense whatever?

 As I explained in a previous post, if "God" is defined in certain ways, then the
 concept of God is perfectly coherent. One such way of defining "God" is "the personal,
 eternal, all-powerful creator and ruler of the universe."

However, by comparing God to laws of logic you threw me, as I used to regard the laws of logic as TIMELESS (rather than eternal) Platonic entities which cannot fail to exist. [Eternal entities are entities that exist forever within time, whereas timeless entities exist outside time altogether.]

The theist and the Christian use "eternal" in the way that you use "timeless." Nothing can exist forever in time, though, because time itself is finite, as cosmological physics now informs us.

 That is absurd. If X exists for as long as time exists, then X is properly taken as
 eternal. And X could exist for as long as time exists even if time itself (along with the
 universe of which it is part) is finite.

So, I thought your point was the following: I should be able to conceive God's necessary existence inasmuch as I have no problem conceiving logic as necessarily existent. I gather now that that was NOT your point. If that is correct, then what WAS your point?

It was very close to my point, which was that each is conceived as an immutable, eternal entity. One might argue that this is the equivalent of necessarily existent anyway.

I have no difficulty conceiving God defined as follows: "God" = "the personal, eternal, all-powerful creator and ruler of the universe."

That's the sort of God I am arguing for 99% of the time in my discussions here.

 No, you argue for the existence of a deity who has all the above attributes plus the
 attribute of being outside time and space. And that is one sort of deity I simply cannot
 comprehend (for the reasons given above).

However, throw in "the timeless, bodiless creator" and I start having problems.

I understand the bodiless part because of your boundless faith as a Deo-Atomist, but timeless? If modern physics tells us that time is finite, and relative; that it began, and will end, as an aspect of the universe itself, why is it so difficult to comprehend that a Creator of the entire universe would have to be timeless, by definition, lest He lose His prerogative as Creator, being subjected to that which He creates? This is very simple, philosophically, yet you start to have "problems."

 Atemporality (or timelessness) is very hard for me to comprehend just on its own.
 However, when it is combined with the property of being personal, I lose all
 understanding of it (for the reasons given above).

Then throw in "the omniscient creator" and things get even messier.

If such a Being can have all these other marvelous attributes that you can comprehend, such as being eternal and all-powerful, what makes all-knowledge so different in kind that you can't comprehend it?

 I have no trouble comprehending omniscience itself. However, when it is combined
 with omnipotence, I have trouble. Consider the following.

 (1) If X is omniscient, then X knows everything that X will do in the future.
 (2) If X is omnipotent, then X can do anything that is logically possible.
 (3) It is logically possible for one to do other than that which one will do in the future.
 (4) Therefore, if X is omnipotent, then X must be able to do other than that which X will do in the future. [from (2) & (3)]
 (5) But it is logically impossible for one to do other than that which one KNOWS one will do in the future.
 (6) So, if X is omniscient, then for any action A that X will perform, X MUST perform A. [from (1) & (5)]
 (7) Thus, it is impossible for an omniscient being to be omnipotent. [from (4) & (6)]
In other words, if God knows that he will one day destroy the earth, then, by the definition of "know," he must destroy the earth. Yet if he is omnipotent, then, by the definition of "omnipotent," he must be able to avoid destroying the earth. It is thus definitionally impossible that God should be both omniscient and omnipotent. Hence, thus defined, God cannot exist. (Notice that this same kind of incompatibility arises where "God" is defined as both omniscient and free).

Finally, throw in "the omnibenevolent,

Love is certainly easy to comprehend. All-loving is just a matter of degree.

 It might be argued that if God is omnipotent, then he must be able to kill babies for
 fun. Yet if he is omnibenevolent, then he cannot kill babies for fun, for that act is evil and
 whatever is omnibenevolent lacks a capacity to do evil. It follows that God, defined as
 both omnipotent and omnibenevolent, cannot exist.

immutable,

Not much different than eternal. If God is eternal, then it stands to reason that He possesses all His attributes from all eternity.

  Consider the following arguments:

 1. If God exists, then he is immutable.
 2. If God exists, then he is the creator of the universe.
 3. An immutable being cannot at one time have an intention and then at a later time not have that intention.
 4. For any being to create anything, prior to the creation he must have had the intention to create it, but at a later time, after the creation, no longer have the intention to create it.
 5. Thus, it is impossible for an immutable being to have created anything (from 3 and 4).
 6. Therefore, it is impossible for God to exist (from 1, 2, and 5)

 1. If God exists, then he is immutable.
 2. If God exists, then he is omniscient.
 3. An immutable being cannot know different things at different times.
 4. To be omniscient, a being would need to know propositions about the past and future.
 5. But what is past and what is future keep changing.
 6. Thus, in order to know propositions about the past and future, a being would need to know different things at different times (from 5).
 7. It follows that, to be omniscient, a being would need to know different things at
 different times (from 4 and 6).
 8. Hence, it is impossible for an immutable being to be omniscient (from 3 and 7).
 9. Therefore, it is impossible for God to exist (from 1, 2, and 8).

 1. If God exists, then he is immutable.
 2. If God exists, then he is all-loving.
 3. An immutable being cannot be affected by events.
 4. To be all-loving, it must be possible for a being to be affected by events.
 5. Hence, it is impossible for an immutable being to be all-loving (from 3 and 4).
 6. Therefore, it is impossible for God to exist (from 1, 2, and 5).

immanent,

God is involved in His creation, because he loves, just as a parent loves their child. No utter mystery here.

Consider the following argument:

 1. If God exists, then he is transcendent (i.e., outside space and time).
 2. If God exists, then he is immanent (i.e., everywhere in space and time).
 3. To be transcendent, a being cannot exist anywhere in space.
 4. To be immanent, a being must exist everywhere in space.
 5. Hence, it is impossible for a transcendent being to be immanent (from 3 and 4).
 6. Therefore, it is impossible for God to exist (from 1, 2, and 5).
all-merciful, all-just creator"

One is a function of love, the other analogous to human justice.

 Consider the following argument:

 1. If God exists, then he is an all-just judge.
 2. If God exists, then he is an all-merciful judge.
 3. An all-just judge treats every offender with exactly the severity that he/she deserves.
 4. An all-merciful judge treats every offender with less severity than he/she deserves.
 5. It is impossible to treat an offender both with exactly the severity that he/she deserves and also with less severity than he/she deserves.
 6. Hence, it is impossible for an all-just judge to be an all-merciful judge (from 3-5).
 7. Therefore, it is impossible for God to exist (from 1, 2, and 6).
and the situation becomes hopeless.

I must say that you give up far too easily, then.

The reason for that is because the original definition includes no properties that I regard as incoherent, whereas the expanded definition(s) would include properties that I regard as incoherent (e.g., timelessness) and/or incompatible pairs of properties (e.g., omnipotence and omniscience).

Incoherent is different from inconceivable nonsense. You talk out of both sides of your mouth, one must conclude. How are omnipotence and omniscience incompatible?

. . . Is not the Trinity the doctrine that although God is three unique persons, he is also (somehow) one distinct person?

Nope. That would be a self-contradiction, and is closer (though not identical) to the heresy of Sabellianism, or modal monarchianism. Trinitarianism states that there is one Being, God, in three persons: all equal in power, glory, eternity, purpose, and essence. The three Divine Persons are distinct insofar as they can be (relationally) subject and object to each other. Thus the Son can pray to the Father; the Father can love the Son; the Son can send the Holy Spirit, etc. They also fulfill different functions and offices. Only the Son is the Messiah, who came to die on a cross, and so forth.

This is yet another common example of dim comprehension by atheists of that which they claim to know so much about. I wouldn't rub it in but for the constant implication that you guys know so much about Christian theology, when you clearly don't. I freely acknowledge all the time that I am no philosopher, and only moderately trained in it. But it seems that almost every atheist is both an expert on the Bible and on Christian theology.

Every atheist who blows the dust off a Bible once a year (maybe on Easter Sunday, when he is feeling nostalgic), cracks it open, flicks a bookworm off with his finger, takes fifteen minutes to locate a particular book, and then offers some quack, crackpot "commentary," knows more about biblical exegesis and hermeneutics than someone who devotes their life to such study. So I say that you don't even know (at least in part) what you are rejecting when you reject the Christian concept of God. Again, I don't mean to be so harsh, but this is such a classic case of misinformation and distortion, and you bring this upon yourself by claiming that you know so much about Christianity.

I have never claimed to possess a "great understanding of Christianity." However, I do think I possess a pretty good understanding of it. It would be hard for me not to, given all I've read and written on the subject. As regards the Trinity, the teachers at my Catholic high school taught that it is indeed the doctrine that although God is three unique persons, he is also (somehow) one distinct person. The dictionary seems to confirm that:

Trinity: the unity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as three persons in one Godhead according to Christian dogma.
Anyway, the notion of one person who is simultaneously three persons never made any sense to
me. Neither did your answer to my question about the matter. I had trouble seeing how anything you wrote distinguished the given doctrine from the one I described, according to which, although truly separate, the three persons of the Godhead are also one and the same person.

See the related papers (which more-or-less continue the same type of discussion):

Dialogue With an Atheist on the Premises and Axioms of Atheism (Dave Armstrong vs. Steve Conifer)

The Atheist's Boundless Faith in Deo-Atomism ("The Atom-as-God")  (Dave Armstrong and Eric Smallwood)

Reflections on Miracles, Natural Scientific Laws, and the Supernatural  (Dave Armstrong )

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Uploaded by Dave Armstrong on 13 January 2002, with express editorial permission from Steve Conifer.