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Sunday, June 12, 2016


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Great comments Bill. I think there may be a deep problem here:

"God's is an archetypal intellect, which implies that divine knowledge is creative of its object, whereas our knowledge is clearly not. If God knows that p by making it the case that p, then there is no logical gap between subjective and objective self-evidence for God."

I grant that there is no logical gap in this case. It appears to God that a statement S is true/provable in virtue of what S means if and only if S really is true/provable in virtue of what S means. However, the issue here isn't purely logical but also epistemic. Even if some statement S does appear to God to be evident just in virtue of meaning -- for example, the statement that God exists -- God cannot be rationally certain that S really is true or provable in that way unless God also knows that He is God, i.e., that He is really in the special epistemic situation that we're imagining. In order to make the problem vivid, we can imagine that God wonders to Himself whether, despite appearing to Himself to be God, He might really just be in the power of an Evil Demon. He might reason a priori to the conclusion "If I'm God, there's no logical gap between subjective and objective self-evidence for me, and the subjective appearance of self-evidence with respect to the statement that God exists, when I am the subject, must be real objective self-evidence... So God must exist, if I'm really God". But how could He know or justifiably believe that He is God? If He has a purported proof, it will hinge on some apparently self-evident premise or assumption; then the problem arises once more.

Any way of knowing that is 'discursive' or 'mediated' generates skeptical problems. There's always the possibility that appearance and reality are different, and if reality is never directly known there's always the possibility that it's just not known. If God _did_ enter into discursive reasoning He'd be setting these mediating entities (e.g., propositions or inference rules) and His beliefs based on discursive reasoning would be open to skeptical arguments.

"The reason is due to the nature of proof as set forth in my definition. But perhaps you have a better definition."

What if we say that beliefs can be knowledge if they're based on undefeated appearances? In that case God could know that He exists just in virtue of the fact that it appears to Him that God exists, and He has no defeaters for believing that God exists. In that case we might sometimes also know that God exists (if He exists) on a similar basis, or that He does not exist (if He doesn't). However you could argue that there are always defeaters for these kinds of beliefs, e.g., our knowledge that others who seem to be rational/epistemic peers disagree despite being aware of all the same evidence, etc.

As for proof, what if instead of proving that God exists we take it step by step toward theism? Starting with the claim that something must have existed from eternity.


What you are saying is too vague to evaluate.

Eric Voegelin has a comment somewhere in his vast output that might be pertinent here:

I paraphrase "Sometimes the best demonstration is just to point."

The philosophers on this thread may have a horde of objections, refinements, etc., but in the world we live in everyone has resorted to this resource.

I suspect that for those entities that can perceive God (and Christianity says it's possible) the mere apprehension of such an overwhelming being (if that's the right term), the surpremely and absolutely Real, would render any doubt moot, and in fact impossible.



Unfortunately, we cannot point at God. There is a wonderful description of the overall problem here by Ratzinger in his Intro to Christianity, pp. 45 ff. "No one can lay God and his Kingdom on the table for another man; even the believer cannot do it for himself." (46)

In this life God does not show himself in such a way as to render doubts moot or impossible.

In this life we receive hints, clues, intimations and indications. There are many such, the 'bite of conscience' being one of them. It intimates the reality of the divine, but it surely does not prove it or make it indubitable.

Pascal has it right: There is light enough for those who wish to believe and darkness enough for those who are contrary-minded. (My paraphrase.) The will comes into it.

Thanks for the comments, Jacques, but this is not really what I wanted to discuss. I allowed myself to be side-tracked by Bailey and then you.

The issue is whether and in what sense there can be proofs of substantive metaphysical theses such as that God exists or that naturalism is true, and all the rest. Proofs by whom? By us.

Do you accept my definition of 'proof'? If not, why not?

Hi Bill,
I think I agree with your definition, but maybe we disagree about what your condition 5 means. Suppose you can know that p if (roughly) p seems true to you and you're not aware of any defeaters for your belief that p. (Roughly, you have no reason to think p is false, and no reason to think your belief was formed in an epistemically bad kind of way.) If that's enough for knowledge you might well know premises that could function in a proof that God exists, if God exists (or a proof that God doesn't exist, if He doesn't).

So I think there's a case to be made that, yes, one of us could prove that God exists (or that He doesn't). On the other hand, the proof wouldn't like a logical or mathematical proof. It wouldn't be the kind of derivation that any competent rational person would find compelling. A slightly different question here is "Can anyone of us come up with reasons for believing that God exists/doesn't exist that are rationally compelling for all the rest of us who are basically rational?" and I think the answer is probably "No". In that case it may be less interesting that there's a possible 'proof'.


I'm afraid my post was ambiguous. I certainly don't mean that in the sensory world we can point at God. Rather I was referring to the trans material world. The Catholic church calls this direct vision of God in the spiritual realm the beatific vision. As for this roaring untidy mess of a sensory world, no, neither pointing nor reasoning, it would seem, can prove God here.

I once read a book by Lesek Kolakowski in which he claims, to my satisfaction, that neither the existence nor non existence of God can be proven by human reason. Therefore, if we must choose, our choice must be a moral one. This persuades me.




I said in effect that a necessary but not sufficient condition of an argument's being a proof is that its premises be known to be true by the producers and consumers of the argument. But this invites a question about the analysis of 'know,' as you appreciate.

>> Suppose you can know that p if (roughly) p seems true to you and you're not aware of any defeaters for your belief that p. (Roughly, you have no reason to think p is false, and no reason to think your belief was formed in an epistemically bad kind of way.)<<

This is too weak for me.

The following seemed true to for many years until a reader set me straight: Schopenhauer originated the aphorism, "Ever reading, never read." It seemed true to me and I wasn't aware of any defeaters. But it was A. Pope who coined the saying, and I got it when Schopenhauer quoted Pope. The mistake I made was to forget that it was a Pope quotation and not a saying of Schopenhauer.

As I said in my first entry, I am assuming that knowledge entails certainty or impossibility of mistake.

But if we take your weaker view of knowledge, then I grant there can be God proofs. But also proofs of the opposite. But then I object: how can a proposition and its negation both have a proof?

Oops. I meant to say that you could know that p if you believe that p on the basis of undefeated appearance AND p is true. What I was driving at was that the undefeated appearance would take care of the justification part. Hence my idea that you could prove that God exist IF God exists, or that He doesn't exist if He doesn't exist (i.e., if the relevant proposition was true). Anyway, that clarifies the disagreement: we agree that knowledge has to be true, but you think knowledge is infallible.

Only certainty purchases absolute doxastic security which is what some of us want if we can get it: Augustine, Husserl, your humble correspondent . . . .
It is just that here below we can't get it.

So Bill you think I can't know that I have two hands, for example, or that I'm writing these words? And if knowledge entails absolute doxastic security then I guess there are no proofs even in math or logic. If I have some proof that p which ultimately depends on the law of non-contradiction, for example, my belief in the law still can't be 'certain' or doxastically secure in your sense. It might seem to me that the law is self-evidently true but I can't infallibly detect that its apparent or subjective self-evidence is real objective self-evidence...

But don't you want to claim that theism and atheism are unprovable in some special sense that doesn't hold for any and every claim of ours?

Here is some argumentation in support of the view that knowledge involves impossibility of mistake:




This view of knowledge may well be right. I have no objection to your arguments. But if your condition 5 on proofs involves that concept of knowledge, it does seem to follow from your definition of proof that we can't prove anything. Theism and atheism would not be special in that respect. Is that your view?

I'm also puzzled because in your discussion of Mill's 'toleration extremism' you seem to be claiming that we can have certainty:

"As sympathetic as I am to Mill, I am puzzled (and you ought to be too) by the last sentence of the first quoted passage. It consists of two claims. The first is that 'We can never be sure that the opinion we are endeavouring to stifle is a false opinion . . .' This is plainly false! The opinion of some Holocaust deniers that no Jews were gassed at Auschwitz is an opinion we can be sure is false. We are as sure of this as we are sure of any empirical fact about the past. Or suppose some fool denies that JFK died by assasination or maintains that McCain won the last presidential election. Those are fools' opinions we know to be wrong. There is no lack of examples. What was Mill thinking? 'We can never be sure,' he writes. A modal auxiliary married to a negative universal quantifier!"

Are you saying here that we can be _sure_ of these things in some sense, but not in the sense that gives knowledge when paired with truth plus other conditions? Or is your view that we can know these things in some sense, but not in the strict philosophical sense involved in condition 5?

Yes, theism and atheism are not special. For example, I believe that justice demands capital punishment in certain cases. Can I argue for this view? Yes. Can I prove it? No. Nor can the opposite be proved.

Very little of substantive interest in areas of controversy can be proven.

You have put your finger on a difficulty for me.

Practically speaking, we have knowledge of the recent past, e.g., JFK was assassinated in '63; Jew were gassed at Auschwitz. Practically speaking, we are certain of these facts. In fact, contra Mill, we are certain enough of these and other facts to be intolerant of those who would deny them, and in some cases justified in suppressing those who deny them. There is no need to suppress flat-earthers, of course, but there may be good reasons to suppress Holocaust deniers.

But we are not *philosophically* certain of JFK's being dead or of Hitler's having committed suicide in his Berlin bunker in '45.

So to avoid the impending contradiction I will have to distinguish between knowledge/ certainty strictu dictu and knowledge/certainty in a more latitudinarian sense.

Thanks for reading me carefully enough to spot an apparent, and perhaps real, contradiction!

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