When Arguments Defy Knowledge

(Adapted from a reply to Vincent Torley)

A mind is a complex thing. Every example of a mind that we can study is the result of a complex system of biological bits and pieces.

There is one apparent exception: the mind that theologists claim created everything. This violates everything we know about minds -- especially the fact that minds are only explained as an emergent property of a complex biological system.

To those theologists, the explanation for that mind is that it's self-explanatory; with the bonus feature that it explains everything from creation of the universe to the laws of nature. We still have a lot to understand about the origins of the universe. it's premature to say we can never find a satisfactory explanation.

Explaining this kind of mind requires knowledge of it's form of existence. It cannot be real, otherwise it would be subject to all the rules of reality that came from that mind. It cannot be abstract, because no abstract "thing" can control the universe in any way. This mind must be a categorically different type of existence, a kind of existence that is otherwise unknown. Theologists cannot explain or defend it, only assert it.

Indeed, they struggle to define what "God" is in any meaningful way. They use terms like "intelligent" which is not a substance, but a capability. Terms like "unchanged changer" fail when we consider that a mind is a processing capability -- constantly changing and tracking states as it processes.

If they cannot say what "God" is, they cannot present a coherent explanation. If they punt to  an unknowable god, they admit to agnosticism. Defining "God" from an agnostic perspective in inherently flawed. On one hand, they say we cannot know, but still tell us they know. We can never "prove" something that is inherently unknowable.

Trapped in agnosticism, the best option is often -- as Stephen Law calls it -- Going Nuclear. If we don't accept theological "proofs" of the unknowable, then we just cannot know anything.


Much of the original comment was inspired by George Smith's Atheism: The Case Against God. Here are a few money quotes:

On knowing the unknowable:
When one claims that something is knowable, can one produce knowledge in support of this claim? If one cannot, one's assertion is arbitrary and utterly without merit. If one can, one has accomplished the impossible: one has knowledge of the unknowable.
On attributes of "God":
Aquinas applied such terms as "knowledge", "life", "will", "love", "justice and mercy", and "power" to the concept of God, and these qualities are clearly positive in nature. But we still have problems. Most of the positive qualities commonly attributed to God are of secondary importance because they refer to God's personality rather than his metaphysical nature as an existing being.
On omnipotence:
To imagine an omnipotent being, we must imagine a being who has some mysterious "power" to do anything, but who does not employ means, does not act, and does not have any purpose. In other words, the concept of omnipotence attempts to exclude God from causality. In some unknowable way, God bring about effects without resorting to causal processes.