Monthly Archives: November 2018

Debating Substantive Issues is Fruitless

I think debate is a waste of time.

I know that this proclamation may be quite puzzling coming from someone so committed to reason and cooperation.  And I know how valued debate is in our culture…though less so in our current political climate, which is trending solidly toward violence.  But given the number of debates I have had and seen during my lifetime, and especially since my break from Christian orthodoxy, which put me at odds with the majority of my friends and family, it is impossible not to notice how people simply NEVER change their fundamental positions—their premises and conclusions.  If anything, the more rationally consistent one participant is, the more stringently the other commits to his intellectual error.  So after years of witnessing this both directly and indirectly, in thousands of instances, I am forced to come to the disturbing conclusion that regardless of my commitment to voluntarism and idea exchange, debate is simply an irresponsible way to spend one’s time and emotional and intellectual resources.  It just doesn’t work.  You can’t drive a railroad spike into the ground with a rubber mallet, and you cannot reason someone into or out of a position by argument.  You just can’t.

This admission, finally made, while disturbing and disappointing given the amount of energy I have spent trying to change others’ minds, and they trying to change mine, is also somewhat freeing.  I can now evolve as an intellectual and an academic, and put my resources into more productive and fulfilling activities.  For instance, I have committed to no longer debating in the comments section of this blog, or others, or on facebook or any other social media platform.  Instead, I will spend more time and energy writing articles, pursing questions and finding answers, and less time caring too much whether or not anyone agrees with me.  I understand that the integrity of the ideas is the most important thing, and that my focus should be all about getting to the truth of each and every question, not maximizing agreement, and not even about presenting ideas in the most appealing or un-abstruse manner possible (not that I can really be accused of doing that anyway on this blog).  Because—and please understand that I am not saying that I have ALL the answers or am the paragon of intellectual consistency—rational and intelligent people will grasp my meaning, or at least apprehend the question I am trying to answer and see why doing so is important—and the more obtuse and complacent amongst us, let’s be honest, won’t get it and won’t care no matter how directly or simplistically the argument is made.  And bye the bye, I think that putting complex arguments into simplistic conveyances isn’t a very good idea, anyway.  Bumper sticker philosophy can be a fine way to affirm the opinions of those who ALREADY agree with a certain ideal, for whatever that’s worth (the laughably facile and ubiquitous “COEXIST” sticker comes to mind immediately), but this seems like a general waste of time.  Better to formulate the argument as comprehensively as possible, despite it being perhaps more arcane and involved, than to leave out a bunch of details which are inexorably necessary to the argument’s root veracity.

In other words, real understanding doesn’t proceed from the ass-end of a car.

Additionally, foresaking any concern with HOW to convince someone of an idea makes studying the idea more fun and relaxing.  Realizing that people who hold contrary premises and conclusions simply cannot be convinced by debate to agree or disagree with a certain idea puts YOUR understanding front and center, where it should be, not the understanding of others.  Now, I’m certainly not arguing that we shouldn’t have an utterly rational foundation for whatever we accept as truth, just that arriving at this foundation doesn’t need to appeal to anyone  else, not because other people don’t matter, but because it CANNOT be MADE to appeal to them, no matter how you develop it—they either accept it or they don’t, you need not spend much time on the aesthetics of your argument.  It only needs to be rationally consistent.  Further, the HOW you arrive at your conclusions and premises, though complex perhaps, WILL I believe necessarily be appealing and ultimately understandable to those who are are already rational.  The rational and intelligent among us are first and foremost committed to truth, as oppposed to the mysticism, sophistry and contradiction which underwrites most peoples’ root thinking, and at the end of the day rational and intelligent people don’t really care how complicated the path is.  Getting to the truth is what matters, not how comfortable or direct it Is for them.  The rational and the intelligent, who understand the deep moral relevance of the truth, WILL pursue it through fire and fury and hell and high water to get to it.  The lazy and/or the stupid and/or the cowardly will not be compelled to apprehend it even if given a map that points them in a straight line to an X which is marked merely across the room.

Now, having said all of that, let us get to question begged here:  Why is debating (issues of substance, in particular) such a waste of time?  Well, let’s talk briefly about philosophy.

Philosophy is cumulative as well as corollary. What I mean by this is that each philosophical category (metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, politics, and aesthetics) except for the first (metaphysics) proceeds from the one before it (cumulative). Epistemology of course proceeds from Metaphysics, metaphysics being the first category, dealing with the nature of reality, itself.  The metaphysical premise is the fundamental Primary of the entire philosophical paradigm which all other premises infinitely imply and from which they are infinitely implied (corollary).  Epistemology considers how man knows what he knows…or more specifically, how man can say what is true and what is not.  In this article we are mostly concerned with the epistemological premise (occasionally I may refer to this as the epistemological primary) but for the sake of clarity it’s important to know all of the philosophical categories, and how they line up and their basic symbiosis.

Whether we realize it or not ALL of us hold basic philosophical premises. If we did not, we simply could not function.  For example, that you know that you don’t brush your teeth with a banana at least obliquely implies a basic interpretation of reality, which implies a philosophy, which implies premises and a metaphysical primary.  In our example you must make a distinction between you, the toothbrush, and the banana.  A is not B is not C, in other words.  Thus, you accept a practical plurality of reality…these objects exist separately.  Yet because they are relevant to you (that is, they have equal practical meaning) you accept that they also exist in a single existential context. Thus, I already somewhat know your basic metaphysical assumption: reality is both plural and relative. This is very important. Your metaphysical premise is the basis for WHY you do what you do and think what you think.

Next, because you know that a banana is NOT a toothbrush (A is not B), the plurality of (relative) existence implies that specific objects in reality have distinct definitions.  The metaphysical idea that A is not B implies a difference in meaning, and the specific meanings elucidated are epistemological. Metaphysics says that A is not B. Epistemology says that A is a banana and B is toothbrush.

Next, you know that it is irrational to brush your teeth with a banana.  Another way of saying this is that it is not good (where “good” in this case is defined as “productive”) to use A to do a job reserved for B based upon its practical definition. This is a form of ethics—how you value things in a given context depending on their meaning and the nature of their relativity and relevance to you and each other at the existential level.

And here I could go on to politics and aesthetics, but you get the idea. However, I wish to make it clear that no one should ever assert it is a simple thing to determine the sum and substance of a given individual’s philosophy, for such a thing can be extremely complex, full of nuance, ostensible and/or subtle contradictions, and even rank delusion.  Not to say that it is impossible to determine with relative certainty the nature of someone’s philosophy at a detailed level, but it takes quite a bit of experience with and observation of their behavior, not to mention listening to what they actually say about what they believe, which is, unsurprisingly, probably the best way to figure it out.  So, while I can get an oblique picture of one’s ideas, philosophically speaking, by simply observing them brushing their teeth, there is a great depth to one’s understanding about the nature of their existence which reveals itself much more fully the better one knows them.  I cannot tell the difference between a collectivist and an individualist by their teeth brushing beyond the fact that they on some level accept an existential distinction between and contextual relativity amongst themselves and the toothbrush (and everything else involved in the process).  But I cannot see where those philosophical assumptions may give way to the contradiction and delusion of, say, a theocratic socialist state, in the case of the collectivist, or provide a simple but sturdy framework for the argument of property rights and self-ownership, in the case of the the individualist.

At any rate, the point is that we all have a philosophy and we all hold philosophical premises in all five categories.  We simply must, because such a thing is endemic to our identity as thinking creatures, period.

So back to the issue at hand.

Let us focus on the epistemological premise, because this deals with how reality is specifically defined and interpreted, and so it deals most directly and most substantially with the topic of debate.

I submit that one’s epistemological premise isn’t chosen, but is simply known—and this is very important because it provides the fulcrum for my entire argument here.  The epistemological premise is either inculcated by one’s environment, such as in childhood, and reinforced by experience and perhaps instruction; or it is realized, again through experience, but perhaps later on in life—such as in my case where the hypocrisy of decades of Christian orthodoxy left me with the realization that my spiritual “belief” was, at the irreducible root, a distinction between a “truth” that is madness  (truth within the church) or a truth that is reason (truth outside the church). I left the church because experience forced me to realize that real truth could not be found there, and thus morality dictated that I abandon it.  Which I did…to great emotional harm to my family, and emotional and physical harm to myself.  This realization amounted to a categorical shift in my most fundamental philosophical assumptions, and I mean consciously.  In order to make a move like that, trust me, you have to understand the ENTIRETY of why, and ALL of the implications for the nature of your existence for the rest of your life, both this one and the hereafter.  I and my family lost 99% of our friends and aquaintances by realizing that the church is built on a lie, and that the devil, as always hiding in plain sight, was meeting us every Sunday morning at the podium on the stage in front of the big, comfortable auditorium.  You don’t make a sacrifice like that unless you know the profundity of it exactly.  And you simply cannot leave that much behind unless your philosophy utterly changes.

And it isn’t a choice.  Because one cannot choose to be insane any more than one can chose to be rational.  Once you are punched in the face with rank evil and you recognize it and realize it, you instantly become apart from it.  In that sense, I didn’t choose to leave the church.  I REALIZED a new premise, reason instead of madness, and was obliged to follow it.

*

So the epistemological premise is not a choice.  And neither is it learned, in the strictest definition of the word.  Choice is a function OF the premise, it does not precede it.  Choice is impossible unless one knows the nature of it at any given moment, and the nature of the choice depends on what what you believe about truth.  Choice is NOT how you decide what you believe about truth.  The epistemological premise is lived and subconsciously accepted, or perhaps later in life circumstances change and a new premise is realized.  But it is not something which can be merely communicated to one another by language; it is not something one can reason another into, because the epistemological premise is that FROM which reason springs, and that which reason itself thus necessarily implies.

Reason, you see, is only REASONABLE if one ALREADY has a premise which serves as the plumb line for what makes reason meaningful and efficacious.  And this is why one never changes the mind of another during argument or debate of issues of any real substance…because both parties must have the SAME epistemological frame of reference in order to actually have an argument or debate on any sort of equal platform of reason; for otherwise their frames of reference for MEANING in general are incompatible, and debate is necessarily impossible.  But the paradox thus becomes that IF they do hold to the same epistemological premise—implying, remember, a metaphyscial premise—then debate is likewise not really possible.  Because “debate” amongst two people who share the same frame of reference of meaning (reason—epistemology) and reality (existence—metaphysics) don’t debate so much as merely exchange information. That is, one or both parties simply lack certain knowledge that if they knew, WOULD have them accept the SAME perspective with respect to the argument…and debate over.  Once the information discrepancy is corrected, then reconciliation—or agreement—is inevitable (again, assuming the argument is regarding something of substance, and by that I mean, objective, as opposed to, something like, say, whether Gene Simmons is cooler than Ace Frehley).  The “debate” in this case isn’t at root a difference in how reality is interpreted, which is the foundation of any true and worthwhile debate, but again merely a deficiency of information.  In other words, the parties debating already agree with each other, they just don’t know it yet.  But if the epistemological premises are different—if there is a descrepancy between the parties’ interpretive lenses with respect to meaning, then agreement on ANY issue of substance is impossible, because each party intellectually (and thus emotionally) occupies utterly distinct realities at root, which obviously makes these realities incompatible, and agreement ultimately impossible.

*

One’s epistemological premise is either reasonable (adhering to categorical conceptual consistency (e.g. a square cannot also be a cicle; black cannnot also be white; man cannot possess a depraved nature and yet be on the hook for making moral choices)) or it is not.  And again the premise is not chosen.  It is lived and unconsciously accepted or (later in life perhaps) consciously realized.  Choice I submit springs from and leads back to the premise, and thus choice is always relative to it, and therefore is in a sense superficial, all choices fundamentally and equally affirming the premise, which guarantees a particular MEANINGFUL conclusion, which may LOOK different depending on the given practical context (the context of routine daily life), but will be, when viewed in terms of the epistemological (and metaphysical) foundation, equal to ALL the conclusions of ALL of one’s choices.

*

Reasoning as an argumentative strategy is only effective on reasonable people (and the converse is also true…that is, irrationality as an argument only works on irrational people).  And a reasonable person is one who has already accepted a reasonable epistemological premise, which in turn means that he has accepted a reasonable metaphyscial premise, which is his very assumption about the root of reality itself.

Now, as I said earlier, the epistemological premise to which one holds is not a function of choice, but indeed it is the other way around.  The circumstantial context of choice in daily life may make specific choices seem fundamentally meaningful in and of themselves, but all choices are simply equal expressions of one’s premise, which isn’t chosen.  And this is why I find choice so fascinating and a little enigmatic.  I belive in conscious agency and thus choice, but I also understand that choice doesn’t play a very significant role in determining one’s actions…choice is basically superficial when it comes to fundamentally understanding WHY people do what they do.

In order for me to choose, I must already have a premise by which I devise a  working definition of what “me” is, as “me” relates to the environmental, emotional, and psychological context in which “me” finds itself, and this definition of “me” is a function of the subconsciously assumed or consciously realized epistemological premise.  To say I choose this premise is thus putting the cart before the horse.  The premise is the substrate of the meaning (to me) of reality, itself.  Thus, this primary, not my choice, is the ROOT of my ideas, and thus is WHY I make the choices I do (why I do what I do).  Therefore, if people holding mutually exclusive epistemological premises attempt to debate an issue of substance, then the absolute best that can be achieved is a stalemate.  Because I cannot CHOOSE to accept an argument which is rooted in an epistemological premise that I do not choose.

END

 

 

 

 

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Rethinking Prayer: Asking or telling? (Part ONE)

Prayer is both a thing and a concept with which I have struggled for quite some time now.  Probably like you, I have had my share of answered prayers, and also my share of unanswered ones.  And this I think naturally leads one to consider the actual efficacy and legitimacy of prayer.  If we observe that prayer is only inconsistenty answered at best, then how can we not say that perhaps it is the mere cause and effect machinations of normal reality and is nothing of prayer?  I would think this not only reasonable but obvious.  If prayer only inconsistently effects change as we may observe it, then it’s logical to assume that what’s really going on has nothing to do with prayer at all, but is merely a matter of probability.

For example, I have chosen to fly on airplanes dozens of times, and I’ve prayed for each flight, and all have landed safely.  However, to call this an example of “answered prayer” is, in fact, quite a stretch of logic since statistics clearly show that the percentage of flights that crash is so very low relative to how many flights have taken place in history.  This makes “safe flight” much more likely a function of human engineering favorably manipulating the probability of a safe outcome rather than divine intervention.  The safety of the flights may have something to do with answered prayer, but how can one really know? The only way to know even mildly is if one observed that all his prayers were answered all the time…and even this would be logically subjective, but at least it would make a strong circumstantial case. Logically subjective perhaps, unless we are speaking strictly of the miraculous, but certainly compelling.

My thinking on the matter of prayer has  evolved through several iterations.  I went through the neophyte version of God-as-genie when I was a kid…but not quite so disrespectful as that sounds.  My prayers as a young person were never overtly  irrational…I prayed to be ignored by bullies at school—or, as I like to refer to them:  the bastard spawn of the mass dysfunctional family wreckage which hallmarks  the worst generation in history:  the Baby Boomers—to recover from illness, to do well on exams.  That sort of thing.  I remember God being quite gracious back then, but this is perhaps just the positive memories of childhood rising to the top.  Maybe God answered my prayers, but as I had no rational working definition of God back then (most Christians don’t, in fact) I really couldn’t say.

During my fifteen years as a neo-Calvinist in the cult of Sovereign Grace Ministries (SGM) I brushed up against the congnitive dissonance of prayer as it relates to object and abject divine determinism.  This view of prayer makes it merely ritualistic, signifying nothing of any real efficacy, since all things are up to God anyway, so it goes, and he has already decided what to do with everyone, from birth unto hell or heaven, whichever you happen to get.  You’ll never really know until the day God disposes of you into one or the other eternal receptical.

Is that just a peach of a belief?  And yet this is where most Christains today tread water with respect to prayer…in this arrant folly of reason.  And don’t let them tell you they don’t actually believe this.  If you are BORN evil, which is precisely orthodox when it coms to the Christian interpretation of man’s nature, then you are entirely insufficient to any good thing, and this includes knowing the difference between good and evil.  And since this knowledge is the root of ethics (how man values what he knows), and ethics is inexorably tied to epistemology (how man knows what he knows), then the eradication of man’s moral compass by the doctrine of “original sin” completely wrecks man’s ability to know anything at all.  Thus, God must necessarily determine man to his eventual eternal destiny, regardless if he be “saved” or not, because man, once you tease out the doctrine to its logical conclusion, is utterly mindless.  You may go to church and follow all the commandments and abstain from all worldly temptations and throw out your television and excoriate the idea of modern technology as merely the devil’s distraction, but to think that you can know you are saved…that somehow you, who is rotten to core from birth, can know the mind of God and what his grand plan is for you is something that in a different time would have gotten you burned at the stake.

And thus you see the implicit evil behind the notion of prayer as merely a ritual we do because God commands it: salvation is not a thing the church can offer.  It’s a lie.  No one knows where they will end up, be they found in church on Sunday or in a whore house.  The advertisement that there is actual salvation to be gained in the church is the greatest bait-and-switch scam ever perpetrated upon man.

This abysmal version of prayer never really took hold in me.  I always found it terribly specious..and while I paid lip service to it, not wanting to cause a stir (SGM doesn’t take doctrinal disagreement with much levity…regardless of the degree, it’s pretty much stomped out with ferocity), I used to despise it when people would pray for me and top it off with “if it be thy will, Lord”.  Because that presupposed that God had already decided what should happen to me, and that what I wanted and intended was besides the point.  And this is the crux of what I want to talk about in this article.  The notion that what I desire for my life through prayer is infinitely subordinated to an outside will, even God’s, doesn’t sit well with me.  Not because I crave control, or lust sinfully and selfishly after what is God’s power alone, but because it is at root utterly irrational.  If God has predetermined for me my experiences, and possesses the ultimate veto on all my choices, and shall tell me whether or not my prayers contain any merit whatsoever, then what is the point of prayer?  What is the point of my having any ideas at all about anything?  God will do what God will do…my very existence then becomes entirely meaningless.  My mind is an illusion of a mind which cannot actually exist because it’s infinitely irrelevant.  And this is a contradiction in terms.  And I may not know everything about God, but I know this:  He cannot be God if his very existence is utterly incompatible to my own, or vice versa, and if what he asks of his children contradicts itself, thus rendering the very words he uses to communicate himself and his intentions utterly meaningless.

But even more superficial than all of that…I mean, we can get into the root philosophical contradictions, and that’s its own brand of fun, but we can put it in more pedestrian terms:  Would you continue to ask favors of someone who has told you to freely ask him favors if you never knew whether or not your favors would be granted; if there were all these stipulations about what could be asked for and when and how and that it really wasn’t going to be up to you and that you couldn’t be trusted to know what you really wanted or needed, and therefore the asking of favors became this tedious and exasperating task of self-examination and naval gazing and groveling and bemoaning your own infinite existential inadequacy and ignorance, and then when confronted with a desperate circumstance like a child with a terminal illness or the loss of a career or a sexual assault you found yourself groveling and prostrating yourself before this giver-of-favors, wailing and begging him to just this once give you relief; and then to forgive you for thinking what YOU want actually matters?  In other words, you are told to ask favors, but then told that you don’t possess the intrinsic wisdom or foresight to know which favors should be asked for.  So favor-asking becomes this giant farce…a facade of love.  Because the giver of favors is going to do whatever he’s going to do whether you ask for it or not.

Needless to say, most of us, if presented with such a clearly ludicrous waste of time would pass on it, and many of us wouldn’t hesitate to scold the snake oil salesman for his wicked deception.  Nevertheless, this is what prayer has become.  It is nothing more than the dance of a medicine man around the fire of primitive, polytheistic superstition.

So what, at root, is the error?  Okay.  Wait for it.  And prepare to be scandalized.

We ask instead of tell.  We politely request instead of demand an answer to our prayers, which I submit as children of God, with all the responsibilities and complexities and challenges that this implies, is our divine birthright.

Now hold on. Let me explain (in part two). This is not without its reason; it comes with much understanding and responsibility.  I promise, it is not a return to the genie in the bottle.

End (Part ONE)

Debating Most Christians is Basically Pointless

Here’s why debating (orthodox) Christians is so tedious, and virtually impossible to do productively:

[NOTE: When I refer to Christians I am speaking of the orthodox variety, not those like myself who differ categorically with almost every doctrinal premise and Biblical interpretation found in the Church today, from Original Sin to Christ’s Resurrection.]

“Faith” by Christian definition contains no null hypothesis.  What this means is that the doctrinal premises Christians accept and assert are not beholden to any sort of rationally consistent plumb line.  Indeed, I submit that for a Christian to accept that reason is efficacious, or even worse, NECESSARY, to “God’s Truth”, is heresy, at least implicitly.  Faith is beyond reason because God is beyond reason, so it is assumed.

This is of course entirely false, as God is, I would argue, perhaps THE most rational Ideal out there when defined correctly (“correctly” meaning: In a way which does not endemically contradict him). Anyway, the relevance of this is that it is impossible for the rational person to disprove Christian doctrinal assertions or interpretations because proof by definition is a matter of reason…of consistency and non-contradiction.  And reason is mutually exclusive of  “faith”.  Of course this also makes it impossible for the Christian to prove HIS assertions.  The standard of disproof for the critic is also the standard of proof for the Christian (and vice versa).  And this is another reason why debating Christians on matters of doctrine and interpretation is an almost entirely fruitless enterprise.

Here’s the paradox:  In order to truly debate a Christian, the Christian must have first ALREADY rejected the “no null hypothesis” root of their arguments.  And this necessarily means to reject those arguments, in essence, which equals a rejection of the doctrinal premises and interpretations—as these simply do not survive alongside a null hypothesis.  In either case, null hypothesis or none, the debate is pretty much over before it begins.

I wouldn’t necessarily say that debating Christians is a complete and categorical waste of time; there is a lot to be said for the manner in which persons engage one another.  You might be surprised at how successfully you can evangelize a Christian by simply not being a dick about things. (In other words, don’t model your approach after asshats like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, whose patronizing and irascible manner could turn off the Devil himself (and they are both completely wrong about everything, by the way…they pat themselves on the back for dismantling the object farce that passes for Biblical doctrine in orthodox Christianity—a task even my 10 year-old can do with facility—and think they are actually dismantling the scriptures, themselves…embarrassing.) But don’t expect to dazzle Christians with logic.  They punted that away a long time ago.

END