Sunday, May 15, 2011

Atheist misconceptions about Metaphysics


Atheists have many misconceptions about the term. Most of the time they seem to think it means some special way or argument for God, or that's synonymous with their screwed up understanding of "supernatural" (which is not the right definition of that term either but that's another story).

standard misconception that Metaphysics is about "things beyond the physical" that's not true. AT least not necessarily. For exampel the question of free will is a metaphysical question and the will is a real thing it's not a concrete thing in the physical. The question about mental vs physical is a metaphysical question.

Stanford encyclopedia.

It is not easy to say what metaphysics is. Ancient and Medieval philosophers might have said that metaphysics was, like chemistry or astrology, to be defined by its subject matter: metaphysics was the “science” that studied “being as such” or “the first causes of things” or “things that do not change.” It is no longer possible to define metaphysics that way, and for two reasons. First, a philosopher who denied the existence of those things that had once been seen as constituting the subject-matter of metaphysics—first causes or unchanging things—would now be considered to be making thereby a metaphysical assertion. Secondly, there are many philosophical problems that are now considered to be metaphysical problems (or at least partly metaphysical problems) that are in no way related to first causes or unchanging things; the problem of free will, for example, or the problem of the mental and the physical.

Conversely the idea that metaphysics is just making things up is also obviously false since the will and the mental and the physical are not made up.


I. Metaphysics is about magic, supernatural or made up stuff

That's was disproved in the things said above. In Heidegger's version of metaphysics scinece is a form of metaphysics.

II. we can't test or verify anything about metaphysics

Modal logic is a limit on any metaphysical construct. Other kinds of logic as well, also assist. We don't need to empirical investigation to know that there are no square circles. We can rule them out with logic. so logic can tell us things. Obviously we are not going to build a rock with just logic. We can use logic to screen metaphysical ideas.

III. That metaphysics is about magic and psychic powers.

Nope it's not, not at all. As I said in Heidegger's view science is metaphysics.

IV. That Christians have to support metaphysical thinking.

false. Especially if one is a Heideggerian Christian because in Heidegger's terms metaphysics is a bad thing. For Heidegger metaphysics is herding or grouping sense data into pre conceived categories. That's actually what reductionism is doing. Reductionism and naturalism are both metaphysics.

There are two major thinker's whose views of metaphysics I go by. One is Heidegger the other is Bruce Wiltshire.He is a professes emeritus at Ruttger's University.

He wrote a book called Metaphysics: An Introduction to Philosphy

He defines metaphysics as talk about talk about the world. That's tricky because you might think it's just "talk about the world." It's not talking about the world, it's talking about how to talk about the world. so metaphysics for him is a methodological procedure.

I think what both of these views have in common is that they are about how to organize knowledge about the world. For me that's my idea of metaphysics how to organize knowledge, organizing it in a way that it's all put into preconceived categories.

So the same reasons that make me dislike reductionism also make me dislike metaphysics.
For me as with Heidegger the alternative is phenomenology, which means allowing the sense data to suggest their own categories.When one says "Metaphysics is no good it's just making things up," Or "there's no God" or "scinece is the only form of knowledge" one is doing metaphysics. You guys don't even know it but most of you are doing metaphysics all the time.

An example of metaphysics would be Tillich's ideas about the depth of being. Tillich's theological method, is a good example of metaphysical work that's almost scientific and offers more than just speculation. Depth of being is an example of metaphysics.

Tillich equates knowing that being has depth with knowing that God is real. This will be the basis of the “realization” that is the end goal and object of my work in this regard. The development of an alternative to endless arguments that must be taken on faith before they prove anything is moving toward an understanding of realization as the alternative to argument. We have seen this quotation before but I will use it here again:

"The name of infinite and inexhaustible depth and ground of our being is God. That depth is what the word God means. And if that word has not much meaning for you, translate it, and speak of the depths of your life, of the source of your being, of your ultimate concern, of what you take seriously without any reservation. Perhaps, in order to do so, you must forget everything traditional that you have learned about God, perhaps even that word itself. For if you know that God means depth, you know much about Him. You cannot then call yourself an atheist or unbeliever. For you cannot think or say: Life has no depth! Life itself is shallow. Being itself is surface only. If you could say this in complete seriousness, you would be an atheist; but otherwise you are not."[i]

This is not a literal one-to-one correspondence. When one concludes that being has depth one has not proved the existence of God in the sense that the ontological argument is supposed to do. This is not a priori truth. It is more than just a “rhetorical” statement. The statement is hermeneutical and ontological although not literal. The quotation itself tells us why he says that if we know being has depth we can’t be atheists. He equates depth of being with the source of being, the source of life, and he tells us that the term “God” means depth. Literally the word “God” does not mean “depth.” He’s saying that the concept of God in modern theology and in the Christian tradition has always been that God transcends the level of mere things in creation. Depth of being means that being is not just the fact of things existing, nor is it only a surface understanding of the causes of things around us. The depth of being is the big picture, the idea that being is more than what we observe empirically, it is the spiritual sense, depth in in profundity. He actually uses the term “depth” in more than one sense; suffering as in depth of despair, profundity, as in “deep meaning,” and transcendence, beyond the surface level. All of these uses are embodied in his essay.[ii] According to this statement, when we come to realize that there’s a lot more to being than just surface fact of existence, then we understand that God is real. Thus God and the depth of being are equated. This is because God is not a big man in the sky, but rather, God is the power of being, that to say the ground upon which all is has come to be and in which it coheres and continues. In the last chapter I discussed the possibility that this is the power of mind to perceive or to think the universe. The connection between the possibilities of consciousness as the basis of reality and the philosophical questions raised by this notion, as well as others related to it, form the basis of a good place to start exploring the depth of being.

In the previous chapter I discussed the hard problem of human consciousness. In the opening chapter I discussed philosophical questions at the epistemic level that science cannot answer. The fact that these questions cannot be answered by empirical research or observation is a good indication that there is a depth being beyond the surface of things existing. This in and of itself proves that being has depth. The fact that we have these questions to ask, they mean something to most people, and we can answer them through science, which is to say, through empirical observation of the surface of fact of existence or thing-hood, indicates that there is a depth there that be probed through reason. The hard problem of consciousness is one of those issues. There are many focal points that highlight these kinds of questions and demonstrate the depth of being. Many of these can be used as God arguments, and the traditional God arguments can be used as focal points for reflection upon the depth of being. In the subsequent chapter I will deal with God arguments. For now I want to focus upon the major issues of the depth of being. The point is that in understanding the depth of being one is forced to confront the realization of the reality of God. Since my overall point is to produce a theology of the realization toward a new apologetic, these “focal points,” are like stepping stones that lead us down the path to realization.

In his essay The Shaking of the foundations,[iii] Tillich discusses depth of benig and some things have been said about that already (chapter 3). At this point, however, I will depart from Tillich’s organizational scheme but not from is basic thought and intent. There are what I like to call “deep structures” in reality that can be observed, or teased out. These deep structures can be organized into ideas that might serve to illustrate the point of depth of being, or might ever serve the function of arguments either for the reality of God or for the rational nature of belief. This is what I call the “focal points,” or a term of my invention I also like, “signifiers of depth.” The signifiers of depth highlight the deep structures. These consist of Tillich’s ontological categories. These categories are empirically derived forms of speaking. Because they are ontological, considered with the nature of being, they are in everything, not limited to religion. We make our world out of the categories, which determines the content. When I say “our world” I mean the world of our constructs, the world in our minds that consists of what we understand and how we understand it. The cause of the big bang is not part of this world because we don’t understand it or observe it. The attitudes we perceive in others may be mysterious or they may be understood wrongly or rightly but what we perceive about them is part of the world of our constructs because we perceive and it registers upon our understanding in some way. It is out of this amalgam of understood constructs that the categories are forged. This is all empirically deduced by Tillich.[iv] The categories do not include the unconditioned (God) because it transcends our understanding. But we have ideas about God that are derived from experiences and teachings and these are part of the categories, but they are not the uncontained, they are not the reality of God they are perception of God.

The categories are:

Being and non being, and the forms finitude.[v]

The forms of finitude:

*time: central to finitude because it limits being

*space: to be special is to be limited by the possibility of non being

*causality: determinate of being enables symbol and logical interpretation

*substance: the nature or mode of being

When Tillich gets even more specific forms of finitude include at some point self and the world. Much was said about self and the world in chapter 3. Tillich teases out problems of insecurity relating to each category:

*temporal (finitude) = we die.

*spatial = limitation of space (another form of finitude) remind us that we are limited in duration and in reach.

*causality = remind us of being and non being

*substance = we limited to accidents of being;

All of these produce anxiety at the prospect of non being (death). This is where Tillich plugs in the object of ultimate concern. The fact that we have an ultimate concern and that we can be bothered by the prospect of our finitude and cessation of being points to the deep structures of reality; it shows us that there’s more there than just the fact of existence, there’s the fact of cessation of existence and that it bothers us. Sometimes atheists try to deny that they have an ultimate concern or that they care about death. Even if one doesn’t feel the ultimate concern it’s logically there, and all one need do is to read the literature of the world to know that for most of humanity death is the ultimate concern.

Some atheists or skeptics might be inclined to say this is all just speculation and can’t be proved. Actually there is no reason to doubt any of this so far. We can deduce all of this; Tillich says it’s empirical, from the universally expressed observations and aspirations of humanity. These ideas, there is time, there is space, there is ultimate concern, time and space are forms of finitude and they remind us we are going to die, this is hardly arcane metaphysics or the ravings of a mad man. These are things most great writers throughout human history have said in one way or anther. The relationship of duration to finitude is deductive and hardly brain surgery. From these categories, that are more or less universally understood, we derive equally basic epistemological questions. These basic epistemological questions are indicative of the meaning and nature of being; they are born out of the way our insecurities about our own being strike us. We caused to reflect upon what we know and how we know it. The fact that we are caused to reflect upon such basic aspects is indicative of deep structures in being; since being is more than just a surface inventory of things that exist, but must be understood in relation to how we know what we know, there is reason enough to consider that being has depth. These questions may sound silly to the uninitiated in philosophy, but they have a serious purpose in being asked. This has already been presented in chapter 1. Questions such as “why is there something rather than nothing?” “Why am I here?” “What is life about?” The very fact of these questions, and that they are asked seriously and at times with great longing indicates to us the depth of being.

Deep s

[i] Tillich, Shaking of the foundations 0p cit, (see chapter three) 52.

[ii] Ibid, 52-53

[iii] Ibid

[iv] Tillich, Systematic I. 197

[v] Tillich, Shaking… op cit 197=200


Sennaya Swamy said...

Your article has clarified many of my doubts which I have for years in meta physics. Thanks a lot

Joseph Hinman (Metacrock) said...

Anonymous Sennaya Swamy said...

Your article has clarified many of my doubts which I have for years in meta physics. Thanks a lot

Well praise God man! It's about time I did something worth while.

to hear those atheists tell I'm pretty damn bad you know. ;-)

Anonymous said...

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Joseph Hinman (Metacrock) said...

thanks for your kind words.