• andrewk
    1.5k
    OK then, let's undismiss your first post. I don't agree that I did 'dismiss' it but let's undismiss it just in case. That post says:
    The atheist tends to believe that all reality can be brought into human understand,Metaphysician Undercover
    I can see no logical connection between lacking a belief in God and believing that everything can be understood. I know know-it-all theists and mystical, I-know-nothing atheists, as well as know-it-all atheists and mystical, I-know-nothing theists. The two dimensions are orthogonal.

    At best there could be a correlation but I don't even see any sign of that. Do you have any evidence for this claim other than a throwaway line here or there from a celebrity atheist?

    To say "God is unintelligible to the human intellect" is to say something meaningful about God.Metaphysician Undercover
    OK, then let's use a version of Socrates' famous dictum. The humble theist says 'the only thing I know about God is that I know nothing else about God'. It is, in my experience, a rare theist that exhibits that humility. It seems that Kant may have been one, and some mystics.
  • Metaphysician Undercover
    4.3k
    I can see no logical connection between lacking a belief in God and believing that everything can be understood. I know know-it-all theists and mystical, I-know-nothing atheists, as well as know-it-all atheists and mystical, I-know-nothing theists. The two dimensions are orthogonal.

    At best there could be a correlation but I don't even see any sign of that. Do you have any evidence for this claim other than a throwaway line here or there from a celebrity atheist?
    andrewk

    OK, so let's delve a little deeper into this then. Let's assume that there are aspects of reality which appear to be unintelligible to human beings. The theological approach is to assume that these parts of reality are inherently intelligible, but require a higher intelligence, such as God, to understand. The atheist approach denies the higher intelligence, God, leaving the atheist with the assumption that there are aspects of reality which are inherently unintelligible.

    So the difference is in the way that we judge "unintelligible". The theist assumes an absolute, God, and any aspect of reality cannot be validly said to be unintelligible, just because human beings cannot understand it. The theist refers to a God which could understand it. The atheist assumes no such absolute, and if a part of reality proves to be unintelligible relative to human beings, the atheist can validly claim that this aspect of reality is inherently unintelligible. So the theist places the reason why anything appears to be unintelligible squarely on the deficiencies of the human intellect. There is no other reason why something could appear to be unintelligible because there is nothing that is unintelligible (principle of sufficient reason). The atheist however, is justified in claiming that unintelligibility is a feature of reality itself, that there are aspects of reality which are purely random or some such thing, which by their very nature are impossible to be understood.
  • GreyScorpio
    98
    This is contradictory. To say "God is unintelligible to the human intellect" is to say something meaningful about God.Metaphysician Undercover

    I agree with this - Ayer said anything that is unfalsifiable (Which is proven by theological statements about God) has no meaning.
  • andrewk
    1.5k
    The atheist however, is justified in claiming that unintelligibility is a feature of reality itself, that there are aspects of reality which are purely random or some such thing, which by their very nature are impossible to be understoodMetaphysician Undercover
    Yes that is approximately my position, although (1) I would replace 'claiming' by 'speculating' and (2) it would be overly simplistic to describe me as an atheist tout court. But I do know people who strongly self-identify as atheists that, like me, expect reality is ultimately unintelligible to humans or to any finite being.

    Perhaps we are not in disagreement then.
  • Metaphysician Undercover
    4.3k
    Yes that is approximately my position, although (1) I would replace 'claiming' by 'speculating' and (2) it would be overly simplistic to describe me as an atheist tout court. But I do know people who strongly self-identify as atheists that, like me, expect reality is ultimately unintelligible to humans or to any finite being.

    Perhaps we are not in disagreement then.
    andrewk

    Perhaps not in disagreement on this point, but I think that the atheist's perspective is unphilosophical, and unwise.

    The reason is that if we allow speculation into the possibility that certain aspects of reality are inherently unintelligible, then these speculations will inevitably turn into claims by some atheists. So when we reach something which appears to be unintelligible, many atheists will be quick to claim that the unintelligibility is inherent within the thing. So we have instances like people claiming random chance mutations in evolution, abiogenesis, and those who argue, that the universe emerged from some unintelligible vagueness.

    If we accept such claims, as some do, then there is no need to inquire further, we claim to know that such and such aspects of reality are inherently unintelligible, and therefore can never be understood by any intellect, so there is no point in trying. This would be a philosophical laziness don't you think, to end the inquiry with the conclusion that the thing cannot possibly be known?

    So what's the point in even speculating into this possibility? There is no way to prove that things are inherently unintelligible rather than just unintelligible due to intellectual deficiencies, unless you know that the intellect inquiring is the best possible intellect, so this is meaningless speculation. Such speculation can only lead to two conclusions, 1) that it's wrongful speculation, or, 2) the conclusion that there is something inherently unintelligible. But to conclude that something is inherently unintelligible is blatantly unphilosophical, and wrong, and 1) is that the speculation itself is wrong. Therefore the only philosophical approach is to assume that everything is inherently intelligible given the appropriate intellect.
  • andrewk
    1.5k
    we claim to know that such and such aspects of reality are inherently unintelligible
    I think it would be a mistake to claim to know that things are inherently unintelligible, because it is hard to see how one could obtain sufficient confidence in that opinion to call it knowledge. On the other hand I find it entirely reasonable to hold an opinion that things are inherently unintelligible. I would definitely not call an opinion knowledge, or even a claim.

    I don't think it's philosophical laziness, or unphilosophical. It's just saying 'I see no way to proceed in that direction so I won't try'. Instead one focuses one's philosophical efforts on other things like ethics, politics and finding meaning in life, that are likely to be useful. To me that just looks like a judicious allocation of limited resources.

    It's a bit like how scientists won't entertain ideas about perpetual motion machines. We cannot prove they're impossible. We have a scientific law that says they are, but scientific laws have been revised many times over the years, so it's not inconceivable that that one could be revised too. But the prospects of that happening seem so slim that scientists choose to spend their efforts in more promising fields.

    I wish the best of luck to those that like to speculate in metaphysics. I doubt they will ever come up with something that is not hotly contested. But if they do I will be delighted to read about it, and will give great kudos to those that came up with the innovation.

    By the way, the first place I came across a suggestion that the universe was unintelligible was in Stella Gibbon' book "Cold Comfort Farm", in which Flora, the protagonist, reads a book by the Abbé Fausse-Maigre - a RC priest - which is described as proclaiming the fundamental unintelligibility of the world. Suggestions of unintelligibility are not particularly associated with atheists.
  • Wayfarer
    6.5k
    Something to recall is that the notion of 'intelligibility' is one of the things that fundamentally changed between the Middle and Modern ages. To quote E A Burtt: 'Knowledge was not a problem for the ruling philosophy of the Middle Ages ; that the whole world which man's mind seeks to understand is intelligible to it was explicitly taken for granted. That people subsequently came to consider knowledge a problem implies that they had been led to accept certain different beliefs about the nature of man and about the things which he tries to understand.' 'The medieval thinker never forgot that his philosophy was a religious philosophy, with a firm persuasion of man's immortal destiny. The Unmoved Mover of Aristotle and the personal Father of the Christian had become one. There was an eternal Reason and Love, at once Creator and End of the whole cosmic scheme, with whom man as a reasoning and loving being was essentially akin. ...the religious experience to the medieval philosopher was the crowning scientific fact. Reason had become married to mystic inwardness and entrancement...'

    Whereas, it was precisely the 'medieval synthesis' that was torpedoed by the scientific revolution.

    Just some historical context.
  • TheMadFool
    2.4k
    'If complexity requires a designer, who designed the designer?'EnPassant

    That is assuming the designer is/was complex. If you believe science the evolution of structure in the universe has been from the simple to the complex. There were fewer laws at work during the big bang then there are now. In the beginning everything was physics. Now it's chemistry and biology and perhaps we can add music, philosophy, math, etc.

    So, the designer isn't necessarily a being more complex than its creation.
  • Metaphysician Undercover
    4.3k
    I think it would be a mistake to claim to know that things are inherently unintelligible, because it is hard to see how one could obtain sufficient confidence in that opinion to call it knowledge. On the other hand I find it entirely reasonable to hold an opinion that things are inherently unintelligible. I would definitely not call an opinion knowledge, or even a claim.andrewk

    I find this to be an odd thought. To me it seems, in a strange way contradictory, to hold an opinion which could never be proven as knowledge. What sense is there in that, why not remain open minded on the subject, undecided, skeptical? You know that opinion requires a judgement that such is the case, so once you move from being doubtful to holding an opinion, you might just as well be making the claim. Your actions will be representative of this opinion, even if you do not go so far as to state the claim.

    I can see how, for pragmatic reasons, one might proceed from such a premise, a proposition which could never be proven true, but could in principle be proven false. But any intent, other than the intent to prove that premise false, would be misguided. Conclusions derived from this premise would be very unsound, and therefore misleading. So of what good is such an opinion? Clearly the atheist doesn't entertain this thought in an effort to prove it wrong. All that's left as a possibility, is that this opinion is misleading the atheist.

    By the way, the first place I came across a suggestion that the universe was unintelligible was in Stella Gibbon' book "Cold Comfort Farm", in which Flora, the protagonist, reads a book by the Abbé Fausse-Maigre - a RC priest - which is described as proclaiming the fundamental unintelligibility of the world. Suggestions of unintelligibility are not particularly associated with atheists.andrewk

    It's important to distinguish between "unintelligible" due to the state of the human intellect, and "unintelligible" due to the state of the thing which one is attempting to understand. Wayfarer and I went through this argument already. Wayfarer insisted that Aquinas designated God as unintelligible, unknowable, and I insisted that Aquinas designated God as highly intelligible, having the same type of existence as an intelligible object (immaterial). Finally I went to the source, and determined that what Aquinas says is that although God is by His essence most supremely intelligible, He is actually unintelligible to the human intellect because the human intellect is dependent on the material body. So despite the fact that God is the most highly intelligible being of all existence in His essence, God remains unintelligible to the human intellect until the human soul is separated from the body. We were both right, God is most highly intelligible, yet also unintelligible.

    The point being that "unintelligible" means something different in theology than what it means to the atheist. In theology there is no such thing as an aspect of reality which is inherently unintelligible, because it is God's creation, and everything God does is with reason. Therefore "unintelligible" can only refer to that which cannot be apprehended by the human intellect. But the atheist allows that "unintelligible" could mean something which cannot be apprehended by any intellect. So to take an atheist definition of "unintelligible", and apply it to theological use of "unintelligible" is equivocation.
  • andrewk
    1.5k
    I can see how, for pragmatic reasons, one might proceed from such a premise, a proposition which could never be proven true, but could in principle be proven false. But any intent, other than the intent to prove that premise false, would be misguided. Conclusions derived from this premise would be very unsound, and therefore misleading.Metaphysician Undercover
    As Popper showed us, this is how science in particular, and almost all knowledge, works. We can prove almost nothing true, but we can falsify it. We act as if the theories that are useful and have survived many attempts at falsification are true, and use them to cross roads, send rockets to Mars and cure plague. All while we know that they could be falsified one day.
    The point being that "unintelligible" means something different in theology than what it means to the atheist.Metaphysician Undercover
    Maybe to Aquinas, but he is only one person writing in theology. To say that the universe is intelligible because it is intelligible only to God renders the word useless because the Christian definition of God includes that he knows everything, which entails that She knows the reason for everything, so it is by definition intelligible to Her. That definition renders a useful word useless and it would take a great deal of evidence to back up a claim that it is the standard use of 'intelligible' in theology.

    In short, to say that something is intelligible if it is intelligible to God is to say nothing at all.
  • Metaphysician Undercover
    4.3k
    As Popper showed us, this is how science in particular, and almost all knowledge, works. We can prove almost nothing true, but we can falsify it. We act as if the theories that are useful and have survived many attempts at falsification are true, and use them to cross roads, send rockets to Mars and cure plague. All while we know that they could be falsified one day.andrewk

    Right, so if your object, or intent, in relation to a particular idea (that something is inherently unintelligible) is to falsify this idea, then doesn't it seem contradictory, or at least hypocritical to adopt this idea as an opinion? To hold as an opinion implies that you believe the idea. To work towards falsifying it implies that you do not believe it, and are skeptical. If you hold it as an opinion you will not be skeptical of it, and you will not work toward falsifying it.

    To say that the universe is intelligible because it is intelligible only to God renders the word useless because the Christian definition of God includes that he knows everything, which entails that She knows the reason for everything, so it is by definition intelligible to Her. That definition renders a useful word useless and it would take a great deal of evidence to back up a claim that it is the standard use of 'intelligible' in theology.andrewk

    This is not true. The point is to allow that "intelligible" is related to all possible intellects, instead of just human intellects. So to say that the universe is intelligible to God does not render the word useless, it just denies that there is anything which is truly unintelligible, in an absolute sense. Therefore it renders "unintelligible" as useless, in a way. But this is what the principle of sufficient reason does as well. Now the point is that when we use the word "unintelligible", since nothing is unintelligible in an absolute way, we are using it to refer to how things appear to us as human beings, something appears to be unintelligible. It is only unintelligible in relation to whomever finds it to be unintelligible. And this is because that person has a deficient approach.

    Furthermore, if we say that the universe is intelligible to God, and unintelligible to human beings, there is no premise here to say that the universe is intelligible only to God. Aquinas and other Catholics refer to angels as intermediary between God and humans. Each angel has providence over some physical existence. So the universe, as a physical object, could be intelligible to an angel. Therefore the point remains, and that is that if the universe is unintelligible to human beings, this does not mean that it is unintelligible to every being. And because there is a point to it, it doesn't render the word "intelligible" useless, it just defines "intelligible" as an absolute, while "unintelligible", in order to account for its common use, is defined relative to the human intellect. The two are not opposed, they are categorically different.

    In short, to say that something is intelligible if it is intelligible to God is to say nothing at all.andrewk

    This is not the saying at all, it is a misrepresentation. The saying is that everything is intelligible, what the principle of sufficient reason says. However, some things appear to be unintelligible. Because everything is intelligible, then the reason why things appear to be unintelligible is due to deficiencies in the intellect which is trying to understand them. Or, we could turn the argument around and start with a premise derived from evidence and observations. Many things are intelligible. Different intellects have different capacities. When things appear as unintelligible to one intellect they are often intelligible to another intellect. So when something appears as unintelligible to an intellect, there is no reason to believe that it is unintelligible to every intellect. Therefore there is no reason to believe that anything is unintelligible to all intellects.
  • andrewk
    1.5k
    Right, so if your object, or intent, in relation to a particular idea (that something is inherently unintelligible) is to falsify this idea, then doesn't it seem contradictory, or at least hypocritical to adopt this idea as an opinion? To hold as an opinion implies that you believe the idea. To work towards falsifying it implies that you do not believe it, and are skeptical. If you hold it as an opinion you will not be skeptical of it, and you will not work toward falsifying it.Metaphysician Undercover
    Yes, I agree. That is why I do not try to falsify opinions that seem to work well for me. I am open to others' suggestions when they think they have found a falsification, and sometimes they convince me and I change the opinion. But I don't personally set out to try to falsify it.
    to say that the universe is intelligible to God does not render the word useless, it just denies that there is anything which is truly unintelligible, in an absolute sense.Metaphysician Undercover
    If there is nothing that is 'unintelligible' then the word has no use, because it cannot apply to anything. In everyday life the word 'intelligible' is useful because some things are and some are not, when we take it to mean 'capable of being understood by an intelligent human'. What would be the point of changing the meaning of the word to something that is different from how ordinary people use it, AND has no application?

    As for angels, if they are finite, non-omniscient beings then 'intelligible' can make sense if some things are intelligible to them but not to humans. We just change the definition slightly to 'capable of being understood by one of the most intelligent finite beings'. The same can apply to hyper-intelligent alien species in another galaxy. It's only when you change it to 'capable of being understood by an omniscient, omnipotent being' that it becomes meaningless.
    Therefore there is no reason to believe that anything is unintelligible to all intellects.Metaphysician Undercover
    It is my opinion that there is good reason to believe that the world is unintelligible to all finite intellects. And in the usual way 'intelligible' is used, that is the same as saying there's good reason to believe the world is unintelligible tout court.
  • Metaphysician Undercover
    4.3k
    If there is nothing that is 'unintelligible' then the word has no use, because it cannot apply to anything. In everyday life the word 'intelligible' is useful because some things are and some are not, when we take it to mean 'capable of being understood by an intelligent human'. What would be the point of changing the meaning of the word to something that is different from how ordinary people use it, AND has no application?andrewk

    I don't believe that is the way that "intelligible" is normally used. It is a word in which its most common usage is in philosophical discussions like this. Though it is sometimes used in everyday parlance it's meaning is determined from philosophy. It means capable of being apprehended by the intellect, as distinct from being apprehended by the senses, so that we have a distinction between intelligible objects and sensible objects. It appears like it is you who is trying to change the meaning of the word from how it is normally used.

    This is a problem in modern philosophy, and it seems to be prevalent in materialist ontology. Individuals will see the usage of a word in a particular way, and want to restrict the word to that vernacular, producing a definition, as a proposition to be adhered to. So for example, you propose that "intelligible" be restricted to "capable of being understood by an intelligent human", rather than the more customary "capable of being apprehended by the intellect". Do you see the unnecessary limitation you are trying to impose? This has two possible bad effects which I apprehend right away.. One is that it may limit the capacity of understanding of anyone who adopts that definition, rendering the person as incapable of understanding usage beyond that limited scope. And the other is that it greatly increases the likelihood of equivocation when the forces of habitual usage cause the usage to exceed those unwarranted limitations.

    It is my opinion that there is good reason to believe that the world is unintelligible to all finite intellects. And in the usual way 'intelligible' is used, that is the same as saying there's good reason to believe the world is unintelligible tout court.andrewk

    What do you mean by "finite intellects"? On one hand you propose to limit "intelligible" to intelligent humans, and now you propose all "finite intellects". Consider the possibility a being which has not come into existence yet, which may or may not come into being following the evolution of human beings, and this being would have an intellectual capacity greater than any human intellect. This is not a finite intellect, because it has no physical existence, it is an intelligible proposal, a logical possibility. It has no physical existence, it is just a logical possibility, something which could occur. So it is impossible that it has finite limits, and it is nonsense to speak of such potential in terms of what is "finite", because the premise of "possible" negates "finite" right off the bat. Things which may or may not come into existence in the future do not have finite existence.

    See what happens to your restricted sense of "intelligible"? You must make exceptions to allow for beings other than human. Then, being atheist you need to add an exclusion to your exception, ("finite"), to disallow the possibility of God, and you end up with incomprehensible nonsense.
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