Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Believers Say the Darndest Things: "You Can’t Prove Reason with Reason. Therefore, _____."

It appears to be impossible to use reason to prove that reason is absolutely reliable. The operation of evidence-based inquiry relies on presuppositions that were not, themselves, arrived at by evidence-based inquiry.

There are some religious believers who learn these ideas and run completely off the rails with them, mistakenly thinking that they’ve gotten hold of some knockout blow to evidence-based inquiry.

The purpose of this post is to explore the arguments that believers often make based on these ideas, with the intent to show exactly where believers go wrong.

After all, in conversations between believers and skeptics, it is very common for the skeptics to request evidence for the wacky claims that believers make (since, obviously, nobody has any reason to think that a claim is likely true unless there is evidence for it…and since the believer actually does accept the claim under discussion, the believer must implicitly think there is evidence for it).

Sometimes this request is met with honest effort on the part of believers. They’ll point to things that they mistakenly think are evidence. Other times, believers will try to redefine what is meant by “evidence,” either honestly misunderstanding or purposefully and dishonestly confusing the issue. They’ll claim that their subjective feelings are somehow “evidence” for the existence of powers or beings that, if these powers or beings were real, would have a detectable effect on the world outside of these believers’ heads.

But on some occasions, the believers will question the very idea that evidence and reason are useful tools in the first place.

“What evidence,” they sometimes ask, thinking themselves clever, “do you have that all claims require evidence?”

Another way to phrase this objection is, “What’s your rational argument for thinking that reason is an effective tool? Oho! You can’t do it without being circular!” The implication is that any rational proof of reason’s effectiveness has to begin from the presumption that reason is effective, thereby begging the question (since it assumes the thing that it’s trying to prove).

In other words, their argument boils down to “You can’t prove reason with reason. Therefore, God.” [Or whatever nutty claim they’re making]

What’s happening here is that the believers in question have learned a small bit of philosophy. But, as I’ve noted elsewhere, a little philosophy can be a dangerous thing. Their half-comprehension of this issue leads them to all kinds of confusion.

Read on for a full explanation.

The Role of Gnosis in Thelema

“I give unimaginable joys on earth: certainty, not faith, while in life, upon death” – AL I:58

“Wipe your glosses with what you know” – Finnegans Wake


What is gnosis, and what does it have to do with Thelema?

The word “gnosis” literally means “knowledge” in Greek, and it’s usually used to refer to spiritual knowledge or knowledge of an esoteric nature. Occultists seem to use the word in various ways, ranging from certain trance states (“I intone a mantra to generate gnosis before I begin the ritual”) to daft poetry (“What’s that? Your magical order doesn’t produce laughable poetry? Ha! Looks like you guys have no new gnosis!”) to certainty about spiritual claims (“I know that reincarnation is true because I have acquired gnosis!”).

One way that some kinds of supernaturalists often use the word is to contrast their beliefs with those of other religionists. The argument they make goes something like this: “Most religious people – like those Christians! – just have a bunch of beliefs that the priests tell them and that they are expected to believe. So they take it on faith. Bleh! But we superior supernaturalists don’t take our ideas on faith – we know. You see, we get into our trance states and achieve gnosis. We don’t just believe that we have had past lives. We experience past life memories, and we therefore have direct knowledge that reincarnation is true. No belief required! We have knowledge!”

Unfortunately for these supernaturalists, they are incorrect.

Read on for a discussion of knowledge, belief, and gnosis in the context of Thelema.