Wednesday, March 11, 2009

False Dichotomies, Fractals, and the nature of beauty.

There is within apologetics an argument which actually serves to, when one properly understands the flaws in the argument, point out an interesting oversight people make about the nature of reality. The general problem with apologetics is that they argue for the existence of God and thus, by the non-existence of God, are going to be wrong. However, the flaws of the surviving apologetics almost always are indicative of inadequacies of explanations. For example, Paley's argument for the design of nature is and was compelling because there was an underlying problem of how to design natural things in a mindless fashion. When Darwin answered this, there was considerable wind taken out of the sails of the underlying argument. To some extent there are similar bits to be found in other popular apologetics. After all one must note that there is some evolution taking place. Silly arguments are only made once. If somebody else is repeating the argument there must be a reason they suppose they won't be laughed out of the room.

"Does that mean that universals like 'Good', 'Beauty', 'Justice' amd nimbers and ideas are lost because they cannot be found in space and time?"

Here we find subtle throws toward the Transcendental Argument for the existence of God (TAG). And should, if my idea holds, find that any seeming plausibility of the argument is because there's an underlying real and impressive failing. We can certainly fault the argument across the board for various failings on validity and soundness, but it must be tapping into something real and something misunderstood to seem plausible enough to repeat.

There is ultimately an underlying contradiction within such arguments. The relevancy of the concepts of numbers, beauty, goodness, justice, morality, etc. simply extends from the underlying usefulness of those things to us.

The real problem is the assumed dichotomy which is actually a false dichotomy. Everything which doesn't physical exist is a concept. -- This is the underlying mistake. It actually lines a number of different apologetic arguments and needs to be kept in mind. There do exist somethings which don't physically exist but which aren't concepts either. I could think of a number that nobody has every thought of ever before, where was this number before I thought of it? Did it physically exist? Did it exist as a concept? Was it real before? Is it different now? Some arguments within apologetics rely explicitly on this distinction such as the transcendental argument for the existence of God which offers that because math, logic, science, morality etc. exist but do not physically exist, they must therefore conceptually exist (false dichotomy). And since conceptual existence would make them subjective they therefore cannot be the concepts of anything imperfect like people but must be the products of the mind of God.

Basically, there are systems which arise out of basic rules as emergent properties or general themes or monsters of various sorts. Fractals (initially called monsters by mathematicians) are a good example. Fractals are generally things we simply couldn't imagine but they are really there and are heavily utilized by natural selection. Even if fractals aren't used by something they can still be described and prescribed and derived. That they function in the real world and are very useful simply testifies to this fact. The same could be said for all such designs. Where is the giraffe located? There are giraffes now, but before they evolved they didn't physically exist nor did they exist as a concept of reproduction, mutation (monstrosities as Darwin called them, "another sort of monster"), and selection. However the general design for the giraffe would have still worked assuming the proper environment even without physical or conceptual giraffes. Ultimately another transcendental example (and a better one for understanding) is design space (the space of the infinite number of possible designs). Better than logic or mathematics which are coaxed by design to only allow a limited array of possible answers we have the infinite set of possible designs to be utilized within physical space. They aren't concepts and they aren't objects, nor does it hold that they are entirely non-existent either.

While things like beauty might be subjective, things we consider good or just may actually have non-physical non-conceptual components to them. It may actually be better to eat a cheese cake than to murder an entire school full of kids, not simply as a concept but as an actually. And though, you cannot touch the reason for this betterment, it does actually exist. Change some of the parameters and you change the resulting outcome or solution, but that's not to say the same best solution and same general approximations of a solution do not really exist (even though they aren't concepts or objects). Every time you use proper mathematics to add 2 and 2 you will get 4. Not because God wills it, or because it is the nature of God to provide a consistent mathematics, this will always work because that is what the system requires. There are infinite other varying systems which allow contradictions and thus collapse, but there's also this structure which allows for amazing complexity. Much like when you change some of the variables in a fractal you get basically nothing.

The underlying mistake is that the transcendental myriad of possible possibilities are considered illusionary or simply recrafted as God or aspects of the nature of God. Ultimately the compelling parts of the argument are the parts which suggest that there's some here here, because there is. Just as there was something to that which Paley was suggesting. It certainly isn't as breathtaking as Darwin's revelation, but it's certainly real. Mathematics exists. It isn't physical and it isn't conceptual, but it's real. We need to properly understand that, and know how deep the rabbit hole goes.


Sparrowhawk said...

This inspired me to go play with the Blind Watchmaker some more.

Can make some really beautiful stuff.

Fujaro said...

Of course the most effective way to debunk the false dichotomy when used to proof the existence of god is to ask it's proponent in which category his/her deity falls. If god is physical than how can he/she/it have caused the physical. If god is conceptual, than who is thinking god up. I have a vague clue about the answer to the latter question, but I doubt whether that is acceptable to theists.

Tatarize said...

Fujaro, that's brilliant.