Monday, November 23, 2009

Goldstein's arguments for a fictional god

At, John Brockman introduces a brief excerpt from the first chapter of Rebecca Newberger Goldstein's forthcoming 2010 novel, 36 Arguments for the Existence of God: A Work of Fiction. Especially interesting in this preview, is the nonfiction appendix from the book -- it lists 36 arguments for the existence of god, and the reasons they each fail. Including "15. The Argument from the Inconceivability of Personal Annihilation":
  1. I cannot conceive of my own annihilation: as soon as I start to think about what it would be like not to exist, I am thinking, which implies that I would exist (as in Descartes' Cogito ergo sum), which implies that I would not be thinking about what it is like not to exist.

  2. My annihilation is inconceivable (from 1).

  3. What cannot be conceived, cannot be.

  4. I cannot be annihilated (from 2 & 3).

  5. I survive after my death (from 4)

  6. [The argument now proceeds on as in the argument from Survival After Death, only substituting in 'I' for 'a person,' until we get to:]
  7. God exists.

FLAW 1: Premise 2 confuses psychological inconceivability with logical inconceivability. The sense in which I can't conceive of my own annihilation is like the sense in which I can't conceive of those whom I love may betray me—a failure of the imagination, not an impossible state of affairs. Thus Premise 2 ought to read "My annihilation is inconceivable to me.", which is a fact about what my brain can conceive, not a fact about what exists.

FLAW 2: Same as Flaw 3 from The Argument from the Survival of Death.

COMMENT: Though logically unsound, this is among the most powerful psychological impulses to believe in a soul, and an afterlife, and God. It genuinely is difficult—not to speak of disheartening— to conceive of oneself not existing!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The public responds to our Coalition of Reason

Spotted on a Red Line train, 11/9/09.