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!