Answers to “50 Important Philosophical Questions”
1. Does God exist? (Metaphysics + Philosophy of Religion)While theists might find this answer emotionally disturbing, if “God” is supposed to denote some kind of “supernatural” consciousness, the answer is no. Since that which is imaginary is not real, that which is imaginary does not exist, for that which is not real does not exist.
Consider: Would it be possible to “believe in” a deity even if it didn’t actually exist? The very insistence that Christianity is the “one true religion” and other religions are false, suggests that this is indeed possible. It is always possible to imagine a god, even the Christian god, such as when one is reading a “sacred text.” Just as the characters of “Harry Potter” come alive in one’s imagination when he reads one of J. K. Rowling’s novels, the Christian god and all the other characters of the Christian bible “come alive” in the imagination of the believer who reads it and invests his reading experience with emotional projections. Essentially speaking, there is no fundamental difference between the two cases. Since it is always possible to imagine a god, one will always be able to imagine the Christian god. But this alone does not tell the whole story of Christianity’s problems. While the mere ability to imagine the Christian god is in itself sufficiently damning, the fact that believers and non-believers alike have no alternative but to imagine the Christian god, even within the variable contexts of contemplating arguments supposedly proving its existence, is far more damaging to theism than any refutation of a pro-theistic argument.
Defenses of theism do nothing to eliminate the need to rely on the imagination when contemplating or worshiping the god or gods whose existence they are intended to establish. Moreover, getting behind apologetic sound bite formulae common in some theistic circles – e.g., “the proof that God exists is that without Him you couldn't prove anything,” “the impossibility of the contrary,” “God has revealed the truth of His Word such that we can be certain of it” – is entirely possible in spite of the fact that the god being so promoted is merely imaginary. On the contrary, given the imaginative nature of religious confessional investment, such slogans are to be expected among the faithful as prompts intended to keep them from straying. For those who may be interested, I have already exposed these points in my blog The Imaginative Nature of Christian Theism and have presented A Proof that the Christian God Does Not Exist on my blog.
2. How can we know that He exists? (Epistemology + Natural Theology + Philosophy of Religion)
Meanwhile, Christians need to make a choice: either acknowledge that the imaginary is not real and abandon theism altogether, or go on pretending as though something which theists can only imagine is truly real in spite of the fundamental distinction between the real and the imaginary.
Moreover, Christians need to recognize once and for all that the claim to have secured knowledge by means of “revelations” only indicates that they have no epistemology proper to speak of. Claiming to know something “by revelation” means that the person making such a claim cannot identify the steps by which he came to the “knowledge” that he claims to possess. Presumably he “receives” knowledge without performing any mental steps which he could identify in the first place. On the theist’s view, knowledge is not a product of mental activity performed by the knower, but a deliverance from a supernatural realm which he passively receives by some means which the knower himself cannot identify, understand or articulate. The claim “It was revealed to me” really means that the believer wants to ignore penetrating epistemological inquiry and expects his audience to accept his claims without rational basis and without regard for the need to tie knowledge objectively to reality. As such, the retreat to revelation is an outright assault on reason and the abilities of the human mind.
The problem for Christians who claim to know things by means of “revelation” is the impossible tightrope which such a claim forces them to try to walk. On the one hand, when the “it has been revealed to me” card is played, the apologist implies that he has received some kind of direct, private revelation from the god he claims to worship. This is essentially a claim to infallibility on the part of the apologist: he is essentially saying he cannot be wrong about what he claims, since he has “received” it directly from an omniscient and infallible source. Supposedly infallibility is thereby transferred by means of supernatural manipulation of his mind. After all, how could a revelation from an infallible and omniscient supernatural consciousness be wrong? Such a presumption amounts to a denial on the part of the apologist of the very nature of his own mind, which, if he is a human being, is indeed fallible.
It also suggests that the apologist fancies himself as one of his god’s favorites. Why else would the believer be receiving all these revelations from a supernatural source while everyone else is relegated to bystander status? Naturally, the believer will want some kind of psychological compensation for the emotional investment he’s put into his god-belief. So why not do his best to believe that what his theology urges people to believe is “revealed” by a supernatural being? In the believers’ mind, labeling his beliefs as “revealed” makes them unquestionable. Of course, this doesn’t work for everyone else who tries this maneuver.
On the other hand, if by “revelation” the apologist merely means that he read something in some sacred text, such as the Christian bible, then all bets are off: he’s on the same level as everyone else, and thus just as fallible as the next person. The biblical text is available for anyone, believer and non-believer alike, to examine, scrutinize, and judge. What the apologist resents is when non-believers examine and judge the bible. The apologist essentially says that the non-believer has no right to judge the content of the biblical text. And yet, the same apologist insists that non-believers acknowledge its supposed truth. But to say that something is true is to pass judgment on it just as much as saying that it is false is passing judgment. So again, the apologist finds himself in a futile epistemological pickle here, essentially a trap set by his own worldview.
Either way, an appeal to revelation is a declaration that reason is not the only means of knowledge by man, for revelation and reason are certainly not the same. Indeed, they are mutual exclusive. In the case of revelation, the human mind allegedly receives knowledge passively, without any epistemological process performed by the knower. It does not rely on awareness of reality by means of perception; it does not rely on the formation of concepts on the basis of perceptual input; it does not rely on any tie to reality external to the human knower which is distinguishable from imagination (such as the objects of perceptual awareness). On the other hand, reason depends entirely on its content ultimately from perceptual input. Reason is the faculty which identifies and integrates the material provided by the senses. Without perception and perceptual input, there is no reason. Reason is not a faculty by which man discovers facts about reality by turning the focus of his attention inward, such as into the fantasies of his imagination. Revelation is essentially indistinguishable from consulting one’s imagination as the source of his “knowledge,” for it involves the pretense that knowledge of reality can be gained without consulting the facts which one directly perceives in the world around him.
3. Does God have a nature? (Phil. of Religion + Metaphysics)
4. Does God have properties? (Phil. of Religion + Metaphysics)
5. Can we gain knowledge about God’s nature or properties? (Epistemology)
It is important to keep in mind the fact that reason, man’s only means of knowledge, rests squarely and uncompromisingly on the primacy of existence metaphysics. We discover facts about reality by looking outward, by observing reality, not by imagining alternatives to what we perceive. To say that a claim is true is to imply that it is true independent of our wishes, our desires, our preferences, our emotions, our imagination, our fantasies, etc. In other words, to say that something is true is to imply that it is the case independent of conscious activity. That is the primacy of existence.
In contrast to this, religious belief assumes the primacy of consciousness metaphysics. The primacy of consciousness is the fundamental keystone and distinguishing characteristic of religious ontology. In metaphysics, the primacy of consciousness is instanced any time one posits that some form of consciousness – either one’s own or someone else’s, whether real or imaginary – holds metaphysical primacy over selected objects or reality as such. Staple religious doctrines such as the doctrine of creation, of miracles, of divine foreordination, divine sovereignty, historical providence, faith, prayer, salvation, sin, revelation, atonement, incarnation, resurrection, etc., etc., etc., all presuppose the primacy of consciousness. Since the primacy of consciousness denies the primacy of existence, any view which grants metaphysical primacy to any form of consciousness entails a denial of the very preconditions of truth as such. Consequently, religious belief, including Christianity, performatively contradicts itself any time it affirms its doctrines as truths. So religion is no friend to truth. Indeed, religion is an assault on truth.
6. Is God the source of all reality? (Metaphysics + Phil. of Religion)
7. What does it mean to say that God is transcendent over His creation? (Phil. of Religion)
In this sense, the notion of “transcendent” is code for the primacy of the believer’s own imagination in dictating the fundamentals of his worldview. It is a religious expression of the primacy of consciousness translated into theological terminology. For instance, the believer imagines that his god is a living being, but he also imagines that it has no moral responsibility, somewhat like a dog or an ant. Like dogs and ants, it cannot be held morally responsible for its actions. It is not bound to the same standards as man is. But unlike dogs and ants, it cannot be harmed, it cannot suffer, it cannot die, it cannot be killed.
Ultimately, so far as theology is concerned, “transcendence” signifies nothing more than divine aloofness, and it translates into an excuse from any responsibility on the part of the god which is so characterized. This can easily be massaged into excuse for believers as well, and a god’s excuse from moral responsibility (albeit disguised as “transcendence”) is crucial to the believer’s maintenance of a self-imposed euphoric calm in response to the troubles of this world, which are to be downplayed as ultimately insignificant; he is not to experience or express outrage at mass destruction of human values which, according to his worldview, would be caused or enabled by his god. A “transcendent” god is one which is not held to be morally responsible for its chosen actions by its worshipers. It can do anything it chooses to do, and no matter what it may be that it does, it is not morally liable for its actions and thus not to be judged. A human being performing the same chosen actions would be condemned by the same moral code as that which believers claim is based on their god’s nature, but which believers are reluctant to apply to their god.
8. Is God the source of morality? (Ethics + Phil. of Religion)
9. What is Morality? (Ethics)
An immortal, indestructible god which has no needs would clearly have no use for morality. Its existence is inalterable: nothing can harm it, it cannot die, and it can know no deprivation. Moreover, an omniscient and infallible god would have no need for reason, for reason is a means of discovering, identifying and validating knowledge. Such a faculty would not be necessary or even useful to a mind which is said to already know everything. Indeed, an omniscient mind would not have its knowledge in the form of concepts, which is the very ability which makes reason possible to man in the first place.
10. What is Good? (Ethics)
11. What is Evil? (Ethics)
The concepts of good and evil can only apply to man in the context of his life and his ability and choice to live it. They cannot rationally apply to ants or rocks any more than they could apply to imaginary beings, such as gods and deities. Nor can their basis or meanings be sourced in ants, rocks or imaginary beings. The good is not something that can be commanded any more than it can be wished into existence. The good is something man must earn, and he must earn it by reasoned productive effort.
12. How can we tell what is Good and Evil? (Ethics + Epistemology)
13. Why should I be moral at all? (Ethics)
But consider this question from the perspective of religious morality. Religion holds that morality entails obedience to divine commandments. On this view, to be moral means to obey a god’s commandments, to do according to a god’s will. But if this is the case, why be moral? To outsiders, it seems that theists are essentially saying that religion teaches that one should be moral for fear of the consequences of disobedience: obey god’s commandments or you will be punished. While this is clearly modeled in sacred texts like the bible, believers often insist that this is not their view of moral motivation. But it certainly seems to be the case, given what we find modeled in the bible. And if it is an accurate characterization, it is important to note that such a moral view does not offer any goal on behalf of moral action except to avoid a god’s displeasure. The motivation here is not to gain and/or secure values, but to avoid wrath. This means that, on the religious view, there is no value to be gained as a result of moral action; moral action is to be performed only to stave off a supernatural consciousness’ pointless anger, and this does not yield anything that man can use for living his life. If there were any value to be achieved as a motivating goal for morality, then such action would be selfish, and religious morality is notorious for its condemnation of selfishness. But in spite of its condemnation of selfishness, religious morality cannot escape selfishness in moral motivation completely, for even the goal of avoiding punishment is itself an end in a person’s self-interest.
14. Are humans just physical entities or do they have an immaterial self? (Metaphysics)
15. Do humans have an essential nature? (Metaphysics)
16. Do humans have free-will? (Philosophy of Mind + Metaphysics)
17. Are humans morally responsible for the things they think, do, intend, etc.? (Philosophy of Mind + Metaphysics)
18. Does the personal identity of a human persist through change? (Metaphysics)
19. What are the anthropological implications of determinism? (Metaphysics)
20. If we can prod the brain and produce a physical or even a mental effect, what implications follow? (Phil. of Mind)
21. How can God know the future? (Philosophical Theology + Phil. of Religion)
22. Does God know counter-factuals? (Phil. of Religion)
23. Is God within time or outside of time? (Metaphysics, Philosophy of Time/Science)
24. What is time? (Phil. Of Time/Science)
25. Is time a physical entity or a metaphysical entity? (Phil. Of Time/Science)
26. How can humans have free-will and God be sovereign all at the same time? (Phil. of Religion)
27. Is science compatible with religious belief / Christianity? (Philosophy of Science)
28. What is science? (Phil. of Science)
29. Is there only one scientific method? (Phil. of Science)
30. Do the findings of science imply naturalism or materialism? (Phil. Of Science)
31. Which fields of study count as science? (Phil. of Science)
32. What theological implications follow from the findings of Quantum Physics? (Phil. of Science)
33. Is scientism a rational view? (Epistemology)
As for determining whether or not a particular viewpoint is rational, it really should not be as difficult as some seem to think. Rationality is uncompromising reliance on reason; it is adherence to reason as one’s only means of knowledge, one’s only standard of judgment and one’s only guide to action. So ask the question: does the view in question adhere uncompromisingly to reason? From there one needs to check the premises of the view in question to determine whether or not this is the case.
34. Isn’t Evil incompatible with God’s being real? (Phil. of Religion)
35. Do God’s “omni” properties make sense? (Philosophical Theology)
36. Can God do anything? Even something logically incoherent? (Phil. of Religion)
37. What is Truth? (Epistemology)
38. How can only one religion be true? (Phil. of Religion)
39. How can one effectively compare different religions or views to see which one is true? (Phil. Of Religion + Epistemology)
40. Is the trinity a coherent concept? (Phil. of Religion)
41. How could God become a man? (Phil. of Religion)
42. What does it mean to say that Jesus has two natures? (Phil. of Religion + Metaphysics)
43. What are miracles? (Phil. of Religion)
44. Are miracles possible? (Phil. of Religion)
45. Can we examine ancient documents and gain knowledge from them? (Epistemology + Philosophy of History)
46. Can we know certain truths without evidence? (Epistemology)
47. What role do “supernatural experiences” or “mystical experiences” have to play? (Phil. of Religion)
48. Do abstract objects exist (i.e. does the number 2 exist)? (Metaphysics)
49. If abstract objects exist, what is God’s relation to them? (Metaphysics + Phil. of Religion)
Notice how theists are concerned about how their god is related to “abstract objects.” Notice also that they seem completely disinterested in how the human mind, including their own, is related to “abstract objects.” They apparently presume that their minds can only be related to “abstract objects” by first having some kind of relationship with their god, a relationship via which they are subsequently able to enjoy a relationship with “abstract objects.” Abstractions, then, are known, either through revelation or anamnesis, prayer or faith, or some other alleged mystical medium which makes psychic communion with the otherworldly possible. For such thinkers, abstractions are not the product of human mental activity; perhaps they presume that this would automatically make abstractions subjective. Given theism’s departure from the objective orientation between the human mind and reality, it certainly would result in subjectivism. But so does basing abstractions on a being which the human mind can only access by means of imagination. The solution to these anti-conceptual pursuits is grounding conceptual knowledge on the axioms and the primacy of existence and forming them according to the proper method of concept-formation, as laid out by the objective theory of concepts (see Ayn Rand’s Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology; see also Allan Gotthelf’s Ayn Rand on Concepts).
50. Do universals exist? (Metaphysics)
So there you have it – 50 “important philosophical questions” answered. Will anyone learn from this?
by Dawson Bethrick