How to know that you know nothing

Our lives are dominated by beliefs and faith, not truth and facts

The Thinker

In this age of fake news, conspiracy theories, and denial of science, we rarely step back and analyze the process by which we construct our beliefs. The smarter ones among us know that as a minimal starting point, we must be capable of understanding the difference between opinions and facts, even if a lot of what we would like to think of as “facts” aren’t exactly so. In fact, practically the entire body of knowledge of the social sciences and humanities are closer to opinions than they are of facts since they are not consistently replicable; for many of the humanities disciplines they are not even meant to be so. How do we know that anything we know is true? The basic premise of truth is that of a proposition needs to correspond to a fact. As Aristotle stated over two thousand years earlier, “to say of what is that it is not, or of what is not that it is, is false, while to say of what is that it is, and of what is not that it is not, is true”. However, how do we know that these facts are true? Could we exist in a truth-less universe?

This is not the plot of a future episode of Black Mirror. We’re living in it already.

The only thing you know

There is only one truth in this universe that we can believe in without equivocation: that we exist, even if in what form we exist remains unknown. We all conceive of ourselves as human beings, an evolved carbon-based life form with a sense of consciousness but it is not an exaggeration to think that we might be bits of software code inhabiting some alien Matrix-like simulation. Yet the fact that we are able to understand our own existence is true. The only truth. And even assuming we have no free will at all, that every single aspect of our life has been scripted either by a divine being or that same alien simulation, we are still able to know we exist even if we are not in control of our own existence. Note that this not quite the same as Descartes’ famous statement of cogito ergo sum (“I think therefore I am”). You can actually not think and still be aware of your own existence much the same way as microscopic organisms without a central nervous system actively avoid getting killed, that is, losing their existence. Continue reading

The god arguments

Why god as described in most religions makes no sense
God does not approve of this post

God does not approve of this post

Does believing in god make sense? For atheists like myself, the answer is clearly no: from scientific, logical and even theological perspectives, the arguments in favor of god simply do not stand the test of scrutiny. Belief therefore boils down to an issue of accepting dogmatic ideas and ignoring those that even to believers will appear contradictory, unethical, or just outright false. Often, we debate these ideas where they relate to specific religions. For example, arguing that Noah could not have conceivably built a wooden ark to save every species on Earth is specific to Christianity. But proving Christianity wrong doesn’t prove all religions are wrong. As a result, I have tried to summarize some arguments against god that could be seen as somewhat universal. Admittedly, most o these are biased towards the monotheistic Abrahamic faiths (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) as they are the ones most familiar to me. But to some extent, they apply to any belief in an omnipotent deity that looks over us and that who we must worship to achieve salvation.

Here are the reasons why I think this concept of god is impossible.

The omnipotence argument

“Since power is said in reference to possible things, the phrase, ‘God can do all things,’ is rightly understood to mean that God can do all things that are possible; and for this reason He is said to be omnipotent.” (St. Thomas Aquinas)

Let’s start off with imagining what god actually is. It seems to me that god cannot be anything other than a being that features the three “omnis”: omnipotence (can do everything), omniscient (knows everything) and omnipresence (is everywhere). Indeed his power, knowledge and presence could not be conceivably limited because that would imply that there is some other force or condition in the universe that could limit it. Omnipotence, however, does have to be logically consistent: god cannot make a circle a square. There is also the omnipotence paradox which is illustrated by the case of whether god can create a stone so heavy that even he cannot lift it, so it is clear that any sensible definition of omnipotence needs to be less than absolute lest we end up in a logical quagmire. Continue reading