The Instigator
BruteApologia
Pro (for)
Winning
20 Points
The Contender
TheNoblePolemic
Con (against)
Losing
19 Points

The Argument from Meaning

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 12/6/2009 Category: Religion
Updated: 7 years ago Status: Voting Period
Viewed: 6,099 times Debate No: 10363
Debate Rounds (3)
Comments (13)
Votes (12)

 

BruteApologia

Pro

I'd like to begin by thanking my opponent for accepting this debate. We'll be discussing whether the argument from meaning successfully justifies God's existence. My opponent will be arguing that it does not. He is someone I greatly respect as a fellow Christian philosopher and I am very pleased that he took the time to debate this issue with a second-rate philosopher such as myself. This argument has not been presented in any scholarly journal or book that I know of but was originally developed by my good friend Apologician. I have taken it upon myself to develop this into a stronger argument and encourage everyone to assess whether it succeeds or has potential. Without further ado, here's how I'd currently formulate the argument:

1. If meaning exists, it is either created by matter or a rational mind.
2. Meaning exists in a mind.
3. If naturalism is true, then matter is ultimately meaningless.
4. Meaning cannot arise from meaninglessness.
5. Therefore, naturalism is false. (from 2, 4)
6. Therefore, the best explanation for the existence of meaning is God. (from 1, 5)

This argument is not to be confused with the meaning of life. While certainly related, I do not seek to show that naturalism is a life of despair and theism is full of happiness but that meaning does exist and it cannot be explained naturally. To avoid equivocation, it is important to define what I mean by "meaning". Meaning itself is information that is expressed in various forms such as words, things, etc when accompanied by a rational mind and is used by us to express what one intends or wishes to communicate about something. In contrast, meaninglessness holds no information value to any person and is constantly disorderly so that no sense can be made from it.

There are two kinds of information that we possess. One is perceivable and the other is intentional. An example of the former is the Earth. We do not create the information about the Earth but instead perceive it by observing its properties (such as color). The way in which we express these properties can be done through different languages but the perception is largely the same. Intentional information, on the other hand, is something that minds intend to communicate about something by creation of things like languages. Both kinds of information overlap each other but it is helpful to distinguish them for the sake of clarity.

Having made the necessary clarifications, let's give our attention to the premises. In Premise (1), I propose that there are only two possible explanations for meaning. Ultimately, only a rational mind is capable of having any intention of expressing information "about" something. This characteristic is found nowhere in matter itself because matter doesn't have intentions to be meaningful. Intrinsic meaning is therefore only found in a mind as mentioned in premise (2). The question is, is this mind material? It might well be the case that our mind has a physical mechanism but I am not concerned about our mind's composition. It could be material or immaterial for all I know.

The important question here is, why is there meaning rather than meaninglessness? A naturalist would respond by saying that meaning is a subjective phenomenon of the brain. It has no objective existence, and any attempt to infer meaning from nature is an illusion because matter is ultimately meaningless (p3). The contents of that meaning may be subjective, but the fact that meaning exists is still true. For example, qualia is subjective but it still exists. To deny the existence of meaning altogether would be contradictory since that very statement is meaningful! So while the naturalist can deny meaning in matter, it cannot deny that it exists in at least the human mind.

Since premise (4) is the central refutation of naturalistic explanations, I will have to give it a proper defense. If matter truly is valueless, unintentional, inanimate and meaningless then it has no potential to create something meaningful on its own. In order to have that potential, it must have some un-actualized property of meaning in itself which seems absurd. The burden of proof would be on the one who makes such a claim. For meaning to come from meaninglessness is as much as a contradiction as something coming from nothing. Therefore, any rational person should abandon naturalism from this fact alone.

However, a stronger case can be made by granting the assumption that all meaning can be reduced to mechanical operations within the physical mind. This view, however, fails to recognize that the mechanism itself is meaningful! It is important to realize that my argument never depended on meaning only as it exists in the human mind. I am speaking of it in general terms which includes what I had coined perceivable information. How does this matter? Well, I think C.S Lewis says it best:

["If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be without meaning."]

This is a crucial point. What should we expect from a universe that's meaningless? Such a world would have no continuity between events and things, thus making it absolutely unpredictable. Without any order or connection between causes or effects, there could never be any science. There'd be no patterns to discern. Do we see this in our universe? Absolutely not. So how could we say everything is ultimately meaningless? If there is no meaning, then we should have not known this.

The naturalist's appeal to a mechanical explanation of the mind must assume that the universe is meaningful. To believe otherwise is to argue that scientists, mathematicians etc are in a sea of madness and delusion. They have absolutely no clue what they're saying apart from the meaning that they invented in their minds. This is obviously ridiculous and will destroy the very claim that the naturalist wishes to make. As the Nobe Prize winner physicist Weinberg said:

["But if there is no solace in the fruits of our research, there is at least some consolation in the research itself. Men and women are not content to comfort themselves with tales of gods and giants, or to confine their thoughts to the daily affairs of life; they also build telescopes and satellites and accelerators, and sit at their desks for endless hours working out the meaning of the data they gather. The effort to understand the universe is one of the very few things that lifts human life a little above the level of farce, and gives it some of the grace of tragedy."]

But this is precisely the type of world one would expect if the universe is meaningful. Having established that naturalism is false and disastrous toward scientific investigation, we have good reason to believe that (5) is true. The only explanation that we have left is a rational mind. We know that matter in itself has no capability of creating anything meaningful on its own. A rock for example, cannot create a meaningful structure without the support of some mind to form it into say a house. Since all meaning is ultimately received or created by a mind and is not founded on matter, it follows that there must be a mind like God who existed eternally. Therefore, I conclude that God is the best explanation for the existence of meaning (p6)
TheNoblePolemic

Con

As my respectable interlocutor has mentioned, I am also a Christian, though he certainly does me too much credit to claim I'm a philosopher. In any case, I thank him for the opportunity to engage him in debate here, and I hope everyone involved, including the audience, of course, will benefit from our little exchange.

My response here will be a comparatively short one since my opponent's argument from meaning is invalid. Even so, it also fails as an inductive argument for God, the stated, and unjustified, conclusion of my opponent's argument.

To better show the argument's invalidity, I will clean it up a bit for clarity and formalize it.

1. If meaning exists, meaning is created by matter or meaning is created by a rational mind.
2. Meaning exists in a mind.
3. If naturalism is true, then matter is meaningless.
4. Meaning cannot arise from meaninglessness.
5. Therefore, naturalism is false.
6. Therefore, the best explanation for the existence of meaning is God.

Formalized, this argument becomes this

1. E -> (M v R)
2. X
3. N -> ~O.
4. ~A
5. ~N
6. G

There are no rules of inference in sentential logic, most probably the only formal logic my opponent is familiar with, or any other logic I've personally encountered that can justify such a conclusion, and it is invalid using a truth table. Be that as it may, I would be remiss if I did not attempt to formulate an argument that may be what my opponent meant to say, to be charitable, and I'll try that here. If my proposed argument is ultimately misguided, then I hope my argument will at least help him formulate an argument that's even stronger than the one I'm about to create. However, I am severely skeptical this type of argument can be made to be any stronger than the strength of the argument I am about to form.

1. If meaning exists, meaning exists physically or meaning exists in a rational mind.
2. If naturalism is true, then meaning exists physically.
3. Meaning does not exist physically.
4. Naturalism is true or God exists.
5. Therefore, naturalism is false.
6. Therefore, God exists.

Formalized, my revision looks like this (please forgive the dots, as they are necessary due to formatting issues):

1. E -> (M v R)..........Pr.
2. N -> M..................Pr.
3. ~M.......................Pr.
4. N v G....................Pr. / G
5. ~N.......................M.T. 2,3
6. G.........................D.S. 4,5

To make my opponent's argument even more powerful, I recommend replacing premise 4 with the disjunction "Naturalism is true or there is a supernatural object", and the conclusion with "There is a supernatural object", since it seems that the falsity of naturalism entails that something supernatural exists. I chose not to do this since my opponent's argument has God involved, and it seemed important, at least to the argument, to have my opponent's conclusion placed placed in my rendition. Arguably, this argument could be stronger by making it longer and using some more (plausible) premises, but I believe this type of argument suffers from so many weaknesses even in this concise, entailing-the-falsity-of-just-naturalism form that trying to get God from meaning would be an exercise in futility. As stated, I believe this to be the most powerful form I can generate of this type of argument with the time allotted to me, and I believe I have behaved charitably in forming an argument that's not only valid, but arguably sound (I believe it is sound, actually), but I still think it is a very weak argument.

This sort of argument is not very useful as a polemic against naturalism, since a contender will simply deny premise 3 and/or premise 2 (and premise 4 in the first argument, which is why I advocate replacing the disjunction with something a little less philosophically loaded) depending on how sophisticated the atheist is. Problems result for the theist since these premises may be agreed upon by the theist (assuming she is not a physicalist) but denied by the atheist simply because her naturalistic paradigm entails meaning exists in matter. In other words, the atheist can simply state meaning exists physically since the mind is ultimately physical. Physicalism, then, becomes the topic of discussion, instead of the argument from meaning, making the argument irrelevant since the truthfulness or falsity of physicalism takes primacy over the debate on the nature of meaning.

Put another way, the argument from meaning reduces to a "preaching to the choir"-type argument. The only individuals who agree with the premises in the first place will be theists of the dualistic variety; physicalists will deny premise 2 since the mind is physical, and meaning exists in the mind, then meaning is something or exists in something that is physical. Convincing the physicalist of the soundness of this argument involves convincing them of the truthfulness of dualism, or, at very least, the falsity of physicalism, which means this argument contains absolutely no persuasive force for people who are not already convinced of the truthfulness of its premises, and convincing them of its truthfulness involves discussions of issues that are, at best, tangential to the argument itself and hotly debated in academic literature. Even if you ever do encounter and convince an atheist physicalism is false, whether or not this entails the falsity of naturalism may be debated, and the idea the falsity of naturalism entails God exists is yet another debatable point.

My opponent would be better off studying dualism and physicalism thoroughly and what these entail for theistic and atheistic paradigms rather than focusing on some sort of "argument from meaning" that is, at best, irrelevant, and, at worst, demonstratively invalid.
Debate Round No. 1
BruteApologia

Pro

Special thanks to my opponent, who has graciously provided a superior formulation. I was concerned more with how I will defend the premises than I was with whether it was logically valid. A costly error on my part, but I don't think it should effect the argumentation that was presented in my OP. There's much more that can be improved, as my opponent has shown, but as long as the essential concept of the argument is not shown to be completely ineffective at refuting naturalism, then I think I'll continue to hope that this has potential. That of course has nothing to do with whether I have won this debate unless I have successfully justified theism.

My opponent has recommended replacing premise 4 with a "supernatural object" instead of God so as to strengthen the argument. While I can certainly see the use of this suggestion, I do not think it necessarily does good to the intention I had for giving an explanation of meaning. It seems to me that a supernatural object is too obscure to answer this need and only tells us that there is something beyond the natural realm. This is indeed sufficient to refute naturalism, but not enough to answer the question that I had in mind. In addition, a mere supernatural "object" would appear about as unintentional as matter. Other than it being non-natural, what would be the difference? For this to strengthen my argument, I'd have to know what sets it apart from naturalism (or God for that matter) in explanatory power. As I had elaborated in the OP, there are ultimately only two kinds of explanations of meaning - either it is created by some non-intentional object or it is created by something intentional like a rational mind. An object of the supernatural kind can only fall into either category and if the latter, I would not really call it an "object".

I do anticipate a naturalist to deny either p3 or p4, but I don't see this as a problem unless my defense of the premises have been discredited. Simply because the naturalistic paradigm requires meaning to exist in matter does not warrant the claim that it is because that's begging the question. I don't think the fact that atheists are not committed to some of the premises is of any surprise. Most arguments in philosophy suffer from the same situation so this is nothing unique to the argument from meaning. The question is whether I can successfully surmount their criticisms enough to convince them that their worldview is not a satisfactory account of reality. My opponent objects that I cannot accomplish this since the premises are only acceptable to a theist. This is certainly true of an advocator of any argument. If the premises are validly sound and accepted by the opponent, then they must concede to the truth of the conclusion and therefore become an advocator of the argument as well.

To rephrase the problem, I have been accused of begging the question in favor of theism by "preaching to the choir". This can be viewed as such by someone with prior commitments to naturalism but merely because I present premises that contradict the worldview that one is reasonably committed to does not entail that I am begging the question. It is quite possible that my premises "ought" to be accepted as more reasonable than their beliefs. Furthermore, I do not think that this makes physicalism have primacy over the question of meaning. Because I may have confused my opponent, I need to clarify that premise 2 is not equivalent to saying that meaning exists in a "non-physical mind". Perhaps it is physical but that is irrelevant to the fundamental problem of why there exists meaning instead of meaninglessness. Failure to address this from a naturalistic frameworks warrants the belief that this is a contradiction that demonstrably proves naturalism as false. This is not to be confused as just an argument for the falsity of naturalism, however, as that is not the point. I am merely seeking a satisfactory explicans of the explanandum. Whether I have proved the falsity of naturalism or the truth of God as an explanation for meaning is indeed a matter of debate which is what we're here for.

**As for studying dualism and physicalism thoroughly, I will gladly take the suggestion! I would make the point that if I'm trying to prove dualism, why could they not simply assume that the brain is physical because that's entailed by their paradigm? There seems to be no particular difference between that and the problem of meaning. The argument from meaning seems to be a good aid to accompany my study of dualism and physicalism. If anything, I see the argument as a sound tool in the theistic toolbox for refuting physicalism. Even though it might not be the best of the tools, I still think it is an interesting one.
TheNoblePolemic

Con

By "object", I merely meant there is some supernaturally existent thing; it does not imply either a rational or irrational thing. By positing a supernatural object, we can allow for any sort of transcendent thing, from Zeus to the number two to God. Be that as it may, even if we grant the idea that naturalism is falsified, it does not get us to God. After all, there may be some religions who agree meaning is not reducible to physical phenomena yet nonetheless do not believe in God, instead there is some other rational being(s) or perhaps some irrational, transcendent force(s) that accounts for the "meaning" present in the human experience. But that is neither here nor there.

My main criticism is not that the atheist would not agree to the premises (this is obviously the case), but that the premises rely on a superordinate discussion regarding physicalism and dualism, among other things. In other words, this argument is subsumed by the mind/body problem, rendering it, as I concluded, irrelevant. The argument from meaning does not get off the ground until physicalism and even property dualism have been extinguished as potential solutions for the mind/body problem that the argument from meaning can get off the ground. I am far more comfortable with property dualism than I am with substance dualism, and I am a theist myself. And this is only one issue.

As far as the naturalist is concerned, meaning exists instead of meaninglessness because naturalistic forces are capable of generating a physical system capable of experiencing and producing meaning. The brain is, they argue, just such a physical system capable of this feat. The brain, also, shows that meaning is really just a physical phenomena. Indeed, the brain is actually a machine operating on deterministic mechanisms, just as much a machine as a computer with the rather spectacular ability to produce sensations and consciousness; this is no mean feat. However, there are problems with such a view, but these concerns must be dealt with first since there are some arguably independent reasons for thinking the brain is reducible to physical mechanisms, and so this is no ad hoc rebuttal to your argument and cannot be attacked on those grounds. This fact is why I gave the advice I did concerning studying the mind/body problem. Since there are some rather weighty concerns that must be dealt with before the argument from meaning gets off the ground, this makes the argument from meaning essentially irrelevant since if dualism is agreed to, naturalism is essentially falsified. That is, if naturalism is equated with physicalism, though this may not necessarily be the case, and the clever atheist may indeed argue why they are not to be equated.

Now, property dualism does not necessarily imply meaning cannot come from physical processes either, since meaning could be caused by, but not identical to, some physical happening in the brain, but, ultimately, meaning is caused (or created) by some physical process, i.e. meaning can indeed be caused by some meaningless, physical process, which seems to potentially undercut the truthfulness of premise 2. A clever reworking of "naturalism" can be made to accommodate property dualism, yet meaning does not exist in anything physical. There are other metaphysical assumptions that appear to be at work in my opponent's argument, but I'll refrain from mentioning them since I think my concerns are already quite damning to opponent's argument.

I would like to repeat another point since I think is worthy of some clarification. My concerns are not over the soundness of my opponent's argument, since I think it is indeed sound. My complaint is that it is irrelevant since even a robust discussion with the mind/body problem will not be enough to lend credence to this argument. Even if meaning is shown to only exist in a rational mind, there appears to be a very long road to God, since naturalism (if it's a very cleverly composed definition) and many other worldviews absent a concept of God (that is, there exists some omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent being) can possibly account for meaning existing a rational mind, and these concerns must also be dealt with. However, the main thrust of this is that all of these concerns, if properly rebutted, will imply the truthfulness of theism long before we arrive at the argument from meaning.

Imagine some discussion where the clever theist has already shown that substance dualism is true and that naturalism and all other worldviews except bare bones theism don't have a chance of ultimately explaining all of the many features of the universe. Having accomplished this feat (and I applaud the theist who manages to do this), he then brings up the argument from meaning. His interlocuter will simply respond: "Well, you have already shown that theism is true by way to discrediting all other contenders, so why are showing me this argument?" In other words, there will be no persuasive force to this argument unless a person is already convinced of the truthfulness of the premises, but if the premises are already agreed to, this argument appears to be completely redundant to such a person, unless the person is, and this is not for comedic effect, an idiot to some degree or another. Even so, this argument may be used some catalyst (i.e. as a tool in the theist's little box of arguments) to engage in the discussion of the mind/body problem and the incoherency/implausibility of all atheistic worldviews, but these are such interesting subjects to begin with that you probably (indeed, it appears Christian apologists and every other philosophically inclined individual have been discussing these issues without ever hearing of this argument) don't even need to bring in the argument from meaning to discuss them.

To put it even more simply, the issues involved in the argument from meaning that make it a poor argument are that the metaphysics assumed in it are so debatable (and indeed are debated very extensively in the literature) that it would be better to focus on those issues first. They will surely come up during the discussion of this argument, since they are necessary to argue for the truthfulness of the premises, and it is better to argue for the truthfulness of theism via that route than using this argument as the pi�ce de r�sistance. Your interlocuter, already having exhausted the mind/body problem and found substance dualism to be the solution and convinced of the non-existent viability of atheistic worldviews, will find this argument to be completely redundant, which is precisely what I think it is.

So, I maintain that this argument at best irrelevant and at worst invalid.
Debate Round No. 2
BruteApologia

Pro

The fact that a supernatural object is neither rational or irrational seems to strengthen the point that it is too obscure. For it to include any existent thing as long as it is "supernatural" would prevent it from answering the problem of meaning. On whom or what is meaning ultimately grounded in? It certainly cannot be a temporal being or else there was a time when meaninglessness was and a time when meaning came to be, which is an absurd proposition. Furthermore, I'd eliminate any plurality of rational beings through Ockham's Razor as well as take issue with the claim that there is some transcendentally irrational force(s) because this serves no better as an explanation than a natural force like matter. There needs to be a point of differentiation between alternative explanations and ultimately, that can only be done through the categorical distinctions that I had originally given (either it's intentional or non-intentional). I realize this is not an important aspect of my opponent's criticism but I do wish to reveal with more clarity how I can reason to a God-like being through the falsity of naturalism as a starting point.

Since clarifications need to be made, I'll rephrase the fundamental aspects of this argument. Meaning is information that is conceptualized by minds and is gathered by means of perception and/or analytical thought. It's an intrinsic feature of a mind to express or perceive information "about" something which matter itself lacks as an inherent feature. Sure, it is possible to posit a mechanical explanation but this does not mean that the "stuff" which the mechanism can be reduced to is in itself what creates minds. That can be disputed by non-reductionistic physicalists but I will not address it until I need to. You'll observe that I do take elements from substance dualism or more generally, critiques of naturalistic accounts of the mind but it should not be confused as being subordinate to that discussion. I simply borrow ideas from that issue in the philosophy of mind to define "meaning" and I leave off from there to argue for an explicans of the explanandum. Thus I must emphasize that this is not an attempt to assess whether the mind is physical at all but is fundamentally concerned with the question of what the ontology of meaning is.

In other words, what cause or substance is meaning dependent or arrived from? If meaning does not exist then this question would be irrelevant. However, premise 2 is made to affirm that it does exist somewhere in order to justify the question. It appears my opponent misunderstood this premise since he suggests it can be undermined by an appeal to a mechanical explanation which cannot be done unless one wants to deny that meaning (as subjective it may be) exists which no naturalist would accept. As I understand it, a naturalist would assert that meaninglessness exists at the micro level and is made to exist at the macro level through a specific composition of matter. I dispute this claim by showing that this involves a contradiction. To posit meaninglessness as the ontological ground for meaning is completely absurd. Why did meaning have to exist at all? It seems to me that there is no good reason to suppose that meaninglessness can produce anything meaningful. My opponent suggests that a naturalist will respond that meaning exists because naturalistic forces are capable of generating it mechanically but that in itself is a meaningful mechanism! Matter in itself does not have an inherent capability of creating such systems without the aid of a rational mind because the micro level is by a naturalist's own admission meaningless.

Hence I am unconvinced that this argument does not contain within itself a sufficient refutation of naturalism. I'd agree that this does have similarities to other theistic arguments like the Argument from Contingency, Argument from Reason and the Fine-Tuning argument but I don't believe they're superordinate to the argument from meaning (AfM). They're just different proofs a theist could use incase another one fails to be convincing. I'll grant that it would be pointless to provide the AfM as a means to prove God's existence once they have been convinced that theism is the best worldview. However, I do not see how this is relevant since anyone who agrees with theism would accept just about every sound argument for its truth. Thus it seems uncharitable to criticize them all as being redundant since they prove the same conclusion. Rather, I think a more appropriate perspective would be to recognize the points of difference. So a theist could find more elements of nature that theism best explains than one realized through something like the AfM which I think would further strengthen their belief in God.

I had a discussion with my opponent on AIM and he raised another criticism which he gave me permission to mention here. He thinks that an appeal to the universe's organization is superordinate to a discussion of the fine-tuning argument because the naturalist will deny that there is ultimately any meaning and assert that the organization in the universe is a mere coincidence. If the universe has been organized by an intelligent being, then I can only provide evidence from the fine-tuning of the universe. To counter this criticism, I'd point out that the naturalist is begging the question by assuming meaning just "is". Obviously it can have no ontological grounds in something meaningless so their objection is rather insignificant (refer to my above defense). Moreover, this argument has nothing to do with whether the universe is life-permitting so it seems that the fine-tuning argument is at least not needed, and at worst totally irrelevant. Even if the universe just is a "determining mechanism" it would still not explain why meaning exists rather than not. For example, just because there exists a computer that is physical does not mean that meaningless matter is responsible for it while completely ignoring the designer. A computer-like mechanism is possible precisely because a mind was there to create it!

In conclusion, I am convinced that non-intentional matter cannot create meaning and that a God is the most plausible explanation. This presentation of the AfM had certainly included an invalid formulation and could've been a much more forceful argument by being more lucid in certain areas. There was also a lack of sufficient attention to God being the explanation but I hope to improve on all these areas as I go on. Having said that, this has been an extremely pleasant debate and I must thank TheNoblePolemic for having taken the time to discuss this. When he expressed agreement with this argument's soundness, I was rather delighted because it gave me assurance that I have improved the AfM in comparison to the original which was more of an idea at the time than a full-blown argument. As anyone can see, he is a proficient writer and honorable debater who I am quite pleased to know. I'll allow the readers to assess our performance but I hope everyone here was able to enjoy it!
TheNoblePolemic

Con

My opponent's argument hinges on one particular metaphysical principle, namely, that meaning cannot arise from meaninglessness. Despite the fact I can list numerous problems with such a view, I will focus on only one, which I think it bears refining. Denying the principle is only an "absurd" opinion to the theist; the atheist (I am assuming the atheist is also a naturalist) has no problem with this denial since there is some evidential basis for thinking so; the brain creates meaning and it is fundamentally a meaningless structure carrying out meaningless processes. The theist must attack this belief on its own grounds, i.e. show how the biodiversity, including the structure of the human brain, observed on this planet could not have come about from only natural mechanisms, and show life does indeed have some kind of purpose, that is, it's engineered, to say the least. At the very least, the atheist has some independent reason for thinking meaninglessness can give rise to meaning, namely the brain and its activities.

The mind-body problem, and its solution is particularly relevant to the AfM.

To demonstrate why this is the case:

"Meaning exists." Both sides agree to this proposition.

"Meaning cannot arise from anything meaningless, so the mechanism by which meaning exists must be a mind, which means it's capable of generating meaning on its own." Here the atheist and theist will diverge, and the atheist actually has a very powerful piece of evidence of meaning arising from a meaningless system, namely the brain.

When the brain is analyzed from the outside, there will be no meaning observed. All that exists, as far as can be measured and quantified, are the particles that make up the system known as the brain, which, from a third-person view, is completely devoid of meaning (aside from its arrangement and organization of its atoms, it's made up of the same stuff, fundamentally speaking, as a rock and carries just about as much significance from an objective point of view). There is no purpose; there are only neurons and synapses, which are ultimately atoms and so forth. From a first-person view, however, there are a myriad of experiences that seem correlated, and, arguably, caused by the physical goings on in the brain. In other words, the brain is, prima facie, meaningless, but it can produce something meaningful, and the correlation between physical states in the brain and experiences perceived by the subject, seem to lend some very strong weight to some kind of causal, even reductionist, mechanism between the brain and mental states, including meaning.

These are very interesting questions, but the relation between the mind and brain, and what they reduce to, must be concluded before you can settle the metaphysical notion of whether meaning can or cannot arise from something meaningless. If reality is only composed of the physical, including mental states, then there is difficulty or even "absurdity" in meaning arising from something meaningless, and the atheist has, she thinks, a very good reason for positing this, namely the brain. But the brain, or, rather, consciousness is can be a powerful evidence for the theist, too, since it can be argued that the existence of consciousness actually implies some dualistic account of reality. But this question must be settled before you can even get into the argument from meaning, since so much depends on the ontology of meaning, whether it's reducible to or caused by something physical, and thus meaningless at the root, at least. The atheist has some independent reason for questioning the truthfulness of the principle "meaning cannot arise from meaninglessness", and this gets the parties, one way or another, into the ontology of meaning, and from that, the ontology of the mind, which must be settled first, and then meaning's ontology.

The AfM soundness relies on a myriad of superordinate discussions which are very hospitable in the theistic worldview, but are highly suspect (to say the absolute least) in an atheistic worldview. Since this is the case, every single premise in the AfM must be analyzed meticulously, nigh exhaustively, in light of these very interesting subjects, making the AfM derivative, completely. The mind-body problem and intelligent design are just two examples of the sorts of issues contained within the AfM. Scholarly arguments, ranging from the cosmological and teleological and ontological, all have something in common in that they use some plausible premises that a sophisticated atheist has already thought about or even accepts due to the cost of denying them, in order to reason that some transcendent mind exists. In other words, the theist and atheist share certain principles in common, and the principles which the atheist deny in anticipation of the theistic implications of holding them may place her in a very awkward philosophical position. Disagreeing with a of the premise of the kalam, for instance, may place the atheist at odds with the overwhelming consensus of the relevant scientific community. Even worse, she may deny some fundamental principle of causality that places her in an even more precarious position that any reasonable person may regard her as irrational for denying. Fine-tuning relies on premises that will place her, once again, at odds with some fundamental, 'obvious' philosophical principles and rigidly tested facts of the universe.

In any good argument, there should be some cost to disagreeing with any of its premises that places the disagreeing party in a philosophically weaker position, something that will cause some inconsistency or incoherency, hopefully, in her worldview if some premise that should be affirmed is all of a sudden denied because of some theistic implication.

This is why the AfM is a bad one, despite the fact it is, in my estimation, sound. There is no cost for the atheist in denying the fundamental belief that meaning cannot arise from meaningless. She has some independent reason for thinking so, and argues from this reason that the principle cannot hold. It does not matter how meaninglessness causes meaning, but the brute fact the brain apparently does it gives her more than enough warrant for affirming its denial. This affirmation or denial cannot be argued from the subject of meaning alone, since meaning's ontology will be interpreted by more basic, foundational beliefs that must be attacked from another, fundamental angle, as any knowledgeable, rigorous theist ought to be capable of doing. However, meaning cannot be the platform of attack, a polemic; the AfM can only be affirmed as sound when multiple facets of the theistic worldview are working in tandem. In this way, it's a derivative of the theistic worldview and its persuasive force relies solely on decided, superordinate issues. For the atheist, it relies on premises too suspect to be agreed to, and they have some independent reasons for this suspicion, weakening the argument's ability to place her in a disconcerting position. These reasons show why this sound argument for the existence of God is simply a very poor one to anyone with a 'sophisticated' worldview.

So, I conclude with this little summation: the AfM is hospitable only in a theistic framework, is only derivative, and even then only redundantly, and is completely unpersuasive and not even the least bit damaging for denying any of its premises for the atheist.

******

I would like to thank my opponent for this debate, and I hope that he has been edified by my comments, as well as the audience. I certainly know it has been an edifying experience for me.
Debate Round No. 3
13 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 10 records.
Posted by BruteApologia 7 years ago
BruteApologia
Thank you for the honest assessment guys! This is definitely not the best argument for theism in any sense, so I'm glad people have so far acted charitably with regard to the argument I presented here.

@Daniel_T

[In other words, meaning is wholly wrapped up in what it is to be a person. This is simply one more way for someone to claim that human beings are the center of the universe.]

Indeed so, such an assertion would be invalid because it's non-sequitur to reason from meaning to Hellenism. It also makes the unwarranted assumption that we're the only beings in this universe. But to be clear, I only propose meaning to be a natural consequence of a rational mind. Whether or not God created the universe's structure and existence solely for us is outside of this argument's reach.
Posted by daniel_t 7 years ago
daniel_t
Interesting debate, the resolution AFAICT was: Does the argument from meaning successfully justify God's existence.

What does "meaning" mean in this context?

Pro tells us, "Meaning itself is information that is expressed in various forms such as words, things, etc when accompanied by a rational mind and is used by us to express what one intends or wishes to communicate about something. In contrast, meaninglessness holds no information value to any person and is constantly disorderly so that no sense can be made from it."

In other words, meaning is wholly wrapped up in what it is to be a person. This is simply one more way for someone to claim that human beings are the center of the universe.

Pro tells us, "... as long as the essential concept of the argument is not shown to be completely ineffective at refuting naturalism, then I think I'll continue to hope that this has potential."

But Con shows that not only is this argument completely ineffective at refuting naturalism, it is also ineffective at justifying God when naturalism is assumed false. In other words, the argument fails utterly at justifying God's existence.

Before: Tied
After: Con
Conduct: Tied
S & G: Tied
Arguments: Con
Sources: Tied
Posted by Apologician 7 years ago
Apologician
Before: Pro
After: Pro
Conduct: Tied
Spelling/Grammar: Tied
Arguments: Tied
Sources: Tied

This was a very impressive debate, to say the least. Both debaters improved quite a bit on my original argument. I can't say I'm entirely convinced of either side, however, but I do think that this argument has great potential and is in need of some more development.
Posted by TheSkeptic 7 years ago
TheSkeptic
C: Great conduct on both sides - I can tell you both respected the other.
S&G: Easy and entertaining rhetoric, it's a tie as well.
A: Surprisingly, I gave this a tie. The debate seemed to focus on the relevancy of the AfM rather than it's soundness. In the large scope of a philosophic discussion of theism, perhaps this would be convincing enough but in a scrutinizing debate in which the titular resolution is evaluation the AfM, I think you both missed that mark.
S: No sources really need, since it was all analytic thinking.

And yeah, I would like to take on this argument (being an atheistic physicalist myself). At the onset, I can spy some problems besides it's assumptions about physicalism and monism.
Posted by popculturepooka 7 years ago
popculturepooka
This was an amazing debate, hats off to the both of you; I'm going to have to re-read it to see who I think did the best, though... :)
Posted by BruteApologia 7 years ago
BruteApologia
Haha! Oh yes I definitely plan on challenging you ;) Thanks for the positive comment! I'm glad some people are at least taking interest in this discussion
Posted by TheSkeptic 7 years ago
TheSkeptic
:O

Challenge me, either of you! I love seeing more great philosophical topics and equally great debaters taking it head on.
Posted by BruteApologia 7 years ago
BruteApologia
@Hatsoff

I'll make this response brief but I do appreciate the feedback. I was short on time in developing the formulation, and I erred on it so I'll definitely take your suggestions to mind. First of all, I had already defined meaning to be a conceptual or more accurately, an intentional perception or creation of the mind in my OP so there's no debate there. Second, I challenged the assertion that it can be explained physically (at least with ease) by pointing out that meaning cannot come from meaninglessness. To assume it can because minds like us exist would be to beg the question. Last but not least, I am not simply addressing physical mechanisms but the physical material itself. I do not see how matter itself could give rise to something as meaningful as say a mind or the DNA itself by pure chance and purposeless matter.
Posted by hatsoff 7 years ago
hatsoff
If meaning is stipulatively defined as a certain type of information, then we must ask, in what sense can information exist? Unless BruteApologia has a different conception of "information" than I do (in which case he should explain himself), then it is improper to speak of information as "existing" in any but an abstract sense. That is to say, information exists conceptually, but not spatially, and thus not in the fullest sense physically.

On the other hand, mental objects such as information are contained in consciousness, which in turn can easily be described as a feature of certain physical organisms. So, in that limited sense, minds, as well as information conceived by them, are indeed physical.

Thus, premise (1), "meaning exists physically or meaning exists in a rational mind" should be read as "meaning exists physically AND/OR meaning exists in a rational mind." More importantly, premise (3), which asserts that "meaning does not exist physically," is rendered false.

One might say that it is not enough that consciousness is a feature of physical brains, and that meaning must be physical in the broadest sense if it is to be considered physical at all. This is too constrictive an approach to language, in my opinion, but if one insists on taking it, then premise (2), "if naturalism is true, then meaning exists physically," is false under that linguistic convention. For naturalism is not opposed to distinguishing between abstracta and concreta.
Posted by BruteApologia 7 years ago
BruteApologia
Thanks for the comments, Geo. I am well aware that people from different camps of metaphysics will not find this convincing. Your view of pantheism is quite unlike what is commonly hold. So I think this argument is best viewed as a refutation of anti-supernaturalists who opt for a purely natural and purposeless reality.
12 votes have been placed for this debate. Showing 1 through 10 records.
Vote Placed by Rational_Thinker9119 3 years ago
Rational_Thinker9119
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Reasons for voting decision: Pro did not show that meaning cannot arise from meaningless.
Vote Placed by Dimmitri.C 5 years ago
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Reasons for voting decision: Arguing for physical causes bringing about objective meaning; rather, than the subsequent is undeniably illusory. Physical causes are incapable of creating any type of meaning.
Vote Placed by Raisor 5 years ago
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Reasons for voting decision: Pro doesnt convince that AfM can stand on its own independent of more complex superordinate issues. R2 offers almost nothing to counter this charge, what is present is inadequate. A more beefy response begins to emerge in R3, but this is "too little, too late." Pro says meaning from non-meaning is absurd and takes it as res ipsa loquitur. Though I find unconvincing I would accept it in round but Con explains why a naturalist could reasonably deny. More to say if requested. Well done both sides.
Vote Placed by Cliff.Stamp 5 years ago
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Reasons for voting decision: This was an odd debate as Con did not actually take con until the last round and then dispute the fundamental premise of meaning requiring a non-natural source, but even then without solid warrant. The rest of the debate seemed more like a discussion/round table than a debate.
Vote Placed by popculturepooka 7 years ago
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Vote Placed by daniel_t 7 years ago
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Vote Placed by BruteApologia 7 years ago
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Vote Placed by Thade 7 years ago
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Vote Placed by Vi_Veri 7 years ago
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Vote Placed by Apologician 7 years ago
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