No Way Out But In

A proposition that cannot be carried into practice at all cannot be true. An act that cannot be implemented in actuality must be somehow incoherent: self-refuting – for example, you can’t mean it when you say, “this statement is a lie” – or a contradiction in terms either simple or implicit – e.g., there’s just no way to implement “2 + 3 = 4,” for it is a contradiction in terms. That such propositions can’t work logically means that they can’t work in practice.

But a proposition that can be carried into practice might be true. E.g., “It is best not to defer gratification.”

When we sin, we assert one or more of a number of propositions:

  1. God does not exist.
  2. God is not omniscient.
  3. God is amoral.
  4. The world is amoral.
  5. God does not care whether I behave well or not, nor does the world.
  6. Whether or not God cares about my behavior does not matter (to me, at least).

And so forth. When we misbehave, we effectually attest to our belief in at least one of these propositions, or else in one of a number of other propositions like them. And to attest belief in propositions is to testify to their truth, and so is to urge their truth: behavior is an effectual proposal for how it might be well to behave.

What’s interesting about the propositions enumerated above is that they all boil down to an assertion that, one way or another, the world is not causally coherent, so that it is possible to get away scot free with our behavior. This assertion disagrees with our common quotidian experience (no one who is not mad believes in his heart that he has managed to put one over *on the whole world* – everyone who pulls off a scam is then forevermore looking over his shoulder for the first signs of the retribution that he knows must eventually follow), with our deepest and least arguable moral and ontological intuitions, with common sense, and with all the developed moral and ethical systems of man, whether theist or not. Karma, Tao, rta, krasis, Torah, logos, the Law of Compensation, the Conservation of Value, Mach’s Principle, quantum non-locality, TANSTAAFL: all insist in one way or another – or rather, in just the same way, but differently expressed – that things are integrally tied together, with no loose causal ends. Indeed, by the notions of identity and equivalence expressed in the equation that is the essential formal crux of all proposition (and therefore of all neural operation), and by the corollary implication that each truth is implicit in every other, so that no truths can disagree, mathematics and logic entail the coherence of all things – not just logically, but causally, economically, and morally. If reality were anywise incoherent, we could not possibly make any sense of it, and thought would be useless, the project of human knowledge forestalled, bankrupt in principio. And if it is not ultimately possible to think rationally, then neither is it possible to act rationally: to plan, or seek ends, or desire sanely. If reality is not coherent, it is not even possible to err, or mistake, or fail.

Behavior per se presupposes complete causal coherence.

So, the idea that we might get away with anything is just nuts. Nevertheless we can act as if it is true. We can, that is to say, err, mistake, and fail. All error, whether only intellectual or concretely pragmatic, must in the end amount to a failure properly to see or feel how things do in fact link up, and shape our acts accordingly.

The miscreant is aptly named, for the commission of sinful acts by a witting agent may be accomplished only by a willing disbelief in the truth of the inescapably true proposition that all things are linked together without jot or tittle of remainder. Only if that proposition be treated as if true might any errant act be undertaken in the first place, for no advantage to any sort of action, errant or not, is at all available to begin with if the system of things be not coherent, so that pushing here reliably generates pulls over there, where one wants them. It’s no good to rob banks if banks are not reliable stores of cash.

The miscreant has literally engaged in bad belief: in beliefs that diverge from reality even as they presuppose it. He has missed the basic truth of the created order that makes of it an order, and so a creation. Bad faith, Sartre called it: a repudiation of man’s true authority and freedom, springing from an ultimately cowardly refusal to confront reality as she actually is. The miscreant has missed creation.

We can thus err, obviously. I do it myself every few minutes, every time I sin. We might not.

Why do we?

Well, concupiscence. That’s the name for the general temptation to take short cuts, moral or intellectual, that are shorter than is really possible. We are rightly made to seek the right theory of things, that really adequates to them, so that our acts may do likewise. Ockham was correct with his Razor: we ought not to multiply entities unnecessarily. But neither, by the same token, ought we to eliminate them unnecessarily. As Einstein said, we ought to prefer the theory that is short, but not too short. Concupiscence is the temptation to advert to a theory of things that is too simple to be quite adequate, that is therefore easier to cope with; and then to act upon it.

Notice then that, things being impeccably coherent in actual fact, it cannot be really possible to implement incoherence, of any sort. We might think that we can get away with sin, and we might therefore go ahead and sin. But no matter what we do, God cannot be mocked: things will cohere, no matter what, and the justice of coherence will roll over us relentlessly.

It turns out that the sort of propositions I listed at the head of this essay, then, cannot really be implemented, even by those who think they are doing just that. It is as impossible to carry “God does not exist” into the actual practice of life as it is to implement “2 + 3 = 4.” The atheist cannot say that God does not exist without presupposing God’s existence. When we sin, we do not contravene truth, but rather only contradict it, and set ourselves against it. That this cannot in the end be accomplished is demonstrated by the fact of sin’s eventual comeuppance, and truth’s eventual, complete and devastating victory.

 

60 thoughts on “No Way Out But In

  1. Don’t you feel what you have written in this blog is a total waste of time? All the articles just repeat something in common endlessly but reach nothing truly effective and valuable.

  2. Pingback: No Way Out – Only In | Reaction Times

  3. I would say when someone steals an object, he expects not that there won’t be a reaction to the action, but that the reaction will be dispersed and most of it won’t hit him: that the reaction will be that the world and especially the owner becomes more paranoid and lock down their valuables even more securely. This will affect others, will affect him to an extent, but him only to a small extent.

    I think the ritual of punishment – it would be very hard to see it as not a ritual, I think, it is almost the quintessential ritual – focuses the reaction to the criminal for multiple reasons but probably one of them that this necessary reaction force being focused on the criminal it should not disperse and should not affect others. “Look, we imprisoned the rapist, now you can let your daughters go on walks in the forest with boys again.” Maybe awkward example but maybe illustrates the point.

    At least that is my theory – e.g. why is it so hard to declare a debt jubilee and forgive debts? Because there will be a reaction, lenders will be reluctant to give loans to anyone, and that kind of reaction will be dispersed to everyone, while if debtors must pay their debts then the pain is focused on them. It is roughly the same amount of reaction – generated by taking out the debt – just dispersed or focused.

    How much is it possible to take it from the idea of social backlash to cosmic justice, divine justice or karma is always up for debate. Clearly, beside the social reaction there is always how the sinner’s own heart reacts to it. Our actions change our psyche, usually the most obvious change is that we change our worldview to reflect our habitual actions thus the violent man becomes paranoid (so many enemies out there) and the habitual thief feels poor no matter how rich he is – the mind manufactures justifications for habitual actions and if they are hostile actions, the justification will entail generating a very uncomfortable worldview.

  4. @Commenter
    This reader thinks not. The author meditates profoundly on many of the key tenets of classical theism, and for me at any rate, they are often ‘portals to contemplation.’ Who knows where that could lead…..

    • Classical Theism does not provide true morality in practicality as an oil painting of bread does not provide a true meal. If you think to “contemplate” such empty theories can truly give you the power to act morally in real life, in the heat of real crisis, then please try it.

      • Well, insofar as I do have the power to act morally in real life, then that will be derived from the sediment of such ‘contemplation.’ And grace, but where the one ends and the other begins I’m not sure.

      • The true morality is not something which can be altered just by some mental processes, some written down theories, debates, it is a direct and naked being.

  5. I very much like the thrust of this coherence argument, but I’m not convinced it really proves anything in a logical way, or perhaps I am misunderstanding it.

    It would seem that yes, if there is indeed an innate moral character to our actions, and we end up deviating from the Moral Law, then ultimate coherence most certainly dictates that we get our comeuppance, whether in the sense of the Eastern ‘Karma’ or the Abrahamic ‘Final Judgment’.

    However, the atheist who makes his living off trying to sound intellectually reasonable denies that actions have any moral character.

  6. Who denies that actions have any moral character belies his denial by the very act of asserting it. Even to think that actions might not have moral character is to behave, and behavior per se presupposes causal coherence.

    The post does not try to prove that reality must be coherent. It might not be. If it isn’t, though, then human thought, knowledge, and action – in short, human life, and indeed all life, even all motion of inanimate things – are all nothing more than noise. This conclusion may be derived from the consideration, mentioned in the post, that if reality is not coherent, and furthermore consistent, then it cannot be logical, so that it cannot then be intelligible, either. You can’t pick out the orderly relations of things that do not actually stand in ordered relation to each other.

    A.morphous and his ilk might here be expected to raise the quite respectable objection that reality might be for the most part consistently coherent, but with a few inconsistencies here and there, so that we might hobble along well enough provided we avoid the abyssal gaps of the inconsistencies. Prima facie, the idea does seem credible, for it accords with our actual experience of understanding a few things a bit, while feeling totally stumped about the rest.

    But it won’t do. If there is any logical inconsistency anywhere in nature, then the Law of Noncontradiction has been violated, ruining the whole shooting match. If ever x ≠ x, for any x whatever, the Law of Noncontradiction cannot be used as an axiom, and reasoning is out the window – and so likewise is reasonable action.

    • “Who denies that actions have any moral character belies his denial by the very act of asserting it.”

      Such logic and mode of reacting/thinking only can be used in rhetoric, it is totally meaningless in practical reality, as most things I have read in this blog. The true morality never grows out from rhetoric, in most cases, rather contradict with it.

      • If you know that this rhetoric is totally meaningless in practical reality, that means you know what is meaningful in practical reality. So either make a useful comment or else stop wasting your time and ours with unfocused complaining.

      • Yes, I know what is meaningful in practical reality is to write down such unfocused complaining such as “stop wasting your time and ours with unfocused complaining” is meaningless.

        By the way, by the times of aggressive responses (from those who talk about love and humility all the time) which I have experienced in this blog I can partly determine the quality of its readership.

      • Commenter, the antipathy you are suffering here is due to the fact that you have not made any comprehensible arguments. You’ve only complained that talking and writing and listening and reading are not practically useful to you. Well, OK. But that raises two questions. First, if words are useless to you, why are you reading a blog in the first place, let alone going to the trouble of commenting? Second, what’s your argument? If you join a discussion and announce that the discussion is useless, you should not be surprised if the other participants then expect you either to stop wasting your time, and theirs, by your own participation in a useless activity that they themselves find edifying, or else to explain yourself.

        Part of the problem also is that your own comments are so sloppily written that it is extremely difficult to tell what you are trying to say.

      • “the antipathy you are suffering here is due to the fact that you have not made any comprehensible arguments”

        Why should I make any comprehensible arguments? I am not aiming to convince anyone, I just want to express what I think. Should this be a reason for aggression?

        “You’ve only complained that talking and writing and listening and reading are not practically useful to you.”

        I am not “complaining” anything, and I didn’t say that they are not useful to me in any circumstances. I expressed my thoughts for what I have read here, which is, repeatly “talking and writing and listening and reading” something of mental concepts is meaningless, especially when someone do nothing or even something contrary after they have “talked and written and listened and read”.

        “First, if words are useless to you, why are you reading a blog in the first place, let alone going to the trouble of commenting? ”

        As I said, I didn’t say that words are completely useless, and such mode of argument/rhetoric which you have just used, as you often use, is useless, which I consider.

        “Second, what’s your argument? If you join a discussion and announce that the discussion is useless”

        I have no “argument” and I didn’t join any discussions, I don’t want to convince any of you, I only express my opinion.

        “you should not be surprised if the other participants then expect you either to stop wasting your time, and theirs”

        I don’t have any “other participants”, my times is mine, their time is theirs, no one forces anyone to waste their time.

        “by your own participation in a useless activity that they themselves find edifying”

        My activity is useless or not, which can not be judged by people, what people said is their personal opinions, and I don’t aim to let them find edifying.

        “Part of the problem also is that your own comments are so sloppily written that it is extremely difficult to tell what you are trying to say.”

        I only express what I think, others understand it or not, it is their problem, I don’t expect any reactions from them, but for aggression, it is another issue.

      • “you don’t care what anyone else thinks. Got it.”

        Yes, you got it. People don’t represent anything higher than people, especially when they are aggressive.

        “The Lord bless you and keep you.”

        He bless you and keep you too for such a genuine Christian blessing you expressed.

      • From so many aggressive responses which I have received in this blog, it partly proves my point, that no matter how much people write and read such concepts and theories, how much they argue and debate, it does not essentially change their true inner nature.

      • Commenter does nothing but insult a group of total strangers, and then he gets angry when they defend themselves.

        Explanation of my point: Insulting people is not necessarily wrong, but getting mad at them for doing what you’re doing (defending themselves) is hypocrisy.

      • “Commenter does nothing but insult a group of total strangers, and then he gets angry when they defend themselves.”

        Please, explain, where did I “insult a group of total strangers”? Where did I “get angry when they defend themselves”? I have negative thoughts about someone, which does not directly mean insulting, since I have never used aggressive words.

        “Insulting people is not necessarily wrong, but getting mad at them for doing what you’re doing (defending themselves) is hypocrisy.”

        Again, where is my “insulting” and when did I “get mad”? Who first start to use such words as idiot and cesspool? Even if I am against certain kind of people, I have not claimed that I am a Christian and follow the teaching of Christ of loving one’s enemy, being meek and having a softened heart, so, who is hypocritical?

    • Reality is truly coherent, not to be proven by some academic and philosophical debates, but by the experiences one has gone through in his or her life, everyone will get what he or she really deserves at last, neither rhetoric nor cunningness would help.

      • I have no intention to intend anything, as I said, I only express what I think.

        Argument is totally different from experience, which is my point.

      • “‘Commenter’ is obviously a troll.”

        Mr. Alan Roebuck, your repeatly aggressive replies which lack any contents should have proven who is in fact a troll.

      • To be as fair as possible to Commenter, I should say that a troll is somebody who acts like one, and if he acts like a civilized interlocutor I will withdraw my accusation.

      • Mr. Roebuck, who uses his real name, is one of the contributors here at the Orthosphere. He has written numerous entries, and even more comments, that present facts, arguments, and other content. He is the antithesis of a troll.

        Were this Mr. Bertonneau’s thread—he is another Orthosphere contributor who posts under his own name—you would already be banned for your behavior.

        We do our best to engage in civilized discourse here, Commenter. You’re welcome to join us, but we do have our limits.

      • “and if he acts like a civilized interlocutor I will withdraw my accusation.”

        How do you define “a civilized interlocutor”? You first started to use such words as “unfocused complaining” for my normal comments, is this the behavior of “a civilized interlocutor”?

      • “Mr. Roebuck, who uses his real name, is one of the contributors here at the Orthosphere. He has written numerous entries, and even more comments, that present facts, arguments, and other content. He is the antithesis of a troll.”

        For how many entries and comments he has written, how many facts and arguments he has presented, in this blog, which has nothing to do with me, I only have witnessed his aggressive replies, here.

        “Were this Mr. Bertonneau’s thread—he is another Orthosphere contributor who posts under his own name—you would already be banned for your behavior.”

        Is this a threatening? Is this your Catholic attitude, of banning anyone who you can not handle, who disagree with you? You can send the request to the administrator of this blog to ban me, thank you very much.

        “You’re welcome to join us, but we do have our limits.”

        I don’t want to join you, my brother, as I said countless times, I only express my thoughts, and please show me your limits, I can’t wait to see how great and holy your limits are.

      • Commenter,

        First, I’m not a Roman Catholic, so please don’t assume that I will act as one. Also, this is not an exclusively Church of Rome site.

        Second, no one is required to put up with unacceptable behavior, such as you are displaying.

        Third, we have many lively discussions here, with commenters disagreeing with posters, and each other, left and right. There is no ban on disagreement here.

        My comment about Mr. Bertonneau was not meant as a threat; please accept my apologies for conveying my meaning so poorly. What I wanted to let you know is that you are a guest on someone else’s blog, and that if you wish to comment here—which is joining us, whether you call it that or not—it would behoove you to disagree without being disagreeable.

      • I get the impression that Commenter is not familiar with English idiom, and has no idea how insulting was the tone of his first comment, so that he was rather stunned at the reaction.

      • “Second, no one is required to put up with unacceptable behavior, such as you are displaying.”

        Please, show me how is my behavior unacceptable, have you written a rule in the front page of this blog to tell what kind of behavior is acceptable? Is to directly call others an idiot, being from infidel cesspool an acceptable behavior in your eyes?

        “What I wanted to let you know is that you are a guest on someone else’s blog, and that if you wish to comment here—which is joining us, whether you call it that or not—it would behoove you to disagree without being disagreeable.”

        Yes, you want to let me know that you have the power over me, right? As I said, you can call the administrator to ban me, if yourself is administrator, you can directly ban me right now, please don’t always use such kind of words to frighten me, I am not an elementary school student.

      • “it would behoove you to disagree without being disagreeable.”

        I would rather agree without being agreeable.

      • “I get the impression that Commenter is not familiar with English idiom, and has no idea how insulting was the tone of his first comment, so that he was rather stunned at the reaction.”

        I expressed that I thought what you wrote, that mode of your rhetoric is a total waste of time, for me, yes, I have nothing regretful for this. And I am not stunned at the reaction, as I said, people are just people, they represent nothing higher than this, no matter how many holy words they use.

      • My dear Commenter,

        “show me how is my behavior unacceptable”

        You first comment in this thread was, as Kristor pointed out, rude and insulting. You have been argumentative and disagreeable without seeming purpose since.

        “have you written a rule on the front page of this blog to tell what kind of behavior is acceptable?”

        First of all, there are the shared standards of educated English speakers, the social conventions that let us know what sort of thing is acceptable to say, and what sort is not. You do not appear to be a native English speaker and so might not be as familiar with these conventions as we are; we will actually give you a bit of leeway because of that. Having said that, actually, yes, the creators and moderators of this blog have a commenting policy; you can access it from any page under the “About” tab at the top of every page.

        I am not trying to threaten or frighten you. I am trying to warn you, and to help you. We have a saying in English you might have heard that is appropriate here: you can catch more flies with honey than vinegar.

        So how about it, Commenter? How about a bit of honey and a lot less vinegar?

      • “Yet here you still are, wasting your time. Why?”

        Because I have to waste my time with those who being aggressive for what I said that your rhetoric is a total waste of time, and this is not a waste of time.

        This course is not rhetoric/argument, but real experience, which shows clearly human nature.

      • “You first comment in this thread was, as Kristor pointed out, rude and insulting.”

        If so, you (plural) can tell me in the beginning, is it necessary to say such words as “idiot”, “cesspool”, “complaining”? You used rude and insulting behaviors to counteract what you consider as rude and insulting, should this be considered as “the social conventions that let us know what sort of thing is acceptable to say” “of educated English speakers”?

        “You have been argumentative and disagreeable without seeming purpose since.”

        What is “without seeming purpose” in your eyes does not mean What is “without seeming purpose” in itself, you don’t represent God and authority, My dear Wm. Lewis.

        “You do not appear to be a native English speaker and so might not be as familiar with these conventions as we are; we will actually give you a bit of leeway because of that.”

        Yes, you are right, I am not, and please show me where did you give me “a bit of leeway because of that”? By repeatly aggressive replies and threatening of banning me?

        “I am not trying to threaten or frighten you. I am trying to warn you, and to help you.”

        Yes, I know that you should be very familiar with English idiom, so the meanings of those words you presented above should be extremely different, thank you, this is very helpful.

        “We have a saying in English you might have heard that is appropriate here: you can catch more flies with honey than vinegar.”

        When you have such thoughts in your mind of “you can catch more flies with honey than vinegar”, your honey is no longer true honey, rather vinegar in disguise.

        “So how about it, Commenter? How about a bit of honey and a lot less vinegar?”

        For your fake honey and true vinegar, I want to taste and experience both. As I said, this is not rhetoric/argument, so this is not a waste of time.

      • “God bless you, Commenter.”

        Should this be considered as honey, or vinegar? You are “a native English speaker” who knows “the shared standards of educated English speakers” and “familiar with English idiom”, can you please tell me?

      • “The charity Commenter is being shown by all is beautiful. The hatred he is returning is less so.”

        Truly, their charity is the perfect model of Christian charity, don’t you think so?

        I didn’t show any “hatred”, no, you are wrong, brother, I was trying to “save souls”, which is what I learned from an extremely talented and pious Catholic who often presented here before.

  7. The Bible makes the same or similar points with a greater economy of words. See, for example,

    Job 22:13

    Psalm 10:4, 10:11, 14:1, 53:1, 59:7, 74:18, 94:7

    Isaiah 29:15

    Ezek. 8:12, 9:9

    Rom. 1:28

    One can either hear the word of the Lord, or not. See Matt. 11:15, etc.

    • Thanks, Leo, these citations are great. The notion of the post is indeed found all over the place in the Bible. Scripture is suffused with it. So for that matter are the scriptures of other religions, and so likewise are all the great philosophical systems. It is implicit in the very notion of a system.

      You are right that the Bible says all this stuff, and of course far more, with much greater economy than I have done. As can be seen even with a suitcase, unpacking anything involves a great increase in its specification string! It was not uncommon in times past for preachers to hold forth for a whole sermon on a single phrase of Scripture. I seem to recall that Donne once went on for an hour about a single word.

      The whole first chapter of Romans is an extended riff on the basic idea explored in the post:

      For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness; Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things.

      – Romans 1:18-23.

      • “Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man”

        Perfect, this is exactly what I have experienced from many “Christians”.

      • Kristor,

        You are welcome. Commenter is not convinced. This is not unexpected. “If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.”

        I prefer the sparer Biblical appeal and am skeptical of philosophy (Eccl. 12:12), but here is a link to something philosophical to unpack:
        http://www.academia.edu/200399/Kants_Religious_Argument_for_the_Existence_of_God_The_Ultimate_Dependence_of_Human_Destiny_on_Divine_Assistance

      • “Commenter is not convinced. This is not unexpected. ‘If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.’”

        The problem is after they have heard Moses and the prophets, and appear as being persuaded, they still rise and die, in the valleys of the shadows of death.

  8. Sin seems to me to result from a perfectly understandable, if unachievable, impulse;

    “God exists, is omniscient, omnipotent, and infinitely holy, but I want to replace Him.”

    “…at least on this matter”

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