When God is Dead, Rationalists Accept Contradictions to Fill the Void

Goedel’s Theorem is an application to mathematics of Aristotle’s thesis that thinking relies on first principles and that first principles are unprovable assumptions. This means that faith and hope are ineradicable features of human existence even in the exact sciences. The briefest summary of the implications of Goedel’s Theorem and the necessity for first principles is the notion that not everything that is true can be proven to be true.

Goedel’s Theorem states that an axiomatic system can be consistent and incomplete, inconsistent and complete, but never consistent and complete. Eternal verities can only be proven in relation to other eternal verities. Axiomatic systems exist on the rational plane of thought. Their rationally approximate and unprovable nature is due to their ultimate reliance on transcendent truths described in Plato’s realm of Forms. For instance, people contrast earthly justice with perfect justice, though the latter has never been instantiated in the physical realm. This implies some intuition of perfect justice, though no one has ever experienced such a thing.

Positivists and post-modern relativists are likely to regard each other as opposites. More than likely both will be liberals and in most cases share a contempt for religion and any notion of transcendence. As rationalists, they will also most likely reject emotional attachment to and especial preference for family, tradition, community, culture and the local physical landscape. The modern liberal instead is committed to being a citizen of the world and welcoming to all comers, no matter their basic hostility to the ethos of the host culture.

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Einstein said he would walk to his office at The Institute of Advanced Study at Princeton just for the pleasure of walking home with Goedel.

The second option in Goedel’s Theorem is “inconsistent and complete.” The word “inconsistent” here means self-contradictory. An inconsistent axiomatic system necessarily contains falsehoods because there is no such thing as a true contradiction. Once a contradiction has been accepted as true, it can be used to prove anything. Inconsistent axiomatic systems can be used to give the appearance of “proving” falsehoods. To put it mildly, this is intensely undesirable. And this is why such systems are to be avoided.

The fact that no axiomatic system can be consistent and complete points to such systems’ ultimate reliance on the transcendent; on truths that escape syllogistic proof.

First principles are foundational assumptions embodying transcendent truths such as “human life is valuable.” If the notion of the transcendent is rejected and any Platonic realm of Forms, then there are no truths to philosophize about. Without the transcendent, there is only the rational and rationality is not creative; it is analytic. Rationality takes what is provided to it and subjects it to analysis; but rationality itself provides nothing of substance. Rationality is a tool and at most it can discover logical truths but it cannot prove the intrinsic value of anything. It can show that something has extrinsic value, but without intrinsic value, a thinker is stuck in an infinite regression.

In acknowledging that an axiomatic system is incomplete, a thinker is admitting that axioms are being relied upon that are not provable within the system. Thus, these axioms transcend the system. Rationalists do not want to admit that the transcendent exists, so they would much prefer a “complete” system. However, since “consistent and complete” is not an option, the rationalist must either abandon his project or embrace “inconsistent and complete.”

This explains why rationalists are so happy to contradict themselves. They really have no alternative if they want to avoid nihilism. Of course, having rejected any transcendent truth or value, they are nihilists by default. Logically, it makes no sense for a nihilist to argue about anything, so a consistent nihilist would fall silent. If a nihilist tries to “save” the rest of humanity from its illusions, this is to act in contradiction of the notion that all is futile. Thus, the nihilist is engaged in a performative contradiction.

Consistent rationalists are nihilists. In fact, some of them remain committed to the unprovable transcendental value, goodness and beauty of truth. This cannot be acknowledged without giving the game away. If the rationalist is to continue writing, a way must be found to have his cake and eat it too.

Rationalists have two, perhaps more, ways of generating contradictions. One is to surreptitiously appeal to a transcendental truth whose existence they have just denied. The other is to espouse a theory that is self-negating. If the theory is true, then it applies to itself, and is thus false according to the theory’s own precepts.

Evolutionary biologists interested in explaining morality will reduce morality to things like survival value or the pleasure center of brains and then declare that morality is thus “good,” a thoroughly morally realist assessment. Determinists write as though it is still rationally meaningful to try to persuade someone that he too should be a determinist. English teachers will say that all theories are the result of gender, class and race, but ignore the fact that if true, that truth applies to the theory that all theories are the result of gender, class and race and hence is not true. Liberals will embrace “tolerance” but pounce with vitriol on anyone who deviates from the liberal party line. Liberals will claim sympathy for all victims of scapegoating, but scapegoat white men and Christians with abandon. Liberals will pretend to have the utmost concern with bathrooms for transsexuals, but downplay the anti-homosexual motives of the Orlando shooter. Liberals will castigate conservatives for microaggressions but stay silent about Muslims pushing gays off tall buildings. Positivists will deny the existence of consciousness while using their consciousness to do the denying. Post-modernists at international conferences will claim that cultures are incommensurable and their differences preclude real communication, while in fact all agreeing about this in mutual comprehension. Moral relativists are not moral relativists about “tolerance.” Cultural relativists deny the existence of universal moral principles while promoting the universal moral principle that thou shalt not criticize another culture.

Last semester I had a student who admitted that cultural relativism was self-contradictory but suggested “let’s believe it anyway, because its consequences are so good.” Accepting contradictions is to abandon any claim to rationality; making meaningful argument impossible. If the student’s assertion is to carry any weight, it would be because the premises support the conclusion; a logical relation. Once logic is abandoned, genuine argument ceases. So, the student wants his interlocutors to accept the logical implications of what he says while jettisoning logic.

When someone lies for a good cause it raises a giant question mark regarding the goodness of that cause, especially when elementary rules of logic are repudiated, intentionally or not. Contradictions are lies. A lie contradicts reality. The chances are that the imagined good a person thinks he is promoting is in fact bad. It is not possible to be too categorical or emphatic that the imagined good is bad because there could logically be a different set of legitimate premises for the same conclusion.

17 thoughts on “When God is Dead, Rationalists Accept Contradictions to Fill the Void

  1. Pingback: When God is Dead, Rationalists Accept Contradictions to Fill the Void | @the_arv

  2. Pingback: When God is Dead, Rationalists Accept Contradictions to Fill the Void | Reaction Times

  3. Liberals will pretend to have the utmost concern with bathrooms for transsexuals, but downplay the anti-homosexual motives of the Orlando shooter.

    There’s a missing link here; a mention of Islam. See https://www.theguardian.com/world/video/2016/jun/13/owen-jones-walks-out-sky-news-orlando-lgbt-video

    Queers demanded that Orlando be portrayed as anti-queer (via the circumlocution anti-LBGT). That is, in the infamous phrase, “This has nothing to do with Islam.”

    • pbw: Oh, yes, not mentioning Islam was truly diabolical. If gays demanded that Orlando be portrayed as anti-queer, they were completely out of luck as your clip attests. The mainstream media in the US and just about every single FB “friend” insisted that the only relevant topic was gun control. I felt sorry for people like Owen Jones, whoever he is, when they found out just what their liberal media comrades felt about them.

      The reason I don’t mention Islam in this particular context is that I am just running through a list of contradictions and liberals threw gays under the bus to concentrate on their favorite topic after claiming to be terribly concerned about transsexuals. Gays and liberals agreed that “this has nothing to do with Islam” but liberals went further and pretended it had nothing to do with gays either which must have been experienced as a major stab in the back. I wonder how many gays felt inclined to cut their ties to liberalism?

  4. I’m not sure that a nihilist must “fall silent.” He denies an objective basis to value judgments, and so denies himself a whole set of arguments for and against certain lines of conduct, but he remains a subject of pleasure and pain, and is not disinterested in which he feels more of. He denies an objective Good, but does not generally follow the Buddhist and dismiss “feeling good” (i.e. subjective good) as an illusion. It is, for him, an illusion, but a very agreeable illusion. I think this is why nihilists are almost always Epicureans, and why we live in an Epicurean age. But the classical Epicurean formula of “sweetening the time” misses something about human nature, which is that “feeling good” requires feeling that one is a good person. If I look in the mirror and see a selfish hedonist, it “harshes my mellow,” as they say. A lot of PC causes are simply a means whereby selfish hedonists make their cups runneth over with the feeling that they are good people. And in most cases this involves helping some “oppressed” group live a life of selfish hedonism.

    • Not “must” but “ought.” If the nihilist were consistent (as if it were possible for him to be consistent, as long as he goes on living), he ought to fall silent. More relevantly, as soon as one’s interlocutor reveals himself to be a nihilist, one should cut off the conversation abruptly and without apology. In this way, one silences the nihilist whether he silences himself or not.

      I think we should treat the moral narcissists of PC the same way, but we should always make them, and their nihilist friends, leave the premises while we hold our ground.

    • JMSmith: thanks for commenting. If the nihilist disagrees that there is any objective basis for agreement or disagreement about important matters I suppose there is nothing to stop him blathering on per se just for the hell of it, unless he is expelled from the premises, as Tom suggests. There can be no real point to the conversation other than a self-gratifying/masturbatory exercise for the nihilist. Psychopaths, one version of nihilist, get some pleasure in manipulating people as a form of entertainment since their sources of fun are so limited.

      Most importantly, concerning my posting, if the selfish hedonist is worried about being a good person, then he does not qualify as a consistent nihilist. And that’s the point. The nihilist keeps the whole sorry circus moving along by being inconsistent. Since the metaphysical choice is between God and moral nihilism, there are an awful lot of inconsistent nihilists out there.

  5. An argument (thesis type) I make is that it seems political correctness knows no political boundaries. My side, the left that is, does seem to become too sensitive when one little word or image ends up being inserted into public discourse. On the other side, where many of my friends and family tend to reside, they use the term political correctness to justify being able to say something that would usually be out of bounds. It seems both of these examples, and not necessarily the people on these different sides, suffer from a sense of nihilism because they have become so arbitrarily invocated in order to shut down any debate. This just leads to even more dangerous instances of censorship being able to creep into our public discourse.

    • “… it seems political correctness knows no political boundaries.”

      Well, it’s helpful to keep in mind that both the political “left” and the political “right” fly within the same (liberal) plane of orbit. Political correctness “knows no political boundaries” because liberalism sets the boundaries, and ruthlessly enforces them.

      • Re: Terry Morris – hence many Republicans’ eagerness to distance themselves from Trump after every transgression of political correctness.

      • Political correctness knows no boundaries because of its arbitrary invocation to sanitize language, culture, and history. When someone protests stripping the name off of every building, such as at Woodrow Wilson at Princeton, a chapter of history ends up disgarded. by getting rid of all reminders of anything remotely associated with slavery or narrowing most historical figures legacy to just racism sanitizes history. But perpetuating the idea that slaves had benevolent masters who cared for the them as they were their children obscures the brutality of slavery. PC is not a left or right political things,it infects our discourse in so many negative than positive ways. For me the negatives of PC go beyond political parties to the point that we forget to love our neighbor as ourself. If we did that we would talk to each other as friends usually do.

      • PC is not a left or right political thing.

        No one said it is. You must have misunderstood us. PC is a left AND right political thing. That is because liberalism is the dominant ideology in America; but the important thing to understand about liberalism is that it is flexible enough to include/tolerate a fairly broad range of beliefs (what we call “left” and “right”) at any given moment in time. So “right” on the political spectrum is not the same thing as anti-liberalism.

        Concerning modern iconoclasm, Prof. Smith put up an interesting post about it awhile back:


  6. Prof. Cocks: Have you just uncovered another (potential) proof of the existence of God? It might go something like:
    1. Assumption: Contradictions in reality can’t and don’t exist.
    2. Goedel showed that any formal system is either incomplete or inconsistent.
    3. Assumption: Any belief system can be formalized, including those expounding on morality.
    4. No chain (of moral reasoning) is complete without an endpoint (see #2).
    Conclusion: As per Aquinas, the endpoint is God.
    Sketchy and needs additional steps, but seems to make sense to an amateur.


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