Can you know that your life isn’t just a simulation? Is there such a thing as choice and free will? What do you say if a genius tells you that you can’t know what’s true and what’s not?
In this post:
- ➤ Postmodernism and Word Games
- ➤ Typical Beliefs and Desires
- ➤ Can You Know That You’re Not in a Simulation?
➤ Postmodernism and Word Games
One of my favorite books was written by Eccles and Popper, both of whom were geniuses. I always found myself more persuaded by Eccles, but Popper has so many worthwhile thoughts to explore. For example, he said,
“We must distinguish between truth, which is objective and absolute, and certainty, which is subjective.”
That quote is important to one’s belief in God. Gradually, I’ll explore why it’s important, but first I need to relate it to one typical, rational progression of atheism, which is postmodern thought. I’ve detailed this further in a different post, but I’m going to discuss a bit right now as a primer.
Postmodern thought stemming from folks such as Derrida, Foucault, and others, is a natural progression of atheism, since where there is no spirit, only chemistry and physics really determine anything. Because one is nothing more than some equations (just equal and opposite reactions), one can’t be certain that one has a mind which is developed to ascertain “truth,” nor can one be certain that “truth” even exists—there’s no away of knowing. Dr. Thaddeus Russel, himself a subscriber to Foucault’s school of thought, said in a talk,
“There is nothing in my book, in my work, anywhere, that is true.”
To this form of atheist, truth does not exist, yet language constructs subjective “reality.” So while they may not believe in free will or truth, they will paradoxically fight tooth and nail to determine the content of discourses (uses of language considered legitimate), especially when determining definitions for words. Of course this isn’t new: calling evil, good, and good, evil, is a recognizable form of this behavior.
Postmodernists believe that language must be strictly controlled, because if they can change the meaning of words and enforce the definitions, they can control “reality.” Under this theory of reality, of course, little is more dangerous than debate, so one can expect some vitriol if sacred cows are approached.
➤ Typical Beliefs and Desires
To sum up what I’ve explained elsewhere, one will typically see the following traits in those who have followed atheism to its “rational” conclusion:
- There is no free will or any sort of spirit; you are not responsible for your beliefs.
→ “Free will is an illusion. Our wills are simply not of our own making…We do not have the freedom we think we have.” —Dr. Sam Harris
- There is no such thing as objective right and wrong, nor objective values and duties.
→ “Ethics is illusory. I appreciate that when somebody says ‘Love thy neighbor as thyself,’ they think they are referring above and beyond themselves. Nevertheless such reference is truly without foundation. Morality is just an aid to survival and reproduction…and any deeper meaning is illusory.” —Dr. Michael Ruse
- There is no such thing as truth.
→ Dr. Russell, quoted above.
- There is no such thing as intentional, object-directed consciousness.
→ “The brain cannot have thoughts about stuff; it cannot make, have, or act on plans, projects, or purposes it gives itself.” —Dr. Alex Rosenberg
Oddly, such people will typically still wish to get those who believe in a god to:
- Abandon their outdated morality.
→ “Thus, though I dislike to differ with such a great man, Voltaire was simply ludicrous when he said that if god did not exist it would be necessary to invent him. The human invention of god is the problem to begin with.” ― Christopher Hitchens, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything
- Understand that there is no free will.
→ “You, your joys and your sorrows, your memories and ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules.” —Dr. Francis Crick
- Choose to avoid trying to persuade others of “superstitions.”
→ “Faith is one of the world’s GREAT EVILS, comparable to the smallpox virus but harder to eradicate.” —Dr. Richard Dawkins
- Embrace the truth of atheism.
→ “There are no good reasons to believe in god.” —Daniel Dennett
You can figure out the goofiness in all that, I suppose, without much hand-holding. But while the above is pretty self-defeating, it makes one consider what Popper was saying: “We must distinguish between truth, which is objective and absolute, and certainty, which is subjective.”
➤ Can You Know That You’re Not in a Simulation?
Truth is person-independent. If the worst human on the face of the planet said something true, it’s still true; if the best said something false, it’s still false. Truth is objective and absolute. Truth is “the way reality is, whether or not ANYONE apprehends it.”
Certainty, on the other hand, is a subjective state of mind. It’s a psychological state. I’ve been certain about things that I turned out to have totally wrong, while being highly skeptical about things which were, as it turned out, totally true. We see this in everything from “hard sciences” to relationships. What we need to be careful of is equating knowledge with certainty. You’ll often hear people say things like, “You can’t know that God exists,” or, “You can’t know that your religion is correct,” or even, “You can’t know that the universe had to have a cause.” When people say things like that, what they’re really meaning is that you can’t have certainty of those things.
We need to be sure that we understand that knowledge and certainty shouldn’t be equated. Science, for example, is not a field where we arrive at certainty, because it’s tentative and could change—but this does NOT mean that one can say, “We have NO scientific knowledge.” Obviously we have scientific knowledge. We know that the earth is an oblate spheroid. We know that the heart pumps blood.
A good argument, to which one should rationally hold fast, is simply that one which is 51% likely when stacked against the other (or others) which is 49% likely. I personally reject the notion that certainty is a necessary condition of knowledge.
By way of example, I think that we have warrant to hold fast to some beliefs that can be challenged. For example, someone might say, “You could be living in a very advanced simulation, like the Matrix, and so you’d never know. And if that can be true, then you can’t know that you’re not in a simulation.”
What do you say to that? You’re being told that you can’t have knowledge of something. I think that you would never have good reason for believing such a hypothesis as is stated above. In order to deny the reliability of your senses (that there is a world of external objects around us) you would have to have strikingly powerful defeater of that belief – a defeater that is more powerfully warranted than the belief that the world is real. I can’t imagine such a defeater of my current belief that the world is real, and that I have free will, and that I have consciousness. Those beliefs to me are perfectly warranted. So again, it is an argument of probability. It is almost infinitely unlikely that I’m living in a simulation, so I can safely and rationally discard that hypothesis as un-useful and untrue.
I apply the same to the postmodernist thought. There is no good reason for me to believe it. Here’s a quick guide to reality:
- Wrong: In “The Atheist’s Guide to Reality: Enjoying Life without Illusions,” Dr. Alex Rosenberg, who I quoted above, argues that no beliefs are really “true,” and neither is any moral stance. (See bottom of the post in this link for his summary.)
- Right: “A writer who says that there are no truths, or that all truth is ‘merely relative,’ is asking you not to believe him. So don’t.”―Roger Scruton, Modern Philosophy: An Introduction and Survey
With love, always,