Defending Richard Dawkins, Yet Upholding the Fully Natural and Logically Necessary Praxeology of God

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The unseemly antagonistic tone of Richard Dawkins' latest book on the so-called God Delusion has prompted uneasy reviews, even in the professional scientific press. However, it contains a remarkable concession of sorts. While Dawkins' very explicitly aims to dismiss supernatural conceptions of God, Dawkins also very carefully differentiates his primary targets from the naturalistic and rationalistic conceptions of God of the sort advocated by Spinoza and Einstein. While Dawkins certainly doesn't endorse such views, he does leave a huge door for rational persuasion wide open. Can't we meet the challenge of objectively demonstrating the objective existence of God on such grounds, especially given the many considerable 20th century advances in the realm of logical ontology (notably including praxeology)? I claim that we can do so — and that this will show that "naturalistic ontology" is fundamentally much richer (and more "nearly supernatural" in some respects) than is commonly supposed.

Far too much of substance has been written on efforts to prove the existence of God to adequately survey here. Lacking space for that, we should at least then briefly mention the very most noteworthy observations about such efforts. (1) The primary motivation for finding such proofs is to objectively persuade people concerning the "God of ultimately supreme ethical relevance." However, proving the existence of a too-abstract or a too-general conception of God alone is generally a rather barren achievement in this respect. (For example, the ethical import of "the most perfect possible being" may be too negligible, or it may be too indeterminate.) (2) Attempting to prove the existence of God is an extremely error-prone endeavor, and many brilliant philosophers and logicians have stumbled here. (For example, purported "first cause" proofs and "ontological" proofs are notoriously prone to subtle fallacies. Another common problem is finding suitable premises that do not inadvertently indirectly presume key characteristics to be proved — even the extraordinarily brilliant 20th century logician Kurt Gödel fell prey to a subtle version of this error.) A couple of possible reasons (among many) for such logical difficulties immediately suggest themselves. (a) Their knowledge of logic may be very advanced yet deficient in some key respect (for example, due to a missing or incompletely qualified axiom). (b) Their conception of God may not be sufficiently correct (for example, due to over-generalized or mistaken attributes). I claim that others have found effective ways around all of these problems.

Now for the scientifically fun part of universal logic. What follows is a highly abbreviated proof prospectus that omits many important steps and qualifications, but which still aims at outlining a fascinating realm of inquiry. By "universal logic" we mean logic in the most general sense of the universal common logic that is inevitably presupposed in all meaningful propositional (conceptual) thought and communication (whether mostly correct or not, whether ambiguous or not, whether fictional or not, whether metaphorical or not) — and which thereby covers all purported doctrines of God, logic, semantics, and so on. (Our logical point of departure is a fairly minimal and conventional conception of logic that includes the 2 Aristotelian axioms of logic, plus the traditional law of identity. This basis is sufficient to ultimately prove that this basis is just the most classically evident threshold of a vastly richer and greater system of ultimately fundamental logical ontology. Done carefully, this sort of logical bootstrapping approach avoids many traditional problems and common pitfalls, including invalid logical circularity.)

Given the many contending conceptions of God (even within the same religious traditions, and sometimes even within the same denominations), which is the objectively best one to use? We obviously can't prove the existence of God based on ontologically flawed conceptions. Indeed, a major reason for proving the existence of God is to positively identify a generally correct conception of God, and thereby to fairly, honestly, and objectively adjudicate among the many contending conceptions of God (and especially their corresponding ethical implications). We can increase the odds of success (and increase the general relevance of success) by concentrating on the single most generally important feature of God.

What characteristic of God is most generally important overall in our objective quest to prove the existence of God? (That's notably a special-case question of maximal instrumental objective value. This same sort of "categorical pattern" is reused in a reflexively wider context below.) Given that our primary interest is ethical, we are seeking the objective God of universal objective ethics. So our initial aim is identifying whatever has the provisionally-assumed characteristic of universally-supreme instrumental objective value. (If our provisional presumption fails, we'll revise it.) This is the categorically-designated concept of God that we will be using from now on. (It appears to be a tactical error of complexity-increasing overgeneralization to prematurely presume that God is most-importantly a non-instrumental value.) Loosely speaking, we are provisionally assuming that the "objective means to the ultimate truth" is an important part of the "objectively ultimate truth," and seeing where that leads us. (The "objectively ultimate truth" may be much more of a "generally progressive condition" of value "orientation" or "direction" than an "end" value or "destination." "God is the way" as it were — the eternally continuable direction and progressive condition of ethical quality, not a final end point.)

It might seem that our "universally-supreme" qualifier unfairly favors monotheism and unfairly discriminates against pantheism, polytheism, and some process theologies (among other possibilities). However, our attempts at proof can't succeed if we have presumed wrongly here, so this is a matter of semi-educated guessing, not fairness.

It turns out that you can't get very far with our provisional principal criterion of God, because all roads seem to reflexively lead back to the axioms of logic. Indeed, there is a shortcut to seeing this more directly: deny that logic has our provisionally assumed principal characteristic of God, which then gives you a performative contradiction. That's a very interesting and very important result, since it could be due to our presumption being at least partly axiomatic. (The means for positively identifying axioms is a topic for another discussion. Self-contradicting statements do not necessarily involve negated axioms. Paradoxical statements are warnings that the logic of negation is pitfall-ridden due to subtle semantic issues.) The implications of this approach are that almost all attempts to prove the existence of God have been tantamount to standing on the face of God and looking elsewhere — so no wonder that countless such past attempts repeatedly (and inevitably) failed. If the axioms of logic are genuinely universally fundamental, they must be universally-supreme instrumental objective values that are thereby also the primary constitutive characteristics of God.

The axiomatic fundamentality and universality of logic reflexively precludes all other God options (at least of the objectively ethically-supreme kind), and so this logically naturalistic characterization of God completely circumvents the supernaturalism that so vexes Richard Dawkins. Moreover, Dawkins' beloved evolutionary processes must adapt neurobiology in approximate accordance with God in order to successfully manifest rational sentience. Hence, it may be almost inevitable that many people will be reflexively predisposed to develop some sort of vague "God intuitions" (albeit most likely multiply-conceived, and most likely overly-generalized towards the concrete or abstract) in the course of seriously inquiring into the ultimate nature of their experiential universe. In our very complex world, the "God doctrines" inspired by "the God intuition" naturally tend to be error-prone, but that hardly makes them primarily manifestations of irrationality — contrary to Dawkins' ironically irrational presumptions about this issue.

But how can this necessary (although possibly partial at this point) identification of God and the universally-supreme instrumental objective values of universal logic be correct? — logic sure don't look like God (or even the fingerprints of God), so to speak. That's certainly true, but here we must be very careful not confuse the map with the territory. The traditional map (statement) of logical axioms is typically very inaccurately rendered — due to omitting the important principal qualifying conditions of their axiomatic applicability, and due to omitting their direct axiomatic corollaries. Moreover, we must recognize that the map here is radically incomplete — as we've just discovered, there should be an additionally recognized axiom that reflexively states the collective logically-fundamental status of the universal axioms as specifications of the universally-supreme instrumental objective values (that you should believe and use). This 4th axiom of universal logic calls for deep and very profound revisions to conventional views of the ultimate nature of logic and ontology. The praxeological action axiom (and its immediate axiomatic corollaries) is also notably typically missing from contemporary lists of logical axioms. This 5th axiom of universal logic calls for still further major revisions to our logical value worldview. (By the way, it's a terrible pedagogical blunder to call "value-invariant" praxeological statements "value-free" — such mindless "value-free" usage seriously corrupts ontological intuition and hobbles thinking.) Looking at the traditionally badly-expressed and stunted list of 3 logical axioms is like looking at the near-noontime shadow of a spectacular soaring cathedral — it's no wonder that almost everyone completely misses the spectacular crowning glory of universal logic when presented with such a pitiful shadow of the real thing.

We have now integrally incorporated both the critical special case of (person-invariant) universally-supreme objective instrumental values and the general category of (person-specific) subjective values (which can congruently coincide with both person-specific and person-invariant objective values) into the axiomatic formulation of universal logic. Each of these steps alone is a radical advance, and both together catapult us into the genuinely scientifically-universal realm of logic whose foundations transcend many prevailing false dichotomies, including the morally-logically horrid science-religion dichotomy. For example, the most important cases of the "fact-value" and "is-ought" dichotomies (and related "naturalistic fallacies") are largely circumvented, since the most fundamental axiomatic facts of universal reality are intrinsically universally-supreme objective instrumental values.

The fundamental logical primacy of intensional logic (versus extensional set-theoretic logic, which is pathologically subject to Gödel's incompleteness theorems) should also be recognized as an axiom (albeit arguably as an axiomatic corollary of the other axioms). We can then consider the reflexive applications of this system to our thinking about it, and so seek further axiomatic corollaries.

It's a common logical error to regard some axioms as being more fundamental than the others. By virtue of being logically axiomatic, all of the axioms and their direct axiomatic corollaries are ontologically co-fundamental. In mathematics, it's common practice to select out and only state one of several possible minimalist sets of mutually-independent subject-specific axioms — but this is motivated by the definitional, formal, pedagogical, and proof-taxonomy roles of axioms in mathematics. This otherwise useful practice is a huge mistake in "pre-symbolic" universal logic, which involves ultimately fundamental and universal axioms, which in turn are naturally mutually and reflexively applicable, and which cannot be fully logically independent.

We now can see that the "laws of logic" is a misleading label for (roughly speaking) "the absolutely fundamental universal ontology of logical value." We routinely implicitly treat "value" and "experience" as ontologically second-class derivatives of other things (such as ourselves) — but this is another demonstrably huge (although natural) mistake of inverted perspective. This mistake is somewhat analogous to earlier routine presumptions that the sun and stars moved around the earth every day (which at the surface of the earth, they still appear to do — even though we now know better). This logically intrinsic feature of "purely naturalistic ontology" is "almost supernatural" in character.

There are of course a great many issues, qualifications, and questions that should to be addressed at length in support of the preceding suggestions, such as presenting a fully articulated proof. (Those who find this prospect dubious should try proving that it can't be done. You may find it surprisingly difficult to keep your feet out of the line of reflexive fire from unavoidable presuppositions.) We also haven't delved into the more directly subjective and personal realms of spiritual significance and spiritual practices. These things will likely lead to a large number of important questions and problems, which are important means of further correction, refinement, and discovery. These sorts of things could be dismissed as being logically secondary to prior axiomatic necessity — however such an overly-stringent and somewhat evasive Rand-like tactic would seriously undermine the ease of learning, understanding, applying, and propagating the core system — and that notably contradicts God's corollary social-ethical imperatives.

Despite limitations of space (and likely limitations of the reader's kind patience), we should revisit the principal criterion of God that we began our inquiry with, and address some likely further concerns. (1) Whatever we can ultimately prove concerning the necessary existence of something that satisfies that criterion is still true, independently of whether or not you are willing to call it God. And I can't emphasize strongly enough that "conventional logic" is a valid but overly-sterile shadow of the much more "full bodied" and "deeply organic" (as it were) system of "universal value logic." Likewise, the corresponding objective concept of God (in the sense of its meaning and designation) is very much richer and very much more subtle than is initially evident. (2) You may be hesitant to recognize this extended family of supreme logical values as the logically absolutely-required ontological-heart of any reasonably objectively valid conception of God. But what kind of truly universal God is worthy of the name that does not principally and integrally comprise the universally-supreme instrumental objective values, and thereby is the objective God of objective ethics, and thereby is the objective God of natural law? (3) You may wonder how to reconcile this conception of God with a deep and extensive personal investment in the teachings of Lao-tzu, Confucius, Buddha, Moses, Jesus, Muhammad, Krishnamurti, or others. The objective concept of God (including the wider ontological context of universal value logic) is intrinsically a notably much more "spiritual wisdom friendly" interpretive context of ancient and near-ancient religious books than the prevailing scientific world view. (4) You may quite naturally prefer a seemingly more personal conception of God. Is it really so impersonal that the demonstrably-objective knowledge of the existence of God absolutely requires your first-hand integrally-personal self-knowledge of universal value logic — which knowledge moreover amounts to direct, repeatable, correctable, and intimately-personal revelation (that is a notably unending source of further refinement)? Is recognizing the absolutely-primary universal logical ontology of value not more ontologically-personal and more spiritually-coherent than either abstract supernaturalism or reductive materialism? (5) You may prefer a God that occasionally performs miracles. Shouldn't the intrinsically supremely-wonderful existence of God (and the corollary infinitely-intelligible order of nature) be super-sufficiently "miraculous" enough for any seriously religious person? (6) The "universal lighthouse" God and the "universal moral compass" God may seem too intellectual for you. Do you really expect that you can lazily lapse into thinking ignorantly and falsely, but still act wisely and truly? Some great religious books very laudably and explicitly proclaim the ultimately supreme primacy of Truth, which is an intrinsically logical value concept that is intrinsically characterized by our conception of God (since that was what we were originally seeking). There can be no spiritual-intellectual dichotomy in the realm of Truth. So, do you really believe in the ultimately supreme primacy of Truth? (7) The God that only "helps those that help themselves" may seem too demanding for you. Is meeting your responsibility for being recurrently aware of God's value-presence (rather than vice versa) and letting that thereby influence your actions for the better really that onerous? Is the responsibility on your part to do occasional concentrated thinking too much to ask for tapping into the fountainhead of supreme scientific genius and accessing the associated bounty of world-improving benefits? (8) You may wonder how you would worship the objective God. Remember that "objective" here directly involves the "primary ontology of value." (The bogus "science-religion" dichotomy has naturally encouraged a presumed but also totally bogus "objective-spirit" dichotomy.) Contemplative prayer, meditation, and meditative prayer are still appropriate. Much of the same ageless spiritual wisdom still applies for relating to the actual objective God (and likewise for relating to your fellow human beings). (9) Finally, you may be a militant atheist who recoils at embracing a word that seems hopelessly tainted with many unpleasant associations. Aren't you rational enough to overcome that? The objective God is associated with the more noble progressive traditions of Aristotle, Aquinas, and Spinoza (among many others). You can't honestly equate all theism to supernaturalism and irrationalism — indeed, a great many theological proponents assumed the "burden of proof," which is very admirably rational, despite their many stumbles. Of course many important errors in earlier conceptions of God were found and corrected, which is the typical course of development of any non-trivial field of science. This time, however, the objective conception of God is rooted in the axiomatic foundations of universal value logic, so you can't rationally and objectively deny or falsify the objective conception of God (because such attempts inescapably generate self-refuting performative contradictions). So atheism can now be countered by means of a radically-objective counterexample.

While an extended system of universal logic incorporating universally-supreme instrumental objective values necessarily exists, delineating the details and ramifications of such a system is a complex and exceedingly pitfall-ridden endeavor — and I have almost certainly made my share of mistakes along these lines. Fortunately, the necessarily universal and reflexively invariant character of this system's axiomatic values provides a very powerful self-diagnostic tool for progressively finding and overcoming such errors (especially given a team of able and aggressive critics), thereby leading towards increasingly objectively-correct and practically-powerful formulations.

I strongly suspect that there are some additional universal logical-ontology axioms (and axiomatic corollaries) missing from our extended list of logical axioms (which pertain to the logical ontology of value-experience, particularistic properties, polyadic relations, and physical cosmology). The advent of a fundamentally-objective doctrine of God should be logically powerful enough to reveal a series of previously-overlooked opportunities to make Nobel Prize–worthy advances in the social and physical sciences. (Here I mean objectively-demonstrable hard-core instrumental utility, versus the otherwise-valuable utility of driving emotional inspiration. For example, fundamental physics and cosmology are all over the map about what things are more ontologically fundamental and what things are really ontologically plausible. Progress here could help salvage something useful from the almost-awe-inspiring profusion of incredibly-but-dubiously complex and increasingly wildly-speculative theoretical proposals.) However, I'll conclude here with a much more modest promotional claim that this substantially more-complete family of universal scientific axioms is already sufficiently powerful for establishing the core objective ethical religion of genuine science, and for scientifically refining and reinforcing the best prior doctrines of natural law (including remedying some of the lingering weaknesses in Hoppe's argumentation ethics). Meanwhile, praxeological economics is demonstrably the scientifically most-fundamentally ethically-superior (and thus most objectively "socially responsible") theory of economics (and policies thereof) to promote.

It may now be possible (with a great deal of effort) to prove that establishing "the universally-supreme God of logical value" as the predominant foundational-methodological doctrine within the public world scientific community (my favorite strategic option) is a sufficient basis for generating the most powerful possible active defense system against the ideological scourges that ravaged 20th century world civilization — with huge first-mover advantages to societies that took the lead in this. (However it might be easier and more fun to accomplish such a transformation than to formally prove its feasibility.) The spread of this logically deeper scientific worldview would be a fairly modest and moderate form of "logical value consciousness raising" — but it would also be tantamount to initiating a combined 2nd Axial Age, 2nd Renaissance, 2nd Scientific Revolution, and 2nd Age of Enlightenment. This would multiply the world quality and duration of life many times over. These prospects certainly seem wildly improbable at present, but I'll very provocatively claim that you don't really have true faith in the objective reality of God if you don't think this is a likely prospect before the end of the 21st century.

Hey Richard Dawkins! This "extended phenotype" claims to have found the world's most powerful meme — the "objectively supreme God meme." Pass it on. 🙂

Postscript 1: I searched for and found the "objectively supreme God meme" in multiple pieces and forms, scattered throughout the written works of many other people. From ancient times up through present times, many philosophers have written about related things, although in widely different terms and contexts. What I've written here is not notably new nor original — and given the inherently enormous difficulty of doing reliable and realistically valuable philosophy, I shun the temptations of personal innovation, and instead concentrate on harvesting the best results scattered throughout our era's spectacular "information explosion."

Postscript 2: I want to defend Dawkins' against charges that he generally inappropriately applies "the scientific method of the natural sciences" to what might be variously construed as purely logical (or purely spiritual) issues of (supernatural) theology. I grant that Dawkins' sometimes falsely overreaches, but here are some offsetting considerations. (1) There are a number of purported scientific methods, of which the most general is "arguing to the best explanation" — which integrally incorporates logic, and which better reflects actual scientific practice. (I grant that the proper formulation of this variously-expressed doctrine is not well-settled.) This general perspective also better addresses the issue of what we should most responsibly believe and advocate — just because something is supposedly never 100% empirically proved does not thereby rationally license holding contrary theories (as any reasonably responsible aeronautical engineer or medical doctor will attest). (2) There is no such thing as an "entirely logical phenomenon" — indeed we discern the ontologically constitutive nature of logic in the very empirical process of reflexive thinking. (3) Previously unrecognized errors in logical reasoning can be brought to light and refuted by contrary empirical observations. This position does not challenge the ultimate primacy of logic, nor does it mean that some such purported refutations are sometimes mistaken — it just recognizes that we are fallible users of logic. (4) Many (granted by no means all) of Dawkins' conclusions involve pointing out internal inconsistencies (or contrary-to-fact implications) of the supernatural doctrines he attacks — which is the venerable logical process of reduction to absurdity, not questionable empirical induction.

Postscript 3: Thanks much to David Gordon for quickly pointing out some important oversights and serious misstatements in an earlier and much briefer version of this article.

References: It would take many dozens of references to provide adequate background for the things I've mentioned above. Personally, the works of Jacob Bronowski and H. W. B. Joseph were early major points of departure for value and logic. Later, the works of Friedrich Hayek, Brand Blanshard, and Robert Pirsig helped provide a much more broadly informed and much more deeply ramified philosophical worldview, which Ayn Rand's visionary (and sometimes grossly unreliable) philosophical works had tantalizingly started and promised, but unfortunately failed to deliver. And later still, the comprehensive works of Murray Rothbard and Ludwig Von Mises (and followers thereof) were extremely enlightening. Along the way, many hundreds of other works provided numerous additional items of insight. Not having room to give lots of references, I hesitate to give any, but here are a few relatively more recent works on logic that I've found worthy of rereading recently (despite the inevitable reservations):

January 22, 2007