ISSN 1135-1349
Issue #16 -- December 2005. Pp. 62-73
Is Theism More Rational Than Agnosticism: A Critique of Arguments for the Necessary Existence of God?
Copyright © by SORITES and David Kimweli
Is Theism More Rational Than Agnosticism: A Critique of Arguments for the Necessary Existence of God?
David Kimweli

In April 2003, Paul Geisert and Mynga Futrell of Sacramento California presented a strategy for atheists to accrue more political recognition, influence, and power. Their solution involved introducing a new memeFoot note 1_1, a term that atheists and agnostics could apply that would disassociate themselves from the negative connotations linked with the existing idiom. Many politically outspoken atheists perceived a 1999 Gallup Poll that found less than half of all Americans willing to vote for an otherwise qualified candidate for president who was an atheist as evidence of persecution. According to Michael Shermer, this Poll illustrated that «(atheists) must unite against the prejudice that as nonbelievers we are not qualified to be full participatory citizens» (2). Geisert and Futrell's answer to this image problem was to redefine non-theists, agnostics, atheists, secular humanists and the like as «Brights.» The term Bright, in this context, is «a person whose worldview is naturalistic -- free of supernatural and mystical elements.» Geisert and Futrell are optimistic that the application of a pleasant new moniker to religious skeptics will de-stigmatize the community and propel them into a significant social and political force. They write, «Given our severe linguistic disadvantages, the Bright movement asks those with a naturalistic worldview to join minds and begin to view themselves and speak in civic situations as Brights» (1).

The reaction to the emergence of the Bright movement was strong. Atheists like Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett became enthusiastic supporters, penning columns expressing themselves as Brights in the Guardian of London and the New York Times respectively. Conversely, criticism abounded by theists and non-theists alike, largely centering on the selection of a loaded term as «bright,» of which the antonym is dim, as blanket description of all non-believers. The criticism argues, and quite convincingly, the Bright movement is counterproductive because it seemingly equates non-belief with intelligence and belief with dimness, only furthering a negative perception that atheists are arrogant and snobbish, which not coincidentally, is exactly how Dennett came across in his NY Times piece. In his column Dennett described atheism as intellectually superior to theism as a matter of fact. The «naturalist» worldview is more rational than its super-naturalist counterpart, Dennett claims, because it refuses to fall for silly superstitions like «ghosts, elves, or the Easter Bunny -- or God» (1).

Dinesh D'sousza took great umbrage with the Dennett's previous claim, firing back in his Wall Street Journal editorial «Not So Bright.» In his piece, D'sousza invokes the Kantian limits on knowledge as incapable of revealing reality in its entirety. Thus, reason's inability to understand the totality of reality «opens the door to faith» or offers a sensible rationale for believing in God. He writes:

(Brights) should refrain from the ignorant boast that atheism operates on a higher intellectual plane than theism. Rather, as Kant showed, reason must know its limits to be truly reasonable. The atheist foolishly presumes that reason is in principle capable of figuring out all that there is, while the theist at least knows that there is a reality greater than, and beyond, that which our senses and our minds can ever apprehend.

D'sousza's application of Kant to advocate his theism is clever and effective for the purpose of communicating to a broad readership not well versed in the highly abstract features of Kant's ethics, but not the primary argument for God the great philosopher employed himself. Instead, Kant makes what is widely known as the moral argument for the existence of God. The moral argument reasons that while theoretical proofs of God's existence are impossible, God is necessary to preserve the attainment of a good will -- or the fundamental object of a moral life. Lewis White Beck, in the introduction to his translation of the Critique of Practical Reason writes, «God appears as necessary to the existence of the Summum bonum. God is the being that guarantees happiness in proportion to virtue; and moral laws, in whose fulfillment lives man's worthiness to be happy, can be looked upon as divine commands» (48).

The debate between Dennett and D'sousza gives rise to several questions of philosophical import. Specifically, is belief in God mere superstition as the Brights claim? Also, considering Kant himself believed in the impossibility of proving God's existence, is the moral argument the best rational and intellectual justification for belief? I contend Kant's transcendental morality supplies a less adequate justification for belief than John Dewey's moral instrumentalism. Lastly, while I concede belief in God is morally instrumental, I will argue that agnosticism is preferable to theism.

Section I

Is the Existence of God Provable?

There are three traditional arguments that purport to prove the existence of God. These are the ontological proof, cosmological proof, and the physico-theological proof. Kant, while a theist, systematically discredited these three proofs in his Critique of Pure Reason. His counter-arguments were so effective they were considered definitive until the 20th century when some scholars attempted to resurrect the ontological proof, the most notable of which was put forth by Alvin Plantinga. Plantinga's reply to Kant will follow shortly, but first let us summarize Kant's criticism of the ontological proof.

The ontological proof has taken several forms over the centuries. St. Anselm first made the particular version of the proof to which Kant objected. Anselm contended that the ability to conceive of a greatest possible being, or God, makes His existence necessary as the concept of «greatest» automatically entails existence. In other words, to insist the greatest possible being is only a concept brings forth a contradiction since if God actually existed, He would be greater than the conception.

Kant's objections with Anselm's version of the ontological proof are with its logic. According to Kant, no contradiction arises in denying the subject and predicate of a synthetic existential proposition. In the case of analytic propositions, or those in which the content of the subject is assumed in the predicate, like «this triangle's angles amount to 180 degrees,» no contradiction arises from denying the existence of the triangle as well as its three angles. If, on the other hand, one would accept the subject while denying the predicate, as in maintaining, «this particular triangle did not have three angles,» a contradiction occurs. However, the claim «There is no God» does not involve a contradiction since the subject God and its existential predicate are simultaneously rejected (Critique of Pure Reason 502).

Kant makes clear the impossibility of the ontological proof when he writes the following, «Whatever, therefore, and however much our concept of an object may contain, we must go outside it if we are to ascribe existence to the object... (the concept) is altogether incapable, by itself of enlarging our knowledge in regards to what exists» (504) Even if Anselm's conception of a greatest possible being implied existence by definition, the matter of whether this being exists or not is only verifiable in a context apart from the assertion of the proposition. Simply put, Kant insists the ontological proof mistakes internal validity as evidence of a proposition's truth or falsity. «A greatest possible being exists» is not a contradictory proposition. Nevertheless, «there is no greatest possible being» is equally non-contradictory. Truth or falsity is a further question decided empirically, and not by the assertion of existential propositions.

Kant's criticism of the impossibility of the ontological proof was considered definitive until the recasting of the proof by contemporary scholar Alvin Plantinga. Plantinga employs modal logic in an attempt to make the ontological proof, at the very least, rationally acceptable. Plantinga's version of the proof invokes world-indexed properties to reformulate the Anselmian claim that existence in reality is greater than existence in thought alone, while skirting the Kantian criticism that the ontological proof fails because it predicates existence (Mackie 55). Plantinga cites the possibility of objects existing in logically possible «other worlds» apart from the actual world as illustrating an object of maximal greatness must exist. While Plantinga's proof is sprawling, the gist of his argument is reducible to the following 4 premises.

1. It is possible that there is a greatest possible being.

2. Therefore, there is a being that in some logically possible world has a maximum degree of greatness -- a degree of greatness nowhere exceeded.

3. A being B has the maximum degree of greatness in a given possible world only if B exists in every possible world.

4. A maximally great being B exists necessarily in the actual world if it is possible in every possible world (105-106).

Plantinga makes a crucial leap in his reasoning from (3) to (4), and it is that logical possibilities are identical for every possible world. He writes, «If a given proposition or state of affairs is impossible in at least one possible world, then it is impossible in every possible world» (106). I think the previous is an article of faith that Plantinga masquerades as a logical rule. A quick glance at the concept of «logically possible other worlds» casts doubt that impossibilities hold across all possible worlds. According to Patrick Hopkins, «logically possible other world» simply means «Is there a set of conceivable conditions so that X could have been the case instead of Y? If so, X is logically possible.» If the previous is what the concept of logically impossible entails, then a paradox surfaces if one holds that what is impossible in one logically possible world is impossible for all worlds. The paradox is the logical impossibility that the earth never existed in the actual world. It is given that there is an earth in the actual world, and the actual world is included in the set of all logically possible worlds. But despite the impossibility of earth never existing in the actual world, it is conceivable that the volatile conditions under which the universe took form could have produced a universe in which the earth never existed. It is entirely logically possible that the cosmos could have never brought forth our planet, yet the non existence of earth is impossible in the actual world. The previous argument is better explicated in the following form:

1. The actual world exists.

2. The actual world is logically possible.

3. It is logically impossible that this world never existed in the actual world.

4. There are logically possible other worlds where this world never existed.

5. Thus, what is logically impossible in the actual world does not necessarily hold true for all other worlds.

The preceding proof is a reductio ad absurdum of the Plantinga proposition «If a given proposition or state of affairs is impossible in at least one possible world, then it is impossible in every possible world.» What the proof demonstrates is the impossibility of anything not being itself. This impossibility, however, can only apply to the actual world since possible other worlds and all possible entities within them by definition are hypothetical and nonexistent. So there are instances where what is impossible in the actual world is logically possible in other worlds, which illustrates step (4) in Plantinga's proof does not follow from (1-3), and thus is, as a consequence, an insufficient attempt to make a rationally permissible ontological proof.

Kant's criticism of the cosmological proof or first cause argument is similar to his objection with the ontological proof, mainly because he thinks the former presupposes the latter. Kant writes that the cosmological proof «retains the connection of absolute necessity with the highest reality, but instead of reasoning, like the (ontological) proof, from the highest reality to necessity of existence, it reasons from the previously unconditioned necessity of any being to the unlimited reality of that being» (508). The cosmological proof reasons that since contingent being exists, they must have been caused by necessary first cause. For one, the concept of a necessary cause does not imply that it is maximally great, or possesses any of the properties theist commonly attribute to God. As A.G. Ewing explains in his Short Commentary on the Critique of Pure Reason that «to establish the kind of God theologians want, the ontological argument is presupposed» (245). Another objection Kant makes is that the cosmological proof supposedly reasons from experience the necessity of a first cause, yet «experience is unable to demonstrate this necessity as belonging to any determinate thing» (Critique of Pure Reason 510). The only way, then, the cosmological proof gets God out of its argument is to make the assumptions of the ontological proof, and subsequently all the criticisms of the ontological proof apply to the cosmological one.

Finally, Kant explains the physico-theological proof the following way: «If, then, neither the concept of things in general nor the experience of any existence in general can supply what is required, it remains only to try whether a determinate experience, the experience of things in the present world, may help us to attain an assured conviction of a supreme being» (518). The physico-theological proof reasons that the order and purpose observable in the world infers intelligent design, like William Paley made in his famous watch argument. Paley writes, «Every indication of contrivance, every manifestation of design, which existed in the watch, exists in the works of nature -- the inference, we think, is inevitable, that the (world) must have had a maker» (Pojman 669). Kant, although conceding the physico-theological argument is the proof that is «the oldest, the clearest, and the most accordant with the common reason of mankind» it fails because «the physico-theological proof can never by itself establish the existence of a supreme being, but must always fall back upon the ontological argument to make good its deficiency» (521). As a result of the previous, the inadequacies of the ontological proof pertain to the physico-theological one.

Kant's objection to the ontological, cosmological, and physico-theological proofs for God leads us into our next question: given the inability to prove the existence of God empirically or logically, are there other rational reasons for believing in God? Kant, while skeptical of theological proofs, was a devout believer and convinced God was necessary for the goal of a moral life -- the triumph of a good will.

Section II

Is God Necessary to Preserve Morality?

The argument Kant sets forth in his Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals and the Critique of Practical Reason is essentially that morality needs justification in universalizeability, reason requires its position in the «categorical imperative,» or unconditional moral law. For instance, Kant writes, «For law alone implies the concept of an unconditional and objective and hence universally valid necessity -- the categorical imperative is restricted by no condition. As absolutely, though practically, necessary it can be called a command in the strict sense» (FMM 76).

The need for universality in moral theory for Kant grows out of his demarcation of a theoreticalFoot note 1_2 boundary of knowledge that renders it incapable of grasping ultimate reality; or knowledge apart from the categories our mind employs to synthesize input; or knowledge. Our mental apparatus is inadequate for obtaining the essence of reality because the categories frame the context by which we can know an object while objects exist as things-in-themselves. Since we can never escape the context by which our mind frames sense data on objects, or get «outside» the proverbial box, knowledge of things-in-themselves is not possible.

While acknowledging the impossibility of knowing things-in-themselves Kant recognizes that the rational curious mind will inevitably conjecture as to the nature of ultimate reality. Three ideas about ultimate reality often supposed by the rational mind are freedom, God, and immortality -- each of which plays key roles in Kant's moral theory -- freedom is exercised by a will, of which an irrevocably good one is the Summum bonum or object of a moral life. However, Kant believes an irrefutably good will is impossible to attain in practical experience, and thus immortality and God, as objects of pure reason, are needed to achieve it. Kant explains as much when he writes:

The ideas of God and immortality are, on the contrary, not conditions of the moral law, but only conditions of the necessary object of a will which is determined by this law, this will being merely the practical use of our pure reason-- thus, through the concept of freedom, the ideas of God and immortality gain objective reality and legitimacy and indeed subjective necessity as needs of pure reason (119).

What Kant means is that given that a will in compliance with the moral law, a good will, is the object of a moral life, God and immortality are required to make this possible. But before I explain this point further, it is important to clarify how Kant thinks we can have moral experience. Kant argues that non-mechanical causality, or freedom, is necessary for morality because it is the only way moral experience is even possible. Kant writes:

The determination of the causality of beings in the world of sense as such can never be unconditioned, and yet for every series of conditions there must be something unconditioned, and consequently a causality which is entirely self-determining. Therefore, the idea of freedom as a faculty of absolute spontaneity was -- as far as its possibility was caused, an analytical principle of pure speculation -- thus the concept of freedom is made the regulative principle of reason (158).

The antinomy of causality, the conflict of whether the causation is better explained in terms of non-mechanical or natural, then, is settled by applying mechanical natural causality to objects-in-themselves, and non-mechanical free causality to actions by «objects of understanding,» or rational beings. According to Lewis White Beck, this dichotomy is based on Kant's unwavering belief in the necessary and universal maxims of geometry and natural physics. He states, «Kant's conviction of the certainty of Newtonian Mechanics was too deep to be shaken by any negative conclusion drawn from speculations concerning the human mind... (assured he was) of the validity and certainty of the synthetic judgments of geometry and physics» (10). Of course, special relativity theory illustrates the limitation of Newtonian physics to predict laws of motion only on the unique frame of reference found on earth, while inadequate to predict physical behavior when applied to motion at speeds approaching light. The non-universality of Newtonian Mechanics in turn casts doubt on Kant's belief in mechanical causality, but that is not the issue that concerns us at the moment. For the time being, let us restrict ourselves to the implications freedom holds for moral action. As Kant demonstrated, freedom is necessary for the possibility of moral experience, or else human behavior is the determined outcome of a mechanical process.

Even more than the basis for moral experience, the idea of freedom is rationally permissible when natural causality is confined to phenomena and non-mechanical causality (freedom) to super-sensuous reality. H.W. Cassirer in A Commentary on Kant's Critique of Judgment explains Kant's resolution of the antinomy of causality the following way, «If absolute reality be ascribed to the world of appearances, freedom cannot be upheld. It is only if we allow that there may be things-in-themselves which are independent of our world of sense and the laws that determine it that we can reasonably assume the existence of a supersensible principle of freedom» (58). In spite of the fact that this distinction between natural causality and objects of experience from freedom and objects of the super-sensuous prevents a contradiction, Kant asserts that theoretical knowledge of freedom or intelligible causality is impossible. Cassirer summarizes Kant's position when he writes:

The only kind of causality of which we have any knowledge is natural causality, which is a rule of the understanding for the determination of natural events. We cannot understand how there can be a causality of an entirely different kind; nor do we need to understand this, for it does not concern us as moral agents since we cannot and need not have any knowledge of the supersensible moral law (64).

Kant's conception of the moral law is also divided into theoretical and practical knowledge. As stated in the citation above, Kant does not think theoretical knowledge of the moral law is possible or even relevant. The moral law is revealed practically, however, in experience. To explain how we can develop maxims, or rules to discern the consistency of a particular act with the moral law, Kant contends the action must be universalizable, respect human dignity and be self-revealing through reason.

In his Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals, Kant states:

And what is it that justifies the morally good disposition or virtue in making such lofty claims? It is nothing less than the participation it affords the rational being in giving universal laws. He is thus fitted to be a member in a possible realm of ends to which his own nature already destined him. For, as an end in himself, he is destined to be legislative in the realms of ends, free from all laws of nature and obedient to these which he himself gives. Accordingly, his maxims can belong to a universal legislation to which he is at the same time also subject (93).

Finally Kant believes that a good will, although only the result of duty and obligation to the moral law is nevertheless conducive to happiness, a happiness which is rewarded proportionally to virtue. To put it slightly differently, the notion of the highest possible good entails happiness. Yet, since natural causality has no explanatory power as to the motives of the will, since the will itself is an example of non-mechanical causality, the absolutely good will and thus the highest possible good must have a supreme cause not found in nature, chiefly God. Kant puts forth this moral argument for God when he writes:

Therefore, the highest good is possible in the world only on the supposition of a supreme cause of nature which has a causality corresponding to the moral intention. Now a being which is capable of actions by the idea of laws is an intelligence, and the causality of such a being according to this idea of laws is his will. Therefore, the supreme cause of nature, in so far as it must be presupposed for the highest good, is a being which is the cause of nature through understanding and will, i.e., God -- therefore it is morally necessary to assume the existence of God. (Critique 228).

In summary, Kant's transcendental moral theory needs to God to preserve the possibility of the highest good, which is proportional happiness ensuing from compliance with the moral law. The problem with this position is, as I see it, its preoccupation with the notion of an indubitable moral law. Kant thinks that the moral law is an indisputable fact. In the Critique of Pure Reason he writes, «The moral law is given as a fact of pure Reason of which we are a priori conscious, and which is apodictically certain» (522). The concept of a moral law hinges on the view morality was configured as opposed to developed. I contend that an instrumentalist conception of morality, one that views morals as practical developments that arose in the progress of human affairs, is not only a simpler explanation but one inexorably more suited to the adaptive needs of the human condition.

Section III

Is an Instrumentalist Moral Theory Superior to a Transcendental One?

While Kant's critical system departs from the rationalist and empiricist schools by arguing against human capacity to attain knowledge of ultimate reality, he laments this impossibility and addresses ways to cope with it. In other words, knowledge of ultimate reality does not lose its place as the most central and prime aspect of knowledge under moral transcendentalism, albeit an impossible one.

John Dewey in his Reconstruction in Philosophy takes an entirely different approach to knowledge. Ralph Ross, in the introduction to his reissuing of the Reconstruction writes of Dewey's outlook on knowledge, «It is not a fixed form, essence, or structure behind processes of change that is the key to knowledge, but the way change becomes evident as we experiment with things.» He goes on to write, «Knowledge is not a matter of discovering what things `really are', as though they were unchanging and inhabited a universe without us, they are what they can do and what can be done with them» (xix). This is a synopsis of what is known as an instrumentalist theory of knowledge -- what is paramount to know is what we can use to transform and shape experience for our benefit; as opposed to the Kantian transcendentalist viewpoint that places undiscoverable characteristics of objects (those aspects divorced from the interpretative activity of the mind) as ultimate. The Deweyean perspective is that moral knowledge is like any other area of human inquiry, it useful to the extent it has adaptive and transformative power in shaping human experience. Richard Rorty summarizes Dewey's moral instrumentalism in the following way, «Physics is a way of trying to cope with various bits of the universe; ethics is a matter of trying to cope with other bits -- the question of what propositions to assert, which pictures to look at, what narratives to listen to and comment on and retell, are all questions about what will help us get what we want» (xliii). «What we want» from morality is a set of guidelines to human affairs that will bring about the most tolerable living conditions; and in the course of history, civil, fair, and respectful interaction between persons in a society and assorted societies have been most favorable to bringing forth the most unobjectionable habitation. In this sense morality is grounded in experience; however it is not subject to the criticisms of limitation Kant makes. The moral maxims derived through instrumentalism are valid and applicable because they are proven to have brought about a suitable environment. Since the human condition is unstable and changing instrumentalist moral maxims have gone under alteration, but these adaptive measures were not corrupting to the extent they were undertaken to the end of improving the state of affairs by achieving civil, fair, and courteous treatment of fellow persons and among cultures.

Dewey describes instrumentalism in this manner, «The interaction of organism and environment, resulting in some adaptation which secures utilization of the latter, is the primary fact, the basic category -- knowledge is not something separate and self-sufficing, but is involved in the process by which life is sustained and evolved» (79). The instrumentalist objection Dewey raises illustrates that there is really nothing to know about things-in-themselves, since they are incomprehensible and offer nothing in the way of aiding us adapt, transform, and improve our environment. As a result, knowledge should be applied to aspects of experience we can use to further develop and progress the human condition. In short, `science, as Dewey understood it, was revolutionized by the discovery that what was «universal» was process (xix).

Instrumentalism has vastly distinct import for morality than transcendental moral theory. Whereas Kant sought to ground morality in unchangeable and fixed moral truths that underlie any good action, Dewey saw morality as the application of intelligence or scientific methodology to practical human affairs. The consequence of Dewey's theory, then, is not an unalterable law but regulations of conduct variable to the adaptive pressures that will inevitably surface over time. Dewey sets forth his most effective criticism of Kant's transcendental moral theory when he states:

After all, then, we are only pleading for the adoption in moral reflection of the logic that has been proved to make for security, stringency and fertility in passing judgments upon physical phenomena. And the reason is the same. The old method in spite of its nominal and esthetic worship of reason discouraged reason, because it hindered the operation of scrupulous and unremitting inquiry (174).

The moral knowledge obtained in an instrumentalist theory, therefore, has utility and flexibility, which I contend is more suited to the needs of the human condition, a condition which is ever transforming.

Section IV

Absent the Moral Argument, why Believe in God?

As we have seen, God props up Kant's moral argument, as He is the supreme cause of «the highest good.» In contrast, while Dewey's moral instrumentalism does not do away with God; it renders him/her unnecessary. God is not necessary in an instrumentalist moral theory because humans developed morality to provide the most acceptable means of co-existing with one another. While some have been less developed or «instrumental» than others, every civilization throughout history has established a code of conduct, or rules that dictate standards of decency in the course human affairs.

Nonetheless, moral instrumentalism does not eliminate God. In fact, the existence of God is not an important question under moral instrumentalism. What matters under the instrumentalist view is whether or not belief in God is conducive to bringing civility in personal and communal interactions. Historically, to say the least, believers have had mixed results in behaving civilly towards non-likeminded groups.

Yet, the strife borne from conflicts between believers, at least as observed among the followers of the Abrahamic deity (the one to which most of humankind proscribes), is arguably more a corruption of faith so far as its proper manifestation encourages basic dignity among persons. It seems that belief in God, then, is worthwhile in so far as it motivates its espousers to live morally. In the past, belief in God has achieved the previously stated goal when it conjures conviction without dogma. Indeed, it is a strident dogma among fanatics in their particular idiosyncratic and sectarian God that induces intolerance. However, the immoral acts of fanatics in the name of religion do not detract from the charity and good works of devout believers who have furthered the aim of a moral society.

Belief in God has worked at times in fostering moral values in humanity, and, as a result, is worthy of respect. The condescension of the Brights to all belief in God is unwarranted for the reason that they fail to take into account all the good and decency that was and is still motivated by sincere faith. While it is true dogmatic believers are responsible for much intolerance and immorality, such as the 9/ll hijackers, it is undeniable that belief has brought about many positive outcomes as well, and I will venture to say, more good than harm.

It is of relevance to reveal that while I find instrumentalist use for belief in God, I am not a theist, but an agnostic. The version of agnosticism to which I subscribe divides all affirmations of opinion into informed and uninformed. An informed opinion is one predicated on and corroborated by facts. In contrast, uninformed opinions are inconsistent with or unverifiable pertaining to the facts. Before I further explain whether belief in God is informed or uninformed, I want to make clearer what actually constitutes a fact. A fact is a statement that conforms to the grammatical precepts of the language it is expressed and whose vocabulary research, investigation, and inquiry dictate as warranted to assert.

The intense study of language Psychology «turned» to in the 20th century, made breakthroughs with an approach to language as behavior governed by rules. The language as behavior position was first outlined by Norm Chomsky in his landmark Syntactic Structures. Chomsky's theory defines language as rule conforming behavior, or as Neil Smith and Deirdre Wilson write, «language is best described in terms of a grammar, or system of rules» (Modern Linguistics: The Results of Chomsky's Revolution 21). Whereas there are slight variations in the rules, as evidenced in the alternate pronunciations and meanings of words and phrases across dialects, the observation of fundamental grammar is necessary for any understandable linguistic expression. The psychological reality of grammar principles as necessary for the possibility of linguistic comprehension is the most logical explanation for the ability of language users to «form judgments about utterances that they have never heard before» (22). To illustrate that humans indeed have this capability, I offer this sentence, «The Cheetah gazes in the river valley of Machakos, Kenya.» It is unlikely that you have ever heard the previous string of words spoken precisely in the succession they appeared, yet your unfamiliarity with that sentence did not prevent you from assessing its grammatical correctness. As a consequence then, the determination of the grammatical or ungrammatical status of novel sentences is best explained as the application of a «grammar which embodies the principles of sentence formation and interpretation.» Therefore, for a statement of fact to be understandable, one criterion is that it must conform to the rules of sentence structure and formation in the language it is expressed.

The second criterion that any statement of fact must meet is that other users of a given language will find the particular assertion warranted, or justified. The term justified in this limited sense only means that most users would concede or agree to the point of information offered as a fact, and does not contend the statement of fact «refer» to objects in the world or «represent» them in a positivist way. This definition restricts the conferring of fact status to a vocabulary of description most users in a language agree is justified. Agreement on which propositions are indeed facts is developed through a laborious process of investigation and inquiry, and ultimately gauged by the explanatory power of the descriptive vocabulary. To explain more fully, a vocabulary begins as an attempt to describe or explain some aspect of our environment. If repeated inquiry confirms the hypothesis, the users of the language reach a consensus that the statement is warranted to assert, and is thus a fact.

So, a statement of fact is both grammatically consistent and vindicated through inquiry. Francis Bacon was the first to set forth that humans induce generalizations, or statements of opinion, which are deemed warranted or unwarranted to the extent they follow from the pertinent set of facts. The logical extension of the inductive method is that an opinion is informed if it is consistent with the facts, and uninformed if contradictory or unverifiable to the facts. That an opinion contrary to the facts would be uninformed is evident enough, but the unverifiability criterion deserves more clarification. If the conference of fact status on a vocabulary is determined by the degree it is warranted, then only statements that are confirmed through inquiry could ever attain fact standing. Thus an unverifiable proposition, incapable of validation through inquiry, can never be a fact.

My agnostic argument takes issue with how opinion on the existence of God is typically settled. Theists often assert that «God exists» is warranted because of revelation, logical necessity, or moral necessity. I have spent a good deal of time in this paper arguing against the latter two arguments, but I am even more skeptical of revelatory claims for God than the logical or moral ones. Such claims, as explained by David Hume, are entirely dependent on testimony and incapable of any corroboration with evidence (Pojman 710). The claim «God spoke to me» is one on which the testimony of the speaker alone is the only means to validate such communication actually occurred, and thus not achieving the status of factual evidence, a position conferred by investigation.

Since the statement «God exists» does not have any factual basis, it is an uninformed opinion. It should be noted that I am applying the terms `informed' and `uninformed' in an extremely limited sense, and am in no way denying the moral instrumentality of belief in God. An uninformed opinion strictly means one that contradicts the facts or is unverifiable with facts at this time. The uninformed categorization does not eliminate the possibility that at some future point evidence could surface which verifies the existence of God, it simply contends no such evidence is available presently, and so contemporary existential claims for God are not warranted on a factual basis. My unbelief results from my hesitation to assert opinions I cannot support with facts. I do not share Dennett and the Brights disdain for theism because I recognize its moral instrumentality, but consider it a less favorable position to agnosticism because it makes a fact-less claim. The agnosticism I hold simply refuses to make a belief claim about God, roughly stating, «The existence of God is a question currently beyond verification, and consequently an unwarranted assertion.» Therefore, since agnosticism is not inconsistent with any known facts, it is preferable to the theistic alternative, which makes an existential claim in the absence of factual evidence.

Works Cited

Cassirer, H.W. A Commentary on Kant's Critique of Judgment. New York, Barnes & Noble, Inc., 1970.

D'souza, Dinesh. «Not So `Bright'.» Wall Street Journal 12, October 2003: A 16.

Dennett, Daniel. «The Bright Stuff.» New York Times 12, July 2003: A: 19.

Dewey, John. Reconstruction in Philosophy. Ed. Jo Ann Boydston. Carbondale and Edwardsville: Southern Illinois University Press, 1988.

Ewing, Daniel. A Short Commentary on Kant's Critique of Pure Reason. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1938.

Kant, Immanuel. Critique of Practical Reason: And Other Writings in Moral Philosophy. Trans. Lewis White Beck. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1949.

Kant, Immanuel. Critique of Pure Reason. Trans. Norman Kemp Smith. New York: St. Martin's Press 1965.

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David Kimweli

<weli37 at>

[Foot Note 1_1]

This term was first coined by Richard Dawkins in Selfish gene (1976). In this work he floated the idea that genes in the organic world might be mirrored by memes in the world of ideas, and that the spread of ideas might be understood in terms of replication, variation and differential survival (Radcliffe-Richards 53).

[Foot Note 1_2]

Kant's Critiques are famous for the distinction between theoretical and practical knowledge. Theoretical knowledge encompasses the principles of reason and a priori conditions of the mind that are constitutive for all experience. Practical knowledge involves the principles of the understanding or the manner in which perceptions are synthesized into objects of experience.