The Kangaroo Debate: Can Statements about God be Meaningful?


The Kangaroo Debate: Can Statements About God Be Meaningful?

Edip Yuksel

Hindus believe that he is incarnated in many human beings. Christians pontificate that he has multiple personalities, one of them being sacrificed for humanity. Jews assert that he is Jehovah. Muslims claim that he is Allah. Many question his gender. Millions die for him, millions fight for him, millions cry for him. Clergymen use his name as a trademark for their business, and the very same name motivates many devotees to give away their belongings as charity. Many joyfully sing songs for his love, and others outrageously declare dialectic or scientific wars against him. Some even wrote epitaphs for him.

Volume upon volume of books are published for and against him. Big lies are attributed to him while scientific hoaxes are arranged to deny him. He is in the courts, He is on the money, He is in the schools, He is in the mind of saints and in the mouth of hypocrites. Yes, He is everywhere. And yet, philosophers continuously question his existence. In fact, world religions, with numerous versions of odd gods, have not helped philosophers prove his existence. On the contrary, they have created further intellectual problems and logical obstacles for questioning minds who try to reach him.

Here I will not try to convince you about the existence of this most controversial concept, nor I will try to expose the mass corruption and intellectual bankruptcy  of organized religions. But I will argue that the claims about God are meaningful and it is logically possible that a metaphysical First Cause exists. While the agnostic position “I do not know whether God exist” is sound, the atheistic position “God cannot exist” is absurd and its absurdity is self-evident. (By the way, I don’t believe that the existence of God is self-evident for every person). Eric Raunic, the president of Arizona Student Atheists, in his reply to Keisling confused atheism with agnosticism and likened God to an invisible kangaroo. “You must believe in the invisible, incorporeal kangaroo that lives in your house. Not only is it self-evident that this kangaroo exists, but you will reap great rewards if you simply believe in it. These rewards are immediately intangible, yet they are there. Do you believe in my kangaroo, Mr. Keisling? I suspect not.” (“Unreasonable Reason,” Wildcat, Oct. 6, 1995)

Since modern atheism frequently employs the arguments of logical positivists, as it is the case in Mr. Raunic’s amusing kangaroo argument, I will argue that metaphysical prepositions can be as meaningful as empirical ones.

“God is Great, God is Most Merciful, God is the First Cause. . . “ Do these statements about God make any sense? According to logical positivists, these kinds of statements are meaningless if God is defined as a metaphysical reality, since there is not a sensible definition for the term “metaphysical reality.” On the other hand, metaphysicists claim that though the finite human intellect is inadequate to describe God, we can have analogical knowledge of God, and therefore metaphysical propositions can be meaningful.

According to logical positivists the metaphysical proposition “God exists” is meaningless for three reasons: 1. It is a self-contradictory statement. 2. If it is verifiable then it cannot be a metaphysical reality. 3. Metaphysics, by definition cannot be verified.

Let’s argue each of these “reasons.”

CLAIM: The statement “God exist” is self-contradictory.

If the existence of the world demands a causal conclusion that God exists, then it is a self-contradictory statement. If the existence of God is an answer to the question “why this world exists?” then the answer is merely a general description or explanation, since in this context the “why” is equivalent of “how.” Thus, presenting “God” as a non-description but also an ultimate description is a self-contradiction.

ANSWER: Not only metaphysical explanations but all scientific explanations are ultimately based on “self-contradictory” propositions.

If we ask a chain of succeeding “why” or “how” questions on any scientific event or phenomena we will end up with so-called “self-contradictory” explanations. Both in micro and macro cosmos, both in space and time . .  Our questions either will drag us to the last discovered atomic sub-particles, or to the beginning of Big Bang. In the former case our explanatory answer, for instance “quark,” cannot be explained in terms of another particle. In the later case, our questions will push us to an impasse, for instance “singularity” or nothingness. Therefore, whichever direction we go we will end up with an inexplicable explanation! If we don’t  resort to mighty “infinite regressions” in each case, then we will always will base all our scientific explanations on “inexplicable explanations.”

All our empirical statements ultimately rely on “self-contradictory” propositions. Then it is a double standard to label metaphysical statements as the only “self-contradictory” propositions.

CLAIM: If it is verifiable, then it cannot be a metaphysical reality.

According to logical positivist, if you claim that  “God exist” while defining God as a metaphysical reality then  you must mean that we cannot have any verifiable empirical evidence for the truth of this proposition. But if you claim that we have some empirical evidence, then your so-called “metaphysical reality” becomes a physical reality. Religious experiences cannot be evidence for the existence of a “metaphysical reality,” but only of a “psychological reality.”

ANSWER: A reality can be metaphysical (independent of physics or nature) and also verifiable.

Religious experiences do not prove that God exists. However, it is not necessary for God to be a physical reality in order to communicate with people. If God is a personal metaphysical reality, then, He could communicate with human beings. Doing so does not make Him non-metaphysical reality.

There is not any formal or empirical principle that can reject the possibility of having or developing a kind of “mystical sense” that can enable some people to experience or understand metaphysical phenomena. Besides, a metaphysical reality needs not to be considered as a physical reality in order to be granted the capability of communication with our five senses.

For instance, scientists claim that magnets have magnetic fields. If you put a metallic “material,” such  as a paper clip in the magnetic field it will experience an external attraction. This is a verifiable empirical fact. If you put a non-metallic “material,” such as a rubber eraser in the magnetic field it will not experience such an attraction. This is also a verifiable empirical fact. Curiously, the magnetic field itself is not a material thing, yet it can create a material experience.

In fact, we have no idea what really “magnetic field” is. Magnetic field is a mystery. (Another example of inexplicable explanation!) Yet, we not only think that it is meaningful to claim that “magnetic field exists,” but we also think that it really exists.

If a non-material reality (magnetic field) can be verified by material experience, then why a metaphysical reality (God) cannot be verified by physical or mental experience? It is entirely two different questions whether “God” is a metaphysical reality or the proposition “God exists” is a metaphysical proposition. “God exists” can be an empirical proposition while the subject of the proposition “God” can still remain as a metaphysical reality.

CLAIM: “Metaphysics,” by definition, is not verifiable by our senses, and therefore it is meaningless or  unintelligible.

Logical positivist claims that “metaphysics” does not contain any information that relates to our senses or to some possible experiences. You cannot test them and you cannot provide any criterion to show whether they are true or false.

ANSWER: Even if “metaphysical realities” are not verifiable by our senses they can be verified by intellectual intuition.

Here I will quote Copleston’s response to Ayer on this issue:

“I still find it difficult to understand the status of the principle of verification. It is either a proposition or no proposition. If it is, it must be, on your premises, either a tautology or an empirical hypothesis. If the former, no conclusion follows as to metaphysics. If the latter, the principle itself would require verification. But the principle of verification cannot itself be verified. If, however, the principle is not a proposition, it must, on your premises, be meaningless. In any case, if the meaning of an existential proposition consists, according to the principle, in its verifiability, it is impossible, I think, to escape an infinite regress, since the verification will still itself need verification, and so on indefinitely. If this is so, then all propositions, including scientific ones, are meaningless.” (Logical Positivism–A Debate, A Modern Introduction to Philosophy, ed. Paul Edwards and Arthur Pap, The Free Press, New York, 1965, pp. 756. Also see Contemporary Approaches to Philosophy, Paul Moser & Dwayne Mulder, Macmillan Publishing, New York, 1994, pp.169)

There are some propositions that are not verifiable but are considered meaningful, such as “a comet will hit the earth, and it will blot out the entire human race.”

There are times when physical realities are not verifiable by our senses but can be accepted based on intellectual intuition. Let’s assume that a logical positivist (LP) and a “non-common-sense physicist” (NP) were discussing the meaning of the proposition “unverifiable physical realities exist” in 12th century. We can retroprophesy their argument as the following:

NP: I am intellectually and intuitively convinced that contagious diseases are caused by very tiny invisible organisms (or invisible kangaroos, if you wish!).

LP: Can you describe those “organisms” for me. What are they? Who are they? Can I verify their existence?

NP: Unfortunately, my answer will be negative. I can neither explain them nor verify their existence by sense-experience. They are invisible by us. No one can experience their existence except by experiencing their evil work in their body.

LP: Then, your proposition about the “invisible mighty organisms” is a metaphysical one and meaningless.

NP: Frankly, I don’t know even whether they are physical or metaphysical realities.

LP: Well, how can you expect me to believe in something that you know nothing about them except suggesting them as general explanation of all contagious devisees? Your proposition is not even verifiable by sick people who are supposedly attacked by them. It is a non-common-sense proposition and meaningless.

NP: My proposition about a “non-common-sense reality” can have meaning intellectually and intuitively. What causes diseases? What makes them contagious? Can you find a better explanation?

LP: I don’t need to explain every thing at the cost of coming up with a meaningless, unverifiable and self-contradictory explanation.


In 21st century:

NP: Do you see my dear LP you were wrong when you were claiming that my propositions about micro organisms were meaningless in 12th century. Aren’t they cute under this microscope?


After resurrection:

NP: Do you see my dear LP you were wrong when you were claiming that my propositions about God were meaningless in 21st century. Isn’t God great!

PS: I would like to challenge Eric Raunig for an open debate on the empirical evidences regarding God’s existence, to be held within a month. There we will make his invisible kangaroo leap over purple paradoxes! John Keisling is also welcome to the kangaroo debate.