Archives For Interviews

The Interviews page includes one-time or on-going interviews with thinkers working in the area of social epistemology.

Author Information: Eugene Loginov, Moscow State University, http://hisocrates.com/portfolio-view/eugene-loginov-2/

Loginov, Eugene. “Steve Fuller on Proofs for God’s Existence: An Interview.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 5, no. 12 (2016): 1-3.

The PDF of the article gives specific page numbers. Shortlink: http://wp.me/p1Bfg0-3lq

Editor’s Note: A philosophy student at Moscow State University, Eugene Loginov, recently interviewed Steve Fuller on his views about arguments concerning the existence of God. The interview will be published in Russian in the philosophy magazine, Date-Palm Compote. Below are Loginov’s questions and Fuller’s responses.

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Image credit: Tom Davidson, via flickr

Eugene Loginov (EL): What is your position regarding the general idea of making arguments for the existence of God? Do you think it to be valid at all? Why?

Steve Fuller (SF): I think that arguments for the existence of God are among the most psychologically revealing philosophical projects that one can engage in. This is especially true of ‘God’ in the Abrahamic religions, in whose ‘image and likeness’ humans are supposedly created. The sort of arguments that people find persuasive for the existence of God says something deep about the nature of their own connection with the world. For example, the more secure we feel about our place in the cosmos, the more persuasive the ontological argument will seem, since it is based on faith in the workings of our own minds. I identify this orientation with a broadly ‘Augustinian’ approach to Christianity, which stresses the overlap between human and divine being in terms of access to the logos: God creates by the Word and we can understand through the Word.

(EL): If you tried to prove God’s existence (or to make a claim against its existence), what definition of the notion of “God” would you use? Do you think that the classic definition of “God” as “the all-good, omniscient and omnipotent creator of the world” is still the suitable one?

(SF): I would go with the idea of God that I find in Duns Scotus, and Leibniz namely, that God is the transcendental optimizer of all the virtues. In other words, God is not merely all good, all powerful, etc. After all, any of one of those qualities taken to the extreme may be incompatible with the others—and may turn out to result in more bad than good. (Think of what might happen to humans if God were a ruthlessly efficient superintelligent computer.) It follows that God contains all the virtues in a way that enables them to cohere together in his person to maximum overall positive effect—a convergence to a ‘divine singularity’, if you will, or what Pierre Teilhard de Chardin called the ‘Omega Point’. However, it may not be obvious what such a transcendental optimizer would look like, since such a God would be constituted in a way which appears—at least from a human perspective—to involve trade-offs between the virtues.

(EL): Which of the various arguments for God’s existence (or claims against its, or His, existence) you regard as the most valid and/or the most interesting one?

(SF): My answer to [your second question] (see above) is a version of the ontological argument, which I believe is the most intellectually interesting and challenging argument for God’s existence—because it basically makes our own existence (at least as thinking beings) co-dependent with God’s existence. Philosophers tend to focus on whether the ontological argument is valid, when in fact they should pay attention to the consequences if it turns out to be invalid. More than simply the existence of God is at stake. The constitution of our own minds is also on trial here. Partly influenced by Kant, Darwin believed that humans were unique as a species—due to our overdeveloped cerebral cortex—in taking its own ideas seriously even if they lack any direct relation to empirical reality. He believed that this liability (at least from an evolutionary standpoint) resulted in brutal intra-species wars and might ultimately lead to the extinction of the human species altogether. For Darwin, ‘God’ was clearly one such idea, especially when defended by the ontological argument.

(EL): What are your thoughts regarding significance of demonstrations of God’s existence (or claims against its, or His, existence) in history of philosophy, science, religion and culture in general?

(SF): The best way to answer the question is to consider what happens when arguments for the existence of God are not taken seriously. The first thing that happens is that belief in God goes underground. In other words, God becomes something whose existence is implicitly affirmed or denied but does not make a material difference to other propositions that one might believe or defend. The second thing that happens is that the ‘hole’ in public discourse formerly filled by God talk becomes colonized by, on the one hand, humans-as-gods and, on the other hand, an outright denial of the order and goodness to reality that a rational belief in God was supposed to underwrite. So there are seriously value implications for denying the seriousness of arguments for God’s existence.

(EL): There is a widely held opinion that Kant’s critique of the arguments he was aware of was so devastating, that the very question of making arguments for the existence of God ceased to be philosophically relevant. Do you agree? Why?

(SF): As a matter of historical fact, Kant dealt a serious blow to formal arguments for the existence of God, since he basically diagnosed all of them as pathologies of reason of one sort or another. As I said in answer to [your third question] (see above), this opened the door to Darwin’s diminished view of human cognitive aspirations. However, it is worth pointing out that much of 19th century philosophy of science—I think here especially of William Whewell and Charles Sanders Peirce—stressed the ‘pragmatic’ side of Kant’s position, which accepted the motivational role that God’s existence played in driving science towards a unified worldview and conferring on humans a sense of purpose more generally.

I would also observe that Kant seems to have thought that any attempt to prove the existence of God must start by imagining ourselves to be radically different from God, and so the point of the ‘proof’ would be to gain epistemic access to this ‘other’ being called ‘God. However, the Cartesian tradition (including Malebranche and Leibniz) does not presume that sense of radical difference. In other words, these rationalists took rather literally the idea that we are already equipped to access the ‘Mind of God’. This effectively modernizes Augustine, which later philosophers further secularized as the ‘a priori’ and ‘innate ideas’. However, the challenge—already recognized by Augustine—is how to translate God’s infinite and transcendental status into our necessarily finite and temporal understanding of things.

Perhaps the most concrete expression of this challenge occurs over the ‘problem of evil’, the subject matter of theodicy, which queries God’s apparent tolerance or indifference to the world’s massive harms and imperfections. It was in this context that arguments for God’s existence based on ‘intelligent design’ (i.e. a deeper design than would appear at first glance) were developed in the 18th century, culminating in the work of William Paley, whose natural theology famously drove Darwin away from a belief in God.

(EL): What text (or texts) is in your opinion the most important one (or ones) for understanding the problematic in question?

(SF): Interestingly, I don’t think there is a single book that really discusses classic arguments for the existence in God in all their historical, philosophical and sociological richness. However, I recommend the works of Peter Harrison, as one contemporary historian and philosopher of science who shows repeatedly how key doctrines relating to a belief in the existence of God—such as the need for a personal encounter with the Bible and the doctrine of Original Sin—operated as what Imre Lakatos would have called as ‘positive heuristic’ in facilitating the inquiring mind during the 17th century Scientific Revolution.

Author Information: Steve Fuller, University of Warwick, S.W.Fuller@warwick.ac.uk interview with Mike Neary, University of Lincoln, mneary@lincoln.ac.uk

Fuller, Steve. Interview with Mike Neary. “What’s Left of the Academy? Leadership, Intellectuality and the Prospects for Mass Change.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 5, no. 4 (2016): 22-25.

The PDF of the article gives specific page numbers. Shortlink: http://wp.me/p1Bfg0-2PO

Contributor’s Note: In late 2015, Mike Neary, a distinguished leftist British educator who developed the concept of “student as producer” (i.e. knowledge producer), contacted several leading UK academics concerned with the future of the university to answer a set of questions, answers to which are excerpted and discussed in his chapter, “Academic Voices: from public intellectuals to the general intellect,” in the forthcoming edited volume: Richard Hall and Joss Winn, eds. Mass Intellectuality: Democracy, Co-operation and Leadership in Higher Education (London: Bloomsbury, 2016). What follows is Steve Fuller’s complete answers to Neary’s questions, which are published with permission of both Fuller and Neary.

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Image credit: SomeDriftwood, via flickr

What is the current state of academic leadership in higher education?

Generally speaking, academic leadership has never been especially strong, except in the United States, where even state universities have historically had considerable autonomy and wealth—and often have been expected to exert leadership in the larger society (e.g. the ‘land-grant’ and ‘extension’ universities, which were used as vehicles of regional development in the 19th and 20th centuries). In contrast, European university leaders have tended to be normal academics promoted, a la the Peter Principle, to their level of incompetence. Indeed, until recently, top managerial posts at European universities have been often ceremonial or rotated on a regular basis among eligible professorial staff.  Continue Reading…

Author Information: Adam Riggio, McMaster University, adamriggio@gmail.com; Steve Fuller, University of Warwick, S.W.Fuller@warwick.ac.uk

Shortlink: http://wp.me/p1Bfg0-23w

Editor’s Note:

Adam Riggio

riggio Although I loved our explicitly political discussion of the last couple of dialogues, I want to dive into the final installment of our exchange with some headier philosophy. I particularly want to discuss the power of counter-factual reasoning. Even though you consider this a foundational method for a progressive philosophy of science, I think it eclipses even your own vision. Counter-factual knowledge, I’d go so far as to say, makes a lot of your own vision obsolete.

The conclusion of Knowledge: The Philosophical Quest in History returns to the vision on which your early chapters focused, the unity of science in humanity’s conception of ourselves in the image of God. Your advocacy of this idea remains a point on which you and I will, I think, always disagree. But once I reached the end of your book, I had many more reasons for my disagreement. Continue Reading…

Author Information: Adam Riggio, McMaster University, adamriggio@gmail.com; Steve Fuller, University of Warwick, S.W.Fuller@warwick.ac.uk

Shortlink: http://wp.me/p1Bfg0-22H

Editor’s Note:

Adam Riggio

One element I want to focus on in my questions for you about the last full chapter of Knowledge is the political aspects of public knowledge and scientific institutions and inquiries. Speaking as a Canadian, one of the disheartening developments of my country’s politics was seeing our Conservative government’s assaults on state scientific institutions.  Continue Reading…

Author Information: Adam Riggio, McMaster University, adamriggio@gmail.com; Steve Fuller, University of Warwick, S.W.Fuller@warwick.ac.uk

Shortlink: http://wp.me/p1Bfg0-22s

Editor’s Note:

Adam Riggio

Before I start my critical points regarding Chapter Five in Knowledge: The Philosophical Quest in History, I want to say how much I appreciate the opportunity for this dialogue. The institutional structure of research universities tends to prevent prestigious research chairs from engaging in one-on-one debate with unaffiliated scholar/writers like me. Especially since I can become highly and fundamentally critical of some of your perspectives and priorities.  Continue Reading…

Author Information: Adam Riggio, McMaster University, adamriggio@gmail.com; Steve Fuller, University of Warwick, S.W.Fuller@warwick.ac.uk

Shortlink: http://wp.me/p1Bfg0-22f

Editor’s Note:

Adam Riggio

I‘d like to talk with you about two things. One is to ask you a practical political question, and the second is to have a wider discussion about how philosophy of science and scientific practice influence each other. I’ll start with the practical political question first, because one of the first lessons in writing for the web is to headline your most sensationalistic point.  Continue Reading…

Author Information: Adam Riggio, McMaster University, adamriggio@gmail.com; Steve Fuller, University of Warwick, S.W.Fuller@warwick.ac.uk

Shortlink: http://wp.me/p1Bfg0-21Q

Editor’s Note:

Adam Riggio

We’ve talked about the epistemic implications of humanity’s divinity, how our scientific inquiries were conceived as bringing us closer to God, in touch with our divine nature. As I get into these other chapters, I find that the focus of your book is shifting to the epistemic implications of humanity’s profanity, how our distance from perfection is incurable. Continue Reading…

Author Information: Adam Riggio, McMaster University, adamriggio@gmail.com; Steve Fuller, University of Warwick, S.W.Fuller@warwick.ac.uk

Shortlink: http://wp.me/p1Bfg0-21c

Editor’s Note:

Nature Itself Is God’s Book

Adam Riggio

I would call the major theme of this chapter the redemption of theodicy. Why I say redemption will become clear as I go on.  Continue Reading…

Author Information: Adam Riggio, McMaster University, adamriggio@gmail.com; Steve Fuller, University of Warwick, S.W.Fuller@warwick.ac.uk

Shortlink: http://wp.me/p1Bfg0-20P

Editor’s Note:

Adam Riggio

Chapter one continues to pack ideas together with incredible density. But I see two threads here, integrated with each other, and playing off each other in philosophically productive ways. I’ll start with the framework idea of your historical analysis that first struck me reading the introduction, the theological roots of modern secular epistemological issues.  Continue Reading…

Author Information: Adam Riggio, McMaster University, adamriggio@gmail.com; Steve Fuller, University of Warwick, S.W.Fuller@warwick.ac.uk

Shortlink: http://wp.me/p1Bfg0-20l

Editor’s Note:

Adam Riggio

First, I want to say how much I enjoy reading your introductions, simply for their dizzying feeling. You synthesize so many ideas throughout the history of philosophy that you weave together a whole new narrative of that history in only about 20 pages. I feel as though more academic writers would consider such a new take on the discipline’s history to constitute the subject matter of a whole book. It certainly could be. But, of course, the best philosophy is always about more than the history by itself.  Continue Reading…