Views from High Places and the “Proofs” of the Existence of God

View from skygarden of Utown Graduate Residence, National University of SingaporeThe view from the skygarden of Utown Graduate Residence was lovely, in the way that views from high places are always said to be.

View from 21st floor of Utown Graduate Residence, National University of SingaporeAnd from the end of the corridor on the 21st floor, we could see all the way to Jurong Island.

Why do we pay good money to go up to the top of the Empire State Building and its successor skyscrapers in different cities? Why can restaurants on top of Marina Bay Sands or Level 33 in Singapore charge extra for their “stunning views”. Do we pay for the feeling of power, looking down at the human ants on the ground? Or is it the celebration of Babel-like human prowess that wows us?

N, who had been kind enough to send me to the Philosiology blog (specifically, “Surviving a Philosopher Attack” as sufficient warning) before our meet-up, mentioned having to teach proofs for the existence of God, the golden C.O.T.arguments – cosmological, ontological, teleological, next semester.

As I’ve mentioned previously, I usually find arguments of this sort rather tiresome because of what to me are illegitimate presuppositions about, inter alia:

  • the definition/concept of God;
  • valid epistemological bases.

And obviously, these issues are irretrievably linked. Theories about how I can know things would include theories about how I can know God, and v.v. So most philosophers rely wholly on rationalistic epistemological assumptions to narrowly define God and so, to their own satisfaction, manage to come up with proofs for such a “God”.

Also, it’s all unbearably circular:

“Why do you presuppose reason as the ultimate epistemological authority?”

“Because I reason that it must be so.”

BBQ stingray dinner at West Coast Hawker CentreOf course, the same accusation may be levelled against the Christian view:

“How do you know that revelation from God is the ultimate authority about all reality?”

“Because God told me so in his word, the Bible.”

Because of the meta-ness of arguments about ultimate authority, circularity is unavoidable. However, what the Christian view has over the other “proofs for God” is that it is inherently consistent. It does not contradict itself by attempting to prove God by non-theistic means. Additionally, the Christian view sits happily with historical evidence.

This is not to say that Christians ignore reason or empirical evidence (as the use of historical veracity shows), but they do not trust reason as the final arbiter of truth. Why would human reasoning be flawed? Because it refuses to acknowledge God, from whom all wisdom comes, because he alone as Creator and, well, God, defines all things:

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honour him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. (Romans 1)

18 No one has ever seen God; the only God [Jesus], who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known. (John 1)

(On a only very slightly related note, it was interesting to note that tycoon Stephen Riady of the eponymous building-in-Utown fame is widely reported to be a devout evangelical Christian.)

Ontology, Epistemology, Learning Theory, Instructional Theory, and Instructional Design

Have been thinking again about how best to teach the various groups I’m to train over the next few months. Here’s a back-of-the-napkin thought about how instructional design is based on theories of instruction, that are themselves based on theories of learning, that must be based on different epistemological and ontological theories. Cheap and quick, so probably many errors.

ontology, epistemology, learning theory, instructional theory, instructional design, and Stump Jump GSM

Materialism says that matter is the fundamental substance in nature, and that all phenomena, including mental phenomena and consciousness, are the result of material interactions. Knowledge, therefore, comes only or mainly from sensory experience and can be evidenced.

Its/their natural (not nurtured?!) children are:
(i) behaviourism (primary psychological paradigm 1920s – 1950s): humans are born tabula rosa (blank slate), resulting behaviour is a result of stimulus and response, the environment.

“Give me a dozen healthy infants, well-formed, and my own specified world to bring them up in and I’ll guarantee to take any one at random and train him to become any type of specialist I might select–doctor, lawyer, artist, merchant-chief, and, yes, even beggarman and thief, regardless of his talents, penchants, tendencies, abilities, vocations, and race of his ancestors. I am going beyond my facts and I admit it, but so have the advocates of the contrary and they have been doing it for many thousands of years.” (John B. Watson).

Related instructional theories would therefore be something to do with conditioning, whether classical (Ivan Pavlov), operant (B.F. Skinner), or social learning (Albert Bandura). And the attendant instructional design would be stimulus-response, reinforcement by rewards-punishment, and modelling. Skinner would also advocate practice as part of reinforcement – by for a reason different from that of David Ausubel (see below) who wouldn’t have cared for repetitive rote-learning.

(ii) cognitivism (primary psychological paradigm 1950s-1990s): humans are born with minds like black boxes that influence behaviour. Focus is on neuroscience, the brain, memory (long-term, short-term). Cognitive development occurs in stages (Jean Piaget) by the construction of a series of schemata to understand the world (schema theory – Frederic Bartlett, Richard C. Anderson). Therefore instructional theory emphasises learning styles (for different minds), repetition and mnemonics (to aid the memory), progressive differentiation and advance organisers (David Ausubel).

Phenomenalism says that physical objects do not exist as things in themselves but only as may be perceived through a person’s senses or with their mind. We cannot experience anything beyond the phenomena of our perceptions. Solipsism then states that actually, we can only be sure that our mind exists. Therefore, it agrees with rationalism that truth is best discovered by the use of reasoning and logic rather than by the use of the senses. Learning is therefore done in the context of constructing on what is already known (constructivism) rather than acquiring new knowledge.

Each person has a different interpretation and construction of the learning process. But this can be aided within a zone of proximal development (Lev Vygotsky). Instructional theory would therefore include scaffolding (because of ZPD), collaborative learning, active learning, discovery learning, knowledge building. This would result in instructional design outcomes like problem-based learning, assignments, disputations, interrogations, individualised programmed learning.

And critical theory probably says that none of these theories are valid because they include oppressive use of authority by educators! 😉

*this is not to say though that each of these instructional design theories must definitely be based on the corresponding ontological and/or epistemological theories as set out above.