Pre-amble: Recovering RC (old-school German version no less). Took 30+ years to finally break free and become an atheist, through negative religious experiences, gradual self-reflection and rationalization (I suspect my degree in Math/Computer Science also had something to add).

Now to my paradox. My (and Dawkins', and probably every other atheist's) quest for truth (resulting in atheism) has been fundamentally based on rationalization. But I cannot mentally get past my own following (ironically rational) argument:

- Rationalism is based on logic.
- Logic is ultimately based on set theory (like most math).
- Sets are groupings of like entities.
- No two real entities exist alike (due to Heisenberg uncertainty, or other quantum-level concept).
- So sets cannot exist (except for abstractions).
- So logic has no foundation.
- So rationalism is impossible.

Seriously, this personal paradox is vexing me - someone please help with where my rationale is breaking down!


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Replies to This Discussion

The last point is a bit like Dawkin's "Middle World":

Richard Dawkins' jaw-dropping talk on our bizarre universe (TEDTalks)
You can define "kitten" as a range of entities however. I don't think that would qualify as an abstract kitten, because we aren't talking about an abstract kitten model that we compare things to and say "how close are you to the perfect kitten?"
But how can you be sure any real entity instances you happen upon actually match your ranged definition? There has to be an error you are willing to accept. Regardless, if you try to match within such an error, how can you be sure you have measured the error accurately? (This is where I was going with Heisenberg.)
Statistics and probability. There will always be some chance of being wrong, but if you are looking for Absolute Truth you are barking up the wrong tree with atheism.

For instance, if the kitten scale goes from 20-40 kitten points, and I see a 21 +/-3 kitten, that MIGHT BE a kitten. I should not claim it is a kitten. if the error is always three, then you should only count kittens with scores of 23 to 37. Note that you still have a solid range, the only downside is you might discard kittens because of their low/high scores incorrectly. This is done routinely in statistical analyses to make sure that you have a true set.

With that outlook you can have sets that are true, but possibly not complete. I see no reason why that isn't a great groundwork for rational thought. We can state when things test true, and we can state when they are false, but some things are "too close to call" and we have to await more information.
As per my argument, my counter here would be that you cannot measure precisely the +/-3 points in order to know if a particular "kitten candidate" (I claim coinage rights on that one!) matches.
Oh, and Heisenberg is predictable and we can know its value, just not in which direction. We know the error that it puts on our measurements, that's what makes it so amazing (in my mind).
Sure, you have a real "kitten" at an instant point in time, but not likely the next. And no time to evaluate the next "kitten" in order to form a set.
Actually from your argument you can never have even one real kitten, as its quantum structure would fluctuate and it would cease to be the same quantum kitten.
Yes, this is close to what I am getting at. You might actually have a real kitten, but not know it, and not be able to know it.

Perhaps I tried to use Heisenberg with a little too much aplomb, or poetic license.
Again, if kittens are defined at the quantum level, then there are no kittens. There are merely lumps of diffuse matter that, at the level of observation of visible light, could look like something that we can call a "kitten".

The problem is, we don't define kittens at the quantum level, we define them at the genetic/cellular/visible level. At that level, we can clearly define a kitten.
Well looking on the bright side... if there is a kitten, at least we know it is half-alive. :-)
Wait, no, it is both alive and dead...then again if we KNOW we have a kitten, the wave function would collapse and it is either alive and dead, no? ;P


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