Today my Ethics class got out early, so I sat down to talk with some people in the student center lounge. A classmate from my last semester's philosophy class said that he wants to formulate an argument that Jesus is not required to get into Heaven. I told him that first he would need to demonstrate empirical evidence for the existence of Heaven before formulating a logical proof regarding it.
So far, so good, right?
Someone sitting nearby says, "You cannot insist upon empirical evidence for something that is nonempirical. You can't apply empiricism to everything." My response, of course, was, "Why not?" To which he replied,
"You can't insist on empirical evidence for everything, because everything contains all things; and all things include both the empirical and the 'nonempirical.'"
I then asked, "Well, what is an example of a 'nonempirical' thing?" To which he grandly replied, "Um, Heaven? Duh!" (Ok, maybe he did not actually add an audible "Duh!" at the end, but it was certainly implied.)
Undeterred, I pressed on and asked, "But how can 'nonempirical' entities even be said to exist if they do not consist of matter and energy? Matter and energy are prerequisites for existence." His reply was, "That's great that you have your own definition of what existence is, but that doesn't change the fact that you can't expect empirical evidence for nonempirical things."
Of course, I then asked him that if my definition is so inaccurate, what is the correct definition of existence? To which he replied that the didn't know because it was irrelevant. I think I may have sighed heavily at this point.
We continued on for a bit. Eventually, I offered that although these "nonempirical" objects may be presented as human conceptualizations, they cannot be said to actually exist. I said that lots of things are conceived of by our imaginations--unicorns, lephrechauns, chakras, homeopathy--but they do not exist in the real world. If we apply "existence" to everything we can potentially imagine, then what could possibly be deemed nonexistent?
He replied, "Leprechauns and unicorns are physical beings, so you can require proof. Heaven isn't so you can't." I raised one eyebrow and asked, "So you really think that there is potential proof of a magical leprechaun?" To which he replied, "Well, he would at least be able to partially interact with the real world." Having claimed my victory, I smiled and said, "Then there would be the necessary empirical evidence to demonstrate the leprechaun's physical existence at least. But any magical, 'nonempirical' quality is still not demonstrated and therefore still nonexistent." Point, set, and match.
This may be odd to post the transcript of some casual debate regarding elementary philosophy. But I was actually really proud of myself because I usually fail at verbal
debate and go completely blank; of course, succinct and competent verbal rebuttals always appear in my mind five minutes after the conversation is over. Although I think that I "won" this argument, I still do not feel like I really was able to formulate a strong position that could have withstood intense debate.
So I am looking for holes in my argument, or perhaps thin spots that I could have supported better. I suppose that this isn't necessarily a theist argument so much as some sort of odd philosophical argument to argue against empricism. And, perhaps, indirectly argue against the need to prove God's existence.
My primary questions are:
What actually constitutes a "nonempirical" object? Is this even a meaningful word? What is the actual working definition of existence? Is this actually an inversion of the ontological argument for the existence of God?