Friday, July 18, 2014

Taking another look at the Leibnizian Cosmological Argument (LCA)

Before I begin this brief post, I want to make it clear that spam and trolling are prohibited from this blog.  If you're reading this, kilo papa, that applies to you.  If you want your posts published, then you're going to have to change your behavior.  

Speaking of publication, I don't check this blog every day.  Sometimes it takes as long as a week before I check it and publish any comments.  That's due to my busy schedule, and in almost all cases not due to trolling activity on the part of those who comment.

With that out of the way, let's take another look at the modest version of the LCA (and no, I'm not addressing possible worlds semantics, but temporal necessity and contingency):

1. Everything that exists has an explanation of its existence, either in the necessity of its own nature or in an external cause. (Premise)

2. If the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is a timeless, changeless, immaterial, and very powerful external cause. (Premise)

3. The universe exists. (Premise)

4. Hence, the universe has an explanation of its existence. (From 1 and 3)

5. Therefore, the universe is explained by a timeless, changeless, immaterial, and very powerful external cause. (From 2 and 4)

The argument is logically valid, so if the skeptic wishes to reject the argument, then one or more of the premises must be rejected.  Surely nobody - unless maybe a solipsist - would reject premise (3).  The only remaining premises are (1) and (2).  Going backwards, let's turn our attention to premise (2).

There are a number of objections the skeptic could throw at premise (2).  First, there is the objection that the universe, while having an explanation of its existence, simply exists by a necessity of its own nature.  This would mean that no external cause is needed.  The problem with this objection is at least twofold.  First, it is entirely conceivable for the universe to not exist.  While inconceivability does not necessarily entail impossibility, it certainly does undermine the skeptic's alternative.  Secondly, we now know through the amazing discoveries of physics and astronomy that the universe began to exist at the Big Bang, entailing a state of affairs in which no matter or energy existed.  Of course, there are fringe hypotheses that attempt to get around this problem, but with virtually no success, as the Borde-Guth-Vilenkin theorem essentially put the nail in the coffin to any alternative explanation.

A second objection to premise (2) is that it commits the fallacy of composition: "Sure, every part of the universe has an explanation, but the universe as a whole doesn't need to."  I've never been impressed by this objection for (you guessed it) at least two reasons.  First, there is the conceivability mentioned above that the universe might not have existed.  This required the universe to exist contingently, and not necessarily.  Secondly, this objection has always struck me as saying: "Just because there is an explanation of every member of the Pittsburgh Steelers, that doesn't mean the Steelers as a whole have an explanation."  Do I even need to explain what's wrong with this objection?  In case I do, of course the Steelers as a whole require an explanation! :)  Management is an external cause, for example.  We could provide example after example that undermines the composition fallacy objection, but I think enough has been said.

Lastly, what about premise (1)?  Personally, I don't think this premise is even need of defense.  To reject the Principle of Sufficient Reason (PSR) would be to undermine all of science, in addition to commonsense and everyday experience.  Nobody in their right mind (unless he were jesting) would say: "that elephant in the middle of the street just exists without any explanation whatsoever."  I take this version of the PSR to be properly basic, and even confirmed by the senses.

Now, what about another objection.  Yes, I'm talking about the "what's God explanation?" objection, something that is supposed to appear very profound, but is among the weakest of atheistic objections.  The timeless, changeless, immaterial, and very powerful external cause in (5) - let's call it "God" for expedience-sake - does have an explanation, but would have to exist by a necessity of His own nature.  If God had an external cause, then He would be neither timeless nor changeless, since causation involves the actualization of some potentiality (a change).  Since the universe just is the sum total of all physical space, time, matter, and energy, it follows that God cannot be externally caused and must exist by necessity.

Now, I realize there are other objections to the LCA, but my point in this post is to illustrate that it cannot be simply dismissed by long-refuted arguments against it.  Truth is, the LCA isn't even my go-to argument.  I much rather prefer St. Thomas Aquinas's First, Third, and Fifth Ways (plus the argument from desire), but a Thomist need not hide inside some Thomistic bubble.  I also like the fine-tuning argument, the kalam cosmological argument (KCA), the argument from reason, certain ontological arguments, the moral argument, and even some practical arguments.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The Argument from Religious Experience

1. Barring any defeater for the belief that a religious experience is genuine, the person with the religious experience is justified in believing that this experience is true - that this belief possesses verisimilitude (Premise)

2. There are many people who have had religious experiences without any defeater for their belief in their experiences' verisimilitude. (Premise)

3. Therefore, these people are rationally justified in believing in the verisimilitude of their religious experiences. (From 1 and 2)

Notice I've weakened the argument's premises.  I'm not talking about these beliefs based on religious experience being rationally compelling, but simply being rationally acceptable.  In the absence of insanity or any other defeater, then a person perfectly within his or her epistemic rights in accepting a religious experience as genuine.

Some object that there are conflicting religious experiences, but that poses no problem for at least two reasons.  First, many of these "conflicting" religious experiences have more in common than we're often led to believe.  Religious experiences are quite often the manifestation of some Supreme Being, whether that's the Biblical God, Allah, Brahman, etc.  Secondly, we have to keep in mind the nature of defeaters.  Imagine you and I are standing at opposite sides of a garden.  You see a white flower, even though my perception of the same flower leads me to believe it is a purple flower.  Should I just abandon my belief simply because there is a conflicting experience?  Of course not!  Now, if it could be shown that there is a light hanging over the garden that, when standing at a certain angle, will cause people to view white flowers as purple, then I would have a defeater for my belief.  (Credit goes to William Alston for this reply to the objection.)

I want to mention, however briefly, St. Joan of Arc.  She experienced visions, which would rank very highly on the religious experience chart.  What's more, historians are almost universally agreed that Joan sincerely believed she was having these visions.  This is important because "liars make poor martyrs," as the saying goes.  That leaves us with either insanity or that Joan was in fact telling the truth.  Unfortunately for Naturalists, every mental disorder has been almost unanimously rejected when it comes to Joan's visions.  Other hypotheses have suffered the same fate.  Nores and Yakovleff comment, "It is difficult to draw final conclusions, but it would seem unlikely that widespread tuberculosis, a serious disease, was present in this patient [Joan of Arc] whose life-style and activities would surely have been impossible had such a serious disease been present." [1]

[1] J.M. Nores and Y. Yakovleff, "A Historical Case of Disseminated Chronic Tuberculosis," Neuropsychobiology 32, 1995, pp. 79-80.

Monday, June 30, 2014

What makes one an ID theorist?

There's been some controversy around Intelligent Design (ID), and no, I'm not talking about ID versus evolution or ID versus some naturalistic explanation of abiogenesis.  I'm actually referring to an in-house debate among theists about what ID entails.  Was Thomas Aquinas an ID theorist?  According to Edward Feser, no.  Why not?  Because Thomas Aquinas's design argument (the Fifth Way) is not mechanistic, whereas ID theories are perceived to be so.

However, taken more literally, Thomas certainly was an advocate of ID.  He certainly believed that God, as the universe's Cosmic Designer, was (and is) an intelligent agent responsible for the order, regularity, purpose, and life in the world.  What is underlying Feser's and others' objection is the metaphysics behind Thomas's ID versus contemporary ID, the latter of which even includes William Paley's view.  On Thomas's metaphysics, God is Pure Actuality, which I've repeated probably a hundred times on this blog at least.  As such, God is immutable.  On contemporary conceptions of ID, God intervenes in the universe to "correct," as it were, the elements so that life emerges.

What I've just described as contemporary ID conflicts with Aristotelian-Thomistic (AT) metaphysics simply because God, being immutable, must have eternally planned the emergence of life with his perfect foresight.  So, it's not as if Thomas would object to ID per se, but only the type of ID that requires a change in God and a purely mechanistic view of the entities being designed.  For example, the human mind is not like a computer, the latter of which is mechanistic.  Sure, the brain can be explained in some mechanistic terms (but not all), but the mind is not the brain.  What's a tad poetic about this is that most ID theorists, if they're Christians, Jews, Muslims, etc., agree with this, but their non-AT interpretation of ID doesn't account for this.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Isn't it just obvious that God exists?

By "God" I just mean some vague concept of a Supreme Being.  When I was in high school, I considered adopting agnosticism, since I wasn't sure that God existed, but I also felt that atheism went too far.  It was Thomas Aquinas's Fifth Way, which can really be traced back to Plato and Aristotle, among others, that convinced me that a Cosmic Designer (God) exists.

The Bible itself makes it clear that God's existence is obvious. "The heavens declare the glory of God; the firmament proclaims the works of his hands." (Psalm 19:2.)  "The fool says in his heart, 'There is no God." (Psalm 14:1.)  And finally, "For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse." (Romans 1:20.)

Why think what the Bible says is true?  I've repeated this version of the Fifth Way many many times, but it never ceases to amaze me how obviously true it is.  If you're offended by some perceived hubris on my part, I don't know what to tell you.  I find God's existence to be an obvious fact.

1. The order and regularity of the forces of nature are either the result of chance, necessity, or design. (Premise)

2. Whatever exhibits order and regularity is not the result of chance. (Premise)

3. Hence, the forces of nature are either the result of necessity or design. (From 1 and 2)

4. They are not the result of necessity. (Premise)

5. Therefore, the forces of nature are the result of design. (From 3 and 4)

As the Cosmic Designer of the forces of nature, this being must transcend nature/the universe, which is the sum total of all physical space, time, matter, and energy.  Therefore, the Cosmic Designer must be timeless, changeless (for time is a measurement of change), immaterial, and enormously powerful and intelligent.  

Given its timelessness, the Cosmic Designer must also be Pure Actuality, which necessitates its immutability, eternality, indestructibility, unicity, omnipotence, omniscience, and perfect goodness.  These latter attributes require some more deduction, but the former attributes suffice to demonstrate the existence of God, or at least something very much like God.

When I talk to people about this argument, even if they had previously thought belief in God was purely a matter of faith, they almost unanimously agree that belief in God is unavoidable.  They realize that atheism is simply untenable.

What I find interesting is that I don't find that Fifth Way to be the best argument for God's existence (I think the First Way is), but I do think the Fifth Way is the most obviously true argument for God's existence.  Even the skeptic David Hume could not deny the obviousness of design exhibited throughout the cosmos.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Metaphysical Certainty of the First Way's First Premise

Parmenides argues as follows:

1. Something exists. (Premise)

2. If there were more than one thing, then they would either differ by being or by non-being. (Premise)

3. They cannot differ by being, since being is what makes them identical. (Premise)

4. They cannot differ by non-being, since to differ by non-being is to differ by nothing, and to differ by nothing is to not differ at all. (Premise)

5. Therefore, only one thing exists. (From 1 - 4)

The argument is logically valid, but it's premise (2) that is demonstrably false.  Although there have been many different attempts to circumvent this premise, I'm persuaded that Aristotle provides the best alternative.  While things are identical in their being/actuality (that-ness), they differ by their various essences (what-ness) and their varying degrees of potentialities.  Only Aristotle's Unmoved Mover is Pure Actuality, whereas other things (while participating in the actuality of the Unmoved Mover) are distinct from the Unmoved Mover due to their potentialities.  For example, an acorn is merely a type of seed in actuality, but it is an oak tree in potentiality.

I'm not going to defend the First Way in this post, with the exception of premise (1): Evident to the senses is change.  Alternatively, (1) can be stated as: Things change.

Now, why is this premise metaphysically certain?  Aristotle provides the following criticism of Parmenides's argument.  Coming to the realization that all change and all distinction is illusory itself constitutes a change, making the argument of Parmenides literally self-defeating.  We can know with certainty that things change, or at the very least, that things have the potentiality to change.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Plantinga's Modal Argument for the Immateriality of the Mind

This argument is consistent with substance dualism, hylemorphism, and a host of other philosophical views that hold that the mind is an immaterial substance.

1. There is a possible world at which my mind exists apart from my body. (Premise)

2. Whatever is possible is necessarily possible, e.g. possible in all possible worlds. (Premise, S5)

3. Hence, my mind possibly exists apart from my body in the actual world. (From 1 and 2)

4. Therefore, my mind is distinct from my body. (Implied by 3)

A skeptic's best bet to avoid the conclusion that the mind is immaterial is to reject premise (1).  However, one would be hard-pressed to find any inconsistency in the conception of the mind existing apart from the body.  Premise (2) is based on the relatively uncontroversial S5 axiom of modal logic, and (3) simply follows from (1) and (2).  (4) is implied by (3) because unless two things - A and B - are distinct, then A cannot exist apart from B.  Therefore, unless the mind is actually distinct from the body, then it would not be possible for the mind to exist apart from the body, which contradicts (1).

Friday, May 9, 2014

The Existentialist Argument

The following argument is logically valid:

1. If God does not exist, then there is no cosmic purpose. (Premise)

2. If there is no cosmic purpose, then human purpose is illusory. (Premise)

3. Human purpose is not illusory. (Premise)

4. Therefore, God exists. (From 1 - 3)

Arguments such as these will appeal to those who believe that human purpose is not something conventional or relative.  Someone like Sartre would maintain that we create our own purpose, but ultimately such purpose is illusory.  This argument is called "existentialist" because it turns Sartre's view on its head and embraces a position more akin to Kierkegaard's.  I don't maintain this is a proof or demonstration of God's existence, but I do think it constitutes one of many rationally acceptable reasons to believe in cosmic purpose and, ultimately, God, the giver of purpose to the cosmos.