Monday, March 30, 2015

An Open Challenge to the Westboro Baptist Church

I am offering an open challenge to any member of the Westboro Baptist Church to defend their theological positions in a formal debate.  We will find a moderator that both of us will agree upon, and the debate will take place in writing.  Please let me know if you are willing to engage me in a formal debate, letting me know either here on my blog or by email:

Douglas R. Benscoter, M.T.S.

A Priori Arguments and Thomism

I have flirted with the idea of formulating a Thomistic argument that is purely a priori.  More than one comes to mind, but I am interested in exploring a reductio ad absurdum argument that establishes the existence of a necessary being.

1. If nothing exists, then possibility does not exist. (Premise)

2. If possibility does not exist, then it is not possible for nothing to exist. (Premise)

3. Hence, something necessarily exists. (From 1 and 2)

4. Possibly, nothing contingent exists. (Premise)

5. Therefore, something necessary exists. (From 3 and 4)

6. Whatever is necessary has an essence identical to its existence, e.g. it is pure actuality. (Premise)

7. Therefore, pure actuality exists. (From 5 and 6)

The argument is clearly valid, but is it sound?  If it is, then we have a sound a priori argument for the existence of God as being itself subsisting.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Atomism and Its Irrelevance to Classical Theism

The original atomists, Democritus and Lucretius, for example, held that all that exists are composites of atoms.  Today we might replace atoms with quarks or strings (the latter, assuming M-theory is true).  However, the gist of the position remains the same.  Peter van Inwagen, for instance, holds to mereological nihilism: that no composite material thing really exists.  He does, nevertheless, make an exception for living things.  I won't get into the details of his arguments, since they are not pertinent to this post.  While Peter van Inwagen is either a classical theist or a neotheist, Democritus and Lucretius still believed in polytheism, and a materialistic version at that.

Now, let's assume that mereological nihilism is true: mountains aren't real; they're just composites of quarks arranges in a specific way.  What relevance does this have on classical theism?  I honestly can't see any relevance.  The argument from change, the argument from contingency, the design argument, and the argument from desire are each consistent with atomism, or mereological nihilism specifically.  Suppose that mountains really don't exist.  Does that mean there is no change?  Of course not.  Obviously, the classical theist will have to defend the arguments in favor of classical theism, but the point is that atomism does nothing to undermine it.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Theological Non-cognitivism: The Young Earth Creationism of Atheism

Theological non-cognitivism is the claim that statements like, "God exists," "God is good," and "God loves me," are not only false, but literally meaningless.  It amazes me that even a small segment of the atheist population still adopts this view.  Although some significant work had been done prior, it was likely Alvin Plantinga's The Nature of Necessity that put the final dagger in theological non-cognitivism, logical positivism, and the verification principle.

I say that theological non-cognitivism (TNC) is the atheist's equivalent to the Christian's Young Earth Creationism (YEC) because there is a trend among both groups to ignore either scientifically or philosophically compelling reasons to reject them.  Science clearly shows the universe has existed for roughly 15 billion years.

Moreover, the creation account in Genesis 1 has for centuries, and now millennia, been interpreted figuratively.  I won't go into great detail here, but you'll see how Days 1 and 4, 2 and 5, and 3 and 6 each correspond to one another.  On Day 1, God created light, whereas on Day 4 God created the sun and the moon.  On Day 2, God separated the land from the sea, and on Day 5 God created sea animals and birds.  Finally, on Day 3, God created land vegetation, and on Day 6 God created land animals of all sorts, including human beings.  In other words, the author of Genesis was simply using a rhetorical device in order to illustrate the hierarchy of creation.

The problems with TNC are many as well.  When a theist talks about a Cosmic Designer who transcends the universe, and is therefore timeless, changeless, immaterial, eternal, indestructible, and enormously powerful and intelligent, what's the objection the proponent of TNC has to offer?  There can be no immaterial mind, and the very concept of an immaterial mind is incoherent, as I often hear from these TNC proponents?  If that's all they have to offer, then they're simply begging the question against theism.  On what grounds does the TNC-er make such an unsubstantiated claim?

Friday, September 12, 2014

Atheistic non-Naturalism

Thomas Nagel, author of the famous "What Is it Like to Be a Bat?" (1974), fits the description of an atheist who ardently rejects Naturalism (with a capital "N").  For Nagel, a philosopher of mind, the mind cannot be simply reduced to the brain or as a mere emergent property.  In support of this, we are reminded that thoughts have a certain aboutness concerning them.  Why is this so important?

Well, aboutness cannot be explained in terms of only physical processes.  To think about something is to have an intentionality concerning what is thought about.  However, where in the brain can aboutness or intentionality be found?  Nowhere, at least according to Nagel, as well as many theistic philosophers.

If one were to explore the human brain, sure, there would be neurons firing away.  However, neurons aren't about anything; they're simply physical parts of the brain.  They might be used to express aboutness, but this is no different than a pianist using a piano to play some beautiful music.  While Nagel does not use any modal argument in favor of mind-body dualism (or its cousin, hylomorphism), his argument does help to supplement such arguments:

1. Possibly, my mind exists apart from my body. (Premise)

2. Necessarily, whatever two objects do not possess the same attributes are not identical. (Premise, Leibniz's Law)

3. Therefore, my mind is distinct from my body. (From 1 and 2)

This isn't a theistic argument per se, although philosophers, such as J.P. Moreland, provide further arguments based on this in favor of theism.  However, if this is a sound argument, then not only is Naturalism defeated, but the atheist can no longer claim that God's immaterial mind is something contradictory or incoherent.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Answering a Basic Objection to Natural Law Ethics

Natural Law Ethics (NLE) is an extension of Aristotle's virtue ethics.  Aristotle's initial ethical theory has been criticized by some, not for its emphasis on moderation (courage, for example, is the Aristotelian Mean between cowardice and rashness), but for its alleged inability to explain specifically what actions qualify as courageous, temperate, just, and prudent: the four cardinal virtues.

What NLE does is expand upon virtue ethics by stating that the good of a person involves mastering these virtues by the following: act to ensure that the secondary purpose of a human function does not supersede its primary purpose.  Yes, NLE presupposes teleology (the study of purpose, telos being purpose itself).  I don't wish to defend NLE at this time, but I will provide an example of it.

According to NLE, it is morally wrong to use alcohol to the point where secondary functions of the liver and brain - metabolizing alcohol and drinking to excess so that the person no longer thinks clearly, respectively - supersede those organs' primary functions.  Once this is done, then the alcohol has been abused.  This is one of the reasons NLE gives for acknowledging that alcohol abuse is morally wrong.

Now, what about the objection I had in mind?  Let's forget about alcohol for a moment.  Imagine you are a German citizen during WWII, hiding a Jewish family in your home.  A small group of Nazis comes to your door and asks if there are any Jews in your home?  What is your answer based on NLE?  On the one hand, lying is wrong on NLE because it frustrates the primary purpose of a person's rationality.  On the other hand, giving the family over to the Nazis, knowing they will be sent to a concentration camp, is also opposed to the NLE, since we are morally obligated to protect the innocent.

Is this a sound objection to NLE?  Actually, and I rarely use terms of derision, I find such an objection (though common) to be incredibly sophomoric.  What's the answer to the question in the above paragraph?  The answer is to lie and protect the lives of an innocent family.  Why?  The reason is that on NLE, some priorities are more important than others.  This doesn't condone lying, but if put in this situation, the lives of innocents are more important.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Some Surprising Results of Another Same-Sex Marriage Survey

Prof. Mark Regnerus, of the University of Texas at Austin, known for his controversial study that concluded children do better with both a mother and a father, as opposed to two same-sex parents, has recently conducted another study.  If his results are accurate, this is strong evidence that the LGBT community has little or no interest in maintaining the ideals of marriage.  Especially striking is the "No-strings-attached sex is OK" result of gay and lesbian non-Christians, who agree with this: 80.5%.  This is an astonishing percentage, and one that does not encourage the much healthier alternative of monogamy.  Time will only tell if Regnerus' study stands up to scrutiny.