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.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Understanding the First Way

Many (but not all) atheistic detractors of the First Way (the argument from change) often misunderstand the purpose of the argument.  Why, they ask, does the Unmoved Mover have to possess the attributes of God?  This is a strange question, to say the least.  After all, Thomas Aquinas spends very little time on the Five Ways, and much more time offering demonstrations that the Unmoved Mover/First Cause is God.  It's almost as if Richard Dawkins, an even the philosopher Michael Martin, haven't bothered to read the rest of Thomas' writings that bridge the gap between Unmoved Mover/First Cause and God.  At least Martin doesn't succumb to the "what caused God?" objection, which is laughable to virtually all atheistic philosophers.

With that said, the argument from change has two parts: a) demonstrating the existence of an Unmoved Mover; and b) demonstrating that the Unmoved Mover is God.  In this post I will only focus on the first major contention.  The argument may be summarized as follows:

1. Changing things exist. (Premise)

2. Changing things exhibits actuality and potentiality. (Premise)

3. No potentiality can actualize itself. (Premise)

4. Either an Unmoved Mover exists, or there is an infinite regress of potentialities being actualized, or there is a circularity of potentialities being actualized. (From 1 - 3)

5. There cannot be an infinite regress or a circularity of potentialities being actualized. (Premise)

6. Therefore, an Unmoved Mover exists. (From 4 and 5)

Virtually nobody doubts premise (1).  To doubt it and maintain that change is illusory not only affirms the existence of Pure Actuality (which the atheist does not want to do), but to come to the conclusion that all change is illusory itself constitutes a change.

Premises (2) and (3) are easily defensible.  In support of premise (2), an acorn is merely an acorn in actuality, but is an oak tree in potentiality.  Premise (3) can be defended by pointing out that if a potentiality were to actualize itself, then it would both exist in potentiality and actuality simultaneously, which is contradictory.  Moreover, we have many examples that confirm this premise.  An acorn doesn't become an oak tree all by itself.  Rather, it requires sustaining causes of its change, such as water, sunlight and soil.  If any of these sustaining cause were removed, then the acorn's development would cease to continue.

(4) logically follows from premises (1) through (3), so what about premise (5)?  First, why can there not be an infinite regress of potentialities being actualized?  Thomas Aquinas offers three distinct reasons, but I'll only appeal to one.  Even if the past is infinite (and empirical evidence makes such a scenario virtually impossible), the past is still composed of finite periods of time.  At each finite period of time, the regress of sustaining causes of change (not originating causes) begins anew.  This means that during a finite period of time, there cannot be an infinite regress of sustaining causes of change.  Why not?  The reason is simple.  Given that the regress begins anew, it is impossible to arrive at infinity.  No matter how many numbers are counted, there will always and indefinitely be another number to count before arriving at infinity.  Hence, it is impossible for the regress of sustaining causes of change to be infinite.

Now, what about a circularity of causes of change?  This is even easier to eliminate as a possibility.  We have already established that no potentiality can actualize itself.  With a circularity, say, A causes B to change and B causes A to change at the same time and in the same sense, A and B would have to exist in both potentiality and actuality simultaneously.  Since this is impossible, the only conclusion we can make is that an Unmoved Mover exists.

Now, objections to an Unmoved Mover I've found to be quite weak.  One common objection is that in order for A to change B, A must also change.  However, imagine a beautiful painting.  While gazing upon the painting, a man is drawn to it (a change) because of its beauty.  Of course, a painting, being a material thing, is changing in terms of time and molecular movement.  However, the Unmoved Mover is immaterial, as is demonstrated in the second major contention.  Therefore, the attempt to point to a disanalogy fails as an objection.

The "what changes the Unmoved Mover?" objection is perhaps the worst objection I'm aware of.  The causal premise states that no potentiality can actualize itself, and yet, the Unmoved Mover does not exhibit any potentiality.  Rather, the Unmoved Mover is Pure Actuality, as the second major contention states.

I look forward to expanding on these arguments, including the second major contention, in my Master's thesis for an M.A. in Philosophy.  All I can say for now is that the objections to the First Way I've found to be extremely weak, sometimes based on misinterpretations, and other times simply due to not doing enough research.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Misuse of the Word "Hate" and the Problem with Alleged "Marriage Discrimination"

Have you ever been called hateful (or a similar word) simply for opposing either homosexual acts on a moral level or same-sex marriage (SSM) on a legal level?  Here's a quick rebuttal.

I, Doug Benscoter, eat chicken, steak, and other animal products.  However, if I were told by a vegan that my dietary lifestyle is morally wrong, would I accuse that person of being hateful?  Of course not.  I suspect that because sex involves so many hormones, regardless of sexual orientation, that people who accuse sexual conservatives as "hateful" do so only as an emotional, and not a rational, response.

This reminds me of how I was once accused of "condemning" gays and lesbians.  Would I feel "condemned" by the vegan above?  No way.  This person was just using an emotionally-charged word to either change the subject in which I defend myself from such an accusation, or else attempted to get me to backtrack, or both.

(By the way, I don't feel victimized by any of this.  However, people need to know how to use words correctly and not rush to judgment.)

Now as for "marriage discrimination," I have only one thing to say: any argument that opposition to SSM is based on discrimination can equally be applied to single people.  Why do I say single people, and not polygamous people, or those who want to marry within the family (immediate or extended), as many conservatives already do?  The reason is that the proponent of SSM can no longer say that SSM is different than polygamous marriage, etc., so that it's an unfair comparison.  I mention single people because they don't receive tax breaks, (in some states) adoption rights, hospital visitation rights as married people do, and so forth.  In other words, if opposition to SSM is opposition to "equal rights," then opposition for single people to receive the same rights is also discriminatory and an opposition to "equal rights."

The conservative case for limiting marriage to a man and a woman includes the government's attempt to provide an incentive for married couples to reproduce by providing them with tax breaks, etc.  It also includes the (albeit contested) fact that children do best when raised by a mother and a father.  Thirdly (and this will be the last for me to mention), it has been shown by numerous studies, including one conducted by Dr. J. Michael Bailey (a staunch gay-rights activist) that those who engage in homosexual acts are much more likely to suffer from various mental illnesses, from depression to schizophrenia.  Moreover, these studies were conducted in countries where homosexuality is highly tolerated, and even accepted (and it's been shown there is no statistical difference between these countries and countries less tolerant of homosexual acts).  Should the government provide an additional incentive for those who engage in homosexual acts to get married, knowing all of this?  I think the most compassionate thing to do would be to limit marriage to one man and one woman, while simultaneously treating those homosexuals who are dealing with these mental illnesses.  I also think hospital visitation rights laws should be revisited.  As far as I'm concerned, people should have the right to be visited by whoever they want.

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.