Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Gap Problem Addressed Again

Suppose one accepts the existence of a First Cause of some sort. Based on this, in addition to some rather uncontroversial modal axioms, I believe we can justifiably "close the gap," as it were, between First Cause and God. The entire argument - let's call it the Modal Thomistic Cosmological Argument (MTCA) - might be stated as follows:

1. Dependent things exist.
2. Every dependent thing has a cause. (E.g., every dependent thing derives its existence from that in which it is dependent)
3. If there is no First Cause, then nothing will be caused.
4. Therefore, a First Cause exists. (From 1 and 3)
5. Every limited thing has the potential to be caused.
6. A First Cause does not have the potential to be caused. (E.g., It is not possible that a First Cause is caused)
7. Hence, a First Cause must be unlimited. (From 5 and 6 - in other words, a First Cause cannot be limited, since limited things are possibly caused; and if a First Cause were caused, it wouldn't be first, which is a contradiction)
8. Whatever is unlimited is supreme.
9. Therefore, a Supreme Being exists.

I can see no reason to doubt (1)-(7). I've detailed on multiple occasions why I believe a First Cause exists, and (5)-(7), I think, are analytical truths or at least easily inferable from what we know through observation of limited entities. This leaves us with premise (8). "Supremacy" is marked by two features: 1) it must be unlimited; and 2) it must be unique. Part of what we mean by "supremacy" is unlimitedness, so our main focus will be on whether this unlimited First Cause is one or many.

Consider the idea of multiple unlimited entities. If there truly were more than one - let's call two of them X and Y - then in order for X and Y to be distinct, X would have to lack something that Y possesses, or vice-versa. However, a thing can only lack something if it is limited. Therefore, whatever is unlimited is by necessity unique. This, of course, matches our definition of a "Supreme Being," which is what we mean by "God."

Friday, December 4, 2009

Order, Chaos, Teleology and the Wonder of It All

Like Wittgenstein, I often find myself in awe that anything at all should exist whatsoever. Why is there something, rather than just nothingness? Still, I am even further awed by the sheer harmony that our universe exhibits. Why should something so small, like a molecule, be intelligible to me - an evolved species of ape?

Consider the great order found throughout the entire universe, and indeed through all of existence itself! The laws of logic and mathematics are just an attempt to scratch at the surface. In Taoism, there are two eternal principles that eternally oppose each other. These two principles are Order and Chaos. Yet, for those of us who have been persuaded by our Western presuppositions, we opt to state that there is only one. Even chaos is intelligible, and since intelligibility presupposes order, what we discover is that there is Order even behind elements of chaos.

I'm compelled to believe that this Order exists, since without it, I cannot make sense of out anything at all. The question now is whether Order is personal or impersonal. If Order is personal, then we may be justified in resurrecting (as it were) teleos. There is purpose in our existence, and meaning in our experience. For anyone wondering about life, we have two initial ways we can choose to live. You can choose to live in such a way that you marvel at the exquisite regularity of Order. You're other choice is to reject this, but once that's done, your entire worldview will collapse. So long as chaos is intelligible, you continue to give credit to Order.

Yes, I do associate Order with God, but not in a pantheistic Stoic way. Order exists eternally, beyond creation, and flows directly from God's infinite wisdom. Given that we are made in God's image, we too are capable of understanding the world around us. God is rational, so any creature made in the "image of God," will likewise be rational, at least analogically.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Jesus Mythicist Fallacy

Many of the so-called "Jesus Mythicists" deny that there was any historical Jesus whatsoever. Specifically, though, I want to focus on one of their claims - namely, that the narrative of Jesus' resurrection was something that Christians borrowed from pagan sources. The name of Osiris is usually mentioned during these exchanges. Let us, for the sake of argument, assume that there really are striking parallels between Jesus and Osiris. Does the Jesus Mythicist now have a case? I believe he does not.

For one thing, there are also parallels to be found between the pseudo-mythical King Arthur and the historical King Henry V. Both men were brilliant war commanders of Great Britain who had enormous difficulties with their subjects. Does this mean that what we know of Henry V is now bunk? Surely not, and that should give us an incentive to reject the original Jesus Mythicist claim that the early Christians borrowed from their pagan neighbors. This becomes even more vivid once we consider how vague some of the alleged parallels really are. [1] That both were resurrected (in some sense; the Jewish conception of resurrection was bodily in nature) does not at all imply any borrowing.

In addition to this, we may consider the fact that there are many historical facts in support of Jesus and Henry V (see the book below). We're still waiting to hear about actual evidence of Osiris and Arthur.

[1] Gary R. Habermas and Michael R. Licona, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus, Kregel Publications, 2004, p. 91

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Boat Paradox

Imagine you build a wooden boat. As time goes on, you find that part of the boat needs to be repaired, and you replace it with another piece of wood. This process continues until each of the original parts has been replaced by another. Now the question: is this the same boat? If not, at what point did it become a different boat?

This problem has significant implications for our view of the human mind. Each of the body's cells (and indeed, each physical part) is constantly replaced by new ones. Yet, it is surely the case that I am the same person today I was three months ago. Does this suggest an immaterial aspect of humanity?

Monday, November 23, 2009

TAG Made Simple

TAG - the Transcendental Argument for God's existence - argues that the necessary preconditions of knowledge require God's existence. A simple syllogism may summarize what we have in mind:

1. Every law has a lawgiver.
2. There are objective laws.
3. Therefore, there is an objective lawgiver.

Theists view the "objective lawgiver" as God, the Logos. We certainly observe that the universe exhibits certain regularities. There is much order in our experience, so much so that it is rather law-like. By "objective," we mean that certain laws hold independently of human minds. The various logical and mathematical laws fit this description, for example. Even if there were no human beings, the moon could not be not-the-moon.

The question for us to consider is whether these laws require a grounding of some sort. I confess I don't really understand attempts to circumvent a grounding. That would be like having a house without a foundation - it would collapse. Yet it is surely the case that laws of logic and mathematics are not susceptible to collapsing, so an ultimate basis for their reality seems in order. Some may wish to call this "ultimate" something other than "God," but at that point we're just arguing semantics.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

An Inductive Argument Against Abortion

1. We observe that a value in something usually does not change as a result of a person's disposition toward it.

It is difficult to gauge the initial plausibility of this first premise. There are certainly moral relativists, nihilists, and perspectivists who will question or altogether deny this claim, all with different reasons and degrees. The moral objectivist, however, will likely be persuaded that (1) is true. Consider the value of oxygen. Even assuming that a person is distraught, or deluded, and wishes to no longer inhale the oxygen that keeps him or her alive, this doesn't at all imply that the oxygen no longer has value. In fact, most of us would say this person needs help.

2. If the loss of something brings about mourning, that thing has value.

I would wager that all of us know what this is like. Whether we have lost a loved one, a thing we hold dear for sentimental reasons, or whatever it may be, we're only sad about it because the thing that has been lost has value.

3. The unexpected termination of a pregnancy results in mourning.

Consider an expecting mother's disposition toward her unborn baby. If she wishes to have the child, a miscarriage would be considered tragic. This, however, leaves us with the following conclusion:

4. Therefore, pregnancy has value.

If it is tragic for a woman to have a miscarriage, is it not also tragic whenever the pregnancy is terminated by an abortion? After all, the only difference is a person's (or persons') disposition toward the pregnancy. The value of a desired pregnancy doesn't change simply because of a change in attitude.

The moral relativist may well chime in by suggesting that a thing only has value for the person who gives value to it. What is interesting about this, though, is that the same does not apply to other things we regularly give value to: oxygen, food, clothing, education, health, and happiness. Why make abortion the exception?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Modal Third Way... Yet Again

Recently I've been trying to reformulate the Modal Third Way (MTW) in a more popular, and easily accessible, manner. Here's what I have so far:

1. Something has always existed.
2. Whatever exists is either temporally necessary or temporally contingent.
3. It is possible that all contingent beings collectively fail to exist at some past time.
4. It is necessarily the case that possible truths are explicable.
5. It is necessarily the case that something is explicable only if something exists.
6. Therefore, a temporally necessary being exists.

Let's take a look at each premise.

1. Something has always existed.

This is true in light of the metaphysical principle that being cannot arise from non-being. If there were a past time in which nothing existed, then nothing would exist in the present, which is clearly false.

2. Whatever exists is either temporally necessary or temporally contingent.

This premise is true via the law of excluded middle. A being can either exist at all times, or else possibly fail to exist at some time.

3. It is possible that all temporally contingent beings collectively fail to exist at some past time.

No logical law I'm aware of would prevent the possibility of the totality of temporally contingent beings from failing to exist at some time in the past. Here we are appealing to possible worlds.

4. It is necessarily the case that possible truths are explicable.

Even assuming that X has no explanation in the actual world, it is perfectly reasonable to conclude that X has an explanation in some possible world.

5. It is necessarily the case that something is explicable only if something exists.

Let's assume the opposite of this premise - namely, that something can be explicable even if nothing exists. If this were true, what is explaining it? Presumably nothing, but nothing explains nothing at all! Hence, something must exist in order for something to be explicable.

If, however, there are no temporally contingent beings at this past time, it follows that the only being that is capable of explaining this is a temporally necessary being. As a result, our conclusion is justified:

6. Therefore, a temporally necessary being exists.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Name That Fallacy

Thanks to a TA for this one:

1. Oak trees are shady.
2. Shady things are not to be trusted.
3. Therefore, oak trees are not to be trusted.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Modal Third Way - Part 2

We now continue looking at the Modal Third Way. We have already established that a temporally necessary being exists. Our aim now is to find a bridge between this and God. What reason do we have for concluding that this temporally necessary being is God?

7. Whatever is temporally necessary might be unlimited.

If anything is unlimited, it is most plausibly a temporally necessary being. After all, a thing which is temporally contingent is limited in its duration, so we can, at any rate, rule out the great majority of things as being unlimited. There is no contradiction in the idea of something being both a) temporally necessary; and b) unlimited - at least, there's no contradiction I'm aware of. This entails that there is at least one possible world in which we have a link from temporal necessity to unlimited essence.

We may now, as Maydole muses, "work on establishing a linkage between unlimitedness and explicability."

8. Whatever might explain itself is unlimited.

We may legitimately envisage a possible world in which the temporally necessary being is a first cause of the existence of all other things. From this, we may infer that since such a being cannot be caused by anything else (or else it wouldn't be "first" to begin with), this being must of necessity not be limited by any external object.*

9. Nothing which is unlimited can be explained by anything else.

This premise, I think, is very plausible. As we saw above, a thing X is limited by Y if Y explains X. For example, the sun's rays are explained by the sun itself, and so we conclude that the power of its rays is limited by the power that is produced by the sun.

10. Everything which is unlimited is supreme.

The temporally necessary unlimited first cause must be supreme. For, that is part of what we mean by "supremacy." Moreover, there can be only one Supreme Being. Imagine that both A and B are supreme. If A is distinct from B, then presumably A lacks something that B possesses, or vice-versa. However, a thing can only lack something if it is limited, so whatever is unlimited (and by extension, supreme) must of necessity be one.

11. Therefore, there exists a Supreme Being.

Final Analysis

The argument for a temporally necessary being is, I believe, airtight. We are doing some metaphysics as we make a link from this to the conclusion that God (or, a Supreme Being) exists, but there is nothing wrong with that. I do think we could argue inductively in order to close the gap, however.

Consider the fact that our observations lead us to believe that whatever is limited is temporally contingent. The hardness of a rock, for instance, is limited. We also find that its durability is limited. On the basis of this example, among many others, we generally draw an inference from limitedness to temporal contingency. If, however, a thing is temporally necessary, then its duration is unlimited, since it exists at all times and cannot cease to be, at least in any of the worlds in which it does exist. This ought to give us an incentive to believe that whatever is temporally necessary is also unlimited in other respects, e.g. power. But since a thing is unlimited only if it is supreme (tautology), it follows that a Supreme Being exists in whatever world there is something temporally necessary. And, because a temporally necessary being exists in the actual world, it follows logically and inescapably that a Supreme Being exists in the actual world.

One shortcoming of the MTW, as Maydole himself acknowledges, is that it does not establish that a Supreme Being exists in all possible worlds. For, there are possible worlds in which nothing presently exists, in which case nothing is explicable and there is no need to appeal to a temporally necessary being.

Another drawback is that the MTW establishes only the existence of a Supreme Being; it does not demonstrate the truth of theism per se. At least on the surface of it, there are versions of pantheism that are just as consistent with the conclusion of the MTW as theism is. This shouldn't be disheartening for the theist, though. After all, the MTW does establish a conclusion that flies in the face of (capital "N") Naturalism, and establishing the rationality of an alternative worldview to Naturalism is one of the goals of natural theology.

For an original paper on the Modal Third Way, see: Aquinas' Third Way Modalized

*I'm using the terms, "object," "thing," and "being" interchangeably.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

The Modal Third Way - Part 1

This entry is the first of a two-part series in which I will summarize and defend Maydole's formulation of the Modal Third Way (MTW). First, some definitions:

temporally contingent - if x possibly fails to exist at time t, x is temporally contingent

temporally necessary - if x exists at all times in world W, x is temporally necessary in W

explicable - explained in at least one possible world

Here is the first part of the proof:

1. Every temporally contingent thing possibly fails to exist at some time.

(1) is true by definition.

2. If all things fail to exist at some time, then it is possible that all things collectively fail to exist at some past time.

We may grant that there was never a time in this world in which there didn't exist at least one temporally contingent thing. However, (2) is much less ambitious. Even the most ardent skeptic will agree that there is a possible world in which nothing existed in the past. (1) actually implies (2).

3. It is necessarily the case that possible truths are explicable.

Many of us (myself included) are already committed to the view that everything that exists has an explanation of its existence. However, some may not be convinced that this is so. Well, lucky for us, we can significantly weaken our principle and still end up with a good argument! Let's say that a brick just pops into existence uncaused and unexplained. To borrow Maydole's expression, it is "well nigh absurd" to assume that there is no possible world in which the brick's existence has an explanation. Such a conclusion would require that we prove a universal negative, and I doubt anyone is up to such a daunting task.

4. It is necessarily the case that something is explicable only if there was never a time when nothing existed.

Imagine that at some point in the past, nothing existed. Would anything exist right now? Surely not, but I'm sure we can find somebody who thinks so. "Out of nothing comes nothing," still seems much more plausible than its negation. What this implies for us is that if nothing existed at some past time, then nothing would exist right now, in which case nothing is currently explicable. But, we already saw in premise (3) that there are explicable things, which means that the contradictory of (4) is false, implying that (4) is true. Something had to have always existed, but no temporally contingent thing meets the qualification of necessity. Therefore, we have a link from these premises to:

5. If there was never a time when nothing existed, then a temporally necessary thing exists.


6. Therefore, something temporally necessary exists.


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

More Thoughts On the Finitude of the Past

1. Every attribute of the universe we have observed is finite.

I'm thinking specifically of the limitations that are exemplified by the laws of nature, in particular. Gravity is limited by the force of the expansion of the universe, for example. It's not as if gravity, electromagnetism, and the strong and weak atomic forces are unlimited; one force may be imposed upon the other, in which case one of them is limited. But, whatever is limited is finite (by definition). Hence, the universe's attributes, especially those of the laws of nature, are finite.

2. The universe's past is an attribute of its temporal duration.

Unless, of course, one is an amazingly strong anti-realist, I doubt even the most fervent Naturalist will doubt premise (2). From these two premises, however, it follows that:

3. Therefore, the universe's past is most likely finite.

(3) is the equivalent to the second premise of the Kalam Cosmological Argument (KCA), which states that the universe began to exist. I like the above argument, since it isn't dependent on the changing field of astrophysics. Thankfully, the current scientific evidence confirms the universe's finitude. It is reassuring, however, that we have additional, philosophical arguments that the universe began to exist.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Is Judges 1:19 Inconsistent with God's Omnipotence?

"Omnipotence" doesn't mean that God can do what is logically impossible. The oft-repeated question, "can God make a square-circle?" can be confidently answered by the classical theist with a "no". God's being omnipotent means that He can do all things, but square-circles aren't things, so God's inability to create them has no effect whatsoever on His omnipotence.

This is where Judges 1:19 comes in. It is commonly alleged that this passage is inconsistent with the doctrine of God's omnipotence. Here is the verse:

"The LORD was with the men of Judah. They took possession of the hill country, but they were unable to drive the people from the plains, because they had iron chariots."

Does this verse imply that God is (or was) incapable of overcoming iron chariots? Obviously, such a feat is logically possible for God, so the claim is that God isn't omnipotent according to Judges. However, does this brief interpretation of the text do justice to the author's original intention?

I should point out that, just intuitively, this seems to be an extraordinarily implausible interpretation. Are we really to believe that God, whom Judges says that mountains quake before (Judges 5:5), the One who brought up Israel from the land of Egypt (Judges 6:8) is really inferior to the chariots of men? Presumably this is what the proponent of the argument is suggesting.

Now, we have at least two ways of responding to this, while maintaining that God is omnipotent. First, we could simply say that the Bible is mistaken on this point. "The arguments of natural theology suffice to show that God exists and is all-powerful, even though the Bible is fallible." This kind of response can be modified like this: "Even if this is what the Bible teaches, God still exists and is all-powerful. At the most, this only implies that the Bible is mistaken on this point."

The above reply, in its latter form at any rate, is correct. Moreover, it is a decent polemical response. Nevertheless, being the Biblical Inerrantist that I am, I believe the Bible is correct whilst maintaining that God really is omnipotent. So, how do we reconcile these? As they say in real estate: the three most important terms are location, location, location. Well, for any interpretation of the Bible, the three most important terms are context, context, context.

For starters, let's take a look at the subsequent text, Judges 1:22-36:

Now the house of Joseph attacked Bethel, and the LORD was with them. 23 When they sent men to spy out Bethel (formerly called Luz), 24 the spies saw a man coming out of the city and they said to him, "Show us how to get into the city and we will see that you are treated well." 25 So he showed them, and they put the city to the sword but spared the man and his whole family. 26 He then went to the land of the Hittites, where he built a city and called it Luz, which is its name to this day.

27 But Manasseh did not drive out the people of Beth Shan or Taanach or Dor or Ibleam or Megiddo and their surrounding settlements, for the Canaanites were determined to live in that land. 28 When Israel became strong, they pressed the Canaanites into forced labor but never drove them out completely. 29 Nor did Ephraim drive out the Canaanites living in Gezer, but the Canaanites continued to live there among them. 30 Neither did Zebulun drive out the Canaanites living in Kitron or Nahalol, who remained among them; but they did subject them to forced labor. 31 Nor did Asher drive out those living in Acco or Sidon or Ahlab or Aczib or Helbah or Aphek or Rehob, 32 and because of this the people of Asher lived among the Canaanite inhabitants of the land. 33 Neither did Naphtali drive out those living in Beth Shemesh or Beth Anath; but the Naphtalites too lived among the Canaanite inhabitants of the land, and those living in Beth Shemesh and Beth Anath became forced laborers for them. 34 The Amorites confined the Danites to the hill country, not allowing them to come down into the plain. 35 And the Amorites were determined also to hold out in Mount Heres, Aijalon and Shaalbim, but when the power of the house of Joseph increased, they too were pressed into forced labor. 36 The boundary of the Amorites was from Scorpion Pass to Sela and beyond.

In verse 22, we again find the phrase, "and the LORD was with them," which connects this passage with verse 19 above. Following this, we see that although the Israelite tribes conquered the land to an extent, they did not obey God entirely. The Canaanites and others who were living in the land remained in the land, which God forbade the Israelites from allowing (which is apparent from the text above, as well as Deuteronomy 7:24 and Joshua 9:24, among others).

The implication here is that although God was with them, Israel didn't do what He commanded them to do. As a result, Numbers 33:55-56 was fulfilled:

"'But if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land, those you allow to remain will become barbs in your eyes and thorns in your sides. They will give you trouble in the land where you will live. 56 And then I will do to you what I plan to do to them.'"

Throughout the book of Judges, the people of Israel are raided, invaded, and conquered by their enemies. Whenever they return to God, God saves them. It was Israel's lack of faith and disobedience that is responsible for their inability to overwhelm the iron chariots of Judges 1:19, rather than some defect in God's power. This, I think, is a plain reading of the text, which allows the Bible to speak for itself.

We can see Judges 1:19 as a parallel to Numbers 14, in which the men of Israel scout the land of Canaan. They see that the men of Canaan are strong and well-armed, and they doubt they can defeat Canaan. God is displeased by this and commands them to go into the wilderness as discipline. The men of Israel regret their lack of faith and, disobeying God yet again, decide to invade Canaan. The invasion is predictably unsuccessful. Why? Because they did not obey God's command. As Matthew Henry so ably summarized three hundred years ago: "The Canaanites had iron chariots; but Israel had God on their side, whose chariots are thousands of angels, Psalm 68:17. Yet they suffered their fears to prevail against their faith." (Emphasis added).

Pointing to Judges 1:19 may provide the skeptic with an additional reason for unbelief, but fortunately for us, their interpretation of the text is left wanting. After all, it is said that they (referring to Israel, not God) were unable to drive the people from the plains.

Friday, October 9, 2009

The TCA Defended Via Induction

The premises of the Thomistic Cosmological Argument (TCA) need not be supported by deduction, even though the syllogism is itself deductive. Consider the following:

1. All men are mortal.
2. Socrates is a man.
3. Therefore, Socrates is mortal.

Obviously, (2) is supported by induction, since we have to observe that there is a man named Socrates. However, we may conclude that (1) is true by universalizing what we generally observe. Even if we were to theoretically come across an immortal man, (3) would still be more likely true than its negation, given the mortality of the vast majority of human beings (men and women) we have observed.

Likewise, we may appeal to purely inductive inferences in our defense of the TCA. We might state the argument like this:

1. Evident to the senses is motion.
2. Everything in motion is moved by another.
3. If there is no First Mover, there is no motion.
4. Therefore, a First Mover exists.

(1) is obviously based on induction. I have spent some time deflecting objections to (2) that are based on quantum mechanics, but I don't think that is even necessary. For, even if there are instances in which a thing is in motion but is not moved by another, still the majority of things in motion we observe actually are moved by another. If we take a look at the motion of the celestial bodies, we realize that each body's gravity affects the others, so it is reasonable to conclude that one body's motion is caused by (re: "moved by") another.

(3) can also be supported by induction. Just as the motion of the gears of a watch are best explained by the cause of motion found in the spring (ontologically first member of the watch), so too can the motion of the celestial bodies be best explained by the cause of motion found in the First Mover. The removal of the spring would result in the removal of motion among the gears; so by analogy, the removal of the First Mover would result in the removal of motion among the celestial bodies.

Given the truth of (1)-(3), we may conclude that (4) is more likely true than its negation; and we may conclude this without having to appeal to deduction. However, we may infer even more than this. Just as the uniformity* of motion found in the gears is reducible to a single spring, so too is the uniformity of motion found in the celestial bodies reducible to a single First Mover. Hence, we have a legitimate starting point for an inductive argument for monotheism. After all, uniformity is best explained by the causation of a single agent than it is by many agents.

*Uniformity refers to 1) patterns of regularity; and 2) the exemplification of a system in which each member affects the others. The gears of a watch fit this description, and more importantly, the celestial bodies match this qualification.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

A Cartesian Argument For Mind-Body Dualism

The following argument is logically valid:

1. Whatever is corporeal is dubitable.
2. My own existence is indubitable.
3. Therefore, I am not corporeal.

(1) may be taken at face value and granted, since we need only posit some possible world in which the corporeal things one observes are illusory. (2), of course, is succinctly expressed by Descartes' maxim, "I think, therefore I am" (cogito ergo sum). I cannot doubt my own existence without first existing! However, if something is true of X, but not of Y, then X and Y cannot be identical. Therefore, it necessarily follows that the mind, or self, is distinct from the body. This is not to say that the mind isn't dependent on the body, or that there is no correlation between mind and body, but only that the two really are distinct substances.

If the above line of reasoning is accepted, then the most commonly accepted naturalistic theory of the mind (materialism) must be rejected. Further, the metaphysical Naturalist will have to rethink his or her worldview.

Is the TCA Based on Outdated, Pre-Newtonian Assumptions?

I often hear opponents to Thomas' First Way claim that one of the two central premises of the argument has been falsified by Newton's Laws. This is basically the entire First Way:

1. Evident to the senses is motion.
2. Everything in motion is moved by another.
3. If there is no First Mover, there is no motion.
4. Therefore, a First Mover exists. (1, 3)

I have already dedicated quite some time in support of (3). It is (2) that is alleged to have been shown false. I think such a conclusion vastly misunderstands the nature of Newton's Laws and, perhaps more importantly, what it is that Thomas is actually stating.

Newton's Laws tell us that if something is in motion, it will continue to be in motion so long as it travels in a straight line. Whatever continues this line of motion does not rely on something to keep its motion going. This should already provide sufficient warrant to raise a red flag. For, the motion of the celestial bodies (and earth) are not at all linear, but elliptical. From this it follows that we do not have any defeater for the premise that everything in motion is moved by another.

Moreover, even something that moves in a straight line without another thing moving it can only do so in the absence of a net external force - something like an absolute vacuum. But of course, such a vacuum does not exist. What we often associate with empty space in a vacuum is simply a convenient way to describe any space whose gaseous pressure is less than atmospheric pressure. The vacuum literally is *something*, rather than nothing, so it counts as a net external force. Newton's first law, while very helpful, is really just an approximation to the truth about motion. We still have to have a First Mover.

Imagine a watch that exists from all eternity. Even if there are infinitely-many gears, none of them will move apart from the cause of motion found in the watch's spring. If the spring is removed, then the gears of the watch will cease to move. By analogy, we can imagine the motion of the celestial bodies existing from all eternity. Even if this were so (barring any argument that the world is finite in age), the motion of these bodies is reducible to the motion caused by the First Mover. Without a First Mover, there can be no intermediate movers. Given that there are intermediate movers, it follows that a First Mover exists.

Thomas' First Way, however, leads only to a metaphysically necessary First Mover, and not to a logically necessary one. For, there are possible worlds in which no motion exists at all. Does the First Mover exist in these worlds, as well? One benefit of modalizing these arguments is that they very often get us to see that some entity actually is logically necessary. Consider the Modal First Way:

1. There possibly exists a First Mover. (In some possible world, a First Mover exists).
2. Whatever is possible is either contingent or necessary.
3. Whatever is contingent can be actualized.
4. A First Mover cannot be actualized.
5. Therefore, a First Mover exists necessarily.

It is often difficult for the atheist to decide which premise he/she actually disagrees with, but the argument is logically valid, so given the truth of each of the premises, the conclusion (5) necessarily follows. I actually went through this argument step-by-step in an earlier post.

I find the above proofs to be both rationally compelling and extraordinarily intriguing. What is left now is to deal with the Gap Problem: how do we get from First Mover to God?

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Impossibility of an Infinite Regress - Causal and Temporal

Thomas rejects the possibility of an essentially-ordered infinite regress of causes. This, however, does not entail the impossibility of an eternal (re: infinitely-old) universe. Imagine a watch that has endured infinite time. If there is no spring, then no matter how many gears there are (even infinitely-many), none of them will be able to move. Likewise, if there is no First Mover, then there can be no intermediate movers. But since it is obvious that intermediate movers exist, it follows necessarily that a First Mover exists.

Bonaventure goes further than this. Not only does he reject the possibility of an infinite regress of essentially-ordered causes, but he also maintains that an infinite regress of temporal events is impossible. William Lane Craig and Mark Nowacki summarize Bonaventure's argument like this:

1. The temporal series of events is a collection formed by successive addition.
2. No collection formed by successive addition can be an actual infinite.
3. Therefore, the temporal series of events cannot be an actual infinite.

(1) assumes the common-sense theory of time, the so-called "dynamic theory", which posits each successive moment of time as an addition to the previous moment. Only the present, under this view, is actually real. The past has been actualized, but no longer exists; the future, however, is merely potential.

(2) is fairly easy to grasp once we reflect on the nature of infinity. No matter how long time has elapsed, it is always and indefinitely possible to add another moment before arriving at infinity. "Infinity", in this respect, is really just a limit. Craig considers the future to be potentially infinite, since although it will continue forever, it will always be finite.

Some have objected to (2), saying that an actual infinite can be formed by successive addition if there was never a beginning to the addition. This would be like someone claiming to have counted down from infinity and end in 0, which is quite strange, regardless of whether the objection is accepted or not. In response, Craig asks rhetorically, "why has the present arrived today, and not yesterday, or at any time in the finite past?" This question is especially pertinent, since assuming the universe's past is infinite, the same amount of time has elapsed before AD 1000 as it has before AD 2000. Why, then, did AD 2000 arrive at the time it did, and not before?

Thomas' objection to Bonaventure's argument is that while the past may not be actually infinite, it may be potentially infinite (and therefore, without beginning). The way to understand this is by conceiving of any time at all in the past. Any time you choose will have a finite interval between then and the present, so any moment in the past can be traversed until we arrive at today.

There are two ways of responding to this. First of all, Thomas' objection (with all due respect to the Angelic Doctor) commits a composition fallacy. The fact that each finite moment of the past can be traversed does not imply that the whole infinite set of past events can be traversed. Even if it could, we still have to reconcile this with the AD 1000-2000 paradox). Secondly, and perhaps more to the point, the past cannot be potentially infinite for the simple reason that every moment of the past has been actualized, and nothing actualized is merely potential. Time travels forward, and not backwards. As a result, a moment of the past T1 cannot be preceded by T2 with T2's being added to T1 via successive addition.

It appears to me, then, that both Thomas' argument for a First Mover and Bonaventure's argument for a Creator are both sound. Of course, the causal premises of each proof have to be defended, but one need only appeal to ex nihilo nihil fit (out of nothing comes nothing) to support them.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Augustinian Influence On Gordon Clark

I'm not a presuppositionalist myself, but the respective works of Gordon Clark and Cornelius Van Til (in addition to Bahnsen, Frame, et al) are all thought-provoking. One of the influences of St. Augustine on Clark is the claim that the use of logic presupposes God's existence by the very nature of logic itself. Augustine uses the example of 2+2=4, whereas Clark claims that the laws of logic correspond to the divine attributes.

Let's take the example of the transitive axiom: if A=B and B=C, then A=C. This axiom, expressed as a proposition, is objective and unfalsifiable. It holds at all times, which means it is eternal. It also holds in all places, implying its omnipresence. The truth of logic cannot be changed into its contradictory, or negation, so it follows that it is changeless. Finally, contradictory systems of logic cannot both be true; this means that logic is one. In sum, we know that logic possesses the attributes of eternality, omnipresence, immutability, and unity. This already sounds rather God-like. Left without further analysis, however, we're left with a merely impersonal God, something like a vague principle of intelligibility.

If we combine this proof with conceptualism, on the other hand, then we can show how it makes sense to postulate the existence of a necessary mind. This would be a sort of "closing-of-the-gap" between logic and God. After all, the Logos referred to in John 1:1 is logic itself (Clark even translates John 1:1 as: "In the beginning was the logic, and the logic was with God, and the logic was God"), but it is also personal. We're often in the habit of treating logic as if it were this impersonal abstract principle, but in conjunction with conceptualism, we can show how the use of logic can be part of a rationally compelling proof of God's existence. We can summarize the argument as a reductio ad absurdum:

Prove A: God exists.
Assume ~A: God does not exist.
~A --> B: If God does not exist, then logic is not objective.
~B: Logic is objective.
Hence, ~~A: by modus tollens.
Therefore, A: God exists.

Of course, the proponent of this argument will have to argue in favor of both realism and conceptualism.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Duns Scotus and the Cosmological Argument

It amazes me how modal intuitions were already quite sophisticated in the Middle Ages. I think we often give ourselves too much credit - or conversely, we don't give our predecessors enough credit - when it comes to philosophical and scientific advances. As early as the thirteenth century, Catholic philosopher, John Duns Scotus (so-named because he was a Scot) came up with this argument for a First Cause of essentially-ordered causes:

1. A First Cause is possible.
2. Whatever is possible is either contingent or necessary.
3. Whatever is contingent can be actualized.
4. A First Cause cannot be actualized.
5. Therefore, a First Cause exists necessarily.

The argument makes use of a weak version of the principle of sufficient reason (W-PSR). (1) should appear obvious to most of us. For, if a First Cause were not possible, then it would (by definition) be impossible. But, in order for something to be impossible, there must be a contradiction in the concept of it. The challenge is then for the opponent of the argument to demonstrate the impossibility of (1). I know of no argument that would even begin to suggest this.

(2) simply provides us with our available options. Since we have ruled out the First Cause's impossibility, the First Cause either exists in some but not all possible worlds (i.e. it is contingent), or it exists in all possible worlds (i.e. it is necessary).

(3), I think, is the crucial premise. The best way to support it is likely by connotation. We can simply provide examples of contingent things being actualized. For instance, it is possible that Planet-X should come into being at time-t. Yet, Planet-X (by hypothesis) does not exist in all possible worlds, even though it can be actualized in those worlds where it does not yet exist. Hence, we can think of Planet-X as a contingent entity.

Now, (4) ought to be granted upon reflection. If a First Cause were actualized, then it either actualizes itself, or else it is actualized by something causally prior to it. The First Cause obviously cannot be actualized by something causally prior to it; for then it would not be first in the series of efficiently-ordered causes. Nor can the First Cause actualize itself. In order for something to actualize itself, it would have to exist before causing its own existence, which is absurd.

(5) follows as a result of the truth of premises (1)-(4).

Monday, August 3, 2009

The Modal Ontological Argument

I've never really endorsed the ontological argument, in any of its forms. One version, however, that has interested many contemporary philosophers is Alvin Plantinga's modal ontological argument. More novel still is Robert Maydole's version of the argument, which appears in The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology. I have to say that, while I'm not persuaded that these arguments are rationally compelling, there very well may be something to Plantinga's claim that the modal ontological argument at least provides rationally acceptable reason to believe in God. Plantinga himself puts the argument this way:

1. There exists a possible world in which maximal greatness is instantiated.
2. A being is maximally great if and only if it is maximally excellent in every possible world.
3. A being is maximally excellent if and only if it is omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good.
4. Hence, a maximally great being exists in every possible world.
5. Therefore, an omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good being exists.

Perhaps surprisingly, premises (2)-(4) are relatively uncontroversial. Essentially, the argument merely defines maximal greatness in terms of maximal excellence, which in turn is defined as exemplifying the properties of omnipotence, omniscience, and perfect goodness. It seems quite natural to say that there cannot logically be a greater being than this.

The proof also makes use of the so-called "S5 axiom," which states that if something is necessary in one possible world, then it exists in all possible worlds (necessity = instantiation in every possible world). This axiom is likewise uncontroversial.

The premise that is the most contested is (1). The first time I began researching this argument, I was caught off guard that anyone would question the bare possibility of God's existence. After all, wouldn't the opponent of the first premise have to demonstrate some contradiction with the idea of a maximally great being in order to soundly reject (1)? I believe this is the case, and while even a great many atheistic philosophers reject the notion that there is some inherent contradiction between the divine properties, that doesn't stop others from attempting to prove that there is such a contradiction.

This is why, in God, Freedom, and Evil, Plantinga first deals with J.L. Mackie's "logical problem of evil" before delving into the modal ontological argument. He systematically demonstrates that there is no contradiction between the reality of evil and the existence of a maximally great being. This gives us prima facie reason to accept the first premise of the modal ontological argument. It seems that in order to produce a defeater for (1), the atheist must be able to positively undermine the possibility of God's existence. This is quite a task.

On the other hand, Maydole has apparently tried to demonstrate that (1) is not only rationally acceptable, but that we can know its truth. I have yet to give his version of the argument more than a cursory look, so at the moment I'm unable to comment any further.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Thomas Aquinas, James Kidd, and the Attributes of God

Catholic philosopher, James Kidd, has written a fascinating and accessible article on the existence of God, published in This Rock magazine. You can read the article for yourself here: A Proof of the Existence of God. I've summarized my take on the argument below.

First of all, Kidd begins by offering a somewhat Cartesian proof of the existence of the self. Cogito, ergo sum, or "I think, therefore I am" is Descartes' oft-cited maxim. I cannot doubt my own existence without first existing.

Nevertheless, we can conceive of a state of affairs in which we do not exist. This means that in order to exist, we must possess the attribute of esse ("existence" or "being"). Another expedient example is the conception of an acorn (Kidd uses the example of a chicken egg). The difference between a real acorn and a merely imaginary one is not based on any distinction in their "acorn-ness", but simply that the former possesses esse. A real acorn exists, whereas an imaginary acorn does not.

Now, an acorn (as with any changing entity) is composed of actuality and potentiality. It is easiest to explain these terms by connotation: an acorn is an acorn in actuality, but in potentiality it is an oak tree. It is important to note that potentiality is not a thing in and of itself, but that it is a privation (an "absence" or "lack of") actuality. As Kidd points out, "a thing considered in itself contains nothing but its fullness." The nature of an oak tree, considered in itself, possesses the quality of being an oak tree, and does not possess the lack of being an oak tree.

We can now reflect on what this implies about esse (from here on, I'll refer to esse as "being"). Since every existing thing possesses being, it must be the case that being is actual. But, being cannot be composed of any potentiality, since that would require the lack of being. Hence, being itself is pure actuality.

Now we can move on to consider the attributes of pure actuality (Pure Act). Since Pure Act exists essentially, it cannot not-be - that is, it has necessary existence. Moreover, Pure Act must be distinct from everything else. The reason why is that Pure Act contains only actuality, whereas other things are composed of actuality and potentiality. Yet, if something is true of one thing and not of another, the two must be distinct. Therefore, Pure Act is distinct from other entities.

Immutability and Eternality

In order to change, a thing must first have the potentiality to change. Yet, Pure Act is not composed of any potentiality. Therefore, Pure Act is changeless. Further, whatever comes into being or goes out of being in time must have the potentiality to do so. As a result, we can soundly conclude that Pure Act exists at all times, and is therefore eternal.


If there were more than one Pure Act, then there would be distinctions between them. But, distinctions entail limitations, and limitations entail potentiality. However, it has been demonstrated that Pure Act is not composed of potentiality, so it must be one.


Everywhere that something exists, the entity in consideration must have being. As we saw above, however, every entity's existence is dependent on Pure Act. If Pure Act were not present somewhere, then nothing would exist there. Hence, Pure Act exists everywhere, e.g. it is omnipresent.

Omnipotence and Omniscience

Every entity that possesses some power and some knowledge is only partly actual. Human beings, for example, have some power and some knowledge, but we are limited in our power and knowledge. From this, we can infer that Pure Act must possess all power and all knowledge. Pure actuality is nothing less than the fullness of what potentiality may attain to.

By way of conclusion, we have seen that a single, changeless, eternal, omnipresent, omnipotent and omniscient being exists. This, as the Angelic Doctor muses, is what everyone understands to be God.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Thomistic Cosmological Argument - Revised

1. Every dependent being derives its existence from some other being.
2. The series of dependent beings either proceeds to infinity, or has a first being.
3. The series of dependent beings cannot proceed to infinity.
4. Therefore, a first being exists.

This argument is really a summary of Thomas' proof as found in De Ente et Essentia. I like this version, since it doesn't rely on "causation" per se, with all of its alleged deterministic connotations.

The first premise has been defended explicitly since at least the time of Parmenides. Ex nihilo nihil fit: out of nothing comes nothing. If there were literally nothing, then not even the potentiality for something to come into being would exist. But, since something exists, it must be either dependent or self-existent.* We certainly observe dependent things in the world. An oak tree is dependent on the acorn, for example.

The second premise doesn't involve a temporal succession of events. Rather, the claim is that there is a series of beings that entail rank or source. Hence, it is considered hierarchical, instead of temporal.

Is it possible that this series is infinite? Several reasons are given against this conclusion. For one, a self-existent first being seems to be required in order for any dependent beings to exist. Just as a house needs a foundation, else the entire structure collapse, dependent beings likewise require something to hold them up. Moreover, if the series of dependent beings is infinite, then an infinite series would be sustaining something within a finite period of time. However, it would take infinite time for an infinite series to do anything. Hence, the series itself must be finite and therefore is grounded in a first being, in confirmation of (3).

I think this is a very reasonable conclusion to make. One might object that in a finite space, there are infinitely-many points. Of course, this argument is undermined by the fact that mathematical points are abstract and don't possess any physical dimensions. Furthermore, a finite space still has definite first and last points; so if there is any analogy between the two, a first being is still required.

The most difficult part of this argument for the Thomist, in my view, is in making the inference from a first being to the claim that this being's existence and essence
are identical. This conclusion does appear to follow from the argument above, though. The reason why is that if the first being is not dependent on anything else, then it cannot derive either its existence or its essence from another. Allow me to put this more explicitly.

The difference between a real unicorn and an imaginary unicorn is that the former is instantiated in actuality. This doesn't fall prey to the Kantian maxim that existence is not a predicate, since we're not merely adding existence to something purely conceptual. Rather, we're considering an a posteriori claim. From this it follows that a unicorn's existence is dependent on something else that brings about its existence. But, we have already seen that the series of dependent beings cannot proceed to infinity. If a being's existence is distinct from its essence, its existence is either brought about by some external being or by its own essential properties. The problem here is that nothing can be brought about by its own essential properties.** The difficulty with the former is that the first being does not derive its existence from anything else; otherwise, it wouldn't be first, which is a self-contradiction.

The conclusion seems to follow, then, that the first being's existence and essence are identical. The reason I say this is a difficulty (although there are certainly solutions) is that the divine attributes that are later inferred about this first being do appear to be distinct. Goodness seems logically distinct from power, knowledge from aseity, and so forth. The Thomist stresses the doctrine of analogy, which views the attributes of God as one and the same, so that the goodness of God really is the same as His power, etc. It's obvious that in us these characteristics are different, but what about in the divine essence?

*Something is self-existent if it exists by a necessity of its own nature. This shouldn't be confused with self-causation.

**This solution has the same problem as with self-causation. Something must already exist in order to bring about its own existence, which is absurd.

Monday, July 6, 2009

The Third Way

Thomas Aquinas' tertia via ("third way") has been the subject of criticism by theists and atheists alike. William Rowe, for example, discusses this argument, summarizing it as follows:

i. Whatever is a contingent being at one time did not exist.


ii. If everything is contingent then at one time nothing existed.

iii. If at one time nothing existed then nothing would exist now.

iv. Something does exist now.


. . . Not every being is a contingent being.

Rowe objects, "Even if we concede (i) to Aquinas, . . . the inference of (ii) from (i) is clearly invalid. From (i) it follows that if everything is contingent then for each thing there is a time at which it does not exist. That is, where Cx = x is a contingent being, Ty = y is a time, and Exy = x exists at y, from (i) it follows that

"2a. . . . Each contingent thing is such that there is some time or other when it did not exist.

"But from (i) it does not follow that

"2b. There is some definite time such that no contingent being existed at that time." [1]

If this is what Thomas is saying, then Rowe is correct that the argument is unsound. However, to Rowe's credit, he does make this qualification:

"It is sometimes suggested that there may be a plausible premise or principle that, when added to (i), will give us a logically valid inference to (ii). Father Copleston suggests, for example, that Aquinas is supposing that in an infinite time any real potentiality inevitably would be realized. Accordingly, the questionable inference is not from (i) to (ii) but from (i) and the proposition that in an infinite time any real potentiality would be realized." [2]

I think this is a reasonable inference to make. I'll attempt to reformulate the argument in a way that clarifies Thomas' original meaning, along with Copleston's interpretation. It should be pointed out, though, that when Thomas writes of "contingent" things, he doesn't mean logically contingent; he means temporally contingent, or corruptible. Likewise, "necessary" does not refer to logical necessity, but to temporal necessity.

1. Every existing entity is either corruptible or necessary.
2. Something has always existed.
3. Every corruptible entity potentially fails to exist.
4. Given infinite time, every real potentiality will be actualized.
5. Hence, there is some time in the infinite past in which every corruptible entity collectively fails to exist.
6. Therefore, a necessary entity exists. (From 1, 2, and 5).

(1) gives us our available options. If something exists, but is not corruptible, then it must exist necessarily. (2) is based on the principle that something cannot come from nothing. If there were ever a time in which nothing existed (is such a state of affairs contradictory, anyway?), then not even the potentiality for something to come into being would exist. As a result, nothing would be able to exist.

(3) is true by definition. If corruptible entities cannot not-be, then it follows that they exist necessarily, and (6) already concludes that something necessarily exists. As it is, however, there are many corruptible entities: trees, tables, planets, stars, galaxies, people, and so forth.

(4) is likely the most controversial premise, but it's not hard to see why Thomas (following Maimonides) came to this conclusion. If we were talking about a finite period of time, then we might have more of an incentive to deny this premise. However, if there is even the potential that every corruptible entity fails to exist, then given infinite time, it seems quite rational to say they would.

One way to get around this is by pointing to the one-to-one correspondence of actual infinites:

{2, 4, 6, 8, ... n} has just as many members as {1, 2, 3, 4, ... n}, where the first set includes all even positive numbers and the latter includes all positive numbers. Perhaps given infinite past time, only some of the infinitely-many potentialities are actualized?

The problem, I think, with this objection is that past time isn't like Cantorian set theory, even assuming that the past is infinite. The moments of the past did not arrive at the present from {8, 6, 4, 2, p}, where p = present time. On the other hand, I agree that the objection does show that there is no logical contradiction, broadly speaking, with a rejection of (4). What the proponent of the third way will have to argue, then, is that it is more likely that (4) is true than its negation.

(5), of course, follows from (3) and (4). So, if our tentative (4) is correct, then it follows that a necessary entity exists. Is there any way to strengthen the argument, so that we don't have to rely on (4)? I briefly sketched an argument in an earlier post, inspired by Robert Maydole [3], that shows we can modalize the third way in such a manner that we can be confident that a necessary entity exists:

Where x = an entity; C = temporally contingent; t = time; P = past time; y = explicandum; and Eyx = x explains y.

1. (x) (Cx □ → ◊ (t) ~xt).
2. (x) ◊ (□t) ~xt □ → ◊ (□t) (x) ~Pxt.
3. ~(x) (◊x □ → ◊ (y) (x ^ Eyx)).
4. ~[(□x) ◊ (□y) Eyx □ → ~(□t) (x) ~Pxt].
5. ~Pxt → ~C(x).
6. :. ~C(x).

In English:

1. Every temporally contingent entity possibly fails to exist at some time.
2. If all entities possibly fail to exist at some time, then it is possible that all entities collectively fail to exist at some past time.
3. It is necessarily the case that possible truths are explicable.
4. It is necessarily the case that something is explicable if and only if there was not a time when nothing existed.
5. If there could never have been a time when nothing existed, then a temporally necessary entity exists.
6. Therefore, a temporally necessary entity exists.

Notice that we have gone from a purely metaphysical analysis to an inclusion of possible worlds. (1) and (2) should not be at all controversial, since there is no contradiction in asserting that a given temporally contingent entity doesn't exist. The old Yankee stadium existed, but it doesn't logically have to, as is evidenced by its closing.

(3) states that possible truths are explicable, but not that possible truths must have an explanation, so there isn't a dependence on even a moderately strong version of the PSR. A state of affairs need not have an explanation in order for it to have an explanation in some possible world.

(4) points out that if literally nothing existed, then there wouldn't even exist possible explanations, or time itself. The idea of an existing time in which nothing exists is self-contradictory. But, since it's not possible for nothing to exist, then from (2) and (4), we know that (5) is true, and therefore (6) follows: a temporally necessary entity exists. Q.E.D.

Works Cited

[1] William L. Rowe, The Cosmological Argument, Fordham University Press, 1998, pp. 42-43.

[2] ibid., pp. 43-44.

[3] Robert Maydole, "Aquinas' Third Way Modalized,"

Thursday, June 18, 2009

"Rap Has Dissed Abortion"?

Jeff Koloze, of Clark State Community College (Ohio), has written a thought-provoking article on the connection between rap music and the pro-life movement. Check it out.

Friday, June 12, 2009

The Argument From Motion and the Alleged Composition Fallacy

There are many Cosmological Arguments. It is perhaps more surprising that there are many variations of the individual versions of the Cosmological Argument. One, expressed similarly by Kreeft and Tacelli, goes like this:

1. Everything in motion is moved by another.
2. The universe is in motion.
3. Therefore, the universe is moved by another.

In this case, "motion" just means "change." A pile of bricks is a brick wall in potentiality, but it requires someone or something to build it into a wall in order from the pile to move from potentiality to actuality qua wall.

The second premise is sometimes alleged to commit the fallacy of composition. This fallacy is committed by applying something to the whole, when it only really has application to its individual parts. Sticking with our brick wall analogy, even though all of the individual bricks may be small, the wall as a whole may very well be large. This is known as an incidental composition.

However, sometimes it does make sense to apply to the whole what also belongs essentially to its parts. Hence, this is known as an essential composition. For instance, given that each part of the wall is made of brick, it logically follows that the entire wall is itself made of brick.

A proponent of this version of the Cosmological Argument will contend that (2) makes use of an essential composition. In fact, it is difficult conceptually to think how if every part of the universe is in motion, that the universe as a whole would not itself be in motion. Now, if the universe really is in motion (and it appears more than reasonable to think it is), then we can either: a) accept (3) as a sound inference; or b) make an exception for the universe and say that it is not moved by another. The problem is that (b) must be supported by some line of reasoning, or else it commits the fallacy of special pleading. Barring any reason for this exception, then, it seems that the argument from motion is a sound one.

Our job is then to show what attributes we can infer about the universe's mover, the first mover, so to speak. We have looked at these attributes in some detail in other posts, especially in the one dealing with the Inductive Cosmological Argument.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Some Thoughts on the Moral Argument

The traditional axiological argument, also known as the moral argument, has been ably defended by many theistic philosophers. Geisler's version goes like this:

1. Every law has a law-giver.
2. There is an objective moral law.
3. Therefore, there is an objective moral law-giver.

When we consider (1), it becomes clear that laws are prescriptive rather than merely descriptive. In other words, they tell us what we ought to do, instead of merely detailing an action that is done. This suggests to us that the moral law-giver of (3) is personal, since prescriptions have their source in persons. Imagine going to a pharmacy and handing one of the staff a piece of paper without a doctor's signature. If they ask you, "who prescribed this?" and you answer, "nobody; it's just a prescription," then you would get a puzzled look at the least, and an appointment at the nearest psychiatric ward at the worst.

For Geisler, and any moral realist, (2) is supported best by our own moral experience. Indeed, the idea that rape, torture, child abuse, or murder are morally ambivalent is rejected by everyone in practice. Even those who commit these crimes would object if someone did the same to them, which is indicative of the reality of their own moral compass.

Craig's moral argument is summarized as follows:

4. If God does not exist, then objective moral values do not exist.
5. Objective moral values exist.
6. Therefore, God exists.

Craig's version is a reductio ad absurdum, which makes use of modus tollens. The argument is essentially the same, except that Craig's treatment has been more in depth. Not only do we have the reason that Geisler gives for attaching objective moral values (or an objective moral law) to a personal law-giver (God), but there are additional reason for thinking so, as well. One of my favorite reasons makes use of Kant's practical axiological argument, which Craig defended in his debate with Louise Antony:

7. Moral behavior is rational.
8. Moral behavior is rational if and only if justice will be done.
9. Justice will be done if and only if God exists.
10. Therefore, God exists.

The defense of (7) is much the same as the defense of (2) and (5). We have a perception of the rationality of moral behavior. In fact, it would be quite irrational to reject such behavior in practice. Think of the devastation that would result if everyone treated child abuse as morally neutral. The truth is, we have no reason for rejecting the rationality of moral behavior, and every reason to accept that moral behavior is rational.

I would defend (8) by simply pointing out that if justice is not done, then there is no incentive to behave morally. If we benefit the most by being greedy and hateful, and so forth, then why not embrace these vices? Only if justice will be done do we have any reason for striving for virtue as opposed to vice.

Yet, this brings us to premise (9). Upon just a brief reflection, we realize that there is much injustice in the world. If this life is all there is, then justice will not be done and there is no reason, practically speaking, to accept (7). Only if there is a life beyond this can we salvage the rationality of moral behavior. In addition, only if God exists is there any hope that there will be a judgment in which we are reckoned according to our deeds (Psalm 62:12; Prov. 24:12; Rom. 2:6). So, we find that God's existence can be inferred by the practicality of morality.

A number of objections have been made to the moral argument, but I don't find any of these at all compelling. One of these objections is that since we have developed morality through the process of evolution, then we cannot say that the moral law is objective; we could have evolved in another way. A similar objection is that morality is culturally relative, and that we learn our moral behavior by our particular society. The flaw in both of these arguments is that they both commit a very basic genetic fallacy. The manner in which something is learned has no effect upon the verisimilitude (truth-value) of a given proposition. I learned the multiplication tables from my second-grade teacher, but that doesn't mean that multiplication is anything short of objective.

Moreover, the relativity of moral values isn't nearly as great as some purport. And even if it were great, it doesn't make any difference to the argument at hand. The reason why is simply that some cultures can be wrong. Any culture that believes the earth is flat, for example, is not engaging in just another relative speculation. Such a culture is objectively incorrect in that assessment. Likewise, if a culture accepts the practice of, say, genocide, then they are wrong in doing so. I don't believe this to be an arrogant presumption by any means. After all, the relativist who claims this is arrogant is presupposing the objectivity of arrogance being a vice, so the objection actually undermines itself.

Another objection is that we should behave morally, not for the sake of an afterlife, but for the sake of future generations. The immediate difficulty with this is that all future generations will eventually die, as well. Hence, unless there is a God who will judge our works, there remains no incentive to behave morally.

A third objection to consider is that atheists, and non-theists in general, are capable of living morally. I fully acknowledge this. The claim, however, is not that atheists cannot behave morally, but that their atheism cannot make sense out of living morally. To put it another way, atheists can be moral, but only in spite of, and not because of, their respective worldview.

One final objection is the Euthyphro Dilemma: is something good because God wills it, or does God will it because it is good? What the dilemma assumes is that goodness is either due to the arbitrary will of God, in which case God can change it at a whim; or else, goodness exists independently of God, and so we don't have to invoke God in order to make sense out of morality. The problem with this is at least twofold.

First, let's assume that the Euthyphro Dilemma's conclusion is correct and that goodness exists independently of God. Even if this were the case, there is still no assurance that justice will be done. This is why I like Kant's argument so much. It requires the skeptic not only to make sense out of what morality is, but it also requires him to make sense out of moral accountability. On atheism, there simply is no such accountability, so the question remains: why should one engage in moral behavior?

Secondly, what we find is that the Euthyphro Dilemma is actually a false dilemma. A true dilemma states that either A or ~A. What the Euthyphro Dilemma states, on the other hand, is A or B. Since the two are not contradictory, we can accept both. God's willing something is due neither to a mere whim, nor to its being good independently of Him. Instead, something is good because it reflects God's own nature. God is the summum bonum, the "greatest good" itself, and so He is the very standard of goodness.

Overall, then, I believe there is much to be gained by contemplating the inference from morality to God. The challenge for atheists to make sense of axiology, in my estimation, remains.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

More on the Conceptualist Argument

We've already taken a look at a strong objection to Platonism's view of abstract objects. This was based on a causal argument against the idea that abstracta exist independently of the mind. Given their necessity, then, abstracta are demonstrated to be concepts of a divine mind via reductio ad absurdum. However, are there any positive, direct reasons to accept conceptualism?

One possibility would involve the argument from intentionality. It appears as though statements, such as "2+2=4," "all bachelors are unmarried," and "Jones is sitting under a tree in W," are all about something. That is to say, propositions, if they have any meaning, seem to be intended, or to have intentions. Yet, intentions do not exist independently of persons. Without the existence of a mind that intends meaning in a statement, the statement is just a set of words.

Given the intentionality of propositional statements, therefore, along with the necessity of at least some propositions, we have good reasons to believe that the Conceptualist Argument provides a rational basis for theism.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Historical Jesus: Some Thoughts at the End of the Semester

Who was the historical Jesus? After a semester's worth of studying samples of New Testament scholarship, a summary of what these various scholars believe is historical about Jesus is now in order. Amidst the many conservative and liberal scholars in the field, many of whom stand out as intellectual powerhouses, Luke Timothy Johnson, John P. Meier, and Joseph Fitzmyer are like a breath of fresh moderate air. These three scholars offer their reasons for what can be known historically about Jesus of Nazareth. Some of these reasons overlap, but they provide an excellent illustration of what is almost universally accepted to be knowledge of the historical Jesus.

After mentioning the historical Jesus, I will now contradict myself in turning to Luke Timothy Johnson. It is not that Johnson believes that nothing can be known about Jesus by means of the historical method; but, he does not think that the search for the historical Jesus is on the right path. Johnson states: “Even the most critical historian can confidently assert that a Jew named Jesus worked as a teacher and wonder-worker in Palestine during the reign of Tiberius, was executed by crucifixion under the prefect Pontius Pilate, and continued to have followers after his death.” He continues (emphasis in original), “as a historian, I can only state them as more or less probable, on the basis of the evidence available for verification” (Johnson, p. 123).

The historical facts that Johnson mentions are all at the core of who we have traditionally understood Jesus to be, believer or not. To offer an illustration, if someone mentions “Doug Benscoter,” but says that this Doug is not the same as the second son of Dan Benscoter II, then we know we are not talking about the same person that is writing this. To put it abstractly, if something is true of one thing, but not of another, then the two cannot be identical. The significance of this is that if any of the historical facts of Jesus are not true of the “real” Jesus, then the two cannot be the same person. However, we find that history confirms at least some of the facts concerning the real Jesus, even if the historical method cannot prove all of them.

What does Johnson mean by the “real” Jesus, though? He obviously distinguishes the historical Jesus from the real Jesus. At the center of the Christian faith is the resurrection of Jesus. Johnson comments, “If the resurrection were a matter of visions and locutions of a dead person experienced by some followers, then it would be 'historical' not as part of the history of Jesus but as part of the story of his followers . . .” (Johnson, p. 136). This is important, since Johnson shifts the historicity of the resurrection from a fact about Jesus to a fact about the immediate disciples of Jesus. As I've documented in another essay, John Dominic Crossan agrees that this is historical, but denies that the resurrection actually occurred. For Johnson, then, history deals only with those things that occur within time and space (Johnson, p. 136), but since the resurrection occurred outside of time and space, we cannot use the historical method to verify its authenticity.

Johnson prefers what is experiential in order to determine what is real about Jesus. He concludes, “the resurrection of Jesus . . . can be said to be 'historical' as an experience and claim of human beings, then and today, that organizes their lives and generates their activities. . . . I hold that some sort of powerful, transformative experience is required to generate the sort of movement earliest Christianity was, and to necessitate the sort of literature the New Testament is” (Johnson, p. 136). These experiences may require us to delve into philosophy and apologetics, but as per Johnson's definition of “history,” the resurrection is beyond the historical method's criteria of verification.

Meier and Fitzmyer both use their own reasonable historical methods to arrive at similar conclusions about what can be known of the historical Jesus. Meier has been covered through much of this course, and his commentary has been very helpful indeed. He arrives at virtually the same conclusions – that Jesus was a (marginal) Jew in first century Palestine, who was put to death under Pontius Pilate and had disciples who continued his ministry. Meier also considers many questions that are normally not asked in a book about the historicity of Jesus – things like whether Jesus was literate or was married and had a family. Of course, these questions do not make up the historical “core,” but remain interesting speculations nonetheless.

Fitzmyer's work is quite interesting as well, and not simply as a means to reiterate what has already been established as historically true of Jesus. For example, the twenty-third question he answers deals specifically with a high-level Christology. Of course, this concerns theology, and not necessary history, but it can be related to history in the sense that we can learn something about what the earliest followers of Jesus believed about him. Fitzmyer points out: “Even those New Testament interpreters who would regard some of the early speeches in Acts as reflecting the primitive kerygma, a view that is not universally admitted, would have to agree that 'Son' is hardly a title associated with this form of the kerygma. . . . The phrase 'equality with God' is used of Jesus in the pre-Pauline hymn in Philippians 2:6. But it is quite disputed in what sense that phrase is to be understood” (Fitzmyer, pp. 108-109). In other words, did the earliest Christians believe that Jesus is God – that he is equal to the Father? Fitzmyer has some reservations about this, but sees Jesus as highly elevated in any case. While accepting the view that John's notion of Jesus' unity with the Father is not merely a Johannine redaction, Fitzmyer continues: “the Christian reflection and meditation present in [John] are likewise a prime factor in the gradual development of explicit ontological christology (i.e. a belief in the intrinsic constitution of Christ and of his relation to the Father)” (Fitzmyer, pp. 109-110).

Fitzmyer's view can supplement Johnson's own criteria of the experiential and living Jesus. For, it is not the case that our understanding of Jesus is simply a static view, insusceptible to any change or development. Instead, the evolution of our understanding of the real Jesus is precisely part of what it means for something (or in this case, someone) to be alive and capable of being experienced in the minds and hearts of believers.

I wanted to shift Meier and Fitzmyer away from a mere reiteration of what can be known about Jesus “historically,” since this has already been covered in the analysis of Johnson. Neither Meier not Fitzmyer would disagree with Johnson's conclusion about the historical facts of Jesus. Nevertheless, each scholar provides his own insightful take on what constitutes evidence for who the historical Jesus was (and is), and what even constitutes a meaningful question as it relates to historical inquiry. Obviously, there is much freedom to determine what is “historical” of Jesus, and of the New Testament in general (Fitzmyer, p. 150). However, the question that is most relevant to us as human persons is what Johnson spells out in some detail – can Jesus be experienced today and, if so, what significance does he have for our lives? I personally agree with Peter that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16). This is a very powerful proclamation, one that leads my own life to the utmost extent. But, can these titles (Christ, Son of the living God, among others) be subject to historical methods? That all depends upon how one defines “history” in the first place.

Overall, there are quite a few historical facts that can be known about Jesus. There are certainly more things we can know with confidence about Jesus than about most other figures of ancient history. Exactly how much can we know about Confucius, for example? On the other hand, we know that Jesus was a first century Jew, who lived in Palestine, preached the kingdom of God, worked wonders, was put to death under Pontius Pilate, and had a group of followers who claimed that God had raised him from the dead. These are historical considerations, and they give us the incentive to look further into what is real about Jesus, especially about the last claim. If Jesus had truly been raised from the dead, then that would constitute a divine miracle, which is the very ground of our Christian faith.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Conceptualist Argument

Not too long ago, I was listening to a radio interview with Seth MacFarlane and Adam Carolla. I find both of these comedians hilarious, and I don't intend any antagonism in critiquing something that was said. They were talking about their atheism and the host brought up the point that (and this is a paraphrase), "there has to be something behind the universe." He was referring specifically to the apparent order within the universe. MacFarlane responded briefly by noting all of the chaos in the universe. I want to make two quick, general points about this before moving on to the conceptualist argument (CA).

First of all, the existence of chaos does not cancel out the reality of order. No matter how strange, paradoxical, and unintuitive some things can be, there's still quite a bit of order to be found. Always, or for the most part, whenever I throw something into the air, it comes back down. Secondly, and more to the point, even chaotic events are intelligible. And, since intelligibility presupposes order, it follows that there is order even behind elements of chaos. It is true at all times and in all places that A=A; that if A=B and B=C, then A=C; and that 2+2=4. No instance of chaos negates any of that.

As a result, I agree with the host's conclusion that there must be some kind of ordering principle, what Heraclitus called the "Logos," that makes the universe intelligible to our experiences. However, many people might reasonably ask: why does the Logos have to be God. More specifically, why does the Logos have to be the personal God that classical theists believe in? This is where I believe the CA can be used to supplement the argument from uniformity detailed above.

Chad McIntosh has already ably defended the CA on a number of occasions. One of his latest contributions can be found here: In this post, I'd like to simply offer my own take on the argument.

First of all, we have already noted the necessity and indispensability of abstract propositions, such as 2+2=4. Instead of using my time to tackle this issue in depth, I will turn instead to the conceptual nature of abstracta and what this implies for theism. So far, the argument can be summarized like this:

1. Abstract objects are either contingent, necessary and mind-independent, or necessary concepts of a mind.
2. Abstract objects are not contingent or mind-independent.
3. Therefore, abstract objects are necessary concepts of a mind.

We will focus, then, on the premise that abstracta are not mind-independent. What reason do we have for coming to this conclusion? Here's how I would outline the proof:

4. There is a causal relationship between a subject and the external object that is known.
5. Abstract objects do not stand in causal relations.
6. Hence, if abstract objects are external to the mind, then they cannot be known.
7. Abstract objects are known.
8. Therefore, abstract objects are not external to the mind (i.e. they are not mind-independent).

The truth of this syllogism depends upon (4) and (5). In defense of (4), imagine some object external to the mind, like your computer screen. As you read this, your eyes act as a bridge in the causal relationship between your mind and the screen in order for you to have knowledge of the screen, and of what is on the screen. Now, if there is no such causal relationship, then you wouldn't know that the computer screen is in front of you. This becomes highly problematic unless one thinks of abstracta as mental concepts, since abstract objects do not stand in causal relations, per (5). Abstract objects just don't do anything; they are causally inert. The transitive axiom has no weight or measurability, and it certainly cannot mow my lawn or file my taxes. This would mean that if the transitive axiom were mind-independent, then we would have no knowledge of it. Yet, we clearly do have knowledge of it, which means that it and other abstracta must be conceptual in nature.

This is the really interesting part. Take the union of all true propositions; we can call it U. U is itself an abstract object, and is therefore the concept of a mind. However, it cannot be the concept of just any mind, since only an omniscient mind would know all true propositions. Therefore, it logically follows that an omniscient mind exists. So, not only do we have rational justification for believing in a Logos, but we are reasonably brought to the conclusion that this Logos is a personal mind. And, to borrow a phrase from Thomas Aquinas, this everyone understands to be God.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Does God Exist? - The Debate

Here is the link to my debate:

My username is SnoopDoug. I'm very pleased with the way this mini-debate went. As for who won, you be the judge. :)

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

An Inductive Cosmological Argument - Revised

I've revised the earlier draft of the inductive cosmological argument. I also wish to argue that the first cause is a personal agent.

1. The universe is either caused or uncaused.
2. Complex things are unlikely to be uncaused.
3. The universe is very complex.
4. Therefore, the universe is probably caused.

(1) is true by definition. (2) can be supported by an analysis of things we know that are complex. Always, or for the most part, whenever we observe a complex entity, we discover that it is caused by the formation and unification of its diverse parts.

(3) simply points out that the universe contains many complex elements, and I don't think anyone will disagree with that. As a result, I think (4) is more likely true than its negation, which would make this a cogent inductive argument.

Now, the cause of the universe would have to be simple; and, bodies are necessarily complex, given their divisibility. Because of this, the first cause must exist beyond the universe, and is therefore immaterial, timeless, and changeless. Finally, the cause of the universe is either personal or scientific. Yet, it cannot be scientific, since scientific laws are part of the explicandum (much like in the modal cosmological argument). Hence, the first cause must be a personal agent.

This is consistent with both an eternal universe, as well as a finite universe. However, I think there are good reasons to believe that the universe is not infinitely old, which I've already touched upon in an earlier post.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Does God Exist?

I'm currently participating in a mini-debate on the existence of God. I will be sure to add the link once the debate is finished.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

A New Modal Cosmological Argument

I've been thinking a lot lately of the recent modal versions of the cosmological argument. Peter van Inwagen has developed an intriguing objection to the principle of sufficient reason (PSR). What he states is that, "If X is the set of all contingent states of affairs, then X cannot be explained by something necessary. For, what is necessary will necessarily entail its explicandum, which means that X is actually necessary. This is a contradiction; therefore, the PSR is false."

Pruss and others have responded to van Inwagen's argument, but I'd like to assume for the sake of argument that he is correct. Can a sound modal cosmological argument (MCA) still be developed? Specifically, I'm referring to a possible MCA other than the already existing ones (i.e. the W-PSR, R-PSR, etc.). Here's my attempt to do so:

1. It is possible that a necessary being explains the contingent universe.
2. If something is possibly necessary, then it exists in all possible worlds.
3. Whatever exists in all possible worlds exists in the real world.
4. Therefore, a necessary being exists in the real world.

This argument avoids van Inwagen's objection, since we're no longer talking about states of affairs, but simply concrete "things" (re: "beings") in general. For example, then, there is a difference between what a thing is and what it does. It is possible that Jones is sitting under a tree, and it is also possible that Jones is not sitting under a tree. Regardless of which is true, Jones is still Jones. Applied specifically to the argument, therefore, a necessary being could exist without entailing some particular state of affairs. As Craig summarizes (emphasis in original):

"[The PSR] merely requires any existing thing to have an explanation of its existence, either in the necessity of its own nature or in some external cause. This premise is compatible with there being brute facts or states of affairs about the world. What it precludes is that there could exist things - substances exemplifying properties - which just exist inexplicably." [1]

Hence, I don't believe there is any contradiction in the notion of a necessary being. The other possible objection for the skeptic is to deny the S5 axiom on which (2) is dependent. The S5 axiom basically states that, "if p is possibly necessary, then p is necessary," or, "◊□p --> □p."

However, this axiom is fairly easy to defend. Its contrapositive is this: "~□p --> ~◊□p." In other words, if something is not necessary, then it's not possibly necessary. Davis puts it this way: "if p is not necessarily true, then it is not possible that p be necessarily true." [2]

Given the equivalence of "~□p --> ~◊□p" with "◊□p --> □p," and the obvious truth of the former, it follows logically and inescapably that the latter is also true. As a result, there is seemingly no tenable objection to the S5 axiom.

Now, since (3) follows from (2), and the real world is contained in the class of all possible worlds, it follows that (4) is correct and that a necessary being exists.

Works Cited

[1] William Lane Craig, "The Cosmological Argument," in The Rationality of Theism, edited by Paul Copan and Paul K. Moser, Routledge Press, 2003, p. 115.

[2] Stephen T. Davis, "The Ontological Argument," ibid., p. 107.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

An Inductive Cosmological Argument

Richard Swinburne has been known for his many inductive arguments for God's existence, one of them being strictly cosmological. This is my own take on an inductive cosmological argument, which is by no means comprehensive.

1. The uniformity of nature is either caused or uncaused.
2. Complex things are unlikely to be uncaused.
3. The uniformity of nature entails very complex things.
4. Therefore, the uniformity of nature is probably caused.

(1) shouldn't be controversial. Something "uncaused" could logically be either self-sufficient or even a brute fact (although I don't personally believe in brute facts).

(2) can be supported by an analysis of things we know that are complex. Always, or for the most part, whenever we observe a complex entity, we discover that it is caused by the formation and unification of its diverse parts.

(3) simply points out that nature contains many complex elements, and I don't think anyone will disagree with that. As a result, I think (4) is more likely true than its negation, which would make this a cogent inductive argument.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Is Terrorism Ever Justified?

With the growth of terrorism in the past century, as well as the increase in communicative technology, the public's curiosity about other ideologies has grown significantly. Although terrorist activity has increased as much as it has, the term “terrorism” now carries a negative connotation, so much so that those we perceive as terrorists often blunt the charge by claiming that their actions are morally justified. What would interest the casual Western citizen would be a consideration of the terrorist's statement that terrorism is justified. We might also ask a much more minimalistic question: is terrorism ever justified? This would shift the problem from the general claim that all terrorism is morally ambivalent, or even justified, to particular cases of terrorism. It will be necessary to both define terrorism, as well as have an understanding of a basic ethical theory that would determine whether terrorist activities actually ever are justified.

Bruce Hoffman points out that defining terrorism is quite difficult. Some definitions, however, are more helpful than others. We might think of terrorism as any violence against non-combatants that would serve to intimidate the public. Hoffman lays out some necessary conditions for an act to be considered terrorism. Terrorism is:

“-ineluctably political in aims and motives;

-violent—or, equally important, threatens violence;

-designed to have far-reaching psychological repercussions beyond the immediate victim or target;

-conducted either by an organization with an identifiable chain of command . . . or by individuals . . . inspired by the ideological aims or example of some existent terrorist movement and/or its leaders; and

- perpetuated by a subnational group or nonstate entity.” (Emphasis in original).1

These will be our working criteria for “terrorism.” Now, the question is again raised as to whether these actions are ever justified?

In order to answer this question effectively, we will need to step back and consider the notion of moral obligation. What does it mean to be morally obligated? Are there are absolute moral standards? And, if so, are any moral actions ever necessarily compromised by some state of affairs? The meaning of the last question will become clearer as we continue. Succinctly put, a moral obligation is some behavior that people ought to abide by. This is different from anything descriptive; rather, it is distinctively prescriptive. Whether terrorism is ever morally justified will inevitably center around the claim that there are certain moral obligations that everyone must adhere to at all times.

My own view on ethics will differ from other, albeit orthodox views of moral behavior. I point this out in order to clarify that my perspective is not the be-all end-all of ethical theory. For the purposes of this paper, I will adopt a moderate form of Kant's deontological ethics – that is, the categorical imperative. The basic claim is that every person ought to be treated as an end in and of him/herself, and not merely as a means. The criteria for a determination of whether any action can be considered moral, or morally right, is whether the action itself can be universalized. To provide a rather extreme example, if John does not want to be raped, then John ought not rape anyone else. Putting this in practice, as it relates to our inquiry of justified terrorism, we will need to consider whether exceptions to this rule can be made without compromising the rule to such an extent where it becomes entirely vacuous.

Are there are any exceptions to this principle, then? Does the categorical imperative truly eliminate any possibility of acting differently? I do not think it does. Let us examine a popular illustration. Imagine that you are in Holland during the early 1940's. You are hiding a Jewish family from the Nazi regime, and a Nazi soldier knocks on your door. He asks whether there are any Jews in your home. Now, it is perhaps quite obvious that most people would lie in that situation, unless of course he or she had some secret vendetta against the Jewish people. However, you want to protect this family, but you also know that lying is wrong. The conflict is most apparent; either you lie, or you hand over an innocent group of people to be imprisoned, or possible murdered. What, then, is the correct moral judgment?

My own position is that it is necessary to broaden our scope. For any action X, it is necessary to factor in C (where C = the categorical imperative), along with L (where L = the lesser of two evils). Surely, both lying and a participation in murder are both wrong. But, it should not be a controversial claim that murder is worse than a lie. So, if we take the first scenario and say that one should hand the Jewish family over to the Nazis, we might represent that decision and its axiological verisimilitude by the proposition P. Hence, the claim is that P (C + L) > 1/2. Now, if it is false that murder is better than lying, then P is likewise a false proposition. If, on the other hand, we consider the proposition P', where P' is equivalent to the claim that one ought to lie to the Nazis in order to keep the Jewish family safe, then we have the proposition: P' (C + L) > 1/2.

Under the above view, lying is still wrong, but it's also the lesser of two evils, so it ought to be preferred to murder. Obviously, others may adopt a different approach to ethics; and, it is not my intent to invalidate those other approaches. However, it will also be the case that those who claim that terrorism is wrong, as I do, will also come to the same conclusion, even if the methodology for arriving at that conclusion is different. The basic claim, then, is that even when certain things are the lesser of two evils, they are still wrong, even if preferable. We might now consider the ramifications of a terrorist's claim that their actions are the consonant with this – that is, that their actions are the lesser of two evils, and therefore justified.

One notable example of this type of justification-claim can be found in the writings of Sheikh Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah. He says:

“We don't see ourselves as terrorists because we don't believe in terrorism. We don't see resisting the occupier as a terrorist action. We see ourselves as mujihadeen [holy warriors] who fight a Holy War for the people.”2

Hence, it is Fadlallah's view that the actions of these so-called “holy warriors” serves the purpose of attaining a greater good.

It should not be surprising that outsiders do not find this kind of reasoning compelling, or even rhetorically persuasive. The reason why is fairly simple. The murder of innocent people is not justifiable, no matter what the ideologies' goals are. However, the problem becomes much more complex once we understand that many terrorists, at least many Islamic terrorists, do not consider their opponents as worthy of good will. In their view, the victims are not really victims at all; they are “infidels,” “dogs,” and “devils,” who are not even human persons. Nevertheless, the outsider once again will not be persuaded by this, given the rather plain appearance of question-begging. Why are these civilians not considered human? If it is simply because they do not share their interlocutors' worldview, then the very claim that these civilians are not human is based upon a presupposition. This is not to say that a presupposition is impossible to validate, but the claim that opponents to this line of thinking will make is that the probability of these Islamic terrorists' worldview being true is either low, or at best, inscrutable.3

To go back to our proposition-formula, the Islamic terrorist is essentially claiming that P-I (C + L) > 1/2, where P-I = the actions of Islamic terrorists are justified. We might immediately infer that P-I is low on (C + L), given that a terrorist would not desire that someone else perform a terrorist action upon them. What is key, however, is the claim that their activity is consistent, or even mandatory, on L. In the Islamic terrorist's mindset (and, of course, we could use non-Islamic examples of terrorism, as well), the killing of civilians is justified on the basis that they (the terrorists) are trying to bring about an Islamic state, which will result in the coming of the kingdom of Allah.

Since we are critiquing this perspective, we might ask for a reason why they think terrorism will accomplish their ends. Why do Islamic terrorists believe that killing non-combatants and destroying their enemies will bring about the kingdom of Allah? This view does not appear in the Koran, and in fact the Koran is arguably opposed to such measures. For example, the Koran states in Surah 4:90, “if they [the nations] hold aloof from you and wage not war against you and offer you peace, Allah alloweth you no way against them.” The Koran's position, then, appears quite at odds with the terrorist's agenda of invasion and destruction. A more conservative approach would be to fight when fought against.

Moreover, terrorism does not appear to be recommended in any authoritative Islamic tradition, at least not until fairly recently. It is possible, however, that Islamic terrorists consider their view to be based on a fairly recent revelation. If this is so, then they may find a plausible reason to think that their actions are morally justified. Nevertheless, for those of us who are outsiders, we do not find any reason to think there is a defeater for the claim that P-I (C + L) < 1/2, or inscrutable (note the emphasis on “<,” rather than “>”). On these grounds, the opponent of Islamic terrorism is rationally justified in concluding that terrorism is not morally justified. Further, if the Koran is the Muslim's ultimate authority, then it would appear to be an epistemic obligation to subordinate any additional revelation to the authority of the Koran. If the two revelations conflict, then it would seem that the authority of the Koran ought to be preferred over against the authority of the new revelation.

We might consider non-Islamic form of terrorism, though. Upon reflection of terrorist actions in general, is it possible that any of these acts are morally justified? I am inclined to think this is not the case. As before, the positive claim that a terrorist action is justified by way of a greater good defense is subject to the objection of inscrutability. The terrorist does not appear to have any defeater for the proposition that killing innocent persons is wrong. The counter-claim that these people are not innocent has no positive epistemic warrant; and indeed, any proposed warrant would require the use of some unverifiable conclusion. How would one go about “overriding” the already apparent perception that one should do unto others as they would have others do unto them? This is not to say that only verifiable conclusions are rationally justified, but in the absence of any persuasive reason, or any properly basic belief, it seems to be the case that we are justified in concluding that terrorism is not morally justifiable.

In sum, the conclusion that terrorism has some possible moral justification has seen to be lacking any epistemic support, and is rather undermined by the epistemic probabilities and first principles we are starting with. Nevertheless, what we have been examining is merely a theoretical aspect of ethical theory. What we do not necessarily possess is any way of persuading a terrorist that his or her actions are morally wrong. On the other hand, the question that we have answered does not specifically concern our ability to persuade. As it is commonly put, proof is not persuasion. In fact, we can go further and state that rational acceptability is not persuasion. Given the presuppositions we have started with, it does not appear to be the case that any demonstration of a morally justified terrorist action is feasible. Instead, what we discover is that we have confirmation of our own epistemic and ethical principles in light of our immediate perception of the truth of those principles, in addition to the lack of any rational defeaters of those same principles. As Shmuel Bar concludes, “for every fatwa that promises Paradise to those who engage in jihad, a counter-fatwa should threaten hellfire.”4 Bar's statement is certainly a strong one, but it should remind us that for every claim that a terrorist makes that would justify terrorist activity, an equally strong one (if not stronger one) can be used to counter it. As a result, the terrorist's epistemic status in favor of terrorism is severely weakened.

Works Cited

[1] Bruce Hoffman, Inside Terrorism, Columbia University Press, 2006.

[2] Alvin Plantinga, Warrant and Proper Function, Oxford University Press, 1993.

[3] Shmuel Bar, Warrant for Terror, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2006.

1Hoffman, p. 40.

2Hoffman, p. 23.

3Plantinga, p. 228.

4Bar, p. 117.