Wednesday, June 30, 2010

A Quick Update on Hitchens

Christopher Hitchens is reportedly undergoing treatment for cancer. James White comments on the situation. Although I disagree with White's take on the evidentialist's/classicist's apologetical method, my sentiments on Hitchens are the same. He is a funny and intelligent man and, while he currently rejects the Christian faith, none of us should ever delight in the suffering of others. Let's keep him in our thoughts and prayers.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Is an Infinite Regress Possible?

For many arguments of natural theology, this question is simply irrelevant. However, the kalam cosmological argument (KCA) requires that universe began to exist at some finite time in the past:

1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
2. The universe began to exist.
3. Therefore, the universe has a cause.

In support of (2), Bonaventure reasoned that the present would not have arrived if the past were infinite. Craig summarizes this particular argument as follows [1]:

2A. The temporal series of events is a collection formed by successive addition.
2B. A collection formed by successive addition cannot be an actual infinite.
2C. Therefore the temporal series of events cannot be an actual infinite.

(2A) assumes an A-theory, or dynamic theory, of time. (The other philosophical argument that Craig defends - i.e. the impossibility of an actually infinite number of things - does not necessarily assume an A-theory of time.)

(2B) is supported by the fact that no matter how many members are added to a set, it is always and indefinitely possible to add another before arriving at infinity. Hence, any collection formed by successive addition will always be finite.

Some Objections

While Thomas Aquinas agreed that the universe began to exist, he disagreed with Bonaventure that the universe's beginning could be demonstrated by reason alone. Thomas reasoned that the universe's past, while not actually infinite, could be potentially infinite.

Thomas, I think, is technically correct. However, in order for the past to be potentially infinite, the past would also have to be growing. In other words, time would have to be moving backwards, and not forward only. Since this is contrary to experience, the objection that Thomas offers is generally not taken as a very serious threat to the KCA.

Another objection states that an infinite collection can be formed by successive addition if the collection has always been being formed. Any moment in the past is finite, so if there are infinitely-many of them, the collection as a whole will be an infinite set. This objection appears a bit fishy to me, and I don't just mean that it appears to be question-begging (e.g. the past is infinite if it is infinite). It is true that at any time in the past, there is a finite distance from that moment of time to the present. The problem is that even though each finite period of time may be traversed, it doesn't follow that the infinite set as a whole could be traversed. In short, the objection is susceptible to a composition fallacy.


Obviously, entire books can and have been written on this one argument alone. However, it seems to me that the objections put forward so far are unsuccessful. Barring any more cogent objections, it appears that it is reasonable to suppose that the universe cannot be infinitely-old on an A-theory of time.

[1] William Lane Craig, The Kalam Cosmological Argument, Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1979, p. 103. I have changed the premise numbers/letters in order to avoid confusion with the general KCA summary.

Monday, June 21, 2010

A Simple and Effective Response to the Flying Spaghetti Monster Objection

A popular objection to the proofs of natural theology state that the arguments work just as well to demonstrate the existence of the Flying Spaghetti Monster (FSM) and other fictitious entities. For example, the various cosmological arguments reason that some type of First Cause exists. I suppose the atheist's objection allegedly shows that if the argument can be used to show that something we all know to be non-existent exists, then something must be wrong with the argument itself.

This objection fails on at least two counts, in my opinion. For one thing, even granting that the cosmological argument is consistent with a non-existent entity, it simply doesn't follow that the argument is unsound. What if one bites the bullet and says, "yeah, maybe the First Cause is the FSM, or maybe it's something else"? The existence of a First Cause (and a personal one, at that) still stands unrefuted, barring any dealings with the actual premises of the argument.

More importantly, however, the proofs of God's existence (like the TCA) aim to demonstrate the existence of a necessary, unique, eternal and omnipresent being that is simple in its composition. In other words, we are talking about a being whose existence and essence are identical. The FSM, on the other hand, would presumably have an existence not identical to its essence (e.g. noodles aren't identical to existence itself). This means that the TCA cannot be used surreptitiously or to prove the existence of something absurd or non-existent.

Other arguments of natural theology compound the problem. The kalam cosmological argument (KCA) points to the existence of an immaterial, transcendent Creator. Yet, there is nothing immaterial about "noodly appendages." So, via Leibniz' Law, the FSM cannot be the First Cause of the cosmological arguments.

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Argument from Cosmic Intentionality

I argue in my defense of the Thomistic Cosmological Argument that a necessary, unique, omnipresent and eternal being (e.g. Pure Being) - in short, something God-like - exists. In closing the gap between Pure Being and God, it is reasonable to suppose that the key attribute is personality. This may lead us to consider various other arguments of natural theology that increase the probability that what we call "Pure Being" is a personal agent. There's the fine-tuning argument, the moral argument, the conceptualist argument, and perhaps even the ontological argument.

I would like to consider something more akin to Reppert's Argument from Reason, what I call the "Argument from Cosmic Intentionality":

1. There are beings that possess intentionality. (Premise)

By "intentionality," I'm thinking of purpose, direction, or anything that would qualify under the broad understanding of deliberation. Human beings, I take it, are uncontroversially intentional beings.

2. The universe has brought about beings with intentionality. (Premise)

Again, under any realistic scientific and/or evolutionary hypothesis, human beings are at least the product of the laws of nature. This is something both Creationists and Evolutionists can agree on.

3. Intentional beings that come into existence are either the result of intentionality or non-intentionality. (Premise, law of excluded middle)

Either X or ~X.

4. Intentional beings are unlikely to arise from non-intentionality. (Premise)

One might be tempted to make (4) even stronger by suggesting that intentional beings cannot arise from non-intentionality. I suppose the basis for this would be on the grounds that since something cannot come from nothing, some thing (intentionality) cannot arise from the same quality's absence. If one is persuaded by this, then not only is (4) as stated acceptable, but its much stronger version is also taken to be true.

5. Pure Being is the cause of all other realities. (Premise)

See the TCA.

6. Only persons have intentionality. (Premise)

This appears more reasonable than not. A rock might have a purpose, but its purpose is given to it by persons, e.g. in a sculpture. Rocks and other non-persons don't themselves intend anything.

7. Therefore, Pure Being possesses personality. (Conclusion)

This is a really rough version of the argument. I'm not even sure it's valid, but it's something to think about. I take it that (4) is the most controversial premise.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The "Natural Theology is Outdated" Objection

This isn't the most serious objection, but it is raised often enough to give us some concern. Many times when someone finds out that I'm highly influenced by Aristotle, especially his metaphysics, it is immediately objected, "his arguments are old." My initial reaction to this is, "yeah, they are old. But, what difference does it make?"

The problem is compounded whenever we consider the many other things we regard as indispensable, but are just as old. I'm thinking in particular of logic and mathematics. I wonder if the person making the objection would also abandon democracy on the ground that it's old. Calculus is getting there, too. In any case, I think the objection is not so much that the arguments of natural theology (and metaphysics, more generally) are old and should therefore be discarded, but that they have been long refuted.

If my impression is correct, then why not simply say they have been refuted? That would save us a lot of time, instead of going over what C.S. Lewis aptly called the fallacy of "chronological snobbery." In addition, most of the alleged "refutations" of these arguments are based on misconceptions, which is what we find in Kant's treatment of the cosmological argument. As for the other cases, I guess I'm just not impressed.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Mystical Perception and Epistemology

SP = sensory perception
MP = mystical perception

One of the questions people have about MP is this: how exactly does it differ from SP? It seems as if the characteristics of MP are generally the same as those of SP. For example, a heavenly vision and/or message constitutes vision and audibles, which are thought of as defining characteristics of SP.

Before we attempt to distinguish between the two, it should be asked: does this hurt the case for MP or help it? It seems to me that the arguments against MP can be used equally against SP. If, for instance, Paul hallucinates a vision of Jesus, where the vision of Jesus is not veridical, then that is an argument against a particular instance of MP. The problem with this argument is that it can also be used against any instance of SP. If I observe a flower in a garden, and my vision has an impression of a purple flower, it could also be the case that I am hallucinating a non-veridical color, or even a non-veridical garden.

This brings us back to the age old question: how do we know what is real? I think there are things we can know with certainty (e.g. the existence of the self, the existence of God, and the fact that the self is not God), but that doesn't necessarily help us determine whether most instances of SP are veridical. In fact, it might even be argued that the success of SP entails the success of MP.

Differences in perception are also appealed to in discrediting MP, but once again, the same argument can be used against SP. Although I may be seeing a purple flower, someone standing at the opposite side of the garden may see the same flower as a white flower. Yet, this doesn't necessarily mean that either one of us should abandon our beliefs about what we perceive via SP. Perhaps there is a defeater for one of our beliefs. If I discovered that there is a light shining above the garden that, when someone is standing at a certain angle, makes white flowers appear purple, then that would give me an incentive to abandon my belief.

So, the skeptic of MP could reason that while there are available defeaters for instances SP, there are not available defeaters for instances MP. In other words, one's beliefs need to be falsifiable in order to be veridical.

Of course, this line of thought is troubled by at least two factors. 1) The principle that every belief must be falsifiable is it itself not falsifiable, so it appears that this objection to MP is self-refuting. 2) The criteria for falsifiability may be applicable to MP, after all.

One way of falsifying some instance of MP is to show that it is contrary to other things we know. If, for example, S has an experience of MP in which it is stated to S that torturing children for fun is a good thing, then given what is known about proper moral behavior, S is compelled to reject this instance of MP on some grounds (psychological, demonic, etc.).

Yet, it also seems to me that there are solid confirmations of MP. Say that St. Teresa of Avila has an experience in which God tells her that He loves her. This is consistent with God being the greatest conceivable being, so barring any defeater, her experience of MP may be veridical. I also believe that the arguments of natural theology establish God's existence, so any instance of MP that is consistent with what we can know on these grounds may also be taken as veridical.

The skeptic can, on the other hand, appeal to something like the logical version of the problem of evil, which states that the existence of God is logically incompatible with the reality of evil. Of course, I don't think these arguments are at all successful, given that God may have a morally sufficient reason for allowing evil. Plantinga, I think, put the nail in the coffin of the logical problem of evil.

It seems, then, that the reasons for rejecting MP work equally well against SP. If, therefore, SP is accepted in spite of skepticism, there remains no additional reason for rejecting MP.