Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Oddity of Jesus Mythicism

A common trend in the arguments of Jesus Mythicists is to point to any similarity between Jesus and a myth that preceded the first century A.D. and conclude that Christians borrowed from the myth. The line of reasoning goes something like this:

1. The narratives of Jesus have similarities to the myth of Osiris. (Premise)

2. Osiris preceded Jesus. (Premise)

3. Therefore, the narratives of Jesus were borrowed from the myth of Osiris. (From 1 and 2)

4. If the content of a narrative is borrowed from a myth, the narrative is also a myth and hence false. (Premise)

5. Therefore, the narratives of Jesus are mythical and false. (From 3 and 4)

Of course, no actual proponent of Jesus Mythicism would put the argument that way, and for good reason. For one, the argument is obviously invalid. (3) does not follow from (1) and (2). Moreover, (4) is demonstrably false. How many sober historians would conclude that Edward I of England is mythical simply because there are aspects of his life similar to that of the mythical King Arthur?

What the Jesus Mythicist position does, in effect, is prevent debate about the historicity of the life of Jesus from even getting off the ground. After all, why bother discussing the merits of the Gospels' empty tomb accounts when the very resurrection of Jesus itself can be dismissed as mythical from the start?

Monday, October 25, 2010

End-of-Regular-Season Predictions for the NBA 2010-11

1. Miami
2. Orlando
3. Boston
4. Chicago
5. Atlanta
6. Milwaukee
7. Philadelphia*
8. Cleveland**

1. LA Lakers
2. Dallas
3. Oklahoma City
4. San Antonio
5. Portland
6. Denver***
7. LA Clippers****
8. Phoenix

*I expect the Sixers to do much better this year with the addition of defensive-minded coach, Doug Collins. With a young core of Holiday, Turner, Iguodala, Young, Williams, and Speights, this team will run a lot.

**Cleveland is a bit of a wildcard. I have no idea if they will survive the loss of LeBron James, but I'm giving them the benefit of the doubt with the eighth seed in the East.

***Denver is another wildcard. I expect Carmelo Anthony to be traded by the deadline, which could potentially mean that the Nuggets will be missing the postseason entirely. However, they have a lot of talent left even without Melo, and a sixth seed is conceivable.

****With Blake Griffin healthy, I think the Clippers will have a legitimate shot of making the playoffs. With that said, the seventh seed is generous.

I predict that Charlotte will drop out of favor in the East, and that Utah (heavily affected by free agent losses during the offseason) will fail to make the playoffs in the West.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

God's Immutability versus Omniscience?

Craig and Moreland both argue against a strong doctrine of divine immutability. They use the following example:

1. God is timeless only if He is immutable. (Definition)

2. God is immutable only if He does not know what time it is now. (Premise)

3. If God is omniscient, then He knows what time it is now. (Premise)

4. God is omniscient. (Premise)

5. Therefore, God is not timeless. (From 1 - 4)

(5) entails (6): God is not immutable.

I list (2) and (3) as premises, as opposed to definitions, because what they are assuming (and they are quite upfront about this) is an A-theory of time. If time is dynamic and the present is constantly changing, then in order for God to be omniscient, He must know what the present is. Given that the present changes, there is a change in God's knowledge, implying that God is not immutable.

I have to wonder whether this turns out to be an argument not against immutability, but rather against an A-theory of time. Consider this:

1*. God is immutable and omniscient. (Premise)

2*. God is only immutable and omniscient if He knows all times simultaneously. (Definition)

3*. If all times are simultaneous to God, then time is static. (Definition)

4*. Therefore, time is static. (From 1 - 3)

(4*), of course, is a description of a B-theory of time.

It's not that I'm trying to take a position on whether I prefer an A-theory or a B-theory. Rather, I point out that one's presuppositions with respect to the nature of God will ultimately prove determinative for one's view of the relationship between God and time. If an A-theory is incompatible with divine immutability (and it's arguably not), then a good argument for divine immutability will simply lead one to accept a B-theory.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Yet Another Modal Third Way

I like to update these arguments, especially when I think the phrasing can be improved so as to avoid confusion or disagreement. Here is what I currently have:

1. Every existing being is either temporally contingent or temporally necessary. (Definition)

2. Something exists right now. (Premise)

3. Necessarily, if something exists right now, then something has always existed. (Premise)

4. Possibly, there was a time in the past at which nothing temporally contingent existed. (Premise)

5. Therefore, a temporally necessary being exists. (Conclusion)

6. Every existing being is either omnipotent or non-omnipotent. (Definition)

7. Possibly, whatever is non-omnipotent can be generated. (Premise)

8. Necessarily, whatever is temporally necessary cannot be generated. (Premise)

9. Therefore, a temporally necessary and omnipotent being exists. (Conclusion)

Validity of the Argument

Assume (10): A temporally necessary being does not exist. (10) and (3) imply together with (1) and (2) that (11): Necessarily, a temporally contingent being has always existed. This contradicts (4), so (10) is false. Therefore, a temporally necessary being exists. Let us call this being "N."

Assume (12): N is non-omnipotent. (12) and (7) imply (13): Possibly, N can be generated. However, (13) contradicts (8). Therefore, N is omnipotent. Q.E.D.

Soundness of the Argument

(1) is true by definition. (2) is true upon observation. (3) is based on ex nihilo nihil fit (out of nothing comes nothing). If there were ever a time in the past at which nothing existed, then nothing would exist now, which is plainly false.

(4) seems reasonable enough. If one part of a house can fail to exist at some time, then the house as a whole can also fail to exist at some time. Given the possibility of the non-existence of some temporally contingent being at some time in the past, it seems equally possible for nothing temporally contingent to exist at some time in the past. Mind you, this does not assume there actually was such a time, but only that it is possible.

(5) logically follows from (1) - (4), so we need only close the gap between N and God in order for the modal third way to be a sound argument of natural theology.

Once again, (6) is true by definition. (7) might be the most controversial premise of the argument, but it too seems highly plausible. Assume that X is non-omnipotent, but is also the most powerful being in w1. In w2, X is less powerful than Y. If there is even a single possible world in which Y generates X, it follows that X is possibly generated. The same process can be used to show that any non-omnipotent being is possibly generated.

(8) seems indubitably true, at least on this particular use of "generated." If there is no time at which N can possibly not-exist, then N is just not the type of being that can be generated.

If each of these premises is correct, then (9) follows necessarily: a temporally necessary and omnipotent being exists.

It may be asked whether the argument requires that the past be infinite, but I don't think that's the case. Far from assuming the infinity of the past, (3) only requires that there be no time at which the statement, "something exists," is false. (3) is correct whether the past is finite or infinite. I take it that the temporally necessary being, granting that the past is finite, existed in an undifferentiated time at the beginning.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Third Way Again...

1. Something has always existed. (Premise)

The MTW and the traditional Third Way both use (1) as a starting point.

2. Temporally contingent beings exist. (Premise)

3. If there is no temporally necessary being, then only temporally contingent beings exist. (Premise)

4. If only temporally contingent beings exist, it is necessarily the case at all past times that at least one temporally contingent being existed. (From 1 and 3)

5. It is not necessary for there to be any temporally contingent beings. (Premise)

6. Therefore, a temporally necessary being exists. (From 3 - 5)

To repeat, premise (1) is supported by the fact that out of nothing comes nothing. (2) and (3) are uncontroversial, and (4) is logically deducted, so that leave us with (5).

To put it bluntly, a denial of (5) results in plainly weird consequences. How would the non-existence of temporally contingent beings explain the existence of some other temporally contingent being? Does the non-existence of every non-unicorn imply that a unicorn exists? [1] Clearly not. Yet, if it's necessary that something has always existed, but it's not necessary that there always existed some temporally contingent being, it follows that a temporally necessary being exists.

[1] Alexander Pruss, "Why Is There Something Rather Than Nothing," Philosophia Christi 7 (2005), p. 210.

The Modal Third Way - Expressed a Bit Differently

The Third Way starts by defining two types of possible entities: contingent and necessary.

X is temporally contingent in W if and only if X can possibly not-exist in W.
Y is temporally necessary in W if and only if Y cannot possibly not-exist in W.

The argument begins like this:

1. Something has always existed. (Premise)

If there were ever a time in the past in which nothing at all existed, then nothing would exist even now, for out of nothing comes nothing. Therefore, something has always existed.

2. There is a possible state of affairs S in the past in which nothing temporally contingent exists. (Premise)

3. It is necessarily the case that S is explicable. (Premise)

Where "explicable" means possibly caused. Assuming a brick could just pop into existence uncaused out of nothing doesn't undermine premise (3). For, it is still possible for the brick to be caused into existence.

4. Either there is a temporally necessary being, or else there is no temporally necessary being. (Law of excluded middle)

5. S is explained either by nothing or by a temporally necessary being. (From 3 and 4)

6. Nothing can explain nothing. (Premise)

7. Hence, S is explained by a temporally necessary being. (From 5 and 6)

8. Therefore, a temporally necessary being exists. (From 7)

Notice how the Modal Third Way doesn't rely upon the S5 axiom of modal logic. The logical axioms used throughout the MTW are fairly benign, e.g. the K system of modal logic.

We could then add the omnipotence argument to close the gap between temporally necessary being and God.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Immutable Truths, Theism and Naturalism

It seems like such a simple argument, and some may allege that it's simplistic, but here goes nothing:

1. There are immutable truths of logic, mathematics, and ethics. (Premise)

2. If Naturalism is true, everything is mutable. (Definition)

3. Therefore, Naturalism is false. (From 1 and 2)

Given that Naturalism is false, theism becomes a much more viable option. (1) may be demonstrated transcendentally, e.g. the rejection of the laws of logic is self-defeating. The reason (2) is correct is because Naturalism, at least on most accounts I'm familiar with, states that every existing thing is physical. Since all physical things are capable of change, it follows that every existing thing is capable of change (mutability).

Of course, the philosophically sophisticated Naturalist might amend such a view. Let's call the former Naturalism-A and the latter Naturalism-B. She might hold, like Bertrand Russell (incidentally, should Russell be considered a Naturalist?), that there are objective, immutable truths of logic, and so forth. The central thesis of Naturalism-B, then, would be this: there are immutable truths, but all concrete particulars are mutable. Immutable truths exist in a kind of Platonic realm.

Naturalism-B is probably more tenable than Naturalism-A, but does Naturalism-B survive philosophical muster? The problem that Russell, Quine, and other Platonists faced in the past, and what remains a major difficulty today, is Plato's "third man" argument. If there are immutable truths, why do we, mutable minds, have knowledge of them? I've defended the causal objection to Platonism in the past, and it seems equally relevant to Naturalism-B for as long as Naturalism-B is dependent on Platonism or something close to it.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

An Omnipotence Argument and the Contingency of the Universe

Although few atheistic philosophers take such a view, I do occasionally hear opponents of the Leibnizian cosmological argument (LCA) suggest that the universe may exist necessarily. I want to argue against this in a somewhat unconventional way. First of all, to repeat the standard version of the LCA:

1. Every existing thing has an explanation of its existence, either in the necessity of its own nature or in an external cause. (Premise, PSR)

2. If the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is God. (Premise)

3. The universe exists. (Premise)

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

5. Therefore, the explanation of the universe is God. (From 2 and 4)

Since the atheist in this instance rejects (2) by opting to conclude that the universe exists by a necessity of its own nature, we may argue the following:

6. Whatever exists by a necessity of its own nature is either omnipotent or not-omnipotent. (Premise, law of excluded middle)

7. Every not-omnipotent thing possibly has an external cause. (Premise)

8. Whatever is necessary cannot have an external cause. (Premise)

9. Therefore, whatever exists by a necessity of its own nature is omnipotent. (From 6 - 9)

10. The universe is not-omnipotent. (Premise)

11. Therefore, the universe does not exist by a necessity of its own nature. (From 9 and 10)

(6) is obviously true, so in confirmation of (9) we are left with (7) and (8). (7) is fairly benign, since even supposing that something not-omnipotent is uncaused, there is still a possible world in which it does have an external cause. (8), I think, is also indubitably true. If a necessary entity n1 were caused by another necessary entity n2, then n1 and n2 would have to be distinct entities. Yet, whatever is necessary must have an essence identical to its existence, for to exist non-essentially is to exist contingently. Since nothing can cause itself to exist, it follows that whatever is necessary is also self-existent and therefore cannot have an external cause.

(10) is true upon observation. There are many limitations inherent throughout the universe, so the universe cannot be omnipotent. Even if it were omnipotent, that wouldn't bode well for the atheist, since she presumably wants to deny that any existing thing is omnipotent. Of course, (11) follows logically from (9) and (10).

Friday, October 8, 2010

Knowledge and Morality

Today I was thinking back to when I was in elementary school and we had our seasonal "Sock Hops." They were always a lot of fun, and music was played from all decades that we enjoyed making fools of ourselves dancing to. One of the songs that stands out the most to me is The Four Seasons hit, "December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night)." It never dawned on me as a child, but now that I'm a grown adult, I have to chuckle a bit and shake my head about the fact that this particular song was being played in front of a bunch of eight to eleven year-olds.

The song isn't explicit, but who in their right mind would knowingly play a song that is about a young man who loses his virginity to a prostitute to a group of grade school children? Now, I should say right off the bat that we should give our DJ the benefit of the doubt in this case. He probably had no idea what the song was really about (we certainly didn't), and it's my impression that the vast majority of adult listeners don't even know. The song was most likely played because it is upbeat and easy to dance to.

Imagine now a hypothetical situation in which the DJ knows exactly what the song is about, but chooses to play it anyway. His motives aren't necessarily sinister, but he decides to play it because he happens to like the tune and thinks everyone else will, too. This may not be the most grave moral situation ever, but is it appropriate for him to play it? He knows what the song is about, but he also knows that none of the children know. To make matters more complicated, suppose he would not be willing to play it if he thought it likely that even one of the children knew the meaning.

It is obvious (to me, at any rate), that the DJ is taking an unwarranted risk. "When in doubt, throw it out," seems especially appropriate in this context. Elementary school children know a lot about adult content, no matter how much parents would like to pretend otherwise. If there is even a significant chance that just one of the children knows the meaning of the song, then he or she is likely to tell his/her friends as the song is playing. It seems to me, then, that knowledge of something increases the force of a moral imperative, motives notwithstanding. Therefore, the DJ should not play a song that may have a negative influence on his young audience.

Of course, as I mentioned before, I seriously doubt anyone knew the meaning of this song at the time.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Meaningfulness of Abstract Objects as Existents

It is alleged by the noncognitivist that talk of abstract objects as existing things is literally meaningless. What does it mean to say, for example, that the law of non-contradiction exists, or that the number 7 exists? Can such statements be defended from the noncogntivist's attack?

Notice that one needn't hold the belief that abstract objects actually exist in order to consistently maintain that it's meaningful to talk as if they exist. The nominalist might say that the number 7 does not exist, but that "the number 7 exists" is a meaningful, coherent proposition.

One may advance an argument based on the indispensability of abstract object-talk:

1. If a proposition is meaningful, each of its referents must possibly exist. (Premise)

For example, if I were to say, "unicorns are magical horses with a horn," I am expressing a proposition in which each of the words in the sentence at least possibly exists, even though this particular entity does not, in fact, exist.

2. Some propositions include abstract objects as referents. (Premise)

"The Prime Minister is not a prime number," includes an abstract object - prime number (e.g. 7).

3. Some of the propositions in (2) are meaningful. (Premise)

"The Prime Minister is not a prime number" expresses not only a truth, but a necessary truth. Prime Ministers just aren't the type of entities that can be prime numbers. Yet, a proposition can only be true if it is meaningful. From this it follows that:

4. Therefore, abstract objects are meaningful referents. (From 1 - 3)

As stated before, the meaningfulness of abstract objects does not necessarily entail that abstract objects exist. However, one may very well advance an additional argument that states that indispensable truths must exist. It is self-refuting to reject the laws of logic, for example, which entails their indispensability, and it's their indispensability that entails their existence as abstract objects. (I'm thinking of logic as abstract for fairly obvious reasons. The law of non-contradiction doesn't do anything; it doesn't stand in any causal relations, so it cannot be concrete.)

Logic, then, is necessary at all times and all places. This is a viable starting point for an argument of natural theology. Logic is either the concept of a mind, or else it is mind-independent. If it is conceptual, then it cannot be the concept of just any mind (you and I possibly fail to exist at various times), but must be the concept of a necessary mind, God.