Monday, January 24, 2011

The Modal First Way

Inspired by Maydole's Modal Third Way, as well as Gale and Pruss' Modal Cosmological Argument, I think there is promise in constructing a modalized version of the argument from motion - the Modal First Way (MFW). Let's start with three modal axioms:

A1. Everything in motion is possibly moved by another.

A2. The regress of movers is possibly finite.

A3. Whatever is contingent is possibly moved by another.

Motion, or change, is the transition of a potentiality to an actuality, as in the case of an acorn becoming an oak tree. Now, for a reductio ad absurdum:

P1. Assume that a First Mover does not possibly exist.

P2. If a First Mover does not possibly exist, then it is either necessarily the case that a) something in motion cannot be moved by another; or b) the regress of movers is infinite. (From 1, A1 and A2)

P3. It is not necessarily the case that (2a) or (2b). (From A1 and A2)

P4. Hence, it is possible that a First Mover exists. (From 1 - 3)

P5. Whatever is possible is either contingent or necessary. (Definition)

P6. Whatever is contingent is possibly moved by another. (From A3)

P7. A First Mover cannot be moved by another. (Premise)

P8. Therefore, a First Mover necessarily exists. (From 1 - 7)

Of course, one may imagine a possible world in which nothing is in motion. However, this wouldn't undermine our conclusion that a First Mover necessarily exists. For, without motion the First Mover would just exist a se and without any effect, much like George Washington would still be the same person had he not been the first president of the United States.

Let's sum up the argument in simpler terms:

1. Pure Act possibly exists. (Premise)

2. Whatever is possible is either contingent or necessary. (Definition)

3. Whatever is contingent is possibly actualized. (Premise)

4. Hence, Pure Act is necessary. (From 1 - 3)

5. Therefore, Pure Act exists. (From 4)

Then, in closing the gap between Pure Act and God:

6. Pure Act is either omnipotent or non-omnipotent. (Definition)

7. Whatever is non-omnipotent exemplifies the potentiality to grow in power. (Premise)

8. Pure Act does not exemplify any potentiality. (Definition)

9. Therefore, Pure Act is omnipotent. (From 6 - 8)

Friday, January 7, 2011

Mind Versus Matter

Which is more fundamental in explaining the orderly processes of nature: mind or matter? How one answers this question will inevitably determine whether one adopts a theistic or atheistic worldview. I have to wonder why some of the New Atheists continue to refer to belief in God as a delusion or mental disorder when the "mind" answer isn't obviously false or a priori less likely true than "matter." Maybe they would dispute this, but it's hard to understand how there could be a reasonable a priori reason for preferring the "matter" answer. In any case, I wish to offer a couple analogies in support of a theistic worldview.

Imagine you win the lottery. You might think that you were lucky. However, suppose now that you win the lottery twice in a row, or a hundred or a thousand times in a row, etc. At this point, the chance hypothesis would become quite unreasonable. As Aristotle so aptly explained, "when a certain result is achieved either invariably or normally, it is no incidental or merely lucky coincidence; and in the processes of nature each result is achieved if not invariably at least normally, provided nothing hinders."

Lest anyone think this is an "outdated" assumption, here is what contemporary British physicist, Paul Davies, has to say, "All science is founded on the assumption that the physical world is ordered. The most powerful expression of this order is found in the laws of physics. Nobody knows where these laws come from, nor why they apparently operate universally and unfailingly, but we see them at work all around us: in the rhythm of night and day, the pattern of planetary motions, the regular ticking of a clock."

Atheistic philosopher, Michael Martin, agree: "Consider science. It presupposes the uniformity of nature: that natural laws govern the world and that there are no violations of such laws."

Now, whether there are any violations of natural laws (e.g. in the case of miracles) is another issue. The point is that nature exhibits regularity for the most part, as expressed, for example, in the laws of gravity, electromagnetism, and the strong and weak atomic forces.

Yet, how could matter be the ultimate explanation of this? Without the direction of some intelligence, the same person would not win the lottery over and over again. Another analogy is this. Which computer would you trust to be reliable: one designed by an intelligence or one put together without the direction of any intelligence whatsoever? I hope you would choose the former.

This second analogy is used in support of the so-called "argument from reason," a la Lewis and Reppert. Briefly, if our cognitive faculties were formed by non-rational processes, why should we trust that our cognitive faculties are rational, e.g. why trust that our cognitive faculties generally produce true beliefs? If the skeptic retorts that they don't, then they are engaging in a self-contradiction. For, the conclusion that our cognitive faculties do not generally produce true beliefs is itself produced by our cognitive faculties, undermining the skeptic's own position. Of course, if our cognitive faculties are generally reliable, then they are most plausibly formed by rational processes, which implies an intelligent designer of sorts.

These are very simple arguments, but they have withstood centuries of philosophical critique. The fact of the matter is that the believer is capable of showing the non-believer that God exists based on just two starting points:

1. One cannot be rational while rejecting rational inquiry.

2. One cannot be rational while undermining the necessary preconditions of rational inquiry.

Order, regularity, and reliable cognitive faculties are all necessary preconditions of rational inquiry. What is more, each of these aspects of rational inquiry are best explained by the design hypothesis.

Now, the "who made God?" question of Dawkins, etc., can be easily disposed of. Here are the design criteria of the argument from laws of nature, for example: everything that a) lacks intelligence, and b) exhibits regularity, is designed.

Obviously, God does not lack intelligence, so He is not in need of being designed. When you type words on a keyboard, your own intelligence suffices to guide that process. The reason you and I are designed is because we have not always existed, and hence we didn't always have intelligence.

In combination with the cosmological argument (e.g. the Modal Third Way), these various teleological arguments provide the believer with a rational justification for theism.

[1] Aristotle, Natural Science, Book 2, Chap. 8, translated and edited by Philip Wheelwright, The Bobbs-Merrill Company, Inc., pp. 40-41.

[2] Paul Davies,

[3] Michael Martin,

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Apophatic Theology and the Meaningfulness of Religious Language

I was recently asked by a skeptic to explain the meaning of "necessary" in the proposition, "God has necessary existence." He held to a non-cognitivist position on the matter, claiming that it is meaningless to assert that anything has necessary existence. This is a very important distinction: he was not merely claiming that nothing has necessary existence, but that the very notion of necessary existence is literally without meaning.

What I pointed out is likely already apparent to most - namely, that if it is meaningful to speak of contingent existence, then it is equally meaningful to speak of necessary (non-contingent) existence. Nobody in their right mind would doubt that there are things that exist, but can also fail to exist. [1] Trees, planets, human beings, etc., are all contingent beings. If "contingent" is meaningful, then so is its negation, just as not-blue is the meaningful negation of blue.

This reminds me of how essential a sound grasp of apophatic (negative) theology is for the believer. We know the nature of God by knowing what He is not, as opposed to observing God in the same way we observe contingent things. God is said to be necessary because He is non-contingent, timeless because He is non-temporal, immutable because He is not subject to change, and so forth.

On the other hand, this is what makes the Christian doctrine of the Incarnation so scandalous to the non-Christian. How could the immutable God take on a mutable human nature? We could delve into the dual-nature of Christ, but for now I wish only to stress the need for the believer to answer the non-cognitivist's contention that religious language is meaningless. It's easy to answer, but unfortunately non-cognitivism has taken on what I consider to be a last resort in order to resist belief in God.

[1] It's funny to note that a denial of this would require that everything has necessary existence, which is what the non-cognitivist denies is even meaningful to begin with.