Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Metaphysical Realism in the Angelic Doctor

It's not like this was original with Popper...

"[T]o make things actually intelligible precedes the act of understanding them. But there are some things within us which are rendered actually understood in a natural [a priori] way, not as a result of our effort or of the action of our will: such are the first intelligibles."

-St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles, Book 3, Part 1, 43:2.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

A Modal Teleological Argument (MTA)

I'm surprised nobody I'm aware of has attempted to modalize the classic design arguments. I figured I would give it a shot and see what sticks:

1. The appearance of order is possibly explained by design. (Premise)

2. There are necessary truths involved in the appearance of order. (Premise)

3. Nothing contingent can explain a necessary truth. (Premise)

4. A necessary designer possibly explains necessary truths. (From 1 - 3)

5. Therefore, a necessary designer exists. (From 4 and S5)

If this argument is correct, then it's even more of a knockdown argument than the MCA. For now we arrive not only at the conclusion that a necessary, eternal, and enormously powerful entity exists, but its intelligence may also be inferred.

One of the argument's drawbacks include the potential inclusion of theistic activism (does God actually cause necessary truths?). One alternative to this is theistic conceptual realism, which states not that God causes necessary truths (and other abstract objects), but is the ground of them.

It seems, then, that the MTA is a subset of the conceptualist argument.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Necessary Synthetic Truths

Those of us who reject the view that only analytical propositions can be necessary are sometimes challenged to give examples of necessary synthetic truths. It should first be pointed out that one is not required to give any such examples in order to refute the claim that only analytical propositions can be necessary. Given that such a view is self-defeating, we are justified in affirming that there are non-analytical (synthetic) necessary truths. Providing examples of necessary synthetic truths will only add an additional layer to an established fact of metaphysics/epistemology.

In any case, here are a few synthetic truths I take to be necessary:

Metaphyics: Out of nothing comes nothing.

Epistemology: In order for a subject S to have knowledge of some external object E, there must be a causal relationship between S and E.

Ethics: It is wrong to torture children for fun.

Aesthetics: "Hey Jude" is more beautiful than "Pants on the Ground."

The usual objection, to the latter two at least, is that there are instances in which children, "Hey Jude," and "Pants on the Ground" do not even exist, so propositions containing these referents cannot be necessary. However, this conclusion would be too hasty. Even in the absence of these referents, it would still be necessarily true that "Hey Jude" would be more beautiful than "Pants on the Ground" if they existed, etc.

Of course, a relativist will not be persuaded by this point, but that's not my problem. :)

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Defending the MCA from an Old Criticism

Only propositions are necessary, say Hume and Russell. If God exists, He does not have necessary existence or, more specifically, logically necessary existence. [1] In order for a proposition to be necessary, this view states that only analytical propositions meet the bill, e.g. A=A, either A or ~A, etc.

The above view has a powerful defeater. You will recall that in order for the MCA to work, it is postulated that the sum total of contingent entities C possibly has an external cause. This external cause must be a necessary entity N. Given that N is possible, it follows (in conjunction with S5) that N exists.

In order to reject the MCA, the skeptic has to say that N is not even possible, which entails:

1. Necessarily, every cause is contingent.

Is (1) analytically true? Obviously not. Yet on Hume's hypothesis, (1) should therefore be rejected. Given that the negation of (1) entails that N is possible and therefore actually exists, the Humean is forced to say that N both exists and does not exist. Of course, this is a violation of one of the analytical propositions that Hume does take to be necessary - namely, the law of non-contradiction.

In short, the Humean hypothesis is self-defeating and should not lead the subject to conclude that N is impossible. Moreover, if N is not impossible [2], it follows that N is possible, which is one area where the MCA has its strength.

[1] On this view, God may still have temporally necessary existence.

[2] Other objections will likewise have to be disposed of.

Monday, April 11, 2011

God's Possible Existence and Necessity

I still scratch my head when I hear this objection: "If God possibly exists, then He also possibly does not exist."

The first step in refuting this (sadly) oft-repeated criticism of God's necessity is to explain that the opposite of "possible" is not "possibly not," but "not possible" (impossible).

What the objector is confusing for possibility is contingency. A few modal definitions should suffice to clear the air:

necessity: existence in all possible worlds
contingency: existence in at least one, but not all possible worlds
impossibility: existence in no possible worlds

Obviously, "necessity" entails possibility, whereas the latter does not entail contingency.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Rethinking the Necessary Preconditions of Inspiration and Canonicty

1 Maccabees 9:27, "There had not been such great distress in Israel since the time prophets ceased to appear among the people."

The implication drawn from the preceding text is that the book as a whole is not the work of a prophet. For some interpreters, this raises the question: does 1 Maccabees belong in the canon?

First, a distinction ought to be drawn between inspiration and canonicity. Loosely, a book is inspired if it is the infallible word of God. By contrast, a book is canonical if it is recognized as inspired. This distinction, while important, is not vital for the issue at hand, since even the inspiration of 1 Maccabees is contested.

For those who answer that 1 Maccabees is inspired and ought to be included in the canon, it is argued that prophesy, properly understood, is not a necessary condition of inspiration. A prophet is a person who holds a particular office or role, which may or may not include the writing of inspired Scripture.

Assuming that 1 Maccabees 9:27 and similar passages do undermine the book's own inspiration, it seems that too much is proved. Consider Psalm 74:9, "Now we see no signs, we have no prophets, no one who knows how long." The psalm indicates that no prophet is present. But if prophesy is a necessary precondition of inspiration, doesn't this imply that Psalm 74:9 is not an inspired text?

As far as I can tell, we have two choices. We can either reject Psalm 74:9 as inspired or, as I suggest, adopt a different set of presuppositions with respect to inspiration.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

The Hierarchy of Creation in Genesis 1

Whether one is a theistic evolutionist, a young earth creationist, or anything in between, one can still appreciate the manner in which the Genesis narrative describes God's act of creation.

God is said to have "rested" on the seventh day. As it is commonly known, the number seven represents perfection in Hebrew numerology. What is much easier to overlook is the symbolic [1] nature of the previous six days. Take days one and four, two and five, and three and six:

Day One: God creates light
Day Four: God creates the sun and moon

Day Two: God creates the separation between the sky and seas
Day Five: God creates birds and sea animals/fish

Day Three: God creates land and plants
Day Six: God creates animals, notably humankind

There is a parallel between the first three days and the last three. Each day there is a progression in the hierarchy of creation. The first three days describe the environment in which the latter three dwell. This is especially important for those of us who give Genesis 1:28 a "caretaker" interpretation. The earth has been created for humanity, not the other way around. [2] With each day what God creates is greater and greater, finally reaching its peak in humanity, having been created in God's image (Genesis 1:27). [3]

[1] For those who take a literal interpretation of the six days, I do not mean to imply "non-literal" by the use of "symbolic." Certainly something can be both literal in one sense, and symbolic in another.

[2] Of course, this doesn't give humanity a license to abuse the earth. Rather, we are to care for it in an analogous way to how God cares for us.

[3] The imago dei is a term descriptive of humankind's rationality and personhood.