Saturday, December 22, 2012

A Revised Version of the Third Way

Thanks to my friend, Walter, I've been able to alter the Third Way in such a manner that atheists might be more inclined to accept it.  Here's the argument:

1. Something cannot come from nothing. (Premise)

2. Something presently exists. (Premise)

3. Hence, there was never a past time at which nothing existed. (From 1 and 2)

4. Either everything that exists is destructible, or else there exists at least one indestructible entity. (Premise)

5. The past is infinite. (Assumption)

6. Given infinite time, all potentialities will have been actualized. (Premise)

7. The concurrent non-existence of all destructible entities is a potentiality. (Premise)

8. Hence, there was a time in the past at which nothing destructible existed. (From 5 - 7)

9. Therefore, at least one indestructible entity exists. (From 3, 4 and 8)

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Progress on the Book

As I've mentioned before, I'm currently writing a book entitled, Faith and Philosophy.  I've revised to outline to look like this:

Section One: Arguments in Support of God's Existence

Chapter One: The Relationship Between Faith and Reason (five pages)

Chapter Two: The Cosmological Argument (ten pages)

Chapter Three: The Teleological Argument (ten pages)

Chapter Four: The Conceptualist Argument (five pages)

Chapter Five: The Ontological Argument (five pages)

Chapter Six: The Argument from Desire (five pages)

Section Two: Answering Atheism

Chapter Seven: Miscellaneous Arguments (five pages)

Chapter Eight: The Argument from Divine Hiddenness (five pages)

Chapter Nine: The Argument from Suffering (ten pages)

Section Three: Conclusion

Chapter Ten: A Cumulative Case for God's Existence (five pages)

Total pages: sixty-five

As I've said before, this is just an introductory text, which is why the chapters are so concise.  With that being said, I feel I'm doing an adequate job presenting the arguments and defending them from the most common objections.

As of today, chapters two, three and four are complete.  In the next two days, I'll be tackling the ontological argument and the argument from desire.  Afterwards, I'll jump back to chapter one before critiquing the atheistic arguments.  My hope is to write one chapter every day.  Proof-reading and some polishing of the arguments will follow, but I hope to get this published relatively soon. 

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Leibniz: With a Little Help From My Friends (Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas)

The Leibnizian cosmological argument (LCA) goes like this:

1. Everything that exists has an explanation of its existence, either in the necessity of its own nature or in an external cause. (Premise)

2. If the sum total of contingent entities C has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is a necessary, eternal and very powerful entity N. (Premise)

3. C exists. (Premise)

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

5. Therefore, the explanation of C is N. (From 2 and 4)

Hume objects that once each member of a regress of causes is accounted for, then it is superfluous to ask for an explanation of the regress itself.  Maybe there is an infinite regress of contingent entities, each causing the next.  Thus, he rejects premise (2).*

Now, the traditional proponent of the LCA will point out, quite rightly I think, that the infinite regress (if one is even possible) itself is contingent.  There didn't have to be any contingently existing entities, and so there did not have to be an infinite regress of contingent causes.  Hume's proposed solution doesn't result in an explanation for the infinite regress.

Nevertheless, there's an additional argument at the disposal of Leibniz, and I'm surprised I never see it brought up in defenses of the LCA.  What I'm talking about is the one-to-one correspondence between potentialities and an infinite regress.  Thomas Aquinas sums it up quite nicely in the Third Way:

6. Something cannot come from nothing. (Premise)

7. Something presently exists. (Premise)

8. Either everything that exists is contingent, or else there exists at least one necessary entity. (Premise)

9. The past is infinite. (Assumption)

10. Given infinite time, all potentialities will have been actualized. (Premise)

11. The concurrent non-existence of all contingent entities is a potentiality. (Premise)

12. Hence, there was a time in the past at which nothing contingent existed. (From 9 - 11)

13. Therefore, at least one necessary entity exists. (Implied by 6, 8 and 12)

In short, since there was a time in the past at which nothing contingent existed, it is either the case that something necessary existed at that time (and therefore must exist at all times) or that nothing at all existed.  The problem with the latter is premise (6) of the argument.  If there were ever a past time at which nothing existed, then nothing would exist even now, for being cannot arise from non-being.  Given that something presently exists, it follows that at least one necessary entity exists.

As a result, Hume's objection is further weakened.  There are good reasons to believe the infinite regress he speaks of is itself contingent, and secondly, even if it isn't contingent, there would still have been a past time at which nothing contingent existed.  Either way, there's no escaping the conclusion that N exists.

*Hume sort of rejects (1) as well, but also accepts it as an indispensable element of human thought.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

More on Ontological Nihilism

This argument occurred to me today as I was thinking about my previous post.  A lot of us are familiar with the S5 axiom stated as, "if possibly necessarily p, then necessarily p."  However, another aspect of S5 is this: "if possibly p, then necessarily possibly p."

Let's take w1, then, where purportedly nothing at all exists, not even possibility.  Considering some other possible world w2, where at least one concrete object X exists, it follows that: if possibly X, then necessarily possibly X.  Now, since whatever is necessary applies to all possible worlds, the possibility of X must obtain in w1.  Taking this one step further, we can apply a rather benign causal principle to the argument: if possibly X in w1, then necessarily something concrete exists in w1.  This is because nothing concrete can come into being apart from some other concrete being.  If X doesn't come into being, then X exists by itself in w1.  Thus the feasibility of ontological nihilism is defeated.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

A Minimal Ontological Argument Without S5

1. Necessarily, everything that exists is either contingent or necessary. (Definition)

2. Necessarily, something exists. (Premise)

3. Possibly, nothing contingent exists. (Premise)

4. Therefore, something necessary exists. (From 1 - 3)

Reductio ad absurdum:

5. Nothing necessary does exists. (Assumption)

6. Necessarily, if nothing necessary exists, then it's possible for nothing to exist. (From 1 and 3)

7.  (6) contradicts (2).

8. Therefore, (5) is false and something necessary exists.


The argument is logically airtight.  If the premises are true, then there's no escaping the conclusion.  Premises (1) and (3) are either true by definition or true on any realistic account of ontology.  The key premise is (2).  Is it necessarily the case that something exists?  One could certainly defend cosmological arguments and the PSR, but I'd like to see another type of argument.  Can it be shown that "possibly, nothing exists" (possibility of ontological nihilism) is contradictory or absurd?

Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Argument from Gradation

As a self-described Aristotelian-Thomist, I admit that the argument from gradation (the "Fourth Way") gives me the most difficulty.  I don't understand the manner in which Thomas derives his conclusion in the Summa Theologica.  However, the Summa Contra Gentiles has made the proof much easier for me to understand, even though I still have questions about it.  Here's how I would roughly summarize it:

1. A flaw can only be known if there is a standard of supremacy. (Premise)

2. There are flaws in one's perception of truth. (Premise)

3. Therefore, there exists a Supreme Truth. (From 1 and 2)

In support of (1), I'm reminded of C.S. Lewis's famous analogy: one cannot know a line is crooked without having some idea of what a straight line looks like.

Premise (2) should be obvious to anyone who doesn't claim omniscience.  Based on these two premises, (3) necessarily follows.  However, what's the significance of stating there exists a Supreme Truth?  As far as I can tell, propositional truth is an abstract object, but no classical theist equates God with a mere abstraction.

One solution to this problem is to postulate that abstract objects, such as truth, exist as mental concepts, as opposed to mind-independent realities (the latter of which Plato held, whereas St. Augustine postulated the former).  If conceptualism is true, then the Supreme Truth, which includes necessary and contingent truths, would have to be the concept of a necessary and omniscient mind, e.g. God.

Friday, November 30, 2012

The origin of religious belief

I've never liked it when people try to dismiss religious belief as a matter of wishful thinking, etc.  That has always struck me as an obvious genetic fallacy.  Nevertheless, I do think there is an explanation for religious belief in general that should (in my mind) satisfy all parties involved.  Here's my hypothesis:

Religious belief is the result of one's perception of the order exhibited throughout reality.

Which is more fundamental to reality: order or chaos?  If the opponent of the argument suggests chaos is more fundamental, then he runs into an insurmountable difficulty.  For, chaos is intelligible, and intelligibility presupposes order.  It's not as if allegedly chaotic events are suddenly known and then suddenly unknown, or that chaos violates any of the laws of logic.

What this means is that even reputedly chaotic events have an underlying order, which means that order is the most fundamental aspect of reality.  The religious inclination is the result of the sense of awe and wonder caused by the perception of order.  The laws of logic, mathematics, and morality are parts of the "language" of God, if you will.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Top Ten Episodes of The Simpsons

Every once in awhile I like to take a break from philosophy on this blog and do something more lighthearted.  I'm a big Simpsons fan, and I maintain that seasons 3 through 9 comprise the show's golden era.  It won't be any surprise, then, that my list of the top ten episodes will only include episodes during that time - 1991 to 1998.

1. Last Exit to Springfield (Season Four)

2. Marge vs. the Monorail (Season Four)

3. You Only Move Twice (Season Eight)

4. Rosebud (Season Five)

5. Treehouse of Horror V (Season Six)

6. Homer at the Bat (Season Three)

7. Cape Feare (Season Five)

8. Bart Sells His Soul (Season Seven)

9. El Viaje Misterioso de Nuestro Jomer (The Mysterious Voyage of Homer) (Season Eight)

10. Flaming Moe's (Season Three)

"The City of New York vs. Homer Simpson" (Season Nine) is an honorable mention.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

An Argument Against Naturalism Based on the Laws of Logic

Let's define Naturalism as the view that only nature, e.g. physical space, time, matter and energy exists.  Not only does God not exist, but nothing like God exists, either.  I propose that a commitment to the positive ontological status of the laws of logic refutes Naturalism.

1. The laws of logic are immutable. (Premise)

2. Nature is dynamic. (Premise)

3. Therefore, the laws of logic cannot be part of nature. (Implied by 1 and 2)

The laws of logic, if they exist at all, include the laws of non-contradiction, identity, excluded middle, modus ponens, and so forth.  These are not to be confused with the laws of nature (gravity, electromagnetism, and the strong and weak atomic forces).  The laws of logic are immutable.  Square-circles cannot suddenly become possibilities.  It can never be the case that A is ~A.

Nature, on the other hand, is dynamic (mutable).  It is in a constant state of flux.  Acorns have their potentialities actualized into oak trees, for example.

What this implies, according to (3), is that the laws of logic cannot be part of nature.  After all, if the laws of logic were part of nature, then that would imply the laws of logic could change.  Since this is impossible, it follows that the laws of logic exist independently of nature.  Since Naturalism is the view that only nature exists, the existence of the laws of logic refutes Naturalism.  One is either left with Platonism or theism (as a result of conceptualism).

Monday, October 8, 2012

A Summary of the Modal Cosmological Argument

1. Possibly, everything that exists has an explanation of its existence, either in the necessity of its own nature or in an external cause. (Premise, W-PSR)

2. If the sum total of contingent entities C has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is a necessary cause. (Implied by 1)

3. C exists. (Premise)

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

5. Possibly, a necessary cause of C exists. (From 2 and 4)

6. Therefore, a necessary cause exists. (From 5 and S5)

Monday, September 17, 2012

A Teleological Argument from Providence

The following argument is logically valid.

1. There are patterns of regularity found in the laws of nature. (Premise)

2. The laws of nature are either the result of chance, necessity or design. (Premise)

3. Patterns of regularity cannot be the result of chance alone. (Premise)

4. Therefore, the laws of nature are either the result of necessity or design. (From 1 - 3)

Whether the laws of nature are explained by necessity or design is inconsequential at this point of the argument.  After all, given that chance is a very poor explanation, the laws of nature must be the result of someone or something's providence.

That providence is what we believers call, "God."  If it's a "someone," then we have an argument for a personal designer.  If it's a "something," then we're left with some form of pantheism.

To be honest, I just don't get why atheists won't embrace pantheism.  I think there are a lot of problems with pantheism, but pantheism makes much more sense to me than atheism.  If the atheist will simply come to terms with pantheism being a more viable belief than atheism, then I think we can make some real progress.  The debate would no longer be about theism versus atheism, but rather theism versus pantheism.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

A Practical Argument for God's Existence

Suppose you're resigned to an agnostic position: it is impossible to tip the scale in favor of theism or atheism by reason alone.  Can theism still be the preferred position?  Consider the following argument.

1. If there is no God, everyone has the same fate of eternal death. (Premise)

2. The fate of eternal death is depressing. (Premise)

3. Hence, if there is no God, then everyone has a compelling reason to be depressed. (From 1 and 2)

4. All things being equal, it is more rational to believe in something that leads to happiness than in something that leads to depression. (Premise)

5. Therefore, all things being equal, it is more rational to believe in God than not. (From 3 and 4)

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Argument from Suffering and an Ad Hominem Argument for the PSR

The more sophisticated argument from suffering against God's existence is surely its evidential form.  It goes something like this:

1. If God exists, then there will not be any gratuitous sufferings. (Premise)

2. There are gratuitous sufferings. (Premise)

3. Therefore, God does not exist. (From 1 and 2)

Lest we forget, it's important to note that even if this argument were successful, it would not demonstrate that there is no God whatsoever.  There very well may be a God qua creator and sustainer of all contingently existing entities, for example.  Nevertheless, the argument from suffering, if cogent, does demonstrate that a maximally excellent God (omnipotent, omniscient and morally perfect) does not exist.

As theists, we have often challenged both premises of the argument from suffering.  However, I want to tackle this at a different angle.  I want to argue that in order for any non-trivial argument from suffering to succeed, the skeptic must accept, perhaps unwittingly, some variant of the Principle of Sufficient Reason (PSR).

The standard response to the logical version of the argument from suffering is that God may have morally sufficient reasons for permitting evil.  The skeptic who agrees that the existence of God and the reality of suffering are compatible appropriately retorts that while God may have morally sufficient reasons for permitting suffering, he does not have such sufficient reasons in light of the many gratuitous sufferings.

Let that sink in for a moment.  The proponent of the evidential argument from suffering agrees with the theist that God can and must have morally sufficient reasons for allowing suffering.  It's at this point that the skeptic presupposes the PSR.  If he weren't, then he wouldn't be requiring God to have any morally sufficient reasons at all.

I realize this is an ad hominem argument, but not all ad hominem arguments are fallacious or personal attacks.  What I've been seeking to do in this post is simply lead the skeptic to the logically inescapable conclusion that either the PSR is true, or else God needn't provide any morally sufficient reasons for permitting suffering of any kind.  The skeptic will simply have to pick his poison and either adopt some form of theism via the PSR, or else abandon the most promising argument against an omnipotent, omniscient and morally perfect being.

Friday, August 31, 2012

The PSR as a Properly Basic Belief

Properly basic beliefs are those beliefs that are justified without reducing them to any simpler axioms.  Examples of properly basic beliefs are: a) that minds other than my own exist; b) that there is an external world; c) that the past is real and we have not been spontaneously created five minutes ago with false memories of a much longer past.  I could go on, but I think it suffices to say that we have more than enough properly basic beliefs.  We don't need to argue that these beliefs are true.  Instead, we are justified in believing they're true simply based on our immediate perception of their verisimilitude.

I suggest that the Principle of Sufficient Reason (PSR) is a properly basic belief.  Sure, there are plenty of arguments in support of the PSR, but suppose all of these arguments are unsuccessful.  Even under such an unlikely scenario, I suggest we are no less justified in affirming the PSR.

1. Intuitively-held beliefs are justified barring any defeater. (Premise)

2. The PSR is an intuitively-held belief. (Premise)

3. Therefore, belief in the PSR is justified barring any defeater. (From 1 and 2)

If the argument is correct, then the burden of proof is no longer on the theist to demonstrate the rationality of belief in the PSR.  Instead, the burden of proof has been shifted to those skeptical of the PSR, and those who maintain that belief in the PSR is not only false, but positively irrational to believe in.  That's a tall order to fill.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Definitive Proof of God's Existence

I refer to the following argument as a "metaphysical argument," because it has a close resemblance to both cosmological and ontological arguments.  I think it deserves its own category.  The argument I'm referring to is the proof found in St. Thomas Aquinas's small tract, De Ente et Essentia (On Being and Essence).

Now, I've written quite a bit about the distinction between being and essence in past entries, but I'd like to provide a brief overview of the argument.

Essence: what a thing is, e.g. its nature.
Being: that a thing is, e.g. its existence or actuality.

We know that the essence of a unicorn (roughly) is of a magical horse with a horn.  However, that doesn't commit us to saying that a unicorn exists.  The difference between a real unicorn and a not-real unicorn is that the former exemplifies being, even though the essence of each is relatively the same.

While there are many essences, there is only one being.  For, to be distinct from being is to be non-being.  Since anything with non-being simply doesn't exist, it follows that we are justified in deducing the unicity of being.

1. Something exists. (Premise)

2. Necessarily, something can exist if and only if being exists. (Definition)

3. Therefore, being exists. (From 1 and 2)

(2) is true by definition.  If there is no being (existence), then nothing can possibly have the attribute of existence.  I strongly disagree with Kant on this matter.  If being/existence is not a thing, then a real unicorn and a non-real unicorn differ by a non-thing (literally, nothing), which is the same as saying that they are not distinct at all.  Since this is absurd, it follows that being exists.

Since we have already established the unicity of being, what are some of the other divine attributes we can deduce?

Being must be eternal and omnipresent.  After all, there is no time or place at which anything can exist apart from being.  On the same token, being must be temporally necessary, by virtue of its necessary eternality.

Being must also be omnipotent.  Since being is the efficient first cause of all essences, and because no effect is greater than its cause, it follows that being is capable of actualizing all potentialities that essences are able to actualize.

In sum, being exists, and being possesses the divine attributes of unicity, eternality, omnipresence, temporal necessity and omnipotence.  This, as the Angelic Doctor muses, everyone understands to be God.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

An argument against the feasibility of ontological nihilism

"Ontological nihilism" is defined as the position that nothing ultimately exists.  Now, I'm writing this post not to debunk something so obviously false as ontological nihilism.  Rather, it's my purpose to argue that in any possible world w1 at which something exists, it is impossible for there to ever be a state of affairs in w1 at which nothing exists.

1. Something x1 exists in w1. (Premise)

2. There is a time at which x1 fails to exist in w1. (Assumption)

3. Either some other entity x2 exists in w1 or else nothing continues to exist in w1. (Implied by 1 and 2)

4. If nothing continues to exist in w1, then there is a final moment of time in w1. (Premise)

5. At any final moment of time, whatever exists at that last moment will continue to exist in a changeless state. (Premise)

6. Hence, if time fails to exist in w1, then something will forever exist changelessly in w1. (From 4 and 5)

7. Therefore, the existence of x1 implies that "nothing exists" in w1 is necessarily false. (From 4 and 6)

In short, time is a measurement of change.  If all things fail to exist in w1, then that constitutes a change in w1.  However, if there is a final moment of time, then that final moment will forever be a changeless present.  If this changeless present does not exist, then it is meaningless to speak of any past time.  Since tensed facts are meaningful, it follows that a changeless present would have to exist.  Therefore, for any possible world at which something exists, it is impossible for nothing to exist in that world.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Avicenna's cosmological argument

The following argument is logically valid:

1. Potentialities exist. (Premise)

2. Potentialities are real insofar as there exist certain entities capable of actualizing them. (Premise)

3. Potentially, the universe could have failed to exist. (Premise)

4. Therefore, an entity with the power to actualize the universe exists. (From 1 - 3)

Now, an entity that has the power to actualize something as vast as the universe must be very powerful, to say the least.  It must also be timeless, changeless and immaterial, given that this entity transcends the universe (the sum total of all physical space, time, matter and energy).

Seems like a promising argument to me.  It's a kind modal cosmological argument that I admit I hadn't heard of until engaging in a Thomistic discussion forum.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

A Reductio Argument for God's Existence Based on the PSR

Consider this argument:

1. If the PSR is true, then God exists. (Premise)

2. The PSR is false. (Assumption)

3. If the PSR is false, then the probability of any thing's having an explanation is inscrutable. (Premise)

4. The probability of a thing's having an explanation is not inscrutable. (Premise)

5. Hence, (2) is false. (From 3 and 4)

6. Therefore, God exists. (From 1 and 5)

(1) requires some additional argumentation.  For example, if the PSR is true, couldn't the sum total of all contingent entities C be explained by its parts, with its parts all being contingent?  Well, not if we take seriously the notion that C itself may exist contingently.  If C is necessary, then it's necessarily the case that some contingent entity or other exists.  This seems highly implausible (for reasons given by Pruss and Craig).  It would imply that the non-existence of some entity implies the existence of another.  Yet, none of us would say that the non-existence of all non-unicorns implies the existence of a unicorn.

The question still remains: why is there is a sum total of contingent entities at all?  Couldn't the whole series have failed to exist?  If so, then the standard Humean objection fails to refute the argument from contingency.  Given the truth of the PSR, then, it follows that a necessary entity (God) is needed to cause C.

Friday, August 3, 2012

What the Bible Really Says about Homosexuality: A Brief Reply to Daniel A. Helminiak

Helminiak's words will be in blue.

There's been a lot of buzz lately about the Bible's supposed "anti" or "pro" homosexual teachings.  To be clear, the Bible never condemns anyone for having a homosexual disposition or being homosexual.  Rather, the claim has traditionally been that homosexual acts are sinful.  Many times we're asked, "why do Christians so often bash homosexuality?  Isn't it just one sin among many?"  In a word, yes.  Homosexual behavior, at any rate, is one sin among many.  Some, such as rape and murder, are undoubtedly worse, regardless of how conservative on the issue you may be.  Homosexual acts are, for the most part, consensual.  However, the reason homosexuality appears to be the topic of debate so often is because nobody is trying to justify (albeit worse) actions, such as rape and murder.  If they were, then Christians (and not just Christians) would be up in arms about that, too.

I've argued in other venues that the Bible's condemnation of homosexuality is not capricious.  Rather, it is justified on the grounds that there are correlations between homosexual behavior and mental illness, drug abuse, and other unhealthy conditions.  (See: J.M. Bailey, Commentary: Homosexuality and Mental Illness. Arch. Gen. Psychiatry 56, pp. 876-880, 1999.)  With that said, I'm not going to address this issue any further in this post.  I've said on numerous occasions that we can love people without necessarily approving of their behavior.  Think of drug addiction or obesity as examples.  These are unhealthy lifestyles, but surely no reasonable person thinks we hate drug addicted or obese people.  It's the same with those who engage in homosexual acts.

Now that I've added that disclaimer, here's what I'm really getting at in this post: Daniel A. Helminiak is the author of What the Bible Really Says about Homosexuality.  He's also the author of an article with the same name.  I want to focus exclusively on Helminiak's interpretation of Romans 1:26-27: "Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error."

Helminiak comments:

Paul used two other words to describe male-male sex: dishonorable (1:24, 26) and unseemly (1:27). But for Paul, neither carried ethical weight. In 2 Corinthians 6:8 and 11:21, Paul says that even he was held in dishonor — for preaching Christ. Clearly, these words merely indicate social disrepute, not truly unethical behavior.

However, when one looks up 2 Cor. 6:8 and 11:21, we find that Paul's words certainly do carry ethical weight.  In the context of 6:8, we find Paul discussing the various hardships of the Christian witness.  In verses 7-8, Paul explains: "in truthful speech, in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness at the right and at the left; through glory and dishonor, insult and praise.  We are treated as deceivers and yet are truthful."

The reason for the dishonor is due to the alleged Christian deception.  Deception, being contrary to the righteousness of verse 7, is rightly condemned.  It's just that Paul claims to be innocent of these charges.  In Romans 1:26-27, those engaging in homosexual behavior are not being falsely accused.  Hence, Helminiak's exegesis breaks down immediately.

As for 11:21, Paul writes: "To my shame I say that we were too weak.  But what anyone dares to boast of (I am speaking in foolishness) I also dare."

In this instance, Paul is writing ironically and then goes on to refute the charges of weakness.  How Helminiak thinks this verse supports his case is a mystery.  Besides, Paul is writing in the context of 11:13, where he denounces "false apostles" and "deceitful workers."  These terms most certainly carry ethical implications.

In any case, the notion of "shame" and "dishonor" almost always carries ethical weight throughout the Bible, and in Paul's writings in particular.  In Romans 6:21, he writes: "But what profit did you get then from the things of which you are now ashamed?  For the end of those things is death."

In this context, "death" refers to a spiritual death (Romans 6:23) that results from sin: "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord."

Fortunately for all of us, we are given a means of reconciliation to God, which Paul explains in the same sentence above.

I'm not writing this post to say that homosexual behavior is wrong, the appearance of what I've written notwithstanding.  Rather, my point is to show that recent attempts to reconcile homosexual behavior with Biblical precepts are misguided.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Some Thoughts on the Argument from Divine Hiddenness

The atheistic argument from divine hiddenness (ADH) may be summarized like this:

1. If God exists, he would want everyone to believe in him. (Premise)

2. If God wants everyone to believe in him, then he will provide compelling evidence of his existence. (Premise)

3. God has not provided compelling evidence of his existence. (Premise)

4. Therefore, God does not exist. (From 1 – 3)

As a theist, I'm happy to grant premises (1) and (2).  However, (3) is obviously in contention for those of us who take Romans 1:18-20 seriously and have offered arguments for God's existence.  We maintain that various cosmological, teleological, axiological and many other types of arguments provide us with rationally compelling reasons to believe in God.

The wrinkle to this whole debate is that the atheist may modify (3) like this: 3*. God has not provided compelling evidence of his existence that meets everyone's criteria of compelling evidence.

This would be a most curious claim.  Is God supposed to bow down to our standards, and upon his ingratiating us with proving his self-evident existence, finally go back to being God?  Is that really what God is like?  If so, it hardly seems appropriate to say that God is as great as we say he is, much less maximally great.  The fact of the matter is that his standards are not our standards.  Our demand for evidence is already manifested sufficiently, even if some continue to demand more.

My claim here is not intended to be antagonistic.  It's just that it's not at all uncommon for people (myself included) to suppress our knowledge of things we'd rather not have to deal with.  Sometimes this suppression of knowledge is intentional, and other times unintentional.  To my atheistic friends, I want you to know that I believe you are sincere and that your suppression of the knowledge of God is unintentional.  God promises us that if we continue to seek him with an open mind and an open heart, he will reveal himself to us (Deut. 4:29).  All I can ask you is that you continue to remain open.  God will reveal himself to you at the appropriate time.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

For anyone who cares!

The work on my book is starting to take off.  I hope to be finished with a rough draft by the end of the year.  In the meantime, below is an outline of the chapters.  The book is tentatively called, Faith and Philosophy, which is intended to be an introductory text on the arguments of natural theology.  With that said, it will be a concise work (5-6 pages per chapter).

Section One: Theistic Arguments

Chapter One: Relationship between Faith and Reason

Chapter Two: Aristotelian Cosmological Argument

Chapter Three: Kalam Cosmological Argument

Chapter Four: Leibnizian Cosmological Argument

Chapter Five: Aristotelian Teleological Argument

Chapter Six: Argument from Reason

Chapter Seven: Argument from Desire

Chapter Eight: Conceptualist Argument

Chapter Nine: Modal Ontological Argument

Chapter Ten: Modal Cosmological Argument

Chapter Eleven: Moral Argument

Chapter Twelve: Argument from Consciousness

Chapter Thirteen: Religious Experience

Chapter Fourteen: Resurrection of Jesus

Section Two: Atheistic Arguments

Chapter Fifteen: Argument from Divine Hiddenness

Chapter Sixteen: Argument from Suffering

Section Three: Conclusion

Chapter Seventeen: A Cumulative Case for God's Existence

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

An open letter to the President of the NCCA, Mark Emmert

My purpose is to respectfully examine some of the NCAA's sanctions and add a number constructive criticisms.  Below is the open letter I've emailed to Dr. Mark Emmert.  To donate directly to a charity that supports victims of abuse, you might consider Prevent Child Abuse America.

Dear Dr. Emmert,

First of all, thank you for taking the matter of ethics at Penn State University seriously.  A culture that places athletics above the wellbeing of children obviously needs to be reformed.  This, unfortunately, is the case throughout the nation, and I'm sure you'd agree this isn't only the case at State College.  With that said, the Penn State situation may be viewed as an opportunity to set an example, so I realize that that's where your intentions lie.

I disagree with those who would question your motives or would otherwise attack your integrity.  However, I wish to offer a constructive criticism of some of the sanctions leveled against Penn State.  I feel it would be more beneficial to allow Penn State to continue playing in bowl games the next four years, and in addition, provide them with an incentive to donate a significant portion of their bowl revenue to charities that help the victims of abuse.  Some of the sanctions already accomplish this, e.g. the $60 million fine.  But, why stop with that if supporting charities is so important (and it is important)?  Why not use the positive results of the outstanding young men who compete on the football field in bowl games to support these charities?  By preventing Penn State from playing in bowl games, these sanctions have the unintended effect of preventing such contributions, in addition to punishing the players and new coaching regime that had nothing to do with these crimes.

Moreover, the absolution of Penn State's victories from 1998-2011 may be a symbolic gesture against Paterno, but it's also too harsh, in my estimation, with respect to the players who won these games.  If the NCAA is going to punish Paterno's legacy, why not have his name removed from the wins list, while simultaneously allowing the Penn State team's victories to remain?

I make these points in order to state along with you that while there ought to be sanctions, we ought to minimize the harm done to those who are innocent.  There is no question that the greatest victims are those who have been inflicted with abuse.  Nevertheless, the masses should not suffer for the sins of a few, especially when there are options to minimize such suffering.  The victims do not benefit from such severe sanctions, and I think we have an opportunity to help them further if we ease up on some of the punishments.  Those responsible for these crimes, including those who have covered them up, are subject to our criminal system.  I respectfully ask that you reconsider these sanctions, and I thank you for taking the time to read this email.

Doug Benscoter, M.T.S.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Reply to Michael Martin on the Cosmological Argument: Part Two

*All citations, unless otherwise noted, are taken from Martin's book, Atheism: A Philosophical Justification.  Martin's words will be in blue.

Martin skips the argument from motion in his treatment of the cosmological argument, which is a bit puzzling, considering how many of the God-attributes are predicated on there existing an Unmoved Mover.  I'll return to this and to bridging the gap between first cause and God in Part Four.  In this section, however, I'm going to respond to Martin's critique of Thomas Aquinas's "second way."

In this argument Aquinas attempts to show that there could not be an infinite series of efficient causes and consequently there must be a first cause. (p. 98)

It's important to understand what is meant by "efficient cause," since this is what distinguishes the second way from the argument from motion (the first way).  In Aristotelian terms, an efficient cause is something that produces an effect.  There are four types of causes: efficient, material, formal, and final.  Take, for instance, the example of a painting.  The efficient cause is the painter; the material cause is the paint; the formal cause is the idea or blueprint of the painting in the painter's mind; and the final cause is the end or goal of the painter, e.g. to produce a painting that exemplifies beauty.

Although this notion of efficient cause is perhaps closer to our modern view of causality than the other Aristotelian concepts of cause he used, there are some important differences.  An efficient cause of something, for Aristotle and Aquinas, is not a prior event but a substantial agent that bring about change. (p. 98)

I'm not sure why Martin thinks that this is different than the modern usage of "cause."  A substantial agent that causes change is an efficient cause whether time is involved or not.  Although, it should be noted that time is a measurement of change.

The paradigm cases of causation for an Aristotelian are heating and wetting.  For example, if A heats B, then A produces heat in B; if A wets B, then A produces wetness in B.  In general, if A [x's] B, then A produces [x]ness in B.  The priority of a cause need not be temporal; a cause is prior to its effects in the sense that the cause can exist without the effect but not conversely. (p. 98)

This is correct.  Supposing that a house has existed for all eternity, and has an infinite past, the parts of the house remain standing only because of its foundation.  The foundation may exist without the house's standing parts, but not the other way around.  If at any point the foundation is removed, then the house will collapse.

It is important to realize that Aquinas's argument purports to establish a first cause that maintains the universe here and now.  His second way is not concerned with establishing a first cause of the universe in the distant past. (p. 98)

Again, this is correct.  According to Thomas, the universe requires a first cause with respect to sustaining causality, regardless of whether it has a first cause with respect to originating causality.

Indeed, he believed that one could not demonstrate by philosophical argument that the universe had a beginning in time, although he believed that it did.  This belief was a matter of faith, something that was part of Christian dogma, not something that one could certify by reason.  Thus he was not opposed on philosophical grounds to the universe's having no temporal beginning.  As the above quotation makes clear, he believed that the here-and-now maintenance of the universe could not be understood in terms of an infinite causal series. (p. 98)

We will take a look at the so-called "kalam cosmological argument" later, which purports to show that the universe must have had a beginning.  While Thomas did not believe this could be demonstrated on philosophical grounds, his contemporary, Bonaventure, believed otherwise.

Two analogies can perhaps make the distinction between temporal and nontemporal causal sequences clear.  Consider a series of falling dominos [sic].  It is analogous to temporal causal sequence.  Aquinas does not deny on philosophical grounds that infinite sequences of this sort can exist.  But now consider a chain in which one link supports the next.  There is no temporal sequence here.  The sort of causal sequence that Aquinas says cannot go on forever but must end in a first cause is analogous to this. (pp. 98-99)

The latter is similar to the example I gave above of a house's ability to stand.  The question is whether the house's foundation could be grounded in an infinite regress of sustaining causes, or whether there must be a first cause.

The same problems that plagued the simple version of the argument plague this more sophisticated version.  The first cause, even if established, need not be God . . . (p. 99)

As mentioned previously, we will take a further look at this in Part Four.

[A]nd Aquinas gives no non-question begging reason why there could not be a nontemporal infinite regress of causes. (p. 99)

Although Martin makes this claim, he never actually cites any of the arguments Thomas presents against such a regress of causes.  One would think he would state clearly what the arguments are, and then explain why they are question-begging.  Martin adds a footnote:

Kenny argues that Aquinas's views on nontemporal causal sequences are closely related to theories of medieval astrology and that his argument that an infinite nontemporal causal series is impossible rests on an equivocation between "first=earlier" and "first=unpreceded." (p. 493)

Martin doesn't elaborate on either of these points, but as we will see shortly, Thomas's arguments require neither astrology nor an equivocation of terms.

However, Rowe suggests that Aquinas's views do not rest on medieval astrology but on a metaphysical analysis of existence and causation. (p. 493)

Let's take a moment to let this sink in.  Although Martin only mentions this in one sentence, this is an extremely crucial point.  Grounding Thomas's argument is an Aristotelian distinction between being (existence) and essence (a thing's nature).  If there is no first cause (being itself subsisting), then why does anything at all exist?  Presumably the difference between a unicorn that's real and a unicorn that's not real is that the former has being, regardless of their similarity in essence.  If being itself does not exist, then there is no difference between the two.  After all, to differ by non-being is to differ by nothing, and to differ by nothing is to be identical.  Since there is obviously a difference between a reality and a non-reality, it follows that being exists.  Since being itself is independent of any further being, it follows that being is the first cause of all other existing essences.  I explain this further here.  This is true even supposing there is an infinite regress of sustaining causes, for the regress itself is dependent upon being.

Martin never addresses this argument, which is found in Thomas's work, De Ente et Essentia ("On Being and Essence").

Nevertheless, Rowe argues that Aquinas's actual argument is question-begging and tries to reformulate the argument in a way that is not.  Rowe's reformulation presupposes the principle of sufficient reason. . . . As Rowe argues elsewhere, we have no reason to suppose that the principle of sufficient reason is true or that we can assume that it is true. (p. 493)

Rowe's view is a bit more nuanced than Martin leads on, in my estimation.  However, an appeal to the PSR is unnecessary.  We'll return to the PSR as we examine Martin's critique of the Leibnizian cosmological argument.

This latter is an especially acute problem.  Unless some relevant difference is shown between a temporal and a nontemporal infinite series, Aquinas's claim that an infinite temporal sequence cannot be shown to be impossible by philosophical argument seems indirectly to cast doubt on his claim that philosophical argument can show the impossibility of a nontemporal causal series. (p. 99)

Martin stops his treatment of the second way here, without ever explaining what Thomas's reasons are or might be.  In the Summa Contra Gentiles, Part One, Chapter 13, Thomas provides arguments that illustrate a relevant difference between a temporal versus a nontemporal series of causes.  More precisely (since change presupposes time), Thomas provides an argument against an infinite regress of sustaining causes.

One reason is that even supposing that the past is infinite, it is still composed of finite intervals.  This is true even granting that time and space are continuous.  After all, there is a real difference between 4:00 pm and 5:00 pm, and there is a real difference between the locations of New York and Chicago.  Now, for each finite interval of time, the regress of sustaining causes begins anew.  Since it is impossible to form an actual infinite by successive addition whenever one begins counting, it is impossible for the regress of sustaining causes to be infinite.  Therefore, even if the past is infinite, the regress of sustaining causes during each finite interval of the infinite past cannot likewise be infinite.

Martin himself admits this in his critique of the kalam cosmological argument:

"[A]n actual infinity can be constructed by successive addition if the successive addition is beginningless." (p. 105)

Somewhat poetically, Martin unwittingly provides support for the notion that there cannot be an infinite regress of sustaining causes.  This is due to the nature of sustaining causes having a beginning at each finite interval.

In sum, Thomas's second way looks something like this:

1. Every dependent thing has a sustaining cause. (Premise)

2. Either an independent first cause exists, or else there is an infinite regress of sustaining causes. (Implied by 1)

3. There cannot be an infinite regress of sustaining causes. (Premise)

4. Therefore, an independent first cause exists. (From 2 and 3)

These aren't the exact terms Thomas uses, but they suffice for our purposes.  The argument is also immune to the "what causes the first cause?" objection, that Martin thankfully does not appeal to.  The causal premise is restricted to dependent things, and is not descriptive of everything necessarily.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Reply to Michael Martin on the Cosmological Argument: Part One

Michael Martin is an atheistic philosopher and an expert on the problem of induction.  The reason I've chosen to respond to him on the cosmological argument is because of a) his in-depth analysis; and b) his ability to write on a popular level.  More complicated objections to cosmological arguments, such as those of Graham Oppy, deserve a response, but Martin's arguments likely have a wider influence.  By successfully answering Martin's objections to a number of cosmological arguments, my hope is that we can instill a greater confidence in theists who defend the existence of an Unmoved Mover/necessary entity/first cause.

I'll begin with some preliminary remarks.  Martin prefaces his treatment of various cosmological arguments with the following comment about cosmological arguments in general (his words will be in blue):

In its simplest form the cosmological argument is this: Everything we know has a cause.  But there cannot be an infinite regress of causes, so there must be a first cause.  This first cause is God. (Atheism: A Philosophical Justification, p. 96)

As anyone familiar with cosmological arguments will be quick to point out, the argument is almost never "everything has a cause."  Rather, it's usually something like, "every contingent thing has a cause," or "whatever begins to exist has a cause."  In the case of the argument from motion, the causal premise is: everything in motion has a sustaining cause.  To his credit, however, Martin recognizes that there are more sophisticated versions of the cosmological argument which incorporate these qualified causal premises.

It is well to state the problems with this simple version of the argument, since, as we shall see, they are found in some of the more sophisticated versions as well.  Perhaps the major problem with this version of the argument is that even if it is successful in demonstrating a first cause, this first cause is not necessarily God.  (p. 97)

What the reader has to note here is that the first part of any cosmological argument only attempts to show that there is a first cause of some sort.  Additional argumentation is needed to show that the first cause possesses attributes most consonant with theism.  Thomas Aquinas, for example, spends very little time demonstrating the existence of a first cause, and then a great deal of time showing that the first cause must be omnipotent, etc.  Martin himself alludes to this in one of his footnotes:

Because of this, an argument for a first cause must be supplemented with some other argument that attempts to show that the first cause is God.  Indeed, sometimes the cosmological argument is considered to have two parts.  In the first part a first cause is established, and in the second part the first cause is identified with God.  (p. 492)

I'm glad Martin takes the time to point this out, since it's not uncommon to find folks who knock down caricatures of the cosmological argument.  We often hear things like: "There may be a first cause, but that doesn't mean Christianity is true."  Well, of course the objector is technically correct.  What he (not necessarily Martin) overlooks, however, is that the cosmological argument, and in particular the first part of the cosmological argument, is only meant to be one aspect of a greater cumulative case for the truth of Christian theism, or of theism in general.

A first cause need not have the properties usually associated with God.  For example, a first cause need not have great, let alone infinite, knowledge or goodness.  A first cause could be an evil being or the universe itself.  In itself this problem makes the argument quite useless as support for the view that God exists.  (p. 97)

Here is where I disagree with Martin.  In order to legitimately deal with the cosmological argument as an argument for God's existence, one needs to acknowledge and respond to the arguments that philosophers, such as Thomas Aquinas, offer in support of the conclusion that the first cause is God.  We will come back to this point at a later time.  For now, I only want to deal with Martin's objections to the existence of an Unmoved Mover/first cause.

However, it has at least one other equally serious problem.  The argument assumes that there cannot be an infinite sequence of causes, but it is unclear why this should be so.  (p. 97)

I'll stop here for a moment only to point out that the proponent of the cosmological argument does not merely "assume" there cannot be an infinite regress of causes.  Instead, he argues that such a regress cannot be infinite.

Experience does not reveal causal sequences that have a first cause, a cause that is not caused.  So the idea that there can be no infinite sequences and that there must be a first cause, a cause without a cause, finds no support in experience.  (p. 97)

This may be true, but it's irrelevant for at least two reasons.  First, experience is not the sole criterion of demonstration.  One may have a priori reasons to reject the possibility of an infinite regress.  Secondly, there is no experience of an infinite regress, either.  If one is going to hold up experience as our only guide of knowledge, then one can neither claim that there is an infinite regress nor that there isn't one.  Martin makes a passing acknowledgement of this latter fact:

This is not to say that experience indicates an infinite sequence of causes.  Rather, the presumption of the existence of a first cause seems to be a nonempirical assumption that some people see as obvious or self-evident. (p. 97)

The problem here is that he once again refers to the argument as an "assumption."  Moreover, not all nonempirical conclusions are based on self-evidence.  There's no reason we cannot make inferences that are themselves not self-evident that are based on a priori truths.

From a historical point of view, however, any appeal to obviousness or self-evidence must be regarded with suspicion, for many things that have been claimed to be self-evidently true - for example, the divine right of kings and the earth as the center of the universe - have turned out not to be true at all. (p. 97)

This is a bit of a red herring.  Of course there are things that were once considered self-evident that are no longer considered true.  However, would Martin include "2+2=4" among such a list?  The fact is, there are conclusions that were once made on observational experience that are no longer considered true.  That the earth was thought of as the center of the universe was actually based on experience.  Because of stellar parallax, Aristotle concluded that the heavens revolved around the earth.  This was not based on "self-evidence," but rather on the experience that Martin holds up.  In this case, further experience showed that a limited experience bore false conclusions.  However, it has yet to be seen whether the arguments against an infinite regress of causes fall under Martin's list of false conclusions, or whether they are actually true.

Further, we have no experience of infinite causal sequences, but we do know that there are infinite series, such as natural numbers.  One wonders why, if there can be infinite sequences in mathematics, there could not be one in causality.  No doubt there are crucial differences between causal and mathematical series; but without further arguments showing precisely what these are, there is no reason to think that there could not be an infinite regression of causes.  (p. 97)

Just one difference between an infinite regress of causes and an infinite sequence of natural numbers is that the former would constitute something concrete, whereas the latter (if they exist at all) constitute something abstract.  Moreover, not all mathematicians agree that the sequence of natural numbers can be actually infinite.  Intuitionists, for example, reject such a notion.  However, since they're a minority of mathematicians, we can at least grant the possibility of there being infinitely-many natural numbers.  But, it's a category mistake to apply infinite set-theory (which is abstract) to an infinite regress of causes (which is concrete).

Some recent defenders of the cosmological argument have offered just such arguments, and I examine these arguments later.  But even if they are successful, in themselves they do not show that the first cause is God.  (p. 97)

I'm not aware of any defender of the cosmological argument who would say otherwise.  In my next post, I will respond to Martin's objections to the first major contention of the cosmological argument.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Kantian Themes in A Clockwork Orange

I've been on a "classics tear" lately, where I've decided to watch a lot of pre-90s films.  I finally got around to watching A Clockwork Orange today.  The film, for anyone who's seen it, obviously has its disturbing elements and if you have any children under sixteen, I definitely wouldn't recommend they watch it.  Nevertheless, the film is very well done.  It's one of the few movies that really moves me to think on a philosophical level.  Most of the time I watch films as a kind of escape from the business of life.  A Clockwork Orange was a pleasant surprise with respect to providing viewers with a deep ethical experience.

The film centers around a young man named Alex, aged seventeen or eighteen, who commits some morally abhorrent crimes.  Some of these include rape, assault and manslaughter.  He is finally captured by police and given a fourteen year prison sentence.  After two years, he agrees to be a subject of a controversial technique of aversion therapy.  By doing so, his sentence is immediately terminated.

The aversion therapy successfully accomplishes what it set out to do, which was for Alex to be repelled at the thought of sex and violence.  Complications the film raises notwithstanding, it is here that the film makes an important point with respect to ethics.  Alex's priest and mentor is aghast at what the doctors have done to Alex, stating boldly that "true goodness comes from within."  The aversion therapy may prevent Alex from committing future crimes, but he won't be freely choosing to do the right thing.

This is where Kant comes in.  For the great eighteenth century philosopher, one's moral actions cannot be considered good unless those actions are freely chosen.  After all, if Alex had not become physically ill at the prospect of sex and violence, he may very well have chosen those vices.  Is sparing the public from these monstrosities a good thing?  Absolutely.  But, it's certainly not good for Alex.

Friday, July 13, 2012

A Restricted Causal Premise in the Argument from Motion

The argument from motion usually takes on something like the following form:

1. Evident to the senses is motion. (Premise)

2. Everything in motion has its motion sustained by another. (Premise)

3. Either an Unmoved Mover exists, or else there is an infinite regress of sustaining movers. (Implied by 1 and 2)

4. There cannot be an infinite regress of sustaining movers. (Premise)

5. Therefore, an Unmoved Mover exists. (From 3 and 4)

I believe this argument is sound.  Suppose, however, that one is convinced that Newtonian, Einsteinian or quantum physics somehow undermines premise (2).  Notice I'm not agreeing, and I think such an objection is based on a misinterpretation of both contemporary physics and Aristotelian metaphysics.  Nevertheless, even if the objection were a good one, the argument can easily accommodate this point.

(2) can become (2*): There is a regress of things in motion that requires its motion to be moved by another.

If this is correct, then the existence of an Unmoved Mover may still be deduced.  For example, an acorn's potentiality to become an oak tree cannot actualize itself.  Rather, its motion is causally dependent on the sustaining power of the acorn's environment, e.g. soil, water and sunlight.  Hence, if the regress of sustaining movers cannot be infinite in this instance, then the conclusion that an Unmoved Mover exists remains a sound one.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Theism, Atheism and the Uniformity of Nature

The universe exhibits certain laws of nature, e.g. gravity, electromagnetism, and the strong and weak atomic forces.  There are three ways of explaining the uniformity of nature, where the uniformity of nature entails things that happen over and over again.

1. The uniformity of nature is either the result of chance, necessity or design. (Premise)

2. Whenever something happens over and over again, it is not the result of chance. (Premise)

3. Therefore, the uniformity of nature is either the result of necessity or design. (From 1 and 2)

Atheists obviously don't want to embrace the design alternative, but (2) appears rationally compelling.  Yet, I don't hear many atheists theorize that the uniformity of nature is the result of necessity.  My speculation on the matter is that atheists view the existence of anything necessary as too God-like.  After all, if the uniformity of nature is necessary, then we're left with Spinoza's pantheistic God, e.g. that God and Nature are identical.

I suggest that if the atheist is going to take seriously the need to explain the uniformity of nature, then he cannot possibly say it's the result of chance.  Why not simply adopt pantheism instead?  Not that I think there are good reasons to believe that the uniformity of nature is necessary, but I do think it's a vastly better explanation than chance.

If you were to win the lottery once, you might think you were lucky.  Imagine you win the lottery a thousand times in a row.  Surely you would conclude that this was not the result of chance, but you would also be reluctant to say it's the result of necessity.  You didn't have to win the lottery a thousand times in a row, which leads us to the design alternative: you win the lottery a thousand times in a row because someone chose to rig the lottery results.

Even so, necessity is a much better explanation than chance.  At least necessity can explain why things have predictable patterns of order and regularity.

I suggest the most viable option in explaining the uniformity of nature is design, and that necessity comes in at a distant second, but is still a much better explanation than chance.

If the uniformity of nature is by design, we might be asked the following rhetorical question: who designed the designer?

The question is misguided for at least two reasons.  In order for an explanation to be best, we don't have to have an explanation of the explanation.  If we did, then there would be an infinite regress of explanations, and then nothing could be explained at all.  Secondly, theists do say that the designer has an explanation of his existence.  As the designer of the universe, he would have to transcend the universe.  Since the universe is the sum total of all physical space, time, matter and energy, the designer must be timeless, changeless (for time is a measurement of change), and immaterial, in addition to being very powerful and very intelligent.

You will recall that the Principle of Sufficient Reason (PSR) states:

PSR: Everything that exists has an explanation of its existence, either in the necessity of its own nature or in an external cause.

Therefore, the designer does have an explanation, and that explanation is found in the necessity of the designer's own nature.  After all, it's impossible to cause something timeless and changeless, since causing such a thing would mean that it changes from a state of non-existence to existence, which is a contradiction.  Therefore, if the objector insists that the designer must have an explanation, the theist is happy to comply, adding only that the designer's explanation is found in his own necessity.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Slight Variation of the Argument from Reason

Inspired by Reppert's argument in C.S. Lewis's Dangerous Idea on pp. 57-58:

1. No belief is rationally inferred if it can be fully explained in terms of non-rational causes. (Premise)

2. If naturalism is true, then all beliefs can be fully explained in terms of non-rational causes. (Premise)

3. Hence, if naturalism is true, then no belief is rationally inferred. (From 1 and 2)

4. Beliefs can be rationally inferred. (Premise)

5. Therefore, naturalism is false. (From 3 and 4)

I modified Reppert's "materialism" to my own rendering of "naturalism."  I also simplified (4) and (5).

The naturalist is likely to accept (1) and (4), but will almost certainly deny (2).  After all, aren't our minds rational causes?  In a word, yes.  It's true that our minds are rational causes, but that's not quite what the argument is getting at.  What the argument from reason stresses is that our minds are the result of some type of process.  That process (e.g. evolution) either includes rational causes or strictly non-rational causes.  It's the theist who says that evolution includes rational causes.  It's the atheist who is committed to the view that only non-rational causes are at work in the formation of our minds.

With that said, why think our minds generally produce true beliefs if they are the mere result of non-rationality?  If one wishes to bite the bullet and say our minds generally don't produce true beliefs, contrary to (3), then the belief that our minds are only the result of non-rationality is itself most likely not true!

This latter aspect is what Alvin Plantinga focuses on in his Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism (EAAN).  The claim isn't that evolution is false, but that naturalism is inconsistent with evolution and rational minds (Plantinga's term is "cognitive faculties").  Thus, the truth of evolution implies the falsity of naturalism.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Sensus Divinitatis and Design

Although I don't think this is the most sophisticated argument ever, I do find it compelling:

1. There is a fixed order of things out of our control. (Premise)

2. We are hardwired to think that a fixed order of things implies that someone or something is in control. (Premise)

3. Therefore, we are hardwired to think that someone or something other than ourselves is in control. (From 1 and 2)

This is part of the reason I believe that theism or some form of spirituality is most natural to human beings.  We grow up in a world we have very little control over, and yet, things seem to be "controlled" in a sense that is astronomically beyond our power.  Whenever people explain their faith as the result of the feeling that "something must be greater than me," I think this is exactly what the intuition is all about.

It's no wonder, then, that children are naturally inclined toward supernaturalism, as opposed to naturalism.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

A Simple Defense of the Modal Third Way

My most recently revised version of the Modal Third Way (MTW) goes like this:

1. Something cannot come from nothing. (Premise)

2. If something presently exists, then there was never a past time at which nothing existed. (Implied by 1)

3. Something presently exists. (Premise)

4. Hence, there was never a past time at which nothing existed. (From 1 - 3)

5. It is either necessarily the case that some temporally contingent entity or other has always existed, or a temporally necessary entity exists. (Implied by 4)

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

7. Therefore, a temporally necessary entity exists. (From 5 and 6)

The temporally necessary entity N must also be eternal, since there is no time at which something temporally necessary can fail to exist.  Finally, N must be very powerful if it is capable of causing something as vast as the sum total of contingent entities C.

The only way out of this argument for the skeptic is to deny (6).  In their assertion, some contingent entity or other must have always existed, given the present existence of something, anything.  However, this view is highly implausible.  As Alexander Pruss so eloquently asked: would the non-existence of all non-unicorns imply that a unicorn exists?  Surely not.  Why, then, would the non-existence of every other temporally contingent entity imply that some additional temporally contingent entity exists?  Once again, it wouldn't.

Moreover, there are good reasons to believe that C could have possibly failed to exist as some past time.  Think of it this way.  If every part of a house can fail to exist, then the house as a whole can fail to exist, as well.  Yes, there are instances in which the whole is not like its parts.  One popular expression is that just because every part of a mountain is small, that doesn't mean the mountain as a whole is small.

The problem with the charge of a composition fallacy is that there are many instances in which the whole is like its parts.  If every part of a mountain is made of rock, then the mountain as a whole must be made of rock.  So, which category do contingent entities fall into?  In addition to the argument advanced above, there is simply no reason to think of C as necessary, especially because each of its parts is contingent.  Moreover, there is no apparent contradiction in postulating C's possible non-existence.  Nothing contingent has to exist.

If these are the best objections skeptics can come up with against the MTW, then I think we're safe to say that the MTW is a knockdown and bulletproof argument for the existence of a necessary, eternal and very powerful entity.  The funny thing is atheists shouldn't be so reluctant to accept this conclusion.  After all, many of them hold to the temporal necessity of matter and energy.  I propose that theists and atheists alike ought to accept the MTW as a rationally compelling argument.  The only remaining disagreement is over whether N has any additional properties that would further bridge the gap between N and God.  I think there are, but I'll save that for another post.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

An Augustinian Transcendental Argument

1. If there are any necessary, eternal, omnipresent, immutable and immaterial objects, then this fact is most parsimonious with theism.  (Premise)

2. Laws of logic exist.  (Premise)

3. The laws of logic are necessary, eternal, omnipresent, immutable and immaterial.  (Premise)

4. Therefore, the most parsimonious hypothesis with the laws of logic is theism.  (From 1 - 3)

A rejection of (2) would result in a form of anti-realism.  Due to the indispensability of the laws of logic, I think we're safe in asserting the truth of (2).  (3) seems obviously true just based on an analysis of what the laws of logic are.  They cannot be falsified at any time or any place, and so they are necessary, eternal and omnipresent.  Moreover, the laws of logic cannot change.  It's not as if the law of non-contradiction ("something cannot both be and not be at the same time and in the same sense") can suddenly become the opposite of what it is.  For, that would actually presuppose the law of non-contradiction.  Finally, the laws of logic aren't things we can just reach out and touch.  They are immaterial, e.g. not extended in space.

The atheist's best bet is to somehow undermine (1).  It's at this point that Augustine adopts conceptualism in order to refute the atheist's final option: Platonism.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

A Revision of the Clarkean Cosmological Argument

The CCA can be defended in more than one way.  With some modest Leibnizian principles, it's fairly easy to show why the fallacy of composition charge against the CCA simply does not hold up.

1. Everything that exists has an explanation of its existence, either in the necessity of its own nature or in an external cause. (Premise, PSR)

2. A series of contingent causes exists. (Premise)

3. Hence, the series of contingent causes has an explanation of its existence. (From 1 and 2)

4. The series of contingent causes does not exist by a necessity of its own nature. (Premise)

5. Hence, the series of contingent causes has an external case. (From 1, 2 and 4)

6. Therefore, the series of contingent causes is explained by a necessary cause. (From 1, 2, 4 and 5)

The reason this argument does not commit a composition fallacy is because, in this instance, the whole really is like its parts.  Every contingent thing possibly fails to exist, and so the only plausible inference to make is that the series of contingent things could likewise possibly fail to exist.  Nothing contingent has to exist.  Therefore, the fact that anything at all contingent exists requires that its explanation be found in an external cause, which could only be a necessary cause.

Friday, June 8, 2012

A Bad Pro-Abortion Argument

Disclaimer: This post contains some sexually explicit language.

Some statements are so obviously flawed that many of us just shrug our shoulders and dismiss them, hoping everyone else will see the same logical fallacy.  However, a lot of these statements become snappy one-liners that are presented as a trump card against otherwise well-reasoned positions.  The pro-abortion statement I have in mind is the terse, "if abortion is murder, then blowjobs are cannibalism."

I feel the need to nip this one in the bud so it doesn't become a popular catchphrase for those of the pro-choice persuasion.  First, as a practicing Catholic, I believe all forms of birth control are immoral.  I fully expect my view will be looked upon as extremist.  Fortunately, we can put this aside entirely.  The (obvious) reason blowjobs do not constitute cannibalism is because human life does not begin until conception, which is the fertilization of the sperm and egg.  Since there is no human life prior to this fertilization, then blowjobs cannot possibly constitute murder/cannibalism.  Are they immoral for other reasons?  I'd say so, but that's another discussion entirely.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

A Clarkean Cosmological Argument

The CCA, as we might call it, is inspired by the philosopher, Samuel Clarke, and is a blend of Leibnizian and Thomistic cosmological arguments:

1. Everything that exists has an explanation of its existence, either in the necessity of its own nature or in an external cause. (Premise, PSR)

2. Something presently exists. (Premise)

3. If something presently exists, then there was never a past time at which nothing existed. (Premise)

4. Hence, there was never a past time at which nothing existed. (From 2 and 3)

5. For every past time, something contingent has existed. (Assumption)

6. Hence, the series of contingent entities has an explanation of its existence. (From 1 and 5)

7. Nothing contingent can explain its own existence. (Premise)

8. Therefore, the series of contingent entities is explained by a necessary entity. (From 1, 6 and 7)

Of course, if the assumption of (5) is rejected, then we're brought to the existence of a necessary entity anyway, due to the truth of (4).  One might reject (6) on the grounds that the series of contingent entities isn't a thing, so-to-speak.  However, that objection is impertinent.  For, nothing contingent at all has to exist.  Why, then, does anything contingent exist, much less a whole series of contingent entities?  Its explanation can only be found in a necessary entity.

Grounding Necessary Metaphysical Truths

The claim that only analytical truths are necessary is itself not an analytical proposition.  This self-contradiction is just part of the reason verificationism has been almost universally rejected.  There are necessary synthetic propositions.  For example:

*Something cannot come from nothing.

*It is morally wrong to torture children for fun.

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

The first synthetic proposition is metaphysical.  The second and third are ethical and aesthetic, respectively.  Now, suppose one accepts a version of PSR wherein all synthetic truths have an explanation.  The explanation will either be contingent or necessary.

1. "Something cannot come from nothing" is a necessary synthetic truth. (Premise)

2. Every synthetic truth has an explanation. (Premise, PSR)

3. Hence, "something cannot come from nothing" has an explanation. (From 1 and 2)

4. Every explanation is either contingent or necessary. (Definition)

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

6. Therefore, "something cannot come from nothing" is explained by something necessary. (From 3 - 5)

One could justify (5) by pointing out that there are possible worlds at which nothing contingent exists, but "something cannot come from nothing" still has an explanation.  Since only existing things can serve as actual explanations, it follows that only something necessary can explain a necessary truth.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

If Logic, then God

Suppose you find yourself convinced that the laws of logic are objective and that they have a positive ontological status.  With their immutability in mind, the laws of logic cannot be grounded in a dynamic universe.  Consider this:

1. The universe and everything contained within it are mutable.  (Premise)

2. The laws of logic are immutable.  (Premise)

3. Therefore, the laws of logic cannot be contained within the universe.  (From 1 and 2)

The objectivity and existence of laws of logic necessitate that they be necessary, eternal, immutable and immaterial.  Now, do these objects fit better within a theistic worldview or an atheistic worldview?  Obviously, naive materialism is ruled out as a plausible (possible?) worldview, and materialism is one of the most predominant atheistic worldviews.

Technically, an atheist could adopt a version of Platonism.  It's at this point that I would exhort the believer to stress the advantages of conceptualism over against Platonism.  To continue:

4. The laws of logic are abstract objects.  (Premise)

5. Abstract objects are either mind-independent or mental concepts.  (Premise)

6. Abstract objects cannot be mind-independent.  (Premise)

7. Therefore, the laws of logic are mental concepts.  (From 4 - 6)

Now, the laws of logic cannot be the concepts of just any mind.  For, there are possible worlds in which contingent minds do not exist.  Yet, the laws of logic still obtain in those possible worlds.  Hence, the laws of logic must be the concepts of a necessary mind (e.g. God).

Premise (6) might be the most controversial of the argument.  I would stress the causal impotence of abstract objects, and the fact that there is a causal relation between mind-independent realities and the mind that knows them.  In other words, if the laws of logic were mind-independent, then they could not be known.  However, they certainly are known.  Therefore, the laws of logic are not mind-independent, but conceptual in nature.

As for the positive ontological status of the laws of logic and other abstract objects, I would appeal to their indispensability.  It is impossible to reason apart from laws of logic.  A thing cannot possess the attribute of indispensability and be non-existent.  After all, non-existent entities do not possess any attributes.  A parody of this argument might go something like this: unicorns possess the attribute of being magical.  Yet, that doesn't mean unicorns exist.

The problem with the above objection is that unicorns really don't possess the attribute of being magical.  The quality of being a magical horse with a horn is not instantiated, whereas the indispensability of logic is instantiated.  It really is necessary for us to use logic whenever engaging in rational inquiry.  In sum, there is no parity between the argument and its parody.

If this argument is sound, as I maintain it is, then we have a definitive proof in favor of theism and against atheism.  Far from there being a conflict between faith and reason, it turns out that reason actually presupposes faith.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

A Cosmological Argument for the Existence of the One

This is a post similar to one I did earlier, except this one simplifies the argument:

1. If A and B are causally related, then A and B have something in common.  (Premise)

2. Everything that stands in causal relations possibly has the ability to causally influence every other causal power.  (Premise)

3. Hence, everything that stands in causal relations has something in common N.  (From 1 and 3)

4. N is either temporally contingent or temporally necessary.  (Definition)

5. Every moment of time stands in a causal relation.  (Premise)

6. Hence, N exists at all moments of time.  (From 3, 4 and 5)

7. Therefore, N is temporally necessary.  (From 4 and 6)

N's eternality may be deduced by the fact that N cannot fail to exist at any time.  N's tremendous power may be inferred by its ability to sustain all causally potent entities.  The fact that all causally potent entities have this in common, rather than in distinction, points to N's unicity.  Therefore, an entity exists which is temporally necessary, eternal, very powerful and unique: this is the One, or God.

The One Less God Argument

Richard Dawkins and some of the new atheists are fond of saying that everyone is an atheist, and that atheists simply believe in one less God than we do.  It occurred to me last night while thinking about this that there can be dozens of parodies of this argument.  For example:

"You believe the Steelers alone will win the next Super Bowl.  I simply believe that one less team will win."

The point of the parody is to show that it may be the case that some God or other must exist, just as some team or other must win the Super Bowl.  Obviously, this contention may be disputed, but that's where the debate ought to shift to the arguments of natural theology.

Friday, May 18, 2012

More on the Uniformity of Nature

It occurred to me that for the diehard skeptic, the uniformity of nature/principle of induction may not be readily accepted.  Of course, I've always known this, and Hume makes it abundantly clear that he doesn't believe that the uniformity of nature is something demonstrable.  Nevertheless, I've been thinking about possible arguments that would demonstrate the irrationality of denying the uniformity of nature.  Here's one:

1. In order for a belief B to be rationally compelling, there must be a probability of B > .5.  (Premise)

2. Necessarily, if nature is not uniform (represented by ~B), then ~B > .5.  (Implied by 1)

3. Necessarily, if ~B, then the probability of ~B is inscrutable.  (Premise)

4. Necessarily, if ~B is inscrutable, then it is not the case that ~B > .5.  (Definition)

5. Hence, it is not the case that ~B > .5.  (From 3 and 4)

6. Therefore, ~B is not rationally compelling.  (From 1 and 5)

Based on this argument, it's easy to see how ~B is not rationally acceptable, either.  Assuming that rational acceptability requires some level of probability, then ~B does not even meet this criterion.  After all, inscrutability is the inability to ascertain a belief's probability, whereas rational acceptability necessitates that there be such an ability.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Uniformity of Nature and the PSR

There is a great deal of order exhibited throughout the universe.  We often refer to this order as the "uniformity of nature."  A simple (not to be confused with simplistic) teleological argument might go like this:

1. Regularity is the result of design.  (Premise)

2. The uniformity of nature exhibits regularity.  (Premise)

3. Therefore, the uniformity of nature is the result of design.  (From 1 and 2)

In other words, whenever something happens over and over again, it is not the result of chance, but of design.  Since the laws of nature fit this description, we are justified in concluding that a cosmic designer exists.

The typical objection to this argument is that it leaves the designer unexplained.  There are two equally effective responses the theist may appeal to.  First, in order for an explanation to be best, we don't have to have an explanation of the explanation.  If archaeologists discovered the remains of pottery in a remote part of the world, they would rightly conclude that someone had designed the pottery.  This holds true even if the archaeologists have no idea who the person was, where he came from, where he went, etc.

Secondly, theists are happy to admit that the cosmic designer has an explanation.  The PSR states that everything that exists has an explanation of its existence, either in the necessity of its own nature or in an external cause.  The cosmic designer, far from having no explanation, is explained by a necessity of its own nature.  The cosmic designer exists because it cannot possibly fail to exist.

Another way of summarizing the argument is like this:

1. Everything that exists has an explanation of its existence, either in the necessity of its own nature or in an external cause.  (Premise, PSR)

2. If the uniformity of nature has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is in a necessary cause.  (Premise)

3. The uniformity of nature exists.  (Premise)

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

5. Therefore, the uniformity of nature is explained by a necessary cause.  (From 2 and 4)

Here's the atheist's dilemma.  If he says that the uniformity of nature has an external cause, that cause must be supernatural, timeless, changeless and immaterial, in addition to being very powerful and intelligent (per the teleological argument above).  Now, this supernatural cause must also have an explanation of its existence, but this can only be found in a necessity of its own nature.  After all, a timeless entity is not the kind of thing that can exist and then cease to exist, for that would require temporal becoming.

On the other hand, if the atheist wishes to say that the uniformity of nature exists by a necessity of its own nature, then we still have something very much like God.  It's a God-substitute, if you will.  It seems that the atheist's insistence that the cosmic designer have an explanation is a sort of backhanded compliment to the theist's defense of the PSR.

One for You, Two for Me

We're all familiar with the "one for you, two for me" expression.  It occurred to me that a paradox akin to the Tristram Shandy paradox is within our reach.  Imagine we share an infinite bag of cookies and I'm the one who is in charge of the distribution.  I give you one, then keep two, give you another one, then keep three, and so on out to infinity.  As time advances, my share of cookies will grow continuously larger than your own.  Now, this wouldn't be very fair of me, but it also provides the background of the paradox.

Suppose instead that we have been sharing the bag of cookies from eternity past.  For every minute that has already passed, you have received a cookie.  Given that the past is infinite in this hypothetical scenario, it follows that you have infinitely-many cookies corresponding to infinitely-many minutes.  Therefore, there is a one-to-one correspondence between your share of cookies and mine.  Yet, hasn't the number of cookies I'm keeping for myself been growing exponentially larger than the cookies I'm giving to you?

This is just another fun way of stating what we already know: that in set-theory, a part may be equal to its whole.  Infinite sets may be consistent within an abstract mathematical realm, but I see no reason to accept that they're part of nature/physical reality.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Was Same-Sex Marriage Ever a Christian Rite?

This article answers in the affirmative.  Jimmy Akin's excellent response can be found here.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Bristol Palin and the Social Media Backlash

Sarah Palin's daughter, Bristol, has criticized President Obama for his support of same-sex marriage.  Not surprisingly, Ms. Palin's comments have resulted in a firestorm of insults.  This article includes just some of the barbs.

What I find most interesting is that the mockery of Bristol Palin in no way serves as a response to her argument against same-sex marriage (which is that the best environment for children includes a mother and a father).  Yes, Bristol is a single mother.  So what?  Does this in any way undermine the argument she makes?  People can attack her personally all they want, but the debate about same-sex marriage ought to focus on the arguments, rather than on the persons who defend them.

Some might chuckle at a personal insult directed toward Bristol Palin, but that kind of verbal sparring is nothing more than textbook ad hominem.