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.