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.