Thursday, December 26, 2013

A Simple Formulation of the Fourth Way

The Fourth Way of Thomas Aquinas, known colloquially as the argument from perfection and the argument from gradation has numerous formulations.  One easy way to state the argument is like this:

1. A flaw or degree in something cannot be known unless there is a standard of perfection for it. (Premise)

2. There are flaws in truth-claims and degrees of goodness. (Premise)

3. Therefore, there is some Supreme Truth and Supreme Goodness that is the standard of perfection by which the imperfection of other things can be intelligible. (From 1 and 2)

In support of (1), C.S. Lewis is famous for stating that a man would have no idea what a crooked line looks like unless he already knew what a straight line looks like.  The fact that there is deviation entails that a thing must deviate from some standard of perfection.  Given premise (2), which appears obviously true, it follows that there is some standard of perfection for truth and goodness, which we call God.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

50 Million Atheists in the U.S.? Unlikely...

David Silverman, president of the American Atheists organization, is a prolific speaker and debater on the question of God and religion, as well as the appropriateness of religious sentiments in the political sphere. 

I'm not interested in attacking the integrity of Silverman (for all I know it's an honest mistake), but he very often makes the spurious claim that roughly 50 million Americans are atheists.  Well, the stats prove just the opposite.  He gets this figure by recent statistics that state between 15 to 25% of Americans are unaffiliated with any particular religion.  Take, for example, this Pew Forum article.  Even more striking is a recent Pew poll in which 21% of self-proclaimed "atheists" believe in God!  An additional 55% of agnostics believe in God.  92% of the total American population believes in God. 

Now let's do some basic math.  Let's round up and say the total American population is 315 million.  92% of 315 million is 289,800,000.  That leaves the remaining unbelieving 8% at 25,200,000 - half of Silverman's claim.  What he would need to rely on in order to back up his claim is a (currently unsupported) psychological factor in which an additional 25 million people just won't admit they're atheists, even on an anonymous survey.

Moreover, that's Silverman's best case scenario.  It's not that a full 8% are atheists, but simply lack a belief in God.  The new atheists like to define atheism as a mere lack of belief in God, but as even Antony Flew conceded in the 1970's (when he was still an atheist), who popularized this definition, such a definition is entirely novel.  And of course, agnostics don't necessarily identify themselves as atheists.  Atheism, according to the Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy is: "The theory or belief that God does not exist."

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Logic as an Object of Desire

God is said to be immutable by classical theists.  I've spent hours arguing that God exists and that one of his many attributes is immutability.  Still, I'm often asked: if A moves B, then doesn't A necessarily move too?  In other words, if God moves (changes) something, then doesn't that require that God also change?  The answer is no, and for at least two reasons.

First, it is possible to change something by being an immutable object of desire.  While logic does not stand in any causal relations (e.g. it doesn't act on anything), it does passively draw persons to itself.  After all, all of us desire to have knowledge and to be reasonable, and logic is a necessary precondition of such rationality.  Likewise, God can also change things passively.  People are drawn to God, as the Supreme Good, because they themselves desire to be good.  Yet, God doesn't have to do anything in order to bring about this change, much less change himself.

Secondly, nobody has ever been able to show a contradiction in the notion that God could immutably will one change at time-1 and another change at time-2.  Thus, God does not change things by mere passivity, as logic does, but he changes things with an immutable will for different changes at different times.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

My Top Ten Philosophers of All Time

I don't necessarily agree with everything these philosophers have to say, but in terms of their influence, here's how I would list them:

1. Plato
2. Aristotle
3. St. Augustine
4. St. Thomas Aquinas
5. Rene Decartes
6. John Locke
7. Baruch Spinoza
8. Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz
9. Immanuel Kant
10. David Hume

Of course, this is a list of western philosophers.  A separate list for eastern philosophers could also be compiled.  It's also worth noting that while I like Plato, he's not my favorite philosopher.  That honor belongs to St. Thomas Aquinas, with St. Augustine and Aristotle coming in at a close second and third.  It's just that Plato and Aristotle have probably had the greatest influence on philosophy throughout the past two-thousand years.  While Kant and Hume have been enormously influential, I put them at #9 and #10, respectively, because their influence is still fairly recent.  Plus, the issues they address can be found at least in kernel form in the ancient philosophers.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Some Clarifications of Natural Law Ethics and Human Sexuality

Natural law ethics essentially states that human beings have functions, each with a purpose.  It is morally right to foster these functions, and morally wrong to intentionally frustrate these functions.

Now with this in mind, the natural law ethicist sees the primary purpose of human sexuality as procreation, whereas the secondary purpose (still a good thing) is pleasure and intimacy.  As a result, any action that subordinates the primary purpose to the secondary purpose is morally wrong.  Therefore, not only are homosexual acts morally wrong, but so are contraception and abortion.

Of course, two objections usually surface around this time. 

Objection #1: Wearing eyeglasses and flying planes is unnatural.  These actions are morally ambivalent, so something must be wrong with natural law ethics. 

Reply to Objection #1: The objection misinterprets the fundamental axiom of natural law ethics.  The moral axiom is distinct from the laws of nature, e.g. gravity.  Neither of the actions listed as counter-examples results in a frustration of any human function.  In fact, eyeglasses actually enhance the purpose of the eyes - namely, eyesight!

Objection #2: If natural law ethics is correct, then the sex of infertile couples is morally wrong.  That is absurd. 

Reply to Objection #2: Yes, it is absurd, but not for the reason the objector gives.  You see, an infertile couple that is male and female are still fertile in kind, even though they are infertile by accident (non-essentially).  The infertile couple does not intentionally frustrate the primary function of human sexuality, whereas homosexual acts, contraception and abortion do.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Another Look at the Modal Ontological Argument

I'll be brief with the summary of the argument, but I want to focus on premise (1), which is really the only controversial premise of the argument.

1. Possibly, a maximally great being exists. (Premise)

2. Necessarily, a maximally great being is maximally excellent in all possible worlds. (Premise)

3. Necessarily, a being is maximally excellent if and only if it is omnipotent, omniscient, and morally perfect. (Premise)

4. Therefore, a maximally great being exists.  (From 1 - 3 and S5)

Here's an argument for premise (1):

5. Necessarily, an imperfection can only be known if what is perfect (maximally great) is intelligible. (Premise)

6. Imperfections are known. (Premise)

7. Necessarily, whatever is intelligible is possible. (Premise)

8. Therefore, a maximally great being possibly exists. (From 5 - 7)

Of course, this is just a summary of the argument.  Please take that into account.

Friday, September 20, 2013

The Necessity of God in the Success of Science

Historically, the success of science has been predicated on the notion that God created the universe to behave in a law-like manner. Voltaire, a deist and vehement critic of religion, considered the universe's law-like behavior as the definitive proof of God's existence. After all, things do not occur over and over again by chance alone, but are designedly so. As Thomas Aquinas put it some eight-hundred years ago:

"Contrary and discordant things cannot, always or for the most part, be parts of one order except under someone’s government, which enables all and each to tend to a definite end. But in the world we find that things of diverse natures come together under one order, and this not rarely or by chance, but always or for the most part. There must therefore be some being by whose providence the world is governed. This we call God."

The idea that science and faith are at odds with each other is a myth began in the nineteenth-century with Andrew White Dickson's publication of "A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom." Before that, folks like Newton would have scoffed at such an idea.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Does Science Have to be Falsifiable?

It all depends on one's definition of "science," which has in large part been neglected by scientists and philosophers of science.  Science comes from the Latin term, scientia, which refers to knowledge.  On such a definition, not all science is falsifiable.  Take, for instance, the laws of logic or the existence of the thinking self.  Neither is falsifiable, but should they be included under the discipline of science?

Thursday, September 12, 2013

An Argument Against Karl Popper's Alternative to Induction

The great twentieth-century epistemologist, Karl Popper, did a lot to contribute to the philosophy of science.  There is a highly intuitive nature to what he suggests about the scientific method, or rather what the scientific method ought to be.  In short, he says that whenever one scientific theory t1 is able to explain a1 but not a2, then some new theory t2 must supersede t1.  Moreover, t2 must be able to explain a1 just as well as t1 did in addition to explaining a2.  For instance, Newtonian physics explains various motions and gravitational constants under a certain paradigm ("paradigm" is a phrase used by Thomas Kuhn).  However, it does not explain all of the data, and it ended up being superseded by Einsteinian physics.  This, in turn, may also be superseded by an additional theory t3, e.g. a theory of everything that attempts to unify Einsteinian physics with quantum mechanics.

So far so good.  However, it's peculiar that Popper rejects the principle of induction and suggests that what was explained above constitutes an alternative.  After all, if the principle of induction is dispensable, then we cannot assume the future is going to be like the past.  However, this means that there is no guarantee that any additional theory will be needed.  Science, with respect to the limitations of science, could for all we know end up being exhaustive.  Only by assuming the principle of induction is indispensable can we make the claim that future data will need additional explanation.  Therefore, it stands to reason that Popper's rejection of induction is self-defeating.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

An Argument Against Same-Sex Marriage Under the Paradigm of Deontology

First, let's distinguish between a moral value and a moral obligation.  Values, in this technical sense, need not be subject to Kant's categorical imperative.  Being a doctor has value, and so does being a librarian, or a teacher.  One is not violating the categorical imperative - in Biblical language, "do unto others as you would have them do unto you" - by choosing one vocation as opposed to another.

Kant's technical philosophical definition of the categorical imperative is this: act only in ways that you would will to be universalized.

Now, the reader needs to keep in mind that the argument against same-sex marriage (SSM) is only applicable under the paradigm of Kantian deontology.  Nevertheless, the argument adds to an already growing list of reasons to oppose SSM.  It is also assumed that adultery is wrong, which is a metaphysically certain consequence of the categorical imperative.

1. One should only act in ways that one would will to be universalized. (Premise, categorical imperative)

2. The universalization of SSM would have disastrous effects. (Premise)

3. Disastrous effects are a violation of the categorical imperative. (Premise)

4. Therefore, SSM should be avoided. (From 1 - 3)

Lest anyone object that SSM is based on a value, and not an obligation, this is demonstrably false.  Sexual acts of whatever variety are a matter of moral obligation, and not merely on value-so-defined.  Surely the advocate of SSM does not view adultery or hebophilia (sexual attraction to pubescents, roughly from the ages of 11 to 14) as anything less than violations of moral obligations.  To make homosexual acts an exception without providing any sufficient reason is to engage in special pleading.

I conclude, then, that SSM is a violation of the categorical imperative.

Friday, August 30, 2013

The Argument from Mathematics

John Lennox and William Lane Craig have begun to defend this argument.  I suspect one reason is because nominalists, realists, and conceptualists can all agree with it.  Here's how I would summarize the argument:

1. The universe exhibits mathematical structure. (Premise)

2. Either the universe was designed by a deity who used the concepts of mathematics and imposed them upon the universe, or else the mathematical structure of the universe is a happy coincidence. (Premise)

3. It is not a happy coincidence. (Premise)

4. Therefore, a deity exists. (From 1 - 3)

Premises (1) and (3), I should hope, are uncontroversial.  To deny either of these premises is well beyond fringe philosophy.  It's premise (2) that's most important.  Even if one states that the mathematical structure of the universe is due to necessity, it's still just a happy coincidence.  Moreover, it is conceivable that the universe could operate under different and contradictory mathematical models.  Does the universe operate under a Euclidean or under a non-Euclidean geometry?  Both are consistent, so that would additionally undermine the notion that the universe's mathematical structure is due to necessity.

What about the nominalists with respect to premise (2)?  Well, according to them, abstract objects, including mathematical objects and systems, are just useful fictions.  This would mean the designer chose to use a specific system of mathematics by which the universe would behave.  A realist would say that the designer recognized which mathematical system was correct and then designed the universe accordingly.  Finally, the conceptualist's views already lead to a designer.  Similar to the realist, the deity on conceptualism already knew which mathematical system was correct, since the deity's mind is what grounds these mathematical truths.

In order to avoid this argument, one will have to deny (3).  To those who attempt such a strategy, good luck! 

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

An Ontological Argument I Came Up With in High School

Keeping in mind I thought of this argument around a decade ago, you also might suspect I've cleaned it up a bit.  Your suspicion is justified.

1. It is possible that nothing exists. (Assumption)

2. If nothing exists, then possibility does not exist. (Premise)

3. If possibility does not exist, then it is not possible for any state of affairs to obtain. (Premise)

4. (1) is a state of affairs that obtains. (Premise)

5. Therefore, (1) is false. (From 1 - 4)

I went on to argue, much less transparently:

6. The concurrent nonexistence of all contingent things is possible. (Premise)

7. Therefore, something necessary exists. (From 5 and 6)

Of course, the argument was (and is) very underdeveloped.  It assumes things like "possibilities exist," which are at least relatively contentious.  Also, the necessary entity of (7) prima facie could just be the set of possibilities.  As a more informed Thomist than I was then, I now recognize that possibilities or potentialities cannot obtain unless there is something actual.  I then fell back on the argument from change.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Why I'm Not a Nominalist

A realist, a conceptualist, and a nominalist walk into a bar.  The bartender says, "We serve your kind and your kind, but not your kind."

That's a subtle philosophy joke from an acquaintance of mine.

The reason I'm not a nominalist is simple: I believe that abstract objects, such as numbers, sets, propositions, laws of logic, moral obligations, and so forth, are indispensable to rational inquiry.  It seems absurd to me that something can be indispensable, while simultaneously being a "useful fiction" or a "social convention," as nominalists would have it.  One can summarize the argument easily:

1. Whatever is indispensable exists. (Premise)

2. Laws of logic are indispensable. (Premise)

3. Therefore, laws of logic exist. (From 1 and 2)

I chose the laws of logic because logic is an area of philosophy I do quite well in, at least academically-speaking.  If you think I'm illogical or non-logical in my personal interactions, that's quite a different story.  However, I digress.

The argument appears to me, at any rate, to be intuitively obvious.  While intuition does not constitute proof, it should not be dismissed outright as a rational basis for accepting the argument.  Intuition, I wager, is a rational means to base one's beliefs on barring some defeater.  However, I've also argued in my book, Faith and Philosophy, that nothing that possesses an attribute can be nonexistent.  Nonexistent things do not have any instantiated attributes, or attributes found in the real world.  Since indispensability is an attribute of the laws of logic, it follows that the laws of logic in fact exist.

A popular counter to this argument (at least on some internet forums) is that unicorns possess attributes, but do not exist, at least as far as we know.  I think the difference is that the indispensability of the laws of logic is instantiated in actuality, whereas the unicorn's attributes (roughly, a magical horse with a horn) are not.  It really is impossible to reason apart from the laws of logic, which is why I say their indispensability is instantiated.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Thoughts on William Lane Craig's debate with Stephen Law

Disclaimer: This post has nothing to do with the merits of the arguments presented.  This is just my opinion on how the debate went.

While he's not a Thomist, I do think that Craig provides several good arguments for theism.  In his debate with Law, he didn't use his usual five-to-six arguments for God's existence.  Instead, Craig limited his positive case for theism to just three arguments: a) the kalam cosmological argument; b) the moral argument; and c) the historical case for the resurrection of Jesus.

Law, on the other hand, defended only one argument for atheism: the argument from suffering.  Now, I must say that out of all the debates I've witnessed, Law's defense of this argument was quite simply the best.  That's not at all to say I think it was persuasive, but I could tell that he had done his homework and was prepared for Craig's arguments.

In the middle of this post I'm going to say outright that I believe Craig won the debate.  You can chalk that up to me being a Christian theist, but hear me out.

While Craig defended three distinct arguments for God's existence, Law refused to address the kalam argument, since in his own words (this is a paraphrase), "we're here to debate Craig's God, and not a deity that is consistent with not being morally perfect."  Craig responded by saying that he was building a cumulative case for Christian theism, starting with the kalam.  Law replied by saying that he wasn't accumulating anything, since the kalam argument has no bearing on whether God is good or evil.

The problem I have with Law's tactic here is that Craig's God is a timeless, changeless, immaterial, personal creator of the universe.  That's part of what Craig means by "God," so for Law to say that he only wanted to focus on Craig's God, while simultaneously ignoring the kalam argument, undermines Law's own criterion of what constitutes a refutation of the defense of Christian theism.

With respect to the theistic arguments Craig presented, most of these were underdeveloped, since Law chose to advance his own argument from suffering more than responding to Craig's arguments.  It's in the rebuttal periods that Craig usually extrapolates further on these arguments, but since Law hardly addressed them until his third speech, we weren't left with much to go on, since Craig only had his closing statement to respond to these objections and summarize his positive case for God's existence and the reasons why Law's case against God's existence was unsuccessful.  It's also worth noting that even in his closing statement and during the question-and-answer session, Law still refused to address the kalam argument.

Law's argument basically ran like this: given all of the sufferings in the world, one is rationally justified in concluding that God is not morally perfect.  He postulates the idea of an evil God, and states that we cannot conclude that God is entirely evil, since there are so many good things in the world.  Craig's response to this was, I think, right on the money.  Theists don't conclude that God is morally perfect based on the good things we perceive in the world.  Likewise, theists don't conclude that God is entirely evil based on the sufferings in the world.  Craig maintains that the argument for a morally perfect God and an entirely evil God provide us with no compelling arguments, since we are not in a position to know whether certain events occur for the sake of a greater good or for the sake of a greater evil simply on the basis of the good and evil we perceive in the world.

This makes the cumulative case that Craig was defending much more realistic.  He defends the kalam argument in order to arrive at some type of deity, and then further concludes that this deity is morally perfect based on the moral argument.  During the question-and-answer period, Law stated that he had no idea why anything exists rather than nothing.  It was at this point that Craig responded that Law was being inconsistent in requiring him to provide God's morally sufficient reasons to allow suffering, while at the same time, Law was unable (or unwilling) to provide an account of why something exists rather than nothing.  This received a modest laugh from the audience to which I'm sympathetic.  It seemed to me that throughout the entire debate that Law was holding Craig to standards that Law himself could not adhere to.

Despite all of this, I found this debate to be a breath of fresh air.  Law came prepared to debate Craig and he was determined to not lose focus.  He was charming and provided Craig with one of the most difficult debates since Austin Dacey.

Friday, August 16, 2013

An atypical cosmological argument

1. One cannot give what one does not possess. (Premise)

2. Whatever is most fundamental to reality gives intelligence. (Premise)

3. Therefore, whatever is most fundamental to reality possesses intelligence. (From 1 and 2)

The argument is logically valid, so the question remains: are premises (1) and (2) correct?  (1) appears obviously true.  I cannot give someone a million dollars if I don't have a million dollars.  I can envisage premise (2) being challenged by asserting that there is nothing most fundamental to reality.  It's all an infinite regress of smaller and smaller particles.  Still, the whole of these particles would suggest that panpsychism is true.  If this is so, then Naturalism is false.  On the other hand, if there is no infinite regress, or the regress is sustained by Pure Actuality, then theism is true.  Naturalism is even more obviously false on this supposition.

This is one of those arguments I'm not entirely sold on, but I see a lot of intuitive support for it.  It's an argument that I'm presenting to see whether it sticks: whether it passes philosophical muster.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Are atheists mentally ill?

That's the title of Sean Thomas's latest piece.  Personally, I don't think making this claim while debating an atheist is a good idea.  Not only is it impolite (I confess I'm a big softy sometimes), but it will only drive the atheist away further.  Nevertheless, Thomas is correct in concluding that believers, on average, live longer, healthier, and happier lives.  Alvin Plantinga says that atheism is the result of a cognitive disfunction.  Whether he and Thomas are correct, you can make the call yourselves.

Monday, August 12, 2013

How Should the Church Integrate Homosexuals?

I stand by my definition of love, which is to will the good of another.  This means that to approve of some behavior that hinders a person's good is not loving.  I will emphatically say that I love homosexuals, and simply add that I don't approve of homosexual acts.  There is a significant difference between a local church approving of a person's moral state if that person is homosexual, but not practicing homosexual behavior, versus condemning all homosexuals regardless of behavior.  What I'm writing is perfectly consistent with what the Catholic Church has almost invariably always taught.

For example, the Catechism of the Catholic Church (2357) teaches: "Basing itself on sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered. They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved."

However, the Catechism (2357-2359) also teaches: "Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection."

In other words, homosexuality itself is not sinful per se.  Rather, it is homosexual acts that are sinful.

Now, why think the Catholic Church is right about this?  After all, doesn't the American Psychological Association recognize that homosexual behavior is normal?  Well, unfortunately for pro-gay rights activists, the APA succumbed to political pressure and the scientific studies simply do not support this conclusion.

For example, J. Michael Bailey, himself an advocate of gay rights, concludes that, "These studies contain arguably the best published data on the association between homosexuality and psychopathology, and both converge on the same unhappy conclusion: homosexual people are at substantially higher risk for some forms of emotional problems, including suicidality, major depression, and anxiety disorder, conduct disorder, and nicotine dependence . . . The strength of the new studies is their degree of control."

What's most striking about this is that Bailey's studies (Commentary: "Homosexuality and mental illness," Arch. Gen. Psychiatry 56, pp. 876-880.) were conducted in the Netherlands, a country highly tolerant of homosexual behavior.  This suggests that the mental disorders associated with homosexual behavior are not based on social stigmatism, but are demonstrably correlated.

For those who object that people are born homosexual, that point is moot.  People are also born with schizophrenia, but none of us would consider such a condition good or healthy.

The Church should welcome homosexuals into full communion, so long as they abstain from homosexual acts.  It may be a struggle, but who among us does not have any struggle?

[Update: Bailey's study focused on those who have engaged in homosexual acts, and not simply on homosexual orientation.]

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Conflicting Beliefs and Maintaining One's Convictions

"It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it." -Aristotle

Let's suppose a man is persuaded by an argument from natural theology, say, the argument from change (yay!), that there must exist a monotheistic God.  Let's also say he's inclined to accept the key premise of Plantinga's modal ontological argument - namely, that it's possible for a maximally great being to exist and concludes that a maximally great being does exist.  Now to make things interesting.  Suppose this man is also persuaded by the logical version of the argument from suffering.  Should he abandon his theism (or more specifically, God's maximal greatness) just because he has become persuaded by an argument that concludes that it is impossible for God to be maximally great?

I don't think so.  In fact, I think changing one's position based on two (hypothetically) equally strong and opposing arguments may be a sign of mental instability.  What the rational person will do upon such a predicament is reassess the arguments for and against God's maximal greatness.  If after a time he still cannot make up his mind, then he could take one of two routes: either a) continue researching these arguments, or b) adopt agnosticism with respect to God's maximal greatness.

Of course, virtually no atheistic philosopher today defends the logical version of the argument from suffering.  Stephen Law, for instance, prefers instead to defend the evidential version of the argument from suffering, which only concludes that God's being maximally great is unlikely.  Still, one ought to remind one's self that the arguments from suffering, even if successful, would be a far cry from constituting a demonstration of the truth of atheism.  After all, one may make the more modest claim that a monotheistic God exists who is very powerful, very intelligent, and very good (or maybe morally perfect).

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Is Existence a Predicate?

A friend of mine once referred to the statement that "existence is not a predicate" as Kant's Assertion.  I think that's an apt description, since there are really no arguments against existence being a predicate.  Yet, Kant's Assertion is often just repeated as if the matter is settled.  However, consider this argument:

1. Necessarily, if X and Y possess all of the same attributes, then X and Y are identical. (Premise, Leibniz's Law)

2. Necessarily, if some not-real A possesses all of the same attributes as some real B, then A and B are identical. (From 1)

3. A not-real A cannot possess all of the same attributes as B. (Premise)

4. Therefore, A and B are distinct. (From 2 and 3)

(1) states the relatively uncontroversial axiom of logic known as Leibniz's Law.  Now, if existence is not a predicate, then (2) requires that A and B possess all of the same attributes.  The problem is that A does not exist, whereas B does exist.  The only difference between the two would be existence, but since existence does not exist, it follows that A and B are distinct by nothing.  However, to be distinct by nothing is to be identical, which entails that A and B are actually identical and not distinct.  You can all decide for yourselves if that's a rational position.

If you're anything like me, though, you'll affirm (3) (and hence (4) as well) and reject Kant's Assertion.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Central Argument of "The God Delusion"

For some reason I always feel the need to say Richard Dawkins is a man of intelligence before I criticize any of his arguments.  It's the same with Stephen Hawking and Lawrence Krauss.  Some are critical of those who criticize their arguments, since they're not professional philosophers.  Poetically, that's entirely the point.  Not only are they not professional philosophers, but they've shown very little evidence that they've studied philosophy to any reasonable extent.  However, whenever a person enters into the world of philosophy, they had better be prepared for some philosophical critiques.  Can you imagine me, as a scientific layman, writing a book called The Science Delusion, and then making excuses for why I shouldn't debate the leading scientists of the day?  Dawkins has done just that with William Lane Craig for years now.  Nevertheless, let's take a quick look at the argument that Dawkins considers a knockdown argument for atheism.

1. One of the greatest challenges to the human intellect has been to explain how the complex, improbable appearance of design in the universe arises. (Premise)

2. The natural temptation is to attribute the appearance of design to actual design itself. (Premise)

3. The temptation is a false one because the designer hypothesis immediately raises the larger problem of who designed the designer. (Premise)

4. The most ingenious and powerful explanation is Darwinian evolution by natural selection. (Premise)

5. We don't have an equivalent explanation for physics. (Premise)

6. We should not give up the hope of a better explanation arising in physics, something as powerful as Darwinism in biology. (Premise)

7. Therefore, God almost certainly does not exist. (Conclusion)

Now, anyone even remotely familiar with logic will say that the conclusion that "God almost certainly does not exist" is a complete non sequitur.  Even if one grants all six of Dawkins's premises - even the most dubious ones, such as (3) - the conclusion is simply not a cogent inference.  Let's say the design argument fails, and let's grant that arguments concerning law-like behavior and the fine-tuning of the universe's initial conditions fail.  So what?  These are largely inductive arguments, whereas Thomism and other philosophical traditions offer mostly deductive arguments for God's existence.

Dawkins only offers a couple pages dedicated to the proofs of Thomas Aquinas, and he misinterprets them for the most part.  For example, with respect to the first three ways Dawkins states on p. 101 that, "[Thomists] make the entirely unwarranted assumption that God himself is immune to the regress."  Unfortunately, had Dawkins taken the time to read Thomas Aquinas's reasons for concluding to an Unmoved Mover, an Uncaused Cause, and a Necessary Being, he would have realized that the causal premises require that the First Cause be uncaused.

Dawkins continues, "Even if we allow the dubious luxury of arbitrarily conjuring up a terminator to an infinite regress and giving it a name, simply because we need one . . ."

I'm going to stop right there and point out that Thomas offers three distinct arguments against an infinite regress of essentially-ordered causes.  There's nothing arbitrary about it.

Continuing, "there is absolutely no reason to endow that terminator with any of the properties normally ascribed to God: omnipotence, omniscience, goodness, creativity of design, to say nothing of such human attributes as listening to prayers, forgiving sins and reading innermost thoughts."

At this point, one can only wonder: did Dawkins just read the five ways in the Summa Theologiae (literally a summary of theology) and simply gloss over Thomas's arguments for God's omnipotence, and so forth?

Next, "Incidentally, it has not escaped the notice of logicians that omniscience and omnipotence are mutually incompatible.  If God is omniscient, he must already know how he is going to intervene to change the course of history using his omnipotence.  But that means he can't change his mind about his intervention, which means he is not omnipotent."

First, what logicians is Dawkins referring to?  He makes no citations and only adds a little poem by Karen Owens to confirm his point.  Secondly, God cannot do what is logically impossible.  He cannot create a square-circle, and no, he cannot change his mind, since he is immutable.  This fits quite nicely with the actual definition of omnipotence (the ability to do whatever is logically possible) and can only be used as an argument against God by adopting a caricature of the term.

Finally, "To return to the infinite regress and the futility of invoking God to terminate it, it is more parsimonious to conjure up, say, a 'big bang singularity', or some other physical concept as yet unknown."

This is the definitive proof that Dawkins doesn't understand Thomas's arguments.  Thomas argues that the universe must have a First Cause in the order of essentially-ordered causes, or sustaining causes.  This is entirely different from the originating cause of the kalam cosmological argument that Dawkins conflates with the Thomistic proofs.  As far as Thomas is concerned, a universe infinite in the past still requires a First Cause in the order of sustaining causes.  It's one thing to ask why something begins to exist, and quite another to ask why it continues to exist.  For defenders of the kalam argument, I'll leave it to you to explain what's obviously wrong with Dawkins's alternative "big bang singularity" being the cause of anything.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Am I Crazy?

You've probably heard that the colloquial definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting a different result.  Of all forums, I once again found myself trying to engage in serious debate on YouTube.  YouTube.  Let that sink in.

Now, YouTube is among the worst places on the internet to expect reasonable debate to take place on serious issues.  Since I've gone there several times in the hopes that "maybe this time things will be different," I'm now questioning my sanity.

Here's the dilemma, though.  If I'm insane, I shouldn't know that I'm insane, right?  Crazy people don't know they're crazy.  So, if I'm insane for expecting a different result from YouTube, but I know it, then I can't be insane.  It gets even nuttier from here!  If I now know that I'm sane, then maybe I'm crazy after all.  Since crazy people believe they're sane, what if that includes me!?

Goodness!  My whole world is crumbling beneath me! :)

Look, the fact of the matter is that whatever your religious or political persuasion, if you're looking for meaningful debate and or dialogue, you need to learn to choose your battles.  That means avoiding nutcases who substitute personal attacks for sound philosophical arguments.  It means not letting yourself get baited into debates that have nothing whatsoever to do with the topic at hand.  Finally, it means not getting yourself worked up over the fact that "someone on the internet is wrong."  We live in a complex world, filled with all kinds of ideas and philosophies.  Be comfortable in your own skin and you'll be fine.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Is there evidence for God's existence?

Notice the question isn't asking whether God's existence is certain, highly plausible, or just more plausible than not.  Rather, it's asking whether there is any evidence that would increase the probability that God exists than had that evidence not existed.  Here's how we can assess such evidence:

Let G = God exists
E = some specific evidence
B = our background information
P = probability

Now, God's existence increases in its probability so long as the following is met:

P(G/E&B) > P(G/B)

Richard Swinburne calls a successful instance of the above a correct C-inductive argument for God's existence.  A correct C-inductive argument would only make the probability of God's existence more plausible than it would have been sans the specific evidence.  It does not purport to demonstrate a correct P-inductive argument, which would make God's existence more probable than not.

To give an example of a correct-C inductive argument, let's take the law-like operations of nature.  If God exists, and more specifically designed the universe, would we expect nature to exhibit law-like behavior?  The answer is yes, so long as the God in question is the God of classical theism.

Might we expect nature to behave in a law-like manner without God's design?  Maybe, but that's no reason to discount the evidence as constituting a correct C-inductive argument.  For instance, let's suppose that there was a theft, and two sets of fingerprints are found on the safe.  The probability that one person is the thief is not undermined by the fact that another person's fingerprints were found.  Of course, both could have agreed to steal from the safe, but that's impertinent to the argument.  Moreover, what if one of the persons was witnessed to be in another location during the time of the theft?  That would undermine this person's guilt.

What we have, then, are the beginnings of what Swinburne calls a cumulative case for God's existence, all of which are based on the accumulation of correct C-inductive arguments.  After analyzing all of the evidence for and against God's existence, Swinburne concludes that we have a correct P-inductive argument for God's existence.  However, that conclusion is beyond the scope of this post.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Brute facts and explanations

I've been mulling over an axiom I've come up with (at least, I think it's original), but I welcome thoughts on it.

Axiom: For any brute fact f1, if f1 is capable of explaining some other fact f2, then f1 possibly has an explanation.

The axiom appears to have intuitive support, but I'm looking for more than that.  If we consider that f1 stands in some sort of explanatory relationships, then is it not a double-standard to say that while f1 can explain f2, f1's being explained is impossible?

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Transcendental Thomism

Contrary to popular belief, there is more than one type of Thomism.  My own allegiance is to Aristotelian-Thomism, which holds to realism and teleology with respect to various metaphysical and ethical issues.  Nevertheless, I remain intrigued by what's known as "Transcendental Thomism."  This is not Thomism combined with presuppositionalism.  Rather, it's an attempt to reconcile the conclusions of Thomas Aquinas with the methodology of Immanuel Kant.  That's just a rough definition, but it'll do for now.  One famous Transcendental Thomist is Karl Rahner.

What caused me to initially look into this other school of Thomism is a discussion I had years ago as an undergrad with my Ethical Theory professor.  I questioned whether virtue ethics were really inconsistent with Kant's categorical imperative.  He stated that it was, and that was that.  Don't get me wrong; he was very polite about it.  However, I wasn't convinced.

Let's take the Aristotelian mean (virtue ethics) between two extremes: cowardice and rashness.  The Aristotelian mean is courage, or bravery.  The coward shies away from acting when he ought to act.  On the other extreme, the rash person goes out looking for trouble.  A truly courageous person will act/step in/fight/whatever when appropriate.  Now, why can't the categorical imperative be consistent with this?  Wouldn't Kant agree that the best moral decision to choose is courage?

Of course, there are some inconsistencies between the two.  Kant is famous for stating that one ought to tell the truth even if the whole world should perish, and no exceptions.  The virtue ethicist, while acknowledging that lying is wrong, will make exceptions for a person's culpability.  For instance, if one were living in Germany during World War II, and Nazis came knocking on his door, asking if he's hiding any Jews, then the homeowner ought to lie if he's hiding any Jews.  Lying in this situation will potentially save the lives of these men and women, which is a greater good than telling the truth in this situation.

When it comes to metaphysics, Kant rejects the traditional arguments for God's existence first on the grounds that the noumena (what a thing is in and of itself) cannot be known.  What we do know is phenomena (what we perceive).  Kant also allows for a priori knowledge, or at least a predisposition toward allowing perceptions to be intelligible.  He accepts a moral argument for God's existence, based on the pragmatism of moral accountability.  However, I think the Transcendental Thomist can salvage the traditional arguments simply by limiting their application to the phenomenal realm.  Take, for example, the argument from change:

1. Changing things exist. (Premise)

2. Changing things exhibit actuality and potentiality. (Premise)

3. No potentiality can actualize itself. (Premise)

4. There is a regress of potentialities being actualized. (Premise)

5. The regress itself exhibits potentiality. (Premise)

6. Hence, the regress cannot actualize itself. (From 1 - 5)

7. The only thing that could actualize an entire regress of potentialities is Pure Actuality. (Premise)

8. Therefore, Pure Actuality exists. (From 6 and 7)

The purpose of this post isn't to debate the merits of this argument.  I've written many posts previously where I invite such debate and discussion.  Rather, the point here is this: Kant rejects this argument because its premises make claims about the noumenal realm, the latter of which is unknowable.  Now, there are two options the Thomist can take at this point.  The first is to take the Aristotelian-Thomistic approach and reject Kant's insistence on there being an unknowable noumenal realm.  The second is to follow how the Transcendental Thomists respond, which is to ask: so what?  So what if the argument has no bearing on the noumenal realm?  It can still be applied to the phenomenal realm, and one would be justified in accepting this as a sound argument for God's existence so long as it's justification is limited to phenomena.

In any case, these are just some of my inchoate thoughts.  My favorite (extra Biblical) philosophers are undoubtedly Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas.  However, I'd include Kant somewhere within my top five philosophers.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

An update of my summary of the fifth way

Here's how I now choose to summarize Thomas Aquinas's fifth way:

1. Whatever lacks intelligence and exhibits regularity always or for the most part is the result of providence. (Premise)

2. The laws of nature lack intelligence and exhibit regularity always or for the most part. (Premise)

3. Therefore, the laws of nature are the result of providence. (From 1 and 2)

Lest someone charge that I've committed a reification fallacy in premise (2) by treating the "laws" of nature as things that exist, I'm simply referring to the behavior of things that these laws describe.  And once again, "providence" should be understood as either necessity or design.  If one is uncomfortable using this term, he or she is free to choose another.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Can an actual infinite exist in the real world?

I confess that I'm still intrigued by the kalam cosmological argument (KCA), even though I very much prefer the Aristotelian-Thomistic cosmological arguments.  The KCA is easy to formalize:

1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause. (Premise)

2. The universe began to exist. (Premise)

3. Therefore, the universe has a cause. (From 1 and 2)

If this argument is sound, then the cause of the universe (the sum total of all physical space, time, matter and energy) would have to be timeless, changeless, immaterial and very powerful.  I won't comment on premise (1), except to note that it relies on the ex nihilo principle: out of nothing comes nothing.

I'm more interested in premise (2).  William Lane Craig offers two philosophical arguments and two scientific arguments in support of this premise.  I only want to focus on one of his philosophical arguments.

2a. An actual infinite cannot exist in the real world. (Premise)

2b. A universe without a beginning includes an actual infinite in the real world. (Premise)

2c. Therefore, the universe's past must be finite. (From 2a and 2b)

I'll skip (2c), since I assume it's not the controversial premise of the argument.  Why think an actual infinite cannot exist in the real world?  Here's what I've gathered based on my on-and-off study of the KCA:

2i. In set theory, subtraction and division are prohibited when applied to infinite sets. (Premise)

2ii. Nothing in the real world would prevent subtraction or division when applied to any set. (Premise)

2iii. Therefore, there cannot be an actual infinite in the real world. (From 2i and 2ii)

Keep in mind that set theory is logically consistent.  If a mathematician wants to prohibit certain functions in a mathematical theory, that's fine.  The question is whether or not such a theory can be applicable in the real world.

I've struggled with this argument, but I do see a lot of intuitive support for it.  Nevertheless, I'll ultimately leave this issue to those who are experts on the KCA.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Why a rejection of the PSR undermines atheism

Theists are often challenged to provide a sufficient reason to believe in God.  Isn't it poetic, then, that when theists cite the Principle of Sufficient Reason (PSR) in support of God's existence, that many atheists object to the PSR?  To state the contingency argument yet again:

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

2. If the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is God. (Premise)

3. The universe exists. (Premise)

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

5. Therefore, the universe's explanation of its existence is God. (From 2 and 4)

The only way to avoid this conclusion is to say that the universe exists by a necessity of its own nature, which very few atheistic philosophers contend, or to deny the PSR, which is premise (1).  Yet, if (1) is rejected, why is the theist required to give an explanation of his or her belief in God?  It seems to me that unless that atheist presupposes the PSR, then the theist doesn't have to justify his or her belief.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

A Simple Argument for Substance Dualism

1. There is a possible world at which I exist apart from my body. (Premise)

2. Whatever is possible is necessarily possible. (Premise, S5)

3. Hence, it is possible that I exist apart from my body in the actual world. (From 1 and 2)

4. Therefore, I am distinct from my body. (Implied by 3)

The God Gene and the Sensus Divinitatis

Some have dismissed religious experiences as inauthentic due to the fact that medical professionals can induce these states in patients.  I'm not at all impressed by this objection.  After all, they can induce all kinds of experiences, such as pain and pleasure, that we all know to be authentic.

In any case, scientists are now talking about the so-called "God gene," known technically as VMAT2.  What this means is that human beings are genetically predisposed toward belief in God.  I'm not yet able to formulate an argument for justified belief based on VMAT2, but I think we're headed in that direction, and that the sensus divinitatis, far from being a whacky outdated idea, is actually backed up by medical science.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Can I, a non-scientist, be justified in rejecting a scientific theory that has a strong majority support?

Some physicists, like Lawrence Krauss, make sweeping claims about how we cannot trust the laws of logic.  What folks like Krauss have in mind are paradoxes, such as Schrodinger's Cat.  It should be noted, first of all, that only the law of excluded middle (that p is either true or false) is called into question, and this is only done at the quantum level.  The law of excluded middle, along with the rest of the laws of logic, would still have to be trustworthy on the macro level.  Otherwise, anything Krauss claims can be dismissed on non-logical grounds.

However, let's dig into this a bit deeper.  The law of excluded middle is only called into question within the domain of the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics.  Assuming the law of excluded middle truly is incompatible with this interpretation, which the majority of physicists accept for the time being, should the philosopher simply concede that the law of excluded middle is inapplicable on the quantum level?  I suggest that the philosopher ought to give himself more credit and not view himself as inferior to the physicist.  If any scientific theory, or interpretation of that theory, undermines any of the laws of logic, including the law of excluded middle, maybe it's time for scientists to abandon that theory or interpretation.  The argument may be summarized as follows:

1. The law of excluded middle is inconsistent with the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics. (Premise)

2. One should not adopt inconsistent positions. (Premise)

3. Therefore, one should either abandon the law of excluded middle or the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics. (From 1 and 2)

Given the overwhelming support in favor of the law of excluded middle, it seems to me that if there is any inconsistency, then the Copenhagen interpretation ought to be abandoned.  I don't think I'm any more out of line rejecting some scientific theory than a scientist is by making the absurd claim that philosophy is useless.  After all, science presupposes various philosophical concepts: the laws of logic and mathematics, the principle of induction, and the uniformity of nature.  These concepts are not observed by the scientist, but are presupposed by the scientist in order to allow his observations to be intelligible.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Reformulating the argument from change

Since roughly half the people I talk to about the argument from change don't understand the argument against an infinite regress of sustaining causes of change (and that's on me for not explaining it clearly enough), I've decided to offer an additional argument:

1. Changing things exist. (Premise)

2. Everything that changes exhibits actuality and potentiality. (Premise)

3. No potentiality can actualize itself. (Premise)

4. The regress of potentialities being actualized itself exhibits potentiality. (Premise)

5. Therefore, Pure Actuality exists. (Implied by 1 - 4)

Since I've recently written on the first three premises, I want to focus on (4).  What I like about this formulation is that it doesn't matter if the regress is finite or infinite.  Even if the regress of sustaining causes of change were infinite, it would still exhibit potentiality, since every member of the regress exhibits potentiality.

Like many cosmological arguments, premise (4) might be charged with committing a composition fallacy.  However, since there are many instances in which the whole is like its parts, we need to be careful.  It seems quite reasonable that the regress, finite or infinite, need not be actualized.  In other words, it's not a necessity that any member of the regress, or the regress as a whole should be actualized.  This implies that the regress as a whole must exhibit potentiality.

Now, since the regress exhibits potentiality, and no potentiality can actualize itself, it follows that the regress of potentialities being actualized can only be actualized by something external to the regress of entities that exhibit potentiality.  That's why Pure Actuality must exist, whether the regress of sustaining causes of change is finite or infinite.

Another nice feature of this version of the argument is that it's immune to the fairly common "quantum mechanics objection."  Although I don't find that objection sound, we can do a complete end-run around this issue, since the regress of potentialities being actualized also includes things that change on the macro level.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

An undesirable consequence of Heracliteanism

First of all, I like Heraclitus's thought in many ways.  He's famous for saying one cannot step into the same river twice.  He views reality as being in flux, or change, with the exception of the Logos, which is the ordering principle that allows these changes to be intelligible.

Here's where I disagree with Heraclitus.  Nevermind his position that the Logos is part of the universe, as opposed to a transcendent cause of the order found within the universe.  There's also a major difficulty with his notion of everything in a constant state of flux.  He goes further than the Aristotelian, who acknowledges change in things that exhibit potentiality.  Heraclitus maintains that one cannot step into the same river twice not just because it's no longer the same river, but also because it's no longer the same person stepping into it!

Imagine taking this mentality into the courtroom.  "Your honor, I couldn't have committed the crime, because there's no such thing as a person who maintains his identity."  Do you think the judge, let alone an entire jury, would be impressed by such an objection?

The Aristotelian can make sense out of the change that occurs throughout the world by postulating that the form of the person, which is identified with the soul, remains the same, even though the body undergoes steady change.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Arrogance is a virtue?

One of my former philosophy professors (I'll keep the name anonymous) at the University of North Texas think so.  In his words, "Being a philosopher is the highest calling.  Everyone should be a philosopher."  He meant this not in an "everyone is a philosopher" type of way, but to the extent that everyone should spend most of their lives pondering philosophical questions and attempting to provide reasonable answers.

Now, it would be too easy to dismiss this professor's conviction that "arrogance is a virtue," without understanding the context in which he said it, which was partly tongue-in-cheek ("Are you students paying attention to what ridiculous thing I just said?").  I think a more charitable interpretation would be that he meant that confidence is a virtue.  On a virtue ethics interpretation, confidence is the Golden Mean between self-deprecation and arrogance.  Strictly speaking, one engages in self-deprecation if he thinks of himself as less than he really is.  Likewise, one engages in arrogance if he thinks of himself as greater than he really is.  The most ethical attitude to possess, therefore, is confidence.

The question remains: is being a philosopher really the highest calling?  I won't attempt to answer this question, except to say that engaging in philosophy ought to be a very important aspect of every person's life.  Nevertheless, my former professor's contention leaves him in some good company.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Why do theistic philosophers generally win their debates with atheistic philosophers?

A lot of excuses have been made.  "William Lane Craig is just a good debater" is an instant classic.  If he were only a good debater, but lacked any substance to his arguments, then surely his atheistic counterparts would be ready to provide successful refutations.  Instead, we find that atheistic philosophers have to make some claims that they could only get away with in writing.  Once these claims are stated out loud, it's exceedingly difficult to take their arguments seriously.  Consider the following atheistic responses to theistic arguments:

1. Something can come from nothing.  (Really?  So why don't things pop into existence out of nothing in any of our experiences, since observational sense experience is supposed to be so key to the case against theism?)

2. Potentialities can actualize themselves, e.g. things can be self-caused.  (In order for a thing to be self-caused, it would first have to exist in order to cause its existence, which means it both exists and does not-exist simultaneously.  This is contradictory.)

3. There is no objective moral law, but it's wrong to torture children for fun. (Theistic response: huh?)

4. The universe's fine-tuning can be explained by infinitely-many universes.  (Best case scenario?  Pure speculation.)

5. The laws of logic are not reliable, so philosophy is useless and science alone can provide us with knowledge.  (Granted this claim was made by Lawrence Krauss, and not any atheistic philosopher I'm aware of.)

6. Just because every contingent thing can possibly not-exist doesn't mean the sum total of all contingent things can possibly not-exist.  (If every part of a mountain can not-exist, then the mountain as a whole can not-exist.  The atheist is now grasping at straws.)

7. An actual infinite can be formed by successive addition.  Between 1 and 2, there are infinitely-many fractions.  (I've already had a lot to say about this gem.  Whenever all of the fractions are added up, we get a finite sum.  Moreover, 1 and 2 are the respective beginning and end of the interval.  The atheist has unwittingly provided confirmation of the theist's claim, since the example presupposes something finite!)

8. God hasn't made his existence sufficiently evident to everyone which, if God existed, he would do.  (Question-begging much?)

9. Even if a deity exists, it doesn't have to be omnipotent, omniscient, and morally perfect.  (So what?  Besides, if the ontological argument is sound, then God must possess these additional attributes.)

10. The post-mortem appearances of Jesus to his disciples can be explained as hallucinatory.  (What about the Apostle Paul?  And the lack of any evidence for uniformity among group hallucinations?  How about the empty tomb?)

These are just ten examples of what I consider to be bad objections to theistic arguments.  Yet, many of these aren't typically the arguments of the new atheists (Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, and Dennett).  Rather, we find professional (atheistic) philosophers of the likes of Quentin Smith asserting #1.  Is it any wonder that Smith admits that theists win the vast majority of these debates?

Finally, we don't just find William Lane Craig winning these debates.  J.P. Moreland is another.  Then there's Gary Habermas, Norman Geisler, and even the late Greg Bahnsen.  To reiterate, my theory is that atheistic philosophers are somewhat embarrassed to say out loud what they've previously claimed in writing.  Things become a little more real, a little more concrete, when you have to verbally communicate some rather absurd claims.

It should go without saying that I respect the intellects of atheistic philosophers, such as Quentin Smith, Austin Dacey, Graham Oppy, and J. Howard Sobel.  Nevertheless, I think their objections to theism are simply too easy to expose as fallacious in the context of a formal debate.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Reintroducing the Basic Metaphysical Argument for God's Existence

I refer to the argument in St. Thomas Aquinas's small tract, De Ente et Essentia, as a "metaphysical argument," as opposed to a cosmological or ontological argument, since neither of the latter descriptions appear to me adequate to describe what Thomas is getting at.  To be certain, the metaphysical argument is a posteriori, since it begins with the observation that something exists.  Here's how I simplify the argument:

1. Something exists. (Premise)

2. Something exists if and only if being exists. (Premise)

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

I use the expression "being exists" in order to avoid the redundancy of saying that "existence exists."  Nevertheless, "being" is used synonymously with "existence."

Premise (1) is quite obviously true.  For example, in order to doubt my own existence, I would first have to exist in order to doubt it.  This is along the same lines as Descartes's cogito ergo sum, or "I think, therefore I am."

Premise (2) is more controversial.  However, I'm not at all impressed by the objections to it.  Kant asserted that existence is not a predicate.  But, why should we agree with such a contention?  What, for instance, is the difference between something real and something not-real?  If being does not exist, then the difference between something real and something not-real is literally nothing.  This means that what is real is identical to what is not-real, which is absurd.

Thomas continues by deducing some of the divine attributes of being, or "being itself subsisting."  Being must be eternal and omnipresent, since there is no time or place at which being does not exist.  If there were no being at some time or place, then nothing would exist at either time or place.  Moreover, being must be unique, or one.  If there were more than one being, then there would be distinctions among them.  However, to be distinct from being is to be non-being, in which case the latter does not exist anyway.  Being is a thing's existence or actuality.  The reason why things are able to be distinct from one another is because they possess distinct essences.  The essence of a thing is its nature.  This means that everything that exists participates in one being, but can be distinguished by their various essences.

Being must also be immutable, since to change from being to anything else would result in being's becoming non-being, which is self-contradictory.  Next, being must contain within itself all perfections: omnipotence, omniscience, and moral perfection.  If it did not possess these attributes, then being would exhibit potentiality, which is impossible for something immutable.  Changing things exhibit actuality and potentiality, just as the acorn is merely an acorn in actuality and an oak tree in potentiality.  Being itself must be Pure Actuality as a result of its immutability.

Therefore, I maintain we have a sound and rationally compelling argument for the existence of an eternal, omnipresent, unique, immutable, omnipotent, omniscient, and morally perfect being.  This, as the Angelic Doctor muses, everyone understands to be God.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Outline of an argument I'll be defending

As some of you know, I'm currently editing an anthology entitled, Contemporary Perspectives in Thomism.  This will be my second major work after completing Faith and Philosophy: An Introduction to Natural Theology, which I authored by myself.  I'll have more details about the publication of these books relatively soon.  In my contribution to the anthology, "Karl Popper, Induction and the Teleological Argument," I argue that the principle of induction is a rational presupposition, the denial of which results in absurdity.

I maintain that Karl Popper's alternative to induction actually presupposes induction, and so his albeit very well thought-out epistemology is ultimately self-defeating.  Since the principle of induction is a first principle of rational inquiry, as well as rational inference, mental assent to the uniformity of nature is unavoidable.  Moreover, I maintain that the uniformity of nature has at the very least some modest theistic implications.  Here's an outline of one of my arguments in support of closing the gap between the uniformity of nature and theism:

1. The universe is intelligible. (Premise)

2. Intelligibility presupposes order. (Premise)

3. Order is explicable in either necessity or design. (Premise)

4. Hence, the intelligibility of the universe is either the result of necessity or design. (From 1 - 3)

5. If it is the result of necessity, then theism is true. (Premise)

6. If it is the result of design, then theism is true. (Premise)

7. Therefore, some form of theism is true. (From 4 - 6)

Obviously, I will have to defend each of these premises, some of which are more controversial than others.  I'll also be taking a look at conceptualism as a plausible explanation for our knowledge of necessarily existent abstract objects, such as the laws of logic, which will yield very strong theistic implications.  After all, the intelligibility of the universe is not just in terms of the laws of nature, but also in terms of a priori knowledge and the laws of logic and mathematics.

Monday, July 1, 2013

A Pragmatic Argument for Justified Belief in God

This argument falls under the category of pragmatic arguments, as opposed to theoretical arguments, the latter of which seek to demonstrate the existence of God.  Pragmatic arguments, on the other hand, merely seek to demonstrate that a person is justified in believing in God for practical purposes.  Here's just one such pragmatic argument.

1. All things being equal, one should adopt a belief that leads to happiness as opposed to unhappiness. (Premise)

2. Belief in a God (especially one who is omnipotent, omniscient, and morally perfect) leads to happiness. (Premise)

3. There are no demonstrative proofs of God's existence or non-existence. (Assumption)

4. Hence, belief in God's existence or non-existence is on equal terms. (From 1 - 3)

5. Therefore, one should adopt and maintain belief in God. (From 1, 2 and 4)

Premise (1) seems intuitively true.  I can't think of any arguments in support of it or against it off the top of my head, though.  I'd support premise (2) by appealing to the many studies that show how prayer and meditation have a positive impact upon one's health and happiness.  See, for example, this article. Praying to and meditating upon a maximally excellent God would seemingly add to one's health and happiness, considering that such a God would be in control and have a greater purpose for one's suffering.

Premise (3) is merely an assumption.  I'm assuming for the sake of argument that there are no sound theoretical or demonstrative arguments for theism (I think there are) and no sound theoretical or demonstrative arguments against theism (I think there aren't).  (4) follows from (1) through (3) and (5) follows from (1), (2) and (4).

Again, this is by no means a proof of God's existence.  I'm also not claiming that people who pray and meditate won't experience suffering of various sorts.  However, the same studies show that those who pray and meditate are generally more able to cope with these sufferings, which helps to explain why praying people tend to live longer, healthier and happier lives.

Monday, June 24, 2013

The Argument from Reason and Evolution

One of the principal objections to the argument from reason (AfR) is that evolution provides a sufficient explanation for our ability to think critically.  Reliable cognitive faculties provide us (human beings) with a much better chance of survival.  I think this is undoubtedly true, unless as Alvin Plantinga argues, there are equally advantageous ways of surviving without generally reliable cognitive faculties.

However, let's leave aside Plantinga's argument for now and just take the objection at face value.  What does it truly illustrate?  Well, on an evolutionary model of natural selection, we just get survival.  It's not as if natural selection "cares" about whether we have cognitive faculties that are reliable well beyond what is needed for survival.  Yet, as little as we know relatively speaking, we also have a vast amount of knowledge that's simply gratuitous to survival and reproduction.  How exactly does knowledge of General Relativity Theory give us a survival advantage?  I'm sure someone could come up with a hypothesis, ad hoc though it may seem.

In any case, the evolutionary objection to the AfR is not at all conclusive, and is at best an explanation for rationality as it relates to survival.  It explains nothing more.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Future Works to be Published

I'm currently in talks with Abner Publishing to publish an ebook of my text, Faith and Philosophy: An Introduction to Natural Theology.  They should have a definite answer by the end of the month, so I'll be sure to update everyone in case there's any interest in reading.  It's very concise, and my attempt was to take sophisticated arguments for theism and simplify them (without dumbing them down) so the philosophical layperson can understand them and put them into practice.  I also dedicate a chapter to responding to the most common atheistic arguments.  To be blunt, some of them are silly, but I include them because of their pervasiveness.  The only atheistic arguments I take seriously are the arguments from suffering and divine hiddenness, so I respond to these with a bit more vigor.

Next, I'm working on gathering contributors to an anthology entitled, Contemporary Perspectives in Thomism, which I'll be editing and contributing an article of my own ("Karl Popper, Induction and the Teleological Argument").  I'm really looking forward to this work, since it covers much more than natural theology, but also natural law ethics, hylomorphism, an analysis of the transcendentals, and much much more.  We'll only be submitting this book to publishers that will include physical prints (hardcover and or paperback), so prayers are much appreciated!

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Michael Martin on Bruce Reichenbach's Cosmological Argument

I've begun writing a response to Michael Martin's criticisms of the Second and Third Ways of St. Thomas Aquinas.  Nevertheless, Martin also criticizes other cosmological arguments in his well-written book, Atheism: A Philosophical Justification.  I say it's "well-written" not because I agree with his conclusions or think he provides any good justification for atheism, but rather that he writes eloquently and surveys a vast number of theistic and atheistic arguments.  I have yet to correspond with Martin in any way, but I have exchanged some emails with Bruce Reichenbach, a defender of a modest Leibnizian cosmological argument.  Reichenbach's argument seeks not to establish the existence of a logically necessary entity, but of an ontologically and temporally necessary entity.  

Here's how Martin summarizes Reichenbach's argument:

1. A contingent being exists.
    a) This contingent being is caused either (i) by itself or (ii) by another.
    b) If it were caused by itself, it would have to precede itself in existence, which is impossible.

2. Therefore, this contingent being (ii) is caused by another; that is, it depends on something else for its existence.

3. That which causes (provides the sufficient reason for) the existence of any contingent being must be either (iii) another contingent being or (iv) a noncontingent (necessary) being.
    c) If (iii), then this contingent cause must itself be caused by another, and so to infinity.

4. Therefore, that which causes (provides the sufficient reason for) the existence of any contingent being must be either (v) an infinite series of contingent beings or (iv) a necessary being.

5. An infinite series of contingent beings (v) is incapable of yielding a sufficient reason for the existence of any being.

6. Therefore, a necessary being exists. [1]

Now, Martin levels multiple objections against Reichenbach's argument, but the one that stood out to me most was this one:

"One can . . . [argue] that the totality of contingent beings is itself contingent on the contingency of that that make up this totality is to commit a composition fallacy. . . . Just because each individual being could cease to exist, it does not follow that all could cease to exist at the same time." [2]

The problem with such an objection is that it leads to obvious absurdities.  Is it, then, necessarily the case that some contingent thing or other exist?  As Pruss is apt to ask, would the non-existence of all non-unicorns imply that a unicorn exists?  Surely not.  It's at this point in his critique that I think Martin takes a much too liberal use of what we call the composition fallacy.  If every part of a mountain is made of rock, then the mountain as a whole must be made of rock.  Likewise, if every part of the totality of contingent things C is contingent, then C must also be contingent.  While I respect Martin's intellect, I think he's just grasping at straws with this objection.

[1] Michael Martin, Atheism: A Philosophical Justification, Temple University Press, 1990, p. 119.

[2] ibid., pp. 122-123.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Two Certainties: 1) There is a God; and 2) I am not God.

As you all know, I'm a Thomist.  However, I see value in Descartes's famous maxim: cogito ergo sum, or "I think, therefore I am."  In order to doubt that I exist, I would first have to exist in order to doubt it. Hence, my own existence is certain.  However, I can also be certain that God exists and that God is distinct from me.  Even if the external world were illusory, I experience change in my mind nonetheless, and hence I exemplify both actuality and potentiality.

As I've argued in the past, it is logically impossible for there to be an infinite regress of potentialities having their actualizations sustained.  Therefore, we must arrive at some Pure Actuality: immutable, eternal, indestructible, unique, and omnipotent.

You can reject my arguments if you'd like, but I'm more certain of these two facts than I am that there exists an external physical world.  What argument, after all, can be used to establish or even make plausible that the external physical world is real?

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Modal Versions of the First Way

I'm actually finding more time to post entries on this blog than I initially expected, which is nice, because I truly enjoy the diverse interactions.  Here's how one might formulate a modal version of the argument from motion, with the use of a weakened Principle of Sufficient Reason (W-PSR)

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)

2. Possibly, everything that changes has an external and sustaining cause of its change. (Premise)

3. Necessarily, the regress of external and sustaining causes of change is either finite or infinite. (Premise)

4. Possibly, the regress of external and sustaining causes of change is finite. (Premise)

5. Necessarily, if there is a first cause in the order of sustaining causes of change, that cause is immutable, e.g. an Unmoved Mover. (Premise)

6. Hence, an Unmoved Mover possibly exists. (From 2, 4, and 5)

7. Necessarily, an Unmoved Mover cannot be externally caused. (Premise)

8. Hence, an Unmoved Mover exists by a necessity of its own nature. (From 1, 6 and 7)

9. Therefore, an Unmoved Mover exists. (Implied by 8)

Another modal version might look like this:

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)

2. Possibly, everything that changes has an external and sustaining cause. (Premise)

3. The universe as a whole is constantly changing. (Premise)

4. Hence, the universe's change possibly has an explanation.

5. Possibly, the universe does not have to change. (Premise)

6. Possibly, the change of the universe is explained by an external cause, e.g. an Unmoved Mover. (From 1, 3, and 5)

7. Hence, an Unmoved Mover possibly exists. (Implied by 6)

8. Necessarily, an Unmoved Mover cannot be externally caused. (Premise)

9. Hence, an Unmoved Mover exists by a necessity of its own nature. (From 1, 7, and 8)

10. Therefore, an Unmoved Mover exists. (Implied by 10)

To reiterate, we may infer some modest divine attributes.  Given that the external cause of the universe's change must transcend the universe (the sum total of all physical, space, time, matter and energy), the Unmoved Mover must be timeless, changeless, immaterial, and very powerful.  A good case can be made for additional attributes, but I'll leave that issue aside for now.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

A Simpler Version of the Argument from Change

Normally, I argue against an infinite regress of sustaining causes of change in support of the Aristotelian-Thomistic argument.  However, the following argument is logically valid:

1. Everything that changes has an external cause. (Premise)

2. The universe changes. (Premise)

3. Therefore, the universe has an external cause of its change. (From 1 and 2)

Premise (1) simply reiterates that no potentiality can actualize itself.  If it could, then it would be self-caused, and would be existent and non-existent simultaneously, which is absurd.  Premise (2) is obviously true, barring some radical version of metaphysical skepticism.

The only objection truly worth noting is the idea that the argument commits a composition fallacy.  Just because every part of a mountain is small doesn't mean the mountain as a whole is small.  Likewise, it is surmised, just because every part of the universe has an external cause of its change doesn't mean that the universe as a whole has a cause of its change.

I think this objection is dubious at best.  After all, an explanation of the change in every part of the universe would not explain why there is any change at all to begin with.  Moreover, many times the whole is like its parts.  If every part of a mountain is made of rock, then the mountain as a whole is made of rock.  Sticking with this analogy, we know that the mountain as a whole has an external cause, e.g. the accumulation of various geological processes.

I think the argument summarized above most resembles the latter type of part-to-whole relationship.  If I'm correct about this, then we have an argument for an Unmoved Mover, which exemplifies no potentiality.  It must, therefore, not only be immutable, but purely actual, eternal, indestructible, unique (for to differ from actuality is to be non-actuality.  Other things are distinct insofar as they exhibit various levels of potentiality), as well as omnipotent, omniscient, and morally perfect.  In defense of these three latter attributes, if the Unmoved Mover were limited in any of these respects, that would entail potentiality, which is impossible for the Unmoved Mover.

*Update: Given that the universe as a whole exhibits both actuality and potentiality, it follows that we have an even stronger argument against the composition fallacy objection.  Since no potentiality can actualize itself, and the universe exhibits potentiality, it necessarily follows that the universe as a whole must have its potentiality actualized by some external cause.  This could only be a timeless, changeless (for time is a measurement of change), immaterial, and very powerful entity, e.g. the Unmoved Mover.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

J.B.S. Haldane's Refutation of Mind-Body Materialism in One Sentence

"If my mental processes are determined wholly by the motions of atoms in my brain, I have no reason to suppose that my beliefs are true . . . and hence I have no reason for supposing my brain to be composed of atoms."

Monday, June 17, 2013

Link to my new blog

I've attempted to approach the blog you're currently reading as accessible to the philosophical layperson.  This new blog, while not mind-blowing, is intended to be much more scholarly and academic.  Some of the concepts referred to will not be easily understood by philosophical novices.  However, I do my best to explain the relevant concepts with as much rigor as I can.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

My Appearance of "Theology Matters"

I was just recently the guest speaker on the "Theology Matters" podcast, explaining and defending Thomas Aquinas's metaphysics and five ways, in addition to some other material.  If anyone cares to listen to the podcast, you can do so here.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Another look at the metaphysical argument for God's existence

1. Changing things exist. (Premise)

2. Changing things exhibit potentiality and actuality. (Premise)

3. No potentiality can actualize itself. (Premise)

4. Either some pure actuality exists, or else there is an infinite regress of potentialities being actualized. (Implied by 1 - 3)

5. There cannot be an infinite regress of potentialities being actualized. (Premise)

6. Therefore, some pure actuality exists. (From 4 and 5)

The divine attributes of pure actuality may be inferred easily.  First, pure actuality must be immutable and therefore eternal and indestructible, since only entities that exhibit potentiality can change (ceasing to exist would constitute a change).  Secondly, pure actuality must be unique (one), for if there were more than one pure actuality, then there would be distinctions between them.  However, to be distinct from actuality is to be non-actuality, in which case the latter does not exist anyway.

Other entities are distinct from pure actuality not by actuality, but by their varying levels of potentiality.  Pure actuality must also be omnipresent, since there is no place that can exist apart from actuality.  Finally, pure actuality must also be very powerful (if not omnipotent) in order to causally sustain all potentialities and their actualizations.  We have, then, an argument for a purely actual, immutable, eternal, indestructible, omnipresent, unique and very powerful entity.  If this isn't God, it's certainly very God-like.

Now, is the argument sound?

In defense of (1), we observe that changing things exist.  An acorn changes into an oak tree, for example.  This leads us to premise (2).  The acorn is merely an acorn in actuality (what a thing is), but is an oak tree or something else in potentiality (what a thing could be).

What about premise (3)?  Let's stick with the acorn analogy.  The acorn cannot actualize its own potentiality to become an oak tree.  Rather, it requires water, sunlight and soil, among other things, to sustain its change.  If at any point these actualities are removed, then the acorn's actualization to become an oak tree will cease.

(4) is implied by (1) through (3), so the only remaining key premise is (5).  Can there be an infinite regress of potentialities being actualized?  The beauty of this argument is that it leaves the finitude versus the infinitude of the universe's past as an open question.  Even if the universe's past were infinite, it would still be composed of finite intervals of time.  Now, at each finite interval, it is impossible to start counting and reach infinity.  This is because there will always and indefinitely be another number to count before arriving at infinity.

What this means is that the regress of potentialities being actualized at any finite time cannot be infinite. At each finite interval, the regress of sustaining actualizations begins anew, and since it is impossible to form an actual infinite by successive addition whenever one begins counting, it follows that the regress must be finite, in confirmation of (5).

Therefore, we are more than justified in believing in God or, at the very least, something very much like God.