Thursday, January 31, 2013

My Informal Debate with Jeff Lowder

As I've mentioned a number of times, Jeff Lowder is a class act.  He take his opponents seriously, and even though I disagree with a lot of his views, I see him as a very thoughtful individual.  I briefly debate with him the argument from order and the argument from motion.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Axiological Realism and the Ontological Argument

Axiological realism holds that there really is an objective moral law.  Arguably, this suggests the possibility of being morally perfect.  Could axiological realism support the ontological argument?

1. Possibly, a morally perfect entity exists. (Premise)

2. Necessarily, it is better for a morally perfect entity to exist in all possible worlds than not. (Premise)

3. Necessarily, whatever is better in a possible world is possible in that world. (Premise)

4. Possibly, a morally perfect entity exists in all possible worlds. (Implied by 2 and 3)

5. Therefore, a morally perfect entity exists. (From 4 and S5)

I'm not sure if this is a sound argument.  I'm just thinking out loud, as it were.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Virtue Ethics and the Categorical Imperative

I once asked my Ethical Theory professor (great class by the way): are virtue ethics and the categorical imperative really contradictory, or are they just different?  He said they were, in fact, contradictory, but I remain skeptical.

A contradiction is not between A and B, but between A and ~A.  Let's take an example of virtue ethics and see how a Kantian might respond.  In virtue ethics, the golden mean between cowardice and rashness is bravery.  Bravery is exhibited when the risk carries a consequence whose benefits outweigh the costs.  For example, going into a burning house when there are people inside, and the house is not imminently at risk of collapsing.  Cowardice would be standing by and doing nothing.  Rashness would be going in even though there's no chance of the "hero" or anyone else escaping.

According to the categorical imperative (which is really just a fancy way of describing the Golden Rule: do unto others as you would have them do unto you), only those actions should be taken if they can be universalized.  Is it not the case that the right thing to do according to the categorical imperative is the exact same action suggested by virtue ethics?

I'm not saying there are no incompatibilities between the two ethical theories.  Nevertheless, I think the similarities greatly outnumber the incompatibilities.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Order, Chaos and Taoism

As a devout Christian, I have to admit I see the appeal of Taoism.  Taoism stresses opposites: male and female, hot and cold, good and evil, order and chaos.  As a Christian, however, I don't agree that chaos is just as prevalent as order.  After all, chaos is intelligible.  Since intelligibility presupposes order, it follows that there is order behind allegedly chaotic events.  It's not as if chaotic events are intelligible, and then suddenly unintelligible.  Moreover, it's not as if "chaotic" events violate the laws of logic.

Order, therefore, appears more fundamental to reality than chaos.  They're not equally eternal, so-to-speak, as Taoism teaches.  Chaos is subordinate to order, which is just one reason I could never be a Taoist.  As a Christian, I believe that the universe exhibits order because God created the universe, and the universe exhibits the order that God has imbued it with.

Some Inchoate Thoughts on the Fine-tuning Argument and Other Teleological Arguments

1. The fine-tuning of the universe's initial conditions is either the result of chance, necessity or design. (Premise)

2. It is not due to chance or necessity. (Premise)

3. Therefore, it is due to design. (From 1 and 2)

Surely this argument is rationally acceptable.  Other philosophers, such as Robin Collins, maintain that this is a rationally compelling argument, but I won't get into the science of the argument.  I'm simply not qualified as a philosopher and theologian to enter into a scientific debate.  Nevertheless, neither premises (1) or (2) are obviously false.  In fact, (1) is appears to be obviously true, barring any additional (and currently unknown) alternative.

I prefer the argument from order:

4. Whatever exhibits regularity is not the result of chance alone. (Premise)

5. The laws of nature exhibit regularity. (Premise)

6. Therefore, the laws of nature are not the result of chance alone. (From 4 and 5)

(6) leaves the possibility of nature's regularity being the result of necessity or design as an open question.  I'm happy to leave this as an open question.  In fact, the theist may use the argument from order as one part of a cumulative case for God's existence.  One might combine the argument with the argument from reason, for example.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Common ground between theists and atheists?

In the past, I've defended arguments for the existence of an incorruptible and eternal entity.  While not all atheists are averse to accepting this conclusion, I have to wonder why so many (not all, and not necessarily most) atheists find the conclusion unacceptable.  Is it because the conclusion is too God-like?  Here's the Modal Third Way (MTW) once again.  Why would any atheist find the argument so unpalatable?

1. Something cannot come from nothing. (Premise)

2. Something presently exists. (Premise)

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

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

5. Possibly, there was a past time at which nothing destructible existed. (Premise)

6. Therefore, at least one indestructible entity N exists. (Implied by 3, 4 and 5)

Reductio ad absurdum:

7. Nothing indestructible exists. (Assumption)

8. If nothing indestructible exists, then there was possibly a past time at which nothing existed. (From 5 and 7)

9. (8) contradicts (3).

10. Therefore, (7) is false and at least one indestructible entity N exists. (Implied by 9)

Obviously, more argumentation is needed in order to show that N is God, but why do so many atheists have strong reservations about affirming the argument?  Each of the argument's premises appears to be compellingly true.

A New Take on the Modal Cosmological Argument

The modal cosmological argument (MCA) has numerous variations.  Here's one I'm currently working on, which makes use of a weakened Principle of Sufficient Reason (W-PSR).  First, it's important to understand some key terms:

contingent: x is contingent if and only if x possibly exists and x possibly does not-exist.
Examples: trees, mountains, animals

necessary: y is necessary if and only if y exists and cannot not-exist.
Examples: God, abstract objects

universe: sum total of all physical space, time, matter and energy.

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

2. Possibly, the universe as a whole does not exist. (Premise)

3. Hence, the universe is contingent. (Implied by 1 and 2)

4. Possibly, the universe has an external cause. (From 1 and 3)

5. Necessarily, if the universe has an external cause, that cause is a timeless, changeless, immaterial and very powerful entity, e.g. God. (Premise)

6. Possibly, God exists. (From 4 and 5)

7. Hence, God possibly has an explanation. (From 1 and 6)

8. Necessarily, something timeless and changeless cannot have an external cause. (Premise)

9. Hence, God is explained by a necessity of his own nature. (From 1, 7 and 8)

10. Therefore, God exists. (Implied by 9)

Monday, January 14, 2013

Does God know what time it is?

Craig and Moreland offer this argument against divine timelessness:

1. God is timeless. (Assumption)

2. God is omniscient. (Premise)

3. If God is omniscient, he would know what time it is now. (Premise)

4. Necessarily, knowing what time it is now constitutes a change in God. (Premise)

5. Therefore, God is not timeless. (From 2 - 4)

To their credit, Craig and Moreland acknowledge that their argument presupposes an A-theory of time. If the theist adopts a B-theory, at which all moments of time - past, present and future - exist simultaneously, the theist can affirm both God's timelessness and his omniscience.  Craig and Moreland go on to argue that an A-theory of time is preferable to a B-theory.  However, they don't offer any proof that an A-theory is true, and as Craig admits in Time and Eternity, there are good reasons to accept a B-theory.  He even concedes that, "the static [B-theory] understanding of time is accepted almost unquestioningly by many physicists and by a good many reflective philosophers as well." (William Lane Craig, Time and Eternity: Exploring God's Relationship to Time, Crossway Books, 2001, p. 167.)

Earlier Craig admits that at least one argument in favor of divine timelessness, "does have some force and so needs to be weighed against whatever arguments can be offered on behalf of divine temporality." (ibid, p. 74.)

My constructive criticism of Craig and Moreland does not in any way detract the admiration I have for both of them.  After all, as a self-proclaimed Aristotelian-Thomist, there are philosophical matters in which I disagree with them, as well.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Rational Acceptability of the Design Argument

The minimalist teleological argument I like to defend goes like this:

1. Whatever exhibits regularity is not the result of chance alone. (Premise)

2. The laws of nature exhibit regularity. (Premise)

3. Therefore, the laws of nature are not the result of chance alone. (From 1 and 2)

This is such a straightforward argument and its strength lies in its highly intuitively true premises.  The observation that there are laws of nature is proof enough that they are the result of someone's or something's providence.  Theists and pantheists alike call this someone or something, "God."  Of course, as a theist, I hold that the laws of nature are the result of someone's providence, e.g. design.

Let's ask ourselves: is this belief at least rationally acceptable?  In other words, is it positively irrational to believe that the laws of nature are the result of design?  It's difficult to see how such a belief could be irrational.  First, take the proposition, "it is necessarily the case that the laws of nature are not the result of design."  Is there any forthcoming argument in support of this?  If there's not, then it's at least possible for the laws of nature to have been designed.  If this is so, then we have a potential cosmo-teleological argument for God's existence.

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

5. If the laws of nature are designed, that designer must be timeless, changeless, immaterial, very powerful and very intelligent. (Premise)

6. Possibly, the laws of nature are designed. (Premise)

7. Possibly, a timeless, changeless, immaterial, very powerful and very intelligent designer exists. (From 5 and 6)

8. Necessarily, a possible designer will either exist by a necessity of its own nature or in an external cause. (Implied by 4)

9. Necessarily, a timeless and changeless designer cannot have an external cause. (Premise)

10. Therefore, a designer exists by a necessity of its own nature. (From 4, 7 and 9)

To be honest, I think this is a rationally compelling argument.  However, I'm willing to grant for the sake of argument that not each of the argument's premises is rationally compelling.  Hence, I'm arguing instead for the rational acceptability of the argument.  That is indeed one of the primary objectives of natural theology, and I think the argument is successful in showing that theism proper is, at the bare minimal, rationally acceptable.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Some Thoughts on the Westboro Baptist Church

You're probably familiar with the small sect in Kansas led by Fred Phelps, Sr.  It's the same group that protests the funerals of U.S. soldiers and openly declares that God hates homosexuals, and tops it off with a not-so-lovely pejorative term which I won't mention.  My opinion is that this small group of individuals engage in their behavior for the attention it brings, and it alarms me that the responses to the Westboro Baptist church (WBC) have been mostly rhetorical, which plays right into their game.  Instead of focusing solely on the "God is love" (true, but context is always needed) type of responses typical of the church's critics, I think it would be most beneficial to stop them in their tracks by addressing the passages they selectively cite.

The church claims that the misfortune of a child is the result of God's curse on the parent and child.  I suppose the Westboro Baptist folks would have to say that Jacob, the recipient of God's eternal blessing, was also cursed, as evidenced by the rape of his daughter, Dinah (Gen. 34).  The further notion that God has cursed those whose lives are ended abruptly is negated by the martyrdom of the disciples and the Biblical motif that, "we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered" (Psalm 44:22).  Is the murder of the righteous Uriah (2 Sam. 11) evidence of his condemnation?  Hardly.  

Most telling of all is that we are told that "the righteous perish" (Isaiah 57:1).  The author of Ecclesiastes shares the experience of "the righteous perishing in their righteousness, and the wicked living long in their wickedness" (Eccl. 7:15).  Sometimes good people die at a young age.  That's the word of God speaking, and not what the Westboro people label as a lie.

The sect also cites Romans 9:13 in support of their claim that God hated Esau.  What's striking about this is that Paul is clearly citing the OT prophet, Malachi, who provides the context of this passage.  Let's first understand that Malachi begins by writing, "A prophecy: The word of the Lord to Israel through Malachi" (emphasis added).  The nation of Israel is being addressed.  Continuing, he prophesies, "'I have loved you, says the Lord.' But you ask, 'How have you loved us?' 'Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?' declares the Lord. 'Yet I have loved Jacob, but Esau I have hated, and I have turned his hill country into a wasteland and left his inheritance to the desert jackals'" (Mal. 1:1-4).  The name of Esau is used to refer to the wicked acts of a nation, and not to Esau himself.  

Let's also not forget the many blessings bestowed to Esau personally, despite his sin (Gen. 36).  Moreover, the WBC seems to forget that the Semitic peoples (Israel included) often used hyperbole in their language.  For every passage the WBC cites in support of their claim that God hates people, there are about a hundred that make it clear that God loves them, but merely disapproves of their behavior.  After all, God does "not [will] for any to perish but for all to come to repentance" (2 Pet. 3:9) and "I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent and live!" (Ezek. 18:32).  This is made explicit by the Apostle Paul: "God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Rom. 5:8; emphasis added).  John adds that Jesus "is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world" (1 John 2:2).

The folks who comprise the WBC are under the impression that the antagonism they've been met with is evidence that they're doing God's work.  They cite John 15:18-19, "If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you."  The reasoning is demonstrably circular.  The WBC claims they are right because the world hates them, but would they accept the notion that the Nazis were right because the world hated them?  How many hated minority opinions are correct, despite the contradictions they pose one another?

It's been somewhat embarrassing for mainstream Christians, such as myself, to witness the lack of Biblical depth in most responses to the WBC.  Instead of giving the sect what they want by getting angry and shouting profanities at these "funeral picketers," the calm demeanor of the Bible-believing Christian should direct us toward showing the WBC why they're so terribly mistaken on exegetical grounds.