Tuesday, February 19, 2013

A Reductio Ad Absurdum of Humean Skepticism

Hume accepted that there are laws of nature, or at least that we must believe in them as a matter of habit.  However, he denied that we have any rational basis for demonstrating any law-like behavior in nature.  I argue that Hume's assertion is demonstrably false.

Prove A: There are laws of nature.
Assume ~A: There are no laws of nature.
~A --> B: If there are no laws of nature, then all probabilities are inscrutable.
~B: There are probabilities that are scrutable.
Hence, ~~A: by modus tollens.
Therefore, A: There are laws of nature.

In short, if there are no probabilities that can be applied to the workings found in nature, then there are also no probabilities that can be applied to Hume's skepticism about there being laws of nature.  Hume's skepticism, therefore, is inscrutable and hence, self-defeating.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

A Piece of Autobiography

Like many teenagers, I experienced a crisis of faith.  I wanted to know why I should believe what my parents taught me my entire life.  I didn't want to believe just because they told me to.  I was raised in a loving Christian home: my mother, a Catholic, and my father, a Lutheran.  I learned about the Bible mostly from my father, but that's not to say my mother wasn't an important influence in my faith life.  Nevertheless, I began asking myself the big questions: is there is a God?  Is there life after death?  Was Jesus really raised from the dead?  Or, am I just a speck of dust in a cold, heartless universe?

I grappled with the arguments for and against God's existence.  What struck me the most was that there are laws of nature.  I've mentioned several times on this blog that I find the argument from order to be a rather benign argument, but that it's also one with some tremendous implications.  Nowadays I sum up the argument 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)

It was this argument that convinced me that the laws of nature are the result of someone's or something's providence.  If it was due to necessity, then I felt I had an argument for pantheism.  If it was due to design, then obviously I had an argument for theism.  Either way, I knew I had to maintain some form of religious conviction.  Even if it were due to necessity, there are enormous medical benefits associated with prayer and meditation that I felt I had to take advantage of. [1]

As for life after death, I became convinced by C.S. Lewis's argument from desire that, "If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world."  I won't go into a lengthy defense of the argument, so I'll simply refer to any interested readers to Peter Kreeft's article. [2]

Lastly, I became convinced that Jesus was raised from the dead because of the transformation of the disciples' lives.  They came to sincerely believe that Jesus had been raised from the dead, even though they had every reason not to.  Again, I don't want to belabor this point, so a more detailed defense of this argument can be found in an article written by Gary Habermas. [3]

Anyway, I don't intend to engage in any debate in the comments section of this post.  I simply wanted to share a little about my life experiences and why I've become a committed Christian theist.

Friday, February 15, 2013

A Leibnizian Second Way?

The second of Thomas Aquinas's five ways argues that there is a regress of essentially-ordered causes.  By "essentially," he means what we would call "sustaining," much like in the argument from motion.  Unfortunately, Thomas leaves much of the second way open to interpretation.  He unambiguously states that a regress of sustaining causes cannot be infinite, and so he concludes that there must exist an Uncaused Cause.  However, this particular formulation of the argument is susceptible to the charge of committing the taxicab fallacy.

The argument from motion (the first way) avoids this by stating that everything in motion has its motion sustained by another.  Since the regress of sustaining movers cannot be infinite, there must be an Unmoved Mover.  The first way cannot be charged with committing the taxicab fallacy, since the Unmoved Mover is not in motion and thus the causal principle is inapplicable to it.

One way of clarifying the second way is to supplement it with the Principle of Sufficient Reason (PSR).  The argument would then look like this:

1. Contingent things exist. (Premise)

2. Every contingent thing has a sustaining cause. (Premise)

3. Either an Uncaused Cause exists, or else there is an infinite regress of contingent sustaining causes. (Implied by 1 and 2)

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

5. Therefore, an Uncaused Cause exists. (From 3 and 4)

In order to bridge the gap between Uncaused Cause and God, one would then need to introduce the metaphysics of De Ente et Essentia ("On Being and Essence").

Thursday, February 14, 2013

William Lane Craig on the Moral Argument

Craig's version of the moral argument goes like this:

1. If God does not exist, then objective moral values and duties do not exist. (Premise)

2. Objective moral values and duties exists. (Premise)

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

Say what you want about the argument's truth or falsity, but I'm much more interested in something else.  You see, according to Craig, the Good, which is God himself, is concrete.  With that I have no qualms whatsoever.  Nevertheless, Craig denies that abstract objects exist.  Instead, he adopts a form of nominalism.  With that in mind, how can the commands of God (the Good) also be concrete?  A command isn't something tangible, so I'm at a loss as to how I'm to understand what Craig is really saying.

If God's commands don't exist, by virtue of their being abstract, then they are nothing more than useful fictions.  It's difficult for me to reconcile this with how Craig could possibly support premise (2) of his argument.  If moral values and duties are abstract objects, and abstract objects are nothing more than useful fictions, then how can moral values and duties exist?

My own view on abstract objects is conceptualism, which I think has the potential to save the moral argument.  It's entirely possible that I'm missing something.  Craig is a much smarter philosopher than I am, and I'm willing to be corrected.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Is Theological Non-Cognitvism the Atheist's Young Earth Creationism?

In a brief discussion I had with someone earlier, I reiterated my personal policy of not debating theological non-cognitivists.  Theological non-cognitivism holds that statements such as, "God exists," are not only false, but literally meaningless.  But, what exactly is meaningless about referring to the creator, designer and sustainer of all physical space, time, matter and energy?  What is meaningless about stating that "X has necessary existence"?  Clearly if it's coherent to say that something can not-be, its negation (X cannot not-be) must also be coherent, and therefore meaningful.

It seems to me that the few atheists who do adopt theological non-cognitivism are generally unfamiliar with the arguments of natural theology, or else they are unable to effectively refute them.  I once had a debate with someone who granted the truth of every one of my arguments for God's existence, but his response was simply that the term, "God," is meaningless.  He then proceeded to call the entity we agreed exists as "Shmog."  Well, unfortunately for him, a rose by any other name is just as sweet.

I really do think non-cognitivism is a minority view among atheists.  I should also add that I mean no disrespect to Young Earth Creationists.  The reason I find the two analogous is that I often hear of atheists, such as Richard Dawkins, who refuse to debate YECs because he doesn't think their views are respectable.  Might we also add theological non-cognitivism to the list of views not deserving of debate?

The Culpability of Unbelief

I've spent a lot of time defending arguments for God's existence, especially those of the Aristotelian-Thomistic tradition.  In fact, Romans 1:19-20 states, "what may be known about God is plain to [humanity], because God has made it plain to them.  For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities - his eternal power and divine nature - have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse."

But, what about atheists who sincerely seek God without finding him?  I do not suggest that all atheists are liars, but it is possible for a person to unintentionally suppress their knowledge of God.  I would point to the universal knowledge of God by appealing to the uniformity of nature, among other things.  Plantinga goes so far as to say that atheism is the result of a cognitive disfunction, but I'm not ready to make such a bold assertion.

Instead, I like how Daniel Howard-Snyder sums up one of the theistic responses: "Some critics appeal to implicit belief.  The idea is that since God is the Good (or, God's moral goodness is His most salient feature), pursuit of the Good is, in fact, pursuit of God, even if one does not recognize it as such." (Daniel Howard-Snyder, "Hiddenness of God," Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Second Edition, MacMillan, 2006.)

This leads us to the moral argument.  Think of it this way:

1. The universe is dynamic. (Premise)

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

3. Therefore, the laws of logic and morality transcend the universe. (Premise)

Is this an argument for God's existence?  I'll let everyone decide for themselves.