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.

Why I typically don't do informal debates on internet forums

"I don't think you have what it takes to hold a debate with a Jew."

You heard that right.  I, Doug Benscoter, don't have what it takes to "hold a debate with a Jew."  I'm not sure who should be offended more: Jews or Gentiles?

Thursday, May 16, 2013

"Would you be immoral if you were an atheist?"

I'm asked this question a lot whenever discussing the moral argument for God's existence.  Usually the argument goes something like this:

1. Every law has a lawgiver. (Premise)

2. There is an objective moral law. (Premise)

3. Therefore, there is an objective moral lawgiver. (From 1 and 2)

The moral lawgiver is then associated with God.  Now, whether this argument is sound or not isn't the point.  Rather, what I'm interested in is answering the question contained in this post's title: would I suddenly become immoral, e.g. raping, murdering, etc., if I abandoned my belief in God?

The answer is obviously no.  The follow up retort is usually: "then objective morality doesn't depend on God."

This objection is fallacious for the simple reason that it confuses moral epistemology with moral ontology.  What the skeptic should say is that "objective morality doesn't depend on belief in God."  This is quite distinct from the former assertion.  The reason I would remain moral (assuming I'm considered a moral person) even if I abandoned my belief in God is because I would still be created in the image of God.  It's just that my hypothetical atheism would be inconsistent with my recognition of an objective moral law.

Readers are free to disagree with the moral argument all they want.  In fact, I encourage open debate.  However, it's important to understand what the moral argument claims and what it doesn't claim.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Contingency Argument and the Composition Fallacy Objection

Here's my own formulation of the contingency argument:

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

2. If the sum total of contingent entities C has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is a necessary, eternal and very powerful entity N. (Premise)

3. C exists. (Premise)

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

5. Therefore, the explanation of C is N. (From 2 and 4)

Let's assume the skeptic accepts premise (1), the Principle of Sufficient Reason (PSR).  Instead, he objects that premise (2) commits a composition fallacy: if every contingent entity is explained by another contingent entity, ad infinitum, then C has a sufficient explanation.

I think the problem with this objection is that the regress of contingent causes is itself contingent; there didn't have to be any regress, finite or infinite, of contingent causes.  If every part of a mountain can not-exist, then it's only reasonable to infer that the mountain as a whole can not-exist.  Likewise, if every contingent cause can not-exist, then C as a whole can not-exist.  If the skeptic wishes to deny this, then he is required to say that C is necessary, which is self-contradictory.

Monday, May 13, 2013

A Modal Argument for Mind-Body Dualism

I don't consider this argument a proof, largely because the first premise is so controversial.  The physicalist will argue that the mind is an essential part of the body and cannot even possibly be separated.  Still, I think intuition is on the side of the dualist and, as a result, the argument is rationally acceptable.

1. Possibly, the mind exists apart from the body. (Premise)

2. Necessarily, if a separation between two entities is possible, then the two entities are distinct. (Premise)

3. Therefore, the mind is distinct from the body. (From 1 and 2)

Sunday, May 12, 2013

The Argument from Reason

1. Human cognitive faculties are generally reliable. (Premise)

2. If human cognitive faculties are caused by rational processes, then they may be generally reliable. (Premise)

3. If human cognitive faculties are caused by non-rational processes, then the cognitive faculties' general reliability is inscrutable. (Premise)

4. The reliability of human cognitive faculties is scrutable. (Premise)

5. Therefore, it is most rational to believe that human cognitive faculties are caused by rational processes. (From 1 - 4)

Now, what if human cognitive faculties are not generally reliable?

6. Human cognitive faculties are not generally reliable. (Assumption)

7. The reliability of human cognitive faculties is less than . 5. (Implied by 1)

8. (6) is a belief formed by unreliable cognitive faculties whose likelihood of truth is less than .5. (From 6 and 7)

9. Hence, it is irrational to believe that human cognitive faculties are generally unreliable. (From 6 and 8)

10. Therefore, it is most rational to believe that human cognitive faculties are generally reliable. (Implied by 9)

Of course, these "rational processes" could be explained away by aliens.  However, the theist could easily supplement the argument from reason with the argument from motion for the existence of an Unmoved Mover.  The same logic would follow, and we may sit comfortably knowing that we have a sound argument for an intelligent Unmoved Mover.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

My Books

As some of you may already know, I've completed my first book, Faith and Philosophy: An Introduction to Natural Theology.  I'm currently in talks with a publisher.

I've also begun editing an anthology for a book entitled, Contemporary Perspectives in Thomism.  This anthology will cover a wide variety of contemporary philosophical issues, including ethics, theism, the mind-body problem, and moral realism versus antirealism, among others.  Originally, I was only going to write the Introduction, but I'll now be adding my own chapter: "Karl Popper, Induction and the Teleological Argument."

The book will have at least a dozen contributors, all of whom have a Master's or higher in Philosophy or a related field.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Another Modal Cosmological Argument

This one is inspired by Bl. John Duns Scotus:

1. Necessarily, everything that exists is either contingent or necessary. (Definition)

2. Possibly, every contingent thing has a cause. (Premise)

3. Necessarily, the regress of contingent causes is either finite or infinite. (Premise)

4. Possibly, the regress of contingent causes is finite. (Premise)

5. Necessarily, a necessary entity cannot have a cause. (Premise)

6. Possibly, a necessary first cause exists. (From 1, 4 and 5)

7. Therefore, a necessary first cause exists. (From 6 and S5)

I think the most difficult premise to defend is (5).  If we understand necessity as being self-explanatory, then (5) is most certainly true.  If, on the other hand, there can be more than one necessary entity, with one being dependent (but not contingent) on another, then the former wouldn't be classified as a first cause.

It's at this point that we could supplement the argument with additional reasons for the unicity of a necessary entity.  As St. Thomas Aquinas summarizes:

"[I]f there are two beings of which both are necessary beings, they must agree in the notion of the necessity of being.  Hence, they must be distinguished by something added either to one of them only, or to both.  This means that one or both of them must be composite.  Now . . . no composite being is through itself a necessary being.  It is impossible therefore that there be many beings of which each is a necessary being."  (Summa Contra Gentiles, ch. 42.)

My Proposed Dissertation Topic

As some of you may know, I'm now pursuing a PhD in Philosophy.  Before I begin my work, I have to propose a topic for my dissertation.  I've had plenty of ideas, many of which involve Thomism (no surprise there).  However, I may be surprising some, since I keep coming back to the works of William Alston and my favorite internet blogger, Victor Reppert.  The connection will become clearer as I develop an outline, assuming the committee accepts my proposal: "Theistic Implications of Alethic Realism."

The advantage of focusing on alethic realism is that it makes no metaphysical assumptions about the existence of abstract objects, propositions in particular.  Just one of the theistic implications would involve Reppert's argument from reason, where our cognitive faculties must have been the result of rational processes in order to be generally reliable.  This is similar, but not identical to, Alvin Plantinga's evolutionary argument against naturalism (EAAN).

In any case, I have my work cut out for me. :)

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Cosmological Arguments: Let's be blunt for a moment...

Please don't confuse "blunt" with "snarky."  I just feel that no matter how many times opponents are corrected on this matter, it doesn't do any good.  So here it goes:

1. The kalam cosmological argument (KCA) rejects the possibility of an infinite past.

2. The Aristotelian and Leibnizian cosmological arguments (ACA and LCA, respectively) do not necessitate a finite past.

3. When the ACA rejects the possibility of an infinite regress, it's not with respect to a temporal regress of causes.  Rather, when the proponent of the ACA denies an infinite regress, it is with respect to a regress of sustaining causes.  It's one thing to ask why something began to exist, and quite another to ask why it continues to exist.

I'm amazed at how few atheistic opponents seem to grasp these distinctions, no matter how many times we explain them to them.  Take the argument from motion (change in general), for example:

1. Evident to the senses is motion. (Premise)

2. Everything in motion has its motion sustained by another. (Premise)

3. Either an Unmoved Mover exists, or else these exists an infinite regress of sustaining movers. (Implied by 2)

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

5. Therefore, an Unmoved Mover exists. (From 3 and 4)

I've already addressed the most common objections to the argument from motion, and to this day, I find them exceedingly weak.  I've also written extensively about how the divine attributes can be inferred from the Unmoved Mover's existence.  My conclusion is that atheists should abandon their atheism in favor of deism or some form of theism.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The Inconsistencies of Naturalism

In the words of Alvin Plantinga, Naturalism is basically atheism-plus: there is no God and nothing like God.  All that exists is matter and energy.  However, since matter and energy are dynamic, then what place is left for any laws of logic, mathematics, science or morality?  In order for something to be truly law-like, it cannot be dynamic.

This means that on Naturalism, there can be no objective standards of reason.  In order to assert that Naturalism is true, the Naturalist must presuppose the objectivity of these laws, and so his position is self-defeating.  If the Naturalist denies the objectivity of any law, then neither can Naturalism be consistently held as true.

Formally, through reductio ad absurdum:

Prove A: Supernaturalism is true.

Assume ~A: Naturalism is true.

~A --> B: If Naturalism is true, then there are no objective laws of reason.

~B: There are objective laws of reason.

Hence, ~~A: by modus tollens.

Therefore, A: by negation.


Wednesday, May 1, 2013