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).