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.