Sunday, October 26, 2014

Atomism and Its Irrelevance to Classical Theism

The original atomists, Democritus and Lucretius, for example, held that all that exists are composites of atoms.  Today we might replace atoms with quarks or strings (the latter, assuming M-theory is true).  However, the gist of the position remains the same.  Peter van Inwagen, for instance, holds to mereological nihilism: that no composite material thing really exists.  He does, nevertheless, make an exception for living things.  I won't get into the details of his arguments, since they are not pertinent to this post.  While Peter van Inwagen is either a classical theist or a neotheist, Democritus and Lucretius still believed in polytheism, and a materialistic version at that.

Now, let's assume that mereological nihilism is true: mountains aren't real; they're just composites of quarks arranges in a specific way.  What relevance does this have on classical theism?  I honestly can't see any relevance.  The argument from change, the argument from contingency, the design argument, and the argument from desire are each consistent with atomism, or mereological nihilism specifically.  Suppose that mountains really don't exist.  Does that mean there is no change?  Of course not.  Obviously, the classical theist will have to defend the arguments in favor of classical theism, but the point is that atomism does nothing to undermine it.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Theological Non-cognitivism: The Young Earth Creationism of Atheism

Theological non-cognitivism is the claim that statements like, "God exists," "God is good," and "God loves me," are not only false, but literally meaningless.  It amazes me that even a small segment of the atheist population still adopts this view.  Although some significant work had been done prior, it was likely Alvin Plantinga's The Nature of Necessity that put the final dagger in theological non-cognitivism, logical positivism, and the verification principle.

I say that theological non-cognitivism (TNC) is the atheist's equivalent to the Christian's Young Earth Creationism (YEC) because there is a trend among both groups to ignore either scientifically or philosophically compelling reasons to reject them.  Science clearly shows the universe has existed for roughly 15 billion years.

Moreover, the creation account in Genesis 1 has for centuries, and now millennia, been interpreted figuratively.  I won't go into great detail here, but you'll see how Days 1 and 4, 2 and 5, and 3 and 6 each correspond to one another.  On Day 1, God created light, whereas on Day 4 God created the sun and the moon.  On Day 2, God separated the land from the sea, and on Day 5 God created sea animals and birds.  Finally, on Day 3, God created land vegetation, and on Day 6 God created land animals of all sorts, including human beings.  In other words, the author of Genesis was simply using a rhetorical device in order to illustrate the hierarchy of creation.

The problems with TNC are many as well.  When a theist talks about a Cosmic Designer who transcends the universe, and is therefore timeless, changeless, immaterial, eternal, indestructible, and enormously powerful and intelligent, what's the objection the proponent of TNC has to offer?  There can be no immaterial mind, and the very concept of an immaterial mind is incoherent, as I often hear from these TNC proponents?  If that's all they have to offer, then they're simply begging the question against theism.  On what grounds does the TNC-er make such an unsubstantiated claim?

Friday, September 12, 2014

Atheistic non-Naturalism

Thomas Nagel, author of the famous "What Is it Like to Be a Bat?" (1974), fits the description of an atheist who ardently rejects Naturalism (with a capital "N").  For Nagel, a philosopher of mind, the mind cannot be simply reduced to the brain or as a mere emergent property.  In support of this, we are reminded that thoughts have a certain aboutness concerning them.  Why is this so important?

Well, aboutness cannot be explained in terms of only physical processes.  To think about something is to have an intentionality concerning what is thought about.  However, where in the brain can aboutness or intentionality be found?  Nowhere, at least according to Nagel, as well as many theistic philosophers.

If one were to explore the human brain, sure, there would be neurons firing away.  However, neurons aren't about anything; they're simply physical parts of the brain.  They might be used to express aboutness, but this is no different than a pianist using a piano to play some beautiful music.  While Nagel does not use any modal argument in favor of mind-body dualism (or its cousin, hylomorphism), his argument does help to supplement such arguments:

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

2. Necessarily, whatever two objects do not possess the same attributes are not identical. (Premise, Leibniz's Law)

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

This isn't a theistic argument per se, although philosophers, such as J.P. Moreland, provide further arguments based on this in favor of theism.  However, if this is a sound argument, then not only is Naturalism defeated, but the atheist can no longer claim that God's immaterial mind is something contradictory or incoherent.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Answering a Basic Objection to Natural Law Ethics

Natural Law Ethics (NLE) is an extension of Aristotle's virtue ethics.  Aristotle's initial ethical theory has been criticized by some, not for its emphasis on moderation (courage, for example, is the Aristotelian Mean between cowardice and rashness), but for its alleged inability to explain specifically what actions qualify as courageous, temperate, just, and prudent: the four cardinal virtues.

What NLE does is expand upon virtue ethics by stating that the good of a person involves mastering these virtues by the following: act to ensure that the secondary purpose of a human function does not supersede its primary purpose.  Yes, NLE presupposes teleology (the study of purpose, telos being purpose itself).  I don't wish to defend NLE at this time, but I will provide an example of it.

According to NLE, it is morally wrong to use alcohol to the point where secondary functions of the liver and brain - metabolizing alcohol and drinking to excess so that the person no longer thinks clearly, respectively - supersede those organs' primary functions.  Once this is done, then the alcohol has been abused.  This is one of the reasons NLE gives for acknowledging that alcohol abuse is morally wrong.

Now, what about the objection I had in mind?  Let's forget about alcohol for a moment.  Imagine you are a German citizen during WWII, hiding a Jewish family in your home.  A small group of Nazis comes to your door and asks if there are any Jews in your home?  What is your answer based on NLE?  On the one hand, lying is wrong on NLE because it frustrates the primary purpose of a person's rationality.  On the other hand, giving the family over to the Nazis, knowing they will be sent to a concentration camp, is also opposed to the NLE, since we are morally obligated to protect the innocent.

Is this a sound objection to NLE?  Actually, and I rarely use terms of derision, I find such an objection (though common) to be incredibly sophomoric.  What's the answer to the question in the above paragraph?  The answer is to lie and protect the lives of an innocent family.  Why?  The reason is that on NLE, some priorities are more important than others.  This doesn't condone lying, but if put in this situation, the lives of innocents are more important.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Some Surprising Results of Another Same-Sex Marriage Survey

Prof. Mark Regnerus, of the University of Texas at Austin, known for his controversial study that concluded children do better with both a mother and a father, as opposed to two same-sex parents, has recently conducted another study.  If his results are accurate, this is strong evidence that the LGBT community has little or no interest in maintaining the ideals of marriage.  Especially striking is the "No-strings-attached sex is OK" result of gay and lesbian non-Christians, who agree with this: 80.5%.  This is an astonishing percentage, and one that does not encourage the much healthier alternative of monogamy.  Time will only tell if Regnerus' study stands up to scrutiny.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Understanding the First Way

Many (but not all) atheistic detractors of the First Way (the argument from change) often misunderstand the purpose of the argument.  Why, they ask, does the Unmoved Mover have to possess the attributes of God?  This is a strange question, to say the least.  After all, Thomas Aquinas spends very little time on the Five Ways, and much more time offering demonstrations that the Unmoved Mover/First Cause is God.  It's almost as if Richard Dawkins, an even the philosopher Michael Martin, haven't bothered to read the rest of Thomas' writings that bridge the gap between Unmoved Mover/First Cause and God.  At least Martin doesn't succumb to the "what caused God?" objection, which is laughable to virtually all atheistic philosophers.

With that said, the argument from change has two parts: a) demonstrating the existence of an Unmoved Mover; and b) demonstrating that the Unmoved Mover is God.  In this post I will only focus on the first major contention.  The argument may be summarized as follows:

1. Changing things exist. (Premise)

2. Changing things exhibits actuality and potentiality. (Premise)

3. No potentiality can actualize itself. (Premise)

4. Either an Unmoved Mover exists, or there is an infinite regress of potentialities being actualized, or there is a circularity of potentialities being actualized. (From 1 - 3)

5. There cannot be an infinite regress or a circularity of potentialities being actualized. (Premise)

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

Virtually nobody doubts premise (1).  To doubt it and maintain that change is illusory not only affirms the existence of Pure Actuality (which the atheist does not want to do), but to come to the conclusion that all change is illusory itself constitutes a change.

Premises (2) and (3) are easily defensible.  In support of premise (2), an acorn is merely an acorn in actuality, but is an oak tree in potentiality.  Premise (3) can be defended by pointing out that if a potentiality were to actualize itself, then it would both exist in potentiality and actuality simultaneously, which is contradictory.  Moreover, we have many examples that confirm this premise.  An acorn doesn't become an oak tree all by itself.  Rather, it requires sustaining causes of its change, such as water, sunlight and soil.  If any of these sustaining cause were removed, then the acorn's development would cease to continue.

(4) logically follows from premises (1) through (3), so what about premise (5)?  First, why can there not be an infinite regress of potentialities being actualized?  Thomas Aquinas offers three distinct reasons, but I'll only appeal to one.  Even if the past is infinite (and empirical evidence makes such a scenario virtually impossible), the past is still composed of finite periods of time.  At each finite period of time, the regress of sustaining causes of change (not originating causes) begins anew.  This means that during a finite period of time, there cannot be an infinite regress of sustaining causes of change.  Why not?  The reason is simple.  Given that the regress begins anew, it is impossible to arrive at infinity.  No matter how many numbers are counted, there will always and indefinitely be another number to count before arriving at infinity.  Hence, it is impossible for the regress of sustaining causes of change to be infinite.

Now, what about a circularity of causes of change?  This is even easier to eliminate as a possibility.  We have already established that no potentiality can actualize itself.  With a circularity, say, A causes B to change and B causes A to change at the same time and in the same sense, A and B would have to exist in both potentiality and actuality simultaneously.  Since this is impossible, the only conclusion we can make is that an Unmoved Mover exists.

Now, objections to an Unmoved Mover I've found to be quite weak.  One common objection is that in order for A to change B, A must also change.  However, imagine a beautiful painting.  While gazing upon the painting, a man is drawn to it (a change) because of its beauty.  Of course, a painting, being a material thing, is changing in terms of time and molecular movement.  However, the Unmoved Mover is immaterial, as is demonstrated in the second major contention.  Therefore, the attempt to point to a disanalogy fails as an objection.

The "what changes the Unmoved Mover?" objection is perhaps the worst objection I'm aware of.  The causal premise states that no potentiality can actualize itself, and yet, the Unmoved Mover does not exhibit any potentiality.  Rather, the Unmoved Mover is Pure Actuality, as the second major contention states.

I look forward to expanding on these arguments, including the second major contention, in my Master's thesis for an M.A. in Philosophy.  All I can say for now is that the objections to the First Way I've found to be extremely weak, sometimes based on misinterpretations, and other times simply due to not doing enough research.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Misuse of the Word "Hate" and the Problem with Alleged "Marriage Discrimination"

Have you ever been called hateful (or a similar word) simply for opposing either homosexual acts on a moral level or same-sex marriage (SSM) on a legal level?  Here's a quick rebuttal.

I, Doug Benscoter, eat chicken, steak, and other animal products.  However, if I were told by a vegan that my dietary lifestyle is morally wrong, would I accuse that person of being hateful?  Of course not.  I suspect that because sex involves so many hormones, regardless of sexual orientation, that people who accuse sexual conservatives as "hateful" do so only as an emotional, and not a rational, response.

This reminds me of how I was once accused of "condemning" gays and lesbians.  Would I feel "condemned" by the vegan above?  No way.  This person was just using an emotionally-charged word to either change the subject in which I defend myself from such an accusation, or else attempted to get me to backtrack, or both.

(By the way, I don't feel victimized by any of this.  However, people need to know how to use words correctly and not rush to judgment.)

Now as for "marriage discrimination," I have only one thing to say: any argument that opposition to SSM is based on discrimination can equally be applied to single people.  Why do I say single people, and not polygamous people, or those who want to marry within the family (immediate or extended), as many conservatives already do?  The reason is that the proponent of SSM can no longer say that SSM is different than polygamous marriage, etc., so that it's an unfair comparison.  I mention single people because they don't receive tax breaks, (in some states) adoption rights, hospital visitation rights as married people do, and so forth.  In other words, if opposition to SSM is opposition to "equal rights," then opposition for single people to receive the same rights is also discriminatory and an opposition to "equal rights."

The conservative case for limiting marriage to a man and a woman includes the government's attempt to provide an incentive for married couples to reproduce by providing them with tax breaks, etc.  It also includes the (albeit contested) fact that children do best when raised by a mother and a father.  Thirdly (and this will be the last for me to mention), it has been shown by numerous studies, including one conducted by Dr. J. Michael Bailey (a staunch gay-rights activist) that those who engage in homosexual acts are much more likely to suffer from various mental illnesses, from depression to schizophrenia.  Moreover, these studies were conducted in countries where homosexuality is highly tolerated, and even accepted (and it's been shown there is no statistical difference between these countries and countries less tolerant of homosexual acts).  Should the government provide an additional incentive for those who engage in homosexual acts to get married, knowing all of this?  I think the most compassionate thing to do would be to limit marriage to one man and one woman, while simultaneously treating those homosexuals who are dealing with these mental illnesses.  I also think hospital visitation rights laws should be revisited.  As far as I'm concerned, people should have the right to be visited by whoever they want.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Taking another look at the Leibnizian Cosmological Argument (LCA)

Before I begin this brief post, I want to make it clear that spam and trolling are prohibited from this blog.  If you're reading this, kilo papa, that applies to you.  If you want your posts published, then you're going to have to change your behavior.  

Speaking of publication, I don't check this blog every day.  Sometimes it takes as long as a week before I check it and publish any comments.  That's due to my busy schedule, and in almost all cases not due to trolling activity on the part of those who comment.

With that out of the way, let's take another look at the modest version of the LCA (and no, I'm not addressing possible worlds semantics, but temporal necessity and contingency):

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 universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is a timeless, changeless, immaterial, and very powerful external cause. (Premise)

3. The universe exists. (Premise)

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

5. Therefore, the universe is explained by a timeless, changeless, immaterial, and very powerful external cause. (From 2 and 4)

The argument is logically valid, so if the skeptic wishes to reject the argument, then one or more of the premises must be rejected.  Surely nobody - unless maybe a solipsist - would reject premise (3).  The only remaining premises are (1) and (2).  Going backwards, let's turn our attention to premise (2).

There are a number of objections the skeptic could throw at premise (2).  First, there is the objection that the universe, while having an explanation of its existence, simply exists by a necessity of its own nature.  This would mean that no external cause is needed.  The problem with this objection is at least twofold.  First, it is entirely conceivable for the universe to not exist.  While inconceivability does not necessarily entail impossibility, it certainly does undermine the skeptic's alternative.  Secondly, we now know through the amazing discoveries of physics and astronomy that the universe began to exist at the Big Bang, entailing a state of affairs in which no matter or energy existed.  Of course, there are fringe hypotheses that attempt to get around this problem, but with virtually no success, as the Borde-Guth-Vilenkin theorem essentially put the nail in the coffin to any alternative explanation.

A second objection to premise (2) is that it commits the fallacy of composition: "Sure, every part of the universe has an explanation, but the universe as a whole doesn't need to."  I've never been impressed by this objection for (you guessed it) at least two reasons.  First, there is the conceivability mentioned above that the universe might not have existed.  This required the universe to exist contingently, and not necessarily.  Secondly, this objection has always struck me as saying: "Just because there is an explanation of every member of the Pittsburgh Steelers, that doesn't mean the Steelers as a whole have an explanation."  Do I even need to explain what's wrong with this objection?  In case I do, of course the Steelers as a whole require an explanation! :)  Management is an external cause, for example.  We could provide example after example that undermines the composition fallacy objection, but I think enough has been said.

Lastly, what about premise (1)?  Personally, I don't think this premise is even need of defense.  To reject the Principle of Sufficient Reason (PSR) would be to undermine all of science, in addition to commonsense and everyday experience.  Nobody in their right mind (unless he were jesting) would say: "that elephant in the middle of the street just exists without any explanation whatsoever."  I take this version of the PSR to be properly basic, and even confirmed by the senses.

Now, what about another objection.  Yes, I'm talking about the "what's God explanation?" objection, something that is supposed to appear very profound, but is among the weakest of atheistic objections.  The timeless, changeless, immaterial, and very powerful external cause in (5) - let's call it "God" for expedience-sake - does have an explanation, but would have to exist by a necessity of His own nature.  If God had an external cause, then He would be neither timeless nor changeless, since causation involves the actualization of some potentiality (a change).  Since the universe just is the sum total of all physical space, time, matter, and energy, it follows that God cannot be externally caused and must exist by necessity.

Now, I realize there are other objections to the LCA, but my point in this post is to illustrate that it cannot be simply dismissed by long-refuted arguments against it.  Truth is, the LCA isn't even my go-to argument.  I much rather prefer St. Thomas Aquinas's First, Third, and Fifth Ways (plus the argument from desire), but a Thomist need not hide inside some Thomistic bubble.  I also like the fine-tuning argument, the kalam cosmological argument (KCA), the argument from reason, certain ontological arguments, the moral argument, and even some practical arguments.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The Argument from Religious Experience

1. Barring any defeater for the belief that a religious experience is genuine, the person with the religious experience is justified in believing that this experience is true - that this belief possesses verisimilitude (Premise)

2. There are many people who have had religious experiences without any defeater for their belief in their experiences' verisimilitude. (Premise)

3. Therefore, these people are rationally justified in believing in the verisimilitude of their religious experiences. (From 1 and 2)

Notice I've weakened the argument's premises.  I'm not talking about these beliefs based on religious experience being rationally compelling, but simply being rationally acceptable.  In the absence of insanity or any other defeater, then a person perfectly within his or her epistemic rights in accepting a religious experience as genuine.

Some object that there are conflicting religious experiences, but that poses no problem for at least two reasons.  First, many of these "conflicting" religious experiences have more in common than we're often led to believe.  Religious experiences are quite often the manifestation of some Supreme Being, whether that's the Biblical God, Allah, Brahman, etc.  Secondly, we have to keep in mind the nature of defeaters.  Imagine you and I are standing at opposite sides of a garden.  You see a white flower, even though my perception of the same flower leads me to believe it is a purple flower.  Should I just abandon my belief simply because there is a conflicting experience?  Of course not!  Now, if it could be shown that there is a light hanging over the garden that, when standing at a certain angle, will cause people to view white flowers as purple, then I would have a defeater for my belief.  (Credit goes to William Alston for this reply to the objection.)

I want to mention, however briefly, St. Joan of Arc.  She experienced visions, which would rank very highly on the religious experience chart.  What's more, historians are almost universally agreed that Joan sincerely believed she was having these visions.  This is important because "liars make poor martyrs," as the saying goes.  That leaves us with either insanity or that Joan was in fact telling the truth.  Unfortunately for Naturalists, every mental disorder has been almost unanimously rejected when it comes to Joan's visions.  Other hypotheses have suffered the same fate.  Nores and Yakovleff comment, "It is difficult to draw final conclusions, but it would seem unlikely that widespread tuberculosis, a serious disease, was present in this patient [Joan of Arc] whose life-style and activities would surely have been impossible had such a serious disease been present." [1]

[1] J.M. Nores and Y. Yakovleff, "A Historical Case of Disseminated Chronic Tuberculosis," Neuropsychobiology 32, 1995, pp. 79-80.

Monday, June 30, 2014

What makes one an ID theorist?

There's been some controversy around Intelligent Design (ID), and no, I'm not talking about ID versus evolution or ID versus some naturalistic explanation of abiogenesis.  I'm actually referring to an in-house debate among theists about what ID entails.  Was Thomas Aquinas an ID theorist?  According to Edward Feser, no.  Why not?  Because Thomas Aquinas's design argument (the Fifth Way) is not mechanistic, whereas ID theories are perceived to be so.

However, taken more literally, Thomas certainly was an advocate of ID.  He certainly believed that God, as the universe's Cosmic Designer, was (and is) an intelligent agent responsible for the order, regularity, purpose, and life in the world.  What is underlying Feser's and others' objection is the metaphysics behind Thomas's ID versus contemporary ID, the latter of which even includes William Paley's view.  On Thomas's metaphysics, God is Pure Actuality, which I've repeated probably a hundred times on this blog at least.  As such, God is immutable.  On contemporary conceptions of ID, God intervenes in the universe to "correct," as it were, the elements so that life emerges.

What I've just described as contemporary ID conflicts with Aristotelian-Thomistic (AT) metaphysics simply because God, being immutable, must have eternally planned the emergence of life with his perfect foresight.  So, it's not as if Thomas would object to ID per se, but only the type of ID that requires a change in God and a purely mechanistic view of the entities being designed.  For example, the human mind is not like a computer, the latter of which is mechanistic.  Sure, the brain can be explained in some mechanistic terms (but not all), but the mind is not the brain.  What's a tad poetic about this is that most ID theorists, if they're Christians, Jews, Muslims, etc., agree with this, but their non-AT interpretation of ID doesn't account for this.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Isn't it just obvious that God exists?

By "God" I just mean some vague concept of a Supreme Being.  When I was in high school, I considered adopting agnosticism, since I wasn't sure that God existed, but I also felt that atheism went too far.  It was Thomas Aquinas's Fifth Way, which can really be traced back to Plato and Aristotle, among others, that convinced me that a Cosmic Designer (God) exists.

The Bible itself makes it clear that God's existence is obvious. "The heavens declare the glory of God; the firmament proclaims the works of his hands." (Psalm 19:2.)  "The fool says in his heart, 'There is no God." (Psalm 14:1.)  And finally, "For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse." (Romans 1:20.)

Why think what the Bible says is true?  I've repeated this version of the Fifth Way many many times, but it never ceases to amaze me how obviously true it is.  If you're offended by some perceived hubris on my part, I don't know what to tell you.  I find God's existence to be an obvious fact.

1. The order and regularity of the forces of nature are either the result of chance, necessity, or design. (Premise)

2. Whatever exhibits order and regularity is not the result of chance. (Premise)

3. Hence, the forces of nature are either the result of necessity or design. (From 1 and 2)

4. They are not the result of necessity. (Premise)

5. Therefore, the forces of nature are the result of design. (From 3 and 4)

As the Cosmic Designer of the forces of nature, this being must transcend nature/the universe, which is the sum total of all physical space, time, matter, and energy.  Therefore, the Cosmic Designer must be timeless, changeless (for time is a measurement of change), immaterial, and enormously powerful and intelligent.  

Given its timelessness, the Cosmic Designer must also be Pure Actuality, which necessitates its immutability, eternality, indestructibility, unicity, omnipotence, omniscience, and perfect goodness.  These latter attributes require some more deduction, but the former attributes suffice to demonstrate the existence of God, or at least something very much like God.

When I talk to people about this argument, even if they had previously thought belief in God was purely a matter of faith, they almost unanimously agree that belief in God is unavoidable.  They realize that atheism is simply untenable.

What I find interesting is that I don't find that Fifth Way to be the best argument for God's existence (I think the First Way is), but I do think the Fifth Way is the most obviously true argument for God's existence.  Even the skeptic David Hume could not deny the obviousness of design exhibited throughout the cosmos.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Metaphysical Certainty of the First Way's First Premise

Parmenides argues as follows:

1. Something exists. (Premise)

2. If there were more than one thing, then they would either differ by being or by non-being. (Premise)

3. They cannot differ by being, since being is what makes them identical. (Premise)

4. They cannot differ by non-being, since to differ by non-being is to differ by nothing, and to differ by nothing is to not differ at all. (Premise)

5. Therefore, only one thing exists. (From 1 - 4)

The argument is logically valid, but it's premise (2) that is demonstrably false.  Although there have been many different attempts to circumvent this premise, I'm persuaded that Aristotle provides the best alternative.  While things are identical in their being/actuality (that-ness), they differ by their various essences (what-ness) and their varying degrees of potentialities.  Only Aristotle's Unmoved Mover is Pure Actuality, whereas other things (while participating in the actuality of the Unmoved Mover) are distinct from the Unmoved Mover due to their potentialities.  For example, an acorn is merely a type of seed in actuality, but it is an oak tree in potentiality.

I'm not going to defend the First Way in this post, with the exception of premise (1): Evident to the senses is change.  Alternatively, (1) can be stated as: Things change.

Now, why is this premise metaphysically certain?  Aristotle provides the following criticism of Parmenides's argument.  Coming to the realization that all change and all distinction is illusory itself constitutes a change, making the argument of Parmenides literally self-defeating.  We can know with certainty that things change, or at the very least, that things have the potentiality to change.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Plantinga's Modal Argument for the Immateriality of the Mind

This argument is consistent with substance dualism, hylemorphism, and a host of other philosophical views that hold that the mind is an immaterial substance.

1. There is a possible world at which my mind exists apart from my body. (Premise)

2. Whatever is possible is necessarily possible, e.g. possible in all possible worlds. (Premise, S5)

3. Hence, my mind possibly exists apart from my body in the actual world. (From 1 and 2)

4. Therefore, my mind is distinct from my body. (Implied by 3)

A skeptic's best bet to avoid the conclusion that the mind is immaterial is to reject premise (1).  However, one would be hard-pressed to find any inconsistency in the conception of the mind existing apart from the body.  Premise (2) is based on the relatively uncontroversial S5 axiom of modal logic, and (3) simply follows from (1) and (2).  (4) is implied by (3) because unless two things - A and B - are distinct, then A cannot exist apart from B.  Therefore, unless the mind is actually distinct from the body, then it would not be possible for the mind to exist apart from the body, which contradicts (1).

Friday, May 9, 2014

The Existentialist Argument

The following argument is logically valid:

1. If God does not exist, then there is no cosmic purpose. (Premise)

2. If there is no cosmic purpose, then human purpose is illusory. (Premise)

3. Human purpose is not illusory. (Premise)

4. Therefore, God exists. (From 1 - 3)

Arguments such as these will appeal to those who believe that human purpose is not something conventional or relative.  Someone like Sartre would maintain that we create our own purpose, but ultimately such purpose is illusory.  This argument is called "existentialist" because it turns Sartre's view on its head and embraces a position more akin to Kierkegaard's.  I don't maintain this is a proof or demonstration of God's existence, but I do think it constitutes one of many rationally acceptable reasons to believe in cosmic purpose and, ultimately, God, the giver of purpose to the cosmos.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

A Simple Inductive Cosmological Argument

I'm going to put this argument in the form of a deductive syllogism, but the argument's premises are largely based on induction:

1. The universe is very complex. (Premise)

2. Whatever is very complex most likely has an external cause. (Premise)

3. Therefore, the universe most likely has an external cause. (From 1 and 2)

The beauty of this argument is its simplicity.  It very much resembles the kalam argument, with the exception that the universe does not have to be finite in the past.  Whether finite or infinite in the past, it's entirely conceivable that the universe didn't have to be so astronomically complex, or complex at all.  Couldn't the universe exist with a single quark?  I doubt anyone in their right mind will doubt premise (1), so the key premise is (2).  Since this is an inductive argument, examples will suffice.  A mountain, for example, is a very complex thing, and yet we know that it is externally caused by various geological processes.  Or how about the complexity of an animal?  The animal only exists because of the act of procreation.  I could continue, but I think enough has been said already.

Now, since the universe is the sum total of all physical space, time, matter and energy, it follows that the external cause (which most likely exists) must be timeless, changeless (for time is a measurement of change), immaterial, and very powerful in order to cause something as complex and vast as the universe.  I'll leave the personality of this external cause for another time.

Friday, April 18, 2014

A Pragmatic Argument for Theism

Note: I posted this as a comment on Victor Reppert's blog.  I just thought it would be worth reposting as a post on my own blog.

Even if I came to believe that all of the theoretical arguments for God's existence were unsound (highly unlikely), I would still remain a theist for at least one pragmatic reason. Studies continue to show that those who pray and meditate live longer, healthier, and happier lives. I would appeal to the follow pragmatic argument:

1. All things being equal, one should believe in what brings about the most health and happiness. (Premise)

2. Belief in God brings about the most health and happiness. (Premise)

3. Hence, all things being equal, one should believe in God. (From 1 and 2)

4. There are no sound arguments against God's existence. (Premise)

5. Hence, theism and atheism are at least rationally equal on theoretical terms. (From 2 - 4)

6. Therefore, one should believe in God. (From 1, 2, and 5)

Of course, I do accept philosophical arguments for God's existence as demonstrative, so this is all a moot point. Nevertheless, people don't have to rely on philosophical demonstrations in order to be a rationally justified theist. Isn't it more rational to embrace what leads to a longer, healthier, and happier life than not?

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Reply to The Richard Carrier Project

A few years ago I wrote an article ( responding to Richard Carrier's claim that the earliest Christians believed that Jesus had been raised from the dead in a spiritual sense only, leaving a corpse behind in his tomb. It's funny to me that Carrier (a PhD, and a man I have no personal beef with) has some of the most zealous "fans" (yes, Carrier even refers to them as "fans," as opposed to students or followers).

The so-called "Richard Carrier Project" ( describes my response like this: "Benscoter quote-mines Carrier horribly to portray his argument as though he thinks Paul believed in an immaterial resurrection body. He does this despite the fact that the surrounding text goes out of its way to say the exact opposite. Carrier claims Paul believed Jesus rose in a body made of heavenly materials that are different (and improved) than earthly materials, but are still materials. Benscoter neither portrays Carrier's claims correctly nor engages the vast majority of the evidence Carrier has amassed to support his conclusion (even in an outdated article)." The "Project" also calls my response "lame." I'm not offended by this, though. In fact, I would find it funny if it weren't so sad.

First, note that the text being cited is 1 Cor. 15 (written by the Apostle Paul), and I wholeheartedly agree that it goes out of its way to deny the "immaterial resurrection body" hypothesis, which would have been a contradiction in terms to a first-century Palestinian Jew. If they agree with me on this point, then what is there left to debate? Secondly, these are the words Carrier uses to describe this early Christian belief: Jesus "was resurrected by being given a new body, one not made of flesh or physical matter as we know it, but of some kind of ethereal, spiritual material." (

Notice I never claimed that Carrier asserted that early Christians believed that Jesus was raised without any materials whatsoever. However, it's Carrier's thesis that the earliest Christians believed that Jesus's corpse was left to rot in his tomb, and interprets the change described in 1 Cor. 15 as an "exchange" (a secondary translation) as opposed to a "transformation" (the primary translation). In further support of the transformation translation, we also have Rom. 8:11 (also written by the Apostle Paul): "But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you." We also have Paul's writing in Phil. 3:20-21: "For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory . . ." Finally, there's the text of 1 Cor. 15:42: "So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body . . ." What dies is what rises, albeit a transformed body.

So it's not Doug Benscoter who quote-mines Carrier, but the folks who run The Richard Carrier Project who misinterpret Carrier's own hypothesis that he spends hours debating Michael Licona with here:

Friday, April 4, 2014

An Inductive Moral Argument for Use in a Cumulative Case for Theism

I remain convinced that deductive moral arguments, such as Norman Geisler's, are sound.  Geisler summarizes his version of the proof as follows:

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)

Geisler concludes that this objective moral lawgiver is part of what we mean by "God."

Robert Adams, on the other hand, argues like this:

1. Moral facts exist. (Premise)

2. Moral facts have the properties of being objective and non-natural. (Premise)

3. The best explanation of there being objective and non-natural moral facts is provided by theism. (Premise)

4. Therefore, the existence of moral facts provides good grounds for thinking theism is true. (From 1 - 3)

I doubt anyone will doubt premise (1) of Adams' argument. In fact, few of us even doubt the objectivity of moral facts. Are rape, murder, or torturing children for fun things we simply don't like, or are they really (objectively) moral atrocities? For those persuaded that these are objective moral atrocities, then this may provide a person-relative-proof of God's existence.

The reason objective laws, if they exist, are non-natural is because they are true immutably and cannot be reduced to any of the physical sciences, e.g. physics, chemistry, biology, etc. A scientist is able to show that torturing children for fun is painful, but its being painful doesn't make it morally wrong.

Thus, we are left with a supernatural explanation for objective moral facts. Theism fits this description; so at the very least, the reality of objective and non-natural moral facts makes theism more plausible than in their absence. Let P = the probability of some conjunction of facts, h = the hypothesis that God exists, k = our background knowledge, and e = the evidence (in this case the reality of objective and non-natural moral facts). With this in mind, the following is true: P(h/e&k) > P(h/k).

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

An Odd Consequence of Stephen Law's Argument from Suffering

Stephen Law is perhaps the foremost defender of the argument from suffering.  While not an argument for atheism per se, if the argument is successful, then it does constitute a sound a defeater of classical theism, which holds that God is omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good.

One aspect that Law focuses on is the suffering of animals.  Animals, many believe, are innocent of any moral crimes, and so it would be unjust to allow them to suffer.  More precisely, it would be unjust to allow them to suffer to the extent that they do.  Since the God of classical theism would not allow such suffering (according to the argument), and this suffering is real, it follows that the God of classical theism does not exist.

Now, one classical theistic response to this is to say that while animals suffer pain, they are not aware of the fact that they are in pain.  If true, this minimizes the emotional impact of this aspect of the argument from suffering, and severely undercuts its rational import.  After all, suffering is either just or unjust only if there is some level of self-awareness, or at the very least a potential of self-awareness.

Law, like other defenders of the argument from suffering, responds that (at least some) animals do have the capacity for this kind of self-awareness.  Instead of contesting this response, I want to accept it for the sake of argument.  Why does this result in an odd consequence?

The problem is that with self-awareness comes a recognition of moral obligations, or (again) at least a potential for this recognition.  If animals have self-awareness, then it is reasonable to think they are cognizant that certain things are right and others wrong.  This in turn means that animals are morally culpable.  Yet, we find among animals many moral atrocities, such as rape and murder.  Ordinarily we would refer to an ape intentionally causing the death of another of its kind "killing," as opposed to "murder."  However, moral culpability changes all of that.

Unwittingly, then, Law and other proponents of the argument from suffering have actually given classical theists a further justification for animal suffering.  For "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Rom. 3:23) and "the wages of sin is death" (Rom. 6:23).  If animals have self-awareness and they are cognizant of moral obligations, then it follows that they are capable of sin, which (like for humans) is their metaphysical cause of death.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

A Modal Cosmological Argument Inspired by Bl. John Duns Scotus

1. Possibly, a First Cause in the order of sustaining causes exists. (Premise)

2. Necessarily, whatever exists is either contingent or necessary. (Definition)

3. Possibly, whatever is contingent has a sustaining cause. (Premise)

4. Hence, a First Cause cannot exist contingently. (From 1 - 3)

5. Therefore, a First Cause exists necessarily. (From 2 and 4)

The logic here is airtight.  So long as it's even possible for a First Cause to exist, and it's even possible that whatever is contingent has a sustaining cause of its existence, it follows logically and inescapably that a First Cause (in the order of sustaining causes) exists.

Of course, what remains to be seen is whether this First Cause possesses any or all of the divine attributes.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Things to know with certainty

I'm compiling a list of things we can know with certainty.  The list will grow as I think of more examples.

1. "I think therefore I am."  Cliché?  Maybe, but it's undoubtedly true.  In order to doubt my own existence, I would first have to exist in order to doubt it.

2. The laws of logic, in the form of propositions, are necessary truths.  Any denial of the law of non-contradiction, the law of identity, or the law of excluded middle results in a literal absurdity.

3. No potentiality can actualize itself.  This is one of the few causal premises that is not just highly plausible, but can be known with certainty.  In order for a potentiality to actualize itself, it would have to be self-caused, and therefore exist and not-exist simultaneously, which is contradictory.

4. Order is more fundamental to reality than chaos.  Chaos is intelligible, and since intelligibility presupposes order, it follows that even what is perceived as chaotic must have a level of order behind it.  One could not even recognize "chaos" if it were utterly devoid of order.  Moreover, chaos does not violate any of the laws of logic.

5. If I experience pain or pleasure, then that experience must be genuine.  For even supposing that my brain is being manipulated by a mad scientist so that the sensations of pain or pleasure are illusory, it's still the case that I experience pain or pleasure.  Likewise, "I am being appeared to redly" must be true, even if the object in question is actually not red at all.  In both cases, it is the experience that is certain, which is independent of the reality (which may or may not correspond to one another).

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Upcoming Books

My first book, Faith and Philosophy: An Introduction to Natural Theology, will be released by Abner Publishing within the next month.  In the meantime, I'd like to provide a brief sketch of the next two books I plan on writing.  Each of these three books is part of a trilogy that introduces readers to issues that I feel are of the utmost importance.  Following Faith and Philosophy will be:

Goldilocks and the Aristotelian Mean: An Introduction to Virtue Ethics and Natural Law.  This book will start with the fable of "Goldilocks and the Three Bears" as the practical basis for showing how moderation between two extremes is the preferable stance.  I argue that actions that proceed from this moderation will necessarily lead one to adopt a form of natural law ethics.  I'll provide several uncontroversial examples before tackling the controversies of today: abortion (as well as artificial contraception), sexual ethics (not exclusively related to homosexual acts, but including them as well), and the culture of relativism and what I call "the post-modern problem."  I suggest that we do not, in fact, live in a post-modern society that would preclude the possibility of ethics, objective or relative.  However, my argument concludes that this is an attitude expressed by many in the form of moral nihilism, which is simply unlivable.  Additionally, I offer the plausibility of natural law ethics as a sufficient rebuttal to moral relativism.

Foundation of the Christian Faith: An Introduction to the Historicity of Jesus's Resurrection.  This will be the climax of the trilogy, in which I'll argue that we have solid historical reasons to believe that Jesus of Nazareth was raised from the dead.  In light of the conclusions of Faith and Philosophy, I'll further suggest that the best explanation of this historical fact is that God raised Jesus from the dead, thus exonerating Jesus and his radical claims.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

A simple, yet sound formulation of the argument from change

1. Whatever is changing has an external cause. (Premise)

2. The universe as a whole is changing. (Premise)

3. Therefore, the universe as a whole has an external cause. (Premise)

The argument is logically valid, so what about the truth of its premises?

I defend premise (1) with two distinct arguments - one deductive and one inductive.  First, whatever is changing exhibits actuality (its current existence and state of being) and potentiality (what the thing could be).  Now, no potentiality can actualize itself.  Otherwise, the thing would be self-caused, and exist and not-exist simultaneously in order to cause its own actualization.  This is a contradiction.

Secondly, an acorn, for example, cannot continue becoming an oak tree unless there are external causes, such as water, sunlight and soil.  If at any point these external causes are removed, then the acorn will cease its change, whither and die. 

But why does the cause have to be external?  Quantum fluctuations have at the very least material causes, which are internal within the quantum vacuum.  The problem with this objection is that the fundamental forces of nature - gravity, electromagnetism, and the strong and weak atomic forces - all exist as external causes of the allegedly externally uncaused changes.  Premise (1), therefore, is correct.

As for premise (2), the most common objection is that the premise commits a composition fallacy.  Just because every part of a mountain is small doesn't mean the mountain as a whole is small.  However, there are just as many instances in which the whole is like its parts.  If every part of a mountain is made of rock, then the mountain as a whole must be made of rock.  Moreover, the mountain as a whole is externally caused by the forces of nature and various geological processes.  Now, if every part of the universe is changing, then the universe as a whole must be changing.  Hence, premise (2) does not commit a composition fallacy and is also correct.

Given the truth of (1) and (2), it necessarily follows that the universe has an external cause.  Since the universe is the sum total of all physical space, time, matter and energy, the external cause of the universe must be timeless, changeless (for time is a measurement of change) and immaterial, in addition to being very powerful in order to externally cause the change of something as vast as the universe.

Whether you want to call this external cause "God" or not is inconsequential.  The argument, if sound, is certainly a defeater of Naturalism.  Call it the universe's First Cause if you'd like.