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).