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.