Bernstein/Ahmed debate on Unbelievable?

Unbelievable? hosted a great debate between C’Zar Bernstein and Arif Ahmed on the Argument from Consciousness for God’s existence: listen here.

A rough outline for Bernstein’s argument was something like:
1. There are non-physical minds.
2. The explanation for (1) is either personal or natural.
3. The explanation is not natural.
4. Therefore, the explanation is personal.

Fleshed out, Bernstein defended an evidential argument, where consciousness doesn’t logically entail the God of classical theism, but that consciousness provides evidential support for classical theism. Most of the debate came down to the first premise, which Bernstein defended by way of the modal argument for the soul.

Ahmed focuses on an eliminativist/Humean response and basically just denied there were persons, and fell back on the claim that we should really only admit into our ontology whatever is strictly needed for science (so no need to talk about conscious persons or moral properties).  A good deal of the discussion focused on whether we have good reason to think persons exist, and I think Bernstein got the better of Ahmed in the end (pointing out how Ahmed couldn’t even really talk about pain without referencing his own awareness of it).  However, this meant that little time was focused on showing why consciousness is good evidence in support of classical theism.  Indeed, I agree with Bernstein that it is good evidence.  However, I think more needs to be said for why this is so.

It’s worth a listen, that is for sure.

An Ontological Argument from Actuality

Here is a refinement on my ontological argument from actuality:

1. Something is an Anselmian God if and only if it is conceivable, nothing can be conceived of which is more actual, and it necessarily exists (definition Θ).

2. There is something conceivable such that nothing can be conceived of which is more actual (premise).

3. For all x, if the possibility of failing to conceive of x implies the possibility that x doesn’t exist, x is mentally dependent (premise).

4. For all x, if x is mentally dependent, there is something conceivable that is more actual than x (premise).

Therefore,

5. An Anselmian God exists.

I start out with a definition of an Anselmian God, which is a stipulation, but is rooted in the idea that a Being of Pure Actuality is arguably perfect and possesses a good number of divine attributes.  

As I noted in a previous post, the traditional argument uses a “greater than” relation, which some find suspect.  “Greatness” would have been understood by Anselm as something that can be evaluated objectively on a scale, as in the Neo-Platonic notion of the Great Chain of Being.  To the contemporary ear, “greatness” seems subjective and vague.  I think “actual” in the Thomistic-Aristotelian sense is a fair approximation of greatness, but we can have a better sense of what “actual” means.  Thomas is able to derive the divine attributes from a being of Pure Actuality, so “most actual” is plausibly a divinely loaded superlative.  Moreover, it seems to me that the act-potency distinction is not something the contemporary ear would take to be dependent on subjective opinions.  So, I think (2) is fairly impeccable.  

I think (3) is a bit clunky, but it basically means that if something is merely a concept, then it is mentally dependent.  So, in the case of God, if God is merely a concept in the mind, then the possibility that God could fail to be conceived by all minds that exist implies that God, as a mere concept, could fail to exist, and so depends upon minds to continue to exist.  Put another, if God is merely a concept, then there was no God in the Jurassic period, as William Lane Craig once suggested to John Dominic Crossan.

Finally, (4) says that if something is mentally dependent, then something is conceivable that is more actual than it.  Some people think, for instance, that moral values are mind-dependent.  So, for instance, the actuality of the value of human life, VHL, depends on there being an actual community of minds that actually conceive of human life as valuable.  Were such a community to cease to exist, the VHL would only potentially exist, even if humans existed.  If the VHL were an objective fact grounded in human nature, then the actuality of the VHL would obtain whenever humans actual exist.  There is a certain assymetry that suggests that grounding the VHL in human nature is to view VHL as more actual than grounding VHL in the subjective opinions of a community of minds.  For the VHL to be actual in one case, there need only be actual humans exemplifying human nature, where as in the latter, there needs to be actual humans exemplifying human nature and an actual community of minds that actually is of the opinion that human life is valuable.  For, without the humans, a community of minds that endorses the VHL would really just be saying that VHL potentially exists and would be actual upon the occassion of human life.  We could say, then, that x is more actual than y iff the existence of x depends upon the actualization of fewer potentials than y depends upon.  VHL grounded in the actuality of human nature depends upon the actualization of fewer potentials than VHL grounded in subjective opinions about humans. So (4) just tells us that for any x that depends upon the mental for its actuality, it is conceivable that there is something that is more actual (and less dependent) than x, e.g. to conceive that x can actually exist independent of mentally conceiving of x.

Let

Cx – x is conceived
Mx – x is mentally dependent
Axy – x is more actual than y
Θx- x is an Anselmian God, 

that is: 

1. (∀x){Θx ≝ ([♢Cx & ~(∃y)(Ayx & ♢Cy)] & ☐(∃z)(z=x))} (Def Θ)
2. (∃x)[♢Cx & ~(∃y)(Ayx & ♢Cy)] (premise)
3. (∀x){[♢~Cx ⊃ ♢~(∃z)(z=x)] ⊃ Mx} (premise)
4. (∀x){Mx ⊃ [(∃y)(Ayx & ♢Cy)]} (premise)
5. (∀x){[♢Cx & ~(∃y)(Ayx & ♢Cy)] ⊃ [♢~Cx ⊃ ♢~(∃z)(z=x)]} (IP)
6. ♢Cu & ~(∃y)(Ayu & ♢Cy) (1 EI)
7. [♢~Cu ⊃ ♢~(∃z)(z=u)] ⊃ Mu (2 UI)
8. Mu ⊃ [(∃y)(Ayu & ♢Cy)] (3 UI)
9. [♢~Cu ⊃ ♢~(∃z)(z=u)] ⊃ [(∃y)(Ayu & ♢Cy)] (7,8 HS)
10. [♢Cu & ~(∃y)(Ayu & ♢Cy)] ⊃ [♢~Cu ⊃ ♢~(∃z)(z=u)] (5 UI)
11. ♢~Cu ⊃ ♢~(∃z)(z=u) (6,10 MP)
12. (∃y)(Ayu & ♢Cy) (9,11 MP)
13. Avu & ♢Cv (12 EI)
14. ~(∃y)(Ayu & ♢Cy) (6 Simp)
15. (∀y)~(Ayu & ♢Cy) (14 QN)
16. ~(Avu & ♢Cv) (15 UI)
17. (Avu & ♢Cv) & ~(Avu & ♢Cv) (13,16 Conj)
18. ~(∀x){[♢Cx & ~(∃y)(Ayx & ♢Cy)] ⊃ [♢~Cx ⊃ ♢~(∃z)(z=x)]} (5-17 IP)
19. (∃x)~{[♢Cx & ~(∃y)(Ayx & ♢Cy)] ⊃ [♢~Cx ⊃ ♢~(∃z)(z=x)]} (18 QN)
20. (∃x) ~{~[♢Cx & ~(∃y)(Ayx & ♢Cy)] ∨ [♢~Cx ⊃ ♢~(∃z)(z=x)]} (19 Impl)
21. (∃x){~~[♢Cx & ~(∃y)(Ayx & ♢Cy)] & ~[♢~Cx ⊃ ♢~(∃z)(z=x)]} (20 DeM)
22. (∃x){[♢Cx & ~(∃y)(Ayx & ♢Cy)] & ~[♢~Cx ⊃ ♢~(∃z)(z=x)]} (21 DN)
23. (∃x){[♢Cx & ~(∃y)(Ayx & ♢Cy)] & ~[~♢~Cx ∨ ♢~(∃z)(z=x)]} (22 Impl)
24. (∃x){[♢Cx & ~(∃y)(Ayx & ♢Cy)] & ~[☐Cx ∨ ♢~(∃z)(z=x)]} (23 ME)
25. (∃x){[♢Cx & ~(∃y)(Ayx & ♢Cy)] & [~☐Cx & ~♢~(∃z)(z=x)]} (24 DeM)
26. (∃x){[♢Cx & ~(∃y)(Ayx & ♢Cy)] & [~☐Cx & ☐(∃z)(z=x)]} (25 ME)
27. [♢Cu & ~(∃y)(Ayu & ♢Cy)] & [~☐Cu & ☐(∃z)(z=u)] (26 EI)
28. ~☐Cu & ☐(∃z)(z=u) (27 Simp)
29. ☐(∃z)(z=u) (28 Simp)
30. [♢Cu & ~(∃y)(Ayu & ♢Cy)] (27 Simp)
31. [♢Cu & ~(∃y)(Ayu & ♢Cy)] & ☐(∃z)(z=u) (29,30 Conj)
32. Θu (31 Def Θ)
33. (∃x)Θx (32 EG)

A Quick Argument against Christian Unitarianism from Love

This hymn sets up some of the themes of my argument, so please listen to it first!

I take Christian Unitarianism to be the conjunction of the positions that Jesus of Narazerth is the Messiah by whose death and resurrection salvation entered the world, and that Jesus of Nazareth is not the same being, substance, or person as God the Father.  Christian Unitarians can take a variety of positions with respect to Christology, e.g. the view that Jesus was fully human and led a sinless life, and was elevated to a divine-like status, that Jesus was an angelic being, Michael for example, who took on flesh, or that Jesus was a lesser deity who existed prior to creation eternally or before creation began, i.e. he was the Logos, which should be construed as a demiurge who acted on behalf of an utterly transcendent higher God.

First, I should motivate some aspects of my premises regarding the nature of God.  Though we cannot understand God fully, I do believe that the Christian God is that being than which none greater can be conceived.  If Christian Unitarians reject that definition, that’s fine, but I also think that the Anselmian God actually exists, and anything that is not this “Anselmian God” is a false god who is unworthy of worship.

Second, 1 John 4:8 tells us that God is love.  Given that the Anselmian God is the greatest conceivable being, and that love is a perfection, it stands to reason that if there is an Anselmian God, that God exemplifies a love than which none greater can be had.  Otherwise, one might easily conceive of a greater God.

So the argument is this:

D1: God is that than which none greater can be conceived. [Anselmian definition]
P1: If God is that than which none greater can be conceived, God exemplifies that love than which none greater can be had.
C1: God exemplifies that love than which none greater can be had. [From D1 & P1 MP]
D2: That love than which none greater can be had is laying down one’s own life for a friend. [Definition from Jn 15:13]
P2: If Christian Unitarianism is true, it is not the case that God exemplifies laying down one’s  own life for a friend.
C2: If Christian Unitarianism is true, it is not the case that God exemplifies that love than which none greater can be had. [From D2 & P2]
C3: Christian Unitarianism is false. [From C1 & C2 DN + MT]

Some possible responses:

1: On Trinitarian Christianity, God did not exemplify that love than which none greater can be had until 33AD. Therefore, God is not the Anselmian God, since a God that has laid down his own life for a friend for a greater amount of time is greater.
R1: God is an eternal and omniscient being. In creating the World, and from His perspective, the Trinitarian God already exemplifies this love for all time. From all time, his sacrifice is exemplified. Temporally, it happened for us on a particular date in history.  Moreover, Christ laid down his life for all, including past humans.  That the act of laying down one’s life for a friend did not happen at the earliest moment of history does not cheapen the act, since an earlier sacrifice would not have been for more “friends.”

2: The Trinitarian God only laid down his life once. One could conceive of a God who lays down his life more times. So the Trinitarian God is not the Anselmian God.
R2: The quantity of times one lays down one’s life is not the issue, but when it is done for a friendship. Christ died that all may be counted as friends. And he did this in friendship and obedience to the other persons of the Trinity. Thus, there is no “friend” for whom Christ could lay down his life a second time. The fallen angels are forever enemies of God by their will, so they are not among the set of possible friends for whom God could lay down his life again.

3: John 15:13 is really about the greatest act of love a human can do, not the greatest act any “one” can do. Or Christ was using hyperbole. Or the act does not include God, who is capable of a higher act of love. Or it is logically impossible for God to exemplify this human act of love.
R3: The Greek in John 15:13 doesn’t limit the case to humans, but just uses the pronouns “οὐδεὶς,” “τις,” and “αὐτοῦ.” These are reasonably translated as “no one,” “one,” and “of him.” So it isn’t clear from the text that the case is limited to human beings. Given that Christ would go on to lay down his life for humanity, it would be strange to think that he was just being hypebolic here. If he were being hyperbolic and there is some greater act of love, what is it? What act of love does God do that would be greater than had he laid down his life for our salvation? The burden would be on the Christian Unitarian to make the case that some other act of love is greater, despite the Scripture. Finally, if it is argued that it is simply logically impossible that God lay down his life for a friend, then this puts the Christian Unitarian in the uncomfortable position of trying to demonstrate that the incarnation is a logical absurdity. Some might take up this task, but it is not an easy task.

With respect to my response to the third objection, I would like to emphasize a couple of other issues. A) It seems to me that one of the beautiful messages of Christianity is this theodicy, if it can be called a theodicy, that doesn’t seek to explain away evil, but says that God entered into this veil of tears too. God humbled himself and experienced evil directly. Christian Unitarianism seems to cheapen this “theodicy” because it tells us that God remains distant and somehow thinks sending someone on his behalf is “good enough.” Relatedly, B) Christian Unitarianism tells us that the death of one sinless human (or semi-divine being) was sufficient to atone for sin. On theories of the atonement, like the satisfaction theory, this cheapens the debt of sin. On Trinitarianism, a divine person of the Holy Trinity, laid down his life for us all. The life of the Second Person of the Holy Trinity is His own. No creature can claim to own his or her life in the same way a divine, necessary, and eternal being can. So, if Christ were just another creature, the offering of his life would be less significant. It would be offering something that, in some sense, belonged to the Father in the same way any other creaturely life belongs to the Father. If the Unitarian chooses to escape this by positing a co-eternal, necessarily existing per se, lesser divinity (polytheism), this conflicts with aseity, which is arguably a great-making property. Also, such a move seems ad hoc, since I don’t think any Christian Unitarians would say that the Logos is per se necessary, i.e. necessarily exists of itself and not by the necessity of the Father (higher God).

There is one last objection that occurs to me (though there may be others):
4: Even if God exemplifies the highest form of love through Christ’s sacrifice, on Trinitarianism, it is only one persons of the Trinity who exemplifies this love. The Father and the Holy Spirit either cannot, or do not exemplify this love.
R4: Being of one substance, God can be said to exemplify this love. And this love is exemplified to a higher degree since one being exemplified it, not merely through one person, but all three. For it is the Father who sent the Son, and it was by the Power of the Holy Spirit that the Son became incarnate. Thus the supreme act of love is one act by one Being who, being multi-personal, stands in different relations to the act. The Father sends the Son, which is the very act by which the Son is sent by the Father. And this is the act by which God so loved the World (Jn 3:16). Whether the Father or the Holy Spirit could have incarnated instead of the Son is an interesting question. But, if my earlier point is correct, it is not a supreme act of love to merely lay down one’s life. So only one of the Persons could have done this if the act was for all “friends.” A second passion via another Person of the Trinity would not affect anything more for God’s friends. So it is not necessary that God exemplify this sacrifice by all Three Persons laying down incarnated lives. Once was sufficient, and all three persons were completely involved in the event, though by different relations.

Thanks to Andrew Terrell for a conversation which helped stimulate some of these thoughts. Though, I should say that any heretical views expressed here are my own.

A Modal Argument Against Naturalism from Transcendentals

For any argument against naturalism, we are going to have to specify the sort of naturalism we are discussing.  Here, my target is a rather broad notion of metaphysical naturalism.  Let’s define the notion in the following way: naturalism is the thesis that reality is exhausted by the natural.[1]  This is, admittedly not an informative definition (and somewhat circular), but it will do the job of being relatively broad for this argument, but not so vacuous as to be uninteresting.  Many contemporary naturalists would assent to the definition, and I, being Catholic, believe that naturalism, so defined, is false.

P1. Naturalism is true just in case “natural” is greater than and includes the combined extensions of terms that name each and every one of the categories into which being may be divided.[2]

P2. “Natural” is greater than and includes the combined extensions of terms that name each and every one of the categories into which being may be divided just in case “natural” is a transcendental that is convertible with “being”.

P3. All terms that are transcendental that are convertible with “being” are necessarily transcendentals that are convertible with “being”.

P4. If naturalism is true, naturalism is contingently true.

P5. If naturalism is contingently true, it is false that “natural” is necessarily a transcendental that is convertible with being.

C1. Therefore, naturalism is false.

The argument is a reductio, as the premises lead to an obvious contradiction if one assumes naturalism is true (i.e. “natural” is necessarily a transcendental that is convertible with “being” and it is false that “natural” is necessarily a transcendental that is convertible with “being”). Given the definition of “transcendental” and the plausibility of P3-P5, naturalism cannot be the case.

There are a few ways the naturalist may object (and why I think they are inadequate objections):

Objection 1: “Natural” is not a transcendental.

Reply to 1: If “natural” is not a transcendental, as defined extensionally, then it is not exhaustive of reality.  Let’s say that reality is composed of everything, all beings.  If “natural” doesn’t exhaust all beings, then there are beings that are not natural.  That, to me, is sufficient to falsify metaphysical naturalism.  So this is not a very good move to make, though it may be a knee-jerk move to make in response to the argument.

Objection 2: There are no transcendentals.  The idea that res, unum, aliquid, bonum, et verum or any other supposed transcendental like “beauty” is convertible with being is a quaint notion from an outmoded era of philosophy and theology when people drank in far too many Hellenistic notions.

Reply to 2: Fine, you dislike older ideas.  But the extensional definition of transcendentals are still be on the table and there is no reason to think that we cannot categorize being, or devise a notion of a term that is universal.  After all, as I suggested in response to the first objection, to say that “natural” exhaust reality is to say something about the universality of “natural” and that its extension would be as broad as “being” or “reality”.  So, it sounds odd to object to there being transcendental terms when naturalism, so defined, depends on it.  Ah, but “naturalism” could be defined in other ways.  That’s true, but those sorts of “naturalisms” are not the target of this argument.  Moreover, I am not too sure that I am opposed to a form of metaphysical naturalism that is too timid to claim that “natural” exhausts “being”.

Objection 3: P3 is false.  There is no reason to think that if some term is convertible with “being”, then it is necessarily so.  It might be contingently convertible with being, especially if “transcendental” is only being defined extensionally.  That is, the transcendentals could merely happen to be convertible with “being”.

Reply to 3: It would seem, then, that we have two sorts of transcendentals: contingent transcendentals that happen to be convertible with “being” and necessary transcendentals that are necessarily convertible with “being”.  So, for instance, if God were actually to exist, there would be a sense in which res, unum, aliquid, bonum, et verum could be applied to God.  But, presumably, if God were to exist, “natural” could not apply to Him.  In other words, were there super-natural beings, “natural” would have a smaller extension than “being” and “natural” would cease to be a transcendental.  Yet, the other named transcendentals are not like this.  No matter what possibilia comes to be, the transcendentals would remain what they are.  It’s just that the actualization of the possibilia means that the actuality is res, unum, aliquid, bonum, et verum.  It seems, then, that the naturalist would be committed to the thesis that “natural” is convertible with “actual”, i.e. everything is actual if and only if it is natural.  But “actuality” is not a transcendental.  Rather, one can divide the various categories of being into act and potency.  In other words, actuality has a smaller extension than any given category and, a fortiori the combined extensions of all the categories of being.  Now the naturalist might quibble and say that any potential or possibility of the non-natural, or supernatural, is itself natural.  But this is not to address the question of whether “natural” is extensive with all potentials and possibilities, but just the actualities in which those potentials and possibilities obtain.

Another issue is that it is rather question-begging to demand that “natural” is one instance of a “contingent transcendental” convertible with being given what actually happens to exist.  Is there another such transcendental? Why are all the other transcendentals necessary and remain transcendentals no matter what happens to be in the world.

Objection 4: P4 is false.  Metaphysical worldviews, if true, are necessarily true.  Thus, if metaphysical naturalism is true, then it is somehow necessarily true.

Reply to 4: This is a rather strong position to take.  For it not only posits that supernatural entities, like souls, and gods, do not exist.  It posits that they cannot exist for metaphysical or broadly logical reasons.  It is not clear to me why this must be the case, and there seems to be good reason to think this is false.  1) Even if it is not supposed that the Anselmian God is metaphysically possible (from which, some would argue, His existence could be demonstrated), a less than maximally great or perfect divinity is plausibly metaphysically possible.  That is, a being that would sufficiently falsify naturalism, even if it is not morally perfect, omniscient, or omnipotent, could exist.  What’s more, if metaphysical naturalism is metaphysically necessary, then it would satisfy the Leibnizian question “why is there something rather than nothing” in much the way classical theists think God satisfies this question.  The classical theist says that God is metaphysically necessary, so not anything existing is impossible.  But the metaphysical naturalist doesn’t seem to make the same move.  Faced with the radical contingency of reality, the metaphysical naturalist usually doesn’t say that since metaphysical naturalism is metaphysical necessary, there must be at least one natural thing in existence.  If nothing were in existence, then nothing natural would exist.  Now a particularly impish naturalist might suggest that, were there nothing in existence, metaphysical naturalism would be true.  That is, one natural configuration of the world is “there not being anything”.  But if there were nothing, it wouldn’t be the case that “natural” exhausts reality.  “Natural” would not be predicated at all.  It would no more “exhaust” reality than “supernatural”.  So there not being anything is not compatible with metaphysical naturalism being true.  So if metaphysical naturalism is necessary, nothing is intrinsically impossible.  Yet, we have no reason to think that if naturalism is true, some natural thing or other must exist.

Objection 5: Okay, metaphysical naturalism is only contingently true, but “natural” is necessarily a transcendental convertible with being anyways.  In other words, P5 is false.

Reply to 5: Well, if there is no possible world where “natural” fails to exhaust “being”, then metaphysical naturalism would be true in every possible world.  Metaphysical naturalism cannot be contingent while it be necessary the everything is natural.  That just is to claim that metaphysical naturalism is true in every possible world (a strong claim to make).

In Sum: If I were a naturalist, I think I would try to argue that some transcendentals are contingent. I don’t think the argument would be very convincing, for the reasons I mentioned.  After that, I think I would want to argue that metaphysical naturalism is necessary.  Remember, it is not enough to simply say that metaphysical naturalism could be necessary. If all of the other premises of my argument are correct, and one wants to maintain metaphysical naturalism as true, one would have to admit that the only way it could be true is if it is metaphysically necessary.  However, I don’t see any good reason to think metaphysical naturalism is metaphysically necessary for the reasons I’ve outlined above.  So, it seems to me that, since “natural” is not a transcendental of “being”, metaphysical naturalism is false.

[1] Papineau, David, “Naturalism”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2009 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/spr2009/entries/naturalism/>.

[2] This is based on an extensional definition of transcendentals offered by Jorge J.E. Gracia. See Jorge J.E. Gracia, 1992, “The Transcendentals in the Middle Ages: An Introduction,” Topoi 11(2): 113–120. Also Wouter Goris and Jan Aertsen, “Medieval Theories of Transcendentals”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2013 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/sum2013/entries/transcendentals-medieval/>

Reasonable Faith’s Presentations of Arguments for God

Reasonable Faith is putting out some well produced, clear, and concise presentations of classic arguments for God’s existence (as William Lane Craig typically develops those arguments).  They are definitely worth a look:

The Kalam Cosmological Argument:

The Argument from Fine Tuning:

The Moral Argument:

It seems that Dr. Craig is putting together videos that defend each one of the arguments he favors for theism.  If so, we should expect a video on the ontological argument, reformed epistemology, the historicity of the resurrection, and perhaps the applicability of mathematics to the universe (a sub-argument from fine-tuning).  At least, I hope to see such videos in the future.  If they come out, I’ll be sure to update the list.

While I don’t consider these videos to be scholarly level presentations that deal with the best objections to the arguments one might find in the literature, they are a good starting point.  They are especially good if one is more of an auditory/visual learner.

I was particularly impressed by the analogy made in the Moral Argument video to explain the response to Euthyphro’s dilemma.  Just to recall, Euthyphro’s dilemma, as it is often put by contemporary philosophers of religion, presents two untoward possibilities: either God commands the good because it is good, or God’s commands are good simply because they are commanded by God.  If it is the former, the good exists independently from God, which not only means that God is not needed to explain objective moral values and duties, but also threatens God’s aseity.  If it is the latter, then the good is arbitrary, since God could have commanded anything and it would be good because of that reason.  In other words, God would have no standard or measure of moral goodness to consider when making His commands, they would simply issue forth and become good because of God’s authority.  Murder, theft, and adultery could have been good if God chose to command them.

The response is to propose a third possibility, since the dilemma does not present perfectly dichotomous options.  Classical theists want to argue that this third option is that God’s nature somehow is the Good.  That is, God’s nature is the standard or measure by which moral values are measured and the commands issued by God are commands issued by the standard of Goodness itself.

The analogy that impressed me was to suggest that God’s nature relates to moral values and duties in the world in a similar way in which a live performance relates to a hi-fidelity recording.  The closer the recording is to capturing the sound of the live performance, the better the recording is.  The live audio is as good as can be.  The recording cannot exceed that standard (without distorting it and not being faithful to the original).  So God’s nature is the living presence of Goodness and all else is measured insofar as it is analogous to God in being good.

An Argument Against Naturalism from the Desire to Know

Aristotle begins his Metaphysics by saying something about human nature, “All men by nature desire to know” (Met. A, 980b22).  If it is by our nature, we might be so bold as to count it among our essential properties.  But, what does it mean to “desire”?  And in particular, what does it mean to desire knowledge? Socrates provides the following account of “desire” in Plato’s Symposium:

Then this is what it is to love something which is not at hand, which the lover does not have: it is to desire the preservation of what he now has in time to come, so that he will have it then… So such a man or anyone else who has a desire desires what is not at hand and not present, what he does not have, and what he is not, and that of which he is in need; for such are the objects of desire and love… (Symposium 200d-e).

If this is so, to desire knowledge is to love something that is not at hand.  It is to want and to keep knowledge.  This also means that to have and to hold knowledge satisfies the desire for it.  Such a situation is reflected in a quote that I saw posted on the blog of a friend and colleague.  The quote is from an article by Lorraine Daston.  The quote is as follows:

Therein lies the paradox of wonder: it is the beginning of inquiry (Descartes remarks that people deficient in wonder “are ordinarily quite ignorant”), but the end of inquiry also puts an end to wonder. The marvel that stopped us in our tracks—an aurora borealis, cognate words in languages separated by continents and centuries, the peacock’s tail—becomes only an apparent marvel once explained. Aesthetic appreciation may linger (it is no accident that the vernacular descendants of the Latin word for wonder, admiratio, convey esteem), but composure has returned. We are delighted but no longer discombobulated; what was once an earthquake of the soul is subdued into an agreeable frisson. At least within the classical philosophical tradition, from Aristotle to Descartes (and arguably beyond, to Adam Smith and even to Kant), this negative correlation between wonder and explanation is strong and tenacious. Explanation lies at the heart of the distinction between marvels and miracles in the Latin Christian tradition. What is the difference? Thomas Aquinas answers: marvels (mirabilia) are inexplicable to most but not all people (e.g. the eclipse that transfixes the ignorant peasant but not the learned astronomer); miracles (miracula) are inexplicable to everyone. Wonder is a barometer of ignorance: the learned experience it rarely; God, never. Wonder is not only a peculiarly human passion; it is also one that, at least on this account, underscores the limits of human knowledge. The more we know, the less we wonder.

Daston’s thesis is actually moves in quite the opposite.  She holds that our understanding of “wonder” has evolved and adapted such that wonder is not snuffed out by knowledge, but is generated by knowledge.  Not to disregard her thesis, but I do want to consider this more ancient notion of wonder for a moment.  As Aristotle tells us that:

…it is owing to their wonder that men both now being and at first began to philosophize; they wondered originally at the obvious difficulties, then advanced little by little and stated difficulties about the greater matters, e.g. about the phenomena of the moon and those of the sun and the stars, and about the genesis of the universe.  And a man who is puzzled and wonders thinks himself ignorant (whence even the lover of myth is in a sense a lover of wisdom, for myth is composed of wonders); therefore since they philosophized in order to escape from ignorance, evidently they were pursuing science in order to know, and not for any utilitarian end (Met. A, 982b11-22).

Now if naturalism is true, then the world may be filled with marvels, perhaps very inexplicable marvels like consciousness, but it is not filled with that which is, in principle, inexplicable for us.  This does not mean that, on naturalism, reality could ever be fully disenchanted.  There seems to be practical limitations that would prevent us from explaining everything.  At the same time, it does mean that the relationship between reality and our minds is such that it is merely accidental that we have the desire to know.  We could, in principle, uncover all of the marvels that exist and satisfy this desire.  In snuffing it out, the desire would cease to exist in us.  So actually having the desire for knowledge would be accidental if everything in existence were knowable for us.  But, if the actuality of desiring knowledge is an essential feature of the human intellect, then there must be some sense in which, in principle, reality is not fully knowable or explicable.  This would be true if there were true supernatural miracles and mysteries. The argument would be as follows:

1.  All humans actually desire knowledge essentially. [Premise]

2. If naturalism is true, then the actuality of human desire for knowledge is accidental. [Premise]

3. If the actuality of human desire for knowledge is accidental, then it is not the case that all humans actually desire knowledge essentially. [Premise]

4. Therefore, it is not the case that naturalism is true.

Now there are a few ways the naturalist could object:

Objection 1: Though naturalism is true, there are some natural mysteries that are unknowable, intractable, or inexplicable in principle. For instance, we may not be able to know or understand why there is something rather than nothing. We might not be able to know if there is a multiverse, or what occurred before the big bang. We might not be able to explain consciousness. We might not be able to fully explain those soft sciences that involve human behavior (owing to human freedom, or chaos, or indeterminism).

Reply to 1: It seems to me that if there are per se mysterious features of reality, there is no reason to be a naturalist. I take naturalism to be the claim that all of reality can be accounted for by the natural sciences. If certain aspects of reality are not merely really difficult to account for by natural scientific methodology, but intrinsically and essentially beyond the scope of the natural sciences, then I would say that metaphysical naturalism is a failure (or just a vacuous metaphysical position).

Objection 2: One could bite the bullet and say that humans don’t actually desire knowledge in an essential way. It is merely an accidental property of our mental constitution. Perhaps the capacity to desire knowledge is essential to humans, but not the actuality.

Reply to 2: This seems like a more powerful objection than the first. Humans satisfy desires all the time. In fact, there is a famous argument from desire put forth by C.S. Lewis, which argues that all natural desires have an object in reality that can satisfy their desires. So it might seem that the existence of the humanly unknowable or inexplicable contradicts this premise. However, the argument from desire does not hold that all desires are satisfied. The hungry child who is a victim of famine may never get the food that satisfies her, though such food exists. There may be knowledge that exists, say in the mind of an omniscient God, that we desire, but can never possess (due to our natural limitations). So the fact that we cannot completely satisfy our desire for knowledge, and that all natural desires have corresponding objects, does not mean that there is nothing to know when it comes to the truly miraculous or mysterious.

Now one might say that nothing really is truly miraculous or mysterious. We can, in principle, explain everything naturally, we are just limited by time and other pressing needs. And one might even be willing to grant that humans possess the capacity to desire wisdom in an essential way (the potential/power to desire knowledge), but that capacity can be fulfilled in the following way: we actually desire knowledge when we are actually ignorant and potentially in a state of knowledge. When we change to a state of potentially desiring knowledge, we are actually in a state of knowledge and are potentially ignorant. We could, in principle, be in a state of potentially desiring all knowledge, if we can be in a state of actually knowing all things (potentially ignorant). So this objection amounts to the claim that we humans have the capacity for omniscience essentially (perhaps as a collective and through various mediums of storing knowledge).

I find this response too strong. I don’t think any naturalist would want to hold it either. Ultimately, I think the idea that humans will always be in some actual state of desire for knowledge rests on a certain intuition about the relationship between the human capacity for knowledge and the way reality is. My intuition is that not everything can be known by us. And this, to me, stands in the way of metaphysical naturalism. For what else is the naturalist claiming than that reality falls completely under the genus “natural”. And so reality can be completely defined and comprehended by our intellects. If this is not the naturalist’s claim, then I am not sure what naturalism is supposed to be (at times I suspect it really is just the denial of souls and God, but that is not a positive metaphysical position).

One might point out that we don’t always actually desire knowledge (small babies, the sleeping, etc.). Furthermore, some desire knowledge more than others. Doesn’t this indicate that, while the capacity to desire knowledge may be essential, the actuality of that desire can change and is accidental to our circumstances and personal dispositions. A response might be to consider Aristotle’s musical man. In a sense, one can argue that all humans, sleeping, and even the very young, have a natural desire to know is a first actuality insofar as one has an intellect that is always deprived of knowledge that it desires to have. The second actuality might be something like the active awareness of that desire, which motivates one’s investigations. Even the very young explore their world with their eyes, hands, and mouth. So, I don’t think it is the case that even the very young escape this state.

Socrates Meets Jesus the Play

[H/T: Tim McGrew] A play adapted from Peter Kreeft’s Socrates Meets Jesus.  The performance takes place at my alma mater, Assumption College.

Funny “I’m So Catholic” Parody of “I’m So Fancy”

This was all over my Facebook feed.  Pretty funny!

Enjoy:

2014 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 5,500 times in 2014. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 5 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Intelligibility, Information, and Beauty

What is information?  Information expresses something.  It is intentional and so not random, right?  A Youtube collaboration between VSauce and Veritasium presents an interesting argument that information is random, or rather, entropy:

But is that right?  Information is random?  If so, wouldn’t it be unintelligible?

When transmitting information, you can compress all that which is a pattern or predictable.  This means that whatever cannot be reduced or compressed is pure information.  At the same time, pure information without pattern and order is meaningless.  It is just white noise.  So it seems that intelligibility is not the same thing as information, at least when it is defined as entropy (as it is in this information theory).  Meaning emerges from patterns of information.  The random must be ordered and patterned in ways that we can decode and understand.  So intelligibility or meaning is the confluence of information and order.

The video makes the neat point that our scientific theories are really just attempts to compress the information we find in nature.  It is interesting to note that scientists often prefer theories and equations that are described as “elegant” or “beautiful”.  In certain sense, the idea that intelligibility, or meaning, emerges from patterns of random information can help us to understand why we find these compressions beautiful.

In an earlier post, I had defended the beauty of the Trinitarian God over unitarian gods on the grounds that the Trinity has both unity and distinction, i.e. a simple unified divine substance that is three distinct persons.  I argued that we can objectively define that which is beautiful as that which is unified, harmonious, and ordered while admitting distinctions.

If information is maxim entropy, it contains an irreducible unity.  That unity of information becomes intelligible when it is ordered into patterns and brought into harmony with other bits of information.  It becomes meaningful.  So whatever is intelligible is inherently beautiful.  Thus, there may be something metaphysical underlying the idea that a scientifically true formula or equation is objectively “elegant” or “beautiful”.  We find that it is “elegant” or “beautiful” because it is a simple unity, yet it has the power to explain a wide variety of our data by revealing patterns.  The more unified and simple an equation is, and the greater amount of distinct phenomena it captures, the more beautiful it is.  This also hints at the fundamental unity between objective truth and beauty, which I believe we find in nature as a reflection of what is fundamental to the Godhead.

How is this fundamental to the Godhead? If God is Being itself, or Being must truly, then God must be perfect, simple, and irreducible.  Whatever is perfect in Being must be truly Good, and indeed, the Father is Good. Goodness is opposed to ignorance, as ignorance is a source of evil, so if the Father is Good, he must know His own Nature, and so must be thought thinking itself.  Since the Divine Substance is absolutely simple, the Father cannot abstract a genus or species to comprehend His Nature propositionally.  Instead, He must comprehend or grasp the Divine Nature Itself in a concrete way, or else He grasps nothing.  And in doing this, conceives of the Divine Substance distinctly from the One who is conceiving.  If God’s knowledge is accurate, he must conceive of the same exact concrete Substance that He is.  So his eternal conception of the Divine Substance is the same substance that He is, it is the grasp of the Truth of God’s Goodness.  And we call this eternal conception, or this eternally begotten grasp of the Divine Substance, the Son, who is the Truth itself.  As the Father knows the Divine Substance, the Divine Substance is essentially intelligible to the Father.  There is a distinction between knower and known and a pattern of sameness that makes the Divine Substance knowable to itself.  Thus, Beauty is intrinsic to Divine Substance in its self-intelligibility.  Since Beauty is that which is desirable in itself, the Will of God is directed towards the Divine Substance.  So another relationship exists between God’s Will and the Divine Substance, which is desirable because of the intrinsic beauty of the Divine Substance as a Self-Intelligible unity.  So the Divine Substance, which is the object of the Divine Will, proceeds from the Father (as Knower) and the Son (as Known), and must be distinct from these Two.  We call the object of the Divine Will, which is God, the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit is true Beauty.  And so there is a Trinity of Persons that is the Godhead.

If the Divine Substance is Being itself, it is also the representative of the transcendentals of Being: Goodness, Truth, and Beauty.  Interestingly, those three transcendentals are convertible with Being but remain distinct from one another.  So we find that the Persons of the Trinity are convertible with God, but are distinct from one another.  This is not to say that the Son is not Good or Beautiful, or that the Holy Spirit is not True or Good.  Rather, I am saying that the Persons of the Trinity relate to one another in terms of Goodness, Truth, and Beauty.  But they are far more than these transcendentals.  I think it is a helpful way of understanding the relationships among the Persons in the ontological structure of their relationships (unbeggotten, begotten, and proceeding). The relationship among the Persons of the Trinity and the Divine Substance is ultimately mysterious, but an analogy to the trinity of transcendentals is a helpful image to have in mind.

Of course, whenever I reflect on the Trinity, I fear that I might stumble into heresy.  Nonetheless, I am drawn to thinking about it, like a moth to the flame.  How could I not?  There is nothing more mysterious, more beautiful, and more true.  So, if my comments are in error, I humbly submit them as a mere reflection that is subject to revision.

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