Category Archives: News

Article in Sci Phi Journal: Issue #1

Sci Phi Journal: Issue #1 is out in ebook format on Amazon and Smashwords.  Here is the description:

Sci Phi is an online science fiction and philosophy magazine. In each issue you will find stories that explore questions of life, the universe and everything and articles that delve into the deep philosophical waters of science fiction universes.

This month we have,

An original Novellete from author John C. Wright, The Ideal Machine, a tale of aliens from a distant star come to visit an old country church and offer our world a chance for the future.

Original Science Fiction stories from
Joshua M. Young – Domo – A story of a Robot who wonders if he has a soul
David Hallquist – Falling To Eternity – Can a Blackhole help you get away with murder?
Frederick Best – Cosmic Foam – What is beyond the visible world
Jane Lebak – Abandoned River, Dry Water – What do you do when life throws you a curve ball?

Original Essays by
David Kyle Johnson – In Defense of the Matrix Saga: Appreciating the Sequel through Philosophy
James Druley – Star Trek’s Prime Directive : Moral Guidelines, Exceptions and Absolutes
Stephen S. Hanson – Personhood in H.Beam Piper’s Little Fuzzy
Daniel Vecchio – “I am Groot”: An Aristotelian Reflection on Space Aliens and Substance
Ruth Tallman – Endangered Species: Exploring Transhumanism, Genetic Engineering and Personhood Through the World of Sweet Tooth

And a book review by Peter Sean Bradley, Monster Hunter International by Larry Correia.

I’m very excited to be a part of this first edition along side some great philosophers and science-fiction writers.  My article, “‘I am Groot’: An Aristotelian Reflection on Space Aliens and Substance”, is a popular level piece that uses the characters from the blockbuster smash hit, Guardians of the Galaxy, as a springboard to explain the Aristotelian notion of substance.  I consider the peculiar case of Groot, a sentient and lovable humanoid plant, and also whether an artificial life form like Rocket Raccoon could be considered a substance.  There are some spoilers, so I recommend that you check out the film first, if you plan on seeing it at all.  Also, I recommend the movie.  It’s a lot of fun and has an excellent soundtrack.  Nonetheless, I think you will be able to appreciate the article even if you are not familiar with Guardians of the Galaxy.

I haven’t had a chance to read the other short story and article contributions.  Once I have a chunk of my dissertation completed, I am hoping to take a moment to read the issue under a palm tree in my local park.  So, if you are looking for some fun and thought provoking reading materials for those crisp autumn evenings, take a look.  And please consider leaving a kind review! :-D

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The Sacred and the Sacrilegious: the Real Presence and a Black Mass

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I was very disheartened to learn that a Satanic group has managed to get their hands on a consecrated host and planned to desecrate it during a black mass service in Oklahoma this September.  Supposedly the latest news is that the Satanists have returned the Host and the Archbishop has dropped his suit:

The lawsuit was ultimately resolved this week without having to go to court, as Daniels agreed on Thursday to return the wafers in exchange for the lawsuit being dropped. But the incident is still noteworthy, as it is but the latest in a growing number of “tests” to America’s understanding of religious liberty, and questions linger about what action, if any, police would have taken had the suit been put before a judge (J. Jenkins August 24, 2014: How Satanists are Testing the Limits of Religious Freedom in Oklahoma, Think Progress).

Of course, the Black Mass is still moving forward, and who really knows if they actually returned the consecrated Host.  Perhaps equally infuriating is how breathless some in the secular left have become over recent rather brazen activities of the Satanists: see here, here, and  here.  They see the Satanists as joining the cause of protecting the separation between Church and State.

One thing to note is that when Satanists really want to offend and commit blasphemy, the target is almost always the Catholic Church. Now there may be historical reasons that they target the Catholic Mass to blaspheme, but to those who believe that they are influenced by demonic forces, it should, perhaps ironically, stand as a witness to the sacredness of the Holy Mass.

Those who believe that Catholics are, themselves, guilty of a grave sacrilege by the sacrifice of the Mass must wonder why Satanists are drawn to make a sacrilege out of a sacrilege. One answer is that Satanists are merely interested in mocking and ridiculing that which others take to be sacred.  So the issue is not whether the Mass is objectively sacred, but whether it is taken to be sacred by a significant number of people. If so, I think this would strongly count against the position that Satanists are influenced by the demonic in these matters. For, why would the demonic waste its time trying to get people to make a sacrilege out of a sacrilege?

I mentioned to my friend, Joel, that the devil would have no interest in mocking a Catholic Mass if it truly were a sacrilege, since he would be pleased by the fine job we are doing ourselves. There is no point in making a blasphemy of a blasphemy, since the devil might as well direct his Satanists to follow the Catholic faith as an effective and idolatrous way to imperil their souls. Joel made the interesting connection to Christ’s claim that a house divided cannot stand:

Then a demon-oppressed man who was blind and mute was brought to him, and he healed him, so that the man spoke and saw. And all the people were amazed, and said, “Can this be the Son of David?” 2But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.” Knowing their thoughts, he said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand. And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand?  And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you (Mt 12:22-28 ESV).

If Satan directs people to mock that which are a sacrilege to God, then he seems to be divided against himself. So here, we find something of an argument for the Real Presence of the Eucharist, and the sacredness of the Catholic Mass. Here is my reasoning:

  1. If the Real Presence of the Eucharist is a false doctrine, then the Catholic Mass is a form of idolatry, sacrilege, and blaspheme (premise).
  2. The Catholic Mass is a form of idolatry, sacrilege, and blasphemy, and Satanists are directed by Satan to mock and blaspheme the Mass, only if Satan is divided against himself (premise).
  3. If Satan is divided against himself, his kingdom will not stand (premise).
  4. Satan’s kingdom will stand (premise).1
  5. Satan is not divided against himself (from 3 and 4).
  6. It is not both the case that the Catholic Mass is a form of idolatry, sacrilege, and blasphemy, and Satanists are directed by Satan to mock and blaspheme the Mass (from 2 and 5).

Now, given that I think that there are demonic forces in this world, I think it is reasonable that those who invoke the very name of Satan, Satanists, are influenced by him with regard to their Black Mass in its form and ritual. I think this is so, even if they explicitly claim to be atheist or reject the supernatural.  One may still be influenced by the demonic even if one claims not to believe in it.  So:

  1. Satanists are directed by Satan to mock and blaspheme the Mass (premise).

So,

  1. It is not the case that the Catholic Mass is a form of idolatry, sacrilege, and blasphemy (from 6 and 7).

Therefore,

  1. The Real Presence of the Eucharist is a true doctrine (from 1 and 8).

I pray that this group repents and finds more productive ways to fight for religious freedom and tolerance in this country.  I hope they find their way back to God.
[Update 9/7/2014]: Eye of the Tiber, a satirical site, makes an insightful point that relates to my reflection.  We just don’t see Satanists mocking denominations that take the Eucharistic meal to be a symbolic ordinance.

PAX

 

1Satan is said to have dominion over the Earth for the time being. His kingdom, though evil, is clearly not divided against itself, if Christ’s enthymeme has any merit.

A Cool Site

I’ve just discovered this cool website: Strange Notions

They feature content from some of my favorite Catholic philosophers, including Edward Feser and Peter Kreeft.

SEP update on Medieval Theories of Modality

There have been some important updates to the SEP entry “Medieval Theories of Modality” by Simo Knuuttila. Here is an excerpt pertaining to my interests in the contemporary analysis of Aristotle:

There are several recent works on Aristotle’s modal syllogistics, but no generally accepted historical reconstruction which would make it a coherent theory. It was apparently based on various assumptions which were not fully compatible (Hintikka 1973, Striker 2009). Some commentators have been interested in finding coherent layers of the theory by explicating them in terms of Aristotle’s other views (van Rijen 1989; Patterson 1995). There are also several formal reconstructions such as Rini 2010 (modern predicate logic), Ebert and Nortmann 2007 (possible worlds semantics), various set-theoretical approaches discussed in Johnson 2004, and Malink 2006 (mereological semantics).

I’m going to take a closer look at Striker’s position, as I am not convinced that Aristotle’s modal syllogistic is based on assumptions that are “not fully compatible”. I think the issue is one of getting clear on Aristotle’s metaphysics at the time that the Prior Analytics were composed, and to realize that some of those metaphysical presuppositions did not remain constant as Aristotle went on to work on De Caelo and Metaphysics. I like Malink’s approach of using the Topics in order to understand what is going on. Perhaps a post or two dedicated to the “Two Barbaras” problem is in order!

New Articles on SEP

I have not been updating as often as I would like.  My program is kicking my butt, which is a good thing.  But I thought I would link to some interesting new and revised articles on SEP:

 

Pascal’s Wager

“Pascal’s Wager” is the name given to an argument due to Blaise Pascal for believing, or for at least taking steps to believe, in God. The name is somewhat misleading, for in a single paragraph of his Pensées, Pascal apparently presents at least three such arguments, each of which might be called a ‘wager’ — it is only the final of these that is traditionally referred to as “Pascal’s Wager”. We find in it the extraordinary confluence of several important strands of thought: the justification of theism; probability theory and decision theory, used here for almost the first time in history; pragmatism; voluntarism (the thesis that belief is a matter of the will); and the use of the concept of infinity (Hájek 2012).

The Theology of Aristotle

In the ninth century, Plotinus was translated into Arabic. Long sections of this translation went under the title Theology of Aristotle. The attribution of the work to Aristotle helped the text to become an influential source of Neoplatonic ideas in the Arabic-speaking world. But the Arabic Plotinus materials are important not only as a conduit for Plotinus’ ideas; they also differ on numerous points from their ultimate source. Thus the Theology, along with other texts derived from the Arabic version of Plotinus, in fact constitute an interpretation of Plotinus’ thought, and not just a translation. The Theology in turn becomes the chief text conveying Plotinian ideas to the Arabic-speaking tradition (Adamson 2012).

Update and a Cool APP

This post varies from my usual content, but I thought I’d spread the word about an App that I enjoy.  It turns shopping (which I hate) into a scavenger hunt.  And the points that you earn can be traded in for free gift cards to places like Target, Starbucks, and CVS.  I’ve already earned a few gift cards and saved some money!  The App is called ShopKick.  Sign up through my link, and we both earn points towards some rewards.

In other news, I’ve passed my DQEs, so I hope to devote more time to developing content for this blog.  It’s been a hard summer of study, but I’ve survived.  More  work on the Meta Modal Argument needs to be done.  I’ll also be spending some time working on my defeater for the problem of evil/divine hiddeness.  I’ll also be dedicating some space on this blog towards my interest in Aristotle’s Modal Syllogistic.  So stay tuned!

And while you are waiting for more original content, consider following me on Twitter.  Don’t worry I won’t flood your feed with tweets, but I do send out links to articles, quotes, and other interesting items from time to time.

Cheers!

Short Necessary Being Quiz

Skeptical of whether there is a concrete necessary being?  Take this quick quiz put together by Joshua Rasmussen to find out whether you are committed to such a belief  [H/T Czar Bernstein].

Don’t worry, you won’t be graded!

Oh, and let me know of your results via comments.  Did the quiz change your position?  If not, why not?

Start here: The Necessary Being Interactive Survey

Tolle Lege: Essays on Augustine and Medieval Philosophy in Honor of Roland J. Teske, SJ

Tolle Lege: Essays on Augustine and Medieval Philosophy in Honor of Roland J. Teske, SJ is now available at Amazon.  I had a small hand in the editing process of this Festschrift, so I thought I would spread the word about it.

There are some really great essays in this collection!

Description from Amazon:

With his clear and accessible prose, impeccable scholarship, and balanced
Judgment, Roland Teske, SJ, has been an influential and important voice in
Medieval philosophy for more than thirty years. This volume, in his honor, brings together more than a dozen essays on central metaphysical and theological themes in Augustine and other medieval thinkers. The authors, listed below, are noted scholars who draw upon Teskes work, reflect on it, go beyond it, and at times even disagree with it, but always in a spirit of respectful co-operation, and always with the aim of getting at the truth.

Essays on Augustine contributed by Gerald Bonner, Charles Brittain, Joseph Koterski, SJ, Joseph T. Lienhard, SJ, David Vincent Meconi, SJ, Ann A. Pang-White, Frederick Van Fleteren, Dorothea Weber, and James Wetzel. Essays on Bernard of Clairvaux, William of Auvergne, and other medieval themes contributed by John P. Doyle, William Harmless, SJ, John A. Laumakis, Edward P. Mahoney, and Philipp W. Rosemann.

If you have an interest in Augustine or Medieval Philosophy, I recommend it!

The Ultimate Concession?

Sadly, another atheist has decided not to debate Dr. William Lane Craig on the question of God’s existence.  In preparation for her debate with Craig, Polly Toynbee began to study some of his previous debates.  Soon after, she decided that she did not want to go through with the engagement scheduled for this October.  Hopefully there will be more information  as to why Toynbee backed out.   One wonders what it was about Craig’s previous debates that led Toynbee to her decision to back out two months before the event.

From Ed Thornton, August 12, 2011. “Atheists Decline Oxford Debate on God”, Church Times (H/T UnbelievableJB):

ATHEIST philosophers are being accused of “running shy” of debating with a Christian philosopher from the United States who is to tour the UK in the autumn to argue that faith is rational.

Polly Toynbee, the Guardian columnist and president of the British Humanist Association, had agreed to debate the existence of God with the Research Professor of Philosophy at the Talbot School of Theology, California, Dr William Lane Craig, at Westminster Central Hall in October, during Professor Craig’s “Reasonable Faith” tour. Earlier this month, however, Ms Toynbee said that she would not be taking part in the event. “I hadn’t realised the nature of Mr Lane Craig’s debating style, and, having now looked at his previous per­formances, this is not my kind of forum.” Professor Craig said: “These are academic forums, where one con­centrates on the arguments and counter-arguments, the truth of the premises in those arguments and objections to them, and not on personality or ad hominem attacks.” Professor Craig has previously debated with atheist philosophers such as Christopher Hitchens, and Sam Harris, who described Professor Craig as “the one Christian apologist who has put the fear of God into many of my fellow atheists”. The humanist philosopher Pro­fessor A. C. Grayling also refused to debate with Professor Craig, and denied ever having done so, despite the debate between the two on the problem of evil at the Oxford Union in 2005. Professor Grayling later said: “I was wrong about debating [with] Lane Craig — but Lane Craig is wrong about everything else in the universe; so I guess I don’t do too badly in the deal.” The director of Professor Craig’s tour, Peter May, said: “If Craig is ‘wrong about everything else in the universe’ and his arguments for the existence of God are so easy to refute, it is hard to see why the leading atheist voices in the country are running shy of having a debate with him. “Rather than hurling ad hom­inem attacks on Craig from their bunkers, it would be good to see these figures come forward to rationally defend the atheism they publicly espouse.” Professor Craig is scheduled to debate with the atheist former Pro­fessor of Chemistry at the University of Oxford, Dr Peter Atkins, at the Uni­versity of Manchester; and with another atheist, the Professor of Philosophy at Hertford College, Oxford University, Peter Millican, at the University of Birmingham. Professor Richard Dawkins has been invited to debate with Professor Craig in Oxford, on 25 October. If Professor Dawkins refuses, the organisers say that Professor Craig “will lecture on the weakness of Dawkins’s argu­ments in his book The God Delusion”. The organisers of the tour say that they are attempting to find another atheist to debate with Professor Craig in London, instead of Ms Toynbee.

Many atheists and theists agree that William Lane Craig is among the greatest Christian apologists and debaters of our generation.  He has effectively won nearly every debate with just a few exceptions. Just listen to a few of his debates and you will soon discover that Craig is impeccably organized, methodical, and focused like a laser.  He rarely lets an argument go unchallenged, while his opponent often offer only superficial responses to Craig’s syllogisms.  So if the “New Atheists” no longer will engage with Craig, are they making some kind of concession? We will have to see if other “New Atheists” will follow in the footsteps of Dawkins and Toynbee.  In the meantime, I look forward to the Atkins and Millican debates when they become available.  I hope to write up a review of them, if they don’t back out too.

On a lighter note:

[Update 8/16/2011]  Stephen Law has stepped up to the plate and will debate William Lane Craig!  Hats off to Law for having the courage and conviction that Dawkins, Grayling, and Toynbee seem to lack.

Fish at it again

Stanley Fish is at it again.  Last week, I wrote a critique of Fish’s argument that philosophy does not matter (here).  I point out that Fish demonstrates a lack of understanding of what relativism is–confusing it with a kind of moral agnosticism.  I also gave some counter-examples for why I think philosophy  matters.  Apparently I was not the only one who took issue with Fish.  He received enough negative comments that he felt the need to defend himself in the Opinionator this week.  I’d like to address his rebuttal, in particular his comments on religion and philosophy.  One of Fish’s commentators noted that religion is often inextricably linked with philosophical views and that such religious belies do travel into the everyday lives of those believes.  Fish disagrees.  The relevant section appears below.

Stanley Fish, Does Philosophy Matter? (Part 2), August 8, 2011

Excerpt:

. . . Believers, Marie Burns  (1) observes,  do rely on  their religion “to determine their views on a variety of subjects.” Many people, An Ordinary American (140) reminds us,  when asked why do you do this, would reply, “This is what my religion teaches me to do.”

The question is whether religion should be considered philosophy. For a long time, of course, philosophy was included under religion’s umbrella, not in the modern sense that leads to courses like “The Philosophy of Religion,” but in the deeper sense in which religious doctrines are accepted as foundational and philosophy proceeds within them. But for contemporary philosophers religious doctrines are not part of the enterprise but a threat to it. The spirit is as  Andrew Tyler (38) describes it:  “to be skeptical, critical and independent so that you’re not so easily duped and frightened into submission by religious dogma.” Courses in the philosophy of religion tacitly subordinate religion to philosophy by subjecting religion to philosophy’s questions and standards. Strong religious believers will resist any such subordination because, for them, religious, not philosophical, imperatives trump. The reason religion can and does serve as a normative guide to behavior is that it is not a form of philosophy, but a system of belief  that binds the believer.  (Philosophy is something you can do occasionally, religion is not.)

But aren’t beliefs and philosophies the same things? No they’re not. Beliefs such as “I believe that life  should not be taken” or “I believe in giving the other fellow the benefit of  the doubt” or “I believe  in the equality of men and women” or “I believe in turning the other cheek” are at least the partial springs of our actions and are often regarded by those who hold them as moral absolutes; no exceptions recognized. These, however, are particular beliefs which can be arrived at for any number of reasons, including things your mother told you, the reading of a powerful book, the authority of a respected  teacher, an affecting experience that you have generalized into a maxim  (“From now on I’ll speak ill of no one.”).

A belief in moral absolutes, as an abstract position, is quite another thing. It affirms no particular moral absolute (although it might lead down the road to naming some); rather, it asserts that the category of moral absolutes is full; and it does so against the arguments of those who assert that the category is empty, not with respect  to any particular moral absolute, but generally. Wherever one stands at the end of a such a philosophical argument  one will be committed not to any specific moral  stance (like turning the other cheek) but either to the thesis, again abstract,  that  moral stances are  anchored in and justified by an underlying truth about the nature of moral behavior or to the thesis that they are not.

There are a couple of points  with which I take issue here.  First, Fish tries to stipulate his way out of Marie Burns’ observation by creating a false dichotomy between religion and contemporary philosophy.  But isn’t it true that contemporary philosophy, if it has anything to do with religion, subjugates it to a critical analysis?  While it certainly is the case that some philosophers of religion are skeptical of religious doctrines, we cannot conclude from this that contemporary philosophy as a whole is antithetical to religiously based philosophical speculations.  Many philosophers of religion start with metaphysical and religious presuppositions (gasp).  I would like to assure Dr. Fish that Natural Theology is alive and well in the modern era.  Also there are the Eastern philosophical systems, many of which are inextricable tied up with metaphysical theses originating in the Vedic religious systems, Taoism, and Confucianism.  It should also be noted that many philosophers who are critical of religion are just as susceptible to having unproven metaphysical presuppositions in their writings.  This can hardly be avoided.  But, if a philosopher is open and honest that they are starting from those presuppositions, his or her arguments do not suffer for it.  It is the philosopher who pretends to be absolutely skeptical of whom we should be skeptical.  Take a careful look and you will find metaphysical naturalism, compatiblism, Platonism, nominalism, or some other exotic axiom lurking enthymematically between the lines.

Fish would like us to think that contemporary philosophy is nothing more than a meaningless chess-game, where the victor is the one who places her opponent’s cherished beliefs in checkmate.  Sure, if one thinks philosophy is just about being skeptical, one might be led to the conclusion that philosophy doesn’t travel.  But, at the end of the day we either move beyond skepticism or we won’t travel at all!  The skeptic is stuck in the mud of doubt.  But not every philosopher is a skeptical stick-in-the-mud.  In fact, most aren’t.  This is because philosophers are free to take any presuppositions they want for their starting points.  There is no rule that says one must start with only those premises that one knows to be true without any doubt.  Descartes tried it and has since become the philosophical whipping boy for his attempt.  Rather than Descartes, we should follow the example of Kant– one of the undisputed greatest philosopher of all time who leaves skepticism behind in order to make significant contributions to moral theory. In order for him to do this, Kant had to move beyond what he thought he could prove with theoretical reason.  So, what he could not prove, he postulates.  Kant’s entire moral system is built on the presumption that God exists, there is freedom, and the soul is immortal.  Without these three postulates of practical reasoning, Kant would not have been able to move much beyond his first critique.  So, philosophy doesn’t subjugate every belief.  Rather, it is a belief that is the touchstone for some insightful philosophical reflection.  Obviously some of these touchstone beliefs are religious in nature.

The second issue I have with Fish’s response has to do with the way in which he tries to separate beliefs from philosophy.  He admits that particular beliefs can be arrived at for many reasons, but it does not appear as though he is willing to explicitly admit the obvious: that particular beliefs can and often are deduced from higher and more abstract principles and that often these principles are based upon entire philosophical systems.  Philosophy does travel.  It travels up through induction, and down through deduction.  It travels sideways by analogy.  Sometimes philosophy even takes great leaps through abduction.  All the while, general principles are distilled  into particular beliefs and particular beliefs are promulgated into particular actions.

Sorry Fish, philosophy still matters.

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