Tag Archive | Philosophy

Proving a Negative

In this post, I’m going to attempt to prove a negative:

1) P → Q

2) ¬Q

3) ∴ ¬P

Wow…that was easy. I wonder if I can take it one step further, and prove a universal negative? Hang on to your hats, cause this one is tricky:

1) ∀xPx → ∀xQx

2) ¬∀xQx

3) ∴ ¬∀xPx

Quod Erat Demonstratum.

The New Atheism and Philosophy of Religion

Philosopher Helen DeCruz has recently posted on Prosblogion an analysis of a survey conducted on how various groups rate the strength of arguments for atheism. Most of the results aren’t very surprising (atheists rate arguments for atheism higher than theists, agnostics are somewhere in the middle); but one thing stood out to me when I was reviewing the analysis. Check out this data:

Argument from inconsistent revelations – no difference in rating between philosophers of religion (PoR) and participants who are not philosophers of religion (non-PoR)

Argument from poor design – also no difference

Argument from evil – also no difference

Argument from divine hiddenness – PoR 1.54 times more likely than non-PoR to rate it as “strong” vs. “neutral”, “weak”, or “very weak”.

Argument from parsimony – non-PoR 1.82 times as likely than PoR to rate it as “strong” vs. “neutral”, “weak”, or “very weak”.

Pragmatic argument – non-PoR 2.26 times as likely than PoR to rate it as “strong” vs. “neutral,” “weak” or “very weak”.

Argument from incoherence – non-PoR 1.76 times as likely than PoR to rate it as “strong” vs. “neutral,” “weak” or “very weak”.

Argument from lack of evidence – non-PoR 1.64 times as likely than PoR to rate it “more favorably”.

I found these results quite interesting, as I consider the arguments rated more highly by non-PoR’s to all be weak at best. The arguments rated more highly by non-PoR’s are also the arguments commonly used by many  new atheists.

The even more interesting thing is this: the survey was originally posted on Prosblogion (I’m not sure if it was also posted anywhere else, though), which has many theist readers – readers which would be unlikely to rate these non-PoR favored arguments as “strong” (even if they are non-PoR’s). So I suspect that a poll of only atheist non-PoR’s would show that they rate these arguments even higher than this, perhaps at 3.00 or even 4.00 over atheist PoR’s.

I.D., Cosmological Arguments, and Epistemic Tension

Some proponents of Intelligent Design claim that it is not inherently theistic. Here I argue that Intelligent Design probably reduces to theism given defenses of cosmological arguments, and that any attempts to avoid a reduction to theism do not work; and thus I.D. is not on identical methodological footing with naturalistic evolution. I further argue that a proponent of both nontheistic Intelligent Design and most cosmological arguments must drop one of these things to avoid epistemic tension. I do not argue here that either Intelligent Design or naturalistic evolution is likely true or false, that one methodology should be preferred to the other, or that we should be neutral with respect to methodology*.

Consider the following thesis of Intelligent Design:

ID1: The cause of the first life (self-replicating organism) on Earth is best explained by Intelligent Design.

If true, this conception of I.D. implies that the first life was caused by some sort of intelligence not originating on Earth. This alone is not necessarily theistic, but if I.D. best explains life on Earth, what best explains life not on Earth? Maybe it’s some form of intelligence (aliens, A.I.) that arose naturally elsewhere in the universe. But then we must ask, what best explains that?

The reasoning behind I.D. is that life is best explained by intelligence because of information content in the genome, specified complexity, or something similar. This hypothetical otherworldly life would almost certainly also exhibit these traits. So I.D. must explain that as well.

This move can be made for every natural form of life in the universe: earth life to alien life 1, alien life 1 to alien life 2, etc. But once these jumps are exhausted, and all natural life is accounted for via a natural intelligent agent(s), the only place left to go is to the supernatural.

This again does not necessarily imply theism; there are several possible moves here. One is an appeal to abstract objects as a cause of an intelligent agent. But this has implications for the cosmological argument. William Lane Craig, in responding to some objections to his Kalam cosmological argument, argues that abstract objects are distinguished from concrete objects by their inability to stand in causal relations[1]. If this response to objections is dropped, then it is a trivial matter to object to the KCA by positing an abstract object as the cause of the universe. If it is not dropped, then an appeal to an abstract object as the cause of the first life in the universe cannot be made.

Another possible move to “save” I.D. from theism is to posit a contingent supernatural intelligence (i.e. an angel, a ghost, etc.) But this has implications for liebnizian and thomistic cosmological arguments, which require causal principles that state every contingent thing or instance of coming into existence must have a cause.[2] If this principle is accepted, these arguments conclude that there must be a god. To drop this for the sake of non-theistic I.D. means that such arguments don’t go through.

A further concern for positing either abstract objects or a contingent supernatural intelligence is that they are ad hoc – they are being posited solely to “save” nontheistic I.D., and have no other basis. This has implications for Robin Collins’ fine tuning argument. His argument relies on a restricted version of the Likelihood Principle (“an observation e counts as evidence in favor of hypothesis h1 over h2 if the observation is more probable under h1 than h2”), which adds that LP can only be applied to cases where a hypothesis is not ad hoc.[3]

In conclusion, nontheistic Intelligent Design has no viable options for explaining the first life in the universe which to not also undercut various cosmological or fine tuning arguments for God; thus there is epistemic tension between positing both a nontheistic Intelligent Design and such arguments; and perhaps even between nontheistic Intelligent Design and theism due to the case for theism being greatly weakened by nontheistic I.D.

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*These debates are, I believe, separate issues.

[1] William Lane Craig, “The Kalam Cosmological Argument”. The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology. pg. 193
[2] Alexander Pruss, “The Liebnizian Cosmological Argument”. The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology. pg. 25
[3]Robin Collins, “The Teleological Argument”. The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology. pp. 205-206

A Brief Thought About Ethics

This seems to be a correct analysis of natural law and divine command theory:

NL: An act is right or wrong because it does or does not go against proper function of a person’s physical body.
DCT: An act is right or wrong because it does or does not go against God’s will or nature.

Which thesis is supposed to correctly point us to the truth or falsity of moral statements? If it’s both, what does this mean for statements that only one of these apply to, or statements that these apply differently to? If it’s one or the other, how do we tell when to apply which one?

If the above is a correct analysis of the backing of NL and DCT, I think there’s a conflict when we look at things like worship of God. DCT would likely say that worship is obligatory in some way – but NL would say merely that its permissible. The obligation to worship cannot be drawn out from any natural law or proper function. According to NL, it’s ok to not worship God.

Does this seem correct? If not, how can NL and DCT be reconciled?

Possibly Necessarily G

A common premise found in most modern ontological arguments is “◊□G”. This of course, according to the S5 axiom of modal logic, implies “□G”. Here I argue that if one does not assume a realist interpretation of modality, then this implies that ontological arguments which use this premise are question-begging. I further argue that a theist is not justified in holding to a realist interpretation of modality, and thus (most) modern ontological arguments are in fact question-begging.

Modality, Worlds, and Propositions
What does it mean to say, “◊□G”? The modal operators can be defined in terms of each other, such that ◊x = ~□~x, and □x = ~◊~x. Furthermore, the S5 axiom tells us that essentially only the last modal operator matters, such that  □□◊□◊□◊□x = □x. If you accept ◊□G as true, you’re implicitly also accepting □G as true, due to the logical equivalence. But anyway, let’s look at how modal propositions work according to both realism and fictionalism. On realism, possible worlds are no different than our own, and beings which exist in them can look around their world and rightly claim that that is the actual world. On fictionalism, these possible worlds are merely sets of propositions, and these sets exist in the actual world (since the actual world is the only possible world that exists, everything that exists must exist in the actual world). Essentially, modal claims are nothing more than counterfactuals.

In addition to worlds being merely sets of propositions, worlds are merely sets of propositions on fictionalism. There are no beings, no objects, no anything contained within them. On realism, however, there are in fact beings, objects, and things contained within worlds. So, to make the claim “◊□G” something more than merely a counterfactual claim, modal realism needs to be true – for it makes no sense for any object to exist within a proposition. But if it did, then the ontological argument runs into a bigger problem; as this would imply that the object we call “G” (God) exists in the actual world, within a set of propositions.

Far Beyond The Stars
Is modal realism true? Possibly (bazinga). But I don’t think we’re justified in believing it. There are several arguments for this, but I’ll focus on one that is specific to theism. There seems to be a conflict between God’s omnipotence and the very idea of a realist interpretation of possible worlds. Erik Wielenberg gives a charitable definition of omnipotence which I will use here:

x is omnipotent if and only if it is not the case that there is some state of affairs, p, such that x is unable to bring about p at least partially because of a lack of power in x.[1]

Possible worlds are causally and temporally isolated from each other (if they were not, they would be one world). God does of course, as a necessary being, exist in every possible world. But one must wonder whether God can will cross-world acts. For instance, could God will a rock to move from w1 to w2? Or for an atom from w1 to collide with an atom from w2? If he can, then the plethora of causally isolated worlds would seem to collapse into one world, leaving us with fictionalism. If he cannot, the only explanation that seems reasonable would be a lack of power. Modern philosophy of religion tells us that God has all kinds of causal power foreign to us (such as creating the universe ex nihilo). Why then would he not be able to cause things across worlds? There seems to be no contradiction in doing so, and no limit imposed by any of his other attributes.

Ockham’s Ontology
It may be claimed that modal realism has support via Ockham’s razor; because while the realist is only positing additional worlds of the same kind as our own, the fictionalist is positing additional worlds of a different kind than our own – thus the fictionalists’ ontology is inflated, while the realists’ is not. But this seems backwards. The fictionalist is not positing additional worlds at all, but merely sets of propositions. Whatever the fictionalist takes propositions (and sets) to be, no additional kinds of entities are being posited when she talks about possible worlds.

The realist, on the other hand, is positing an additional kind of entity. The realist claims that worlds are indexical, such that a being in any possible world can rightly claim that that world is the actual world. But it is reasonable to say this about the actual world (regardless of whether one is a realist or a fictionalist): The actual world is a world in which we have at least some causal power. But the realist wants to say that there is another kind of world – a world to which we are causally isolated, in which we have no causal power. This alone is not enough to defeat realism, but it is enough to lower our confidence in it.

Are all propositions necessarily true? Are contradictions true?
A critique of fictionalism by a realist may look something like this: “If I say, ‘P is true at w1, and ~P is true at w2′, then fictionalism implies that a contradiction is true, since w1 and w2 exist in the actual world”. But this is a misunderstanding of fictionalism. The correct interpretation of the apparent contradiction is merely a framing of modality in terms of counterfactuals: “P would have been true if w1 were the actual world, and ~P would have been true if w2 were the actual world”.

Another criticism might be offered: “since there are no other real possible worlds, then P -> □P. Thus all true statements are necessarily true”. But this is again solved by talking about modality in terms of counterfactuals: □P just means, “~P would have been true if w2 were the case” is false. In the case of propositions for which this second-order proposition is true, ~( P -> □P) is also true.

So, I think that we are more justified in believing fictionalism over realism, based on the fact that criticisms of fictionalism do not work, and because realisms’ ontology is inflated compared to fictionalism. I further think that the theist is especially committed to fictionalism over realism. Given this, and that ontological arguments which use ◊□G as a premise require realism in order to not be question-begging, I think that such arguments are most likely question-begging.

As always, I welcome questions, comments, and criticisms.

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[1] Wielenberg, Erik (2000). Omnipotence Again. Faith and Philosophy

17 (1):26-47.

Some Questions To Ponder

These questions are not intended to function as arguments for anything. They are intended to prompt discussion of things we often take for granted. Please leave your thoughts in a comment below.

If killing a fetus and killing an infant are morally similar, then are killing a baby bird and smashing a fertilized bird egg also morally similar?

If yes, what is the moral status of the bird example?

Is it permissible to eat living animals? If so, which ones?

If it is permissible to race dogs or horses for our entertainment, is there a reason that we cannot do the same with human children?

Can animals consent to being raced for our entertainment? Is their consent, or lack thereof, morally relevant?

If they can consent, how do we determine when animals are consenting, and when they are not?

If their consent is not morally relevant to the issue of racing, is it relevant to the issue of bestiality? If not, what reasons are there for thinking bestiality immoral?

Is the issue of whether a person is sterile relevant to the topic of incestuous relationships?

If a person of sound mind writes in his will that he wishes for his body to be eaten after death, is doing so immoral? If so, why?

Is there a morally relevant way in which cannibalism of the kind in the previous question differs from cremation, or organ donation?

Rick Warden’s Argument For Theism

Blogger Rick Warden has decried the fact that the “top 20 atheist bloggers” have declined to offer a response to his argument for theism[1]. I think that most arguments, even if they are poor, deserve a response; so I will attempt to answer his argument[2] here (the picture is of course just a joke). The first section reads as follows:

I. Formal logic presupposes certain truths theoretically exist as a basis for sound reasoning.
A. A categorical syllogism, for example, requires the existence of implied universal truth and validity.
1. At least two laws of logic apply in all possible worlds.
a. Law of non-contradiction: It is not possible that something be both true and not true.
b. Law of identity: A = A. Something is what it is and has at least one identifying characteristic.

His (I) is correct – any logical system will take for granted that certain formulas are true; these are called the axioms of the system. But his support for this is mistaken. A syllogism does not need the existence of universal truth, because the syllogism is only valid within one system. If you take a syllogism formulated in classical logic which uses the law of non-contradiction as a premise, and translate it into a paraconsistent logic, that syllogism will no longer be valid.

He’s also mistaken about his definitions of the “laws” of logic”. They are not written in English, but in the language of symbolic logic. The LNC reads, “~(A & ~A)”, and the law of identity reads, “A → A”. A proper translation of these into English would read, “not (A and not-A)”, and “A materially implies A”.

Furthermore, the only reason we don’t allow a contradiction in “classical” logic is because that, given the rules of that system, a contradiction makes every formula trivially true – thus rendering the system useless. But if we create a new system by removing the rule of inference called “disjunctive syllogism”, then this doesn’t happen, and we can have contradictions without rendering it useless.

But anyway, I’ll grant (I), with the caveat that which “truths” (axioms) are presupposed is going to depend on what system you’re working in.

II. The foundation of cohesive logic appears to have been undermined by quantum physics.
A. A quantum particle has ambiguous identifying characteristics until it is measured and collapsed.
B. Quantum non-locality and entanglement imply boundaries that were assumed to be finite and localized are not.
C. QM phenomena and influences are not neatly compartmentalized apart from the Visible day-to-day World
D. If the physical world is truly interconnected by energy, there is only one implied physical identity.
E. It is not the laws of physics that determine how information behaves in our Universe, but the other way around.

Two things to say here. First, I disagree. Maybe it’s true that “classical” logic can’t describe the way things behave on the quantum level, but so what? Such situations are one of the reasons why we have other logics to work with.

Second, Rick mentions a lot of stuff in his writing regarding this point that doesn’t even appear to be relevant. In addition to talking about QM, he criticizes materialism and Ayn Rand’s objectivism. But some atheists are not materialists, and most are not objectivists. I am neither.

III. NDE Cases Support a Cohesive, Logical Understanding within a Theistic Framework.
A. NDE patients describe situations they could not have perceived with their physical senses.
B. Reynolds described the appearance of a unique instrument used and recalled a specific conversation.
C. A Dutch NDE patient described aspects of an operation that occurred observed during clinical death with a cardiac arrest.
D. People born blind have made accurate, detailed descriptions of images they could not have seen with their natural eyes.
E. A specific identity and locality is maintained while experiencing clinical death, consistent with the law of identity.
F. NDE accounts imply that human volition (free will) exists and operates on a spiritual level.
G. NDE accounts imply a God with a loving nature exists. This supports the theist view over other religions.

NDEs certainly do point to some strange things which are difficult to explain, but they don’t necessarily point away from atheism. It may be that these experiences are completely naturalistic, and merely point to the fact that perhaps our senses do work when we currently think they don’t, and these experiences are merely the illusion of having a shift in location. Or it may be that substance dualism is indeed true.

But in any case, the best this can do is shift the probabilities away from materialism. These probabilities would be then redistributed equally, raising the probability of all other possibilities – theism, non-materialistic atheism, solipsism, etc. So this isn’t a gain in likelihood for theism compared to atheism; just compared to materialism.

Also, I don’t see why (F) is true. How do NDEs say anything about free will at all?

IV. Materialism has failed to provide support for answers to foundational questions while theism has provided such support.
A. Universal and certain truth and validity are implied as a necessary combination in making formal philosophical arguments but the possibility of absolute truth is rejected by most materialists because of the theistic implications.
B. Studies in quantum physics offer metaphysical under-determinism while cohesive logic regarding identity remains beyond reach.
F. Materialism has Failed to provide minimal answers with regard to the origin of the universe, the origin of matter, the origin of life, the origin of information, the origin and makeup of consciousness.
G. Theism does provide a logical and cohesive framework and specific answers to the above questions in keeping with related evidence.

I guess the lettering is off here. Oh well, no matter. Anyway, I feel that I’ve already answered the point about materialism above, so I won’t reiterate it here.

V. Conclusion
A. Proof is affirmed by logic and material evidence and the preponderance of evidence supports a theistic interpretation.
1. The materialist view is logically inconsistent and in conflict with science and evidence implying the supernatural.
2. The Christian view is supported by cohesive logic, science, evidence and scriptural text.
a. Hebrew 11.3: Logic, information and the spiritual dimension form the basis of prime reality.
b. John 1.1, 1.14: God is the logical basis of prime reality.
c. Colossians 1.17: God is both the creator and enabler of the physical world.

Rick makes an odd move here from theism to Christianity. I can’t find where Christianity suddenly jumps in, given that he’s only been talking about theism this whole time. He also once again critiques materialism, which is not identical to atheism.

Anyway, there’s a few things to say about all this. First, it seems like I could grant all his premises, and still consistently be an atheist. None of the premises given clash with atheism – just with materialism, objectivism, etc.

Second, this seems to be not so much an argument, as a series of somewhat related statements. No rules of inference are given, and I struggle to think of any that could produce his conclusions with the premises he has.

Finally, I’d like to distance myself from at least some of the atheists who have refused to respond to Rick’s argument. I’m not familiar with all of them, but P.Z. Myers is just another typical “new atheist”; and John Loftus is quite unreasonable (just ask Victor Reppert!)

But, I’d be more than happy to re-examine this argument if he wants to reformulate it, or provide his inferences. I also invite him to respond to the arguments for atheism I’ve provided elsewhere on this blog.

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[1] http://templestream.blogspot.com/2011/07/top-20-atheist-bloggers-decline.html

[2] http://templestream.blogspot.com/2011/03/how-identity-logic-and-physics-prove.html