The End.

This post signals the end of my use of this blog. I have created a new blog which, I hope, will give me a chance to start fresh and write better quality articles – articles, in other words, which will better exemplify the level of work and analysis of which I know myself capable. I have greatly enjoyed picking up blogging as a hobby, and I intend to continue it, but I want to divorce myself from some of the ‘clumsier’ posts I’ve published here, without getting rid of them entirely. In part I want to preserve all my posts from this blog because keeping a record of my undergraduate work allows me to track/measure my overall improvement as I continue to pursue my studies. Having a blog with a more professional aesthetic, along with more academically credible content, will, I hope, allow me to direct professional philosophers and theologians (and graduate schools) to my work without reservation(s). It is also my ambition to rid myself of some bad habits which I have picked up through blogging, such as writing ‘rushed’ articles within an hour or so, and without further reflection or proof-reading, publishing them for the sake of publishing something. This has led to a sort of superficial treatment of some issues in some of my posts which I would rather distance myself from. Thus, I endeavor to continue blogging, but to sanitize myself of some of the intellectual vices I have picked up while blogging so far. Moreover, as I am gearing up to pursue graduate studies, I have a most opportune excuse to perform this watershed now.

On this blog, which I began in August of 2011, I have published 424 (now 425) posts on a variety of topics, and I have received a steady readership, on average, of 20-40 people a day (with a total of 32,993 all-time views at present, perhaps an accomplishment in itself). I have also benefited greatly from interacting with those who were good enough to comment on my blog and give me food for thought, especially in the form of criticisms; my thanks goes to everyone who offered me their thoughts, from Alexander Pruss to Robert Oerter, and to everyone else. To the over 120 followers of this blog, I thank you for subscribing, and if you’re interested in continuing to read my thoughts I would invite you to visit and follow me at my new blog:

Overall this undergraduate blog has been greatly successful in that, through it, I have accomplished the goals for which I intended it. Now, however, I am about ready to move on and set some new challenges for myself to live up to. This is thus, I suppose, both the end, and a new beginning.

Posted in Miscellaneous | 1 Comment

The Seal of Confession and the Utilitarian Imperative

The sacrament of confession, according to Catholic teaching, involves a seal of confession for the priest involved. A priest who is hearing a confession cannot speak freely about, make reference to, insinuate to others, or by any means do anything whatsoever to disclose or reveal that which is confessed and, thereby, protected by the seal of confession. Dexter Morgan himself could confess to every murder he has ever committed, and acknowledge the probability that he will kill again, and the priest hearing his confession would be bound to absolute discretion.

Many people, particularly Utilitarians, have argued that lying or torturing a person can be morally permissible, if not morally obligatory, under certain rare conditions. For instance, if torturing a terrorist may help save the lives of millions upon millions of endangered civilians, or if lying to a Nazi saves the lives of the Jews and/or Gypsies and/or other so-called “useless eaters” hiding in the basement, then those are things which we are morally permitted to, and plausibly obligated to, do. So, at least, says the Utilitarian. Like all people who value human life I feel the intuitive appeal to such arguments, but I resist the temptation to compromise on the clear deontological principle that one can never, with any moral legitimacy, treat a human being as a means to an end instead of an end in himself/herself. To torture or lie to a human person is to do precisely that. Moreover, to directly violate the human rights of a terrorist or a Nazi is still to violate human rights, and therefore I feel compelled to affirm that the ends do not and cannot justify the means. I also believe that to take matters in one’s hand by torturing or violating the quintessential natural and inalienable human right of anybody, whoever they may be, in order to bring about some end, however good, is to, in a sense, play God. For one who believes in God, and believes that human dignity is worth more than the mere prolongation of this “nasty brutish and short” valley of tears man lives through, along with believing that justice will ultimately prevail in the end, it seems obvious that one ought to do everything one can to protect the rights of human persons short of violating the rights of human persons. I will not here regurgitate the arguments of Immanuel Kant, St. Augustine of Hippo or the host of Catholic theologians and philosophers who believe as I do, nor will I elucidate the caveat that, according to Catholic doctrine, one must always follow the dictates of one’s conscience, even if malformed. Instead, I want to address a certain audience: those who are both Catholic and also believe that we should torture the terrorist and/or lie to the Nazi.

Suppose a terrorist walks into the confessional, and this terrorist confesses to being part of an elaborate plot to smuggle nuclear weapons into the country (whatever country you live in or prefer to imagine). This terrorist is contrite, but explains that if he backs out now he knows that his family back home will be slowly tortured and killed. He also confesses that the bombs are set to go off in about twelve hours, that they could be stopped, and that he knows how to stop it, but that he simply cannot bring himself to stop it given what would happen to his family if these bombs did not go off. In this case scenario the priest is bound, de fide, to absolute secrecy about what has been confessed. The priest cannot by any means alert the authorities, or anyone else. It wouldn’t matter if the bombs were set to go off in Vatican City itself; the priest could absolutely not do anything about it. This is simply part of the Church’s teaching about the inviolable silence to which all priests are bound in the administration of the sacrament of confession. This thought experiment yields the following result:

  1. The Catholic faith teaches that Priest may, under some rare circumstances, be bound to allow untold numbers of human people to die instead of violate the protected rights of any penitent.
  2. The Catholic faith does not oblige anyone to be immoral or act contrary to one’s objective moral duties.
  3. Therefore there are some rare circumstances in which it is not contrary to one’s objective moral duties to allow untold numbers of human people to die.

One can also reverse the argument and make it into an argument against the truth of the Catholic faith (which, I hope, serves more as a defeater for the Utilitarian instinct than as a defeater for the Catholic faith):

  1. Treating a human person as a means to an end instead of an end in themselves is morally permitted (and obliged) just in case the good of the end in view greatly outweighs the good which any other line of action would, with reasonable certainty, be sure to bring about.
  2. A priest breaking the seal of confession for a penitent terrorist like the one imagined above would be treating a human person as a means to an end instead of an end in themselves in a case where the end in view greatly outweighs the good which any other line of action would, with reasonable certainty, be sure to bring about.
  3. If the Catholic faith is true, then all priests are always and everywhere morally bound to avoid breaking the seal of confession.
  4. But, from 1 & 2, not all priests are always and everywhere morally bound to avoid breaking the seal of confession.
  5. Therefore, the Catholic faith is not true.
Posted in Apologetics, Ethics, Philosophy, Philosophy of Religion, Sacraments, Theology | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Minds and Brains: Justification for Immaterialism about the Mind

I have made this point a few times in various discussions, but I’d like to make it here again. Often the Naturalist will argue that we have never observed minds without brains. For every mind we observe, we observe a brain. There are two conclusions often drawn from this, one more modest than the other:

(i) We have no justification for believing that there are any brainless minds.
(ii) We cannot have any coherent concept of a mind apart from a brain.

The second conclusion is argued to be justified precisely because coherent concepts are formed by empirical experience, and there is no empirical experience of a mind without a brain. I want to offer a response to these two conclusions in turn, starting with the second.

To say that we cannot make sense of a mind without a brain is to say that the concept of a mind is bound up with the concept of a brain. We may be able to imagine a brain without a mind, as in the case of a cadaver’s brain, but the reverse, the (hypothetical) Naturalist tells us, is not imaginable or intelligible. So far the Naturalist hasn’t committed herself to reductive materialism about the mind, so we cannot simply dismiss the Naturalist on those grounds. However, I think we all know a priori that the claim that the concept of the mind is conceptually bound up with the concept of a brain is simply false. Construed as a psychological fact about ourselves (i.e., that we cannot conceive of a mind apart from a brain) it is simply and obviously false. What is more, it is empirically false. The response I anticipate is that many people think they can make sense of a mind apart from matter or material extension, but that when pushed and pressed we find that they do not have any coherent concept of such a thing. What this really amounts to, however, is a disagreement about the philosophy of mind.

Allow me to illustrate with an analogy. When we think of grass we may naturally think ‘green’ for the same reasons that when we think of dogs we think of tails wagging. Our experience of grass is generally of green grass (perhaps sometimes it is brown). However, even if our experience of grass is such that it is never not green (or brown or whatever), we find no particular difficulty in imagining purple grass. Our ability to imagine purple grass demonstrates to us that our concept of grass is not conceptually bound-up with our concept of greenness, as though the latter were a necessary condition of the first. Even if we have never observed purple grass, it is completely intelligible to us that there be purple grass precisely because our concept of ‘grass’ does not essentially involve being green. On the other hand, when we are asked to imagine immaterial grass we do have trouble. It isn’t difficult just because we’ve never observed it, but rather because being material is a necessary condition of being grass. The concept of grass involves being material.

Note that the problem with imagining immaterial grass isn’t a problem of imagining (or perhaps better ‘conceiving’) of immaterial things – concepts of things immaterial. Consider, for instance, when we think of the number two, or when we think of the concept of the number two. We really do, I insist, have something in mind. However, we would be as hard pressed to imagine/conceive a material number two, or a material concept of the number two, as we would be to imagine/conceive of immaterial grass.

What is this thought experiment intended to show? It is intended to show that we can easily conceive of things which we have never experienced, like purple grass, and that the reason we can do this so easily is that we all understand that the association between grass and greenness is not a necessary one. The person who had lived their whole lives having never seen grass any colour but one single shade of green would still be able to imagine purple grass with ease. Similarly there is a meaningful distinction between the mind and the brain. Moreover, our concept of a brain is of a thing essentially material – we can no more conceive of an immaterial brain than we can conceive of a material number. Our concept of mind is of a thing essentially immaterial – we simply cannot make sense of a mind’s being material in the strictest sense. I think even a reductive materialist can admit this point – perhaps we can go on believing that the mind is just a material thing of some sort, but we can certainly make no sense of the concept ‘material mind’ anymore than we can make sense of ‘material concepts’. It’s just altogether bad grammar. However, if we can conceive of a mind being immaterial, which I think we must, and we cannot conceive of a brain being immaterial, then it seems to follow that we can conceive of a mind without conceiving of it ‘along with’ a brain. The concepts, qua concepts, are distinct.

I conclude, therefore, that we can not only conceive of a mind which is immaterial, but that our concept of mind is of a thing immaterial. Moreover, I believe that since the concepts of mind and brain are distinct in the relevant sense (i.e., since neither one is conceptually bound up with the other) we can conceive of a mind without a brain with relative ease. So long as we can just make sense of the idea that there be a mind without a brain we know that the claim that we cannot make sense of the idea of a brainless mind must be false. I know this to be false, and I think everyone else does too. To turn the tables; I think it is the materialist/Naturalist who thinks she has a coherent concept of the mind without actually having any coherent concept of the mind.

Well, that is my preferred response to (ii), but what of (i)? (i) is certainly a point about epistemology; it suggests that we cannot have a justified belief in brainless minds. The presumption seems to be that we can have justification for believing x if and only if we can have empirical justification for believing x. Thus, (i) should be more explicitly phrased as:

(i*) We have no empirical justification for believing that there are any brainless minds.

Perhaps (i*) is true. However (i*) does not entail (i) without the presumption that justification is empirical justification. It may also turn out that (i*) is false, depending on how one construes empiricism. For instance, if one construes empiricism as involving analytic truths known a priori then one may argue that since we know that it is logically possible for there to be a brainless mind we know with certainty that there may be such a thing. Moreover, even on a stricter version of empiricism, if there turns out to be some empirical proof of God’s existence (to the satisfaction of ‘empiricism’ however construed), and if God turns out to be a mind without a brain, then there would be empirical justification for believing in at least one mind without a brain. I am inclined to think the real problem is that we have no justification for believing  (i*) to be true in the first place! I am adamantly not an empiricist, at least not in any robust sense.

Maybe there is another way to accept  (i*) along with believing that we have a justified belief in minds without brains. If one asks the question ‘under what conditions would the thesis that minds are independent of brains be verified’ and then proceeds to set up empirical tests to determine whether brainless minds exist, then we may find that we do have good evidence for minds being independent of brains. I have in mind here the growing body of evidence from out of body experiences, near death experiences and such like. The empiricist may dogmatically scoff, which she is entitled to do if she likes, but scoffing will do nothing to adjudicate the matter in her favor.

Finally, I want to end with the suggestion that we all apprehend ourselves to be immaterial minds. The fact that we are, at bottom, immaterial minds, seems to me to be clear and distinct in an almost Cartesian sense. It seems self evident to me, the contrary seems absurd. At very least it seems to me that it is a natural thing to believe, and more natural than its alternative(s), and thus that (being thus, presumably, properly basic) the burden is on the one who rejects it to offer us some defeater for it. I can see no realistic hope of doing that. Thus we should consider ourselves amply justified in believing in immaterial minds without brains. If we also find the arguments of thinkers like Plato and Leibniz convincing, that the mind must be a simple non-composite thing and that as such it cannot be destroyed (unless God miraculously annihilates it) then we will also be inclined to think that there are plenty of instances of minds without brains in the world (every time somebody dies that person’s mind continues to exist, and does so independently of that person’s brain).

To draw the point out any further would require that we enter into the philosophy of the mind explicitly, and I have avoided that on purpose, since I think one can make the aforementioned points as significant preliminaries to any and all more substantive points about the philosophy of mind. However, it may be worth advertising that when we actually do philosophy of mind what we find is that, by far and away, the better arguments are on the side of the possibility and plausibility of the mind’s being ontologically independent of the brain.

Caveat lector – I am adamantly not a substance dualist!

Posted in Empiricism, Epistemology, Naturalism, Philosophy, Philosophy of Mind | Tagged , , , , , | 5 Comments

Moral Accountability and an implicit argument against Naturalism

Suppose that the Atheist responds to any and every moral argument for the existence of God that God is not required in order to purchase the objectivity of moral values or duties. Perhaps the Naturalist would argue that (i) Naturalism is clearly true, and (ii) there are clearly objective moral values and duties, (iii) that belief in at least the second of these is properly basic, and (iv) that the Naturalist is more sure that the conjunction of (i)&(ii) is true than she is that any argument for their incompatibility is sound. To affirm (ii) is just to affirm that ‘one should believe in objective moral values and duties’ regardless of whatever else one does or does not believe in. Perhaps the same Naturalist would argue that even in logically possible worlds where there are not objective moral values and duties, one ought (non-objectively) to believe in the objectivity of moral values and duties. In fact, even if it were the case that there were no objective moral values and duties, one can argue that they ought to believe in them in so many more possible worlds than worlds in which they (hypothetically) ‘ought’ not that there is just no world, or practically no world, in which one should not, on balance, be a moral realist.

All this is well and good for the Atheist. However, presumably the Naturalist cannot believe in objective moral accountability without a considerable stretch which strains any modicum of credulity they have left. Now, even by a subjective standard, according to which one ought to believe in the objectivity of moral values and duties even if ultimately illusory, it seems that one ought to prefer to believe x over y, for any non-identical x and y, if belief in x puts one in a nearer occasion of acting/believing in a morally idyllic way. By this standard, however, one ought to believe in the objectivity of moral accountability. However, if God does not exist then (plausibly) there is no objective moral accountability. It will follow, at least insofar as one ‘ought’ to be consistent, that, all things being equal, one ought to believe that theism is true.


  1. Either objective moral values and duties exist, or objective moral values and duties do not exist.
  2. If objective moral values and duties do not exist, then one (subjectively) ought to believe in objective moral values and duties.
  3. If objective moral values and duties do exist, then one (objectively and subjectively) ought to believe in objective moral values and duties.
  4. Therefore, one (subjectively) ought to believe in objective moral values and duties.


  1. For any non-identical views x and y, if believing in x puts one in a nearer occasion of acting as one ought than y, then one ought to believe in x.
  2. Belief in objective moral accountability does put one in the nearer occasion of acting as one ought than belief in non-objective moral accountability.
  3. Therefore one ought to believe in objective moral accountability.
  4. Belief in philosophical consistency does put one in the nearer occasion of acting as one ought than belief in philosophical inconsistency.
  5. Believing in objective moral accountability together with Naturalism is inconsistent.
  6. Therefore, one ought to believe in objective moral accountability and Naturalism if and only if one ought not to believe in objective moral accountability and philosophical consistency.
  7. Therefore, one ought not believe in Naturalism

And so on, and so forth…

Posted in Apologetics, Ethics, Naturalism, Philosophy | Tagged | 2 Comments

A Theologically Indubitable Subjunctive Counterfactual

The issue of Molinism has continued to occupy much of my time in reflection of late, and I realized that all Christians do believe in at least one subjunctive counterfactual of libertarian free will, or at least nearly all Christians do.

If I had freely chosen to reject God, God would have freely chosen to allow me to damn myself.

There’s a non-actual (i.e., counter-factual) conditional, the consequent of which involves a non-actual libertarian free will decision. Other than the Calvinist (according to whom the antecedent is actually counter-possible), Christians of all stripes will agree with this object of middle knowledge. God knows what he would have freely chosen to do in non-actual circumstances.

What objections are there to this? Perhaps one could say that God’s decision to create a world at all entailed that he freely chose the consequent when he chose to allow for the possibility of the antecedent. Thus, this subjunctive counterfactual’s truth-maker is a factual conditional. I’ve already conceded that those kinds of subjunctive counterfactuals exist, which is to say that subjunctive counterfactuals whose truth-values supervene on contingent facts can exist. They clearly aren’t enough to get Molinism, as a view of God’s providence, off the ground, since subjunctive counterfactuals would be posterior to contingent factuals.

In a fight between Calvinism and Molinism, Molinism clearly wins, but Molinism is still so rife with problems that it screams out for something better. A more sophisticated view of God’s providence is required. It requires that not a single thing occur which violates God’s complete sovereignty over history in whole and in all its parts, that it allow truly categorical free will, that it not abandon the correspondence theory of truth, and so on. I’m convinced it can be done, in accord with Catholic doctrine, but it is certainly no small feat.

Posted in Apologetics, Molinism, Theology | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

A Counter-possible Objection to Natural Theology

Here’s an interesting argument I stumbled across recently, written by somebody I know, through a skype group, named Lance: The ‘what if God commanded something horrific?’ objection to DCT and W.L. Craig’s moral argument. I was inclined to be dismissive of the argument at first, but it does make at least one very interesting move. The move goes something like this: some Christians, perhaps especially those who defend some version of the Ontological argument (as Dr. Craig does), believe that God’s existence is both metaphysically and logically necessary. Now, if God’s existence is logically necessary, then his non-existence is not logically possible, ergo counter-possible. Consider, however, the following claim:

  1. If God did not exist, then objective moral values and duties would not exist.

This turn of phrase will no doubt sound familiar to those who have been exposed to Dr. Craig’s moral argument for the existence of God. He has, after all, argued it in these words a countless number of times. The trouble, however, is that the antecedent of this conditional is not only counter-factual, but counter-possible. A counter-possible conditional is a conditional whose antecedent is not true in any logically possible world (sometimes these invite philosophers to speak about logically impossible worlds, but we can avoid such language for our purposes).

To the suggestion that according to divine command theory had God commanded the torture of innocent persons it would then be a good thing, Dr. Craig has apparently argued that the conditional in question is a counter-possible one, and therefore one for which the truth value assignment is evacuated of any significance. Thus the statement “if God had commanded the torture of innocent persons, then it would be morally right and obligatory to torture innocent persons” is true, but so also is the statement “if God had commanded the torture of innocent persons, then it would be morally wrong to torture innocent persons (and we would have an obligation to refrain from such an act).” Thus, Dr. Craig insists, the value of the moral argument cannot be impugned on the basis of counter-possible considerations, since counter-possible conditionals are all only ever vacuously true.

This, then, is where the charge is introduced: “the problem with this answer is that, if every counterpossible is only vacuously true, then all of natural theology would be vacuous and uninformative.” The suggestion goes that Atheists will be inclined to believe that the statement “if God existed then objective moral values and duties would exist” is not only counter-factual, but also counter-possible. I should note in passing that Craig does not explicitly maintain the above conditional to be true, but merely maintains that “if God did not exist then objective moral values and duties could not exist.” After all, Craig does believe there is a logically possible world in which God did not create anything, and therefore in which no actions are morally obligatory, no moral injunctions are issued, and so forth. However, coming back on point, the suggestion is that Craig’s moral argument for the existence of God rests, for the Atheist, on what is clearly, from the Atheist’s perspective, a counter-possible. Therefore, it is as (vacuously) true to say that “if God did not exist then objective moral values and duties would not exist” as it is to say that “if God did not exist then objective moral values and duties would exist.”

The reason the Atheist must insist that Craig’s major premise is counter-possible is that Craig supports a version of the ontological argument, and so seems to implicitly accept an Anselmian view of God’s necessity such that the word God involves in its meaning ‘(logically) necessary existence.’ Thus, if there is any logically possible world in which God does not exist, then God does not exist in any logically possible world. Since the Atheist believes that the actual world is such that God does not exist, it follows that there is no logically possible world in which God does exist. Thus, the premise’s antecedent being counter-possible, the conditional is at best vacuously true.

The author also goes on to argue that God’s commanding the torture of innocent people, or some other morally unconscionable act, is not logically impossible. He suggests that in order for this to be logically impossible it must either (i) entail a contradiction, or (ii) involve some sort of conceptual inconsistency. I admit to finding no difference between (i) and (ii), but he seems to think there is one. I confess to not understanding his argument against the possibility of (ii), which the reader is free to read for herself, but I think a contradiction can be clearly shown, so I won’t concern myself with addressing (ii).

Finally, the most interesting part of the article is when our author suggests that this insight “bleeds into the rest of natural theology.” He argues that all arguments for God’s existence seem, in some way, to rely on what the atheist will have to consider counter-possible conditionals.

It’s hard to see how “God is the best explanation for the origin of the universe” could be true, when “if God were to not exist the universe still would” is true as well.

I will divide my responses into three sections. First, I will respond to the suggestion that the moral argument for God’s existence is in trouble. Second, I will respond to the suggestion that all of natural theology relies implicitly upon what the atheist should consider counter-possible conditionals. Third, I will respond to the suggestion, most important of all, that it is not logically impossible for God to act contrary to his nature by commanding that which is morally unjustifiable.

The Moral Argument

In response it should be noted that most atheists do not accept that God’s existence is logically necessary or else that his existence is logically impossible. Thus, simply by reason of the fact that Craig is addressing a particular audience, it may be legitimate for him to put his beliefs about God’s necessity aside and simply concede to the average atheist that God may or may not exist. Thus, insofar as the audience being addressed should determine which presuppositions are taken for granted by the argument, the moral argument seems impervious to the criticism. 

In addition, as our writer himself notes, Craig and others may wish to distinguish between metaphysical and logical necessity, and argue that God is metaphysically necessary without being logically necessary, thus making the major premise of the moral argument merely counter-factual and not counter-possible (and, of course, from the atheist’s perspective, not even counter-factual). That distinction has always struck me as vacuous, so I cannot myself make good sense of how this line of argument would go. I simply make note of it because I too think that Dr. Craig and/or others may wish to argue this way. I note in passing an amusing observation: the writer at one point lets slip his overly ambitious agenda when he suggests that this dialectical avenue “could give Craig that bit of wiggle room he needs to avoid the collapse of his world view.” It is important to keep in view that it is only his argument(s) which is(are) at risk of collapsing, and not his worldview as such.

It could also be noted that, to return to ‘talk of impossible worlds,’ some philosophers have proposed that some logically impossible worlds are closer to the actual world than are others, just as some logically possible worlds are closer to the actual world than are others. Thus, one might just argue that the logically impossible world in which God exists, commands something morally unconscionable and we ought not do as God commands is ‘closer’ to the actual world than the impossible world in which God exists, commands something morally unconscionable and we ought to do as God commands. The trouble with this response is that a critic might argue that a divine command theory view might entail that the latter impossible world is closer to the actual world than the former. I think that qualifies as a fair counter-response, so I’m inclined to let that sit.

I myself maintain, as somebody who both sees the value of the moral argument for the existence of God, and who believes that God is both logically and metaphysically necessary, that the moral argument can be used legitimately in the form it is used by Dr. Craig, even by one such as myself. I believe this is so precisely because (i) atheists, agnostics and theists who reject natural theology do not all agree with me that God’s existence is logically necessary, (ii) because I can rephrase the argument to avoid its being counter-possible on my view. For example, suppose I argue that “if moral values and duties exist, then God exists.” While I think that God’s existence is necessary, I do not think that the existence of moral values or duties are necessary and, I note, neither does Dr. Craig.

Natural Theology and Counter-possibles

There are a number of responses due here. First, clearly, if an atheist believes that the existence of God is logically impossible then no arguments for God’s existence can even get off the ground. All arguments for God’s existence presume the intelligibility of theism in principle. However, there may be arguments for believing in the existence of God which are not strictly part of any natural theology. For example, one might argue on epistemic or existential grounds that one ‘ought’ to believe in God. Those arguments, presumably, would still deserve a hearing, even if all the arguments of natural theology were to be dialectically disqualified.

However, it doesn’t seem to me that all the arguments of natural theology really require counter-possible premises. Consider a cosmological argument of the following variety:

  1. Every contingent being has a sufficient cause (a cause which is metaphysically sufficient to bring it about).
  2. The aggregate of all contingent beings is itself a contingent being.
  3. This contingent being has a sufficient cause.
  4. If this contingent being has a sufficient cause, then that cause is not a contingent being.
  5. The cause of this contingent being is an incontingent being.

This argument, as far as I can tell, does not at any point involve explicit or implicit appeal to what the atheist will consider a counter-possible, unless the atheist is perceptive enough to realize that atheism logically entails that premise 1 or premise 2 is necessarily false. At least, atheism entails this unless premise 5 is considered too weak to establish theism. If the latter is the case, then a non-question begging cumulative case seems to be in principle possible.

Moreover, Lance said, as I quoted him as saying above, that “it’s hard to see how “God is the best explanation for the origin of the universe” could be true, when “if God were to not exist the universe still would” is true as well.” However, I don’t see why one couldn’t simply argue that one explanation may be better than another if, all things being equal, it relies upon or entails fewer brute facts. In this way one could argue that theism, even if counter-possible, is a better explanation than atheism insofar as it offers an explanation for that which atheism does not. That concession, even if made, would be meaningless however, precisely because, being counter-possible, the explanation would be vacuously ‘better.’

God and Goodness

Finally the most trivial argument in the article is that God can possibly act contrary to his nature. What is essential to understand here is that God’s existence is necessary, God’s essence involves, among other things, existence, and God’s essence is necessary. In other words, there is no logically possible world in which God exists and in which his essence is not identical to his essence in every other logically possible world. In fact, God’s essence or ‘nature’ can be seen as the set of conditions for theism to be true. For Theism to be true simply means that exactly one being exemplifies the divine nature. The divine nature involves necessary existence. The divine nature involves all the superlative attributes. The divine nature thus involves not mere accidental moral perfection, but necessary moral perfection. In fact, according to standard Anselmian and Thomistic theology, all the predicates which apply to the divine nature do so (by analogy) in such a way that the divine nature is itself the paradigm of any attribute which corresponds to a superlative. Thus, to say that God is wise is to say that God’s nature is the measure against which all other things can be said to be wise. To say that God exists is to say that God’s nature is the paradigmatic existent. To say that God is good is to say that God’s nature is identical to ‘the Good’. To say that God is omniscient is to say, as Aquinas does say, that to know anything true is to think God’s thoughts after him.

On this theology, it is as much a contradiction to suggest that God could command evil as it is to suggest that God could fail to exist. The beautiful irony, therefore, about this last charge against Dr. Craig’s ‘divine command’ conception of God’s goodness, is that it fundamentally misunderstands the very theology which, having been presumed previously, led to the wonderfully insightful observation that the atheist should believe Craig’s major premise to be a counter-possible. Thus, on the one hand the theology seems to make Craig’s major premise in the moral argument a counter-possible, and on the other hand this very same theology makes it logically impossible for God to commit or command evil.

Posted in Apologetics, Natural Theology, Philosophy of Religion | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Rawls is a coherentist about political justification

Here’s an interesting quote from Rawls:

A conception of Justice cannot be deduced from self-evident premises or conditions on principles; instead, its justification is a matter of the mutual support of many considerations, of everything fitting together into one coherent view.
~A Theory of Justice, §4

This reflective equilibrium is a tacit rejection of foundationalism in the field of political science, and it seems to me that Rawls’ view is, in this respect, at odds with Natural Law jurisprudence and political theory. It is interesting to note nevertheless, since it fits nicely in with other philosophical views in vogue in Rawls’ time (from Lawrence Bonjour’s coherentist epistemology to W.V.O. Quine’s dispensability thesis). However, once coherentism passes out of fashion, it seems like Rawls may have to lose popular appeal as well.

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Marriage and Time Travel

Here’s a thought. Assume all the standard Catholic stuff about the sacrament of marriage, such as its indissolubility until the death of at least one of the two spouses.

Suppose you get married, and then at some later point, while both you and your beloved (love and marriage aren’t coextensive, but I’m assuming the best) are both still alive, you get into a time machine and travel back, alone, to a time before you were married to your beloved, and after their conception/birth. Are you married to them? I assume they are the same person as the person you married (i.e., they are identical to the person you married). It seems tempting to say that you would be married to them, but not them to you. However, we should, I submit, have strong reservations about asserting this, which I hope to illustrate below. But first, let’s have some fun with thought experiments!

Suppose you traveled, instead, to a time in the relatively distant future, at which point your spouse is dead. Clearly they are not married to you, but are you free to remarry (i.e., are you still married to them)? It seems like you are not, at least assuming that you can travel back in time to your point of departure. This raises the question of what Church teaching would look like if time machines allowed you to go back in time and visit your (now dead) spouse, and whether you could remarry given that invention. If you could, then you could have multiple married spouses without practicing polygamy since none of them would be married to you at the same time – presumably none would be married to you while any other is still living.

Suppose that you were temporally-stranded, so that you traveled into the future to a time when your spouse is no longer living, and you have no reasonable hope of going ‘back’ in time. That position seems no different from the (married) person who loses all contact with their spouse, as sometimes happens in times of war, and after years of waiting for confirmation of their death/life one is left in a kind of limbo. In such cases the best one can do is follow one’s conscience to the best of their ability, and so re-marriage is a possibility.

Suppose that you traveled into the future, after your spouse had died, and found yourself in a time at which an older version of you was married to somebody other than your spouse; would you be married to that new spouse? If you could be, then that would be a (very strange) argument for a possible form of Catholic polygamy, and (therefore) I think you could not be. However, if you are not married to the person who married you, even though they married a person identical with you, then clearly, returning to the very first example, you would not be married to the person identical with your spouse. Perhaps this is why you would not be married to the person identical with your spouse.

Suppose you traveled back in time to a point between the time you get in the time machine, and the time you were originally married (i.e., to a time during your marriage); would your spouse be married to two extensional instances of yourself? Just imagine all the fun consequences that would imply for the theology of the body and philosophy of sex! The answer, I think, is no.

Suppose, finally, that time machines were a commodity, so that it were possible to, post your beloved’s death, return to a time at which you would have been married to them, are you, therefore, still effectually married to them? Would you be free to remarry? It seems like you would still be effectually married to your spouse if you could travel back in time, as I said previously, but maybe that’s incorrect.

Perhaps, instead, marriage is so bound up with time and space that you would not be married to any ostensible instantiation of your spouse from some time other than the time at which you and your spouse are together living out your marriage. If you are 90 years old, and you travel back in time 80 years, and spend a year ‘in the past,’ you will clearly still be 91 years old by the end of that trip, not 11 years old (though there would presumably be an 11 year old version of you walking about). Maybe, in some similar way, a marriage has a certain age of its own as well. Marriage is thus shared by spouses who, with respect to their internal-time (if we can call it that) both reside the same temporal distance away from the time at which they were married. So, if you and your spouse got into a time machine and, for your honeymoon traveled back in time a few hundred years to some exotic local, you would both be married to each other, even though you are both located at a time prior to the time of your marriage. Indeed, if you spent a year there, you would have been married for (at least) a year, and so your marriage would be (at least) a year old. Similarly, if you travel back without your spouse to a time after your marriage to that spouse, they would not be married to you, nor you to them, precisely because you two don’t occupy the same place in the life of your marriage.

This handy notion of a marriage having its own age is not without its difficulties though. Suppose, for example, that I marry somebody, and then take a vacation in the future or the past for a year, and come back. From my spouse’s perspective, I have left and returned in an instant, but I have now lived ‘the married life’ for one year longer than she has! However, perhaps this kind of puzzle admits of a solution or two. Perhaps the age of the marriage is simply the amount of time ‘since’ the marriage that the spouses have lived the married life together. The odd consequence of this solution would be that my trip to the future would have been a vacation from my marriage, even though I would myself have been bound to marital faithfulness. Another solution could be to simply bite the bullet and argue that my spouse would indeed have experienced our marriage as an affair one year shorter (assuming she doesn’t take her own trip(s) to the future/past) than I experienced it (literally, not figuratively). Intuitively I want to say that marriage is about two people living together and growing together, and hence I am averse to saying that I and my (very hypothetical) spouse could have been married for literally different amounts of time, as though I have lived the married life (with her) for longer than she has (with me)! I can’t see how to do any better though.

Another way out of this whole mess is just to argue that time travel is not possible. Perhaps there are a few ways in which this could be argued. For instance, one could argue that time travel is physically impossible, and that God made it thus precisely so as to secure the rational institution of marriage against the kind of inordinate paradox I have been considering. However, this would hardly save face in the eyes of an analytic thinker, since regardless of whether something is physically possible, it remains conceptually possible for these circumstances to occur, and thus the questions can be posed as the hypotheticals they were in the first place. Perhaps time travel is metaphysically impossible, but that sounds to my ears like a trap, since by entailment it will mean that the A-theory of time is true, which by entailment means that God is not metaphysically simple, which by entailment means that the Catholic Church has made fallible pronouncements which were de fide infallible, which by entailment means that the Catholic faith is simply wrong. That consequence will be much worse for the Catholic who arrived at it simply by trying to secure themselves against challenges to the Church’s teaching about the sacramental nature of marriage. Perhaps one could argue that time travel is metaphysically impossible on the B-theory, but I can’t make heads or tails of that. To say that time travel is logically impossible is to say that what the A-theory proposes is a necessary truth, and the same series of unfortunate consequences would follow as outlined above.

Posted in Apologetics, Miscellaneous, Philosophy, Philosophy of Sex and sexual ethics, Philosophy of Time, Sacraments, Theology | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Theological Studies vs Religious Studies

There is a considerable amount of confusion surrounding the difference(s) between Theological Studies and Religious Studies, and, having found myself in the mood, I am here intending to draw out those differences clearly. A professor of mine once said that when trying to explain the difference between the two disciplines, it is best (and easiest) to say that the whole difference between theological studies and religious studies is the difference between humanities and the social sciences (respectively). That’s a helpful place to start, but I feel  as though more can and perhaps should be said. First of all, religious studies strives for academic objectivity, such that regardless of one’s religious convictions one should be able to, with the same data and the same methodology, come to the same conclusion(s) in their academic work. Granted that Theologians do also often strive for objectivity, it is probably fairer to say that Theologians strive first and foremost for truth. Objectivity is often thought to be a means to that end, but the Theologian is not bound to accept that objectivity is always a means, much less the best means, to the truth, whereas the scholar of Religious studies is professionally bound to strive for objectivity regardless of whether there are any good reasons to think that objectivity (in this or that instance) does nothing to ensure truth.

To give a simple illustration, take the last two hundred years of what’s called ‘Jesus’ scholarship, which is just the academic search for the historical Jesus of Nazareth. Theologians are often cognizant of just how biased the field has been, noting that most well-to-do historians specializing in the field almost inevitably come to imagine the historical Jesus of Nazareth in their own image. Thus, one scholar thinks Jesus a political revolutionary, another thinks him a Marxist, another thinks him a secular humanist, another thinks him a radical Jewish Rabbi, another thinks him a mere character constructed from pagan sources. All of these conclusions have been reached by scholars of Religious Studies (as well as Theologians), all dealing with the same data, all working with the same methodologies. Theologians recognize this as a problem with the general approach, suggesting that perhaps Theology, like Philosophy and Politics, is simply not the kind of subject which can be approached or handled in ‘scientific’ fashion. The field of Religious studies, however, seldom countenances such a critique. Other examples are quick at hand, such as the presumption that if a single text tells the same story in recognizably different ways then it must (or likely does) have more than one source of authorship. Such presumptions remain tacit assumptions in the field of Religious studies, where nobody seriously questions longstanding views like the documentary hypothesis, whereas a theological critique of the documentary hypothesis (or such-like views) may begin with criticism at precisely this point.

Thus, the field of religious studies is more restrictive, in a sense, precisely because it encourages an attitude of enlightenment optimism, envisioning a kind of scientific-like objectivity in the field of religious studies. One puts ones religious convictions to one side and simply does their scholarly work responsibly, by which is meant, does the work operating with ‘enlightenment’ presuppositions. In Theological studies, by contrast, students and professionals are encouraged not only to be candid about their presuppositions, and to allow those presuppositions to inform their scholarship, but also to imagine how their case would appear to stand from a different set of presuppositions. In Religious studies, there is simply one set of presuppositions which we might refer to as ‘academic presuppositions,’ from which all academically respectable work must be done, while in Theological studies the naïveté of the modernist presuppositions which underlie and motivate that very idea are constantly brought to the fore of academic discussion. If there is one thing post-modernism is right about it is that nobody, however diligent, is ever truly objective. We all always import our presuppositions into our work, we filter observations and data through a particular network of presumptions, and without at least some such network we would simply never be able to assess any information at all. Theology recognizes this, whereas Religious studies remains committed to an ideal of objectivity regardless of substantive philosophical criticism.

In Theological studies students are encouraged to let their faith and their scholarship interact and inform one another, whereas in Religious studies the dialogue between personal faith and academic work is at best seen as a private affair. Religious studies encourages what looks to the Theologian like a naïve cognitive dissonance inspired by a now 100 years out-of-date enlightenment optimism about ‘objectivity,’ whereas Theology encourages what looks to the scholar of Religion like an academic subjectivism which provides no hope of winning any academic consensus on any issue (since faith informs ones work and it is impossible, per enlightenment, to argue with faith). Moreover, the theologian both exposes her faith directly to challenges to it, and allows her faith to inform her speculation and method; both of these practices are considered academic anathema to the scholar of Religion.

The Theologian generally has a model of the relationship between faith and reason, and generally it is one of complimentarity. Thus, for instance, Catholic theologians in the main speak about reason as a preparatio for faith (a kind of ‘John the Baptist’ figure making way for faith), and then speak of faith as enriching reason, providing it with resources out of its reach, and with which it can be perfected. By stark contrast, the Scholar of Religion is likely to treat faith and reason, or at least faith and academic work, as non-overlapping magisteria. Thus, Theology and Philosophy are closer relatives than Religious Studies is to either of them. This is precisely why one hears talk of philosophical theology, and undergraduate courses in the philosophical foundations of theology, but one never hears of philosophical religious studies. This is also why there are Theology courses on the intersection of theology and science, and a vibrant academic dialogue between Theology and Science as disciplines, whereas the same is not so for Religious studies. Analytic Theology exists, but there is no such thing as ‘analytic Religious studies.’

On the other hand, Theology is much more focused in its scope than religious studies. Theological studies concentrates on the Judeo-Christian tradition (out of which it comes), whereas Religious studies covers eastern religions, ancient and dead religious traditions, aboriginal native american religion and so on. Thus, whereas Theologians often engage in biblical criticism, scholars of Religion often know much less about the Bible, and about Christianity and Judaism in general. It is important not to equate Jewish studies with either Theology or Religion, however, and thus Theology should normally be viewed as a Christian enterprise (though Theologians are often Jewish, Muslim, Atheistic, and many other things besides). If one wanted to study Hinduism, one would have to take a course in Religious studies. If one wanted to study the textual evolution of the New Testament, one would do better to take a Theology class. In Religious studies nobody is encouraged to argue critically about faith-claims (which are really just truth-claims), whereas in Theology one is encouraged to defend or attack such claims. Theology students need some background in philosophy, whereas students of Religious studies need no such background.

I think this provides a sufficient summary of the most relevant differences between Theological studies and Religious studies. To recapitulate briefly, Religious studies adopts something akin to a scientific ideal, aspiring to academic objectivity, adopting broadly modernistic presumptions bequeathed to us by the enlightenment (such as that one cannot rationally argue about faith, or offer compelling arguments where faith is involved). Theological studies often assumes that this project is misconceived (that Theology/Religion is just not as simple a discipline as the natural sciences are), not to mention naïve. By contrast the approach of Theological studies is heavily philosophical and self-critical, it does not encourage the cognitive dissonance of Religious studies (by quarantining the convictions of faith), and promotes instead a more holistic approach to scholarship. Religious studies accuses Theology of being too ‘religious’, while Theology accuses Religious studies of being too ‘modernistic’ and (therefore) ‘secular.’ Theology will court arguments detrimental to faith, whereas Religious studies is detrimental to faith not in its content but by its very approach (to separate faith from reason makes ‘faith’ inhuman and immoral, and, a Theologian may add, does the same to reason). I think it is relatively clear what my preferences are, but at least I hope this short exposé of the differences serves as a fair introduction to the distinction between these two disciplines.

As a final note, it may be adduced from what has been said that Theology and Religious studies have somewhat different anthropologies. In Religious studies, people are encouraged to leave the resources of faith to one side, whereas in Theological studies the human person is invited to engage scholarship as a whole person – and these claims are motivated, in my submission, by two different views of human nature. In Religious studies matters of faith are viewed as private affairs which run the risk of contaminating otherwise respectable scholarship, and thus are best left to individual discretion and excluded from academic conversation. In Theological Studies, what one chooses to believe has immense moral significance, and if one chooses in private life to believe any doctrine or set of doctrines, the conviction is that this very choice will always inevitably translate eventually into some discernible difference in how one interacts with the world and how one motivates others to interact with the world. Thus, Theology not only takes religious belief seriously as a matter of the utmost moral significance (since if one is wrong, one literally owes the whole world an apology, and if one is right one would owe an equally sincere apology to the world for not acting and thinking in accord with those convictions), but also encourages rational argumentation about religious belief(s). Theology and Religious studies thus seem to have very different views of what the human person is, how the human person should reason and act in the public sphere (as opposed to the private sphere, if there is any such thing), what moral epistemic religious duties such a person has, and to what extent he can or should be expected to be ‘reasonable’ with respect to private belief (or indeed, whether or not human beings are so inexorably ‘social’ that there is any such thing as a ‘private’ belief at all). This final distinction between anthropologies is perhaps the most fundamental difference between the two fields.

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The Resurrection Probability Calculus

Dr. William Lane Craig has spoken about the probability of the resurrection, arguing that it is considerably high, and has championed an argument for God’s existence from the resurrection. According to him, in answer to the question of what the probability of the resurrection will be given our background knowledge:

Well, that probability will be determined by the probability of God’s existence and the probability that God would raise Jesus from the dead:

P (R|B) = P (R|G) × P (G|B)

where R = God raised Jesus from the dead; G = God exists; and B = background information. So the person who thinks that the probability of the resurrection hypothesis is low has to show that either the probability of God’s existence is low or that the probability that God would raise Jesus is low.

Read more:

As an amateur who doesn’t understand probability theory nearly as well as I hope to in the future, I’d like to make what seem to me to be two obvious objections to this. First, if Craig is right about the P(R|B) being equivalent to P(G|B)xP(R|G) then it seems wrong to suggest that the non-Christian (or at any rate the person who denies that the probabilistic argument for the resurrection of Jesus is a success), will not have to argue that the probability that God exists is low, or even that the probability that he would raise Jesus from the dead if he did exist is low. Suppose that the probability of God’s existence given our background knowledge is 0.5, for the sake of argument. Suppose then that the conditional probability that God raised Jesus from the dead given that God exists is 0.5 again for the sake of argument. Then the probability of the resurrection given our background knowledge will be 0.25! Suppose that the probability that God exists (on our background knowledge) is 0.75, and suppose the resurrection (on God’s existence) is 0.75, then the probability of the resurrection on our background knowledge will turn out to be 0.5625. Suppose, in fact, that either one of these probabilities were 0.5, and the other was set to probability n, where o.5<n≤1. That will mean that the probability of the resurrection given our background knowledge will be less than or equal to 0.5, won’t it?

Suppose P(R|G)=0.8 and P(G|B)=0.8, then P(R|B)= 0.64. The trouble here is that in order for somebody to think that the probability of the resurrection given our background knowledge is high, they already have to think that (i) P(G|B)>0.5, and (ii) P(R|G)>0.5. The argument should only appeal, then, to those who already believe P(R|B)>0.5. 

So, in the first place, the skeptic need not assign a low probability to either P(G|B) or P(R|G) in order to argue that P(R|B)<<0.5. In the second place, it seems to me that the only way to make the argument work is to establish  (i) P(G|B)>0.5, and (ii) P(R|G)>0.5.

In fact even this isn’t enough though. Suppose that P(G|B)=P(R|G)=0.6; then P(R|B)=0.36!

Thus, to establish the argument one needs one of the following:

  1. (i*) P(G|B)>>0.5, and (ii*) P(R|G)>>0.5
  2. (i**) P(G|B)>0.5, and (ii*) P(R|G)>>0.5
  3. (i*) P(G|B)>>0.5, and (ii**) P(R|G)>0.5

In fact, if P(R|G)=P(G|B) then each of the probabilities have to reach just over 0.7 (say about 0.7089), in order for the P(R|B) to climb over the 0.5 probability marker (which gives us about 0.502). Ideally, then, what we want is:

4. (iii) P(G|B) ≥ 0.7089 ≤ P(R|G)

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