Archive for the ‘Natural Theology’ Category

My Senior Thesis: Part 1 (for the 2 or 3 people interested: it's about ADS and Thomism)

December 14, 2009

A Simple Defense of the Complexity of God:
Examining Three Arguments Against Absolute Divine Simplicity and Suggesting a New One

This paper will deal with the Latin Christian doctrine of divine simplicity which I will hereafter refer to as Absolute Divine Simplicity, or ADS.  I will attempt to get clear on exactly what this oft-misunderstood doctrine actually is, as well as why one might be motivated to believe it.  After this, the majority of the paper will be devoted to examining a few of the arguments against ADS provided by Christopher Hughes in his book On a Complex Theory of a Simple God.  I will examine three arguments: one having to do with God’s omniscience and possible worlds, one having to do with the compatibility of ADS and the doctrine of the Trinity, and one having to do with the compatibility of ADS with the doctrine of the incarnation.  I will explore possible lines of reply for the proponent of ADS and then take up the task of defending Hughes against them.  Finally, I will attempt to give a “bare-bones” sketch of how an argument might go to try to show ethical tension between ADS and the fact that Christians are motivated to love God on the basis of rewards.  This argument will not be entirely complete and will certainly not be a “knock-down, drag-out” argument, but it will hopefully provoke some thoughtful discussion. In the conclusion I will make a few recommendations to the Christian philosophical and theological communities regarding how to go about articulating a coherent picture of the doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation.  Before we move on, though, let it be stated that the thesis of this paper is that ADS is not compatible with various tenants of orthodox Christian theism. (more…)


Should We Change Belief-Systems? Part 2

August 8, 2008

Assumptions and the Search for Truth

The X-Files was right: “The Truth is out there”.  But does that mean we can ever get it?  When people are seeking for the most accurate view of reality, a lot of the time they assume certain things as they search.  They adopt a method, but don’t realize that there are other ways to look for the truth.  In this post, I will argue that the method most people adopt for finding the truest worldview might presuppose that naturalism is false and that some kind of theism is true. I apologize in advance to readers who don’t like philosophical writing; I hope to do the rest of this series of posts in the more casual style that I did my first post in.  But the complexity of the subject matter required a more technical style.

A worldview is a system of related beliefs.  The content of these beliefs answers questions like “Why is there something rather than nothing?” “What can we know?” “What is good?” “What kinds of things exist?”.  I take naturalism to be the belief that nature is all that exists; it is a denial of the existence of a God or gods.  Theism on the other hand is the view that there is an all-good, all-powerful, all-knowing God who made the world.  I will examine how theism and naturalism fit with several assumptions that some of us make when we seek the truth: that we should be motivated to seek it; that virtue helps us seek truth; and that the truth we will find is good and likable. (more…)

Pick Your Poison–Reason or Desire?

June 17, 2008

“Just because you want something to be a certain way doesn’t make it so”. Frequently naturalists accuse theists of “wishful thinking”, or even delusion, because they believe that there is a God, want for God to exist, and want to have union with God. It is true that there is no necessary causal connection between our desires for objects and the actual existence of those objects; the existence, strength, or frequency of the desire does not cause the object of that desire to exist. But this doesn’t mean that there isn’t any connection at all. Below I will argue that a dilemma emerges for naturalists who believe in darwinian evolution: either one should admit that the desire for God and immortality corresponds to something real, or one should relinquish the claim to believe in naturalistic evolution rationally. (more…)

The Fathers and Theistic Arguments (3): St. John of Damascus

May 28, 2008

This is the third part in an ongoing series of posts on the use of arguments for God’s existence in early Christian theology. I hope to explore the implications of the use of these arguments by early Christians (to distinguish carefully what is being said from what is not being said by these theologians), and to hopefully gain a better grasp of the relationship between reason and faith, and the role of intellectual persuasion in the discourse of evangelism.

In Chapter 3, book 1 of On the Orthodox Faith, St. John of Damascus writes the following about the existence of God: (more…)

The Fathers and Theistic Arguments (II); Athanasius

December 13, 2007

My first example is Athanasius, from On the Incarnation:

(2) In regard to the making of the universe and the creation of all things there have been various opinions, and each person has propounded the theory that suited his own taste. For instance, some say that all things are self- originated and, so to speak, haphazard. The Epicureans are among these; they deny that there is any Mind behind the universe at all. This view is contrary to all the facts of experience, their own existence included. For if all things had come into being in this automatic fashion, instead of being the outcome of Mind, though they existed, they would all be uniform and without distinction. In the universe everything would be sun or moon or whatever it was, and in the human body the whole would be hand or eye or foot. But in point of fact the sun and the moon and the earth are all different things, and even within the human body there are different members, such as foot and hand and head. This distinctness of things argues not a spontaneous generation but a prevenient Cause; and from that Cause we can apprehend God, the Designer and Maker of all.
Others take the view expressed by Plato, that giant among the Greeks. He said that God had made all things out of pre-existent and uncreated matter, just as the carpenter makes things only out of wood that already exists. But those who hold this view do not realize that to deny that God is Himself the Cause of matter is to impute limitation to Him, just as it is undoubtedly a limitation on the part of the carpenter that he can make nothing unless he has the wood. How could God be called Maker and Artificer if His ability to make depended on some other cause, namely on matter itself? If He only worked up existing matter and did not Himself bring matter into being, He would be not the Creator but only a craftsman.
Then, again, there is the theory of the Gnostics, who have invented for themselves an Artificer of all things other than the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. These simply shut their eyes to the obvious meaning of Scripture. For instance, the Lord, having reminded the Jews of the statement in Genesis, “He Who created them in the beginning made them male and female. . . ,” and having shown that for that reason a man should leave his parents and cleave to his wife, goes on to say with reference to the Creator, “What therefore God has joined together, let no man put asunder.” How can they get a creation independent of the Father out of that? And, again, St. John, speaking all inclusively, says, “All things became by Him and without Him came nothing into being. How then could the Artificer be someone different, other than the Father of Christ?

(3)Such are the notions which men put forward. But the impiety of their foolish talk is plainly declared by the divine teaching of the Christian faith. From it we know that, because there is Mind behind the universe, it did not originate itself; because God is infinite, not finite, it was not made from pre-existent matter, but out of nothing and out of non-existence absolute and utter God brought it into being through the Word. He says as much in Genesis: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth;[4] and again through that most helpful book The Shepherd, “Believe thou first and foremost that there is One God Who created and arranged all things and brought them out of non-existence into being.” Paul also indicates the same thing when he says, “By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the Word of God, so that the things which we see now did not come into being out of things which had previously appeared.” For God is good—or rather, of all goodness He is Fountainhead, and it is impossible for one who is good to be mean or grudging about anything. Grudging existence to none therefore, He made all things out of nothing through His own Word, our Lord Jesus Christ and of all these His earthly creatures He reserved especial mercy for the race of men.

Notice the following about Saint Athanasius:

(1) Theistic arguments do not provide the foundation of theological belief-structures in Athanasius. He speaks as though Christian theology has authority separately from the considerations of his arguments. Notice how he takes divine Revelation as giving an adequate answer to opponents: “Such are the notions which men put forward. But the impiety of their foolish talk is plainly declared by the divine teaching of the Christian faith. From it we know that, because there is Mind behind the universe, it did not originate itself; because God is infinite, not finite, it was not made from pre-existent matter, but out of nothing and out of non-existence absolute and utter God brought it into being through the Word.” He knows that God is infinite, not finite because of divine revelation–a claim that would make little sense if he thought his trust in the contents of Christian revelation required theistic arguments first.

(2) Theistic arguments are primarily rhetorical/persuastive/polemical for Athanasius.
He appeals to the common standard of human *experience* (not some kind of supreme, neutral “reason”) to argue that the Epicurean view is unbelievable. He appeals to intuitions about divine perfection to argue against Platonism’s view that matter coexisted with God. This use of a shared standard of authority to show inconsistencies within opponents’ view and bring them in the direction of Christian faith is rhetorically powerful. In the first case, Athanasius argues that experience supports one specific view; in the second case, he argues that the view in question is inconsistent.

(3) The conclusions Athanasius draws are modest. Athanasius argues from experience and intuition to some of what the fathers would call “names of God”. He shows that God has names such as Creator, Orderer, etc. But this is very different from reasoning to truths about the divine essence. For creating and ordering are divine activities. God’s names of Creator and Orderer are designations of His personal acts. Athansius leads his opponents to approach the persons who are God via their personal activities.

The Fathers and Theistic Arguments (I): Preliminary Considerations

December 10, 2007

Many Orthodox theologians dissociate themselves from using or endorsing arguments for God’s existence. It is sometimes claimed that the early Church Fathers–the early Christian theologians of the first few centuries–rejected human reason and logic and were mystics who did not care about philosophical questions. While it is true that reasoning from the reality of creation to a Creator does not factor into the theology of the Early Church Fathers in the way it does perhaps in subsequent Western theology, it has always seemed to me to be an exaggeration to deny that “natural theology” has any part to play in their thought.

The purpose of this series will be to examine the place of arguments for God’s existence and what I will call “common theistic claims” (beliefs theists generally hold about the soul, nature, etc.) in the thought of the Eastern Fathers. When I say “natural theology” I don’t mean the idea that natural reason can approach the divine essence; I just mean that human reason and experience can lead us to some knowledge of the existence of God (his activities as Creator, Designer, Lawgiver, etc.). Because of the extremely negative connotation “natural theology” has in contemporary theology, I will instead use the phrase “theistic arguments” or “arguments for God’s existence”. And notice that I do not say *unaided* human reason; because grace never abandoned nature, all intellectual movement toward God is God-given. My preliminary thesis is that the use of arguments for God’s existence and common theistic claims in the Eastern Fathers can be characterized in the following ways:

(1) Theistic arguments do not provide the foundation of theological belief-structures in the Fathers. By “foundation” I mean “beliefs that constitute the basic claims of Christianity which serve as the starting point for theology”. A foundational belief for Christian theology is “Jesus Christ is God”; this claim is part of the initial deliverances of Christian revelation. My claim is that “natural theology” does not serve as a starting point for what gives Christian faith its authority. It comes to conclusions that fit with the “foundation”; but the process is not itself the foundation. The ultimate authority of Christian claims comes from God’s revelation in Jesus Christ and the authority is known (or reasonably believed) ultimately through experience of God.

(2) Theistic arguments are primarily rhetorical/persuastive/polemical. By rhetorical/persuasive/polemical I mean that they serve a purpose of moving those outside of the Christian faith toward the faith by showing the intellectual inadequacy of naturalism, dualism, Platonism, pantheism, etc. By rhetorical I do not, however, mean “lacking in intellectual integrity”, “merely intellectual and linguistic games”, or “lacking in substance”. Theistic arguments tell us real things about the world and can be used to persuade non-Christians or help the faith of catechumens and students.

(3) The conclusions are modest. The Fathers do not attempt to idolize philosophical rationality by claiming that arguments for God’s existence give deep insights into the nature of God. They don’t bring us all the way to the Christian God. They do not infer a whole lot about God but give us some basic propositions that fit with some of the fundamental beliefs of Christianity.

TGD part 2 now up!

September 8, 2007

Go see Plantinga and Draper duke it out over whether or not evolution is evidence for or against theism:

Much too much

August 7, 2007

“There has been much too much genuflecting at Hume’s altar.”

–John Earman

An Argument for the Contingency of the Universe

January 25, 2007

My roommate is not a philosophy major, but is interested in philosophical issues. He proposed an a posteriori argument to me for the contingency of the universe that was inteteresting:

1. Necessary beings cannot fail to exist; contingent beings can fail to exist. (definition)
2. The 2nd law of thermodynamics states that the amount of available energy in closed systems decreases. (from empirical considerations)
3. This implies that the universe as a whole (a closed system) will one day cease to exist.
4. Therefore the universe is a contingent being. (from 1 and 3)

If this argument were valid it would hook in rather nicely with the “vertical” cosmological arguments for God’s existence given by Aquinas and Leibniz. A revized version of the Leibnizian argumetn goes like this:

1. Everything has some reason for its existence either in the necessity of its own nature or in the nature of another. (Assumption, called the principle of some reason; notice it is not the principle of SUFFICIENT reason, which states that everything has a sufficient reason for its existence)
2. If the universe has a reason for its existence in another nature, that nature is God. (Assumption. Actually, it might just be a label. That is to say, we could label whatever is “the reason for the universe’s existence” as “God”)
3. The universe is a thing that does not have a reason for its existence in the necessity of its own nature. (Assumption)
4. Therefore the reason for its existence in the nature of another. (from 1 and 3 by negation of the 1st side of the disjunct in premise 1)
5. Therefore the universe’s explanation is God. (from 4 and 2 by affirming the antecedent of 2)

The most controversial premises seem to be 2 and 3. 2 is actually something most atheists would probably admit. But premise 3 is where the buck stops with atheists. Usually they will say that the universe had to exist. But if my roommate’s argument is right, this premise is true. If the universe could have failed to exist, then it is not a necessary being, and so it does need an explanation.

Well, does the argument my roomate gave succeed? Sadly, the findings of physical cosmology imply that (3) is not a valid inference from (2). According to most, the universe will be expanding forever, not collapsing back in on itself. The particles of matter will not become so drawn to each other that the universe will implode. And thus, there isn’t proof here for the contingency of the universe.

But careful consideration leads me to suspect there is another possible way to argue for the contingency of the world. Quantum mechanics is, of course, a much-debated subject. There are various interpretations of it, and so those who disagree with a certain way of looking at it will not agree with the conclusions that are arrived at.

Let us assume that quantum indeterminacy is ontic. By this I mean that the unpredictable and erratic movements of the particles that make up protons, neutrons, and electrons are in fact indeterministic in their movement and operations. Some people just think that quantum indeterminacy appears true; that there is a gap of some sort in our knowledge of the forces that influence the particles, and that if we knew all the forces that influence the particles, we would realize that the operations of these particles is indeed deterministic.

Now what follows if we assume ontic indeterminacy? It seems that the contingency of the universe is an implication:

1. Quantum indeterminacy is ontic (assumption–a common one at that)
2. At the first few fractions of a second after the big bang, the movement of the initial particles that made up the universe could have been such that the universe collapsed in on itself.
3. Therefore the universe is contingent.

This seems like a good argument. I’m not 100% sure it works because you can always challenge premise 1; but for those scientists who believe in premise 1, it seems that premise 3 follows. Thus it supports the contingency of the world (and by implication the existence of God).