A Few New Aquisitions and Good Blogs

A good library is the key to being educated, so I often work on stocking up my personal library with good books. I have bought a few recently. Here they are in no particular order:

  1. The Immaterial Self: A Defense of the Cartesian Dualist Conception of the Mind. John Foster (Routledge 1991).
  2.  Abstraction, Relation, Induction: Three Essays in the History of Thought by Julius R. Weinberg (University of Wisconsin Press 1965).

A blog you may be interested in is Beyond Necessity, an Ockhamist view is defended on this blog. It isn't one people deal with very often, but it is an interesting position on the question of Unviersals. The author of the blog also has an excellent website where he translates some classical logic texts. It is the the Logic Museum.

Some Reflections on the Sublime and Belief in God

In Edmund Burke's treatise A Philosophical Enquiry into the Sublime and the Beautiful Burke explains where the feelings of the sublime come from. For Burke, the Sublime has its roots in pain and danger. As I have been reading through this treatise I have come to realize that Burke's idea of the sublime may help get at some of what Christians throughout the centuries have said about the experience of God. Before I get to that here is Burke's section on the Sublime:

Whatever is fitted in any sort to excite the ideas of pain, and danger, that is to say, whatever is in any sort terrible, or is conversant about terrible objects, or operates in a manner analogous to terror, is a source of the sublime; that is, it is produced of the strongest emotion which the mind is capable of feeling. I say the strongest emotion, because I am satisfied the ideas of pain are much more powerful than those which enter on the part of pleasure. Without all doubt, the torments which we ma be made to suffer, are much greater their effect on the body and mind, than any pleasures which the most learned voluptuary could suggest, or than the liveliest imagination, and the most sound and exquisitely sensible body could enjoy. Nay I am in great doubt, whether any man could be found who would earn a life of the most perfect satisfaction, at the price of the ending it in the torments, which justice inflicted in a few hours on the late unfortunate regicide in France. But as pain is stronger in its operation than pleasure, so death is in general a much more affecting idea than pain; because there are very few pains, however exquisite, which are not preferred to death; nay, what generally makes pain itself, if I may say so, more painful is that it is considered as an emissary of this king of terrors. When danger or pain press too nearly, they are incapable of giving any delight, and are simply terrible; but at certain distances and with certain modifications, they may be, and they are delightful. as we everyday experience. The cause of this I shall endeavor to investigate hereafter.
That which is dangerous and can cause us harm is only terrible when we experience it or are too close to it. But from a distance in time or space it can be awe-inspiring. Take my experience with a tornado as an example. When I was about 19 my family and I were caught on the interstate by a Tornado. As we were heading down interstate 64 trying to get away from one of the frequent summer storms we a funnel cloud quickly formed, within seconds it was a full blown tornado. We could see it ripping up trees about a half a mile away. It was terrible, I felt frozen but wanted to move at the same time. Looking back on it now it gives me feelings of awe and wonder, but in the moment I mostly felt terror and a strong desire to hide (which we did). I do not want to call the tornado beautiful, but awe inspiring. Similar to the way the ocean makes me feel when I stand on the shore. I know it can kill me, I know that I am insignificant before the might of the waves, but I still stand transfixed by it.

I would argue that classical theism should make us feel much the same way. The only difference I would add is that God gives rise to both emotions of beauty and the sublime. If we look at the divine attributes there is a beauty to the balance and sheer power, knowledge, goodness, and creativity. But there is also a very real sense in which God could snap us out of existence. If he ceased to think about the world and uphold it with his power everything but Himself could cease to be. That is a level of the sublime that nature cannot even approach.

In scripture God is not only the creator of all that is, but is also the moral judge of human beings. This adds an added dimension to the sublimity of the divine. Some day Christ will sit on his thrown and judge us for whether we have believed and followed his way, or did things our own way and abandoned divine love. There is awe we should have at human authorities as well. The couple of times I have seen the Supreme Court in DC was sublime as well. Because you know that there decision of major import are made, that authority exists in those halls.

Anyway, just a few reflections.

What Am I Reading?: "Battling the Gods: Atheism in the Ancient World"

This book is an interesting history of the origins of Atheism in the ancient world.  Most people think that no one was an atheist in the ancient world. Whitmarsh gives examples of modern proponents of both religion and Atheism arguing that Atheism is a modern development. Whitmarsh's purpose is to show that this is not the case, that Atheism was alive and well in the ancient world. Before he gets to more theoretic forms of atheism he discusses aspects of Greek culture that made fertile soil for Atheism. By the Ancient world Whitmarsh means ancient Greece and Rome. Greece laid the intellectual foundations for the rise of Atheism for two reasons: i) The nature of Greek Polytheism and ii) the "secular"nature of greek religion.

Whitmarsh gives a very helpful explanation of why Greek polytheism gave rise to Atheism. The deities of ancient Greece were not the same as the monotheism that would arise later in Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The God(s) of the Abrahamic religions is transcendent, perfect, and wholly other. The gods of the Greek pantheon were not any of these things. The best that can be said about the God's of polytheism is that they are quantifiably more powerful than humans, but the monotheistic conception of deity is qualitatively different. More can be said on this point than Whitmarsh discusses, but he makes the differences clear enough:

Even the deities themselves were different in kind to their monotheistic cousins. The defining feature of the god of the modern monotheisms- Judaism, Christianity, and Islam- is that he is transcendent and remote. Christianity grappled since its very inception with the question of Christ's transcendence... This was not a problem that presented itself in traditional Greek religion, since the gods were thought (except by a few philosophers) to be entirely of this world. They may have dwelled on the most remote, elevated mountain in Greece, they may have been capable of flight, but they nonetheless belonged to the same ecostystem as we do. 
This is actually a good way of putting the difference. The gods of polytheism do inhabit the same existential plain as human beings. The gods are actually contingent in the polytheistic schema. They usually arise out of some pre-creation chaos, this makes the deities of the greek pantheon contingent. The God of Christianity, as an example, is a necessary being (not a contingent being). In essence, for the Christian, God is at the root of all other existences. Everything in the world we can sense, experience, and come into contact with everyday may not have been. Any thing that could possibly not exist is contingent. The Christian God is not like this, if God exists then he exists of necessity. This is a very different concept.

This conceptual difference gave rise to what Whitmarsh describes as "Theomachy", which is the contest of men versus the gods. He gives many interesting examples from greek mythology of characters like Sisyphus, Odysseus, and Diomedes who injures a god in the Illiad. The contingency of the gods made theomachy possible, because a being that is merely contingent, may not exist, and could go out of existence. Hence, the God's are not viewed as necessarily always existing. This made conceptual space for criticisms of the god's and whether or not they existed.

Another issue that potentially undermined belief in the gods was the immoral nature of many of the gods. Whitmarsh notes the use of allegory in Greek writers who tried to cover over many wicked actions of the gods. The contingent and immoral nature of many stories about the Greek gods gave rise to what I would call "intellectual theomachy". Intellectuals began to ask difficult questions about whether or not the gods should be worshipped or believed in. This gave conceptual space for Greek science to arise in the writings of the pre-socratics.

The pre-socratics questioned the nature of the world, because they had become unsure about the traditional gods. So we have some pre-Socratics believing in unifying principles like water, strife, fire, and other elemental explanations of reality. The Pre-socratics were looking for naturalistic (not appealing to supernatural explanations) explanations of the world. This desire to find naturalistic explanations for everything continued over into classical Athens (after the wars with Persia and much fighting amongst the members of the Peloponnese) where Herodotus and Thucydides applied it to history. Whitmarsh notes:
The most visible and influential sign of this new "forensic" approach to the world came in the of the writing of history. The desire to record the past is a feature of all literate societies, but what distinguished fifth century history from other ancient narrative traditions- those found, say, in the Iraqi epic Gilgamesh, in the poems of Homer, or the Hebrew Torah- were the excision of any mention of direct divine involvement in human affairs and the idea that the truth about the past needs careful sifting from competing reports. 
The two writers that used these methods of naturalizing history were Herodotus and Thucydides. Herodotus was the first to do away with anthropomorphic deities in his histories. If there is a divinity it exists "to make sure that there is retribution for wrongdoing (sometimes several generations later) and that the fortunes of individuals and communities both wax and wanes... As in the pre-Socratic cosmologies, then, "god", in this sense means not the god of traditional religion but an abstract, underlying system that the author claims to disclose thanks to his painstaking research." In other words, these gods are not supernatural in the sense of constant intervention in human affairs.

The second historian of this period, Thucydides, excludes supernatural explanations full stop. There are no gods who intervene in history, and there is no over arching moral arc that the gods enforce. Thucydides overlooks religion, unless it plays a part in the political history of Greece.

Another thread that Whitmarsh weaves into his history is the secular nature of Greek religion. What I mean by this is that religion did not play an all dominating role in Greek life. It is noted again and again that we should not confuse devotion in monotheistic religions to polytheistic religions. That seems exactly right to me. I also think that this played a significant role in the Greeks ability to question divinity. If there is not much invested in the religion, then it is easier to change, amend, and even add deities (or subtract deities).

The two streams of "theomachy" and "secularity" of Greek religion gave rise to intellectual challenges. The first challenges came from the Sophists who emphasized rhetoric and logic in public speaking.  Protragoras is the first example, he argued that since the gods are represented so differently by religions that they most likely do not exist. He even became a foil for one of Plato's dialogues. Whitmarsh gives many more examples: the account of Prodicus in On Piety, Democritus who envisioned the world as made of atoms and the void, Philodemus who developed a theory of religious development which could be traced etymologically, and many play writes ridiculed the gods and even questioned their existence and justice (see Euripides, Sophocles).

Whitmarsh gives plenty examples of pre-Platonic examples of atheism or impiety. He also strengthens the case that many of the pre-Socratics rejected anything like a theistic notion of God. When Whitmarsh comes to Socrates and Plato his account is pretty standard. Socrates probably did deny the Athenian gods and sought to replace that religion with his own religion of the Daimonion, and he also took the Oracle of Delphi seriously when she told him that there is no one more wise than Socrates. In a sense Socrates was an Atheist  (pg.133), but in another sense that did not exclude something divine in the world for Socrates. Whitmarsh sums up the evidence well in discussing Socrates examination by Meletus in the Trial of Scocrates:
This Socrates is still following in pre-Socratic footsteps, rejecting the epic conception of the gods warring and cheating one another. But what is striking is that although he claims to have divine approval for his action, his program is anything but religious. It calls for no worship, no acts of devotion: the only requirement is that the individual live her or his life in the most moral way possible. Socrates himself would probably not have understood it in this way, and Plato certainly would probably not have done so, but to all intents and purposes this is what we would now call humanist ethics. Do not accept inherited wisdom about anything, question everything, live only according to principles you can justify rationally: in this sense, Meletus was right about Socrates' atheism. 
Further, Plato becomes the first Greek theist in its more modern or monotheistic incarnation. In Plato God is the creator of the world, the metaphysical foundation for morality, and Plato also practices an early form of Natural Theology because he gives arguments for God's existence.

After Plato the evidence for a more philosophical atheism gains steam. There are the skeptics, Epicureans, Stoics, Cynics, Lucretius, and many others. Up until the rise of Christianity both Greek and Roman Polytheism had room for some forms of atheism and non-belief. Piety was viewed as socially cohesive and not necessarily requiring the devotee to believe in the deity. Whitmarsh argues that this was the state of things up until Constantine made Christianity the state religion of the Roman Empire. Whitmarsh recycles the familiar viewpoint that Christianity brought millenia of intellectual darkness, before the modern age rediscovered atheism.


Whitmarsh has done us all a service in giving a one stop shop for a history of Ancient Atheism. This book will be helpful to students of philosophy and theology. The style is extremely enjoyable, and Whitmarsh gives clear explanations of concepts. He tells the story of the pre-Socratic story in an engaging way, which is missing in many textbooks of the History of Philosophy.

When he gives historical arguments that run counter to received scholarly wisdom he notifies the reader and gives a argument for his own reconstruction. There are also plenty of little facts about ancient thinkers that the non-specialist wouldn't get from an undergraduate or even an Masters degree in philosophy.

I can agree with Whitmarsh that Atheism did exist in the ancient world, and that Polytheism is very different from Monotheistic forms of religion. It is also true that monotheism tends to demand orthodoxy over orthopraxy unlike the various forms of paganism. Whitmarsh's book gives a fascinating history of the thought and beliefs of many ancient people, and shows that non-belief is not a modern invention. He shows that his initial point is correct: Atheism is not a modern invention, and there was plenty of doubt in the ancient world as well. Not sure how helpful the proof of this thesis is, but he makes his point convincingly. At the end of the day though many will demur that Theism still has the better philosophical case over Atheism. 

Reflections: My Discussion with Stefan Molyneux

  I appeared on the call in show over at Free Domain Radio (June 10, 2018). Let me be the first to say that this did not go very well. It was my first time discussing any issues of philosophical theology in this format. Stefan ably controlled the conversation from the first, and definitely won our interaction from a rhetorical angle.
   I do not think that a few of my points were responded to adequately though. I am going to give some bullet points for the areas I think I am correct on, and explain why I think his responses missed the mark. The points are as follows: i)Simplicity ii) God's Omnipotence iii) Immateriality as being synonymous with "nothing" iv) Claiming arguments from natural theology don't work because of science.

i) My original examination of Stefan's argument may not be correct. Arguably, the language in his book "Against the gods" makes his first arguments sound deductive. He seemed to claim it was more of an inductive argument: We never see rational minds without a complex underlying physical structure. God would be a rational mind without a complex physical substructure. Since, we have never seen such a mind it is reasonable to conclude that: "probably no such rational mind exists."

ii) This point is out of order, but I'll go ahead and address it here, since I think this was one of the points that simply failed because of a lack of definition. Stefan's original argument was that since God is omnipotent, then God would be able to change what I am having for breakfast in the morning (future contingent state of affairs), but if God knows what I will have for breakfast in the morning, then he can't change it because if God can change some event in the future then he doesn't know it will happen which would be a violation of his omnipotence. So, if God can change what I will do in the morning, then he cannot know it, but if he can know it, then he cannot change it. So, it seems we would be forced to reject either omniscience or omnipotence.

  I responded that I did not think that this worked. I gave one of the three ways this chestnut can be cracked. I noted that God's knowledge of future contingents is based on his foreordination of the future. So, God knows the future based on his power. This is part of a classic understanding of the divine attributes, that the divine attributes entail one another. So, God knows all things because he foreordains all that will come about, and he has access to all things that will happen by means of his omnipresence, etc. So, that is one point: God's knowledge is dependent on God's power. The second point, is that we need to be careful when we are discussing things like divine foreknowledge. Since, the theist would have good reason to think God is outside of time, it follows that God's mode of knowing future contingents would be different than a temporal being. So, it isn't like God is waiting on the future to get here, in a real sense he is already "there". All of space and time is present to the divine nature, so in a very real sense God is presently aware that I am typing this post at time t1, and is also presently aware that Julius Caesar is defeating Hannibal at t2. And he knows how everything will shake out because he has decided it will happen in such and such a way. So, in a real sense God can change anything he pleases since he is fully present to the full timeline. God doesn't wait for moments to come about. He doesn't experience temoporal duration like we do.  One simple way of showing how Stefan's argument doesn't work is to note that God can timelessly create an infinite number of worlds. So, if part of the nature of goodness is to defuse itself, then God would create by necessity of his own nature. God's power is infinite, and would cover all logically possible worlds. On this account God creates W1....Wn, so he creates all possible worlds. So there is a world W1 in which I eat eggs for breakfast, and a W2 in which God tells me to eat cereal for breakfast. Since, all worlds are actual, God excercises all his power in one divine moment. This would also work with an account of divine temporality. So, it would appear that God not changing what I will have for breakfast in the morning is a problem with omnipotence, since God could create all possible worlds.

   What the problem seems to be is with God's freedom. But I am not sure what the problem is, since all of God's actions are not restrained by anything other than his own nature. Now, if there was some external state of affairs limiting God's power, then it would be a problem for Divine Freedom, but since what God ordains is simply God's unrestrained decision to instantiate some state of affairs, then God is the most free being imaginable. Stefan scoffed at this critique of his point, but I see not logical problems with it.

iii) Another one of Stefan's points was that since God is immaterial, then it is virtually the same thing as saying that God does not exist. He gave the example of walking through a door way. We know that the doorway is there because we walk through it. In other words the litmus test for something existing is that it be physically detectible by the senses or that we can observe some effect of the object in the world. I forgot to bring this point up in the discussion because of my nerves, but I will here. Stefan's statement is a proposition, but a proposition isn't a physical thing. It is a meaning. So, Stefan's criteria isn't a physical item in the world.

Second, the laws of logic are immaterial. He claimed that they are like physical laws that we know from experience, but there is a serious difficulty with this. If the laws of logic were like the discovery of physical laws, then it is conceivable that we will discover that there are true contradictions, since if logical rules are simply empirical discoveries about the world then they cannot express universality. However, logic are laws of thought they hold in all possible worlds. They are necessarily existing things. There isn't a world in which the law of non-contradiction isn't a thing. If the laws of logic ended up being false, then it is hard to see how we could gain valid knowledge of anything.

Third, take another example of an immaterially existing thing: Truth. Take the following proposition:

(*) If no physical thing existed, then it would be true that no physical things existed.

This seems to be a modal statement of impeccable truthfulness. Since, there are no physical things in such a universe, then truth wouldn't be physical. So, there appears to be one thing that isn't physical in nature, and that it is truth. Now, maybe Stefan wants to be an anti-realist about modal claims, and about truth itself. If that is the case, then he may have more problems than he thinks. Some other problematic properties of truth would be:

1) Truth exists at all times (it is true that I am sitting now, it was true three hours ago that I would be sitting now, and it will be true tomorrow that I was sitting now). It is Atemporal.

2) Truth exists in all places (It is true for someone in China that I am sitting in Indiana right now; it is true that a premise that is undistributed in the premises of a syllogism cannot be distributed in the conclusion of a categorical syllogism, and this is true whether I am on earth or in Proxima Centauri.) It is Omnipresent.

These are only two problematic properties truth has, and neither of them applies to physical objects. We could give a whole list of abstract objects that would undermine Stefan's claim that only physical objects exist.

iv) The final counterargument Stefan made was that Aquinas' metaphysics were based on his physics. This is a common trope among internet atheists, but it is false. Aquinas' argument from motion is not based solely on locomotion. Stefan didn't say it but I gather that he thinks that Newtonian Physics and then modern physics has undermined an Aristotelian understanding of causation and motion. So, take Newton's conceptual idealization that things on a frictionless plain would move forever. Now, it is often claimed that this undermines arguments from motion, but I fail to see how, since for an object to go in a different direction it would need to be moved. The following two principles are often thought to contradict. Aquinas' is the scholastic thesis and Newton's is his first law.

Aquinas' Principle of Motion: "Whatever is in motion is moved by another"

Newton's First Law (Principle of Inertia): "Every body continues in its state of rest or of uniform motion in a straight line, unless it is compelled to change that state by forces impressed upon it.

As Edward Feser writes:

It is widely thought that the principle of motion is in conflict with the principle of inertia, and that modern physics ha therefore put paid to medieval theology, or atleast to its notion of God as the Unmoved Mover of the world. The Assumption is that Aquinas and other Scholastics held that an object cannot keep moving unless something is continuously moving it, but that Newton showed that is simply a law of physics and once set in motion an object will remain in motion without any such mover. Hence Anthony Kenny judges that, 'it seems that Newton's law wrecks the argument of the First Way.'
This common claim is false and misunderstands both what Aquinas and the Scholastics meant by motion and a misunderstanding of what Newton understood.  Feser gives five reasons for thinking that a conflict between Aquinas and Newton is mistaken. I will give the first three as reasons for thinking Stefan's points fail:

  1. No formal Contradiction
  2. Equivocation
  3. The "State" of Motion
  4. Natural Motion (See Feser's paper)
  5. Natural Science versus philosophy of nature (See Feser's paper)
I will briefly summarize Feser's points and I think they will adequately show that Stefan's claim that science (at least Newton) undermines Aquinas. Then I will close asking why we should think Quantum Mechanics or Darwin would undermine Aquinas' arguments from Natural Theology.

So, Feser's first point. Let us assume that "motion" in both Newton and Aquinas is used in the same sense. Even if this was the case it would not undermine Aquians' point. Why? Because Newton's law tells us that if something is moving it won't stop if there is no external force doesn't prevent it, but this doesn't tell us why things obey Newton's First Law, nor does it tell us. So there isn't any logical contradiction.

   Second, the terms are equivocations. Newton's principle of inertia is concerned solely with local motion or change with respect to place or location. This is the exact point I made in our discussion, and Stefan brushed it off. I also noted that when Aquinas refers to motion he is discussing change of any type what soever. Things like changes in quanitity, quality, or change from one substance to another are all species of the more abstract genus of "Motion" or "change". To quote Feser,

Hence what the principle of motion is saying is that any potency that is being actualized is being actualized by something else (and in particular by something that is already actual.)  

Newton's Principle isn't even talking about change in the Aristotelian sense of the word. Act and potency isn't the same as local motion. Rather, it is referring to going from what state to another. So, if I am sitting I have the potential to stand. When I do stand I am actually standing. I have gone from potency to act. This is different than Newton's first principle, hence the Scholastic notion is untouched by Newtonian Mechanics.

   Third, modern physics views motion as a state. A state implies stability, and in fact some physcists note that absolute motion is the same thing as motion in zero speed. Hence, motion is taken as an absence of change. Since this is the case external forces are indeed required to move a thing out of this "state" and bring about change. This is all the scholastic needs to get the arguments from motion off the ground.

   All in all, Stefan's claims about Aquinas and science fail. Stefan told me to stop name dropping during the call in show, and forced me to give arguments. He was correct about that, but he needs to do the same. When confronted with and argument he will need to do more than simply say, "science".
   Now, I can imagine Stefan pushing back with Quantum Mechanics (QM), but QM would seem to show that something like the idea of act/potency is correct, since electrons have multiple ways they could be or potentialities I fail to see how this would cause problems for someone holding to Aquinas' metaphysics. Stefan also trotted out Darwin, but I fail to see how Darwinism undermines the act/potency distinction.  It is for these reasons that I continue to disagree with Stefan. hopefully in the future I will be able to discuss these things more with him.

What Am I Reading?: "The Reactionary Mind: Conservatism from Edmund Burke to Donald Trump"

This book by Corey Robin attempts to be an overview of the conservative movement from Burke to Trump. I hesitate to say that there is an argument in the book. Robin certainly thinks so, but I do not think he hits his target. Essentially he tries to argue that conservatism is marked by the attempt to maintain hierarchies, to keep power in the hands of an aristocracy. Here is an example:

Conservatism is the theoretical voice of this animus against the agency of the subordinate classes. It provides the most consistent and profound argument as to why the lower orders should not be allowed to exercise their independent will, why they should not be allowed to govern themselves or the polity. Submission is their first duty, and agency the prerogative of the elite. 
The thing this misses is that for the conservative the elite and lower classes can have movement between them. He does note this, but there is always a hint of disapproval as if  one man's ability to prove himself in some endeavor is an injustice. For instance,

What the conservative sees and dislikes in equality, in other words, is not a threat to freedom but its extension.
Say we agree to this, which I do. How exactly does that distinguish a progressive (or leftist, they aren't the same) from a conservative? It doesn't, because everyone no matter what political ideology views certain groups as lower, and that others are higher. The only difference between the conservative and the progressive (or leftist) is that we view different people of lower and higher orders. The Conservative will not think that wanting to limit marriage to male and female relationships is oppressive, but simply the definition of marriage. As a counter example to Robin's definition, does anyone for a minute think that Robin thinks that a neo-Nazis should have power? Obviously not, but this is Robin, a progressive, wanting to keep some lower class from having power. So, does that make Robin a conservative? No, of course not. Robin misses the essence of conservatism. It is true, of course, that the conservative seeks to place those of whom he approves into places of power. That only makes sense in a republic. We put people in place who we want to do our bidding.

Arguably the conservative wants even more mundane rights for the "lower classes" than the progressive. Robin even notes that, "by virtue of polity, Burke allowed, men had a great many rights - to the fruits of their labor, their inheritance, education, and more." That doesn't sound like a repressive society to me. The only thing Burke did not think the lower classes had access to was a, "share of power, authority, and direction in the management of the state." There isn't anything inherently conservative about this. I am sure Lenin didn't want the Russian Democratic Liberals running things alongside of him, because he didn't think they were fit to lead by reason of their ideology.  Robing goes on and tries to give other defining features of conservatism like the idea of struggle found in Burke's A Philosophical Enquiry into the Sublime and the Beautiful, as interesting as Burke's writings are on this I fail to see how it gives us an essential definition of what Conservatism is or what a Conservative believes. The Bolsheviks after all also praised the military life and struggle for the revolution. In fact Trotsky thought that the revolutionary struggle should be on going. Again, we don't claim Trotsky as a conservative.

Unfortunately, Robin never gives us a true definition of what Conservatism is, because he is missing the mark. There are many different types of conservatives, Burkean conservatism is only one type. Robin thinks he can draw a line from Conservatism to Trump, but this seems wrong to me. I don't think there is a clear line, there may be possible lines that lead to a Trump presidency, but the best we can argue is that conservatives supported Trump in the election out of necessity. Trump isn't a conservative but maybe conservatives thought he was more in line with their principles than Clinton. Robin tries to say he is, but he isn't. Trump is a populist that tapped into a populist impulse that had some overlaps with Conservatism, but so what?

So what exactly is conservatism? I think we need to actually look at someone like Russel Kirk. Kirk wrote a fairly famous essay Ten Conservative Principles in it he gives us twelve principles that various types of conservatives may share. Not every conservative will share everyone, but if you share most of them you can be called a conservative, Conservatism isn't an ideology like Liberalism, progressivism, or Marxism. I would call it a family of ideas that have relative similarities. Here is Kirk's list:

  1. The Conservative believes that there exists an enduring moral order.
  2. The Conservative adheres to custom, convention, and continuity.
  3. The Conservatives believe in what may be called the principle of conscription. "The Individual is foolish, but the species is wise, Burke declared. In politics we do well to abide by precedent and precept and even prejudice, for the great mysterious incorporation of the human race has acquired a prescriptive wisdom far greater than any man's petty private rationality. 
  4. The Conservative is guided by the principle of Prudence. Which is, "the idea that any public measure ought to be judged by its probable long-run consequences. Liberals and radicals are imprudent says the Conservative for they dash at their objectives without giving heed to the risk of new abuses worse than the evils they hope to sweep away." The motto for this would be : "Providence moves slowly, but the devil always hurries."
  5. Conservatives pay attention to the principle of variety. "For the preservation of a healthy diversity in any civilization, there must survive orders and classes, differences in material condition, and many sorts of inequality. The only true forms of equality are equality at the Last Judgement and equality before a just court of law; all other attempts at levelling must lead, at best, to social stagnation.
  6. Conservatives are chastened by their principle of imperfectibility. "Human nature suffers irremediably from certain grave faults..." "Man being imperfect, no perfect social order ever can be created."
  7. Conservatives are persuaded that freedom and property are closely linked.
  8. Conservatives uphold voluntary community, quite as they oppose involuntary collectivism.
  9. The conservative perceives the need for prudent restraints upon power and human passions. 
  10. The thinking conservative understands that permanence and change must be recognized and reconciled in a vigorous society. 
I consider myself a conservative. I agree with a lot of the points above but not all. My point is this: that Robin puts conservatism on a Procrustean bed. The result is one sided, and misrepresents the tradition as a whole. As I was reading through the book I could see numerous places where I couldn't recognize what he was saying as conservative. He could pull some quotes from here and there, but he focused on a very narrow selection of writers. 

There were many interesting insights in the book, but at the end of the day I am not sure it tells us much about Conservatism from Burke to Trump. I also have a problem with Robin lumping Conservatives with reactionaries. This may be for another post, but I view reactionary thinkers like DeMaistre to be removed from Burke or DeTocqueville. 

Part 4 of Stefan Molyneux’s Failed Arguments

In this video I look at Stefan’s attempt at defining God out of existence. Short synopsis: He fails. Again.

Stefan Molyneux's Failed Incoherence Argument Against Theism

I recently did a critique of Stefan Molyneux's arguments against Theism. I was patient in my first two videos, but this last one was so bad that I have lost my patience.

God and the Problem of Evil

In this post I am going to ignore my view that evil is a privation of goodness, and go a different route. In a recent Facebook exchange I had with the atheist philosopher Peter Lupu, he made something similar to the following argument.

1. If the actual world was a world in which God exists, then there would be no suffering of any kind*.

2. There is suffering of some kind.

3. The Actual world is not a world in which God exists. 

This is a deductive argument and I am not sure that Peter meant to put it in those terms, so he can forgive me if he ever reads this. I will rephrase it in an inductive way below, so that should cover the bases and one of them should be an adequate summation. The deductive form can be dispatched rather quickly. The argument assumes that 

4. God would have no other goods or reasons for allowing (or authoring) evil in any world he creates.

The problem with this move is that this premise is just assumed. All the theists needs to do is simply note that since God is infinite in knowledge and most likely has reasons that we cannot fathom, we are within our rights to posit: 

5. God has a perfectly good reason for allowing the evil and suffering that he in fact does. 

These reasons could be anything from libertarian freedom if a theist is so inclined to that view to giving an example of some other good that would be an overriding reason for allowing some form of evil in the world. The New Testament actually gives us a pretty good reason for God allowing evil, and that reason was God's plan to save some through his son Jesus Christ. It doesn't matter if someone accepts this premise, what matters is that there is a logical possibility that there is some good that would override God's preventing evil. So the deductive form of the argument fails. However, what I think Peter was getting at was something like the following. 

Inductively considered, there is so much evil in the world that God could not have a good reason for allowing the amount and intensity of evil in his creation. Since, there probably isn't any good reason for allowing the amount of pain and suffering in the world, then probably God does not exist. 

This argument makes a much weaker claim since it is an inductive argument. It gives us probable premises and probable conclusions. My response to it is similar to the response I gave above, but with a twist. My first point is that we are not in any type of position to know what kinds of reasons a being such as God would have. I can also think of numerous stories that are consistent with reality that undercut the idea that God probably doesn't exist. For example, if the world is Christianity says it is, then we live in a world of morally responsible creatures. God created this world with the purpose of glorifying his son by saving those who rebelled against his law. This was in order to bring glory to the Father and the Son, and this is an ultimate good. This theistic world can be empirically equivalent to an atheistic scenario for the limited knowers that exist in either world. So, evil events E1....En could exist in empirically equivalent worlds W1 and W2. The creatures in both worlds are limited in knowledge, but the weight of the argument by itself only gets us to a .5 probability of God not existing. Given this, we would need to look at different arguments that seek to prove or disprove God's existence. This assumes that all theistic arguments are probabilistic in nature, which is highly debatable.  

For these reasons it doesn't seem that the problem of evil should move us in either direction for or against the existence of God. 

Peter responded to me later on and noted that we can have three possibilities: 1) There is a world with evil and no second order goods. Second order goods simply being goods that are only found in a world with some evils in it. 2) A world with some evils and second-order goods. 3) A world with no evil and no second order goods. 

Peter thinks that world 3 would be better than world 2, but I have to wonder why. I have a conflicting intuition about this. I can give an everyday example. So, it may be a good state of affairs if someone provided for all of my needs all of my life, I never suffer want and I have absolutely no pain when I die. I live in what I called on facebook Lupu Land. I am a happy person with little to no difficulties in life. Call this World 3 person Bill. Then there is World 2 Person lets call him Jake. Jake has a life that is a mixture of good and evil. However, there are goods in World 2 that cannot exist in World 3. So, Jakes world is a world riven by some natural disaster. Jake shows great heroism and self-sacrifice by saving 1,000 people. Now World 2 is equivalent to our world in the amount of goods and pain and suffering. It also has these second order goods, which World 3 does not and cannot have. The people of world 2 are also made of a tougher stuff than world 3. In World 2 people require virtue because things are scarcer, and a little harder than world 3. So people must learn to be good no matter what the circumstances, and they have options to do good or evil. World 3 would not have such people of high moral integrity. It would seem to me that World 2 despite its evils is better than World 3, because there are goods that override material comforts. 

* Because a perfectly good being would supposedly not allow evil. 

Turning Anti-Skeptical Arguments Into Theistic Arguments

Make sure you check out Daniel Bonevac's long article here. Some very interesting arguments that resemble the transcendental arguments used by Reformed philosophers like Cornelius Van Til, Greg Bahnsen, and James N. Anderson.

What is Matter?

I was listening to a debate today between Frank Turek and Jeffery Jay Lowder. The debate topic was about whether Theism or Naturalism is the best explanation of the world. Lowder defended the Naturalistic view point, and I thought he gave one of the more powerful cases for philosophical Naturalism I have seen in a debate format. Usually atheists and naturalists get slaughtered by theists. In this debate I think Lowder probably won, or at least tied Turek in the debate.

One of the things that Lowder thought Naturalism explained better than theism was the existence of the material world. I found this rather odd, because I am currently reading the book A World For Us: A Case for Phenomenalistic Idealism. What becomes very apparent in the book is that it isn't exactly clear what the material world actually is, in fact in the book Foster (John Foster is the author) points out that there are some real issues for the realist about the physical world. First, the physical realist has a problem accounting for the intrinsic content of objects in the world. Intrinsic content are things that do not make up dispositional properties. Natural science only takes into account the spatial and dispositional qualities of objects in the world. Science leaves untouched questions of how colors appear to us for instance. In fact science chooses to treat such notions as causally impotent, and less real. In fact, intrinsic content is the same thing as secondary qualities. Secondary qualities are things like sight, smell, being appeared to in a blue way, etc. Simply put the way the color blue appears to you or me isn't the same as what science says blue is.

This problem of the gap between qualia empirical qualities and natural science gives rise to a very real worry. How is it that our everyday perceptions can be said to be true. It gets even worse, all of our scientific research comes from our conscious experience, so there isn't any getting "behind" our perception. The best that we can do is ferret out a geometrical structure of reality, but this is far from what is commonly meant by "physical reality".

We can also take the Berkeleyan claims seriously here. Berkeley noted that there isn't a difference between primary qualities like hardness and extension and secondary qualities like color, taste, smell etc. Locke and other enlightenment philosophers tried to argue that secondary qualities were mind dependent, but that primary qualities were not. This isn't true, because all of our access to the external world comes through sensation, which are ideas in the mind, and hence fundamentally mental.

This is before we even get to actual scientific theories like Quantum Mechanics, which undermines the whole notion of "matter" and takes them to be waves of some sort. In fact, some scientists even say that space-time isn't fundamental. For these reasons, if someone like Lowder wants to argue that Naturalism explains the existence of matter better than theism, then we need to know what exactly matter is, which is not something that can be given an adequate accounting.

When Theology and Philosophy Align

Perfect Being Theology (PBT) is the philosophical position that seeks to define God as "a being greater than that which can be conceived", "The greatest conceivable being", or "A maximally great being". In Anselm's Proslogion Anselm constructs and a priori argument for God's existence. I won't look into the worth of that argument in this post. What I am curious to examine is where this belief comes from with in Christian Theology. Paul Helm has developed a fascinating interpretation of Hebrews 6:13-14 in which he shows that something like PBT is operative in the biblical writers. Hebrews 6 quotes the book of Genesis, so it would seem that the roots of this thinking is very old. Here is the full passage of Hebrews 6:13-14:

13 For when God made a promise to Abraham, since he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore by himself, 14 saying, “Surely I will bless you and multiply you.” 
This passage is pregnant with meaning for information about God's nature. When people took an oath they had to swear by someone greater than themselves. In essence Hebrews is saying that God could not swear by anyone else, because there is no one and nothing in class above God. So, the Lord swears by himself in his promise to Abraham.

So, an argument can be developed. As follows,

  1. A Being that cannot swear by another is the greatest being.
  2. YHWH cannot swear by abother.
  3. YHWH is the greatest being.
Helm gives a more detailed argument:

Necessarily, anyone who swears an oath, swears by someone greater than themselves.Necessarily, had there been a greater than God, then God would have sworn by that greater.He swore by himselfTherefore, there is none greater than GodTherefore, God is the greatest being 
So, when speaking of God we should seek to predicate only things that would be worthy of a great being. An interesting fact about this is that Aquinas comes from a different angle in developing his doctrine of God. However, Aquinas has many of the same attributes that Anselm thought would be true of God. So there is commonality even thought there is a difference of method.