Saturday, May 31, 2008

The Coherency of Evolution and Faith - Part II

The following is a comment I made 5/31/2008 to the post "The Coherency of Evolution and Faith"(5/29/2008). It was requested that I make this its own post so as requested ....

Upon reflection on this issue, I believe many related questions must be answered to even envision what the debate should look like so I’m going to ask a few of those questions and leave the first substantive commentary to Mario (or anyone else for that matter). These are in no particular order.

1. Should the debate be under the label of “science”? If you think yes, then why? If you think, no then under what label and why?

2. Can someone please outline an argument for me how Intelligent Design does not fall prey to a regress that concludes with an entity we traditionally define as God?

3. The following is a basic definition that I pulled from Wikipedia (5/30/2008): “In biology, evolution is the process of change in the inherited traits of a population of organisms from one generation to the next. The genes that are passed on to an organism's offspring produce the inherited traits that are the basis of evolution. Mutations in genes can produce new or altered traits in individuals, resulting in the appearance of heritable differences between organisms, but new traits also come from the transfer of genes between populations, as in migration, or between species, in horizontal gene transfer. In species that reproduce sexually, new combinations of genes are produced by genetic recombination, which can increase the variation in traits between organisms. Evolution occurs when these heritable differences become more common or rare in a population.”

I used Wikipedia because it seems to be a basic source for basic definitions and nothing in this definition seems out of line with my understanding of the basic tenants of the theory. What more is required for a meaningful debate to take place?

4. If there are 480,000 accredited, University affiliated earth and life scientists working in the United States alone, how many dissenters of the theory constitute a significant amount?

5. If the dissenters of the theory from #4 above make a supernatural conclusion, are they still practicing science?

6. Who has burden of proof and why?

7. If the moral and Biblical implications of evolution (regardless of the observations, inferences, or argument) are intolerable to so many of faith, is reconciliation, debate, coherency, or any other unifying word even possible?

I hope we get some meaningful dialogue to answer these and many more to come. I will try to work out my answers to my own questions … unless Battlestar Galactica is on, of course.


Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Coherency of Evolution and Faith - Part I

If we assume that evolutionary theory points to a certain kind of truth and that faith also points to a certain kind of truth then it is only logical that there must be a certain kind of coherency between the theory of evolution and faith. Naturalism as a metaphysical worldview versus God seems to be the boiled-down, line-in-the-sand issue, not mutability of species as the basic, basic tenant of evolutionary theory. Too bad we couldn’t put representatives from both camps in a cage match, let them fight it out, and be done with the conflict, bickering, name-calling, hypocrisy, and tactics that take place on both sides of the fence. Since we cannot do a cage match … as cool as that might be … what would it take from both sides to resolve this debate? Maybe all I can hope for in this post is formulation of questions that must be answered before resolution can be achieved but I am truly interested in thoughtful, respectful solutions.

So … what do you think?

Best Wishes,

Darwin, Science, and the Demarcation Problem

Our study of Darwin’s theory of evolution, its aftermath, and implications unsurprisingly begs as many questions as it answers. One of the biggest questions related to the study of the theory involves epistemic and presuppositional difficulties of science. To resolve these difficulties first requires a definition of science, which relates to what is called the demarcation problem. I will make a few brief comments on the demarcation problem but leave the majority of its treatment to my friend Mario, a much wiser philosopher than I.

The demarcation problem in the philosophy of science concerns the boundary between science, and everything else. In other words, it asks the question what is science and what is not science? One version of the problem concerns the boundary between science and pseudo-science. Advocates of pseudo-science claim that it should be on the same playing field as science even though it does not function in the same way. The difficulty and resolution of demarcation lies within the criterion used to distinguish science from pseudo or non-science.

The term “science” is socially significant because it seems to make a claim on a certain type of knowledge or truth. Some argue that this leads to preferential access to money, policy, and security within educational institutions. As such, the demarcation problem and its resolution significantly affects our definition of social justice and what is taught to children in public schools.

Good philosophy should present difficulties of claims made in an argument as part of its treatment. As it relates to science, keep in mind that some propositions could be true and have nothing to do with scientific formulation or considerations. In addition, we may still intend science to be a truth-seeking activity or a better way of arriving at true beliefs but it does not entail that scientific claims are always true.

Please stay tuned to this post as I have a feeling the debate will be more than interesting. Well, hopefully.

Best Wishes,

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Agnosticism and Coherent Belief

The problem of divine hiddenness attempts to answer the question of God’s existence in the absence of direct evidence. One of the first philosophers to formulate the problem was Saint Anselm of Canterbury in the 11th century but it was J.L. Schellenberg who revitalized the debate in 1993 with the following argument:

1. If there is a God, He is perfectly loving.
2. If a perfectly loving God exists, reasonable nonbelief does not occur.
3. Reasonable non-belief occurs.
4. No perfectly loving God exists.
5. Therefore, God does not exist.[1]

In Divine Hiddenness: New Essays (2002), editors Daniel Howard-Snyder and Paul K. Moser present arguments from various philosophers and theologians that respond to the problem of divine hiddenness and Schellenberg’s claim. Paul Draper, one of the authors from the collection, responds from an Agnostic viewpoint with the following argument:

1. There is no direct evidence of God.
2. There is evidence that supports theism over naturalism.
3. There is evidence that supports naturalism over theism.
4. Comparative strength of the evidence cannot be determined.
5. Suspension of belief is justified when it is not clear which side is supported by stronger evidence.
6. Therefore, suspension of belief in God’s existence is justified.[2]

Schellenberg’s argument is problematic for Draper because, according to Schellenberg, reasonable non-belief supports the denial of God’s existence, not justified suspension of belief.

Draper’s argument distinguishes itself from both atheism and theism as a distinct point, not a point on a dichotomous spectrum. Theism and atheism support a metaphysical position in that God’s existence or naturalism respectively explains the ultimate nature of being and the world. Draper’s formulation of the agnostic position does not support a metaphysical but an epistemically uncertain position. This epistemic position holds in balance both evidential arguments in support of theism and those in support of naturalism. This is not to say that evidence supporting the existence of God and the evidence supporting naturalism both have a value of .5 but only that the relative weights of the evidence cannot be determined. Since the comparative strength of the evidence is unclear, agnostics make no metaphysical claim. From the agnostic viewpoint, either God or naturalism may be explanatory to the nature of the universe but no conclusion from individual evidence, at least at this time, is possible. This is clearly different from the Schellenberg’s reasonable nonbeliever because the nonbeliever still makes some metaphysical claim concerning God’s existence.[3]

Schellenberg represents the agnostic position in two different ways, neither of which represents agnosticism in quite the same way as Draper intends. First, Schellenberg represents one type of agnostic as weighing the evidence in support of the existence of God as equivalent to a probability of .5 against the evidence supporting the nonexistence of God.[4] This would lend support to his argument; however, as mentioned above, this is clearly not representative of Draper’s formulation in that a measure of probability is impossible because the relative weights are indeterminable. Secondly, Schellenberg represents another type of agnostic who argues against the atheist conclusion and claims that there is no way of telling what the evidence shows.[5] This may seem to be the same position that Draper takes but there is a distinct difference between the two. The agnostic, as Schellenberg describes, would not be able to defeat the atheist because to do so requires a defeater that would entail at least some theistic belief. According to Schellenberg, this is out of line with the agnostic position because holding to an atheistic defeater that theism provides is “confused” so atheism wins out either by the lack of a defeater or incoherence. Schellenberg would be correct if Draper took a metaphysical position but again, he holds to an epistemic position that is, by definition, without theistic or atheistic defeaters. Defeaters entail some conclusion of the evidence that Draper finds impossible to discern. For example, 20th century cosmology may support theism but that does not entail a conclusion that cosmology is evidence of theism.[6] Only if Draper made such a conclusion could he use that as a defeater against atheism. This has already been shown to be incoherent. Therefore, an agnostic must defend the agnostic position of epistemic uncertainty, not a particular conclusion of either theism or atheism against the opposing side. Atheism and theism both support a conclusion as their positions. How can an argument concerning a truth claim of atheism over agnosticism ever be meaningful if the agnostic does not make a truth claim? As long as Draper and other agnostics remember this key point, they will withstand Schellenberg’s claim that agnosticism really is just support for atheism and maintain agnosticism as a unique, distinct position that is not along a spectrum between atheism and theism. In this sense, an argument of the type Schellenberg described between the atheist and the agnostic would never happen and is not valid support of his claim.

According to Draper, it is both coherent and necessary that an agnostic engage in certain religious practices such as prayer because as he stated, “… unlike an atheist, I believe there just might be a God listening.”[7] This may seem like a contradiction related to the argument detailed above; however, action is distinct from belief and the agnostic position would preclude certain religious and atheistic activities that required a certain kind of faith. Faith requires belief and for the agnostic, belief only goes as far as knowledge that one of two possibilities must be true. Faith for the agnostic then must be limited within the scope of this belief. As it concerns theism and atheism, let us say that prayer, attending church, or not doing either (atheism) are first order activities while accepting a religious post, serving a mission or volunteering to speak out against religion (atheism) are second order. The distinction between first and second order activities is the level of faith necessary to not create a contradiction with the activity. If one is seeking or allowing for the possibility of theism, any first order religious activity is justified while no second order activity could possibly be justified. The same may be said of atheistic activities but it is simpler to classify because first order atheist activities involve no action while second order atheist activities involve some form of activism that either promotes atheism or speaks out against theism. Both of the latter are clearly not in line with the agnostic position but inaction is coherent with the agnostic position because of the possibility that God does not exist. Agnostic practice is a problem for Schellenberg because a person of reasonable nonbelief could not perform religious activities without contradiction. It is here that the distinction is made between Draper and Schellenberg’s nonbeliever because of Draper’s lack of contradiction in regards to holding both possibilities within an epistemically uncertain position.

In his essay, “Seeking but not Believing: Confessions of a Practicing Agnostic” Draper responds directly to Schellenberg in the following way:

1. “A theist might counter that ambiguous evidence … is actually evidence for theism.”[8]
2. “… ambiguous evidence has other implications besides reasonable nonbelief … it makes theistic practice possible.”[9]
3. “ … let’s assume that ambiguous evidence is much more likely on naturalism … so is strong evidence supporting naturalism … Does it follow that my agnostic stance is unstable? Again, the answer is ‘no’. The answer would be ‘yes’ if it could be shown that, prior … naturalism and theism are equally probable.”[10]

Draper’s response is problematic on (1) an (2) because he somewhat appeals to theism to counterbalance Schellenberg. He does eventually revert to and justify suspension of judgment based on ambiguous evidence along with inability to weigh opposing support (3); however, as mentioned above, it is important that the agnostic respond solely from the agnostic position. To answer the problem of agnostic instability from a theistic position to counter Schellenberg only strengthens the theist claim. He concludes by rightly defending the agnostic position in (3) showing that prior assumption cannot be made concerning the probability of naturalism or theism. Further defense of the agnostic position by Draper should include a discussion of assumptions made by both camps that lend support to their respective claims. Arguably, one of the strengths of the agnostic position is the lack of assumptions it holds in regards to evidence used to support its position. It could even be said that agnosticism makes no assumptions because it makes no metaphysical truth claim.

[1] J.L. Schellenberg. “What the Hiddenness of God Reveals: A Collaborative Discussion.” In Divine Hiddenness: New Essays, edited by Howard-Snyder, Daniel and Moser, Paul K., 33-61. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

[2] Paul Draper. “Seeking but not Believing: Confessions of a Practicing Agnostic.” in Divine Hiddenness, 197-214.

[3] Schellenberg distinguishes between the inculpable non-believer who does not believe in the existence of God through no fault of her own and that of the culpable believer who may be stubbornly blind to divine evidence. See Divine Hiddenness, 43.

[4] J.L. Schellenberg. “What the Hiddenness of God Reveals: A Collaborative Discussion.” in Divine Hiddenness, 55.

[5] Ibid, 56.

[6] Paul Draper. “Seeking but not Believing: Confessions of a Practicing Agnostic.” in Divine Hiddenness, 201.

[7] Ibid, 210.

[8] Ibid, 209.

[9] Ibid, 210.

[10] Ibid.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Problem of Evil and Soul-Making

I wrote the following essay for my Philosophy of Religion class at the University of Utah. The more I learn, the more I realize my ignorance. I believe my professor provided feedback on my argument and not on any of my theological claims. Any comments on these claims relating to Christianity and/or the Bible would be appreciated.

The problem of evil relates to a prima facie contradiction between the existence of evil or suffering and the existence of God. The answer to the problem of evil usually entails differentiating definitions of the terms evil, benevolence, and omnipotence along with a conclusion of the existence or non-existence of God. Theodicists defend the existence of God and sometimes use the problem of evil to justify their theistic claims. Philosopher John Hick is such a theodicist and contributed greatly to the debate with his book Evil and the God of Love.[1] Hick attempts to justify the existence of evil by claiming that it allows for moral development or soul-making and is therefore in line with the existence of God.[2] Soul-making then is a greater good than the absence of evil and justifies evil as part of God’s design of the world. The basic deductive argument as it relates to the problem of evil is as following:

1. God is omnipotent, omniscient, and morally perfect.
2. God has the power to eliminate all evil.
3. God knows when and where evil exists.
4. God has the desire to eliminate all evil.
5. Evil exists.
6. Therefore, God does not exist.

Christian theology rests on premise (1) and therefore refutation of the atheistic conclusion (6) relies on resolving a contradiction between premises (2) through (5) based on traditional definitions of omnipotence, omniscience, benevolence, and evil. Philosophers and theodicists have disagreed with these traditional definitions and reformulated the premises to support the existence of God. For example, Nelson Pike redefines the benevolence of God to allow evil only if there is a morally sufficient reason for evil or suffering.[3] Pike further proposes that evil may exist in the best of all possible worlds thereby eliminating contradiction. Roderick Chisholm added to the idea of evil’s existence in the best of all possible worlds by claiming that evil can (and must) be defeated in order to contradict (6).[4] Terence Penelhum questioned the presupposition inherent in (5) and showed that Christians must be committed to justifying all evils because of the possibility of spiritual benefit that we may not have the epistemic capacity to understand.[5]

John Hick begins his theodicy by acknowledging evolution as an “unavoidable Christian tenet” while maintaining our “spiritualization as a child of God.”[6] He rejects the presupposition that it is God’s plan is to create a hedonistic paradise common to atheistic arguments and instead uses the analogy of the parent and child to show that God is primarily interested in developing the soul.[7] He proposes that it is more fruitful, in this context, to look to the future rather than the past as it relates to the teleology of the existence of evil. He then distinguishes between physical pain and suffering to show that much of human misery transcends physical pain while anxiety, fear, and remorse are sufferings of the soul.[8] It is here that he proposes that an epistemic distance is necessary for free-will to exist in relation to God. Sinfulness and the value of redemption create a paradox that Hick claims places suffering within divine providence.[9] The key point to his argument is that without evil, there could be no morally correct action because the consequences of any action could never be evil or inflict suffering. Without moral consequence, development of the soul and redemption would never be realized. Being made in His image does not mean comfort and idleness but rather tasks, challenges, and problems. He addresses the problem with the mystery of random, unexplained suffering by suggesting that mystery may be an important part of soul-making as demonstrated by compassion and altruism. He further suggests that the mystery of dysteleological suffering may be beyond human understanding but still may be support for theism by again emphasizing that evil paradoxically allows human goodness within a context of world divinely created for soul-making.[10]

Hick’s soul-making theodicy, at first glance, does seem to overcome the contradictions inherent in the classic problem of evil. However, it has many problems in its formulation and conclusion of God’s existence. First, soul-making theodicy does not adequately account for evolution and our coming into spiritual existence. Hick recognizes that evolution is a fact of nature and his idea of a two-stage process of spiritualization necessarily means that at some point in our development, the hand of God touched us. Being made in his image seems to mean that we had to evolve certain capacities that would allow belief and reason to be possible. In other words, we had to physically evolve a cerebral cortex and higher brain functioning. Was it God’s plan that we evolve in a certain way that allowed only humans to have the capacity of being made in is image? This fits nicely with many tenets in the Book of Genesis but is problematic in terms of evolution even as simple as the Great Chain of Being.[11] If God’s design of our world is to provide us with a physical reality capable of developing our soul, it does not make sense that there would be a need of a two-stage process. God being omnipotent and omniscient of the fact that He was going to make us in His image at some point could just have easily made us according to the literal interpretation of the Book of Genesis without the need of an evolutionary process. The uniqueness or specialness of humans in God’s scheme and dominion over all other animals in Christian faith conflicts with evolution in the fact that evolution makes it possible that other creatures might develop cognitive capacities similar to our own and therefore be possible of being made in His image as well.

Secondly, with regards to animals, soul-making theodicy does not adequately account for their suffering. If suffering and evil are necessary for humans who uniquely have a soul that requires developing and God is both omnipotent and omniscient then it is possible that a world could exist where pain, suffering, consequence, and redemption only applied to humans. Hick would respond that pointless evil does not exist because the very mystery of the appearance of pointless suffering allows the possibility of compassion or some other form of human goodness. This does not hold up to the fact we can conceptualize unknown suffering that negates a realistic response of human goodness. How can compassion and altruistic behavior be shown to the animal that gets caught in the La Brea tar pits that no one witnessed slowly, horrifically dying? Redemption and the possibility of human goodness points to the actions we may or may not perform. Any suffering outside the possibility of action or outside the possibility of witness seems to serve no purpose to the process of soul-making and is therefore pointless if humans are the only one of God’s creations that has a soul.

The same reasoning applies to the suffering and evil of mass or innocent human suffering that goes without witness as well. We can imagine an individual without family or friends who dies in a way that not even a corpse or skeleton remain. We can also imagine that this individual died in such a way that their suffering did not contribute to the development of their own soul such as slowly suffocating while in a coma, i.e., no higher brain functioning to realize suffering of say dying alone but enough base functioning to feel physical pain. There does not seem to be either the capacity for human goodness to be demonstrated in the face of the suffering or the ability to reflect on the mystery of the point of suffering that we discover after the fact. If neither is possible then I argue that it is pointless evil and does not fit within Hick’s formulation of a soul-making theodicy without the contradiction of omnipotence, omniscience, or benevolence inherent in the classic problem of evil. In other words, the argument for suffering as teleological in any capacity still falls short regarding evil without benefit to anyone either before or after the suffering even in an environment expressly designed for soul-making.

Lastly, Hick creates a paradox that many theists, particularly those of Christian faith, would find unacceptable. First, assume that God exists and allows suffering for the possibility of morality in our world for the purpose of soul making. Next, assume that Heaven and Hell exist as reward or punishment for the choices we make in this world. Then imagine an individual who because of free-will, faith, and the environment God provides for the development of the soul, chooses a path of moral correctness and earns a place in Heaven. According to Christian doctrine, Heaven is a paradise where conditions are perfect. Then by Hick’s formulation Heaven must either be absent of free-will or morality. Free-will would allow wrong or mistaken action but wrong action is not possible in the paradise of Heaven because conditions are perfect. Further, there seems to be evidence in the Bible that free-will is punishable and evil as demonstrated by some accounts of Lucifer and the Fall. Lastly, to say that Heaven is absent of morality would be heretical to Christian doctrine since God is morally perfect and Heavenly paradise is again, a place where conditions are perfect. If the design of the physical world allows development of the soul, what does the design of Heaven allow regarding free-will, development, and morality?

[1] Hick, John. Evil and the God of Love. New York, NY: Harper and Row Publishers, 1966 (rev. edn., 1977).

[2] Hick, John. “Soul-Making and Suffering.” In The Problem of Evil, edited by Marilyn M. Adams and Robert M. Adams, 168-188. New York: Oxford University Press, 1990. Selections include only Chapters 12 and 14 from Evil and the God of Love (rev. edn., 1977).

[3] Pike, Nelson. “Hume on Evil” In The Problem of Evil, p. 41.

[4] Chisholm, Roderick M. “The Defeat of Good and Evil” In The Problem of Evil, p. 68.

[5] Penelhum, Terence. “Divine Goodness and the Problem of Evil” In The Problem of Evil, p. 81-82.

[6] Hick, John. “Soul-Making and Suffering.” In The Problem of Evil, p. 168.

[7] Hick, John. “Soul-Making and Suffering.” In The Problem of Evil, pp. 169-171.

[8] Ibid, p. 176.

[9] Ibid, p. 178.

[10] Ibid, p. 188.

[11] The conceptualization of a Great Chain of Being is a Western idea of the medieval period. It is illustrated as a hierarchy with life as a continuum from material to immaterial and inanimate to animate. This basically covered everything from rock to God. Our human existence places us on the on the border of material and immaterial and therefore closest to God.

Aquinas' "Summa Theologica"

Saint Thomas Aquinas. "The Existence of God", 1265-74. In Introduction to Philosophy: Classical and Contemporary Readings, 4th ed., edited by John Perry et al., 80-82. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007.

The Summa Theologica (Question 2, Article 1) responds to Saint Anselm’s Ontological Argument as such:
1. Someone hearing the word “God” may believe that God may have a body and not understand it to mean that which nothing greater can be thought.
2. Just because God may be meant to mean that which nothing greater can be thought, it does not entail that He actually exists.

Aquinas then responds to two arguments against the existence of God:
The Problem of Evil
1. God is infinitely powerful (omnipotent).
2. God is infinitely good (benevolent).
3. A benevolent and omnipotent God would not allow evil to exist.
4. Evil exists.
5. Therefore, God does not exist.

Aquinas argues that God is infinitely good and would allow evil only if He could bring good out of evil. The difficulty with this response is the problem of pointless evil. If Bambi is caught in a forest fire that no one witnesses and dies a horrible, painful death then it seems like pointless evil if we define suffering as evil. If animals have no souls, then what good comes from their pain? Unless humans (the only creatures that have souls) either experience or witness suffering, then there can be no test of faith questioning the benevolence of God.

Argument from Naturalism
1. If we can account for something based on a few original causes (prima causa) we should not use many.
2. We can account for everything without appeal to God via naturalism.
3. Therefore, there is no need to say God exists.

We must trace whatever nature does back to a first cause because nature works for a definite end under the direction of a higher agency. This response is also problematic because it begs the question regarding the purpose of nature, direction, and higher agency. Naturalism, by most definitions, seems to exclude supernatural causation.

Aquinas response and argument for the existence of God consists of the Quinquae Viae or the “Five Ways”.
1. The argument from change – objects that have potentiality for change cannot actually change without some other force. Everything that changes is made to change by something else. If we regress this principle to a first cause, we conclude that the first cause is not changed by anything. This is what we understand to be God.
2. The argument from causation – efficient causes come in series and we cannot find anything that is its own efficient cause because that would entail that it came before itself, which is logically impossible. Efficient cause cannot go back to infinity, which means that there is a first efficient cause. This is what we understand to be God.
3. The argument from possibility and necessity – some things can either exist or fail to exist. If something can fail to exist then at some point it has failed to exist. A regress again leads us to conclude that at some point, nothing existed. For something to begin to exist, there must be something that already exists out of necessity. We must therefore conclude that there exists something necessary that does not owe its necessity to anything else but causes the necessity of other things. This is what we understand to be God.
4. The argument from the gradation of things – some things are found to be better, truer, or nobler than others. Something is said to have more or less of a quality according to its distance to its maximum. The greatest thing, according to Aristotle, is the cause of everything of that kind. Therefore, there is something that is the cause of being, goodness, and perfection. This is what we understand to be God.
5. The argument from the governance of the world – all things, even those lacking consciousness, act for a purpose.

Premises 1-3 do not conclusively proof the existence of God over naturalism. One could argue that you can substitute “Big Bang” for “God” in these premises as well. There will always remain, however, the question of where matter came from in the first place when it comes to the Big Bang even if you believe in a cyclical, no loss of matter hypothesis.

Premises 4-5 are problematic if you do not assume the existence of God in the first place. It is hard, once again, to get away from the subjectivism as in Anselm’s argument and his idea of “greater”. If we cannot objectively define “greater” and “lesser” without human convention then this will always be a problem. This is a better argument than Anselm but more is required.

As always, your thoughts and comments are welcomed.

Best Wishes,

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Saint Anselm's "Ontological Argument"

Saint Anselm of Canterbury. "The Ontological Argument", 1077. In Introduction to Philosophy: Classical and Contemporary Readings, 4th ed., edited by John Perry et al., 78-79. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007.

This relates to yet another philosophical project I am tackling this summer. The goal is to read a broad range of introductory readings to provide a more solid base and better speak the language of philosophy. As always, I encourage your thoughts and wisdom.

Anselm’s argument for the existence of God breaks down as such:
1. A being may be imagined which none greater can be conceived.
2. Existence in reality is greater than existence in the mind alone.
3. If we imagine a being that exists only in our mind then it is not a being which none greater can be conceived.
4. A being which none greater can be conceived must also exist in reality.
5. Therefore, God must exist because He is a being which none greater can be conceived.

This argument seems valid but Anselm makes a couple of assumptions that makes me question its soundness. First, there is no proof that existence in reality is greater than existence in the mind alone (premise 2). Einstein’s theory tells us that nothing can travel faster than the speed of light. It takes light from the sun approximately 9 minutes to reach Earth yet our imagination can take us to the sun instantaneously thereby making our mind more powerful than the limits on matter. In addition, all religious belief entails a belief in some form of dualism because of the immaterial nature of the soul. If we maintain our mind within our soul after we die then the mind is greater than the reality of physical substance. This is problematic for Anselm because premise 2 is key to his argument.

Secondly, Anselm also assumes that there is some sort of inherent value difference between beings that allows us to objectively use the term “greater”. Am I greater than my cat? He lives a plush life, does not have to work, or worry about matters I address in my blog. Maybe our more highly developed cerebral cortex is a curse rather than a blessing. Anselm’s argument does not get off the ground unless someone can show that greatness actually exists.

The last problem with Anselm’s argument has to do with the problem of omnipotence. If God can do anything then He can make a being greater than Himself. It is then conceivable that there is a being greater than God, which allows God not to exist in reality but only in the mind according to Anselm’s argument. This is the weakest and most paradoxical problem of Anselm's argument that again relates to the problem of “greatness”.

I will leave this with a similar paradox and nod to The Simpsons. “Could God microwave a burrito so hot that He could not eat it? Homer can be so deep.

Best Wishes,

Exploring "Battlestar Galactica"

About a month ago, my friend and co-worker at Barnes & Noble turned me onto Battlestar Galactica. It took a while for me to be convinced that I should watch it because I do not have a lot of time and, let’s be honest, there is a lot of crap on TV. He spoke about the show, however, with a glimmer in his eye that spoke to more than his inner Sci-Fi geek. I decided to try it because I trusted his recommendation and needed some entertainment that was dichotomous with some of the drier philosophical readings I have had to work through lately. Last semester I started reading graphic novels again for that same reason, not the just any comics but quality storylines such as Identity Crisis by Brad Meltzer, The Watchmen by Alan Moore, Green Lantern: Rebirth by Geoff Johns, and Green Lantern: The Sinestro Corps War- Volume I also by Geoff Johns. I highly recommend these titles for quality of writing, artwork, and literary value. To Andy and Cousin Doug, I am indebted.

I am also indebted to both of them for turning me onto Battlestar Galactica. It is one the best shows I have had the privilege to watch. For those of you laughing at this point, check out the pilot/3-hour mini-series. If you are, like me and at least two others that read this blog, then you will agree and be hooked. I guess I picked the wrong show, however, if I wanted to shy away from deep philosophical and literary issues because it is packed with questions of this sort from moment one. However, enough with the advertising without pay. I intend to add Battlestar Galactica as another project of this blog and encourage your responses. I will attempt to address:

1. Religion – Cylons are monotheistic while the humans are polytheistic. There are signs of Christianity, Mormonism, and Greek mythology that warrant exploration.
2. Humanity under Pressure – I will not be giving much away when I say that the scenario of the show is based on the idea that 99.999% of humanity is wiped out and the remainder is being relentlessly pursued and under threat of being killed at any moment. How does social interaction and human value change under such conditions and what does it mean?
3. Morality – there are so many moral questions in this show I do not even know where to begin. Since I like to argue and nothing makes for an argument like controversy, I will at least tackle the issue of abortion that comes up in the show. If the morality of abortion is different when there are so few of us left then can that morality change when we are safe and plentiful? How does the issue of personal freedom play into all this?
4. Social Justice – when are freedoms and non-basic rights justifiably sacrificed? Are they ever even if those very freedoms somehow put the larger group at risk? When is it justified for the military to overthrow the civilian government and who gets to decide?
5. Genocide – what constitutes enough of a threat by one group to justify wiping out every man, women, and child of that group?
6. Human Essence – what does it mean to be human? Self-awareness or consciousness? The ability to love and hate? What will it mean if and when we either create or meet something else that has these qualities?

I'm sure there will be more but six questions seems like an appropriate number of topics to start with, especially since the character Six in the show is way hot in that Amazonian, super-naughty, wipe out your species kind of way. I hope you watch the show, read along here, and participate in the discussion.

Best Wishes,

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Herschel's "The Study of Natural Philosophy"

Herschel, John. "The Study of Natural Philosophy", 1830. In Darwin: A Norton Critical Edition, 3rd ed., edited by Philip Appleman, 49-57. New York: W.W Norton & Company, Inc., 2001.

This piece seems to refer back to Hume's Problem of Induction but allows for observation and inference as long as it does not conflict with the Bible. Here are the main points:

1. Humans are speculative beings. We contemplate the world and objects around us not with passive indifference but as a system of order and design.
2. No natural object unimportant or trifling to the natural philosopher.
3. The natural philosopher seeks to determine the operation of general causes to describe general laws.
4. Principles not phenomena, laws not insulated facts, are the object and inquiry of the natural philosopher.
5. All human discoveries seem to be made only for the purpose of confirming more strongly the truths contained in sacred writings such as the Bible.

Vera causa, induction, and presuppositions again resurface as issues of science. Herschel agreed with Darwin that observations support Darwin's Principle of Divergence but he disagreed with Darwin conclusions because the implications so clearly departed from the Bible, especially in regards to humans. I think Herschel was looking for naturalistic answers to scientific inquiry that fit with God's word.

Herschel sought one truth, not two possible truths. For many people today, it is a choice between two dichotomies, not a quest to find the truth of two worldviews. We will explore this more as we go but one question I will continue to explore is why does evolution preclude design, intelligence, or God as prima causa? Why does the Book of Genesis have to be interpreted as a statement of biology versus a statement of our spirit, soul, or immaterial self as being in the image of God? After all, black people and white people look prima facie distinct, as do men and women. So, what image of God is the correct image or does Genesis simply imply a dualistic human nature of body and soul?

Lyell's "Principles of Geology"

Lyell, Charles. "Principles of Geology", 1830-33. In Darwin: A Norton Critical Edition, 3rd ed., edited by Philip Appleman, 49-52. New York: W.W Norton & Company, Inc., 2001.

Norton Critical editions contain abridged excerpts from source texts so we rely somewhat on the discretion of the editor for arguments and observations to critique. It has been pointed out that Appleman is not a scientist but a poet and English Professor. Must one be a scientist to legitimately comment on science? What defines a scientist? Is it adherence to philosophical or methodological naturalism? I will attempt to answer these questions over the course of the project but already, getting to the truth seems to be a messy endeavor. These questions are relevant to critiques of evolutionary theory as well. Philip Johnson, author of Darwin on Trial and prominent critic of evolutionary theory, is a Law Professor from Berkeley. He is also a founder of the Intelligent Design Movement and architect of the Wedge Strategy. Does this make his argument against evolution any less valid? I briefly mentioned presuppositions in my prior post. How do we not color our reasoning and arguments with bias to legitimize our conclusions? I have provided more questions than answers here but this may be a great way to start this project. Skepticism should be the default position of science ... maybe non-scientists ought to approach it the same way. Oh yeah, the link on the Wedge Strategy is from Wikipedia. As with all things Wiki, I encourage further reference and understanding that at best, Wikipedia only provides a broad definition, not a definitive one and not everyone agrees on even the broad definitions. OK, onto to Lyell.

Here are the main points and observations from Principles of Geology:

1. He references Lamarck and Cuvier to the progress of geological understanding of the fossil record. Lamarck believed that the fossil record indicated that species diverged from the original but not that species went extinct. This supported more of an old earth view that was rejected by Cuvier and the scientific community of the time. Cuvier was a catastrophist who believed in the fixity of species and extinction.
2. Lyell refers to rock formation (volcanic) and strata as evidence of an old earth and, "... tranquil deposition of sedimentary matter, and the slow development of organic life.” (49).
3. He seems to refer to modern continental theory that the continents were at one time a single land mass (Pangaea). The excerpt does not refer to Pangaea directly, only that continents grow. Is this a reference to erosion, volcanic action, and continental drift?
4. He does acknowledge an "Eternal Being" and refers to design and unity of purpose.
5. He does not think that the "finite powers of Man" will allow even speculation of the truth regarding the beginning or end of so vast a scheme (geology and biology?).

Lyell was one of the biggest influences on Darwin. He was given Volume I of Lyell's work by Captain Fitzroy on the Beagle soon after departure from England. Darwin sent for Volume II later on in the voyage. Lyell's work and the concept of an old earth is important to Darwin's theory because, generally speaking, natural selection requires vast amounts of time. Evidence of a roughly 6,000-year-old earth as posited by some religious groups would be a difficulty for evolutionary theory even though they would still have to answer the question of genetic drift and mutation. Does anyone know of the best evidence that supports a young earth outside of an appeal to the Bible?

I am curious to know of the best modern evidence of an old earth. Carbon dating? Tectonic plate theory? Paleontology? This also seems to relate to modern astronomical/cosmological theory.

Darwin Group - Goals and Purpose

This summer, I am involved in a Darwin discussion group. The purpose of this group is to explore the science behind Darwin, Darwin's actual writings, and the aftermath of Origin of Species. The impact of Darwin touches many aspects of modern science and life. I have some educational experience in chemistry, biochemistry, genetics and biology while other members of the group do not. Some of the members have taken a Philosophy of Genetics class but the course did not deal directly with evolutionary arguments. My goal is to work through the science to judge the strength of evolutionary arguments to better respond to questions concerning the teaching of evolution in public schools, the Intelligent Design debate, and what seems to be a religious anti-evolutionary view. I want to be clear that I do not think that just because you go to church on Sunday that you must automatically reject evolutionary thought. However, the religious implications of the theory and the general religious and/or conservative party line (for lack of better words) is a real conflict that has not been resolved since the time of Lamarck, almost 200 years ago. Lamarck published Zoological Philosophy in 1809, was a early proponent of evolution, and was attacked by the scientific and religious community of the time for suggesting that species were not fixed or as Darwin would later call it, subject to variation according to the Principle of Divergence.

I will come back to this subject from time to time and encourage your respectful comments. Regardless of your feelings on the matter, it is a controversy, passions run high on the issue, and arguments for reconciliation seem remote. If this is of interest to you, I would also recommend checking out Tough Questions a blog run by Dr. Jason Epps who is a both a friend and colleague of philosophy. He also happens to have a doctorate in Theology and is Pastor of Gospel Fellowship Church. Jason is much more prolific with his writing/blogging than I and teaching me to be more analytical and critical in all of my work in philosophy.
I'm sure our debates this summer will center on epistemological difficulties and the question and definition of "What is Science?" He and I may have different presuppositions going into this project but we are both interested in getting a little a closer to the truth. Stay tuned to both blogs and let's see how we fare in that pursuit.

If you are interested in following along with the reading ...
Appleman, Philip
, ed. Darwin: A Norton Critical Edition, 3rd ed. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2001. ISBN: 0-393-95849-3

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Ronin, Godzilla, and Philosophy

For those wondering about my user name, a Ronin is a samurai without a lord or master. I do not have delusions of being a great warrior nor am I alluding to an atheistic worldview. I do not have a Bushido Shoshinshu code of honor or discipline required of a samurai. Rather, I am drawn to the idea of a drifting person in search of answers to regain something lost that may or may not have any meaning. It is natural to associate with those of like purpose and it is here that I make the connection with the wandering Japanese mercenary of ancient times. School, especially the study of philosophy, tends to beg more questions that it answers. Age may lead to wisdom but it also tends to challenge the psyche with regret. Like the Ronin of old, this blog will seek to answer various questions, mostly philosophical and literary, and do battle in the province of the past.

As far as Godzilla goes, it just does not get any better than watching a guy in a rubber suit destroying a miniature city and battling other guys in similarly ridiculous rubber suits. I think Godzilla is one of the most fascinating characters in literature. Don’t laugh, I know you sometimes want to say, “I am Godzilla! You are Japan!” to the mini-van driving troglodyte on the cell phone that just cut you off or to the TV producers that gave you 3 minutes of your favorite show and 5 minutes of commercials related to erectile dysfunction, fast food, and cleaning products you will never use.

Seriously, Godzilla is the product of the nuclear, social, and economic apocalypse of one of the last true empires. Japan is the only post-apocalypse country in the world so it is fitting that a pissed off, radiation breathing monster is their quasi-mascot. Godzilla is also female so I guess it is a commentary of sorts that the strongest, most willful female in film over the last 80 years is a monster. What is interesting is that she is decidedly good or evil not based on her intent but on random chance and consequence to a people for which she is barely aware and could not care less about. If Godzilla happens to walk into Tokyo to do a little shopping, battles Rodan instead, and saves the city from Rodan’s purposeful wrath, she is the heroine. If her favorite sushi bar is out of Dragon Rolls and she flattens the city then she is the most terrible threat to all of human existence. There is a bit of Godzilla in all of us and that is why such a silly genre has endured since its introduction in 1954. I am not suggesting that we are amoral creatures, only that we are not always aware of the suffering and joy we unwittingly impose on others. Morality and awareness will be recurring themes that I will revisit in this blog.

So, that is part of the reason why I chose Ronin and Godzilla as my user name and image for this blog. I am sure the rest of the story is still unknown to me and is possibly psychiatric in nature. What fictional or historical figure do you find a kindred spirit and why?