May 04, 2006

Why Believe the Bible?
Part 1: Plan of Attack

There has been a lot floating around about the doctrine of inerrancy recently. I posted on this subject not long ago, responding to a post at World of Sven and a lengthy series at Chrisendom. Since then, there has been a second World of Sven post, and also a post from the No Kool-Aid Zone about just how important inerrancy is.

This is a problem that I've been thinking seriously about for some time. Actually, I started by asking the question "just why do I believe in the Bible?" then realized that the answer to that question would have a big effect on exactly what I should believe ABOUT the Bible. I do believe that there is good reason to accept Scripture as an authoritative source of divinely revealed truth. I haven't got all the kinks out of the arguments, so I'm hoping for a little help along the way, but what I propose to do is a five (or more?) part series laying out an argument for the authoritative nature of the canonical Christian Scriptures (we'll get into what counts as 'canonical' along the way). This may take me quite a while to get through, as I'm about to start finals, and still have one more term paper to write here in Athens, then will be moving back to the States on the 19th, but by breaking it into so many pieces, I hope to have manageable chunks and be able to keep working on it. Major influences on the arguments I'm going to make are Richard Swinburne's book Revelation (I posted my first response immediately after finishing it here) and a series of teachings on the subject by John Piper, which I downloaded from the Theopedia article on the inerrancy of the Bible. I hope to accumulate more sources along the way. In particular I'm planning on reading Calvin, the Westminster Confession, and the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy on this subject.

My plan for this series is outlined below. If I change my plan, I will update this post to reflect it. I will also link each post from here.

  • Part 1: Plan of Attack is the post you are reading right now, which outlines how the subject will be pursued.
  • Part 2: The Life and Teachings of Jesus of Nazareth will argue in a manner based heavily on Swinburne that there is good reason to suppose that the life and teachings of the historical person Jesus of Nazareth represent a revelation of God to mankind. The canonical gospels will be used in the same way we use any other historical sources, but not assumed to be inerrant. The legitimacy of this usage will be discussed briefly.
  • Part 3: Jesus' Witness to the Hebrew Bible will argue, still treating the gospels as fallible historical sources, that part of the content of Jesus' teaching was that the Hebrew Bible as used in the original Hebrew (NOT the Septuagint, and NOT including the 'Apocrypha or 'deuterocanon') by the Jewish community in Palestine was also a revelation of God. How exactly he treated this revelation will be examined. One of the kinks arises here: it is difficult to determine the specifics of Jesus' theory of revelation, but an argument can be made that he accepted a traditional Jewish view which claims that the Hebrew Bible is divided into three sections (Torah, or Law, Neviim, or Prophets, and Ketuvim, or Writings - whence the ackronym "Tanakh"), each of which possesses a different degree of inspiration. This argument is troubling (for Evangelicals who see the whole Bible as equally inspired) but at this stage, I think, ultimately inconclusive. It may come back to haunt us in part 4 after we've established that the gospels are more than just historical sources and are forced to take every sentence of them more seriously.
  • Part 4: The Church's Witness to the Scriptures will examine the status of the Church as a divinely authorized authoritative herald of the revelation of God to man in Christ, using Jesus' own words in the gospels (still treated as mere historical sources at this point) to back this up. It will then ask just what the Church has witnessed about the Scriptures and the canon. The big problems come along here, as it is extremely difficult to determine just what the Church is and what it has proclaimed. For purposes of the argument, the Church is the continuation of the group Jesus founded when he appointed the apostles to spread his message, but which groups are continuous? The Bible's witness is, of course, decisive, since it tells us how Jesus and the apostles conceived of the Church, and it doesn't tend to support the idea of the Church being some specific hierarchy or institution, but it does support the idea that the Church is manifested in the world in the form of local gatherings of believers. There are groups that have at least SOME historical claim to continuity with the apostles (note that I'm not talking about the doctrine of apostolic succession as it is understood by the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches) which have different canons and different views of what it means for a book to be canonical. However, there are certain books that all of the important candidates for this continuity agree are divinely inspired, and we can get a pretty good idea, from the writings of the apostles themselves and from Christian writers close to them what the true Church must mean when it declares a collection of books to be "God-breathed." All in all, I think this historical argument, when it has the others to build on, gets us very close to the view of (small o) orthodox Christianity, as I understand it, but it doesn't quite get us there. I'm hoping others will be able to offer improvements upon it.
  • Part 5: The Argument From Religious Experience will examine religious experiences connected with the Bible, and ask what they might tell us about its inspired status. I will necessarily focus on my own experience, but will try to keep my statements general enough that some other people out there will have had similar experiences so that the argument applies to them as well. This argument can serve as a verification of a canon once we've got it, but I don't think it is much help establishing a canon in the first place, because we can't experiment on each book individually. Of course, there are some exceptions. For instance, the canonicity of the Epistle of Jude is disputed, and I have had 'religious experiences' connected specifically with that book, which helps to make me more certain of its canonicity (though if I had the same experience with a book that, as far as the witness of the Church, was undisputedly NOT part of the canon, it wouldn't be enough for me to even consider the possibility of THAT book being inspired in the way that the canonical books are).

And that's the argument. If you have any suggestions of issues to deal with, directions to take, or sources to read along the way, please let me know. I expect to write part 2 some time in the next two weeks (before I leave Greece), but no promises.

Posted by kpearce at 02:11 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 02, 2006

"Three Persons, One Substance" - Paradox or Solution?

I seem to have opened quite the can of worms in my post on Church dogma the other day when I said:

There seem to be some clear (to me) cases of Christian dogma that are not obviously uniquely deriveable from Scripture. For example, consider the formulation of the trinity as three persons (Greek hupostaseis and/or prosopa, Latin personae) in one substance/essence (Greek ousia, Latin essentia and/or substantia). This type of formulation is extremely common in the Christian tradition, and is derived primarily from the Chalcedonian Creed. However, I don't think we can say that it is obviously uniquely deriveable from Scripture; that is, there is no reason to say that someone looking at Scripture by some particular method that did not include granting some authority to tradition would lead many people to come independently to this conclusion. What is in Scripture is this paradox: the Father is fully God, the Son is fully God, the Holy Spirit is fully God, there is only one God. Any number of formulations of the solution could be compatible with the Scripture, but one in particular is generally believed to be part of Christian dogma.

There were many good responses to this, but the one I want to talk about is these few lines from vangelicmonk:
I would posit that the doctrine of the Trinity of three persons and one substance is not a solution for the paradox, but just a restating of what the paradox is from scripture. I don't think Orthodoxy has gone too far from that. Just a restatement that we mostly accept as mystery.

I think the danger comes to when we do try to explain that mystery. Like modalism where we say that the Father becomes Jesus and then the Holy Spirit. Or JW answer which is Jesus is not God but something else and the H.S. is just a power. In this particular dogma, when the mystery is tried to be solved, it creates problems.

Now let me be perfectly clear here: I absolutely do believe and am convinced that God exists as three co-equal and co-eternal Persons in a single Substance or Essence. It'sjust that I'm not always sure what I mean when I say that, and I've recently had some doubts about where that doctrine comes from. It seems to me, as I said, to be a clear case of Christian dogma, but what do we mean by it? Is it just a restatement of the paradox from Scripture?

As I see it, there are two ways that we can treat this statement. First, we can say something like "we know from Scripture that God is three in one sense, and yet one in another sense; let's call the concept under which he is three 'person' and the concept under which he is one 'substance.'" If we do this, we are doing nothing but restating the paradox from Scripture, as vangelicmonk says. However, we can't be sure that we are using the words 'person' and 'substance' in this context in the same way we use them in other contexts. This is perfectly ok with a lot of Christian thinkers. For instance, Thomas Aquinas thinks that when we speak about God we are always speaking by analogy. So, a Thomist could say some thing like: "when we say that God is three persons in one substance, we mean that there is some concept roughly analogous to the concept of 'person' as we ordinarily use it, such that if we consider God under that concept we will rightly state that he is three, but there is another concept, one roughly analogous to the concept of 'substance' such that if we consider God under it we will rightly say that God is one." (I'm not a Thomist, nor have I studied a lot of Medieval philosophy, so I'm not saying that a Thomist would say precisely that, but merely someone who agrees with Aquinas on this particular point could say that sort of thing.) Now, this makes a good deal of sense. Furthermore, the part where the threeness is analogous to 'person' can indeed be supported, to some degree, in Scripture: the Father and the Son are pictured talking to each other (e.g. in John 17) not in the way we talk to ourselves, but in the way we talk to others, and Jesus seems to speak of the Holy Spirit as though he were at least "roughly analogous" to a person in these latter chapters of John as well. There are other similar examples throughout Scripture. The concept of 'substance' is a much more difficult one; sometimes I'm not even sure I know what a substance (in the metaphysics sense, as opposed to the chemistry sense) is, but we can just go with it for now. So, perhaps we should say that a statement like the one above is a matter of dogma, but there is room for a great deal of disagreement as to just how good the analogies are. This seems like a very defensible position to me.

Alternatively, we could say that when we say that God exists as three Persons in one Substance we mean these words in the same way we mean them whenever we use them rigorously in this kind of metaphysical context (and statements about God are metaphysical statements). This needn't make any particular metaphysical system a matter of dogma (in fact, it had better not), it would simply say that if you are an orthodox Christian and you have a metaphysical system, your metaphysical system had better be able to account for this in its definitions of persons and substance. Now, the Bible doesn't use this kind of language (in fact, it doesn't even use English), so this couldn't possibly come from the Bible, and therefore can't be dogma under the Protestant idea, unless we think that Protestantism has room for saying that a disputable interpretation of Scripture can become dogma due to the authoritative status of the Church (that is, the true spiritual Church, not any particular hierarchy) as an interpreter, provided we realize that the Church continues to be less authoritative than the Bible itself. In this case, we might say that the formulation in English "three Persons, one Substance" was a matter of dogma, since all legitimate Christian communities that speak English affirm this (if, in fact, the broad, sweeping statement I've just made is true). Alternatively, of course, it could be that the Council of Chalcedon is an authoritative interpretation of Scripture, which might make its formulation, in the original Greek, a matter of dogma. I am of the belief that the word choice in the Chalcedonian Creed comes from Aristotle, so I hope eventually to go through Aristotle's Metaphysics and look at how each of the terms is used and see what meaning I can derive from Chalcedon on that basis, but I have no time right now, so let's assume for the sake of argument that the English formulation "three Persons in one Substance," where Person and Substance are used in precisely the same sense as in other metaphysical assertions, is a matter of dogma.

If this is the case, what we will do is proceed with an inquiry into the meaning of these terms by the methodology of analytic metaphysics (or some such) and then apply the results to doctrine. Note that, in this case, what the results have to be is not proscribed by dogma, but merely that if we get our metaphysics right with regard to other persons and substances, then we can apply the same definitions to God. It doesn't say under what circumstances our metaphysics is 'right.'

Now, I have argued previously that persons are in fact events, or, more specifically, connected series of mental states. A common definition of substance in metaphysics is "a center of causal power." Furthermore, I believe that God is atemporal, rather than merely everlasting. If we combine all three of these claims, we can get a very clear picture of God as Trinity: God, we will say, is a single center of causal power, existing in three separate eternal complex mental states. This is roughly analogous (here we go back to analogy) to three minds controlling a single body, but always agreeing on how to move it. God is only one set of causal powers, so it is a metaphysical impossibility that any Person of the Trinity should will anything by himself, without the other two. They must all will in unison. Since they cannot, metaphysically, act other than in unison, only having one set of causal powers, they are a single Being or Substance, but since there are three mental states, there are three Persons.

Now, even this detailed explanation doesn't really solve the mystery, it merely speculates on the meaning of three Persons in one Substance. I hope that it falls within the realm of orthodoxy, because I sort of tentatively accept it, and I would like to think that I am not a heretic, but it is certainly closer to wild speculation than to dogma.

The point that I'm trying to make is this: if God has in fact revealed that he exists as three Persons in one Substance, then he must expect us to understand something by the words 'person' and 'substance' in this context, and we should try to figure out what that is, as I did briefly above. If, on the other hand, God has revealed to us only that he is three in one, and we have simply plugged in the words 'person' and 'substance' as ciphers having no meaning external to the formulation in order to help us talk about it, then we should totally abandon this line of inquiry, because there is no way we can no anything about the internal nature of God apart from revelation. So this gives us basically three possible understandings of the formulation: (1) 'person' and 'substance' carry no external meaning into the formulat and are merely plugged in as a matter of convenience, (2) 'person' and 'substance' carry external meaning only by analogy to their ordinary usage, or (3) 'person' and 'substance' are used within the formulation in the same way they are ordinarily used outside of it. For each of these it is fair to ask whether the formulation is true under it, and also whether it is a matter of dogma under it. Each has problems.

Interpretation (1) can certainly be proven from Scripture, and is therefore certainly true and a matter of Christian dogma. However, if (1) is dogma and neither of the others are, then someone might refuse to say that God was "three Persons in one Substance," on account of the fact that it was misleading since these words had outside usages and we were here using them in ways unrelated to those outside usages. This person might wish instead to say that God was "three Wizboons in one Poobam" or some such, and we could not then consider this person a heretic. Does anyone else think this is a problem?

Interpretation (2) can be supported from Scripture, and I think the 'person' part can probably even be proven. However, I'm not sure the substance part can, but maybe I should ask someone who has a better idea what the heck a metaphysical substance is to figure that out. Besides this, you could still have someone insisting on saying that God was "three Wizboons in one Poobam" be orthodox, he would just have to acknowledge that a wizboon is sort of like a person, and a poobam is sort of like a substance. That actually doesn't seem that problematic to me, on the whole. I think interpretation (2) may be the best alternative.

I don't think interpretation (3) can be proven from Scripture, and the Scriptural support for it is very limited. However, it certainly doesn't contradict Scripture, and it may have the authority of the true Church behind it (though my Protestant ecclesiology makes that very difficult to determine).

So, to all of you who commented on the Church dogma post, and to all of you who didn't, which alternative do you take? Can the problems I've listed be solved, or are they not really problems? Or is there another alternative I'm not seeing?

Posted by kpearce at 03:46 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

What Is Philosophy? Ten Things Everyone Should Know

No less than three top ten lists of things everyone should know about philosophy have been published on philosophy blogs in recent days.

The best of the three is at DuckRabbit. This list is entirely about how philosophy works, and not particular philosophical ideas the author thinks you should believe in. I think I agree with everything he says.

The list that started it all is at Philosophy, et cetera. I don't much care for this list on the whole, because I don't think it's really a list of things people should know about philosophy (that is, it isn't about meta-philosophy as the DuckRabbit list is), but instead includes a bunch of philosophical ideas the author thinks you should accept, and I disagree with a lot of these ideas. This gets progressively worse the farther down the list you go.

The third and final list is at Mormon Metaphysics. I like this list too.

I don't have time to write my own top ten list right now (busy writing my archaeology term paper still), but let me just link you to these three, and give you my definition of philosophy: philosophy is the application of logic in the pursuit of truth. Therefore, as Duck says, philosophy is "open to everyone to do, but you aren't doing it simply by saying you are (nor are you not doing it simply because you don't know that you are; on the other hand if you don't know that you're doing it you probably aren't doing it very well)." All sane and rational people do philosophy from time to time, just like all sane and rational people do physics from time to time (when they 'calculate' intuitively where that baseball is going to land, or how much force to apply to open the door without breaking it, or whatever), but that doesn't make them all philosophers or all physicists. Some people devote their lives to such things. You will also notice that my definition is so broad that it makes most academic disciplines sub-fields of philosophy. This is intentional, and the reason it's intentional is that historically they all 'spun off' of philosophy. Today, the people who are in the actual philosophy department are those who try to put everything together from all the fields, or those who work on fields such as metaphysics or ethics where after millenia of argument there is still not enough agreement on the fundamental principles for them to become 'sciences' (but we hope there will be some day), or those whose work doesn't fit neatly into one field, or who can't confine themselves to a single field, etc. You will also notice that according to my definition those who don't believe in any definition of 'truth' (as, e.g., neo-pragmatists) cannot be philosophers. My apologies to Richard Rorty.

Charles Kahn gave an excellent more extended definition of what philosophy is how it is different from wisdom literature, etc., in his intro to ancient philosophy course, but, alas, my course notes are in Philadelphia and I am in Athens.

(HT: Philosophers' Carnival 29 at Daylight Atheism)

Posted by kpearce at 10:36 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

April 18, 2006

Monty Python's "International Philosophy Match"

At Locusts & Honey.

Posted by kpearce at 12:45 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 17, 2006

Quote of the Day

"For tell me, if you saw any two persons, one naked, one having a garment, and then having stripped the one that had the garment, thou wert to clothe the naked, wouldest thou not have committed an injustice? It is surely plain to every one. But if when thou hast given all that thou hast taken to another, thou hast committed an injustice, and not shown mercy; when thou givest not even a small portion of what thou robbest, and callest the deed alms, what manner of punishment wilt thou not undergo?" - St. John Chryosostom (Patriarch of Constantinople, c. 388 AD) on tax-funded welfare programs (ok, so he was actually talking about Matthew 27:6). Full text available from CCEL.

Posted by kpearce at 09:05 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Biblical Inerrancy

Update (4/17/2006)
There seem to have been some errors in my post on inerrancy. (How ironic!) I would like to take some steps to correct these.

First: the Council of Nicaea did NOT proclaim that canon of Scripture. This is a widely circulated myth (google it, and see esp. this article). In fact, the canon of Scripture we have was never proclaimed by any ecumenical council, and several books continue to be disputed (see the Catholic Encyclopedia article on "Canon of the New Testament". I'm still working on what this means theologically.

Second: as you can see from the comments, there is some dispute about what is meant by inerrancy as opposed to infallibility. Based on a quick survey, it seems that many dictionaries define the two terms interchangeably, but those that distinguish between them give something infallibility if it is impossible that it should go wrong, and inerrancy if it does not actually go wrong. However, in popular theological discourse (including at least some writings of professional theologians - at any rate, according to Theopedia F.F. Bruce, et al., in their book The Origin of the Bible argue that the Bible could conceivably be infallible without being free of error, implying that inerrancy is in fact the stronger term) the terms are often used in ways similar to my definitions below. This does indeed confuse the issue immensely. Of course, for purposes of this post you'll have to just take these terms the way I've defined them. In the future, I'll be sure not to use them without explicitly deifining them, and work harder to make sure that I'm using them in the most precise and least misleading way possible.

Original Post (4/4/2006)
World of Sven's Theology and Biblical Studies blog is responding (with general agreement) to a six part series at Chrisendom arguing against the inerrancy of Scripture (both writers are believers, and Chris at least self-identifies as an Evangelical). Since I'm coming into this discussion late (after it seems to be over, in fact) I'm going to go through each stage of the argument in turn.

First, let me begin by saying that my view of Scripture is something that I've been thinking long and hard about recently, and I am seriously struggling with the question of why exactly we should believe in it, and what else we should believe as a result. To be more clear, it is quite apparent to me, from experience, that there is something unique, miraculous, supernatural about the text of the Bible, but I am reevaluating exactly how we should understand this. I think the best argument that I have heard for belief in the divine inspiration of Scripture is something along the lines of that given in Richard Swinburne's book, Revelation. I discussed a modified version, which corrected for what I see as ecclesiological errors in Swinburne, some time ago here. The thing that has led me to a serious reevaluation of my views is the fact that this argument necessarily also establishes the authoritative (infallibe?) character of at least some elements of Christian 'tradition.' Certainly it gives at least 'quasi-scriptural status' to the proclamations of the First Council of Nicaea (325 - this is where we have the Canon of Scripture first proclaimed; the Nicene Creed as we have it today was actually proclaimed at a later council, but an early form of it, with less detail on the Church and the Holy Spirit, was proclaimed here), and I'm not at all certain how much else tradition comes along with it. The further forward in history we go, it becomes more and more difficult to identify the proclamation of the true Church, and I'm not even sure what the status of that proclamation is.

Meanwhile, back on inerrancy. Chris seems to understand inerrancy in a fairly weak form, as simply saying that the Bible is always right about everything (see part 1). I would call this something like 'total infallibility,' and oppose it to (1) qualified infallibility, or (2) inerrancy. I understand qualified infallibility to mean that the Bible is never wrong about certain things (e.g. theology, salvation, ethics, etc.) but may be wrong about other things (e.g. history, science, etc.). I understand inerrancy to mean that the Bible (whether we mean the autographs, the Masoretic Text + Textus Receptus, the Septuagint + Textus Receptus, or something else) is exactly letter-perfect what God wanted to say (what, precisely, that means as far as the content and style is questionable, but certainly, from the perspective of the Christian doctrines on the character of God, it will imply total infallibility).

A further distinction, drawn from Swinburne, is needed: if God chooses to state things in terms of false cultural assumptions, he does not err, provided that the false assumptions are part of the form and not part of the content. For instance, when English speakers say "the sun came up," we do not state what is false, despite the fact that the sun remained stationary while the earth rotated. The 'flat earth' implications of certain Scriptural passages can be, in my opinion, dismissed in this way, as can the implications that one thinks with his large intestine or feels with his spleen.

Now, as long as this proviso is taken into account, I'm committed to either inerrancy or total infallibility (I presently accept the former, but wouldn't be terribly upset if some argument persuaded me to switch to the latter), so let me see if I can respond to the objections, at least in some limited form.

First, Chris, part 1: here Chris argues that inerrancy has not always been believed by Christians. He cites Origen and Luther, which isn't going to get him anywhere with me. Both say a lot of heretical things, in my opinion. Calvin certainly believed in inerrancy, or at least total infallibility. (Note: please do not assume from the fact that I think Calvin is a much better theologian than Luther that I am a Calvinist. I am not.) Let's look briefly at what some early Christians say.

First, there is the Apostle Paul. When he refers to 'Scripture' we can assume that he means at least the Hebrew Bible (in the original Hebrew, or in the Septuagint? It isn't clear). There is reason to suppose that he also views Luke as 'Scripture,' from 1 Timothy 5:18 where he begins "For the Scripture says," and proceeds to quote first Deuteronomy 25:4 and then Luke 10:7. I suppose it is possible that Paul and Luke are quoting a common source, but if so, that source is neither the Hebrew Bible nor the Septuagint. Since Paul accepted Luke as Scripture it is likely he accepted some other early Christian writings, but we have no way of knowing which ones. Paul then gives us 2 Timothy 3:16. This verse, however, does not state inerrancy. Rather, it says that Scripture is 'God-breathed' (Gr. theopneustos) and useful for various purposes. What exactly 'God-breathed' means is a difficult question, as the compound is an apparent coinage, and the verb pneo, from which it is compounded, simply means 'breathe' and has no deep spiritual connotations in ordinary Greek. So, all we can really say about Paul is that he believes Scripture and the Holy Spirit (pneuma is indeed derived from pneo) to be intimately related, and he believes Scripture to be sufficient for our spiritual needs.

Second there are the early Patristics. (Note: I'm working from the book A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs, ed. David Bercott) Clement of Rome refers to some Scriptures being "true utterances of the Holy Spirit." (1.17) Justin Martyr says that the Holy Spirit "descend[ed] from heaven and use[d] these righteous mean as an instrument like a harp or lyre" to reveal the truth of God to us (1.276). This sounds an aweful lot like inerrancy (as opposed to either qualified or total infallibility) to me: the writers of Scripture are tools (presenting themselves willingly) used by God to present his Word. God uses, rather than ignores, their individual characteristics, but nevertheless he brings it about that his Word is written. Again, Athenagoras also uses the image of a musical instrument (2.132-133). The first clear statement of something like 'qualified infallibility' I have in my book is from the Muratorian Fragment (c. 200 AD) which says that although in the various gospels "different matters are taught us," the differences are not important because "all things are related under one imperial Spirit." (5.603) Hippolytus, a western writer of the late 2nd/early 3rd centuries, again uses the musical instrument metaphor (5.204). The Fathers have a great deal to say about Scripture, but what the above shows is that the sort of account of inspiration that leads to inerrancy is NOT new (although the explicit statement of something like inerrancy probably occurs for the first time fairly late). The early Christians (as early as the second century!) believed that the Scriptures were 'God-breathed,' and that this meant that the human writers were instruments with which God played the symphony that is Scripture. Every writer's individual character is used to good effect, but God is nonetheless the musician, the author, and the authority behind the end result.

In part 2, Chris claims that the Bible itself does not directly assert it's own inerrancy. I concede this point (see the above discussion of Paul). However, he never presents an argument for his claim that "it can be conclusively proved that scripture is not inerrant, and the bible's own witness to this is decisive!" He makes this claim again in part 6, but again fails to support it. I would be very interesting to hear this argument in more detail.

In part 3 of Chris's series, he points to a collection of alleged contradictions in Scripture. This is a topic exegetes have dealth with ad nauseam, so I'm not going to try here. Suffice it to say that nearly all of the issues brought up have, in my opinion, acceptable solutions, but the genealogical discrepancies are genuinely troubling to me. If one has strong enough reason to believe in inerrancy then the difficulties can be overcome. However, the solutions are sometimes convoluted enough as to require very strong reasons for inerrancy, so the objection is not something to be ignored.

In part 4, Chris argues that not all of the alleged errors/contradictions can be attributed to scribal mistakes. I concede. However, as I have said, I think that in general other solutions exist.

It seems to have been at this point that Sven jumped in. In Sven's post, two additional objections to inerrancy are brought up:

  1. "Most views of inerrancy and inspiration are a kind of scriptural Apolinarianism." What he means to say is that people often lose sight of the human element in the Scriptures, and the human element of the Scriptures is just as important to a Christian understanding of Scripture as the human element of Christ is to our Christology. I think that this is a legitimate concern, but applies only to sloppy formulations and sloppy thinking about the subject. Most Evangelicals I know affirm that God used the individuating characteristics of the human authors to bring it about that His Word would be written. This is not a doctrinal problem, but more of a 'devotional' problem; that is, it has to do not with the abstract formulations but with the thinking habits certain Christains get into.

  2. "Views of inerrancy do not arise in the biblical texts or the biblical period themselves, they arise from modernist dualism." This is similar to the claim from Chris's part 1 (see above). I think Sven's statements are helpful and bring up important points, but I have to take exception to his way of framing the issue. He begins with this: "By 'modernist dualism' I mean the Enlightenment worldview in which God (if he existed at all) was 'up there' in some transcendent sense whilst human beings remained 'down below', quite separate from the divine dwelling." This view has nothing to do with the Enlightenment. It comes from ancient (pre-Christian) Greek philosophy, and came to the fore in Christian theological disputes in the Greek East in the 14th century, long before the enlightenment. Thomas Aquinas also is 'guilty,' if it is in fact guilt, of this kind of thinking. However, what Sven says next, is that certain forms of inerrancy have been developed in order to 'divinize' Scripture in order to bring the divine to earth. From a Christian perspective this is seen to be ludicrous as soon as it is clearly stated. God came to earth in the form of Jesus Christ in whom God is revealed to all, and Scripture is not a replacement for Christ (although depending on our reading of John 1 it may be identical with Christ in some very confusing sense). I do think Sven is right to say that the real revelation of God is Jesus Christ himself, but this view needn't undermine inerrancy.

In part 5, Chris argues that inerrancy promotes a generally low view of Scripture, because we view all revelation as propositional and cease to have a living encounter. I do not think this criticism is valid. The Protestant/Evangelical emphasis on propositional infallibility has quite likely had this effect, but that does not make the doctrine itself flawed. It may well be true that the Bible is propositionally infallible but nevertheless "living and active." The important - even critical - truth that this criticism does point to is that the Bible is not only a repository of propositional truth but rather a living encounter with God.

Finally, in part 6, the podcast, Chris sets forth the doctrine of Scripture that he accepts, which is the proclamation of the Second Vatican Council: "The books of Scripture, firmly, faithfully and without error, teach that truth which God, for the sake of our salvation, wished to see confided to the sacred Scriptures." I think Chris understands this passage as a form of what I have called qualified infallibility. He understands the word 'salvation' very broadly to mean not merely a path to heaven, but God's total rescue of mankind from corruption (that is, to include both salvation and sanctification). He also points out that Scripture is (as discussed above) more than merely a repository of propositional truth. He says, "these texts, then, need to be treated as an invitation to trusting belief in that to which they point." He also asserts that the inspiration of Scripture is not simply a statement about how the texts came about, but also has to do with what happens when individuals and communities of believers read the text and God speaks through it. Chris says that a high view of Scripture will mean that we trust that God speaks to us through the text, but it doesn't necessarily mean that we can analyze the Bible scientifically or philosophically by taking it apart piece by piece with our intellect and come to absolute truth in this way. He speaks repeatedly of "the God-givenness of a generally accurate text."

In general, these arguments have not had the effect of shaking my belief in inerrancy. However, I think it is important that we engage some of the issue brought up here. In particular, we must not limit our understanding of Scripture to its propositional value. It is a tool by which God reveals himself to individuals. It is not a dead thing, but the Living Word of God. However, I believe that one of the primary reasons God chose to reveal his Word in written form was to endow the revelation with a degree of obejectivity (see my previous post), and this will fail if it is not reliable as a source of propositional truth (at least as far as I can see). If Chris were right in his characterization of Scripture, it would not be clear to me why it was put in written form at all. Furthermore, I think that Sven and Chris both limit God too much in assuming that inerrancy necessarily eliminates the human element. God is quite capable of working with the human element to bring his Word into the world without error. There is a fine line to be drawn. Scripture is both human and divine in its content, and it is both a source of objective propositional truth and an invitation to and means of experience of the Living God.

Well, I think this post is more than long enough, but it hasn't begun to address the issue. I suppose that means that more posts on this subject will have to follow. I am not presently prepared to present my view as such (it is in flux to too large a degree), but I may soon be ready to publish some speculations. Stay tuned.

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April 06, 2006

Invisible Hand, April '06

The April 2006 issue of the Invisible Hand Newsletter is now available for download. The publishers hope that libertarian groups and individuals at colleges and universities across the country - and perhaps even internationally - will print and distribute this newsletter on their campuses. This latest issue contains an article by yours truly entitled "What Rights Don't I Have?" and based on a post from last October entitled "Why 'Positive Rights' are Stupid." The whole newsletter is worth a read.

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March 23, 2006

The Invisible Hand Newsletter

I was recently introduced to The Invisible Hand, a newsletter being put out by the Rutgers Libertarians (that would be Rutgers University, in New Jersey). The first edition came out last November and was distributed at two campuses in New Jersey. Now the group wants to get a wider distribution, by having individuals and groups on various college campuses throughout the country print the newsletter from the internet and distribute it. I am planning to submit an article on positive rights and why libertarians don't believe in them (based on this post) for the next issue, which is due out in late March/early April.

In the meantime, the the current issue has a couple of very good articles I would like to comment on.

First, the article "The Political Philosophy of Freedom" is a very good overall introduction to libertarianism. However, I have two problems with it: first, it makes it look as though libertarianism requires a very optimistic philosophical anthropology (that is, theory of humanity). This is problematic for me, because, while Christianity is very positive about what man was meant to be and what he can become with God, it is very negative about man's present fallen state, and I believe quite firmly that Christianity and libertarianism are compatible. I thought addressing this would require a whole separate post, but the end of the article came to the point and answered my concern quite nicely with this quote from Thomas Jefferson: "Sometimes it is said that man cannot be trusted with the government of himself. Can he then be trusted with the government of others? Or, have we found angels in the form of kings, to govern him? Let history answer this question." My second, less important, objection is that the author lumps 'anarcho-capitalists' in with libertarians, which I think may be misleading. In general, libertarians believe that the minimal 'night watchman' state is absolutely critical in order to protect us from force and fraud. It is just that when the government goes beyond this mandate and violates individual rights, it becomes fundamentally unjust.

Other articles explain why the government ought not to define marriage (at all) and why the only wasted vote is a vote for a candidate you don't actually want to see in office. The latter seems fairly obvious to me, but then I'm a third party voter, and an intense non-consequentialist. I think I have a moral duty to vote for the best candidate on the ballot regardless of his chances of winning. If you don't believe this, you should read the article, which will give some more pragmatic reasons for voting for third parties (if, that is, you are unhappy with the major parties - but who isn't these days?). The whole thing is worth a read.

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March 20, 2006

Philosophers' Carnival 31 Coming to!

It's official! Philosophers' Carnival 31 will be hosted right here at on June 5, 2006. The philosophers' carnival occurs about every three weeks and showcases philosophy posts from many different blogs, in order to help small blogs gain exposure and help facilitate blog discussions about philosophy. The next carnival will be on April 3 at The University of Nowhere. You can submit your entries here.

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March 15, 2006

"Tradition as the 'Platonic Form' of Christian Faith and Practice in Orthodoxy"

I have just posted on my writings page a new essay, "Tradition as the 'Platonic Form' of Christian Faith and Practice in Orthodoxy." This served as my mid-term essay in my class on the Greek Orthodox Church here at DIKEMES in Athens where I am studying this semester. I have attached a short preface explaining the relationship of the views presented in my essay (realizing that the essay is supposed to explain the teaching of the Orthodox Church) to my actual beliefs and my reasons for deciding to publish the essay. Please post here with any comments or objections. If I edit the essay at any time in the future, I will document that here as well. The essay is located here.

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March 14, 2006

Philosopher's Carnival 27

Philosopher's Carnival 27 is up at Heaven Tree with a link to my post on Rights, Obligations, and Abortion. Check it out.

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March 13, 2006

Blogging Parmenides

I feel the need to point to this post about Parmenides over at Mathetes simply because ... well, because I approve of blogging about Parmenides! The post gives a good overview of Parmenides' argument for the establishment of monism. To which let me add three things:

  1. This is the oldest deductively valid argument in surviving literature.

  2. It is contained in a hexameter poem (written, presumably, in imitation of Homer and Hesiod) which begins with an appeal to divine revelation (a narrative about being carried in a chariot to meet a strange goddess who promises to reveal "the way of truth" and "the way of mortal opinions, in which there is no truth at all").

  3. In addition to becoming the father of logic by being the first to (a) write down a deductively valid argument, and (b) formulate the principle of contradiction, Parmenides also becomes the father of metaphysics (according to me) by being the first person we know of to conceive of the possibility of "representation dualism."

My complements to Kristopher on his impeccable taste in blog subjects.

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A Singularly Un-Nutty Gun Nut

Jeff The Baptist is pointing to this opinion piece by one Jim March, apparently an activist concerned with gun policy and electronic voting machines (no, the two don't seem to be connected). After reading the article, I take March to be a singularly un-nutty gun nut. He provides statistics, history, scientific case studies, and personal anecdotes to support his position that keeping guns away from law-abiding citizens (a) undermines democracy, and (b) increases crime. Particularly interesting is his claim that the development of weapons technology that could be purchased and used by the common people was an essential element in the rise of democracy.

In principle, I find his view compelling, although in practice it would make me uncomfortable to know that people around me were carrying guns - even people I trusted, and even in dangerous areas (I've been living on the edge of West Philadelphia for a few years now).

There is also one further theoretical difficulty. When Michael Badnarik was campaigning for president, he had a debate with David Cobb, the Green Party candidate, in which Cobb pointed out that some gun control was certainly reasonable, because people obviously didn't have a right to private nuclear weapons. To my great disappointment, Badnarik did not have a chance to respond. What are the levels of gradation between ownership of nuclear weapons (which I take NOT to be a right of the individual) and ownership of small knives (which I take to be a clear and obvious example of a right of an individual)? Perhaps an account could be developed based on Nozick's discussion of the prohibition of risky behavior, such that we can prohibit the individual ownership of nuclear weapons provided we compensate the individual for the loss of utility (what legitimate utility could he get from ownership of nuclear weapons?), but then why could we not prohibit him from owning guns? Perhaps the utility gain from owning guns is so great we could not possibly compensate him for it, but the utility gain from owning nuclear weapons is small. For instance, the government is capable of providing the kind of defense (namely, counter-strike, mutually assured destruction, etc.) that nuclear weapons provide, but it cannot provide the kind of defense provided by a personal hand gun in an acceptable way. Still, this seems like a "slippery slope" for a libertarian and it is difficult, I think, to draw a principled line anywhere along it. Perhaps someone else has a better idea?

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March 05, 2006

Rights, Obligations, and Abortion

A while ago, in a post on abortion, I had a brief discussion with Jeremy Pierce about the distinction between rights and obligations. Since we are discussing abortion again, I thought now would be a good time to clarify what I mean by this distinction. I will also discuss briefly how this applies to the abortion debate.

First and foremost in this distinction is this: rights belong to the province of public or political morality, whereas obligations belong to the province of private or individual morality. Political morality has to do with the existence and nature of morally appropriate government, what it may and may not do, what people may do to one another, etc. Rights belong to this realm, because it is morally permissible, in terms of political morality, for you or your agent to enforce your (negative) rights against me. If I violate your negative rights, you or your agent (e.g., the government) may punish my transgression. Obligations do not belong to this realm, because it is not morally legitimate for you to force me to fulfill my moral obligations, even my moral obligations as regards you - with the exception, of course, of my obligation to respect your rights.

That paragraph might be a little opaque, so let's take a real example. I believe that the rich have a moral obligation to help the poor, but the poor do not have a right to the assistance of the rich. What this means is that if a rich person fails to use his wealth to help the poor, this is a moral imperfection, i.e., a sin. However, because the poor do not have a right to his assistance, they have no legitimate political grievance against him, and neither they nor the government may justly punish him for his immoral behavior, because this is a matter of personal morality. On the other hand, the poor have a right of self-ownership, which includes a right not to be forcibly enslaved by the rich. If the rich do enslave the poor - literally enslave them, and not merely "exploit" them in the Marxist sense - the rich not only act immorally, but transgress the rights of the poor, and therefore the poor or their agents may justly punish them.

Now, the situation begins to get sticky when individual morality and political morality cover the same area in seemingly contradictory ways. For instance, Christians are commanded to "turn the other cheek" to someone who assaults them (Matthew 5:39), but, according to my (libertarian) political theory, they have a right to exact punishment. What this means is that there is a case in which a person has a right to do something, but an obligation not to exercise that right. This is indeed a little sticky, as I said, but it is not terribly troubling. After all, it is easy to see other similar cases that are more straightforward. For instance, I have a right of free speech, but there are some things that it would be immoral for me to say. So there may be some cases where a person has a right, while at the same time has an obligation not to exercise that right, or perhaps not to enforce that right against those who violate it. No problem.

Now, as to abortion, like I said I just want to sketch how this distinction will apply to the debate, not develop a detailed account of the morality of abortion. I think it is absolutely indisputable that a couple who voluntarily and intentionally brings a child into being has a moral obligation to care for that child and bring it to healthy adulthood insofar as they are able, even from before it is born. I think that, while not as indisputable, this is equally true in cases where the couple did not intend to create a child, but nevertheless does so by engaging in consensual sex. In fact, I think it is probably the case that the parents of a child have such obligations in all cases, even rape and birth-control failure. However, in order to justify illegalizing abortion (or even exposure of infants!), it is not sufficient that the parents have such obligations; the baby must have a right to their care, or at least a right to the use of his mother's womb until birth, and this is difficult for libertarians, because this looks, on the face of it, like a positive right, which libertarians, including myself, don't believe in. In order to establish such a right, we would either have to say that the parents somehow took that obligation upon themselves voluntarily (which will be difficult to say in the case of failed birth control, and impossible to say of a woman who was raped), or that this is somehow, contrary to appearances, actually a negative right.

If we wish to take the second route, it may have profound consequences for our overall understanding of private property. For instance, we may say that if someone comes to be on your property through no fault of his own, expelling him from your property in such a way as to physically harm him constitutes an act of aggression against him, and therefore violates his (negative) rights. This will then also apply to the fetus's presence in the womb. This doesn't seem like a bad position for a libertarian to take overall, but I'm having trouble seeing clearly what, if any, are the ramifications for the case of, for instance, forcibly expelling a burglar from one's house. In this case, you are defending against an act of agression, and this makes our exercise of force acceptable. If the person didn't know he was trespassing, or something, he wouldn't be agressive, and therefore we couldn't expel him by force in such a way as to harm him. Sounds good to me. Interestingly, the Talmud (don't ask me for the exact citation, but I know I read this in Jewish Law class freshman year) says that when the mother's life is endangered, the fetus becomes an agressor, and describes in graphic terms cutting the fetus to pieces in the birth canal in order to save the mother's life, saying that this is not only permissible, but obligatory, but nevertheless prohibits abortion in the general case.

At any rate, my general point is this: if the parents have an obligation to the fetus to care for it, abortion will be immoral, but only if the fetus has a right to the care of the parents will the illegalization of abortion be legitimate. I do, in fact, think that the fetus has such a right, in addition to the parents' obligation, but I think that the right is much more difficult to establish than the obligation.

Posted by kpearce at 03:36 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

March 03, 2006

John Stossel on Education and the Free Market

Syndicated columnist and ABC news reported John Stossel has an editorial at (HT: WorldMagBlog) on the benefits of introducting free market competition to the primary/secondary education system through a voucher-type system. Most of the points he makes are obvious - as economists say, idealized free markets lead to Pareto-optimal states, and competition brings a system that much closer to the idealized free market - but the article is nevertheless worth a read. In short, under the competitive system "Bad schools will close and better schools will open. And the better schools won't all be the same." Stossel points out that no one can predict exactly what will happen in a free market, but we do know that the best ideas win out. He also gives some helpful real world examples of things that have already been tried. Check it out.

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March 02, 2006

Dennett v. Swinburne on the Origin of Religion and the Existence of God

Prospect Magazine has published a series of letters between Richard Swinburne and Daniel Dennett regarding the existence of God and the historical origin of religious belief, following the publication of Dennett's new book Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon. Dennett's book argues that an evolutionary explanation for religious belief exists, and that religion can and should be examined empirically by science with the initial presumption of "methodological naturalism" (i.e. we must assume for the sake of argument that God does not exist in order to take on this investigation). Swinburne argues that no such investigation can be adequately undertaken without first determining whether the evidence supports belief in the existence of God and his activity in the world, especially with regard to the formation of religious belief. "Methodological naturalism," Swinburne claims, must first be justified by an argument showing that such a method leads to truth, and this will only be the case if its naturalistic assumptions are, in fact, correct.

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February 21, 2006

Philosophers' Carnival 26

Philosophers' Carnival 26 is up at Hesperus/Phosphorus with a link to my post on libertarianism and corporations.

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February 20, 2006

Libertarianism and Corporations

One of the key problems of strict (non-consequentialist) libertarianism is how the state is to successfully perform its function of protecting citizens from force or fraud without the funding acquired from confiscatory taxation schemes. The problem is that libertarian commitments in the region of political morality do not permit the government to violate the private property rights which individuals have in the hypothetical "state of nature," and in the state of nature individuals own all of their income, not just what's left after taxes. The government exists to enforce these property rights. Robert Nozick believes (see his book Anarchy, State, and Utopia) that the libertarian state is in fact itself a sort of business, the "dominant protective agency" in a given region. He argues from economic principles that an Adam Smith "invisible hand" process will lead to the existence of exactly one protective agency in any given geographic region, where a protective agency is a company whose sole or primary purpose is to enforce the (negative, libertarian) rights of its clients. Of course, such a company's clients must voluntarily choose to pay it for its services - the agency may not coerce this payment from anyone who doesn't wish to purchase its services. Nozick has a lengthy discussion of just what happens when an individual living within the protective agency's bounds chooses not to purchase its services. The short version is that Nozick believes, not implausibly, that the protective agency may prohibit people before the fact from performing "risky procedures" - that is, from doing things that have a high risk of violating the rights of its clients - rather than merely exacting punishment afterward, provided it gives just compensation to the affected party for the disutility it causes him. So, for instance, if we prohibit blind people from driving cars because there is a high probability of them injuring people other than themselves, we must compensate them for any disutility associated with the prohibition. (Of course blind people presumably wouldn't gain much utility from driving cars, since they would probably die.) Now, on the same grounds, the state may prohibit non-citizens from using risky procedures (or procedures it doesn't know to be safe) for determining the guilt or innocence of its clients and subsequently punishing them. For instance, if I am a client of the protective agency and you are not, and someone steals your television and you determine by reading tea leaves or chicken entrails that I am the guilty party and attempt to punish me, the protective agency may prevent you from doing so without first determining whether I am, in fact, guilty, but it must first compensate you for any disutility associated with this prohibition. The most sensible way for the state to do this is to agree that, although you are not its client and do not pay its fees, it will enforce your rights whenever they are violated by its clients (if you are violated by another independent or by a foreigner, you are on your own, unless you decide to pay the protective agencies fee).

Now, this model works, more or less, but there are a number of things that libertarians agree with everyone else are good that it is very difficult to accomplish on this scheme. For instance, it is good to preserve some wildlife habitats, it is good to provide education to everyone, it is good to end racial discrimination, it is good to break up or eliminate abusive monopolies, etc. In general, however, libertarians are quite adamant that these things are not the job of the government, and can be acheived in a "free market" sort of way, if enough people care, and of course they are right. That is, if enough people care, we can set up private foundations to preserve wildlife habitats, we can create private schools with scholarship systems for poor children, etc. Most people are (rightly) skeptical of the claim that this would actually happen, human nature being what it is, but the libertarian responds that the fact that people would not voluntarily give their money to these causes only strengthens his claim that it is wrong to take their money by force.

What I wish to examine here is the question of a particular way in which a libertarian state might justly acquire surplus wealth, and what it might justly do with it. My discussion will center around the concept of the limited liability corporation.

In the state of nature, there are no corporations. The defining feature of a corporation is that it is a "legal fiction" in which a company is treated as if it were a person. In the state of nature, all companies are sole proprietorships, unlimited liability partnerships, or joint-stock corporations (the latter two needing only contracts between the owners to work, no government cooperation is required), and the owner or owners (or perhaps in some cases some or all of the employees) have complete legal responsibility for all actions of the company. There is no distinction between company assets and individual assets. After all, companies are merely figments of our imagination, and the actions are in fact taken by people. (These considerations have the interesting consequence that on the Nozick model we can imagine a protective agency being a sole proprietorship, and thus we in fact have the theoretical possiblity of a libertarian dictatorship! Although he frequently uses the phrase "protective agency," as I have been, Nozick seems to favor the idea of a "protective association" where we all come to one another's aid, and the idea that this might grow into a case where we all put some money into the pot and hire police, etc., with it, which gives us the more familiar libertarian democracy.) Now, the protective agency, or rather, its members, may enter into contracts, as anyone may, on the libertarian understanding. Suppose the protective agency creates a class of contract called Type C contracts, that look like this:

Any group of people jointly owning a company (an unlimited liability partnership or joint-stock corporation) may apply to enter a contract of Type C with the state. Such a group of people will be called "stockholders." Henceforth the state will treat the company as though it were an individual person, giving the company the ability to own property, be a party to contracts, and so forth. The state will hold the company responsible for its actions and contractual obligations, the stockholders having no liability in such matters.

May the libertarian state do this? It seems so. But what about the independents (i.e. those who are not clients of any protective association)? Suppose a corporation violates the rights of an independent. The independent is not a party to the contract forming the corporation, and so from his perspective his rights were violated by an individual - the corporation does not actually exist. The state, however, prohibits him from punishing the individual who violates his rights. The state, in exchange for his observation of the prohibition has agreed to enforce his rights for him. On the other hand, the state has an obligation not to hold the stockholders liable for the corporations actions. So the state must then confiscate the corporation's property, and not the stockholders' individual property, and thus force the corporation to make restitution to the individual. It may be further necessary to punish the corporation somehow. The independent should be satisfied with this provided that (a) his property is restored, or he is justly compensated for the violation of his rights, and (b) the individual who is actually guilty is seen to be punished in the course of the punishment of the corporation.

Now, what if the corporation is unable to make restitution; that is, what if it is bankrupt? The state's contractual obligations prohibit it from exacting punishment on any of the individual stockholders for the corporation's actions; it may not confiscate the stockholders' personal property to pay the corporation's fine, but it must nevertheless see that restitution is made to the independent. Where is the money to come from?

In order to avoid this situation, the state might require, as a term of the contract, that corporations carry liability insurance, which they might purchase from the state (since it is, after all, the state who is required to come up with the money to make restitution to the violated independent), or another corporation, or a private individual (provided the corporation or individual were capable of making the relevant gaurantees). None of this necessarily occurs if the violated individual is a client of the state, because in this case that individual is a party to the contract and has agreed to treat the corporation as a person; thus, from his perspective, he was violated by the corporation, not by an individual, and if the corporation is bankrupted and ceases to exist it is as though the individual who violated him has died, leaving no estate and having no heirs. He cannot justly expect to receive any restitution. Of course, I say necessarily. The state could, and probably would, define the contract with the stockholders, and also its contracts with its individual clients, such that its clients received the same or better treatment, as compared to independents.

What this discussion points to, to me, at any rate, is that it is the state that creates corporations and thus the state may define the contract which corporations must accept in any way it chooses without violating anyone's libertarian rights (provided it keeps its obligations under the contracts it has previously been a party to). Suppose, therefore, that the state says, "in order to enter this contract, the corporation must pay X% of its profit in taxes each year." If people don't like the terms, they will not form corporations. If, however, very large and profitable corporations DO form, the libertarian state - which, you will recall, does nothing other than protect its citizens from force or fraud - may find itself in possession of a great deal of money. Now, since the state is making an offer to potential stockholders of corporations, and can make whatever offer it chooses, it could do lots of other things as well. In an extreme case, it could reserve the right to change the contract whenever and however it saw fit. Presumably no one would sign that contract. Perhaps instead the state would specify that when it makes such changes a limited liability corporation may choose to revert to a joint-stock corporation rather than accept them. If the government changed its offer over time without changing old contracts, it would have the effect of putting corporations formed at different times on different footing, which would have interesting (probably bad) economic effects.

Suppose the government wanted to institute in this way some of the things libertarians complain about most; say, income tax and affiirmative action. Of course, in this case the government wouldn't technically be taxing an individual's income; rather, it would be taxing the corporation on its pay to employees. In the affirmative action case, again, the government would merely say "if you don't want to treat people of various races equitably (according to our definition of equity) don't accept this contract." No one's rights are violated, per se. Most libertarians can be expected to respond with the charge of reverse discrimination, but, of course, the government could just as easily require corporations to treat races unequally. This would be an injustice in some important sense (as would reverse discrimination), but the government would not exceed its authority or violate anyone's libertarian rights. Moreover, we must remember that the government we are discussing is not the titanic state common today, but rather small and limited in power. Presumably if the government enforced unfair hiring practices on corporations, principled people would not form them. Since sole proprietorships would not pay the same kind of additional taxes corporations did, they might be on equal footing. However, if there was a serious social problem, our hypothetical government might try to address it by this sort of means, just as real governments have sometimes begun by enforcing standards on their own hiring practices, rather than on the hiring practices of everyone in their country. I'm not completely convinced one way or another as to whether the government ought to do such things, I'm simply arguing that its doing so would violate no one's libertarian rights.

Now, in addition to the extra power the government has gained by being able to define the agreements which form corporations, the government has gained a great deal of money. Whatever it does with this money, if it behaves just as any group of people is permitted to behave, and it honors its contractual obligations, it will violate no one's rights. The government could enter competition with private businesses in various industries, it could start it's own schools, it could offer scholarships to private schools, and so forth. These would violate no one's libertarian rights. The government could also help the poor, or set up orphanages, or other similar social programs, or depending on exactly how it was constituted it might distribute the surplus back to its clients equally. In the case of the familiar libertarian democracy, the clients of the protective agency would also be joint owners of it, and so any profit it did not reinvest would go to them. As has been previously mentioned, there's no reason on Nozick's system why private ownership of the government would violate anyone's rights. Of course, I think that it would be a very rare individual indeed who could convince people not to opt out of such a government. I think some of the tiny principalities in Europe have extremely popular royal families who might perceivably get away with such a thing.

Of course, if the government used its excess money or its power to define the corporation to do things that someone strongly disagreed with, or if its activities "on the side" caused it to become less effective in performing its primary function as the dominant protective agency, people would begin to opt out in large numbers, and might eventually form a rival protective association, leading to a possible war. (Nozick envisions that one reason the market would lead to a single protective agency in a given area is that if there were more than one they would sometimes disagree on whether a given person was guilty, and they would fight wars as a result, with one side trying to punish him, and the other to protect him. Since the protective agency that most often won battles in a given area would, ipso facto, be better able to enforce rights in that area, it would win in the market as well as on the battlefield, and the lesser agency would go out of business, or be restricted to a different area.) This would result either in the serious diminution, or the complete overthrow of the formerly dominant protective agency.

I suppose that, at bottom, the most important point made by the above considerations is that according to libertarian theories of political morality (at least on the Nozick model), present day governments violate individual rights not because of the way the system is set up per se but, first and foremost, because the individual has no ability to opt out of the system. His options are (a) pay the government to protect him from events such as, say, someone kidnapping him and holding him against his will, or (b) being kidnapped and held against his will (by the government, in prison). In this way, libertarians hold, present day governments are not terribly dissimilar with mobsters who collect "protection" money - if you don't pay for protection, you will need to be protected from the so-called protectors! This, above all, is the nature of the libertarian objection.

Posted by kpearce at 12:50 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

January 31, 2006

Uncredible Double Carnival

Both the Philosopher's Carnival and the GOD or NOT Carnival are up at The Uncredible Hallq. I didn't get a submission in for this month's GOD or NOT, on the theme of "Definition of God," but the philosopher's carnival contains a link to my recent post on persons as events.

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January 30, 2006

"Theism and Mechanism in Leibniz"

I've just posted a new paper to my writings page, entitled "Theism and Mechanism in Leibniz." This is a topic that I've discussed quite a bit in the past few months, and this may be the end of it for a while.

An earlier version served as a term paper for Professor Karen Detlefsen's undergraduate seminar on Leibniz at Penn last semester. It has undergone slight revision based on her comments. Please feel free to offer any responses or discussion you have in the comments section of this post. Any revisions made will be documented in the comments here as well.

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January 27, 2006

Persons as Events

Over the semester break, I took some time to look at Peter van Inwagen's paper "Materialism and the Psychological-Continuity Account of Personal Identity" (Philosophical Perspectives 11 (1997): 305-319) and, as I realized that I don't have a good candidate for submission to Monday's Philosopher's Carnival, I thought this would be a good time to write down some thoughts that I had in connection with this paper and (very) broadly Lockean "psychological continuity" accounts of personal identity in general.

The aim of van Inwagen's paper is to show that these kind of psychological continuity accounts require the existence of immaterial substances, and so are incompatible materialism. He takes aim at what I see as the primary flaw of contemporary analytic philosophy: the attempt to isolate from one another philosophical issues that are in fact inextricably connected. In this case, this is primarily the attempt separate personal identity from the rest of ontology, which, I agree with van Inwagen, is not a good idea, and is probably nearly impossible.

However, I do think there is a version of the psychological continuity account that IS very nearly ontologically agnostic, and is at least agnostic as to the existence of material and immaterial substance, which is precisely what Locke claims about his theory. I will not spend time here making any arguments that the theory I'm presenting is Locke's (although I think it probably is), but I do want to show that there is a broadly Lockean account here that avoids van Inwagen's argument. This account makes a highly unusual assertion: according to it, persons are not in fact substances but events.

According to any psychological continuity account of personal identity, persons remain the same over time because their mental states bear a certain relationship to one another. In Locke's case, memory is emphasized, but I do not think this is necessary. It would be just as easy to say that a person A existing at time T1 is the same as a person B existing at a later time T2 if and only if B's mental state can be explained by a series of previous mental states leading back to A. This is of course not a rigorous formulation, and cannot handle all objections, but you get the idea. At any rate, the mental state of person B is connected to the mental state of person A in some relevant way, which leads us to assert that they are the same person.

Now, Locke is committed to a theory of what is called relative identity (see van Inwagen's brilliant paper "And Yet There are Not Three Gods, But One" in the collection Philosophy and the Christian Faith, ed. Thomas V. Morris for a rigorous account of relative identity). Relative identity is the claim that in at least some cases we cannot answer the question of whether A is the same as B without first asking, "The same what?" In particular, Locke thinks that although one being might be simultaneously a material object, a human, and a person, the question of whether it is the same material object, the same human, and the same person may in some conceivable cases have different answers. In the everyday case, it will not be the same material object over time because of the constant intake of food, elimination of waste, sloughing of dead skin cells, etc., that cause it not to be made up of the same matter. It will be the same human over time because it has continuity of organization as a living organism. It will be the same person over time because is has psychological continuity in the form of memory. What is curious about Locke's account is he envisions the case where two entities are compared and turn out to be the same person while NOT being the same substance. This would occur, for instance, if two souls (assuming, for the moment, that souls exist) were to swap memories.

The core of the strangeness of this account comes, I believe, from the fact that we are comparing things that we think of as being substances (persons) based on events that occur within them (mental states). We wouldn't normally do this. Now, perhaps we want to say that the mental state is the collection of properties of the person, and the person's having those properties is an event. This is where van Inwagen's attack comes in, since the materialist (allegedly) cannot say that the person is distinct from his body. Now, I'm not familiar with the particular accounts of materialism van Inwagen attacks here, but it seems to me that the materialist is only committed to saying that the person does not exist as a substance independent of the body. Van Inwagen presents a further attack by pointing out that if the person is identical with the physical body, then whatever is predicated of the person can be predicated of the body. However, if it is possible for persons to switch bodies, this will lead to the breakdown of the transitivity of the (absolute) equality relation. By way of illustration (an illustration different than van Inwagen's) let NBx (where x is a numeric subscript) be the new body at time x, and Px be the person at time x. The transfer occurs at time 2. We have:

NB1 != P1
NB3 = P3
P3 = P1
NB3 = NB1

Thus the equality relation would transitivity. There are some things that can be predicated of the body that cannot be predicated of the person, therefore they are ipso facto not equal, and the person either does not exist or is distinct from the body.

I believe that both of these objections can be escaped, on a reasonable definition of materialism. That is, it may be reasonable to define materialism as the view that only material substances exist, but it is also reasonable to define it as the view that there are no substances other than material ones. This difference is significant, because many ontologies posit that substances are not all that are "real" - events are also real in an important sense. If persons are viewed as complex events consisting of series of psychological states, then they can exist without being identical with any physical objects; they simply need physical objects to "inhere" in. We would say, then, that each mental state is a "time-slice" of a person, a simple event consisting in (according to the materialist) some brain having certain properties. The person is a complex event consisting of a collection of such simple events which are related to each other in some relevant way, such that we say that any one mental event in the collection is "continuous" with all the others. These events need not inhere in the same material object. This could be defined rigorously by making explicit what types of properties are relevant to psychological continuity.

For the record, I do believe this theory of persons and events, although I am not a materialist. I think that it is the best account of what it is we mean by the word person; for the mental states that we speak of in terms of personhood are clearly events and, as Locke's arguments show, what substance they happen in doesn't seem to be relevant. This possibility is completely absent from van Inwagen's paper, and I'm really not entirely sure why.

Posted by kpearce at 11:27 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

January 20, 2006

On Public Education

In the comments to this post on recent attempts to insert intelligent design into public high schools as philosophy, Ed Darrell and I have been having a discussion about more general questions of public education. I thought it would be a good idea to write a piece about my general view of this subject here, since the discussion is looking like its about to get quite long and detailed.

As I see it, there are two issues here: the government's use of tax money to fund education, and the government's exercise of power over how education is done. Furthermore, there are two facets to each of these issues: the legal question (does the US Constitution grant the government this authority?) and the theoretical issue (should the government have this authority?). This makes a total of four topics for discussion. First, however, let's look at a more general question about taxation and the moral justification of government.

Mr. Darrell recently commented, "Paying taxes to education [of] children is not confiscation. Government by consent of the governed is not despotism. Democracy is not dictatorship." Now, there is a sense in which all of this is true. That is, there is a real difference between having your money stolen and used for private purposes for the benefit of the thief, and paying taxes to government which are used for the general benefit of society. There is a real difference between a government "of the people, by the people, and for the people" and a despot who holds power by force. There is a real difference between power being vested in the people, and power being vested in a single man.

However, I believe there is also another sense in which these distinctions are not so pronounced as people generally think. If we choose not to pay for the education of others, we are thrown in prison. In this sense, this type of taxation IS properly described as confiscation; the government applies coercive force to get our money and give it to someone else. "Government by the consent of the governed" is a misnomer: many years ago, the people of this country willingly established our government, but people today are not permitted to "opt out." If someone attempts to remove himself from the social contract (as people, in fact, have), the government applies coercive force to them. I, personally, were I offered the choice, would choose the US government as it is presently constituted over anarchy (although I see much room for improvement in the present government). However, the fact that I would give you money if asked gives you no right to steal it without asking. My rights are violated simply because I have no opportunity to make the choice of whether to give it to you or not. Not ALL of the governed consent. Absolute democracy has been called "the tyranny of the majority," and it might as well be called "dictatorship of the majority." This is why we have a constitutionally limited republic instead. Only those constitutional limitations ensure that our democracy is better than dictatorship. Democracy can, in fact, be worse than dictatorship, because the mob has no direction. It is entirely unpredictable and sways back and forth depending on the mood of the moment. Dictators tend to at least pursue definite ends (although, of course, this can make them worse rather than better, if those ends are evil), rather than to act completely at random. It is the constitutional limitations of our republic, protecting unpopular opinions and limiting what the majority may dictate, that ensures the superiority of our form of government over ditatorship.

Back to the issue at hand. Public education is obviously a good thing. That is, it is good for just anyone to be able to go get an education, and not only the rich. But in this country when we speak of "public education" we don't just mean education available to anyone, we mean socialized education. There are other ways of implementing public education that don't invovle government control, as for instance scholarships offered by private universities and independent charities. These have existed on the primary and secondary education levels as well. However, they have never been good enough to make education truly public, as the socialized system has. I believe that they could be good enough in a culture that placed enough value on education that many many people gave to these charities, but they never have been. As such, I want to make clear that, despite the discussion below, I wouldn't want to suddenly abolish the current system. However, I do think that it is deeply flawed, both in areas of legality and in areas of political morality. Let us discuss the issue at each level off government at which it might be addressed, in turn.

First, the federal government. The federal government has only the authority explicitly granted to it by the Constitution (as the 9th and 10th amendments make clear). The Preamble to the Constitution does not give the government an unlimited power to, for instance, "promote the general welfare." Rather, it merely states that the founders believed that by organizing the government in the way they do in the main body of the Constitution they could "promote the general welfare" and acheive the other ends listed in the Preamble. The subtext, it seems to me, is that if they have failed in these ends, they invite us either to use the amendment process, or to get rid of the Constitution and start over. The Preamble is merely a statement of purpose. Nor does the federal government have unlimited power to make laws which it deems "necessary and proper" - if this were the case, Art. I Sect. 8 of the Constitution would be unnecessary. Rather, Art. I Sect. 8 Para. 18 says that the legislature may "make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution the foregoing powers, and all other powers vested by this Constitution in the government of the United States, or in any department or officer thereof." (emphasis added.) That is, it may make the laws that need to be made in order to make effective use of the powers given to the federal government elsewhere in the Constitution. In a recent marijuana case, Justice Scalia, who has a very conservative (not in the sense of Republican, but in the sense of restricted) reading of this section in general, ruled, for instance, that prohibiting the transport of marijuana across state lines was part of regulating "interstate commerce," and that, because the government could not easily do this without prohibiting marijuana altogether, prohibition of marijuana was "necessary and proper" to "regulation of interstate commerce." But the necessary and proper clause doesn't just say the the government can do whatever it deems necessary and proper. It must be necessary and proper to the exercise of some authority the government has elsewhere.

Now, there is no mention of education in Art. I Sect. 8. I therefore conclude that, on the legal issue, the federal government has no power to give money to education or to regulate it in any way, except of course for regulations on interstate commerce, which may cover "distance learning" programs where the student and the university are in different states, or boarding schools paid for by parents living in another state, or similar circumstances.

Now, how about the moral issue? One person is forced to pay taxes to finance another's education. I see no moral justification for this whatsoever. Sure, I ought to be willing to voluntarily assist with the education of others, but this doesn't justify the government in forcing me. Furthermore, education, especially at the primary level, necessarily involves some degree of indoctrination, and government control of how children are indoctrinated is a serious violation of the rights of parents, especially when the governnment requires children to attend school. Since the No Child Left Behind Act took effect, the federal government does exert a degree of control over primary and secondary school curriculum, and this is a bad thing.

On to the state level. The 10th Amendment makes it clear that the state governments have powers which the federal government does not. As such, it may be the case that a state is legally justified in running a public education system, depending on how its constitution is written. Nothing in the Federal Constitution seems to prohibit this, as long as it cannot be construed as depriving anyone of liberty, which would make it run afoul of the 14th Amendment.

As for the moral issue, I don't see how it is any different on the state level than the federal level, so I must continue to, in principle if not in practice, oppose (socialized) public education, even if it takes place entirely at the state level.

Finally, what if education was handled on the city level? This, I think, would be a great improvement. In fact, most control over education is on this level, and much of it is funded by property tax levys. If a person doesn't like living in a city, there are many states, especially in the western US, that have large areas that are not governed by any city council. This gives the "implicit social contract" argument real application in this situation.

Suppose public education was controlled and funded entirely on the city level. Here I believe that, because of the extra strength granted to the "social contract" argument by the possibility of "opting out," the system could have moral justification. If you don't like what one city does, there are many cities and there are areas that are not in a city. Furthermore, cities could choose whether or not to admit people who do not live in the city and do not pay property taxes. Some cities who were feeling charitable would no doubt admit everyone. Others might not admit outsiders, or might charge them tuition. This would also create better free market competition between schools, since every one could do essentially whatever it wanted. They would all want to have better placement records in colleges and jobs, and parents would want their children in the best one. Schools would be free to innovate in order to acheive this end. This, I believe, would be much better than what currently exists certainly morally, and possibly also practically.

Posted by kpearce at 12:10 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

January 14, 2006

Tying Up Some Loose Ends: Greek Musterion in the New Testament

I've been meaning for some time to write a post tying together two topics that I had previously discussed. The items in question are my discussion of translation and transliteration and my suggestion in this post that Pagan religion might have had an influence on the New Testament's mode of expression. The common tie? The word "mystery."

This word, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, is first attested with the definition "A religious truth known or understood only by divine revelation; esp. a doctrine of faith involving difficulties which human reason is incapable of solving" in the Wyclif Bible of 1384. The same Bible introduces the meaning "A hidden or secret thing; something inexplicable or beyond human comprehension; a person or thing evoking awe or wonder but not well known or understood; an enigma." There does exist one usage of the word in poetry prior to this time, but it appears that the word has expanded to its present meaning primarily from this point; that is, it was transliterated into the language from the New Testament. You can see how much the meaning of the word has changed. It has virtually no religious connotation today. Now, there are two questions here that have a bearing on translation: first, do the OED's early definitions correspond to the meaning of the Greek word in the context of the New Testament? Second, does the present-day meaning of the word mystery correspond to its usage in the New Testament?

In fact, the original Greek word musterion is also a religious word (note that it is also the root of the word "mystic"), and it is here that we intercept the question of whether and how the New Testament's mode of communication was effected by Greek Paganism. In the previous post, I suggested that the resemblance of Luke's account of the Emmaus road to certain Greek myths may have been intentional, but I didn't have enough background to explain exactly how. Musterion is, in fact, a much better example. Let's look first at its usage in Greek Paganism.

A detailed discussion of this issue is found in the book A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities (online edition at Perseus), under the heading mysteria. I recommend reading the article, but I will present the important core ideas. The Greeks had many "mystery cults," as classicists often call them. The closest modern equivalent to the mystery cults of which I am aware is Freemasonry (it is in fact a very close equivalent). The "initiates" of the mystery cults would watch a sort of ritual drama which was intended to reveal truth about the universe through allegory and symbolism. These were supposed to reveal divine truth directly from the relevant god. The truth could only be learned at a particular shrine (the most famous being that of Eleusis) and communicating it was forbidden. There were various mysteries at different shrines where people of different ages and genders went. For instance, at one shrine young girls, ages 5 to 12, I believe, "played the bear for Artemis." No, we don't really know what that means. Only a few, like Eleusis, were open to all Greeks. Some of the mystery cults had multiple levels, each of which had different "mysteries" (remember, these are rituals and/or dramas that are intended to reveal truth to the initiate) at different levels of initiation, as, indeed, the Freemasons do.

There are a handful of cases in classical Greek literature where the word is used to speak of "secrets" more generally, but these are so rare that they ought to be taken metaphorically. It may be that the metaphor was "dead" by the time of the NT so that no reference is intended. It may also be that a new definition cropped up in between. I simply don't have the information on which to judge this. However, the word musterion itself was a relatively late development in Greek religious language (at any rate, Homer uses different words for similar things). Furthermore, we know that the word was still in use in this meaning in the first century, so even if it had acquired a more general meaning, the phrase "I reveal to you a mystery," often used by Paul, said in a theological context, would almost certainly bring the Greek mystery cults to the minds of Greek readers, and all of Paul's epistles except Romans are addressed to Greek cities.

Now the question is: why? What is the meaning and purpose of this Pagan reference in the New Testament? To examine this, let's look at the New Testament's use of the word.

20 of the words 27 uses in the New Testament occur in the Pauline epistles; 3 are in parallel passages in the synoptic gospels (Matt. 13:11, Mark 4:11, Luke 8:10) where Jesus speaks of the "mysteries" of the kingdom of heaven being revealed to the disciples; the remaining 4 are in the Revelation. The usage in the gospels and Revelation are straightforward: in the gospels the word refers to special knowledge revealed only to Jesus' disciples, in the Revelation it refers to the interpretation of symbolic or allegorical content. Paul's usage, however, is slightly more complicated.

Paul's "mysteries" seem to be doctrines of Christianity. He identifies the following as mysteries:

  • "that blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fulness of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Istrael will be saved." (Romans 11:25-26)

  • the gospel (apparently as a whole - Romans 16:25-26 [those verses are located at 14:24-26 in some texts], Ephesians 6:19. See also the summary of the Gospel at 1 Timothy 3:16.)

  • "[God] purposed in Hmself that in the dispensation of the fullness of the times He might gather together in one all things in Christ" (Ephesians 1:9-10)

  • "that the gentiles should be fellow heirs, of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ through the gospel." (Ephesians 3:3-7)

  • The "marriage" of Christ and the Church (Ephesians 5:22-32)

  • "Lawlessness" (2 Thessalonians 2:7)

Only one of these (the "marriage" of Christ and the Church) has an obvious symbolic/allegorical interpretation, so Paul apparently does not, by musterion mean, generally speaking, the correct interprettation of religious symbols/allegories. Fortunately, Paul gives us substantial hints at his meaning in Ephesians 3 (see also Romans 16:25, Colossians 1:26) when he says (vv. 5) that the mystery "in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets." We see, then, that just as in the Greek religious context, Paul is talking about truth that is revealed supernaturally to certain people at certain times, but not part of general human knowledge. Is Christianity, then, a mystery cult? Certainly not! The mystery was not revealed in former times, but it has now been revealed by the Spirit, and Jesus gave us special instructions as to what to do with His secrets: "Whatever I tell you in the dark, speak in the light; and what you hear in the ear, preach on the housetops" (Matthew 10:27, cf. Luke 12:3). I conclude, therefore, that the New Testament's use of this word implicitly sets up a contrast between Christianity and the Pagan mystery cults: whereas the Pagans carefully guard their mysteries, the Christians are eager to announce them from the housetops! God's revelation, once given, is given to all mankind. All are welcome and invited to come and learn the mysteries of God. You need not go to any particular location or perform any particular ritual: we, the Church, will come to you to teach you the mysteries God has revealed to us.

This creates something of a difficulty for the translator, because modern audiences do not have familiarity with these kinds of religious "mysteries." As I mentioned, we have some secret societies that resemble the mystery cults, but modern religions tend not to work this way (although Mormonism does have some rituals that are open only to higher-level members of the church). As such, we do not have a term for this. The Eastern Orthodox Church continues to use the word "mystery" to refer to a mystical ritual, but this isn't quite right for Paul's usage either. Mystery is the word used in references to these things in writing about Greek culture and religion, so if the target audience of a translation is made up of hellenists, then keeping the word mystery is appropriate. Also, many "church people" have been taught the Pauline meanin of mystery as something that had never before been revealed to mankind, so this audience, although it doesn't catch the implicit contrast with Paganism, does get the correct meaning. But what about translations for more "mainstream" audiences? Is there a good translation of this word for that context, or is the best we can do something like the HCSB's "bullet notes?"

Posted by kpearce at 04:15 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

January 13, 2006

Can High School Students Handle Philosophy?

Brian Leiter, a philosophy professor at the University of Texas Austin, points to an LA Times article about a lawsuit against a California public school district over an attempt to introduce an elective course entitled "philosophy of design." The suit charges that the course is about promoting a particular religion, rather than looking at the issue in the sort of balanced way a permissible "comparative relgion" course would. Now, if the charge is true and the course teaches only one viewpoint and seeks to convince students of that viewpoint, then it is a bad philosophy class (the constitutional issue is, of course, also somewhat important, but I tend to ignore it since the federal deparment of education is unconstitutional anyway). However, evaluating the course is not my primary interest. What I'm interested in are Leiter's comments. He says,

Of course, there are real philosophical issues about naturalism and intelligent design, but they have nothing to do with the proposed course in California, and, indeed, they are far too hard for high school students. ( ... It would be a marvel if there were high school students prepared to sort through the issues about substance dualism, antirealism about material objects, and the theory of perception that are implicated in genuine philosophical discussion of the issue.)

Are high school students prepared to handle these issues? Can they be taught on that level without doing more harm than good? The thing about philosophy, in my view, is that, at least historically, the questions have been more important than the answers. This is certainly true pedagogically (consider the "Socratic" method). Furthermore, the questions philosophers consider are the questions that any deep thinker will eventually get to, with or without actually studying philosophy. If you start from any observation and ask "why" enough times, eventually you will get to philosophy.

Nevetheless, there is a strong temptation toward elitism in philosophy, and it is very understandable. For instance, I can personally attest that the more I study philosophy the more I become irritated with people who refuse to think. Also, because of the universal availability of the questions, there are a lot of people out there who want to call themselves philosophers but have had no schooling, and this is something of an affront to someone who spends 8 to 10 years studying to become a philosopher (I guess I belong to the former group, since I call myself a philosopher after not even 3 full years of school, but I'm working toward that latter). However, I hold that this usage of language is legitimate. A "philosopher" is just that - a lover of wisdom. The term was used by Socrates/Plato to contrast with the sophists who claimed to actually have wisdom. The philosopher claims only to love and pursue it. Now, some people have pursued it farther than others, and they want a little credit, and they deserve more than a little, but does that mean that no one else is competent to think about philosophical issues? No! In many cases, the same evidence is available to all of us, so it would in fact be a logical fallacy to believe something just because some philosopher says it; everyone has to think about it for himself.

Now, back to the issue at hand: Leiter asserts that it is highly unlikely that any high school student could grapple adequately with the issues involved. Do they need to grapple adequately? Is it not of pedagogical value just to have them start thinking about it, and wanting more information? Intelligent design might even become an entry for a general introduction to philosophy since it has bearing on issues of metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of science, philosophy of religion, philosophy of language (via questions of whether religious texts are consistent with evolution), and so forth.

Leiter lists three issues as examples of things that intelligent design is related to, and I say that they are all things that high school students could benefit by asking questions in relation to. This is not to say that everyone is equally good at answering this question, or that there is no priveleged place for professional philosophers, it is merely to say that high school students could benefit from being trained to ask the right kind of questions, and to start looking at a few possible answers, and anyone willing to put in the work is capable of accomplishing at least this much under a competent teacher (or perhaps just with a good book on the subject).

The first issue is "substance dualism." This view is also known as Cartesian dualism. It is the view that there are two completely different types of substance in the universe: the physical and the spiritual (or mental). That is, the physical world is one type of substance, and minds or souls are another. This is a question everyone is capable of understanding. When you ask "do I have a soul?" you implicitly ask the question of substance dualism. Descartes' Meditations are not difficult to read; motivated high school students with good teachers could easily get through it. That is not to say that there are not difficult problems in the text that have been debated by philosophers for centuries, and that people have devoted many years of scholarship to solving, but the basic outlines of Descartes' thoughts are within the reach of any thinking person. So is the question of substance dualism. Now, the contemporary philosophical literature on the subject is much more difficult, but that does not mean that high school students can't "sort through issues about substance dualism." They won't do it as well as professional philosophers, but then they don't understand Newtonian mechanics as well as professional physicists, but no one thinks they shouldn't be taught Newtonian mechanics. In fact, in many high school physics or chemistry classes the very most basic principles of quantum mechanics and relativity are at least mentioned in a qualitative sort of way, and these are extremely difficult issues! But that doesn't mean high school students can't start trying to wrap their minds around ideas like superpositions or wave-particle dualism or "warped" space. Likewise, high school students are equipped to start asking questions about substance dualism, if they are sufficiently motivated and well taught.

Leiter's second issue is "anti-realism about material objects." What he means, I think, is basically the same idea as "representation dualism" (there are a lot of "dualisms"). This is a concept which I personally believe (a) to have been pioneered by a favorite of mine, Parmenides, and (b) to be the really foundational question that makes it possible to start doing metaphysics as something distinct from physics. Representation dualism claims that the world we see (the representation) is not identical with the "ontological ground-floor," as it were, of the universe. That is, if the world we see is real at all there exists something that is more real. If one takes the description of the universe from, e.g., particle physics to be fundamental, one is already endorsing representation dualism, because the particles are not the things that we are aware of experiencing in every day life. In fact they are not even similar. This issue really isn't that hard to start inquiring about either, as you can see.

Finally, he mentions "theory of perception." Now, I don't even want to begin to discuss theory of perception, because there are so many issues and I'm not sure which ones count as "basic," but clearly we all know what perception is, what it means to perceive, and we are all equipped to at least start asking questions.

I hold that asking these questions is greatly beneficial to intellectual development, even if one doesn't arrive at a good or satisfactory answer. However, there is the issue of whether the students can apply these issues to intelligent design. I think the answer is yes. Going from "are there non-physical substances?" to "is there a God?" is not hard. Seeing the difficulty of interaction between substances, particularly unlike substances, is also not hard (but solving the difficulty is; that's what makes i a "difficulty"!). Asking questions like, "if the world has a Creator, what kind of being is it?" is also not hard (but, again, answering them is). Asking whether the world we see is the fundamental reality, and understanding the arguments of Berkeley and Hume that it can't be, is not hard. Answering that question is. Asking all these questions, and making first halting attempts to at least understand what the possible range of answers is is of great benefit to one's intellectual development. If the class was taught well, I don't understand how anything other than excessive academic elitism could motivate an educator in the field of philosophy to oppose it.

Now, Leiter does go on to charge that "this course is obviously just masquerading as philosophy in order to present crackpot theories as though they had scientific support or standing," and perhaps he is right. Perhaps the course doesn't exist for the purpose of an examination of the philosophical issues surrounding intelligent design. Perhaps, instead, the "philosophy" label is merely an excuse to push religious indoctrination into public schools. If he has good reason to believe that this is the case (and, as I said, I haven't investigated this issue), then Leiter is quite justified in his opposition to the course. As I said, IF it is taught well, there is no good reason to oppose it. However, given the degree of knowledge about philosophy found in most public school teachers (and most people, in general), and given the (lack of) availability of good textbooks, it may be highly unlikely that the class will be good. I merely hold that Leiter greatly overestimates the amount of difficulty there is in bringing difficult philosophical issues to high school students.

Posted by kpearce at 10:12 PM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

January 12, 2006

Propaganda, Abortion, and the New York Times

I am a regular reader of the New York Times, and I must admit that I often sympathize with the assertion of many conservatives that the Times is biased toward the Democratic party. However, I think this concern is much overstated. The Times routinely portrays both sides of issues on the Op-Ed page, and also in factual reporting. Biases of omission, or phrasings that seem to make value judgments rather than report fact, do occur and tend to occur in a decidedly liberal direction, but if there is real persistent bias in the Times, I would say that it has to do primarily with the persons they choose as representatives of various positions and people-groups. For instance, the Bush administration is taken to represent all conservatives (sometimes even all non-Democrats), Pat Robertson is taken to represent all Evangelicals (sometimes even all Christians), etc. When the debate on certain issues is represented as being between the Bush administration and a few leading Democrats in the Senate, without considering other positions, biases of omission that make both sides appear extremist and tend to motivate alarmist positions are a common result. What I want to point out here is a one-line comment about abortion in this article about the Alito hearings. After reporting some sensationalist remarks by Senator Durbin to the effect that Alito might become a decisive vote illegalizing abortion because of his statement some years ago that abortion was not consitutionally protected, the Times comments, "Overturning Roe would not make abortion illegal but would leave the question in the hands of states."

Now the staff editorialists of the Times are, I would say, even more vehemently anti-federalist than anti-Bush. I remember seeing a staff editorial during the Roberts hearings about how the increasing federalism of the Supreme Court could undermine all the functions that we have become used to the "national" (I hesitate to use the word "federal") government performing. However, this comment is very well placed, and brings about a very important question. Why is this outcome so unacceptable? After the re-election of President Bush, many liberals began to make sarcastic remarks about "blue states" seceding. If liberals are so opposed to living under the rule of the Republican leaders the majority of the nation elects, why is it that they are also opposed to limiting the power of those same leaders, and leaving decisions about these divisive issues on the state level? Everyone seems to see the abortion debate as centering around the Roe v. Wade decision and I don't understand it - Samuel Alito doesn't seem to either. Alito keeps saying that Roe was substantially modified, though also substantially upheld, by Planned Parenthood v. Casey. Furthermore, these decisions are about what the government can and can't do. Why are liberals so afraid of allowing this issue to be decided by the proper legislative process? Why does it belong in the judicial branch?

The above notwithstanding, I think there does exist a good reason why the Supreme Court has been making deicsions on abortion: it is indeed, just as the fanatics on both sides point out, an issue of rights. The question is really about whether the fetus has a right to life and whether this right trumps the mothers right to exclusive control of her body, and this is a very difficult issue. It seems to me that even if the fetus was not a person but only a potential person, it would have at least some rights, and these rights would probably increase as it went to term (Jewish law sees the issue this way). However, it seems to me that it makes a lot of sense to say that the fetus is a complete person from the perspective of legal rights from the moment of conception (the fetus is at this point a living organism with unique human DNA, and that seems like a reasonable definition of person for the purpose of legal rights), and if not at conception certainly at first brainwave (although this makes the issue far more difficult, as not all fetuses have their first brainwave at the same number of weeks after conception, and detecting brainwave activity is difficult). This makes the case (at least after first brainwave) like the case of an unwanted guest who somehow comes to be in your home through no transgression of his own (e.g. he stumbles in during a blizzard, quite by accident). Now, certainly it would be wrong to actively kill this individual in the course of removing him from your house, which, I understand, is what happens in "partial birth" abortions. But what if you remove him from your house, back into the blizzard, without your personally doing any active harm to him, but knowing that he will die of exposure? Certainly this is immoral, but ought it to be illegal? I lean toward yes on this issue, but I'm not entirely sure. The thing to do, if you are unwilling to take care of this person, is to call the police to come and get him. But what would happen in a "state of nature" with no government? Or what if the police can't get there? How long are you expected to keep him in your house? If there were no police, would you be expected to find someone else to take care of him? If he had a "right" to be taken care of in that way, that would be a "positive right," therefore he has no such right. Furthermore, there is no real analogue to just calling the police in the abortion case (although we can imagine a situation in which the government or some charity will pay for the cost of removing the fetus and transplanting it to a willing host, and technology is not far from being able to make this happen, I think), so what happens here? Does the analogy break down at this point?

Weighing these kinds of questions about rights is one of the primary things that the Supreme Court does, and so it certainly makes some sense that abortion cases would come before them. However, the Supreme Court is only supposed to deal with rights protected by the Constitution, not with all "natural rights" (although one may claim that the 9th and 10th amendments are intended to protect all natural rights) - if we discover new natural rights that aren't in the Constitution, we should amend it. The Supreme Court may be right to say that if a woman is prohibited from having an abortion in a case where she will die if she does not, she is "deprived of life ... without due process of law," but does the fetus have due process rights as well? This at least is an issue of Constitutional interpretation and belongs in the Supreme court. The first section of the 14th amendment reads:

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

Now, is the phrase "nor shall any state deprive any person..." intended to set up a contrast with the previous statements which are about citizens, or are we still talking only about people who have been born or naturalized in the U.S.? I don't know. Even if it is talking about all persons, as opposed to just citizens, does the fetus count, legally? I don't know that either.

Suppose, however, that the fetus is not protected by the 14th amendment (or any other part of the Constitution), and that the mother's life is not endangered. How is this now a constitutional issue? Why should the Supreme Court make decisions in this case? Does anything in the Constitution really have to do with this decision? If not, it should be decided by legislatures, preferably on the state level (unless Article I Section 8 gives some kind of authority to the federal government to handle the issue).

These are just some thoughts, and not necessarily a considered position. I think this issue is much more complicated than most people on either side want to admit and, further, that the Bible is not so clear as most Evangelicals want to admit (most of the arguments from Scripture I've heard would lead to the conclusion, once taught by the Catholic church, that there was a moral duty to attempt to ensure that every time a man ejaculates it results in the creation of a child, since the Bible is always saying that God knew us before we were conceived, see e.g. Jeremiah 1:5, Psalm 139:16 - this is of course also connected with the theory of Van Leeuwenhoek and others that humans are "pre-formed" in either sperm or ova). As I said, I lean toward the position that the fetus is a person from conception and should therefore be protected, I just think that there is more room for doubt than most people want to acknowledge. This gives rise to the question of what the government ought to do when acting under uncertainty in cases like this, an issue I hope to address in a later post.

Posted by kpearce at 05:09 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

January 10, 2006

Smoking Bans, Private Property, and the Free Market

Hammer of Truth reports today that New Jersey has been added to the list of states banning smoking in "public buildings." Washington is also one of these states. Philadelphia tried to pass a city ban some time ago, but I believe it failed (I'm not entirely sure). Now, there are two things I want everyone to know about these smoking bans: (1) they are unjust, because they violate the private property rights of restraunt and bar owners, and (2) they are unnecessary because, to the degree that people actually want non-smoking establishments, the free markent provides them.

I do not have a problem with prohibiting smoking on public property, such as streets and public parks. If we-the-people own the land, and we-the-people don't want to inhale smoke when we are walking around on it, then we-the-people should prohibit smoking there (but how does the government come to acquire land justly?). So far so good. But, in general, we-the-people do not own restraunts! Restraunts are owned by private individuals, very much the way you own your home. We-the-people don't get to take a vote on what you can do in your home, because it's your home, not ours. We write, for instance, indecent exposure and obscenity laws regarding public streets, because we don't want ourselves or don't want our children to see certain things. We don't tell you what you can or can't wear, not wear, or say in your home. If we did, it wouldn't be your home. This kind of distinction has been wearing away for some time in this country, but it is not altogether gone, and it must be revived if we are to retain any of our liberties. Restraunt and bar owners have the right to decide whether they will allow smoking inside their establishments, and if you don't like it you have the right to leave. Period.

Now, most of the discussion on this subject has centered around not the consumers, but the employees who are required to breath second hand smoke as part of their job. To them I say, if you don't like it, you have the right to quit. This sounds callous, I know, but the real issue is this: you are a bartender in a bar that permits smoking and you make, say, $10/hour (I have no idea how much bartenders actually make). This means that someone values an hour of your work serving drinks in a smoky room at $10. If you accepted the job, then you must believe that your life breathing second hand smoke in a bar while mixing drinks and making $10/hour is better than your life without this job (or with any other job you were offered), so, by offering to let you breathe second hand smoke in his bar, the bar owner improves your life, according to your own standards. What are you complaining about?

Now, I mentioned that the free market takes care of these things. First, let's look at it from the perspective of consumers. Many restraunt goers don't want to inhale second hand smoke. Some people won't even go to a restraunt that smells like smoke. Many more will prefer a non-smoking one over a smoking one, and perhaps even be willing to pay more for the non-smoking restraunt. As a result, before the issue was ever regulated there were many non-smoking restraunts, and non-smoking sections in larger restraunts. This has not been the case with bars. As far as I know (I don't go to bars) there are very very few non-smoking bars in the world. Apparently, there is much less demand for non-smoking bars than for restraunts. If 51% of all bar-goers wanted bars to be non-smoking, there would be all kinds of non-smoking bars out there! In fact, there are only a few. This indicates that most bar-goers don't mind the smoke, and many of them even want to be able to smoke while they drink in bars, so in these bans we must have a bunch of people who don't even go to bars legislating what people who do go to bars can and can't do when they get there. Lovely.

Now let's look at the employees perspective. As I mentioned, the employee believes that his life is better with the job than without, even if the job requires inhaling second hand smoke, or he wouldn't have taken it. It seems perfectly possible to me that in some localities the free market determines higher pay for waiters in smoking establishments compared to non-smoking establishments, because most waiters would prefer not to breathe the smoke. However, some waiter may decide that he prefers the extra money to his health. We might chide him, and say that this decision is unwise, but he nevertheless believes that his life is better facing the health risks and receiving the extra cash than not breathing smoke and getting paid less. Who is the government to tell him how to live his life and what risks he may take? If just as many people would go to restraunts and bars if they were non-smoking, and those people would pay and tip just as much, there would be very few (or no) restraunts or bars that allowed smoking, because no one would be able to make a larger profit by permitting it (since there certainly are some people who won't go if the restraunt/bar permits smoking). That means that permitting smoking in some establishments increases the number of waitresses and bartenders who are employed, and the total amount of money paid to waitresses and bartenders in this country. Perhaps many of them think that it isn't worth it to inhale the smoke. If this is the case, then they will choose to accept lower pay from non-smoking establishments rather than work in smoking establishments, which will reduce the profit margin of the smoking establishments, compared to non-smoking ones. If enough employees think this way, it will become unprofitable to permit smoking, thus creating a de facto smoking ban. On the other hand, the restraunt and bar workers could unionize and make these demands about working conditions. (Ignore government recognition of unions, because when the government recognizes them they become EVIL. Our good union uses strikes and negotiations with management, not government coercion, to get its way.) If they were able to maintain solidarity, they would win. But if some people preferred to work under the poor conditions, or if the restraunts found it was more profitable to just hire and train new waiters and bartenders, they would lose. This is the way capitalism works. We all get to use our money and our time and our assets to influence the marketplace according to our preferences. We don't use our votes to do so. THAT is socialism, and it is the end of freedom.

Posted by kpearce at 12:36 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Philosophers' Carnival XXIV

Philosophers' Carnival XXIV is up at Rad Geek People's Dailywith a link to my post Let's Make Creation Science Not Suck. Rad Geek does a wonderful job summarizing all of the very interesting entries in the carnival. Check it out.

Posted by kpearce at 12:12 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 07, 2006

Christianity and Aristotelian Metaphysics

In a recent discussion with Suzanne McCarthy, my views were compared to Aristotle's, and I pointed out that I am really more of a Platonist and am often irritated at the continuing dominance of basically Aristotelian metaphysical ideas in Christian philosophy. In this post I will discuss the nature of these Aristotelian metaphysical claims, the manner in which they have been incorporated into Christian thought, and my reasons for objecting to said incorporation.

Before I start, I should note that I am not an expert on Aristotle, so I will be examining only basic points of Aristotelian metaphysics, and relying on interpretations that I take to be fairly uncontroversial. Of course, since I am not an expert, I could also be wrong in taking my interpretations to be uncontroversial. This is a blog discussion, not a research paper.

Aristotle is a "common sense" philosopher. In stark contrast to Plato, his teacher, he is eager to embrace the basic assumptions of his culture, and even searches for truth in facts about the Greek language. (See especially the Categories.) He is responsible for the "subject/predicate" distinction in grammar (that is, the so-called "Aristotelian predicate" which consists of the part of the sentence which is not the subject, as opposed to the "Fregean predicate," which is a somewhat different concept), and he saw this as a window to the way the world works. He claimed that the world consisted of "substances" (the things that can be subjects of sentences) and that these substances have properties. The properties are the things that might be predicated of the substance. That is, in sentences like "I am a philosophy student," we state that some substance ("I") has a particular property (belongs to the class of substances which are philosophy students). Some properties are essential - that is, if they changed the substance would lose its identity and become a different substance. Others are accidental - that is, the substance retains its identity if they change over time. If I was a philosophy student essentially then when I graduated I would become a different person. Since this is not the case, it is safe to say that I am a philosophy student only accidentally. (Although I can assure you that I became a philosophy student quite intentionally and with much effort! "Accidentally" in this context merely means non-essentially.) These essences, that is, collections of properties which define what it is to be something, are logical entities which are instantiated by certain individuals (but, again in contrast to Plato, Aristotle holds that the actual individuals are the "real" things, not the essences).

According to Aristotle, substances have a two-fold nature: they are "form" and "matter." Aristotelian theories that posit this two-fold nature are called hylomorphic theories. Matter, on this view, is the basic "stuff" of the world. "Form" is what gives it its identity as a unique entity. This exists in a sort of hierarchy. For instance, my form is my soul, and my matter is my body. The form of my body is its "vegatative soul," which is the organizing principle that takes care of blood flow, growth, digestion, etc. (but not motion - there is an "animal soul" in between the vegetative and rational souls). The matter of my body is the organs of which is made. Each organ, in turn, has form and matter, and so on.

The school of Medieval Christian philosophers known as the Scholastics were Aristotelians. During this time, Aristotelian metaphysics became a part of Catholic orthodoxy. In fact, this started very early.

The earliest example of which I am aware is the Chalcedonian Declaration of 451 AD. The Greek text of the Creed is available, with some glossary and commentary here, and there is an English translation in the Wikipedia article. This creed contains many technical terms of Aristotelian metaphysics, and by their use becomes dependent on this type of metaphysical theory. For instance, the Creed affirms that Christ is "co-essential [Gr. homoiousion] with the Father according to divinity." The claim is that Christ, considered in terms of his divinity, has the same Aristotelian essence as the Father (more on this later). Next, it claims that he is "co-essential with us according to humanity." Christ, then, instantiates two disparate Aristotelian essences: the essence of divinity and the essence of humanity. This means that he has all the properties one must have to be divine, and also all the properties one must have to be human. Note, however, that I have just stated this in non-Aristotelian language, so thus far we are merely using the apparatus of Aristotelian metaphysics, but have not made ourselves dependent on it.

Later the Creed affirms that Christ exists as two natures (phuseis) united in one person (prosopon) and one substance (hupostasis). In Aristotle, a phusis is "nature as an originating power" (LSJ, s.v. 4.1). prosopon meaning person is a later usage and is not found in Aristotle. (The word literally means "face" and in Aristotle's time the widespread figurative use was for "appearance," but by the time of the New Testament and all the more so in the later time of the Chalcedonian Creed, the word had come to mean "person.") Aristotelian hupostasis is the ontologically fundamental substance, the really real thing. I think a contrast between prosopon and hupostasis is probably intended here, meaning that Christ, despite having two essences and two natures (the latter can, I suppose, be interpreted as saying merely that Christ has both a divine origin as the only begotten of the Father existing from eternity, and a human origin as a man born from the womb of a human woman at a specific moment in history), is united both as to his outward manifestation and as to his fundamental nature.

Still, one need not affirm all of Aristotelian metaphysics to accept the Council of Chalcedon. One need only accept some metaphysical theory on which all of the concepts just mentioned (ousia, phusis, prosopon, and hupostasis) have meaning. This can probably be done, with a bit of finagling, on any theory that accepts the substance/property model of the world, which is so deeply ingrained in most (all?) human languages that it is nearly impossible to think or act without implicitly assuming it, so this is a fairly minimal requirement.

Later on, the Scholastics made good use of Aristotelian language in examining theological questions. For instance, they stated that God's essence includes existence, and so God is identical with his essence, whereas we are merely instantiations of our essence (or essences - there is and always has been some dispute between Aristotelians as to whether there is a single essence of humanity, or a unique essence of every human being or both).

However, the Scholastics and other Medieval theologians and Church leaders also constructed doctrines that depended far more heavily on actually believing the substance of Aristotle's metaphysics than does the Chalcedonian Creed. The most egregious example is the Roman Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation. In the Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent Session 13, Canon 2, a strict definition of orthodoxy is given stating,

If any one saith, that, in the sacred and holy sacrament of the Eucharist, the substance of the bread and wine remains conjointly with the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, and denieth that wonderful and singular conversion of the whole substance of the bread into the Body, and of the whole substance of the wine into the Blood-the species Only of the bread and wine remaining-which conversion indeed the Catholic Church most aptly calls Transubstantiation; let him be anathema.

I was unable to find the Latin text of this online (and my Latin is really bad anyway), but the standard explanation of transubstatiation (see, e.g., Wikipedia) seems to be that "substance" here is the Aristotelian hupostasis previously discussed, and the "species" of the bread and wine which remains is the collection of properties associated with the bread and wine, so that the bread and wine takes on the real substance of the body and blood of Christ, displacing the substance of bread and wine entirely. The substances of the body and blood of Christ are apparently able to take on the form of bread and wine without losing their essences. This requires a host (no pun intended) of metaphysical assumptions. For instance, there must be fundamental "substances" of the body and blood of Christ which do not have any observable essential properties. (What are their non-observable essential properties? If they don't have any, in what does their essence consist?) Furthermore, we must believe that it is possible for one substance to transmute into another, which seems to require that there be some kind of basic matter which is independent of the substances, as there might be on a hylomorphic view. This metaphysical picture is getting to be detailed and complicated, and this is only the beginning. Anyone who does not hold such a metaphysical view is implicitly also declared anathema by the Council.

This is my primary objection to the importation of Aristotelian metaphysics to Christian doctrine: a complicated and detailed metaphysical system which is in no way essential to the Christian revelation becomes part of a test of orthodoxy. However, my difficulty accepting it goes further.

Today, Christian philosophers continue to be predominantly Aristotelian. I haven't made an exhaustive statistical survey to show this or anything, so it may be merely that the Christian philosophy I have read is not a representative sample, but I don't think so. For instance, a look at part one of Richard Swinburne's The Christian God shows that Swinburne, one of the dominant figures of Christian philosophy today, retains many metaphysical assumptions from Aristotle. In that book, he does not even discuss any of the objections to them. Furthermore, looking over a few issues of the journal Faith and Philosophy, which is published by the Society of Christian Philosophers, will show that Medieval Aristotelians, especially Thomas Aquinas, receive far more attention than the early moderns, although the latter group was composed almost entirely of Christians.

This is deeply troubling to me for a number of reasons. The first is that it is extremely problematic to allow views to appear to be essential to Christianity when they are not. For instance, think of the number of people who have been turned off to Christianity because they think it means supporting all of the policies of the Republican party, when this in fact has nothing to do with the basic message of faith. This is especially important in light of the fact that modern science requires the rejection of many points of Aristotelianism which to the modern thinker can make a system that requires one to accept any part of Aristotelian metaphysics suspect. But Christianity is not such a system. The second critical point is that I believe these Aristotelian views to be just plain wrong (the reasons why are a topic for another post).

I can only speculate as to the reasons for the continuing prevalence of these views. One speculation I might make is that the Catholic and Episcopal churches are more encouraging of philosophical pursuits than most other churches, and so Christian philosophy tends to have a Catholic/Episcopal bias. (I have reason to suspect that there might be a Calvinist bias in academic theology for similar reasons.) Whatever the case, I believe it is extremely important for Christians to critically examine these assumptions and engage with the world of secular metaphysics, as Peter van Inwagen has so admirably done. While Aristotle's influence persists, serious Aristotelianism seems to be rare in secular metaphysics (again, I haven't done an exhaustive survey, I'm just drawing on what I've read), so the assumptions made by Christian metaphysicians, or the things they are unwilling to challenge, may be hindering them from having effective dialog with the rest of the world of philosophy.

Posted by kpearce at 03:48 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

December 24, 2005

How Much of Science is Philosophy?

There is an interesting post over at Parableman about the relationship between science and philosophy, in the context of the Intelligent Design debate. Jeremy claims that (1) ID is clearly not religious in nature, and (2) its philosophical nature is not a good reason to exclude it from science curriculum, because everything else in science is philosophical too. It's worth a read.

Personally I've been arguing for some time (not on this blog, in real life) that the vast majority of scientists don't have a sufficient grasp of the philosophical foundations of their fields to adequately pursue some of the deep questions they are coming up against. This is particularly true in physics. For instance, the physicists want to do cosmology now; they think they have a better grip of the problem than the philosophy department. Meanwhile, they literally don't know the meaning of the word. Brilliant minds like Steven Hawking go around talking about the "Big Bang Cosmology." A "cosmology" is, as the name implies, a theory of the cosmos, something like string theory. The Big Bang is not a theory of the cosmos, but an account of the origin of the cosmos. This is known as a "cosmogeny."

Now this is an issue of vocabulary, and I suppose they can use words however they want, provided they are consistent and understand one another, but then there are issue like so-called "quantum teleportation" and this very deep question of whether this process transports a particle from one location to another, or creates an entirely new particle at the new location: in short, the question of whether fundamental particles have what philosophers call "haeccity" or "thisness," and, if so, whether the two particles have the same haeccity. The problem of individuation is in many ways at the heart of metaphysics, and those desiring to give an answer to it should really pay attention to the last 3000 years of debate on the subject rather than starting over from scratch.

I believe that these issues show that the distinction between philosophy and science is ceasing to be useful, especially at the level of highly theoretical physics. This distinction was not drawn until the 19th century, but it has indeed served us well for the last hundred years. Science is usually viewed as being characterized by experiments and observations; philosophy simply by reasoning (although, for analytic philosophers and the British empiricists before them, this is still reasoning about the things we perceive in the phenomenal world around us). This division has never been that strict, as philosophy reaches over into essentially every academic discipline (we've got "a finger in every pie," as I like to say), but it has in some degree served us well, by allowing individuals to focus more intensely on fields like chemistry or biology that require very different knowledge and training than the mainstream of philosophy. However, today many realms of science are encroaching on issues that were traditionally the domain of philosophy and all too often recklessly ignoring millenia of thought on these issues. It is true, as Jeremy suggests, that much of science simply cannot be extricated from philosophy.

However, none of this means that the distinction between science and philosophy is quite so unreal as Jeremy claims. ID is not a claim about the workings of the physical world as such. It is a metaphysical claim about how those workings came to be, and an epistemological claim that we can know about that based on observation. Now a metaphysical claim about how the physical laws came to be is very different than a physical claim about it, such as Big Bang Theory. The Big Bang leaves the metaphysical question unanswered: it merely posits that the first moments of the universe looked a certain way. When physicists try to answer questions about what caused the Big Bang or what came before it, it is because they think that it had some physical, rather than metaphysical, origin. If the big bang began at the first instant of time, and there are no other physical universes like ours which could have spawned the creation of this universe, then physics has nothing to say about the origin of the Big Bang. If someone claims that God caused the Big Bang to occur, this is a metaphysical appeal, and has no place in physics.

Science makes important metaphysical assumptions, and scientists need to be aware of this, and they need to be able to think "outside the box," as it were, and ask occasionally whether a different set of metaphysical assumptions might be better able to explain the world. This requires scientists to have solid knowledge of metaphysics, and the available positions and the arguments for and against them. It does not, however, require that scientists become metaphysicians or otherwise collapse the boundary between science and philosophy. The position of ID, properly understood, is that there exists a sound teleological (design) argument for the existence of God. This is a meta-scientific observation: that is, it goes beyond science by examining the metaphysical consequences of what science has discovered, in much the same way that examinations of the impact of quantum mechanics for the issue of free will vs. determinism do. Neither of these debates need be taught in science classrooms, because science as such is agnostic about them. Note that this cuts both ways. As Alvin Plantinga once said:

[The idea that] human beings and other living creatures have come about by chance, rather than by God's design, is also not a proper part of empirical science. How could science show that God has not intentionally designed and created human beings and other creatures? How could it show that they have arisen merely by chance? That's not empirical science. That's metaphysics, or maybe theology. It's a theological add-on, not part of science itself. And, since it is a theological add-on, it shouldn't, of course, be taught in public schools.
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December 22, 2005

Let's Make Creation Science Not Suck

Nearly a month ago, I posted without commentary a Leibniz quote about materialism and supernaturalism. At the time I was busy with classes and didn't have time to really address the issue I saw the quote raising, but now that finals are over, I'd like to take a minute and look at this.

When I read this quote, I immediately thought of "creation science." Leibniz here describes what he sees as two false extremes: the one is represented today by the likes of Peter Atkins, the Oxford Chemist who insists that in order to properly follow scientific methodology one must believe that the ultimate physical laws of nature are logically necessary (which, let me interject, they obviously are not!) and that there exists nothing beyond the physical. The other extreme is represented by the so-called "creation science" movement (and some, but not all, proponents of intelligent design) who claim that the events of the natural world cannot all be explained by physical laws, and so oppose science. (Other intelligent design people merely intend to say that we ought not to think that the laws themselves are the result of chance, because there seems to be a sort of inherent purposiveness about them; I do personally endorse this position, as does Leibniz.) I have been arguing on this blog for some time that this is bad theology, and I've just recently finished writing a term paper arguing that Leibniz's mechanistic views are motivated primarily by theology - and good theology at that. (I plan to post this paper once I've received feedback from my professor and given it another edit.)

Between these two extremes, Leibniz plots a middle course: "all natural phenomena could be explained mechanically if we understood them well enough, but the principles of mechanics themselves cannot be explained geometrically, since they depend on more sublime principles which show the wisdom of the Author in the order and perfection of his work."

In Discourse on Metaphysics 19 (which I discussed here) and in many other places, Leibniz argues for the use of "final causes" in physics. In particular, he is constantly claiming the Snell would never have discovered his laws of optics had he not considered that God does everything in the most perfect way possible.

Now, to the heading of this post: creation science, as it exists today, is bad for several reasons. Because creation scientists "do not reason with exactness in this matter, and it is easy for [their opponents] to reply to them, they injure religion in trying to render it service, for they merely confirm those in their error who recognize only material principles." Basically, they tend to make Christians look like idiots, and so atheists become all the more certain of their atheism. Creation scientists go around claiming that they are doing "science," but science, by definition, is concerned with "efficient causes" - it wants to find out the physical, not spiritual or metaphysical, reasons for events. And there are physical reasons for events. I continue to hold that it would essentially amount to God making a mistake if he had to break his own physical laws in order to bring about his will miraculously. Rather, the perfect wisdom and infinite power of God should lead us to conclude that he made a world in which his laws hold always, and that he is able to bring about his will, even in those things we consider miraculous, without breaking physical laws. If I am right about this, then the enterprise of science seen as the attempt to explain everything in the physical world by efficient causes is theologically legitimate. Furthermore, I think it is clear that the scientific method is a valid way of seeking truth and in particular of pursuing these kinds of investigations. Creation science, as it now exists, denies this. Instead, it claims that we must look to divine revelation, etc., in order to do science properly, and it often also claims that we should reject the idea that we can explain everything by efficient causes at all. Furthermore, it has been my experience that the people pursuing creation science rarely have sufficient theology/biblical studies backgrounds to make the kind of theological judgments needed for their field. Because of this, when it is accepted by the mainstream of Christianity, it can be theologically damaging as well.

However, I promised in the post title to explain how creation science could not suck, and I intend to do just that. You see, Leibniz was right, I think, in claiming that theists should make use of final causes in their investigations of nature. This cuts two ways: first, when we see that the world is a certain way, when we discover a scientific law or a theory, we should ask, why did God do things this way? Second, there are some cases in which we already have a pretty good idea, either through revelation or through reasoning about the nature of God, what God probably wanted to do with regard to some natural event, or we may know through revelation that some event occurred, and in these cases we can reason backward from the final cause and try to determine the efficient cause, and this may in some cases turn out to be a useful heuristic device in searching for knowledge of natural laws. Note that the aesthetic criteria which mathematicians and physicists increasingly make heuristic use of are of this nature.

However, these things are not science, and it is critical that we recognize this so we are able to communicate with the rest of the world. Michael Behe doesn't get to walk around with his own private definition of theory, and we can't just go around redefining science. If we do, then we won't be able to enter debate with non-Christians, because we won't be speaking the same language.

This is what I suggest we do: first, let's rename this field "theology of nature" (and try not to confuse it with natural theology). Then, let's take some Christians with strong science background (by which I mean, with Ph.Ds in the natural sciences) and send them to school for theology and/or biblical studies and/or philosophy of religion. Then, let's give them appointments in the theology or religious studies departments - not the departments of their scientific fields! - at universities as professors of the theology of nature. Then they can pursue their investigations of final causes, and we can all benefit from the knowledge they gain, and Christians can have a better understanding of the relationship of our faith to modern science. This idea of "theology of nature" is a perfectly legitimate academic pursuit and, Christians must believe, also a legitimate method of pursuing truth. Also, by placing this in the theology department and attracting more competent people to the serious study of it, we may have the effect of making Christianity more rather than less plausible to modern intellectuals.

Note: The title of this post is a reference to Miguel de Icaza's infamous talk, "Let's Make Unix Not Suck".

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November 29, 2005

Quote of the Day

"We know that while there have been, on the one hand, able philosophers who recognized nothing except what is material in the universe, there are, on the other hand, learned and zealous theologians who, shocked at the corpuscular philosophy and not content with checking it's misuse, have felt obliged to maintain tha tthere are phenomena in nature which cannot be explained by mechanical principles; as for example, light, weight, and elastic force. But since they do not reason with exactness in this matter, and it is easy for the corpuscular philosophers to reply to them, they injure religion in trying to render it service, for they merely confirm those in their error who recognize only material principles. The true middle term for satisfying both truth and piety is this: all natural phenomena could be explained mechanically if we understood them well enough, but the principles of mechanics themselves cannot be explained geometrically, since they depend on more sublime principles which show the wisdom of the Author in the order and perfection of his work." - G.W. Leibniz, "Tentanem Anagogicum: An Anagogical Essay in the Investigation of Causes," c. 1696 (tr. Leroy F. Loemaker).

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November 28, 2005

Can The New Testament Be Both Influenced By Plato and Inspired by God?

The God Or Not Blog Carnival is a cool idea. It happens once or twice a month. For each carnival, there is a theme and the carnival host selects an approximately equal number of posts on that theme by atheists and theists for inclusion. The theme of the December 12 carnival is miracles. I have dealt substantially with miracles on this blog in a general way already, and so I've decided to post on applying my views to one very specific miracle which is central to the claims of Christianity and especially Evangelicalism: the inspiration of Scripture.

The story so far: nearly a year ago, I posted on what I referred to as "Christian naturalism". In this post I argued for a view that I continue to hold quite strongly: the view that traditional monotheists should not believe in exceptions to the laws of nature, as this would undermine the constancy of God. This, of course, creates a problem for miracles. I addressed that problem briefly in that post, but dealt with it more precisely in a recent post on Leibniz's discussion of efficient and final causes. In that post, I showed how the efficient/final cause distinction could be used to differentiate the miraculous from the mundane. I argued that the distinction was purely subjective, so that every event could be viewed as either miraculous or mundane depending on the disposition of the observer.

In the latter of these two posts, I briefly mentioned that fellow Christians, especially Evangelicals, with whom I have discussed this tend to be especially uneasy with my application of this theory to the inspiration of Scripture. This is the issue I intend to discuss here.

In Donald Bloesch's book, The Essentials of Evangelical Theology, he says, "the Bible is not partly the Word of God and partly the word of man: it is in its entirety the very Word of God and the very word of man" (vol. 1, p. 52). He goes on to say that, "inspiration is both conceptual and verbal, since it signifies that the Spirit was active both in shaping the thoughts and imagination of the biblical writers and also in guiding them in their actual writing ... The divine activity does not supersed the human but works confluently with the human so that the Scriptures are the joint product of both God and man. The writers are not to be thought of as simply the pens of the Holy Spirit ... but as partners with the Spirit so that the end product can be attributed to coauthorship" (p. 55).

Like Bloesch, I believe that, from one perspective, it is the case that the writings which came to be included in the Christian Bible came about in precisely the same fashion as any other books: that is, human authors sat down and wrote, and when they wrote they had particular views, thoughts, current issues, and so forth in mind which they wished to address. Their thoughts were influenced by those that came before them. I think, for instance, that it is clear that the theory of the self contained in the Pauline epistles must have been influenced by Plato's Republic (compare Paul's division into pneuma [spirit], psuche [soul], and sarx [flesh] with Plato's division into the philosophos [wisdom-loving], philotimos [honor-loving], and philochrematos [money-loving] psuchai [souls]), and the Johannine literature must have been influenced by Heraclitus (compare the use of logos [word]), although this influence may have been indirect (it has been suggested that it may have come through Philo of Alexandria, a Jewish philosopher who lived from about 20 BC to about 40 AD). However, this does not undermine inspiration. The Holy Spirit was active in shaping their life experiences so that their beliefs, ideas, thoughts, intentions, etc. would be such as to write down the Word of God, and also in imparting ideas to them at the time of writing.

Christians often seem to assume that if they Bible is inspired by God it must have come from nowhere - that is, it must have fallen from the sky (in the King James Version, of course), or the human authors must have experienced a sort of divine possession in which they did not write anything that they wanted to write or that they would have thought of, but merely "channeled" God's word in a highly supernatural way. Now, clergy, theologians, and others who have devoted a great deal of time to serious study of Scripture, tend not to take views that are so extreme as all of this (and I'm exaggerating even the popular view here), but they still seem to think that if the New Testament was influenced by Greek Pagans this would undermine its spiritual authority. But why should it?

Those who believe in the truth of the Christian Scriptures believe that Pauline Christianity is an accurate representation of Christ's intentions for the Church. What is the chief thrust of Pauline Christianity? It is nothing other than the God of the Hebrews reaching out to the Gentile (in that time, primarily Hellenistic) world. I do not mean to say that this is the only thing Christianity is about, or even the core of the message, but the idea that God has taken action to reach the whole world and not only Israel is certainly the thing that Paul was most surprised by and continued to be most excited about. We often talk about, for instance, Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey as being a symbolic action based on prophecy in the Hebrew Bible in which Jesus declared himself to be Messiah. Now, in light of the thrust toward reaching the Greeks, consider the story of the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35). Remind you of Greek mythology? How often do Greek gods disguise themselves as mortals, enter a home, and make their identities known only after eating dinner? The meaning of this story in light of Greek myth is outisde the scope of this post (and really beyond my knowledge - I don't know my mythology very well), but my point is, doesn't it make perfect sense that in the same way Jesus takes symbolic actions to reveal himself to the Jews, he would take symbolic actions to reveal himself to the Greeks?

If, then, Christianity can be influenced by Greek Pagan religion in this way, why should it not be influenced by the likes of Plato? If Plato is right about something (and can someone as smart as Plato possibly be wrong about absolutely everything?), or provides a good vocabulary for speaking in very precise terms about an issue important to Christianity, why shouldn't God use Plato's writings to form the views of the authors of Scripture in order to bring it about that they write down his word?

The objection that Scripture can't be inspired if it has outside influcences is essentially the same as the objection that the parting of the Red Sea wasn't a miracle if it had a naturalistic explanation, and this is simply false. A world in which physical laws were broken ad hoc would be a world unworthy of the Christian God. Why should the miracle of inspiration of Scripture be any different? Are there not "laws" about the ways human beings come to knowledge and form opinions, just as there are laws about how physical objects behave? Couldn't God construct the circumstances in the lives of the authors of Scripture in such a way that their words would coincide with his? And wouldn't this be a much greater miracle than his using his unlimited power to override the free will and individuality of the Biblical authors in order to "channel" his thoughts through them?

According to the definition I gave previously, if the Bible is the living word of God it should be easy for those who have been affected by it to see the miraculous nature of its inspirtation: its effect on us is clearly miraculous, in so far as it changes our lives by drawing us into relationship with God. This is its final cause, and it is immediately apparent to those who have had this experience. It's efficient causes, however, require extensive historical research and literary study to ascertain. In this sense, the Bible is a very miraculous collection of literature.

Finally, a word on use of miracles as proof of the existence of God: David Hume argued that we are never justified in believing a miracle has occurred. I'm undecided as to whether his reasoning is valid, but it is based on his (in my view, flawed) conception of miracles as exceptions to the laws of nature. Suppose we concede Hume this point. On my view, no such miracles occur anyway. But "miraculous" (in my teleological sense) events can still be accepted as proof of the existence of God. When the world seems to manifest purpose where humans have none, there may be a miracle. If many such events occur, such that the world appears to have a direction, a purpose, an intention, this may be evidence for God. Furthermore, as to the miracle of the inspiration of Scripture, we can be justified in believing it is inspired and hence miraculous because of a strange series of coincidences surrounding it (consider, for instance, the detailed discussion of the conflict between the Ptolemy and Seleucid dynasties at the end of Daniel, and consider the fact that the book of Daniel was translated from Hebrew into Greek decades before said conflict occurred. Consider also the events surrounding the foundation of the Christian church, and the various miracles reported in that connection). But all of these things require detailed historical analysis and there is a great deal of uncertainty about them. More immediately there is, along the lines of the argument from "religious experience," the fact that the text of the Bible has impacted the lives of millions in ways that are in line with the effects the God depicted in the Bible would want to bring about. There is a sort of inherent purposiveness to the Christian Scriptures that exceeds the purpose and planning of the original authors and compilers and reaches forward to present day circumstances the authors and compilers could not have had any knowledge of. This, above all, is evidence for the miraculous nature of Scripture, and if it is miraculous then it serves as an argument for God. Don't understand what I'm talking about? Go read it.

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November 23, 2005

Carnivals Galore!

Within the last 24 hours, Philosopher's Carnival XXII has gone up at For Those of You At Home, and Christian Carnival ICVII has gone up at Thought Renewal. The Philosopher's Carnival links to my recent post on judicial activism, and the Christian Carnival is linking to "Ivy League Elitist ... Porn?".

At the Philosopher's Carnival (though not at the Christian Carnival), it is customary for the host to comment on each of the posts. Ian Olasov ends his very kind remarks on my post with the line "Now all we need to do is force our elected officials to speak the way Mr. Pearce does..." Reminds me of Plato: "Until philosophers rule as kings in cities or those who are now called kings and leading men genuinely and adequately philosophize, that is, until political power and philosophy entirely coincide, while the many natures who are present pursue either one exclusively are forcibly prevented from doing so, cities will have no rest from evils, Glaucon, nor, I think, will the human race." (Republic Book V, 473c-d, tr. G.M.A. Grube). And so your question for the day: is this true or false? Is it necessary for political leaders to be experienced in highly theoretical modes of reasoning? Why or why not?

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November 16, 2005

Republican Opposition to Privacy Amendment Would Alienate Libertarians?

Today's New York Times has an Op-Ed entitled "Can I Get A Little Privacy?" in which Dan Savage argues that Democrats should propose a constitutional amendment to gaurantee a right to privacy. He goes on to claim that Republican opposition to the amendment "would alienate not only moderates, but also ... libertarian, small-government conservatives." Really? As I've discussed before, right-libertarians (and he certainly isn't talking about left-libertarians of the ACLU variety - what do the Republicans care about them?) are by definition opposed to the concept of "positive rights." Now, perhaps Savage has in mind a wording that would turn privacy into a negative right, as in "the right of the people to be secure against invasions of their personal privacy shall not be violated" (isn't that already in the fourth amendment?), but this has little to do with Roe v. Wade. In fact, the fourth amendment (and any amendment creating a "negative right" to privacy) makes enforcement of laws against abortion singularly difficult, but not impossible. The governnment would be required to show probable cause that something illegal had been done before looking at medical records, and this would be overseen by the judiciary. This means that a law prohibiting early abortions would be almost entirely unenforceable, but that does not make the law invalid. For instance, it is almost impossible to convict someone of treason in the US because of the criteria and standards of evidence involved, and these criteria are set up by the Constitution, but that doesn't make treason laws invalid.

Now, perhaps the liberals have in mind an amendment specifically keeping the government "out of the bedroom," as it were. This would be likely to garner support from libertarians. Would this cover a right to abortion? It would be debateable. (If it obviously and straightforwardly did, then it would cut down on the number of libertarians who supported it, because libertarians are deeply divided on this issue, due to the difficulty of determining whether the fetus is a person with rights.) To his credit, Savage does acknowledge that even with whatever amendment he has in mind, the issue would remain unsettled.

Personally, more in light of Guantanomo Bay than in light of the abortion issue, I've been considering the possibility of an amendment defining precisely who the Bill of Rights and other constitutional protections apply to, and this would certainly have some bearing on this subject, but that's another topic for another post.

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November 04, 2005

What is Judicial Activism?

An article in today's New York Times about the continuing Supreme Court confirmation process discusses the degree to which "ideology" should or does play a role in judicial confirmations. In the course of this discussion, both Democrats and Republicans are accused of hypocrisy in this area, and they are obviously guilty on this point. Virtually all senators claim that ideology shouldn't matter for their own party's nominees, but should for the other party's. It goes on to discuss the question of "judicial activism." The Times quotes extensively from Professor Lee Epstein of the Washington University in St. Louis School of Law, who says many interesting things. The point that caught my eye was Professor Epstein's statement: "I told my class the other day I have no idea what judicial activism is. Maybe the best definition of a judicial activist is a judge you don't like." Some 50 years ago, George Orwell argued in a fantastic essay entitled "Politics and the English Language" that political manipulation had left many English language words without meaning: in particular, he claimed, words like "democratic" had come to mean "good" and words like "communist" or "fascist" had come to mean "bad" so that these words were no longer descriptive statements about governments, but merely value judgments. So I pose the question: does the phrase "judicial activist" have a descriptive content today? Did it ever? I believe that it did, and perhaps still does, but the left and the neo-Cons are today attempting to twist it for political purposes in much the way "democracy" and "communism" were once twisted, leading to precisely what Professor Epstein describes: a situation where the term "judicial activist" merely means "a judge I don't like."

The role of the judiciary branch is to resolve legal disputes. It is not, we can all agree, to make new laws. However, by the very nature of this purpose, the court will come across areas where the law is ambiguous. Courts have often ruled that excessively ambiguous laws are invalid. How should legal disputes be resolved by courts, and does interpreting the law really differ from inveting it?

Well, it depends. In an article I posted on earlier, Ronald Dworkin argued that in order for there to be a difference between interpreting the law and enforcing one's own ideology, one must have a comprehensive theory of law, and Dworkin is absolutely right.

The most fudamental principle of a free society is lex est rex: the law is king. That is, the first prerequisite for freedom is that the law be publicly available, predictably interpreted, and changed only according to specified and well understood processes. This is why the Constitution is so emphatic in it's prohibitions on ex post facto laws, bills of attainder, etc. An individual is more free when he is systematically and predictably persecuted according to law (as when, for instance, he is not allowed to enter certain buildings due to his skin color) than when he is subject to the whim of some ruler (as for instance when a dictator may order, after the fact, the imprisonment of all persons of a certain skin color who have entered certain buildings in the past, although they had no way of knowing they were prohibited from entering). The fear of a ruler's caprice undermines freedom even when the ruler does not in fact act in a discriminatory or excessively restrictive way.

However, there is the problem of the difficulty of interpreting texts. How can the judiciary interpret the Constitution in such a way that they will not be capricious and so undermine freedom? As Dworkin's argument shows, only by having a comprehensive theory of legal interpretation which restricts the application of the judges' policy preferences. "Judicial activism" occurs when a judge "legislates from the bench," as we say - that is, when he simply makes up laws according to his preferences rather than according to his unbiased interpretation of the law. Statements like Professor Epstein's stem not only from the manipulation of language by leftists and neo-Cons but also from the postmodern ideology that doubts whether texts have objective meaning at all. In law, they must have objective meaning, or we cannot have a free society.

Today, the left wants to say that anyone who overturns legal precedent is an activist. The right wants to say that anyone who supports liberal policies is an activist. In reality, judges who are not activists must meet two criteria: first, they must hold and consistently apply a comprehensive theory of legal interpretation, and, second, this theory must allow the legislative process to alter the judges' interpretations in predictable ways. To understand this, consider Justice Scalia. Despite his witty remarks and an intellect much sharper than most of us doing the predicting, he remains one of the most predictable judges on the court. He believes in a particular manner of interpreting the Constitution and he sticks to it. Want to change his decisions? Amend the Constitution, and you can trust him to follow it. Justice O'Connor, on the other hand, is an activist. Her decisions are completely unpredictable (more so, in fact, then most judicial activists, because her policy preferences are also rather unpredictable), and there is no way to tell how a new statute or constitutional amendment will affect her decisions, if at all.

So far, I have seen no justification for how "living Constitution" theories can avoid judicial activism. It simply does not provide a comprehensive theory of interpretation that can be used to insulate a judge's decisions from his policy preferences. A "living Constitution" theorist could continue interpreting the Constitution however he wants, even after an amendment was written with the express purpose of making his interpretation incorrect. If the Supreme Court is filled with this kind of capricious interpretation (as, indeed, to some degree it already is), it will fundamentally undermine our freedom. Therefore, if a judge's policy preference's are relevant to his confirmation, he should not be confirmed. Rather, his overall theory of interpretation and his ability and willingness to consistently apply it should be the determining factors in his nomination. In this way, and only in this way, can the phrase "judicial activism" continue to be meaningful, and only in this way can we preserve our freedom.

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October 31, 2005

Philosopher's Carnival XXI

Philosopher's Carnival XXI is up at Prior Knowledge with a link to my recent post on Leibniz and miracles (yes, that's the same post the Christian Carnival linked to last week - I haven't had time to write much recently). The Philosopher's Carnival is a "fortnightly" compilation of recent posts on philosophy blogs.

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October 12, 2005

Leibniz on "Efficient" vs. "Final" Causes in Physics: Its Application to God, Science, and Miracles

So I'm taking this class on Leibniz this semester (for those of you who may be unfamiliar, that is Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, the 17th century philosopher/scientist/mathematician, and the "other" discoverer of calculus), and I was reading his Discourse on Metaphysics today and came across this fantastic passage in section 19:

Moreover, it is unreasonable to introduce a supreme intelligence as orderer of things and then, instead of using his wisdom, use only the properties of matter to explain the phenomena. This is as if, in order to account for the conquest of an important place by a great prince, a historian were to claim that it occurred because the small particles of gunpowder, set off by the contact of a spark, escaped with sufficient speed to push a hard and heavy body against the walls of the place, while the little particles that make up the brass of the cannon were so firmly interlaced that this speed did not separate them, instead of showing how the foresight of the conqueror enabled him to choose suitable means and times and how his power overcame all obstacles.

The heading of this section is "The Utility of Final Causes in Physics." Now Leibniz, like me, sees no conflict between an event's being "miraculous" and its being explainable in terms of physics: as in the case of the conqueror, both explanations are correct, but only one is relevant. Leibniz borrows from Aristotle the terminology of "efficient" and "final" causes (Aristotle has two more types of causes, "formal" and "material," which are not relevant here). Today, we use the word "cause" to refer only to what Aristotle and later philosophers, including Leibniz, called the "efficient cause." The "final cause" is the purpose of a thing or event. For instance, the final cause of this post is (in part) to be read.

Now, for anyone who, like Leibniz and like myself, is a theist, the world is full of final causes. There are reasons why things are as they are. God has a design for the world. Leibniz, in this passage, tells us that it would be ridiculous to believe in God and not see final causes throughout the world. He also says, in a nearby section, that it is silly for those who study final causes of things to ridicule those who study their efficient causes, and vice versa. Both explanations are correct, but in a given situation one may be more relevant than another.

A while back, I wrote a post on Christian Naturalism. In it, I argued that Christians should not believe in exceptions to the laws of nature. This then leaves the problem of how to deal with miracles. In that post I said "A miracle is an event in which the 'higher functions' of the divine consciousness, i.e. the part equivalent to the conscious functioning of the human mind, that makes plans and designs regarding human lives and the like, are more apparent than the 'lower functions' which are the laws of nature. To put it more simply (but less precisely) a miracle occurs when the laws of nature conspire together to acheive some intelligent end." (Yes, the "conspire" language was in part a reference to Stephen Hawking's "Chronology Protection Conjecture.") Using the language of Aristotle and Leibniz I can now state this more precisely.

The difference between the "miraculous" and the "mundane" is purely subjective. A miracle is an event in which the "final cause" - the divine purpose behind it (or at least a part of that purpose) - is more readily apparent to the observer than the "efficient cause" - the physical laws which require that the event occurs. In this way, there is no contradiction between belief in the miraculous and naturalism.

A brief note on a related topic: I apply this same doctrine to all miracles, but one in which I have gotten very negative responses is in its application to the revelation of the Christian Scriptures. I believe that these are miraculous in precisely this sense: what came down to us turned out (not by any accident, but by divine purpose) to be the Living Word of God. This does not, however, mean that it was not produced in precisely the same way as any other work of literature. Therefore it is consistent with belief in the inspiration of Scripture to talk about the influence of earlier non-inspired writers (e.g. Plato, Philo of Alexandria, or Heraclitus) on the authors of Scripture, as I often do. I believe that the Scriptures are miraculously inspired, I just don't believe that they were inspired "in a vacuum" as it were, independent of the surrounding thought patterns. Where previous writers were correct, or almost correct, or provided good terminology for discussing a subject, God used their writings to bring it about that the authors of Scripture would write down the Living Word of God.

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October 07, 2005

Why "Positive Rights" Are Stupid

They lead to crap like this. According to the mayor of San Francisco, "It is ... a fundamental right to have access universally to information" and providing wireless internet access for free to the city is " a civil rights issue as much as anything else." (Hat tip: Evangelical Outpost) Wait, civil rights? Wireless internet? Next you'll be telling me they have a "fundamental right" to own a laptop with which to use the wireless internet. Where the heck does this crap come from?

Libertarian and classic liberal political theorists believe that all of our rights are what are called "negative" rights. That is, we have rights not to have certain things done to us by others. We do not have "positive" rights - rights to have things done for us. The reason for this is that any system of positive rights is necessarily arbitrary, as positive rights will conflict with one another and with negative rights, and they require a government with lots of money to implement, so they cannot be seen as predating government. By contrast negative rights can be formulated in ways that make them perfectly consistent, and it is coherent to speak of them in the absence of government.

The "right" to wireless internet is a positive right. (Note: "Rights" in quotation marks are purported rights that I don't believe in. This is easier than writing "purported" and "would be" all the time.) Therefore libertarian or classic liberal theorists can conclude, just from that fact, that it doesn't exist. Certainly you can see how it is fundamentally different from the right not to have anyone interfere with your religious practices, for instance. Religious freedom is, essentially, a negative right (if there was a positive right to religiou freedom, it would require government to build churches/monuments/whatever as per the requirements of every citizen's religious preference).

All of the rights actually enumerated in the US Constitution are negative rights. The "right" not to be prevented from obtaining an abortion is a negative right. The "right" to be provided with an abortion at state expense is a positive right.

Now for some trickier issues: the "right" to universal healthcare is a positive right. Can you see why it can't work, or at least can't be a "fundamental" right? If there were no government, a "right" to healthcare would mean that one could walk into a doctor's office and demand treatment at no cost, but this would clearly violate the negative rights of the doctor, particularly his right to determine what he does with his time and skills. In the presence of a government, massive taxation would be necessary to pay the doctor enough to support this alleged "right." This money has to come from somewhere, and therefore, again, someone's negative rights are violated when his money is confiscated by force to pay for someone else's healthcare.

On an even more controversial note: the "right" to privacy is a positive right! Now, perhaps when John Roberts discusses the "right" to privacy, he merely means the negative right of protection against unreasonable search and seizure, combined with a few other provisions of the Constitution, but certainly in the Roe v. Wade reasoning the "right" to privacy is positive, and therefore faulty. Why is this? The right to protection against unreasonable search and seizure means that the government (or anyone else) will not come look through your stuff. This is a negative right: it says what other people CAN'T do. But privacy requires a lot more than this. Suppose you bought a glass house, or you live outside in a field, or in a cave without a door. If you have a "right" to privacy, then no one can look into your house, even though it is in plain sight. Furthermore, a "right" to privacy requires the government not just to not spy on you itself, or not to allow others to take certain types of actions, but to take active steps to make sure that you have privacy, as for instance putting a door on your cave. Roe requires that you have this kind of right: the government must actively ensure that no one finds out whether or not you used birth control or had an abortion. It is one thing for the government to protect you from people snooping around through your stuff, but quite another for it to be required to make sure you have privacy.

Furthermore, once you open the door for positive rights, there is no principled way of distinguishing between the "right" to privacy or healthcare and the "right" to wireless internet. Another mayor, somewhere in Colorado if I remember correctly, said a few years ago that cable TV was a basic necessity and not a luxury because some places have very poor reception. When you have a scheme of "positive rights" anything that society decides is a "necessity" becomes a candidates for the status of "fundamental right" and it suddenly becomes coherent to talk about wireless internet or cable tv as "civil rights" issues. How dumb is that?!

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October 06, 2005

Ronald Dworkin on John Roberts and Principles of Constitutional Interpretation

The New York Review Of Books has published an insightful piece by Ronald Dworkin, a brilliant political philosopher at NYU, on what we can expect from John Roberts. For those of you who are on familiar, Dworkin wrote an excellent book entitled Sovereign Virtue in which he develops a systematic political philosophy which is capable (if successful) of justifying the voting patterns of moderate Democrats. This is very impressive, as most political philosophies end up in one of three extremes (libertarianism, Marxism, or utilitarianism), or else are hopelessly unsystematic. However, as you might expect I, having adopted one of the three aforementioned extremes, find Dworkin's theory to be flawed, and I find it to be flawed in two places: first, it requires that we develop moral obligations (particularly the obligation to pay taxes) based on actions we would probably have taken in a purely hypothetical situation (the "hypothetical insurance market"). Secondly, it makes the government very much like the Mafia: they try to sell us insurance against the application of coercive force against our person or property, then apply coercive force to us (throw us in prison) if we refuse to buy the insurance. Nevertheless, I was extremely impressed by Dworkin's book and, accordingly, was very interested in his article. (He also once wrote a paper, which I have not yet read, with a title along the lines of "Objectivity and Truth: You'd Better Believe It" - another reason to like him!) The article basically argues, rather compellingly, that Roberts's assertion that he will just follow "the law" are hollow in that following the law requires and overarching theory of legal interpretation, which Roberts claims not to have. As such, he has left himself with a very great amount of room for subjectivity, and has not successfully isolated his jurisprudence from his personal political views. I, for one, think this was him playing politics with the Senate, and that he does have an overarching theory of interpretation, but we will soon see. I didn't appreciate Dworkin's cynical, sideways remarks at justices like Antonin Scalia (a favorite of mine), but he also makes a good point about originalism, a point Roberts himself made during the hearing: the founders may have originally intended that certain parts of the Constitution be interpreted on the basis of current cultural beliefs, and the vagueness of certain portions of the text seem to bear this out (for instance, "cruel and unusual punishment").

Overall: a long article, but worth the time.

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October 01, 2005

Theism, Empiricism Mutually Exclusive?

Parableman points to an anti-intelligent design petition circulating among academic scientists. The text of the petition reads:

We, as scientists trained in fields that utilize evolutionary theory, do not consider Intelligent Design to be a fact-based science appropriate for teaching in public schools because it is theistic in nature, not empirical, and therefore does not pass the rigors of scientific hypothesis testing and theory development. As such, we petition that Intelligent Design not be presented in public schools as a viable science within the scientific curriculum. (emphasis original)

Parableman points out the very strange phrase "it is theistic in nature, not empirical," which implies that "theistic" and "empirical" are mutually exclusive categories. Someone hasn't been reading philosophy.

The "empiricist" movement in the history of philosophy occurred primarily (though not exclusively) in 18th century Britain, and was a reaction against the "rationalist" movement of the 17th century, which took place primarily on the continent. The rationalists believed in a "faculty of pure reason" and/or "innate knowledge," so that there existed what Immanuel Kant would later call "synthetic a priori" knowledge - that is, knowledge not contained in the definition of the word (statements like "all bachelors are unmarried" are called "analytic," as opposed to synthetic, truths because the predicate is contained in the subject, to use the technical terminology - interestingly, on famous rationalist, G.W. Leibniz who I am studying this semester, believed that all truths were analytic) which we could learn in a manner independent of experience of the world. The empiricists rejected this, claiming that all ideas (where an "idea" is defined as a direct object of the mind) were gained originally from experience.

The three greatest empiricists are usually listed as being (in historical order) John Locke, George Berkeley, and David Hume. Now, I personally think there's some doubt about Hume being an empiricist properly so-called, but we won't argue about that. Other people think there's some doubt about Berkeley being a proper empiricist, but these people are clearly wrong. Berkeley reasons from human experience exclusively, with no appeal to a priori knowledge to get where he's going, and just because he isn't a materialist doesn't make his position any less based in experience.

This last statement gets us to the crux of the issue: being an empiricist is not synonymous with being a pure materialist (in Berkeley-world, being a "materialist" = believing in matter at all, not necessarily believing in matter only, hence I say "pure materialist"). In fact, as any student of Berkeley can explain to you, there is no good empirical reason to believe in the existence of matter! Descartes struggled with this and ended up famously concluding that matter existed because "God is not a deceiver." Even well over a hundred years before Berkeley Descartes can't figure out how to prove the existence of matter without apppealing to God, Who is immaterial! Even Locke confessed that he didn't have an idea of matter (or what he calls the "material substratum"), strictly speaking (see Essay Concerning Human Understanding, I.23). Why? Because matter doesn't meet the standards of empirical truth. So Berkeley, the real empiricist, rejects it. After all, why should we believe in something, when we don't know what it is, especially if, as Berkeley argues, it is unhelpful in explaining our experience?

The key point, however, is that even Berkeley, who is willing to doubt the existence of matter (Locke's definition of matter as a "material substratum" consisting of solidity and extension [i.e. stuff that takes up space] and "supports accidents" [i.e. has properties] is of course meant - Berkeley certainly does not mean to say that the stuff of perception is not "real," simply that it is mind-dependent) on the grounds that he can find no empirical evidence for it, believes in God. Is Berkeley's theory not "empirical" because it is "theistic?" Certainly not. In fact, Berkeley makes an empirical argument for the existence of God in his Treatise on the Principles of Human Knowledge (1710) and Three Dialogues Between Hylas and Philonous (Hylas being Greek for "matter", Philonous for "lover of mind". The subtitle reads "Against Skeptics and Atheists". Published 1713). Berkeley believes that the fact and fundamental nature of our perceptions is best explained by the existence of God (it is a fascinating argument - I reccomend the "Dialogues" for those who have not read Berkeley before).

Now, to return to the point: it is absurd that this many intelligent people (7702 academic scientists) would sign a petition implying that theism and empiricism are mutually exclusive. Perhaps some of them will argue that I am equivocating on the use of the word "empirical" by bringing in the history of the empiricist movement, and perhaps some will argue that Locke and Berkeley (both orthodox Christians, and Berkeley a bishop) were biased by their faith, but I don't think that either of these arguments holds water. Firstly, "empirical" means "based on observation," and that is exactly the primary characteristic of the philosophy of the 18th century empiricists: it is based on experience, i.e. observation. Secondly, Locke's and Berkeley's arguments stand or fall on their own, independent of the faith of the arguer (this objection is in fact ad hominem), and Berkeley at least sincerely believes that his belief in God is based on reasoning about his experience (I am less familiar with Locke's statements about belief in God, but I think they are somewhat more reserved).

What all of this says to me is that scientists need to study more philosophy. How, after all, are you to interpret your research, and the world you live in, and make new and interesting hypotheses, without a thorough grounding in the history of human thought? If you are going around claiming that theism and empiricism are mutually exclusive you clearly don't know what you are talking about, and if you are a scientist this knowledge, which you lack, is pertinent to your field! Furthermore, as Parableman points out, and as was argued in the article I am still raving about, Del Ratzsch's "Natural Theology, Methodological Naturalism, and 'Turtles All the Way Down'" in the October 2004 edition of Faith and Philosophy, this makes really unacceptable pre-empirical assumptions about what empirical reasoning will find. In fact, it seems rather rationalist to assert that as a matter of definition theism and empiricism are mutually exclusive. This claim would seem to be made a priori. And here I thought the scientists were supposed to be the proponents of empiricism...

One more brief note: Parableman also points out the blatant misrepresentation by the anti-ID petition of the Discovery Institute, which says in its FAQ that it does not support mandating the teaching of intelligent design in public schools.

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September 27, 2005

The Right Way to Introduce Intelligent Design to Public Schools ...

is by teaching philosophy of science. Metaphysics and philosophy of science, no matter what anyone says, are "ontically prior" to experimental science. What that means is that you must have at least a working philosophy of science (with some difficult conceptual work it is possible to abstract away the metaphysics in most cases) in order to interpret the results of observations and experiments. Remember that "scientific method" thing you learned in high school (or, hopefully, middle school)? Scientists hold to a philosophical - not scientific - theory states that that method works. The details of this philosophical position will determine the interpretation of evidence. That is not to say that evidence cannot change the theory (you might find the evidence completely incomprehensible within your theory or, more likely, another theory might turn out to provide a more plausible interpretation of the evidence), but merely that one must have a working version of it before one can begin scientific enquiry.

The occasion for this post was a couple of news articles (NY Times (1), NY Times (2), AP) and an insightful post at Every Thought Captive concerning a lawsuit against a Pennsylvania school district for attempting to mandate teaching of intelligent design. It is expected that in the course of the case a court will have to answer the question of whether intelligent design is a "scientific" theory.

The answer to this question is, of course, no. Intelligent design is not a "scientific" theory. It is, in fact, a philosophical theory. Of course, as revered philosopher of religion Alvin Plantinga recently remarked, the converse proposition, that natural processes are not guided by a higher Being, "is also not a proper part of empirical science. How could science show that God has not intentionally designed and created human beings and other creatures? How could it show that they have arisen merely by chance. That's not empirical science. That's metaphysics, or maybe theology. It's a theological add-on, not part of science itself. And, since it is a theological add-on, it shouldn't, of course, be taught in public schools." (Plantinga's quote was discussed at the time, last month, on several blogs, including Parableman and Prosthesis).

Now, I don't necessarily think it follows that it shouldn't be discussed in public schools. (Let me qualify that - I don't really think public schools should exist, I think that in a perfect world all schools would be private and parents would choose any school they liked, and private charitable funds would ensure that children of poor families could afford an education, but leaving that aside, insofar as the existence of public schools must be tolerated in our non-ideal world, I do not think that control by secular government ought to prevent them from discussing these issues). I do, however, think that it would be clearly and obviously wrong for the government to fund the propagation of any particular viewpoint on matters such as these (of course, as I have often said, education necessarily involves some degree of indoctrination, and this is my primary reason for opposing government involvement in it, besides the government having no right to appropriate the money involved).

The solution to this problem, I suggest, is to discuss the philosophy of science and its development at the beginning of every science class (I do remember having about a week on "scientific method" in just about every science class from grades 6 to 12). Students should be informed that today mainstream science accepts a controversial philosophical principle known as "methodological naturalism," and recently many philosophers and popular thinkers, and even a few scientists, have questioned this view. Furthermore, this was not the view of any notable scientists prior to the 19th century. Prior to this time it was assumed by all of the most prominent scientists (Galileo, Newton, Boyle, etc.) that they were investigating the will of God. There was much philosophical debate as to whether God willed once that matter should exist and obey certain laws (and if so, whether He made exceptions to these laws - "miracles"), or whether He continually willed that certain natural laws should hold. Whatever the case, it was assumed that the ultimate explanation, at bottom, for natural laws would come to "God wills that it be so." Furthermore, there is absolutely no evidence that this in any way hampered the intellectual inquiry of these men by causing them to stop asking why to soon. (See my discussion of Del Ratzsch's brilliant paper "Natural Theology, Methodological Naturalism, and 'Turtles All The Way Down'" here). The most important point is that, whether or not the laws of nature are so because God wills them, the truth of this matter is not a "scientific" truth, but a metaphysical one. Perhaps there are some ways the laws of physics could be that might be more amenable to one view than the other, but in general this kind of knowledge must be the product of philosophical reasoning.

Even more ridiculous, apparently some scientists are objecting to a statement the school board is requiring to be read to students saying, "Because Darwin's theory is a theory, it continues to be tested as new evidence is discovered." Isn't this the way science works? Students given a basic grounding in philosophy of science would not need to be told this; they would see the word "theory" and their first thought would be "a proposed explanation of the facts which has successfully explained a wide variety of phenomena within the realm of its applicability and been accepted by the majority of the scientific community" - and evolution most certainly has this status. (Of course the students wouldn't phrase it quite like that if they are in middle school, but you get the idea).

Where did we ever get the crazy idea we could teach science without first figuring out what science was and how it worked? This debate would be virtually a non-issue if we would figure out these sorts of questions first, as no one but Peter Atkins (a well-respected Oxford chemist and bad amateur philosopher who insists that you are not following the scientific method unless you assume before you start that the ultimate yet-to-be-discovered laws of physics are logically necessary, as is the existence of the universe) should be expected to object to saying "science is agnostic as to the ultimate origin of the laws of physics". Sure, science can tell us about the "big bang" (which I believe in) and evolution (which I don't particularly), but Newtonian mechanics couldn't tell us why force should be equal to mass times acceleration, and in the same way no scientific theory is likely to contain within itself the reason why it must be true (i.e. to be logically necessary), but rather there will most likely always be a deeper explanation. If there is a deepest explanation, it must be metaphysical, and may include God. If there is an infinite regression of explanations, there must be some explanation for why there is an infinite regression, and this explanation must, again, be metaphysical and may, again, include God. These sorts of truths are outside the realm of experimental science, but nevertheless important to think about. Science, especially teaching of evolution on the high school level, often makes non-scientific assumptions about these sorts of truths, and when it does this without explicitly stating its assumptions it is out of line. Students should be made aware of these issues and taught to look critically at all scientific theory in their light.

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September 03, 2005

Experimental Philosophy?

The Chronicle of Higher Education is reporting on one Dr. Joshua Knobe, professor of philosophy at UNC Chapel Hill, who has published 18 papers, primarily in the field of ethics (and moral psychology) using a method of "experimental philosophy" which he has apparently devised or helped devise. Basically, Mr. Knobe observed that philosophers, especially ethicists, constantly talk about "our intuitions" and their arguments often rely on this. Furthermore, much of analytic philosophy, methodologically, begins with questions of the form "what do we mean when we say..." Based on this, Mr. Knobe decided to attempt to devise survey questions to determine precisely what ordinary peoples' intuitions or definitions are on certain subjects. One interesting result is that most people seem to view intentionality as a moral concept - that is, whether or not we say that a person performed an action "intentionally" often depends on our judgment about the moral status of the person.

Personally, I find this historically interesting. As little as 200 years ago, all that is now called "the sciences" (including both natural and social sciences) was considered to be part of philosophy. Those we now call scientists were called "natural philosophers." This was how Isaac Newton, for instance, would have described himself. In the latter half of the 19th century, a sharper distinction began to be drawn between science and philosophy and, ultimately, those fields where experiments are done according to "scientific method" were called science, and the others remained part of philosophy. I wonder, therefore, if this will lead to a field of "scientific ethics" which will be distinguished from philosophical ethics. Another interesting distinction is that science is always purely descriptive, whereas philosophy, especially ethics, is often normative. So one wonders if we will develop a science of descriptive ethics while prescriptive ethics remains solidly in the philosophy department. In any case, Knobe's ideas will no doubt lead to much interesting research which will be pertinent to further philosophical investigation.

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August 31, 2005

Ecclesiology in Swinburne's Revelation

I've just finished reading Richard Swinburne's Revelation: From Metaphor to Analogy, in which he strives to create a rational foundation for belief in (a particular understanding of) "the Christian revelation" (which, on Swinburne's account is not exactly equivalent with the Bible, but we'll get there). The beginning of this book is very good. Swinburne argues forcefully that if the God of traditional Western monotheism exists, then there is good reason to expect that He would reveal Himself to mankind, and, of course, if we have an a priori expectation that there is probably a revelation out there somewhere, then much less evidence is required to identify some specific item as that revelation than if we had a view of the world which makes such a revelation unlikely (note that Swinburne establishes the authority of the Bible on the basis of the existence of God, not vice versa). However, as one moves on further in Swinburne's book, into the specifics of his theory of revelation, his statements become increasingly problematic (read: false). Swinburne's departure from sound doctrine is not due to flawed philosophical reasoning, but rather to correct reasoning from a false premise. The departure occurs at a very definite point and comes from a very definite cause: the horrible ecclesiology assumed, not argued for, in chapter 8. Some hints of this problem occur earlier, but so far as the course of Swinburne's argument is concerned he does well up to this point, but as soon as he allows this false premise to enter he departs from the "straight and narrow" and the rest of his argument, following this premise, moves him farther and farther away.

Now, let us be clear here: this is not so much a (theologically) liberal/conservative dispute as a Roman Catholic/Protestant dispute. Swinburne does ultimately allow some rather liberal conclusions about the proper interpretation of Scripture, but these are well argued for (I do not know the Roman Catholic tradition well enough to tell if they are established or if he is omitting crucial evidence) and stem from proper conservative Catholic doctrine.

The crucial assumption is this: that the Church is an earthly institution, with a unified human authority structure, with buildings, meetings, etc. Since Swinburne's argument shows that Jesus of Nazareth (whose life and teachings are taken to be the "original Christian revelation") established the Church and that the resurrection, which Swinburne takes to be God's "signature" on the revelation (I like that part, by the way - Swinburne argues that, just as human beings sign letters so others will know they are legitimate by performing and action easy for the real author but impossible or nearly so for others, God would authenticate His revelation by performing some act which is easy for Him but impossible for anyone else. This act was the resurrection of Jesus. Again, Swinburne establishes the authority of Scripture from the resurrection as an historical occurrence, not vice versa), validated the church as the body God had appointed to interpret the revelation. Swinburne does have arguments which show that, due to the culture- and language-specific nature of human communication, a once-for-all revelation would be likely to have an interpreting body to make it accessible for future generations, and the New Testament itself does seem to have such a conception, but we are getting to that. Now, because of Swinburne's ecclesiological assumption, it becomes necessary to find the church (or churches - he leaves open the possibility that due to splits there may be more than one) which is the true successor of the Church which Jesus founded with His twelve disciples, i.e. the one that has true apostolic succession, and to believe the teachings of that church. Of couse, apart from Swinburne's (in my view false) assumptions about the sort of Church Jesus founded, why should there be such a church, in our modern sense which gives us options like (to name a few) the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Presbyterian Church, the United Methodist Church, Calvary Chapel, or some combination of the above. Why should we suppose that ANY of these are the sort of thing meant by "the Church" in the New Testament? All of the Protestant denominations can be traced to founding by a distinct human individual. Nothing recognizable as the Roman Catholic Church existed AT LEAST until the Council of Chalcedon gave (honorary only, according to the Eastern Orthodox Church) primacy to the patriarch of Rome (later called the Pope) over the other patriarchs in 451, and probably not really until the Great Schism permanently separated it from the Eastern Orthodox Church in 1054. It is my view (based on my limited knowledge) that, although I do not believe in apostolic succession per se, if any modern institution church has a legitimate historical claim to it it must be the Eastern Orthodox Church. However, once again, I see no reason to suppose that that is at all the sort of thing that the "one holy catholic [i.e. universal] and apostolic Church" of the Nicene Creed is.

As I suggested previously, the Bible has a different view of the ekklesia, or Church, which it often refers to as "the Body of Christ." Firstly, the word itself has the primary meaning "assembly," but more particularly it is etymologically related to kaleo, "I call". It is "the assembly of the called." In the Athenian government, it was the assembly of all citizens, which was called together by the town crier. In this case, it is the assembly (gathering together) of all those who have responded to God's call to the world. It may very well be significant that the early believers used this word rather than the word "synagogue" (Greek: sunagogos), which also means "coming together" but did not have the idea of being called or chosen in its connotation (note that ekklesia is cognate with the English "eclectic"). Take into account Jesus' own words in Matthew 18:20, "For where two or three are gathered together [Gr. sunegmenoi, from the verb form of sunagogos] in My name, I am there in the midst of them." THIS is Jesus' concept of the Church. Furthermore, we know that in the first century new believers were inducted into the Church by baptism (see e.g. Acts 2:38-39), and in Paul's discussion of baptism he says, "by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body" (1 Corinthians 12:13), and that body is clearly the Church in Paul's thought. That is, Paul identifies the members of the Church as those who have received the promise of baptism "with the Holy Spirit and fire" (Luke 3:16), and this is not a matter of membership in some specific earthly institution. After all, consider the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:26-40). What earthly institution did he join? After baptizing him, Philip disappeared! Did he even know about the (lower c) church in Jerusalem, or anywhere else?

Now, as to Swinburne's assertion that the Church is the interpreter of revelation, this is true, but not in the way he thinks. Paul says, "These things we also speak, not in words which man's wisdom teaches, but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned." (1 Corinthians 2:13-14). The Church is just that group of people that is indwelt by the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:16 teaches that the Holy Spirit testifies to each believer that he is a "child of God", i.e. a member of the Church), and, therefore, just the group of people capable of understanding and interpreting "the thing of the Spirit of God," which includes the Bible. Also, John 16:13, which Swinburne cites to this effect on the last page of his book, specifically discusses the Holy Spirit guiding us into "all truth." Thus the putative revelation, the Bible (which Swinburne says is merely a correct interpretation of the true revelation, the life and teachings of Jesus - let us concede that point, as I simply don't think its worth arguing about, provided "correct" is understood strongly enough), actually tells us what the interpreting body will look like, and therefore if such a body exists and the revelation is legitimate then the body will be the proper interpreter.

What does that mean? Baptists have traditionally affirmed the right and responsibility of each believer to interpret the Bible for himself within a community of believers, and I think this is the correct direction to take. The Bible is, primarily, a tool by which God the Holy Spirit reveals the same truth to different people at different times in different ways, but the tool is public because of the dangerously subjective nature of individual revelations. Thus the Holy Spirit makes special revelation to each individual in the Church, but He does so through a public tool which admits to a degree of objectivity so that there is a means of distinguishing the true revelation of the Spirit from the wishful thinking or invention of the individual. It takes time to learn to hear God's voice and follow Him as our Shepherd (John 10:27), and in order to do this we need "training data", so to speak, for our "spiritual sense" - that is, we need well known, public examples of things that God has said so that we can learn to discern his voice from our own (or that of the devil). Thus the Bible contains the revelation which is universally applicable, communicated in such a way that it can be properly interpreted only with divine guidance, but nevertheless admits to publicly verifiable analysis. This is what it means that the Bible can only be properly interpreted by the Church. Swinburne may even be right that it is the Church's status as interpreter of the revelation which came in the life and teachings of Christ, signed by God with the resurrection (but do not read either Swinburne or myself as claiming that this is the SOLE purpose of the resurrection - God never does anything for only one purpose), that tells us that the canon of Scripture is a further revelation (or correct interpretation of the original revelation, or whatever).

It follows then that an individual currently outside the Church seeking to understand the Christian revelation, must consult the Church. But how does one find the true Church? Jesus tells us "you will know them by their fruits." (Matthew 7:16), and this is clearly the central criterion. Swinburnes other criteria, continuity of organization and purpose, are also important. Swinburne says that one criterion is in fact that the true Church will have sound doctrine, continuous with the teaching of Jesus, but since we are, in this case, attempting to find the true Church in order to figure out what Jesus taught, this is only helpful for what little we can determine by normal historical inquiry, without treating Scripture as a revelation. Clearly the modern Church will in some sense "look like" the Church in the first century. However, if the central definition of the Church is "the gathering together of those called out of the world by God and filled with the Holy Spirit" then the primary characteristics will be those the Bible associates with this change, which includes "signs following" (Mark 16:17-18), power to witness for Jesus (Acts 1:8), changed lives (see esp. the change from the frightened disciples before Pentecost, to the fearless preachers after), and, above all, the "fruits of the Spirit" (Galatians 5:22-23). This is the crucial mark of the true Church, the gaurdian of the revelation of Jesus Christ. It is not a human institution, nor need it have a central human authority structure; only Jesus Himself is its head (Colossians 1:18).

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August 28, 2005

Dennett: "Intelligent Design" Obscures Real Objections to Evolution

Daniel Dennet, a brilliant philosopher at Tufts University, known (to me) for his work on personal identity and philosophy of mind, is an avowed atheist. In today's New York Times, Dennet joins the "intelligent design" controversy with a lengthy Op-Ed. The article is four pages long, but I just want to focus on one thing he says and the conclusions he draws from it:

The focus on intelligent design has, paradoxically, obscured something else: genuine scientific controversies about evolution that abound. In just about every field there are challenges to one established theory or another. The legitimate way to stir up such a storm is to come up with an alternative theory that makes a prediction that is crisply denied by the reigning theory - but that turns out to be true, or that explains something that has been baffling defenders of the status quo, or that unifies two distant theories at the cost of some element of the currently accepted view.

Dennett argues that the political focus of the ID movement, and especially the Discovery Institute, has made it nearly impossible for anyone to bring an actual scientific objection to evolution. For an objection to be "scientific" (rather than purely philosophical, which is a better description of most creationist theories), it needs to make testable predictions which are different from the reigning theory. Simply pointing out all of the things the reigning theory has not yet explained is not a scientific objection. (However, I think most evolutionists fail to admit that a list of facts that are within the realm a theory is supposed to cover, but which the theory does not in fact explain, does constitute epistemic ground for an individual to reject the theory in favor of another or, in the absence of a better theory, withhold judgment.) Thus far, proponents of intelligent design have predicted that various things wouldn't be found - for instance, I, who am not a scientist, predict, rather ignorantly, I admit, that we will not find a good evolutionary explanation for the creation of new chromosome pairs. If it could be proven that there was no such explanation (what would such a proof look like?) that would severely limit the applicability of evolution, to something like the "micro-evolution" that most creationists believe in. However, if intelligent design proponents want to be taken seriously by the scientific establishment - or at least make a serious breach of proper scientific methodology necessary for their exclusion - they must predict what we will find, and then go look for it. I would be willing to bet, and Dennett seems to agree with me, that an ID paper that made concrete predictions on, for instance, what would be found by our work to interpret the recently mapped human genome, would be published in a peer-reviewed journal, even if the prediction had not been verified or falsified yet. The problem, however, is that ID proponents are letting their faith get in the way of good scientific methodology. They know that concrete predictions might be proven wrong, and this might be damaging to their faith, so they make no such predictions. That kind of faith is no faith at all. Faith in a lie is at best unbenificial - at worst, extremely damaging. This is what the Apostle Paul is getting at in 1 Corinthians 15:19 when he says "If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable." That is, the New Testament insists that your Christian faith is not beneficial to you unless it is TRUE. If you have real faith, you will be confident that your belief can withstand an honest inquiry into truth, and come out on top. And if it doesn't, the Bible says you are better off with your apparently false belief removed. Christian faith is not blind.

Therefore, Christian biologists, those with scientific training who believe in ID: don't be afraid to follow good scientific methodology, to make real testable predictions that might be wrong! If your theory is purely philosophical, say so and go on doing science with these different background philosophical assumptions. Later on, we can do what has been called "worldview analysis" and look at which understanding fits the facts most naturally (no doubt both will be able to be fitted to the facts, but hopefully one will fit more naturally, so that we have some rational ground for belief). Above all, don't let your belief in God as the designer of the universe stop you from making further inquiry into just HOW He designed it! Faith in God was not a stumbling block, but rather an encourager, in the inquiries made by Galileo, Newton, Boyle, Priestly, and all of the other early modern philosopher-scientist-theologians who searched for better understanding of the physical world.

In the end, Dennett is right in his criticism of ID as a "scientific" theory. However, I am surprised that he did not evaluate it as a philosophical theory. Does anyone out there have an opinion on this? Are there non-political intelligent design proponents? Do these people believe in the theory as philosophical or scientific? How do they view the distinction between the two? I think more philosophy of science should be included in public school science curriculums, so that students know exactly what assumptions are being made. Do others agree? Would this be a better way to push for some mention of the fact that science doesn't necessarily mean rejection of God? (I think it would.) Whatever the case, I think that Dennett has contributed much more useful thoughts to the ongoing debate in the Times than most of the other writers, and I thank him for his legitimate, if perhaps excessively strongly worded at times, critiques of the intelligent design movement as it exists today, and I hope that the Discovery Institute and others like them will take his criticism to heart and either begin doing real science, or begin to frame their theory as philosophical instead of scientific.

Posted by kpearce at 02:32 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 02, 2005

Jesus as a Philosopher

Douglas Groothuis, professor of philosophy at Denver Seminary, meditates on Jesus as a philosopher in a post today on his blog, Culture Watch: Thoughts of a Constructive Curmudgeon. The article makes a good read and asks an important question, Why has there been so little serious study of Jesus as a philosopher to date? I have long propounded a belief that Paul has a sophisicated philosophy of mind, and John a philosophical cosmology, but what of Jesus Himself? Professor Groothuis points to a couple of passages suggesting a deeply philosophical outlook in the thought of Jesus; a devotion to reason and thorough examination of the world. In particular, Groothuis suggests that Matthew 7:1-5 is significant not to ethics directly, but to the epistemology of ethics (i.e., the question of how we can know ethical truths), since a failure to apply our ethical standards objectively, applying the same standards to ourselves which we apply to others, impedes our ability to make ethical judgments. I think this area could easily yield much fruitful analysis, for both our understanding of Christian doctrine, and philosophy in general.

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July 19, 2005

God, Science, and the Teleological (Design) Argument Revisited

I've just finished the deeply moving experience of reading one of the most brilliant, and beautiful, philosophy papers I have been exposed to to date. The paper, "Natural Theology, Methodological Naturalism, and 'Turtles all the Way Down'" by Dr. Del Ratzsch, a philosopher of science at Calvin College, appears in the latest issue of Faith and Philosophy, and academic journal published by the Society of Christian Philosophers. (The latest issue is dated October 2004 - they're a little behind.) The paper discusses a broad range of issues related to the interaction between theology and science. There are two points that I find particularly beautiful and compelling and would like to discuss. The first is his argument that the success of science (not any particular scientific endeavor, but the entire enterprise) actually amounts to experimental support (albeit inconclusive) for traditional monotheism. The second is his discussion of "infinite regression" of naturalistic explanations. I encourage anyone reading this to read the paper if you can get your hands on it (I myself will be finishing the rest of the journal ASAP so that I can begin loaning out this article). For those of you who are here at Penn, the library does receive the journal.

Science as Evidence of God. The role of Christianity in the history and early development of science has been much discussed. Judaism and Islam deserve credit for major developments in human thought that moved in the direction of science in earlier periods, so perhaps the credit should really go to the entire Western monotheistic tradition, but it was first and foremost Christianity (perhaps due to facts about distinctive Christian beliefs, perhaps due to historical accident) that provided the foundation for the genesis of modern science in the early modern era. The development of the scientific method and philosophy of science more generally is accredited to characters like Galileo, Newton, and Boyle, who adhered strongly to the basic doctrines of Christianity (though their "free-thinking" in other areas often got them in trouble with the established Church). These philosophies and methodologies, Ratzsch argues, actually grew out of the Christian commitments of these thinkers, rather than being in opposition to them as many secular humanist thinkers would have us believe. In particular, he claims that there was probably a line of reasoning much like the following:

1) The world was created by an intelligent and perfectly rational Being
2) We are created in the image of that Being, meaning that we have intelligent minds like His, though of course ours are finite and quite limited, whereas His is infinite.
:. 3) Therefore, the universe is such as to be intelligible to us: it is a true cosmos, being ordered according to rational principles which are of the sort that we should expect to be able to discover and understand them (though of course our limited intellect may prevent perfect and ultimate understanding).

Based on these ideas, these early scientist-philosopher-theologians (which is indeed what each of the men mentioned, and many other pioneers of science, were) concluded that the task of scientific enquiry should be possible. That is: we should be able to do experiments and formulate equations and use rational patterns of thoughts in order to successfully understand and describe the universe. What this means is that the theory of traditional Western monotheism has as a consequence the success of science! Science is predicted by monotheism in its familiar form. Within science, when a theory or hypothesis predicts an outcome and, when the experiment is performed, the outcome eventuates, this is counted as evidence for the theory or hypothesis. Why, Ratzsch asks, do scientists neglect to apply this principle to theories outside the traditional realm of science? If this is a general principle of reasoning, ought it not to apply elsewhere?

This, of course, is not a conclusive argument, but the fact that the basic premises that underlie the very possibility of doing science "fall out" of monotheism at the very least makes the success of science a contributor to whatever epistemic warrant there may be for belief in God. Furthermore, this completely undermines any claim that science must make some presumption of philosophical naturalism (where naturalism is used in a stronger sense than that in which I used it here where I meant only the belief that whatever natural laws there are have no exceptions. Ratzsch, and most others, use naturalism in a strong sense as the denial of the existence of anything supernatual, as e.g. God or the soul). After all, it was a form of supernaturalism that enabled the development of science in the first place.

It is important to keep track of what this argument justifies ("proves" is perhaps too strong a word for it, though I find it extremely compelling). Science, under this argument, provides direct support for only that part of Christian belief which predicted the success of science - namely, the belief that a being who is or was intelligent and rational is or was the creator and/or sustainer of the universe. This, however, is a big step.

Infinite Regress of Naturalistic Explanations: So What About Those Turtles? Ratzsch's turtle reference was familiar to me from a passage in John Locke's Essay Concerning Human Understanding which he does not cite and which I am too lazy to look up [UPDATE (7/20, 17:34): the citation is EHU II.xxiii.2. Thanks, Lauren.]. Apparently it is discussed elsewhere as well, and is generally fairly widely known. The idea is this: a sage was once asked what the world rested upon, and he answered that it resed upon an elephant. When asked what the elephant rested on, he said it was a turtle. When asked what the turtle rested on, he said it was another turtle. When asked what that turtle rested on he, exasperated, exclaimed that it was "turtles all the way down" (note: in Locke's version, the sage says that the first turtle rests upon "a thing, I know not what"). This, according to Ratzsch, is the position of many naturalists with regard to explaining away what appear to be design features (what Ratzsch and others sometimes call the "fine-tuning" of the universe). Ratzsch neatly side-steps evolution to discuss cosmology instead (noting that the Big Bang theory postulates creation, or at least generation, ex nihilo on the most obvious interpretation). The odds are strongly against there being an earth-like planet that can support life like us, and scientific thought does not like to see this as being a brutely contingent fact, so they explain that there are many billions of planets in the universe and the odds are not against one of these having the right conditions. However, the odds are strongly against there being a universe with the proper physical constants to generate any planets at all. Some thinkers have then retreated to saying that there are millions of universes, or even infinitely many (either concurrently as in multiverse theory, or occurring successively with multiple "Bangs" followed by collapses - although I understand that the latest data from those who study cosmic background radiation militates against the latter), and that one of these had to have the right rules. And so on. We arrive at classical (Newtonian) mechanics as an explanation of physical activity, but want a deeper explanation. Soon we have special relativity and quantum mechanics. We hope it won't be long before we've got a workable and widely accepted version of String theory/quantum gravity/"ultimate theory of everything"/pick your favorite idea, because point particle quantum mechanics, and in particular the properties of the fundamental particles, is too complex and arbitrary, and there must be something simpler and more beautiful (again, thoughts of a designer creep in) underlying it.

Ratzsch can be read as suggesting that this regression has to stop somewhere, but I don't think that reading is necessary. What is most important is that at every level there is the appearance of a designer. With cosmology it is more apparent than with the more traditional areas of physics that as the explanations take further steps back they become more, rather than less, complicated, and no matter how far you go there is still the suggestion of teleology - that the universe was designed intentionally to support life. The same explanation is available to those who will be open to the possibility of the supernatural at every level, but the pure naturalist must make every more complex assertions to explain away the evidence of design.

The true stroke of brilliance in Ratzsch's article is his suggestion that this regression resembles a Mandelbrot shape - a fractal. The same pattern is visible at every level: the pattern of an intelligent, rational designer, with an intelligent, rational purpose in mind. The pattern becomes more intricate and more beautiful at every level, but it is always the same pattern. Ratzsch does seem to think that there is some point where science must stop; some final equation or explanation beyond which is nothing but divine fiat. I am inclined to agree, and the primary reason I think that there must be something deeper than our current understanding is "God can do better." Ultimately I expect that there is a very simple equation following this "fractal pattern" - another f=ma or e=mc^2 waiting to be discovered at the next level, and perhaps the level after that, and perhaps the level after that, and so on, that will be an ultimate testimony to the brilliance of God's design. But I am also intrigued by the possibility that the pattern may actually regress to infinity (my girlfriend, a physics major, suggested a similar idea to me prior to my reading Ratzsch's article), forming this fractal pattern to ultimate perfection, and leaving the human race with always another puzzle to unlock, for a deeper and deeper understanding of the nature and character of God and His design for the universe.

Posted by kpearce at 11:09 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

May 29, 2005

Evangelical Outpost: Dead Wrong on "Hyperbolic Doubt," Modernism, and Christianity

Joe Carter of Evangelical Outpost has posted a pair of articles on the subject of "doubt, certainty, and epistemic humility" in which he blasts Rene Descartes for giving place to doubt in his quest to utlimately provide the epistemic groundwork for a Christian worldview. Descartes' method in his Mediations on First Philosophy (and Discourse on Method) is to practice doubt with great effort, and discover the limits of doubtability. I am of the opinion that Descartes' arguments ultimately fail to prove the existence of God, or anything else beyond the existence of the meditator himself, as the limits of doubtability give us information not about the ultimate truth of the universe, but about our own psychology (and, despite my idealist/phenomenalist metaphyics, I absolutely insist that the two are not interchangeable). However, Mr. Carter goes on to criticize the entire enterprise of the Christian philosophers of the early modern era (he speaks positively of Pascal, but from what little I know of Pascal I would say that he fits better in the tradition of medieval philosophy than that of the modernists). I cannot overemphasize how greatly misplaced his criticisms are, and I wish to argue here that it is not modernism but post-modernism that is the enemy of Christianity; the tradition of modern philosophy has much to contribute to the Christian worldview and quest for truth. It in no way contradicts Scripture, nor does it undermine faith.

Carter's primary claim is that "ontology precedes epistemology," and the early modernists missed this. Certainly this criticism sticks with Descartes, at least to some degree. Despite the tendency of modernists to reject Aristotle, Descartes seems to assume an ontology that has an Aristotelian foundation, at least on the lowest level. In particular, he assumes that the world is made up of substances, accidents, and events, and that events do not occur in the absence of substances. This is how he is able to make his famous "cogito ergo sum" claim: there is thinking going on, and thinking presupposes a thinker. But without these Aristotelian assumptions, thinking might occur without a thinker. In order to save Descartes from this criticism, some interpreters have argued that the cogito is not an argument at all, but rather one of the "brute facts" Descartes finds himself unable to doubt. This seems probable; I myself am most certainly unable to doubt the idea that events require substances, and in particular that thinking requires a thinker. On this interpretation it is merely important to keep track of the fact that the cogito is establishing not just the existence of the thinker, but certain ontological underpinnings which allow us to make sense of the world. In this way, Descartes would be building his metaphysics and his epistemology in tandem.

Carter then claims that this allegedly critical mistake (or omission) in Descartes leads to intellectual pride, undermines faith, supports Communism, and kills puppies (well, actually I made up those last two). But Carter greatly confuses the issue. He points out (rightly) that "what is is prior to what can be known" (emphasis original), but this is utterly irrelevant. Of course it exists before we know about it, but how does this do us any good in philosophy, since we don't know about it? Without an epistemological basis, our metaphysics or ontology amounts to so much wild speculation and there is no grounding, no reason for belief. "Christ is ontologically prior to all of Creation. We only know any truths because he exists." That's absolutely true. But how do we know it? Because the Bible says so. Why do we believe in the Bible? Because it's true. How do we know it's true? At some point we must reach an epistemic grounding, or we will never escape doubt. There is no virtue in believing without or contrary to the evidence. When Jesus says "blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed" (John 20:29), he is not saying "you're a really great guy if you believe in Me for no reason whatsoever, with no evidence, no grounding, no nothing, and foolishly bet your life on a proposition which, so far as the evidence you have seen can tell, may or may not correspond to reality." Rather, I believe, He is saying that those who come to the conclusion that He exists and can save them based on evidence of his interaction with the world independent of a physical human body have a more difficult time than the initial disciples who saw Jesus in the flesh, and will consequently be blessed. Contrary to Mr. Carter's claims, honest doubt is never discouraged by Scripture. The passages he cites refer to doubt used as an excuse to avoid acknowledging moral responsibility before God. In the passage in John just referenced, Jesus gratifies Thomas's doubt, and the statement above isn't much of a rebuke. Even stronger is Paul's exhortation to "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling" (Philippians 2:12) and his bold assertion that "if in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable" (1 Corinthians 15:19), that is: "if the factual claims of Christianity are false, get out now, you're patheticly wasting your life.' How can this not be seen as encouraging honest doubt? And what about the Psalm that says "taste and see that the Lord is good" (34:8)? Isn't this an invitation to seek for ourselves to find the truth about God? And isn't reason one method by which we do this?

Early modern philosophy (including "natural philosophy;" what we now call science) was a Christian quest for truth. It began because Christians believed that truth was important; even sacred (as I argued recently). Disregard for science, reason, and knowledge can hardly be said to be Christian values, and examining the truths of Christianity honestly and openly can hardly be criticized from a Christian perspective: Jesus invites Thomas to test his doubts, and does not scold him.

As for intellectual pride, doubt hardly creates this. Mr. Carter insists that "to doubt requires that the doubter be the supreme judge of what can or cannot be known." Can someone else be the judge of what I know? God gave us intellect so that we could reason and form beliefs, and He reveals Himself both by means of and independently of the intellect. Like everything else in the world, it was created so that we could come to know Him. That is the ultimate purpose of this world. Certainly our unaided intellect will not discover the deep truths of the inner nature of God, but Descartes was very open about acknowledging that ("Since I now know that my own nature is very weak and limited, whereas the nature of God is immense, incomprehensible and infinite, I also know without more ado that he is capable of countless things whose causes are beyond my knowledge ... there is considerable rashness in thinking myself capable of investigating the impenetrable purposes of God." - Meditation 4). Besides, the key term here is "unaided." The Holy Spirit is very active in assiting our intellect to grasp deep truths. In fact, that is part of His primary purpose ("when He, the Spirit of Truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth" - John 15:13). Is it so terribly prideful to judge for yourself what to believe and not to believe, even when aided by the Holy Spirit? Is that not why God put you on earth, so that He could show Himself to you and you could decide whether or not to believe in and accept Him? And if reason doesn't lead us to God, then why should we continue believing that He exists? Would this not make us "of all men the most pitiable," according even to the Bible itself?

The second post talks for a long time about physicalism vs. Christian theism. It is true that physicalism leads to skepticism. I, or anyone else who calls himself a Berkeleian, must not merely accept, but vigorously assert that claim. But it does not follow that doubt and reason lead away from God. Many heroes of the faith, notably in recent history C.S. Lewis, have been brought to Christ by this very path. In fact, George Berkeley's arguments present theism as the solution to such doubts, which seems to be precisely what Mr. Carter hopes to assert. However, what is significant is that, as one of the commenters pointed out, ontology is not exactly prior to epistemology, but rather the two are mutually dependent. To be precise, ontology is ontologically prior to epistemology, and epistemology is epistemically prior to ontology. What this means is that the truths of ontology are what make true the truths of epistemology, but the truths of the epistemology are necessary in order for us to have proper knowledge of the truths of ontology. This is a vicious circle, and difficult to escape, but merely assuming a "Christian ontology" (whatever that means) will certainly not do the trick - it doesn't prove, it assumes. It is absolutely critical that Christians learn again to take the pursuit of truth seriously and not to be afraid of challenging dogmatic assumptions. After all, there was a time when people thought that the Bible taught that the earth was the center of the universe (incidentally, it doesn't). We cannot afford to fear doubt and rest in our comfortable dogmas. This does not take God seriously; it does not show a desire to "know Him and the power of His resurrection." (Philippians 3:10).

Modernism was, at least in its early stages, a very Christian movement in philosophy. It sought to remove from the Church dogmatic assumptions which gave Aristotle almost as much credence as Scripture. It sought truth honestly, humbly, and with proper motivation, and it believed in a single truth of the universe. This is in stark contrast to philosophical post-modernism, the true enemy of Christianity. Post-modernism denies the validity of reason and the existence of truth. This undermines Christianity. Modernism does not.

Posted by kpearce at 01:46 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 24, 2005

This Just In: Some Creationists are Stupid!

It seems that the other day an article by Richard Dawkins, the vice-president of the British Humanist Association was published arguing that creationism is based on a rejection of "scientific logic." I would like to go on record stating that I agree with most of his points. It is absolutely necessary for scientists to be able to admit that they are still unsure about certain points of their theory without being pounced upon by the rhetoric of ignorant laymen. This hampers inquiry. Science thrives on ignorance by seeking to destroy it. Legitimate Christianity is not a religion that thrives on ignorance by seeking to perpetuate it, but Dawkins points out, quite persuasively, that this is precisely what happens with the creationist establishment. Both sides of the debate need to realize that legitimate Christianity believes in the sanctity of ALL TRUTH ("all truth is God's truth") and that anyone who understands the scientific method, the basic principles of two-valued (true/false) logic, and so forth, and denies that these form at least one legitimate method of pursuing truth may be certifiably insane. John Locke's "It is impossible for the same thing both to be and not to be," or it's formalization, "~(p/\~p)" is an undeniable truth - an axiom meeting Aristotle's qualification; you can't coherently argue against it without assuming it. The world is coherent, is orderly, is governed by rules, and these rules illustrate the constancy of God!

I am, in fact, in a bind as far as origins of life. I have argued previously that "supernaturalism," when interpreted to mean that there are exceptions to the laws of nature, is contradictory to the Biblical teaching on the nature of God. As I have argued above, I believe that science is a legitimate method for the pursuit of truth. However, I also believe that the study of Scripture, in this interpretive framework is a legitimate method of pursuit of truth - in fact, the most certain method of pursuit of truth (a priori reasoning, however far that will get you, may be more certain, since our ability to interpret Scripture is ultimately dependent, at least in part, on our ability to reason, assisted though we may be by the Spirit in our reading of Scripture). Furthermore, I believe that this methodology leads to the conclusion that the planet Earth as we know it was formed from chaos (the ex nihilo creation having taken place an indefinite length of time earlier) approximately six to ten thousand years ago. I'm not satisfied with the ability of Darwinian (macro-)evolution to (a) be interpreted in a manner consistent with Scripture, or (b) explain several issues, most importantly how new genetic traits come into being or how the number of chromosome pairs is increased from one generation to the next. As I said, and as Dawkins points out, evolutionary theory's inability to explain certain issues is no argument for its ultimate inaccuracy, but it is reason to be unsatisfied with its current state and to seek either a modified form of evolutionary theory capable of answering these questions or a new theory altogether.

In short, I believe that the planet Earth as we know it was formed by God six to ten thousand years ago in a manner fully consistent with the laws of nature. Furthermore, I believe that if scientists pursue the question of origins in an unbiased fashion according to standard scientific method unhampered by the dogmatists of both camps, they will eventually come to an understanding of the question which is closer to the truth than their (or my) present understanding. And if you take nothing else away, take this: real Christians view all truth as sacred.

Posted by kpearce at 09:30 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 07, 2005

The Future of This Blog

In case you hadn't noticed, this blog has been awefully sparse for the past few months. I had an extremely busy semester and not much time for blogging. It is now summer (that is, the spring semester of school is over), and working 40 hours a week and having Saturdays and Sundays off and not taking work home in the evenings is sounding restful. So, in this post I'd like to give some idea on what sorts of things will be influencing my topics over the course of the summer, and then comment briefly on a few issues I missed.

  • This summer I'm going to try to dive back in to some serious intellectual Bible study. I'm currently in the middle of studies on Isaiah and John the Beloved (covering his life and the four books that bear his name, but probably not the Revelation), so I'll be working (and perhaps blogging) on those.
  • I'm going to try to read as much of the New Testament in Greek as I can. I've gotten through about 4/5 of Matthew already (over the course of the last year), and I'm hoping (optimistically) to make it to the end of the gospels by the end of the summer.
  • At present, I have a list of philosophers whom I dislike without ever having read. This is bad. I'm going to try to eleminate it by reading them all. The names on the list are Wittgenstein and Hegel (for whom I have a mild distaste) and also Nietzsche (whom I rather despise). So I will be reading Wittgenstein's On Certainty and Nietzsche's Beyond Good and Evil, and probably also something by Hegel (haven't determined what as yet).
  • I'm also going to try to eliminate what I see as some important holes in my knowledge of philosophy by reading Kant's Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals and Locke's Second Treatise on Government (and probably the first while I'm at it).

I may be blogging on any or all (or none) of these things over the course of the summer. Now, here (as promised) are the important issues I missed:

  • Terri Schiavo: This was a complicated issue; I don't think it was nearly as cut and dried as most of the Evangelical bloggers I read seemed to. We can't keep people alive on life support forever, it just doesn't make sense. If they are really gone, we have to let them go. On the other hand, removing a feeding tube is much different than turning off a heart and lung machine. The big issue, I thought, was that her "husband" fathered children by another woman while she was in the hospital. This, I think, should have invalidated the marriage leaving her in the custody of her parents. I don't believe that the ends ever justify the means - I am a non-consequentialist - and so I must condemn the actions of the Republicans in Congress on this issue as they flagrantly disregarded the Constitution.

  • Pope Benedict XVI: What a great guy. I'm enthusiastic about the new Pope. He seems solid. From what I can tell, he takes Scripture seriously and views the Church councils as a tradition of Biblical interpretation rather than an independent authority. Good stuff.

  • Beth Stroud (momentarily) Reinstated: (See the great interview at WesleyBlog). What a mess. I can't understand why there is any question about this. If an individual who claims to be a Christian and is a member of the church is unrepentant about sexual practices that do not conform to Biblical standards we are required by Scripture to excommunicate him (see 1 Corinthians 5). In fact, this is one of only two cases where the New Testament contains explicit instructions to excommunicate an individual (the other being Titus 3:10-11, "Reject a divisive man after the first and second admonition, knowing that such a person is warped and sinning, being self-condemned.") This is a paradigm case for Scriptural excommunication. Note, however, that excommunication is rarely, if ever, practiced properly. Jesus views it as a way of motivating people to repent, not as unlovingly excluding them (Matthew 18:15-20). The point is for the Church to show quite clearly that it does not condone the individual's actions, and in so doing to hopefully motivate the individual to repent, at which time he is to be admitted back into the Church, preferably to a celebration along the lines of the Prodigal Son. Why is this not being practised? a) People don't read the Bible, and b) people don't believe the Bible. The Church needs to start taking Scripture seriously again and practicing what it says.

I think those are all the critical things I've missed. Hopefully I can keep up on events as they happen from now on (at least for the rest of the summer)!

Posted by kpearce at 02:19 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 21, 2004

Christian Naturalism

I've been talking about miracles a lot lately, and the subject has also come up in an otherwise excellent essay I was reading, "On Being a Christian Academic" by William Lane Craig. Dr. Craig unfortunately makes the mistake of assuming that several philosophical doctrines (e.g. platonism in philosophy of mathematics) are clearly repugnant to Christianity, when, in fact, they may have Christian interprettations. To this end, I am writing today about miracles and, in particular, my own view; a sort of Christian naturalism. By naturalism I do not mean materialism (my metaphysics, at present, is neo-Berkleyan in nature, and as such I believe not only that minds exist non-physically, but that the physical exists only insofar as these minds perceive it). Nor do I mean the denial of a "first philosophy" ontically prior to natural science (this sort of move is patently ridiculous, despite its current popularity. A sound metaphysics and philosophy of science are needed in order to interpret scientific evidence, and so natural science is clearly dependent on them). What I do mean, is the belief that every occurence in the physical world is governed by a set of fundamental laws to which there are no exceptions. This has been argued from a purely secular philosophical perspective countless times, so I will not repeat these arguments. Rather, I will argue from Scripture in favor of this view, and then provide a theory of miracles based upon it.

First, the Bible: In Genesis 8:22, God promises, "While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, winter and summer, and day and night, shall not cease." The sun and the moon and the constancy of their orbits are frequently used in Scripture as illustrations of constancy (see, e.g., Psalm 72). In fact, this kind of constancy and naturalism is what distinguishes the Biblical account of creation from the Pagan myths preceding it; in the Biblical version, rational explanations are available. The sun and moon are lamps God placed in the heavens, not gods themselves. Every living thing is made to reproduce after its own kind. Everything is regular, orderly, and predictable.

This is not to be construed as an argument for deism, or the autonomy of nature. God didn't just set nature in motion and leave it to do what it wanted. Rather, this is an illustration of another Biblical truth: The constancy of God (see, e.g., Numbers 23:19, Malachi 3:6). The God of the Bible is rational. He is not haphazard, unreliable, or random. Everything He does is for a purpose as part of some greater plan. If one defines a "miracle" to be an exception to the laws of nature, then certainly a miracle is, by its very definition, an argument for the supernatural generally - but it is an argument against the Judeo-Christian God. A God who causes exceptions to the laws of nature He set forth is not the kind of constant and changeless God the Scriptures describe.

What are these laws of nature? The doctrine that there are inviolate laws of nature follows directly from the constancy of God and the utter dependence of the creation upon Him. The laws of nature are observed regularities in the simplest aspects of the will of God. God wills force to be equal to mass times acceleration. All the time. (Well, actually we now know that this is really just an approximation for objects within a certain range of sizes in the same inertial frame or some such nonsense - I don't know, ask a physicist. But that's beside the point). God wills matter to be equivalent to an amount of energy equal to the mass of the matter multiplied by the square of the speed of light. All the time. He is constant. He doesn't change His mind about these things ("God is not a man that He should lie, nor a son of man that He should change His mind." - Numbers 23:19).

What's a miracle, then? A miracle is an event in which the "higher functions" of the divine consciousness, i.e. the part equivalent to the conscious functioning of the human mind, that makes plans and designs regarding human lives and the like, are more apparent than the "lower functions" which are the laws of nature. To put it more simply (but less precisely) a miracle occurs when the laws of nature conspire together to acheive some intelligent end. These sorts of miracles are a definite argument not just for the existence of a spiritual being in general, but for the existence of the God of the Judeo-Christian Scriptures.

Posted by kpearce at 03:46 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

November 05, 2004

Education, Democracy, Moral Idealism, The Church, and Academia

There are lots of current events I could be blogging about right now (I still haven't commented on the election results, and two news items totally made my day today: John Ashcroft is retiring and Yasser Arafat is dying. Also, Dr. Faustus opened this evening). However, none, of them is particularly inspiring at the moment. Instead of venturing into the wacky world of real politics and the present (which I have done too much of the last few months leading up to the election), I've decided to venture backward in time some 2,500 years, and comment on Plato's Republic, its ideas of the connection between education/philosophy and the ability to rule well, and what that has to do with America. Enjoy the ride.

Plato famously claimed that "Until philosophers rule as kings in cities or those who are now called kings and leading men genuinely and adequately philosophize, that is, until political power and philosophy entirely coincide ... cities will have no rest from evils" (473d). What Plato means, is that people who rule, in addition to being practical, need to understand theory, and be interested in abstract truth, and truly love learning. They must prefer knowing their errors and being brought closer to truth rather than appearing to be right all the time (ok, so I guess I am talking about current events and contemporary American politics). They must have a firm grounding in every kind of knowledge, in order to understand all of the diverse interests of the people they rule. Plato goes on to claim that no one who has a "philosophical nature" will seek to rule a city, and thus that no one capable of becoming a ruler (under the present system) should be allowed to do the job (a principle humorously picked up by Douglas Adams in The Hitchhiker's Trilogy in which a man who lives alone on a far away planet is completely unaware that he is actually the ruler of the Universe).

Fast forward 2,000 years. It is now AD 1776. John Locke has come and gone, and the seeds of discontent and "classic liberalism" have been sown. An idea is running through the Western world that perhaps people have individual rights which come directly from God, and aren't merely priveleges granted to them by some divine-right monarch acting as an intermediary. A militia man in Massachusetts fires his rifle. And now, for the first time in some two millenia, we have an attempt at implementing Plato's idea.

"Wait just a minute!" you object, "Plato favored an oligarchic system based on the idea that the majority has no idea how the city should be run, and only the few have the ability to truly practice philosophy or care for the truth." Good point. But let's look at what those crazy Americans did, shall we? Because those starry-eyed idealists had this idea that everyone could practice philosophy. John Adams once said "I must study politics and war, that my sons may have the liberty to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history, and naval architecture, navigation, commerce, and agriculture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry and porcelain." As a result of this sort of thought, and the influence of philosophers like John Locke, these people decided to found a country based on the ideas "that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happines, that to secure these rights governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed," etc. These are all philosophical principles! Suddenly, we are not concerned, in organizing a government, with Thrasymachus' "advantage of the stronger" but with basic philosophical principles, life, liberty, and property (aka "the pursuit of happiness"), which purport to be fundamental truths about the universe, about absolute right and wrong. People who care about truth for it's own sake are founding a nation-state.

What's more, these same people believe that everyone can practice philosophy and thus that everyone should have a say in the government (yes, I realize that only male property owners were allowed to vote, but there is an explanation for that, and it wasn't that no one else could practice philosophy: There was a further division of the government of the land into units of households, each household being governed internally however it wished and getting a single vote which the male head was to cast as its representative. Was this actually what the founding fathers intended? How should I know?! It makes sense to me anyway). This is extraordinary! It even worked for a while...

What happened? We stopped caring about education, the way we once did. We stopped viewing voting as a responsibility to exercise with the utmost deference and caution, not applying our voice until we were certain we were making the correct decision. We traded our ideals in for "practicality" and thus lost the philosophical nature. Today we make decisions without looking at the bigger picture, or at the abstract. Pro-choice activists hold to Roe v. Wade as to their very lives, not paying attention to the fact that the Constitution gives the federal government no authority over issues such as abortion, freeing the states to make whatever laws they choose about it, and furthermore that that decision is not based on sound legal reasoning: it claims that laws against abortion somehow violate privacy. They trade in their idealism for practical result. Likewise, people across this nation vote for the "lesser evil" between the two major parties, choosing a result they think might possibly be a little closer to what they want, rather than using their vote for what it is: A feedback mechanism to inform the government of the political preferences of the populace. They've lost their idealism. Politicians get elected by pandering to special interest groups and seeing which demographics they can win - they can't get elected any other way. We've all lost our idealism. We don't care about the U.S. Constitution. 31% of the population believes America is becoming a police state, but the country nevertheless raises not a finger to protect free speech and the right to privacy, because we fear terrorists. We've lost our idealism. "Give me liberty or give me death!" Patrick Henry once shouted. It looks as though that may be the very choice we are faced with: The choice to die in liberty rather than live in relative security in a police state. I'm an idealist. Give me death. I'll gladly keep my free speech at the expense of dying in a terrorist bus bombing in the morning, thank you. Because we've lost our idealism and our concern with the abstract, because we vote based on "what works" rather than what is morally right (and don't tell me that the election results show that we vote based on what is morally right - the election results show that people vote based on what will lead to the nation behaving outwardly in the fashion they see as most moral, but these people have not had their "philosophical nature" cultivated and can't see that this is not necessarily the most moral way to make laws for the nation). We shrug off the few dreamers, not realizing that the theoretical, the a priori, the abstract is what formed this nation the way it was formed, and it's the only thing that can preserve our freedom. Without the philosophical nature, we will have "no rest from evils," just as Plato says.

What's the solution? First and foremost we've got to stop the war between academia and the Christian Church. Both sides are in the wrong, at least to some degree. The academics are right to universally condemn any church that asks its members to hold views that it admits are blatantly contrary to reason. This is not faith. This is lunacy. C.S. Lewis once said "Faith ... is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods." Holding on to beliefs against all evidence and all reason is no virtue. It is, in fact, a terrible vice. This is not to discount the fact that most Christians, myself included, hold their beliefs due to evidence which is purely subjective, that is, their own life experience. This is not fundamentally irrational, for the same reason that if I clearly saw the Sasquatch or Loch Ness Monster at a time when I had every reason to believe that I was in my right mind I would be perfectly rational to believe in whatever thing I had seen. Of course, I must not expect anyone else to believe if this is all the proof I offer (although the testimony of many such witnesses, when all of the witnesses were trustworthy and respectable might be sufficient to persuade a rational individual).

The Church, on the other hand, is right to universally condemn academics and institutions who are dogmatic and closed minded - the very things said academics accuse the Church of. How can I claim academics are dogmatic and closed minded? At most institutions throughout the country, those who don't agree with Darwin's theories, or who question prevailing leftist political thought, or who believe in absolute morality, or in some extreme cases even those who believe in any absolute truth at all, are ridiculed. Now, I think that this is sometimes exaggerated, but the fact remains that many academics would do well to remember that 500 years ago Ptolemaic (Earth-centered) astronomy was at least as well established as Darwinian evolution is today, and natural philosophers almost unanimously believed it to be correct. Copernicus and Galileo met with extreme opposition in their challenge to this theory. In order to truly advance science we must have biologists willing to question Darwin, physicists willing to question Newton and Einstein, and computer scientists willing to question java (I don't like java. Why are all computer science departments switching to java?).

Now these two issues aren't the whole problem. For instance, Evangelicals feel betrayed by our theologians who are far more liberal than the average member of our faith. There is also an environment of immorality at most universities (this has been the case since the invention of the university in the middle ages - it comes from gathering lots of young people who have just escaped their parents, just began drinking alcohol, and have lots of hormones together in the same place for several years at a time).

Furthermore, ending the war between the Church and academia won't solve everything. The Church alone cannot create a culture of learning. America already sees itself as having a strong culture of learning, but it means learning what is concrete and practical. Everyone goes out and gets a degree to get a better job and make more money. Philosophy departments across the country remain all but empty, or if they are filled they are filled by students who think it will help them get into law school rather than by students who simply love learning. Students in other disciplines often don't study any philosophy at all (to be fair we should expand this to include theoretical education in general, rather than what is now called philosophy, but the point stands). And what of what is taught before college? The government has too much control and is seeking to standardize everything, leaving everyone, eventually with the same background, and much less to learn from each other. We need diversity of view-points and diversity of educations if we are to become a productive and functional democracy again.

I could go on much farther, but I'm going to stop and go to bed now, as it is approximately 1:30 AM. Good night.

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September 27, 2004

Penn HumanitiesForum/Class Schedule

A long overdue update on factors which will determine the content of my non-political postings over the next semester/year:

  1. The first meeting of the Penn Undergraduate Humanities Forum was today. I was awarded a year-long research fellowship with the Humanities Forum last spring after submitting a research proposal. This year's theme is "Sleep and Dreams" and I will be doing research on my favorite philosopher, George Berkeley to determine how his philosophy of immaterialism ("To be is to be perceived," roughly equivalent to Schopenhauer's "To be object is to be object for a subject," but easier to understand since he is an 18th century English philosopher instead of a post-Kantian German philosopher) can deal with the fact that we perceive things in dreams which we would like to say are not real. Here is the text of my proposal:
          In an attempt to rebut the atheism and skepticism of his contemporaries, the early 18th century British philosopher George Berkeley proposed a theory he referred to as “immaterialism” (others would later call it “idealism”) the physical world is made up not of matter as an independent entity but of ideas, and as such exists only so long as there is a mind perceiving it. This solves all sorts of philosophical problems, but raises several of its own. One of these is the question of false perceptions. In dreams, for instance, we perceive many things which we want to say are not actually real and, as Descartes had pointed out earlier, we often have difficulty distinguishing between dreams and waking life. Berkeley's answer to this, in brief, is that we would not even pose the question unless we somehow perceived the unreality of dreams, and this perception, like all others, is part of that stuff of which reality is made. Berkeley also suggests that the perceptions we have of the real world are ideas impressed upon our minds by God, whereas dreams might be considered to be internally generated.
          While this is the beginning of a solution, it is by no means complete. If we perceive a difference between dreams and waking life, what is that difference, what faculty of the mind is responsible for our perception of it, and why is it not always accurate? In those cases where it is not accurate, and we do not know correctly whether we are asleep or awake, what has caused this failure? How can Berkeley explain these failures within the framework of his immaterialism? Is he forced to concede that dreams have some degree of metaphysical reality? If so, what makes waking life more real than the world of dreams? Is it really even coherent to say that one thing is “more real” than another?
          These questions only scratch the surface of the inquiries required in order to create a complete philosophical theory of dreams consistent with Berkeley's metaphysics. To this end, I propose to delve further into this topic under the title “Are Dreams Real?” The intention of this research will be to examine George Berkeley's own philosophical writings and the writings of his contemporaries as well as those of later idealists in order to arrive at a functional neo-Berkeleyan metaphysics of dreams. By terming the theory I am looking for “neo-Berkeleyan” I understand a number of restraints to be placed upon it, in order to make it consistent with Berkeley's own principles. First, it must not posit matter as an inert, non-thinking substance existing outside of any mind. Second, it must be consistent with basic Christian doctrine and a simple, straightforward interpretation of the Christian Scriptures (however, my research will center on the writings of modern philosophers and especially Berkeley himself rather than on the Bible). Finally, the theory must be consistent with “common sense,” which is to say that upon having constructed our theory we must be able to continue speaking about dreams in the way people ordinarily do without contradicting the theory – when we dream we must leave reality, and when we wake we must return to it.

  2. My class schedule. I should have posted this sooner but didn't. I'm taking two philosophy class, Intro to Ancient Philosophy, and Formal Logic II. I'm also taking Greek and two courses in computer science, but it is unlikely (though not impossible) that these will inspire anything posted here. In fact, it's probably also unlikely that I'll post anything about formal logic. It is, however, quite likely that I will post on ancient philosophy periodically. For instance, right now I am posting the observation that Parmenides of Elea holds very similar views to Immanuel Kant and I don't understand how it could be possible that my TA doesn't see that.

Once the political season is over, these are the things that will likely be determining the content of my posting. Enjoy :)

Posted by kpearce at 08:48 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 27, 2004

"A Philosophical Discussion of the Christian Doctrines of the Fall of Man and the Regeneration of the Holy Spirit"

I've just posted a new paper to my writings section. The name of the paper is "A Philosophical Discussion of the Christian Doctrines of the Fall of Man and the Regeneration of the Holy Spirit". This is a first first first draft (not yet seen by anyone but me) so any input would be much appreciated and can be posted here or e-mailed to me. That goes for any kind of feedback, whether on form or content. As before, I'll post my responses here and if I alter the paper in any way I will make note of that here. Check it out here (PDF format).

Major influences of this paper: The basic idea that all human desires are basically good and implanted by God but have been twisted onto improper targets as a result of the Fall has probably been around for a while, but I got it from John Eldredge. I have read and highly reccomend his Wild at Heart and Waking the Dead. He has also written at least two other books I have not read, The Journey of Desire and The Sacred Romance

The idea that the irrational components of the human mind are productive and even essential if and only if they are in complete submission to the rational mind originates from Plato, and especially the Republic. I make no apology as a Christian for the influence of Plato upon my thinking as Platonic thought also seems to have influenced the New Testament's use of langauge. Notably, the Platonists were the first to associate the Greek word λογος (logos) with God.

Other than that I hope that the paper pretty much speaks for itself. Hope someone somewhere is crazy enough to enjoy it!

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May 12, 2004

Beauty is Not in the Eye of the Beholder: Foundations for an Absolutist Theory of Beauty

My writings page has just been reorganized. There are now separate pages for older and newer documents. The first thing to go up on the new documents page is the paper "Beauty is Not in the Eye of the Beholder: Foundations for an Absolutist Theory of Beauty." This is an edited and slightly expanded version of my term paper for aesthetics class this past semester (spring of 2004). Special thanks to Serena Halley whose comments made the first revision possible, and Michael Rohlf whose comments did the same for the second. Click here to take a look at it (PDF format).

Posted by kpearce at 05:43 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

April 30, 2004

Penn Humanities Forum

Good news! I've been selected as an Undergraduate Fellow of the Penn Humanities Forum. As part of the humanities forum, I will be doing research on metaphysical idealism generally and George Berkeley specifically to determine how such theories can deal with dreams, and whether or not an idealist must consent that dreams have some degree of reality. I'll be working on this beginning next fall and presenting my research next spring.

Posted by kpearce at 04:33 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 29, 2004

The Problem of Freedom: The Answer Was in Schopenhauer All Along

So I have been plagued the last couple of days by the sudden realization that a problem I thought I had easily solved had actually not been solved at all. You see there is this inherent problem in the whole idea of free will. Now, personally, I think the "libertarian" (NB: the use of this word in metaphysics is mostly unrelated to its use in politics as in my last couple of posts) sense of free will, which is to say the doctrine that we are free with regard to an action if and only if we can do otherwise, is necessary to any theodicy which admits the existence of evil at all. Since I think the Bible is pretty clear that the present world actually sucks, rather than appearing to suck from a human perspective while actually being great, we need a theodicy that allows for real evil, not just the appearance of evil, to exist simultaneously with an omnipotent and omnibenevolent God. Richard Swinburne did an excellent job of this in his paper "Why God Allows Evil" and similar explanations have been given by innumerable other philosophers and theologians, past and present. All of these (or at least all the ones I've ever heard of), however, depend heavily on the libertarian sense of free will. Soft determinism just won't do.

Herein lies the problem. Libertarian free will doesn't make very much sense. It seems that, given any event, it is either random or caused (i.e. determined). If our actions are determined we are not free, at least in this sense. But if our actions are random we are not free either. In the former case we are victims of our nature combined with physical laws; in the latter we are victims of our nature combined with the laws of probability. In the former case we could not possibly have done otherwise; in the latter we might have done otherwise, but certainly not by our own choice. My immediate solution, from metaphysics class at WSU my senior year of high school? There is a third type of event - a willed event - which is neither determined nor random. Why doesn't this work? Well ultimately I think it does (sort of, I've adjusted it), but it is problematic in that we (or at least I) cannot even conceive of the world external to us functioning in that way. We really only think of ourselves this way, although we may say otherwise from time to time. I arrived at this conclusion through a combination of reading Hume, discussing Hume in my modern philosophy class, and debating with an atheist over the weekend, and it has been bugging me for days now, because libertarian free will introduces all these problems, but the denial of libertarian free will seems to make God morally culpable for anything that occurs in the world, hence the necessity of denying the existence of any real evil. I refuse to accept a logical contradiction, I refuse to deny the existence of evil, and, above all of these, I refuse to deny the existence of God. I was grid-locked.

Enter Arthur Schopenhauer, currently my second favorite historical philosopher (after George Berkeley). Another cause of my contemplation of this subject was that I am in the process of constructing (in my mind, in my spare time and while sitting in philosophy classes - yes, this is what I do for fun) a theory I intend to call "absolute volitionism" if I can get it to a point where I think it is coherent (I hope to put it on paper - or in the computer, rather - over the summer), and this theory is to be based on Schopenhauer's metaphysical distinction between will and representation as the two components of reality. Now, given this, it is surprising that my first thought was not to apply Schopenhauer's theories to solve the problem because, as it happens, they do. According to Schopenhauer the physical world is merely "representation," which is real to a point, but the true underlying reality behind it is what he calls "will". The representation is bound by the principle of sufficient reason, which is to say that a reason can be given for everything that occurs. But will is independent of this principle.

Now, inherent in the free will debate is one clear empirical fact: we all seem internally to have free will. We experience deliberation, and we tend to think that when we deliberate we are always capable of deciding otherwise than we do (incidentally, soft determinists think that this experience is all that we need for free will, and so we are free even though we actually could not possibly do otherwise). My mistake in trying to solve the problem was in trying to take an objective point of view and say that from that point of view libertarian free will doesn't make sense - which it doesn't. However, according to Schopenhauer, our subjective experience of our own minds is the only direct experience of will that we have, and this is actually more real than the representation. It follows, therefore, that when examining the fundamental (i.e. metaphysical) nature of things, we should be looking inward at our subjective experience rather than outward at the physical world, and trying to step outside of the self and be objective here is a mistake.

So here comes my solution: In reality, events directly resulting from the will of a free being are once again neither determined nor random, but willed, which is a third possibility, and the way we experience volition internally and our intuitive way of thinking about it are actually the correct way of viewing this problem. We ought then to bring in Descartes' distinction between freedom of inclination and freedom of indifference here and say that in actions with regard to which a being has freedom of inclination the outcome can be modeled as deterministic, and in the case of freedom of indifference it can be modeled as random, and these models will assist us in understanding the external world and functioning in it successfully, but they do not correspond to the underlying reality.

Wow, isn't philosophy great? Quick disclaimer: I haven't actually read most of Schopenhauer's metaphysics yet, as I was reading him for an aesthetics class and not a metahysics class, but I got the foundations. Also, this is not really "mature thought," I just came up with it this evening. Expect something better developed later, probably on my writings page. Note also that there is another problem with libertarian free will which is called "middle knowledge," and I haven't come up with a solution to it that I'm satisfied with as yet, but i've been mulling it over for over a year now, so it's not really disturbing me any more. I'm sure someone will solve it eventually.

Posted by kpearce at 11:21 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

March 15, 2004

Ontological Argument for the Existence of ... Objective Truth?

I have just returned from Spring Break, during which time I made a strange realization. I'm sure someone must have discovered this before, but did you know that by using the same logic employed in the modal version of the ontological argument for the existence of God, one can pull a reductio ad absurdum on the thesis of relativism (which is to say, reduce it to a contradiction)? The reasoning isn't much different than when a person is told that there is no such thing as absolute truth and responds with the question, "Is that absolutely true?" but this version sounds much more... well... impressive. Check it out:

First, some definitions. An ontological argument for the existence of God is one which claims that the concept of God is such that to say that such a being does not exist involves a logical contradiction. Modal logic is reasoning involving "possible worlds". There is (conceptually, not actually) one possible world for every way things might possibly be, and one possible world is the actual world. The modal logic ontological argument goes something like this:

  1. God is (by definition) a Being with all perfections
  2. It is possible that God exists (i.e. God exists in at least one possible world)
  3. Necessary existence is a perfection
  4. Beings which exist necessarily in one possible world exist in all possible worlds (by the definition of necessary existence)
  5. The actual world is one possible world
  6. :. God exists in the actual world

Now, ever since the first ontological argument (which was very different in form) was proposed by St. Anselm philosophers have been looking at it and saying "There is something wrong with this, but we don't know what it is." This is probably the best version of the ontological argument, but there is still something troubling about it. However, I don't think that this effects the logic of the argument I intend to put forth against relativism, so on with the definitions.

For a proposition (statement) to be objectively true means that if it is true for one person it is true for everyone. The thesis of relativism is that whatever I believe is true for me and whatever you believe is true for you (which obviously implies that there is no objective truth). Now, watch this:

  1. Whatever a person believes is true for that person (the thesis of relativism)
  2. If a proposition is objectively true and it is true for one person then it is true for everyone (definition of objective truth)
  3. Person A believes that proposition P is objectively true
  4. :. P is objectively true for person A (from 1 and 3)
  5. :. P is true for all people, including person B (from 2 and 3)
  6. Person B believes that proposition P is false
  7. :. P is false for person B (from 1 and 6)
  8. :. P is both true and false for person B (from 5 and 7)

Since 8 is a contradiction, that means that the thesis of relativism and the empirically true proposition that there exists some person (say, me) who believes that some propostion (say, "God exists") is objectively true together imply a contradiction: one or the other must be false. Which do you pick? Incidentally, some relativists respond by rejecting the idea that it is impossible for a proposition to be both true and false for the same person, which is to say that they deny that logic works at all, even from a sort of relativistic ("true for me, true for you") point of view. And just think, they claim to be the mature, cosmopolitan, rational, scientific thinkers, and we're supposed to be backwoods rednecks stuck in the past. Is logic really outdated? No, on the contrary, postmodernism is dead or dying, and the reason for this is that something had to give, relativism or logic, and it wasn't going to be logic.

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