Sunday, September 27, 2015

Thomism and the Ultimate End

In a recent post, I discussed the discord between Thomistic metaphysics and a modern scientific understanding of natural reality.  That generated quite a lot of discussion, particularly from Thomists eager to defend their archaic understanding of nature in light of their theistic philosophy.  Thomists, of course, will deny that there is any discord at all.  But this comes at the cost of having to re-interpret their own philosophy to minimize or explain away those conflicts.  For example, they either have to strain to define Aristotle's four causes in a manner consistent with modern physics, or simply accept that those things are nothing more than a philosophical way of understanding causation that is unrelated to and has no bearing on actual physics.  Choosing the latter makes the four causes superfluous and irrelevant outside the context of philosophical discourse.  The former entails that traditional understandings of the their role must be changed to conform with new knowledge gained from science. 

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Conflating Faith With Faith

Kyle Butt cautions Christians against using the standard dictionary definition of faith.  Christians, understandably, don't want to be seen as believing without sufficient evidence.  They love to tell themselves that their faith requires, and is justified by evidence that is overwhelming and irrefutable.  But the dictionary defines faith as belief without evidence, not because of some ideological motivation to subvert the true nature of faith, but because that is, after all, what we generally mean when we use the word.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

More Logical Trickery

I recently came across this logical "proof" of the existence of God at Robert Oerter's blog, Somewhat Abnormal.
Consider the following sentence:

(S) If this sentence is true, then God exists.

Suppose sentence S is true. Then the first clause is satisfied, so the second clause is true. Thus, God exists.

What the preceding paragraph proves is that if sentence S is true, then God exists. But that is exactly what sentence S asserts. So that means we have proved that sentence S is true! And therefore God really does exist.
When I read it, it struck me as just the kind of thing that Christians would buy (note that Robert Oerter does not buy it).  It is a logical sleight of hand.  It tricks the reader into accepting its conclusion.  And that's the basis of many theistic proofs.  Let's examine exactly why this argument fails.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Misunderstanding Hume

David Hume is well-known as a materialist and empiricist.  It is inconceivable that he would think of physical objects as being products of the mind.  He viewed objects as being composed of their parts.  But if an object composed of parts is seen as an entity in its own right, that is a perception of the mind.
The WHOLE, you say, wants a cause. I answer, that the uniting of these parts into a whole, like the uniting of several distinct counties into one kingdom, or several distinct members into one body, is performed merely by an arbitrary act of mind, and has no influence on the nature of things. Did I show you the particular cause of each individual in a collection of twenty particles of matter, I should think it very unreasonable, should you afterwards ask me, what was the cause of the whole twenty. This is sufficiently explained in explaining the cause of the parts. - Hume, Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion
What does this mean?  Hume is saying that the mind has no influence on the things that are assembled into a group, but the mind perceives this assemblage as a whole object.  There need not be any explanation for the object beyond explaining the parts that constitute the whole.  He once famously said, "I am nothing but a bundle of perceptions".

How surprising, then, to see Victor Reppert use this passage as evidence for his supernatural view of mind.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Antony Flew - After the Conversion

In their snarky response to a blog post on Patheos by Bob Seidensticker (10 questions Christians must answer) that poses some issues worthy of consideration for theists, Manuel Alfonseca and Juan Carlos Nieto have posed some questions of their own for atheists in the Popular Science blog.  As I read their ten questions, it immediately became clear to me that these guys didn't take Seidenstricker's issues seriously.  Not only did they fail to answer any of his questions, but their response had an air of snarkiness and petulance that could be described as childish.  Most of their questions ended with something like, "Do you have scientific reasons to believe it, or do you believe it without reason? In other words, is it a dogma for you?".

I won't bother answering all their questions, mainly because I think they are too easily answered.  This is mostly due to the fact that these theists (like many theists) don't really understand what materialism entails or what materialists believe.  Instead, I would like to focus on one question in particular that they pose:
One of the most important atheist philosophers of the twentieth century (Antony Flew, 1923-2010) changed his mind in 2004 and published a book [5] explaining the reasons for his decision. Have you read Flew’s book, or  will you take care not to read it, so that your atheistic convictions won’t be in danger?
In answer to that, I will say that I hadn't previously read Flew's book, There is a God - How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind, but I obtained a copy and read it.  It's a short book.  No, I wasn't afraid that it would endanger my "atheistic convictions".  I was genuinely interested in understanding Flew's reasons for coming to believe in God.  I was especially interested to know if there was some particular idea that he had or some new information that he came across that he found to be convincing.  Perhaps I too, would see why he found it so convincing.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Mourning the Death of America

I just arrived back home after traveling through the deep south for the past two weeks.  My posts have been sporadic during that time, but I hope to settle back into a more normal schedule in the next few days.

I wanted to comment on my observations on driving through rural countryside of Alabama and Mississippi.  The thing that struck me the most was the prevalence of religious symbols, everywhere you go, everywhere you look.  There were lots of churches, of course.  I think there were more churches than houses.  I saw at least a dozen of them along a single mile of road.  There were signs saying "Jesus loves you".  There were billboards, many of them advertising a church, but more often simply making a statement about the glory of God or the wages of sin.  Some asked me where I want to spend eternity, and some even provided me with a stark multiple-choice answer.  But never did they mention a possibility that some other reality might be true.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Establishment of Religion, Again

Kim Davis, the elected county clerk of Rowan County, Kentucky, refuses to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, in defiance of court orders going all the way up to the US Supreme Court.  She has been jailed for contempt of court.

In her absence, several gay couples have received marriage licenses issued by her deputies, which Davis claims are null and void because they don't bear her signature.  When offered a chance to be released from confinement on the condition that she not interfere with the issuance of licenses, she refused.

Kim Davis calls herself a born-again Christian, and believes that marriage should be between one man and one woman.  She is currently in her fourth marriage.  If Davis' reasoning is correct, perhaps the clerk who issued her fourth marriage license should have refused, on the same grounds used by Davis.