Edward Feser on Humean skepticism

Responding to philosopher Simon Blackburn’s review of his book Five Proofs of the Existence of God in The Times Literary Supplement, fellow philosopher Edward Feser writes:

The broadly Humean epistemology he deploys against the Scholastic theism I defend in Five Proofs of the Existence of God requires a careful balancing act.  On the one hand, Blackburn must limit the powers of human reason sufficiently to prevent them from being able to penetrate, in any substantive way, into the ultimate “springs and principles” of nature.  For that is the only way to block ascent to a divine first cause – the existence and nature of which, the Scholastic says, follows precisely from an analysis of what it would be to be an ultimate explanation.

These limits have to be even more severe than those that Aristotle, Plotinus, Aquinas and other ancient and medieval philosophical theists would already draw themselves.  Precisely because of its ultimacy, the divine cause of things is only barely intelligible to the human mind.  Reason’s grasp of it is genuine, but only at the fingertips.  Hence Aquinas’s heavy emphasis on the via negativa and the analogical use of language.  The intellect gets in just under the wire.  To avoid theism, the Humean has to make sure that the intellect doesn’t even get to the wire.

On the other hand, Blackburn has to make sure that this skepticism is not so thoroughgoing that it takes science and Humean philosophy down too, alongside natural theology.

It is one of the key contentions of my book that this balancing trick cannot be pulled off – that to keep reason robust enough to support science and philosophy (even Humean philosophy) as going concerns will inevitably make it robust enough to support Scholastic theism as well.

One way to see this is by way of the principle of sufficient reason, which the Humean must deny.  According to the weak version of the principle that I would endorse (which owes more to Aquinas than to the excessive rationalism of Leibniz), all concrete reality is intelligible.  Humeans like Blackburn cannot accept the “all” without becoming Scholastic theists.  But they cannot replace it with “no” without undermining both science and their own philosophical position.  So they must claim that some concrete reality is intelligible and some is not.  But where to draw the line, and why there exactly?

No principled answer is forthcoming.  Certainly there is no coherent way to draw it, as many atheists attempt to do, at the fundamental laws of nature.  Higher-level laws are explained by lower-level laws in something like the way the book on the top of a stack is held up by the ones below it.  Take away the floor, and there is nothing that gives the bottom book any power to hold up the top book.  Similarly, make the fundamental laws into unintelligible brute facts, and they have no intelligibility to pass upward to higher-level laws – which in turn will have no intelligibility to pass along to the phenomena they are supposed to be explaining.  The world’s being just a little bit unintelligible is like its being just a little bit pregnant.  Or it is like having a cancer that metastasizes unto the remotest extremity.

Another way to see the problem is by consideration of Hume’s Fork in its contemporary guise – the conceit that if you’re not doing natural science, then the only thing left for you to be doing is “conceptual analysis,” which tells us at best how we have to think about reality, but not how reality itself really is.  The trouble with this supposition is that it is itself a proposition neither of natural science nor of conceptual analysis, but rather reflects precisely the third sort of perspective which it alleges to be impossible.  Faced with traditional metaphysical claims, the Humean begins with an incredulous stare.  But he ends with a coprophagic grin, caught in the very act – metaphysics – he decries as philosophically unchaste.

Read it all here.

Related: David Hume’s Double-Edge Sword.

P.S. “Coprophagic” — verbiage I had to look up — is a fancy way of saying “feces-eating.”


Why I like “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”

To show that I’m not just a philosophical and theological stick in the mud, devoid of pop culture savvy, I’m going to do something a little new in this post. With The Avengers: Age of Ultron released Thursday, I thought I would take the time to come out and say that I am thoroughly a fanboy of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Spider-Man has been my favorite superhero since childhood, but Disney/Marvel just got the licensing rights to put the web-head back on the silver screen — and hopefully well compared to the dreadful Amazing Spider-Man 2.

The MCU character I really connect with is the quintessential super-soldier himself, Steve Rogers, a.k.a Captain America (Chris Evans). In a time when the Left controls all the mass disseminators of culture — Hollywood, TV, news media and academia — it’s fantastic that a character that represents old-time American values isn’t just rewritten to accommodate today’s rampant moral relativism and politically correct Orwellian doublespeak. He actually is extolled and portrayed sympathetically as a paragon of moral fiber and virtue. His man-out-of-time schtick has never come off as a goody-too-shoes boy scout to me but rather as someone who has moral convictions, plants his feet and says, “I believe in x” or “y is wrong, and I won’t stand by it.” This is refreshing and appreciated.

For instance, in the original Avengers, somehow this exchange (if you want the actual scene) got into a movie: Not only did director Joss Whedon, a self-avowed atheist, stayed faithful to the character, but he showed he actually understands Christian theism better than many of today’s New Atheists. The sophisticated theist (here, here, here) does not hold God to be anything like Thor, Loki, Zeus, Ra, Ganesha, Quetzalcoatl, etc. Even though philosophically-minded theists disagree among themselves whether God is ipsum esse subsistens — Subsistent Being Itself — or is the necessary, infinite and maximally great being amongst contingent, finite and imperfect ones, comparisons to Odin, Vishnu, Marduk and the like are mere caricatures. As Edward Feser pithily puts it: “When you understand why I dismiss all other gods, you’ll understand why I dismiss your ‘one god further’ objection as puerile.”

Contrasted with the Avengers, Captain America: The Winter Soldier inculcates some good political wisdom instead of theological thought. As a brief synopsis to add context, after the events of the Battle of New York, as depicted in the Avengers, Cap has gone to work for S.H.I.E.L.D, an advanced and clandestine intelligence agency headed by the sometimes shady super-spy Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). Cap finds himself clashing with Fury due to his manipulations, lack of honesty and his plans to execute a morally ambiguous answer to a 21st-century problem that should resonate in this post-9/11, Patriot Act, drone-warfare age. Not to give the details away, but Cap calls him out on it, describing Fury’s plans as such: “I thought the punishment came after the crime…By holding the gun to everyone on Earth and calling it protection?…This isn’t freedom. This is fear.” The whole scene needs to be watched to see how Cap responds to Fury’s retorts. Our hero recognizes that big, sweeping governmental solutions, where the ends justify the means, aren’t enlightened nor do they preserve liberty.

Cap’s criticisms are inherently conservative in nature, not progressive. Ahem, cue up Grubergate, “If you like your plan you’ll keep your plan” and Marxist eschatology, where the violent overthrow of the bourgeoisie by the proletariat to immanetize workers’ paradise, as a few examples that come to mind. See, agents of the Left operate under the delusions that they know best, that their utopias are not only true but achievable and that these axioms absolve the lying, defamation, bloodshed and domination of every facet of human life and will to get there. Don’t believe me? Who wants to tax soda? Who wants to introduce legislation to dictate what is considered officially consensual sex between a man and a woman? Who wants ensure that the appropriate numbers of people of each sex, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation are on TV, hired by employers, distributed correctly among professions or admitted into college? Who wants to implement policy to address the issue of racism despite there being no overt racists, i.e. correct thought-crimes or subconscious crimes? Who wants to re-educate people via “sensitivity training”? Who looks to punish those who refuse to bake a cake for a ceremony because of sincere religious and moral convictions when this spiteful patron could easily go somewhere else? Who demands the state step in to remove religious symbols from public ground lest the non-religious or those from different faiths take offense and feel stigmatized? Find those who call upon governmental force, that by its nature is always backed by a barrel of a gun, or other formally coercive and direct means like boycotts or terminations of employment as a first resort to confront every problem or diverging of opinions under the sun. Good, now those are your totalitarians.

The second gem of conservative virtue, which is very much related to the nefarious nature of the Left as described above, comes in one of those cliche scenes when a villain monologues about his scheme to our plucky protagonists. Within this one, this evildoer waxes:

…humanity could not be trusted with its own freedom. What we did not realize is that if you try to take that freedom, they resist…Humanity needed to surrender its freedom willingly…[We’ve] been secretly feeding crisis, reaping war. And when history did not cooperate, history was changed…[We’ve] created a world so chaotic that humanity is finally ready to sacrifice its freedom to gain its security. Once the purification process is complete, [our] new world order will arise.

I would replace “chaotic” with “unfair” or “unjust” and “security” with “equality” in order to apply it more accurately to designs of the Left. But this is another apt characterization. As I argued earlier, the Left does not believe in the liberty of free-market solutions, permit dissenting ideas to challenge its own in the marketplace of ideas or think the rule of law and its system of checks and balances, constitutional or otherwise, will right itself. It ultimately does not trust us with our own freedom, as evidenced by the perpetual attempts to regulate everything and politicize anything in everyday life as justification for its interference.

I maintain these machinations really picked up steam when Marx’s intellectual successors like Gramsci, Adorno and Horkheimer were puzzled as to why the apocalyptic communist revolutions never occurred like Marx and Engels had predicted. After all, white Russians opposed red Russians; Chiang Kai-shek’s nationalists fought again Mao Zedong’s communists; and the United States and its Western allies challenged the Soviet Union and its satellites. Therefore, these Marxist philosophers set out to determine why the popular uprisings struggled to even spark, let alone why heaven on Earth had not occurred as forecast, i.e. “What we did not realize is that if you try to take that freedom, they resist.” In the 1930s, Gramsci focused on what is known as cultural hegemony, where the ruling class transmits its values and beliefs, via educational institutions and mass media, to the exploited classes for the downtrodden to adopt them against their better interests as a means of control. Adorno, Horkheimer, Mercuse and others submitted a critical theory of Western civilization, which I believe has proven as one of the most influential contributions of philosophy in the last century. Critical theory is not only alive but has thrived on college campuses in its relentless pursuit to chastise the West, breeding and festering in university departments like African-American, gender and queer studies. Though I also submit the conditioning starts in earlier education, however, where do you think the myths of the wage gap and 1 out of 5 college girls are sexually assaulted exactly are born from? Moreover, gen-ed courses feature curriculum that indoctrinates students to believe that America is still fundamentally racist, white Christian males are the great oppressors, capitalism is the great evil and American imperialism is as heinous if not worse than the forcible subjugation of foreign peoples as perpetrated by ancient Rome, the Mongol khanates or Hirohito Japan. Meanwhile, the critique — if you can really call it that — ignores the inconvenient fact pertaining to all the cultural, intellectual, technological innovation, individual wealth and personalized autonomy in a nation that has never been so populous and ethnically and ideologically diverse in history. Reveling in both its shrillness and simplicity, this appraisal of America and the West thoroughly has been reinforced and perpetuated by our popular media and culture, which curiously also was a locus of scrutiny for Gramsci, Adorno and other Marxists from the Frankfurt School.

Isn’t it interesting that what these philosophers identified as weapons against the weak, within a generation of their writings, have become magically the inverse: tools to promote “social justice”? What a convenient and fortuitous reversal, unless its just the Hollywood and other media creme de la creme decidedly projecting their values onto the common person to adopts as his or her own, another manifestation of Gramscian cultural hegemony coming from a direction that heavily veers to the Left. Based on what we see on TV, doesn’t the outside world seem so “chaotic,” “unfair” and “unequal” that many of our “liberal” friends have mistakenly bought into it all and are unwittingly “ready to sacrifice their freedom” to ensure “equality”?

Let’s go through another litany of examples to demonstrate what I mean: Who wants to drastically raise the minimum wage even though it naturally will result in a sharp drop in jobs?; who wants the government to provide for entitlements to education and housing and more benefits to the unemployed despite that such initiatives impoverish cities like Detroit and Baltimore; who wants to redefine marriage, rendering mothers and fathers as optional to their children in the view of the state?; who wants to ban assault rifles and enact other gun control measures that likely will be ineffectual on gun violence, in general, because handguns are overwhelming the deadliest firearms in the country?; who demands that the Washington Redskins change its name because some people in a minority find it racially insensitive, despite such a change would fail to address the real empirical problems within their communities? Doesn’t it seem like an extremely bad, crisis-steeped world that requires decisive, comprehensive action from Big Brother, as everything from video games to “mansplaining” is somehow a form of overbearing oppression and injustice?

Furthermore, for the Left, “when history did not cooperate, history was changed”: Travyon Martin, the teenager who pounded “white hispanic” George Zimmerman’s face before being shot in self-defense, is Emmett Till; Ferguson, when a community abandoned all counsel from Rev. Martin Luther King to flaunt the rule of law and further impoverish itself, is Selma. “Hands up, don’t shoot” was and is a lie, yet demonstrators continue to repeat it to protest racist police brutality even though the evidence shows Michael Brown’s slaying was not an example of racist police brutality. Illegal aliens are now “undocumented workers,” and “global warming” has become “climate change.” A University of Virginia fraternity’s members gang-raped a girl, except that they didn’t. Orwell: War is peace; freedom is slavery; ignorance is strength.

As for the purification process, look no further than Memories Pizza which apparently deserves to be threatened out of business because its owners wouldn’t service a same-sex wedding if they were ever asked. A gay hotelier must pay penance for meeting with “anti-gay” Ted Cruz. Actress Alice Eve is harangued until she recants for stating the irrefutable truth: Bruce Jenner is a man whether or not he feels like he has the soul of a woman. More Orwell: “…we have now sunk to a depth at which the restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men.”

Anyway, I could go on ad infinitum chronically how today’s mainstream Left and progressives are the antithesis of what they claim to be. With Marvel in mind though, I summarily find it absolutely great that Cap finds that it his duty to say the Orwellian obvious like “This isn’t freedom. This is fear” to the “enlightened” Fury. I’m ecstatic that Cap fights against those who have lied, slandered and manipulated their way to cajole people into endorsing things that makes government bigger for no real purpose or reason other than some elite agenda. I find it hilariously ironic that all this appears in and can be gleaned from a singular work within one of the propaganda engines that the Left uses to “win young hearts and minds.”

Oh, and if you disagree with me, and or this analysis rubs you the wrong way, you should still give the film a try anyway, as it’s highly entertaining. Like the best superhero movies such as The Dark Knight or The Avengers, it not only stands alone but actually transcends the genre. Captain America: The Winter Soldier has elements from spy thrillers and 80s action fare. The fight sequences are arguably the best Marvel has ever produced, and I propose could be the best in recent memory. For the most part, they’re less CGI, more hand-to-hand combat and practical effects. Plus, this is the best iteration of the Winter Soldier I’ve ever seen. He’s a Terminator, not a whiny brat — at least so far — and actually a physical match for Cap. Overall, strongly recommended.

Enjoy (***Major spoiler after 02:57***),

Modus Pownens

Atheism is NOT a “lack of belief”

One of the tactics new atheists (i.e., those who think drink the infantile swill of Richard Dawkins, the late Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, Dan Barker, Bill Maher or Jerry Coyne as if it’s the Kool-Aid of Jim Jones) employ that just aggravates me more than the Seahawks not giving the ball to Marshawn Lynch at the goal line in the Superbowl is defining atheism as a “mere lack of belief in God.” Frankly, it’s intellectually lazy, intellectually dishonest and utterly unacceptable.

Isn’t this assessment a little uncouth and uncivil, Modus Pownens? Well, those who claim to have the market cornered on reason and wax on about how they sit at the intellectual big kids table in contrast to us delusional, superstitious faith-based types should behave as exemplary masters of incisive and profound erudition. If you talk big game and belittle, you better bring it. If you’re a superior thinker, conduct yourself accordingly. And those who repeatedly lord their alleged cerebral advantage over others yet continually produce hollow rhetoric deserve to be exposed similarly like the ancient sophists were appropriately trivialized by Socrates. In the words of Bill Vallicella: “Civility is for the civil.”

Now that that’s out of my system, I don’t think of myself as Socrates. I’m no more intelligent than the average person, and I’m always still learning and refining my views and argumentation. However, it’s no braggadocio for me to claim that I’m more initiated in “the love of wisdom” than the typical online, armchair philosopher of religion. I’m far from an expert, but my prowess in the subject likely extends beyond my undergraduate minor, as I’ve taken non required upper level courses in ethics and metaphysics and continue to keep my skills sharp by reading the writings of professional philosophers when I can. I present all this modestly, yet accurately, as I’m about to put this irksome meme — because that’s what it really is — into the ground.

Let’s start with the commonly articulated reasoning to this claim of “lack of belief” — if any is given at all — which is based in etymology. Basically, it’s the prefix “a” refers to a lack thereof, and “theism” means belief in God, ipso facto, atheism is a “lack of belief” in God with no positive beliefs of its own. Apart from the latter part of the conclusion being patently false as atheists appeal to positive claims about reality when they argue for atheism against theism, the breakdown of the word is equally egregious.

Theism also isn’t strictly confined to meaning a belief in God, as the suffix “ism” has other connotations. As per Wikipedia, “Ism is a derived word used in philosophy, politics, religion or other areas pertaining to an ideology.” By their nature, ideologies or philosophical positions are not devoid of beliefs. But more importantly, theism, loosely speaking, can and has been accurately defined to remove belief from its articulation to the philosophical position that God exists. If atheism is derived from how theism is defined as the New Atheists seem to do, then why can’t atheism, loosely speaking, be expressed as the antithetical philosophical position that God does not exist?

Moreover, the more we scrutinize here, the New Atheists’ semantic game appears more and more questionable. Even if we define theism in the terms of a belief in God, beliefs are often held by philosophers to be propositions, meaning they express statements that are either true or false. As atheism is held in direct opposition to theism, yet if it is a “lack of belief,” then it can’t be either true or false. But this can’t be right, as it doesn’t square with the behavior of atheists, who maintain both the claim that God does not exist  — and by extension, atheism —  is true and conversely the claim God does exist — and again by extension, theism — is false. Simply, “lack of belief” is a psychological state or a property. A property is not the sort of thing that can be true or false. Atheism clearly is considered to be either true or false. It’s not a property like having blueness or sadness, and anyone who argues otherwise clearly brings into doubt as whether or not they should be taken seriously.

What’s also worth talking about is the host of ideologies and positions that feature the suffix “ism.” Why are these never defined as an “absence of belief” in something? Conservatism isn’t considered the “absence of belief” in liberalism and vice versa. Likewise, communism isn’t deemed a “lack of belief” in capitalism, and we can go on indefinitely. What about atheism makes it different than every other “ism” out there? Even in the case of positions that make statements about what or what not exists, the position defending the negative claim is never defined as a “lack of belief.” In philosophy, nominalism is the view universals don’t exist, but it is never posited as being a “lack of belief” in universals. It seems to me, the new atheists reek of special pleading.

Then there’s philosophy of religion and philosophers of religion. Shouldn’t the very discipline and its experts, the people whose livelihoods are based on their ability to think critically and be rational, likely know what’s best? Here’s some quotes:

Atheism is the view that there is no God.

Matt McCormick

‘Atheism’ means the negation of theism, the denial of the existence of God.

J.J.C. Smart

An atheist, like a Christian, holds that we can know whether or not there is a God. The Christian holds that we can know there is a God; the atheist, that we can know there is not.

Bertand Russell, the father of analytic philosophy

I anticipate there will be those who will bring up strong/weak varieties atheism. Oh, I’m well aware, but I find the strong and weak forms of atheism as problematic to establish a presumption of atheism not only for the above reasons, but it also obfuscates perfectly good terms like atheist and agnostic, puts an unreasonable burden of proof on the theist and distracts what’s at issue, i.e., whether or not God exists.

I suppose I always can redefine theism as the lack of belief in metaphysical naturalism and see how the atheist likes it.

That’s only fair, right?

Modus Pownens

Blood on Our Hands

A common argument levied against theism, specifically the Christian and Islamic varieties, is one that attempts to blame the theist for the world’s problems.  Often, the atheist asserts the vast majority of wars were religious or religion retards progress.  But despite its popularity, the charge is blatantly fallacious for multiple reasons and should be abandoned by able minds.

Reason 1:

The assertion is historical nonsense.  The fact of the matter is that the vast majority of wars has little to do with religion.  Here, the atheist erroneously will be all too keen to bring up the crusades, Spanish Inquisition and Irish Protestants vs. Irish Catholics.  Granted this is true, but there are so many conflicts not because of religious differences: the Greco-Persian wars, Peloponnesian Wars, Roman Civil Wars, the Punic Wars, Roman Servile Wars, Julius Caesar Gaulic Wars—fast-forwarding a bit— the French and Indian War, American Revolutionary War, War of 1812, Napoleonic Wars, Crimean War, American Civil War, Spanish-American War, World War I, World War II are a just a from the top of my head.

I won’t deny terrible things have been done in the name of religion and or God, but to hold religion responsible of humanity’s historical atrocities is without a solid basis.  There are plenty of counterexamples to cast doubt on such a claim.  The common denominator here is not religion, but people.  Note, this sentiment will be a trend throughout this post.

Reason 2:

An ideology should be judged by its tenants and not by its malpractice.  Many of the Christian culprits for the horrors of the crusades or Spanish Inquisition weren’t acting very Christian, were they?  Given the most important commandments prescribed by Jesus were “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'” ~ Luke 10:27, these Christians were ignoring some important Christian rules.  Again, don’t  pronounce judgment on a worldview by its corruption.

The same can be applied to Islam, especially nowadays.  The terrorist fanatics, who are a minority, and their perversion of Jihad is not representative of all Muslims nor Islamic theology.  People are the problem; not the actual belief system.

There exists an important distinction between religion and theism that I feel like I need to elucidate.  The two are not the same thing despite atheists will lump them together with reckless abandon.  Jews, Christians and Muslims are all theists and the faults of one group don’t necessarily invalidate the others’ or theism as a whole even if Reason 2 wasn’t applied.  Moreover, there are non-religious, rationally affirmed theists, hence even if all forms of organized religious monotheism were shown to be false, it doesn’t completely follow that theism is false.  Last but not least, there are religions that don’t fundamentally involve belief in God such as Buddhism or Taoism.  So, please understand, theism is a sufficient condition of religion, but not a necessary one.

Reason 3:

It’s plausible to think even if Christianity and Islam had not risen to prominence people would still be killing everybody else.  To stick it where the sun don’t shine and for the sake of argument, lets say atheism instead came to dominate life in the European Middle Ages.  That, the pagans renounced their various polytheistic beliefs for the view the natural world is all there is.  It’s impossible to know exactly how things would play out, but I feel it’s arguable that the strong would still trample the weak, some other reason than God would be employed to justify it and any opposing ideas would be quelled to consolidate power.  How do I support this?  Well, it’s already happened.  Joseph Stalin had a knack of killing his own people “to preserve the wonderful legacy comrade Vladimir Lenin had given to Mother Russia.”

People, not just Stalin, are depraved.  When we encounter different cultures, ideas and religions, our nature is prone to mistrust and often, to react violently to these foreign concepts and the aliens who hold them.  It’s certainly not right, but as a species, it’s what we do.

Moreover, if this theory that religious belief is pathologically linked to violence and war is worthy of consideration, then we’d expect to see a more peaceful world because most divine right monarchies have been supplanted with governments with the separation of church and state.  Well, we expected incorrectly.  The last century was easily the most violent of our history.  See World War I and World War II for more detail.  Oh, and after those blood baths, we came a razor’s blade away on multiple occasions of self-immolation as a race during the Cold War.  Lastly, the secular United States could be considered the most belligerent country on the planet as we’ve been in a number of conflicts over the past 100 years.


I think I’ve successfully refuted this way too traversed avenue of attack.  And it’s a path many a theist is also too eager to travel.  I’ve seen on the Internet many Christians accuse atheism being the cause of more and death and suffering than Christianity, and they actually attempt to justify this by attributing the atheistic communist regimes of the last half of 20th century as culpable.  Much of what I argued above can be and should be applied to the defense of atheists and atheism in general.  But what I really take issue with here is the attitude here of both parties.

See, it isn’t fair for this to be even called a fallacious argument anymore because it isn’t.  It’s more egregious than that.  Now, it’s devolved to nothing more than a shouting match, a blame-game.  The question is no longer if this is a viable topic of discussion; it’s who has more blood on their hands, and the truth is we’re all submerged and drowning.  We’ve trivialized human life, a notion most theists and atheists ought to find deplorable.  We’re forgetting we all value humanity.

As a Christian theist, I reject atheism, but I don’t reject atheists.  I don’t hold the ones I know as responsible for the horrid acts committed during the Cultural Revolution of China.  Nor do I expect any of them, or any intellectually solid atheist for that matter, to hold me accountable for the Salem Witch Trials.  They might find the arguments for God’s existence and theism as a whole unconvincing, and that’s fine—I find metaphysical naturalism shallow and wanting—but it’s not too much of a concession on either of our parts to acknowledge our respective worldviews aren’t false on the grounds of the actions of other Christians or atheists past, present or future.  It’s that simple.

I’ll leave you with the wise, yet succinct words of former YouTube Christian apologist Veritas48:

“Don’t judge a philosophy by its abuse,”

Modus Pownens

An Apology for Apologist Lee Strobel

Any time you debate a popular controversial issue—say, I don’t know, the existence of God—there is bound to be a time where you take some flack.  There is a sizable chunk of emotion invested on both sides, and this can make for a potent powder keg.  And sometimes this potential erupts into a conflagration of ad hominems and potty-mouth language.  Needless to write, it can get pretty nasty out there for both the theist and atheist.  So sometimes when you’re in the trenches with a fellow soldier, you got to watch his back.  Semper fi, baby!

In my opinion, Lee Strobel is one of the most hated Christian apologists out there.

Lee Strobel is a personal hero.

I would say Kent Hovind, Ray “the Banana Man” Comfort, Matt Slick and William Lane Craig.  Hovind, Comfort and Slick are a little in over the heads.  Craig, on the other hand, probably doesn’t deserve all the crap flung his way.  The notoriety  from his debates and the Kalam Cosmological Argument gushes a most beautiful, ruby-red that the sharks can’t help but bite.  In his defense, Craig is a legitimate philosopher and is taken seriously by his atheist counterparts in academia.  Philosophers such as Quentin Smith and others felt Kalam was worthy of a bona fide response.  Alas, this post is about Strobel.

Now, I’m won’t argue Strobel is the greatest apologist this side of Aquinas or of this generation.  I won’t contend he doesn’t make errors or is immune to criticism.  But those who assert he is an idiot —mainly those of the New Atheist ilk—and his work isn’t worthy of consideration are out of line.  Strobel is no moron; he’s an accomplished writer, who appeals to the layperson through his Case for a Creator, Case for Christ and Case for the Real Jesus books.

DISCLAIMER: I’m about to come off really pompous here.  The reason why I have immense respect for Strobel is the fact he is a product of the University of Missouri’s Walter Williams School of Journalism, the same institution I’m enrolled in.  So what’s the big whoop?  For those who don’t know, MU’s journalism school is a Mecca of the discipline.  It’s the oldest journalism program in the country and arguably, the world.  I fully acknowledge I’m not impartial here, but MU’s reputation is well deserved.  I’ve already gained professional experience reporting, writing and editing that many non-MU journalism students will not accomplish until out of school.  But enough of me spreading the MU gospel.

Both Lee Strobel and I have walked through these "hallowed halls."

The point is Strobel was trained at the best journalism school in the world.  He knows how to be objective and investigate things better than most.  Even when he set out as an atheist to disprove Christianity, he was able to put his personal bias aside.  Strobel is not a weak-minded individual, but rather a great example of open-mindedness and free-thinking.

Obviously, I admire Strobel.  His work is what introduced me to apologetics and continues to be a driving influence behind my efforts here.


Modus Pownens

Post-mortem Response and Eulogy for Oscar

In my last response to SomeMusician (Oscar), I left the door open for a more direct post that addressed Oscar’s assault on the concept of an eternal life as my initial one instead attempted to redirect the conversation.  Oscar, in the comments of my prior post, has requested I do just that.  And now that he is gone, I feel obligated to fulfill his last wish before, and pardon the pun, rigor-mortis sets in.

But first, a few words need to be written for such a somber occasion, though I confess, I’m not eloquent for this sort of thing, although this blog might suggest otherwise.  I feel awkward and unsure of how I should I proceed.  I fear I might come off like this:

The Eugoogly

With my anxieties flushed out, here goes nothing.

It saddens me to read of your indefinite departure from this medium, Oscar.  I indeed hope you will come back.  I’ve enjoyed our brief exchanges together discussing the “big questions” of life.  You were always polite, thoughtful and articulate.  I also became fond of your voice in your writing early on when I read your posts.  You’re a pretty polished, writer, Oscar, and that is a skill I hold in lofty regard.  Although it sucks—to put it bluntly—that you’re leaving, I wish you the best of luck on whatever endeavor you choose to pursue, whether it be music, philosophy, vlogging on YouTube or blogging either on this site or Tuesday Afternoon.  Overall, it has been a pleasure.  If you ever do return, however, you will be welcomed back with open arms by multiple people, myself included.  Until that fateful day, though, you will be sorely missed, Oscar.  =(

The Response

Now that the “nice words” have been written and due to the fact funerals are said to be for the living, I guess I can dance and defecate on your decaying corpse-of-a-post, Oscar, you heathen, nihilist, amoral, God-hating, person-who-thinks-when-you-die-you’re-just- a-banquet-for-maggots…but that wouldn’t be too Christian of me, now would it?

Hyperbole aside, Oscar begins his post by acknowledging that under metaphysical naturalism, life has no supreme purpose, a statement I would whole-heartedly agree with.  He continues and writes that in spite of this, our life still can have meaning.  I agree in a limited sense.  Life can be meaningful subjectively, but beyond the value we impose on our day-to-day affairs, it still is cosmically meaningless given naturalism.  And this isn’t an unpopular implication of the naturalist’s worldview among atheist intellectuals.

Interestingly enough, Oscar mentions atheist philosopher Thomas Nagel at the start of his next paragraph.  Now, I haven’t had the honor of reading Nagel, hence I’ll have to take Oscar’s summary of his view as sufficiently accurate.

“In the naturalistic world view of death, according to Nagel, life is good and death is bad [paraphrasing]. However, this conception of life and death fails if we suppose an eternal life”

This conception of life and death fails instead for another reason.  Despite the fact Oscar’s description of Nagel’s view seems contradictory to the quote in the video—I will give him the benefit of the doubt—I reject Nagel’s conclusion that whatever promotes life/survival is “good” and whatever relegates toward death is “bad.”  Granted, I don’t know the exact reasoning justifying Nagel’s claim here (I would assume some empirical methodology as survivability seems to be observable).  But I fail to see how this translates into a prescriptive “good” or “bad.”

Neither Nagel nor Oscar nor any atheist, to the extent of my knowledge, has been able to successfully pull off this meta-ethical trick.  Scottish philosopher David Hume, who was as atheist as they come, mind you, recognized the futility in such an endeavor with his famous “you can’t derive an ought from an is” spiel.  Meta-ethical terms such as “good” or “bad” are oughts.  They’re normative and prescriptive in nature and not descriptive like an is.  Nagel’s survival, which is a descriptive is, defined as the “good” really misses the point of the problem and is guilty of attempting to “derive an ought from an is.”

So this assertion, as far as I can discern, of Nagel and Oscar here is false.  I admit life/survival and death appear to be closely related to what is “good” and what is “bad,” but not so close where they can used interchangeably.  Sorry for being pedantic about this, however, I feel in all fairness this fallacy of equivocation must be pointed out.

Moving on, the remainder of Oscar’s post is spent arguing how eternal life on a theist’s worldview is actually meaningless.  He writes,

“Imagine your favorite sporting event. For whatever allotted amount of time, this sport has meaning and it enthralls the spectator. It has the capacity to lift you from euphoric joy to crushing despair within a matter of moments. Now imagine if this sporting event – one game, one match – were to last forever. Would you be as interested? Would you care about the sport? This never-ending game would be pointless to play, let alone watch. As is the case with the game, so would be the case with an eternal life. Every second of the eternal life would be ever-increasing the profundity of the inanity that has become one’s existence, and thus, we would be doomed to experience an infinite amount of inanity. A crushingly depressing notion. Life would become absurd, purposeless.”

Well, first of all, soccer is my favorite sport to watch, and due to the fact it’s criminally under-broadcasted here in the United States, a perpetual soccer game sounds very enticing to me.  But I think I feel my intellectual honesty spanking my smart-ass, so I guess I have to give you a more satisfying rebuttal, huh?

In an intriguing move, Oscar’s strategy here is susceptible to a criticism levied against theism.  Hume, I believe, is justified here again.  I think—it’s been a while since I’ve read his Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, so I might be off herebut Hume argues theists are guilty of anthropomorphizing God.  In other words, (Joan Osborne’s actually) we view God as if he is like one of us, “just a slob like one of us, a stranger on the bus, trying to make his way home,” but by definition, he isn’t.

Joan Osborne performing. Maybe she's anthropomorphizing here and singing "One of Us!"

See, Oscar is viewing eternal life as if it’s subject to time and framing it in a never-ending day.  Yet, eternity isn’t within time; it’s to be outside of it.  Hence, to understand something outside the realm of human temporal experience by human temporal experience is understandable, yet naive.  Oscar’s comparing apples with oranges here, and philosophically speaking, he’s committing a category error.  Check the n/a box for his argument from analogy, a style of argument whose strength is measured in its similarity to what it’s comparing, and in this case, it not even being applicable…well, is really missing the mark.

Oscar’s last argument against theism is a thrust against God’s coherence.  It’s purported God exists eternally, and Oscar reasoned previously that such an existence is meaningless.  Therefore, by definition, God existing is absurd.

“Can one imagine a “life” that is left contemplating the implications that nothing will ever be able to equal Your glory? Or that You will never be granted the amount of praise that You are so righteously deserved of? That for all eternity you will forever be, and worse still, that You would be incapable of ceasing to be? The absurd notion of forever being, and worse yet, not being able to do anything about it, is enough to render one depressingly impotent.While this may seem disconcerting to the theist, these are indeed the implications of an eternal life. Nothing will matter.”

I’m a theist, and I don’t find this charge alarming whatsoever.  Frankly, I’m more puzzled.  Theists understand God to be perfect, which includes eternal existence, but I don’t see the faintest reason why God would even reflect on these introspective insecurities that Oscar erroneously seems to think follows from always being.  They logically don’t.  Nothing of this sort is entailed in eternal existence.  As perfect, God doesn’t have psychological issues similar to that of a teenager that needs to see some cosmic shrink about them every Thursday afternoon just because he’s always been.  The only way I see how Oscar came to this conclusion is by anthropomorphizing again.  That, God, due to the fact he’s been around forever, has had all the time in the universe to consider these things, while under theism, God existed without time.  It seems entirely evident for the theist to flat-out deny these implications, and he or she won’t even be late for dinner.  So, disconcerting?  Hardly.

Last Words

I want to close by writing I appreciate your post, Oscar, but I think the issues you brought up aren’t so damning to theism as you thought.  But with that written, I wish you all the best in life.  I do sincerely hope you will return to SomeMusician sooner rather than later.  Forgive me, but I can’t help to hope you share in my belief in the possibility of a resurrection after a blogging death.

Response/Eugoogly over,

Modus Pownens

Can An Atheist Raise a Stone Paradox So Paradoxical It’s Incoherent?

The answer to the above headlined question is yes.  It happens all the time unfortunately.  I wanted to address and crack the old stone paradox once and for all to show how silly of a question it is.

For those who don’t know, the stone paradox is usually phrased if God is all-powerful, then can he create a stone so heavy that he can’t lift it?  I’m sure you’ve heard it or one of its variations sometime or another in your life.

There are different routes the theist can take to defuse to such a “dilemma.”  Probably, one of the best answers I’ve heard of comes from philosopher J.P. Moreland.  He responds with no, but not because of a deficiency God has.  Moreland argues the problem is with the stone and its nature, and not with God’s.  To call for an infinite rock, as the stone paradox does, is a contradiction in terms.  It’s what’s known as a category error, which is to erroneously classify one sort of thing as another.  Rocks, boulders, stones, gravel, diamonds, minerals, Geodude, are all contingent, finite objects.  This is true of them by their definition.  They must have boundaries out of logical necessity.  A finite stone can’t be infinite.  Such a thing is meaningless and does not exist.  Hence, there is no inconsistency in theism.

God: unable to create or lift an infinite Geodude or any of its heavier evolutions since...ever.

The heart of the question essentially deals with defining God’s omnipotence and deciding on how it’s applied.  Being all-powerful does not entail being able to do anything.  There are plenty of things the theist is more than willing to concede that God can’t do.  One of them is ability to do the logically impossible. Concepts that defy the laws of logic like square circles or married bachelors, or in this case, stones of infinite mass are not only meaningless, but do not exist.  To simply ask if someone can do the logically impossible is non-sensical.

Also entailed under God’s omnipotence is the inability to do what’s against his fundamental nature.  This is a subset of what’s logically possible.  Therefore, testing God’s omnipotence by asking if he can die or be deceived are again logically incoherent.  It’s no issue for the theist to concede God’s inability to do either.  God, by definition, is all-good, eternal and sovereign.  If God was to lie, it would violate his omnibenevolence.  Therefore, he can’t perform it without compromising one of his essential properties.  Does this make him anything less than God?  No, of course not.  Do we say a square is less of itself because it can’t be circular?  Honestly, it doesn’t analytically follow then to even pose such queries about his nature as they’ve already been answered.  Moreover, if God were able to lie or die, it would actually be a proof of imperfection.  If we hold to St. Anselm’s definition of God being the greatest conceivable being possible, then he must not be able to die or lie because a perfect being should not be defective in any way.  The abilities to lie or die are deficiencies, and the ability to do them is not a perfection.

The stone paradox is guilty of the same tautological crime.  It could be rephrased can God create a being greater than himself.  The answer is clearly no.  If God were able to do so, then he would not be God and nor would the created being.  Not to be pedantic, but by definition God is uncreated, and once again to make such a claim is nonsense.

In summary, God’s omnipotence is not raw creative power or energy.  It’s more accurately defined as the ability to do whatever it is logically possible for God to do.  Therefore, the answer is no.  God can’t create a stone so big that he can’t lift it.  Basically, when the atheist asks this species of questions, it’s the equivalent of them opening his or her mouth and uttering, “fleegle-flaggle-floogle-flum.”

I would like to leave you with another video from a theist on YouTube.  He addresses and defeats the same problem.


Modus Pownens