The Marriage Debate: Discussing the Important Issues

MarriageIn the currently raging debate on homosexuality, there is a lot of spilled ink and emotional strife from multiple sides of the fence that are engaging these important issues. I say “multiple” because I do not think the issue is reducible to merely the Left and the Right, the Revisionists and the Progressives, or what have you. Quite frankly, the Right is disagreeing with the Right and the Left is disagreeing with the Left. As notable journalist Andrew Sullivan (himself a homosexual) wrote, “There are as many politics of homosexuality as there words for it, and not all of them contain reason” (Sullivan 19). In this article I simply wish to address only two key positions on this debate that are very particular with respect to their sociological as well as philosophical approach (among other elements).

On the one hand, you have what has been called the “personalist” position (or conjugal view); containing its most famed formulation in Karol Wojtyla’s Love and Responsibility which argues for a personalistic defense of traditional norms and draws upon the moral philosophical/theological thought of Thomas Aquinas (1224/5-1274). As Alexander Pruss has written, “A dominant methodological approach has been to distance oneself from biological considerations, such as those connected with reproduction, and to focus on us as persons instead, looking at the interaction between our subjectivity and our sexuality, and focusing on human dignity and not to trample on the autonomy of others” (Pruss 2). This is largely the approach of Wojtyla, and I offer a brief defense of this view in my article Marriage: A Personalist Defense over at Hellenistic Christendom.

On the other hand, you have what has been called the “revisionist” position, which in my opinion has its best defense in philosopher John Corvino’s essay in Debating Same-Sex Marriage. According to Robert P. George’s essay with Ryan Anderson and Sherif Girgis, the revisionist view can be defined as follows:

Marriage is the union of two people (whether of the same sex or of opposite sexes) who commit to romantically loving and caring for each other and to sharing the burdens and benefits of domestic life. It is essentially a union of hearts and minds, enhanced by whatever forms of sexual intimacy both partner find agreeable. The state should recognize and regulate marriage because it has an interest in stable romantic partnerships and in the concrete needs of spouses and any children they may choose to rear (George, Anderson, Girgis 2010: 246). Continue reading

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The Thomistic Cosmological Argument

Cosmic

We can state the argument as follows:

  1. We notice around us things that come into being and go out of being.
  2. Whatever comes into being or goes out being does not have to be; its nonbeing is a real possibility.
  3. Suppose that nothing has to be; that is, that nonbeing is a real possibility for everything.
  4. Then right now nothing would exist. For,
  5. If the universe began to exist, then all being must trace its origin to some past moment before which there existed – literally – nothing at all. But,
  6. From nothing nothing comes. So,
  7. The universe could not have begun.
  8. But suppose the universe never began. Then, for the infinitely long duration of cosmic history, all being had the built-in possibility not to be. But,
  9. If in an infinite time, that possibility was never realized, then it could not have been a real possibility at all. So,
  10. There must exist something that has to exist, that cannot not exist. This sort of being is called “necessary.”
  11. Either this necessary being belongs to the thing in itself or it is derived from another. If derived from another there must ultimately exist a being whose necessity is not derived, that is, an absolutely necessary being.
  12. This absolutely necessary being is God.

Perhaps this scheme is a bit much in terms of trying to state something simplistically [1]. Maybe this re-stated argument can be of some assistance:

  1. What we observe in the universe is contingent.
  2. A sequence of causally related contingent things cannot be infinite.
  3. The sequence of causally dependent contingent things must be finite.
  4. There must be a first cause in the sequence of contingent causes [2].

The argument is this: We observe things that come in and out of existence – that is, they are contingent. More particularly, we notice things in the world that are capable of existing and capable of not existing. However, it is impossible for those contingent things to exist as such forever, for, anything that can fail to exist has not always existed. Since not all existents are capable of existing and not existing, there must be a necessary being – a being that cannot not exist. From this point, we are confronted with the question of whether or not this necessary being has its existence in itself or from another. As John F. Wippel writes in his essay on the metaphysics of Thomas Aquinas:

Every necessary (that is, incorruptible) being has a cause of its necessity from something else or its does not. One cannot regress to infinity with caused necessary beings. . . Therefore, he concludes, there must be a necessary being that does not depend on anything else for its necessity and that causes the necessity in all else. This being everyone calls God. [3]

What is important to notice with respect to this argument is its focus on two major steps: (1) the possible and (2) the necessary. Aquinas addresses these issues in separate fashions although they are headed under the same argument. With respect to (1), a finite thing, according to Winfried Corduan, meets any one of the following conditions:

  1. It is restricted by time and space.
  2. It can be changed by something other than itself.
  3. It has a beginning in time.
  4. It needs things other than itself to continue existing.
  5. Its attributes, whether essential or accidental, are to some extent influenced by other things. [4]

It is not the case that something is caused, sustained, shaped and etc. and is contingent. Rather, it is these very attributes that make something contingent. However, crucial to Aquinas’ argument is the claim that “Unless there were an infinite being, there could not be an finite beings.” This goes on to expose the inherent and crucially important metaphysical element in Aquinas’ argument that is often ignored. In other words, “[A]s surprising as this may sound, there have been numerous attempts either to state or to refute the cosmological argument without doing metaphysics” [5]. Furthermore, vital to the argument is Aristotle’s explanation of being. Perhaps the best summary of Aristotle’s explanation comes from an essay by Joseph Owens:

Everything encountered in our perception is known as a being. If it happens to be metal, a plant, an animal, or a human person, it is a substance. If it is a color, a size, or a relation, it is an accident and requires a substance in which it inheres. If it is right there before our eyes, it is actual. If it is to come into being in the future, it is still something potential and requires efficient causality to make it actual. If it undergoes change, it is temporal and is composed of matter that changes from one form to another. When we reason to things that have no matter and therefore no potentially for change, we consider objects that are merely being, in contrast to becoming and perishing. They are the primary instances of being. All other things are beings focal reference to them. [6]

Now, the efficient causality (“the primary source of the change”) with respect to the universe is different in Aristotle’s thought than it is in Aquinas’. Aquinas’ approach to this Aristotelian conception of being was particularly that God was the efficient cause of all things, and not so much that the universe “originated in motion” (Aristotle) but was rather “bestowed existence” (Aquinas). According to Owens with respect to Aquinas’ position, “God was the primary instance of being. His was the nature to which all other beings had focal reference as beings” [7].

However, let’s back up a little bit towards the conversation of change. Aristotle argued through a metaphysical scheme that essentially said that since absolute nonbeing does not exist, therefore the reality of change must occur somewhere within being. Hence, we have two further given realities: (1) change is real, and (2) change occurs in the realm of being. Given this, there must be two kinds of being: (a) being that currently is (actual), and (b) being that will be when the change occurs (potential). These terms were discussed in that passage by Joseph Owens above. To quote him again, “If it is right there before our eyes, it is actual. If it is to come into being in the future, it is still something potential and requires efficient causality to make it actual” (emphasis mine).

Change and motion then can be understood with respect to these two terms. “Motion” is thought to be the change from potentiality to actuality, while “change” is the actualization of a potential. In the former case, it is similar to Newton’s first law motion in the sense that change will not take place until some other external factor interferes [8]. In the latter case, change simply means that a causal agent imposes a different form on a substance. For instance, a lump of clay has the potential of becoming a bowl if there is a potter to actualize that potentiality. The potter functions as the causal agent, while the bowl now represents a different form of a given substance – namely, the lump of clay.

However, an important factor to this whole metaphysical scenario is that this causal agent itself be actual. In other words, you cannot actualize the potential (i.e., change) of something that does not exist, and furthermore that something already actual must function as its cause. That is to say, potentials do not actualize themselves. Thus, the case is this: “finite beings are actualized potential and… it takes a cause, which is an actual being in its own right, to actualize the potential” [9]. However, we need to have a proper understanding of causality.

It is not the case that we understand there be some event A which is followed by another event B, which is followed by some other event C and so on and so on. This form of causality was attacked by David Hume on the basis of its “mysterious indemonstrability” and reveals the inherent problems of understanding causality in this way. Rather, we may understand cause-effect to function so as to say that cause is only understood insofar as there is a change in the being of the effect. To use an explanation from Timothy McDermott:

The existence of the cause expresses itself in activity, but that activity is the coming to existence of the effect. Causality, then, should not be given the modern reading involving a sequence of two changes: it is one change in the effect as seen from the cause. [10]

Therefore,

  • (a’) A contingent being is one that requires a cause to exist.

Hence, whatever exists contingently never ceases its requiring of a cause. This leads us back to our earlier statement so as to say, that “Unless there were an infinite being, there could not be any finite beings.” This infinite being must have the following conditions:

  1. It is not restricted by time or space;
  2. that cannot be changed by anything other than itself;
  3. that did not have a beginning in time;
  4. that does not need things other than itself to continue existing;
  5. whose attributes are not influenced by other things (which means that it only has essential attributes, not accidental ones).

This infinite being seems to be of the kind that we usually refer to as God.

________________________

Notes:

  • [1] Although, I still nonetheless find the scheme helpful. It was taken from Peter Kreeft and Ronald K. Tacelli, Handbook of Catholic Apologetics (Ignatius Press: 1997) pp. 57-58
  • [2] This was taken from W. David Beck, “A Thomistic Cosmological Argument” inTo Everyone An Answer, ed. William Lane Craig, Francis Beckwith, J.P. Moreland (IVP Academic: 2004) pp. 99-100
  • John F. Wippel, “Metaphysics” in The Cambridge Companion to Aquinas, ed. Norman Kretzmann and Eleonore Stump (Cambridge University Press: 1997) p. 115
  • [4] Winfried Corduan, “The Cosmological Argument” in Reasons for Faith, ed. Norman Geisler and Chad Meister (Crossway Books: 2007) p. 204
  • [5] Ibid., p. 203
  • [6] Joseph Owens, “Aristotle and Aquinas” in The Cambridge Companion to Aquinas (1997) p. 45 – emphasis mine
  • [7] Ibid., p. 46
  • [8] Newton’s first law: “Every object in a state of uniform motion tends to remain in the state of motion unless an external force is applied to it.”
  • [9] Winfried Corduan, “The Cosmological Argument” in Reasons for Faith (2007) p. 211
  • [10] Timothy McDermott, “Existence and Causality,” Appendix 3, ST, (McGraw-Hill: 1964) p. 184

About Guest Contributor

Steven DunnSteven Dunn is a blogger of Hellenistic Christendom, a blog that is fringed with philosophy and theology. Steven’s critically analyzes philosophical issues with passion and clarity. His desire to explore theological questions with the aim of understanding the centrality of Christ in all marks him as a great Christian philosopher in making.

Steven’s article originally appeared at Hellenistic Christendom.

Is the Matrix Possible?

Neo MatrixIn questions under the discipline of philosophy, and more so under epistemology (the theory of knowledge) particularly, we often find ourselves having to wrestle with certain beliefs, claims, and scenarios that might affect how we truly know things or whether we know anything at all. For instance,  French philosopher René Descartes (1596-1650) in his Meditations on First Philosophy (1641) once wrote:

But what about when I considered something very simple and easy in the areas of arithmetic or geometry, for example that 2 plus 3 make 5, and the like? Did I not intuit them at least clearly enough so as to affirm them as true? To be sure, I did decide later on that I must doubt these things, but that was only because it occurred to me that some God could perhaps have given me a nature such that I might be deceived even about matters that seemed most evident. [1]

How are we to know if we aren’t being deceived by some evil demon about our most basic beliefs? That 2 and 3 make 5, or that triangles have three sides? Although Descartes solved this dilemma along the lines of his cogito (“I think therefore I am”), he still maintained a level of methodological skepticism that functioned for purely intellectual purposes; it is what Gerald Erion calls “a matter of heuristics.” [2] However, a more contemporary discussion on this dilemma of beliefs can be found in Peter Unger’s Ignorance (1975), where instead of an evil demon deceiving us, it is an evilscientist [3]. As Barry Smith explains,

In Unger’s scenario, [ … ] the common belief that there are chairs, books, and other similar objects in the world around is simply an elaborate deception stimulated in our brains by an evil scientist, a super-neurologist who uses a computer to generate electrical impulses that are then transmitted to electrodes fastened to the relevant parts of our central nervous systems. Using these impulses to stimulate our brains, the scientist deceives us into thinking that there are chairs and books, even though there are no such things in the world. [4]

It was Unger’s position that “if skepticism is right, then all is not well with common sense, however useful those beliefs have been as a basis on which science might grow.” [4] Hilary Putnam (1981) [5] moreover argues a stronger thesis that “an evil scientist deceives us not just about rocks, but about everything we think we perceive through the senses” [6].  This scenario runs along the lines to say that we are not merely being deceived by a super-neurologist who uses a computer to generate certain electrical impulses, but rather that we are brains in a vat, surgically placed in brain-nourishing chemicals from which a highly powerful computer sends impulses to our brains and has us belief that our experiences are simply illusions [7].

Now you of course might agree with Daniel Dennett when he says that “[s]ometimes philosophers clutch an insupportable hypothesis to their bosoms and run headlong over the cliff edge. Then, like cartoon characters, they hang there in mid-air, until they notice what they have done and gravity takes over.” [8] Surely this seems to be the case. However, even given these hypotheses and their mere (absurd?) possibilities, what about the idea that we might trapped within a virtual world, and are actually apart of the Matrix, sitting in pink vats of goo being farmed and kept by spider-like robots? What is the possibility that we are in the Matrix now?

The Matrix Possibility 

First, in respect to understanding what is meant by beliefs in epistemological philosophy, it is also important to understand the difference between “warranted” and “justified” beliefs. In his discussion on our faculties of knowledge, Mortimer Adler remarks that beliefs are sometimes understood “to signify that we have some measure of doubt about the opinion we claim to be true on the basis of evidence and reasons” [9]. Furthermore that beliefs can also be otherwise understood “to signify total lack of evidence or reasons for asserting an opinion” [10].

However, beliefs are only properly designated under the correct epistemological context. For instance, we do not say that we believe 2 and 2 make 4, but rather that weknow 2 and 2 makes 4. According to one line of philosophical thinking we do contain a framework of given beliefs that could be rejected if they are without proper justification, while some others do not require that same justification [11].

For now then, let us stick with David Nixon’s proposal known as The Matrix Possibility: “It’s possible that I am (or you are) in the Matrix right now” [12]. However, this proposal is merely saying that it is possible that I am in the Matrix right now, not necessarily that I am in it currently. This is where I believe the distinction (but relationship) between belief and knowledge becomes interesting. One reaction to this proposal might be that

  • (A) If a given belief has the possibility of being false, then it is not one that we can say we really know.

It seems to be the case that the mere possibility of an evil demon deceiving him of even the most simplest truths was enough for Descartes to cast doubt on his having knowledge. However, what about another given reaction to the proposal? Namely, that

  • (B) If a belief is possible and yet we recognize its capability of being false, we may still recognize these kinds of circumstances as having knowledge.

This reaction is far more interesting than the former reaction (A), where (B) is concerned more so with the probability of beliefs rather than the mere possible false-hoods of them.

What Should We Be Left to Think?

If Descartes’ demon or Unger’s mad scientist were in fact true, then we have good reasons to be skeptics in respect to most if not all the beliefs that we hold. However, from the current existential standpoint, we should not be skeptics on the basis of the possibilities of these scenarios. It is not until we are concerned with the probability of those scenarios that we should entertain the truth-hood of their proposals.

Until sufficient probability has been established, the belief that we are in the Matrix is epistemically unreasonable.

______________________

Notes:

  • [1] Rene Descartes, Philosophical Essays and Correspondence, ed. Roger Ariew (Hackett: 2000) p. 113
  • [2] Gerald J. Erion and Barry Smith, “Skepticism, Morality, and the Matrix” in The Matrix and Philosophy, ed. William Irwin (Open Court Publishing: 2002) p. 18
  • [3] Peter Unger, Ignorance: A Case for Skepticism (Clarendon Press: 1979)
  • [4] Ibid., p. 4
  • [5] Hilary Putnam, Reason, Truth, and History (Cambridge University Press: 1981)
  • [6] Gerald Erion and Barry Smith (2002), p. 21
  • [7] See Putnam (1981), pp. 5-8
  • [8] Daniel Dennett, “The Unimagined Preposterousness of Zombies” in Journal of Consciousness Studies (vol. 2, no. 4, 1995). See the passage at this link: http://ase.tufts.edu/cogstud/papers/unzombie.htm
  • [9] Mortimer J. Adler, Ten Philosophical Mistakes (Simon and Schuster: 1985) p. 87
  • [10] Ibid.
  • [11] Alvin Plantinga in his book God and Other Minds (1967) argues for instance that belief in the existence of God is properly basic. According to James Beilby on Plantinga’s view: “For Plantinga, beliefs formed by the sensus divinitatis and the internal instigation of the Holy Spirit are both psychologically direct – they are not inferred or accepted on the evidential basis of other beliefs – andepistemically direct – they do not receive their warrant from another belief” (James Beilby, “Plantinga’s Model of Warranted Christian Belief” in Alvin Plantinga, ed. Deane-Peter Baker (Cambridge University Press: 2007) p. 47).
  • [12] David Mitsuo Nixon, “The Matrix Possibility” in The Matrix and Philosophy (2002), p. 28

About Guest Contributor

Steven DunnSteven Dunn is a blogger of Hellenistic Christendom, a blog that is fringed with philosophy and theology. Steven’s critically analyzes philosophical issues with passion and clarity. His desire to explore theological questions with the aim of understanding the centrality of Christ in all marks him as a great Christian philosopher in making.

Steven’s article originally appeared at Hellenistic Christendom.

Gordon Clark and The Falsity of Science

Test Tube

Dr. Gordon H. Clark (1902-1985) was a notable Christian philosopher from Butler University and was also just as widely known for his presuppositionalist thought in respect to his views on epistemology, education, science, and logic. Some of his books include Thales to Dewey (1989), Logic (1988), Behaviorism and Christianity (1982), The Philosophy of Science and Belief in God (1987), Three Types of Religious Philosophy (1989), A Christian Philosophy of Education (1988) and many others. The only work I’m interested in examining here for our discussion is his notable book, The Philosophy of Science and Belief in God (1987) [1].

Through the scope of this book, Clark makes the notable statement that “any argument for or against religion, any argument that claims scientific support, depends more on the philosophical implications of science than on bits of detailed information” [2]. Thus, through doing so (in light of this understanding), Clark tries to “sketch a philosophy of science” (xv). However, to what degree do arguments against religion from scientific groundings find serious complications for the theist?

In the Introduction to his book, Clark notes that “[v]arious scientists and several philosophers have used scientific conclusions in an attack against religion” [2]. Of course, this insight is one that Clark recognizes and also uses as a motivator to show that science cannot necessarily say anything regarding religious truths or propositions. I tend to agree on the ground of science’s very definition, but Clark speaks for himself. In the postscript to his book (“The Limits and Uses of Science”), Clark near the end of his essay writes that

[t]his article concerns physics; totally, totally, incompetent, both positively and negatively, to make any metaphysical or theological pronouncement. Science is always false, but often useful. [4]

This surely seems like a bold statement on behalf of Clark’s position. However, it is where we are led once we consider the “useless of science” when it is unleashed and unrestricted to other domains besides its own. As Clark writes,

Finally, to show the uselessness of science outside its own restricted sphere, science cannot determine its own value. No doubt, science enables man o dominate nature. [ … ] The value of science depends on the value of life; but the value of life, when suicide is a possible choice, and therefore, the value of science itself, must be determined by some sort of general philosophy, of which science is neither the whole or the base, but only a subsidiary part. [5]

Analyzing Clark’s Thesis

It should be first understood that although he himself was a presuppositionalist, Clark did not express the same views on science as Van Til did. Cornelius Van Til in his Christian Apologetics (2003) commented that modern philosophy, along with modern science, is inherently phenomenalistic. In other words, “ultimate reality is unknowable by man” [6]. A proper understanding of science, according to Van Til, would namely be to presuppose certain Christian truths in order preform an intelligible discourse in science. For instance, the doctrine of the Trinity, Divine Providence and the Doctrine of Creation contain respective claims where “the very aim and method of science requires these doctrines as their prerequisites” [7].

It is unclear as to how far Gordon Clark would go to agree with Van Til on this point, but I would personally say that he would disagree. Clark being a rationalist, saw science to be more independent from Christianity than Clark did. Though there isn’t necessarily any explicit evidence to show this (none that I know of), the language of Clark however denotes this resulted view  of science as somewhat successful and even separate from Christian truths. For instance, consider this passage from the postscript of Clark’s book:

Every student must choose a life work. The problem is a real one. But Christian students may face the alternative of preaching the Gospel or doing physics. They are not likely to deny that the Bible approves of every method of making a living except those that are sinful. There are many occupations; and not every Christian, however sincere, is obligated to enter the ministry. Science is therefore a legitimate vocation. [8]

There are of course other evidences to draw from Clark’s book, where he says that the “best-known fact about twentieth century physics is its tremendous advance beyond everything that has preceded,” [9] and so on and so forth.

However, as to whether or not I personally agree with Clark’s thesis is another issue. I believe he has some real insight in his presuppositionalism (although I myself am not a presuppositionalist), but the solution he tries to produce is a direction I believe that we (Christians) don’t have to go down in order to say that science cannot make “theological or metaphysical pronouncements.” Nonetheless, considerations and insights can be found throughout this book, although we may or may not disagree with it [10].

____________________________

Notes:

  • [1] Gordon H. Clark, The Philosophy of Science and Belief in God, 3rd edn. (The Trinity Foundation: 1996)
  • [2] Ibid., p. xv
  • [3] Ibid., xii
  • [4] Ibid., p. 113 – emphasis added.
  • [5] To allow Clark’s clarification: “contemporary confusions” refers to a possible title for his third chapter on contemporary physics. As he writes: “The changes in scientific theory that these experiments initiated proved to be far more revolutionary than at first suspected. Indeed, recent advances have left scientists grasping for breath. Things have become so disorganized and topsy-turvy that one is tempted to entitle the third chapter “Contemporary Confusion.” But in order not to frighten the timid no to prejudice the case before its hearing, we shall be content with the innocuous title, “The Twentieth Century” (xvii).
  • [5] Ibid., p. 95
  • [6] Cornelius Van Til, Christian Apologetics, 2nd edn. (P&R Publishing: 2003) p. 167
  • [7] Ibid., p. 58
  • [8] Clark (1996), p. 97
  • [9] Ibid., p. 63
  • [10] For further interest in the subject, see George Smith’s critique of Clark’s book at http://www.anthonyflood.com/smithclark.htm.

About Guest Contributor

Steven DunnSteven Dunn is a blogger of Hellenistic Christendom, a blog that is fringed with philosophy and theology. Steven’s critically analyzes philosophical issues with passion and clarity. His desire to explore theological questions with the aim of understanding the centrality of Christ in all  marks him as a great Christian philosopher in making.

Steven’s article originally appeared at Hellenistic Christendom.