God’s Omnipotence examined more in depth. (Part 1)

In this post I will give 2 different ways to understand the claim that God is omnipotent and evaluate each one. I will give two this post and I will do two more ways next post.

The first way to understand Omnipotence is to understand God as “completely” or “absolutely” omnipotent where God’s being omnipotent is formulated as follows:

1.)”God can….” will be true however you fill in the the blank, provided only that the result is a grammatical sentence.”

This way of understanding omnipotence is obviously problematic. The sentence “God can make 2+2=5″ is a grammatical sentence as well as “God can make a sentence of the form P & Not-P true”, thus this formulation will allow for impossible states of affairs. There is a sense in which God literally could do the impossible on this formulation which is obviously incoherent. This way of understanding omnipotence is rarely endorsed for this problem as well as others.

The second way of understanding omnipotence is as follows:

2.) God can perform every consistently describable feat (where a consistently describable feat is defined as a feat that satisfies the following condition: there is a possible state of affairs in which someone performs it.)

This formulation does not suffer from the problems of the previous formulation since it is believed by most philosophers that the laws of logic and mathematics are necessary truths thus there is no possible state of affairs in which anyone performs such feats as making two and two equal five or anything like that. But, there is a possible state of affairs in which God could then sin under this formulation thus, if you are a traditional theist (whom hold that God is essentially F, where F are Gods attributes that make him God) then this is a problem since you would hold that there is no possible state of affairs in which God sins. Now, if you are a non-traditional theist and you believe that God is merely contingently God then you may think that this formulation is fine but let us consider some more things God would then be able to do: There is a possible state of affairs in someone admires Hitler ( in fact this has actually happened), this means there is a possible state of affairs in which someone admires someone that God doesn’t admire. Thus, God could admire someone that God doesn’t admire.
Now, the non-traditional theist may say “Aha, I believe God is contingently God thus this formulation still doesn’t affect my belief” but if we use the tetragrammaton as a rigid designator (a way of picking out the very same being in every possible state of affairs) then we could replace God in the previous statement with YHWH and say that “YWHY could admire someone that YWHY doesn’t admire” and it would be a consistently describable feat. Thus, this is still a problem for both the traditional and non-traditional theist.

Preview: The next formulation will say “For any possible state of affairs, S, God can bring it about (i.e. ensure) that S obtains.” Try to think ahead for next week and come up with your own problems or objections to this view.

A Priori Justification: Defeasibility

I want this post to be a discussion about something of which I am unsure of. I want to know whether there can be a hierarchy of defeaters.

Let me give you a background story, I was discussing a priori justification with a group of my peers and we were talking about the fact that some experiences can defeat a belief you hold by some other experience (remembering you left the keys on the kitchen table only to find out you didn’t leave them on the table when you actually go to look for them…etc.). One of my peers argued that this “inconsistency” amongst experience based beliefs is a problem thus his formulation of a priori justification leaves out even the possibility of being defeated by experience.

I, on the other hand, argued there is a sense in which we have a hierarchy of what beliefs defeat others. I proposed that direct sensual perception will end up defeating all other experience based beliefs (testimony, memory, etc.). I even offered an example of experience defeating a possible a priori belief. The example I offered was of Hesperus and Phosphorus (the evening and morning star). Now, it was the belief of ancient astronomers that this one star was actually two stars. So, depending on how you justify a belief a priori, it seems that one can say that it is a priori justified to believe that one star can exist without the other (the morning star existing while the evening star does not). It would be analytic and it would be a necessary truth that one can exist without the other so it would a be hopeful candidate for being justified a priori according to those two non-epistemic conditions (which are quite popular in epistemology). But, it seems that if one actually flies into space and just looks at the star and realizes it is both the morning and evening star then one might say the belief that one star can exist without the other has now been defeated by experience.

In response I was offered an example of a person who holds the ability to see two completely different visual fields and not a blend of both eyes. It could be the case that if this person’s eyes malfunctioned they may see something being in two places at once (or some sort of contradiction of temporal objects) if you were to see some sort of contradiction occur, my peer asserts, you would not belief it. Instead you would realize by the logical law of noncontradiction that the belief is false. Since logical laws are a good candidates for being a priori knowledge it may be the case that an a priori belief could defeat the belief justified by experience.

So does the hierarchy of potential defeaters put experience at top? Or does it put a priori beliefs at the top?

God Can’t Do Everything.

I had a few realizations lately about the idea of the “triple-O God” and I would like to share them with you.

If an Omnipotent being is a being that can do anything then God seems to be omnipotent.

God (in Christianity) can’t break promises.

There exists at least one thing God can’t do.

Therefore, God is not omnipotent.

But, If an almighty being is a being who has power over everything then God is definitely almighty.

 

Faith Paradox

Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”.-John 20:29 ESV

This verse, and many other verses that seem to exemplify blind faith, create a paradox for me. It seems that that faith is viewed as a virtue, but faith can reach a level of being unreasonable and thus unrighteous. Let me give you an example.

Christianity seems to be okay with casting doubt on instances of faith with a weak foundation. The parable of the seeds and various soils is often used as an example of this in modern Evangelical churches. But how does this help poor Thomas, who is being spoken to by Jesus in the above passage, since it seems like Thomas just wanted a rich and enduring soil to have the seed of knowledge planted on? This is where faith can get confusing. If I promise you apples but I don’t seem to be able to provide apples, because you have no evidence that I can provide apples, then you will not have faith in my ability to give you apples. This is where evidence can bolster faith. And, it would in fact, seem like the most devoted of followers are those who truly have evidence for what they believe. But at the same time it seems like the most faithful are those who do not need any evidence.

Pruss’s Draft Example

Alexander Pruss wrote a brilliant article in response to Thomson’s “violinist” case. In summary, Thomson cleverly shows us that abortion is analogous to being asked to hook yourself up to a machine in order to keep someone else alive, which, would be a significant sacrifice of some of your critical freedoms. Pruss replies that it is more analogous to a draft for a war. So, Pruss and Thomson both seem to recognize that it encroaches on one’s freedoms but the argument comes down to whether it is justified or not. Pruss presupposes that a draft is just therefore he concludes that denying a woman’s right to an abortion is just. Pruss states the main problem here, “I think the draft case underlines that Thomson’s cases underestimate the degree to which we can be legitimately morally required to make significant sacrifices to save the lives of others”(Pruss).

Examining Pruss

It seems totally reasonable to disagree with Pruss and instead argue that Thomson didn’t underestimate the degree to which we can morally limit freedoms and perhaps it is the case that she is, in fact, against the draft (which would be a consistent belief). It seems that logically we only have 4 scenarios to conclude from this, two being consistent and two being inconsistent and even sexist.

1)If we accept the draft but do not deny women the right to an abortion then we have a case of sexism against men. Men would be making a more than equivalent sacrifice by offering our lives to a war effort. So, it would seem reasonable that women could deny themselves the freedom of abortion.

2)If we deny the draft and deny women the right to an abortion then we are accepting one of two things: abortion and the draft are at different “degrees” as Pruss would say or we are being sexist toward women.

3)If we accept the draft and deny women the right to an abortion then we have a consistent scenario.

4)If we deny the draft and let women have an abortion we have a consistent scenario.

 

One can then create a flow chart of sorts (presuming you understand how conditionals work logically) to see what would be the case. I think the draft is moral. So to have a morally consistent scenario it seems to be necessary to deny women a right to an abortion. Are there more options that I have overlooked?

Feel free to comment, please refrain from emotional responses. I am trying to stimulate a logical ethics discussion not push my opinion so please refrain from pushing yours (provide reasons for your opinion).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Work Cited: Alexander R. Pruss.  ”The Draft”. Alexanderpruss.blogspot.com. web. 1/12/2014
a link to his article below

http://alexanderpruss.blogspot.com/2014/01/the-draft.html#links

I think the draft case underlines that Thomson’s cases underestimate the degree to which we can be legitimately morally required to make significant sacrifices to save the lives of others.

Hume: Reasoning About Matters of Fact Part 2

Sorry for not being able to post last week. Here is this weeks post.

Perhaps Hume would say that the event of a shadow coming to be, like the event of the sun rising, would pass the IOC test. Hume may say that the physical event is different from the definition and then Hume may be allowed to accept definitions as relations of idea but still not certain matters of fact about shadows. Perhaps, then, our expecting shadows to be there is simply pattern recognition in humans. Perhaps there being shadows is a cause and effect relationship we set up between light and other objects that doesn’t seem justifiable. What about a world where light behaves differently? What if we were to imagine a place that exists such that if I were to cast a light on you no shadow would form behind you and instead of a dark shape of you we would just have an area of indistinguishable darkness? Or maybe the light would completely permeate you and travel behind you as well thus the light is visible infinitely in the direction it is pointed.

Rebuttal

            I think this is interesting to consider but yet again I do not believe this holds up well for two reasons: my imagining the way things could have been doesn’t affect the cause and effect relationship that holds between objects in this world; and some definitions are matters of fact. My first statement is the strongest statement against the IOC test. I don’t believe my imagining the world differently really makes a difference as to whether cause and effect is reliable. I don’t believe my ability to imagine the contraries of real events would give me a reason to doubt cause and effect.

My second point is that the definition of a shadow seems to also be a MOF. Take this statement as an example, “shadows are dark”. Does this set of words point out a MOF? Most would agree it does. Does it also point out part of what it is to be a shadow? Yes, it seems shadows need to be dark. Shadows, then, have some matters of fact that seem to be part of the definition of being a shadow. So, it seems that I would fail IOC test. But now we have a MOF that is also an ROI. If any MOF is given the same status as an ROI it means maybe some MOF are more trustworthy as others? This makes me doubt Hume’s skepticism even more.

Hume: Reasoning About Matters of Fact P1

(Next week I will consider a response from Hume)

In Hume’s work Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding he develops a well thought out and developed picture of what human understanding looks like. In this picture we can see that human understanding can only reason about two things; matters of fact and relations of ideas. Hume describes relations of ideas (ROI for short) as being like mathematical truths. These relations can be demonstrated and understood purely through thought and no physical objects would need to exist for any of these things to be true (truths about circles and triangles for example) and they are demonstrably true (if you were to imagine there contrary you could arrive at a contradiction). Next, there are the matters of fact which have contingent truth values. The nature of matters of fact implies that we cannot be as certain of them since we can always imagine the contradictory state of events (e.g. “the sun not rising tomorrow” and the contrary that “the sun will rise tomorrow”; both seem possible). Hume then reasons that we can only arrive at matters of fact by cause and effect reasoning. From here Hume doubts cause and effect which launches his whole skepticism.

It seems like the test he develops to distinguish between MOF and ROI isn’t sufficient enough to stop some apparent MOF from being ROI’s as well. This is my problem.

Hume’s Argument

Essentially, I see Hume’s reasoning to be as follows:

  1. If one had strong grounds for believing MOF to be true then one could establish the truth of MOF the same way one could establish the truth of ROI.
  2. It is not the case that one can establish the truth of MOF the same way one could establish the truth of ROI.
  3. Therefore, it is not the case that we have strong grounds for believing MOF to be true.

The argument is a very clear modus tollens argument so the validity is not in question. The problem with the argument is premise 2. Hume does not set up a good case for the truth of this premise and it has to do with the origins for his belief in premise 1. Let’s take a look at the justification for each premise.

Hume asserts the truth of premise 2 explicitly here “Matters of fact, which are the second objects of human reason, are not established in the same way; and we cannot have such strong grounds for thinking them true.”(Hume 11) In this quote we actually have Hume asserting premise 2 and 3 in conjunction but it is important to see the deductive work being done in the very same paragraph that implies premise 1. Premise 1 is derived from a test that Hume does that I call the imaginability-of-contraries (IOC for short) test. The test says that if one can imagine the contrary of a statement without implying a contradiction and can do it as easily and clearly as if it conformed to reality then that statement does not have a strong and reliable ground for its truth. Hume’s example involves whether the sun will rise tomorrow or not. One can easily imagine either one and not violate the two conditions set out by IOC test. I assume, because of the quote above, that this test is also Hume’s distinguishing factor between the MOF and ROI since it seems that ROI do not pass the IOC test. One, for example, cannot imagine the four sided triangle or the triangle whose sum of all its angles adds up to more than 180 degrees without implying a contradiction. When one asserts “the sun will not rise tomorrow” they assert something that passes the IOC test since it doesn’t imply a contradiction and one can easily imagine it and it would be clear as if it could conform with reality. This is where I believe Hume is fundamentally flawed.

The IOC Examined (My Argument)

            Mathematical truths fail the IOC because they are definitions of what it is to be a certain thing. Conducting the test is like me asking you to imagine the contrary of any arbitrary definition; obviously any contrary statement would imply a contradiction if that statement is the definition of something. Let’s say shadows are by definition the dark area or shape produced by a body coming between rays of light and a surface. Imagine a non-dark shadow (a well-lit shadow) it is implies a contradiction. Let’s say, by definition, for a star to be the Sun then it needs to be a star exactly 92,960,000 miles away from earth, the earth needs to be revolving around it at exactly 1 revolution per 365 days, etc. (add any other physical facts that define our sun distinctly from all other stars) and have part of the definition be that it will “rise” tomorrow (or more accurately that we continue to revolve around it) then by definition the sun will rise tomorrow. Now I cannot assert the statement “the sun will not rise tomorrow” without implying a contradiction. If I tried to assert that some sun was not to rise tomorrow it would be nonsense, we wouldn’t even be talking about the same object since that’s what it is to be the sun.

What about the second half of the test involving the imaginability of contraries? Doesn’t this say something about the sun since the numerically identical star to our sun can perhaps stop being our center point of revolution thus making our imagining the contrary of “the sun will rise tomorrow” seem plausible even given the definition of sun? It is true that this seems different from the triangle since one cannot imagine a four sided triangle in any sense at all. I would then implore the questioner to look at the shadow and try to imagine a light shadow. Not a relatively light shadow, I mean a shadow of light. This is simply impossible since the definition of shadow is not like the sun. The definition of shadow does more than point out what it is to be something at a given time in a given set of circumstances (like the star who is only our sun when we are revolving around it) but it truly defines what it is for a thing to be that thing. Shadows are an area of non-light (lack of light) and thus one cannot imagine the contrary for shadow. It seems plausible that one cannot talk about the contrary of shadow without talking about a completely different object. Thus we have a matter of fact, namely the definition of shadows, which fails the IOC test.

Animalism

This article will examine two arguments. One argument is for Animalism and one is against.

Animalism:Animalism, according to Olson, is the belief that all people are numerically identical to some animal. For each person there is a unique human organism and that organism is you. (Also, this animalism doesn’t say you are essentially an animal).

Brain-Transplant Argument

            Imagine a scenario where the cerebrum in your head is transplanted to another body. It seems plausible that you would perhaps go along with your cerebrum and now be in that other body. The being that receives your cerebrum will alone be mentally continuous with you (in any relevant sense of mental continuity) so you will not stay behind with an empty head but instead go along with your cerebrum. It seems that there is a human animal now lying behind with an empty head and another human animal with which you identify.  With the story above in mind the argument would look like this:

  1. I can be separated from my human animal.
  2. No human animal can be separated from itself.
  3. Thus, by Leibniz’s law I am not a human animal.

The argument is deductively valid so to reject the conclusion one must reject one of the premises. It is my belief that Olson would probably reject premise 1. Premise 1 only holds true by the principle of mental continuity which I believe Olson would reject, even though it is not explicitly stated by Olson that this is the premise he would reject.

The Thinking Animal Argument

            This argument is based on a few acute observations: we are intimately related to some human animal, it is located where you are located (for example sitting in the same chair you are sitting in), and it seems reasonable to believe that this animal can think. From these observations we receive the following:

  1. There exists an X such that X is a human animal and X is located where you are.
  2. For all X if X is located where you are and X is a human animal the X is thinking.
  3. For all X if X is located where you are and X is thinking then X is numerically identical to you.
  4. Thus, there exists and X such that X is a human animal and X is numerically identical to you.

This argument is likewise deductively valid. So again to reject the conclusion we must reject one the premises. Part of Olson’s argument is to do exactly that. Olson walks through what would happen if you were to reject any of the three premises.

Alternative one is to reject premise A. If you reject that there is a human animal located exactly where you are at this moment then you are rejecting the existence of all human animals. If you reject that fact that human animals exist it may be hard to believe in any organism’s existence. So Olson would believe that for most of us this alternative may not seem attractive.

Alternative two is to reject premise B. If you reject premise 2 then you are accepting that human animals cannot think. It is akin to saying that there is a human animal located where you are but it isn’t thinking. This, once again, would call into question the mental properties of all organisms. Rejecting this premise may lead you to believe that no material thing can think which would be difficult to prove. Thus, some of us may not want to conclude that organisms and material things cannot think.

Alternative three is to reject premise C. If you reject this premise then you are not alone. There would be a human animal thinking all of your thoughts located exactly where you are. This is the least attractive route. I believe the creepiness alone would lead us to reject this but there are other issues as well. Of the many problems we can say that the metaphysical distinction would be almost useless to make. It wouldn’t be practical in any given situation. It would also seem impossible to understand which one you are. Are you the animal or the mind thinking all the same thoughts as the animal? Would you ever know?

Because of the alternatives above we are led to believe that the thinking-animal argument is also sound. It seems that rejecting any of the premises would result in some strange and perhaps absurd results. But, we shall still evaluate both the thinking-animal argument and the brain-transplant argument by trying to deny a premise boldly.

Evaluation

First, let us evaluate the brain-transplant argument. It seems at first obvious that premise 2 is indisputable (no human animal can be separated from itself) since no object can be separated from itself (essentially).  So, premise 1 seems like the only reasonable premise to refuse. Now this has interesting results either way. Let’s assume you cannot be separated from your body, that is to say, you wouldn’t go along with your cerebrum. This is plausible and we would all accept this to be a different person. Let’s say you do go along with the cerebrum (in a mental continuous sense) but you reject the fact that you are the same person. This only seems plausible if you consider a case where you receive a significantly different body. If you were to receive a body that was lacking in abilities that the other body had you might be tempted to say that by Leibniz’s law you are a different person since there is something true of you now that was false of you previously. But, perhaps it is as C.S. Lewis says “You are a soul, you have a body,” and your mind (cerebrum) can just “possess” different bodies that aren’t essentially you so Leibniz’s law would not hold. To reject this possession way of thinking one must reject mental continuity. I do not have an opinion on mental continuity but mental continuity seems more plausible to me so I am tempted to say this argument is sound. Verily, both alternatives seem plausible.

When evaluating Olson’s thinking animal argument we are left with a much more difficult task. Olson does you the favor of considering all your alternatives for you which seems to narrow things down quickly but, also makes you feel ridiculous for rejecting any of the premises. Personally, I think the only premise one can reject while remaining rational and consistent would be premise B. As we discussed, Olson asserts that this leads you to the belief that human animals cannot think. Now, this might sound ridiculous to some but if you are a dualist and consider the mind separate from the human animal then perhaps this premise isn’t so hard to negate. Referring to the C.S. Lewis quote above, some dualist would say that it is obvious that human animals don’t think, souls think.  Since, as I mentioned earlier, Olson’s animalism doesn’t commit you to being essentially an animal. So, we can say that we are essentially a mind, a ghost in the machine, a soul, what have you, and then conclude there is a thinking thing and an animal located where we are located and we are that animal, (not essentially the animal though), yet it is not the case that the animals is thinking. But, we are still the thinking animal.

Conclusion

I am undecided on the matter. But I do believe it is possible for souls to exist so I would lean toward that counterargument against the thinking-animal argument.

Citation: In R. Martin and J. Barresi, eds., Personal Identity, Blackwell 2003: 318-34.

Berkeley Part 2: Berkeley’s Possible Response

Possible Berkeleyan Response

            I believe that Berkeley may have an underlying principle that would help support his ontology. In sections 5 through 6 Berkeley gives us a test we can’t seem to pass, the test being, abstract the principle of being perceived from the object.  So for example Berkeley demonstrates that he himself can abstract something if what is meant by abstraction is imagining some thing’s existence apart from those things that it exists in combination with. For example, Berkeley says we can imagine a torso without the arms or the smell of rose without the rose even if we have never experienced this. But, we cannot separate the perceptibility of the object from the object. If we try we are left with no object at all. This why Berkeley believes there is a necessary connection to the things being perceived and it being. Thus it would render many of my question-begging objections false since he is merely describing objects the way the way they seem to exist; inseparable from their being perceived (and in a demonstrable way by the example of abstraction).

Rebuttal

            I don’t believe this a very sound objection to there being no physical objects. Berkeley may put me in an agnostic state toward matter but I don’t believe he can prove that matter doesn’t exist. I say this because the abstraction example above, while powerful, seems to be true even if matter does exist. The logically consistent story we would give back to Berkeley would be that of a Humean nature (where one cannot imagine anything unperceived). If matter exists and we can perceive it, and we cannot conceive of anything we haven’t perceived, then we just have a strong connection between ideas and things sensed. Imagine something you haven’t perceived (and isn’t just an adding or subtracting or composition of ideas and so on…). You can’t. So of course you can’t abstract the perceptible qualities from the object of thought. If perceiving is a necessary condition for having the idea of something then we could never have this non-sense of abstracting perceptible qualities from a thing.

Philosophy and the Real World: Leadership Class

So my partner so brilliantly wrote a piece Studying Philosophy, Getting a Job, and Saving the World. Which is ever so fitting for the question of what is a philosophy supposed to do to make some money in this world. I however am the philosopher that has spent time in a number of other fields. Some of these have been more conducive to philosophy than others. My current position is an Executive Director of Tri-County Love INC, a nonprofit that works with churches to help people in need.

My role puts me as a community leader in my small town and I regularly participate in leadership type activities. One particular leadership class caught my attention, because it was free for my wife and I, and it provided lunch and dinner.

One particular topic found our curriculum caught me off guard with my philosophical training. Granted in the field of leadership development, is a very progressive field and not as rigorous as analytic philosophy. The discussion of conflicts categorized them into relationship conflicts, data conflicts, interest conflicts, structural conflicts and value conflicts. The last is the one of most interest.

The curriculum defined value conflicts as “caused by perceived or actual incompatible belief systems.” Personally, I think the definition needs more, but I can agree with it for the class. However, a few sentences later we run across this problem. “Value disputes arise only when people attempt to force one set of values on others or lay claim to exclusive value systems that do not allow for divergent beliefs.”

Really… Did I just read that. No doubt they missed that the very statement written is a value statement. In our politically correct, want to offend no one culture, this statement is taken as a truth. It is likely the one absolute truth in the whole class.

Another quote to show the absurdity of this paragraph, “Differing values need not cause conflict.” This can only be true if we accept that harmony with others is a more important value than our current beliefs. However, there are some values that are actually of greater importance than harmony: justice, honesty and courage.

In a nutshell, what can I say that my background in philosophy has done? It gave me tools to critique information presented as truth, by understanding and finding the logical inconsistencies.