bookmark_borderTaking Atheism Ignorantly

Here is something that appeared recently in an article by one Michael Egnor on a site called “Evolution News.” He advocates taking atheism seriously.
https://evolutionnews.org/2017/11/taking-atheism-seriously/
If you look closely you will see that the article has nothing directly to do with evolution. This really is not surprising since, despite its name, “Evolution News” is not a site containing news and information about evolutionary science. It is a creationist site. Maybe we atheists should start a site called “Creationism Triumphs over Godless Evolution” and fill it with anti-creationist articles.
Be that as it may, Mr. Egnor, in the midst of blaming atheists for the Sutherland Falls massacre, and worldwide atrocities in general, nevertheless generously offers to set us atheists straight by showing us what we really believe. I have addressed the canard that atheism is responsible for the atrocities of communists in great detail elsewhere, so I will not repeat those points here.
https://secularfrontier.infidels.org/2015/04/27/not-this-again/
Here I will simply take Mr. Egnor’s offer to enlighten me about the consequences of my own beliefs at face value, being, as I am, always happy to defer to one who is wiser. Here is his statement:
“The problem that atheists have with reflection on their own beliefs is that they don’t…take their own atheism seriously.
So, let’s do it for them. If atheism is true, the following are true:

  1. There is no God.
  2. Nothing caused everything for no reason.
  3. There is no ultimate purpose for anything.
  4. There is no afterlife.
  5. Human beings are just animals.
  6. There is no objective morality (follows necessarily from 1, 2, 3, 5).
  7. There is no ultimate accountability (follows necessarily from 1-6).
  8. There is no free will (follows from 5).
  9. There is no guilt or innocence in a moral sense (follows from 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8).

I’m sure you can add a few more necessary items to the Atheist Nicene Creed.”
Thanks, Mr. Egnor! Still, if someone is claiming to spell out my Creed for me, I hope he will not mind if I take a look to see if I can really agree with each of its points:
1) “There is no God.” Congrats, Mr. Egnor! You have succeeded in stating the fact that atheists do not believe in God! A promising start!
2) “Nothing caused everything for no reason.” Uh oh. This is gibberish. Nobody, not even atheists can believe this, because it is utter nonsense. It is like saying that Mr. Egnor believes that colorless blue ideas sleep furiously. Somebody might say something like that, but nobody can believe it because it has no coherent content.
Is Mr. Egnor trying to get at something that atheists actually do believe? Atheists, like theists, believe that something is uncaused. Theists say that it is God; atheists, at least the ones that are naturalists, say that the universe (or the multiverse) in its most basic and general features, has no cause. In other words, the basic disagreement between theists and naturalists is over what is the best candidate for an ultimate brute fact—God, or something else. Maybe atheists are claiming something questionable here, but, if so, it needs to be shown by argument, not by dismissive put-downs.
3) “There is no ultimate purpose for anything.” Sure there is. The ultimate purpose of my car is to get me from one place to the other. The ultimate purpose of my university (as I have to remind administrators on occasion) is the discovery and transmission of knowledge. Aristotle argued that the ultimate purpose of human life is to achieve eudaimonia (and I agree). Surely, Mr. Egnor is aware of such instances of purposefulness. What then does he mean?
He means, I guess, that atheists disagree with theists when they claim that the universe was made by God for a purpose. Since we atheists do not believe that the universe was made, we do not believe that it was made for a purpose. What follows? Mr. Egnor thinks that a lot does, so let’s see.
4) “There is no afterlife.” Technically, there is nothing in atheism, per se, that denies the existence of an afterlife. Atheists could believe in souls (some have), and therefore could believe in an afterlife. However, if atheists are also naturalists, then they will not believe in souls, or anything supernatural, and so will not believe in an afterlife.
5) “Human beings are just animals.” Human beings are animals. That is a biological fact. Humans are indeed biological organisms, classified as Homo sapiens in the taxonomic system of binomial nomenclature. Atheists tend to be fact-friendly so, we happily accept this one.
However, Mr. Egnor is not asserting the biological fact that atheists accept—that humans are animals–but that human beings are JUST animals. What belief does he mean to impute to atheists by his word “just?” If he means to imply by that “just” that atheists hold that, lacking souls, humans will have no afterlife, then his claim here would seem to be redundant, having been already stated in his previous claim. What else could he mean by that “just?” If he means that humans—as is allegedly the case with nonhuman animals—are incapable of rationality and morality, then atheists (with the exception of Alex Rosenberg) do not generally accept that, and the imputation is therefore a straw man.
6) “There is no objective morality (follows necessarily from 1, 2, 3, 5).” When someone says that something follows, indeed follows “necessarily,” from certain claims, it is generally preceded by an argument. I find nothing remotely resembling an argument here. The consequence is merely asserted as though it were dead obvious. May I suggest that what seems obvious to Mr. Egnor might, in fact, not be? Since we have no argument but only assertion, I will make a counter-assertion here: Far from stating a necessary consequence, this claim is a gross non sequitur. BTW, I would not be the only one to hold that there can be a secular basis for objective morality. Others that would hold this would include Aristotle, Immanuel Kant, John Stuart Mill, and quite a few others.
7) “There is no ultimate accountability (follows necessarily from 1-6).” If by “ultimate accountability,” Mr. Egnor means that atheists do not accept that there will be a final judgment and an assignment to heaven or hell, then he is right. We think that morality is possible without the bribery of heaven or the terrorism of hell. Guilty as charged. However, from the fact that there is no “ultimate” (i.e. postmortem) accountability it does not follow that atheists do not believe in accountability.
8) “There is no free will (follows from 5).” If by “free will” Mr. Egnor means free will in the libertarian sense—where choices are neither determined nor random but are due to an occult power called “agent causation”—then such a view is often derided by atheists as a fantasy of questionable coherence. Indeed, that is my view of it. However, if “free will” can encompass a compatibilist sense, then many atheists (including me) have no problem with it. If something is wrong with the compatibilist view, this has to be argued, not assumed.
9) “There is no guilt or innocence in a moral sense (follows from 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8).” Alas, this another egregious non sequitur where Mr. Egnor permits himself to draw vast conclusions from no argument at all.  The consequence is a malicious caricature of atheism. No, actually, it is not even a caricature, since a caricature bears some similarity to its object. Mr. Egnor’s effusion (It is not an argument) seems merely to function to articulate his private fantasy about what he would like to believe about atheists.
Alas, then, I cannot accept Mr. Egnor’s offer of enlightenment. Instead, let me offer him a modest bit of advice: Maybe read some atheists before you draw vast conclusions about what they “must” believe. Maybe you could start with Erik Wielenberg and Owen Flanagan. It really is more effective to criticize from a position of knowledge than ignorance.

bookmark_borderFeser’s Case for God – Part 6: Ambiguity and Unclarity

LACK OF SPECIFICATION IN PREMISE (2)
The more I examine Chunk #1 of Feser’s Aristotelian argument for God, in Chapter 1 of Five Proofs of the Existence of God (hereafter: FPEG), the more ambiguous and unclear this part of the argument seems to be.
The problems begin with premise (2):

2. But change is the actualization of a potential.   (FPEG, Location 477 )

I initially interpreted premise (2) as asserting this more specific universal generalization:

2a.  ALL LOGICALLY POSSIBLE changes are instances of the actualization of a potential ATTRIBUTE of a SUBSTANCE.

One commenter who has closely followed this series of posts, and who appears to be familiar with Feser’s case for God, objects that Feser does not intend to discuss ALL LOGICALLY POSSIBLE changes here, and, in any case, that Feser’s argument works just fine if we reduce the scope of changes under consideration to something like ALL PHYSICALLY POSSIBLE changes, or ALL NATURAL CHANGES.  One might also reasonably consider reducing the quantifier from ALL to SOME (i.e. AT LEAST ONE).
So (2a), unlike (2), specifies a quantifier: “ALL”, and (2a), unlike (2), specifies the scope of changes under discussion: “LOGICALLY POSSIBLE”, and (2a), unlike (2), specifies the type of thing that can be potential:  an “ATTRIBUTE”, and (2a), unlike (2) specifies the type of thing that can have a potential: a “SUBSTANCE”.
While I don’t claim that (2a) is the correct or best interpretation of (2), it seems to me that (2a) is much more clear, and much less ambiguous than premise (2).  In fact, it seems to me that (2) is so unclear and so ambiguous that it is not possible to rationally evaluate whether premise (2) is TRUE or FALSE, but I am much more optimistic about rational evaluation of (2a).
 
DIFFERENT INTERPRETATIONS OF (2) HAVE DIFFERENT IMPACTS
Furthermore, in terms of evaluating Chunk #1 of Feser’s Aristotelian argument,  it makes a significant difference what we decide the intended quantifier is, and what we decide the intended scope of changes under discussion is, and what type of thing (or types of things) can be a potential, and what type of thing (or types of things) can have a potential.
Let’s consider some different possible interpretations of premise (2) and note how the different clarifications of this premise impact the soundness or validity or cogency of the first inference in Chunk #1.
 
ORIGINAL WORDING:

1. Change is a real feature of the world.

2. But change is the actualization of a potential.

3. So, the actualization of potential is a real feature of the world.  (FPEG, Location 477 )

VERSION I:

1a. At least one logically possible change has actually occurred.

2a. All logically possible changes that actually occur are instances of the actualization of a potential.

THEREFORE:

3a. At least one instance of the actualization of a potential has actually occurred.

This version appears to be logically VALID.  However, premise (2a) makes a very strong claim, and I have serious doubts about the truth of (2a), so this version might well be UNSOUND.  Furthermore, (2a) does not appear to be a reasonable interpretation of Feser, given other things that Feser has to say about the actualization of a potential.
VERSION II:

1a. At least one logically possible change has actually occurred.

2b. At least one logically possible change would be an instance of the actualization of a potential (if such a change were to actually occur).

THEREFORE:

3a. At least one instance of the actualization of a potential has actually occurred.

This version is clearly INVALID.  It has the same invalid logical form as this argument:

Some People are Tall people.

Some People are Short people.

THEREFORE:

Some Short people are Tall people.

VERSION III:

1a. At least one logically possible change has actually occurred.

2c. At least one logically possible change that has actually occurred is an instance of the actualization of a potential.

THEREFORE:

3a. At least one instance of the actualization of a potential has actually occurred.

Although this argument is logically VALID,  (2c) logically implies (3a) all by itself, because (2c) assumes or presupposes the truth of (1a), it is not a cogent argument.   Because (2c) implies (3a) all by itself, this appears to be a QUESTION BEGGING argument.  If one doubts (3a), then one will also doubt (2c), so it is inappropriate to use (2c) as the basis for establishing the truth of (3a).
VERSION IV:

1a. At least one logically possible change has actually occurred.

2d. All actual changes are instances of the actualization of a potential.

THEREFORE:

3a. At least one instance of the actualization of a potential has actually occurred.

Although this version is not formally valid, it does appear to be deductively valid, because (1a) implies that there has been at least one actual change, and in combination with (2d) that logically implies (3a).   However, (2d) is presumably known either by means of inductive reasoning from experienced examples of actual changes (and is thus an empirical generalization), or by means of analysis of concepts to confirm that (2d) as an analytic truth.
In order to know (2d) by induction from examples, we must first determine that at least one actual change was an instance of the actualization of a potential, but then that would require knowing (3a) to be true, so if (2d) is known by means of induction from experienced examples, then we must FIRST determine whether (3a) is true, in order to establish that (2d) is true, but then we would be reasoning in a circle to infer (3a) from (2d).
On the other hand, if we know (2d) on the basis of the analysis of concepts, independent from experience, then we cannot eliminate any logically possible changes from the scope of the phrase “actual changes”.  So, in order to determine that (2d) is an analytic truth, we need to first determine whether ALL LOGICALLY POSSIBLE CHANGES that actually occur must be instances of the actualization of a potential.  But that brings us back to VERSION I of the argument, and to the problem that (2a) is a very strong claim that appears to be highly dubious.
VERSION V:

1b. At least one physically possible change has actually occurred.

2e. All physically possible changes that actually occur are instances of the actualization of a potential.

THEREFORE:

3a. At least one instance of the actualization of a potential has actually occurred.

Again, we either know (2e) to be an empirical truth on the basis of induction from experience, or we know it to be an analytic truth on the basis of conceptual analysis.  In order to know (2e) to be true on the basis of induction from experience, we would need to first determine that one example of an actual change was an instance of the actualization of a potential, but that means that we would have to determine whether (3a) was true as an initial step towards evaluation of the truth of (2e).  So, if we turn around and later use (2e) as support for (3a), we would be reasoning in a circle.
Could we determine (2e) to be true by means of a conceptual analysis of this claim in order to show it to be an analytic truth?  Perhaps, we could.  Perhaps the concept of a “physically possible change” is best understood and best explained by reference to the idea that things have natural tendencies to change in specific ways in specific circumstances, and that the concepts of “potential” and “actualized” play key roles in such an analysis of the concept of a “physically possible change”.
Unfortunately,  I don’t think that Version V is what Feser had in mind in Chunk #1 of his Aristotelian argument.  In any case, Feser does not argue for a logical or conceptual tie between “physically possible changes” and “the actualization of a potential”, so although I think that Version V is more interesting than the other versions previously mentioned, I don’t think it reflects Feser’s thinking.
 
CLOSING REMARKS
There is a great deal of ambiguity and unclarity in premise (2) of Feser’s Aristotelian argument, which makes it difficult, if not impossible to rationally evaluate that premise.  Part of the unclarity results from a lack of specificity concerning the SCOPE of changes under discussion, and the QUANTIFICATION of claims about changes.  Different interpretations/versions of the initial inference of Chunk #1 of Feser’s Aristotelian argument show that there are different problems with the argument depending on which version/interpretation one adopts.
Furthermore, I have not said much about the problem of unclarity in relation to the type of thing(s) that could BE a potential, and the type of thing(s) that could HAVE a potential.  It makes a difference whether we are talking about potential attributes or potential substances or potential events or potential processes or ALL of these different sorts of potentials, or some combination of these different types of potentials.  It also makes a difference whether we are talking about substances having potentials or events having potentials or other types of things having potentials, or some combination of these different types of things having potentials. None of this is clearly specified by Feser.
Finally, Feser does not, at least not in Chapter 1, define what the phrase “a potential” means, nor does he define the phrase “actualizing a potential”, nor does he define the terms “substance” or “attribute”, which seem to be used or implied in his discussion of examples of the actualization of a potential.
At this point, I don’t see a way to rationally evaluate premise (2).  It stands in need of further specification and clarification.  I will probably move on to examine the rest of Chunk #1, leaving premise (2) as a claim that I cannot, at this point, evaluate as either true or false.  Perhaps, seeing what use Feser makes of premise (2) will help to clarify the meaning of this premise, and make it possible to rationally evaluate it later.

bookmark_borderJust how Religious is the Religious Right?

Just how religious is the “religious right?” Very. Just ask them. They will tell you moving stories about how they were lost sinners but gave their hearts to Christ, and have been living the blessed life every since. If being “religious” means being able to give a moving testimony, then they are certainly religious people. Or, perhaps, you are religious if you vigorously assent to every point of doctrine, even the flatly irrational ones. Surely, for someone to believe that, for instance, the earth is only 6000 years old, or that the universe was created in six literal days, or that all human languages had their origin at the Tower of Babel, requires, as Hume put it, a faith that “…subverts all the principles of his understanding…”   Surely, only religious motivation can induce such spectacular credulity.
On the other hand, being religious also normally implies a serious commitment to a set of ultimate values, values that are supposed to transcend every mundane or temporal interest, agenda, or desire. These values are supposed to be absolute in that they imply imperatives that are categorical, and never merely hypothetical. Thou shalt or thou shalt not; no “ifs,” “ands,” or “buts.” Activists of the religious right are quick to appeal to such supposed values, holding them up as shining, permanent ideals, not to be surrendered to wishy-washy relativism, moral fads, or political correctness. For instance, “family values” were loudly and intransigently proclaimed against the supporters of LGBT rights, and were taken to supersede all temporal authority, such as that of the U.S. Supreme Court.
Yet, it is truly breathtaking how the stalwarts of the allegedly religious right will drop those values in a nanosecond as soon as they become politically inexpedient. Nothing could illustrate this more clearly than the support evangelicals give to Donald Trump and Roy Moore. When the Access Hollywood video became available, with Trump bragging about how, as a star, he could just grab women by the [Bleep], I thought “OK, that’s that.” Surely no evangelical Christian could support a candidate who boasted of such gross indecency. But they did—overwhelmingly. A higher percentage of evangelicals voted for Trump than they did for Mitt Romney or John McCain.
The Roy Moore case is even worse. Moore became a darling of the religious right when he stood up against the evil, secular judges who insisted that he remove “Roy’s Rock,” a multi-ton boulder inscribed with the Ten Commandments, from state property in Montgomery. More recently, as Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, he instructed probate judges to follow Alabama’s ban on same-sex marriages, although the U.S. Supreme Court had declared such bans unconstitutional. In both instances, Moore was removed from his elected position as Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, and so became a martyr for the religious right.
Yet now a number of women have stepped forward claiming that when they were teenagers, Moore, then in his thirties, committed acts of gross indecency or sexual assault against them. Moore furiously repudiates these claims, but their prima facie credibility has led many prominent Republicans to question Moore’s fitness to serve in the U.S. Senate—a low bar, indeed. However, Moore’s evangelical base has not wavered in its support. According to polls reported last night on MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell Show, a third of Moore supporters have actually declared themselves more committed to vote for Moore since the accusations were made.
Clearly, then, evangelical Christians of the religious right are deeply committed to moral values. Except when they are not. They are not the moment those values threaten to interfere with political aims. This makes me wonder how genuinely religious the religious right actually is. If political aims instantly eclipse supposedly religious values, then you must wonder whether, despite mealy-mouthed protestations of piety, those alleged values really matter at all. Actions, of course, speak louder than lip-service. It appears, then, that the “religious” part of the religious right serves mainly to drape a rhetorical fig leaf over naked politics. Politics is about power, and power is clearly the one true value of the “religious” right.

bookmark_borderFeser’s Case for God – Part 5: Potential Attributes vs. Contingent Attributes

POTENTIAL ATTRIBUTES VS. CONTINGENT ATTRIBUTES
I think (i.e. strongly suspect) it is important to understand the relationship between Edward Feser’s concept of the potential attributes of X and logical possibility.  Feser does not provide clarification on this point, at least not in Chapter 1 of his book Five Proofs of the Existence of God (hereafter: FPEG), where he introduces and makes use of the concept of the potential attributes of X.  So, I think it is worthwhile to try to figure this out for ourselves.
In particular, I think it is important to understand the relationship between Feser’s concept of  the potential attributes of X and the somewhat similar concept of the logically contingent attributes of X.  So, I’m going to make an effort to develop a clearer understanding of this subject.
 
DEFINITIONS CONCERNING LOGICAL POSSIBILITY
Logically Contingent Attribute:

An attribute A is a logically contingent attribute of X

IF AND ONLY IF

A is a logically possible attribute of X and A is NOT a logically necessary attribute of X.

Logically Possible Attribute:

An attribute A is a logically possible attribute of X

IF AND ONLY IF 

the statement that “X has attribute A” is a logically possible statement.

Logically Necessary Attribute:

An attribute A is a logically necessary attribute of X

IF AND ONLY IF 

the statement that “X has attribute A” is a logically necessary statement.

 
EXAMPLES OF TYPES OF ATTRIBUTES

  • Being married is NOT a logically possible attribute of a bachelor.
  • Being four sided is NOT a logically possible attribute of a triangle.
  • Being six feet tall is a logically possible attribute of a bachelor.
  • Having a right angle is a logically possible attribute of a triangle.
  • Being six feet tall is NOT a logically necessary attribute of a bachelor.
  • Having a right angle is NOT a logically necessary attribute of a triangle.
  • Being unmarried is a logically necessary attribute of a bachelor.
  • Being three sided is a logically necessary attribute of a triangle.
  • Being six feet tall is a logically contingent attribute of a bachelor (because this attribute is both logically possible and NOT logically necessary for a bachelor).
  • Having a right angle is a logically contingent attribute of a triangle (because this attribute is both logically possible and NOT logically necessary for a triangle).

 
EXCLUSION OF LOGICALLY NECESSARY ATTRIBUTES
I have defined the concept of a logically contingent attribute so that this EXCLUDES logically necessary attributes, because we are concerned with analysis of the concept of CHANGE, and there is an important feature of logically necessary attributes that relates to CHANGE.
It is important to note that a person who is a bachelor can, of course, become a married person.  But when he does so, he instantaneously and necessarily ceases to be a bachelor.  All bachelors are necessarily unmarried, but it is fairly easy for a bachelor to get married, and thus to cease being a bachelor.  What is ruled out here is the possibility of someone becoming a married person while remaining a bachelor.
A triangle cannot BECOME a three-sided plane figure, because the attribute of having three sides is a logically necessary attribute of a triangle.  We can take a square object (having four sides), remove one side of it, and connect the remaining sides to form a triangle (having just three sides).  So, the number of sides that an object or figure has can be CHANGED, but because triangles necessarily have three sides,  it is NOT logically possible for a triangle to change from having four sides to having three sides, because the initial four-sided object could not have been a triangle.  Nor can a figure change from having three sides to having four sides, and remain a triangle through that process.
 
TWO GENERAL CASES
There are TWO GENERAL CASES concerning the relationship between the referents of the phrases “the potential attributes of X” and “the logically contingent attributes of X”:
I.  The phrase “the potential attributes of X” refers to the same set of attributes as the phrase “the logically contingent attributes of X” (for any X, where X specifies a particular being or a category of beings).

OR

II. It is NOT the case that the phrase “the potential attributes of X” refers to the same set of attributes as the phrase “the logically contingent attributes of X” (for any X, where X specifies a particular being or a category of beings).
The “OR” here is EXCLUSIVE.  If CASE I holds, then CASE II does not hold.  If CASE II holds, then CASE I does not hold.
 
THINKING ABOUT CASE I
Let’s think about CASE I for minute.  If the phrase “the potential attributes of X” refers to the same set of attributes as the phrase “the logically contingent attributes of X”, then I don’t think I have any objection to Feser’s characterization of CHANGE in terms of a potential attribute of something becoming an actual attribute of that thing.
This characterization would, however, be trivial, obvious, and uninformative, because it just means that a CHANGE must start with a logically possible state of affairs and end up with a different logically possible state of affairs.  It is obvious and self-evident and trivial that a CHANGE cannot begin from a logically IMPOSSIBLE state of affairs, and it is obvious and trivial that a CHANGE cannot end up with a logically IMPOSSIBLE state of affairs.  But Feser seems to think that there is some significant, non-obvious, non-trivial truth in his characterization of the nature of CHANGE, so it seems to me that CASE I does not fit with Feser’s understanding of his characterization of CHANGE.
Furthermore,  when Feser asserts that hot coffee can CHANGE to cold coffee on the grounds that coldness is a potential attribute of coffee, he seems to be saying something MORE than just that it is logically possible for coffee to have the attribute of being cold.  He seems to be implying that there is something in the nature of coffee that makes it the sort of thing that can be cold.  This is more like the concept of physical possibility than the concept of logical possibility.
It is physically possible for coffee to be cold, and this physical possibility is more than mere logical possibility.  It is not physically possible for a man to walk on water, but it is logically possible for a man to walk on water.  Thus, the claim that it is physically possible to for X to do Y asserts MORE than the claim that it is logically possible for X to do Y.  Similarly, it seems that when Feser claims that “A is a potential attribute of X”  (e.g. “Coldness is a potential attribute of coffee”), he is asserting something MORE than just that the statement “A has attribute X”  (e.g. “This coffee is cold”) is a logically possible statement.
Therefore,  it seems to me that CASE I FAILS to provide an accurate characterization of the relationship between Feser’s concept of a potential attribute, and the concept of a logically contingent attribute.
 
ANALYSIS OF CASE II SCENARIOS
CASE II is a bit more complicated, because it encompasses three different scenarios, each of which needs to be considered and evaluated:
IIA.  At least one potential attribute of X is NOT a logically contingent attribute of X (AND it is NOT the case that at least one logically contingent attribute of X is NOT a potential attribute of X).

OR

IIB. At least one logically contingent attribute of X is NOT a potential attribute of X (AND it is NOT the case that at least one potential attribute of X is NOT a logically contingent attribute of X).

OR

IIIC. At least one potential attribute of X is NOT a logically contingent attribute of X, AND at least one logically contingent attribute of X is NOT a potential attribute of X.
The “OR” here is EXCLUSIVE.  If  Case IIA holds, then Case IIB and Case IIC do not.  If Case IIB holds, then Case IIA and Case IIC do not.  If Case IIC holds, then Case IIA and Case IIB do not.
 
CASE IIA
IIA.  At least one potential attribute of X is NOT a logically contingent attribute of X (AND it is NOT the case that at least one logically contingent attribute of X is NOT a potential attribute of X).
If there is a potential attribute of X that is NOT a logically contingent attribute of X, then either there is a potential attribute of X that is such that X cannot possibly have that attribute, or there is a potential attribute of X that is a logically necessary attribute of X.  Let’s consider the first alternative:
There is a potential attribute of X that is such that it is NOT logically possible for X to have that attribute.
This makes no sense in relation to the concept of a CHANGE.  For example, it is not logically possible for a triangle to have four sides.  To say that “having four sides” is a potential attribute of a triangle would be very misleading, to say the least.  Furthermore, since it is logically impossible for a triangle to have four sides, it is logically impossible for a triangle to ACTUALLY become four sided.  This is a “potential” that there is no possibility of ever being actualized.  It makes no sense to talk about CHANGE in terms of a “potential” that it is logically impossible to realize.
Let’s consider the second alternative:
There is a potential attribute of X that is a logically necessary attribute of X.
This also makes no sense in relation to the concept of a CHANGE.  For example, having three sides is a logically necessary attribute of a triangle, so a all triangles must always have three sides.  This means that it can never be the case that a triangle BECOMES three-sided.  In order to BECOME three-sided, something must start out not being three-sided.  So, it would be very misleading to say that having three sides is a “potential” attribute of a triangle, at the very least.  Furthermore, since all triangles must always have three sides, it is not logically possible for a triangle to BECOME three-sided, so it is not logically possible for the attribute of having three sides to be actualized for a triangle.  Any existing triangle will already have three sides.
CASE IIA FAILS to provide us with a concept of a “potential attribute of X” that can be used to reasonably analyze the concept of CHANGE as the actualization of a potential attribute.
 
CASE IIB
IIB. At least one logically contingent attribute of X is NOT a potential attribute of X (AND it is NOT the case that at least one potential attribute of X is NOT a logically contingent attribute of X).
In this case, there is a logical possibility that X lacks an attribute at one point in time and has that attribute at a later point in time, but this would be considered to be a case in which there was no CHANGE to X, because the attribute in question was not a “potential attribute” of X.
If X lacks an attribute at one point in time and has that attribute at a later point in time, then X has CHANGED.  It makes no difference whether obtaining that attribute was natural, or normal, or in keeping with the nature of X.  Even if that attribute is unnatural, or unusual, or abnormal for X, if X goes from lacking that attribute to having that attribute, then X has CHANGED.
This is similar to the distinction between logical possibility and physical possibility, and to the claim that the concept of CHANGE is restricted to physically possible events.  It is physically impossible to swim across the Atlantic ocean in one minute, but logically possible to do so.  If someone were to swim across the Atlantic ocean in one minute, then the location of that person has CHANGED, whether or not this event was physically possible.  The concept of CHANGE is NOT constrained by the limits of physical possibility; it is only constrained by the limits of logical possibility.  Similarly, the concept of CHANGE is NOT constrained by the limits of “potential attributes of X” if this is something narrower than the constraint of logical possibility (or “logically contingent attributes of X”).
CASE IIB FAILS to provide us with a concept of a “potential attribute of X” that can be used to reasonably analyze the concept of CHANGE as the actualization of a potential attribute.
 
CASE IIC
This third case has the problems of both CASE IIA and of CASE IIB.
CASE IIC FAILS to provide us with a concept of a “potential attribute of X” that can be used to reasonably analyze the concept of CHANGE as the actualization of a potential attribute.
 
CONCLUSION
The assumption that the phrase “the potential attributes of X” has the same referents as the phrase “the logically contingent attributes of X” makes Feser’s theory of CHANGE obvious and trivial, and it  FAILS to accurately interpret what Feser means by “potential attributes”.  So, CASE I  FAILS as an interpretation of a key concept in Feser’s metaphysical theory of CHANGE.
However, CASE II scenarios ALL FAIL to provide a concept of “the potential attributes of X” that can be used to reasonably analyze the concept of CHANGE.
Therefore, either Feser’s theory of CHANGE is obvious and trivial, or the key concept of “the potential attributes of X” makes it so that Feser FAILS to provide a reasonable analysis of the concept of CHANGE as the actualization of a potential attribute.

bookmark_borderStand by Your Moore (Roy, that is)

Roy Moore’s supporters are standing by their man, despite highly plausible claims of sexual impropriety with girls in their early teens.
https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/roy-moore-supporters-stand-by-their-candidate-despite-sexual-assault-allegations?mbid=nl_Daily%20111017&CNDID=51648882&spMailingID=12332353&spUserID=MjMxNTQxMDUwNTE2S0&spJobID=1280982401&spReportId=MTI4MDk4MjQwMQS2
Damn liberals! Roy is a good ol’ boy! He was just tryin’ to put a little fun in his fundamentalism.
Question: How often did the famously homophobic Moore condemn gays because they allegedly target the underage? More than once, I’ll wager.

bookmark_borderFeser’s Case for God – Part 4: Coffee with Parmenides

THE ARGUMENT FOR PREMISE (3)
In his book Five Proofs of the Existence of God (hereafter: FPEG), Edward Feser presents an Aristotelian argument for God in Chapter 1.  In Part 2 of this series I divided that argument into seven chunks.  Chunk #1 consists of premises (1) through (14).  The first sub-argument in Chunk #1 goes like this:

  1. Change is a real feature of the world.
  2. But change is the actualization of a potential.
  3. So, the actualization of potential is a real feature of the world.

I am very skeptical and suspicious about premise (2), because acceptance of this premise seems to involve acceptance of a dubious metaphysical theory, or a significant portion of a dubious metaphysical theory.
In Part 3 of this series, I objected that (2) seems to be false, because the following alternative to (2) seems to be true:

2aBut change is when a logically possible state of affairs that was not an actual state of affairs becomes an actual state of affairs.

If there are (or could be) changes that are logically possible but that are physically impossible or beyond the natural “potential” of a thing, then (2a) would be TRUE, and (2) would be FALSE.  Premise (2) implies that there is no such thing as a change which is logically possible but that is beyond the natural “potential” of the thing that undergoes the change.  This would either mean that miracles cannot happen, or that miracles do not constitute changes.
COFFEE WITH PARMENIDES
Premise (2) imports an Aristotelian metaphysical theory (a theory about the nature of changes) into the argument.  One motivation for adopting this theory is that it provides, according to Feser, a powerful reply to Parmenides’ argument against the possibility of change.
Here is how Feser describes an argument by Parmenides:
Consider once again your coffee, which starts out hot and after sitting on the desk for a while grows cold.  You might say that the coldness of the coffee, which does not exist while the coffee is hot, comes into existence .  But now we have a problem, says Parmenides.  For if the coldness of the coffee was initially nonexistent, then at that point it was nothing;  and when it later comes into existence, it is then something.  But something can’t come from nothing.  So, the coldness of the coffee cannot come into existence, and thus, the coffee cannot grow cold.  Something similar could be said for any purported case of change–all of them would have to involve something coming from nothing, which is impossible.  Hence, concludes Parmenides, change cannot ever really occur.  (FPEG, Location 167)
Feser believes that Aristotle’s metaphysical theory about the nature of change provides a powerful reply to Parmenides:
There is another problem with Parmenides’ argument.  As the later Greek philosopher Aristotle pointed out, it is a mistake to think that change would have to involve something coming from nothing.  Go back to the coffee.  It is true that while the coffee is hot, the coldness is not actually present.  Still, it is there potentially in a way other qualities are not.  The coffee does not, after all, have the potential to fuel a gasoline engine, or to turn itself into chicken soup, or for that matter to morph into a live chicken and begin squawking.  But it does have the potential to grow cold, and it has various other potentials too… . That it has the potential to become cold while lacking certain other potentials shows that the coldness is not exactly nothing, even if it is not yet actual either.  (FPEG, Location 175)
But we do NOT need Aristotle’s metaphysical theory of change to have a powerful reply to Parmenides argument (as represented by Feser above).  All we need is a little bit of common sense.  Let’s have coffee with Parmenides and see if we can straighten him out.
BRADLEY:  Care for some coffee?
PARMENIDES:  Sure,  here is my coffee mug.
BRADLEY:  I see that your mug is empty.  I am now going to pour some hot coffee from this pitcher into your mug.
PARMENIDES:  Thank you.  I’m a bit hung over from the party last night, so coffee will help me to think more clearly about metaphysics and the nature of reality.
BRADLEY:  OK.  Great.   Your mug is now full of hot coffee.  That is clearly a CHANGE.  Your mug was empty just a few seconds ago, and now it is full of hot coffee!
PARMENIDES:  Hold on!  The mug is now full of coffee.  According to you it was empty only seconds ago.  That means that the fullness of the mug came into existence.  But then the fullness of the mug was initially non-existent, and at that point the fullness was NOTHING, and then when the fullness came into existence, it was SOMETHING.   But something can’t come from nothing.  So, the fullness of the mug cannot come into existence, and thus, the mug cannot become full.  It must either have always been full, or else it must always remain empty.
BRADLEY:  I don’t agree.  Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that your basic assumption is correct and that is is impossible for something to come from nothing.  Your mug being full does involve something; it involves there being something in the mug, namely coffee.  That coffee is something, and based on your assumption, that coffee could NOT come from nothing.  However, the coffee did NOT come from nothing, it came from a pitcher that was full of coffee.  The coffee already existed, it just was in a different location.  When I poured the coffee into your mug, some coffee was transferred from the pitcher to the mug.  Therefore, your mug is full because it has coffee in it, and that coffee came from the pitcher; the coffee did NOT come from nothing.
PARMENIDES:  Perhaps you have a point.  Let me take a sip or two of this coffee and think on this for a while.  Hmmm.  This coffee is a little bitter.
BRADLEY:  Here, let me put some sugar in your coffee.
[BRADLEY takes a spoonful of sugar from a sugar bowl, puts the sugar into Parmenides’ coffee, and stirs the coffee for a few seconds.]
PARMENIDES:  Thank you.  The coffee is tastes much better now.
BRADLEY:  Right.  Just a few seconds ago your coffee had no sweetness, and now it has a bit of sweetness to it.  That is a CHANGE.  Your coffee has become slightly sweet.
PARMENIDES:  Not so fast!   The coffee is now sweet.  According to you it was NOT sweet only seconds ago.  That means that the sweetness of the coffee came into existence.  But then the sweetness of the coffee was initially non-existent, and at that point the sweetness was NOTHING, and then when the sweetness (allegedly) came into existence, it was SOMETHING.   But something can’t come from nothing.  So, the sweetness of the coffee cannot come into existence, and thus, the coffee cannot become sweet.  It must either have always been sweet, or else it must always remain without sweetness.
BRADLEY:  Once again, I disagree with your analysis.  Your coffee being sweet does involve something; it involves there being something in the coffee, namely sugar.  That sugar is something, and based on your assumption (that something cannot come from nothing), that sugar could NOT come from nothing.  However, the sugar did NOT come from nothing, it came from a sugar bowl that was full of sugar.  The sugar already existed, it just was in a different location.  When I put a spoonful of the sugar into your coffee, some sugar was transferred from the sugar bowl to the coffee in your mug.  Therefore, your coffee is sweet because it has sugar in it, and that sugar came from the sugar bowl; the sugar (and the sweetness) in your coffee did NOT come from nothing.
Note that BRADLEY’s replies to PARMENIDES did not require an appeal to Aristotle’s metaphysical theory of change, the replies only required an appeal to a bit of common sense.   The coffee in PARMENIDES’ mug did not come from nothing, it came from the pitcher of coffee.  The sugar in PARMENIDES’ coffee did not come from nothing, it came from the sugar bowl.
Duh.
 
 
 

bookmark_borderFeser’s Case for God – Part 3: Actualization of Potential

FESER TAKES OWNERSHIP OF THE FIVE ARGUMENTS
In Five Proofs of the Existence of God (hereafter: FPEG), Edward Feser presents five “proofs” or arguments, each of which was inspired by an historical philosopher (or two).  However,  Feser takes full ownership of these five arguments, so that none of these arguments is put forward as merely an historical presentation or as merely a scholarly interpretation of a specific argument by an historical philosopher:
In my earlier books The Last Superstition and Aquinas, and elsewhere, I approached questions of natural theology…by way of exposition and defense of what Aquinas had to say on the subject. (FPEG, Location 39, p.9-10)
…there is a need for an exposition and defense of all the most important arguments for God’s existence that is neither burdened with complex and often tedious issues of textual exegesis, nor preceded by any detailed metaphysical prolegomenon, but which simply gets straight to the heart of the argument and introduces any needed background metaphysical principles along the way. (FPEG, Location 53, p.10)
…the arguments [in this book] are all certainly inspired by several great thinkers of the past–in particular, by Aristotle, Plotinus, Augustine, Aquinas, and Leibniz.  Indeed, I think that the proofs that I defend here capture what is essential to the arguments of those thinkers.  But I am not presenting an interpretation of any text to be found in the writings of any of these thinkers, and I am not claiming that any of these thinkers said or would agree with everything I have to say.  I defend an Aristotelian proof of God’s existence, but not Aristotle’s own proof, exactly; an Augustinian proof, but not an exegesis of anything Augustine himself actually wrote; and so forth. (FPEG, Location 59, p.11)
The five arguments are thus inspired by historical philosophers, but they are presented as Feser’s arguments, not as Aristotle’s argument, not as Augustine’s argument, not as Aquinas’s argument.  This is one more thing that Feser gets right.  A book that takes on the issue of the existence of God, especially one that provides a case for the existence of God, ought to contain only arguments of which the author takes ownership, and that the author sincerely believes to be good and solid arguments, or at least the best and strongest arguments available.
 
CHUNK NUMBER 1 OF THE ARISTOTELIAN ARGUMENT
The first chunk of Feser’s Aristotelian argument attempts to prove the following metaphysical claim:

14. So, there is a purely actual actualizer.  (FPEG, Location 493, p.36)

Although Chunk #1 can be viewed as being unique to the Aristotelian argument (because each argument attempts to prove the existence of a metaphysical being of a different type), Chunk #1 is still very important to how one evaluates ALL FIVE of the arguments presented by Feser.  This is because, the other four arguments are dependent upon the success of the rest of the Aristotelian argument (i.e. premises (15) through (49) ), and the rest of the Aristotelian argument has a dependency on Chunk #1.
The dependency of the rest of the Aristotelian argument on Chunk #1 is NOT a dependency on the TRUTH of premise (14), however.  Rather, it is in Chunk #1 that the concept of “a purely actual actualizer” is developed and clarified, and the rest of the Aristotelian argument is ABOUT the alleged attributes of “a purely actual actualizer”, so any unclarity, confusion, or logical problems with this concept are likely to impact the truth or the logic of the rest of the Aristotelian argument that follows after Chunk #1.
The rest of the Aristotelian argument could be logically valid, even if premise (14) was FALSE.  It could still be the case that IF “a purely actual actualizer” existed, THEN that being would have various key divine attributes (e.g. omnipotence, omniscience, being the cause of the existence of all things, etc.).   The point of the rest of the Aristotelian argument is to show that various key divine attributes are logically implied by the concept of “a purely actual actualizer”.  But what this concept logically implies, or does not imply, depends on what this concept MEANS.  So,  the success of the rest of the argument depends on the precise meaning of the phrase “a purely actual actualizer”, and the meaning of this phrase is developed and clarified in Chunk #1.
Therefore, Chunk #1 is NOT merely of significance in terms of our evaluation of the Aristotelian argument, but it is of significance to our evaluation of ALL FIVE of Feser’s arguments for the existence of God.
Here are the premises and inferences that Feser provides in support of claim (14):

  1. Change is a real feature of the world.
  2. But change is the actualization of a potential.
  3. So, the actualization of potential is a real feature of the world.
  4. No potential can be actualized unless something already actual actualizes it (the principle of causality).
  5. So, any change is caused by something already actual.
  6. The occurrence of any change C presupposes some thing or substance S which changes.
  7. the existence of S at any given moment itself presupposes the concurrent actualization of S’s potential for existence.
  8. So, any substance S has at any moment some actualizer A of its existence.
  9. A’s own existence at the moment it actualizes S itself presupposes either (a) the concurrent actualization of its own potential for existence or (b) A’s being purely actual.
  10. If A’s existence at the moment it actualizes S presupposes the concurrent actualization of its own potential for existence, then there exists a regress of concurrent actualizers that is either infinite or terminates in a purely actual actualizer.
  11. But such a regress of concurrent actualizers would constitute a hierarchical causal series, and such a series cannot regress infinitely.
  12. So, either A itself is a purely actual actualizer or there is a purely actual actualizer which terminates the regress that begins with the actualization of A.
  13. So, the occurrence of C and thus the existence of S at any given moment presupposes the existence of a purely actual actualizer.
  14. So, there is a purely actual actualizer. 

(FPEG, Location 477-493, p.35-36)
There is a lot going on here in Chunk #1, so it will probably take me a few posts to walk through this part of the Aristotelian argument.
 
THE FIRST SUB-CONCLUSION OF CHUNK #1
The first sub-conclusion that Feser argues for is this:

3. So, the actualization of potential is a real feature of the world. (FPEG, Location 477, p. 35)

Here is the summary argument for (3):

  1. Change is a real feature of the world.
  2. But change is the actualization of a potential.
  3. So, the actualization of potential is a real feature of the world.

 
I take it that the word “change” is NOT a technical term, but has its ordinary meaning, and thus there is no problem with premise (1); it is clearly and obviously true.
Premise (2) might seem fairly innocent at first blush, but I am deeply suspicious of this premise.  Here Feser is inserting some technical metaphysical concepts or terminology into the argument.  Feser makes no effort to hide this fact, and he provides some examples and clarifications of the terms “the actualization of” and “a potential”, so I’m NOT saying that Feser is trying to mislead anyone.  I’m just saying that we ought to be cautious about accepting premise (2), because it seems to involve acceptance of a philosophical point of view, of a metaphysical theory, or of a significant portion of a metaphysical theory.
Premise (3) clearly follows logically from the combination of (1) and (2), so the logic here is OK.
The only concern I have, so far, is with premise (2).  I doubt that (2) is true, but more importantly,  I do not, at this point, have a clear understanding of what (2) means.  What (2) means is crucial for understanding and evaluating both Chunk #1, and the rest of the Aristotelian argument that follows Chunk #1.  So, we cannot pass Go and collect $200 until we are clear about what premise (2) means.
 
CLARIFYING THE MEANING OF PREMISE (2)
Here is what Feser has to say in support of premise (2):
…it is a mistake to think that change would have to involve something coming from nothing.  Go back to the coffee [an example of a change given previously by Feser].  It is true that while the coffee is hot, the coldness is not actually present.  Still, it is there potentially in a way other qualities are not.  The coffee does not, after all, have the potential to fuel a gasoline engine, or to turn itself into chicken soup, or for that matter to morph into a chicken and begin squawking.  But it does have the potential to grow cold, and it has various other potentials too–to make you more alert if you drink it, to stain the floor if you spill it, and so forth.  That it has the potential to become cold while lacking other potentials shows that the coldness is not exactly nothing, even if it is not yet actual either.  
What change involves, then, is…the actualization of a potential.  The coffee has the potential to become cold, and after sitting out for a while, that potential is made actual.  This is not a case of something coming from nothing…because, again, a potential is not nothing.     (FPEG, Location 167 to 179, p.18)
Based on the above comments about the “actualization of a potential”, we can eliminate the following interpretation of (2):

2aBut change is when a logically possible state of affairs that was not an actual state of affairs becomes an actual state of affairs.

On this interpretation the coffee is hot at time T1, and it is logically possible for the coffee to be cold, but it is not actually the case that the coffee is cold at time T1.  However, if at time T2 the coffee is in fact cold, then a logical possibility that was previously not an actual state of affairs at time T1 has become an actual state of affairs at time T2.
First, let me explain why I think that (2a) is NOT what Feser means by premise (2).  In explaining the claim that the coffee has the potential to become cold, Feser says this:
The coffee does not, after all, have the potential to fuel a gasoline engine, or to turn itself into chicken soup, or for that matter to morph into a chicken and begin squawking.  (FPEG, Location 167, p.18)
Could some coffee turn “into chicken soup”?  This is NOT a physical possibility.  It would be contrary to the laws of nature for a cup of coffee to turn into chicken soup.  In fact, this would constitute a “miracle” if such an event were brought about by God.  However, as Christians often argue, miracles are logically possible even though they are physically impossible. God, being omnipotent, could change a cup of coffee into a cup of chicken soup.  This would be contrary to the laws of nature, contrary to the laws of chemistry, and thus it is a physically impossible event, but it is NOT a logical impossibility.  There is no logical contradiction involved in the claim that a cup of coffee turned into a cup of chicken soup.
 
AN OBJECTION TO PREMISE (2)
It seems to me that (2a) is TRUE.  But if (2a) is true, then (2) is FALSE.  So, it seems to me that (2) is FALSE.
Feser is clearly asserting that coffee does NOT have the “potential” to become chicken soup, but it is logically possible for coffee to become chicken soup, so having the “potential” to turn into chicken soup requires something MORE than just the logical possibility of turning into chicken soup.  Therefore, when Feser speaks of something having a “potential” this implies MORE than just a logical possibility.   It is logically possible for a cup of coffee to turn into a cup of chicken soup, but given Feser’s conception of a “potential”, a cup of coffee does NOT have the potential to turn into a cup of chicken soup.
This, it seems to me, creates a serious problem for Feser in relation to miracles.  God, being omnipotent, can turn a cup of coffee into a cup of chicken soup (this is clearly analogous to the NT miracle where Jesus allegedly turned water into wine).  This would constitute a miracle, in that such an event would be contrary to the laws of nature and would be brought about by God.  But if we accept (2), then we would be forced to conclude that NO CHANGE OCCURS when God turns the cup of coffee into a cup of chicken soup (or when Jesus turned the water into wine).  The cup of coffee had no “potential” to turn into a cup of chicken soup, so when God turned it into a cup of chicken soup, this would NOT be a case of actualizing “the potential” of the coffee to be chicken soup.  But since this is NOT a case of the potential of the coffee being actualized, it would not be a CHANGE, according to Feser’s concept of change.
But the idea that God performing the miracle of turning a cup of coffee into a cup of chicken soup (or Jesus turning water into wine) would NOT involve a CHANGE is absurd.  So, if we are going to accept the idea that miracles are logically possible, and that miracles like this involve a CHANGE, then we must accept (2a) and reject (2).
I doubt that I’m the first person to make this objection to Feser’s concept of CHANGE, so I’m going to stop here for now, and look to see if Feser addresses this objection somewhere in his book Five Proofs of the Existence of God.  
Before we can confidently conclude that we have a clear understanding of premise (2), we need to understand precisely how the meaning of (2) differs from (2a) and either how both (2) and (2a) could be true, or else WHY Feser believes (2a) to be false.  Once these questions have been answered, we should be in a good position to understand and to explicitly state a correct analysis of the meaning of (2).