bookmark_borderWhy I Reject the Resurrection – Part 4: Skepticism about the Supernatural

SKEPTICAL CLAIMS ABOUT SUPERNATURAL BELIEFS
Two points from my List of Key Points about the resurrection relate directly to skepticism about the supernatural:

1. Nobody KNOWS that supernatural beings exist.

2. Nobody KNOWS that supernatural events occur.

There are two more related points that should be added to the above two points:

21. Nobody KNOWS that supernatural powers exist.

22. Nobody KNOWS that supernatural forces exist.

One form of skepticism about (1) and (2) concerns the question of the TRUTH of supernatural claims:

10. It is IMPROBABLE that any supernatural being exists.

11. It is IMPROBABLE that any supernatural events occur.

So, we can add two more improbability claims in relation to the two added skeptical claims:

23. It is IMPROBABLE that any supernatural powers exist.

24.  It is IMPROBABLE that any supernatural forces exist.

In my previous comments about skepticism (see Skepticism about the Resurrection), I point out two different forms of qualified skepticism:

  • Denial that beliefs or claims in area X are JUSTIFIED/WARRANTED.
  • Denial that beliefs or claims in area X are TRUE.

So, in addition to the four improbability claims above, (10), (11), (23), and (24), we can add four skeptical claims about the lack of justification/warrant for supernatural claims:

25. Nobody has a JUSTIFIED/WARRANTED belief that supernatural beings exist.

26. Nobody has a JUSTIFIED/WARRANTED belief that supernatural events occur.

27. Nobody has a JUSTIFIED/WARRANTED belief that supernatural powers exist.

28. Nobody has a JUSTIFIED/WARRANTED belief that supernatural forces exist.

 
REASONS FOR SKEPTICISM ABOUT THE SUPERNATURAL
My main reasons for skepticism about the supernatural may be summarized this way:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Skepticism about the supernatural may be based on a combination of science and cynicism, and cynicism itself is supported by science.
I’m not claiming that all skeptics think this way.  Rather, this is a representation of my own thinking, of why I am a skeptic. This is a summary or overview of how I would defend skepticism, especially skepticism about the supernatural.
 
CYNICISM
By “cynicism” I mean a collection of negative beliefs about human thinking and behavior that provide reasonable grounds for suspicion and doubt about the rationality and truthfulness and reliability of human beings in general, such as:

30. Many people are stupid.

31. Many people are ignorant.

32. Many people are uncritical  or sophistic thinkers.

33. Many people are influenced by egocentric and sociocentric biases.

34. Many people form important beliefs based on indoctrination, propaganda, or group think.

35. Many people are dishonest or deceptive.

36. Many people have false beliefs based on unreliable memories. 

37. Many people have false beliefs based on unreliable eyewitness testimony.

38. Many people have false beliefs based on cognitive biases.

39. Many people are mentally handicapped or are mentally ill or are addicted to alcohol or drugs.

Here is one simple fact that strongly supports cynicism:  nearly half of Americans who voted in the last presidential election (46% of voters) voted for Donald Trump.  Here is a related fact that is almost as depressing: 72% of Republicans say that Donald Trump is a good role model for children, and only 22% of Republicans say that he is NOT a good role model for children.
 
SCIENCE SUPPORTS CYNICISM
Psychology, Sociology, and other human sciences provide empirical data and empirically confirmed theories and generalizations about human thinking and human behavior that generally support a cynical view about human thinking and human behavior.  Thus, scientific investigation supports cynicism, in the sense that I have explained above.
 
SCIENCE CASTS DOUBT ON SUPERNATURAL BELIEFS
Many ancient supernatural beliefs have been cast into doubt by scientific investigation into the relevant phenomena.  Many contemporary supernatural beliefs have also been cast into doubt by scientific investigation into the relevant phenomena.  Whenever careful objective scientific investigation is conducted into alleged supernatural phenomena, it turns out that either the phenomena doesn’t actually exist, or it exists but is the product of deception and/or that the phenomena has a natural explanation and can be reproduced by natural means.  As the years go by, more and more phenomena can be given plausible natural scientific explanations, and fewer and fewer phenomena remain as potential candidates for having a supernatural cause or explanation.

40. Science casts doubt on belief in supernatural agents.

41. Science casts doubt on belief in supernatural events.

42. Science casts doubt on belief in supernatural powers.

43. Science casts doubt on belief in supernatural forces.

bookmark_borderWhy I Reject the Resurrection – Part 3: Improbability of the Resurrection

IMPROBABILITY
Some Christians believe that it is certain that God raised Jesus from the dead; other Christians believe that it is very probable but not certain that God raised Jesus from the dead.  Some people believe that it is probable but not very probable that God raised Jesus from the dead.
Some skeptics believe that it is certain that the claim God raised Jesus from the dead is FALSE, but other skeptics believe that it is very improbable that God raised Jesus from the dead but not certain that this claim is FALSE.  Some people believe that it is improbable but not very improbable that God raised Jesus from the dead.

  • A belief that is certain has a probability of:  1.0
  • A belief that is as probable as not has a probability of:  .5
  • A belief that is certainly false has a probability of:  0

We can make probability evaluations more precise by defining numeric values for some common probability expressions:
1. It is certain that X is false:
the probability of X  is 0.
2. It is very improbable that X is true but not certain that X is false:
the probability of X is less than .2 but is greater than 0.
3. It is improbable but not very improbable that X is true:
the probability of X is less than .4 but is at least .2.
4. It is about as probable as not that X is true:
the probability of X is at least .4 but is less than .6.
5. It is probable but not very probable that X is true:
the probability of X is at least .6 but is less than .8.
6. It is very probable but not certain that X is true:
the probability of X is at least .8 but is less than 1.0.
7. It is certain that X is true:
the probability of X is 1.0.
 
RESURRECTION
See comments in the “Resurrection” section of Part 2 of this series.
 
IMPROBABILITY OF THE RESURRECTION
The main claim that God raised Jesus from the dead, (GRJ), assumes or implies various other related Christian beliefs:

(GE) God exists.

(GPM) God has performed miracles.

(JEP) Jesus was a Jewish man who existed in Palestine in the first century.

(JWC) Jesus was crucified in Jerusalem in about 30 CE.

(DOC) Jesus died on the cross on the same day he was crucified.

(JAW) Jesus was alive and walking around in Jerusalem about 48 hours after he was crucified.

(JRD) Jesus rose from the dead.

If any of these claims are improbable, then (GRJ) is also improbable.  If (GE) is improbable, then (GRJ) is improbable.  If (GPM) is improbable, then (GRJ) is improbable.  If (JEP) is improbable, then (GRJ) is improbable, if (JWC) is improbable, then (GRJ) is improbable, and so on.  Conversely, each of these claims must AT LEAST be probable in order for (GRJ) to be probable.
Furthermore, because we must in general multiply probabilities of individual events to obtain the probability of a complex event, even when each individual event is probable, the complex event (or claim) which consists in the conjunction of those various individual events (or claims) might well be improbable.
The probability of rolling a die and getting an even number (2, 4, or 6) is .5, but the probability of rolling a die twice and getting an even number on both rolls is .5 x .5 or .25.  The probability of rolling a die three times and getting an even number on all three rolls is .5 x .5 x .5 = .125, just a little over one chance in ten.
The multiplication of probability applies to the claim that Jesus rose from the dead, (JRD). Suppose that the probability of (JEP) was .8, and that the probability of (JWC) was .8 given that (JEP) is true (and 0 if (JEP) is false), and suppose that the probability of (DOC) was .8 given that (JWC) is true (and 0 if (JWC) is false), and suppose that the probability of (JAW) was .6 given that (DOC) is true, then the probability of (JRD) would be approximately:
.8 x .8 x .8 x .6 = .3072
or about three chances in ten.  Thus, (JRD) could be improbable, even if the various individual claims related to it were ALL either probable or very probable.

bookmark_borderWhy I Reject the Resurrection – Part 2: Skepticism about the Resurrection

SKEPTICISM
Skepticism is the denial of knowledge.  Universal skepticism denies the possibility of any kind of knowledge, or the actual existence of any kind of knowledge.  Qualified forms of skepticism deny the possibility of knowledge in particular areas, or the actual existence of knowledge in particular areas, such as religious knowledge or knowledge of the future.
Knowledge is traditionally understood to be Justified True Belief, because one can have a true belief by accident or luck, but such true beliefs don’t count as knowledge.  ALL known beliefs are true beliefs, but SOME true beliefs are not known beliefs.  Traditionally, the difference between true beliefs that makes some of them known beliefs, is that the person who has the belief is JUSTIFIED in holding that belief.  To be justified in holding a belief means that one has GOOD REASON to be confident that the belief in question is a true belief.
According to foundationalism (a view of the nature of knowledge) some beliefs count as knowledge even though they are not based on or inferred from other beliefs.  Some beliefs are thought to count as knowledge even though those beliefs are not based on or inferred from other beliefs, but are produced naturally by our minds as the result of particular sensory input or experiences.
Because talking about beliefs being “justified” suggests that no belief counts as knowledge unless one can produce a “justification” or good reason for accepting that belief, the term “justified” can be objected to as carrying a bias against the possibility that some beliefs count as knowledge even though no “justification” or good reason can be given for accepting the belief in question.  The term “justified” also suggests that there are intellectual duties that must be satisfied in order for a belief to count as knowledge, but some philosophers object to the idea that intellectual duties must be satisfied in order for a belief to count as knowledge.
The Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga suggests the use of the term “warranted” in place of the term “justified” as whatever it is that makes some true beliefs count as knowledge and the lack of which makes other true beliefs fail to count as knowledge.  Whether we use the term “warranted” or “justified”, it is clear that not all true beliefs are known beliefs, and that having a true belief by accident or by good luck falls short of being knowledge.
One can deny knowledge in area X, either by denying that there are any true beliefs in area X, or by denying that there are any justified/warranted beliefs in area X.  Both qualified kinds of skepticism can occur in a stronger or weaker form.
One strong form of qualified skepticism denies the possibility of there being any true beliefs in area X, and the related weak form of qualified skepticism simply denies that there are in fact any true beliefs in area X.  Another strong form of qualified skepticism denies the possibility of there being any justified/warranted beliefs in area X, and the related weak form of qualified skepticism simply denies that there are in fact any justified/warranted beliefs in area X.
 
THE RESURRECTION
By “the resurrection” I mean, the traditional Christian belief that:

(GRJ) God raised Jesus from the dead.

This belief is understood in the context of other traditional Christian beliefs:

(GE) God exists.

(GPM) God has performed miracles.

(JEP)  Jesus was a Jewish man who existed in Palestine in the first century.

(JWC)  Jesus was crucified in Jerusalem in about 30 CE.

(DOC) Jesus died on the cross on the same day he was crucified.

(JAW) Jesus was alive and walking around in Jerusalem about 48 hours after he was crucified.

(JRD) Jesus rose from the dead.

 
In his book The Resurrection of God Incarnate (hereafter: ROGI), Richard Swinburne accurately characterizes the traditional Christian belief in the resurrection of Jesus:
…the Resurrection of Jesus understood in the traditional sense–of Jesus being dead for thirty-six hours and then coming to life again in his crucified body (in which he then had superhuman powers; e.g. he was able to appear and disappear).  (ROGI, p.1)
[In raising Jesus, God was] interfering in the operation of the natural laws by which he controls the universe.  For the coming-to-life again of a body dead for thirty-six hours is undoubtedly a violation of natural laws.  (ROGI, p.1-2)
The traditional Christian belief in the resurrection includes or implies: (GE), (GPM), (JEP), (JWC), (DOC), (JAW), (JRD), and (GRJ), and also the belief that God raising Jesus involved the violation of natural laws or interference in the operation of natural laws.
 
SKEPTICISM ABOUT THE RESURRECTION
Universal skepticism denies all knowledge, and so it denies that anyone knows that God raised Jesus from the dead.  But universal skepticism is implausible and indiscriminate, so it is not very interesting.  Qualified forms of skepticism can be more plausible.  One sort of qualified skepticism denies that people know that God exists.  If nobody knows that God exists, then nobody knows that God raised Jesus from the dead.
Skepticism about the resurrection, however, does not have to be based on skepticism about the existence of God.  One can be a skeptic about the existence of Jesus, or a skeptic about Jesus alleged death on the cross, or a skeptic about whether Jesus was alive and walking around in Jerusalem on Easter Sunday.  If nobody knows that Jesus existed, then nobody knows that Jesus rose from the dead, and nobody knows that God raised Jesus from the dead.  If nobody knows that Jesus was alive and walking around in Jerusalem on Easter Sunday, then nobody knows that Jesus rose from the dead, and nobody knows that God raised Jesus from the dead.
Skepticism about the resurrection could also be based on skepticism about supernatural powers or events, or skepticism about miracles.  For further discussion on skepticism about the supernatural, see Part 4 of this series.
A qualified form of skepticism can deny that people have a JUSTIFIED/WARRANTED BELIEF that Jesus existed, or that Jesus died on the cross, or that Jesus was alive on Easter Sunday.  Such skepticism could be argued on the grounds that Christians have failed to provide solid reasons and evidence showing that Jesus existed, or that Jesus died on the cross, or that Jesus was alive on Easter Sunday.  Or such a form of skepticism might be argued for more generally on the grounds that the available evidence, primarily the New Testament writings, is unreliable and insufficient to establish these beliefs related to the alleged resurrection of Jesus.
A qualified form of skepticism can deny that people have a TRUE BELIEF that Jesus existed, or that Jesus died on the cross, or that Jesus was alive on Easter Sunday.  Such skepticism could be argued on the grounds that the available evidence proves one or more of these beliefs to be FALSE, or that the available evidence shows one or more of these beliefs to be PROBABLY FALSE.

bookmark_borderWhy I Reject the Resurrection – Part 1: List of Key Points

SKEPTICISM ABOUT THE RESURRECTION
1. Nobody KNOWS that supernatural beings exist.
2. Nobody KNOWS that supernatural events occur.
3. Nobody KNOWS that God exists.
4. Nobody KNOWS that miracles occur.
5. Nobody KNOWS that Jesus existed.
6. Nobody KNOWS that Jesus died on the cross.
7. Nobody KNOWS that Jesus was alive on Easter morning.
8. Nobody KNOWS that Jesus rose from the dead.
9. Nobody KNOWS that God raised Jesus from the dead.
 
IMPROBABILITY OF THE RESURRECTION
10. It is IMPROBABLE that any supernatural being exists.
11. It is IMPROBABLE that any supernatural events occur.
12. It is IMPROBABLE that God exists.
13. It is IMPROBABLE that miracles occur.
14. There is a SIGNIFICANT PROBABILITY that Jesus did not exist.
15. IF Jesus did not exist, THEN it is CERTAIN that Jesus did not die on the cross, and did not rise from the dead.
16. IF Jesus existed and Jesus died on the cross, THEN it is IMPROBABLE that Jesus was alive on Easter morning.
17. IF Jesus existed and was alive on Easter morning, THEN it is IMPROBABLE that Jesus died on the cross.
18. IF God does not exist, THEN it is CERTAIN that the claim that “God raised Jesus from the dead” is a FALSE claim.
19. IF God does exist, THEN it is IMPROBABLE that God raised Jesus from the dead.
20. It is  IMPROBABLE that God raised Jesus from the dead (based on 12, 18, and 19).

bookmark_borderKreeft’s Case for God – Part 20: More on Argument #4

THE INITIAL INFERENCE IN ARGUMENT #4
In Part 19,  I argued that the initial inference or sub-argument in Argument #4 (the Argument from Degrees of Perfection) of Peter Kreeft’s case for God is very unclear, and that based on my best guess at what the premises of that sub-argument mean, one premise begs the question at issue by assuming that God exists, and another premise is too vague to be useful in a proof of the existence of God.  So, Argument #4 is yet another FAILED argument in Kreeft’s case for God.
 
THE MIDDLE INFERENCE IN ARGUMENT #4
But the very unclear and very dubious initial inference in Argument #4 is not the only problem with that argument.  In Part 17, I analyzed the logical structure of Argument #4, and I pointed out that there was a completely UNSTATED sub-argument that is required to logically link the initial inference to the final inference in Argument #4, and this middle inference is as follows:

F. IF there exists a source and real standard of all the perfections that pertain to being, THEN an absolutely perfect being exists.

C. There exists a source and real standard of all the perfections that pertain to being.

THEREFORE:

D. An absolutely perfect being exists.

 
THE MIDDLE INFERENCE IS UNCLEAR
There are, once again, problems of UNCLARITY in this sub-argument.  What is a “perfection”?  What are “perfections that pertain to being”?  What is an “absolutely perfect being”?  Kreeft does not define or clearly explain the meaning of any of these key terms in his argument.  He does briefly discuss “degrees of perfection” and provides some vague hints as to what he means by a “perfection” and by “perfections that pertain to being”, but he does not say enough to be able to infer what he means with any significant degree of confidence.  So, the main problem with this middle inference is the same as with the initial inference: it is VERY UNCLEAR.
 
PREMISE (C) IS DUBIOUS
However, I’m happy to make a best guess at what Kreeft’s premises mean, and evaluate this sub-argument based on my interpretation of the premises.  Premise (C) is dubious because it is based on the very UNCLEAR and apparently QUESTION BEGGING first inference.  So, (C) might well be false, which would make this middle sub-argument UNSOUND.
 
IS PREMISE (F) TRUE?
Let’s take a closer look at premise (F):

F. IF there exists a source and real standard of all the perfections that pertain to being, THEN an absolutely perfect being exists.

Given that the initial inference talks about perfection being “caused in” finite beings, the phrase “a source…of all the perfections” probably refers to a CAUSE “of all the perfections”.  Earlier in his presentation of Argument #4, Kreeft used an analogy with fire as a source of the heat in some objects:
…the degree of heat they possess is caused by a source outside of them. (HCA, p.54)
Fire, which is very hot, causes objects near it to become somewhat hot, or at least warm.  The idea that Kreeft hints at here is a general Principle Of Perfection:
(POP)  IF a being X causes perfection P in being Y, then being X has a greater degree of perfection P than Y.
This general Principle Of Perfection appears to be an assumption that underlies premise (F).  If this principle is false, then we have no good reason to believe premise (F).  But (POP) is clearly FALSE, so we have no good reason to believe (F) to be true.  Premise (F) is based on a FALSE assumption, so premise (F) is dubious, just like premise (C).
The main reason why (POP) is false is that a thing that lacks a property can, nevertheless, cause that property to occur in something else.  I can cause someone else to have a black eye and a bloody nose, even if I do not have a black eye or bloody nose myself.  I can cause a woman to become pregnant, even though I am not pregnant, and even though I cannot ever become pregnant.  I can make someone laugh, even if I am not laughing myself.
A football coach can cause a football player to become one of the best football players in the nation, even though the coach is (or would be) a mediocre football player at best.  There are many counterexamples to the idea that the CAUSE of a characteristic must possess that characteristic, and there are many counterexamples to the idea that the CAUSE of a perfection (i.e. a characteristic that makes something better than it would be without that characteristic) must possess that perfection to a greater degree than what it causes in something else.
This, however, is not the only problem with premise (F).  There is also an ambiguity of quantification in premise (F), similar to the ambiguity that Kreeft repeatedly stumbles over with the word “something”.  Here are two different interpretations of (F):

F1. IF there exists EXACTLY ONE BEING THAT IS THE CAUSE of all the perfections that pertain to being, THEN an absolutely perfect being exists.

F2. IF there exists AT LEAST ONE BEING THAT IS A CAUSE FOR EACH of  the perfections that pertain to being, THEN an absolutely perfect being exists.

Premise (F1) requires that premise (C) make a very strong claim, in order for (F1) and (C) to logically connect together to make a valid inference.  Premise (C) would have to assert the following very strong claim:

C1. There exists EXACTLY ONE BEING THAT IS THE CAUSE of all the perfections that pertain to being.

Premise (C) was already dubious to begin with, so if we now interpret (C) to mean what (C1) states, then it becomes even more obvious that Kreeft has FAILED to provide a good argument in support of (C), in the initial sub-argument.
On the other hand, premise (F2) does not require that premise (C) make such a strong claim.  If we go with interpretation (F2), then the middle sub-argument only needs the following claim to create a valid inference:

C2. There exists AT LEAST ONE BEING THAT IS A CAUSE FOR EACH OF the perfections that pertain to being.

But, the problem with (F2) is that it is clearly FALSE, which would make the middle sub-argument UNSOUND.  The antecedent of premise (F2), namely “there exists AT LEAST ONE BEING THAT IS A CAUSE FOR EACH of  the perfections that pertain to being”, is logically compatible with it being the case that there is a separate ultimate source for each perfection.
There could be a cause of intelligence, and a separate cause of the ability to give and receive love.  There could be one cause of beauty, and another cause of kindness, and a third cause of strength, and a fourth cause of wisdom.  If there were separate ultimate causes for each perfection, then there would be no necessity for there to be ONE BEING that possessed ALL perfections (or all perfections that pertain to being).  Therefore, the antecedent of (F2) does NOT entail the consequent of (F2), and thus premise (F2) is FALSE.
So, we must either adopt interpretation (F1) in which case it becomes very obvious that Kreeft has FAILED to show that (C) is true (i.e. that (C1) is true), or else adopt interpretation (F2) in which case it becomes clear that the middle sub-argument is UNSOUND, because (F2) is clearly FALSE.
 
CONCLUSIONS ABOUT THE MIDDLE INFERENCE AND ARGUMENT #4
The middle inference or sub-argument in Argument #4 is based on two dubious premises: (C) and (F).

  • The meanings of key words and phrases in these premises are UNCLEAR.
  • Premise (C) is dubious because it is based on a BAD argument (i.e. the first inference of Argument #4).
  • Premise (F) is dubious because it is based on a FALSE assumption (i.e. POP).
  • Premise (F) is ambiguous in its quantification; on one interpretation (C) must make a very strong and very dubious claim, and on the other possible interpretation (F) is clearly FALSE.

The middle inference or sub-argument thus FAILS to provide a good reason for its conclusion, just like the initial inference or sub-argument FAILS to provide a good reason for its conclusion.  Thus, we may reasonably conclude that Argument #4 is a complete FAILURE.  This argument has multiple serious problems, and so it provides us no good reason to believe that God exists.

bookmark_borderKreeft’s Case for God – Part 19: Premise (B)

The initial inference or sub-argument in Argument #4 of Peter Kreeft’s case for God is based on three premises, and all three premises are very UNCLEAR:

A. These degrees of perfection pertain to being.

B. Being is caused in finite creatures.

1a. IF these degrees of perfection pertain to being and being is caused in finite creatures, THEN there exists a source and real standard of all the perfections that pertain to being.

THEREFORE:

C. There exists a source and real standard of all the perfections that pertain to being.

In Part 18, I pointed out that both the subject and the predicate of premise (A) were unclear.  My best guess, at this point, is that the subject is referring to different degrees of perfection when comparisons are made between KINDS of things (e.g. between human beings and “a stone, a flower, an earthworm…” ).  My best guess, at this point, is that the predicate of (A) is a Trojan Horse that sneaks a Thomistic theory of “perfection” (including a Thomistic theory of good and evil) into the argument.  Based on these assumptions,  I interpret premise (A) as follows:

A4.  The overall degree of goodness/perfection of different beings varies from one kind of being to another kind of being given Peter Kreeft’s view of the nature of goodness/perfection, AND Peter Kreeft’s view of the nature of goodness/perfection is true.

It seems to me that Kreeft’s view of the nature of goodness/perfection ASSUMES the existence of God, and thus premise (A4) BEGS THE QUESTION at issue: “Does God exist?”.
 
CLARIFICATION OF PREMISE (B)
The subject of premise (B) is “Being”.   I can think of at least three different interpretations of the subject of premise (B):

S1. Coming-into-being

S2. Continuing-to-exist…

S3. The particular ways-of-being…

It is also not clear what Kreeft means by “finite creatures”.  If he means “finite things created by God”, then premise (B) BEGS THE QUESTION at issue (Does God exist?) in assuming that there are things that were created by God.  So, we should replace the question-begging term “creatures” with something more neutral, such as “things” or “beings”.  But what is a “finite being”?  A being could be finite in terms of how long it exists, or a being could be finite in terms of its powers and abilities,  or a being could be finite in terms of its degree of perfection.   So, I can think of at least three different ways that a being could be considered to be “finite”:

P1.  … is caused in beings that exist for a finite duration.

P2.  … is caused in beings that have finite powers and abilities.

P3.  … is caused in beings that have a finite degree of perfection.

Each of the three possible subjects could be combined with each of the three possible predicates,  at least in theory, so we are looking at nine different possible interpretations of premise (B):

B1. Coming-into-being is caused in beings that exist for a finite duration.

B2. Coming-into-being is caused in beings that have finite powers and abilities.

B3. Coming-into-being is caused in beings that have a finite degree of perfection.

B4. Continuing-to-exist is caused in beings that exist for a finite duration.

B5. Continuing-to-exist is caused in beings that have finite powers and abilities.

B6. Continuing-to-exist is caused in beings that have a finite degree of perfection.

B7. The particular ways-of-being is caused in beings that exist for a finite duration.

B8. The particular ways-of-being is caused in beings that have finite powers and abilities.

B9. The particular ways-of-being is caused in beings that have a finite degree of perfection.

Does Kreeft argue for any of these claims in the passage about Argument #4?  Do any of these claims seem to be relevant to the initial inference in Argument #4?  If Kreeft argues in support of one of these claims, or if one of these claims seems relevant to his initial inference, then that interpretation should be given serious consideration.
Premise (B1) has some initial plausibility.  However, (B1) is based on the Kalam cosmological argument (which is Argument #5 in Kreeft’s case), so that would make Argument #4 dependent upon the soundness of Argument #5, so Argument #4 would NOT be an independent reason for believing in God.   Kreeft has not argued for (B2) in the passage on Argument #4, and it does not appear to be relevant to his initial inference.  It is unclear whether Kreeft has attempted to argue for (B3), but this claim does seem to have some relevance to the initial inference in Argument #4.
Kreeft does not argue for (B4) in the passage about Argument #4, and (B4) does not seem relevant to the initial inference.  Kreeft does not argue for (B5) and it does not seem relevant to Argument #4.  I don’t think Kreeft argues for (B6), but it does seem like it might be relevant to the initial inference in Argument #4.
Kreeft does not appear to argue for either (B7) or (B8).  He might have attempted to argue in support of (B9).  Premises (B7) and (B8) don’t seem relevant to Argument #4, but (B9) seems like it might be relevant.
So, based on my brief review of these nine possible interpretations, it seems like the best candidates are (B3), (B6), and (B9):

B3. Coming-into-being is caused in beings that have a finite degree of perfection.

B6. Continuing-to-exist is caused in beings that have a finite degree of perfection.

B9. The particular ways-of-being is caused in beings that have a finite degree of perfection.

Premise (B3) won’t work for an argument attempting to prove the existence of God.  Causing something to come into existence does NOT imply causing all of the perfections and degrees of perfection in the thing that was brought to exist.  If I make a chair that is ugly and crooked and wobbly, someone else could take my crappy chair and fix it up so that it became a beautiful, straight, and sturdy chair.  But then the degree of perfection in that chair was caused more by the person who fixed it up, than by my lousy effort in making the chair.  The source of the chair’s degree of perfection is the person who fixed it up, not the person who made the chair.  Similarly,  we cannot confidently trace the finite degree of perfections of natural things to the maker (or makers) of those natural things.
Premise (B6) also will not work for an argument attempting to prove the existence of God.  Causing something to continue to exist does NOT imply causing all of the perfections and degrees of perfection in the thing that is preserved in existence.  The staff of a museum might preserve a wonderful painting created by Rembrandt, but the perfections of that painting do NOT come from the staff of the museum; they come from the painter, namely Rembrandt.  Keeping something with a high degree of perfection in existence does not mean that one has the power or ability to make something that has such a high degree of perfection.  Thus, even if it could be proven that there was a “super preserver of all things” operating to keep many things that have high degrees of perfection in existence, this would not show that this super preserver has the power or ability to confer high degrees of perfection to anything.
Premise (B9) is an interesting claim.   The subject concerns “ways-of-being” and the predicate concerns beings with a “degree of perfection.”  It seems to me that Kreeft explains the idea of perfection in terms of some “ways-of-being” being better than other “ways-of-being”.  So, perfections are a sub-set of ways-of-being.  Thus, we can re-state (B9) so that both the subject and predicate talk about perfection:

B9*. The particular perfections in a being (and the degree of those perfections) are caused in beings that have a finite degree of perfection.

Premise (B9*) has some initial plausibility.  It is a corollary of the Principle of Sufficient Reason.  If there must be a cause or explanation for the particular characteristics of each and every being, then there must be a cause or explanation for the particular perfections and degrees of perfection of each and every being with a finite degree of perfection.  But this seems too vague to be of use in proving the existence of God.  Some things might have their perfections from a creator (or from various creators), and other things might have their perfections from a fixer-upper (or various fixer-uppers) who improved on the work of a creator (or of various creators).  Asserting that there must be some cause or other of various perfections is not specific enough to allow us to infer that there is ONE single source or cause of all perfections.
 
CONCLUSIONS ABOUT ARGUMENT #4
Premise (A) and Premise (B) are both very unclear.  The subjects of both premises are unclear, and the predicates of both premises are unclear.  So, it is very difficult to evaluate the initial inference in Argument #4.
My best guess at the meaning of (A) is that it asserts claim (A4):

A4.  The overall degree of goodness/perfection of different beings varies from one kind of being to another kind of being given Peter Kreeft’s view of the nature of goodness/perfection, AND Peter Kreeft’s view of the nature of goodness/perfection is true.

But if (A) is intended to assert claim (A4), then premise (A) begs the question at issue (i.e. Does God exist?).
My best guess at the meaning of (B) is that it asserts claim (B9*):

B9*. The particular perfections in a being (and the degree of those perfections) are caused in beings that have a finite degree of perfection.

Although (B9*) has some plausibility, being a corollary of the Principle of Sufficient Reason, it seems to be too vague to be useful for proving the existence of God.  Even if we grant the assumption that all perfections of things that have a finite degree of perfection, are caused by something or other to have those perfections (and to have them to that specific degree), that doesn’t get us to the conclusion that there is just ONE ultimate source or cause of all of the perfections found in various beings that have a finite degree of perfection.
Premise (A) appears to beg the main question at issue, and premise (B) appears to be too vague to be useful in a proof for the existence of God.
Because Kreeft has presented us with a very unclear argument,  it does not deserve any more of my time and attention.  I have attempted to clarify and make sense of this poorly stated argument, and when I do clarify it, it still remains a crappy argument.  So, once again, Kreeft has FAILED to provide us with a good reason to believe that God exists.  Argument #4 fails, just like the last ten arguments in Kreeft’s case, and just like the rest of the initial five arguments in his case.

bookmark_borderRichard Dawkins, Stephen Hawking, and a Special Version of the Problem of Soteriological Evil

Unless you’ve been in a cave, you’ve heard by now the news that Stephen Hawking died. Richard Dawkins recently tweeted about an alleged Christian, going by the pseudonym positiva.tea, who described Hawking’s suffering in Hell.


I can’t find the original tweet Dawkins is quoting, so I don’t know if it’s authentic. I also make no claims about how representative (or unrepresentative) positiva.tea’s beliefs are of “Christians” as a whole. Nevertheless, there’s a special version of problem of evil here: certain versions of theism say that nonbelievers like Hawking experience suffering in this life and no compensation in the next. Indeed, some versions of theism say that nonbelievers (like Hawking) will not only be compensated in the afterlife for suffering in this life, but they will be punished for eternity. On the assumption that God exists, what moral justification would God have for allowing such uncompensated suffering in this life and unending punishment in the next?
Related Reading:
In Defense of an Evidential Argument from Evil: A Reply to William Lane Craig” (2017) by yours truly — see especially section 3.3.2.3.

bookmark_borderConservative Pundit Ross Douthat Takes on Steven Pinker’s New Book

William F. Buckley Jr. died ten years ago last week. For decades, his polysyllabic punditry set the gold standard for conservative controversialists. As a true-blue liberal, I generally disagreed with him, often passionately, but I always admired and appreciated his trenchant intelligence. He might have described his own style as “Often mordant; occasionally vituperative; never opprobrious.” (Actually, he got pretty opprobrious in his infamous exchange with Gore Vidal!)
Surely Buckley is spinning in his grave considering what has happened to the conservative movement in America, which he worked so hard to define and promote. The farrago that now passes for conservatism is too incoherent to constitute an ideology. Rather, it is a pastiche of religious fundamentalism, free-market fundamentalism, gun fetishism, conspiracy theories, nativism, assorted phobias (homo-, xeno-, and Islamo-, among others), anti-science obscurantism, and sheer tinfoil-hat-wearing lunacy. In contrast with Buckley’s urbane eloquence, today’s conservative spokespersons are full of sound and fury, specializing in the foaming rant and the fact-free screed.
However, there are still a few who stand out from the army of the night. David Brooks, George F. Will, Charles Krauthammer, and Ross Douthat are conservatives of a sort that Buckley would have recognized. Though not entirely free from the tincture of the irrational (Krauthammer and Will remain climate change “skeptics,” i.e. dogmatic deniers), they at least can distinguish an argument from a diatribe and evidence from assertion. Liberals like me who want to follow the best of conservative thought have to seek out these dwindling few (Will is over 70).
New York Times columnist Douthat recently took on the redoubtable Steven Pinker and his recent book Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress, (Viking 2018):

I just got Pinker’s book a few days ago and have not yet read it, so I cannot rebut Douthat’s critique from the text, but I can see how plausible it sounds. Cut to chase: Not very.
Pinker’s subtitle announces his thesis, namely that certain epistemic and moral values that emerged in or were essential to the Enlightenment have been efficacious in promoting human well-being, and are the ideas behind the many incontrovertible instances of human progress. Douthat, who has “browsed” the book, describes Pinker’s project as follows:
“Pinker defends a selectively edited Enlightenment that conforms neatly to his style of liberal politics (stridently secular, mildly libertarian, anti-P.C.), and absolves his idealized version of the modern project of all imperial and eugenic and centralizing cruelties, and all the genocides and persecutions justified in Reason’s name.”
Actually, I cannot think of any genocides or persecutions conducted “In Reason’s name,” unless “Reason” is identified with various totalitarian ideologies, such as Marxism/Leninism or Maoism. Of course, the Soviets and the Maoists thought that they were on the side of reason, but so did the Holy Inquisition. So does everybody. Are there any martyrs to reason per se? Has anybody been sent to the Gulag for refusal to accept quantum theory, or shot for insufficient dedication to general relativity, or decapitated for defiance of thermodynamics? Are there reeducation camps for those who reject Gödel’s Theorem? Of course, Protestant fundamentalists whine that they are persecuted by evolutionary theory, but their complaints are bullshit.
I am sure that Pinker presents the Enlightenment in a revised and edited version that highlights the good things that were said and done and downplays the ugly, stupid, harmful, and vicious ones. However, such a tactic is hardly unique to defenders of the Enlightenment. Conservatives from Edmund Burke on down have been at great pains to argue for the socially beneficial effects of religion, and the Christian religion in particular, for its alleged efficacy in upholding morality, patriotism, and respect for authority. It hardly needs pointing out that advocates of that view must have a very selective memory. For instance, religious apologists love to cite the religiously-inspired abolitionists, but conveniently overlook the numerous and equally pious defenders of “the peculiar institution” (see Forrest G. Wood’s The Arrogance of Faith). Sauce for the goose, then; or, to use a favorite tactic of the apologists, tu quoque.
However, Douthat says that his main point is not to offer a critique of Pinker’s historical methodology, Rather:
“I’m most interested in the bright line that Pinker draws between the empirical spirit of science and the unreasoning obscurantism he suggests otherwise prevails.”
On the contrary, Douthat argues, those who investigated “irrational” practices like charismatic religion and health-food regimens exhibited a genuine rejection of authority and an empirical spirit:
“…it was the charismatic-religious and ‘health food’ regions where people were the most personally empirical, least inclined to meekly submit to authority, and most determined to reason independently and keep trying things until they worked.”
According to Douthat, apostles of “scientism,” like Pinker, too quickly dismiss spiritual seekers and those who try alternative therapies like health foods. Such persons are motivated by curiosity and an experimental spirit that is akin to the spirit that motivates scientific inquiry:
“If you refuse any non-F.D.A.-blessed treatment for chronic illness because there’s no controlled study proving that it works, or have a religious experience and pre-emptively dismiss it as an illusion without seeing what happens if you pray, you may be many things, but you are not really much of an empiricist.”
Indeed, Douthat claims that the things that Pinker and his ilk dismiss as “irrational hugger mugger,” actually strengthen during periods of strong scientific ferment, and for the same salutary reasons—distrust of authority, curiosity, and empiricism. Thus, he says, it is not surprising that Newton was interested in alchemy, that the Victorians were fascinated by séances and mediums, and that health food stores proliferated in the Space Age.
So, are those who explore charismatic religious practices and health foods motivated by a laudable resistance to authority and an adventurous spirit of empirical inquiry?
Let’s begin with authority. As I learned in my twelfth grade sociology class, there are two kinds of authority, earned and ascribed. Ascribed authority was the sort we were familiar with in high school where respect for certain persons and rules was simply demanded. Sometimes, though, authority is earned by a demonstration of worthiness for respect. For instance, those teachers who showed their concern and dedication to us and our education earned our respect and did not have to demand it. Now, I think we should be very skeptical of authority that is simply asserted, but respectful of authority that is earned.
Surely, by now, science has earned a position of epistemic authority, so respect for scientific authority should at least be our default position. If the overwhelming consensus of the scientific experts is that something is so, then surely it is a brazen act simply to reject such authority. Does Pinker in fact think that health food aficionados are invidiously anti-scientific? As I say, I have not yet read the book, but I suspect that this is a straw man. I cannot find in Pinker’s index any reference to health food, diet, or organic food.
I have read repeatedly from seemingly reliable sources that there is no clear evidence that organic vegetables are any healthier than regular vegetables (and hence I shop at Kroger rather than Whole Foods). However, I do not see those who feast (if that is the right word) on quinoa and kale as anti-science crackpots, and neither, I imagine, does Pinker. Likewise, if someone feels better after acupuncture or aromatherapy, I don’t see this as harmful unless these practices are regarded as substitutes for scientific medical treatment, and then I would have an issue, and so should Douthat.
I wonder what Douthat would say about the anti-vaccination movement. Would he say that the anti-vaxxers are motivated by a healthy suspicion of authority? We have to distinguish between practices, like preferring organic food, that science merely does not endorse, and those, like not getting your children vaccinated, that are demonstrably dangerous. The former are not a matter of concern unless they are presented as substitutes for scientific therapies, but in the latter case the rejection of scientific authority, far from being laudable, is irrational and dangerous. It is such instances that I, and, I imagine, Pinker find deeply disturbing, and not someone noshing on tofu turkey.
So, are people who explore séances and charismatic religions motivated by a healthy empiricism? This seems dubious. On the contrary, perhaps when scientific and technological progress is rapid, people are afraid that such progress will displace or devalue all that is spiritual. They see old sources of spiritual comfort, like mainstream religion, as feckless, so they seek new oracles. Séances and mediums, by the way, were subjected to incisive critique at the height of their popularity, most notably by Harry Houdini, who specialized in exposing fakes. So, Victorian spiritualism seems to have been a rather sad effort to grasp at spiritual straws, and not the practice of a bold, adventurous empiricism. No form of progress is universally celebrated. Rather, many will find it disorienting and seek refuge from it.
Dabbling in charismatic Christianity might be taken as a kind of personal experimentation, but in a sense not terribly different from experimenting with recreational drugs. Indeed, Marx may have been closer to the truth than he realized when he described religion as an opiate—for some it can become an unhealthy addiction. Further, as Douthat notes, such personal experiments lack the methodological constraints that make scientific tests objective, rigorous, and replicable. Unfortunately, therefore, such unscientific empiricism all too quickly falls prey to cognitive traps such as confirmation bias, placebo effects, and wishful thinking. The upshot is that experimenting with yourself is risky, and best conducted with an eye to scientific and medical authority. A healthy empiricism looks before leaping.
What about Newton and alchemy? We might also mention Kepler and astrology. We do indeed have to avoid the arrogance of Whig history. Whig historians are those who take the standards of the present as absolute and judge the past by how closely it conformed to present wisdom. However, in the early modern era, alchemy and astrology were not yet recognized as unscientific, and so it was not a violation of the scientific spirit to investigate these. Yet, for all their genius, we have learned a thing or two since Kepler and Newton. We now know that alchemy and astrology are not science, and why they are not, and so their pursuit is no longer scientifically respectable. Even creationism was a pretty good theory in 1000 B.C. Now it is obscurantist claptrap. As we learn more about what constitutes good science, we also learn more about what is bad science and what makes it bad. Pinker, or anyone, would be remiss not to make these distinctions when we legitimately can.

bookmark_borderKreeft’s Case for God – Part 18: Interpretation of Argument #4

In Part 17, I analyzed the logical structure of Peter Kreeft’s Argument #4, the Argument from Degrees of Perfection.  That clarification of the logic of this argument, however, is not sufficient to make it possible to rationally evaluate this argument.  The meanings of each and every premise in Argument #4 are UNCLEAR, making it impossible to rationally evaluate the argument as it stands.
 
SERIOUS UNCLARITY IN PREMISES (A) and (B)
Consider premise (A):

A. These degrees of perfection pertain to being.

This sentence can be divided into two parts: the subject and the predicate.  The subject of this sentence is “These degrees of perfection…”.  This phrase is a classic UNCLEAR reference, and it involves an UNCLEAR term “perfection”.  The predicate of the sentence is “…pertain to being.”  The meaning of this phrase is also UNCLEAR.  Thus, both the subject and the predicate of premise (A) are UNCLEAR.  This premise is what logicians refer to as a DSU (a Double Screw Up), because it consists of two UNCLEAR phrases.
Consider premise (B):

B. Being is caused in finite creatures.

This sentence is composed of a subject and a predicate.  The subject is “Being…”.  This is an UNCLEAR term that needs to be defined or clarified.  For example, is Kreeft talking about “coming to exist” or  “current existence” or “ways of being” or something else?  The predicate of this sentence is: “…is caused in finite creatures.”  This phrase is also UNCLEAR. What does Kreeft mean by “finite creatures”?  So, premise (B) is also a DSU, because it consists of two UNCLEAR terms or phrases.
Premises (A) and (B) are both parts of an initial inference in Argument #4:

A. These degrees of perfection pertain to being.

B. Being is caused in finite creatures.

1a. IF these degrees of perfection pertain to being and being is caused in finite creatures, THEN there exists a source and real standard of all the perfections that pertain to being.

THEREFORE:

C. There exists a source and real standard of all the perfections that pertain to being.

So, this initial inference in Argument #4 contains at least two DSUs.  When a single inference or sub-argument contains two or more DSUs, logicians use a special term to characterize such an inference: a CLUSTERFUCK (in polite company: a Charlie Foxtrot).
 
THE PURPOSE OF THIS POST
Now that I have introduced some technical terms of logical analysis, I can clearly state the purpose of this post:
I am going to attempt to un-CLUSTERFUCK the initial inference in Argument #4 of Peter Kreeft’s case for God. 
I honestly have no idea about whether I will be successful at accomplishing this goal, so I make no promises.  All I can say for now, is that I will make a sincere effort to un-CLUSTERFUCK this sub-argument.  In other words, I will try to interpret and to restate the premises of this sub-argument so that they are of significantly greater clarity, and so that they provide a plausible interpretation of this sub-argument.
 
THE SUBJECT OF PREMISE (A)
Once again, here is the doubly UNCLEAR premise (A):

A. These degrees of perfection pertain to being.

What is a “perfection” anyway?  Kreeft gives some hints in the paragraph just prior to the one where he uses the phrase “These degrees of perfection…”.  Kreeft opens that prior paragraph with these words:
Now when we think of the goodness of things… (HCA, p.54)
Kreeft also talks about some “ways of being” that are “better than” other “ways of being”:
…a relatively stable and permanent way of being is better than one that is fleeting and precarious. (HCA, p.54)
Based on these comments, it seems plausible that Kreeft thinks of a “perfection” as a characteristic that can make a being “better than” some other being that lacks that characteristic or that has the characteristic to a lesser degree:
Characteristic X is a perfection IF AND ONLY IF either:

(a) having characteristic X makes a being better than other beings which lack characteristic X (other things being equal),

or

(b) having characteristic X to a greater degree than another being, makes a being better than that other being that has a lesser degree of characteristic X (other things being equal).

 
The subject of premise (A) is an UNCLEAR reference:  “These degrees of perfection…”
My inclination is to look closely at the end of the previous paragraph to try to identify the reference of this phrase:
In other words, we all recognize that intelligent being is better than unintelligent being; that a being able to give and receive love is better than one that cannot; that our way of being is better, richer and fuller than that of a stone, a flower, an earthworm, an ant, or even a baby seal.  (HCA, p.54-55)
The phrase “these degrees of perfection” could refer back to the examples of “intelligent being” vs. “unintelligent being” and a being that is “able to give and receive love” vs. a being that “cannot” do those things.  In other words, an intelligent being has a higher “degree of perfection” than an “unintelligent being”, and a being that is able to give and receive love has a higher “degree of perfection” than one that cannot give and receive love (other things being equal).
The word “degrees”, however, suggests a range or span of different degrees from very low to very high, but Kreeft describes these two characteristics in terms of dichotomies, in terms of ON or OFF,  YES or NO.  Something is either intelligent or unintelligent.  Something is either able to give and receive love or it is not.  So, Kreeft does not talk about these characteristics in terms of degrees.
Nevertheless, it is obvious that intelligence DOES vary in degrees, that some beings have no intelligence, some are of low intelligence, some of moderate intelligence, some have a high degree of intelligence, and some are extremely intelligent.  The same thing goes for the ability to give and receive love.  So, although Kreeft talks about these two characteristics in terms of ON or OFF,  YES or NO, they are clearly characteristics that occur in various degrees in different beings.
The phrase “degrees of perfection” could also refer to an overall evaluation of particular kinds of beings.  This sort of comparison is implied in Kreeft’s evaluation of “our” (i.e. human) way of being in comparison to other kinds of beings: “a stone, a flower, an earthworm…” One being might, for example, have a low degree of intelligence, and a moderate degree of the ability to give and receive love.  Another being might have a moderate degree of intelligence, and a high degree of the ability to give and receive love;  a third being might have both a high degree of intelligence and also a high degree of the ability to give and receive love.  The third being, would have the overall highest “degree of perfection” of the three beings, other things being equal.
Based on the content of the end of the paragraph just before the one where Kreeft uses the phrase “These degrees of perfection…”, this could refer to either (a) the degrees of intelligence and the degrees of the ability to give and receive love, or (b) the overall evaluations of particular kinds of beings in view of their various perfections.  Another possibility is that intelligence and the ability to give and receive love are just two examples out of (c) many examples of “a perfection” that occur in various degrees in different beings.  So, the phrase “These degrees of perfection…” has at least three different possible referents, based on the contents of the end of the paragraph that immediately precedes the paragraph where Kreeft uses this phrase.
Before we try to select one of these possible interpretations, let’s try to clarify the predicate of premise (A).
 
THE PREDICATE OF PREMISE (A)
The predicate of premise (A) is UNCLEAR: “…pertain to being”.
On the one hand, there can be no doubt that we can find beings that have intelligence and beings that lack intelligence, and there can be no doubt that we can find beings with varying degrees of intelligence, from low, to moderate, to high.  The same is true of the characteristic of being able to give and receive love.  The term “intelligent” and the term “intelligence” does apply to some beings (e.g. humans) and not to other beings (e.g. rocks).  So, if the fact that the words “intelligent” and “intelligence” can be used of some beings and not other beings is sufficient to show that the “perfection” of intelligence “pertains to being”, then it is obvious that premise (A) is true.  Premise (A) is true IF we interpret it this way:

A1.  The characteristics of intelligence and of the ability to give and receive love exist in different degrees in different beings.

Although (A) would be true on this interpretation, this seems to be TOO OBVIOUS a point.  If this is the point Kreeft was trying to make, then he would NOT be struggling to make this point; he would not need to argue for the point at all, because it is simply too obvious to need support.  The fact that Kreeft devotes a paragraph or two to supporting (A) is a good reason for rejecting interpretation (A1), because (A1) is too obviously true, and has no need of support or justification.
Even a more general claim about “perfections” (beyond just those of intelligence and the ability to give and receive love) would still be too obvious to be in need of argumentation by Kreeft to support it:

A2.  Various characteristics that we consider to be perfections exist in different degrees in different beings.

Again, if this is all that Kreeft intended to claim in premise (A), then there would be no need for him to provide any argument or justification for (A); this is just too obviously true.  So, we also have good reason to reject interpretation (A2).
Kreeft made a comment that relates goodness or perfection to being, and I think that comment was an attempt to explain an idea that he has in mind when he wrote the phrase “…pertain to being.”  Here is the comment that seems relevant:
Now when we think of the goodness of things, part of what we mean relates to what they are simply as beings.  (HCA, p.54)
However, I don’t know what he means here.  I don’t see what he is getting at.  In the very next sentence, he uses the word “being”, but now uses it in the phrase “way of being”:
We believe, for example, that a relatively stable and permanent way of being is better than one that is fleeting and precarious.  Why? Because we apprehend at a deep (but not always conscious)  level that being is the source and condition of all value… (HCA, p.54)
So, my guess is that when Kreeft used the phrase “…pertain to being.”  he was NOT referring to the OBVIOUS fact that different things that exist have different degrees of various “perfections”, but rather to the “deep (but not always conscious)” belief that “being is the source and condition of all value”.   In other words, Kreeft is referring to a controversial claim of Thomistic philosophy.  If so, then premise (A) asserts or implies, among other things, that goodness or perfection is related to “being” in the way that Thomistic philosophy claims, a view which Kreeft sums up in the claim that, “being is the source and condition of all value”.
I am not an expert on Thomist philosophy, but I am aware of Kreeft’s view of the nature of evil: Evil is a Privation.   The view that evil is a privation, it seems to me, is the other side of the coin that Kreeft presents by claiming that “being is the source and condition of all value”.  So, if we spell out Kreeft’s view that evil is a privation, I think this would help to make sense of his claim that “being is the source and condition of all value” and thus to make sense of the UNCLEAR phrase “…pertain to being.”
 
KREEFT’S CONCEPT OF EVIL
In Chapter 6 of HCA, Kreeft discusses the problem of evil.  On pages 132 and 133, he lays out his concept of evil.  Here are some key comments from those pages:
Evil is not a being, thing, substance or entity.   …all being is good metaphysically, or ontologically, or in its being.  For all being is either the Creator or his creature. He himself is good, and he declared everything he created good (Genesis 1).  And that is all the being there is. 
If evil were a being, the problem of evil would be insolvable, for then either God made it–and thus he is not all good–or else God did not make it–and thus he is not the all-powerful creator of all things.  But evil is not a thing.  Things are not evil in themselves.  For instance, a sword is not evil. …Where is the evil? It is in the will, the choice, the intent, the movement of the soul, which puts a wrong order into the physical world of things and acts: the order between the sword and an innocent’s neck rather than a murderer’s neck or an innocent’s bonds.
Even the devil is good in his being.  He is a good thing gone bad… .  If he had not had the greatest ontological goodness (goodness in his being) of a powerful mind and will, he could never have become as morally corrupt as he is. … To be morally bad, you must first be ontologically good.
Even physical evil is not a thing. The lack of power in a paralyzed limb is physical evil, but it is not a thing, like another limb.  Blindness is a physical evil, but it is not a thing, like an eye. …
Evil is real, but it is not a real thing. It is not subjective, but it is not a substance. …It is a wrong relationship, a non-conformity between our will and God’s will.  God did not make it; we did. …
Here are some key points from these comments:

KP1. Evil is not a thing or a being.

KP2. No things or beings that exist are evil in themselves.

KP3. Every being or thing that exists is good.

KP4. Evil is a wrong order in the physical world of things and acts.

KP5. The choices of persons or agents bring about evil.

KP6. Evil is a non-conformity between our will and God’s will.

These are some key points in Kreeft’s view of evil, and because of the logical relationship between the concept of good and the concept of evil, these are also key points in Kreeft’s view of good.  Because Kreeft’s concept of “perfection” is grounded in the concept of “better than”, his concept of “perfection” is grounded in the concept of goodness.  Therefore, in order to accept Kreeft’s concept of “perfection” we must accept his concept of evil, we must accept (at least) the above six claims concerning good and evil.
Notice that (KP6) assumes that God exists.  This is a problem.  I believe that premise (A) of Kreeft’s argument asserts that Kreeft’s view of the nature of “perfection” is correct.  His view of the nature of “perfection” is based on his concept of good and his concept of evil, but his concept of good and his concept of evil include (KP6).  So, it looks to me like in order to agree with Kreeft’s view of the nature of “perfection”, we must first accept the claim that God exists.  But the whole point of the argument is to PROVE that God exists, so if accepting premise (A) requires that we first accept the belief that God exists, then Kreeft’s argument commits the fallacy of BEGGING THE QUESTION or CIRCULAR REASONING.
Recall the original words of premise (A):

A. These degrees of perfection pertain to being.

I think what Kreeft means here is this:

A3.  These degrees of perfection exist in accordance with my (i.e. Kreeft’s) view of the nature of perfection.

In other words, the phrase “pertain to being” is shorthand for a general theory about the nature of good and evil, in which all beings are believed to be good, and no being is evil, and evil is not a being, and evil is a non-conformity between the will of any agent other than God and God’s will.  It is shorthand for a general theory that INCLUDES the assumption that God exists.  Therefore, (A3) assumes or implies the existence of God, and thus (A3) BEGS THE QUESTION at issue: Does God exist?
If I am correct that premise (A) asserts Kreeft’s view of the nature of perfection, then that is a reason to prefer the broadest interpretation of the phrase “These degrees of perfection…”, because if (A) is asserting Kreeft’s view of the nature of “perfection”, then it makes more sense for him to be talking about perfection in general, it makes more sense that he is talking about making overall evaluations of the goodness of different kinds of beings (e.g. the overall goodness/perfection of a human being as compared with the overall goodness/perfection of “a stone, a flower, an earthworm, an ant, or even a baby seal.”  (HCA, p.55).  Here is my interpretation of premise (A) along those lines:

A4.  The overall degree of goodness/perfection of different beings varies from one kind of being to another kind of being given Peter Kreeft’s view of the nature of perfection, AND Peter Kreeft’s view of the nature of perfection is true.

Once again, accepting (A4) involves accepting (KP6), and thus accepting the belief that God exists.  So, just like premise (A3), premise (A4) BEGS THE QEUSTION at issue.
 
A REPLY TO CONSIDER
One possible reply to my objection that (A4) begs the question is to accept this interpretation of premise (A) but argue for a more limited set of Key Points to represent the view of goodness/perfection that Kreeft had in mind.  In other words, one could try to lay out a concept of goodness/perfection that incorporates some of Kreeft’s Key Points about evil, but that avoids any claims that ASSUME the existence of God.  We would need a neutral or non-theistic formulation of Kreeft’s concept of evil in order for such a reply to be successful.
One potential difficulty in laying out a non-theistic concept of “evil as a privation” is that the justification of this view that originated with Augustine, is a religious or theistic justification, e.g.  God created everything, and declared everything to be good.   So, if the view of “evil as a privation” is re-shaped into a non-theistic theory, it is unclear whether that view could be defended without, again, assuming the existence of God.