Monthly Archives: September 2015

What You Really Love

The comments on my last post reminded me of how much scientific “stuff” we really don’t know, epistemologically, so this is just a quick reminder. Since we don’t do experiments ourselves and only learn about them after they’ve gone through many hands and eyes, and through a massive popularization filter (looking at you, I Fucking Love Science), does nearly all of the explicitly scientific content we know fail the basic knowledge test that epistemologists propose? If so, what’s the “nearest” we need to be to scientific fact for us to declare that we’ve met our epistemic duty? To wit, my brother is a biochemical researcher. Would any (understandable) knowledge he gives me qualify as a true belief for me, since he really uses the scientific method himself and I know him to be trustworthy?

Also related to the last post, but not to the scientific process per se: Theology: Has it become too Propositional?

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Mad Max(imally)

From a letter to William Lane Craig, Craig’s response (bold mine):

Your envisioned scenario is quite similar to the objection of the late philosopher J. Howard Sobel. Sobel invites us to conceive of something which, if it is possible, is a dragon in whichever world is the actual world. This is just like your “phoenix that exists in the actual world.” (So you are in the company of an eminent philosopher in having your reservations!) If such a thing is possible, then a dragon exists. So is it possible? The only way to know, says Sobel, is to look around and see if there are any dragons. If there aren’t, then the notion is not logically possible after all. You can’t just rely on your modal intuitions.

Having a hard time with the bolded part. Phoenixes and dragons are imagined creatures, thrown together from spare parts of what was already known. People knew of birds, reptiles, fire, flight, and rebirth already. Phoenixes and dragons are certain configurations of those concepts that, to the creators, didn’t exist, but their component parts do. Their real, non-mythological “parts” are a posteriori bits of information gleaned from perceiving the natural world. There’s value in mentioning this because there can be degrees of possibility. Dragons or phoenixes, as commonly regarded, borrow from well-known facts of biology and physics, and violate only a few. So it’s more possible than other things that they could exist in our universe, given what we know of it. What if there was a dragon made entirely of polygonal glass, that breathed black fire? That’s far less likely to exist, since it would require advanced technology or some kind of magical enchantment, both of which are of a more dubious logical possibility.

But my main issue is with the “maximal” terminology used. It’s a modern epistemology/ontology term–I get why it’s used, and I suppose it’s probably true with respect to God, but I think it’s ultimately unhelpful. To me, “maximally” paradoxically implies a limitation: a container, even an indescribably large one, can be “maximally” filled. It might be better to come up with a term to describe God as the very source of x, rather than having an x to a “maximal” degree. By ascribing God as the only “sourceful”* thing in existence, we’re putting the horse before the cart, as it should be. “Sourcing” God is a start to making Him the ontological source of all that we could perceive, and it leaves it open so that He is the source of things we can’t perceive. It works as a catch-all, instead of coming up with a list of properties and throwing them into the bucket. The only problem is that it’s unsatisfactory, philosophically. Some philosophers, maybe the ones who aren’t completely Westernized, will be okay with this shift. If you feel like you’re losing your grip by doing this, I’d say that’s a good thing. A God you can get a handle on is one you don’t want to be following.

Related reading: Theology: Has it become too Propositional?

*Those of us who really need to cling to the “maximal” appellation can say God is the “maximally sourceful” being in every conceivable universe. I promise I won’t laugh.

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The Staycation Dad Chronicles

A cut and paste post while I’m busy finishing up Pale Blue Scratch.

I recently finished a staycation and was busy annoying everyone on Facebook with my humdrum, activities in the dense suburbs of Pittsburgh. Here they are, serialized for your pleasure—because what’s more entertaining than what an average white American male does in his spare time?

Staycation Dad Achievement unlocked: charmed all the moms at the bus stop this morning. But not *too* much.

Staycation Dad Achievement unlocked: helping wife find me in the bookstore by the smell of my burps.

Staycation Dad Achievement unlocked: resisted the urge to buy a middle-grade Star Wars book.

Staycation Dad Achievement unlocked: ground (grinded?) the out-of-code stroller into smaller parts to make it easier on the garbage man.

Staycation Dad Achievement unlocked: successfully reminisced about when this was the raciest thing on MTV.

Staycation Dad Achievement unlocked: substituted coffee for soda for Chick-fil-A meal deal.

Staycation Dad Achievement unlocked: installed vise with minimal injuries.

Staycation Dad Achievement unlocked: painted garage door with “assistance” from son.

Staycation Dad Achievement unlocked: moved rocks.

Staycation Dad Achievement unlocked: drank a cigar and smoked sherry while video chatting with an old friend.

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The Euthyphro Dumb-lemma

See here and here for reference.

1. Inference (2): “If (i) morally good acts are willed by God because they are morally good, then they are morally good independent of God’s will.” – Possibly true, but irrelevant, since there’s other things besides God’s will that morality could rest upon: i.e., God’s power or omniscience.

2. Inference (5): “If (ii) morally good acts are morally good because they are willed by God, then there is no reason either to care about God’s moral goodness or to worship him.” – Again, if all we’re talking about is morals, then this is possibly true, but again irrelevant. There could be plenty of other reasons to worship God that don’t involve Him as the source of goodness or morality.

3. C.S. Lewis’ quote referenced on the Wikipedia page is odd (i.e., wrong): “[I]f good is to be defined as what God commands, then the goodness of God Himself is emptied of meaning and the commands of an omnipotent fiend would have the same claim on us as those of the ‘righteous Lord.'” – Why is the focus on “emptying” the goodness of God’s meaning, when the greater offense would be to place God under the command of an object, like morality? If anything, Lewis should be considering God as axiomatic, not something to be concluded by his material logic or his personal preferences. That Lewis may find a divine command distasteful is irrelevant.

4. The dilemma, interestingly, is a false one, since it considers only a narrow scope of who God is and not His entire being. Josef Pieper, I think, comes close to the explaining it correctly with few words, also from the Wikipedia page: “Only the will [i.e., God’s] can be the right standard of its own willing and must will what is right necessarily, from within itself, and always. A deviation from the norm would not even be thinkable. And obviously only the absolute divine will is the right standard of its own act.”

5. Even better is Katherin A. Rogers’ quote: “Anselm, like Augustine before him and Aquinas later, rejects both horns of the Euthyphro dilemma. God neither conforms to nor invents the moral order. Rather His very nature is the standard for value.”

6. God can do whatever He damn well pleases, as I’ve mentioned this many times before on this blog.

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Of Blasphemy and Trigger Warnings

Though I don’t have the formal education on this, like some do, to point to primary sources, but Medieval thought in general held sin, especially blasphemy, to cause actual harm in the physical world. This puts a different spin on witch trials and inquisitions, since committing blasphemy could be considered no different than assault. One is reminded of the recognition of triggers as potentially harmful. Though, triggers deviate from blasphemy in that triggers are psychological, and triggering isn’t widely addressed in public policy…at least, not yet.

As with anything that’s post-Freud or enjoys vague falsifiability, when you base a phenomenon on the psyche you can essentially come up with any epistemic framework you’d like and claim an act—or words and attitudes—are not a matter of misinterpretation but an act of aggression.

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Separate the Church and the State

I ignore such salacious, morally complicated stories as the Kim Davis fiasco, but the bleating on Facebook has been hard to ignore. I have little true opinion about it since it has no direct bearing on my life, but it does serve as a working example of competing loyalties that demand full allegiance.

As a general rule of wisdom, Christians should have no involvement in a secular government, especially as one as powerful and pervasive as the American one*, not even as voters. As always, because God can do what He wants and therefore can bring anything He wants under your dominion, there are exceptions based on what God has for you.

Don’t get caught up in the technicalities. To wit, the Federal Reserve is not a government entity but it might as well be, de facto. Everyone has to be involved in some way because of the nature of representative democracy in a federated republic. How willing are you to be employed as an x or a y for the Cosa Nostra or the Yakuza? That’s the moral analogy to keep in mind.

Don’t take my word for it. Don’t let me dictate directly all of this for you, but regard it as a warning for consideration.

* This, I think, holds true for all “branches,” but also its enforcement and defensive arms. And as further general advice related to this: chances are, God doesn’t want you to travel halfway around the world to kill poor brown people and destroy their property.

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Quick Thought on Universal Positivism

I read an old post of mine by chance the other day on how we know our religious beliefs are true. While that question is badly worded and doesn’t really ask the right thing, I had a whole series of thoughts that just ended up as one simple one after reading it again.

An extreme fixation on determining truth of religious belief, that the above question embodies, is really a fixation on falsifiability. It has its highest goal whether it can be demonstrated that a person’s internally accepted truth can be shown to others for consideration, like an observable object. Neverminding that this kind of positivism paradoxically has to rest on a series of unfalsifiable axioms, the biggest one of which (to me) being that the only meaningful truths are ones that can be subject to falsification, it’s also idolatry. Idolatry…that Old Testment-y concept that got God really riled up, and got really defined in the New Testament and its commentaries. We tend to associate the word “idolatry” with the Exodus 32 narrative. It comes off as inapplicable to us moderns.

Idolatry, though, is simple: it’s putting something in place of God. Think of it as knocking Him off the throne with an ersatz substitute. The iconic opening scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark is a wonderful visual analogy of this. It isn’t possible, in reality, to even begin to argue with God, much less displace Him ontologically, but acting as though we did is how idolatry is defined. As always, one can ignore reality but only at one’s own peril.

Positivism and its various flavors and incarnations, like scientism, puts man, with his material intellectual tools—even its mere chronological potential (“we’ll know all meaningful things some day”)—on the throne. Falsifiability uber alles is a type of twisted idolatrous solipsism, in that what is categorically true can only as such if it can be determined by and demonstrated towards, in all instances, the individual, royal “you.” Forgetting idolatry for a moment, it’s philosophically absurd…though I’m quite open to criticism that I’m strawmanning or reductio ad absurdum-ing here a little bit.

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