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Random thoughts and views of Tim Young

Pospositional Truth

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Just read this post from John H. Armstrong on propositional truth.

Unfortunately I wasn’t at the seminar he did 4 years ago (though I would have loved to be there since he sounds like a good and interesting guy), but his post has got me thinking about all the quarrels over propositional truth.  I’m not sure what all the fuss is about.   It seems like most of the issues people raise are based in misunderstanding.

Consider the issues raised by Armstrong.  His beef is with the word “proposition.”  He says there are “loads of problems” with the term.  Many logicians, for example, don’t like to use the word, and it is “hugely” controversial among philosophers.  But why should this present a problem for propositional truth?  He’s right about there being controversy among philosophers, but I think most of that controversy centers on the ontological status of propositions.   Philosophers disagree on whether propositions really exist, and if they (rather than say, sentences, or beliefs) are the proper bearers of truth.  But this whole controversy is irrelevant because believing in what many Christians are calling “propositional truth” does not commit one to the existence of propositions.  What’s important is that something (be it sentences, beliefs, or propositions) is true (or false).  Most Christians who use the term “propositional truth” don’t know anything about the technical issues surrounding propositions—nor is that necessary.  However the debate among philosophers turns out in the end is certainly important, but it will likely have no effect on the standing of propositional truth.

Now I mentioned just now that propositional truth does not commit one to the existence of propositions, but for the sake of argument let’s suppose that it does.  Why would this be a problem exactly?  All this would mean is that the person who believes in it stands on one side of the controversy rather than the other.  But why should this be a problem for propositional truth?  I mean, if you want to go that route, then why not take it a step further and point out that there is also controversy among philosophers over whether God exists, whether we have a mind/soul, or whether there are objective moral values?

Next, Armstrong raises another problem.  He asks us to think about the following syllogism:

Premise 1:  All men are mortal
Premise 2:  Jesus of Nazareth is a man
Conclusion: Therefore Jesus of Nazareth is moral

He then points out that Christ is not mortal in the same sense that any other man is moral.  But why should this be a problem for propositional truth?  If what Armstrong says here is true, then the above syllogism would be unsound, because the first premise would be false.  But that wouldn’t present any problem for propositional truth at all; it would only present a problem for that syllogism.

Next he says that propositional logic attempts to express “complete” propositions.  He finds this to be a problem because he does not think it is always possible to express complete propositions.  Why not? Because Christian truth claims sometimes lead us into mysteries.  Again, I don’t see what the problem is here.  Why think, for example, that expressing “complete” propositions about the Christian faith is incompatible with there being mystery in the faith?  Take the following propositions:

  1. Jesus is God
  2. The Father is God
  3. The Holy Spirit God
  4. Each is not the other
  5. There is only one God.

Surely these are “complete” propositions, yet there is still a lot of mystery surrounding the Trinity. Or consider,

6. The soul is an immaterial substance that interacts with a material body

There is a whole lot of mystery surrounding this as well, even though it is a complete proposition.  …but maybe I’m just misunderstanding what he means by a “complete proposition”?

Lastly, he points out that “Jesus is the truth, not our humanly constructed propositions.”  This is certainly true (Jesus says He’s the truth after all!) but it is, in my estimation, completely irrelevant to the discussion at hand.  Nobody that I know of who believes in propositional truth, believes that propositions are the truth.  They believe that proposition are true (or false)–that is to say they believe propositions are truth bearers–but they don’t believe they are the truth.  In fact, I’d venture to say that Armstrong thinks the following proposition is true:

7. Jesus is the truth.

Yet he wouldn’t think that it is the truth. So it seems to me that Armstrong hasn’t said anything in his blog worth worrying about.

Thoughts?

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Written by Tim

January 4, 2010 at 3:59 pm

Happy 234th Birthday Marines!

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Marine Corps

Written by Tim

November 10, 2009 at 6:20 pm

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An Argument for the Complexity of God? (Part 1)

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So I’ve finally found an article that presents an argument for the complexity of God. The author of the article is anonymous so for simplicity’s sake I’m going to refer to the author as “he” even though I’m fully aware that the author may be a “she.” I’m going to respond to the article in two parts. In the first part I will respond to the author’s objection to the design argument, in the second part I will response to the author’s argument for the complexity of God. Hope you enjoy, and if you happen to know the author of this article, feel free to direct him to my somewhat rough critique!

In the article the author distinguishes between complexity and what he calls “fundamental complexity.” As we shall see, the exact nature of “fundamental complexity” is a bit of a mystery—I’m just not exactly sure what he means by the term—but in any case the idea really presents no problem for intelligent design.

The authors begins the article by noting that though “[n]atural phenomena often seem to be extremely complex…when a scientific explanation is found, the complexity is invariably seen to originate from some simple fundamental principle.” That is to say, complex things like cells and flagellums can be explained in terms of random mutations and natural selection. At first brush, things such a cell seems impossible. However, when you throw natural selection into the mix suddenly it makes the cell’s complexity all the much more palatable. The same goes for many other natural phenomena we find in the world. They may seem very improbable at first, but there always seems to be some underlying principle in terms of which their complexity can be explained. Though these types of phenomena are complex they are not fundamentally complex.

So just what does it mean for something to be fundamentally complex? The author defines it this way:

By “fundamental complexity” I mean that the complexity cannot, even in principle, be explained in simpler terms.

That is to say, a phenomenon is fundamentally complex when it cannot be explained in terms of some underlying principle. Remember the example of the cell above? I said that the complexity of a cell can be explained in terms of random mutations and natural selection. In that case natural selection is the “simpler term” that explains the origin of cells. But suppose there was no simpler term or underlying principle that explained the complexity of a cell. What then? Well, then the cell would be “fundamentally complex” since there would be no underlying principle that explains its complexity. Fundamental complexity is the inability for some natural phenomenon to be explained in “simpler terms.”

Now for some reason the author seems to think this distinction creates a problem for the design argument. He says,

One of the latest incarnations of the Argument from Design, is Behe’s claim that biochemical processes are “irreducibly complex” and therefore a god must have created that complexity.

That’s a pretty crude representation of ID, but we get the point. In any case, what’s the problem with this? Well says the author,

The notion of irreducible complexity is a weaker principle than the notion of fundamental complexity discussed above. It is not enough for Behe to show that a biochemical system is irreducible complex for his conclusion of a designer to follow; he must show that the system is fundamentally complex and he has not done this.

Whoa, whoa, whoa! Why on earth would Behe or any other ID proponent need to believe in fundamental complexity? What the author is assuming here is that fundamental complexity is a necessary component of ID. But that’s obviously false. Clearly both evolutionists and ID proponents believe that complexity can be explained in terms of some “underlying principle.” The evolutionist believes that principle is natural selection, while the ID proponent believes it is design. Evolution explains complexity in terms of random mutations and natural selection, while ID does so in terms of design and “intelligent causes.” Nobody needs to claim “fundamental complexity.” In fact, I have a hard time seeing why anyone would ever want to believe in such a thing like fundamental complexity. It really has no bearing on the discussion.

But perhaps the author means to say something different here. Perhaps when the author says that a phenomenon is fundamentally complex when it cannot be explained in “simpler terms” what he really means is that a phenomenon is fundamentally complex when it can’t be explained in naturalistic terms. Maybe he believes the fundamentally complex phenomena are those that have no naturalistic explanations are. He doesn’t spell this out explicitly, but since all his examples refer to natural explanations, (scientific explanations, natural selection, etc.) this seems to be what he means. So going off of this a more accurate definition of “fundamental complexity” would be:

-A phenomenon P is fundamentally complex if and only if P cannot, even in principle, be explained in naturalistic terms.

This definition avoids the problem I raised earlier. Plus, it serves the author’s intended purpose since ID proponents really do appeal to non-naturalist principles in order to explain complex phenomenon (like appealing to a supernatural intelligent designer, for example).

But still, there is something really odd about the author’s argument. Notice that a phenomenon is fundamentally complex only if there is no naturalistic explanation for it. This means that as long as there is some possible naturalistic explanation for a phenomenon, then that phenomenon is not fundamentally complex. So long as some evolutionist can give a naturalistic explanation for P than P is not fundamentally complex. But that’s a strikingly odd (and noticeably biased) claim to make.

Suppose an evolutionist and an ID proponent are discussing the complexity of a cell. The ID proponent tells the evolutionists “See, I think an intelligent designer best explains the enormous complexity we see displayed in a cell.” The evolutionist responds, “But, my dear friend, natural selection still represents a possible naturalistic explanation for the complexity we find in a cell. Therefore intelligent design is false.”

Clearly that would be fallacious reasoning on the part of the evolutionist. The ID proponent doesn’t have to show that there are no possible naturalistic explanations, she only has to show that ID is the best explanation—which is the very same task the evolutionist has. It is not as though the only way for ID to be true is for there to be no naturalistic explanations for complexity. I mean, why couldn’t we just suppose that the reverse is true? Why not suppose that so long as there are non-naturalistic explanations then naturalistic explanations (such as evolution) are false? What if after hearing about evolution and natural selection an ID proponent responded with “Well that’s a nice theory, but ID still represents a possible non-naturalistic explanation for the complexity of biological systems, therefore evolution is false.” Obviously that wouldn’t work for the ID proponent, so why should we allow such a move from an evolutionist?

More importantly, I wonder if the author even realizes his bias here. I doubt he does, and such an attitude is part and parcel of the elitism present in naturalists circles.

One last possibility. Maybe the author thinks that a phenomenon is fundamental complex only if there are no probable naturalistic explanations for that phenomenon. But of course, part of the ID case lies in showing that naturalistic explanations are highly improbable, and that’s a point the author would need to interact with if he wanted to avoid begging the question.

Written by Tim

April 8, 2009 at 5:30 pm

When is the Soul united with the Body?

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At what point does that organism we call a “human being” actually become a human person? A friend and I got into this discussion the other day. Specifically our conversation centered on the issue of when it is that the soul is united with the body and the human organism developing inside the mother can properly be called a person. Personally, I don’t believe that the soul is united with the body at some point after conception…to me that thesis just seems kind of odd. I do freely admit that that thesis is possible, but I’m not too sure it is plausible. It seems to me that the default view we should hold is that when a human being comes into existence, she comes into existence as a complete–albeit immature–human being, body and soul.

Well, what follows is a rough sketch of my very rough thinking on why I lean toward rejecting the ‘soul-body uniting’ thesis: (…and yes I just made that phrase up 🙂 )

Where do I start? I wonder what exactly my soul was doing before God united it with my body? Was it just a disembodied entity somewhere “out there”? If we suppose, for example, that God didn’t unite my soul with my body until three weeks after conception, then where exactly was my soul before God united it with my body, and what exactly was it doing? Well maybe that’s not that great of an objection. Perhaps what we’d want to say here is that my soul hadn’t yet been created. Once God created my soul He united it with my body. In fact, perhaps the concepts “created” and “united” are synonymous in this regard. In any case, maybe the process of life goes something like this: First the human organism developments for n-weeks inside the mother’s womb, then after that time has passed God creates a soul for that organism at which point it becomes an image bearer–a “complete” human being. But why should we suppose that? What would lead us to believe that God waits to make us into, as it were, complete humans? What reason do we have for believing that? It would seem to me that, all things being equal, the more plausible explanation would be that when a human being comes into existence she just is a complete human being—body and soul.

Let’s say that there are two states that a person can be in: He can either be associated with (or “united” to) a soul or he can exist in a state in which body and soul are disassociated ( or “separated”). Let’s call these two states S1 and S2 respectively.

S1 – The state where body and soul are associated or united with each other.
S2 – The state where body and soul are separated or disassociated from one another.

What do we know about S2? Well, I think we have good reason for believing that S2 occurs at death. When we suffer physical death our soul is separated from our body. Or to put it another way, our body dies and our soul continues to have life. Anyone who has died is presumably a disembodied soul that is no longer associated with a body. But here’s the interesting thing: Death is one of the most UNATURAL events that takes place! We were not created to die. Death entered the world as a consequence of sin, and because of sin the whole universe corrodes and decays. When we fell the universe fell with us, and in the end God will redeem us along with all of Creation. That is, in the end God will fix everything; He will put things back the way they are supposed to be. What’s interesting to me is that part of God’s plan to fix everything includes Him raising men bodily. Why do I find this interesting? Well because it means men are not supposed to exist as body and soul “separated.” We’re not meant to be disembodied souls while our bodies decay in the ground. When Christ rose from the dead, He rose bodily , and as He is, so shall we be. So, as human beings we are supposed to exist as a union of body and soul (or body, soul, and spirit if you’re a trichotomist).

Now, what this seems to suggest is that S2 is a completely unnatural state of existence. But what about S1? Well, what we know about S1 follows from what we know about S2. S2 is unnatural, and S1 is completely nature. S1 is how we were meant to exist. If this be the case, then it says a lot for the question, “When is the soul united with the body?” It seems to me that the question presupposes that men start off in S2 and proceed to S1. But as we’ve already seen, we have good reason for supposing that S2 is not the way we are supposed to exist. This being the case, it seems odd to say that we start off in a completely unnatural state and then proceed to our natural one.

Now I do realize that there is a glaring hole in my argument. Namely, it only shows that S2 is unnatural with respect to death. If my argument is successful then it only shows that it is unnatural for a body and soul to be torn apart in that event we called “death.” That is, it shows that only after a body and soul are united is it unnatural for them to be torn apart, but what it doesn’t show is that they didn’t start out that way. It still could be the case that God only unites body and soul after a certain amount of time has passed and that that is completely natural. It’s only when body and soul are united that it becomes unnatural for them to be separated. If this is the case, then we could say that at conception I was just an organism without a soul. However, after n-weeks (we’ll say 3 weeks) God decided to create me a soul, and at that point I became a ‘real’ human being in the image of God. And it is only at that point that it becomes unatural for the body and soul to be seperated.

Now this is true; my argument doesn’t stop that from being a distinct possibility. But my original question was if the thesis is plausible not if it were possible. In other words, the thesis still could be true, but what reason do we have for believing it is true? Why should we believe body and soul start off in a state of separation and are later united? What would prompt us to believe this? I’m really not sure other than to say that it is probably based in Platonic ideas of body and soul. What do you think?

Written by Tim

March 26, 2009 at 5:14 pm

The Flying Spaghetti Monster?

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spaghetti_monster

 

The Flying Spaghetti Monster (FSM) is meant as a parody of intelligent design. He makes his first appearance in a letter to the Kansas State Board of Education in protest to their decision to require that intelligent design be taught alongside evolution in public schools.We are told that the FSM created the world and even regularly intervenes in human affairs by use of his “noodly appendage.” He supposedly created the world to make it look as if evolution is true, and he frequently sabotages carbon dating test so that they give inaccurate readings, leaving us with the impression that the world is really very old when in fact it is only 10,000 years old. There is even a church for this deity called The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

I say: Give it up! Please!!

First off this is nothing unique. We have the Invisible Pink Unicorn (IPU), Russell’s tea pot, supermanism, etc. All of these are really meant as parodies of theism (usually Christianity), and they are supposed to somehow show the absurdity of believing in God. Well, I’m beginning to get tired of hearing all of them (FSM seems to be the most popular at the moment). So atheists, before you’re tempted to use one of these as an objection to Christianity, please take note of the following:

By creating such superficial fairytales as the FSM or the IPU, you are really showing your superficial understanding of Christianity, and any reasonably reflective Christian will not take you seriously. Why? Well:

1. These cheesy, on the spot parodies do not at all take into consideration the historic development of Christianity given through the various works of great historic (and contemporary) figures. Everyone from St. Paul, St Augustian, Thomas Aquinas, and Anselm, to Calvin, Edwards, Plantinga, and Van Til… the list could go and on, but the important thing is that you’re failing to understand Christianity as a complex knowledge tradition, and this causes you to draw inadequate analogies between the God of the bible and, say, a flying spaghetti monster.

2. You’re mistakenly viewing the Christian God as a vacuous concept.. As if I could go from believing “God exist” to believing “God does not exist” without it having a catastrophic effect on my world view. More to the point, Christianity is a complete world view, and the Christian God is at the very center of that world view. He gives purpose to our existence, He gives purpose to the universe, He is the ground of knowledge and truth, ethics and aesthetics. I cannot answer the questions “what is right and wrong” or “what is beautiful” without making recourse to God.. The entire foundation of philosophy, science, history…in short, everything, is built upon God. To get rid of God is to get rid of an ENTIRE world view, thus one is forced to answer life’s ultimate questions by making recourse to other things, by other means. On the other hand, whether or not I choose to believe in a flying spaghetti monster, an invisible pink unicorn, a dragon in my garage, an invisible gardener, or a tea pot in orbit around the Sun between Earth and Mars, has no such effect.

So please, give it a rest!

…though I do have to admit the FSM pictures are pretty funny!

So is God Designed? (In Christian Perspective)

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Last post I pointed out that the “Who designed the designer?” objection to intelligent design is a red herring. Pointing out that the designer is complex and therefore in need of a designer itself doesn’t mean that the universe wasn’t designed. Maybe the designer is complex? So what? If ID is true, then the universe is designed regardless.

 

But still, might it be the case that God is designed? After all, wouldn’t God be more intricate and more complex than any feature of the universe? Sure cells, flagellums, humans, etc., are complex but wouldn’t God be even more complex than they? And if we’re arguing that the complex features of the universe are best explained by an intelligent designer, then how much more would this principle apply to God?

So, can this problem be escaped? I think so. The first question we’ve got to ask is this: Why should we believe God is designed? The argument for that goes something like this:

1. Complex things are best explained by an intelligent designer.

2. God is a complex thing.

3. Therefore God is best explained by an intelligent designer.

No doubt, the first premise will be accepted by ID proponents. Indeed some would argue that ID entails (1). After all, ID proponents like Michael Behe, for example, often appeal to the complexity of cells as evidence for them being designed by an intelligent designer. So for now we can accept the first premise. What about the second premise ? Why should we believe God is complex? As best I can tell the assumption for (2) goes something like this: Any being who could design all the complex features of the universe would in all likelihood be at least as complex as those things it designed. And naturally this seems like a reasonable assumption. There are many examples of manmade things in our world: machinery, computers, cars, architecture, art, data structures, etc., etc., and no matter how complex and amazing these things are, there is still something that’s even more complex than they are: their designer–in short, human beings. The same is true for other animals as well. Birds make intricate bird nests, and ants make intricate underground networks, but a bird and an ant are far more complex than those things they “design”. Thus–or so the argument goes–it is reasonable for us to assume that if God designed the universe, then in all likelihood He is at least as complex as the universe itself, and probably more so. Hence we get (2), and (3) follows logically.

Now it’s worth noting at this point that ID proponents typically view complexity in terms of the arrangement of material parts. Just reflect for a moment on what is commonly appealed to in intelligent design arguments. Cells, DNA, flagellums, eyes, etc. What should be fairly obvious is that these are all material things and they are “complex” in that they are constituted by an intricate arrangement of material parts unlikely to have arisen by chance. In fact, the probability of their parts being arranged as they are completely by chance is extremely low. Something like the probability of a tornado going through a junk yard and producing a 747 jet…and I don’t think that any of us would hold our breath waiting for that to happen.

So why is this important? Well because it would appear that according to ID a necessary condition for X to be complex is that X be a material object.  In other words, anything called “complex” (in the ID sense of the word) has got to be a material object or some sort. We don’t find, for example, ID proponents speaking of the irreducible complexity of “souls,” or minds, or abstract entities like numbers. They’re always talking about some physical object: cells, bacteria, etc.

So according to (2) God must be a material object of some sort.  But why should we suppose that God is a material object? After all, doesn’t the Bible make abundantly clear that God is spirit (e.g. John 4:24)? Furthermore, why should we believe that God is complex? Isn’t it, for example, a Christian tradition of ours that God is simple i.e. not a composite being? It’s quite clear that the Christian conception of God doesn’t fit (2).

So again, why is it that we should suppose that God is complex? Well the argument for (2) above was essentially that in all our experiences with design the designer is always more complex then its design, thus we have good reason to believe that in the case of God and the universe, God is more complex than the universe. But isn’t there something a bit odd about this claim? Suppose it is the case that the Christian God exists. If that be the case, then there are many designed things which are more complex than their designer. In fact, everything that God designed would be more complex then He is. The universe would be filled with such examples, and we’d come in contact with them on a daily basis. So the argument in support of (2) does nothing more then beg the question. What really needs to be shown is why God must be complex which, unfortunately, is an argument I’ve yet to find. Maybe someone reading this knows of one?

Written by Tim

March 17, 2009 at 5:47 pm

Wait a minute…so who designed the designer hmmm..?

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Smug Duck

 

 

 

 

Ever see the movie The Day the Earth Stood Still  (the original)?  <POSSIBLE SPOILER ALERT> In order to stop the destruction of Earth at the hands of an “omnipotent” robotic galactic law enforcement agent, a woman must utter the words “klaatu barada nikto” while in the presence of the robotic agent.  If she fails to do so, earth is doomed.  Fortunately she manages to blurt out the phrase just as the robot is about to kill her and begin its destructive rampage. <END SPOILER ALERT>  In the end, Earth is saved by the woman’s courage, steller memory, and most importantly by the words “klaatu barada nikto!”

It seems to me that some think there is equal power in the question “So who designed the designer?”  And I really shouldn’t call it a question because it’s more like an objection.  Kinda like a “Ha Ha, you just shot yourself in the foot” type of objection.  In any case, the whole Intelligent Design case is supposed to grind to a halt as soon as the objection leaves the lips of the questioner.  Every argument and every evidence is presumed to be overturned the very instant the final syllable of the objection whooshes past the vocal cords and strikes the ear drums of everyone listening.

 

But I say “So what?”  Who cares about the question/objection?  It’s not really relevant?  Suppose you and I are walking in a desert and you happen to stub your toe on a sharp object.  You look down and Lo! it’s an arrowhead!  You pick it up and filled with sheer delight exclaim “Will you look at this Tim.  It’s an arrowhead!  Just think Tim, this artifact I now hold in my hand was designed by someone many many years ago!  Wow!”  I, however, remain unconvinced. “Pfff…,” I say, “you really think someone designed that thing?  Obviously if that were designed then whoever designed it would have to be even more complex then that arrowhead..and if he were more complex he too would need a designer!  And so I ask you friend, who designed the designer of the arrowhead?”

 

Would you be persuaded by my argument?  Didn’t think so…  After you patted me on the head and gave me my medication, you’d probably place the arrowhead in your pocket and be on your merry little way.

 

Here’s the thing, when it comes to intelligent design, raising the question “who designed the designer?” is a red herring.  If we’re considering whether the cell was designed or the universe is fine-tuned it really makes little difference whatsoever whether we think the designer was designed or not.  Why? Because, that is not relevant to the inference that X, Y, or Z was designed.  That the designer of an arrowhead may have been designed himself is not really relevant to whether the arrowhead itself was designed.  So I say “So what?” Even if we are unable to answer the question of whether the designer was designed, we’ve still got to deal with the inference that the universe was designed.  That’s the real question at hand, and ID isn’t halted just because someone utters the magic words “So who designed the designer?” 

 

…And yes I do realize I haven’t answered the “question” directly.  I will, you’ll just have to wait till next time 🙂

Written by Tim

March 11, 2009 at 11:55 am