Sloganeering and Self-Referential Incoherence

In this brief paper (I am not sure if it is even a paper), I want to go through some fun self-referentially incoherent concepts that have made their mark in philosophy, culture and everyday life. They matter in that many persons believe them regardless of their self-defeating nature (why, I am not sure). But, I want to share them for fun, and suggest that while many people might believe some of these propositions without realizing the contradiction, recognizing them might serve to eliminate the popularization of these views. I will list a few of these statements and ask for commentary in the comments:

  1. There is no truth <-This statement must be true for there to be no truth.
  2. Relativism is true <-Then this statement is relative, too, and says nothing of reality.
  3. Philosophy is dead <-This statement is itself a philosophy.
  4. Science is the only way to truth <-This statement is philosophical, not scientific.
  5. No sentence has meaning <-This statement has meaning.
  6. There is no self <- The utterance of this sentence required a self. [1]

In this (paper?) I have shown how many popularized slogans are plainly contradictory. Unless one accepts that they hold views which imply a contradiction, these statements should be abandoned.

[1] I did not footnote in this paper since these contradictions are common knowledge.

Kantianism, Utilitarianism and Consistency (with a Postscript)

In this paper, I shall argue that Kantianism is consistent throughout Trolley Driver, Bystander at the Switch and Transplant. First, I will explain the three main premises of Kantianism. Secondly, I will apply Kantianism to Trolley Driver, Bystander at the Switch and Transplant and show how Kantianism is consistent throughout each case. In conclusion, I will turn to an objection from Naïve Utilitarianism and Rule Utilitarianism and explain why the former does not refute, nor the latter accommodate, the Kantian’s moral intuitions.

Kantianism is a normative ethical theory which provides criteria for moral evaluation, that is, criteria for what is ‘good’ and ‘bad’. Kantianism has three main premises. First, in virtue of human beings being ends-in-themselves, they have a value such that it is morally impermissible to use them as ‘things’, that is, ‘means to ends.’ Secondly, morality requires that actions be done from ‘duty’; namely, the source of moral obligation and what makes a person have a good will. Lastly, the Kantian suggests that one should act from the categorical imperative, that is, the maxim that one should act only in such a way that actions be done if and only if or just in case that person would at the same time will that action to be a universal moral law. These three premises are what constitute Kantianism.

Kantianism argues that in Trolley Problem, Bystander at the Switch and Transplant acting in accord with the categorical imperative requires one to act from duty, that is, act in such a way that one treats humans as ends-in-themselves. In Trolley Problem, Bystander at the Switch and Transplant Kantianism suggests that in all cases there is a lack of treating humans as ends-in-themselves and therefore a lack of what morality requires. This is because by turning the trolley to kill the one in the Trolley Problem, choosing to turn the trolley either way in Bystander at the Switch and killing the patient to save the five in the Transplant, the one’s death is being used as a means to an end in saving the five. Kantianism’s solution to this moral dilemma, in all cases, is to refrain from acting altogether. It could be argued, however, that in virtue of the person finding himself with an option to act or refrain from acting in all three moral cases, the person is responsible and morally obligated to act and not remain passive. Kantianism rejects this because refraining to act is consistent with treating a person as an end-in-himself whereas acting requires that one person’s death is used as a means to saving the five. Therefore, by refraining to act, though allowing five to die, one is acting from what morality requires. Further, in the case of Transplant, Kantianism argues that the principle of autonomy, the ability for a human to be in control of her/his actions as a free agent, is compromised as the patient is killed against her/his will. Thus, the Kantian argues that because humans are ends-in-themselves, in Trolley Problem, Bystander at the Switch and Transplant what morality requires is consistent throughout, namely, refraining from acting in any situation.

It could be objected that Naïve Utilitarianism and Rule Utilitarianism can raise doubts to Kantianism as a normative ethical theory. Naïve utilitarianism is a normative ethical theory stating that what is ‘good’ and ‘bad’ are based on the maximum utility of the consequences of actions, that is, what is most useful in bringing about the greatest good. To begin, Naïve Utilitarianism rejects Kantianism by arguing that the realization of maximum utility in Trolley Problem, Bystander at the Switch and Transplant is through killing the one to save the five since it is more useful for the greatest good, namely, five people continuing to exist rather than one. Rule Utilitarianism, a view according to which ‘rules’ can be made insofar as they are conducive to the greatest good, also objects to Kantianism by arguing that the moral intuition that killing the one in each case is bad can be accommodated by making it a rule that killing the one in each case is bad if and only if or just in case it is conducive to the greatest good. In response to Naïve Utilitarianism, Kantianism would argue that Naïve Utilitarianism is analytically false under the assumption that humans are ends-in-themselves. By ‘analytically false’, I mean that Kantianism could argue that it is true by definition that the rule utilitarian is inconsistent with what morality requires as humans cannot be used as means to ends, regardless of the useful consequences. Regarding Rule Utilitarianism, Kantianism points out that refraining from acting, as duty requires, sometimes does not produce maximum utility. Suppose that Trolley Problem is modified so as to include one person on one side of the track and a million people on the other; the Rule Utilitarian must, on pain of irrationality, deny that it is conducive to maximum utility to choose to turn the track on to the one. Therefore, Naïve Utilitarianism does not falsify Kantianism and Rule Utilitarianism does not accommodate the consistent moral intuitions of Kantianism.

In this paper I hope I have shown that Kantianism is a consistent normative ethical theory throughout the Trolley Problem, Bystander at the Switch and Transplant.

After handing this paper in (which is my second philosophy paper ever written in university graded at 88%), I received a comment on the paper along the following lines: The philosophical anthropology which Kant takes as axiomatic makes my interpretation of Kant’s perspective on the trolley problem (and so forth) analytically true. To this, I had realized the importance of axioms in ethical discourse. My intuitions suggest that it is not the views one holds that are most contestable, but the axioms we hold first. To make this clear, consider a person who says ‘rape is not morally wrong.’ To a human being under normal conditions, this sentence is absurd; indeed it is morally reprehensible that (i) the person in question holds that view and that (ii) that it is a view in the first place. But, notice how there exists an implicit philosophical anthropology serving as a necessary and sufficient condition for the truth of the view. For the person who holds that view, they might affirm a logically prior proposition which allows their view to go through i.e., moral nihilism. They might affirm that persons are no more than mereological sums which, taken in total, amount to no more than conglomerations of matter operating deterministically via. pure neurophysiological states. As is clear, the presupposed view i.e., moral nihilism, is the problem here—not the view in question. For once the presupposition is given up (say, because there has been presented some defeater), so does the proposition ‘rape is not morally wrong.’ Thus, by attacking the foundations of the view, the view itself dissolves as well. Now, what has been noted to me (by another friend of mine) is the following: One can hold a view consistently without adopting the same axioms. For instance, a Daoist and Christian can both affirm the value of human life even though the source of their justification is different. This would show that axioms are not that important. To this, I suggest that in the realm of ethics, the axiom which one adopts must be consistent with a particular proposition they wish to provide a foundation for and true. (Here, I am explicitly rejecting the epistemology of pragmatism: even if beliefs/propositions are useful (because i.e., they are consistent) that is not enough for (i) knowledge and (ii) truth). For instance, if one asserts ‘murder is wrong’, the foundational premise cannot be ‘human beings are worthless by-products of biological evolution operating on blind natural forces deterministically and to no teleological end.’ But, if one asserts that the proposition to found ‘murder is wrong’ is that ‘God created human persons with an incommensurable value’, then the proposition in question is grounded. So, in ethics, I think that there cannot be many true axioms which serve to found particular moral truths. These thoughts were borne out of (i) writing this paper and (ii) the comment which was provided on it.

Pedagogy of Philosophy: Critiquing Robert Stainton and Andrew Brooks’ (Argument?) against Personal Immortality

“What is decisive against Christianity is our taste, no longer our reasons.”

Friedrich Nietzsche

“Continental philosophy tends to be obscure, imprecise, and emotive”

William Lane Craig

This essay seeks to explore and explain important aspects of a responsible pedagogy of philosophy. By ‘responsible pedagogy of philosophy’, I mean a methodology of teaching philosophy which respects the respective thinkers and ideas in question, and which uses philosophy as a device for wisdom (entailing fair representation of both sides of an argument as well as knowing and citing relevant literature). In this paper, I want to elucidate and explain why teaching philosophy entails responsibilities, what those responsibilities are and why it matters. To schematize and explain my argument, I will explore the responsibility of the philosopher in teaching philosophy by sharing my intuitions regarding Robert Stainton and Andrew Brooks’ (hereafter just ‘Stainton’) Knowledge and Mind: A Philosophical Introduction (2011), a recent introductory work to epistemology and the philosophy of mind. I will focus on their section 8 “Immortality Again: Can We Look Forward to Life after Death?” (pgs. 126-133). While my analysis is limited to this section, I hope important and helpful insights are explicit through exploring pedagogical tactics and their respective implications. Having explored this section, I will conclude that a responsible pedagogy of philosophy must not begin with unjustified, ignorant and unwarranted presuppositions; if this is not the standard to which a pedagogy of philosophy is held, philosophy is apt to miss its proper object—truth.

Section 8 “Immortality Again: Can We Look Forward to Life after Death?”, begins with an important note: “We will end this chapter by considering an issue that motivates many people to care about whether the mind is or is not simply processes in matter.” (p. 126) [1]. Presumably, the theory is that the psychological question of motivations concerning the physical/non-physical status of mind leads into deeper philosophical considerations concerning whether or not it really matters. So, Stainton raises one question (8) which turns into a further question (9) to which they purport to have an answer: “(8) Can (and will) we continue to exist after the death of the body?…(9) Can (and will) I continue to exist as me after the death of my body?” (p. 126-127). The answer given to this question is as follows: “One of our two conclusions will be that there’s little evidence that the answer is ‘Yes’, little evidence for an afterlife. Our other conclusion (you might call it our big conclusion) will be that, surprisingly, having little hope of a life after the death of our body shouldn’t be very upsetting.” (p. 127). Thus, Stainton professes two conclusions, (1) there is little evidence of an afterlife and (2) no life after death isn’t upsetting. At first glance, it seems hasty to move from considerations of epistemology and philosophy of mind to questions of life after death. No doubt Stainton’s response to this would be to say that without an immaterial mind (or soul, ego or what have you), there couldn’t metaphysically possibly be an afterlife; but this is simply false. Peter van Inwagen is a Christian philosopher who believes that human beings are just material objects. The truth of van Inwagen’s view is irrelevant; the point is that not one piece of literature on Christian materialism is cited. Another interesting note would be concerning (2). It seems that even if Stainton is right, it has absolutely nothing to do with the philosophical question of the ontology of life after death. Whether or not life after death is bad, morally neutral or good, seems to be irrelevant to the ontology of life after death (which is the first, fundamental question which should be asked here). So, Stainton must provide good reasons to think life after death does not exist, and further that life after death is really not something worth having. Stainton’s first claim is a necessary condition for answering the second; even if life after death was not worth having, that does nothing to change the ontology of it.

I will now begin by making explicit the methodology of Stainton here: “Here’s the plan. We will present two different arguments, each of which tries to show that there is life after death. Neither of these arguments works very well…But things are worse than that for the afterlife proponent. For there are several compelling reasons for thinking that there is no life after death.” (p. 127). I shall now make these arguments manifest and explain why they are important to a pedagogy of philosophy. The first argument for the afterlife is as follows:

Premise 1 If life truly ends at death, then life ultimately has no meaning
Premise 2 It would be awful if life ultimately had no meaning.
Conclusion Therefore, life does not end at death.” (p. 127)

This is an immensely weak argument. Indeed, with an argument this weak it is no wonder Stainton thinks that the afterlife proponent has come to a false conclusion. But, the question arises, is this the strongest argument for the afterlife? My answer, and I suspect most philosophers—especially analytic philosophers of religion—recognize, is that this is a terrible argument for the afterlife. While Stainton shows how this argument fails (invalid, argument from hope, subject to counter-examples), he has failed to recognize that this is not a fair representation of the views of the proponents of the afterlife since he has not presented the strongest argument in favor of the afterlife (nowhere near it, in fact). In testing any theory, the goal is to answer the strongest, not weakest objections to it. To present a bad argument and pull it apart is pedagogically dangerous; the impression Stainton gives is that anyone advocating the afterlife argues along these lines (which is simply false). Having dealt with pedagogical problems here (that of representation and its importance), P1 is critiqued by Stainton too [2].

Stainton says the following about P1: “Though P1 may look plausible at first glance, in the end it’s not so obvious at all. To see this, ask yourself why exactly must life continue to exist after the death of the body if it is to have any meaning. Couldn’t life’s meaning derive from the 75-odd years that the body is alive? Or couldn’t the source of meaning be one’s fellows and one’s achievements during this life? Unless there’s a good answer to these questions, P1 is also questionable.” (p. 127). This critique is not promising. Here are two reasons why. First, the questions Stainton raises, while important, have been answered elsewhere [3]. Stainton, in citing no literature on the topic, leaves the reader without much to work with. From his analysis, one might conclude that no one has answered—or even attempted to answer—these questions. So, as Stainton says that “those who endorse life after death have the burden of proof” (p. 127), so Stainton must provide justification for any alternative theory of meaning (which he has not). His skepticism, though, against the possibility of life’s meaning being grounded in the afterlife, seems to me to be a confession of ignorance. Secondly, however, Stainton has not distinguished subjective from objective meaning, an analytic distinction which clears up much of his worries about meaning and what constitutes it.

The second argument for life after death is as follows:

Premise 1 If you cannot even imagine something, then it doesn’t really exist.
Premise 2 You cannot even imagine the death of your own mind.
Conclusion Therefore, your mind never dies.” (p. 128)

This argument, too, is terrible [4]. Stainton spends close to two pages explaining why this argument does not work; in my view, this, again, shows how important it is to make the objection against one’s own views or arguments as strong as possible. Given the weakness of this argument I will spend no time talking about it; I will merely note that it is important to represent an opponent as the opponent really is. To summarize so far: Stainton has shown weak arguments for the afterlife proponent and has thus made the elementary fallacy of straw man; the lesson to be learned here is that in teaching philosophy, one must (i) present an opponent’s arguments as strongly as possible and (ii) cite relevant literature (especially for an introductory class). Now I want to share two arguments Stainton gives in favor of there being no life after death.

Stainton gives two arguments for there being no life after death. The first is from dualism being a necessary condition for life after death and the second that no life after death is not that bad. Let us begin with the first argument. Stainton writes as follows: “some philosophers have concluded that the human mind is essentially embodied. That is, the human mind is radically unlike, say, the mind of pure intellect that some theorists would assign to God.” (p. 130). I want to make two notes here. First, the term ‘essential’ is a technical term which I want to elaborate on. In the Aristotelian sense [5], an ‘essential property’ is one such that the being in question would fail to exist in the absence of that property (whereas an accidental property is one such that the being in question can lose the property and continue to exist as essentially the same thing). So, Stainton’s claim is that the human mind, in the absence of a physical body, would fail to exist. But, is not clear nor an established fact (far from it) that the human mind is essentially embodied. There are good arguments which suggest that the human mind is not embodied, but is temporarily in conjunction with a physical body [6]. Secondly, Stainton misses the fact that although a Divine mind and a human mind are different, if a Divine Mind exists (say, God), then the human mind, in being made by God, is probably constructed so as to be temporarily in conjunction with a physical body (since God has ordained the fate of His creatures to be heaven, hell or (temporarily) purgatory—in Catholic teaching). Since Stainton takes as axiomatic “the human mind could not exist without the body” (p. 130), the rest of his argument is what follows from that (and since we have good reason to think his metaphysical axiom is false, the rest of his argument does not work) (p. 132) [7].

Lastly, Stainton ends the chapter with the following consideration: “We end by considering whether this is such an awful conclusion [that there is no life after death]. First, an obvious point: it might be boring to live forever…death sometimes ends great suffering, whether physical pain or mental depression or something else.” (p. 132) Stainton here presents an argument which is plainly ignorant of contemporary literature on this topic. For instance, in William Lane Craig’s works, he lays out the necessary and sufficient conditions for objective meaning: personal immortality and God. Stainton is correct if his argument is that without God, a long and continuous life does not constitute meaning. But, if Stainton is saying even if God existed and life was infinitely long, then he has inherently failed to interact with good reasons think that God and an infinitely long life are constitutive of objective meaning. Secondly, though, just because death ends great suffering does not mean death is good, any more than sleeping 24 hours a day is good because the troubles and anxieties of the real world are tough to deal with. Indeed, many sufferings only make sense in light of eternity and not mere death—indeed, suffering becomes a trivial, meaningless and brute fact of human existence without eternity (but, any further commentary on this lies beyond the scope of this paper and so I will not digress into it here). So, Stainton has not provided good reasons to think that eternity would be boring. Continuing, Stainton goes on to respond to the person who says that death is really bad because it is scary. He says that since “the time before birth was not awful…you should not expect the time after death to be awful” and that since death is the cessation of oneself entirely, after death is nothing and so “you cannot reasonably be afraid of nothing.” (p. 132). Even if Stainton is correct here, which I doubt, one must recognize that the question of “attitudes towards death” promotes an emotionalism which is not truth-conducive. Even if death was better than eternity, it says nothing of ontology. Indeed, if there is eternity which a loving God has constructed for His children, the probability of eternity being a wonderful place (as should be expected), is significantly high even in the face of competing reasons to think that no life after death is preferable. Put otherwise, one should think of the probability of hypotheses relative to evidence and background information (as Bayes’ probability theorem suggests), since in the dark—so to speak—it might seem that some hypothesis is correct (until more information is given). By this, I mean to say that the question “what is preferable, an afterlife or no afterlife?” becomes different based on what the truth of the matter is. If God does not exist, an afterlife would not be preferable; if God does exist, an afterlife is preferable; unless there is some defeater for thinking that God and immortality are constitutive of objective meaning, the question “If God exists, is an afterlife worth having?” seems to be a deep, metaphysical and theological question which is fairly simple—yes.

Stainton’s conclusion is that “there is insufficient evidence to justify belief in the afterlife” and therefore “we should not believe in it.” (p. 133) The problem that is manifest is plainly methodological naturalism. In doing philosophy, Stainton has presupposed the naturalism (or atheism) which begets different answers to deep, philosophical questions. In an introductory philosophy book, such as this one, the axioms which one holds ought to be made clear—or more clear—and explicit, and the opposing side should be represented fairly and as strong as possible (even if the arguments are, indeed, bad). But, in Knowledge and Mind, it is methodological naturalism borne out of ignorance which is at work. Citing literature on controversial issues is an important and necessary part of an introduction to philosophy; without it, the reader becomes trapped by the knowledge of the author. Further, though, if the student is uncritical—which an introduction to philosophy is supposed to fix—it is very likely that the conclusions of the author become the conclusions of the student (since the student is inherently—or possibly inherently—limited by the author). Further still, in order to cite the relevant literature, one must know the relevant literature. I suspect that if Stainton consulted the relevant literature (from substance dualists, Christian materialists and other analytic philosophers of religion and mind), the introductory book would be much more apt at serving as a fairly represented introduction to philosophy of mind and epistemology. Pedagogy of philosophy entails responsibilities; an honest pursuit after truth should be without bias and prejudice; most importantly, though, it should be without ignorance [8].

[1] Instead of footnoting each citation from Stainton’s text, after quoting his text I will leave just the page number (with ‘p.’ preceding it). If there is a footnote, it is (i) to make a note or (ii) to cite other literature. I will give the reference to Stainton’s work here. Robert Stainton and Andrew Brooks, Knowledge and Mind: A Philosophical Introduction (Cambridge, Massachusetts and London, England: The MIT Press, 2000). Print.
[2] For instance, see William Lane Craig’s Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics, 3rd edition (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books), Chapter 2 “De Homine”.
[3] See the reference from Footnote 2.
[4] Has any philosopher in the history of philosophy given this argument? I suspect not—but I am open to being mistaken here.
[5] I encourage those acquainted with Aristotle to correct me if I am wrong on my diagnosis of Aristotle’s conception of essential/accidental properties.
[6] J.P Moreland and Alvin Plantinga are, in my view, the most prominent defenders of this view. See Moreland’s Consciousness and the Existence of God (New York, NY: Routledge, 2008), Chapter 2; see also Plantinga’s essay “Against Materialism” Faith and Philosophy 23, no. 1 (2006): 3-32.
[7] Stainton does mention an argument against thinking that there is no personal continuity from before death to the afterlife (which does not rely on his previous axiom); however, I have dealt with this problem in my unpublished essay entitled “Phenomenological or Ontological Sameness over Time? A Critical Response to Natasha Germana’s “Experiencing Mortality”” found on my website: Accessed May 19th, 2016.

[8] This philosophical and pedagogical problem of ignorance (in certain respects) is not peculiar to Stainton’s introductory work. Consider just one example from page 84 of Alexander Moseley’s A-Z of Philosophy (the first philosophy book I ever read!). In his section on ‘God’, he says the following: “Other theologians turn to logic to provide God’s existence, seeking to deploy proofs analogous to mathematical proofs that are necessarily true. St. Anselm’s famous ontological argument demands that God exists, because, since there is nothing greater can be thought of as God and since existence is a necessary condition of being perfect (i.e., non-existence would be an imperfection!), then God must exist. But the ontological argument seeks refuge in definitions rather than substantiating God’s existence…[St. Anselm’s ontological argument] is analogous to proving that the internal angles of an Euclidean (two-dimensional) triangle must add up to 180 degrees. A closed definition, no matter how complete, clever or awe-inspiring, it does not equate to an external visible entity. Further work has to be done.” (italics mine). What is revealing about this passage is Moseley’s ignorance of the work that has been done on the ontological argument. His A-Z of Philosophy was written in 2008, implying that he never read the work of Alvin Plantinga (his God, Freedom and Evil (1974), Nature of Necessity (1974) nor his God and Other Minds (1967)). Still worse, he hasn’t even consulted Robert Adams ontological argument (in The Virtue of Faith and Other Essays in Philosophical Theology, 1987) which doesn’t rely on a controversial axiom in the metaphysics of modality (axiom S5) but relies only on the Brouwer axiom. This ignorance—and indeed it is blameworthy given that these works are decades before this introductory book—is pedagogically destructive and ought to be seen as such. To be fair, though, this ignorance is not surprising in contemporary literature (i.e., ignorance of analytic philosophers to those of continentals ref. “History of philosophy” by Alex Pruss: Accessed July 28th, 2016). (But this one might not be a loss for the analytic side–in my view). Or perhaps even Chris Hallquist’s ignorance of the entirety and depth of Alvin Plantinga’s work. See his “Plantinga’s inexcusable faults (review of Where The Conflict Really Lies)” Accessed July 28th , 2016. One wants to ask the question, before writing a philosopher as “an embarrassment to philosophy”, “persistently screwed[ing] up something that academic philosophers nowadays mostly get right: understanding the science before you try to philosophize about it”, have you actually read Plantinga’s work (even Lewis’ original formulation of a rough EAAN to evaluate Plantinga’s exegesis of Lewis’ work? His corpus? One of my favorite philosophers (Patrick Sullivan) once suggested to me–in conversation–that one ought to read the entirety of an author’s corpus to avoid confusion, intellectual pride (in acting like one knows what they don’t of an author) and for genuine and authentic in-depth knowledge of that author. Another mentor to me Bryan Metcalfe suggested something relatively similar–or maybe he didn’t and just read Nietzsche’s corpus for intellectual fulfillment (regardless, I took that lesson from it). In the aforementioned Hallquist post, I so appreciate a comment that was made by “Aaron”: I read Plantiga’s book maybe a month ago and are now looking for critical reviews as I think about the issues. I have say your review really doesn’t seem to me like you have engaged with the substance of the arguments at all. I shall keep looking for other contra Plantiga articles!” It is always refreshing to see critical thinkers on such inaccurate and vociferous posts as Hallquist’s.

Design Intuitions via. Fine-Tuning Examples

“There are beauties so unambiguous they they need no lens of that kind to reveal them; they are visible even to the careless and objective eyes of a child.”

-C.S Lewis, Surprised by Joy

The teleological argument (argument from design) for God’s existence, as William Lane Craig has presented it, is sometimes presented as follows:

  1. The fine-tuning of the universe is either do to chance, physical necessity or design.
  2. The fine-tuning of the universe is not due to either chance or physical necessity.
  3. Therefore, it is due to design.

Part of this argument, however, is the supressed premise that the universe actually is finely tuned. While I am apt to agree that the universe is fine-tuned, examples of fine-tuning, I suggest, help to make the argument against chance and physical necessity highly improbable, and design more intuitive and probable. So, in this paper, I merely want to share instances of fine-tuning of the universe with the intention that (i) fine-tuning is realized and recognized and that (ii) the improbabilities noted yield intuitions leaning towards design. So, I shall present examples of fine-tuning.

In their Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, J.P Moreland and William Lane Craig give examples of fine-tuning:

“For example, according to British physicist Paul Davies, changes in either αG or electromagnetism by only one part in 1040would have spelled disaster for stars like the sun, thereby precluding the existence of planets…Observations indicate that at 10-43 seconds after the big bang the universe was expanding at a fantastically special rate of speed with a total density close to the critical value on the borderline between recollapse and everlasting expansion.  Stephen Hawking estimates that even a decrease of one part in a million million when the temperature of the universe was 1010 degrees would have resulted in the universe’s recollapse long ago; a similar increase would have precluded the galaxies from condensing out of the expanding matter. At the Plank time, 10-43 seconds after the big bang, the density of the universe must have been apparently been within about one part in 1060 of the critical density at which space is flat…Oxford physicist Roger Penrose calculates that the odds of the special low-entropy condition having arisen sheerly by chance in the absence any constraining princilpes is at least as small as about one part in 10 10 (123) in order for our universe to exist.” [1]

Walter Alan Ray, in his Is God Unnecessary?, explicitly lays out the improbability Penrose describes as follows:

“The probability of a universe such as ours existing by random chance, according to Penrose, is one in:

(B)101000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000…If M-theory is correct, and there are about 10500 universes, that is nowhere near enough to ensure that the mathematical odds will be met for allowing life to exist on one of those 10500 universes.” [2]

                        Alvin Plantinga, in his “Two Dozen (or so) Theistic Arguments”, has mentioned many examples of fine-tuning; I shall present four he mentions here:

“If the force of gravity were even slightly stronger, all stars would be blue giants; if even slightly weaker, all would be red dwarfs. (Brandon Carter, “Large Number Coincidences and the Anthropic Principle in Cosmology”, in M. S. Longair, ed, Confrontation of Cosmological Theories with Observational Data l979 p. 72 According to Carter, under these conditions there would probably be no life. So probably if the strength of gravity were even slightly different, habitable planets would not exist.

The existence of life also depends delicately upon the rate at which the universe is expanding. S. W. Hawking “The Anisotropy of the Universe at Large Times” in Longair p., 285:

“…reduction of the rate of expansion by one part in 1012 at the time when the temperature of the Universe was 1010 K would have resulted in the Universe’s starting to recollapse when its radius was only 1/3000 of the present value and the temperature was still 10,000 K”–much too warm for comfort. He concludes that life is only possible because the Universe is expanding at just the rate required to avoid recollapse”.

If the strong nuclear forces were different by about 5% life would not have been able to evolve.” [3]

Robin Collins, a proponent of the teleological argument, gives many examples of fine-tuning:

“To illustrate this fine-tuning, consider gravity. Using a standard measure of force strengths–which turns out to be roughly the relative strength of the various forces between two protons in a nucleus–gravity is the weakest of the forces, and the strong nuclear force is the strongest, being a factor of 1040–or ten thousand billion, billion, billion, billion–times stronger than gravity. If we increased the strength of gravity a billion-fold, for instance, the force of gravity on a planet with the mass and size of the earth would be so great that organisms anywhere near the size of human beings, whether land-based or aquatic, would be crushed. (The strength of materials depends on the electromagnetic force via the fine-structure constant, which would not be affected by a change in gravity.) Even a much smaller planet of only 40 feet in diameter–which is not large enough to sustain organisms of our size–would have a gravitational pull of one thousand times that of earth, still too strong for organisms of our brain size, and hence level of intelligence, to exist. As astrophysicist Martin Rees notes, “In an imaginary strong gravity world, even insects would need thick legs to support them, and no animals could get much larger” (2000, p. 30). Of course, a billion-fold increase in the strength of gravity is a lot, but compared to the total range of the strengths of the forces in nature (which span a range of 1040 as we saw above), it is very small, being one part in ten thousand, billion, billion, billion. Indeed, other calculations show that stars with lifetimes of more than a billion years, as compared to our sun’s lifetime of ten billion years, could not exist if gravity were increased by more than a factor of 3000. This would have significant intelligent-life-inhibiting consequences (see Collins, 2003).

The most impressive case of fine-tuning for life is that of the cosmological constant. The cosmological constant is a term in Einstein’s equation of general relativity that, when positive, acts as a repulsive force, causing space to expand and, when negative, acts as an attractive force, causing space to contract. If it were too large, space would expand so rapidly that galaxies and stars could not form, and if too small, the universe would collapse before life could evolve. In today’s physics, it is taken to correspond to the energy density of empty space. The fine-tuning for life of the cosmological constant is estimated to be at least one part in 10^53, that is, one part in a one hundred million, billion, billion, billion, billion, billion. To get an idea of how precise this is, it would be like throwing a dart at the surface of the earth from outer space, and hitting a bull’s-eye one trillionth of a trillionth of an inch in diameter, less than the size of an atom! Nobel laureate Steven Weinberg, a critic of fine-tuning, himself admits that the fine-tuning of the cosmological constant is highly impressive (2001, p. 67; also, see Collins, 2003).

Further examples of the fine-tuning for life of the fundamental constants of physics can also be given, such as that of mass difference between the neutron and the proton. If, for example, the mass of the neutron were slightly increased by about one part in seven hundred, stable hydrogen burning stars would cease to exist (Leslie, 1989, pp. 39-40; Collins, 2003).” [4]

While I have not provided much commentary on these examples of fine-tuning, I hope that the improbability associated with fine-tuning examples allow for people to (i) realize the variety and reality of fine-tuning examples and (ii) share design-inclined intuitions. Skepticism towards the design hypothesis in the face of improbabilities reminds me of C.S Lewis’ response to the objection that “If so stupendous a thing [the Supernatural] exists, ought it not be obvious as the sun in the sky?” to which Lewis replied

“when you are reading a book it is obvious (since you attend to it) that you are using your eyes; but unless your eyes begin to hurt you, or the book is a text book on optics, you may read all evening without once thinking of eyes…the fact which is in one respect the most obvious and primary fact, and through which you alone you have access to all the other facts, may precisely be the one that is most easily forgotten—forgotten not because it is so near and so obvious. And that is exactly how the Supernatural has been forgotten.” [5]

[1] William Lane Craig and J.P Moreland, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview (Downers Grove, Illinois: Intervarsity Press, 2003), 483.

[2] Walter Alan Ray, Is God Unnecessary?: Why Stephen Hawking is Wrong according to the Laws of Physics (Bloomington, IN: iUniverse Books), 49-50.

[3] Alvin Plantinga, “Two Dozen (or so) Theistic Arguments,” Lecture presented at the 33rd Annual Philosophy Conference, Wheaton College, Wheaton, Illinois, October 23-25, 1986.

[4] “The Case for Cosmic Design” Robin Collins: Accessed May, 17th 2016.

[5] C.S Lewis, “Miracles” in The Complete C.S Lewis Signature Classics (New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers, 2002), p. 337.

A Metaphysical Framework for the Possibility of Miracles

In this short paper, I want to provide a metaphysical framework for the possibility of miracles advocated and defended by Alvin Plantinga [1]. C.S Lewis spoke of miracles as an event when “that which is outside [the universe] wishes to invade her” [2]; particularly, when God decides to ‘invade’ into the universe, the term ‘miracle’ applies because nature, in and of itself, would not have brought about the event. Indeed, the question of ‘miracles’ infringes on understanding what is meant by ‘law of nature’. Without going into long and strenuous debates regarding ‘laws of nature’, I will simply assume that a ‘law of nature’ is a “pattern to which events conform.” [3] The laws of nature do not have causal powers; rather, they explain what, under normal conditions, events follow (a designated pattern). So, in this paper I will begin by providing a metaphysical framework for the possibility of miracles provided by Alvin Plantinga; I then want to provide an objection by Daniel Dennett and a further response by Alvin Plantinga. In the end, I will suggest that the logical and metaphysical possibility of miracles allows for the possible actuality of miracles (which a natural theological argument would suffice in proving, as I will explain later) and raises the question of God’s existence. As an afterthought, it also raises important questions concerning the relationship between theology and science.

In his Where the Conflict Really Lies (2011), Alvin Plantinga devises an account of laws of nature as follows:

“(LN) When the universe is causally closed (when God is not acting specially in the world), P.

For example, Newton’s law of gravity would go as follows:

(G) When the universe is causally closed, any two material objects attract each other with a force proportional to the product of their masses and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them.” [4]

Plantinga’s metaphysical framework states that a law of nature (LN) does not preclude miracles; miracles are implicitly possible in what a ‘law of nature’ means; to say that Newton’s law of gravity works is to say that, under standard conditions (that is, when God is not acting specially in the world), then Newton’s law holds. While one might be skeptical as to this definition, any attempt to ground laws of nature in a causally closed system, that is, a system of strictly logically necessary causal connections between events, begs the question in favor of methodological naturalism. Methodological naturalism is the view according to which science (or some other knowledge enterprise), must proceed with the presupposition of naturalism [5]. So, any objection relying on methodological naturalism is begging the question, ad hoc and requires independent justification. However, supposing that methodological naturalism is at best irrelevant, if God does causally interact in the universe, then a miracle has occurred.

The framework Plantinga has constructed allows for the logical and metaphysical possibility of miracles. This does not imply that miracles do occur, but it shows that it is logically possible for a miracle to actually occur. In their 2009 debate at the American Philosophical Association Central Division conference, Plantinga and Daniel Dennett debated on the topic of ‘Science and Religion’ to which Dennett presents the following objection to Plantinga’s metaphysical framework for the possibility of miracles: “When a physicist “proves” that a stone dropped from a height will fall within acceleration 9.8 meters/sec, does this not tacitly assume that no person (e.g., God) will intervene to adjust the rate? Physicists don’t routinely add an escape clause, “unless God chooses to intervene,” because it is tacitly assumed that no such “possibilities” are taken seriously.” [6]. Plantinga responds to this objection by suggesting that naturalism is not assumed in science nor courts of law: “in science, we assume that God won’t capriciously interfere with our experiments. The same goes in everyday life: I’m rock climbing and reach for a hold; I take it for granted that God won’t turn that hold into Jell-O just as I touch it.” [7]. Plantinga continues and makes a historical and theological note.

The historical note is as follows: “one of the ways in which Christian theism is hospitable to science, one of the reasons modern empirical science came to be and flourished in the Christian West, is this assumption that God is in control of nature and does not act arbitrarily.” [8]. Further than that, if one thinks that God created human beings in His image, and part of that image involves “our ability to have worthwhile and important knowledge about ourselves and our world”, then “our ability to do science is an extremely important part of the divine image” and therefore “God would not arbitrarily stand in the way of our coming to such knowledge—by, for example, capriciously spoiling our experiments.” [9]. There is, in the end, no methodological arbitrariness between asserting that the laws of nature are constant and that God can causally interact with the physical universe.

The possibility of miracles raises one important consideration and one important question: (1) The possibility of miracles does not imply that there is something to perform the miracle i.e., God and (2) is it possible that miracles have actually occurred? To consider the first important consideration (1), I want to share my agreeance. Indeed, I am committed to the view that the logical and metaphysical possibility of miracles does not imply that God exists. However, the logical and metaphysical possibility of miracles implies the possibility of the following subjunctive conditional: If God exists, it is possible that He (has) and can performed a miracle. So, the question becomes: Does God exist? This is a question of natural theology, a sub-discipline of theology which explores non-authoritative arguments and evidences for the existence of God. If God exists, though, the second question (2) becomes essential since it is possible that God actually has acted in the world specially. For instance, the claim of Christians is that Jesus Christ was the second Person of the Trinity who came to earth to save human beings from their sins and offer eternal life. So, Jesus, if He was God, rose from the dead; this implies that God has acted specially in the world and thus (1) God exists (and that Jesus was God if Christianity is true—which I believe), and that (2) at least one miracle has occurred.

The metaphysical and logical possibility of miracles allows for the question of ‘miracles’ to be meaningful; further, though, this possibility allows for the question ‘Does God exist?’ to become an important, metaphysical question to which natural theology can helpfully respond [10]. If God does exist, it is possible that He has performed a miracle; if Christianity is true, there is at least one miracle [11].

[1] Alvin Plantinga, Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion and Naturalism (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2011), p. 80.

[2] C.S Lewis, “Miracles” in The Complete C.S Lewis Signature Classics (New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers, 2002), p. 360.

[3] C.S Lewis, God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics, edited by Walter Hooper (Grand Rapids, Michigan and Cambridge, UK: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1970), 73.

[4] Alvin Plantinga, Where the Conflict Really Lies, 80.

[5] There have been problems with Alvin Plantinga’s definition of ‘naturalism’ which Tyler Journeaux identifies. So, I shall use the term ‘naturalism’ as Plantinga does (as the belief that there is no such person as God, or anything like Him) and refer interested readers to Tyler’s website: “Naturalism and Supernaturalism”, Tyler Journeaux: Accessed May 17, 2016.

[6] Alvin Plantinga and Daniel Dennett, Science and Religion: Are they compatible? (New York, NY: Oxford University Press), 48.

[7] Alvin Plantinga and Daniel Dennett, Science and Religion, 63.

[8] Alvin Plantinga and Daniel Dennett, Science and Religion, 64.

[9] Alvin Plantinga and Daniel Dennett, Science and Religion, 65.

[10] I say this tentatively. I am not a theological rationalist who affirms the proposition that belief in God is justified if and only if there is evidence for His existence; rather, I say that natural theology can help adjudicate whether or not God exists since there are good arguments for God’s existence i.e., the cosmological argument, teleological argument, axiological argument, argument from mathematics, argument from intentional states of consciousness, argument from beauty, argument from consciousness, argument from the gradation of being, argument from the resurrection of Jesus and so on. This in no way means that there are other ways of knowing that there is such a person as God i.e., personal experience. Also, I am aware that I have skipped many epistemological and metaphysical debates over miracles; however, I hope that the framework Plantinga has provided serves as grounds for thinking that miracles are not mere ‘violations’ of the laws of nature and that science is very hospitable to theistic understandings of the world. Mathematician John Lennox makes this point nicely as he says “God does not conflict or compete with the laws of physics as an explanation. God is actually the ground of all explanation, in the sense that he is the cause in the first place of there being a world for the laws of physics to describe” in his God and Stephen Hawking: Whose Design is it anyway? (Oxford, England: Lion Books, 2011), 37.

[11] This paper has caused me to consider a deep question regarding theology and science: What is their relationship? William Lane Craig and J.P Moreland sketch six ways in which science and theology can be integrated which I will share here and leave for future work and consideration. (Perhaps it will serve, too, as a method of availing those who worry that science and theology do conflict of their worry):

“A. Science and theology focus on two distinct, nonoverlapping areas of investigation, viz. the natural and the supernatural.

B. Science and theology involve two different, complementary approaches to and descriptions of the same reality from different perspectives. Each involves a different level of description, tells us different kinds of things, and uses different vocabulary. Each level of description is complete at its own level without having gaps in its perspective. Nevertheless, each is only a partial description of the whole reality described. Science and theology do not directly interact with each other in epistemically positive or negative ways, but are complementary views of the total reality described. Science and theology only conflict if one field illicitly encroaches into the territory of the other field.

C. Science can fill out details in theology or help to apply theological principles and vice versa.

D. Theology provides the metaphysical and epistemological foundation for science by justifying or, at least, helping to justify the necessary presuppositions of science.

E. Science provides the boundaries within which theology must work. Theology can do its work only after consulting science. Thus science can inform theology but not vice versa.

F. Science and theology involve descriptions that can directly interact with each other in mutually reinforcing or competing ways.” This model of integration was retrieved and quotes from William Lane Craig and J.P Moreland’s Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview (Downers Grove, Illinois: Intervarsity Press, 2003), 350-351.