Friday, January 24, 2020

Adams again on Doug Wilson and FV Baptists

On his blog, Brandon Adams has written an interesting response on the issue of Douglas Wilson and the Federal Vision. You can read it here.

Sunday, January 05, 2020

Eternity, essential and accidental attributes

The problem is this. If authority over the Son is an essential, not an accidental, attribute of the Father, and subordination to the Father is an essential, not an accidental, attribute of the Son, then something significant follows. Authority is part of the Father’s essence, and subordination is part of the Son’s essence, and each attribute is not part of the essence of the other persons. (Millard J. Erickson, Who’s Tampering with the Trinity: An Assessment of the Subordination Debate (Grand Rapid, MI: Kregel, 2009), 172)

When it comes to issues of time and eternity, issues of contention are very very difficult to be dealt with. Nowhere is this so when we talk about predication of God. Since God is eternal, does whatever God does in eternity essential to Him? This is the argument put forward by Millard Erickson against what he calls the "gradationist" position, now commonly called ESS (Eternal Submission of the Son). The problem when we deal with God in eternity is that we can come across some rather strange difficulties. Let us put the issue of ESS to the side for now. Rather, let us go back to the basics.

When we say that God the Father is the the Father, is Him being the Father necessary or contingent? Surely if we believe in immutability, we must say that God the Father is always God the Father, because there is not where the three persons mutually decided that one of them is the Father, the other the Son, and the last one the Holy Spirit. But if God the Father is always the Father, then is "being the Father" always part of the Father's essence, "being the Son" always part of the Son's essence, and each of these attributes is not part of the "essence of the other persons"? But, you object, there is only one essence in the Godhead. And you are perfectly correct. This is why Erikson's formulation of the supposed problem makes no sense, because what is of the persons is not necessarily predicated of the essence. The "unbegotten-ness" of the Father is not shared with the Son or the Spirit, but this does not imply that "each attribute is not part of the essence of the other persons."

The orthodox formula on the Trinity is: One undivided divine essence subsisting in three divine persons. It is an "unstable" formula, in the sense that it is not at all clear what that means, except that God is truly one, and yet truly three, in different senses. Since that is the case, predications of "necessity" and "contingency" are liable to fallacies. What does it mean for something to be an "essential" attribute of a person, if the person is not the essence (each divine person is fully God, but none of them are the essence apart from the other two)? If each person is distinct from the other, does that not imply that whatever is distinct is not shared between them, as "unbegotten-ness" is not shared with the Son and the Spirit?

This is not to say that there are no difficulties with saying that "authority over the Son is an essential, not an accidental, attribute of the Father." Rather, it is to assert that unless we can be clear about what we mean by "essential" when predicated of a divine person as opposed to the divine being, we cannot assume that the position known as ESS leads to ontological subordination of some kind.

Saturday, January 04, 2020

Is there science before the Scientific Revolution?

If historians of science were to investigate past practices and beliefs only insofar as those practices and beliefs resemble modern science, the result would be serious distortion. (David C. Lindberg, The Beginnings of Western Science: The European Scientific Tradition in Philosophical, Religious, and Institutional Context, Prehistory to A.D. 1450, 2)

… they were operating within quite a different linguistic and conceptual world and with different purposes; and it is in the light of these that their achievements must be judged. (p. 9)

The second candidate for early modern revolutionary status is methodological—the invention and practice of the “experimental method” (according to the defenders of this thesis) by such sixteenth- and seventeenth-century scientists as Galileo, William Gilbert, Robert Boyle, and many others. According to defenders of this theory, the sterile scholastic debates and syllogistic demonstrations of ancient and medieval natural philosophy came to an end, replaced by experimental science, with its firsthand observation and manipulation under controlled conditions. (p. 362)

For present purposes, I am inclined to define it [the word "experiment" in experimental method" -DHC] narrowly, by what I take to be its primary epistemological function: an attempt to confirm or disconfirm a theoretical claim about the nature or behavior of the material world by an observation (under controlled conditions if necessary) made for that purpose, or the gathering of data against which future anticipated theoretical claims may be tested. (p. 362)

Experimentation continued through the later Middle Ages, wherever it met a scientific need. (p. 363)

… what credit is left for Francis Bacon (1561-1626) popularly celebrated as the founder (or a founder) of experimental science? … what he and the Baconian tradition of the seventeenth century gave us was not a new method of experiment, but a new rhetoric of experiment coupled with full exploitation of the possibilities of experiment in programs of scientific investigation. (p. 364)

Where, then can we locate this elusive revolution of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century science? I believe that Alexandre Koyré, who, in the 1950s and 1960s, disputed Combrie’s focus on experimental science as the revolutionary agent, has put his finder on the right place. The underlying source of revolutionary novelty in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, he argued, was metaphysical and cosmological rather than methodological. (p. 364)

Historian of science David Lindberg has written a book showing the intellectual foundations of modern Western science. In its elucidation of intellectual history, I find it compelling. However, Lindberg has seemingly asserted that ancient science is indeed "ancient SCIENCE." My question to that is: Can we actually called what we see prior to the Scientific Revolution "science"?

The question posed here is not to claim that there is no rich intellectual foundations for science prior to the Scientific Revolution. But for science to be "science," it must be distinct from anything that is not science, otherwise the word "science" has lost its meaning. This to me is my main objection to the whole idea of "ancient" or "medieval" science. Lindberg has held up Alexandre Koyré's thesis that the Scientific Revolution was "metaphysical and cosmological rather than methodological" (p. 364). From a philosophical perspective, that seems correct. But I think such is a partial picture, for a shift in metaphysical and cosmological perspective would surely affect one's methodology.

When one does scientific experiments today, one does not appeal to the divine or to spiritual forces as part of one's explanation for why things happen the way they do. The reason is that modern science is committed to what is called "methodological naturalism." That is indeed a philosophical commitment, yet it is necessary for modern science to be "science" as opposed to "philosophy" or "religion." Should science be committed to methodological naturalism? Well, if science is not committed to methodological naturalism, then where is the boundary between "science" and "philosophy," or "science" and "religion"? This is why I find Lindberg's definition of "experimental" in explaining one reason why there is a scientific revolution deficient. Judging by Lindberg's definition of "experimental," certain aspects of philosophy (e.g. that there is a God) and religion (e.g. the resurrection of Christ) can be termed "science," but we do not normally called these "science," do we?

It is because of the necessity of defining our terms properly that I think Lindberg's assertion of continuity between "ancient science" and "modern science" problematic. Rather, it is better to assert that there is a continuity between ancient natural philosophy and modern science. For "science" to be "science," there must be a commitment to methodological naturalism. That being said, I will assert that this is a limitation on science, for anything that is outside the realm of nature can still be true but it is outside science's purview. Thus, I will assert, contra Lindberg, that there was indeed a real scientific revolution that is more than just a shift in rhetoric (that marked the beginnings of modern science). I will further claim that the emergence of modern science does not imply the de-legitimization of anything that is non-science as disciplines that do not convey truth, since an a priori commitment to methodological naturalism precludes science from discovering truth outside of naturalistic events.

The history of Christianity and Science

One of the charges frequently leveled against the church is that it was broadly anti-intellectual—that the leaders of the church preferred faith to reason and ignorance to education. In that, this Is a major distortion. Although Christianity seems at first to have appealed to the poor and disenfranchised, it soon reached out to the upper classes, including the educated. Christians quickly recognized that if the Bible were to be read, literacy would have to be encouraged; and in the long run Christianity became the major patron of education in the Latin West and a major borrower from the classical intellectual tradition. Naturally enough, the kind and level of education and intellectual effort favored by the church fathers was that which supported the mission of the church as they perceived it. But this mission, interestingly, did not include the suppression of scientific investigations and ideas. [David C. Lindberg, The Beginnings of Western Science: The European Scientific Tradition in Philosophical, Religious, and Institutional Context, Prehistory to A.D. 1450 (2nd ed.; Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1992, 2007); 148-9]

If we compare the early church with a modern research university or the National Science Foundation, the church will proved to have failed abysmally as a supporter of science and natural philosophy. But such a comparison is obviously unfair. If, instead, we compare the support given to the study of nature by the early church with the support available from any other contemporary social institution, it will soon become apparent that the church was the major patron of scientific learning. Its patronage may have been limited and selective, but limited and selective patronage is a far cry from opposition.

However, a critic determined to view the early church as an obstacle to scientific progress might argue that the handmaiden status accorded to natural philosophy is inconsistent with the existence of genuine science. True science, the critic might maintain, cannot be handmaiden of anything, but must possess total autonomy; consequently, the “disciplined” science that Augustine sought is no science at all. In fact, this complain misses the mark: totally autonomous science is an attractive ideal, but we do not live in an ideal world. Any many of the most important developments in the history of science have been produced by people committed not to autonomous science, but to science in the service of some ideology, social program, or practical end; for most of its history, the question has not been whether science will function as handmaiden, but which mistress it will serve. (p. 150)

The monasteries served as the transmitters of literacy and a thin veneer of the classical tradition (including science or natural philosophy) through a period when literacy and scholarship were severely threatened. (pp. 156-7)

Thursday, January 02, 2020

The issue of time and (one of) Zeno's Paradox(es)

One of the problems with the whole ESS fiasco, and the so-called recovery of the historic doctrine of God by people like Reformed Baptist James Dolezal, is its uncritical appropriation of Aristotelianism as mediated by Thomas Aquinas. To put it bluntly, these "confessional scholars" are philosophically stuck in the 16th century. They are reasonably well-versed in the Scholastic literature during the Reformed and Post-Reformed period, but they ignore or downplay the reasons why philosophy has dumped Aristotelianism as a whole.

One major issue has to do with the problem of time. Time is something that is hard to grasp, only because we are creatures of time. How do we go about thinking about time when we are bound by time itself? There is no place whereby we can be "objective" about time and the passage of time. It seems prima facie that time progresses, does it not? We can conceive of time moving faster or slower, because time can appear to move faster or slower (even when it does not do so objectively) when we labor at things we enjoy or things we dread. But to conceive of a stoppage of time, or timelessness, or reversal of time, or time loops, all of these are conjectures not available to us except by extrapolation and guesswork. We can deal with it mathematically, but numbers are abstract things which we cannot conceived how it may or may not work out in real life.

One ancient paradox concerning the issue of time in general is Zeno's paradox of Achilles and the Hare. In this paradox, the hare is ahead of Achilles by a certain distance (let's say 1 meter). As they race, both Achilles and the hare moved a certain distance in a certain time. In order for Achilles to overtake the hare, he must first cover the distance from him to the initial point of the hare. But during that time, the hare would have moved a certain distance (e.g. 0.1m). Achilles would then still be behind the hare, and must now race to where the hare is currently at. But at distance 1.1m, the hare would have moved 0.01m which Achilles needs to cover, but then the hare would move 0.001m, and so on. The paradox here asserts that if motion is possible, then Achilles would need to cover an infinite series of distances in order to catch up and overtake the hare. Since it is not possible to cover an infinite series of motions, the fact that Achilles can actually overtake the hare suggests that motion and change does not truly exist—they are illusionary.

For those from a scientific background, the "solution" to Zeno's Paradox of Achilles and the hare seemed easy enough. After all, it is a mere addition of a set to infinity of (1 + 0.1 + 0.01 + 0.001 +...). Or rather it can be expressed as follows:

Therefore Achilles will pass the hare at distance 1-1/9m. There, problem solved, but has the paradox actually been resolved?

We must remember that the key point of the paradox is not that Achilles will not overtake the hare. Rather, the key point of the paradox is that true motion, true change, cannot exist. The argument is a philosophical reductio ad absurdum concerning the nature of motion and time. It is not an empirical question at all. Just as in Plato's Allegory of the Cave, just because something is empirically seen does not necessarily imply that what is seen and what is perceived is indicative of true reality. Zeno's paradox is a question on reality itself, not empirically how things work. One might as well "disprove" Zeno by merely arranging a race between Achilles and a hare and showing that Achilles does in fact overtake the hare, easily, and it would still prove nothing. Why is the overtaking not a mere illusion, and that actually change is not real, but everything merely exists? Already, in modern physics under a B-series interpretation of space-time, time itself is a dimension and therefore nothing really changes, since the 4-D tesseract of space-time is "fixed" (in a universe without any higher dimensional beings or gods/God), and therefore space-time is determined right from "the start."

Science therefore cannot address Zeno's paradox. Since it deals with empirical reality, it cannot, until and unless there is a way to get us time-bound creatures out of the dimension of space-time (and I do not mean tunneling from one point of space-time to another point in space-time, but to be independent of space-time altogether). So how then should we deal with this paradox, but by rational philosophical inquiry?

One way, the way I think would address this paradox, is to point out how, as Achilles reached the next place of the hare, the time taken for each part in the series gets shorter and shorter. Let's say Achilles took 1 second to reach the hare's first position. He will then take 0.1 seconds to reach the hare's second position, and 0.01 seconds to reach the hare's third position. One would get a decreasing infinite series for the time traveled for Achilles to overtake the hare, and therefore it seems that we will never reach the "point" in time whereby Achilles overtake the hare. However, since there are two infinite series of time and distance, dividing the two infinite series gives us a finite (non-serial) speed of 1 m/s. One can therefore assert that the "infinite" aspect of the paradox is illusionary, since motion in terms of speed is not an infinite series but a finite number. Therefore, following Aristotle, I would say that seeing motion as a continuum instead of moving from point to point in space-time would solve the paradox quite nicely.

However Zeno's paradox of Achilles and the hare is solved, Zeno's paradox (not by itself) points to an even deeper issue concerning the nature of time itself (and thus indirectly opens the paradox again to mystery). We talk about time as "here," "before," and "after," or "now," "yesterday," and "tomorrow." But what exactly is this thing called "now"? John McTaggart has given an argument why time itself is not real. This is reflected in Zeno's paradox as one considers the infinite series of temporal instances Achilles must cover to overtake the hare. So while we can perhaps prove that motion seems real (since speed is a finite non-serial number), how do we, or can we, prove the reality of time? And if time is not real, then space is not real and motion becomes a mere mathematical number depicting the relation of two unreal things.

As with time, thus goes the notion of "eternity." "Eternity" is defined as an "infinity" with regards to time. When we say God is "eternal," what we mean is that God is infinite with respects to time But what does this mean when the notion of "time" itself gets questioned?

To untangle all these will not be easy, and this article is not meant to give all the answers to these questions, although I have suggested a preliminary approach here. The main point of this post rather is to show, by appeal to Zeno's paradox of Achilles and the Hare, that issues concerning time and eternity are so much more complicated than our modern "confessional theologians" make it out to be. Adopting Thomism as orthodoxy is not a virtue but a step backward in the wrong direction. If we are to be interested in truth, then we should wrestle with the actual issues involved when we talk about terms like "time" and "eternity," or even "temporal attributes," instead of going back to the "Golden Age" of "Reformed Scholasticism," which definitely has its strengths but many weaknesses also, chief among them its wholesale embrace of Aristotelianism.