Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Feser's failure in logic: Example #3

[Examples #1, #2]

So, the very existence of scientists themselves, qua perceiving and thinking subjects, presupposes the reality of change. But the reality of change, the Aristotelian argues, in turn presupposes the distinction between actuality and potentiality (Edward Feser, Aristotle's Revenge: The Metaphysical Foundation of Physical and Biological Science, 88)

Correction: Initially, I thought this was of the logical form of affirming the consequent. It is not. Rather, the problem is with the premises themselves, which posit a false causal relationship between the items mentioned.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Feser's failure in logic: Example #2

[Example #1]

From the Aristotelian point of view, the difficulties notoriously facing modern origins of life research stem, not merely from any gap in current empirical knowledge, but from the irreducibility of even the simplest organic substances to purely inorganic phenomena. The intractability of the qualia problem stems from the irreducibility of sentient forms of life to merely vegetative forms of life. The difficulties facing materialist theories of the propositional attitudes stem from the irreducibility of the rational or human form of life to the merely sentient forms of life. In other words, the difficulties in question are essentially confirmation of the traditional Aristotelian position. … (Edward Feser, Aristotle's Revenge: The Metaphysical Foundation of Physical and Biological Science, 41)

In the elemental laws of propositional logic, the logical fallacy of Affirming the Consequent states that it is invalid to assert the truth of the antecedent if the consequent is valid. Thus, in the syllogism If p, then q, if one asserts q, p is not necessarily true. This particular fallacy is pertinent here because Edward Feser just committed this fallacy in trying to argue that the problems of modern science "confirms the traditional Aristotelian position " (Emphasis added).

The syllogism can be constructed as follows:

  • P1) "If Aristotelianism is true, then there is irreducibility of animal life to vegetative life, and irreducibility of rational life to animal life."
  • P2) "This irreducibility seems to be true as seen in the failure of modern science to account for the origins of life and rationality
  • C) Therefore, the traditional Aristotelian position is true.

As it should be evident from the syllogism, the form of this syllogism is essentially "If p, then q; q; therefore p," and thus it is the fallacy of affirming the consequent. Feser errs in his argument for the truth of Aristotle in this matter, and this is just the beginning.

Monday, March 16, 2020

Rushdoony's Kinism

Rousas John Rushdoony (1916-2001) is the father of Christian Reconstructionism, a fringe movement on the far reaches of the Religious Right. Reconstructionism is so extreme in its view of Christianity and social engagement that I do not even think it worth discussion. Just as extreme is kinism, a view that the "races" while equal have to be separate and treated differently - basically a slightly more benign form of racism. It seems that Rushdoony has played no small part in the promotion of this ridiculous view, as can be seen here.

Kinism is racism. As I have said, this and the error of Reconstructinism is so obvious that it almost refutes itself. What can be said however is that it is now clearer to me why kinism seems to be present in some sections of supposedly conservative Christian circles in America. The trojan horse has been delivered, and under the guise of being biblical, old-time racism has emerged in the radical fringes of the right.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

The priority of corporate worship: Corporate worship and Covid-19

Around the world, there have been multiple outbreaks of the Covid-19 virus, leading to the declaration that it has become a pandemic. With the high infection rate of the virus, certain precautions have been recommended included social distancing. Part of this social distancing as it pertains to the church has been societal pressure to stop corporate worship services altogether.

As Christians, what should we think about this? Before we think through the spiritual issues, first, it must be pointed out that the panic seen in many parts of the world is irrational, as the relatively low fatality rate of the virus plus the fact that is it borne by droplets makes it a relatively benign outbreak. Note that I said it was relatively benign, insofar that it is not something on the scale of Ebola or the Spanish Flu. Thus, there is absolutely no need to panic over it. Second, it can be limited by taking precautions, thus we are to be responsible and take necessary precautions in maintaining hygiene and being wise in social interaction.

More importantly, the question is asked as to the worship of God on Sunday, the Lord's Day. Christians must remind ourselves why we physically meet Sunday after Sunday together to worship God. For many Evangelicals, it is understandable that there is little understanding of this matter, with only a superficial appeal to Hebrews 10:24-25. If the focus of worship is merely to sing worship songs to God and to hear His Word, then it is understandable why some churches think that there is nothing wrong with moving church online to live streaming, and this is seen as the "socially responsible" thing to do. But that manifests a deficient doctrine of the church and an ignorance of the reason for corporate worship in the first place.

Why have Christians met together Lord's Day after Lord's Day to worship God? Is the corporate nature of the worship service merely because of the technological limitations of the First Century AD, or for that matter all of human history until the last few decades?After all, if Hebrews 10:24-25 speaks about encouraging one another, surely that can be done online or even through Whatsapp and other social media platforms? But the corporate nature of the worship service is demanded by what the worship service is, and the physical presence of the saints manifests the importance of the body. The Scriptures always declare that we are spirit and body, not a spirit inhabiting a body. When we are raised up on the Last Day, our bodies are raised anew (1 Cor. 15:44) and we will always be embodied spirits through eternity. Therefore, where the physical body is is important, which is why online church or even virtual reality church is no church at all! To denigrate the body is to embrace Gnosticism, and unfortunately, many Evangelicals fail to see that.

The nature of the worship service is that it is not a time for us to give to God, to sing songs and hear the Word preached. Bur rather, the worship service is where God is present spiritually (Mt. 18:20, 1 Cor. 4:5, 11:29-30, Rev. 2:1), meeting us covenantally (Hos. 2:23, Rom. 9:26, 1 Pet. 2:10). The worship service is God's service, not ours. For just as we are saved by grace alone through faith alone, so likewise we cannot approach God to worship Him except through His invitation only. And just as in an ancient covenant, the parties of the covenant physically meet, so likewise the reason why we must be physically present for worship is that the Lord meets us there as we are there physically. We encounter God in the corporate worship, praising Him and hearing Him speak to us through the pastor who proclaims His Word. This is why Christians ought to meet together in church services Lord's Day after Lord's Day, honoring God in our use of time and our use of space.

If that is true, how then should we respond to the secular pressure to stop the worship service? First of all, we must agree that the corporate worship service is very important in the life of the Christian. It should not be something to be cancelled at whim. It must be said that it is understandable though wrong that many think that religious worship gatherings should be the first to stop, but work is seen to be something must more important and must continue. If corporate worship is that important in the Christian life, then surely it must be treated at least as important as work and school. If the outbreak results in the cessation of work and school, then certainly there should be a cessation of corporate worship for that period. Yet, if work and school continue, then the corporate worship should likewise continue.

This does not necessarily mean that there should not be precautions taken. The necessity of corporate worship does not negate the requirement for wisdom. Rather, during an epidemic or pandemic, steps can be taken to reduce the risk of infection. Perhaps this is a good time for big churches to practice church the way the early church did so, by splitting up into many congregations of smaller numbers. Instead of halting services, why not have groups of 20 or so which can worship God corporately? This can be a good time to break up the business model of doing church, in favor of a model more in line with biblical Christianity. While not for the "house church movement," there is nothing wrong with meeting in homes per se to worship God, so why not get around to doing that?

Corporate worship is biblical mandated by Scripture. Barring a situation like the Black Death, Christians ought to continue to worship God corporately. God is still sovereign over the virus, and He calls us to worship. The paranoia over Covid-19 displays the world's fear of the unknown, but Christians ought to be better than this. While taking precautions, we must have faith and trust in God. We are not to panic as the world does, but put our faith wholly in God. After all, as it is confessed in the Heiberg Catechism:

Q1: What is your only comfort in life and death?

A. That I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with His precious blood, and has set me free from all the power of the devil. He also preserves me in such a way that without the will of my heavenly Father not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, all things must work together for my salvation. Therefore, by His Holy Spirit He also assures me of eternal life and makes me heartily willing and ready from now on to live for Him.

God is sovereign, and thus we should not fear this virus. We must know this and believe this. If God wants me dead through the virus, I will get it no matter what. If God wants me alive, I will stay alive no matter what. So, trust God and do not panic. Take precautions and attend to the worship service. For there is where God is, and where we receive from Him His grace and mercy, our supply for each and every week.

Monday, March 09, 2020

One critique of Aristotelian ontology

But a problem with this view is that it entails that dogs, trees, stones, and the like are not really substances. The true substances are the fundamental particles, and to be a dog, a tree, or a stone is just for these particles to take on a certain kind of accidental form. Yet this seems clearly wrong insofar as these and other natural objects appear to have causal powers that are irreducible to the sum of the causal powers of fundamental particles. … (Edward Feser, Aristotle’s Revenge: The Metaphysical Foundations of Physical and Biological Science, p. 30)

Another problem is that from the Aristotelian point of view, the atomist doesn’t really get rid of substantial form and prime matter at all, but simply relocates them. Supposed that to be a dog, a tree, or a stone really is to have a merely accidental form, and that the only true substances are the fundamental particles. We would still have to regard them as composites of substantial form and prime matter, for the reasons given in the arguments from limitation and from change. (p. 31)

The basic idea of the first line of argument is, again, that a form is of itself universal, so that we need a principle to explain how it gets tied down, as it were, to a particular thing, time, and place. … Matter – the matter of this individual bowling ball, of that individual wheel, and so forth – is what does this job. (pp. 27-28)

On an Aristotelian analysis, a real change involves the gain or loss of some attribute, but also the persistence of that which gains or loses the attribute. For example, when a banana goes from being green to being yellow, the greenness is lost and the yellowness is gained, but the banana itself persists. If there were no such persistence, we would not have a change to the banana, but rather the annihilation of a green banana and the creation of a new, yellow one in its place. (p. 28)

Without prime matter, there could be no substantial change, because there would be no subject of change that persists through the change. (pp. 30)

Aristotelianism as a philosophical system is certainly something that should be learned, as it provides the background from which much of modern thought emerged. However, it is another thing altogether to assert its continual relevance for modern thought, especially when it deals with ontology on the same level of empirical science, as Edward Feser seems to have done.

In the initial part of the book, Feser asserted that the atomism of modern science is not feasible as an understanding of how things are constituted. Feser does not dispute the empirical findings of modern science, but rather the modern theory of atomism that lies behind the empirical findings. Feser argued his case by utilizing Aristotle's view of form and matter, utilizing an argument from limitation and an argument from change to assert that modern atomism fails to explain the nature of things.

While there is a rejection of modern atomic theory, it must be stated here that Feser is not disputing atomic theory in general, just its explanatory power. Feser is not "anti-science" in rejecting that atoms are there, but rather, as we shall look further in subsequent posts, he is rejecting the status we assign to atoms in modern atomic theory.

With that caveat, it must be stated that Feser's rejection of modern atomic theory is flawed. First, in the argument from limitation, Feser argues that even if atoms were constitutive of substance, they still need to have "substantial form" and "prime matter." But that is to impose Aristotelianism as constitutive of reality, instead of a description of reality one chooses to use. But what is reality, really? Whatever reality really is, on the empirical level, reality is investigated through the scientific method. It is not modern atomic theory that has to conform to Aristotelianism, but modern ontology that has to conform to modern atomic theory.

In this instance, the answer to the argument from limitation is simple: Atoms are made up of the subatomic particles: Protons, Neutrons and Electrons. All of them ultimately are made up of quarks. The process by which quarks make subatomic particles make atoms which make things does not imply a reduction of all substance to quarks, for we can say that substances emerged out of more basic matter. Form is an emergent quality, not a basic quality. It emerges through the interaction of atoms with each other, and complexity in their interactions creates form.

The response to Feser's second argument, the argument from change, is to assert that qualities like color are emergent qualities not primary qualities. There is no substantial change in the banana because the banana did not change, only various chemicals in the banana have been altered as the fruit ripened. There was no change from green-ness to yellow-ness, but rather there was substantial change in certain chemicals in the banana, while there is no change in the banana itself, and the secondary quality of "green-ness" changes to "yellow-ness" due to the chemical changes that have taken place in the banana. One does not have to postulate prime matter, because based on modern scientific theory, there is no need for this idea at all.

As will be seen in subsequent interactions, Feser has more objections to this and other modern scientific theories. Again, the conflict is not truly at the empirical level, but rather one step above in ontology in the empirical plane (since Aristotle is no idealist).

Sunday, March 01, 2020

How we should speak of sin

Aaron O'Kelley has a great article on the issue of speaking about sin, especially in light of the growing tolerance for vile wickedness at Christianity Today. An excerpt:

Polite discourse minimizes and, over time, neutralizes the instinct of moral revulsion. While moral revulsion alone is not enough to sustain ethical practice over time, it is an important community-shaping element. Healthy communities express moral revulsion at that which is truly abominable, and the healthy effect of such revulsion is a natural deterrent toward said behavior within the community. People who are socialized into being appalled at what is appalling to God have the blessing of a moral compass shaped according to truth.

It is not enough to say something is sin if we trivialize it. When God made divisions in sins calling some abominations, such ranking is meant to shape our discourse and understanding of life such that certain sins are to be considered so vile that they are to be treated with absolute disgust. Moral revulsion is a good thing, and it is sad that such an obvious point needs to be even mentioned in the first place.

[P.S.: Just remember, Christianity Today has also asserted (without proof) that voting for Donald Trump is a great sin. So evidently, for these "Evangelicals," voting for Donald Trump is a greater sin than flirting with "polyamory" or adultery]