Saturday, July 23, 2011

Philosophical Spanking

Aquinas scholar Edward Feser administers a condign thrashing to those among the New Atheists who misrepresent what is known as the Cosmological argument (CA) for the existence of God and who should know better than to say about it what they do.

The CA comes in many forms but basically it goes something like this:
All contingent beings (i.e. beings which could possibly not exist, like trees and planets) require a necessary being (a being which cannot not exist and which is not contingent upon anything else) as their ultimate cause.
There are some contingent beings.
Thus there must exist a necessary being that is the ultimate cause of their existence.
Feser examines nine common objections to, or misconceptions about, this argument and shows each of them to be ineffectual. It's simply incorrect, for example, to assert, as many do, that the argument rests on the premise that “Everything has a cause,” or to think that “What caused God?” is a serious objection to the argument. Neither do challenges like,“Why assume that the universe had a beginning?” or “No one has given any reason to think that the First Cause is all-powerful, all-knowing, all-good, etc.” make even a dent in the CA.

It's a very good essay for those interested in philosophy of religion, not just for what Feser says about the CA but also for the quotes he lists from several of his atheist colleagues about the weakness of the case for naturalism.

Here's one well-known example from Quentin Smith who is an atheist philosopher of religion who writes that, "The great majority of naturalist philosophers have an unjustified belief that naturalism is true and an unjustified belief that theism (or supernaturalism) is false.” Their naturalism typically rests on nothing more than an ill-informed “hand waving dismissal of theism” which ignores “the erudite brilliance of theistic philosophizing today."

Smith continues:
If each naturalist who does not specialize in the philosophy of religion (i.e., over ninety-nine percent of naturalists) were locked in a room with theists who do specialize in the philosophy of religion, and if the ensuing debates were refereed by a naturalist who had a specialization in the philosophy of religion, the naturalist referee could at most hope the outcome would be that “no definite conclusion can be drawn regarding the rationality of faith,” although I expect the most probable outcome is that the naturalist, wanting to be a fair and objective referee, would have to conclude that the theists definitely had the upper hand in every single argument or debate.
Due to the typical attitude of the contemporary naturalist...the vast majority of naturalist philosophers have come to hold (since the late 1960s) an unjustified belief in naturalism. Their justifications have been defeated by arguments developed by theistic philosophers, and now naturalist philosophers, for the most part, live in darkness about the justification for naturalism. They may have a true belief in naturalism, but they have no knowledge that naturalism is true since they do not have an undefeated justification for their belief. If naturalism is true, then their belief in naturalism is accidentally true. [“The Metaphilosophy of Naturalism,” Philo: A Journal of Philosophy (Fall-Winter 2001)]
This and similar quotes are found toward the end of the post on Feser's blog.

I admire Smith's intellectual humility and honesty. There are few things more risible in academia than the pompous pronouncements and condescending derision of atheists like Dawkins and Hitchens who presume to lecture professional philosophers on the validity of arguments for the existence of God. It is as one observer put it, like someone whose only knowledge of biology was a familiarity with the Handbook of British Birds lecturing Dawkins on cell biology.

No Clue in Libya

Joel sends along a piece featured at CBS News by The New Republic's David Reiff which exposes the utter incoherence of Obama's war in Libya.

Writes Reiff:
Less than a month before he left office, outgoing Secretary of Defense Robert Gates estimated the U.S. would spend $750 million on the Libyan operation, while a Department of Defense document published in May revealed the American contribution to Operation Unified Protector involved 75 aircraft (including drones), flying 70 percent of the reconnaissance missions, 75% of refueling missions, and more than one-quarter of all air sorties.

And yet, from March 28, when President Obama announced Operation United Protector’s predecessor, Operation Odyssey Dawn, until now, the fog of incoherent justification for the war has been at least as thick of the proverbial fog of war itself.

Have we gone to war? Well, no, not exactly. We were, Obama said in that first speech, “[committing] resources to stop the killings” of innocent Libyan civilians by Colonel Qaddafi’s forces. If the United States has initiated combat operations, this really amounted not to war-fighting, but to taking “all necessary measures to protect the Libyan people” and to “save lives.” And did our actions mean that the goal of the mission was regime change, Iraq- or Afghanistan-style? Not at all, the president insisted.

Taking a predictable swipe at the Bush administration, he said dismissively that we had already gone “down that road in Iraq.” It was an apt metaphor, if, perhaps, unconsciously so, since regime change would have required just that: sending troops down the road, on the ground in Libya. And that, the president argued, would be far more dangerous than what he was ordering the military to do.

This may have sounded like the prudent thing, but what it was — what it is, for nothing has changed at all in this regard over the course of the past four months, even though we have officially recognized the Libyan rebels — is the incoherent, internally self-contradictory thing. We believe Qaddafi must go, and we will not let him make significant advances on the ground, but we refuse to take responsibility for his overthrow. So, to use a military term of art, we have an end state — Qaddafi’s ouster —but we are not willing to do what is needed to attain that goal expeditiously, which, of course, is why there is at least, for the moment, still a stalemate on the ground in Libya.

The stark fact is that the outcome Obama wants and the means he is willing to use to secure it are hopelessly mismatched. And this is leaving aside the fact that this...intervention flies in the face of the sense of the War Powers Act and represents one more ornament in the crown of the imperial executive.
Machiavelli warns in The Prince that if you undertake to depose a ruler you can't just wound him, you must kill him. Our Commander in Chief seems not to have learned the lesson and thus the war drags on and hundreds, probably thousands, of innocent lives continue to be lost and tens of thousands more continue to suffer - mostly because our president seems totally confused about what he's doing.

Machiavelli also cautioned that the worst thing for a Prince is not to be hated but rather to become contemptible, to become a joke among the people he rules as well as among his enemies. This loss of respect creeps subtly over the people when they realize that their Prince has no idea what he's doing.

Our experience in Libya, as with our economy, suggests Mr. Obama has not learned this lesson either.