Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Mackie on Leibniz's Cosmological Argument

Mackie does a decent job of summarizing what seems to me the classic objections to Leibniz's argument. It is formulated like this:
  • "He assumes the principle of sufficient reason, that nothing occurs without a sufficient reason as to why it is so and not otherwise. There must be then a sufficient reason for the world as a whole, a reason why something exists rather then nothing. Each thing in the world is contingent, being causally determined by other things: it would not occur if other things were otherwise. The world as a whole, being a collection of such things, is therefore itself contingent. The series of things with events, and their causes, with causes of those causes and so on, may stretch back infinitely in time; but if so, then however far back we go, what we have is still contingent and therefore requires a sufficient reason outside the series. That is there must be a sufficient reason for the world other then the world. This will have to be a necessary being, which contains its own sufficient reason for existence." (pg 82)
Mackie launches two specific criticisms: "How do we know that everything must have a sufficient reason" and "How can their be a necessary being, one which contains it's  own sufficient reason?" Mackie discards the notion that the second criticism depends on the ontological arguments because this argument leads one to think that the contingency of the world leads one to think that a necessary being exists, not that this being exists in a logically necessary fashion. But even though this argument doesn't descend into the Ontological Argument that doesn't mean that the interrogation of the legitimacy of this necessary being nonsense shouldn't be interrogated. In the first place neither me or Mackie really knows what it means for a being to exist necessarily, Mackie offers two answers:
  • For something to exist contingent is for it to not exist if things had been otherwise, for something to be necessary is for something to exist even if things had been otherwise
    • But what then our are grounds for thinking that the world as a whole could have been otherwise?
      • It doesn't seem to me like this is a particularly strong objection, because it is quite conceivable that the big bang could have never occurred. But at the same time it's not clear to me what it means for things to be otherwise in relation to the big bang or some other cosmic event.
  • Something is contingent if it might not have existed, for something to exist necessarily is for something to exist and not be the case that it might not have existed.
    • But once it has been conceded that it is not logically impossible that this being exist, how then can it be said that it could not be the case that it might not have existed?
      • This seems like a much better objection, I will have to go read some material written by supporters of this type of argument and see what they have to say about necessity.
Now in regard to the very first question it's seems very hard to support this principle of sufficient reason. Although it seems plausible that contingent beings inside operating natural laws have reasons for their existence is it really true to say that the natural laws themselves have a reason for existence?

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Mackie and Hume on Miracles

The first chapter of The Miracle of Theism, is entitled Miracles and Testimony. It is a discussion of David Hume's argument against miracles. Hume made the argument that no miracles could be believed by any rational person, unless the denial of the miracle's occurrence would take an even greater miracle, and even then the miracle would be believed in very tentatively. After much discussion Mackie states Hume's primary argument like this:
  • "Where there is some plausible testimony about the occurrence of what would appear to be a miracle those who accept this miracle have the double burden of showing that this event took place and that it violated the laws of nature" (pg 26)
      • A: If it the miracle violates the law of nature then it is immensely improbable that the miracle occurred.
      • B: If the event took place, but did not violate the laws of nature then it can be explained in natural terms.
Of course there are some assumptions that Hume makes; that one should proportion one's belief to the evidence; and that a miracle is a violation of the laws of nature. So if a miracle is to be defined in other ways one can probably avoid this argument. I take it that the former assumption is uncontroversial.

Now it doesn't seem to me as though B is at all problematic. If a miracle is to be used as evidence for something supernatural, pointing to something that could very well be natural does not constitute as good evidence for the supernatural. However A appears to be a bit more tricky, at least it needs some reinforcement as to why a miracle would be as immensely improbable that they are. To determine how unlikely any event x that violates a law of nature is it will be important to define what a law of nature actually is. Mackie says that "the laws of nature...describe the ways in which the when left to itself, when not interfered with. A miracle occurs when the world is not left to itself" (pg 20). Now a miracle that violates the laws of nature is extraordinarily improbable because we have empirical evidence that what the laws of nature describe what nearly always, if not always, obtains. Laws of nature describe not only the way the world works, but the way it is. That means that in order to go about witnessing the falsifying of the laws of nature one would have to climb quite a tall mountain of probabilities. However laws of nature could be indeterminate, in other words they may not describe what always obtains but what the chances are of something obtaining. And this highlights the dirty fork of the argument, if it is the case that laws of nature do not always obtain then something which may appear to be a violation of a law of nature may actually not contradict nature at all. I have the feeling that what this leads to may be to strong of a conclusion, however for the most part this argument appears quite sound (though Hume has been challenged and supported by Bayes Theorem recently, this is probably the realm where the real arguing about this argument will take place.)

Here is a helpful discussion on this topic:

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Another Update 2/5

Here is a brief outline I plan to make on Mackie’s book The Miracle of Theism.
            1. Miracles and Hume
2. Cosmological Arguments: Leibniz's
            3. Design Arguments

And some other stuff that I may begin to blog on are:

The Argument from Biblical Defects; It appears as though contradictions, forgeries, fairytales, ethical atrocities, and other embarrassments make Biblical Literalism quite untenable but perhaps they make the existence of God less likely as well.
Theodore Drange has an article on the subject Here

I have also been wondering if the existence Satan is logically coherent.

Further I have been reading a bit on ethics, surprise, particularly when it comes to how much one ought to give to poverty, or whether or not one should be a vegetarian.

Also here is some interesting commentary on Egypt with Slajov Zizek and Tariq Ramadan