Monday, January 30, 2012

Contemporary Aristotelian Metaphysics

The long-awaited anthology Contemporary Aristotelian Metaphysics, edited by Tuomas Tahko for Cambridge University Press, is now available.  The good news is that you can save over $7 by ordering it from Amazon.  The bad news is that it will still set you back $91.49.  (Hopefully a paperback version will appear at some point!)  Anyway, you can find the CUP page for the book here, and you can check out a preview via Google Books here(Gotta love the symbolism of the cover: A new days dawns as the sunlight of sound metaphysics illuminates the barren wasteland of modern philosophy. Well, that’s my take anyway -- I don’t know if that’s what Tuomas intended!)

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Reading Rosenberg, Part VI

Let’s continue our detailed critical look at Alex Rosenberg’s The Atheist’s Guide to Reality.  In the previous installment, we took a detour to consider how some of Rosenberg’s problematic views in the philosophy of biology are developed more systematically in his book Darwinian Reductionism.  Here we return to the text of Atheist’s Guide and to the subject of religion, though we are not quite done considering what Rosenberg has to say about biological matters.  For he argues that Darwinism not only makes theism unnecessary (as he falsely assumes), but is positively incompatible with it: “You can’t have your Darwinian cake and eat theism too,” insists Rosenberg.  In particular, he thinks Darwinism is incompatible with the idea that God is omniscient.  How so?

Monday, January 23, 2012

Maudlin on the philosophy of cosmology

What’s the difference between a philosopher of science and a scientist who comments on philosophy?  The difference is that the philosopher usually makes sure he’s done his homework before opening his mouth.  I’ve had reason to comment on recent examples of philosophical incompetence provided by Richard Dawkins, Jerry Coyne, Stephen Hawking, and others.  (I’ll be commenting on further examples provided by Peter Atkins and Lawrence Krauss in some forthcoming book reviews.)  In an interview over at The Atlantic, philosopher of physics Tim Maudlin comments on Hawking’s ill-informed remarks about the state of contemporary philosophy.  Hawking and his co-author Leonard Mlodinow claim in The Grand Design that “philosophy has not kept up with modern developments in science, particularly physics.”  The gigantic literature that has developed over the last few decades in the philosophy of physics, philosophy of biology, philosophy of chemistry, and philosophy of science more generally, not to mention all the work in contemporary philosophy of mind informed by neuroscience and computer science, easily falsifies their glib assertion.  Says Maudlin:

Hawking is a brilliant man, but he's not an expert in what's going on in philosophy, evidently.  Over the past thirty years the philosophy of physics has become seamlessly integrated with the foundations of physics work done by actual physicists, so the situation is actually the exact opposite of what he describes.  I think he just doesn't know what he's talking about.  I mean there's no reason why he should. Why should he spend a lot of time reading the philosophy of physics? I'm sure it's very difficult for him to do.  But I think he's just… uninformed.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Jokes, lies, and jocose lies

Many years ago, arriving at a party at a friend’s house, I noticed a Jaguar parked out front.  The guy who answered the door didn’t know me, but I happened to know through my friend who he was, and that he was the owner of the car.  So I decided to have a little fun.  “Who owns the Jag?” I said with mock distress; “It just got totaled!”  The only thing more priceless than the look of horror on his face was the “Who the hell is this guy?” expression that replaced it when I told him I was kidding.

Was I lying?  No, I was merely joking.  So what’s the difference?

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Point of contact

Bruce Charlton identifies six problems for modern Christian apologists, and proposes a solution.  His remarks are all interesting, but I want to focus on the first and most fundamental of the problems he identifies, which is that the metaphysical and moral knowledge that even pagans had in the ancient world can no longer be taken for granted:

Christianity is a much bigger jump from secular modernity than from paganism.  Christianity seemed like a completion of paganism - a step or two further in the same direction and building on what was already there: souls and their survival beyond death, the intrinsic nature of sin, the activities of invisible powers and so on.  With moderns there is nothing to build on (except perhaps childhood memories or alternative realities glimpsed through art and literature).

Monday, January 9, 2012

Video of Science and Faith Conference now online

Last month I gave a talk at the Science and Faith Conference at Franciscan University of Steubenville, on the theme “Natural Theology Must Be Grounded in the Philosophy of Nature, Not in Natural Science.”  The other main speakers were Stephen Barr, Michael Behe, William E. Carroll, Jay Richards, Alvin Plantinga, and Benjamin Wiker.  My understanding is that a conference volume containing the papers is planned, but video of most of the talks is now available online here.

You’ll find my own talk below.  (Keep in mind that the camera adds ten pounds.  Lots of gin and pizza can add a few pounds too.)  There’s a lot of new stuff in this paper.  I argue that it is impossible in principle to get from the world to the God of classical theism unless we affirm the act/potency distinction and (therefore) the reality of immanent final causality.  Along the way I deal with Greek atomism, Berkeley’s critique of matter, the nature of divine causality, the existential inertia thesis, the problem with Leibnizian cosmological arguments, the limitations of the Kalām argument, and some other stuff as well.  Jonathan Sanford also makes some important points in his reply, which follows my talk.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Smith, Tollefsen, and Pruss on lying

Last summer, theologian Janet E. Smith published an article in First Things defending the moral legitimacy, under certain circumstances, of telling falsehoods.  In September, Chris Tollefsen and Alex Pruss replied to Smith, and last month Smith responded to Tollefsen and Pruss.  I hate to disagree with Smith, whom I’ve long admired; and as longtime readers know, I’ve had my differences with Tollefsen.  But on this subject, I have to side with Tollefsen and Pruss -- though I also think that some of their arguments are weak, and that they are not entirely fair to Smith.