From a philosophical perspective, the conclusion one can draw from the Milgram experiment is that obedience and evil are linked. In where there is an authority, especially an absolute authority, obedience results in people harming others. Anyone who is a sheep is potentially evil. All that’s required is an authority to get them to cause harm. This readily explains Christians throughout history who have had two authorities (usually absolute) demanding their obedience: god and kings, emperors, despots, and now presidents. Most Christians in this country are obedient sheep; that readily explains their evil. They imagine, for example, that opposing Trump and/or the Republican Party is akin to opposing god’s will. This is why they just do not see how they weaponize their votes against minorities, non-Christians, and women especially.
On a separate note, hopefully they see now that weaponizing their votes in this manner backfires and harms them as well: “In 2016 36.2 percent of SNAP program beneficiaries were White, 25.6 percent were African American, 17.2 percent were Hispanic, 3.3 percent were Asian. [Source: USDA]” Most of the 36 percent of Whites that receive SNAP benefits live in poor, rural areas; these are the same people that were promised jobs and opportunities, and now here they are losing what serves as a lifeline for their families. This is why (as a strict determinist) I value people who expose themselves to an array of positions.
This is why I oppose dogmatic thinking entirely, be it Christian, Muslim, or what have you. You simply cannot acquire truth by way of predilection. Truth does not conform to your beliefs; beliefs must conform to truth. These people that read and follow one book or, in a futile attempt to intellectualize and rationalize their false beliefs, read books that are mostly related to those beliefs cannot acquire the truth and more importantly, cannot empathize with people who don’t share those beliefs. In other words, I am an atheist now because when I was still a Christian, I exchanged my pond of very limited determinants for a vast ocean of determinants, which is to say that I expanded my knowledge with the unwavering belief that if Christianity is true, nothing I expose myself to will disprove that. Today, I am not a Christian and even though I identify as an atheist, I do not read one religious text or books that confirm or are related to atheism.
In the end, despite my violent and sometimes justified anger, I return to empathy. Trump supporters are entranced sheep who believe they have a lot to lose if they separate from their herd. To their minds, Trump is god’s appointed servant. The Republican Party has fooled them into thinking that they are the party of family values and moral exemplification. Their families and friends share these beliefs and I strongly believe that there are Republicans out there who have second thoughts, but the fear of being alienated or even disowned by the people close to them keeps them in line. To you, I say the following.
Stop pressing the button! I won’t lie to you. You will lose some friends and people in your own family might turn their backs on you. However, you will gain something as well. You will learn who is there for you in a more unconditional manner. Eventually you will make new friends. Should your fear be that you are in disobedience to god, consider your own beliefs again.
Do you not believe in a loving, merciful god? Did he not forgive others for disobedience? Did Jesus not die for the forgiveness of all sins? So what sin can you possibly commit that cannot be forgiven and moreover, that god did not already know about? Is he not omniscient and sovereign? It then follows that he orders all of your steps. Once you revisit your own beliefs, ask yourself: Would god truly appoint someone who commits adultery and fornication? Would he appoint someone who is on record saying that he sexually assaults women? Would he appoint someone who forcibly separates children from their parents and puts other human beings in cages? Then remind yourself that immigrants, illegal or otherwise, are people and that a lot of them share your beliefs. So why would god appoint someone who is harming people who believe in and pray to him?
Stop pressing the button!
My purpose here is to respond to a post published by Steven Dunn over at Philosophic Augustine. I met Steven several years ago in conversations on Tumblr. Over the years, he has maintained a resolute interest in philosophy, which is something I greatly admire about him. Few things remain constant over several years, so the fact that he has retained his passion for philosophy is impressive. He’s also grown a lot with respect to his knowledge and that’s to be applauded.
Prior to reproducing our discussion hitherto, I want to be clear about what I’ll be looking to accomplish in this response: a) address his latest response that features Aristotelian personalism and metaphysics b) circle back around to Bill Vallicella’s argument. I think it’s important not to lose sight of the argument, especially given that that’s the reason I commented on Steven’s Facebook post to begin with. I will make it clear that even if one granted the undeniable personhood of a fetus, it still would not follow that an abortion is equivalent to murder. With that said, here is the discussion as it stands; my reply to Steven’s latest response will follow.
Steven Dunn: Philosopher Bill Vallicella over at his blog Maverick Philosopher considers a brief but important argument:
(a) Abortion is murder.
(b) Abortion ought to be illegal.
The question: Can one consistently hold (a) and not (b)? Suppose an added proposition:
(a) Abortion is murder.
(b) Abortion ought to be illegal.
(c) Murder is illegal.
I posted this argument on my personal Facebook page which wrought the response of one of my old friends from the Tumblr blogosphere, R. N. Carmona. Carmona is a philosophic tour de force, one of whom I’m familiar with conversing and debating since I was 17 in 2013 (now I’m 24).
There was a lot of heated exchanges between me and Carmona. After learning of his upcoming book, Ending the Abortion Debate, I knew that this issue was something he was well-versed in and felt passionate about. The following exchange doesn’t do full justice to Carmona’s overall position, but the highlights I’m sure are as he would see fit. Enjoy!
R. N. Carmona: (a) is unsound, hence making the whole argument unsound. Aborting an embryo or non-viable fetus simply is NOT murder. Most abortions happen before week 16, with a majority of them happening before week 9. At no point in those times does a fetus resemble an infant and more importantly, the hallmarks of a person aren’t present yet. That happens at around week 22, hence the hard cut off in most states at 20 weeks. Specifically, EEG waves register in the neocortex at around week 22 and the neocortex isn’t full developed till around week 36. I’d argue that it’s murder after week 22.
The only time I make exceptions after that many weeks is if there’s a threat on the mother’s life, but if the choice is between the quality of life of a mom and her family and a nine week old fetus, it’s an easy choice. Keeping abortion legal prior to week 20 reduces maternal mortality, which, if you’re pro-life, you should care about. Moreover, restrictive policies increase infant and maternal mortality. We’ve had lots of tries at the conservative Christian way: Northern Island, the Muslim World, the Philippines, etc. Restrictive policies do not work.
This is precisely what my next book is about. Want to end abortion? Get behind the issue. Address poverty, lack of education, lack of access to contraception, domestic violence, etc. That’s the only way to slow the rate of abortion. Restricting it won’t work and those conservative states that have passed heartbeat bills are about to find out the hard way.
Steven Dunn: There is actually a large extent in which I agree with you. I’ve read a lot of your writing on this issue and I appreciate you’ve pointed the dangerous restrictive policies that do currently exist. There is also an importance as you say in addressing poverty, lack of education, etc.
However, my initial problem began when you claimed that aborting an embryo or non-viable fetus is not murder. Even though non-viable fetuses have no chance of survival, that still does not warrant moral permissibility to end its life. I don’t see where the line of moral difference changes with an embryo, fetus, or fully grown human infant. Is it a spatial difference? Is it a temporal difference? Does the week, day, or trimester matter when ending the life of a *potential human?
Of course, we could have a metaphysically more significant conversation than the kinds of questions I’m asking you. I just think that these questions are a good starting point. Also, what is the “hallmarks of a person”?
R. N. Carmona: The hallmark of a person is quite simply, the consciousness attributed to human beings and higher order animals like dolphins and the great apes: neuroplasticity, memory acquisition, language capacity, etc. Even simpler than that, the capacity to apprehend taste, texture, sound, and so on. Even them who are mentally disabled, assuming they aren’t blind or deaf, can have these experiences. The blind and deaf, though lacking an important sense, still have propensities for memory acquisition, language, and so on.
And that’s the difference: spatio-temporal. Of space, because the potential person now occupies a uterus, taking nutrients from the would-be mother; of time because the potential person is currently not in the world, i.e. is not a citizen of a given country; is not protected by laws.
Potential simply is not enough. The fetus is potentially stillborn or potentially going to die of SIDs or will potentially be an ectopic pregnancy or will potentially be born to become a serial killer that will make Ted Bundy blush. You can’t speak of potential as though it’s solely and predictably positive; potential can be very negative. In fact, this child can be the reason the mother dies and leaves behind a husband to raise several kids, including the newborn, on his own. Potential simply isn’t enough to obligate a woman to continue a pregnancy she’d rather terminate.
So yes, the week matters because so long as a fetus isn’t viable, abortion should be permissible. The moral difference changes once the fetus is viable. Potentiality simply isn’t a good argument. Viability is a much stronger argument.
Furthermore, the moral difference changes when purposeful modification comes into play. Sure, an infant doesn’t have that capacity: it doesn’t, for example, set goals for itself. However, the parents, once they are told that the fetus is developing well, start to purposely modify on the fetus’ behalf: they start thinking of a name, buying clothing, setting up its room, putting money in its college fund, etc.
No parent, even if they’re a Christian conservative, begins to purposely modify at conception or even in the early weeks. It’s simply not enough to go on and tells you that, behaviorally speaking, most parents write off potential. Potential isn’t enough for anyone to go on and that’s why most people need something concrete before they begin to purposely modify on their baby’s behalf.
So yes, there’s a simple line to draw between a non-viable fetus and a viable one. I can speak of organismality as well, namely comparing and contrasting between organisms to come to a good conclusion regarding what a non-viable fetus most closely resembles, and it’s clear that they don’t resemble a newborn. There are marked differences, but I digress.
Steven Dunn: I would clarify that you are *technically correct in saying that potentiality is not enough. A potential X of course is not an X. Because I am a potential speaker of the French language doesn’t mean I can speak the French language. However, potentialities are still nonetheless grounded in being: they are realities not merely possibilities.
They are actual human beings with various potentials.
Though they are not realized among differing spatial and temporal locations/positions, I don’t think you’ve provided a meaningful account of persons. Human persons, as I see it, are instances of personalized being; persons possess phenomenological qualities that make them eligible for relationships – or interpersonal love. I think our definitions of persons should capture something specific (and simple), rather than be a construct of various qualifiers (neuroplasticity, apprehension of the senses, etc).
One biological example worth mentioning that I think you’ll appreciate is the cognitive capacity of bonobos – which is one of my favorite areas of primatology to examine their analogous behavior with humans. They’re sympathetic, they can experience pain, they are highly intelligent, they can have an extensive non-verbal vocabulary, etc.
Despite these striking qualities, they do not fit under the definition of persons I’ve provided above.
What does it mean to be a real person? A couple things: (i) what W. Norris Clark has called the “participation structure of the universe”; rational-intelligibility that allows for human persons and the universe to find meaningful relations/predictions; (ii) existence as a dynamic act of presence and (iii) action as a [self] manifestation of inner-being.
I think your definition of persons is merely conditional; it’s dynamic but not exhaustive. Human beings – that is, if a personalized being possesses such potentialities – are intrinsically valuable; there can be no moral difference among this being’s spatial or temporal location.
In summary. . . I think you are raising issues that aren’t typically addressed by conservatives. It’s important that we better handle areas of women’s reproductive healthcare, which can be dealt with through better and intentional education, personal conviction, etc. However, I think we need to agree that the moral question is not somehow addressed because we’ve raised current social or political problems surrounding abortion. There are consequences and symptoms that need to be taken care of, by all means. However, if structurally we are dealing with the intentional ending of a human life then we need to talk about it.
R. N. Carmona: I disagree there. What I hear is Aristotelian language here and I reject his metaphysics all the way through. Potentialities are not realities grounded in being. I think even Aristotle makes a distinction between potentiality and actuality, and as I recall, he doesn’t conflate them in this manner.
Persons do, however, possess phenomenological qualities, like phenomenal consciousness, but that isn’t what makes them eligible for relationships and interpersonal love. What’s needed there is simple empathy and bonobos and chimps, in general, are capable of that; that’s one reason why some advanced nations recognize them as persons. So rather than a construct of qualifiers, it’s more a recognition of qualifiers taken together to get a basic definition of person.
The base anthropocentrism of theists doesn’t allow them to accept that other higher order animals are persons, and that’s what you’re doing here. Dolphins call each other by name and remember individuals for decades. Elephants can also remember individuals after years of not seeing them. So while there’s certainly a distinction between a human person and a dolphin person, there is overlap that qualifies them both and that overlap is found in the sciences. The issue here is that your definition relies less on science and more so on an implied belief in the soul or on metaphysics rather than science.
I agree with (I) as it’s pretty much purposeful modification paraphrased. (II) relies heavily on Aristotelian metaphysics and I reject it outright. (III) stems from two, but alludes to libertarian action of will, which I don’t think anyone has. There’s no [self] without the [other] and other is much more crucial in action, especially willful. I think human persons can change course, but only after realizing enough deterministic conditions underlying their actions, thus empowering them to experience determinants that may lead to an overall change of course.
Think of the proverbial alcoholic; he doesn’t willfully change his bad habit, but what he does is “change” a given number of determinants so that his actions may change and out of a recognition that if he doesn’t make these changes, he is pretty much enabled: a) stops associating with friends who drink regularly b) doesn’t go to bars when invited c) goes to rehab. And so on and so on and so on.
Action itself isn’t in a vacuum, but dynamic and intertwined with the flux of all there is. So human potential takes course in a deterministic manner and any human looking to have any semblance of control over that will reposition herself with respect to determinants. A fetus is incapable of this sort of purposeful modification, which I think is the most actualized of all.
So my definition, while not alluding to souls or anything religious, is also sufficient because it recognizes the role of the other in the shaping of the self. The embryo and non-viable fetus do not interact with the other in the manner in which persons do and it is simply potentiality and not actuality, to use your language. What is commonly aborted is (what can be) rather than (what is), so that spatio-temporal difference lays the groundwork for a moral difference and the moral difference lies in purposeful modification which I think your (I) paraphrases.
Any metaphysic that doesn’t account for the other, even something as arbitrary as a chair, isn’t complete. Hegel understood this and is the forefather, I think, of modern metaphysics, starting in the phenomenologists that soon followed him. Hurssel relied a lot on Aristotle too and I’m not alone in seeing that he was mistaken for doing so, but again, I digress.
Steven Dunn: I would respond to your outlook on Aristotelian personalism as not fully appreciating what the system has to offer. In our personal conversations on abortion I have mentioned to you that yes, personalism and the potentiality principle has largely been carried and grounded in Catholic moral theology. I understand, therefore, we both don’t share views in the inspiration of Christian theology.
Hence, we need to find anthropological and philosophical commonalities in which we can meaningfully proceed in a discourse about human persons and what exactly is developing in the womb. The best system that does this, in my view, is Aristotle’s conception of being from his Metaphysics and the further extension from Thomas Aquinas’ doctrine of persons (with some modifications).
Aquinas argued that persons are that which is “perfected in all of nature.” This essentially means that persons are not merely special “modes” of being amongst others, but that personhood is being when it is allowed to be at its fullest. In other words, persons are not restricted by sub-intelligent matter. There are a number of reasons why persons – humans – possess the special status that they do, and while I think there are theological reasons for this I think I can still demonstrate that apart from any inspired or “revealed” source.
First, Aquinas’ notion of person was conscious of the distinction between person and nature, because providing a consistent account of personhood meant that a consideration of God as Triune (one divine nature amongst three persons) and Christ as the God-man (divine person possessing two natures) needed to be contextually consistent.
Therefore, it has been an accusation by some leading Catholic philosophers (Wojtyla, Ratzinger, Clarke, etc) that Aquinas falls short of a comprehensive philosophical definition of person because the medievals relied primarily on the Boethian definition of person: “An individual substance of a rational nature.” Hence, I would argue for a further inclusion of the concept of “relation,” which is fundamental to our understanding of what it means “to be.”
Aquinas moved away from the what has been called “self-diffusiveness” of the Good as seen by the NeoPlatonists (the collaboration of the Good with all “substances”) and instead moves to Supreme Being, where Existence (esse) – as I said before – now becomes the root of all perfection. Supreme Being is the subsistent Act of Existence, where now the self-diffusive Good now becomes self-communicative Love.
Hence we have three primary qualities for the relationability of persons: being is (1) self-communicative (showing that persons are intelligible [ratio] by their actuality); (2) being is self-manifesting (persons are immediately relatable to other beings); and (3) being is intrinsically active (persons are not merely present but actively present).
Suppose a being for example that existed in reality but didn’t or couldn’t manifest itself to other beings, or if it didn’t or couldn’t act in any way. If this kind of being lacked such properties then other beings couldn’t have knowledge of its existence; it would be almost as if it had no being at all. Now imagine if all beings existed in this sort of way; the universe itself wouldn’t be connected in the unified sense that philosophers and scientists typically speak of the rationality of the universe.
Now combine this with the potentiality principle. According to Current Anthropology (2013), potentiality is a principle not so foreign to them: potentiality “denotes a hidden force determined to manifest itself – something that with or without intervention has its future built into it.”1
Let me be clear that potentiality is the only relevant metaphysical principle worth considering for abortion. My position, to be clear, is not:
- X is a creature of a certain sort.
- Creatures of this sort have right R.
- Therefore, X has a right R.
Premise 2 of course begs the question in favor of what I want to prove. In summary, my position is that the full and perfect realization of being is always inherent in its nature. All living things, including mindless plants, dolphins and gorillas have a proper end or “good” which is naturally directed within their nature – even from a formless or potential state. Nothing can exist without potentials, and potentials cannot be realized apart from something actual.
Now the metaphysical picture I’ve provided is not mere conjecture but is what historically has served as the foundation of Western intelligentsia for over 1,500 years, until the advent of the modern model by Descartes and Newton. And I would argue that that move away from the model of classical metaphysics has been one of the greatest errors and blunders of Western thought. It was an illegitimate move because it’s not as if new physical discoveries were made, hence “outdating” the Aristotelian system.
Descartes, among other French intellectuals at his time were responsible for the shift away from potential/actual, the four causes, and his metaphysic of being. Bad move.
R.N. Carmona: While not mere conjecture and arguably the foundation of Western intellgentsia for over 1,500 years, one would have to gloss over important bits of history to make that argument. One of the more significant bits of history I have in mind is the Christian and Muslim censorship and destruction of texts that were not in agreement with monotheism, especially works that were of a more naturalistic flavor. Carlo Rovelli puts it succinctly:
I often think that the loss of the works of Democritus in their entirety is the greatest intellectual tragedy to ensue from the collapse of the old classical civilization…We have been left with all of Aristotle, by way of which Western thought reconstructed itself, and nothing of Democritus. Perhaps if all the works of Democritus had survived, and nothing of Aristotle’s, the intellectual history of our civilization would have been better … But centuries dominated by monotheism have not permitted the survival of Democritus’s naturalism. The closure of the ancient schools such as those of Athens and Alexandria, and the destruction of all the texts not in accordance with Christian ideas was vast and systematic, at the time of the brutal antipagan repression following from the edicts of Emperor Theodisius, which in 390-391 declared that Christianity was to be the only and obligatory religion of the empire. Plato and Aristotle, pagans who believed in the immortality of the soul or in the existence of a Prime Mover, could be tolerated by a triumphant Christianity. Not Democritus.2
It’s not a mere coincidence that Aristotelian metaphysics stood in fashion for so long, nor was it established that the Aristotelian system was better than other systems. In that same time period, theists, especially Christians, held a virtual monopoly on ideas and as such, metaphysical frameworks with more naturalistic bents were destroyed or censored. Due to this, there was a reluctance on the part of skeptics and naturalists to offer a naturalistic metaphysical system. They were rightfully afraid of The Inquisition. So, Aristotelian metaphysics didn’t dominate the landscape because it was the best framework, but rather, because the game was rigged in its favor.
Copernicus and Galileo, for instance, dealt with the consequences of challenging theistic thought. Copernicus’ De revolutionibus “was forbidden by the Congregation of the Index ‘until corrected’, and in 1620 these corrections were indicated. Nine sentences, by which the heliocentric system was represented as certain, had to be either omitted or changed.”3 Galileo’s house arrest is a well-known historical fact and there’s no need to tread over old coals here. More to the point, “Bruno [was]…much more of a philosopher than a scientist. He felt that a physicist’s field of study was the tangible universe, so he challenged any line of thought that utilized nonphysical elements and avoided what he considered the juvenile exercise of calculation. To him, computational astronomy missed the true significance of the sky.”4 Bruno held to eight purportedly heretical theses and they served as the reason for his execution. Among these theses were patently naturalistic positions: the universe is spatially infinite, there are other planets very similar to ours, there were humans before Adam and Eve, the Earth moves in accordance with Copernican theory.5 In all but one of these positions, Bruno has been proven correct. So the notion that Aristotle’s system is best overall or, at the very least with respect to defining personhood, is already disputable because as has been demonstrated, competing, especially naturalistic, frameworks were discouraged. Despite this, before I set out on my own exploration with regards to what best explains potentiality, I will challenge Aristotle’s personalism.
Even if I were to grant that Aristotle offered much in the way of explaining personhood, there’s still the question of how any of these criteria apply to embryos and early fetuses. Take for instance, (1) self-communicative (showing that persons are intelligible [ratio] by their actuality). To my mind, embryos and early fetuses are not self-communicative nor intelligible, and that’s because they have yet to develop the organ that makes this possible, namely the brain. Now, while I recognize that Aristotle offers an interesting conundrum worth considering, i.e., as you put it, “Nothing can exist without potentials, and potentials cannot be realized apart from something actual,” I don’t see that a fetus’ obvious intelligibility and self-communication follows. As we will see shortly, there’s a better explanation for the notion that nothing can exist without potentials and that no potentials can be realized separate from something actual.
In like manner, let’s consider also (2) being is self-manifesting (persons are immediately relatable to other beings). On the assumption that Aristotle was correct, I don’t see how embryos and early fetuses are self-manifesting and immediately relatable to other beings. If anything, it is only relatable to its parents and siblings, assuming they had children already. Since it has not emerged independently within the world, it is not relatable to other people, the ecosystem in its locale, nor the wider biosphere. The fact that it isn’t independently within the world makes so that it isn’t relatable to any other beings. Furthermore, it’s relation to its parents and siblings is best explained and anticipated by genetics, which we will get to shortly.
Let’s also consider (3) being is intrinsically active (persons are not merely present but actively present). Again, embryos and early fetuses are not present, let alone actively present for the same reasons they aren’t self-manifesting. The fact that it is not independently within the world, once again, proves problematic for the third criterion. I can grant that it is actively present once born, for its parent(s) is now self-modifying on its behalf. It is interacting with other persons in a very obvious manner and relies on them for its physical, emotional, and psychological growth, growth that is crucial for its potential to eventually become a person who has a theory of mind, a sense of self, an ego, memories, desires, goals, and so on. Within the womb, that simply is not the case early in any pregnancy. The woman’s voice and music can help with brain development starting at 29-33 weeks. So harkening back to what I said earlier, interpersonal interaction is only possible when the brain is sufficiently developed, which strongly favors the thesis that the brain is integral to a human person rather than a soul.
Now to the matter of what better explains the predictable potential of a human fetus, after which three conclusions should be immediately clear: either 1) that we do not require a metaphysical explanation for potentiality and personhood or 2) that given genetics and evolution, what’s necessary is a metaphysical framework that is congruous with and readily predicts scientific facts and 3) that nothing can exist without potentials and that potentials are not realized without actuals has been solved.
One of the primary reasons I reject Christian theism as a worldview is because it gives human beings an undue “special status” all while ignoring human evolution. Human potential or more specifically, homo sapien potential wouldn’t exist without an ancestor’s (probably homo antecessor) potential. Furthermore, homo sapien potential would not have been realized without the actuality of ancestors and likewise, without the divergence of ancestors, great apes would not have progressed as they have. As you well know, we share about 98.5% DNA with chimpanzees and some 96% with gorillas, two facts that establish a common ancestry. So this “special status” is actually an example of special pleading because it’s not at all clear why chimps and gorillas do not qualify for such status; also, neanderthals, given what we currently know about them, are in many respects like homo sapiens (a fact that made their interbreeding possible) and as such, would qualify for such status without question. Yet on Christian theism, no human ancestor qualifies for this status, an attitude I find very suspicious.
Human evolution, like evolution in toto, has an underlying genetic component that explains these variations in populations over time. That same genetic component continues among all populations of species and thus, better explains “the perfect realization of being…inherent in the nature of mindless plants, dolphins, and gorillas.” Furthermore, potentiality does not denote a “hidden force determined to manifest itself,” but a rather statistically predictable pattern present in the genome of an organism; it isn’t hidden at all, but rather in plain sight. The pattern is so predictable that one can readily explain how and why that which is formless becomes something with form.
So prior to circling back to Vallicella’s argument, I will offer a brief overview showing how the actuality of parents results in the potentiality and probable actuality of a child. It is also important to note that given genetics, there are a number of factors that determine morphological sex, eye color, hair color, skin tone, and so on. So let’s imagine that in universe A, Jack and Jill have a baby girl named Janice and that in universe B, they have a boy named Jake. Let’s consider the important differences in each child, differences that explain why Janice exists in A and Jake in B.
In universe A, Jack and Jill are both 24-years-old when they agree to having a child. Jack and Jill are wealthy and have spent the last four years of their relationship traveling. Neither of them are stressed and have no trouble being happy and grateful for all that they have. When considering that high stress increases the probability of having a boy, it is no surprise that Jill gives birth to Janice nine months later. Yet that still does not explain why Janice has brown eyes (though both her parents have blue eyes), her mother’s hair color, and her father’s hitchhiker thumb. In the main, had another sperm fertilized the egg, Janice very likely would have been born with completely different features. Despite low stress levels, there’s also the fact that Jack has five sisters and no brothers, therefore increasing the probability of having a girl. This still does not explain why Janice has brown rather than blue eyes, blonde rather than brown hair, and a hitchhiker thumb rather than a straight thumb.
Allelic combination is important in explaining her phenotypic features. Should both parents pass on recessive genes, Janice is born with a hitchhiker thumb. Or alternatively, if there’s a combination of dominant and recessive genes, she may have a chance to have a hitchhiker thumb or a straight thumb. If there’s a combination of dominant genes, then she will predictably have a straight thumb (see reference). Eye color tends to be similar, albeit more complicated.
For instance, the assumption is that since Janice’s parents have blue eyes, she will also have blue eyes. There are two genes integral to determine eye pigmentation: OCA2 and HERC2. An active HERC2 activates OCA2, which determines pigment; given this, we know that this is what explains Janice’s brown eyes. Her counterpart in universe B, Jake, has either a broken HERC2 or a broken OCA2 and therefore, has blue eyes (see reference). He also has brown hair and a straight thumb. He has a straight thumb because instead of a recessive and dominant gene (what we find in Janice’s genome), we find two dominant genes in Jake’s genome. Their disparate hair colors are also explained in this manner as well. It is also likely that in Universe B, Jill gave birth to Jake because of the high levels of stress she experienced during pregnancy. Jack and Jill decided to conceive at the ages of 31. During the pregnancy, they moved from Middletown, NY to New York City because they both wanted more job opportunities. The crowded commutes, her career, the noise pollution, among other things, stressed Jill out to no end and this increased the probability of having a boy, hence (probably) the birth of Jake.
Form, likewise, follows suit. Drosophila have been important in research in evolutionary biology and genetics. In observing curious mutations in these flies, geneticists discovered homeotic genes that determine the body pattern of all organisms. The research gets very technical and makes for quite the tangent, but homeotic, or Hox genes themselves come from a Hox-like ancestor that explains the similarities Hox genes have from organism to organism (see reference). The graphic makes the extrapolations of their research clear.
What is also clear is that the following turns out to be false: “All living things, including mindless plants, dolphins and gorillas have a proper end or “good” which is naturally directed within their nature – even from a formless or potential state.” It’s not so much that there’s a natural tendency even from a formless, potential state, but rather, that there’s an evolutionary and genetic history that informs how a comparatively formless embryo develops into a human being. There are also traits that are arbitrary as there’s no purpose as to why someone would have brown rather than blue eyes or a hitchhiker thumb rather than a straight thumb. Some traits are inconsequential with respect to who a given person is.
Aristotelian metaphysics is considered outmoded by contemporary philosophers and scientists because it is incongruous with various scientific paradigms. Setting cosmology and physics aside, as I think I’ve shown, Aristotle’s concept of a person is incongruous with evolution and genetics and the system did nothing in the way of anticipating the advent of evolutionary biology and genetics. His system speaks of personhood in a patently non-naturalistic or even supernatural manner whereas genetics and evolution show that personhood is linked to certain types of purely physical organisms. What is required is either no metaphysical framework at all (à la logical positivists) or a framework that coincides with modern philosophical and scientific paradigms. Aristotle’s system doesn’t accomplish that and far from a “bad move,” Copernicus, Galileo, Newton, and everyone who eventually stood on their shoulders have every justification to move away from the Aristotelian system. Although interesting, that potentials can’t exist apart from actuals is explained by genetics for that which is animate and memetics for that which is inanimate. In fact, Aristotle was closer to correct with regards to universals and particulars, an explanation that can be applied to inanimate objects rather than living entities. Yet despite the potential for a human embryo to become an actual human person, a roughly predictable, naturalistic set of occurrences take place before every human birth. The process is also a fragile one as an injury to the would-be mother can end the pregnancy; genetic anomalies and an implantation anywhere other than the uterus can make it so that this potentiality never results in an actuality. Aristotle’s system also doesn’t explain the fragility of this process not just in humans, but in other organisms as well. It should therefore be clear that conclusions aforementioned have been firmly established and that if metaphysics remains a concern for philosophers, we have to do better than what Aristotle and his disciples rendered us.
Now to circle all the way back to Vallicella’s argument. Even if one were to grant the undeniable personhood of a fetus, either through the medium of Aristotelian metaphysics or another metaphysical framework altogether, there’s still the issue that the intentional killing of this person doesn’t constitute a murder. The pivotal error pro-choicers make is that they tend to define abortion and ignore what it’s being equated to. They should also consider the legal definition of murder, since Vallicella is alluding to the legal rather than the moral definition.
The killing of an embryo or fetus is done with intentions and motives altogether different from those underlying homicide, and as such, from a legal standpoint, it can’t be approached as murder or even a lesser offense like manslaughter. There is no degree of murder applicable to abortion; the intention and motive are not the same either, so even from a legal perspective, abortion is not murder. It would constitute an intentional killing of a different sort, of an even benevolent sort. Therefore, a woman who has an abortion can’t be tried and convicted as a murderer, neither can the doctor who performed the abortion. Let’s consider first degree murder. Premeditation is already an issue for Vallicella’s argument; the prosecution wouldn’t be able to argue that the mother had a malicious intent to kill this person. As for second degree, even though lacking the premeditation criterion, implies a reckless disregard for human life. The prosecution can’t accuse a woman of that either.
What’s more is that, if you were right in that a fetus is a person despite its viability, then restrictive policies would be the only choice we’d have. Like Vallicella’s argument implies, murder is treated in an extremely restrictive manner; even self-defense has to be established with no room for doubt. So if abortion were murder, it would be dealt with in like manner. So setting metaphysics and ethics aside, from a practical point of view, we should be wary of equating abortion with murder because we have dealt with the latter in a restrictive manner and we should know better, especially given the deadly consequences of such policies. So even if for solely practical reasons, we should shy from such equivalence even if it could be proven that abortion is murder. The issue here is that no pro-lifer has qualified that statement in any manner that doesn’t make for a bare assertion. Abortion is simply not murder and to think of women who have abortions as murderers is to misunderstand this issue altogether. What we should be addressing are the common motivations for seeking an abortion: poverty, domestic violence, lack of employment opportunity, and so on. I can go on, but I’ve probably overstayed my welcome as it is, so for the time being, I will leave this here.
The featured image to this article was taken from https://www.ngv.vic.gov.au/explore/collection/work/4291/
The featured image to this article is Rembrandt’s Two Old Men Disputing (1628).
-  Taussig, Karen-Sue, Klaus Hoeyer, and Stefan Helmreich: “The Anthropology of Potentiality in Biomedicine: An Introduction to Supplement. Current Anthropology (vol. 54). 2013.
-  Rovelli, Carlo, et al. Reality Is Not What It Seems: the Journey to Quantum Gravity. Riverhead Books, 2018, pp. 32-33.
-  “Nicolaus Copernicus.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 4. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1908.20 Jun. 2019 <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/04352b.htm>.
-  NA. “Bruno and Galileo in Rome.” Honors Program in Rome, University of Washington. 2003. <https://depts.washington.edu/hrome/Authors/pev42/BrunoandGalileoinRome/pub_zbarticle_view_printable.html>
-  Ibid. 
By R.N. Carmona
Many might be confused by the post-theist label. It does not mean that one is a theist unaffiliated with organized religion. This doesn’t mean one believes in a deity. Post-theism describes an attitude that one is beyond the god question. The atheist label no longer makes sense because the question of god is a settled fact; a god doesn’t exist and never did, so one doesn’t lack belief, but rather proceeds with the knowledge that there’s no god and conducts their life as such.
One no longer dwells on the question or considers the question. Yes, this is compatible with gnostic atheism because it requires knowledge rather than mere non-belief sans knowledge, i.e., agnostic atheism. However, the question of whether a god exists no longer interests the post-theist; it no longer occupies her time in that it’s something she gives no thought to. Religion and belief in god is a relic of human history. So she is as post-atheistic as she is post-theistic.
Post-(a)theism is a stronger position in that it isn’t a proclamation of non-belief or even knowledge of there being no god. It’s a stronger claim: religion was borne out of human ignorance; our lack of scientific knowledge, historical knowledge, philosophical understanding and reasoning, and technological progress resulted in a belief stemming from agency over-detection, among other fallacious conclusions. Religion was the result of primitive thinking, underdeveloped reasoning, and a severe misapprehension of the world we live in.
In many ways we are all post-theistic in that we don’t attribute lightning, tidal waves, strong winds, volcanic eruptions, and earthquakes to the wrath of a god. We moved passed polytheistic explanations of natural phenomena and remain only with the palpably silly idea that a god created the universe and world. The post-theist gets to a point where those notions are as ridiculous as the idea that Zeus launches every lightning bolt everywhere – including on planets like Jupiter. If one is to learn about causation, the dispositions of material objects, and the universe, one will see that these do not allow for such an explanation; never mind that god is a human projection, a way of seeing our own image even behind phenomena we can’t even begin to control.
God is the name of an idealized human, infinite in every domain we are finite in: infinitely knowledgeable, powerful, moral, and good; every one of us will die and yet god is considered eternal. God is the name of human naiveté and arrogance, the notion that the creator of the universe must be a perfect version of ourselves. God is the name of the lack of imagination of our ancestors. If anything, imagination hasn’t discovered a super-human controlling and governing the universe; imagination has discovered natural forces that move celestial bodies and oversee their formation; imagination has scaled down the universe to previously incomprehensible small scales; imagination has proven once and for all that the universe is probabilistic, that chance rather than agency is more prevalent in the universe. Imagination has shown that the idea of god was borne from a lack of creativity rather than masterful ingenuity. Whether you like it or not, we are beyond the need for god as ultimate explanation or temporary placeholder; we are beyond the question of whether one exists. This is the age of post-theism.
Book is now available for purchase here! Here are the Table of Contents to whet the appetite:
Chapter 1: Philosophical Approaches to Atheism
Chapter 2: Refuting the Kalam Cosmological Argument
Chapter 3: The Moral Argument Refuted
Chapter 4: Refuting Plantinga’s Victorious Ontological Argument
Chapter 5: On Qualia and A Refutation of the Argument from Consciousness
Chapter 6: Refuting the Fine-Tuning Argument
Chapter 7: The Failures of Aquinas’ Five Ways
Chapter 8: Transcendental Arguments and Presuppositionalism Refuted
Chapter 9: The Argument from Assailability
Chapter 10: The Arguments from History and The Multiplicity of Religions
Chapter 11: The Argument from Cosmology
Chapter 12: On the Leibnizian Cosmological Argument
I hope you guys enjoy!
By R.N. Carmona
Though the Kalam Cosmological Argument (KCA) is a deductive argument, it imports inductive reasoning. Since there’s a distinction between argument and reasoning, it should apply to, at least, some deductive arguments.1 To see where this occurs, it is necessary to restate P1 of the KCA: Whatever begins to exist has a cause.2
Before demonstrating how P1 imports inductive reasoning, a distinction must be made between the common application of the Problem of Induction and what it is it actually entails. The common application of the problem focuses on the notion that given the uniformity of nature, the future will be like the past. For Hume, the uniformity of nature is used to justify induction. It is, however, important to note that Hume never explicitly mentioned induction. The Problem of Induction is derived from Hume’s discussion on causation.3 This notion is at the center of the common application of the Problem of Induction. It does, however, have broader application.
The problem should focus on beliefs concerning matters of fact that extend beyond experience and observation. These beliefs could be about past, unobserved present, and future events, objects, or phenomena.4 This is key to seeing how the first premise of the KCA imports inductive reasoning.
Disregarding discussions on the nature of time, i.e. whether time corresponds with A-theory or B-theory, the past and the future, intuitively speaking, have something in common. In science, predictions are often made about the future and the past; the latter is increasingly being referred to as a retrodiction.5 The reason predictions are necessary about the past and the future is because they are out of the reach of our experience and observational apparatus. Since we cannot directly observe or experience the past and the future, inductive inferences are necessary to draw conclusions about both.
When one argues that, whatever begins to exist has a cause, one is employing inductive reasoning. During one’s lifetime, one has noticed that every effect is preceded by a cause. However, in order to argue that this has always been the case, per Hume, one has to assume the uniformity of nature. It follows that one is making an inductive inference about the past.
From an epistemic standpoint, the Problem of Induction is also the problem of transfer of belief in the evidence. Though it is true that people believe things that lack evidence, conclusions are often supported by evidence. So the problem occurs in the bond between a conclusion and the evidence said to support it–specifically in the transfer from belief in the evidence to belief in a given conclusion. This transfer of belief is what Hume sought to address. He didn’t want to call into question the belief itself, but rather, the grounds of said belief.6
Much of this shouldn’t be news for the Christian or theist. When addressing proponents of scientism or when attempting to downplay the superiority of scientific over religious reasoning, they are both fond of invoking the Problem of Induction.7 Unfortunately, they fail to realize that it’s imported into an argument they’re also quite fond of. If it’s an actual problem, then the implications of the problem apply to the KCA. In other words, if the Problem of Induction cites a lack of justification for beliefs about the past that are out of the range of experience and observation, the Christian and theist aren’t justified in saying that whatever begins to exist has a cause. Since the premise lacks justification, there’s no way to establish its soundness. Therefore, given P2’s connection to P1, we cannot establish the soundness of P2. It follows that we cannot establish the soundness of the argument as a whole.
In the past, I’ve been pointedly critical of the KCA. I focused, for instance, on the concept of causation.8 I also located a common fallacy within the argument.9 One would be hard pressed to establish the soundness of the argument even if P1 didn’t feature inductive reasoning, which the Christian and theist admit has problematic implications. With that said, this isn’t so much a rebuttal of the argument, but rather, another spotlight on the double think of theists, Christians in particular.
It seems as though Christians don’t care to correct the inconsistency within their arguments. They can’t invoke the Problem of Induction whenever it suits them only to discard it whenever it doesn’t. If one is intellectually honest, consistency is required. If they admit that there’s a Problem of Induction and that it is still without sufficient reply, as apologists have argued, then the implications of the problem are also imported into P1 of the KCA. I find that this conclusion is inescapable.
1 Will, Frederick L.. Is There a Problem of Induction? The Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 39, No. 19, pp. 505-513. 1942. Print.
2 Craig, William L. “In Defense of the Kalam Cosmological Argument”. Reasonable Faith.
3 Burns, Samuel R.. The Problem of Deduction: Hume’s Problem Expanded. University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. 2009. Print.
4 Fritz Jr., Charles A.. What is Induction? The Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 57, No. 4, pp. 126-138. 1960. Print.
5 Barrett, Martin, Sober, Elliott. Is Entropy Relevant to the Asymmetry Between Prediction and Retrodiction? (1992); Steinitz, Yuval. Prediction versus Retrodiction in MIll (1994); Begun, David R. Human Evolution: Retrodictions and Predictions (2005); Christopher J. Ellison, John R. Mahoney, James P. Crutchfield. Prediction, Retrodiction, and The Amount of Information Stored in the Present (2009).
6 Oliver, Donald W.. A Re-examination of the Problem of Induction. The Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 49, No. 25, pp. 769-780. 1952. Print.
7 See “Does scientific knowledge presuppose God? A reply to Carroll, Coyne, Dawkins and Loftus” by Vincent Torley
By R.N. Carmona
A Christian on the Humans of New York Instagram page brought up the Leibnizian Cosmological Argument (LCA) and named a few of its Christian defenders. Like I’m fond of pointing out, in naming just Christian defenders of the argument, it is likely he hasn’t considered actual objections. He’s read a degraded form of objections via the lens of these Christian authors. This is why I call apologetics, pseudo-philosophy.
In actual philosophical discourse, the participants in a given discussion are as charitable to one another as possible and they try very hard to ensure that nothing is lost in translation. They constantly correct themselves if they misinterpret what their opponent has said or they attempt to show that their interpretation better captures what their opponent is trying to say. Apologists don’t do this. Apologists straw man an objection, sometimes in ways that seem sophisticated, in order to make the argument or counter-argument easier to address. This is precisely why I advised him to deal with J.L. Mackie, for example–to read him directly and not through the lens of one of his favored authors. Then he would find that even Christians reject the Leibnizian Cosmological Argument (LCA).
A quick example of what I mean: in responding to my Argument From Cosmology, my opponent says that the opposite of my conclusion is as follows: the fact that an x can’t be shown to exist in relation to y doesn’t mean that x doesn’t exist*; in other words, that god can’t be shown to exist in relation to the Earth doesn’t mean god doesn’t exist. Yet on Judaism and Christianity, god created the Earth. Modern science tells us that planets have no creator; they form naturally over an extended period of time. We have real time data of planet formation in other systems. The history of our planet doesn’t resemble anything mentioned in the Bible. By extension, I argue that god doesn’t exist in relation to the universe, since he didn’t create it. Modern cosmology tells us as much.
His assertion is not enough to refute my argument. In fact, all he’s concluding is the opposite of what he misunderstood as my conclusion. My actual conclusion is this: x does not exist in relation to y iff it is necessary that x exist in relation to y. If god did not create the Earth or the universe, he doesn’t exist in relation to either, and by extension, doesn’t exist; however, on Christianity, it is necessary that he does. This is precisely what his favored LCA says. Through the Principle of Sufficient Reason (PSR), for every being or state of affairs that exist, there is a sufficient reason for why they exist. It then adds, that for every being or state of affairs that exist, there is a necessary reason for why they exist. Therefore, god is the necessary and sufficient reason for why these states of affairs exist.
My Argument From Cosmology best captures a decisive criticism of the LCA without directly engaging it. J.L. Mackie stated that PSR need not be assumed by reason. Reason only asks for antecedent causes and conditions that explain each being or state of affairs. These are considered facts until they themselves are explained by something prior to them. On reason, nothing is prerequisite beyond this.
Thus, going back to my conclusion, x does not exist in relation to y iff it is necessary that x exist in relation to y. In order for Christianity to hold true, god would have had to create the Earth and the universe. If we have reason to doubt that he created the Earth, and modern science establishes this conclusively, then we have much reason to doubt that he created the universe. If the Earth can be explained by antecedent causes and conditions, then the universe can as well. My argument offers a number of plausible explanations fielded in modern cosmology all whilst arguing that there cannot be the type of causation Christians would require, i.e., the type of causation that allows for an immaterial agent to create material objects. At best, such causation is unknowable and it is probable that there will be no hard evidence for it; hence the Christian must retreat to agnosticism. At worst, such causation is impossible and there cannot be any evidence for it; thus, the Christian must retreat to atheism.
Ultimately, my argument addresses the LCA by implication, i.e., my argument implies a defeater of the LCA. Therefore, I do not have to address it directly. The same can be said of the KCA. Rebuttals to both arguments are implicit in my argument. That fact alone should give apologists pause.
In any case, my point has been made: apologetics is pseudo-philosophy. Apologists prop it up by being uncharitable and purposely (in most cases) misinterpreting a claim or argument made by atheists. Apologists are also modern sophists: it matters not how things might be or probably are; what matters is what they think is the case, what they say is the case, or what they deem possible–as though possibility implies probability. Apologists are also quite fond of straw men, which they use to make their arguments seem superior to those of their opponents. Unlike them, I have defined PSR correctly and I’ve summarized the LCA charitably. However, I’ve also shown that my Argument From Cosmology considers the LCA, albeit indirectly. My argument implies a decisive blow to the LCA. It is therefore necessary to deal with my argument directly; it isn’t enough to choose a favored argument and deem it superior on the basis of a misinterpretation of my conclusion.
*His assessment is correct assuming that x isn’t necessary with relation to y. The fact that I (x) cannot be explained with relation to an invention (y) doesn’t mean I do not exist. Even the actual inventor of invention (y) doesn’t have this sort of connection to the invention in question. Another agent could have been the inventor. On Christianity, however, there are no other gods and hence no other creators. Thus, if god did not create the Earth, there is reason to doubt he created anything else in the universe and therefore, the universe itself. As stated, for Christianity to be true, it need only be shown that god is necessary in this possible world; the LCA, as originally formulated, wants Anselm’s deity and therefore, on the LCA, god is necessary in all possible worlds. My argument casts much doubt on this, especially since god is the necessary being antecedent to all contingent beings. If this connection fails on a minor front, e.g., god didn’t create all baseballs, that’s fine, for even then he would underlie the reason for the reason of the baseballs, namely human beings. If it fails on a major front, as I’ve shown in the case of the Earth and all planets for that matter, a glaring problem arises for Christians, for even if they posit a being that willed the laws of physics, what they have is a deity far removed from the deity in the Bible. That would make for a separate discussion altogether.
By R.N. Carmona
In the U.S., there are a few striking examples of science denialism. Perhaps the most troubling among these instances is the rejection of evolution. Fundamentalist Christians have fought to keep evolution out of schools and have fought equally as hard to push creationism and/or Intelligent Design (ID) into the classroom. According to a 2014 Gallup poll, 42% of Americans deny evolution and accept creationism. Given this, it is imperative to be capable of explaining evolution and the evidence in support of it. Having this capacity does not ensure that denialists will come to accept it. There’s still the issue of comprehension; there is, in other words, a pervasive problem arising from two distinct and yet related facts: science denialists are not familiar with the relevant jargon and thus, cannot comprehend, for instance, an informal argument for evolution; science denialists usually have a disdain for both alternative opinions and reading and therefore, would forego reading a piece defending an alternative opinion. On that last issue, they would much rather accuse an “evolutionist” of lacking substance or not being an expert–despite the fact that said individual is citing experts and reputable sources. Given this, it is necessary to be brief and effective when presenting the evidence for evolution. This is what I’ll endeavor to do here.
There are a number of lines of evidence for evolution: biogeographic distribution, homologies, atavisms, vestigial organs and traits, and perhaps the most compelling stemming from genetics: GLO (short for gulono-y-lactone oxidase) and ERVs (endogenous retroviruses), which will be discussed at length. Since I am not an expert and I am sans pretenses to the contrary, I will cite reputable sources and experts in order to make a brief case. Since the evidence for evolution is vast and requires a grasp of multiple sciences–e.g., paleontology, anthropology, genetics, evolutionary biology, environmental science–I will narrow my focus and speak only of the evidence that is arguably most compelling. I will begin with GLO, which is a pseudogene or a non-functional gene. Jerry A. Coyne, Professor of Biology at the University of Chicago, provides one of the better evidences of evolution:
The most famous human pseudogene is GLO, so called because in other species it produces an enzyme called L-gulono-y-lactone oxidase. This enzyme is used in making vitamin C (ascorbic acid) from the simple sugar glucose. Vitamin C is essential for proper metabolism, and virtually all mammals have the pathway to make it — all, that is, except for primates, fruit bats, and guinea pigs. In these species, Vitamin C is obtained directly from their food, and normal diets usually have enough. If we don’t ingest enough vitamin C, we get sick: scurvy was common among fruit-deprived seamen of the nineteenth century. The reason why primates and these few other mammals don’t make their own vitamin C is because they don’t need to. Yet DNA sequencing tells us that primates still carry most of the genetic information needed to make the vitamin.
It turns out that the pathway for making vitamin C from glucose involves a sequence of four steps, each promoted by the product of a different gene. Primates and guinea pigs still have active genes for the first three steps, but the last step, which requires the GLO enzyme, doesn’t take place: GLO has been inactivated by a mutation. It has become a pseudogene, called ΨGLO (Ψ is the Greek letter psi, standing for “pseudo”). ΨGLO doesn’t work because a single nucleotide in the gene’s DNA sequence is missing. And it’s exactly the same nucleotide missing in other primates. This shows that the mutation that destroyed our ability to make vitamin C was present in the ancestor of all primates, and was passed on to its descendants. The inactivation of GLO in guinea pigs happened independently, since it involves different mutations. It’s highly likely that since fruit bats, guinea pigs, and primates got plenty of vitamin C in their diet, there was no penalty for inactivating the pathway that made it. This could even have been beneficial since it eliminated a protein that might have been costly to produce.
A dead gene in one species that is active in its relatives is evidence for evolution, but there’s more. When you look at ΨGLO in living primates, you find out that its sequence is more similar between close relatives than between more distant ones. The sequence of human and chimp ΨGLO, for example, resemble each other closely, but differ more from the ΨGLO of orangutans which are more distant relatives. What’s more, the sequence of guinea pig ΨGLO is very different from that of all primates.
Only evolution and common ancestry can explain these facts. All mammals inherited a functional copy of the GLO gene. About 40 million years ago, in the common ancestor of all primates, a gene that was no longer needed was inactivated by mutation. All primates inherited that same mutation. After GLO was silenced, other mutations continued to occur in the gene that was no longer expressed. These mutations accumulated over time — they are harmless if they occur in genes that are already dead — and were passed on to descendant species. Since closer relatives share a common ancestor more recently, genes that change in a time-dependent way follow the pattern of common ancestry, leading to DNA sequences more similar in close than in distant relatives. This occurs whether or not a gene is dead. The sequence of ΨGLO in guinea pigs is so different because it was inactivated independently, in a lineage that had already diverged from that of primates. And ΨGLO is not unique in showing such patterns: there are many other such pseudogenes.1
The above is a compelling example demonstrating that we share a common ancestor with apes and monkeys. However, it arguably isn’t the most compelling example serving as evidence for evolution. Another example of such a gene demonstrates that we descend from egg-laying ancestors. Dennis Venema, Biologist at Trinity Western University, stated the following:
Common ancestry also predicts that, beyond human-chimpanzee common ancestry, the common primate ancestor also shares ancestry with other vertebrates in the more distant past. For example, evolutionary theory predicts that humans, like all vertebrates, are descended from egg-laying ancestors. As with all placental mammals, humans do not use egg yolk as a source of nutrition for their embryos. Other vertebrates such as fish and birds do employ egg yolk, as do a small number of extant mammals such as the platypus.
They found that these genes were present side-by-side and functional in the human genome; then they performed an examination of human sequence between them. As expected, the heavily mutated, pseudogenized sequence of the vitellogenin gene was present in the human genome at this precise location. The human genome thus contains the mutated remains of a gene devoted to egg yolk formation in egg-laying vertebrates at the precise location predicted by shared synteny derived from common ancestry.2
Another line of evidence for evolution comes from molecular biology, namely endogenous retroviruses. In humans, “endogenous retroviruses (HERVs) represent footprints of previous retroviral infection and have been termed “fossil viruses.”3 Also, ” it has been shown that the human genome contains numerous ERVs (HERVs) distributed in several multigenic families comprising a few to several hundreds elements (26, 45, 48). These elements are hallmarks of ancient infections of the germ line by retroviruses which have thereafter been “endogenized” and can be used as molecular markers of evolution.”4
Someone who doesn’t believe in evolution needs to offer alternative explanations for these facts. Their probable next move is predictable: indulge their confirmation bias by consulting creationist and intelligent design websites. Those sites will certainly have “refutations” of these facts, but keep in mind, having a Ph.D. doesn’t imply that one has expertise even on matters unrelated to what one studied. In other words, a Ph.D. in law doesn’t mean one can speak with authority on biology; a Ph.D. in biochemistry doesn’t mean one can speak with authority on physics. This is a common mistake made by creationists: anyone with a Ph.D. is an authority on absolutely anything they purport to be an expert in. Donald Prothero, who was a Professor geology and paleontology for 35 years, states the following:
One of the principal symbols of authority in scholarship and science is the Ph.D. degree. But you don’t need a Ph.D. to do good science, and not all people who have Ph.D.s are good scientists either. As those of us who have gone through the ordeal know, a Ph.D. only proves that you can survive a grueling test of endurance in doing research and writing a dissertation on a very narrow topic. It doesn’t prove that you are smarter than anyone else or more qualified to render an opinion than anyone else. Because earning a Ph.D. requires enormous focus on a specific area, many people with that degree have actually lost a lot of their scholarly breadth and knowledge of other fields in the process of focusing on their theses.
In particular, it is common for people making extraordinary claims (like creationism or alien abductions or psychic powers) to wear Ph.D. (if they have one) like a badge, advertise it prominently on their book covers, and feature it in their biographies. They know that it will impress and awe the listener or reader into thinking they are smarter than anyone else or more qualified to pronounce on a topic. Nonsense! Unless the claimant has earned a Ph.D. in the subject being discussed, the degree is entirely irrelevant to the controversy. For example, leading creationists include Duane Gish, who has a doctorate in biochemistry, and the late Henry Morris, who had a Ph.D. in hydraulic engineering. However, they both earned their degrees almost 50 years ago, so they are not likely to be up-to-date on these rapidly changing fields that they have not practiced in decades. If they stuck to discussing just those topics, they might be halfway believable, but all their criticisms focus on the fossil record, geology, thermodynamics, and so on—topics in which they have absolutely no first-hand experience, published research, or training. Their entire knowledge of these fields (vividly demonstrated by reading their books) consists of skimming and misquoting popular books by real experts in those fields who did the actual work, not going out and doing the research themselves or publishing in peer-reviewed journals. They are no more qualified to comment on paleontology, geology, or thermodynamics than they are qualified to critique music theory! Yet they always flaunt their Ph.D.s to awe the masses and try to intimidate their opponents. The same goes for creationists like Jonathan Sarfati (physical chemistry), Michael Behe (biochemistry), and Jonathan Wells (cell biology)—none of those subjects gives them ANY background in fossils or paleontology, and none has published in any peer-reviewed paleontological journals, so they are complete amateurs when it comes to fossils.5
Given this, one can’t trust any purported authority. One must consult actual experts. Going back to what was mentioned earlier, the issue all creationists and ID advocates have, is that they have a misunderstanding of science. The Christian persecution complex is palpable among such people. They honestly and generally believe that their ideas are being suppressed by the scientific community, a sentiment overtly present in Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. That sentiment is, however, wrong since it has no place in science. Carl Sagan said it best: “The suppression of uncomfortable ideas may be common in religion or in politics, but it is not the path to knowledge, and there’s no place for it in the endeavor of science.”6
Therefore, it is something about creationism and ID that exempt them from science. The reason they’re exempt is not simply because they’re religiously motivated views, but because they’re akin to astrology, homeopathy, and alchemy—i.e. they are pseudoscience. Jack Ritchie puts it succinctly:
Science is a self-critical enterprise. It provides resources for criticizing itself and other disciplines. We have good and obvious reasons to exclude topics such as astrology or creation science. These disciplines are not successful by their own lights. Astrologers do not accurately predict people’s future on the basis of planetary motions. Advocates of intelligent design, whatever the merits of the problems they raise for various parts of the theory of evolution, have no alternative scientific story to put in its place; they have no suggestion as to how to undertake research into the nature of the “intelligent designer.” Science is different. The sciences have made progress—at least by their own lights. Physicists know more about the subatomic realm than before. No doubt the Large Hadron Collider will enhance that process. Evolutionary biologists know more about the evolutionary process than Darwin. Good science is, furthermore, rich in unsolved problems that this deeper knowledge throws up. We don’t need any general definitions or criteria of what science is to make these points.7
The lack of success of these views is literally the tip of the iceberg. That they’re not successful isn’t what determines that they’re pseudoscience. Pick any of the demarcation theories put forth by philosophers of science and you’ll find that creationism and ID don’t meet the requirements to pass as science. Take, for example, Popper’s falsification. Can we falsify the intelligent designer who, according to many ID advocates, is the Judeo-Christian god? What matters here is not whether a naturalist or an atheist can falsify him. What matters is whether ID advocates are willing to attempt falsification of the intelligent designer. Since their view is rooted in religion, we can be reasonably certain that they’re not going to attempt to falsify the intelligent designer.
Let’s assume, however, that Popper’s falsification isn’t a good marker of demarcation. Let’s instead go with Kuhn’s paradigm shifts. Let’s assume that creationist and ID advocates try for centuries to locate this intelligent designer or creator. Will they put a new theory in place and allow their enterprise to go through a paradigm shift? In other words, will they, like early chemists who discarded Phlogiston theory and introduced theories that better describe the phenomena in question, introduce a new theory that perhaps eliminates an intelligent designer or creator altogether? Again, we can reasonably expect that no matter the evidence, no matter how stacked the odds are, creationists and ID advocates will not discard their current theory in favor of more tenable ones.
Let’s set Kuhn aside. Perhaps his demarcation marker is wrong. Let’s instead look at creationism and ID from the point of view of Lakatos’ research programmes. Lakatos posited that within normal science there are research programmes. The aim of science isn’t hypotheses in isolation or trial and error or conjectures followed by refutations. According to Lakatos, the reason Copernicanism succeeded where Ptolemy’s astronomy failed is because Ptolemy’s astronomy lagged behind as a research programme. The facts, especially after Galileo, supported heliocentrism rather than Ptolemy’s geocentrism, which featured epicycles. Are creationism or ID viable research programmes? No because their so called scientists are not doing normal science. Furthermore, they have no heuristic that serves as a problem-solving mechanism. Therefore, on Lakatos’ view, creationism and ID don’t qualify as science.
With this brief survey of demarcation theories in the philosophy of science, one can see that creationism and ID don’t qualify as science under any of these theories. That’s a problem. It follows that creationism and ID are not suppressed. Rather, it’s that they don’t qualify as scientific theories. Their proponents don’t participate in normal science. They have no research programme in place. They have no interest in falsifying their theory. ID and creationism do not belong in the science classroom and definitely not in a scientific discussion.
Given the case above, creationism and ID should be rejected. They are pseudoscientific theories. Even if they could be falsified, proponents of ID or creationism have no interest in falsifying them. This is due to the fact that advocates of these theories are not practicing normal science. As we can gather from what Prothero said, creationist and ID advocates mislead people with Ph.D.s in normal sciences. However, some of these fields progress rapidly and they are thus required to stay up to date on the changes in their field. This is usually not the case given that some of these people received their Ph.D.s literal decades ago. Therefore, their authority is dubious and upon closer examination, entirely lacking. These purported experts cannot be trusted. Yet this isn’t the reason evolution should be accepted. The reasons outlined above are great starting points. The experts cited are also trustworthy scholars who have done far more work in their respective fields than I was able to showcase here. My hope is that readers who are currently evolution denialists make the choice of doing honest research and coming away with a level of understanding they currently lack.
1 Coyne, Jerry A. Why Evolution Is True. New York: Viking, 2009. 67-69. Print.
2 Dennis Veneme as quoted in Farrell, John. “The Fossils in Our Genes”. Forbes. 21 Oct 2011. Web. 22 Dec 2014.
3 Nelson PN, Carnegie PR, Martin J, et al. Demystified. Human endogenous retroviruses. Mol Pathol. 2003; 56:11–8.
4 Benit L., Dessen P., Heidmann T. Identification, phylogeny, and evolution of retroviral elements based on their envelope genes. J. Virol. 2001; 75:11709–11719. doi: 10.1128/JVI.75.23.11709-11719.2001.
5 Prothero, Donald R., and Carl Dennis Buell. Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why it Matters. New York: Columbia University Press, 2007. 16. Print.
6 Sagan, Carl. Cosmos, Ep 4: Heaven and Hell. 1980. Web. 22 Dec 2014.
7 Ritchie, Jack. Understanding Naturalism. Stocksfield, England: Acumen, 2008. 108. Print.
By R.N. Carmona
Prior to closing thoughts and problems with chapter eleven (which is a summary chapter), I’ll link my review of the chapters below:
One cliche we’re all familiar with is never judge a book by its cover. Alternatively, we’re told never to judge a book by its title. In this case, however, the title says it all. Though the book argues for a specific creator in places, it is meant to demonstrate the case for a creator. In every chapter of the book, no concern is shown for keeping this creator consistent with the perfect, omnipotent, omniscient creator Strobel and his interviewees believe in. William Provine’s quote puts it perfectly:
A widespread theological view now exists saying that God started off the world, props it up and works through laws of nature, very subtly, so subtly that its action is undetectable. But that kind of God is effectively no different to my mind than atheism. (p.26)
This is precisely the kind of creator they argue for throughout the book: a creator that started the universe, fine-tuned its constants, guides evolution, and so on. Even if the Bible is taken allegorically, there’s no theological defense for such a view.
The biggest problem I had with the book was the lineup of interviewees. All of them fall squarely on one side of the fence. They’re all Christian and most of them are ID advocates. In chapter three, Strobel interviewed Jonathan Wells, who is an ID advocate and a Christian; in chapters four and nine, he interviews Steven Meyer–an ID advocate and a Christian; in chapter five he interviewed William Lane Craig who is a Christian apologist; in chapter six Strobel interviewed Robin Collins, who is an ID advocate and a Christian apologist; in chapter seven he interviewed ID advocates Guillermo Gonzalez and Jay Richards; in chapter eight he interviewed Michael Behe, who is an ID advocate; and in chapter ten he interviewed J.P. Moreland, a Christian apologist.
Another issue is that Strobel said that his “approach would be to cross-examine authorities in various scientific disciplines about the most current findings in their fields“ (p.33). Jonathan Wells, though he wrote a doctoral thesis on fossils, isn’t a paleontologist; furthermore, he’s no longer a practicing scientist. William Lane Craig, regardless of his pretensions, is no cosmologist. Robin Collins isn’t a physicist, Meyer isn’t a biologist, and Moreland isn’t a neuroscientist, a psychologist, or a cognitive scientist and though he has written about the philosophy of mind, he is a proponent of a view that’s not only outdated but also unsupported by data. Jay Richards was a useless third wheel and though Gonzalez is an astronomer, his arguments were fairly typical and unconvincing (see ch.7). Michael Behe has a background in biochemistry, but none of his publications support ID; moreover, ID is demonstrably pseudoscience. Irreducible complexity isn’t a theory nor a hypothesis; it’s a view rooted in religious predilection.
Now to the glaring issue with chapter eleven, which is Strobel’s summary chapter. He actually calls evolution a hypothesis (p.346). I understand that he’s speaking in a more general sense–specifically in its ability to explain the world. That is, however, misleading. Evolution remains a scientific theory. Though it plays a role in successfully explaining certain aspects of the world, it is not a be-all explanation. Thus, Strobel is wrong when saying that the “hypothesis” has us believe that “Nothing produces everything; Non-life produces life; Randomness produces fine-tuning; Chaos produces information; Unconsciousness produces consciousness; Non-reason produces reason” (p.346). Evolution doesn’t explain the origin of the universe, the origin(s) of life, and the origin of information. It plays a role in explaining the origin of reason and it may play a role in explaining the origin of consciousness. Again, it isn’t the be-all explanation for either of those things.
Ultimately, I came to the book with an open mind. I wanted to hear strong, convincing arguments for a creator–specifically the creator Strobel believes in. The book is rife with quote mining, misrepresentation, skewing of data, and most importantly, non-expertise–since most of the interviewees aren’t experts in the field(s) their interviews focused on. Strobel didn’t stick to his approach; he didn’t interview actual experts–many of which are featured in my review, and he didn’t interview skeptics. The book was a one-sided affair meant to further convince them who are already convinced and to convince the gullible. Unfortunately, this isn’t how an “investigation” is conducted; this isn’t how research works.
Note: I wasn’t aware of this podcast when writing my review of chapter ten. If you want a relatively short talk on consciousness, science’s ability to explain it, where we are, and what’s left to explain, then this podcast is worth the listen. The podcast features experts Dr Anil Seth, co-director of the Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science at Sussex University; Professor Chris Frith, professor emeritus at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging at University College London; and Professor Barry Smith, director of the Institute of Philosophy at the School of Advanced Study, University of London.
By R.N. Carmona
Though the strongest argument of the arguments for atheism, this argument is the most philosophically involved. That is to say that, due to the implications of the argument, the argument ventures into philosophical territory–much of which is the subject of continued disagreement and lack of consensus. On the surface, the argument is strong. However, the argument’s tacit assumption has to be qualified so that the strength of the argument is augmented. In doing so, however, some problems will arise. Though these problems aren’t damning to the argument and though these problems do not lend credence to antithetical arguments, the problems must be addressed. In other words, at the very least, solutions must be suggested.
It is time now to turn to the argument. Groundwork will then be laid out to qualify its assumption. Problems will then be presented and addressed. Then it will be suggested that the uncertainty of the solutions to these problems lends no support to antithetical arguments because such arguments carry their own onus. The argument is as follows:
P1 If there is a naturalistic explanation for the origin of the universe, a creative agent does not exist. (P -> Q)
P2 There is a naturalistic explanation for the origin of the universe. (P)
C Therefore, a creative agent does not exist. (∴ Q)
Prior to qualifying the assumption of the argument, the conclusion will be qualified. The implication here is that if there is a naturalistic explanation for the origin of the universe, a creative agent is not necessary. However, as is argued below, if a creative agent is not necessary, then it follows that a creative agent doesn’t exist.
To see how the conclusion follows, it is perhaps best to shrink the scope. This is to say that rather than focus on the universe as a whole, the focus should turn to a smaller aspect. Suppose that the argument instead argues that if there is a naturalistic explanation for the formation of planets, a creative agent doesn’t exist with respect to planets. Antithetical arguments would no doubt focus on the formation of Earth and thus, would engage in special pleading or question begging. In other words, such arguments would have no choice but to accept that there is a naturalistic explanation for planet formation, but that this explanation is somehow inapplicable to the Earth.
However, if a creative agent isn’t necessary for the formation of the Earth, then there’s no respect in which it can be said to exist in relation to the Earth. Now, in broadening the scope once again, the same argument applies to the universe. If a creative agent isn’t necessary for the origin of the universe, then there’s no respect in which it can be said to exist in relation to the universe. If it isn’t necessary for the creation of the universe, then it doesn’t exist within the universe or transcendentally in respect to the universe. The latter is to say that if it played no role in the origin of the universe, even the assumption that it exists outside of the universe doesn’t lend support to its existence. With respect to this universe, it simply doesn’t exist.
The assumption of the argument is where much of this discussion will focus. The discussion will center around the question of what constitutes a naturalistic explanation. Thus, it will center around the question of what is meant by natural. Keith Augustine offers three definitions. The one he seems to accept is problematic given that supervenience lends credence to non-natural or even supernatural explanations of the mind. Though non-reductive physicalism states that mental states are contingent on physical states, mental states and physical states aren’t congruent. This implies that mental states are non-physical.1
Along these lines, a religionist who is, for example, a Cartesian dualist can argue that the soul is supervenient on the brain. She can argue that mental states are non-physical precisely because mental states are a property of the soul. For such reasons, non-reductive physicalism is to be rejected by one looking to provide a case for strict naturalism. A case for strict naturalism would entail reductive physicalism or reductionism–which agrees with the thesis of physicalism but adds that complex phenomena can be reduced to physical processes.2 This is to say, for example, that morality reduces to the mind of the moral agent. Reductionism could therefore be seen as the view that a given phenomenon is reducible to another phenomenon; alternatively, in the philosophy of science, reductionism is the view that one theory is reducible to another (e.g. Modified Newtonian Mechanics (MOND) is reducible to dark matter). This thesis runs into, at least, two problems.
The first of these issues is qualia–“the felt or phenomenal qualities associated with experiences.”3 This is often referred to as the what it’s like-ness of an experience. For example, a sharp pain in the foot, the smell of wet dog fur, and the taste of chocolate have a subjective quality that vary from one person to the next. These can only be accessed via introspection and are thus a marquee example of the so called privacy of consciousness. Qualia, however, aren’t as pervasive as the second problem. The second problem will therefore receive much warranted attention.
The second problem for reductionism is the purported existence of abstracta. Abstracta are abstract objects like propositions, letters, and numbers. Of these, arguably the most seriously debated are numbers. The debate between mathematical realists and non-realists should occupy one who is attempting a clear case for strict naturalism. If numbers exist, then at least one non-natural object exists; furthermore, this non-natural object isn’t reducible to anything physical. The existence of numbers would therefore refute reductionism.
Of the four criteria Otávio Bueno offers, two have been at the center of the debate: indispensability and explanation versus description. The indispensability criterion states that mathematics must be more than a useful part of an explanation; it must be indispensable to that explanation.4Mathematical realists don’t doubt that mathematics meets this criterion. The explanation versus description criterion states that mathematics, aside from describing a given phenomenon, must explain the phenomenon.5 On these two grounds, the nominalist has the most to say.
Mathematics, for example, doesn’t explain Kirkwood gaps. It merely provides a description for the relevant interactions between the gravitational tugs of Jupiter, the Sun, and asteroids in the asteroid belt. Briefly, Kirkwood gaps are regions within the asteroid belt that contain few asteroids; the distribution of asteroids in the belt are therefore non-uniform. There have been attempts to explain this non-uniformity mathematically (see Vrbik 2014).6 However, as argued by Bueno, proper interpretation is required before a mathematical description is relevant to the explanation of the phenomena.
This failure to explain Kirkwood gaps doesn’t harm the realist case, however. Realists have offered other phenomena that mathematics might explain: the hexagonal cells of beehives; the lifespan of cicadas, which is either 13 or 17 years–both of which are prime numbers; the bridges of Königsberg; the plateau soap film. Each phenomenon is explained semantically. Despite this, Mark Steiner suggested that when one “remove[s] the physics, we remain with a mathematical explanation—of a mathematical truth!”7
However, Baker [forthcoming] has argued that the proposal is false. And it is false for a very simple reason: there are mathematical explanations of empirical facts where the mathematics involved has no (known) mathematical explanation. Baker has argued convincingly, I think, that the example of the bees is a case in point—i.e., that the proof of the Honeycomb Theorem given by Hales  does not explain the theorem. Therefore, whatever is doing the explanatory work, it isn’t the proof of the theorem.8
Steiner’s proposal has been replaced with program explanations. Conversely, program explanations make use of dispositions. John Heil provides an example:
Consider the dispositional property of being fragile. This is a property an object—this delicate vase, for instance—might have in virtue of having a particular molecular structure. Having this structure is held to be lower-level non-dispotional property that grounds the high-level dispositional property of being fragile; the vase is fragile, the vase possesses the dispositional property of being fragile, in viture of possessing some non-dispositional structural property.9
A disposition is “not causally efficacious” and “ensures the instantiation of a causally efficacious property or entity that is an actual cause of the explanandum.”10 This is precisely what program explanations make use of.
A fragile glass is struck and breaks. Why did it break? First answer: because of its Fragility. Second answer: because of the particular molecular structure of the glass. The property of fragility was efficacious in producing the breaking only if the molecular structural property was efficacious: hence 3(i) [there is a distinct property G such that F is efficacious in the production of e only if G is efficacious in its production]. But the fragility did not help to produce the molecular structure in the way in which the structure, if it was efficacious, helped to produce the breaking. There was no time-lag between the exercise of the efficacy, if it was efficacious, by the disposition and the exercise of the efficacy, if it was efficacious, by the structure. Hence 3(ii) [the F-instance does not help to produce the G-instance in the sense in which the G-instance, if G is efficacious, helps to produce e; they are not sequential causal factors]. Nor did the fragility combine with the structure, in the manner of a coordinate factor, to help in the same sense to produce e. Full information about the structure, the trigger and the relevant laws would enable one to predict e; fragility would not need to be taken into account as a coordinate factor. Hence 3(iii) [the F-instance does not combine with the G-instance, directly or via further effects, to help in the same sense to produce e (nor of course, vice versa): they are not coordinate causal factors].11
Though this is a remarkable case, it doesn’t accomplish the type of explanation the realist is looking for. There are, however, other program explanations such as the explanation of the radiation emitted by a piece of uranium over a period of time (see Jackson and Pettit, Ibid.). This kind of program explanation is both indispensable and cannot be superseded by a process explanation–i.e. “a detailed account of the actual causes that led to the event to be explained.”12 So given program explanations, it looks as though the mathematical realist has won. Not so fast.
One must ask whether program explanations bear any relation to mathematics. In other words, one must question whether program explanations are mathematical and whether they meet the indispensability criterion. There are two options for the nominalist: Kim’s exclusion principle: a principle which “hinders the acceptance of two causal explanations for a single effect unless an acceptable relation exists between the two purported causes” or “view mathematics as playing a broadly representational role in scientific explanations.” On the exclusion principle, the fragility example can be revisited:
The problem with this example is that there seems to be some avenue to a conceptual reduction of the two properties, “anyone who had access to the [molecular] account would have all the significant information at his disposal which is offered by the fragility explanation.” This, I think, again gives support to the heterogeneous nature of Jackson and Pettit’s examples; if a conceptual reduction of some kind is possible on a particular occasion then explanatory exclusion will effectively remove the program explanation in the same way that metaphysical reduction will remove the higher-level cause.15
If conceptual reduction of the efficacious and programming non-efficacious properties is possible, there is no longer room to assume that the non-efficacious property plays any role in the explanation. More pointedly, Juha Saatsi states the following: “For it seems that mathematical properties cannot ensure the instantiation of causally efficacious properties in any realist view of mathematics without some unduly ad hoc metaphysical connection being postulated between the concrete world and mathematical abstracta.”16 Given these epistemic and metaphysical difficulties, challenges are presented to one looking to defend mathematical realism. At best, the question of whether or not numbers exist in a Platonic sense remains to be seen. The fact that the floor is still open to this question shouldn’t hinder naturalism. Such an uncertain proposition–namely the existence of numbers–shouldn’t pose problems for naturalism. Though qualia were given less attention, the same conclusion applies. Therefore, reductionism is still a plausible thesis for one attempting a case for strict naturalism. It follows that natural is that which is physical or reducible to that which is physical.
Even if applied mathematics presented an issue for naturalism, pure mathematics says nothing about the world. It is concerned with objects, relations, and structures. These, however, are abstract. They’re not spatio-temporaral and aren’t causally active.17 Assuming that the existence of numbers caused a problem for naturalism, this wouldn’t lend any support to antithetical arguments. One, for example, wouldn’t be able to argue that the existence of numbers implies the existence of a god. For the same reasons one cannot assert that there’s a moral arbiter for morality, one cannot assert that there’s a programmer for program explanations or more simply, that there’s a being who designed a mathematical universe. This is to say, a being who designed the universe so that it adheres to laws fully explainable in terms of mathematics. Such a proposition would require justification.
There’s also the fact that in assuming that numbers exist, this existence could be entirely mind-dependent. This is to say that wherever there’s a being that is sufficiently intelligent, mathematical representations will not only emerge but might be required. Given, for example, the inferior fitness of h.neanderthalensis, one is justified in regarding them as less intelligent than h.sapien. Yet there’s evidence to suggest that neanderthals crafted and used tools; there’s also evidence to suggest that they produced art. In the case of cave art, rudimentary mathematical thinking is required. For instance, a cave artist didn’t depict herself and aspects of nature (e.g. buffalos; trees) in actual size. She, instead, scaled down actual sizes, but still represented herself and her environment in an accurate manner. That is to say that, though she didn’t depict buffalos at their actual sizes, she still depicted them as larger than herself. This scaling down is possible evidence for rudimentary mathematical thinking. Therefore, if an intellectually inferior being is capable of thinking in this manner, it is reasonable to expect that an intellectually superior being is also capable of such thinking. When presented with given circumstances (e.g. predators that hunt in packs), the capacity to identify multiple threats becomes advantageous to survival. This, in turn, are the first fruits of mathematical thought. Mathematics, thence, could have a real contingent existence rather than, as the Platonists/Mathematical Realists argue, a real necessary existence. Thus, despite the strength of nominalism, a watered down realism could also dispel with the problem the existence of numbers would pose for reductionism and therefore, naturalism.
With a definition of natural now established and given the care taken in addressing possible problems, it is time now to turn to examples of naturalistic explanations for the origin of the universe. Prior to doing this however, it is necessary to point out that naturalism is the prevailing view in science. Sean Carroll states:
[I]f a so-called supernatural phenomenon has strictly no effect on anything we can observe about the world, then indeed it is not subject to scientific investigation. It’s also completely irrelevant, of course, so who cares? If it does have an effect, than of course science can investigate it, within the above scheme. Why not? Science does not presume the world is natural; most scientists have concluded that the world is natural because that’s the best explanation for what we observe. If you are ever confused about what “science” has to say about something, just ask yourself what actual scientists would do. If real scientists were faced with a purportedly supernatural phenomenon, they wouldn’t just shrug their shoulders because it wasn’t part of their definition of science. They would investigate it and try to come up with the best possible explanation.20
If a supernatural explanation presented itself, however, one should remember “that most naturalists would agree that naturalism at least entails that nature is a closed system containing only natural causes and their effects.”21 This is precisely what cosmological models present: a causally closed universe and explanations showing that the universe is self-contained. Even if one wrongfully assumes, like William Lane Craig, that the Borde-Guth-Vilenkin theorem yields evidence for an absolute beginning of the universe, when one considers that the theorem says that the ability to explain the universe classically gives out, such a theorem isn’t useful to argue for a beginning.22Even if we assumed, however, that this theorem implies an absolute beginning to the universe, this wouldn’t imply that a supernatural explanation is the only resort.
With this in mind, naturalistic explanations can be presented. The consensual theory, i.e. the Big Bang, will be discussed. The multiverse, which might be the mark of a paradigm shift, will also be discussed. Then an exotic possibility will be explored, namely that the universe is the product of a four-dimensional black hole.
Without surveying the history of the Big Bang, an outline of its properties can be presented: singularity, inflation, baryogenesis, cooling, structure formation, accelerated cosmic expansion. Stephen Hawking describes the singularity as follows:
At this time, the Big Bang, all the matter in the universe, would have been on top of itself. The density would have been infinite. It would have been what is called, a singularity. At a singularity, all the laws of physics would have broken down. This means that the state of the universe, after the Big Bang, will not depend on anything that may have happened before, because the deterministic laws that govern the universe will break down in the Big Bang. The universe will evolve from the Big Bang, completely independently of what it was like before. Even the amount of matter in the universe, can be different to what it was before the Big Bang, as the Law of Conservation of Matter, will break down at the Big Bang.23
Hawking later adds that “the Big Bang is a beginning that is required by the dynamical laws that govern the universe. It is therefore intrinsic to the universe, and is not imposed on it from outside.”24 Baryogenesis is the period in the early universe that resulted in the prevalence of matter over antimatter. It is useful to note here that this doesn’t make a difference given the assumption that the universe was created.
Because antiparticles otherwise have the same properties as particles, a world made of antimatter would behave the same way as a world of matter, with antilovers sitting in anticars making love under an anti-Moon. It is merely an accident of our circumstances, due, we think, to rather more profound factors…that we live in a universe that is made up of matter and not antimatter or one with equal amounts of both.25
Given this, the prevalence of matter over antimatter is arbitrary when assuming that the universe was created. This, however, serves as evidence against the notion since it serves as an example of chance in the universe. After the universe began to cool, stars, galaxies, and planets began to form. Expansion, as discovered by Edwin Hubble, is accelerating. What was accelerating the expansion of the universe was, at the time, unknown. Today, it is held that dark energy is responsible for the expansion of the universe and this, Sean Carroll states, is because dark energy is persistent and doesn’t dilute as the universe expands. It is, he explains, a feature of space itself and therefore constant throughout space and time.26
There have been recent suggestions that the universe is a dynamical fluid. Or, at the very least, the universe is a medium that appears to have more than three phases; in fact, as many as 10^500 and maybe even an infinite amount. So aside from curving and expanding, space could be doing something like freezing or evaporating.27
Inflation was intentionally set aside because it has received a lot of recent attention. On March 17th of this year, John Kovak, with the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, announced the detection of gravitational waves. Initially, the BICEP2 collaboration had ruled out the possibility that cosmic dust in the Milky Way accounted for the polarization pattern in the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB).
The BICEP2 collaboration, on June 19th, published a paper acknowledging that cosmic dust in the Milky Way could account for more of the b-mode polarization signal than previously thought. If the signals originate from primordial gravitational waves, this would be a smoking gun for inflation. Inflation theory proposes a short burst of exponential expansion in the early universe. This rapid expansion would produce gravitational waves.
It wasn’t long before the results came under fire and were eventually proven wrong. Charles Choi writes:
The controversy hinges on their handling of the dust emission, which relied on a preliminary map based on about 15 months of data from the European Space Agency’s Planck spacecraft. Falkowski noted the BICEP2 group might have misinterpreted the Planck data, thinking that it only contained emissions from the Milky Way when it also included unpolarized emissions from other galaxies. If the BICEP2 team did not account for this fact, they might have underestimated how polarized the foreground from the Milky Way actually was. This could mean the inflation signal the group thought it saw might only be a spurious result from Milky Way emissions.28
Gravitational waves would be a smoking gun for inflation. Though the Bicep2 results were eventually shown to be wrong, a recent suggestion could prove promising. A team, consisting of Nora Elisa Chisari, a fifth year graduate student with the Department of Astrophysical Sciences at Princeton, Cora Dvorkin with the Institute of Advanced Study at the School of Natural Sciences, and Fabian Schmidt with the Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics, is now proposing that weak lensing surveys may be able to detect the cross-correlation between b-mode polarization in the CMB and cosmic shear. The team suggests the possibility that cosmic shear is the best way to confirm primordial gravitational waves resulting from b-mode polarization in the CMB.
If inflation is empirically established, it would serve as indirect evidence for an inflationary multiverse. An inflationary universe, according to Tegmark, results in a Level I and Level II multiverse. Inflation would eventually end in parts of a rapidly expanding region, forming u-shaped regions. Each of these regions constitute a Level I multiverse while the amalgam of the universes constitute a Level II universe.29 Another way to imagine this type of multiverse is by imagining an enormous block of swiss cheese. As Brian Greene explains:
[T]he cheesy parts [are] regions where the inflaton field’s value is high and the holes [are] regions where it’s low. That is, the holes are regions, like ours, that have transitioned out of the superfast expansion and, in the process, converted the inflaton field’s energy into a bath of particles, which over time may coalesce into galaxies, stars, and planets. In this language, we’ve found that the cosmic cheese requires more and more holes because quantum processes knock the inflaton’s value downward at a random assortment of locations. At the same time, the cheesy parts stretch ever larger because they’re subject to inflationary expansion driven by the high inflaton field value they harbor. Taken together, the two processes yield an ever-expanding block of cosmic cheese riddled with an ever-growing number of holes. In the more standard language of cosmology, each hole is called a bubble universe (or a pocket universe). Each is an opening tucked within the superfast stretching cosmic expanse.30
Briefly, an inflaton field is a field corresponding to a given inflationary model. Like the Higgs field corresponds to the Higgs boson and an electromagnetic field corresponds to electromagnetism, an inflaton field corresponds to inflation. Some have written off multiverses as too hypothetical. However, Einstein’s general relativity suggested both an expanding universe and black holes long before there was evidence for either. Likewise, quantum mechanics (e.g. Everett’s Many Worlds Interpretation), string theory, and other equations suggest a multiverse. Some consider the multiverse the best explanation for the so called Fine-Tuning problem in physics. When the mathematics of such equations suggests as observable aspect of a given theory or a yet to be observed phenomena, it isn’t long before these phenomena are found to be actual.
The Everettian interpretation isn’t the only interpretation of quantum mechanics that results in a multiverse. Howard Wiseman, a theoretical quantum physicist at Griffith University, along with his team of colleagues, suggested the “many interacting worlds” approach. On this interpretation, each world is governed by Newtonian physics. However, given the interaction of these worlds, phenomena that are associated with quantum mechanics will arise. To test this approach, Wiseman suggested that the collision of two worlds could lead to the acceleration of one and the recoil of another; this would result in quantum tunneling. Wiseman and his team go through other examples, including the interaction of 41 classical worlds resulting in the type of phenomena observed in the double-slit experiment.31
It was suggested that the multiverse could mark a paradigm shift. This could be the case because the multiverse is able to explanatorily absorb Big Bang cosmology. In other words, inflation, for example, though a property of the Big Bang theory, isn’t well understood without introducing the inflationary multiverse. For Big Bang cosmology to remain the paradigm, inflation would have to be explained without recourse to the inflationary multiverse. The multiverse, aside from explaining inflation, via string theory, it can explain the behavior of dark energy. As aforementioned, as many as 10^500 phase changes of space have been proposed by string theorists.
As surveyed above, the Big Bang and the multiverse are self-contained, naturalistic explanations for the origin of the universe. There are, however, exotic explanations. One of the more recent suggestions offered by Niayesh Afshordi and his team is that the Big Bang was the result of a star that collapsed in a higher dimension. This four-dimensional star collapsed into a black hole. Interestingly enough, one of the properties of black holes is the singularity. The Big Bang, coincidentally, began as a singularity. “When Afshordi’s team modelled the death of a 4D star, they found that the ejected material would form a 3D brane surrounding that 3D event horizon, and slowly expand. The authors postulate that the 3D Universe we live in might be just such a brane—and that we detect the brane’s growth as cosmic expansion.”32 This, Afshordi argues, led astronomers to extrapolate back to the early universe and reason that it must have begun in a Big Bang. According to Afshordi, the Big Bang is a mirage.
This brief survey offers the consensual explanation: the Big Bang; a good candidate to shift the current paradigm: the multiverse; and an exotic explanation: the universe resulted from the collapse of a four-dimensional star into a black hole. The survey is by no means exhaustive. There are, for example, many inflationary theories (e.g. hybrid inflation; inflation as is related to loop quantum gravity). There are also a number of theorems (e.g. quantum eternity theorem). The feature they all share, however, is that they represent a self-contained universe–i.e. a causally closed universe.
A religionist may object and say that his god chose to work via naturalistic processes. William Provine offers a perfect reply to this notion:
A widespread theological view now exists saying that God started off the world, props it up and works through laws of nature, very subtly, so subtly that its action is undetectable. But that kind of God is effectively no different to my mind than atheism.33
This sort of suggestion is also in violation of Ockham’s razor or the principle of parsimony, which states that one shouldn’t multiply entities beyond necessity. Augustine quotes J.J.C. Smart:
“Ockham’s Razor does not imply that we should accept simpler theories at all costs. The Razor is a method for deciding between two theories that equally account for the agreed-upon facts” (Smart 1984, p. 124).
Given this basic heuristic, if we have no evidence for likely candidates for a supernatural event, we should adopt the simplest explanation for this fact–that only natural causes are operative within the natural world. If every caused event we have encountered can be explained in terms of natural causes, there is no reason to invoke supernatural causes that do no explanatory work for any particular events.34
Given this, such a god would be an added, unnecessary appendage. Attaching a god to naturalistic explanations doesn’t change the nature of the explanations. It doesn’t support the case for the supernatural. Therefore, given the naturalistic explanations surveyed above, creative agents are unnecessary. Attaching them to such explanations doesn’t make them necessary since they don’t lend support to the explanatory work. As argued earlier, if such gods are unnecessary, then they are also nonexistent with respect to the object purportedly created.
Ultimately, much is said about agnostic atheism. Agnostic atheism is an epistemic position, which disavows belief in gods but doesn’t claim to know whether or not they exist. Given The Argument From Cosmology, however, the fact that creative agents are unnecessary implies their nonexistence. We can know, with a high degree of certainty, that the universe is causally closed and therefore, self-contained. No outside influence can causally interact with or within the universe. It is therefore possible to know that gods do not exist. Therefore, from a much broader perspective, this argument lends strong support to gnostic atheism: an epistemic position which not only disavows belief, but claims knowledge, warrant, and justification. This implication makes for a much broader thesis that is perhaps worth exploring. Perhaps another time.
1 Augustine, Keith. “A Defense of Naturalism”. Infidels. 2001. Web. 5 Dec 2014.
2 “Reductionism”. 25 Nov 1999. Web. 5 Dec 2014.
3 Blackburn, Simon. The Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1994. 301. Print.
4 Bueno, O. [2012a]: “An Easy Road to Nominalism”, Mind 121, pp. 967-982. Web. 5 Dec 2014. Available on Web.
5 Ibid. 
6 Vrbik, Jan. “Mathematical Exploration of Kirkwood Gaps”, Mathematical Journal 14. 2014. Web. 5 Dec 2014. Available on Web.
7 Lyon, Aidan [Sept 2012]. “Mathematical Explanations of Empirical Facts, And Mathematical Realism”. Australasian Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 90, No. 3, pp. 559–578. Web. 6 Dec 2014.
8 Ibid. 
9 Heil, John. Philosophy of Mind: A Contemporary Introduction 3rd Ed, p. 211. London: Routledge, 2013. Print.
10 Ibid. 
11 Jackson, Frank and Pettit, Phillip [Mar 1990]. “Program Explanation: A General Perspective”. Analysis, Vol. 50, No. 2, pp. 107-117. Web. 6 Dec 2014. Available on Web.
12 Ibid. 
13 Cooper, Wilson [Jun 2008]. “Causal Relevance and Heterogeneity of Program Explanations in the Face of Explanatory Exclusion”. Kritike Vol. 2, No. 1, pp. 95-109. Web. 6 Dec 2014. Available on Web.
14 Saatsi, Juha. “Mathematics and Program Explanations”. Australasian Journal of Philosophy Vol. 90, No. 3, pp. 579–584. Web. 6 Dec 2014.
15 Ibid. 
16 Ibid. 
17 Ibid. 
18 Tarlach, Gemma. “In Europe, Neanderthals Beat Homo Sapiens to Specialized Tools”. Discovery Magazine. 12 Aug 2013. Web. 6 Dec 2014.
19 Than, Ker. “World’s Oldest Cave Art Found—Made by Neanderthals?”. National Geographic. 14 Jun 2012. Web. 6 Dec 2014.
20 Carroll, Sean. “What is Science?”. Preposterous Universe. 3 Jul 2013. Web. 6 Dec 2014.
21 Ibid. 
22 William Lane Craig and Sean Carroll, “God and Cosmology (33:33)”. YouTube. YouTube, LLC. 3 Mar 2014. Web. 6 Dec 2014.
23 Hawking, Stephen. “The Beginning of Time”. ND. Web. 6 Dec 2014.
24 Ibid. 
25 Krauss, Lawrence. A Universe From Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather Than Nothing. 1st ed. New York, NY: Free Press, 2012. 61. Print.
26 Carroll, Sean. “Why Does Dark Energy Make the Universe Accelerate?”. Preposterous Universe. 16 Nov 2013. Web. 6 Dec 2014.
27 Tegmark, Max. Our Mathematical Universe: My Quest For the Ultimate Nature of Reality, p. 135. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2014. Print.
28 Choi, Charles. “Will the Bicep2 Results Hold Up?”. The Nature of Reality. PBS. 27 May 2014. Web. 6 Dec 2014.
29 Ibid. , p.133-134
30 Greene, B.. The Hidden Reality: Parallel Universes and The Deep Laws of the Cosmos, p.56-58. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2011. Print.
31 Hall, M. J. W., Deckert, D. A. & Wiseman, H. M. . Quantum Phenomena Modeled by Interactions between Many Classical Worlds”, Phys. Rev. X 4. Web. 6 Dec 2014.
32 Merali, Zeeya. “Did a hyper-black hole spawn the Universe?”. Nature. 13 Sep 2013. Web. 6 Dec 2014.
33 William Provine as quoted in Strobel, Lee. The Case For A Creator. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2004. 26. Print.
34 Ibid.