Philosophical Skeleton Keys: The Maximality Test

This skeleton key helps us think about God, by telling us whether or not we are thinking about God in the first place, or about some lesser thing. The test presupposes that God, properly so called, can only be that being than whom there can be no other who is more worthy of worship: that he is the maximal being, the ultimate being. In helping us think about God, the Maximality Test shapes and directs, informs, orders and corrects our worship, our responses to our world, and thus our culture.

To run the Test on a particular notion about God is fairly simple: one merely asks whether another notion of God would make him nobler, greater, more perfect, or better, along any dimension of excellence, than the notion under test.

To take an extreme and so easy answer: which would be greater, along any dimension of excellence: a divine being who requires the sacrifice of millions of children, or a divine being who requires no such thing? The question answers itself. Take it a step further: along any dimension of excellence, which would be greater: a divine being who does not require the sacrifice of children, or a divine being who abhors it? Again, simple. In each of these examples, it is easy to see which notion indicates a thing unworthy of worship.

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The Lamb Risen from the Foundation of the World

And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.

Revelation 13:8

Credo in unum Deum, Patrem omnipotentem, factorem caeli et terrae, visibilium omnium, et invisibilium. Et in unum Dominum Jesum Christum, Filium Dei unigenitum. Et ex Patre natum ante omnia saecula. Deum de Deo, lumen de lumine, Deum verum de Deo vero, genitum, non factum, consubstantialem Patri: per quem omnia facta sunt. … Crucifixus etiam pro nobis sub Pontio Pilato; passus et sepultus est, et resurrexit tertia die, secundum Scripturas, et ascendit in cælum, sedet ad dexteram Patris. Et iterum venturus est cum gloria, iudicare vivos et mortuos, cuius regni non erit finis.

I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and Earth, and of all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father; by whom all things are made. … he was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, and suffered, and was buried, and the third day he rose again, according to the Scriptures, and ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of the Father; from thence he shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.

Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed of AD 381

The Lamb is begotten of the Father before all worlds. Then from the foundation of our world is he slain – and, as a necessary forecondition of that sacrifice, is he first incarnate from the foundation of the world (for, what is not already mortal cannot be slain) – and so risen to the right hand of the Father from the foundation of the world. The whole story of Jesus happens from the foundation of the world.

Well, but then that means that Pilate too does what he does in that story from the foundation of the world, no? So do Mary, Joseph, the Apostles, the Romans and Jews, aye and the mosquito resting for a moment on the bark of a sequoia in California in AD 33 as Jesus slept in his tomb.

It *all* happens from the foundation of the world. Everything. Including this moment of your life. Thus must be so; for, worlds are integrities. They cohere. You can’t change a jot of a world without getting a different world than you had before you effected the change. Subtract Jesus from the history of the cosmos and you’d have a different cosmos than the one we have. Ditto for that mosquito, and for the sequoia. And for that itch you felt a moment ago. To constitute a world, it must all agree and hang together perfectly, from one end to the other – not just in space, but in time. Not one item of the thing is dispensable; not one sparrow, not one hair of your head. Everything matters; everything counts; the whole of it depends wholly upon each bit of it.

The whole of the history of our cosmos then happens from the foundation thereof.

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A Clarification by Way of Elaboration of Anselm’s Ontological Argument

Anselm’s Argument presupposes that God is, as (almost) all men have always thought him to be, that than which no greater can be conceived – the Ultimate Being, along all dimensions of perfection, virtue, & goodness – and goes on to argue that such a being that actually exists, being greater than the mere idea of such a being, cannot but be what we mean by “God.” So, if we are talking about God, we *must* be talking about a being who actually exists. If we are talking about a being who might not or does not actually exist, we are not talking about God in the first place, and so all our talk of that thing (whatever it is) is simply inapt, ergo moot. Since we are in fact talking about God, we must be talking about a being who actually exists. So, in order for us even to talk about him, God must actually exist. The actual existence of God is implicit in the concept of God. This is what Aquinas is getting at in arguing that the existence of God is essential to his nature.

Almost all of Anselm’s critics lose him at that point. His famous Argument – which is perhaps the most famous in the entire history of philosophy – seems to many, if not most, to consist entirely of vain logic chopping; of proving a conclusion by a prior definition, that might with equal reason have been defined some other way.

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Gödelian Incompleteness → Creaturely Freedom

It seems we cannot be free.

To each moment of decision, the schedule of inputs is what it is, and as completely constituting the matter of our decision, so it would seem that it completely forms our act therein. We choose what we wish to do, e.g., given our understanding of our circumstances as we find them as each new moment of life arises; but it does not seem that we choose our wishes, nor does it seem that we can choose what, how much or how well we understand. Decision begins with wishes and circumstances as all alike data.

Nor do we seem to be able to choose the way that we choose. The operation of decision – which is our lever of control over our experiences – is not itself subject to our decisions. We are not in control of our means of control.

It seems to us that we choose freely from among options, to be sure. But then, the entire schedule of options really open to us at any moment, however uncountably vast their number, are just as definite ex ante as the facts already accomplished that constitute the causal basis of decision.

Thus the bases, procedure and options of our decisions, being given to each moment of decision ab initio and so unchangeably, would seem to determine us to but one such option, again ab initio and unchangeably. What seems to us to be the free choice of a moment in our lives might then be no more than what it feels like to proceed from the entire schedule of the initial matter thereof to the one option that satisfies the desires felt as an aspect of those data.

Where in this account is there room for freedom?

That room may be found in Gödelian Incompleteness. But to see how this is so, we shall have to traverse several steps.

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The Basic Liberal Conceit

The liberal conceit is that no man labors under any natural ontological requirement that he should submit to some authority, and so nor therefore can there be any legitimate authority; ergo, it is wrong, as unjust, to exert or submit to any authority, and eo ipso good to transgress against authority of every sort, and to undermine it.

The propositions in the foregoing can be rearranged ad libitum, without undermining their joint agreement or their moral effect – or their morbid consequences in human lives.

Reality being what it is, that liberal conceit tends in action always to the centralization of all power in a tyrannical … *authority,* against whom no liberal man may – or can – stand.

What is that obdurate reality? It is that, no man being he than whom no greater can be conceived, then every man is less than some other – whether an other man, or an other institution, or an other god. So the liberal who prides himself (the word is chosen advisedly) that he is himself the sole master of his fate is in fact willy nilly the servant or slave of some master far greater than he, whose existence he may not even suspect, but whose dictates he witlessly obeys.

This perhaps accounts for the spooky unanimity of our divers disparate adversaries, who all as one of an evening begin using some new phrase or proposing some new crisis or solution – or demonizing and scapegoating the victim of the hour, subjecting him to the two minute hate that destroys his life. They are of one mind because they serve one mind.

Whether you know it or not, you serve a lord. Better then for you to know who he is, and decide witly whether he is worthy of your fealty.

Creatio ex Nihilo, Atheism, or Manicheism: Choose But One

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.

Genesis 1:1-2

The argument for creatio ex nihilo is simple. If contra Genesis God created the heaven and the earth by organizing chaotic pre-existent stuff coeternal with him, two incorrigible problems result. If on the other hand he created the heaven and the earth by organizing pre-existent beings who were not chaotic and who were not created from nothing by him, so that they were with him coeternal, then at least one other incorrigible problem results.

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So Much for the Turing Test … and for Consequentialism

In a few sentences, and with his characteristic penetrating trenchance, Chastek demolishes the Turing Test, and for that matter all arguments from similarity of causal effects; I post here without apology his entire argument, on account of its brevity, precision, and devastation:

One principle of (strong/sci-fi) AI seems to be that what can replicate the effects of intelligence is intelligence, e.g. the Turing test, or the present claim by some philosophers that a Chinese room would be intelligence.

So imagine you rig up a track and trolley to accelerate at 9.8 m/s2. This perfectly replicates the effects of falling, and so is artificial falling. It deserves the name too: you could strap a helmet to the front of your train and drive at a wall 10 feet away, and it will tell you what the helmet would look like if dropped from 10 feet. But for all that the helmet at the front of your train is obviously being pushed and not falling – falling is something bodies do by themselves and being pushed isn’t. The difference is relevant to AI, for just as falling is to being pushed so thinking for oneself is to being a tool, instrument or machine. Both latter are acted on by others, and have the form by which they act in a transient way and not as a principal agent.

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