On Chains & Links, Caused & Uncaused

We have heard on occasion from atheists who argue that the system of what is and has been – our cosmic history – is uncaused (so that it stands in no need of a Creator). It’s an old argument. Each of the bits of our cosmos are indeed contingent, so it goes; but the system as a whole is not: there had necessarily to have been something or other, and this particular series of contingent events is just what we happen to have inherited on that account.

It won’t do.

Say that I had a chain composed entirely of steel links. Would you believe me if I said it was a golden chain? Would you buy it from me at the present price of gold?

On Divine Omniscience versus Creaturely Partiscience

Divine Omniscience and our own creaturely, partial, imperfect knowledge – our partiscience – are categorically different sorts of operations. Both are sorts of discernment – from the Latin scindere, “to cut, divide,” thence from the PIE root *skei-, “to cut, split” – but they are fundamentally different sorts of cut. They cut in opposite directions.

Omniscience cuts, and so differentiates. Partiscience cuts and so sorts the resultant differentiae, so as to integrate them (so far as it can).

Thus the Perennialist intuition, altogether correct, that creation is outward from an Original Unity, whereas creaturity is a return toward that Unity from Partiality.

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The One Basic Thing

Over at Orthospherean Bruce Charlton’s Notions, I rattled off a comment about what a truly basic thing would have to be like, which upon reflection I believe may be worth promoting to a post here. Bruce had critiqued monotheism; I then pointed out that God in the OT had rather supported the idea, and said that monotheism is not monism; to which Bruce replied that Christian theology is certainly monist. I commented:

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Credo: Passus

Not a word of the creeds is superfluous. Whatever the creeds say was thought by the Fathers of the Church to be crucially important, and essential to the Faith. Whatever the creeds say, they say emphatically.

Why does the Nicene Creed emphasize that Jesus suffered death? Whatever the reason, how are we to reconcile the fact of his suffering with his eternity, which entails his impassibility?

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Nikolai Berdyaev: the Primacy of Freedom

Nikolai Berdyaev: the Primacy of Freedom

For the Russian philosopher Berdyaev, freedom is absolutely fundamental. And freedom is connected with subjectivity and Spirit, rather than the objective (measurable) external world.

All attempts to locate meaning and value in things outside the human soul are doomed to fail. Thinking of the universe as an organism, for instance, seems like an improvement over thinking of it as a dead mechanism. It turns the cosmos into a living entity with a purpose, but it also means thinking of people as mere cells in this organism to be subordinated to the larger whole. Nationalism turns the nation into a false idol to be worshipped. Neither “history,” nor “progress,” nor “the human race,” nor Platonic Forms are particularly significant or even real. They are hypostatizations and abstractions. For Berdyaev, the concrete individual personality is the full locus of reality and value. Anything else renders the personality a meaningless nothing to be used as a means to some other end.

Kant, who also saw human beings as ends in themselves, pointed out that freedom must be a fundamental aspect of human subjectivity because love exists.[1] This is known directly from experience. Each one of us has loved and been the recipient of love. Love cannot exist without freedom. We should let the datum of love determine our theories and speculations about ultimate existence. If love is possible, and we know it is, then freedom exists.

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The Argument from the Implicity of Ultimacy in Reality per se

The argument in a nutshell: the reality of any sort of real thing presupposes, prerequires, and supervenes the reality of the proper formal ultimate of its sort. E.g., 5 presupposes, prerequires, and supervenes infinity. No infinity → no 5. The reality of its proper formal ultimate is logically implicit in any real. There are reals. So there is a real Ultimate.

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Be Not Afraid

And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

Luke 2:10-11

There are tough times ahead. Things are likely to get a lot worse before they get any better. Not that famine or plague threaten us, or even incipient war; for the time being, we are still coddled, yes and swaddled too, into a comfortable immobility, by our continued prosperity and remaining might. But for conservatives, for traditionalists and reactionaries in particular, and in general for anyone who holds normal moral convictions, a time of persecution – political, social, economic – appears to have dawned, especially if they happen to be Christian. There is reason to expect that, even in this time of burgeoning prosperity, the sword of the state might descend upon the necks of such as we.

And of course, there are good reasons to worry about global war and pandemic, and so famine. Things could go badly off the rails at any moment. This is always so, to be sure. But our condition along these dimensions seems now particularly delicate. One feels that we are poised at the verge of an abyssal precipice. Continue reading

On Backward Causation

Time travel stories are lots of fun, but they are famously riven with paradoxes. And that can make it hard to enjoy them. If the future influences the past, is it not then past to that past, and so not future at all?

Such apparent paradoxes arise from a misconstruction of causation. They appear when we misconstrue causation by reducing it only to its efficient and material factors. This is the quintessentially Modern error; which is to say, the nominalist error. Efficient and material causation are essentially temporal, which is to say, strictly mundane (cave: so far, at least, as I have yet understood them). But causation is not limited to effect and matter. There are also, of all events, formal and final causes. And these are not temporally pegged; are not materially or efficiently pegged.

Whereas a concrete mundane thing has some spatiotemporal locus – whence arises its material and efficient causes – its formal and final causes do not. They are, rather, eternal and universal.

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AI and the Dehumanization of Man

AI and the Dehumanization of Man

Strong Artificial Intelligence is the idea that computers can one day be constructed that have the abilities of the human mind. The contrast is with narrow AI which is already with us – that is the notion that computers can be made that can do one thing very well, such as the Watson computer that won in Jeopardy, or Deep Blue that bet Kasparov in chess.

Strong AI, artificial general intelligence, would mean that a robot fitted with a computer brain could move around in the world as competently as a human.  As F. H. George commented to the editor of Philosophy, 32 (1957), 168-169: “finite automata are capable of exhibiting, at least in principle, all the behaviour that human beings are capable of exhibiting, including the ability to act as poets or creative artists and even to wink at a girl and mean it.”[1] This reference to a wink itself has a poetic touch to it that captures a sense of genuine humanity.

Strong and narrow AI is the difference between an idiot savant who can do one thing incredibly well, such as recognizing prime numbers of incredible length,[2] reading two pages of a book simultaneously with over 90% recall like Kim Peek, and someone with enough nous to handle the wide range of tasks that any normal human being has to face; engaging in a lengthy conversation one minute and enjoying a work of fiction the next. Continue reading