An ontological argument for our existence

July 22, 2014 § 29 Comments

[31] Seeing, saith he, I have once begun, I will speak to my Lord. What if twenty be found there? He said: I will not destroy it for the sake of twenty. [32] I beseech thee, saith he, be not angry, Lord, if I speak yet once more: What if ten should be found there? And he said: I will not destroy it for the sake of ten. – Genesis 18:31-32

St. Anselm famously argued that God must exist because existence is more perfect than nonexistence.  Very roughly speaking, and without pretending to really do the argument justice, God is by definition the most perfect being that can possibly be conceived; if He didn’t exist then He wouldn’t be perfect; therefore He must exist.

Whatever one thinks of that as an argument for the existence of God, it is interesting to reflect on our existence in the light of Anselm’s argument. It is better for myself and all the people and things that I love to exist than for them to not exist. The fact that my personal existence is logically contingent upon all sorts of evil and suffering doesn’t change the basic fact that existence is better than nonexistence.

An infinitely loving, infinitely good, infinitely powerful God cannot do “everything” when the referent of the term “everything” includes “things” that are rationally inconceivable. Strictly speaking, rationally inconceivable “things” are not really things. An omnipotent God cannot lock Himself into a box from which He cannot escape without ceasing to be omnipotent: the “box from which an omnipotent God cannot escape” is not a “thing”, because it is not even a rationally coherent idea.

I’ve known several young men who have born terrible suffering. One young man is quadraplegic because of a botched delivery. He just graduated from high school. His parents’ marriage broke up over the stress years ago.

Another young man with terrible physical deformities used to come to our house for birthday parties years ago. He had to carry around an oxygen tank and was physically very limited. He loved sports despite his own limitations, and he had an indomitable spirit: rarely have I seen such fierce and determined joy in a human being. He died when he was twelve years old.

I know several others too: a young man confined to a wheelchair who cannot talk and who suffers dangerous siezures; a relative is eighteen and autistic, and cannot cross the street by himself. I won’t get into ‘closer to home’ examples, because they pale to nothingness in comparison to the crosses I have watched others bear and accept: not just the ‘victims’ of these maladies and tragedies themselves, but the parents and families whose hearts break at what their loved ones endure, and the limitations they face.

God watched as His only begotten son was tortured to death. This was literally for our sake in ways so comprehensive that most people – most Christians – can’t begin to appreciate it, I think.

The existence of suffering and evil is not an argument against God’s omnipotent power and infinite goodness. It is an argument in favor of those attributes. A more selfish God would not have made this blasphemous world. But as bad as we are, and as awful as the suffering in this world is, it is better for us all to exist than to not exist. In this world there is plentiful bad news; but there is also Good News. Those who would prefer Nothing over all that we are, all that we know, and all that we love, may eventually get the Nothing they crave. But not at the cost of any bit of good which can be saved.

UPDATE: Added epigraph.


Consent doesn’t create authority, even in marriage

July 20, 2014 § 136 Comments

Malcolm suggests that in the case of marriage it is the bride’s consent to marriage which creates the husband’s authority. This is mistaken.

A man – even an unmarried man – has natural law authority over his household. Just as someone may in some cases decide by (mutual) consent to become a citizen of a country and place himself under a particular sovereign’s authority, a bride decides by (mutual) consent to become part of the groom’s household and place herself under his authority.

But in neither case is it true that the authority in question derives from the consent of the governed.

Talk dirty to me

July 16, 2014 § 52 Comments

Human language is a natural faculty like sex. The fact that we learn the specifics of (say) the grammar and vocabulary of English from others is similar to the fact that we learn the courtship dance in a particular culture from others. Treating speech as a taught-and-learned ‘social construct’ is as foolish and misguided as treating sex as a ‘social construct’.

I’ve previously covered the subject of property and my thoughts on moral theology related to property: usury, currency, slavery, and the like. In order to do that I had to do some reading and take several steps back to think about the metaphysical nature of property and currency. Our modern modes of thought pollute almost everything we try to think about, sometimes in quite subtle ways; so frequently getting a handle on things requires grasping the subject matter from multiple and ‘inverted’ perspectives. For example although it is true in an everyday sense expressed to modern people that “it is morally licit for a starving man to steal bread”, that everyday way of saying it can cast confusion on the fact that, as an intrinsically immoral act, it is always morally wrong to steal.

My blog isn’t a catechism: an attempt to explain some basics in everyday language to ordinary people, impossible to understand absent charitable interpretation, without worrying that overly-literal interpretations could lead to contradiction. This is a place where bad ideas come to die; and as such, it is important for the arguments and understanding to be rigorous.

So I plan to start doing some thinking and reading about the subject of lying, as time allows.  It isn’t something on which I’ve ‘gone deep’ here yet.  The blog format is informal and conversational, so as with other topics you’ll probably see my thoughts unfold more or less as I have them.

Understanding the moral theology of lying will require getting a grasp of the core metaphysical elements involved in telling lies: language and meaning.  So this exploration follows directly from recent discussions of positivism: you won’t adequately grasp my thoughts on lying unless you already have a reasonable grasp of my thoughts on positivism and nominalism, because, quite appropriately, when we listen to speech or read text almost all of the meaning comes from somewhere other than the text.

Speech is a natural human faculty like sex, and its telos is an empathic sharing of meaning between minds. Speech doesn’t do the heavy lifting of creating meaning; words light up and help combine meanings that the listener for the most part already apprehends, or else he wouldn’t understand the speech at all. Speaking and listening requires significant preexisting common ground between speaker and listener in order for it to be meaningful at all.

So lying is to speech as contraception is to sex: both involve the behavioral use of a natural faculty in a manner directly contrary to and destructive of its telos. Lying attempts to construct false meaning – meaning which does not correspond to truth – in another person’s mind; truth-telling is the use of speech in an attempt to construct meaning in another person’s mind which does correspond to the truth.

My preliminary thought – and this is preliminary – is that this understanding has interesting implications for the classic scenario of the Nazis knocking at the door asking if any Jews are hiding there. Because when the Nazis do that, we know that when they are asking for Jews they are asking if there are any Untermenschen present whom they should haul off to the camps; and it isn’t obvious that answering “yes” is truthful even if Elimelech and Ezra are hiding under the floorboards.

The reason there is evil in the world is because God loves you

July 16, 2014 § 32 Comments

There is a discussion at Bruce Charlton’s Miscellany about the “problem of evil” that some folks might find interesting.  Bruce ‘solves’ the problem of evil by denying God’s omnipotence.  I linked to my own take on the POE from 2006 here (which I also explained at VFR in 2003), and we had the following combox exchange:.

Bruce Charlton wrote:

I think that if you apply that line of reasoning it will take you somewhere you do not want to go. It is close to the fatalism of the other major monotheism.

The discussion is closed off, and nothing can be questioned – our job is to submit.

I replied:

You are seeing Fate where I see Love.

It isn’t fatalism to accept reality as it actually is and logically must be: to accept non-contradiction. It isn’t possible for me, my actual self, to personally be here at all without my logical/metaphysical preconditions.

God loves me personally so much that this world was made literally just for me. All of the evil in it is “my fault” in an existential sense: I could not be here without it. Nonetheless God accepts all that and redeems me, and the world, because He loves me (us) that much – personally. Evil is a terrible affront to God, and indeed to all good creatures. But God tolerates it and redeems the world from it for my (our) sake – personally and actually, not as some abstraction of other creatures similar in some ways to us that he might have made (and perhaps even did make).

It is good to want to be like God

July 14, 2014 § 22 Comments

God is infinitely powerful, infinitely knowing, infinitely loving, infinitely just.  Who wouldn’t want to be all of those things?

Positivists think that they are God, that there may be ‘gaps’ in their knowledge but that those gaps are just contingent upon learning more. Postmoderns are at least wise enough to recognize that the whole notion of localized omniscience with ‘gaps’ is malformed; this leads to despair, but despair can be a bad news good news thing.

The problem then isn’t that people have a desire to be like God. The problem is the means that they choose.

The more you know, the less you know

July 14, 2014 § 21 Comments

Any young child can tell you that for every question answered about something real in the world, ten more questions are raised.

Another way of thinking about positivism and its epistemological cognates is that, recognizing the impossibility of becoming universally omniscient, it attempts to comprehensively fill in all possible knowledge within some limited scope.  If we can’t be God of everything, positivism hopes that we can at least be God of something: science, nature, technology, doctrine, mathematics, or what have you. So the area where we get to be God must be set apart from other kinds of knowledge – there must be a positive demarcation criteria, a neutral verification procedure for every proposed expression of knowledge to settle whether it is within scope and whether or not it is authoritative.

The postmodern is a positivist who has despaired of his project of becoming God, and who concludes that because he cannot be God anywhere at all the universe is meaningless.

Survival for a while of the fit enough

July 12, 2014 § 5 Comments

The darwinian idea ‘survival of the fittest’ is a funny little meme. That little ‘est’ suffix implies optimization, despite the naked emperor.

This post is almost short enough to make me a twit.


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