A Tale of Two Metaphysics

To wax hippie and postmodern for a moment, this is a “journey” of a post, more than a philosophical one.  Every year I go back and forth between analytic philosophy and continental philosophy.  This seems to correlate with my reading of Barth.

Ultimately, I don’t care which school is right.  They are tools, not goals.  Which one advances the kingdom better?  Which one gives a better picture of God (oops, Wittgensteinian slip)?

And I don’t have a good answer. But maybe I can point out strengths and weaknesses and show where the church can be spiritually bettered.

Continental Philosophy

To navigate modern discussions, you have to deal with Hegel.  Plain and simple.  This doesn’t mean you are a “liberal” or a “pantheist.”  It just means you are doing responsible scholarship. And it means you have to engage a certain vocabulary (the “Other,” “positing,” etc).  Nothing wrong with that but not necessarily easy.

One of the advantages is that Continental Philosophy seems to merge easily with other disciplines, like literature.  This gives it an immediate relevance that analytic philosophy seems to lack.  On the other hand, I am not always sure I know what they are saying.30665548

Analytic Philosophy

Analytic philosophy is clear, precise, and similar to doing mental exercise. I just feel sharper when I am done reading guys like Plantinga.  And I didn’t always know that analytic philosophy of today is not the same thing as of earlier generations.  Earlier analytic models thought reality (or clarity or meaning) was obtainable simply by asking the question, “Well what do you mean by that?”  Ask it enough and you arrive at meaning (or get punched in the face).

The more dangerous implication is that things are truly knowable only in the abstract and not in systems of relations.  This is deleterious for Christian theism.

But even guys like Ayer realized that was a dead-end.

After the Plantinga revolution, Christian philosophers started using many of the tools of analytic philosophy, without necessarily committing themselves to earlier conclusions–and the results are often amazing.  See especially Plantinga’s Nature of Necessity and God, Freedom, and Evil.

One of the problems, though, is that analytic guys are perceived (whether this is fair or not) as having a “take-it-or-leave-it” approach to the history of doctrine.  I will come back to that point.

Biola and Calvin College:  Can They Meet?

I single out Biola and Calvin as two respective representatives of the above tradition.  Biola boasts of luminaries like JP Moreland and William L. Craig.  The “Calvin tradition” is represented by James K. A. Smith.  And both streams have done outstanding work. Even more, analytic guys like Moreland are able to tie philosophical analysis in with the “spiritual disciplines” movement, Renovare.  Here is great promise but also great danger.

Renovare

This is the brainchild of Richard Foster, author of Celebration of Discipline.  On a practical level, much of it is quite good.  The idea that bodily disciplines break bad habits is just good, practical psychology (I got accused by a powerful Gnostic Magus on Puritanboard of denying the gospel for that sentence).

But…there is almost zero discernment in these guys.  They will take handfuls of Pentecostal, Quaker, Catholic, and Reformed spirituality and just mix ’em together.

Nevertheless…My prayer life improved from following Moreland’s advice.

Calvin Cultural Liturgies

James K. A. Smith has found himself the sparring partner of what is known as the “Biola School.”  Smith’s thesis–which I think is fundamentally correct–is that we aren’t simply “brains on a stick.”  We are embodied and liturgies, to be effective, must engage the whole person.  (I also got accused of denying the gospel on Puritanboard for that statement.  )

We will come back to that statement.

Smith, however, takes his apologetic in a different realm.  While I agree with Smith that “postmodernism” doesn’t just mean “Denying absolute truth” (what does that statement even mean?), I fear that Smith’s cultural applications do not escape the worst of postmodern, low-brow culture. Further, Smith is weak on the doctrine of the soul (in some of his cultural liturgies books he uses “brain” when he should be saying “mind”).

Is that evident at Calvin College?  Rumors abound that Calvin is gutting some of its biblical language programs, and Calvin has invited homosexual speakers in the past.  Make fun of Vineyard and Biola all you want, but I don’t think that has happened.

It is not that Smith’s Cultural Liturgies project is wrong.  I think much of it is quite insightful and I eagerly await his volume on Augustine, but I am nervous where the applications are going.

To be fair to Smith, though, and to Continental Philosophy, they have been more attentive to the history of philosophy (and perhaps, history of doctrine)

Possible Overlap

I do see some areas of overlap with Smith and Moreland

  1. Both believe in Jesus’s Kingdom Power for today
  2. Both believe in the body’s importance in spiritual disciplines

What should we do?

In the end, I side with Moreland.  We need analytic philosophy’s discipline and precision.  While both Smith and Moreland believe in Kingdom Power and bodily disciplines, the latter’s “cultural” applications are far more responsible.

Mind in a physical world

Kim, Jaegwon, Mind in a Physical World.

This is one of the texts that JP Moreland uses in his Philosophy of Mind class.  Before I review the book and talk about why it is so important, perhaps some introductory remarks on the nature of the debate and terminology is in order.

Why it matters:  Until a few hundred years ago, even skeptics and atheists believed in a soul and a mind that wasn’t the same thing as the brain.  Now, the fashionable thing in academia is to either identify the brain with the mind or say that the mind is in some way “triggered” by physical events.  Neither of these latter two options are acceptable for Christians.

Dualism: in this context dualism simply means that the mind/soul and the body aren’t the same thing.  It doesn’t have the negative Kuyperian connotations that the body is bad.

Hard Physicalism:  This is the view that the mind and brain are the same thing.  Fewer scholars hold this view today since it is very untenable.

Weak Physicalism:  This view hesitates to say that the mind and brain are the same thing.  Rather, it says that all mental events have at their base a physical response.  Weak Physicalism means that the old-school hard scientism views lost the debate.  It also means, unfortunately for presuppositionalists, that the old Bahnsenian canard, “Have you ever stubbed your two on a law of logic?” simply doesn’t work any more.  Weak Physicalists, like Christian dualists, admit the existence of mental properties.

Where the Debate is Now:  There is a problem in philosophy of mind called “supervenience.”  On one level it seems commonsensical and one is hard-pressed to deny it.  On the other hand, it spells a number of insurmountable problems for physicalism.

The Review

Jaegwon Kim offers a weak physicalist discussion of supervenience and the difficulties it presents for current alternatives to Mind-Body dualism.  There is some technical language but it is kept at a minimum.  Of primary importance is Kim’s remarkably lucid discussion of “supervenience.”  

Supervenience tries to explain how mental properties and physical kinds, not tokens, are related. Mental properties supervene on physical properties: For any property M, if anything has M at time t, then there exists a physical base (subvenient) property P such that it has P at t, and necessarily anything that has P at  a time has M at that time (Kim 9).  This means “every mental property has a physical base that guarantees its instantiation” (10). Thus, mental properties supervene on physical properties.  The takeaway is that mental properties must always have a physical base.  This is an improvement on older materialist models which said mental properties were physical properties.  

Kim’s Larger Argument

P1: Either mind-body supervenience holds, or it fails.
P2: If M-B sup. fails, there is no way of understanding mental causation.
P3: Suppose M causes M* to be instantiated.
P4: M* necessarily has at least a physical base P*.
P5: M* is instantiated b/c M caused M*, but also because P* must be the subvenient base of M*.
P6: M caused M* by causing P*.
P7: Yet M also has a physical supervenient base P.
P8: P caused P*, and M supervenes on P and M* and M* supervenes on P*.
P9: The M-M* and M-P* causal relations are only apparent, and P really, really causes P*.
P10: If M-B sup. fails, then mental causation is incoherent.  If it holds, then it is also incoherent.

Supervenience presents a number of problems for physicalism, however.  What happens if mental property M causes another mental property M* to be instantiated? For example, my having the state “anger” causes me to have the mental state depression/fear/whatever.  This means that, if supervenience holds, M* must also have a physical property P* as its physical base.  Two problems immediately arise:

* It appears that a mental property (M) is causing a physical base (P*) which then launches M*.  Yet reductionists hold that all things have a physical cause.  But this raises the problem:

* So what causes M*?  It seems we have multiple causes, overdetermination.

Kim restates the problem:   if mental properties are physically irreducible and remain outside the physical domain, then, given that the physical domain is causally closed, how can they exercise causal powers (Kim 58)?

Conclusion

In terms of an introductory text, albeit a rigorous one, I highly recommend this book.  Admittedly, Kim doesn’t solve the problem (cf. p. 58), nor does he pretend to.  He introduces the reader to the relevant terminology and explains why certain moves available to physicalists cannot work.  

 

Properties and Attributes

Why is this important?  Understanding that this is what “makes up” a human being is crucial in apologetics, evangelism, and the pro-life cause.

Older theologians made a distinction between property and attribute, the latter being a wider category than the former.  Modern philosophers haven’t held to that distinction.  I am going to list different writers’ takes on it and see what comes up.

JP Moreland (either works by Moreland or about Moreland) :

property: a universal (Moreland and Craig, 219), that which can be instantiated in more than one place at once.  It would still exist apart from the substance. A substance “owns” a property (215).  Properties always come together in groups.

Gould and Wallace clarify Moreland’s position by saying a property is an instantiation of an abstract object (Gould and Wallace 24).

substance: more basic than properties. Substances do the having, properties the “had.”  “A substance is a deep unity of properties, parts and capacities.”

Richard Muller:

attributum: the attributes identify what the thing is and are inseparable from its substance (Muller 50).

proprietas: pertaining to God, it is an incommunicable attribute.  More specifically, that which is uniquely predicated of the person.  Regarding the doctrine of man, what is predicated of an individual (250).

Alvin Plantinga:

property: Plantinga broadens the discussion to where he can say “God has a nature–a property he has essentially that includes each property essential to him” (Plantinga 7).  So, God has the property of having a nature.  Plantinga seems to have reversed the relation between property and attribute.

Conclusion

On one hand, properties are had by the person, attributes by the essence.  Or rather, attributes are predicated of the essence.  Yet J. P. Moreland says properties are had by the substance.  Is Moreland confusing substance and person?  Maybe not.  In the West substance wasn’t necessarily identical with “essence” or ousia.  Substance denotes a standing under, which points to the idea of person.

Yet it is also important to realize that properties are explanatorily prior to the things that have them (Gould and Wallace 25).  The easiest conclusion is that attributes are predicated of the essence, properties of the person, provided we also see properties functioning as universals.

Works Cited

Gould, Paul and Wallace, Stan.  “On what there is: theism, platonism, and explanation” in Eds. Gould, Paul and Davis, Richard Brian. Loving God with Your Mind: Essays in Honor of J.P. Moreland.  Chicago: Moody Press, 2010.

Moreland, J. P. and Craig, William Lane.   Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview.  Downers Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press, 2003.

Muller, Richard A. Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, reprint [1995].

A primer on the soul, some notes

My recent post suggested that certain aspects of the abortion debate hinge on a definition of personhood and the soul.  That’s hard.  If you asked a church father before later Augustinian and Boethian reflection what a “person” was, they would shrug and say, “Heck if I know.”  What they meant is that person is specific.  By definition it resists a generalization (otherwise it wouldn’t be specific).

But this isn’t about what a person is.  And for that reason I don’t think person and soul are synonymous, though they are close.  The following is from JP Moreland’s Love Your God With All Your Mind, easily the best book on Christian discipleship ever written.

Philosophy and the Soul:  we must remember that both ancient man and the Christian tradition defined the mind (as well as the spirit) as a faculty of the soul (Moreland 70-73).  While it is a true statement that the soul has contact with God, yet it is the mind that is the vehicle for the soul’s making contact with God.  On the other hand, the spirit is the faculty of the soul that relates to God (Romans 8:16 and maybe Eph. 4:23).  

Moreland then outlines the five states of the soul (sensation, thought, belief, act of will, and desire).  What’s interesting about that is the above states of the soul cannot be reduced to purely physical categories.  This means the soul/mind is not reducible to the brain, which means scientific naturalism is false.

Not only does the soul have the aforementioned five states, it also has capacities or hierarchies.  Without getting too technical, understanding the soul’s capacities is key in the abortion debate.

Ensoulment, the CREC, and abortion

While it might look like I am attacking Botkin, that is certainly not the case.  I strongly applaud her precisioned take-down of Wilson’s theology and pray more posts come.

Kate Botkin’s most recent post, while most of it was an excellent critique of Wilson’s deranged practices, offered a troubling piece of argumentation.  Note, she isn’t endorsing abortion (at least not in this post) but she is advancing the argument that a man who’s molested dozens of children isn’t a better human being than a woman who gets an abortion at 8 weeks.  I think some kind of rebuttal like this was inevitable, given that Wilson immediately deflects to abortion whenever he gets in trouble.

I won’t enter that line of debate.  What did intrigue me was her following suggestion:

You don’t have to agree that abortion is Ok to understand that some women do not view early abortion as evil, based on biology and the belief that the soul enters a child along with consciousness, or at a certain stage of development.

So, does a unborn baby gain a soul at consciousness or at conception?  Most pro-life Christians want to say at conception, but since they lack a coherent doctrine of the soul they really struggle with this point.  Part of the difficulty is that consciousness is a faculty of the soul and so Botkin’s suggestion isn’t entirely in left field.  I think she is wrong but for different reasons.

Maybe this isn’t even Botkin’s position.  I’ll grant that.  I know what she is doing.  Every time Wilson begins to feel the heat, he deflects the issue back to abortion:  “Gee golly, I know shielding pedophiles is bad, but it’s not as bad as abortion.”  Well, you’re just saying that because you can’t answer the question.  Botkin then takes you up on your point and since you guys have an anemic doctrine of the soul, you can’t answer her.

I think I can.  Let’s rephrase her argument:

(And I am using “soul” and “person” as more or less synonymous.  There are some nuances but most Christians think along these lines).

P1: An unborn baby gains a soul/becomes a person at the gaining of consciousness

P1*:  Consciousness is what makes a soul/person.

P1’: Body and soul aren’t the same thing.

I think that is a fair summary.  Here is why I think it is wrong.    With J. P. Moreland I would say

P2: “the soul is an individuated essence that makes the body a human body” (Moreland 202).  

Botkin would agree so fair. P1’ and P2 make the same point.   I add another premise:

P3: The soul has capacities.  Capacities come in hierarchies.

P3 is important in the euthanasia debate.  I can have a capacity for something yet not be exercising it.  At the moment I have the capacity for speaking Russian.  This is called a 2nd-order capacity.  Sadly, I cannot speak Russian right now, thus I do not have a 1st-order capacity.

Souls also have faculties.  

P4:  a faculty is a compartment of the soul that contains a natural family of related capacities (204).  Mind, will, and spirit.  And consciousness.  

The problem with the ensoulment argument (P1) is that it identifies the soul/person with actualized capacities.   Therefore, when the person is no longer exercising an actualized capacity like consciousness, then he is no longer a person.  Like when you are under anesthesia.  

There is another, albeit more technical, problem with ensoulment.  If consciousness is the sine qua non of what it means to be a person/soul, but if I’ve established that consciousness is rather a capacity of the soul’s faculties, then the following reductio obtains:

P5:  An unborn gains a soul at the gaining of a soul (1, 1*).

True, but not very helpful.    The difficulty is that advocates of ensoulment are defining a soul by what the soul could do.  Defining by function is always dangerous.  A person under general anesthesia cannot function.  Does he cease to be a person?  Why not?  As Rae notes, “To appeal to some higher-order capacities as determinate of personhood” cannot be done without acknowledging that personhood is not dependent on lower-order capacities (Moreland and Rae 251).  These higher-order capacities are latent, just as they are with the unborn.