Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Chesterton on the Ethics of Elfland

Brandon reminds us that today is G.K. Chesterton's birthday (May 29, 1874 to be exact). In honor of this day, I give you, what else, a quote from Orthodoxy, thus far my favorite of GKC's many works:

When we are asked why eggs turn to birds or fruits fall in autumn, we must answer exactly as the fairy godmother would answer if Cinderella asked her why mice turned to horses or her clothes fell from her at twelve o'clock. We must answer that it is MAGIC. It is not a "law," for we do not understand its general formula. It is not a necessity, for though we can count on it happening practically, we have no right to say that it must always happen. It is no argument for unalterable law (as Huxley fancied) that we count on the ordinary course of things. We do not count on it; we bet on it. We risk the remote possibility of a miracle as we do that of a poisoned pancake or a world-destroying comet. We leave it out of account, not because it is a miracle, and therefore an impossibility, but because it is a miracle, and therefore an exception. All the terms used in the science books, "law," "necessity," "order," "tendency," and so on, are really unintellectual, because they assume an inner synthesis, which we do not possess. The only words that ever satisfied me as describing Nature are the terms used in the fairy books, "charm," "spell," "enchantment." They express the arbitrariness of the fact and its mystery. A tree grows fruit because it is a MAGIC tree. Water runs downhill because it is bewitched. The sun shines because it is bewitched. (58, Ignatius Press version)

Sounds to me like a rather Humean approach to the "laws of nature." I also recommend this Edward Feser post, which features a similar critique of the modern "billiard-ball" model of causality.

Friday, May 18, 2012

On Nothing - Addendum

I forgot to mention that, in addition to Ed Feser's latest takedown of Lawrence Krauss' attempt to pull a universe out of nothing, there are also the many posts Bill Vallicella devotes to Krauss and co’s "bait and switch." Here's Vallicella's pithy review of AUFN:

I had fun back in January pilloring the scientistic  nonsense  Lawrence M. Krauss propagates in his recent book, A Universe From Nothing.  Meanwhile the book has shown up at the local library and tomorrow I will borrow it.  I would never buy a piece of crap like this, though, to be fair, I will first have to read it to be sure that it is crap.  That it is crap is an excellent bet...

Translated into internet meme:

HT: Mike Liccione

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

On Nothing

In the latest First Things issue, A-T philosopher Edward Feser reviews physicist Lawrence Krauss' latest book, A Universe from Nothing. Krauss, of course, is one of the world's leading experts, along with Dawkins, Hawking, and Atkins, in the burgeoning field of nothing, which mainly studies new ways to equivocate between "something" and “nothing" in trying to answer the classical question ("why is there something rather than nothing?") by arguing that the universe came into existence out of nothing.

As Feser tells us, "nothing" for philosophers means the absence of anything - simple enough. For Krauss, however:

The bulk of the book is devoted to exploring how the energy present in otherwise empty space, together with the laws of physics, might have given rise to the universe as it exists today. This is at first treated as if it were highly relevant to the question of how the universe might have come from nothing—until Krauss acknowledges toward the end of the book that energy, space, and the laws of physics don’t really count as “nothing” after all. Then it is proposed that the laws of physics alone might do the trick—though these too, as he implicitly allows, don’t really count as “nothing” either.

In other words, Krauss seems to pulling a bait and switch, what he really means by "nothing" is really "something," such as energy in empty space or the laws of physics. Feser's final thoughts are more than fitting:

Exciting or not, Krauss’ voyage does not take his reader where he thought he was going. To the centuries-old debate over why any universe exists at all, Krauss’ book contributes—precisely nothing.

As for me, considering the continuous stream of nothing and of amateurish philosophy and theology from Krauss and co., I can't think of any other response (HT: Sci Fi Catholic):

Friday, May 11, 2012

God and the Angry Lunicorn

Princess Luna: irate lunar unicorn
Bill Vallicella considers the contrast between the New Atheist concept of God and the classical theism of Thomas Aquinas. The gulf is indeed large:

If someone asserts that there there is a celestial teapot orbiting the sun, or an angry unicorn on the far side of the moon, or that 9/11 was an 'inside job,' one will justifiably demand evidence.  "It's possible, but what's your evidence for so outlandish a claim?"  It is the same with God, say many atheists. The antecedent probability of  God's existence, they think, is on a par with the extremely low antecedent probability of there being an irate lunar unicorn, a 'lunicorn,' if you will.

But this is to assume something that a sophisticated theist such as Thomas Aquinas would never grant, namely, that God, if he exists, is just another being among the totality of beings.  For Aquinas, God is not an ens (a being) but esse ipsum subsistens (self-subsistent Being).  God is not a being, but Being itself.  Admittedly, this is not an easy notion; but if the atheist  is not willing to grapple with it, then his animadversions are just so many grapplings with a straw man.

Why can't God be just another being among beings?

If God exists, then God is the metaphysical ground of the very existence of every contingent being, and indeed, of every being distinct from himself. This is not true of lunar unicorns and celestial teapots. If there is a lunar unicorn, then this is just one more isolated fact about the universe. But if God exists, then everything is unified by this fact: everything has the ground of its being and its intelligibility in the creative activity of this one paradigmatic purely spiritual being.

A typical New Atheist like Richard Dawkins attacks a straw man (or straw God), exposing his lightweight theological and philosophical credentials (no surprise Edward Feser deals more with the "small errors" of modern philosophy in TLS than with Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, Dennett, etc.) In short, the God that Catholics believe in is not like a celestial teacup (pace Bertrand Russell), not like an angry lunicorn (pace Ed Abbey), and not like a flying spaghetti monster (pace Bobby Henderson).

New Atheists need to stop doodling and start doing their homework 
On a side note, I wonder why Ed Abbay's unicorn on the dark side of the moon is angry. However, I do know that in the cartoon My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic the unicorn Princess Luna spends a thousand years on the moon for attempted insurrection against her sister Celestia. Upon breaking out, Luna is definitely irate. I don't blame her. It must be cold and boring living alone on a rock for a millennium.

Thy Princess is not amused!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Plain Jane

I just finished reading Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre in my English literature class and I have to say that I quite enjoyed the novel and its spirited main character. This passage from the book, in particular, where Jane asserts her spiritual equality before Mr. Rochester, appears to be a favorite of Mrs. Darwin:

"I tell you I must go!" I retorted, roused to something like passion. "Do you think I can stay to become nothing to you? Do you think I am an automaton?—a machine without feelings? and can bear to have my morsel of bread snatched from my lips, and my drop of living water dashed from my cup? Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong!—I have as much soul as you,—and full as much heart! And if God had gifted me with some beauty and much wealth, I should have made it as hard for you to leave me, as it is now for me to leave you. I am not talking to you now through the medium of custom, conventionalities, nor even of mortal flesh;—it is my spirit that addresses your spirit; just as if both had passed through the grave, and we stood at God's feet, equal,—as we are!"

I'll probably move on soon to Jane Austen, who, as Alasdair MacIntyre, Joe Carter, and Brandon point out, is an important virtue ethicist not to be missed.

Friday, May 4, 2012

May the Fourth be with you!

Fr.Z and Mark Shea remind us that today is Star Wars Day. Well, being something of a Star Wars geek, I'd consider this a good opportunity to revisit the entire Saga (yes, even the prequels) along with other Star Wars-related stuff, like the classic John Williams soundtrack. However, under no circumstances shall I ever rewatch the infamous Star Wars Holiday Special, for that path leads to the Dark Side.

In honor of this day, I present you my favorite Star Wars parody video, "Vader Sessions."

Next, for those with the stomach for it, I give you the Star Wars Holiday Special:

After watching this, you'll beg for The Phantom Menace 

Lastly, for those with a taste for weird, nonsensical, and laugh-out-loud funny B-movies, I commend to you Turkish Star Wars:

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Small Errors and Big Consequences

"A small error in the beginning grows enormous at the end."
--Thomas Aquinas, On Being and Essence

"Abandoning Aristotelianism, as the founders of modern philosophy did, was the single greatest mistake ever made in the entire history of Western thought."
-- Edward Feser, The Last Superstition

What is this modern error? What exactly was lost? As James Chastek tells us:

"A thomist could probably teach the whole history of modern thought as an overlooking of the distinction between potency and act."

Meanwhile, I need to work on making my next potential post on MLP and friendship actual.