Saturday, March 25, 2006

Determinate Future

Suarez on the determinate truth value of future contingent propositions:

For present purposes, one may reply briefly that the determinateness of the truth in a future contingent proposition does not have to derive from its being the case that the cause from which a given effect will proceed is already, in its own power and ability, determined to that effect at the time or instant when it is true to say that the effect is going to occur. Rather, this determinateness derives solely from the fact that at some [future] time the cause in question will be determined in its action to a given free effect. For this is all that is being asserted by means of the proposition in question--and it is _not_ being asserted that the cause, of itself and by its own power, is already determined to such an effect. Therefore, the truth or falsity of the propositions in which the effects in question are asserted to be future is compatible with the absolute contingency of those effects, since this sort of determinate truth is no more incompatible with contingency than in the case of a present-tense proposition. For even if a given effect is able to be brought about and able not to be brought about, from which it follows that it is contingent, nonetheless, one or the other will in fact determinately occur, and from this it follows that it is determinately a future contingent. (DM 19.10.11)

[Francisco Suarez, On Efficient Causality: Metaphysical Disputations 17, 18, and 19. Freddoso, tr. Yale UP (New Haven: 1994) 389-390.]

Feast of the Incarnation

Today is the Feast of the Annunciation of the Lord, one of the Great Solemnities of the Christian faith. Doctrinally it's arguably the second most important feast in the Christian calendar.* (Liturgically, of course, Christmas has for a complicated set of reasons absorbed most of what pertains to the Feast of the Annunciation; thus, while the Annunciation is technically the Feast of the Incarnation, most of the Annunciation-related celebration occurs around Christmas.) Of course, both doctrinal and liturgical importance here are measured Christologically. The Annunciation is also the most important Mariological feast of the calendar (Mariology being Christology in the key of Mary), in which Mary takes the part of the New Eve and sums up in herself the obedience of all the righteous of Israel; one of its common names in English is Lady Day.

Here is John Keble's poem in The Christian Year for this day:

Oh Thou who deign'st to sympathize
With all our frail and fleshly ties,
Maker yet Brother dear,
Forgive the too presumptuous thought,
If, calming wayward grief, I sought
To gaze on Thee too near.

Yet sure 'twas not presumption, Lord,
'Twas thine own comfortable word
That made the lesson known:
Of all the dearest bonds we prove,
Thou countest sons' and mothers' love
Most sacred, most thine own.

When wandering here a little span,
Thou took'st on Thee to rescue man,
Thou hadst no earthly sire:
That wedded love we prize so dear,
As if our heaven and home were here,
It lit in Thee no fire.

On no sweet sister's faithful breast
Wouldst thou thine aching forehead rest,
On no kind brother lean:
But who, O perfect filial heart,
E'er did like Thee a true son's part,
Endearing, firm, serene?

Thou wept'st, meek maiden, mother mild,
Thou wept'st upon thy sinless child,
Thy very heart was riven:
And yet, what mourning matron here
Would deem thy sorrows bought too dear
By all on this side Heaven?

A son that never did amiss,
That never sham'd his mother's kiss,
Nor cross'd her fondest prayer:
Even from the three he deign'd to bow
For her his agonized brow,
Her, his sole earthly care.

Ave Maria! blessed Maid!
Lily of Eden's fragrant shade,
Who can express the love
That nurtur'd thee so pure and sweet,
Making thy heart a shelter meet
For Jesus' holy Dove?

Ave Maria! Mother blest,
To whom caressing and caress'd
Clings the Eternal Child;
Favoured beyond Archangels' dream,
When first on thee with tenderest gleam
Thy new-born Saviour smil'd:

Ave Maria! Thou whose name
All but adoring love may claim,
Yet may we reach thy shrine;
For He, thy Son and Saviour, vows
To crown all lowly lofty brows
With love and joy like thine.

Bless'd is the womb that bare Him bless'd
The bosom where his lips were press'd,
But rather bless'd are they
Who hear his word and keep it well,
The living homes where Christ shall dwell,
And never pass away.

A different sort of Annunciation Day poem, this time by Oscar Wilde:

Ave Maria Gratia Plena

Was this His coming! I had hoped to see
A scene of wondrous glory, as was told
Of some great God who in a rain of gold
Broke open bars and fell on Danaƫ ,
Or a dread vision as when Semele,
Sickening for love and unappeased desire,
Prayed to see God's clear body, and the fire
Caught her brown limbs and slew her utterly.
With such glad dreams I sought this holy place
And now with wondering eyes and heart I stand
Before this supreme mystery of Love:
Some kneeling girl with passionless pale face,
An angel with a lily in his hand
And over both the white wings of a dove.

[March 25 is also (if you have forgotten) the day that the One Ring is destroyed in the fires of Mount Doom; it is often thought that Tolkien's choice of this date was influenced by the Catholic calendar (since the Feast of the Annunciation is a stable feast) and by traditional legends that make this sort of the Day of Everything -- creation of the world, sacrifice of Isaac, beheading of John the Baptist, deliverance of Peter from prison, martyrdom of James the Greater, etc., etc.]

There is a long history of recognizing the Feast of the Annunciation as a sort of Christian New Year. So make a resolution on this new cycle of grace, contemplate the Holy Incarnation, and have a happy Lady Day.

How numerous, O Lord, my God, you have made your wondrous deeds! And in your plans for us there is none to equal you. Should I wish to declare or tell them, too many are they to recount. (Ps. 40:5)
*It should go without saying, but might not, that the most important feast in the Christian calendar is Easter Sunday, the Feast of the Resurrection.

A Crude Characterization of the Doctrine of the Trinity

There has been some recent vigorous discussion of the doctrine of the Trinity at Prosblogion (here and here), and it has become a popular topic in contemporary philosophy of religion. It has always seemed to me, however, that the understanding of the Trinity that is usually under discussion in these arguments is rather Sunday-School-ish. There's nothing wrong with Sunday-School-ish interpretations, but they are not an adequate basis for philosophical discussion. If we're going to be using just a Sunday-School-ish interpretation, we might as well admit openly that we're really just toying with some ideas, not seriously discussing the matter. However, given that this is my attitude, I realized that I should take more trouble to articulate what is needed for an adequate discussion than I have as yet done. Rather than formulate the doctrine in the Quicunque Vult way (which was a simplified summary reached after the major issues had seriously been discussed in detail), we should formulate it in terms of four features:

I. Monarchy. For every property in the set of God-befitting properties, the Father has the property.

II. Distinctness. For any subject, if that subject has a God-befitting property, that subject is the Father if and only if it is not the Son and not the Spirit; it is the Son if and only if it is not the Father and not the Spirit; and it is the Spirit if and only if it is not the Father and not the Son.

III. Consubstantiality. For every property in the set of God-befitting properties, if the Father has the property, the Son has the property and the Spirit has the property.

IV. Unity. For every property in the set of God-befitting properties, if subject X has the property and subject Y has the property, the property had by X and the property had by y is identically the same individual property.

This is certainly much closer to the doctrine of the Trinity as actually formulated by the Church Fathers. The Sunday-School-ish version (which is the simplified Quicunque Vult itself simplified) suffers from (1) unnecessary vagueness; (2) oversimplification, through leaving out a lot that was originally considered essential for correctly understanding the doctrine; and (3) trivialization of the actual historical process of articulating the doctrine. Each of the four features identified above played a significant role in the actual articulation of the doctrine, and each is explicitly discussed by many of the Church Fathers at some length. Any serious discussion of the Trinity has to discuss issues that are at least in the ballpark of these. For instance, discussions of whether the doctrine of the Trinity is consistent are really discussions about whether these four features (monarchy, distinctness, consubstantiality, and unity) are consistent, since if they are, the sense of Three-in-One that is orthodox is the sense governed by their consistency.

Even this formulation is only approximate, however. I am not completely satisfied with it for four reasons in particular:

(1) The formulation above gives no indication of the role of negative theology in the doctrine of the Trinity.
(2) One of my major concerns with most discussions of the Trinity in contemporary philosophy of religion is that they ignore the processions almost entirely. But this should seem fishy from the outset, because all the reasons for articulating the doctrine in the first place (which need to be brought into the discussion because they govern the correct interpretation of the articulated doctrine) had to do with the processions. The above formulation is much better, but it only touches on the processions indirectly (via I and II).
(3) The formulation of the principle of monarchy in particular seems incomplete, and I'm not sure I have the principle of unity quite right. (These two issues go together. The phrase "There is but one God," as traditionally understood, sums up the union of these two principles, so if the formulation of one isn't quite adequate, the adequacy of the other's formulation will be hard to evaluate.)
(4) The formulation above gives no indication of the perichoresis (circumincession or circuminsession). This could be brought into the formulation in one of two ways: if the processions were more clearly delineated, it might possibly show itself as a corollary of one or two of the principles; or it could be added as a distinct principle (but I'm not sure quite how to formulate it).

A sample of relevant readings on each of the four features. (Naturally, there is considerable overlapped; I've very roughly categorized things according to the feature they seem to me to shed more light on):

I. Monarchy. Dionysius of Rome Against the Sabellians (from a fragment cited by Athanasius). Photius Encyclical to the Eastern Patriarchs. Aquinas ST 1.33.1.

II. Distinctness. The original Nicene Creed and its Constantinopolitan recension. Hilary of Poitiers On the Trinity. Quicunque Vult. Anselm On the Procession of the Holy Spirit (PDF). Aquinas ST 1.40.

III. Consubstantiality. Athanasius Four Discourses against the Arians. Gregory of Nyssa On the Holy Spirit, against Macedonius. Gregory of Nyssa, Onthe Holy Trinity and the Godhead of the Holy Spirit. Basil On the Holy Spirit. Gregory Nazianzen Theological Orations. Ambrose On the Faith. Ambrose On the Holy Spirit.

IV. Unity. Gregory of Nyssa On Not Three Gods. Augustine On the Trinity. Anselm Letter to John the Monk concerning Roscelin (PDF). Aquinas ST 1.39.

There are, of course, many others; but these are some of the big ones that are easiest to find. In any case, the above characterization of the doctrine by four features is a bit crude and simplistic; but it will do for a first rough draft in a blog post.

I want to say one more thing, somewhat tangential to this topic, on a claim that was made by Dale Tuggy in the second of the posts. Tuggy argues that the Trinity is not found in Scripture. A full discussion of this issue would require examination of one's particular view of Scripture. It is noteworthy, however, that what interested the Church Fathers was Scripture as preached, practiced, and prayed by the Church. This is one reason why, from Athanasius on, they are all so worried about how the doctrine of the Trinity affects baptism (which, of course, is in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit). Indeed, one of the major problems they had with Arianism was that they couldn't make sense of it in the context of baptism; which for them was not merely something they read about on the page, but something the Church had been doing since before it was reaffirmed in Scripture. In general, the argument of the Church Fathers on the Trinity, abstracting from person differences, is this: The whole of Scripture as preached, practiced, and prayed by the Church rationally commits you to something like the the above four features, on pain of serious (salvation-relevant) inconsistency. Athanasius and Basil can't be refuted by pointing to Scripture as text, because they would simply point to Scripture as lived in the worship of the Church. Verbally they are (of course) the same Scripture; but the one is dead letter, the other living spirit. (The Church Fathers, of course, had none of the 'Deism of the Scriptures' so common today, i.e., the view that God gave a fillip and there was inspired revelation, and then He just let it run on its own. This view couldn't be reconciled with their understanding of the experience of Christ and the Spirit in the life of the Church.) Proof-texting consists in merely pointing to the letter, whatever position you are defending. Serious interpretation requires the spirit.

Friday, March 24, 2006

A Poem Draft

A bit morbid, but one of my better ones recently.


Sometimes I think I'd like to die
and fly upon a summer's breeze,
in ease unburdening every care
in the air so swift and free.
For I have walked this weary road,
my load upon my bending back,,
no lack of labor in my hands,
vast lands of worry behind me.
Sometimes I think, with heavy sigh,
to die is not a brutal end--
a friend instead, a gentle guide
inside each weary soul.

But then I think of warming suns,
the ones that burn the morning bright
with light that, golden, almost sings,
with wings that bear to other goals.
For light is sweet, the Preacher taught;
the knot of care it can unbind.
I find this true; I drink it deep;
it leaps on me like lover's kiss.
And so in gentle days in spring
I sing of light and gentle cheer.
No fear then weighs, no worry slays--
my day is sweet with sunlit bliss,
my heart is glad because of this.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

A Little Bit of Metaphysics II

A little bit of metaphysics can go a long way. This is a direct sequel to the previous post in this series.

There are objects in the world. We seem committed to saying that these objects have natures (of some kind), on pain of being able to say nothing about them. If there are natures that have some causality beyond bare regularity of succession, then there is something other than regularity in virtue of which things exhibit regularity, namely, the natures. However, if there is nothing to these natures beyond regularity of succession, the world begins crashing down around our ears (so to speak); they cannot do what they need to do. For one of the things a theory of natures must do is ground simultaneous causation. Whether one wishes to call it causation in a proper sense or not, it is clear that there are cases of simultaneous causation which require there to be some kind of causation that goes beyond regularity of succession. My computer monitor is currently caused to remain several feet above the floor by the desk (due to the desk's nature). This causation involves no regularity of succession, because it is not intrinsically successive. It's not the case that something is happening and then (as a distinct successor-event) the monitor is motionless several feet above the floor. Rather, the natural properties of the desk are what keep the monitor several feet above the floor while the monitor is above the floor. If, suddenly, the monitor were to fall through the desk to the floor, we could easily recognize that the properties of the desk had in some way, for whatever reason, changed. Clearly, then, there must be something to the nature of the desk beyond mere regularity of succession; and, whether we consider this to be a fundamental or a derivative form of causation, it is causal (beyond mere regularity of succession) in some way. It is clear then, that we have a positive reasons, of some sort, for denying the second thesis of RRTC. There is something causal about the world that explains regularity, and is not merely explained by it. If a bowling ball is on a mattress, it makes a dent; this denting of the mattress is not mere regularity of succession, because the ball's denting the mattress is not a distinct event from the ball's being of such-and-such nature while placed in such-and-such relation to a mattress of such-and-such properties. We see a crystal, and analyze it into its molecules; the properties and interactions of the molecules, as they exist in this crystal right now, are causing the crystal to have the structure it does. The natures in cases like this are contributing more to explanation than we can analyze into regularities alone.

Any plausibility that RRTC has depends crucially on RRTC's ability to deliver the world we actually experience. But the more one looks at the world as we actually experience it, the more obvious this truth becomes: our notion of the nature of an object (pick any object you wish) is a notion that is richer than RRTC can provide. A sign of this is just how rich our causal language (pick any natural language you wish) is. Another sign is that we never, in practical life, bank on there being nothing but regularity to causation. We suppose that there is more to the world than mere regularity; and what we suppose is that there are natures to things that cannot be wholly analyzed into resemblances among regularities of succession. In other words: we suppose there are reasons for regularities. We find positive grounds in experience for thinking this supposition right (as in cases of simultaneous causation), such that only it can actually do justice to the world as we experience it; we also find that acting and reasoning on this supposition (in prediction, retrodiction, application) shows it to be continually confirmed. Even the slightest bit of working with one's hands or interacting with the world gives ample evidence that RRTC cannot be right.

From this it is clear how one can answer the argument that was proposed in favor of RRTC; for there are many experiences of the world that cannot adequately be accounted for by RRTC. The only way to make our experience of the world seem in conformity with RRTC is to take experiences in isolation. If there were nothing more to my experience of the monitor on my desk than a mere glimpse, it might be reasonable to say that there is nothing more to it than a juxtaposition of colors. But when I take into account all my experiences of the monitor on my desk, and take them all together, it is clear that more is going on than can be accounted for by regularity of succession alone. There is more to the regularities than bare regularity, and my total experience of the monitor and desk gives me positive grounds for rejecting RRTC. However much one may try to play these down, they exist. The world I actually experience is not a world of mere successive stimulus and response; it is a world of structured objects capable of simultaneous interaction (however one analyzes this) and ordered dispositions and indispositions.

This goes not only for external objects like bodies; it goes also for the mind as well. It is entirely true that many of the regularities involved in my control over my body are completely mysterious to me; they are not transparent to experience. It is also clear, however, that there is more to my mental interaction to my body than successive events exhibiting regularity. My intentionally sitting still, for instance, cannot seriously be analyzed into succession of intention (as prior event) + sitting (as posterior event). However one may choose to analyze it, intentionally doing something cannot be analyzed in this way; but this is the only way in which RRTC can analyze it. What is clear for the mind's control of the body is even more clear for the mind's self-control. Even a basic puzzling over the answer to a problem provides grounds for thinking that there is more to the mind than RRTC suggests. And our interactions with other persons involve much the same reasoning. Even if RRTC could manage an analysis of these things as we actually experience them, such an analysis would have no advantages at all (and a number of disadvantages, such as complexity) over the more straightforward analysis that denies RRTC.

It should noted (and has been suggested briefly by a number of things already said) that it is not actually enough for the supporter of RRTC to argue that we don't actually experience a causal factor (beyond mere regularity of succession) in our experience of the world. The supporter of RRTC must argue as well that there are no positive grounds in our experience favoring the supposition of such causal factors over RRTC. Such a claim, however, is manifestly false, particularly when we go beyond carefully regimented and limited singular experiences and take into account our complete experience of the world. RRTC is simply not well disposed to explaining the world as we actually experience it.

Garrison against the Tyrants

Tyrants of the old world! contemners of the rights of man! disbelievers in human freedom and equality! enemies of mankind! console not yourselves with the delusion, that REPUBLICANISM and the AMERICAN UNION are synonymous terms—or that the downfall of the latter will be the extinction of the former, and, consequently, a proof of the incapacity of the people for self-government, and a confirmation of your own despotic claims! Your thrones must crumble in dust; your sceptre of dominion drop from your powerless hands; your rod of oppression be broken; yourselves so vilely abased, that there shall be none so poor to do your reverence. The will of God, the beneficent Creator of the human family, cannot always be frustrated. It is his will that every form of usurpation, every kind of injustice, every device of tyranny, shall come to nought; that peace, and liberty, and righteousness, shall reign from sea to sea, and from the rivers to the ends of the earth; and that, throughout the earth, in the fulness of a sure redemption, there shall be none to molest or make afraid. Humanity, covered with gore, cries with a voice that pierces the heavens. His will be done! Justice, discrowned by the hand of violence, exclaims in tones of deep solemnity, HIS WILL BE DONE! Liberty, burdened with chains, and driven into exile, in thunder-tones responds, HIS WILL BE DONE!

William Lloyd Garrison, The Liberator, 10 January 1845

Against the New Subordinationists

One of the most disturbing trends in Trinitarian theology is the massive resurgence of a new subordinationism, usually called 'functional subordinationism'. It is often justified by saying that it isn't an ontological subordinationism. That this is false is easily seen in a passage by one of the most prominent of the functional subordinationists today:

Scripture frequently speaks of the Father-Son relationship within the Trinity, a relationship in which the Father "gave" His only Son (John 3:16) and "sent" the Son into the world (John 3:17, 34, 4:34, 8:42; Galatians 4:4). But if the Father shows His great love by the fact that He gave His Son, then He had to be Father before He could give His Son. The Son did not suddenly decide to become Son on the day He came to earth. The Trinity was not just Person A and Person B and Person C before Christ came to earth, for then there would have been no Father who could give and send His Son. The idea of giving His Son implies a headship, a unique authority for the Father before the Son came to earth. So even on the basis of John 3:16, the egalitarian claim that Jesus' submission to His Father was only during His time on earth is incorrect.

But the Father-Son relationship also existed before Creation. The Father created through the Son, for "all things were made through Him" (John 1:3), and "there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things...and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things" (1 Corinthians 8:6). The Bible tells us that in these last days God "has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom also he created the world" (Hebrews 1:2). When the Bible discusses distinct actions of the members of the Trinity in Creation, this is the pattern: things were made "by" or "from" the Father and "through" the Son. But this also means that before Creation the Father was Father and the Son was Son. The Father had to have a Son before He could create a world through His Son. This means that they are related as Father and Son before Creation. Again, the egalitarian claim that limits the Son's submission to the Incarnation is incorrect.
[Wayne Grudem, Evangelical Feminism and Biblical Truth, 406-407, emphasis in original]

The functional subordinationist is caught upon a dilemma from which there is no escaping: either the subordination of the Son is only in the Incarnation, or the Son is not equal to the Father. For if the Son is subordinate purely in virtue of being the Son, and if the Father is purely superordinate in virtue of being the Father, then it follows that the Son is simply subordinate and the Father is simply superordinate. For, as Grudem rightly says, the Trinity is not Person A, Person B, Person C; the Trinity is nothing other than Father, Son, Holy Spirit. Nor can it be said that this is merely functional; for we know nothing of the Father, of the Son, or of the Spirit distinctively except what we know of them in relation to each other under the Scriptural designations; and the Scriptural designations, which Grudem rightly notes is eternal, are Father, Son, Spirit. But Grudem has claimed that these indicate subordination. Such a claim is as absurd as if he had said they indicate disparity in age; but, granting the claim, we are committed to saying that the Son is simply subordinate, and to denying that the Father and the Son are one in every God-befitting dignity.

And we see, moreover, how functional subordinationists read ghosts of subordination into every little thing. The Father gave the Son; therefore the Son is subordinate. The Father sent the Son; therefore the Son is subordinate. The world was made through the Son; therefore the Son is subordinate. But we have seen these claims before; we battled them in the Eunomians sixteen hundred years ago. They were no more plausible then. The Father sent the Son, yes, but 'to send' tells us nothing of authority. A child may say to his parent, "Go and see how well I have cleaned my room." The parent goes; and, behold, in going, the parent is sent. But this tells us nothing of who has the greater authority. My friend and I are in perfect agreement that she should help you on some matter; I say to you, "I am sending you my friend to help you." Have I arrogated an authority over my friend? Hardly, for my purpose does not rule the agreement. Was I lying? Certainly not, for I am sending my friend. This supposed proof is dubious in our own case; shall we think it conclusive in God's? It is even less likely to be legitimate there. For if I and my friend are in perfect agreement, it can be nothing in comparison to the agreement of the Father and the Son and the Spirit, who are so united that the work of the Father is through the Son and in the Spirit, so that one and the same action belongs to three persons, whether it pertains to creation or salvation. What human unity of purpose could possibly compare? But in unity of purpose, as such, there is no subordination; if there were subordination there would not be unity, but one purpose subordinating another purpose, however congenially. And so if the Father gives the Son, and this giving is eternally purposed by the Thrice-Holy Trinity, there is no subordination in being given, for there is no subordination of purposes, only a perfect unity of purpose: that the Word be made flesh and come among us a Savior, a gift of life. Thus from the mission of the Son, nothing follows about subordination. And likewise from the making of all things through the Son, nothing follows about subordination; indeed, the reverse: for that all things are made through the Son shows clearly that the Son is one with the Father with a unity that we can scarcely comprehend. But so eagerly do the functional subordinationists grasp after straws that they see elaborate subordinations lurking in every difference of preposition.

And did God predestine us in His Son, and choose us in Him before the foundations of the world? Certainly. And where is the alleged subordination of the Son in any of this? Does it follow from the fact we attribute this predestination and election in the Son to the Father that the Son is subordinate to the Father? Why would it? Suppose you and I were to collaborate in a plan, and part of the plan were attributed to me. Would it follow from this that you have less authority than I do? Any such inference would be sophistical. Why then should it somehow introduce disparity into the relationship of the Father and the Son, who are more one than you and I? Particularly when the Scriptures as preached, prayed, and practiced in the Church through the ages have not been understood in this way?

But, the functional subordinationists reply, the Church has always believed what we believe, that the Son is eternally subordinated to the Father. For, as Grudem says later (p. 415), they held that the Father is first, the Son is second, and the Spirit is third. But they also said, lest it be forgotten, that there is no inequality among any of the three, whether it is with regard to power, or authority, or knowledge. Did they contradict themselves? Not in the least, for as the Cappadocians noted, everything had by the Father, except being the Father, was had by the Son and the Spirit, so that every willing of the Father was a willing also of the Son and of the Spirit. The point can be read in countless places. The Father is first not in rank, not in authority, not in power, but in order. Only by confusing the ordinate with the subordinate can we deny this. If we sing a song, and I sing the first note, would it follow that my note had more authority? If one is the first number, does it mean that two is subordinate to it? When Grudem and others argue that the order of the Trinitarian names indicates a first, second, and third in authority or subordination, they are arguing (or claiming, rather, since they don't actually argue for it) for what is traditionally called subnumeration. When we are determining what the traditional view is, are we to ignore completely the explicit warnings of Basil and others about the folly of subnumerating the persons of the Trinity? But we have to if we are to accept the claim of functional subordinationists that theirs is the traditional view of the Trinity. Functional subordinationists often become very angry if we orthodox call them neo-Arians; but by advocating subnumeration, they are doing nothing other than advocating an Arian position.

Ah, say they, but the Son is begotten. Yes, for He is the Son; and as all the Fathers argued, this means He is equal to the Father. But there is an eternal difference between the Father and the Son! Yes, the Father is always the Father and the Son is always the Son; what about subordination follows from this? The two persons are distinct; this no one denies. Does it follow from the fact that the Son is eternally begotten that the Son is eternally younger than the Father? And in fact the Church has never read the eternal begetting of the Son as a proof of inequality, but as a proof that the Son is equal to the Father in every God-befitting dignity. And such an equality is contrary to any sort of subordination. If one is subordinate to the other by nature, they are not equal, but unequal in nature, since one is subordinate by nature to the other. If one is subordinate to the other by subsistence, they are not equal, but unequal by subsistence, since one is subordinate by subsistence to the other. If one is subordinate to the other by operation, they are not equal, but unequal in operation, since one is subordinate by operation to the other. There is no getting around this. But we know that the Son is eternally of the Father, so as to be Light of Light, very God of very God. This is not a subordination; it is a perfect unity.

At the slightest provocation functional subordinationists are leaping like mountain goats to conclusions they have taken no trouble to justify. If the Father does anything, they say it must be because He has special authority; if the Son does anything, they say it must be because He does not. If the Word incarnate submits to God, they say it proves their point, although all it proves is that men should submit to God; if the Word is sent, they say it proves their point, although all it proves is that the Word came among us; if the Word is called 'the Son', they say it proves their point, although all it proves is that the Son is from the Father. If the world is made through the Word, they say it proves their point, although all it proves is that without Him was nothing made that was made. If the saints are predestined in Christ, they say it proves their point, although all it proves is that the saints have been predestined in Christ. Such people cite Scripture at every turn, but without regard for the analogy of it, or even at times for logical consistency. Ignoring the overwhelming number of authorities against them, they cherry-pick a handful who agree with them. Faced with the charge of being neo-Arian, they piously deny it, and then brazenly affirm the same arguments and subnumerations as the Arians.

There is an unfortunate tendency among opponents of the functional subordinationists as well. Some in their attempt to avoid subordinationism make all every person subordinate to every other. Such a strategy surpasses all understanding. Functional subordinationists unreasonably twist the doctrine of the Trinity to fit their doctrine of marriage; it is perversely unreasonable to respond to this by doing the same. There is too much at stake to be frivolous about these matters.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

A Little Bit of Metaphysics I

A little bit of metaphysics can go a long way. I've decided to do a series of posts on this point. Here's the first helping.

We find ourselves in a world full of regular causal events. Suppose that, on the basis of this, someone were to propose the following two-part position, which I will call (following Galen Strawson) the Realist Regularity Theory of Causation (RRTC):

(1) External World Realism. There is an external world of mind-independent objects.
(2) Causation in the mind-independent world is simply regularity of succession (insofar as it is anything).

RRTC recognizes an external world, and it recognizes that this world is regular; but it insists that this regularity of succession is not explained by any feature of this world, whether we take the relevant explanation to be an explanation of why there is any regularity at all, or whether we take it to be an explanation of why there is such-and-such regularity rather than some other kind of regularity.

We might argue for such a position in this way. In order to form any reality-relevant concept of causation other than regularity of succession, i.e., in order to get beyond regularity in our account of causation, we must be able to identify some feature (or features) of our experience that is both causal and exhibits more than a regularity. Such a feature cannot be found; therefore causation in the world is simply regularity.

That such a feature cannot be found might be established by an eliminative argument. [Astute and informed observers will recognize that the following argument is influenced by Hume's discussion of necessary connection in ECHU, Section VII, Part I.] If such a feature exists, it must be found in our experience either of bodies or of minds. When we look at the bodies that we experience, this additional feature would have to be available to our senses. However, when we examine the qualities we sense, we find no such feature. A billiard ball hits another billiard ball, causing it to move. All we see in this scenario is one thing following another: this three-dimensional bit of color against this colored background, moving up to and touching (with a sound) this other three-dimensional bit of color, which then moves. All our sensory experiences can be handled in this way; so this supposed feature is not available to the senses. Therefore nothing in our experience of bodies shows there to be more to causation than mere regularity of succession.

This naturally brings us to minds, which we can divide into our own mind and the minds of others. When I contemplate my own mind, there are only two possible cases in which this feature could show up: either in my mind's causal power over my body, or in my mind's causal power over itself. Let us take my mind's causal power over my body first. Inquiry into this possibility seems very clearly to show that no causal feature beyond regularity is found in our experience of our power over our own bodies. Two signs of this emerge immediately. The first is that we find the question of mind-body union so perplexing. How is the mind related to the body (and vice versa)? It is a highly controverted issue. If, however, we were able to identify a causal feature beyong regularity in the experience of the mind's control over the body, this question would not be so mysterious. The second sign is that there is nothing in our experience of the mind that gives us any indication of why we can move our arms at will and but cannot move our liver at will. If we suddenly became paralyzed, we would find nothing different in our experience of the mind; it just would now be the case that what happens in our mind is no longer followed by the moving of the arm. Thus the only causal feature we experience in our experience of the mind's control over its body is regularity of succession.

What, then, of our experience of the mind's control over itself, e.g., in the formation and examination of ideas? But here, as with the body, we do not have unlimited control. There are things about our minds we do not control. Yet we have no more knowledge here of why we control some things and not others. We can only learn by experience that the mind's internal attempt to do X is followed by a doing of X (or not followed by it). Likewise, this self-control is very different at different times; but we cannot identify any feature in our experience that explains this difference.

This only leaves other minds. But it seems manifestly false to say that we have direct experience of the causal features (beyond regularity) of other minds, particularly when we cannot find any such features in our own minds, which we know much more intimately and directly. Even if we were to say that we do have direct experience of other minds, we still cannot identify any aspect of this experience that fits the description of what we are looking for; because the motions and changes due to things other than ourselves are not more clear and less mysterious to us than those due to ourselves.

Thus we do not find such a feature in bodies or in minds; and it seems reasonable to say that there is no third thing falling within our direct experience. Therefore, one might say, the argument holds: we must accept that everything we call 'causation' in the mind-independent world is merely regularity of succession.

It seems clear, however, that RRTC is not a tenable position. I will discuss the reasons why in a post to follow.

Probability is the Very Guide to Life

Dr Blacklock spoke of scepticism in morals and religion, with apparant uneasiness, as if he wished for more certainty. Dr Johnson, who had thought it all over, and whose vigorous understanding was fortified by much experience, thus encouraged the blind bard to apply to higher speculations what we willingly submit to in common life: in short, he gave him more familiarly the able and fair reasoning of Butler’s Analogy: 'Why, sir, the greatest concern we have in this world, the choice of our profession, must be determined without demonstrative reasoning. Human life is not yet so well known, as that we can have it. And take the case of a man who is ill. I call two physicians: they differ in opinion. I am not to lie down, and die between them: I must do something.'

James Boswell, Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides, entry for 17 August.]

The reference is to Butler's famous pronouncement in the Introduction to the Analogy:

Probable Evidence, in its very nature, affords but an imperfect kind of Information; and is to be considered as relative only to Beings of limited Capacities. For nothing which is the possible object of Knowledge, whether past, present, or future, can be probable to an infinite Intelligence; since it cannot but be discerned absolutely as it is in itself, certainly true, or certainly false: But to us, Probability is the very Guide to Life. (page iii)

Of course, when talking of 'probability' Butler is not thinking of probability in the sense of probability theory, but of verisimilitude.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Living in the Light of Tabor

I had missed the fact that last Sunday was the Sunday of Gregory Palamas among the Eastern Orthodox. Since I am a Palamist (which is unusual for someone who tends Thomistic), I thought I'd put a few links up about the great theologian of the hesychasts. Unfortunately, there isn't much available online, but I was able to scrounge up a few worth reading.

Light for the World: The Life of St. Gregory Palamas (1296-1359)

St. Gregory Palamas: An Historical Overview

St. Gregory Palamas and the Tradition of the Fathers by Fr. Florovsky

Gregory Palamas on the Relationship Between Philosophy and Theology by Nick Trakakis

Dionysius Areopagites in the Works of Saint Gregory Palamas: On the Question of a "Christological Corrective" and Related Matters by Hieromonk Alexander Golitzin

The Pneumatology of Bernard Lonergan: A Byzantine Comparison (PDF) by Eugene Webb (One criticism: It erroneously attributes the formula "the Spirit proceeds from the Father through the Son" to the Union Council of Lyons. This is not true; the formula at Lyons was "the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son as from one principle". Florence reaffirmed this and said that the common expression "The Spirit proceeds from the Father through the Son" meant the same thing.)

Unceasing Prayer by Gregory Palamas

Notes and Notes

Chris has an interesting post on motivated reasoning. In it he points to evidence that "motivated reasoning is in fact our default mode of reasoning; the one that we revert to when we are threatened, when our cognitive resources are limited, or when we aren't highly motivated to make an effortful attempt to come to the objectively 'right' answer." I find this interesting because it seems to me that in philosophical work on the role of the emotions in reasoning (e.g., De Sousa's The Rationality of Emotion) something at leasts vaguely like this has been suggested, for at least quasi-independent reasons (I say quasi-independent because they are influenced by cog sci research on these topics, but they are developed at least in part in response to philosophical issues); i.e., one of the roles of emotions in reasoning are to provide saliences that allow us to continue with some sort of rational action in cases when purer forms of rationality aren't possible (cases like those Chris mentions). De Sousa gives some (very general) indication of how emotions can provide such saliences. And note, by the way, that the fact that these are not purer forms of rationality doesn't entail that they are irrational, or even that reasoning in this way is always less rational, than purer cases. To be irrational this sort of reasoning would have to be poorly suited to fulfill the role needed in a given case; it may well be as rational, or even more rational, to reason in a motivated way in certain kinds of cases than to try for something more objective. The tricky thing, if this is so, is to determine the precise sphere and mode in which motivated reasoning is acceptably rational, as well as any sort of contribution motivated reasoning makes to the support of purer forms of reasoning; and this requires a better theory of rationality than we currently possess. (Those interested in this sort of issue might see De Sousa's Modeling Rationality, which is a good, accessible, albeit narrow and incomplete, discussion of some of the relevant issues, or The Rationality of Emotion, a brief paper discussing a small sampling of the issues he discusses in his book.)

That post gives the background for another good post on the recent highly-publicized results by Westen et al. on motivated reasoning in political partisanship, in which he corrects a number of serious misinterpretations. Much of it is the sort of thing that's very obvious in retrospect, when it's pointed out, that might be missed by those of us who don't normally work with imaging studies and aren't thinking out the implications of claims very closely. Well worth reading.

"Heo Cwaeth" has a series of posts called "Medieval Women I Adore". So far it includes Aethelflaed, Chrodield and Basina, and Hilda of Whitby. (HT: Mixing Memory) She also has a good post on Why Medieval Women Writers Belong in the Canon; a number of things she says could be said, mutatis mutandis, of early modern women in the philosophical canon.

Michael Pakaluk defends the history of philosophy at "Dissoi Blogoi". See also the follow-up post. I would add to it a more purely aesthetic reason. Sometimes in doing history of philosophy, one comes across an argument that is breathtakingly beautiful. It may still be flawed (and usually is) but it is a stunning example of human reason at its best. However, these arguments are often hidden. It isn't obvious to the superficial reader just how beautiful Aquinas's multi-layered theory of the will is; or, if we start sorting out what goes where and why, just how exquisitely crafted Hume's analysis of the components of causal inference, apparently rambling and confused, really is. To find these things you must do history of philosophy. If you eschew it, or take a purely instrumentalist interest in it, you will miss some of the wonders of the world.

Janet Stemwedel has an interesting post on theory vs. experiment in science, which has garnered some interesting comments. I don't normally find this an interesting topic at all; but what makes the discussion at "Adventures in Science and Ethics" interesting is that it touches on an aspect of the question that I think is much more interesting and important than the one usually discussed, namely, the pedagogical side of it (taking 'pedagogical' in a broad sense to include all communication between scientists and the general public).

At verbum ipsum Lee has a post that asks bloggers, What big-ticket issues have you (in the course of blogging) changed your mind about or found yourself "an incorrigible squish" about? My primary answer would be just about anything political: I always have the feeling that talking about a matter in a purely political light is suspiciously close, by its very nature, to missing the point. Or so I analyze my squishiness about politics, anyway. I waver on the New Hume interpretation; which is not surprising because the data for choosing between New Hume and Old Hume are fairly slight. I've become less sympathetic to arguments for anti-realism (outside a handful of domains), although I'm still not as dogmatic about it as some realists. I've also become more serious about issues of racism and sexism in the history of philosophy. But overall I haven't done much changing. But then, I'm the sort of person who tends to change very slowly -- a lot of slow shifts all over the place rather than one or two major shifts in one or two places.

Tillotson's Argument against Transubstantiation in Early Modern Thought

I hadn't originally intended to do a series on it, but a series is what it became. Here are the posts, for more convenient browsing.

The Argument
Tillotson against Transubstantiation

The Influence of the Argument in the History of Philosophy
Boswell & Johnson

Rogers on Hume on Tillotson against Transubstantiation

In the middle of the nineteenth century, Henry Rogers wrote a lovely little philosophical dialogue, which deserves to be better known, called, The Eclipse of Faith: A Visit to a Religious Sceptic. Fortunately it can be found at Project Gutenberg. I don't know how well known it was in the nineteenth century. It went through several editions in just a few years, which sounds good; but I don't know enough about publishing practices of the time to say what that would likely mean in terms of readers.

The dialogue is undeniably worth reading. One of Rogers's excellent literary choices was to write the dialogue as a journal being sent as part of a letter to the narrator's brother; this complicated frame allows for a much greater degree of literary flexibility than is usually available to the writer of philosophical dialogues. Although the work as a whole is a defense of Christianity against philosophical objections, Rogers made another excellent choice when he broke with tradition on these matters and made an honest skeptic, Harrington, the dominant discussant. Usually in a philosophical dialogue the dominant discussant is the character (or characters) most closely conforming to the author's views. In the hands of a masterful dialogue-writer this could turn out well; but usually it just leads to a very one-sided dialogue. Rogers's dialogue, however, is very readable, with characters who seem interesting and (as Rogers hints in his Advertisement) are probably at least very loosely based on real people.

One of the interesting examples of the candor and honesty of Harrington centers immediately on the subject of Tillotson's argument against transubstantiation:

"And do you know," said Harrington, "I have sometimes thought that Hume, so far from representing his argument from 'Transubstantiation' fairly, (there is an obvious fallacy on the very face of it, to which I do not now allude,) is himself precisely in the condition in which he represents the believer in miracles?"

Fellowes smiled incredulously. "First, however," said he, "what is the more notorious fallacy to which you allude?"

"It is so barefaced an assumption, that I am surprised that his acuteness did not see it; or that, if he saw it, he could have descended to make a point by appearing not to see it. It has been often pointed out, and you will recollect it the moment I name it. You know he commences with the well-known argument of Tillotson against Transubstantiation and flatters himself that he sees a similar argument in relation to miracles. Now it certainly requires but a moderate degree of sagacity to see that the very point in which Tillotson's argument tells, is that very one in which Hume's is totally unlike it. Tillotson says, that when it is pretended that the bread and wine which are submitted to his own senses have been 'transubstantiated into flesh and blood,' the alleged phenomena contradict his senses; and that as the information of his senses as much comes from God as the doctrines of Scripture (and even the miracles of Scripture appeal to nothing stronger), he must believe his senses in this case in preference to the assertions of the priest. Hume then goes on quietly to take it for granted that the miracles to which consent is asked in like manner contradict the testimony of the senses of him to whom they appeal is made; whereas, in fact, the assertor of the miracles does not pretend that he who denies them has ever seen them, or had the opportunity of seeing them. To make the argument analogous, it ought to be shown that the objector, having been a spectator of the pretended miracles, when and where they were affirmed to have been wrought, had then and there the testimony of his senses that no such events had taken place. It is mere juggling with words to say that never to have seen a like event is the same argument of an event's never having occurred, as never to have seen that event when it was alleged to have taken place under our very eyes!"

Harrington in the dialogue goes on to argue that Hume has things backwards. If a disbeliever in miracles (among whom Harrington includes himself) were to see one, he would doubt his senses and fall back on the general testimony that such things do not happen. Thus Hume's argument is actually more dangerous for the miracles-skeptic than the believer:

"It appears, then, my good fellow, that the position of those who deny and those who assert miracles is exactly the reverse of Hume's statement. The man who believes 'Transubstantiation' distrusts his senses, and rather believes testimony: and even so would he who has fully made up his mind, on our sublime principle as to the impossibility of miracles, when any thing which has that appearance crosses his path; he is prepared to deny his senses and to trust to testimony,--to that general experience of others which comes to him, and can come to him, only in that shape. It is we, therefore, and not our adversaries, who are liable to be reached by this unlucky illustration."

This is a remarkable argument against Hume's essay on miracles, in part because I can think of no other case in which anyone thinks to use the Tillotsonian parallel in such an interesting way.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Superheroes and Academia

The previous post about religious superheroes set me thinking. What academic affiliations do superheroes and supervillains have?

The most obvious place to start is the Fantastic Four, since Reed Richards is known to have attended CalTech, Columbia, Harvard, and the fictional Empire State University (although sometimes it is said to be the equally fictional SUNY-Hegeman). The latter appears to be the alma mater of a lot of Marvel superheroes.

So what others are there (real universities, of course, are more interesting than fictional ones)?

UPDATES: I had forgotten, if I ever knew it, that Captain Marvel was a university professor at "Dartmoor University". (I've never kept up with Captain Marvel at all.)

Charles Xavier apparently did his graduate work at the University of Oxford.

Firestorm is one-half college professor, being a fusion of a high school student and Martin Stein, a Nobel Prize winning physicist, who seems to have taught at the University of Pittsburgh (although previously at Hudson University, a major fictional university in the DC universe). (I have found no explicit statements about the University of Pittsburgh, though, so that's speculative.)

BAMF! Religious Superheroes

If you were ever curious about about the religious affiliations of your favorite superheroes, the definitive page:

The Religious Affiliations of Comic Book Characters

(HT: Lee, who 'bah's because the Lutherans only get Jimmy Olsen. Silly Lutherans; superpowers are for Catholics. And Jews, apparently.)

Of course, the most awesome of the religiously devout superheroes is good ol' Fuzzy Blue. The coolest superhero who isn't religious, but who regularly struggles with religious questions, is Wolverine.

Coleridge on Tillotson Against Transubstantiation

In Baxter's Life Coleridge had read the following passage:

I tried, when I was last with you, to revive your reason by proposing to you the infallibility of the common senses of all the world; and I could not prevail though you had nothing to answer that was not against common sense. And it is impossible any thing controverted can be brought nearer you, or made plainer than to be brought to your eyes and taste and feeling; and not yours only, but all men's else. Sense goes before faith. Faith is no faith but upon supposition of sense and understanding: if therefore common sense be fallible, faith must needs be so.

To which the following response is found in Coleridge's Literary Remains:

This is one of those two-edged arguments, which not indeed began, but began to be fashionable, just before and after the Restoration. I was half converted to Transubstantiation by Tillotson's common senses against it; seeing clearly that the same grounds totidem verbis et syllabis would serve the Socinian against all the mysteries of Christianity. If the Roman Catholics had pretended that the phenomenal bread and wine were changed into the phenomenal flesh and blood, this objection would have been legitimate and irresistible; but as it is, it is mere sensual babble. The whole of Popery lies in the assumption of a Church, as a numerical unit, infallible in the highest degree, inasmuch as both which is Scripture, and what Scripture teaches, is infallible by derivation only from an infallible decision of the Church. Fairly undermine or blow up this: and all the remaining peculiar tenets of Romanism fall with it, or stand by their own right as opinions of individual Doctors.

An antagonist of a complex bad system,—a system, however, notwithstanding—and such is Popery,—should take heed above all things not to disperse himself. Let him keep to the sticking place. But the majority of our Protestant polemics seem to have taken for granted that they could not attack Romanism in too many places, or on too many points;—forgetting that in some they will be less strong than in others, and that if in any one or two they are repelled from the assault, the feeling of this will extend itself over the whole. Besides, what is the use of alleging thirteen reasons for a witness's not appearing in Court, when the first is that the man had died since his subpoena? It is as if a party employed to root up a tree were to set one or two at that work, while others were hacking the branches, and others sawing the trunk at different heights from the ground.

N. B. The point of attack suggested above in disputes with the Romanists is of special expediency in the present day: because a number of pious and reasonable Roman Catholics are not aware of the dependency of their other tenets on this of the infallibility of their Church decisions, as they call them, but are themselves shaken and disposed to explain it away. This once fixed, the Scriptures rise uppermost, and the man is already a Protestant, rather a genuine Catholic, though his opinions should remain nearer to the Roman than the Reformed Church.

Elswwhere, in comment on a work by Taylor, he says,

I honestly confess that I should confine my grounds of opposition to the article thus stated to its unnecessariness, to the want of sufficient proofs from Scripture that I am bound to believe or trouble my head with it. I am sure that Bishop Bull, who really did believe the Trinity, without either Tritheism or Sabellianism, could not consistently have used the argument of Taylor or of Tillotson in proof of the absurdity of Transubstantiation.

Gibbon on Tillotson Against Transubstantiation

Gibbon, writing of his ceasing to profess Catholicism:

...I must observe, that it was principally effected by my private reflections; and I still remember my solitary transport at the discovery of a philosophical argument against the doctrine of transubstantiation: that the text of scripture, which seems to inculcate the real presence, is attested only by a single sense--our sight; while the real presence itself is disproved by three of our senses--the sight, the touch, and the taste. The various articles of the Romish creed disappeared like a dream; and after a full conviction, on Christmas-day, 1754, I received the sacrament in the church of Lausanne. It was here that I suspended my religious inquiries, acquiescing with implicit belief in the tenets and mysteries, which are adopted by the general consent of catholics and protestants.

[Edward Gibbon, Memoirs of My Life and Writings.]

This is clearly from the Tillotsonian argument. Since Gibbon does not give Tillotson's name, it isn't clear whether the philosophical argument in question was found through reading Tillotson, or as summarized by someone else (e.g., Hume, whose Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding was first published in 1748, under the title, Philosophical Essays Concerning Human Understanding).

Hume on Tillotson Against Transubstantiation

The significance of Tillotson's argument against transubstantiation can be seen in another passage that refers to it:

There is, in Dr. Tillotson's writings, an argument against the real presence, which is as concise, and elegant, and strong as any argument can possibly be supposed against a doctrine, so little worthy of a serious refutation. It is acknowledged on all hands, says that learned prelate, that the authority, either of the scripture or of tradition, is founded merely in the testimony of the Apostles, who were eye-witnesses to those miracles of our Saviour, by which he proved his divine mission. Our evidence, then, for, the truth of the Christian religion is less than the evidence for the truth of our senses; because, even in the first authors of our religion, it was no greater; and it is evident it must diminish in passing from them to their disciples; nor can any one rest such confidence in their testimony, as in the immediate object of his senses. But a weaker evidence can never destroy a stronger; and therefore, were the doctrine of the real presence ever so clearly revealed in scripture, it were directly contrary to the rules of just reasoning to give our assent to it. It contradicts sense, though both the scripture and tradition, on which it is supposed to be built, carry not such evidence with them as sense; when they are considered merely as external evidences, and are not brought home to every one's breast, by the immediate operation of the Holy Spirit.

Nothing is so convenient as a decisive argument of this kind, which must at least silence the most arrogant bigotry and superstition, and free us from their impertinent solicitations. I flatter myself, that I have discovered an argument of a like nature, which, if just, will, with the wise and learned, be an everlasting check to all kinds of superstitious delusion, and consequently, will be useful as long as the world endures. For so long, I presume, will the accounts of miracles and prodigies be found in all history, sacred and profane.

[Hume, Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, Section X]

There is a lot of irony in this, given that Tillotson repeatedly insists that miracles are the primary evidence for Christianity. But it is true (and the irony depends on its being true) that Tillotson's argument against transubstantiation and Hume's argument against miracles are of the same genus ("of a like nature"). Tillotson argues that the only possible basis for believing in transubstantiation is undercut if transubstantiation is supposed true, because transubstantiation runs counter to the evidence of the senses, on which testimony depends; likewise, Hume argues that the only possible basis for believing in miracles on testimony is undercut if miracles are supposed true, because miracles run counter to the evidence of the senses, on which testimony depends. Beyond that general resemblance, it's a bit more controversial how far Tillotson's argument serves as a model for Hume's. Is Hume's argument an independent argument, and Hume just recognized that Tillotson's argument was a precursor? Or was Hume's argument formulated in response to Tillotson's? Either way, Hume's argument touched off a considerable amount of discussion about the role and nature of testimony in reasoning.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Boswell & Johnson on Tillotson on Transubstantiation

We saw, this day, Dundee and Aberbrothick, the last of which Dr Johnson has celebrated in his Journey. Upon the road we talked of the Roman Catholick faith. He mentioned (I think) Tillotson’s argument against transubstantiation; ‘That we are as sure we see bread and wine only, as that we read in the Bible the text on which that false doctrine is founded. We have only the evidence of our senses for both. If,’ he added, ‘God had never spoken figuratively, we might hold that he speaks literally, when he says, “This is my body”.’ BOSWELL. ‘But what do you say, sir, to the ancient and continued tradition of the Church upon this point?’ JOHNSON. ‘Tradition, sir, has no place, where the Scriptures are plain; and tradition cannot persuade a man into a belief of transubstantiation. Able men, indeed, have said they believed it.’

This is an awful subject. I did not then press Dr Johnson upon it; nor shall I now enter upon a disquisition concerning the import of those words uttered by our Saviour, which had such an effect upon many disciples, that they ‘went back, and walked no more with him’. The Catechism and solemn office for Communion, in the Church of England, maintain a mysterious belief in more than a mere commemoration of the death of Christ, by partaking of the elements of bread and wine.

[James Boswell, Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides, entry for 20 August]

By 'awful', of course, Boswell means 'a matter of awe or reverence'; and 'mysterious' means 'pertaining to a mystery, i.e., a truth exceeding natural reason alone'.

Tillotson against Transubstantiation

A passage, of considerable importance for the history of philosophy, from John Tillotson's A Discourse against Transubstantiation (1684):

Besides the infinite Scandal of this Doctrine upon the accounts I have mentioned, the monstrous absurdities of it make it insupportable to any Religion. I am very well assured of the Grounds of Religion in general, and of the Christian Religion in particular; and yet I cannot see that the Foundations of any revealed Religion, are strong enough to bear the weight of so many and so great Absurdities as this Doctrine of Transubstantiation would load it withal. And to make this evident, I shall not insist upon those gross Contradictions, of the same Body being in so many several Places at once; or our Saviour's giving away himself with his own Hand to every one fo his Disciples, and yet still keeping himself to himself; and a thousand more of the like Nature: but to shew the Absurdity of this Doctrine I shall only ask these Questions.

1. Whether any Man have, or ever had, greater Evidence of the Truth of any Divine Revelation than every Man hath of the Falshood of Transubstantiation? Infidelity were hardly possible to Men if all Men had the same Evidence for the Christian Religion which they have against Transubstantiation; that is, the clear and irresistible Evidence of Sense. He that can once be brought to contradict or deny his Senses, is at an end of Certainty; for what can a Man be certain of, if he be not certain of what he sees? In some Circumstances our Senses may deceive us, but no Faculty deceives us so little and so seldom: And when our Senses do deceive us even that Error is not to be corrected without the help of our Senses.

2. Supposing this Doctrine had been delivered in Scripture in the very same Words that is decreed by the Council of Trent, by what clearer Evidence or stronger Argument could any Man prove to me that such Words were in the Bible, than I can prove to him that Bread and Wine after Consecration are Bread and Wine still? He could but appeal to my Eyes to prove such Words to be in the Bible, and with the same Reason and Justice might I appeal to several of his Senses to prove to him that the Bread and Wine after Consecration are Bread and Wine still.

3. Whether it be reasonable to imagine, that God should make that a part of the Christian Religion which shakes the main external Evidence and Confirmation of the Whole? I mean the Miracles which were wrought by our Saviour and his Apostles, the assurance whereof did at first depend upon the Certainty of Sense. For if the Senses of those who say they saw them were deceived, then there might be no Miracles wrought; and consequently it may justly be doubted whether that kind of Confirmation which God hath given to the Christian Religion would be strong enough to prove it, supposing Transubstantiation to be a part of it: Because every Man hath as great Evidence that Transubstantiation is false, as he hat that the Christian Religion is true. Suppose then Transubstantiation to be part of the Christian Doctrine, it must have the same Confirmation with the whole, and that is Miracles: But of all Doctrines of the World, it is peculiarly incapable of being proved by a Miracle. For if a Miracle were wrought for the Proof of it, the very same Assurance which any Man hath of the Truth of the Miracle, he hath of the Falshood of the Doctrine, that is the clear Evidence of his Senses. For that there is a Miracle wrought to prove that what he sees in the Sacrament is not Bread but the Body of Christ, there is only the Evidence of Sense; and there is the very same Evidence to prove, that what he sees in the Sacramentis not the Body of Christ but Bread. So that there would arise a new Controversy, whether a Man could rather believe his Senses giving Testimony against the Doctrine of Transubstantiation, or bearing Witness to a Miracle wrought to confirm that Doctrine; there being the very same Evidence against the Truth of the Doctrine, which there is for the Truth of the Miracle: And then the Argument for Transubstantiation, and the Objection against it, could just balance one another; and consequently Transubstantiation is not to be proved by a Miracle, because that would be, to prove to a Man by something that he sees, that he doth not see what he sees. And if there were not other Evidence that Transubstantiation is no part of the Christian Doctrine, it would be sufficient, that what proves the one, does as much overthrow the other; and that Miracles, which are certainly the best and highest external Proof of Christianity, are the worst Proof in the World of Transubstantiation, unless a Man can renounce his Senses at the same imte that he relies upon them. For a Man cannot believe a Miracle without relying upon Sense, nor Transubstantiation without renouncing it. So that never were any two things so ill coupled together as the Doctrine of Christianity and that of Transubstantiation, because they draw several ways, and are ready to strangle one another: For the main Evidence of the Christian Doctrine, which is Miracles, is resolved into the certainty of Sense, but this Evidence is clear and point blank against Transubstantiation.

(This is actually from the new edition of 1797; as far as I know there were no major changes to the above passage, but I haven't had a chance to determine this certainly.) Tillotson's discourse was circulated as a religious tract in the 19th century by the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge; and the above argument is still occasionally to be found in anti-Catholic circles.

Pop-quiz: What is the significance of the above passage to the history of philosophy?


* Rex Murphy muses on Stephen Harper's use of the phrase "God bless Canada" in his speeches, which has garnered some controversy in the Great White North. (HT: Magic Statistics)

* At "Magic Statistics" Scott Galbreath discusses why aboriginals are over-represented in Canada's jails.

* Augustine and the Case for Limited Government (PDF) by Linda Raeder (HT: verum ipsum)

* In the comments to a thread at "Adventures in Science and Ethics" coturnix (of "Science and Politics") gives a useful evaluation of the state of animal treatment in scientific research.

* Martin Lin has an excellent paper on Spinoza's arguments for the existence of God (PDF).

* Gareth Matthews's Philosophy for Kids page.

* An interesting paper on the justification of induction: Completing Kornblith's Project (PDF), by John Zeis.

* I thought this post (on a paper by Pruss) at "Reality Conditions" was an interesting one.

* Saul Fisher's Analytic Philosophy of Architecture: A Course.

Roger Scruton, On the Mend, on the custom of repair.

Also worth reading: About Morality, by hilzoy, at "Obsidian Wings" (HT: Science & Politics)