Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Fifty shades of nothing

Note: The following article is cross-posted over at First Things.

Nothing is all the rage of late.  Physicists Stephen Hawking and Lawrence Krauss have devoted pop science bestsellers to trying to show how quantum mechanics explains how the universe could arise from nothing.  Their treatments were preceded by that of another physicist, Frank Close (whose book Nothing: A Very Short Introduction, should win a prize for Best Book Title). New Scientist magazine devoted a cover story to the subject not too long ago, and New Yorker contributor Jim Holt a further book.  At the more academic end of the discussion, the medieval philosophy scholar John F. Wippel has edited a fine collection of new essays on the theme of why anything, rather than nothing, exists at all.  And now John Leslie and Robert Lawrence Kuhn have published The Mystery of Existence: Why Is There Anything At All?, a very useful anthology of classic and contemporary readings.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Hart stopping

In the August/September issue of First Things, David Bentley Hart gives us what he promises is his last word on the controversy generated by his article on natural law in the March issue.  I responded to Hart’s original piece in “A Christian Hart, a Humean Head,” posted at the First Things website (and cross-posted here).  Hart replied to my criticisms in a follow-up article in the May issue of First Things.  I responded to that in “Sheer Hart Attack,” posted at Public Discourse.  Hart also replied to several other critics in the Letters section of the May First Things, and I commented on his remarks in a further post entitled “Discerning the thoughts and intents of Hart.”  What follows is a reply to his latest piece.

Monday, July 15, 2013


The National Catholic Bioethics Quarterly, published by the National Catholic Bioethics Center, has just put out a special issue on the theme “Critiques of the New Natural Law Theory.”  You can find the issue online here.  My essay “The Role of Nature in Sexual Ethics” appears in the issue.  It is an excerpt from a longer article to be published in a forthcoming volume from the NCBC.  (As I indicate in the essay, many topics not addressed there, including responses to various objections, are dealt with in the forthcoming longer article, which is the most detailed and systematic thing I’ve written on the topic of sexual morality.)

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Maudlin on time and the fundamentality of physics

Philosopher of physics Tim Maudlin is interviewed at 3:AM Magazine.  (I commented on an earlier interview with Maudlin in a previous post.)  The whole thing is worth reading, but several passages call for special comment.  On the subject of the reality of time, Maudlin says:

[M]any physicists and philosophers like to say that the passage of time is an “illusion”. In my account of things, it is not at all illusory: time passes from past to future by its intrinsic nature. Further, the fundamental laws of nature are exactly physical constraints on what sorts of later states can come from earlier states. Parmenides, of course, also argued that time and motion are illusions. I think I understand what he was claiming, and think it is just flatly false. I don’t see the modern defenders of the “illusion” claim as in any better position than Parmenides was.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Avicenna’s argument from contingency, Part II

In a previous post we looked at an outline of Avicenna’s argument from contingency for a Necessary Existent.  Suppose the argument does indeed establish that much.  Is there any good reason to identify the Necessary Existent with God?  Does Avicenna spring for any divine attributes?  You betcha.  Jon McGinnis’s book Avicenna, cited in the previous post, provides a useful overview of the relevant arguments.  I will summarize some of them briefly.

The Necessary Existent, Avicenna holds, must be unique.  For suppose there were two or more Necessary Existents.  Then each would have to have some aspect by which it differ s from the other -- something that this Necessary Existent has that that one does not.  In that case they would have to have parts.  But a thing that has parts is not necessary in itself, since it exists through its parts and would thus be necessary only through them.  Since the Necessary Existent is necessary in itself, it does not have parts, and thus lacks anything by which one Necessary Existent could even in principle differ from another.  So there cannot be more than one.

Monday, July 1, 2013

He refutes you thus

In the photo at left, Justice Anthony Kennedy presents his considered response to Plato’s Laws, Aquinas’s Summa Contra Gentiles, Kant’s Lectures on Ethics, and his own Catholic faith.  Asked to develop his argument in a little more detail, Justice Kennedy paused and then solemnly added: “I got lifetime tenure, beyotch.” 

Court observers expect that Justice Kennedy’s subtle reasoning, backed as it is by a sophisticated philosophy of language and philosophy of law, puts him in the running for the prestigious Ockham Award for Catholic Statesmanship.  Competition for that prize has, however, been particularly fierce of late.

Cash for Cajuns

You might recall that Our Lady of Wisdom Church and Catholic Student Center in Lafayette, Louisiana kindly hosted me for a lecture back in March.  The amount of good work these folks do under the leadership of Fr. Bryce Sibley is enormous.  The church needs to raise money to restore its convent.  Please consider making a donation.  Details can be found here.