Cosmological Completeness

Cosmological Completeness

“Incomplete cosmology” is one of my favorite oblique philosophical terms to throw around in conversations with my wife. She’s usually the only person that immediately knows what on earth I’m talking about. So what is incomplete cosmology? That’s a wee bit of a longish explanation. It’s when a philosophical or theological opinion does not include an adequate cosmological explanation. In other words, it doesn’t answer the cosmological argument.

The cosmological argument, first advanced by Saint Thomas Aquinas in his Summa Contra Gentiles and Summa Theologiae, basically says that everything around us is dependent on some cause. Everything around us depends on something else to explain it. Everything is an effect that has a cause. In order to adequately explain all these causes, there must be something that does not depend on another cause to explain itself. There must be something that necessarily exists, that explains its own existence. This is the uncaused cause, which the Angelic Doctor identifies with God. He then employs many other arguments to describe the nature of God.

About a year ago, YouTube personality Hank Green posted a video for his “Philosophy CrashCourse” looking at Aquinas’s cosmological argument. It gives a very cursory explanation of what the argument is, then proceeds to “debunk” it. Hank Green does not have a formal philosophy background, and it really shows. He considers the Aquinas argument by taking it out of the context of the Summa Theologiae.. He also only considers Aquinas, ignoring the 800 years of philosophy since then that have thoroughly answered all of Green’s arguments. The details of the cosmological argument as discussed in the last century are often formulated quite differently than they were during the age of Medieval Scholasticism. Green is interesting in arguing with 13th century philosophy, rather than 21st century philosophy. Perhaps he realizes he would lose a fair fight.

This month, Matt Fradd posted a detailed explanation rebutting Green’s arguments. I encourage you to go listen to it. It’s the reason that I don’t feel obligated to answer all of Green’s bad rhetoric. I don’t 100% love Fradd’s explanation either, but I like about 95% of it, and my disagreements aren’t of paramount significance. So please go listen to him, and see why Hank Green’s video is silly.

I think Green’s poor arguments are indicative of a wider philosophical undertone that ignores one of the most important questions posed by man. I call it the cosmological question: Why is there something rather than nothing? It’s called cosmological because cosmological means something relating to the origin or the development of the universe. The question asks WHY is there anything at all rather than nothing ever existing.

Hank Green identifies as an atheist, and many atheists seem to ignore the cosmological question. Often atheists respond to the  question with a half-baked answer involving the multi-verse theory, saying that we live in only one of the infinity universes, containing every possibility. Thus, it is not that our universe is special, since every potential combination that could exist does. Putting aside the fact that this is a completely unprovable theory and also putting aside the seeming absurdity of infinite parallel universes, this still doesn’t answer the basis question. Instead, it multiplies the question. The question then becomes, why do infinite universes exist, rather than nothing existing? This theory explains nothing. Instead, it makes the question more pressing.

There are even theists who do not answer the cosmological questions. Mormons, for instance, have a very different view of God than Christianity does. Mormons do not make an ontological distinction between God and man. In other words, the Mormon “Heavenly Father” and human beings are essentially the same type of entity, just at different points of personal development. Mormons believe that earth is a planet created/populated by a god, and that human beings can develop into gods too and create/populate their own planets. Mormons posit an “Eternal Progression,” implying that the god they believe in was once merely a man like us, on a planet created by a different god. Mormonism has an “incomplete cosmology” because it does not explain why there are any human-to-god entities to begin with. Rather, each god in Mormonism is a dependent entity whose existence is explained by the planet or god that brought it into being, rather than explaining itself.

Hinduism also is an incomplete cosmology. The gods of Hinduism rise and fall in an infinite cycle of death and rebirth, just as Hindus believe that human beings are reincarnated on earth. Hinduism does not explain why there is any such cycle, or why any of the Hindu gods must exist. Hinduism does not explain why the world is, rather than there being no world at all.

So in considering any philosophical or theological system, ask yourself whether the system is cosmologically complete. It may not have the right answer to why there is something rather than nothing. But if it has no answer to the cosmological question, then it will necessarily leave unanswered many of the burning questions of the human heart.

Advertisements

Incapable of Justice

Incapable of Justice

I’m an attorney. I have a law degree and I’m admitting to practice law in the State of Alabama. As an officer of the Court, the law imparts responsibilities on me. When representing my clients, I have to abide by the Court’s orders, enforce the Court’s orders, cooperate in the administration of justice as described by the law. My education, my bar admission, my entire career is precipitated on the assumption that the law actually is just.

The fact is that the law is not always just. The law is limited and often allows people to act with imminent injustice. Our very best friends have been going through something really difficult, really painful right now. We can’t help them. They can’t help themselves. It’s an awful situation. And it’s one that the law allows. The law in their situation—and in many situations—can never be perfect. But for them and their situation, the law as it is allows them to be hurt by a stranger. I’m undecided on the morality of the stranger’s choice, but it has nonetheless been harmful to these very dear friends of mine.

The law is orderly and meaningful and necessary. I’m a defense attorney. When I’m researching case precedent or statutes and find the perfect point of law, I feel like I’m putting up a shield in front of my clients, or drawing a line in the sand. I get to use the law to say “this far and no further.”

I spend a lot of time defending and promoting the law to the people around me. I tell a person “the law can protect you from that” and “the law doesn’t allow that” or “a lawyer can help you” or “You really need a lawyer for that.” But sometimes the law can’t protect a person, and then I feel truly limited. Because the law is indeed limited. It has only general rules and only general priorities. It cannot account for the intricacies and fallenness of the world we live in. It is so often not capable of justice.

This is why a man (or a woman) cannot live by the law alone. Every person, to be moral, must act justly. But the law is not always just. If you live only by the law, you never give to charity, or forgive transgressions, or protect the youngest of the young. To live morally, or justly, one must enforce on oneself a great number of prohibitions and responsibilities that the law does not.

Legality is not morality. Of course, this is not a new idea. Saint Thomas Aquinas recognized many centuries ago that “an unjust law is not a law,” arguing that any purported law which requires unjust actions has no imperative force. The Twentieth Century saw plenty of homicidal regimes who wrote their own laws and never broke them while they killed en masse. The world knew that these were immoral acts, regardless of the laws involved.

But our society, our culture does not seem recognize the same immorality involving only a single person. When the law has ever considered an act and not outlawed it (or removed a prohibition against it), society finds it acceptable. This is true of abortion; contraception; drinking yourself into oblivion in your own home regardless of the effect on your family. The law allows all kinds of terrible actions, and so often our culture does not grasp that morality goes beyond the scant prohibitions of the law.

In any case, I’m hurting for my friends right now, and they’re hurting a lot more than me. I feel helpless, which is not how I usually feel when the law is involved. This time the law is no help, and that’s unbelievably disappointing to me. I want the law to work for people, and not against them; to protect people, not leave them exposed. This time that wasn’t the case. Nothing about my friends caused them to earn the treatment they’ve received. There’s nothing they could have done differently or better to change the situation. The law just favored someone else, and favored them regardless of how it affected these friends. That’s not fair, or just. But the law is often incapable of justice. It’s incapable of righting all the wrongs in the world because we’re in it and we’re human, and humans make wrongs.

Only God can fix us or our broken world, and he is a perfect lawgiver, a perfect legislator for every perfectly human circumstance. His laws are difficult, but they are knowable and wise. They do not prioritize as the laws of this world do, but only prioritize for our good. Where my friends are concerned, I don’t think those laws were perfectly honored, and deep pain follows. Please say a prayer for them in a difficult time, that God may see them clear to healing.

The Final Frontier: Godlessness?

The Final Frontier: Godlessness?

My wife and I celebrated our sixth anniversary on Sunday. Happy Anniversary, Sweetie! I can’t believe it’s been six years since we got married (at age 21!). I wouldn’t trade a second of it for the world. Unfortunately, I couldn’t think of any significant, groundbreaking statement to make on marriage, or our wonderful marriage specifically, so this post is about science fiction.

I am gigantic sci-fi nerd. YUUUGE. Recently, my three-year-old asked me what my favorite movie was, and I had a hard time deciding if it was Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn or Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. Apparently John Carter was a gigantic flop; I thought it was fantastic. And I almost always have a space-obsessed novel on my nightstand. Right now it’s a fantasy piece recommended by a friend, but that’s not the norm.

I love speculative fiction, but I’m struck that the future speculated is always so decidedly atheist. Futuristic fiction so often discounts religion as meaningless hocus-pocus or as a harmful set of superstitions. This pattern holds true across a huge spectrum of the genre. The “big three” authors of classical sci-fi all lean toward atheism. I love Robert Heinlein (Go read The Moon is a Harsh Mistress right now; it’s amazing), but he treats religion as essentially silly throughout Job: A Comedy of Justice. Arthur C. Clarke advances a fairly naturalistic viewpoint, and Isaac Asimov is so atheistic that a friend of mine who is also a big sci-fi reader has stopped reading his stories. That compelled me to not start reading them. More recent authors, such as Robert Charles Wilson, also often treat religion with a similar skepticism. The major contemporary exception is Orson Scott Card, a noted theist (who is Mormon and tries really hard, but gets Catholicism totally wrong in Speaker for the Dead).

One of the biggest culprits is also my favorite series: Star Trek is intentionally secular. Both Gene Roddenberry (series creator) and Brannon Braga (who wrote Star Trek for TV for almost 20 years) are on record as intentionally keeping human religion out of the series as much as possible. Alien religions are another issue. Those get a lot of screen time, but humans are “more enlightened.”

My question is why? The main thrust of these sci-fi stories is that technology will be more advanced in the future, and that humans will know more, meet lots of new types of people, and explore many new places. Why should those things cause humans to “lose” religion? Humans have been advancing in technology, and meeting new people, and finding new places, for thousands of years. But this hasn’t been the impetus for humans ditching religion. Admittedly, in many cases, it has been the cause of people taking up a new religion. But humans haven’t ditched spirituality.

So why has science fiction? What is that these authors are speculating about? Ultimately, I think it’s a rejection of the morality that religion stands for. Sci-fi authors seem to think that religion is little and includes only little concerns, such as sexual morality. Star Trek: The Next Generation is often labeled “The Sex Generation,” and with good reason. It has no reference to Christianity, but Commander Riker finds a new alien to bed in every other episode. There’s a certain crass dichotomy to it. The less we talk about religion, the more we’re going to focus on the types of things that a typical viewer’s religion frowns on. For predominately atheist sci-fi authors, a world without religion is one in which they don’t have to encounter the superstitions of believers, or be told that they should exercise restraint in personal decisions.

But if that is really the view of these authors, they are wrong for at least two reasons. One, a world essentially devoid of human religion is perhaps the least plausible facet of the future that these authors speculate to. Questions of a higher power have dominated human thought for thousands upon thousands of years. There is no reason to believe that humans will stop posing these questions in the few hundred years it takes for the Borg to reach earth. The human heart longs to know why there is something rather than nothing, and whether there is life after death. Science doesn’t answer these questions, but religion and philosophy can.

Secondly, this view is wrong because religion—specifically the True Religion of Jesus Christ—is anything but little. It is not concerned with the small things of this world, but with the grandeurs of eternity. Many sci-fi authors dream of a perfect world, and that’s a good thing. But they do not consider the human soul, the human need for the eternal. These authors look to technology to solve our problems, to make our temporal world a paradise. But the great promise that these authors are looking for isn’t speculation. It isn’t a dream. The wonderful future they yearn for is real, is guaranteed, in the Life Everlasting. But it is through religion, which they think will be eliminated from the future, that this perfection comes. These authors dream too small, when reality is already so big.

What Do I Want For My Daughters?

What Do I Want For My Daughters?

This past weekend, my wife and I got out to see Wonder Woman, our first time going to a theater since our younger daughter was born (Today is her first birthday. HAPPY BIRTHDAY, LITTLE BUDDY!!). It was a fantastic film that I highly recommend and it’s about time that we get to see Wonder Woman on the big screen. This past weekend was also Father’s Day. The happenstance juxtaposition of those two things has me reflecting for the hundredth time: What Do I Want For My Daughters?

I want to tell them that they can be a superhero, that they really can do anything they want to. But I also want them to know that just because you can do a thing doesn’t mean you should or that they have to. It may not be what you are called to, and it may not be what the people around you need. Do I want my girls to get an education? Yes. Do I want them to go to war? No. Do I want them to have a successful career? I don’t know.

We’re working on the education right now, and will be as long we can. I’ve been blessed with a stellar education. My wife and my mother and my sister all have fancy degrees to show how much they’ve learned, and I want the same thing for my daughters. I want my daughters to learn how to think, because that will prepare them for anything that God calls them to, whether it be motherhood or religious life or a certain career path.

That said, there are certain things that my daughters are capable of that I don’t want them to do. One of them is go to war. Watching a superhero film like Wonder Woman necessarily makes you think of physical fights, and that’s one thing I don’t want for them. One day they’ll be capable. If they find themselves needing to protect their families, they’ll do it, and I’ll be proud of them. But I don’t want them to seek out that fight. A civilized society acknowledges that women and children are deserving of protection, even when women are able to protect themselves.

A career? Do I want my girls to grow up to have big powerful careers? If they have small children, no. No, I don’t. Children need their mothers, and small children need their mothers in a big way. My wife cares for our girls full-time, not because she doesn’t have other desires, but because she recognizes that it’s the best way to serve them right now. I know that daycare is an economic reality for many families. But the idea of my girls being cared for by strangers makes my heart itch. And if my babies have babies, I want my girls to know that being a mother is a calling in itself. It’s something to be celebrated, not derided as less than a career. Our Blessed Mother wasn’t known for a career, and my daughters don’t have to be either.

What I want most for my girls, is for them to do what God calls them to do. In this life, there’s absolutely no decision more important. God has a plan for each of my wonderful girls, one that he will guide them on, and which will bring them immense fulfillment, just as my marriage and my fatherhood fulfills God’s plan for me. In order for them to do that, they need a good Dad. I think a good Dad in this case has to acknowledge, with the Church and with post-1960s America, that women can contribute in every sphere. Also, a good Dad has to balance this acknowledgement with the practical application of Christianity: we can all do a lot, but there’s something real and specific God wants us to do. Pray that I can be a good Dad for my little girls.

Dominate Your Darn Dog

Dominate Your Darn Dog

This weekend, a co-worker of mine at a previous job was mauled by an “emotional support animal” on a Delta plane waiting to leave the Atlanta airport. Apparently, Marlin had the window seat while the middle seat had two passengers in it—a service member and the 50-pound dog in his lap. This dog started growling at Marlin as he was putting on his seatbelt, and then lunged at him, opening up Marlin’s face and puncturing his lip and gums. Marlin was pinned between the dog and the window for 30 seconds while this animal tore at him. The pictures are bad, and the lawsuit is coming swiftly against Delta.

This whole situation has made me livid, for a couple of reasons. Firstly, something terrible and completely preventable happened to a guy who was great to work with. There was absolutely no reason for Delta to allow this dog to travel in the way it did. If it had been in a crate, there wouldn’t have been a problem. If the dog had been muzzled, there wouldn’t have been a problem. Had the dog and its owner had their own aisle, there wouldn’t have been a problem. Instead, the owner and the airline thought it was a good idea to put a large dog in a cramped space with strangers on both sides of it. And for their terrible judgment, a man got seriously hurt.

Secondly, this situation makes me angry because it shows how out of whack our priorities are when it comes to animals. The proliferation of emotional support animals (many of which have little or absolutely no training) has made us think that our animals are responsible for us. They are not. We are responsible for their well-being, and for their behavior.

Sacred Scripture commands us to “fill the earth and subdue it. Have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and all the living things that crawl on the earth.” The common law in the United States imposes on everyone a duty to exercise reasonable care in their interactions with every other person. So whether we look at the Divine Law or the positive law, we can come to the same conclusion: if you bring an animal into a public space meant for humans, you are responsible making sure that animal doesn’t hurt any innocent party. We can’t pretend that animals aren’t dangerous and won’t hurt anyone. We must treat them as unknowns and react aggressively if an animal threatens a person.

Why favor the person? Because the person is made in the image and likeness of God. The person possesses inherent dignity. An animal does not. An animal only has the right not to be mistreated. But any action toward an animal that’s meant to protect a person is not mistreating that animal. A human person is immortal, invaluable, worthy of the redemptive power of the Cross. An animal threatening an innocent person must be neutralized.

I know that when I say all this, a few people reading jump to a few conclusions, ones like:

  • “He must hate dogs.” No, I hate cats. I grew up with dogs, and I love a good puppy, but I believe that dogs have a place in our society. Usually, that place is behind fences or outside on a leash. Occasionally, that place is guiding a blind person or sniffing out a bomb. But those special tasks must be assigned only with caution, real regulation, and extensive training.
  • “It probably wasn’t the dog’s fault.” I’m not blaming the dog. The dog doesn’t have a free will and isn’t a moral actor. There really isn’t any such thing as a “good dog” or a “bad dog.” Animals don’t make moral choices. People do. So I’m blaming Delta and blaming the dog owner. The owner had a responsibility to assert dominion over his dog. The airline had a responsibility to protect its passengers. Neither of them fulfilled those obligations.
  • “The guy probably provoked him.” Yes, let’s blame the victim and see where that gets us. Eyewitnesses say Marlin wasn’t threatening the dog or the owner. He wasn’t even trying to touch the dog. And let’s be frank: a lot of times, it doesn’t matter whether or not an animal is being provoked. A child doesn’t know what a dog might find threatening. A child doesn’t know that he shouldn’t be in a gorilla habitat. But we still have to subdue nature when nature imperils the welfare of a human being.

Enjoy your pets. That’s why God made them. But remember that you’re in charge. Go out there and subdue the earth. And please say a prayer for Marlin and his family.

Why A Fight?

You may wonder why I’ve chosen to call this page “Marked for the Fight”. It’s because I’ve always wanted to be a knight. Obviously.

No, I’m not talking about a physical fight. Anyway, “real” knights these days make films or write songs or discover elements. They don’t ride into battle. The name of this page refers to a spiritual fight.

When I was growing up, there was a framed piece above my bed. It said “Mark: A Mighty Warrior” above 1 Timothy 6:12, “Fight the Good Fight of Faith and lay hold on Eternal Life, to which thou art also called.” Now, this was Saint Paul’s exhortation to Timothy, not to the evangelist John Mark. But I think this fighting verse was used to describe my name because the Roman name “Mark” comes from Mars, the god of war, and refers to one who is warlike.

Christianity is a struggle. It is an internal fight against concupiscence, against our vices, against addiction to sin. It is an external fight for the truth and for a culture that is safe for our children. Each of us must work each day to conquer our own demons, grow closer to God, love others. Each of us is fighting something and fighting for something.

Is the struggle worth it? Yes. The verse promises that if we persevere in the struggle, we will gain Eternal Life. We will spend eternity in heaven with God. Thus we are each called to fight for the faith and that’s my focus in writing here. Why did I say “marked” for the fight instead of “called”? Because I’m a Dad; I’m not allowed to say no to a good pun.