Saturday, February 18, 2012

Dan Barker vs John-Mark Miravalle Pt 2 pt ii

See the first part of part 2 here.

Miravalle's final opening argument is a logical argument and another appeal to infinity. He posits that there is a quality of "being" and a quality of "non-being", that being necessarily exists and non-being necessarily does not, and finally that being must be infinite. I'd call the argument spurious, but clearly a lot of thought has gone into it (most of it not presented here), so I'll just call it wrong.

This is a very Catholic argument. They love to say that things have essences which are in fact separate from the things themselves. For example, every week, thousands of Catholics speak a magic incantation over a cracker and it loses its essential crackerness and becomes the flesh of a Jewish zombie. They then perform engage in ritual cannibalism on the zombie and speak some more incantations. This is known as the magic of transubstantiation. The substance of the cracker is changed, without changing anything about the cracker at all to the substance of the flesh of Yeshua bin Yusef.

In this case Miravalle is arguing, with no evidence whatsoever (after all, this is a "logical" argument) that everything that exists partakes of the quality of being, and everything that doesn't exist partakes of the quality of non-being. As nothing that doesn't exist actually exists, the quality of non-being does not, in fact, exist. Therefore, being is infinite.

Awha? He makes something of a leap there and argues that the quality of being is entirely separate and somehow physical or spatial, and necessarily infinite.

This all goes back to the Aristotelian metaphysics that Catholicism gleefully saddled itself with back in the middle ages when Greek philosophy made it back to Europe after its time in Arabia. Aristotle and Plato differed on many things, but the church took up the notion of Platonic ideals, as they meshed quite well with the Christian notion of the soul.

It is possible to consider the concept of 'woodiness' as something separate from actual wooden things. Wood is a fibrous material of a certain stiffness, a certain ability to be shaped and carved, a certain resilience, but a certain pliancy, and this varies from wood to wood, and also depends upon the thickness and treatment of the wood. But does woodiness exist separately from actual wooden objects in any real sense? Is there some aether in which you'll find the notion of parabolas existing independently of the equations they represent, and the paper we draw them on? We can consider the notion of the color red and understand that it is an assigned quality, something our mind perceives without true external reality, a symbol that the brain has attached to a certain wavelength, or combination of wavelengths, of light.

But do any of these abstract concepts have an external reality? If they do, then Miravalle's argument may begin to have a leg to stand on, because if being, as a quality, exists separately from the objects that exist once they are imbued with that quality, then we can begin to consider the qualities that the quality possesses.

At that point his argument leaves the purely logical realm, because it posits the existence of this realm of the platonic ideals, and further attributes facts, qualities, and indeed very real being to these notions, as if the fact of assertion is all the proof necessary that the thing asserted has a factual reality.

The best argument against Plato's Theory of Forms was advanced by Plato himself, as well as Aristotle (though Plato was doing it in order to rebut the argument so as to strengthen his theory). It's known as the Third Man Argument. A man is a man, and he partakes of the form of a man, but part of the form of the man is partaking of the form of the man, so there is another form, that being partaking of the form of a man that is also part of the form of a man, but this means that partaking of that form is also part of the form... Essentially, the Platonic ideals are self-contradictory. In this case, everything partakes of the essence of being, including the essence of being itself.

However, where the Theory of Forms breaks down, Miravalle runs with it and posits that the essence of being is necessarily infinite, which may be why he somehow gives it a physical reality. But his argument is incomplete and full of holes, because he argues that the essence of being exists and all extant things partake of it, but that non-being cannot exist because only non-existent things could partake of it, and they don't exist, which means the essence of non-being must not exist for them to partake of. But even in the absence of a thing partaking of a form (say a room devoid of chairs) that wouldn't mean that a form didn't exist for something to potentially, eventually, partake of it. In fact, even though the form of non-being is a form that cannot be taken by any thing, that doesn't mean that the ideal notion, the Form of non-existence doesn't itself exist in the Platonic theory. In this way, the Platonic Theory of Forms may defeat even Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem. Even members that can't be a member of the set can be a member of the set.

In any event, I cannot accept his notion of forms (the essence of being in this place) that exist separately from the things that partake of those forms, because the qualities of physical objects only exist as they are embodied by physical objects. And even temporarily granting the forms, there is no reason to accept that they have some sort of physical reality in themselves, rather than an ideal, non-physical reality. And even granting some separate universe, there's no reason to grant the form of Being some sort of infinite physical presence because there's no reason not to grant the form of non-Being the same physical reality as the form of Being. And then his final step is perhaps his most egregious failure.

There's no reason to say that this essence of being is god, and particularly not the Christian god.

As a final parting shot, Miravalle delivers a half-formed transcendental apologetic: that just as morality and being descend from god, so too does logic descend from god and therefore the atheist cannot argue against the existence of god because doing so requires the use of logic which requires admitting that god exists. Fortunately, the statement is poorly fleshed out, not well-developed, and I wouldn't have noticed it if I hadn't learned a bit about transcendental apologetics. I hope Barker doesn't respond to it, but as he's a reformed Pentacostalist preacher, I've no idea what his debate style is like. I also hope he doesn't fall into the trap of trying to respond to Miravalle's arguments, weak as they are, but rather correctly identifies that each of them is, in its own way, a restatement of the Kalam Cosmological argument, points out the ultimate weakness of that argument, and dismisses all three.

Next: Barker's turn at the podium.
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