O noes! I have to read Aquinas

Edward Feser, a Catholic philosopher and associate professor at Pasadena City College, has taken strong exception to my complaints about having to read theology.   In response, he’s written a long critique on his blog, largely in the form of a dialogue, called “A clue for Jerry Coyne.

It doesn’t really merit much discussion, since in the end he pushes one line of “strong” evidence for God (see below), but I would be remiss if I didn’t address his claims.  Feser first takes exception to my taking guidance from Eric MacDonald for a theology reading list.  He implies that MacDonald isn’t neutral but biased against religion.  Well, Feser can stuff it here: yes, Eric rejected faith and resigned as an Anglican priest, but the stuff he’s recommended to me is straight-out mainline theology, written by distinguished theologians—most of them good Christians.  Nothing he’s recommended has been critical of theology, much less written by agnostics or atheists.

The main part of Feser’s post is an imaginary dialogue between two people: “Scientist” and “Skeptic,” designed to mock my disparaging remarks of theology.  “Scientist” tells “Skeptic” (someone who wants to learn about science), that to master the field he has to read all kinds of stuff.  That stuff, according to “Skeptic” (read Feser here) is just as pretentious and obscure as theology, and, further, never provides evidence for its claims. Here’s part of the dialogue.

  • Skeptic: Not in what I’ve read these last few weeks.  For example, read a book like Gregory’s Eye and Brain and you’ll find he talks about how evolution did this or how photons do that.  But he never gives us any argument for the existence of these “photon” thingies, and he never answers all the objections people have made to evolution.  It’s all based on faith
  • Scientist: He doesn’t address those things at length because the book is about vision, and not photons or evolution per se.  He can take that stuff for granted because other people have argued for it elsewhere.  He isn’t even trying to answer skeptics about evolution or modern physics in a book like that.  Really, do you expect every science book to start from square one and recapitulate what others have already said about every issue that might be relevant to a subject, just to satisfy skeptics like you?
  • Skeptic: But their belief in these things is not based on argument.  It’s based on peer pressure, groupthink, the fear of being ostracized.  The so-called “arguments” you refer to are just rationalizations for what scientists were indoctrinated into believing while in school and what all their colleagues expect them to believe when they go to conferences, try to get tenure or funding or to get their papers accepted for publication, etc.  It reflects the worship of science that dominates our society – its pop culture, its educational institutions, commerce and industry, you name it.  It’s all socially constructed, not based in reality.

According to Feser, if you replace “Skeptic” with “Coyne” and “Scientist” with “Theologian,” then “you’ve got a dead-on summary of Coyne’s attitude toward theology”.

Well, pretty much—except for one thing.  Two actually.  First, unlike theologians, scientists do have credible evidence for the existence of photos, evolution, and other claims about science.  Second, you can get the evidence for, say, evolution, in pretty much one book: WEIT, or Mayr’s What Evolution Is, or Futuyma’s Science on Trial, or Dawkins’s The Greatest Show on Earth.  You don’t have to read a whole library, or endless exegeses (is that the right plural?) to see why scientists accept scientific facts.  There is no “naive” science or “sophisticated” science.  There’s just science, much of it accessible to the layperson.

Now Feser’s point is this:  in my un-serious quest to learn theology, I am neglecting the Very Powerful Evidence for God that Dawkins failed to present in The God Delusion.  What is that evidence?

Aquinas’s cosmological argument!

Recall what that argument is: it’s a First Cause argument, which has various versions, most involving the claim that every contingent being (or the Universe itself in the  Kalām version) had to have a cause, and contingent beings can’t ultimately be caused by other contingent beings. Therefore there must be a necessary being—a First Cause—to get it all rolling, and that’s God.  QED.  Alternatively, what “caused” the Universe. It couldn’t cause itself, so there must have been God.

The counterarguments to this claim are well known, and in fact Dawkins summarizes them well. The most obvious one is the unsupported claim that the First Cause doesn’t need a cause itself: it is, uniquely exempt from cause. In other words, you’re not allowed to ask, “What caused God”?  But that’s not a proof but an unsupported claim.  And, of course, there are some things in the universe that don’t have causes, one being radioactive decay.  As far as we know, that just happens without any cause.  And, likewise, the Universe could just “happen”, as physicist Victor Stenger maintains.

These are only a few of the many problems with the cosmological argument; you can see others in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosphy entry.

Now, according to Feser, my summary above is surely unsophisticated, and I guess so is the Stanford Encyclopedia’s. You must, he says, read many books to grasp the subtlety and strength of this argument:

Traditionally, the central argument for God’s existence is the cosmological argument, and (also traditionally) the most important versions of that argument are the ones summed up in the first three of Aquinas’s Five Ways.  But the typical modern reader is simply not going to understand the Five Ways just by reading the usual two-page excerpt one finds in anthologies.  For one thing, the arguments were never intended to be stand-alone, one-stop proofs that would convince even the most hardened skeptic.  They are only meant to be brief sketches of arguments the more detailed versions of which the intended readers of Aquinas’s day would have found elsewhere.  For another thing, the terminology and argumentative moves presuppose a number of metaphysical theses that Aquinas also develops and defends elsewhere.

So, to understand the Five Ways, the modern reader needs to read something that makes all this background clear, that explains how modern Thomists would reply to the stock objections to the arguments, and so forth.  Naturally, I would recommend my own book Aquinas, since it was intended in part precisely as an up-to-date explanation and defense of these arguments, and will provide the reader with a useful survey of what not only Aquinas, but the Thomistic tradition more generally, has said about them.  (I do some of this in The Last Superstition too, of course.  But that book does not deal with the Third Way, as the Aquinas book does.  Moreover, New Atheists – who have a sense of humor about everything but themselves – are likely to make the polemical tone of TLS an excuse for dismissing its arguments.  This is unreasonable, of course, especially given their own excessive polemics – I’m only fighting fire with fire – but there it is.)

Feser goes on to list seven more books and six articles that I have to read, including stuff by William Lane Craig.  There is never an end to it!  Like the Cosmological Argument itself, grasping it apparently requires an infinite regress of reading, and if I still reject the evidence after reading Aquinas and Feser’s own book, well, I just have to read more books.  And if I still don’t grasp the argument then, well, there are shelves of books in the University of Chicago Library that I must consult.

This is madness.  And if I reject the cosmological argument, there are other “subtle” theological arguments for God that I don’t fully grasp, and shelves of books to support them.  Unless you read literally hundreds of books, you don’t qualify for your Discussing Theology merit badge.  In contrast, you can read only one book to fully grasp both the tenets and evidence for evolution.

Well, I think the Cosmological Argument is just dumb, and so do many philosophers.  But to do Feser a favor, I will read Aquinas.  Fortunately, someone, and that someone is the creationist Paul Nelson, placed a copy of Aquinas in my department mailbox this week—just in time!  Now that’s proof of God!

462 Comments

  1. Reginald Selkirk
    Posted July 13, 2011 at 7:40 am | Permalink

    Fesser goes on to list seven more books and six articles that I have to read, including stuff by William Lane Craig

    If you have to go down that hole, you will find that Craig says incredibly stupid things on probability and infinity. He might “win” debates in front of live audiences, but he won’t be impressing anyone with an education in mathematics.

    • FreedToChoose
      Posted July 13, 2011 at 9:51 am | Permalink

      For a view of what happens when an Anglian priest thinks about Christian theology read some Don Cupitt or his web posted The Religion of Ordinary Life

    • PeteJohn
      Posted July 13, 2011 at 11:28 am | Permalink

      It’s amazing to me that Craig is looked at as some great scholar by many believers. The guy seems to believe being a philosopher gives him the authority to speak on all sorts of topics, but then when he debates experts in that field he gets slapped down. Hard. Ehrman and Krauss both demonstrated his pronouncements are really just rationalizations of his chosen belief system dressed up in quasi-intellectual babble.

    • Badger3k
      Posted July 13, 2011 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

      Instead of reading Craig, stick your head in a bucket of feces. The smell will be better, and you might actually learn something useful (and true).

  2. Jeremy Nel
    Posted July 13, 2011 at 7:44 am | Permalink

    I’m paraphrasing here, but I believe it was Bertrand Russell who famously noted that the “First Cause” argument was not just bad, but uniquely terrible: not only does the conclusion (there is a Prime Mover) not follow from its premise (everything has a cause), but it is actually DISPROVED by it!

    • Blah
      Posted July 13, 2011 at 9:32 am | Permalink

      Wonderful, thank you!

    • Drew
      Posted July 13, 2011 at 10:56 am | Permalink

      Yeah I always like to sum up this argument in the face of those making it thusly: “So your argument is that everything requires a cause and therefore there exists something that doesn’t require a cause…And you think that this argument is logical?”

      • Arthur
        Posted August 10, 2011 at 5:32 pm | Permalink

        “…everything requires a cause”

        No, that’s not the first premise. It’s not even the first premise as described by Coyne. (“Every CONTINGENT BEING had to have a cause…”)

        Attack the argument if you want, but don’t attack a crude decoy.

    • PeteJohn
      Posted July 13, 2011 at 11:31 am | Permalink

      Everything requires a cause. Except for this one thing that doesn’t. That is God.

      In other words… Everything requires a cause because I have to come up with a way to shove in my chosen deity. But doesn’t that need a cause… Nah. That deity is special!

      This somehow passes as intellectualism. I can practically feel my brain melting.

      • Posted July 16, 2011 at 10:52 am | Permalink

        “Those who will not have a softening of the heart will have a softening of the brain.”

    • Ye Olde Statistician
      Posted July 13, 2011 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

      “…its premise (everything has a cause)”

      Since that is not the premise, Feser is probably correct about the need to learn the basics.

      “not only does the conclusion (there is a Prime Mover) not follow from its premise…”

      It actually does. What needs rebuttal is the metaphysical background.

      (Coyne) “The most obvious one is the unsupported claim that the First Cause doesn’t need a cause itself: it is, uniquely exempt from cause. In other words, you’re not allowed to ask, “What caused God”?

      Not sure why you think it’s unsupported. Aristotle supported it quite well, and he was not even a “Catholic.” What Aristotle’s argument concluded to was the necessary existence of an uncaused cause. Try asking “What caused the uncaused cause?” and you will see how silly it sounds. If the first cause itself had a cause, it would not be the *first* cause. The argument has to be against whether a series of causes ordered per se necessarily has a first cause. Keeping in mind that
      1. Series ordered per accidens could logically be infinite and not have first causes, as Aquinas cheerfully allowed. (He did not know about general relativity and the big bang in his day, and knew of no philosophical argument that would establish a beginning in time. (His rule was that no revelation could be used to demonstrate a question in philosophy.))
      2. “First” did not mean “first in time sequence” but “first in logical priority.” A per se series typically operates in the present, and does not go back in time except in a trivial sense.
      3. Keep in mind also that kinesis, motus, or motion did not mean strictly local motion, but any sort of change. To the realist physicists, kinesis was any sort of change: an apple moving from green to red, a tiger moving from cub to adult, etc. Change of location was only one sort of change.

      It is only after a fair number of additional Questions were answered that Thomas Aquinas concluded that the uncaused cause was what Christians called “God.”

      • Dan L.
        Posted July 13, 2011 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

        Since that is not the premise, Feser is probably correct about the need to learn the basics.

        I have never seen a formulation of the cosmological argument that did not include something like “all contingent events are caused.” Which opens up the necessary/contingent can of worms and I don’t want to get into that. the point is that the whole argument rests on some very shaky notions about causality.

        • Arthur
          Posted September 3, 2011 at 6:56 am | Permalink

          That’s a pity, because opening up that “can of worms” is REQUIRED to understand the argument. How can you expect to understand what “every contingent being has a cause” means if you don’t know what a contingent being is?

          I suspect that you “don’t want to get into that” because you don’t understand it and are afraid of exposing your ignorance.

      • Posted July 13, 2011 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

        “…its premise (everything has a cause)”

        Since that is not the premise, Feser is probably correct about the need to learn the basics.

        Perhaps you could enlighten us, then as to what the premise actually is, and how it does not logically reduce to “everything needs a cause except for Jesus”?

        Cheers,

        b&

        • Ye Olde Statistician
          Posted July 13, 2011 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

          The premise in the second argument is:
          1. Our senses reveal an ordering of efficient causes in the world.
          2. Nothing can be the cause of itself, for then it would have to be prior to itself, which is impossible.
          IOW, he never says “everything has a cause.” He only says that some things have causes. That is sufficient.
          That there must be a first cause of a per se ordered series of causes is evident, because:
          A series is ordered per se if the intermediate causes have their causal power through the concurrent operation of a prior cause. For example, the clarinet has no power to make music unless someone is playing it, right now. It has the potential to make music, but the potential must be actualized by, for example, Sharon Kam. Similarly, a golf club does not have the power to drive the ball unless the hands are gripping it and the arms are moving the hands, which requires the muscles to be contracting, which requires the nerves to be signaling, which requires the motor neurons to be firing, which requires the intention of the golfer.
          Quite obviously, if there were no first cause in a series ordered per se, none of the subsequent causes would have the power to move or cause anything, and there would be no ultimate effect. Thus, because there must be a first cause, there cannot be an infinite regress. Other considerations demonstrate that the first cause is itself uncaused. To ask what causes an uncaused cause is foolish. To identify the uncaused cause with the Christian God requires a number of additional arguments.
          You need not buy the Christian God, but it is not because Aristotle was a fool.

          • Tulse
            Posted July 13, 2011 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

            Nothing can be the cause of itself

            To ask what causes an uncaused cause is foolish.

            You honestly can’t see how silly the pair of these statements are?

            • Ye Olde Statistician
              Posted July 14, 2011 at 8:48 am | Permalink

              But why not a reasoned response rather than a flippant remark?

              • Posted July 14, 2011 at 8:52 am | Permalink

                Because such idiotic silliness seriously asserted deserves nothing more than flippancy.

                When attempting a logical proof and you obviously contradict yourself on the next line…well, come back when you’re tall enough to enter the ride.

                Sorry, kid.

                b&

              • Tulse
                Posted July 14, 2011 at 8:56 am | Permalink

                What kind of reasoned “response” do you want, other that “Your two premises contradict each other”? How is it “flippant” to point out the contradiction? Honestly, what else is there to say?

              • whyevolutionistrue
                Posted July 14, 2011 at 9:11 am | Permalink

                Oh come on, Ben, you don’t need to use such invective. “Boobish persiflage” would be better, but we don’t have to call names here. It ain’t Pharyngula!

              • Posted July 14, 2011 at 9:31 am | Permalink

                Sorry, Jerry — but it really was a pretty silly syllogism suggested by the statistician.

                A. Everything needs a cause.
                ii. Nothing can be its own cause.
                3. Not everything needs a cause.
                fish. Some things cause themselves.
                -glerp. Ergo, have a cracker.

                It’s really, really, really hard to not only pretend to take such stuff seriously but to refrain from…well, you know….

                b&

            • Arthur
              Posted September 3, 2011 at 6:57 am | Permalink

              There’s a mistake here. The argument is not that God caused himself, it is that God is UNCAUSED. There’s a difference, and a relevant one.

              • Posted September 3, 2011 at 7:07 am | Permalink

                I can almost excuse Thomists for clinging to Aristotelian metaphysics long after the rest of the world had discarded it up until about a century ago.

                But, with the understanding that pretty much everything in the quantum world is uncaused, the last vestige of hope for salvation went right out the window.

                Might as well promote the Four Elements theory of Chemistry, the Global Pillars theory of Cosmology, and the Talking Snake theory of Ethics while you’re at it and be done with it.

                Or are you the type who gets his rocks off by arguing over engineering schematics of Harry Potter wands?

                Cheers,

                b&

          • Posted July 13, 2011 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

            Nothing can be the cause of itself.

            He only says that some things have causes.

            Quite obviously, if there were no first cause in a series ordered per se, none of the subsequent causes would have the power to move or cause anything, and there would be no ultimate effect.

            The last statement of yours I quoted most emphatically does not follow from the first two.

            If not everything has a cause, then each and every one of those things in a series might well lack causes.

            You can only get to your last statement if it is true that everything (not merely some things) have causes, which invalidates the second of your statements above.

            Finally, if some things may be uncaused, the initial claim that nothing can cause itself, even though assumed true, is irrelevant.

            And, in the end, we find that my initial summary of the Cosmological argument is, indeed, not a caricature.

            Cheers,

            b&

            • Dan L.
              Posted July 13, 2011 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

              Ben, I think he’s saying that the combination of these two premises:

              1. Our senses reveal an ordering of efficient causes in the world.
              2. Nothing can be the cause of itself, for then it would have to be prior to itself, which is impossible.

              implies “some things have causes” — there are causes but nothing can cause itself, so some things must cause other things.

              However, I agree with you that this formulation lets you get away with arbitrarily long (or short) spontaneous causal chains which tends to undercut rather than strengthen the case for God. Well, it depends somewhat on the justification for premise (1) above, but as stated it’s so problematic as to be useless (my senses also reveal gray dots at the intersections of a grid of white on a black field but that doesn’t mean they’re there).

              • Ye Olde Statistician
                Posted July 14, 2011 at 8:47 am | Permalink

                Be careful, to equate the perception of causes with optical illusions undercuts the entire foundation of natural science.

            • Ye Olde Statistician
              Posted July 14, 2011 at 8:58 am | Permalink

              That’s good, because the third statement was not supposed to follow from the first two. It is simply a consequence of essentially-ordered (“per se”) causes.

              The clarinet cannot make music unless someone is playing it right now. Such a series must have a first cause, since otherwise none of the other members of the series would have causal power at all, and there would be no effect. If a string of boxcars is moving up the track, each one pulling the one behind it, there must be a locomotive of some sort. There cannot be an infinite string of boxcars in motion unless something moved them.

              The same is not true of accidentally-ordered causes. If Adam begat Brian who begat Chuck who begat… Zeke, such a series can be infinitely long because Brian’s power to beget Chuck does not depend on Adam concurrently begetting Brian. There need be no first cause of a per accidens series.

              As for a “short” series: from a purely materialist point of view there cannot be one, since there is no reason to privilege one link in the chain by calling it the “first” or another by calling it the “last.”

              • Posted July 14, 2011 at 9:06 am | Permalink

                Once distilled and translated from theologibabble, we’re left with you claiming that some things have causes and other things don’t have causes.

                In such a situation, there’s no need for any sort of a prime cause; every break in the chain of causality can simply be one of those things that doesn’t have a cause.

                And, again, all of this is wrapped up in the incoherent dualistic theological notion of causality, which is itself undefinable. Is the clarinet making music because somebody’s blowing air through it, or because the mother of the bride hates the flue and so hired a clarinetist instead? And is the reason she hates flutes that unfortunate incident in the locker room when she was growing up? If so, perhaps the real cause was the fly that caused the janitor to spill the mop bucket in the first place.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Rob
                Posted July 14, 2011 at 9:24 am | Permalink

                “It is simply a consequence of essentially-ordered (“per se”) causes.”

                This notion of an essentially ordered causal series is a completely manufactured idea that Aristotle pulled out of his ass. Then Aquinas pressed it into service for his “proof”.

                Unfortunately for you, this notion is not tethered to reality. Essentially ordered causal series do not exist.

                Nice try though!

              • dguller
                Posted July 14, 2011 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

                >> Is the clarinet making music because somebody’s blowing air through it, or because the mother of the bride hates the flue and so hired a clarinetist instead? And is the reason she hates flutes that unfortunate incident in the locker room when she was growing up? If so, perhaps the real cause was the fly that caused the janitor to spill the mop bucket in the first place.

                The immediate cause is the air blowing through the clarinet, but there are a number of antecedent events that led up to the air being blown through the clarinet. What if the clarinetist that she hired got sick and never showed up? Would the clarinet still play music? I mean, there are a number of possible scenarios that could have resulted in air being blown through the clarinet, but they all dovetail into the air being blown through the clarinet, which is the immediate efficient cause of the music.

                But you are right that all the factors that you cited are part of the explanation of the event in question. I mean, even Aristotle recognized that there a number of explanatory variables to consider when trying to explain some phenomenon, i.e. his doctrine of the four causes, and so I’m not too sure what your point is that there is no single cause or explanation for some events. That seems to confirm Aristotle rather than negate him.

              • dguller
                Posted July 14, 2011 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

                >> This notion of an essentially ordered causal series is a completely manufactured idea that Aristotle pulled out of his ass. Then Aquinas pressed it into service for his “proof”.

                Really? You cannot see the difference between the following causal series:

                (1) A hand is pushing a stick that is pushing a leaf.
                (2) A father begets a son.

                In (1), the hand’s motion is causing the stick to move, which is causing the leaf to move. If the hand stops moving, then the stick stops moving, and the leaf stops moving. The motion of the leaf depends upon the movement of the hand. This is the per se causal series. This is what you deny can possibly exist in reality, even though we experience it all the time.

                In (2), the father caused the son to be born via sexual reproduction. However, if the father dies, then it does not follow that the son dies, as well. The son’s activity occurs largely independent of the father’s, and this is the accidental causal series.

                The point is that a series like (1) cannot go on forever, because there must be something that is keeping the whole chain in motion. However, a series like (2) can go on forever, because each link in the chain becomes self-moving on its own independent of the antecedent links. Aquinas’ first cause argument applies to series like (1), and not to series like (2). It’s not very complicated, I think.

              • dguller
                Posted July 14, 2011 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

                >> Once distilled and translated from theologibabble, we’re left with you claiming that some things have causes and other things don’t have causes.

                No. The claim is that some things are changing and in motion, and that this necessarily requires a transition from a potential state to an actual state, and this transition requires an actual cause to make it happen.

                Your argument is against the claim that the transition from a potential state to an actual state requires an actual cause to account for the transition at all. In other words, some such transitions can occur spontaneously without any antecedent conditions whatsoever. That is the whole point of radioactive decay and quantum phenomena. They seem to occur for no reason at all, but the reality is that they are events that are embedded in a subatomic world of particles, forces and energy, and not in a vacuum of nothingness.

                We may not understand how the interactions of subatomic particles, energy fields and forces results in radioactive decay, but it is nonsense to say that this context is completely irrelevant, i.e. that if there were no neighboring subatomic particles, if there were no weak forces between these particles, and if there were no energy fields at all, then you would have the SAME RESULT. That is what your claim amounts to, and it is patently ridiculous.

          • Posted July 13, 2011 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

            Greek thought did not admit actual infinities, so the “there cannot be an infinite regress” was never questioned. On the other hand, we can do better. But the premisses of the cosmological argument *still* involve special pleading, as Russell pointed out.

            Further, and worse still, the “cause of itself” stuff, while strictly correct, presupposes the old, and now known to be false (since Newton at the latest) premiss that nothing [material?] has self-activity. Inertia has, for several hundred years, falsified this peripatetic maximum, but the Catholics (and others) have not caught up.

            • Ye Olde Statistician
              Posted July 14, 2011 at 9:53 am | Permalink

              Keith: the “cause of itself” stuff, while strictly correct, presupposes the old, and now known to be false … premiss that nothing [material?] has self-activity. Inertia has, for several hundred years, falsified this peripatetic maximum…

              YOS: Actually, it was the Newtonian and Cartesian reimagining that stripped nature of immanent powers and replaced it with dead matter acted upon from the outside. You cannot suppose Aristotle never realized that a dog could move itself. (His ans. the part moves the whole.)

              But let’s not confuse an argument from motion as an argument from the ordering of efficient causes.

              “Interia” was a medieval term that meant “laziness”, which they took to mean that bodies at rest would remain at rest. Jean Buridan wrote in the 1300s that the impetus impressed on a body by a mover was permanent, and in the absence of resistance it would continue to move unless it was corrupted [changed] or diminished by another force. (“…et tunc ab impetus quam dedit eis, moventur adhuc, quia ille impetus non corrumpitur nec diminuitur, cum non habent resistentiam.”) [Quaestiones super caelo et mundo]

            • Ye Olde Statistician
              Posted July 14, 2011 at 10:37 pm | Permalink

              Further, and worse still, the “cause of itself” stuff, while strictly correct, presupposes the old, and now known to be false (since Newton at the latest) premiss that nothing [material?] has self-activity. Inertia has, for several hundred years, falsified this peripatetic maximum

              Coincidentally, and on another matter, I ran across this, which I thought would interest you:

              This is most famously embodied in Mach’s Principle (so named by Einstein), which in its simplest form states that ‘mass there influences inertia here’. More formally, it says that inertia is causally determined by the large-scale structure and distribution of matter in the universe. The idea, reminiscent of the ‘archaic cosmology’ of Aristotle, is that even the distant stars have an effect on relatively small-scale local motions, both inertial and non-inertial. Einstein himself was at one
              time sympathetic to the principle, writing to Mach that ‘inertia has its origins in a kind of interaction of bodies’, though he later rejected it. Moreover, the Lense-Thirring Effect, derived from General Relativity, predicts that the rotation of an object would alter space-time, dragging a nearby object out of position compared to the predictions of Newtonian physics. This, if experimentally verified, would give support to Mach’s Principle from within General Relativity, and whilst the existence of such verification is controversial, some physicists claim accurate measurement of the effect has been made using satellites. The status of Mach’s Principle is still a matter of debate (both its truth and its compatibility with General Relativity)

              and an interesting observation from the originator of e=mc^2

              According to Henri Poincare, the law of inertia is neither an a priori truth nor verifiable experimentally: see Science and Hypothesis (London: Walter Scott Publishing, 1905), pp. 91–3.

              IOW, it is entirely likely, though not yet certain, that inertia is caused by the large-scale gravitational influence of the universe on the body.

  3. Posted July 13, 2011 at 7:45 am | Permalink

    The Cosmological Argument isn’t merely dumb; it’s an iron-clad proof that Aquinas’s God doesn’t exist.

    Simplified, the claim is that everything that exists has a creator of some sort or another. If we take that to be true, then it is also true that nothing which exists lacks a creator. Or, in still other words, all things that lack a creator also don’t exist.

    Aquinas’s god lacks a creator.

    QED and all that.

    Cheers,

    b&

    • Tyro
      Posted July 13, 2011 at 8:31 am | Permalink

      If they were honest, they’d say “some things which exist have a creator”. Of course that doesn’t get them where they want, so they lie.

      I have had apologists tell me that God doesn’t “exist” in the way we think, and others tell me that God isn’t a “thing”. Sheesh.

      • Posted July 13, 2011 at 5:30 pm | Permalink

        “I have had apologists tell me that God doesn’t “exist” in the way we think, and others tell me that God isn’t a “thing”. Sheesh.”

        The first two are at the very heart of modern sophisticated theology, aren’t they?

        Don’t know about the third.

        • Marella
          Posted July 14, 2011 at 12:11 am | Permalink

          Well they’re right about god not existing …

    • Posted July 13, 2011 at 11:42 am | Permalink

      It was 4 AM in an elevator in the Hotel Hilbert and I was riding to my room with William Lane Craig.

      Being a modern woman, I thought I’d invite him to my room for coffee and a discussion of infinities. But I thought he might misunderstand my overture, so instead I stood silently, calculating the square root of -1.

      I’m not sure if some dubious proof of god was avoided, but of the many worlds I might have entered (probabilistically), at least a few augured disaster.

      • Posted July 13, 2011 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

        “As regards the individual nature, woman is defective and misbegotten, for the active power of the male seed tends to the production of a perfect likeness in the masculine sex; while the production of a woman comes from defect in the active power.”
        Thomas Aquinas

        • Posted July 13, 2011 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

          Heh, heh. That certainly explains a lot.

        • Tulse
          Posted July 13, 2011 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

          See how brilliant Aquinas was! He knew that sperm determines gender!

          Of course, what he called the “active power” we now call “the Y chromosome”…

      • Posted July 13, 2011 at 9:35 pm | Permalink

        Just as long as you weren’t chewing gum.

    • Badger3k
      Posted July 13, 2011 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

      But this God doesn’t exist – therefore it doesn’t have a cause, so therefore it exists as the uncaused cause. Or something.

      You can always play word games (such as saying it doesn’t need a cause since it is the “uncaused cause by definition” (a paraphrase), but since there is no justification for saying that, the whole thing still falls about. The same with saying (as a definition) that a “necessary being” (whatever that is, seriously) is by necessity “uncaused” (again, how do you know this, and if you just it is that way by definition, you still need to justify it). Otherwise, we can all do philosophy merely by asserting something as true and then saying “because of this, it is true” – oh, wait…that’s Theology, isn’t it?

      • Ye Olde Statistician
        Posted July 13, 2011 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

        it doesn’t need a cause since it is the “uncaused cause by definition” (a paraphrase)

        No, it isn’t a paraphrase, because it does not carry the meaning of the original. Specifically, it is not asserted “by definition.”

    • Arthur
      Posted August 10, 2011 at 5:39 pm | Permalink

      “everything that exists has a creator”

      No, the first premise is that everything CONTINGENT has a creator. Even Coyne’s original post mentions this.

  4. Sajanas
    Posted July 13, 2011 at 7:53 am | Permalink

    I see this as an argument by Fesser not to have you be convinced by logic and reasoning, but by rhetoric. He must imagine that somewhere amidst the stacks of books are works that are so eloquent that you will be converted, while the more bare bones bullet pointed descriptions of the arguments would fail to do so. But the problem is, when you’re looking at these things in a more scientific mindset, you’re naturally cutting away the flowery language, the metaphors and the personal appeals and just looking for what they say, and what it means. Rephrasing a bad hypothesis doesn’t suddenly make it correct, especially with the flaws that have been pointed out above clearly evident.

    • Posted July 13, 2011 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

      “I see this as an argument by Fesser not to have you be convinced by logic and reasoning, but by rhetoric”

      +1, that’s spot on.

      Everything I’ve read by a theologian of any stripe has been an attempt to persuade or convince through argumentation or attempts at logical inference; not once have I read anything resembling an attempt to actually present evidence to back up those arguments. Theologians also seem to make the mistake of projecting their weak standards of evidence and submission to authority onto science in general, endlessly portraying any scientific consensus as a kind of rigidly enforced status quo and/or faith-based position equivalent to their own, not the dynamic and necessarily provisional state of acceptance that it actually is. BTW on the “faith” accusation, that argument’s always puzzled me, whether coming from a moderate or someone like William Lane “Baby Killer” Craig. It’s a frank admission of irrational behaviour on the part of the faithful, followed by a “you’re totally irrational too, you’re just like us!” accusation. Obviously the two things are not equivalent, the argument falls flat and anyone using it should be embarrassed. Unless of course you do view hard evidence and faith as equivalent, in which case you shouldn’t be talking with the grownups.

      “Rephrasing a bad hypothesis doesn’t suddenly make it correct”

      Clearly it does if you’re a theologian! It seems to me that the core endeavour of this entire field of “inquiry” is to rephrase, redefine and reinterpret scripture & God in a way to make both relevant to a world which increasingly finds them irrelevant. And if that doesn’t work, obfuscate with opaque but intellectual-sounding postmodernist waffle which, when you can actually make any sense out of it, seems to bear as much resemblance to what everyday believers believe as my band’s thrashmetal version of Madonna’s “Material Girl” bears to the original.

      • Sajanas
        Posted July 14, 2011 at 9:55 am | Permalink

        It doesn’t surprise me that so many theologians are rhetorical rather than evidential, since most of the believers I’ve talked to are pretty readily convinced by nice sounding arguments. When I’ve talked with religious people over at the Wash Post’s site, they eventually either fall back on their own personal experiences, or on what they view as authoritative authors. Its hilarious, because at least one utterly refused to even sum up the arguments from the books he was recommending, saying he didn’t want to do the work for me. But you don’t win debates by passing the buck to another author, and I feel like that’s probably just as true in theology as it is with the normal believer.

  5. Kevin
    Posted July 13, 2011 at 7:58 am | Permalink

    The fundamental error in the Cosmological argument is not that there must be a “first cause” (although that’s a BIG flaw in the argument).

    It’s the ENORMOUS leap from “there must be a first cause” to “that first cause is MY god, who came to Moses as a burning bush, came to Earth as Jesus” and all the rest.

    Every time someone proposes that the universe MUST have had a “first” cause, I propose the following: giant green invisible interdimensional monkeys shat the universe into existence out of their red monkey butts.

    Prove I’m wrong.

    • Posted July 13, 2011 at 8:01 am | Permalink

      Prove I’m wrong.</blockquote.

      Oh, that's easy.

      'Twas the Arklesiezure who sneezed your monkeys into existence.

      'Ware the hankie!

      b&

      • Posted July 13, 2011 at 8:01 am | Permalink

        Apparently, logical proofs are easier than formatting posts without a preview….

        b&

    • Tacroy
      Posted July 13, 2011 at 11:06 am | Permalink

      Easily, and in the same way that the Trinitarian god can be disproved regardless of the arguments proposed for it: you’ve just said that the monkeys are green, but that we were pooped out of their red butts! This is inherently contradictory. Also invisible green.

      • Sili
        Posted July 13, 2011 at 11:58 am | Permalink

        Not invisible green, colourless green. Like the furiously sleeping ideas.

        • Tacroy
          Posted July 13, 2011 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

          But for a thing to be invisible, it must not reflect light. Green is defined as a set of wavelengths of light reflected off of an object. A thing cannot be both invisible and green at the same time, because being invisible precludes being green.

          It’s like saying that a thing can be both red and green at the same time without being yellow (or brownish, depending on how you’re adding colors).

          • Tulse
            Posted July 13, 2011 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

            “Colorless green ideas sleep furiously.”

          • Badger3k
            Posted July 13, 2011 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

            Perhaps it is only green when it is not invisible? Or it is green in the invisible spectrum – you know, the opposite of the visible spectrum. Don’t question it – it’s Quantum (tm pending)!

            • Christoph
              Posted July 13, 2011 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

              Ah, but don’t you know that blueberries are red when they’re green? Ergo Jesus.

    • PeteJohn
      Posted July 13, 2011 at 11:38 am | Permalink

      Good point, and that’s the problem I have with all of these “proofs” for god. They then suppose because, based on these arguments, that because A god is logically possible (though most don’t establish that either, but let’s pretend…) that their chosen belief system about their chosen deity is also true. These proofs don’t prove that and could mean that Yhwh, Vishnu, Zeus, Thor, or the Spaghetti Monster could logically exist. There is no criteria for choosing between them beyond mere faith.

    • Arthur
      Posted September 3, 2011 at 7:01 am | Permalink

      Aquinas uses seperate arguments to describe the other attributes of the First Cause. No “ENOURMOUS leap” is made.

      You’re welcome to examine those arguments and raise objections, but simply to assume that they don’t exist is either ignorant or lazy.

  6. Posted July 13, 2011 at 8:03 am | Permalink

    Have fun with Aquinas and his Summa Theologica. I couldn’t get past the way he pulled Bible verses out of context to supposedly support points he was trying to make — just like the ignorant preachers I grew up having to listen to.

    Frankly I came away very disppointed, suspecting that the 13th century must have been a rather bleak period if Aquinas is considered the great mind of his age.

    Since he’s considered one of the greatest thinkers in the RCC, well, that says a lot about them, too.

    • Badger3k
      Posted July 13, 2011 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

      A lot of ID proponents think Aquinas is the be-all and end-all too.

      • Ye Olde Statistician
        Posted July 13, 2011 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

        Actually, quite the opposite, since Thomistic philosophy is contrary to their premises. See here, for example: http://www.catholic.com/thisrock/2008/0811fea4.asp

        We should always deal in facts. In this case, the facts of what Thomists have actually said about ID, not what your theories impel you to believe without having seen.

        • josh
          Posted July 13, 2011 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

          The observation was about what ID’s think of Thomas. Not what a subset of Thomists think about ID.

  7. Dominic
    Posted July 13, 2011 at 8:04 am | Permalink

    So theological arguments for the existence of a deity are so subtle & complex that us poor ignorant peasants will never understand them – is that the message of his bible? No it isn’t – it is fairly simplistic & diverse because it was written by different people at different times with different ideas about god(s). It becomes opaque unless you have the theological polarizing spectacles.

    I can forgive Aquinas for his crazy ideas – they made sense in a world without evolution, but these nincompoops are born into an age when they should know better. Ridiculous. Life is too short to waste it on this crud JC – seriously – else with equal weight you should read astrology or ghost stories.

    • Dominic
      Posted July 13, 2011 at 8:05 am | Permalink

      When I said “It becomes opaque unless you have the theological polarizing spectacles.” I meant the Feser argument.

    • Tulse
      Posted July 13, 2011 at 8:19 am | Permalink

      Life is too short to waste it on this crud JC – seriously – else with equal weight you should read astrology or ghost stories.

      But astrologers and ghost hunters aren’t trying to wipe out science in schools or put gays in camps.

      • Dominic
        Posted July 13, 2011 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

        Ah – yes Tulse – but then again no – because religious nutters are astrologers & ghost story readers – only they call it the bible/koran etc…

      • Posted July 15, 2011 at 12:01 am | Permalink

        But they do provide considerable cover for woolly and superstitious thinking.

  8. s. wallerstein
    Posted July 13, 2011 at 8:06 am | Permalink

    Dr. Coyne:

    The art of being wise is the art of knowing what to overlook.

    William James

  9. Chuck
    Posted July 13, 2011 at 8:12 am | Permalink

    I’ve been engaging with the followers of Professor Feser’s blog and have enjoyed it. I’ve ordered Feser’s “Aquinas” and look forward to reading it. I don’t have much understanding of theology outside of Campus Crusade for Christ style Reformed tradition and Mega-Church post-modernism so, reading some “old school” technical stuff seems interesting to me. I doubt it will dent my atheism but, could be an edifying experience.

    • sasqwatch
      Posted July 13, 2011 at 9:25 am | Permalink

      O noes, indeed.

      I made the mistake of wading over to that blog and follow the discussion over there a tad. Chuck is doing a rather valiant job of shooting all those fish in the barrel.

      Apparently, those nuanced philosophers over there are flapping around in the sandbox of nihilsmland. Pretty predictable stuff about unfounded faith in science (scientism — boo, hiss).

      Aha… there you are, Chuck. Good show. Very straightforward wordings and all… highly readable and clear, precise. Count me impressed. I’ll hang this comment here…

    • Sili
      Posted July 13, 2011 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

      You patience is admirable.

      • Chuck
        Posted July 13, 2011 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

        Patience is a virtue and while I am favorable to the attitudes and arguments here I’ve come to see that I am as susceptible to confirmation bias as any believer is. One way to pressure test my beliefs as warranted is to converse with people who are as passionate about ones that are apposite to mine. I was once a Calvinist presuppositionalist so, my deconversion process needs to incorporate epistemic practices that dull my desire for certainty.

  10. Posted July 13, 2011 at 8:13 am | Permalink

    Simply ask for the best evidence (or book, say) first.

    Then if that doesn’t convince, then why should the second-best?

    • Tyro
      Posted July 13, 2011 at 8:36 am | Permalink

      It’s sort of like inference or induction. Each of the individual arguments may be flawed or even fallacious, but taken as a whole, they make for solid proof.

      It’s like Jesus said about rock solid foundations – even piles of crap may become like rock if they’re sufficiently old.

      • Reginald Selkirk
        Posted July 13, 2011 at 9:08 am | Permalink

        Oddly enough, the word coprolite appears nowhere in the King James version of the Bible.

        • sasqwatch
          Posted July 13, 2011 at 9:27 am | Permalink

          I noticed yesterday that “brain” is not found anywhere in there either. I checked about 5 different versions before giving up.

  11. daveau
    Posted July 13, 2011 at 8:16 am | Permalink

    I think the point is to keep bombarding you with more and more nonsense until you throw up your hands in despair and cry for the Lord to have mercy. QED.

  12. Tulse
    Posted July 13, 2011 at 8:17 am | Permalink

    And how does “First Cause” get you to “Jesus hates teh buttsex”? Why does the First Cause have to even be conscious, much less anything we would recognize as an entity with a personality and intellect? Why can’t I just agree entirely with the First Cause argument, and then say “So I guess that the Big Bang is the First Cause”?

    • Posted July 13, 2011 at 8:24 am | Permalink

      I’ve always thought that the idea is to get a foot in the door with deism. Once you agree to some magical stardust at the beginning, you’re a shoe-in for more magic down the line, and then they get your bank details.

      • Tulse
        Posted July 13, 2011 at 8:53 am | Permalink

        Of course, it’s just a standard bait-and-switch, although completely unjustified even if First Cause argument is true. There must be a a term for this kind of fallacy (if not, I’d suggest the Privilege Escalation Fallacy, by analogy to malware attacks).

      • Mike
        Posted July 13, 2011 at 9:46 am | Permalink

        Thanks. Snotted my desk with that one.

    • Posted July 13, 2011 at 8:24 am | Permalink

      Why can’t you?

      Simple.

      If you do, then you have no hope of spending an eternity blowing warm kisses up Jesus’s skirt.

      Cheers,

      b&

      • Philip
        Posted July 13, 2011 at 9:03 am | Permalink

        Are you trying to start a new meme here? I kind of like the old intestinal one.

    • Posted July 13, 2011 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

      You don’t even have to concede that there’s any “first” anything; the big bang is the “b eginning” (at best) of the expansion of our local hubble volume, period.

      • Posted July 13, 2011 at 4:40 pm | Permalink

        I wonder this myself: how does anyone know that when this current universe began to exist (as we understand existence) that it was the only one to do so or that it was the first time it had ever happened? This could just be the latest in any number of cyclical Bang/Crunch events in any number of universal or dimensional neighbourhoods. This could simply be the first one to produce life capable of asking such questions! I don’t know any more than anyone else what happens “before” an expansion event. Maybe ours was the only one ever. Maybe it’s a billion kajillion year cycle. Maybe we were ejaculated from the seventh tentacle penis of the Great Galactic Squid (blessed be his inky discharge).

        To say “there’s only one universe and has only ever been one universe and it began to exist at a particular point” is one thing – it certainly looks that way from certain points of view. To then say the universe’s existence necessarily had to BE caused by something which itself wasn’t caused but had paradoxically always existed AND was intelligent, therefore EAT BEARDED JEWISH GAY-HATING ZOMBIE CRACKERS ON SUNDAY, is so far from being a decent argument I struggle to understand how anyone with the capacity to read anything more complex than a KFC menu could fall for it.

        • Ye Olde Statistician
          Posted July 14, 2011 at 10:53 am | Permalink

          how does anyone know…

          Ah, the argument from ignorance.

          how does anyone know that when this current universe began to exist (as we understand existence) that it was the only one to do so or that it was the first time it had ever happened? This could just be the latest in any number of cyclical Bang/Crunch events

          The “bouncing universe” was discarded long ago by general relativity, although like Hoyle’s steady-state universe it keeps coming back again.

          I suppose you are entitled to imagine as many other “universes” (sic) as you like. Maybe you can call one of them “heaven” and another one “hell.” At least Christians only imagine two others. Let me know when there is evidence.

          The proper term would be other “space-time continua.” A universe, by definition is “the collection of everything that is.” If these other continua are empirically accessible to us, they are part of the universe. If they are not, then they are not proper objects of natural science.

          In any case, Aquinas very famously did not assume that the world had a beginning in time, so it is irrelevant. He was not arguing from a per accidens series of causes. His causation per se is happening “right here, right now.” He even noted that an eternally-existing world would still be a caused world: http://www.corpusthomisticum.org/ocm.html

          • Posted July 14, 2011 at 9:05 pm | Permalink

            My point was this: notwithstanding my obviously woefully inadequate knowledge of current cosmological theory (my examples were to illustrate my point, not to throw my hat in the ring), to assume or presuppose or assert or claim in any way that there was a First Cause to begin with is a mistake as no such Cause is indicated (aside: Vic Stenger has some interesting things to say regarding causality). Any conclusions drawn from assuming said Cause will be invalid because the starting premise is unsupported.

            My other point was that even if some kind of First Cause at Time Index Zero of our current universe was supported beyond a reasonable doubt, it’s a mighty stretch of the imagination (to put it mildly) to think it likes you, Caused everything just for you and wants you to symbollically eat it every Sunday to avoid some ghastly eternal chamber of horrors that it also Caused.

            Shorter version: even a proven First Cause would not necessarily entail a god, capital G or otherwise.

            • Ye Olde Statistician
              Posted July 14, 2011 at 9:45 pm | Permalink

              Any conclusions drawn from assuming said [First] Cause will be invalid because the starting premise is unsupported.

              A “first cause” is not an assumption, but a conclusion. The [starting] major premise of the “second way” is simply “there is an order of efficient causes in the world.” This seems from empiricism adequately supported. Then, one deduces that an essentially ordered series must have a first element, for reasons mentioned up above somewhere. Because there must be a first cause, an essentially ordered series cannot regress infinitely.

              I’ve noticed this several times on this thread: the on-going and apparently irremediable belief that the argument assumes a first cause.

              even if some kind of First Cause at Time Index Zero of our current universe was supported beyond a reasonable doubt,

              The second persistent misunderstanding I’ve seen is that the first cause was something that happened at the beginning of time. But “first” means “first in logical priority.” As for example, a first cause of a performance of Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto might be Sharon Kam, while the secondary (“instrumental”) causes would include the vibrating reed, the keys opened or closed, the waves in the air, and the music as the effect. Now it is quite evident that none of the second causes can produce the music unless Sharon Kam is playing “right here, right now.” Not back at time zero. cf. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xr3aB4v8hXI

              Vic Stenger has some interesting things to say regarding causality.

              Maybe. At least he’s a physicist. But I understand he has a bee in his bonnet, too. The problem is that Hume undermined the whole idea of causation and replaced it with correlation. This literally pulls the foundation from under science, and it is only because operationally scientists have proceeded as if A really did cause B that it hasn’t had the baleful effect that al Ghazali had on the promising beginning of Islamic science.

              it’s a mighty stretch of the imagination (to put it mildly) to think [First Cause] likes you, Caused everything just for you and wants you to symbollically eat it every Sunday to avoid some ghastly eternal chamber of horrors that it also Caused.

              But we’re not debating that. Leave something for the revelation dudes.

              even a proven First Cause would not necessarily entail a god, capital G or otherwise.

              Actually, the so-called “divine attributes” follow quite readily from the conclusion of Prime Mover, First Cause, etc. Some of this was sketched up above, so I don’t feel like repeating it. I think if you search of phrases like “pure act” or “BPA” you should be able to find it. But it’s only a sketch. The whole thread was started because someone suggested that Dr. Coyne read a book, also mentioned up above somewhere.

              But keep in mind that no one has ever been dissuaded from a deeply-held belief by a logical argument. Instead, as Thucydides noted, they will pick-nit at the argument. I knew a guy who was In Love with a skanky crack addict. His friends knew it; his family knew it. She got the benefit of the doubt at first, but after six months it was clear she was a thief feeding her habit and dragging him down. Yet no amount of logical persuasion – or empirical evidence – could dissuade him. He had to get his nose rubbed in it before he finally broke it off. So I don’t expect that anyone will be persuaded by Aquinas’ arguments, either. Beliefs don’t work that way.

              What I would expect is that an impartial observer would conclude that it is not unreasonable to believe in this sort of God, even if they themselves do not. Sort of like acknowledging how your friend can be in love with a good partner, even if there is no appeal in your eyes.

        • sailor1031
          Posted July 17, 2011 at 8:42 am | Permalink

          cyclic universe is not outdated no matter what Olde Statistician may say. For an overview of recent thinking see “Endless Universe” by Steinhardt & Turok. Or for the nitty-gritty start your study of M-Theory – it’s MUCH more rewarding than theology

          • Ye Olde Statistician
            Posted July 17, 2011 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

            Sure. You can always add another epicycle, like multiple branes. There are still people holding fast for the steady state model, too. Heck, I can remember when branes were just a baby, with Kaluza-Klein and my cosmologist friend and I worked up a nice little background for a story.

            start your study of M-Theory – it’s MUCH more rewarding than theology

            with which it would seem to have much in common.

    • Ye Olde Statistician
      Posted July 14, 2011 at 10:11 am | Permalink

      Why does the First Cause have to even be conscious, much less anything we would recognize as an entity with a personality and intellect?

      First, recognize that any such thing must be understood only by analogy. Second, that the cause must contain in itself something like the effect, either formally (a lit match can light a newspaper) or eminently (the friction that ignites the phosphorus in the match).

      Then, once you have a first cause, a bunch of deductions follow:
      1. The first cause is purely actual, with no potential. (Because otherwise it could be moved from potential X to actual X and so would not be a FIRST cause.)
      2. The first cause is singular. (Because if there were two, one would possess some X the other did not; but then the other would be in potency to X and so by #1 not purely actual.)
      3. The first cause is all-power full. (Because there can be only one, the first cause of all powers must be the same first cause. Note: the meaning of all-power full. It does not mean a well-muscled dude in a Spandex suit.)
      4. The first cause possesses something analogous to human intellect and volition. (Because as source of all powers, it is the source of the powers of intellect and will, in particular, and therefore possesses intellect and will either formally or eminently. A cause cannot give what it does not have.)
      5. The first cause is conscious in at least an analogous sense. (Because the intellect is the power of a being to reflect upon percepts and abstract universals. This includes self-reflection, which is consciousness.)
      6. The first cause is a person. (Because a person is a being of intellect and will.)

      This is only a sketch to the best of my understanding. There are other strings of deductions that lead to immateriality, eternity, etc. You don’t have to accept any argument; but please don’t suppose that there was no coherent argument at all.

      • Posted July 14, 2011 at 10:25 am | Permalink

        You’re really serious about this, aren’t you?

        Ah, well. It’s only time.

        First, recognize that any such thing must be understood only by analogy.

        Bullshit. Though analogies are often a helpful pedagogical tool, everything proven real to date is best understood by direct examination and reasoning. Analogies inevitably break down.

        Second, that the cause must contain in itself something like the effect, either formally (a lit match can light a newspaper) or eminently (the friction that ignites the phosphorus in the match).

        That’s pure Platonism, long since discarded with the Four Elements, phlogiston, and the rest. It needs no further refutation.

        Then, once you have a first cause, a bunch of deductions follow:

        But, as you see, we don’t have a first cause. And, therefore, it should be no surprise that the deductions that follow are pulled from a comparable nether-region as the premises.

        1. The first cause is purely actual, with no potential. (Because otherwise it could be moved from potential X to actual X and so would not be a FIRST cause.)

        More poetic Platonic nonsense.

        2. The first cause is singular. (Because if there were two, one would possess some X the other did not; but then the other would be in potency to X and so by #1 not purely actual.)

        I’ll grant you this one, just for the sake of argument.

        3. The first cause is all-power full. (Because there can be only one, the first cause of all powers must be the same first cause. Note: the meaning of all-power full. It does not mean a well-muscled dude in a Spandex suit.)

        Again, bullshit. The first cause not only is incapable of drawing a circle and a square of equal areas using a ruler and a straightedge with a finite number of steps, it’s also incapable of causing its own nonexistence.

        Put that one in your pipe and smoke it!

        4. The first cause possesses something analogous to human intellect and volition. (Because as source of all powers, it is the source of the powers of intellect and will, in particular, and therefore possesses intellect and will either formally or eminently. A cause cannot give what it does not have.)

        More Platonic poop, completely ignorant of the notion of emergent properties. A lone electron most emphatically is not wet, but a bunch of them bound to various configurations of protons, neutrons, and other electrons becomes water, which most certainly is wet.

        5. The first cause is conscious in at least an analogous sense. (Because the intellect is the power of a being to reflect upon percepts and abstract universals. This includes self-reflection, which is consciousness.)

        Jerry doesn’t like it when I let the snark flow too freely, so I’ll just pretend that one came from the dog.

        6. The first cause is a person. (Because a person is a being of intellect and will.)

        Must…bite…tongue….

        b&

        • Posted July 14, 2011 at 9:08 pm | Permalink

          Nice response! I award 50 points to Gorendor.

        • Arthur
          Posted September 3, 2011 at 7:07 am | Permalink

          “That’s pure Platonism, long since discarded with the Four Elements, phlogiston, and the rest. It needs no further refutation.”

          If this really is your idea of a “refutation”, it’s no wonder you don’t understand the arguments. You can use this kind of “reasoning” to reject anything you want. Truly rational people raise meaningful objections; they don’t just throw insults and question-begging comparisons.

  13. Posted July 13, 2011 at 8:20 am | Permalink

    It’s Feser, not Fesser. Otherwise, good luck with the dreaded Thomists!

    Subscribing…

  14. Joe
    Posted July 13, 2011 at 8:24 am | Permalink

    Hey, be sure to get Feser’s “The Last Superstition”. In fact, I suggest reading that just for fun. Very enjoyable.

  15. Tyro
    Posted July 13, 2011 at 8:29 am | Permalink

    What I hate about this argument – I mean what I really despise and what evokes feelings of disgust and loathing for theology – is the handwaving mushiness of all of the terms.

    (A) Every(B) thing(C) which begins(D) to exist(E) has a creator(F).

    A) Is this line a conclusion or a premise?

    B) If “every” is absolute then this must include God. If it has exceptions then say “almost every”, “many” or “some”. You can’t very well start with it as an absolute and then, as a conclusion, find an exception. Inconsistencies like that mean that your argument is wrong!

    C) What is a “thing”? Is it matter and if so, does that mean that photons and gauge bosons are not “things”? Is space itself a thing? The universe? Neither are traditionally considered “things” yet this modern argument really requires them to be a “thing”.

    D) When does something “begin” to exist? In ancient days, we may think of a baby beginning to exist at birth or conception or something but today with microscopes we can see that there is not beginning, merely a joining or transformation of pre-existing materials. True beginnings are only at the quantum level. Which makes me think that Aristotle couldn’t know squat about this and we should turn to physicists. They disagree and say that things which “begin” to exist are uncaused. Surprise.

    E) What does “exists” mean? I never imagined I’d have to ask that but since engaging with Christians on this subject, I was shocked to have some of them tell me that the reason God doesn’t need a cause is that God doesn’t exist, at least not according to the definition here. Which just makes me wonder what definition they’re using.

    F) Creator is a very loaded term. Let’s look at the things which really do begin to exist – virtual particles, for instance. The arguments which say they are caused say that quantum fluctuations caused them. While I strongly disagree that this is a cause, look at what it does to the “creator”. No God was required, that’s for sure. In fact, it’s not even an agent but a physical process – it’s like saying “gravity” caused something. It means that the best the argument lets us conclude would be that the universe is caused by physical processes.

    • Chris
      Posted July 13, 2011 at 9:11 am | Permalink

      In their view, God is ‘pure actuality,’ which generally exempts him from being snared by these sorts of questions about ‘existence,’ ‘thing,’ ‘begins,’ etc. (Don’t ask me to define pure actuality, though.)

      But I agree with you, the vagueness of the terminology in the premises has always been problematic to me.

      There are many formidable and knowledgeable people who comment on his blog, however. It’s a good blog for learning about the best theist arguments. Many of them know a great deal about modern science and philosophy. (And they are not biblical literalists.)

      • Posted July 13, 2011 at 11:27 am | Permalink

        The idea of “pure actuality” is part of Aquinas’s attempt to synthesize Christian theology with Aristotelian metaphysics. Aristotle held that every substance was a composite of a formal element that gave the substance its “actuality” and a material element that possesses merely potential being unless a form (or formal cause) inheres in it. Aristotle believed there was a “prime matter” that was undifferentiated stuff that served as the substratum for substances.

        Material substances (rocks, men, horses, etc.) possess actuality (existence as a determinate type of thing) via their forms. Since God has no material component, to Aquinas that means he’s “pure actuality.”

        • Chris
          Posted July 13, 2011 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

          Thanks. I knew it was from Aristotle, but didn’t know any of the details. I just bought Aristotle’s ‘Metaphysics’ for that reason.

          • Posted July 13, 2011 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

            That book is extremely tough sledding. One secondary source that I found really helpful the first time I plowed through it was Jonathan Lear’s “Aristotle: The Desire to Understand.”

            Here’s a link: http://www.amazon.com/Aristotle-Desire-Understand-Jonathan-Lear/dp/0521347629/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1310587066&sr=8-1

            • Chris
              Posted July 13, 2011 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

              Thanks for that recommendation. I just saw that used the other day, so I’ll go grab it.

          • Posted July 13, 2011 at 3:58 pm | Permalink

            BTW, this illustrates why supporting (and, if one is capable, working on) science oriented metaphysics is necessary. I don’t draw any line between the most general scientific concepts and any strictly metaphysical ones, but the concepts (e.g. space, time, cause, property, event, etc.) are needed. If we leave this “intellectual vacuum” open, theists (and others) of all stripes will fill it – or rather try to shoe-horn in their obsolete, science-contradicted one.

            • Posted July 13, 2011 at 5:00 pm | Permalink

              Absolutely agree. I definitely think there is still a role for philosophy to play in metaphysics, but philosophy has to work within the framework of what we already know about the world via science. Armchair metaphysics has to go away, but that doesn’t that philosophy is useless, despite what some people (even some philosophers) think.

        • Tyro
          Posted July 13, 2011 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

          That explains a lot. He can say a baby can begins to exist because he had no clue about the actual mechanisms. It’s a bit of an joke to try that today, though.

          • Posted July 13, 2011 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

            It’s one of the things that I argue with some of my Catholic friends about. The whole edifice of scholastic theology is erected on an Aristotelian ontology; the core idea of that ontology is hylomorphism (the idea that the matter/form relation is the base relation that determines everything about the objects we encounter). But holding this view of the way the world is put together isn’t even mildly plausible under a modern scientific view of the world as composed of objects built out of molecules.

            Take transubstantiation. Bread and wine don’t have accidents that inhere in their undifferentiated substrate on the basis of an immaterial substantial form. Bread and wine have properties as a result of their molecular structure. So the miracle of transubstantiation (where God pulls a switcheroo and allows the accidents of the host to remain while changing the substance is flatly incoherent.

            • Ye Olde Statistician
              Posted July 13, 2011 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

              Hylomorphism is pretty obvious. Matter (hyle) is what persists through change. Hence the conservation of matter (which incl. energy). But if matter persists through change, something else must account for change (unless you are a Parmenedian). That is form (morphe). Every thing is “some” thing. That is, it has some particular form, and this is what gives matter its particular powers.

              For example, sodium and chlorine are made of the same matter: protons, neutrons, electrons. What makes one a poison gas and the other a flammable metal is the number and arrangement of these parts; that is, their form. A valence electron behaved very differently from a free electron precisely because of the whole in which it participates.

              It is true that the Early Moderns rejected formal causation; that is, “becauses” based on forms. Only recently have “emergent properties” become popular once more among folks unaware that they are talking about formal causation.
              + + +

              Postscript. Molecules are in turn made of atoms arranged in some form. Atoms are formal arrangements of protons, neutrons, and electrons. Protons are arrangements of quarks (supposedly). And since quarks come in different sorts there must be some partition more basic than quarks. All in all, the world sounds more like Aristotelian “minima” than Democritian “unbreakables.”

              • Dan L.
                Posted July 13, 2011 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

                The fact that you can shoehorn modern scientific findings into Aristotelian models of causality says a lot more about human minds in general and yours in particular than it does about either the scientific findings or Aristotelian models of causality.

              • Dan L.
                Posted July 13, 2011 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

                To be clear about why I think you’re shoehorning, you only consider one type of “stuff”/hylo here: energy/matter. An electron, however, doesn’t interact causally via its form. It interacts due to its charge, which is certainly not dependent on form in the sense of “shape” or “configuration.” Charge, like energy, is conserved and independent of form, but nonetheless vital to any causal account involving the electromagnetic force.

              • Posted July 13, 2011 at 5:21 pm | Permalink

                Honestly, if I were teaching Aristotle’s ontology to undergraduates, then talking about atoms and quarks isn’t a bad analogy to help make the theory coherent. But it is certainly not what Aristotle was talking about, for the reasons Dan has mentioned.

                Atoms, quarks, strings, or whatever turns out to be the basic stuff of the universe– these things are not the propertyless property bearers required for hylomorphism to be a legitimate scientific model of the universe. And, a very good case can be made that Aristotle did not look at forms as merely causes or structural arrangements (although forms were certainly causes and were responsible for structural arrangements), but rather as entities in themselves, as ontologically distinct beings.

    • Lotharloo
      Posted July 15, 2011 at 5:24 am | Permalink

      @Tyro:

      Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

      I share your frustration! Theology does not make sense any more. It was fine centuries ago but at this day and age it is totally meaningless. Too bad people studying it have to pass through mental gymnastics and spice it up with modern jargons to make it slightly digestible.

      • dmt117
        Posted July 15, 2011 at 5:54 am | Permalink

        It’s a fair enough criticism if one finds the old Aristotelian terminology forbidding and, perhaps, vague and shifting. In that case, the objection to arguments like Aquinas’s Five Ways is that they simply aren’t expressed precisely or clearly enough to even qualify as arguments.

        But it should be noted that the objection that scholastic terminology is vague and shifting also undermines the Dawkins/Coyne case against the old arguments. Dawkins claims to have no problem understanding the arguments; in fact, he thinks the arguments are quite straightforward, transparent, and easily refuted in their own terms. While you might find scholastic terminology slippery, Dawkins seems to have no problem at all with it, at least when dismissing the cosmological argument in a few brief paragraphs in The God Delusion.

        Of course, it might be that Dawkins finds the arguments simple and easily refuted because he hasn’t really understood them; unlike the folks commenting here, he hasn’t really made an attempt to understand them in their own terms, but has simply read his preferred understanding of the terms in to them, in which case they are obviously inadequate. But this isn’t really fighting Aquinas, but only Dawkin’s own cartoon version of Aquinas. This is the nut of the objection of Feser.

        So if you find Aristotelian philosophical terminology imprecise or incomprehensible, fine. But it can’t be the case that Aristotelian terminology is incomprehensible, but arguments constructed in its terms are easily understood and refuted. We should just say we can’t make sense of the arguments and leave it at that.

  16. Posted July 13, 2011 at 8:29 am | Permalink

    That Cosmological Argument is so obvious. Everything needs a cause. And that cause is God. Who hates gays.

    QED

    • Posted July 13, 2011 at 9:13 am | Permalink

      It’s worse than that — the First Cause is a God who loves gays, but who will torture most of them forever (except those with successful ministries, apparently).

  17. Joe
    Posted July 13, 2011 at 8:29 am | Permalink

    EDIT:
    In fact, I suggest reading that FIRST just for fun

  18. truthspeaker
    Posted July 13, 2011 at 8:34 am | Permalink

    It is just so aggravating when they chide us for not taking theology seriously and, when we ask for an example of something to take seriously, they pull out some turkey like the Cosmological Argument that has been debunked and eviscerated a thousand times before.

    If they took atheism seriously, they wouldn’t try to give us arguments they know we’ve already seen and dismissed.

    • Tyro
      Posted July 13, 2011 at 8:40 am | Permalink

      What bugs me is when they point to the Cosmological Argument and when we point out holes, instead of acknowledging them or responding in any way, they jump to a new argument. If you’re fool enough to play the game, after a few hoops you’ll find yourself right back at the Cosmological Argument again with your earnest apologist having completely forgotten there were every any problems.

      • Posted July 13, 2011 at 8:46 am | Permalink

        I think you just won the thread.

        Cheers,

        b&

      • Tacroy
        Posted July 13, 2011 at 11:11 am | Permalink

        Over on Deltoid, they call that the goldfish argument in the context of global warming denialists – because it’s been more than three seconds since I last made this argument, I can now make it again and pretend it’s a new argument.

        • Scott near Berkeley
          Posted July 13, 2011 at 11:36 am | Permalink

          “Goldfish Argument”….I like that succinct label. It is similar to the Republicans “Playing CalvinBall” (if you remember Calvin & Hobbes comic strip) with their theories and “truths” of economics…one just invents a new rule and new scoring to fit whatever action is taking place….announced rules that benefit their actions.

        • Tyro
          Posted July 13, 2011 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

          I like that. It has a good image and for double bonus skeptical meta points, it’s based on the debunked myth that goldfish only have three second memories. One-two shot, wham.

        • FootFace
          Posted July 13, 2011 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

          From the dept. of completely missing the point:

          Goldfish actually have pretty good memories.

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Goldfish#Intelligence

          • Lotharsson
            Posted July 18, 2011 at 7:29 am | Permalink

            IIRC I had a hand in creating the ancestral term “goldfish troll” at Deltoid, although there were almost certainly others who came up with related uses of “goldfish” earlier.

            As Tyro points out, it is an intentional double-whammy that deliberately embeds a known – but apparently not very widely known – false meme. A kind if inside-inside joke, if you get my drift.

      • PeteJohn
        Posted July 13, 2011 at 11:44 am | Permalink

        Or pretend you didn’t read the cosmological argument restated enough times.

  19. Posted July 13, 2011 at 8:37 am | Permalink

    I love his use of “tradition” and “traditionally”. This, to me, immediately gives the lie away–those arguments don’t actually prove anything. It means we continue to do that stuff because others before us did.

    Traditionally, the central argument for God’s existence is the cosmological argument

    By prefixing this statement with “traditionally” he’s admitting that there isn’t a good reason, other than “tradition” to use the cosmological argument.

    I saw this a number of times visiting ruined abbeys in Europe–a guide would say something like “tradition states that this abbey has been around since 1447″, and that would mean “we don’t have any evidence to support this, but people have been saying for a long time that the abbey’s been around since 1447″.

  20. Posted July 13, 2011 at 8:44 am | Permalink

    There’s one very very simple problem with all of this: When we’re talking about supporting a particular truth claim about reality, logical arguments can be very useful but are ultimately insufficient. There is always the risk that there is some hidden assumption which you have glossed over. Only evidential arguments enough weight that a skeptic is forced to concede.

    And I’ll apply this to science, as well. Einstein deduced a lot of relativity based on pure reason, and it sure as shit made a lot of sense, but without evidence I would not fault any skeptic of the time for saying, “That’s nice, but I don’t buy it.” All of the elegant math underlying Einstein’s deductions, for all of its import and beauty and necessity to the process, would be nothing if it hadn’t first predicted the precession of Mercury, and then many other observations that came later. Without those fulfilled predictions, serious and rational people might reasonably disagree about whether to take relativity seriously.

    That happens to be exactly where we are at with superstring theory. Many very smart and rational people take it seriously, and many are dismissive — because all we have to go on right now are arguments based on reason rather than in evidence. It can be as elegant as you want, but without evidence either way, you are quite entitled to either believe it or not believe it and still claim to be a rational person.

    Of course, the situation is even worse with theology. Consider if relativity had not in fact predicted the precession of Mercury, and in fact let’s imagine if its prediction of the orbits of the other planets had actually been very slightly less accurate than Newtonian dynamics. But let’s also imagine all of the math and theory supporting it was just as beautiful and elegant and convincing as it is in this world. Now imagine Einstein confronting a skeptic: “Yes yes, I know the numbers are off a bit on the orbits of the planets, but you need to read all of my proofs! The equations, they are just so elegant. If you don’t see this, I don’t think you have studied them sufficiently. You really need to read my book in order to understand the argument for it.” Would we fault the skeptic for replying, “Um, yeah, fuck off Einstein. Get back to me when you can show me that those beautiful equations actually say something meaningful about the real world.”?

    It ought to be painfully obvious to any educated adult that there is no God (not in the traditional sense of an all-powerful supernatural being), that there is no afterlife, etc. The evidential case is just overwhelming. In light of that, I am entitled not to give a shit about arguments for God based in reason alone. Even if I can’t find a single flaw in the argument, I can always say, “Yes, interesting, but you see, the evidence points strongly towards materialism, so I’m pretty sure there must be some flaw in your reasoning that you and I have yet to identify.”

    If Fesser were pushing you to re-examine one of the purported evidential cases for theism, it would be harder to dismiss him so easily. (But of course, any intelligent theologian knows the evidential cases have all been thoroughly dismantled by the progress of science, so we know he won’t be doing that) But Aquinas’ arguments are based on pure reason. Therefore, like the relativity skeptic in the alternate reality where Einstein’s equations failed to predict anything, we can dismiss these arguments without even thoroughly tracing them to find the logical flaw.

    (Of course, from what I’ve seen the logical flaws are always glaring too…)

    • Posted July 13, 2011 at 9:03 am | Permalink

      I wouldn’t dismiss the logical arguments so casually.

      If the logical argument fails, we know that, whatever the explanation is for the evidence, it’s not the argument.

      It often serves as a handy shortcut in theological debates.

      “Oh, you say that Jesus can do anything? Well, he can’t take this here compass and straightedge and use them to draw a circle and a square of equal areas, now, can he? And why not? Even I can draw all sorts of circles and squares, so it shouldn’t be that big a deal for somebody as mind-blowingly awesome as Jesus.”

      Cheers,

      b&

      • Posted July 13, 2011 at 9:30 am | Permalink

        A fair point, and I do engage the logical arguments as well, mostly because I enjoy a good debate (though not to the point of reading whole books written by theologians, egads, life is too short!!!). I’m just saying, I don’t have to engage a logical argument if the evidence already tells me it must be wrong. I may — much the same way as there is a (IMO) productive and healthy debate surrounding superstring theory — but if I’m not interested, I am perfectly justified in shrugging my shoulders and saying, “Meh, get back to me when you can show me the money.”

        • Posted July 13, 2011 at 11:43 am | Permalink

          Yup. Whatever boats your float.

          I will note, though, that it’s a surefire sign that, when you have neither logic nor evidence on your side, you’re worng.

          As the saying goes, when the facts are on your side, pound on the facts. When the law is on your side, pound on the law. And when neither is on your side, pound on the pulpit.

          The preferred pastime of preachers is pulpit-pounding for good reason, you know.

          Cheers,

          b&

          • Tyro
            Posted July 13, 2011 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

            What if you don’t have evidence and your arguments rely on fallacies but you have a lot of them? I thought someone told me this gives you rational warrant for belief. Or something. I mean they can’t all be wrong merely because none of them is actually right!

            (I’ve seen that argument tried in apologetics but also for UFOs, crop circles and big foot sightings. Okay, they may be kooks but when they all say the same thing, it makes you wonder if they are onto something. Right?)

    • Posted July 13, 2011 at 9:04 am | Permalink

      THIS. The Science channel had a really nice Einstein biopic that actually spent a lot of time on the various other scientists that looked for evidence for relativity (the bending of starlight measured via solar eclipses was the big one). Too often, Einstein histories go “1905, e=mc^2, nuclear bomb”, so I really enjoyed this one.

    • John K.
      Posted July 13, 2011 at 9:15 am | Permalink

      You have indeed hit upon the crux of all this. In reading the thread the theologians and philosophers get very grumpy indeed when you insist on actual evidence. I could not bring myself to explain why an inherently unfalsifiable claim is meaningless or why mathematics alone is not a path to knowing reality. I am fairly certain they would just send me to math books and a thesaurus.

      I have yet to see anything that deviates much from an argument from authority, hoping that sophisticated language will scare off any critics.

      • Arthur
        Posted August 10, 2011 at 5:43 pm | Permalink

        “I could not bring myself to explain why an inherently unfalsifiable claim is meaningless…”

        That’s a real pity, because I’d love to see a justification for that particular theory of meaning.

    • Bernard J. Ortcutt
      Posted July 13, 2011 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

      They aren’t “logical” arguments. They are intuitional arguments. Ultimately, there is an intuition (or two) that they are falling back on. What reason do we have to believe that their intuitions are veridical? None.

      • Posted July 14, 2011 at 6:20 am | Permalink

        By “logical”, I was referring to form, not to content. :) By way of analogy, if I said, “I know the moon is made of green cheese because when NASA brought back moon rocks, they were all sorta lime-colored and spectral analysis showed they were made of cow’s milk and bacteria,” that would be an “evidential argument” of sorts, even though it is plainly false and I actually have no evidence that the moon is made of green cheese. Same thing with these “logical” arguments in favor of theism… The logic fails, but that is what they are attempting.

  21. steve oberski
    Posted July 13, 2011 at 8:49 am | Permalink

    But to do Fesser a favor, I will read Aquinas.

    Be sure to read the bit where Aquinas says:

    Grant me chastity and continence, but not yet

    (From The Confessions of Saint Augustine, which spanned 13 books !)

    • truthspeaker
      Posted July 13, 2011 at 9:09 am | Permalink

      Aquinas and Augustine are not the same person.

  22. Posted July 13, 2011 at 8:56 am | Permalink

    Some psychology-related points that I find interesting relevant to this:

    1. Cognitive dissonance theory would predict that the more time a person invests reading bullshit, the harder they will try to convince themselves it was worth it. This reduces the dissonance of having wasted all that time.

    …Think that might be relevant to what theologians do?

    2. I consider belief in the Cosmological Argument (and all the others for God) to be a result of rationalization. I used to believe in this argument too, and I was at the time immune to the simple arguments against it. They simply didn’t register as logic.

    Science has shown that humans confabulate as a matter of course. We tend to make our conclusions first and then come up with arguments to support them, and that is exactly what all apologetics is. I don’t know if it is a trait of human minds or more a result of culture, but many people find it incredibly easy to posit the existence of a God who is behind everything. We love jumping to that conclusion. The shitstorm of logic that comes after is all the rationalizations we try to come up with to justify it.

    • daveau
      Posted July 13, 2011 at 9:07 am | Permalink

      Colbert on Monday had Michael Shermer, author of “The believing brain : from ghosts and gods to politics and conspiracies–how we construct beliefs and reinforce them as truths”. I expect that I will purchase and read it, as it reinforces my existing beliefs.

      • Posted July 13, 2011 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

        Just watched it. A lame interview, but I’ll look further into the book.

  23. Kevin Anthoney
    Posted July 13, 2011 at 8:57 am | Permalink

    I like the way his “skeptic” complains about how he’s expected to follow all this baffling stuff about black holes, muons and cosmic rays. If you can’t grasp what a cosmic ray is, you really do need help.

    • Posted July 13, 2011 at 9:09 am | Permalink

      Black holes, too.

      Escape velocity is easy to understand: throw a ball into the air, it falls back down. Throw it faster, it goes higher before it comes back down. Throw it fast enough, and it never comes back down.

      Do the same on Jupiter, and you have to throw it faster than you did on Earth to keep it from coming down.

      If the “planet” you’re standing on is so massive that even something traveling at the speed of light will fall back down, you’re standing on a black hole.

      Cheers,

      b&

      • Scott near Berkeley
        Posted July 13, 2011 at 11:39 am | Permalink

        The Basic Theory of Gravity (inversely proportional, square of the distance) is completely ignored by any and all astrologers, and the astrology-touting public (and media).

        • Posted July 19, 2011 at 10:56 am | Permalink

          Scott near Berkeley: Technically that the Law of Universal Gravitation. [F=G*(m1 * m2)/r^2]

          A theory of gravity (such as General Relativity) attempts to explain the physics underlying this law.

        • Posted July 19, 2011 at 10:57 am | Permalink

          Scott near Berkeley: Technically that’s the Law of Universal Gravitation. [F=G*(m1 * m2)/r^2]

          A theory of gravity (such as General Relativity) attempts to explain the physics underlying this law.

  24. Patrick
    Posted July 13, 2011 at 9:11 am | Permalink

    Watson: But Holmes! Whoever could have done it?

    Holmes: Elementary, my dear Watson. The thief slipped past the guards without being seen. That right there is our greatest clue.

    Watson: I don’t understand! My head is soft, and the writer is using my foolishness and overemphasized punctuation to make you seem brighter in comparison!

    Holmes: Allow me to explain by means of syllogism.

    1. To escape the notice of the guards, one would have to be invisible.
    2. But no man can be invisible.

    Watson, interrupting: You don’t say!

    Holmes: Exactly! The thief was a woman!

    And that’s yet another problem with first cause arguments.

  25. Posted July 13, 2011 at 9:17 am | Permalink

    Just a word of warning… Of course, read Aquinas if you like, but the two Summas are a lifetime’s occupation. And it is only Roman Catholics (well, almost only) who think that scholasticism is still alive and well in philosophy. And since Feser apparently begins the preface of his book, The Last Superstition: A Refutation of the New Atheism, by making his anti-gay agenda clear — of course, being an Aquinian, he would also be deeply imbued with the theory of natural law, so that homosexuality and suicide, for example, are considered contrary to natural law, and thus gravely immoral — it is clear that he is stuck somewhere in the dim past of theology.

    As to my qualifications to provide some guidance in theology. All I suggested was that Jerry read some introductory theology so that he would get some idea of how theology is done, and suggested two books, one a collection of essays by a number of different theologians, one or two at least of which are Roman Catholic. Of course, Feser, representing not only a particular school of theology, but one that is indelibly Roman Catholic, a tradition in which alone, according to the Magisterium, truth is to be found, is as questionable a guide to theology as is possible to find. Indeed, I find it hard to understand how anyone can subordinate his thought to the discipline of the church and call himself a philosopher. That act alone is a disqualification, in my view, to any such claim.

    As for the cosmological argument being still of some weight in philosophy — well, some no doubt think it is, but for a generation or two, now, most philosophers who specialise in philosophy of religion have suggested that Aquinas’ five ways are not so much proofs of God’s existence, intended to weigh with one who does not believe in God, as a basis upon which believers can accept their own belief (accepted on other grounds) as at least capable of rational support. In any event, it is doubtful that there is a concept of God that could be agreed upon by religious believers such that it would make sense to set out on a quest for the proof of such a being. Indeed, I suspect that Aquinas himself would agree, since Aquinas’ god is in a sense beyond description and can be known only by the analogy of being, the problem expressed in the Stanford Encyclopedia by this question:

    How can we speak about a transcendent, totally simple spiritual being without altering the sense of the words we use?

    So, it seems to me, despite Feser’s confidence, that he is papering over a lot of cracks. No doubt his book on Aquinas would be interesting, but I have spent too much time worrying scholastic conundrums to find the prospect particularly enticing now.

    Feser, like all Roman Catholic “philosophers” and theologians, is more interested in controlling the agenda, than in seeking the truth by actually following arguments where they lead. And while this is an occupational hazard in any field, it is particularly hazardous in the context of any institution where belief is defined beforehand by authority.

    • dmt117
      Posted July 13, 2011 at 11:33 am | Permalink

      Indeed, I find it hard to understand how anyone can subordinate his thought to the discipline of the church and call himself a philosopher. That act alone is a disqualification, in my view, to any such claim.

      Well, if a philosopher becomes convinced that the Church is what it claims to be, shouldn’t such a philosopher then submit himself to the discipline of the Church? Or does the vocation of the philosopher require that he hold himself aloof, even with respect to that which he is convinced is true?

      This isn’t a rhetorical question; I can see that the latter option holds some merit. But I also see merit in the opinion that, far from holding himself aloof, it is the very vocation of a philosopher to embrace the truth that he discovers. At least that was what Aquinas thought.

      • truthspeaker
        Posted July 13, 2011 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

        “Well, if a philosopher becomes convinced that the Church is what it claims to be, shouldn’t such a philosopher then submit himself to the discipline of the Church?”

        You should never subordinate your thought to ANYONE.

        Part of philosophy means looking at things objectively. If a particular church’s dogma is true, then looking at it objectively will reveal that truth.

        • Tacroy
          Posted July 13, 2011 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

          As Philip K. Dick said: reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away

          Thus, anyone who seeks reality should believe nothing, and examine what remains.

          Subordinating yourself to a church implies believing what they believe, which is antithetical to anyone looking for reality. This is also why I find it deeply weird that some religious universities make all faculty sign a statement of belief; it’s pretty much antithetical to the search for reality, though I suppose it would be useful if all you’re looking for is truth.

        • dmt117
          Posted July 13, 2011 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

          Is is possible to be objectively convinced that someone else has subjective knowledge to which you don’t have direct access yourself? For example, suppose I was convinced that you saw Whitey Bulger before he was caught. Should I then take your word concerning what Whitey looks like, or would that be an unwarranted subordination of my thought to someone else?

          • Dan L.
            Posted July 13, 2011 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

            You may or may not believe that person (your choice), but preferably with the understanding that the person may be lying or mistaken, or that Bulger may have been wearing a disguise such that despite seeing him this person does not actually know what Bulger looks like.

            Similarly, Feser can defer to the church, but if he’s not taking account of the fact that the church might be lying or mistaken, or even if it’s not totally mistaken, that it may be wrong in some details, then he’s not being very philosophically rigorous about it.

            I was talking to you at Feser’s site, and you gave me the distinction between “religious philosopher” and “theologian.” If Feser takes church doctrine as…well…gospel then he is a theologian and shouldn’t call himself a philosopher or what he’s doing philosophy.

            BTW, Eric said something about Feser making clear his anti-homosexuality stance in The Last Superstition, which I had just about decided to read after talking to you. Is there any other book you could recommend covering similar material but without the political bull honkey? Bigotry makes me bigoted.

            • Posted July 13, 2011 at 5:30 pm | Permalink

              Dan,

              Feser’s Last Superstition is deliberately aggressive, as it is a polemic directed against the New Atheists, with the attitude of “fighting fire with fire.” I see what he is trying to do, but I don’ prefer to respond that way. I doubt the New Atheists actually convert anybody with their polemics; they are mostly a morale boost to the faithful.

              Actually, Feser’s Aquinas is an excellent book, scholarly and measured, without the polemics of Superstition. I much prefer it and I’d recommend it.

              As far as being a philosopher and a theologian, we’ve gotten ahead of my argument (I’ve mentioned my frustration with combox discussions on Feser’s blog, but I keep returning, since it is the way things are done now.) Where I was going is that it is possible to have reasons to accept the authority of an institution in certain areas (e.g. the revealed nature of God), while still remaining true to the philosophical vocation. I can’t fit the whole development of this point in one combox.

              a deeper take on the issues we have been discussing.

              As to my current arg

            • dmt117
              Posted July 13, 2011 at 7:47 pm | Permalink

              I posted a response before, and it seems to have been lost. Hope this doesn’t double post.

              In Last Superstition, Feser deliberately takes a polemical and aggressive tone against the New Atheists, fighting “fire with fire.” I understand why he does it, but I don’t think it is ultimately productive.

              I prefer his Aquinas, which is more scholarly and measured in its tone, and goes into some depth with respect to the arguments without getting bogged down. I’d recommend it, especially if the tone of Last Superstition is not to your taste.

              As far as the current argument goes, I think it is possible to accept an authority with respect to certain things, while still retaining an independent mind. I was starting to develop that point here, and if you would like to continue the conversation I am willing, either here or by email.

          • truthspeaker
            Posted July 13, 2011 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

            “For example, suppose I was convinced that you saw Whitey Bulger before he was caught. Should I then take your word concerning what Whitey looks like, or would that be an unwarranted subordination of my thought to someone else?”

            No, you shouldn’t take my word for it. People are capable of lying and of being mistaken.

    • Scott near Berkeley
      Posted July 13, 2011 at 11:42 am | Permalink

      Thank you for an erudite, informative, and succinct piece of commentary.

  26. Chuck
    Posted July 13, 2011 at 9:24 am | Permalink

    I am a huge fan of Eric MacDonald’s writing. Just saying . . .

  27. Posted July 13, 2011 at 9:37 am | Permalink

    I figured out a long, long time ago that people who have no rational argument rely on obfuscation to further their aims. This strategy isn’t restricted to religion, I should point out; I’ve noticed it in politics and “alternative” medicine, too. Needless to say, this strategy fails dismally in all respects.

    While decrying the “something out of nothing” hypothesis, these folk attempt to do just that.

  28. Posted July 13, 2011 at 9:41 am | Permalink

    Can’t you get some Cole’s notes or something?Summer is short enough as it is…:)

  29. Claimthehighground
    Posted July 13, 2011 at 9:55 am | Permalink

    This pompous lecturing by the likes of Feser, Craig et al makes it all the more clear that we are observing the death throes of a 2000 year old meme. “Turning and turning in a widening gyre…”

    • Simon
      Posted July 13, 2011 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

      Disagree somewhat, however appealing that thought might be. You only have to look at the rise of the christian fundamental right wing in the US with & islamic fundamentalism elsewhere.

    • Ye Olde Statistician
      Posted July 14, 2011 at 8:14 am | Permalink

      What in the world is a “meme”? Do have evidence of it? How much does it weigh? What are its dimensions? Where is it located?

      • Mike Kelly
        Posted July 15, 2011 at 7:41 am | Permalink

        It weighs twice as much as an algorithm and is the same colour as function and is next to all the prime numbers.

  30. Joe
    Posted July 13, 2011 at 10:09 am | Permalink

    On a side note. What do you say to the argument that Dawkins is a teleologist because Darwin was a teleologist? Surely this is wrong? But why?

    http://telicthoughts.com/philosophy-and-metaphysics-interlude-8-natural-selection-teleologists/

    http://telicthoughts.com/richard-dawkins-darwins-natural-selection-teleologist/

  31. stvs
    Posted July 13, 2011 at 10:22 am | Permalink

    Feser goes on to list seven more books and six articles that I have to read …

    Irony of ironies because Aquinas said “I am a man of one book.” (Homo unius libri)

  32. Claimthehighground
    Posted July 13, 2011 at 10:23 am | Permalink

    This pompous lecturing by the likes of Feser, Craig et al makes it all the more clear that we are observing the death throes of a 2000 year old meme. “Turning and turning in a widening gyre…” and all that.

    • truthspeaker
      Posted July 13, 2011 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

      Thank you for spelling “throes” correctly on the internet.

      • Claimthehighground
        Posted July 13, 2011 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

        yure welkum

  33. Claimthehighground
    Posted July 13, 2011 at 10:27 am | Permalink

    Sorry for the double post. It must have been the First Cause that dunnit.

    • PeteJohn
      Posted July 13, 2011 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

      1. All comments that appear here have a cause.
      2. Claimthehighground commented twice.
      3. Therefore, God.

      Makes about as much sense.

      • Claimthehighground
        Posted July 13, 2011 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

        Q.E.D.

  34. Aaron Novick
    Posted July 13, 2011 at 11:00 am | Permalink

    Be thankful for one thing, at least—Aquinas is very clear about what he’s trying to say and lays out his arguments in very lucid (if incredibly dry) ways. He may be wrong, but at least he’s a clear thinker who genuinely tries to address the best counterarguments to the claims he makes.

    None of the obscurantist tripe that’s present in much of the theology you’ve dissected in your posts here.

  35. Jhjeffery
    Posted July 13, 2011 at 11:06 am | Permalink

    Well, from one Jerry to another, I wish you hadn’t made that pledge to read Tom. You will find him a blithering idiot–although his worst feature is that he is a boring writer. His job (I have entertained the notion that this project might have been assigned to him) was to take the newly rediscovered writings of Aristotle and pound those nice round thoughts into the square holes of Christianity. Interestingly, Lactantius did the same thing with Cicero, Virgil, Ovid and others in his proseltyzing work on Constantine. Where Aquinas found Aristotlean ideas that he could not reconcile, he just ignored them.

    Good luck. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

  36. matt
    Posted July 13, 2011 at 11:17 am | Permalink

    “…you can get the evidence for, say, evolution, in pretty much one book”

    For me, this is the crux of it. Every book on evolution says mostly the same thing, with the same general lines of reasoning and evidence. The books on theology are all over the map, with wildly conflicted lines of reasoning, and some pretty bizarre (non)evidence.

    It would be like having to get 10 different repair manuals all telling you different ways to fix one car. You’d think if it was accurate, you’d only need the one manual, and it would say about what the rest of them do.

    • Posted July 13, 2011 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

      It’s also true that all of the Theory of Evolution by Random Mutation and Natural Selection can be logically derived from some two simple observations individuals reproduce inexactly, and not all individuals reproduce. The why of those two observations is good to know of course, but is not necessary to explain the origins of species.

      Those two observations are on the same level as “rocks fall down” and “only until they run into something else.” And, similarly, the rest of the fundamentals (though of course not the specific details) can be derived from the simple observation.

      One of theology’s numerous failings is in its lack of observations from which predictive theories can be derived.

      Cheers,

      b&

  37. Posted July 13, 2011 at 11:29 am | Permalink

    I hate your site and your book there is no such thing as evolution only God could make the beautiful plants,animals, and people we see today this site is a scam to make people think we as humans know everything but we don’t God does even Charles Darwin himself declared at his death bed that God created it all thank you for your time and God bless You

    • Posted July 14, 2011 at 3:46 am | Permalink

      I think you win the Most Fail in a Single Sentence Award. Congratulations!

    • Dave Babcock
      Posted July 14, 2011 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

      That bit about Darwin’s death-bed conversion was made up. I heard. Just sayin’.
      Ol’Bab

  38. Glaisne
    Posted July 13, 2011 at 11:34 am | Permalink

    Hi guys. The “first cause” that created our universe was the result of a super collider or large hadron collider experiment that smashed two particles together and resulted in the creation of our universe. That’s my belief and I’m sticking with it. So there! :P

    • NoAstronomer
      Posted July 13, 2011 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

      and in fact there are some cosmological theories that say that this is in fact what happened.

      I don’t believe at this point we can rule it out.

  39. stvs
    Posted July 13, 2011 at 11:38 am | Permalink

    Feser goes on to list seven more books and six articles that I have to read…

    Irony of ironies because Aquinas said “I am a man of one book.” (Homo unius libri)

    • Ye Olde Statistician
      Posted July 13, 2011 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

      No. He said “Beware the man of one book.”

      • Steve Smith
        Posted July 13, 2011 at 4:37 pm | Permalink

        Aquinas’s quote is ambiguous: post-Enlightenment supporters interpret Aquinas as warning against close-minded dogmatism. But Aquinas’s detractors interpret (Homo unius libri to mean that the man armed with a single Truthful book is to be feared. Given Aquinas’s theology that “faith rests upon infallible truth”, he was unquestionably a dogmatist, and his detractor’s interpretation is correct.

        • JT
          Posted July 13, 2011 at 5:52 pm | Permalink

          Absolutely not. Consider for a second the myriad of sources Aquinas utilizes in the ST. He was not a man of one book, and would have decried sola scriptura especially.

        • Ye Olde Statistician
          Posted July 14, 2011 at 10:41 am | Permalink

          Homo unius libri

          BTW, you do realize that you have omitted the verb, don’t you; and “homo” is in the wrong case. As it stands, it reads only “(the/a) man (of) one/singular book”

          A cursory search finds no original context, however. Anyone pretending to know what he (or Augustine, who is also said to have said this) meant would have to find the con-text (i.e., the text that goes with it.) I have found it also as Cave ab homine unius libri, in a list of Latin proverbs. “Cave” = beware (imp.) Note the ablative form “homine” which in this sentence carries the meaning of cause (from, out of).

          I have also found: Homo unius libri timeo, which would mean “I fear the man of one book” if it were grammatically correct. (Should be “hominem”)

  40. bric
    Posted July 13, 2011 at 11:41 am | Permalink

    “The blessed in the kingdom of heaven will see the punishments of the damned, in order that their bliss be more delightful for them.”
    — Thomas Aquinas

    “The truth of our faith becomes a matter of ridicule among the infidels if any Catholic, not gifted with the necessary scientific learning, presents as dogma what scientific scrutiny shows to be false.”
    — Thomas Aquinas

    QED

  41. Scott near Berkeley
    Posted July 13, 2011 at 11:45 am | Permalink

    The idea of examining more and more theological writing in order to “get it” is addressed by the current vogue of invoking the “Black Swan” metaphor. That is, what number of White Swans observed will lead you to conclude that Black Swans do not exist? Seven? Seven Thousand? Seven Million (texts on theology)??

  42. Scott near Berkeley
    Posted July 13, 2011 at 11:52 am | Permalink

    All the religious writings in the world cannot matter to a single human being in this world, if his question is, “Is there a God?” Because of this fact: any human being will never meet, nor has ever met, a “God”. Not after he dies. Since the 19th century, when humans began to unlock the physical manifestations of consciousness, and how the brain, and brains of all creatures, utilize memory that required sodium ions, calcium ions, and tens of thousands of mammalian enzymes. They all stay in the human corpse after you die, and travel nowhere. No memory, no personal identity. No afterlife meetings, conversations, adjudication, ….nada.

  43. Sili
    Posted July 13, 2011 at 11:52 am | Permalink

    Moreover, New Atheists – who have a sense of humor about everything but themselves

    Would this be the same Nu Watheists who loved Beware the Believers?

    Dick to the Dawk to the Ph.D. heh heh heh

  44. Sili
    Posted July 13, 2011 at 11:54 am | Permalink

    And if I reject the cosmological argument, there are other “subtle” theological arguments for God that I don’t fully grasp, and shelves of books to support them.

    Then why did they bother with the Cosmological Argument in the first place. Why not bring their best game from the beginning?

  45. Steve Smith
    Posted July 13, 2011 at 11:56 am | Permalink

    Feser goes on to list seven more books and six articles that I have to read …

    Irony of ironies because Aquinas said “I am a man of one book.” (Homo unius libri)

    It should be a theological rule, or at least an internet rule, that anyone invoking the cosmological argument must tell us who made god.

  46. Posted July 13, 2011 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

    I’m just a lowly engineering student, but even I’m not convinced by the first cause arguments. How does that qualify as a “sophisticated” argument? Because it has been presented in multiple books?

    • Tacroy
      Posted July 13, 2011 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

      Exactly! Because it’s been presented in multiple books and multiple forms since Aristotle, there clearly must be something there – after all, people wouldn’t keep on repeating it if it wasn’t true, now would they?

      • Posted July 13, 2011 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

        I guess we should accept the Bible, since there is such a big section at the local bookstore. *sigh*

  47. Chuck
    Posted July 13, 2011 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

    There seems to be a virulent meme going on here that does not correspond to what I’ve observed in reality when assessing Professor Feser’s rejoinder to Dr. Coyne.

    I don’t see in Feser’s suggestion towards theological study the demand towards an infinite regress in study.

    Professor Feser simply offered a variety of titles that could provide insight into a particular theological tradition. He didn’t say all must be read. He said any could be read. If we are going to classify ourselves as honest empiricists then let’s not make the data say something it doesn’t.

    I am going to use Feser’s Aquinas towards the A-T school as I did Coyne’s WEIT towards Darwinian Evolution.

    I think that Feser offered that as an option and, at the risk of being labeled an “accomodationist” find it a reasonable request to engage a competing worldview on its own grounds.

    • Patrick
      Posted July 13, 2011 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

      If you read Feser, you’ll find that he’s… pretty much convinced that Aquinas is the only way to go on theology. And that everyone in the entire world is an ignorant moron for not reading more Aquinas. He writes books about this, his views aren’t hard to find.

      Feser himself isn’t going to send you on an infinite journey of reading theology. He’s going to tell you to read Aquinas, and then he’s going to declare that he’s SURE you’re a Catholic now because Aquinas is self evidently true. And then when you’re not convinced because you don’t actually find Aquinas’ positions self evidently true, he’ll talk smack about you.

      He’s run a blog on that formula for… a long time now.

      The infinite regress comes from the fact that Feser is just one moron amongst many, convinced that his small, unpopular bit of theology is the self evident Truth, and that everyone in the world is morally culpable for not reading and engaging with it. Try to chase down all of these, and you’ll spend the rest of your life at the job.

      • Chuck
        Posted July 13, 2011 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

        I do find Feser’s tone a bit arch but actually it really isn’t that different than Hitchens’s. Feser’s world-view is not mine so his attitude seems more offensive but, that’s on my biases, not on his right to hold his attitude. I don’t plan on reading a bunch of A-T philosophy but, am going to take up Feser’s challenge so I might better meet those who find worth in it. My ethic is becoming one of, “say what you mean and mean what you say” and, since coming to appreciate the scientific method I’ve gained a deeper appreciation for independent verification and factual examination. While I agree with most commentators here, I would be enjoying the logical fallacy of appeal to consensus by damning Feser and Aquinas simply because my in-group would agree with this damnation.

    • Posted July 13, 2011 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

      Chuck,

      I think you read Feser’s post too charitably. The education he want to give Jerry is modern Thomism, the latest greatest sophisticated thinking that demolishes the adolescent objections of the vulgar atheists.

      He may think his Five Ways are super-duper. but they all have well-known problems. There’s overpowering reason to accept them or even be very much troubled by them. Interested readers can find plenty of “sophisticated theology” exposing the weaknesses and counter-arguments to any and all of the Five Ways. But even Dawkins’s points–which Feser’s acolytes consider cartoonish–do a decent job in capturing the surface level issues and questions involved.

      • dguller
        Posted July 13, 2011 at 7:12 pm | Permalink

        And what if the alleged problems are based upon caricatures of Aquinas’ positions? Then wouldn’t it be more honest to say that his arguments have not been refuted at all? After all, refuting a straw man is not the same as refuting the real deal. And that is one of Feser’s points, i.e. that most people do not present Aquinas’ arguments from within a Thomistic framework, but rather read their own assumptions into the arguments, and then find faults. It is pretty clear that this is an unfair and ineffective form of refutation. Take an argument on its strongest terms, or don’t bother.

  48. GregFromCos
    Posted July 13, 2011 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

    It’s almost as if Feser is saying that in order to believe this, you must put your brain into the theological echo chamber. To me it just sounds like Feser is pushing the same brainwashing that all other religions push. It’s just unfortunate the religious have such a hard time seeing that.

  49. Southern Geologist
    Posted July 13, 2011 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

    I find it quite strange (and very passive aggressive) that Paul Nelson left a copy of Aquinas in your department mailbox.

    Well, at least it was Aquinas; if he had put a copy of a book by a modern creationist in there I would recommend that he be charged with the heinous crime of intellectual vandalism.

  50. Nele
    Posted July 13, 2011 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

    Pft. An argument so intricate that you need to read half a bookshelf simply to begin to grasp it, is only one thing – bad. If you can’t state an idea in simple words, you simply have not thought through your stuff.

    And the analogy between “skeptic” and “science” is idiotic. It’s the beautiful elegance of science as an instrument for understanding the world is that the concept is so very simple. It’s easy to explain evolution and how to scientifically understand it in plain words. It’s simple to show how it works in nature over and over again.

    Theology can do nothing like that – it’s only story-telling.

  51. Pliny the in Between
    Posted July 13, 2011 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

    Whenever I hear Aquinas invoked, I find myself trying to imagine the state of science in his lifetime. Then it hit me. I don’t have to imagine it at all. The Discovery Institute has a website and everything.

    • Ye Olde Statistician
      Posted July 13, 2011 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

      Not really. But then he was not always writing about natural science, although he often used it for illustration. For example, “Sciences are differentiated according to the various means through which knowledge is obtained. For the astronomer and the physicist both may prove the same conclusion—that the earth, for instance, is round: the astronomer by means of mathematics (i.e., abstracting from matter), but the physicist by means of matter itself.
      (Summa Theologiae, I, q.1, a.1, res. 2)

      Regarding the Ptolemaic model, he wrote
      “The theory of eccentrics and epicycles is considered as established, because thereby the sensible appearances of the heavenly movements can be explained; not, however, as if this proof were sufficient, forasmuch as some other theory might explain them.”
      (Summa theologica, I, q.32, a.1, ad. 2)

      Which is to say, he recognized that scientific theories are underdetermined by the facts and more than one theory might account for the self-same facts. (E.g., the five or so quantum theories; Einstein’s and Milne’s theories of relativity, etc.)

      The one time he mentioned the origin of species – something which no one in his day had ever actually seen – he wrote:
      “Species, also, that are new, if any such appear, existed beforehand in various active powers; so that animals, and perhaps even new species of animals, are produced by putrefaction by the power which the stars and elements received at the beginning.” (Summa theologica, I,q.73,a.1,res.3)
      IOW, he held to the standard medieval doctrine that God had endowed natures with the power to act directly upon one another; and so he considered that new species would arise by natural means. Change putrefaction to mutation and all is well.
      His teacher, Albertus Magnus (Big Al) wrote:
      “In studying nature we have not to inquire how God the Creator may, as He freely wills, use His creatures to work miracles and thereby show forth His power; we have rather to inquire what Nature with its immanent causes can naturally bring to pass.” [De vegetabilibus et plantis]
      I’m not sure what folks find so disagreeable about all this. Quite clearly, methodological naturalism was a Christian invention.
      Before claiming that Aquinas would fit in with the Discovery Institute, one really ought to find out what Aquinas actually said.

      • truthspeaker
        Posted July 13, 2011 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

        The poster didn’t say that Aquinas would fit in with the Discovery Institute, he said that Aquinas lived during a time when the level of scientific knowledge was at about the level the Discovery Institute is now.

        He wasn’t insulting Aquinas, he was insulting the Discovery Institute.

        • Ye Olde Statistician
          Posted July 14, 2011 at 8:20 am | Permalink

          “when the level of scientific knowledge was at about the level the Discovery Institute is now.”

          Not really. The people at the Discovery [sic] Institute know all about genes and everything, so far as I can tell. They try to connect the dots differently, but they know about the dots. But Aquinas had a much better meta-physics, that is an understanding of the groundwork that underlies the physics. After all, it was not too long after Aquinas that Jean Buridan formulated Newton’s first law and Nicholas Oresme proved the Mean Speed Theorem.

      • Pliny the in Between
        Posted July 13, 2011 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

        Before claiming that Aquinas would fit in with the Discovery Institute, one really ought to find out what Aquinas actually said.
        ———-

        It is a good thing that I got a good deal on my old irony meter, since it just blew up…

        • Ye Olde Statistician
          Posted July 14, 2011 at 8:44 am | Permalink

          “YOS: “one really ought to find out what Aquinas actually said.”

          It is a good thing that I got a good deal on my old irony meter, since it just blew up”

          Is it even possible to get a reasoned argument around here, or is it all just flippancy? My favorite so far was the one about shoving one’s face in a bowl of feces. Now, there was logic and reason for you. At least Feser has set out the arguments or referred readers to where they might be found.
          + + +

          Nate: It’s easy to explain evolution and how to scientifically understand it in plain words. It’s simple to show how it works in nature over and over again.

          YOS: Although if one proposes to refute something in the hard sciences, matters become more difficult. If you were to try to refute the Big Bang, for example, you would need some familiarity with the equations of general relativity, the tensor calculus, Riemannian geometry, differentiable manifolds, and such-like. It is not enough to have once read a Sunday-Supplement account of relativity in “plain words.” I mean, even Thomas Aquinas was able to say that new species, if any should be, would emerge from the natural powers of nature itself.

          “Evolution” is easy to explain because, like “falling bodies,” it is simply a fact. What becomes more difficult is to explain the theory; that is, the story we tell ourselves so that the facts make sense. Consider how many theories of gravity there have been to account for falling bodies, or how many theories there are today to account for the facts of quantum mechanics. And this is in the hard sciences, which are adequately mathematized!

          • Pliny the in Between
            Posted July 14, 2011 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

            The comment was not simply flippant. It could have been, but was not. Let me explain. If you would like to be engaged in a reasoned argument, then you will be expected to respond to what others actually post. Many of us react to tangential or unrelated commentary as simply spam or ranting. Reading off talking points memos is not true discourse. Since you did not actually respond to what I wrote, it was hard for me to take your comments seriously. No doubt you have encountered people in the blogosphere who seem intent only on posting their personal agenda rather than on having an open-minded conversation. On the few occasions where I’m in the mood for that sort of thing, I tune into Fox.

            You scold me for supposedly besmirching Aquinas (again, that clearly wasn’t the point) and failing to understand the subtle underpinnings of his antiquated arguments, while missing the point of a short paragraph, written in simple language, that preceded it. I think that qualifies as irony. My meaning was not that obtuse. Whether your intention or not, it appears that you jumped to a conclusion and to the defense of Aquinas as a knee jerk reaction. That doesn’t create an environment for debate.

            As for the Disco Inst. They may know words like ‘gene’, but certainly choose to ignore the implications. They have a well-known political agenda that has nothing to do with truth. Absent all the pseudo-scientific trappings, their arguments would have been easily accessible to a 13th century audience. Aquinas can easily be forgiven for being ignorant of such things. More modern thinkers and those at Disco, cannot.

            • Ye Olde Statistician
              Posted July 14, 2011 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

              then you will be expected to respond to what others actually post.

              What you wrote was:
              Whenever I hear Aquinas invoked, I find myself trying to imagine the state of science in his lifetime. Then it hit me. I don’t have to imagine it at all. The Discovery Institute has a website and everything.

              Which means that a) you had no familiarity with the state of [natural] science during the middle ages, b) have no clear knowledge of what Aquinas thought, and c) you imagine that the Discovery Institute reflects the “state of [natural] science” in the middle ages.

              Many of us react to tangential or unrelated commentary as simply spam or ranting.

              Can we expect then a reaction to people who compare others to bowls of feces?

              Reading off talking points memos is not true discourse.

              Who do you claim is reading off talking point memos? Which memos? Which talking points? Come, let us share empirical data.

              where I’m in the mood for that sort of thing, I tune into Fox.

              You got me beat. I don’t tune into them at all. But what has your “tangential or unrelated comment” got to do with the central thesis: which is people we “refute” straw man versions of their hated Other? Perhaps the tangential deprecation of Fox is simply a ritual, meant to display your bona fides to like-minded tribesmen.

              You scold me for supposedly besmirching Aquinas

              a) I did not scold you.
              b) Whenever I hear Aquinas invoked… is a clear attempt to invoke guilt by association.
              c) If you are going to compare Aquinas to this Discovery Institute thing, you ought to know where Aquinas’ head was at. (I will assume, sec. arg., that you know where Disc.Inst.’s head is at. I don’t.)

              to the defense of Aquinas as a knee jerk reaction. That doesn’t create an environment for debate.

              Why not? In a debate, one side defends a position contrary to the other side.

              Absent all the pseudo-scientific trappings, their arguments would have been easily accessible to a 13th century audience.

              I doubt it. You should learn more about the 13th century. If we consider Aquinas’ “fifth way,” the argument from finality, he would have considered Darwin’s theories (to the extent that they are scientific laws) to be mild additional evidence for the existence of God and as a more detailed affirmation of his own statement that new species would arise due to natural causes. He believed that the world worked in a lawful manner and so there was no need for patches where nature somehow “failed.”

    • Hempenstein
      Posted July 13, 2011 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

      Yep. Forcing 13th century theology into 21st century science is too big a leap. How about a two-step approach, Perfesser Feser? How does phlogiston fit in with pure actuality?

    • Pliny the in Between
      Posted July 14, 2011 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

      [Can we expect then a reaction to people who compare others to bowls of feces?]

      Since I did not refer to any bowls of feces, I don’t see how that is relevant. I was talking about your response to me. To my knowledge, I have never responded to a comment in such a manner. Personally, I prefer some good natured humor and civility as long as others reciprocate. FYI – your feces bowl comment might be construed as an example of not responding to what someone actually said. I suggest you take it up with the person who actually posted it.
      ———-
      [Perhaps the tangential deprecation of Fox is simply a ritual, meant to display your bona fides to like-minded tribesmen.]

      Not really. Fox has become a useful shorthand for rhetorical bait and switch. Plus, there is nothing tangential about disparaging Fox. It’s a civic duty that should be exercised at every opportunity.
      ————-
      [Whenever I hear Aquinas invoked… is a clear attempt to invoke guilt by association.]
      Really? Sorry professor, but I actually intended to stay away from the issue of 13th century philosophy. Please try and refrain from telling me what I think. Another cornerstone of good debate is to let your counterpart actually say what they mean and stick to your own perspectives, allowing others to make up their own minds. If you arguments have merit there is no need to resort to such tactics. Some of us consider this and the tactic of pronouncing your opponent ignorant to be nothing more than a veiled form of name calling. Philosophically not so far removed from that bowl of feces you mentioned.
      ————–
      [If you are going to compare Aquinas to this Discovery Institute thing, you ought to know where Aquinas’ head was at. (I will assume, sec. arg., that you know where Disc.Inst.’s head is at. I don’t.)]

      For the 50th time, gentle sir, I wasn’t even talking about Aquinas. I wasn’t even talking about Aquinas. I wasn’t even talking about Aquinas. I wasn’t even talking about Aquinas. I was talking about an organization that clings to a philosophical view that is not far from the common creationist understanding of the 13th century, here in our very own 21st. There is ample evidence in their own words for their agenda. The Wedge Document is a pretty clear statement of purpose as to what the Disco Inst is all about. Looking at their roster is a who’s who of creationism. Reading the books they’ve written leaves no doubt what they think. Your statement about not knowing where their heads are, could be misconstrued by someone less understanding than myself, as being unschooled in more modern debate topics. With your obviously deep knowledge of 13th century topics it would be understandable if there just wasn’t time to devote to this one.
      ———————-
      [to the defense of Aquinas as a knee jerk reaction. That doesn’t create an environment for debate.Why not? In a debate, one side defends a position contrary to the other side.]

      Sorry, I can’t argue with you because you have not paid your 5 pounds. Seriously, do you really think that lecturing me about a topic that has nothing to do with my post, is creating an environment for debate? The less charitable among us might point out that this ‘hey over here’ approach to debate is one of the reasons many of us end up not taking theological discussions seriously. Ok, let me try this one last time. I was not talking about Aquinas. You launched into, what some might call, a tirade in his defense because you convinced yourself that I was creating ‘guilt by association’. You conveniently don’t respond to my final statements about Aquinas essentially being a man of his time.

      Defending a position contrary to the other side? Partly. But only partly. Debate hinges on both sides being willing and able to stay on topic. Others were not confused by my meaning. So in the spirit of process improvement, I don’t think there was anything particularly wrong with my original post. You obviously did not like it, but alas, that is a burden with which I will have to live. By the look of things, there are ample numbers on this very site who would be more than willing to debate you on the merits of Aquinas’ teachings to the 21st century.
      —————————-
      [Which means that a) you had no familiarity with the state of [natural] science during the middle ages, b) have no clear knowledge of what Aquinas thought, and c) you imagine that the Discovery Institute reflects the “state of [natural] science” in the middle ages.

      Absent all the pseudo-scientific trappings, their arguments would have been easily accessible to a 13th century audience. – I doubt it. You should learn more about the 13th century. ]

      Fair enough. Doubt all you wish. But kindly refrain from dismissing my ideas as simple ignorance. Since you asked earlier about the structure of good healthy debate, I must tell you that most people find it offensive when one just assumes, that because another fails to agree with them, by definition it means they are either stupid, unschooled, or misguided. It is possible to be well schooled in medieval history and still be underwhelmed by the arguments of the time. Shocking as it no doubt will be to you – many highly intelligent and well educated people are unconvinced by the kinds of arguments you have presented here. For me that’s one of the advantages of good science. Many of science’s most interesting discoveries are very approachable with simple explanations. There seems to be less of the hall of mirrors aspects that theology depends upon. One does not have to read hundreds of texts to be comfortable with evolution for example. The basic structures are relatively straight forward and internally consistent. Not something I’ve encountered in theological texts.
      Lastly I must comment on your statements about how Aquinas would have dealt with Darwin. I feel, I’m sorry to have to say, that they are completely speculative. Lest I once again be accused of being unschooled, let’s consult the words of the very person you are so quick to defend. “With regard to heretics two points must be observed: one, on their own side; the other, on the side of the Church. On their own side there is the sin, whereby they deserve not only to be separated from the Church by excommunication, but also to be severed from the world by death.” I suppose it would depend upon whether he considered Darwin a heretic or not. I must admit a bit of skepticism that Aquinas would have simply said, “No problem, that’s part of my 5th way. Thanks Charles for the clarifications…” Might have happened. After all one so schooled in 13th century would know all about the Catholic Churches’ well deserved reputation for philosophical open-mindedness during that period.

      • Ye Olde Statistician
        Posted July 14, 2011 at 6:22 pm | Permalink

        For the 50th time, gentle sir, I wasn’t even talking about Aquinas. … I was talking about an organization that clings to a philosophical view that is not far from the common creationist understanding of the 13th century

        But that really is the whole point. Your Discovery Institute’s philosophical view bears very little resemblance to the understanding of the 13th century. For one thing, they get creation all wrong. By comparing their “philosophy” to the 13th century, you defamed the 13th century, and by extension, Thomas — who was the 500 lb gorilla on the 13th century block. That is why I suggested you familiarize yourself with the aforesaid philosophy.

        One does not have to read hundreds of texts to be comfortable with evolution for example.

        But to be sure, evolution is not exactly quantum mechanics or tensor analysis on manifolds. There’s almost no math. Even so, I only have one book, not hundreds, on tensor analysis on manifolds, entitled (oddly enough) Tensor Analysis on Manifolds. However, even to grasp the essentials you need to learn a special vocabulary and grammar. Evolution, after all, is simply an empirical fact. Those are far more easily explained than either hard science, mathematics, or metaphysics.

        You don’t need to read “hundreds of texts”, since Dr. Feser allowed as you could read his own introductory text on Aquinas. It is very accessible. The main difficulty is that metaphysics is not physics, and uses a different language in talking about different objects. And the Aristotelian perspective uses different categories of thought that need to be learned. But none of this is exceptionally difficult.

        I would say that if you want to debunk or refute evolution, you had damn well better read more than one book about evolution. And they better be the right books, ones that make the best possible case for evolution. That applies to tensor analysis, too; or any other topic. One progresses from “knowing about” X to “knowing” X.

        BTW There is a very nice book about Aristotelian natural philosophy couched in more modern language: William Wallace, The Modeling of Nature.

        Re: 13th century. The university masters curriculum was dedicated entirely to logic, reason, and natural philosophy. Before one could matriculate in the graduate schools of medicine, law, or theology, one first had to master these topics. In modern terms, every medieval theologian first earned a degree in science. Never before or since has such a large proportion of the population been so exclusively educated in purely rational topics.

        I suppose it would depend upon whether he considered Darwin a heretic or not. … After all one so schooled in 13th century would know all about the Catholic Churches’ well deserved reputation for philosophical open-mindedness during that period.

        There is no record of any medieval philosopher being punished because of a conclusion in natural philosophy. The Papal Bull, Parens scientiarum (Parent of sciences), which is often called “the Magna Carta of the Universities,” granted the universities the right to set their own curriculum and teach whatever they wanted, except only in the school of theology. The modus operandi was: the “ordinary lectures” in the AM, followed by the “disputations” in the PM. In the disputations, students were assigned to argue both for and against the chosen topic, with the master as referee. In the free-wheeling “quodlibets” anyone could throw out a question and scholars had to argue ex tempore for and against. This encouraged what historian of science Edward Grant called “a culture of poking around.” During this time frame, the basic problems of natural science and its basic philosophy were hammered out. (e.g., “numerator” and “denominator” were invented; “velocity” and “instantaneous velocity” defined; etc.) It was quite an exciting era. Far more open than a couple centuries later, when the Kings had broken the Church, and religious conformity was equated with political loyalty.

  52. McWaffle
    Posted July 13, 2011 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

    So, first cause, huh? Unmoved mover? Interesting, but I’m not really convinced. Do you have any evidence to back it up?

    Ah, but what is “evidence”?

    You know, like, just regular evidence

    Oh, but what “is” “evidence”?

    Huh? Evidence, man, evidence. Something other than rhetorical and semantic games. Some numbers or something would help. Maybe a fossil?

    Ah-ha! But “what” “is” “evidence”? And what is “”what” “is” “evidence”?” You are philosophically naive!

    Whatever.

  53. Posted July 13, 2011 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

    You know, Asimov’s The Last Question explains exactly where the universe came from – issue settled!

    For anyone who hasn’t read it – it’s short, online, and delightful.

  54. Simon
    Posted July 13, 2011 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

    As usual with theology the empty can makes the most noise. They have nothing of value to say in support of an imaginary god so disguise this “fact” by hiding it in lots of gobbledy gook & verbiage.
    Additional to this, most scientists particulalry those in senior roles either as Prfoessors or authorsa have spent most of their professional careesr attempting to teach science to sceptical students so have developed high order critical thinking & descriptive powers.

  55. Nicolas Perrault
    Posted July 13, 2011 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

    By ever widening the diameter of circular reasoning the theologian falls prey to the illusion that he has travelled along a rectilinear path. The journey is a total loss of time no matter its duration.

  56. MadScientist
    Posted July 13, 2011 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

    I’d say don’t waste time reading Aquinas – he was a bona fide imbecile of the worst kind. A typical argument by Aquinas would ‘prove’ the existence of god by making some statements (including unwarranted assumptions such as the existence of god), babbling nonsensically for 600 pages, then claiming that god must exist (presumably because of the previous assumption that he exists – Aquinas must have convinced himself that any reader would have forgotten the assumption of the existence of god somewhere along those 600 pages or so).

    • truthspeaker
      Posted July 13, 2011 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

      As with all but the earliest Catholic theologians, Aquinas could take comfort in the knowledge that if someone publicly disagreed with his arguments, he could have them imprisoned, tortured, and/or killed.

    • Ye Olde Statistician
      Posted July 14, 2011 at 9:40 am | Permalink

      I’d say don’t waste time reading Aquinas – he was a bona fide imbecile of the worst kind. A typical argument by Aquinas would ‘prove’ the existence of god by making some statements (including unwarranted assumptions such as the existence of god)

      Well, you certainly proved that you haven’t read Aquinas; but don’t you realize that you have played directly into Feser’s hands by providing empirical evidence of his charge?

      • truthspeaker
        Posted July 14, 2011 at 10:00 am | Permalink

        “Well, you certainly proved that you haven’t read Aquinas”

        How so?

  57. Paul Nelson
    Posted July 13, 2011 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

    Jerry,

    Not Aquinas — Augustine. The Confessions.

    BTW, your mailbox is CROWDED. I could barely find room for the paperback.

    • Scote
      Posted July 13, 2011 at 6:30 pm | Permalink

      “Paul Nelson wrote
      Jerry,
      …BTW, your mailbox is CROWDED. I could barely find room for the paperback.

      If only there had been room in the margins for your proof of how to measure ontogentic depth.

      Anyway, is there some specific reason you left that particular book?

      • matt
        Posted July 13, 2011 at 10:51 pm | Permalink

        “If only there had been room in the margins for your proof of how to measure ontogentic depth.”

        Oh, snap!

  58. Alex SL
    Posted July 13, 2011 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

    There is never an end to it! Like the Cosmological Argument itself, grasping it apparently requires an infinite regress of reading, and if I still reject the evidence after reading Aquinas and Feser’s own book, well, I just have to read more books.

    Part of this is probably due to a reliance on the sunk cost fallacy. The hope is that after reading 50 books, you will say, there must be something to it, otherwise I have wasted so much time :-).

    Another major problem with first cause arguments is of course this:

    1. The universe needs a cause.
    2. ????
    3. JESUS!

    • Claimthehighground
      Posted July 13, 2011 at 6:23 pm | Permalink

      As they say, “You need to be a little more rigorous in step 2″

    • Ye Olde Statistician
      Posted July 14, 2011 at 9:55 am | Permalink

      Are you guys moles who are trying to prove Feser was correct when he said so many facile critics simply do not understand the argument they are trying to refute?

      • truthspeaker
        Posted July 14, 2011 at 10:01 am | Permalink

        No, I’ve read Aquinas and that really is his argument. It really is that stupid.

      • Posted July 14, 2011 at 10:06 am | Permalink

        We understand the First Cause argument just fine, thankyouvery much.

        You and he are the ones who are mistraken in thinking that it proves Jesus whereas it actually — and pretty obviously, too — proves not-Jesus.

        Once more: in order to claim that a prime mover is necessary, one must claim that all motions need to be moved. But, in so doing, one is also claiming that the prime mover itself needs to be moved.

        Any way you look at it, it is true both that there is no prime mover and that some motions are unmoved.

        This is the simplest possible prove by contradiction.

        And, it doesn’t matter how many layers of bafflegab you or Feser or even Aquinas Hisself adds to it, the simple proof-by-contradiction above remains as all that’s necessary to know, without doubt, that there is no prime mover and that at least some motions are unmoved.

        If you think you can somehow prove otherwise, please refer back to the proof-by-contradiction above.

        If you still think you can somehow prove otherwise, please start with a remedial course in logic.

        Cheers,

        b&

        • dguller
          Posted July 14, 2011 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

          >> in order to claim that a prime mover is necessary, one must claim that all motions need to be moved.

          Correct.

          >> But, in so doing, one is also claiming that the prime mover itself needs to be moved.

          Incorrect. That would be correct if the prime mover also moves. However, the idea is that this prime mover is an unmoved mover.

          • Posted July 14, 2011 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

            Forgive me for ignoring all your multiple responses comparing the cascade of causes to forests and trees. Others have pointed out your misunderstandings of modern physics; I won’t repeat them. Heck, I’ll even grant you your extended poetic concept of cause and effect for the sake of argument, incoherent as it is.

            Because, no matter what, it always boils down to this:

            However, the idea is that this prime mover is an unmoved mover.

            Nothing — and I mean not a single entity, not even space itself — in the entire universe is motionless.

            Worse, anybody who’s even vaguely familiar with Newton should know that there’s no way to set something in motion without a force that is also in motion.

            If your “prime mover” is motionless, it has no means to impart motion unto anything else.

            You really owe it to yourself to learn some set theory. It can be mind-blowing at first, but soon thereafter it becomes essential for all things theological. And, by “essential,” I mean, “perfectly caustic.”

            Start with the proof that there are more reals than integers, though both are infinite. Then move on to the set of all sets (that contain themselves). Next, Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem and Turing’s Halting Problem. When you get to the point that you realize that they’re all simple variations on the exact same theme, apply the same logic to the concepts of primal causality, omnipotence, omniscience, and any other omni-whatever you can think of.

            Cheers,

            b&

            • Ye Olde Statistician
              Posted July 14, 2011 at 5:01 pm | Permalink

              “However, the idea is that this prime mover is an unmoved mover.”

              Ben: Nothing — and I mean not a single entity, not even space itself — in the entire universe is motionless.

              My goodness! You have just proven that the prime mover must be outside the universe! Once more, you agree with Tommy d’Aquino.

              (Although I am curious what you might mean by “space itself” not being motionless. It is reminiscent of a notion that Einstein once dismissed; but it is charming. If space were a thing, rather than the field of Ricci tensors that Einstein equated with the relativistic ether.)

              • Posted July 14, 2011 at 5:11 pm | Permalink

                You have just proven that the prime mover must be outside the universe!

                I’ll agree with you 100% there.

                Of course, my definition of the term, “universe,” is “the set of all that ever was, is, or will be.”

                Cheers,

                b&

            • dguller
              Posted July 14, 2011 at 6:54 pm | Permalink

              >> If your “prime mover” is motionless, it has no means to impart motion unto anything else.

              This is actually the exact problem that I have with the Thomist God, amongst others. I find it impossible to conceive of how something that cannot undergo change can cause change to occur in something else. I mean, how does it do it? Certainly, there is nothing in our experience that validates this idea, and it seems to imply that something utterly incoherent is necessary for Aquinas to make causation possible.

              In fact, this speaks to the broader problem of being able to speak coherently about what is utterly beyond our conceptual understanding and empirical experience, as the Thomist God would have to be. After all, the only way to understand him at all would be via analogy, which I think is ultimately unhelpful.

              • Posted July 14, 2011 at 8:04 pm | Permalink

                In fact, this speaks to the broader problem of being able to speak coherently about what is utterly beyond our conceptual understanding and empirical experience, as the Thomist God would have to be. After all, the only way to understand him at all would be via analogy, which I think is ultimately unhelpful.

                What on Earth makes you think there’s any “there” there?

                Why reject the — to me — blindingly obvious conclusion that something that cannot even be expressed without resorting to logical contradictions and other types of incomprehensibiles is simply the incoherent ramblings of a confused person?

                I mean, really. If I dressed up “married bachelor” or “square circle” in some super ultra-fancy language, would you think all my bafflegab meant there’s some sort of metaphysical reality beyond the comprehension of mere mortals, or that I had slipped my leash and / or was trying to con you?

                Cheers,

                b&

              • dguller
                Posted July 14, 2011 at 9:30 pm | Permalink

                >> Why reject the — to me — blindingly obvious conclusion that something that cannot even be expressed without resorting to logical contradictions and other types of incomprehensibiles is simply the incoherent ramblings of a confused person?

                Because I am open to the possibility that our cognitive capacity is sufficiently limited as to be unable to understand some truths about the universe. I do not believe that logic necessarily holds as valid in all levels of reality, and thus it is possible that some truths may be incoherent and contradictory from our standpoint.

                In addition, in the past, there have been ramblings of individuals who were marginalized that turned out to be true, and so I never totally close my mind to the possibility that what seems unlikely may turn out to be true. It is a difficult balance to be ruthlessly critical and open-minded.

                That being said, due to the cognitive limitations that I mentioned earlier, I take all religious claims with an enormous grain of salt, and treat them as I treat string theory. Fascinating speculations that might be true, but without independent verification or confirmation, must be put away as interesting, but not true.

                Ultimately, what does theological speculation in for me is the fact that it stands on reason alone without any mechanism to verify that its conclusions are true. Science works well, because it has empirical methods of confirmation and falsification that allow hypothesis testing. There is nothing analogous in theology, which means that it is analogous to spinning one’s wheels without any traction at all. That may be fun to do, but it definitely won’t get you anywhere.

        • Posted July 14, 2011 at 9:10 pm | Permalink

          Remedial? How about Introductory?

      • Posted July 28, 2011 at 8:52 am | Permalink

        “Are you guys moles who are trying to prove Feser was correct when he said so many facile critics simply do not understand the argument they are trying to refute?”
        I’m not a mole, but I’ll happily come out dismissive of the cosmological argument. If it’s the best argument for God, then that’s a really good reason to be an atheist. An ad hoc invocation for a deity to describe something we really can’t understand surely cannot be the foundation for a theistic belief. Give a cosmological argument that shows the “first cause” had a mind and that mind is akin to our own, then perhaps we can take that vague deism and see how far it extrapolates. Until such time, the cosmological argument is just taking the ultimately mystery and giving it the label “God” – with all the cultural and psychological baggage that term carries.

        • Ye Olde Statistician
          Posted July 28, 2011 at 9:25 am | Permalink

          An ad hoc invocation for a deity to describe something we really can’t understand

          Further proof for Dr. Feser’s position? Are you one of his acolytes or something?

          Give a cosmological argument that shows the “first cause” had a mind and that mind is akin to our own, then perhaps we can take that vague deism and see how far it extrapolates.

          Condense hundreds of pages into a comm box? Forsooth! There is no claim that the mind of God is “akin” to our own. In fact, it is believed to be very much not akin to ours. But it has always been claimed that there is in God some power that is analogous to intellect and will. That simply follows from the principle of proportionate reason and the prior argument that First Mover must be purely actual; viz.:

          From the existence of a being of pure act (BPA), it follows that there can be only one BPA. (Suppose there were two. Then one would possess an X lacking in the other, otherwise they would not be distinct; but then the other would be in potency to X, and therefore not a BPA. QED.)

          Since there is only one BPA, it must be the first cause of all powers. (Hence, “all-power-full,” which you will notice does not mean a superhero in a Spandex suit.) But by proportionate reason, a cause cannot give what it does not have either formally or eminently. So there must be something in First Cause that is analogous to intellect and will in humans. That is, First Cause has a “mind.”

          Hope this helps. To complain that the cosmological argument does not conclude to these things is like complaining that Euclid’s first theorem does not conclude to the congruence of two triangles given equality of two angles and their included side. There are syllogisms that follow on from the first.

          • Posted July 28, 2011 at 9:45 am | Permalink

            Jeez. You guys are still at this?

            Damn.

            Can’t you see how absurd all this theobabble is?

            From the existence of a being of pure act (BPA), it follows that there can be only one BPA.

            From the existence of an invisible unicorn, it follows that She must be pink.

            What’s that? We haven’t established the existence of unicorns, invisible, pink, or otherwise? Never mind that….

            We know with as much certainty as that the Law of Conservation holds that cognition requires matter and energy. Yet, here you are, prattling on about the ultimate computational device — and it is entirely devoid of physical properties. How utterly ludicrous! It’s like you’ve figured out what reality is and you’re straining as hard as you can to find something in diametric opposition.

            (Suppose there were two. Then one would possess an X lacking in the other, otherwise they would not be distinct; but then the other would be in potency to X, and therefore not a BPA. QED.)

            Suppose the perfect pizza existed. If it did, it would be hot, with a thick artisan crust, and loaded with homemade sauce, fresh mozzarella, and meat. It would also be in my hands on its way to my mouth. And, because it’s perfect, and existence is an essential property of perfection, it must exist. So where’s my pizza?

            You theologians can’t logic your way out of a wet paper bag. You’re worse than a bunch of ten-year-old boys arguing over how much kryptonite is in Superman’s condoms — where’s the balance between a limp not-so-super dick and his super jizz rocketing through Lois’s backside like a photon torpedo? At least the boys understand it’s all make-believe.

            Cheers,

            b&

            • Ye Olde Statistician
              Posted July 28, 2011 at 11:29 am | Permalink

              Please stop supplying Feser with ammunition.

              From the existence of an invisible unicorn, it follows that She must be pink.

              A little logic, please. The consequence does not in fact follow on the premise. I gave the proof for the uniqueness of the BPA. The necessary existence of a purely actual being is not even a theological conclusion: Aristotle came to it without any reference whatsoever to the Jews or the Christians (who did not even exist at the time.)

              The existence of a BPA was taken here because everyone claims already to know the “cosmological” argument. The question asked was how you get from a BPA to a being with a “mind.”

              the Law of Conservation holds

              Oh, sure, you fall back on Aristotle when it suits….

              cognition requires matter and energy.

              So said St. Thomas Aquinas. Glad to see you’re on board.

              prattling on about the ultimate computational device

              What “computational device”?

              Suppose the perfect pizza existed. If it did, it would be hot, with a thick artisan crust, and loaded with homemade sauce, fresh mozzarella, and meat. It would also be in my hands on its way to my mouth. And, because it’s perfect, and existence is an essential property of perfection, it must exist.

              The first sentence is more or less true; but the rest does not follow.

              You’re worse than a bunch of ten-year-old boys…

              Is vulgarity a requirement? What does it refute?

              • Posted July 28, 2011 at 11:55 am | Permalink

                What “computational device”?

                You really are this thick, aren’t you?

                But by proportionate reason, a cause cannot give what it does not have either formally or eminently. So there must be something in First Cause that is analogous to intellect and will in humans.

                Your words. Which mean this “God” critter of yours is at least as Turing-complete as an Apple ][. Yet your god is some sort of metaphysical phantaorgsm beyond space and time.

                If this god whose chain your dear aunt Sally yanks when she uses sympathetic magic to cure her bunions is interacting with the real world, it’s a perpetual motion machine. If it’s not part of the real world, it exists only in your imagination.

                So, which is it: is your god a perpetual motion machine or an imaginary friend? There is no third option. Either way, you deserve nothing but laughter. Derisive laughter — the same as if you were wondering why we don’t give a damn how detailed your warp drive schematics are. Or why, as I wrote, it’s crazy to contemplate the kryptonite content of Kent’s condoms.

                Cheers,

                b&

          • Tulse
            Posted July 28, 2011 at 10:29 am | Permalink

            There is no claim that the mind of God is “akin” to our own. In fact, it is believed to be very much not akin to ours.

            “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness”

            If the mind of the Christian god is not akin to our own, then how can we possibly ascribe motives to it? How do we know it experiences qualities like “love”, which is so often attributed to it? If it is so alien to us, how do we even know that such a god is even good, and not malevolent?

            This is another instance of theists sliding around ascriptions to suit them — when Biblical literalism is a problem, they retreat to Armstrongian nebulousness, but when in the pulpit, it’s back to parted seas and raised dead. When preachers talk of their god, it’s all about love and mercy and the wonderful father in the sky, but when you get to the sophistimacated theologians, all human-like qualities are out the window, and it’s all wispy abstractions about Intellect and Will and Other Capitalized Attributes.

            Honestly, why should anyone take this stuff seriously, when even the religious can’t decide on their god’s qualities?

            • Ye Olde Statistician
              Posted July 28, 2011 at 11:51 am | Permalink

              The “likeness” in your proof-text refers to the human powers of intellect and will.

              Kel had asked for a demonstration of how one deduced that God had a “mind.” I took this to mean “a being of intellect and will” and provided the demonstration in digest form.

              If it is so alien to us, how do we even know that such a god is even good, and not malevolent?

              Go back to the demonstration that the BPA is all-power-full. Because the BPA is singular, it must also be the source of all goods, and therefore “all-good-full.” This does not mean rainbows and fluffy bunnies. It is not the source of all evils, because evils as such do not exist. Rather, an evil is defined as defectus boni, a lacking in a good. Thus, life is a good, since in the common course of nature, it is what all living things seek to preserve. (See Nich. Ethics Book I) But death is a defect of life. It does not have independent existence, but is parasitic on the existence of life. (We can conceive life without death; but we cannot conceive death without life.) So there is no need to account for the existence of evils. They are inherent in the existence of matter-energy.

              when Biblical literalism is a problem, they retreat to Armstrongian nebulousness, but when in the pulpit, it’s back to parted seas and raised dead.

              Armstrongian? Dude, think of the notions about quantum mechanics given here by a biologist. It has always been the case that there are those with neither the time, skills, or inclination to pursue a subject in depth. They simply take things like quantum mechanics or Darwinian evolution on faith. Often, their naive explanations cause professionals to roll their eyes. I don’t see what the problem is.

              why should anyone take this stuff seriously, when even the religious can’t decide on their god’s qualities?

              Well, general relativity and quantum theory require cosmological constants that differ by orders of magnitude. Why should anyone take this science stuff seriously, when even the scientists can’t decide on the universe’s attributes?

              Oh, wait. Maybe people get stories geared to their level of understanding; and contradictions are resolved by later arguments. Why kvetch? In all likelihood both Einsteinian relativity and Copenhagen quantum theory will be overthrown by new theories that will resolve the discrepancy. It’s not like we don’t have things like Milne’s relativity or Cramer’s quantum theory.

              • Posted July 28, 2011 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

                Go back to the demonstration that the BPA is all-power-full.

                Oh, so your BPA can use a straightedge and compass to draw a circle and a square with equal areas?

                Seriously. What letter does your BPA have stenciled on its cape?

                [E]vils as such do not exist.

                Yeah, shove that up your ass with a nigger necktie stuck to one of Torquemada’s racks with one of Mengele’s syringes.

                You want to know why religion poisons everything? It’s because you Christers start blathering about how evil is imaginary at the same time that the Muslims start blowing things up for the virgin raisins.

                Spare us the rhetorical bullshit about how your perfect BPH let his perfect creation go from Eden to Handbasket in under two pages. Here in the real world, evil is most real, and your foot-stomping about how it’s not all that bad so just shut up about it already is one of the worst varieties of evil there is.

                Cheers,
                b&

              • Tulse
                Posted July 28, 2011 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

                The “likeness” in your proof-text refers to the human powers of intellect and will.

                How so? Why doesn’t “likeness” and “image” refer straightforwardly to “appearance”? What convolutions does a theologian go through to get to only “intellect and will”, and not any other qualities?

                Because the BPA is singular, it must also be the source of all goods

                Presumably it must be the source of everything, not just goods. But then you handwave:

                It is not the source of all evils, because evils as such do not exist. Rather, an evil is defined as defectus boni, a lacking in a good.

                The very possibility of a universe in which there is a “lacking in a good” comes from the “BPA”, so yes, it is responsible for “evil”. It is absurd to say that the BPA created the very structure of all existence, but then isn’t responsible for its “lacks”, or at least that the universe can even have “lacks”.

                As for my Armstrong comment, you missed my point entirely, which was that the god that is worshipped by 99.9% of Christians is not the same god as the one you outline above. This shift from folk belief to abstraction and back is nothing but a shell game.

              • Posted July 29, 2011 at 1:38 am | Permalink

                “Kel had asked for a demonstration of how one deduced that God had a “mind.” I took this to mean “a being of intellect and will” and provided the demonstration in digest form.”
                I didn’t see any demonstration at all, but chalk that up to me being an unsophisticated layperson. I would have thought given the confidence people have in God’s morality, God’s desires, and God’s actions that there would be something other than playing with definitions to show agency – after all what we know about traits like intelligence and intentions is that they require a tremendous amount of complexity and rely on underlying physical causation. All you’ve done, at least to my unsophisticated layperson brain, is assumed that all those can exist sans the structure that we need in order to have them – and the way to get around it is to say they’re “analogous”. Well, analogous in what way? That God has thoughts without having a neural network in place? That God has desires without the passage of time in which to have them? How do you know any of it?

                Part of the problem of all this, again from my unsophisticated layperson perspective, is that God is treated as if he’s a magic human – minus all the things that we know allow us to be human. We call God the “perfect being”, we say God is “ultimate simplicity”, yet how is that anything other than bare assertions to mask our underlying sense of agency? We as humans develop a theory of mind, there’s a particular region of the brain precisely for that which allows us to think in terms of other agents. I really can’t see how your words are anything other than trying to abstract that sense of agency into something you can say exists.

                And I don’t care how much ammunition this is giving Feser. Feser can have all the ammunition he likes from me. I think the Courtier’s Reply is perfectly valid in most circumstances – how much have you studied astrology or homoeopathy? Likewise I’m fairly confident that belief in God is a projection of our evolved psychology, and that defence in belief in God has little to do with trying to understand whether God really exists. I could go on, in-fact I have a whole blog full of stuff that Feser can just laugh at. But when I’ve talked with theists about God, they talk about God as if he were another agent in the world – then defend such beliefs with neoplatonic abstractions or god-of-the-gaps type arguments. I’m sick of it. So Feser can have all the ammunition he wants, but if people are going to talk about God like he’s an agent, then I want something more than wordplay to back that up. It doesn’t seem like too much to ask for…

              • Tulse
                Posted July 29, 2011 at 11:03 am | Permalink

                an evil is defined as defectus boni, a lacking in a good

                So if something is not perfect, it lacks a good.

                Change requires a lack, as it involves going from some state to some other, different state.

                Therefore, to the extent that the Christian god created the universe, the Christian god changed, and therefore lacks or lacked a good, and is therefore evil.

          • Posted July 29, 2011 at 1:12 am | Permalink

            “Further proof for Dr. Feser’s position? Are you one of his acolytes or something?”
            I’m not anyone’s acolyte, just a curious layperson trying to understand the world. When I read examples like this:
            “There is no claim that the mind of God is “akin” to our own. In fact, it is believed to be very much not akin to ours. But it has always been claimed that there is in God some power that is analogous to intellect and will.”
            I must confess I have no idea what’s being said. And especially not knowing why akin and analogous, given they are synonyms, is being acted as if there’s a great distinction. Furthermore, what does “analogous” even mean in this context?

            This is why I’m dismissive of the arguments – I’m fairly sure believers are using words that sound superficially profound in order to protect their belief. How do you know what God is like? Why is God’s intelligence not akin to our own, but analogous to our own? How do you know God even has intelligence at all? And to get this back to my initial objection – how is any of this demonstrated by the cosmological argument?

            • Posted July 29, 2011 at 5:03 am | Permalink

              And to get this back to my initial objection – how is any of this demonstrated by the cosmological argument?

              That one I can answer.

              If part of the fantasy is true, then it all is. And if any part of the fantasy isn’t true, then none of it is.

              And if none of the fantasy is true, then the Christians don’t get to spend eternity sticking their fingers in Jesus’s spear wound, fondling his intestines. And what’s the point to life if you can’t at least have some hope of getting some gut-groping action when you die?

              Cheers,

              b&

            • Ye Olde Statistician
              Posted July 29, 2011 at 7:22 am | Permalink

              Why is God’s intelligence not akin to our own, but analogous to our own?

              For the same reason a hydraulic circuit is not akin to an electrical circuit, but is analogous to an electrical circuit. For the same reason a bowl of cherries is not akin to happiness, but is analogous to happiness. For the same reason kinship is not an analogy.

              how is any of this demonstrated by the cosmological argument?

              Because (as already shown), at the end of the cosmological argument is First Changer, and First Changer must logically be purely actual, and a purely actual First Changer (being the source of all powers) must possess those powers in some manner (as a lit match sets fire to paper because it is already actually on fire – possesses fire “formally” – or an architect designs a house because he already has the house in his mind – possesses the house “eminently.”)

              However: be careful. You are using the term “intelligence,” which is not well-defined. The proper term in this case is “intellect,” which is specifically the power to reflect upon percepts of particulars and to abstract from them concepts of universals.
              + + +

              You don’t have to be convinced by any rational argument, but it is well to know what that argument actually is. (I could present an argument that a closed and bounded set is compact; but you could not assent without knowing in what sense “compact” is meant. Likewise, that a figure-8 is “complex” while a maze is “simple.” It is not enough to call the mathematician a fool.) You cannot defeat an enemy if you train to combat a straw man. You may train to fire muskets in ordered squares at a command on an open field-of-battle; but it is of little help against a guerrilla who is hiding in the swamp taking pot shots and running.

              If nothing else, a decent respect ought to caution us that pretty smart people have given the argument serious consideration and some, like Leibnitz, have defended it. IOW, the argument may be uncompelling; but it is not uncompelling for stupid and obvious reasons.

              Hope this helps.

              • Posted July 29, 2011 at 7:40 am | Permalink

                If nothing else, a decent respect ought to caution us that pretty smart people have given the argument serious consideration and some, like Leibnitz, have defended it. IOW, the argument may be uncompelling; but it is not uncompelling for stupid and obvious reasons.

                Yup. The Courtier’s reply.

                Hey, Sparky — how ’bout…oh, I don’t know…maybe showing us a picture of the Emperor’s fine new clothes, instead of just telling us how handsome the Emperor must surely look in them?

                Not that a random photo torn out of a fashion magazine would even begin to be compelling, but none of y’all have even pretended to offer us that much. No, it’s all the same bullshit about how only somebody of the finest breeding could give birth to somebody worthy to ascend the throne, and somebody of fine breeding has fine taste, and somebody of fine taste only wears fabulous clothes. QED, of course.

                Never mind that there isn’t even an empire, let alone an emperor, let alone an imperial wardrobe.

                You may think your deep thoughts deserve respect, but they don’t. They still remain the yearnings of a child to play catch with his invisible friends.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Posted July 29, 2011 at 9:51 am | Permalink

                “For the same reason a hydraulic circuit is not akin to an electrical circuit, but is analogous to an electrical circuit. For the same reason a bowl of cherries is not akin to happiness, but is analogous to happiness. For the same reason kinship is not an analogy. ”
                This doesn’t help at all, it still doesn’t explain anything about the nature of God and how it is we know it. Likewise:
                “at the end of the cosmological argument is First Changer, and First Changer must logically be purely actual, and a purely actual First Changer (being the source of all powers) must possess those powers in some manner (as a lit match sets fire to paper because it is already actually on fire – possesses fire “formally” – or an architect designs a house because he already has the house in his mind – possesses the house “eminently.”) ”
                What does it mean to be a “purely actual First Changer”? This is my problem, I’m not sure those words actually mean anything at all. Does God think? If so, what does God think with? Does God act? If so, how does God act, and through what? Saying “purely actual” doesn’t help me at all understand how someone can invoke agency for something outside of space and time.

                I am trying to understand, I’m really sick of theists telling me I don’t understand. But all I get from theists time and time again is descriptions of agency (which I can understand perfectly) combined with abstract language that doesn’t seem to say anything at all.

                You and Feser and all the other sophisticated theists can laugh up at my ignorance, but I do try to understand and I have been trying over and over to understand – and the best I ever get is being told I don’t get it after getting a wall of incomprehensible text. I’ve come to the conclusion that either most theists don’t believe in what theologians defend (but they both call it God so it’s okay) or that I’m missing something really obvious. Please no more wordplay, I’m not a sophisticated theologian, all I think I’m getting is a stream of deflective bullshit.

                If you really want to help me, as you say after each post, please try to see this from my perspective. I don’t know what you’re talking about, I can’t comprehend what those terms could even possibly mean, and I can’t see how those terms could relate to the interventionist agent that I was taught as a child and preached to about as an adult. It doesn’t make any sense at all! I could really use someone to explain God in a way that would convey an understanding of what they’re talking about. I just don’t know how anyone can describe God as having a mind any more than God having liver function. (or does he have something analogous to liver function?) If you really want to help me, (as you say you do) please talk to me as if I’m a human trying to learn. Not as someone you can throw terms like “pure actuality” at an expect them to nod with new keen insight – I’m not sure what that could possibly mean.

              • Posted July 29, 2011 at 10:16 am | Permalink

                “You don’t have to be convinced by any rational argument, but it is well to know what that argument actually is.”
                It helps if the argument is relevant to accepting it. No matter what argument a homoeopath, for example, comes up with, the fact of the matter is the reasons I have for rejecting homoeopathy have nothing to do with those arguments and everything to do with the lack of biochemical plausibility and its failure empirically. The odd blip of a paper showing a positive homoeopathy trial doesn’t change that as there are plenty of reasons why a trial might show a positive yet still there’s no biochemical plausibility but a whole host of negative trials too. Yet if I can’t show exactly where on the paper they went wrong, does that mean I should reconsider homoeopathy despite all the reasons not to?

                The argument, as far as I understand it is that God becomes the necessary truth on which all contingent things come. The version I’m most familiar with is the Kalam cosmological argument as that is Dr Craig’s preferred argument to defend, in which he distinguishes between contingent things (such as planets and people) and necessary things (such as mathematical laws, and as he asserts God). The universe had an absolute beginning he says, citing the Big Bang but also talking about mathematical infinities, and he argues that the temporal nature of the universe shows that the cause was personal. I’ve heard similar arguments based on the nature of contingency, whereby God’s nature as a perfect being had the Anslem Ontological argument tacked on. But the general argument, at least as I understand it, is that God is the grounding of all reality – the necessary being (whatever that means) to explain how there can be a space and time to begin with. God being eternal, God is itself uncaused (whatever that means), so asking who designed the designer from this perspective would be a moot point and to fundamentally misunderstand the nature of the argument.

                I’m not sure how good a summation of the argument that is, (or whether by using the Kalam cosmological argument I’ve misrepresented a better cosmological argument) but from my perspective it’s not very relevant at all. Let’s say the argument is valid, at least from my understanding the best you get is a vague deism. It doesn’t help account for the agency that “men call God”, indeed the evolutionary explanation that God is a projection of human agency still holds even if this argument is valid. So I don’t find the argument very relevant at all to my rejection of God as a belief. Like the homoeopathy example, that God is a projection of the human mind is too overwhelming to worry about one argument that doesn’t address such concerns to be explained away. You can Feser can laugh at my ignorance, but from my perspective the challenge is to show an interventionist deity – and I don’t think that is being unreasonable. I’m not a philosopher of religion, that I can’t show the flaw in a revision of the ontological argument nor can I rise to Craig’s challenge involving actual infinities isn’t a concern to me at all. I let the philosophers of religion argue that out.

  59. Myron
    Posted July 13, 2011 at 3:58 pm | Permalink

    test

  60. Myron
    Posted July 13, 2011 at 4:09 pm | Permalink

    “And, of course, there are some things in the universe that don’t have causes, one being radioactive decay.” (J. Coyne)

    Is radioactive decay really causeless? This physical phenomenon consists in the sudden disintegration of certain atomic nuclei accompanied by the emission of alpha- or beta-particles or gamma radiation. Such an event is the manifestation of a physical power (disposition) of the atomic nuclei in question. It is true that it is not triggered by any external cause, but this doesn’t mean that it isn’t triggered by any internal cause. W. E. Johnson introduced the distinction between transeunt causality and immanent causality. The former is interactive causality in the sense that it involves a causal (cause-effect) relationship between (at least) two distinct objects, and the latter is intra-active causality in the sense that only one object is involved wherein the causation takes place. Radioactive decay can well be a case of internal, immanent, intra-active causation, and then it isn’t causeless. The causal ground of radioactive decay is an intrinsic, specific, self-triggering power of certain atomic nuclei that spontaneously manifests itself at some unpredictable (or at least not individually predictable) time.

    By the way, causing something (some thing) to begin to exist is certainly a case of transeunt causation, since nothing can bring itself into existence.

    • Posted July 13, 2011 at 4:44 pm | Permalink

      The whole notion of causation is hopelessly mired in dualistic religious woo.

      Thanks to the law of conservation, we know that everything since the Big Bang that appears to be an act of causing something to exist is best described as a rearrangement of extant matter and energy.

      Once you come to that realization, tossing around claims such as things bringing other things into existence becomes an exercise in absurdity, leaving no examples whatsoever for the very basis of the Cosmological Argument.

      Cheers,

      b&

      • Ye Olde Statistician
        Posted July 14, 2011 at 11:12 am | Permalink

        Ben: “Thanks to the law of conservation, we know that everything since the Big Bang that appears to be an act of causing something to exist is best described as a rearrangement of extant matter and energy.”

        Congratulations. You have made the same distinction that the medievals made!

        But I would include the Big Bang, as well, given that it is supposed an emergence from a quantum state. It is simply another example of trans-form-ation – that is, a change in the form – from quantum state to space-time continuum. The originator of the Big Bang, the Catholic priest Fr. Georges Lemaitre, was very clear about this.

        Once you come to that realization, tossing around claims such as things bringing other things into existence becomes an exercise in absurdity, leaving no examples whatsoever for the very basis of the Cosmological Argument.

        Again, you are repeating old Aristotelian and Thomistic tropes, except for your misunderstanding of the bases for the two cosmological arguments. The basis of the first is that some things in the world are in motion. The basis for the second is that there is an ordering of efficient causes. Otherwise, the notion that the natures of things could act directly upon other things was medieval Catholic teaching.

        To quote William of Conches:
        “[They say] ‘We do not know how this is, but we know that God can do it.’ You poor fools! God can make a cow out of a tree, but has He ever done so? Therefore show some reason why a thing is so, or cease to hold that it is so.”
        and again
        “[God] is the author of all things, evil excepted. But the natures with which He endowed His creatures accomplish a whole scheme of operations, and these too turn to His glory since it is He who created these very natures.”

        Whether you believe their conclusions or not, at least give them credit for not being stupid.

    • Steve Smith
      Posted July 13, 2011 at 6:07 pm | Permalink

      Is radioactive decay really causeless?

      Yes. This is really silly—learn how to read a Feyman diagram and what it means (Feynman’s own QED is a must-read anyway). The particle interaction that describes decay has a certain probability associated with it that can be computed very, very accurately. For example, a W particle interacts with a down quark, turning it into an up quark, causing a neutron to turn into a proton and emitting an electron and a photon—beta decay. As far as anyone knows, nothing caused the quark—W boson interaction. It just happened, with the resulting beta decay.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/W_boson

      Any discussion the “cause” of particle interactions devolves into nonsense immediately. Is it god down there, throwing these particles together.

      And as far as we know, the Big Bang wasn’t caused by anything either, just like particle interactions aren’t. Arguments like Aquinas’s that you need some uncaused god to cause the uncaused Big Bang devolve into nonsense immediately, as people have been pointing out over and over and over for a very long time.

      • dguller
        Posted July 13, 2011 at 7:08 pm | Permalink

        Aquinas’ case has nothing to do with God being the first cause in the sense of being the first in a series of causes, which then assume a life of their own, but rather as underlying all existence at every moment, from first to last.

        • Steve Smith
          Posted July 14, 2011 at 3:04 am | Permalink

          Then please tell us then why Aquinas’s God is necessary in radioactive decay. I just linked to the Feynman diagram describing one example—where is God?

          https://secure.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/wiki/File:Beta_Negative_Decay.svg

          Scaling this up, we have Feynman diagrams that describe all known physical interactions back to a fraction of a yocto-femto-milli-second after the Big Bang. And we have some physically promising hypotheses about what came before that and why. At what space-time point in the history of the universe is God necessary? Where is God?

          https://secure.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/wiki/Timeline_of_the_Big_Bang#Very_early_universe

          • dguller
            Posted July 14, 2011 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

            His God is necessary as Pure Act without any potential whatsoever in order to make any transition from potential to act possible, and thus makes all change possible.

            • Tacroy
              Posted July 14, 2011 at 11:49 pm | Permalink

              How could we tell the difference between a universe in which that God exists and a universe in which that God does not exist, but things happen anyway?

              • Ye Olde Statistician
                Posted July 15, 2011 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

                Simple. In one case, people say “Goddidit!” and in the other case, they say “It just IS!” But since the God is question is identified with Existence itself, and even supposedly called itself “I AM” the two claims amount to the same thing.

                In fact, it makes very little difference, depending on the scope of one’s interests. If the only tool you use is a hammer, not only do you see only nails, you begin to think that nails are all there are.

                Basically, without Existence itself the universe would not “look different.” It would not have existence at all. Now, you need no more acknowledge, know, or dwell on this in order to study the nails of the universe than you need to know Frank Whittle to fly in a jet airplane or know Shakespeare to enjoy Hamlet.

        • Chris
          Posted July 14, 2011 at 7:10 am | Permalink

          How does Aquinas’s God ‘underlie’ (or ‘ground’ – presumably they are the same) all of reality?

          • Ye Olde Statistician
            Posted July 14, 2011 at 6:47 pm | Permalink

            Somewhere along the line of deductions it is established that the first mover is Existence Itself. (Because it must be purely actual, etc.) Since a cause cannot give what it does not have, either formally or eminently, the cause of existence must be Existence Itself.

            Creation is the joining of an essence to an act of existence. Everything in physics is the transformation of something already existing into something else. Creation is not a big bang, the origin of species, or the birth of a child, or anything of the sort. Prime matter persists through change, and any number of posters here have affirmed their belief in this Thomistic principle — apparently in the belief they were scoring points against Thomas; but go figure.

            Anyhow, the upshot is that creation is something that is happening “right here, right now” and not only at some remote time in the past. IOW, nothing can exist unless Existence exists; and Existence cannot not exist.

      • Ye Olde Statistician
        Posted July 14, 2011 at 9:37 am | Permalink

        you only consider one type of “stuff”/hylo here: energy/matter. An electron, however, doesn’t interact causally via its form. It interacts due to its charge, which is certainly not dependent on form in the sense of “shape” or “configuration.” Charge, like energy, is conserved and independent of form, but nonetheless vital to any causal account involving the electromagnetic force.

        YOS: I used energy/matter because the two are equivalent. Heisenberg thought that mass-energy was prime matter, but you are correct to observe that mass-energy is already a form of matter. I used the shape/configuration as the most easily grasped of forms. But a body has many forms: the form of heat, the form of velocity, the form of color, etc. An electron possesses the form of charge. If electrons exist. Feynman thought they were screwy and no one can quite get a handle on what they are. For a time in my youth they were characterized as “clouds of probabilities” but that made no more sense than little bee-bees spinning around a nucleus.

        The particle interaction that describes [radioactive] decay has a certain probability associated with it that can be computed very, very accurately. For example, a W particle interacts with a down quark, turning it into an up quark, causing a neutron to turn into a proton and emitting an electron and a photon—beta decay. As far as anyone knows, nothing caused the quark—W boson interaction. It just happened, with the resulting beta decay.

        Well, currently quarks are mathematical terms in an equation, and are a useful notion in that the calculations “save the appearances.” But then, so did epicycles and eccentrics in the old astronomy. Hawking and Feynmann both pointed out that just because there is a term in an equation, there need not be an entity in physics. That being said, acting as if they were facts has so far worked out, and you have given an admirable account of the causal chain, right up to the point where you throw up your hands and give the matter over to faith by crying “IT JUST IS!” This is no more scientifically satisfying than “GODDIDIT!”

        Is it god down there, throwing these particles together.

        No. At least not in the way that you seem to intend: i.e., God as an efficient cause.

        But you are playing into the IDers’ hands here: their argument is precisely that chance events really do require theokinetics. The classical tradition is that it is the lawfulness of nature that provides evidence of God, even if the laws are expressed by humans as probabilities. The equations still work out. We cannot predict how a pair of dice will turn up for each throw, but that does not mean that the results of a dice throw have no causes.

        As far as anyone knows

        Do not fall into the Ungod of the Gaps fallacy. That is every bit as foolish as the God of the Gaps fallacy. Again, Aquinas put it best when he wrote:
        “We marvel at something when, seeing an effect, we do not know the cause. And since one and the same cause is at times known to certain people and not to others, it happens that some marvel and some do not.” [Contra gentiles]

        IOW, don’t assume that something is a miracle/uncaused just because you don’t know what the cause is right this moment.

        • truthspeaker
          Posted July 14, 2011 at 10:03 am | Permalink

          Those aren’t “forms”, they’re properties.

      • M. Dionis
        Posted July 20, 2011 at 11:25 am | Permalink

        Is radioactive decay really causeless?

        Yes. This is really silly—learn how to read a Feyman diagram and what it means (Feynman’s own QED is a must-read anyway).

        I think there is some unhappy semantics implied by Jerry’s phrase about supposedly causeless radioactive decay. Feynman’s diagrams from perturbative QFT describe interactions; the interaction part of the Lagrangian (or, if one prefers, the interaction part of the Hamiltonian in QM) can be regarded as causing the decay (that is: the transition from an initial state to a different final state of the nuclear system). The Feynman graphical approach makes no fundamental difference between transitions induced by real (i.e. “on shell”) particles interacting with the nucleus and those produced by interactions with virtual (“off shell”) particles which occur naturally as a result of quantum fluctuations in QFT with probability factors given by standard computation rules. One may depict non-induced radioactive decays as caused by interaction with field fluctuations / virtual particles, or existence of weak interaction rather than without any cause at all.
        Of course, the intrinsically probabilistic nature of the phenomenon makes impossible to predict when exactly a certain nucleus will decay and one can say there is no specific cause triggering nucleus’ decay in a given time interval today rather than tomorrow or yesterday. I’d say that Jerry’s causal argument is more accurately supported by timing factor than by phenomenology itself. Obviously, these considerations don’t affect the validity of the point he made.

        • Ye Olde Statistician
          Posted July 20, 2011 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

          There’s still a big confusion between causation and predictability. We can still say that Professor Plum killed Mr. Body in the Study with a Wrench, even if we could not have predicted ahead of time when he would do so, or even that he would do so. The death still had a cause. The same thing applies to the superposition of fields and particle-particle interactions.

          • M. Dionis
            Posted July 21, 2011 at 3:30 am | Permalink

            Nope. I’m trying to give a sense to Jerry’s argument. I’ll rephrase: I look at an atomic nucleus which happens to decay today at 12:00.
            Question 1: Why the nucleus decayed?
            Answer: Because of weak interaction, bla-bla [so here we do have a cause for the event "the nucleus decayed"]
            Question 2: Why the nucleus decayed specifically today at 12:00 and not tomorrow or 100000 years from now?
            Answer: there is no (known) answer. As for any other quantum probabilistic process, we have no clue why it happens at a given moment (or through a given channel, by the same token). Of course, we have very accurate statistical descriptions of how should behave a large number of such events, we are able to compute matrix elements and diagrams related to each process and give a nice mathematical description in probabilistic terms, but we still cannot answer this question. Many physicists think the question 2 is ill-posed, but this issue is still open. In the past, one has tried to escape this kind of behavior with “hidden variables” you certainly know of; there is no evidence though for these hypothetical “hidden variables” but there are theoretical arguments against them and several experiments pointing towards a QM without hidden variables. So one cannot yet assert a cause for the event “the nucleus decayed today at 12:00″. One may wonder whether this is a well-defined event, but if one accepts the question 2, modern physics doesn’t have an answer (for the part “today at 12:00″). We can speculate over the non-adequacy of our space-time intuitive framework in which we consider the events, we can try even to forget about it (but at this point it would be senseless to continue to speak about causality within the initial framework).
            I hope I was clearer now.

            • Ye Olde Statistician
              Posted July 21, 2011 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

              All that granted, there is nothing in causation per se that demands predicting when an event will happen in the future, whether that is the superpositioning of fields that we call particle-particle interactions or whether it was Professor Plum with the candlestick. It may even be that down among the quanta time itself makes no appearance.

              Certainly, Heisenberg thought that quantum theory had put paid to the notion of particles having objective existence: essentially, that matter could not be explained by materialism. But he also claimed that physics was no longer about the “real world” but about physicists’ *perceptions* about the real world.

              I always liked Kaluza-Klein and the Hidden Dimensions; but physics today has the bad habit, as you indicate, of postulating non-empiricals and then supposing them to be facts, and then trumpeting these as the answers to metaphysical questions. Sometimes, a story lets all the extant facts just fall into place and “make sense.” But currently there are five or more such stories being told about the quanta, and no facts (except maybe the Afshar experiment, that might distinguish among them. My cosmologist friend tells me that there is still no experimental way to distinguish between Einstein’s relativity and Milne’s relativity.

              • M. Dionis
                Posted July 22, 2011 at 4:32 am | Permalink

                All that granted, there is nothing in causation per se that demands predicting when an event will happen in the future, whether that is the superpositioning of fields that we call particle-particle interactions or whether it was Professor Plum with the candlestick. It may even be that down among the quanta time itself makes no appearance.

                Well, in the quantum world it’s not only the fundamental temporal impredictibility at odds with our causal feeling but the result of almost any measure. For instance, you measure first the spin of a fermion along the x axis and find +1 (in hbar/2 units). The measure puts the fermion in the x-“up” spin eigenstate: at any further moment the spin of the fermion along the same axis will be still +1 (if no interaction has occurred meanwhile). But if you try to measure again the spin along any other axis, you will find +/-1 with certain non-vanishing probabilities given by standard QM rules.
                Let’s say we’re measuring the spin along the y axis: the probabilities to find +/- 1 are both equal to 0.5 and there is no way to pick in advance one or another of the y eigenstates. Let’s say we measured +1 also along the y axis: now the fermion will be in the y-“up” spin eigenstate. As well as before, we may ask ourselves Question 1: why [what caused] the fermion is [to be] in a y spin eigenstate? Answer: because of the measure (a process involving an interaction with the fermion singling out the y axis). Question 2: why [what caused] the fermion is [to be] in the y-“up” rather than in y-“down” spin eigenstate? Answer 2: silence heavy with meaning.
                So, this kind of impredictibility is fundamental in quantum world and arises from the apparent lack of natural causes for picking a certain specific outcome. It doesn’t have the same ontological status as classical dynamics impredictibility in the case of an immense number of particles (-> thermodynamics) or strong non-linear dynamical systems: at least in theory, a perfect knowledge of all parameters in an initial state and interactions should be enough to enable us to predict the outcome of position and speed measures at any further moment. In QM one postulates that all the information about the state of a system is stored in its wave-function: one may find statistical/probabilistic answers for measures results but there is no way to predict the exact result of most measures which means we don’t know why a fermion chooses the final state y-“up” and not y-“down”.
                As stated, one might argue about the ultimate meaning of “causality” within this context and if it’s really applicable to type “2” questions. I think this would be a discussion about semantics. The only point I wanted to emphasize is that Jerry’s words there are some things in the universe that don’t have causes, one being radioactive decay. As far as we know, that just happens without any cause are not accurate in that he refers to type “1” questions which do have a causal answer, and the only way to make quantum statements meeting his non-causal intentions would be to say that type “2” questions are not senseless and make these statements point to type “2” questions. If one accepts type “2” questions, then Jerry’s point can be understood. Incidentally, the Universe causation (the context within Jerry made his claim) can be also legitimately viewed from the two perspectives:
                Q1: Why the Universe happened?
                Q2: Why the Universe happened to be as it is?
                Of course, there is no apriori reason to say in this case (as in QM) that Q1 has a causal answer and Q2 does not.

  61. Myron
    Posted July 13, 2011 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

    “[Y]ou’re not allowed to ask, ‘What caused God’?” (J. Coyne)

    Yes, you are. The straightforward answer is: God is eternal, and what is eternal never began to exist—neither with nor without a cause.

    • Posted July 13, 2011 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

      You do realize, of course, that your “straightforward” answer is incoherent, don’t you?

      The temporal dimension is bounded at the Big Bang. There is no more a “before” the Big Bang than there is a “farther north” of the North Pole.

      Now, it may well be that there exist parallel universes or colliding branes or what-not such that our own particular contiguous space-time continuum is not the entirety of existence. And maybe you’re even trying to suggest that your gods exist in the same sense, outside of space and time, as those parallel universes. But, if that’s what you’re doing, it’s even sillier than suggesting that there’s a teapot in orbit around Uranus, and that the Milky Way was poured out of said teapot.

      Cheers,

      b&

      • Myron
        Posted July 13, 2011 at 5:00 pm | Permalink

        There is disagreement among the theologians as to whether God exists in time and is temporally eternal or doesn’t exist in time and is nontemporally eternal.
        (And there are those such as William Craig who hold that God minus Creation exists nontemporally eternally, and that God plus Creation exists temporally eternally.)

        Whether the Big Bang is the absolute beginning of space and time is an open question.
        (Of course, if space and time are inseparably united as spacetime, then it is incoherent to claim that God exists in time but not in space.)

        • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
          Posted July 13, 2011 at 6:26 pm | Permalink

          Philosophically you still have the infinite recursion case.

          Either you allow the universe to be eternal and then have no use for agents. Or you claim that everything needs a cause and then gods need a cause.

          Physically systems that are eternal are zero energy. Therefore such systems are not agents, they can’t cause anything else deliberately, see my ref to Faraoni in another comment.

          Besides these problems I find it difficult to discuss cosmology as if the old and well tested standard cosmology of the early 00’s doesn’t exist.

          In standard cosmology inflation and its reheating precedes big bang expansion of the old big bang cosmology. Inflation is naturally eternal but doesn’t have spacetime as we know it. I’m no theoretical physicist, but reading Linde it seems that all inflationary physics as of yet are captured with semiclassical worldlines. (I.e. it is enough to look at observers over time as they meet quantized particles.)

          It seems that in such a phase space no complex systems exist. For example, going back in time particles (or strings, whatever) acquires more and more energy until they hit the Planck energy. A sort of classical ultraviolet catastrophe.

          Now, boundless energy blows apart stuff, no bonds or their equivalents. So no complexity.

          • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
            Posted July 13, 2011 at 6:39 pm | Permalink

            Ah, and if you wonder how inflation can be eternal and start out with observers having “infinite” (planck) energy, that is one of the open questions of inflation.

            One answer is that the ground state is zero energy. Eventually all inflationary volumes tend to the type of universes we are, FLRW “big bang” universes, which are zero energy. (Those that wasn’t quickly collapsed on themselves again and eventually fluctuations had inflation resume.)

            Another is that the inflationary state we came out of is embedded in a an inflationary prespace that was zero energy. Fluctuations kicked the inflationary potential way up locally, and then inflationary exponential expansion made all the multiverses we love and hold dear.

          • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
            Posted July 13, 2011 at 6:51 pm | Permalink

            The problem with energy et cetera that physicists have is that we don’t know how to take probability measures over infinite spaces.

            Faraoni et al solved how to measure energy over one universe after people started to claim there was no such thing. General relativity doesn’t admit unique global measures of energy. Heck, generally there is no time in GR models; if the universe didn’t expand all the time we would never know how to “peel the onion”, literary: expansion orders lightcones as on expanding shells uniquely.

            Ironically at the same time this was resolved the multiverse “blow open” and that pesky question reinstated itself again. Back to square one…

        • Posted July 13, 2011 at 6:28 pm | Permalink

          There is disagreement among the theologians as to whether God exists in time and is temporally eternal or doesn’t exist in time and is nontemporally eternal.

          Then theologians really are clueless gobshites.

          Ever since Einstein, we’ve known that time is a fundamental dimension. It no more makes sense to debate whether or not something exists outside of time than it does to debate whether or not it exists outside of width. Might as well argue about married bachelors drawing square circles and be done with it.

          Cheers,

          b&

          • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
            Posted July 13, 2011 at 7:03 pm | Permalink

            Ah, but that is the mystery!

            Squaring the circles and bending the straight, at the end gods must exist outside of existence.

            Does strike one as an exercise in futility.

            • Posted July 13, 2011 at 7:26 pm | Permalink

              Existing outside of existence — brilliant! I love it!

              It’s even true, too!

              b&

          • Posted July 15, 2011 at 12:40 am | Permalink

            Ben, you should probably avoid, (or adequately qualify), the supposed impossibility of square circles. Any competent mathematician can construct one, if not limited to Euclidian geometry.

          • Ye Olde Statistician
            Posted July 15, 2011 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

            Ever since Einstein, we’ve known that time is a fundamental dimension. It no more makes sense to debate whether or not something exists outside of time…

            Actually, ever since Einstein, we’ve known that it makes no sense to debate whether time exists outside of matter. Time and space are consequences of the existence of matter

            Thus, nothing material can exist outside of time (or space) since as soon as matter exists, time and space exist. This implies that if anything does exist “outside of space and time” (a poor analogy) that it must be non-material.

            Of course, we’ve all had experience with non-material, timeless truths. That the interior angles of a plane triangle sum to 180 deg. was true before Euclid (or his predecessors) discovered it. It is true even if there are no material triangular bodies in existence. It is also clear that this is an objective truth, since it does not differ from mind to mind, if the mind has studied triangles.

      • Ye Olde Statistician
        Posted July 14, 2011 at 11:18 am | Permalink

        “There is no more a “before” the Big Bang than there is a “farther north” of the North Pole.”

        I once mentioned that elsewhere and got piled on by atheists denying it; so I guess there is more than one sect.

        But indeed, you express agreement with St. Augustine of Hippo, who wrote:
        “With the motion of creatures, time began to run its course. It is idle to look for time before creation, as if time can be found before time.” [De genesi ad litteram, V.5:12]

    • Patrick
      Posted July 13, 2011 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

      That’s not an adequate answer in the context of a first cause argument. A first cause argument includes within it what is purported to be a demonstration that the universe cannot be eternal. It is necessary to give actual reasons why, if this reasoning holds for the universe, it doesn’t also hold for God.

      Otherwise you end up in the same place I parodied above:

      1. Only an invisible person could have stolen this priceless diamond without being seen.
      2. But no man can be invisible.
      3. Therefore the thief was a woman.

      • Myron
        Posted July 13, 2011 at 5:35 pm | Permalink

        You don’t have to persuade me that the spatiotemporal universe can well be (temporally) eternal—I already believe that.
        But you have to convince theists such as Craig who hold that the concept of a temporally infinite past is fraught with absurdities and inconsistencies.

        • Posted July 13, 2011 at 6:30 pm | Permalink

          Craig thinks that the ultimate goal in life is to become deserving of eternally fondling an ancient Jewish zombie’s intestines. I don’t think there’s much point in worrying about trying to convince him of the benefits of sound logic.

          Cheers,

          b&

    • truthspeaker
      Posted July 14, 2011 at 10:03 am | Permalink

      That’s not straightforward at all.

  62. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted July 13, 2011 at 6:08 pm | Permalink

    Of all the dumb arguments for religion, using agency to motivate agency is the dumbest.

    Yes, you can use circular dependencies in a theory, but then it must be testable. (Or you get caught in the loop, so to speak.)

    Agency is glommed onto something that is observed and predicted (not uniquely as of yet, but predicted) with natural causation.

    And, of course, there are some things in the universe that don’t have causes, one being radioactive decay. As far as we know, that just happens without any cause.

    Not philosophical/religious cause, but as a matter of fact such systems obey causality.

    Decay is a quantum physics phenomena, and QM moves state to state causally. It is decoherence (say, observation) that behaves stochastically.

    the Universe could just “happen”, as physicist Victor Stenger maintains.

    This is also the claim of Hawking. Gravity is needed for cosmology to work, conversely when cosmology works we have gravity. (It is his version of anthropic principle. Circular but testable against observation.)

    So, to understand the Five Ways, the modern reader needs to read something that makes all this background clear, that explains how modern Thomists would reply to the stock objections to the arguments, and so forth.

    Meanwhile the physics underlying Stenger’s claim is 4 pages at undergraduate physics level by Faraoni et al.

    Natural theory iz natural.

  63. Rob
    Posted July 13, 2011 at 6:49 pm | Permalink

    I’m surprised that Feser would suggest the work of William Lane Craig, because Craig and Feser believe in completely different gods.

    Feser is as much at odds with an atheist as he is with Craig. But, these apologists don’t care for consistency.

  64. Rob
    Posted July 13, 2011 at 6:59 pm | Permalink

    I think Coyne will find Feser’s work extremely disappointing. I have read The Last Superstition. The arguments are a joke. His premises are either empirically false, or naked assertions.

    There is a good reason the overwhelming majority of Christian philosophers have given up on natural theology: the argument are miserable failures.

    But Feser is a Catholic, and as a good compliant Catholic he is required to accept Aquinas’s arguments.

    • dguller
      Posted July 13, 2011 at 7:05 pm | Permalink

      Care to specify which premises are empirically false or naked assertions? When I read his works, the premises were actually quite intuitively obvious, and hard to deny.

      • Tacroy
        Posted July 14, 2011 at 11:54 pm | Permalink

        You know what else is intuitively obvious? Heavier things always fall faster than lighter things.

        • dguller
          Posted July 15, 2011 at 2:54 am | Permalink

          But that is not a premise involved in Aquinas’ argument at all, which is what we were discussing, no?

        • Ye Olde Statistician
          Posted July 15, 2011 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

          Albert of Saxony reasoned otherwise, but in fact Newton’s laws do so stipulate. It is only that the difference is imperceptible. Try dropping from the same height an acorn and the Moon. Newton’s laws say that the earth will accelerate toward the acorn, due to the acorn’s gravitational attraction. Of course, it will not accelerate very much!

          However, it will accelerate more rapidly toward a freely falling Moon-sized body, so that the distance relative to the reference frame fixed on the earth’s surface will be shorter, and therefore the Moon will reach the Earth’s surface much more quickly than an acorn dropped from the same height.

          Of course, you could also drop a cannonball and a feather and see what happens. The problem the ancients, Arabs, and medievals had was that they were trying to explain too much, too generally. One of the gimmicks they came up with between the 14th and 17th centuries was to break the problem up into pieces and find the most solvable piece. And so, for example, “motion” (kinesis, motus), which from ancient Greece on had meant any change from potentially X to actually X (e.g., an apple becoming ripe) was narrowed down to local motion (change of location) of inanimate objects. This was happily far more repeatable, controllable, and manageable.

  65. dguller
    Posted July 13, 2011 at 7:03 pm | Permalink

    I think that people really should check out Feser’s book for themselves. I am an atheist, and similar to Chuck, have had my views of theists revised by reading Feser’s books and blog, and am forced to admit that many of my beliefs about classical theists were based upon caricatures. Confirmation bias is a tricky thing, and unless you make an active attempt to falsify your beliefs, then you really have no idea if they are really true, or just awfully convenient.

    And regarding the First Cause argument, it has nothing to do with necessity or contingency, or whether everything must have a cause, or even about eternity. All of these are non-sequiters that have nothing to do with Aquinas’ argument. All Aquinas needs is that change occurs, and that change requires the transition from potential to actual, which requires an outside cause to occur. Once you accept this framework, a First Cause becomes inevitable.

    That being said, this First Cause does not have to be the traditional God of the Bible.

    • Rob
      Posted July 13, 2011 at 7:06 pm | Permalink

      “All Aquinas needs is that change occurs, and that change requires the transition from potential to actual, which requires an outside cause to occur”

      Why does change require an outside cause? Great example of a naked assertion.

      All of this is baseless metaphysics. It’s angels on pinheads material.

      • dguller
        Posted July 13, 2011 at 7:19 pm | Permalink

        Care to give an example of a change that occurs without any cause?

        • Posted July 13, 2011 at 7:30 pm | Permalink

          Care to explain what you mean by “cause”?

          No, really. That’s one of those theological terms that’s undefinable — at least in this context.

          Is the “cause” of the apple falling when I drop it the force of gravity, my conscious intention to open my hand, the bee that landed on the apple blossom thus fertilizing it such that the apple could grow, or Newton’s musings that led to a famous experiment, or…?

          Cheers,

          b&

          • dguller
            Posted July 13, 2011 at 10:08 pm | Permalink

            >> Care to explain what you mean by “cause”?

            Really? You are contesting the very notion of causation? Is that how desperate you are to avoid the possible implications of a first cause argument? Wow. Just remember that without causation, you have thrown away science and any form of human knowledge. That’s a pretty high price to pay.

            >> Is the “cause” of the apple falling when I drop it the force of gravity, my conscious intention to open my hand, the bee that landed on the apple blossom thus fertilizing it such that the apple could grow, or Newton’s musings that led to a famous experiment, or…?

            All of the above, except for Newton’s musings. If Newton had never existing, letting go of an apple would cause it to fall to the ground. The bottom line is that a cause is an entity or event that generates change by actualizing an inherent potentiality in an entity. Certainly, this can be a multifactorial process, but that does not take away from the fact that the various factors all contributed to the conversion of a potential event into an actual event. And really, that’s all Aquinas needs.

            • Posted July 14, 2011 at 6:01 am | Permalink

              Ah, but it was Newton’s experiment with the apple that “caused” me to pick up the apple in order to drop it rather than the banana.

              And, whatever potentialitiess you’re actualizationating, the various factors contributing to any event’s Great Conversion amount to the sum total of the universe.

              Congratulations. You’ve divided by zero.

              b&

              • dguller
                Posted July 14, 2011 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

                >> And, whatever potentialitiess you’re actualizationating, the various factors contributing to any event’s Great Conversion amount to the sum total of the universe.

                But isn’t this just a matter of perspective? I mean, if I am seeing a forest, then does it follow that there are no trees? Similarly, if I am focusing upon the distant causes of a particular event, then does that mean that there are no immediate causes of that event? I mean, every event is connected with every other event by virtue of being embedded within the space-time continuum into causal relationships. But so what? How does that imply that these causal relationships do not involve the transition from potentiality to actuality?

            • truthspeaker
              Posted July 14, 2011 at 10:07 am | Permalink

              It’s not desperation, it’s intelligence. The concept of causation is not nearly as straightforward as you think it is.

              As far as changes don’t have causes – radioactive decay and Hawking radiation just to name a couple.

              • Ye Olde Statistician
                Posted July 14, 2011 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

                The need to deny causation (and replace it with correlation) takes us down the path of al-Ghazali and Islamic occasionalism, and undermines the pursuit of science.

                The idea that because we do not know a cause that no cause can exist is like “explaining” physics by saying “Goddidit!” The only difference is the cry is “It Just IS!”

                My physics friends disagree with you that radiation is uncaused. You seem to be confusing “uncaused” with “random probability distribution” of outcomes.

          • dguller
            Posted July 13, 2011 at 10:18 pm | Permalink

            Also, you are confusing the absence of a determinate cause with the absence of any cause. There is no determinate cause of a dice landing on 6, and that is what makes it random. That is completely different from saying that there dice landing on 6 had no causes whatsoever.

            • Posted July 14, 2011 at 6:12 am | Permalink

              If there wasn’t anything that caused the dice to land on a six rather than a four, then there wasn’t anything that caused the dice to land on a six rather than a four. Therefore, there’s no cause for the particular face that the dice landed on — and, similarly, no cause for any events that stem from the roll of the dice.

              The Nazis decided to kill one of the Jews in the house based on a roll of the dice. One of the survivors saved the life of somebody who inspired an engineer who was later responsible for screwing up a metric / standard conversion, thereby causing the probe to crash. If the dice had come up differently, the probe would have landed safely. But nothing caused to come up that way as opposed to some other way.

              In the next room, another set of Nazis are playing a similar game which will also affect whether or not the probe is a success. Which uncaused toss of the dice is the determinant?

              (Oh — and you don’t want to use dice as an example — they’re chaotic, not random. A butterfly flapping its wings could set off an air current that changes the outcome of the roll. So was it the butterfly that’s responsible for the probe’s failure?)

              No, I’m afraid that the theological concept of “cause” (which is what you’re arguing in support of) is completely incomprehensible unless one resorts to dualism or Platonic ideals or other such nonsense.

              Cheers,

              b&

              • dguller
                Posted July 14, 2011 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

                >> If there wasn’t anything that caused the dice to land on a six rather than a four, then there wasn’t anything that caused the dice to land on a six rather than a four. Therefore, there’s no cause for the particular face that the dice landed on — and, similarly, no cause for any events that stem from the roll of the dice.

                Again, you are confusing the lack of “any thing”, i.e. a single determinate cause, with “anything”, i.e. any cause whatsoever. That is part of the ambiguity of our language. The reality is that there are a number of causes that are impacting the dice as they fly through the air, i.e. gravity, air resistance, rotational motion, and then various imperfections on the surface that could affect its ultimate outcome. Each factor is involved in an incredibly complex interaction that ultimately results in the dice falling on one side. Was any factor determinate or sufficiently powerful to allow us to be able to predict the outcome? No. Does it follow that this event is ex nihilo? That would be ridiculous, especially given the fact that there are a number of causal factors clearly involved.

                >> Oh — and you don’t want to use dice as an example — they’re chaotic, not random.

                Whatever you want to call it, the bottom line is that they are not uncaused ex nihilo events, but firmly entrenched within the causal nexus of the space-time continuum. The problem is not the absence of any causes whatsoever that have led up to the event in question, but rather that there are too many, each exerting a small degree of influence upon the outcome, and possibly involved in feedback loops, making prediction impossible, mainly due to the complexity of the system in question, not because there were no causes involved at all.

                >> A butterfly flapping its wings could set off an air current that changes the outcome of the roll. So was it the butterfly that’s responsible for the probe’s failure?

                No. There is no determinate cause to pin the blame on, because there are an infinite number of causal factors that are involved in the outcome, and even subtle changes to the causal stream could have resulted in an alternative outcome. This happens all the time in life, and we do not say that if there is a diffusion of blame for an event, then it occurred ex nihilo, which is what uncaused means. If you think that the outcome of rolling dice is an ex nihilo phenomenon, then I think that is rather bizarre.

                Imagine that someone was murdered and that their murder was caused by a number of innocent mistakes on the part of three individuals, none of whom were aware of the negative consequences of their actions and lacking any intent to harm the victim. Who is to blame? Well, in one sense, they are all to blame, because they all contributed to the event in question by being part of the causal series. But in another sense, no-one is to blame, because the blame is equally distributed and diluted, which means that we cannot say that they caused the murder. In the latter case, does that mean that the space-time continuum suddenly ruptured and this person spontaneously dropped dead with no antecedent causal sequence whatsoever? Of course not. It seems that is what you are claiming when you say that an event is uncaused, i.e. there are no causal antecedents at all, and the event is ex nihilo, which is absurd.

                >> No, I’m afraid that the theological concept of “cause” (which is what you’re arguing in support of) is completely incomprehensible unless one resorts to dualism or Platonic ideals or other such nonsense.

                This is not a theological concept of cause. It is just what “cause” means. If you have an alternative definition of “cause” that does not involve an antecedent entity or event generating a transition from a potential state to an actual state in another entity or event, then I would love to hear it.

              • Ye Olde Statistician
                Posted July 14, 2011 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

                you don’t want to use dice as an example — they’re chaotic, not random.

                Oh, dear. Now we are stepping on Ye Olde’s home turf. I suggest you research the meaning of “random” and “chaotic.” But a simple clue: a “constant system of chance causes” always results in a predictable distribution of results, such as the Gaussian distribution, the exponential distribution, et al. Dice outcomes are a paradigm example of a random variable.

                “Chaotic” is a misnomer for a certain kind of complexity. Briefly, in a system governed by a potential function the set of equilibrium points will form a manifold in state space over the parameter space. There may be regions in the parameter space for which two or more equilibrium points exist in state space, which means the manifold has “folds” or “pleats.” If the system enters this “bifurcation set” on one fold of the manifold and exits across a boundary to where there is only a single equilibrium, it may “snap” suddenly to the other sheet. As a practical matter, it means that points in parameter space that are arbitrarily close may have equilibria in state space that are quite far apart. The classic example of a transition to chaos is in a falling stream of water as it passes from laminar flow to turbulent flow. You can see this by turning on your kitchen faucet.

                None of this means there are no causes.

              • Posted July 14, 2011 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

                If that’s your home turf, I’m afraid it’s not very well tended.

                What you’re mischaracterizing as “chaotic” is simply one particular popular property commonly found in chaotic systems — namely, attractors.

                A chaotic system is simply a deterministic system that’s highly sensitive to initial conditions, typically sufficiently so that accurate predictions of terminal results are practically infeasible. That’s pretty much the textbook definition of a throw of the dice.

                Cheers,

                b&

            • Lotharloo
              Posted July 15, 2011 at 6:27 am | Permalink

              Ben has busted your theology pretty well but I guess I’ll reiterate. Let’s say you have distribution function that it is equal to 0 or 1 with probability 1/2 each. You pick a random variable X with that distribution and it turns out 0. What was the cause that caused it become 0? What you guys say with Theobabble just explains why it did not turn out to be 3 but you cannot explain why it turned 0 and not 1. There was no cause. Unless, you try to generalize the meaning of cause which is funny because I bet that is not what Auinas and the co mean by causation.

              • dguller
                Posted July 15, 2011 at 6:51 am | Permalink

                >> You pick a random variable X with that distribution and it turns out 0. What was the cause that caused it become 0?

                It depends upon the system, I suppose. If we are talking about flipping a coin, for example, and it landing on heads, then its landing on heads was due to the combination of a complex set of causal factors that included the rotational momentum of the coin, the air resistance, the force of gravity, the weight of the coin itself, and so on.

                My only point, and this has nothing to do with theology or Aquinas at all, is that just because you cannot point to a single cause to explain an effect does not mean that the effect is uncaused. In the above example, there are a number of causes that were involved in the final effect, and so it makes little sense to describe it as an ex nihilo event without any antecedent causes.

                Otherwise, you are stuck with the conclusion that removing the antecedent causal factors would have no appreciable impact upon the coin toss’ outcome. After all, it is uncaused. In other words, even if there were no force of gravity, air resistance, rotational momentum, and so on, then the coin would still land on heads or tails. In fact, without those factors, the coin wouldn’t do anything at all.

                None of this has anything to do with theology or Aquinas. I actually learned it from Daniel Dennett in his “Freedom Evolves”, and have found it very informative and illuminating.

                >> Unless, you try to generalize the meaning of cause which is funny because I bet that is not what Auinas and the co mean by causation.

                I actually like the Aristotelian concept of cause, because it is intuitive. The general idea is that X causes Y to occur if X affects Y in such a way that a potential state of Y becomes an actual state of Y. That’s it. I’m not too sure what the problem is with this idea or why people object so much to it, but if there is a problem with it, then I would love to hear it.

              • Ye Olde Statistician
                Posted July 15, 2011 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

                A friend of mine once said that when bread is scarce the mob gathers in the public square and burns down the bakery. Just because Aristotle (a pagan) or Thomas (a Christian) or Leibniz (a mathematical physicist) believed in causation is no reason to trash the idea of causation. You break the knees that natural science stands on when you do that.
                + + +
                If only the world were as simple as a binomial distribution. But as dguller, an athest IIRC, points out in the coin toss, it falls down when we consider the real world. I can only suppose you have never done a fault tree analysis for a nuclear reactor or a medical device. Try your “it happens for no reason at all” in front of a team of design engineers. You do realize that it is equivalent to saying “and then a miracle happens.”

                Now, in fact, even in the abstract example, the cause of the 0 was the random number that was selected. The cause of the random number was the table of random numbers from which it was selected (or if a computer-generated pseudo-random number, the algorithm that produced the number). The cause of the table was the statistician who tabulated it. And so on.

                You are not asking for “caused.” You are asking for “perfectly predictable.” They aren’t the same thing.

      • Ye Olde Statistician
        Posted July 16, 2011 at 5:23 pm | Permalink

        Why does change require an outside cause? Great example of a naked assertion.

        Simple, and it’s not an assertion.

        1) Change is motion (kinesis) from being potentially X to being actually X.
        2) Something cannot be potentially X and actually X at the same time.
        3) Something that is not actual cannot be the cause of anything at all. If it is only potentially X, then its X-ness does not yet exist and “from nothing comes no thing.”
        4) Therefore, the cause of the motion from potentially X to actually X cannot be the potentiality itself.

        Example: for a newspaper to burst into flame, it must be subjected to a heat it does not yet actually have. The heat must come from a match, or from concentrated sunlight, or some other thing.

        Example: for a dog to move over to the rug by the fire where the newspaper is now burning, the dog must be moved by its legs, the legs by the muscles, the muscles by the nerves, etc. (The whole can be moved by a part.)

        Hope this helps.

    • Posted July 13, 2011 at 7:12 pm | Permalink

      …it has nothing to do with whether everything must have a cause…

      Ummm…

      “All Aquinas needs is that change occurs… which requires an outside cause to occur.”

      Yeah.

      • dguller
        Posted July 13, 2011 at 7:22 pm | Permalink

        You seem to think that the following propositions are identical:

        (1) All change requires an antecedent cause.

        (2) Everything that exists requires an antecedent cause.

        The truth is that (2) is broader than (1), and thus cannot be identical to (1). (1) would exclude entities that do not change at all whereas (2) would have to include them. In other words, an argument that is based upon (1) is not identical to an argument that is based upon (2).

        They are different.

        • Posted July 13, 2011 at 7:41 pm | Permalink

          And you seem to think that the barefaced assertion that changes require causes is supposed to be obvious or otherwise impressive.

          Go ahead. Pick your best possible example of a change and its cause. I’ll give you at least two other causes — and those causes will have resulted in at least two other changes. So which cause goes with which effect? Do you portion them out somehow? And, at this point, why should we give your proposition any more serious consideration than a child insisting that every Christmas gift must have an Elf as its craftsman?

          Cheers,

          b&

          • dguller
            Posted July 13, 2011 at 9:59 pm | Permalink

            >> And you seem to think that the barefaced assertion that changes require causes is supposed to be obvious or otherwise impressive.

            Do you deny it? If you accept that change is possible without causation, then you have undermined science altogether, because science is all about determining the underlying causes of the changes that we experience.

            >> Go ahead. Pick your best possible example of a change and its cause. I’ll give you at least two other causes — and those causes will have resulted in at least two other changes. So which cause goes with which effect? Do you portion them out somehow?

            And the fact that change is a complex web of interconnecting causal events implies that change does not require causation? How on earth does that follow? The bottom line is that
            even if a single event is caused by a number of factors, they are all still CAUSES that have actualized a potentiality.

            • Posted July 14, 2011 at 6:17 am | Permalink

              And the fact that change is a complex web of interconnecting causal events implies that change does not require causation? How on earth does that follow? The bottom line is that
              even if a single event is caused by a number of factors, they are all still CAUSES that have actualized a potentiality.

              No, the fact is that, once you cast your net wide enough for your theory to work, it has no predictive power. In your system, the cause of any particular event is the sum total of the entire universe within the event’s light cone. that’s about as meaningless as it gets.

              b&

              • dguller
                Posted July 14, 2011 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

                >> No, the fact is that, once you cast your net wide enough for your theory to work, it has no predictive power. In your system, the cause of any particular event is the sum total of the entire universe within the event’s light cone. that’s about as meaningless as it gets.

                Not at all. There are immediate causes, and distant causes. Certainly, distant causes can eventually encompass the entire space-time continuum prior to the event in question, but the immediate causes are quite clear. For example, the apple falling is immediately caused by the gravitational pull of the earth upon the apple, which converted potential energy into kinetic energy after your hand was removed as an obstacle. Prior to that, there were a series of causes that resulted in your hand being removed, but the immediate cause is quite clear. For Aristotle and Aquinas, cause and effect are essentially simultaneous, i.e. gravity pulls the apple and the apple falls, which are just two different descriptions the same event.

                In addition, this is not my theory, but rather just causation in general. If you have an alternative account of causality that is able to exclude all upstream factors, then I would love to hear it, but the reality is that as you widen your perspective, you inevitably involve an incredibly complex set of interconnected events existing in causal relationships with one another, which effectively means that something that could happen ultimately did happen, i.e. potential became act.

            • truthspeaker
              Posted July 14, 2011 at 10:08 am | Permalink

              “Do you deny it? If you accept that change is possible without causation, then you have undermined science altogether, because science is all about determining the underlying causes of the changes that we experience.”

              You really haven’t been following the last 100 years of physics, have you?

        • Posted July 13, 2011 at 7:44 pm | Permalink

          Oh, ok. I see the difference.

          The argument is still bull, though.

          • dguller
            Posted July 13, 2011 at 9:59 pm | Permalink

            Why?

            • Posted July 14, 2011 at 6:48 am | Permalink

              For all the reasons discussed in this thread.

    • Posted July 13, 2011 at 7:36 pm | Permalink

      All Aquinas needs is that change occurs, and that change requires the transition from potential to actual, which requires an outside cause to occur.

      The first is obvious; the second is gobbledygook; and the third is begging the question.

      Once you accept this framework, a First Cause becomes inevitable.

      Well, yeah. Like, duh.

      Once you accept the framework that says that the positions of the planets at the moment of your birth determine your destiny, an astrological forecast becomes inevitable, too.

      Of course, your star sign doesn’t have to be one of the canonical twelve.

      Cheers,

      b&

      • dguller
        Posted July 13, 2011 at 9:54 pm | Permalink

        >> The first is obvious; the second is gobbledygook; and the third is begging the question.

        You disagree that for something to change requires the actualization of a potential capacity?

        You disagree that for something to change requires something else to cause it to change?

        • HRG
          Posted July 13, 2011 at 10:43 pm | Permalink

          Yes, I disagree. Counterexample: the rare pion decay into electron and neutrino.

        • matt
          Posted July 13, 2011 at 11:03 pm | Permalink

          “You disagree that for something to change requires something else to cause it to change?”

          Radioactive decay comes to mind. That just happens, no cause needed.

        • Posted July 14, 2011 at 5:45 am | Permalink

          I don’t even know what the Hell you think you mean by “the actualization of a potential capacity.” That reads like a line from a Chopra novel.

          And, yes. As others have already pointed out, Radioactive decay is uncaused for certain. Other quantum effects as well. What causes the photon to “choose” the one slit over the other?

          These events project into the macroscopic world. What causes the Geiger counter to beep at that particular moment? Sure, it’s the decay of the particle, but nothing caused that decay.

          b&

          • dguller
            Posted July 14, 2011 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

            >> I don’t even know what the Hell you think you mean by “the actualization of a potential capacity.” That reads like a line from a Chopra novel.

            It means that there are some things that could be real (i.e. potential) and some things that are real (i.e. actual). For example, there is potential in an acorn to become an oak (i.e. the oak could become an oak) and when that potential becomes actualized, then the acorn has become an oak in reality. There is no potential for an acorn to become a unicorn, however. That’s all. Nothing particularly fancy or woo there, I think. Just common sense.

            >> And, yes. As others have already pointed out, Radioactive decay is uncaused for certain. Other quantum effects as well. What causes the photon to “choose” the one slit over the other?

            As far as I understand radioactive decay, it is not uncaused. Certainly, it is random, but “random” does not mean uncaused, but rather that it is over-caused. In other words, there are so many factors that are involved that lead up to the final outcome, each of which is exerting a small influence, possibly involving feedback mechanisms that amplify the complexity and unpredictability, that none of them is sufficiently determinate to be used to reliably predict the outcome.

            It is similar to rolling a dice, which also results in a random result, but this is not because there are no antecedent causes leading up to the final result. Rather, there are too many causes — rotational motion of the dice in the air, the various air pressures, gravitational pull, imperfections on the surface where the dice lands, etc … — involved to be reliably predictive of the outcome.

            With regards to radioactivity, there are a number of subatomic factors that interact in a highly complex fashion to generate a state of instability. It is this state of instability that results in the radioactive decay, and it is because this instability is reliably created by antecedent conditions that we can accurately predict the half-time of radioactive substances. Presumably, this would involve how subatomic particles are oriented in space relative to one another, their respective energy levels, and the degree of weak force that is operative between them, and so on. It is this combination of conditions that results in radioactive decay.

            If you want to say that radioactive decay is uncaused, then that means that these antecedent conditions are necessarily IRRELEVANT to radioactive decay. In other words, if there were no weak forces operative between subatomic particles, then radioactive decay would still be the same. After all, none of them exert any causal influence upon the outcome whatsoever, right? This is patently absurd, and thus so is the notion that decay is uncaused.

            Another important point is that if radioactive decay is truly uncaused, then you are stuck with the implication that predictable and regular patterns can be caused by nothing at all. How can there be regularity without an underlying causal pattern that bounds that regularity? There are predictable half-lives of all radioactive particles, and these particles follow this half-time very closely. How is this possible if there is no underlying set of factors or causes that result in the same probability outcome, again and again? Certainly, there is no single determinate cause, but that is not the same thing as something being completely uncaused.

            Your argument amounts to saying that if we cannot conclusively determine who the father of a child is, then there is no father at all. Sure, in one sense, there is no father, but it another sense, there is obviously a father (or else, there would be no child at all), but he is just not present at the time in question. Similarly, if there is no determinate cause for an event, then in one sense, there is no (single) cause, but in another sense, there were obviously antecedent conditions that led up to the event in question, and thus it is caused.

            Keeping these two senses apart would help avoid the fallacy of equivocation.

            • Steve Smith
              Posted July 14, 2011 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

              With regards to radioactivity, there are a number of subatomic factors that interact in a highly complex fashion to generate a state of instability. It is this state of instability that results in the radioactive decay …

              If you want to say that radioactive decay is uncaused, then that means that these antecedent conditions are necessarily IRRELEVANT to radioactive decay. …

              Another important point is that if radioactive decay is truly uncaused, then you are stuck with the implication that predictable and regular patterns can be caused by nothing at all. How can there be regularity without an underlying causal pattern that bounds that regularity?

              All completely wrong, as has been pointed out several times already in this thread. To understand this, you don’t need to read countless conflicting theology texts, just one good popular physics book like QED or a few Wikipedia pages.

              Atomic decay is a consequence of simple particle-particle interactions. For beta decay, it’s the interaction between a down quark and a W boson. As far as we know, there is no cause for this interaction, so we can say that radioactive decay is uncaused.

              The same is thought to be true for all other forces: simple particle-particle interactions. The regularity comes from the probabilities predicted by QM. This scales up to the entire universe back to Planck time, and it is hypothesized, before.

              I’ll repeat the question: in which Feynman diagram do we find god?

              • Ye Olde Statistician
                Posted July 14, 2011 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

                in which Feynman diagram do we find god?

                In same Feynman diagram in which we find love.

                In the same component of the jet engine in which you find Whittle.

                In the same line in Hamlet in which you find Shakespeare.

                One may as well ask in which auto repair manual you find Darwin.

                There are multitudes of tasks and tools that require nothing more than the procedures of that task or tool.

              • dguller
                Posted July 14, 2011 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

                >> Atomic decay is a consequence of simple particle-particle interactions. For beta decay, it’s the interaction between a down quark and a W boson. As far as we know, there is no cause for this interaction, so we can say that radioactive decay is uncaused.

                As you rightly observed, “as far as we know, there is no cause for this interaction”. Unless you are claiming that we have total and complete knowledge of the subatomic realm of quantum phenomena, then we cannot conclude that “radioactive decay is uncaused”. All we can say is that we do not know what, if anything, causes the decay to occur.

                The standard model is the best model that we have at this time, but it is still a model, and thus likely misses some aspects of reality by necessity, as all models do. The fact that we have not discovered any causes of decay due to our experimental and conceptual limitations does not mean that there are no causes at all, and thus this is essentially an argument from ignorance.

                >> The same is thought to be true for all other forces: simple particle-particle interactions. The regularity comes from the probabilities predicted by QM. This scales up to the entire universe back to Planck time, and it is hypothesized, before.

                How does the regularity come from a probability wave? Doesn’t it make more sense to say that the probability wave is a mathematical representation of the subatomic reality? Otherwise, that would be like saying that the distribution of height in a population is due to the bell curve of height in a population. That gets the causation exactly backwards, I think. The model is not the terrain after all.

              • Steve Smith
                Posted July 14, 2011 at 5:21 pm | Permalink

                As discussed already on this thread, all chemistry and biology is described by the electron-photon interaction; therefore, the Feynman diagram at the heart of love, Shakespeare, and Darwin looks like this:

                http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:MollerScattering-t.svg

                None of the particle-particle interactions have any cause—indeed, because the particles may take any continuous path through space-time, including paths that go backwards in time or exceed the speed of light, the very notion of causality is meaningless for particle-particle interactions.

                I’ll repeat the valid question: given this reality, in which Feynman diagram do we find god?

              • Posted July 14, 2011 at 5:23 pm | Permalink

                Permit me to offer a bit of unasked-for advice: read up on hidden variables (or, rather the lack thereof) before continuing to use your ignorance to “prove” your fantasies.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Posted July 14, 2011 at 5:27 pm | Permalink

                (I should add, of course: my previous comment about hidden variables was directed to dguller. b&)

              • Steve Smith
                Posted July 14, 2011 at 5:44 pm | Permalink

                Unless you are claiming that we have total and complete knowledge of the subatomic realm …

                We’re good at this down to a little more than one part in a billion billion. Of course we don’t have the full picture yet.

                Is God in the gaps of our knowledge?

              • dguller
                Posted July 14, 2011 at 7:06 pm | Permalink

                >> We’re good at this down to a little more than one part in a billion billion. Of course we don’t have the full picture yet.

                I wonder if the fact that QM is fundamentally probabilistic simply represents a limitation in our cognitive capacity to understand this deeper level of reality? After all, when we use probability to calculate the chances of rolling a six on a dice, we cannot be more precise, because the system is too complex for us to understand and follow every step. Maybe something similar occurs at deeper levels of reality? Is it possible that physicists have mistaken our ignorance of X as a metaphysical principle that X is actually thus limited in reality? In other words, just because we are unable to determine the momentum and position of a subatomic particle that therefore that is no such pair in reality?

                Any thoughts?

                >> Is God in the gaps of our knowledge?

                No. If there are hidden variables to be discovered in QM, then God would not be one of them. I don’t think that even Aquinas would claim that any limitation in our understanding of how the natural world operates necessarily means that God must be postulated to fill that gap.

              • Steve Smith
                Posted July 14, 2011 at 7:38 pm | Permalink

                Is it possible that physicists have mistaken our ignorance of X as a metaphysical principle that X is actually thus limited in reality?

                No. You appear not to understand how science works: observe nature, hypothesize explanatory theory, make and test prediction, repeat.

                Idle, nonsensical speculation of the sort that you and others have been indulging yourselves in counts for nothing. Come back when you have an idea that explains the universe to one part in a billion billion billion.

                As you acknowledge that there is no place for god in any of our Feynman diagrams, and no place for god in any knowledge we lack, the conclusion is that there is no place for god anywhere.

                We call that atheism.

              • dguller
                Posted July 14, 2011 at 10:06 pm | Permalink

                >> Idle, nonsensical speculation of the sort that you and others have been indulging yourselves in counts for nothing. Come back when you have an idea that explains the universe to one part in a billion billion billion.

                I am not proposing an alternative account, and so this is a total non sequitor. I am disputing the notion that radioactive decay is uncaused. That is all. I am not denying that QM is an incredibly set of mathematical equations that accurately predicts the behavior of subatomic phenomena. I am wondering if there is more to reality than is contained in those equations, and whether there are other aspects of reality that QM fails to capture that could be involved in causing the radioactive decay in some way. Again, the map is not the territory, even if it is incredibly accurate, it inevitably leaves something out.

                For example, Newtonian mechanics is incredibly accurate at predicting the behavior of macroscopic bodies in space. However, it makes absolutely no mention of the atomic composition of those bodies, and yet it is still a reliable model of their behavior. In other words, just because a theory works well does not mean that it does not exclude some aspects of reality.

                >> As you acknowledge that there is no place for god in any of our Feynman diagrams, and no place for god in any knowledge we lack, the conclusion is that there is no place for god anywhere.

                For a Thomist, there is no place for God anywhere in space-time, and that would include Feynman diagrams and in any deficiencies in our knowledge of the empirical world. The fact that God cannot be found in these areas does not refute Aquinas, but rather agrees with his position.

                >> We call that atheism.

                Of which I am a proud member.

  66. Myron
    Posted July 13, 2011 at 7:48 pm | Permalink

    I’m an atheist and a materialist, but I find it utterly implausible to assume that it is possible for a physical universe to pop into being out of nothing (i.e., not out of any pre-existent stuff or universe) and without any cause.
    So I cannot help but believe that Matter/Nature is eternal—and that’s what I do.

    • Posted July 13, 2011 at 8:10 pm | Permalink

      As it turns out, no matter how you look at it, “nothing” is about as unstable, untenable a state of affairs as things get.

      That’s most famously true in physics, but physics is based much more on observation than on first principles.

      But it’s also true in set theory, which is the proper tool to use to consider such things in the abstract.

      The null or empty set is the set which contains no entities. But the null set is itself a set. So, even if nothing exists, the set of all that exists is the empty set — and that itself is something that exists. In other words, there’s no way for it to be true that literally nothing at all exists.

      Once you’ve bootstrapped yourself as far as something existing — no matter how empty and tenuous — getting the rest of the way to galaxies and stars and planets and chewing gum stuck to the floor in the movie theatre isn’t anywhere near so much of a stretch. Indeed, Darwin Himself takes over at that point: you have something, not nothing, and there is variation in that something. Some of those variations are more stable than others, and some of those are more prone to become more stable yet. The rest should need no explanation to the general audience here.

      Cheers,

      b&

      • Myron
        Posted July 14, 2011 at 7:38 am | Permalink

        “As it turns out, no matter how you look at it, ‘nothing’ is about as unstable, untenable a state of affairs as things get.

        What some physicists misleadingly call a nothing is in fact something.
        So this is not a case of an origination out of nothing pre-existent.

        The null or empty set is the set which contains no entities. But the null set is itself a set. So, even if nothing exists, the set of all that exists is the empty set — and that itself is something that exists.

        The physical universe is not an abstract set but a concrete entity. It is a concrete whole that ceases to exist when all its parts cease to exist.
        And even if the abstract empty set were the only existent, it would not be the case that nothing exists, since the empty set is something rather than nothing.

        • Posted July 14, 2011 at 7:58 am | Permalink

          But that’s my point — the very concept of “nothing” is incoherent. Empirically, the closer you get, the farther you go. Logically, the concept leads to an inevitable contradiction.

          The reason there’s “not nothing” is because “nothing” in that sense is a null pointer. What people think they mean by the term is as incomprehensible as an unmarried bachelor or a square circle.

          Cheers,

          b&

          • dguller
            Posted July 14, 2011 at 8:17 am | Permalink

            I think that you are confusing nothing with talking about nothing. Nothing is simply the absence of anything at all, but talking about nothing involves concepts, such as the concept of negation, which are all something.

            It would be like saying that no-one is coming and implying that there is someone called “no-one” who is coming. In reality, there is no such person, which is the point. It makes no sense to say that “no-one” is a concept, and thus there cannot possibly be no-one there.

            Maybe you have made a category error here?

          • Myron
            Posted July 14, 2011 at 8:18 am | Permalink

            It is important to distinguish between “nothing” as a noun (a nothing/nothings) and “nothing” as an indefinite pronoun. In logic, “nothing” is always used as an indefinite pronoun formally expressed by the negated existential quantifier: “~Ex…”.
            It means: “It is not the case that there is something (such that…).”
            In this logical sense, “Nothing exists”/”There is nothing” doesn’t inconsistenty mean “There is something that is a nothing”.

            So, from the logical fact that a nothing or nothings cannot exist it doesn’t follow that it is impossible that nothing exists, i.e. that it is impossible that it is not the case that something exists.
            This is not to be understood epistemically, since we all know that it is in fact not the case that nothing exists. So it is to be understood metaphysically: Could it have been the case that nothing exists?
            This is a substantive metaphysical question that cannot be answered by formal logic.

            • Posted July 14, 2011 at 8:23 am | Permalink

              To both Dave and Myron: That’s why I’m using set theory here.

              If you don’t understand why “the set of all sets” is an incoherent concept, please start with a bit of Googling to get yourself up to speed.

              We’re dealing with the conceptual opposite here: the absence of the set of no sets. And it’s equally incoherent.

              Cheers,

              b&

              • Myron
                Posted July 14, 2011 at 9:49 am | Permalink

                Again, the spatiotemporal world is not an abstract set but a concrete whole, which is identical with its parts.

              • Posted July 14, 2011 at 10:10 am | Permalink

                Agreed.

                But we’re discussing the theoretical possibility of an abstract concept that most emphatically is not the spatiotemporal world, no?

                And what tool better to analyze such a mental construct than math?

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Ye Olde Statistician
                Posted July 14, 2011 at 7:36 pm | Permalink

                You will be pleased to know that you are once again in agreement with Aquinas. This time with his “third way,” where he concludes that something must have always existed necessarily. That is, not all beings can be contingent. This necessary existant then proceeds by the usual deduction to God.

              • Posted July 14, 2011 at 7:58 pm | Permalink

                You will be pleased to know that you are once again in agreement with Aquinas. This time with his “third way,” where he concludes that something must have always existed necessarily. That is, not all beings can be contingent. This necessary existant then proceeds by the usual deduction to God.

                Hey, you know what? I bet I’m also in agreement with Aquinas that wine goes well with crackers — therefore Jesus!

                Please.

                If “not all beings can be contingent,” then some beings are not contingent. And nothing short of unabashed special pleading will ever get you to “and therefore there is but one non-contingent being, and he has a thing for people sticking their fingers in the gaping chest wound left by a spear and fondling his intestines.”

                Hell, it won’t even get you to “but there’s exactly one non-contingent being.”

                You know why? Aristotle and Aquinas were idiots.

                Not through any fault of their own, mind you. (Well, Aquinas did buy into the whole zombie cannibalism thing, with a special side order of talking plants and animals — but nevermind.) No, they were idiots because they lacked the past couple millennium of research. You’d be an idiot too if you’d never had a chance to learn about Newton and Darwin and Cantor and Einstein and all the rest.

                Sure, Aristotle’s accomplishments were impressive given the context of his times. But it’s also impressive when a six-year-old plays Für Elise. That hardly means that the child’s performance is worthy of a review in the New York Times, any more than Aristotle deserves serious consideration outside of an history class.

                Especially considering how worng he so painfully was on so many fronts.

                Really. If you want to idolize an ancient Greek, try Euclid. At least most of his stuff you could still use as a primary text in an introductory course.

                Cheers,

                b&

  67. Andrew EC
    Posted July 13, 2011 at 8:03 pm | Permalink

    Feser’s a lying asshole.

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted July 14, 2011 at 3:47 am | Permalink

      Could we please avoid such strong invective here? Thanks!

  68. cornbread_r2
    Posted July 13, 2011 at 8:59 pm | Permalink

    How can anyone doubt a theologian who can fly?

  69. bad Jim
    Posted July 13, 2011 at 9:47 pm | Permalink

    Galileo didn’t need to refute Aristotle’s arguments to refute his conclusions. His observations were sufficient.

    If there were any arguments worth making they’d be made in terms that would be respectable in modern discourse. Nobody would be sending us back to soak in medieval bafflegab as though there’d been no progress
    since. We’d have new models as snappy as anything Hume or Russell could devise.

    Perhaps the Catholics can’t do any better, Thomas being a saint and so forth.

    • Posted July 14, 2011 at 5:39 am | Permalink

      For an example, see Euclid. He’s ancient, yes, but it takes years of study in the schools before you get to the point where you’re studying something in geometry not covered in his Elements.

      That’s because he got it right.

      Aquinas, on the other hand, was just writing fanfic, so it’s hardly surprising that it hasn’t stood the test of time.

      Cheers,

      b&

  70. Posted July 13, 2011 at 9:59 pm | Permalink

    I freely admit I do not possess the education of most of the posters here ,but,deep breath, here I go. People have told folk tales and used nursery rhymes to pass on knowledge for generations. From what I have read, the bible seems to be cobbled together from a mish mash of traditions/myths/exaggerations /fishing stories one may have told around the campfire to try to impress the other fellows. If Thomas Aquinas based his premises on these stories being true, why would his conclusions be of any consequence given the scientific knowledge gained since that time?

  71. matt
    Posted July 13, 2011 at 11:05 pm | Permalink

    Poor Jerry. It seems likely it will be books on theology all the way down. There might be a turtle or two in there, too.

  72. McWaffle
    Posted July 13, 2011 at 11:08 pm | Permalink

    Where do people get that an unmoved mover is necessary? Why NOT infinite regress? It isn’t intuitive to us, but I don’t see why, in principle, it couldn’t be turtles all the way down.

    If the Big Bang had a cause external to the constraints of our observable universe, why couldn’t that cause be ultimately caused by something external to its own constraints, and on and on ad infinitum? It doesn’t sound pretty and doesn’t really offer us much existential catharsis, but that doesn’t disqualify it out of hand, does it?

    • Posted July 13, 2011 at 11:21 pm | Permalink

      Mcwaffle Don’t you want to know? What if it is butterflies,or snails , or one of the 450,000 species of beetles, or bacteria,or a million other things that may or not be all the way down?Aren’t you just a tad bit curious?

      • McWaffle
        Posted July 13, 2011 at 11:31 pm | Permalink

        I’m curious, I’m just not sure one can somehow inductively prove Yertle MUST exist, much less prove anything about him. I guess I gotta read the book though, huh?

        • Posted July 13, 2011 at 11:34 pm | Permalink

          Do you mean Yertle the Turtle?

          • McWaffle
            Posted July 13, 2011 at 11:41 pm | Permalink

            Right. The whole cosmological argument assumes that Yertle must exist, and it can’t just be turtles all the way down. Why does one assume a Yertle?

            I’m admittedly mixing metaphors with this one. Maybe it’s just because it’s late but I think it’s clever.

          • Posted July 13, 2011 at 11:45 pm | Permalink

            I think I know what you mean. As I recall, Plato thought if we could imagine something,it must exist. He extended on this thought. For example, if you were looking at a rabbit, you saw only the image of an ideal rabbit. The ideal rabbit existed somewhere else. Am I close?

            • McWaffle
              Posted July 13, 2011 at 11:48 pm | Permalink

              To me or to Plato? Actually, I’m not sure you’re particularly close to either. I’m officially confused. Are we arguing or agreeing? I think I need some sleep.

              • Posted July 13, 2011 at 11:55 pm | Permalink

                It is late here too. But I guess the question is why does Yertle exist? Why not something else?Or anything else?That is why we depend on the scientific method. It defines reality rather than speculation.

  73. 386sx
    Posted July 13, 2011 at 11:50 pm | Permalink

    How much cause could the first cause cause, if the first cause could cause cause?

    • McWaffle
      Posted July 13, 2011 at 11:52 pm | Permalink

      As much cause as the first cause could cause, if the first cause could cause cause!

      • Posted July 13, 2011 at 11:59 pm | Permalink

        By jove, I think you got it!

        • Posted July 14, 2011 at 6:56 am | Permalink

          Coyne’s comments can cause causation caustic contractions, catastrophically collapsing canonical cants, completing Ceiling Cat celebrations?

  74. Diane G.
    Posted July 14, 2011 at 1:58 am | Permalink

    (subscribing)

  75. Ray Perrins
    Posted July 14, 2011 at 2:06 am | Permalink

    One point I haven’t seen (but may well have come up), is: how come it is always Christian Theology? How much does Feser know of Hindu or ancient Egyptian theology before dismissing those gods?

  76. Posted July 14, 2011 at 3:10 am | Permalink

    This just makes me angry. Will you stop it with fucking Thomas of Aquino?

    We have read Aquinas.
    It’s not some unknown pearl of sophistication.
    It’s not obscure, you wanker. It’s old and well known.

    Aquinas? Again? Are you completely out of touch, or are you playing a façade?

    • Posted July 14, 2011 at 3:13 am | Permalink

      The Teleo-Cosmo-Onto trio isn’t deep. That is the shallow end of the kiddy pool.

      It’s the fucking hellsworn introductory level. The first shit of all shit.

      AARRRRGH!

      • Tacroy
        Posted July 15, 2011 at 12:08 am | Permalink

        As far as I can tell, it’s also the only level. I’ve never seen a serious argument for the existence of God that is anything more than one of those in a different outfit.

        • Posted July 15, 2011 at 2:49 am | Permalink

          I’ve also seen the Transcendental argument. It went something like this:

          1. Things like mathematical and logical relations don’t depend on minds.

          2. They also don’t depend on matter. (In a sense that they still count when not concerning physically existing objects.)

          3. If they don’t depend on minds, and they don’t depend on matter, they must depend on a super-mind.

          4. ???

          5. Jesus!

          • Ye Olde Statistician
            Posted July 16, 2011 at 5:30 pm | Permalink

            #4 and #5 do not follow. #1-#3 is a Platonic argument, which Plato used to show that there must be a third mode of existence that is neither mental nor material.

            Aristotle disagreed with this, and held that forms were truly present in the material world and abstracted by the mind from empirical experience. That is why the abstracted ideas like “dog” or “=” or the proposition “Snow is white” can be identical in different minds. (If they were purely mental, then nothing stops different minds from different ideations.) Aquinas followed the Aristotelian tradition.

            Remember that Feser’s original point was not so much that Aquinas’ arguments were true, but that many amateur atheists simply don’t understand them.

            • Diane G.
              Posted July 17, 2011 at 10:34 pm | Permalink

              Remember that Feser’s original point was not so much that Aquinas’ arguments were true, but that many amateur atheists simply don’t understand them.

              Well, that’s OK, then; we’re all professional atheists here.

  77. Steve Smith
    Posted July 14, 2011 at 6:49 am | Permalink

    Aquinas’s cosmological argument! … the First Cause doesn’t need a cause itself: it is, uniquely exempt from cause. … of course, there are some things in the universe that don’t have causes, one being radioactive decay.

    Jerry isn’t being reductive enough here. As far as we know, nothing that happens in the universe has a root cause because fundamentally everything we know is described by particle-particle interactions. With radioactive decay, you point to an Feynman diagram like the down quark—W particle interaction. With all of chemistry and biology you point to the Feynman diagram for the electron—photon interaction. And so on, with every known physical occurrence. None if these fundamental particle interactions has a cause. In that sense, nothing in the universe has a cause—we merely perceive cause in the macroscopic cases where the probably of certain sequential events is very nearly certain.

    The obvious question is where anyone can find god in this description of the universe? In which Feynman diagram does he lurk? I and others have asked this question before, only to be answered by cricket chirpings.

    Can any proponent of Aquinas or Aquinas’s god square their claims with modern physical knowledge? Continued silence or dissembling about this central question implies a negative conclusion about their claims.

  78. Ye Olde Statistician
    Posted July 14, 2011 at 9:11 am | Permalink

    The fact that you can shoehorn modern scientific findings into Aristotelian models of causality says a lot more about human minds in general and yours in particular than it does about either the scientific findings or Aristotelian models of causality.

    Actually, what it might say is that the Old Stagerite was on to something. That’s why physics post-1900 has been edging back into Aristotelian modes. Heisenberg, no slouch, he, was very much interested in the Aristotelian aspects of (post)modern physics. So we have “emergent properties,” inexplicable in terms of efficient causation alone, but a necessary consequence of formal causation. So we have Einstein saying that space and time are metaphysical intrusions into empirical science and that they would not exist unless matter existed. This mirrors exactly the ideas of Aristotle and Aquinas on the nature of time and space. So we have physical systems determined by their tendency to minimize a potential function as simply an update of final causation. A comparison of the properties of the reputed “dark matter” with those of the Aristotelian aether is instructive. (Not, please, Lorenz’s luminiferous ether! That was a kludge.)

    • truthspeaker
      Posted July 14, 2011 at 10:12 am | Permalink

      “So we have Einstein saying that space and time are metaphysical intrusions into empirical science”

      Einstein said nothing of the kind.

      • Ye Olde Statistician
        Posted July 14, 2011 at 11:46 am | Permalink

        A first cause argument includes within it what is purported to be a demonstration that the universe cannot be eternal

        Aquinas assumed that the world was eternal because he knew of no philosophical demonstration that it had a beginning in time. General relativity and big bang physics came much much later. See his essay “On the eternity of the world.”

        “First” cause does not mean a beginning of time.

        • Tulse
          Posted July 14, 2011 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

          Aren’t causes necessarily deeply entangled with temporality? How can the first cause not indicate the beginning of time? If time itself is changing/advancing, doesn’t that in your terms necessitate the existence of a cause? According to your recounting of the argument, without any cause, how can there be any time?

      • Ye Olde Statistician
        Posted July 14, 2011 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

        “Under the influence of positivistic philosophy Einstein recognized physical space, which he identified with absolute space, as a metaphysical insertion.” Einstein and the Ether

        “[T]here are no objections of principle against the introduction of this hypothesis, by which space and time are deprived of the last trace of objective reality.”
        — Albert Einstein, “Explanation of the Movement of Mercury’s Perihelion on the Basis of the General Theory of Relativity,” 1915

        (Ich habe dargetan, dass die Einführung dieser Hypothese, durch welche Zeit und Raum der letzten Spur objektiver Realität beraubt werden, keine prinzipielen Bedenken entgegenstehen.)

        Another statement I’ve not pinned down as to source is: “Formerly, people thought that if matter disappeared from the universe, space and time would remain. Relativity declares that space and time would disappear with matter.”

        Einstein was much influence by the Third Positivism of Poincare, Drude, Mach (his hero), et al., though he moved somewhat away from it later, after he had reinstated the ether in 1920.

        • truthspeaker
          Posted July 14, 2011 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

          That’s not a “metaphysical insertion”.

          • Posted July 14, 2011 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

            That’s what she said!

          • Ye Olde Statistician
            Posted July 14, 2011 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

            Wait. What do you think a “metaphysical” intrusion is?

        • lako_brzo
          Posted July 15, 2011 at 10:01 am | Permalink

          OUCH
          “So we have Einstein saying that space and time are metaphysical intrusions into empirical science and that they would not exist unless matter existed. This mirrors exactly the ideas of Aristotle and Aquinas on the nature of time and space”

          Einstein replaced the old concepts of absolute space and time (which did not hold up to empirical examination) with a new testable hypothesis.
          How does that give credentials to the PHANTASIES of Aquinas ? (I value Aristotle though for TRYING to calibrate his reasoning with observation)

          “Ich habe dargetan, dass die Einführung dieser Hypothese, durch welche Zeit und Raum der letzten Spur objektiver Realität beraubt werden, keine prinzipielen Bedenken entgegenstehen.”

          The (pointless) citation in German language does not impress either (I’m German). But I guess you tried to be “impressive”. Einstein himself talks about the refutation of an old concept (which was actually a good working hypothesis, because one could actually TEST it) and its replacement with a new (TESTABLE) hypothesis.

          “This mirrors exactly the ideas of Aristotle and Aquinas on the nature of time and space. ”

          THEY HAD NO CLUE, thought Aristotle tried to get a grasp (Which I respect highly).

          • Ye Olde Statistician
            Posted July 15, 2011 at 6:17 pm | Permalink

            Einstein replaced the old concepts of absolute space and time (which did not hold up to empirical examination) with a new testable hypothesis. How does that give credentials to the PHANTASIES of Aquinas?

            Only that Aquinas worked within a tradition that held that time and space were the consequences of the existence of matter. Then came the “old concepts” of Newton which replaced that with “absolute space and time.” Then came the new physics which said pretty much reverted to Aristotle.

            You have to remember that they did not have the means to do the testable hypothesis thingie. They did not have the means to even make measurements beyond static weights and measures and very crude time intervals. It was not until the 14th cent. that Nichole Oresme invented the + sign. But I have seen folks comfortably credit Aristarchus with the “heliocentric” theory when a) he had no system that is known to us; b) he had no empirical data and c) his reasons were Pythagorean mysticism.
            + + +

            The (pointless) citation in German language does not impress either (I’m German). But I guess you tried to be “impressive”.

            No, I thought maybe someone would contest the matter in English, and I thought to show the original so that they might know that the translation was faithful. I will sometimes do the same with the Latin used by Aquinas. Greek, however, is all Greek to me. The thing is, sometimes the words have a different significance in a different language. Liberum arbitrium, for example; or anima.

            actually a good working hypothesis, because one could actually TEST it) and its replacement with a new (TESTABLE) hypothesis.

            That’s a good rule for the physics. It is of little use in mathematics or metaphysics, unless one expands the concept of “testable” beyond that of empirical experience. There is no empirical test that will establish that the ratio of the circumference to the diameter of a circle is irrational.

            “This mirrors exactly the ideas of Aristotle and Aquinas on the nature of time and space. ”

            THEY HAD NO CLUE

            Of course they had a clue. Aristotle and his epigones did not come to that conclusion for no reason whatsoever.

    • Tulse
      Posted July 14, 2011 at 10:33 am | Permalink

      YOS, I remember reading similar claims about the relationship of modern physics to earlier philosophical ideas, but that was in The Tao of Physics. And I’d argue that modern physics has as much in common with the thinking of Aristotle as it does with the thinking of Lao Tzu.

    • Steve Smith
      Posted July 14, 2011 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

      Unsurprisingly, Aquinas’s 10th c. statements on space and time are flatly wrong. For example,

      The notion of a vacuum is not only “in which is nothing,” but also implies a space capable of holding a body and in which there is not a body, as appears from Aristotle (Phys. iv, text 60). Whereas we hold that there was no place or space before the world was. —Summa Theologica

      At least this is a response to one of Aquinas’s coherent question. Many other questions involve laughable absurdities like these, which at least show that Aquinas deserves the name “Angelic Doctor”:

      Whether an angel is composed of matter and form?
      Whether the angels exist in any great number?
      Whether angels assume bodies?
      Whether an angel can be in several places at once?
      Whether an angel passes through intermediate space?
      Whether corporeal creatures were produced by God through the medium of the angels?

      And so on. This is what Jerry has signed up for. I hope that as he wades through Aquinas, he makes an annotated list of Aquinas’s many howlers, which at least would be a constructive use of his time. Perhaps we can look forward to a skeptics annotated theology. Delusions are to be found in just about every paragraph Aquinas writes, so this could turn into a mammoth project from the start. I’d suggest some discrimination, focusing on Aquinas’s biological and scientific statements of course, but also his opinion about what is impossible as well as what he says about the infinite. Can anyone point to a correct statement by Aquinas about infinity? Here’s another howler, combining both: “the infinite could not be known actually, unless all its parts were counted: which is impossible.” Thomas Aquinas, meet Wolfram MathWorld. Godspeed, Jerry.

      Finally, you’ve invoked Heisenberg, Einstein, and dark matter. Perhaps you can answer the question in which Feynman diagram can we find God?

      • Ye Olde Statistician
        Posted July 14, 2011 at 8:06 pm | Permalink

        Unsurprisingly, Aquinas’s 10th c. statements on space and time are flatly wrong.

        I’ll say. He wasn’t even born until the 13th cent. But then history isn’t Science! either, so who cares?

        For example,
        The notion of a vacuum is not only “in which is nothing,” but also implies a space capable of holding a body and in which there is not a body, as appears from Aristotle (Phys. iv, text 60). Whereas we hold that there was no place or space before the world was. —Summa Theologica

        Of course there was no “place or space” before the Big Bang. Both time and space originated at the Big Bang, and it makes no sense to say there was place or space “before” then. If the complaint is that he did not employ a later definition of vacuum as Really Low Air Pressure, what of it?

        Whether an angel is composed of matter and form?

        Call them ETs or “pure energy beings” if it makes you happy. There was a gap in the chain of being between mankind – material beings with intellect and will – and God. Angels filled the gap. It’s like seeing an empty spot on the periodic table. I wouldn’t worry about it.

        Here’s another howler, combining both: “the infinite could not be known actually, unless all its parts were counted: which is impossible.” Thomas Aquinas, meet Wolfram MathWorld. Godspeed, Jerry.

        Perhaps you need to understand the word “actual.” Either that or count the parts.

        in which Feynman diagram can we find God?

        Looking for love in all the wrong places.

        • Posted July 14, 2011 at 8:09 pm | Permalink

          Little green Martians! Angels!

          I’m sorry, this is getting too deep for me. I’m checking out of this thread before the coffee break’s over and it’s time for handstands again.

          See y’all! Enjoy the squeaky toy — or, at least, what’s left of him!

          b&

      • Steve Smith
        Posted July 14, 2011 at 8:37 pm | Permalink

        FYI: Aquinas’s views were deeply influenced by Islamic philosophers such as the 10th c. al-Farabi, from whom Aristotle was retransmitted back to the west. Aside from Aquinas’s expansive views on the myriad properties of angels, there is a good deal of overlap between the two, such as al-Farabi’s views on the vacuum. But on the whole, this website’s host would make much better use of his time reading the Muslim philosopher al-Farabi rather than the Christian theologian Aquinas.

        If god cannot be found in any Feynman diagram, then please do us the courtesy of telling us where he can be found.

        • Ye Olde Statistician
          Posted July 16, 2011 at 5:43 pm | Permalink

          Al-Farabi was a natural philosopher, not a theologian. He is better compared to Roger Bacon, Grosseteste, Theodoric of Fribourg, and folks like that. Aquinas did a little natural philosophy. His distinction between an accident and its quantitative extension is what gave us the distinction between heat and temperature, weight and density, and so on. But he was primarily in other areas of philosophy.

          Aquinas was more influence by ibn Rushd, the Spaniard, who was know in Latin Christendom as Averroes. As Aquinas called Aristotle simply “The Philosopher,” he called ibn Rushd “The Commentator.” These commentaries on Aristotle were better known and had wider circulation in Christendom than in the House of Submission. Ibn Rushd rebutted al-Ghazali’s ur-Humean attack on natural philosophy – The Incoherence of Philosophy – with a book called The Incoherence of the Incoherence. But he was stripped of all offices and forced to flee al-Andalus. Sadly, natural science never found an institutional home in medieval Islam the way it did in medieval Christendom

  79. CJS
    Posted July 14, 2011 at 9:55 am | Permalink

    You could be rereading Proust instead. Just saying.

  80. Ye Olde Statistician
    Posted July 14, 2011 at 11:39 am | Permalink

    @oystermonkey
    Atoms, quarks, strings, or whatever turns out to be the basic stuff of the universe– these things are not the propertyless property bearers required for hylomorphism to be a legitimate scientific model of the universe.

    Hylemorphism does not require compound being to be propertyless. It only requires that every thing is some thing. That is, every physical existant is some particular concrete being. In short, that matter has form.

    a very good case can be made that Aristotle did not look at forms as merely causes or structural arrangements…, but rather as entities in themselves, as ontologically distinct beings.

    You may be thinking of Plato.

    Aristotle could certainly conceptualize matter and form separately, just as we can conceptualize the color and shape and taste of an apple separately. But forms are not entities in the Aristotelian scheme.

    As for the formless hyle prote, or prime matter, Heisenberg certainly took it seriously, so I have to suppose it has some merit. After all Heisenberg was not just a scientist, but a physicist of the top water, and unlike later generations of scientists was not narrowly trained in one field. Like Poincare, Einstein, and others of an earlier age, he could engage philosophy quite competently.

    In any case, the hyle prote was pure potency, and as such was not actual. Think of it as the limit implied by the series material->molecule->atom->proton->quark->? Even dark matter is closer to the aether than to the hyle prote.

    • Posted July 14, 2011 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

      But the matter portion of the hylomorphic compound is, of itself, propertyless. The formal component is supposed to be the cause of all the properties the compound possesses.

      What I meant by forms being “ontologically distinct” is different than Platonic forms, which I would call ontologically “separable” or ontologically “independent.” I’ll grant you that Aristotle didn’t countenance actually separately existing forms, but (especially in the middle books of the Metaphysics, I’m thinking the form-as-essence-as-substance sections) he certainly treated them as distinct units of being. Otherwise it wouldn’t have warranted his conclusion that it is form, ultimately, that is substance.

      • Tulse
        Posted July 14, 2011 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

        What does it mean to say that something is “propertyless”? To echo Ben, isn’t that in itself a property? But beyond such set theory considerations, surely the matter portion of the hylomorphic compound must have properties if for no other reason that the matter is not the same as the form — those two things must differ in their (meta-)properties. (Or perhaps I am misunderstanding the argument.)

        • Posted July 14, 2011 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

          I’m not arguing that Aristotle’s theory was right, or even ultimately coherent. My main point is more that Ye Olde’s attempts to justify Aquinas’s Aristotelian metaphysics based on analogy with quantum physics can’t work. It simply isn’t what Aristotle was talking about.

        • Ye Olde Statistician
          Posted July 14, 2011 at 7:25 pm | Permalink

          “Propertyless” is no more a property than “nothing” is a thing.

          By me, “substance” is the hylemorphic union of matter with form. However, since it is form which gives property to matter – i.e., makes it some thing – and matter is simply that which persists through change, I can see where one may with care equate substance with form, taking the matter for granted. Synecdoche is not unheard of, esp. among Greeks! A ranch might hire several hands to round up a hundred head of cattle; but we understand that “hand” and “head” are only part of a cowboy and a cow.

          In a certain way, property =is= form. Recall the maxim, “no ‘white’ without a white thing.” To say that some matter has the form of whiteness is to say it has the property of being white. There are benefits to considering form as a concept in and of itself.

          I wouldn’t worry too much about what Aristotle had in mind in terms of the physics. One marker of an essentially correct metaphysics is that new physics still makes sense within the meta-. I ran across once a description of evolution within the framework of the Aristotelian “four becauses” that was marvelously concise and complete. I may copy it in this thread for your amusement. In any case, Aristotelianism went through a thousand years of chewing over during the middle ages, and received a considerable makeover before they were done.

          • Tulse
            Posted July 14, 2011 at 7:34 pm | Permalink

            You didn’t actually address my argument, which was

            surely the matter portion of the hylomorphic compound must have properties if for no other reason that the matter is not the same as the form — those two things must differ in their (meta-)properties

            The notion of something without properties is a contradiction, since the only way that “something” can be distinguishable from “something else” is via properties.

            • Ye Olde Statistician
              Posted July 14, 2011 at 7:55 pm | Permalink

              The notion of something without properties is a contradiction, since the only way that “something” can be distinguishable from “something else” is via properties.

              Substitute the term “form” for “properties” and you’ve got it. All compound bodies are hylemorphic unions of matter+form. The medieval maxim was “Every thing is some thing.” And of course, it is by difference of form (properties) that one distinguishes this from that. I don’t know why you think Aristotle or Archimedes or other really sharp dudes never thought of that.

              That is why Aristotle said that prime matter (hyle prote) was pure potency. That which is potential is not actual; and so prime matter does not actually exist. But it does potentially exist. Form actualized the potential. If it pleases you, think of it as the mathematical limit as known, composite matter is stripped of each of its properties.

              • Rilke's Granddaughte
                Posted July 14, 2011 at 8:19 pm | Permalink

                But if it POTENTIALLY exists, then it has a property: potentiality. Tulse is correct in that you cannot actually discuss “formless” matter (as you seem to be using the concept) at all. There is, quite literally, nothing to discuss.

          • Posted July 14, 2011 at 7:44 pm | Permalink

            Oh, good lord. Aristotelian hylomorphism, platonic ideals — what’s next, humors, phlogiston, demonic infections, astrological projections, philosophical stones?

            Jerry, do I really have to take this guy seriously?

            <sigh />

            “Propertyless” is no more a property than “nothing” is a thing.

            If something lacks properties, it simply doesn’t exist. Spatiotemporal coordinates are properties; no spatiotemporal coordinates, no existence. Even abstract numbers have properties — the number one has the property of being a factor of every other number, as well as the property of being the result of subtracting 1,385,776.2509 from 1,385,777.2509.

            One marker of an essentially correct metaphysics is that new physics still makes sense within the meta-.

            One marker of any metaphysics is that it’s useful for nothing more than late-night dorm room bull sessions.

            I ran across once a description of evolution within the framework of the Aristotelian “four becauses” that was marvelously concise and complete. I may copy it in this thread for your amusement.

            Hey, sounds cool! Maybe, while you’re at it, you could post a description of cosmology within the framework of the Force of Star Wars, and finish it up with a description of quantum chromodynamics within the framework of alchemy!

            Cheers,

            b&

            • Ye Olde Statistician
              Posted July 14, 2011 at 8:19 pm | Permalink

              Oh, good lord. Aristotelian hylomorphism, platonic ideals — what’s next, humors, phlogiston, demonic infections, astrological projections, philosophical stones?

              None of these are in the same genus as hylemorphism. You are allowed to mock hylemorphism when you can show me a physical being that does not have a form or is not made of matter.

              Platonic realism is a different kettle, which we are not cooking with. It was Aristotle’s rejection of Platonic ideals that led to his formulation of potency and act. Pick Plato or Aristotle, because otherwise you’re stuck with Parmenides.

              As for the past errors of natural science – like humors, phlogiston, astrological horoscopes, etc. – that’s how science operates. Note that the humor theory was based on empiricism: the body is mostly liquid; and hydraulic models were all the rage when Galen was writing. Aqueducts and baths and such. So naturally, he saw things in terms of hydraulics. Later, when machines were all the rage, people saw things in terms of mechanisms. Now computers are all the rage, and people see things in terms of computers. Heck, it’s no coincidence that Darwin conceived his theory during a time of laissez faire capitalism. Or that relativity emerged when impressionism was dominating the arts.

              BTW, one of your colleagues here gets upset when imputations of ignorance are flung, though I suspect he only gets upset depending on the direction of the fling.

          • Posted July 14, 2011 at 7:57 pm | Permalink

            But the view that the hylomorphic compound has right to the title “substance” was ultimately rejected by Aristotle. His considered view in the Metaphysics is that form is to be considered the ultimate reality, not matter and not the compund of form and matter. So if you want to ground your physics on Aristotle, you have to come to terms with that fact.

            • Ye Olde Statistician
              Posted July 14, 2011 at 8:24 pm | Permalink

              if you want to ground your physics on Aristotle

              if you want to ground your evolution on Darwin, do you have to go back to mid-Victorian knowledge? No genes?

              I still don’t know why you think that equating substance with form is such a big deal. Quite clearly that is where all the action is. The matter is itself merely potency and form is the principle of change. Since natural science deals with change of pre-existing matter, why not focus on form?

              • Posted July 15, 2011 at 6:51 am | Permalink

                I don’t think equating substance with form is a big deal. Aristotle did, though. And if you’re trying to build a metaphysical ground for physics on the basis of Aristotelian ontology, then it doesn’t make any sense to me why you would do so by ignoring the fact that he doesn’t look at hylomorphic compounds as substance, ultimately.

                But I guess if you’re attempting in these scattered comments to posit some version of hylomorphism other than Aristotle’s, more power to you. I’m not particularly interested in a priori metaphysics, but knock your self out.

                I’ll let John Locke sum up my feelings on the utility of the idea of substance: “They who first ran into the Notion of Accidents, as a sort of real Beings, that needed something to inhere in, were forced to find out the word Substance, to support them. Had the poor Indian philosopher (who imagined that the Earth also wanted something to bear it up) but thought of this word Substance, he needed not to have been at the trouble to find an Elephant to support it, and a Tortoise to support his Elephant: The word Substance would have done it effectually.” Essay (II.xiii.19)

      • Ye Olde Statistician
        Posted July 16, 2011 at 6:11 pm | Permalink

        @oystermonkey
        It has occurred to me that you may be thinking about substantial forms when you say form is substance. There is a modest discussion of protomatter here: http://home.comcast.net/~icuweb/c02002.htm#3 followed in the next section by a discussion of form and substantial form.

        I’m not sure why folks here find protomatter so laughable, given that Heisenberg took it so seriously. I have heard that Heisenberg knew something about science, and even about quantum theory.

        Oddly, too, while some folks here are trying to deny causation in order to counter the cosmological argument (talk about babies and bathwater), folks on another thread are boosting determinate causation in order to counter free will. Go figure.

  81. Filippo
    Posted July 14, 2011 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

    ” . . . modern Thomists . . .”

    So, “Thomist” refers to Aquinas, not More or Cranmer. Duh.

    No doubt because “Thomists” is easier to pronounce than “Aquinasists.”

  82. Ye Olde Statistician
    Posted July 14, 2011 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

    dguller: “if I am seeing a forest, then does it follow that there are no trees?”

    This seems to speak to Thomas Aquinas’ concept of intention. In purely material terms, a cascade of photons impact the retina from everything within view. How then is it possible to “look at” some particular thing, save by intention. This seems in better line with non-linear brain dynamics, at least according to this fellow: http://www.mindmatter.de/mmpdf/freemanwww.pdf

  83. Ye Olde Statistician
    Posted July 14, 2011 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

    @dguller: “Imagine that someone was murdered…”

    I’ve always like the one where a guy walking to lunch is brained by a hammer falling off the roof. Everything in the sequences is caused. He left at a particular time because it was his lunch hour, walked that particular route because it was the way to the diner, etc. Meanwhile, the workman on the roof had laid his hammer down because it was his break time. When he rose, his foot nudged it because of the geometry of the layout. It slid down the roof because of the friction+gravity on an inclined plane. It fell at the speed it did because of the force of gravity. And it splattered the poor guy’s brains because of the kinetic energy it acquired during the fall.

    A “chance” event is simply the intersection of two lines of causes. To demand of concatenation the same significance as causation, as some are here doing, is to demand scientific status for magick. Or, as I think you said, confusing “caused” with “determined.”

    • dguller
      Posted July 14, 2011 at 5:18 pm | Permalink

      Mm hm.

      And if you are TOF, then it is truly a pleasure to converse with you once again.

      • Ye Olde Statistician
        Posted July 14, 2011 at 6:25 pm | Permalink

        Moi?

        • dguller
          Posted July 14, 2011 at 7:08 pm | Permalink

          Sorry. I guess I have you confused with someone else from Feser’s blog. No worries.

  84. Ye Olde Statistician
    Posted July 14, 2011 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

    A chaotic system is simply a deterministic system that’s highly sensitive to initial conditions, typically sufficiently so that accurate predictions of terminal results are practically infeasible.

    That’s what I said, except the conditions need not be the initial conditions. The system may pass through a bifurcation set at any point in its trajectory.

    A random variable is one in which individual outcomes cannot be predicted but the cumulative outcomes form a predictable pattern. The pattern is due to “a constant system of chance causes.” A good simulator is a quincunx. This means that we can assign a probability to a particular outcome.

    In any case, “unable to make accurate predictions of the outcome” is not the same things as “there is no cause of the outcome.”

    Hah! A moment of satori. Are we confusing “caused” with “predictable”?

    • Lotharloo
      Posted July 15, 2011 at 6:39 am | Permalink

      Hold your horses. So, what is the definition of the “cause”? Each time we poke a hole in your theology, you retreat by saying “Ah my friends! You don’t understand the definition of X! It does not mean what you think means!” without actually giving us a definition.

      So, here is it: A random variable turns out to be 0 rather than 1, e.g., radioactive decay. What was the cause that caused to be 0 rather than 1? If the cause could not cause it to be anything other than 0, then it was not random. If it could cause it to be 1, then how could it be considered a cause?

      • Lotharloo
        Posted July 15, 2011 at 6:47 am | Permalink

        Let me revise to prevent a potential silly response:

        A random variable turns out to be 0 rather than 1, e.g., radioactive decay. What were the causes that caused to be 0 rather than 1? Think of all the possible causes, put all the universe, God, angels, satan, IPU, and consider them all. If they cannot cause the RV to be anything but 0, then it follows that the random variable was not random. This has nothing to be with being predictable. However, if all these causes together, allow for the random variable to be both 1 and 0, then how can you call them causes?

        So basically, try to give us a definition, without using stupid examples such as “the cause of the trumpet making a sound is Mr Jones’ vigorous lung movement.”

        • dguller
          Posted July 15, 2011 at 6:58 am | Permalink

          >> Think of all the possible causes, put all the universe, God, angels, satan, IPU, and consider them all. If they cannot cause the RV to be anything but 0, then it follows that the random variable was not random. This has nothing to be with being predictable. However, if all these causes together, allow for the random variable to be both 1 and 0, then how can you call them causes?

          I disagree that randomness has nothing to do with prediction. In fact, it has everything to do with prediction, which is why randomness is possible in both deterministic and non-deterministic systems. In the former, an outcome is random if the number of causal factors involved is so complex that we lack the computational capacity to make an accurate prediction, especially if the outcome involves a chaotic system. In the latter, the outcome is random, because there are uncaused events that lack any antecedent determinants or causal factors. The bottom line is that in both cases we lack something that would allow accurate prediction above and beyond a probability calculation.

          I prefer determinism, mainly for scientific reasons (i.e. uncaused events = “shit happens, for no reason”), and so I opt for the idea that randomness just represents our ignorance and incapacity to predict with accuracy certain outcomes, and does not represent an ontological element of reality. I suppose that I share the same suspicions that Einstein held against quantum theory, i.e. that there must be something more out there than is present in those wonderfully useful equations.

          And to answer your question about “cause”, if these factors all are involved in a spatiotemporal sequence of events that involve the transition from potential states to actual states, and that ultimately end in the “effect”, then they are causes, even if no single cause is determinate of the outcome.

          • Lotharloo
            Posted July 15, 2011 at 7:34 am | Permalink

            I opt for the idea that randomness just represents our ignorance and incapacity to predict with accuracy certain outcomes, and does not represent an ontological element of reality

            So basically, you are saying that “real random variables” don’t exist in the real world and you have nothing to back it up except for pure intuition.

            And to answer your question about “cause”, if these factors all are involved in a spatiotemporal sequence of events that involve the transition from potential states to actual states, and that ultimately end in the “effect”, then they are causes, even if no single cause is determinate of the outcome.

            This was the “silly” response that I was trying to guard against but apparently I failed. My point is that for a random variable, the entire universe, all the Gods, and the unicorns cannot determine it’s outcome. Thus, if you think the outcome of a random variable is uncaused, you must prove why random variables cannot exist (which should be difficult given the state-of-the-art at QM is that they indeed do exist) or you must seriously expand the definition of causation far beyond what you just wrote but probably that would only make the definition ridiculous.

            • dguller
              Posted July 15, 2011 at 10:35 am | Permalink

              >> So basically, you are saying that “real random variables” don’t exist in the real world and you have nothing to back it up except for pure intuition.

              Intuition is certainly part of it. I am struck by the fact that radioactive decay does not occur in a vacuum, i.e. in the complete absence of any surrounding potential causal factors. It seems plausible that the surrounding environment – other subatomic particles, forces, energy, and so on – may play a role in causing the decay to occur when it does. There may even be some thus far unknown characteristics of the quarks themselves that result in the exchange of particles involved in the weak force. Certainly, this is not impossible, as far as I understand.

              I think that the safest thing to say is that the current standard model of QM does not require any additional causes to permit a highly accurate probabilistic understanding of quantum phenomena. Whether this represents an epistemological or ontological limit is an open question, as far as I know, because it depends upon whether the standard model is considered to accurately represent every single facet of atomic and subatomic reality. I’ll leave it to the experts to debate whether this is the consensus of quantum physicists or not.

              >> My point is that for a random variable, the entire universe, all the Gods, and the unicorns cannot determine it’s outcome.

              If there are ontological random variables, then you would be right.

              >> Thus, if you think the outcome of a random variable is uncaused, you must prove why random variables cannot exist (which should be difficult given the state-of-the-art at QM is that they indeed do exist) or you must seriously expand the definition of causation far beyond what you just wrote but probably that would only make the definition ridiculous.

              First, I think you meant that if I think that randomness is deterministic, then I must demonstrate that indeterministic randomness is impossible.

              Second, as I mentioned above, I defer to quantum physicists regarding whether the consensus is that the standard model of quantum mechanics accurately captures the sum total of all atomic and subatomic reality without the possibility of anything residual or left out. My understanding is that there are interpretations that preserve the presence of hidden variables, but have to give up other things, such as locality in the case of Bohm’s interpretation.

              So, what you have with QM is essentially a mathematical tool that accurately predicts the behavior of atomic and subatomic particles. It works so well that physicists will assume that entities, such as quarks, exist despite the absence of empirical evidence for them. However, given its mathematical level of abstraction, and the bizarre assumptions and conclusions that flow from it, there is no understanding that goes along with it, because our ability to understand anything depends upon it fitting within a narrative framework dictated by our cognitive processes, which seem ill-suited to the quantum world.

            • Ye Olde Statistician
              Posted July 15, 2011 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

              So, here is it: A random variable turns out to be 0 rather than 1, e.g., radioactive decay. What was the cause that caused to be 0 rather than 1?

              Noted elsewhere. I suggest Walter Shewhart’s book Economic Control of Quality of Manufactured Product or perhaps any of W. Edward Deming’s books on statistical method. (Oh noes! I gotta read hundreds of books on stat!) But basically this: random variation is the result of a “constant system of chance causes.” In such a system, there may be hundreds of causes (not zero) and the output is random because each cause has a small effect on the outcome variable, either + or – (or toward 0 or toward 1 if you prefer binary). If the outcome is a linear sum of the common causes, the result is a normal distribution; if it is a product of the common causes, the result is a lognormal distribution; if it is a polynomial on the common causes, the result is an extreme value distribution of one sort or another. These are predictable outcomes.

              In no case is the outcome of a manufacturing process uncaused. Rather, it is multi-caused. It may simply be uneconomic or beyond the state of the are to determine a cause; or more typically, it is one cause today and another cause tomorrow. IOW, the same measured outcome is the result of many causes, no one of which is dominant.

              This becomes more obvious if you construct design matrices deploying functional requirements to design parameters. You will find that many functions are affected by multiple parameters; and many parameters affect multiple functions. This makes Fault Tree Analysis lots of fun.

              The other kind of variation is assignable variation. This is due to “special causes” that are not normally part of the constant system of chance causes. This sort of variation can be assigned to a specific special cause.

              Example: the curvature of a tool in a stamping press would result in common-cause random variation. A cracked tool would result in special-cause assignable variation.

              Hope this helps get you back on the science track.

            • Ye Olde Statistician
              Posted July 15, 2011 at 4:26 pm | Permalink

              you must prove why random variables cannot exist (which should be difficult given the state-of-the-art at QM

              Actually, that the formal causes of QM (the equations) employ probabilities does not bind the Real World™. Look how long astronomers used epicycles. Distinguish quantum mechanics (QM) from quantum theory and many things become clear. That the probabilities are inherent in the Real World™ is an interpretation of QM. This happens to be also the interpretation that drives a stake through the heart of materialism and scientific objectivity. Fortunately, the math always works out, so scientists can just focus on doing practical work.

              However, there are other interpretations that do not assign the randomness to the world: the Many Worlds interpretation, Cramer’s Transactional theory, Bohm’s standing wave, Smith’s Thomistic quantum theory, etc. So far (except possibly for the Afshar experiment) all experimental data is compatible with all of these.

  85. sailor1031
    Posted July 14, 2011 at 6:30 pm | Permalink

    Jerry: you’ve presumably waded through all of the above. How could you possibly even consider reading any more of it? Let Feser give his courtier’s reply and you get on with something worthwhile. If you persist in this you will go blind!

    • Ye Olde Statistician
      Posted July 14, 2011 at 6:50 pm | Permalink

      Now that is a courtier’s reply.

      • Rilke's Granddaughte
        Posted July 14, 2011 at 8:14 pm | Permalink

        How so? There are basic flaws in the “Big Five”; there isn’t any empirical evidence to support the specific “Christian” understanding of Divinity; and Jerry has better things to do with his time.

  86. Ye Olde Statistician
    Posted July 14, 2011 at 7:43 pm | Permalink

    dguller: “I wonder if the fact that QM is fundamentally probabilistic simply represents a limitation in our cognitive capacity to understand this deeper level of reality?”

    The standard model Copenhagen interpretation ascribes the uncertainty to the actual world. It led Heisenberg to state that “the desired objective reality of the elementary particle is too crude an oversimplification of what really happens” which is why materialists sort of gave up on materialism and rebranded as physicalists. Materialism could no longer account for matter.

    However, there are other interpretations of QM, including 2. Many Worlds, 3. Cramer’s Transactional theory, 4. Bohm’s Standing Wave, and even 5. Smith’s Thomistic quantum theory. In #5, the quantum paradoxes do not even arise; but I’m pretty sure that all the alternatives have a different take on the meaning of the probability functions.

  87. Posted July 14, 2011 at 8:24 pm | Permalink

    Christian apologetics is an enterprise that has been chugging along for nearly 2000 years, growing by countless volumes with each generation. One book points to the next, to the next, to the next, in an endless chain of circular stupidity. You will never reach the bottom of it. It will suck every spare second from your life that it can; you will never have anything to show for your time. It’s only purpose is to snare the foolish and confound the gullible, while distracting the wise (or those who otherwise have more important things to do).

    Theology is to a human brain what the cordyceps fungi is to the carpenter ant (see http://neurophilosophy.wordpress.com/2006/11/20/brainwashed-by-a-parasite/ )

  88. Ye Olde Statistician
    Posted July 14, 2011 at 8:31 pm | Permalink

    Hey, you know what? I bet I’m also in agreement with Aquinas that wine goes well with crackers — therefore Jesus!

    Your syllogism is faulty. The conclusion does not follow.

    If “not all beings can be contingent,” then some beings are not contingent. And nothing short of unabashed special pleading will ever get you to “and therefore there is but one non-contingent being

    It isn’t special pleading. The argument may be deficient, but not for this reason.

    Hell, it won’t even get you to “but there’s exactly one non-contingent being.”

    You know why? Aristotle and Aquinas were idiots.

    At least they never made ad hominem arguments.

  89. GAYtheist
    Posted July 15, 2011 at 8:41 am | Permalink

    Bertrand Russell’s short essay on Aquinas is a very good, short analysis of his arguments. Russell notes that Aquinas’ follows Aristotelian logic – which has been shown to have serious flaws. Basically by allowing the particular (Some A are B) to be inferred from the universal (All A are B) is a problem because the Some A are B implicitly carries with it the assumption that at least one A exists whereas the universal does not.

  90. Ye Olde Statistician
    Posted July 28, 2011 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

    @Ben
    Your words. Which mean this “God” critter of yours is at least as Turing-complete as an Apple

    No. You are making the unexamined act of faith that intellect is somehow the same as a computational device. It is not. A human, for example, can recognize his Gödel sentences as true, while no computational device can even in principle do. Hence, the mind cannot be even in principle the same as a computational device. This is true even though humans do perform computations.
    + + +
    Oh, so your BPA can use a straightedge and compass to draw a circle and a square with equal areas?

    Of course not. I explained that all-power-full meant the “source of all powers” not a superhero in Spandex. There is no power to square a circle by classical methods; so there can be no source of that power. Duh?
    + + +
    Yeah, shove that up your ass with a nigger necktie

    Why must you resort to such unconscionable and racist language?

    blathering about how evil is imaginary

    I never said it was imaginary. I said evil did not exist as such. It has no Ding an sich. It does exist as a defect in the good, much as a weaving flaw may exist in a bolt of cloth. It is the cloth that exists as such; the flaw has no independent existence apart from the cloth.

    I cited the evil of death as a defect of the good of life. Death has no existence independent of life; but life could exist independent of death. The same goes for things like people who act from a lack of charity and so commit racist acts or use racist speech. (Granted, Nietzsche and other atheists of his sect railed against charity; but we all saw where that led.)

    All of this simply reinforces Feser’s original complaint. You never reply to what is actually argued, only to caricatures and straw men that you create yourself.

    • Posted July 28, 2011 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

      A human, for example, can recognize his Gödel sentences as true, while no computational device can even in principle do.

      That’s not even worng. Hopelessly so.

      There is no power to square a circle by classical methods; so there can be no source of that power.

      So the BPH is every bit as limited in every way as every other entity.

      And, since there’s no power propagate information faster than 299,792,458 m/s, your BPH has no way of knowing what’s going on on both the Earth and Proxima Centauri in anything less than two years — and that’s assuming it’s located midway between the two. What an utterly useless and mind-numbingly idiotic god you worship.

      It is the cloth that exists as such; the flaw has no independent existence apart from the cloth.

      Yet more disgustingly evil apologeticizing.

      But never mind that.

      Let’s try some practical exercises.

      You would agree, I hope, that there is a potential power to cure all sorts of diseases, to produce (or capture) and store clean energy on a scale sufficient to eliminate humanity’s need to burn petrochemicals, and to organize society in a way that doesn’t result in vast numbers of people suffering from poverty and war.

      So, why doesn’t your BPH put up a Web site with the answers to those problems? Wouldn’t it do at least a tiny bit to mend the flaws in the fabric it so carelessly weaved imperfectly?

      Let you think such a suggestion unreasonable, it’s no different from what the Wholly Babble is alleged to be. Except, of course, that the medical “advice” in that noxious hate-filled abomination is primitive shamanism, complete with splattering bird blood on the victim. And the engineering “advice” is for building a magical floating zoo that’s bigger — far bigger — on the inside than the outside. And the sociological “advice”…well, never mind the commands that rape victims must marry their assaulters, even the Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount are horrifying examples of brutality at least as bad as the Hammurabic code. I mean, chattel slavery? Self-mutilation to avoid infinite torture for thoughtcrime? Madness!

      So, you can build all the fairy castles you want. But here, in the real world, we can do without this nonsense of evil as a lack of good and your imaginary big brother being the puppetmaster who’s waving everybody’s arms except for Hitler’s and the other bad guys.

      In other words, grow up, little boy.

      Cheers,

      b&

  91. Ye Olde Statistician
    Posted July 29, 2011 at 7:49 am | Permalink

    after all what we know about traits like intelligence and intentions is that they require a tremendous amount of complexity and rely on underlying physical causation.

    But we don’t know that at all. We are assuming that. Don’t be surprised if you get your own assumptions back. “Intelligence” is not well defined. “Intellect” is the power to abstract universal concepts from concrete particulars. There is no reason to suppose this physical, let alone material. In fact, there are good reasons to suppose otherwise. But that takes us much farther afield to your new set of goal posts.

    Also, a figure-8 is not simple while a maze is; so be careful about the word “simple.” It means “not a compound.”
    + + +

    That God has thoughts without having a neural network in place? That God has desires without the passage of time in which to have them? How do you know any of it?

    By logical deduction from the existence of change in the world. It would be like (there’s that analogy thing again) deducing the existence of the electron from the existence of permanent magnets, rather than admit that permanent magnets falsified Maxwell’s theories.

    God is treated as if he’s a magic human – minus all the things that we know allow us to be human.

    Actually, that is not how he is treated; although for some people’s level of understanding it is futile to go beyond it.

    We call God the “perfect being”, we say God is “ultimate simplicity”, yet how is that anything other than bare assertions to mask our underlying sense of agency?

    Because they are not assertions, but conclusions at the end of a chain of reasoning.

    there’s a particular region of the brain precisely for that which allows us to think in terms of other agents.

    There are cases of people who lack this region or that or who have lost a portion of their brain, and still carry our those functions. I read recently of a child who lacked a cerebellum, supposedly the seat of balance, and yet was learning to walk. Apparently, the mind can recruit different regions of the brain to make up for something lacking. One extreme case, an A-student at Sheffield University, very nearly lacked a perceptible brain entirely. Even so simple a thing as looking at an object does not always trigger the same neural patterns.

    However, as Aquinas used to say, “My soul is not ‘I’.” That is, we are compounds of matter and form, not pure form; so it is no surprise if our form affects our matter or our matter, our form.

    I think the Courtier’s Reply is perfectly valid

    No, it is an irrational form of what Searle called the Give-it-a-name fallacy. It has no validity in logic.

    I’m fairly confident that belief in God is a projection of our evolved psychology, and that defence in belief in God has little to do with trying to understand whether God really exists. I could go on

    Of course. Thucydides, IV, 108.

    when I’ve talked with theists about God, they talk about God as if he were another agent in the world – then defend such beliefs with neoplatonic abstractions or god-of-the-gaps type arguments.

    Which demonstrates that atheists are not the only ones who fail to understand the argument. They are based on Aristotelian abstractions and deny that there are any gaps in need of theokinesis. But a lot of nicely pious folk get along fine with only a crude understanding. Consider how many people tell what Gould called “Darwinian just-so stories” without any clue how to specify an actual evolutionary chain and demonstrate that it actually happened.

    I want something more than wordplay to back that up.

    So much for logic and reason. And abstraction is what makes us human.

    • Posted July 29, 2011 at 7:56 am | Permalink

      Which demonstrates that atheists are not the only ones who fail to understand the argument. They are based on Aristotelian abstractions and deny that there are any gaps in need of theokinesis. But a lot of nicely pious folk get along fine with only a crude understanding.

      Your BPH so incomprehensible that nobody can understand it. Ergo, eat this cracker.

      Makes perfect sense to me!

      Cheers,

      b&

    • Posted July 29, 2011 at 10:55 am | Permalink

      “But we don’t know that at all. We are assuming that.”
      We’re not assuming anything, there’s plenty in the way of research to demonstrate that these are physical traits. Heck, they can change someone’s moral decision making with a magnetic field, they can measure what areas of the brain have blood flow when certain cognitive processes are in place, they can induce emotions in split brain patients – it’s not assuming anything – there’s a very solid body of evidence to back it up.

      “By logical deduction from the existence of change in the world.”
      I’m really not sure how can you can show something like this a priori but I’ll again chalk that up to me being an unsophisticated layperson. Because from my unsophisticated layperson perspective, it looks like you’re using your intuitive sense of agency then claiming that you can logically show what you assume. But again I need help here. I need something more than a priori logic…

      “Actually, that is not how he is treated; although for some people’s level of understanding it is futile to go beyond it.”
      Only some? Okay, if that’s the case please give me a greater understanding. In what sense does prayer work with God?

      “Because they are not assertions, but conclusions at the end of a chain of reasoning.”
      Okay, let’s take that as true. Now back to my initial question – what do they mean? How do they fit with the God that’s meant to listen to our prayers, suffer alongside us, came down to earth and impregnated a virgin to give birth to himself? Because for the life of me when I read something like “God is ultimate simplicity” I really don’t know how that could possibly mean something that has thoughts and feelings and the power to act in this world. I don’t even know if ultimate simplicity is a meaningful thought.

      How did this ultimate simplicity appear to Moses? How did this First Causer impregnate a virgin and give birth to himself in human form?

      “There are cases of people who lack this region or that or who have lost a portion of their brain, and still carry our those functions.”
      Yes, the brain is malleable – but doesn’t that demonstrate my point that it’s all physical? And if there is a non-physical component, how and where does that interact with the physical? Wouldn’t that violate conservation of energy?

      “No, it is an irrational form of what Searle called the Give-it-a-name fallacy. It has no validity in logic.”
      The Courtier’s Reply is not a logical argument, so why would it need validity in logic? The Courtier’s Reply is an expression of the red herring fallacy – that one would be better served to see whether homoeopathy had any biochemical plausibility and empirical validity than to delve deep into the metaphysics of Samuel Hahnemann.

      “Which demonstrates that atheists are not the only ones who fail to understand the argument.”
      Not every theist is a Thomian… indeed I’ve encountered very few theists who are. I don’t think many people have grappled with Aquinas, especially not when coming to believe. That God loves you, that God will grant you eternal life if you believe in him, that he listens to your prayers, that he died for your sins, etc. Indeed the version of Christianity I was taught centred very much on God being real and the bible was an account of God’s actions on earth. Not literally the word of God, but the word about God. Though I’m not sure how an abstract can author a book (is God analogous to authoring too?), again the description of God only makes sense as a description of an agent. Or is it saved by saying analogous to an agent?

      • Ye Olde Statistician
        Posted July 29, 2011 at 6:32 pm | Permalink

        We’re not assuming anything, there’s plenty in the way of research to demonstrate that these are physical traits. Heck, they can change someone’s moral decision making with a magnetic field, they can measure what areas of the brain have blood flow when certain cognitive processes are in place, they can induce emotions in split brain patients – it’s not assuming anything – there’s a very solid body of evidence to back it up.

        I’ve seen no example of changing someone’s moral decision with a magnetic field. I have seen a story about a dude who twitched his finger because a magnetic field induced a current in his nerves.

        Really, you cannot suppose that Aristotle was ignorant of the fact that if you get someone drunk they will do stupid things. It is pretty obvious that the condition of the body affects the function of the mind. Or at least our ability to discern those functions.

        I would wonder why there would not blood flow in the brain when we are using it. There is increased blood flow in all sorts of organs when we use them. But we don’t suppose that the blood flow in our arms when we lift something is the cause of our lifting it. So why the inside-out approach when it is the brain rather than the spleen?

        it looks like you’re using your intuitive sense of agency then claiming that you can logically show what you assume.

        Actually, I wouldn’t mind seeing proof that there is some sort of “intuitive sense of agency.”

        when I read something like “God is ultimate simplicity” I really don’t know how that could possibly mean something that has thoughts and feelings and the power to act in this world.

        In topology, a figure-8 is complex and a maze is simple. So the first thing is not to mock mathematicians, but to find out what they mean. The same applies here. “Simple” means “not compound.” That is, God is demonstrated in a series of proofs to be not a compound of matter and form, not a compound of potency and act, etc. There are eight such arguments here: http://www.newadvent.org/summa/1003.htm
        But remember this was a manual for students who had already memorized the entire corpus of Aristotle and related texts, so many of the arguments are given in abbreviated form as “key sentences,” what today in the era of printed books and standard editions, “footnotes” and “references.”

        doesn’t that demonstrate my point that it’s all physical? And if there is a non-physical component, how and where does that interact with the physical? Wouldn’t that violate conservation of energy?

        No. Consider that a basketball is an interaction of a physical matter “rubber” with an immaterial form “sphere.” No one wonders how sphere interacts with rubber to make a basketball. No one supposes it violates conservation of mass-energy. So why should it do so here, just because the substantial form of a human being is more complicated than a sphere.

        Now something material “is” a tree if its matter takes the form of a tree. But when we know something, we grasp its form (just as in eating something, we ingest its matter). If the mind were purely material, then when it took in the form of a tree, it would become a tree. Some physical part, presumably some part of our brain, would become a miniature tree. So clearly concepts, which are themselves not material, cannot be known in a material way.

        The Courtier’s Reply is an expression of the red herring fallacy

        It certainly is a red herring. Those who use it really should try logic and reason, though. If nothing else, it is good exercise.

        Not every theist is a Thomian… indeed I’ve encountered very few theists who are. I don’t think many people have grappled with Aquinas, especially not when coming to believe.

        Of course not. As the ancients observed: not everyone has the skills, the time, or the inclination to delve in depth into a subject. Ask people to prove that the earth is not flat, as the Chinese believed. You will typically get argument from authority or “everyone knows…” Ask them to explain how evolution works and you will get some naive-Darwinian just-so story. Is it any wonder that the same applies to the normal run of religious folks? For most people in most of their lives, these things do not matter. An auto mechanic will search his manuals in vain for a hint of evolutionary theory. An accountant’s books will balance (or not) whether the earth goes round the sun or the sun round the earth. I wouldn’t get my knickers in a knot over it.

        I’m not sure how an abstract can author a book

        If you mean the various books of the Bible, they were not authored by an abstraction, but by actual people. We even know the names of some of them. You may be thinking of Holy Qur’an.

        the description of God only makes sense as a description of an agent.

        Does that mean he gets 15%? That’s what my agent gets.

      • Ye Olde Statistician
        Posted July 29, 2011 at 6:34 pm | Permalink

        Addendum: Here is a paper that may prove interesting:

        http://sulcus.berkeley.edu/wjf/CR%20FreemanAquinas.pdf

        and an essay:

        http://perennis.wordpress.com/2009/04/07/my-soul-is-not-i%E2%80%A6/

    • Posted July 29, 2011 at 11:13 am | Permalink

      “So much for logic and reason. And abstraction is what makes us human.”
      I’m not giving up on logic and reason,indeed I’m trying to use logic and reason as best I can. But a priori logic and reason can only get us so far, especially when it comes to understanding the universe. As David Hume put it in Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion:
      “[T]here is an evident absurdity in pretending to demonstrate a matter of fact, or to prove it by any arguments a priori. Nothing is demonstrable, unless the contrary implies a contradiction. Nothing, that is distinctly conceivable, implies a contradiction. Whatever we conceive as existent, we can also conceive as non-existent. There is no being, therefore, whose non-existence implies a contradiction. Consequently there is no being, whose existence is demonstrable.”
      Meanwhile empirical inquiry into the nature of the mind has shown that we project agency onto the world. We see agency where there is none, we attribute mental states to purely physical things, and we think in terms of other agents. This is very useful for being a social species, but it does go astray. So when I use logic and reason, I have to take into consideration the way that people invoke agency in the world. I also have to take into consideration what it means to be an agent – to have thoughts and motivations and to act.

      So no, I’m not turning my back on reason and logic. Rather I’m using reason and logic to the best of my abilities – taking what we can know about the world through both a priori argument and empirical insight – and from there try to understand as best as I can the world around me. So when I see one explanation that’s empirically-sound that attribution to agency is something that the brain does, and see on the other hand terms like “ultimate simplicity” or “purely actual” and have no clue what they actually mean, it’s logic and reason that compels me to reject them as meaningless sophistry. I could be wrong, and hence why I keep asking for someone to explain to me what they mean by it, but I don’t get anyone that can explain it in a way that makes it meaningful in any sense. And as AC Grayling puts it:
      “The nature of religious belief, the reasons for it, and the reasons for its persistence are all explicable without any need to suppose the truth of any part of it.”

      • Posted July 29, 2011 at 11:17 am | Permalink

        “The standard theological arguments for the existence of God are the “ontological argument,” which tries to include “existence” in the very “definition” of a “perfect” being, and Aquinas’s “five ways,” which turn on abstract issues about infinity and ultimate explanations. Although these arguments raise many interesting issues, I very much doubt that anyone really bases their religious beliefs upon them. Existence may or may not be a ‘predicate,” the universe may or may not be infinite, and there may or may not be unmoved movers, uncaused causes, necessary substances, and undesigned purposeful systems, but most of these arguments don’t even begin to establish the existence of anything like the tradition Christian God with His astounding omni-properties. Apart from the standard errors and fallacies (e.g., about the nature of motion, the intelligibility of infinite series; see Sober 2004), the simplest thing to notice about them is that they don’t establish the existence of a psychological being of any sort: after all, why should a necessary, even “perfect” being, or an unmoved mover, uncaused causer, or unexplained explainer, have a mind any more than it might have a liver or a gall bladder, much less have (or be) a unique one with the hyperbolic properties in question?”
        – Georges Ray

        • Ye Olde Statistician
          Posted July 29, 2011 at 7:09 pm | Permalink

          Apart from the standard errors and fallacies (e.g., about the nature of motion, the intelligibility of infinite series; see Sober 2004), the simplest thing to notice about them is that they don’t establish the existence of a psychological being of any sort: after all, why should a necessary, even “perfect” being, or an unmoved mover, uncaused causer, or unexplained explainer, have a mind any more than it might have a liver or a gall bladder,

          Given that this has been explained in digest form several times, I can only conclude that your statement is a sort of ritual prayer.

          It would be useful to specify the “standard errors and fallacies,” rather than simply cut and paste boilerplate. At least give citations when you quote others. Tell me more about Sober, for example; or what the fallacy is about the nature of kinesis, what we usually translate as “motion.”

          http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:r7Sc-zLYik0J:www.docstoc.com/docs/19872328/24303170–Philosophers–Without–Gods+Apart+from+the+standard+errors+and+fallacies+%28e.g.,+about+the+nature+of+motion,+the+intelligibility+of+infinite+series%3B+see+Sober+2004%29&cd=2&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us&client=firefox-a&source=www.google.com

          http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2011/02/something_comes_from_nothing.php

          ebooks.lib.unair.ac.id/download.php?id=6503

      • Ye Olde Statistician
        Posted July 29, 2011 at 6:53 pm | Permalink

        But a priori logic and reason can only get us so far, especially when it comes to understanding the universe.

        Absolutely, with the proviso: “…when it comes to understanding the metrical properties of the physical universe.” That’s what the Christians of the 14th century said. Since God could have created in any manner he wished, it was up to human beings to learn in which way he actually had done so. One of the most popular texts in the medieval era was Wisdom 11:20
        “You have ordered all things by measure and number and weight.”
        And so God’s work could be learned by measuring, numbering, and weighing.

        Or again, Wisdom 7:17-22
        For he gave me sound knowledge of existing things, that I might know:
        the organization of the universe
        and the force of its elements,
        the beginning and the end
        and the midpoint of times,
        the changes in the sun’s course
        and the variations of the seasons.
        cycles of years,
        positions of the stars,
        natures of animals,
        tempers of beasts,
        Powers of the winds
        and thoughts of men,
        uses of plants
        and virtues of roots-
        Such things as are hidden I learned and such as are plain; for Wisdom, the artificer of all, taught me.

        All of which added up to the study of nature was a fit occupation for grown-ups.

        That’s why the meta-physics, that is: what is behind the physics, must be established in order for physics to proceed. No science can demonstrate its own a priori assumption.

        Be careful with Hume. So concerned was he to deny causation that he thought that a rock thrown at a window could turn into a bird and fly away rather than break the window. His occasionalism, like that of al-Ghazali could be fatal to natural science, save only that scientists were pragmatic enough to ignore him. They might ritualistically deny formal and final causation, but they relied on them implicitly.

  92. Ye Olde Statistician
    Posted July 29, 2011 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

    Yup. The Courtier’s reply.

    Ah, Searle’s Give-it-a-name fallacy.

    • Posted July 29, 2011 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

      Still no fabric samples, I see. Well, the important thing is that you’ve found a way to feel superior.

      b&

      • Ye Olde Statistician
        Posted July 29, 2011 at 7:12 pm | Permalink

        Nah. I’m just a poor simple-minded statistician and engineer. But I can recognize when the courtiers at the court bobble-head and repeat their ritualistic phrases.

  93. Ye Olde Statistician
    Posted July 29, 2011 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

    Your BPH [sic] so incomprehensible that nobody can understand it. Ergo, eat this cracker.

    Copi’s Symbolic Logic may help; or Aristotle’s Prior Analytics. There is no sense abandoning the field of logic and reason to your opponents.
    + + +
    Ken
    This [the distinction between "akin" and "analogous"] doesn’t help at all, it still doesn’t explain anything about the nature of God and how it is we know it.

    Of course it doesn’t help do that. It was only illustrating the difference between kinship and analogy, which had been an earlier stumbling block.

    What does it mean to be a “purely actual First Changer”? This is my problem, I’m not sure those words actually mean anything at all.

    a) change is a motion from potentially X to actually X; for example, from potential energy to kinetic energy; from tiger cub to adult tiger; from green to red.

    a1) the actual/potential distinction was the answer to Parmenides, who famously said “from nothing comes no thing.” If something is at rest, it cannot move, because “from no-motion cannot come motion.” An apple cannot ripen because “from not-red cannot come red.” Plato tried one answer; but Aristotle had a better one. The apple is potentially red and moves to being actually red.

    b) a changer is something that changes another. In classical terms, a “mover.” But motion has been used so exclusively for local motion [i.e., a change of location] that some folks find it even more confusing.

    c) a first changer is one which in logical priority must act in order for any other changers in an essentially-ordered series to act. A simple example: a clarinet cannot make music unless it is being concurrently played by Sharon Kam or someone like her. That is, reed, keys, barrel, air column have no power to create music unless a first mover is moving them. Note: There is no requirement for a first changer in an accidentally-ordered series, which might regress indefinitely.

    d) a changer (or mover, or cause) must be actual, since only that which actually exists can change another. Fire, which is actually hot in a formal sense, can make a hot dog hot. But a pile of wood that has not yet been lit cannot make the hot dog hot.

    e) pure act, or purely actual, is a being* which is not in potency to any quality.

    [*being = something that has the quality of existence; i.e., of "to be"]

    Again, an elementary text would help. A good one is Wallace’s The Modeling of Nature, since one of Wallace’s PhDs is in physics, so he can illustrate the concepts from physics and chemistry.

    Hope this helps.

  94. Ye Olde Statistician
    Posted July 29, 2011 at 4:29 pm | Permalink

    I do try to understand and I have been trying over and over to understand – and the best I ever get is being told I don’t get it after getting a wall of incomprehensible text.

    I appreciate that, and I recognize that a comm box is not the best place to do this. One place as I’ve said to get the basic meta- behind the physics is Wallace’s book, The Modeling of Nature. Once we have grasped the idea of potency and act, of matter and form, and of agent and end, physics and chemistry make far more sense. Emergent properties, for example, are inherent in formal causation. It is fairly easy to read.

    Then, for the specifically theological arguments, read Feser’s book Aquinas. Do not read his book The Last Superstition. In it he tried to copy the style of Dawkins, Hitchens, et al., and the art of diatribe and vituperation sits amidst the Scholastic logic like lumps in a bowl of Creme of Wheat.

    Do not be put off by the vocabulary. If I were to assert that “the representative u of the family {t-sub-z} is conjoining and splitting on U^Y iff each t-sub-z is conjoining and splitting on Z^Y as Z runs through the class C represented by the universal space U.” Chances are, it would make even less sense to you; and would take far longer to explain. Yet it is a proposition that compels assent once it is understood. The reader’s lack of understanding has no effect on its truth value.

    It took me a while to catch on to it. My training and practice has been in mathematics and applied statistics – that may have prepped me somewhat for metaphysics – but I am neither a theologian, nor a philosopher. But several years ago, while researching for a novel set in the middle ages, a decent respect for historical accuracy drove me to familiarize myself with medieval thought; and what I found was surprising enough that I changed my mind on a number of beliefs and found a new cause for regret over the Black Death.

    the interventionist agent that I was taught as a child

    If I had to hazard a guess, I would suppose an evangelical sect. Augustine had the same reservations.

    BTW, you may get a kick out of this from Aquinas. Ol’ Tom wrote some on physics – he was instrumental in making the distinction between qualities and their quantitative extensions (i.e, distinguishing temperature from heat) but aside from his deduction that a multiplicity of species over time was a positive good, he had this passing remark:

    “Species, also, that are new, if any such appear, existed beforehand in various active powers; so that animals, and perhaps even new species of animals, are produced by putrefaction by the power which the stars and elements received at the beginning.”

    You will notice he does not say that new species just poof into existence, but arise from the natural powers of the elements. This belief in secondary causation was likewise a doctrine of the time, and a deduction stemming from the cosmological argument. In our terms, the genome of a new species exists in potency in the genome of an older species which is actualized by some natural power [mutated/changed] to become actually a new genome.

    • Posted July 29, 2011 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

      That is such a textbook example of the Courtier’s Reply I’m all but convinced that you intentionally parodied PZ’s original.

      You will, of course, on cue whine about somebody-or-other’s naming fallacy.

      But, rather, permit me to prove to you and to all, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that it’s exactly that kind of laughable sophistry you’re engaging in.

      For the sake of argument, I’ll grant you all your logical arguments about the necessity of your BPH, just the same way I might grant a ten-year-old-boy the possibility of a Warp Drive.

      Now, just as I’d next ask the boy just how much antimatter he’ll need to power them and where he’ll get it, I’ll ask you two simple questions. And just as the boy will hem and haw and change the subject, so will you. After all, that’s the very essence of the Courtier’s Reply: obscurantist bafflegab designed to cover the fact that you don’t even know which ass you’re talking out of.

      But maybe you’ll prove me worng. You’ll be the first in all history to do so and probably get yourself a Nobel, but stranger things have happened.

      Ready for the questions? Good.

      First, is your BPH aware of this conversation — if you can call it that — that we’re having?

      Second, is it within the power of your BPH to join this conversation?

      You may not think so, but all those left here will take your inevitable silence as confirmation that you’re a snake-oil charlatan, to be pitied or despised according to whim.

      Of course, the other alternative is that, despite your earlier protestations to the contrary, you will reveal that your BPH really is nothing more than Santa for grown-ups.

      Cheers,

      b&

  95. Ye Olde Statistician
    Posted July 29, 2011 at 7:38 pm | Permalink

    Nah. I’m just a poor simple-minded statistician and engineer. But I can recognize when the courtiers at the court bobble-head and repeat their ritualistic phrases.
    + + +
    You will, of course, on cue whine about somebody-or-other’s naming fallacy.

    You don’t know who Searle is, right? The fact that Myers has invented a sophomoric evasion is simply an example of it.

    But, rather, permit me to prove to you and to all, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that it’s exactly that kind of laughable sophistry you’re engaging in.

    The topic here is whether noo-atheists who claim to have refuted the cosmological argument have actually understood the cosmological argument. It is beyond clear that this is true. And only one person has shown any interest in gaining clarity on what the argument entails. Difficult to do in a comm box rather than a text book.

    It is not necessary that the arguments be true. Your position is a priori that they are not. I have taken no position. (The more perceptive readers may have noticed this: I have confined myself solely to explaining to the best of my knowledge and ability what the arguments are, clarifying difficulties where I could. I have made no claims that the arguments are compelling even when properly understood.)

    that’s the very essence of the Courtier’s Reply: obscurantist bafflegab designed to cover the fact that you don’t even know which ass you’re talking out of.

    Perhaps you are unfamiliar with actual courtiers. Their usual mode of expression is bobble-heading agreement with their master, such as by repeating a favored catch phrase like “Courtier’s Reply! Courtier’s Reply!” as a comforting substitute for thought.

    Does it not occur to you that there might be atheists who =do= know what they’re talking about? Who make reasoned arguments and not snide insults.

    You’ll be the first in all history to do so and probably get yourself a Nobel

    There is no Nobel for such things.

    First, is your BPH aware of this conversation — if you can call it that — that we’re having?

    I have never talked about a “BPH.” And it is hard to have a conversation if you have your fingers in your ears and are chanting “Courtier’s Reply! Courtier’s Reply!” so you can’t hear anything.

    Second, is it within the power of your BPH to join this conversation?

    Ditto. What is this BPH?

    Now, if you are referring to the “Being of Pure Act” demonstrated by Aristotle, then the answer is no. Not due to lack of power but due to lack of interest. However, Aquinas took the argument further, through several books of further Questions, and in his answer would be yes.

    take your inevitable silence as confirmation that you’re a snake-oil charlatan, etc.

    Diatribe and vituperation will do when you have no reasoned arguments, I suppose. Good thing you’re not in math or science. If you were to think it through, you would realize that that silence is not to be numbered among the qualities of snake-oil salesmen.

    Of course, the other alternative is that, despite your earlier protestations to the contrary, you will reveal that your BPH really is nothing more than Santa for grown-ups.

    • Posted July 29, 2011 at 8:29 pm | Permalink

      Can I call it or can I call it?

      Never mind that you ignored the one question and answered both “yes” and “no” to the second. This little gem you bequeathed unto us really says it all:

      It is not necessary that the arguments be true. Your position is a priori that they are not. I have taken no position.

      By your own words, you’re arguing for a position and you don’t even care whether or not it’s true. This whole thing is an exercise in bad faith on your part. You’re just trolling.

      Goodbye.

      b&

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted July 29, 2011 at 10:13 pm | Permalink

      I think we’ve reached the end of this debate on this website. Can you dudes take it offline now? It’s become a back-and-forth between two people.

      kthxbye

  96. Mary
    Posted August 15, 2011 at 7:02 pm | Permalink

    I always get labelled “close-minded” because I refuse to study theology.


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