The comment thread on the entry about the shroud of Turin grows daily and is (perhaps not surprisingly) mainly not about the shroud but about Christianity and atheism. Some people are praying for me and my family, others are calling me names, just because I identify as an atheist and offer the scientific consensus view of that piece of Medieval linen along with some hypotheses about its context of manufacture.

Henrik commented that anybody who is not agnostic about gods has an unscientific attitude to the question. Owlmirror simply and wisely replied “Parsimony”. This is in my opinion worth a few extra words of explanation.

To my mind, atheism, defined as “not believing in any gods”, is the standard scientific attitude. The reason that I am not agnostic about gods, invisible pink unicorns etc. is a central scientific principle known as Ockham’s razor. It states that when attempting to explain observations, a person should be parsimonious, frugal, economic in their hypotheses. Do not hypothesise more things than necessary. No observation of the world demands the existence of gods or invisible unicorns in order to be explained. Science is doing fine without those hypotheses. Thus there is no reason to believe that they exist.

But note also that being a secularised Swede, I am not emotionally invested in the issue of gods. I believe equally little in gods, invisible unicorns, Santa Claus, Bilbo Baggins and Bigfoot. And I see no reason to treat the question of gods separately from other scientific issues. (I mean, if there were immensely powerful incorporeal consciousnesses out there, they would be a hot research topic in any number of scientific disciplines.) The reason that I identify as an atheist in my byline top left isn’t that I spend lots of time thinking about my unbelief. It’s that most Sb readers are in the US. And I know that in the religiously crazed United States, atheists are a beleaguered, even hated, minority. But they’re my peeps, and I support them as best I can. The right to freedom of religion is a fine thing. And so is the right to freedom from religion.

Melliferax has recently treated the same question at greater length and given a somewhat different reply.

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Comments

  1. #1 maedoc
    April 9, 2010

    “(I mean, if there were immensely powerful incorporeal consciousnesses out there, they would be a hot research topic in any number of scientific disciplines.)”

    Could you elaborate on how the incorporeal would study the corporeal? Does the task not seem to be self defeating?

  2. #2 free thinker
    April 9, 2010

    absolute agnosticism is a cop out. You are conceding that you are not competent enough to make a rational analysis based on fact. There is no absolute certainty in this world, yet it is safe to make general assumptions based on proven facts. I know there is no big foot, I know there are no wizards and witches or god, because I put my trust in the concept of verifiable evidence.

  3. #3 Martin R
    April 9, 2010

    No, you’re right, of course. To be non-corporeal is by definition to not exist.

  4. #4 Joachim
    April 9, 2010

    @1: for it to be relevant to us at all it would have to have observable effects, no?

  5. #5 B
    April 9, 2010

    Well said. This is much the same reason for my own atheism. While not in the US, I take your support for us all, and appreciate it.

  6. #6 Nomen Nescio
    April 9, 2010

    Melliferax makes basically the same point i’ve been working towards in that other thread, except she states it much more diplomatically and politely than i usually do.

  7. #7 Dan
    April 9, 2010

    Nice post and topic.

    Yeah, why don’t theists understand that there’s no reason to believe that Zeus actually exists. Or Vishnu. Jehovah? Whatever, him too.

  8. #8 Nick Dvoracek
    April 9, 2010

    Thanks for your support!

  9. #9 Mike Wagner
    April 9, 2010

    Whenever an agnostic challenges the fact that I’m a gnostic atheist using the “But we can’t really KNOW anything!” I feel like strangling them while asking “How can you REALLY be sure I’m killing you?”

    I think it would certainly establish a line they could understand :)

  10. #10 maedoc
    April 9, 2010

    @4
    correct–
    Early church thinkers such as Origen were notoriously hyper-spiritual with their interpretation of the bible. He specifically turned everything in the bible into an allegory, which seems to me to be begging for spiritual things to be real.
    On the other hand G.K. Chesterton wrote concerning children and their indefatigable desire for things to be “repeated and unchanged.”
    To this observation Chesterton considered the following thought “It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike: it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy;”

    Point being, while Origen allegorized to a vacuous extreme, Chesterton asserted that what we see around us so commonly, is in fact creative acts of God.

    So what if we are observing the effects?
    How do we observe the source- separate from the effects?

  11. #11 Nemo
    April 9, 2010

    Ah, now you’ve done it — the Bigfootists will be after you too!

  12. #12 David
    April 9, 2010

    Oh dear… Look, I’m an atheist by emotional disposition. And so are you. But you shouldn’t be using Ockham’s Razor or the like. Just because there is no reason to posit a god in order to explain the universe does not mean there is no god. So it’s not being ‘rational’ or ‘scientific’ to be an atheist, it’s just a belief. Some people might have an ‘experience’ which leads them to believe in ‘God’, nothing to do with questions about how the universe came into being and suchlike, about which you can validly argue, just as you can validly argue with the ridiculous creationist or ‘intelligent design’ arguments. But while you may privately believe that their ‘experience’ is no more than a psychotic episode, or self-deception, you cannot know that. Also, it seems you have an emotional charge behind your own belief, otherwise you would not be using words like ‘gods’ instead of ‘god’, ‘invisible unicorns’, and suchlike. By doing so you are actually indulging in ridicule of those who believe in ‘God’. I don’t think any of us should be doing that, it’s not nice, it’s not polite, even if we are atheists. It may be legitimate to ridicule patently scientifically invalid arguments for the existence of ‘God’. That’s all. I’m afraid you are being tribal.

  13. #13 Roger Pearse
    April 9, 2010

    ‘To my mind, atheism, defined as “not believing in any gods”, is the standard scientific attitude.’

    Those of us who are scientists do not introduce religion — any religion — into science in such a blatant manner. Nor do we have much respect for those who do.

    Kindly do not suppose that your religious position — which is convenience, as with all atheists — involves science in any way. It is a crude category mistake to even go there.

    The shroud of Turin is, of course, a medieval fake. The carbon-dating has shown that. It is a fake which was very profitable for the publishing industry before it was exposed. Attempts by publishers to reinflate this particular money-spinner started the day after the C-14 results were published. Let’s not waste time on supposing that this is about religion; the flow of money shows otherwise.

  14. #14 Lambert
    April 9, 2010

    @ #12, David

    “it seems you have an emotional charge behind your own belief, otherwise you would not be using words like ‘gods’ instead of ‘god'”.

    You seem to be telling us that using the plural form is in some way insulting to those of a religious disposition. So you do not recognize that it is you who is being insulting to those religious people out there who do not happen to subscribe to the western mono-theistic belief system.

    Why so defensive of the mono-theist viewpoint and so dismissive of the poly-theist one?

    It sounds to me that you are in danger of denying your opening assertion to being an atheist, if only “emotionally”, whatever that means.

  15. #15 chris y
    April 9, 2010

    Je n’avais pas besoin de cette hypothèse-là. (Laplace)

    Isn’t that enough, for all practical purposes?

  16. #16 thewhatifgirl
    April 9, 2010

    David, it is only insulting to say that you don’t believe in multiple things that aren’t real if the religious person in question is insecure about their own faith. I have absolutely nothing against religious people – I live in the part of the U.S. frequently referred to as “the Bible Belt”, after all – but the only people I know who get mad when I lump god with Bigfoot are those for whom religion is something other than a deeply-held belief inspired by ecstatic experiences. In which case, the problem is theirs, not the person who is speaking.

  17. #17 Henrik
    April 9, 2010

    “Henrik commented that anybody who is not agnostic about gods has an unscientific attitude to the question. Owlmirror simply and wisely replied “Parsimony”. This is in my opinion worth a few extra words of explanation.”

    1. You may have interpreted it that way, but I never said that. Please – as a scientist i expect you to factually and accurately report what is said!

    2. Anyone who agrees with your views is automatically wise?

    Martin! Young men are not noted for their wisdom. But age alone does not make every old person wise. Let’s have a closer look at a couple of issues in order to illustrate the shortcomings of a scientific interpretation of life in general and atheism in particular!

    A young man suffers from unrequited love. He first asks a scientist colleague who happens to be a biochemist why and gets the reply that love is nothing but chemistry. In short, he is informed, love is a matter of pheromones and his are not eliciting the desired neurochemical reactions in her brain.

    The young man then asks his uncle, a man of the world, who tells him “My boy, you’re a post graduate student working on your PhD. Right now you earn $20,000 per annum with the prospect of another ten grand in three year’s time. Your rival can give her that as shopping-money.”

    Which one of the two gave the only relevant answer?

    With that as a warm-up exercise, now to atheism. Which is the ultimate fallacy upon which atheism bases itself? In other words, what would be the consequences to society if everyone became an atheist overnight? When you know the answer, you will also be able to put a name to the ultimate service religion has performed for mankind since the dawn of time, and you will also recognise the atheism for the social parasite it is! ;)

    After all, the human mind is nothing but a set of neurochemical responses to outside stimuli, right!

  18. #18 Martin R
    April 9, 2010

    Henrik, I don’t quite understand what you’re getting at. Are you saying that you’re old and I’m not and this has some relevance to the issue at hand?

  19. #19 Martin R
    April 9, 2010

    Roger Pearse said,

    Those of us who are scientists do not introduce religion — any religion — into science in such a blatant manner. Nor do we have much respect for those who do.

    Kindly do not suppose that your religious position — which is convenience, as with all atheists — involves science in any way. It is a crude category mistake to even go there.

    I reject the privileged status of religious truth claims. There’s only factual claims and value judgements. And I dislike your condescending attitude.

  20. #20 Nomen Nescio
    April 9, 2010

    what would be the consequences to society if everyone became an atheist overnight?

    we’d have to find some new use for an awful lot of church buildings?

    seriously, help me out here. what are you driving at with this? in a lot of countries (*cough*Scandinavia*cough*) the vast majority of the population is already atheist in all but name, and nothing much seems to be happening there because of it. please tell me you’re not aiming for the hoary old “atheists can’t be moral” trope, because that would only result in my losing all respect for you.

  21. #21 Dunc
    April 9, 2010

    Which is the ultimate fallacy upon which atheism bases itself? In other words, what would be the consequences to society if everyone became an atheist overnight?

    Umm, you do know that the argument from consequences is itself a fallacy, right?

  22. #22 B
    April 9, 2010

    A response to Henrik @9:

    “[W]hat would be the consequences to society if everyone became an atheist overnight?”

    A great deal of money would be freed up for charitable concerns from priestly wages; there would be no contamination of public works by considerations of the opinion of bronze age myths; schools and scientists would be freed from having to defend evolution…

    The list goes on, and on, and on.

    “When you know the answer, you will also be able to put a name to the ultimate service religion has performed for mankind since the dawn of time…”

    Religion has performed many services for humanity. My personal favourite as a medieval historian is the preservation of classical texts during the middle ages, but to each their own.

    The point of the affirmative atheist movement is simply that religions serve no useful purpose in the modern world.

    “…and you will also recognise the atheism for the social parasite it is! ;)”

    …and this is why we usually tell religious apologists to go to their respective hells. You have such little respect for us, so why ought we treat you with any?

  23. #23 B
    April 9, 2010

    Gah, Henrik’s post was 17. Sorry about that.

  24. #24 frog
    April 9, 2010

    You don’t need to even call on The Razor. There’s an even simpler principle — since there are an infinite number (which order, I don’t know) of hypotheses that are neither strongly supported nor strongly denied, it’s nonsense to say that a hypothesis which has no evidence either way should be left as “possibly true”.

    That would require one to consider mutually conflicting hypotheses as “possibly true”. No, the default is false UNTIL positive evidence for a position strongly outweighs all evidence against the position.

    That is the “scientific” position. You don’t get grants, you don’t get published, for a hypothesis that is merely evidence neutral — otherwise, the journals would only be filled with those, given that the ratio to actually well-evidenced position is infinite.

    You don’t need full Ockham — Ockham is partly a derivative of the “positive evidence” principle. The Razor is useful to avoid arguments of the kind “well, all the evidence could be faked by the gods to mislead us” (Flying Spaghetti Monster), but is over kill for “well, you don’t have any evidence showing that we don’t reincarnate” (Invisible Pink Unicorn).

  25. #25 Rob Monkey
    April 9, 2010

    Okay, does anyone here actually believe Henrik’s bullshit about what “a scientist” would tell you about love? Gods I’m sick of this “pointy-headed liberal in his ivory tower” crap. Yep, cause all us scientists are too busy stuck in our test tubes to know anything about the real world, or social interaction, or love. Shove it up your ass Henrik, and put your strawmen in the barn where they belong.

    Incidentally, in your example, neither one of them gave him good advice. If the uncle actually knew that the unrequited love was due to lack of funds, he’d tell the young man to find a woman who respected and loved him for who he was, not his checkbook, and he should go ahead and leave the money-grubber to his unfortunate rival. A scientist, IMO, would understand the importance of working on something you’re interested in, not just working for money, so they’d be more likely to give good advice in this case. But this would be assuming your analogy isn’t crap, which it was.

  26. #26 Paddy
    April 9, 2010

    In Dublin they turned an old church into a night-club and another into a office. They look great. Churches were almost all built by “donations” and by growing up in a Catholic country I know how church “donations” work – spiritual extortion, and the threat of being publicly humiliated. All churches are built on money stolen from people under false pretences. They belong to all of us, and not just to moralising theists.

  27. #27 imr90
    April 9, 2010

    Paddy wrote:
    “Churches were almost all built by “donations” and by growing up in a Catholic country I know how church “donations” work – spiritual extortion, and the threat of being publicly humiliated. All churches are built on money stolen from people under false pretences.”

    And let us not forget also that the tax-free status of churches, even in the U.S., amounts to a taxpayer subsidy of religion.

  28. #28 Melliferax
    April 9, 2010

    I don’t think our replies are that different. I just don’t bring up Ockham’s Razor by name. I’m not sure why; perhaps because I approach the question from a slightly different angle – or maybe it is because I think the question is too trivial to bring out the heavyweight philosophical artillery. ;)

  29. #29 Pierce R. Butler
    April 9, 2010

    The truly parsimonious seem to spell it Occam.

  30. #30 Melliferax
    April 9, 2010

    William of Ockham was from Ockham, England. Why should it be spelled Occam?

  31. #31 Squiddhartha
    April 9, 2010

    I can attest first-hand that Bigfoot does exist!

    Bigfoot Food and Spirits in the Seattle airport, that is. I had the “Wookie Wings” last night, on the condition that the waiter tell someone it should be spelled “Wookiee”.

  32. #32 thewhatifgirl
    April 9, 2010

    There is a lovely recording studio in my town that was made out of a church. Apparently Tom Petty recorded his last album there.

  33. #33 cgauthier
    April 9, 2010

    Just because there is no reason to posit a god in order to explain the universe does not mean there is no god.

    You’re right, but a lack of evidence for god(s) is a perfectly good reason to doubt their existence until evidence is forthcoming. Dr. Rundkvist didn’t say there is(are) no god(s), David. He stated his opinion and cracked a few, valid jokes, comparing god ideas to pink unicorn ideas, etc.

    That isn’t the same thing as saying “There can never ever be any gods anywhere and I’ll never be convinced otherwise!”

  34. #34 Andrew G.
    April 9, 2010

    There’s an even simpler principle — since there are an infinite number (which order, I don’t know) of hypotheses that are neither strongly supported nor strongly denied,

    The set of all hypotheses which can be finitely stated must be countable (any set of finitely representable objects is countable), therefore the cardinality of any infinite set of such hypotheses must be aleph-null.

  35. #35 Krys
    April 9, 2010

    “The right to freedom of religion is a fine thing. And so is the right to freedom from religion.”

    Agreed. And while I didn’t read every single one of the comments on the growing list, I’m struggling to understand why it’s so important for us all to believe the same thing. And why we are threatened by folks who have a different viewpoint.

  36. #36 yogi-one
    April 9, 2010

    The idea for some ultimate God keeps getting pushed back. No one in their right mind actually believes some old White Guy created everything, only to spend all his time thinking about how one Bronze-Age tribe on a miniscule planet in some farout corner of existence would defeat another for the rest of history.

    As we discover more and more about our universe, the idea of the Big Guy Who Made It All Up keeps getting pushed futher and further out. Nowadays, if there’s a Big Guy, he has to be master of multiple infinite parallel brane universes and the Creator of supersymmetric energy strings. In which case he wouldn’t be a “guy” (or anything recognizably human).

    I like the old type I – IV civilizations hypothesis. Beings of a Type III civilization (can manipulate the energy of a galaxy) would look like gods to many earthlings, and certainly any being who could manipulate across universes would have a lot of qualities we have been ascribing to “God.”

    Such beings may not exist, at least we haven’t seen any evidence that they do. Maybe because we can’t see them from our current state of development (as Michio Kaku points out, this is analogous to the fact that a society of ants can’t comprehend a human civilization that exists all around it), maybe because they don’t exist. That’s fine. But we still have the nagging ‘first cause’ question. What the heck created supersymmetric energy strings?

    But anyway, the other point I wanted to make was this:

    In spite of myself, I still keep gods hanging around, because – well, I like some them.

    Ganesha for example. I have Ganeshas all over the place. A favorite one sits on my electric piano and is shown playing a vina. Very cool.

    Why do I have it there – is it because I think there some elephant-headed Big Guy out there on top of a cloud somewhere? Of course not.

    It’s a symbol. And I like what it symbolizes – success in understakings, musical development, prosperity, graciousness, compassion.

    Arguably all things you don’t need a god for. And that’s true, you don’t. Point conceded.

    But Ganesha fills the bill in such a cool way that, well, I just like it. So I keep it around. It just kind of reminds me of the extraordinariness of this thing we call “regular life” (as if it was to be taken for granted).

    So while we may not need a god for any kind of scientific explanation, we might simply enjoy the symbolism of our personal gods.

    This is a double-edged sword of course. If your personal god symbolizes stuff like virgin sacrifices and sucking the blood out of people’s necks, I’d be OK with the law enforcement people preventing you from actualizing your beliefs – but that is because that would violate other people’s rights.

    The problem with religion has to do with the mixing of religion and politics. Somebody believing in a god, in and of itself, doesn’t cause a problem.

    But instituting (or, is you prefer “establishing”) a religion and giving it political power over large swaths of humanity is a real problem.

    I am definitely on the side of the athiests when it comes to religion as an organized political force.

    But what you personally believe is, in and of itself, not something I need to be messing with.

    So far, we haven’t found God out there. And we certainly haven’t any evidence that one particular culture has the “true god” that disses all other cultures.

    The case for proving “God” exists is, as scientists say “non-zero, but vanishingly small”.

  37. #37 Vicki
    April 9, 2010

    Note that the people who think we should prove that their god doesn’t exist take it on faith that thousands of other gods don’t. They aren’t agnostic about Isis or Thor.

  38. #38 Nick
    April 9, 2010

    Thanks for that, it’s a neat and calm explanation I may reuse for the bewildered diversity manager at work who occasionally asks “what is it you atheists believe?” Bless her little cotton socks.

  39. #39 Henrik
    April 9, 2010

    Martin! (#18) No, what I say re being wise is that wisdom is rarely part of the make-up of young people (unstated: because wisdom depends on experience and the ability to learn from it, something young people by virtue of their youth usually have failed to accumulate) and that just because you’re old, age alone doesn’t automatically make you wise (unstated: You may have learnt nothing from your vast and varied experience). What I mean by this is that we ALWAYS should question our own sagacity, first and foremost – we may not have had the required experiences or, if we have, did we draw the correct conclusions from them?

    At the bottom of this lies your verdict on the opinion of Owlmirror’s reply as “wisely” merely because it happens to agree with yours. This is a gambit whereby you try and lend more weight to your own arguments and to those of people you agree with and diminish the credibility of those whom you disagree with.

    In the scietific discipline History, this is labelled “tendency” (Swedish: “tendens”) and is a clear marker of unreliability in a source for scientific purposes as it is indicative of, and often defines, an agenda. This is taught and the identification of it practiced at freshman level in History at Swedish universities (Thurén, “Orientering i källkritik”, ISBN 91-21-10920-6). Such a source is, from a scientific point of view, usually good for only one thing – proof of a particular bias in the writer/witness. A good example of this is Julius Caesar’s “De Bello Gallico” which was written with the intention to prove Caesar’s excellence to his contemporaries.

    You are in August company, Martin!

    PS. We can, however, extract useful information from “De Bello Gallico” such as names, their role, occupation and relative importance, general description of places, a general outline of the Gallic campaign etc.

  40. #40 IanW
    April 9, 2010

    Well said! Noli sinire nothos te opprimere!

  41. #41 Nick Williams
    April 9, 2010

    Perhaps dichotomising science and religion as two separate things is misleading and ultimately harmful? Science gives us the means to annihilate ourselves at the touch of a button and religion gives us the moral justification for doing so. Both when taken to extremes are equally dangerous. I don’t know which is worse a militant atheist or a rabid creationist? What I do know is that if you consider science and religion as metaphors for searching for truth and combine them within a supportive rather than antagonistic discourse, the question takes on a different complexion. Science and religion are there to make life easier: one in a material and the other a spiritual sense. But some scientists have supported their quasi-religious convictions with scientific observations. Anyway, I think W.H. Auden describes well the dilemma of science with a capital S, when he wrote “After Reading a Child’s Guide to Physics”. It expresses a playful scepticism of science while at the same time valuing the process of discovery it is based on. An atheist would find the numinous overtones rather irritating, though. The jury is still out.

    If all a top physicist knows
    About the Truth be true,
    Then, for all the so-and-so’s,
    Futility and grime,
    Our common world contains,
    We have a better time
    Than the Greater Nebulae do,
    Or the atoms in our brains.

    Marriage is rarely bliss
    But, surely it would be worse
    As particles to pelt
    At thousands of miles per sec
    About a universe
    Wherein a lover’s kiss
    Would either not be felt
    Or break the loved one’s neck.

    Though the face at which I stare
    While shaving it be cruel
    For, year after year, it repels
    An ageing suitor, it has,
    Thank God, sufficient mass
    To be altogether there,
    Not an indeterminate gruel
    Which is partly somewhere else.

    This passion of our kind
    For the process of finding out
    Is a fact one can hardly doubt,
    But I would rejoice in it more
    If I knew more clearly what
    We wanted the knowledge for,
    Felt certain still that the mind
    Is free to know or not.

    It was chosen once, it seems,
    And whether our concern
    For magnitude’s extremes
    Really become a creature
    Who comes in a median size,
    Or politicizing Nature
    Be altogether wise,
    Is something we shall learn

  42. #42 Henrik
    April 9, 2010

    First, a reply to Dunc (#21). Of course, it’s a “what-if” speculation with a probability (usually) greater than 0 but less than 1, that depends upon the validity of certain assumptions. But read on as I address other posters for the full answer!

    Nomen Nescio (#20), B (#22), Paddy (#26). Look at religion, not from a theological point of view, but from a historical and sociological! Let’s leave the vexed question of divinity out of it.

    You seem to assume that if we did away with religion, all would be hunky-dory. Not so. This is not what history teaches us. Your unstated but underlying assumption is that people are “good at heart” and they and their lot would be improved if the yoke of religion was lifted. False.

    “Those who fail to learn from history are forced to repeat it.” Anyone who has studied history recognises the validity of this tenet. It is an ever-present and recurring theme throughout human history. If you are well read and have studied History as a science, you will recognise that life and humans were far more brutal 2000 years ago than they are today. You will also recognise the role played by Christinity in socialising the brutes of two millenia ago to the, relatively speaking, tolerant and compassionate humanity of today (Western Civilisation, I am not competent to speak of other civilisations). A scant four centuries ago, atheists would have been subject to the “gentle methods” of the Inquisition in order to instill the True Faith or, if everything else failed, burned at the stake in a last effort to save their immortal souls. At this point, some wit will inject “See! Proof of how bad religion is!” No, it is not. It is proof of how bad humans were and the lengths they were prepared to go in order to safeguard their personal income from taxation.

    Take a look at how witches of both sexes were persecuted! Back then, it was very easy and often common practice to settle personal scores by denouncing your antagonist as a witch. Today, this is unthinkablwe and the church (Lutheran, Catholic, Presbyterian, Quaker, Baptist etc, etc, etc) has been instrumental in this change.

    If you want proof that the human brain/psyche hasn’t changed much for thousands of years, just look at how the usurper Urukagina was denounced by those who overthrew him some 4350 years ago. Or the Roman general who noted that human organisations tend to undergo reorganisation as soon as they start to work just under 2000 years ago (at the moment, his name and exact date escape me). Beneath the surface layer provided by 2000 years of guided socialisation, we are still the brutes Darwinian evolution made us, ruled by our genes.

    If you ennumerate the ethics you subscribe to, you will find that these belong to the 2000-year long socialisation process and have their roots in Christianity. If you want to see what humanity really is like if you remove these religiously instilled ethical checks to our base nature, look no further to the Ten Commandments! Why was it neccessary to have a “Deus Crudel” who most terrifyingly punished those who broke them? Because this is what humanity used to be like! Thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not steal, thou shalt not covet etc etc.

    Remove God and humanity will, in a historically short space of time, revert to what it is genetically programmed to be.

    Now to the greatest service provided by organised religion, specifically Christianity. It provides comfort and strength to endure msisfortune, injustice and even the most horrifying of fates. “If we only live once and that’s it, why should I have to endure the fact that I am ugly, stupid, unattractive, unsuccessful, unadmired, uncared for?” “Why, the bitch chose Peter instead of me. I’ll avenge myself by killing him and if she won’t have me then, I’ll kill her too!” “Why should I support the kids of another? I’ll do what the male lion does when he takes over a pride!”

    Without a god, there is no morality or immorality, only the survival of the fittest and the propagation of our own genes the only virtue. Murder is not murder, it is merely the elimination of competing genes. This is what Darwinian selection has programmed humanity for.

  43. #43 Nomen Nescio
    April 9, 2010

    You seem to assume that if we did away with religion, all would be hunky-dory. Not so. This is not what history teaches us.

    wrong carried on the back of wrong. nobody sensible assumes that an atheistic world would be any utopia; humans do not build utopias, no matter what their beliefs.

    what we assume (well, what i assume anyway, not speaking for anyone else here) is that an atheistic world would not be significantly worse — or, really, even significantly different — from the one we’ve got. we’d have one less excuse for acting irrationally violently, but nobody in their right mind thinks we wouldn’t have plenty of other stupid excuses to do so. conflicts in the Middle East, for instance, would carry fewer references to holy writ, but who that knows anything of the Middle East would think for a minute that region would be peaceful but for religion?

    but, hmm. when has history ever shown us significant percentages of atheists in any part of the world? well, there’s post-WW2 northern Europe… but it shows no serious calamities. there’re still people acting irrationally and stupidly in that part of the world even today — but no more than they usually have in the past, and perhaps just a smidgen less so. if the latter, i won’t claim that that’s because the region is currently fairly non-religious, yet plainly, a lack of religion does not lead to catastrophe.

    Remove God and humanity will, in a historically short space of time, revert to what it is genetically programmed to be.

    why on earth would you ever think that adding religion would prevent us from acting out the human condition, just as we always have? why do you think the notion of divinity has some magical power to change human nature and human behavior noticeably in any direction?

    god is just another delusion, no more magical than any other delusion. people who hold to that meme are no more — nor any less — fully human than us atheists. religious people are every bit as fallible and irrational as any other kind of people; if anything, i could argue that some of them might be a bit more irrational. but irrationality does not make people more pacifistic.

    Without a god, there is no morality or immorality

    [GOOONG!] you fail philosophy of ethics. morality does not hinge on religion, and we’ve known this for millennia. frankly, i’m amazed that anyone who’d consider saying something so ignorant would think to wade into a debate like this one; you need to do a LOT of remedial reading before you’ll’ve caught up to the rest of us.

    you might want to start with the wikipedia article on ethics (yes, you’re far enough behind the curve that wiki makes a good introductory text for you) and work through its references section. come back to us when you can explain, at a very minimum, Euthyphro and how you would answer it.

  44. #44 darwinsdog
    April 9, 2010

    But you are agnostic concerning the existence or nonexistence of the supernatural, whether you concede the fact or not. We all are. Claiming to be atheist or theist alike presumes privy knowledge of that which no one knows. Perhaps such things are unknowable, perhaps we simply haven’t figured out the methodology for knowing about them yet. If something can’t be observed or measured the most parsimonious reason for why not is that it doesn’t exist, true enough, but this does not demonstrate its nonexistence unequivocally. My agnosticism may make me a “functional atheist,” but I would never resort to such hubris as claiming to know for a fact that the supernatural does not exist; at least, not until empirical evidence for its nonexistence was at hand.

  45. #45 Tacroy
    April 9, 2010

    I would argue that the actions of the vast majority of non-atheists are indistinguishable from those of atheists.

    Consider:
    You are in a severe car crash. You black out for a moment, but wake up again on the side of the road. Your leg is trapped in the car, but your cell phone is within reach, and apparently functional. Do you:
    A. Pray or
    B. Call emergency services?

    You find a strange lump on your belly that wasn’t there a week ago. You are worried it might be cancer. Do you:
    A. Pray or
    B. Go to the doctor?

    Your car has stopped working, and you don’t know how to fix it. Do you:
    A. Pray or
    B. Take it to a mechanic?

    Note that in all cases, both theists and atheists will perform action B. Theists may perform action A, but it is impossible to tell that they did so (unless they decide to ignore Jesus’ directive to pray in your closet).

    The only explanation is that despite whatever they may say they believe, theists simply do not believe in a God that has any effect on the world – actions speak louder than words, after all, and they clearly do not act as if there were a God. The ones that do tend to come to nasty ends.

  46. #46 Jayman
    April 9, 2010

    Martin, you seem to believe that science is the only reliable method to determine the truth. This position is incoherent since the position itself cannot be supported scientifically. The position needs to be supported philosophically. But to do this would be to admit that philosophy is also a reliable method to determine the truth.

    If philosophy is a reliable method to determine the truth, then a philosophical argument for God’s existence could provide reasons (even deductive proofs) to believe that God exists. This means that even if there is no scientific reason to believe God exists there may still be other reasons to believe God exists.

  47. #47 Jules
    April 9, 2010

    While I consider my self an agnostic, I have no qualms with atheism because most of the atheists I have met or read approach the universe with a self-empowering pragmatic and rational sense that is sorely lacking in much of the religious population. Not that all religious believers are un-intelligent or merely delusional, but many are so insulated by a very naive and limited view of existence they will not make the effort to look beyond their emotionally comfortable beliefs to realize that the universe and life encompasses much more than our human-earth centered biases and conceits.

    Science has been the best tool we have developed to see and grow beyond the “veils” that either we have erected or were part of our provincial concepts which are increasingly being pushed back each time we learn more of how the physical universe works.

    To me supernaturalism and much of religious belief is an anachronism, a part of our species childhood;that cannot rationaly address the physical realities we deal with and is insufficent to help us resolve many of the pressing issues we are facing as the life sustaining ecology of this planet is being compromised.

    Religion acts a convenient distraction and easy way to stay in denial of responsibility for our individual and collective actions.

    As far as humans needing religion to conduct ourselves with ethics and values,there has been benefits from the values religion places on serving others and charity, but I doubt human civilization and morality would collapse if we did not worship a deity.

  48. #48 Henrik
    April 9, 2010

    Someone who doesn’t even realise something as basic as that without the introduction of a divine spark, humans are NO MORE and no less than any other species of animal, subject to Darvinistic culling over uncounted millenia, programmed to do whatever it takes to propagate our own genes to the exclusion of others. Someone who doesn’t realise that human constructs such as ethics and morality are irrelevant in such a context and only acquire relevance if we subscribe to something “nobler” than mere propagation of genes. Such a someone presumes to inform me that I’m “far enough behind the curve that wiki makes a good introductory text for you”. PMSL

    Or is it that I do not faithfully reproduce what the current paradign dictates is the truth about ethics and morals that galls you? So sorry! But paradigms do shift. If you have the same views towards science – only that which obeys the laws of the current paradigm can be considered as science – then you are not a scientist. You are a technician, a trained monkey taught to push levers and buttons in a prescribed manner.

    But I digress. Because your position requires that humans are more than animals, you have to prove the existence of a god of sorts or your whole construct comes crashing down on its own ugly head as then, you are no more than an animal with an inflated opinion of itself derived from flawed genetic programming. There is no place for contra-survivalist traits such as ethics and morals in the world of genes!

    The proof that your logic is flawed is that without the widespread conviction of this divine spark, there would be no morals and ethics for yourself and other atheists to parasitise upon. Humanity would quickly descend back whence it came, as has been proven by history over and over again. People such as yourself would then be burnt as heretics. Thus you argue for your own destruction, which is rather anti-survivalist and a sign of a flawed genetic make-up.

    (There is a way out of the trap you set for yourself – provided you can find it of course. I won’t help you.)

    Finally you say I “wade into a debate like this one”. You are correct. I do wade in because I see hypocrisy disguised as science. I see fools who pride themselves on their intellects and scholarship busily tearing down the very fabric that holds the society that allows them to believe differently and protects their “right” to do so (what effin “right” by the way!) together. I see hypocrites that claim tolerance for their own credo not extend the same courtesy to others, but call them delusional and worse because they choose to believe. Differently. Furthermore, and what exacerbates your crime against society, is that you would take away from them the one thing that gives their life meaning and purpose in your intellectually fired hubris. And you do not even have the grace or intellectual honesty to admit it, probably not even to yourself.

    I am not a beliver in God the way HE/She/It is portrayed in the Bible and would probably have been burnt together with other heretics such as yourself 400 years ago. But by god, your intellectual hubris makes me ashamed to doubt.

    Btw, it was rather easy to ferret out the true agenda behind the “Not the Real Face of Jesus” blog entry. Well done, Martin! Has the editor conveyed his approval yet? ;)

  49. #49 Nomen Nescio
    April 9, 2010

    I do not faithfully reproduce what the current paradign dictates is the truth about ethics and morals

    please, do enlighten us about the “current paradigm” in ethical philosophy.

    (hey, if my debate opponent is in a hole, who am i to tell him to stop digging?)

  50. #50 thewhatifgirl
    April 9, 2010

    Henrik, if the only things we have are genetics and religion, what are you even doing on an archaeology blog?

  51. #51 Jules
    April 9, 2010

    Henrik,

    If all a person has is a belief in an un-verifiable supernatural entity and so-called afterlife to give their life purpose and meaning, is that the most authentic and inspiring existence one could ask of themselves? To me it is symptom of denialism, a pathological sickness that infests our religious and over-consumeristic culture.

  52. #52 Jules
    April 9, 2010

    The same evolving human mind that created the need for worshipping or fearing supernatural deities also created the rules, moral and ethics that supposely were demanded by those same imagined deities. These rules did not just appear out of the “ether”. So to simplify things why not dispense with the deities and just keep the values, rules and ethics that make sense for human safety and civilized order? As Owlmirror succiently stated earlier in the shroud post…parsimony

  53. #53 Pierce R. Butler
    April 9, 2010

    Melliferax @ # 30: Why should it be spelled Occam?

    There must be some tidily efficient etymological explanation, but all I can find by Googling around is that there are multiple spellings (including Hockham), that his famous principle (O’s Razor) is usually spelled with the 5-letter version, and that tomorrow (4/10) is ol’ Billy’s annual day of commemoration by the Church of England.

    Plainly the Occam spelling parsimonizes better than the longer versions. In that spirit, I propose henceforth it be written as Ocm.

  54. #54 RodM
    April 9, 2010

    I Think most people do not even understand what Agnosticism really is. To be agnostic is NOT to be in between Atheism or Theism. Agnosticism is not about believing it is about KNOWING. Both a theist and an atheist can be agnostic. If you believe in a God but admit you don’t know if god really exists the your are agnostic as well as theist. Just as if you don’t believe in a god but admit that you don’t know if god really exists then you are an atheist as well as agnostic.
    The idea of calling oneself an agnostic rather then an atheist or a theist is a misuse of the term. Honestly anybody that is NOT agnostic could be considered a fool as no one could possibly KNOW if God exists or not.

  55. #55 Corey
    April 9, 2010

    @3: I’m not sure about this (that non-corporeality implies non-existence). What about mathematical objects, such as numbers? And is an electromagnetic field corporeal? Surely Tuesdays aren’t corporeal, and they seem to exist.

  56. #56 Martin R
    April 10, 2010

    Corey, good questions! I’d say that a) mathematical entities and Tuesdays aren’t things, but names or attributes of things that can be thought about abstractly, b) electromagnetic fields consist of material photons.

  57. #57 Martin R
    April 10, 2010

    Martin, you seem to believe that science is the only reliable method to determine the truth.

    Aaaaand welcome to ScienceBlogs.com!!!

  58. #58 B
    April 10, 2010

    Oh, Jesus, Henrik. Okie dokie:

    “If you are well read and have studied History as a science, you will recognise that life and humans were far more brutal 2000 years ago than they are today…”

    Hi. I’m an historian; doing an Honours thesis on early English history (7thC). 1) History is not a science. 2) History is not repeated, not really. I don’t know about you, but I haven’t noticed any Conquests of England since 1066.

    Anyhow, lots of influences civilised the peoples of two millenia ago -protip: they weren’t brutes- including Christianity. Islam. Various Chinese and South Asian religious and philosophical movements. In the West, the writings and philosophies of various Classical authors survived, and it is certain that elements of logic, government and the like were holdovers from the -pagan- Roman era. Heck, most of the literature I study is Germanic, and not all the noble ideals within are Christian in origin. Read Beowulf.

    You are quick to defend the practice of burning at the stake as the result of Mammon rather than Christ, yet it must not be whitewashed in such a way. The Inquisition and other nasty elements of Christianity (Charlemagne’s laws against the Slavs; the Crusades; &c.) are very specifically religious in nature. While rooted in the culture of the period, yes, the religious nature of what we would call atrocities cannot be denied.

    “Take a look at how witches of both sexes were persecuted! Back then, it was very easy and often common practice to settle personal scores by denouncing your antagonist as a witch. Today, this is unthinkablwe and the church (Lutheran, Catholic, Presbyterian, Quaker, Baptist etc, etc, etc) has been instrumental in this change.”

    Um. Really? Okay; 1) witches existed no more than saints did. 2) IT WAS RELIGION WHAT WAS BURNING THEM. Seriously. How did you miss that? It was religious folk claiming people they disliked had evil powers; religious people lighting torches (in England, hanging). Gradually people realised it was nonsense, but this had far more to do with the growing ‘Enlightenment’ than *religious* influence. Sheesh.

    “If you ennumerate the ethics you subscribe to, you will find that these belong to the 2000-year long socialisation process and have their roots in Christianity.”

    Not really. Quite a few are developed from earlier Roman and Greek and Jewish ideals. Some are stolen from eastern philosophers. Christianity itself stole from all of these; modern ethics come from many sources.

    More significantly, modern ethics can strip Christianity of its uglier side- the stoning of adulterers, the murder of children, the glorification of slavery… and the rest. Christianity, taken on face value, is a hideous religion with occasional nuggets of pseudo-wisdom. Those, or similar, nuggets exist in most religions.

    “Remove God and humanity will, in a historically short space of time, revert to what it is genetically programmed to be.”

    Hey, except that God has been removed from a whole BUNCH of atheists, and they don’t murder or steal any more than Christians! Hey, except God never existed in -say- Rome, and they did okay. Hey, except God is almost non-existent in large parts of Europe and they are doing best in the West. Hrm. Evidence is, YER WRONG. Stand there in your wrongness and be wrong.

    ‘Now to the greatest service provided by organised religion, specifically Christianity. It provides comfort and strength to endure msisfortune, injustice and even the most horrifying of fates.”

    However true that may or not be, it fails to prove the religion true. ALSO for many people Christianity is deeply harmful. See also: Catholic priests raping children.

    “Without a god, there is no morality or immorality, only the survival of the fittest and the propagation of our own genes the only virtue.”

    That’s true, except for all the words between ‘without’ and ‘virtue’.

  59. #59 eduxrox
    April 10, 2010

    They are your ‘peeps’? You must have meant ‘peers’.

  60. #60 Martin R
    April 10, 2010

    Peeps = people

  61. #61 dustbubble
    April 10, 2010

    I know, fussbudgeting about mediaeval spellingses is a mug’s game … agree with Pierce @53. I have a vague idea that the double “c” version is due to Latin being devoid of that great letter, the “k”, so the Middle English throat-noise in the middle of “Ockham” was represented by double “c”. Or something like that.
    Henrik, that Roman general quote? Attribution is almost certainly bogus, no older than WW2, I’m afraid.
    http://www.dtc.umn.edu/~reedsj/petronius.html

  62. #62 Andrew G.
    April 10, 2010

    Martin, you seem to believe that science is the only reliable method to determine the truth. This position is incoherent since the position itself cannot be supported scientifically.

    Of course it can; it makes testable predictions.

    For example we predict that in any field of enquiry where “truth” is a meaningful concept, that approaches which either apply scientific methods directly, or (where that is not possible) apply scientific scrutiny to the methods that they do employ, will have substantially greater success than approaches that do not. Moreover, where scientific methods are actively rejected, we will find that “truth” is in short supply too.

    These predictions can clearly be falsified; anyone want to offer any evidence against them?

  63. #63 Jayman
    April 10, 2010

    Andrew G. (@62):

    Of course it can; it makes testable predictions.

    No it can’t, because scientism (the belief that scientific reasoning is the only kind of legitimate reasoning) is a metaphysical position that can only be justified on metaphysical grounds. Edward Feser writes (p. 84 of The Last Superstition): “Of its very nature, scientific investigation takes for granted such assumptions as that: there is a physical world existing independently of our minds; this world is characterized by various objective patterns and regularities; our senses are at least partially reliable sources of information about this world; there are objective laws of logic and mathematics that apply to the objective world outside our minds; our cognitive powers — of concept-formation, reasoning from premises to a conclusion, and so forth — afford us a grasp of these laws that can reliably take us from evidence derived from the senses to conclusions about the physical world; the language we use can adequately express truths about these laws and about the external world; and so on and on. Every one these claims embodies a metaphysical assumption, and science, since its very method presupposes them, could not possibly defend them without arguing in a circle. There defense is instead a task for metaphysics, and for philosophy more generally; and scientism is shown thereby to be incoherent.” Your appeal to “testable predictions” immediately makes some of the assumptions just listed and thereby proves my point. As E.A. Burtt states (on pp. 228-9 of The Metaphysical Foundations of Modern Physical Science), “even the attempt to escape metaphysics is no sooner put in the form of a proposition than it is seen to involve highly significant metaphysical postulates. For this reason there is an exceedingly subtle and insidious danger in positivism [scientism]. If you cannot avoid metaphysics, what kind of metaphysics are you likely to cherish when you sturdily suppose yourself to be free from the abomination? Of course it goes without saying that in this case your metaphysics will be held uncritically because it is unconscious; moreover, it will be passed on to others far more readily than your other notions inasmuch as it will be propagated by insinuation rather than by direct argument. . . . Now the history of mind reveals pretty clearly that the thinker who decries metaphysics . . . if he be a man engaged in any important inquiry, he must have a method, and he will be under a strong and constant temptation to make a metaphysics out of his method, that is, to suppose the universe ultimately of such a sort that his method must be appropriate and successful. . . . But inasmuch as the positivist mind has failed to school itself in careful metaphysical thinking, its ventures at such points will be apt to appear pitiful, inadequate, and even fantastic.” Once this is accepted you can realize that a robust defense of atheism needs to engage with philosophical arguments for God’s existence.

    These predictions can clearly be falsified; anyone want to offer any evidence against them?

    You implicitly reject scientism by admitting that there are approaches that cannot apply scientific methods directly, but can apply scientific scrutiny (whatever that means) and still find the truth. You also admit that even when scientific methods are rejected we may still find the truth (even if it is not found as readily as when applying scientific methods).

    Yet your assertions can be doubted. Historians are not scientists in a strict sense, but perhaps you believe they apply “scientific scrutiny.” Regardless, B (@58) has no problem appealing to history to make truth claims. Theistic arguments sometimes appeal to history so, if history is a reliable method to determine the truth, a robust defense of atheism must engage the historical arguments for God’s existence.

    In the case of mathematics, your assertions are falsified. Mathematics is based on axioms and deductive proofs. Whereas scientific arguments draw probabilistic conclusions, mathematical arguments draw necessary conclusions. This is certainly a case where scientific methods are ignored/rejected and yet the truth is on firmer ground than in science. Theistic arguments sometimes use deductive arguments so a robust defense of atheism must show false premises or logical fallacies in these arguments. But this would involve more philosophy than science.

  64. #64 Owlmirror
    April 10, 2010

    Edward Feser writes (p. 84 of The Last Superstition): “Of its very nature, scientific investigation takes for granted such assumptions as that: there is a physical world existing independently of our minds; this world is characterized by various objective patterns and regularities; our senses are at least partially reliable sources of information about this world; there are objective laws of logic and mathematics that apply to the objective world outside our minds; our cognitive powers — of concept-formation, reasoning from premises to a conclusion, and so forth — afford us a grasp of these laws that can reliably take us from evidence derived from the senses to conclusions about the physical world; the language we use can adequately express truths about these laws and about the external world; and so on and on. Every one these claims embodies a metaphysical assumption, and science, since its very method presupposes them, could not possibly defend them without arguing in a circle. There defense is instead a task for metaphysics, and for philosophy more generally; and scientism is shown thereby to be incoherent.”

    Did he really misspell “Their” as “There”, or was that your mistake? A minor issue; I’m just curious.

    Feser, who sounds like an obscurantist fool, is arguing incoherently. What does he mean by “metaphysics”? Does it include logic and math, or does it not?

    Logic and math are necessary parts of how science works, as he admits early in his screed. Just as logic includes axioms about truth and falsity, and math includes axioms about quantities and operations on quantities, so too does science include axioms about the reality which it analyzes and correlates, and methodological axioms of falsifiability and parsimony.

    If he wants to call these axioms “metaphysics”, fine. Does he show that the axioms are neither logically sufficient nor necessary in and of themselves? No. He’s just throwing up a semantic smokescreen, and using the confusion to call them “incoherent”, which is itself an incoherent argument.

    Once this is accepted you can realize that a robust defense of atheism needs to engage with philosophical arguments for God’s existence.

    Philosophy, too, must be based on the axioms of logic, or else it devolves into incoherence. God’s “existence” is one of the incoherent propositions that such an illogical philosophy argues for in a question-begging circle.

    Mathematics is based on axioms and deductive proofs. Whereas scientific arguments draw probabilistic conclusions, mathematical arguments draw necessary conclusions. This is certainly a case where scientific methods are ignored/rejected and yet the truth is on firmer ground than in science.

    Science includes mathematics. It certainly cannot reject mathematics and still be coherent at any level. It’s just that mathematics need have no empirical basis; not every mathematical truth has an empirical correlate. The “probabilistic conclusions” of science are simply conclusions about empirical reality — not mathematical truth.

    Theistic arguments sometimes use deductive arguments so a robust defense of atheism must show false premises or logical fallacies in these arguments. But this would involve more philosophy than science.

    It would involve logic. Again, science necessarily includes logic; it certainly cannot reject logic and still be coherent at any level.

    And all of the “theistic arguments” that I have seen do indeed commit logical fallacies.

    Since you’ve read so much of these obscurantist apologists, maybe you can answer a few simple questions:

    What is the definition of God?

    Is that definition a purely logical or mathematical one, or does it implicitly make claims about the real world as well?

    Why should we accept these claims if there is no evidence in the real world for the claims being made?

  65. #65 Pierce R. Butler
    April 10, 2010

    Jayman @ # 63: “Of its very nature, scientific investigation takes for granted such assumptions as… Every one these claims embodies a metaphysical assumption, and science, since its very method presupposes them, could not possibly defend them without arguing in a circle. …”

    Cheez Whiz, what a load of silly sophistries.

    You and your fantasist authority Feser must have to work very hard to disregard the consistent evidence that the processes of science work and produce consistent results. If things were otherwise, the premises you cite would have long been discarded. (And that’s granting for the moment that they accurately describe the postulates of science, a shaky proposition at best.)

    Can you name any other epistemological basis of which the same could be said? (Theology? har har har…)

  66. #66 Jayman
    April 10, 2010

    Owlmirror @64:

    Did he really misspell “Their” as “There”, or was that your mistake? A minor issue; I’m just curious.

    It’s my mistake.

    Feser, who sounds like an obscurantist fool, is arguing incoherently. What does he mean by “metaphysics”? Does it include logic and math, or does it not?

    Feel free to go over to Feser’s blog and show him how foolish he is. He subscribes to Aristotelian-Thomistic metaphysics. The quote I gave explicitly says math and logic embody metaphysical assumptions.

    Logic and math are necessary parts of how science works, as he admits early in his screed. Just as logic includes axioms about truth and falsity, and math includes axioms about quantities and operations on quantities, so too does science include axioms about the reality which it analyzes and correlates, and methodological axioms of falsifiability and parsimony.

    Neither Feser nor myself disagree with any of this. We just realize that science is based on certain metaphysical assumptions and therefore it would be incoherent to be an adherent of scientism (not science).

    If he wants to call these axioms “metaphysics”, fine. Does he show that the axioms are neither logically sufficient nor necessary in and of themselves? No. He’s just throwing up a semantic smokescreen, and using the confusion to call them “incoherent”, which is itself an incoherent argument.

    Science is based on metaphysical assumptions. Therefore it is incoherent to accept science but reject metaphysics (as Martin does). It is coherent to accept science and metaphysics (as Feser and myself do). Based on your comment, you also reject scientism (not science) and therefore agree with us.

    Science includes mathematics. It certainly cannot reject mathematics and still be coherent at any level.

    To be more precise, science relies on mathematics but mathematics can be done independently of science. To rephrase your second sentence: Science cannot reject metaphysical assumptions about mathematics and still be coherent at any level.

    It’s just that mathematics need have no empirical basis; not every mathematical truth has an empirical correlate.

    In other words, you can reliably determine the truth of some things without employing science. That’s the very point I’m making.

    It would involve logic. Again, science necessarily includes logic; it certainly cannot reject logic and still be coherent at any level.

    Let’s drive home the point. Logic can be done independently of science. To rephrase your sentence: Science certainly cannot reject the metaphysical assumptions about logic and still be coherent at any level.

    And all of the “theistic arguments” that I have seen do indeed commit logical fallacies.

    Even if that’s true, a robust defense of atheism must point out these logical fallacies. Saying God is an unnecessary scientific hypothesis is not a robust defense of atheism.

    What is the definition of God?

    I’ll answer from Feser’s Thomsitic perspective so you can read his books Aquinas and The Last Superstition for a fuller treatment. God is pure act.

    Is that definition a purely logical or mathematical one, or does it implicitly make claims about the real world as well?

    The definition is arrived at through deductive metaphysical arguments. These arguments are based on “real world” facts like, for example, cause and effect.

    Pierce R. Butler @65:

    You and your fantasist authority Feser must have to work very hard to disregard the consistent evidence that the processes of science work and produce consistent results.

    Feser and myself both believe science works. We are arguing against scientism, not science.

  67. #67 Owlmirror
    April 10, 2010

    Feel free to go over to Feser’s blog and show him how foolish he is.

    Perhaps someday. Here and now, you’re defending his thinking, so I’ll argue what you present about that.

    The quote I gave explicitly says math and logic embody metaphysical assumptions.

    But he does not show how their “metaphysical assumptions” are “incoherent”.

    We just realize that science is based on certain metaphysical assumptions and therefore it would be incoherent to be an adherent of scientism (not science).

    I suspect that you’re equivocating around the term “metaphysical”. But we’ll see.

    Therefore it is incoherent to accept science but reject metaphysics (as Martin does).

    Where does Martin do this?

    Based on your comment, you also reject scientism (not science) and therefore agree with us.

    I’m not so sure that I do.

    You wrote above: “scientism [is] (the belief that scientific reasoning is the only kind of legitimate reasoning)”.

    I would say that reasoning from logic and empirical evidence — that is, using the axioms of logic, math, and of science; of parsimony and falsification of that which exists as something detectable in the real world — is the only kind of legitimate reasoning about things that exist as something in the real world.

    We might be able to argue a bit about what “exist” and “thing” means, but I think that’s more or less it.

    Is this equivalent to “scientism”?

    In other words, you can reliably determine the truth of some things without employing science.

    I’m not sure that this benefits you. Something can be logically possible without being physically possible. Something can be physically possible without actually existing as a thing.

    Just because some Riemann surface or Lie group is mathematically consistent — that is, following correctly and truly from certain mathematical axioms — does not mean that it exists as a physical thing. Again: parsimony.

    Even if that’s true, a robust defense of atheism must point out these logical fallacies. Saying God is an unnecessary scientific hypothesis is not a robust defense of atheism.

    It is if God is being postulated as something in the real world, and not just as a logical or mathematical concept.

    I’ll answer from Feser’s Thomsitic perspective so you can read his books Aquinas and The Last Superstition for a fuller treatment. God is pure act.

    Ah. So God is not omniscient, not omnipotent, not benevolent, not a person at all. God is mindless and ignorant and indifferent, and cannot do anything other than be “pure act” — whatever that means in the real world.

    Worshiping “pure act” is useless — it cannot hear you and does not care about you and cannot do anything — much like any physical idol.

    So Feser argues for this metaphysical abstract conceptual idol, and then calls it “God”.

    The definition is arrived at through deductive metaphysical arguments. These arguments are based on “real world” facts like, for example, cause and effect.

    I see several potential logical fallacies that he’s committing. It certainly looks like a question-begging argument from ignorance combined with equivocation.

    That is, from your admittedly terse and incomplete summary, which I may be misunderstanding due to something you’re leaving out, his argument runs something like:

    “Cause and effect exist; no-one knows why they exist; I will call that which allows cause and effect to exist — the ‘pure act’ — God. Therefore, God exists.”

    Is it something like that, or is there more to it?

  68. #68 Jayman
    April 10, 2010

    Owlmirror @67:

    But he does not show how their “metaphysical assumptions” are “incoherent”.

    An adherent of scientism rejects metaphysics while at the same time relying on metaphysics to do science. It’s blatantly incoherent.

    Where does Martin do this?

    It is implicit in his post (he only focuses on science) and explicit in comment 57. Either that or he is oblivious to his incoherence.

    Is this equivalent to “scientism”?

    It doesn’t look like it assuming you believe, for example, that you can find mathematical truths without doing any science.

    Just because some Riemann surface or Lie group is mathematically consistent — that is, following correctly and truly from certain mathematical axioms — does not mean that it exists as a physical thing.

    I agree but that doesn’t change the fact that, say, modus ponens is a reliable means to find the truth from premises.

    Ah. So God is not omniscient, not omnipotent, not benevolent, not a person at all. God is mindless and ignorant and indifferent, and cannot do anything other than be “pure act” — whatever that means in the real world.

    Since you don’t know what pure act means then you cannot claim such a deity is not omniscient, not omnipotent, not benevolent, and so on. A deity that is pure act is a God consistent with Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

    So Feser argues for this metaphysical abstract conceptual idol, and then calls it “God”.

    Not even close.

    Is it something like that, or is there more to it?

    You have to understand Aristotelian and Thomistic metaphysics before you can fully understand the arguments. It isn’t something I can get you to understand in a few paragraphs. With that said, he is not trying to explain why causes and effects exist, he is arguing that there must be a first efficient cause whose essence is existence.

  69. #69 Andrew G.
    April 10, 2010

    No it can’t, because scientism (the belief that scientific reasoning is the only kind of legitimate reasoning) is a metaphysical position that can only be justified on metaphysical grounds. Edward Feser writes (p. 84 of The Last Superstition): “Of its very nature, scientific investigation takes for granted such assumptions as that: there is a physical world existing independently of our minds; this world is characterized by various objective patterns and regularities; our senses are at least partially reliable sources of information about this world; there are objective laws of logic and mathematics that apply to the objective world outside our minds; our cognitive powers — of concept-formation, reasoning from premises to a conclusion, and so forth — afford us a grasp of these laws that can reliably take us from evidence derived from the senses to conclusions about the physical world; the language we use can adequately express truths about these laws and about the external world; and so on and on. Every one these claims embodies a metaphysical assumption, and science, since its very method presupposes them, could not possibly defend them without arguing in a circle. There defense is instead a task for metaphysics, and for philosophy more generally; and scientism is shown thereby to be incoherent.”

    Science doesn’t need to take any of these assumptions for granted; the fact that it continues to work is sufficient.

    You implicitly reject scientism by admitting that there are approaches that cannot apply scientific methods directly, but can apply scientific scrutiny (whatever that means) and still find the truth.

    Consider disciplines such as history and law as examples. Events in the past are not (currently) accessible to direct observation or repeatable experiment, and usually there is limited scope for hypothesis testing. However, questions such as “how much weight to give to eyewitness identification in criminal cases” have to be addressed in the light of the scientific evidence (especially when this conflicts with traditional legal attitudes).

    You also admit that even when scientific methods are rejected we may still find the truth (even if it is not found as readily as when applying scientific methods).

    Sometimes the truth is found by accident. The problem is that without scientific methods it is as likely to be rejected in favour of falsehood as the reverse. Consider the ancient atomist philosophers; they turned out to be on the right track, but their position fell into disfavour for many centuries due to lack of evidence.

  70. #70 Jayman
    April 10, 2010

    Andrew G @69:

    Science doesn’t need to take any of these assumptions for granted; the fact that it continues to work is sufficient.

    Let’s take the first assumption: there is a physical world existing independently of our minds. How do you know (using only the scientific method) that science works without making this assumption? To put it another way, how do you know that science is telling you something about the physical world and not something about your own mind?

    Consider disciplines such as history and law as examples. Events in the past are not (currently) accessible to direct observation or repeatable experiment, and usually there is limited scope for hypothesis testing. However, questions such as “how much weight to give to eyewitness identification in criminal cases” have to be addressed in the light of the scientific evidence (especially when this conflicts with traditional legal attitudes).

    If history is a reliable means in determining the truth then a robust defense of atheism needs to refute arguments for God’s existence that rely on history. Perhaps God is a viable historical hypothesis even if He is not a viable scientific hypothesis.

    Sometimes the truth is found by accident.

    Mathematical and deductive arguments are not constructed by accident.

    The problem is that without scientific methods it is as likely to be rejected in favour of falsehood as the reverse.

    Mathematical truths are certainly on firmer ground than scientific truths.

  71. #71 Owlmirror
    April 11, 2010

    An adherent of scientism rejects metaphysics while at the same time relying on metaphysics to do science. It’s blatantly incoherent.

    Not necessarily. The word “metaphysics” has more than one meaning. In the sense that I understand it with regards to logic, math, and science, it simply means the axioms from which additional truths can be derived. I suspect that most scientists and scientific thinkers, if not all, would agree that what what they are doing does have basic principles from which their conclusions derive, and thus do not actually deny metaphysics in that sense.

    However, more ontologically greedy meanings of the term “metaphysics” may well be rejected, and I think properly so.

    I’ll let Martin R. respond for himself on the matter, if he wishes.

    Since you don’t know what pure act means

    You have not defined it with more than those mere words.

    then you cannot claim such a deity is not omniscient, not omnipotent, not benevolent, and so on.

    This is special pleading, which is also a logical fallacy.

    The logical burden is upon you to demonstrate that those qualities can even be consistent with something characterized as being “pure act” — and then to show that in addition to being consistent, actually has those qualities. This requires empirical demonstration.

    A deity that is pure act is a God consistent with Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

    Only if conceptual idols are consistent in the same manner.

    So Feser argues for this metaphysical abstract conceptual idol, and then calls it “God”.

    Not even close.

    In what way is it wrong?

    You have to understand Aristotelian and Thomistic metaphysics before you can fully understand the arguments.

    Do you understand them? If you do, then surely you can explain why my understanding of “pure act” is wrong.

    It isn’t something I can get you to understand in a few paragraphs.

    Perhaps not. But perhaps on the other hand, as Feynman once said, if you can’t explain something in simple terms, you don’t really understand it.

    The phrase “pure act” is very short. I am understanding “pure” to mean “with nothing else whatsoever involved; something fundamentally essential”, and “act” to mean “that which allows all to be and do that which they are and are doing”.

    What do you think it means?

    With that said, he is not trying to explain why causes and effects exist, he is arguing that there must be a first efficient cause whose essence is existence.

    This contains a subtle inconsistency which, I suspect, means that you don’t understand what you just wrote. You might want to ponder that.

    Even if this “first efficient cause” is granted for the sake of argument, why exactly does he call that “God”?

    =====

    If history is a reliable means in determining the truth then a robust defense of atheism needs to refute arguments for God’s existence that rely on history. Perhaps God is a viable historical hypothesis even if He is not a viable scientific hypothesis.

    This is incoherent. Are you seriously trying to assert that God can be derived from historical events without existing empirically?

    “History has happened, therefore God exists. But you can’t find him by any test whatsoever.”

    Mathematical truths are certainly on firmer ground than scientific truths.

    They’re on firmer mathematical ground, which is not the same as being on firmer empirical ground.

  72. #72 Andrew G.
    April 11, 2010

    Let’s take the first assumption: there is a physical world existing independently of our minds. How do you know (using only the scientific method) that science works without making this assumption? To put it another way, how do you know that science is telling you something about the physical world and not something about your own mind?

    I experience a raw sense-impression (e.g. I see a glass of clear liquid on the table in front of me). I can’t rationally deny the impression, even though it might not be caused by a physical object: it could be a hallucination, or a holographic projection of some sort. I hypothesize that it is a glass of water: I test the hypothesis by picking it up (which falsifies the alternate hypothesis of a holographic projection) and drinking some; if it were a hallucination, I might also be hallucinating the feel and the taste, but I would eventually die of thirst, unless what appears to be my physical body is also a hallucination and I am just a brain-in-a-vat.

    However, if I am just a brain-in-a-vat, I apparently come equipped with a collection of sense-impressions that closely mimic a physical world. Furthermore, the more stringently I test them, the more evidence I appear to collect about their behavioural consistency; either they do, in fact, represent a physical world, or they represent a simulation which is sufficiently complete that it is a physical world for all purposes.

    That the apparent physical world is not a construction of my own consciousness is shown by the fact that I can discover previously unknown (to me) facts which are consistent regardless of the order or circumstances in which I discover them, For example I can measure a number of separate but related physical quantities whose relationship I do not presently know; but when I do discover the relationship, I will find that my original measurements are consistent with it even though I did not know at the time how to make them consistent.

    The only way to deny the conclusion of the previous paragraph is to deny the existence of memory; but memory along with sense-impressions is a basic requirement for consciousness, and I cannot rationally deny the existence of my own consciousness.

    Having established the existence of something that behaves like a physical world, I can then study its objectivity by comparing my results with those of the other people who appear to inhabit it; the extent to which my results are consistent with theirs imposes strong constraints on the nature of the apparent physical world. To the extent that the word “real” has any meaning, this is enough to demonstrate the existence of a real world.

    If history is a reliable means in determining the truth

    I didn’t say that it was, only that it is a discipline in which the concept of “truth” is relevant. Its conclusions are necessarily less reliable to the extent that they deal with events which are not accessible to observation and experiment. Many historical questions can be answered only probabilistically, and many more cannot be answered at all due to lack of surviving evidence or similar factors.

    Mathematical truths are certainly on firmer ground than scientific truths.

    A questionable statement in the light of Gödel’s work.

    However, even ignoring that, pure mathematics is the study of abstractions; applying mathematics to concrete situations always requires an additional step of application (usually in the form of choosing an abstraction to represent the physical world). For example, mathematics can tell me how many ways I can divide up a bowl of apples, but only if I correctly count the number of apples in the bowl to start with. Mathematics has nothing to say until I have that initial abstraction to start from.

  73. #73 Jayman
    April 11, 2010

    Owlmirror @71:

    You have not defined it with more than those mere words.

    I noted it was an Aristotelian-Thomistic (A-T) concept. You’re capable of investigating it from there.

    The logical burden is upon you to demonstrate that those qualities can even be consistent with something characterized as being “pure act” — and then to show that in addition to being consistent, actually has those qualities. This requires empirical demonstration.

    It merely requires a deductive argument from metaphysical premises. By definition a being whose essence is existence is both pure act and good. His power is evident from the fact that He is the first efficient cause and His intelligence is evident from the fact that He is the first final cause.

    In what way is it wrong?

    As but one example, a being who is the first efficient cause in a causal series ordered per se is acting right now and thus, by definition, is not a mere abstract object.

    Do you understand them? If you do, then surely you can explain why my understanding of “pure act” is wrong.

    It is a being whose essence is existence. An essence of a thing is that which makes it the sort of thing it is. It is through its essence that an object can be understood. For example, to grasp triangularity is to grasp the essence of triangles (that which makes them triangles). Something whose essence is existence would depend on nothing else for its being, since it would just be existence.

    Perhaps not. But perhaps on the other hand, as Feynman once said, if you can’t explain something in simple terms, you don’t really understand it.

    It means I can’t condense a book-length subject down to a comment on a blog. I’ve pointed you to some book-length treatments.

    Even if this “first efficient cause” is granted for the sake of argument, why exactly does he call that “God”?

    Because whatever else God is supposed to be, He is supposed to be the ultimate explanation of why things happen in the world.

    Are you seriously trying to assert that God can be derived from historical events without existing empirically?

    I’m saying if an historical argument is put forth that posits God acted in history then the atheist needs to refute that argument.

    Andrew G. @72:

    You gave a good general approach on the “real world problem” from a philosophical perspective. The problem for the adherent of scientism is that you relied heavily on logic and reason and not empirical observations. The same logic and reason that make scientific truths plausible can also be used to make other kinds of truth plausible.

    Regarding history, I agree that it generally does not give us a degree of certainty equal to what we generally get from science. But this hardly means that we don’t know things about history. If you decide that history is a reliable means to determine the truth then you need to refute any theistic arguments that use history. On the other hand, if you decide that history is not a reliable means to determine the truth you need to refute atheistic arguments that use history (e.g., look at all the evil religion has caused throughout history).

    Regarding math, it is true that you have to count the number of apples in the bowl before plugging a number into an equation. But it is also true that you know the equation gives you the correct answer without having to empirically validate the result by dividing up the apples yourself. In an analogous fashion, there are deductive arguments for God’s existence that do not rely on empirically validating God’s existence.

  74. #74 Owlmirror
    April 11, 2010

    I noted it was an Aristotelian-Thomistic (A-T) concept. You’re capable of investigating it from there.

    Maybe at some point. Right now, I’d like to see if there’s anything you have to say that convinces me that it’s worth investigating.

    It merely requires a deductive argument from metaphysical premises.

    Question-begging is a logical fallacy, not a formally proper deduction.

    By definition a being whose essence is existence is both pure act and good.

    This definition is exactly such a question-begging logical fallacy, which uses the additional logical fallacies of equivocation and special pleading.

    – Why is the “essence of existence” called a being?

    – Why is the “essence of existence” called “good”?

    His power is evident from the fact that He is the first efficient cause

    – Why are you using the masculine pronoun for a something not shown, with either logic or evidence, to be a being, let alone masculine? Does the essence of existence have a penis and testicles? English has a neuter pronoun; call the essence of existence “it”.

    – Stripping away the false inference of personality and awareness, you’re essentially saying that the essence of existence has the power to be the essence of existence. Oh, yay.

    and His intelligence is evident from the fact that He is the first final cause.

    Which is, once again, a question-begging logical fallacy, which uses the additional logical fallacies of equivocation and special pleading.

    The objective existence of final causes has not been demonstrated, nor any sequence of final causes such that the first one is known for certain, nor has the identity of first efficient cause and final cause been shown, let alone the penis and testicles of any of them.

    As but one example, a being who is the first efficient cause in a causal series ordered per se is acting right now and thus, by definition, is not a mere abstract object.

    Well, you’re certainly not arguing that it is anything concrete. Isn’t the whole point of the argument that a putative first efficient cause is by definition immaterial, and therefore abstract?

    It is a being whose essence is existence.

    Why is it called “a being”? Other than as a question-begging logical fallacy, I mean.

    Something whose essence is existence would depend on nothing else for its being, since it would just be existence.

    Right, right, the “ground of being”. But you have not shown that the essence of existence is anything other than itself. You can’t call it a being if all it is is just being in and of itself, unless you don’t mind committing the logical fallacies of equivocation and special pleading.

    It means I can’t condense a book-length subject down to a comment on a blog. I’ve pointed you to some book-length treatments.

    I hope to see you write something which convinces me that the books are not filled with logical fallacies. So far, there’s been nothing.

    Because whatever else God is supposed to be, He is supposed to be the ultimate explanation of why things happen in the world.

    An explanation is God? You’re taking an explanation, and calling it God? Sorry, this still sounds like metaphysical idolatry.

    And why does an explanation have a penis and testicles?

    I’m saying if an historical argument is put forth that posits God acted in history then the atheist needs to refute that argument.

    If the historical argument is as logically fallacious as what you’ve been arguing from “metaphysics”, well, the refutation will just consist of pointing out the logical fallacies.

    In an analogous fashion, there are deductive arguments for God’s existence that do not rely on empirically validating God’s existence.

    So far, I’ve seen no valid deductions — only fallacious ones. I await, with interest, any further attempts.

  75. #75 Jayman
    April 11, 2010

    Owlmirror @74:

    Maybe at some point. Right now, I’d like to see if there’s anything you have to say that convinces me that it’s worth investigating.

    I’m not going type out 50 pages explaining all the terms in A-T metaphysics because you’re too lazy to look them up on the internet or read a book. If you want to be able to defend atheism and know what you’re talking about you should educate yourself. But maybe you’re comfortable remaining an atheist who can’t understand, let alone refute, theistic arguments. As the atheist philosopher Quentin Smith admits, that’s par for the course among naturalists: “If each naturalist who does not specialize in the philosophy of religion (i.e., over ninety-nine percent of naturalists) were locked in a room with theists who do specialize in the philosophy of religion, and if the ensuing debates were refereed by a naturalist who had a specialization in the philosophy of religion, the naturalist referee could at most hope the outcome would be that ‘no definite conclusion can be drawn regarding the rationality of faith,’ although I expect the most probable outcome is that the naturalist, wanting to be a fair and objective referee, would have to conclude that the theists definitely had the upperhand in every single argument or debate” (The Metaphilosophy of Naturalism, Philo 4/2 (2001)).

    Why is the “essence of existence” called a being?

    Feel free to call it a “thing” or “something” if you want. Those terms are convertible with “being” since they are all transcendentals.

    Why is the “essence of existence” called “good”?

    Again, since “good” is a transcendtal, it is convertible with “being,” “thing,” and “something.”

    Stripping away the false inference of personality and awareness, you’re essentially saying that the essence of existence has the power to be the essence of existence.

    No, I’m saying that the first efficient cause must have power if it can cause everything to happen.

    The objective existence of final causes has not been demonstrated, nor any sequence of final causes such that the first one is known for certain, nor has the identity of first efficient cause and final cause been shown, let alone the penis and testicles of any of them.

    Science would be impossible without efficient causes so I assumed you would accept them. Either you’re willing to throw science under the bus to deny God’s existence or you don’t know what an efficient cause is.

    Well, you’re certainly not arguing that it is anything concrete. Isn’t the whole point of the argument that a putative first efficient cause is by definition immaterial, and therefore abstract?

    Why think that everything that is not made of matter is abstract?

    But you have not shown that the essence of existence is anything other than itself. You can’t call it a being if all it is is just being in and of itself

    By definition, the essence of existence is pure actuality. To not call this a being (or thing, or something, etc) would be a contradiction in terms. Look at the contradiction in your phrase “you can’t call it a being if all it is is just being in and of itself.”

    An explanation is God? You’re taking an explanation, and calling it God? Sorry, this still sounds like metaphysical idolatry.

    If the ultimate cause is good, powerful, and has an intellect what would you call it other than God?

    So far, I’ve seen no valid deductions — only fallacious ones. I await, with interest, any further attempts.

    Here’s a brief outline of an argument. Again, if you don’t try to understand A-T terms you’ll be as lost as you have been up to this point.

    (1) There is an order of efficient causes

    (2) That which comes into being must have an efficient cause

    (3) There cannot be an infinite series of efficient causes ordered per se

    (4) There must be a first cause whose essence is existence

  76. #76 Andrew G.
    April 11, 2010

    You gave a good general approach on the “real world problem” from a philosophical perspective. The problem for the adherent of scientism is that you relied heavily on logic and reason and not empirical observations. The same logic and reason that make scientific truths plausible can also be used to make other kinds of truth plausible.

    Perhaps you can point out where you think I used a priori reasoning rather than reasoning from evidence.

    Regarding history, I agree that it generally does not give us a degree of certainty equal to what we generally get from science. But this hardly means that we don’t know things about history.

    I mentioned history not in order to claim that we do or don’t know anything about it, but as an example of a field in which the scientific method is not directly applicable to the questions which the field is attempting to answer, but where it may be applicable to the methods used by the field.

    If you decide that history is a reliable means to determine the truth then you need to refute any theistic arguments that use history.

    Which, fortunately, isn’t hard.

    Regarding math, it is true that you have to count the number of apples in the bowl before plugging a number into an equation. But it is also true that you know the equation gives you the correct answer without having to empirically validate the result by dividing up the apples yourself. In an analogous fashion, there are deductive arguments for God’s existence that do not rely on empirically validating God’s existence.

    A problem with that argument is that in the vast majority of situations (other than trivial ones), you have relatively little confidence (in the absence of empirical validation of your conclusions) that you did indeed select the correct abstraction(s) to initially describe your problem. Counting a bowlful of apples can be done reliably enough that you can usually assume you got it right without further justification, but choosing a topology for the causal structure of the early universe is not something you can handwave away as being obvious or easy.

  77. #77 Jason
    April 11, 2010

    Interesting discussions. Here’s another approach to the question:

    It is actually quite logical to believe in a personal creator. There are two possibilities to why we exist. Either an eternal mind or eternal matter began the process (I’m assuming we can ignore the notion that we came from nothing). Both are equally absurd to our thinking since to posit an eternal anything with no antecedent cause defies logic. Yet here we are, so one of these two ‘absurdities’ must be true. The question is: which one makes more sense in light of what know? We humans have the ability to love, appreciate beauty, ponder mysteries, weep over tragedies, long for better things, etc. So our two choices are:

    1. An intelligent mind produced intelligent minds
    2. Matter/energy produced intelligent minds

    (Please note: This post has nothing to do with evolution. That is a separate issue. What I am getting at is the ultimate issue of existence itself.)

  78. #78 Jayman
    April 11, 2010

    Andrew G (@76), you assume that making a hypothesis and then testing it is rational. This belief is not justified by merely seeing a glass of water. You would have come up with the same belief even if you were blindfolded.

  79. #79 Andrew G.
    April 12, 2010

    It is actually quite logical to believe in a personal creator. There are two possibilities to why we exist.

    Why do you think (a) that there are only two, and (b) that there even is a “why”? (Are you using “why” in a causal sense or a telic sense?)

    Either an eternal mind or eternal matter began the process (I’m assuming we can ignore the notion that we came from nothing).

    That’s a rather large and untenable assumption, given that we know (a) that stuff comes from nothing all the time (virtual pair-production), and (b) the state of complete nothingness, if it existed, would be unstable (since it has all possible symmetries).

    Both are equally absurd to our thinking since to posit an eternal anything with no antecedent cause defies logic. Yet here we are, so one of these two ‘absurdities’ must be true. The question is: which one makes more sense in light of what know? We humans have the ability to love, appreciate beauty, ponder mysteries, weep over tragedies, long for better things, etc. So our two choices are:

    1. An intelligent mind produced intelligent minds
    2. Matter/energy produced intelligent minds

    Option 1 is an infinite regress; what produced the original mind? (There are various arguments that claim to break the regress; they’re all flawed.)

    Option 2 is, unless I’m misunderstanding you, the position of physicalism, which is the majority viewpoint on the nature of mind amongst professional philosophers, according to the survey I linked to earlier.

  80. #80 Andrew G.
    April 12, 2010

    you assume that making a hypothesis and then testing it is rational. This belief is not justified by merely seeing a glass of water. You would have come up with the same belief even if you were blindfolded.

    I don’t need to assume it is rational; it’s sufficient that the evidence shows that it works. (I’m not sure what being blindfolded has to do with it.)

    As always in these debates, the inimitable xkcd has the last word.

  81. #81 Owlmirror
    April 12, 2010

    I’m not going type out 50 pages explaining all the terms in A-T metaphysics because you’re too lazy to look them up on the internet or read a book.

    You can’t even link to them? Look, you’re the one who thinks these terms and arguments are important. I think you’re making logical errors. Yes, I’m being lazy, but how much effort would you expend into researching the arguments for something that you think is silly, doesn’t exist, and is the result of logical and cognitive errors on the part of the one making the claim? Like, say, snarks and boojums, or flower fairies, or an invisible pink unicorn, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster?

    But maybe you’re comfortable remaining an atheist who can’t understand, let alone refute, theistic arguments.

    Maybe I understand theistic arguments better than you think, and I see far more clearly than you realize that they’re all based on logical fallacies.

    The problem is that theists don’t seem to be willing to realize that they’re logical fallacies, or are unwilling to admit it. This is a psychological problem on the part of the theists, and not a logical, mathematical, or scientific problem for the atheists.

    the naturalist referee could at most hope the outcome would be that ‘no definite conclusion can be drawn regarding the rationality of faith,’

    The only reason for this outcome is that it would be considered impolite to refer to the theists with the proper psychological terms that describe their irrationality.

    Feel free to call it a “thing” or “something” if you want. Those terms are convertible with “being” since they are all transcendentals. […] Again, since “good” is a transcendtal, it is convertible with “being,” “thing,” and “something.”

    If all of the above “transcendentals” are, as you claim, interconvertible terms with no logic or reason for them, then the metaphysics of transcendentals is utterly incoherent, and theistic arguments are nothing more than a rather pretentious semantic game based on question-begging equivocation and special pleading.

    “The essence of existence exists, and is transcendental. We assert that ‘good’ and ‘being’ are also transcendental concepts, and that all transcendental concepts are interconvertible. Since the essence of existence is transcendental, we can call it a good, and a being, which is the same thing, since all transcendentals are interconvertible. We call this good being God. Therefore, God exists.”

    Bah.

    I’m saying that the first efficient cause must have power if it can cause everything to happen.

    Right. It has the power to be the first efficient cause.

    The first rule of tautology club is the first rule of tautology club.

    Science would be impossible without efficient causes so I assumed you would accept them. Either you’re willing to throw science under the bus to deny God’s existence or you don’t know what an efficient cause is.

    LOL. Since the point of my entire argument was about final causes, not efficient ones, it looks like either you’re throwing final causes under the bus so as not to address what I actually wrote, or you don’t know what a final cause is.

    Or, to be more charitable, you misread what I wrote.

    Why think that everything that is not made of matter is abstract?

    Why think that everything transcendental is the same thing, which is anything you want it to be?

    By definition, the essence of existence is pure actuality. To not call this a being (or thing, or something, etc) would be a contradiction in terms. Look at the contradiction in your phrase “you can’t call it a being if all it is is just being in and of itself.”

    One of us is confused, and relying on semantic confusion, and I’m pretty sure that it’s not me. Let’s see if we can move past this…

    1) Things exist.

    2) The essence of existence is what allows — or causes, if you will, — things to exist.

    3) But if the essence of existence is itself a thing, then what causes the thing that it is to exist?

    4) You either have to acknowledge that it isn’t a thing in the same sense as things that exist, or fall into an infinite regress of deeper essences of existence.

    5) If you acknowledge that it isn’t a thing in the same sense as things that exist because it’s a transcendental thing, then let’s distinguish it from non-transcendental things by labeling it with ‘T’.

    6) The essence of existence is a T-thing.

    Can we stick with that? Are we on the same page now?

    If the ultimate cause is good, powerful, and has an intellect what would you call it other than God?

    The result of a massive logical-cognitive category error on the part of the Aristotelian-Thomist apologist, of course. Who on the one hand argues that “good”, “power” and “intellect” are transcendental concepts that have nothing whatsoever to do with their non-transcendental counterparts, then try to make arguments that make the transcendental concepts mean the same the as the non-transcendental concepts, only better.

    (1) There is an order of efficient causes
    (2) That which comes into being must have an efficient cause

    Your (2) begs the question, which is a logical fallacy. And Aristotle, Aquinas, and every other such apologist are all making a terrible category mistake in thinking that logical conclusions can be derived from and about imperfectly understood empirical reality.

    (3) There cannot be an infinite series of efficient causes ordered per se

    This, too, begs the question.

    (4) There must be a first cause whose essence is existence

    Despite the logical fallacies, I’ve been willing to provisionally grant this for the sake of argument.

    Now, what makes this transcendental essence of existence, this T-thing, God?

  82. #82 Jason
    April 12, 2010

    Andrew G.

    “Why do you think (a) that there are only two, and (b) that there even is a “why”? (Are you using “why” in a causal sense or a telic sense?)”

    My post had to do with the existence of the universe with all it contains. With regard to (a), if you know of more candidates, let me know. As for (b), I meant “why” in the causal sense. Perhaps it was poor wording on my part, but the context should have made the meaning clear.

    “That’s a rather large and untenable assumption, given that we know (a) that stuff comes from nothing all the time (virtual pair-production), and (b) the state of complete nothingness, if it existed, would be unstable (since it has all possible symmetries).”

    We must have completely different definitions of ‘nothing.’ What I mean is that nothing is the absence of something, and when there is absolute nothing, that means there is absolute absence of somethings (for lack of better word). It is not even appropriate to say absolute nothing exists, because existence cannot apply to nothingness. Therefore, (b) is incorrect, for what is there within nothingness to be stable or unstable (besides, nothingness has no ‘within’).

    But what about fluctuating particles popping into and out of existence all the time? Quantum theory in no way contradicts what I’m saying. For one, no one knows what causes these virtual particles to exist and disappear, meaning that there is prior existence involved. Second, this is all happening within what already exists (the universe), again prior existence. Therefore, your objection in (a) does nothing to derail my contention that, with regard to absolute nothingness, “from nothing, nothing comes.”

    My point from the earlier post is that there must be a cause for the universe. The universe itself had a beginning (unless you still hold to steady state theory). That First Cause is either Mind or Matter. This is a very old question. Both possibilities boggle the mind, yet one must be true.

    Which is more likely to be true? In my estimation Mind makes much more sense than Matter. To go from Matter to the human mind is far less plausible than beginning with Mind and getting the human mind. What I’m arguing is that Matter begets more matter; Mind begets mind.

    Some might conceive of a way to go from beginning Matter to Mind, but the question remains: Which is the easier, more plausible explanation?

  83. #83 Nomen Nescio
    April 12, 2010

    One of us is confused, and relying on semantic confusion

    well, the two of you are debating metaphysics. “semantic confusion” has always seemed to me a rather accurate description of that field…

  84. #84 Owlmirror
    April 12, 2010

    well, the two of you are debating metaphysics. “semantic confusion” has always seemed to me a rather accurate description of that field…

    I think it’s more of a problem with philosophy itself, of which metaphysics is of course a branch. Philosophy has always had the potential for sophistry and mysticism based on conceptual and semantic confusion.

    The more rigorous branches of philosophy became logic, math, and science, but the sophistry and mysticism remain because the conceptual and semantic confusion remain inside people’s minds.

    Oh, well. Nevertheless, we persevere.

  85. #85 Owlmirror
    April 12, 2010

    To go from Matter to the human mind is far less plausible than beginning with Mind and getting the human mind.

    The problem with this is that everything we know about the mind is that it results from something made of matter, it cannot exist without matter, and, as best we can tell, it arose from an iterative process of matter operating on matter: evolution.

    Given all this, the idea of a mind existing without matter is utterly incoherent, and thus mind preexisting matter is not just implausible, but almost certainly impossible.

    What I’m arguing is that Matter begets more matter; Mind begets mind.

    Except that it’s not as simple as you phrase it: matter interacting with matter begets minds which beget more complex minds, which eventually result in human minds.

    Some might conceive of a way to go from beginning Matter to Mind, but the question remains: Which is the easier, more plausible explanation?

    “Easy” and “plausible” are not synonymous, and the “easiness” of an explanation is no guarantee of it being anywhere near correct.

  86. #86 Andrew G.
    April 12, 2010

    Jason @82:

    A lot of your argument comes down to restatements of the old “why is there something rather than nothing” chestnut, which is based on the implicit assumption that “nothing” is the default state and that some cause is required for there to be “something” instead.

    Physics is increasingly telling us that this assumption is wrong; that symmetry-breaking phase transitions are important, that states with more symmetries spontaneously decay into ones with fewer; and the more nearly you approach a completely empty state, the more symmetries you have and therefore the more chances to decay spontaneously into a (necessarily non-empty) state.

    But what about fluctuating particles popping into and out of existence all the time? Quantum theory in no way contradicts what I’m saying. For one, no one knows what causes these virtual particles to exist and disappear, meaning that there is prior existence involved.

    We actually know one very important thing about quantum behaviour such as virtual particles, radioactive decay, etc. etc.; it is NOT based on any underlying causes which are “locally real”. (“Local” meaning that the underlying causality is limited to the relativistic causal relation, and “real” meaning that it is based on some quantity, field or object that has an existence independent of the effect, even if it is not measurable.)

    (It’s this violation of local realism that Einstein rejected, leading to his “God does not play dice” objection to the uncaused randomness described by QM, which he regarded as an incomplete theory. But the experimental evidence is unambiguous on this point.)

    My point from the earlier post is that there must be a cause for the universe.

    This is just a bare assertion. (And it’s also a statement about the topology of the causal structure of the early universe, a fact which few philosophers appreciate.)

    The universe itself had a beginning (unless you still hold to steady state theory).

    Nobody still holds to steady-state theory. The events from the conventional Big Bang onward are pretty securely established; but the earlier states are less so; we have good justifications for why there must have been an inflationary period and how it worked, but we don’t have anything in the way of evidence about the prior causal structure, and it’s that which you’re making unsupported assertions about.

    That First Cause is either Mind or Matter. This is a very old question. Both possibilities boggle the mind, yet one must be true.

    The thing about old questions is that they’re often wrongly framed due to ignorance of the possibilities and unstated false assumptions. This one is no exception. On the one hand, we now have overwhelming evidence for physicalism as a theory of mind: the phenomenon we call “mind” is found to exist only as a process carried out by compositions of matter. On the other hand, we have detailed empirical knowledge of how the universe works that calls into question the assumptions behind the concept of “first cause”.

    So we’re entitled to reject the question as being ill-founded.

    Which is more likely to be true? In my estimation Mind makes much more sense than Matter. To go from Matter to the human mind is far less plausible than beginning with Mind and getting the human mind. What I’m arguing is that Matter begets more matter; Mind begets mind.

    This argument is counter to all available evidence. What you personally find plausible is irrelevant.

  87. #87 Andrew G.
    April 12, 2010

    Incidentally, I have a challenge to make to all the critics of “scientism” etc.:

    Name a short list (three will do) of facts about the nature of reality which are (a) novel or unexpected; (b) discovered by deductive reasoning not involving science; (c) were generally accepted as true on the basis of the deductive reasoning; and (d) have not been overturned by more recent work.

  88. #88 Jayman
    April 12, 2010

    Andrew G @80:

    I don’t need to assume it is rational; it’s sufficient that the evidence shows that it works.

    Taking that approach requires circular reasoning. You know that hypothesis testing works because it is supported by empirical observations. You know that empirical observations work because they are supported by hypothesis testing.

    I’m not sure what being blindfolded has to do with it.

    It was meant to show that you would have thought hypothesis testing was rational even if you had no empirical observations at all. At least that way you would avoid circular logic.

    Owlmirror @81:

    You can’t even link to them?

    You can use a search engine or read the books I referenced.

    Yes, I’m being lazy, but how much effort would you expend into researching the arguments for something that you think is silly, doesn’t exist, and is the result of logical and cognitive errors on the part of the one making the claim?

    I would research a subject before passing judgment. It would be pointless of me to try and refute a position I don’t understand.

    Maybe I understand theistic arguments better than you think, and I see far more clearly than you realize that they’re all based on logical fallacies.

    But you’ve admitted you’re lazy and demonstrated you don’t understand theistic arguments coming from an A-T perspective.

    The problem is that theists don’t seem to be willing to realize that they’re logical fallacies, or are unwilling to admit it. This is a psychological problem on the part of the theists, and not a logical, mathematical, or scientific problem for the atheists.

    It is difficult to admit there are logical fallacies in one’s argument when the opponent does not understand the argument.

    The only reason for this outcome is that it would be considered impolite to refer to the theists with the proper psychological terms that describe their irrationality.

    No, the rest of the quote made it clear it was because the vast majority of naturalists can’t refute the arguments.

    If all of the above “transcendentals” are, as you claim, interconvertible terms with no logic or reason for them, then the metaphysics of transcendentals is utterly incoherent, and theistic arguments are nothing more than a rather pretentious semantic game based on question-begging equivocation and special pleading.

    The transcendentals are convertible for the same reason that “bachelor” and “unmarried man” are convertible.

    Right. It has the power to be the first efficient cause.

    The fact that it is the first efficient cause requires that it has power. Consider an analogy. You are the first efficient cause of the keys on your keyboard being pressed. This requires that you have the power to press keys on a keyboard. It is absurd to say that do not have the power to press keys but you did cause keys to be pressed nonetheless.

    LOL. Since the point of my entire argument was about final causes, not efficient ones, it looks like either you’re throwing final causes under the bus so as not to address what I actually wrote, or you don’t know what a final cause is. Or, to be more charitable, you misread what I wrote.

    I may have misread it but you did mention efficient causes in the same paragraph and complained that their existence had not been demonstrated. Do you or do you not believe in efficient causes?

    Why think that everything transcendental is the same thing, which is anything you want it to be?

    The transcendentals are: being, thing, one, something, true, and good. They differ in sense but not in reference and are thus convertible between each other.

    3) But if the essence of existence is itself a thing, then what causes the thing that it is to exist?

    God did not come into existence and therefore needs no efficient cause. As I said, that which comes into being must have an efficient cause. We do no seem to be on the same page.

    Your (2) begs the question, which is a logical fallacy.

    If premise 2 involved begging the question it would have to assume that God exists. If you think the premise is false then you can point to something that comes into being without an efficient cause.

    And Aristotle, Aquinas, and every other such apologist are all making a terrible category mistake in thinking that logical conclusions can be derived from and about imperfectly understood empirical reality.

    Please enlighten me. How is it a category mistake in the sense that “time is red” is a category mistake?

    This, too, begs the question.

    Again, if premise 3 was begging the question it would have to assume that God exists. If you think the premise is false then provide an example of an infinite series of efficient causes ordered per se.

    Now, what makes this transcendental essence of existence, this T-thing, God?

    I’ve already answered this question. Whatever else God is supposed to be he is supposed to be the ultimate explanation of everything.

    Andrew G @87:

    Name a short list (three will do) of facts about the nature of reality which are (a) novel or unexpected; (b) discovered by deductive reasoning not involving science; (c) were generally accepted as true on the basis of the deductive reasoning; and (d) have not been overturned by more recent work.

    (A) seems allow you to reject any example as “expected.” (B) seems to allow you to reject anything not confirmed by science as being untrue. (C) seems to allow you quibble over whether something was “generally accepted as true.” Anyway, the first thing that came to my mind was the finitude of the past.

  89. #89 Jayman
    April 12, 2010

    Owlmirror and Andrew G, what are the best books (in your opinion) that defend an entirely materialist view of the mind? Preferably something that engages with counter-arguments.

  90. #90 Owlmirror
    April 13, 2010

    You can use a search engine or read the books I referenced.

    So basically, you’re as lazy as I am, if not lazier. After all, you presumably already know where to look, and can’t be bothered.

    I note that you have no problem typing up long paragraphs that sneer at atheists. Maybe I just need to get you mad enough to actually clarify what you actually mean?

    I would research a subject before passing judgment. It would be pointless of me to try and refute a position I don’t understand.

    And yet, you don’t seem to understand my counterarguments and seem to think me refuted…

    But you’ve admitted you’re lazy and demonstrated you don’t understand theistic arguments coming from an A-T perspective.

    Heh. I’ve understood what you’ve presented so far as being fallacious.

    It is difficult to admit there are logical fallacies in one’s argument when the opponent does not understand the argument.

    An argument which commits logical fallacies is not comprehensible. Or in other words, theists don’t understand their own arguments either, but claim that it works when it cannot possibly do so logically.

    No, the rest of the quote made it clear it was because the vast majority of naturalists can’t refute the arguments.

    How can a logical fallacy be refuted other than having the logical fallacy pointed out?

    The transcendentals are convertible for the same reason that “bachelor” and “unmarried man” are convertible.

    False analogy. The concepts of “bachelor” and “unmarried man” are definitions that have an empirical basis; your “transcendentals” have no such basis. How are they defined such that they can be convertible, other than as fallacious question-begging, special pleading, and/or equivocation?

    And for that matter, the other half of the analogy doesn’t work… The concept of “bachelor” is a distinct subset of “unmarried man”, not an identical concept. After all, “unmarried man” can mean “widower” and “divorcee” as well.

    The fact that it is the first efficient cause requires that it has power.

    I don’t see how this contradicts or clarifies what I wrote.

    You are the first efficient cause of the keys on your keyboard being pressed.

    But by your A-T argument, I am not the first efficient cause, am I?

    This requires that you have the power to press keys on a keyboard. It is absurd to say that do not have the power to press keys but you did cause keys to be pressed nonetheless.

    This doesn’t contradict or clarify what I wrote, either. I didn’t write that the first efficient cause had no power; I wrote that the first efficient cause has the power to be the first efficient cause. Nothing more. Where’s the actual deduction that it is more, or might be more?

    I do see a flaw in your analogy, though. I can press keys or not; twiddle my thumbs or not; get up and get a drink or not. When you compare the “first efficient cause” to me, a human, you subtly imply that it too can do or not do or do something different. I insist that you have not demonstrated this, by either logic nor evidence.

    An analogy that I would find better would run something like this:

    The sun is a prior (not first) efficient cause that leads up to me pressing keys on the keyboard. It certainly has power with which it shines, but it doesn’t have power to do anything else besides shine; it has no control whatsoever over its own shining.

    I may have misread it but you did mention efficient causes in the same paragraph and complained that their existence had not been demonstrated.

    You’re still misreading. Good grief. And you think you can understand A-T when you can’t parse plain English?

    I wrote: “The objective existence of final causes has not been demonstrated“.

    I mean, if I had written “efficient” there, I would have apologized and rewritten, but you seem to have misread that at least twice, and at least one of those times after I pointed out to you that you misread it the first time.

    Next clause I wrote: “nor any sequence of final causes such that the first one is known for certain

    Still no efficient clauses mentioned here…

    The last one might have confused you. OK, fine, let me re-word so that your poor tired brain doesn’t have to work so hard.

    I wrote: “nor has the identity of first efficient cause and final cause been shown”

    This means: It has not been demonstrated, by logic or evidence, that a putative first efficient cause is the same thing as some putative final cause.

    Is that simple enough for you, or do I need to keep trying?

    The transcendentals are: being, thing, one, something, true, and good. They differ in sense but not in reference and are thus convertible between each other.

    Which you assert, but do not deduce. This is a logical fallacy.

    And they certainly are not all “controvertible”, as you present them — I might grant you “thing” and “something”, but the rest… no. T-thing might be one, but not all things that are one are T-thing. And “good”? You haven’t even tried showing how T-thing is “good”.

    God did not come into existence and therefore needs no efficient cause. As I said, that which comes into being must have an efficient cause. We do no seem to be on the same page.

    Sigh. You’re having reading comprehension problems again. Why do you cite 3, and yet skip over 4-6, which pretty much grants you your premise?

    If premise 2 involved begging the question it would have to assume that God exists.

    Nonsense. This is a non-sequitur, which is also a logical fallacy.

    If you think the premise is false then you can point to something that comes into being without an efficient cause.

    I don’t actually have to. You’re trying to make a logical argument, remember? I’m just pointing out that you’re asserting that it’s true, which is a logical fallacy.

    The problem with (2) is that it argues from everyday experience; it’s trying to make an inductive inference, and assert that that inference is always true. The problem is that induction is a weaker form of logic than deduction, and in this case, the induction is making hidden assumptions about the way that the universe works. Or in other words, it’s making an empirical claim without empirical evidence.

    Now, the inference certainly looks like it matches “common sense”, but if anything, our understanding of the way the universe works from studying the evidence of the universe is that common sense does not work in some very important situations: at the quantum level; when moving at high velocity or near massive objects; at very high energy; and at the earliest moments of the universe. The way that things work at our scale is actually not the way things work universally.

    The inference about efficient causes presumes that “cause”, “effect”, and “time” itself, in which cause and effect happen, is well-understood, and can only work in the way that common sense tells us.

    My point is that common sense isn’t enough. Knowledge of the real world must come from the real world, not from how you think the real world must work because you don’t know any better.

    All that having been said, the usual example of something that comes into being (and disappears into nothing) without an efficient cause is virtual particle pairs.

    Please enlighten me. How is it a category mistake in the sense that “time is red” is a category mistake?

    See what I wrote just above. Inductive inferences are usually done in mathematics and pure logic; the A-T arguments are trying to make absolute arguments based on induction about external reality. They may be generally correct, but cannot be known to be absolutely correct, without empirical evidence.

    It’s a subtle category mistake, but it still is a mistake.

    There’s also the point that A-T mixes transcendental concepts with non-transcendental ones; another category mistake.

  91. #91 Jason
    April 13, 2010

    Andrew G. @86

    We’re not even in the same ballpark regarding this whole ‘nothingness’ issue. Much of what you discussed has no bearing whatsoever with my assertion that ‘out of nothing, nothing comes.’ What you’re describing has to do with physics within the *existing universe* and what I’m talking about is prior to all physicality, absolute nothingness. You don’t seem to believe in it yourself, so I don’t see the problem, and I didn’t really want to spend much time on it. Let me briefly state my position again: if there was ever a time when nothing at all existed (absolute nothingness), there would still be nothing. For absolute nothingness is devoid of all properties, and therefore devoid of all possibilities. If you disagree, you’re likely not talking about absolute nothingness prior to all things, but rather something else.

    Andrew G @86 and Owlmirror @85

    You both seem to be saying that because all mind we know of through observation is matter, therefore, it is unlikely, perhaps even impossible to have a mind without matter. This would make the idea of an eternal, formless deity virtually untenable. Is this what you are saying? There are problems with this view, but for the sake of argument, let’s say that this deity must be physical. It that case the problem of ultimate causation is merely redefined slightly, but the essence remains the same, for the Mind (whether physical or not) remains a possibility.

    O.k., let me try to be more clear. Big bang cosmology states that billions of years ago the universe was collapsed into something called a singularly. Are we agreed on this? For the sake of argument, let’s call this Matter, better, Something. Let’s assume that Something also has no beginning – in other words, it has always existed (eternal). This is one possibility. But the question of what caused the Big Bang is perfectly reasonable to ask, for everything that begins to exist (like the universe) must have a cause. Perhaps the singularity had programmed within it the potentiality that we see today and this includes expansion – thus the universe would, in a sense, be self-caused.

    Another possibility is that there is a deity (Someone) who has no beginning. This deity would be responsible for creating the singularity and the causing the Big Bang.

    Either we have an eternal Something or an eternal Someone. I see no reason to doubt this, but if you know of more possibilities. . . Most of your objections have to do with the physical properties within the universe *now*. What I’m discussing is a “time” before that, which is theoretical of course, but perfectly legitimate to discuss.

  92. #92 Andrew G.
    April 13, 2010

    O.k., let me try to be more clear. Big bang cosmology states that billions of years ago the universe was collapsed into something called a singularly. Are we agreed on this?

    No. The idea of a past spacelike singularity is obsolete (and the existence of singularities in general is questionable). The reason for this is that singularities are an artifact of general relativity, but they can only occur in circumstances where general relativity is known not to apply, because it conflicts with quantum mechanics. GR and QM can only be reconciled by the construction of a quantum theory (or theory compatible with QM) that includes gravity; this has so far turned out to be intractable.

    Currently the earliest state of the Universe that we have good justification for is the inflationary epoch (some cosmologists choose to refer to the end of this period as the “Big Bang” since that gives a more certain reference point). We have observational evidence for this in the form of the characteristic small-scale fluctuations in the cosmic microwave background (even though the microwave background is not even generated until 380,000 years after the Big Bang) – inflation theory predicted some important and entirely non-obvious characteristics of the background fluctuations that were confirmed by observation decades later.

    What exactly the conditions were before about 10^-30 (or 10^-32 depending on who you ask) seconds before the end of the inflationary epoch is largely down to informed speculation. Some cosmologists are reluctant to say anything about it for this reason; others assume a model in which the universe expands out from something with dimensions on the Planck scale. At scales much below the Planck scale no physical quantities are measurable even in principle, and computed values for them are unphysical. One approach to this envisages the universe emerging from the unphysical state via a process similar to quantum tunneling (when a particle tunnels through a potential barrier, physical quantities like its momentum take on unphysical values).

    Bear in mind, too, that we may need to draw a distinction between the universe and the observable universe. Inflation allows for the possibility that the observable universe is a small region in a much larger (not necessarily even finite) space.

    Questions about time and causality prior to the inflationary epoch require the use of theories that we simply do not have yet, requiring the unification of QM and GR. To assume that you can philosophize with any degree of certainty about the topology of spacetime or its causal structure in regimes where existing physical theories of time break down completely is hubris on a grand scale indeed.

    Most of your objections have to do with the physical properties within the universe *now*. What I’m discussing is a “time” before that, which is theoretical of course, but perfectly legitimate to discuss.

    Except it’s not… if the topology of spacetime is closed when t < t0 for some arbitrary t0, then it makes no sense to talk about times "before" the start of the universe, in exactly the same way that it makes no sense to talk about what lies north of the north pole.

    On the other hand the topology might be open but contain a boundary on which physical quantities such as measurable time change from having unphysical values to having physical values. One theoretical model of this has a pair of universes tunneling out of an unphysical region with time axes in opposite directions; this represents an open spacetime which is nevertheless causally closed. Other models have a single universe, in which case the causal structure might be either open (in which case there is an infinite causal chain) or closed.

    Now, back to what I said earlier about abstractions. If you pick a model of what you think the early universe looks like, and then explore the logical consequences, can you discover any true facts about the nature of reality? There are only two ways in which you can:

    1) You discover that some fact is logically true in all possible models – in which case the burden of proof is on you to show that you really have considered them all, and that you haven’t smuggled in some assumption (such as a premise about causal relationships) which is true only in some models and not others.

    2) You discover that some fact is logically true in all models of the universe which are consistent with the physical evidence – in which case you’re squarely in the field of physics and not metaphysics.

    In cases other than these, the most you can do is to express implications – “IF the universe has this structure THEN some conclusion”.

  93. #93 Andrew G.
    April 13, 2010

    Gah. that’ll teach me not to preview my comments.

    That should have said something like:

    Except it’s not… if the topology of spacetime is closed when t < t0 for some arbitrary t0, then talking about times “before” the beginning of the universe is as meaningless as talking about what lies north of the north pole.

  94. #94 Nomen Nescio
    April 13, 2010

    if the topology of spacetime is closed when t

    “<” has to be spelled out as “&lt;” or you make the baby HTML standards cry. i’m guessing that’s what cut your sentence off right there, anyway.

  95. #95 Owlmirror
    April 13, 2010

    Much of what you discussed has no bearing whatsoever with my assertion that ‘out of nothing, nothing comes.’

    How do you know that there ever has been truly “nothing”?

    Have you ever seen any of this “nothing” of which you speak, if you don’t mean vacuum; empty space?

    ====

    You both seem to be saying that because all mind we know of through observation is matter, therefore, it is unlikely, perhaps even impossible to have a mind without matter. This would make the idea of an eternal, formless deity virtually untenable. Is this what you are saying?

    More or less. More to the point, we have no reason to posit any such “eternal, formless deity” in the first place, based on what we know about what minds are.

    There are problems with this view, but for the sake of argument, let’s say that this deity must be physical.

    Why are you positing any deity at all?

    Another possibility is that there is a deity (Someone) who has no beginning. This deity would be responsible for creating the singularity and the causing the Big Bang.

    Why does it have to be a deity? Why not something which has no beginning which isn’t a deity? It wouldn’t be “responsible” (in the sense of a person being responsible for actions that they knowingly perform) for causing the big bang, any more than the sun is “responsible” for the photons it emits. The action of causing big bangs, like the emission of photons from the sun, follows from the nature of this meta-universal whatever-it-might-be.

  96. #96 Jayman
    April 13, 2010

    Owlmirror @90:

    So basically, you’re as lazy as I am, if not lazier. After all, you presumably already know where to look, and can’t be bothered.

    I would look at the book Aquinas and not a website.

    How are they defined such that they can be convertible, other than as fallacious question-begging, special pleading, and/or equivocation?

    It is, I hope, self-evident that “being,” “thing,” “one,” and “something” are convertible. A thing is “true” or “good” to the extent that it conforms to its essence. Thus a being whose essence is existence is by definition “true” and “good” for, in the act of existing, it conforms to its essence.

    But by your A-T argument, I am not the first efficient cause, am I?

    For the purposes of an example we will assume you are the first efficient cause. In actuality your fingers are one of many efficient causes.

    When you compare the “first efficient cause” to me, a human, you subtly imply that it too can do or not do or do something different. I insist that you have not demonstrated this, by either logic nor evidence.

    In trying to determine whether the first efficient cause has power, it is irrelevant whether it makes a choice or not.

    This means: It has not been demonstrated, by logic or evidence, that a putative first efficient cause is the same thing as some putative final cause.

    I’ll put off going into any detail about final causes until we reach some agreement on efficient causes. The short answer is that the being by whom things are directed toward their ends cannot have a potency and must therefore be being itself, just like the first efficient cause.

    The problem is that induction is a weaker form of logic than deduction, and in this case, the induction is making hidden assumptions about the way that the universe works. Or in other words, it’s making an empirical claim without empirical evidence.

    The empirical evidence for efficient causes is nearly infinite since it is confirmed with every observation we make (and not just common sense observations either). Your objection could be used to reject all inductive reasoning, could it not?

    All that having been said, the usual example of something that comes into being (and disappears into nothing) without an efficient cause is virtual particle pairs.

    The author of Common Sense Atheism seems to find your example rather weak (see the section Ex Nihilo Nihil Fit).

    Inductive inferences are usually done in mathematics and pure logic; the A-T arguments are trying to make absolute arguments based on induction about external reality. They may be generally correct, but cannot be known to be absolutely correct, without empirical evidence.

    Don’t you have that backwards? Math and logic use deductive reasoning while science uses inductive reasoning. If your main objection to the argument I outlined is that we can’t know things with absolute certainty then I consider the argument to be a success. You won’t find absolute certainty in anything.

  97. #97 Andrew G.
    April 13, 2010

    (A) seems allow you to reject any example as “expected.” (B) seems to allow you to reject anything not confirmed by science as being untrue. (C) seems to allow you quibble over whether something was “generally accepted as true.” Anyway, the first thing that came to my mind was the finitude of the past.

    And I’m duly going to quibble: what deductive argument(s) for it was regarded (in your opinion) as decisive, and how widely accepted was it before scientific cosmology started to have a say in the matter?

    (What I’m looking for is purely deductive conclusions that actually contribute to knowledge outside the realm of the purely abstract. If the conclusion is already obvious before the argument is made, then not much was contributed; if the reasoning is grounded in scientific results then it’s not purely deductive for the purposes of the question; if the conclusion wasn’t widely accepted as being true then it’s hard to see how it represents knowledge rather than opinion.)

  98. #98 Jayman
    April 13, 2010

    Andrew G, if you read detailed versions of the kalam cosmological argument (KCM) you will probably find philosophical arguments for a finite past (even Wikipedia has summaries of some arguments). The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology has a chapter on the KCM that includes some philosophical arguments for a finite past. More recent writings on the KCM may include references to science, but obviously the argument itself predates the 20th century.

  99. #99 Andrew G.
    April 13, 2010

    I’m familiar with some of the arguments; I was wondering which you found persuasive.

    The majority of arguments I’ve seen are based on appeals to the impossibility of the actual infinite, which is trivially false (assuming continuous space and time, I can hold an actual infinite between two fingers). In effect, this kind of argument amounts to asserting the nonexistence of sets of cardinality aleph-null while asserting the existence of sets of size beth-one, which is strictly larger.

  100. #100 Owlmirror
    April 14, 2010

    It is, I hope, self-evident that “being,” “thing,” “one,” and “something” are convertible.

    No, “one” is not convertible with “T-thing”. “One” is a quantity. Existence isn’t a quantity, and arguing that they are the same thing is a category mistake; an example of the fallacy of equivocation.

    And if you have “thing” and “something”, you don’t need “being”, and using that word leads to confusion with the sense of “being” as a “thing” that is alive and aware. So use “thing”, or “something”, or best of all, “T-thing”, to avoid confusion with things that are not transcendent.

    A thing is “true” or “good” to the extent that it conforms to its essence.

    This again, looks like more category mistakes; more of the fallacy of equivocation.

    “True” isn’t something that a thing is; it’s something about the thing. Just as “one” is a quantity, “true” is a truth value; a Boolean.

    What does “conform to its essence” mean? It means that it is what it is, yes? It may be true that it is what it is, but it isn’t “true” itself, except as an expression; a figure of speech. A definition may be true, but that doesn’t mean that the definition is “convertible” with true.

    Or do you think that because “3+5=8″ is by definition “true”, the equation is “convertible” with the essence of existence?

    And “good” is an even worse equivocation. When “good” is used of something as a comparative with other things that it might be, but isn’t, that has meaning — we speak of a “good” apple and mean one that’s ripe, tasty, and healthy , as opposed to one that’s unripe, rotten, sour, moldy, or worm-eaten. But that’s because we care about those qualities; it’s a completely human and subjective judgment. If you were to be honest and consistent, you would have to acknowledge that a rotten apple conforms to the essence of a rotten apple, and is thus a good rotten apple. So “good” isn’t meaningful as an adjective for something that “conforms to its essence”.

    But even worse (for your argument about “good”), you’re using the term not as a comparative with other things that it might be (but isn’t), you’re using it about something that cannot be anything else besides what it is. In this case, “good” is utterly meaningless. Are an electron or a photon “good” because they “conform to the essence” of an electron or a photon? Is empty space “good” because it conforms to the essence of emptiness? Of course not.

    So both “true” and “good” are meaningless terms, twice over, for this putative “essence of existence”, and A-T no doubt only uses them so as to create confusion with the concept of “true” in the sense of “truthful” or “loyal” and “good” in the sense of “benevolent”.

    No. Word games are not valid arguments. Throw them both out.

    Thus a being whose essence is existence is by definition “true” and “good” for, in the act of existing, it conforms to its essence.

    Or rather: Thus a T-thing whose essence is existence and conforms to its essence is only itself, and is not validly or meaningfully defined as being either “true” nor “good”.

    For the purposes of an example we will assume you are the first efficient cause.

    Sigh. We do have the term “prior” to use instead of “first”. I suggest you use it, if you even want to try sounding consistent.

    In trying to determine whether the first efficient cause has power, it is irrelevant whether it makes a choice or not.

    It most certainly is not irrelevant: sneaking in the concept of choice begs the question of something that remains undemonstrated.

    Indulge me in my desire for logical rigor, please.

    The short answer is that the being by whom things are directed toward their ends cannot have a potency and must therefore be being itself, just like the first efficient cause.

    So by your own argument… the absence of potency means that things cannot possibly be directed toward any putative ends. There isn’t anything that actually directs them!

    The empirical evidence for efficient causes is nearly infinite

    It is nothing of the sort. Really, this is like saying that since the sun has existed as it has for as long as we have observed it, it will therefore always exist as it is. No. We have additional empirical evidence against this claim — and believing that the claim is definitely true before the observations of thermodynamics and the formation and eventual nova-explosion of stars was an understandable logical fallacy, but still a logical fallacy.

    since it is confirmed with every observation we make

    And as you continue to ignore, we have no evidence or confirmation prior to the big bang itself, which is exactly the point of contention. Arguing from ignorance is a logical fallacy…

    The author of Common Sense Atheism seems to find your example rather weak (see the section Ex Nihilo Nihil Fit).

    I’ll have to read up on the counterarguments a little more carefully, but note that they do not rule them out completely; virtual particle pairs are still at least potentially a counterexample.

    Don’t you have that backwards? Math and logic use deductive reasoning while science uses inductive reasoning.

    No, your formulation is backwards. See the hypothetico-deductive model of the scientific method.

    If your main objection to the argument I outlined is that we can’t know things with absolute certainty then I consider the argument to be a success.

    Why? You’re arguing from ignorance, which is a logical fallacy.

    You won’t find absolute certainty in anything.

    Then why are you arguing as if you had absolute certainty?

  101. #101 Owlmirror
    April 14, 2010
    Don’t you have that backwards? Math and logic use deductive reasoning while science uses inductive reasoning.

    No, your formulation is backwards.

    Or rather, both induction and deduction are using in logic, math, and science, but the scientific method itself is a deductive methodology.

  102. #102 Jayman
    April 14, 2010

    Andrew G @99, pretty much all the argument are ultimately trying to show that an actual infinite amount of time is impossible. Perhaps it would help if you tell me what you think you have an infinite amount of between your fingers. Mathematical points?

  103. #103 Jayman
    April 14, 2010

    Owlmirror @100-101,

    No, “one” is not convertible with “T-thing”. “One” is a quantity. Existence isn’t a quantity, and arguing that they are the same thing is a category mistake; an example of the fallacy of equivocation.

    The term “one” is used to denote one thing distinct from others. For example, if I was purchasing a car, I might tell the salesman that, “I want that one.” I am telling him that I want one specific car and not just any car on the lot. The car is a specific “thing,” a specific “something,” and a specific “one.”

    And if you have “thing” and “something”, you don’t need “being”, and using that word leads to confusion with the sense of “being” as a “thing” that is alive and aware.

    By “being” we mean something that actually exists (as opposed to a non-being). A “being” need to be alive or aware. Any “thing” or “something” that actually exists is thus a “being.”

    So use “thing”, or “something”, or best of all, “T-thing”, to avoid confusion with things that are not transcendent.

    The transcendentals are so named because “being” is above every genus, common to all beings and thus not restricted to any category or individual.

    “True” isn’t something that a thing is; it’s something about the thing. Just as “one” is a quantity, “true” is a truth value; a Boolean.

    By “true” we mean how well a thing conforms to its essence. The essence of a triangle is triangularity (an essence is that which makes something the kind of thing it is). Thus a sloppily drawn triangle is less true than a carefully drawn triangle because it less perfectly instantiates the essence of triangularity. A thing has being as the kind of thing it is to the extent that it is a true instance of its essence, and is in that sense convertible with truth.

    What does “conform to its essence” mean? It means that it is what it is, yes?

    No, things conform to their essences in varying degrees. The sloppily drawn triangle conforms to its essence less perfectly than a carefully drawn triangle.

    And “good” is an even worse equivocation.

    By “good” we mean how well a thing conforms to its essence. It is convertible in a fashion similar to “true.” The sloppily drawn triangle is less good than the carefully drawn triangle.

    Or rather: Thus a T-thing whose essence is existence and conforms to its essence is only itself, and is not validly or meaningfully defined as being either “true” nor “good”.

    Wrong, it is “true” and “good” because it perfectly conforms to its essence. The sloppily drawn triangle is itself, but it does not perfectly conform to its essence.

    It most certainly is not irrelevant: sneaking in the concept of choice begs the question of something that remains undemonstrated.

    I’m not sure why you think I’m sneaking in the concept of choice. Do you believe that something has to have a choice to have power? I do not.

    So by your own argument… the absence of potency means that things cannot possibly be directed toward any putative ends. There isn’t anything that actually directs them!

    I think you’re misunderstanding the A-T sense of “potency.” But I’ll put that off along with final causes.

    It is nothing of the sort. Really, this is like saying that since the sun has existed as it has for as long as we have observed it, it will therefore always exist as it is. No. We have additional empirical evidence against this claim — and believing that the claim is definitely true before the observations of thermodynamics and the formation and eventual nova-explosion of stars was an understandable logical fallacy, but still a logical fallacy.

    If you take your objection to its logical conclusion, should you not also object to the man who says the sun will rise tomorrow? If not, why not?

    And as you continue to ignore, we have no evidence or confirmation prior to the big bang itself, which is exactly the point of contention. Arguing from ignorance is a logical fallacy…

    I’m arguing from what we know about efficient causes. Nowhere does my argument rest on our scientific ignorance regarding what happened before the Big Bang. Your objection is nothing more than pointing out I might be wrong. It is like young earth creationists who say scientists might be wrong about the age of the universe because the laws of nature could have been different in the past or because the light from supposedly old stars was actually created in transit. Sure, you and the YECs might be right but you haven’t show why your opponent is wrong or explained why it is illogical to rest our beliefs on mounds of evidence.

    No, your formulation is backwards. See the hypothetico-deductive model of the scientific method.

    The article includes this sentence: “Corroboration is related to the problem of induction, which arises because a general case (a hypothesis) cannot be logically deduced from any series of specific observations.” Anyway, couldn’t the premise you are disputing be supported using the hypothetico-deductive model? We can gather data, hypothesize explanations, make predictions, and try to falsify it, can we not? Again, this seems like the YEC noting that the Big Bang theory relies on inductive reasoning and therefore might be wrong.

  104. #104 Andrew G.
    April 14, 2010

    Do you understand the mathematical nature of continuity?

    If a quantity (such as physical position in space) is continuous, then the number of possible values it can take, and therefore the number of conceptually distinguishable points, has the value 2^(aleph-null), also called C or beth-one, which is an infinite cardinal number known to be strictly larger than aleph-null, which is the size of any countable infinite set such as the integers.

    (Whether spacetime is actually continuous or discrete is a matter for observation – but all current physics, even quantum mechanics, treats it as continuous, even when dealing with uncertainty.)

    If continuity exists in any form, then sets of cardinality beth-one have some form of “existence”. You can choose a subset of such a set, such as the rational numbers, which has cardinality aleph-null (note that we don’t even need the axiom of choice for this); therefore if continuity exists, then so do countably infinite sets.

    Furthermore, if there exists an infinitely extended continuous quantity, such as time, then it can be mapped one-to-one onto any arbitrarily short line segment.

    Or (which is the same thing put another way), there is no structural difference between an infinite and open past and a finite but open past. i.e. the open sets (-1,0) and (-infinity,0) have the same topology.

    Another problem that traditional philosophical arguments against infinity fall into is the confusion between ordinals, cardinals and reals. For example, a premise like “the series of past events has been completed by successive addition” contains the implicit assumption that the sequence of past events is represented by an ordinal, not a real number. (The concept of “successor” is essentially what defines an ordinal number.) A problem here is that if time is ordinal (and finite), then it is not continuous. A worse problem is that the argument just became circular; representing time as an ordinal inherently assumes that there is a distinguished “first moment”: ordinals are by definition well-ordered, and all well-orderings have a least element.

    (If time can be represented by a real number, then there is no concept of “successive addition” that applies, and the question of whether there is a “first moment” boils down to whether the past direction is topologically open or closed, not on whether it is finite or infinite – open/closed is a topological property whereas finite/infinite is a property of the metric used for measurement.)

    It’s only in the past 150 years or so that we’ve had the mathematical tools to talk meaningfully about these kinds of concepts, so it’s not really surprising that earlier philosophers don’t manage the arguments well.

  105. #105 Andrew G.
    April 15, 2010

    By “true” we mean how well a thing conforms to its essence.

    By “good” we mean how well a thing conforms to its essence.

    No, “we” don’t.

    If you look up “true” or “good” in a dictionary, you will find a number of definitions, none of which include the above. Redefining words according to your own private definitions is at best a serious impediment to communication, and at worst a deliberate attempt to equivocate between the nonstandard definitions and the standard ones.

    Arguing that your definition is the “real” one and that the dictionary definitions are merely instances of it also doesn’t fly; it bears no relationship to the way that people actually use language to communicate.

    For example:

    1) The essence of the nematode worm Onchocerca volvulus is, like all lower animals, to reproduce.

    2) It does a reasonable job of this in practice, therefore it is conforming to its essence.

    3) If you call it “good”, the millions of people who were painfully blinded as as result (the worm reproduces only in humans) will have something rather pithy to say to you in response, I suspect.

  106. #106 Jayman
    April 15, 2010

    Andrew G @104:

    Do you understand the mathematical nature of continuity?

    I think I get your point that there are an infinite number of positions along a continuum.

    If continuity exists in any form, then sets of cardinality beth-one have some form of “existence”.

    But is that form of existence relevant to our discussion? Certainly the time that elapsed between my post and your post was a finite period of time, was it not? And the distance between your fingers is finite too, right?

    For example, a premise like “the series of past events has been completed by successive addition” contains the implicit assumption that the sequence of past events is represented by an ordinal, not a real number.

    How would you describe the “movement” from time t1 to time t2? Although there are an infinite number of “positions” between t1 and t2 we still manage to “move” from one second to the next.

    the question of whether there is a “first moment” boils down to whether the past direction is topologically open or closed, not on whether it is finite or infinite – open/closed is a topological property whereas finite/infinite is a property of the metric used for measurement.

    I think when people speak of a finite past they mean that there was a first moment. It is finite in the sense that you can traverse from the first moment to the present moment.

    William Lane Craig and James D. Sinclair include a discussion of mathematics in their chapter on the kalam cosmological argument in The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology. They address your concerns directly starting on page 112. Here’s the first paragraph:

    “Sometimes it is said that we can find concrete counterexamples to the claim that an actually infinite number of things cannot exist, so that Premise (2.11) must be false. For example, Walter Sinnott-Armstrong asserts that the continuity of space and time entails the existence of an actually infinite number of points and instants (Craig & Sinnott-Armstrong 2003, p. 43). This familiar objection gratuitously assumes that space and time are composed of real points and instants, which has never been proven. Mathematically, the objection can be met by distinguishing a potential infinite from an actual infinite. While one can continue indefinitely to divide conceptually any distance, the series of subintervals thereby generated is merely potentially infinite, in that infinity serves as a limit that one endlessly approaches but never reaches. This is the thoroughgoing Aristotelian position on the infinite: only the potential infinite exists. This position does not imply that minimal time atoms, or chronons, exist. Rather time, like space, is infinitely divisible in the sense that division can proceed indefinitely, but time is never actually infinitely divided, neither does one arrive at an instantaneous point. If one thinks of a geometrical line as logically prior to any points which one may care to specify on it rather than as a construction built up out of points (itself a paradoxical notion13), then one’s ability to specify certain points, like the halfway point along a certain distance, does not imply that such points actually exist independently of our specification of them. As Grünbaum emphasizes, it is not infinite divisibility as such which gives rise to Zeno’s paradoxes; the paradoxes presuppose the postulation of an actual infinity of points ab initio. “. . . [A]ny attribution of (infinite) ‘divisibility’ to a Cantorian line must be based on the fact that ab initio that line and the intervals are already ‘divided’ into an actual dense infinity of point-elements of which the line (interval) is the aggregate. Accordingly, the Cantorian line can be said to be already actually infinitely divided” (Grünbaum 1973, p. 169). By contrast, if we think of the line as logically prior to any points designated on it, then it is not an ordered aggregate of points nor actually infinitely divided. Time as duration is then logically prior to the (potentially infinite) divisions we make of it. Specified instants are not temporal intervals but merely the boundary points of intervals, which are always nonzero in duration. If one simply assumes that any distance is already composed out of an actually infinite number of points, then one is begging the question. The objector is assuming what he is supposed to prove, namely that there is a clear counterexample to the claim that an actually infinite number of things cannot exist.”

  107. #107 Jayman
    April 15, 2010

    Andrew G @105:

    No, “we” don’t.

    The we in question at least includes Aquinas, Feser, and myself. As I said to Owlmirror, if you’re going to discuss A-T metaphysics it helps if you know the definitions of important terms.

    If you look up “true” or “good” in a dictionary, you will find a number of definitions, none of which include the above.

    I would hardly expect the dictionary to give the definitions of terms as used in A-T metaphysics. Nonetheless, I could find some definitions of the terms that are similar to the ones I have provided. The adjective “true” can mean “ideal.” The adjective “good” can mean “conforming to a standard.”

    Redefining words according to your own private definitions is at best a serious impediment to communication, and at worst a deliberate attempt to equivocate between the nonstandard definitions and the standard ones.

    I’m using the definitions that Aristotle and Aquinas used and I’ve made it clear that I’m arguing from that perspective. In no way can they be said to be private. The impediment to communication is that Owlmirror feels the need to attack a position that he does not understand and that he does not want to learn about.

    Arguing that your definition is the “real” one and that the dictionary definitions are merely instances of it also doesn’t fly

    I realize that words can have multiple definitions which is why I made it clear I was arguing from an A-T perspective.

  108. #108 Andrew G.
    April 15, 2010

    Certainly the time that elapsed between my post and your post was a finite period of time, was it not? And the distance between your fingers is finite too, right?

    The distance between my fingers is finite according to the usual metric, but it contains as many distinguishable points as the entire universe does, even if the universe were infinite in space and time.

    Furthermore, there are metrics in which the distance between my fingers is not finite. They may not be particularly useful metrics, but they exist and they preserve the same topology as the usual metric.

    For example, a premise like “the series of past events has been completed by successive addition” contains the implicit assumption that the sequence of past events is represented by an ordinal, not a real number.

    How would you describe the “movement” from time t1 to time t2? Although there are an infinite number of “positions” between t1 and t2 we still manage to “move” from one second to the next.

    Continuous movement can’t be reduced to a succession of states (because “succession” is an ordinal concept and not continuous). So at some time t between t1 and t2, I can look back or forward by some arbitrary distance, but I can’t identify a “previous” instant or a “next” instant, because there are infinitely many positions between any candidate for either of those and the current time.

    The fact that we manage to traverse spacetime intervals in an apparently continuous fashion is exactly my point: any such movement constitutes a completed actual infinite in exactly the same sense that an infinite past would.

    The arguments over potential vs. actual infinite don’t really have any mathematical basis (Aristotle lacked the mathematical tools to understand infinity). Furthermore, contra Craig, we do not assume a priori the existence of infinitely many points on a continuum; we can prove that it is a necessary consequence of continuity. Indeed, we prove not only that we require an infinite number of points, but which order of infinity (i.e. beth-one rather than, say, aleph-null). The only way out for the finitist is to reject the concept of continuity completely, which has its own problems.

  109. #109 Owlmirror
    April 15, 2010

    The term “one” is used to denote one thing distinct from others.

    This is a matter of English idiom. Other languages do not necessarily do this.

    And I thought that your entire point was that there are no “others” of this essence of existence?

    And for that matter, if you’re using “one” to denote a distinction, you’re still not using the term as something “convertible” with what you’re denoting — it indicates a referent; not something identical with the thing. The finger pointing at the moon is not the moon, to borrow a Buddhist maxim.

    Any “thing” or “something” that actually exists is thus a “being.”

    Is your computer a being? Is a car a being? Is a rock a being? Would you refer to them like that?

    If being means only some thing that exists, it’s a useless and redundant term. Drop it. Use “something” or “thing”.

    The transcendentals are so named because “being” is above every genus, common to all beings and thus not restricted to any category or individual.

    And “being” has more than one meaning in English. It’s a T-thing.

    By “true” we mean how well a thing conforms to its essence.

    Which is still a useless definition, in this case; this is the same problem with “good”. Your entire point is that the essence of existence cannot not conform to being the essence of existence. To re-use the example for “good”, calling an electron “true” is useless. It is what it is.

    Thus a sloppily drawn triangle is less true than a carefully drawn triangle because it less perfectly instantiates the essence of triangularity.

    Again, using the word is only meaningful if there is an actual range of possibilities that approximate the thing. If there isn’t, the word is meaningless. A true photon is just a photon; calling it “true” isn’t useful. It tells you nothing you didn’t already know about the thing being described, and leads to semantic confusion and equivocation.

    And you’re still using “true” to indicate something about the thing. It’s an adjective, not something “convertible” with the thing itself.

    No, things conform to their essences in varying degrees. The sloppily drawn triangle conforms to its essence less perfectly than a carefully drawn triangle.

    No, the sloppily drawn triangle conforms to the essence of a sloppily drawn triangle. It is what it is, not what you want it to be or think it should be. The essential perfect triangle that you’re trying to draw may be a true geometrical concept, but the sloppy triangle that you actually draw has its own essential truth.

    Wrong, it is “true” and “good” because it perfectly conforms to its essence.

    So an electron is “true” and “good”? So is a photon? So is a vacuum? So is the number 0? And the number 32767? And the number π? So is anything that cannot be anything other than what it is?

    If so, then there are an infinite number of “true” and “good” things by the way you want to use the terms, and your use of them only for the essence of existence is falsely trying to distinguish it from that infinite set of things that are also “good” and “true”.

    I think you’re misunderstanding the A-T sense of “potency.”

    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/modality-medieval/

    Another Aristotelian modal paradigm was that of possibility as potency. In Met. V.12 and IX.1 potency is said to be the principle of motion or change either as the activator or as the receptor of a relevant influence. (For agent and patient in Aristotle’s natural philosophy in general, see Waterlow 1982b.) The types of potency-based possibilities belonging to a species are recognized as possibilities because of their actualization – no natural potency type remains eternally frustrated. Aristotle says that when the agent and the patient come together as being capable, the one must act and the other must be acted on (Met. IX.5).

    So no direction is taking place; to “direct” something means that there is a possibility of the thing being directed doing something other than what it does.

    But I’ll put that off along with final causes.

    Which don’t actually exist except as human ideas.

    If you take your objection to its logical conclusion, should you not also object to the man who says the sun will rise tomorrow? If not, why not?

    That’s not the logical conclusion. The logical conclusion is that the sun will change over a billion-year span of time, not tomorrow.

    My point is that you’re trying to come to absolute conclusions outside of the range of where your ability to gather empirical data ends. If you find a way to look past the beginning of the universe and see that cause and effect still work the same way, you will have much greater support for your thesis.

    I’m arguing from what we know about efficient causes. Nowhere does my argument rest on our scientific ignorance regarding what happened before the Big Bang.

    Actually, it does. Consider the current cosmological thesis about the Big Bang that time itself began with the inflation of the universe. Given that cause and effect require time to work the way it has since that beginning, how can you say anything coherent about before time began?

    Your objection is nothing more than pointing out I might be wrong.

    My objection is that your reasoning is incorrect — you’re assuming correctness without having any data at all. You have to show that alternative hypotheses that you’re ignoring or unaware of now are actually false before you can come to a certain conclusion.

    It is like young earth creationists who say scientists might be wrong about the age of the universe because the laws of nature could have been different in the past or because the light from supposedly old stars was actually created in transit.

    The first case is falsified (different laws of nature would alter what we observe in the cosmos — looking further away is looking into the past, after all); the second is non-falsifiable and can be discarded via parsimony.

    Anyway, couldn’t the premise you are disputing be supported using the hypothetico-deductive model? We can gather data, hypothesize explanations, make predictions, and try to falsify it, can we not?

    Sure. Let me know when you gather data from before the beginning of the existence of time.

    Currently, those who are gathering data from after the big bang are hypothesizing explanations as publications in journals for theoretical (really should be called hypothetical) physics and cosmology. And some of the hypotheses involve looped causation (cause and effect looping around) and spontaneous effects with no cause as the result of different space-time conditions outside of the universe, or various types of multiverse ideas or metaverse ideas.

    I don’t claim to know them all, or know which ones are valid or are not valid. But neither do you, and certainly neither did Aristotle or Aquinas when they first optimistically and fallaciously argued from their tiny slice of experience and knowledge about the universe, and whatever caused the universe, as it actually is.

    Again, this seems like the YEC noting that the Big Bang theory relies on inductive reasoning and therefore might be wrong.

    And the YEC would be wrong because the Big Bang is a deduction from empirical evidence.

    ———–

    The we in question at least includes Aquinas, Feser, and myself. As I said to Owlmirror, if you’re going to discuss A-T metaphysics it helps if you know the definitions of important terms.

    You keep trying to mix standard English and medieval philosophese. Since we’re communicating in English, define your terms, or use English equivalents, or link to the definitions and arguments you want to use.

    The impediment to communication is that Owlmirror feels the need to attack a position that he does not understand and that he does not want to learn about.

    Or rather, that you’re too lazy to link to. Leaving me to go and search out medieval philosophical jargon on my own, feh.

  110. #110 Owlmirror
    April 15, 2010

    Returning to an earlier question again…

    If the ultimate cause is good, powerful, and has an intellect what would you call it other than God?

    So what this actually means is :

      If the ultimate cause conforms to its essence, has the power to be the ultimate cause, and cannot possibly have an intellect because everything it’s doing is actually that which it has no possibility of doing differently, what would you call it other than God?

    And my answer remains:

      The result of a massive logical-cognitive category error on the part of the Aristotelian-Thomist apologist, of course.

    I’m certainly not going to pray to the silly word-game.

  111. #111 Jayman
    April 15, 2010

    Owlmirror:

    And I thought that your entire point was that there are no “others” of this essence of existence?

    You’re confusing yourself with the phrase “essence of existence.” I am stating that God’s essence is existence. There are things other than God but none of those things have an essence that is solely existence.

    I’ve defined how I am using certain terms and see no point in quibbling over them further.

    No, the sloppily drawn triangle conforms to the essence of a sloppily drawn triangle. It is what it is, not what you want it to be or think it should be.

    If it’s a sloppily drawn triangle then it is a triangle. The important point is that you understand what I mean when I say a specific triangle is a perfectly true triangle.

    If so, then there are an infinite number of “true” and “good” things by the way you want to use the terms, and your use of them only for the essence of existence is falsely trying to distinguish it from that infinite set of things that are also “good” and “true”.

    In which comment did I claim that only God is true or good? His trueness or goodness does not prevent anything else from conforming to its essence.

    Actually, it does. Consider the current cosmological thesis about the Big Bang that time itself began with the inflation of the universe. Given that cause and effect require time to work the way it has since that beginning, how can you say anything coherent about before time began?

    The beauty of Aquinas’ argument from efficient causes is that it works regardless of whether the universe has a beginning or not. Aquinas is speaking of a series of efficient causes ordered per se, not per accidens (point 3 in comment 75). In other words, his argument relies solely on efficient causes that are happening in the present.

  112. #112 Jayman
    April 15, 2010

    Andrew G, there’s no way I can summarize Craig and Sinclair’s arguments here so I leave it to you to read if you want. You may be able to find an online paper of theirs on the KCA even if it is not identical to their chapter in The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology.

  113. #113 Owlmirror
    April 15, 2010

    You’re confusing yourself with the phrase “essence of existence.”

    I think you’re confused about just who is confusing who and with what…

    I am stating that God’s essence is existence.

    You haven’t demonstrated that a putative first cause is God, so I’ll thank you not to call it that until after you have completed any such demonstration.

    Do I have to remind you yet again that begging the question is a logical fallacy?

    There are things other than God but none of those things have an essence that is solely existence.

    You mean, there are things other than a first cause, but none of those things have an essence that is solely existence?

    You are begging the question again, which remains a logical fallacy.

    I’ve defined how I am using certain terms

    And it’s been like nailing jelly to a tree so far…

    and see no point in quibbling over them further.

    You seem to have no problem with quibbling over or even changing the definitions when it suits you, so I see no reason not to call you on it when you do that.

    If it’s a sloppily drawn triangle then it is a triangle.

    Then what exactly does “sloppily” mean, anyway?

    The important point is that you understand what I mean when I say a specific triangle is a perfectly true triangle.

    Something that isn’t not a triangle?

    In which comment did I claim that only God is true or good?

    Granted, you did not do so… but would you do me an enormous favor and use the explicit phrase “conforms to its essence” instead of “good and true”?

    I know, it’s a huge favor to ask, but it makes things so much clearer.

    His

    Remind me again when you demonstrated that the first cause necessarily has a penis and testicles?

    trueness or goodness does not prevent anything else from conforming to its essence.

    Or rather, the first cause conforming to its essence does not prevent anything else from conforming to its essence.

    Terminological consistency, please.

    The beauty of Aquinas’ argument from efficient causes is that it works regardless of whether the universe has a beginning or not. Aquinas is speaking of a series of efficient causes ordered per se, not per accidens (point 3 in comment 75). In other words, his argument relies solely on efficient causes that are happening in the present.

    Which brings us down again to the quantum level, and the fact that Aquinas made his argument in the ignorance of the physical nature of time, space and energy. Cause and effect as he understood them (and as we understand them in general, since we are entities that live as the result of chemical reactions above the quantum level) may well be the side effect of some other aspect of the universe.

    If a quantum mechanical experiment demonstrates reversed effect and cause, would you agree that Aquinas is falsified?

  114. #114 Andrew G.
    April 15, 2010

    Craig’s arguments don’t really count for much since at this point we have actual evidence in hand and a reasonable chance of obtaining more. My point was primarily to illustrate that metaphysical reasoning does not lead to actual knowledge about the real world; on a question where even a random guess has a 50-50 chance of being right, philosophers cannot come up with an argument that is persuasive even to somebody who already has convincing evidence for the conclusion.

  115. #115 Nomen Nescio
    April 15, 2010
    If it’s a sloppily drawn triangle then it is a triangle.

    Then what exactly does “sloppily” mean, anyway?

    i’d like to see an answer to that also, if only because the notion of an “essence of sloppiness” seems inherently hilarious to me.

    or maybe that’s just the essence of hilarity tripping me up. say, i think i bought some of the latter recently, it came in sixpacks…

    (i never have been able to take metaphysics very seriously, no. least sensible, as well as least useful and least meaningful, branch of philosophy if you ask me.)

  116. #116 Owlmirror
    April 15, 2010

    i never have been able to take metaphysics very seriously, no.

    Not for nothing has theology been compared to Calvinball

  117. #117 Jayman
    April 16, 2010

    Owlmirror, I’m not sure what you mean by “reversed effect and cause.” I would admit that Aquinas’ argument from efficient causes is wrong if you could demonstrate that there are things that come into existence that do not have an efficient cause.

    Andrew G, I still find the evidence of an actual infinite as you’ve defined it to have little bearing on what Craig means by an infinite past. To borrow your words, the “metric” you are using is not the “metric” Craig is talking about.

    Nomen Nescio, the problem is that you can’t avoid metaphysics (see the quote from E.A. Burtt in comment 63). I believe Real Essentialism by David S. Oderberg has a detailed discussion of essences. A sloppily drawn triangle is a triangle that does not conform well to its essence.

  118. #118 Nomen Nescio
    April 16, 2010

    A sloppily drawn triangle is a triangle that does not conform well to its essence.

    which essence? that of triangularity, or that of sloppily-drawnness? a sloppy triangle would seem to have both.

    more to the point, a particular, given sloppily-drawn-triangle — let’s call it Fred, for now — conforms exactly and perfectly to the essence of Fredness, that is, of being exactly that sloppily-drawn-triangle which we were given (and called Fred). why should that nature which makes Fred into a unique, specific entity not in itself be counted as an “essence”? where do these essences come from, that we can’t just simply say that any specific thing-that-is has its very own essence, to which it conforms perfectly by definition?

    but i’m playing with words and semantics here; these supposed “essences” are dream-stuff, until somebody provides some evidence of their being — in any given sense of the word — real.

  119. #119 Andrew G.
    April 17, 2010

    Andrew G, I still find the evidence of an actual infinite as you’ve defined it to have little bearing on what Craig means by an infinite past. To borrow your words, the “metric” you are using is not the “metric” Craig is talking about.

    I’m being precise (or at least trying to) in terminology here precisely because concepts like “cardinality”, “metric” and “measure” have distinct meanings in topology and related fields.

    For example: every continuous open line segment has the same number of points (cardinality) regardless of how “long” it is (even the “long line”, which is longer than the usual infinitely long line, still has the same number of points).

    Topology is founded on studying those properties of a space (with a very broad definition of “space”) that do not depend on the specific way in which we choose to measure it. (And we discover that there are spaces that cannot even possess a metric.) If two spaces can be continuously transformed into each other, then there are a large number of topological properties that must hold equivalently in both: for example, there is no bicontinuous map between an open line segment and a closed one, because the closed segment has the topological property of compactness while the open one does not; likewise there is no bicontinuous map between the circle and any line segment because the line segment is simply connected and the circle is not.

    (Much of topology does not require arithmetic at all; concepts like continuity, connectedness, limits, etc. are defined using set theory.)

    If a space has a metric (i.e. a “distance” between any two points) then it is a certain type of topological space, in that it must satisfy a certain set of topological properties, but other properties may vary. However, if we apply any bicontinuous function to the metric, then (by definition) the topological properties are preserved; so we have the concept that spaces with different metrics may have the same topological structure. So we have to distinguish between properties that rely on the metric from ones which do not.

    For example, the closed line segments [0,1] and [0,2] are both “bounded” (a metric property) but with different bounds (diameters 1 and 2 respectively). However they are topologically equivalent, since the map y = 2x is continuous. Another example is that the open line segments (0,1) and (1,infinity) are equivalent under the map y = 1/x; both have the same topology, but one is bounded and the other is not.

    In contrast, the open segment (0,1) and the closed segment [0,1] are both bounded with diameter 1, but they don’t have the same topology since one is compact and the other is not.

    This is why the question of whether, for example, time has a “first point” is a question about the topology rather than the metric, and the question of whether the past is “infinite” (in the sense of “unbounded”) is a question about the metric rather than the topology. A bounded past (i.e. the statement “no time exists that is more than 14 billion years ago”) is a logically independent concept from a closed past (i.e. “there exists a first point in time”). Furthermore, even if the past is bounded and closed, we can still have infinitely long causal chains in it as long as it is continuous (which we have no a priori reason to deny).

    Incidentally, another flawed argument I’ve seen used is the idea that an infinite collection can’t be added to. This conflicts with the idea of time as a succession of events (which implies an ordered collection and not just a set); if there is a successor relation, then you’re talking about ordinals and not cardinals, and every ordinal, even infinite ones, has a distinct successor. If we call the first infinite ordinal w (should be a lowercase omega but I won’t venture to use actual greek fonts here), then w, w+1, w+2, w+3, … w+w, … w*w, … w^w, … w^(w^w), … etc. are all distinct ordinals, though they all have the same cardinality (aleph-null). (This is distinct from cardinal arithmetic, where (aleph-null)+1 is equal to aleph-null, while 2^(aleph-null) = (aleph-null)^(aleph-null) = beth-one > aleph-null.)

    A similar argument applies to metric spaces: if you imagine the real number line, the fact that the line extends infinitely to the left doesn’t prevent you from moving along it to the right, or from measuring the distance between any two points.

  120. #120 Owlmirror
    April 17, 2010

    I’m not sure what you mean by “reversed effect and cause.”

    Pretty much what it sounds like: reversed with respect to the passage of time as we perceive it. First the effect occurs, then the cause.

    To the best of my knowledge nothing like this has been definitively demonstrated (yet), but would you agree that such a thing would refute Aquinas’ argument?

    I would admit that Aquinas’ argument from efficient causes is wrong if you could demonstrate that there are things that come into existence that do not have an efficient cause.

    Would you agree that if the Copenhagen Interpretation is correct, and quantum mechanics is indeterminate (the essence of the counterargument you linked to being that QM being determinate or not depends on which interpretation is in fact correct), that virtual particle pair production would indeed be something that comes into existence without efficient cause?

    A sloppily drawn triangle is a triangle that does not conform well to its essence.

    It certainly sounds like you’re confused about what this supposed essence of the triangle is. It’s something inside your own head; a concept involving one-dimensional straight lines that connect. You’re whining about how the sloppily-drawn triangle doesn’t match that concept exactly, which I am sure is tragic and all, but not really relevant. You’re turning the mismatch between the concept and the reality into a problem with what you have in reality, as though it’s somehow the drawn triangle’s fault for not matching your perfect Platonic triangle concept.

    Are we having another definitional problem with the word “essence”? Let’s see what the etymology is….

    (etymonline.com)

    late 14c., from L. essentia “being, essence,” abstract n. formed in imitation of Gk. ousia “being, essence” (from on, gen. ontos, prp. of einai “to be”), from prp. stem of esse “to be,”

    Your internal concept of the triangle is what it is. And the sloppily-drawn triangle is what it is.

  121. #121 Jayman
    April 17, 2010

    Nomen Nescio:

    which essence? that of triangularity, or that of sloppily-drawnness? a sloppy triangle would seem to have both.

    I was speaking of triangularity. That is not to say that an individual triangle is only of one kind of thing. The sloppily drawn triangle is both a triangle and a shape, for example.

    more to the point, a particular, given sloppily-drawn-triangle — let’s call it Fred, for now — conforms exactly and perfectly to the essence of Fredness, that is, of being exactly that sloppily-drawn-triangle which we were given (and called Fred). why should that nature which makes Fred into a unique, specific entity not in itself be counted as an “essence”? where do these essences come from, that we can’t just simply say that any specific thing-that-is has its very own essence, to which it conforms perfectly by definition?

    For the sake of argument let’s say that Fredness is the essence of Fred the triangle. That still does not change the fact that Fred shares a number of features in common with other individual triangles. We can still build a classification system where Fred is inserted among the triangles. Essences “come from” the similarities between different individuals.

    but i’m playing with words and semantics here; these supposed “essences” are dream-stuff, until somebody provides some evidence of their being — in any given sense of the word — real.

    Essences are abstractions that we hold in our minds but they describe the objective unity among things in the real world. We can see, for example, that there are many different individual dogs (e.g., Fido, Rover, etc.) but we can also understand the essence of dogs; that which makes Fido a dog and not a cat.

    I don’t expect you to fully accept such things from a combox discussion. Oderberg’s book Real Essentialism provides a more robust defense if you are interested. At the very least we need some way of explaining the common features between different individual things.

    Owlmirror:

    Pretty much what it sounds like: reversed with respect to the passage of time as we perceive it. First the effect occurs, then the cause. To the best of my knowledge nothing like this has been definitively demonstrated (yet), but would you agree that such a thing would refute Aquinas’ argument?

    Aquinas’ argument from efficient causes is based on a causal series where the effect is simultaneous with the cause. The example you seem to have in mind envisions the effect preceding the cause and therefore is inapplicable.

    Would you agree that if the Copenhagen Interpretation is correct, and quantum mechanics is indeterminate (the essence of the counterargument you linked to being that QM being determinate or not depends on which interpretation is in fact correct), that virtual particle pair production would indeed be something that comes into existence without efficient cause?

    I’m no expert on quantum mechanics so I will say that, based on my imperfect understanding of the matter, that would seem to be an example of something coming into existence without an efficient cause. The main point is that observation can overthrow A-T metaphysics. If that occurred, then a new, better metaphysical system would have to be found.

    It’s something inside your own head; a concept involving one-dimensional straight lines that connect.

    The concept of triangularity is in my mind, but that concept describes the objective similarities between different individual triangles.

    You’re turning the mismatch between the concept and the reality into a problem with what you have in reality, as though it’s somehow the drawn triangle’s fault for not matching your perfect Platonic triangle concept.

    First, the concept of triagularity is in our minds and not a Platonic realm of forms. Second, I am not saying that the triangle is at fault.

    Your internal concept of the triangle is what it is. And the sloppily-drawn triangle is what it is.

    We agree on that. But can we agree that individual triangles (or any other kind of thing) have certain objective similarities to each other?

  122. #122 Owlmirror
    April 17, 2010

    The sloppily drawn triangle is both a triangle and a shape, for example.

    I’m still not sure what you mean by “sloppily drawn”, though. From the most severe perspective, every triangle drawn is done so “sloppily”; we cannot construct actual one-dimensional lines that meet at zero-dimensional points — there’s a small but real width (and even smaller depth) in anything humans can draw or construct.

    Essences “come from” the similarities between different individuals.

    If this were the case, there wouldn’t be an essential triangle, since there are an infinite number of possible triangles.

    How does an essence differ from a definition?

    Essences are abstractions that we hold in our minds but they describe the objective unity among things in the real world.

    It’s starting to look like an “essence” in this sense is a pattern matched in the brain. Something broad and fuzzy that matches lots of things like some general thing, not something exact like a (very) specific triangle.

    We can see, for example, that there are many different individual dogs (e.g., Fido, Rover, etc.) but we can also understand the essence of dogs; that which makes Fido a dog and not a cat.

    I would phrase this as the general mental pattern gained from many experiences of what a dog looks like from seeing one or more dogs from different angles, in motion and still — and of different breeds and at different ages, and so on. The more experience you have of dogs, and not just visually (what they sound like, both vocalizing and in their gaits on different surfaces, and when shaking their bodies, what their fur smells like and feels like), the more you have in your mind as a pattern that matches “dog”.

    A biologist would have lots more detail in the pattern to match — things like dental formula, bone shapes and proportions and positions, and other aspects of anatomy like organ appearance, structure and position. There’s also the reproductive cycle, general metabolism, genetics, and so on.

    An evolutionary biologist might generalize dogs as being canid caniform carnivoran mammalian chordate animals.

    And the general mental pattern gained from many experiences of cats and what they look like and act like, would, of course, be distinct from that gained of dogs.

    Is an essence a mental pattern? Is a mental pattern an essence?

    ==========

    Aquinas’ argument from efficient causes is based on a causal series where the effect is simultaneous with the cause.

    Right, he assumes that it is always the case as part of his argument. Remember? He’s trying to make a metaphysical deduction from what he thinks he knows about cause and effect.

    The example you seem to have in mind envisions the effect preceding the cause and therefore is inapplicable.

    In what sense? You mean that it would indeed refute Aquinas?

    =========

    Second, I am not saying that the triangle is at fault.

    Not exactly as such.

    But you’re saying there is a problem with the sloppy triangle. You have a certain triangle in mind; the sloppy triangle does not conform to that.

    And the way you’re saying it is that the sloppy triangle does not conform to “its” essence — the sloppy triangle isn’t what it itself “should” be. Logically, it cannot be other than what it is, but you’re saying that it could be and is not.

    It certainly looks like you’re taking the simple fact that there is a mismatch between sloppy triangle and conceptual ideal triangle, and saying that there is a problem with the sloppy triangle. Oh, noes! Well, there is a problem — but it’s a matter of not having in reality what you might have as a concept in your head.

    It’s not a “true” triangle, so it’s a “false” one? It’s not a “good” triangle, so it’s an “evil” one?

    But can we agree that individual triangles (or any other kind of thing) have certain objective similarities to each other?

    Of course.

  123. #123 Jayman
    April 17, 2010

    Owlmirror:

    I’m still not sure what you mean by “sloppily drawn”, though. From the most severe perspective, every triangle drawn is done so “sloppily”; we cannot construct actual one-dimensional lines that meet at zero-dimensional points — there’s a small but real width (and even smaller depth) in anything humans can draw or construct.

    I am using the term “sloppy” in a relative sense. A triangle drawn free hand would (probably) be sloppy relative to a triangle drawn with a ruler. The triangle drawn with a ruler conforms to the essence of triangularity more than the triangle drawn free hand.

    If this were the case, there wouldn’t be an essential triangle, since there are an infinite number of possible triangles.

    I’m not sure what you mean here. If you are saying that there could be an infinite number of triangles that perfectly conform to the essence of triangularity then I agree (assuming we could actually draw a perfect triangle).

    How does an essence differ from a definition?

    A definition of a word is how the word is used by speakers of a language. It is a human convention. The essence of something is what makes it the kind of thing it is. Whatever makes a thing the kind of thing it is actually exists in individuals of that kind and is not merely a human convention.

    Suppose we lived in a society that had very little knowledge of the sea and so the term “fish” was used to describe any sea creature that had a backbone. Using this definition it would be linguistically correct to call a whale a fish. But it would not be true that the essence of whales was equivalent to the essence of fish (of course we would be ignorant of this truth).

    If we lived in a world where we knew everything, the description of a thing’s essence and a definition of that thing would probably be identical. But in this world it is possible that we do not have a full understanding of a thing’s essence and thus our definitions may not tell us what the essence of that thing truly is.

    It’s starting to look like an “essence” in this sense is a pattern matched in the brain. Something broad and fuzzy that matches lots of things like some general thing, not something exact like a (very) specific triangle.

    The essence of a thing is what makes it the kind of thing it is. The term “kind” means we are not dealing with, say, Fido the dog, but rather with “dogness.” Many individuals are dogs but “dogness” is not so broad a kind that just anything can be called a dog.

    Is an essence a mental pattern? Is a mental pattern an essence?

    You can think of it as an abstract object. Our minds can grasp abstract objects but our minds are not the abstract objects themselves (I’m not sure what you mean by “mental pattern”).

    Right, he assumes that it is always the case as part of his argument. Remember? He’s trying to make a metaphysical deduction from what he thinks he knows about cause and effect.

    The third point on my outline is not saying that a series of efficient causes ordered per se is the only kind of cause and effect that exists. It is merely saying that it is a kind of causal series that exists. You would not have been able to type out your response this point was wrong.

    In what sense? You mean that it would indeed refute Aquinas?

    Your hypothetical example envisioned an effect and a cause taking place with some interval of time elapsing between the effect and the cause. The third point in my outline envisions a cause and effect occurring at the exact same time. Your hypothetical example is not a true reversal of that point. Now perhaps you were trying to provide an example that would show that something could come into existence without an efficient cause. However, the very use of the term “cause” suggests that it did not truly come into existence without an efficient cause.

    And the way you’re saying it is that the sloppy triangle does not conform to “its” essence — the sloppy triangle isn’t what it itself “should” be. Logically, it cannot be other than what it is, but you’re saying that it could be and is not.

    Why must “should” and “could” enter the equation? Can we not just note the degree to which an individual conforms an essence?

  124. #124 Nomen Nescio
    April 17, 2010

    Suppose we lived in a society that had very little knowledge of the sea and so the term “fish” was used to describe any sea creature that had a backbone. Using this definition it would be linguistically correct to call a whale a fish. But it would not be true that the essence of whales was equivalent to the essence of fish (of course we would be ignorant of this truth).

    but you just said essences are abstractions we hold in our minds. if we were truly ignorant of any difference between whales and fishes, how would the abstractions concerning aquatic animals which we hold in our minds be “wrong” to call whales fishes? i could have sworn you also, earlier still, claimed essences are not Platonic forms — not entities with any tangible existence outside the human mind. so where do they come from, then, that we can be “wrong” about an assumption like “essence of whale == essence of fish” in the absence of evidence to the contrary? we made up the essence, after all, did we not?

  125. #125 Andrew G.
    April 18, 2010

    Note that essentialism is in at least one respect a natural psychological process – it is very helpful for learning, and naïve reasoning, about the natural world and therefore is a survival skill at least potentially subject to natural selection.

    That makes it highly questionable from a philosophical point of view; our brains aren’t evolved for completely accurate reasoning, only for reasoning that is usually accurate enough. Methods of thought that are “natural” to us are actually our biggest source of cognitive error – consider pareidolia, vitalism, etc.

    So even though we have a strong tendency to perceive the existence of essences and make use of them for general living, we should not assume they are real any more than we assume that the pattern on a banana peel really is the image of a face.

  126. #126 Jayman
    April 18, 2010

    Nomen Nescio, I said “essences are abstractions that we hold in our minds but they describe the objective unity among things in the real world.” We are wrong when we believe that whales and fish have something in common that they do not, in fact, have in common. Whales and fish may both share in the essence of animals, but, at some lower level of classification, they do not share the same essence. Our abstractions are derived from concrete objective facts.

    Andrew G, if one is going to reject essences then I imagine something quite similar will have to be replace them.

  127. #127 Nomen Nescio
    April 18, 2010

    “essences are abstractions that we hold in our minds but they describe the objective unity among things in the real world.

    it seems to me that the sentence needs an additional qualifier: “…as we understand the world and the things within it”. we can surely be wrong about the world, and we equally surely are wrong — routinely — but until we know we’re wrong about something, our abstractions can hardly be expected to reflect that.

    ergo, up until we learned that cetaceans were not in fact fish, our abstractions about sea life almost certainly classified whales and fish under the same “essence”. that would have been the best essence we could have constructed at that time. in what sense would it have been “wrong”? only by comparing that abstraction to the empirically real world could we have found it wrong, and we hadn’t done that yet.

  128. #128 Owlmirror
    April 18, 2010

    The triangle drawn with a ruler conforms to the essence of triangularity more than the triangle drawn free hand.

    The essence of trinagularity being distinct from any drawn triangle, now… are you sure you’re not getting into Platonism?

    If you are saying that there could be an infinite number of triangles that perfectly conform to the essence of triangularity then I agree (assuming we could actually draw a perfect triangle).

    Well… I was thinking of potential conceptual triangles, not drawn ones — as I wrote above, all physically drawn triangles are necessarily “sloppy”.

    Do straight angles conform to this essence of triangularity of yours? Geometrically, they have two angles of zero degrees and one angle of 180 degrees. But it might be argued that an angle of zero degrees is not an angle.

    What’s the essence of an angle?

    (And how many can dance on the head of a pin?)

    A definition of a word is how the word is used by speakers of a language. It is a human convention. The essence of something is what makes it the kind of thing it is.

    I didn’t intend “definition” as being “of a word”, but “of the thing defined”. Words themselves can be slippery, but a definition of what the word refers to (in a given sense) is at least an attempt to approximate what the thing is. Which might be what you mean by “essence”.

    Or in this case — a “triangle” [word] is three points connected by straight lines [definition].

    Alternatively … consider: “three points define a triangle”.

    Suppose we lived in a society that had very little knowledge of the sea and so the term “fish” was used to describe any sea creature that had a backbone.

    Actually, ocean fishermen (who presumably know a lot about the sea) will often use the term “fish” for anything they catch or wish to catch by the act of fishing in the sea, which can include any sea creature so caught, backbone or no. Which is annoying to marine biologists and others who prefer terminological rigor, perhaps, but there you go.

    Using this definition it would be linguistically correct to call a whale a fish. But it would not be true that the essence of whales was equivalent to the essence of fish

    You might want to be careful about applying this essentialism of yours to biology, since I don’t think it’s applicable. You’ll certainly get arguments from actual biologists.

    Is the “essence” of fish just the characters that you think distinguish it from everything you don’t think of as a fish? Note this is again dependent on your internal concepts, not on what the actual organisms are.

    Note that by at least one evolutionary biological definition, a fish is anything that is descended from a fish, which would make whales (and also humans, and all other vertebrates) “fish”.

    The point of division between one species and another can be difficult to define, and is sometimes arbitrary, and done using different ideas of what a species is by different biologists.

    If we lived in a world where we knew everything, the description of a thing’s essence and a definition of that thing would probably be identical. But in this world it is possible that we do not have a full understanding of a thing’s essence and thus our definitions may not tell us what the essence of that thing truly is.

    Hm. That looks sort of like what I was trying to say above. But would it be fair to say that for basic mathematical and logical concepts, like the triangle, we do have complete knowledge? What would be a confounding factor that makes the definition of a triangle differ from what a triangle truly is?

    Another point that I had in mind with definitions is that the empirical process of science is an approach towards the true definition — every experiment done with electrons that tells us something new about electrons tells us more about electrons, and thus makes the scientific “definition” clearer and more complete.

    The essence of a thing is what makes it the kind of thing it is. The term “kind” means we are not dealing with, say, Fido the dog, but rather with “dogness.” Many individuals are dogs but “dogness” is not so broad a kind that just anything can be called a dog.

    Recent genetic studies have show that dogs are (unsurprisingly) a subspecies of wolf (Canis lupus familiaris).

    Does the “essence of dogness” mean that wolves are dogs? How about other canids?

    Here, check out the Canidae:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canidae

    Does the “essence of dogness” corrolate to what the biologists have denoted (“True dogs”, Tribe Canini), or do you think it should be higher or lower in the taxonomic rank? (All of the Canidae, or only the genus Canis, or only Canis lupus, or only Canis lupus familiaris? Something else?)

    Does the “essence of dogness” have definite boundaries, or fuzzy ones?

    Is an essence a mental pattern? Is a mental pattern an essence?

    You can think of it as an abstract object.

    I suppose that “dogness” or “triangularity” might be an abstraction, but I am not sure that “object” would be appropriate, unless you mean “object” in the sense of “concept”.

    Hm. When I said that the “first cause” was abstract, above, you didn’t like that at all, and eventually responded with “the first efficient cause in a causal series ordered per se is acting right now and thus, by definition, is not a mere abstract object”.

    So the first cause is not an essence?

    Our minds can grasp abstract objects but our minds are not the abstract objects themselves.

    I would say that our minds make abstractions.

    (I’m not sure what you mean by “mental pattern”)

    I thought I made it clear before — everything in our minds that results from experiencing all of the real-world instances of something. I think it would be fair to call it the abstraction of the things that results from experience with the things and their variants. Calling it a mental pattern just emphasizes that it’s something that our brains build up.

    In the case of dogs, it’s the abstraction that matches every dog and dog-like animal that we perceive that adds to the abstraction.

    In the case of triangles, it’s the abstraction that matches every triangle that we perceive (or visualize) that meets the definition of three points connected by straight lines.

    But I would distinguish the two as being of different types — the abstraction of dogs (or “dogness”, if you will) is the result of empirical experience; the abstraction of triangles (or “triangularity”) is empirical, but also mathematical/logical.

    Does “essence” distinguish between the empirically real, and mathematical/logical?

    ==========

    However, the very use of the term “cause” suggests that it did not truly come into existence without an efficient cause.

    I don’t see how it could possibly be described as being “efficient” if it occurred after the effect. Perhaps it would be an inefficient cause?

    Anyway. Just to make sure that we’re clear…

    Virtual particle pair is a potential refutation of Aquinas, per your response @ 121?

    And just to clarify further: If it were discovered that empty space resulted in particles coming into existence, without cause — not just virtual particle pairs, but real particles like protons and neutrons and electrons that combined to form atoms — this would convince you that Aquinas was refuted, and that there was no first cause, and thus no possibility of a God?

    ==========

    And the way you’re saying it is that the sloppy triangle does not conform to “its” essence — the sloppy triangle isn’t what it itself “should” be. Logically, it cannot be other than what it is, but you’re saying that it could be and is not.

    Why must “should” and “could” enter the equation? Can we not just note the degree to which an individual conforms an essence?

    If we’re discussing the difference between a mathematical/logical concept and a necessarily imperfect real-world instance of that concept, I don’t see how that “should” can be avoided. The lines and points of an essential triangle — or a triangle that conforms to the essence of triangularity, or whatever you want to call the abstraction — should be straight, and should have no width or depth. True?

  129. #129 Jayman
    April 18, 2010

    Nomen, I’m not sure we have any real disagreement. I grant that we could be wrong about the essence of a thing and that we wouldn’t know we were wrong until we came across new evidence.

    Owlmirror:

    The essence of trinagularity being distinct from any drawn triangle, now… are you sure you’re not getting into Platonism?

    Platonism would be believing that triangularity exists in some realm of forms. I believe triangularity exists in minds. Of course both positions think there is a connection to the real world.

    So the first cause is not an essence?

    The first cause is a being/thing who conforms perfectly to his essence. As another example, Fido the dog conforms to the essence of dogness but he is not himself dogness.

    Does “essence” distinguish between the empirically real, and mathematical/logical?

    A-T does not state that every thing is an empirical/material thing.

    Virtual particle pair is a potential refutation of Aquinas, per your response @ 121?

    Yes.

    And just to clarify further: If it were discovered that empty space resulted in particles coming into existence, without cause — not just virtual particle pairs, but real particles like protons and neutrons and electrons that combined to form atoms — this would convince you that Aquinas was refuted, and that there was no first cause, and thus no possibility of a God?

    It would convince me that Aquinas was wrong. I don’t see how it would lead to the belief that God does not possibly exist (especially since he could apparently pop into existence at any moment).

    The lines and points of an essential triangle — or a triangle that conforms to the essence of triangularity, or whatever you want to call the abstraction — should be straight, and should have no width or depth. True?

    A perfectly true and perfectly good triangle would have straight lines with no width or depth.

  130. #130 Nomen Nescio
    April 18, 2010

    I’m not sure we have any real disagreement. I grant that we could be wrong about the essence of a thing and that we wouldn’t know we were wrong until we came across new evidence.

    i think we have a disagreement, but it’s pretty subtle. i’d agree tat we can be wrong about the things themselves (i’d be pretty silly to argue otherwise), but these essences are just mental abstractions we create and reshape at will. i don’t think they have a sufficiently empirical kind of existence for us to be wrong “about” them, not even as we might be wrong about a mathemathical proof.

    i think these “essences” are part of our attempts to abstractly describe our understanding of the world we live in. i don’t think they have any independent existence of their own that we might misunderstand in such a way as to be wrong “about” them. they’re part of how we might be wrong “about” the real world which they attempt to help describe, but they’re much too abstract for anything much else.

  131. #131 Owlmirror
    April 18, 2010

    The first cause is a being/thing who conforms perfectly to his essence.

    You mean, the [putative] first cause is a thing which conforms perfectly to its essence.

    Personal pronouns beg the question of personality, and have not yet been justified by any demonstration that the first cause is a person (nor that it has a penis and testicles).

    As another example, Fido the dog conforms to the essence of dogness but he is not himself dogness.

    Does Lobo the wolf conform to the essence of dogness?

    Does the “essence of dogness” have definite boundaries, or fuzzy ones?

    =====

    A-T does not state that every thing is an empirical/material thing.

    That is not an answer to the question that I asked. But I’ll rephrase it for better clarity:

    Does A-T metaphysics, in its conceptualization of essentialism, distinguish between the essence of empirically real things, and the essence of mathematical/logical things?

    =====

    I don’t see how it would lead to the belief that God does not possibly exist

    Well, yes, you’re right — that conclusion doesn’t necessarily follow.

    Is there anything that would convince you that God can not possibly exist?

    Is there anything that would convince you that the most logical inference is that God probably does not exist?

    (especially since he could apparently pop into existence at any moment).

    I don’t understand this, though — God might be a subatomic particle? A subatomic particle might be God? What?

    =====

    A perfectly true and perfectly good triangle would have straight lines with no width or depth.

    How does this differ from what I wrote? If you’re implicitly referring to a real-world sloppy triangle here, you’re still expressing what you think the sloppy triangle ought to be. If you’re not referring to a real-world sloppy triangle here, you’re just talking about the abstraction itself. So what does the abstraction mean when discussing sloppy real-world triangles?

  132. #132 Jayman
    April 19, 2010

    Owlmirror:

    Does Lobo the wolf conform to the essence of dogness?

    I’m not sure because I, personally, don’t know the exact differences between wolves and dogs. But my opinion doesn’t matter. What matters is what is similar between wolves and dogs.

    Does the “essence of dogness” have definite boundaries, or fuzzy ones?

    It has definite boundaries. “Fuzziness” only comes into the equation because of lack of knowledge or partial knowledge.

    Does A-T metaphysics, in its conceptualization of essentialism, distinguish between the essence of empirically real things, and the essence of mathematical/logical things?

    Yes (if I’m understanding you correctly).

    Is there anything that would convince you that God can not possibly exist?

    Yes, a metaphysical argument.

    Is there anything that would convince you that the most logical inference is that God probably does not exist?

    Yes, basically you would have to address my reasons for believing in God and provide reasons for believing God does not exist. It would be a long process.

    I don’t understand this, though — God might be a subatomic particle? A subatomic particle might be God? What?

    It’s not important. If you’re going to believe that sub-atomic particles can pop into existence uncaused then you open the door for other things to pop into existence uncaused.

    How does this differ from what I wrote?

    I didn’t include the words “should” and “could.”

    So what does the abstraction mean when discussing sloppy real-world triangles?

    The abstraction is a means of measuring the real-world triangle’s conformity to triangularity. As I said to Nomen, I am not denying that the real-world triangle has its own essence. This is a simple example to explain what is meant by “true” and “good.”

  133. #133 Owlmirror
    April 20, 2010

    I’m not sure because I, personally, don’t know the exact differences between wolves and dogs. But my opinion doesn’t matter.

    Then whose opinion would matter?

    What matters is what is similar between wolves and dogs.

    I don’t quite understand this. Clearly, dogs and wolves are similar enough to mate and produce fertile young; like I wrote, dogs are similar enough genetically to be considered a subspecies of wolf. So what are you trying to say about those similarities?

    Does a dog-wolf hybrid conform to the essence of dogness?

    Does the “essence of dogness” have definite boundaries, or fuzzy ones?

    It has definite boundaries. “Fuzziness” only comes into the equation because of lack of knowledge or partial knowledge.

    Lack of knowledge of what, exactly? Which characters are important to “dogness”, and which are not?

    Are you sure that there is not something fuzzy and arbitrary about some of those characters, and the degree in which they exist, such that it is to some extent a matter of indefinite opinion?

    Did you look at the page on the Canidae? Are there any species (or subgroupings of species, or genera) on there that you would definitely say absolutely do not conform to the essence of dogness at all?

    Does a fox (Vulpes vulpes) conform to the essence of dogness?

    Does A-T metaphysics, in its conceptualization of essentialism, distinguish between the essence of empirically real things, and the essence of mathematical/logical things?

    Yes (if I’m understanding you correctly).

    Hm.

    Does A-T metaphysics, in its conceptualization of essentialism, distinguish between the essence of complex empirical things, and the essence of simple empirical things?

    ====

    Yes, basically you would have to address my reasons for believing in God

    Are there reasons besides those argued in A-T metaphysics?

    and provide reasons for believing God does not exist.

    What’s wrong with the principle of parsimony in this matter?

    It would be a long process.

    Yeah, I can see that. Well, as long as Martin R isn’t too annoyed by the process, let’s see how long we can both put up with it.

    If you’re going to believe that sub-atomic particles can pop into existence uncaused then you open the door for other things to pop into existence uncaused.

    Not really — the putative evidence only argues for subatomic particles.

    But even if we posit some even more putative “other things” — why would you call one of those things “God”? What characters does God have such that something that putatively pops into existence would match those characters?

    =====

    I didn’t include the words “should” and “could.”

    Sigh. You’re being disingenuous.

    The abstraction is a means of measuring the real-world triangle’s conformity to triangularity.

    In other words, how the real-world triangle differs from the essence.

    Or in other other words, those characters that it should, could, or would have (or lack) so as to actually conform to the essence.

  134. #134 Jayman
    April 20, 2010

    Owlmirror:

    Then whose opinion would matter?

    It’s a matter of the actual similarities, not any one person’s opinion. I would lean towards thinking that wolves and dogs share in dogness, but I am no expert on either animal so I could be wrong. Real Essentialism has a chapter on essences and animals.

    Lack of knowledge of what, exactly? Which characters are important to “dogness”, and which are not?

    Knowledge in general, really. Consider a different example, gold. Only relatively recently have we learned the atomic weight of gold. Someone from the distant past could not define the essence of gold as well as we can because they lacked information about the atomic structure of gold.

    Does A-T metaphysics, in its conceptualization of essentialism, distinguish between the essence of complex empirical things, and the essence of simple empirical things?

    Yes (if I’m understanding you correctly).

    Are there reasons besides those argued in A-T metaphysics?

    Yes.

    What’s wrong with the principle of parsimony in this matter?

    Parsimony might work against you.

    Or in other other words, those characters that it should, could, or would have (or lack) so as to actually conform to the essence.

    I used the term “would” so that you would not believe that I thought the triangle is at fault.

  135. #135 Owlmirror
    April 21, 2010

    It’s a matter of the actual similarities, not any one person’s opinion.

    I don’t see how that can work for animals, where the differences and similarities between two given animals can be very slight. Especially since you did agree that an essence was an abstraction; something that exists in the mind as an idea.

    I would lean towards thinking that wolves and dogs share in dogness, but I am no expert on either animal so I could be wrong.

    And if the experts disagree as well?

    Do you think that there was some absolute dividing line in the evolutionary history of wolves or dogs, where one single animal, and all of its descendants, conformed to the essence of dogness, and its parents [and putative siblings] did not so conform?

    Lack of knowledge of what, exactly? Which characters are important to “dogness”, and which are not?

    Knowledge in general, really. Consider a different example, gold. Only relatively recently have we learned the atomic weight of gold. Someone from the distant past could not define the essence of gold as well as we can because they lacked information about the atomic structure of gold.

    That’s not quite the same as for animals, though. Animals are complex, and reproduce, and are made up of quadrillions of atoms in an enormous number of combinations as molecules. Many die and leave no trace behind. How can we know enough about them to say something definite about some general essence of what they are that they may or may not conform to?

    Gold is more narrowly defined as an element with atoms made up of a specific proton count. An atom either has that number of protons, or it doesn’t. Very binary, in a sense.

    (Although… Does an isotope of gold conform to the essence of goldness?)

    Basically, I think my point is that the simpler the thing under discussion is, the fewer characters is has, and the easier it is to know what those characters are, and discuss how the characters define the thing, and thus at least potentially what its essence is, or might be. That’s why I offered my examples of the essences of electrons and photons — fairly simple (well, sort of simple) empirical things.

    Although, come to think of it, you never did answer my question about whether straight triangles (“triangles” of 0, 0, and 180 degrees) conform to the essence of triangularity. What knowledge would you need in order to answer that with a definite yes or no?

    Does A-T metaphysics, in its conceptualization of essentialism, distinguish between the essence of complex empirical things, and the essence of simple empirical things?

    Yes (if I’m understanding you correctly).

    But in your examples, you’re offering the essence of animals (complex empirical), the essence of elements (simpler empirical), and the essence of triangles (logical/mathematical), when you’re trying to discuss the essence of a putative first cause (putative simplest empirical).

    I’d suggest sticking with something more like what you actually want to argue for than running off into the weeds with things that arguably might not apply.

    Are there reasons besides those argued in A-T metaphysics?

    Yes.

    …And?

    Do you think that those reasons are better than A-T metaphysics? I would hope that you would offer your best arguments, not your worst ones.

    Parsimony might work against you.

    How?

    =======

    Moving on a bit, do you want to tackle final causes? Do you still think that they are real, or are you willing to concede that they are fallacious concepts?

    I’ve had a great quote about that in mind from the last time Aquinas’ argument about final causes came up. This is by Sastra, not me, but I think it’s very insightful:

    You’re missing the critical step: Because matter has no goals or intentions of its own, the logical explanation for the fact that matter seems to behave “as if” it is being driven to an end, is that this apparent teleology is an artifact of the human mind which is doing the interpreting. This is the simplest solution to the disconnnect. The goals and intentions are being read into a situation. What you are seeing at work is not the Mind of God — it’s the mind of man. Your own mind. Both you, and Aquinas, are anthropomorphizing nature, and have mistaken yourselves, for God.

    If you’d rather not continue arguing at all because you want some time to think about the questions and answers we’ve exchanged, just say so. To be honest, you sound like you’re losing enthusiasm.

  136. #136 Jayman
    April 21, 2010

    Owlmirror, I admit that categorizing animals can be quite difficult. There is no guarantee that the answers will be easy to come by.

    Although, come to think of it, you never did answer my question about whether straight triangles (“triangles” of 0, 0, and 180 degrees) conform to the essence of triangularity. What knowledge would you need in order to answer that with a definite yes or no?

    I don’t think your example would qualify as a triangle because it would not have three actual sides. The mathematical definition is all you need to know.

    But in your examples, you’re offering the essence of animals (complex empirical), the essence of elements (simpler empirical), and the essence of triangles (logical/mathematical), when you’re trying to discuss the essence of a putative first cause (putative simplest empirical).

    I was merely trying to explain what an essence is.

    Do you think that those reasons are better than A-T metaphysics? I would hope that you would offer your best arguments, not your worst ones.

    I entered this discussion to point out the incoherence of scientism and it has evolved into a discussion about God’s existence. In comment 66 I said I would take the A-T approach because that’s the perspective Feser was coming from. With that said, even if Aquinas’ Five Ways are not the best arguments for God’s existence, I find them convincing.

    Moving on a bit, do you want to tackle final causes? Do you still think that they are real, or are you willing to concede that they are fallacious concepts?

    I don’t really want to tackle final causes because you (or Sastra) don’t seem to understand what Aquinas meant by final causes. If you believe that there are anything like laws of nature or that there are regularities in nature, then you’ve already conceded the existence of final causes. The weakest point (IMO) of Aquinas’ Fifth Way is the argument from the existence of final causes to the conclusion that the things must be directed by an intellect (God).

  137. #137 Owlmirror
    April 22, 2010

    I admit that categorizing animals can be quite difficult. There is no guarantee that the answers will be easy to come by.

    This looks like a very diffident and equivocating “no” to my question about whether there is an absolute dividing line such that one ancestral animal had the essence of dogness and its parents and siblings did not. Is that in fact the case?

    I’m not asking you to categorize dogs and/or wolves; I’m asking you to clarify the essence of the essence of dogness.

    I don’t think your example would qualify as a triangle because it would not have three actual sides. The mathematical definition is all you need to know.

    Technically, a triangle with one straight angle and two zero angles does have three sides — but two of them are co-linear with the third.

    And as for the mathematical definition

    http://mathworld.wolfram.com/Triangle.html

    Every triangle has three sides and three angles, some of which may be the same.

    That certainly looks like it supports the triangle in question, although I admit the wording is a bit unclear.

    The concept that is applicable here is “degenerate”, which in the mathematical sense means: “pertaining to a limiting case of a mathematical system that is more symmetrical or simpler in form than the general case”.

    If A, B, C are three distinct points the three segments AB, BC, CA are said to form a triangle with sides AB, BC, CA and vertices A, B, C. If A, B and C are collinear then triangle ABC is said to be degenerate.

    (From: userpages.umbc.edu/~rcampbel/Math306/Axioms/Birkhoff.html )(I’m not including the “http” part because excessive links lead to comments being dumped into moderation.)

    Do you still think that a degenerate triangle is not a triangle?

    I was merely trying to explain what an essence is.

    Strangely, you haven’t convinced me that you know what an essence is. You don’t seem to have consistent answers to questions about the purported essences of pretty much anything.

    Do you think Feser could give consistent answers to my questions?

    I entered this discussion to point out the incoherence of scientism and it has evolved into a discussion about God’s existence.

    And all the arguments advanced for God’s existence are, strangely enough, completely and utterly incoherent.

    With that said, even if Aquinas’ Five Ways are not the best arguments for God’s existence, I find them convincing.

    I’ve pointed out the logical fallacies and the potential empirical problems with one set of his arguments, so on what do you base this conviction? Do you think that logic and evidence don’t matter? Do you think that coherence doesn’t matter?

    I don’t really want to tackle final causes because you (or Sastra) don’t seem to understand what Aquinas meant by final causes.

    Or perhaps we understand better than you or Feser or Aquinas himself that his argument made no sense at all.

    If you believe that there are anything like laws of nature or that there are regularities in nature, then you’ve already conceded the existence of final causes.

    (Presuppositionalism sends me into a screaming rage, so you may see me getting snarky again. Just so you’re warned.)

    On what do you base your utterly deranged and incoherent claim?

    NB:

    Aristotle is not committed to the view that everything has all four causes, let alone that everything has a final/formal cause. In the Metaphysics, for example, Aristotle says that an eclipse of the moon does not have a final cause

    (From: plato.stanford.edu/entries/aristotle-causality/ )

    The weakest point (IMO) of Aquinas’ Fifth Way is the argument from the existence of final causes to the conclusion that the things must be directed by an intellect (God).

    Aquinas argues from a contradiction, which is a pathetic logical fallacy, and assumes his conclusion, which is another pathetic logical fallacy.

    And if you agree that it’s weak, why do you find it convincing?

  138. #138 Jayman
    April 22, 2010

    Owlmirror:

    This looks like a very diffident and equivocating “no” to my question about whether there is an absolute dividing line such that one ancestral animal had the essence of dogness and its parents and siblings did not. Is that in fact the case?

    If (1) I knew exactly what made a dog a dog and (2) I knew everything there is to know about a specific animal, then I could classify that specific animal. Since I know neither (1) nor (2) I can only give vague answers.

    Do you still think that a degenerate triangle is not a triangle?

    No.

    Do you think Feser could give consistent answers to my questions?

    Yes, but realize you won’t be convinced that essences are real in a few paragraphs. I would recommend reading Real Essentialism and going from there. If you do comment on Feser’s blog I would appreciate a link so I could follow the discussion.

    I’ve pointed out the logical fallacies and the potential empirical problems with one set of his arguments, so on what do you base this conviction? Do you think that logic and evidence don’t matter? Do you think that coherence doesn’t matter?

    You’ve tried to point out problems in the argument but none of your comments have been convincing. Using the outline from comment 75, here is how I would summarize our discussion. (1) We both seem to believe there is an order of efficient causes. (2) You pointed out that we may one day learn that something can come into being without an efficient cause. But, based on current knowledge, Aquinas still appears to be correct. (3) We both seem to believe that there cannot be an infinite order of efficient causes ordered per se. (4) I’ve tried to get you to understand essences. You never disproved their existence. Moreover, the argument could probably be reworked (in terms of necessary and contingent things) to work without referring to essences.

    Or perhaps we understand better than you or Feser or Aquinas himself that his argument made no sense at all.

    If the Fifth Way is nonsensical then it is nonsensical for reasons that have nothing to do with your misunderstanding of final causes.

    On what do you base your utterly deranged and incoherent claim?

    Aquinas’ definition of final causes. The fact that not everything has a final cause is not important. The argument works as long as there are some final causes.

    Aquinas argues from a contradiction, which is a pathetic logical fallacy, and assumes his conclusion, which is another pathetic logical fallacy.

    Perhaps, but you’ll need to point out the premises you think employ logical fallacies and explain why the logical fallacy applies to those premises.

    And if you agree that it’s weak, why do you find it convincing?

    I said it was the weakest point. I did not claim to be able to refute the argument.

  139. #139 Owlmirror
    April 23, 2010

    If (1) I knew exactly what made a dog a dog and (2) I knew everything there is to know about a specific animal, then I could classify that specific animal. Since I know neither (1) nor (2) I can only give vague answers.

    You don’t seem to realize what I’ve been asking you.

    Above, I asked: “Does the “essence of dogness” have definite boundaries, or fuzzy ones?” You said that it has definite boundaries. Yet if that were really the case, the answer to my question about the dividing line, where one animal has the essence of dogness, and that animal’s parents and siblings do not, would be an absolute “yes”: You don’t have to know which specific animal is on the ‘dogness’ side of the putative dividing line in order to infer that the dividing line must be there from your own prior claim.

    So you’re waffling on the matter — going from “yes” to “dunno” when I rephrase the question. Which I think clearly demonstrates that you don’t really know what essences are — or maybe you realize at some level that you were wrong about them being definite, at least when it comes to complex biological organisms.

    Yes, but realize you won’t be convinced that essences are real in a few paragraphs.

    I would recommend reading Real Essentialism and going from there.

    You know, I went and looked up David Oderberg, and I found the most fascinating paper:

      The publication in 1969 of Anthony Kenny’s The Five Ways¹ was an important moment in contemporary philosophy of religion. In it, Kenny presented a detailed and systematic critique of the famous Five Ways of St Thomas Aquinas by which the existence of God could be proved using philosophical reasoning without any appeal to faith or revelation. The critical reception was somewhat mixed, provoking, unsurprisingly, a less sympathetic response from Peter Geach than from Antony Flew.² Speaking anecdotally, however, after many years of discussing philosophy of religion with both philosophers and theologians, and perusing some of the numerous standard undergraduate (and graduate) reading lists on proofs for the existence of God, I have formed the impression that Kenny’s book has had a major and lasting influence on the consensus concerning the cogency of the Five Ways.
      That consensus is assuredly negative. Aquinas’s arguments are sometimes praised for their depth and ingenuity, but in general they are esteemed a failure, whether glorious or not. And Kenny’s critique is one of the first works to which any philosopher of religion would point his students or colleagues for a (probably the) locus classicus in which the debunking exercise is successfully carried out. Kenny accuses Aquinas of numerous logical fallacies, equivocations, irrelevancies, and—perhaps the most memorable accusation—of tying his arguments, especially the First and Second Ways, to an outdated and discredited Aristotelian/medieval cosmology.³ There are those who treat the arguments more sympathetically, but they are in a decided minority and the conclusion, almost always, is that the arguments still fail.

    The rest of Whatever is Changing is Being Changed by Something Else’: A Reappraisal of Premise One of the First Way appears to be a defense of at least that one little part of Aquinas, but it’s interesting that Oderberg concedes that Aquinas is largely a failure.

    Are you going to claim that Oderberg, or Kenny, does not understand what Aquinas meant?

    Does Feser discuss Kenny’s work at all?

    You pointed out that we may one day learn that something can come into being without an efficient cause.

    No, I pointed out that something is in fact coming into being all the time. Going by the Copenhagen Interpretation of QM, you conceded that this is indeed without efficient cause; the only counter-argument is that the Copenhagen Interpretation may not be correct.

    Or more succinctly: We may one day learn that something that in fact does come into being, does so without an efficient cause.

    But, based on current knowledge, Aquinas still appears to be correct.

    Based on current knowledge, Aquinas is quite possibly wrong.

    Based on Kenny, Aquinas is almost certainly wrong. I think I’ll have to read Kenny.

    I’ve tried to get you to understand essences. You never disproved their existence.

    You haven’t proved you know what they are to get me to understand them. I don’t need to disprove them if you can’t even present them coherently.

    If the Fifth Way is nonsensical then it is nonsensical for reasons that have nothing to do with your misunderstanding of final causes.

    Well, I am glad that you agree that the fifth way is nonsense, regardless of whether or not you understand it.

    The fact that not everything has a final cause is not important. The argument works as long as there are some final causes.

    And thus Aquinas fails because there are no final causes. Got it.

    Perhaps, but you’ll need to point out the premises you think employ logical fallacies and explain why the logical fallacy applies to those premises.

      1) We see that things which lack intelligence, such as natural bodies, act for an end, and this is evident from their acting always, or nearly always, in the same way, so as to obtain the best result.

    This premise begs the question, and argues in a circle. Two fallacies in one.

      2) Hence it is plain that not fortuitously, but designedly, do they achieve their end.

    Hence it is plain that he continues to beg the question. This is still a fallacy.

    This and (1) also contradicts the premise (3) that follows — he argues that things lacking intelligence act for an end AND that whatever lacks intelligence cannot move towards an end. More fallacy.

      3) Now whatever lacks intelligence cannot move towards an end, unless it be directed by some being endowed with knowledge and intelligence; as the arrow is shot to its mark by the archer.

      4) Therefore some intelligent being exists by whom all natural things are directed to their end.

    And this conclusion derives from the contradicting and question-begging premises above, and further contradicts the basis of his own premise (3), since he is concluding that there isn’t anything that moves without intelligence.

    The argument is invalid.

  140. #140 Owlmirror
    April 23, 2010

    Oh, and premise (3) not only begs the question, but is almost certainly false.

    More analysis later.

  141. #141 cl
    April 23, 2010

    Hi Martin, first-time commenter here..

    The reason that I identify as an atheist in my byline top left isn’t that I spend lots of time thinking about my unbelief. It’s that most Sb readers are in the US. And I know that in the religiously crazed United States, atheists are a beleaguered, even hated, minority. But they’re my peeps, and I support them as best I can. The right to freedom of religion is a fine thing. And so is the right to freedom from religion. (Martin)

    As a theist who lives in the US, this is understandable. I believe it’s fair to say the average US believer has been corralled into an abandonment of critical thinking, although it’s not just a religious problem but arguably a pop-culture one. Point is, if more theists understood that atheists aren’t “anti-theists” by default, life would be much better in the US.

  142. #142 Jayman
    April 23, 2010

    Owlmirror:

    So you’re waffling on the matter — going from “yes” to “dunno” when I rephrase the question.

    I’m trying to make it clear that, in theory, there is a definite boundary while, in practice, it is difficult to always see the boundary.

    but it’s interesting that Oderberg concedes that Aquinas is largely a failure.

    He does no such thing. The phrase you placed in bold was an opinion held by others. Oderberg, on p. 3 of the article you cite, says that “with some unpacking and an attempt at a sympathetic reading, we can see that the arguments are in fact strong ones.”

    Does Feser discuss Kenny’s work at all?

    He discusses it quite a lot.

    Going by the Copenhagen Interpretation of QM, you conceded that this is indeed without efficient cause; the only counter-argument is that the Copenhagen Interpretation may not be correct.

    From my admittedly non-expert viewpoint I am confident that the Copenhagen interpretation is incorrect.

    Based on Kenny, Aquinas is almost certainly wrong. I think I’ll have to read Kenny.

    At least do yourself the favor of reading both sides of the argument.

    Regarding the Fifth Way, you’re commenting on an outline of the argument and then complaining that it does not go into as much detail as you think is necessary. I don’t feel like trying to unpack every premise in another argument so I’ll leave it be.

  143. #143 Owlmirror
    April 25, 2010

    I’m trying to make it clear that, in theory, there is a definite boundary

    So in theory, you should have answered “yes, there was one animal that had the essence of dogness, and that animal’s parents and putative siblings did not have that essence”.

    while, in practice, it is difficult to always see the boundary.

    If there’s a boundary that is difficult to always see, that is the the same as saying that in practice — for more complex things like living animal species and genera — that boundary is indeterminate and fuzzy. Which is certainly my understanding of the nature of animal classification, definition, and abstraction, regardless of whether this is the same as an “essence” or not.

    You pretty much just waffled in a single sentence…

    it’s interesting that Oderberg concedes that Aquinas is largely a failure.

    He does no such thing.

    He does exactly that. Too bad you misread him.

    The phrase you placed in bold was an opinion held by others. Oderberg, on p. 3 of the article you cite, says that “with some unpacking and an attempt at a sympathetic reading, we can see that the arguments are in fact strong ones.”

    Which only refers to the first and second ways, which means that he concedes that ways three through five are failures. Can you do basic math? Do you realize that three is larger than two?

    Hence: Oderberg concedes that Aquinas is largely a failure.

    Of course, I remain unconvinced that Oderberg is necessarily correct about the first and second ways, either. I’m working my way through the paper now, and there’s something very silly about defending archaic arguments with a flawed archaic understanding of reality. I may have a more complete analysis of it when I finish the paper…

    [Feser] discusses [Kenny’s work] quite a lot.

    Does he now. Funny that you took this long to mention it. Well, I will have to take your word for it. I have no intention of approaching Feser before I read what Kenny has to say, and I have no idea how long it will take me to get to that.

    From my admittedly non-expert viewpoint I am confident that the Copenhagen interpretation is incorrect.

    If you’re not an expert, then what are you basing your confidence on? Presuppositionalism?

    And I’m not sure that the correct interpretation — whatever it is — will necessarily help you. But I acknowledge that I am not an expert myself.

    At least do yourself the favor of reading both sides of the argument.

    Have you done yourself the favor of reading Kenny, to make sure that Feser presents all of Kenny’s arguments, and addresses them comprehensively?

    Regarding the Fifth Way, you’re commenting on an outline of the argument and then complaining that it does not go into as much detail as you think is necessary.

    I’m complaining that it fails on its face, no matter how much “detail” there is. Aquinas is wrong about “final causes” existing as something real, and he’s wrong about what can be deduced about his presupposition of the real existence of final causes. Either way, his logic fails.

    The “intellect” that he “deduces” is his own, but he fails to understand that it is his own, as Sastra notes.

    I don’t feel like trying to unpack every premise in another argument so I’ll leave it be.

    Right, you can’t defend Aquinas’ flawed logic, so you’re going to quit. I understand completely that you don’t want to examine that flawed logic because doing so would mean conceding that he, and you, are completely wrong.

  144. #144 Jayman
    April 25, 2010

    Owlmirror, since Oderberg defends A-T concepts it is hard to believe that he sees Aquinas as a failure. And I have not seen him explicitly say the Third, Fourth, and Fifth ways are poor arguments. The quote you provided can be taken as a summary of the opinion of other philosophers.

    In a book review he writes: “Having written many years ago, however, a book debunking Aquinas’s celebrated Five Ways to prove the existence of God, it is no surprise to see Kenny giving these only a cursory and ill-served treatment (302-4). The arguments, in the view of a number of serious philosophers, still have plenty going for them and cannot be shrugged off in the way they are by Kenny.” Here, he seems to be referring to all five arguments.

    If you want more Oderberg, here’s an article on teleology.

    I’m willing to see the flawed logic in Aquinas (I don’t claim to be a committed Thomist), but, since you attack positions you don’t understand, our discussion will inevitably be more about what the Fifth Way is than over whether it is correct or not. My time can be better spent, say, reading Kenny’s book, than trying to explain final causes to you and then moving on to the next part of the argument you don’t understand and so on.

    Take care.

  145. #145 Jayman
    April 25, 2010

    Owlmirror, since Oderberg defends A-T concepts it is hard to believe that he sees Aquinas as a failure. And I have not seen him explicitly say the Third, Fourth, and Fifth ways are poor arguments. The quote you provided can be taken as a summary of the opinion of other philosophers.

    In a book review he writes: “Having written many years ago, however, a book debunking Aquinas’s celebrated Five Ways to prove the existence of God, it is no surprise to see Kenny giving these only a cursory and ill-served treatment (302-4). The arguments, in the view of a number of serious philosophers, still have plenty going for them and cannot be shrugged off in the way they are by Kenny” (http://www.reading.ac.uk/Acadepts/ln/Medieval/reviews/KennyPhilosophy.htm). Here, he seems to be referring to all five arguments.

    I’m willing to see the flawed logic in Aquinas (you’ve had two weeks to attack the Second Way), but, since you attack positions you don’t understand, our discussion will inevitably be more about what the Fifth Way is than over whether it is correct or not. My time can be better spent, say, reading Kenny’s book, than trying to explain final causes to you and then moving on to the next part of the argument you don’t understand and so on.

    Take care.

  146. #146 Owlmirror
    April 26, 2010

    since Oderberg defends A-T concepts it is hard to believe that he sees Aquinas as a failure.

    I did write “largely”, not “entirely”.

    If Oderberg thinks that Aquinas is not largely a failure, then he himself failed to communicate that.

    And I have not seen him explicitly say the Third, Fourth, and Fifth ways are poor arguments.

    Which only means that the concession is implicit rather than explicit.

    The quote you provided can be taken as a summary of the opinion of other philosophers.

    Not just the opinion, but the consensus of the majority.

    If he opposes the majority — other than regarding the first two ways — he does not say so.

    In a book review he writes “[…] The arguments, in the view of a number of serious philosophers, still have plenty going for them and cannot be shrugged off in the way they are by Kenny”

    So he contradicts himself, then.

    I note that the book review is from 2007, while the paper being referred to was published in 2010. Perhaps he changed his mind.

    Or perhaps the “number of serious philosophers” turned out to be a much smaller number, when investigated, than he originally thought.

    I’m willing to see the flawed logic in Aquinas

    Obviously false. You’ve had the fallacies pointed out to you, and ignored them.

    since you attack positions you don’t understand,

    Or rather, that you don’t understand, and that you then project your failure onto me. We spent a huge chunk of those two weeks discussing essence, and you have utterly failed to demonstrate any coherent understanding of the topic whatsoever.

    Of course, there may be no coherent understanding of the topic to be had.

    our discussion will inevitably be more about what the Fifth Way is than over whether it is correct or not.

    The essence of an argument cannot be separated from its correctness. Why do you not understand this?

    My time can be better spent, say, reading Kenny’s book,

    At long last.

    than trying to explain final causes to you and then moving on to the next part of the argument you don’t understand and so on.

    In other words, you implicitly concede that you are unable to defend Aquinas’ argument.

    I’ll be checking back for a few days in case you have any further thoughts, and I will also post any comments I have about Oderberg’s paper here — just for the sake of closure.

  147. #147 Owlmirror
    April 27, 2010

    Some notes on David Oderberg’s “‘Whatever is Changing is Being Changed by Something Else’: A Reappraisal of Premise One of the First Way”:

    As the title itself proclaims, he only focuses on the first premise. Twenty-five pages, pretty much just on the one line.

    I don’t intend to analyze every line on every page. Most of his metaphysics is uninteresting to me, and only supports his arguments if one already accepts that metaphysics — the essence of circularity.

    Still, a few points I think worth noting:

    On page 8 of the PDF (or page 147 by the numbers on the page):

    In a human the soul is immaterial; in a non-human animal it is material, that is, wholly dependent for its operation on the animal’s material constitution.

    This is the logical fallacy of special pleading. Looking at his “Hylemorphic Dualism”, I see that he commits several logical fallacies in asserting and arguing his premises, especially when arguing the alleged “immateriality” of the soul of humans, which is a pathetic question-begging argument from ignorance and special pleading.

    Very disappointing.

    On page 19 of the PDF (or page 158 by the numbers on the page), he offers a convoluted argument:

    Kenny offers no argument for thinking that premise 1 can be undermined by positing relatively basic laws; he simply tells us that such laws might exist and so require no further explanation at all—in other words, that the relatively basic laws might also be absolutely basic.

    Which implies that they are, or might as well be, the immaterial uncaused cause(s) of all further caused things. Premise 1 isn’t exactly undermined by these fundamental laws, but is rather fulfilled by them. The point is simply that there is no reason to call absolutely basic laws “God”.

    He goes on to say that the First Way does not seek to explain why the relatively basic laws hold. The argument is not to an Author of Nature, he points out, but to ‘the efficient cause of the actual motions of substances in the world’. This claim is misleading, however, because of the intimate connection between being the Author of Nature and being the Author of Natures.

    This response to Kenny is a non-sequitur, and special pleading, and an assumed conclusion. Not to mention being utterly incoherent.

    Even more disappointing.

    On page 24 of the PDF (or page 163 by the numbers on the page):

    Thus the chain of causes must be traced through distinct substances, not just distinct qualities and not just qualities within a single substance. And if premise 2 is correct, the chain cannot be infinite. If the conclusion follows from the premises, there must be a wholly immovable mover, a final terminus and cause of all change in the universe, yet not itself part of the universe.

    First of all, the final clause begs the question — he nowhere provides any logic for the “cause” not being part of the universe.

    Secondly, his argument is potentially falsified by basic physics: all atoms, and all subatomic particles, are constantly in motion; they are not moved by anything except their own natures. I suppose that it could be argued that the causes of the motion are identical to the absolutely basic laws of nature already posited above — the laws themselves certainly are “unmoved”.

    And there’s still no reason to call those laws of nature “God”.

    Meh. So, those are his arguments for the first premise of the first way, eh?

    Not compelling at all.

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