Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Declining standards

For Nietzsche, European civilization has been in decline since Plato. For Heidegger, the rot set in even earlier, with the Pre-Socratics. It is widely held among secularists that the history of Western civilization between the rise of Christianity and the Enlightenment was a centuries-long dark age that stalled the scientific progress that had been initiated by the Greeks and only restarted with Bacon, Galileo, Descartes, and Co. Marxists tell us that the entire history of the human race is a history of one form of oppression supplanted by another. Feminists tell us that it is, above all, a history of men oppressing women. Multiculturalists tell us it is a history of the West oppressing the rest.

Other examples could be given. The idea that vast stretches of human history – centuries, even millennia – have been shrouded in moral and intellectual darkness is taken very seriously.

Except when that idea is given a conservative twist. When a conservative says that things have been getting worse since the 1960s, or since FDR, or since the Enlightenment, or (as Richard Weaver says in Ideas Have Consequences and as I argue in The Last Superstition) since William of Ockham, the very idea of a decades- or centuries-long decline is dismissed as inherently crackpot, the ravings of a misanthropic crank or misfit.

Why the double standard? Just asking, as they say.

(The obvious answer might seem to be that the developments bemoaned by conservatives are “progressive” ones, and thus couldn’t possibly mark a decline. Out of charity, though, I won’t put this answer into the mouth of the left-winger, since it is blatantly question-begging. Surely the lefty has a better answer. So what is it?)


  1. One decades-long decline I've seen (I'm 65) since the 50's is in rhetoric, namely the vast increase in what I call 'word sludge'.
    1. The word 'area' (originally the number of square feet a planar figure covers) displaces many dozens of supposed synonyms such as locale, field, sector, section, branch, site, region, territory, neighborhood, district, tract, etc.
    2. The word 'like' (meaning analogous or similar but not the same) displaces 'as', 'as if' and 'such as'.
    3. 'So', and 'really' used as emphatics and superlatives, displacing 'very', 'quite', 'rather', or 'actually', 'truly',
    4. Filler words multiply, those meaningless syllables that mimic true speech.
    Here's an easy-to-remember list, suitable for an opener for a comedian's monologue:
    Let me tell you something
    Honestly now
    Well, look
    Of course ... that is,
    I mean
    You Know!
    Come On!
    Get what I'm sayin?
    Pretty amazing, huh?
    So awesome

    Excuse me whilst I flee the room.

  2. What a coincidence! I was just now working on a blog post (not done yet) in which I argue that in one respect the rot set in at the end of the last ice age.

    As to your question, one possible answer is that the people who think that conservative rot-set-in theories are crackpot aren't aware of any of these other views and are naive believers in inexorable progress.

  3. I agree with C.S. Lewis that all the ages had both moral troughs and peaks. What's good in learning about the past is that while we can see where they were morally weak (think Crusades, slavery, etc.), they also had moral strengths (they weren't moral relativists, they took life more seriously, they valued true education instead of mass media driven BS, etc.)

  4. History teaches us that all civilizations change and that accumulated changes eventually reach a critical mass, from which point decline, or even collapse, is inevitable.
    In any case, neither a right nor a left orientation puts one in touch with the message of Jesus, particularly as expressed in the Sermon on the Mount. A right orientation is focused on competition, self-reliance, acquisition, power; while a left orientation is equally materialistic, but focused on collective action. Neither is focused on humility.
    Of the two, a left orientation, with its emphasis on cooperation and sharing comes slightly closer to approaching the Christian ideal, as seen in practical application in the book of Acts, forinstance.
    Whether looking at the "decline of Western civilization" from a left perspective or from a right perspective, one sees real, honest-to-gosh decline. Which elements of that decline one picks out to criticize depends on one's preference: you pays your money and you takes your choice.

  5. The "decline" of which I speak, above, is not, btw, a decline from anything other than the highest religious or philosophical ideals conceived of by the thinkers of a given civilization or society. Never are those ideals fully realized in action; and, having no real life, they are eventually lost, or pushed into the background.

  6. Rodak: I can only assume your are of "left" persuasion with your straw man definition of right vs. left.

    The fundamental difference between the right and left is the issue of freedom vs. force... and Christianity is a separate, but related, issue.

    You have it partly right in that the possible result of focusing on the freedom of people vs. focusing on the need to force others results in the split you describe.

    However, as Christians, we must be concerned with our salvation which comes through a change of heart and mind with the help of the Holy Spirit.

    The leftist view requires the coercion of others to achieve "collective" ends. As history has shown, every attempt at leftist coercion results in the fundamental spiritual corruption of the society and its individuals. Small groups choosing to work together are not the same thing.... each individual can choose to participate or not.

    The rightist view, on the other hand, allows individuals to choose to work for themselves or society. In a society which is largely faithful Christians, we have the US's history until 4 decades ago to show the bountiful harvest this can bring.... and now we see the effect that of falling away from Christianity has in a free society.

    In the end, though, coercion, control, and the use of force on other people to require charity, co-operation, and sharing is an oxymoron.

    Freedom vs. force, liberty vs. tyranny - you pays your money and you takes your choice.

  7. Thank you, Alan, for so eloquently illustrating my point as it pertains to the right.
    Now, if only a liberal atheist would do the same from that perspective...

  8. Let's see if I can read everything on the picture
    - Christianity
    - Bible not infallible (really not sure)
    - Man not made in God's image
    - No miracles
    - No virgin birth
    - No deity
    - No atonement
    - No resurrection
    - Agnosticism
    - Atheism

  9. Dear Dr Feser,

    I'd love to see your comments on
    "Steven Pinker on Francis Collins"


  10. Now, if only a liberal atheist would do the same from that perspective...

    Ahem. I'll take the bait.

    Rodak, looking at the last 300 years in the West, I have difficulty seeing a "decline". In general, Homo sapiens are healthier, live longer, have a higher standard of living, are more educated, have more personal freedom, and are far less likely to die a violent death.

    If by "decline" you mean fractionally fewer folks believe the superstitious non-sense taught by huckster preachers, then I suppose you are correct.

    Alan, folks on the "left" are more in favor of force than freedom? And you accuse Rodak of building a straw man? That's rich.

  11. Unbeguiled, suppose that in the next 300 years, we vastly improve our 'standard of living,' but also go through a worldwide 'Great Awakening' in which serious religious belief flourishes.

    Would you consider this to be a decline?

    Or, to put the question another way, can you imagine a situation in which both our standard of living increases and it would be accurate to say, 'the West is in decline'?

  12. UnBeguiled--
    Were I to stipulate that you are correct in your characterization of religion, I would have no argument.

    Can you show me even one saying of Jesus--not of any church, but of Jesus himself--that would allow you to assert the possibility of a materialist bonanza that arrives concommittantly with a spiritual renewal? Is it not evident, just from looking about you, that we have a materialist bonanza going on under full steam in the Western world right now, and that spirituality is in a proportional decline?
    Jesus never, never said anything good about money, wealth, or their acquisition. His yoke is easy and his burden is light. Why is that?

  13. Or, to put the question another way, can you imagine a situation in which both our standard of living increases and it would be accurate to say, 'the West is in decline'?

    Of course.

    I think I agree with Feser's main point, as I understand him: whether or not a society is better or worse at a particular time compared to another particular time will always be subjective.

    My conservative neighbor is quite convinced that our society would be better if black folks were still in chains and women could not vote. I think that he is wrong.

    Similarly, I think our society would be better today if non-Christians such as Abraham Lincoln or Thomas Jefferson could be elected to public office.

  14. Thomas Jefferson? Who wrote 'The Jefferson Bible' and praised Christ exhaustively even as a deist? Abraham Lincoln, also a deist at the least, and whose Christianity is still the stuff of historical dialogue?

    By God, give me men like those in office. Non-Christians can easily get elected president - they simply have to lie. Luckily, that comes naturally to politicians, and atheist materialists have no reason not to do so. Progress, I suppose!

  15. atheist materialists have no reason not to do so [lie]

    Right. Without the carrot and stick of superstitious beliefs humans rape and pillage and society crumbles.

    And Christians never lie.

    Except of course it is a lie that ethics are impossible without theism.

    If you need a fear of God to motivate your moral choices, then by all means please believe believe believe.

  16. Superstitious beliefs, such as "morality exists" and "there is a good" and "there is such a thing as purpose and progress". You silly little atheist, prattling on about delusions when you not only have your own, but yours are actually and demonstrably inconsistent with each other.

    Ethics are possible without theism, mon frere. They just happen to be an obvious sham and construct - and can include "Get in the oven, worthless eater" as part of the ethos. Atheist morality, an oxymoron if ever there was one.

  17. This comment has been removed by the author.

  18. There is no hisotrical evidence that nations where atheism is the norm are morally superior overall than are countries in which the various theisms are practiced as a component of the social norm. A nation can't be Christian or Buddhist, etc.--only an individual person can be a Christian.
    Those people who believe that Christianity is somehow compatible with capitalism, consumerism, cut-throat, zero-sum competition, war-mongering and all of the other materialistic traits displayed by contemporary Western socities, and "perfected" by the U.S. of A., are listening to the wrong small, still voice.

  19. There is no historical evidence that nations where atheism is the norm are morally superior overall than are countries in which the various theisms are practiced as a component of the social norm.

    Agreed. Has someone here argued otherwise?

    Anonymous: Corollary to Godwin's Law. You lose. Thanks for playing.

  20. No one has argued otherwise. It has been widely suggested recently, however, (by C. Hitchens, for instance) that religion is the root of all violence and evil. This suggests at least the possibility that religion-free nations would behave better than their "religious" counterparts.
    I don't believe that either side in the standard discussion is realistically representing humanity-as-it-is. I.e., lip-service, ritualized, religion is no more transformative than is atheism, if "progress" in the form of healthier, more loving, relationships between people is the goal

  21. Statements like "X is the cause of all bad behavior" are almost certainly false.

    I am familiar with the arguments of Hitchins and Harris. Would society be better if all religious beliefs withered away? I tend to doubt that. More importantly, expecting all human beings to give up religion any time soon is idiotic.

  22. My ultimate argument would be that there is no right "side." To take sides is already to passively accept the coercion of a collective of one kind or another. Step out of line, get shunned, excommunicated, beaten, jailed...

  23. That the new atheists have idiotic goals and expectations is something we can all agree on!

  24. The "new" atheists are just the old atheists with new book and lecture circuit deals.

  25. >> expecting all human beings to give up religion any time soon is idiotic

    Well you, at least, certainly show no signs of giving up your religion.

  26. I think Ed's point (as he makes in his book) is that the west has quite literally speaking lost its head!!. An example can you imagine peter singer (who thinks that infanticide is ok) existing 800yrs ago?

  27. ...can you imagine peter singer (who thinks that infanticide is ok) existing 800yrs ago?

    In a word, Yes.

  28. Ok, let me rephrase the question. In his book Ed traces the formation of natural law theory as drawn out by St Thomas, St Bonaventure et al to its natural conclusion; as every human being is made in the image and likeness of God and as the soul enters the body at conception it is morally impermissable to abort the child/murder him/her at birth, weather or not it actually happned doesn't come into it. On the other hand Dr Strangelove of Princeton thinks that non-rational animals have more rights than a rational animal (human) that has yet to actualise all of its potential (infant). You tell me that standards haven't declined.

  29. as every human being is made in the image and likeness of God

    As you begin your explanation/argument with an unprovable, undemonstrable, article of faith, any attempt to bring non-believers in line with the standard you wish to promote as the cultural norm is doomed from the outset.
    And, btw, why should I stipulate that this person from Princeton sets the contemporary standard?

  30. But Rodak, don't you know that in TLS Feser proves that classical theism is true?

    He states that if you do not believe in the God of classical theism then you are quite literally insane.

    He claims that God can be proven in the same way the Pythagorean theorem can be proven.

    It's quite amusing, you should read it. Unfortunately for Feser, metaphysics cannot do what he thinks it can do.

  31. I got into a long, frustrating exchange with one of Prof. Feser's collegues over at What's Wrong With the World, who claimed that the historical reality of the Resusrrection was proved by the fact that it was afterwords reported that certain people behaved in such-and-such a way in its aftermath, etc., etc.
    I happen to choose to believe what Prof. Feser claims is provable. But I choose to believe it; I would never claim to be able to prove that my beliefs represent Reality, or that my beliefs are expressed using the only system of symbols by which the ineffable can be expressed and minimally understood.
    A universe with a God is preferable to a universe without one, to my way of thinking.

  32. Btw, the opening anecdote of my previous comment was meant to illustrate why I will probably not read the book: I reject its premises.

  33. Rodak - I used prof strangelove singer because he is a cosistant athiest unlike dawkins, hitchins and Haris who want to keep Christianish values in society.

    Ubeguilled - I thought Ed went a little heavy on the polemics but essentially he's correct. Disagree? why don't you contact him and challange him to a written debate on the blog?

  34. I was not really bothered by the polemics. I read the book to see his take on the arguments for God.

    His three arguments are valid but unsound. The premises he uses are either demonstrably false or bald non-falsifiable assertions.

    He does attempt to support his premises by using obscure and outdated jargon, but I think it unlikely that anyone with even a bachelors degree in science would be persuaded. It's all words about words, and when he tries to wed his words to the real world, he makes embarrassing gaffs.

    As I recall his understanding of motion is pre-Newtonian. Also, his whole enterprise fails if you do not accept Aristotle's notion of the four causes. Very few philosophers and almost no scientists accept the four causes. His is an extremely fringe position to take.

    I will give Feser credit for this: the classical arguments for God are frequently mis-characterized by apologists and skeptics alike, and he corrects these mistakes. Nevertheless, the arguments fail to persuade. If they were good arguments, then it seems most philosophers would be theists.

    But that is not the case. The more philosophy and science a person learns, the more likely that person will be an atheist.

    But that's no argument for atheism, just a statement of fact.

  35. "The premises he uses are either demonstrably false..."

    Sheer assertion on your part. Examples please? (Even one?)

    "...or bald non-falsifiable assertions."

    Confuses metaphysical claims for empirical ones. (And if you insist that only the latter are legitimate, you are begging the question.)

    "He does attempt to support his premises by using obscure and outdated jargon..."

    Obscure? Again, examples please. (And don't say it's obscure simply because it's unfamiliar to you personally or not in wide use today among nonb-Aristotelian philosophers, lest you commit a fallacy of relevance or a fallacious appeal to authority.)

    "As I recall his understanding of motion is pre-Newtonian."

    No. I do not reject the post-Newtonian conception of motion. I say that (a) local motion (what modern physics is concerned with) is not the only kind of change to which Aristotle's and Aquinas's arguments are relevant, and (b) the post-Newtonian conception does not exhaust the nature even of local motion, even if it is part of the story.

    That you have so badly misread this part of the argument of the book does not lend confidence that you have fairly read the rest of it. Nor do your other remarks (here and elsewhere).

    "Very few philosophers and almost no scientists accept the four causes. His is an extremely fringe position to take."

    Fallacious appeal to authority. And again, you seem to be assuming that what I say contradicts modern science. It does not.

    "If they were good arguments, then it seems most philosophers would be theists."

    Ha! That's a good one!

    Oh, you were serious.

    If you really think philosophers, or any other academics or intellectuals, are somehow immune to prejudice, fashion, etc., then I've got a bridge to sell you. (And do you mean to suggest that philosophical questions can be settled by majority vote? That the dissenting view is ipso facto the mistaken view? Surely not.)

    Most philosophers today are indeed probably naturalists. For most of history, most philosophers were not. Neither of these facts proves anything by itself. In any case, I try to show in my book why the prevalence of naturalism today has no rational basis, rests on prejudice and forgetfulness of intellectual history, etc. So, again, you're just begging the question.

  36. Rodak: Same goes for you, fella.

  37. Simmer down Professor. I gave you a complement.

    Most philosophers today are indeed probably naturalists. For most of history, most philosophers were not. Neither of these facts proves anything by itself.

    I agree. Did my last comment not make that clear? With that out of the way . . .

    Confuses metaphysical claims for empirical ones.

    Mmm . . . OK. Then how does one determine whether a metaphysical claim is true?

    For example, to take your first argument, you present this idea of an essentially ordered causal series.

    To support this idea, you give us three examples from the physical empirical world. But in your examples, what you say is happening is empirically false. You say that various events are happening simultaneously, but that's just wrong.

    (All of this is on pages 94 to 96. Find a physicists and ask if what you claim is simultaneous is actually simultaneous.)

    So for you to make a persuasive argument, using examples of impossible physics is probably not a good strategy.

  38. As I keep saying, it's utterly impossible to engage in rational discussion with the typical Christ-hater one encounters on the internet. Since their denial of the reality of God is not based on reasoned argument, they can rarely be reached via reasoned argument.

    With respect to them (personally), the best one can hope to do with reasoned argument is to expose the thinness and false nature of their rationalizations. That's no mean thing in itself; and it may help *others* who might otherwise have been beguiled by the vociferousness of the false assertions which these fellows imagine equal arguments.

    Just don't expect these fellows to *admit* anything ... or to "argue" consistently.

  39. The truth is that one can neither prove, nor disprove, the existence of God. As the author of Hebrews tells us, faith is the substance of things hoped for (not things apprehended) and the evidence of things not seen (no data available.) Anybody who tells you differently--no matter how impressively mind-boggling the esoteric professional jargon he uses in so doing--is either self-deluded, or less than honest, or both.
    Why do you suppose that St. Paul characterizes Christ crucified as "foolishness to the Greeks"? It is because the Greeks were not able to transcend their reliance on mundane reason and logic so as to grasp a Truth of an entirely different order than could be apprehended by their philosophies.
    It is quite true that if the exitence of God, or the truth of the Gospel could be proven, all philosophers would be believers. All philosophers who were not incompetant, that is.

  40. Rodak,

    In my experience the "proper" method of apologetics is under debate, although I don't have a dog in that fight. Be aware that Dr. Feser's arguments are not explicitly Christian.

    But Dr. Feser is a Catholic. Am I wrong that it is still part of Catholic dogma that God's existence can be proven? Forgive me, everything I learned about Christianity I learned from Bertrand Russell.

    Concerning your second to last sentence, all philosophers do not agree about anything. Even the existence of philosophers.

  41. all philosophers do not agree about anything. Even the existence of philosophers.

    Of course not. That's precisely because their metier is the discussion of things that can't be proven. If they could fully succeed in defining Reality, they would render themselves unnecessary and even more superfluous than they are now.

  42. It is and always will be Catholic Dogma that the Existence of God can be proven from Natural Reason as per
    First Vatican Council, Cannon 2, Article 1

    A quick question to unbeguiled and Rodak, if either of you were terminaly ill, took a trip to Lourdes and you were miracously cured, would you believe then?

  43. A quick follow up, as Ed points out in TLS it has always been a Catholic dogma that the existence of God can be proven from reason alone, even though it was only formally defined at Vatican One.

  44. Jack--
    Unbeguiled and I are not coming from the same place. You are not paying attention to what I'm actually saying. I do believe. I don't waste time trying to prove. Please don't mischaracterize what I've written.

  45. Sorry Rodak, i made a wrong assumption based on your reply to my first comment, Mea Culpa

  46. Jack,

    Concerning a miracle cure. It depends. Suppose I had gangrene that resulted in the amputation of both my legs at the hips and both arms at the shoulders. Despite that, I was still dying of the infection. If I was both cured of the infection and all my limbs grew back to full working order after praying to Jesus, then yes I would believe.

    Of course, I would need something other than my own memory and experience. Testimony from doctors and photographs of me without limbs and even DNA tests from the rotting limbs would help make the case.

    As you know, personal experience is suspect, as severe illness can cause hallucinations.

    So sure, given strong independently verifiable evidence of the miracle described, I would believe.

    Unfortunately for the supernaturalist, nothing of the sort has ever happened. But it might!!

  47. No problem. The statement you missed can be found at July 18, 2009 12:50 PM

  48. Hello Rodak,

    A couple quick questions. First, could you please give your definition of "proof"? I only ask because I have personally heard some wildly different definitions.

    Specifically what is it that you would consider unprovable? Is it all areas of philosophy, or only propositions of a metaphysical nature? Further, what do you believe can be provable? Would you consider yourself a positivist or empiricist?

    With regards to belief in God, do you consider yourself a fideist?

    Just trying to get a handle on your position. Thanks a lot.

  49. If "fideist" means reliance on faith as opposed to reason as the basis of belief, then that is clearly what I have been saying, is it not? Why do you ask?

    I reject the concept of "natural law." There are the laws of nature, which are partially understood through the use of reason and empiricism; there is divine law as made available to man through revelation by God. The former allows us to understand how the material universe "works." The latter allows us to understand how we are to act in relation to one another and in relation to God.

    Natural law is based on archaic pagan philosophy. It is the product of pre- or proto-scientific attempts to explain the physical and metaphysical universe on the basis of the application of reason to very superficial observations of the material world. It attempts to elicit moral postulates from physical "facts," many of which are simply wrong, as it turns out. An example of this would be the so-called "teleology of sex" that somehow dictates that every sex act must--because of "natural law"--entail the possibility of conception.

    An example of a thing that can't be proved is ensoulment at conception. Another example is transubstantiation.

    I use the word "proof" the way it is commonly used and understood in everyday conversation. I apply no special meaning to it beyond that.

    It's late. I'm tired. ttfn.

  50. 'Fideism' is, and has always been, contrary to Christianity.

    Christian faith is, and has always been, based on reasoned examination of evidence, and it hinges on Christ's resurrection.

  51. 'Fideism' is, and has always been, contrary to Christianity.

    That is mere opinion.

    it hinges on Christ's resurrection.

    There, we agree completely.

  52. Do you even know what the word 'opinion' means?

    Look, your mind is still under the control of the Christ-haters who control our culture and the public education of the young. Until you solve that problem, you're not going to be able to think clearly and rationally about 'faith.'

  53. Sure, I know what "opinion" means. I have reason to doubt, however, that you know what opinion is.
    That said, if you don't like the word, I won't insist on it. Scratch "opinion" and insert "sectarian bias."
    That should eliminate some of the ambiguity. (This is what I get for pulling my punches.)

  54. Rodak: "That said, if you don't like the word, I won't insist on it. Scratch "opinion" and insert "sectarian bias.""

    You *clearly* don't know (unless it's "con't care") what the word 'opinion' means.

    You *also* don't appear to much interested in rational argumentation -- any rational counters to your positions can, you appear to imagine, be merely brushed aside as "sectarian bias" or some similar hand-waving; in some important ways, you're not so different from the typical village-atheist-with-an-ethernet-cable. In fact, from only your first few posts, I thought you are one of those Christ-haters who call themselves atheists.

    But, it seemed fairly obvious all along that you're not much interested in rational argumentation.

  55. any rational counters to your positions can, you appear to imagine, be merely brushed aside as "sectarian bias

    Well then--why don't you present one (which you have yet to do, amidst all your ad hominem invective and stereotyping) and we'll see?

  56. Rodak.

    I think What LLion is trying say is that fideism opens up the Christian position to ridicule (sorry Illion if I'm puting words into your mouth). Whereas the position taken by the majority of Christian Philosophers (I speak as a Catholic) throughout history is that whilst God has revealed himself through Jesus Christ the existance of a All-powerfull, All Loving, Eternal being (i.e God) can be demonstrated through rational means. Now as Ed argues in his Book reason can only take us so far i.e. you can explain the Holy Trinity using reason you cannot prove it, for that we needed the revelation of Christ. Whilst no-one can come to Christ unless the Father draws him, nevertheless explaining the reason for our Hope is infact commanded by the Bible (1 peter 3.15), fine modern day examples would be Ed's friend/WWWTW co-blogger Lydia Mcgrew and Dr William Lane Craig of Biola University. On a personnel note I initially was Drawn to Christ by the Holy Gost but my daily walk with him has been enriched by the wealth of historial evidence and testimony to the ressurection that confirms what I already knew.

  57. you can explain the Holy Trinity using reason you cannot prove it, for that we needed the revelation of Christ.

    Right. And, btw, 1 Peter 3.15 says nothing about HOW a Christian is to defend his belief, it merely says that he should do so with humility. St. Paul (as I noted before) found that his attempts to defend the faith were counted as "foolishness" by the more rationally grounded Greeks. Both the Gospels and the Epistles warn the believer that he is apt to be ridiculed (or worse) for his witness.
    As I also said before, since none of it can be proven, it is precisely attempting such proofs anyway that leaves one open to ridicule. Better to be ridiculed for what ones knows in one's heart than for attempting the impossible.
    A Christian knows three vital things: 1) Christ died on the cross for him; 2) no matter what he does, he will never be worthy of Christ's sacrifice on his behalf, 3) despite his unworthiness he has hope of salvation through God's mercy.
    That is what must be defended, despite the ridicule it is apt to elicit. And it is defensible only by courage (with God's help), not by philosophical rhetoric and word games: straw for the fire.

  58. Consider also John 20,29:

    29 Jesus saith to him: Because thou hast seen me, Thomas, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and have believed.

  59. Which denomination do you belong to Rodak?

  60. I was baptized a Lutheran. I was confirmed in a Presbyterian church. My two daughters were baptized by my wife's uncle, who is a Catholic priest. I do not currently belong to any congregation.

  61. Ok, just asked becasue from what you've said and your previous posts your theology seems to bear a strong ressemblance to extreme fidiestic calvinism which is divorced from traditional Christian thinking.

  62. Since the Reformation, at least, there are many Christian modes of thought which have become "traditional." Most people disagree--sometimes violently--with the majority of these idiosyncratic, sectarian beliefs.
    I tend to believe that whatever keeps you thinking about the Cross is a good thing.

  63. In a comment above, Professor Feser says that my criticism "Confuses metaphysical claims for empirical ones".

    To me that seems a convenient dodge. He has made a feeble attempt to immunize his argument from refutation.

    If in the course of an argument, he says "X is the case", and I point out evidence widely available to all that shows "X is not the case", then he can respond by saying he made a metaphysical claim and not an empirical one.

    Am I the only one who sees a problem with this ploy?

  64. That's OK, UnB: *I* think you're intellectually dishonest.

  65. UnBeguiled--
    Stipulating, without benefit of an explicit example, that you present Feser's position fairly, it would seem, in that case, that he would need to have said something equivalent to, "Assuming X to be the case," rather than "X is the case."

  66. On page 94 he he gives an example and uses the word "simultaneous" or "simultaneously" many time to describe several causally related events.

    But he is wrong. The events he describes would not be simultaneous.

    His claims are empirically false.

    This could be confirmed by simply asking a physicist, or if he does not accept that authority he could set up an experiment with a high speed camera and a strobe light.

    His only "out" here is to wave his hands and claim he is making a metaphysical claim.

    But in the example, the hand and the stick and the stone are all physical.

    His silence on this matter speaks for itself.

  67. UnBeguiled:

    First, you gave no evidence whatsoever for your claims. You just made sweeping assertions. Hence there was nothing there for me to "dodge."

    Second, to say that an argument is metaphysical rather than empirical does not make it immune to criticism. Philosophers, including secular ones, present and evaluate metaphysical arguments all the time.

    Third, before you fling around further assertions, it would be nice if you were, for once, specific. How does appealing to (for example) the act/potency distinction or the essence/existence distinction amount to the making of an empirical scientific claim, as opposed to a claim of metaphysics or philosophy of nature? If arguments that make appeal to these ideas are indeed empirical scientific ones, then exactly what empirical evidence do you claim refutes them? If you acknowledge that they are not arguments of an empirical scientific sort but some other kind of argument, then exactly what criticisms of a non-scientific sort would you make of them?

  68. Ah, an example. Finally. Thank you.

    Now, why you claim the links in the causal chaim I cite in that passage (stone, stick, hand, etc.) are not simultaneous, you do not explain. Once again, you simplky make an assertion and "back it up" by appealing to what you claim a physicist would say. Perhaps what you have in mind the relativity of simultaneity. But the relativity of simultaneity is relevant to events only as they are considered in the order of per accidens causes, not as they are considered in the order of per se causes, to allude to a distinction I explain in the book. And the distinction between these orders is not itself a distinction that is either discovered by or undermined by empirical science as that is understood these days, but is rather a metaphysical distinction brought to bear on the analysis of physical objects and events.

    There are all sorts of concepts we bring to bear on such analysis, and they are familiar to anyone who knows anything about metaphysics or even philosophy of physics. Physical science does not take place in a philosophical or metaphysical vacuum. And even if you wanted to claim that it does, or that all the conceptual tools we bring to bear on the analysis of physical phenomena are somehow themselves to be evaluated by empirical-scientific means, you would be taking a metaphysical position and not an empirical one.

    Anyway, if you first tried actually to understand the arguments you're criticizing insted of flinging around sweeping and unfounded accusations, a fruitful exchange might be possible. Otherwise, what's the point?

  69. Maybe I will have to read the book after all...

  70. Dr. Feser,

    Thank you for the polite answer.

    My criticism has nothing to do with special relativity but is rather mundane.

    Read here:

  71. UnBeguiled--
    It is not possible for our temporal minds to really imagine eternity. About the best we can do with the concept is imagine a temporal situation that "goes on forever"--which is essentially meaningless.
    But in eternity (which is not different from the mind of God) A and D do occur "simultaneously." We really have no way to speak of eternity without using terms appropriate only to the temporal.
    The problem with A and D being simultaneous is not such much that we must admit that this transcends our physics, but that it brings the concept of free will into question. How can we really be said to have chosen to do A when A is--in a reality that transcends our perceptual reality--already a "done deal?"
    The answer usually given to this question is some variation of Well, God can know "in advance" (from our perspective) everything that will happen, but He can know it without interfering with it. But, it seems to me that a case can be made which states that under those circumstances, God knowing a thing, is not substantially different from God causing that thing. Our free will is just another illusion occuring only in the context of our limited, temporal cognition.

  72. Rodak,

    My criticism here is only of a small but crucial part of Dr. Feser's articulation of the Unmoved Mover argument. Specifically, of this idea of an essentially ordered causal series. He uses a naive understanding of physics to describe this.

    I maintain that an essentially ordered causal series does not exist in nature. At least, the examples given fail to demonstrate that such a thing is part of reality.

    If Dr Feser could give me a reference from a physics book or article that describes this phenomenon I will happily read it. So far, all I can find is that this is an idea that occurs exclusively in Christian apologetics.

    That makes it a little fishy. No?

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  74. Actually, I seem to remember having read about some type of physical particles (sub-atomic?) that have a simultaneous effect on each other while separated by vast spatial distances.
    Be that as it may, Prof. Feder's discussion of simultaneity makes sense sub specie aeternitatis.
    In addition to Christian apologetics, I think that one can identify similar ideas in other religious philosophies.
    As I said above, the most problematic issue for Christian apologetics with regard to these ideas is that they bring into question the doctrine of free will, which doctrine is essential to the coherence of the Christian message.

  75. Rodak,

    That is called entanglement. As I understand it, the relationship between entangled particles is not causal.

    If you observe that particle A here at this moment has a certain spin, then you can know the spin of particle B now, even if particle B is a billion light years away.

    This does involve wave-function collapse of course, but that in no sense suggests a causal relationship.

    (The above sentence was pure sophistry. I have no idea what it means.)

  76. Actually, it does suggest a causal relationship, though there are a number of interpretations of quantum mechanics in the running. Under Copenhagen (and some other interpretations) it makes no sense to talk about "what state the entangled particle pair" is in before measurement. Once it's measured in one place, you "know" the measurement in both. Anyone who thinks newtonian locality is utterly preserved in quantum interactions really has some reading to do.

    (Mind you, there's an interpretation [Bohm] under which entangled particles are "already" in the states they are in prior to measurement, and thus measuring one has no effect on the other. But not only is that a minority view, but what one gets in exchange for taking on the Bohmiam view isn't really going to be heartening to the atheist.)

  77. [Incidentally, the suggestion that this talk of the first cause does not take place outside of "Christian apologetics" is worthy of a chuckle. I wonder when Aristotle was baptized?]

  78. Hence my use of a qualifier:

    "So far, all I can find is that this is an idea that occurs exclusively in Christian apologetics."

    I made no claims that I had researched the matter exhaustively.

    I am still waiting for a reference in a physics textbook or journal. The example I criticize involves a physical hand, and non-transcendental stick, and a spacio-temporal stone.

  79. Your qualifier doesn't really mean much. I mean, you said you read Ed's book. Did you miss that bigass chapter talking about Aristotle? Or his almost constant mention of how the scholastics, Aquinas in particular, built heavily on greek philosophy?

    Also, are you seriously asking for a "physics journal" to address what is a metaphysical question? The example you criticize involves a physical hand, a non-transcendental stick, a spatio-temporal stone... and the unmoved mover. Do you criticize Stephen Hawking, asking where in the physics book exists the topic "what breathes fire into the equations"?

  80. It means I can admit when I'm wrong.

    Yo! Listen up: I was wrong. The idea of "essentially ordered causal series" predates Christianity by several centuries.

    Now I have a question. Does the idea of an "essentially ordered causal series" exist in any context other than attempts to prove God?

    Or is it an idea manufactured to bolster a belief held for other reasons?

    Yes, I request a physics reference. Claiming that the issue is "metaphysical" is a convenient dodge. A transparent attempt to immunize the argument from criticism.

    The example I take issue with involves physics, not meta-physics.

  81. *Now* you admit when you're wrong. First you tried "Well, I left myself an out!", only to have your "out" exposed as untenable in light of the subject. The fact that you're trying to stoop to psychoanalysis (They're only presenting this argument because they have a belief they want to prop up!) is chuckle-worthy. Shall we psychoanalyze you in turn, oh confuser of quantum issues?

    As has been pointed out, the fact that a claim is metaphysical does not mean it's immune from criticism. It means that the appropriate criticism and discussion takes place in a certain field. Are you honestly saying here that no one has ever criticized Aristotle or Aquinas on metaphysical grounds? Better yet, are you saying this has happened, but no one has ever been successful?

    One more time: Your "example" doesn't include only things you mention. It includes God, the prime mover, the first cause. You're stamping your feet and saying "If physics books don't talk about God, then this example is invalid!!!" Sorry, but that's a load and a half. I may as well ask you to provide me with a physics textbook that demonstrates the non-existence of God, and when you fail count that as some kind of proof that atheists therefore are simply trying to bolster their beliefs.

    Metaphysics is metaphysics, and won't become physics just by your insisting it should be.

  82. This asks a valid question:

    is it an idea manufactured to bolster a belief held for other reasons?

    And this is a valid point:

    You're...saying "If physics books don't talk about God, then this example is invalid!!!"

    It is not proven that propositions derived from talking about physics and those derived from talking about God are mutually exclusive.

  83. Rodak, the question and the point are utterly disconnected from each other. The "question" is nothing but psychoanalysis, and to go by Unbeguiled's reasoning any offered reasoning a man may give to the existence of God is immediately suspect because the man is a theist. Nevermind that Aristotle's divinity was utterly unconcerned with the affairs of man. Nevermind that any person who thinks an argument compels (or at least strongly justifies) belief in God is going to be a theist or deist out of the gates. If we're going to play the psychoanalysis game, then all of Unbeguiled's arguments should be given the short shrift because clearly they're merely manufactured to bolster a belief he holds for other reasons.

    Second, the question is not whether the categories are mutually exclusive. Indeed, the point has been made in these comments that they are anything but: Science (including physics) is not devoid of metaphysics, despite some valiant attempts in the past to achieve such a divorce. But Unbeguiled is making a very specific demand: He wants a cite from a physics textbook about the necessity of a prime mover. Forget that physics is widely recognized as incomplete. Forget that talk of God is institutionally verboten in science. If it's "valid" to ask for a physics textbook cite about the necessity of God or the prime mover, then it's "valid" to ask for a physics textbook cite about a demonstration that God does not exist. After all, it's not proven that propositions derived from talking about physics and those derived from talking about God are mutually exclusive, yes? Yet why does the latter question (and on reflection, the first) seem so damn silly?

    Think of it in another way. If physics disproved the argument Ed is offering, surely philosophers would have picked this up and used it in their arguments. Indeed, I'm sure some have tried to do exactly this (which Ed refers to in his book.) Yet replies came from the Aristotileans and thomists about why those claims were incorrect. In other words, we're going to have to answer the question with arguments based on metaphysics regardless, so why should we pretend "Bring me a cite from a physics textbook that insists on a prime mover!" is anything but a joke and a distraction? Otherwise, I'm still waiting for the physics textbook cite that disproves God.

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  85. They are? Or, are they being approached here as if they were?

  86. "He wants a cite from a physics textbook about the necessity of a prime mover."

    I never said anything remotely like that.

  87. If you are suggesting that a citation for an "essentially ordered causal series" is the same thing as a citation for an Unmoved Mover, then the argument is question begging.

  88. "I never said anything remotely like that."

    Complete bull. The example you refer to in Ed's book does not only refer to a hand, stick, and stone alone. It refers to a hand, stone, stick, arm, muscles, neurons, molecular structure, atomic basis, fundamental forces, etc. Deeper and deeper levels of explanation, which are either infinite in number or involve a final/ultimate termination. Ed gives an argument for why the series cannot be infinite, and goes on to argue what can be said of a proper point of termination. And this is where the prime mover comes in.

    THIS is the example you want a physics textbook cite of. THIS is the argument Ed gives on page 94-95. If you are asking for a physics textbook cite of Ed's argument, you ARE asking for a physics textbook to argue the necessity of a prime mover. No ifs, ands, or buts. And the fact that you can't see why what you're asking is not a purely scientific question but one that entails metaphysics indicates you're either not grokking the argument, or you're engaged in duplicity.

    Rodak, I'd love to respond to you. But I need some meat to bite one. If you want to Buddha me with thoughtful and vague questions, I'll have to pass. I'm not interested in playing student to someone's imaginary wannabe master. (See the problems that come in once we play with psychoanalysis?)

  89. If you are suggesting that a citation for an "essentially ordered causal series" is the same thing as a citation for an Unmoved Mover, then the argument is question begging.

    Yes. That's the issue.

  90. But I need some meat to bite one.

    Nice. That certainly places your argument on the appropriate level.

  91. Whatever you say, Jack Handey. ;)

    Gentlemen, if your argument against an essentially ordered causal series is to demand the authority of a physics textbook, all that's left to do is laugh. You may as well try to fend off Berkeley by demanding a picture of thought from an electron microscope.

    That neither of you seem to understand the necessity of metaphysical and philosophical argument on the topic of causality is a riot. All I can do is look back to Ed's original post. Declining standards, indeed.

  92. Mr Anonymous,

    My argument against an essentially ordered causal series is that the statements Dr Feser makes in support of such a thing are empirically false.

    If an empirically false premise does not entail that the argument is unsound, then conversing on this matter further is pointless.

  93. I believe that the argument is that because of the rejection of metaphysical explanations concerning the nature of existence, in favor of only such "mechanistics" explanations as can be determined by empirical and mathematical science, there has been a corresponding decline in Western civilization, occasioned by such factors as a nihilistic attitude toward morality, etc.
    That is certainly plausible. But what does it prove w/r/t the real existence of a Prime Mover?
    Moreover, this argument is totatlly Eurocentric. You mentioned Buddhism (in a snarky manner) above. Asian religio-philosophical systems would be totally indifferent to this whole controversy, I think. Yet, they too see a cyclical pattern of decline recurring over immeasurable periods of time. Where there is form, there is disintegration; nothing temporal can hold.
    When these concepts of teleology are applied in practice they can lead to absurd conclusions such as the prohibition of the use of contraceptives because w/r/t "natural law" every sex act MUST entail the POSSIBILITY of conception...or else! Or else what?

  94. And, btw, Mr. Anonymous, I am not coming from an atheistic viewpoint in my attack on such scholastic sophistry; I am coming from a sola fide, sola scriptura orientation with a centuries-long tradition of its own.

  95. Perhaps a better example of the act/potential description is in order. A slab of marble is actually a slab or marble but is potentially a statue, collumn ect, but requires an outside force in order to actualise that potential. Now lets say the outside force (human) is also a mixture of act/potential, it also requires an outside force to actualise its potentials e.g. it didn't know the art of masonary at birth.

    Please remember that Ed's book is only about 250 pages long and a good portion focus's on the 'sins' of modern philiosophy, a much lengthier defense of Aquinas is made by Fr Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange O.P. in "God, His Existence and Nature: A Thomistic Solution of Certain Agnostic Antinomies" and I assume in Ed's forthcoming book on Aquinas (hopefully minus the humorus polemics regarding miscillanious oxford midgets)

  96. Jack--
    But the fact that a piece of marble exists does not somehow necessarily entail the creation of a statue, or pillar, or anything at all.
    How do you interpret my example of the dictates of "natural law" w/r/t the "teleology of sex" and the use of contraception, where a necessary outcome is claimed to be dictated? I.e. the potential inherent to the sex act supposedly cannot be satisfied by aiming at the physical pleaure built into it by nature (or God), but must be limited to aiming at the possibility of conception. Thus, man-woman-sex act-conception becomes a unit, any alteration of which is a violation of "natural law" and an affront to God. Also, I guess, an element contributing to the decline of Western civilization.

  97. Rodak
    The marble slap is actually a marble slab but has the potential to be a statue, however it cannot 'actualise' that potential by itself and requires an outside force (sculptor) to become one. As for natural law I think that once you draw out the logical conclusions its very difficult to avoid the conclusions given by Aquinas et al, now admitedly I haven't looked into all of the details, but i'm a marketing student not a professional philospher like Ed or David. S. Oderberg so making sure my dissertaion is handed in on time is slighlty more importent at the moment than looking into volumes of natural law.

  98. The marble slap is actually a marble slab but has the potential to be a statue, however it cannot 'actualise' that potential by itself and requires an outside force (sculptor) to become one.

    I would say that there is nothing inherent to a slab of marble that pertains to "statueness." The potential for there one day being a statue is entirely in the sculptor.

  99. UnBeguiled,

    I've written up a reply to your blog post which I'll post later today or tomorrow morning. (I want to leave the most current post at the top for a little while longer.)

    Re: the comments at your blog: Come now, surely you know that I always say whatever I have to say (however offensive) under my own name.

  100. By the way, for those interested in further talk of causation:

    I bring up the link because of its general relevance here, but also on glancing over the entry I find two interesting things.

    1) Simultaneous causation is mentioned, and utterly distinct from any theistic context. A standard reply is given that what seems to be simultaneous is actually temporal, but it adds to the idea that simultaneous causation is not some crafty religious ploy. I'm sure there's quite a lot more to be said here.

    2) An argument from physics is mentioned. But it's mentioned in opposition to the idea of temporal ordering.

    The replies are amusing (in the context of this blowup):

    There are two main replies to the argument from physics, the first of which is to dismiss these theories. Being a physicist is no barrier to incoherence. Here the possibility of forward redescription alluded to with time travel is salient, in that the defender of the temporal order may hold that forward redescription is always possible, and always preferable.

    The second reply to the argument from physics is that it overextends. There may be no coherent account of the causal order compatible with all these theories. In particular, the backwards causal model of the Bell inequality postulates a backwards causal arrow that, it would seem, is neither the tine of a past-open fork, nor a special overdeterminer of the future, nor a handle to manipulate the past. So the argument from physics might culminate in a general tu quoque.

    Mind you, this is just one selection from a larger entry that is anything but decisive on the issue. But I guess it does help to show what experimental science (in this case, physics) can and can not decisively resolve.