Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Can we make sense of the world?

Is reality intelligible?  Can we make sense of it?  Or is the world at bottom an unintelligible “brute fact” with no explanation?  We can tighten up these questions by distinguishing several senses in which the world might be said to be (or not to be) intelligible.  To make these distinctions is to see that the questions are not susceptible of a simple Yes or No answer.  There are in fact a number of positions one could take on the question of the world’s intelligibility – though they are by no means all equally plausible.

Consider first the distinction between the world’s being intelligible in itself and its being intelligible to us.  Suppose there is, objectively speaking, an explanation of why the world exists in the way it does.  Whether we can grasp that explanation is another question.  Perhaps our minds are too limited to discover it, or perhaps they are too limited to understand the explanation even if we can discover it. 

Might we turn this around and suggest also that the world could be intelligible to us but not intelligible in itself?  This proposal seems incoherent.  If the world is not intelligible in itself, how could it be intelligible to us?  To be sure, we might think that we’ve grasped some explanation even when we haven’t, but that is not the same thing.  That would be a case of its merely seeming intelligible to us while not really being intelligible in itself, not a case of its really being intelligible to us while not really being intelligible in itself (whatever that could mean).  So we have an asymmetry here: While something could be intelligible in itself but not necessarily intelligible to us, if it really is intelligible to us – and doesn’t just seem to be – then it must also be intelligible in itself.

A second distinction we might draw is that between the world’s being thoroughly intelligible and its being only partially intelligible.  This distinction is an obvious one to draw if we think in terms of intelligibility to us.  For it might be that the world is intelligible in itself but, while not entirely intelligible to us, at least partially intelligible to us.

Might the world be partially (but not thoroughly) intelligible in itself?  Philosophers like Bertrand Russell and J. L. Mackie seem to think so, insofar as they think that we can explain various natural phenomena in terms of the laws discovered by empirical science, but hold also that the most fundamental level of laws cannot itself be explained, and must be regarded as a brute fact.  For the reasons given above, however, it would seem incoherent to hold that the world is thoroughly intelligible to us while only partially intelligible in itself.  If it is only partially intelligible in itself, it could only ever be partially intelligible to us.

With these distinctions in mind, we might identify the following possible positions on the question of the world’s intelligibility:

A. The world is thoroughly intelligible in itself and thoroughly intelligible to us: We might call this the “strong rationalist” position.  Very few philosophers seem ever to have held it, but Parmenides might be an example of someone who did. 

B. The world is thoroughly intelligible in itself but only partially intelligible to us: We might call this the “moderate rationalist” position.  It was the view of Plato, Aristotle, and Aquinas and seems to have been the position of the continental rationalist philosophers.  (The word “rationalism” is, of course, used in many senses.  Aristotle and Aquinas were not “rationalists” in the “continental rationalist” sense of being committed to innate ideas.)  The continental rationalists were not “strong rationalists” in our sense, insofar as none of them seems to have held that the world is thoroughly intelligible to us.  For example, Descartes did not think we could fathom God’s purposes in creating nature as He did; Spinoza thought that we know only two of the infinite attributes of the one infinite substance, viz. thought and extension; and Leibniz did not think our finite monads had the clarity of perception that the infinite monad that is God has.

C. The world is thoroughly intelligible in itself and completely unintelligible to us: It is not clear that anyone has ever actually defended this position.  “Mysterian” naturalists like Colin McGinn and Noam Chomsky would not be examples of philosophers taking this position, because while they claim that there might be some aspects of reality that we can never understand, they don’t claim that this is true of every aspect of reality, or even, necessarily, that it is thoroughly the case with respect to any aspect.  Their position would seem rather to be a variant on either B above or D below.  Nor would the even more skeptical naturalisms of Heraclitus, Hume, or Nietzsche seem to be instances of C.  If you’re going to present a theory to the effect that metaphysics is a mere projection of human psychological tendencies, or an expression of a will to power, or whatever, then you are implicitly claiming that at least part of nature (namely us and our tendency toward metaphysical theorizing) is at least partially intelligible.  These thinkers too seem committed instead to some variation on either B or D.

D. The world is only partially intelligible in itself and only partially intelligible to us: As indicated above, this seems to be the view of naturalistically-oriented philosophers like Russell and Mackie, who believed that science gives us real knowledge of the world but that the fundamental laws of nature in terms of which it explains all the others are brute facts that cannot themselves ultimately be made intelligible.

E. The world is only partially intelligible in itself and completely unintelligible to us: As with C, it is not clear that anyone has ever actually defended this position. 

F. The world is completely unintelligible in itself and completely unintelligible to us: Once again, this does not seem to be a position that anyone has actually ever held.  And once again, thinkers who might seem to have held it can be seen on reflection not to have done so.  For example, Gautama Buddha might seem to be an example of a thinker committed to F, but he really wasn’t.  For even to hold (as the Buddha did) that there is no abiding self or permanent reality of any sort is to make a claim about the world that is intended to be both intelligible and true.  And even to recommend (as he also did) against indulging in much metaphysical speculation in the interests of pursuing Enlightenment is to presuppose that there is an objective, intelligible fact of the matter about what would hinder Enlightenment.  The Buddha too seems in fact to have been committed to something like a variation on either B or D.

Indeed, it is very difficult to see how one could defend either the view that the world is completely unintelligible in itself or the view that it is completely unintelligible to us.  For how could such a view be defended?  If you give an argument for the conclusion that reality is unintelligible in itself, it would surely have to rest on premises about reality.  You would be saying something like “Reality is such-and-such, and therefore it is unintelligible.”  But however you fill in the “such-and-such,” you will be referring to some intelligible feature of reality, or will in any event have to do so if your argument is itself going to be both intelligible and convincing.  And in that case you will in effect have conceded that reality is not after all completely unintelligible.  By the same token, if you give an argument for the conclusion that reality is unintelligible for us, then you will have to appeal to premises either about some intelligible feature of reality itself, or about our cognitive faculties – which are themselves part of reality – and in that case you will, once again, have implicitly conceded that reality is at least partially intelligible.

So, D would seem to the closest one could come plausibly to claiming that reality is unintelligible.  But I think that even D is not really coherent.  Suppose I told you that the fact that a certain book has not fallen to the ground is explained by the fact that it is resting on a certain shelf, but that the fact that the shelf itself has not fallen to the ground has no explanation at all but is an unintelligible brute fact.  Have I really explained the position of the book?  It is hard to see how.  For the shelf has in itself no tendency to stay aloft – it is, by hypothesis, just a brute fact that it does so.  But if it has no such tendency, it cannot impart such a tendency to the book.  The “explanation” the shelf provides in such a case would be completely illusory.  (Nor would it help to impute to the book some such tendency after all, if the having of the tendency is itself just an unintelligible brute fact.  The illusion will just have been relocated, not eliminated.) 

By the same token, it is no good to say “The operation of law of nature C is explained by the operation of law of nature B, and the operation of B by the operation of law of nature A, but the operation of A has no explanation whatsoever and is just an unintelligible brute fact.”  The appearance of having “explained” C and B is completely illusory if A is a brute fact, because if there is neither anything about A itself that can explain A’s own operation nor anything beyond A that can explain it, then A has nothing to impart to B or C that could possibly explain their operation.  As the Scholastics would say, a cause cannot give what it does not itself have in the first place.  A series of ever more fundamental “laws of nature” is in this regard like a series of instrumental causes ordered per se.  The notion of “an explanatory nomological regress terminating in a brute fact” is, when carefully examined, as incoherent the notion of “a causal series ordered per se in which every cause is purely instrumental.”  And thus Mackie’s and Russell’s position is itself ultimately incoherent. 

The only truly coherent positions one could take on the question of the world’s intelligibility, then, are A and B.  And A is, needless to say, not very plausible, even if coherent.  So, some variation on B seems to be the most plausible view to take on the world’s intelligibility.  Why do people bother with D, then?  The answer is, I think, obvious.  It is very hard to affirm either A or B without committing oneself either to classical theism or pantheism.  For once it is conceded that the world is at least in itself completely intelligible, it is hard to see how this could be so unless the most fundamental level of reality is something absolutely necessary – something that is not a mixture of potentiality and actuality but rather pure actuality (as the Aristotelian would say), something which is in no way whatsoever composite but absolutely metaphysically simple (as the Neo-Platonist would say), something which is not a compound of essence and existence but rather subsistent being itself (as the Thomist would say).  However one elaborates on the nature of this ultimate reality, it is not going to be identifiable with any “fundamental laws of nature” (which are contingent, and the operation of which involves the transition from potentiality to actuality within a universe of things that are in various ways composite).  One might still at this point dispute whether the ultimate reality is best described in terms of the theology of classical theism or instead in terms of some pantheistic theology.  But one will definitely be in the realm of theologyrational theology, natural theology – rather than empirical science.

If one wants to maintain a defensible atheist position, then, one has to try to make something like D work, as Russell and Mackie (and my younger self) did.  One has to claim with a straight face that the world is intelligible down to the level of the fundamental laws, but beyond that point suddenly “stops making sense” (as Talking Heads might put it).  For one has to say, not that the world has some ultimate explanation that is non-theistic, but rather that it has no ultimate explanation at all.  And in that case one can hardly claim to have provided a more “rational” account of the world than theism does.  To paraphrase what Copleston said to Russell, if you refuse to play the explanatory game, then naturally you cannot lose it.  But by the same token, it is ludicrous to claim that you’ve won it.

317 comments:

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Tom Gilson said...

Interesting. Your analysis of D ties into something I was told just yesterday by a commenter on my blog: that explanations of reality involving God lead to a "dead end." As you show, the "scientific" (better to call it naturalist or materialist) position this person favors necessarily leads to a dead end, too—one that is infinitely deader (if such a word exists) than God who is life and the source of life.

Maolsheachlann said...

I know this has nothing to do with evolution or creationism, but I do think that it's relevant to Dawkins's claim that, post Darwin, it is possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist. Because if we are to end in a brute fact, why is the brute fact of fully functioning human beings any more or less brute than the brute fact of a cosmos that gives rise to them? Why couldn't man have been "just there, that's all"?

shiningwhiffle said...

@Maolsheachlann:

if we are to end in a brute fact, why is the brute fact of fully functioning human beings any more or less brute than the brute fact of a cosmos that gives rise to them? Why couldn't man have been "just there, that's all"?

That's very similar to a thought that was key in my finally committing to theism and rejecting naturalism. It actually started with me granting that naturalists have as much right to assert the Universe as an inexplicable brute fact as theists have in asserting God as an inexplicable brute fact (I wasn't yet a classical theist), but then I realized:

1. Why start with the Big Bang? As a brute fact, the Universe could have started in media res within the last, say, one billion years just as easily as it could have started ~14 billion years ago with the Bang.

2. In fact, starting the Universe in media would provide a convenient solution to the sticky problem of how life arose, since it would have always existed.

3. In fact, by shaving off about 13 billion years of past states of the Universe, you explain the current state of the Universe with fewer entities.

Since Occam's Razor is used against God's being a brute fact, I have a hard time seeing how it can't be used for the Universe's starting in media res, except by saying that the Big Bang is the natural starting-point, which allows the theist to rebut that God is an even more natural starting-point.

So it seems to me that any Razor-wielding skeptical naturalist is committed to arriving at the ridiculous conclusion that the Universe probably started sometime relatively recently. (At the risk of being unkind, might we call this "Young Earth Naturalism"?)

dguller said...

First, I find the whole “intelligible in itself” to be a sneaky way of assuming a higher intelligence, because for something to be “intelligible”, it must be intelligible to some intelligence. Otherwise it would be like postulating thoughts without a thinker. Having assumed God’s existence, it would be circular reasoning to subsequently use this concept as a proof of his existence.

Second, you did not include another option, which is “we have no idea whether the universe is intelligible in itself”, because we can only imagine and conceive of concepts that we are capable of thinking, and if there are universal laws that are beyond us, then this is utterly empty, being beyond evidence and reason.

Third, what is wrong with a brute fact? Eventually, our explanations come to a stop somewhere, because there is only so far that our cognitive capacities can go. What is beyond, we should be silent about, I think, because otherwise we open the doors to speculation without grounding in anything but fantasy. Furthermore, whether you stop your explanations at God or the universe, you still stop. So, if we have to stop somewhere, then I prefer to stop at the universe, because that is all we have good evidence for, I think.

shiningwhiffle said...

@dguller

for something to be “intelligible”, it must be intelligible to some intelligence

Not quite. Change "intelligible to some intelligence" to "possibly intelligible to some intelligence" and you've got it. Your objection as it stands implies that you think the world was unintelligible before intelligences arose, then suddenly became intelligible when they got here.

Second, you did not include another option, which is “we have no idea whether the universe is intelligible in itself”, because we can only imagine and conceive of concepts that we are capable of thinking, and if there are universal laws that are beyond us, then this is utterly empty, being beyond evidence and reason.

At the risk of misrepresenting you, what you seem to be saying is there's another option:

G. Heck if we know. Maybe logic doesn't hold.

In which case, my (overly snarky, sorry) response is: this is purple because the bubble-fish is taco-sauce.

Third, what is wrong with a brute fact? Eventually, our explanations come to a stop somewhere, because there is only so far that our cognitive capacities can go.

The God of classical theism is its own explanation due its simplicity.

What is beyond, we should be silent about, I think, because otherwise we open the doors to speculation without grounding in anything but fantasy.

Check some of Dr. Feser's other posts, such as this one. Classical theism is based in logical argument (whether you agree with the arguments or not), not pure speculation.

Furthermore, whether you stop your explanations at God or the universe, you still stop.

But it makes all the difference in the world which you stop at. See my post above.

dguller said...

>> To paraphrase what Copleston said to Russell, if you refuse to play the explanatory game, then naturally you cannot lose it. But by the same token, it is ludicrous to claim that you’ve won it.

And this is just silly.

Say someone seeks an explanation for why there is an invisible goblin floating behind Pluto. We would naturally seek evidence for such a claim, and when none was forthcoming, except that it is logically possible, we would disengage from the conversation. That would be an example of refusing to play the explanatory game, which is completely appropriate, because there is no evidence to base any explanation on. Would you really say that the goblinist is in a superior position to the a-goblinist?

The bottom line is that having an explanation without justification is just fantasy and speculation. I can imagine almost anything to explain anything, but that does not make my imagined explanations valid. The issue is not necessarily whether there are possible explanations available for discussion, but whether there are any legitimate means of differentiating which are true and which are false. If there is no such methodology, then people should just say that they have no idea, and move on to more productive areas of inquiry, because maybe something may be discovered to shed light upon the abandoned problem.

So, getting back to Copleston’s point to Russell, the fact that Russell is saying that he is refusing to play the explanatory game, because there is insufficient evidence for the explanations of what is Beyond (logic, reason, experience, the universe) is an appropriate one. After all, what is beyond us is also being justification, and thus is unmoored from any warrant whatsoever, which also makes it a prime target for fanciful speculation. Why bother engaging in this fantasy at all?

dguller said...

shiningwiffle:

>> Not quite. Change "intelligible to some intelligence" to "possibly intelligible to some intelligence" and you've got it. Your objection as it stands implies that you think the world was unintelligible before intelligences arose, then suddenly became intelligible when they got here.

Fair enough.

>> At the risk of misrepresenting you, what you seem to be saying is there's another option:

G. Heck if we know. Maybe logic doesn't hold.

In which case, my (overly snarky, sorry) response is: this is purple because the bubble-fish is taco-sauce.

Do we know that logic holds outside space-time? We can sure speculate, and say that since it works so well inside space-time, then it should also work outside space-time, but how can we justify this conclusion? We have no experience of anything outside space-time, and thus the major premise is unfounded.

As for your snarky response, are you saying that unless logic holds as a fundamental feature of the foundation of reality itself, then it is arbitrary? I’m definitely not saying that.

>> The God of classical theism is its own explanation due its simplicity.

First, who says God is simple? He apparently has a number of beliefs, desires, thoughts, feelings, and possesses infinite will and engages in all-powerful actions. How is that simple?

Second, just because an explanation is simple does not make it right. The four humor theory of disease is far simpler than modern medicine, but it is totally false.

Third, what is simpler? The universe exists as a bare fact or the universe exists AND God exists to justify the universe? You have multiplied entities, and introduced an infinite entity in need of explanation itself. To just say, “Well, God just exists without need of justification” is to beg the question, I think.

>> Check some of Dr. Feser's other posts, such as this one. Classical theism is based in logical argument (whether you agree with the arguments or not), not pure speculation.

First, I never said it wasn’t logical. Just because something is logically possible does not mean it is true.

Second, my point is that the premises always involve aspects of reality that we have no way of knowing, because they are outside our experience altogether. I have no experience of what grounds reality itself. Have you?

Take the premises in the post that you cited.

“2. If the first principle of all were composed of parts, then those parts would be ontologically prior to it.”

This assumes that the first principle is a thing or process that either is a single thing or process or is composed of smaller things or processes.

How does one know this? What if it is neither simple nor composed of parts? What if our experience of physical things or processes, which is where this idea is drawing from, has NO application to this foundational level of reality? What if it is radically different from anything that we can imagine or conceive?

And this is my problem with this line of argumentation. It relies upon premises that attempt to bootstrap themselves out of the empirical world and into the supernatural world without any justification. And since we have no way of knowing whether our concepts reliably apply to this level of reality, how can you use them so casually and assume that they capture the truth? That is what I mean by sheer speculative fantasy.

George R. said...

for something to be “intelligible”, it must be intelligible to some intelligence


This is actually true for A-T thinking. Thomas and Aristotle both thought that all of existence was intelligible, but that material things were the least intelligible, and, in fact, only potentially intelligible requiring some intelligence to abstract forms from the matter, thereby reducing what is potentially intelligible to actual intelligibility. Moreover, they held the intriguing position that anything that is actually intelligible is also necessarily intelligent. (Perhaps Ed, or somebody else, can comment on this rather startling doctrine.)

Therefore, according to A-T, wherever there is actual intelligibility there is intelligence.

BenYachov said...

dguller

Virtually all of here are Strong Atheists in regards to the existence of any Theistic Personalist view of God.

>First, who says God is simple?

The philosophical reasoning of both Aristotle and Aquinas lead us to that conclusion. No other is possible if we except their philosophy. Thus the burden on you is to learn that philosophy and formulate a plausible argument on why it is wrong.

>He apparently has a number of beliefs, desires, thoughts, feelings, and possesses infinite will and engages in all-powerful actions. How is that simple?

One of the Thesis of Thomism is that God can only be known analogously not unequivocally or wholly equivocally.

You need to learn more before you can ask actual challenging questions.

Anonymous said...


Third, what is wrong with a brute fact? Eventually, our explanations come to a stop somewhere, because there is only so far that our cognitive capacities can go. What is beyond, we should be silent about, I think, because otherwise we open the doors to speculation without grounding in anything but fantasy. Furthermore, whether you stop your explanations at God or the universe, you still stop. So, if we have to stop somewhere, then I prefer to stop at the universe, because that is all we have good evidence for, I think.


--

I have decided to stop a my mom's basement, since that's all I have good evidence for, I think.

I'm 37, alone and arguing with VAPID THEISTS on the Internet. I have confidence that women do not exist, and that the purpose of human existence is to read comic books and play WoW.

dguller said...

BenYachov:

>> The philosophical reasoning of both Aristotle and Aquinas lead us to that conclusion. No other is possible if we except their philosophy. Thus the burden on you is to learn that philosophy and formulate a plausible argument on why it is wrong.

First, “if we except [sic] their philosophy”. Why should we accept their philosophy?

Second, I did study Aristotle and Aquinas in university during my philosophy classes, admittedly quite superficially, and was always struck by how they would start with definitions and concepts based on flimsy justifications, and then build towering edifices of philosophical power upon them.

Take Aquinas’ discussion of being and goodness at ST I, 5, 1. Here’s his awesome argument:

1. If X is good, then X is desirable.
2. X’s desirability is proportionate to X’s degree of perfection.
3. X’s degree of perfection is proportionate to X’s degree of reality.
4. Therefore, the goodness of X is proportionate X’s degree of reality.

Look at premises (2) and (3), which involve “perfection” as something additive in the form of incremental amounts or degrees. Is this even true? Perfection is a relative term, because something can be perfect in one respect, but imperfect in another. For example, a hurricane can be perfect in terms of its degree of power and violence, but I doubt that the farmer who lost his home due to the hurricane would see it as perfect. He would clearly see the state of affairs as imperfect to the extreme.

And how does one measure “perfection”? By the degree of “reality” in it. And how does one measure the degree of reality? He does not say. And is (2) even true? Take the example of those who look for errors on baseball cards, because an error on a baseball card from 1930 is more valuable than one without the error. In that case, imperfection is actually desired. So, (2) is just false.

With regards to (3), I cannot see this as being true. I mean, if one considers beautiful women to be thin, then an overweight woman would have more “being” than a thin one, and yet not be considered as perfect as the thin woman. So, (3) is false.

It all appears to be logical and airtight, but it is based upon certain metaphors from the natural world that appear to be quite compelling, but actually are not. I mean, seriously, it is all just equivocation.

>> One of the Thesis of Thomism is that God can only be known analogously not unequivocally or wholly equivocally.

How can one have precision in one’s arguments when the concepts involved are ultimately incapable of having precise definitions? Does that not introduce an element of slipperiness in what should be an airtight structure? Furthermore, how does one know which analogies are appropriate to God and which are not? What methodology does one use in that case?

Leo Carton Mollica said...

Thanks for the interesting post.

You got me thinking about whether any other philosophers besides Parmenides share position A, which in turn led me to distinguish

A1. Reality is wholly intelligible in itself and, in fact, wholly intelligible to us, and
A2. reality is wholly intelligible in itself and, in principle, wholly intelligible to us.

A1, of course, has pretty scant support in the Western philosophical tradition, but A2 has some interesting possible defenders. Husserl, for example, argues in Cartesian Meditations that nothing is intrinsically opaque to human understanding. Does anyone else have candidates for advocates of position A?

dguller said...

Anonymous:

>> I have decided to stop a my mom's basement, since that's all I have good evidence for, I think.

>> I'm 37, alone and arguing with VAPID THEISTS on the Internet. I have confidence that women do not exist, and that the purpose of human existence is to read comic books and play WoW.

That’s too bad, because you actually are capable of leaving your house and seeing that everything that you believe is false. Try it, you may surprise yourself regarding what is out there.

The point is that there is a methodology available for you to experience that which is beyond your limited experience, and it does not require magic or fantastical speculations.

Can you really not see the difference between leaving your mom’s basement and meeting some girls to talk to versus what exists beyond our concepts and experience, and space-time itself?

Anonymous said...

Can you really not see the difference between leaving your mom’s basement and meeting some girls to talk to versus what exists beyond our concepts and experience, and space-time itself?

I've heard that Batman exists and that his mansion has a huge swimming pool. Crazy parties he throws there, lots of bikini girls.

That Bruce, such a cad.

dguller said...

Anonymous:

>> I've heard that Batman exists and that his mansion has a huge swimming pool. Crazy parties he throws there, lots of bikini girls.

Great. Let’s add to this.

There is a difference between (1) entities that exist in space-time, (2) entities that do not exist in space-time, and (3) entities that exist outside of space-time. Batman would be (2), God would be (3), and girls outside your mom’s basement would be (1).

That said, I’m not too sure what your point is. Maybe just clearly state it?

BenYachov said...

>First, “if we except [sic] their philosophy”. Why should we accept their philosophy?

Because almost everybody here is a Thomist or a fellow traveler and has likely read THE LAST SUPERSTITION.

Which defends God's existence and makes the argument for Aristotle & Thomas as the correct philosophy.

If you haven't done the back round reading don't expect me to do your homework for you.

But when I have time later I might be able to post a few links.


It's like going to a Evolutionist Blog and asking Dawkins "Why should we accept Evolution" in 500 words or less.

Anonymous said...

There is a difference between (1) entities that exist in space-time, (2) entities that do not exist in space-time, and (3) entities that exist outside of space-time. Batman would be (2), God would be (3), and girls outside your mom’s basement would be (1).

Brother, I'm afraid you have forgotten about the fourth category: that which exists outside of space and time.

To which category do space and time themselves belong? I ponder.

That said, I’m not too sure what your point is. Maybe just clearly state it?

My point is to bring lovvveee and jjjooooyyy. *produces two Barry Manilow CDs*

uhhh...

machinephilosophy said...

"What is beyond, we should be silent about, I think, because otherwise we open the doors to speculation without grounding in anything but fantasy."

That statement itself is about what is beyond.

Anonymous said...

dguller

Reading ST I Q5 a1 as if the discussion of simplicity in Q3 and perfection in Q4 hadn't happened, nor his many other, deeper considerations of these things and their relation to being elsewhere, is not much basis for claiming the argument is flimsy. You're not in on the argument yet.

It's good to see that you've gotten past Q2 a3, but there's a long way to go before it's time to pass judgment on the argument. Check out some books on the matter. They're pretty interesting.

Anonymous said...

That statement itself is about what is beyond.

It came from a good Austrian fellow from Cambridge. A non-practicing Catholic named Ludwig. You might have heard of him.

The funny thing is that he was aware of that ironic contradiction, but decided to go for it For The Lulz.

dguller said...

Machinephilosophy:

>> That statement itself is about what is beyond.

First, I am saying that any talk about what is beyond is speculative, because “what is beyond” has no content that our cognitive capacities can get its teeth into. Personally, I think that any talk like this is meaningless, except by analogy to our common experiences of borders being transgressed. Does that translate into transgressing the border of space-time? I do not think so. And is my negative statements akin to the multiple statements that believers make about a transcendent deity, knowing his attributes to the point of issuing logical arguments about his perfection, goodness, being, will, and so on? I do not claim to be so grandiose.

Second, pointing out that something is nonsense is not the same as speaking nonsensically. I can say, “A square triangle is impossible”, can’t I? I am pointing out that that combination of words is meaningless and incoherent. It makes no sense for you to say, “But you just talked about a square triangle!”

dguller said...

Anonymous:

>> It came from a good Austrian fellow from Cambridge. A non-practicing Catholic named Ludwig. You might have heard of him.

I have heard of him, and I particularly enjoy his later incarnation in which he disavowed much of the metaphysical speculation of his younger self.

dguller said...

BenYacov:

Fair enough.

But let me ask you this.

Does Aristotle or Aquinas offer any justification for how they can infer from their reason and empirical observations to a supernatural and transcendent realm?

Al Moritz said...

Does Aristotle or Aquinas offer any justification for how they can infer from their reason and empirical observations to a supernatural and transcendent realm?


Yes, they do. I suggest you read Feser's Aquinas.

BenYachov said...

>Does Aristotle or Aquinas offer any justification for how they can infer from their reason and empirical observations to a supernatural and transcendent realm?

Neither are empiricists they are what Hume called Rationalists.

So you question contains a category mistake.

OTOH Parmenides believed only permanence was real and change was an illusion. Thus he doubted his senses.

Heraclitus doubted the reliability of the senses and concluded the opposite only change was real stasis is an illusion.

Aristotle reasoned correctly our senses should be trusted and he concludes things are an irreducible combination of Form and Matter, Actuality and Potency.

http://payingattentiontothesky.com/2010/11/24/the-first-cause-by-edward-feser/

The above is a summery.

Let us not forget the 4 causes.
http://payingattentiontothesky.com/2010/12/16/aristotles-four-causes-by-dr-edward-feser/

PS You can't use Dawkins to polemic any of this. You will be mocked harshly.

At least use Anthony Kennedy if you must polemic Aquinas then you might have a fighting chance.

dguller said...

Al:

That's fine. I'll order it.

Until it comes, is there any way that you can summarize their arguments, as best as you understand them?

BenYachov said...

dguller,

You should also read THE LAST SUPERSTITION as well. It did three things for me. Radically altered my ideas about the nature of God. Gave me solid rational reasons to believe in the existence of God and it killed any possibility I could ever take so called Intelligent Design Theory seriously.

But that is just me.

Anonymous said...

I'd just like to add to Ben's comment regarding ID: it really is terrible, both bad science and bad theology.

(FWIW, I too am Roman Catholic)

Al Moritz said...

Until it comes, is there any way that you can summarize their arguments, as best as you understand them?

dguller,

To be honest, I am a bit too rusty on the issue as to confidently give you a short summary, even though I understand the rough outlines of the arguments. My philosophical interests had been a bit different as of late, and I am currently reading the book for a second time precisely in order to be more up to speed.

Perhaps someone else can help you.

George R. said...

Does Aristotle or Aquinas offer any justification for how they can infer from their reason and empirical observations to a supernatural and transcendent realm?

No, of course not. Silly theists, they just use arguments like "...because we say so" and "Wouldn't it be cool if..."

You should also read THE LAST SUPERSTITION as well... it killed any possibility I could ever take so called Intelligent Design Theory seriously.

I read TLS. It was an excellent book. But it doesn't even lay a glove on ID.

Anonymous said...

dguller:

You seem like a decent fellow, but your critique of Aquinas is a total misfire. In A-T metaphysics, the degree of perfection that a thing has depends upon the extent to which it as an exemplar of its type. Think about the concept of a perfect circle- a shape that "perfectly" exemplifies circularity. That is the notion of "perfection" that we are working with. Moreover, a thing does not "increase in being" just because it is made out of more matter. A cancerous liver has more "matter" in it but it is less perfect because it is functionally impaired. That is, it is less "truly" or "perfectly" an exemplar of its type. Thus falls your "chubby chaser" objection. Finally, people do not want imperfect baseball cards because they value imperfections in and of themselves. They want them because they are worth more money. The imperfection is not desired for its own sake. Once again, your objection simply misfires.

BenYachov said...

I should point George R calls himself a Catholic but he rejects Benedict as the legitimate Pope.

Al Moritz said...

Ben:

>Does Aristotle or Aquinas offer any justification for how they can infer from their reason and empirical observations to a supernatural and transcendent realm?

Neither are empiricists they are what Hume called Rationalists.

So you question contains a category mistake.


Actually, dguller's question is just fine. As you say yourself:

"Aristotle reasoned correctly our senses should be trusted and he concludes things are an irreducible combination of Form and Matter, Actuality and Potency."

So he did arrive at these things starting from empirical reasons, trusting his senses, and applying rationality to the issue. The latter then led also from there to the existence of God.

BenYachov said...

That is a valid point Al Moritz.

Anonymous said...

I should point George R calls himself a Catholic but he rejects Benedict as the legitimate Pope.

SSPV fella?

I'm Trad too, but not SSPX or SSPV.

dguller said...

BenYacov:

>> http://payingattentiontothesky.com/2010/11/24/the-first-cause-by-edward-feser/

>> The above is a summery.

Thanks for the link.

I thoroughly enjoyed the essay. It was well written and well argued.

Just a few thoughts.

He basically argues that anything that does not exist on its own must have some cause that results in its existence, especially since it cannot sustain its own existence. I actually have no problem with that, and it certainly appears that the principle of causality within space-time is consistent with this. After all, we cannot help but experience space-time entities as enmeshed in a causal matrix, and this is what contributes to our ability to perceive patterns and laws in nature.

My problem is when he attempts to apply this perfectly appropriate principle to the universe itself. He even anticipates my complaint by describing the fallacy of composition. In other words, just because the parts of X have property P does not imply that X itself has property P. And certainly if this fallacy were valid, then his entire argument collapses, because just because entities in the universe exist in a causal matrix does not imply that the universe itself also exists in a causal matrix, requiring an outside cause to sustain it.

So, how does he address this powerful objection? By basically saying that the fallacy is not a real fallacy by offering a counter-example: “if every brick in a wall built out of children’s Lego blocks is red, then the wall as a whole must be red. And the case of the universe as a whole is surely like this.” I don’t think this necessarily works, because then there would be no logical fallacies at all. The point of a logical argument is that its structure is such that, if the premises are true, then the conclusion inevitably follows. Fallacies are arguments that may work in many situations, but not in all, and thus are unreliable tools for truth.

Here’s a better way of making the same point. Take the hasty generalization fallacy, for example. “I was just shocked by electricity, and conclude that anyone directly exposed to an electric current will be shocked, as well.” Now, according to the previous line of reasoning, this would nullify the hasty generalization fallacy, because in this case, a true conclusion followed the fallacious reasoning. However, that is not the point, because a logical argument is supposed to ALWAYS work, and if it SOMETIMES works, then it is a fallacy. The fact that a fallacious argument had a true conclusion does not nullify the fallacy. A single false conclusion supports the fallacy’s validity.

So, I do not feel that he has addressed the fallacy of composition. And even his example of Legos only makes sense because we have experience with Legos. We have no experience of the universe as a whole, experiencing it from the outside. All we have are the events within space-time to go on, and thus his example is comparing apples and oranges.

Ultimately, this is just an example of what I have a problem with; namely, trying to apply concepts and experiences within the universe to the universe itself as a distinct entity. It just doesn’t work, and ultimately comes down to sheer speculation, even when it is dressed up in metaphysical argumentation.

And even if the universe required an explanation for why it is able to sustain itself throughout its multiple causal sequences, then why does God have to be the best explanation? Why is it not enough to say that the energy released by the Big Bang is what sustains the universe? I mean, energy cannot be created or destroyed, and undergoes a variety of changes, which results in all that we experience and know. Why the need to dig deeper and find something else? Energy is self-sustaining in and of itself, and does not require a transcendent divine entity at all. As I said previously, if theists can stop the explanation at God by just saying that his essence = existence, then why can’t I do the same about energy?

Crude said...

So, getting back to Copleston’s point to Russell, the fact that Russell is saying that he is refusing to play the explanatory game, because there is insufficient evidence for the explanations of what is Beyond (logic, reason, experience, the universe) is an appropriate one. After all, what is beyond us is also being justification, and thus is unmoored from any warrant whatsoever, which also makes it a prime target for fanciful speculation. Why bother engaging in this fantasy at all?

I don't think Russell was 'refusing to play the game' the way you take him to be here.

Taking path D, asserting that there is nothing "beyond" and therefore certain things are brute and inexplicable, is engaging in speculation. He's not playing the explanation game insofar as saying 'something is brute' means 'it has no explanation, it just is and isn't even self-explanatory'. But he's still engaging in speculation in the relevant sense.

To really "not engage in speculation" he'd have to go a step further: Drop all talk of what is or isn't "beyond", period. Regard questions about the likelihood of what is beyond - God's (non-)existence, something else's (non-)existence - as unanswerable and unable to be estimated in terms of probability or anything else.

BenYachov said...

dguller

>just because entities in the universe exist in a causal matrix does not imply that the universe itself also exists in a causal matrix.

Why not? Don't we define the Universe as merely the Set of things that exist in a causal matrix?

Is not the universe merely the set of things that make it up? A better question you might ask is does the Universe contain any non-contingent things? Or if only contingent things then is not contengency in this case an expansive property? Thus it would apply to the universe.

Color is an expansive property. If every object that composes a thing have color x then the whole is color x. The question you have to ask is why is not contengency an expansive property as well in this case?

>“I was just shocked by electricity, and conclude that anyone directly exposed to an electric current will be shocked, as well.”

Being shocked is not an expansive property. Since I could wear rubber gloves.

The issue is why isn't contingency an expansive property? If every brick in a wall is made of plastic then the wall is plastic. If every brick is 10 pount in weight is does not follow the wall is 10 pounds. Weight is not an expansive property.

Any philosopher worth his weight in salt will tell you the fallacy of composition does not apply when dealing with expansive properties.

dguller said...

BenYachov:

>> Why not? Don't we define the Universe as merely the Set of things that exist in a causal matrix?

I suppose that is one way of conceptualizing it, but I do not think that the universe is a set, unless very loosely defined. The entities within the universe can be abstracted into a set, but the abstracted set is not the universe.

>> Is not the universe merely the set of things that make it up? A better question you might ask is does the Universe contain any non-contingent things?

I have no idea if it contains non-contingent things. Certainly, our experience would say otherwise, but we have not experienced everything within the universe. I would say that thus far, our experience would lead us to believe that the universe only contains contingent entities.

>> Or if only contingent things then is not contengency in this case an expansive property? Thus it would apply to the universe.

How do you know that contingency applies to the universe? I mean, isn’t that exactly what you’re trying to prove? How do you make such a proof, except by arguing from our experience of contingent entities within the universe to the universe itself, but that inference commits the fallacy of composition, as I mentioned above.

>> Color is an expansive property. If every object that composes a thing have color x then the whole is color x. The question you have to ask is why is not contengency an expansive property as well in this case?

The answer is that we have direct experience of color being an expansive property. We do not have direct experience of the contingency of the universe, only the contingency of entities within the universe.

>> Being shocked is not an expansive property. Since I could wear rubber gloves.

Change my example to explicitly state that I was not wearing gloves. The point still stands. If a logical argument sometimes results in a true conclusion and sometimes in a false conclusion, then it is a fallacy that is not a valid guide towards truth.

>> The issue is why isn't contingency an expansive property? If every brick in a wall is made of plastic then the wall is plastic. If every brick is 10 pount in weight is does not follow the wall is 10 pounds. Weight is not an expansive property.

You are making the positive claim that the universe is contingent. I am asking for justification of this claim, and the only justification that you have is based upon our experience of contingency within the universe. In order to bootstrap this property upon the universe itself, you ultimately rely upon an inference that commits the fallacy of composition. It is, therefore, an invalid inference, and you cannot make this argument. It does no good to your case to reply to my question “why?” with “why not?” The onus is upon you to justify this claim in a non-fallacious fashion.

dguller said...

Anonymous:

>> You seem like a decent fellow, but your critique of Aquinas is a total misfire. In A-T metaphysics, the degree of perfection that a thing has depends upon the extent to which it as an exemplar of its type. Think about the concept of a perfect circle- a shape that "perfectly" exemplifies circularity. That is the notion of "perfection" that we are working with.

Thank you for the clarification.

So, (2) would have to be rephrased as: “X’s desirability is proportionate to X’s degree of exemplifying its type (i.e. degree of perfection).

Is that true, though? When my son attempts to write a letter, the fact that his writing does not perfectly exemplify its type actually ENHANCES its desirability for me, because I find it adorable that a child can make such mistakes.

I honestly feel like this premise, like many others, takes a few examples in certain situations, and just generalizes them to all situations without considering the variety of alternative scenarios that would falsify it. There are plenty of situations in which something erroneous or mistaken would actually increase its desirability.

>> Moreover, a thing does not "increase in being" just because it is made out of more matter. A cancerous liver has more "matter" in it but it is less perfect because it is functionally impaired. That is, it is less "truly" or "perfectly" an exemplar of its type. Thus falls your "chubby chaser" objection.

Then what does “being” even mean here? How does one measure the degree of being something has to know which entity has more being in it?

>> Finally, people do not want imperfect baseball cards because they value imperfections in and of themselves. They want them because they are worth more money. The imperfection is not desired for its own sake. Once again, your objection simply misfires.

Oh, so the desirability has to be for its own sake. Care to give me an example of something desired for its own sake without any mixture of any other desires? It is my experience that when I desire something, it is for a number of reasons, and always because it satisfies some of my physical, emotional and intellectual needs. I think that desirability for its own sake is just false. And even if it was possible, then why is it preferable to desiring something, because it satisfies our needs?

BenYachov said...

So dguller,

>I suppose that is one way of conceptualizing it, but I do not think that the universe is a set, unless very loosely defined.

Then what is it and what is the basis of your own philosophical modeling of it?

Also are you a Conceptionalist or a Moderate Realist?

Because Thomism presupposes moderate realism(that's covered in TLS and not on the website link.).

>The answer is that we have direct experience of color being an expansive property.

Yeh the errors of Humean empiricism at work.

So if I was a disembodied mind in a universe with just one monopol Hydrogen Atom I couldn't count higher than 3 because I would have no experience of it(It's just me the electron and the proton)?

That makes no sense.

BenYachov said...

Maybe this will help.

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2010/12/hume-cosmological-arguments-and-fallacy.html

Crude said...

Maolscheachlann's earlier talk about intellectual fulfillment in the face of brute facts got me thinking.

I think it's fair to say that accepting brute facts means intellectual fulfillment is off the table. "It just is, no explanation or reason, period" is the dead opposite of intellectual fulfillment after all. And I think this applies to the move of claiming "Any question of what, if anything, exists beyond or outside the universe is unknowable by man" as well.

It's kind of an atomic bomb move, really: Being an intellectually-fulfilled atheist becomes impossible. The consolation is that being intellectually fulfilled, period, is impossible, as a consequence of that approach. (I suppose a theist who accepts the latter move for the sake of argument can argue that something from 'outside' the universe could in principle approach people 'inside', but I won't develop that here.)

I just find that interesting, because one of the habits of the New Atheists was harping about reason, intellect, intellectual fulfillment, etc. But with the only real options being to choose between brute facts, or calling any thought or speculation about anything beyond the universe forever unknowable, the real banner is "reason is useless, intellects are limited, and intellectual fulfillment is impossible."

BenYachov said...

>How do you make such a proof, except by arguing from our experience of contingent entities within the universe to the universe itself, but that inference commits the fallacy of composition, as I mentioned above.

It goes both ways make a positive case that contingency isn't an expansive property like weight or size.

Ask yourself what is it about the nature of color that makes it expansive if all the objects in a whole have the property of one specific color. Or substance (the wall is made of only gold bricks the wall is therefore made of Gold)?

What is it about the nature weight or height that makes it non-expansive?

Then investigate if Contingency is more like weight or height or color and substance.

Crude said...

It goes both ways make a positive case that contingency isn't an expansive property like weight or size.

I think this is fair to ask, though I'm predicting 'I don't have to argue contingency isn't expansive, you have to argue to my satisfaction it is' is coming.

It's also worth keeping in mind that the alternative to the universe existing contingently is the universe existing necessarily. I actually wonder if it's possible to even assert such without embracing Ed's A or B, and thus committing oneself to pantheism.

BenYachov said...

>you ultimately rely upon an inference that commits the fallacy of composition.

You haven't proven the property of Contingency is non-expansive.

If every object that makes up the universe is contingent then logically the universe is also contingent.

If you add objects that each weight x then the addition of all of them causes the whole to be the weight of the whole > than x.

Because it is the nature of weight if you add heavy objects to a whole the whole is heavier than the individual parts.

But I don't make a red wall more of a particular color red by adding more red plastic bricks. Nor do I turn the plastic wall into gold by adding more plastic bricks.

What happens when I have a set of contingent objects? Do I make it more contingent or less if I add or subtract contingent objects?

Obviously I don't so therefore contingency is an expansive property.

dguller said...

BenYachov:

>> Then what is it and what is the basis of your own philosophical modeling of it?

I do not know. The universe is the totality of events within space-time.

>> So if I was a disembodied mind in a universe with just one monopol Hydrogen Atom I couldn't count higher than 3 because I would have no experience of it(It's just me the electron and the proton)? 

That makes no sense.

First, I have no idea what that would be like, because I do not believe that a disembodied mind is possible at all.

Second, this has nothing to do with Hume. It has to do with how to know whether the conclusion of an argument is valid. When you use a logical fallacy, then the only way to know is to empirically verify it. That’s all I meant. With regards to your color example, the truth of the inference does not come from an argument from composition, but from our numerous experiences of colorful objects, whether their parts or the whole. That is how the truth is established. Again, you are comparing apples and oranges.

dguller said...

BenYachov:

>> You haven't proven the property of Contingency is non-expansive.

I do not have to prove this. I just have to show that your argument that contingency is expansive is false, which I have done, because your argument relies upon the fallacy of composition.

>> If every object that makes up the universe is contingent then logically the universe is also contingent. 



Begs the question.

>> If you add objects that each weight x then the addition of all of them causes the whole to be the weight of the whole > than x.

Because it is the nature of weight if you add heavy objects to a whole the whole is heavier than the individual parts.



Did you derive this from an argument of composition? No. You derived it from the fact that empirical evidence supports this claim. It is NOT a logical argument, but an empirical claim.

And your claim that adding X to Y will always result in a the weight of X plus weight of Y is false. You are assuming that no mass was lost as energy in the process of adding them, which actually happens often in chemical and atomic interactions.

>> But I don't make a red wall more of a particular color red by adding more red plastic bricks. Nor do I turn the plastic wall into gold by adding more plastic bricks.



All are empirical claims, not derived from logical arguments.

>> What happens when I have a set of contingent objects? Do I make it more contingent or less if I add or subtract contingent objects?

Obviously I don't so therefore contingency is an expansive property.

First, I do not know what you mean by “adding contingent objects”. Do you stack them one on top of another? Do you put them side by side?

Second, you are still dealing with individual contingent objects existing WITHIN the causal nexus of the universe. To make the leap from objects to universe is to commit the fallacy of composition, because just because individual objects have property P does not mean that their totality will also have P. Sometimes they do, and sometimes they don’t. But you can’t just ASSUME that they will because you want them to.

BenYachov said...

>Second, this has nothing to do with Hume.

Actually it does since modern criticism of Aquinas are based on the errors of Hume on empiricism.

>It has to do with how to know whether the conclusion of an argument is valid. When you use a logical fallacy, then the only way to know is to empirically verify it.

If that is true and know to be true then verify the claims of the above statement empirically. I don't see how in any reality that can been done logically.

>That’s all I meant. With regards to your color example, the truth of the inference does not come from an argument from composition, but from our numerous experiences of colorful objects, whether their parts or the whole. That is how the truth is established. Again, you are comparing apples and oranges.

I think I understood what you meant. What I am saying is the Fallacy of Composition does not apply to expansive properties.

You need to make a positive argument contengency is not an expansive property. Show me how it is like weight or height then we can go on from there.

Proof goes both ways.

dguller said...

BenYachov:

>> It goes both ways make a positive case that contingency isn't an expansive property like weight or size.

I am not arguing for one position over another. I honestly do not know whether the universe is contingent or non-contingent. All I can tell you is that your particular claim relies upon fallacious reasoning. Does that make it false? Not necessarily. It only makes it unjustified at this time.

Does that mean that I endorse the opposite claim? No, because I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT OCCURS OUTSIDE THE UNIVERSE, whether there is something out there or nothing at all. Since I do not know, I do not speculate, because it is a waste of time. Furthermore, I encourage you not to speculate, because you do not know either.

dguller said...

BenYachov:

>> If that is true and know to be true then verify the claims of the above statement empirically.

Seriously? OK. When you are inquiring into whether a hypothesis or claim is true, what do you do? You seek evidence in support of the hypothesis, or even better, also seek evidence that falsifies it, too, to minimize confirmation bias. Some of that evidence will be empirical in nature, based upon observations and whatnot, and other evidence will be based upon logical arguments from previously established propositions. If you do something else, then let me know, because I am really interested.

>> I don't see how in any reality that can been done logically.

If you mean without any input from our senses, then yeah, you can’t do much at all.

>> I think I understood what you meant. What I am saying is the Fallacy of Composition does not apply to expansive properties.

I will agree with that, if you have already shown that a property is expansive. How do you show that? Not by logical argument, because that would commit the fallacy. You only know it by empirical observation of the properties of the parts and the properties of the whole. Anything else is just speculation and fantasy.

So, all the examples you cited are of empirical phenomena, and thus have no logical argumentation at all. We just looked and measured. What you are trying to do is take some empirical examples that are perfectly justifiable, and infer non-empirical findings that go above and beyond the evidence. It is that inference that I object to. Hell, you are assuming that the properties in the empirical world are also present in the non-empirical world, which is also dicey.

>> You need to make a positive argument contengency is not an expansive property. Show me how it is like weight or height then we can go on from there.

No, I do not. I can happily say that I don’t have a clue what goes on outside the universe of space-time. I am not making any truth claims whatsoever, because this is beyond this poor existing individual, as Kierkegaard would say. You are the one making truth claims, and thus the onus is upon you to justify them. My contention is that you have been unable to do so thus far.

Crude said...

Are there any examples of composites constituted by contingent things that are not themselves contingent as well? I would think that if every example we have (even 'have thus far') is contingent, and if it's granted that the universe is constituted wholly by contingent things, even a skeptic would have to concede that Ben's conclusion has more going for it than the alternative.

dguller said...

Crude:

I am an intellectually fulfilled and satisfied atheist. Pretty happy, too. :) Does that count as a reductio ad absurdum? ;)

dguller said...

Crude:

>> Are there any examples of composites constituted by contingent things that are not themselves contingent as well? I would think that if every example we have (even 'have thus far') is contingent, and if it's granted that the universe is constituted wholly by contingent things, even a skeptic would have to concede that Ben's conclusion has more going for it than the alternative.

Fallacy of composition. That does not mean that the conclusion is false, but only that you cannot necessarily establish its truth from the premises. If you cannot demonstrate it logically, then you can try to demonstrate it empirically. I would love to hear how you would empirically verify that the universe is contingent, which would require observing it from the “outside”, whatever that means.

Crude said...

I am an intellectually fulfilled and satisfied atheist. Pretty happy, too. :) Does that count as a reductio ad absurdum?

Actually, I think what I outlined here is pretty serious. Whether you take the approach of claiming this or that is brute, or you take the approach that claims all talk of what exists outside the universe (positive or negative) is without intellectual warrant, you are - if I'm correct - ruling out the very possibility of intellectual fulfillment as an atheist. "It just is, I have no idea why, it's not even possible to get an explanation" isn't intellectual fulfillment - I think that much is obvious.

I don't think the difficulty ends at mere acknowledgment that one's position entails the acceptance of being intellectually unfulfilled either. It spills out into scientific arguments as well.

Another way of putting it is, "If intellectual fulfillment is possible, some form of theism is true."

BenYachov said...

>I do not have to prove this.

Can't or you just don't know how too?

Then we can't have a rational argument.

>Second, this has nothing to do with Hume.

Actually it does since modern criticisms of Aquinas are based on the errors of Hume on empiricism.
Where would Atheism be without Hume?

>It has to do with how to know whether the conclusion of an argument is valid. When you use a logical fallacy, then the only way to know is to empirically verify it.

If that is true and know to be true then verify the claims of the above statement empirically & not logically. Yeh good luck with that.

>That’s all I meant. With regards to your color example, the truth of the inference does not come from an argument from composition, but from our numerous experiences of colorful objects, whether their parts or the whole. That is how the truth is established. Again, you are comparing apples and oranges.

I think I understood what you meant. What I am saying is the Fallacy of Composition does not apply to expansive properties. Every philosopher knows this.

You need to make a positive argument contingency is not an expansive property. Show me how it is like weight or height then we can go on from there.

Empiricism or logic or both.

Proof goes both ways. Make an argument. Stop playing the kneejerk skeptic to the N'th degree.

>I do not have to prove this.

Yes you do or do you just don't know how too philosophically?
There is no shame in admitting that and it doesn't make me right.

If you refuse then we can't have a rational argument.

>I just have to show that your argument that contingency is expansive is false, which I have done, because your argument relies upon the fallacy of composition.

No you just asserted it Ad Hoc. The fallacy of composition does not apply to expansive properties.

>Begs the question.

Down boy! I was merely setting up my proposition.

>Did you derive this from an argument of composition? No. You derived it from the fact that empirical evidence supports this claim. It is NOT a logical argument, but an empirical claim.

I'm not saying you can't find truth using empiricism or philosophy isn't cosnsitent with it but it's not the sole means of true.

>And your claim that adding X to Y will always result in a the weight of X plus weight of Y is false. You are assuming that no mass was lost as energy in the process of adding them, which actually happens often in chemical and atomic interactions.

The loss of mass is an irrelevant since I am talking Newtons not Kg. Unless you want to claim the weight of the whole is not greater than the parts? Are you claiming that because that would be strange?

>All are empirical claims, not derived from logical arguments.

So empirical data can't be analyzed by logic now?

>First, I do not know what you mean by “adding contingent objects”. Do you stack them one on top of another? Do you put them side by side?

Does doing any of this make them more or less contingent? If so then explain why?

>Second, you are still dealing with individual contingent objects existing WITHIN the causal nexus of the universe. To make the leap from objects to universe is to commit the fallacy of composition, because just because individual objects have property P does not mean that their totality will also have P. Sometimes they do, and sometimes they don’t. But you can’t just ASSUME that they will because you want them to.

That's non-responsive and a non-refutation.

That fallacy of composition still does not apply with objects that have an expansive property. You have not shown otherwise. Either logically or empirically.

Crude said...

Fallacy of composition. That does not mean that the conclusion is false, but only that you cannot necessarily establish its truth from the premises. If you cannot demonstrate it logically, then you can try to demonstrate it empirically. I would love to hear how you would empirically verify that the universe is contingent, which would require observing it from the “outside”, whatever that means.

Like I said, I'm granting it for the sake of argument that you're not establishing it logically, and obviously you can't establish it empirically. I'm suggesting that all this could be granted, and you could still be in a position to argue that concluding the contingency of the universe itself is the more reasonable option.

dguller said...

Crude:

>> Whether you take the approach of claiming this or that is brute, or you take the approach that claims all talk of what exists outside the universe (positive or negative) is without intellectual warrant, you are - if I'm correct - ruling out the very possibility of intellectual fulfillment as an atheist. "It just is, I have no idea why, it's not even possible to get an explanation" isn't intellectual fulfillment - I think that much is obvious.

I disagree. I am very comfortable with uncertainty and the fact that there are things in this universe that I just do not know. I know my limitations, and thus am careful with respect to my beliefs and reasoning, as much as possible. It is knowing that there is more than I know out there that humbles me, and minimizes my pride and arrogance. I am also mature and grown up enough to know that the answers do not have to massage my ego or even support my self-esteem. Reality is what it is, independent of my feelings.

Believe me, despite these limitations, I am very intellectually fulfilled, because I am amazed by how much we DO know despite them, and how much more we continue to know.

BenYachov said...

>> If that is true and know to be true then verify the claims of the above statement empirically.

>Seriously? OK. When you are inquiring into whether a hypothesis or claim is true, what do you do? You seek evidence in support of the hypothesis, or even better, also seek evidence that falsifies it, too, to minimize confirmation bias. Some of that evidence will be empirical in nature, based upon observations and whatnot, and other evidence will be based upon logical arguments from previously established propositions. If you do something else, then let me know, because I am really interested.

The above is a logical argument not an empirical one.

Fail.

dguller said...

Crude:

>> Like I said, I'm granting it for the sake of argument that you're not establishing it logically, and obviously you can't establish it empirically. I'm suggesting that all this could be granted, and you could still be in a position to argue that concluding the contingency of the universe itself is the more reasonable option.

Why?

One of the principles that I try to live by is that “just because it makes sense does not mean it is true”.

It certainly makes sense that the universe would be contingent, given the presence of contingent entities within it, but that does not make it true. You need either logical argument or empirical evidence to justify that claim.

Furthermore, I can also see how the universe is non-contingent, especially if it is made of a fixed amount of energy that was released in the Big Bang and has been involved in near-infinite permutations and transformations into different types of matter for the next billions of years. I see no reason to add another layer to this explanation, because energy seems non-contingent to me, especially when taken as a totality in the universe.

I mean, do you really need a supernatural hand pushing energy around the universe?

So, for me, either hypothesis is possible. I prefer the latter, because it keeps the universe self-contained and self-sustaining and not requiring any supernatural entities that I find objectionable on several grounds. But I would not say that my preferences and intuitions justify this belief.

Crude said...

I disagree. I am very comfortable with uncertainty and the fact that there are things in this universe that I just do not know.

"Intellectual fulfillment" is not a measure of "do I feel all nice and cozy inside" right now. Obviously Dawkins wasn't using his claim that way either.

So no, this isn't a measure of comfort or feeling good. It's a statement about the use and limits of reason, and what understanding, knowledge, and explanation can be hoped for even in principle. Insofar as the choice comes down to a claim of either inexplicability on one hand, or brute facts on the other, intellectual fulfillment is not available.

That's pretty weighty, and it sinks a substantial amount of New Atheist rhetoric, or mangles it beyond recognizability.

dguller said...

BenYachov:

>> The above is a logical argument not an empirical one.

Fail.

It is empirical. You can observe human beings engaging in inquiry, and you will see this phenomenon occurring.

And seriously, are you really arguing that seeking reasons and evidence when inquiring into the truth of a claim is inappropriate? What would you replace it with?

Come on. No philosophical games here. What do YOU do when you are inquiring into the truth of a claim?

BenYachov said...

>I am not arguing for one position over another.

Then there is no point us talking and I don't say that to be a dick you seem like a nice guy if a little rough around the edges philosophically.

I thought you where giving me reasons why Aquinas' First Cause argument was not valid via your claim that Contingent objects make a contingent universe is the fallacy of composition.

I guess I was wrong.

Crude you talk to this fine gentlemen my hot temper makes me unsuited.

Plus my wife is nagging the crap out of me to watch O'Relly with her. Which I am happy to do.

dguller said...

Crude:

I am intellectually fulfilled, because I am astounded by the amount of knowledge that human beings have acquired over the centuries despite numerous limitations. The fact that we have come so far in our knowledge base fills me with awe and satisfaction.

Does it bother me that there are some questions that have no answers, or that there are some limits to our cognitive capacity and resources that we cannot surmount at this time? Not really. I am okay with not knowing everything.

Why does it bother you that you do not, and likely cannot, know everything you want to know?

Crude said...

It certainly makes sense that the universe would be contingent, given the presence of contingent entities within it, but that does not make it true. You need either logical argument or empirical evidence to justify that claim.

Again: I am granting, for the sake of argument, that the contingency of the universe cannot be logically or empirically demonstrated as certainly true. But I'm suggesting one inference over the other can be argued as more reasonable given what we know. For example: If thus far everything made up of contingent substances is itself contingent, and if it's agreed that the universe is also exhausted by being made up of the contingent, then...

Inferences don't need to be demonstrably 100% certain and true to be reasonable. Or do you disagree with that?

BenYachov said...

>It is empirical.

What particular scientific experiment did you do to prove the argument true? What scientific experiment did you cite that proved it happened.

It was a logical argument not empirical.

Logical positivism was abandoned as self-refuting by AJ Flew at the height of his Atheism. It's logically silly.

Plus just because I don't believe in empiricism alone doesn't mean I don't believe in empiricism at all.

dguller said...

BenYachov:

>> I thought you where giving me reasons why Aquinas' First Cause argument was not valid via your claim that Contingent objects make a contingent universe is the fallacy of composition.

That is exactly what I was doing.

Now, does it follow that Aquinas’ conclusion is false? No, just unjustified. It might be true, but not for the reasons that he gives.

Furthermore, does the fact that his conclusion is unjustified mean that the opposite conclusion is true? No.

That is all I meant by not arguing one claim over another.

And why is there no further point in this discussion? Does it really matter if I am agnostic on this issue and only pointing out the fallacies in your position? Does that belittle my contribution to this discussion?

Anonymous said...

Here is something I found:

How can any material thing or anything composed of material things be non-contingent? Material things undergo change, and to change is nothing more than to acquire and lose being (if it is a substantial change) or to acquire and lose modalities of its being (if it is an accidental change). However, in both cases (whether the radical change of coming into or going out of existence) or the change in mode of being in one substantial form (e.g. an acorn becomes oak tree), the being expresses finititude or limitation-that is, the absence of the fullness of being-by virtue of the fact that it changes. To undergo change or to be limited is to "be" in some respect and "not be" some other respect. But a self-extent being can't not be, otherwise we would have to look to some additional being (which could not itself go out of being) to account for that being's existence or persistence at all. Hence there must be some being whose nature is simply "To Be", that "is what it is", full stop. But any material being is finite (at least spatio-temporally) and hence cannot fit the bill. The universe, big bang, or whatever other bullshit, does not fit the bill, either.

Oh, and per the fallacy of composition: it is only an informal fallacy, not formal, which means it is only a chink in the armor of an argument if it really does apply to the argument (whereas a formal fallacy always means the conclusion never follows). One can validly infer that a wall is blue because it's bricks are blue, and one can validly infer that the universe is not contingent because even an infinite set of contingent things do not "add up" to a contingent thing.

But all of that, imo, is besides the point, since no material thing could be non-contingent.

Crude said...

Why does it bother you that you do not, and likely cannot, know everything you want to know?

You keep trying to turn this into being about 'feelings' or happiness or emotions - but I haven't made one appeal to emotions. In fact, I've stressed what I'm talking about how nothing to do with that.

It's a statement about reason, about rationality, and what is accepted as a result of asserting either brute facts, or the utter inability to make any worthwhile claims about 'outside the universe'. To assert either is to argue that reason is in some ultimate senses useless - in the former case, because explanations are utterly unavailable for the most fundamental truths or states of our world. In the latter case, because saying anything - positive or negative - about what is outside of our world is meaningless, contributes nothing.

I'm really not concerned if you can grant the above and still feel happy. Granting it, given either of those views, is enough for me.

Anonymous said...

* "add up to" a non-contingent thing

dguller said...

BenYachov:

>> What particular scientific experiment did you do to prove the argument true? What scientific experiment did you cite that proved it happened.

Seriously? This is just silly.

How is telling you to go out an OBSERVE human beings engaging in inquiry a logical argument? And who needs a scientific experiment? Just go out and look!

And logical positivism? Seriously? Seriously?!

I am not providing a logical proof of the scientific method as generating necessary truth. I am saying that it is the best method we have for uncovering the truth about how the world works, because it actively engages in observing the world in a way that minimizes our biases, cognitive distortions, confounding factors, and other matters that can confuse our identification of causal relationships.

I usually turn to the Winston Churchill quote about democracy here: “It is the worst form of government, except for all the others”. I would say the same about scientific inquiry. It may not be perfect, but it is the best that we have.

If you have a better method that has a more reliable track record of discovering how the world works, then offer it up. I am genuinely interested!

BenYachov said...

dguller

Rather your objection to Aquinas where not valid since you did not show how contingency is a non-expansive property and you didn't show me why my argument that it was was wrong.

I could become a Strong Atheist tomorrow and I would still think this.

Now I'm gone. Dick Morris is on.

dguller said...

Crude:

>> It's a statement about reason, about rationality, and what is accepted as a result of asserting either brute facts, or the utter inability to make any worthwhile claims about 'outside the universe'. To assert either is to argue that reason is in some ultimate senses useless - in the former case, because explanations are utterly unavailable for the most fundamental truths or states of our world. In the latter case, because saying anything - positive or negative - about what is outside of our world is meaningless, contributes nothing.

Yes, it is useless to derive truth claims about whatever occurs, if anything, outside the universe. Why is the universe not enough for you? Why do you need more?

And there is no use denying that there is an emotional component here. You are certainly not indifferent to the matter, and there is no need in pretending otherwise.

I am content with the universe, and our limited understanding of it. I am satisfied with uncertainty. I am fulfilled. It does not bother me one iota that human reason, as powerful as it is, is not ALL powerful. I am happy to be a human being, and have no need of the superhuman to provide meaning and sense to my life.

And I can easily turn the tables on you. Why are you intellectually satisfied with God? Does it not bother you that you do not know the mind of God in intimate detail? Why does the inscrutability of God not bother you, but the inscrutability of the universe does?

Eric said...

"Fallacy of composition. That does not mean that the conclusion is false, but only that you cannot necessarily establish its truth from the premises."

You seem to think that the fallacy of composition is a formal fallacy, such that any argument of that form is fallacious. But in fact, it's an informal fallacy. What that means is that we have to look at each specific argument to see if the fallacy is being committed.

Now as Crude said, it seems to me as if there is no conjunction of contingent things that gives us a necessary thing. Can you provide one? That's what you must do to defend the claim that there's a fallacy of composition here. Minimally, you have to provide some good reason for concluding that 'contingency' isn't conserved as we add contingent beings to our set; of you can't, then you've not shown that there's any fallacy. Again, you can't simply point to the form of the argument, since this isn't a formal fallacy. You have to do a bit more work here than that. (I hope it's obvious that you also can't appeal to ignorance: "well we just don't know if the set of all contingent beings is contingent"; that, even if true, won't establish that there's a composition fallacy here.)

dguller said...

BenYachov:

>> Rather your objection to Aquinas where not valid since you did not show how contingency is a non-expansive property and you didn't show me why my argument that it was was wrong.

Am I crazy, or is the burden of proof upon the one making the assertion to begin with?

I am saying that I have no idea.

You are saying that you have an idea.

I ask for a justification of your idea.

I show you that your justification uses fallacious reasoning, and thus cannot necessarily be trusted.

You then say that I have not proved the opposite claim.

And I say, WTF?!

Does the fact that I have not demonstrated the opposite claim somehow add credibility to your claim?

I have not demonstrated that invisible unicorns exist. Does it follow that visible unicorns exist?

Just man up, and admit that there is no good argument for your position, otherwise you would have offered it. Demanding that I proof the opposite of your position is not an argument for your position when I cannot do so. This is just empty rhetoric and sophistry.

Either provide the argument or admit that you have none.

And Dick Morris? DICK MORRIS?! :P

Crude said...

Yes, it is useless to derive truth claims about whatever occurs, if anything, outside the universe. Why is the universe not enough for you? Why do you need more?

Actually, it also is useless to derive truth about some, even all things that occur *within* the universe too. If what occurs within our universe is dependent - if it even could be dependent, in part or in whole - on something *outside* our universe, it is infirm. At least, it follows that it is infirm if either of the two responses I gave are taken.

And there is no use denying that there is an emotional component here. You are certainly not indifferent to the matter, and there is no need in pretending otherwise.

I'm not denying an emotional component to the debate of theism versus atheism. But emotion has nothing to do with what I'm saying here. "X is an orphan" has, in some way, an emotional component no doubt. But "X is an orphan" is, considered as a statement, true or false. Emotion just isn't a factor.

So really - put aside all the claims about being happy, etc. It's meaningless here. This isn't about 'needing more' or 'being happy' or feeling good. It's about what follows given certain views - pretty tame stuff.

And I can easily turn the tables on you.

There are no tables to turn, because again - I'm not talking about emotion or feelings, or 'being bothered'. Like I said, feel as happy and giddy as you wish - but grant what I'm saying, and I'm pretty much done. The concession alone drives home the only point I'm aiming for on that subject.

Anonymous said...

Good job, Eric, that is what I was saying earlier.

Can anyone respond to my comment, though? That any material thing or body of material things can be non-contingent strikes me as easy to disprove (please see my post). That the universe consists of contingent/material things at all excludes it from being non-contingent. Thoughts?

dguller said...

Crude:

>> There are no tables to turn, because again - I'm not talking about emotion or feelings, or 'being bothered'. Like I said, feel as happy and giddy as you wish - but grant what I'm saying, and I'm pretty much done. The concession alone drives home the only point I'm aiming for on that subject.

I concede that there is no meaning or purpose outside the universe. It does not follow that there is no meaning or purpose within the universe, especially within our lives. I do not live according to cosmic metaphysical principles, but to minimize the suffering of those that I love. That is sufficient meaning and purpose to me, and it is all within the universe of space-time.

Just so you know where I am coming from, I am actually more of a Buddhist than anything else.

dguller said...

Eric:

>> You seem to think that the fallacy of composition is a formal fallacy, such that any argument of that form is fallacious. But in fact, it's an informal fallacy. What that means is that we have to look at each specific argument to see if the fallacy is being committed.

No, I do not. I never said that ALL arguments from composition are false. That would make it a formal fallacy. It is informal, because sometimes the conclusion is true, and sometimes it is false. Just saying the argument does not help, because the argument does not say when it is sound or not.

What does? Empirical observation. You go out and CHECK to see if the property of the parts of X is shared by the totality of X.

My contention in this debate is that no-one has observed the universe as a whole outside of space-time to see if it is contingent or non-contingent. That is the only way to decide this debate, and it also happens to be impossible. It does not good to just throw the argument from composition back at me, because we are stuck with not knowing if it is a case where it works or where it doesn’t.

So, I prefer to say that I do not know, and not to speculate one way or the other. I think that is the most intellectually honest position to take in this matter.

>> Now as Crude said, it seems to me as if there is no conjunction of contingent things that gives us a necessary thing. Can you provide one?

I do not know what a “conjunction of contingent things” means. Should I stack them up? Line them up?

>> That's what you must do to defend the claim that there's a fallacy of composition here. Minimally, you have to provide some good reason for concluding that 'contingency' isn't conserved as we add contingent beings to our set; of you can't, then you've not shown that there's any fallacy.

Wrong. I do not have to provide a good reason that contingency isn’t conserved, because I am not making a positive truth claim here. You are. The burden of proof is upon the one asserting a claim, not on the skeptic. You have provided your proof, and it relies upon an informal logical fallacy, and thus is unreliable. That does not mean that it is necessarily false, either. It just means that on the basis of the argument, you just do not know.

>> I hope it's obvious that you also can't appeal to ignorance: "well we just don't know if the set of all contingent beings is contingent"; that, even if true, won't establish that there's a composition fallacy here.

Sure I can. You are claiming to know something that you just do not know. We are all ignorant of what goes on outside of space-time, because our concepts and experiences are within space-time. There is no way to bootstrap ourselves outside of skin and into a view from nowhere, except in our imagination.

And there IS a composition fallacy here. Once you argue from the properties of the parts to the properties of the whole, you have committed the informal fallacy. Again, that does not falsify the conclusion. It just puts it on very shaky grounds. And if you have an alternative way of confirming this conclusion, then go for it, but if all you have is this argument, then just recognize that it is flimsy.

Crude said...

dguller,

I concede that there is no meaning or purpose outside the universe.

Sorry, that's not what you were saying to begin with. Remember: Speculating about what is or is not outside the universe is fruitless according to your earlier claims.

So, is it now that you know there is no meaning or purpose outside the universe? Or that you have no idea whether there is or is not any meaning or purpose outside the universe? The latter claim, along with the assertions of brute facts, is what I've been addressing.

Anonymous said...

You are still not getting, dguller. You mush show that the fallacy is being committed in the first place. As an informal fallacy, not a formal one, it will do you no good to just shot "fallacy of composition." You say you recognize this, but you still trod it out (i.e. "You have provided your proof, and it relies upon an informal logical fallacy, and thus is unreliable.")

Anonymous said...

*You are still not getting it, dguller. You must show that the fallacy is being committed in the first place. As an informal fallacy, not a formal one, it will do you no good to just shout "fallacy of composition." You say you recognize this, but you still trod it out (i.e. "You have provided your proof, and it relies upon an informal logical fallacy, and thus is unreliable.")

Eric said...

"Wrong. I do not have to provide a good reason that contingency isn’t conserved, because I am not making a positive truth claim here."

What? You're the one claiming that there's a fallacy of composition! *You're* making that claim. *You're* obligated to defend that claim. Why? Precisely because it's an informal fallacy. Now if you want to withdraw that claim, fine. But you have indeed made the claim that there's a composition fallacy at work here, so to the extent that you maintain that claim, you have the burden of providing us with at least one good reason for concluding that contingency isn't conserved as we add contingent beings to our set. You've so far failed to provide even one good reason.

"And there IS a composition fallacy here. Once you argue from the properties of the parts to the properties of the whole, you have committed the informal fallacy. Again, that does not falsify the conclusion. It just puts it on very shaky grounds."

Hmm, you don't understand the difference between formal and informal fallacies at all, do you?

dguller said...

Crude:

>> Sorry, that's not what you were saying to begin with. Remember: Speculating about what is or is not outside the universe is fruitless according to your earlier claims.



You got me!

>> So, is it now that you know there is no meaning or purpose outside the universe? Or that you have no idea whether there is or is not any meaning or purpose outside the universe? The latter claim, along with the assertions of brute facts, is what I've been addressing.

I have no idea whether there is any meaning or purpose outside the universe. Since there is no positive evidence for its presence, I will live my life as if it is not there. There is also no evidence that there is music outside the universe, or fuzzy bunnies, or orgasms. Is it fair for me to live my life as if they are not there? Or do I have to engage in detailed disputations refuting their existence first?

Crude said...

I have no idea whether there is any meaning or purpose outside the universe.

Meaning, purpose, or anything else. Still...

Since there is no positive evidence for its presence, I will live my life as if it is not there.

..is meaningless, given that. First, how would you know what constitutes 'evidence' for something you claim you know absolutely nothing about, positive or negative? To get that far you'd have to at the very least discuss possibilities of what could or could not be outside of the universe. But you ruled that path out.

To be consistent with the move you're making, you need to drop all talk of evidence (positive or negative), likelihood (low or high), etc for 'things beyond the universe', and really, for a number of things that are 'in' the universe (ultimate causes, law-like behavior, etc.) At least if you want to remain consistent with your earlier talk.

dguller said...

Crude:

>> First, how would you know what constitutes 'evidence' for something you claim you know absolutely nothing about, positive or negative? To get that far you'd have to at the very least discuss possibilities of what could or could not be outside of the universe. But you ruled that path out.



Yes, one cannot have evidence for something that we have no conceptual or experiential understanding of. You might as well try to see beyond the horizon. You just can’t do it.

>> To be consistent with the move you're making, you need to drop all talk of evidence (positive or negative), likelihood (low or high), etc for 'things beyond the universe', and really, for a number of things that are 'in' the universe (ultimate causes, law-like behavior, etc.) At least if you want to remain consistent with your earlier talk.

No, I don’t. Evidence and probability presuppose the possibility of understanding. I would love for you to explain to me how you understand what is beyond the space-time of the universe. And there is no problem for law-like behavior in the universe. We experience it all the time.

dguller said...

Eric:

>> What? You're the one claiming that there's a fallacy of composition! *You're* making that claim. *You're* obligated to defend that claim. Why? Precisely because it's an informal fallacy. Now if you want to withdraw that claim, fine. But you have indeed made the claim that there's a composition fallacy at work here, so to the extent that you maintain that claim, you have the burden of providing us with at least one good reason for concluding that contingency isn't conserved as we add contingent beings to our set. You've so far failed to provide even one good reason.

This is really getting ridiculous.

You claim that there MUST be a self-caused entity that is sustaining the contingency in the universe. What do you base this upon? The fact that the contingency IN the universe must also transfer TO the universe itself. In other words, you are reasoning from the properties of the parts to the properties of the whole. THAT IS YOUR ENTIRE CASE.

I then point out that this argument is not necessarily true, because there are numerous instances where the properties of the parts DO NOT transfer to the property of the whole. In other words, it is possible that your conclusion does not follow, and since it is possible, then you have to provide additional evidence to buttress it, which you REFUSE TO DO.

Instead of buttressing your shaky claims, you demand that I provide compelling evidence to the contrary, and since I cannot, because I have no idea what is going on outside space-time, you declare victory!

Let me provide you with an analogous situation.

You are the prosecutor and are defending your claim that X is guilty of a crime. Your only witness is X’s worst enemy, who hates him with a passion, and declares that he observed X committing the crime in question.

The defense then points out that the witness may be biased against X due to personal hatred, and since this is a genuine possibility, then there is sufficient reasonable doubt to find the defendant innocent.

Unless the prosecutor can dig up additional evidence that is more reliable, then the defense is correct. There is enough wiggle room for the defendant to be found innocent.

It is the same thing here.

I can point out that your argument could possibly be wrong, because it is not logically air tight, relying upon an argument from composition BEFORE it has been shown to be valid, and that you need to work harder to buttress your claims. I am not saying that I know the truth of the matter, but rather that NO-ONE DOES, because it demands of us to perform activities that are beyond us.

It just does not make sense for YOU to rely upon a compositional argument that BEGS THE QUESTION about whether contingency is transferred from entities within the universe to the universe as a whole, and then demand that I prove the opposite is true.

>> Hmm, you don't understand the difference between formal and informal fallacies at all, do you?

I disagree, but I’m pretty sure that you do not know what a logical argument is. The conclusion has to follow NECESSARILY from the premises. Your argument does not, because it is not established that contingency is transferred from the entities in the universe to the universe as a whole. What argument do you give to justify this transfer? You just yell that contingency is IN the universe, and so it MUST be of the universe. Why MUST it? Because the properties of the parts of something MUST transfer to the whole? That is exactly what you are trying to prove to begin with! It is all just circular.

dguller said...

Eric:

>> What? You're the one claiming that there's a fallacy of composition! *You're* making that claim. *You're* obligated to defend that claim. Why? Precisely because it's an informal fallacy. Now if you want to withdraw that claim, fine. But you have indeed made the claim that there's a composition fallacy at work here, so to the extent that you maintain that claim, you have the burden of providing us with at least one good reason for concluding that contingency isn't conserved as we add contingent beings to our set. You've so far failed to provide even one good reason.

This is really getting ridiculous.

You claim that there MUST be a self-caused entity that is sustaining the contingency in the universe. What do you base this upon? The fact that the contingency IN the universe must also transfer TO the universe itself. In other words, you are reasoning from the properties of the parts to the properties of the whole. THAT IS YOUR ENTIRE CASE.

I then point out that this argument is not necessarily true, because there are numerous instances where the properties of the parts DO NOT transfer to the property of the whole. In other words, it is possible that your conclusion does not follow, and since it is possible, then you have to provide additional evidence to buttress it, which you REFUSE TO DO.

Instead of buttressing your shaky claims, you demand that I provide compelling evidence to the contrary, and since I cannot, because I have no idea what is going on outside space-time, you declare victory!

Let me provide you with an analogous situation.

You are the prosecutor and are defending your claim that X is guilty of a crime. Your only witness is X’s worst enemy, who hates him with a passion, and declares that he observed X committing the crime in question.

The defense then points out that the witness may be biased against X due to personal hatred, and since this is a genuine possibility, then there is sufficient reasonable doubt to find the defendant innocent.

Unless the prosecutor can dig up additional evidence that is more reliable, then the defense is correct. There is enough wiggle room for the defendant to be found innocent.

It is the same thing here.

I can point out that your argument could possibly be wrong, because it is not logically air tight, relying upon an argument from composition BEFORE it has been shown to be valid, and that you need to work harder to buttress your claims. I am not saying that I know the truth of the matter, but rather that NO-ONE DOES, because it demands of us to perform activities that are beyond us.

It just does not make sense for YOU to rely upon a compositional argument that BEGS THE QUESTION about whether contingency is transferred from entities within the universe to the universe as a whole, and then demand that I prove the opposite is true.

dguller said...

>> Hmm, you don't understand the difference between formal and informal fallacies at all, do you?

I disagree, but I’m pretty sure that you do not know what a logical argument is. The conclusion has to follow NECESSARILY from the premises. Your argument does not, because it is not established that contingency is transferred from the entities in the universe to the universe as a whole. What argument do you give to justify this transfer? You just yell that contingency is IN the universe, and so it MUST be of the universe. Why MUST it? Because the properties of the parts of something MUST transfer to the whole? That is exactly what you are trying to prove to begin with! It is all just circular.

Anonymous said...

Yup, he does not know the difference between formal and informal.

Crude said...

Yes, one cannot have evidence for something that we have no conceptual or experiential understanding of. You might as well try to see beyond the horizon. You just can’t do it.

I can have evidence for something beyond the horizon, if that something left evidence within the horizon. But I'm not arguing that your view is wrong here - I'm just taking it, and showing what follows from it.

No, I don’t. Evidence and probability presuppose the possibility of understanding. I would love for you to explain to me how you understand what is beyond the space-time of the universe. And there is no problem for law-like behavior in the universe. We experience it all the time.

There's a problem for explaining it - brute facts or "something beyond, we know not what", and either are ruled out for you. And I didn't say that I understand what is beyond the space-time of the universe - I'm putting all that aside here.

I pointed out that if we take your tack and say we have and can have no idea, positive or negative, about if there is or isn't anything beyond the universe, what it is or what it isn't, then any reference to probability or evidence is meaningless. It's not that there "is no positive evidence" for it - you wouldn't know how to tell positive evidence for such a thing even if it were around, based on the approach you're taking. Sure, you can "act as if there were nothing beyond the universe", but any reference to evidence - its existence or lack - is meaningless for you. You've argued you wouldn't know it if you saw it.

dguller said...

Here is another way to look at this matter.

You start with the contingency of entities and events within the universe. You then want to argue that the contingency of the entities and events within the universe implies that the universe itself is also contingent. How do you bridge these two propositions? With premise (P) that if the parts of X have property P, then X itself must have property P.

Is this premise ALWAYS valid? No. Sometimes it is valid, and sometimes it is not valid. How do you find out if the premise is valid or invalid? You empirically verify that it applies. If it is verified as such, then you no longer rely upon premise (P), because it is unnecessary. You just have to use the specific premise (SP) that you just verified (i.e. if the parts of X have the color red, then X must have the color red).

Now, how do you know that it is valid in the case of the transferability of contingency of entities and events within the universe to the universe as a whole?

You cannot empirically verify this claim, because it would require you to observe the universe from the outside, which I’m pretty sure is beyond any human being.

And without this empirical verification, then all you are left with is premise (P), which is not necessarily true. Furthermore, the fact that your whole argument relies upon (P) without any independent confirmation is what makes it fall prey to the fallacy of composition.

Eric said...

Dguller, this is really simple.

In informal logic, you *cannot* point to the *form* of an argument and claim *on that basis alone* that it commits informal fallacy X. But that is *precisely* what you're doing. Let me provide some quotes:

"The point of a logical argument is that its structure is such that, if the premises are true, then the conclusion inevitably follows. Fallacies are arguments that may work in many situations, but not in all, and thus are unreliable tools for truth."

Note the emphasis here on *structure*. You're confusing formal and informal fallacies.

"However, that is not the point, because a logical argument is supposed to ALWAYS work, and if it SOMETIMES works, then it is a fallacy."

The point is, in the case we're discussing, to determine if there's any fallacy at all, you must *first* give us a reason to think that the property 'contingency' is not expansive. This is important -- **If the property is expansive, then there's no composition fallacy, even if the argument moves from the properties of parts to the properties of wholes**. Until you get this basic point, you're going to be lost.

"you ultimately rely upon an inference that commits the fallacy of composition. It is, therefore, an invalid inference, and you cannot make this argument."

It's *only* fallacious *if* the contingency is not expansive. You're the one claiming that there's a composition fallacy here, so you *must* have some reason for concluding that it's not expansive. What is that reason? Remember, *if the property is expansive, there's no fallacy, regardless of the form of the argument*!

"To make the leap from objects to universe is to commit the fallacy of composition, because just because individual objects have property P does not mean that their totality will also have P."

No, you have a *formal* understanding of this *informal* fallacy. You keep focusing on the logical form of the argument, when you need to focus on the 'expansive' issue.

"Why MUST it? Because the properties of the parts of something MUST transfer to the whole? That is exactly what you are trying to prove to begin with! It is all just circular."

Now you're confusing issues. One issue is whether you've established your charge that the argument commits a composition fallacy; you haven't. The other is whether we have any reason to think that contingency is expansive. I've not yet addressed that issue with you, except in the context of discussing the previous issue. Remember, you're the one claiming that there's a composition fallacy, which means that you must have some reason for concluding that contingency isn't expansive, for the only way there's a fallacy here is if contingency isn't expansive. Do you understand that yet?

dguller said...

Crude:

>> It's not that there "is no positive evidence" for it - you wouldn't know how to tell positive evidence for such a thing even if it were around, based on the approach you're taking.

And I suppose I cannot say, “a square circle is meaningless”, either. After all, I wouldn’t know how to tell whether a square circle was around.

Crude said...

And I suppose I cannot say, “a square circle is meaningless”, either. After all, I wouldn’t know how to tell whether a square circle was around.

Considering you've already claimed - with no prompting from me - that it's possible that logic doesn't hold outside the universe, you actually can't say "a square circle is meaningless" without qualification. Or you'd have to insist that logic does hold outside the universe, and it turns out we can know (or even reasonably know) a few things about 'beyond the universe' after all.

Then again, even commenting on the possibility of logic not holding outside the universe is a contradiction here too, given your view.

dguller said...

Eric:

You know what. I think you're right. I have not shown that the fallacy of composition applies.

dguller said...

Crude:

>> Considering you've already claimed - with no prompting from me - that it's possible that logic doesn't hold outside the universe, you actually can't say "a square circle is meaningless" without qualification. Or you'd have to insist that logic does hold outside the universe, and it turns out we can know (or even reasonably know) a few things about 'beyond the universe' after all.



No, I am saying that I can declare something impossible, but still talk about it in the context of its impossibility. This does not imply that there is this impossible thing out there that I am talking about. It is more about the limitations of our language and concepts.

>> Then again, even commenting on the possibility of logic not holding outside the universe is a contradiction here too, given your view.

Not at all. No more than my commenting on the impossibility of a square circle is a contradiction.

Crude said...

No, I am saying that I can declare something impossible, but still talk about it in the context of its impossibility. This does not imply that there is this impossible thing out there that I am talking about. It is more about the limitations of our language and concepts.

You can't declare something impossible without qualification, considering your view on 'beyond the universe'. It is a thing you can say nothing about, positive or negative, by your own view. You can't even say what must be true about it given logical necessity, because you don't think logic must hold beyond the universe.

Or are you saying you know that there are no square circles 'outside the universe', and that logic is going to hold there after all?

dguller said...

Crude:

>> You can't declare something impossible without qualification, considering your view on 'beyond the universe'. It is a thing you can say nothing about, positive or negative, by your own view. You can't even say what must be true about it given logical necessity, because you don't think logic must hold beyond the universe.



Why can I not declare a square circle impossible? What does this have to do with what is “beyond the universe”? You are assuming that square circles have to exist outside the universe. They do not exist anywhere, because the combination of words actually does not refer to anything, and is just a confusion of words. Therefore, there is no such problem.

Crude said...

Why can I not declare a square circle impossible? What does this have to do with what is “beyond the universe”? You are assuming that square circles have to exist outside the universe. They do not exist anywhere, because the combination of words actually does not refer to anything, and is just a confusion of words. Therefore, there is no such problem.

No, I'm not assuming square circles have to exist outside the universe. I'm pointing out, on your view of what we can or can't say about 'outside the universe', we can't say they are impossible.

Now you're saying that a 'square circle' refers to nothing - it is meaningless. Sure, let's run with that change. But meaningless things aren't impossible - they're just meaningless. Gurgrug Mrugrug isn't "impossible".

BenYachov said...

I'm back and wife is asleep.

>You claim that there MUST be a self-caused entity that is sustaining the contingency in the universe. What do you base this upon? The fact that the contingency IN the universe must also transfer TO the universe itself. In other words, you are reasoning from the properties of the parts to the properties of the whole. THAT IS YOUR ENTIRE CASE.

No that is part of the case for God and you so far are not even attempting to explain why Contingency is not an expansive property.

>I then point out that this argument is not necessarily true, because there are numerous instances where the properties of the parts DO NOT transfer to the property of the whole.

Yet you declined to show us why Contingency isn't an expansive property and you didn't give me any substantive reason why my argument for Contingency being an expansive property was wrong.

>Instead of buttressing your shaky claims, you demand that I provide compelling evidence to the contrary, and since I cannot, because I have no idea what is going on outside space-time, you declare victory!

My aspirations here are more modest then convincing you of the existence of God. I am merely trying to get you to understand the argument and the issues revolving around the argument.

That is the problem here. I don't think you do.


>I can point out that your argument could possibly be wrong, because it is not logically air tight, relying upon an argument from composition BEFORE it has been shown to be valid, and that you need to work harder to buttress your claims. I am not saying that I know the truth of the matter, but rather that NO-ONE DOES, because it demands of us to perform activities that are beyond us.

This is your problem. You seem believe only empiricism is the sole standard of truth. I believe empiricism is good for knowing empirical truths but not all truths are empirical.

You have been conflating logical argument, philosophi1cal argument and empirical investigation to the point where it is not possible to have rational conversation with you. Now I don't think you are doing this on purpose or out of malice.

But you remind me of the Protestant fundamentalist who assumes the Bible alone is sole rule of religious faith ( we Catholics by contrast believe the Bible, Tradition, and Church Authority are the Rule of Religious faith). I have no problem debating him on wither or not the Bible is the sole rule of Faith but I can't talk to one who starts the argument by claiming we have to assume it is such without argument.

You can't claim empirical knowledge is the sole valid meaningfully means of knowledge since that is not an empirical claim it is a philosophical one. An incoherent logically self-refuting philosophical claim. Merely showing that empirical knowledge is valid knowledge or useful in philosophical argument is not the same as saying it is the only meaningful knowledge or the sole standard for knowing something is true. Just as by analogy the Protestant showing me the Bible is a rule of faith doesn't equate it with being the sole rule of faith.

>it is not established that contingency is transferred from the entities in the universe to the universe as a whole.

Well I made an argument and you dismissed it and you have not shown how contingency isn't by nature a non-expansive property.

So here we are you have made an invalid argument against THE FIRST CAUSE. That doesn't make God exist but I can't reasonably doubt the argument based on anything you have said so far.

Boy you need to learn philosophy.

BenYachov said...

>You know what. I think you're right. I have not shown that the fallacy of composition applies.

HOLD the PHONE!!!

I'm proud of you. You have just taken your first step into a larger world.

You will either believe in God one day or become a useful Atheist philosopher. Either is a evolution above being a mere New Atheist (at least according to my standards).

dguller said...

Crude:

>> No, I'm not assuming square circles have to exist outside the universe. I'm pointing out, on your view of what we can or can't say about 'outside the universe', we can't say they are impossible.

Why not? Why can’t I say that they are impossible by virtue of the meaning of the word “circle” and “square”? This has to do with human language, and not transcendent reality.

>> Now you're saying that a 'square circle' refers to nothing - it is meaningless. Sure, let's run with that change. But meaningless things aren't impossible - they're just meaningless. Gurgrug Mrugrug isn't "impossible".

Okay. That’s true.

Remind what the point of this discussion is all about?

You claimed that it is impossible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist, because we have to accept brute facts as limiting factors in our lives independent of any underlying meaning or justification. I said that you are setting the bar incredibly high for intellectual fulfillment, and that it was unnecessary, because one can feel fulfilled even in the midst of uncertainty and incomplete knowledge.

Anyway, I think that we are talking past each other. You are just defining intellectual fulfillment as having complete knowledge of the fundamental nature of reality, which assumes that everyone finds the same intellectual fulfillment as you. I can assure you that not everything thinks like you do, and that there are those of us who are fulfilled by every new bit of knowledge that is discovered, independent of the bigger picture, especially since so much of it is incomplete.

dguller said...

BenYachov:

Hey, if Im wrong, I'm wrong. I'll be the first to admit I don't know everything. :)

And thanks for the support.

BenYachov said...

>Hey, if Im wrong, I'm wrong. I'll be the first to admit I don't know everything. :)

>And thanks for the support.

No problem.

Crude said...

Remind what the point of this discussion is all about?

Pointing out what follows based on accepting either brute facts, or the view that nothing can be said whatsoever about 'outside the universe'.

You claimed that it is impossible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist, because we have to accept brute facts as limiting factors in our lives independent of any underlying meaning or justification. I said that you are setting the bar incredibly high for intellectual fulfillment, and that it was unnecessary, because one can feel fulfilled even in the midst of uncertainty and incomplete knowledge.

And I've been saying that intellectual fulfillment isn't about 'feeling happy' or 'feeling good' or any feeling at all. From the start, I've been making a (pretty banal) point about what the limits are on intellectual fulfillment assuming either of those claims, and what it means to reason and act consistently with either of those views taken for granted. Little more than that.

dguller said...

Ben:

Now can you address my points at February 23, 2011 6:25 PM (except for the final statement about the fallacy of composition)?

Anonymous said...

Oh, the fallacy of composition. Doesn't the cosmological argument work more effectively if we don't treat the universe as a composite object?

In other news, to create havoc, I present the following link: http://praxeology.net/unblog03-04.htm#02

dguller said...

Crude:

I think that there has been some equivocation going on regarding “fulfillment”, which can either be “emotional satisfaction at achieving one’s desires” or “completed to perfection”. I have been referring to the former, and you have been referring to the latter.

I agree with you that the latter sense is not possible in my version of reality. However, do you have any reason to believe that our intellect CAN be perfected?

machinephilosophy said...

dguller said...

"I am saying that any talk about what is beyond is speculative"

Is that talk about what is beyond *itself* speculative?


Right. You can't talk about X, and don't ask me about how I can talk about not being able to talk about X. My talk about X, namely that it can't be talked about, is not talk about X.


"A square triangle is impossible"

is different from saying

"No one can say or know or talk about the impossibility of a square triangle."

Crude said...

I think that there has been some equivocation going on regarding “fulfillment”, which can either be “emotional satisfaction at achieving one’s desires” or “completed to perfection”. I have been referring to the former, and you have been referring to the latter.

No, I haven't - I didn't say a thing about perfection.

If "emotional satisfaction" is what "intellectual fulfillment" means, it's pretty piddly with regards to the intellect - and it renders Dawkins' talk of evolution making it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist empty, even false. Try replacing the words and see if it works.

"Darwin made it possible to be an emotionally satisfied atheist."

dguller said...

Crude:

Define "intellectual fulfillment", please.

TheOFloinn said...

@ dguller
You need to familiarize yourself with the meaning of "simple" and "perfection" in this context. It is not necessarily the colloquial meaning. By way of example, in topology a maze is a "simple" curve and a figure-8 is not.

In the case at hand, a thing is simple if it is not a compound of matter and form, not a compound of potency and act, not a compound of essence and existence. It has nothing to do with how easily you or I may comprehend it.

You are confusing also "intellectual fulfillment" with "fat, dumb, and happy." Or, as you put it, being "very comfortable with ... the fact that there are things in this universe that I just do not know." You may be equally content with a mug half-full, but that it not muggish fulfillment. The rest of us prefer to drink life to the brim.

The difference between regarding God as a "stop point" and the universe as a stop point is this. In the former case, we hold that the whole of the universe of creatures is intelligible per se and at least potentially intelligible to us. In the latter case, you hold that some parts of nature itself are forever beyond our kenning. IOW, we regard natural science as unbounded so far as nature is concerned while you regard it as having boundaries inside the natural world and there are parts of nature where it cannot reach.

dguller
just because entities in the universe exist in a causal matrix does not imply that the universe itself also exists in a causal matrix,


Whatever a "causal matrix" is. But the universe does not exist at all apart from the things that comprise it any more than the "human race" exists apart from individual humans. That is, the "universe" is not itself a thing, but an abstraction conceived by the intellect. Thomas Aquinas referred to "the universe of creatures" precisely for this reason. When we say "the universe" it is only shorthand for "all the stuff." As Einstein showed in general relativity, there is no space or time independent of the existence of matter (energy). That is, there is no big, empty box called "the universe" within which various items are placed. The universe exists if any one thing at all exists. You may not understand Thomas Aquinas, but please don't diss Einstein.

dguller
By basically saying that the fallacy is not a real fallacy by offering a counter-example: “if every brick in a wall built out of children’s Lego blocks is red, then the wall as a whole must be red.


You fail to distinguish between formal fallacies and material fallacies. [cf.: matter and form.] Formal logic and material logic are covered IIRC in the Prior Analytics and the Posterior Analytics. A formal fallacy would be (e.g.) "asserting the consequence," for example by asserting the various predictions made by a theory as proof of that theory; i.e., natural science. But a material fallacy depends on the matter under discussion. An argument might be fallacious on one matter, but not on another. For example: 11+2=13 if we are totalling a bill; but 11+2=1 if we are adding times on a 12-hour clock.

The "fallacy of composition" is a material fallacy. It is wrong for some matters, but not for others. People who worship logic instead of using it often overlook these distinctions.

The "universe" relative to its existence is just like the brick wall relative to its redness. The universe "just is" the aggregate of all that exists, and exists if any one thing exists.

dguller
I do not think that the universe is a set, unless very loosely defined. The entities within the universe can be abstracted into a set, but the abstracted set is not the universe.


Ah. Then you ought to study set theory and mathematics, as well as general relativity and Thomism.

dguller said...

Machinephilosophy:

If you think that we can talk about what is beyond the universe, then feel free to tell me how this is possible. How can we talk about something that is beyond anything that we can experience or understand? And even if you could come up with different hypotheses about what happens outside of the universe, then what methodology would you recommend to determine which hypotheses are true and which are false?

And as for my comments about the speculative nature of our beliefs about what is beyond the universe, I meant this in the sense that superstrings are speculative hypotheses. Superstring theory is symmetrical, beautiful and utilizes sophisticated and complex mathematics to model it. However, it lacks sufficient empirical evidence to confirm it as true, because we currently lack the resources to test it scientifically. Therefore, despite its appeal, it is sheer speculation at this point.

That is my standard in this matter. It is just not enough for a proposition to make sense and be supported by fancy gowns and robes, but does it actually touch the world somehow in a way that we can determine if it is true or not? If we cannot test it somehow, then it is just speculation, and we should not put too much weight upon it.

So, feel free to speculate about what is beyond the universe. Personally, I think that this is just empty words, because the words that you use are rooted in concepts derived from phenomena in the universe, and there is no guarantee that they translate well outside that sphere. You might as well be talking about what time it is on the sun. It kind of looks like it makes sense, but when you actually unpack what it means, you find that there is no there, there. Similarly, when you talk about what is beyond the universe, it’s easy to imagine the universe like a sphere, and then there is something outside the sphere (or whatever), but when you actually realize that “outside” is a spatial concept that only makes sense INSIDE space-time.

There is no paradox in speaking of the lack of sense of “outside the universe” in the same way that one can speak of “square circles” lacking sense. The bottom line is that the words end up eating themselves in the same way that radical skeptical arguments end up consuming themselves into incoherence by self-refutation. You think you are getting somewhere, but actually are getting nowhere.

Anonymous said...

dguller, even though I don't agree with you and I'm with the Thomists on this issue, I want to praise for your intellectual honesty and willingness to debate respectfully. That is all.

BenYachov said...

You mean your category mistake in claiming you need to empirically test the property of Contingency to see if it is an expansive property like color or substance and not a non-expansive property like weight or height?

Well how would you do that? Or is it in fact an absurd question. I think it is.

Do we observe contingent things become more or less contingent by either putting them together in a set or physically melding or fusing them together? No we don't so therefore contingency is an expansive property.

What would it look like for something to become more or less contingent? You either are or you aren't. How do you empirically experiment on a property by itself? You can experiment on a substance but the property can't exist apart from the substance that instantiates it.

Can you empirically know color? Can you extract the color red from a red object or do you merely extract the physical substances the generate the color red?

Can you distill the color red itself in a test tube or do you merely distill the substances that generate the color red?

I think you are conflating mere observation with empiricism. I think you are conflating property with substance. If the property of being red where subject to empirical analysis then I should be able to distill it by itself without the substances that generates or instantiates it.

That is not possible.

Being contingent is not something by nature that exists in degrees. Something is either a color or it is not a color. Same with contingency. Height by itself might be said to be an expansive property but a specific height is not expansive.

It there a specific degree of contingency like there is with height. No thus I must logically conclude contingency is expansive.

TheOFloinn said...

I think that this is just empty words, because the words that you use are rooted in concepts derived from phenomena in the universe

But that is broadly true: we say we "grasp" a concept or "digest" an idea or lack "taste" in the arts, with no guarantee that these are really like grasping, digesting, or tasting. Yet... We get along tolerably well on that.

Similarly, when you talk about what is beyond the universe, it’s easy to imagine the universe like a sphere, and then there is something outside the sphere (or whatever)

Welcome to the limitations of imagination. Now try to "imagine" a conjoining function space topology. Conceiving with the intellect is better than imagining with the senses.

Anonymous said...

Didn't Aquinas say that we can only speaking meaningfully about God in terms about what He is NOT? We show that He is immaterial by showing that he cannot be material, simple because He cannot be complex, etc.

BenYachov said...

>Conceiving with the intellect is better than imagining with the senses.

The above sums up the most basic philosophical difference between us & dguller.

BenYachov said...

>I want to praise for your intellectual honesty and willingness to debate respectfully.

I second that.

BenYachov said...

On a side note all Evolution does is allow us to be intellectual fulfilled Atheists in regard to Paley's "god".

But we Thomists based on the conclusions of philosophy are already near strong Atheists in regards to that metaphysical abortion known as Paley's "god".

Anonymous said...

Didn't Aquinas say that we can only speaking meaningfully about God in terms about what He is NOT? We show that He is immaterial by showing that he cannot be material, simple because He cannot be complex, etc.

That is not Aquinas. It is called apophatic theology, and was very popular among the Church fathers, and still is in Eastern Christianity.

Aquinas liked it, but he didn't believe that's all there is to it.

dguller said...

theOFloin:

>> But the universe does not exist at all apart from the things that comprise it any more than the "human race" exists apart from individual humans. That is, the "universe" is not itself a thing, but an abstraction conceived by the intellect. Thomas Aquinas referred to "the universe of creatures" precisely for this reason. When we say "the universe" it is only shorthand for "all the stuff."

This was actually quite compelling for me, and I had to give it some thought.

I think that if you are trying to say that there is, in fact, no argument from composition, because there are not two separate entities – i.e. the universe and the events/entities within the universe, because they are one and the same – that are being discussed, then you have made an excellent point, and thank you very much for it.

My comment on this point is that it would stand if there were no properties of the universe that were not already properties of the entities/events composing the universe. However, if you look at the property of expansion, then this does not hold. The universe is expanding, but it does not follow that the entities within the universe are also expanding. In other words, I am not expanding at this moment, but the universe is via the stretching of space-time, and thus there are properties of the universe as a whole that are not present in all entities within it. If they were one and the same, then this could not happen, I think. And if that is the case, then there is a distinction to be made between the universe and the events/entities composing it.

So, perhaps an argument from composition does, in fact, occur. I am very interested in your thoughts on this matter.

Another point is whether events in the universe are all contingent. As far as I know, there are events in quantum mechanics that have no apparent cause, such as radioactive decay. When a radioactive atom decays, there is no underlying cause or reason for that atom decaying while a neighboring atom did not. Maybe there are underlying causal factors that are hidden from our awareness, but that would have to be demonstrated. The fact is that it is possible that there are some subatomic events that are non-contingent and truly random. That is one of the reasons why some theists feel that QM provides an opening for God to intervene in the world. So, if some events in the universe can be non-contingent, then so can the universe itself.

Any thoughts?

>> But that is broadly true: we say we "grasp" a concept or "digest" an idea or lack "taste" in the arts, with no guarantee that these are really like grasping, digesting, or tasting. Yet... We get along tolerably well on that.

Right, they are metaphors, but we know what the metaphor is supposed to be about, because we directly experience it. So, for example, when I grasp a concept, I can, on the one hand, imagine physically grasping an object, and then imagine the mental activity of apprehending a concept, and see that the suddenness of drawing something close to myself is present in both cases. There is nothing mysterious going on here, I think.

I would say that there is nothing similar occurring with analogies about what goes on outside space-time. One, because I think they are ultimately senseless, and two, even if they did possess sense, then how could one know if the analogy even holds, especially since we have no experience of the second portion of the analogy?

dguller said...

TheOFloin:

>> Welcome to the limitations of imagination. Now try to "imagine" a conjoining function space topology. Conceiving with the intellect is better than imagining with the senses.

But does conceiving something with the intellect guarantee its truth?

I think that my point will be better understood if some of my background is described. I am a physician with a background in the sciences, and have an undergraduate degree in philosophy. Anyway, in the sciences, one postulates hypotheses, based upon inferences from a previously established knowledge base. Now, does the fact that the inferences are deductively valid from previously established premises mean that the inferred hypotheses are true? No, because they still have to be tested to see if the world matches up with our ideas.

So, for example, the hypothesis that vaccines cause autism actually makes perfect sense. Symptoms of autism appear to occur around the time of vaccination, vaccination involves introducing foreign elements into a vulnerable child, there are more vaccines present today than in the past, and this may relate to the increased incidence of autism. I mean, it all fits logically together. However, when this hypothesis was actually tested, it was found to be false.

My point is that conceiving of something in the mind through logic and reason is an incredibly useful tool, but unless there is a way of testing those ideas in the world, then how do you know which are true and which are false? And I would apply this to the cosmological proof that we have been discussing. Even if it followed deductively from premises about the contingency of the entities in the universe that the universe itself must also be contingent, and thus require a cause of its own, then how could we test this conclusion?

dguller said...

BenYachov:

>> The above sums up the most basic philosophical difference between us & dguller.

I think that with the exception of most formal logic and mathematics, the intellect is necessary, but not sufficient, to discover whether our ideas are true or false. And this is especially true when the intellect is generating ideas about the universe and how it works. Without some way of testing those ideas in the universe, it is all just speculation.

Again, I cite the example of superstring theory. It is consistent with the findings of physics, is symmetrical, beautiful, sophisticated, and a true feast of the intellect. Do physicists believe it is true? No, because there is no current way to test it, and thus it must remain a hypothesis in need of empirical confirmation.

BenYachov said...

>But does conceiving something with the intellect guarantee its truth?

Do I have to keep doing experiments to know 1+1=2 is always true?

Do we have to keep doing empirical experiments to know the Law of Non-contradiction is always true?

dguller said...

Anonymous & BenYachov:

Thanks for the kind words.

I know it is easy to be lulled into certainty by our tendency towards the confirmation bias. I find that unless I challenge my beliefs from time to time in a rigorous fashion, then I am not really being honest with myself. I am taking this opportunity to kick the tires, look under the hood, and see if there is anything wrong with my car, and there is nothing better than discussing this matter with people who disagree with me, and on the basis of their own good faith inquiry.

dguller said...

BenYachov:

>> Do I have to keep doing experiments to know 1+1=2 is always true?

No, you do not.

But I wonder whether 1+1=2 is as ironclad as it is, because it is confirmed again and again when we use it in the world. I was always struck by Wittgenstein’s argument that the incorrigibility of logic and mathematics is not built into them with a metaphysical foundation, but is projected into them by us and the role that they play in our form of life. In other words, are they incorrigible mainly because they work for us, again and again, without any exception, and because they can be abstracted and played with, that we view them as separate and independent of the natural world?

You can even look at non-Euclidean geometry, which violated certain axioms that were held for centuries as incorrigible and indubitable, by reimaging what was possible, and then actually found use in the natural sciences, such as in general relativity.

So, you can never be fully sure, I guess.

>> Do we have to keep doing empirical experiments to know the Law of Non-contradiction is always true?

No, you do not. However, it is surprising that some events in QM can be interpreted to violate that law, especially at the quantum level. I don’t recall all the details, but it appears to, at least, be possible.

dguller said...

theOFloin:

>> But the universe does not exist at all apart from the things that comprise it any more than the "human race" exists apart from individual humans. That is, the "universe" is not itself a thing, but an abstraction conceived by the intellect. Thomas Aquinas referred to "the universe of creatures" precisely for this reason. When we say "the universe" it is only shorthand for "all the stuff."

This was actually quite compelling for me, and I had to give it some thought.

I think that if you are trying to say that there is, in fact, no argument from composition, because there are not two separate entities – i.e. the universe and the events/entities within the universe, because they are one and the same – that are being discussed, then you have made an excellent point, and thank you very much for it.

My comment on this point is that it would stand if there were no properties of the universe that were not already properties of the entities/events composing the universe. However, if you look at the property of expansion, then this does not hold. The universe is expanding, but it does not follow that the entities within the universe are also expanding. In other words, I am not expanding at this moment, but the universe is via the stretching of space-time, and thus there are properties of the universe as a whole that are not present in all entities within it. If they were one and the same, then this could not happen, I think. And if that is the case, then there is a distinction to be made between the universe and the events/entities composing it.

So, perhaps an argument from composition does, in fact, occur. I am very interested in your thoughts on this matter.

Another point is whether events in the universe are all contingent. As far as I know, there are events in quantum mechanics that have no apparent cause, such as radioactive decay. When a radioactive atom decays, there is no underlying cause or reason for that atom decaying while a neighboring atom did not. Maybe there are underlying causal factors that are hidden from our awareness, but that would have to be demonstrated. The fact is that it is possible that there are some subatomic events that are non-contingent and truly random. That is one of the reasons why some theists feel that QM provides an opening for God to intervene in the world. So, if some events in the universe can be non-contingent, then so can the universe itself.

Any thoughts?

BenYachov said...

>I think that with the exception of most formal logic and mathematics, the intellect is necessary, but not sufficient, to discover whether our ideas are true or false.

I agree.

>And this is especially true when the intellect is generating ideas about the universe and how it works. Without some way of testing those ideas in the universe, it is all just speculation.

It does not follow just because I reject the error that empiricism alone is sufficient or that empirical truth is the only meaningful or certain truth that I reject empirical truth in general or the necessity of said truth.

By analogy I believe the Bible is a rule of faith with tradition & Church. But I reject the Protestant doctrine of Scripture as the sole rule of faith. But many Fundamentalist Protestants I debate seem to believe if I reject the Bible alone I reject the Bible. Atheists whose thinking is largly corrupted by New Atheism sometimes conflate my rejection of Empiricism alone with a general rejection of empiricism with is not the case.

>Again, I cite the example of superstring theory. It is consistent with the findings of physics, is symmetrical, beautiful, sophisticated, and a true feast of the intellect.

But it really has nothing to do with philosophical arguments for the existence of God. Since it is a theory about natural physical phenomena and Thomas Five Ways still apply to it.

Indeed we didn't even get into the meat of the fives ways. We wasted time on one small aspect of it since as Feser said the First Way does not require consideration of the whole cosmos for the existence of God. A rock by itself will do.

>Do physicists believe it is true? No, because there is no current way to test it, and thus it must remain a hypothesis in need of empirical confirmation.

But it is a theory about physical reality not a metaphysical demonstration.

The problem with making Empiricism the sole standard is the concept cannot be know to be true empirically. Merely arguing & showing Empirical knowledge is valid is not the same as showing it is the sole means of knowledge or the only meaningful and certain knowledge. Just like the Protestant who show me the Bible merely has authority does not equate it to be the sole authority without tradition or Church.

BenYachov said...

>The fact is that it is possible that there are some subatomic events that are non-contingent and truly random.

Randomness and non-contingency are not synonyms. Aristotle was not a determinist. No apparent cause does not equate no cause.

The modern myth of our time is that Hume's philosophy did away with Aquinas. Truth be told Anscombe(the woman who once beat CS Lewis in a debate) has shown Hume's arguments are mere sophistry.

My advice look into it.

Tony said...

If you think that we can talk about what is beyond the universe, then feel free to tell me how this is possible.

How about let's start by being careful with our terms. The "universe" can mean different things in different contexts. Some people try to make out that it means "all that is", and then, of course, anything that we speak about is not "beyond" the universe. But if we limit its meaning to something a little more like the way physicists might prefer when they are being careful, it might be something like all of the material beings, space, and energy, that we can in theory affect or can in theory affect us. Some of that might affect us only by affecting (for example) the constants of the universe that we can measure.

If there is something ELSE besides this universe, it could be another set of material beings, energy, space, etc that we cannot even in theory affect. But there is in principle another possibility: beings that are not material, nor in any sense entail space or energy. If there are such, it is at least possible that they are capable of affecting us not because they have matter, space, or energy, but because they have capacity to affect these under a non-physical modality, a capacity to side-step the limits of the universe that is subject to the physical laws that we can measure.

Is there any evidence that this is even possible, from within the known data? Yes, of course there is: we affect matter all the time in a non-physical modality when we will to act. The source of the motion is an event that is not subject to a physicists measurements.

But aside from this (which naturalists refuse to accept, even though they have yet to come up with a physical explanation): mystics the world over have provided quite detailed descriptions of things that happen to them, (i.e. experiential, empirical data), that reflects the action of a Higher Being using non-physical modes of acting, producing results that physical modes of acting cannot produce. The evidence is there. The fact that it is not repeatable under experimental conditions is not proof that the data is bad data, it is only proof that that kind of attempt to corral the phenomena is unsuccessful. Since the scientific (at least in certain circles) "method" reliance on repeatable experiment is, itself, a self-imposed limit on what kind of evidence it will accept, these sorts of scientists have, effectively, locked themselves out from the sorts of evidence of things that (unlike the unintelligent physical world) are dependent on other intelligences acting with non-material motivations, and cannot be repeated at OUR will. This does not make the evidence "unreal", it just means that science (as these people have chosen to limit science and themselves) is incapable of addressing itself to a known set of phenomena that is part of the universe.

dguller said...

Tony:

>> Is there any evidence that this is even possible, from within the known data? Yes, of course there is: we affect matter all the time in a non-physical modality when we will to act. The source of the motion is an event that is not subject to a physicists measurements.

You are assuming that the will is not a neurobiological phenomenon. The fact that scientists can measure neurological changes when human beings will to act indicates that some measurement is certainly possible.

>> mystics the world over have provided quite detailed descriptions of things that happen to them, (i.e. experiential, empirical data), that reflects the action of a Higher Being using non-physical modes of acting, producing results that physical modes of acting cannot produce. The evidence is there

Could their experiences not also be understood a hallucinatory in nature and byproducts of neurobiological processes? I mean, native cultures often use peyote as a means of contacting the spiritual realm, but peyote is just a hallucinogen that affects the brain, like LSD or PCP, for example. I think that there is a more reasonable physical explanation for the evidence that you cite.

>> The fact that it is not repeatable under experimental conditions is not proof that the data is bad data, it is only proof that that kind of attempt to corral the phenomena is unsuccessful. Since the scientific (at least in certain circles) "method" reliance on repeatable experiment is, itself, a self-imposed limit on what kind of evidence it will accept, these sorts of scientists have, effectively, locked themselves out from the sorts of evidence of things that (unlike the unintelligent physical world) are dependent on other intelligences acting with non-material motivations, and cannot be repeated at OUR will.

Do you know why replication is so important to scientific studies? It is to ensure that chance, fraud, bias and other factors are not contaminating the evidence. Unless you can control for these factors, then there is no real way of knowing whether what you are observing is genuine. It is not a haphazard and senseless limit, but a necessary one to minimize distorted evidence.

That is why anecdotes are the lowest form of evidence. There are so many confounding factors that may be present to explain the phenomenon in question that it becomes impossible to know what is causing what. Controlling for those confounding factors is what helps to differentiate a genuine causal relationship from a chance occurrence, for example.

It would be like a court relying upon a highly biased witness. Sure, the witness may be telling the truth, but the fact that there are enormous biases present should make the court take their testimony with some skepticism. And if there are witnesses with less biases, then they have more credibility on the issue.

dguller said...

Ben:

>> It does not follow just because I reject the error that empiricism alone is sufficient or that empirical truth is the only meaningful or certain truth that I reject empirical truth in general or the necessity of said truth.

Cool.

>> But it is a theory about physical reality not a metaphysical demonstration.

What is a “metaphysical demonstration”? How does one know whether its premises are true? From what I have seen, most of the major premises are inferred from the natural world, and thus are tainted by empiricism anyway, which compromises their metaphysical purity. And I think that is a good thing, because speculating about the universe from one’s armchair actually did not contribute much to human knowledge, but actually getting out there, observing, categorizing, testing and experimenting has been very productive, I think.

>> The problem with making Empiricism the sole standard is the concept cannot be know to be true empirically. Merely arguing & showing Empirical knowledge is valid is not the same as showing it is the sole means of knowledge or the only meaningful and certain knowledge. Just like the Protestant who show me the Bible merely has authority does not equate it to be the sole authority without tradition or Church.

I think it can be shown empirically. Try using the scientific method to discover truths about the world, and then try some alternative, and see which one has a better chance of discovering the most truths over time. It would be interesting for you to specify an alternative methodology to know the world, because I am really interested in what it would be like.

>> Randomness and non-contingency are not synonyms. Aristotle was not a determinist. No apparent cause does not equate no cause.

I offered an example of an event that has no discernible cause and occurs randomly. This is not like the randomness of rolling dice, which has multiple physical causes, but none that is determinant over the others, and thus they all cancel out, which is why it is random. Radioactive decay is different, because it appears to just happen in a random probabilistic fashion, and we have no idea why or how.

So, there are two possible options here. Either there are underlying variables exerting a causative effect that determines the behavior of the particle or it is a sui generis phenomenon. Both explanations are consistent with the observation, and there is no way to determine which is actually correct, making both possible. I agree that the former is more intuitively obvious, but QM is often completely counter-intuitive, and thus intuition is no guide. The best that we can say is that we do not know.

Since metaphysical demonstrations have the ring of necessity about them, they cannot have any contamination by probability within its premises. The fact that there is such contamination in the premises regarding the contingency of natural events should compromise the metaphysical deductions themselves, no?

dguller said...

Ben:

>> It does not follow just because I reject the error that empiricism alone is sufficient or that empirical truth is the only meaningful or certain truth that I reject empirical truth in general or the necessity of said truth.

Cool.

>> But it is a theory about physical reality not a metaphysical demonstration.

What is a “metaphysical demonstration”? How does one know whether its premises are true? From what I have seen, most of the major premises are inferred from the natural world, and thus are tainted by empiricism anyway, which compromises their metaphysical purity. And I think that is a good thing, because speculating about the universe from one’s armchair actually did not contribute much to human knowledge, but actually getting out there, observing, categorizing, testing and experimenting has been very productive, I think.

>> The problem with making Empiricism the sole standard is the concept cannot be know to be true empirically. Merely arguing & showing Empirical knowledge is valid is not the same as showing it is the sole means of knowledge or the only meaningful and certain knowledge. Just like the Protestant who show me the Bible merely has authority does not equate it to be the sole authority without tradition or Church.

I think it can be shown empirically. Try using the scientific method to discover truths about the world, and then try some alternative, and see which one has a better chance of discovering the most truths over time. It would be interesting for you to specify an alternative methodology to know the world, because I am really interested in what it would be like.

dguller said...

Ben:


>> Randomness and non-contingency are not synonyms. Aristotle was not a determinist. No apparent cause does not equate no cause.

I offered an example of an event that has no discernible cause and occurs randomly. This is not like the randomness of rolling dice, which has multiple physical causes, but none that is determinant over the others, and thus they all cancel out, which is why it is random. Radioactive decay is different, because it appears to just happen in a random probabilistic fashion, and we have no idea why or how.

So, there are two possible options here. Either there are underlying variables exerting a causative effect that determines the behavior of the particle or it is a sui generis phenomenon. Both explanations are consistent with the observation, and there is no way to determine which is actually correct, making both possible. I agree that the former is more intuitively obvious, but QM is often completely counter-intuitive, and thus intuition is no guide. The best that we can say is that we do not know.

Since metaphysical demonstrations have the ring of necessity about them, they cannot have any contamination by probability within its premises. The fact that there is such contamination in the premises regarding the contingency of natural events should compromise the metaphysical deductions themselves, no?

machinephilosophy said...

The prohibition about talking about what is beyond is itself either talk about what is beyond or it is not.

If you want to defend that prohibition, you'll have to either justify the self-exemption or else de-universalize the prohibition. In which case there is no prohibition after all.

machinephilosophy said...

"If you think that we can talk about what is beyond the universe, then feel free to tell me how this is possible. How can we talk about something that is beyond anything that we can experience or understand?"

The prohibition is what we are talking about. The question is where did you get that item of knowledge about what is beyond, namely that it can't be talked about. You're talking about it.

BenYachov said...

>From what I have seen, most of the major premises are inferred from the natural world, and thus are tainted by empiricism anyway, which compromises their metaphysical purity.

Protestants also make this mistake with me debating Scripture alone. They assume because I accept the authority of Tradition and Church that I must rely on them alone without scripture. Some have actually gone so far as to claim arguing from the Bible undermines Tradition or Church or that I can't use the Bible to formulate doctrine.

In a like manner you still seem to believe I believe in Metaphysics, Philosophy and Logic sans Empiricism. No piece of empirical knowledge in anyway taints my philosophy. They are not in conflict.

dguller said...

Machinephilosophy:

>> The prohibition about talking about what is beyond is itself either talk about what is beyond or it is not.

You are assuming that all the words in our sentences refer to something. This is just false. When I say, “No-one is coming”, I am not referring to No-One, but to the lack of any person. When I say, “A square circle is impossible”, I am not first referring to a square circle as a concept or entity, and then saying it is impossible, but am saying that the combination of words “square circle” lacks a coherent referent altogether.

Similarly, when I say that speaking about what is “beyond the universe” is impossible, it is more in the second sense. “Beyond the universe” utilizes spatial terminology that only makes sense within the space-time continuum. To use a spatial concept outside of space is like talking about what time it is on the sun, or like applying the rules of basketball to football.

So, when I say that “beyond the universe” is impossible, I am mentioning a combination of words that lacks sense, and not actually using them to generate a concept at all.

>> The prohibition is what we are talking about. The question is where did you get that item of knowledge about what is beyond, namely that it can't be talked about. You're talking about it.

I am not talking about it (= “beyond the universe”). I am talking about the combination of words (“beyond the universe”). I believe that this is called the use-mention fallacy. I am not using the words to refer to anything, but only mentioning something about the words themselves in a sentence.

I hope this helps.

dguller said...

Ben:

>> In a like manner you still seem to believe I believe in Metaphysics, Philosophy and Logic sans Empiricism. No piece of empirical knowledge in anyway taints my philosophy. They are not in conflict.

If you agree that the premises of your metaphysical arguments ultimately must involve empirical claims, then how do you justify bootstrapping that empirical data into a non-empirical environment, such as a transcendent reality beyond the universe? Just because the empirical world operates according to certain regularities and principles does not mean that a transcendent realm must follow the same regularities and principles. You would have to independently examine or observe this realm, determine its regularities and patterns, and then you can compare that to the empirical patterns to see if there is a correspondence. How exactly would one do that? And if that is not possible, then how do you learn what happens in this metaphysical realm at all?

Crude said...

You would have to independently examine or observe this realm, determine its regularities and patterns, and then you can compare that to the empirical patterns to see if there is a correspondence. How exactly would one do that? And if that is not possible, then how do you learn what happens in this metaphysical realm at all?

You're treating the 'outside' as a realm not only outside nature, but as (potentially) radically divorced from nature as possible. Earlier you suggested that even logic may not hold - so obviously, you're treating the question as going beyond even logical possibility. It really is a place, potentially, where a circle can be a square by those lights.

One problem is you end up implying that, because it is beyond direct empirical detection, we should treat (for example) 'it is subject to the rules of logic' and 'it is not subject to the rules of logic' as having equal probability. But you give no argument for this other than an appeal to bare possibility (I'm not sure it's even 'logical possibility' in this particular case).

Here's a second problem. The entire reason you seem to think that unbounded, unjustified possibility is worth considering in the case of 'beyond the natural world' is the lack of direct empirical observation. But that's not limited to something beyond nature - it applies to nature itself. We have an observable universe: Anything beyond it is unobservable. Are we therefore justified in thinking we can say utterly nothing about it - not even regard it as likely that logic holds out there?

There are other, more typical examples. I can't observe another person's mind. Do I therefore treat it as likely as not that all their words and thoughts come divorced from subjective experience and thought? Arguably, I can't observe the physical universe. Do I put its existence and non-existence on equal footing by your view? Or history: I can't really 'observe' last saturday. Do I treat it as being as likely as not that there was no saturday, or that the world began on saturday, or that saturday was ice cream?

BenYachov said...

Well said Crude! Better than I could have put it.

Perhaps these links will help dguller.

Blinded By Scientism

http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2010/03/1174

part 2

http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2010/03/1184

It's important you read both very carefully. Especially the second one.

dguller said...

Crude:

>> One problem is you end up implying that, because it is beyond direct empirical detection, we should treat (for example) 'it is subject to the rules of logic' and 'it is not subject to the rules of logic' as having equal probability. But you give no argument for this other than an appeal to bare possibility (I'm not sure it's even 'logical possibility' in this particular case).

No, I do not. I have no idea how to assign the probability of the two propositions that you cited. I have no idea whether logic applies or does not apply “out there”, whatever “out there” means.

>> Here's a second problem. The entire reason you seem to think that unbounded, unjustified possibility is worth considering in the case of 'beyond the natural world' is the lack of direct empirical observation. But that's not limited to something beyond nature - it applies to nature itself. We have an observable universe: Anything beyond it is unobservable. Are we therefore justified in thinking we can say utterly nothing about it - not even regard it as likely that logic holds out there?

You can say whatever you want about it, but what you say may not make sense or even be true.

You can correct me by describing the methodology that you would use to achieve knowledge about this realm outside the universe. Go for it. Let me know. I really am interested.

>> There are other, more typical examples. I can't observe another person's mind. Do I therefore treat it as likely as not that all their words and thoughts come divorced from subjective experience and thought?

Really? Radical skeptical arguments? You should read up on mirror neurons in the premotor cortex as neurobiological correlates that contribute to our visceral and emotional connection to others. Yes, I cannot literally experience another person’s mind, but I can come close by the way by neurobiology processes sensory signals from another person. Mirror neurons are why emotions are contagious, why I wince when I see another person in pain, and why I am capable of empathy and compassion at all.

Furthermore, most human beings share a similar path of neurological development resulting in similar brains. Since the brain generates the mind, it would stand to reason that another person who has a brain similar to mine also has a mind similar to mine, i.e. consisting of thoughts, feelings, sensations, images, motives, desires, and so on.

This is actually interesting and useful. Radical skeptical arguments are just philosophical parlor tricks that trade on the sheer possibility of being true as evidence that they should be taken seriously.

dguller said...

Crude:

>> Arguably, I can't observe the physical universe.

You are right, but you can observe parts of it, and can infer how the rest operates based on your conclusions from the observed parts. I mean, if there is a murder with no witnesses, is that the end of the matter? No, you use forensic evidence to deduce what happened. Nothing mysterious here.

>> Or history: I can't really 'observe' last saturday. Do I treat it as being as likely as not that there was no saturday, or that the world began on saturday, or that saturday was ice cream?

Well, I actually agree with Nassim Taleb that history is generally useless, especially the more in the past one goes, because the evidence becomes so scattered and fragmented that the number of narratives that can be constructed become multitudinous and there is no way to tell which is true.

But addressing your point, I can experience a memory of last Saturday, and compare that memory to things like newspapers, photographs, other witnesses, and so on to corroborate the accuracy of my memory.

I honestly do not take radical skeptical arguments seriously. They all do the same thing. They ask you to imagine something that is logically possible, but implies that everything that you know about an issue is totally false, and then folds its arms and pretends like its done something profound. Is there any evidence for them beyond sheer possibility? No. Are they capable of answering even the most basic questions, such as, “if I am the only entity that exists, then where are my experiences coming from, and how can I tell which are true and false, and where did I learn language from?”

TheOFloinn said...

dguller
My comment on this point [that the set is not an additional entity on the same level as its elements] is that it would stand if there were no properties of the universe that were not already properties of the entities/events composing the universe.


TOF
A single molecule of H2O is not wet, yet a conglomeration of such molecules, which we call "water" is wet. Similarly dihydromonoxide has properties not found in either hydrogen or oxygen, and these two "elements" have properties not found in protons, neutrons, or electrons. In Aristotelian terms, this is called a "formal cause." Modern science denies formal causality, but has slipped it in through the back door with handwaving references to "emergent" properties. Hence, it is certainly possible for a set to have properties not found in any of its elements.

dguller
The universe is expanding, but it does not follow that the entities within the universe are also expanding.


TOF
Alas, I am.

But what does it mean to say that "the universe" is expanding? Properly speaking, we mean that the "universe of creatures" is expanding because the creatures are getting farther apart. As I understand it, the expansion is motivated by the Aristotelian aether, which nowadays we call "the relativistic ether" (i.e., the field of Ricci tensors) or (looking more closely) "the false vacuum" of quantum electrodynamics.
+ + +
dguller
As far as I know, there are events in quantum mechanics that have no apparent cause, such as radioactive decay. When a radioactive atom decays, there is no underlying cause or reason for that atom decaying while a neighboring atom did not.


This stems from a metaphysical choice made by Bohr, Heisenberg, and others to regard the uncertainty principle as a property of reality rather than as a privation in our ability to measure that reality. This has all sorts of ramifications, which Heisenberg was learned enough to acknowledge. One is that materialism can no longer account even for matter, and that subatomic particles do not have "objective" existence. Another was that physics does not describe the real world but only physicists' perceptions of the real world.

However, there are other metaphysics of the quanta: the Many-Worlds interpretation, Bohm's interpretation, Cramer's "transactional" interpretation, etc. Down in the bone, we find a gross contradiction between the Copenhagen metaphysic and general relativity: they require different orders of magnitude for the cosmological constant, λ. By me, being a mathematician, when you end up in a contradiction, there is something wrong with the theory. Or as Smith said in his Thomistic quantum theory, the quantum paradoxes are the result of making bad metaphysical choices.
+ + +

TheOFloinn said...

dguller
...there are some subatomic events that are non-contingent and truly random


TOF
Random occurrences are likely to be contingent. But randomness is not a cause of anything. Consider the man who is brained by a plummeting hammer while on his way to lunch. Everything in the series of events that led up to it was contingent and determined either by volition or natural law:

The hammer hit with such and such kinetic energy because it free-fell a specific distance, it fell because of the "force" of gravity, it was moved because the workman on the scaffolding nudged it with his foot as he stood to go to lunch; his foot nudged the hammer because of the geometric arrangement of the tools on the scaffold. He rose to lunch at that time because that is when he customarily eats lunch.

Likewise, the unfortunate on the sidewalk was passing below at that specific time because he was determined to eat lunch at a diner that he had chosen that day; he had reached that spot at that time because of the distance from his office, his walking speed, the location of the diner, and the time he left his office; he left the office when he did because it was his alloted lunch hour.

You will notice that none of this was predictable, save for the physics of the hammer once it tipped off the scaffold. But to be caused is not the same as to be predictable. Rather, it was entirely contingent: the workman was not determined toward arranging his tools as he did, nor the unfortunate to dining at that particular diner. It could have been otherwise.

What we call "random" or "chance" is simply the intersection of two or more causal lines. That doesn't take the causality out of it or (in keeping to the theme) make the universe less intelligible.
+ + +
dguller
analogies about what goes on outside space-time.


TOF
There is nothing "going on" outside the space-time manifold. For something to "go on" it must be in motion, and time is the measure of motion in mutable being; hence, it would be within time. Whatever is outside time is immutable and eternal, and eternity is not "a really long time."

dguller
does the fact that the inferences are deductively valid from previously established premises mean that the inferred hypotheses are true?


TOF
The word "true" means "faithful," as when two lovers are "be-truthed/betrothed," or when the Old Guard stood true to the cause of Napoleon, or when the Beach Boys sang "Be true to your school." A bricklayer must lay bricks on a true line.

The question is: "true to what?" A novel must be "true to life" and a science must be "true to the facts." Mathematical proofs are different, for the truth of mathematics lies in coherency. Hence, the distinction between "true" and "factual." Beauty and the Beast is not a factual account, but it is a true one; and the truth of it is this: that sometimes a person must be loved before he becomes lovable.

Mathematics (and by extension any science that depends on mathematics for its discourses) possesses a rigorous proof that there are true propositions within a system that cannot be proven within that system, provided only that the system is consistent and can support first-order arithmetic. The true statements can be proven using a higher order system; but then the higher order system would generate true-but-unprovable propositions. I.e., every system requires information from outside the system. (Which is why Constitutions need Supreme Courts and Scriptures need Magisteria.)
+ + +

Crude said...

You are right, but you can observe parts of it, and can infer how the rest operates based on your conclusions from the observed parts.

You can infer, sure. But remember: Almost your entire line of argument here has been "..and then you check your results against your observations, and if you can't do that you don't know if it's the case." But in the case of going beyond the observable universe, we can't compare. We don't infer, then compare our inferences to the observation. We infer, period.

Why are you treating inference without observation valid in one case, invalid in another?

But addressing your point, I can experience a memory of last Saturday, and compare that memory to things like newspapers, photographs, other witnesses, and so on to corroborate the accuracy of my memory.

And not a one of these things is a direct observation. Last saturday is gone. You can't say "Alright, I have my testimony, my corroborating witnesses, my photographs. Now to go back to last Saturday and see how they all match up!"

Is it the case that it's reasonable to make inferences, even place great weight on inferences, without being able to make a direct observation of what you're making inferences about?

I honestly do not take radical skeptical arguments seriously. They all do the same thing. They ask you to imagine something that is logically possible, but implies that everything that you know about an issue is totally false, and then folds its arms and pretends like its done something profound. Is there any evidence for them beyond sheer possibility?

Again, I'm just using the reasoning you've been relying on here almost exclusively: Pointing out the space of possibilities (logical and not) that exist, and implying that these possibilities are all equally reasonable in the absence of direct observation. If you say that it is, after all, reasonable to make and rely on inferences about that which is not open to direct observation, that will signal a change of course.

dguller said...

I'll post replies when time permits. Wife got really, really pissed at my time at the computer last night. Can't repeat it tonight. ;)

Thanks for all the excellent criticisms, by the way. They are certainly food for thought.

See you guys tomorrow!

Brian said...

Am I missing something? I thought that Aquinas' ways do not rely on a part-to-whole inference.

What do Thomists think of the KCA?

TheOFloinn said...

Am I missing something? I thought that Aquinas' ways do not rely on a part-to-whole inference.

They don't.

BenYachov said...

>What do Thomists think of the KCA?

What TheOFloin said.

Ironically all New Atheists and unfortunately too many regular Atheists conflate the Kalam Cosmological Argument with Aquinas' first cause. The Dawkins is one of them.

So many levels of wrong.......

Not that I'm against the KCO Oderberg wrote an interesting reply to Oppy on it. You can find it on Feser's link to Oderberg's page.

Al Moritz said...

dguller:

As far as I know, there are events in quantum mechanics that have no apparent cause, such as radioactive decay. When a radioactive atom decays, there is no underlying cause or reason for that atom decaying while a neighboring atom did not. Maybe there are underlying causal factors that are hidden from our awareness, but that would have to be demonstrated.

Are there ‘uncaused’ events in science? Let us look at science in practice. As far as I know, being a scientist myself, in the tens of thousands scientific laboratories around the world the principle of looking for natural causes to natural effects is still very much alive. In fact, science as it is currently practiced and will be in the foreseeable future, is firmly based on this central principle. It obviously includes the broader assumption that every effect has a cause.

There appears to be some confusion, however, as to whether the findings from quantum mechanics suggest a loosening of the bond between cause and effect. Such a loosening does not really take place. Yet what does happen in the realm of quantum processes, is that a cause does not have a *deterministic* effect anymore, but a *probabilistic* effect. That the bond between cause and effect is unbroken is proven by the fact that the statistical distribution of the effects can be represented by exact mathematical formulas.

This can be well illustrated by radioactive decay: The cause for radioactive decay is the instability of certain types of atom which triggers them to loose a particle, e.g. a beta-particle, and in the process to convert into another element. Yet radioactive decay is also a quantum process.

If you have an agglomeration of 32-Phosphorus (32-P) atoms, or an agglomeration of molecules containing 32-P atoms, it is impossible to tell which one of the 32-P atoms will decay next to give stable 32-Sulfur (32-S). However, it is known that the half-life of 32-P is 14.28 days, i.e. after this time half of the material has decayed to 32-S, regardless which precise molecules out of the agglomeration of atoms do the decaying. This holds for any quantity of 32-P that is more than unimaginably miniscule. Even a chemically barely detectable trace amount of 1 femtomol still has 600 million atoms 32-P atoms. Obviously, this is still such a huge number that, statistically, also this tiny trace amount will always decay with a half-life of precisely 14.28 days. The cause for the decay is the instability of the 32-P nucleus, and the effect is always this precisely determinable half-life. Thus, there is a clear correlation between cause and effect, a probabilistically determined correlation. Certainly, on the local level of the lowest imaginable quantities, statistics cease to work, but the correlation between cause and effect is still there. Let us assume, hypothetically, that we have an agglomerate of just three 32-P atoms. One may decay in, let’s say, the next two minutes, one in 4 weeks, and another one in 10 months. Obviously, a statistically determined half-life of 14.28 days will only work on a global level of many atoms, but not on the local level of these three atoms. The effect is random – who can predict when exactly these three atoms will decay? Nobody can. But is the cause for the decay different from that for a larger agglomeration of 32-P atoms, for which a half-life of precisely 14.28 days could be determined? No, of course not. The cause is still the exact same instability of the 32-P nucleus.

Thus, the effect of decay is still tied to that cause, even though the factor of precise statistical determinability falls away. *The cause is the same,* regardless if the effect is that the decay takes place within 2 minutes, or after 10 months.

***

It should be clear from this that the concepts of ‘random effect’ and ‘cause-less effect’ are two very different things. ‘Random’ in science means ‘by chance’, ‘unpredictable’, ‘indeterministic’ but *not*‘uncaused’.

BenYachov said...

For an event to be truly un-caused it would have to happen without sufficient conditions and not by any necessity.

We can't say both of these apply to quantum events. Thus quantum events are not un-caused events.

Indeed if we believe Anscombe, an un-caused event is an oxymoron like 2+2=5. Any event would be a potency being made actual. In Aristotelian terms an un-caused event would be a potency that is made actual without anything actual to actualize it.

That is equally illogical.

Of course God is not an event since God by definition can't be an irreducible composite of form and matter nor does God contain any potency to be actualized. God is pure actuality.

God is not self-caused since that would imply God was a potency that actualizes itself which as Aristotle showed is impossible.

God is not a potency being eternally actualized. Since the potency would need an actualizing agent. But you could have something that was pure actuality actualizing a potency from all eternity.

Thus you could have an eternal universe without a beginning but you would need a God to keep it in existence from all eternally.

It's a little rough but maybe others can smooth it over.

dguller said...

Crude:

>> You can infer, sure. But remember: Almost your entire line of argument here has been "..and then you check your results against your observations, and if you can't do that you don't know if it's the case." But in the case of going beyond the observable universe, we can't compare. We don't infer, then compare our inferences to the observation. We infer, period.

I think you are partly correct. When we infer from observations in one part of the universe to unobserved parts of the universe, there is an underlying assumption that the laws of nature hold throughout the universe. That is what gives the inference its teeth. If there were parts of the universe where the laws of nature were found to be violated, then we would not be able to make this inference, but so far, wherever we look in the universe, the laws hold.

The point is that the validity of the underlying assumption is grounded in our empirical observations of parts of the universe. That is where the inductive inference comes from.

When you bring in something beyond the universe, then we are in new territory. You are not saying that our observations of the universe in this area should also hold in the universe in that area. You are now trying to infer observations inside the universe to a reality beyond the universe. I can justify my assumption of the universality of natural laws within the universe by numerous examples where they hold within the universe. How can you justify your assumption that the laws applicable to entities within the universe also apply to entities beyond the universe? Is there a single observation beyond the universe that you can point to?

>> And not a one of these things is a direct observation. Last saturday is gone. You can't say "Alright, I have my testimony, my corroborating witnesses, my photographs. Now to go back to last Saturday and see how they all match up!"

But you are still dealing with something that was experienced by someone, and then recalled later. We have numerous examples of experiencing some event, and then recalling it later on. If we doubt whether the recalled event has happened, then we can seek corroborative evidence. This is something that we do all the time.

Now compare this to the transcendent reality beyond the universe, which no-one has directly experienced. It is not just about being able to experience something right this very second, but about it having ever been experienced in order to then have some knowledge about it at all.

dguller said...

TOF:

>> A single molecule of H2O is not wet, yet a conglomeration of such molecules, which we call "water" is wet. Similarly dihydromonoxide has properties not found in either hydrogen or oxygen, and these two "elements" have properties not found in protons, neutrons, or electrons. In Aristotelian terms, this is called a "formal cause." Modern science denies formal causality, but has slipped it in through the back door with handwaving references to "emergent" properties. Hence, it is certainly possible for a set to have properties not found in any of its elements.

Again, your argument was that it is false that there are TWO entities, the universe and the entities/events within the universe. They are one and the same, and if that is true, then there is no argument from composition going on, because it is a fact that entities/events within the universe are contingent, and so the universe must also be contingent, because they are one and the same thing.

I was saying that that would be true if all properties of the universe were identical to all properties of the events/entities within the universe. I tried to offer a counter-example to this claim with the property of “extension”. The universe is expanding, but not every entity within the universe is expanding (although you appear to be one ;)). If that is true, then a distinction can be made between the universe on the one hand, and the entities/events within it, and that means that an argument composition is occurring. And if that is true, then the argument is unsound.

Any thoughts?

>> There is nothing "going on" outside the space-time manifold. For something to "go on" it must be in motion, and time is the measure of motion in mutable being; hence, it would be within time. Whatever is outside time is immutable and eternal, and eternity is not "a really long time."

Why does what happens outside the universe have to have the opposite qualities of what goes on inside it? In other words, if the universe is finite, then why does the beyond have to be infinite? And don’t eternity and immutability presume time and change, both of which are concepts that only apply within space-time?

dguller said...

Al:

Thanks for the clarification.

TheOFloinn said...

so far, wherever we look in the universe, the laws hold.

And that, my friend, was the starting point of Thomas Aquinas' "Fifth Way."

TheOFloinn said...

dguller
Again, your argument was that it is false that there are TWO entities, the universe and the entities/events within the universe. ...if that is true, then there is no argument from composition going on

TOF
There is no "argument from composition." That came up earlier only because you had regarded category error as a formal fallacy rather than a material fallacy.

dguller
that would be true if all properties of the universe were identical to all properties of the events/entities within the universe.

TOF
But that is simply not true, and I gave several examples. Chlorine is a poisonous gas, but the protons and neutrons and electrons that comprise it are not a gas at all. By your thinking, if water is wet, then each H2O molecule is also wet.
+ + +
dguller
I tried to offer a counter-example to this claim with the property of “extension”. The universe is expanding, but not every entity within the universe is expanding

TOF
Again, this is not true. The United States expanded across North America, but the pioneers and settlers did not themselves "expand." A gas expands to fill the volume that contains it, but the gas molecules themselves do not expand.

To say that "the universe is expanding" is simply a shorthand way of saying that "the creatures that comprise the universe are moving farther from one another." This is thought to be due to the Aristotelian aether, which Einsteinians call the field of Ricci tensors and Heisenbergians call the vacuum energy. This dark matter or dark energy seems to impress an expansive force counteracting the contracting force of gravity. However, in fairness, dark energy is not definitely established. By its nature, it is not itself empirically detectable; only its effects are.
+ + +
>> There is nothing "going on" outside the space-time manifold. For something to "go on" it must be in motion, and time is the measure of motion in mutable being; hence, it would be within time. Whatever is outside time is immutable and eternal, and eternity is not "a really long time."

dguller
Why does what happens outside the universe have to have the opposite qualities of what goes on inside it? In other words, if the universe is finite, then why does the beyond have to be infinite?

TOF
That is not the reasoning involved, which addressed only time. In general relativity, there is no space or time. Rather these are metaphysical abstractions which derive from the presence of matter. ("Explanation of the Movement of Mercury's Perihelion on the Basis of the General Theory of Relativity," 1915) In particular, time derives from matter changing. It is a measure of change - the swing of a pendulum, say; or the decay of cesium. If all matter vanished, Einstein said, time and space would vanish with it.

Hence, there is no "empty box" called a universe, within which stars and planets and the like are placed. "Empty" space is not empty, else there would be no space. Rather there is a quasi-geometric structure - the field of Ricci tensors - realized as dark matter or some such thing.
+ + +
dguller
And don’t eternity and immutability presume time and change...?

TOF
On the contrary, they presume no change (and therefore no time). It is not that if something is off the space-time manifold it must be immutable; it is that if something is immutable it must be off the space-time manifold.

An analogy: The first mode is neither a major nor a minor scale; and therefore music written in the Mode I is off the "major-minor manifold." However, a banana is necessarily "off the major-minor manifold" for a much more fundamental reason and is not found on any "modal manifold" whatsoever.

Hope this helps.

Al Moritz said...

Al:

Thanks for the clarification.


You're welcome.

dguller said...

TOF:

>> But that is simply not true, and I gave several examples. Chlorine is a poisonous gas, but the protons and neutrons and electrons that comprise it are not a gas at all. By your thinking, if water is wet, then each H2O molecule is also wet.

I don’t think that was my point at all. I was saying the opposite, and your examples actually support what I was trying to say, I think.

You start with the contingency of entities within space-time, and then conclude that contingency must extend to the totality of entities within space-time (i.e. the universe). I was saying that you cannot make that inference, because of the fallacy of composition, i.e. the properties of the parts that compose an entity do not necessarily transfer to the whole, which your examples nicely illustrate.

I thought that your objection to this was that the universe is not something else, but rather JUST the totality of entities within space-time. In other words, it just makes no sense to think of the universe, on one hand, and the totality of entities in space-time, on the other, because they are actually identical.

My counter-argument to this was that they are not identical, because the universe possesses a property that the entities within the universe do not, such as expansion. So, they can be treated as distinct entities after all, and thus there is an inference from entities within the universe to the universe itself, which I think is an argument from composition.

So, I’m not too sure what your examples were supposed to show.

>> To say that "the universe is expanding" is simply a shorthand way of saying that "the creatures that comprise the universe are moving farther from one another."

Couldn’t you say that of almost anything then?

I mean, take your example of water being wet and H2O. Couldn’t I just say that “the wetness of water” is just shorthand for “H2O molecules bound together sufficient to have movement, but not enough to become a gas”, or something along those lines? What does that imply? The fact remains that I can talk, on the one hand, about the wetness of water, and on the other hand, the H2O molecules that are not individually wet.

So, yes, the universe is expanding, because the entities within the universe are moving farther from one another. But the entities themselves are not expanding, and thus the universe has a property that the entities within it do not. Why can’t contingency be like that? Unless we can examine the universe as a whole, then all we have is speculation, no? Isn’t it possible that when you aggregate the contingent entities within space-time, then something non-contingent occurs? I mean, there are lots of properties of entities in the universe that emerge when they are combined in different ways that are utterly surprising. Why can’t the universe itself be just another example?

I feel like I’m missing something in what you are saying. I appreciate your efforts to clarify what that is. Bear with me. I am trying.

dguller said...

TOF:

>> In general relativity, there is no space or time. Rather these are metaphysical abstractions which derive from the presence of matter.

In other words, the behavior of matter is what generates space-time? Okay, but as long as there is matter changing, then there is space-time, which means that there IS space-time. It is a real phenomenon, even if secondary to matter changing. So, given the fact that space-time possesses a property (i.e. expansion) that changing matter does not, and since we can say that the universe is expanding, then does it not follow that the universe is not identical to entities in space-time?

>> On the contrary, they presume no change (and therefore no time). It is not that if something is off the space-time manifold it must be immutable; it is that if something is immutable it must be off the space-time manifold.

Okay, that helps. But doesn’t that assume the immutable to begin with? Yes, if there is something immutable, then it cannot exist in space-time, but how do you know that there is such a thing?

dguller said...

And I've ordered Mr. Feser's books on Aquinas, New Atheism, and philosophy of mind.

If they are even half as intellectually fulfilling as the discussion on this site has been, then I think I am in for a treat!

As was mentioned here, it is always best to confront the best presentation and argumentation of an opposing perspective, rather than a straw man.

TheOFloinn said...

dgruller
You start with the contingency of entities within space-time, and then conclude that contingency must extend to the totality of entities within space-time (i.e. the universe).

TOF
No, I don't.

dgruller
I was saying that you cannot make that inference, because of the fallacy of composition

TOF
But you were wrong. An argument, like everything else, consist of a hylemorphic union of matter and form. The matter is the subject matter of the argument and the form is the arrangement of the arguments.

A formal fallacy is always incorrect, even if the conclusion is true. Example:
1. Theory X implies A, B, and C.
2. A, B, and C are true (empirically observed)
3. Theory X is true.
This is the fallacy of asserting the consequence. Theory X may or may not be true, but the form of the argument does not demonstrate it.

A material fallacy may not be a fallacy at all. To say that because all the Lego blocks are red, therefore the wall is red is not a fallacy of composition, because it is not a fallacy as regards the subject matter.
+ + +
dgruller
I thought that your objection to this was that ... it just makes no sense to think of the universe, on one hand, and the totality of entities in space-time, on the other, because they are actually identical.

TOF
Correct. There is no humanity absent human beings.

dgruller
My counter-argument to this was that they are not identical, because the universe possesses a property that the entities within the universe do not, such as expansion.

TOF
But here you actually are committing a fallacy of equivocation, using the word "expansion" as if it meant the same thing for a collection as for the items collected. The universe is not expanding absent the entities that comprise the universe. Rather, we say that the universe if "expanding" just because the entities are receding from one another. I used the example of a gas expanding to fill a volume. The individual gas molecules are not themselves expanding. Yet we have no trouble saying that a gas just is the aggregate of all the molecules.

I don't know why this is so difficult for you to see.
+ + +
dgruller
So, yes, the universe is expanding, because the entities within the universe are moving farther from one another.

TOF
No. The "universe is expanding" just is "the entities that comprise it moving farther apart." Your misperception is in the phrase "within the universe." This conceptualizes a separate entity somewhat like an empty box into which stars and galaxies and dark matter are placed.
+ + +
dgruller
Why can’t contingency be like that?

TOF
Contingency is a mode of existence. X might or might not have existed. But to say the universe exists necessarily even though everything comprising it is contingent is to say that the universe would still exist even if nothing existed. This would dump you back into the discredited Newtonian physics of absolute time and space and contradict everything we have learned from relativity.

Can "water" necessarily if each and every water molecule exists only contingently? It would mean that you could have "water" even when you had not a single H2O molecule anywhere.

dgruller
Isn’t it possible that when you aggregate the contingent entities within space-time, then something non-contingent occurs?

TOF
Depends. Can you gather together a bunch of things that don't exist and wind up with a collection that does exist? Or more precisely: Can you gather together a bunch of things that might not exist and wind up with a collection that must exist?

BenYachov said...

>And I've ordered Mr. Feser's books on Aquinas, New Atheism, and philosophy of mind.

>If they are even half as intellectually fulfilling as the discussion on this site has been, then I think I am in for a treat!

>As was mentioned here, it is always best to confront the best presentation and argumentation of an opposing perspective, rather than a straw man.

Hmmmm.....the Force is Strong in this one!

TheOFloinn said...

>> In general relativity, there is no space or time. Rather these are metaphysical abstractions which derive from the presence of matter.

dgruller
In other words, the behavior of matter is what generates space-time? Okay, but as long as there is matter changing, then there is space-time.... It is a real phenomenon, even if secondary to matter changing.

TOF
In relativity, as I understand it, space and time are measures, not objective things. If time was a thing, it would have weight and length and location, just like other objective things. That is why Einstein said that they had no objective existence and regarded them as metaphysical abstractions.

Try this: consider a foot-long hot dog. When you look at it, do you see one thing or two things? I hope you said "one." You would not reasonably say that you were looking at a hot dog and at a "length." Length is a form of the hot dog (an objective one, as it happens) it is not a mysterious second entity that "somehow" interacts with the hot dog, and "somehow" occupies the same space.

dgruller
So, given the fact that space-time possesses a property (i.e. expansion) that changing matter does not, ...does it not follow that the universe is not identical to entities in space-time?

TOF
Suppose you start to eat the hot dog. Do you suppose that "length" is decreasing and this causes the hot dog to get shorter? Or do we say the hot dog gets shorter and the decreased length is a consequence of this? Just so with "expansion" of the "space-time."

dgruller
Yes, if there is something immutable, then it cannot exist in space-time, but how do you know that there is such a thing?

TOF
From a prior syllogism. Mutability means that a thing may change from potentially X to actually X. (It "moves" from potency to act.) If there is a being of pure act (BPA), possessing no potency, it would necessarily be immutable. (The necessary existence of a BPA follows from a still prior argument, namely that an unmoved mover is entirely actual, etc.)

dguller said...

TOF:

I think that I understand your points, and thanks for being so patient in explaining them. This has been very helpful for me.

I just have a question: Is it possible for matter to necessarily exist, but the contingency that we experience is second to the various permutations of matter and energy? Wouldn’t that be a way to have an underlying necessity that manifests itself with contingent entities? Kind of like what Spinoza said?

What are your thoughts on that possibility?

dguller said...

BenYachov:

Still an atheist, but trying to be an honest and consistent one. Gotta practice what you preach, y'know?

Crude said...

Just a quick comment for now - busy.

Wouldn’t that be a way to have an underlying necessity that manifests itself with contingent entities? Kind of like what Spinoza said?

Going back to Ed's post, wouldn't talk of a necessarily existent universe be going for Ed's "B" as opposed to the "A"? As in, we're now into theism or pantheism?

TheOFloinn said...

Is it possible for matter to necessarily exist, but the contingency that we experience is second to the various permutations of matter and energy?

Since matter is the principle of change or potency, it cannot exist necessarily. Consider even for temporal being: the matter that makes up ourselves is constantly changing. At a certain point - 7 years IIRC? - there is not a single atom in our body that was there seven years before. And yet the being persists. Further, if we assume the Copenhagen interpretation of the data of quantum mechanics is correct, then, as Heisenberg said, we cannot even say "matter" has objective existence. (To me, this is a reason to doubt the Copenhagen interpretation; but I'll wait for the jury on that one.)

However, Aristotle certainly held that prime matter always existed. But prime matter is what's left over when matter is stripped of all intelligible form: it is matter without shape, location, length, mass, quantity, etc. Thus, it has no actual existence, because everything actual has form. ("Every thing is some thing.") So to the extent that something which does not actually exist may eternally exist, go for it. (Welcome back to the Nothing.)

There is a certain pleasing symmetry to prime matter lying at one end of the matter-form or potential-actual spectrum and a being of pure act at the other end. The one does not actually exist; the other cannot potentially be anything else and so necessarily exists. In between are compound beings composed of matter and form and beings of immaterial form not fully actual. The compound beings run from inanimate to vegetative, animal, and human, with the usual fuzzy boundaries.

Heisenberg equated prime matter with mass-energy; but he wasn't quite there, since mass energy has form. If we can have empirical knowledge of it, then it has a form that we can grasp. Formless prime matter can only be known from its effects. (Science does this quite often. The electron is "known" because electric charge comes in quantum increments; the neutrino is "known" from the Cerenkov radiation caused by the neutrino impacting another body. This is like identifying a never-seen animal by the footprint it leaves behind or - in the case of the neutrino - deducing the presence of a bear by the footprint of a rabbit startled by it! But I digress.)

There are certain similarities between the prime matter and Aristotle's own aether, the modern relativistic aether, the quantum vacuum energy, and the dark matter/energy said to fill space to the brim and give it its geometric structure.

So while matter does not necessarily exist, it has a kind of potential existence and one can make a reasonable case for its always "existing."

dguller said...

TOF:

Thanks for your reply.

>> Since matter is the principle of change or potency, it cannot exist necessarily.

I’m unclear about what this means. Matter changes, but does that mean it is “the principle of change”?

>> However, Aristotle certainly held that prime matter always existed. But prime matter is what's left over when matter is stripped of all intelligible form: it is matter without shape, location, length, mass, quantity, etc. Thus, it has no actual existence, because everything actual has form.

“Everything actual has form”? How do you know this?

>> So while matter does not necessarily exist, it has a kind of potential existence and one can make a reasonable case for its always "existing."

If something always exists, then doesn’t it follow that it necessarily exists?

dguller said...

TOF:

And even if matter changes, then why can't there be a necessarily existing substrate -- your pure matter -- that persists even when matter changes?

In that case, all that exists is the universe, which is essentially just the changes that matter/energy undergoes within space-time, according to natural laws.

TheOFloinn said...

dgruller
“Everything actual has form”? How do you know this?


TOF
Because every thing is some thing. That is, it has form. Just as matter is the principle of change, form is the principle of actuality. It is form that makes a thing actually some thing. An apple for example has the form of a sphere (sort of), the form of redness (assuming it is ripe), the form of crispness, etc.

If a thing had no form, it would not actually be anything.

dguller said...

TOF:

>> Because every thing is some thing. That is, it has form. Just as matter is the principle of change, form is the principle of actuality. It is form that makes a thing actually some thing.

Why can’t we just say that the necessarily existing substrate of the material world lacks form? After all, form appears to just be the qualities that something possesses that we can conceptualize, and perhaps we just lack the conceptual apparatus to understand what qualities this underlying substrate has? Perhaps our categories of thought just stop at the phenomenal world, especially since they evolved within that world, and cannot penetrate beyond them into the noumenal? That’s what Kant thought anyway, and it seems to make sense.

TheOFloinn said...

dguller
Why can’t we just say that the necessarily existing substrate of the material world lacks form?


TOF
If prime matter lacks form, it does not actually exist. Something that does not actually exist cannot do anything, let alone be the source of its own existence. Something that is potentially so is not actually so, let alone necessarily so.

dguller
Perhaps our categories of thought just stop at the phenomenal world, ... That’s what Kant thought anyway, and it seems to make sense.


Kant's philosophy did more to undermine the foundations of science than Descartes and Hume combined. How can we be confident in "laws of nature" if they are only human thoughts projected onto the world? If there actually is a world?

machinephilosophy said...

In qualifying what is beyond, you are still talking about it. Similar to the 'you can't know X' problem.

Alberta: You can't know X.

Bill: Is that statement itself an item of knowledge about X?

Alberta: Oh I'm just referring to the *word* "X".

Bill: But doesn't the same problem arise regardless of what X is?

Alberta: No, it's just what X means.

Bill: But doesn't saying what either X or the *word* "X" means itself constitute knowledge about both X and the word "X"?

Alberta: Oh no, I'm just referring to the *words* "The *word* "X"".

dguller said...

TOF:

>> If prime matter lacks form, it does not actually exist.

What if it necessarily exists, and its form is to generate the material universe?

Anyway, I was struck by something, and would like your feedback. I think that the idea of potential and actuality, and form and substance, and other Aristotelian categories actually make sense to me, especially when you use them for empirical phenomena. I mean, we can cite numerous examples from the natural world to support this.

I start to get uncomfortable when they start to be used in ways that go beyond empirical confirmation. In other words, when Pure Potentiality and Pure Actuality, and so on, start to be discussed, then I really am not sure how to make heads or tails of them. Certainly, it all seems to fit nicely into an intellectual and metaphysical system, but does any of it actually correlate to something real?

I am a physician, and so I cannot but think in terms of the scientific method. I can cite numerous scientific hypotheses that were reasoned into, made perfect sense, but ultimately turned out to be false once they were tested empirically. Because of such situations, I am very skeptical about ideas and hypotheses, such as the existence of Pure Potentiality and Pure Actuality, and so on, without some way to test whether they are really happening, or just logical tinkering with some concepts.

If you take superstring theory, for example, then you see a theory that is logically coherent, symmetrical, beautiful, integrated, and so on, but has no empirical validation. As a result of that, physicists hold it to be a tentative hypothesis and not an absolute truth. I was always struck by Einstein's theory of general relativity, and his need for some empirical verification despite its obvious beauty and power of explanation.

On the contrary, with metaphysics, I see the opposite tendency where a beautiful metaphysical system with multiple interrelated parts that fit perfectly together is taken as truth, even if there is no conceivable way to test its validity. All it has is logical consistency and coherence, but is that sufficient to guarantee its truth?

>> Kant's philosophy did more to undermine the foundations of science than Descartes and Hume combined. How can we be confident in "laws of nature" if they are only human thoughts projected onto the world? If there actually is a world?

First, we can be confident about them, because we actually experience the regularity and predictability that you would expect given the existence of laws of nature. I think that if you pair this notion with evolution, then it seems likely that our cognitive tendency to seek causal relationships and patterns in the world could only work if there were, in fact, such causal patterns. If there weren’t, then everything would be chaos.

Kant was correct that our minds are not unfiltered and in direct contact with reality, but are processed and generated by our brains. So, there is a world, but we have no direct contact with it, except via our peripheral senses, which are then analyzed, categorized and processed by our brains to generate the unitary experience of conscious awareness.

Second, my only point was that our concepts do not necessarily extend beyond our empirical world. Perhaps beyond that point, they just become incoherent, and thus we should be careful of grand metaphysical systems that attempt to go beyond the empirical world that we can verify and test. I consider myself a “poor existing individual”, as Kierkegaard would say, and like him, am very skeptical of grand metaphysical syntheses that are often based upon taking a few material examples in the world, and then using those inferred principles into realms beyond the material world.

Brian said...

dguller, I appreciate your questions. The answers are helping me learn.

btw, I am reading The Last Superstition right now, and I wanted you to know that the book is very polemical. Some take issue with that, but Feser makes clear from the outset that he's responding to the "new" atheists, all of whom are far more nasty.

dguller said...

TOF:

Another question.

If pure potentiality does not exist, then what does the pure actuality, or Prime Mover, act upon, if not something that already exists? Does that imply that matter is co-eternal with the Prime Mover?

dguller said...

machinephilosophy:

Is it possible for a sentence to appear to make sense, but actually be nonsense when it is examined closely?

Tap said...

Dguller. You're a rare breed.I've read all comments for this thread and i'm amazed. Frankly, some "non-smart" atheist would come here,filibuster and leave. Some smart ones when cornered would, repeat themselves concede nothing and depart. Once Eric showed you you were wrong you conceded and proceeded to ask other questions in humility, even though their answers may not be thoroughly explanatory, you acknowledge their reasoning, move on to the next question. I'm impressed...

BenYachov said...

>If pure potentiality does not exist, then what does the pure actuality, or Prime Mover, act upon, if not something that already exists? Does that imply that matter is co-eternal with the Prime Mover?

You question back in the middle ages was the one that made many ordinary Christians balk at Aristotle as contrary to Scripture & Tradition the same way today many do with Darwin and Evolution.

If TheOFloin doesn't answer maybe this will help.

http://www.catholic.com/thisrock/2008/0811fea4.asp

Or at least it might lay the ground work.

dguller said...

Brian:

I have no problem with a polemic, as long as it is well presented. There is nothing wrong with having a point of view and trying to present in the most forceful of terms. I have read enough polemics supporting atheism, and I think I am due for a good faith attempt at falsifying it without resorting to straw men. As I mentioned earlier, this is the best way of minimizing my confirmation bias. I am serious about the truth, and know that I have all kinds of nasty cognitive biases, distortions and self-deceptions that I have to take seriously or else I may believe something that is not supported by the best evidence.

Tap:

As I said above, it is not about defending what I believe, but about finding out the truth. I know that I may be wrong, and hold my beliefs tentatively, because new evidence may necessitate me to revise or reject them. I would be an utter hypocrite if I held beliefs just because they provide me with emotional satisfaction and rejecting them would be too embarrassing, because my feelings have nothing to do with the truth. So, it was difficult to admit that I was wrong, but often the most difficult acts are the most valuable.

BenYachov:

The link didn’t work!

TheOFloinn said...

Does that imply that matter is co-eternal with the Prime Mover?

It is certainly possible for something, even something material, to have existed eternally and still be a created thing. Imagine a Foot planted in the Sand, Foot and Sand being eternal. Beneath the Eternal Foot is the Eternal Footprint. But the Foot is still the Cause of the Footprint, even though both have always existed eternally.

But think how the painting exists in potency well before it is painted. It exists in the mind of the artist as an intention. The artist then moves the painting from potency to act by actually painting it. This is much like creation, in that the painting moves from not existing to existing, in some sense. (We might even say that it begins to exist with the first stroke of the brush or pen. So we say that art is "creative" by analogy to the creative act of God.

It would be a weird person indeed who thought the painting was "caused" solely by the Laws of Pigment and the Laws of Brushstroke. That would be like saying Hamlet was caused by iambic pentameter.

TheOFloinn said...

dguller
I have no problem with a polemic, as long as it is well presented.


It is; but while polemic fits nicely with atheist irrationalism it sits like lumps in the Cream of Wheat in the rationalism of Thomistic argument. This is largely because building something that will stand requires close and painstaking attention to details and how everything fits together, whereas tearing it down does not - and seems like great fun in the bargain.

dguller said...

TOF:

>> It is certainly possible for something, even something material, to have existed eternally and still be a created thing. Imagine a Foot planted in the Sand, Foot and Sand being eternal. Beneath the Eternal Foot is the Eternal Footprint. But the Foot is still the Cause of the Footprint, even though both have always existed eternally.

First, I can see your point, but am troubled by the fact that your analogy relies upon two physical, material entities. Does the analogy hold between an immaterial entity and a material entity, though? How would you know if it did?

I mean, this is a difficulty that I find in this metaphysical discussion. All the assumptions really should be prefaced by “according to our empirical observations, …”, because that is where all this talk of cause, effect, potential and actualization are coming from. To take these examples and then infer something about an immaterial, immutable and eternal reality just boggles my mind, and appears to be sheer speculation without any way to test whether they are true.

Second, what if there was just the footprint, which makes it appear that there is a foot that caused it? I mean, look at the Invisible Hand of the Market. This is an example of apparent teleology that is illusory, because all there is is the behavior of selfish individuals in a market. Could something similar be occurring in the material universe? It only appears to require a necessary immaterial entity to create it even though it really does not?

>> But think how the painting exists in potency well before it is painted. It exists in the mind of the artist as an intention. The artist then moves the painting from potency to act by actually painting it. This is much like creation, in that the painting moves from not existing to existing, in some sense. (We might even say that it begins to exist with the first stroke of the brush or pen. So we say that art is "creative" by analogy to the creative act of God.

First, I thought you said that something that is potential is not existent, only something actual can exist.

Second, does one require a mind to have potential entities exist? In other words, does this only make sense, because ideas are essentially potentialities in the world that have either been realized or have yet to be realized? And are there examples of potential existing independent of mind? Look at Darwinian evolution, which is permeated with potential as different genetic modifications result in phenotypic variation that has differential survival effects, and ultimately results in new species. There is no mind there, but there is plenty of potential.

Third, is it possible that you have the analogy backwards? That the creative act of God is analogous to an artist’s creating art?

>> It would be a weird person indeed who thought the painting was "caused" solely by the Laws of Pigment and the Laws of Brushstroke. That would be like saying Hamlet was caused by iambic pentameter.

Right, but that is only because we have experience of painters creating paintings. If we had no such experience to draw upon, then how would we proceed? After all, mindless algorithms in Darwinian evolution produce complex entities that appear designed all the time. Anyway, this is a moot point, because of our experience with painters, and the fact that paintings do not replicate in variant types with differential survival abilities, and thus there is nothing for natural selection to sink its teeth into!

TheOFloinn said...

look at the Invisible Hand of the Market. This is an example of apparent teleology that is illusory, because all there is is the behavior of selfish individuals in a market.

But there is telos: the intentions of each and every person in the market. "The Market" as such is an abstraction. This is similar to the telos in evolution, which is the strong drive of individual living creatures to go on living, and so to exploit new niches and resources to do so. (Hence, Kimura's theory of neutral selection may be more explanatory than Blythe/Darwin's theory of natural selection.) On the broader scale, and so talking about a higher level telos, evolution works toward the origin of species, which is to say, it multiplies the number of species over time. At the smaller scale, there is a telos toward greater reproductive fitness, though this may be merely a tautology: "Survivors survive."

After all, a hammer is not determined to any one particular end. It can build a birdhouse as well as a fence. In the same manner, natural selection - the very term selection reeks of telos - can supposedly* sculpt a bird as easily as a bat. But the indeterminacy of the hammer does not deprive the birdhouse of telos.
_________________
(*)supposedly. I'm inclined to give greater weight to genetics than to selection. But then, there are always four causes, right?

dguller said...

TOF:

>> But there is telos: the intentions of each and every person in the market. "The Market" as such is an abstraction.

First, I never denied that the individuals had their intentions and goals, but their individual goals actually result in something far more complex that is independent of those goals. After all, their individual goals are not to benefit the society, but only themselves. In other words, there appears to be something extra going on that is guiding their behavior towards a more fair society, but in fact, there is nothing there.

Second, my point in mentioning this is that there can appear to be a higher process at work, but actually that higher process does not exist, and only appears to exist as an emergent property of lower level entities’ behavior. Bottom-up processing, as it were. So, is it possible that the need for necessary causation could be a property of matter that is equally illusory, and only appears to be an independent entity to our cognitive apparatus?

>> On the broader scale, and so talking about a higher level telos, evolution works toward the origin of species, which is to say, it multiplies the number of species over time.

Well, that is what happens, but that is not what evolution’s GOAL is, because it has no goal. It is a mindless, purposeless algorithmic process that has certain outputs or results, but those results are not intentionally built into the system as explicit goals or purposes. Again, it is an example of complexity and purpose appearing from simplicity and mindless processes.

>> At the smaller scale, there is a telos toward greater reproductive fitness, though this may be merely a tautology: "Survivors survive."

Right, and that is where the theory gets its power. It is so simple, and yet explains so much.

>> After all, a hammer is not determined to any one particular end. It can build a birdhouse as well as a fence. In the same manner, natural selection - the very term selection reeks of telos - can supposedly* sculpt a bird as easily as a bat. But the indeterminacy of the hammer does not deprive the birdhouse of telos.

First, a hammer is something we KNOW is intelligently designed for a specific purpose. Sure, there are other uses that the artisan could not have anticipated, but the initial intent to create was there.

Second, this is something else that I have noticed in much of our discussion, which Heidegger also noticed. Many of the premises are rooted in our experience as artisans intentionally creating different tools. Is it any surprise that the conclusions from these premises ultimately lead to an ultimate creator of everything? Perhaps this is a form of begging the question since the concepts of intentional creation are built into the premises from the start?

Crude said...

Well, that is what happens, but that is not what evolution’s GOAL is, because it has no goal. It is a mindless, purposeless algorithmic process that has certain outputs or results, but those results are not intentionally built into the system as explicit goals or purposes. Again, it is an example of complexity and purpose appearing from simplicity and mindless processes.

Well, no. How do you know the process is mindless? How do you know it has no goals? Science manifestly does not demonstrate this - and it can't. It doesn't even ask the question. The best science can do is make certain measurements - say, point out that mutations are not correlated to fitness, with fitness defined as X.

dguller said...

Crude:

>> Well, no. How do you know the process is mindless? How do you know it has no goals? Science manifestly does not demonstrate this - and it can't. It doesn't even ask the question. The best science can do is make certain measurements - say, point out that mutations are not correlated to fitness, with fitness defined as X.

First, there is no evidence of this being a process supervised by a mind, except by assuming that any complex process must be supervised by a conscious agent. However, that is just begging the question.

Second, evolution is just what happens when you have the following conditions:

(1) Hereditary transmission of traits
(2) Reproduction with random variation in traits
(3) Differential fitness of traits, given limited resources

Once these conditions are in place, you have evolution by natural selection. I would like to know what the purpose or goal of process is present within these three conditions.

It is like the Invisible Hand. Once you have certain conditions of interaction between selfish agents, then you have an emergent process where the quality of life of most is improved. There is no real Invisible Hand improving the quality of life of the community, but only individuals acting selfishly.

Third, adding a mind to the process does not actually contribute anything to it. Unless you know what this mind intends, then it is a useless variable to include in the equation. Do you know what this mind intends? If you do, how do you know it?

Crude said...

First, there is no evidence of this being a process supervised by a mind, except by assuming that any complex process must be supervised by a conscious agent. However, that is just begging the question.

I didn't say it must be. You made the positive claim that it wasn't. There's plenty of evidence, though inconclusive, that the process is supervised and purposeful - and of course, one could make the argument in the other direction as well.

Now, this is apart from the formal/final cause distinction which I trust other thomists to bring up. But I'm pointing out your claim goes well beyond the empirical, and beyond science.

Once these conditions are in place, you have evolution by natural selection. I would like to know what the purpose or goal of process is present within these three conditions.

To introduce species? To fill environment niches? To alter the environment? The possibilities are endless.

Third, adding a mind to the process does not actually contribute anything to it. Unless you know what this mind intends, then it is a useless variable to include in the equation. Do you know what this mind intends? If you do, how do you know it?

I didn't add a mind. I pointed out you were making a claim that went far beyond the science. Really, the above applies to you, not me - "Unless you know what this mind intends.." then your speculation is groundless. This is both for the market and evolution.

The science, the data itself, is mum on this subject.

dguller said...

Crude:

>> I didn't say it must be. You made the positive claim that it wasn't. There's plenty of evidence, though inconclusive, that the process is supervised and purposeful - and of course, one could make the argument in the other direction as well.

First, what is that evidence? Are you talking about Intelligent Design?

Second, is the evidence just some biological characteristics that we do not understand how they have evolved at this time? How does this imply that there is a mind supervising the process?

>> To introduce species? To fill environment niches? To alter the environment? The possibilities are endless.

Just because something happens as a result of a process does not mean that it is the intended result of the process. Yes, all those consequences occur as a result of evolution, but which one is the intended goal? And if you do not know, then why support that there is, in fact, an intended goal?

>> I didn't add a mind. I pointed out you were making a claim that went far beyond the science. Really, the above applies to you, not me - "Unless you know what this mind intends.." then your speculation is groundless. This is both for the market and evolution.

No, you are saying that the process is supervised, I presume by a conscious intelligence, or a mind. Otherwise, what does “supervision” mean? And the science is sufficient to explain how species have evolved without having to postulate a supervising entity at all. I am unaware of any textbook or university course teaching evolution that includes this factor as an important variable to explain evolved species.

Crude said...

First, what is that evidence? Are you talking about Intelligent Design?

Not really, insofar as you probably mean "Evolution didn't happen, common descent is false, etc." And no, the evidence is not exclusively related to us not knowing this or that - I'm sure arguments could be made on that front.

Evolution itself, even taking a relatively mainstream and orthodox view, is clearly a process that can be exploited by a mind. Darwin himself knew this (hence the very direct comparisons between artificial and 'natural' selection), Crick knew this (When he speculated about directed panspermia, it came with the unspoken understanding that biological processes take certain reliable paths, etc.)

I won't rehearse all the views here, which span from Conway Morris' to Scott Turner's to elsewise. But yes, there is evidence and inferences at play here.

No, you are saying that the process is supervised, I presume by a conscious intelligence, or a mind. Otherwise, what does “supervision” mean?

I said no such thing. I said science is incapable of addressing this question, much less coming to the conclusion you stated - it's a question of possibility space.

I am unaware of any textbook or university course teaching evolution that includes this factor as an important variable to explain evolved species.

Are you aware that the last time the NABT attempted to assert that evolution was an unsupervised, impersonal process, Eugenie Scott and others protested on the grounds that that goes beyond the science? (Whether they were sincere is another question.)

But that aside - this is part of what I've been driving at in my discussion of 'beyond the universe'. On the one hand you insist that what's beyond our universe is not only unknowable, but in principle can be anything - God, illogic, whatever. But in this case it really seems like you're switching gears, and now suddenly we can say some decisive things about such things and what effect, if any, they have on our world - actively or in the past.

Like I said, science as science is mum on this question. And certainly someone who took your view, to be consistent, would have to go as far as "science can't say, and thus we don't know" and no further.

TheOFloinn said...

dguller
that higher process does not exist


TOF
No process "exists" in a material sense. They are dynamic relationships-Aristotelian Forms. (To cite "emergent properties" while denying formality amounts to "then a miracle happens.")
+++
dguller
[the origin of species]...happens, but that is not what evolution’s GOAL is, because it has no goal.


Telos is "towardness," not "goal,” and is evidenced by natural laws. If A causes B there must be something in A that "points toward" B. Otherwise, efficient causation makes no sense. So, if Darwin's theory is a law, there must be something in natural selection that "points toward" the origin of new species.

As usual, the physicists are ahead of the biologists: telos has been given user-friendly names like "attractor basin" or "minimizing the potential function."
+++
dguller
[Evolution] is a mindless, purposeless algorithmic process that has certain outputs or results [that] are not intentionally built into the system as explicit goals or purposes.


TOF
That is not a scientific conclusion, but an a priori metaphysical commitment; one that compels us to watch nature constantly acting lawfully toward ends while simultaneously convincing ourselves that it is all a coincidence.

Flowers turn toward the sun; amoebas seek out food particles; and acorns become oaks. To be unaware of possessing goals does not mean they don’t have them. Algorithm is a description of a series of calculations. It no more causes a thing than iambic pentameter is causes Hamlet. To call a process "is algorithmic" is to say only that it can be described lawfully (although in the case of evolution, without the icky mathematics). And that the world is lawful was precisely a Christian belief about the world.
+++
>> smaller scale… telos toward greater reproductive fitness, though this may be merely a tautology: "Survivors survive."

dguller
that is where the theory gets its power. It is so simple, and yet explains so much.


Tautologies explain nothing.

dguller
Many of the premises are rooted in our experience as artisans … Is it any surprise that the conclusions from these premises … lead to an ultimate creator of everything?


They’re not premises, but mere analogies. To quote our gracious host:
"For Aquinas, final causality is evident in nature precisely insofar as it is not like an artifact."
+++

Read Dr. Feser's books carefully.

A few articles of interest:

Aristotle's Revenge
http://www.nd.edu/~afreddos/courses/43151/ross-aristotle%27s-revenge.pdf

Natural Motion in Inanimate Bodies
http://www.thomist.org/jour/2007/2007%20Oct/2007%20Oct%20A%20Larson.htm

The Aristotelian-Thomistic Concept of Nature and the Contemporary Debate on the Meaning of Natural Laws
http://www.inters.org/tanzella-nitti/pdf/3.Aristotelian.pdf

A short blog post The Modern Account of Nature by James Chastek
http://thomism.wordpress.com/2009/08/10/the-modern-account-of-nature/

Wolfgang Smith, From Schrödinger's Cat to Thomistic Ontology.
http://www.thomist.org/jour/1999/Jan%20A%20Smith.htm

Reviewing Wolfgang Smith's book: William Wallace, "Thomism and the Quantum Enigma"
http://www.thomist.org/jour/1997/973AWall.htm

***Wallace wrote a very nice book about science from an Aristotelian perspective: THE MODELING OF NATURE
http://www.amazon.com/Modeling-Nature-Philosophy-Science-Synthesis/dp/0813208602/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1298758581&sr=1-1

Parts of Wallace's books appear as lectures here:
http://home.comcast.net/~icuweb/c02001.htm#1
An arrow at the bottom of each lecture takes you to the next. There are six lectures, all told.

BenYachov said...

BenYachov:

The link didn’t work!

Try googling "THIS ROCK" and "INTELLIGENT DESIGN".

TheOFloinn said...

dguller
Are you talking about Intelligent Design?


Thomists generally dislike the scientific theory called "intelligent design," since it is based on the same conception of nature as being "dead matter." You might search this very blog, for Dr. Feser has written on the subject.
+++
dguller
is the evidence just some biological characteristics that we do not understand how they have evolved at this time?


No.

dguller
because something happens as a result of a process does not mean that it is the intended result of the process.


You keep saying "intended," but there is no intention in nature. Telos means "towardness" not "intention."

However, cognitive agents do have intention, even if it is an instinctive one. When a bird gathers twigs and such, it is "for" a nest. When a critter finds itself with a new mutation, its intention to go on living leads it to seek out environments or even transform environments in such a way as to use the mutation. E.g., pandas with a bone spur on their wrists discover how to use it to strip succulent leaves from bamboo. The animal selects the environment at least as often as the environment selects the animal.

The assumption that selection is "for" something, like camouflage or plucking seeds, led Fodor to his recent critique of natural selection as being too teleological. That is where you get to when you follow your logic to its end.
+++
dguller
[Crude is] saying that the process is supervised, I presume by a conscious intelligence, or a mind. Otherwise, what does “supervision” mean?


A steam generator has a governor without having a gubernatorial election.
+++
dguller
the science is sufficient to explain how species have evolved without having to postulate a supervising entity at all.


Sure. That is standard Catholic doctrine. My mechanic can also explain how a transmission works without having to postulate natural selection or evolution.

Personally, I think genetics and Kimura's theory of evolution are better explanations. Otherwise you are saying the better fit are more reproductively successful, while defining fitness by reproductive success.
+++

BenYachov said...

Yeh the article I tried to link to was anti-ID.

Aquinas vs. Intelligent Design

By Michael W. Tkacz

Daniel Smith said...

dguller,

Can I jump in here and make a few comments that (I hope) will attract some criticism/attention so that I too may learn? (I'm really new to philosophy and Thomism.)

Regarding the fallacy of composition, it helps me to phrase things theoretically. Take these three statements:

A) If every individual thing in the universe is red, then the universe is red.

B) If every individual thing in the universe is contingent, then the universe is contingent.

C) If every individual thing in the universe weighs ten pounds, then the universe weighs ten pounds.

For me, statement B is logically equivalent to statement A but not to statement C. Statement C is an example of the fallacy of composition but statements A and B are not. This is because contingency is a property like redness but not like weight.

Now you seem to be saying that - since we don't know whether everything in the universe is contingent, we can't know that the universe is contingent. That is true, but it is not an argument based on the fallacy of composition, but rather one based on empirical knowledge. Look at it this way: if we knew that everything in the universe was red, it would logically follow that the universe was red (I'm obviously including the "space" between things as a "thing" here). Since we know that there are things in the universe that are NOT red, we also know that the universe is not red. So even though the conclusion is false, the "if/then" logic holds.

We have then the task of finding out whether everything in the universe is actually contingent. It is impossible for us to know, but a wise man once said (of natural laws): "but so far, wherever we look in the universe, the laws hold". Can't the same thing be said of contingency?

dguller: "Could something similar be occurring in the material universe? It only appears to require a necessary immaterial entity to create it even though it really does not?"

I would answer this by saying that - if everything material is contingent, then its cause must necessarily be immaterial.

I'd appreciate any and all comments on my pitiful attempts at philosophical thought!

Mr. Green said...

TheOFloinn wrote, Thomists generally dislike the scientific theory called "intelligent design," since it is based on the same conception of nature as being "dead matter."

To be pedantic, that's like saying Thomists dislike general relativity or quantum mechanics. They may dislike a particular interpretation, but not the actual science itself. Now, "Intelligent Design" is in the rather unfortunate position of having more interpretation than actual science to its name, but bad philosophy aside, any actual scientific claim you can pull out of ID can always be recast into a good model of science, just as any actual scientific claim about gravity can be. I think it's important to stress that, because there are actually are good scientific questions to ask about ID, that should be encouraged, while the bad philosophy should be discouraged.

dguller said...

TOF:


>> They’re not premises, but mere analogies. To quote our gracious host:
"For Aquinas, final causality is evident in nature precisely insofar as it is not like an artifact."

But the premises are justified using them, no? In other words, all the premises that buttress this metaphysical system are based upon empirical observations. In that case, shouldn’t all the premises be preceded by “in the empirical world …”? After all, that is where they get their justification in the first place. And if that is true, then how to you go from premises that are true “in the empirical world” to true beyond the empirical world and into Pure Passivity and Pure Activity, which are not evident to our experience at all?

In addition, what if human beings cannot help but to experience the world as loaded with qualities that just aren’t there? For example, we have a tendency to experience the world as populated by conscious intelligences, even when they cannot possibly be present. When your car doesn’t start, then don’t you plead with it sometimes? Does it follow that the car is a person who you can reason with, or is it just an example of misfiring of our intentional stance?

So, if this is true, then just because we cannot help but experience the world as full of teleology does not necessarily imply that it is, in fact, full of goals and purposes. It could be just one thing causing another by following natural laws that govern their behavior, but without any underlying purpose whatsoever.

I guess I just worry that these metaphysical conclusions are just shadows cast by the way we happen to experience the world. And I wonder how we could go about testing to see if this is the case.

And the books are in the mail!

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