Monday, July 11, 2011

A clue for Jerry Coyne

A reader alerts me that Jerry Coyne, whose philosophical efforts we had occasion recently to evaluate, has been reading some theology – “under the tutelage of the estimable Eric MacDonald,” Coyne tells us.  And who is Eric MacDonald?  A neutral party to the debate between theologians and New Atheist types like Coyne, right?  Well, not exactly.  Turns out MacDonald is “an ex-Anglican priest” who has been “wean[ed]… from his faith,” and who claims that “religious beliefs and doctrines not only have no rational basis, but are, in fact, a danger to rational, evidence-based thinking.”

Give Coyne’s post a read, then come back.  Now, you might recall my fanciful dialogue from a few months back between a scientist and a bigoted science-bashing skeptic.  The point was to try, through analogy, to help New Atheist types see how they appear to others, and how irrational and ill-informed they really are.  (If you haven’t seen the dialogue, go read that too, then come back.)  To see what is wrong with Coyne’s latest remarks, we can imagine that that dialogue might continue as follows:

Skeptic: I’m trying to learn science so I can meet head-on the argument that we science critics are ignorant of the subjectSo, under the tutelage of the estimable Bruno Latour, I have spent several weeks reading this stuff.  And so far, I’ve learned only three things.  First of all, I’m wasting my time reading drivel about beliefs that have no basis in fact when I could be learning about real things instead.  Second, scientists can’t write.  A lot of what they have to say is obscure bafflegab, and I’m starting to believe that this obscurantism is deliberate because of reason three (which I’ll get to in a minute).  I have for example, just opened Geons, Black Holes, and Quantum Foam by John Wheeler to a random chapter.  And there I find this: 

“On the other hand, when we see time symmetry marred in an elementary process, when we contemplate the writhings of spacetime in wormholes and quantum foam, when we see tiny deviations from Dirac’s predictions for the electron produced by quantum fluctuations, we realize that the “floor” of simplicity as we move to smaller and smaller domains is illusory.  Beneath that floor, in still smaller domains, chaos and complexity reign again.”

Believe me, the book contains paragraphs far more obscure and pretentious than this one.  Can you imagine reading this stuff night after night?  Do you see why my head feels about to explode?  Bruno, why are you doing this to me?

Scientist: Well, it’s easy to make fun of serious ideas by ripping them out of context.  Actually understanding them is a different story.  Wheeler is an important thinker, and you quite obviously haven’t the faintest understanding of what he’s saying.

Skeptic: Oh brother, here we go again.  “You don’t know what you’re talking about!”  You always say that.  Then comes the Courtier’s reply: “Learn the science before commenting on it!”  But now that I have learned it, even that’s not enough for you.  Why don’t you just finally admit that science is like believing in the Flying Spaghetti Monster?  I mean, “geons” and “quantum foam” are only the beginning.  This Wheeler guy goes on about tons of other crackpot stuff, like “black holes,” “muons,” “cosmic rays,””wave-particle duality,” and “It from Bit,” whatever the hell that means.  

Scientist: But my point is that you haven’t “learned the science.”  Just reading a book doesn’t mean anything if you’re not even trying to understand it.  And you’ve more or less admitted that you’re not – you’re only interested in scoring a debating point against those who’ve exposed your lack of knowledge of science.  There’s nothing obscure or crackpot about anything Wheeler said.  He’s just using technical terminology.  But the ideas are complicated and are the result of decades or even centuries of scientific developments.  You can’t seriously expect to understand it all just by mining a couple of books over the weekend for passages you can make smart-ass remarks about.

Skeptic: But why waste time trying to understand it when these scientists never show how what they’re saying tells us anything about reality in the first place?  Because that’s the third thing I’ve learned.  There seems to be no “knowledge” behind science.  One gets the strong sense when reading science that everyone is just making stuff up.  There are few arguments for relativity, quantum mechanics, evolution, etc. at all in what I read.  People just assume these things are real and go from there.

Scientist: What are you talking about?  Lots of scientists have argued for those things, at length!

Skeptic: Not in what I’ve read these last few weeks.  For example, read a book like Gregory’s Eye and Brain and you’ll find he talks about how evolution did this or how photons do that.  But he never gives us any argument for the existence of these “photon” thingies, and he never answers all the objections people have made to evolution.  It’s all based on faith.

Scientist: He doesn’t address those things at length because the book is about vision, and not photons or evolution per se.  He can take that stuff for granted because other people have argued for it elsewhere.  He isn’t even trying to answer skeptics about evolution or modern physics in a book like that.  Really, do you expect every science book to start from square one and recapitulate what others have already said about every issue that might be relevant to a subject, just to satisfy skeptics like you?  

Skeptic: But their belief in these things is not based on argument.  It’s based on peer pressure, groupthink, the fear of being ostracized.  The so-called “arguments” you refer to are just rationalizations for what scientists were indoctrinated into believing while in school and what all their colleagues expect them to believe when they go to conferences, try to get tenure or funding or to get their papers accepted for publication, etc.  It reflects the worship of science that dominates our society – its pop culture, its educational institutions, commerce and industry, you name it.  It’s all socially constructed, not based in reality.  As Latour says in Laboratory Life

Scientist: That’s another thing.  When the hell did Bruno Latour, of all people, become a neutral source in this debate?!

Skeptic: What do you mean?  Latour is himself a scientist!  In fact, he’s a recognized expert in no less than two sciences, anthropology and sociology.  He also wrote a very influential study of Einstein’s theory of relativity.  

Scientist: This is surreal.  I don’t think you’ll find a lot of physicists or biologists who would agree that what Latour does is “science.”  I’ll bet even many anthropologists wouldn’t.  And as to his article on relativity…

Skeptic: Ah, I see, so the scientists don’t even agree among themselves about what “science” is.  It’s just a bunch of warring, faith-based sects that…

Scientist: No, there is certainly consensus among serious scientists about

Skeptic: Oh, so when you cite some scientist, he’s a “serious” scientist or a “real” scientist, but when I cite some scientist in my favor, suddenly he’s not a “real” scientist or a “serious” one.  How convenient!  Do you have any idea how you sound?

Scientist: It only “sounds” suspicious if you’re hell-bent on finding something suspicious about it instead of trying to understand the reasons why I say what I do.  Look, you’re so off-base about so many things that I’ve got to start from first principles even to make a dent, and it’s complicated further by…

Skeptic: Yeah, yeah, it’s “complicated,” I don’t understand the issues, Courtier’s reply, blah blah blah.  Whatever.  You tell me I need to learn about science before criticizing it, so – just to humor you, because I already know it’s a waste of time – I do.  Then, because you don’t like what the evidence I’ve uncovered shows, you suddenly shift your ground and say that reading science books isn’t good enough after all, and that the scientists I cite are not “real” scientists.  I don’t think there’s any point in continuing this conversation any further.  And I don’t think there’s any point in reading any more science.  I don’t want to waste months of my life reading this stuff if there’s nothing to be gained from it except the ability to say to my opponents, “Yes, I do know about scientific schools of thought X, Y, and Z.”  Why bother to torture our brains if we can simply ask scientists to prove, using evidence and reason, that their viewpoint is correct, and better than that of either science critics like me, or other scientists?  But they never do that – it’s all just making stuff up or at best rationalizing preconceived ideas.

Now, Coyne would be outraged by our Skeptic, and rightly so.  But replace “Skeptic” with “Coyne,” “Scientist” with “Theologian,” and so forth, and I submit that you’ve got a dead-on summary of Coyne’s attitude toward theology.  Of course, Coyne and his ilk will insist that the cases are different.  But what you will never get from them is an actual argument for this claim, or at least not an argument that doesn’t beg the question.

If there were any doubt that Coyne’s reading project is unserious, it is dispelled by his jaw-dropping remark that he hasn’t come across any arguments for God’s existence “that aren’t taken up and refuted in The God Delusion.”  If Coyne were to imagine his own reaction to a creationist who said he hadn’t seen any arguments for evolution “that aren’t taken up and refuted in Duane Gish’s Evolution: The Fossils Say No!,” he would have some idea of what a fool he is making of himself.  Reasonable and well-informed people can disagree about whether a thinker like Aquinas (say) has proved the existence of God.  Reasonable and well-informed people cannot disagree about whether Richard Dawkins knows what the hell he is talking about when he criticizes thinkers like Aquinas in The God Delusion.  He does not, and to every Aquinas scholar it is cringe-makingly obvious that he does not.  If Coyne does not know this – and his own clueless past remarks about Aquinas show that he doesn’t – then it is hard to believe that he has even tried to look for serious defenses of the arguments for God’s existence, and thus hard to see how he has any business complaining that he hasn’t found them.

Still, Coyne insists that he really wants to know what the best arguments are, that he is “dead serious here, and not looking for sarcastic answers,” and even that he is “hoping that some real theologians will read this and provide some answers.”  Well, here is an answer.  If Coyne really wants to know what the rational foundations of theology are, he should read works that aim to lay down those foundations, instead of works that presuppose them – just like someone skeptical about evolution should read a book like Coyne’s Why Evolution is True instead of complaining that books like Richard Gregory’s Eye and Brain do not argue for evolution.

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

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

Another relatively recent book to look at on the Five Ways is Christopher F. J. Martin’s Thomas Aquinas: God and Explanations.  Unfortunately, this is an expensive book, but it looks like the University of Chicago library has a copy, so Coyne should have no trouble getting hold of it.  If Coyne wants to dig even deeper into a broadly Thomistic approach informed by hard core analytic philosophy, I would recommend that he look at Barry Miller’s trilogy: From Existence to God, A Most Unlikely God, and The Fullness of Being.  These are also expensive, but I see that Coyne is again in luck, since the University of Chicago library has all three.  There are also some articles on Aquinas’s arguments worth checking out, such as David Oderberg’s recent piece on the first premise of the First Way.  And then there is the question of how Aquinas would deal with the atheistic objection from evil, the best recent book on which is Brian Davies’ The Reality of God and the Problem of Evil.

After Aquinas’s versions of the cosmological argument, the next most important argument for God’s existence is the kalām cosmological argument.  Here the things to read are William Lane Craig’s books The Kalām Cosmological Argument and Atheism, Theism, and Big Bang Cosmology (co-written with atheist Quentin Smith), and David Oderberg’s articles on the subject (available here, here, here, here, and here).

So, there’s your answer, Prof. Coyne.  No need to thank me!

485 comments:

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mtraven said...

It’s all socially constructed, not based in reality. As Latour says in Laboratory Life…

I realize this is tangential to your argument, but the above paraphrase indicates a fundamental but common misunderstanding of Latour. See his essay "Do You Believe in Reality?" or here.

So I don't think your analogy works. Latour is not a disbeliever or skeptic relative to the contents of science, although he might be considered as such relative to some of the epistemological or metaphysical claims of science as a whole. Someone who had no familiarity with science and tried to obtain one through Latour would get a rather unconventional perspective on it, but it wouldn't be one of hostility.

Edward Feser said...

Hi, I wasn't making any comment about Latour. The point is not that Latour and MacDonald are in fact exactly parallel, and nothing I said is affected by the actual details of either Latour's views or MacDonald's (whatever the latter are). The point is rather that someone beholden to scientism -- as New Atheist types are -- is likely to regard Latour as a poor source of guidance on matters scientific, just as there is reason to believe that MacDonald is not the best guide to matters theological, at least not if Coyne really wants to understand the rational grounds of traditional theological positions. So the parallel works for the specific purpose of the post.

mtraven said...

Hm, OK, point taken, I'm sure someone like Coyne would not accept Latour as a reliable guide to science.

But my point is, he would be wrong. So you may not want to claim so much parallelism.

Evolution Barbie said...

"... he hasn't even tried to look for serious defenses..."

"Trying" is hard.
Let's go shopping!!

Leo Carton Mollica said...

Thanks for the post.

Would you recommend Dr. Vallicella's A Paradigm Theory of Existence to a fellow like Coyne? It's cosmological argument has at the very least the merit of not resembling any of the arguments brought up in Dawkins' book, so pointing thereto doesn't really work as an excuse for dismissing it.

Edward Feser said...

Hi Leo, I do recommend Bill's book highly. The only reason I didn't mention it is that I don't think Bill would regard his argument there as "Thomist," and (other than the kalam argument) I was trying to stick to Thomist examples just to keep things relatively simple. (Hence the lack of references to Leibnizian arguments as well.)

Anonymous said...

1) I wonder, is there a distinction between theology and philosophy of religion, or is the latter simply a subset of the former? The latter clearly has the capacity to refute the inane arguments of Dawkins and his ilk, seeing as their dismissive bumblings are thoroughly philosophical in nature. But what about theology? Does it encompass POR, or is it a different field altogether? (I recently heard a theologian reproach an atheist for accusing him of not being able to fulfill the "theologian's chief task" of articulating arguments for God's existence. The theologian replied that that's not the task of theology, but of philosophy of religion.)


If it's a different field, would the following analogy be accurate?

Theology (speculative) is to philosophy of religion as theoretical particle physics (speculative), e.g. string theory, is to the more results-based sciences such as chemistry and molecular biology.



2) Coyne should definitely have a good idea of what the Kalam Cosmological Argument is, since he definitely has a good idea of who William Lane Craig is! Here is a huffy letter he wrote to Dr. Craig:

http://www.reasonablefaith.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=7749

To channel the spirit of erstwhile poster "Ilion," Jerry Coyne, like P.Z. Myers and Richard Dawkins, is simply the epitome of intellectual dishonesty. He is a fool. On multiple levels.

dan said...

You still don't get it, Prof. Feser, do you?

We scientists don't care who said what about the universe. It doesn't matter if it's Aquinas, Dirac, Aunt Ida, Sarah Palin, the octomom or Sartre. Evidence. That's all that matters. Science has it. Religion doesn't. At the end of the day, that's all. What Wheeler said may not make sense to a lay person, but Wheeler can show evidence for his claims. What Whitehead said may not make sense to a non-theologian, but at the bottom of all his claims lies "I choose to believe".

Anonymous said...

Evidence. That's all that matters. Science has it. Religion doesn't.

Religion has plenty of evidence, as does God's existence. And half the time the cult of gnu can't even tell what is a scientific claim or a philosophical claim.

Coyne's a philosophical dope. And his attempt to become learned on theology is akin to trying to learn about evolution by reading a book written by a YEC.

Anonymous said...

10:17 Anon, please answer the following question for me:

What is evidence?

Crude said...

I think "dan" may be partially pulling our legs, since one thing Wheeler is/was known for in popular science involve claims that were out and out philosophical. And if his musings about the PAP were 'supported by evidence', then man, the existence of God is supported by all kinds of evidence by the same measure.

Chuck said...

Mr. Feser,

Thanks for the post. I'm an atheist and a big fan of Dr Coyne's work, mostly for the benefit it has provided me in critically examining my previous faith and seeing how it is wanting. This is especially true in the Intelligent Design debate and how I gave tacit agreement to intellectual dishonesty by claiming teleological arguments for the existence of God. I have put your "Aquinas" on my "to read" list. I'd like to see what the starting point for the sophistication is that Thomists claim and should first gain access to the arguments. I hope the book is as straightforward and as easy to read as Dr. Coyne's WEIT or Dr. Dawkins's "The Greatest Show on Earth". Even as a non-scientist, I saw how the theory of evolution infers predictions from its gathered data that repeatedly prove to be true in the real world. The difficulty I have with theology is that I fail to see any predictions with it. This might be a suffering of my ignorance and I admit that but, the view of reality that theology purports true, seems to rely on agreed upon cultural conventions, that never place themselves in a position to be verified by tests that examine reality, absent the people in the agreed upon culture admitting those truths. In short, what would falsify the Thomist arguments you claim? Is there a process for falsifying one's theology to pressure test its assertions on reality? I am unaware of such a mechanism and, without it for me at least, theology, while interesting in a literary and anthropological sense, has weaker claims on "the real" than science.

Also, I struggle to read your post as you probably intended it, which seems to be a sarcastic argument from analogy. My confusion is that you don't qualify Mr. MacDonald's theological sophistication and the book he recommended to Dr. Coyne while equating them to the work of Latour. How are they the same? Do you feel qualified to make this analogous claim when implying you don't know Mr. MacDonald's views?

Lastly, why do you use the royal "we" when writing? I've read your posts before and never understand why this convention is chosen. Can you explain that to me? Is that part of the conservative stance you choose in your worldview?

Thanks in advance for any answers you'd be willing to supply and I look forward to reading your book.

Best to you.

Chuck said...

subscribing to get follow up comments. Didn't do that with my first post.

Bobby Bambino said...

Hi Anonymous.

"Evidence. That's all that matters. Science has it. Religion doesn't."

Another Anonymous asked a good question: what do you mean by evidence? But after that, I would ask, is evidence the only means of obtaining knowledge?

Thomas said...

After Aquinas’s versions of the cosmological argument, the next most important argument for God’s existence is the kalām cosmological argument.

I just wonder why you think so. The Leibnizian argument seems more "Aristotelian" to me than kalam, since it´s compatible with an eternal universe. Leibnizian argument also works on any theory of time, but kalam needs A-theory to work.

dan said...

Religion has plenty of evidence, as does God's existence.

I have seen dozens of supposed arguments for god's existence. Not a single one stands up to even rather surface-level scrutiny. You have a new one? The best theologians have been able to come up with is the fine-tuning argument, which is the modern version of age-old tactic: find the cutting edge of science - see what's right beyond the known horizon - claim that since we're not there yet, it's god. Since the horizon always keeps moving, the argument never dies. Also does not prove anything.

What is evidence?

How deep. Evidence is when the police find your wife dead in her bed, and discover you with a knife in your hand and her blood all over your shirt.

If you want to get side tracked by "nature of evidence" that's a different discussion. But "my imagination" has never counted as evidence, by any definition of the term.

since one thing Wheeler is/was known for in popular science involve claims that were out and out philosophical.

What Wheeler is known for in popular science is quite thoroughly irrelevant. What he is known for in actual science is being a fantastically brilliant man who was proven to be correct far more often than most people. Many of the greats, once they retire, settle in to speculate about the universe. The fact that they have a history of being right gives them a bit of leeway there. Which, by the way, is far more than what philosophers can say. No philosopher has a history of "being right", just a history of having opinions.

But after that, I would ask, is evidence the only means of obtaining knowledge?

It's the only way that matters. It's the only way that counts in this world. My dreams and fantasies don't mean an iota to you and vice versa.

Anonymous said...

Dan,

Add Feser's "The Last Superstition" to your reading list :). "God of the gaps" arguments are irrelevant. It should help you to dispel any notions that God is some sort of empirical scientific hypothesis (like the ID crowd mistakenly seem to thinks is the case).

Have fun.

dmt117 said...

Dan,

This is all so boring. The people reading this blog generally have read Aristotle/Aquinas/Feser for themselves, and have long since recognized the "can't stand up to surface-level scrutiny" New Atheist bluff for what it is. Do we really need to hash it out all again for the umpteenth time in this post's combox?

Come to think of it, maybe that's the strategy. Keep repeating the same superficial talking points indefinitely until the opposition gets tired of refuting them. I'll admit I'm getting excruciatingly bored with it.

Anonymous said...

Hi Dan. In response to the question about whether or not evidence is the only means of obtaining knowledge, you wrote

"It's the only way that matters. It's the only way that counts in this world. My dreams and fantasies don't mean an iota to you and vice versa."

This doesn't come out directly and answer the question (nor does your answer to the question as to "what is evidence" above) but it seems that your answer here is "yes." If evidence is the "only way that matters" then surely you must be able to provide evidence for the assertion that "evidence is the only way that matters." In other words, what evidence can you point to in order to support the claim that "evidence is the only way that matters"?

Bobby Bambino said...

Sorry, that was me directly above.

Chuck said...

I found a review of Feaser's "Last Superstition" that seems intelligent and critical.

Here: http://www.uncrediblehallq.net/2009/02/25/review-of-edward-fesers-the-last-superstition-part-i-morality/

Chuck said...

dmt117,

I've yet to investigate the preferred philosophy of the followers of this blog and its creator but, I do have a question. It is a variation of the question I had above. Have any of these arguments been altered based on scientific discoveries that might impact their premises? If so, how? What mechanism exists within Thomist and medieval theology to falsify the premises driving the theological conclusion? I don't see one but, I may be missing it.

And a wild-card for those fans of Aquinas, would the good saint have constructed the arguments he had in the way he did if he was privileged to know what we do about the natural world?

Chuck said...

Bobby,

You should play fair and not get into an apologetic "gotcha" game. Dan never said that evidence is the only way that matters, he said that it is the only thing that counts in the real world. Theology may have arguments but until it produces a data set that can be analyzed independent of those accepting its conclusions prior to the experiment, its "evidence" is specious. The gap, and possibly an unbridgeable one between modern empiricists and philosophical theologians, is that the former is comfortable making claims on reality using probability curves while the latter seems to seek absolute conclusion.

I enjoy hearing the arguments a philosopher might have for the existence of some god(s) but, at the end of the day, as a modernist, I find that hypothesis unnecessary to how I operate as a human being.

Modern sciences however do impact my state of being.

grodrigues said...

@Chuck:

Your last question is idiotic. It is like asking

"Would Euclid have constructed his argument for the infinitude of primes in the way he did if he was privileged to know what we do about the natural world?"

dmt117 said...

Chuck,

No, by the nature of the case, no scientific evidence could ever refute Aquinas's arguments, because they operate at the metaphysical level. But that makes them more certain, not less.

Perhaps it would help if I propose some other questions at the metaphysical level. Do you believe in the existence of scientists? Could scientific discoveries ever alter the premises on which you believe in the existence of scientists?

I hope the answer is no, because if there aren't any scientists, there certainly can't be any science, so scientific results presuppose the existence of the scientists that make them possible. The existence of scientists is a question that can't be asked at the scientific level.

Does this mean there isn't any evidence for the existence of scientists? Of course not. The very fact of science is conclusive proof of the existence of scientists. A similar sort of reasoning with respect to the fact of the world is behind the cosmological proofs for the existence of God.

Bobby Bambino said...

Chuck,

Dan specifically said "It's the only way that matters." The point I am trying to make is that the scientific method is based on philosophical presuppositions. Why can't I fake my data and make up numbers in the lab? Why should I believe that if something acts a certain way under certain conditions, then it tends to always act that way? Why should I be able to trust my sense perceptions etc. etc? The scientific method is based on sound philosophy. In fact, as Feser argues in teh Last Superstition, it is the same philosophical presuppositions that we hold when doing good science that lead us deductively as a metaphysical demonstration to the existence of God.

"Theology may have arguments but until it produces a data set that can be analyzed independent of those accepting its conclusions prior to the experiment..."

Why should we hold that a data set which can be analyzed independently is the only way to avoid "specious" evidence? In this very claim of yours, you are bringing philosophical presuppositions to the table which require justification. So again, I would recommended looking into Feser's Last Superstition to see how the same philosophical underpinnings which ground good science also deduce the existence of God.

TheOFloinn said...

The difficulty I have with theology is that I fail to see any predictions with it.

I have the same difficulty with art.

+ + +

Let's, just for slaps and giggles, take the JC God as an hypothesis and see what consequences would follow. Then, using Carnap's formulation of scientific positivism, we can assess the likelihood of the hypothesis being true. According to the JC conception of God, if he exists:

a) There is an objective universe. ("...God created..."). There is alas no evidence for this, since to accept anything as evidence would require assuming the existence of an objective universe. So this must be taken on faith. Accepting this and going forward:

b) The universe had a beginning in time. We could look for evidence of this in, let's say, some sort of microwave background radiation derived from the mathematics of general relativity. Maybe a "big bang" of some sort. (Note that this does not preclude other universes or, more precisely, other space-time continua.)

c) Because God is rational, the universe will be rationally ordered. For evidence, we might ask for the existence of something that we might call "scientific laws" or "laws of nature."

d) Because God ordered the universe "by number, weight, and measure," those natural laws would be explicable to human reason through numbering, weighing, and measuring things. For evidence, we will research whether this can be done. Perhaps we will drop cannonballs from the tower of Pisa. Or drop pizza from a tower of cannonballs.

e) Because in Genesis God ordered the sea and the land to bring forth the living kinds, and Augustine and those who came after said that this must have been meant causally, the workings of the natural laws could be understood in terms of nature itself, or "secondary causation." In particular, regarding Genesis, the origin of species would be explicable by the workings of natures. For evidence, we might look for some sort of hereditable substance - let's call it "genes" - that might mutate [putrefaction, etc.] to lead to new kinds.

Well, you get the picture.
+ + +

I note repeated emphasis on Popper's effort to undermine the certainty of science by demanding "falsification" as the sole criterion of scientific truth. An odd demand, when you think on't. Let me know how you would falsify the circulation of the blood, the existence of the moons of Jupiter, and any number of scientific truths. Come to that, how would you falsify Darwin's theory of evolution? (I have only seen absurdities put forward for this.) How would you falsify Kimura's theory of evolution? Shapiro's theory? Etc.
+ + +
If evidence is the only basis for knowledge, where is the evidence for the irrationality of SQRT(2)? There is only rational deduction: no physical measurements of any body will ever yield an irrational number. Mathematics is not [natural] science, but a higher realm of knowledge [scientia, original sense].

Bobby Bambino said...

To add to your comment, TheOFloinn, how would one falsify the claim that "the only way we can know if a claim is true is if it is falsifiable"? One might respond by saying that this only should apply to scientific claims, but then this admits a realm of knowledge that is not scientific. Again, the point being that the "falsifiability" claim is a metaphysical assumption which is given the same method of justification itself (actually mush less) as claims of the existence of God.

Chuck said...

Thanks for the responses.

I'll be more direct.

If Aquinas were aware of quantum fluctuations where something could arise without a cause would he have fashioned his arugment differently?

I fail to see the "idiotic" nature of my question or how this predictive scientific fact about our physical universe couldn't have impacted the cosmological argument.

I'm not looking to be argumentative so, I'd prefer you wrestle with what we know prior to labeling me an idiot (this comment is directed to grodriques - please clarify to me how prime numbers are consonant with quantum fluctuations or, do you not understand the current theories of physics and, if so, why are you deferring to a dead medieval thinker whose argument does not indlude this theory?)

Chuck said...

"I hope the answer is no, because if there aren't any scientists, there certainly can't be any science, so scientific results presuppose the existence of the scientists that make them possible. The existence of scientists is a question that can't be asked at the scientific level."

What are you talking about?

You aren't arguing for a category determination when you argue for God but rather a personal distinction. I can determine the existence of someone claiming to be a scientist relative to the products of their craft and that desgination can change with new evidence (e.g. an alchemist would not be a scientist based on what we've discovered to be true).

I'm sorry but I don't see the equivalence between physical beings I can assess relative to a provisional professional practice that changes and a timeless, immaterial being that "caused" our universe (despite new evidence that implies within our physical knowledge of the universe there can be uncaused causes).

Metaphysics may be an interesting thought experiment but when the analogy exists within something that operates within a physical realm, I fail to grasp the signifigance.

E.R. Bourne said...

Chuck, a Thomist would question your assumption that all knowledge must be hypothetical, experimental, and predictive. Like the other commenter dan, save the arrogance and ignorance, you want to judge philosophical claims according to the modern scientific method. In doing so, you are betraying your implicit belief that all human knowledge must conform to this standard. This is why there is no simple answer to your question of whether or not philosophical claims can be falsified in the modern scientific sense. They cannot be, but not because they are not scientifically rigorous. It is because we are speaking of a knowledge that is in every way prior to what we now call science. To ask whether or not there is “evidence” for God or whether this “hypothesis” can be “falsified” is to commit a categorical error akin to asking for “evidence” that 2+2=4. Without this subject being adequately clarified, theists and atheists will only be talking past one another.

Chuck said...

"Why should we hold that a data set which can be analyzed independently is the only way to avoid "specious" evidence?"

Because we know by observing history and the practice of psychology, assertions without any regulating force have a high probability of contradicting the claims they make on reality.

What regulating agency operates to assess the hygiene of theology's methods? I work in scientific communications (in fact I'm taking a break from some compliance training) and can point to mechanisms that would operate to falsify claims science makes on "the real". There are no internal mechanisms with theology. There are no disinterested third parties that examine the claims on reality theology makes and assesses their safety or their efficacy. If there are, please inform me of such. Without these mechanisms I don't see theology providing the same deductive practice science invites when making claims on reality.

And until you can point to these disinterested regulations, I can only assume your claim to the same deductive rigor between theology and science as nothing more than assertion.

dmt117 said...

Chuck,

I confess that I don't understand your last comment.

I'm just asking if there are things you believe to be true about the world or the universe that could not possibly change based on any scientific evidence. The existence of scientists was one possible example. Since you don't like it, do you have any you would accept? Or must all beliefs about the universe be susceptible to revision in light of scientific evidence?

Chuck said...

2+2=4 has predictive evidence.

Asserting god does not or, at least, the priors provided by history for those who have do not indicate it does.

"This is why there is no simple answer to your question of whether or not philosophical claims can be falsified in the modern scientific sense. They cannot be, but not because they are not scientifically rigorous."

Thanks for being honest. If something cannot be falsified then please explain to me how I can test it with an independent assessment for its veracity?

I'm sorry but the entire Thomist position within a modern context assumes that philosophy is independent of culture as a prerequisite to "knowledge". Why should I even concern myself with the veridicality of Thomist claims on origins when those claims were being made outside of scientific facts (e.g. quantum fluctuations) that refute their premises.

I think the study of philosophy, like the playing of a musical instrument, reading good literature, and learning chess can sharpen my mental acuity but, the conclusions that are asserted from ancient philosophy on what is real "knowledge" seems to be akin to affirming that I biked to work today because the tonic of the a G chord is G.

Category error indeed.

If information does not have predictive properties on a potential event then it is nothing more than a preference derived from one's culture. Nothing more.

BenYachov said...

The problem Chuck is Scientism.

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2011/03/scientism-roundup.html#more

How do you prove scientifically science is the only means of truth?

Chuck said...

"Or must all beliefs about the universe be susceptible to revision in light of scientific evidence?"

Yes. To me, that would be the only humbel path. All else is presuppositional ignorance derived from preferred and privileged superstition.

I'm not saying Aquinas is wrong but I'm suggesting his argument was limited to what he knew about the physical world and, with new knowledge relative to his subject, would that argument shift.

Those using the Kalaam seem to spin what Physics affirms to privilege their preferred religious conclusions. If physicists who study this stuff and understand the complexities of it have alternative inferences from the data then, I will defer to the physicists on assertions of god and leave medieval thinkers to offer puzzles that help me learn critical thinking skills but have no sway on what I consider ontologically verified.

Chuck said...

"How do you prove scientifically science is the only means of truth?"

Well you don't do it by playing an apologetic language game that invites the fallacy of equivocation.

As I said, modern empiricists are fine with operating under probable truth. Theologians need agreement to THEIR absolute truth and, never subject their conclusions to probability testing relative to known physical evidence that works in concert with those conclusions.

Chuck said...

I don't think this bridge will be crossed but I am looking forward to reading Profesor Feaser's (my apologies for calling you "Mr." before) work on Aquinas.

My despair in seeing how theologians will find common ground with empiricists and vice versa lies in what I see as epistemic grounds for warrant, which has very different standards for efficacy testing.

Until theology offers a willingness to test its claims on reality with real experiments that invite cause and effect, it will be hard to see the assumption it has claims on reality as anything other than "bafflegab".

There are too many theologies true to themselves that can't all be real while being true to themselves as the same time.

Chuck said...

"The difficulty I have with theology is that I fail to see any predictions with it.

I have the same difficulty with art."

A work of art does not make claims on reality. I may be inspired by Archibald Macleish's rendering of god in JB but never do I think that the character is the agent of creation for all that I see.

If theology were to admit that its conclusions were akin to the emotional insight offered by the arts then I wouldn't have a problem with that but, it doesn't.

E.R. Bourne said...

First, no, 2+2=4 is not verified by its predictive power, whatever that could possibly mean.

Second, any demonstration can be refuted either by showing that one of the premises is false or by showing that the conclusion does not logically follow from the premises.

And finally, your obsession with predictive power is merely question begging. My argument is that not all knowledge is acquired through the hypothetical and experimental method used by modern science. Mathematical knowledge is not acquired in such a way and neither is metaphysics. To say that these disciplines are not "real" because they do not possess predictive power in the same way physical sciences do is, again, question begging. No one is arguing that they do or that they should. What I am arguing, though, is that this in no way precludes them from counting as actual knowledge of reality.

Anonymous said...

"Theologians need agreement to THEIR absolute truth"

I can't speak for Dr. Feser or any other theist, but I have never said, "I am absolutely sure that God exist!" I simply say, "It is far more probable that God exists than that he doesn't exist." Who ever said theists, philosophers of religion, and theologians don't deal in probabilities?


As for the whole Popperian "Only believe what can be falsified - i.e. 'science!'" shtick, Karl Popper's principle of falsifiability has been exposed as demonstrably fallacious for decades now, so I'm not going to use that as a guide for what I should and shouldn't believe.

Anonymous said...

Great discussion thread here. Very civil. Thanks everyone.

Chuck said...

TheOFloinn,

Your entire argument while interesting and inspiring to want me to investigate some of the terms you use, presupposes god.

Why should I do that when investigating the known universe?

Why do you ignore quantum fluctuations in your point c? This is the type of argumentation I normally see when theists seek to use science to bolster their religious claims on reality. While it may be a good case in a court room it seems intellectually dishonest.

Bring in the entire data set sir if you wish to use science to test your preferred conclusion that god is a real phenomenon. Don't cherry pick. The FDA would turn you over to the OIG and you'd be in a federal lock-up if you made that kind of argument relative to a pharmaceutical agent.

Real world gentleman. Real world. Not your preferred version of it.

Chuck said...

"Come to that, how would you falsify Darwin's theory of evolution?"

Rabbit fossils in the Pre-Cambrian.

Thanks. That was easy.

I think that what both Dr. Coyne's blog and this one make evident to me is that whatever modality of epistemology most closely conforms to the in-group that provides us emotional comfort, we will privilege that modality.

It makes me want to learn how you all think, despite the discomfort it might cause me.

dan said...

It should help you to dispel any notions that God is some sort of empirical scientific hypothesis

I know he isn't. He's a character from a book, whose existence is taken on faith. I'm not the one trying (unsuccessfully) to turn him into a hypothesis.

This is all so boring... I'll admit I'm getting excruciatingly bored with it.

I apologize for boring you. On the upside, no one is holding a gun to your head here. You may freely ignore my posts.

The people reading this blog generally have read Aristotle/Aquinas/Feser for themselves, and have long since recognized the "can't stand up to surface-level scrutiny" New Atheist bluff for what it is.

If it's a bluff, then you should have no trouble at all providing support for the existence of god. The nice thing about someone bluffing, is that if you have the nuts you can literally wipe them out. So if you do have then nut flush there, dmt, don't be afraid of raising.

In other words, what evidence can you point to in order to support the claim that "evidence is the only way that matters"?

Human civilization and all human progress is based on the idea that we act according to what evidence says. If you want to debate nihilism here, that's probably a thread for a different day.

The point I am trying to make is that the scientific method is based on philosophical presuppositions.

Actually it's based simply on what a great philosopher once called "the proof is in the pudding". Or, to quote another great philosopher (he wrote t-shirts, I believe): "Science. Because it works, bitches!" Science can point to things it has accomplished. The method was invented because it was believed that it would work, and reality has borne out that belief. Unlike religion, science uses results to speak for itself.

Why should I believe that if something acts a certain way under certain conditions, then it tends to always act that way?

Don't. Test it yourself. Do it 20 times. Do it 1,000,000 times, if you want. No one is stopping you.

Like the other commenter dan, save the arrogance and ignorance, you want to judge philosophical claims according to the modern scientific method.

No, I judge by results. I know "reality" and "results" are anathema to philosophers, but to the rest of us these little things matter quite a bit. You know, like we tend to judge doctors by pesky little things like "successful surgeries" or judge investment bankers by "making us money". Basically philosophers have said "real world doesn't matter, because you get judged by too harsh a standard there, so we'll invent our own realities, where we're kings". And it's certainly fun, and makes for good mental gymnastics. But if you invent your own reality it's important to remember that fact, and not try to project tendrils of it onto the reality that the rest of us share. Tom Sawyer is a FANTASTIC book. Just don't try to prove that he can beat up Mahatma Gandhi.

Anonymous said...

"2+2=4 has predictive evidence."

Chuck, "2+2=4" follows necessarily from the axioms of Peano arithmetic, which are all necessary truths.

http://mathworld.wolfram.com/PeanosAxioms.html

Mathematicians simply do not believe the proposition's truth value on the basis of "predictive evidence," whatever the blazes that is. You are committing a category error in the extreme.

BenYachov said...

>Your entire argument while interesting and inspiring to want me to investigate some of the terms you use, presupposes god.

Nonsense we are Thomists not Calvinist Presupositionalists.

This is factually incorrect.

Chuck said...

"Who ever said theists, philosophers of religion, and theologians don't deal in probabilities?" What priors do you base your conclusion upon or what normative data base do you use to perform your probability testing? The probability testing that is used in making arguments for god's existence places that conlusion as a prior argument in calculating its probablity. I don't see how that method is anything at all similar to scientific inquiry.


"As for the whole Popperian "Only believe what can be falsified - i.e. 'science!'" shtick, Karl Popper's principle of falsifiability has been exposed as demonstrably fallacious for decades now, so I'm not going to use that as a guide for what I should and shouldn't believe."

Really? I'm evaluating clinical trial data today on the efficacy and safety of an atypical anti-psychotic agent whose null hypothesis was derived from Popperian falsification. Please indicate to me how this is "demonstrably fallacious". Don't just make assertions.

Anonymous said...

10:20 anon here.

I forgot to mention how much I appreciate the modicum of civility Chuck is showing in this discussion, and the fact that he's not simply being dismissive. I usually don't expect such behavior from admirers of Coyne and Dawkins.

Chuck said...

"Nonsense we are Thomists not Calvinist Presupositionalists."

Thomas Aquinas did not begin with the conviction that god existed? I doubt in his age he would have been afforded any other option and, if his deduction led to an apposite conclusion he would risk publication.

Presuppose here is not of the theological stripe but rather the rhetorical one. You already assume god exists as the basis of your premise or, ignore the current academy on cosmology to cherry pick data that conforms to this assumption.

I am looking forward to reading Professor Feser's book. The passion for a Thomist view intrigues me. It is difficult for me now to understand how medieval thinking, with all of its authoritarian contraints could be appealing to a modernist context where experimental evidence has been accepted.

Chuck said...

"I forgot to mention how much I appreciate the modicum of civility Chuck is showing in this discussion, and the fact that he's not simply being dismissive. I usually don't expect such behavior from admirers of Coyne and Dawkins."

Thanks but, all new atheists aren't the same.

I do consider myself a new atheist BTW and would be glad to define that for you.

TheOFloinn said...

If Aquinas were aware of quantum fluctuations where something could arise without a cause would he have fashioned his arugment differently?

In what way do quantum fluctuations in the false vacuum not have causes? There are mathematical laws for quantum mechanics. And what does it mean to "arise"?

To understand how Aquinas might have illustrated a matter today using today's soon-to-be-falsified science rather than yesterday's lately-been-falsified science, consider his passing remark on species in ST, I.73.1.rep3:

Species, also, that are new, if any such appear, existed beforehand in various active powers; so that animals, and perhaps even new species of animals, are produced by putrefaction by the power which the stars and elements received at the beginning.

I'm sure he would replace "putrefaction" by "mutation" and perhaps he would describe "the power which the stars and elements received" more precisely. After all, he stated elsewhere (ST I.32.1.rep 2) that:
"the theory of eccentrics and epicycles is considered as established, because thereby the sensible appearances of the heavenly movements can be explained; not, however, as if this proof were sufficient, forasmuch as some other theory might explain them."
So he was quite clear on "falsification" and the impermanence of scientific knowledge, as well.
+ + +
claim to the same deductive rigor between theology and science

Science ["the Physics"] does not have deductive rigor. If it did, it would be mathematics, and its claims would not be "falsifiable" but, like those of mathematics, incontrovertible. (This was Descartes' program, later shown to be unrealizable.)

There are three ways of knowing:
a) physics, which is knowledge of universals abstracted from physical objects.
b) mathematics, which is knowledge abstracted from ideal objects.
c) metaphysics, which deals with existence as such.

No science can explicate its own assumptions or axioms. Physics assumes the real existences of the bodies it studies, and so cannot study existence as existence.
+ + +
If something cannot be falsified then please explain to me how I can test it

You cannot falsify the Pythagorean Theorem. You must deduce it from the axioms of Euclid. (Although most people, unable to do so, simply accept it on faith.)
+ + +
If information does not have predictive properties on a potential event then it is nothing more than a preference derived from one's culture.

Sorta like string theory. But now you are confusing the true with the useful. And any postmodern will tell you that natural science is simply a preference derived from our culture.
+ + +
I will defer to the physicists on assertions of god

Do you also defer to them on assertions of good barbecue or the prospects of the Yankees? Or do you recognize that outside their narrow field of training they are just as uninformed as any other layman.

Chuck said...

"Chuck, "2+2=4" follows necessarily from the axioms of Peano arithmetic, which are all necessary truths."

I can't determine if 2+2=4 is true by making a prediction using an algebraic word problem? It may be a brute fact but, I can independently test its veracity by developing repeated experiments where I take the sum of 4 break it into component parts and develop a null hypothesis that falsifies the claim 2+2=4.

I don't need to take the authority of Peano arithmetic scholars. I can conclude through my own efforts if I agree with them.

You seem to want to privilege god as a similar brute fact to the functioning of arithmetic but I've yet to read an analogy that is convincing to this foundational conclusion.

What similar actions might be taken in regards to God as the "uncaused cause" (without resorting to a cherry-picking of the known data in the corpus of the physical sciences), that allows me, through independent verification, to assess the component parts against the whole?

grodrigues said...

@Chuck:

I did not label you an idiot; I labeled your question as idiotic. The analogy is self-explanatory; you are making a category mistake. The moral is simple: not all knowledge is empirical. Unless you want to throw away mathematics as true knowledge, but somehow I suspect you may not want to do that.

And please, please, do not retort with "mathematical statements have predictive power". Because that, depending on how we interpret it, is either a tautology or an idiocy.

Note: just in case, you want to pursue this avenue, please enlighten me what is the predictive power of say (picking a random example), the Feit-Thompson theorem: every finite group of odd order is solvable. Feel free to retort that it is all bafflegab; at which point I will just shrug my shoulders and say "whatever".

Re your quantum fluctuations: I suspect you misunderstand quantum mechanics: it does *not* destroy the notion of causality. Quantum events are not uncaused. If they were, there would be no quantum mechanics theory at all because all empirical science operates under the principle of sufficient reason -- there is simply no other known framework for the explanation of natural phenomena (and please correct me if I am mistaken). What you probably meant, or wanted to say, is that the causality nexus in quantum mechanics is probabilistic and not deterministic. But this itself is a matter of contention and depends on the interpretation of quantum mechanics you adopt, which, surprise, surprise, is also a philosophical debate.

Chuck said...

"You cannot falsify the Pythagorean Theorem."

Really? I can't develop a structure derived from its conclusion and see if it falls?

Josh said...

Chuck, you said:

"How do you prove scientifically science is the only means of truth?"

Well you don't do it by playing an apologetic language game that invites the fallacy of equivocation.

As I said, modern empiricists are fine with operating under probable truth. Theologians need agreement to THEIR absolute truth and, never subject their conclusions to probability testing relative to known physical evidence that works in concert with those conclusions.


This is the question you should directly answer for us, instead of dancing around it as you did here. Question your preferred method of epistemology and we will question ours, and see which has the better foundation. Is your belief in the non-falsification of theology or metaphysics, like A. Flew's was, a falsifiable belief itself? How do you avoid the bullets of your own gun?

Secondly, as has been repeatedly stated, Thomists (insofar as I humbly understand) do not presume mathematical certainty, and insofar as their conclusions belong to Natural Theology (known purely through Reason, not Revelation), they spend a great deal of time "subject[ing] their conclusions to probability testing relative to known physical evidence that works in concert with those conclusions." Aquinas believed that all knowledge starts with the senses. I hope this gets us to a greater understanding.

BenYachov said...

>Well you don't do it by playing an apologetic language game that invites the fallacy of equivocation.

Actually you can't do it at all which is the point. T

his type of philosophical Positivism was abandoned back in the 50's. Even AJ Flew at the height of his Atheism eventually abandoned it as hopelessly self-referential.

Chuck said...

"Sorta like string theory."

And here is where the theologian provides evidence to his ignorance of science.

String theory is a provisional theory that has not been accepted by the academy due to the fact that there is not a partical accelerator powerful enough to perform an experiment to falsify it.

It is considered philosophy, not science.

I recommend Brian Greene's excellent book on the subject.

BenYachov said...

BTW unless Chuck starts to act like others who shall remain nameless let's give him the benefit of the doubt and watch the insults.

Anonymous said...

Chuck, a couple of things for now:

Dan never said that evidence is the only way that matters, he said that it is the only thing that counts in the real world.

Well, I asked "dan" to give me a definition of "evidence." The question What is evidence? is a completely philosophical question that is extremely relevant to this discussion, but he did not, so now it's up to me to spell out what constitutes evidence:

'X is evidence for proposition Y' is 'If X increase the probability of Y being true, it is evidence for Y.'

Or to put it in probabilistic language: If P(Y|X&B)> P(Y|B), where B is simply the background knowledge one has before exposure to X, then X is evidence for Y.


This is all very basic and is uncontroversial in probability theory. On this construal of evidence, there is no rational reason to deny there is evidence for God, because it is immediately obvious that X is not limited to being evidence of an empirical sort. "Evidence" cannot be limited to "empirical evidence."

For instance, philosophical arguments (such as those of St. Thomas) that are not flat-out refuted constitute some evidence.
Personal experience also constitutes some evidence. And so on.

There must only be an increase in Y's probability in order for X to count as evidence for Y. Y's probability does not need to be >.5

Here's a short article on the nature of evidence, if you're interested:

http://homepages.wmich.edu/~mcgrew/Evidence.htm?refid=0


*However, the question of whether there is evidence for God is to be distinguished from the far more interesting question of whether there is sufficient evidence for God. If atheists and other non-theists would ask us the latter question instead of the former, it would save us a great hassle.


The difficulty I have with theology is that I fail to see any predictions with it

Why must a proposition make predictions or be testable in order to be true? They do not. Mathematical propositions are obvious examples of this. Metaphysical propositions that come as the conclusions of philosophical argumentation are examples, as well, even though they lack the 100% certainty of mathematical statements.





I might tackle Karl Popper sometime later today, if no one else does it by then.

BenYachov said...

>It is considered philosophy, not science.

That the point here. We do philosophy not theology. Some philosophy here may have theological implications but the main thing done here is philosophy.

TheOFloinn said...

Your entire argument while interesting and inspiring to want me to investigate some of the terms you use, presupposes god.

That was part of the game. If you accept the methods of science as formulated by Carnap, then if you
1) assume P and from it predict Q1, Q2,...,Qn (These were the predictions I laid out, largely because you said there were no such predictions following on the existence of God.)
2) secure empirical evidence for Q1, Q2,...,Qk (I sketched these tongue-in-cheek)
3) then P is probably true with probability k/n (In the example, then, the God hypothesis is probably true, based on scientific evidence.)
This is not, of course, how metaphysics proceeds. Aquinas' proofs do not assume God, but conclude God by deduction, not induction.

Why should I do that when investigating the known universe?

Use the physics. I would advise using mathematics, as well.

Why do you ignore quantum fluctuations in your point c?

Why do you ignore the well-ordered nature of quantum mechanics? Point c) was simply that the universe will be rationally ordered. For evidence, we might ask for the existence of something that we might call "scientific laws" or "laws of nature."

Do you deny that quantum mechanics is described by "scientific laws" such as those induced by Planck, Heisenberg, or Schrödinger? Or is your background in physics deficient?

My cosmologist friend tells me: "In the quantum field theory, uncertainty principles predict existence and oscillation of virtual particles at every point in space-time. This is the consequence of the so-called second quantization, i. e. application of canonical quantization to quantum states. Some manifestations of these oscillations are effects such as Casimir effect, Lamb shift, and van der Waals bonds. Although averaging over these oscillations have zero-value expectation for almost all ordinary properties of particles, there is an exception. That exception is the energy associated with simple harmonic motion of virtual particle-antiparticle pairs at each point in the space-time. And this is the energy that has been called vacuum energy." This sounds quite rationally ordered - complete with predictions borne out by empirical evidence, your quantum mysticism notwithstanding. (If we ever discover a black hole and find that it is not losing radiation, then the vacuum energy will have been falsified. I do not expect this myself, as the vacuum energy has too much in common with Aristotelian aether.)

Chuck said...

"Aquinas believed that all knowledge starts with the senses."

Well then, Aquinas would be wrong because our senses do not extrapolate the quantum field.

My answer to your question, "How do you prove scientifically science is the only means of truth?"

I don't. I believe science offers us the best claims on what is real within a probability distribution. Science is both a product and a methodology within the context of your question. I can practice science to see if the science is probable in its claims. Science has two meanings here.

I don't see the like analogy within theology where there is a method that alters theology similarly.

That is why I find this type of question suffering under the burden of equivocation and it seems to be more of a "gotcha" language game looking to practice reductionism as a way of assigning similar value to dissimilar modalities.

Chuck said...

"That was part of the game. If you accept the methods of science as formulated by Carnap, then if you"

You assume I am aware of Carnap.

A good case but where did I claim that and, how does that resolve quanutm fluctuations relative to the premise of the Kalaam relative to necessary cause?

dan said...

My post got erased. Apparently answering questions is now illegal here.

Makes sense. When someone actually brings a differing viewpoint, censorship is the only good way of dealing with it.

I'm used to it.

Chuck said...

"Why do you ignore the well-ordered nature of quantum mechanics? Point c) was simply that the universe will be rationally ordered. For evidence, we might ask for the existence of something that we might call "scientific laws" or "laws of nature."

How are you defining "rationally ordered" because wouldn't particle physics, Heisenberg, and Schroeder's cat conclude that the known universe is less rational than we would conclude?

Anonymous said...

Re: Chuck's charge of "gotcha language games"

Statements such as "This sentence is not longer than three words," and "I don't know a word of English," are self-refuting. They cannot be true, and I hope Chuck would have absolute confidence in their falsity.

But if he does have absolute confidence regarding the falsity of those statements, he must also express a similar confidence in the falsity of "We should only believe the claims the scientific method reveals to us," because it is equally self-refuting.

This is all a simple matter logical necessity. It is not a "game."

Anonymous said...

^^Wow, many grammatical errors and omissions in my previous post. Sorry.

Chuck said...

"My cosmologist friend tells me . . ."

Please stop changing the essence of my question. My point is that the cosmology presented here consistent with Thomist principles demands an Aristotalean first cause (I AM going to read Professor Feser's book so if I am wrong on this then please forgive me -- and I need lunch so may not be thinking straight). Quantum fluctuations indicate events can occur without causes. I, of course think that this is a real thing due to its rationality and predictive nature but, that isn't my point. My point is that the notion of first cause seems dependent on a technical gap in how Physics works, unavailable to Aquinas and, therefore, its use as an argument for God brackets known data towards a preferred conclusion, choosing instead to operate within a Medieval, rather than a Modern cosmology.

All that said, I think I need to practice a Thomist principle and stop commenting until I've read Professor Feser's book. Charity demands it because my lack of familiarity with the philosophy can only be an argument from my ignorance here out.

Thanks for letting me join the discussion. I plan on blog-rolling this site and will join in again.

Now, lunch.

Peace.

Josh said...

"Well then, Aquinas would be wrong because our senses do not extrapolate the quantum field."

Is the 'quantum field' not inferred from a sense-perception of an experiment?

"I believe science offers us the best claims on what is real within a probability distribution. Science is both a product and a methodology within the context of your question. I can practice science to see if the science is probable in its claims."

Yes but do we not recognize a principle underlying this choice of method? And why is the principle not subject to the falsification that you desire theologians to subject their method to?

You seem to know the stock objection to falsificationism, positivism, etc. Can you explain how this objection falls under the "burden of equivocation"? I don't follow you.

Josh said...

"My post got erased. Apparently answering questions is now illegal here.

Makes sense. When someone actually brings a differing viewpoint, censorship is the only good way of dealing with it.

I'm used to it."

Ha ha, unintentional comedy, Dan. All as we sit here answering honest questions from someone who doesn't act like an ass. Censorship works in your case.

Edward Feser said...

Dan,

Calm down. Your comment merely got stuck in the spam box and I only just now came online and saw it. It's been "liberated" -- anyone who wants to read it should scroll up (it's at 10:19).

Chuck said...

"We should only believe the claims the scientific method reveals to us,"

Sorry, last post. I don't endorse this model and I'm sorry if my comments ever indicated I do.

I simply trust the products of science to conform closer to reality based on the potential for independent verifications of their claims and have yet to see a similar mechanism within theology to earn my trust. I don't believe knowledge is a zero-sum game but, theology's reliance on sacred tradition born out of superstitious times undermines, for me, its potential towards probable truth. I've yet to fathom of a mechanism within theology that would upset its foundations like seems to be evident within science.

Pondering theology can assist us in understanding what it means to be human but, claims to god seem all equally unwilling to challenge theology's first assumption. In theology this is heretical but in science it is essential.

Josh said...

"Pondering theology can assist us in understanding what it means to be human but, claims to god seem all equally unwilling to challenge theology's first assumption. In theology this is heretical but in science it is essential."

You seem to be conflating Natural Theology with Sacred Theology. The truths of Natural Theology are known through Reason, and they are questioned all the time. Questioning is not heretical to that division of philosophy/theology. Hell, I'm not even sure questioning is "heretical" in sacred theology. Seems like disputes have come up all the time from honest pursuers of the truth.

Finding that there is a large contingent of honest, theistic philosophers who actively question their presuppositions and continually engage in debate should reassure you and cause you to join in. Does this fact do so?

dan said...

Apologies, Dr. Feser.
I appreciate the reinstatement.

Chuck said...

"Finding that there is a large contingent of honest, theistic philosophers who actively question their presuppositions and continually engage in debate should reassure you and cause you to join in. Does this fact do so?"

Yep.

Starting point will be Professor Feser's book.

Edward Feser said...

Chuck,

Hello and welcome. There's been a lot of discussion here in the combox this morning and I can't reply to it all. But briefly, we need to distinguish (a) empirical science from (b) what is traditionally known as the "philosophy of nature," which deals with the necessary preconditions of there being a world of the sort that can be studied by empirical science. The claims of (a) are subject to refutation by future empirical inquiry, but the claims of (b) are not. That does not mean that they are infallible, but rather that the way to evaluate them involves different methods.

So, for example, Aristotelians traditionally argue that there is no way in principle to make sense of the existence of real change in nature unless we distinguish between "act" and "potency" (or, roughly, actuality and potentiality) as objective constituents of any possible natural object. Change just is the actualization of a potential. (I'm not giving you all the reasons here -- I do that in Aquinas and The Last Superstition. The point is just to give an example.)

Now, this is not the sort of thing that could be refuted in the same way that empirical theories could be, precisely because it's dealing with what all such theories take for granted. Even if someone wanted to deny the existence of change in nature, if he was doing so on empirical grounds he would be presupposing change, since the empirical world itself -- the world of sense experience -- changes, and the possibility of such change presupposes the actualization of potential. So, debate within the philosophy of nature -- which is what the debate between Aristotle and his predecessors (Parmenides, Zeno, Heraclitus, the atomists, etc.) is really all about, when properly understood -- deals with issues that go deeper than empirical science, since it deals with what any possible empirical science must take for granted. (Again, see the books for the whole story, which for obvious reasons I cannot recapitulate in a combox.)

Now, traditional Scholastic philosophy and theology, and in particular the Aristotelian-Thomistic tradition that I favor, holds that there are certain notions in philosophy of nature which we cannot do without if we are to make sense of the very possibility of empirical science. These include act and potency, form and matter, final causality, etc. These are all argued for on general metaphysical grounds that have nothing essentially to do with theology.

It turns out, though, that when we unpack the implications of these ideas, they lead us necessarily to the reality of something which causes or "actualizes" the world from moment to moment without itself being actualized, precisely because it is already "pure actuality." And that's the core notion of God, from which the divine attributes can be shown to follow.

Again, it's a long story and I'm not trying to give it here. The point is that in Aristotelian-Thomistic (and other Scholastic) thought, the arguments for God's existence are rationally grounded in something even deeper than science -- namely in the main results of work in the philosophy of nature -- and thus are more certain than anything science tells us. See the books for the longer story.

Edward Feser said...

No problem, Dan.

Chuck said...

Thanks.

I will check out the books.

I think I'm risking the brand of "accomodationist" within the New Atheist world but, I'm sick of simply being angry towards those that don't process the world as I do. It seems futile and walls me off from knowledge that might grant me wisdom.

Thanks again for the conversation. While I am still an atheist, I've found the ideas compelling.

Look forward to reading your "Aquinas" and new posts on this blog.

Edward Feser said...

Thomas,

The thing about Leibnizian cosmological arguments is that while they're definitely on the right track, the right way to deal with the objections that are raised against them is (in my view) to bring in Aristotelian-Thomistic metaphysical categories. But in that case they end up not really adding anything new to the first three Ways. So, we might as well just cut to the chase and present the first three Ways directly. The kalam argument, by contrast, does add something that the first three Ways don't already give us.

TheOFloinn said...

"Come to that, how would you falsify Darwin's theory of evolution?"

Rabbit fossils in the Pre-Cambrian. Thanks. That was easy.


My original request was for a falsification that was not patently absurd. You are simply parroting something that Dawkins or Hitchens once said. But we all know that if a rabbit fossil were found in pre-Cambrian strata, the response will be:
a) It wasn't really pre-Cambrian.
b) It was a case of redeposition.
c) It was a hoax by creationists.
d) It proves that evolution proceeded much faster than previously thought.

No, the challenge is to cite some extant feature of a species and show that it could not have come about by Darwinian selection (or one of the other theories). That no one even tries to outline some such thing is pretty telling

+ + +
I'm evaluating clinical trial data today on the efficacy and safety of an atypical anti-psychotic agent whose null hypothesis was derived from Popperian falsification.

You're a lab tech? But the Null Hypothesis is simply the a priori assumption that the agent has no effect. It is not "derived" from anything but is simply a precondition for hypothesis testing. Mu(a)-Mu(b)=0. Popper's "falsification" is found in Aristotle, and was known to the medievals as modus tollens. It just wasn't the only valid syllogism.

What has been discounted was Popper' larger program of discrediting the certainty of scientific knowledge, reducing it from knowledge to opinion, however well-educated the opinion was. It's inadequacy can be seen by considering two falsified theories: Heliocentrism, falsified by the lack of stellar parallax by Aristotle, Archimedes, et al.; Maxwell's electromagnetism, falsified by the existence of permanent magnets. These two examples indicate the inadequacies of Popperian irrationalism.
+ + +

"Nonsense we are Thomists not Calvinist Presupositionalists."

Thomas Aquinas did not begin with the conviction that god existed?


He began with the observation that there was change in the material world. From this, he deduced the existence of God. There was a rule in medieval philosophy that you were not allowed to use revelation to demonstrate a proof in philosophy. His first way, in fact, is found largely in Aristotle, among whose many qualities belief in the Jewish Bible was not numbered.
+ + +
"You cannot falsify the Pythagorean Theorem."

Really? I can't develop a structure derived from its conclusion and see if it falls?


Nope. The Pythagorean theorem is known with certainty for all right plane triangles. Drawing a triangle and measuring the sides cannot possibly falsify it.
+ + +
Until theology offers a willingness to test its claims on reality with real experiments that invite cause and effect

I don't know why you insist that theology must be a natural science.

But until you are willing to test your claim with real experiments, we won't know.
+ + +

I can't determine if 2+2=4 is true by making a prediction using an algebraic word problem?

Nope. Even to set up such an "experiment" is to implicitly assume Peano arithmetic, which makes matters circular. There is also the problem of equating the arithmetical operator + with some action in the real world.

Edward Feser said...

Thanks, Chuck.

BTW, I also appreciate your good faith and reasonableness. I hope Coyne shows the same traits. (And at least he's reading some theology, which, it seems, is more than can be said for Dawkins and Co.)

And for what it's worth, I used to be an atheist myself, and not too different in my attitudes from some of the folks I see in comboxes like Coyne's. I confidently thought I knew what writers like Aquinas had argued, and dismissed them. Finding out that I had totally misunderstood them -- and that what passes for pop apologetics has nothing to do with what the greatest thinkers in Christian history (the Scholastics) actually said -- was a revelation.

y said...

Mr. Feser, a question:

all this stuff gets really complicated at times, so much so that the average person probably couldn't comb through arguments on each side during their lifetime and come to some certain position on this issue. the problem i have with that is that i always had thought god put us on earth for a moral test, not a knowledge test. For example, testing us to see if we murder or commit adultery, etc. But you're saying that god's existence is not obvious, but we must comb through dozens of arguments and counterarguments until we are intellectually convinced to believe in a god, meaning that now god is now no longer testing us on moral principles, but whether we are intelligent enough. that seems strange to me, as that's not what the bible or quran or other books teach. Am I correct, or did i miss something? also, no disrespect intended.

TheOFloinn said...

how does that resolve quanutm fluctuations

Simple: you misunderstand quantum mechanics.

Quantum fluctuations indicate events can occur without causes.

No, they do not. That was the point of my quoting my cosmologist friend. The fluctuations are caused by the canonical quantization of the quantum states.

the notion of first cause seems dependent on a technical gap in how Physics works, unavailable to Aquinas

No. The necessity of an uncaused cause was a logical deduction from the fact that no agent in a chain of causes ordered per se has independent power to cause. In the same manner, an email which you receive and forward, making you a "sent sender," implies the necessity of an unsent sender, even if the email is forwarded an infinite number of times, and even if everyone you have ever met or ever will meet is himself a sent sender. Logically, someone must have writtent he content, since the act of forwarding does not create content. IOW, Aristotle's and Aquinas' argument of a first changer is not an effort to develop a scientific theory of change. It is a deduction from the fact of change.

wouldn't particle physics, Heisenberg, and Schroeder's cat conclude that the known universe is less rational than we would conclude?

Nope. If it were not rationally ordered, we would be unable to formulate any mathematical description of it at all.

Anonymous said...

Dr Feser said: "It turns out, though, that when we unpack the implications of these ideas, they lead us necessarily to the reality of something which causes or "actualizes" the world from moment to moment without itself being actualized, precisely because it is already "pure actuality." And that's the core notion of God, from which the divine attributes can be shown to follow."

"The point is that in Aristotelian-Thomistic (and other Scholastic) thought, the arguments for God's existence are rationally grounded in something even deeper than science -- namely in the main results of work in the philosophy of nature -- and thus are more certain than anything science tells us."


Quick question: Is it possible to not be a Thomist or Aristotelian but still subscribe to the act/potency distinction and the reality of formal and final causality in addition to material and efficient causality? I remember Dr. Feser at one point saying something along the lines of the Christian Platonic tradition being hospitable to many aspects of the A-T tradition. Does the Platonic tradition lead to similar conclusions regarding God as "pure actuality," the divine attributes, how we should conceive of morality, etc.?

Chuck said...

I can't comment on Dr. Dawkins level of sophisticated theology but, did appreciate his use of evolutionary biology to debunk the fundamentalist Christian god at the heart of popular arguments to Intelligent Design. His book probably would have been less contentious if the title did not imply his thesis was inclusive of all arguments for god but rather if it somehow was able to imply his argument against ID. But titles are packaging and packaging sells.

DNW said...

This probably isn't precisely the best spot to drop this link, but like the best time, it may never arrive.

While ordering my files and placing some Transhumanist crap in the proper folders, I migrated over to a brief Wiki reference to "Technological Singularity" and thence downward to a footnote citing this article, "One Half Of A Manifesto", http://www.edge.org/documents/archive/edge74.html

It's pretty entertainingly written, and bears to some extent on what have been ongoing themes here.


A sample:

"The dogma I object to is composed of a set of interlocking beliefs and doesn't have a generally accepted overarching name as yet, though I sometimes call it "cybernetic totalism". It has the potential to transform human experience more powerfully than any prior ideology, religion, or political system ever has, partly because it can be so pleasing to the mind, at least initially, but mostly because it gets a free ride on the overwhelmingly powerful technologies that happen to be created by people who are, to a large degree, true believers. ...

As it happens, in the last five years or so arguments about computer sentience have started to subside. The idea is assumed to be true by most of my colleagues; for them, the argument is over. ...

I must report that back when the arguments were still white hot, it was the oddest feeling to debate someone like Cybernetic Totalist philosopher Daniel Dennett. He would state that humans were simply specialized computers, and that imposing some fundamental ontological distinction between humans and computers was a sentimental waste of time. ... "

And then this classic remark on internal experience and motivation,

"In truth, I think my perennial antagonists do have internal experience but choose not to admit it in public for a variety of reasons, most often because they enjoy annoying others."

Anonymous said...

Regarding Aquinas, which book would you folks recommend, Dr Feser's or the one by Dr Kreeft (A Shorter Summa)? I have the TLS and Philosophy of Mind (Kindle ed).

Chuck said...

TheOFloinn,

I think I'm out of my depth relative to your knowledge and need to step away or risk wasting your time. I am going to investigate the A-T perspective and, Feser's book. I've also blog-rolled your book and will be checking into your thoughts from time to time.

Chuck said...

Professor Feser,

I doubt Dr. Coyne would be kind to my attitude here but, I can't blame him for that position. Having once been religious and seeing the sort of small-thinking therein, it seems that atheist-empiricists like me (and Dr. Coyne) perceive religion as a threat to the useful knowledge gained through science and, see theology simply bolstering the claims of an electorate that would like to bow to "King Jesus". It is a reductionist position that must seem insulting to technical thinkers of your stripe but, it operates out of a real fear which can cloud useful comprehension.

Also, Dr. Coyne is much more learned than I so my willingness to know more may be a function of my credulity.

RBH said...

Anonymous at 10:20 wrote:

"Why must a proposition make predictions or be testable in order to be true? They do not. Mathematical propositions are obvious examples of this."

There's some serious slippage in the meaning of "true" from the first sentence to the second. "True" meaning 'conforms to (mathematical) syntactic rules' is a quite different notion from "true" meaning 'corresponds to independent observations of the real (empirical) world.'

There's also considerable slippage in the notion of "knowledge" in a number of the comments above. Reliable knowledge, public knowledge that is independent of idiosyncratic attributes of the knower, is different from what one might call private knowledge, that which depends critically on the presuppositions and prior beliefs of the knower. Reliable knowledge claims are subject to constraints that don't characterize private knowledge claims; the plethora of versions of (mutually incompatible) religious private knowledge claims is at least circumstantial evidence for their unreliability as representations of reality. It's at least worthy of note that some above argued that private knowledge claims are somehow immune to refutation from public knowledge (both in the senses I've indicated above).

Finally, while Popperian falsifiability (all by itself) is an inadequate demarcation criterion, it is not altogether useless. The testability of knowledge claims--where the tests are designedly independent of those pesky idiosyncratic properties of individual observers--is surely necessary (but perhaps not sufficient) for arriving at reliable knowledge in my sense above.

Having worked in science and technology for 50 years, I'm strongly biased toward public and reliable knowledge, which is to say toward science. Conflict resolution is so much more systematic there. In principle at least, there are accepted routes to resolving conflicting knowledge claims in science, the main modern source of reliable knowledge. I know of no comparable generally accepted ways of resolving conflicts among the private knowledge claims of different individuals and/or religions. I suspect that's why suppression, schism, or expulsion (not to mention interminable ecumenical "dialogues") are so frequently the result (though not resolution) of conflicts about private knowledge claims.

Josh said...

"Regarding Aquinas, which book would you folks recommend, Dr Feser's or the one by Dr Kreeft (A Shorter Summa)? I have the TLS and Philosophy of Mind (Kindle ed)."

Both! They are complementary, I think, because "The Summa..." is a selection of the ST with annotations and some very helpful unpacking of difficult concepts, while I read Feser's "Aquinas" for a more in-depth discussion of those annotations, as well as a primer on how Thomism fits with modern philosophy.

Might want to consider Copleston's classic work "Aquinas" and G.K. Chesterton's "The Dumb Ox" too...you can't have enough about the guy if you are genuinely interested.

Anonymous said...

"Having worked in science and technology for 50 years, I'm strongly biased toward public and reliable knowledge, which is to say toward science. Conflict resolution is so much more systematic there. In principle at least, there are accepted routes to resolving conflicting knowledge claims in science, the main modern source of reliable knowledge. I know of no comparable generally accepted ways of resolving conflicts among the private knowledge claims of different individuals and/or religions. I suspect that's why suppression, schism, or expulsion (not to mention interminable ecumenical "dialogues") are so frequently the result (though not resolution) of conflicts about private knowledge claims."



I grew up in a scientific family (physicists) and in the world of the sciences, and if you think science is all that honest, you're a bit off your nut. Guild journals routinely suppress papers that advance unpopular theories, scientists regularly take money in order to advance fruitless research and produce shady results (think of the East Anglia scandal), ideological cliques struggle to discredit one another, and a great many scientists are so confused about the dividing line between real science and ludicrous speculation that we end up with thousands of pages of pseudo-science pouring from the presses, produced by the likes of Dan Dennett, Steve Pinker, and even now (shockingly) S. Hawking Esq. (unless you really think M Theory is a corrigible or falsifiable or verifiable form of science). Evolutionary psychology, sociology, and language theory are wonderful examples of this sort of vapid trash. Science is only really honest when it remains content to recognize how very little it really can establish.
Most of the better theologians I've read, by the way, are fairly severe and rigidly logical dialecticians. For the most part, they seem far better able to make or follow a logical argument than most of the people I know trained in the sciences.

The modern ignorance of theologians is no less astonishing than the modern ignorance of scientists.

Sili said...

"My original request was for a falsification that was not patently absurd. You are simply parroting something that Dawkins or Hitchens once said."
Please get your facts straight. Dawkins is not Haldane.

"But we all know that if a rabbit fossil were found in pre-Cambrian strata, the response will be:
a) It wasn't really pre-Cambrian."
Indeed, time-travel seems a more reasonable hypothesis, but - surprise - our current understanding of Relativity rules that out as impossible.

"b) It was a case of redeposition."
If it was, we can easily test that since the strata will have been disturbed, and of course the minerals of the rabbit fossil and it's immediate matrix will be much younger.

"c) It was a hoax by creationists."
Even easier to test, since the rabbit then will be young enough to allow carbontesting.

"d) It proves that evolution proceeded much faster than previously thought."
No, that's not how evolution works. Mammals as we know them could not have survived in the Precambrian for one thing.

TheOFloinn said...

did appreciate [Dawkins] use of evolutionary biology to debunk the fundamentalist Christian god at the heart of popular arguments to Intelligent Design.

Then you might enjoy Dr. Feser's use of Artisto-Thomist philosophy to do the same.

Sili said...

"No. The necessity of an uncaused cause was a logical deduction from the fact that no agent in a chain of causes ordered per se has independent power to cause. "
What does that mean?

If I keep an isolated uranium atom in a trap, what causes it to decay? How do I predict if it does so now or in a million years?

Anonymous said...

Then you might enjoy Dr. Feser's use of Artisto-Thomist philosophy to do the same.

Seconding this. I enjoyed that argument very much.

TheOFloinn said...

If I keep an isolated uranium atom in a trap, what causes it to decay?

The weak force, as I understand it. Unless you are talking about fission; then it is the strong force, and it needs a neutron from somewhere else.

How do I predict if it does so now or in a million years?

If I roll a pair of dice, how do I predict if it shows snake eyes now or in a couple dozen throws? I think you are confusing a certain kind of predictability with causation.

Sili said...

Pardon me, but does Wikipedia sum up the Cosmological Argument correctly?

1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
2. The universe began to exist.
3. Therefore, the universe has a cause.
4. This cause is the God of Classical Theism, and is a personal being, because He chose to create the universe.

The argument from quantum physics is that 1. is false, cf. Casimir Effect.

3. can of course be argued. What does it mean to begin to exist?

And how the duck is 4. not a complete non sequitur?!

Sili said...

"The weak force, as I understand it."

Well, I chose U at random, and it turns out to be α active, so it's the strong force that plays into it, but I could as easily have hit upon something β.

But if the weak/strong force is enough of a cause for radioactive decay, why do we need to invoke a personal god for the decay of the ur-vacuum into a universe? (Heaving for the moment to Lawrence Krauss' argument the Nothing is unstable.)

BenYachov said...

That's the Kalam Cosmological argument. But there are other Cosmological arguments.

grodrigues said...

@Sili:

Does the Wikipedia describe the Casimir effect accurately? Under the heading "Vacuum Energy", the first sentence starts "The causes of the Casimir effect are described by quantum field theory" and then trails off. Is your contention that the Casimir Effect is an instance of an uncaused event? Then pray tell us, how quantum field theory explains it? In fact, I even ask a much more modest question: how would any empirical science explain an uncaused event?

TheOFloinn said...

Pardon me, but does Wikipedia sum up the Cosmological Argument correctly?

No.

1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
The argument from quantum physics is that 1. is false, cf. Casimir Effect.


The Casimir effect is caused by the second quantization. Along with the Lamb shift and van der Waals bonds, the Casimir effect is the result of the oscillation of virtual particles at every point in space-time, manifesting the application of canonical quantization to quantum states.

4. This cause is the God of Classical Theism, and is a personal being, because He chose to create the universe.

And how the duck is 4. not a complete non sequitur?!


That's what happens when you rely on amateur sources like Wikipedia. Item 4 is badly written, and not part of the cosmological argument, but parts of it are the result of numerous deductions that stem from it.
+ + +
But if the weak/strong force is enough of a cause for radioactive decay, why do we need to invoke a personal god for the decay of the ur-vacuum into a universe?

You don't. I don't need to invoke Darwin's theory to account for why my car starts when I turn the key, either. Indeed, I don't even need to know thermodynamics. I only need to know to turn the key. But you still ought to account for the existence of stuff, such as weak or strong forces, ur-vacuums, or that its decay leads to this rather than that. IOW, all those things that are taken for granted before one can even speak of transforming one kind of stuff into another kind of stuff.

Keep in mind that the quantum vacuum is still just a story we tell ourselves so that a certain set of facts makes sense. There are several such stories, all accounting for the same facts, but with different metaphors. And all of them contradict the story we call relativity.) If we find a black hole that does not decay, then the vacuum is disproved. For now, the existence of the quantum vacuum is an hypothesis.

After all, a first cause does not preclude hosts of secondary causes. The Christians taught that God had endowed material bodies with natures that could act directly upon one another, so you are only parroting Christian doctrine here. As Cardinal Shoenborn put it a few years ago: "Scientists are most welcome to 'explain everything they need to without appeal to God;' indeed, I hope all the readers ... would join me in strenuously objecting if God is ever invoked in the course of normal scientific explanation!"

So. What is needful depends on the scope of what you are trying to do. Most people I encounter have no need of the quantum vacuum to go about their daily lives.

Edward Feser said...

Some of Sili's comments ended up in the spam filter too. (Sorry, Sili.) They're now up, so please scroll up to see them.

TheOFloinn said...

Please get your facts straight. Dawkins is not Haldane.

So Dawkins was parroting Haldane. The demand for a pre-Cambrian rabbit is still silly, no matter who is channeling whom. Cite a realistic scenario in which an existing feature of an existing species cannot be accommodated with an adaptationist story. (This is why Popper himself cited Darwinism as an example of a non-falsifiable theory - until he was taken to the woodshed.)

Chuck said...

TOF (If I may use the handle you attribute to your blog).

I don't see how the falsifiable proposition of rabbit bones in the Pre-Cambrian towards Darwinian Evolution makes it non-falsifiable based on the non-adaptionist illustration. To me, that would be what makes it falsifiable. If we did find this and it conformed to multiple lines of data testing from independent scientific methods then the theory would be in peril. The fact that we haven't, yet, seems to indicate its durability. Maybe the illustration seems implausible based on our current understanding of evolution we have in our age.

I understand based on Professor Feser's clarification why my desire for a falsification for god within a T-A paradigm is meaningless so, I retract that demand and await further understanding of T-A cosmology.

Chuck said...

TOF,

"Then you might enjoy Dr. Feser's use of Artisto-Thomist philosophy to do the same."

I probably will. The embarrassment of the ID movement and the zealotry of its adherents to perceiving a persecution conspiracy from "the culture" within my church was a major catalyst towards me losing my religion and accepting atheism. These might be shallow reasons for non-belief but, the issue is a big one for m.

TheOFloinn said...

The embarrassment of the ID movement and the zealotry of its adherents to perceiving a persecution conspiracy from "the culture" within my church was a major catalyst towards me losing my religion and accepting atheism.

Indeed, search down the comment string for "Species, also, that are new" to find Aquinas' comment on the origin of species.

Anonymous said...

Chuck:

"it seems that atheist-empiricists like me (and Dr. Coyne) perceive religion as a threat to the useful knowledge gained through science and, see theology simply bolstering the claims of an electorate that would like to bow to "King Jesus"."

and

"The embarrassment of the ID movement and the zealotry of its adherents to perceiving a persecution conspiracy from "the culture""

So paranoia is justified under certain circumstances, but not others. Maybe if people like Coyne and PZ Myers didn't make so many inflammatory statements against religious people and used 'science' as a tool of ideology then all these religious 'hicks' wouldn't have issues with evolution. Besides funding for guys Myers and Coyne is not drying up because of religious zealots.

Secondly, maybe the electorate should have their King Jesus. You know, you only live once, and the post modern view (and scientists like Hawking) tell us that there is no objective truth. Maybe you should live in the real world and let people have their Jesus, if that gives meaning to their lives.

nate said...

Chuck,
I've been following this thread, and I've appreciated your respectful tone. I agree that catching up on some good Thomist lit (like the stuff mentioned by others on this thread) would be a good idea. But in your most recent comment, you mentioned having been disillusioned with certain ID ideas. Given this, I think you might like Conor Cunningham's book 'Darwin's Pious Idea'. Cunningham is quite critical of ID, among other things. Like Feser's book TLS, Cunningham takes a 'festive' tone. But whereas Feser's text directly deals with the silliness of books like The God Delusion and Breaking the Spell, Cunningham's main targets are books like Darwin's Dangerous Idea and The Selfish Gene.

Jinzang said...

When I hear a New Atheist claim that science is based on evidence, but religion is just a matter of blind belief, I get a little peeved. Well, more than a little peeved. I want to grab the person and shake them and say, "Don't you realize that what you are saying doesn't make any sense!" Well, I can't reach through the Internet and shake someone, but I can try to make my point of view as clear as I can.

First, the argument is based on a dichotomy, I would argue a false dichotomy. It is the New Atheist view that all statements can either be empirically tested or are mere statements of belief. An example of the first is "the sky is blue" and of the second is "your soul will go to heaven when you die." It is not clearly obvious that this dichotomy is true, for there statements such as "this can be proven" (math), "this is beautiful" (aesthetics), "this is fair" (theory of justice), and "this is moral" (ethics) that seem neither to be empirically testable or mere matters of belief. But leaving these statements aside, what about the New Atheists proposition itself, "all statements can either be empirically tested or are mere statements of belief"? Is it an empirical statement or not? If it is not, the proposition stands refuted. So let us assume it can and ask what empirical proof of it would look like. First, because be the statement contains the word "all", it is not open to empirical proof by inspection. So it must be an inductive proof, of the sort that is used for similar universal statements in science. But one cannot examine statements like one could examine crows to see if they are all black. The notion that one could establish the dichotomy by induction is absurd. How would one go about choosing a representative sample of statements?

Jinzang said...

Pardon me, but does Wikipedia sum up the Cosmological Argument correctly?

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy is a more reliable source of information on philosophy.

Chuck said...

Anonymous,

My comment was not made in an effort to justify my anger nor give insight into all atheist dissent. It only existed to explain my past failings.

Paranoia is not a solid ground in examining any truth claims but, the process of losing one's faith is an emotional cycle that, for me at least, led to black and white thinking which provided the basis for such behavior.

It is silly for an atheist to damn all theists as Hamm or Rushdoonie and I see that now. I'm looking forward to considering the theist argument. I don't know if it will sway me from my atheism but, I think it is the intellectually responsible thing to do.

Nate, thanks for the recommendation. I have Dennett's "Breaking the Spell" on my shelf and am looking forward to reading it and, I'm a big fan of Dr. Dawkins but, I will consider your book suggestion too.

Jinzang, I think you might be erecting a strawman argument when seeking to establish New Atheists as logical positivists. That doesn't seem to be the central theme of their work but rather, it seems that the popular authors (Harris, Dawkins, Dennett, and Hitchens) simply seek to challenge the authority of religion, leaning into the superstition that belief is out of bounds for criticism. Some take the logical positivist route, like Dawkins but Hitchens is more of a polemicist in the Orwellian tradition using rhetoric and historical anecdote to prosecute faith claims. I don't think they acknowledge the technical philosophy that is enjoyed here nor do they see how there might be agreement in dissent towards the kind of fideism they attack from Thomists like you.

Chuck said...

Awsome resource Jinzang. Thanks. Bookmarking it.

Jinzang said...

There's some serious slippage in the meaning of "true" from the first sentence to the second. "True" meaning 'conforms to (mathematical) syntactic rules' is a quite different notion from "true" meaning 'corresponds to independent observations of the real (empirical) world.'

Since Frege one does not usually say a mathematical statement is true or not. Rather, a mathematical statement is true in some model of the mathematical formalism. Proof is a syntactic notion, but truth is not, it is a semantic notion.

Thomas Aquinas said...

RBH writes: "Reliable knowledge claims are subject to constraints that don't characterize private knowledge claims;"

But private knowledge can certainly be reliable. For example, the claim, "I have first person awareness of the continuity of myself over time," is reliable and private, since I can only have it. On the other hand, public knowledge claims can be notoriously unreliable. For instance, prior to the mid-20th century, many leading scientists and intellectuals thought it reliable knowledge to believe in racialism and the practice of eugenics. It was thought so reliable and so undeniable that Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes can appeal to it so effortlessly in Buck v. Bell: "Three generations of imbeciles are enough." We now laugh at their foolishness. My private knowledge claim is far more reliable.

BeingItself said...

I encourage all of Coyne's defenders to read The Last Superstition.

I will make a prediction though. If you have a modicum of scientific or philosophical training, you will find the arguments unpersuasive.

Here's why: Feser's method. We have no good reason to think his method works. He starts with extremely dubious principles or premises and then using arcane and obscure verbiage builds his elaborate case.

But anyone with adequate epistemic hygiene will not be able to buy his initial principles.

But don't take my word for it, read the book yourself.

Or maybe Dr. Feser, if he dares, will simply post his best argument for the existence of God.

Thomas Aquinas said...

Sils writes: "The argument from quantum physics is that 1. is false, cf. Casimir Effect."

Zero-point energy, however, has being. It is a thing. If it is a thing, it can be a cause. It would be like saying that the freezing of my car battery has no cause because the temperature outside was zero.

Sheesh!

dmt117 said...

BeingItself,

You're right, I'm not taking your word for it, and I've read the Last Superstition. Didn't find the premises dubious nor the verbiage obscure. Maybe, if you dare, you will post the arcane and obscure verbiage of which you speak, and maybe even the dubious premises.

Chuck said...

I think you're overplaying your hand on the consensus of eugenics and, by the standard you cite, one might evaluate private knowledge by the same misguided light. One only need to observe the self-defeating assertions of Harold Camping and those that gave up money to follow their inner witness in anticipating the recent rapture prediction. We know the eugenics experiment as false because public knowledge is self-correcing. Camping and his ilk simply claim a spiritual rapture that conforms to their confirmation bias.

Chuck said...

I posted an interesting review that does seem to take Professor Feser to task but, I think I'd prefer to read the book on my own. Need to start with "Aquinas" though.

hurf durf said...

He starts with extremely dubious principles or premises and then using arcane and obscure verbiage builds his elaborate case.

I don't know, the entire chapter devoted to discussing important things like efficiently ordered causal series or the actual/potential dichotomy didn't seem "arcane and obscure" to me.

But anyways, J/Perezoso always finds shallow reasons to express his complaints. And when cornered he goes on tl;dr tirades about Giuliani, "El Papa", Dr. "Feiser" or whatever aspergery trope that he fancies that day. In other words, he's a sad bore.

Get out and never post again, J.

Crude said...

A few comments.

Having once been religious and seeing the sort of small-thinking therein, it seems that atheist-empiricists like me (and Dr. Coyne) perceive religion as a threat to the useful knowledge gained through science and, see theology simply bolstering the claims of an electorate that would like to bow to "King Jesus".

What about the small-thinking of atheists who see atheism largely as a way to advance their own political views? You could easily justify the ID movement knocking down evolutionary straw men by that token - "hey, they're attacking a view of evolution a lot of people uncritically accept."

Further, what's the scientific basis for this "perceiving religion as a threat to the useful knowledge gained through science"? That's going to be incredibly hard to justify, considering the religious beliefs of the US, and our to-this-point status as scientific leaders. I think the claims to being "atheist-empiricists" often turns out to be a lot of bunk. Entirely irrational people can call themselves rational thinkers, or say they value reason. (Look at the French Revolution.)

What's more, I have to note: The Intelligent Design movement is not simply anti-evolution, or even anti-common-descent. Nor have I ever seen Dawkins even really engage ID - and remember, boosting evolution is not the same as arguing against ID. There are some bad ID arguments and views, but there are also some rotten arguments for evolution. (Like 'arguments from bad design'.)

We know the eugenics experiment as false because public knowledge is self-correcing.

'The eugenics experiment as false'? The problem with eugenics wasn't just that it was scientifically dubious while being touted as scientific. It was also that it was immoral.

Further, 'public knowledge is self-correcting' doesn't always help. Does it forgive you for holding a dodgy scientific belief now, if you have reason to believe it will be exposed as more dodgy come 200 years?

Crude said...

One only need to observe the self-defeating assertions of Harold Camping and those that gave up money to follow their inner witness in anticipating the recent rapture prediction.

There's another problem here as well. Camping insisted that he was not merely "following his inner witness". In fact, if I recall, Camping insisted that his prophecy was validated math and science. In fact, plenty of creationists insist that they're coming to their conclusions based on math and science.

You can turn around and say, "Yes, but upon inspection their reasoning was faulty." But that would just serve to show that saying 'this view is what science shows us!' alone ain't much.

TheOFloinn said...

Come to that Camping, creation scientists and the like exemplify the scientism of the Late Modern Age to a fine degree. Like Paley, who accepted the Modern concept of dead matter, they buy into the superiority of "scientificalistic" knowledge and seek as their dearest dream to validate their faith with the blessing of SCIENCE!! Camping, for example, regarded the Bible as a kind of mathematics book, complete with hidden codes to be analyzed numerically.

Chuck said...

"What about the small-thinking of atheists who see atheism largely as a way to advance their own political views? You could easily justify the ID movement knocking down evolutionary straw men by that token - "hey, they're attacking a view of evolution a lot of people uncritically accept."

Can you name names please within your rhetorical question?

I might accept the premise of your second question if that were the way by which creationists seek to undermine the state of the discipline in evolutionary theory, they don't, they instead seek to offer competing "theories" that don't measure up to the scientific definition of the term. The federal trial of Kitzmiller vs. the Dover Board of Education is a good example of what frightens me. The Frontline episode "Evolution on Trial" provides a nice summary if you haven't seen it.

"What's more, I have to note: The Intelligent Design movement is not simply anti-evolution, or even anti-common-descent."

This is interesting to me and maybe I will need to expand my comprehension of ID but, the inference I take from Philip Johnson's wedge document that drives the policies of the Discovery Institute is that the goals of that institution, through ID is to remove materialist and naturalist positions from the biologic sciences. I have trouble seeing how common descent can be consonant with their desire to inject Judeo-Christian religion as an equal starting point within the study of biology. They've sought to codify their hope with a proposed scientific theory in the notion of "irreducible complexity" but, no agreed upon definition nor data has satisfied their hope. Again, I recommend the Frontline episode.

"The eugenics experiment as false'? The problem with eugenics wasn't just that it was scientifically dubious while being touted as scientific. It was also that it was immoral."

I should have been clearer in my language and stand corrected. When I stated it was false, it was not to term eugenics falsified but rather to damn it as immoral based on our understanding of what it means to be human.

I'd suggest you might want to scroll up and read earlier comments I made in regards to my respect for science relative to epistemology. I am not a logical positivist, nor do I think science is the only path to knowledge. I just trust the internal mechanisms of science to enhance the power of its probable arguments on making claims that have ontological significance. Things like availability bias and confirmation bias cause me to doubt an individual's reliance on personal experience to reveal ontological certainty.

Chuck said...

"Come to that Camping, creation scientists and the like exemplify the scientism of the Late Modern Age to a fine degree. "

Is Camping a creation scientist or are you just saying that his presuppositional eschatology resembles the flawed epistemology of creation scientists?

I don't think he is a creation scientist. While he claims a math basis for his prophecy, he also claims personal experience as primary over his analysis. One only need to read his comments after the predicted day of rapture past wherein he says his prophecy was fulfilled due to the revealed knowledge he received. Do we lend his claims epistemic warrant? They don't seem derived by the independence of his Bible math methodology but rather from his subjective experience in receiving a prophecy. For the sake of public knowledge, his predictions was falsified but, for the sake of Camping, due to his private knowledge, his prophecy was fulfilled as a "spiritual rapture". In this case I will trust the public knowledge as more probably real than Camping's private knowledge.

Chuck said...

"But that would just serve to show that saying 'this view is what science shows us!' alone ain't much."

This is not my position on how we obtain knowledge nor, in my experience, is it healthy scientific practice.

Ones warrant relative to their beliefs should derive from a standard that affords them the intelligence to speak about their position in a descriptive manner that holds to rules of reason and logic. Appealing to the authority of science, or anything, to decry a competing world-view seems fallacious and very dangerous to me.

djindra said...

BeingItself,

"I encourage all of Coyne's defenders to read The Last Superstition. I will make a prediction though. If you have a modicum of scientific or philosophical training, you will find the arguments unpersuasive."

"Unpersuasive" may be a bit too lenient.

Anonymous said...

@Chuck
>I think you might be erecting a strawman argument when seeking to establish New Atheists as logical positivists.

In my experience they are all logical positivists. I don't doubt your personal sincerity. But with all due respect it's like claiming not all Reformed Calvinist Christians are sola scripturists.

All New Atheist criticism of Religion is the same it amounts too "There is no scientific evidence for religious claim X"etc.

Except not every truth can be established by science.

Where in their entire careers have Dawkins, Hitchens, PZ Myers or Harris ever made a philosophical argument against the existence of God? Not once as far as I can tell.

If they ever have I have not seen it. Do you have any examples?

Anonymous said...

That's not to say all Atheists are logical positivists(ex: Quintin Smith, Graham Oppy, Sobel, Nagel etc) but it is clear the New Atheists employ anti-religious polemics that are logical positivist.

Sili said...

I see we're using "cause" in different ways. For you it's enough to have an underlying framework of theory to explain a phenomenon in the abstract. For me a cause is what has the observed effect. So for you second quantisation is enough to be called a cause for the Casimir effect, while I need a direct explanation of what causes a virtual particle pair to pop into existence right here, right now.

Or similarly what causes this specific nucleus to decay now.

Indeed as was said upthread, "cause" seems to need to display some predictive power for me.

--o--

Well, Stanford says as 4.

"Since no scientific explanation (in terms of physical laws) can provide a causal account of the origin of the universe, the cause must be personal (explanation is given in terms of a personal agent)"

That doesn't seem to differ significantly from Wikipedia. Only now it seems to be a string of non sequiturs: "Since no scientific explanation (in terms of physical laws) can provide a causal account of the origin of the universe" that hasn't been established anywhere. " the cause must be personal (explanation is given in terms of a personal agent)" I still don't see how this follows. Nor for that matter how a "personal agent" can not follow "physical laws".

Chuck said...

"In my experience they are all logical positivists."

I don't know about this. Harris's recent work gives a nod of respect to transcendence that is experienced within atheist meditation traditions.

But, generally speaking, I agree with you. The arguments against theism by the New Atheists is basically the Jerry Maguire defense, "Show me the evidence!"

Early on in atheism where I transitioned from an evidential basis for god within sola scriptura interpreted by the in-dwelling of the Holy Spirit, animated by the Reformed Calvinist tradition, this line of argument was satisfying. As my appreciation for and development of what epistemology is, I see its limits.

All that said, you are correct in the general sense that the New Atheist line holds to a logical positivist ethic but, my meaning was that, I don't think all of the Four Horsemen practice a technical logical positivism. Hitchens, for instance, seems to have little technical philosophy in his writing. He seems much more inclined to cultural criticism, assessing the reality of god by the merits of contemporary and historical religious practice. He does value science over faith however and reduces the meaning of the latter term to fideism which, if I am understanding the Thomist perspective is a misrepresentation to the term's meaning (within that theological tradition).

Thanks for the correction. I am very interested in engaging in real POR now that I've transitioned past the primer of the New Atheists. I think the New Atheists are to POR what Lee Strobel is to theology. They popularize technical arguments for easy dissemination but ultimately beg the questions they propose. I am hungry for a more rigorous thinking process.

I've ordered Professor Feser's book. My plan is to begin reading it after I'm done with my current read ("The Brothers Karamazov" -- a slow but enjoyable go) and, I will be blogging on my understanding of the T-A concepts therein. My blogging will be comprehensive, not critical and I invite all the readers of this blog to come check it out. You can click on my profile to get a hyper link to the blog. The blogging probably won't begin until next month however.

Chuck said...

Professor Coyne has responded to Professor Feser's post here:

http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2011/07/13/o-noes-i-have-to-read-aquinas/

I'd invite the Thomists here to comment there and believe that, if you approach the discussion with charity you will be heard.

I think Professor Coyne misrepresents Professor Feser's suggestions towards orienting oneself with Aquinas but, it seems he has been given a copy of Professor Feser's book and will read it.

For those who would like to reduce all New Atheists to a caricature, I'd suggest that you engage with Professor Coyne's site, much like I've engaged here. I think you will come away refreshed. I have by you all and hope to be an active member of this community. I'd think the WEIT community would benefit from your POV.

verbosestoic said...

I think that all of this -- and even what Eric MacDonald is suggesting -- is probably too much for Coyne's knowledge level. Since tends towards the philosophical as opposed to the scientific, the fact that Coyne really is philosophically naive will always get in the way; he simply won't be able to grasp what the arguments are meant to demonstrate and argue without retreating to "But is it true!" demands.

For example, theology and philosophy of religion aim at establishing and clarifying the concept of God, and we've come a way in doing that. For me, the best thing about the old "Can God create a rock that He can't lift?" argument is not what it says about the existence of God -- which is nothing, actually -- but is that it got us thinking about what "omnipotence" means. Theological and philosophical progress can be made simply by pruning or even expanding the possible meanings of a concept.

So I'd suggest that Coyne start with "Philosophy for Dummies" -- seriously, since I read it when starting my undergrad and found it very useful -- and then move on to, say, some things in Philosophy of Mind before leaping headlong into theology, which is probably the most abstract of the things that work philosophically.

Anonymous said...

From my perspective as an atheist, if we're all the stupid simplistic dummies you take us for it's at least partially the fault of theologians for being incapable of mustering an argument that makes any sense to anyone outside of his/her own narrow worldview.

Not only does any request for an argument or evidence for the existence of God wind up in some pissing contest about who's read the most books; I haven't seen any adherent of "sophisticated theology" capable of even outlining what makes these secret, esoteric arguments compelling. I haven't seen theist or theologian even willing to state up front what presuppositions underlie these arguments.

(Despite the noise to the contrary, skeptics do typically discuss their philosophical presuppositions endlessly, and those presuppositions are minimal. Not only are they minimal, they're the exact same philosophical presuppositions one has to make to conclude s/he's not a brain in a vat, so theists/theologians necessarily make the same ones in the course of assuming their whole life's experience is not a trick of some devil.)

To someone of my worldview, embarking on a 10,000 page tour of religious philosophy seems like a giant waste of time. However, I'm certainly willing to be convinced otherwise. Can anyone give me a sense of what can actually be gained by reading this stuff? How can doing so give me any handle on my relationship to the universe that is inaccessible to one with a rigorously empirical point of view?

Anonymous said...

When I hear a New Atheist claim that science is based on evidence, but religion is just a matter of blind belief, I get a little peeved. Well, more than a little peeved. I want to grab the person and shake them and say, "Don't you realize that what you are saying doesn't make any sense!" Well, I can't reach through the Internet and shake someone, but I can try to make my point of view as clear as I can.

This argument doesn't really bear much resemblance to how new atheists (as far as I can tell) actually think about the problem. The justification of empiricism as a privileged means for determining truth goes something like this:

a) There is a fact-of-the-matter; there's a universe that is common to all of us, causes our sensory experience, and does not yield directly to our will. To the extent that will can effect the universe, it must be mediated, e.g. through one's body. There is no direct access to the universe, all access is mediated through sense organs and the vagaries of human cognition.
b) Human beings frequently form beliefs about nonexistent entities and relationships and almost as frequently incorporate these fictions into their private, internal models of the universe. In other words, mere introspection without any kind of feedback from the real world leads quite easily to false beliefs about the universe. Since there are many more possible false beliefs about the world than true beliefs, it is vanishingly improbable that introspection will yield true beliefs about the universe -- again, neglecting some sort of feedback from the real world.
c) Empirical evidence is this feedback loop. It provides the means for testing the ad hoc assumptions everyone makes and must make about how the world works. If the truth and falsehood of a particular assertion do not yield distinct empirical outcomes then the truth of the assertion is indeterminate.

It may be so that there are many new atheists with naive views of empiricism, but this is not true for all new atheists. I'm with Quine; evidence must be evaluated within a framework and generating the framework is not a simple matter of applying the scientific method. The question becomes how to justify a particular framework.

Science gives us a good model of how to do so using empiricism in a not-quite-circular way. The framework takes the form of a scientific theory, say evolution by Darwinian natural selection. The theory itself predicts a great many data but this is only weak evidence for the theory since there may be other theories making the same predictions. However, Darwinian natural selection dovetails perfectly with Mendelian genetics and the derived fields of population genetics, and the joint is capped with the (empirical) discovery of DNA. The probability of such a confluence of largely independent research programs is quite low if the theories in no way reflect truths about the universe. Thus, the confluence provides some fairly strong evidence that each element of the confluence is true.

This is obviously a very rough sketch; I'm just trying to get the idea across that there is a great deal of merit to the atheist worldview if you actually dig in to try to understand it -- exactly as you're claiming for the religious worldview. I guess the main difference is I'm not demanding that you must read 20 volumes of dense philosophical language to understand where I'm coming from.

hyperdeath said...

"Chuck, "2+2=4" follows necessarily from the axioms of Peano arithmetic, which are all necessary truths."

It is true that 2+2=4 can be proven from the Peano axioms. It does not follow that Peano addition corresponds to the everyday notion of a set of 2 apples in combination with another set of 2 apples giving a total of four apples. There is nothing necessary about the Peano axioms. They are just a set of postulates, the implications of which happen to be useful. That Peano arithmetic follows from the Peano axioms is a necessary truth, but the arithmetic is not a necessary truth by itself. Whether or not it matches the behavior of sets of objects in the real world is something that requires experimental evidence.

Such a need for evidence has historical precedent. Euclidean geometry is based on simple axioms which seem to match perfectly with the space in which we live, and appear just as obvious as 2+2=4. However, experimental evidence eventually showed that the parallel postulate failed to match up to reality, and that pseudo-Riemannian geometry was required instead.

Experimental evidence isn't required to prove logical results, but it is certainly required to demonstrate that those results correspond in any way to reality.

Larry Tanner said...

"Except not every truth can be established by science."

For example?

Anonymous said...

Larry,

George Washington was the first Constitutional President of the USA.

Anonymous said...

How would you prove that scientifically? Historical methods yes but science? I think not.

Anonymous said...

How would you prove logic is true scientifically?

Indeed you have to assume logic before you even do science.

Josh said...

Shall some of you brighter people sally forth to meet Chuck's challenge on Coyne's blog? I'd like to see that...

grodrigues said...

@Anonymous (July 13, 2011 8:55 AM):

"This is obviously a very rough sketch; I'm just trying to get the idea across that there is a great deal of merit to the atheist worldview if you actually dig in to try to understand it -- exactly as you're claiming for the religious worldview. I guess the main difference is I'm not demanding that you must read 20 volumes of dense philosophical language to understand where I'm coming from."

You are right; no one needs to read twenty volumes to understand where you are coming from. And then debunk your strict empiricist position (which is not the same as atheism, but it is representative of the popular brand of new-atheism). It has been done in this thread alone numerous times -- just scroll up. Really, at this point, this is like shooting fish in a barrel.

Larry Tanner said...

I see. Thanks. I wasn't being snarky, but in retrospect I can see how that could have been an impression.

Anonymous said...

Doesn't Coyne restrict who is allowed to post?

How is that an environment for free and open discussion?

Verbose Stoic said...

Anonymous #1:

I have no clue who you're talking to, but I believe that I can answer the things you say no theist will do:

"I haven't seen any adherent of "sophisticated theology" capable of even outlining what makes these secret, esoteric arguments compelling."

For me, the answer is simple: I don't find them compelling. I do, however, consider even the basic arguments generally more compelling or useful than a cursory examination usually reveals. Since "The God Delusion" was mentioned, I can point out that his treatment of the Ontological Argument misses the point and reveals that he doesn't understand it, and he glosses over the best argument against it (Kant's "Existence doesn't work that way!" argument). That reveals that Dawkins, at least, doesn't actually know the argument and is likely undereducated about the theology he is criticizing.

"I haven't seen theist or theologian even willing to state up front what presuppositions underlie these arguments."

Well, give me an example and I'll almost certainly be willing to. The issue isn't so much the presuppositions that we aren't mentioning as opposed to it more being the case that we know what they are and are wondering why you find it such a relevation to state them. Yeah, been there, done that, moved on to new ones.

"To someone of my worldview, embarking on a 10,000 page tour of religious philosophy seems like a giant waste of time. However, I'm certainly willing to be convinced otherwise. Can anyone give me a sense of what can actually be gained by reading this stuff?"

If you're going to criticize it, you have to engage it and read it to understand it. Although, I tend to not give out reading lists but try to do it in discussion, and find it a bit problematic that others go to "Read this book" ... both from the theological and the scientific sides.

Anonymous said...

Re: George Washington

Weak, weak sauce. History is an empirical science the same way astronomy and paleontology are empirical sciences. You prove George Washington was the first constitutional president of the U.S. by adducing evidence in a way completely analogous to the one you'd use to demonstrate that mastodons once roamed the North American continent.

To the extent that the field of history is not scientific it is because non-empirical arguments are often perceived as valid by the communities that engage in historical research.

Re: logic

In what sense can logic be said to be "true"? (I could also ask, "which logic?" but let's keep things simple.) What claims does "logic" make that could be false?

The fact that a proposition is logically equivalent to its contrapositive is not a fact about the universe, it's a convention about how propositions are related to one another. The fact that boolean logic seems so intuitive to human beings might imply some actual truth about the brain, but on its own its a game human beings play rather than a deep observation about the world.

Verbose Stoic said...

As far as I know, Coyne isn't all that restrictive in who posts, but my experience -- which might be limited to me -- is that it isn't all that welcoming a site to comment on for things like this. So, I think it's best left up to everyone's personal discretion.

Anonymous said...

The historical Method is empirical?

According to which professonal historians?

Names please?

Anonymous said...

If logic is not true by necessity then there is no basis to claim anything true or false.

Anonymous said...

BTW it's not relevant even Larry sees the point.

Why don't you djindra?

Verbose Stoic said...

Anonymous (I'm guessing #2, here),

Do you think that it is appropriate to ask whether the proposition "Darth Vader was Luke Skywalker's father" is true or false? This is explicitly about a fictional universe, so how does it fit into your definition of "true"?

Is "2+2=4" true? It's not a fact about the universe at all.

See, this is one of the problems. There are hundreds of years of philosophical work on what it means to call something true, or to know something, and at times people wander into these discussions with naive views and insist they've solved all the problems. Chances are, philosophy came up with that idea long ago, analyzed it, and found problems with it. Essentially, philosophy's past that argument into new and more interesting arguments. It'd be like people arguing that there's no ether with cosmologists; we've moved past that point, thanks.

dmt117 said...

Anonymous 8:55,

(I'm assuming you are also Anonymous 8:25)

Thomas Aquinas wrote that if one wishes to refute an opponent, one must do it on his terms, not your own. I suspect this is a piece of wisdom with which we could all agree.

It would be wrong for a religious philosopher to refute an atheist by first demanding that the atheist accept the former's philosophical first principles. What the religious philosopher must do is show that the atheist's thought is inadequate on its own terms.

(I am using the term "religious philosopher" as distinguished from theologian to differentiate between the man who makes his case based on natural knowledge that is in principle available to everyone (the religious philosopher) vs the man who argues from principles only known through Revelation (theologian)). Thomas Aquians was both a religious philosopher and a theologian, depending on the context.)

Similarly, if the atheist is to refute a religious philosopher's argument, he must refute that argument in its own terms. He is perfectly within his rights, of course, to dismiss such arguments out-of-hand as starting from principles that do not agree with his own empiricist first principles. But this is not the same as refuting an argument.

Richard Dawkins, for example, in the God Delusion, does not simply dismiss Aquinas's arguments as failing to live up to the standards of empiricism. If he had done that, I know I would not have a big problem with him, because the arguments don't conform to the standards of modern empiricism. What he does is apparently take the arguments on their own terms and refute them. The heartache here is over the fact that he hasn't really done any such thing; he merely took a caricatured and grossly misunderstood version of the arguments and knocked down a strawman. And this is something New Atheists seem to do regularly.

Dr. Feser, in his Last Superstition, does not return the favor. Instead, he takes the correct approach by showing that the real argument is over the philosophical first principles; once those principles are established, everything else follows as a matter of course. And he presents an extended argument as to why Aristotelian first principles are more reasonable than the empiricist principles the typical New Atheist embraces.

I applaud the fact that in your last post you forthrightly put your empiricist principles on the table, because those first principles are what the real argument is about. Frankly, I don't think those principles stand up to much scrutiny, and were long ago exposed as inadequate (by Kant among others.) But I won't drag this comment on by getting into all that now.

Anonymous said...


You are right; no one needs to read twenty volumes to understand where you are coming from. And then debunk your strict empiricist position (which is not the same as atheism, but it is representative of the popular brand of new-atheism). It has been done in this thread alone numerous times -- just scroll up. Really, at this point, this is like shooting fish in a barrel.


And to argue against it, you give me another reading assignment. Well that's convincing.

Actually it's not, I read the thread and I see the same non-arguments. "Scientism!" "You can't prove logic!" "Skeptics don't acknowledge their presuppositions!" (Although I explicitly did, whatever.)

Actually, if you had read what I said to try to understand it rather than to try to dismiss it, you would have noticed that it's not really a "strict empiricist position." But you're apparently more interested in the caterpillar's knock-down arguments than in understanding anything, so I'll let it go.

Verbose Stoic:

The issue isn't so much the presuppositions that we aren't mentioning as opposed to it more being the case that we know what they are and are wondering why you find it such a relevation to state them. Yeah, been there, done that, moved on to new ones.

OK, consider the notion that maybe skeptics feel the same way -- that we're not ignoring the philosophical presuppositions underlying our argument, but that we've hashed them out enough between ourselves that we're sick of them.

I can't give you an example because the argument goes something like this:

theist: unjustified claim

skeptic: but how do you know that?

theist: you wouldn't understand without reading A, B, C, D, and E.

skeptic: can you give me the gist? I have lots of other stuff to read that I know is worthwhile, and I at least want to make sure this is going to be worthwhile before interrupting my own thing

theist: these are intricate, subtle arguments. It is impossible to give any sense of the gestalt without 10 years of reading boring medieval clerics.

The sense I get is that the whole debate is just building into another one of the caterpillar's arguments: "If you understood the argument, you would believe in God. Since you do not believe in God you must not understand the argument. You dumb, simplistic new atheist." The best part about this argument is that even if the atheist DOES understand the argument and simply doesn't agree it's still impossible to rebut.

Anonymous said...

>And to argue against it, you give me another reading assignment. Well that's convincing.

How are you morally any different from a YEC who refuses to read one pro-Evolution science book even it is was written by a Theist?

You are wasting our time and yours.

Anonymous said...

If logic is not true by necessity then there is no basis to claim anything true or false.

Maybe you mean something like "valid." "True" is the wrong word here. Logic is not an elementary proposition that can be true or false. It is a system by which systems of propositions can be transformed into different systems while preserving truth values.

"Logic preserves truth values" is a proposition that can be true or false, except that it is true by definition -- logic is the basis of how we conceive of truth, so trying to assign a truth value would be circular.

I applaud the fact that in your last post you forthrightly put your empiricist principles on the table, because those first principles are what the real argument is about. Frankly, I don't think those principles stand up to much scrutiny, and were long ago exposed as inadequate (by Kant among others.) But I won't drag this comment on by getting into all that now.

I gave you a rough, thumbnail sketch. Empiricism is important but it's not everything. I'm highly skeptical that you could find a problem with my principles (if you actually knew them), even with Kant's help.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Feser,

In case you didn't already know, Dr. Coyne has responded to you (hence the recent surge of posts).

Anonymous said...

How are you morally any different from a YEC who refuses to read one pro-Evolution science book even it is was written by a Theist?

You are wasting our time and yours.


Several people here are engaging me instead of banishing me to the world of outer darkness. As a result, I may learn things. That is both how I am morally different from a YEC and why I'm not wasting my time.

If you're just sniping then yes, I'd agree that you're wasting your own time.

Verbose Stoic said...

Anonymous:

[shrug] None of that applies to me, since I don't think that there are arguments I can present to make you believe. My complaint -- and, I think, the underlying complaint most of the time -- is that the atheists/skeptics are wandering into an argument and arguing against it without understanding it. And as was said earlier, at that point your presumptions don't matter, but those of the argument you're entering into.

And while both sides might need to try to understand each other better, part of the "read this" reply is to get them to understand the underlying argument before the discussion starts.

(I'm also a little annoyed that your dialogue reflects the position that I explicitly said that I didn't do, and also that it has nothing to do with acknowledging presuppositions.)

Anonymous said...

>Empiricism is important but it's not everything.

So you d agree not every truth can be established by science?

There is no experiment that can be done to prove this. You need philosophy.

Then we have no argument.

Anonymous said...

>Several people here are engaging me instead of banishing me to the world of outer darkness. As a result, I may learn things. That is both how I am morally different from a YEC and why I'm not wasting my time.

Why have you not learned the simple truth you can't offer valid criticism of what you don't understand?

Anonymous said...

@dmt117:

Didn't mean to brush you off with my last response, but what I was responding to felt like posturing. For the most part, though, your post is something I can at least sink my teeth into.

Please don't assume I think Dawkins is even remotely worthwhile as a philosopher. I never read TGD. I'm not necessarily a huge fan, though TSG was a pretty good book.

I do agree that the disagreement occurs at the level of first principles, which is why I find it so infuriating that it's something neither side seems inclined to actually examine their own or one another's. With that in mind, perhaps I'll try reading The Last Superstition to at least get a sense of where you guys are coming from.

The religious philosopher/theologian distinction is useful, thank you for that as well.

Anonymous said...

>I do agree that the disagreement occurs at the level of first principles, which is why I find it so infuriating that it's something neither side seems inclined to actually examine their own or one another's.

Now this is a rational view.

Love it!

Verbose Stoic said...

Anonymous 10:24,

"I gave you a rough, thumbnail sketch. Empiricism is important but it's not everything. I'm highly skeptical that you could find a problem with my principles (if you actually knew them), even with Kant's help."

Well, we can't determine that until you tell us what they are. Your rough thumbnail sketch seemed to have some problems what others and even I have pointed out, but beyond that you're right that we can't find problems legitimately until you outline your principles. So how would you go about getting us to understand them in detail? Would you, say, ask us to read a book that outlines them?

dmt117 said...

Anonymous,

I gave you a rough, thumbnail sketch. Empiricism is important but it's not everything.

I apologize for misunderstanding you. I thought when you wrote

The justification of empiricism as a privileged means for determining truth goes something like this

what would follow is a justification of empiricism. Turns out it was only a first draft of such a justification, with important elements missing, and so inadequate as a basis of discussion. I'm not sure what I was supposed to do with it if not comment on it.

I envy your conviction that no one, even with Kant's help, could find any difficulties with your principles. I'm not so lucky. No matter what principles I adopt, I find myself inevitably revising them because I eventually discover problems with them - usually through reading great philosophers like Kant, Hume, Aquinas or Plato. Hopefully I will someday discover those problem-free principles you have been so fortunate to find.

Anonymous said...

So you d agree not every truth can be established by science?

There is no experiment that can be done to prove this. You need philosophy.

Then we have no argument.


It's actually a fundamental presupposition in science that NO truth can be established by science. Science can only give you the probability that a proposition is true or false given one's background knowledge about the universe and the immediate evidence for or against the proposition.

The skeptic's position is that this is as good as it gets epistemologically.

(Science can't fix the probability for your example proposition because it's too vague to be assessed relative to my background knowledge. By "science" do you mean the sociological phenomenon, the body of knowledge, the methodology? Some combination of parts of those entities? What does "truth" connote in this context?)

dmt117 said...

Anonymous,

Our posts crossed... my last is a little snarky and I apologize for its tone, as I think I misread your attitude.

Pax.

Anonymous said...

>It's actually a fundamental presupposition in science that NO truth can be established by science.

Then your argument is with Larry not me.

Anonymous said...

(I'm also a little annoyed that your dialogue reflects the position that I explicitly said that I didn't do, and also that it has nothing to do with acknowledging presuppositions.)

Sorry to have done so. It was venting frustration and it had no place in the dialogue between you and me.

Anonymous said...

Since Larry asked for examples of Truths that are known without science.

Anonymous said...

Well, we can't determine that until you tell us what they are. Your rough thumbnail sketch seemed to have some problems what others and even I have pointed out, but beyond that you're right that we can't find problems legitimately until you outline your principles. So how would you go about getting us to understand them in detail? Would you, say, ask us to read a book that outlines them?

dmt117 responded to something I had said by saying something I took as, "I could tear all this down but I don't want to right now." This seemed like posturing to me and the impulse was to posture back. I'm sorry I did.

Although I think I missed the part where people pointed out problems with the sketch. Was that the "prove George Washington was president!" or "prove logic!" bits? Or just the fact that it has to rest on first principles in the first place?

Since you asked, the principles are: my mind is not in a vat, there are such things as other minds, the fact of phenomenal experience is unquestionable although its content may be misleading, and Occam's razor.

Anonymous said...

dmt117:

Our posts crossed... my last is a little snarky and I apologize for its tone, as I think I misread your attitude.

I'm not sure you did actually, I definitely copped an attitude when I first read your post. Sorry about that.

Chuck said...

For those concerned that Professor Coyne's site is a closed system, it isn't. It is easy to sign on and comment. He even demands that his readers respond to other ideas with civility. That isn't always the case but, I've been privy to protection by him from one there who chose to label me an "idiot" due to a disagreement, Dr. Coyne jumped into the discussion and asked the person not to do that.

I'd think the conversation would benefit from your specialized take on "knowledge" and be a nice complement to the "knowledge" espoused by the atheist-naturalist-empiricist there.

dmt117 said...

Anonymous,

What I meant by this not being the time/place, is that comboxes on blog posts are not meant for extended philosophical exchanges about fundamental issues. The comboxes are for making brief comments relevant to the parent post. I did not intend it as a drive-by shot.

If you would like to have a friendly discussion over fundamental empiricist principles, I'm certainly game for it. Send me something at (my user name)@gmail.com

Anonymous said...

Anon 10:41 said: "Science can only give you the probability that a proposition is true or false given one's background knowledge about the universe and the immediate evidence for or against the proposition."


But this is applicable not just to scientific beliefs, but to practically every belief we hold!

(The type of probability that we're talking about here, as you seem to realize, is epistemic or logical probability, not stochastic or factual probability, which, unlike the former, is inherently numerical.)

Outside of pure mathematics and logic (and a few others, like instances of mental/psychological reporting), everyone deals in probability, not certainty. As a theist, particularly as a theist who has studied the philosophical arguments in many different metaphysical traditions for and against the existence of God, I say that it is vastly more probable that God exists than that he doesn't exist. I stop short, however, of saying that it is certain that he exists.

Unlike stochastic probability, epistemic probability is concerned with how well-supported a conclusion is by a body of evidence. So a follow up question then presents itself: What does it mean to say that "X is evidence for Y"?

The Anon from 10:49 yesterday supplied an intelligent response to this:

"'X is evidence for proposition Y' is 'If X increase the probability of Y being true, it is evidence for Y.' Or to put it in probabilistic language: If P(Y|X&B)> P(Y|B), where B is simply the background knowledge one has before exposure to X, then X is evidence for Y. This is all very basic and is uncontroversial in probability theory. On this construal of evidence, there is no rational reason to deny there is evidence for God, because it is immediately obvious that X is not limited to being evidence of an empirical sort. 'Evidence' cannot be limited to 'empirical evidence.' For instance, philosophical arguments (such as those of St. Thomas) that are not flat-out refuted constitute some evidence. Personal experience also constitutes some evidence. And so on."


And in this light, I think that there is sufficient evidence for believe in God because of the (in my view) many sound philosophical arguments for his existence and the failure of arguments against his existence, which all, again, qualify as being pieces of evidence and hence enhance the probability of the claim "God exists."




[One book that has greatly assisted me in understanding the nature of science and evidence is that of Australian mathematician and philosopher of science, James Franklin, entitled What Science Knows: And How It Knows It

http://www.amazon.com/What-Science-Knows-How/dp/1594032076


I think that, given how much "science!" and "evidence!" are being trumpeted in this day and age, a good knowledge of the philosophy of science (and the nature of evidence) is a must.]

Anonymous said...

Now this is a rational view.

Love it!


Can I assume you usually win debates by waiting for your opponent to make a grammatical error?

Verbose Stoic said...

Anonymous,

In part, but I also pointed out issues with fictional truths and mathematical truths, which don't seem to be about the universe per se but yet we still seem to think that we can call them all "true". This, I think, mostly revealed that you defined truth as being something that needs empirical validation since it was about the universe without actually demonstrating why that was an appropriate meaning of truth.

As for your principles, none of them can be proven empirically. Even Occam's Razor, since that's only a heuristic and not a truth-defining principle. Well, okay, it depends on your definition of empirical. But, at any rate, those seem to be your base axioms, but we were looking for your justifications of an empirically-centred approach to knowledge, and the fact that I accept most of them and yet disagree with at least a strong or naive empirical approach suggests that it isn't just those principles or axioms that are driving that view of yours.

Anonymous said...

But this is applicable not just to scientific beliefs, but to practically every belief we hold!

Which is one of many reasons why I think the dichotomy of scientific knowledge and all other knowledge is artificial.

And in this light, I think that there is sufficient evidence for believe in God because of the (in my view) many sound philosophical arguments for his existence and the failure of arguments against his existence, which all, again, qualify as being pieces of evidence and hence enhance the probability of the claim "God exists."

In my experience, the validity of a philosophical argument rests almost entirely on how well the symbols used in the argument actually signify entities in the real world, and that it is much easier to get it wrong than get it right. I don't think it's enough for a philosophical argument not to have a counterargument. In short, there are too many ways for purely philosophical arguments to be wrong; they only become plausible when they are complemented by the available empirical evidence.

That's my take. I think it's safe to say our respective background knowledges are broadly divergent.

Larry Tanner said...

Anon 11:25, you offer this (part of which is a quote of another's earlier comment:

"'X is evidence for proposition Y' is 'If X increase the probability of Y being true, it is evidence for Y.' Or to put it in probabilistic language: If P(Y|X&B)> P(Y|B), where B is simply the background knowledge one has before exposure to X, then X is evidence for Y. This is all very basic and is uncontroversial in probability theory. On this construal of evidence, there is no rational reason to deny there is evidence for God, because it is immediately obvious that X is not limited to being evidence of an empirical sort. 'Evidence' cannot be limited to 'empirical evidence.' For instance, philosophical arguments (such as those of St. Thomas) that are not flat-out refuted constitute some evidence. Personal experience also constitutes some evidence. And so on."

You say in response to this that "in this light, I think that there is sufficient evidence for believe in God because of the (in my view) many sound philosophical arguments for his existence and the failure of arguments against his existence."

My question to you: Is all evidence equally weighted? That is, for instance, how would personal experience increase the probability of Y being true? How does personal experience compare with, say, a blood sample or an independent experiment?

TheOFloinn said...

I need a direct explanation of what causes a virtual particle pair to pop into existence right here, right now.

So yours is the Ungod of the Gaps?

"cause" seems to need to display some predictive power for me.

Quantum mechanics has considerable predictive power. It works to the last decimal place. I'm not sure what else you want.

"Since no scientific explanation (in terms of physical laws) can provide a causal account of the origin of the universe, the cause must be personal (explanation is given in terms of a personal agent)"

Logically, no scientific explanation is possible, since a physical law presupposes something physical to be lawful. There is stuff on both sides of the transformation.
sodium, chlorine --> salt
ape-man --> man
hydrogen under extreme gravitational pressure --> helium
But the origin of the universe has no thing on its left side. It is not a transformation of one form of physical stuff into another sort of physical stuff.

Nor for that matter how a "personal agent" can not follow "physical laws".

That's because you are only familiar with physical bodies. However, consider that (e.g.) Tychonov's Theorem or a Galois group does not follow physical laws. It does not accelerate at 32 ft/sec^2 toward the center of gravity. How much does a topological space weigh? What are its extensions? Its candlepower? Its wattage?

TheOFloinn said...

Early on in atheism where I transitioned from an evidential basis for god within sola scriptura interpreted by the in-dwelling of the Holy Spirit, animated by the Reformed Calvinist tradition...

Much is explained. St. Augustine used to lament that such people were only one step away from atheism/paganism because their personal interpretations sooner or later came into contradiction.

Anonymous said...

>Can I assume you usually win debates by waiting for your opponent to make a grammatical error?

Get the chip off your shoulder. I just praised you. I agreed with that statement I praised.

Chill!

Chuck said...

"Much is explained. St. Augustine used to lament that such people were only one step away from atheism/paganism because their personal interpretations sooner or later came into contradiction."

And it is cognitively difficult (impossible?),once a commitment is made to biblical inerrancy as the ground for god, to ponder any god, beyond that of the deists, when you realize the bible does not conform to that principle.

During my apostasy and agnostic phase, I had many evangelical friends implore me not to, "throw the baby out with the bathwater" but, I didn't have the heart to tell them that my new perspective couldn't see any baby.

Mike Gene said...

The contrast between this blog and Coyne’s blog is striking. Here, there is open debate while Coyne’s blog is an echo chamber populated by his fans. This is not surprising given that Coyne silently bans people and prevents others from ever escaping his moderation. In other words, the evidence indicates that Catholic philosopher Edward Feser values free speech more than atheist scientist Jerry Coyne.

Chuck said...

Mike,

I don't think that assessment is true. You should post your perspective on Coyne's blog. Yes, there are many "village atheists" over there but, if you stay calm and disciplined within your argument, you should gain the respect of a minority.

TheOFloinn said...

But we will note that Riemannian geometry long predated General Relativity, just as group theory long predated atomic physics. It was not that the parallel postulate was "wrong" (falsified?) and people looked for a substitute, it's that the postulate always looked like a theorem and people felt that it ought to be itself provable from the other postulates. They played on that for a couple thousand years until it was finally proven that the parallel postulate could not be proven from the other postulates.

Whereupon geometers then began playing with modifications of the parallel postulate. What if we changed it thusly...?

You are talking about the criteria for usefulness, not the criteria for truth. It is no surprise if someone looks at the world through the lens of a particular instrument, the world will look exactly as that instrument portrays it.

BenYachov said...

Chuck,

After reading you here you seem like a good sort & if you don't do what I now ask I won't think less of you but.....you said you felt Coyne misrepresented Dr. Feser view.

Try explaining that to him & see what happens?

Just a thought. Take it or leave it with my regards and respects.

Chuck said...

TOF,

I'd like to see your abilities practiced in the Coyne combox. I think you can be useful to that population. Just a suggestion, no pressure.

Chuck said...

Ben,

I've thought of that.

As I said earlier on this thread, I think I am in danger of being labeled an "accomodationist" due to my civility, respect and honest interest in the intellectual field here.

So the point you are making to the potential for received hostility at WEIT is something I'm probably in agreement with.

I don't think banning dissent however is something Dr. Coyne would do. He is an honest man, albeit a cantankerous one and, such a violation to his ethics would be something beyond what he has shown me to be his character.

I don't think Coyne would ban me. I do think he would either not respond or find a way to twist my words to fit his meaning (that theologians demand an infinite regress of study, when Professor Feser simply offered a variety of titles that could provide insight into a particular theological tradition.)

I am going to use Feser's Aquinas towards the A-T school as I did Coyne's WEIT towards Darwinian Evolution. I think that Feser offered that as an option.

Your point is taken however yet, I still would love to see the minds over there interact with the minds here. I've come to see my own intellectual limitations and gain very much from observing dialogue from opposing world-views when those opposing world-views argue intelligently. That is probably selfish on my part so, I apologize for it but, I'm participating in both conversations in both rooms and am learning a whole bunch.

Anonymous said...

In part, but I also pointed out issues with fictional truths and mathematical truths, which don't seem to be about the universe per se but yet we still seem to think that we can call them all "true".

I didn't think you were talking to me, sorry. Fictional truths are true w/ respect to their context: a fictional world. Likewise, mathematical truths are true with respect to the context of whatever philosophical theory is used to derive them, e.g. set theory. We think we can call them true because human beings can switch contexts very easily without being aware that they're doing so.

The crux is that the truth of such propositions is justified by the context and nothing else. In contrast, when I've been using the word "truth" in this conversation it's to mean something more like "a fact about the universe that you can't change by thinking about it really hard." You can change the fact that the acceleration due to gravity at the earth's surface is 9.8 m/s^2 by redefining meters or seconds but that won't change the acceleration itself.

As for your principles, none of them can be proven empirically... But, at any rate, those seem to be your base axioms, but we were looking for your justifications of an empirically-centred approach to knowledge,

In the course of my little spat with dmt117 you asked what my first principles were and I gave them. I also (separately) gave some justification for the importance of empiricism by saying, several times and several ways, that there are more ways to be wrong than to be right. You need some method of weeding out the ways you might be wrong. That method is (a qualified, non-naive) empiricism.

Ismael said...

his jaw-dropping remark that he hasn’t come across any arguments for God’s existence “that aren’t taken up and refuted in The God Delusion.”

LOL

I see Coyne is taking his stydy of theology seriously... just like someone who studies history on diner's placemats ;)

Anonymous said...

Get the chip off your shoulder. I just praised you. I agreed with that statement I praised.

Sorry! There may be a few anons (besides myself) making snipy little comments, and I took your statement as a sarcastic nudge towards the fact that my sentence didn't make grammatical sense.

I will definitely try to chill.

Chuck said...

Ben,

I figured if I am encouraging debate then maybe I should put some skin in the game so, this is what I posted at WEIT.

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for the encouragement. Let's see what happens.

Verbose Stoic said...

Anonymous,

"In my experience, the validity of a philosophical argument rests almost entirely on how well the symbols used in the argument actually signify entities in the real world, "

To me, the validity of a philosophical argument rests entirely on how well the argument -- let's not introduce discussions of symbols at the moment -- reflects the relevant CONCEPTS. Philosophy's main schtick is and always has been conceptual analysis. All things have a relation to at least one concept, some concepts relate to things, and some concepts don't relate to things at all.

You can learn interesting things about things by looking at the concepts of things.

BenYachov said...

>he hasn’t come across any arguments for God’s existence “that aren’t taken up and refuted in The God Delusion.”

Anybody who believes that is on the same intellectual level as a Theist who is impressed by Kirk Cammron's banana argument.

BenYachov said...

Good Job Chuck.

Chuck said...

Ben,

"crickets" thus far.

What's our null hypothesis?

Ridicule or silence?

: )

Verbose Stoic said...

Anonymous,

"In contrast, when I've been using the word "truth" in this conversation it's to mean something more like "a fact about the universe that you can't change by thinking about it really hard." "

But why should we accept that when it isn't what people mean by "true"? And we don't know if we need empirical grounding for those things anyway.

As for the principles, I was following from your description of why you think we need empirical grounding, and I thought that was where the thread was going . If I misinterpreted, I apologize.

BenYachov said...

GregFromCos was a non-answer.

Let's wait and see.

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