Sunday, July 24, 2011

Grow up or shut up

I’ve pointed out that the argument so many atheists like to attack when they purport to refute the cosmological argument -- namely “Everything has a cause; so the universe has a cause; so God exists” or variants thereof -- is a straw man, something no prominent advocate of the cosmological argument has ever put forward.  You won’t find it in Aristotle, you won’t find it in Aquinas, you won’t find it in Leibniz, and you won’t find it in the other main proponents of the argument.  Therefore, it is unfair to pretend that refuting this silly argument (e.g. by asking “So what caused God?”) is relevant to determining whether the cosmological argument has any force.    

I’ve also noted other respects in which the cosmological argument is widely misrepresented.  Now, in response to these points, it seems to me that what a grownup would say is something like this: “Fair enough.  I agree that atheists should stop attacking straw men.  They should avoid glib and ill-informed dismissals.  They should acquaint themselves with what writers like Aristotle, Aquinas, Leibniz, et al. actually said and focus their criticisms on that.”  But it would appear that Jason Rosenhouse and Jerry Coyne are not grownups.  Their preferred response is to channel Pee-wee Herman:  “I know you are, but what am I?” is, for them, all the reply that is needed to the charge that New Atheists routinely misrepresent the cosmological argument.  

In particular, Rosenhouse, who is curiously silent on this charge -- though it is, after all, the point at issue -- has decided to change the subject.  Like the teenager who, when caught red-handed with the evidence of his drug use, responds by criticizing Mom and Dad’s drinking habits, Rosenhouse  works himself into an adolescent dudgeon over how I’ve allegedly misrepresented Robin Le Poidevin.  And how exactly have I misrepresented him?  That is never made clear.  I said that Le Poidevin presents a variation of the straw man as if it were “the basic” cosmological argument.  And he does.  I said that Le Poidevin presents the “more sophisticated versions” he considers later on in his book as “modifications” of that straw man.  And he does.  I did not deny that Le Poidevin addresses these more sophisticated versions.  I explicitly noted that he does.  Nor did I say that Le Poidevin claimed that Aristotle, Aquinas, Leibniz, et al. actually defended the straw man argument themselves.  Indeed, I quoted Le Poidevin as acknowledging that “no-one has defended a cosmological argument of precisely this form.”  Rather, I said that readers who are unfamiliar with what Aristotle, Aquinas, Leibniz, et al. actually wrote are liable to come away from a discussion like Le Poidevin’s with the false impression that what the major defenders of the cosmological argument are up to is, essentially, merely an attempt at a patch-up job on a manifestly feeble argument.  And I explicitly said that I was not claiming that Le Poidevin was deliberately trying to give this false impression, but rather that he should know better. 

So, again, how exactly did I misrepresent him?  It turns out that Rosenhouse’s real complaint, to the extent he has any, reduces to another adolescent trope.  My problem, you see, is that I need to lighten up.  I’m “overreacting” to what was merely a “pedagogical” exercise on Le Poidevin’s part.  Beginning his treatment of the cosmological argument with the straw man was simply Le Poidevin’s gentle way of ”introducing” a complicated topic to undergraduates.  

Well, we all know why this dodge won’t work.  Suppose a creationist writer began his exposition of Darwinism by presenting the claim that “Monkeys gave birth to humans” as “the basic” claim of the theory, of which the “more sophisticated versions” of Darwinism he would consider later were variants.  Naturally, he would have little trouble showing that this claim (which no Darwinist has ever made) is false.  But suppose he defended this odd approach as merely a “pedagogical” technique for “introducing” Darwinism to his readers.  And suppose he also held that any biologist who finds this procedure outrageous is merely “overreacting.”  Rosenhouse and Co. would, quite rightly, be unimpressed.  And neither should we be impressed by Rosenhouse’s lame defense of Le Poidevin. 

To be sure, Rosenhouse thinks he has preempted such a comparison: 

The claim that a monkey gave birth to a human is not an oversimplified version of Darwinism that might serve as a helpful stepping stone into a complex topic.  It is just a completely made up idea tossed off specifically to make evolution look foolish.  

But of course, this is no answer at all, but merely reinforces my point.  For the straw man version of the cosmological argument we’ve been discussing is no less a completely made up idea, one tossed off to make the cosmological argument look foolish.  How do we know this?  Well, here’s some pretty good evidence: First, as I keep pointing out -- and, you will note, as Rosenhouse and his ilk never deny (because they can hardly deny it) -- Aristotle, Aquinas, Leibniz, and the other prominent defenders of the cosmological argument never gave the straw man argument.  Second, the only people who ever do pay the straw man argument much attention are atheist critics of the cosmological argument, and they typically present precisely it as a reason to dismiss the cosmological argument as foolish.

So, the cases are parallel and Le Poidevin’s procedure is no more defensible than that of our imaginary creationist.  No doubt Rosenhouse, as is his wont, will at this point just stamp his foot some more.  “The cases are not parallel!  Are not!  Are not not not not not!” 

But then, Rosenhouse isn’t one to notice when he’s merely making unsupported assertions or begging the question.  For example, in an earlier post, he had written: 

Feser seems rather taken with [the cosmological argument], but there are many strong refutations to be found in the literature.  Off the top of my head, I found Mackie's discussion in The Miracle of Theism and Robin Le Poidevin's discussion in Arguing for Atheism to be both cogent and accessible. 

I then pointed out that this merely begged the question against defenders of the cosmological argument, which (given the context) it quite obviously does.  But the obvious is never obvious enough for Rosenhouse, who in his latest post writes: 

My point was simply that I think the cosmological argument is not very good, and that I think Mackie and Le Poidevin provided cogent and accessible refutations of it.  How could I have been clearer?  I have no idea what question I was begging by expressing those particular opinions. 

Well, Prof. Rosenhouse, here’s a clue:  Whether the cosmological argument is “not very good” and whether writers like Le Poidevin and Mackie have actually “refuted” it are precisely what is at issue between yourself and defenders of the cosmological argument like me.  And merely to assume some proposition which is at issue instead of arguing for it -- as you did when, in response to my advocacy of the cosmological argument, you asserted matter-of-factly that the argument had been “refuted” by the likes of Mackie and Le Poidevin -- is a textbook instance of what logicians call “begging the question.”  But then, in between all those volumes on Aquinas and Leibniz you haven’t read, it seems there are a few logic textbooks you haven’t gotten to either.

Those who are interested in other curious examples of undefended assertion are directed to the rest of Rosenhouse’s post.  But beyond providing us with Exhibit 2,345 of the Higher Cluelessness that is the New Atheism, Rosenhouse’s remarks on this controversy are absolutely devoid of interest.  As I’ve said, in response to the points I made in my earlier post, an atheist who is also a grownup would at least be happy to acknowledge that atheists should not attack straw men and should deal instead with what the major defenders of the cosmological argument actually said.  Yet Rosenhouse can’t even bring himself to do that much before launching into his botched “Gotcha!” exercise.  And that pretty much says it all.

609 comments:

1 – 200 of 609   Newer›   Newest»
BenYachov said...

Gnu'Atheists are moral dirt bags. They are Fundamentalists without god belief.

OTOH the rational Atheists that have stopped by have renewed my faith in humanity and human reason.

I'm not becoming an Atheist anytime soon but gotta love the rational Atheist who have stopped by here.

Chuck, dguller, Harvok (did I spell his name right?) and others.

That God they don't believe in for them.

Sorry if I left anyone out. I'm going to bed.

E.H. Munro said...

"I used to think that the new atheists were just like everyone else, but after having known so many over the years I have come to realise that they are nothing more than fundamentalists that have abandoned the search for God."

Anonymous said...

When you're in a hole - stop digging!

Crude said...

Ed,

Just piping up to say, well done. I remember years ago when I stumbled on your blog by accident, and bought your book on a lark. Sounds like you're really making waves. Good job and keep it up.

Aquinas3000 said...

If you look at some of the comments under their blog posts some of their readers are still refuting the cosmological argument based on the "everything has a cause principle."

One person even thought it sufficed because refuting the shorter version gave one enough cause to think the longer version. No guys, its the completely wrong version.

Refute a strawman version of someone's argument and then say that you don't need to go any further! Great logic!

Aquinas3000 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Aquinas3000 said...

I meant "to think the longer version is also invalid."

Eric said...

"The claim that a monkey gave birth to a human is not an oversimplified version of Darwinism that might serve as a helpful stepping stone into a complex topic. It is just a completely made up idea tossed off specifically to make evolution look foolish. The relationship of “Everything that exists has a cause,” to the most common versions of the cosmological argument is far, far closer than the relationship of “A monkey gave birth to a human,” is to Darwinism."

Is Rosenhouse serious? I could easily use the claim, "A monkey gave birth to a human" as a jumping off point to explain evolution to someone who is just beginning to learn about the topic. Indeed, it might be one of the better ways to introduce evolution to people who know only caricatures of it. But if I were to do so, I wouldn't label "a monkey gave birth to a human" as The Basic Evolutionary Claim. A responsible way to use an argument or a claim that no one has ever advanced as a propaedeutic aid might go something like this:

"Today we're going to be learning about evolution. Now this is a big topic -- all of modern biology hangs together by way of it. And I realize that, given that so many Americans reject evolution today, there are a lot of misconceptions about it floating around out there. So this is what I propose: Let's start with an all too common, though demonstrably inaccurate, characterization of human evolution: A long time ago, a monkey gave birth to a human. Now if this is, as I said, demonstrably inaccurate, why are we starting with it? Well, I understand that this is a position that, according to the surveys, many of you might already hold. So my rationale is, if we can start here, where many of you are to begin with, and gradually qualify this inaccurate characterization of evolution, you'll not only have an easier time grasping just what evolution is, but you'll gain a deeper understanding of just why this claim is inaccurate. Okay, let's begin."

After saying something like this, we could begin by introducing those qualifications, e.g. it wasn't a monkey, but a common ancestor apes and human beings share; it wasn't a case of one kind of thing giving birth to another, but of gradual change over time; such changes are explained in terms of selection pressures and mutations, etc. and so on.

I can't see why Rosenhouse finds it so difficult to come up with something like this.

Now if Le Poidevin had done something along these lines, we wouldn't be having this conversation. But, unfortunately, he chose to characterize "the false claim we're going to use as a teaching aid" as "The Basic" one. As Professor Feser said, this is cheap, and though it might not have been deliberate, Le Poidevin should've known better.

It's also more than a little silly to suppose, as Roesnhouse does, that what's at issue here is whether the notion that (A) the basic CA uses the premises, "everything that exists has a cause" is more like (B) "everything that begins to exist has a cause" (or any other legitimate premise of any one of the serious versions of the CA) than (C) "a long time ago, a monkey gave birth to a man" is like (D) modern evolutionary theory. I have no problem granting that (A) resembles (B) more than (C) resembles (D). But why does that matter one bit? Both (A) and (C) are false, and both can be used as teaching aids, *if introduced responsibly*. It's that last bit that Rosenhouse can't seem to understand.

Incidentally, I think that context is important here, too. Le Poidevin's book is tilted, "Arguing for Atheism." Imagine if Professor Feser's example of a false evolutionary claim had been characterized as 'The Basic Claim' in a book titled, "Arguing for Creationism"? Rosenhouse would be apoplectic -- and rightly so.

BeingItself said...

Edward Feser misrepresents Le Poidevin, calls him sleazy.

Rosenhouse points this out.

Rather than owning up to his mistake, Feser digs himself deeper.

That is the behavior of an immature child. Pathetic.

Anonymous said...

Prof. Feser: I said that Le Poidevin presents a variation of the straw man as if it were "the basic” cosmological argument. And he does. I said that Le Poidevin presents the “more sophisticated versions” he considers later on in his book as “modifications” of that straw man. And he does.


Furthermore, he does so at a point in history wherein disturbingly large numbers of people - even philosophers - have bought into the "Everything has a cause" caricature of the argument. This significantly elevates the seriousness of Le Poidevin's linguistic recklessness, making him more culpable.

Aquinas3000 said...

Even if Feser did do that it still ignores the main issue which is that atheists continue to attack a completely inaccurate understanding of the CA. It isn't even a basic or simplified version, it's just dead wrong and any one can drive a truck through it. But it isn't the CA. It's just a plea to deal with the actual argument.

Anonymous said...

As far as Rosenhouse and Coyne are concerned, I am all but convinced that they both suffer from either Asperger's syndrome or, more probably, social autism. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised at all if the preponderance of these "New Atheists" turn out to be socially autistic individuals.

Matthew G said...

"Edward Feser misrepresents Le Poidevin, calls him sleazy."

Would you be so kind as to point out where exactly Poidevin was misrepresented? Just give a quote from Feser where he claims something about Poidevin that is demonstrably false.

And yes, introducing someone to a topic by attacking a straw man IS sleazy.

Larry Tanner said...

I tried to ackowledge your fair points on the cartoon-version CA while also asking my questions about the philosophy.

http://larrytanner.blogspot.com/2011/07/dear-theology-show-me-money.html

Chuck said...

I've commented on the insipid intellectual practices of Coyne and his followers at my blog.

http://charitableatheism.wordpress.com/2011/07/24/the-loaded-language-of-jerry-coyne-as-evidence-of-his-naivete/

Chuck said...

Subscribing

Eric said...

Chuck, let me get this straight -- the freethinking and tolerant atheist, Jerry Coyne, banned you, an atheist who asks questions about his arguments and claims, from commenting on his blog, while the dogmatic and intolerant Catholic, Edward Feser, invites you to ask questions and to critique him on his blog? ;)

That brings to mind my beloved Chesterton: "Freethinkers are occasionally thoughtful, though never free....He is forbidden, for instance, in the only intelligible modern sense, to believe in a miracle. He is forbidden, in exactly the same sense in which he would say that we are forbidden to believe in a heresy. Both are forbidden by first principles and not by force...But of both cases it is true to say that a man cannot root up his first principles without a terrible rending and revolutionising of his very self. As a matter of fact, we are the freer of the two; as there is scarcely any evidence, natural or preternatural, that cannot be accepted as fitting into our system somewhere; whereas the materialist cannot fit the most minute miracle into his system anywhere."

Chuck said...

Eric,

That seems to be the case. I found it funny actually.

Hey, did you get my email about the blog project? I'd love to get you as a contributor.

Untenured said...

This particular strain of atheism stands in need of a purely psychological explanation. I would wager that moral and political resentments against religious believers are the strongest determining factors for becoming a New Atheist. The more I read from Rosenhouse, Coyne and company, the more I suspect that New Atheism is nothing more than a resentment-driven social and political movement with a highly superficial philosophical facade.

Chuck said...

Untenured,

As one who luxuriated in the new atheism meme, I'd say you are right. There's little satisfaction outside of the adrenalin the anger induces.

djindra said...

It should not be called the cosmological argument. It should be called the hypocrisy argument. Feser claims the "experts" understanding of the argument is fundamentally different than, "Everything has a cause." It is not. Both unlearned and learned flavors assert a "first" something. This "first" is required either for a "chain" of causation or a "chain" of being. In both cases God is sneaked in to save the day.

Is there any rational reason given? Not at all. Feser makes noise about Aquinas spending hundreds of pages explaining why God must be the "first," but page count does not mean anything. Five hundred pages of assertion piled on assertion supported by biblical reference does not add up to anything real. Ultimately it always ends in the hypocrisy that everything depends on something *except* that one magical thing. And nowhere is a compelling reason given that the one thing itself can move anything else or support anything else without first being moved or supported outside itself. This thing is the only thing that is permitted to move by itself or be itself -- no reason given except it *must* be so. I should say, they very much *feel* it *must* be so.

This is the bare essence of the argument:

1) Everything needs a predecessor.

2) We cannot have an infinite series of predecessors.

3) So everything does not need a predecessor.

That is the "logic" of the cosmological argument. It contradicts itself. We are simply to have faith that this ultimate contradiction is called God. That's why the argument is a joke.

djindra said...

Untenured,

"I suspect that New Atheism is nothing more than a resentment-driven social and political movement with a highly superficial philosophical facade."

You have just described Feser and company.

Mr Veale said...

"Show me the money"

A friend made a similar point recently - http://answersingenes.blogspot.com/2011/06/show-me-sausages.html

So where are the sausages? Where is the money? Where is the money for the sausage?



Hmm. If Prof Feser is correct he has demonstrated (not merely explained) why the universe exists.
No, that won't fix your car engine, or generate a research programme in physics.
It might inspire a generation of philosophers to examine the structure of the physical world in a disciplined way. (James Hannam's Genesis of Science grants considerable insight).
It might lead to robust ethical traditions, and it might justify some religious practices or beliefs.
It might lead some people to realise that there is more to rationality than technical mastery. It might also lead to wisdom and, if we are really lucky, humility.

Which is enough to be getting on with, in my opinion.

Graham

Anonymous said...

I think Poe's Law is striking again with this djindra chappie.

Mr Veale said...

djindra

What on earth do you think that accomplished, exactly?

Read atheists William Rowe and Richard Gale on the cosmological argument. A bit of open-mindedness won't hurt.

Graham

Eric said...

"This particular strain of atheism stands in need of a purely psychological explanation. I would wager that moral and political resentments against religious believers are the strongest determining factors for becoming a New Atheist. The more I read from Rosenhouse, Coyne and company, the more I suspect that New Atheism is nothing more than a resentment-driven social and political movement with a highly superficial philosophical facade."

Now that's a hypothesis with some serious explanatory scope and explanatory power! I like it! We should call it the Maher Hypothesis.

Mr Veale said...

http://dilbert.com/strips/comic/2011-06-03/

Untenured said...

@Chuck:

Mine is a similar story. When I was a philosophical naturalist, I really believed that I was in the right. I was also politically progressive and I hated conservative Christians with a passion. I thought they were arrogant, obnoxious, self-righteous, and politically dangerous. And when I argued with them, at times, I honestly think I just wanted to inflict psychological pain on them by causing them to doubt, that's how much I hated them. I see so much of my former self in these ridiculous commenters over on Coyne's blog. They are so full of piercing hatred and anger, and they think its justified even though it has compromised their ability to think straight.

Chuck said...

Untenured,

I've experienced some intellectual freedom since I realized my anger towards faith, and opposition of it, was the product of my generalization towards two (2) people I knew when I attended church.

I have other reasons for being an atheist but, being angry at generalizations is no longer one of them.

Mr Veale said...

A large number seem to have migrated to atheism from evangelical or fundamentalist backgrounds. As an evangelical (who was raised fundamentalist) I can see many family resemblances.

This also means that they have been exposed to apologetics, at a level practiced by popular apologists like Josh McDowell. They will have heard of William Lane Craig - they might even have listened to one of his debates. Unfortunately, they seem to think that this is as far as a rational defence of Christianity can go. They cannot accept that Dr Craig, for example, has published more rigorous academic work. They certainly cannot accept that there are other academic Theists, who publish intricately argued book length arguments for Theism, and who do not participate in debates organised by Campus Crusade for Christ.

The idea that Christians could publish (peer reviewed) defences of Theism with Cambridge or Oxford University Press causes so much existential angst that they dare not pick one up to peruse its pages. Much safer to assume that Dawkins summarises Swinburne and Ward correctly in "The God Delusion".

Graham

Mr Veale said...

PS
(i) I was referring to McAtheists, not you Chuck.

(ii) I think that Craig is quite right to take the arguments to the masses. Some academic philosophers seem a bit sniffy about Craig's debates, but as a member of the great unwashed class, I think that they are an excellent idea.

Graham

Anonymous said...

6:18am Anon, that was totally uncalled for.

Mr Veale said...

Chuck

Just been to your blog...

you were banned from Coyne's blog?! Seriously? Did Coyne explain why? Or have you been left to infer that he doesn't like awkward questions?

Graham

Edward Feser said...

So Chuck's been banned from Coyne's blog? Unbelievable.

Don't worry, djindra, there is no ideological litmus test here. You are free to stick around and continue your tirades against me. Others are free to engage with you if they think it worthwhile.

Larry, thanks for your post. I do think you are trying to be fair. I am not sure what your beef is, though. It seems to me that you both acknowledge that the derivation of the various divine attributes is grounded in argument, but also that you think the derivations tend to be arbitrary. To answer your concerns, we'd need to go on a case by case basis. Why attribute this to God, but not that? Well, it depends on the case. Anything that essentially requires matter, say, is ruled out since God is pure actuality. Things that don't require matter -- intellect and will, say -- are not ruled out, but what it means to attribute these attributes to God needs careful analysis because, being purely actual and immaterial, God cannot have intellect and will in the way we do, because the way we have them is determined by our material constitution. Etc.

This is why Aquinas spends so many pages on the divine attributes. Each one requires careful working out. All I do in places like the blog posts you cite is give a sketch of the main idea, but you'd need to work through something like an article in the Summa Theologica on one of the attributes to get a sense of how the task is carried out systematically. I think you'll find that there is nothing arbitrary in it, whether or not you end up concluding that this or that argument works.

Untenured said...

The psychology is certainly relevant. A handful of conversations with a particularly arrogant and aggressive Calvinist I knew as an undergraduate did as much to push me towards naturalism and materialism as did my readings of Quine and Sellars. But, to be fair to my 20 year old self, I really didn't see any good arguments for theism. I remember reading Plantinga and Swineburne and company and thinking: "if this is all we've got, then we're in serious trouble". And I thought Thomism was a bunch of outdated crap, and for all of the reasons Kenny and Mackie lay out in their discussions of Aquinas. It wasn't until I seriously started reading analytic Thomists that I realized some kind of Aristotelian metaphysics was not only defensible, but was in fact much more plausible and required me to bite fewer intellectual bullets than anything on the table within contemporary analytic philosophy. From there, it doesn't take long until realize that the Classical Theistic God really does have powerful arguments in its favor, and that it is no accident that the majority of prominent philosophers throughout history have been believers.

TheOFloinn said...

"Freethinkers. You get what you pay for."

+ + +

So Doc F says that noo-atheists attack a straw man; then djindra at 24/10:35 immediately provides a living example of it. You can't make this stuff up.

E.H. Munro said...

The Coyniacs are certainly nothing if not incredibly rude. I'm in a running debate there with Mike K. Gray and Ben Goren, who have been incredibly rude. Gray, especially, has set some new lows in intellectual dishonesty. I'm more and more convinced that gnuism is a mental illness.

SR said...

Djindra gives an obviously erroneous "bare essence of the argument" above. But I'm wondering if there isn't a "bare essence" that can be introduced, something like:

1. Every caused thing has a cause different from itself.

2. A cause is either caused or uncaused.

3. If the cause of a caused thing is caused, then goto 2, else it is an uncaused cause.

4. There cannot be an infinite causative loop.

5. Therefore there is an uncaused cause.

Obviously one can argue with this (notably step 4 -- with the rebuttal no doubt requiring a better statement of it), but at least one is not starting with djindra's strawman.

The purpose of this exercise would be to avoid the "read Aquinas" response. Of course all the preliminary metaphysics would eventually be dragged in as argument goes back and forth, in particular the A-T meaning of "cause".

djindra said...

Untenured,

"it is no accident that the majority of prominent philosophers throughout history have been believers."

If we are to believe Leo Strauss, some of those prominent philosophers were only pretending to be believers. And if they were not just pretending, who can blame the non-believers for remaining silent when blasphemy was not a legal option? I believe a better picture of what people actually believed 200 or 2000 years ago is better extrapolated from the fact that freedom of conscience and freedom of the press has finally permitted people to say what they believe rather than what they were permitted to express.

Matko said...

I remember reading Plantinga and Swineburne and company and thinking: "if this is all we've got, then we're in serious trouble".

What did you find problematic in Plantinga's and Swinburne's philosophy?

Martin said...

DJindra,

That's pretty good! You've captured atheist idiocy PERFECTLY!

I still can't find where you worked in the word "Poe" into your comment, though. Is it coded in the paragraph headers?

Anonymous said...

"6:18 Anon" here.

Untenured: This particular strain of atheism stands in need of a purely psychological explanation.

Dr. Feser: So Chuck's been banned from Coyne's blog? Unbelievable.

E.H. Munro: The Coyniacs are certainly nothing if not incredibly rude. I'm in a running debate there with Mike K. Gray and Ben Goren, who have been incredibly rude. Gray, especially, has set some new lows in intellectual dishonesty. I'm more and more convinced that gnuism is a mental illness.

---



Like I said, I'm all but convinced that the majority of them are in fact socially autistic. Again and again, their sneering, dishonest, compulsively argumentative behavior when confronted with someone of a fundamentally opposing viewpoint is in complete discordance with the societal norm on what is and what is not proper social etiquette.

Moreover, many of them are genuinely baffled as to why most members of society find them repellent. The ones that aren't baffled then go on to erroneously conclude that people despise their company not because of their obnoxious behavior, but because of their "lack of belief." The "religiose" and others simply cannot handle the truth, after all.

BenYachov said...

Larry forgive me for not adding you to the list of Rational Atheists!

Mea Culpa!

Eric said...

"The Coyniacs are certainly nothing if not incredibly rude. I'm in a running debate there with Mike K. Gray and Ben Goren, who have been incredibly rude. Gray, especially, has set some new lows in intellectual dishonesty. I'm more and more convinced that gnuism is a mental illness."

Here's one my favorite Mike K. Gray quotes:

"What makes you think that this Paul character ever existed?
Can you point me to any extant contemporary evidence?"

When someone points out that we have, uh, a number of letters that are pretty much universally agreed to be legitimate Pauline letters, he comes back with,

"Where are these “letters in his name”?
All we have at best are 14th century copies of copies.
To illustrate my point: we also have letters by Sherlock Holmes.
There is debate about Paul’s existence, and has been for centuries.
It is not an extreme position for scholars to assume.
I ask, what evidence do you have for Paul’s existence?"

Come on, the McAtheists (had to steal that one, Graham!) are nothing if not entertaining (okay, only some of the time)! I mean, he's only off by what, a thousand years? Interestingly, he later claims: "I have researched this subject since 1969.
I learned Hebrew, Greek, Aramaic, Latin, and Middle English in order to be able to study it in detail.
I have inspected the earliest source document that we have for the New Testament."

Yeah, and the earliest copies of Paul's letters date to the 14th century. And the question, "Did Paul Exist?" is hotly debated among historians today.

Sheesh.

(Incidentally, I have to mention the "but we have hard evidence for the existence of X -- he's on a coin, and we have statues of him" claim. Have these people never been to a museum? I've seen coins with images of Athena in wings with a few statues of her as well. Does it follow that we have hard evidence that Athena exists? I swear, is it just me or do most self described skeptics have manifestly malfunctioning skeptical sensibilities -- they're too skeptical where it isn't warranted, and not skeptical enough where it is!)

BenYachov said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
BenYachov said...

Coyne Banned Chuck?

Why am I not surprised. Meanwhile over at Dangerous idea victor's PhysicistDave is back.

He is in essence djindra with a vicious streak.

I'm having some fun with him.

Chuck said...

Graham,

I think it would be fair to say that I was a McAtheist.

I'd like to be a student of philosophy.

Francis J. Beckwith said...

Djindra writes: "If we are to believe Leo Strauss, some of those prominent philosophers were only pretending to be believers."

But I say, Leo Strauss was pretending when he wrote that. Now someone can go tell a friend, "If you are to believe Francis Beckwith, Leo Strauss was only pretending when he said that some prominent philosophers were only pretending to be believers."

Counter-stipulations are loads of fun. Why? Because I said so.

Chuck said...

Dr. Coyne never offered an explanation for my inability to post at his blog but, every one of my posts now gets stuck in the "waiting to be moderated" section and never surfaces.

When I asked him to frame Dr. Feser's appeal to investigating Aquinas with charity I was shouted down. When I suggested that if a Thomist suggest we are framing the TCA incorrectly then shouldn't academic standards demand we investigate it from the Thomist's point of view, I was accused of invoking "The Courtier's Reply". There are a lot of knee-jerk magic bullets over there that seem to keep people comfortable in their anger but, for me, become dangerous ground for serious hubris.

I've been foolish and prideful enough in my life. I'd like to not leverage in-group rage to harden those potential aspects of my character.

E.H. Munro said...

"Like I said, I'm all but convinced that the majority of them are in fact socially autistic. Again and again, their sneering, dishonest, compulsively argumentative behavior when confronted with someone of a fundamentally opposing viewpoint is in complete discordance with the societal norm on what is and what is not proper social etiquette. "

Heh, you might enjoy my entry into the Dawkins/Skepchick flame war.

http://ehmsnbc.com/2011/07/19/the-new-atheist-guide-to-women/

"When someone points out that we have, uh, a number of letters that are pretty much universally agreed to be legitimate Pauline letters, he comes back with, 'Where are these “letters in his name”? All we have at best are 14th century copies of copies.' "

Eric, that's the very debate I was involved in. He got outraged when I pointed out that he was off by 10-12 centuries, and no matter how many times I point him to P46, as the oldest existing copy of Paul's epistles he keeps trying to assure his gnutarded friends that I really mean P52, and I'm just too stupid to realise it. Oh and he also claimed to have personally translated P46, then he obviously googled it and realised just how stupid he looked and vanished for a couple of days. I love the fact that it didn't occur to the gnutard to actually google the document before pronouncing his expertise upon it.

Chuck said...

Coyne, Dawkins, Hitchens and Harris fail to communicate to their devotees that Harvard, Cambridge, Oxford and Stanford demand rigorous thinking prior to coming to a conclusion. It is a shame that they have not communicated the process by which they've come to their conclusions to atheists but, it seems, have only endorsed an attitude towards beliefs they don't hold.

Mr. Green said...

Anonymous said...
"6:18 Anon" here.


Hey, folks, you don't need to be anonymous — just pick a nickname and post under "Name/URL". It doesn't have to be real, and you don't have to log in or anything, but at least then we wouldn't have scores of competing anonymities. I can never keep all y'all straight.

Daniel Smith said...

Mr Veale: "A large number [of gnu-atheists] seem to have migrated to atheism from evangelical or fundamentalist backgrounds. As an evangelical (who was raised fundamentalist) I can see many family resemblances."

Now that you mention it, I can see some resemblances too (I have a similar background.)

I know that in fundamentalist camps "scholarship" is seen as "the enemy of revelation" so most academics are looked down upon as "unspiritual" people who use their minds, rather than their spirits, to understand God.

It follows that one who is indoctrinated in such teaching will, after encountering real scholarship, begin to vehemently resent those who "lied" to him.

It's probably a short leap from their to gnu-atheism.

Thanks Mr Veale, for that insight.

Jinzang said...

Having argued with skeptics many times in the past, my take is the are bright but insecure people (usually, but not always, young men) who cover over their insecurity with bluster and criticism of others. The rudeness is partly because the arguments of young men are usually rough, but also an attempt to dominate others.

Chuck said...

I wonder if a reading list in Logical Positivism and its subsequent failings would inject some humility into the Followers of Coyne (FOC). They seem to hold to a hard-line LP stance without realizing some of the problems that stance was shown to have.

Crude said...

The funny thing is, re: Coyne, that he may represent the moderate end of the Cult of Gnu spectrum.

Recall that Coyne and Myers went at it, on the grounds that Coyne believed there could in principle be evidence for the existence of God/gods, and Myers disagreed.

Also recall that up until that point one refrain from Coyne was that atheists were rational because they were open to evidence contrary to their positions and could in potential be persuaded on those terms.

djindra said...

Francis J. Beckwith,

"But I say, Leo Strauss was pretending when he wrote that."

It could also be that he was flat wrong about that as well as just about everything else. But he was correct in pointing out it's hard to know the motives and true beliefs of people who are not free to express themselves openly. There was a time -- Aquinas' time, for example -- when being openly unorthodox was a capital offense. Who can know what people thought in such an environment?

Francis J. Beckwith said...

djindra writes: "But he was correct in pointing out it's hard to know the motives and true beliefs of people who are not free to express themselves openly."

It's even harder when they write down the opposite of what you think they are saying.

I though you unbelievers were skeptical about mind-reading and the occult.

djindra said...

Martin,

No, I'm serious (most of the time). I really don't accept the conventional "wisdom" on quite a few things. I really don't accept the assertion that the proposed linear "chain" of causation exists. Nobody can point to the first link. If A is the first cause, and B is the first effect, where is that A-B link? In fact, where is B? Until we know B we cannot possibly know if B needs an A. The harder we look, the more complex the interconnections of matter become. How do we find a linear chain in that mess? Why would we expect one is there? I really do believe -- if we speak metaphorically of a chain -- it makes more sense to speak of a bicycle chain which loops back on itself. There is no first link. The chain goes round forever. It never started moving. It always moved.

djindra said...

Francis J. Beckwith,

"It's even harder when they write down the opposite of what you think they are saying."

You assume that's what they did. Maybe you just didn't read carefully enough. If you have an issue with that theory you should take it up with Straussians. I have no love for Straussians and their esoterics. But the question still remains open, How do we know the motivations and true beliefs of people who are not free to express themselves?

"I thought you unbelievers were skeptical about mind-reading and the occult."

I'm pointing out the built-in bias of the evidence. One doesn't need mind reading to make note of that.

Eric said...

"Oh and he also claimed to have personally translated P46, then he obviously googled it and realised just how stupid he looked and vanished for a couple of days. I love the fact that it didn't occur to the gnutard to actually google the document before pronouncing his expertise upon it."

A friend of mine came up with a perfect phrase for people who use google in on-line discussions to try to come across as more learned than they actually are: "Yeah, Jones -- he's not actually smart, he's only google smart."

Josh said...

Djindra:
"I really don't accept the assertion that the proposed linear "chain" of causation exists. Nobody can point to the first link."

For God's sake (literally) it's a chain per se not per accidens.

"I'm pointing out the built-in bias of the evidence. One doesn't need mind reading to make note of that."

Reading with the hermeneutic of suspicion is a dangerous game...it's impossible to stop it once it's started the way you seem to apply it. Probably best to take people at their word, until they show their biases to be pig-headed and obfuscatory, like yours have been.

Mark Duch said...

In all my time reading this blog, it seems that djindra has not convinced any person of any proposition... not ever... Am I wrong? I am just amazed at his stamina.

BenYachov said...

djindra

Has convinced me I was right. When I said "Reasoning is a learned skill. Just because you deny gods doesn't automatically make you rational."

Will said...

Untenured wrote: 'it is no accident that the majority of prominent philosophers throughout history have been believers'.

Vallicella's post draws attention to this oft-downplayed fact:

http://maverickphilosopher.typepad.com/maverick_philosopher/2011/07/were-the-greatest-philosophers-theists-or-atheists.html

Even if we were to accept Strauss' view regarding Descartes and Kant, the theists still win. And Augustine isn't even on the list.

Hard luck, djindra.

dguller said...

Knowing all the ways that human beings that can unconsciously lie to themselves, misperceive what is happening around them, misremember important events in the past, make errors of reasoning and interpretation, and so on, that any ancient documents should be taken with a huge grain of salt? And given this, how can one devote oneself to the sayings of an ancient figure, in a way that one’s eternal afterlife depends upon it, when those sayings are so fraught with uncertainty regarding their historical accuracy?

Anonymous said...

dguller,

The authenticity of the NT was never in question before. You can see the works of the early Church Fathers for instance, and their testimony in favour of the validity of the gospels here: http://www.churchinhistory.org/

As for 'eternal afterlife', surely an atheist rejects that? I would think the whole point would be moot anyway for atheists.

dguller said...

Anonymous:

Even looking at the Church Fathers, it seems that in the transmission of information, there were so many points at which (un)willing distortion or fabrication could have occurred that the farther in the past we go, the more skeptical we should be about the veracity of the information in question. And this is even more so in the ancient world when the physical evidence is so limited.

It would be best if you knew where I am coming from.

I have read a great deal of psychological literature about cognitive biases and distortions that we are mostly completely unaware of and thus ignore in our regular attempts to understand ourselves and the world. Some of the books that I have read are:

“The Invisible Gorilla” by Christopher Chabris

“Don’t Believe Everything You Think” by Thomas Kida

“Mistakes Were Made (but not by me)” by Carol Tavris

“The Black Swan” by Nassim Taleb

I think that if you read these books, then you will see that the number of limitations that we operate under that end up distorting our perception, memory, and intellectual inferences are so numerous that it is inevitable that we make a number of mistakes, especially about matters that are emotionally salient to ourselves. And given these facts about human psychology, and the limited physical evidence in the ancient world, all of which is quite open to a number of divergent interpretations without any hope of elimination down to a single unified theory, we are left with a difficult situation when it comes to belief.

I am not a scholar of ancient texts, but I recall that the earliest Christian texts were recorded decades after the death of Jesus. A lot of distortions can happen in a few decades, and without a huge number of texts from the period, we just do not know if the sample that we currently have, or even that the Church Fathers had, was representative. In other words, if all they had was the interpretation of a subset of early Christians, then they would base their teachings upon a biased sample, which may not even represent what Jesus actually said.

In such situations, I would advice extreme caution and skepticism, and would recommend not basing any important life decisions upon them. After all, sometimes it is better to have no map than the wrong map.

djindra said...

Mark Duch,

"In all my time reading this blog, it seems that djindra has not convinced any person of any proposition... not ever..."

How would you know? None of us is omniscient.

Besides, I'm not naive. People are not swayed very often by mere debate -- either direction.

Tim (Random Observations) said...

"Rosenhouse works himself into an adolescent dudgeon..."

Ed: I agree with your core arguments, but your rhetoric here is completely false. I just finished reading Rosenhouse's response -- which, like you, I find perplexing -- but I see nothing like "an adolescent dudgeon" in it. His response is actually kinder and has a more even tone than yours.

"Worked himself into an adolescent dudgeon" is also a truth-claim... one which appears false and unfair, as far as I can see.

Great quotes, though. Thank you.

Steve Smith said...

Grow up or shut up

Edward Feser: You wrote that, "What defenders of the cosmological argument do say is that what comes into existence has a cause … Defenders of the cosmological argument also provide arguments for these claims about causation. You may disagree with the claims–though if you think they are falsified by modern physics, you are sorely mistaken".

If you are correct that the cosmological argument is consistent with our knowledge about the real world, please tell us the cause of the photon's and W boson's creation in electron repulsion and Beta decay. As seen in these Feynman diagrams, both particles "come into existence"—what caused them?

You say that "defenders of the cosmological argument also provide arguments for these claims about causation", but I haven't seen any such arguments. Would you please provide a citation or terse summary?

I have read in your book Aquinas where you write on p. 113, "even a simple physical phenomenon like the attraction between two particles would suffice for his (Aquinas’) purposes. What he is saying is rather that it is impossible that every apparent causal regularity can be attributed to chance, for chance itself presupposes causal regularity."

Is this your argument for claims about causation in physics? If so, your argument is invalid because the statement in bold is wrong: physical theories compute chance probabilities without presupposing causal regularity. I would be happy to provide you with many technical and popular references explaining why this is so if you are not already familiar with the subject.

Do you really have any arguments for claims about causation in physics? What causes the particles in the Feynman diagrams shown above?

dguller said...

Steve:

I have ordered Feynman's QED, and his Lectures in Physics, as well as a few other books in particle physics and quantum mechanics. Hopefully, I'll acquire a better understanding of these issues through them.

What texts would you recommend to better understand your viewpoint regarding the necessary lack of antecedent causal conditoins that result in the quantum phenomena that you describe?

From my standpoint, this is either an ontological or epistemological issue. Either there are no causal antecedents despite the fact that there are a number of real events happening around the quantum event, or there are no causal antecedents that we know of. Certainly, the latter would be consistent with the former, but also with the idea that there are causal antecedents, but we are limited in discovering them.

I am more inclined to that idea, but if there are aspects of quantum theory that necessarily imply that no matter what is happening around the fermion in question none of it has any causal impact upon the fermion's subsequent decay, then I would love to understand it, if I can.

Eric said...

""Worked himself into an adolescent dudgeon" is also a truth-claim... one which appears false and unfair, as far as I can see."

I took that to be a bit of a joke, given Rosenhouse's tendency to (mis)characterize Professor Feser's posts as "temper tantrums." Since Rosenhouse made use of that sort of patently ridiculous rhetoric first, the appropriate target of this sort of criticism here is him.

Josh said...

"From my standpoint, this is either an ontological or epistemological issue. Either there are no causal antecedents despite the fact that there are a number of real events happening around the quantum event, or there are no causal antecedents that we know of. Certainly, the latter would be consistent with the former, but also with the idea that there are causal antecedents, but we are limited in discovering them.

I am more inclined to that idea, but if there are aspects of quantum theory that necessarily imply that no matter what is happening around the fermion in question none of it has any causal impact upon the fermion's subsequent decay, then I would love to understand it, if I can."


Seconded, wholeheartedly.

One Brow said...

djindra said...
I really don't accept the assertion that the proposed linear "chain" of causation exists.

One part that you should discard is the notion of "linear" entirely. Causal connections form lattices, which can only look like chains for very brief snippets. As you go backward and forward (whether in time or in immediate motive force) from any link you start to reach branaches that become wider than they are deep.

One Brow said...

Josh said...
Djindra:
"I really don't accept the assertion that the proposed linear "chain" of causation exists. Nobody can point to the first link."

For God's sake (literally) it's a chain per se not per accidens.


Which does not alter the absence of a first link in any way. Per se relationships also stretch back with no beginning or ending.

Reading with the hermeneutic of suspicion is a dangerous game...it's impossible to stop it once it's started the way you seem to apply it.

Which makes it dangerous, how?

Probably best to take people at their word, until they show their biases to be pig-headed and obfuscatory, like yours have been.

How refreshing to compare the hateful, insulting rhetoric over at Coyn'es blog to the rhetoric of the commentators here.

Anonymous said...

@Steve and others like him:

there are about ten different physical interpretations of the mathematics of quantum mechanics. some of these are fully deterministic, so that any indeterminism is purely in your mind - it's just epistemic. it's just your ignorance of the determining conditions. but they actually are there. so even on a quantum level, quantum events are not proven counter examples to causal determinism.

just sayin'.

dguller said...

Anonymous:

But then the problem is that there is no certainty in a key premise of the cosmological argument. It is possible that there are quantum events that are uncaused, because there are interpretations of quantum mechanics that allow for this possibility, and those interpretations are consistent with the best models and scientific evidence. And if it is possible that an entity A can go from potentially X to actually X without the intervention of an actual entity B, then the cosmological argument falls apart. At most, it can show that it is possible that there is a First Cause, which is something, but far short of what is necessary to demonstrate God’s existence as a necessary consequence of the most basic premises about reality itself, premises that are supposed to be intuitively obvious and indubitable.

BenYachov said...

@One Brow

>How refreshing to compare the hateful, insulting rhetoric over at Coyn'es blog to the rhetoric of the commentators here.

FYI djindra is a notorious troll here.
It's common knowledge. Just as I am a notorious hot head.

BenYachov said...

@One Brow

dguller, Chuck, Steve and Larry are Atheists that have been welcomed here because of their honesty and genuine desire to learn.

Also they don't agree with us which is not a requirement.

djindra OTOH has been rocking a creepy staker vibe and some weird paranoia about Politics.

Ask anybody? He has no fans here not even among the Atheists.

Brian said...

dguller,

In the first place, I do not think there is much reason to approach the New Testament with suspicion. Modern biblical scholarship is shaped by early 19th and early-20th century Protestantism, and liberal Protestantism at that. Needless to say, it is scholarship with an anti-Catholic bias - it isolates the Bible from the Church, and so, in the Church's place, it developed alternative interpretative mechanisms. This lead to very novel scholarship on the New Testament. For example, a few of St. Paul's epistles were dismissed as "früh Katholizismus" or "early Catholicism" because of their "developed" ecclesiology. The letters were determined not to have been written by Paul and to have been written much later. But of course Protestants outside the visible and hierarchal Church would think Christianity does not involve a visible organization and hierarchy! It must not have been written by St. Paul! No!

Of course, the Protestants are not wholly to blame. Modern scholarship is also shaped by Enlightenment presuppositions which have their own set of problems.

So, modern biblical scholarship aside, I do not think there is any reason to seriously doubt the NT as history.

As for a pessimistic epistemic outlook in general, eh. Unless that can be shown that is the case here, I do not think that it is a serious notion that should paralyze from historical judgment.

All that being said, following St. Augustine, Catholics do not ultimately believe in the Gospel because of historical argument, but because of the authority of the Catholic Church.

"I should not believe the Gospel except as moved by the authority of the Catholic Church. - St. Augustine

Josh said...

@OneBrow:

So you don't get per se causation too then? Ok

The hermeneutic of suspicion applied to anything and everything without a thought of its application, is just, well, total skepticism. I say it's better to take the believers at their words, in the absence of compelling evidence to the contrary.

Also, my little jabs at djindra pale in comparison to the stuff they are hawking over at Coyne's blog. Here, it's just good fun.

djindra said...

Josh,

"For God's sake (literally) it's a chain per se not per accidens."

Yes, that's the issue. Does one start with a hypothetical God or start with existing nature?

"Reading with the hermeneutic of suspicion is a dangerous game."

It's a lot more than interpretation of text. The texts I'm referring to were likely never written because they would have condemned the authors.

"Probably best to take people at their word"

If you want to be naive that's exactly what you should do.

Steve Smith said...

What texts would you recommend

There's an embarrassment of riches: textbooks, popular books, open courseware, and more. I'll recommend a few:

Textbook: Zee, Quantum Field Theory in a Nutshell. A graduate textbook, but a highly approachable and conversational one. You can skip over the equations on the first pass and just read the narrative. Especially recommended is the experimentally-motivated and commonsense argument for the abstract and bizarre path integral approach, which leads to the issues we've been discussing. It's also breathtaking to see in Zee's chapter "Field Theory Redux" nearly the entirety of known physical existence laid out and explained in a page and a half and four equations. Then in the chapter "The Magnetic Moment of the Electron", Zee lays out two of the greatest contributions in the history of physics in three pages.

I started with a technical reference to make a larger point: these epochal contributions to knowledge weren't created by any emotional attachments to some hoped-for metaphysical prejudices about reality. New knowledge is created by the simple act of understanding things like the implications of the double split experiment (path integrals) or formulating a model for the hitherto mysterious measurement that a unit of spin angular momentum interacts with a magnetic field twice as much as a unit of orbital angular momentum (Dirac's equation), then following the truth where it leads. Reality has nothing to do with theological adherence to arbitrary and irrelevant things like "four causes" or "final causes".

More references:

Feynman and Weinberg, Elementary Particles and the Laws of Physics. This is a nice book of their Dirac lectures, which are available on youtube.

Popular books: Both Gleick's and especially Krauss's biography of Feynman have nice popular treatments of the physics as well. Both are available in part at Google books—Krauss explains faster-than-light travel of virtual particles on page 133.

I also see that there's a huge amount of online material at iTunes U and youtube, such as Stanford's New Revolutions in Particle Physics. Search iTunes U for more and find out for yourselves which ones are worthwhile.

djindra said...

BenYachov said...

"djindra OTOH has been rocking a creepy staker vibe"

It'd say that looks like paranoia. I'm stalking the truth, that's all.

"...and some weird paranoia about Politics."

That's plain dumb. You continue to deny politics has anything to do with this stuff when it's not even a secret. There is no conspiracy I'm trying to flush out. The politics is freely admitted.

djindra said...

One Brow,

"One part that you should discard is the notion of 'linear' entirely. Causal connections form lattices, which can only look like chains for very brief snippets."

I agree. I was trying to stick to their metaphor.

Mr. Green said...

Steve Smith: please tell us the cause of the photon's and W boson's creation in electron repulsion and Beta decay.

πρώτη ύλη. (Though other answers could be given, if you can clarify your question.)

You seem to be claiming that Thomism is inconsistent with the results of physics. Could you please (a) explain the difference between Thomism and your view (not all differences, any one you like); (b) show how the predictions of your view disagree with those of the Thomistic position; and (c) point us towards the experiment that agrees with your view but not with Thomism. I think that would help people understand exactly what the problem is supposed to be. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Wow. So, at the risk of being dismissed as a "irrationally hateful"...

Several philosophers of religion have, to the best of my knowledge, absolutely and completely destroyed the cosmological argument. Two have been named by Rosenhouse, I'll add another: Sobel and his book "Logic and Theism."

(If there is someone who has managed to get around the argumentation presented in these books, please enlighten me.)

Rosenhouse has pointed this out. As a result, we have this post, which is barely more than a long ad hominem. Even the title is an ad hominem. There is nary an argument anywhere.

"You are so full of hate that you can't properly understand the brilliance of our argumentation, so I will ignore the entirety of literature published in last thirty years" is hardly impressive, Mr. Feser.

BenYachov said...

>That's plain dumb. You continue to deny politics has anything to do with this stuff when it's not even a secret. There is no conspiracy I'm trying to flush out. The politics is freely admitted.

I hope you at least wash your tin foil hat once in a while.

Anonymous said...

Anon,

"You are so full of hate that you can't properly understand the brilliance of our argumentation, so I will ignore the entirety of literature published in last thirty years" is hardly impressive, Mr. Feser.


A quick search through this blog would have disabused you of making such a completely vacuous and hopelessly smug post. Prof. Feser is well-aware of Jordan Howard Sobel and his book, Logic and Theism.


If anything, you run the risk of being primarily dismissed not for your "hatred" or "irrationality," but for your self-satisfied dishonesty.

One Brow said...

BenYachov said...
FYI djindra is a notorious troll here. ... Ask anybody? He has no fans here not even among the Atheists.

So, it's OK to be rude to djindra because no one likes him and he has weird ideas. Very refreshing indeed.

One Brow said...

Josh said...
So you don't get per se causation too then? Ok

I am open to correction, Josh. Did you have a better correction to offer than some cast-off remark?

A couple of years ago, Dr. Feser challenged me to read TLS. So I did. I read through it three times, in fact, the third time taking careful notes, and wrote up a thirteen-part review/reposnse to it. Since then, I haven't gotten a challenge from Dr. Feser, so outside of Thomas Cothran, there's been no one to show me where I misunderstood things from the book. Perhaps you could show me? TLS even has it's own label so you can access all the posts.

That said, based on Dr. Feser's description of what he actually means by per se, using actual physics as a grounding, the only conclusion is that the causation pattern is latticed and that it has neither end nor begining within spacetime.

The hermeneutic of suspicion applied to anything and everything without a thought of its application, is just, well, total skepticism. I say it's better to take the believers at their words, in the absence of compelling evidence to the contrary.

Actually, I'm one of the more trusting people you will ever meet. With the exception of Nigerian millionaires, I'll believe just about anyone is telling me the truth as they see it. If someone says they saw a ghost or a 700-foot-high Jesus, I accept they are telling me what they genuinely believe.

Also, my little jabs at djindra pale in comparison to the stuff they are hawking over at Coyne's blog. Here, it's just good fun.

Of course, the good-fun insults. They are so very different from the not-good-fun insults. Now, while I have not seen them, you can no doubt point out many good-fun insult djindra tosses your way in return, right? Or, is this one-sided good fun?

Gail F said...

I am very much enjoying this blog, which I discovered only last week. Having been a casual atheist myself once (not the sort who ever cared enough to read the arguments either way ) because I equated religion with fanaticism, it is interesting to have come full circle and, as a serious and intellectual Catholic, come to appreciate thoughtful atheists -- after having associated them with fanaticism.

Djindra's posts remind me of why I had such a poor opinion of atheists for so long. His/her absolute refusal to understand anything anyone is saying makes me wonder if it isn't just a pen name for someone having fun. Here is my favorite quote this thread:

"I really don't accept the assertion that the proposed linear "chain" of causation exists. Nobody can point to the first link. If A is the first cause, and B is the first effect, where is that A-B link? In fact, where is B? Until we know B we cannot possibly know if B needs an A."

That is such a beautiful example of how weird thinking can screw you up! And yes, I realize that serious philosophers have said similar things. Yeah, maybe there is no chain of causation. Maybe everything just happens on its own. But something tells me if I crash my car into Djindra's, he/she is going to sue me for CAUSING damage, and my argument that there is no chain of causation -- and that B (damage to Djindra's car) does not need an A (my hitting it with my car) is not going to get me anywhere.

Gail F said...

dguller: You consistently misunderstand causation.

"But then the problem is that there is no certainty in a key premise of the cosmological argument. It is possible that there are quantum events that are uncaused, because there are interpretations of quantum mechanics that allow for this possibility, and those interpretations are consistent with the best models and scientific evidence. And if it is possible that an entity A can go from potentially X to actually X without the intervention of an actual entity B, then the cosmological argument falls apart. At most, it can show that it is possible that there is a First Cause, which is something, but far short of what is necessary to demonstrate God’s existence as a necessary consequence of the most basic premises about reality itself, premises that are supposed to be intuitively obvious and indubitable."

If there is a law that governs something, then that law demonstrates there IS a cause. You seem to be looking for a mechanistic cause -- the equivalent of a lever or a button -- not a metaphysical one. If "an entity A can go from potentially X to actually X without the intervention of an actual entity B," the cosmological argument does not fall apart.

As far as whether the existence of a First Cause proves that the First Cause must be God, I am not qualified to make that argument. I have studied it a bit and it is very difficult. It's not the sort of thing one refutes or proves in a sentence or two. Aristotle, as far as I understand it, was content with proving a First Cause and did not proceed to saying the First Cause was God.

Josh said...

"So, it's OK to be rude to djindra because no one likes him and he has weird ideas. Very refreshing indeed."

No, it's ok to be rude because he trolls, denies he trolls, and then trolls again. There was a time when he was genuinely engaged with and treated with courtesy.

But I'll tell you what. So you feel better, I'll just ignore him instead.

"That said, based on Dr. Feser's description of what he actually means by per se, using actual physics as a grounding, the only conclusion is that the causation pattern is latticed and that it has neither end nor begining within spacetime."

I'll look at your blog. I actually am interested in understanding objections, though most of the contributors here are much more informed and able to meet your own particular ones, I'm sure. Looking at this bit, I doubt that the notion of per se or essentially ordered causation is grounded in physics. I would think this is a metaphysical term.

djindra said...

Gail F,

"Yeah, maybe there is no chain of causation. Maybe everything just happens on its own. Maybe everything just happens on its own. But something tells me if I crash my car into Djindra's, he/she is going to sue me for CAUSING damage, and my argument that there is no chain of causation -- and that B (damage to Djindra's car) does not need an A (my hitting it with my car) is not going to get me anywhere."

This is a beautiful example of why I cannot trust true believers with text. Your characterization of me is the opposite of what I've been saying. I don't deny causality. I argue it cannot be reduced to an A-B-C linear sequence floating in a void -- a pure mechanized, or billiard ball sequence. It cannot be wrapped in a tidy little package like it is here. That denies the messiness of nature. Your car hitting my car may have "started" with the fact you got up late -- that happened because you slept poorly -- that because you drank too much. And that intersected with another sequence that caused my car to be in front of yours, and the fact that some other car switched lanes. And these intersected with a chain that involved laying the highway pavement, and the traffic slowdown two miles back and Henry Ford, and the discovery of how to fashion metal. It's real messy.

BTW, I'm male. djindra stands for Don Jindra, my real name.

djindra said...

Josh,

"There was a time when he was genuinely engaged with and treated with courtesy."

No, there was not. But I don't expect courtesy from dogmatic people so I'm not complaining. I find it funny that people accuse me of "trolling." That simply means you do not like people to challenge the dogma.

Anonymous said...

Pedagogy fail, Feser.

Gnu'Atheists are moral dirt bags. They are Fundamentalists without god belief.

And Ben Yachov is a moral dirt bag. Give as good as you get.

Anonymous said...

As far as Rosenhouse and Coyne are concerned, I am all but convinced that they both suffer from either Asperger's syndrome or, more probably, social autism. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised at all if the preponderance of these "New Atheists" turn out to be socially autistic individuals.

Oh, I guess you guys are the classy ones.

dguller said...

Gail:

>> If there is a law that governs something, then that law demonstrates there IS a cause. You seem to be looking for a mechanistic cause -- the equivalent of a lever or a button -- not a metaphysical one. If "an entity A can go from potentially X to actually X without the intervention of an actual entity B," the cosmological argument does not fall apart.

But God operates according to laws, and yet he is uncaused. That seems to imply that lawful regularity does not necessarily mean that there is an underlying set of causes.

Anonymous said...

@ Anon July 24, 2011 6:18 AM, I wouldn't be surprised at all if the preponderance of these "New Atheists" turn out to be socially autistic individuals.

Paul Dirac was almost certainly autistic and an atheist (read Graham Farmelo's biography of Dirac, The Strangest Man).

Yet Dirac's understanding of the universe rank at the top of the greatest scientific contributions ever made.

Name just one contribution that Aquinas or any theologian ever made. There aren't any, not a single one. Being autistic or not isn't the problem. Being guided by faith is.

Steve Smith said...

please tell us the cause of the photon's and W boson's creation in electron repulsion and Beta decay. πρώτη ύλη.

Writing something in Greek doesn't make an answer profound or correct. There is no more need for anything called πρώτη ύλη in science than there is for ὁμοούσιος.

point us towards the experiment that agrees with [quantum field theory]

Sure. All of them. All experiments confirm the validity of existing quantum field theories to the precision we can obtain with existing technology. The predictions from these theories are based on the creation of particles whose amplitude at superluminal speeds is nonzero.

I'll ask again: What causes the particles in the Feynman diagrams shown above?

E.H. Munro said...

"Name just one contribution that Aquinas or any theologian ever made. There aren't any, not a single one."

The Aquinian model of consciousness, the Big Bang theory, even to the proto-variant. Liebniz & Newton invented calculus, let's not forget Descartes, Pascal, Maxwell, Copernicus. In short, contrary to what Dickie Dawkins tells you, it's a pretty extensive list. But that shouldn't be terribly surprising, Dawkins is a religious fundamentalist and his first and only concern is evangelizing the world, truth is a distant second for him (outside biology).

dguller said...

It doesn't seem that anyone can provide a convincing explanation to Steve's question. That should be a huge wake-up call to those who reject his claims.

Josh said...

dguller,

I don't think Steve has the warrant to claim that the existence of the W boson comes ex nihilo. If people are really unable to answer the question, then it seems we have to judge it either an epistemic limitation etc. as you yourself pointed out in the other thread.

Perhaps Steve would accept "we don't know, but your information is not sufficient either to deny that this could be merely an epistemic limitation." He has to understand that an inability to answer the question doesn't warrant the argument from ignorance that he seems to want to make against the key premise of the CA.

dguller said...

Josh:

I would be fine with that response, actually.

And I stand by my claim that this response does undermine the cosmological argument by including doubt into a key premise.

hello said...

are they really coming ex nihilo???????????
Doesn't that mean there shouldn't be any reason why some other material composition or immaterial thing couldn't come into existence.

Am I understanding something wrong for I'm not educated or qualified at all!

Josh said...

"And I stand by my claim that this response does undermine the cosmological argument by including doubt into a key premise."

I think until someone more qualified comes with a definitive answer, you're right. It probably does weaken the claim.

BenYachov said...

So the choices are 1) We don't know?
epistemic limitation etc.

2)Atheism-of-the-Gaps: It came about un-caused for no reason at all.

3) God-of-the-gaps: God did it.

Of course as a Thomist I am forced to choose #1 even though #3 is possible.

While #2 I would most likely employ Anscombe counter arguments as defeaters of Hume.

Haiying said...

Hi all. I recently finished TLS and am new to this blog.

These might seem like idiotic questions, but at what point, if any, does physical explanation stop, and how can we ever know when that point has arrived? Put another way, when does the classical theist's "Pure Actuality" come into play, and how can we possibly know when it does?

What I mean is this: Say we get to a deeper understanding of the structure of physical reality and are able to determine the physical cause of the W boson that Steve keeps bringing up. We've overcome one epistemic limitation.

But then we're faced with another epistemic limitation. What's the physical cause of that physical cause? After all as it stands it seems to be uncaused. Being the curious, dutiful mathematical physicists we are, we keep up our scientific and mathematical endeavors and eventually find the physical cause. But then another epistemic limitation rears its head. What's the physical cause of that physical cause? And so on ad infinitum.

It seems as though we'll always be stuck with what appears to be some brute, "uncaused physical event" and will always be stuck in the process of determining what are the physical causes of physical events insofar as we keep delving deeper into the structure of physical reality. In other words, it seems as though we'll always be stuck with an epistemic limitation.


When does "Pure Actuality" come into the picture? More specifically, when will we ever know, or how can we ever know, that, "hey, we've bottomed out as far as physical explanation goes...the grand scientific project of particle/quantum physics is now over...from here on out it's the supernatural that's causing everything and holding the physical world together"?


Sorry if that was messy.

E.H. Munro said...

Hey, hey, hey, mister. Don't you go getting all logical. This is a debate about god. You're supposed to be calling the other guy an idiot...

(I'm not a huge fan of the argument from ignorance for the same reasons atheists aren't when theistic fundies are trying to prop up their mechanistic notions of deity in the Internet Wars of Religion™, the fact that we don't know today doesn't at all imply that there's no explanation/cause.)

Josh said...

So, reading QED (more like skimming it), and I get to p.140 where beta decay is discussed, where I think Steve is getting his challenge. I don't see the philosophical issue very clearly.

"When a neutron disintegrates into a proton (a process called
"beta decay"), the only thing that changes is the 'flavor' of one quark--from d to u--with an electron and an anti-neutrino coming out. This process
happens relatively slowly, so an intermediate particle (called a "W-intermediate-boson") with a very high mass (about 80,000 MeV) and a charge of -1 was proposed"


So, is the question what causes this 'W-intermediate-boson' that is a thing inferred to exist by physicists to explain the phenomena?

dguller said...

Haiying:

Great question. I don’t have any good answer, because I think that due to our limitations that there will always be a point beyond which we cannot pass when it comes to our understanding of reality, whether due to a lack of cognitive capacity or due to limited practical resources (i.e. answering the question would be too expensive, for example). And I think that we have to leave it at that, and just admit that we are utterly ignorant of what happens beyond that limit. Perhaps just beyond it, there is Pure Act, or maybe there are a number of other steps before we reach Pure Act. The bottom line is that we are ignorant, and should just admit that we are ignorant. Nothing wrong with uncertainty.

Haiying said...

At present, I think I agree with you dguller. Of course, if you're right, the more interesting question here is, "What ramifications does having a perpetually incomplete picture of the physical world have for cosmological arguments, specifically those of St. Thomas Aquinas?"

dguller said...

Haiying:

>> "What ramifications does having a perpetually incomplete picture of the physical world have for cosmological arguments, specifically those of St. Thomas Aquinas?"

None that are good, I’m afraid. If there is always a limit, whether ontological or epistemological, then there is always the possibility of an uncaused event, and so there is always the chance that a key premise of the cosmological argument is false, which undermines the argument itself.

Steve Smith said...

There is a response to the question of what caused the photon that I have attempted to emphasize, but appears that no one here yet appreciates:

The question is meaningless.

It is meaningless because the "cause" has no meaning in a context where particles can pop into existence and take any path through space-time, faster-than-light, and forward or backward in time.

It is the meaningless of the question that should really give defenders of the cosmological argument pause, not the fact that we don't know the answer.

By constraining yourselves in a bubble in which only Thomist explanations are allowed, you have separated yourselves from reality as we actually know it to be. This is the essence of the atheist criticism of theology: it has nothing to do with reality. Attempting to understand reality with Thomist theology is no different than attempting to fly an airplane with Cargo Cult magic rituals. In attempting to answer the question "what caused the photon", you may as well be fighting a Byzantine civil war over the distinction between the Homoiousians and the Homoousians (!), or between Big-Endians and the Little-Endians.

Like your predecessors, you have created these difficulties for yourselves by insisting on adherence to explanations without any connection to the real world.

Josh said...

Ok Steve,

"The question is meaningless.

It is meaningless because the "cause" has no meaning in a context where particles can pop into existence and take any path through space-time, faster-than-light, and forward or backward in time."


I'm sitting here reading the source material, trying to answer what I thought was a serious objection. "The question is meaningless" is not a serious objection. You posed the question as some "gotcha" type thing, I guess. If the question is meaningless, then the question is meaningless! It doesn't mean you get to arbitrarily assign your desired conclusion to the "meaninglessness" of the question, any more than a believer does. If a question or concept is meaningless, then it doesn't further serious inquiry.

One Brow said...

Gail F said...
His/her absolute refusal to understand anything anyone is saying ...

Thank you for the irony.

Yeah, maybe there is no chain of causation. Maybe everything just happens on its own.

Actually, in this very thread djindra pointed out his primary disagreement is with the description of causal interactions as being a chain, when the depiction of a lattice is more appropriate. That is the opposite of throwing out causation altogether, it instead multiplies causes connected to any one change.

One Brow said...

Josh said...
No, it's ok to be rude because he trolls, denies he trolls, and then trolls again. There was a time when he was genuinely engaged with and treated with courtesy.

You mean he called people names? Or, he just refused to accept the common paradigm?

But I'll tell you what. So you feel better, I'll just ignore him instead.

It won't bother me if you let off a string of four-letter words directed at him, or me. However, it may make you feel better.

I'll look at your blog. I actually am interested in understanding objections, though most of the contributors here are much more informed and able to meet your own particular ones, I'm sure. Looking at this bit, I doubt that the notion of per se or essentially ordered causation is grounded in physics. I would think this is a metaphysical term.

It absolutely is a metaphysical term. However, how can metaphysics prove anything about reality unless it is grounded in accurate physics? Without such grounding, it becomes pretty formal arguments that have no applicaton to reality.

One Brow said...

Anonymous said...
Pedagogy fail, Feser.
...
And Ben Yachov is a moral dirt bag. Give as good as you get.


Spewing insults with no meaningful content is taking, not giving. In fact, it's taking something not given by the other person. YOu are a thief of images.

Josh said...

One Brow,

Djindra brought out the same arguments against causation in Feser's post of July 6; people responded by trying to clarify per se causation as opposed to per accidens, and his responses didn't even try to address what they were saying, either out of genuine misunderstanding or willful ignorance. So there's no point in anyone repeating themselves ad infinitum.

jack bodie said...

Steve's question (such that it has any meaning) has already been answered.

The weak force.

The interpretation that Steve relies for his 'gotcha' is just one of many that explain the facts in evidence to greater and lesser degrees.

As Wolfgang Smith (no relation to our Steve, I hope) puts it in his "Quantum Enigma: Finding the Hidden Key" when discussing whether the universe is deterministic or not:

To begin with, I would like to point out that the issue cannot in fact be resolved on a strictly scientific or "technical" plane. The very duration of the actual Bohr-Einstein exchange alone suggests as much; for if it were simply a matter of physics, one would think that the two foremost physicists of the century could have settled the question between themselves within some reasonable span of time. But they did not settle it; and Bohr, for one, continued apparently to brood over the problem till the day of his death. What is still more to the point, however, and all but clinches it, is the fact that there exist stringently deterministic theories which lead to exactly the same predictions as quantum mechanics. (emphasis and any mistakes mine)

There are in fact causal approaches to QED for those who aren't target-locked on combox gotchas. And interestingly, W. Smith's Thomistic interpretation of what happens in the quantum world doesn't run across the paradoxes of the others.

Anonymous said...

a couple of serious begged questions and dogmatic assertions in Steve Smith's latest.

>"This is the essence of the atheist criticism of theology: it has nothing to do with reality."

first, i think you mean "philosophy" or specifically "metaphysics," not "theology." distinctions are important. Aristotle was not a theologian.

second, mind telling me how the purely metrical investigative methods of science can provide an answer the question of whether or not philosophy, in particular metaphysics, is capable of telling us anything about reality?



"It is meaningless because the 'cause' has no meaning in a context where particles can pop into existence and take any path through space-time, faster-than-light, and forward or backward in time."

no one doubts the picture. but whether or not they indeed come into existence totally uncaused and take a totally undetermined path is precisely what is at issue here. please look up the meaning of the word "epistemic."


the bottom line is, people who take reality seriously take both philosophy and science seriously. not just one or the other. that just makes discussions devolve into dogmatic pissing matches.

Matko said...

I don't think Steve has the warrant to claim that the existence of the W boson comes ex nihilo.

Not one iota! W bosons can be produced by particle accelerators. As an exercise in common sense, I'll let others determine what is here the cause of W bosons existing.

Phosphoros99 said...

I am also no longer able to post at WEIT where I posted as Phosphrous99.

Ideas should contend.

What fascinates me is that atheists seem to act as though being able to describe the structure and function of the universe eliminates "the God Hypothesis".

Science is not faith but atheism is faith.

The scientific method is superlative - the best we have for what it does - but in the consideration of God atheists are in the realm of faith. Faith that is not as coherent as that of theists

dguller said...

Steve:

>> It is meaningless because the "cause" has no meaning in a context where particles can pop into existence and take any path through space-time, faster-than-light, and forward or backward in time.

I don’t think that it is meaningless.

Particles can pop into existence, because of the antecedent presence of energy and natural laws that allow transformations of that energy into particles under certain circumstances that we currently do not understand at all.

I also do not understand why the fact that particles can follow any path through space-time is a problem. I can go left or right, for example. How does that negate the possibility that my motion has antecedent causal conditions?

The faster-than-light only means that special relativity may be false under certain conditions, but does not seem to speak about causation. Perhaps there are causal processes that are faster than the speed of light? That is certainly meaningful.

The backward in time is a kicker. Do we actually have empirical evidence that particles do, in fact, go back in time? Or is it just a possibility in the mathematical equations? If the latter, then it is just a possibility, and not necessarily a reality.

Any thoughts?

Edward Feser said...

Steve Smith and dguller,

Everything Steve refers to happens according to physical law, and physical law is not nothing. True, it does not happen according to a deterministic "billiard ball" model of causation, but that is not a model of causation to which Aristotelians are committed in the first place.

Furthermore, since "physical law" is by itself a mere abstraction, it can (for the Aristotelian) intelligibly be said to operate only insofar as we understand it as a shorthand description for the way some concrete entity or entities operate given their natures. How to characterize this entity or entities is going to be a matter of controversy; perhaps it is just the universe itself considered as a single entity, perhaps not. Determining this depends on the empirical evidence, the best physical theory, and careful metaphysical analysis, and the Aristotelian does not pre-judge how the details of all that are going to go. But however they go, there is nothing in any of this that contravenes the principle of causality.

What you would need for a true counterexample to that principle is something that comes into being in no intelligible way whatsoever -- not only with no identifiable antecedent generating cause, but in a manner that is in no way describable in terms of physical law or any other principle.

I would say that the notion of such a thing is not even intelligible. When we unpack even the alleged imaginary counterexamples (like Hume's, which -- unlike the purported examples from modern physics, don't involve processes governed by physical law ) we find that they dissolve under analysis (as writers like Anscombe show).

If someone replies "But that makes the principle of causality empirically unfalsifiable," the Aristotelian would say that it is simply a mistake to think that everything we know is or ought to be empirically falsifiable. Empirical investigation necessarily presupposes principles that cannot themselves be empirically falsified, precisely because all empirical considerations presuppose them. (The reality of change, and thus of actuality and potentiality, is an example.)

IF the response to this is "But that makes these alleged principles not subject to rational analysis and criticism," the answer is that that is simply false. There are forms of rational analysis and criticism other than those employed within empirical science. For example, when the Aristotelian is presented with Humean objections concerning the imaginability of something coming into being without a cause, he doesn't say "Nyah nyah, you can't refute my unfalsifiable principle of causality." Rather, he says "Let's unpack the scenario the Humean is describing and see whether it really involves what he thinks it does. Let's consider this proposition that what is imaginable is really in principle possible and show what is wrong with it." And so forth. It isn't a matter of doing empirical science, but is rational analysis and argument all the same. And to insist a la scientism that all rational analysis and argumentation simply must be some kind of empirical science or other is (a) simply to beg the question against the Aristotelian and (b) to take a position which is itself a metaphysical position rather than an empirical one, and a position which cannot in principle be established empirically.

dguller said...

Ed Feser:

Thanks for the reply. I know that you are extremely busy.

Just a few comments.

I am extremely sympathetic to the point of view that even though certain models of quantum theory make no mention of antecedent causal conditions that this may be due to an epistemic limitation from our side where we are simply unable to identify the real conditions that make the change occur. It would be inconceivable if there were no antecedent conditions.

However, as I have been told on numerous occasions on your blog, inconceivability does not equal impossibility or incoherence. So, I have to take seriously the possibility that even though there are actual entities surrounding an event in space-time does not necessarily mean that any of those entities caused the event. I think that it is likely that they do so, but at the quantum level, there are a number of bizarre phenomena that violate core assumptions that we all have about how material entities are supposed to behave (e.g. locality). I cannot ignore this bizarreness, and so I have to be open to the possibility that causality itself breaks down at the quantum level in some scenarios.

Even in your own books, you make the reasonable point that there are limitations to our rational ability to comprehend the divine nature, for example, and that we should just trust the conclusions of reason itself, even if the conclusions themselves are inconceivable (except via analogy, for example).

And regarding your point that the very presence of physical laws precludes an entity operating according to them from being uncaused, I think that what Steve is looking for is the efficient cause of the fermion decay. Certainly, the formal, material and final causes are all clearly present. I think that without an efficient cause of fermion decay, then it can be considered uncaused, because there is no active entity that is generating the change made possible by the formal and material causes, and directed by the final cause. And if the cosmological argument is supposed to show that the First Cause is the efficient cause of the change in the universe, then the fact that there may be material entities that lack efficient causes means that the cosmological argument might fail in its conclusion.

Anyway, that’s where I’m at with this topic at this time, and it is admittedly from a position of ignorance. As per my modus operandi, I have ordered a number of books on this subject, and will do a bit more reading to get a better idea. I did the same thing with ordering your books, and they were truly eye opening and have changed my mind on a number of issues.

I look forward to your comments, if you have the time.

djindra said...

Josh,

One Brow,

"Djindra brought out the same arguments against causation in Feser's post of July 6; people responded by trying to clarify per se causation as opposed to per accidens, and his responses didn't even try to address what they were saying, either out of genuine misunderstanding or willful ignorance. So there's no point in anyone repeating themselves ad infinitum."

That's simply untrue. First, what July 6 post? Second, magic wand waving does not genuinely address the issue.

Josh said...

Ed said:

"And to insist a la scientism that all rational analysis and argumentation simply must be some kind of empirical science or other is (a) simply to beg the question against the Aristotelian and (b) to take a position which is itself a metaphysical position rather than an empirical one, and a position which cannot in principle be established empirically."

It must get really tiresome to have to address this issue over and over...Positivism's children are everywhere...

Josh said...

Djindra,

My mistake...July 4th. When you celebrated your independence from First Principles!

Steve Smith said...

Edward Feser: "physical law" is by itself a mere abstraction

Hardly. "Physical law" refers to explanatory rules that comply with measurements of reality. Twelve plus decimal places of accuracy isn't even close to an abstraction.

there is nothing in any of this that contravenes the principle of causality. What you would need for a true counterexample to that principle is something that comes into being in no intelligible way whatsoever

This is precisely the case we have in quantum field theory. For example, here is the Feynman diagram for the exchange of a virtual photon between two electrons. The existence of this virtual photon is necessary to explain our observations to fantastic accuracy. The photon "comes into existence" through the technically well-defined process of creation and annihilation—particle exchange. What caused the photon?

There are forms of causality in QFT, such as observables cannot have influence outside the light cone, but the carriers of force—the virtual particles—are unobservable and not constrained to the light cone. You say that, "there is nothing in any of this that contravenes the principle of causality" but this is not true. Here is Weinberg on this very point:

"If xy is space-like then no signal can reach y from x, so that a measurement at point x should not be able to interfere with a measurement at point y. Such considerations of causality are plausible for the electromagnetic field, any one of whose components may be measured at a given spacetime point, as shown in a classic paper of Bohr and Rosenfeld. However, we will be dealing here with fields like the Dirac field of the electron that do not seem in any sense measurable. The point of view taken here is that Eq. (5.1.32) is needed for the Lorentz invariance of the S-matrix, without any ancillary assumptions about measurability or causality." —The Quantum Theory of Fields, Vol. 1, p. 198.

In fact, it is necessary to make the theory conform to measurements that virtual particles exceed the speed-of-light. A technical account of this fact is provided by Feynman and Weinberg:

"Now here is a surprise: when we evaluate the amplitude, … we find that it cannot be zero … outside the light cone. This is very surprising: If you start a series of waves from a particular point they can not be confined to be inside the light cone if all the energies are positive. … In other words, there is an amplitude for particles to travel faster than the speed of light and no arrangement of super-position (with only positive energies) can get around that." —Elementary Particles and the Laws of Physics, pp. 8f

Please justify your assertion that causality holds in this context of faster-than-light-speed travel. If causality holds, please tell us what caused the photon in the Feynman diagram above, or how anyone might even make sense of this question.

to insist a la scientism that all rational analysis and argumentation simply must be some kind of empirical science

I just want answers that work in the real world. I don't care where they come from, I just want them to work when I test them. This isn't "scientism". It's simply science.

Anonymous said...

I just want answers that work in the real world. I don't care where they come from, I just want them to work when I test them. This isn't "scientism". It's simply science.

It's not science to speculate on, much less make declarations about, that which is not subject to empirical test. That applies both to claims about the utter absence of causality (rather than absence of a particular cause), or the presence of causality that isn't empirically verifiable (and not all causality needs to be.)

Your reply to Prof. Feser and others here is one of incredulity: You cannot fathom what could be serving as a cause in these situations. But the reply there is easy: Incredulity and lack of an empirical explanation does not show that there is no explanation.

If you insist the cause couldn't be physical, or physical as we know it, the reply can come: "I'm not limited to physical causes anyway."

Untenured said...

Steve, you are presupposing scientism without even realizing that you are doing it. You want to know whether the concept of "cause" applies at the quantum level or at superluminal speeds. That is like asking whether the concept "exists" applies at the quantum level or at superluminal speeds. Categories like "cause" and "exist" are so general that they apply to everything, and are presupposed by all scientific inquiry whether the scientific inquirers realize this or not. You will now balk, no doubt, and tell us that you don't need to presuppose causality in order to make accurate calculations at the quantum level. But this is precisely where you are presupposing scientism without recognizing it: You want something that "works" in the "real world". But your example only contravenes the CA if what "works" in some pragmatic sense is sufficient to determine what is "true" in the sense of the way the world is. And this presupposes that, because science "works" in the pragmatic sense, it must be "true" in the metaphysical sense. And there is no obvious reason to think that is the correct interpretation of science. I'm sorry, but your continuous reiteration of "Tell me what caused the W boson" just isn't the show stopper that you seem to think it is.

dguller said...

Anonymous:

>> Your reply to Prof. Feser and others here is one of incredulity: You cannot fathom what could be serving as a cause in these situations. But the reply there is easy: Incredulity and lack of an empirical explanation does not show that there is no explanation.

Well, incredulity works both ways.

Being unable to fathom X means either (1) that X is impossible, or (2) that X is possible, but not known at this time.

The interesting question is what to do in the situation where we honestly do not know whether (1) or (2) is the correct cause of the inconceivability of X.

Steve Smith said...

Many of the comments here appear to be uncomprehending of my statements, so I will attempt to address this briefly by saying, again, that everything I wrote is to the best of my knowledge our current understanding of the way nature works, good to at least twelve decimal places. As Feynman joked, You don't like it? Go somewhere else!. This isn't about Feynman, or me, or anyone else. It's about nature and our understanding of nature.

Your reply … is one of incredulity

No. It is an observation of the fact that the principle of causality is inconsistent with our description of the mechanism behind the fundamental forces.

I don’t think that it is meaningless. … Do we actually have empirical evidence that particles do, in fact, go back in time? Or is it just a possibility in the mathematical equations?

See the quotes above. Superluminal travel is classically unobservable, yet its possibility is necessary to make the theory conform to observations. That's the best I can say it. If you want an "intuitive" argument that will convince that superluminal travel must happen based on nothing else but a perfectly logical extension of the behavior observed in the double-split experiment, see Zee's "zen-like" path integral introduction that I pointed to above.

W bosons can be produced by particle accelerators. As an exercise in common sense, I'll let others determine what is here the cause of W bosons existing.

And I can produce photons with a flashlight. That doesn't mean that the virtual photons in electron repulsion or virtual W bosons in beta decay are observables, or explain the cause of the virtual particles.

Steve's question (such that it has any meaning) has already been answered. The weak force.

No. "The weak force" is just what we call the particle exchange of a W boson. Your response is like saying that the W boson caused itself.

I'm sitting here reading the source material, trying to answer what I thought was a serious objection. "The question is meaningless" is not a serious objection.

Yes, it is. If you can actually make sense of the question, then you're doing better than the rest of us, including Feynman, whom I quoted when I originally raised this issue:

"I am going to show you "how we count the beans"—what the physicists do to get the right answer. I am not going to explain how the photons actually "decide" whether to bounce back or go through; that is not known. (Probably the question has no meaning.) I will only show you how to calculate the correct probability that light will be reflected from glass of a given thickness, because that's the only thing physicists know how to do!" —QED, p. 24.

Anonymous said...

Well, incredulity works both ways.

For the purposes of what I said to Steve, that doesn't matter. To qualify things the way you said is to take a stance against Steve here. You were doing that anyway, but I'm making clear what the goal of my comment was.

Here's one thing to consider. One of the common objections to theism, particularly appealing to God to explain what we see in nature, is that God is a "science stopper". It ends inquiry, it labels phenomena as beyond our understanding and therefore we should not pursue it.

I think that objection is fatally flawed. But tell em: Isn't 'this happened without cause' a science stopper? How about 'if it had a cause it could not be physical therefore we should conclude it had no cause'?

Anonymous said...

Steve,

No. It is an observation of the fact that the principle of causality is inconsistent with our description of the mechanism behind the fundamental forces.

No, Steve, it isn't. All we observe is events that cannot be explained by physical causes (or at least physical as we know them). But you're not arguing with people who limit causation to physical causes. You don't seem to recognize just how much metaphysical and extra-scientific baggage you're bringing into this conversation when you make the claims you do. But that's okay, because it seems everyone else does recognize it.

Again: That something may not, ot even does not, have a physical cause does not mean it could not have a cause at all. That you are unable to fathom what the cause could be (and that Feynman was unable to fathom what the cause could be) does not get you to there being no cause.

Edward Feser said...

Hello dguller,

If I'm not misunderstanding you, you seem to think that what I was saying is that there is a deterministic cause but that we just don't know what it is. But that is not what I was saying. I was not making an epistemic point, but a metaphysical one, and I was denying that causes need to be understood in a deterministic way.

Hence if we say that, given physical law, this particle will appear or that particle will do such-and-such in such-and-such a non-deterministic pattern, what that means (for the Aristotelian) is that a certain physical system -- that is, something concrete, because "laws" are just abstractions from concrete realities -- has a nature such that this particle will appear or that particle will do that, in such-and-such a non-deterministic pattern. We can think of the properties of the system by virtue of which this is true of it as propensities, as is often done. What we have then is a cause -- the propensities of the system, given its nature as described by physical law -- even if not a deterministic cause.

Now as jack bodie points out in his comment above, one could also opt for some deterministic interpretation, but the point is that even if we don't, there is no counterexample to the principle of causality. There only seems to be one if (as Steve Smith keeps doing) one reads into "cause" something the Aristotelian is not committed to in the first place.

BTW, dguller, thank you for your many contributions to the combox. I wish I had time to respond more frequently, but I'm glad you and the other commenters have been able to engage in some fruitful discussion.

Steve Smith said...

because science "works" in the pragmatic sense, it must be "true" in the metaphysical sense

I make no assumptions whatsoever about what is "true in the metaphysical sense". But all the alternatives to not testing ideas in the real world lead to nonsense or worse. If I don't constrain myself to experiments, then, as Aquinas does, I'm free to ask question like:

Whether an angel is composed of matter and form?
Whether the angels exist in any great number?
Whether angels assume bodies?
Whether an angel can be in several places at once?
Whether an angel passes through intermediate space?
Whether corporeal creatures were produced by God through the medium of the angels?


To be clear, are you calling it "scientism" to reject Aquinas questions about the physical characteristics of angels as absurd without first having a good physical reasons to believe that angels actually exist?

Edward Feser said...

Hello Steve Smith,

I think you misunderstand what I mean by "abstract." You seem to think I mean "vague" or "imprecise." But that is not what I mean. I mean abstract as opposed to concrete. E.g. this or that triangle I draw on paper is a concrete object, but "triangularity" is an abstraction (and a very precise one at that). Similarly, this or that material object or system is concrete but "physical laws" are abstractions (and very precise ones) insofar as they are merely descriptions of how material objects and systems behave given their natures.

Hence when you say:

The photon "comes into existence" through the technically well-defined process of creation and annihilation—particle exchange.

you are making the Aristotelian's point for him. The process is technically well-defined. And that means it describes a system -- something concrete -- that has a nature such that it behaves in a certain well-defined way. But a system is not nothing. Hence when you ask "What caused the photon?" the answer is "The system did, in the sense that it has a nature of the sort described by QFT." To be sure, that isn't the kind of cause you're asking about, but that's your problem, not the Aristotelian's.

Also, I endorse Untenured's remarks.

Untenured said...

That's wasn't a serious reply, Steve, and I think you know it. Come back when you think you have one.

Steve Smith said...

Edward Feser: one could also opt for some deterministic interpretation

Not in the context we've been discussing, at least not yet:

"Bohmian mechanics does not account for phenomena such as particle creation and annihilation characteristic of quantum field theory. This is not an objection to Bohmian mechanics but merely a recognition that quantum field theory explains a great deal more than does nonrelativistic quantum mechanics, whether in orthodox or Bohmian form." —Stanford Encyclopedia, Bohmian Mechanics

And that's even without raising issues that come out of testing Bell's inequality.

there is no counterexample to the principle of causality. There only seems to be one if (as Steve Smith keeps doing) one reads into "cause" something the Aristotelian is not committed to in the first place

I honestly believe that this remark fails to address the questions raised above about causality and faster-than-light travel required in quantum field theory.

Steve Smith said...

Edward Feser: when you ask "What caused the photon?" the answer is "The system did, in the sense that it has a nature of the sort described by QFT."

I can accept that response, but let's be sure to understand its consequences. If the system caused the photon, then as Guth, Hawking, and others do, we conclude (for technical reasons having to do with boundary conditions) that the system caused all the particles in the universe. Guth expresses this viewpoint in the colorful statement:

"The question of the origin of the matter in the universe is no longer thought to be beyond the range of science—everything can be created from nothing … it is fair to say that the universe is the ultimate free lunch." —The Inflationary Universe: The Quest for a New Theory of Cosmic Origins

Since the time Guth wrote his popular book, measurements from WMAP and other experiments have been upheld Guth's cosmology, so he can be said to have some authority. Hawking has expressed comparable views.

It appears that we do have common ground after all, if by Guth's "nothing", we simply mean a system in its vacuum state that obeys the rules of quantum field theory, which of course includes the vacuum state. All space-time and particles then follow from the rules of physics.

That's as far as we can go right now because we don't know where physics, or the "system", comes from.

But in spite of that, your response presents a real problem for the cosmological argument. An essential ingredient of that "system" is mathematical rules, like 2 + 2 = 4. How does one apply your argument "what comes into existence has a cause" to the "system" in which 2 + 2 = 4?

What caused "2 + 2 = 4"? If this equation had a cause, did the creator have the power to make 2 + 2 = 5?

Josh said...

Steve:

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2011/02/why-are-some-physicists-so-bad-at.html

BenYachov said...

What Josh said.

Been there done that.

Daniel Smith said...

Steve Smith: "please tell us the cause of the photon's and W boson's creation in electron repulsion and Beta decay."

Why 'Djindra's Lattice' of course!

Steve Smith: "The photon "comes into existence" through the technically well-defined process of creation and annihilation—particle exchange. What caused the photon?"

What caused the photon?

Well according to our resident expert it is caused by "the technically well-defined process of creation and annihilation—particle exchange".

Steve Smith: "Superluminal travel is classically unobservable, yet its possibility is necessary to make the theory conform to observations."

So what you're saying is that, if there is a cause, it must be something that exists outside the constraints of space/time? I think I know of something like that!

DNW said...

Untenured said...

"... did as much to push me towards naturalism and materialism as did my readings of Quine and Sellars. But, to be fair to my 20 year old self, I really didn't see any good arguments for theism. I remember reading Plantinga and Swineburne and company and thinking: "if this is all we've got, then we're in serious trouble". "

I promise not to use the laughing out loud sign, but that remark ... is through the bulls eye.

Referring to a book I picked up in the reminder bin, we find that during a Wayne State colloquium on intentionality, Putnam did once direct some generous remarks toward Plantinga, as part of his rejoinder to Plantinga's very civil critique of Putnam. It was the kind of generous acknowledgement you might make to a precocious if overreaching, but nonetheless well-meaning and well-mannered child.

Plantinga, might have deserved even better for all I know. But the implication was there.

Steve Smith said...

edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2011/02/why-are-some-physicists-so-bad-at.html

I've read that post, and I must point out that it is a demonstrably and remarkably ignorant mischaracterization of Hawking's and other's scientific assertions. But ignorance is no sin, so I'll point you to a popular explanation of why what Hawking says about gravity is so interesting in so-called ex nihilo theories of the universe. Guth's Infaltionary Universe is a must-read, and he explains the physics of the ideas that Feser ridicules. It's all over at Google books:

"Now we can return to a key question: How is there any hope that the creation of the universe might be described by physical laws consistent with energy conservations? Answer: the energy stored in the gravitational field is represented by a negative number! … The immense energy that we observe in the form of matter can be canceled by a negative contribution of equal magnitude, coming from the gravitational field. There is no limit to the magnitude of energy energy in the gravitational field, and hence no limit to the amount of matter/energy it can cancel.

For the reader interested in learning why the energy of a gravitational field is negative, the argument is presented in Appendix A."

Guth goes on to explain a simple argument for all this that if you grasp, you will understand a fact of gravity that evaded Newton. Unfortunately, Google books doesn't have Appendix A online.

Martin said...

Steve Smith,

Uhhhhh...

But that's just repeating the same thing. A gravitational field is not nothing. Energy is not nothing. Positive energy is not nothing. Negative energy is not nothing. Positive energy canceled by negative energy in a gravitational field is not nothing.

The physicists are equivocating on the word "nothing."

Which was the point of Ed's blog post.

Which you said you read.

?????

Steve Smith said...

A gravitational field is not nothing. Energy is not nothing. Positive energy is not nothing. Negative energy is not nothing. Positive energy canceled by negative energy in a gravitational field is not nothing. The physicists are equivocating on the word "nothing."

Physicists are not equivocating. The terms they're using are well-defined and widely available. Read Guth—he says exactly what he means by "nothing", which is the vacuum state predicted by QFT, or "false" vacuum state because the uncertainty principle is inconsistent with zero energy in any volume of space-time. This is what Hawking means. This is what everybody means.

The question is can you start with a vacuum state that contains nothing—no gravity, no photons, no quarks, no electrons, no stuff at all—and spontaneously get a universe like the one we have? As Guth says, this question is no longer thought to be beyond the range of science.

Guth's technical explanation above is what is meant by the nontechnical, poetic description, “Because there is a law like gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing” that Feser attacks.

In fact, there's a gnu atheist also named Edward Feser who offers this same cause of the universe by explaining, "What caused the photon?" the answer is 'The system did, in the sense that it has a nature of the sort described by QFT.'" It would be interesting to get those two Edward Feser's together.

As everyone knows, no one knows why the universe obeys QM, so we don't have an answer why QM is so. But given QM, we automatically have a vacuum state, and from that it appears possible to create the entire universe spontaneously.

Finally, whatever energy is, conservation rules come down to rules of arithmetic. Rather than the 2 + 2 = 4 example, the relevant arithmetic example for a universe ex nihilo is 0 = (+1) + (–1). That is, start with "nothing" (the vacuum state), then rearrange that nothing to get some stuff in the form of matter (+1) and gravity (–1).

What causes the equation 0 = (+1) + (–1)?

One Brow said...

Josh said...
Djindra brought out the same arguments against causation in Feser's post of July 6; people responded by trying to clarify per se causation as opposed to per accidens,

When differences are as fundamental as view causal connections as chains versus as lattices, it can often seem to one party the other is not responding to the point. So, I do not doubt your sincerity in this rendition.

IN fact, on this very blog, I believe I had a similar discussion of simultaneity, in partcular that some posters were telling me causation really in simultaneous in the hand-stick-stone example. I'm sure that was frustrating for both sides.

Josh said...

One Brow:

"When differences are as fundamental as view causal connections as chains versus as lattices, it can often seem to one party the other is not responding to the point. So, I do not doubt your sincerity in this rendition."

Granted. Dialectic is especially difficult in a blog combox. Note the posts in this thread where we can't agree on what "nothing" is. Makes it tough.

djindra said...

Josh,

"Djindra brought out the same arguments against causation in Feser's post of July [4]; people responded by trying to clarify per se causation as opposed to per accidens, and his responses didn't even try to address what they were saying, either out of genuine misunderstanding or willful ignorance. So there's no point in anyone repeating themselves ad infinitum."

Okay, let's see what the "clarifications" actually consisted of:

Untenured said: "I suggest that you all stop arguing with Djindra."

DNW regretted "wasting time squabbling with a guy who says nominalism, of the parodic flatus vocis school no doubt, can be taken seriously, and easily defended."

BenYachov countered my causal claims with: "djindra told me himself 2+2=4 is not a necessary truth because of his weird need to dogmatically deny universals" therefore "There is nothing more to discuss with him."

And you (Josh) hit the issue hard with "I would advise you guys to remember the Scholastic axiom 'Cum negante principia nequit disputari': 'With someone denying the principles, don't dispute.' Treat them like the vegetable Aristotle said they would become."

The only one to attempt addressing the issue was Ismael. His arguments consisted of the issue-missing: "it is the locomotive that causes the movement of the wagon in a cause per se. So your 'objection' is fallacious."

And there was his penetratingly wishy-washy: "SOME chains do not need a terminator... SOME chains, however, DO need a terminator, and especially some chain connected per se "

There was his revelation: "Obviously in a chain per se there is a terminator which is pure actuality."

Finally there was his impenetrable: "Since there is an asymmetry between actuality and potentiality, and since causal chains per se NEED a terminator, there is nothing arbitrary at stopping the chain at a being of 'pure actuality', actually it's the only possible solution, since all others would be illogical."

So, Josh, you look like a fool. The only attempt to "clarify" the Thomist position was a ridiculous mess. The others -- including yours -- made no attempt to address me.

So, due to lack of a coherent response, I'll keep repeating this issue, especially when I think I'm right.

Josh said...

Steve:

"The question is can you start with a vacuum state that contains nothing—no gravity, no photons, no quarks, no electrons, no stuff at all—and spontaneously get a universe like the one we have? As Guth says, this question is no longer thought to be beyond the range of science."

Does this vacuum state have being itself? If so, then it is not nothing. 'Nothing' does not have being. This was clearly stated in the blog post linked above.

djindra said...

Steve Smith,

"If I don't constrain myself to experiments, then, as Aquinas does, I'm free to ask question like: Whether an angel is composed of matter and form?"

Exactly.

Martin said...

Steve Smith,

A quantum vacuum is not "nothing" as it is meant by those discussing "Ex nihilo, nihilo fit," as it consists of space, time, and physical laws. Space can be warped and can expand (as is happening with our universe), time can slow down and speed up, and physical laws have measurable effects. If your "nothing" has properties, then it isn't the same "nothing" that those discussing cosmological arguments are talking about.

This is crystal clear from Ed's blog post. You just keep repeating the very same mistake that Ed is criticizing.

djindra said...

Untenured,

"I'm sorry, but [Steve's] continuous reiteration of 'Tell me what caused the W boson' just isn't the show stopper that you seem to think it is."

This A-T system makes its case supposedly by starting with nature. It's Aristotle's pondering about real material cause that leads to the "actuality" and "potentiality" and everything else. So if the foundation that Aristotle begins with is materially wrong, there is no reason to follow his reasoning to its tidy end. You want to embrace material causality when you think it goes your way, then abandon it when the going gets rough.

Josh said...

K, djindra. You're the refutation master. I'll fulfill my promise to One Brow and let it be.

ACuriousMind said...

I know that I will regret weighing in here, but several aspects of this debate (which I have been following for several posts now) are incredibly annoying to me:
1. The definition of "cause". This is, in my opinion, the greatest problem here. Any scientist (or scientifically literate person) that comes here will automatically assume that "cause" denotes an object or event that happened to exist prior to its effect, and without that the effect would not have happened. The "Aristotelians" however seem to believe that there are other kinds of causes, those who are not related to their effect primarily by preceding them and being necessary for them to occur, but they seem to denote something of logical necessity as "first cause". I am not sure what they even mean, nor am I sure whether this thing should be called "cause", but I would like to hear a definition of "cause" from an "Aristotelian" to clarify this issue.

2. Physical causes and metaphysical causes. Or: "What the hell are these philosophers talking about?"
The second problem for anyone grounded in science is that per definitionem only physical things can affect the world. Or, more radically speaking, everything that exists is physical. Everything that affects the world that we perceive (and we do only perceive the "natural" or "physical" world) is by definition physical. For a scientist, "metaphysical" and "non-physical" are synonymous to "non-existent". What we cannot observe, is irrelevant (does not exist), for the world looks the same without it. What we can observe (be it directly or indirectly), exists and is physical. So, when mentioning that we are not "restricting" ourselves to physical causes here, one has to ask how one can justify the existence of these causes. Concepts like "potency", "actuality", "intentionality" and so on are thrown into this debate without justifying their existence. I have now understood what these denote, but I do not understand why I should believe these concepts to have any relevance in reality - for reality acts according to the laws of physics, which do utterly not care about potency or actuality.

3. Argument from Quantum Mechanics.
Forget everything about "virtual particles", "bosons" or the like. Most said here is correct, but misses the point. The only thing we need to show that QM defies causality is this:
Matter/Energy (short: everything) behaves exactly as if governed by statistical functions (the famous Psi from the Schrödinger equation...), that render any notion of causality moot (if you don't believe it, go look at a double slit while shooting single photons at it) - there is no cause for a particular observable to take exactly the value measured. (To those who argue that there could be an yet unknown cause - there CANNOT. Bell's Inequality has proven that it is impossible for any hidden variable (aka "unknown cause") to exist (this is, unlike most scientific findings, indeed a proof). )

Therefore, the Cosmological Argument(s) fail(s) (to be denied by those nasty "Aristotelians"):
1. Reality itself (QM) shows that causality is NOT a universal principle. It is neither true that "everything that begins to exist has a cause" (particles pop in and out of existence in the vacuum steadily) nor that "everything that is contingent has a cause" (particles/fields compose all that exists - if they need no causes, then nothing needs...). In fact, causality is only approximately true in our medium human world, in which the effects of QM cannot be observed by the naked eye...

Mr. Green said...

Steve Smith: Writing something in Greek doesn't make an answer profound or correct.

Of course not, why would you think it would?

There is no more need for anything called πρώτη ύλη in science than there is for ὁμοούσιος.

It's almost as if we weren't talking about science, or rather, were talking about two different subjects at the same time, and mixing up the terminology between them!


All experiments confirm the validity of existing quantum field theories to the precision we can obtain with existing technology.

But I asked where the results of Thomistic QFT differs from yours. You have not shown me any evidence that Thomism disagrees with any known scientific result, and I shouldn't believe you without evidence, right? If Thomism gets physics wrong, then please show me the calculations.

Mr. Green said...

Haiying: When does "Pure Actuality" come into the picture? More specifically, when will we ever know, or how can we ever know, that, "hey, we've bottomed out as far as physical explanation goes...the grand scientific project of particle/quantum physics is now over...from here on out it's the supernatural that's causing everything and holding the physical world together"?

We don't have to know, because that isn't what's going on. The argument is not that "physics runs out, therefore God must be holding things together underneath". The kinds of arguments that Aquinas works with allow (for the sake of argument) that physics might indeed go "all the way down" (i.e. it stops at a given point, and that is a complete picture of physics, period). In fact, physics might go infinitely all the way down — if we lived in a universe where we could never know we hit the "bottom" of physics because there was no bottom, the arguments would still work. Or even if you think they don't work, it can't because of some fact of science; the two disciplines are at cross purposes.

Mr. Green said...

ACuriousMind: I know that I will regret weighing in here

Some of these conversations do seem to go around in circles, but I hope you don't regret it.

2. Physical causes and metaphysical causes. Or: "What the hell are these philosophers talking about?"

That indeed is one of the problems. Like any discipline, philosophy has its own special jargon. Some terms mean pretty much what they do in ordinary speech, and some very much do not. Mix in the casual and haphazard nature of commenting systems like this, and there's lots of room for sloppiness and misunderstanding. But if you're interested in the gorey details, you'll find that something serious is going on. (Doesn't mean you'll agree with it [all], just that there's something substantial to disagree about.)

What we cannot observe, is irrelevant (does not exist), for the world looks the same without it.

I cannot observe you, but I bet you still exist. Nor can I "observe" (in the scientific sense) that Pythagoras's theorem is true. So there are different ways in which things can be real even though you might not find them in a science lab. It's reasonable to ignore what cannot be observed when dong science, because that's what science is about. But there are other things to talk about.

Concepts like "potency", "actuality", "intentionality" and so on are thrown into this debate without justifying their existence. I have now understood what these denote, but I do not understand why I should believe these concepts to have any relevance in reality - for reality acts according to the laws of physics, which do utterly not care about potency or actuality.

If an object is at temperature X and you heat it up to temperature Y, then it actually was at X degrees (and potentially Y degrees), and now it actually is at Y degrees. Science "doesn't care" about that only in the sense that it takes it for granted. If you could not heat things up (or cool them down, or move them, or bounce light off them, etc.) then science wouldn't get anywhere at all. "Things move" seems pretty grounded in reality, but that is where the metaphysics starts.

Will said...

Victor Stenger presented the Casimir effect and radioactive decay as counterevidence to the first premise of the cosmological argument in his debate with Craig.

Craig responded as follows:

1) the indeterministic origination of virtual particles in the quantum vacuum is not true creatio ex nihilo (creation from nothing), since the vacuum contains a sea of fluctuating energy, empty space, and is governed by physical laws - none of which is "nothing."

(2) The interpretations to which Stenger appeals are indeterministic interpretations which are one of many interpretations, some of which are wholly deterministic and none of which is actually known to be true.

This clarifies the first point from the position of A-T metaphysics and may be a useful addition to Ed's replies.

Re: (2), I would also add that, even on an indeterministic interpretation, all quantum theory says is that certain events do not have a completely determinative physical cause. That does not mean that they have no cause whatsoever. That would only follow if one had already assumed the truth of materialism.

Steve's point about chance hasn't yet been addressed. In response to Ed's point in Aquinas that 'it is impossible that every apparent causal regularity can be attributed to chance, for chance itself presupposes causal regularity', Steve wrote: 'physical theories compute chance probabilities without presupposing causal regularity.' That misses Aquinas' point that chance is the intersection of independent lines of causality.

jack bodie said...

Steve Smith:
You wrote:Not in the context we've been discussing, at least not yet: and quoted the Stanford Encyclopedia to the effect that there is no deterministic approach to the phenomena you raised.

I don't want this to dissolve into a contest in currency on QM. Not only because I'd likely lose, but also because it's mostly tangential to the question. But there are several extensions to de Broglie-Bohm type theories that account for particle creation and annihilation. You can even choose between flavours: either purely deterministic, or with a sprinkling of stochastic process.

ACuriousMind:
You wrote "several aspects of this debate (which I have been following for several posts now) are incredibly annoying to me" and later "(To those who argue that there could be an yet unknown cause - there CANNOT. Bell's Inequality has proven that it is impossible for any hidden variable (aka "unknown cause") to exist (this is, unlike most scientific findings, indeed a proof)."

What you say about Bell's Inequality is highly misleading. None of the tests of Bell's theorem are able to produce totally conclusive results due to well documented practical challenges. Moreover the theory only rules out local hidden variables, not hidden variables. Nonlocal hidden variables are perfectly admissible.

Indeed this finding supports a hylemorphic (ie, AristoThomistic) interpretation of quantum mechanics that points beyond the space-time continuum, such that there's more to the 'entangled' photons A and B, say, (travelling at lightspeed in opposite directions) than meets the scientific eye; more than can be made to fit into a four-dimensional continuum. The issue isn't the dimensionality of the containing manifold but that, in addition to its empirical aspect, the particle with potential to become these two actual photons has a nature which is not subject to "containment" at all.

Or you could postulate superluminal transmission, acausality, and all the paradoxes that arise I guess.

ACuriousMind said...

@ Mr. Green:
I cannot observe you, but I bet you still exist
Well, this is the matter with misunderstanding just the other way round (or: "What the hell are these scientists talking about?").
You say I cannot observe you and this is, on the scientific level, false, as observation has not to be direct. I think you meant that you cannot observe "me" as a "mind", just a body, and atoms that compose it. But by the behaviour of these composed atoms, molecules, cells, organs, etc. you will find no evidence that your interpretation of "my" actions being caused by my will is false. However, at a deeper level, you will find that every action within my body is governed by the same law as everything else. The concept of "me" is what one would call an effective theory: Something that works on on level of detail, but not on the other (i.e. is only disproven if we look closely enough). (If you were going in another directio with your statement, let me know)
I cannot observe any mathematical theorem, that is certainly true. And therefore, in a scientific sense, mathematical truth(i.e. logical validity of the deduction of the theorems from the axioms) is neither true nor false. Mathematics, as it is, does not correspond to reality (e.g the pythagorean theorem does only hold for triangle that a flat, but we never ever encounter any metrics that are totally flat in reality...) - though we can use it to produce useful hypotheses that in turn can be rigorously tested (and therefore themselves be true (better: not yet false) or false).

"Things move" seems pretty grounded in reality, but that is where the metaphysics starts.
Well, I always thought that "Things move" was the where physics start. "Things can change" is constantly affirmed by observation. Why would I need more than the observation that this principle has never failed me? Why postulate the existence of something that cannot change (pure actuality, as I understand it)? (If you're going the way "first cause" etc., read my take on causality first)

@jack bodie: I apologize. Indeed, Bell's inequality shows that only local hidden variables do not exist. But non-local variables cannot exist, either, due to the paradoxes that you mention at the end. If you say that this points beyond the space-time continuum, then this is a bit...incomprehensible to me (and, as I suspect, to most scientists as well). There is a reason that e.g. string theory (which also points beyond the 4-d-spacetime as we know it) is often ridiculed, and has yet to produce anything meaningful - it is, in principle, untestable. If there is no way of falsifying something (as our whole sensory apparatus is restricted to 4-d-spacetime as we know it), then why postulate its existence? Sure, there could be your "particle with potency" that becomes "actual particles". But if all we can observe are the actual particles that behave according to some weird stochastical patterns - why not take the patterns as explanations that we can observe, instead of something we will never be able to observe?

dguller said...

Ed Feser:

>> But that is not what I was saying. I was not making an epistemic point, but a metaphysical one, and I was denying that causes need to be understood in a deterministic way.

Okay, but my understanding of determinism is simply that all events in space-time have antecedent conditions that caused the events in question. If you reject determinism, then you open yourself up to the possibility of the very uncaused causes that you seem to object to when it comes to physical phenomena.

Perhaps we can disagree about what counts as a “cause”, but we can agree – I hope -- that all contingent events require an actual cause to happen at all. That is one of the key premises of the cosmological argument after all. And if we can agree upon that, then the question is whether “physical laws” or “propensities” within a system are sufficient to be considered the efficient cause of a quantum event.

I really do not know.

jack bodie said...

Hi ACuriousMind

We can observe the particle, and we can observe the two quantum entangled photons that it becomes.

The point is that we haven't observed them, or anything, fully when we've come to know them empirically.

You ask: But if all we can observe are the actual particles that behave according to some weird stochastical patterns - why not take the patterns as explanations that we can observe, instead of something we will never be able to observe?

A better question (I think) would be why, despite the apparent paradoxes, should I insist on a reality composed of nothing more than matter/energy? An Aristotlean metaphysics seems completely compatible with the science of investigating the physics of the quantum world, and indeed an Aristotlean interpretation of quantum mechanics is pleasingly paradox-free.

I highly recommend Wolfgang Smith's "Quantum Enigma". On this point he writes (please forgive the long quote): It is always possible, of course, to cling to the widespread belief that reality coincides with the space-time continuum and its multiple contents; but it appears this habitual reduction of the real to the manifested is becoming ever more forced and precarious in light of ongoing scientific developments. ... Indeed, it could well be said that Bell's theorem may be the nearest that physics can conceivably come to the formal recognition of the revised ontology which I have attempted to delineate: the view, namely, that there is not only a space-time continuum containing various entities, but also-on a more fundamental level-an as yet undifferentiated potency, which is neither in space nor in time, and about which nothing specific can be affirmed. "Reality is nonlocal"; that, perhaps is the closest we can come.

ACuriousMind said...

@jack bodie:
I certainly enjoy such speculations as in the quote you have just presented, and I find such ideas somehow fascinating.
Nevertheless, I recognize an deeper epistemic problem in our exchange:
You claim:
The point is that we haven't observed them, or anything, fully when we've come to know them empirically.
At risk of being flippant: How do you know that? How can you say that there is something about that particle which we cannot "know empirically" (which is, in my understanding, equivalent to "observe")? How can anything be true about reality if we cannot observe it, or effects that can only be explained by it (short version: How can anything be true that cannot be observed, neither directly nor indirectly?)?
Smith and you seem to me to have a hidden assumption: Namely, that causality is true.
Only if I assume this, it makes any sense to me to postulate unobservable, non-physical, non-local things that are the hidden causes of the ongoings in QM. Without this assumption, the world is as I observe it to be - that is, non-causal, and just made of matter/energy that is observable - and I see no problem here.
You ask: why, despite the apparent paradoxes, should I insist on a reality composed of nothing more than matter/energy?
I have several objections/answers/requests for clarification to this question:
1. What are the apparent paradoxes (despite the violation of causality, which I do not regard as a paradox at all, as should be clear by now)?
2. What else could compose reality (I suspect you are alluding to things like "pure actuality", "necessary causes", or whatnot)- or rather: Everything we observe is matter/energy. If anything affects the distribution/behaviour of matter/energy, it has itself to be matter/energy (according to the conservation laws, laws of motion which require forces for matter to move, etc.), hasn't it?
3. How can something be real if I am in principle unable to observe it? (I have already asked this above, and am not sure whether anything written by you or Mr. Green was intended to fully answer this question. If yes, simply cite yourself ;) ) Note that pointing to inconsistencies in the materialistic view only disproves this view, and does not automatically explain why the Aristotelian/Thomist/whatever terinusis appropriate view is right, applicable, or even less inconsistent.

PS: I apologize for the walls of text I produce, but I feel the need to express myself clearly. If I do not, please complain. ;)

Steve Smith said...

I highly recommend Wolfgang Smith's "Quantum Enigma".

Wolfgang Smith is a crank. From Quantum Enigma, preface to the third edition:

"Among the ideas introduced in the context of quantum theory which have found application beyond physics, the concept of vertical causality, defined in Chapter 6, deserves to be singled out on account of its intimate connection with a new and increasingly influential domain of science known as the theory of intelligent design. The central result of ID theory is a theorem to the effect that a quantity termed complex specified information cannot be increased by any temporal process, be it deterministic, random or stochastic. This means, in light of our analysis. that vertical causation alone can give rise to CSI. Our main result, to the effect that state vector collapse must likewise be attributed to vertical causality, assumes thus an enhanced significance. Vertical causation, so far from constituting a deus ex machina for the resolution of quantum paradox, as critics might charge, constitutes indeed a universal principle of causality which modern science is obliged finally to recognize. It turns out that a multitude of natural phenomena, from the collapse of a state vector to the genesis of biological organisms, demands that hitherto unacknowledged kind of causality. Given the fact that contemporary science, by the very nature of its modus operandi, is geared to deal exclusively with temporal or 'horizontal' modes of causation, this implies that the phenomena in question cannot, strictly speaking, be explained or understood in scientific terms: like it or not, metaphysical principles have perforce entered the picture, in defiance of the prevailing naturalism."

It's a waste of time conversing with people who take these crackpot ideas seriously.

Josh said...

"It's a waste of time conversing with people who take these crackpot ideas seriously."

Retreat into thine hole, Ad Hominem Man!!!

DNW said...

Blogger djindra said...

...

Okay, let's see what the "clarifications" actually consisted of:

Untenured said: "I suggest that you all stop arguing with Djindra."

DNW regretted "wasting time squabbling with a guy who says nominalism, of the parodic flatus vocis school no doubt, can be taken seriously, and easily defended." ..."

After I wrote that, you replied that you could indeed defend that "school" of nominalistic thought easily.

But, rather than actually argue that the only objective reality universals possessed as universals was the arbitrary name they were assigned and thus had in common, you went on to attack Feser instead; claiming that you had successfully undermined his position.

Later, you even seemed to explicitly repudiate the kind of hyper-radical nominalism you had earlier asserted you could easily defend.

That is why squabbling with you is a waste of time.

Since you "play the game" dishonestly, what's the point?

ACuriousMind said...

@Steve Smith: Thanks for this enlightening paragraph. Accepting ID casts certainly quite a doubt on the scientific competence of this author (in fact, shatters it)...but I fear dismissing him on that basis will cause some objections (of the "You don't know enough theology" kind), mainly because I have no idea what "vertical causation" may denote.
Then again, I doubt that it will be anything meaningful at all...

Martin said...

Steve Smith,

Regarding Wolfgang Smith, read this.

And I note that you dropped the Aristotelian causation issue with QM after Ed explained it to you, shifted quickly to the physicist's equivocation on the term "nothing" as regards the origin of the universe, and then dropped that as well when the Feynman story about yellow paint was consistently pointed out to you.

Is this sort of like Atheist Gish Gallop?

Steve Smith said...

Ad Hominem Man
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poisoning_the_well

I commented on Wolfgang Smith's work relevant to this discussion, not Wolfgang's Smith's character or motives. Wolfgang Smith's book satisfies is the very definition of crackpot, and Wolfgang Smith himself in writing this crackpot nonsense fits the definition of a crank. How are these facts not relevant?

you dropped the Aristotelian causation issue with QM after Ed explained it to you

Not at all. As discussed above, Feser's response amounts to a retreat to the tautology that physics causes photons. Because the photon's existence already rests on the assumption that the universe has physics, Feser's response explains nothing, retreats from any claim that photons are caused by something in the universe, and begs the question what causes physics and the equation 0 = (+1) + (–1).

Ironically, Feser's response that physics causes photons puts him on the very same ground as the physicists and gnu atheists he attacks. When Feser says that physics causes photons, and Hawking says that gravity caused the universe we see, they're offering the same basic explanation, except that Hawking takes the necessary step of actually explaining how physics could do that.

It is Feser that has not yet responded to these consequences of his explanation that physics cause photons, already pointed out above.

the physicist's equivocation on the term "nothing" as regards the origin of the universe

You don't appear to be reading this thread very carefully, or even at all. I addressed this point specifically with specific references above.

Back to the subject: Feser says that physics causes photons. Arithmetic is part of physics. What causes the equation 0 = (+1) + (–1)? How is Feser's explanation that physics causes photons any different from the premise of Guth and Hawkings explanation of a universe ex nihilo?

jack bodie said...

@Steve Smith:

Given some of the notions we've been discussing, not to mention the ideas and pecadilloes of some luminaries of physics such as Dirac and Newton (to pick on the Brits), I guess that labelling someone a 'crank' needs no cause for you either. If I take Newton's mechanics seriously I'm committed to his belief in a Bible code?

So long.

@ACuriousMind: You will find few evangelists for the ID movement at this site. I don't know enough about Wolfgang Smith's writing on biology to say definitively, so what follows may be wrong in part. Yes he has problems with Darwinian evolution, but they're driven by his commitment to a hylomorphic approach that prioritizes a species's form over its causal history. It may not be fashionable to have problems with Darwin's theory but it's hardly dispositive of mental impairment. More importantly he doesn't proceed from the discredited arguments of the mainstream ID movement. He's a fellow traveller more than a committed IDer.

That said: who cares? He could be the Grand Wizard of ID for all the bearing it has on what we've discussed. This thread isn't about defending Wolfgang Smith so I'll belatedly get to your questions!

ACuriousMind said...

@Martin:
Not defending Steve against your accusations (I haven't followed this particular discussion), but showing that he is a proponent of ID is not "poisoning the well", as his conviction that ID is valid is directly related to his understanding of science. It has been repeated ad nauseam by biologists, physicists and scientists in general (and at one point even confirmed by a judge, FWIW) that such a thing as irreducible complexity (which is "complex specified information" uttered in its more familiar form) does not exist and relies on the proponent saying "I cannot imagine how X has arisen by gradual processes, so X is irreducibly complex." This argument from incredulity is, as is easily seen, as fallacy. If Smith ignores (or does not know of, or does not understand) the numerous objections against ID, which are by far easier to understand than the intricate workings of QM, then I have no reason whatsoever that he knows what he is talking about when mentioning Bell's theorem or the like. It is not unfavorable information that is presented here, it is evidence that he is unable to understand basic scientific concepts (such as evolution, the implications of the 2nd law of thermodynamics, etc.) (And don't you dare to imply that ID is a scientific theory, "Teach the controversy" or whatever).
Second, call Steve weasly, ignorant, or whatever you like, but do not quote mine Feynman to support some metaphysical ideas. The "story" about the yellow paint is simply illustrating that one should not claim to do what one does not do. Which is what you claim Steve did (you think he said "From Nothing the universe can evolve" while his "Nothing" isn't really "nothing"), admittedly, but you could have said that without quoting Feynman. The sole reason to do so is to subconsciously construct an argument from authority ("See, even Feynman says you're wrong, and who are you to disagree with him?"). Though Feynman has never explicitly said anything on the origin of the universe from nothing, I think his position would have been "agnostic" in the sense of awaiting the facts from further inquiry. Never would he believe in something metaphysical, but rather suspend judgement until a natural explanation is found. And if there is none found, then that is the way it is. To paraphrase him: He was not frightened by not knowing things. He found it much more interesting.
Sorry, but just that someone else is wrong does not mean that you are right...

dguller said...

Steve:

>> Feser says that physics causes photons. Arithmetic is part of physics. What causes the equation 0 = (+1) + (–1)? How is Feser's explanation that physics causes photons any different from the premise of Guth and Hawkings explanation of a universe ex nihilo?

I think that perhaps people are talking past one another.

Feser’s point, which has been repeated by many individuals on this thread, is that there is a difference between “nothing” and “no thing”. Guth and Hawking may have shown that the universe can proceed from the unfolding of natural laws operating upon the initial energy state, which had no “things” in it – i.e. no photons, quarks, electrons, and so on – but was certainly something that existed, because energy is something, and thus not “nothing”.

I think that is a reasonable point to be made, because one can equivocate on the meaning of “nothing”, and then physicists and theologians/metaphysicians will end up talking past each other, because they are using different meaning of “nothing”.

An interesting idea is that both theologians and physicists agree that it is impossible for there to be nothing in the sense of the absence of anything that exists, including energy and natural laws, which both exist. Physicists base this upon the conservation of energy, and theologians base this upon the necessarily existing First Cause, which cannot possibly not exist. So, both agree that a true “nothing” is impossible.

Steve Smith said...

If I take Newton's mechanics seriously I'm committed to his belief in a Bible code?

Newton never asserted that his physics had relevancy to Bible codes, so Newton's opinions on crackpot subjects are not relevant to discussion of physics.

In contrast, Wolfgang Smith says in the passage I quoted that his physics are centrally important to the crackpot ideas of ID and CSI. This is relevant.

E.H. Munro said...

"Wolfgang Smith is a crank."

"Wolfgang Smith graduated in 1948 from Cornell University with a B.A. in Philosophy, Physics and Mathematics. Two years later he obtained his M.S. in Physics from Purdue University and, some time later, a Ph.D in Mathematics from Columbia University.

He worked as a physicist in Bell Aircraft corporation, researching aerodynamics and the problem of atmospheric reentry.[citation needed] He was a mathematics professor at MIT, UCLA and Oregon State University, doing research in the field of differential geometry and publishing in academic journals such as the Transactions of the American Mathematical Society, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Journal of Mathematics, and others. "

Truly, he is far less qualified to speak on matters of math and physics than pre-eminents if the fields like yourself.

Martin said...

Feser's response that physics causes photons puts him on the very same ground as the physicists and gnu atheists he attacks. When Feser says that physics causes photons, and Hawking says that gravity caused the universe we see, they're offering the same basic explanation

This highlights two related issues.

1. In arguments to an unmoved mover, one premise is that "everything changed is changed by another." All change depends on another more fundamental member in the chain. Take out the physical laws, or the energy in the quantum vacuum, and kiss virtual particles goodbye. This is how Ed has always defended the First Way, so I don't see why you misunderstanding something, followed by Ed correcting you, is a "retreat" by Ed.
2. The stopping point. Hawking et al claim that gravity created the universe, but they leave unexplained the gravity. And gravity is dependent on the warping of space, possibly a force carrier like gravitons, and so forth. So the claim of Aquinas and Friends is that you can't stop until you reach something that is purely actual, and thus not dependent on any further members. A "substrate" as dguller puts it, that holds the whole stack up. And from this comes many of the divine attributes. Connecting it with the Bible and Jesus is a whole other story, and I am in agreement with dguller that this is a large (insurmountable?) gap.

some kant said...

Newton never asserted that his physics had relevancy to Bible codes, so Newton's opinions on crackpot subjects are not relevant to discussion of physics.

I know it's quite tangential, but Heidegger wrote a very nice paper on how modern physics as it started with Newton wasn't really purely empirical, and that it had many metaphysical assumptions, some of them quite strong. So the "divorce" from Aristotle's metaphysics was more a matter of preference than argumentation.

Check it out. It's a nice read, whether you agree with it or not. I'm not a fan of Heidegger, and I really don't think that his system as exposed in Sein und Zeit is very good, but many of his short papers were very nice and straightforward.

Cheers.

Brian said...

>Connecting it with the Bible and Jesus is a whole other story, and I am in agreement with dguller that this is a large (insurmountable?) gap.

Nah. As Feser said in a previous blog post, all you need is a miracle. And we (Catholics) got tons to choose from.

dguller said...

Brian:

>> Nah. As Feser said in a previous blog post, all you need is a miracle. And we (Catholics) got tons to choose from.

First, how do you know that your miracles really happened? And why do your miracles support a specifically Christian religion? Perhaps Jesus’ true teachings were lost, and only a distorted version is what was transmitted? How would we ever know, given the limited archeological and textual record?

Second, there are many other religions that postulate a necessarily existing unitary being as the substrate of all existence that also have miracles. These would include Hinduism and Islam, for example. And there are a number of ancient beliefs that involved resurrection from the dead, such as Mithra, Adonis, Osiris, and so on.

Martin said...

ACuriousMind,

And don't you dare to imply that ID is a scientific theory, "Teach the controversy" or whatever

I'm a non-theist and am as against ID as any "Gnu Atheist". But what is interesting is that the Thomists are against it as well, from an entirely different direction (poor IDists; almost feel sorry for them. Almost.) It exposes another flaw in the ID movement, that of God as a tinkerer who has to step in once in awhile to tweak an otherwise independent creation.

On Thomism, there really isn't any such thing as "supernatural", since all of nature proceeds from God like music, with God perhaps occasionally doing a little trill or improv once in awhile. There is no such thing as "breaking in from the outside" on this view. There is no "god of the gaps" in Thomism, and Aquinas was well aware of such crappy reasoning. Thomism is eminently more plausible, as far as theism goes, and would be a valuable contribution to the fight even for atheists to use, should they wish to meet ID people halfway.

The "story" about the yellow paint is simply illustrating that one should not claim to do what one does not do.

Which is exactly my point. "You can get yellow from red and white; you just need to add a little yellow." Which is the same as physicists when they say "You can get something from nothing; just add a little something."

Laws of gravity, quantum vacuums, and so forth are not "nothing" in the sense meant by cosmological arguments. Many cosmo arguments zero in on why there are such things as "space, time, energy, and physical laws" in the first place, and answering that they were created by the quantum vacuum is essentially saying, "Oh, well, see, they were created by space, time, energy, and physical laws." Which is circular. You can read Ed's post on this here.

ACuriousMind said...

@Martin:
Either we're speaking two different languages here, or my English skills have failed me so much that you completely misunderstood my point. Your selective quotation of my post, however, lets me suspect that you know what I wrote, but chose to distort my views in order to present me as foolish.

If you read the very sentence I wrote after the one about the yellow paint, you'll find this:
Which is what you claim Steve did (you think he said "From Nothing the universe can evolve" while his "Nothing" isn't really "nothing"), admittedly, but you could have said that without quoting Feynman. (Emphasis added for your delight)
I know what you said, and my point was not that you were wrong there, but I objected to the style of your argument. There is no need to quote Feynman (or anyone else, for that matter) in this context, as the circularity in these kinds of arguments can be made obvious without appeal to authority and his way of putting it is neither extraordinarily funny or particularly useful.

And thanks for telling me that no one here will defend ID, but I did not accuse anyone of that, either (I was just preventing some moron from jumping in and dragging the discussion to yet another battleground). My point here was not that anyone here is a creationist, but that Smith's conviction that ID is valid is directly related to his understanding of science. (dircet quote from my earlier post), and therefore is not "poisoning the well", but a valid hint at his ability to be consistent in his views. No doubt he holds some scientific merits, but consistency (to hold that science and ID are both kinda true is inconsistent, as you will certainly agree) seems not to be his greatest strength. So I don't believe him when he says that QM and metaphysics are compatible, because he obviously doesn't understand what it takes to be compatible with science.

To adress your complaint that the physicists "something from nothing" idea is circular, I have to say that I am not totally convinced this view, but will have to defend it against your objection (you may modify it slightly and it becomes valid again, but but anyway):
You claim the physicist is saying "Oh, well, see, they were created by space, time, energy, and physical laws." This is partly right, partly wrong. Only the laws are necessary, as the "universe from nothing" is thought to have zero energy, and space and time itself only are created at the moment of the big bang, and do not exist without it.

BenYachov said...

> So I don't believe him when he says that QM and metaphysics are compatible,

Good grief!

Metaphysics refers to "that which is beyond physics".

If I try to argue philosophically that Nature(sans the supernatural) is all that exists I am making a metaphysical claim(i.e. Metaphysical Naturalism).

If I try to argue only Matter and things derived from matter (like energy) exist then I am making a metaphysical claim.

If I claim Universals are real I am making a metaphysical claim.

If I claim Universals only exist in the mind I am making a metaphysical claim.

If I argue there are no Universals then I am STILL making a metaphysical claim.

Two more words for you my friend.

"Category Mistake."

Martin said...

ACuriousMind,

There is no need to quote Feynman

I was referring to Ed's blog post on this, which I linked to above. Read it.

Only the laws are necessary

Which, again, is not "nothing" as meant by those talking about cosmological arguments. Why a law such as gravity, rather than a law of shliffalif? Or law of farfnarf? Why this set of laws and not some other set of laws? When science is done, and they have their theory of everything, why that equation and not some other? How did it get there? Why does the universe have to answer to it? What breathes life into it?

This cries out for explanation, and is what the cosmo arguments zero in on, and what science is impotent to reveal.

ACuriousMind said...

@Ben Yachov:
Sorry for my sloppy terminology. What I meant was: So I don't believe him when he says that QM and the view, namely, that there is not only a space-time continuum containing various entities, but also-on a more fundamental level-an as yet undifferentiated potency, which is neither in space nor in time, and about which nothing specific can be affirmed are compatible. And as you happen to know that metaphysics means "that which is beyond physics", I may call to your attention that it originally denoted those books that Aristotle wrote after his "physics", meaning "those [books] that came after "physics", and was only later understood by those who knew little Greek and little about Aristotle to mean "that which is beyond physics". Your patronizing attitude is one of the reasons I said that I will regret commenting here, but I am committed to this now.

@Martin:
I read the post, and I am not impressed. Physicists do not care where the laws come from - or rather, they know that the origin of the laws will remain mysterious forever. They do not care because the laws are not "laws" as the public (and most of you here) understand them. They are not laws (immutable) because every scientist knows that they could be overturned by new data the very next day (which has happened several times in the past). They are observations of how the world works, and what rules elegantly describe the behaviour of matter/energy over time (as far as we know). There is always a caveat attached to every scientific law and finding, which says: (Believed to be true as long as not falsified).
Scientist do not care "where the laws came from" because that is not even a sensible question in their epistemic view - the laws themselves are the deepest level of understand humans can ever reliably achieve. Everything behaves according to the laws (demonstrably, I should say) - and therefore, until we find evidence for something that does not (for only such a thing could be responsible for the laws), no scientist will ever consider this question sensible.
The laws are not nothing. But neither are they...something. They are description of how the universe apparently works. They point to a Big Bang. They even explain how it can have happened without anything else existing. But about that point, where/when there was nothing but the laws, we cannot say anything. because time, space, energy, and everything else we automatically presuppose in our human thinking did not exist. We cannot say anything. Only, that we need nothing but the laws. If they were created or not is not even a sensible question - as "creation" requires a time in which to occur. Without time, there is no way to talk about anything.
You have to show that asking "Why this and nothing else?" is a question that can have a meaningful, falsifiable answer. (You need not provide said answer)

PS: I may have gotten quite distracted by these topics, and I am not sure whether I am making myself clear, especially since English is not my native language, so criticize me. But make sure that you have read not only the sentence you are quoting, but also those surrounding it, and that you are not about to play word games.

Josh said...

ACurious Mind,

Is there a real compelling reason why we can't point out that a point has been made before by this blog's author? Or is it just because you thought we were being nasty? I wasn't, personally; I appreciated (up to a point) the discussion we've been having with Steve Smith, until the air got let out of the argument, when I realized he was making a point that Ed had dealt with a long time ago.

The Feynman thing is an easily adaptable analogy to this issue. Are you really that sore over that? Steve Smith seems to like Feynman, and I'm sure many of us here are great admirers of his style...so what's the big deal?

Martin said...

ACuriousMind,

Physicists do not care where the laws come from

That's an interesting factoid about the psychological states of physicists, but I am not talking about the psychological states of physicists.

I am talking about the fact that when theists discuss cosmological arguments, they are talking about "nothing" meaning: no space, no time, no matter, no energy, no physical laws.

Physicists are talking about "nothing" meaning: physical laws, and perhaps some other things as well.

As Ed points out in his post, let theism be false, if you like, and let the laws of physics be a brute inexplicable fact, if you like. Hell, let true "nothing" be impossible, if you like. When the cosmo argument is discussed, it is the absolute absence of anything, including physical laws, that are being talked about.

Bringing up the impossibility of "nothing", the possibility of physical laws being a brute fact, the sensibleness of the question, or anything thus arguing about the fact itself will not defend them against this.

Brian said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ACuriousMind said...

@Josh:

Is there a real compelling reason why we can't point out that a point has been made before by this blog's author?
No.

Or is it just because you thought we were being nasty?

Yes. (Thanks for understanding what I wrote, you are the first.) Not you (didn't even notice you before), but Martin. His whole style (and the fact that he did not reply to my accusation of him constructing an argument from authority etc. as such, and cherry-picked single sentences from my posts to distort my utterances) led (well, still leads) me to believe that he has no genuine interest in honest discussion. This was in no way meant to call all of the Thomists/Aristotelians here nasty (my first mention of this word is to be read ironically), or to imply that there is anything inherently wrong with your arguments. It's just Martin (And BenYachov, now) that upset me with their particular behavior.

Of course, there's nothing wrong with citing anyone, it's just that this particular citation of Feynman seems somehow...dishonest to me. I can't really explain that, and I am more that willing to let this string of argument die now. No more squabbling over who cited whom with what intent, alright?

Brian said...

dguller: First, how do you know that your miracles really happened?

Which ones? There are many hundreds of thousands of miracles in the history of the Catholic Church, many very well-attested and even scientifically investigated. We are not limited to just the biblical ones, though I submit to the judgment of the Church, of course.

In any case, how do we know that anything happened in history? Through the historical method. There will always be some possibility that this or that alternative happened instead of what was recorded. The idea is, though, the probability of that alternative possibility is not always large enough to paralyze us from making judgments. In fact, many times, it can be so small that we can ignore it unless there is some evidence provided so that we should consider the possibility more seriously.

dguller: And why do your miracles support a specifically Christian religion?

Why not? If I am a witness to, say, a Eucharistic miracle, am I then justified in thinking, "Hey, Hinduism is true!" I do not think so, at least.

dguller:Perhaps Jesus’ true teachings were lost, and only a distorted version is what was transmitted? How would we ever know, given the limited archeological and textual record?

Well, yeah, that is always a possibility in history, but the mere possibility of that is not anything that should be concerning. I think I wrote on this briefly in a response to you several comments up.

dguller: Second, there are many other religions that postulate a necessarily existing unitary being as the substrate of all existence that also have miracles. These would include Hinduism and Islam, for example.

First check out Dr. Feser's comment (7/24/11 @ 6:35 PM) on the "Rosenhouse redux" blog post.


dguller:And there are a number of ancient beliefs that involved resurrection from the dead, such as Mithra, Adonis, Osiris, and so on.

Actually, no. That is a pernicious myth. But since it is not relevant in any case, I will leave it at that.

So yeah, all we need is one miracle. All too easy.

ACuriousMind said...

@Martin:
Ok, alright. That's it. Have you even read what I wrote at the end of my post?
[...]make sure that you have read not only the sentence you are quoting, but also those surrounding it, and that you are not about to play word games.

And what do you do? You cite a part of my second sentence of my reply to you, and declare that I am talking about an interesting factoid about the psychological states of physicists. Seriously, if you cannot conclude from what I wrote that the "care" I wrote about is to be understood as "do not consider the question as meaningful" (which I wrote later on in my reply, and explained quite thoroughly), I do not know what to tell you. But the more plausible fact is that you are playing word games again. You read "physicists care", and immediately set out to call me out that we are not talking about "care". Can you really not comprehend that I have well understood what you said, and have still objections to it? Can you really not understand that the meaning of words is not unequivocally in any context? How many times have I to say that you shall read the whole damn sentence (or better yet, the whole post) and reply to it, instead of quote mining it? How many times have I to say that I am not a native speaker, and may make some mistakes in wording?

PS: Josh, can you truly claim after Martins post that he is honestly engaging in a discussion with me? If yes, please show me where he did. I am unable to see where...

Steve Smith said...

Which is the same as physicists when they say "You can get something from nothing; just add a little something."

This is willful ignorance.

For others who may be interested, here's both a technical and popular description of how a universe from literally nothing is possible.

A technical account of the universe ex nihilo, following Vilenkin, "Creation of universes from nothing". Physics Letters B Volume 117, Issues 1-2, 4 November 1982, Pages 25-28. Available here.

1. Observe the Friedmann–Lemaître–Robertson–Walker metric for universal expansion:

ds² = dt² – a(t)|dx

This is describes the space-time geometry with the spatial scale term a(t) describing the growth/contraction of the universe. This is Vilenkin's equation (2).

2. Solve the evolution equation:

a(t) = (1/H)cosh(Ht)

where H is the Hubble constant.

This is Vilenkin's equation (3). So far, there is no explanation of a universe from nothing because the de Sitter space isn't nothing, as we all agree.

3. Observe that at t = 0, the physics has the same form as a potential barrier, for which it is known that quantum tunneling is possible. The description of quantum tunneling involves a transformation tit, with i² = –1.

Now the evolution equation is

a(t) = (1/H)cos(Ht) [the cosine "cos", not the hyperbolic cosine "cosh"]

valid for |t| < π/2/H. This is Vilenkin's equation (5). Space-Time is simply the 4-sphere, a compact, i.e, bounded space. At the scale a(t) = 0, this space is literally nothing. No energy, no space-time, no particles. Nothing. The interpretation of (5) is quantum tunneling to de Sitter space, the universe as we know it. See Figure 1a for a depiction of the creation of the universe from nothing using this explanation.

Vilenkin says in the paper, "A cosmological model is proposed in which the universe is created by quantum tunneling from literally nothing into a de Sitter space. After the tunneling, the model evolves along the lines of the inflationary scenario. This model does not have a big-bang singularity and does not require any initial or boundary conditions. &hellip In this paper I would like to suggest a new cosmological scenario in which the universe is spontaneously created from literally nothing, and which is free from the difficulties I mentioned in the preceding paragraph. This scenario does not require any changes in the fundamental equations of physics; it only gives a new interpretation to a well-known cosmological solution. … The concept of the universe being created from nothing is a crazy one. To help the reader make peace with this concept, I would like to give an example of a compact instanton in a more familiar setting. …"

This is what physicists mean by "nothing". Nonexistent space-time, subject to the laws of quantum mechanics.

Steve Smith said...

Guth provides a nontechnical explanation: "Alexander Vilenkin … suggested that the universe was created by quantum processes starting from "literally nothing," meaning not only the absence of matter, but the absence of space and time as well. This concept of absolute nothingness is hard to understand, because we are accustomed to thinking of space as an immutable background which could not possibly be removed. Just as a fish could not imagine the absence of water, we cannot imagine a situation devoid of space and time. At the risk of trying to illuminate the abstruse with the obscure, I mention that one way to understand absolute nothingness is to imagine a closed universe, which has a finite volume, and then imagine decreasing the volume to zero. In any case, whether one can visualize it or not, Vilenkin showed that the concept of absolute nothingness is at least mathematically well-defined, and can be used as a starting point for theories of creation."

Martin said...

ACuriousMind,

Your better grow a thicker skin than that, if you are going to engage in blog commenting. Especially now that BenYachov is here.

Your entire comment is that "where the laws came from is not a sensible question, per scientists." I read the whole thing again, and that's what it says. I'm not sure what you think I missed.

Martin said...

Steve Smith,

This is what physicists mean by "nothing". Nonexistent space-time, subject to the laws of quantum mechanics.

Which is not the same "nothing" that the cosmological argument speaks of.

"Nothing" = no space, no time, no matter, no energy, no physical laws. Nothing.

You may protest that "nothing" in that sense cannot exist. You may protest that "nothing" in that sense is incoherent. You may protest that the physical laws are a brute fact.

And if so, then you would finally be on the same page.

Josh said...

"This is what physicists mean by "nothing". Nonexistent space-time, subject to the laws of quantum mechanics."

Great. Now I can ignore your equivocations as you've ignored our objections to this.

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