Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Tom and Jerry

Let’s give Jerry Coyne credit.  He asked for advice on what to read in order to understand what theists take to be the rational foundations of their position, I gave him some advice, and now he says he’ll take it.  And so, Jerry Coyne will soon meet Thomas Aquinas.  True, on the subject of the cosmological argument, Coyne still misses the point, which is that the pat “counterarguments” hacks like Dawkins give are superficial and directed at straw men.  Nor did I say he “must read many books” to see at least that much: Just reading a book like my Aquinas would suffice.  The point of my other references was merely to indicate where he might look if he wants to pursue the subject more thoroughly than just relying on little old me.

Do I expect Coyne to become a theist after studying Aquinas, or even to admit that the cosmological argument is more formidable than New Atheist types give it credit for?  Not for a moment – any more than Coyne expects that “Intelligent Design” theorists (my longtime sparring partners) would concede an inch even after reading one of the “one stop” books Coyne cites as sufficient to establish Darwinism.   

But, again, Coyne deserves credit for at least going through the motions, which is more than Dawkins, Myers, et al. bother to do.  In New Atheist Land, that’s a kind of progress.  (And by the way, Prof. Coyne, I’m not the “Skeptic” in the little dialogue presented in my previous post.  I’m the “Scientist.”)

112 comments:

mpresley said...

When approaching Aquinas, one problem for the non-philosopher (like myself), or even someone possessing philosophical knowledge, but of the modern variety, is that we are often conditioned to the usual modern interpretations, interpretations that we know (from reading and studying here and elsewhere) are often superficial and just plain wrong. Also, his thought is just plain weird if approached with modern preconceptions. It takes much work on oneself in order to come to an understanding, and to do him justice.

At least that is my experience.

Anonymous said...

"oh noes i have to read Aquinas" is a bit like saying "oh noes i have to read Darwin"

Eric said...

""oh noes i have to read Aquinas" is a bit like saying "oh noes i have to read Darwin""

Even worse: "But if everything needs a cause, then what caused god?" is to informed theology/philosophy as "But if we evolved from monkeys, why are there still monkeys?" is to informed biology. Sad, then, isn't it, that the very people who get so exercised when an ignorant creationist asks about monkeys and human evolution, and who cannot go on enough about the creationist's need to educate himself, proudly put themselves on the same level philosophically when discussing the existence of god. And, when you ask them to take their own advice, and educate themselves about philosophy and theology, you're hit with the patently stupid "Courtier's Reply" charge.

What's there to do sometimes but shrug one's shoulders?

Anonymous said...

He didn't get you where the "Scientist"?

That is not a hopeful sign.

Anonymous said...

It looks like Jerry got Augustine's "Confessions" and not your "Aquinas".
http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2011/07/13/o-noes-i-have-to-read-aquinas/#comment-118365

Let's see if he goes through with it. I wonder if he is able to distinguish between the two. Some there do not.
http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2011/07/13/o-noes-i-have-to-read-aquinas/#comment-118182

Matthew G said...

This exchange is going into an interesting direction. The most amazing part to me is that Coyne seems to honestly believe that Dawkins has refuted every argument for the existence of God to the degree that he can just name drop the book and think it suffices.
I mean, that just breaks the "fail"-scale. Is he really THAT clueless? I mean, not even the average YouTube-atheist is that ignorant.

hyperdeath said...

Coyne didn't mix up the "skeptic" and "scientist" roles. Where are people getting this from? He clearly said:

"According to Feser, if you replace 'Skeptic' with 'Coyne' and 'Scientist' with 'Theologian' then..."

Anonymous said...

Hyperdeath, here is a statement from the third paragraph of Coyne's post:

"That stuff, according to “Skeptic” (read Feser here) is just as pretentious and obscure as theology, and, further, never provides evidence for its claims."

I bolded the relevant part for you.

Anonymous said...

First Coyne and now hyperdeath...

I wonder sometimes whether this whole gnu-atheist/new-atheist nonsense isn't just as a result of widespread Asperger's syndrome?

http://www.scientificamerican.com/blog/post.cfm?id=people-with-aspergers-less-likely-t-2010-05-29

Now there is an empirical study waiting to happen...

noodle. said...

Friends, we should be more charitable with Coyne. He's actually trying to inform himself about the more serious arguments and elaborate theology, instead of just being snarky and juvenile like most "Gnus" out there.

I welcome this development and hope it produces a fruitful dialogue.

Eric said...

"Friends, we should be more charitable with Coyne. He's actually trying to inform himself about the more serious arguments and elaborate theology, instead of just being snarky and juvenile like most "Gnus" out there.
I welcome this development and hope it produces a fruitful dialogue."

I agree. My remarks, anyway, were aimed primarily at the regulars who comment on Coyne's blog.

hyperdeath said...

Anonymous said...


"Hyperdeath, here is a statement from the third paragraph of Coyne's post:

"That stuff, according to "Skeptic" (read Feser here)..."


I think Coyne meant to say that the words of "Skeptic" were written by Feser, rather than being an author surrogate. I agree that the sentence is ill-phrased, but given that he gets the role of "scientist" and "skeptic" the right way round in the previous sentence, it is unlikely that he made the mistake you are attributing to him.

Hype said...

Reading Aquinas made me ditch ID.
I have so many ID books and now when I read through them it's like "Okay, but what are you proposing? God tinkering with creation after the fact to make this and that contrivance??"

DNW said...

"I wonder sometimes whether this whole gnu-atheist/new-atheist nonsense isn't just as a result of widespread Asperger's syndrome?"

I followed your link to the article and read some of the following comments. Those comments certainly seem diagnostic of something.

Though it's hard to reconcile the emotionalistic expressions of outrage over the mere reporting of the subject and the self-regarding pride of those claiming or appropriating Asperger's as a virtue, with a layman's diagnosis of Autism.

Or, maybe, it's not.

George R. said...

Hype:
Reading Aquinas made me ditch ID.
I have so many ID books and now when I read through them it's like "Okay, but what are you proposing? God tinkering with creation after the fact to make this and that contrivance??"


No, I think they were proposing that living things were intelligently design -- and if you believe that Thomas Aquinas ever taught otherwise, you are laboring under a sad delusion.

MMc said...

Good Luck to Mr. C....

Because of the insufficiency of my own intellectual development, it took me YEARS to come to a sufficient understanding of AT...

Or MAYBE I HAD TO WORK VERY HARD to throw off the shackles of public school,and the secular assumptions of our time.

Is Coyne ready to do this??

Anonymous said...

It was fascinating on the thread at Coynes blog, to see atheist Dguller trying to just reason some sense into some of these other new-atheist, the guys must've been flabbergasted and just the sheer stupidity of his co-atheist. The scale must be falling slowly and excrutiatingly from his eyes as he looks into what used to be for him, a mirror of sorts.

Tap said...

It was fascinating on the thread at Coynes blog, to see atheist Dguller trying to just reason some sense into some of these other new-atheist, the guys must've been flabbergasted and just the sheer stupidity of his co-atheist. The scale must be falling slowly and excrutiatingly from his eyes as he looks into what used to be for him, a mirror of sorts.

Anonymous said...

Dguller is cool. Don't judge him.

Tap said...

Not judging Dguller, judging the other atheists he arguing with. Because of the typos, my post might have been misread. the sentence should say:

the guy (i.e dguller) must've been flabbergasted at just the sheer stupidity of his co-atheist.

Mike Gene said...

I’d bet Coyne is going through the motions of reading the book simply to be able to claim he read the book. The question is whether he will read the book with a “let me truly understand what is being said” approach or an “okay, let’s find the problems” approach. As a Gnu activist, Coyne is much more likely to adopt the latter approach. And in psychology, this is known as disconfirmation bias.

dguller said...

I take confirmation bias seriously, which is why I read Feser's books to begin with. Although they made excellent points, which forced me to reconsider some incorrect opinion of theology, I did not find all of his arguments persuasive, and still has reservations about Thomism as true. However, I cannot say that Aquinas was not a brilliant thinker who grappled with deep and profound issues. Just because I disagree with his conclusions does not mean that I do not respect his efforts.

Regarding Coyne's commenters, it is disheartening to see intelligent individuals refusing to even consider an alternative perspective. Furthermore, the insults and derogatory remarks are unnecessary, as well.

Anyway, my intentions there were not to defend Aquinas -- because I disagree with him -- but only to object to their caricatures of his positions, as I understand them. I am a firm believer in attacking an argument in its strongest form, and certainly, most commenters there relied upon Dawkins' cursory and inaccurate representation, or something similar. As i said there, refuting a straw man is psychologically comforting, but philosophically useless, and those interested in the truth should stay away from caricatures and straw men.

Vincent Torley said...

Hype,

Regarding your questions on Intelligent Design, please see
http://www.angelfire.com/linux/vjtorley/
thomas4.html

Hope that helps.

Dguller,

Do you think it might help Professor Coyne and the other gnus if a handy "Cliff Notes" summary of Ed's key arguments (with hyperlinks explaining unfamiliar terms) were available online? Just a thought. I mention it because I'm one of these people that can't keep more than four or five things in his head at once.

Mr. Green said...

DGuller: Furthermore, the insults and derogatory remarks are unnecessary, as well.

You've taken on a thankless job, so ... thank you! It's always nice to see someone trying to support serious arguments rather than strawmen, and it's commendable that you're doing so not because you agree with the arguments, but simply out of intellectual honesty. That kind of response is disheartening, but I hope it doesn't discourage you.

dguller said...

Vincent:

Honestly, I do not think it would help.

The bottom line is that unless someone is willing to first try in good faith to understand the underlying rationale behind the metaphysical ideas of Aristotle and Aquinas in a charitable way, any short representation of their arguments would fall on deaf ears. I tried to read these arguments in the past, and found them incredibly stupid, but that was because I read my own assumptions and interpretative framework into them, and they clearly were a mismatch. Really, it was only when I took the time to read Feser’s explanation of the concepts on their own terms that I could see how the pieces of the arguments fit nicely together.

I really do not think that the majority of commenters are even interested in doing this, which would make a short summary of the arguments appear even worse than they are, because without the framework, the arguments are ridiculous. Actually, I do credit Coyne with at least going through the motions of trying to understand the framework, even though it is likely that he will disagree with its implications.

BenYachov said...

>I tried to read these arguments in the past, and found them incredibly stupid, but that was because I read my own assumptions and interpretative framework into them,

Small miracles....this is a definite improvement over last time.

Good job.

BenYachov said...

As I recall this was the dguller who first came here months ago.

I don't know who that dguller was who came here last time but I won't miss him.

Carry on.

BenYachov said...

Oh and sorry I was hard on you dguller.

Neil said...

mpresley: "It takes much work on oneself in order to come to an understanding, and to do him [Aquinas] justice."

Very true and it is absolutely worth it.

noodle said...

Actually, I do credit Coyne with at least going through the motions of trying to understand the framework, even though it is likely that he will disagree with its implications.

Yes. This is why I believe Coyne deserves some respect. Dr. Feser seems aware of this.

I don't know if they communicate privately, maybe the should.

GringoRoyale said...

Hi Mike,

You're probably right, but hopefully something in Aquinas reaches out to Coyne as it did to me.

Phritz said...

why must every event have a cause?? moreover if the cause cannot be known definitely (humans weren't around), how can you say anything about it (ie, monotheistic, or polydeistic, or etc). Can a philosopher even say anything about a finite vs infinite series of physical events?? (ie, the question does related to modern physics (not domino physics)

Finally what sort of counterarguments does the Thomist accept?? if none, then he's probably spouting dogma not philosophy

GringoRoyale said...

Phritz,

regarding the nature of causes and effects - I think you'd really benefit from reading Aquinas.
It made it so clear for me.

I get what you're saying, but I think if you'd read the Thomstic view on Potency and Actual; Essence and Existence it might make sense.

I really don't think it's just dogma. When I first started reading Feser's Aquinas I was becoming so impressed with how clear and Aquinas actually is.

Phritz said...

GR--it's mostly a paraphrase of Kant's First Antinomy. Try that. while I don't worship Kant he had some understanding of Copernicus, Newton, etc. Aquinas still ptolemaic

Anonymous said...

Ed,

Coyne has (sort of) responded to you, and has cited a fellow who engages you more directly.

http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2011/07/15/jason-rosenhouse-theres-no-good-theology/

Chuck said...

I've been impressed by the charity of you all here and shocked by the anger I received when I suggested that maybe a first move by an atheist challenging a theist's argument should be a willingness to understand the argument. I was accused of the "Courtier's Reply" which, if I read it right, is simply a rebuttal to a claim against theology by accusing the claimant of not reading the "right" theology. It has nothing to do with philosophical charity or respecting the right for your interlocutor to present the epistemic warrant for their beliefs. I felt like a theist again with the level of antipathy coming at me.

All that said, I'll be blogging through Dr. Feser's book at a new blog I will be starting and would love to get your input on my comprehension of Aquinas.

The details of the project and the URL are here.

http://chuckoconnor.blogspot.com/2011/07/battle-is-over-shutting-it-down.html

Oh and Eric, this is the same Chuck who was often a Jackass to you at DC. I've come to see how immature I was and have gained new respect for your character. Sorry about the past.

Chuck said...

Subsribing. Sorry.

BenYachov said...

RH on the other thread could learn from you Chuck.

Chuck said...

Ben,

I'm done trying to teach others. I'd rather just try to learn. I'm a little embarrassed at the awareness of my own cognitive bias when reading the opposition to my propositions. I once thought that kind of response was careful thinking. I don't any longer.

GringoRoyale said...

Phritz,

I'm not certain what your point is.

Brian said...

I have noticed that atheists tend to think of classical theism as being distinct from Christianity. But that distinction does not really exist if we are talking about orthodox Christianity - i.e., Catholicism and maybe Eastern Orthodoxy (I say "maybe" because the Greeks tend to be very averse to the analytic philosophy of us "Latins.") I think it is important to remind atheists of that fact because actual, old-gangsta Christianity has found Protestant Christianity to be heretical, and that is exactly the type of Christianity that they conceive of when they think "Christianity." So maybe some more explicitly Catholic apologetics is in order.

BenYachov said...

>(I say "maybe" because the Greeks tend to be very averse to the analytic philosophy of us "Latins.")

Maybe not I've read St. Maximos the Confessor he is classical theist in the Aristotelian sense.

Richard A said...

Somehow, though, between Coyne's first summary of the cosmological argument on his blog, his summary of Russell's reply, and the third combox, the discussion went from the (hopeful) summary "Every contingent being must have a cause" to "everything must have a cause".

I'm sure Coyne has studied radioactive decay more than I have, so maybe I'll deserve to be slapped down for this, but isn't "radioactive decay" a description of an observable attribute of some physical elements? By suggesting that we don't know what "causes" it, isn't he changing his definition of "cause" in the middle of his argument?

Brian said...

I mean, Chuck is an excellent example. Didn't he say he comes from a Reformed background? Chuck, when you were a Protestant, did you look into the history of the earliest Christians? Did you look in the Apostolic and Church fathers? The Bible did not even exist until the 4th century, and since the first century, Christians had a pope in rome, had an hierarchy, prayed and venerated the Virgin Mary, prayed to saints and venerated their relics, believed in the Real Presence in the Eucharist, etc. etc.?

Anonymous said...

Classical theists can also be Platonists, right? I thought Maximus the Confessor and Eastern Orthodoxy in general was neo-Platonic rather than Aristotelian.

Which is why I'd be interested in seeing just how much philosophical overlap is present between neo-Platonism and A-T.

Chuck said...

I'm not a good example.

I was raised Roman Catholic (14 years of RC education between grade school, high school and graduate school), and then agnostic for quite awhile until I moved into Mega-Church post-modernism, that led to Reformed Theology (which ended my faith because of the sickness I saw in Calvinist Divine Command Morality). Reading Prof. Feser's book will be my first engagement with classical theism.

BenYachov said...

Yes Neo-Platonists can be classic Theists.

But I seem to remember reading in my footnote of my copy of St Maximos he was making an inference to Aristotle in saying God contains no potency.

BenYachov said...

>(which ended my faith because of the sickness I saw in Calvinist Divine Command Morality).

I wonder what would happen if you read Brian Davies REALITY OF GOD AND THE PROBLEM OF EVIL?

That would be a fun future experiment.

grodrigues said...

@Richard A:

"I'm sure Coyne has studied radioactive decay more than I have, so maybe I'll deserve to be slapped down for this, but isn't "radioactive decay" a description of an observable attribute of some physical elements? By suggesting that we don't know what "causes" it, isn't he changing his definition of "cause" in the middle of his argument?"

You are essentially right. All the talk about “uncaused events” is just sloppy talk, usually made by people who do not understand what an uncaused event is or even grasp that if an uncaused event actually happened we would simply be *unable* to rationally explain it. It would literally be magic and outside the reach of rationality.

What Prof. J. Coyne probably wanted to say, or at any rate should say, is that the causality nexus is not strictly deterministic but probabilistic -- but let me reinforce that the causality nexus is there. And even this statement is a matter of contention and depends on the interpretation of QM. But the debate about QM interpretations is, although of necessity informed by physics (Bell's theorem, Aspect experiments, etc.), also a philosophical debate.

Chuck said...

"I wonder what would happen if you read Brian Davies REALITY OF GOD AND THE PROBLEM OF EVIL?

That would be a fun future experiment."

I'll put it on my list of blogging projects. After Feser, I'm going to read Mackie's "Miracle of Theism" and then some Wittgenstein but, I will put it on the list.

Anonymous said...

See Ben, lately I've become thoroughly confused as to how much Platonism has in common with A-T.

Here's Eastern Orthodox theologian David Hart, who is a self-professed Christian Platonist, and whom many consider to be the greatest living theologian in America and among the greatest in the world, advancing an idea that clearly draws from Aquinas, and hence A-T:

"The most venerable metaphysical claims about God do not simply shift priority from one kind of thing (say, a teacup or the universe) to another thing that just happens to be much bigger and come much earlier (some discrete, very large gentleman who preexists teacups and universes alike). These claims start, rather, from the fairly elementary observation that nothing contingent, composite, finite, temporal, complex, and mutable can account for its own existence, and that even an infinite series of such things can never be the source or ground of its own being, but must depend on some source of actuality beyond itself. Thus, abstracting from the universal conditions of contingency, one very well may (and perhaps must) conclude that all things are sustained in being by an absolute plenitude of actuality, whose very essence is being as such: not a “supreme being,” not another thing within or alongside the universe, but the infinite act of being itself, the one eternal and transcendent source of all existence and knowledge, in which all finite being participates."

(taken from "Believe It or Not," one of the finest essays anywhere on the subject of the New Atheist movement's ineptitude:

http://www.firstthings.com/article/2010/04/believe-it-or-not)


He also *explicitly* subscribes to the reality of formal and final causality, as is evident from the following critical essay on Daniel Dennett's book:

http://www.firstthings.com/article/2009/01/003-daniel-dennett-hunts-the-snark-15



So I ask myself: Is one of the greatest theologians alive today making an elementary mistake and drawing unjustifiably from philosophical resources outside of his Christian Platonist tradition, or am I, in my ignorance, failing to see the overlap between Christian Platonism and A-T?

I (obviously) suspect it's the latter, but I don't know what the overlap is. Hence my confusion.

Anonymous said...

Chuck,

The state of Catholic education is very sad. Fourteen years and not a single exposition to Classical Theism? What kind of catechism are we teaching? This saddens me because intelligent and good people lose their faith without a chance to consider better arguments.

Anyhow, I wish you the best in your endeavor and pray that you get closer to the truth. I've always had a soft stop for Wittgenstein (esp. his later, less known works, like On Certainty). Regarding Mackie, the Maverick Philosopher has an excellent set of posts regarding his arguments on morality.

All the best.

BenYachov said...

Anon,

I can only give Socrates wise reply "I don't know".

That is a future subject to explore.

I'll put it on my ist.

noodle said...

David Hart is cool. Platonism is cool.

Anonymous said...

Also Chuck, you might want to consider the late Mortimer Adler. A great philosopher (and one of Prof. Feser's influences, it seems).

Eric said...

"Oh and Eric, this is the same Chuck who was often a Jackass to you at DC. I've come to see how immature I was and have gained new respect for your character. Sorry about the past."

No problem, Chuck. I'm quite sure I was pretty immature in many of my responses, too. I'm just happy to see that you're considering the sorts of arguments people like Professor Feser make, whether you ultimately accept them or not. As I've said many times, I just would like to get many New Atheist types to understand that it's possible to disagree with someone on these issues without concluding that he's stupid, irrational, deluded, afraid of reality, etc. I'm not an atheist (though I was once one, as I believe I told you in the past), but I admit, and have no problem admitting, that a person can be rational, sincere, sane, intelligent and informed *as* an atheist. I would just like to see more atheists make the same concession, for it's only then that we can have a reasonable dialogue. (You can see clearly, on Coyne's and Myers's blogs, especially in the comments sections, the sort of dialogue that a theist, or, better yet, that an *atheist* who thinks it's possible to be a sincere, intelligent, sane, informed, rational theist, can expect to have with atheists who deny the very possibility of intelligent, sane theism.) Anyway, good to hear from you Chuck, and I wish you the best on the amazing intellectual journey you're about to go on (again, whatever conclusions you ultimately reach).

Chuck said...

Anon (I suggest our anonymous friends give us their name in their comment so we know to whom we speak).

Thanks for the thoughts. I don't know if there is much philosophy in Parochial School. It would be interesting to see the gulf between one's religious tradition and the epistemic warrant one has for his beliefs. I know that I was religious because my parents were (and still are) very committed to the Roman Catholic Church and we lived across the street from our Parish. I'm writing a play now set in 1968 within the context of the Roman Catholic Church. a big part of the background environment is Vatican II. That council created very intense factions within the Church which may have led to a suppression of classical theistic arguments and/or a subversion of them. Many priests went rogue and left the faith to get married leaving a vacuum of scholastic tradition and leadership. We also live in a culture that got hooked on post-modernism as if it was the final philosophical school (until you see that living by it is like nailing jell-o to a wall) so, reasoning through arguments with discipline may have suffered to the cultural concerns for relativism. I know in my Junior High School religion class, our primary focus in 7th grade was to explore world religions and in 8th grade it was to explore Protestant denominations. The thing I realize in hind-sight was that there was not care for context in Roman Catholic tradition relative to these other world-views. It may have been taken for granted that we had a good footing but, I can see now, a big pedagogical opportunity was missed.

Brian said...

Hey, Chuck, the use of the prefix "Roman" works for the word "Catholic" but it does not work in the front of the words "Catholic Church." There is no such institution called the "Roman Catholic Church." There is the Roman Church in Italy to which Christianity has been in communion with for thousands of years as the bulwark of orthodoxy and the episcopacy of Peter. But there is no "Roman Catholic Church." It is a Reformation invention.

Chuck said...

Eric,

You were never a jackass. You were very patient. I got a dose of my own medicine this morning at WEIT. It is infuriating to deal with someone who is certain that they have THE answer and if you disagree with them then you are an idiot. And I agreed with their conclusion! I was just asking them to see the virtue in what a person was arguing for rather than what you THINK they are arguing for.

I don't know how many people yesterday thought a defeater to the Cosmological Argument was that, if you can't tell them how you can't get Jesus out of the conclusion then you are a liar. Baffling but, it is EXACTLY how I approached these arguments when I first lost my faith. I think I was afraid of being sucked back into the kind of religion that I thought hurt me without realizing that the arguments you posed were of a different modality all together, and you weren't a TV Evangelist.

The real stupidity of the Gnu obstinate stance is in the shallow caricature they (and I did) present of a religious defeater, regardless if they know a person's religious commitment. The Cosmological Argument could be used by a deist, or a B'hai, or a Calvinist, or a Roman Catholic. dguller was sharing it as an atheist and they were convinced he was a lying Christian in disguise. Silliness. One guy there BenGoren (the other side of BenYachov? : ) matter to anti-matter maybe?) Always tries to slam the believer by making fun of the substance dualism of the Eucharist without ever realizing if his snark is even directed at a Roman Catholic. As a Calvinist, when I had a faith commitment, I'd laugh along with him at the Catholic heresy.

I'm sick of being angry and stupid and afraid. I don't think I will become a Roman Catholic but, I'd like to understand what your arguments ARE rather than what I think they are.

I'd love for you to check out the blog when I audit Feser's book and weigh in on my comprehension.

Chuck said...

"Hey, Chuck, the use of the prefix "Roman" works for the word "Catholic" but it does not work in the front of the words "Catholic Church." There is no such institution called the "Roman Catholic Church." There is the Roman Church in Italy to which Christianity has been in communion with for thousands of years as the bulwark of orthodoxy and the episcopacy of Peter. But there is no "Roman Catholic Church." It is a Reformation invention."

More evidence to my less than vital religious training (and maybe an object lesson in how relativism creeped into Roman orthodoxy, thus undermining classical training -- I never was taught what you wrote above, until now. We always wold demure to the Reformed invention?)

Josh said...

Chuck, I'll be following your blog as you go through Aquinas. I'm interested to see what you come up with.

BenYachov said...

Also if we are being ecclesiastically PC. Eastern Rite Catholics aren't Roman Catholic they are Orthodox Christian in Communion with the Pope of Rome.

It's all good in the hood brothers and sisters.

Pax!

Chuck said...

Josh,

Cool thanks. I'll repost when I start the book.

I think some interesting conversations will be had.

Brian said...

BenYachov, give me your email. I want to send you something. Why dont you email me?

windfish[at]sbcglobal[dot]com

MIke Gene said...

Hi Gringo,

I very strongly doubt that anything from Aquinas is going to reach out to Coyne. If he was a young, open-minded student “searching for truth,” then sure. But he has found his niche as a Gnu activist (activists advocate, they don't search) and already has a history of misrepresenting theological arguments. For example, Karl Giberson once wrote a short essay for HuffPo arguing that the beauty of mathematics led him to think there is something more than our empirical reality. Coyne used his blog to ridicule Giberson, misrepresenting the argument as “Math works, ergo Jesus.”

Chuck said...

Yes Mike, that is the snark that goes on with Jerry.

It can be emotionally satisfying until, like me, you hear an atheist Philosopher of Religion honestly wrestle with a classical argument for the existence of god and you realize 2 things.

1. To address the argument as it is does not mean you are agreeing to the truth claims of Christianity
2. Snarkiness does not equal thoughtfulness

Mike Gene said...

Chuck,

“I don't know how many people yesterday thought a defeater to the Cosmological Argument was that, if you can't tell them how you can't get Jesus out of the conclusion then you are a liar. Baffling but, it is EXACTLY how I approached these arguments when I first lost my faith. I think I was afraid of being sucked back into the kind of religion that I thought hurt me without realizing that the arguments you posed were of a different modality all together, and you weren't a TV Evangelist.”

Fascinating. Coyne makes this type of move often and it has always perplexed me. It’s as if someone loses the ability to perceive the actual argument that is on the table. I’ve long thought it’s some type of defense mechanism that is grounded in the fear of a slippery slope and therefore what you have said resonates. Anyway, I playfully poked at this approach before:

http://designmatrix.wordpress.com/2010/06/30/what-if-we-played-chess-the-way-people-argue/

BenYachov said...

Brian,


jamesmscott4[at]gmail[dot]com

BenYachov said...

This looks like an interesting discussion.

But I will have to miss it. I'm seeing HP 7 Part 2 in 3D tonight.

Right after I turn off my computer and install a new RAM chip.

Eric said...

"I don't know how many people yesterday thought a defeater to the Cosmological Argument was that, if you can't tell them how you can't get Jesus out of the conclusion then you are a liar. Baffling but, it is EXACTLY how I approached these arguments when I first lost my faith. I think I was afraid of being sucked back into the kind of religion that I thought hurt me without realizing that the arguments you posed were of a different modality all together, and you weren't a TV Evangelist.
"The real stupidity of the Gnu obstinate stance is in the shallow caricature they (and I did) present of a religious defeater, regardless if they know a person's religious commitment. The Cosmological Argument could be used by a deist, or a B'hai, or a Calvinist, or a Roman Catholic."

Chuck I can identify with that! When I was an atheist, I made the same sort of arguments.

A real turning point for me came when I read about the turning point in Thomas Merton's life, which he explains on page 189 of his magnificent "The Seven Storey Mountain":

"And the one big concept which I got out of its [Gilson's "The Spirit of Medieval Philosophy] pages was something that was to revolutionize my whole life. It is all contained in one of those dry, outlandish technical compounds that the scholastic philosophers were so prone to use: the word aseitas. In this one word, which can be applied to God alone, and which expresses His most characteristic attribute, I discovered an entirely new concept of God—a concept which showed me at once the belief of Catholics was by no means the vague and rather superstitious hangover from an unscientific age that I had believed it to be. On the contrary, here was a notion of God that was at the same time deep, precise, simple, and accurate and, what is more, charged with implications which I could not even begin to appreciate, but which I could at least dimly estimate, even with my own lack of philosophical training.

"Aseitas—the English equivalent is a transliteration: aseity—simply means the power of a being to exist absolutely in virtue of itself, not as caused by itself, but as requiring no cause, no other justification for its existence except that its very nature is to exist. There can be only one such Being: that is God. And to say that God exists a se, of and by and by reason of Himself, is merely to say that God is Being [my stress] Itself. Ego sum qui sum. And this means that God must enjoy “complete independence not only as regards everything outside but also as regards everything within Himself...

"Pure act: therefore excluding all imperfections in the order of existing. Therefore excluding all change, all becoming, all beginning or end, all limitation.But from this fullness of existence, if I had been capable of considering it deeply enough, I would have soon found that the fullness of all perfection could easily be argued.

"But another thing that struck me was an important qualification the author [Gilson] made. He distinguished between the concepts of 'ens in genere' -- the abstract notion of being general -- and 'ens infinitum,' the concrete and real Infinite Being, Who, Himself, transcends all our conceptions...

"I think the reason why these statements, and others like them, made such a profound impression on me, lay deep in my own soul. And it was this: I had never had an adequate notion of what Christians meant by God. I had simply taken for granted that the God in Whom religious people believed, and to Whom they attributed the creation and government of all things, was a noisy and dramatic and passionate character, a vague, jealous, hidden being, the objectification of all their own desires and strivings and subjective ideals."

Brian said...

Well I'll be darned. And I had written Merton off for some reason. I gotta read him onw.

dguller said...

Chuck:

I think that you will enjoy Feser’s books. I actually ended up reading Aquinas, The Last Superstition, and Philosophy of Mind, mostly because I so enjoyed his writing on this blog, and wanted a more formal presentation of his ideas. I cannot tell you how rewarding it was to have someone who understands the Thomist framework and is able to present it in jargon-free and comprehensible prose.

Despite the fact that I ultimately disagree with his conclusions about a variety of issues and topics, and remain a devout atheist, I honestly cannot say that those who adhere to his positions are intellectually stunted or inferior in any way, especially if they understand the justifications for them with sufficient sophistication. I recognize that intuitions vary and at a certain level of analysis, our premises become less precise and clear, and there is sufficient wiggle room for alternative interpretations and conclusions to be justified.

Interestingly enough, this is precisely Feser’s goal in his books, i.e. not necessarily to persuade his readers of the truth of his conclusions, but mainly to put to lie the idea that anyone who holds such conclusions is necessarily idiotic and foolishly superstitious. As I can no longer believe such things with honesty, I can say that Feser certainly accomplished his mission with me.

Anyway, I look forward to your blog commentary on his books. Perhaps I’ll join in with my own comments, which I wrote all over the margins of my copies. I look forward to our future discussion.

dmt117 said...

dguller,

I've followed your conversations here and, especially, your thread on Jerry Coyne's blog. I admire your open-mindedness and patience over at Coyne's place.

With respect to your last comment, it has always seemed to me that one must give some respect to thinkers who have established a wide following over a period of time. It just doesn't answer to common sense that Plato and Aristotle can be simple nonsense yet sustain an intellectual following for thousands of years.

The same holds for modern philosophers. I'm a Plato/Aristotle/Aquinas kind of guy, but I've read modern philosophers like Hume and Kant for similar reasons. People would not have taken Hume and Kant seriously for more than two hundred years if they were open to obvious refutation. For me, this paid off particularly with respect to Kant, who I've found much more illuminating than I expected, although I ultimately disagree with him. My relationship with Kant is probably something like yours with Aquinas.

I believe this is how philosophy is supposed to work. Pax.

Martin said...

dguller,

Might I ask what causes you to still be an atheist?

I too was an atheist, read Aquinas and TLS, and as a result I consider myself quite in the middle now. A "worldview shopper", so to speak.

I'm just curious what your justification is for being a devout atheist.

Chuck said...

This is a very intellectually satisfying thread.

Can't wait to dig into Professor Feser's book.

Still waiting for it to arrive in the mail. Plus, I'm laboring through "The Brothers Karamazov".

Peace all.

Anonymous said...

dguller stated the following in Dr. Coyne's thread:

"'>> If your “prime mover” is motionless, it has no means to impart motion unto anything else.'

This is actually the exact problem that I have with the Thomist God, amongst others. I find it impossible to conceive of how something that cannot undergo change can cause change to occur in something else. I mean, how does it do it? Certainly, there is nothing in our experience that validates this idea, and it seems to imply that something utterly incoherent is necessary for Aquinas to make causation possible.

In fact, this speaks to the broader problem of being able to speak coherently about what is utterly beyond our conceptual understanding and empirical experience, as the Thomist God would have to be. After all, the only way to understand him at all would be via analogy, which I think is ultimately unhelpful."


I wondered something similar about the "Pure Actuality" conception of God. Since dguller seems to visit this blog often, is there any archived thread in which the contentions he raises in this quote were discussed?

Martin said...

Anon,

I mean, how does it do it? Certainly, there is nothing in our experience that validates this idea, and it seems to imply that something utterly incoherent is necessary for Aquinas to make causation possible.

Feser brings this very point up at the end of the First Way in his Aquinas book:

"Furthermore, as GH Joyce argues, the reason that the movers of our experience are themselves moving even as they move other things is precisely because they are limited in the various ways entailed by being composites of act and potency. (For example, because an arm is actually at one point in space and only potentially at another, its potential to be at another point in space has to be actualized by something else if it is to get the staff to that other point in space.) But something that is pure act, devoid of all potency, would have no such limitations, and thus not need to be moved itself as it is moving other things. Moreover, it would be outside of time, and indeed that which creates time, so that to the extent that the objection in question implicitly assumes that the first mover goes from not acting at one moment in time to acting in another moment in time, the objection simply misconceives the nature of the first mover's activity."

dguller said...

Martin:

>> I'm just curious what your justification is for being a devout atheist.

I can accept the possibility of a necessarily existing substrate that is the ground of all being with a number of properties that Thomism infers. It is when this being is given mental properties -- i.e. intellect and will -- that I balk. It seems to me that the arguments that are supposed to infer such mental properties all begin with the human mind and how it functions, and then generalize our mental properties to this being. This is a tenuous inference from my standpoint, because I doubt that our mental properties are necessarily universal to all minds in the universe. This would have to be demonstrated, and without any empirical evidence of mental life outside of our planet, it is all just speculation. And any premises built upon such speculation are just weak. And without these mental properties of intellect and will, I cannot imagine how such an entity could possibly be anything remotely resembling God.

I also feel that many divine properties are just incoherent. How can something that does not change cause change in other beings? How can something outside of space-time cause anything at all, especially since causality presupposes spatiotemporal change? How can one speak analogously about God at all without at some point reaching a univocal meaning, which Aquinas claims is impossible?

And if reason says that such an entity necessarily exists with these properties, then I wonder if we have reached a limit to reason itself. In other words, we have reached a point where the mechanics of logic and reason simply break down into incoherence, and thus should be taken with a great deal of skepticism. In addition, the fact that there is no way to check reality to see if it conforms with these metaphysical and theological speculations means that we have no idea if they are actually true or not.

Anyway, these are some of my concerns about theism in general, and Thomism in particular.

dmt117 said...

Anon,

We can take an imperfect analogy from natural phenomena. A fire burns hot and heats other things, but the fact that it is heating something else has no bearing on how and in what way the fire itself is changing. What gives the fire the power to change other things is that it is actually hot, not that it changes from cold to hot itself, or burns fuel in the process. The latter are irrelevant to the fact that it can change things; we can imagine a fire that always burns as hot as it can and never consumes fuel. Such a thing is outside our experience, of course, but the notion isn't incoherent. The unmoved mover (unchanged changer) is just a being of pure actuality that, through that very actuality, changes other things. Were it subject to change itself, this would lessen, not increase, its power to change others.

dguller said...

Martin:

>> But something that is pure act, devoid of all potency, would have no such limitations, and thus not need to be moved itself as it is moving other things. Moreover, it would be outside of time, and indeed that which creates time, so that to the extent that the objection in question implicitly assumes that the first mover goes from not acting at one moment in time to acting in another moment in time, the objection simply misconceives the nature of the first mover's activity."

This is helpful, but still not quite persuasive.

I find that once we start to talk about God, we strip words of sufficient meaning as to make them almost senseless. Take the above passage. There is absolutely nothing in our experience that is able to cause change without changing itself. If an argument concludes that something exists that can cause change without itself changing, then I would go back and look at the premises for some mistake, because this would be a reductio ad absurdum for me.

It would be like an argument concluding that a square can be a triangle. I would not accept that there is some metaphysical square-triangle that my understanding is simply unable to fathom. Instead, I would say that the argument must be wrong, because it has concluded with an incoherent proposition regarding something that could not possibly exist.

Simply saying that the Unmoved Mover must be Pure Act actually compounds the problem for me. If it is Pure Act, then it is always doing something, but if it is Unmoved, then it is not doing anything at all. For this to make sense, our words essentially must collapse to the point that we might as well accept square triangles, as well.

dmt117 said...

Here's another way to approach it. When Aristotle or Aquinas speak of the Unmoved Mover, they are speaking in terms of all four of the causes, not just efficient causation, which is what we tend to think of when we think of causation.

Imagine a stack of gold on a hill. People walk by the hill, see the gold, and change their plans so they can get the gold. Perhaps fights and even wars break out over the gold. What is the cause of the fights? Why, surely it is the gold.

But what is the gold doing? It's just sitting there, being itself. The fact that it is actually gold is what is causing the changes in everyone's behavior, yet the gold itself doesn't change. In fact, one reason everyone chases the gold is precisely because it doesn't corrode, it is an "unmoved" metal.

Eric said...

"There is absolutely nothing in our experience that is able to cause change without changing itself."

I don't think this is true, though we have to be careful about what sort of work the phrase, "without changing itself" is doing here. After all, if all you're saying is that everything in the world as we experience it is changing in some sense, then you're not disagreeing with Professor Feser, so you must be saying something like, "everything in our experience that changes something else changes in such a way that it acts upon what it changes." Is that right?

If so, then it seems to me to be clearly false. Here's an obvious counterexample: A piece of art isn't changing in any relevant sense, i.e. in the sense that its changes are acting upon me, but it's effecting change in me as I view it. It is, in this sense, an unchanged (in the relevant sense) changer. Or, we could imagine an eternal and immaterial work of art -- some would say that we find such a thing in mathematics -- which would change us as we reflect upon it without changing itself. So there do seem to be examples in our everyday experience of unchanged (in the relevant sense) changers.

Further, the notion of an unchanged changer might be difficult to understand, but it's not at all obviously incoherent as the notion that "a square can be a triangle" is. Here's an analogy (I'm sorry, I can't remember where I read it) that might help: Say I send out the first of a chain of emails, and it goes from one person to another, until it reaches you, after which you send it out. Now you're a 'sent sender,' but if you follow the reasoning behind a thing such as a chain e-mail, it follows that there must be an 'unsent sender,' i.e. me. So the notion of an 'un-Xd Xer' isn't at all obviously contradictory. (Incidentally, most people who really struggle with the notion of an unmoved mover seem to do so because they're still thinking in terms of something that's a composite of act and potency, such that to effect change in something else, there must first be some actualized potentiality in it, but this is to miss the whole point of the argument.)

Anonymous said...

Thanks again to dguller and TOF (i.e. Ye Olde Stat') for engaging the folks over at Coyne's blog. Reading the "discussion" you sparked was fruitful, for a number of reasons.

Honestly guys, I don't know how you can put up with so much unjustified, invective-laced, sneering dismissiveness and such willful, proud, self-satisfied incomprehension without leaving in disgust or getting a severe headache. God knows those would be the only two paths available to me after a post or two. [But then again, I'm a bit young (21), so maybe patience will come with age.]

I mean, serioiusly...a philosophical elucidation of the concept of causation is mere "Theobabble"? "Enjoy the squeaky toy!" (in reference to someone as eminently intelligent and well-mannered as TOF)? "Aristotle and Aquinas were idiots"?? What the hell is wrong with these otherwise intelligent people? What is so difficult about seriously engaging the arguments of others in their strongest forms? What is so difficult about being intellectually honest?

BenYachov said...

God is "unchanged/unmoved" in that being pure actuality he contains no potency that becomes actual. That God is Pure Actually he can by definition actualize any potency.

He doesn't have to contain any potency that are made actual in order to impart actuality to any potency.

Josh said...

dmt117,

I love that stack of gold analogy. I've never thought of the causes in that way. Anybody wanna poke holes in his example?

dguller said...

Dmt117:

Your gold example is very clever, but I think that appearances can be deceiving. The gold does cause change in the behavior of those around it, but I disagree that it is unchanging. I would presume that those around it can see it, and they can see it because photons from the gold are reaching their retinas. And this happens, because photons from the sun strike the surface of the gold, which absorbs some electromagnetic energy, and releases electromagnetic energy in the form of the photons that ultimately strike the retinas of those around the gold. This transformation of energy involves change in the gold, and thus there is, in fact, change involved in the gold after all.

And I think that is the main point. Any analogous examples that you can cite in this situation will inevitably involve a mixture of act and potency, and thus cannot be used to justify the coherence of pure act. That would be like saying that someone always tells the truth, except that they occasionally lie.

dguller said...

Eric:

But in order for the piece of art to exert any influence upon you whatsoever, it must undergo change, at the least in order for you to be able to perceive it at all, and it influences you via perception and the various emotions and memories and thoughts that are activated due to that perception.

It does not help to say that there are some things that do not change in some sense, but still cause change around it. There cannot be change in ANY sense whatsoever in order to be Pure Act, and this is the problem. There is nothing in our experience that justifies this as a coherent possibility, and saying that reason dictates that it must be possible means that we must radically revise our concept of “cause”. My worry is that this new conception has jettisoned so many essential components that it has become incoherent. It would be like talking about shapes that have no lines. What sense is there to say that there can be a shape without any lines at all? Does it help to say that reason says that this must be so, and so there must be a reality out there that corresponds to this?

Mr Veale said...

Chuck
Trust me, you'll love Prof Feser's book. I would read "Locke" and "Aquinas" together. The mediaeval world view is quite different than the modern world view.
I think that the early moderns could only reject scholasticism because they were theists, and God could cover some of the debts that the mechanistic view of nature created. (And even then, Prof Feser would want to argue that this was a mistake!)
Once God is dropped from the modern worldview we have an incoherent mess. Morality, mind and meaning do not fit into the modern world view.
I hope that Coyne realises that his whole worldview is suspect. I hope that he realises that he can't defend atheism by raising a few technical objections to cosmological arguments.

But I doubt it. He has a fan base that he has to satisfy. Market driven academia. Don't ya just love it!

Graham Veale

Martin said...

dguller,

The gold analogy is imperfect, but I think was just intended to give a rough approximation. If you examine it closely, as you do, then you start to move right into the real First Way itself, and out of the analogy. The light from the gold is actualized by the sun, the sun is actualized by its own gravity, its gravity is actualized by its gravitons, -------> unmoved mover?

If you have read Aquinas, I would recommend reading it again. A lot of things I missed the first time around and thought was a problem, but then I saw it was actually addressed. It's a really dense book, despite it's sub title as a "beginner's guide."

I've actually read it three times now, and starting on my fourth. This time I'm gonna take notes. :)

Mike Gene said...

Anonymous writes,

“I mean, serioiusly...a philosophical elucidation of the concept of causation is mere "Theobabble"? "Enjoy the squeaky toy!" (in reference to someone as eminently intelligent and well-mannered as TOF)? "Aristotle and Aquinas were idiots"?? What the hell is wrong with these otherwise intelligent people? What is so difficult about seriously engaging the arguments of others in their strongest forms? What is so difficult about being intellectually honest?”

It all makes perfect sense when you recognize the Gnus as an anti-religious socio-political movement that is sustained by emotion. As such, they have an agenda and the agenda defines everything. And when someone who believes that it is they who invent meaning and morality also has an agenda, the whole situation is powerfully front-loaded to justify the means with the end.

dmt117 said...

dguller,

It is quite true that any example from experience I can come up with is imperfect, because our experience (or at least our normal experience that can serve as philosophical evidence) involves only beings that are composites of act and potency. Of course, this fact is the very basis for the hypothesis of a being of pure act in the First Way, a being who transcends the universe.

But what I think we can do from common experience is defend the notion of the unmoved mover from the charge of incoherency. We may not mean the same thing by "incoherent." By incoherent, I mean something that is inherently nonsensical; the notion of jumping down your own throat, for example, is metaphysically incoherent, since my throat is part of me, and I can't make sense of my throat as being both the thing that is going through something and also the thing that is gone through.

Turning to the gold example, it is true that gold is susceptible to change as all beings in the universe are. In the example, however, gold is causing change in the mode of a final cause, and as a "final causer" it isn't changing. It attracts people because it was gold yesterday, is gold today, and will be gold tomorrow. It's "goldness" isn't changing at all, and its the fact of goldness that is the source of its power as a final cause.

It's true that we only know about the gold because we see it, and that involves photons and electromagnetic radiation, etc. But this is a consequence of our own natures as embodied knowers (we only gain knowledge of the universe through our senses - another Thomistic doctrine), and not something that concerns gold as a final causer per se. Insofar as it is per se a source of final causation , the gold isn't changing. It is changing in other ways, of course, as it must as a limited, physical being in the universe. But my project here is to give a coherent meaning to "unchanged changer", not prove that gold is the perfect Unchanged Changer of Aristotle.

We can notionally strip off the properties of gold that are incidental to its power as an unchanged changer, and see it in its per se nature as a source of final causation; as such a source, it is not changing. From this I think we can conclude that the idea of an unchanged changer is not incoherent in the manner of jumping down your own throat or being your own father is.

Of course, this in itself doesn't prove that there is such an Unchanged Changer. It only shows, if successful, that when we speak of an Unchanged Changer, we aren't speaking nonsense.

dguller said...

Martin:

>> The gold analogy is imperfect, but I think was just intended to give a rough approximation. If you examine it closely, as you do, then you start to move right into the real First Way itself, and out of the analogy. The light from the gold is actualized by the sun, the sun is actualized by its own gravity, its gravity is actualized by its gravitons, -------> unmoved mover?

And that is what I find so fascinating about this line of inquiry, and others like it in classical metaphysics. The idea of pure act, like the idea of prime matter, is utterly paradoxical to me, and yet they seem to be inevitable conclusions of a series of premises that I find intuitively plausible. And what is most paradoxical about them is that they lack the very properties that made the premises so plausible in the first place, because the premises are based upon entities that are combinations of act and potential, which we have a fairly good understanding of. But, do they necessarily still apply when we are talking about entities of pure act or pure potential?

So, I vacillate between taking these arguments as reductions to absurdity, and thus requiring the rejection of some underlying premises (e.g. that reason and logic are applicable to entities beyond space-time), or accepting the truth of some conclusions that actually seem to be absurd. There are good reasons to go either way, and that is why -- although I am able to comfortably reject the Thomist arguments for mental properties of Pure Act -- I am struck by the first three Ways as both compelling and repelling in equal amounts.

The real interesting question to me is the status of reason itself in this discussion. Do we assume that the rules of reason and logic are necessarily applicable in every domain of reality, and thus the conclusions of reason and logic are to be accepted as true, even if they are incomprehensible in a number of reasons? Or, do we accept that they possibly have limits beyond which they result in conclusions that appear to make sense, but are actually incoherent?

dguller said...

Dmt117:

>> Turning to the gold example, it is true that gold is susceptible to change as all beings in the universe are. In the example, however, gold is causing change in the mode of a final cause, and as a "final causer" it isn't changing. It attracts people because it was gold yesterday, is gold today, and will be gold tomorrow. It's "goldness" isn't changing at all, and its the fact of goldness that is the source of its power as a final cause.

But in its mode of efficient cause, it necessarily must change, and it is this mode that I am interested in, because this is the mode that actually makes the direct impact upon the world to generate change. My GPS made give me directions (i.e. final cause), but my car is what actually moves me on the road (i.e. efficient cause), and it is the latter that I am most interested in. In other words, how can Pure Act be an efficient cause of change in the universe without undergoing any change itself? It is incomprehensible to me, and mainly because all my concepts that involve efficient causation are loaded to the hilt with spatio-temporal change, and so applying this to an unchanging entity that is outside space-time seems to drain efficient causation of all meaning.

It would be like starting an argument about shapes with premises that shapes have lines that bound them, and the argument concluding with the existence of shapes without lines at all. I am pretty sure that no-one here would conclude that there are, in fact, line-less shapes out there that are simply beyond our understanding, being limited by lined shapes. Instead, we would agree that this conclusion is absurd, because the idea of a line-less shape is incoherent, and would them have to look back at the argument to see where we have gone wrong, because we must have gone wrong to have resulted in such an absurd conclusion.

Mr Veale said...

This article needs tidying and expanding - but in it David Glass and I argue that Gnu Atheists (what we call McAtheists) are consciously copying the worst aspects of the evangelical subculture.

http://e-n.org.uk/p-4971-McAtheism.htm

Graham Veale




(PS we owe a debt of thanks to Dr Benton for printing a "rough and ready" version of an article in an Evangelical Magazine)

Martin said...

dguller,

Well, do keep in mind that prime matter is in fact an absurdity, and cannot exist. Matter cannot exist without form. It is an abstraction only.

As to your other reservations, I think that as Feser says, these are the logical conclusions of the arguments. To get out of the conclusion you would have to deny one of the otherwise plausible metaphysical premises.

This seems difficult, to me, if not impossible. I see no way out of the impossibility of a per se series, and I see no way out of physical change as a per se series.

I think I have to conditionally concede, keeping an agnostic streak, although I still agree with you about the abstract and remote nature of this being. Ed has a post on this but I find it to not quite have enough umph for me: http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2010/10/god-man-and-classical-theism.html

But color me impressed by Tommy boy. It's a scandal that so many "rational" atheists are so dismissive of him before even understanding.

dmt117 said...

dguller,

I agree that your counter-example of shapes is an example of incoherence. The definition of shapes includes bounds, so a "shape" without bounds makes no sense. Are we in a similar situation with respect to "changer"? Does the very notion of "changer" require a change in the changer itself, the way "shape" requires bounds?

Before I get to that, it appears we may have reached agreement as to the possibility of unchanged changers with respect to final causes. This is no small deal, as Aristotle considered the final cause the most important of all, being the sake for which all the other causes are causes at all. Plato's God was nothing other than the Good, i.e. the Unchanged Changer as ultimate final cause.

Anyway, with respect to efficient causation and my thought experiment, I'm not sure I would identify the gold as an efficient cause. Aristotle says the efficient cause is "the primary source of the change or coming to rest; e.g. the man who gave advice is a cause, the father is cause of the child, and generally what makes of what is made and what causes change of what is changed." If there were a war over the gold, for example, I would identify gold as the final cause and the people involved as the efficient cause, since they are the ones who "make" the war.

But those remarks don't really address your concern, because even in Aristotle's examples of efficient changers, the changers are themselves changing (father giving advice, etc.) So the question remains whether the very notion of an efficient changer requires change in the changer.

I don't think it does. Consider again your example of shapes. We didn't have to give any examples of shapes to show the incoherence of boundless shapes; we didn't have to think specifically about squares or triangles, and compare the hypothetical boundless shape with them, to arrive at our conclusion of incoherence. We just consulted the notion of shape in the abstract and drew our conclusions from it.

We aren't doing that with change; the notion of an unchanged changer is simply "that which changes others without itself changing," and it seems perfectly comprehensible in the abstract, even if "change" means efficient change. Instead, we are comparing certain examples of empirical change with the abstract concept of an unchanged changer, and finding the latter wanting. I think all this does is show that an actual unchanged changer is not part of our experience, not that it is incoherent.

I wonder if your real difficulty isn't the incoherence of an unchanged changer, but the fact that it by nature transcends our normal experience. The only thing we can show is that the abstract notion of an unchanged changer is coherent, but as to knowing how a true unchanged changer in the full sense actually works, is something that is beyond us (at least in this life).

The view that our knowledge can't go beyond experience certainly has a strong pedigree and can't be easily dismissed; but I think that is a different problem than the problem of whether the notion of an unchanged changer is coherent.

machinephilosophy said...

Vincent,

I'm doing an exhaustive logical outline of Superstition and will eventually add in notes on Ed's other books including Aquinas. All my writings and notes are public domain, so contact me if you're interested in monitoring that document. Right now I'm on page 41. I'll post the link to it today on my blog.

Chuck said...

The first post outlining my purpose in practicing charity when engaging belief on my new blog is up.

http://charitableatheism.wordpress.com/

Love to get comments and will be putting out a solicitation for guest authors soon.

Peace.

BenYachov said...

>I think all this does is show that an actual unchanged changer is not part of our experience, not that it is incoherent.

One could also say Infinity is not part of our experience but we can have the idea that numbers go on forever even if we don't & can't have actually experience with all numbers.

But that doesn't make infinity incoherent merely incomprehensible.

I might suggest (I could be wrong) dguller's ideas of Reason breaking down at some level of reality might be a conflation of incomprehensibility with incoherence.

Just a thought I hope is helps.

Jinzang said...

isn't "radioactive decay" a description of an observable attribute of some physical elements? By suggesting that we don't know what "causes" it, isn't he changing his definition of "cause" in the middle of his argument?

A general feature of all quantum mechanics, including radioactive decay, is that a quantum mechanical system has no determinate properties prior to measurement. This goes by the name "no hidden variables." Thus, a particle does not decay, rather, a rate of decay is measured and this value of this rate is precisely specified by quantum mechanics.

machinephilosophy said...

And of course, I -highly- recommend buying Ed's books. Because my eyes blur out for the rest of the day upon any substantial reading of hardcopy text, I've scanned one of my copies to make it easy to take notes on and save my eyes. Too bad St. Augustine's Press did not offer this in digital form.

Ed, could you check into this? If it's not in your contract, maybe you have, by default, thereby retained the right to publish Superstition and other works on your own as a pdf or something. It would help people like me who can look at text all day on computer but have problems reading hardcopy.

dguller said...

Martin:

>> As to your other reservations, I think that as Feser says, these are the logical conclusions of the arguments. To get out of the conclusion you would have to deny one of the otherwise plausible metaphysical premises.

My skepticism would be directed towards whether logic and reason are applicable outside of space-time, or even at the deepest levels of reality. Certainly, it is possible that they have their limits, and become unreliable outside of those limits. The fact is I do not know whether they are reliable in those contexts, and thus cannot be sure that the conclusions are true when they pertain to those contexts.

>> But color me impressed by Tommy boy. It's a scandal that so many "rational" atheists are so dismissive of him before even understanding.

Agreed.

Jinzang said...

the right to publish Superstition and other works on your own as a pdf or something

Epub format. All the cool kids are publishing in epub.

dguller said...

Dmt117:

>> We aren't doing that with change; the notion of an unchanged changer is simply "that which changes others without itself changing," and it seems perfectly comprehensible in the abstract, even if "change" means efficient change. Instead, we are comparing certain examples of empirical change with the abstract concept of an unchanged changer, and finding the latter wanting. I think all this does is show that an actual unchanged changer is not part of our experience, not that it is incoherent.

Fair points all.

I suppose that reason dictates that there must be an unchanged changer, even though we have no idea how this is possible, because there is nothing in our experience that would justify it. There are plenty of other entities in science whose existence is justified by a series of inferences and assumptions, but that we are unable to understand coherently. Quantum phenomena are the best example of this. Even Feynman said that anyone who claimed to understand quantum mechanics has not understood quantum mechanics. So, it would be unfair of me to have a double standard in this case.

>> I wonder if your real difficulty isn't the incoherence of an unchanged changer, but the fact that it by nature transcends our normal experience. The only thing we can show is that the abstract notion of an unchanged changer is coherent, but as to knowing how a true unchanged changer in the full sense actually works, is something that is beyond us (at least in this life).

True.

As Ben says below, I think I am confusing incomprehensibility with incoherence. And it is certainly true that there are truths that are incomprehensible to us.

Tap said...

dguller have you tried reading Summa Contra gentiles from head to toe, now that you are at least familiar with most of the important vocabulary?

You can find it online here(LINK)

BenYachov said...

Cheers dguller I'm glad I could help.

Keep up the good work.

dguller said...

You can file this under “ironic”, especially with respect to the ignorant vitriol at Coyne’s blog regarding Thomism. I was flipping through my copy of Marcia L. Colish’s “Medieval Foundations of the Western Tradition”, and found the following:

“Thomas extends the same critical yet open-minded attitude to contemporary opponents. Whether or not he agrees with an opinion, he presents it as forcefully and accurately as possible. He takes its author seriously as a fellow seeker after truth. He listens to the author, hears what he has to say, and argues with him on grounds they share.” (p. 296).

If only the New Atheists at Coyne’s blog were capable of doing the same as Aquinas.

Chuck said...

I believe that the hostility practiced by the New Atheists is a reaction to the scope creep of Evangelical Christianity that was increasingly bold during the W administration.

The use of public piety by less than ethical paragons, as a political asset, has probably frustrated unbelievers who don't buy into the easy morality of the kind of black and white fallacy too often used by the electorate.

It did me and I was a believer at the time.

Ranger said...

TOF is Ye Olde Statistician? Wow...I had no idea. I've picked up some of his fiction and look forward to getting around to reading it soon.

I already had a ton of respect for TOF, but a couple years back when I was trying to understand Aquinas, some of his comments in a thread at First Things concerning a David Bentley Hart post really helped me put things together. Unfortunately, I think they have removed the post and comments (there were something like 1000+ of them), but it was very helpful.

Chuck said...

TOF seems like a brilliant thinker.

Chuck said...

I was wrong about Dr. Coyne and his capacity for charity. It seems I've been banned from his site due to my insistence he stop misrepresenting Dr. Feser's request that Dr. Coyne read one book on the TCA, if Dr. Coyne wishes to be a critic of it. He continues to play the lie that Dr. Feser demands a syllabus if one is to engage the TCA.

This exchange has freed me from the philosophical superficiality of "New Atheism". Thanks all. I am still an atheist but feel free to investigate, rather than debunk, ideas of theism.

Anonymous said...

Chuck, I like your "investigate everything thoroughly and don't accept easy answers" mentality. Life is complicated, after all. Keep up the good work.