Thursday, August 18, 2011

Eric MacDonald’s assisted intellectual suicide

Having embarrassed himself by answering serious philosophical arguments with cheap ad hominems and other blatant fallacies, Eric MacDonald has now back-pedaled and decided that maybe he ought to address the substance of those arguments after all.  Unfortunately, he has succeeded only in further discrediting himself.  For MacDonald’s treatment of my criticisms of Daniel Dennett in my book The Last Superstition is an absolute disgrace.  He can be acquitted of the charge of grave intellectual dishonesty only on pain of conviction for gross incompetence.  Indeed, it is quite clear that MacDonald simply doesn’t understand the philosophical arguments he is dealing with.  Hence he prefers instead to criticize a few sarcastic quips of mine while ignoring the substantive arguments that occur in the passages from which he took them.  When that ploy doesn’t work, MacDonald “translates” my arguments into something he thinks he can handle, in the process mangling them beyond recognition.

Thus MacDonald assures his readers that I argue from “irreducible complexity.”  In fact I not only do not give any such argument, but -- rather famously, for anyone who has followed this blog for more than twenty minutes -- I have been extremely critical of such arguments and of “Intelligent Design” theory generally, not only in The Last Superstition but also in Aquinas, in a recent article on teleology, and in a great many blog posts.

MacDonald says that “it is principally [teleology] that Feser thinks is missing in and is necessary for doing or understanding science, and his criticism of Dennett concentrates on this point.  For Dennett argues, most notably in Darwin’s Dangerous Idea, that evolution is not directional.”  This gives MacDonald’s readers the impression that my beef with Dennett is that he denies that evolution is directional.  But that has nothing whatsoever to do with my criticism of Dennett.  Indeed, whether evolution is directional is a subject I do not even raise in the book.

MacDonald says that “Feser claims… that material processes cannot be algorithmic.”  But I claimed no such thing.  What I claimed is that algorithms cannot be intrinsic to matter if matter is entirely devoid of all teleology or goal-directness whatsoever.   But they can exist in matter if they are either imposed from outside (as when we construct computers) or when a material substance or process has inherent teleological features (as on an Aristotelian account of nature).

MacDonald quotes me as saying that “another absurd implication [of evolutionary theory] is that nothing that didn’t evolve could possibly have a biological function.”  As the brackets indicate, the words “evolutionary theory” are not in the original; MacDonald has inserted them himself.  But as anyone with access to the book can easily verify, I was not referring to evolutionary theory in that sentence.  Rather, I was referring to certain reductionist accounts of the concept of biological function proposed by philosophers of biology like Ruth Millikan.  

In the paragraphs that follow this egregious misrepresentation, MacDonald only builds on it, conveying to his readers the false impression that what I was criticizing were evolutionary explanations in biology, when in fact what I was criticizing were (again) the analyses of the concept of “function” proposed by philosophers like Millikan -- analyses which are controversial even among naturalistic philosophers, and the debate over which has nothing essentially to do with the adequacy of evolutionary explanations themselves.

Similarly, MacDonald objects that “there is no reason to think that animal or plant species living today were somehow prefigured in that ancestry as the final cause” and emphasizes the haphazard character of evolution.  But I never claimed otherwise, because (again) I was not addressing questions about evolution per se in the first place.  My criticisms of Dennett have to do with controversies in the philosophy of biology rather than with biology itself.  MacDonald evidently does not know the difference and thus tries to wedge my arguments into the kind of “Intelligent Design” mold New Atheist types are used to attacking, and which I have criticized myself.

In the book, I emphasize that the question of whether Aristotelian final causes exist has nothing essentially to do with evolution per se.  I emphasize that most of the teleology that Aristotelians would attribute to the natural order does not involve anything as complex as biological function, but involves nothing more than the “directedness” toward a certain typical effect or range of effects that is characteristic of efficient causes (including at the sub-biological level).  I emphasize that the Aristotelian notion of (unconscious) teleology is very different from the (conscious) “design” posited by William Paley and “Intelligent Design” theorists.  I emphasize that the question of whether any sort of teleology at all exists in nature and the question of what, specifically, are the final causes of this or that specific phenomenon, are distinct questions, and that mistaken answers to the latter sort of question do not entail a negative answer to the former.  I emphasize that there are distinct levels of nature at which teleology might be argued to exist, and that the kinds of teleology that can be said to exist at these different levels also crucially differ.  I give examples of each kind and provide arguments for the conclusion that none of them can plausibly be eliminated.  And I emphasize that attempts to eliminate teleology at one level invariably tend in any event only to relocate it at some higher or lower level.  Indeed, this latter point is the one I emphasize in my criticism of Dennett, and I develop that particular criticism across several pages.  I show that Dennett’s attribution of purposes to “Mother Nature,” if intended merely as a metaphor, does not do the explanatory work he needs it to do; and if not intended merely as a metaphor, implicitly attributes something like Aristotelian teleology to natural processes.  I show that his notions of the “intentional stance” and “real patterns” do not solve this problem but only exacerbate it.  And so forth.

MacDonald simply ignores all of this.  He falsely insinuates that a few references to other authors coupled with several acerbic remarks constitute my entire case against Dennett.  Indeed, he actually has the audacity to assert that “[Feser] does not discuss Dennett’s arguments at all, not once”!  That is either an extremely brazen lie -- anyone with access to the book can see that MacDonald’s assertion is preposterous -- or the assertion of a man so very filled with irrational hostility that he cannot allow himself to perceive the words on the page in front of him, lest he be forced to acknowledge that his opponent has actually made a case that needs answering.  

Nor is that the end of MacDonald’s self-immolation.  Though he assures us in the title of his post that he intends at last to direct his attention “To the Arguments,” MacDonald still won’t let go of his shameful comparison of Catholic moralists to Heinrich Himmler.  He simply cannot bring himself to do the grown-up thing, and the sane thing -- to admit that his previous tirade was over-the-top, perhaps the sort of outburst any atheist might write up soon after reading a polemical book like The Last Superstition, and which he should have slept on before posting.  No, he insists on giving this loser of an “argument” one more go.  So, let’s give it one more look ourselves, shall we?  MacDonald has, after all, asked for it.

The “argument,” of which MacDonald and some of his readers seem weirdly proud -- as if the argumentum ad Hitlerum were something they’d invented, instead of being the first refuge of every political hack who ever scribbled out a pamphlet or opened a Blogger account -- goes like this:  

[T]he cruelty and inhumanity of Catholic ethics still strikes me as disturbingly close to the kind of ethic that the Nazis practiced and enforced. The Nazis did it, of course, in order to bring about an earthly paradise, as they conceived of it; the Church does it to ensure a heavenly one; but it thinks that everyone without exception should be bound by its morality, and influences laws around the world to that effect, spreading its inhumanity around as widely as possible.  I leave it to the reader to judge whether either the Nazi paradise or the Catholic heaven is sufficient to justify inhumanity and cruelty.

I also think, for what it’s worth, that the fact that the Catholic Church went to enormous lengths to cover up the sexual abuse of children by priests and religious, and seems to be doing so still, is connected to the fact that sexual abuse itself does not engage the Church’s authority regarding matters of Christian doctrine, whereas matters such as women’s ordination, gay rights, or abortion do. [Etc. etc. etc.]

You don’t need to be a Catholic to be offended by such an “argument.”  You need only know a little logic.  For the “argument,” such as it is, commits three rather blatant fallacies:

1. Begging the question: MacDonald asserts, as if it were uncontroversial, that Catholic teaching is “cruel and inhumane.”  His beloved Himmler comparison rests on this claim.  Yet MacDonald gives no argument whatsoever for the claim.  He simply presents it as if it were obvious.  But of course, we Catholic moralists don’t agree that Catholic morality is cruel and inhumane.  MacDonald thinks we are wrong, but he hasn’t shown that we are, only asserted that we are.  And that means his “argument” simply assumes precisely what is at issue, and thus begs the question.  

No doubt MacDonald would insist that it is just “obvious” that Catholic morality is inhumane, that I am obviously inhumane if I can’t see that, etc.  But there are two problems with such a response.  First, it doesn’t change the fact that MacDonald’s argument begs the question; it only kicks the question-begging up a level, since those who disagree with MacDonald don’t agree with him either about what is “obvious.”

Second, MacDonald can hardly rest his case on what he takes to be obvious, because one of his complaints against me is that I too often appeal to what I take to be obvious.  In fact I do not do so; it is true that I sometimes say that I think something is obvious -- who doesn’t? -- but I never pretend that an appeal to what I think is obvious counts as an argument.  Here MacDonald is just attacking yet another of his many straw men.  But since he attacks it, he can hardly appeal to the “obviousness” of his judgments about Catholic morality, on pain of special pleading.

2. Special pleading: As it happens, though, MacDonald is guilty of special pleading anyway.  He complains that the Catholic Church thinks that “everyone without exception should be bound by its morality, and influences laws around the world to that effect.”  But MacDonald himself surely thinks the same thing about his own moral code.  In particular, he presumably thinks (to take his pet cause as an example) that “everyone without exception” should recognize that others have a right to assisted suicide, and that “laws around the world” should reflect this alleged right.  If that is true, though, MacDonald can hardly complain that the Catholic Church regards its moral teaching as having universal application and legal relevance.  Of course, he would object to the content of that morality -- though as we’ve seen, in criticizing me he has given no non-question-begging argument against it -- but he cannot consistently object to the claims to universality and legal relevance per se.

3. Red herring: That some Catholic priests and bishops have done evil things is completely irrelevant to whether Catholic teaching about sex, abortion, euthanasia, etc. is itself inhumane.  If Jack Kevorkian or Derek Humphry had been a child molester, that would not show that their support of assisted suicide is immoral.  And that some priests have been guilty of child molestation does not show that Catholic moral teaching itself is inhumane.  Hence, if MacDonald has raised this issue thinking that it somehow lends credibility to his Himmler comparison, then he is guilty of a red herring fallacy.

Nothing more need be said about MacDonald’s “argument” -- indeed, any attention paid to it is more attention than it deserves -- but if you’re so inclined, see Prometheus Unbound for some further apposite remarks.

MacDonald’s attempt at a more substantive response to my arguments, then, is as devoid of merit as his previous effort.  I have replied to it in detail, though, so as to expose his incompetence once and for all.  Jerry Coyne has described MacDonald as “a treasure,” a “serious man” with “serious arguments.”  If, even now, he is not embarrassed by those words, that will tell you nothing about MacDonald and everything about Coyne.  By lavishing on MacDonald such ridiculous praise, Coyne and MacDonald’s other New Atheist fans do him no favors.  The man needs an intervention, not enablers.  

NOTE: As I was finishing up this post I discovered that MacDonald has today put up yet another blog entry about me.  By my count that makes at least seven posts about me in less than a month!  I seem to have acquired another online stalker.  If history is any guide, MacDonald’s latest will be as unserious as his previous efforts have been, but I will give it a read when I have a chance.

164 comments:

Anonymous said...

Feser said:

And that some priests have been guilty of child molestation does not show that Catholic moral teaching itself is inhumane.

Perhaps not. However, the RCC's coverup certainly does.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps not. However, the RCC's coverup certainly does.

No, because the coverup has nothing to do with Catholic moral teaching.

Anonymous said...

Do as we say. Not as we do. Sound inhumane to me.

Anonymous said...

Do as we say. Not as we do. Sound inhumane to me.

Golly. Next we'll find out that not even popes are sinless, and that bishops, priests, and popes all go to confession.

Naturally, you can disprove all of science by virtue of finding corrupt scientists, eh? Man, New atheists ever clutch at straws. ;)

Edward Feser said...

Anonymous,

So-and-so's behavior is inhumane.

does not entail

The moral beliefs that so-and-so claims allegiance to are inhumane.

Really, are you so very filled with visceral hatred for the Catholic Church that you cannot recognize a blatant non sequitur when you see it?

Gail F said...

My favorite comment on his blog post was that your entire argument is "imbedded" in medieval Catholicism -- as if Catholicism began in the middle ages from nothing, and has remained exactly the same since. I guess if that is the way these folks look at it, no sane person would be Catholic. Hmmm.... could it be they are WRONG?

The absolute lack of reason just astounds me; the high school-level thought process as well. My second favorite complaint is that you claim to be an expert on Aquinas and refuse to explain any of his arguments but just tell everyone to read your books. Oh yeah, I'll just explain ALL ofThomas Aquinas's arguments in a couple of sentences! But that does seem to be all they have the patience to read.

Anonymous said...

Feser said:

"So-and-so's behavior is inhumane.

does not entail

The moral beliefs that so-and-so claims allegiance to are inhumane."

They are not mutually exclusive.

Edward Feser said...

Anonymous,

I didn't say they were mutually exclusive. But your original claim was not merely "The coverup was bad AND the moral teachings are inhumane." Your claim was "The coverup was bad THEREFORE the moral teachings are inhumane." But the second claim does not follow from the first. You might think Catholic teaching is inhumane for other reasons but the misbehavior of certain bishops is not a good reason. That's just a textbook ad hominem fallacy.

Xerces said...

"I seem to have acquired another online stalker."

That and other problems, such as the combox discussions frequently devolving into pissing matches, seem to just come with the territory of directly engaging New Atheism through books, articles, and lengthy blog posts.

I hope you anticipated this, Dr. Feser, and won't grow impatient and one day close your blog down out of disgust.

Edward Feser said...

Xerces,

No, I wouldn't do that. I could always go Bill V's route and allow only registered commenters to comment. But I would much prefer to keep things more freewheeling than that.

The key thing, though, folks, is that you must ignore trolls. And whether someone is a troll is usually pretty obvious after two or three exchanges at the most. These people crave attention and nothing more. Don't give them that, and most of them will disappear.

And Then... said...

MacDonald might consider reading Gilson's "From Aristotle to Darwin and Back Again" after TLS. I think he will find that Gilson shows rather clearly how evolutionary biologists require final causes in their thinking throughout the entire project. He might also be surprised at how much more evolutionary biology and the history of the project that Gilson knows than he does.

He might also consider Connor Cunningham's recent "Darwin's Pious Idea" that makes similar arguments with a vast knowledge of the field. Unfortunately, it requires a pretty basic knowledge of evolutionary biology, continental philosophy and psychology (at least Lacan) as well as traditional Aristotelean metaphysics. MacDonald has already shown himself incapable of understanding even basic forms of the latter, so I'm not too expectant of his understanding more complex topics.

Fake Herzog said...

Ed,

You are a national treasure and delight...I just want more posts on movies!

However, to defend MacDonald for a moment, it seems to me he does make a half-hearted attempt to avoid "begging the question" regarding Catholic morality when he says the following at the beginning of the post:

"And yes, I was aware that my words would be received with a kind of disbelief by those who, like Feser, think it’s alright to force raped women to bear children, or to force dying people to suffer the pangs of hell while they die, or to force women to die, when their pregnancies, if continued, will cause their deaths, and abortion cannot be permitted under any circumstances. This kind of insufferable authoritarianism is simply an integral aspect of Catholic morality, and as Feser has shown, follows logically from what Catholics think is the natural law, and follows from the essence of what they think it means to be human. I still do not think it is farfetched to compare this with the kinds of inhumanity practiced by the Nazis, who had their own ideal of what was essentially human, an ideal which prescribed the most inhuman treatment of other human beings, just as Catholic natural law morality does."

Not at all convincing as far as argument goes, but at least he is attempting to explain to his readers what he finds objectionable about Catholic morality.

Edward Feser said...

I just want more posts on movies!

Ah, thank you -- so do I! Much more fun than writing on the New Atheism. When I launch my multi-part series on Christopher Nolan, the rest of you will know to blame Fake Herzog... ;-)

Re: MacDonald's examples, the trouble is that they are themselves all described in a tendentious or question-begging way. For example, "forcing people to suffer the pangs of hell while they die" is a tendentious way of describing Catholic opposition to euthanasia, just like "forcing patients to go without needed organs" would be a tendentious way of describing opposition to involuntary organ harvesting, or "forcing women to dishonor their families" would be a tendentious way to describe opposition to honor killing. Only someone who already agreed with MacDonald would agree with his tendentious characterizations. So the examples don't really rescue MacDonald's argument from circularity at all.

Chris said...

Ed:
I don't think that Macdonald's point was that child abuse by Catholics invalidates Catholic morality. It is instead that the church's morality is misguided in that it appears to place abortion, gay marriage etc as greater priorities than clearing up and punishing cases of child sex abuse.

nate said...

Nice response, Prof. Feser. I'm sorry that you have to devote any energy to responding to these non-arguments. Irreducible complexity! I mean...what? But you're right: if big names like Coyne are nodding in approval to such things, it's unfortunately necessary to respond.

Sigh.

And then...,
You suggest some great literature for MacDonald, especially given his ideas about evolution. Gilson's book is great, and amazingly timely, even though it's old! I think, though, that a fellow could get through the Cunningham text just fine without knowing his Lacan.

Actually, I think that Feser and Cunningham would be pals, given their arguments and writing style.

Josh said...

Ed:

I'm disappointed that your Vertigo post got swallowed up by the recent controversy. People seem to get stuck on the sexy New Atheist stuff. I've turned a couple of people on to your work through your posts on Scruton and music, and some of the other entertainment posts, and they love it, while they wouldn't know the first thing about the Philosophia Perennis otherwise.

Edward Feser said...

Hello Chris,

Well, I did say

IF MacDonald has raised this issue thinking that it somehow lends credibility to his Himmler comparison, THEN he is guilty of a red herring fallacy. (emphasis added)

And he did bring it up in the context of defending his comparison to Himmler, which indicates that he thought it relevant.

Edward Feser said...

Hello Josh,

Thanks. Who would have thought that people would find the New Atheists sexier than Vertigo? ;-)

I appreciate your (and Fake Herzog's) interest. I've got some more posts of that sort planned.

Solomon's Chariots said...

Just want to point out that Eric MacDonald is using heavy censure on his blog. Many comments that are even slightly critical of his postion or supportive of his opponent's arguments are held up for hours or even indefinitely in moderation while those that shout his praises into his echo chamber are approved almost immediately.

Looks like he can't handle open debate.

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

Can't wait for the Nolan series!!! Please ignore the New Atheists asap to get on to this!

hyperdeath said...

Edward Feser:
...is a tendentious way of describing Catholic opposition to euthanasia, just like "forcing patients to go without needed organs" would be a tendentious way of describing opposition to involuntary organ harvesting, or "forcing women to dishonor their families" would be a tendentious way to describe opposition to honor killing.

You're comparing a consensual act to non-consensual acts. If a doctor kills a patient by mutual consent, then everyone's wishes are being respected. In your examples, unwilling people are being forced to suffer.

dguller said...

Ed:

For what it's worth, I tried to correct what I saw were errors on MacDonald's part in his account of your position in TLS in his comment section.

Matthew G said...

@ hyperdeath (what a name ...)
"You're comparing a consensual act to non-consensual acts. If a doctor kills a patient by mutual consent, then everyone's wishes are being respected. In your examples, unwilling people are being forced to suffer."

Oh, I didn't know unborn children give consent to their abortions.

djindra said...

MacDonald quotes me as saying that “another absurd implication [of evolutionary theory] is that nothing that didn’t evolve could possibly have a biological function.”

Feser is not being quite honest here. He definitely is referring to evolutionary theory. He insists this absurd conclusion is a natural outcome of Darwinism. It's meant and specifically intended to smear a "materialistic" Darwinism.

Feser chokes on his own medicine.

Thoughtform said...

It is fairly easy to see how Aristotle got his metaphysics wrong, and how there is no such thing as final causes, essences, substances, or forms. For the curious: http://enlightenment.supersaturated.com/essays/text/jamiemellway/principleofnoncontradiction.html

James said...

It is fairly easy to see […] how there is no such thing as final causes, essences, substances, or forms. For the curious:

Did you perhaps mean to link to a different article? The author doesn’t even purport to show what you claim — his goal seems limited to supporting the “plausibility” of such denial.

Ismael said...

@ First Anonimous

Your reasoning is absurd.

I went to a pubblic school in Holland where the principal (a lay man, not a priest) abused several girls and there was a cover up.

This has happened in many pubblic schools around the world (look at the numers in the US where 25% of all girls in public schools are expected to be molested before their 18th year).

Now does that mean that 'Pubblic education is immoral'? As Prof. Feser said your claim is completely non-sequitur.

Sure Pubblic Education MIGHT be immoral, but the facts above presented do not prove that, they only prove that some people working in pubblic education are immoral.

==========

@ And Then...

I think he will find that Gilson shows rather clearly how evolutionary biologists require final causes in their thinking throughout the entire project.

indeed, the problem is that they refure to acknoledge that there is a 'fianl causation'

Is like the painter in Feyman's story (featured also in one of Feser's blog posts) that says that he can make yellow out of white and red paint, and the trick is 'to add a bit of yellow to the mix'.

Biologists often add that 'bit of yellow' but they claim they are using only 'white and red paint'.

It's like Hawking saying that 'the universe come from nothing', while it comes from something (Hawking himself says 'because there is gravity'... but gravity is definitively not nothing :P

=========

@ djindra

You ought to check your pants, they might be on fire, since you are a big fat liar if you claim:

Feser is not being quite honest here. He definitely is referring to evolutionary theory. He insists this absurd conclusion is a natural outcome of Darwinism. It's meant and specifically intended to smear a "materialistic" Darwinism.

Feser chokes on his own medicine.



Feser was not talking about evolutionary biology in itself, but the REDUCTIONIST MATERIALISTIC INTERPRETATION of evolutionary biology.

It's not the same thing and that phrase need to be put into context to understand its meaning.

So you ought to take a bit of medicine or go back to Junior High and learn how to read and understand a text properly.

========================

@ Thoughtform

Ehm... hahahahaha you are ridiculous

The site you link is mediocre at best. I read a few of the 'essays' and found very little enlightment in them.

More like half truths, muddles arguments and bad logic.

Perhaps the authors forgot to turno on the light? (got the joke?)

so if you think that
It is fairly easy to see how Aristotle got his metaphysics wrong, and how there is no such thing as final causes, essences, substances, or forms.

I think you do not really understand what 'final causes, essences, substances, or forms' are

Cheery-oh!

Anonymous said...

"Anonymous said...

Do as we say. Not as we do. Sound inhumane to me."

Well then obese doctors should stop advising their patients to lose weight and those that smoke have no right to insist their patients stop smoking.

Tap said...

Dr. Feser
"I could always go Bill V's route and allow only registered commenters to comment"

Remove only the anonymous option and leave these option:

Google Account
OpenID
Name/URL

It was hard to follow the conversation on the previous thread on this Mcdonald issue last time b/c of all the anonymous posters, they could just choose a handle and stick with her.

Ismael said...

@ Thoughtform

btw, you should read Oderbergs 'Real Essentialsm' where he analyses several objection to essentialism and shows they do not survive scrutiny.

hyperdeath said...

Matthew G said...
@ hyperdeath (what a name ...)

Why thank you. :)

Oh, I didn't know unborn children give consent to their abortions.

I agree that my comment failed to address the morality of abortion. It also failed to address the validity of Pythagoras's theorem, or the merits of fractional reserve banking.

Untenured said...

Episodes like this are illuminating, not because we need to see another incompetent atheist get pounded into the dirt, but because it reveals how absurdly overconfident and out of their depth they are. They have gotten away with this kind of nonsense for so long, it is as if they have succumbed to an illusion of invulnerability. Could Jerry Coyne, who seems to have a very high opinion of his own intelligence, really not see how easily refuted MacDonald's objections are?

They say that if you have a British accent your perceived IQ goes up 10 points, and it goes down 10 points if you have a southern accent. I think there is a similar kind of psychological mechanism at play here. If you make an argument for skepticism or atheism, the argument is perceived as having more force than it really does. If you make an argument for rationalism or theism, the argument is perceived as having less force than it really does. I actually think this rule holds, in general, for professional philosophers, and not just for empty vessels like Jerry Coyne and Eric MacDonald.

Randy said...

You cite argumentum ad Hitlerum as a modern fallacy. You should probably add argumentum ad priest abuse as a category as well. It is a red herring but it is brought up so often when discussing anything Catholic that it likely needs its own category. Any excuse to avoid logic. Often by people who claim to be more rational than those religious types.

Xerces said...

>You're comparing a consensual act to non-consensual acts. If a doctor kills a patient by mutual consent, then everyone's wishes are being respected. In your examples, unwilling people are being forced to suffer.

True, but irrelevant. The issue Dr. Feser raises hinges on the morality of the acts, not on whether consent has been given for their performance. That the administration of act X has been consented to in no way implies that act X is now morally permissible.

dguller said...

Eric MacDonald has another post on Feser. I've commented there on all the mistakes that he seems to make.

It appears that he just cannot read Feser closely or charitably enough to see his arguments at all.

GordonWillis said...

Edward Feser said...

Anonymous,

So-and-so's behavior is inhumane.

does not entail

The moral beliefs that so-and-so claims allegiance to are inhumane.

Really, are you so very filled with visceral hatred for the Catholic Church that you cannot recognize a blatant non sequitur when you see it?


It's not (so much) the moral teachings that are the problem, it's the spiritual teachings on which the morality rests. If the authorities and ministers of the Church cannot live the spiritual life what does this say about their claims about the grace of the Holy Spirit, the operation of faith, redemption through faith in Christ, God is love, "Love justice, love mercy, walk humbly...", "I desire mercy, not sacrifice" ...? So the tree isn't known by its fruits after all, then?

viseral hatred

Really, Dr Feser, are you so filled with visceral hatred of honest protest that you cannot recognise a knee-jerk response when you experience it?

Edward Feser said...

dguller,

Many thanks. You deserve a medal for patience. I cannot believe how badly he distorts what I wrote. I should sue him for libel.

Untenured said...

My goodness, what a train wreck. MacDonald shot himself in the foot, and went back for a reload so that he could get the other one too.

It is now perfectly obvious what is going on here. Yet again, it is psychological explanations that are needed, not rationalizing explanations. MacDonald is your typical "culture of death" libertine who resents the living hell out of anyone who would dare to place constraints upon the will in the service of some higher social good. Scratch the surface of all the "tough minded" "freethinker" posturing, and we find another dime store libertine who cannot reason his way out of a paper sack. The moral tail is clearly wagging the philosophical dog here, as it almost invariably is when you deal with these kinds of "skeptics".

Untenured said...

Gordon Willis, what spiritual teaching of Catholic theology implies that the ministers and officers of the Church will be morally superior to the rest of humanity? Or that they will be immune from moral lapses in a way that ordinary people are not? I've never heard about this strange doctrine that you find so central to Catholicism and the falsity of which is so devastating to it. And I've been around the proverbial block a few times.

Edward Feser said...

Hmm, since MacDonald and his acolytes are devoid of a sense of humor, I suppose I have to add that the "sue for libel" remark was a joke. Now we'll probably see a series of long, unhinged blog posts about how "Feser sues those who disagree with him!!!"

Brother.

GordonWillis said...

Sorry, Untenured, but whether it's a doctrine of the Church or not I frankly couldn't care less. Christianity makes spiritual claims, and it must be judged by them. The tree must be known by its fruit. JC said so. Isn't it true?

Your argument is to say that there is no reason why the Church should be any better than any other institution. That's a let-out clause for not practising what you preach, is it not? If the Church is no better, then it isn't more truthful. If it isn't more truthful, it is at least as false. To the extent that it makes absolute claims, it would appear to be absolutely false.

Anonymous said...

dguller,

Thanks for all the posts you made there. You are a good guy; this world needs more non-believers like you.

dguller said...

Ed:

No problem. As an atheist, I may disagree with you on a number of important points, but I think that your position should at least be presented accurately and in the strongest terms, as you have often done in presenting arguments against your position in your works. I cannot tell you how objectionable it is to have someone's works misrepresented with an attitude of superiority to boot!

I have always admired figures, such as Abu Hamid al-Ghazali who is said to have taken such pains to present the arguments of his opponents in the strongest terms that when he wrote a book summarizing them, he was held to be in agreement with them, so forcefully were they made. He subsequently attempted to refute them in a separate work, but at least he strove to understand them in their strongest form.

GordonWillis said...

I'd like to say thank you, dguller, on my own behalf. You are perfectly right about the need to understand the arguments to their fullest extent, and I am grateful for the critical comments you have so far made. I suppose I'll have to read Feser's book, now, if I can find the money! Really, this blogging is getting expensive!!

StoneTop said...

The moral tail is clearly wagging the philosophical dog here, as it almost invariably is when you deal with these kinds of "skeptics".

So he has raped children, or been involved covering up the rape of children?

That priests have raped children does not, in and of itself, disparage Catholic moral teachings... Any large group of people where frequent contact with children occurs is likely to have at least a few "bad apples". It is the response of the Catholic leadership (all the way up to the Pope) that raises serious questions about Catholic moral teachings.

What kind or moral authority does an organization have that covers ups such abuse... even grants the perpetrators of such abuse access to new victims?

GordonWillis said...

The point, Stone Top, is that Christian morality is the handmaid of Christian faith. Are these priests and bishops and cardinals and popes practising the presence of God? What would we expect to see if they were? If they aren't, why aren't they? How are they supposed to convince the rest of us that Christianity is true? All that I can see is venality and carnality and politics.

dguller said...

Stove Top:

Regarding the cover-up of child molestation, you can add the Boy Scouts and American schools to that list.

Anonymous said...

"...whether it's a doctrine of the Church or not I frankly couldn't care less."

"The tree must be known by its fruit."


A couple of things:

1) That "the tree must be known by its fruit" is a Christian doctrine, so frankly it's manifestly not the case that you couldn't care less.

2) That shtick does not imply that a "good tree" will not occasionally bear bad fruit. There was never any promise for a spotless history. If Christianity has been, on the whole, a force for evil in the world, then you'd have a point vis-a-vis "the tree is known by its fruit."

Edward Feser said...

Hello GordonWillis,

First, I appreciate your remarks to dguller.

Second, the problem with your original remarks in the present context is just that they change the subject, since the subject is whether the bad behavior of some priests and bishops has anything to do with whether Catholic teaching on abortion, euthanasia, etc. is inhumane. And it doesn't have anything to do with that.

Third, having said that, the separate question you raise is indeed a reasonable one. You ask whether the Church ought to be better than other institutions given what it claims about itself. And that is, again, a fair question.

The answer Catholic theology gives is that the Church is holy, not in the sense that her officials always turn out to be good men, and not in the sense that every individual Catholic will always in fact live up to the teachings of the Church (though of course they should), but rather in the sense that the Church produces saints, people with superlative spiritual and moral merit. So, in defending the Church's holiness, the Catholic theologian would say, not "Consider what efficient and conscientious administrators our bishops are" but rather "Consider people like Maximilian Kolbe, Damien of Molokai, Maria Goretti, et al." The claim isn't "Every Catholic is heroically virtuous." The claim is rather "The Church produces many individuals of heroic virtue."

There's more to it than that and, of course, I don't expect that by itself to convince a skeptic. It's a big issue which would need to be pursued at some length. The point is just to clarify the sense in which the Church is taken by Catholics to be particularly holy.

Anonymous said...

Re: child abuse

Let's not forget Hollywood:
http://www.lifesitenews.com/news/pedophiles-in-hollywood-surround-children-like-vultures-former-child-actor/

Untenured said...

@Gordon Willis:

The Church doesn't teach that her officers and ministers are immune from human frailty. You cannot, therefore, present the moral lapses of the Church leadership as some kind of "evidence" agianst the Church's moral teaching authority. To put things in a different context: If your doctor told you to stop smoking, moderate your alcohol intake, and exercise regularly, would you discard that advice on the grounds that your doctor was a fat and drunken smoker? Of course you would not. Everybody knows that hypocrisy is a real possibility for any human agent with a free will. And, yet, the Church is continually denounced for not being something that She never claimed She could be. She never claimed She could be morally impeccable. So why are you using Her peccability as some kind of argument against the veracity of her teachings? This does not make any sense.

GordonWillis said...

Anonymous
I couldn't care less about the imaginary doctrine that Untenured imputed to me. I do indeed care that an organisation which claims moral rights over me and my behaviour should live up to its teachings. As it manifestly does not live up to its teachings I would say that it is no better than any other human institution, and that is not what I would expect of an organisation which makes the spiritual claims that it does.

As to the question of the Church's being a force for good, I do not see that it has been in any way distinguished. Like other human institutions, it does some good, and some bad. Again, I would expect Christ's body to do rather better. It seems to me that the bad outweighs the good, and has done since the beginning. All I see is a merely human institution, and no sign of divine inspiration or guidance.

GordonWillis said...

Untenured, either Christianity is true or it isn't. It's not about whether people are liable to error, it's about whether the spiritual "truth" that they preach is meaningful. If it isn't meaningful, then we will of course see what just what we do see. If it is meaningful -- in fact, if it's true -- we would expect something very different, like humility and honesty, for example. Please understand that it is not the moral teachings I am talking about, but the spiritual claims, which must be manifested in moral behaviour. I see no evidence that the spiritual claims are true.

If we are to assume that the authorities of the Church are corrupt, then there is no reason to believe anything that they say on the material point. They can make as many moral claims as they like, but most of them are common sense -- they are what we do anyway, whether there is a Church to preach about them or not. Unless the Church can distinguish itself spiritually, its religious claims are meaningless.

Untenured said...

Well, Gordon, if what you want to see is an institution that transcends and negates our humanity, then you are out of luck. No such institution is on offer, nor were we ever promised one to begin with. But to argue that an institution cannot be divine because it doesn't live up to a standard that it never even claimed it could live up to, that is just irrational. Same old song and dance: project a claim onto Christianity, argue that the projected claim is false, and conclude that Christianity must also be false. Your problem lies in the will, not the intellect.

GordonWillis said...

Correction:

If it isn't meaningful, then we will of course see just what we do see.

Sorry about that. Can't type.

GordonWillis said...

No, Untenured, Christianity does make those claims. It claims the grace of the Holy Spirit to enable us to amend our lives, decline from sin, incline to virtue. If the practice of the Christian life does not enable people to leave their sinful ways and follow the will of God, then it is false. My point is not what Church doctrine says, but what Christian faith is supposed to mean to believers. If the Church cannot exemplify its teachings, it is lying.

GordonWillis said...

Actually, Untenured, I notice that you talk of negating our humanity (errare est humanum, no doubt) but of course, religion is about transcendence, not negation.

Untenured said...

Christianity claims that the grace of the Holy Spirit is available to those who do not freely choose to resist it. God does not zap people and make them saints, whether we become holy or not is always up to us. Free will exists, and we can resist God's grace if we choose to. Some people in the Church have exercised their wills against God's graces; this has no tendancy to show that his graces aren't available.

And, as Ed mentioned earlier, this whole discussion ignores all of the heroic moral giants that the Church has produced. Look at people like Maximillian Kolbe, St. Francis of Assisi, Mother Theresa. These people clearly trascended ordinary humanity. What other moral doctrine has produced a plurality of individuals of the same moral caliber? Kantianism? Atheism? Objectivism? Marxism? Liberalism? I rest my case. (And I'm done for the afternoon, so don't expect any more responses)

Xerces said...

>It seems to me that the bad outweighs the good, and has done since the beginning.

How so? Crusades? Spanish Crown Inquisitions? Witch hunts? Those standard talismans?

Even if Catholic Christianity can be legitimately said to be culpable for all of those things, how do they overwhelm all of its historically unprecedented and still unmatched moral triumphs, such as its orphanages, almshouses, hospitals, foundling homes, schools, universities, relief organizations, shelters, soup kitchens, medical missions, charitable aid societies, and so on - all of which were birthed from strong Christian conviction and not merely some sort of normal, natural human kindness?

GordonWillis said...

@Untenured
(And I'm done for the afternoon, so don't expect any more responses)

Well, enjoy your afternoon. I'm going to bed in half an hour. Maybe see you tomorrow.

Kantianism? Atheism? Objectivism? Marxism? Liberalism? I rest my case.

You do that. None of these mean anything to me. Neither does Christianity.

Mother Theresa? Definitely not!!! Don't know anything about your other examples.

God does not zap people and make them saints, whether we become holy or not is always up to us. Free will exists, and we can resist God's grace if we choose to.

So what? You can isolate any number of individuals, but it makes no difference, because there are always individuals, whether they are Christian or not, who make a positive difference to people's lives. It proves nothing. As far as morality is concerned, most of it is normal human behaviour. But either the Church as an institution is godly or it isn't. If it isn't, it's lying about its claims. That's simple. Also, why would a believing Christian want to resist God's grace? Isn't it the whole point? It makes no sense.

Anonymous said...

"Mother Theresa? Definitely not!!!"

This is a common new atheist talking point. She apparently let terminal or near terminal people die by not giving them cutting edge first world (British or American) treatment.

GordonWillis said...

Xerces,

Christianity has been for more than a thousand years the dominant ethos in Europe. If you try to argue that it is therefore better than anything else you have to take into account the fact that there wasn't anything else because nothing else was allowed. So your argument cannot prove that Christianity is better than something else. When we look at the appalling situations -- now coming to light -- in very many Catholic establishments all over the world, and consider the behaviour of the authorities, it is difficult to imagine that things were much better in earlier times. Lots of people do soup kitchens and other charitable works. Most of them are well-meaning and kindly people, and you have no right to say that they would not be well-meaning and kindly if it were not for Christianity. For one thing, it isn't logical, and for another, the Church as we see it today, and as it has been perceived throughout history (Chaucer?), is no model of virtue.

GordonWillis said...

Anonymous said...

"Mother Theresa? Definitely not!!!"

This is a common new atheist talking point. She apparently let terminal or near terminal people die by not giving them cutting edge first world (British or American) treatment.


Pain is good for you. Care to try?

GordonWillis said...

Time's up! Going to bed. Sleep well.

James said...

She apparently let terminal or near terminal people die by not giving them cutting edge first world […] treatment.

Ehhh. It’s not quite as simple as all that; the charge is instead that she treated the ill and dying to a degree highly incommensurate with the charitable donations she received, little of which seems to have been applied to her work. Further, that she idealized suffering, purposely having no facility to ease the pain of the dying except (literally, as I understand it) aspirin.

You may not agree, but not even Hitchens would claim that she should’ve been spending tens or hundreds of thousands of American dollars on treatment per patient. I’m not at all a “new atheist”, but I really don’t understand the Mother Teresa adoration (and the hysterical indignation any criticism seems to evoke, cf Zacharias’s The End of Reason).

Brian said...

Has there ever been a thorough treatment of those charges, by the way? It seems like Hitchen's book is the only one that makes the charges, and I have a strong suspicion that he is not reliable. The whole notion that "pain is good" is probably a heavily loaded misunderstanding on the Catholic theology of suffering, which is nothing of the sort. I get the feeling that similar shallowness probably informs a lot of these charges, and I am wondering if there is good treatment out there with a good grasp of Catholicism.

Mr Veale said...

First of all, as an evangelical protestant, I've noticed that some of the harshest criticism of the Catholic hierarchy has come from Roman Catholic conservatives. MacDonald was simply off-target at this point. (In any case, I thought that Aquinas was "out" with the hierarchy, and Rahner was "in"? Is that just an ignorant Prod's reading of the situation?)

Second, I do wonder if MacDonald's reaction would have been a little less hysterical if Dr Feser was not a Roman Catholic. If a conservative Jew had written the same book, and made the same arguments, would we have had the allusions to paedophilia and Himmler?

Third, I have tried to engage with MacDonald on his blog, with no success. My impression is that he simply does not understand the issues. For example, when I referenced scholasticisms contributions to the history of science, he suggested that this was not the case because this subject area is dominated by Christians. He dismissed James Hannam's widely endorsed popular summary of mediaeval science because Charles Freeman disagreed with it, and he was bound to know better than Hannam!
This is bigotry masquerading as argument. It doesn't even rise to the standards of good rhetoric. But you do need to scan down to read MacDonald's comments to understand his mindset. I know Free Presbyterian Ulster Loyalists who would consider his view of Catholicism to be a tad extreme.


Graham

Felix said...

"I seem to have acquired another online stalker"

The reason is that Prof Feser is really hitting them where it hurts and they know it. This is why there is now a barrage of non-sensical blogposts from McDonald, Coyne et al featuring illogical arguments hyped up to hysteria.

There are two reasons why this is so. It is either that your opponent is so well entrenched that you have to loud and long rants to dig him out or that your own position is so weak that you need noise to hold your own position together. So keep hitting em Ed, they're hurting!

Anonymous said...

Re: Mother Theresa (apologies for dragging this off topic)
I highly doubt the people she cared for would have been treated anywhere else. If Indian hospitals of the 20th century were as good as the state Southern African hospitals I treated patients in I would gather there would still be tens of thousands of excess patients, old, infirm, etc. to look after. I've witnessed people dying in wheelbarrows on their way to the hospital here after being turned away by clinic security guards or nurses. The attention Mother Theresa drew to the suffering and plight of the poor, may have even caused some people a great deal of embarassment but at least it brought about much good as it surely motivated the world and our new atheist friends to crusade for health care and stability in the developing world. The Indian government even granted her a state funeral.

Mr Veale said...

On the "argument ad hitlerium"

MacDonald would need to look at Roman Catholic political conservatism in the interwar period. He would then need to show that he understood the difference between conservatism and facism, and facism and nazism. Nazism and conservative Catholicism were incompatible.
So the best that he can hope for is an analogy with von Papen, say, or the Centre Party, or perhaps the Vichy regime or Salazar's Portugal.
He would then need to show that there is a strong moral analogy between these states and Hitler's Germany. He would need to show that Dr Feser's metaphysics and ethics were part of the ideology promoted by any of these groups. And, finally, he would need to show that his metaphysics and ethics were essential to these groups, and were not accidental trappings.

Good luck to him on establishing all that. But if he took history seriously, that is the type of argument that MacDonald would have presented. That Catholic Conservatives and Nazi ideologists both had a horror of modernity does not mean that both sought the same solution! A brief acquaintance with the historical record establishes that.

Finally, Dr Feser has written the occasional piece on politics and political authority. Wouldn't it have been a little more responsible of MacDonald- a little more "serious" - to browse some of his writings on Hayek or Locke, say, just to see if his suspicions were warranted?

Graham

Mr Veale said...

I should also note that I first came across many of the arguments in "The Last Superstition" in a book by Norman Geisler and Winfried Corduan. Both are conservative evangelicals. So an evangelical could have written "The Last Superstition". It is not a defence of Roman Catholicism.

How many things can a reviewer get wrong in such a short space of time?

Mr Veale said...

PS

Can we do "The Birds" before Christopher Nolan?

Jinzang said...

"The tree must be known by its fruit."

Stalin? Pol Pot? This sort of argument is tiresome, for each moral monster you produce who is Christian, I can produce one who is an atheist.

Mr Veale said...

Here's an interesting concept which I discovered in an article by Edward B. Davis about fundamentalist "urban legends" of whalers who survived for days inside whale's stomachs.

Davis refers to these as "folk science." Read the whole quote

Rimmer and others stand revealed as practitioners of what social philosopher Jerome R. Ravetz has called "folk science": the use of science to promote one's personal belief system. Professional scientists are no less prone than anyone else to the practice of folk science; Carl Sagan immediately comes to mind.

'Nuff said

Daniel Smith said...

Ed Feser: "I emphasize that the Aristotelian notion of (unconscious) teleology is very different from the (conscious) “design” posited by William Paley and “Intelligent Design” theorists."

Ah, but the teleology of Aquinas, as expressed in his Fifth Way, IS conscious!

"Now whatever lacks intelligence cannot move towards an end, unless it be directed by some being endowed with knowledge and intelligence; as the arrow is shot to its mark by the archer."

So for Aquinas, teleology in nature has to be conscious teleology. In fact he seems to be arguing that there cannot be any other kind.

Just another mad Catholic said...

Dear Ed

As a fellow convert from athisem to Latin-rite Catholocism courtousy of Our Lord and Saviour, can I ask you one question?

Have you any idea why all of the new athiests fail to realise that if democritus, epicurus and Lecrutias were wrong in positing natrulism 2000+ years ago then they are wrong now and that if the metaphsyics of Aristotle, Augustine, Aquinas et al are correct then new scientific discoveries will not make one jot of difference.

Happy Feast of St John Eudes
Jack

Steersman said...

Untenured said: MacDonald is your typical "culture of death" libertine who resents the living hell out of anyone who would dare to place constraints upon the will in the service of some higher social good.

He may have his own reasons for being resentful of those constraints which may have caused him to go overboard in attacking them, or those defending them. But that does not necessarily mean that those constraints are valid or justifiable, particularly when it appears they are based on the supposed existence of some divine entity – as an absolute abstraction or as a more tangible person – for which there is no evidence or proof apart from some questionable logic.

And making those constraints particularly odious, at least in the eyes of some, is the argument, the threat, the intimation if not the intimidation, that transgressing them will lead to spending an eternity suffering hell-fire and damnation – oh, sorry, I’d forgotten that the Catholic god has recently advised the Pope that hell should only be considered symbolically, although apparently the communication from on high was somewhat garbled and the Vatican is still trying to parse it.

And given the rather tenuous evidence and proof offered and the rather heavy handed efforts to enforce compliance with those constraints one might reasonably question the integrity, value and credibility of the “higher good” that is supposedly served.

Brian said...

Steersman, just stop. Please.

Steersman said...

Pourquoi?

Fake Herozg said...

Xerces says:

"Even if Catholic Christianity can be legitimately said to be culpable for all of those things, how do they overwhelm all of its historically unprecedented and still unmatched moral triumphs, such as its orphanages, almshouses, hospitals, foundling homes, schools, universities, relief organizations, shelters, soup kitchens, medical missions, charitable aid societies, and so on - all of which were birthed from strong Christian conviction and not merely some sort of normal, natural human kindness?"

GordonWillis responds as follows:

"When we look at the appalling situations -- now coming to light -- in very many Catholic establishments all over the world, and consider the behaviour of the authorities, it is difficult to imagine that things were much better in earlier times. Lots of people do soup kitchens and other charitable works. Most of them are well-meaning and kindly people, and you have no right to say that they would not be well-meaning and kindly if it were not for Christianity. For one thing, it isn't logical, and for another, the Church as we see it today, and as it has been perceived throughout history (Chaucer?), is no model of virtue."

Has anyone here read David Bentley Hart's wonderful entry in the "attack the New Atheist" literature called "Atheist Delusions"? He deals with the whole subject of the pagan world's morality before Christianity came along (with the exception of the Jews, not so good). The historical ignorance of someone like GordonWillis is stunning and has to be read to be believed ("Lots of people do soup kitchens and other charitable works." -- Yeah, atheists and agnostics have always been thick on the ground where there is poverty and misery).

If you go to MacDonald's blog, check out the comments from "Ye Olde Statistician" -- he is doing yeoman's work over there trying to educate the heathens regarding history, basic logic, church theology, etc., etc. He and dguller are to be commended.

Brian said...

Fake Herozg, on which posts has Ye Olde Statistician commented? I don't see his comments. Have they been deleted?

Anonymous said...

Steersman,

"divine entity...for which there is no evidence or proof"

As anyone who has ever picked up a philosophy of religion book would know, Western thought is flooded with over 2000 years of valid proofs for the existence of God. The more interesting question, of course, is whether or not those valid proofs are sound (i.e. the premises of the argument are all true) and don't beg the question, but that's a separate issue. Next time, try to be a little less reckless with your language when making allegations about "proof."


As to the question of there "not being any evidence for God," before one can even address this, the basic, preliminary question, "What is evidence?" needs to be asked. This is a completely philosophical question that is extremely relevant to the times, but it is constantly mangled in online discussions, so here I'll roughly spell out in philosophical terminology what constitutes evidence:

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

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


This is all very basic and is uncontroversial in probability theory. On this rough construal of evidence, there is no rational reason to deny there is evidence for God, because it is immediately obvious that X is not confined to being evidence of an empirical sort. That is too stultified a constraint.

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

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

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

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


However, the question of whether there is evidence for God is to be distinguished from the far more interesting question of whether there is sufficient evidence for God. If atheists and other non-theists would ask us the latter question instead of bombarding us with the inane, former one (and then even more inanely asserting that there is none or, worse, that there can be none), it would save us a great hassle, and would indicate that you have at least a ballpark understanding of the concept "evidence." That said, please be more precise with your language in the future.

Xerces said...

Fake Herozg,

Wow. I am actually a great admirer of Hart, having gone so far as to memorize certain salient passages from his books, and the second paragraph of my response to GordonWillis was essentially a paraphrase of one such passage I'd committed to memory from Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies.

Incidentally, since this discussion has drifted towards the topic of Christianity's deep impact on human history, here's the first of a five-part interview and debate featuring Hart, in which he gets into it with the president of Great Britain's National Secular Society over whether the values of compassionate humanism are things we as human beings inevitably evolve towards, regardless of the particularities of history, and so long as we're "rational" enough, or whether their emergence in human history is wholly contingent and dependent upon the persistence of a certain metaphysical narrative of reality - i.e. the Christian narrative:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UI4uh0FKIrg

Hart, needless to say, is the one who argues that the "humanist" values espoused by so many of the New Atheists are in fact historical contingencies, not inevitabilities, and that they are also properly Christian values.

Edward Feser said...

Brian,

I think that what Fake Herzog meant was that YOS had been commenting on Coyne's blog, not MacDonald's.

Steersman said...

Anonymous,

Thanks for the link which I have now (although the page won’t complete loading) and will it read later, and for taking the time to elaborate or at least provide a thumbnail sketch of the “lay-of-the-land”.

The more interesting question, of course, is whether or not those valid proofs are sound ....

Seems a rather funny, or at least incomplete, criteria or definition of proof. Seems what is ultimately required is some method of determining true statements about reality. What I have in mind are the several cases in which theoretical considerations – theories – in particle physics led to the assertion that such-and-such a particle would exist at such-and-such energies and be found in such-and-such circumstances. Absent that process, that closing of the loop, what one has, apparently, is a set of axioms and rules of inference from which certain theorems follow in a consistent fashion, but which have no correlation with any objective reality – a rather academic and sterile state of affairs I would think. If the axioms are not grounded in, do not correlate with, real facts then it seems a little unreasonable to think that the conclusions will somehow magically correlate with others that are in fact real – I hardly think you would try to argue from the elements Earth-Air-Wind-Fire to a modern chemical process.

Seems to me that in the considerations of the existence of god what the hoi polloi want and expect – at least within the some 2 billion who subscribe to the resurrection – is that that will actually take place. Seems to me to be a fraud of the first order to be selling a hypothetical bridge, but to be expecting tangible, real, coin in exchange for it.

But I’ll concede, as I have several times now in one way or another, that my understanding of the relevant terms and context is sketchy at best, although I’m endeavouring to rectify that.

This is all very basic and is uncontroversial in probability theory. On this rough construal of evidence, there is no rational reason to deny there is evidence for God, because it is immediately obvious that X is not confined to being evidence of an empirical sort. That is too stultified a constraint.

That is all fine and dandy except for the niggling question as to how you define, quantify and measure the probabilities for the evidence correlating with the conclusion. You’ve “run” the universe through from big-bang to big crunch 100 trillion times and found that 12 billion times out of 75 trillion times X is present when Y [god] is present, while it only occurs 1 million times in the 25 trillion times when Y is not present?

And why should it be “obvious that X is not confined to being evidence of an empirical sort”? If Y [god] is supposedly an empirical fact – and what benefit is it if it’s not? – then why should not the evidence be in the same set?

I expect that most of the people who have bought into Christianity, who have bought that bridge, expect and expected to be crossing it. Unless the probability provided by the evidence is 1.0000…0 then it seems a little disingenuous – at best – to suggest that the thesis is proven – at least in the sense of corresponding to reality.

That said, please be more precise with your language in the future.

I’ll try, although the process must of necessity be somewhat based on the heuristic of trial and error: “if a fool would persist in his folly he would be wise”.

Steersman said...

Jinzang said: Stalin? Pol Pot? This sort of argument is tiresome, for each moral monster you produce who is Christian, I can produce one who is an atheist.

That is a reasonable point, although I think it should lead to the reasonable question, in my view, as to what might be the common factor that leads, not necessarily though frequently, to those common consequences. And while there are, no doubt, more than a few of those factors it seems that a central one is that most, if not all, of those “monsters” came from or led authoritarian, if not fascist, regimes of one sort or another:

Authoritarianism is a form of social organization characterized by submission to authority. It is usually opposed to individualism and democracy. In politics, an authoritarian government is one in which political authority is concentrated in a small group of political elite, typically unelected by the people (but not necessarily), who possess exclusive, most of the time unaccountable, and arbitrary power.

And it is that arbitrary power, not subject to the checks and balances that is at least theoretically present within democracies, which leads to the corruption that breeds those monsters. And if the power is absolute, or virtually absolute, as in the case of the Divine Rights of Kings – who were supposedly kept in check by the Pope who, of course, doesn’t have much control these days over the likes of Kim Jong-il – and as in the case of the Pope himself, then the corruption can then, of course, also be absolute.

Anne C. Hanna said...

Just to be clear here, the coverup of the child abuse scandals was *absolutely* a direct outgrowth of Catholic moral theology. It is still the case that abusing a child, or covering up the abuse of a child, does not mandate excommunication (removal from the Church community), while disagreeing with the official position on doctrinal matters does. The reasoning for this, as I understand it, is that abusing a child is simply a sin, and sins are supposedly properly handled by confession, repentance, and forgiveness, rather than by rejection of the sinner. On the other hand, publicly disagreeing with official theology has the potential to lead people into "error", and therefore the Church believes it has a responsibility to draw a clear line of demarcation between itself and any people who refuse to recant beliefs deemed heretical.

The abuse coverup followed similar logic --- if the abuse cases were made public, people would lose their trust in and respect for the Church, and would therefore be led into error. Therefore, revealing an abuse case without official sanction threatened all of the souls already in the Church, as well as the souls of all potential converts, whereas concealing abuse and transferring abusive priests threatened only the souls of those priests and their victims (and besides, the priests had repented of their sins and so were washed clean and wouldn't do that again, so there was really no future danger, right?).

To those who genuinely subscribed to this framework the right choice seemed obvious, even if it was difficult --- they had to protect the Church at all costs. Of course, the obvious right choice in this framework, this moral theology in which the Catholic Church is God's instrument on Earth and the sole pathway to salvation, was clearly drastically out of step with the morality most of the rest of us hold to, in which harming a child is fucking sick, and helping conceal the harm someone else did to a child is even sicker. Thus, scandal.

But then again, this is the same Church that once acted as if tormenting and breaking people's bodies in order to "save" their souls was also completely consistent with its moral theology. I've heard plenty of modern weasels about how this wasn't the True Church, and it was a deviation and blah blah blah, but it was done in the name of the Catholic Church for centuries and somehow nobody with any real power in the hierarchy ever got around to decreeing that it was wrong and people should stop already until the Church didn't have the power to do that any more anyway. They've somehow been much more effective in excommunicating all those pesky theologians who point out that it would really be a lot better if women had an equal voice in running this organization which lays claim to total dominion over all human souls, including the souls of women. So, given that history, the child abuse scandals really shouldn't have been such a surprise.

Anonymous said...

Cool story, sis.

Oh and you're wrong.

Tom Esteban said...

"Just to be clear here, the coverup of the child abuse scandals was *absolutely* a direct outgrowth of Catholic moral theology."

Glad you were available to clear that up! Unfortunately, you have no idea what theology is, as the rest of your post speaks more about (your misunderstandings of) Church law rather than anything theological.

Your post was well written. Unfortunately, much like the work of the New Atheists, it suffers from a lack of understanding. More so, it lacks any real world application. You've written the story, and now you're only following the narrative that you've set out for yourself. For you, the Church just is what you've made it out to be. As Dr.Feser has said many times on this blog - Atheists are not in touch with reality.

Your blog post was a prime example of validity vs soundness. In your head it is both valid and sound. In reality, it is not sound but probably valid.

As for the last paragraph red herring... these psuedo-historical "facts" are getting old. Even Atheists don't believe them anymore, since, well, you can pick up a book and actually do some real history. But this whole "pedo" thing is the red herring in itself. Do you notice something about it? Spending more time trying to argue how peadophilia is relevant to the discussion than actually arguing real points.

This is New Atheism 101:

"The cosmological argument is stupid!"
"Why do you say that? Can you show how?"
"Yes, but I do also know you're all kiddie fiddlers!"
"Why is that relevant?"
"Ah, you see.... [insert long tyrade, lots of vitriol, mostly false information and a dash of ad hominem here]"

It's a yawn.

Anne C. Hanna said...

So, Anon and Tom, seeing as how you're clearly so much more educated than me about these matters, hows 'bout you go ahead and school me? Or were the insults all you had?

As for arguing the supposed substance of this lame-ass teleology issue, well, it didn't look to me like anybody here was actually doing that, so, y'know, far be it from me to change the subject. But if you're sick of being reminded of your Church's 2000(ish)-year history of abject moral failures right up 'til yesterday, you're welcome to go running back into "proving" your faith with tautological abstractions if it makes you happy. I think it's nice for people to be happy, and I don't want to deprive you of that.

Tom Esteban said...

Anne, I didn't insult you. If you take my comments at your comment to be an insult, I apologize. Nor did I say that I was more educated. I have a degree in philosophy - and I don't say that as a boast. You're an engineering student according to your profile which kinda makes me jealous since engineering was my first choice after High School. Never the less, I'm glad I did philosophy.

As for the "lame ass teleology issue", well to me there is no issue. Dr.Feser has cleared it up at length. In any case, you shouldn't take your cue from these guys and use it as an excuse to (in your words) "clear things up" about the sex abuse scandal.

I can understand that you believe this all to be a bunch of nonsense, "tautological abstractions". I disagree, and can't even imagine where you got the idea that these are tautologies are abstractions. So if you believe this to be a bunch of nonsense, what brings you here?

I want you to be happy too. Above all, I want you to be living the Truth. That's not just Catholic talk for "be a good Christian who loves Jesus". That goes for all things, including the pseudo-history and including your well thought out but false attack on the "pedo coverups" and its (alledged) link to theology.

Josh said...

Anne,

I'll attempt to discuss part of your post, though I'm not a Catholic:

Just to be clear here, the coverup of the child abuse scandals was *absolutely* a direct outgrowth of Catholic moral theology.

Do you mean it's the only valid, deducible, necessary conclusion of Catholic Natural Law? If so, why say:

The reasoning for this, as I understand it, is that abusing a child is simply a sin, and sins are supposedly properly handled by confession, repentance, and forgiveness, rather than by rejection of the sinner.

These two statements you've presented don't seem to jive. Either the church believes it's a sin, and it's wrong to do, or not. Whether people sin or not is really irrelevant to the argument as I take it.

As far as excommunication goes, I'll leave it to you to understand why that isn't applied to sinners for sinning in general, but rather a willful desire to destroy the Church's authority. I see your understandable anger at the sins of child abuse and I assure you Catholics are not happy about it either.

Brian said...

So has there been a thorough treatment on the Mother Teresa "controversy?" I have searched on the internet for hours and have not found anything except for the critics like Hitchens, who is known to exaggerate to the point of falsehood and to be loose with the facts for the sake of rhetoric. I do not doubt his intelligence at all, but he is definitely sensational. Anyone can direct me to something?

Pattsce said...

Anne,

I'd like to address some of the points you made. I'd like to start with this first:

"The reasoning for this, as I understand it, is that abusing a child is simply a sin, and sins are supposedly properly handled by confession, repentance, and forgiveness, rather than by rejection of the sinner. On the other hand, publicly disagreeing with official theology has the potential to lead people into "error", and therefore the Church believes it has a responsibility to draw a clear line of demarcation between itself and any people who refuse to recant beliefs deemed heretical."

If a person commits a wrong action, a normal method of forgiveness seems appropriate. He feels sorry for what he has done because he knows what he has done is wrong. But if someone says that the grievous sin he committed is Not a sin (or believes something equally heretical), then kicking the person out of the group (or excommunication) does seem appropriate---whether it causes scandal among others or not.

It's not just a "oh no, they're going to make us look bad!" thing. It's a "this person holds beliefs so contrary to our core beliefs, he cannot remain in communion with us" thing. I think this is perfectly normal and perfectly appropriate for any group, whether it's the Catholic Church, a pro-choice organization, or a collection of close friends. A wrong action is forgiven because the person committing the action repents out of genuine belief that the action was wrong. On the other hand, if the person holds heretical beliefs, there's nothing to forgive. The person is simply outside of the group by definition. One can perhaps repent afterward for holding the beliefs and leading people into falsehood, but as long as he holds the beliefs, he cannot be part of the group. This is true of Any group.

I don't really understand what's so offensive about this. I'd further like to note that all of the things you point out as wrong: abuse, lying, covering up, being hypocritical, etc. are condemned by Catholic moral theology.

You seem to be hung up on some false idea that Catholics are morally obligated to lie, cheat, steal, rape, and murder in defense of the Church. It's just not true. Committing grave sins in order to protect the Church (or protect Anything) has nothing to do with Catholic moral theology. Committing any grave sin is forbidden, regardless of the further intention. (This is the reason Catholic moral theology forbids abortion is all circumstances despite the world's outrage.) The ends (a good image of the Church) never justify the means (lying, abusing, etc.) under Catholic morality. Whether or not there are Catholics who think the ends do justify the means or whether or not there are Catholics who act like they do is wholly irrelevant to the system of morality itself.

Pattsce said...

I'd like to qualify the above just in case what I said is taken to read "All Catholics think that everyone who doesn't believe exactly what they believe are wrong." Good Catholics, who are never excommunicated, question the Church all the time. They are simply not allowed to disagree with something core to Catholicism and remain a Catholic. And this isn't just the Church being mean and spiteful against people who disagree with them. It's just the nature of belief.

For example, if I joined a pro-choice organization, wore their t-shirts and put their bumper stickers on my car all while believing and proclaiming that everyone who gets an abortion is a murderer who should be thrown in jail, they would Rightly forbid me from being part of their group ("excommunicate" me). I would not be one of them in a very core way.

I am qualifying this because the nature of excommunication in the Catholic Church is complex. I just wanted to get the root of what it is to show that there is nothing unreasonable in the underlying principle.

Haiying said...

"The ends (a good image of the Church) never justify the means (lying, abusing, etc.) under Catholic morality."


Agreed. The conglomeration of Christian thought is thoroughly inhospitable to utilitarian precepts.


However, even if we grant Anne's chimera a moment's life - the notion that the clergy "had to protect the Church at all costs" - this still does precisely nothing in the way of entailing that the covering up of sex abuse was the most appropriate course of Catholic action. A scintilla of temperate thought reveals that far stronger arguments could have been easily marshaled by the priests in support of the idea that they not cover up the rampant sexual predation, seeing as how failing to do so has evidently damaged the Church's image infinitely more so than it otherwise would have been, and that these outcomes were all readily foreseeable.

Haiying said...

Also, Anne, regarding your provocative little riff on the Spanish Crown Inquisitions...


"But then again, this is the same Church that once acted as if tormenting and breaking people's bodies in order to 'save' their souls was also completely consistent with its moral theology."



...you can find erudite, systematic examinations of the topic here:


Edward Peters. Inquisition

http://www.amazon.com/Inquisition-Edward-Peters/dp/0520066308/

Henry Kamen. The Spanish Inquisition: A Historical Revision

http://www.amazon.com/Spanish-Inquisition-Historical-Revision/dp/0300078803/


Both are written by renowned historians with no spiritual axe to grind.

And that being said, I honestly hope you make use of this information. If not, it's your loss.

beng said...

Anne C. Hanna

The reasoning for this, as I understand it, is that abusing a child is simply a sin, and sins are supposedly properly handled by confession, repentance, and forgiveness, rather than by rejection of the sinner.

You've misunderstood the reasoning.

Thus you are attacking a straw-man.


PS
If you do not think that you've misunderstood the reasoning then back it up with something (official documents, statistic, or whatever)

Another Matt said...

Regarding question begging:

I don't see how one avoids it in moral discussions like these. Take something like homosexuality and gay marriage (which is just as fraught, but where there is less at stake than the abortion and euthanasia debates). Here are moral "crimes" for which it is much more difficult to locate demonstrable harm that isn't of a spiritual nature. Most often the argument I have heard is, "of course there's harm -- what about moral harm? And wouldn't we be telling children that it's OK to be gay?" This argument is obviously begging the question in exactly the same way and to the same degree as an atheist who fails to find any moral problem with it at all. There might be more substantial arguments against gay marriage available but I have not heard them in the mainstream (and I would be interested in hearing the best ones).

Meanwhile it's hard to deny that the clash between the gay community and Christian teaching (and any state law or legal opinion derived from it) has caused a great deal of suffering. Each side seems to be inclined to blame the other for this, but the suffering itself is one-sided. It's also an area where religious values come into conflict, and I think principally it's where empathy and care for the wellbeing of fellow humans butts against natural law and revealed morality (I'm painting with a broad brush, but I think you'll understand what I mean).

This is why McDonald has the objection he does -- if you wish to resolve these conflicts in favor of empathy and appeals to shared humanity and compassion, so much the better for everyone, but if you consistently resolve the conflicts in favor of specific doctrines of Church morality, those who aren't convinced by revealed or natural law will see this as a denial of the humanity of the suffering individual. Both sides get to say the other is begging the question, and they're both right; the problem is both sides are reasoning from a different set of axioms that the other side will not see as self-evident. I think McDonald-types would also say that everyone has empathy but not everyone holds Church doctrines, so it seems reasonable from a societal standpoint to appeal to the values we all share. So the question has to be kicked up to a broader societal level, where we tend to value freedom and privacy, and where we don't tend to punish victimless crimes (sorry again for the broad brush).

TheOFloinn said...

What I have in mind are the several cases in which theoretical considerations – theories – in particle physics led to the assertion that such-and-such a particle would exist at such-and-such energies and be found in such-and-such circumstances. Absent that process, that closing of the loop...

Ah, yes. The method of reductio et compositio formulated by Robert Grosseteste, sometime Bishop of Lincoln and Rector of Oxford, back in the Middle Ages.

It is very useful in natural philosophy, but means diddly squat in mathematics. But maybe mathematics isn't "real knowledge." Except that many of those particles are predicated by or even exist solely as mathematical terms.

TheOFloinn said...

I hardly think you would try to argue from the elements Earth-Air-Wind-Fire to a modern chemical process.

It's more physics than chemistry and it uses the term "element" in a different way than the Daltonians. Earth-Water-Wind-Fire is simply an earlier lingo for speaking of solid-liquid-gas-plasma as being the four fundamental states of matter. You really can't blame them for not getting Bose-Einstein condensates.

If Y [god] is supposedly an empirical fact – and what benefit is it if it’s not?

Is π an empirical fact? No amount of empirical measurement of circumferences and diameters will come up with an irrational number. But does it have benefits?

equesatrum said...

Let this post be a show of support for a series on Chris Nolan films written by Dr. Feser!

djindra said...

Anne C. Hanna,

"But then again, this is the same Church that once acted as if tormenting and breaking people's bodies in order to "save" their souls was also completely consistent with its moral theology."

You're forgetting all that Protestant propaganda the poor Catholics had to endure. As a thought experiment, put yourself in the position of Nazis and consider how much liberal propaganda they had to endure. Clearly barbarians are much aligned these days for no good reason.

You're forgetting only thousands of deaths were duly recorded. Mass graves don't count in the barbarian scheme of things. And we must account for millions upon millions of deaths before barbarians raise an eyebrow (unless the victim is a Terri Schiavo, of course).

You're forgetting that it was just a cultural thing, anyway. Cultural relativism is important to the well-being of barbarians.

But mostly you're forgetting that barbarians will always whitewash their past. Those dark ages were the glory days of Scholastic thought, after all. Aquinas and Aristotle ruled. What could possibly go wrong?

Another Matt said...

Rape of children by priests is relevant to the moral teachings of the Church only insofar as there is official doctrine regarding what to do about it when it has occurred. For instance say the Church's stance was that in such a case it would be worse to deny the flock its ordained priest than to remove him from the presence of its children, or to excommunicate and prosecute him. This isn't really an unthinkable doctrine from a religious standpoint - but most outsiders would probably consider it deeply immoral.

It may not be fair to ask whether the fact that child abuse occurred has anything to do with moral teachings of the Church, but it is a fair question to ask what doctrines affect how it is handled within the Church after the fact. Those of us outside the Church who see a massive coverup in many of these cases are right to wonder to which extent the coverup stemmed from doctrinal questions of authority, hierarchy, pastoral responsibility, and so forth.

(Also, my apologies for misspelling MacDonald in my previous post.)

Another Matt said...

You seem to be hung up on some false idea that Catholics are morally obligated to lie, cheat, steal, rape, and murder in defense of the Church. It's just not true.


I think those of us outside the Church are worried how it resolves situations where the Church's core values and moral teachings collide with each other. This is why statements like, "it seems profoundly damaging to the dignity of the human being, and for this reason morally illicit, to support a prevention of AIDS that is based on a recourse to means and remedies that violate an authentically human sense of sexuality, and which are a palliative to the deeper suffering which involve the responsibility of individuals and of society." seemed so astonishingly inhumane to those of us outside the Church -- it seemed as though when faced with a conflict between moral teaching involving sexuality and moral duty not to inflict undue pain or fatal harm on other individuals, the Church came down in defense of the former by reasoning that it offended human dignity more to use a condom than to spread HIV through sexual contact. If you were to try to form practical advice based on this moral reasoning, it would be: 1) if you have HIV, don't have sex. But 2) if you have HIV and you had sex and used a condom, it would have been better had you not used a condom. From outside the Church, these kinds of pronouncements seem needlessly barbaric.

djindra said...

Untenured,

"Well, Gordon, if what you want to see is an institution that transcends and negates our humanity, then you are out of luck. No such institution is on offer, nor were we ever promised one to begin with."

IOW, the institution is culturally impotent. It cannot fashion people into better behaved people. This is contrary to what most Christians believe but it is exactly what I as a zerotheist believe. The world is in no danger of falling apart sans Christianity because it was never any good at keeping it together in the first place, and that was not its mission in any case.

"What other moral doctrine has produced a plurality of individuals of the same moral caliber? Kantianism? Atheism? Objectivism? Marxism? Liberalism? I rest my case."

Yes, maybe all of the above, statistically corrected -- unless you contradict your first position in which case you have no coherent position.

djindra said...

Anonymous,

"On this rough construal of evidence, there is no rational reason to deny there is evidence for God, because it is immediately obvious that X is not confined to being evidence of an empirical sort. That is too stultified a constraint."

It strikes me that this "stultified" empirical constraint oppresses you. You demand a libertine attitude toward "evidence." It also strikes me that this is, at its core, a recklessly liberal and relativistic attitude.

djindra said...

Steersman,

"And while there are, no doubt, more than a few of those factors it seems that a central one is that most, if not all, of those “monsters” came from or led authoritarian, if not fascist, regimes of one sort or another:"

Exactly right. All questions do not easily divide into religion vs. atheism. And let us not forget these monsters defy quick categorization. Stalin was raised as a Christian and in fact was a seminary student. Obviously the effect of that upbringing is not simply and conveniently unraveled from the later years. Who can really say what ingredients go into making such men?

hurr said...

@Anne,

Or were the insults all you had?

Oh, please. Insults? "Cool story bro/sis" is an insult? Saying you're wrong is an insult? Tom didn't insult you either, unless you consider "yawn" to be an insult. In any case, that's quite hypocritical of you, because there are many instances of such "insults" in your screed, which I didn't even bother replying because it is packed with conceptual errors (e.g. confusing 'theology' with 'moral teaching'), misrepresentations ('error', 'simply a sin', etc.) and historical inaccuracies (help!). Anyhow, I've had my share of arguing on the Internet about "tautological abstractions" (I bet you used that to sound smart) with pasty soft-bodied passive-aggressive nerds and their ten percent of mousy eyeglass-wearing, attention-seeking gynoid trolls who love making drama out of silly events like being asked for sex in an elevator (LOL 'coffee and conversation') by some frustrated chump. Given that history and your posting demeanor I am confident that whatever I tell you, no matter how sound and well-meaning, won't resonat.

Oh, did I insult you this time? I hope I did. I like setting the bar high. If not, please let me know and I'll give it another try. Here, at Feser's, we aim to please.

Anonymous said...

"It strikes me that this "stultified" empirical constraint oppresses you. You demand a libertine attitude toward "evidence." It also strikes me that this is, at its core, a recklessly liberal and relativistic attitude."


so...valid and apparently sound philosophical arguments don't count as pieces of evidence on your view? neither does eyewitness testimony?

any conception of evidence that's not limited to the empirical is somehow "recklessly liberal and relativistic"?


we'd all like it if you would bother spelling out why you think this is so.

djindra said...

Ismael,

"Feser was not talking about evolutionary biology in itself, but the REDUCTIONIST MATERIALISTIC INTERPRETATION of evolutionary biology."

IOW, he was talking about evolutionary theory. You're confirming what I said and what MacDonald said. If you wish to dispute me it's customary to disagree on some point. So what is it?

djindra said...

Anonymous,

"so...valid and apparently sound philosophical arguments don't count as pieces of evidence on your view?"

None so far do. And I can't think of a sound philosophical argument that does not depend, ultimately, on some sort of empirical data.

neither does eyewitness testimony?

That is empirical evidence. But hearsay eyewitness testimony for extraordinary things like deities or UFOs had better be very compelling. I know of none for any god or UFO. Besides, what exactly would eyewitness testimony of Pure Actuality consist of?

Tap said...

Feeding trolls will only encourage trolls people. Let the trolls be

Untenured said...

I return to find that this screed is just dueling troll rants, so I'll be brief. If never implied in any way that the Church hasn't been a moral force for good, or that it has had a net-zero moral impact on the world. The moral caliber of the Western European barbarians before and after their Christianization is an object lesson, as is the fact the Christian Europe, even at its current decadent ebb, has still not reached the moral depths of depravity that the "enlightened" secular Romans did. But Christianity doesn't make people immune from ordinary human failures that involve the exercise of the will. And if anyone has ever struggled with basic human desires that militate against a higher perceived good, then they would know that "resisting" the grace of God is not a remote possibility, not even for the most devout. The parables of the wheat and the chaff tell us very clearly that our Lord did not expect otherwise.

djindra said...

Tap,

Probably you have nothing in you anyway.

djindra said...

Untenured,

So first you want to defend the church for its failures claiming it wasn't trying to succeed anyway. Then you pat it on the back for saving the West from barbarians. Your position on this issue amounts to vague posturing.

Thomas Aquinas said...

Another Matt writes:

"care for the wellbeing of fellow humans butts."

Bingo.

Another Matt said...

""care for the wellbeing of fellow humans butts."

Bingo."



LOL, thanks.

Thomas Aquinas said...

Anne:

Murder is a crime, but it is not a basis for declaring the murderer a non-citizen. Conversely, treason is a basis for declaring someone a non-citizen, though it is not murder.

In the same way, all heresy and apostasy are sins, though not all sins are heresy and apostasy. Consequently, certain sins may serve as the basis for excommunication while others do not. A child molester is not excommunicated may wind up in hell. While an apostate--e.g., Luther--may wind up in heaven.

BTW, if teleology is non-sense, why is child molestation wrong? It seems to me that child molestation is wrong because an adult is not using his sexual powers appropriate to their ends. In this case, their use is being employed for a wicked end, one that is deeply evil. But such a judgment depends on a prior understanding of proper ends and purposes, both of which you deny.

But even more direct: if exposing children to sexuality at a young age is wrong, then you should be a strong critic of much of sex education in the public schools. Oftentimes students are exposed to lessons that if employed privately by an adult male would land the latter in jail. So, here's the test you can use: if an adult male can't teach it in his kitchen to the neighbor's ten year old, then it probably shouldn't be taught by a classroom full of ten year olds in the public school. And more to the point: if you knew that a Catholic priest was reading allowed to a group of middle school kids the book published by Planned PArenthood--Nobody's Fool--would you think it wrong?

For these reasons, any liberal criticism of Catholicism is prima facie suspect, since liberals never suggest stopping Planned Parenthood or its organizational predators from invading the public school classrooms with their pre-teen lessons on fisting and assorted other practices.

Brian said...

Another Matt said:
From outside the Church, these kinds of pronouncements seem needlessly barbaric.

We would say that natural law is accessible to all by reason, so it is not really a problem that you are visibly "outside the Church." Anyone, we claim, can come to same moral conclusions on sexual ethics if we just reason. The problem, then, is that you have a set of assumptions that make you think those moral conclusions to be "inhumane" or "barbaric." Well, we would criticize those assumptions. Perhaps the best witness for the truth of our position would be the many people who converted from secularism to Catholicism. Check out people like Melinda Selmys and Eve Tushnet, both secularist lesbians turned orthodox Catholic. See what they have to say.

Fake Herzog said...

Brian,

Ed is right -- I got Coyne's blog and MacDonald's blog confused in my mind. Here is the link to Coyne's blog with some great comments from Ye Olde Statistician:

http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2011/08/13/macdonald-takes-down-fesers-theology/

Brian said...

Thomas Aquinas, that is a very good explanation of excommunication! I have never thought of it that way - very good analogy, I think. However, why is it that participation in an abortion results in an automatic excommunication? That, while indeed grave, like the molestation/rape of children, is not a formal separation. So why does it carry the excommunication?

Anonymous said...

"...with some great comments from Ye Olde Statistician."

Don't forget the inimitable performance given by "Ben Goren" in that thread. My goodness, what a hoot.

Another Matt said...

Brian said:

We would say that natural law is accessible to all by reason, so it is not really a problem that you are visibly "outside the Church." Anyone, we claim, can come to same moral conclusions on sexual ethics if we just reason. The problem, then, is that you have a set of assumptions that make you think those moral conclusions to be "inhumane" or "barbaric."


But in order to "just reason" we have to start from something. What do you start with if not a set of assumptions? You can't declare by fiat that your assumptions are immune to criticism if your whole project depends on reason alone. So far the natural law arguments about sexual morality require beliefs that badly offend the conscience of many, many people outside the church, and it's not fair to say that we just reason enough.

Brian said...

Another Matt said:
But in order to "just reason" we have to start from something. What do you start with if not a set of assumptions? You can't declare by fiat that your assumptions are immune to criticism if your whole project depends on reason alone. So far the natural law arguments about sexual morality require beliefs that badly offend the conscience of many, many people outside the church, and it's not fair to say that we just [don't] reason enough.

I am not so sure that it is unfair. Perhaps the others can provide a more philosophical analysis, but I have just seen, in my own life and in the lives of others, that a very profound attachment to sin keeps us from seeing things clearly and from reasoning all the way. In fact, check out Ye Olde Statistician's citiation of a relevant study in that respect:

http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2011/08/13/macdonald-takes-down-fesers-theology/#comment-126004

Pretty interesting, I'd say. I am gonna take the time to read it more carefully when I have the time.

Anyway, I can relate to your point of view. When I was an atheist converting to Catholicism, the sexual ethics were very hard to me. I understood and agreed with the rationale when I finally got around to treating the arguments charitably, but what you call "empathy" was still a powerful force in me.

Anonymous said...

What do you start with if not a set of assumptions?

Not all assumptions are created equal. Assuming things like "The external world is real," "People other than myself exist," and, "The past really happened," is far removed from assuming things like "God does not exist," "Some planets are made of string cheese," "Human beings have nifty things called inviolable rights," "Killing innocents is morally wrong," "Premarital sex is morally OK," "Sodomy is morally OK," "killing a human fetus is morally OK," etc.

Those latter things need to be argued for, not emoted for.

Steersman said...

Anonymous said: Not all assumptions are created equal. Assuming things like "The external world is real," "People other than myself exist," and, "The past really happened," is far removed from assuming things like "God does not exist," "Some planets are made of string cheese," "Human beings have nifty things called inviolable rights," "Killing innocents is morally wrong," "Premarital sex is morally OK," "Sodomy is morally OK," "killing a human fetus is morally OK," etc.

Those latter things need to be argued for, not emoted for.


Good point. Although I would, of course, add another one to the latter list, i.e. “God does exist”. And suggest that proofs for such be valid and sound and that the evidence provided to justify the conclusions be of an empirical nature.

Another Matt said...

Not all assumptions are created equal. Assuming things like "The external world is real," "People other than myself exist," and, "The past really happened," is far removed from assuming things like "God does not exist," "Some planets are made of string cheese," "Human beings have nifty things called inviolable rights," "Killing innocents is morally wrong," "Premarital sex is morally OK," "Sodomy is morally OK," "killing a human fetus is morally OK," etc.

Those latter things need to be argued for, not emoted for.



Exactly. So how do you get from something like "people other than myself exist" to "condom-use is such an evil that we'd rather have someone contract AIDS than employ some latex"? I'm actually genuinely curious what kind of modest first principles could possibly lead to something like that. I plead lack of sufficient imagination - I'd really appreciate someone spelling it out for me; I'm willing to entertain it charitably.

Brian said...

"condom-use is such an evil that we'd rather have someone contract AIDS than employ some latex"

Well, first of all, that is not the choice we are proposing.

Another Matt said...

"condom-use is such an evil that we'd rather have someone contract AIDS than employ some latex"

Well, first of all, that is not the choice we are proposing.



Fine. Substitute "anal sex is evil." Out of curiosity, what kind of choice was JPII proposing regarding condom use? I'm really not trying to troll -- I want to find out what the propositions really are.

TheOFloinn said...

why is it that participation in an abortion results in an automatic excommunication?

As I understand it, it is not the concrete act but the pronouncement that it was a good and proper thing to do. Recall that Dorothy Day, who had procured an abortion during her atheist period, is presently a beata and on the track for sainthood.

TheOFloinn said...

So far the natural law arguments about sexual morality require beliefs that badly offend the conscience of many, many people outside the church

How does it offend anyone's conscience to assume that there is change in the world? Or that there are natural laws (i.e., that things work for an end)? Or that what is potential cannot cause an effect, only what is actual? Or that matter is the principle of potency and form is the principle of actuality? Most folks, I suspect, would not only be unoffended by this, but when they had understood them clearly would shrug and say "Of course."

The real problem comes when some people see where realist assumptions about the world will lead them. As Thucydides noted in his History, folks always bring out all their quibbling arguments when they don't like the answer; but accept everything on faith when they find it congenial.

TheOFloinn said...

Those latter things need to be argued for, not emoted for.

Ah, but as Barzun noted in The House of Intellect, the expression "I feel that..." began replacing "I think that..." back in the 1950s. Our Nietzschean friends are simply the consequence of the triumph of the will.

TheOFloinn said...

Steersman
Although I would, of course, add another one to the latter list, i.e. “God does exist”.

Of course. The existence of God is something demonstrated, not something assumed. (Which is not to say that no one ever assumes it. Not everyone has the time, inclination, or mental acuity to demonstrate such things.)

And suggest that proofs for such be valid and sound and that the evidence provided to justify the conclusions be of an empirical nature.

You were okay until the end. Empirical evidence is all well and good for natural philosophy, but it is not the way of mathematics or metaphysics. Mathematics disregards empiricism entirely, and so achieves absolutely certain knowledge. (Empiricism leads to tentative 'falsifiable' knowledge, properly 'opinion.')

In metaphysics, a realist philosopher starts with empirical facts (e.g., there is change in the world) and derives consequences via deductive logic using valid and sound proofs.

In the physics, a natural philosopher starts with empirical facts and develops causes and explanatory stories that "make sense" of the facts, via inductive logic.

We must keep ever in mind that through any finite collection of facts one may draw any number of theories. E.g., there are five major theories of quantum mechanics. That is, "empirical" facts are never self-explanatory.

TheOFloinn said...

So how do you get from something like "people other than myself exist" to "condom-use is such an evil that we'd rather have someone contract AIDS than employ some latex"?

This is the fallacy known as a "false dichotomy."

Of course, you would rather see someone contract AIDS than keep control of his appetites. We know this is true because a) condoms fail the water test in about 4% of instances (the figure may vary among manufacturers and from lot to lot) and b) in the real world of real people undergoing real emotions they are quite often applied incorrectly or neglected outright in the heat of the moment.
+ + +

Naturally, as the pope said recently, it is better to rob a bank with an unloaded gun than with a loaded gun, since it shows the robber with some concern over the well-being of the Other; but the real problem is in the bank-robbing.

Another Matt said...

How does it offend anyone's conscience to assume that there is change in the world? Or that there are natural laws (i.e., that things work for an end)? Or that what is potential cannot cause an effect, only what is actual? Or that matter is the principle of potency and form is the principle of actuality? Most folks, I suspect, would not only be unoffended by this, but when they had understood them clearly would shrug and say "Of course."


This is light years from any specific argument against homosexuality, say, which requires a number of other assumptions (or maybe you're being glib). I'd quibble pretty deeply with the "matter and form" assumption the way you laid it out, by the way, but it's not important here.

Brian said...

TheOFloinn said:
As I understand it, it is not the concrete act but the pronouncement that it was a good and proper thing to do. Recall that Dorothy Day, who had procured an abortion during her atheist period, is presently a beata and on the track for sainthood.

I will have to look this up, but I think you're wrong. Any participation in an abortion results in automatic excommunication. I still think ThomasAquinas' is excellent, but it would seem, if I am correct, that this may be the one exception, perhaps?

Steersman said...

TheOFloinn said: “And suggest that proofs for such be valid and sound and that the evidence provided to justify the conclusions be of an empirical nature.”

You were okay until the end. Empirical evidence is all well and good for natural philosophy, but it is not the way of mathematics or metaphysics. Mathematics disregards empiricism entirely, and so achieves absolutely certain knowledge. (Empiricism leads to tentative 'falsifiable' knowledge, properly 'opinion.')


Really don’t follow or agree with that at all. For example, consider non-Euclidean geometry which has been a bit of a bone of contention with Mr. Munro. Until it was “proven” to correlate with actual space it seems it was only a consistent set of axioms and theorems with a rather pallid claim to knowledge and utility. Likewise, apparently, with string theory: supposedly some clever and intriguing math but no evidence that it corresponds to reality.

Seems to me that in general one can’t really have a sound argument unless one has empirical evidence that in fact the premises are true. About which I would be skeptical that that was the case in the demonstration of the existence of god. And in addition in that argument there’s still the question as to whether the conclusion – god exists – could be corroborated, at least within a classical theism framework. Seems a major hurdle to that is, as Dr. Feser argues of that “deity”, that “He cannot be affected by anything in the created order” [a curious use of the personal pronoun given that theistic personalism is apparently a heresy].

And all of that is apart from my earlier contention, based on comments by Mill and Hume, that induction and mathematics in general are also empirical, although I’m on (even) shakier ground with that argument.

Another Matt said...

This is the fallacy known as a "false dichotomy."

Yep, I was being deliberately provocative, but my question still stands. Correct me if I'm wrong, but the Pope JPII pronouncement I quoted above seems to imply that if you have AIDS, then the list of actions regarding sex, from most moral to least moral is:

1) Remain abstinent.
2) Have unprotected sex with your spouse.
3) Have sex with your spouse using a condom.
4) Have sex with someone who isn't your spouse.

The last one isn't quite implied in the quote but I'm going to infer it from what I know about Church teaching. I have no argument with 1), but the ordering of 2) and 3) is extremely morally offensive to me on its own, and the reasoning behind it (that it offends the dignity of the individual more to use a condom than to contract AIDS, assuming that a sexual act between husband and wife is "committed") that much more offensive. I will have a very hard time being charitable to ideas that seem to be, on their face, as plainly inhumane as this.


Naturally, as the pope said recently, it is better to rob a bank with an unloaded gun than with a loaded gun, since it shows the robber with some concern over the well-being of the Other; but the real problem is in the bank-robbing.

Was this not an analogy for protected sex involving an HIV+ male prostitute? If I remember correctly this was huge news when it broke because it potentially reversed 2) and 3) from above as doctrine. "Naturally," yes, but why was that even controversial in the first place, in a way that required an explication from on high?

Brian said...

Steersman:
“He cannot be affected by anything in the created order” [a curious use of the personal pronoun given that theistic personalism is apparently a heresy].

That just means you don't really have a grasp of what theistic personalism means.

Brian said...

Another Matt:

"Was this not an analogy for protected sex involving an HIV+ male prostitute? If I remember correctly this was huge news when it broke because it potentially reversed 2) and 3) from above as doctrine. "Naturally," yes, but why was that even controversial in the first place, in a way that required an explication from on high?"

For a few reasons. In the first place, the embargo on the book was broken early by the Vatican newspaper, which printed the "controversial" quote in isolation from its context AND with a bad translation from the German that mangled what was actually said. Yes, the Vatican newspaper did that. That misunderstanding is what all the news stories in America ran with.

Second, the press does not know a thing about Catholicism. It really does not. And so 9/10 things you read about Catholicism in the press is simply not true, making a clarification from the Vatican always necessary. I woke up the following morning to my local news station, and the reporter said that the Pope reversed Church doctrine! *sigh* Apparently, people still think that the charism of Infallibility extends to everything the pope says.

Lastly, the press, or at least a lot of the press, has a clear anti-Catholic bias.

All of this came together to make one big ****storm making a clarification necessary.

Steersman said...

Brian said: That just means you don't really have a grasp of what theistic personalism means.

Certainly not in all of its ramifications. But I had the basic idea which was clarified and corroborated by Dr. Feser: “The theistic personalist or neo-theist conceives of God essentially as a person comparable to human persons, only without the limitations we have.”

Labnut said...

Can I suggest that the term 'New Atheist' is inappropriate.

A more accurate and descriptive term would be 'Fundamentalist Atheist'. This reflects the rigid, intransigent polemicism that they practice.

grodrigues said...

@Steersman:

"You were okay until the end. Empirical evidence is all well and good for natural philosophy, but it is not the way of mathematics or metaphysics. Mathematics disregards empiricism entirely, and so achieves absolutely certain knowledge. (Empiricism leads to tentative 'falsifiable' knowledge, properly 'opinion.')

Really don’t follow or agree with that at all. For example, consider non-Euclidean geometry which has been a bit of a bone of contention with Mr. Munro. Until it was “proven” to correlate with actual space it seems it was only a consistent set of axioms and theorems with a rather pallid claim to knowledge and utility."

Sigh. Here we go again...

Is mathematics knowledge? If it is, then TheOFloinn is absolutely, one hundred per cent correct. If it is not, then what are the literally thousands of mathematicians wasting their time on? Maybe you should dismiss all mathematical departments and retain of mathematics only what can be deemed useful? You would *not* like the outcome, let me tell you that. And since we are talking about mathematics, what exactly are your credentials that I should believe you instead of the mathematical community? And maybe the "usefulness" criteria can be applied to other disciplines other than mathematics? Pray tell us, what goes the way of the trash can next?

How do you measure "utility"? If you measure "utility" as it directly concerns the building of physical theories then you are just going in circles and effectively denying that mathematics is an autonomous, independent discipline -- and we are back at my paragraph above. And do you actually know differential geometry and its applications? Its history before an application was found in general relativity? Surely you must, judging by the confidence you pronounce such valuative sentences as "it was only a consistent set of axioms and theorems with a rather pallid claim to knowledge and utility".

"Seems to me that in general one can’t really have a sound argument unless one has empirical evidence that in fact the premises are true."

Is this claim an exception to the general claim? If it is not, then to substantiate it, deductive argument of whatever kind is not enough and you must present us with the necessary empirical evidence. If it is, then inform us why exactly you are not special-pleading? What is so special about this particular claim?

note: you should probably also inform us what you mean by the qualifier "sound" as it applies to arguments. "Soundness" has a very specific technical meaning in mathematics, and I want to be sure I am not misunderstanding you.

StoneTop said...

this still does precisely nothing in the way of entailing that the covering up of sex abuse was the most appropriate course of Catholic action.


So why was there a cover up? Why do such things continue to this day? Such as the case involving Rev. Shawn Ratigan in Kansas (where the bishop failed to report the possible abuse by Ratigan for months despite agreeing to report such instances immediately)?

This is not an isolated incident... it is one of many... and if the priests and bishops who are teaching "Catholic Morality" don't believe in it then how can it be seen as valid?

Steersman said...

grodrigues said: Is mathematics knowledge? If it is, then TheOFloinn is absolutely, one hundred per cent correct.

Ok, I’ll concede that it is knowledge, but my question – poorly phrased, mea culpa – was essentially whether it is true in the sense of it, or aspects of it, corresponding to true features of “reality”. Someone over on Coyne’s site [MacDonald takes down Feser’s theology] argues that:

Cantor’s Continuum Hypothesis has been shown to be logically independent from the usual axioms of mathematics. Mathematicians can freely assume it to be either true or false.

So presumably there would be some conclusions that would follow if it was true and some if it was false. But since, as Wikipedia notes, the hypothesis is neither provable nor disprovable (at least using ZF) any of those conclusions would seem likewise. Those arguments might be valid – true premises leading to true conclusions – but they would not be known to be sound – all the premises being true. Which highlights my point: one would have the knowledge that “if the premise is true then the conclusion is true”, but one would not have the knowledge that the premise, and thereby the conclusion, is true – the latter being, I would think, somewhat of a more important and valuable result than the former.

And since we are talking about mathematics, what exactly are your credentials that I should believe you instead of the mathematical community?

Couple of years of university math and a couple of years of math associated with a 2 year program in control system theory and applications plus more than a few years of reading and studying various odds and ends. And yours are?

And do you actually know differential geometry and its applications? Its history …? Surely you must, judging by the confidence you pronounce such valuative sentences as "it was only a consistent set of axioms and theorems with a rather pallid claim to knowledge and utility".

Actually what I really said was “… it seems it was only a consistent set of axioms and theorems with a rather pallid claim to knowledge and utility” – an impression, not an ex cathedra statement. But no, I don’t know (much) about (differential) geometry, although I see from the Wikipedia article on Non-Euclidean geometry – most of which I don’t follow all that well – that elliptic geometry is applicable to the surfaces of spheres so, if that was the case, then presumably it would have some direct and tangible applications – and I would stand corrected. But I also note a comment about the mathematician Janos Bolyai:

Bolyai ends his work by mentioning that it is not possible to decide through mathematical reasoning alone if the geometry of the physical universe is Euclidean or non-Euclidean; this is a task for the physical sciences.

Presumably a piece of information, of knowledge, of some value and, as indicated, not accessible or “provable” [decidable] by mathematics alone – somewhat related to the point I was trying to make.

"Seems to me that in general one can’t really have a sound argument unless one has empirical evidence that in fact the premises are true."

Is this claim an exception to the general claim?


Seems that is the basis of the definition for sound provided in the above link, although the “in general” might not then be applicable. And while one might “quibble” about the definition of “true” – a non-trivial point I gather – it seems to me a good starting point is “corresponding to some fact about reality” based on observation: empirical evidence.

note: you should probably also inform us what you mean by the qualifier "sound" as it applies to arguments.

As indicated in the above link I think I am, now and there at least, using it in the correct sense – learn something new everyday. But thanks for not automatically assuming I was using it incorrectly.

grodrigues said...

@Steersman:

"Is mathematics knowledge? If it is, then TheOFloinn is absolutely, one hundred per cent correct.

Ok, I’ll concede that it is knowledge"

Then TheOFloinn is 100% correct, because every mathematical theorem can be put in the form if ... then ... and you can add to the premises, your basic axioms, etc.

"but my question – poorly phrased, mea culpa – was essentially whether it is true in the sense of it, or aspects of it, corresponding to true features of “reality”."

This is not a mathematical question but a question for the empirical sciences. All you can say is that some parts of mathematics are useful in formulating physical theories or have some sort of practical application, others do not, that is all. The talk of corresponding to true features of reality is meaningless, because experimental verification only verifies the model or physical theory not the underlying mathematical apparatus. Is this distinction so hard to grasp?

"Cantor’s Continuum Hypothesis has been shown to be logically independent from the usual axioms of mathematics. Mathematicians can freely assume it to be either true or false."

Yes, Goedel proved that CH is true in the V=L model while Cohen, using his forcing method, constructed a ZFC model where ~CH holds. The last sentence is problematic because mathematicians do *not* freely assume that CH is true or false, precisely because its status is unclear (although set-theorists tend to think that it is false). My impression is that the common attitude among mathematicians is that if they find out that a question turns out to depend on the status of CH, they will simply move on and ask a different question. Among the experts in set-theory the attitude is of course different, because they will assume all sorts of axioms independent of ZF(C) to do their work, since part of their work is precisely the study and the justification of *new* axioms strong enough to decide CH and other questions.

"So presumably there would be some conclusions that would follow if it was true and some if it was false. But since, as Wikipedia notes, the hypothesis is neither provable nor disprovable (at least using ZF) any of those conclusions would seem likewise. Those arguments might be valid – true premises leading to true conclusions – but they would not be known to be sound – all the premises being true. Which highlights my point: one would have the knowledge that “if the premise is true then the conclusion is true”, but one would not have the knowledge that the premise, and thereby the conclusion, is true – the latter being, I would think, somewhat of a more important and valuable result than the former."

There are some misconceptions here. I do not have the time to elucidate them all (so feel free to dismiss me), but here go some points as it pertains to the current discussion. First, soundness as the article linked defines it is largely irrelevant to the point TheOFloinn made because theorems in mathematics are usually in the conditional if ... then ... form. So the question of whether hypothesis are true, while obviously important, is irrelevant for the current matter. Second, it is not true that premises must be empirically verifiable to be asserted true (as you assert below) -- this is obvious, since every statement can be used as a premise in an argument, it would mean that every statement must be empirically verifiable to be qualified as true. But the statement "every statement must be empirically verifiable to be true", which you take to be true, is itself not empirically verifiable. In other words, there are other forms, other than empirical verification, to justify the truth value of some premise -- see my point above about CH. Third, I have the impression that somehow you think that the status of CH can be decided by an appeal to the empirical sciences. It cannot, so your point is moot.

grodrigues said...

@Steersman (continued):

"And since we are talking about mathematics, what exactly are your credentials that I should believe you instead of the mathematical community?

Couple of years of university math and a couple of years of math associated with a 2 year program in control system theory and applications plus more than a few years of reading and studying various odds and ends. And yours are?"

You made several statements that implied that mathematics is not knowledge, without providing arguments; thus it made sense to ask what kind of mathematical knowledge you have that allows you to do them. From our exchanges, my impression is that your arguments are largely based on ignorance (using the word in the etymological sense, not as an insult).

As far as my credentials: undergraduate studies in physics with a very strong mathematical component, a phd in mathematics, published papers in peer-reviewed journals, seminar talks. And while I am not a mathematician (I do not have a university teaching position), I am attached to a research group in a university math department and part of my time is devoted to mathematical research.

""Bolyai ends his work by mentioning that it is not possible to decide through mathematical reasoning alone if the geometry of the physical universe is Euclidean or non-Euclidean; this is a task for the physical sciences."

Presumably a piece of information, of knowledge, of some value and, as indicated, not accessible or “provable” [decidable] by mathematics alone – somewhat related to the point I was trying to make."

Not, it is not related *at all* to your point. What Bolyai is saying is that whether physical space is Euclidean or not is a contingent, not a necessary fact, and thus it can only be decided by experimental evidence not by mathematical reasoning alone. From our modern POV this is a obvious, but it was not in the historical time of Bolyai. This has nothing to do with the status of mathematical axioms *qua* mathematical axioms.

"Seems to me that in general one can’t really have a sound argument unless one has empirical evidence that in fact the premises are true.

Is this claim an exception to the general claim?


Seems that is the basis of the definition for sound provided in the above link, although the “in general” might not then be applicable. And while one might “quibble” about the definition of “true” – a non-trivial point I gather – it seems to me a good starting point is “corresponding to some fact about reality” based on observation: empirical evidence."

You misunderstand my question. You claim that: "in general one can’t really have a sound argument unless one has empirical evidence that in fact the premises are true." so I ask if this claim itself falls in the general class -- and then you have to prove that itself or the premises establishing it are empirically valid -- or is not, and then you have to answer why exactly does this claim not fall under the general class of claims needing, or its premises needing, empirical verification.

TheOFloinn said...

This is light years from any specific argument against homosexuality, say, which requires a number of other assumptions

Euclid's proposition regarding the relationship between a secant and a tangent drawn to the same point on a circle is also [figuratively] light years from the five postulates and five common notions. Yet one does not need "a number of other assumptions" to attain it.

Likewise, the proposition that a space is compact iff it is both countably compact and metacompact is light years from the eleven axioms of set theory; but no additional assumptions are needed to get there.

That you don't see the deductive path from the axioms to the theorem, or understand that it might require an extended chain of reasoning does not mean it does not exist.
+ + +
I'd quibble pretty deeply with the "matter and form" assumption

So which do you deny?
a) That compound bodies are made of matter?
b) That the matter of compound bodies are some particular form of matter?
c) That every thing is some thing? (That matter and form are inextricably bound up in compound beings?)

Consider sodium and chlorine. Both are made of the same matter: protons, electrons, and neutrons; but they differ in their form: the number and arrangement of these parts. And what makes one a poisonous gas and the other a flammable metal is exactly that form. (For that matter, that their compound is a tasty table condiment and essential to human life is likewise a formal cause ("emergent property") from the molecular form of their compound.)

Hope this helps.

TheOFloinn said...

Any participation in an abortion results in automatic excommunication.

Ex-communi-cation means 'excluded from communion.' It is automatic for any mortal sin whatever. We hear more about it with respect to abortion because proponents of abortion constantly affirm it as a positive good or at worst a no-big-deal. This can confuse well-meaning people and create a 'stumbling block' (lit. 'scandal'). In the same manner, some of the same-minded folks were formally excommunicated in the early 20th century for espousing eugenics, and in the 1950s were threatened with excommunication by the archbishops of New Orleans and St. Louis for espousing segregation. No one needs to denounce a sin that everyone realizes is a sin.

Hope this helps.

TheOFloinn said...

consider non-Euclidean geometry... Until it was “proven” to correlate with actual space it seems it was only a consistent set of axioms and theorems with a rather pallid claim to knowledge and utility.

Pallid to whom? Surely you don't suppose that a master in mathematics could be ignorant of the utility of mathematics, nor that the truth of mathematics is independent of its utility! And which 'non-Euclidean geometry' do you refer to? Riemannian? Lobachevskian? And what do you mean by 'correlate with actual space'? Mathematics can be useful for modeling the physics, but as the great George E. P. Box once said, "All models are wrong. Some are useful."

Hume was of course a champion of empiricism to the extent that he advocated burning all books that were not empirical in nature. This put him in a bad case vis a vis mathematics, which the Cartesians hoped to use to give conclusions in the physics the same absolute certainty as conclusions in mathematics. So he declared mathematics to be an honorary form of empiricism.

Meanwhile, empiricism had given us a world-flood, phlogiston, beams coming from the eyes, N-rays, polywater, and other cute things. All falsifiable, and all eventually falsified. That is the nature of empiricism (evidentia naturalis): the next fact may prove everything wrong.

TheOFloinn said...

I will have a very hard time being charitable to ideas that seem to be, on their face, as plainly inhumane as this.

Yet, Uganda's ABC program: Abstain, Be Faithful, Condom had been remarkably successful, and the Ugandan health minister wrote in Der Spiegel that it was plainly inhumane for Western aid agencies to insist on condoms as the only approach, given that that approach had failed consistently in the past. Encouraging sexual license seemed to matter more to them, he said, that stemming the spread of AIDS.

Empiricism ought to matter, right?

TheOFloinn said...

Someone over on Coyne’s site [MacDonald takes down Feser’s theology] argues that:

Cantor’s Continuum Hypothesis has been shown to be logically independent from the usual axioms of mathematics. Mathematicians can freely assume it to be either true or false.

So presumably there would be some conclusions that would follow if it was true and some if it was false.


Egads. Someone who would write that probably relies on Wikipedia for his sources. The proof of the unprovability of some theorems within a given system is precisely that the same results follow whichever one assumes. That is, neither CH nor not-CH entails a contradiction with the remainder of mathematics.

Mathematicians generally regard CH as true, not only for aesthetic reasons, but because of the following peculiarity:

The Axiom of Choice (Axiom IX) has always seemed non-axiomatic (like Euclid's parallel postulate), but it has been proven that AC cannot be derived from Axioms I-X. Neither can CH be derived from I:X+AC. However, if we drop AC from the axioms and adopt CH instead, AC can be derived from I:X+CH. Which is cool.

What Gödel's theorem demonstrated was that in any consistent computational system {Ui} strong enough to support first order logic there are true sentences in {Ui} that cannot be proven in {Ui}. That is, the set of true sentences exceeds the set of provable sentences, rather like the set of real numbers exceeds the set of rational numbers. IOW, you cannot compute every true thing.

This has several consequences: a theory of everything is unknowable, the human mind is not a computer, etc.

TheOFloinn said...

The problem with empiricism is as noted by Russell the problem of induction: no number of specific empirical instances suffice to establish a universal. Yet science depends upon the ability to induce universals. From Fido, Rover, Spot, and Lassie, we induce the non-empirical idea of "dog." From numerous instances of falling objects, we induce the non-empirical idea of "gravity."

Hume's solution was to deny that "dog" and "gravity" (and "cause"!) exist at all. This could be fatal to science, if practicing scientists actually took him seriously.

Some discussion can be found here:
http://thomism.wordpress.com/2011/08/21/an-aristotelian-thomistic-response-to-russells-problem-of-induction/

grodrigues said...

@TheOFloinn:

"What Gödel's theorem demonstrated was that in any consistent computational system {Ui} strong enough to support first order logic there are true sentences in {Ui} that cannot be proven in {Ui}."

You mean first order Peano arithmetic.

"This has several consequences: a theory of everything is unknowable, the human mind is not a computer, etc."

I am very wary of Gödelian arguments propping "the human mind is not a computer". Feferman responds to Penrose's argument in "Penrose's Gödelian argument" (available online) and Torkel Franzen does it in his book "Gödel's theorem -- an incomplete guide to its use and abuse". He also points out (briefly) flaws in Lucas' argument. On the other hand, I have not read Lucas' response, if any, so I will stick to the "am very wary". Note the only thing I am disputing here is whether Gödel's theorems can be used to support the conclusion "the human mind is not a computer" not the conclusion itself, which I heartily endorse, but on other grounds.

TheOFloinn said...

You mean first order Peano arithmetic.

Equivalent to first order logic.

I have not read Lucas' response, if any

If one of them was

S = "Lucas can't assert the truth of statement S."

This statement is true but cannot be asserted by Lucas. This shows that Lucas himself is subject to the same limits that he describes for machines, as are all people, and so Lucas's argument is pointless.


This glosses over the distinction between "true" and "provable-within-the-system" that matters so much to Lucas and Goedel. "Assert" is not the same as "prove-within-the-system."

You can find Lucas' papers here:
http://users.ox.ac.uk/~jrlucas/
just scroll down to
I Gödelian Papers

In particular, we have Lucas on Feferman here:
http://users.ox.ac.uk/~jrlucas/Godel/feferman.pdf

Another Matt said...

Euclid's proposition regarding the relationship between a secant and a tangent drawn to the same point on a circle is also [figuratively] light years from the five postulates and five common notions. Yet one does not need "a number of other assumptions" to attain it.

Likewise, the proposition that a space is compact iff it is both countably compact and metacompact is light years from the eleven axioms of set theory; but no additional assumptions are needed to get there.

That you don't see the deductive path from the axioms to the theorem, or understand that it might require an extended chain of reasoning does not mean it does not exist.



I'm in total agreement with you on this matter. In my field (music theory and composition) it's amazing how much of the structure of Western music is implied by just a few number-theoretical features of the integers 7 and 12. Yet, in all the "natural law" explications regarding homosexuality I've read, there has always been a subtle unjustified pivot somewhere, and it's almost always linguistic. Subtle changes in orientation with squishy words like "good" or more precise ones like "teleological" can get you a lot further than would be justified otherwise. Similarly, there are often subtle pivots from epistemological issues to ontological ones in the deductive chain which I also think are unjustified. They've always read as so many unearned "therefores." If you have a good recommendation I'll put it on my list of things to read.



So which do you deny?
a) That compound bodies are made of matter?
b) That the matter of compound bodies are some particular form of matter?
c) That every thing is some thing? (That matter and form are inextricably bound up in compound beings?)

Consider sodium and chlorine. Both are made of the same matter: protons, electrons, and neutrons; but they differ in their form: the number and arrangement of these parts. And what makes one a poisonous gas and the other a flammable metal is exactly that form. (For that matter, that their compound is a tasty table condiment and essential to human life is likewise a formal cause ("emergent property") from the molecular form of their compound.)



Nope, this isn't good enough for me. You could keep going in this atomization project -- neutrons and protons are both "made of" quarks (but "made of" at this scale is a metaphor that makes it just intuitive enough to grasp, since quarks are not isolable), and they (the hadrons) have different properties that emerge from their form (in this case the combination of quarks), fair enough. So far we just have form (or behavior) but "underneath" we still only have a posited and rather ineffable "stuff" we call matter and energy. We're presented with elementary particles and our intuitions scream "but what are they MADE of?" Saying "matter" doesn't really get you anywhere because from an observational standpoint ALL you have is behavior and form -- at that scale the distinctions among bits of matter are only meaningful in terms of the behavior they exhibit and not some "underlying substance." We may never have the tools to reduce it out further in a way that is supported by observation, so on the point that there "is something" that "fleshes out" the form/behavior we're only justified in remaining agnostic, until it is observed and the observation subsumed under a theory. At that scale it's not even clear what "something" and "nothing" mean, or if it's meaningful in the first place.

Of course, this is all complicated in our language about it because the verb "to be" has both epistemological and ontological senses (and probably many more besides) and it's sometimes hard to distinguish which sense is meant or which one is meaningful in the context.

Another Matt said...

Yet, Uganda's ABC program: Abstain, Be Faithful, Condom had been remarkably successful, and the Ugandan health minister wrote in Der Spiegel that it was plainly inhumane for Western aid agencies to insist on condoms as the only approach, given that that approach had failed consistently in the past. Encouraging sexual license seemed to matter more to them, he said, that stemming the spread of AIDS.

Empiricism ought to matter, right?


Now who's issuing the false dichotomies? I have no problem at all with "ABC." It's the idea that for an HIV+ person, sex with a condom is worse than sex without a condom -- whatever else one is justified to believe about abstinence and fidelity -- that I find abhorrent, and almost obviously so.

grodrigues said...

@TheOFloinn:

"S = "Lucas can't assert the truth of statement S."

This statement is true but cannot be asserted by Lucas. This shows that Lucas himself is subject to the same limits that he describes for machines, as are all people, and so Lucas's argument is pointless.

This glosses over the distinction between "true" and "provable-within-the-system" that matters so much to Lucas and Goedel. "Assert" is not the same as "prove-within-the-system."
"

I have only read the feferman pdf, and I confess that I am still not convinced. Since this is completely off-topic, I will try to be as brief as possible.

Let S be the ideal system alleged by the die-hard mechanicist to encapsulate the arithmetical humanly provable theorems and G its Gödel sentence. The only thing we are allowed to conclude form Gödel's theorem is that S is consistent iff G is true -- and this much is provable within S itself. So convincing ourselves of the truth of G is the same as convincing ourselves of the consistency of S, so that there is no reason to assert that we (the human mind) have more provable power than S has.

Lucas responds to this objection with an *informal* argument: if S were inconsistent then it would fail to distinguish truth from falsehood (by the principle that from a contradiction anything follows) and the human mind certainly can do it, so we have a cogent argument to accept, on the die-hard mechanicist hypothesis, that S is consistent, from which it follows that G is true. Thus we are entitled to reject S as encapsulating the human mind's ability to do arithmetic.

I am not particularly interested in playing the devil's advocate and defending the die-hard mechanicist (may his ideas fester, rot and pass away into eternal oblivion), nevertheless I will venture the following.

1. Gödel's theorem *by itself* cannot do the work Lucas intends to as evinced by the fact that he has to resort to an informal argument to establish the consistency of S.

2. I cannot see how the informal argument establishes that the human mind has more arithmetical power: it is a non-formalizable argument and relying on the claim of the mechanicist. The fact that the mechanicist claims that S is consistent does not translate into the capacity for the human mind to assert the consistency of S, which is what is needed to conclude that we have more arithmetical power than S.

3. There is still the possibility that S is inconsistent. The inconsistency could be buried so deep or its proof so long that it would be beyond the human powers to grasp it (this connects with the recent programme of Voevodsky). I find this implausible but cannot really refute it, and Lucas only says that he leaves it to others to develop the hypothesis and demolish it.

TheOFloinn said...

"underneath" we still only have a posited and rather ineffable "stuff" we call matter and energy.

That's what Aristotle and Aquinas said, so I don't think it qualifies as an objection to hylepmorphism. You are certainly right to point out that this is a better model than the atomist model.

There is a digest overview here:
http://home.comcast.net/~icuweb/c02002.htm#3

TheOFloinn said...

It's the idea that for an HIV+ person, sex with a condom is worse than sex without a condom

Which the Pope pointed out. A technological object is not right or wrong in itself; it is the usage thereof. Just as a robber who uses an unloaded gun to rob a bank is showing the glimmering of moral growth in that he now cares at least a little bit for other people, without implying that bank robbery is permissible, so too does the use of a condom to prevent the spread of disease while engaged in hedonistic profligacy, without implying that hedonistic profligacy (or the objectification of women) is permissible.

TheOFloinn said...

I cannot see how the informal argument establishes that the human mind has more arithmetical power

If it were merely arithmetical power, then there might not be an issue. But not all human powers are algorithmic. But you are right; this is way off to the side.

StoneTop said...

Empiricism ought to matter, right?

It sure does... and studies of the Ugandan ABC approach have shown that it's benefits are exaggerated at best.