Saturday, January 28, 2012

Reading Rosenberg, Part VI

Let’s continue our detailed critical look at Alex Rosenberg’s The Atheist’s Guide to Reality.  In the previous installment, we took a detour to consider how some of Rosenberg’s problematic views in the philosophy of biology are developed more systematically in his book Darwinian Reductionism.  Here we return to the text of Atheist’s Guide and to the subject of religion, though we are not quite done considering what Rosenberg has to say about biological matters.  For he argues that Darwinism not only makes theism unnecessary (as he falsely assumes), but is positively incompatible with it: “You can’t have your Darwinian cake and eat theism too,” insists Rosenberg.  In particular, he thinks Darwinism is incompatible with the idea that God is omniscient.  How so?

Obviously, everything depends on how one understands “Darwinism” and “theism.”  Rosenberg says dubious things about both.  He assures us that Darwinism put the final nail in the coffin of teleology, and that any theism worth bothering with must attribute to God the intention to create us, specifically.  He then reasons as follows: Since they are non-teleological, Darwinian processes do not aim at the generation of any particular kind of species, including the human species.  In fact the generation of any particular species, including us, is highly improbable.  No one could have known before the fact that evolution would go the way it did.  But then an omniscient God could not have used such processes as a means of creating us, since only a very foolish deity would think it likely that natural selection would result in intelligent life.  

One problem with this is that it is false to say that Darwinism is incompatible with teleology.  For one thing, it is by no means clear that Darwinism really drove teleology even out of biology, let alone the rest of the natural world.  To hear writers as diverse as Etienne Gilson, David Stove, James Lennox, J. Scott Turner, and Marjorie Grene tell it, Darwinism does nothing of the kind.  For another thing, even if we do suppose either that biological phenomena are entirely non-teleological, or that the teleological aspects of biological phenomena are real but can be reduced to non-teleological features, it doesn’t follow that there is no irreducible teleology in the natural world at all.  As I have noted many times, the Aristotelian-Scholastic tradition argues that irreducible teleology of a very basic sort -- namely, bare directedness toward an end -- must exist wherever even the most elementary kinds of efficient causation exists.  (Rosenberg’s problem, as I have noted before, is that like so many atheists he thinks of teleology entirely on the model of Paley’s watch -- where the teleology involves the functioning of parts relative to a complex whole, and where the function is imposed from outside on parts that would not otherwise have it -- instead of thinking of it in Aristotelian terms, in which teleology is intrinsic to natural phenomena rather than externally imposed, and where the functioning of parts in relation to a complex whole is only one, relatively rare instance of teleology among others.)

Now, I have myself argued that getting from the world to the God of classical theism requires the distinction between act and potency and thus (since the notion of potency goes hand in hand with the notion of finality) the existence at least at the bottom level of physical reality of immanent final causality or teleology.  So, to that extent it is correct to say that theism is incompatible with a non-teleological universe (or to be more precise, that the possibility of arguing from the world to the God of classical theism is incompatible with a non-teleological universe).  But Darwinism, on any construal, implies at most only the non-existence of certain kinds of teleology, not the non-existence of all teleology; indeed, on an Aristotelian view, Darwinian processes themselves, like all efficient causal processes, necessarily presuppose the reality of some deeper level of final causality.  But the existence of any actualization of potency at all, and of any immanent teleology at all, entail the existence of the God of classical theism, including all of the key divine attributes (such as omniscience).  That, at any rate, is what arguments like those summarized in the Five Ways purport to show when rightly understood and completely spelled out.  (I explain in Aquinas and in my ACPQ article “Existential Inertia and the Five Ways” how they have been spelled out and defended in the Thomistic tradition.  I suppose I need to point out to the uninitiated reader that the Five Ways are not, and are not intended to be, complete “stand alone” arguments, but only summaries of and starting points for lines of argument that are more fully developed elsewhere.)  Various objections might of course be raised against these arguments -- objections I have responded to at length -- but Darwinism per se isn’t relevant one way or the other.

To be sure, the arguments do not all by themselves show that the God whose existence they purport to prove intended us, specifically; by themselves they leave open the question of whether or not human beings are an accidental byproduct of natural evolutionary processes.  But this does not help Rosenberg, for five reasons.  First and most fundamentally, it is very odd for Rosenberg to claim that any theism worth bothering with must hold that God intentionally created the human race, specifically.  It’s true that some forms of theism (such as Christianity) hold that man was made in God’s image, but that claim is logically independent of the proposition that the God of classical theism exists.  (After all, those who claim that man was made in God’s image also hold that God existed before He created man, would have existed even if He had never created the human race, and would continue to exist even if He decided to destroy the human race.)  It is either intellectually sloppy or intellectually dishonest of Rosenberg to suggest that showing that the human race was not made in God’s image would suffice to refute theism per se.  If the God argued for in arguments like the Five Ways exists, then atheism is false and that is that.  The serious debate will be between forms of theism, not between theism and atheism.  Whether man is made in God’s image will be relevant to the question of which form of theism is correct, but not to the question of whether some form of theism or other is correct.

Second, those who say that human beings are made in God’s image do not mean that our bodily nature is made in God’s image.  What they mean is that our rational nature as thinking and willing creatures is a finite reflection of God’s nature; our bodily characteristics could have been radically different, consistent with our being made in God’s image in this sense.  Moreover, those who hold that we are made in God’s image also often claim, on the basis of independent philosophical arguments, that our rational and volitional powers cannot even in principle be accounted for in materialist terms, including Darwinian terms.  Many of them also hold that given its immaterial powers, the human soul must be specially created by God each time a new human being comes into existence.  (Contrary to the impression one might get from Rosenberg, this doctrine was not cooked up as a way to reconcile evolution with theism by concocting some aspect of human nature which Darwinian processes did not generate.  The doctrine of the special creation of the human soul is centuries old, and is a development of arguments for the soul’s immateriality that are in turn as old as Plato and Aristotle.)  So, those who regard man as made in God’s image do not have to maintain that a species genetically and/or phenotypically identical to homo sapiens sapiens was intended by God.  The most they need to maintain is that God intended some biological species or other to come into existence at some point or other to which rational souls might in principle be conjoined.  And it is at the very least much harder to maintain that Darwinism is incompatible with this claim, even on the most anti-teleological construal of Darwinism.  

Third, even if we supposed that God did have to intend a species with the particular genetic and phenotypic characteristics of homo sapiens sapiens, it does not in fact follow even from the most anti-teleological interpretation of Darwinism that this result was improbable -- or at least not improbable from the relevant, “God’s eye” point of view -- for reasons Rosenberg himself should have seen given his commitment to the multiverse hypothesis.  For suppose that, as multiverse proponents often suggest, the existence of our universe is not in fact as remarkable or improbable as it seems given that it is only one of an infinite number of parallel universes.  On this view, our universe’s existence seems remarkable and improbable to us only because of our vantage point within it; but in fact it was inevitable that it should arise out of a process in which every possible universe is generated.  In this case we can imagine that God, intending the existence of homo sapiens sapiens specifically, simply caused the multiverse to exist, knowing that, even though the evolution of our species in any particular universe would be improbable, it would be inevitable that it will arise in some universe or other.  (Not that I endorse this suggestion, mind you, since I don’t buy the multiverse hypothesis.  The point is that Rosenberg, who does buy it, is again being either sloppy or dishonest.)

Fourth, the probabilistic nature of Darwinian processes does not in any event exclude divine intervention within a particular universe, for reasons Elliot Sober calls attention to in his recent book Did Darwin Write the Origin Backwards?  That the probability of a tossed coin’s landing heads is 0.5 is, Sober notes, perfectly consistent with saying that its probability of landing heads is either 0 or 1.   For each probability is relative to background conditions.  Given only that the coin has been tossed, its probability of landing heads is 0.5; given that it has been tossed and that its upward velocity, air resistance, the surface on which it lands, etc. are of such-and-such a character, then (assuming determinism for the sake of argument), its probability of landing heads is either 0 or 1.  When we make the judgment that the probability of the coin landing heads is 0.5, we are ignoring hidden variables of the sort which, when factored in, would make the probability either 0 or 1. 

Now, when we say that mutations are random in the sense of occurring with equal probability whether or not they benefit an organism, this, Sober says, is like saying that a coin is equally likely to come up heads whether or not its doing so will benefit the gambler who is tossing the coin.  The latter claim is perfectly consistent with the fact that when all the hidden variables are taken account of, the probability of the coin coming up heads is either 0 or 1.  And the former claim is perfectly compatible with the fact that when all the hidden variables that determine a particular mutation are taken account of, its probability of occurring will be either 0 or 1.  But there is, Sober argues, nothing in Darwinian biology per se that entails that divine intervention cannot be among those hidden variables in certain cases.  (We might add that assuming otherwise is like assuming that the fact that human beings sometimes interfere with the course of random mutation and natural selection -- as we have in experiments on Drosophila -- shows that Darwinian processes never really occur in nature.)

But all of this concedes too much to Rosenberg in the first place, and that brings us to the fifth and final point, which is that Rosenberg’s entire argument rests on a crude misunderstanding of the nature of divine causality.  In particular, he evidently knows nothing about the traditional distinction between primary causality and secondary causality, and operates with a crudely anthropomorphic conception of deity.  For he assumes that making evolution compatible with theism would require supposing that God intervenes in biological history at various points in order to alter the course of events so as to ensure that homo sapiens sapiens comes about, but does so in so subtle a way that it looks like the product of random variation and natural selection (but really isn’t, which is why such an account of evolution would not be truly Darwinian).  

But this is like saying that the author of a novel has to “intervene” in the story at key points, keeping events from going the way they otherwise would in order to make sure that they turn out the way he needs them to for the story to work.  Indeed, it is like saying that the author of a science fiction novel in which such-and-such a species comes about via natural selection has to “intervene” at key points so as to make sure that the evolutionary process comes out the way he needs it to in order for the story to work -- but at the same time has to do so subtly so that none of the characters would guess that he had intervened in this way.  The very suggestion is silly, for the author isn’t one causal factor in the story among others.  His causality relative to the story is not at all like the causality of either the characters or the impersonal processes operating within the story.  

Similarly, on the classical theist conception of God, God is not one causal factor in the universe among others, not even an especially grand and powerful causal factor.  He is not a “first” cause in the sense of being followed in a temporal series by a second cause, a third cause, a fourth cause, etc.  Rather, He is “first” or primary in the sense of being the fundamental cause, the necessary precondition of there being any causality within the universe at all, just as the author of a story is the “first cause” of what happens in the story, not in the sense of generating effects in the way the characters and processes described in the story do, but rather in the sense of being the necessary precondition of there being any characters or processes in the story at all.  Things in the world are “secondary” causes, then, in the sense of deriving their being and causal power from God, just as the characters in the story have any reality and causality at all only because the author of the story has imparted it to them by virtue of writing the story.  (For more on primary and secondary causality, see this post and this post.)

Now, it would be absurd to suggest that Macbeth did not really murder Duncan, but that it was Shakespeare who committed the murder and merely made it look like Macbeth had done it.  This would be to treat the author as if he were a character in the story.  For the same reason, it would be absurd to suggest that in a science fiction novel in which such-and-such a species evolves, it is not really Darwinian processes that generate the species, but rather the author of the story who does so and merely made it seem as if Darwinian processes had done it.  But by the same token, it is absurd to suggest that if God creates a world in which human beings come about by natural selection, He would have to intervene in order to make the Darwinian processes come out the way He wants them to, in which case they would not be truly Darwinian.  This is to confuse primary with secondary causality, to think of God as if He were merely one causal factor in the world among others, like treating an author as if he were merely one character in his story among the others.  (Physicist Stephen Barr made this point well in his lecture at Franciscan University’s recent Science and Faith Conference.  As I have pointed out before, though, one shouldn’t push the author/story analogy too far.)

In short, Rosenberg thinks of God as a Paley-style watchmaker, an anthropomorphic tinkerer who cleverly intervenes in a natural order that could in principle have carried on without him -- in this case by manipulating evolutionary processes, like the Marvel Comics character the High Evolutionary.  But as I have so often emphasized when criticizing “Intelligent Design” theory, that is not the God of classical theism -- of Athanasius, Augustine, Anselm, and Aquinas, of Maimonides and Avicenna, or in general of Christian, Jewish and Islamic orthodoxy and of philosophical theism.  (I should emphasize for ID enthusiasts that none of this presupposes that the standard Darwinian story is in fact correct in all of its particulars, or even that it is correct at all for that matter.  For the point has nothing essentially to do with Darwinism or biology in the first place.  What Aristotelian-Thomistic critics of ID fundamentally object to is ID’s overly anthropomorphic conception of God and its implicit confusion of primary and secondary causality -- and that, by virtue of these features, ID muddies the waters in the debate between atheism and theism, fostering misunderstandings of the sort that Rosenberg and so many other atheists have fallen prey to.)

53 comments:

Aretae said...

Dr. Feser,

ImNotHerzog sent me to your blog some months ago, and I've been reading ever since...As a largely Dennett-style atheist, with a moderately strong philosophical background for someone without a graduate degree. As such, I find many of your philosophical critiques of Rosenburg to be basically (obviously?) correct...though unsurprisingly not all.

However, I have a polite question, if I could.

I have been unable to even get clarity on what primary causation is...and why I should suspect from observation that such a thing exists.

Can you direct me to a spot where I could get clarity even on the meaning of the topic? What the heck is final causality? Where can I learn about it? And coherent from an induction-first perspective like mine?

Syphax said...

As a young person who grew up Mormon, I appreciate this article which articulates precisely why I've increasingly found the "traditional" Mormon conception of God to be untenable. While I still have a hard time understanding/accepting the Trinity as it has been put forth in the various Christian councils, I feel pretty safe in rejecting the idea of an anthropomorphic, corporeal God, despite the psychological appeal of this kind of being. Some of the more clever Mormon philosophers have conceded that nuance has to be added to this doctrine to make it work, but it seems to me that this is just adding epicycles. I am sure Dr. Feser's primary intention was not to argue against a Mormon doctrine, but that's what I am getting anyway.

Edward Feser said...

Hi Aretae,

First of all, when you ask why we should suppose primary as opposed to secondary causation exists, you are essentially asking why we should believe that there is a First Cause of the world, because that's what a First Cause in the traditional sense is -- a source of causality that does not (and cannot) itself in principle require a source of its own. And that means that you are essentially asking why we should accept arguments like the First and Second Ways. My answer to that can be found in the relevant parts of my book Aquinas, and in my article "Existential Inertia and the Five Ways." (As I've said here before, in general I don't repeat stuff I've already said in books and articles here on the blog -- the whole point of books and articles is to develop at length ideas and arguments that are too complicated for blog posts and the like. The blog is meant to supplement that stuff, not to stand alone.)

The same is true of final causality, which I discuss at length in Aquinas, in The Last Superstition, and in articles like "Teleology: A Shopper's Guide" (which you can find online). And the "induction-first" approach is, of course, something that is itself in dispute between people like Dennett and old-fashioned metaphysicians like myself. My reasons for rejecting it should be clear from the books and from articles and blog posts I've written on scientism. (In short, science and induction more generally themselves presuppose metaphysical assumptions of the sort the classical theist is building on. That is to say, the arguments for theism are grounded in premises that are deeper than science, precisely because they are premises that science itself must take for granted.)

Edward Feser said...

Hi Syphax,

Uh oh, I think I've just given ammo to the Gingrich campaign... ;-)

Syphax said...

All I have to say about that is, yikes.

Aretae said...

Dr. Feser,

Thank you for your kind answer.

I think my question is even simpler, though, than your answer. I can't even figure out what primary causation is/what it means. And I can't manage to get the normally reliable Google to tell me either.

Hence, I simply don't understand the term, what it means, and how it comports with the rest of my map of the world.

As with most of us, I've got a stack of to-reads taller than myself, but your book has been moving up the stack towards the top. Do you address something so simple as my basic question: What is primary causation?

Edward Feser said...

Hi Aerete,

Well, just think of a stock Aristotelian example: the hand which moves the stick which moves the stone. The stick really moves the stone, but it does not have any independent power to do so. It derives whatever power it has to move the stone from the hand. In that sense it is "secondary" relative to the hand. The hand is, in a loose sense anyway, "primary" relative to the stick.

Now, I say "in a loose sense" because ultimately even the hand moves only insofar as the muscles and bones move it; and they move only given other things. In fact it turns out that there really only can be one "primary" or first cause in an unqualified sense, and that has to be a cause which is pure actuality rather than a mixture of actuality and potency -- something that can actualize everything else without itself having to be actualized, because it "already" is purely actual. Spelling all that out is what a defense of the First Way involves.

Does that help?

Tom said...

Dr Feser, thank you for posting another great article.

I agree almost all of the article but there is one paragraph that is a bit puzzling to me. You state "Now, it would be absurd to suggest that Macbeth did not really murder Duncan, but that it was Shakespeare who committed the murder and merely made it look like Macbeth had done it" Isn't this analogy a bit off since in the author-character scenario the characters have no free will because they themselves lack intellect and reason? For instance Macbeth and Duncan really don't make any choices at ally they are simply doing what the author wrote.

Anonymous said...

Really great post. But was this the last installment? I was hoping you'd tackle his "The results of science particularly neuroscience have conclusively demonstrated that there's no free will" schtick (~pg.236)...not only because it's becoming a very popular meme in anti-Christian circles, but also because our sense of being "prime movers" is central to so much of our civilization and to who we are, and I've yet to hear a Thomistic account of free will during a time wherein the only intellectual choice on the macroscopic level seems to be between a kind of Cartesian interactionism and physical determinism.

Syphax said...

Actually I'm also quite interested in the bit about free will. I would like to see that addressed.

Daniel Smith said...

Dr. Feser, you say: "a cause which is pure actuality rather than a mixture of actuality and potency -- something that can actualize everything else without itself having to be actualized, because it "already" is purely actual."

Lately, I've been struggling to understand act and potency and the distinction between active and passive potency and how all of that applies to God. (In fact I just published a blog post on this subject.) I'm starting to believe that "pure act" entails "pure active potency". For instance, doesn't the italicized part above imply a type of potency? When you say "something that CAN actualize everything else", aren't you saying "something that has the potential to actualize everything else"? On this note doesn't God possess a kind of potency? He is not actualizing everything else all the time, but he has the potential to do so. This, to my understanding, is "active potential" as it is intrinsic to the nature of God and not external (as "passive potential would be.)

Where am I wrong?

Tom said...

"Actually I'm also quite interested in the bit about free will. I would like to see that addressed."

To be clear, I personally don't think there is a free will problem because, as I stated, the author-character analogy is not exactly correct when applied to God and people because God *did* impart us with free will which an author of a story can not do with his characters. My point was merely that I don't think it was a particularly good analogy to use because of this differences between the scenarios.

Anonymous said...

"To be clear, I personally don't think there is a free will problem..."

Rosenberg, though, would claim that neuroscience shows that every thought, feeling, and action is necessitated by a particular neurological substrate, which was in turn necessitated by pre-neurological physical events both inside and outside the body, the causal chain stretching back all the way throughout history to at least the onset of macromolecular systems.

Vis-a-vis free will, it would be interesting to hear Feser's take on prominent deterministic psychologists/neuroscientists like Pinker, Ramachandran, Damasio, et al., all of who subscribe to Rosenberg's "no free will" thesis.

Edward Feser said...

But was this the last installment?

Not by a long shot -- I'll be going through the whole book, including the material on neuroscience and free will that you're referring to. That subject is probably two posts away -- the next post will be on what Rosenberg says about ethics -- because I'm more or less writing from the notes I took while reading through the book and thus addressing topics in the order Rosenberg does.

My pace has been a bit leisurely so far since I didn't want this to turn into the Alex Rosenberg blog, but I'll be picking up the pace from now on because I'd also kind of like to get it over with!

Edward Feser said...

Hi Tom,

Just as Macbeth is (say) a man, 6 foot 8 (or whatever), has two legs, hair and fingernails, etc., so too he has free will. Yes, he's fictional, but that no more entails that he doesn't have free will than it entails that he doesn't have legs, fingernails, or hair. The story is the story of a normal man. Hence, just as it is therefore a story about someone with legs, fingernails, and hair, so too is it a story about someone with free will.

(Or do you think that no work of fiction has ever really been a story of someone who freely chooses to do what he does? Presumably not! Otherwise when discussing the issue of free will we couldn't even say things like "Consider Bob, who freely chooses to do X..." -- the retort would be "No, you made Bob up, therefore he couldn't possibly have freely chosen X!")

Edward Feser said...

Hi Daniel,

Yes, when it is said that God is pure actuality and devoid of potency, what that means is that He is devoid of any passive potency (the capacity to be affected by anything) whatsoever. But He is supreme in what is sometimes called active potency or power -- the capacity to affect other things. ("Potency" is also a word for power, after all -- as in "omnipotent.") See Summa Theologiae I.25.1:

http://www.newadvent.org/summa/1025.htm

Edward Feser said...

Re: free will, keep in mind that all of these guys are implicitly operating with what I've called a "mechanistic" conception of matter -- one on which matter is devoid of inherent formal and final causes -- and that their libertarian (in the free will sense) opponents are as well. Now, when you assume that a human being is "nothing but" matter characterized in this way, and that all causation is efficient causation, it is hardly a surprise that free will comes to seem an illusion. There is absolutely nothing like it to be found in matter so conceived; and bringing in a Cartesian immaterial substance from outside seems to bring in a causal fifth wheel -- physical events alone, it seems, suffice to explain what happens without anything for a Cartesian immaterial substance to do.

But this whole picture is wrong from the start, because that is not what a human being is, and indeed it is not what any material substance is. A human being, like every other material substance, is a composite of form and matter, and a description of us entirely in terms of particles in motion (or whatever) is merely an abstraction from the complete substance, and does not capture the whole causal situation. The whole causal situation includes formal causation as well as material causation, and final causation as well as efficient causation. And of course there is also the fact that the substance in question in this case is a rational animal, which is where free will comes in. But a free choice enters into the picture as the formal-cum-final cause of an action, not (or not merely) as its efficient cause. Naturally, then, when formal and final causes are thrown out and material and efficient causes 9redefined at that) are all that is left, free will seems to go out the window and Cartesian approaches seem desperate attempts to solve the problem by bringing in a gratuitous kind of substance.

Edward Feser said...

Anyway, more on that later...

goddinpotty said...

Just as Macbeth is (say) a man, 6 foot 8 (or whatever), has two legs, hair and fingernails, etc., so too he has free will. Yes, he's fictional, but that no more entails that he doesn't have free will than it entails that he doesn't have legs, fingernails, or hair.

So Macbeth has free will, yet his every move is dictated by an outside force (Shakespeare).

This seems perilously close to Dennettism which also holds that we have free will of a sort despite our movements being dictated by "outside" mechanical forces.

Actually it's even closer to the view that our actual selves are fictional constructions. And we endow ourselves with free will in much the same way as Macbeth is so endowed -- that is, it is a necessary part of the stories we tell about ourselves, yet does not contradict the selfless physical mechanisms that underlie all this pageantry.

Tom said...

"(Or do you think that no work of fiction has ever really been a story of someone who freely chooses to do what he does? Presumably not! Otherwise when discussing the issue of free will we couldn't even say things like "Consider Bob, who freely chooses to do X..." -- the retort would be "No, you made Bob up, therefore he couldn't possibly have freely chosen X!")"

Hi Ed,

I think that is an interesting point, but I believe that "Consider Bob, who freely chooses to do X..." in a fictional story is simply short hand for something like "Consider Bob, who *in the story seemingly* freely choses to do X *because the author wrote him that way*" .

Imagine in the story Bob choose to do something evil, like kill 10 people. Later, in the story, Bob is caught and put on trial and found guilty. The jurors in the story rightly convicted Bob because they were also part of the story; however, if the author were to judge Bob I don't think he, the author, would considered just in convicting Bob. How could the author be just in judging Bob guilty when the author dictated every Bob's every action?

In short, it doesn't see to me that any fictional character has free will because everything in the story determined by the author.

DNW said...

So, when all intentionality has proven to be reducible to non-intentional phenomena; what sense does it makes to speak of natural, as opposed to any other kind, of selection.

TheOFloinn said...

There is a phrase for what happens when an author forces a character to behave in a certain way because the plot demands it. It is called "bad art."

Good art in writing is when the characters do exactly as they would were they physical beings with free will and access to what information they have.

Every author is aware of how the characters "come alive" in the writing of a novel, or even a story.

But of course when we say that "an analogy is imperfect," this sort of thing is what we mean. The analogy is for primary/secondary causation, not to free will.

Tom said...

"But of course when we say that "an analogy is imperfect," this sort of thing is what we mean. The analogy is for primary/secondary causation, not to free will."

Exactly right. I guess I was pressing Dr. Feser to see how far the analogy is suppose to go and if I was missing something with my conclusion that the analogy fails when extended beyond primary and secondary causation to free will.

TheOFloinn said...

Re: analogies. Electrical engineers used to use hydraulic analogs in studying circuits. The water current was electrical current; water fall was voltage; a dam was resistance; etc. But no electrical engineer ever made the mistake of plugging a water sand-table into the nearest socket.

Aretae said...

Dr. Feser,

I believe it does help. Thank you much. However, just to be careful...I'm going to reiterate into different words.

Most activities have many layers of causes that can be used to explain them. Primary and secondary are relative terms, used to describe more and less fundamental causes. A rock rolls down the stream because of the current...because of the momentum of the water...because of gravity. To the extent that we stay within the physical realm that we agree upon...gravity is the primary cause of the rock rolling down the river, while the current is clearly secondary.

Again, thank you for your patience with such a simple question.

Anonymous said...

I suspect you're somehow misrepresenting Rosenberg's points. :)

How can it be that an omniscient God might not know before the fact that the result of evolutionary process is intelligent life? This doesn't make any sense.

soumynonA said...

"I suspect you're somehow misrepresenting Rosenberg's points. :)"

A more loyal statement of faith could not be asked for. "I do not know how you are wrong, but I believe in Rosenberg, I believe in materialism, therefore I believe you are misrepresenting his points"

"How can it be that an omniscient God might not know before the fact that the result of evolutionary process is intelligent life?"

"The result of evolutionary process" is not "intelligent life" the result of these particular contingent evolutionary processes that led to us was intelligent life, there is no inevitable "destination" for evolution, it depends on the environment.

Regardless, where did you read anyone saying that "God did not know the result before the fact"? I only skim read the post, but I didn't see it.

George R. said...

Ed writes:
“So, those who regard man as made in God’s image do not have to maintain that a species genetically and/or phenotypically identical to homo sapiens sapiens was intended by God. The most they need to maintain is that God intended some biological species or other to come into existence at some point or other to which rational souls might in principle be conjoined.”

So if the soul is not the cause of the human body’s being ordered and unified as it is, what is? Are we to suppose that the bits and parts of the matter involved ordered themselves into a unified whole? Or are you suggesting that man is really two species, one of which orders the parts of the body, and the other provides the intellect?

Anonymous said...

@soumynonA (BTW, your name should be "suomynonA" :) ).

I don't "believe in Rosenberg" at all; there was a smile in my comment.

What I mean is: how can Rosenberg be so naive to make an argument like "nobody knows the outcome of evolution, we are highly improbable, no omniscient God could do that".

It's obvious that an omniscient God would know that we are the final result, no matter how "improbable" or complex the process.

That's so clear that I'm almost led to believe that in Rosenberg's argument (which I don't know first hand) there must be something more than that.

The Deuce said...

Hi Ed,

For he argues that Darwinism not only makes theism unnecessary (as he falsely assumes), but is positively incompatible with it...

Obviously, everything depends on how one understands “Darwinism” and “theism.”


I think the correct way to understand Darwinism is in its own context. Darwin basically subscribed to the same mechanistic philosophy of Paley, complete with denial of intrinsic teleology in biology or anything else, but he was endeavoring to show how even the teleology in biology (which Paley took to be extrinsic) could be eliminated, thus (he thought) subsuming all of reality into the mechanical philosophy. It was meant to be a comprehensive elimination of teleology, including in humans who were supposed to be just another result of ateleological events. Taken to its logical conclusion, it implies the non-existence of teleology even in the human mind. It's actually eliminativism as approached from biology and working up.

It suffers from the same basic problem that eliminativism in general does (namely that it must assume the very purpose it tries to eliminate), which is why you've got all the various "interpretations" of Darwin that attempt to deal with the incoherence it creates in various ways. And, of course, Darwin had some ideas, such as the idea that environmental pressures can "select" particular variations by weeding out others, that aren't incoherent by themselves, but result in incoherence when you attempt to use them as a comprehensive, eliminative "explanation" for the appearance of purpose in biology.



First and most fundamentally, it is very odd for Rosenberg to claim that any theism worth bothering with must hold that God intentionally created the human race, specifically. It’s true that some forms of theism (such as Christianity) hold that man was made in God’s image, but that claim is logically independent of the proposition that the God of classical theism exists.

I'm not completely sure about this. I know that the God of classical theism is not anthropomorphic. Nevertheless, in A-T philosophy, what we can know of the divine attributes we know by analogy to powers like our own, correct? Doesn't this require that we are like Him in some ways? If we suppose that eliminativism/materialist-reductionism is true (and yes, I realize they're incoherent) about humans, that they're mechanistic, that they aren't really rational, that there's really no such things as the self or personhood, that there's no intrinsic teleology and hence no end or good for humans and that what they call "good" is merely an evolutionary contrivance, etc - if we suppose all that, and then try to grasp God's attributes by analogy to human "powers" so defined, don't you end up with something that is drastically less than the God of classical theism? At best, it seems, you could deduce only the impersonal aspects of God that way, which wouldn't imply a God at all.

Thus, it seems to me that to argue to the God of classical theism, you must start with the premise that man is a rational creature (which isn't question-begging, since the denial of man's rationality is incoherent even on its own terms). And it can be shown that man's rationality implies the immateriality of his soul, the existence of the self, etc, which imply something very like Imago Dei. So it doesn't seem right to me to say that the claims are logically independent, even if you don't have to assume Imago Dei directly as a premise to classical theism.

The Deuce said...

(cont)

The most they need to maintain is that God intended some biological species or other to come into existence at some point or other to which rational souls might in principle be conjoined.

Agreed, though that's certainly an awkward fit, since the potential to be conjoined with an immaterial rational soul wouldn't have any survival value in and of itself until the soul is actually conjoined, though I suppose that in a multiverse such a thing would inevitably happen anyway (although if God is directly imparting souls, it seems a bit odd that He'd use a multiverse to create their bodies). And the idea that God imparted the rational soul (which I agree can be proven by reason) is just as incompatible with Darwinism (here I mean the idea that Darwinian mechanisms account for all the appearance of purpose in living things) as the idea that His intention is necessary to explain the eye or the bacterial flagellum, since even though it's not material, it's still a trait possessed by biological entities which affects their behavior.



it does not in fact follow even from the most anti-teleological interpretation of Darwinism that this result was improbable -- or at least not improbable from the relevant, “God’s eye” point of view -- for reasons Rosenberg himself should have seen given his commitment to the multiverse hypothesis.

Btw, why does it never occur to multiverse proponents that the multiverse is incompatible with Darwinism, or at least incompatible with the idea that Darwinian mechanisms explain what materialists say they do? If you need practically infinite universes to account for why evolution ended up making rational creatures like ourselves, then Darwinian evolution itself doesn't really explain our existence after all, and you're really appealing to raw chance. To invoke the multiverse is basically to concede that Darwinism isn't a sufficient explanation for our existence if there is only one universe. In fact, it basically concedes that within our universe, mutations were *not* random with respect to outcome, but that our existence as rational creatures is the outcome of an extremely fortunate series of events that would have to be chalked up to divine intent if it weren't for the multiverse.

George R. said...

Moreover, Ed, you say that the substantial form of man, i.e., the soul, must come from God. Okay, but where do all the other substantial forms come from? Do they come from God, too? If not, where do they come from? They must come from somewhere, no?

It is important to understand that Darwin didn't believe in substantial forms; he fully embraced nominalism. Thomists, on the other hand, do not have that luxury. They must posit substantial forms in order to avoid nominalism. Therefore, it is perfectly legitimate to require from somebody professing himself to be a thomist to explain where he believes substantial forms come from.

soumynonA said...

Damn! Slip of the keyboard.

"I don't "believe in Rosenberg" at all; there was a smile in my comment."

Whoops, in light of your clarification I now understand what you're saying and I had you wrong.

"That's so clear that I'm almost led to believe that in Rosenberg's argument (which I don't know first hand) there must be something more than that."

Well that makes more sense. Its possible though that a) he has un-mentioned hidden propositions that justify his position b) he's incompetent c) it's only so clearly wrong because Edward Feser has laid it out clearly.

I'd be interested in hearing if anyone can verify that that is the full argument Rosenberg uses there.

Jon Haines said...

I hope you don't mind but I reposted and commented to give you a bit of a review here:

http://battleforthecoreoftheworld.blogspot.com/2012/01/in-depth-edward-feser-on-biological.html.

Keep up the good work.

Daniel Smith said...

Dr. Feser: "Yes, when it is said that God is pure actuality and devoid of potency, what that means is that He is devoid of any passive potency (the capacity to be affected by anything) whatsoever. But He is supreme in what is sometimes called active potency or power -- the capacity to affect other things. ("Potency" is also a word for power, after all -- as in "omnipotent.") See Summa Theologiae I.25.1:"

Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Just to be clear, in the Summa passages you referred to; we can substitute "potency" for "power"?

Objection 1 makes a lot more sense to me that way. ("It seems that potency is not in God" vs. "It seems that power is not in God".)

TheOFloinn said...

I
No, potency does not mean power. Potency means something like capability, possibility, might-be-ness. It is opposed to actuality. A big blue bouncy ball is actually blue; but it is potentially red (e.g., sunlight might bleach the dye in some way as to change its coloring.) To say that there is no potency in God is to say that there is nothing that he might could be because, quite simply, He "IS".

II
Telos in evolution. At the species level, the telos is greater fitness to the niche (which includes not just the passive "environment" but also the active use the organism makes of the environment). The word adapt is from ad aptare, which means "toward aptness or aptitude." (Those organisms that are inapt or inept are weeded out.)

On the broader level, let us call the telos of evolution "the origin of species." That is, the end it the multiplication of species in time and space.

"Ends" must be proportional to the "causes." It is silly to cite a particular biological species as the end of evolution in general. Specific ends for specific cases; general ends for generic cases.

However, empirically speaking, evolution does have a broad tendency toward greater complexity. Even after the complex life of the Mesozoic was destroyed and life rebooted, it one again moved toward more and more complex forms.

George R. said...

OFloinn,

If you had as much faith in God as you apparently do in Darwin's brainless theory, you'd make St. John of the Cross look like a slacker.

And before you get all mad at me, I think you should know I'm an Irishman. And guess what my mother's maiden name is: Flynn.

(I know I just made your night. Didn't I?)

Tony said...

George: They must posit substantial forms in order to avoid nominalism. Therefore, it is perfectly legitimate to require from somebody professing himself to be a thomist to explain where he believes substantial forms come from.

Very good, George. Well said. Go ahead and answer it, please.

TheOFloinn said...

@George:
au contraire: Darwin believed his theory to be brainless. I have simply noted what Thomas Aquinas and others would have noted; viz., that evolution is replete with telos (and from natural telos, Thomas' Fifth Way takes us interesting places. It was simply that the "ultra-Darwinians" have taken a perfectly serviceable scientific theory and deformed it into a metaphysical stance.

Recall what Thomas wrote in passing regarding the emergence of new things: Species, also, that are new, if any such appear, existed beforehand in various active powers; so that animals, and perhaps even new species of animals, are produced by putrefaction by the power which the stars and elements received at the beginning. (Summa theologica,
Part I Q73 A1 reply3)
His point was, following Augustine, that God had endowed matter with natures capable of acting directly, and so new things could arise from the natural powers created in the beginning. He was wrong about the "putrefaction," but "mutation" is surely another form of corruption, and "the stars and elements" will do for "material bodies."

+ + +
Might I make bold to inquire after your Flynnish roots? Mine go back through the Delaware Valley (NJ & PA) to Loughrea, Co. Galway, and thence to Ballinlough, Co. Roscommon in Cromwell days.

George R. said...

Very good, George. Well said. Go ahead and answer it, please.

What, do I have to explain everything around here? Why don't you tell us, Tony? Then you can have all the glory -- assuming you nail it, of course.


Might I make bold to inquire after your Flynnish roots?

Well, I know my grandfather was a cop in Providence, RI. That doesn't get me quite back to Cromwell, but maybe I can dig up something more.

Tony said...

But George, I admit to ignorance on this.

George R. said...

In that case, Tony, I’ll see what I can do.

First of all, we have to understand where the substantial form doesn’t come from. It doesn’t come from nature; for it can in no way either be generated or come into being in nature. That is basic Aristotelianism. For only that which is a composite of form and matter can be generated, and only that which inheres in matter can ever come to be in nature. But the substantial form qua form is not a composite, nor does it inhere in matter. Therefore, it can never be generated, nor can it ever come to be in nature. Therefore, all substantial forms are necessarily eternal with respect to nature. They are not eternal in reality, of course, for in reality they only exist in matter, but as principles they are necessarily eternal. This eternity of substantial forms, which can in no way be gainsaid by anyone calling himself an Aristotelian, is alone enough to obliterate any and all theses of Darwinian transformism.

Now, the substantial form insofar as it exists in matter is the formal cause of the thing, with the matter being the material cause. These are the two intrinsic principles of the thing, and they are also the principles by which the thing was generated. Therefore, they were already there, somehow, before the composite was generated. But how were they there? Now, it’s not too hard to see where the matter comes from: it was formerly the substrate of the material elements of the process of generation. But what about the substantial form? The answer is found in the Physics: the final cause and the formal cause are numerically one. In other words, the substantial form is none other than the final cause of the process of generation. The substantial form is that for the sake of which there is such and such process of generation and all the elements involved in it. Therefore, the form is the cause of the process of generation, and not the other way around. Therefore, the process of generation depends on the form, and not the other way around.

The substantial form qua form is the unmoved mover of nature, and can never itself be moved or changed. And since it is the principle of all nature, its cause cannot be natural.

Objections?

Anonymous said...

George R,

what if one were to hold, with Avicenna, that the substantial forms come from Active Intellect, which is a separate substance?

on a related note, what are good sources for the question of evolution/transformism vis-a-vis Aristotelian/Scholastic principles? thanks in advance.

Tony said...

But the substantial form qua form is not a composite, nor does it inhere in matter.

Well, that puzzles me. I thought the whole point of the substantial form of a natural thing (say, an oak tree) is that it "informs" the matter so that the matter is the "matter of" an oak tree. Isn't this "inhering in matter"?

They are not eternal in reality, of course, for in reality they only exist in matter, but as principles they are necessarily eternal. This eternity of substantial forms, which can in no way be gainsaid by anyone calling himself an Aristotelian,

...

But what about the substantial form? The answer is found in the Physics: the final cause and the formal cause are numerically one. In other words, the substantial form is none other than the final cause of the process of generation. The substantial form is that for the sake of which there is such and such process of generation and all the elements involved in it. Therefore, the form is the cause of the process of generation, and not the other way around.

Wait a minute. Is this an equivocation, or is it merely my misunderstanding you thoroughly?

The form "oakness" is eternal and unchanging, and it "is" always in the same way: in principle. That kind of "is", though, is not the same kind of being that "oakness" has when (on the 4th day of creation, for example) when God made the first oak tree. Once you have a real oak tree really existing, the form "oakness" not only "is" in principle, but it "IS" in a new way also. In the natural thing, the substantial form is made particular and determinate by being "in" the matter of one individual tree. When we say "the substantial form of the oak tree in my back yard," then, we specify a substantial form that has individual existence, which is over and above the kind of "in principle" existence of "oakness" that "was" before the 4th day of creation.

"Oakness" does not come to be or pass away. But it seems to me the individuate substantial form of the oak tree in my back yard begins to exist at the same time the tree begins to exist, and not before. In the process of generation, the substantial form is not generated (I agree with you there) but it begins to be qua individual when it had not been before, and that individuated being is being under a different sense.

When Aristotle says (especially about generation) the final cause and the formal cause are numerically one, he is, I think, referring to one-ness at the level of the form existing in principle, not in re. For, the man who is beginning to generate is acting for a final cause that exists in him already in a way that the formal cause does not exist in the child yet to exist. The father's human-ness is real, individuate substantial form. In operation, it ACTS to generate because that's (one of) the things to-be-human means in operation. Thus generating just is being a fulfilled human being, an individual human living its formal principle in full, and that human-ness in operation is the purpose, the end. But it is the operation of the father, not the son. The son's human-ness comes FROM the father, and is not his father's own human-ness in fulfilled operation. The father's being-in-fulfillment is not numerically the son's being-in-fulfillment, nor is it numerically the son's human-ness. I think.

George R. said...

Anon,

Does anybody hold the opinion of Avicenna today?

Even if Avicenna were correct, I do not see how it would affect my argument, which is that substantial forms do not come from nature.

As for good sources, I would say the best first step is to read (carefully) an annotated edition of the essay On Being and Essence by St. Thomas. Here is the link to a good one: http://faculty.fordham.edu/klima/Blackwell-proofs/MP_C30.pdf

This will help you to distinguish between what essence (substantial form + primary matter) is and what it isn’t.

George R. said...

Well, that puzzles me. I thought the whole point of the substantial form of a natural thing (say, an oak tree) is that it "informs" the matter so that the matter is the "matter of" an oak tree.

I was not being clear enough. The point I was trying to make was that whatever is generated is a composite of form and matter. But form itself is not a composite of form and matter. It’s just form. Therefore, form is not generated.

But the following, I believe, is a more serious problem:

In the natural thing, the substantial form is made particular and determinate by being "in" the matter of one individual tree. When we say "the substantial form of the oak tree in my back yard," then, we specify a substantial form that has individual existence, which is over and above the kind of "in principle" existence of "oakness" that "was" before the 4th day of creation.

One thing has to be understood in order to avoid nominalism: while the substantial form is indeed indeterminate with respect to the individual thing existing in reality, it is definitely NOT indeterminate with respect to the essence of that thing -- that is, with respect to its own form. And how could it be? Essence is determined by essence, not by accidents. Form is determined by form, not by matter. If form were determined by matter, then matter would be form, and form would be matter, which is absurd. Therefore, while the substantial form “oakness” is indeterminate with respect to a real oak tree, it is NOT indeterminate with respect to the “oakness” of that real oak tree. The “oaknesses” of both are, in fact, identical. So, there is no difference between the “oakness” of the oak tree in your backyard, and the “oakness” in the mind of God before the creation of the world.

Anonymous said...

George R,

yes, Avicennians do.

it wouldn't affect the argument. i'm totally with you in holding that forms do not come from nature.

thanks for the recommendation. i've been meaning to read that text for a while now.

Tony said...

Form is determined by form, not by matter. If form were determined by matter, then matter would be form, and form would be matter, which is absurd.

Form is made individual by matter, though. Matter JUST IS the principle of individuation. That's all over Aristotle. Form determines matter with respect to kind and actuality, yes, and matter "determines" form in a different sense by individuation.

Therefore, while the substantial form “oakness” is indeterminate with respect to a real oak tree, it is NOT indeterminate with respect to the “oakness” of that real oak tree. The “oaknesses” of both are, in fact, identical.

I don't think so. Switch over to a human being for clarity: it is true that in one sense the human-ness that is my human-ness is identical with the human-ness that is Bob's - on the level of "in principle", which is also identical with the exemplar that God knew before creation. But it is also absolutely certain that the form of a human IS the soul, and each person's soul is distinct from every other person's soul. My soul is not identical to Bob's soul. On the level of actual existences, the form that is in the matter "informing" it is distinct in each individual instance of that species - each man for example.

Unless you want us all to have one big soul, you have to accept that soul's are distinct in separate individuals.

Daniel Smith said...

TheOFloinn: "No, potency does not mean power."

Unfortunately I've been away from the computer for a few days but... if you're still around TheOFloinn... I was commenting on this:

Edward Feser, (January 29, 2012 11:28 AM) said...
Hi Daniel,

Yes, when it is said that God is pure actuality and devoid of potency, what that means is that He is devoid of any
passive potency (the capacity to be affected by anything) whatsoever. But He is supreme in what is sometimes called active potency or power -- the capacity to affect other things. ("Potency" is also a word for power, after all -- as in "omnipotent.") See Summa Theologiae I.25.1:

http://www.newadvent.org/summa/1025

George R. said...

Form is made individual by matter, though. Matter JUST IS the principle of individuation. That's all over Aristotle. Form determines matter with respect to kind and actuality, yes, and matter "determines" form in a different sense by individuation.

Who’s denying this? Didn’t I say that the substantial form is indeterminate with respect to the individual thing?

Switch over to a human being for clarity: it is true that in one sense the human-ness that is my human-ness is identical with the human-ness that is Bob's - on the level of "in principle", which is also identical with the exemplar that God knew before creation.

I don’t have a problem with this, either. But perhaps it would be better to say rather, “Human-ness is the formal principle of every individual human being existing in reality.” How's that?

But it is also absolutely certain that the form of a human IS the soul, and each person's soul is distinct from every other person's soul. My soul is not identical to Bob's soul.

Clearly the soul cannot be completely identified with the substantial form, so everyone may be identical with respect to the latter, and different with respect to the former. Consider the following comparisons: the soul is an individual thing; the substantial form is not an individual thing. The soul comes into being in nature; the substantial form is eternal. The soul is necessarily posterior to matter; the substantial form is prior to matter, for matter is for the sake of the form. Furthermore, although the soul is the form of the body, it is not the form of the substance, and to speak precisely, the soul is not the substance of the man at all, but rather a property of the substance.

In a very real sense, however, the soul and the substantial form are the same thing. For the soul is nothing other than the substantial form insofar as the latter inheres (or has inhered) in determinate matter.

Tony said...

Consider the following comparisons: the soul is an individual thing; the substantial form is not an individual thing. The soul comes into being in nature; the substantial form is eternal. The soul is necessarily posterior to matter; the substantial form is prior to matter, for matter is for the sake of the form.

At least in this argument, George, you cannot use these points to prove that the soul "cannot be completely identified with the substantial form." For these points are precisely points that I am not in agreement with, not simply anyway. Yes, there is a sense in which the substantial form precedes the matter, and ANOTHER sense in which the substantial form (i.e. with respect to a really existing being) does not. The substantial form in one sense does not come into being in nature, and in another sense it does. All of your supporting points require one to gloss over different senses, and I don't grant that we can gloss over them for this discussion. At least, you haven't made the argument for why we should.

Before God created man, the form "rational animal" existed - not really, but notionally, as the exemplar known in God's mind. When God made Adam and Eve, then 2 instances of rational animals existed, and in them, "rational animal" is the same form, but in each one that form is made individual by being informing THIS matter or THAT matter.

In a very real sense, however, the soul and the substantial form are the same thing. For the soul is nothing other than the substantial form insofar as the latter inheres (or has inhered) in determinate matter.

And that makes me think that we are really just talking past each other. Isn't this just about what I was saying?

Anonymous said...

An accessible teaser of "The Atheist’s Guide to Reality" can be found in a recent interview with him here:

http://blog.talkingphilosophy.com/?p=4209

Lari Launonen said...

Thanks for this post: especially helpful I found your differentiation between different kinds of teleologies and how atheists often assume "paleynism".

Yet I find problematic the analogue between evolutionary history and a novel (not that that argument wouldn't work well in this context). The common perception is that evolution is wasteful and it seems somewhat counter-intuitive to suggest that God, the "author" of evolution, specifically meant all those extinct species to come about. Yet a novelist surely plans every character and event in his story very specifically.

This is nothing new of course, but any thoughts on that? How long can one take the novelist analogue?