Monday, April 23, 2012

Steng operation

I recently linked to philosopher of physics David Albert’s take down of Lawrence Krauss’s book A Universe From Nothing.  (My own review of Krauss will soon appear in First Things.)  A reader calls my attention to this blog post in which Victor Stenger -- Adjunct Professor of Philosophy at the University of Colorado, Professor Emeritus of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Hawaii, and author of several atheist tomes -- rides to the rescue of Krauss against Albert.  (If only the other philosophically incompetent New Atheists had such a knight in shining armor!  O Dawkins, where is your Stenger?  O Coyne, where is your Victor?)

Unfortunately for Krauss, the intrepid Stenger shoots only blanks.  And misses.  Krauss, as you may know, argues that the laws of quantum mechanics (QM) show how a universe can arise from nothing.  Albert demurs, and Stenger responds:

[Albert] asks, “Where, for starters, are the laws of quantum mechanics themselves supposed to have come from?”  Krauss admits he does not know, but suggests they may arise randomly, in which case some universe like ours would have arisen without a prescribed cause.  In my 2006 book The Comprehensible Cosmos, I attempt to show that the laws of physics arise naturally from the symmetries of the void.

Later Stenger tells us that the “void” or “nothing” in question “can be described mathematically,” “has an explicit wave function,” and “is the quantum gravity equivalent of the quantum vacuum in quantum field theory.”

Of course, the problem with all of this is the same as the problem with the original suggestion that the laws of QM show that a universe can come from nothing.  The laws of QM are not nothing, and neither are “the symmetries of the void” nor anything that “can be described mathematically,” “has an explicit wave function,” etc.  In general, if you can characterize it in terms of physical law -- which Krauss, Stenger, and like-minded atheists all want to do vis-à-vis “nothing” -- then it isn’t nothing.  It’s something physical, and thus something rather than nothing.  Obviously.

Obviously, that is, unless you are a New Atheist dogmatically attached to the utterly groundless proposition that all genuine questions simply must be susceptible of a scientific answer.  At this juncture Stenger does what an increasing number of atheists do when it is pointed out to them that their “explanations” of how the universe arose from nothing merely change the subject -- they feign ignorance of English.  Writes Stenger:

Clearly, no academic consensus exists on how to define “nothing.”  It may be impossible.  To define “nothing” you have to give it some defining property, but, then, if it has a property it is not nothing!

But this is the muddleheaded stuff of a freshman philosophy paper -- treating “nothing” as if it were an especially unusual, ethereal kind of substance whose nature it would require tremendous intellectual effort to fathom.  Which, as everyone knows until he finds he has a motive for suggesting otherwise, it is not.  Nothing is nothing so fancy as that.  It is just the absence of anything, that’s all.  Consider all the true existential claims that there are: “Stones exist,” “”Trees exist,” “Quarks exist,” etc.  To ask why there is something rather than nothing is just to ask why it isn’t the case that all of these statements are false.  Pretty straightforward.  

To admit the obvious, though, would be to admit that there are questions that physics cannot answer, such as where the laws of physics themselves came from -- or more precisely, since “laws” are just abstractions from a concrete physical reality that behaves in accordance with the laws, where this concrete physical reality itself comes from.  That nothing in physics answers this question was Albert’s point, and Stenger says absolutely nothing to answer it.

Of course Stenger thinks otherwise, and the answer he thinks physics provides is contained in these remarks:

Krauss also describes how cosmology now strongly suggests that a “multiverse” exists in which our universe is just one member.  So, the real issue is not where our particular universe came from but where the multiverse came from. This question has an easy answer: the multiverse is eternal.  So, since it always was, it didn’t have to come from anything.

Well, maybe there’s a multiverse, and maybe there isn’t.  “Some cosmologists like to speculate that…” would be a good bit closer to the truth than “Cosmology now strongly suggests that…”  But even if the existence of the multiverse were established conclusively, that would of course just raise the question of why any eternal multiverse exists at all.  Stenger thinks he has an answer to that too, but his answer merely suggests that -- like the better-known New Atheists, and like Keith Parsons and other atheist philosophers of the sort who seem never to have read a theistic book published before 1970 -- Stenger does not understand what the cosmological argument has, historically, been all about.  Here’s what he says:

Albert is not satisfied that Krauss has answered the fundamental question: Why there is something rather than nothing, that is, being rather than nonbeing?  Again, there is a simple retort: Why should nothing, no matter how defined, be the default state of existence rather than something?  And, to bring religion into the picture, one could ask: Why is there God rather than nothing?  Once theologians assert that there is a God (as opposed to nothing), they can’t turn around and ask a cosmologist why there is a universe (as opposed to nothing). They claim God is a necessary entity.  But then, why can’t a godless multiverse be a necessary entity?

But this simply ignores, without answering, the central arguments of the Aristotelian, Neo-Platonic, Thomistic and broader Scholastic traditions, and indeed of modern Leibnizian rationalism -- all of which put forward principled reasons why God alone, and not the material universe, can be a terminus of explanation.  For the Aristotelian, the things of our experience undergo change because they are composed of actuality and potentiality, where change is just the actualization of a potential.  The ultimate explanation of how change occurs can in principle (so the argument goes) lie only in what can actualize without having to be actualized -- a purely actual actualizer, devoid of potentiality (or to use the more traditional but potentially misleading expression, an “unmovable mover”).  For the Neo-Platonist, whatever is in any way composite or made up of parts must depend for its existence on something which combines the parts.  The ultimate explanation of all things can in principle (so the argument goes) therefore only be what is utterly simple or non-composite (in the sense of “simple” operative in the doctrine of divine simplicity) and thus not in need of explanation by reference to something outside it.  For the Thomist, whatever is made up of an essence distinct from its act of existence must be caused by something which combines these metaphysical parts.  So the ultimate explanation of things (so the argument goes) can in principle only be that whose essence just is existence, something which is subsistent being itself.  For the Leibnizian, whatever is contingent can have its ultimate explanation (so the argument goes) only in that which is absolutely necessary, that which could not in principle have been otherwise.

Now, that is just to summarize the arguments, not to state or defend them.  I have stated and defended some of these arguments myself at length -- in The Last Superstition, at greater length in Aquinas, and in my 2011 American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly article “Existential Inertia and the Five Ways.”  The latter article also contains an account of why, given the general metaphysical conception of the natural world enshrined in the Aristotelian-Thomistic tradition, it is impossible in principle for the material world or any part of it to persist in being for an instant without a divine sustaining cause.  (It seems you can currently read this article online if you go to this page of Google search results, scroll down to the sixth item, and click “Quick View.”)  

Whether or not you agree that any of these arguments succeed, however, there is no question that they provide answers to Stenger’s query.  The reason God is necessary and the material universe is not is that he is pure actuality while the material universe is composed of potentiality and actuality, and thus in need of something to actualize it; that he is absolutely simple while the material universe is composite, and thus in need of something to compose it; and that his essence just is subsistent existence itself whereas material things (and indeed anything other than God) have an essence distinct from their acts of existence, and thus stand in need of something to cause them.  No doubt some atheists will be inclined simply to scoff at the metaphysical ideas underlying such arguments.  But to scoff at an argument is not to produce a rational criticism of it.  And since the arguments in question are the chief arguments in the Western tradition of philosophical theology, to fail to produce a rational criticism would simply be to fail to show that atheism really is rationally superior to that tradition.

Stenger also errs in thinking that the proponents of classical philosophical theology suppose that nothing is the “default state” of things.  Who ever said that?  In fact what the chief traditional arguments for theism imply is just the opposite.  Since that which is pure actuality, absolute simplicity, and subsistent being itself cannot possibly have not existed, there could not possibly have been nothing.  The classical theist’s claim is not “There could have been nothing, but there isn’t, and the reason is theism”; it is rather “There could not have been nothing, and the reason is theism.” 

[Some earlier, related posts on bad philosophy disguised as physics and the like can be found here, here, here, here, and here.]


  1. @machinephilosophy - I sent you some detailed follow-up comments but I think the internet gremlins got to them (they've apparently disappeared into thin air).

    In any case, I look forward to reading your full refutation of empiricism and hopefully will get a chance to chime in at some point.

    As far as not being able to comment on your blog, that's quite alright, because when it comes to the academic domain of philosophy I need to do a hell of a lot more listening than talking ; )

  2. I had several follow-up comments go into moderation but they have not gone live on the site. I really hope that they weren't selectively moderated.

    They ended up in the spam filter for whatever reason. I only just now saw them and was able to approve them.

  3. "I provided you with the evidence to support my assertion (or rather lack of evidence). There are no peer-reviewed papers that outline what gave rise to the physical universe and its laws"

    Argument of popularity/authority. C'mon what makes the cosmologists knows about the beginning the Universe better than anyone ??? Remember there are no tests for the beginning of the Universe just theoretical approachs. And taking the Empiricist road all we can say is that we don't know and we will never know, since the past has gone and that is it.


    "Being that this was my first time visiting this blog, I had no choice but to come "out of nowhere" (e.g. share my position which is very much in opposition that of most of the commentors as well as the author)."

    If I were to say you are an asshole, and an atehist bigot * I believe you are none of that but just picture it happening * and just gave no argument. What would you conclude ??? don't think I am just trying to get a reaction from you, to intimidate you huh ??? That is what I am talking about.


    " since the primary topic of the article is attempting to refute atheism on philosophical grounds"

    Emprirical Evidence that you have not read the article.

    none of you claims are scientific ... therefore ... all worthless.
    I suppose the conversation won;'t go past this point, in order to refute anything you need philosophy, not science( unless you already take philosophy of science/logic/epistemology as part of science ), but philosophy in order for you to use logic, epistemology, and have a philosophical background to do science. Obviously you don't get what Philosophy is and how Science depends on it. Which in a sense is what the other people are trying to tell you. Now I don't think that will convince you because after all, like a said it takes philosophy to argue for something, which to you is worthless. That is the cool part of scientism you can never be wrong... or right.... but you can believe to be right and have no way to know if you are wrong.

    So I guess it is all over, we are stuck without anyway to proceed with this.

  4. lightninlives: P.S. My favorite part of your comment, by far, is the part where you assert that I "post clueless responses" all over the internet.

    Except of course, I didn't. I made a general comment, that may or may not apply to you.

    Not only does that reveal a lack of compassion, respect, and humility;

    Not compassionate? I consolingly reassured you not to worry, didn't I?

    Not respectful? I took your post seriously, at face value, deemed it worth commenting on, and provided some constructive observations I hoped might give you food for thought.

    Not humble? I didn't claim to be better than everyone else, or have special powers of Empiricalitude or anything.

    it's also reveals a bit of a perhaps subconscious bit of preferential treatment since you didn't bother to define "clueless" or present any evidence to either support or falsify your claim.

    But I don't worship evidence, although in this case the evidence that you didn't provide any evidence was your own post, and its evident lack of measured observations. As for defining "clueless", I didn't realize it was as confusing a concept as "God", but what I meant was "quite unaware of the subject matter of this website or its many posts dealing with evidence, science, God, metaphysics and the relevant definitions and arguments, not to mention hundreds of previous comments patiently corrected for making similar mistakes".

  5. lightninlives: What I do know is, by far, the most effective means for understanding the physical universe (both in terms repeatable results and predictive ability) is the scientific method of inquiry.

    Well yes, as several people have already pointed out, we all agree that the best method for understanding the physical universe in terms of science is the scientific method. That's kinda how it got its name, after all.

    Philosophy is really cool, but it's not responsible for curing polio, synthesizing LSD, producing a working nuclear bomb, or providing the framework for this wonderful blog and its resulting comment section.

    Actually, philosophy is responsible for everything from the Internet to nuclear bombs, because "science" is just the mechanized spin-off of Natural Philosophy. But it is also responsible for not using those nuclear bombs to vaporize the rest of the planet. You may not care about such non-empirical outcomes, but to some of us, that's a fairly important detail.

    then I will once again assert that based on the evidentual track record of said method, I opt to use it as my primary means of evaluating any and all claims to knowledge.

    Which is of course ridiculous, but fortunately false. For instance, you don't use the scientific method to do math. Unless you want us to believe that you think maybe the square of the hypotenuse isn't the sum of the other two squares.

    Also, I'm not denigrating philosophy. What I actually said is that I appreciate the domain of philosophy even though I don't rely on it as my primary means for perceiving physical reality.

    Neither do I! I rely on my eyes (and other senses). I'm going to go out on a limb and bet that you also use not "science" but your senses.

    As for the "zzzz" comment, you can use an emoticon, etc. I'll still apply the "real life" test.

    In real life, when you repeat the same hackneyed cliches that have been seen a hundred times before, people are going to get a little bored. Go figure. (This would be a case where empiricism should actually be helpful to you, no?)

  6. It seems like lightninglive is striving to publicly embarrass himself so I will go ahead and give him a bit of a push and help out the lil’ fella.

    Many of his rhetorical claims have already been refuted by others so I will only comment on a few that caught my attention while skimming through the last 30 or so post on this thread.

    First of he preaches “science as truth”. Anyone with the tiniest bit of knowledge of philosophy and logic will tell you that such a claim is self-refuting. To echo the words of a non-so-wise Scotsman, we should commit such sophistry and illusion to the fires. Sorry lightning, science is not truth and the statement itself is in fact a philosophical statement. A false and ridiculous one at that but false nonetheless.

    He then parades around the fact that science has cured diseases while philosophy didn’t. Who on earth ever said that philosophy was in the business of curing diseases? Are you insane? Furthermore, the success of science form a pragmatic standpoint (i.e. the whole it “works” argument) is not equivalent to scientific realism if that’s what you’re trying to get at. And as far as science is concerned may I remind you that it was Theists who founded this endeavor and the entire enterprise was constructed on a Theistic metaphysic not an atheistic one. In fact, atheism is destructive to science contra to the wishful thinking of the gnu atheists and other anti-intellectualists. Why is the world intelligible given atheism we ask? The answer of the atheist? MAGIC (which is usually disguised as “brute fact”!

    You then continue with the pedantic and dishonest claim that “there is not evidence for God” (please someone link him the thread that deals with such foolish atheist talking points). The fact of the matter is not only is there evidence for God but there is an abundance of it. Just because you are too narrowminded and/or ignorant to see or accept them that doesn’t change the fact that they are there. Edward Feser ends his book (SPOILER ALERT) with a quote from Confucius who says: “"The wise man points to the moon, the fool looks at his finger". It is not our fault that you only see the finger. Sorry ;)

    And finally you drop the ever-so-tiresome punch line of carl sagan that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Well the most extraordinary claim I’ve ever heard is that of atheism/naturalism. So where is the evidence for the extraordinary claim of atheism? There is nothing. So much for your commitment to empiricism. You are committed to blind faith all the way.

    Theoretical physics is ridden with unobservable entities, black holes, quarks, string, other unobserved dimensions so I guess most of modern physics cannot be distinguished from illusions since much of it not only is unfalsifiable but not amenable to direct human observation a point Mortimer Adler, Richard Swimburne and many other thinkers have pointed to. If you attack philosophy and theology on those ground science goes byebye. You need to catch up on your reading, it seems like your understanding of reality is about 200 years old. So much has happened since. Trust me it will do you good!

    Nothing of what you have said is either interesting or insightful. It’s the old dogma of empiricism, which is now dead and buried (since the collapse of positivism) repackaged, albeit in a more superficial and puerile manner. Much of what you said is either self-refuting or flat out wrong. But such nonsense is to be expected from someone who not only does not understand philosophy and logic but actively tries to deride it. Here’s a little pearl of wisdom for you… Philosophy is science’s daddy. Remember that ;)

  7. Cale, so much is just a blur here because of the constant and variegated barrage of views and arguments, so I was rereading the thread and realized your brief comment directly to me about beyondananda had not been responded to.

    Beyondananda is just my own neologism for anything that prohibits the rational apprehension of data pertinent to some object or set of objects in some realm, and yet assumes rational apprehension of that same data in order to state that denial, and in the denial itself.

    I also apply it to certain forms of mysticism and fideism that claim hazy realms beyond reason, so hazy that the adherents go on and on and on in detailed expositions made up of all kinds of rational claims that I thought sure were precluded in the original beyond-reason doctrine as they so enthusiastically stated. Plus such views are treated much like gurus by their followers. Just call me Machinananda.

    Didn't even know there was any other occurrence of the term.

    Came up with it after reading about R. M. Hare's "bliks", unfalsifiable beliefs that determine world views, John Wisdom's Parable of the Invisible Gardener, where God gets so qualified and insulated from verification/falsification that he's no different from no God at all, and Antony Flew's falsification criterion.

  8. LL,

    I'm only referring to human beings in 2012. This is not a universal claim.

    You keep asserting that I'm making universal claims, but again, that's simply not true. I'm only addressing one particular topic (e.g. that any human being on Earth in 2012 can profess to have knowledge about the origin of the physical universe).

    Laughable logic--"It is pleasing to my way of thinking, therefore it is logical."

  9. Edward Feser ends his book (SPOILER ALERT) with a quote from Confucius who says: "The wise man points to the moon, the fool looks at his finger". It is not our fault that you only see the finger.

    According to Augustine, sometimes it's worse than that,

    o To those who do not understand what is here set down, my answer is that I am not to be blamed for their lack of understanding. It is just as if they were anxious to see the new or the old moon, or some very obscure star, and I should point it out with my finger: if they could not see well enough to make out even my finger, they would clearly have no right to be angry with me for that reason.

    While philosophy is not necessarily well-suited for curing certain kinds of physical ailments, science is not necessarily well-suited for curing certain kinds of myopia.

    Just sayin, is all.

  10. lightninlives: as long as you realize that logic can and often is proven to flawed when contrasted against empirical data

    I have never seen logic proven flawed. I've seen human beings proven flawed when mistakes were revealed in their attempts to follow logic, but that is of course very obviously a very different thing. But hey, maybe you really do think Pythagoras's Theorem is just a guess that happens to work if we're lucky.

    Being that this was my first time visiting this blog, I had no choice but to come "out of nowhere"

    No, you had the choice to actually read a bunch of the articles first, to hang around a while before posting and find out what was going on. I know that's rare on the Internet, but it reduces the risk of your first post sounding just like a troll.

    the fact of the matter is that there is no empirical evidence that supports ideas like "god" or "the afterlife" or "the soul."

    Well, let's see what empirical evidence has to say about the matter. People have reported observations supporting all of those things, so Science proves you are wrong! Of course, that's a different question from whether said evidence is good enough to support said claims, but there unquestionably is evidence. Just maybe not evidence that you like. The good news is that these questions are much more easily, and far more reliably settled by metaphysics than by physics, so we don't even have to worry about whether the evidence is "good enough".

    Try as you may, these will remain nothing more than mental constructs unless we come upon verifiable, repeatable, controlled, peer-reviewed (e.g. empirical) evidence supporting them.

    Man, I wish you'd told me before I spent all this time replying to someone who doesn't even exist. I mean, you can be no more than a mental construct because I've sure never seen a peer-reviewed paper showing otherwise!

    We'll need mountains of it, because as our buddy Carl Sagan once said, "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence."

    If I won the lottery, is that an extraordinary claim? If I show you my winning ticket is that extraordinary evidence? Oh well, I admit that as a rule of thumb, it does have a certain naive charm. For example, the claim that God doesn't exist is quite extraordinary, so anyone who doesn't believe it ought to have some really good reasons to back it up. Mountains' worth, some would say.

    That, in my opinion, is the way to go when evaluating claims.

    Why would you believe that? You didn't see it under a microscope or in a test tube, did you?

    And if the claim is that god, etc. exists beyond the reach of empirical evidence, that would make said god unfalsifiable,

    Rubbish. God could still be falsified by reason (if God were actually false). Same as you could falsify 1+1=3 without "empirical evidence". (Oh wait, you believe math is a "fantasy" or "delusion", don't you?)

  11. LightninLives:

    You mentioned you needed to come out of nowhere, but I think it would have served you well to read the previous NINE posts in a series of which this post is merely a final word. Not only would you probably see a lot of your questions and objections answered, but also would get a better sense of what is really at stake in your naively pious scientism. Just a tip, as the rabbis like to say.

  12. @machine philosophy

    I took a trip to your blog and run into your forthcoming book the black book of atheism. My understanding is that you're investigating some of the ultimate assumptions made by atheists. Is the book solely restricted to an investigation and a description of said principles/assumptions or does it make a case for/against atheism? In other words, does it provide a refutation or a justification or merely a narrative?

    Also, is it out yet? If so a link would be appreciated


  13. "unfalsifiable claims cannot be distinguished from fantasy or delusion."

    Uh oh, I smell Scientism!

    Seriously though, lightninlives, you seem to think that all rational statements must be scientific. I assume that's why you think that "verifiable, repeatable, controlled, peer-reviewed (e.g. empirical) evidence" is "the way to go when evaluating claims."

    Just to get the ball rolling, the major problem with Scientism of this kind is that it's self-defeating, though there are plenty of other problems.

  14. "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence."

    I was never that impressed by this pithy quote. Firstly, it seems unhelpfully question-begging to call something an "extraordinary claim". After all, if you're an atheist, something like the soul will seem "extraordinary", whereas if you're a Catholic it'll seem utterly ordinary. (That goes double for God.) Which things are "ordinary" or not is pretty much the whole question, isn't it?

    Secondly, "ordinaryness" hardly sounds like a real logical criterion to me. What does this "extraordinaryness" really consist of? We need to know if we're going to use it as an epistemelogical criterion. Also, what does "extraordinary evidence" mean? Extraordinary quantities of evidence, perhaps?

    Sagan's quote is very catchy, but I don't see much intellectual merit in it.

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  17. "...every one of the endless series of "proofs" of the existence of God that has been proposed, from antiquity to the present day, is automatically a failure because, as I have mentioned, a logical deduction tells you nothing that is not already embedded in its premises."

    Consequently, the above deductive argument itself is automatically a failure.

    Thanks, Vic! Good to know!

    There's nothing quite like a really high-quality automatic transmission.

  18. Machinephilosophy,

    I think you missed by question about your book. Here it is:

    I took a trip to your blog and run into your forthcoming book the black book of atheism. My understanding is that you're investigating some of the ultimate assumptions made by atheists. Is the book solely restricted to an investigation and a description of said principles/assumptions or does it make a case for/against atheism? In other words, does it provide a refutation or a justification or merely a narrative?

    Also, is it out yet? If so a link would be appreciated

  19. Anonymous of May 2, 2012 4:37 PM,

    It's pretty much explained in that post, and will be out in the Spring of 2014, possibly sooner. Toward the end of the book I'll be setting out the criterial argument I've developed from arguments by Kai Nielsen (the greatest atheist philosopher of all time, in my view), but the book will lay out the full sets of arguments and objections on all sides, something which has so far never been done.

    I'll also do something else that has never been done: give prominence to what I think is the strongest and most thorough argumentation for God synthesized from the efforts of Ed and similar Aristotelian-Thomistic philosophers.

    But it's pretty clear which views are going to go down in flames: Faith beyond reason (the most pernicious view on the planet), atheism, and their respective inbred relatives: anti-intellectualism, personalism, metaphysical presuppositionalism, materialism, nominalism, and scientism.

    Hopefully Ed will crank out several more books in the next couple of years, which will fill in any current gaps, resulting in an even more fully developed and defended Thomistic perspective vis-a-vis all the objections such as those raised on this blog.

    If Thomistic realism proves correct, it will revamp metaphysics across the board and quite possibly prove to be the only viable epistemic foundation for science. Those are just my suspicions at this point. But we'll see. The Catholics are definitely onto something in metaphysics.

  20. if the claim is that god, etc. exists beyond the reach of empirical evidence, that would make said god unfalsifiable, and as far as I and many others are concerned, unfalsifiable claims cannot be distinguished from fantasy or delusion.

    The problem with this is that, as is the case with logical empiricism, the verifiability of meaning, and so on, the empirical evidence criterion is itself beyond the reach of empirical evidence. Which is one reason why no one in the entire history of the philosophy of science has ever even attempted to provide such evidence.

    And logical empiricists (also called logical positivists) are themselves downplaying this in books on the subject. There's not even any mention of self-reference or self-contradiction---not even the phrase "the theory itself" or "the criterion itself"---in The Cambridge Companion to Logical Empiricism, a 448-page tome that is supposed to be somewhat definitive. And yet this self-referential issue is precisely what caused the entire logical empiricist movement to crash and burn.

    Today, what's left of logical empiricism is a little boys club for the intellectually paranoid, who go to great lengths to stay insulated from outside criticism, with most of their peers in the philosophy departments playing along with the unstated political "ignore the white elephant" policy.

    If I were to write a book on dominant trends in contemporary philosophy it would be called:

    Jury Manual for Aspiring Sociopaths

  21. Machinephilosophy,

    I would also add that the conclusion, "unfalsifiable claims cannot be distinguished from fantasy or delusion," is not actually justified, as there is a hidden assumption that first much be accepted (making this an enthymeme): only empirically falsifiable claims are justifiable. This is, as you noted, impossible to actually substantiate--and if this premise is false, so is the conclusion. For his part, Thomas makes a distinction between knowing something as a cause or knowing something by its effects. He claims that the former is impossible in regard to God, but the latter is possible, hence the five ways. So, sure, God is empirically unfalsifiable because we cannot directly observe an infinite immaterial deity. But so what? If we aren't logical positivists--and none of us consistently can be--then this isn't a problem.

  22. I would also add that the conclusion, "unfalsifiable claims cannot be distinguished from fantasy or delusion," is not actually justified, as there is a hidden assumption that first much be accepted (making this an enthymeme): only empirically falsifiable claims are justifiable.

    Anonymous, thanks for that point.

    Also, both the conclusion and the hidden assumption are themselves unfalsifiable as well.

  23. Machinephilosophy,

    I have actually been looking for a really thorough-going book that presents both sides (albeit in a serious manner not in the gnu atheist babble) so I am quite interested in picking up a copy. I do wish that I wouldn't have to wait until 2014 to get my hands on it.

    I have been very interested in A-T since running into Edward's work and have found such metaphysic to be extremely interesting and illuminating which helped me liberate my mind from the materialistic assumptions I held for a long time.

    I have not read a lot of Kai Neilsen but I have run into a few passages of his here and there. Is he hostile to religion or is he an atheist who nonetheless is sympathetic to religion in the mold of Quentin Smith?

  24. I suggest multiple readings of everything Ed has written. That's what I'm doing anyway. Hell, I'm still shoring up my notes on The Last Superstition, now pouring over the endnotes to make sure I didn't miss anything.

    Kai Nielsen is a radical Marxian atheist. Not a friend of religion, freedom, individualism, Harry Browne (author of the notorious How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World), or Ayn Rand. lol He's also an anti-foundationalist, which, as I've argued about Quine, means that he's a crypto-foundationalist in spite of himself, as Hugo Meynell pointed out a couple of decades ago.

    But he is a gentleman and one hell of a philosophical thinker, unlike most of the new atheists.

    Bottom line, however, is that his arguments about criteria imply the existence of God, although they are two steps removed the criterial argument for God that I developed from them.

    There is a link on his wiki page to a transcript of his debate with Craig in 1991. He's 86 now. I'm going to try to get an interview with him sometime next year, to see what he thinks about an argument for the existence of God based on his own epistemology.

    I recommend biting the bullet and getting his Ethics Without God (1973) and Atheism and Philosophy (2005) as first reads, the latter (which is a set of essays) representing a 40-year span of his thought. The reverse title, Philosophy and Atheism: In Defense of Atheism, he published in 1985.

  25. @Machinephilosophy

    I am currently on my send book by Edward.. I've already finished the TLS and now currently 1/3 through Aquinas.

    Thanks for the recommendations on Kai's work but unfortunately I have such a backlog of books I want to read that I probably won't get to them until further down the road.

    I still want to finish the book I am currently reading on QM, Feyerabend's Against Method along with Rizzi's the Science Before Science. I am also about half way through Adler's How to Think About God and would also like to get started on Geisler's Christian Apologetics because of the approach he chooses in his Argumentations. Not to mention that I still need to read Adler's book on Aristotle as well as read both Aristotle's Metaphysics and Plato's Timaeus in Greek (which I speak fluently). In addition, I have also run into Hart's the Beauty of the Infinite, which sounds interesting, which also went on my reading list. I have been rather impressed with the classics since I run into Ed's work so as you can see I still have a lot of reading to do.

    Feel free to recommend any other books you'd think would be a good read. Currently though I am more interested in the Theistic side of things. The books don't necessarily have to be polemics or arguments per se. Nor does it have to be specific to a religion such as Christianity, or anything. I'm just looking for books that will inspire new forms of thought.

  26. Anonymous,

    Feyerabend's initial thesis from the very first statement in the book (2002 reprint of the 1993 edition, "Introduction to the Chinese Edition" of the third English edition) is DOUBLY self-referentially inconsistent.

    First, there must already be a minimal structure of some kind "common to the events, procedures, and results that constitutes the sciences" in order to recognize that they allegedly, as Feyerabend maintains, "have no common structure". If he really wanted to live up to this, he should have rid himself of that nasty habit of universally quantifying the terms in his statements.

    Second, if as he says "there are no elements that occur in scientific investigation but are missing elsewhere", it's a wonder he was HIMSELF able to isolate the notion of scientific investigation in thought in order to make that statement itself.

    That's the whole thesis of the book, which he even admits he merely proposes, and then uses the rest of the entire book to "draw consequences" from it.

    But of course there's no problem with the structure of his own statements about science.

    Philosophers such as Feyerabend are bluffing cowards who necessarily and self-contradictorily ape the views they take such pains to so vehemently reject.

    The whole exposition proffered by Feyerabend undermines its own theoretic structure. A structure that he never mentions, of course.

    And then if you go to the introduction, it starts out with one self-referentially inconsistent and/or question-begging quote or statement after the other.

    If I had the time, I could write a script that would go through all the nouns in the dictionary and then generate self-referentially inconsistent statements about those subjects, publish it under some exotic-sounding name, and then watch the philosophers at the universities gush over it like schoolgirls fawning over manufactured boy bands.

  27. Machinephilosophy,

    You don't like the post-modernists that much do you?

    I'm curious to hear your opinion of Baudrillard and his whole simulacra idea where he claims that God is a simulacra of some sort. He is also a nihilist if I am not mistaken.

  28. I don't dislike postmodernists. I analyzed a few statements by one person.

    Postmodern rhetoric is good for 1) logical analysis, 2) defense attorneys, 3) sociopaths and others into hoodwinking people in a number of senses.

    Not familiar with Baudrillard. Are his theories self-exempting?

  29. I am not sure if he claims self-exemption but as with many post-modernists I don't think it makes much of a difference to them. He is often claimed to be one of the really important post-modernists.

    He is the one that came up with the whole simulation & simulacra idea (the article is called "simulation simulacra" if you want to read it) out of which sci-fi themes such as that of the matrix spawned out of. Basically his thing is that we simulate reality but somehow lose touch with the fact that we are engaging in simulation, which makes us believe that the simulation is reality instead. He often uses the term hyperreality as well.

    He has an essay called "on nihilism" if I am not mistaken where he expounds some of his general ideas as well. It's pretty short.

    I was just wondering if you had an opinion on the guy.

  30. Machinephilosophy,

    Here's the link to Baudrillar's essay on nihilism. It's a quick read. I am curious to hear your thoughts!

  31. Problem is with the vantage point and criteria from which to arbitrate the real in the first place.

    Not sure who he's important to. He's generic postmodern from what I read in the wiki. Pick your favorite universally determining factors and away we go, spawning universal explanatory reductionisms, arbitrating the existence, nature, and status of what's real, etc.

    Oh, and I forgot: 4) postmodernism is great for rhetorically hoaxing one's way through a substantial number of school courses with writing requirements. Viva Joey Skaggs!

  32. Baudrillard's brief sermon on nihilism is just that, as well as one unargued pronouncement after another. It's just a selective neo-rationalism grandstanding itself, in spite of its own assertions.

    But postmodernism in general makes it much easier when I'm lobbying rich alumni to close down those useless and meaningless wastes of money called philosophy departments---as an expression of their nihilism. Others can play the nihilism game too---with the money that's normally used to prop up people who insult the views of those funding them.

  33. lightinlives,indeed! This ignostic finds that without intent [Google:] per the Coyne-Mayr-Lamberth teleonomic -mechanistic- argument, God canot be HImself and thus without intent cannot be the Creator,Grand Miracle Monger and so forth and without those referents lacks existence and having incoherent, contradictory attributes, again He cannot exist!
    I call Carneades the first ignostic,as He notes that the Epicureans and the Stoics apply the term God in such a way that He cannot exist.

  34. lightinlives, yes, the naturalist empirical argument alone keel hauls theism1 Theists use misinterpretations of evidence for their arguments. No evidence exists for fine-tuning but the misinterpretation reflects the reduced animism of divine intent and begs the question of directed outcomes and has matters inverted as the parameters permit our evolving but no divine direction-intent for that but instead the interplay of natural selection and randomness-both aspects of Leucippus' necessity.
    Theists then cannot defeat the Flew-Lamberth presumption of naturalism1

  35. That, in my opinion, is the way to go when evaluating claims. And if the claim is that god, etc. exists beyond the reach of empirical evidence, that would make said god unfalsifiable, and as far as I and many others are concerned, unfalsifiable claims cannot be distinguished from fantasy or delusion.

    That would mean mathematics is fiction then, since mathematical truths can be proven logically, but not 'empirically'.

    Actually Mathematics itself is a huge stumbling block for naturalism. (see "Naturalism Reconsidered" by Stewart Shapiro in Oxford Handbook of the Philosophy of Mathematics and Logic)


    yes, the naturalist empirical argument alone keel hauls theism1 Theists use misinterpretations of evidence for their arguments. No evidence exists for fine-tuning but the misinterpretation reflects the reduced animism of divine intent and begs the question of directed outcomes and has matters inverted as the parameters permit our evolving but no divine direction-intent for that but instead the interplay of natural selection and randomness-both aspects of Leucippus' necessity.
    Theists then cannot defeat the Flew-Lamberth presumption of naturalism1

    Ehm... this is PURE NONSENSE.

    1- Not all theists appeal to 'fine tuning' as a base of theism. Actually Thomists and other classical theists DO NOT.

    2- The rest is hogwash and nonsense... t the Flew-Lamberth presumption basically defeats itself... even FLEW realized that!

    'The Flew-Lamberth the presumption of naturalism holds that all natural causes are themselves the efficient, primary cause, the necessary being and the sufficient reason.'... but that is not so, since it is blatantly ovious that natural causes are indeed NOT primary causes in themselves, nor do they entail reasonably necessity of being.

    That is more atheists wishful thinking and bad philosophy and Flew came to realize that, just like Ayer realized that Logical Positivism is incoherent and self-defeating.

    So... basically your arguments are a faulty series of statements supporting a fautly thesis. Sorry!

  36. This ignostic finds that without intent [Google:] per the Coyne-Mayr-Lamberth teleonomic -mechanistic- argument,....

    To bad this argument, like most of Coyne's work is a straw man and faulty.

    Perhaps you should read a few of Fesers posts on the matter (and on Coyne)!

    Really, it's SO HILARIOUS how atheists like you Carneades Hume this some dumb ass arguments 'defeat theism'... when they not even apply to theism at all, since they attack a straw man.