Thursday, January 23, 2014

The pointlessness of Jerry Coyne


People have asked me to comment on the recent spat between Jerry Coyne and Ross Douthat.  As longtime readers of this blog know from bitter experience, there’s little point in engaging with Coyne on matters of philosophy and theology.  He is neither remotely well-informed, nor fair-minded, nor able to make basic distinctions or otherwise to reason with precision.  Nor, when such foibles are pointed out to him, does he show much interest in improving.  (Though on at least one occasion he did promise to try actually to learn something about a subject concerning which he had been bloviating.  But we’re still waiting for that well-informed epic takedown of Aquinas we thought we were going to get from him more than two years ago.)
 
Naturally, his incompetence is coupled with a preposterous degree of compensatory self-confidence.  As I once pointed out about Dawkins, Coyne may by now have put himself in a position that makes it psychologically impossible for him even to perceive serious criticism.  The problem is that his errors are neither minor, nor occasional, nor committed in the shadows, nor expressed meekly.  He commits a howler every time he opens his mouth, and he opens it very frequently, very publicly, and very loudly.  His blunders are of a piece, so that to confess one would be to confess half a decade’s worth -- to acknowledge what everyone outside his combox already knows, viz. that he is exactly the kind of bigot he claims to despise.  That is a level of humiliation few human beings can bear.  Hence the defense mechanism of training oneself to see only ignorance and irrationality even in the most learned and sober of one’s opponents; indeed, to see it even before one sees those opponents.  And so we have the spectacle of Coyne’s article last week on David Bentley Hart’s The Experience of God, wherein he launches a 2800 word attack on a book he admits he has not read.  The sequel of self-delusion, it seems, is self-parody.

Still, it is worthwhile responding now and again to people like Coyne, so that bystanders who wouldn’t otherwise know any better can see just how pathetic are the “arguments” of New Atheists.  Consider Coyne’s recent response to Douthat.  As is typical of the New Atheist genre, we are confronted with a blizzard of sweeping and tendentious assertions, straw men, begged questions, missed points, well-poisoning, and other evidence that the writer has read a book about logical fallacies and mistaken it for a “How-To” guide.  It would take a short book to unpack all of Coyne’s errors here.  Indeed, even to see everything that is wrong just with Coyne’s remarks about the self and its purposes would take a mini lecture on the philosophy of mind.  So let’s do something of which Coyne is incapable.  Let’s focus.  Let’s set out -- precisely, calmly, and without all sorts of irrelevant remarks about Douthat’s desire for a cosmic father figure and the Inquisition and what a Martian would think of the Catholic Mass -- one very specific objection to materialism and see why Coyne fails even to perceive it, much less answer it.

Coyne had spoken of human beings forging their own purposes in the absence of God, and Douthat replied that given Coyne’s “eliminative materialist” view that the self might be an illusion, Coyne cannot coherently characterize himself as a “purpose-creating” agent in the first place.  In response Coyne tells us that “apparently [Douthat’s] notion of ‘purpose’ involves something given by Almighty God,” that Douthat “wants there to be a Douthat Soul that has a ‘purpose’ bestowed by a celestial deity,” etc. -- none of which, of course, is to the point.  You don’t need to be a theist or a believer in the soul to wonder how even the illusion of a single, unified self could arise out of inherently loose and separate fragments of either a psychological or neurological kind.  Even Hume acknowledged having failed to account for it.  This is what philosophers call the “unity of consciousness” problem, and even if atheism were demonstrably true that would contribute exactly nothing to the solution of the problem.  If Coyne were at all interested in the objective pursuit of truth -- as opposed to scoring cheap points against someone whose views he viscerally dislikes -- he would have seen that this, rather than some exercise in Freudian wishful thinking, is what Douthat is on about.  Materialism could still be false even if atheism were true, and Douthat’s point was about materialism, not atheism per se.

The varieties of “purpose”

But let’s put even that aside for the moment, because the unity of consciousness problem involves too many side issues (concerning qualia, the binding problem, etc.), and we need to try as far as we can to narrow Coyne’s attention on to something very, very specific and see if he can stay on point.  Consider the notion of “purpose.”  Coyne seems to think that all talk of purpose entails a conscious rational agent like us, but that is, conceptually speaking, just sloppy.  Where purpose is concerned -- a better term would be “teleology” or (better still because unassociated with irrelevant pop-theology baggage) the Scholastic’s term “finality” -- there are, as I have pointed out many times (e.g. here), at least five kinds, with each of the last four progressively more unlike the sort we know from introspection.  Hence we can distinguish:

1. The sorts of purposes we know from our own plans and actions.  In this case the end that is pursued is conceptualized.  When you order a steak, you conceptualize it as steak (as opposed, say, to vegetable protein processed to look and taste like steak), you express this concept linguistically by using the word “steak,” and so forth.

2. The sorts of purposes non-rational animals exhibit.  A dog, for example, exhibits a kind of purpose or goal-directedness when it excitedly makes its way over to the steak you’ve dropped on the floor.  Such a purpose is certainly conscious -- the dog will see the meat and imagine the appearance and taste of past bits of meat it has had, and it will also feel an urge to eat the meat -- but it is not conceptualized.  The dog doesn’t think of the meat as meat (as opposed to as textured vegetable protein), it doesn’t describe it using an abstract term like “meat,” etc.

3. The sorts of “purposes” plants exhibit.  A plant will grow “toward” the light, roots will “seek” water, an acorn “points to” the oak into which it will grow, etc.  These “purposes” are not only not conceptualized, but they are totally unconscious.  A plant will not only not think of the water it “seeks” as water (as a human being would), but it will not feel thirst or anything else as it “seeks” it (as an animal would).

4. The “goal-directedness” of complex inorganic processes.  David Oderberg offers the water cycle and the rock cycle as examples of a kind of inorganic “goal-directedness” insofar as there is an objective (rather than merely interest-relative) fact of the matter about whether certain occurrences are parts of these causal processes.  For instance, the formation of magma may both cause certain local birds to migrate and lead to the formation of igneous rock, but causing birds to migrate is no part of the rock cycle while the formation of igneous rock is part of it.  That each stage of the process “points” to certain further stages in a way it does not “point” to other things it may incidentally cause reflects an extremely rudimentary sort of teleology.  It is a kind of teleology or “directedness” that involves neither conceptualization of the end sought (as human purposes do), nor conscious awareness of the end (as animal purposes do), nor the flourishing of a living system (as the “purposes” of plants do). 

5. Finally there is a kind of absolute bare minimum of “directedness” exhibited in even the simplest inorganic causal regularities.  As Aquinas argued, if A regularly generates some specific effect or range of effects B (rather than C, or D, or no effect at all), there is no way to make this intelligible unless we suppose that A is inherently “directed toward” or “points to” the generation of B (rather than to C, or D, or no effect at all).  Suppose all higher level causal regularities -- not only the water and rock cycles, but even simpler phenomena like the way the phosphorus in the head of a match generates flame and heat when the match is truck, or the way ice cools down room-temperature water surrounding it -- were entirely reducible to causation at the micro-structural level.  Still, we would have absolutely basic causal regularities -- the fact that some micro-structural phenomenon A regularly generates a range of outcomes B -- that is intelligible only if we suppose that A inherently points to B.  Or so the traditional Aristotelian view goes, anyway.  Here we lack in A not only conceptualization, consciousness, and life, but also complexity of the sort in view in teleology of Type 4.  There is just the bare “pointing to” or “directedness toward” B which would exist even if the causal transaction were not part of some larger structure. 

Now, let’s notice a couple of things.  First, none of this by itself has anything to do with theism.  The question of whether there is teleology, “directedness,” or finality in nature and the question of whether such teleology requires a divine cause are separate questions, even if they are related.  For as I have also pointed out many times (e.g., once again, here) there are several possible views one could take about purported teleology or finality of any or all of the five sorts just described:

A. One could hold that one or more of the kinds of teleology described above really do exist but that it is in no way inherent in the natural world, but rather imposed on it from outside by God in something like the way the purposes of an artifact are imposed on natural materials by us.  Just as the metal bits that make up a watch in no way have any time-telling function inherent in them but derive it entirely from the watchmaker and users of the watch, so too is the world utterly devoid of teleology except insofar as God imparts purposes to it.  This “extrinsic” view of teleology is essentially the view represented by William Paley’s “design argument.”

B. One could hold instead that teleology of one or more of the kinds described above really does exist and is inherent in the natural world rather than in any way imposed from outside.  Someone who takes this view might hold (for example) that an acorn really does have an inherent and irreducible “directedness” toward becoming an oak, or that in general efficient causes really are inherently “directed toward” or “point to” their effects, and that this just follows from their natures rather than from any external, divine directing activity.  Why does an acorn “point toward” becoming an oak?  Not, on this view, because God so directs it, but just because that is part of what it is to be an acorn.  This ”intrinsic” view of teleology is the one usually attributed to Aristotle (who, though he affirmed the existence of a divine Unmoved Mover, did not do so on teleological grounds, as least as usually interpreted). 

C. One could hold that teleology of one or more of the kinds described above really does exist and has its proximal ground in the natures of things but its distal ground in divine directing activity.  On this view (to stick with the acorn example -- an example nothing rides on, by the way, but is just an illustration) the acorn “points to” becoming an oak by its very nature, and this nature is something that can be known whether or not one affirms the existence of God.  To that extent this view agrees with View B.  But a complete explanation of things and their natures would, on this View C, require recourse to a divine sustaining cause.  This is the view represented by Aquinas’s Fifth Way, which (as I have noted many times) has nothing whatsoever to do either with Paley’s feeble “design argument” or with the arguments of recent “Intelligent Design” theorists.  (I have expounded and defended Aquinas’s Fifth Way in several places, such as in my book Aquinas and in greatest detail in a recent Nova et Vetera article.) 

D. One could hold that one or more of the kinds of teleology described above are in some sense real but only insofar as they are entirely reducible to non-teleological phenomena.  To speak of something’s “pointing to” or being “directed toward” some end is on this view “really” just a shorthand for some description that makes no reference whatsoever to teleology or finality.

E. Finally, one could hold that none of the sorts of teleology described above exists in any sense, not even when understood in a reductionist way.  They are entirely illusory. 

Now, Coyne, fixated as all New Atheists are on the easy target of Paley’s “design argument,” evidently thinks that to affirm the existence of “purpose” or teleology in nature commits one to View A and thus directly commits one to theism.  But that is simply not the case.  That would be true only if teleology is regarded as entirely extrinsic to the natural order, as the purpose of a watch is entirely extrinsic to the physical components of the watch.  And one could hold instead that teleology is intrinsic to the natural order.  In that case one could maintain either that the question of teleology has nothing to do with whether there is a God (as View B maintains) or that if it does, it could still get you to God in only an indirect way, via further argumentation (as View C maintains).  Hence there are contemporary philosophers like George Molnar, John Heil, and Paul Hoffman who take a View B approach to teleology of at least Type 5.  (Molnar calls it “physical intentionality” and Heil calls it “natural intentionality.”)  Thomas Nagel appears to take a View B approach to teleology of Types 1 - 3 and perhaps of the other types as well.  Some of these writers -- indeed, perhaps all of them as far as I can tell (though I’m not sure in every case) -- are atheists.  And Thomists like myself, who take a Type C approach, agree that the question of whether there is teleology intrinsic to nature is a separate question from whether such teleology requires a divine cause.

Coyne also evidently thinks that to raise the question of whether materialists can account for “purposes” is to posit an immaterial soul and/or to raise some high-falutin’ “meaning of life” question.  But that isn’t the case either.  Aristotelians maintain that materialism cannot account for teleology of Types 2 - 5, but they would not attribute anything immaterial to the phenomena in question.  (Nor, in the case of Types 4 and 5, a soul.  Aristotle did think plants and animals have “souls” in the sense of an organizational principle by which they are alive, but he did not think of this as something immaterial.)  And someone could hold that human existence has no “meaning” or “purpose” in the sense of being part of some divine plan or preparatory for an afterlife, and still take the view that materialism cannot account for purposes of any or all of Types 1 - 5.  (That seems to be Nagel’s position, for example.) 

So, to question whether materialism can account for “purpose” has nothing necessarily to do with whether there is a God, nothing necessarily to do with whether human beings have immaterial souls, and nothing necessarily to do with whether there is, specifically, a “purpose” to human existence in the sense of a cosmic plan, an afterlife, etc.  Those are, contrary to what Coyne evidently supposes, separate issues.  What is the problem, then?

Materialism and “purpose”

To see the problem, consider first the conception of matter to which the materialist is committed.  In his book The Atheist’s Guide to Reality, materialist philosopher Alex Rosenberg writes:

Ever since physics hit its stride with Newton, it has excluded purposes, goals, ends, or designs in nature.  It firmly bans all explanations that are teleological(p. 40)

Such characterizations of modern physics are easy to come by.  For example, philosopher of science David Hull writes:

Historically, explanations were designated as mechanistic to indicate that they included no reference to final causes or vital forces.  In this weak sense, all present-day scientific explanations are mechanistic. (“Mechanistic explanation,” in The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy)

Now whether this sort of characterization is correct is in fact a matter of controversy.  Even in physics, teleology has sometimes been claimed to survive in the principle of least action.  And even if the description of the world physics gives us makes no reference to teleology, it wouldn’t follow that matter lacks any teleological features.  To draw that conclusion would require the further premise that physics gives us a description of matter that is, not only correct as far as it goes, but exhaustive.  And Aristotelians, Russellian neutral monists, and others would deny that premise.  But put all that aside.  The point for now is that materialists hold that matter is devoid of teleology or finality, because that is (so they suppose) what science tells them.

Now that means that of the approaches to teleology or finality described above, the materialist is committed to either View D or View E.  But View D really collapses into View E.  For attempts to reduce teleological notions to non-teleological notions are notoriously problematic.  To take a stock example, suppose it is claimed that such-and-such a neural structure in frogs serves the function or purpose of allowing them to catch flies (insofar as it underlies frogs’ behavior of snapping their tongues at flies).  And suppose it is claimed that this teleological description can be translated without remainder into a description that makes use of no teleological notions.  For instance, it might be held that to say that the neural structure in question serves that function is just shorthand for saying that it causes frogs to snap their tongues at flies; or perhaps that it is shorthand for saying that the structure was hardwired into frogs by natural selection because it caused them to snap their tongues at flies.  The trouble is that the same neural structure will cause a frog to snap its tongue at lots of other things too -- at BB’s, black spots projected onto a screen, etc. -- yet it would be false to say that the function of the structure in question is the disjunctive one of getting frogs to eat either flies or BBs or spots on a screen, etc.   Of course, someone might respond: “But that’s because the reason the neural structure gets frogs to snap their tongues, and the reason it was favored by natural selection, was in order to get them to eat flies, not to eat BB’s or spots on a screen!”  But that’s just the point.  To say that “the reason” the structure exists is “in order to” get frogs to do that, specifically, is to bring teleological notions back into the analysis, when the whole point was to get rid of them. 

This sort of problem -- known by philosophers as the “disjunction problem” -- illustrates the impossibility of trying to reduce teleological descriptions to non-teleological ones.  Such purported reductions invariably either simply fail to capture the teleological notions, or they smuggle them in again through the back door and thus don’t really reduce them after all.  Hence, as naturalists as otherwise different as John Searle and Alex Rosenberg have acknowledged, a consistent materialist has at the end of the day to deny that teleology really exists at all.  That is to say, he has to opt for what I have labeled View E.

Now this is where an insuperable problem for materialism comes in.  If you take View E, then you have to say that teleology, purpose, “directedness” or “pointing toward” of any kind is an illusion.  But illusions are themselves instances of “directedness” or “pointing toward.”  In particular they are instances of intentionality, where intentionality is what the “directedness” or “pointing toward” that is definitive of teleology in general looks like in the case of mental states (thoughts, perceptions, volitions, and the like) in particular.  This is why the intentionality of the mental has notoriously been difficult for the materialist to account for.  For materialism maintains that there is no irreducible “directedness” in the world, yet intentionality just is a kind of “directedness.”  A thought or perception is about or directed at a state of affairs (whether real or illusory), a volition is about or directed at a certain outcome (whether actually realizable or not), and so forth.

As materialists like Alex Rosenberg and Paul Churchland see, this is why a consistent materialist really has to be an eliminativist and deny the reality of intentionality altogether.  The problem is that this simply cannot coherently be done.  To be sure, the eliminativist can avoid saying blatantly self-contradictory things like “I believe there are no beliefs,” but that doesn’t solve the basic problem.  For he will inevitably have to make use of a notion like “illusion,” “error,” “falsehood,” or the like even just to express what it is he is denying the existence of, and these notions are thoroughly intentional (in the sense of being instances of intentionality).  For one to be in thrall to an “illusion” or an “error” just is to be in a state with meaning, with directedness on to a certain content, and so forth.  In short, to dismiss the “directedness” or “pointing toward” characteristic of teleology and intentionality as an illusion is incoherent, since illusions are themselves instances of the very phenomenon whose existence is being denied.  We saw in a recent series of posts how Rosenberg tries to solve this incoherence problem -- in an attempt that is, to his credit, more serious than that of other eliminativists -- but fails utterly.

The basic problem, then, has nothing essentially to do with the existence of God, with the immateriality of the soul, with Douthat’s purported exercises in wish-fulfillment, or any other of the red herrings Coyne tosses out.  It is a problem -- and an insuperable one, I maintain -- that the materialist faces whether or not God exists, whether or not we have immortal souls, whether or not there is some larger cosmic purpose to human existence, etc.  It is also no answer whatsoever to the problem to make hand-waving references (as Coyne does in response to Douthat) to “arrangements of neurons,” to what is “evolutionarily advantageous,” or the like.  If someone says “The square root of four wears aftershave” and you demand that he explain what that even means, it is no answer at all if he says: “Well, there are these arrangements of neurons favored by natural selection that make it true that the square root of four wears aftershave.”  Similarly, if you demand of someone that he explain how he can coherently say both that there is no “directedness” of any sort in the world (which is what he is committing himself to when he says that teleology of any sort is unreal) but that we have an “illusion” of directedness (which is itself an instance of “directedness” since it involves intentionality), it is no answer at all to say “Well, natural selection hardwired into us these neural arrangements that generate this illusion.”  Shouting “Evolution did it!” or “Our neurons do it!” doesn’t magically make an incoherent statement into a coherent one.

Now, this is not exactly the issue Douthat raised against Coyne, but it is related to the one Douthat raises, and I have emphasized it because once the relevant distinctions are made the basic problem can be made very precise and the complete irrelevance to it of the issues raised by Coyne is crystal clear.  If materialism is true, then there can be no “directedness,” “aboutness,” one thing “pointing to” another, etc.  The appearance of such “directedness” must be an illusion or error.  Yet illusions and the like are themselves instances of “directedness,” “aboutness,” etc.  So it cannot coherently be maintained that “directedness” is an illusion.  So, since materialism entails that it is an illusion, materialism cannot coherently be maintained.

Now there are various possible ways a materialist might try to respond to this.  He could decide to accept some irreducible “directedness” or teleology into his picture of nature after all, but then he will essentially be joining Thomas Nagel in rejecting materialism in favor of a neo-Aristotelian position.  Or he could try to give some account of notions like “illusion,” “error,” and the like that doesn’t implicitly commit him to intentionality and thus to the existence of the very “directedness” that he is supposed to be denying.  But no one has come close to showing how this can be done -- Rosenberg gives about the best shot anyone has, but his account is not only tentative but (as I show in the posts referred to above) a complete failure.  Or the materialist could try to affirm the existence of “directedness” while at the same time reducing it to some non-teleological features of reality.  But that would require giving an analysis that neither surreptitiously eliminates rather than reduces teleology, nor implicitly smuggles it in again through the back door -- as attempts to solve problems like the “disjunction problem” tend to do.  No one has shown how to pull this off either.

If Coyne were serious and well-informed, though, those are the sorts of problems he would be trying to solve.  Yet a cringe-making attempt of Coyne’s some time back to deal with the challenge intentionality poses for materialism showed that -- unlike more formidable scientistic atheists like Rosenberg -- he hasn’t the foggiest notion of what the problem even is.  Not that he’s likely even to try to address it should he deign to comment on this post.  No doubt we’ll hear instead about how I’m just trying to rationalize my Catholic prejudices, or that most philosophers are atheists like Coyne, or that neuroscientists don’t believe in souls, or some other such stuff -- none of which has anything whatsoever to do with the subject at hand, of course, but that never stops Coyne.  But if he really wants slowly to work his way to a point from which he might someday have something remotely interesting to say about philosophy, Coyne could start by taking a lesson from former philosophy major Steve Martin

159 comments:

יאיר רזק said...

"...the fact that some micro-structural phenomenon A regularly generates a range of outcomes B -- that is intelligible only if we suppose that A inherently points to B."

How is this regularity made intelligible by "pointing to" ? I fail to see how from the fact "A points to B" you can deduce "A regularly generates B", certainly not in a way that doesn't rely on the concept of regularity to begin with.

Perhaps I don't understand the "pointing to" relation being invoked here. It appears to only make sense in an essentialist framework.

" If you take View E, then you have to say that teleology, purpose, “directedness” or “pointing toward” of any kind is an illusion."

I fail to see why one can't accept some sort of pointing while rejecting others. There is no problem in classical physics with thinking of the world's evolution as teleological in the sense that it's moving towards its future boundary conditions, for example, rather than from the past boundary conditions as it is usually formulated. Yet even this "teleological" universe would be mechanical. The terms are compatible.

One can likewise posit a "pointing towards" relation as existing in any fundamental physical interaction (which is always between two or three particles). It's superfluous - as Hume noted, you only need note the regularity - but you can.

The key question here is therefore not whether you need to abscond all kinds of teleology, but rather whether the mechanistic view can support concepts like "error" in thinking, or thinking "about" something. I believe that it can. But this is a separate question from whether the mechanistic view needs to deny any sort of directional relations. Which I think it need not do.

P.S. As an atheist that loves philosophy, I was dismayed at Coyne's treatment of these issues. I gave a very negative review of his earlier post on Hart's position in my own blog.

Tap said...

Before I finish reading this blog post let me acknowledge that, I loled at "mistaking a book about logical fallacies as a how-to-guide" that had me rolling.

Crude said...

A nice writeup. I was one of the people nipping at your heels for this, so thanks!

Coyne had spoken of human beings forging their own purposes in the absence of God, and Douthat replied that given Coyne’s “eliminative materialist” view that the self might be an illusion, Coyne cannot coherently characterize himself as a “purpose-creating” agent in the first place.

This, I think, was the key point in Douthat's exchange, and one which guts Coyne's position.

Coyne's playing the game of saying 'Oh you think you need GOD to give you a purpose, well humans can give themselves their own purposes!' Which is a stock response. But Coyne doesn't seem to realize that when he starts denying the self (or even if he tries to equate the self with the brain, and the brain with blind mechanistic processes), then talk about 'selves creating purpose and meaning' goes down the toilet. It looks like that was one more illusion. (Putting aside the whole problem of 'illusions' existing to begin with.)

Josh Harris said...

Once again, as a grad student in philosophy...

How does Jerry Coyne have a job???

tz said...

Amazing the amount of directed effort to say there is no directedness. The number of badly made points arguing there is no point. With the purpose of showing purposelessness.

Sometimes evil IS more than HAS a contradiction.

Anonymous said...

"Once again, as a grad student in philosophy...

How does Jerry Coyne have a job???"

Im sure he is fine with regards to matters evo biology. He just isnt equipped to handle its metaphysical and philosophical aspects.

Crude said...

Im sure he is fine with regards to matters evo biology.

Actually, I think Coyne himself explains things well: "In science's pecking order, evolutionary biology lurks somewhere near the bottom, far closer to phrenology than to physics."

You can slack a bit when you're a quasi-phrenologist.

BenYachov said...

@Yair

Is there anyway we can get an English translation of your response to Coyle?

Gene Callahan said...

@יאיר רזק: "It's superfluous - as Hume noted, you only need note the regularity..."

Well, no, Hume's position has, in fact, made the how the physical sciences proceed incomprehensible, i.e., from Hume's stance, it seems to be sheer magic that physics keeps having the successes it does have. Hume's position creates well-known difficulties such as the Grue problem, and the justification for why we use conservative induction rather than radical induction, and the heroic but failed programs of Hempel and Popper to solve these difficulties within the Humean paradigm.

These well-known difficulties are precisely why there is a neo-Aristotelean revival in the philosophy of science.

Robert Coble said...

As a philosophical novice/amateur, I am hesitant to jump in these deep waters, infested with Leviathan-sized sharks. With that caveat:

Why would a trained academic (such as Dr. Jerry Coyne, or Dr. Richard Dawkins, for that matter) pontificate regarding a field of inquiry/expertise in which they are manifestly NOT qualified, based solely on their opinions (without any substantive research in that other field)?

If Dr. Coyne were discussing evolutionary biology, I presume that he would have something cogent to say that would be worthwhile to study. However, when he jumps out of that field into a totally different field (although those two fields are related through the underlying metaphysical presuppositions [as are all sciences]), why is he so careless about establishing expertise in that second field?

Consider:

In the subchapter labeled "THINKING AS A PHILOSOPHER", THERE IS A GOD, Dr. Antony Flew and Roy Abraham Varghese, Dr. Flew makes the following point:

"... My concern was not with this or that fact of chemistry or genetics, but with the fundamental question of what it means for something to be alive and how this relates to the body of chemical and genetic facts viewed as a whole. To think at this level is to think as a philosopher. And, at the risk of sounding immodest, I must say that this is properly the job of philosophers, not of the scientists as scientists; the competence specific to scientists gives no advantage when it comes to considering this question, just as a star baseball player has no special competence on the dental benefits of a particular toothpaste.

"Of course, scientists are just as free to think philosophers as anyone else. And, of course, not all scientists will agree with my particular interpretation of the facts they generate. But their disagreements will have to stand on their own two philosophical feet. In other words, if they are engaged in philosophical analysis, neither their authority nor their expertise as scientists is of any relevance. ... Likewise, a scientists who speaks as a philosopher will have to furnish a philosophical case. As Albert Einstein himself said, 'The man of science is a poor philosopher.'"

Perhaps it would be better to "remain silent and be thought a fool, than to open one's mouth and remove all doubt."

Matthew Kennel said...

All I can say is this - Coyne's preview review of Hart's The Experience of God makes the claim that Aquinas - AQUINAS - doesn't believe in a God who is the absolute ground of being. And then he spends time arguing that the "ground of being" concept of God is irrelevant because most believers believe God is anthropomorphic (a notion that Hart rips apart), and then - to the sound of face palms everywhere - tried to argue that what most people believe about something didn't matter, only what was true matters. If this were an undergrad philosophy class, that would have to pull a failing grade.

BenYachov said...

Coyne like Dawkins has only one limited skill set.

He is no doubt very good at scientifically defending Evolution and soundly refuting the stale misinformed polemics of Young Earth Creationist types against Evolution.

That is it. He has nothing more of substance to contribute to any Atheist vs Theist discussion then Fred Phelps has to the pastoral treatment of Homosexual persons.

George R. said...

There's no intelligible way to affirm teleology in nature and at the same time to deny God. Why? Because teleology implies intelligence.

St. Thomas Aquinas, De Veritate:
"Similarly, an operation of a nature which is for a definite end presupposes an intellect that has pre-established the end of the nature and ordered it to that end. For this reason, every work of nature is said to be a work of intelligence."

Scott said...

Matthew Kennel writes:

"Coyne's preview review of Hart's The Experience of God makes the claim that Aquinas - AQUINAS - doesn't believe in a God who is the absolute ground of being. "

And Augustine, whose Confessions were left in his mailbox well over two years ago[!] when he thought he was getting a copy of Feser's Aquinas from Paul Nelson. (See the comments in his combox.)

His sniggering ignorance just gets harder and harder to excuse.

Robert Coble said...

As "crazy" as this might sound, I actually read through the various exchanges between Dr. Coyne and Dr. Feser. (In the interest of full disclosure, I have also read Dr. Feser's The Last Superstition - an excellent work, IMHO. Aquinas is next on my reading list.)

Dr. Coyne's dismissal of the cosmological argument via the standard "straw man" argument (to wit: "If everything has a cause, then who caused God?") is laughably and willfully ignorant of the actual argument.

The viewpoint "Don't confuse me with the facts; my mind is already made up." does not seem to be compatible the viewpoint of a seeker of truth, much less a seeker of Truth. I personally prefer the attitude epitomized by Socrates: "Follow the evidence, wherever it leads." I am enamored by the Thomist position precisely because it is based on that willingness to exhaustively consider all the evidence prior to reaching conclusions.

Sadly:

"Let them alone; they are blind guides [a]of the blind. And if a blind man guides a blind man, both will fall into a pit."

New American Standard Bible, Matthew 15:14

יאיר רזק said...

@BenYacov

My response is here:
https://thebiganswers.wordpress.com/2014/01/17/the-best-arguments-for-god/

The executive version: We should check out the Scholastics just in case we are wrong. And you're totally not getting their arguments, so your counter-arguments are irrelevant.

Yair

יאיר רזק said...

"from Hume's stance, it seems to be sheer magic that physics keeps having the successes"

Not magic - brute fact. The explanation for why science works is the brute fact of regularity.

As I said above - I fail to see how positing teleology improves things.

Yair

Steve said...

The explanation for why science works is the brute fact of regularity.

Does this regularity have anything to do with the kind of thing a thing is?

TimL said...

I just read some of the combox comments over at Coynes blog.

Some are actually cheering each other on to not read Hart's book.

On a thread that is supposed to be a preview/review (what?)of that book.


Wow

יאיר רזק said...

Sure. Events of kind A are followed by events of kind B. (Well, those aren't quite the regularities, but I don't that would be important.) What's your point?

Yair

BenSix said...

Thank you, Professor. Interesting arguments that I hope are responded to.

Saints and Sceptics said...


Can I ask if you'd ever consider discussing some of the debates in philosophy of biology, Professor Feser? For example, does Fodor's critique of Darwin have some merit?
GV

(A bit of shameless pluggery here:

We've responded to Coyne here:

http://www.saintsandsceptics.org/meaning-morality-and-jerry-coynes-world/

and here:

http://www.saintsandsceptics.org/science-history-and-the-myths-of-new-atheism/ )

Steve said...

@Yair
Regularities are observable effects. To say that they are brute facts is to say that they are unexplainable, which flies in the face of science.

Science assumes that regularities are explainable. I'm wondering if any explanation is possible without some reference to the nature of the thing (the kind of thing that it is)that is responsible for the regularity that is observed.

Crude said...

Not magic - brute fact.

I gotta say, I've yet to really see a difference between the two.

Just like the internet meme - 'It's magic - I ain't gotta explain shit.'

BenYachov said...

Thank you Yair.

Shalom!

Anonymous said...

Hart's latest book is simply phenomenal. Flip to any page at random, and rest assured that there will be more substance on that one page than on the entirety of Coyne's blog.

Irenist said...

Again and again, we see atheists engage with either straw man versions of theism, or versions that are real, but neither representative nor well argued (creationism,e.g.).

As a Catholic and (apprentice) Thomist, this has me wondering--can someone direct me to the atheist equivalent of Professor Feser or David Bentley Hart? I worry that refuting the likes of Coyne and Dawkins (or even Dennett) is just the theist equivalent of refuting creationists and then declaring theism defunct.

Who are the atheists whom I should be reading if I want to see atheism's strongest critiques of our strongest (i.e., classical theist) arguments?

Thanks in advance to anyone who answers.

BeingItself said...

@Irenist - read something by Oppy, or God in the Age of Science by Philipse.

Anonymous said...

I don't think that either Coyne or his followers are interested in dialogue, they may even be incapable of it. He is more of the idealogue type, more interested in inculcating an ideology, a modern Sophist who will stoop to any means as long as it wins applause and keeps the troops in line and feeling good.

Linus2nd

Brandon said...

Irenist,

John Howard Sobel, Logic and Theism. Fairly technical, and some scattered missteps, particularly historical, but I would say that this is the creme-de-la-creme. There is simply no book building a case for atheism that is even remotely in its league.

Oppy's sometimes a little fast and slick for my taste, but as BeingItself notes, pretty much all his work is at least competent, and some of it is quite good; and, for that matter, the too-fast-and-slick aspect is mostly a danger of analytic philosophy of religion in general.

Yair,

Not magic - brute fact. The explanation for why science works is the brute fact of regularity.

Large-scale brute-fact efficacy is a pretty standard definition of magic.

Hume, though, incidentally, doesn't hold that regularities are brute facts; he holds that it's probably impossible for us ever to choose among possible explanations (ones that he specifically mentions in the Treatise as not being able to be ruled out or established are efficacy in the objects, the creativity of our own minds, and divine action as in occasionalism) because we can't go beyond our impressions to determine why we have the impressions we do. That we don't need to establish this for pretty much anything we do, of course, he gets from Malebranche, who argued, on occasionalist grounds, that we didn't need to know true causes to do physics.

Step2 said...

Again and again, we see atheists engage with either straw man versions of theism, or versions that are real, but neither representative nor well argued (creationism,e.g.).

I was told by a very devout Catholic that Eve's creation from Adam's rib is an infallible teaching of the Church. If that is the case I don't know how you could avoid the label of creationist.

Anonymous said...


As materialists like Alex Rosenberg and Paul Churchland see, this is why a consistent materialist really has to be an eliminativist and deny the reality of intentionality altogether.


What's the problem? They are wrong (or else you are mischaracterizing their positions). There is no problem whatsoever with intentionality under materialism. It's just not a hard problem, no matter how many philosophers make their living by refusing to understand how the world works.

Anonymous said...


Why would a trained academic (such as Dr. Jerry Coyne, or Dr. Richard Dawkins, for that matter) pontificate regarding a field of inquiry/expertise in which they are manifestly NOT qualified, based solely on their opinions (without any substantive research in that other field)?


This assumes that philosophy is a field in which there is genuine expertise, that is, where someone well-trained can reliably be counted upon to do better than amateurs. This is very much not the case, and Feser may be the prime evidence against the idea that having a philosophy degree means you are good at thinking.

Brandon said...

There's no more valuable contribution to human thought than anonymous guys on the internet flatly asserting things without rational support; nothing is more likely to correct errors or make discussions more rational.

Timotheos said...

@ Brandon
Wha U takin bout?

Robert Coble said...

"This assumes that philosophy is a field in which there is genuine expertise, that is, where someone well-trained can reliably be counted upon to do better than amateurs. This is very much not the case, and Feser may be the prime evidence against the idea that having a philosophy degree means you are good at thinking."

If it is a field, then there are criteria for establishing expertise in that field. I submit that Dr. Feser has demonstrated (repeatedly) the skills and expertise that he brings to philosophy and in his thinking. If you disagree with his thinking, then show logically what is wrong with it, and allow him to respond.

On the other hand, one of the most common fallacies in philosophy/logic is the ad hominem attack. One who engages in that fallacy has demonstrated empirically a manifest inability to think and argue logically, whether intentionally or accidentally.

BenYachov said...

>I was told by a very devout Catholic that Eve's creation from Adam's rib is an infallible teaching of the Church.

Actually that is a claim made by some Catholic Creationists based on the views of Fr Brian Harrison. I don't buy his arguments or interpretations of Church documents.

Especially his belief if Adam came from pre-existing living matter as Pius XII said we might believe that means he would have received his soul in the womb of his hominid "mother" at conception.

I prefer the general tradition Adam was created as an adult so I think "Adam" got his soul when his body was all grown up and really became Adam.

But Fr. Harrison is entitled to hold his views and defend them baring an explicit clarification from the Church.

OTOH some theistic evolutionists I've read argue that the creation of Eve from Adam's body might mean Adam & Eve where twins

Dennis Bonnette a Catholic Philosopher writes
QUOTE "More vexing is the need to affirm "the formation of the first woman from the first man." Vollert points out that (1) the biblical text is open to broad interpretation, and (2) the Pontifical Biblical Commission does not force a literal reading. He describes several attempts at symbolic interpretation. Other writers, such as the theologian Peter Damian Fehlner, insist that Eve was formed from the physical body of Adam. Nothing forbids the possibility that, hidden deep in the recesses of fossil history, God may have miraculously formed Eve’s body from Adam’s rib (or "side," as the Hebrew word sela can mean). Still, a physical scenario more closely tied to the theory of evolution might be attempted.

Vollert’s hypothesis of embryonic transformation may prove useful here. Suppose that at the precise moment of conception, the intellective soul was infused into the prepared matter, transforming it into the first human being, Adam. Although monozygotic twinning almost always results in siblings of the same sex, divine providence might then have guided an extremely rare natural process that results in boy/girl twins. This can occur when an "XXY" zygote undergoes twinning and one twin drops the extra "X" chromosome, while the other drops the extra "Y" chromosome. While this speculation is hypothetical, it defends Eve’s origin from Adam’s body, and does it in a manner materially connected to evolutionary theory. Granted, this possible scenario appears far removed from a literalist reading of Genesis. Still, it offers a reasonable way to reconcile the factual scientific evidence proposed by evolutionary theory with a legitimate reading of Scripture."END QUOTE

Ironically Bonnette who influenced a lot of my thinking on a original Adam & evolution agrees with Fr. Harrison about Adam receiving his soul at conception.

On that point I don't agree with either but there is a lot of liberty here on what we may believe.

According to Ott it is an infallible dogma that God created the First Man. But of course how this was done is not mentioned.

BenYachov said...

BTW to my knowledge Fr Harrison has never said it was an infallible dogma that Eve was literally taken from Adam's rib but I think he thinks it is part of the ordinary magisterium based on statements made by Pope Leo XIII and others he believes endorse his view.

But as Augustine said. In the main things Unity, in doubtful things liberty and in all things charity.

John Moore said...

Can anyone respond in depth to Yair Rezek's comment #1? I don't see how anyone can deny that Feser's type-5 directedness happens. That's nothing more than a certain orderliness in the universe. Even materialists can call it a kind of "pointing towards," so there's no need for them to deny all forms of directional relations.

BenYachov said...

>"This assumes that philosophy is a field in which there is genuine expertise, that is, where someone well-trained can reliably be counted upon to do better than amateurs. This is very much not the case, and Feser may be the prime evidence against the idea that having a philosophy degree means you are good at thinking."

I am taking bets this is djindra.

Any takers?

BenYachov said...

I second John's sentiment. An Atheist or Skeptic who takes philosophy seriously and tries to challenge Aristotle and or Natural Philosophy Theology with other philosophy(here Yair is using Hume which is a much better gambit then Positivist Gnu crap Coyne tries to phone in) should be encouraged.

Timotheos said...

@ Yair

“How is this regularity made intelligible by "pointing to" ? I fail to see how from the fact "A points to B" you can deduce "A regularly generates B", certainly not in a way that doesn't rely on the concept of regularity to begin with.”

To use some terminology from statistics, there is correlation and causation, and they are NOT the same thing. Causation would be like the “pointing to”; it’s an inherent property of something that it is able to cause something, and thus, at base, a level-5 teleology must be a property of every true cause. And every time something causes something, we can note that its effect came at least logically after its cause, and thus can be correlated with it. Correlation is thus like the concept of regularity; B comes after A often, thus there is a correlation.

“Perhaps I don't understand the "pointing to" relation being invoked here. It appears to only make sense in an essentialist framework.”

Indeed, it requires an essentialist framework, but that might be more of a side issue with understanding the concept than the main problem, although it’s true that they’re closely related.

“I fail to see why one can't accept some sort of pointing while rejecting others.”

You can accept some levels without the others. The levels actually represent a hierarchy moving from level-5 at the bottom to level-1 at the top though, so if you accept level-3, let’s say, this entails that all the other levels exist at least somewhere in the universe, even if only in that level-3 thing. (with level-1 being an exception here if you accept a broadly Cartesian model). But to answer your question directly, yes, you could accept level-5 and deny all the others, although that’s problematic for other reasons.

“One can likewise posit a "pointing towards" relation as existing in any fundamental physical interaction (which is always between two or three particles). It's superfluous - as Hume noted, you only need note the regularity - but you can.”

Do you need to posit causation behind every correlation, or is the correlation enough and the causation superfluous? For instance, if every time your friend passed a black cat he lost values in his stock, would you say that the black cat caused his stock to lose value, or is this only a freak correlation? Is any further analysis into this matter superfluous, or is there more to it than mere correlation/regularity? But by Hume’s account, we might as well blame the cat as anything else, especially since the cat seems to be the only one thing that correlated with each stock crash.

"The key question here is therefore not whether you need to abscond all kinds of teleology, but rather whether the mechanistic view can support concepts like "error" in thinking, or thinking "about" something. I believe that it can. But this is a separate question from whether the mechanistic view needs to deny any sort of directional relations. Which I think it need not do.”

Actually, no, these questions cannot be separated; if the brain treated-as-mind has thoughts that are in no way “about” something, then obviously it can’t think. But thought that is “about” something must be related to what is known, it must inherently “point to” the thing thought, otherwise, it wouldn’t be a thought of that thing at all. Therefore, there must be something in the brain treated-as-mind that inherently “points to” that which is thought, and the best candidate seems to be some form of teleology.

I third John/BenYachov here, Yair’s comment is a fairly well informed critique that addresses the issues in a polite and reasonable way, Coyne, not so much. And even though I think Hume demonstrably wrong in many an issue, he was actually a brilliant and creative thinker, certainly a great writer, but he took, as they say, long strides in the wrong direction.

Scott said...

"Hart's latest book is simply phenomenal. Flip to any page at random, and rest assured that there will be more substance on that one page than on the entirety of Coyne's blog."

I agree. It's a brilliant and wonderful work, and he speaks for and/or to me on pretty much every page. Coyne is another matter.

Timotheos said...

@ John Moore

“Can anyone respond in depth to Yair Rezek's comment #1?”
Gave it a whirl, we’ll see how well I succeeded.

“I don't see how anyone can deny that Feser's type-5 directedness happens. That's nothing more than a certain orderliness in the universe. Even materialists can call it a kind of "pointing towards," so there's no need for them to deny all forms of directional relations.”

Indeed, I see it much the same way as you John, but that just goes to show that most materialists who deny it probably don’t understand exactly what it is. For example, we know that if 2X-5=17 then X=11, but that doesn’t mean you couldn’t find a child, or an adult with little education, who might, if even only temporarily, deny it. They just don’t have quite a grasp of the concepts, so it just shows a lack of knowledge, which is not surprising, since Aristotle is ill taught these days.


@ BenYochov

Well considering that djindra himself has told us, if I remember right, that he both is and is not djindra, I’ll bet that it is djindra and take my money when I inevitably win.


@ Anon/Scott

Haven’t gotten around to Hart yet, but I might hazard a guess that you are overestimating Coyne here; there in no proportion between the finite and zero.

Anonymous said...

People like Coyne give atheism a bad name. Whenever I read his writings on the subject I feel like I'm reading Trotskyite hatchet work by someone much more interested in scoring rhetorical style points than trying to discover the truth,

Anonymous said...

Not magic - brute fact. The explanation for why science works is the brute fact of regularity.

A brute fact is in principle inexplicable.

Q: Why are there regularities?
A: Well, there are. It's just a fact.

Hardly could be said to answer the question. One could appeal to brute facts to claim that the information delivered by the sciences is itself inexplicable (although this does not seem to be the way many scientists view their task), but to say that brute facts could rival the explanatory power of any other hypothesis seems to be a category mistake. To assert that something is a brute fact is to assert that it does not have an explanation. It is only a "better" explanation in the crudest sense.

BenYachov said...

>Well considering that djindra himself has told us, if I remember right, that he both is and is not djindra, I’ll bet that it is djindra and take my money when I inevitably win.

The problem here is you and I have to find two suckers who will bet that it is not djindra to cover our bets an finance our win.;-)

יאיר רזק said...

Science there are underlying regularities, it doesn't there are. Indeed, the standard reductionist view is that all special sciences are reducible to fundamental physics, and the dream of fundamental physics is a Theory of Everything, which isn't reducible at all.

"I'm wondering if any explanation is possible without some reference to the nature of the thing (the kind of thing that it is)that is responsible for the regularity that is observed."

I think what we have here is a clash between two major metaphysical intuitions. For the Essentialist, which I take you to represent, essence precedes existence. The nature of a thing determines existence, e.g. the regularity of its behaviour. Without an essence, the regularity appears to be an absurd 'magical' coincidence.

For the Existentialist (if I may kidnap the term), existence precedes essence. Things ARE the way they are, and we (rightly) class similar things into kinds. What explains is what is, rather then the absracted 'essence' or 'kind'. The idea that this abstraction can explain anything (e.g. the regularity) appears to be an absurd 'magical' relation.

Yair

יאיר רזק said...

That should be :Science hopes there are underlying regularities, it doesn't assume there are.

Sorry, typing error.

Yair

יאיר רזק said...

The interpretation of Hume is a thorny issue. It is, for mr, enough to note that the Regularity view is often associated with Hume. Whether this was his real view is not that important.

As for 'magic' - see below.

Aaron said...

Brandon,

Regarding atheist critiques of theism, have you by chance read Divine Hiddenness and Human Reason by J.L. Schellenberg? To be honest, some of the arguments in that book is the main reason why I still consider myself an agnostic rather than a theist.

If you or anyone else know of any resources that you recommend that defend theism against the types of arguments made in that book, I'd love to hear them.

Taz said...

"A brute fact is in principle inexplicable."

Is there a problem with brute facts? Am I wrong to think of mathematics as resting upon brute facts? The why questions have to stop at some point. We get down to irreducible descriptions of the possible within particular structural domains. Why are the properties of a triangle as they are? The best we can say, or demonstrate, is that anything else would be impossible. And nature does not have to excuse itself for not pursuing the impossible.

But what we discover, the kaleidoscopic richness of the realm of the possible, in all its detail, remains a brute fact.

George R. said...

Here's a little song that Ben Yachov learned at his Modernist Sunday school:

I come from apes.
This I know,
Because the atheist scientists
Tell me so.

Anonymous said...

"For the theory of evolution is not only erroneous, it is, in fact, the stupidest theory in the history of stupid theories. It is expressly contrary to the teachings of the Church; it is an audacious blasphemy cooked up by the most vehement enemies of God; it is supported by precisely zero empirical evidence; and, of course, it’s metaphysically absurd"

-George R. (3 years ago)

Brandon said...

Science hopes there are underlying regularities, it doesn't assume there are.

Science doesn't hope anything; the only thing this could conceivably mean is that scientists engaged in serious and effective scientific inquiry don't assume but merely hope that there are regularities, and it takes very little investigation to determine that this would be an obviously false generalization.

The attitude would in any case be problematic, since there are difficulties in developing a proper account of what is supposed to be going on in actual scientific experimentation without assuming that there are actual underlying regularities.

The idea that this abstraction can explain anything (e.g. the regularity) appears to be an absurd 'magical' relation.

If anyone held that the abstraction rather than the actuality explained things, that might be an argument.

Brandon said...

Aaron,

I haven't read it, although I've read several of Schellenberg's other works on hiddenness arguments. To be entirely honest, I have difficulty thinking of hiddenness arguments as anything but extraordinarily stupid -- as usually formulated, they are just weakly built arguments from evil that require a lot more arbitrary assumptions that most arguments in the family because they're based not just on obvious badness but on setting a threshold of not-good-enough -- so I'm probably not the best person to ask for resources on it. (And, again, I haven't read the book-length treatment, so it's possible that the weakest parts of the argument were tightened up and improved for it; I don't intend to imply anything about the argument as found in that particular work.)

Brandon said...

Is there a problem with brute facts? Am I wrong to think of mathematics as resting upon brute facts?

I wouldn't be surprised if some people categorized it as such; but I think the more common route, and the one that Yair would have to be taking, is not to include necessary facts or truths under the category of 'brute fact'.

Chad Handley said...

Aaron,

You might try Divine Hiddenness: New Essays, an anthology edited by Daniel Howard-Snyder and Paul K. Moser. The book contains an essay by Schellenberg ("What the Hiddenness of God Reveals") and a survey of responses by various theologians.

In my opinion Paul K. Moser's response was the most persuasive. It was an essay called "Cognitive Idolatry and Divine Hiding," and it's available online here:

http://www.luc.edu/faculty/pmoser/idolanon/CognitiveIdolatry.html

Anonymous said...

Is there a problem with brute facts? Am I wrong to think of mathematics as resting upon brute facts? The why questions have to stop at some point. We get down to irreducible descriptions of the possible within particular structural domains. Why are the properties of a triangle as they are? The best we can say, or demonstrate, is that anything else would be impossible. And nature does not have to excuse itself for not pursuing the impossible.

But what we discover, the kaleidoscopic richness of the realm of the possible, in all its detail, remains a brute fact.


I am in agreement with Brandon here. To say that a completed physics is a brute fact is not, in my opinion, relevantly analogous to saying that mathematics is a brute fact.

Mathematics proceeds by logical implication from stated axioms. I don't think that most mathematicians would agree that the "best" we can say about the properties of a triangle are that "anything else would be impossible." We can say quite a bit about why a triangle is the way that it is, based on our axioms. (We can also talk about why the sum of the angles of a "triangle" on the surface of a sphere is greater than pi.)

It should be noted, anyway, that to say that "anything else would be impossible" is not to say that we have a brute fact on our hands. Necessity and brute facts are not the same. This can be seen pretty obviously from the fact that the Humean feels comfortable to appeal to brute facts, but the claim that regularity is "necessary" and "anything else would be impossible" is not only contrary what Hume argues, but is a very strong metaphysical claim.

William Dunkirk said...

If "A" only "regularly causes B", then A is not the cause of B. A cause will always produce its effect; and a cause isn't a cause if it doesn't have an effect.

Consider the lighting in your house. If you flip a switch and the light doesn't come on, you don't think, "Well, after all it is only supposed to regularly cause the light to come on" and then try again a few more times. If the light isn't coming on, then something is wrong. The system is designed (and most of us know this) to always work under certain conditions. Presumably the bulb is burned out so you try to replace it (or maybe you check other things in case of a power failure). If you have power and install a new bulb and still the light isn't coming on, then presumably it's a problem with the wiring and so you call an electrician.

Now you would not go through the above procedure with anything like confidence or certainty if the causality at play was a mere regularity. Regularity would include some measure of randomness, which is exactly what we are always trying to eliminate. We eliminate it exactly by isolating exact causes and increasing our understanding.

If A causes B, then A is exactly determined to B. Indeed, in the way we actually think of it in the real world, if A causes B, then an A will mean a B. If B is desirable, we will want to produce or secure A - we will want A; if B is undesirable (a nuclear meltdown for instance) and is caused by A, then we will do all we can to ensure A never exists or becomes present because A would mean B (nuclear meltdown).

Causality is not some mere "regularity" in the universe; properly understood, it is a necessity: If A then B.

Geroge R. said...

Ed ‘the Thomist’ Feser writes:
To that extent this view agrees with View B. But a complete explanation of things and their natures would, on this View C, require recourse to a divine sustaining cause. This is the view represented by Aquinas’s Fifth Way. . .

That statement is objectively false. It is most certainly not the view represented by Aquinas’s Fifth Way. What Ed has done here by appealing to ‘a divine sustaining cause’ to complete View C is to reduce the Fifth Way to the Second Way, implying that the former cannot of itself prove the existence of God. This, in effect, is to deny the efficaciousness of the Fifth Way.

It’s plain that Aquinas did not see things that way at all. He predicated the Fifth Way on the self-evident principle that teleology implies intelligence, evidenced by the earlier-quoted passage from his De Veritate (Q3 A1):

Similarly, an operation of a nature which is for a definite end presupposes an intellect that has pre-established the end of the nature and ordered it to that end. For this reason, every work of nature is said to be a work of intelligence.

I think Ed should come clean and admit that his view is a striking departure from that of St. Thomas.

dguller said...

George:

I think you have to keep in mind that, for Aquinas, God does not act as formal cause, efficient cause, and final cause as distinct activities, but rather that his formal causality is his efficient causality, which is his final causality. And that means that the Five Ways ultimately are different ways of expressing the same underlying reality of divine activity, which is simple. So, when Feser writes that the Fifth Way concludes that God is “a divine sustaining cause”, he isn’t incorrect, because the Fifth Way concludes that there must be a divine intellect that guides the teleological activity of created beings, and God’s intellect is God’s activity, which is to be “a divine sustaining cause”.

rank sophist said...

Prof. Feser,

Good article. I laughed several times.

George,

You insulted Ben and then questioned Prof. Feser's Thomistic credentials. Somebody woke up all cwanky-wanky.

donjindra said...

BenYachov,

Regarding your bet that this is me:

"This assumes that philosophy is a field in which there is genuine expertise, that is, where someone well-trained can reliably be counted upon to do better than amateurs. This is very much not the case, and Feser may be the prime evidence against the idea that having a philosophy degree means you are good at thinking."

You lose the bet. I've told you several times I don't hide behind pseudonyms. I'll always post under my real name.

Regarding the anonymous quote, it does sound somewhat like what I'd write. But I'll qualify it. A genuine philosopher should have "expertise" in so far as he knows that he doesn't know, or at least he suspects he knows a lot less than he'd like to know. In that test I'm afraid most who frequent here, including your host, fail miserably.

Regarding timotheos, "Well considering that djindra himself has told us, if I remember right, that he both is and is not djindra," -- I have no idea what this is in reference to. But it's not the first time people have dreamed up things I've supposedly written. It seems I'm a lot more productive than I thought.

Regarding Coyne, I agree with Feser that Coyne is a very mixed up fellow. Since he claims we have no will, he cannot claim he wills a purpose.

Steve said...

@Yair
The movement from hypothesis to theory is dependent upon regularities in nature that are demonstrated by repeated validation of empirical data. If scientists did not assume regularity they would not bother engaging in the scientific method at all. It's not as if they just "hope" that the scientific method will yield valid information. They assume it.

Since we're both talking about things that actually exist, I don't see the relevance of your Existentialist/Essentialist distinction.

Also, what Brandon said...

BenYachov said...

Interesting how I mentioned djindra and he just happens to show up out of the blue?

Me thinks he doth protest too much.

Just saying.:-)

George R. said...

You insulted Ben and then questioned Prof. Feser's Thomistic credentials. Somebody woke up all cwanky-wanky.

Ha, ha, ha.

But seriously, rs, you’ve got me all wrong. This is just me being playful. When I’m really cranky, I usually stop myself and say, “No-o-o, I’d better not write that.

Timotheos said...

No Ben, that was donjindra not djindra, completely different people! ;)

donjindra said...

BenYachov,

I do check in from time to time. So it's not as coincidental as you think.

Don.

George LeSauvage said...

Excellent article for someone with a bad cold. Almost cleared my sinuses laughing. Poor Coyne. Reminds me of another line from The Master:

And one more gnu, so fair and frail,
Has handed in its dinner-pail;

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

(Go to the 18 minute mark.)

BenYachov said...

>You insulted Ben and then questioned Prof. Feser's Thomistic credentials. Somebody woke up all cwanky-wanky.

In his defense I would point out George is not Catholic so I don't expect Catholic thinking from him or respect for the teachings of Pius XII.

He is a sedevacantist High Church Christian nothing more. Maybe by the Grace of God he will one day embrace the Catholic Faith.

BenYachov said...

>No Ben, that was donjindra not djindra, completely different people! ;)

:D

יאיר רזק said...

@ Crude & Brandon:

"I gotta say, I've yet to really see a difference between [magic and brute fact]."

"Large-scale brute-fact efficacy is a pretty standard definition of magic."

I can see why you would call brute-fact regularity 'magic'.

To return to the original invocation of 'magic' in this thread - the reason science works is because the world is arranged in a certain regularity, and there is no deeper reason for *that*. This is the claim.

I think of 'magic' as involving a causal efficacy, so maintaining that a regularity holds for no reason doesn't appear 'magic' to me. (While in contrast, claims that this regularity holds because of the causal power of something [without a plausible mechanism] does seem 'magical' to me.)

However, I can see why you would say that the causal power of the fundamental regularities themselves (A causes B) is 'magical'. It's a causal efficacy, and it occurs without any explanation as it's a brute fact.

So - I guess whether it's 'magic' depends on what exactly you're referring to. But at any rate, we appear to agree on the substance of the claims so that this subdiscussion reduces to 'namecalling', which frankly isn't something too important.

Yair

Edward Feser said...

Hello Yair,

Some relevant posts:

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2011/02/can-we-make-sense-of-world.html

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2011/10/magic-versus-metaphysics.html

See also my defense of (a version of) the principle of sufficient reason in the forthcoming Scholastic Metaphysics.

Anonymous said...

@Yair
Re: Not magic - brute fact. The explanation for why science works is the brute fact of regularity.
What if those regularities were the result of some kind of “software” and not a brute fact? The fact that the regularities are so wonderfully coordinated makes the case for a very special kind of software; a kind of software more powerful than any software any human being has developed so far.
I think that the coordination of the natural laws is a better start to prove the existence of God (a superior mind) than “intentionality in nature” is; but both coordination and intentionality suggest that those regularities are not brute facts. There is a cause for those regularities.

יאיר רזק said...

@Timotheos

Thanks for addressing my original post. :)

"“How is this regularity made intelligible by "pointing to" ...

"Causation would be like the “pointing to”; it’s an inherent property of something that it is able to cause something, and thus, at base, a level-5 teleology must be a property of every true cause."

There is an indexing issue here. "A that points to B" is a different object from "A that points to C". Why then do we only see the "A points to B" object ?

Assuming only inherent "A pointing to B" already ASSUMES that A always causes B. We might as well just assume "A regularly followed by B". Adding the inherent pointing didn't make the regular following more *intelligible*, it just *described* it.

"You can accept some levels without the others."

We're in agreement then.

"by Hume’s account, we might as well blame the cat as anything else, especially since the cat seems to be the only one thing that correlated with each stock crash"

If we didn't have any other data, sure. Why, do you think the rational choice if presented only with this data is that the cat is NOT the cause of the crashes ? I don't think that's fair.

We're trying, with our limited resources, to do the best we can. Given such measly data, we could not have known better.

"if the brain treated-as-mind has thoughts that are in no way “about” something, then obviously it can’t think. But thought that is “about” something must be related to what is known, it must inherently “point to” the thing thought, otherwise, it wouldn’t be a thought of that thing at all. Therefore, there must be something in the brain treated-as-mind that inherently “points to” that which is thought, and the best candidate seems to be some form of teleology."

My point is that the question is whether the Mechanist can assert the TYPE of teleology required to do all of that, which is NOT the same question as whether he can assert any kind of teleology at all. Even if he accepts Type 5 teleology, for example - does that suffice to establish the above ? Or does he need Type 4 ? Type 3 ?

I hope we can agree on this point. Which was the second major point in my opening post. I hope we can also agree that - as my examples, which you seem to accept, show - the Mechanist CAN indeed adopt some forms of teleology, so this is not a moot point.

Now, personally I believe thinking "about" something can be done with no relevant teleology at all - making the "aboutness" an illusion. An illusion is, in this case, good enough. But arguing this will take us very far afield, and frankly I don't think it can be done in this thread. My aim here is much more modest: to establish my main second point (i.e. that the Mechanical view can have some teleological resources, and thus that the important question is whether it has what it takes to explain e.g. thinking about something).

Yair

יאיר רזק said...

"If scientists did not assume regularity they would not bother engaging in the scientific method at all. It's not as if they just "hope" that the scientific method will yield valid information. They assume it."

Looking back, I fear I wasn't clear.

I agree scientists assume regularities will be maintained. What I tried to say is that they hope DEEPER regularities exist.

Science therefore does NOT assume that "regularities are explainable". It only hopes that they are. (In some corners, such as certain aspects of QM, most have lost hope.) Science DOES assume regularities will be maintained, but that's not that same.

Yair

Daniel Joachim said...

Speaking of Coyne. His recent rant against Pigliucci and his (not completely incomprehensible) call for atheists to engage in philosophy, is just hilarious:
http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2014/01/24/pigliucci-to-all-new-atheists-were-doing-it-wrong/

His ending where he's equivocating popularity with success, reveals loads about this phenomena called "integrity".

The original paper by Pigliucci is worth a read as well.
http://philpapers.org/rec/PIGNAA

I seldom agree with Massimo, but he's a welcome contribution to the contemporary debate.

Timotheos said...

“There is an indexing issue here. "A that points to B" is a different object from "A that points to C". Why then do we only see the "A points to B" object?
Assuming only inherent "A pointing to B" already ASSUMES that A always causes B. We might as well just assume "A regularly followed by B". Adding the inherent pointing didn't make the regular following more *intelligible*, it just *described* it.”

I’m having trouble understanding what you’re saying here; I think something might have gotten lost in translation.

“If we didn't have any other data, sure. Why, do you think the rational choice if presented only with this data is that the cat is NOT the cause of the crashes? I don't think that's fair. We're trying, with our limited resources, to do the best we can. Given such measly data, we could not have known better.”

But suppose we increase our data ad infinitum; that we knew about all the things that had happened on the Earth. And, if regularity is all there is to causation, then shouldn’t we say what is most correlated with an effect is most its cause? And if we look for what is most correlated with the times that the man’s stock crashes, what if we see that it’s the black cat that is the one thing most correlated with all of his stock crashing? Wouldn’t we have to conclude by Hume’s logic that the black cat was the cause, or at least the most responsible?

Of course, you’ll probably say that the black cat’s powers to do this are just a “brute fact”, but this takes us back to whether the Principle of Causality is true, some form of the Principle of Sufficient Reason is true, etc…

Now Dr. Feser gave you some links, which you should take a look at, but his main response will have to wait for his new book to come out in May. In the meantime, there was some discussion about this issue here and a good book that covers this can be found here

“My point is that the question is whether the Mechanist can assert the TYPE of teleology required to do all of that, which is NOT the same question as whether he can assert any kind of teleology at all. Even if he accepts Type 5 teleology, for example - does that suffice to establish the above? Or does he need Type 4? Type 3?”

It seems to me that you’re going to need some sort of Type 1 teleology for distinctly abstract thought, but you only need Type 2 for a sort of Humean type of “thought”. Explaining why though might surpass the constraints of this thread.

“Now, personally I believe thinking "about" something can be done with no relevant teleology at all - making the "aboutness" an illusion. An illusion is, in this case, good enough. But arguing this will take us very far afield, and frankly I don't think it can be done in this thread.”

And I believe such a position to be incoherent, but I agree that discussing it might take us down a long, winding road.

“My aim here is much more modest: to establish my main second point (i.e. that the Mechanical view can have some teleological resources, and thus that the important question is whether it has what it takes to explain e.g. thinking about something).”

I think whether or not it does hinges on exactly what model of “thought” is being proposed, but I think a Mechanist can use some form of teleology. (Although I think to do this, they’re going to have to invoke essences to avoid contradiction, and if they did that, I’m not sure how “Mechanist” they would still be)

P.S. Also, just in case you didn’t know, you don’t put an extra space before a question mark if you’re trying to be grammatically correct.

Walter Kovacs said...

I don't understand. Coyne is posting actual non-sense. I've read his blog or website or whatever. It's terrible...I mean, actually terrible. Why is he talking about philosophy, or theology? He knows *nothing* of either. Less than nothing. He entered the freaking cloud of unkowing, but instead of instead of unkowing everything he thought he knew about god to come to a better knowledge of God, he just unknew everything about everything.

I don't understand.

Anonymous said...

Yes, Coyne is quite pointless.

His supposed "takedown" of Pigliucci was abysmal.

donjindra said...

Are there really these five "purposes?" For example, does teleology survive in the principle of least action? I fail to see the "final cause" of light traveling in a straight line. It travels in an orderly fashion; that certainly seems to be the case. But can we fairly call that purpose or teleology? The question boils down to this: Is order itself teleology? I think it's been argued here that to assign purpose to a series of physical events, the presence of order is insufficient. This was the gist of the "do calculators add" question a few months ago. And if order is not purpose/teleology, the materialist has little trouble explaining huge parts of the universe. Order simply is. The question then becomes, at what point does purpose rise from order? And does that transition pose a problem?

George R. said...

Ben ‘the Catholic’ Yachov writes:
In his defense I would point out George is not Catholic so I don't expect Catholic thinking from him or respect for the teachings of Pius XII.

You’re a funny guy, Yachov.

Tell me, exactly how am I not respecting the teaching of Pius XII? Please, help me see the error of my ways. Which of his teachings do I deny? Point out one thing I’ve said that falls under any of his condemnations.

On second thought, don’t bother. We both know you can’t.

And the most pathetic part is that it’s not me, but you and your ideas that are condemned by Pius XII -- and in the same encyclical, Humani Generis, which you impiously and erroneously believe teaches evolution!

Here’s from paragraph 22:
For some go so far as to pervert the sense of the Vatican Council's definition that God is the author of Holy Scripture, and they put forward again the opinion, already often condemned, which asserts that immunity from error extends only to those parts of the Bible that treat of God or of moral and religious matters. They even wrongly speak of a human sense of the Scriptures, beneath which a divine sense, which they say is the only infallible meaning, lies hidden.

Is this not your position exactly? Do you not hold that much of the Bible is mythical and erroneous story-telling that serves only to impart religious truth to an ignorant people? Well, that position is condemned. So what do you say to that?

Here’s from paragraph 23:
Further, according to their fictitious opinions, the literal sense of Holy Scripture and its explanation, carefully worked out under the Church's vigilance by so many great exegetes, should yield now to a new exegesis, which they are pleased to call symbolic or spiritual. By means of this new exegesis the Old Testament, which today in the Church is a sealed book, would finally be thrown open to all the faithful. By this method, they say, all difficulties vanish, difficulties which hinder only those who adhere to the literal meaning of the Scriptures.

How many times have you said that the evolutionary interpretation only presents a problem to “those 'Fundamentalists' who adhere to the literal meaning of the Scriptures”? Many times, as I recall.

Well, that position is condemned. So what do you say to that?

NiV said...

"For example, does teleology survive in the principle of least action?"

That depends on how you apply it.

The concept of 'causality' is a result of the way intelligences build models of the world that help them to extrapolate, predict, and manipulate the world around them to their own advantage. 'A causes B' means that when 'A' is an 'independent' or controllable variable that can be manipulated into occurring, the manipulation extends to making 'B' more likely as well. Causality is primarily a feature of the subjective mental model of the world we build, rather than the objective world itself.

However, the reason causal models work is that the real world conforms to constraints that can relate the inputs to the outputs in this way. Regularities, symmetries, and conservation laws are real objective things that the models reflect.

The principle of least action, rather than taking the past boundary as input and outputting the subsequent evolution, instead takes all possible evolutions as input and selects the ones that actually occur. The rule is applied to the entire trajectory simultaneously, rather than one point at a time from past to future. The early parts of the evolution are not logically prior to the later parts, but each stage of its history logically follows from the whole.

Of course, the principle of least action can be reformulated in a time-sequential way, so this is not a feature of reality as such. But if you think of it as a mental model, a method for making predictions and plans, then it doesn't have to have all the same properties as the reality it reflects.

A better illustrative example is that of photons reflecting off a thin glass plate. If the glass plate is a whole number of wavelengths in thickness, the photons will all pass through the upper surface. If it is half a wavelength out, all the photons will be reflected from the upper surface of the glass. The question is, how do the photons reflecting at the top edge of the glass know how far it is to the bottom? One way of explaining it is to suppose that the decisions are made not moment by moment as the photon moves, but holistically as a sum over all possible histories. The photon's decision depends on its possible futures.

As a model it works - it makes correct predictions and allows controlled outcomes - so in that sense teleological rules are not forbidden. But there are non-teleological models for it too, so it's not a real feature of the universe.

NiV said...

"This was the gist of the "do calculators add" question a few months ago. And if order is not purpose/teleology, the materialist has little trouble explaining huge parts of the universe."

Yes indeed. And as far as I can see a materialist would have no serious difficulties with the issues raised in this post.

Ed's teleology types 1 and 2 exist in intelligent systems capable of planning, but not in 'nature' (where humans and other animals are being distinguished from the 'natural'). Type 3 is illusory/subjective - this is the usual evolutionist warning about not anthropomophising the intentions of genes. (An acorn doesn't do what it does in order to grow into an oak; it does what it does because that's what enabled its parent to grow into an oak.) Type 4 appears to be about natural events being considered as part of stable or recurrent phenomena - I suspect it's another explanatory approach and subjective, but Oderberg isn't very clear. Type 5 looks like an attempt to extend Oderberg's concept to general non-recurrent phenomena, but I have to say I don't really follow it. I doubt many materialists would give either 4 or 5 serious consideration.

So the materialist recognises 1/2 in intelligent systems only, and would say that 3 has been previously shown to be a dud. The other two are not serious contenders and appear only to have been introduced to be able to claim that alternatives exist.

The "do calculators add" discussion asked whether non-organic intelligent systems could have type 1/2 teleology - and didn't come to any agreed conclusion. (Although personally I didn't see any convincing argument against my claim that they could.) This seems to me the main area for dispute. I suppose you could argue about type 3 as well, but it's old and well-trodden ground between 'argument from design' and evolutionists, hardly worth digging up again.

Brandon said...

Since the point of the post was not to lay out a general account of nonmaterialist teleology but explicitly to lay out the terrain of possible rational responses to certain kinds of teleological claims, to rule out approaches that take no account of that terrain, there's no particular reason to think that the typology as such gives any direct insight into disputes about what materialism can and can't explain -- certainly not in the absence of specific accounts (whether for or against) of the teleological claims and how they relate to each other. Jumping from the one context (possible rational responses) to the other (actual success) without a specific account just encourages irresponsible assumption-making.

Anonymous said...

"Well, that position is condemned."

So what if he condemns it? He's not God.

Timotheos said...

@ Brandon

Agreed, this was the upshot of the end of my last post, since how teleology could explain things like thought in a materialistic metaphysics is going to crucially depend on exactly what model of thought one is proposing, and that takes the discussion down an entirely different road.

Anonymous said...

It doesn't change the basic point, but I'd say that there's a noteworthy difference between (A) conservation of certain quantities as a general end (when general relativity doesn't make a significant difference), and (B) thermodynamic decay as a general end. In neither of those cases does the end act like an agent or specially determinative factor in advance of its own realization, but it still seems to qualify as an end. Then there is growth, flourishing, etc., as an end, and a kind of mix of growth and decay, learning (cognitive and otherwise), as an end. Evolution is learning-like in some trial-&-error sense. Through a mind, an end can take on (let me hand-wave especially here) something like agential efficacy, without any retroaction backwards through time. It is a question not of retro-influence by future actualities in a blocklike spacetime but of probabilities and feasibilities such that the past is, so to speak, pregnant or seminal, 'directed' as you put it - i.e., that time's arrow doesn't reverse supports your argument, not contradicts it. Time's arrow is not just about past and future but about the differences among data, news (information), probabilities, and feasibilities (and optima). As Motl keeps pointing out, we couldn't reason about nature without it, and data imply probabilities about the future, not about the past. Now, a person's tight focus on a telos as a culmination, to the exclusion of an entelechy as a standing finished, invites hedonism. Through the mind a prospective or potential entelechy acts to point out unexpected consequences (good, ill, mixed, etc.), conflicts of values, confirmatory & disconfirmatory circumstances, and hence to check and balance one's various impetuses, means, and (culminal) ends. By that familiar process people arrive at, among other things, theories of motion and matter. For a mechanist or a materialist, that mechanical and material processes could arrange for themselves under certain circumstances (i.e., in people) to be determined by such 'illusory' entities to good effects and wise settlements should stand as a source of wonder, not just of worry that opponents might score some points. And that's my two cents' worth.

Alan Sokal said...

+1

William Dunkirk said...

@ Yair,

You wrote,

We might as well just assume "A regularly followed by B". Adding the inherent pointing didn't make the regular following more *intelligible*, it just *described* it.

Now "A regularly followed by B" is not a causal relationship.

If A then B. Not B. Therefore not A either.

Where does anything like a chronological separation come into play here? It doesn't. If it did even for a moment, then we would say, "If 'A' then 'B'. 'A', but not 'B'. Therefore give it time."

Saying something like "Well, B will show up if we give it time" separates A from B; whereas, if A were B's cause, then whenever we have B we would also have A, because whenever we have 'A' we also have 'B'. In other words, if A is the cause of B, we can determine whether or not there is an 'A' present by determining if 'B' is present. If 'A' is not B's cause, then we haven't determined the causes of 'B', if 'B' can be present but not 'A', its alleged cause.

The concept of "regularly pointing" or "regularly causes" is based on and derived from causal necessity, not the other way around. In other words, when you see someone smoking a cigarette beside some highly inflammable substance, you don't become alarmed simply because this situation "points to" the "possibility" of a fire or explosion, but exactly because you know that in certain situations the combination of these things will always result in a fire or an explosion. It is exactly the necessity of if 'A' then 'B' that moves you to act.
In other words, it isn't guess work here and it isn't probabilistic. You know there are situations when the combination of these things will absolutely result in the undesirable consequence or effect of a fire or explosion.

In conclusion, final causality is present because you can't actually explain the necessity of "If A then B" without it. Otherwise you get a brute fact, which in effect is just a cop-out for providing a full and intelligible explanation of some phenomenon.

William Dunkirk said...

I would also like to add something about time in causality.

If I own a meter stick, my owning or possessing a meter stick is by no means the cause of certain things in my house being exactly one meter long.

Similarly, time itself does not cause anything at all. Time is a measurement of motion, if I interpret Aristotle correctly.

Using the billiard ball example, when we seek an explanation of the cause of something, we eliminate time. Thus, if we want to know why a man's striking one billiard ball with a pool cue ultimately resulted in the effect of another billiard ball falling into a pocket, we should treat this not as a sequence of events, but as one event. Once we do, then we can produce necessary causal relationship such that we can say if A then B.

To make this clearer, let's say we have what appears to be the exact same situation duplicated on two pool tables that are exactly the same. We even measured the force that the pool player used to and duplicated it exactly in the second case. However, in case two we are baffled, because the billiard ball just missing entering into the pocket; whereas, in the first case, he sunk it.

So someone comes along and starts looking at all the evidence. He notes that the billiards balls were all equivalent and so there was no different in weight or shape on their part. He reviews further and concludes that the force and angles all in play and the position of the balls was also exactly the same. Finally, he looks at the surface of the pool table and notices that the second table had a slight imperfection causing a groove not present in the first event. This groove, he discovers, was sufficient to alter the course of the billiard ball just enough to result in its slightly missing the pocket.

So he formulates notwithstanding, based on the first event/experiment, that it remains true that if 'A' then 'B' and he explains that this remains true always and the reason it did not seem to hold true in the second event was exactly because 'A' was not really or fully present and, therefore, no 'B' either.

Harlyd said...

@William Dunkirk
Is it possible that time can be a cause? As in radioactive decay.

יאיר רזק said...

@ Edward Feser: "Some relevant posts..."

Thanks very much for the links. I think I'll respond at a later date, probably in my blog, because it will take me some time to go over all of that.

I'm afraid that unless 'Scholastic Metaphysics' is open to the public, I won't be able to read the last reference.

Yair

יאיר רזק said...

@ Annonymous:

"There is a cause for those regularities."

On the standard Regulatory/Humean view of causality - there cannot be one. I confess I find it very difficult to accept an explanation outside of this remit.

Yair

יאיר רזק said...

@ William Dunkirk

"In conclusion, final causality is present because you can't actually explain the necessity of "If A then B" without it. Otherwise you get a brute fact, which in effect is just a cop-out for providing a full and intelligible explanation of some phenomenon."

I think that knowing that " the combination of these things will always result in a fire or an explosion" is knowing about regularity. So I fail to see the problem here.

But on your more general point - I still don't understand how final causality explains "the necessity of "If A then B"". All your argument shows is that only certain types of regularities are "causal"; a well accepted statement. It doesn't address finality at all, let alone show how it makes necessary causal relations intelligible.

Yair

יאיר רזק said...

@ NiV:

"A better illustrative example is that of photons reflecting off a thin glass plate. If the glass plate is a whole number of wavelengths in thickness, the photons will all pass through the upper surface. If it is half a wavelength out, all the photons will be reflected from the upper surface of the glass. The question is, how do the photons reflecting at the top edge of the glass know how far it is to the bottom? One way of explaining it is to suppose that the decisions are made not moment by moment as the photon moves, but holistically as a sum over all possible histories. The photon's decision depends on its possible futures.

As a model it works - it makes correct predictions and allows controlled outcomes - so in that sense teleological rules are not forbidden. "

I would caution, however, that this is no longer quite the Principle of Least Action. Instead, it's a quantum generalization thereof (approximately - assigning probabilities to trajectories, instead of choosing one).

Excellent phrasing of the meaning of 'causality' in that post, BTW.

Yair

leibnizianchristian said...

So I saw Coyne ripping on religion as he always does (it gives him purpose to his purposeless existence) and I posted this on Coyne's FB page by my own free-will. Edward did not tell me to do this, though I thought Coyne should know about it.

Who knows maybe Coyne will finally take down Aquinas!!!

Harlyd said...

@yair
"On the standard Regulatory/Humean view of causality - there cannot be one."

Are you sure you meant there cannot be on?
Maybe not necessarily, but impossible?

BenYachov said...

@George R

learn to read buddy.

>Tell me, exactly how am I not respecting the teaching of Pius XII? Please, help me see the error of my ways. Which of his teachings do I deny? Point out one thing I’ve said that falls under any of his condemnations.

I reply: "the teaching authority of the Church does not forbid that, in conformity with the present state of human sciences and sacred theology, research and discussions . . . take place with regard to the doctrine of evolution, in as far as it inquires into the origin of the human body as coming from pre-existent and living matter—[but] the Catholic faith obliges us to hold that souls are immediately created by God" (Pius XII, Humani Generis 36).

Thus you have no authority forbidding belief in that what Pius XII permits. You can be a YEC or OEC & reject evolution but you just cannot go beyond what Pius XII has done. Anymore than a Thomist can condemn a Molinist for the opinions of his particular school which are not against the Catholic faith.

>And the most pathetic part is that it’s not me, but you and your ideas that are condemned by Pius XII -- and in the same encyclical, Humani Generis, which you impiously and erroneously believe teaches evolution!

Don't put words in my mouth. I never said Pius XII taught evolution rather he permitted us to believe Adam's body came from pre-existing living matter and we may entertain the theories of human sciences as long as we acknowledge God created the soul. So we can believe in evolution. You have no right sir to condemn others for believing what Pius XII allows.

BenYachov said...

>Here’s from paragraph 22:

I don't believe in the heterodox error of Limited inerrancy. I don't see how it is relevant?

Pius XII also said ""What is the literal sense of a passage is not always as obvious in the speeches and writings of the ancient authors of the East, as it is in the works of our own time. For what they wished to express is not to be determined by the rules of grammar and philology alone, nor solely by the context; the interpreter must, as it were, go back wholly in spirit to those remote centuries of the East and with the aid of history, archaeology, ethnology, and other sciences, accurately determine what modes of writing, so to speak, the authors of that ancient period would be likely to use, and in fact did use. For the ancient peoples of the East, in order to express their ideas, did not always employ those forms or kinds of speech which we use today; but rather those used by the men of their times and countries. What those exactly were the commentator cannot determine as it were in advance, but only after a careful examination of the ancient literature of the East" (Divino Afflante Spiritu 35–36)."

>Is this not your position exactly? Do you not hold that much of the Bible is mythical and erroneous story-telling that serves only to impart religious truth to an ignorant people? Well, that position is condemned. So what do you say to that?

Not at all I don't see how allegory or a topical symbolic telling of real history is any type of made up story telling? It's all true!

I stand with Pius XII in Divino Afflate Spiritu. I reject limited inerrancy but like a good Catholic I also reject Luther's heresy of Perspicuity. It almost seems as if you took up that teaching.

>Here’s from paragraph 23:
Further, ….... By this method, they say, all difficulties vanish, difficulties which hinder only those who adhere to the literal meaning of the Scriptures.

Literal in what sense? Literal in the sense spoken of in Divino Afflate Spiritu or Martin Luther's Perspicuity Mishigoss?

>How many times have you said that the evolutionary interpretation only presents a problem to “those 'Fundamentalists' who adhere to the literal meaning of the Scriptures”? Many times, as I recall.

George I literally believe Jesus when he said "This is my Body". I don't take him literally when he says "If your right eye offends thee pluck it out" because self mutilation is a sin. Nor do I take him literally when he says "Call No Man Father" because well St. Paul called himself a Father to those he preached the Gospel too. I reject literalistic interpretations by people who believe the text is perspicuous. I am not a Protestant.
>Well, that position is condemned. So what do you say to that?

How ever do you explain Humani Generis 36? Or Divino Afflante Spiritu 35–36? Your "Evolution is condemned because it goes against the literally meaning of Scripture" meme flatly contradicts Pius XII.

Evolution is compatible with Catholic teaching regardless if science proves it true or not.

Get over it. Now let us not suck up anymore oxygen. I want to witness the discussion.

יאיר רזק said...

@ Harlyd:
"Are you sure you meant there cannot be on?
Maybe not necessarily, but impossible?"

It has to do with an ancient skeptic argument, called the Five Modes of Agrippa. Two modes are irrelevant to this discussion, but the remaining three ("formal") modes are about how beliefs can be justified. Agrippa notes that there are only three ways. You "justify" a belief by taking it as an Assumption, but then it isn't really justified. Or you can have some argument in support of it, but then your belief in it rests on that argument's assumptions so you are led to either an Infinite Regress or to Circularity.

The Humean maintains that explanation is essentially based on "general" claims, such as "All electricity works so-and-so". This is an asymmetrical relation, so you can't have Circularity in explanations - you can explain lightning by appealing to how electricity works in general, but you can't explain electricity in general by appealing to how lightning works in particular. This leaves the two other modes. The standard Humean view is to accept the Mode of Assumption - the most general patterns in all existence are what explains their sub-patterns, as these are already contained in the most general patterns. Thus, on the Humean view there is no further explanation possible: the fundamental patterns are the Mode of Assumption that cuts off the infinite regress.

Now, that said I do believe it's possible also to have an Infinite Regress. In this case there would be no Final Theory of Everything; instead ever-deeper physics will always lie behind any physical theory. There would be no fundamental regularity to accept as brute fact, but rather an infinite series of ever-more-fundamental regularities. In this case there would be no ultimate explanation at all, not even a brute fact. However, this position is not the standard Humean view.

Yair

Glenn said...

How ever do you explain Humani Generis 36?

When it talks about what is not forbidden by the teaching authority of the Church, it is making reference to what is not forbidden to a particular class of men, i.e., the class of men experienced in -- not knowledgeable about, but experienced in -- both the present state of human sciences and sacred theology.

It also offers a word of caution, in part by mentioning that "Some...rashly transgress this liberty of discussion".

(It may be worth recalling that this "liberty of discussion" appertains to men who are experienced in both the present state of human sciences and sacred theology, as well as bearing in mind that it does not necessarily following from the fact that one is knowledgeable about these two fields that one is also experienced in both.)

FZ said...

Regarding calculators, if you use counterfactuals such as "If this machine lasted forever and never malfunctioned," are you describing the function of a real machine or a hypothetical machine that doesn't even exist?

Harlyd said...

@yair

On your first part, the argument is that there can be no fully justified position or argument. Which clearly you don't believe in as you are stating and arguing positions.

As far as the regulatoriness of an object being is own explanation. If you mean that the event is its own explanation, I can't see why. It seems to be begging the question. If you mean that the explanation must be, since we see this regularly then it must have within itself such and such a nature I would not disagree. Its not obvious that that's your position.

As far as an infinite regress of explanations. I don't see how that is any different that saying its turtles all the way down.

George R. said...

Yachov writes:
Don't put words in my mouth. I never said Pius XII taught evolution. . .

That’s true, you didn’t. So why did I say you did? Because I lied. That’s right, George R. is a liar. When I was writing it, I said to myself, “Hmm, is that really what he said? Aaa, I’ll just throw it in there anyway.” Therefore, as annoying as it for me to do so, I must apologize to Ben Yachov. (This is not to say that I apologize for saying that evolution is contrary to the teaching of the Church, because I don't.)

But the fact that I lied should not come as any great surprise to myself or anyone else. For as St. Paul wrote: “But God is true, and every man a liar” (Romans 3:4). We’re all liars, sad but true. That’s why modern delusions such as ‘freedom of thought’ and ‘freedom of religion’ are so ridiculous. Freedom? That’s the last thing we need. Men soaked with gasoline shouldn’t play with fire. It’s not freedom we need, but subjugation. Thought should be subject to reason, and religion subject to Revelation. If not, we will not just end up telling lies, but actually falling down and worshipping them.

BenYachov said...

@George R

I accept your apology but I must confess the rest of your post is kind of weird IMHO.

יאיר רזק said...

"Men soaked with gasoline shouldn’t play with fire. It’s not freedom we need, but subjugation."

New rule: Catholics arguing against freedom shouldn't mention burning people up.

You religious types are scary. Wow.

Yair

יאיר רזק said...

@ Harlyd

"On your first part, the argument is that there can be no fully justified position or argument."

That was indeed the position of the Greek skeptics, like Agrippa.

"Which clearly you don't believe in as you are stating and arguing positions."

I do have firm positions. But their justifications has to take Agrippa's trilemma into account. For the most part, I advocate taking the Mode of Assumption, but trying to make the least of those.

"As far as the regulatoriness of an object being is own explanation. If you mean that the event is its own explanation, I can't see why. It seems to be begging the question. If you mean that the explanation must be, since we see this regularly then it must have within itself such and such a nature I would not disagree. Its not obvious that that's your position."

This... isn't the model of explaining being invoked here. A certain regularity doesn't explain itself - it explains its specific cases.

For example - consider Newton's law of universal gravity. This general regularity explains special or "particular" phenomena such as the tides. It is because Newton's force of universal gravity actually does hold (to a good approximation) that the oceans will feel it and that will result in tides. Thus the tides are explained by the fact that this general regularity holds.

These very forces that the oceans feel are part of the general pattern, of Newton's law of gravity. The general pattern explains its sub-patterns. Which is why explanation is never circular: the sub-patterns never explain the general pattern (although they do justify our belief in the general pattern!).

"As far as an infinite regress of explanations. I don't see how that is any different that saying its turtles all the way down."

This is indeed the title of an old post of mine explaining this stuff. :) I don't have a problem with not having full, ultimate, explanations for the way the world is. I indeed find it very difficult to see how one could explain what the world is.

NiV said...

"I would caution, however, that this is no longer quite the Principle of Least Action. Instead, it's a quantum generalization thereof"

Good point. I had assumed that "Even in physics, teleology has sometimes been claimed to survive in the principle of least action." referred to the latest brand of physics, which has its own principle. (Or a "Principle of Stationary Action", to be even more precise. :-) )

And thanks!

FZ,

"Regarding calculators, if you use counterfactuals such as "If this machine lasted forever and never malfunctioned," are you describing the function of a real machine or a hypothetical machine that doesn't even exist?"

You're describing a simplified approximation to a real machine that incorporates the philosophically relevant essentials needed to establish the principle without distracting the reader's attention by attempting to deal with an endless list of nit-picking irrelevancies. (If you'll pardon my impatience.)

Do humans last forever and never malfunction? And if not, of what relevance could the corresponding machine fallibility be to the argument?

Even physicists indulge in idealised thought-experiments. I agree that it's not quite accurate, and that it sometimes happens that the idealisations approximate away more relevant objections - I'm open to the possibility - but when I use an actual calculator I'm generally prepared to trust that it hasn't malfunctioned due to old age! It seems a reasonable assumption, to me. :-) Don't you agree?

Crude said...

You religious types are scary. Wow.

Don't you think this is a bit much?

FZ said...

"Do humans last forever and never malfunction? And if not, of what relevance could the corresponding machine fallibility be to the argument?"

I'll try to comment on the rest of your post later, but the argument applies to anything that engages in formal thinking, not just human brains. So the fact that human brains don't last forever isn't relevant.

Crude said...

The standard Humean view is to accept the Mode of Assumption - the most general patterns in all existence are what explains their sub-patterns, as these are already contained in the most general patterns. Thus, on the Humean view there is no further explanation possible: the fundamental patterns are the Mode of Assumption that cuts off the infinite regress.

And let's take a closer look at what's apparently being said here.

It's not that no further explanation is possible, or even intellectually necessary - the Humean is just taking a position that cuts them off from considering that. They haven't discovered 'there can't be further explanation here' - they're just committing themselves to bruteness.

Likewise, infinite regress isn't being cut off in the sense of 'Aha, now we see there's no need for further explanation!' They're just waving it away.

Now, you can argue that's practical, pragmatic, etc. And in a pragmatic sense, that may work. But it's not really a solution to the problems being posed. It's a shrug and a sweep of them under the rug.

Steve said...

For example - consider Newton's law of universal gravity. This general regularity explains special or "particular" phenomena such as the tides. It is because Newton's force of universal gravity actually does hold (to a good approximation) that the oceans will feel it and that will result in tides. Thus the tides are explained by the fact that this general regularity holds.

While gravity may be a necessary condition for the tides, it is not a sufficient condition. There also has to be something about the properties of the oceans that allows them to be affected by gravity in such a way that results in the tides. Oceans show tidal activity, but deserts do not. Yet, they're both exposed to the same gravitational forces. Gravity, itself, does not sufficiently explain the tides.

Harlyd said...

@yair

The position that there can't be a fully justified position itself would need to be fully justified. If it doesn't need to be fully justified neither do other positions.
Hence we got a little paradox here.

Obviously you don't really take that position as you've clearly posted. So the trilemma is pretty much irrelevant to this discussion.
Although you do claim to use the least assumptions, which is fine. You don't need to accept Agrippas position to hold that positions with least assumptions is a better one. So as long as you can show that your position is the one with the least assumptions, you have a good argument. Regardless of invoking Agrippas.

"This... isn't the model of explaining being invoked here. A certain regularity doesn't explain itself - it explains its specific cases."

I don't see the difference between something explaining the specific case and explaining itself.
Itself is the specific case. So if the regularity explains this specific case than it explained itself.

Gravity is not an explanation. Its an arbitrary name given to a law that allows us to model and predict certain future events.
So by invoking gravity you've explained nothing. All regularity does is enable us to make reasonable predictions about nature, but not explain or understand it.
Unless you hold that its in the nature of mass to attract and be attracted to other masses in the form of gravity. But I don't think that's your position or at least that is what you appear to be saying.

If I understood Humes position correctly. (I never read him, only picked up bits and pieces from others. Sorry if I'm incorrect.) He takes the position that we find no bridge of cause and effect between events. We only have regularities. Which means we find nothing inherent in a stone that shatters windows only that it regularly does so.
While I agree with the position that there is no logical reason for it to have been so. I don't believe that it isn't actually so. To explain better. If I was in the business of making universes, I could have done it differently. I could have made stones bounce off windows, go through it like light or maybe even stick to it. The point is there is no reason to think it is necessary logically for a stone to shatter glass. However I would not be able to make a universe in which 2+2=5, since that is logically necessary. Hence causes and effects are not logically necessary steps.

However I would posit that if we do have a universe in which stones shatter glass, although it didn't have to be so. It would only be possible if for whatever reason the stone and the glass has inherent within it such a nature. If not that would not happen.

I think there is a big difference between saying something is not necessary then saying its necessarily not. In other words. Just because its not necessary for a stone to have such a nature does not also mean that it necessarily doesn't have such a nature.

Anonymous said...

And let's take a closer look at what's apparently being said here.

It's not that no further explanation is possible, or even intellectually necessary - the Humean is just taking a position that cuts them off from considering that. They haven't discovered 'there can't be further explanation here' - they're just committing themselves to bruteness.

Likewise, infinite regress isn't being cut off in the sense of 'Aha, now we see there's no need for further explanation!' They're just waving it away.

Now, you can argue that's practical, pragmatic, etc. And in a pragmatic sense, that may work. But it's not really a solution to the problems being posed. It's a shrug and a sweep of them under the rug.


It's even worse. One could argue that it's not even pragmatically useful and does not mesh with the practice of scientists. If Newtonian gravitation were taken as a brute fact (as Newton did not intend it to be), then it would not have been subsumed into the greater generality of general relativity. And in relativity, it is not a brute regularity at all; it is a relation between matter and space-time. Further, scientists are hoping for a unified theory that will incorporate quantum gravity and will not conflict with quantum mechanics.

So in practice, scientists are not committed to brute regularities.

Jeremy Taylor said...

The bringing up of sceptical arguments is asinine. It has no placed in this discussion. It appears to be just a rouse so that Yair can take an arbitrary position and not have to defend it.

I think the central point is that most people, including scientists, do not take regularities as brute facts. One reason for not doing so is that our observation of regularities, if given no further explanation give us no reason to expect the same regularities in the future. This undermines natural science and hardly equates to our everyday experience.

Besides, regularities exist between discrete objects in the universe. It seems perfectly arbitrary to suggest that such regularities must be treated as brute facts whereas other aspects of these objects are treated as intelligible. It is one thing to say the universe is a brute fact, but quite another to say that the regularities of a discrete object, like a rubber ball, are a brute fact. This is not to mention that explanations of the regularities do exist and it is no reply to them to just appeal to brute facts.

BenYachov said...

>New rule: Catholics arguing against freedom shouldn't mention burning people up.

He is not Catholic he doesn't believe Francis is the true Pope nor Benedict or John Paul II...he is a sedevacantist. A pseudo-traditonalist heretic that believes there has been no true Pope for the past 50 years and that the see of Peter is in essence vacant.

>You religious types are scary. Wow.

Really Yair?

P.Z. Myers.

Nuff said.;-)

יאיר רזק said...

"Don't you think this is a bit much?"

Yes, it is. I apologize. Seeing George attack freedom of religion and speech rattled me. And adding burning people to the equation was just too much.

"Really Yair?

P.Z. Myers."

PZ Myers, and even Jerry Coyne, have their moments. 'New rule' is from Bill Maher. He doesn't. But he is, occasionally, funny.

Yair

William Dunkirk said...

@ Yair,

My argument, (which upon review needs work and could have been much better and, therefore, my apologies) is meant to show that the so-called regularities are themselves derived from causal necessities.

Consider the following:

A chemist tells you, "Adding 1Q(uantity) of 'X' to 10Q's of 'Y' will give you 5Q's of 'Z'."

Notice that she does not say "regularly". The chemist just says: "1Q of X + 10Q of Y = 5Q of Z" and that's it (or, as Dr. Feser likes to say, "full-stop").

Now the chemical reaction takes 30 seconds, and our lady chemist friend knows this perfectly well. Notwithstanding, she does not include this detail. This seems to be where Aristotle would jump in and speak of chance. The external variables that might alter or cancel the substantial change being described at any point are not included. Regardless, they have no place in the process being described. Even if the process took a million years it would not matter.

So two things I want to emphasize and, in my above/earlier posts probably overly emphasized:

1. Time has no causal powers whatsoever. We use time only to measure motions.

2. Causality is "If A then B": i.e., it is always a necessary relationship. The only reason we feel compelled to deny this is because change happens in or over time (and sometimes over long periods of it) such that external factors or variables might interfere; however, this is not necessary, which is exactly why the chemist excludes even mentioning any other variables in giving her description of a particular chemical change and doesn't include the duration; and, even if she did, she would add it at the end as a kind of trivial factoid that might be useful to know.

William Dunkirk said...

@Yair, in regards to Catholicism and the Sedes,

Because of the size and scale of Vatican II, the Church allowed a very large grace period to give the faithful -the clergy included- time to absorb the Council on one hand and time for various specific interpretations to make their points in order to work out an increasingly fine synthesis (the Magisterium reserving, of course, her definitive rights in matters of interpretation).

This process has been long and painful but is virtually complete, at least for those in the Magisterium. It's a matter now of disseminating this and imbibing the orthodox interpretation(s) of the Second Vatican Council into the seminaries and finally to the faithful.

It won't be long until denying the legitimacy, validity and Catholicity of the Second Vatican Council will be clear heresy. I say clear, because insomuch as alternative interpretations remains plausible or viable vis-à-vis the actual texts and in their context, it would have been an intellectual crime to actually punish such interpretations. But increasingly fewer of these hold any whatsoever. At least one Cardinal - and I think at the time he had just been appointed head of the CDF (the Holy See's doctrinal watch dog department) had expressly said that denying the Catholicity of Vatican II is heresy, pure and simple.

It wont be long until the orthodox Catholic post-Vatican II party will be so clearly distinct from groups like the Sedes in doctrine that there will be little possibility of confusing the two, as confusing Protestants and Catholics (and especially extreme versions of Protestantism) became increasingly less likely as time went by and each settled in their own elan.

You can actually see a lot of what I am talking about in Pope Francis. For many, the ambiguities just don't exist anymore and certain brands of radical Traditionalism are just immediately repugnant to palate of Catholics.

Saints and Sceptics said...

Coyne was kind enough to reply to our efforts here:

http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2014/01/11/two-bloggers-argue-that-the-only-morality-that-makes-sense-is-based-on-the-christian-god/comment-page-1/

We're working on a response. But if Coyne has responded to us, I imagine he'll have something to say to Dr Feser. We look forward to that.

GV

BenYachov said...

Radical Traditionalism ruins it for the rest of us regular traditionalist types.

The anti-Semitism, geocentracism, rejection of authentic ecumenism, dogmatic Young earth creationism, Sede nonsense, schism, novelty and hypocrisy, liturgical chauvinism etc....

Then there is the total weirdness. You can't forget the weirdness.

Anonymous said...

I look at Coyne's post and I wonder how he manages to churn out so much nonsense, all in one post.

Jeremy Taylor said...

I'm not a Roman Catholic, but I must say Vatican II looks like a train-wreck to me. It seems to have in all the worst aspects of Protestantism and modernism into a Church that had stood resolute up til then. I am not surprised to hear that Teilhard Chardin was popular amongst some of leading voices.

It is certainly one of the reasons I would not convert to the Roman Church, despite being frustated with the Anglican Church. I will choose Eastern Orthodoxy or an Eastern Church when I jump ship.

BenYachov said...

>I'm not a Roman Catholic, but I must say Vatican II looks like a train-wreck to me.

In my experience arguing with Radical Traditionalists there is always a lot of bitching about Vatican II and ambiguous charges about it's language being ambiguous.

But never any solid citation of the actual text of Vatican II that can identify this phantom Problem of modernism.

I hate to break it too you sunshine but in the wake of the councils of Nicea and Constantinople the number of Arians and similar heretics increased in number in the Church to the point where Rome alone held the Faith.

Trent didn't stop the Plague of Protestantism. Heresy and heretics like the poor will always be with us.

Just saying.

William Dunkirk said...

Ben has a good point. Ignorance of Vatican II's actual texts seems rampant amongst radical traditionalists. As a rule, there is this error hunting that clouds -blinds- their judgement. It is not Catholic to take texts from the Magisterium and assume it is deceptive or fallacious or erroneous or whatever. Once you give Vatican II the benefit of a doubt - once you have faith that the Holy Spirit did not abandon the Church - not only do the apparent contradictions or ambiguities start to vanish, but soon comes a conviction that denying these truths would be truly ruinous and a turning away from the riches of goodness and truth.

In my personal opinion, perhaps the easiest way to make your average-Joe agnostic in, say, college re-think the Church is to give them some documents from Vatican II. The language is immediately accessible and so is the fact that this is all animated by goodness or good-will. The Church is clearly seen not to be the enemy of mankind.

Harlyd said...

@William Dunkirk

" Time has no causal powers whatsoever."

How would you apply that to radioactive decay, where the only factor appears to be time?

Scott said...

@Harlyd:

Time, I would say, doesn't cause the decay. The atoms of the decaying mass are in motion; time is a measure of that motion, and whatever it is that does cause the decay is either that same motion or a function thereof.

Jeremy aylor said...

William,

Well, being an Anglican I am not so sure that the Holy Spirit can't seem to abandon much of the Church hierarchy.

William Dunkirk said...

@ Haryld,

Scott, gentleman philosopher he is, answered your concern perfectly, IMHO.

@ Jeremy,

As a Catholic, I must refuse to believe that God absolutely never abandons anyone, as per the Council of Trent. Rather, we abandon Him.

As an English Catholic specifically, I would agree that it is not impossible (and has actually occurred) that much of the hierarchy can certainly abandon the Holy Spirit. Bishop Fisher, after all, was alone amongst his colleagues in regards to the King's Great Matter. Saint Joan of Arc was martyred in large part thanks to a largely ecclesiastical court too concerned with earthly things to the prejudice of divine things.

Best regards and God bless,
Will.

William Dunkirk said...

@ Jeremy,

Sorry I edited above at the wrong place lol: Should read:

"...as a Catholic, I must believe that God absolutely never abandons anyone, as per the Council of Trent; however, having free-will, men can and do abandon Him."

יאיר רזק said...

@Harlyd:

"Hence we got a little paradox here."

Aren't paradoxes grand ? :) But moving on...

" the trilemma is pretty much irrelevant to this discussion."

I raised the trilemma to address your question of whether it is necessarily the case that there are no further explanations. I argued that this paradox of explanation is what makes the Humean say that indeed further explanation is impossible. This is the relevance of the trilemma to our discussion.

But more importantly - I think this whole line of discussion is pushing us towards discussing what "explanation" - or, as Feser would have it, "intelligibility" - is. Which is vital to understand why, and if, "pointing to" really helps makes the world intelligible.

"Gravity is not an explanation. Its an arbitrary name given to a law that allows us to model and predict certain future events."

It is a name given to a certain regularity in existence, to something that IS.

More below.

Harlyd said...

@William Dunkirk & Scott

Motion like Time does not seem to be a cause.

If we say that let say you have a c14 atom. We have an actual c14 atom which has the potential to become a n14 atom. What is the other Actual that causes the n14 to become actualized.
Motion appears to just be a natural state of the c14 atom hence it can't have actualized itself.

As far as we know the only criteria is a statistic based on the amount of time past.

Harlyd said...

@Yair

You have not proven that its impossible. All you can hope to say is that all we will ever have are certain assumptions. The assumption may or may not be correct. You can't rule out further explanation.
However you can't apply that to all of knowledge. You can't rule out that you aren't dreaming right now of reading my post. That doesn't stop you from doing anything. I'll put it a bit more politely than another poster. Its irrelevant.

An explanation of something is quite simple. Does A necessitate B or not. If not its not the cause, nothing more needs to be said. Its not the explanation. Regularities don't necessitate anything hence they aren't explanations. They are observations or predictive models.


"It is a name given to a certain regularity in existence, to something that IS. "

Its not at all obvious what IS here is referring to.

Is the attraction something that IS, is it the mass that IS or is the regularity something that IS?

Scott said...

@Harlyd:

Fair enough; it's the things in motion that would count as the causes on an Aristotelian account.

Either way, though . . .

"As far as we know the only [criterion] is a statistic based on the amount of time past."

. . . I wouldn't say that a statistical account is causal. If that's all we have, then it strikes me as just a way of saying that we don't know what causes any particular C14 atom to undergo beta decay.

Harlyd said...

@Scott.

Precisely my problem. There appears to be no cause at all. I'm not saying there can't be one or there isn't one.
All that is said here is that for all effects in the universe, this appears to be the only one without cause. The potential appears to be actualized without cause as in spontaneous. I think this is unique.
Its not just that we don't know. At a simple glance appears to be precisely so. One would need to philosophize to conclude that it must have a cause, which is unlike other effects.

יאיר רזק said...

@ Crude:

"It's not that no further explanation is possible, or even intellectually necessary - the Humean is just taking a position that cuts them off from considering that. They haven't discovered 'there can't be further explanation here' - they're just committing themselves to bruteness."

They have discovered that, given the nature of explanation (as they understand it), Agrippa's trilemma, and under the assumption that existence can be given a local finite description - there cannot be further explanation.

You can argue against these positions. But to say that they haven't discovered it, but merely asserting it - frankly, that's akin to Cyone saying that Aquinas doesn't believe in God as the ground of being.

@ Steve:

"While gravity may be a necessary condition for the tides, it is not a sufficient condition."

Certainly. I trust you still can understand (whether you agree with that or not) why someone could nevertheless say that "Gravity explains the tides".

@ Haryld:

"If I understood Humes position correctly. (I never read him, only picked up bits and pieces from others. Sorry if I'm incorrect.)"

I'm hardly an expert on Hume. I say things as I understand them, that's all.

" I would posit that if we do have a universe in which stones shatter glass, although it didn't have to be so. It would only be possible if for whatever reason the stone and the glass has inherent within it such a nature. "

Why? Why can't you create a universe where something stone-like breaks glass every time? Perhaps even a world where it breaks glass some times, but not at others ?

You create the world - you decide what IS, what actually occurs at every single place and moment. And once that is set - it doesn't matter what is "inherent" in the stone, if there is such a thing at all. Reality just is the way it is, irregardless of any "inherent" thing.

Yair

Harlyd said...

@yair

What do you find so complicated about explanations?
Either A explains B or it does not. Saying that we can't get any better explanation does not mean that it has been explained.
Your statement there can't be further explanation (in this context), is equivalent to stating real explanations don't exist at all.

If you see wood being split. Do we say it split for no reason without explanation or do we say the ax caused the wood to split. Is the ax an explanation? (based on how you understand explanation)
If you argue that axes regularly split wood hence its the explanation. Why aren't you looking for deeper explanations as you did for the cat that regularly coincided with the stock market crash from the example above? Why should other data help. If other data helps find the real or true explanation, shouldn't you look for more data than the ax?

If not, you must explain why for the cat you find it necessary to use other data, but not for the ax.
Even if you found other data, why is the other data any better. They both happen regularly before the effect.

I think it would be obvious to say that there is something about the ax that allows us to use it for the explanation which the cat does not have.

The point is, that if no further explanation is possible, how do you decide which regularity you should accept?

Whether or not one can say gravity is the explanation of tides is not relevant. Since this is not what is meant here as explanation during this discussion. Unless you want to play a semantic game.

"Why can't you create a universe where something stone-like breaks glass every time?"

I don't recall saying that you can't, at least in theory.

"Perhaps even a world where it breaks glass some times, but not at others ? "
If this would be the case, the stone would not be the cause.

"You create the world - you decide what IS"
If this were the case, I would be the cause not the stone.

William Dunkirk said...

@ Haryld,

Atomism has all sorts of philosophical problems. Until nuclear physics came along it was denied that an atom could change into another atom or one element on the periodic table could become another.

The very name "atom" was meant to -and did- deny the existence of anything like quarks (and originally also anything like electrons or parts in the atomic nucleus like protons and neutrons). We got used to talking about atoms in terms of electrons, protons and neutrons (i.e. an atom being divisible into its parts) and these being called the "sub-atomic". Now we have the sub-sub-atomic, I suppose, quarks and the like. So there is nothing atomic about modern atoms or, in other words, the possibility that there are more parts in atoms that are or can act on other parts qua other has increased, such that sub-atomic activities and mysteries are almost certainly going to be understood in terms of one part acting on another.

Personally, I have an issue with this idea that everything is reducible to electrons, protons and neutrons. It sounds too much like adding bricks to bricks and expecting them to be or become fundamentally not-brick, whilst being notwithstanding still composed of bricks.

יאיר רזק said...

@ Anonymous:

"One could argue that it's not even pragmatically useful and does not mesh with the practice of scientists. "

The idea that explanation ends in brute facts isn't pragmatically useful, or empirically relevant, at all. It's a metaphysical idea, not a physical theory.

The idea that explanations are based on general regularities, however, is extremely useful and indeed leads scientists to seek precisely those deeper regularities that you noted in your post. And from this idea (plus some extra assumptions that are frequently made, such as that local reality can be given a finite description) it follows that such explanations will end up in a brute fact.

From personal experience, it seems to me most scientists are at least vaguely aware of this idea and consider "Laws of Nature" to be the bottom-most layer of explanation.

Yair

Steve said...

Certainly. I trust you still can understand (whether you agree with that or not) why someone could nevertheless say that "Gravity explains the tides".

And I trust that you can understand that the ocean's inherent tendency to respond to gravity in a particular way is at least part of the explanation of the tides.

Glenn said...

Yair,

You create the world - you decide what IS

1. If reality just is the way it is, then what is wrong about putting a name to the way reality just is?

2. And if there isn't anything wrong with putting a name to the way reality just is, then what is wrong with putting a name to the way particular aspects of reality just are?

3. And if there isn't anything wrong with putting a name to the way particular aspects of reality just are, then what is wrong with calling the way a particular aspect of reality just is it’s "inherent nature"?

4. IOW, what is wrong with saying that the “inherent nature” of a thing is just the way that that thing is?

Glenn said...

Incomplete quote; sorry. Should have been:

You create the world - you decide what IS... Reality just is the way it is, irregardless of any "inherent" thing.

...etc.

יאיר רזק said...

@ Jeremy Taylor:
"I think the central point is that most people, including scientists, do not take regularities as brute facts."

No one is suggesting we should practically do so.

" It seems perfectly arbitrary to suggest that such regularities must be treated as brute facts whereas other aspects of these objects are treated as intelligible."

I have explained the reasoning on why fundamental regularities are to be seen as brute facts, and why precisely that is what allows higher-level regularities to be intelligible.

@ William Dunkirk

"My argument...is meant to show that the so-called regularities are themselves derived from causal necessities."

Alright - lay it out.

"Time has no causal powers whatsoever"

Agreed.

"Causality is "If A then B": i.e., it is always a necessary relationship"

Why is "If A then B" not a regularity ? The chemist is noting the regularity in nature; not the "necessary relationship", whatever that is.

@ Harlyd :

"All you can hope to say is that all we will ever have are certain assumptions"

I can also say that the chain of assumptions must either end in a brute fact, or in circularity, or have an infinite regress. And that given a few assumptions about what explanation and reality is like, one ends up with "brute fact" as the only open option. Hence - it IS impossible to have further explanations, given those assumptions. You need to attack these assumptions if you wish to show brute facts aren't at the bottom of all explanations.

"An explanation of something is quite simple. Does A necessitate B or not. "

Sorry, but that just isn't clear and good enough. I don't understand the model of explanation you refer to, and fail to see any critique of the model of explanation that I've raised (regularities can be "necessary" in some sense, too - in the sense of being universal).

"Regularities don't necessitate anything hence they aren't explanations."

Sure they do. When you explain the tides using the universal (i.e. regular) law of gravity, you're appealing to the fact that things feel a given force and so on - facts that are "necessitated" by the regularity.

"Is the attraction something that IS, is it the mass that IS or is the regularity something that IS?"

It is the attraction. In this case. The important point is that something that IS is referred to; in Newtonian physics it's a force, an attraction, in contemporary physics it would be (amplitudes of) quantum fields.

Yair

יאיר רזק said...

@ Harlyd:

"Either A explains B or it does not. Saying that we can't get any better explanation does not mean that it has been explained.
Your statement there can't be further explanation (in this context), is equivalent to stating real explanations don't exist at all."

I'm sorry, but these are just unsupported disconnected propositions. We can't have a discussion like that.

"Do we say it split for no reason without explanation or do we say the ax caused the wood to split. Is the ax an explanation? (based on how you understand explanation)"

We say the ax caused it to split, which is a condensed way of saying that under typical conditions and operation, axes regularly split wood [or something to that effect].

The splitting is EXPLAINED by appealing to regularities. The explanatory power stems from the actual EXISTENCE of regularities - the regularities of the strength of metal vs. that of wood, for example. It is because these regularities hold that the ax split the wood.

In contrast, Powers don't explain the splitting at all; they only add mystery to the explanation. First of all - as I explained above, it still assumes regularity. But furthermore - that the ax has the Power to split the wood either merely restates the fact that axes split wood or else is an entirely mysterious relation between the ax's Essence and the actual world. There is a metaphysical leap between the Platonic world and the Real world, a leap that doesn't exist in the Regularity model of "explanation", which simply appeals to what IS, to the Real world.

More later; I gotta run.

Yair

Harlyd said...

@Yair

I'm not sure we mean the same thing when we talk about explanations.

Let's use your example of tides. You say tides are explained by a universal called the law of gravity. Then you add that there can be no further explanation because in the end of the day you will always end up with a brute fact.
Lets assume your position for now. However you seem to think that tides need an explanation, but gravity itself does not. Hence gravity is your brute fact. The question is why don't we just leave tides as the brute fact. Just say that what IS is tides. "BRUTE FACT". It would seem that you assume mass attracting as Newton put it,(btw it happens to be wrong, but lets leave it for simplicity.) as the explanation, since you find it regularly true. So you moved the brute fact up one level. If you were to find in the future a universal which is more universal, which did in fact happen, you will be OK moving the BRUTE FACT up another level.
If that is the case than you are basically giving up at the last point of your knowledge. As if your knowledge as anything to do with whether or not something is an explanation.
I think you are fooling yourself when you say that gravity is the explanation instead of saying its simply the best explanation we have.

So I think that gravity is not an ultimate explanation, since if had we found a better explanation we would go with it.
I don't think you would disagree with me thus far.
However you do point out that even had we found the deeper explanation to gravity, it would be no better than gravity itself. It would just be another brute fact piled on. The same way we added gravity on top of tides.

While I wont disagree that this deeper explanation wont be any better, I disagree that therefor we should call it the explanation. Since we may in the future find another deeper one we should instead say as you've said we will never get any explanation for which we will say that there can't be a deeper one.

While you say we can't have a better explanation than gravity (or its type), I still would not therefor call it an explanation, just BRUTE FACT. There is a difference and I don't want to confuse the terms.

Harlyd said...

An explanation must be of such where there can't be a deeper one. Whether or not such an explanation actually exists or even if it were to exist whether or not we will be able to know of it. It will have to be of such a type that A will necessitate B, hence no deeper explanation exists. Tides are not necessary from mass. Sure once you see mass appears to cause it, it would therefore also appear to necessitate it. However its not the same thing. Its not helpful when you use terms in a fuzzy way to call it necessary. Its not necessary in the same way 2+2=5.

So to be clear what I mean when I say necessary. It means logically necessary. The same way 2+2=5.

So to make sure I'm clear. When I say explanation I mean where A necessitates B, in the way I explained necessitate above.
Although in the English language the term explain may not always be intended in the way I just used it. However I don't have a better way of getting the message across. And I'm not interested in playing a semantic game about what the term explanation really means. So as long as you understand the meaning of my message even if you don't like the term I chose, try to keep with it or give me a better term. For the sake of a coherent discussion.

You may however argue that such an explanation doesn't exist. Maybe your right maybe your wrong. Unless you have a way of proving that it can't in fact exist at all. Not that we can't know of it, rather that it can't exist.

However if it would exist it would not suffer from the brute fact problem the same way 2+2=5 doesn't. Hence it would not become circular or have an infinite regress problem.

I hope I've explained it well enough for this

"Either A explains B or it does not. Saying that we can't get any better explanation does not mean that it has been explained.
Your statement there can't be further explanation (in this context), is equivalent to stating real explanations don't exist at all."

I'm sorry, but these are just unsupported disconnected propositions. We can't have a discussion like that.

Harlyd said...

In contrast, Powers don't explain the splitting at all; they only add mystery to the explanation. First of all - as I explained above, it still assumes regularity. But furthermore - that the ax has the Power to split the wood either merely restates the fact that axes split wood or else is an entirely mysterious relation between the ax's Essence and the actual world. There is a metaphysical leap between the Platonic world and the Real world, a leap that doesn't exist in the Regularity model of "explanation", which simply appeals to what IS, to the Real world.

The point is not what the explanation actually is. The point is what an explanation must be like to be an explanation at all. Whether or not the ax is the actual cause is not relevant. Rather IF the ax is the actual cause then it must have within it such a nature.

From what I read it appears that you don't believe true causes exists. (True causes in the way I intend to use the term, not what you call a true cause. Again I am not trying to hijack terms. Rather in order to communicate an idea properly we must first use a common language. The common language doesn't always provide us with all the terms necessary for each and every idea. Which is why new words are invented. So if I wasn't clear how my use of the terms are different than yours I can try to clarify better)

Harlyd said...

@Yair
"leap that doesn't exist in the Regularity model"

That is just the point regularity gives us a predictive model not an explanation.
Finding a model is looking for the correct mathematical function that matter instantiates.
Where is the connection between the model and the matter that instantiates it. Isn't that a leap as well?
The purpose of this model and the reason it has been very useful is that it can help us make predictions about nature and help us tap into its power and allow us to manipulate it.

Scott said...

I must confess that I feel a powerful and arguably anal-retentive urge to point out that 2 + 2 isn't 5. ;-)

William Dunkirk said...

@ Yair.

I deny your objection: the chemist is not giving us a regularly occurring causal relationship but a necessary one and that's the difference.

1q of X + 10q's of Y = 5q's of Z.

There's nothing "regular" about that: it's necessary - "always", "without fail", "never ceases to be true".

Again, when we water down the intrinsic necessity of causal relationships in our language ("usually", "normally", "regularly"), it is only because change happens in time -(or because we aren't exactly certain of the specific cause)- and, therefore, there can be extrinsic factors or variables that might interfere with the process; however, these are not a part of the process itself and do not interfere with it necessarily. That's what matters. But the relationship:

1q of X + 10q of Y = 5q of Z

Is a necessary causal relationship, such that you can say:

"If you combine 'X' and 'Y', then you get 'Z'."

If 'A' then 'B'.

יאיר רזק said...

@ Steve:
"And I trust that you can understand that the ocean's inherent tendency to respond to gravity in a particular way is at least part of the explanation of the tides."

The point of contention is whether this tendency should be construed as a regularity or a teleology.

@ Glenn:
"3. And if there isn't anything wrong with putting a name to the way particular aspects of reality just are, then what is wrong with calling the way a particular aspect of reality just is it’s "inherent nature"?"

The only thing is that when you do that, you need to be very careful to remember you're just using a term that describes what is, that describes regularities manifest in nature; not a term that prescribes what will be, not logical relations between things, or so on.

@ William Dunkirk:

"the chemist is not giving us a regularly occurring causal relationship but a necessary one and that's the difference."

I'm sorry, but I fail to see your point. A regularity happens ""always", "without fail", "never ceases to be true"". [Or at least some do.]

The chemist notes regularities in how things mix. He tells you what, under the assumption these regularities will be maintained, will happen if you do this or that. That's it. He's talking about regularities that are always true, and specifically about causal regularities (as opposed to, e.g., some regularities seen in quantum correlations).

Yair

יאיר רזק said...

@ Harlyd :

Allow me to skip to your recent posts; I feel they touch on the heart of things. If you wish me to address an earlier point, please re-raise it.

"And I'm not interested in playing a semantic game about what the term explanation really means."

I hate word games with the burning passion of a thousand suns. But I think we really need to differentiate our two meanings of "explanation" if we're to talk about them without confusion. I suggest calling your model "Ultimate Explanation", and my model, for sheer contrast, "Partial Explanation". These are just names. With this in mind, I'll edit your following quotes:

"An [ultimate] explanation must be of such where there can't be a deeper one. ...It will have to be of such a type that A will necessitate B, hence no deeper explanation exists....The same way 2+2=[4]."

There are two criteria here. Let's handle them separately.

I utterly fail to see how any explanation of the real world can stem from logical necessity. How you can go from relations between concepts to existence in the world. Be that as it may...

"...if it would exist it would not suffer from the brute fact problem the same way 2+2=[4] doesn't. Hence it would not become circular or have an infinite regress problem."

Yes. It would provide an Ultimate Explanation; the thing will be explained fully, with no further explanation needed or even really possible.

"The point is what an explanation must be like to be an explanation at all. ... IF the ax is the actual [ultimate] cause then it must have within it such a nature."

I note that we have no widely agreed upon Ultimate Explanation at all. Contra Feser, the world in this sense isn't partially intelligible; we haven't explained anything. Specifically, an ax has most definitively not been demonstrated to be the Ultimate Explanation of the splitting.

More to the point of my main argument - where does the "pointing to" enter here? Why does an Ultimate Cause has to logically follow from a nature (a "pointing to" its potential states and tendencies, really) rather than a fundamental regularity? If it can logically follow from the ax's nature that it splits wood, why can't it logically follow from the ax's regularities that an ax will split wood?

I guess since I don't see how the first is really possible, I don't see how the latter is impossible.

Just to give the opposing view: the idea is that an ax's splitting power logically follow from the assumptions about what holds true in the world, so that the explanation IS logically necessary in a way - but it holds true in the world in virtue of the assumptions tracking the world, not by the sheer force of logic.

"From what I read it appears that you don't believe true [ultimate] causes exists."

Indeed.

Now,
"I think you are fooling yourself when you say that gravity is the explanation instead of saying its simply the best explanation we have."

It certainly not an Ultimate Explanation. We don't have an ultimate explanation of the tides.

But we DO have a Partial Explanation for it. We understand why tides are the way they are GIVEN gravity. These are the kinds of explanations that we DO have. Not dreams about what explanations we would like to have.
...

יאיר רזק said...

...

"While you say we can't have a better explanation than gravity (or its type), I still would not therefor call it an explanation, just BRUTE FACT. There is a difference and I don't want to confuse the terms"

I think you're doing a disservice to the word "explanation". All explanations that we've ever found are of the Partial Explanation type (or derivatives thereof). To say that gravity doesn't explain the tides but rather brute-facts it [or whatever you want to call that relation] is to render the word unusable and to throw every scientific (and, indeed, most academic) explanation humanity has discovered. And to reserve the word "explanation" to a pipe-dream that, in my opinion, isn't even possible.

"That is just the point regularity gives us a predictive model not an explanation.
Finding a model is looking for the correct mathematical function that matter instantiates.
Where is the connection between the model and the matter that instantiates it. Isn't that a leap as well?"

You are confusing epistemology and ontology. We're not interested here in why we believe the models we do. The models are not instrumental, however; we believe there are tables, not that acting as if tables exist is useful.

The connection between the model and reality is that the model - we believe - corresponds well to reality. And this is what gives Partial Explanations their explanatory power. The fact that the force of gravity really does exist is what makes the explanation really work. The explanation highlights how something we know it true about what EXISTS (gravity) implies that some other thing EXISTS (tides). There are no holes, no mysterious relations between concepts and reality, between logic and existence.

And it's a "final" explanation in a sense - it fully explains the tides [ignoring inaccuracies]. No matter what further generalities will underly it, it will REMAIN TRUE that this is precisely how gravity causes tides. Further explanation is not actually possible here - you can explain the general assumptions, but not the tides themselves. The explanation of the tides is already complete.

In summary: from my perspective

(1) Partial Explanation works by appeal to regularities that actually exist in the world. The tides are explained by gravity. In this sense the world is partly intelligible.

(2) Partial Explanation works without any metaphysical leaps. You deduce what IS from what IS, and that works to the extent your description of what IS is true.

(3) Partial Explanations are final in that the phenomena is fully explained and made comprehensible GIVEN the premises. But chains of such explanations end in a brute fact - the most general regularity, that hence logically cannot be Partially Explained by a more general one - or else there is an infinite regress of such explanations.

(4) Ultimate Explanation works on sheer logic; once the terms are clear, it becomes a matter of sheer logic that in the real world there are tides. I fail to see how this is possible.

(5) Ultimate Explanation works on pointing-to relations; an ax's essence implies it will split wood. I fail to see why they can't equally work on an ax's regularities.

(6) Ultimate Explanation is a final explanation; once the terms are clear, no further explanation of the tides is needed or possible. I note we have not one example of such an explanation of any phenomena.

Yair

Harlyd said...

@Yair,

Thanks for introducing the term ultimate explanation. It is definitely useful.


"I utterly fail to see how any explanation of the real world can stem from logical necessity. How you can go from relations between concepts to existence in the world. Be that as it may..."

I think we are looking at it from different angles. I do agree with you that it wasn't necessary for there to be tides at all. To remind you, I'll quote myself.

"If I understood Humes position correctly. (I never read him, only picked up bits and pieces from others. Sorry if I'm incorrect.) He takes the position that we find no bridge of cause and effect between events. We only have regularities. Which means we find nothing inherent in a stone that shatters windows only that it regularly does so.
While I agree with the position that there is no logical reason for it to have been so. I don't believe that it isn't actually so. To explain better. If I was in the business of making universes, I could have done it differently. I could have made stones bounce off windows, go through it like light or maybe even stick to it. The point is there is no reason to think it is necessary logically for a stone to shatter glass. However I would not be able to make a universe in which 2+2=5, since that is logically necessary. Hence causes and effects are not logically necessary steps."

I'll get back to this.

""From what I read it appears that you don't believe true [ultimate] causes exists."

Indeed"

It looks like this is were we part ways. While you think they don't exist I think they must exist for there to be causes at all.

"But we DO have a Partial Explanation for it. We understand why tides are the way they are GIVEN gravity. These are the kinds of explanations that we DO have. Not dreams about what explanations we would like to have."

To clear up a bit. Gravity is not a cause, rather it is the other mass that causes the warpage of spacetime. This phenomenon is called gravity. I'm not just trying to play semantics here. I just want to make sure the next point is clear.

If mass has nothing about it that will cause it to warp spacetime. Just saying that it regularly does is not really a partial explanation at all. It really isn't an explanation. I'm not arguing that its not useful. I'll use an example that fesser uses. If the shelf has no power to hold the book from falling, then we don't have any explanation about why the book doesn't fall to the floor. Saying its the shelf holding it up while admitting that the shelf doesn't have the power to do so, is admitting that you don't have the explanation.

The question is do you really believe that true causes don't exist? If wood would split for no reason and without cause, would you say, see I was right? or would you try to determine its cause? If you were to find a book suspended in mid air without a shelf about 4 feet off the ground will you not find it strange at all. If you were true to your position you would have to say that this is not strange at all. Yet I hardly believe that this would be the case, correct me if I'm wrong. If you would argue that since books don't regularly hang in mid air therefor you believe that this one should be that way as well. What is the justification for this position? (That you can deduce from one regularity to the next) If you assume there are regularities, what is the justification for that?

Harlyd said...

I'll try to get to my point. Its not that tides are logically necessary, its that true causes are logically necessary. Wood doesn't split without true cause and water doesn't rise without true cause. The point is not that tides exist therefor tides are necessary. The point is that for there to be tides at all there must first be a true cause for tides. Hence since tides empirically do in fact exist it must follow that a true cause does in fact exist.
The point is that whether or not we know of their true causes and what they actually are. The point is that they must exist.
I'll use an example from Maimonidies. So take into account the point not the parable as it was in line with his times.
If one wants to describe a King in a certain town. He can say his name is such and such he lives in that city and has a long white beard. He is describing the king.
He can also say that he has so many servants his palace is such and such is his chariot etc.
He can talk about his actions. That is the bridge that he built.
Or he can get even more abstract by pointing out, look around and see law and order that is from fear of the king and his rule.
The point is that you can point out, discuss and describe phenomenon without talking or even knowing its essence. He can describe the king without meeting or getting anywhere close.

We don't have to see electrons to know they exist. All we need to know is about its emerging phenomenon.
So too, with true causes. We can know they exists because there are empirical effects.

Now some argue that this is not at all useful. Since science works just fine without it. But as others have pointed out numerous time on this blog, they take it for a given. If not you are left with the question, why is it strange for the book not to fall to the floor? Which a scientist would surly ask.
Just like I don't need to think about how a calculator works every time I use it. Most people don't even have the foggiest idea about how the calculator works, yet it doesn't effect their ability to use it at all. You don't need to understand something to utilize it.

Even if it were true that science doesn't need it at all and therefore its not useful at all. That doesn't mean our discussion is incoherent. The logic will still follow just as much. This discussion need not have anything to do with science. Mathematical proofs do not need to be useful to be true. If its true its necessarily so, if not not. Pointing out somethings usefulness is irrelevant to the discussion at hand. If you don't find it useful hence a waste of time. I won't hold you.

Which leads me to address your point.

Harlyd said...

"I think you're doing a disservice to the word "explanation". All explanations that we've ever found are of the Partial Explanation type (or derivatives thereof). To say that gravity doesn't explain the tides but rather brute-facts it [or whatever you want to call that relation] is to render the word unusable and to throw every scientific (and, indeed, most academic) explanation humanity has discovered. And to reserve the word "explanation" to a pipe-dream that, in my opinion, isn't even possible. "

I don't see any justification for that.
Why must science find ultimate explanations in order to be useful?
I have no objection to the typical use of the term explanation. What is wrong with pointing out that which you agree, that it isn't an ultimate explanation? So I don't see any response necessary.
Its also a bit ironic how upthread you insisted that science is only about brute fact.

"We're not interested here in why we believe the models we do."
You may not be interested, but I sure am. So if you aren't interested in this discussion its fine with me.

"The models are not instrumental, however; we believe there are tables, not that acting as if tables exist is useful."
Of course they are instrumental, what makes you think its anything more than that? You can't just say its so and expect me to accept that. Scientists themselves agree that it is just instrumental. See Lee Smolins latest book "Time Reborn"

Harlyd said...

(1) Partial Explanation works by appeal to regularities that actually exist in the world. The tides are explained by gravity. In this sense the world is partly intelligible.

That makes no difference at all when discussing true causes.

(2) Partial Explanation works without any metaphysical leaps. You deduce what IS from what IS, and that works to the extent your description of what IS is true.

While deducing what IS from what IS surely you would not find it strange to find a book suspended in midair. Since you deduce what IS from what IS.

(3) Partial Explanations are final in that the phenomena is fully explained and made comprehensible GIVEN the premises. But chains of such explanations end in a brute fact - the most general regularity, that hence logically cannot be Partially Explained by a more general one - or else there is an infinite regress of such explanations.

Are sure? Partial explanations are full explanations?
In any case, hence its not a true cause.

(4) Ultimate Explanation works on sheer logic; once the terms are clear, it becomes a matter of sheer logic that in the real world there are tides. I fail to see how this is possible.

As explained above tides are not what is necessary, its that there is a cause that is necessary out of sheer logic. If not, books suspended in midair or wood splitting without an ax would not be strange at all or lead to further question or research.

(5) Ultimate Explanation works on pointing-to relations; an ax's essence implies it will split wood. I fail to see why they can't equally work on an ax's regularities.

The point is not whether or not the ax IS in fact the true cause, rather that there must be a true cause. Once you need a true cause we assume it more likely lies in the ax as apposed to the moon or the table beneath.

(6) Ultimate Explanation is a final explanation; once the terms are clear, no further explanation of the tides is needed or possible. I note we have not one example of such an explanation of any phenomena.

We have tons of them you just don't accept it. You would rather say that wood can split without true cause.
As I said above we don't need to know its essence as in electrons to discuss it.