Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Lowder then bombs


Atheist blogger and Internet Infidels co-founder Jeffery Jay Lowder seems like a reasonable enough fellow.  But then, I admit it’s hard not to like a guy who writes:

I’ve just about finished reading Feser’s book, The Last Superstition: A Refutation of the New AtheismI think Feser makes some hard-hitting, probably fatal, objections to the arguments used by the “new atheists.”

Naturally Lowder thinks there are better atheist arguments than those presented by the “New Atheists,” but it’s no small thing for him to have made such an admission -- an admission too few of his fellow atheist bloggers are willing to make, at least in public.  So, major points to Lowder for intellectual honesty.
 
Unfortunately, having made such a promising beginning, Lowder then bombs.  In particular, he goes on pretty badly to misrepresent what I’ve said about atheists in general (as opposed to “New Atheists” like Dawkins, Dennett, Myers, et al. in particular).  Not that I’m too mad at him about it.  He’s responding to afour-year-old article of mine on the New Atheists that he apparently just came across, and he’s a little sore (wrongly, but I understand) about a sarcastic remark I made therein about the readership of the website he co-founded.  Still, I think when he cools down a bit he’ll see that what he wrote is not fair.  (If I wanted to push my cutesy Smiths theme a little further, I’d say he’s in a panic.  But that would be cheesy, so I won’t.) 

Here’s what Lowder says:

While Feser usually maintains a distinction between the new atheists and atheists who specialize in the philosophy of religion, his rhetoric sometimes gets the better of him.  It’s as if he moves from “the New Atheists make mistakes A, B, and C” to “all atheists makes mistakes A, B, and C,” which is, of course, fallacious.

Parodying some remarks of mine from the article he cites, Lowder also says, vis-à-vis my critique therein of P. Z. Myers’ “Courtier’s Reply” dodge:

[T]hat is not what atheists who specialize in the philosophy of religion say.  In fact, not one of the best and most capable atheist philosophers of religion in the history of philosophy ever gave this Courtier’s Reply — not Mackie, not Rowe, not Schellenberg, not Q. Smith, not Draper, not Martin, not Oppy, not Phillipse, not Sobel, not Salmon, not Grunbaum, not Fales, not Post, not Tooley, not Gale, not Le Poidevin, not Maitzen, not McCormick, not Drange….

End quote.  So, Lowder is claiming that in general I have a tendency to attribute to all atheists the faults of the “New Atheists,” and that in particular I attribute the “Courtier’s Reply” move to atheists in general.  He offers no evidence whatsoever for these assertions, and he could not have done so, for there is no such evidence.  Indeed, it is rather shocking that he would insinuate that I have said that atheists in general, including the philosophers he refers to, are guilty of making the Myers-style “Courtier’s Reply” move, since I have nowhere done so.  Surely Lowder realizes that some reader (like, you know, me) might call bullshit on him.  Which I hereby do: Please tell us, Mr. Lowder, exactly where I have said any such thing.  Since you won’t be able to, I’ll accept a retraction instead.

In fact, what there is is ample evidence, in the public record, that I have done precisely the opposite of what Lowder accuses me of.  Start with The Last Superstition itself, where I describe Quentin Smith as “a far more serious and formidable defender of atheism than any of the so-called ‘New Atheists’” (p. 8), and where I write:

I want to emphasize that I do not deny for a moment that there are secularists, atheists, and naturalists of good will, who are (apart from their rejection of religion) reasonable and morally admirable.  (p. 26)

In the account I gave here at the blog a couple of years ago of my philosophical journey from atheism to theism, I wrote:

On issues of concern to a contemporary analytic philosopher, J. L. Mackie was the man, and I regarded his book The Miracle of Theism as a solid piece of philosophical work.  I still do.  I later came to realize that he doesn’t get Aquinas or some other things right.  (I discuss what he says about Aquinas in Aquinas.)  But the book is intellectually serious, which is more than can be said for anything written by a “New Atheist.” 

In an article for TCS Daily some ten years ago I said of atheist J. J. C. Smart and theist John Haldane, co-authors of the excellent Atheism and Theism:

Both of these writers exemplify in their book what academic life should be like, but too seldom is: a serious and fair-minded examination of all sides of an issue


Edwards… responds to the Thomist philosophers G. H. Joyce and R. P. Phillips – something for which Edwards deserves credit, given that most atheist writers not only do not address the arguments of Thomists, but seem unaware even of their existence.

In a notice at the time of his death I described J. Howard Sobel as a “serious philosophical atheist.”  In another post I described atheist philosopher Bradley Monton as “an honorable and courageous man.”  (Of course, some atheists will say: “Oh, that’s just because Monton has said nice thinks about ‘Intelligent Design’ theory.”   Except that I am myself a pretty harsh critic of ID.)  In yet another post I described David Ramsay Steele’s book Atheism Explained as “a better book on atheism than anything written by Dawkins, Dennett, Harris, or Hitchens.”  I have (despite one testy moment between us) repeatedly praised the atheist physicist Robert Oerter for his serious responses to my work, writing that “Oerter is a good, honest, decent guy” and also that he “engages [my] book seriously and in good faith.” 

In various works I have responded non-polemically to the arguments of serious philosophical critics of theism.  For example, in my ACPQ article "Existential Inertia and the Five Ways" I respond to Bede Rundle and others who maintain that the world can continue in existence without a divine sustaining cause.  In my book Aquinas, I respond to Mackie, to atheist philosopher Kai Nielsen’s critique of Aquinas’s ethical theory, and to agnostic philosopher Anthony Kenny’s critique of the Five Ways and of Aquinas’s doctrine of being.  (Kenny would later have some very kind, if not entirely uncritical, words about my book The Last Superstition.) 

I could go on, but this is getting a bit silly and the point has, I trust, been made.  And the point is that Lowder’s insinuation that I paint all atheists with a broad brush is simply and demonstrably at odds with the facts.  (I have put forward a classification of kinds of atheism here.) 

As to the infidels.org readership that he complains I’ve insulted, if Lowder is saying that most of them would agree that Dawkins’ The God Delusion is a contemptibly shoddy and unserious piece of work and that Myers’ “Courtier’s Reply” dodge is completely frivolous, then I am relieved to hear it.  But if most of them would not agree to these propositions, then they deserve my little throwaway jibe.  Worse, in fact.   Anyway, if Lowder has any links to articles that appeared at infidels.org prior to March 2010 (when the article of mine he’s complaining about appeared), in which Dawkins’ The God Delusion or Myers’ “Courtier’s Reply” are criticized, I’d love to see them.

But as I say, I understand why Lowder might be a little peeved and I won’t hold it against him.  And I look forward to whatever substantive criticisms of The Last Superstition he’d like to put forward. 

44 comments:

Daniel said...

Professor,may I make a request? Why not do a series of posts criticising some of the counter-arguments put forward by aetheist philosophers of religion? I know you've done so in the past, particularly with Mackie but I think a series of fresh barrages is in order.

(For instance, why not give us a post on the Scholastic understanding of mathematical objects. I don't think Sobel style mathematical object criticisms are a problem even for extreme Platonists, but still it would be nice to see a proper response which doesn't involve crying Nominalism and running away like a little girl a la William Lane Craig).

Bobby Bambino said...

I would LOVE to read Feser discuss a Scholastic understanding of mathematics! Good suggestion Daniel!

Aquohn said...

Feser linked to two such discussions a couple years back, both by mathematician James Franklin. They can be found here and here.

Bobby Bambino said...

Thanks Aquohn. Since Feser linked to them, I assume they faithfully represent the Scholastic view? I'm not familiar with James Franklin.

zmikecuber said...

Ed,

What do you think of the theory that consciousness is integrated information?

http://www.biolbull.org/content/215/3/216.full

Carlos F. said...

Dr. Feser, to echo a previous comment, I would personally greatly appreciate your input on whether the existence of abstract objects poses a problem to God's aseity under Thomism.

As has been mentioned (and as you are no doubt aware), Dr. William Lane Craig takes a nominalist view on the matter (but contends that conceptualism is a fall-back position). Like you, I find nominalism to be extremely unpalatable, however.

Hope all's well

Scott said...

@Carlos F.:

This may help to a degree.

Carlos F. said...

@Scott,

Much appreciated

Jeffery Jay Lowder said...

Hi Ed --

It looks like I have some egg on my face. :) Although it seemed appropriate at the time I wrote it, I'm now scratching my head wondering what I was thinking when I wrote my parody of your remarks. So it looks like I do owe you a retraction.

The last paragraph of my blog post, however, is not connected to the parody. (In hindsight, I can see why it would come across otherwise.) So I'll try to provide some specific quotations from TLS to explain why I arrived at the position I did.

While I have your attention, I'd be grateful if you could answer one question for me about Thomistic versions of the cosmological argument. In your book, I remember some passages talking about simultaneous causation. In your opinion, how important is it to such arguments that simultaneous causation actually occurs? (In other words, hypothetically speaking, if it were somehow proven that there is no such thing as simultaneous causation, what impact, if any, would that have on Aristotelian or Thomistic versions of the cosmological argument?)

Anonymous said...

While you're waiting for Ed's response, it seems like this blog post might address some of what you are asking.

ccmnxc said...

@Jeffery Jay Lowder

While I cannot speak for Ed, I personally take heart in and appreciate the fact that you're willing to apologize for the fact that you think you might have made a mistake. Perhaps it's a lot more common than I'm giving it credit, but such admissions seem unfortunately rare in dialogues like these. So please note that regardless of what Ed says (though I can't see him holding it against you), it's appreciated.

Jeffery Jay Lowder said...

Ed,

I have one more question for you. Maybe the answer will become clear to me as I read (or maybe re-read) TLS, but I'd be grateful if you could indulge me.

The question: How would you summarize classical theism in one or a couple of brief sentences? For example, would the following be accurate?

"Classical theism may be summarized by three propositions: (1) God exists; (2) God is absolutely metaphysically ultimate; and (3) God continuously sustains the world. Classical theism entails that God is immutable, impassible, eternal (in the sense of being outside of time and space), and absolutely simple (in the sense that He is identical to His existence, nature, and attributes)."

Also, at the risk of asking the obvious, would you agree with the following?

Let's use the following definitions:

"mere theism": the hypothesis that God is the creator of the physical universe;
"God": a perfect supernatural person
"supernatural person": a person that is neither a part nor a product of the physical universe
"perfect person": perfect in power (omnipotent), perfect in knowledge (omniscient), and perfect in moral goodness (morally perfect).

Using those definitions, "classical theism" entails "mere theism."


Would you agree that "classical theism" entails "mere theism," as I have defined it?

Jeffery Jay Lowder said...

ccmnxc -- Thanks and you're welcome!

Anonymous said...

'Also, at the risk of asking the obvious, would you agree with the following?

Let's use the following definitions:

"mere theism": the hypothesis that God is the creator of the physical universe;
"God": a perfect supernatural person
"supernatural person": a person that is neither a part nor a product of the physical universe
"perfect person": perfect in power (omnipotent), perfect in knowledge (omniscient), and perfect in moral goodness (morally perfect).

Using those definitions, "classical theism" entails "mere theism."

Would you agree that "classical theism" entails "mere theism," as I have defined it?'

I don't think 'person' is appropriate if understood univocally, and I have a feeling there might be others who would concur here.

Jeffery Jay Lowder said...

Anonymous wrote:

I don't think 'person' is appropriate if understood univocally, and I have a feeling there might be others who would concur here.

I'd like to construct a simple taxonomy of theistic views, with one "parent view" (which I'm calling "mere theism") and multiple child views (such as "theistic personalism" and "classical theism").

Is this project misguided? If not, how would you propose I define "mere theism" in an appropriate way that allows "theistic personalism" and "classical theism" to be viewed as more specific versions of "mere theism"?

Scott said...

"I don't think 'person' is appropriate if understood univocally, and I have a feeling there might be others who would concur here."

Including me. In fact, if "mere theism" is defined in that way, classical theism not only doesn't entail it but positively precludes it. God is personal (and more than personal), but not "a person." (Indeed, according to Trinitarian classical theism, God is three persons, and even then the term isn't used univocally.)

Scott said...

@Jeffery Jay Lowder:

"[H]ow would you propose I define 'mere theism' in an appropriate way that allows 'theistic personalism' and 'classical theism' to be viewed as more specific versions of 'mere theism'?"

I'd suggest starting with something like this: "Mere theism" is belief in one absolute, unconditional being (generally called "God" in English) as the ultimate origin, source, and/or explanation of everything (else) that exists. (Others, of course, may offer corrections or objections!)

The main problem with your previous attempt is that there's something in almost every part of it that someone on one side or the other would reject, or at least not accept without considerable explanations and/or reservations. (On the classical-theist side: "person" has already been mentioned as problematic, and I'd add "moral goodness" if this is understood as it usually is when applied to human beings.)

Jeffery Jay Lowder said...

Hi Scott,

I'd suggest starting with something like this: "Mere theism" is belief in one absolute, unconditional being (generally called "God" in English) as the ultimate origin, source, and/or explanation of everything (else) that exists. (Others, of course, may offer corrections or objections!)

Thanks for the suggestion. This works for me. Does anyone object to this definition?

Anonymous said...

I think one might find that it is too much of a strain to fit, say, classical theism and process theology under the same genus. Even the terms that they share bear vastly different significations.

Jeffery Jay Lowder said...

I think one might find that it is too much of a strain to fit, say, classical theism and process theology under the same genus. Even the terms that they share bear vastly different significations.

At a superficial level, even the labels "classical theism" and "theistic personalism" contain some form of the word "theism." This is one reason I'm motivated to clarify the genus they share.

Timotheos said...

@ Jeffery Jay Lowder

Ed addressed simultaneous causation in a post a while back which you can find here.

To clarify though, are you asking about simultaneous causation in the sense of instantaneous causation or merely causation during the same interval of time? By instantaneous causation, I mean, to illustrate, that when A changes B, B literally changes at the instant that A starts changing B. By causation during the same interval of time, I mean that, when A changes B, B is changed during the interval of time when A starts changing B.

This makes a big difference, since Ed is only committed to the latter and doesn’t address the former.(In fact, given Aquinas’s understanding of instants, I doubt Aquinas would have thought that such causation was even possible, or at least would have considered it unlikely in most cases in the physically world)

Most of the so called “counter-examples from physics” to the first way seem to be actually conflating instantaneous causation with simultaneous causation, and thus when they say physics rules out simultaneous causation, they really mean instantaneous causation, which draws no blood from the first way.

So, Aquinas has no problem with a baseball not changing during the fictitious instant it is hit by a bat, but he would be confused with how a bat can be changing a baseball if a baseball is not changing while at the same time a bat is changing it. Indeed, it seems mysterious how this could be possible without cross-temporal causation (i.e. time travel) and that is more than controversial to say the least.

Edward Feser said...

Hi Jeffery (if I may),

You're a mensch. Don't worry about it. If infidels.org readers really are in general as reasonable as you are, then I'm sorry I used them as the butt of my jokey remark in that article.

Re: simultaneity, several quick points:

(a) Contrary to what many readers seem to assume, "simultaneous" doesn't mean "instantaneous." To borrow an example from the Thomist Norris Clarke, when you push a chair across the room, the motion of the chair and the motion of your body are simultaneous but the causal action is not instantaneous. Some critics raise objections that are irrelevant because they mistake "simultaneous" for "all at the same exact instant." (Stephen Mumford and Rani Lill Anjum -- who have no theological ax to grind -- develop this point in chapter 5 of their book Getting Causes from Powers, where they defend simultaneous causation.)

(b) What is really doing the work in Thomistic arguments vis-a-vis essentially ordered causal series is in any case not simultaneity per se but rather the derivative or instrumental character of the causality of everything other than the first cause in such a series. And "first" here means "having primary or underived causal power" rather than "coming at the head of the queue." (See the blog post someone linked to above.)

(c) For that reason, the length of an essentially ordered causal series isn't really important either. Even if such a series were infinitely long, it would still require a "first" cause in the sense of something outside the series which has "built in" or underived causal power.

(d) In fact Thomists don't think that God causes things by working through series of causes anyway. God causes the existence of e.g. a stone directly, at every moment. Talk about series of such causes is best read in a "for the sake of argument" way. That is, even if the existence of the stone were the result of a series of causes, God would still have to be the cause of the series itself. But in fact he causes it directly, not through intermediaries.

(e) One reason Thomists appeal to examples involving simultaneity is that those are the paradigm cases of instrumental causality, even if the simultaneity of the members per se isn't what is important. Another reason is to emphasize the point that God's causal activity is taking place "here and now," not at some point in the past.

(f) So, the bottom line is that the simultaneity of cases like e.g. the hand moving the stick moving the stone isn't as such important at all. Once the relevant metaphysical ideas (instrumental causality, essence/existence, form/matter, act/potency etc.) are all in place it can be seen that the stick (for example) wouldn't even exist for a moment if it weren't directly actualized by God at that moment. Whether the stick's local motion is simultaneous with that of the stone (let alone instantaneous) falls away as ultimately not to the point.

I've spelled all this out in more detail than I did in TLS in various places, e.g. in my book on Aquinas, and in my ACPQ article "Existential Inertia and the Five Ways" (which I can send you if you like). There's a lot more on essentially ordered causes in my forthcoming Scholastic Metaphysics book too. But anyway, that's the short answer.

I've got to take the kids to a piano lesson, so let me get back to your other question.

BenYachov said...

Jeffery,

You are a class act and a real dude

I salute you!:-)

Mega-Cheers.

Jeffery Jay Lowder said...

Ed --

(Please feel free to call me Jeff.)

One other random question for you. Have you read Graham Oppy's objections to Aquinas's First, Second, and Third Ways in his (Oppy's) book, Arguing About Gods (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006), pp. 98-107?

I don't expect you to be persuaded by his objections, but it would be useful to know if you think he has accurately and fairly represented the arguments.

Jeff

Edward Feser said...

Hi Jeff,

Let me say first that I regard Graham the same way I do Mackie, Sobel, Smart, Smith, et al. -- he's a smart, serious, well-read philosopher for whom I have nothing but respect, and a good guy. (I've got an essay forthcoming in a volume he's editing that he kindly invited me to contribute to.)

Now, I have read what he says in Arguing about Gods, but in my view he doesn't get Aquinas right in that book. It seems to me that he reads into the first three Ways assumptions about causation, modality, etc. that are standard in contemporary analytic philosophy, but which Aquinas not only did not share but would have rejected. E.g. he does not seem aware that the notion of a per se or essentially ordered causal series is what underlies claims about the impossibility of an infinite regress, interprets modality in terms of possible worlds, ignores the relevance of the theory of act and potency, etc.

Graham is hardly unique in this regard, but his objections in that book are, in my view, of a sort which can be seen to miss Aquinas's point once the background Scholastic metaphysics is understood. Of course, one might still try to challenge that background metaphysics itself, but then the debate over Aquinas's proofs shifts to a very different level from that on which Oppy, Mackie et al. are approaching it.

Graham's discussion in his article in the recent Oxford Handbook of Medieval Philosophy is better, though naturally I still don't agree with it. I've thought about doing a blog post about it and will get to writing up a response at some point in some context or other.

Edward Feser said...

Hi again Jeff,

Re: your questions about classical theism:

First, though if I were "officially" giving a short definition of my own I'd want to think about it more carefully than I have time to do at the moment, it seems to me your characterization of classical theism itself is basically right.

Second, I have to confess that I'm not so happy with what you say about "mere theism." I imagine that you're trying to capture what's common to classical theism on the one hand, and what Brian Davies calls "theistic personalism" (and Norman Geisler calls "neo-theism") on the other.

Well, it's no secret that I really, really, really dislike theistic personalism. And that's putting it diplomatically. I think that, at least from a philosophical point of view, what the two views differ about is more significant than what they agree on. In particular, while there is a way to construe your definition of "mere theism" that is consistent with classical theism, the difference between the way a classical theist would interpret those claims and the way a theistic personalist would is so different that it seems to me it would be very misleading to suppose that they are mere riffs on a common philosophical view. They are not.

Mind you, I'm painting with a broad brush. "Theistic personalism" covers a lot of views. Some of them might be closer to classical theism than others. Certainly the versions that at least try to stay in harmony with the decrees of Church councils are bound to be much closer. But if (e.g.) someone flatly denies divine simplicity, then I would say the view that results is so far from classical theism that it is more misleading than it is illuminating to put both views under a "mere theism" umbrella. (I'd go further than that -- utterly to deny divine simplicity would leave one with something that isn't really God at all but only "a god," which, as far as I am concerned, Dawkins and Co. are free to abuse all they like.)

Catholic Stevie said...

Jeffery Jay Lowder is the man!

I sincerely mean it when I say I wish I could be as intellectually honest as him.

zmikecuber said...

Do you guys think idealism is compatible with Thomism?

Scott said...

@zmikecuber:

That depends what you mean by idealism. As I've mentioned once or twice in other threads, the Catholic Encyclopedia characterizes (correctly, in my view) Plato's teaching as "transcendental idealism" and Aristotle's as "immanent idealism" in the original and most important sense of the term; it would be odd indeed if Aristotle's version of "idealism" turned out to be incompatible with Thomism.

More modern versions are incompatible with Thomism in various degrees, but that's something to be decided case by case. In any event most (and I'm tempted to say "all") versions of it are in less significant conflict with Thomism than just about (and I'm tempted not to say "just about") any form of materialism.

zmikecuber said...

@Scott

When I speak of idealism, I mean that there isn't a mind-independant reality. I think that one can make good philosophical arguments from this, as well as arguments from quantum physics. Reality exists as possibilities in a waveform until an observer collapses the wave function. http://physicsworld.com/cws/article/news/2007/apr/20/quantum-physics-says-goodbye-to-reality

The other idea is that mind is irreducible to matter. I'm pretty sure we'd agree here. But it also seems impossible for anything immaterial to interact with something material. So it makes the most sense ontologically to just say that everything is of the same substance, that is "mind stuff." But if that's the case, why can't we just imagine the moon to dissolve? The answer would be that reality is a mental construct of a higher being, that of God.

I know this sounds like panentheism, but I think it's compatible with Catholicism if you make a distinction between God's transcendant essence, and the mental world this essence causes.

Under this view it also seems alot more obvious why the world is contingent, and why it must rely upon an intelligence for existence.

You might check out InspiringPhilosophy's videos, as well as Johanan Raatz's videos.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4l1lQMCOguw
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4C5pq7W5yRM

To me it seems obvious, at least from an epistemological sense, that reality is fundamentally mental.

What's your thoughts on this? The only thing I don't like is that it seems to lead to monism.

Scott said...

@zmikecuber:

The short answer is that for the most part I agree with you, with two caveats: (1) although I'm right there with you on the philosophical arguments (especially Sprigge's), I'm less sympathetic to the strictly quantum-mechanical arguments against mind-independent reality; and (2) I think it's important to emphasize that a mind-dependent reality may be dependent on God's mind/intellect but independent of ours. (Since Christian classical theism contends that God created/creates the universe by doing something analogous to thinking/speaking it, I think it already is "idealistic" in at least an analogical sense.)

It would take us very far afield to discuss all of this here, so I think I'm going to let it go at that. But it might interest you to know that I'm currently working on a short essay in which I raise the possibility that Aristotelian/Thomistic "prime matter" could actually be something like "mind-stuff." At the very least there are some interesting parallels between prime matter and consciousness that I had noticed even before reading Bill Vallicella's short but thought-provoking post on the subject.

Scott said...

(By the way, I didn't mean to imply by caveat (2) that you weren't making that point yourself. You very clearly did make it; I was just picking it out for emphasis.)

zmikecuber said...

Interesting. I think the quantum eraser experiment shows that reality is mind dependent though, and only exists insofar as a viewer views it.

I also found what you said about Christian theology very interesting. I never thought about that before.

But doesn't this view lead to monism in a way? I never thought Thomism was quite dualism, but I didn't think monism fit it either.

That sounds like an interesting essay. I'd love to read it.

Scott said...

@zmikecuber:

"But doesn't this view lead to monism in a way?"

Not as long as we're careful to distinguish between God and creation and make the second entirely dependent on the first. You've done that already yourself in saying that we need to "make a distinction between God's transcend[e]nt essence, and the mental world this essence causes."

Of course we don't want to say that God is related to the world in just exactly the same way that a subject is related to an object. But I think it's theologically safe to say that the relation between the two is something like that between a thought and its object, say, or an author and a "world" of literary characters. And that doesn't strike me as monistic.

Likewise, if we think prime matter might be something like "mind-stuff" or proto-consciousness, we have to distinguish it from God in the same way, lest we fancy either that (a) God somehow made the world out of His Own substance, or that (b) God is dependent on creation, since there's no consciousness without an object. But I think it's possible to sustain the analogy in such a way that to preserve both creation ex nihilo and God's absolute independence thereof.

Thanks for your interest in the essay. I have no idea when it will be finished (I'm pretty busy with freelance writing and editing projects at the moment) but I'll try to remember to post a link once it's online.

In the meantime, you might enjoy a couple of short expository pieces on Timothy Sprigge and John Leslie.

Scott said...

" . . . in such a way that we preserve."

zmikecuber said...

Alright, that sounds good. Yeah, I've run into some stuff in this area that sounds pretty heretical though. Such as saying that an integrated information = consciousness, and the universe is a system of integrated information, so the universe is a conscious state.

Now I guess that's not explicitly heretical, as long as you don't name that thing the almighty God.. lol.

But if the world is a mental construct of God, wouldn't that imply that the world is a "thought" of God? Now it doesn't follow from this that God and his thoughts are identical, but yeah...

Thanks for the articles. I'll look into those. You always post helpful links. :P

Scott said...

@zmikecuber:

"But if the world is a mental construct of God, wouldn't that imply that the world is a 'thought' of God?"

Only in an analogical sense. The relationship between God and creation isn't literally and univocally the same as that between Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and the eternally gaslit world of Sherlock Holmes, but the two are arguably analogous in some significant way.

The bottom line, I think, is that this approach can perhaps be made to work if we start with Thomism and work forward, but not if we start with (say) panpsychism or panentheism and try to work backward. For example, I think Aristotle's account of forms (or something like it and arguably equivalent to it) is needed in order to solve the famous "combination problem" of panpsychism. We're not going to derive that account from panpsychism. But if we have that account already in place, we may be able to accommodate some version of panpsychism within that larger Aristotelian context.

Scott said...

By the way, the articles to which I linked are mine, so don't count on their being too helpful. ;-)

Debilis said...

"The New Philistinism" was actually the first thing I read of yours. At the time, I was extremely exasperated by the New Atheists, and disheartened that ID proponents were the only alternative I could find.

It came as a breath of fresh air. I was relieved to see that someone else was passionate about thinking clearly about these issues, and willing to call the New Atheists on the smugness of their rhetoric.

I suspect that many here have a story like that. And I also suspect that the atheists who complain about the comment have forgotten about the kinds of one-liners that were being thrown at theists at the time (not that it doesn't still happen).

I'm very much in favor of a thoughtful discourse, but I think a promoter of infidels.org is on very shaky ground to complain about name-calling.

Jeffery Jay Lowder said...

I'm very much in favor of a thoughtful discourse, but I think a promoter of infidels.org is on very shaky ground to complain about name-calling.

I don't believe I've engaged in name calling against theistic philosophers. I feel on quite solid ground to complain. I think you've got infidels.org mixed up with some other website. We're not the new atheists. We have a peer-reviewed scholarly library where we at least try to get the views of our dialectical opponents correct. We also welcome essays by theistic scholars for publication; indeed, we have repeatedly sought out rebuttals to materials by our nontheistic authors.

Tony said...

think that one can make good philosophical arguments from this, as well as arguments from quantum physics. Reality exists as possibilities in a waveform until an observer collapses the wave function. http://physicsworld.com/cws/article/news/2007/apr/20/quantum-physics-says-goodbye-to-reality

The other idea is that mind is irreducible to matter. I'm pretty sure we'd agree here. But it also seems impossible for anything immaterial to interact with something material.


zmike, what about animals? They are observers, but not mindful. Do they reduce waveforms to specific forms? Then you would have (in some sense) mind-independent reality. (Not in the sense of being independent of God.)

What about plants? They perform operations of respiration, metabolism, reproduction. Are these examples of waveform reduction?

The thing to realize about the Christian teaching is that while God does not create (cannot create) something that can persist independently of His sustenance, he DOES create things that are really and truly distinct from him - and from his thoughts. The thought that he uses to sustain us is not the same thing as us.

And, no there is nothing difficult about mind affecting material things.

Scott, the problem with your notion is that "mere" matter is lesser in being than form: to the extent that the matter and form of a natural substance can be considered (logically) as if independent of the other, the form is more being than the matter is: it is more like the actuality. Since the operation of the mind (alone) is purely spiritual, it cannot "BE" that of which the matter exists. Quite the opposite: mere matter is the least knowable of all senses of being, the most remote from both actuality simply and from knowability.

Scott said...

@Tony:

"Scott, the problem with your notion is that 'mere' matter is lesser in being than form: to the extent that the matter and form of a natural substance can be considered (logically) as if independent of the other, the form is more being than the matter is: it is more like the actuality. Since the operation of the mind (alone) is purely spiritual, it cannot 'BE' that of which the matter exists. Quite the opposite: mere matter is the least knowable of all senses of being, the most remote from both actuality simply and from knowability."

That's a very helpful comment and I'll have to give it some sustained thought.

My initial response is to distinguish between (proto-)consciousness/experience and intellect, to acknowledge that the latter is spiritual and thus (I agree) not matter/material, but still to maintain the possibility that a sort of primitive "experience" might satisfy the definition or prime matter.

But that's not anything like a final answer, and I assure you I'll consider your reply carefully in writing my essay. Thank you.

Scott said...

Also:

"The thought that he uses to sustain us is not the same thing as us."

I agree, and this was a key point for both zmikecuber and myself. As he put it, we need to "make a distinction between God's transcend[e]nt essence, and the mental world this essence causes." The "thought" by which God creates/sustains the world is not the same "thought" of which our consciousness consists; our minds aren't made out of God's "substance" as the raw material.

Quentin S Crisp said...

Hello.

I'm currently reading your Philosophy of Mind and finding it very interesting. The only formal study I have made of philosophy was at A-level (I'm British), when I studied the philosophy of religion, but I have always had an interest in philosophy (I am also currently reading Jaspers on Nicholas of Cusa).

I really just thought I'd say hello, because I find the prose of the book admirably non-obfuscatory, and there are many well-turned phrases there. And also, being a fan of The Smiths, I noticed this post.