Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Corrupting the Calvinist youth [UPDATED]


Some guy named “Steve” who contributes to the group apologetics blog Triablogue informs us that “Feser seems to have a following among some young, philosophically-minded Calvinists.”  (Who knew?)  “Steve” is awfully perturbed by this, as he has “considerable reservations” about me, warning that I am not “a very promising role model for aspiring Reformed philosophers.” And why is that?  Not, evidently, because of the quality of my philosophical arguments, as he does not address a single argument I have ever put forward.  Indeed, he admits that he has made only an “admittedly cursory sampling” of my work -- and, it seems, has read only some blog posts of mine, at that -- and acknowledges that “this may mean I'm not qualified to offer an informed opinion of Feser.”  So he offers an uninformed opinion instead, making some amazingly sweeping remarks on the basis of his “admittedly cursory” reading.  (Why that is the sort of example “aspiring Reformed philosophers” should emulate, I have no idea.)

Normally I ignore this sort of drive-by blogging, but since Triablogue seems to have a significant readership among people interested in apologetics, I suppose I should say something lest “Steve” corrupt the Calvinist youth by his rash example.
 
“Intelligent Design” theory

So, what’s “Steve’s” beef?  The first of his by-his-own-admission-uninformed objections to my work is this:

[Feser]'s a vociferous critic of intelligent-design theory. Now, ID-theory is fair game. However, it's philosophically unenlightening when philosophers like Feser (and Francis Beckwith) criticize ID-theory because it isn't Thomism. Unless you grant that Thomist epistemology and metaphysics should be the standard of comparison, that objection is uninteresting. 

Now, he’s right that I’m a critic of ID theory.  But his philosophy-by-power-browsing method has failed him badly if he thinks that my criticisms boil down to: “Well, it isn’t Thomism, ergo…”  First of all, as I have emphasized many times, I have two main problems with ID theory.  First, I hold that it presupposes, even if just for methodological purposes, a seriously problematic philosophy of nature.  Second, I hold that it tends to lead to a dangerously anthropomorphic conception of God that is incompatible with classical theism.  (See the posts linked to above for detailed exposition of these lines of criticism.)

Now, to take the second point first, lots of classical theists are not Thomists.  And I imagine there are lots of people who might find it worthwhile inquiring whether classical theism and ID theory are compatible whether or not they are classical theists, or Thomists, or ID theorists for that matter.  For knowing how various ideas cohere or fail to cohere with one another is part of the philosophical task.  So, surely it can be “philosophically enlightening” to consider the arguments of those who hold that classical theism and ID theory are incompatible, no? 

To come to my other line of criticism of ID, it is true that my reasons for rejecting the philosophy of nature that underlies ID theory are Aristotelian reasons, and Thomists are Aristotelians.  However, this in no way entails that these reasons should be regarded as “philosophically unenlightening” to those who happen not to be Thomists.  For one thing, you don’t need to be a Thomist to find it of interest whether ID theory is compatible with Aristotelianism.  Not all Aristotelians are Thomists -- for example, many contemporary neo-Aristotelian metaphysicians and philosophers of science are not Thomists -- so that if ID theory is incompatible with Aristotelianism, it isn’t just Thomists who will reject ID’s underlying philosophy of nature.  And as with the relationship between classical theism and ID theory, the relationship between Thomism and ID theory should be of philosophical interest in itself.  (For example, if it turns out that Thomism and ID theory really are incompatible, surely this can be “philosophically enlightening” for those who are drawn to Thomism but don’t know what to make of ID theory, or who are drawn to ID theory but don’t know what to make of Thomism.)

Finally, I have, of course, given arguments -- at length, in depth, and in various books and articles -- for the various aspects of the Aristotelian philosophy of nature.  I don’t say: “If you just happen by arbitrary preference to be a Thomist like me, then you should reject ID theory.”  I say:  “Here are the arguments for why you should accept the Aristotelian position vis-à-vis act and potency, substantial form, final causality, etc.; and since ID theory is incompatible with all that, you should reject ID theory.” 

“Steve,” despite his touching concern for the sound formation of “aspiring Reformed philosophers,” does not answer, or indeed even seem to be aware of, any of these philosophical arguments.  But when a Thomist [or a Leibnizian, or a naturalist, or whatever] offers arguments for a position, it is no good for an “aspiring philosopher” to say: “Well, I’m not a Thomist [or a Leibnizian, or a naturalist, or whatever], so I don’t find all that ‘philosophically enlightening.’”  An “aspiring philosopher” should respond to the damn arguments.  Awful luck for those who would prefer to limit their philosophical investigations to the “admittedly cursory” kind, but there it is. 

I absolutely love this addendum by “Steve,” by the way:

[T]he problem is compounded by the fact that Feser's understanding of Paley and ID-theory have both been challenged. Consider the running debates between his blog and Uncommon Descent.

That’s it.  That’s all he says about the matter.  Do you hear that, “aspiring Reformed philosophers”?  Feser’s views have been challenged!  That never happens to serious philosophers.

“Doctrinaire” Thomism

“Steve’s” second by-his-own-admission-uninformed objection to me is that my Thomism is “doctrinaire,” “purist,” etc.  We shouldn’t be concerned with “expounding or repristinating Aquinas, but in advancing the argument,” sniffs “Steve.”  For “ultimately, philosophy is about ideas.  It doesn't matter where you get your ideas.”  (Unless they’re from Feser, naturally.) 

The funny thing is that “Steve” never actually cites a case where I claim that something is true merely because Aquinas or some prominent Thomist like Cajetan said it, or where I have rejected a claim merely because it deviates from Aquinas or from the Thomist tradition -- which he couldn’t have done even if he’d bothered to give my work more than an “admittedly cursory” reading, because I have never said such a thing.

“Steve” piously avers, as if he were saying something I would disagree with:

From an intellectual standpoint, a misinterpretation can be more useful than a correct interpretation. Suppose you improve on Aquinas by unintentionally imputing to him a better theory than he held. That's bad exegesis, but good philosophy.

Yet compare this passage from my book Scholastic Metaphysics: A Contemporary Introduction:

No great philosopher, no matter how brilliant and systematic, ever uncovers all the implications of his position, foresees every possible objection, or imagines what rival systems might come into being centuries in the future.  His work is never finished, and if it is worth finishing, others will come along to do the job.  Since their work is, naturally, never finished either, a tradition of thought develops, committed to working out the implications of the founder’s system, applying it to new circumstances and challenges, and so forth.  Thus Plato had Plotinus, Aristotle had Aquinas, and Aquinas had Cajetan – to name just three famous representatives of Platonism, Aristotelianism, and Thomism, respectively.  And thus you cannot fully understand Plato unless you understand Platonism, you cannot fully understand Aristotle unless you understand Aristotelianism, you cannot fully understand Thomas unless you understand Thomism, and so on.  True, writers in the traditions in question often disagree with one another and sometimes simply get things wrong.  But that is all the more reason to study them if one wants to understand the founders of these traditions; for the tensions and unanswered questions in a tradition reflect the richness of the system of thought originated by its founder.  (pp. 7-8, emphasis added)

But to be fair, “Steve” can’t have been expected to see passages like that, since it would require actually bothering to read someone’s work before criticizing it; and that, it seems, is not an approach to research he would commend to “aspiring Reformed philosophers.”  Apparently, it is Jerry Coyne to whom young Calvinists should be looking for methodological guidance.

“Steve” compares me unfavorably to other Catholic philosophers.  After all, “Geach… did groundbreaking work on Frege” and “Pruss doesn't hesitate to synthesize Aristotelian and Leibnizian insights.”  Since I don’t try to assimilate Aquinas to Frege, that simply must be because my method is to stick my fingers in my ears and chant: “If Aquinas himself didn’t say it, it isn’t true!”  It can’t be because I have actual philosophical reasons for thinking that there is more to the notion of existence than is captured by Frege (see Aquinas, pp. 55-59 and Scholastic Metaphysics, pp. 250-55).  And if I am critical of the Leibnizian approach to possible worlds, that must be because I couldn’t find it in the index to the Summa.  It definitely isn’t because I think the Aristotelian conception of modality is actually superior on the philosophical merits (Scholastic Metaphysics, pp. 235-41).

Then there’s all that non-existent work of mine synthesizing Aristotelian and Kripkean insights; synthesizing Aristotelian insights and insights drawn from Karl Popper; defending the principle of sufficient reason, despite its origins in Leibnizian-Wolffian rationalism, against Gilsonian Thomists who reject it as a foreign import (Scholastic Metaphysics pp. 138-40); defending the classification of Aquinas as a kind of dualist despite the fact that many Thomists strenuously disavow that label; and bringing Scholastic thought and analytic philosophy into dialogue (see Scholastic Metaphysics, Aquinas, and indeed most of what I’ve written for the past ten years).  Again, none of that exists.  Or, to be more precise, none of it showed up on “Steve’s” iPhone when he was doing research for his blog post on the subway to work Monday morning.

“Isn't Feser basically a popularizer?” asks “Steve.”  And it’s a reasonable enough question for him to ask, given that he hasn’t actually read any of my academic stuff but only a couple of blog posts, and thus doesn’t know that the answer is: “No, he isn’t.  Haven’t you read any of his academic stuff?  What did you do, just read a couple of blog posts?” 

Not being a mere popularizer, it seems, involves tossing off half-baked blog posts of your own putting forward sweeping judgments based on what you acknowledge to be a cursory knowledge of the facts.  Ecce blogger, aspiring young Reformed philosophers!  

UPDATE 4/30:  Some readers are wondering why I put quotation marks around “Steve’s” name.  The reason is that “Steve” is evidently not a real person but a spambot, and not a very sophisticated one.  That was obvious enough from “Steve’s” original post, and in a follow-up post and in various spambot-generated combox remarks beneath it, the telltale signs are all there -- oddly robotic repetition of statements that have already been refuted, failure to address what an interlocutor actually said, non sequiturs, etc.  (Triablogue guys, get some better AI software, huh?)

123 comments:

204 said...

I am curious as to why there is always a picture that accompanies the blog entry, and how you go about picking or making a relevant one? And how much time do you spend on the picture?

Anonymous said...

//Since I don’t try to assimilate Aquinas to Frege, that simply must be because my method is to stick my fingers in my ears and chant: “If Aquinas himself didn’t say it, it isn’t true!”//

LOLZ! Can anyone possibly read through this particular blog post without laughing? Thanks for this awesome post, Dr. Feser! :-)

~ Mark

Anonymous said...

Professor Feser,

I used to take you seriously -- but now that I have discovered that your views have been challenged, I think that I had better stop. From here on out I will stick to good reformed thinkers such as Plantinga. Their views have never met with any serious objection.

Anonymous said...

I, for one, am happy you are a popularizer, as if this material could ever be "popular". BTW, Amazon is slow to ship your most recent book of popular writings. It must be on back order due to its popularity.

Nathanael said...

As a young Reformed guy who reads your blog regularly I'd just like to say, keep up the good work.

Daniel said...

I think it is ridiculous that anyone should say that you ignore Frege when you frequently mention how great an influence his article ‘The Thought’ was in turning you away from any physicalist philosophy of mind. For the record, I add that whilst Geach tried to incorporate Frege’s view on the ontological status of Existence, the most unhelpful example of his intellectual legacy, he attacked the German philosopher’s understanding of Propositions which was one of his most valuable.

It would be nice though if you might mention modern scholastic thinkers who have made positive advances in philosophy beyond what was solely available in original Thomism. What for instance would be your opinion on the Realist Phenomenological scholasticism of Pope John Paul II and Dietrich Von Hildebrand or the Critical Realism of Bernard Lonergan?

- Hang on, Plantinga’s views have never been challenged? What possible world are you living in?

Daniel (who incidentally does not agree with Feser’s views on the PSR, Possible Worlds, the Ontological Argument, Ethics and probably more)

Nathanael said...

So I went over to Triablogue (my first visit there) and saw that the author recommended getting my theology from Turretin and my philosophy from Plantinga and Swinburne. Because apparently the best way to support Reformed theology is to follow guys who reject divine simplicity, divine aseity, and predestination. Oh, and who have a "social" view of the Trinity. Because I guess he never bothered to actually read Turretin (who was as scholastic as they come).

Ray said...

Dr. Feser,

As a Presbyterian with a love for Aquinas (basically, a modified Thomist), I want to say thanks for your work. I've been following your blog for a few years now and have read a number of your books too. (Just got my copy of Scholastic Metaphysics last week!)

Not all of us Reformed types are as blind to our shared philosophical tradition. Sure, there are some differences; but the similarities are far greater.

It's my hope that more Reformed people will read your work (as well as, the works of other Thomists and Reformed scholastics)and reflect upon all that we can learn from a tradition we have largely cast aside.

I look forward to seeing you in NY for the Aquinas on God conference and might even catch you again at DSPT as I'm planing to be back home in beautiful Northern California in July!

Thanks again for your work.

Ray

Greg said...

Face it, Professor Feser. You're a popularizer and you could never hope to emulate Steve's tight academic prose!

JS said...

This post made my day, and it's only 5 am!

Rhology said...

An “aspiring philosopher” should respond to the damn arguments.

In your anger do not sin.
Eph 4:26BE ANGRY, AND yet DO NOT SIN; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27and do not give the devil an opportunity. 28He who steals must steal no longer; but rather he must labor, performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have something to share with one who has need. 29Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.

Didn't have to use profanity.

Jared said...

@204, I don't know how he does it. My guess is an unhealthy obsession with comics, but I love them, and it's one of the reasons I check this blog daily.

rockingwithhawking said...

As a side note, I don't read that Steve is "awfully perturbed" in his post. Rather, it seems like a matter of fact post to me. So I think you're imputing a state of mind or the like to his post which simply isn't there. If this is the case, then perhaps it tells us more about how you were affected by his post than his own state of mind? Just a thought.

Anonymous said...

Well put Dr Feser.

All that is necessary for the triumph of bunk is that men of sense say nothing.

Anonymous said...

Didn't have to use profanity.

Using profanity is far less serious than intellectual dishonesty (e.g., willful misrepresentation of someone's philosophical outlook). Just fyi.

Rhology said...

The fact that someone else sinned doesn't remove one's own need of repentance.
That's just basic logic.

Nick said...

I've seen the same kind of thing from Steve as well. It's quite disheartening.

rockingwithhawking said...

Hm, why isn't a fair chunk of your academic work reasonably categorized as popularization? For example, your book Scholastic Metaphysics: A Contemporary Introduction is an introduction to the topic without breaking significant new ground, no? Likewise, you've contributed two papers to your book Aristotle on Method and Metaphysics. The first is an introductory article which offers a lay of the land, whereas the second is on "Motion in Aristotle, Newton, and Einstein," but, for starters, it seems there's more historical survey and overview and less critical analysis. In addition, hasn't similar stuff already been said and done by other scholars?

That said, popularization needn't have a negative connotation in case that's what you might think. It's a necessary good in society.

And not sure what's up with the scare quotes around "Steve"?

Anonymous said...

Hmm, I'm betting rockingwithhawking = Steve.

Anonymous said...

The fact that someone else sinned doesn't remove one's own need of repentance.
That's just basic logic.


Hence the lighthearted "just fyi" remark, to shore up against the possibility that I was trying to absolve one sin on the basis of another. I wasn't.

It seemed exceedingly odd for you to not call out or acknowledge the gross "sin" of Steve when you took the time to give a scriptural argument against the minor "sin" of Feser.

rockingwithhawking said...

As I read his post, I don't think Steve is suggesting you're "corrupting the Calvinist youth." I think his post is saying it's better to go to other philosophers rather than yourself for the reasons stated in his post. Saying there are better role models besides yourself for young Reformed philosophers isn't tantamount to saying you're "corrupting the Calivinist youth."

Plus, Steve does state your work is quite useful for young, philosophically-minded Calvinists. That's a good thing.

As such, your spin on his post isn't a fair characterization. And if the anonymous commenter who states "Using profanity is far less serious than intellectual dishonesty (e.g., willful misrepresentation of someone's philosophical outlook)" is correct, then that's something to keep in mind as well.

rockingwithhawking said...

"Hmm, I'm betting rockingwithhawking = Steve."

Sorry to disappoint you, but I'm not Steve. Although if I were it'd certainly be an improvement over who I am!

Jacob Steiner said...

Dr. Feser. First off, I have to give you a certain gratitude of thanks. During my reversion to Catholicism I too discovered St. Thomas Aquinas. I wanted to learn from the great Saint and his philosophical/theological system. Reading Mortimer books on Aristotle and then your book on Aquinas has really shaped me into a better defending of the faith and ultimately the the truth. I say thank you for the work that you do, the talks that you give, and the books you write.Thank you for saying yes to Unmoved mover, Uncaused caused, Most perfect being, and Supreme Intelligence I.E. God.

DNW said...

Please Feser, always bear in mind that above all - philosopher or no- you are to comport yourself in the modern Catholic male fashion; as so ably modeled by eminences such as Thomas Gumbleton, and Joseph Bernardin.

Who with benign simpers and mild manners "... maketh as thoughe butter wolde nat melte in his mouthe"

And so should you too.

You don't want to come off like this guy ....http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pxB02PsKG2A&feature=player_detailpage#t=259

As a non-Catholic I feel I have a special right to demand that you give no offense and always tread lightly and with delicacy of feeling; lest scandal be given and souls lost. Not that we take any of that stuff seriously anyway. But it seems fair to demand that you be double bound by the ligatures of those who have done so much over the last 40 years to make Catholicism the great success it has so obviously become.

Gene Callahan said...

@Rhology: "Didn't have to use profanity."

Are you serious? Certain "magic" words have inherently naughty properties?!

ccmnxc said...

I used to take you seriously -- but now that I have discovered that your views have been challenged, I think that I had better stop. From here on out I will stick to good reformed thinkers such as Plantinga. Their views have never met with any serious objection.

I can't tell if this is satire or not (darn you, Poe's Law!). In case it is, or in case anyone else might agree, I'd say that the objections of guys like J.L. Mackie and David Lewis certainly qualify as "serious" objectors (or heck, even Brian Davies has criticized Plantinga).

Brandon said...

Hm, why isn't a fair chunk of your academic work reasonably categorized as popularization?

Because that's not what 'popularization' means; it is an activity that has different standards and requirements entirely from historical survey and systematic synthesis, generally focused on a completely different set of readers. If your argument made any sense at all it would imply that you could turn a work, however scholarly, complicated, or intricate, into a popularization simply by republishing it, since it would no longer be original; or long complicated meta-analyses turning on technical logical or statistical details would be popularizations because they cover ground already covered. One might as well take the literature survey that opens so many doctoral dissertations to be a 'popularization'.

steve said...

http://triablogue.blogspot.com/2014/04/helping-feser-think.html

Scott said...

@"steve":

Your latest rant is unlikely to draw anything but laughter from those of us who are—unlike (by your own admission) you—"qualified to offer an informed opinion of Feser."

This is a pretty good example of the depths of silliness to which you descend:

"[U]nless you have a vested interest in the truth of Thomism, it's philosophically unenlightening to judge ID theory by that yardstick."

That is utter nonsense on several levels.

First of all, if being rationally persuaded that a particular philosophy is true amounts to having a "vested interest" in it, I must have missed that day of logic class.

Second, pointing out the incompatibilities between two philosophical outlooks is not the same thing as judging one by the yardstick of the other.

Third, even if Ed's sole purpose were to evaluate ID theory by the yardstick of Thomism, that wouldn't make it philosophically uninteresting to everyone who didn't have a "vested interest" in Thomism.

I'm not going to go through your entire post and pick it apart, but the rest is of similar quality. Not only are you a mouse nipping at the heels of an elephant, but you haven't even got the right elephant.

Greg said...

It's kind of like how I find Kant's evaluation of Hume to be unenlightening; I am not a Kantian, so anything Kant had to say is clearly valueless to me.

Brandon said...

One of the background problems with regard to the ID issue is that Ed is usually not just veering out of his way to take shots at ID; there is a context, and the relevant element of the context here is that ID proponents over the past several years have repeatedly tried to co-opt Thomism as a particular form of ID. In such a context, whether or not anyone has a vested interest in Thomism is not particularly relevant to anything; the major question is how the one position relates to the other, and in such a context the failure of ID to measure up to Thomist principles is the entire point, whether anyone in the discussion is a Thomist or not.

Greg said...

For example, your book Scholastic Metaphysics: A Contemporary Introduction is an introduction to the topic without breaking significant new ground, no?

I haven't seen any other work that has juxtaposed some of the scientific essentialists etc. with the scholastics on causation, dispositions, etc. (Perhaps I am just not well-read enough, though.)

I'd also say that, at least among analytic Thomists, Feser seems to place a pretty unique emphasis on the constructive act/potency approach.

Divine Frenzy said...

Ah, Steve Hays. I remember reading his interactions with Jonathan Prejean. He has a collection of their initial dialogues here:

http://crimsoncatholic.blogspot.com/2007/04/my-interaction-with-anti-catholics.html

There are more and you can do a simple search on his blog to see his understanding of Thomism back then. For instance: http://crimsoncatholic.blogspot.com/2007/09/protestant-fideism-not-catholic-deism.html

I hope he's learned a thing or two in the past decade, but as a heads up, if you interact with his recent reply, make sure to follow in Prejean's footsteps:

"Well, my primary goal in having a discussion with Steve Hays was to assemble a record to demonstrate why I thought reasonable discussion with him was impossible, and I think I've done that... This record is being compiled to explain why Hays is not even sufficiently reasonable to attempt dialogue. It is a cautionary tale for people who might be otherwise inclined to interact with Hays that his ideas of what is "fair game" are outside the bounds of reasonable argumentation."

http://crimsoncatholic.blogspot.com/2006/12/on-more-personal-note.html

Seamus said...

Using profanity is far less serious than intellectual dishonesty (e.g., willful misrepresentation of someone's philosophical outlook). Just fyi.

Besides which, the use of the word "damn" in that context isn't profanity (i.e., the treating of something sacred in a profane manner). (If he had referred to "the goddam argument," that might be regarded as profanity, since it would arguably constitute a misuse of the name of God.) Indeed, in the context it was uses, it wasn't even cursing. (Though I suppose calling it a "damned" argument, meaning that you want the argument to be literally condemned to hell, *would* be cursing.)

John Bugay said...

Divine Frenzy: Thanks for that example. Prejean is giving a very good example here of the rule, "if you can't defeat the man's arguments, then insult him".

Jonathan Garcia said...

It is hillarious that the post is called "Doubting Thomist", yet he doesn't gives a single reason why we should doubt thomism.

S.K. said...

Steve is just looking to argue, there's little point engaging with him.

Anonymous said...

@Steve:

The first rule of holes is to stop digging. You just dug yourself even deeper, and you now proceed to advertise the fact in this combox.

Since you Triablogers love to quote scripture as though it were some kind of moral weapon, try this one on for size:

"Pride cometh before destruction, and haughty spirits before a great fall".

I trust you know the reference.

Mark Thomas said...

Well said, Dr. Feser. There's a lot of "bright" fools on the web that dismiss something simply because "others disagree". Further, there are more objection to intelligent design theory that are also independent of your metaphysics. For instance, check out Tim and Lydia McGrew's thoughts on the matter. On a side note I want to thank you for writing your polemic The Last Superstition. Please inspire your students to write more polemics as they speak to a part of the person that most other "cool and calm" books don't.

Ty said...

Guys, guys, can we please all calm down? Christian charity, please...

"Let not the sun go down on your anger..."

Scott said...

@Ty:

I won't claim to speak for all who have responded, but I didn't reply in anger and I don't see any anger anyone else's replies.

At any rate, not letting the sun go down on your anger presumes that the other party is available for reconciliation.

Scott said...

. . . anger in anyone else's replies.

TimL said...

""Another funny thing is how he initially takes umbrage at what I said about him, then in a roundabout way admits that what I said was true. Take this:


Now, he’s right that I’m a critic of ID theory. But his philosophy-by-power-browsing method has failed him badly if he thinks that my criticisms boil down to: “Well, it isn’t Thomism, ergo…” First of all, as I have emphasized many times, I have two main problems with ID theory. First, I hold that it presupposes, even if just for methodological purposes, a seriously problematic philosophy of nature.


And what, pray tell, is the corrective? Wanna bet it's Thomism?""


Steve, I'm slapping my forehead reading that.
You completely missed Feser's point.
Or maybe you're intentionally acting it out in an ironic way to make some grand point that I'm missing.

Greg said...

Indeed he does. Take him where TimL quoted him. Feser's critique of the philosophy of nature behind ID does not rely on Thomism. His series of posts on Nagel are themselves a critique of that mechanistic philosophy of nature.

Feser regards the weakness of naturalism (explicit in full-blown naturalism and implicit in ID) as a reason to adopt Thomism, but his critique of it does not rely on Thomism.

Steve knows none of this, having by his own admission not read enough of Feser to know better (though he nevertheless insists that he shouldn't have to read Feser). Instead he picks through Feser's post and comes up with one-line retorts, looking for "concessions" where there aren't any.

rockingwithhawking said...

"It is hillarious that the post is called 'Doubting Thomist', yet he doesn't gives a single reason why we should doubt thomism."

Many of the commenters here don't give a single reason for what they say. Rather, they write as if they're siding with Feser due to nothing more than Catholic partisanship.

Jeremy Taylor said...

The commentators here are not writing blog postings. What's your point?

A lot of the commentators are, in fact, well informed enough about Dr. Feser's writings and philosophy in general to at least not be impressed by this Steve. I'm not sure why they'd be obligated to post their own detailed refutations of his blog entries to comment here. Maybe I'm missing something?

Greg said...

Many of the commenters here don't give a single reason for what they say. Rather, they write as if they're siding with Feser due to nothing more than Catholic partisanship.

Sure they have. Steve spends the bulk of his recent post trying to twist Feser's words into a concession that Feser's critique of Thomism is "philosophically unenlightening" to someone who isn't a Thomist.

As Scott has pointed out, this is philosophically outrageous. People read debates between philosophers, neither of whom they agree with, precisely because there is plenty to learn from people you don't agree with. As I have said, you don't have to be a Kantian to take interest in Kant's appropriation of Hume. And you don't have to be a Thomist to take interest in Feser's critique of ID. (It's also worth noting that even if Feser's critiques of ID were entirely based on Thomism, those interested in ID might find them appropriate because if a significant branch of theistic philosophy is incompatible with ID, it is very relevant to the ID movement.)

Here is a representative example of Steve's post:

Feser: Second, I hold that it tends to lead to a dangerously anthropomorphic conception of God that is incompatible with classical theism.

Steve: And the version of classical theism he espouses is…Thomism!

Feser: Now, to take the second point first, lots of classical theists are not Thomists.

Steve: A red herring, inasmuch as that's the kind of classical theist he is.


Perhaps I'm just siding with Feser out of my "Catholic partisanship," but this exchange strikes me as manifestly uncharitable on Steve's part.

The argument that Feser is making is clearly that ID is incompatible with classical theism. Not just Thomism, which is the subset of classical theism that Feser endorses. The issue with ID from the classical theistic perspective is that it portrays God as an artificer who acts on preexisting matter with its own quasi-mechanistic tendencies. That view of God is incompatible not just with Thomism but with other varieties of classical theism.

Instead of recognizing that this is the point Feser is making, Steve substitutes in "Thomism" for "classical theism" to twist Feser's words into a concession that wasn't there until Steve put it there, and then when Feser's next statement contradicts Steve's mangling of the argument, Steve calls it a red herring.

The whole post is of this quality. I don't even know what there is to respond to.

Jeremy Taylor said...

And I'm not a member of the Roman Church.

Anonymous said...

Many of the commenters here don't give a single reason for what they say. Rather, they write as if they're siding with Feser due to nothing more than Catholic partisanship.

Considering the near-complete lack of talk of Catholicism both in the replies and in the OP, this is a bizarre charge to make.

Jeremy Taylor said...

I do think it incorrect though that ID is incompatible with Classical Theism. Maybe this is because I'm not sure what is being referred to as ID.

Does ID have to refer to a well-developed and mechanistic philosophical position, or can it just refer to scientific and mathematical critiques of the science of Darwinism? If it is the latter, then is it not compatible with Classical Theism?


Timotheos said...

Jeremy Taylor: "And I'm not a member of the Roman Church."

And neither am I nor Scott for that matter, so it's not like we're all "Crazy Kool-Aid Catholics" here.


Anon: "Considering the near-complete lack of talk of Catholicism both in the replies and in the OP, this is a bizarre charge to make."

The thing you haven't considered however is that you can't remove talk of Catholicism from an OP... :P

Rhology said...

It seemed exceedingly odd for you to not call out or acknowledge the gross "sin" of Steve when you took the time to give a scriptural argument against the minor "sin" of Feser.

1) You actually have no idea whether I called Steve on his own sin.
2) No need to put "sin" in scare quotes. It is a sin. Dr Feser ought to repent of it.
3) Perhaps I disagree that Steve sinned, and don't want to bother entering the debate at that level.

Rhology said...

Gene Callahan:
Certain "magic" words have inherently naughty properties?!

Nothing magic about them. And yes, words mean things. Maybe you could...read the Ephesians 4 passage I cited.

Anonymous said...

Man driven to suicide by ex wife and divorce courts


Chris Mackney committed suicide on December 29, 2013 because his ex wife was using the divorce courts in America to torture him and kidnap his children from him. He wrote a 4 page suicide note before killing himself.

http://www.brainsyntax.com/Portal/Material/1/Lasttestamentofalovingfatherabusedbythefamilycourtsystem.pdf


LATEST UPDATE: The ex-wife is such a psychopath that is she trying to copyright her ex husband's suicide note, in order to prevent it from being circulated on the internet. She is using her lawyers to threaten legal action against websites that published Chris's suicide letter. She is trying to silence him, even in death.

The website "A Voice for Men" also got a letter from her lawyers and wrote an article about it yesterday:
http://www.avoiceformen.com/mens-rights/family-courts/here-come-the-lawyers-to-avfm-yet-again/

Here's a few more updates:

http://henrymakow.com/2014/04/Ex-Wife-Removes-Husbands-Suicide-Note-from-Internet.html

http://www.crimesagainstfathers.com/usa/Forums/tabid/362/forumid/261/threadid/9799/scope/posts/Default.aspx

http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20140425/11184127030/ex-wife-allegedly-using-copyright-to-take-down-husbands-suicide-note-where-he-blames-their-custody-battle.shtml

http://womenformen.org/2014/04/29/the-chris-mackney-story/

Greg said...

The thing you haven't considered however is that you can't remove talk of Catholicism from an OP... :P

Very nice.

rockingwithhawking said...

@"Feser"

UPDATE 4/30: Some readers are wondering why I put quotation marks around "Steve's" name. The reason is that "Steve" is evidently not a real person but a spambot, and not a very sophisticated one. That was obvious enough from "Steve's" original post, and in a follow-up post and in various spambot-generated combox remarks beneath it, the telltale signs are all there -- oddly robotic repetition of statements that have already been refuted, failure to address what an interlocutor actually said, non sequiturs, etc. (Triablogue guys, get some better AI software, huh?)

If "Steve" is a spambot, then I take it this means "Feser" is PEBKAC, and a very sophisticated PEBKAC. That was obvious enough from "Feser's" original post, and in this update and in various PEBKAC-generated remarks beneath it, the telltale signs are all there -- failure at basic reading comprehension, inability to follow the logic of an argument, attempts at wit which are too clever by half, an overly defensive posture, etc. ("Feser" guy, 01110100 01110010 01111001 00100000 01110010 01100101 01100010 01101111 01101111 01110100 01101001 01101110 01100111, huh?)

Anonymous said...

failure at basic reading comprehension, inability to follow the logic of an argument, attempts at wit which are too clever by half, an overly defensive posture, etc.

RWH, the words have been comprehended, there's not much argument or logic present with Steve on this subject, the defensiveness is imagined, and while Ed's probably too clever for Steve by a mile, that says more about Steve than Ed.

Nick said...

Steve forgets apparently that a number of us fans of Feser are Protestants who happen to think Aquinas's metaphysics is right on a number of points. He can argue against Catholicism all day and not touch Feser's arguments. It's a straw man and for his audience, a way of poisoning the well.

machinephilosophy said...

Reformed epistemology doesn't just conflate unargued ontological conditionals with logical justification, but is itself just one big worship-fest to reason, in spite of itself. It's self-referentially inconsistent to the core, as well as dishonest. But it's great for idiot legalists who want to stay insulated and still pretend they're deep intellectuals. "Statement rotation system: Engage!"

These days, just about the only people with their head screwed on right about general reason, logic, and the nature of God are the Thomists.

[By the way, my fellow sinful Thomists, in Blanshard's The Nature of Thought, Volume II, Book III The Movement of Reflection, Chapter XIV How Reflection Starts, pages 37 and following, I've just discovered some amazing material that pertains to intensionality, final causality and the directedness of necessary tendencies in thought. Pages 40-43 alone should provide a Eureka moment for anyone who has not yet read this work.]

machinephilosophy said...

Sorry, that should have been Chapter XIX...

And if you can't get a decently priced copy of The Nature of Thought, let me know either through my website or on facebook, and I'll be glad to try to find one for you. Cheers

Ismael said...

I think you made "Steve" cry... I hope he does not rust.

Daniel Joachim said...

Thomist Lutheran speaking up, and I would really like to know directly from RWH which of Steve's (assumedly substantive) arguments haven't been torn apart. Well, at least one.

Preferably as a syllogism. Something like..

Premise: A Thomist critiques ID on the ground of [insert numerous of independent reasons here]
Premise(s): [Please insert missing content(s) here?]
Premise : I don't hold to Thomism (feel free to explain again why this is relevant)

Conclusion: The critique against ID is invalid

Now, that would be interesting. After all, logic is a good judge in emotional matters.

Scott said...

@machinephilosophy:

I'm a great admirer of Brand Blanshard and I heartily second your recommendation.

Anonymous said...

@Nick

"Steve forgets apparently that a number of us fans of Feser are Protestants who happen to think Aquinas's metaphysics is right on a number of points."

Nick forgets Steve has positively linked to Feser's material in the past, and that he has indicated in this recent exchange that Feser is quite useful.

Also, Nick forgets the context of the original piece wasn't about whether or not "Aquinas' metaphysics is right."

"He can argue against Catholicism all day and not touch Feser's arguments."

I find this bit intriguing: "He [Steve] can argue against Catholicism all day and not touch Feser's arguments." Presumably Nick is referring to Feser's arguments for Catholicism. Does this mean Nick is considering crossing the Tiber over to Rome?

"It's a straw man and for his audience, a way of poisoning the well."

Actually, this would far better apply to your own comments here.

Let's cut the BS, Nick. The real motivation behind your comments is you're upset over your own recent exchange with Steve. You don't appreciate how you think he treated you over on his weblog. But you can't quite get over it; you're still holding a grudge.

Nick said...

Well that's amusing. I've been a fan of Feser for sometime, long before Steve went after him. It's why I hope to have him on my show sometime.

Steve's problem was that he kept equating classical theism with Thomism and made too many comments about Catholicism. The debate over Catholicism for me is neither here nor there. It's one of the issues I don't look into and have no desire to. My time is limited.

Also, I'm not referring to Feser's arguments for Catholicism. I don't know about them. I'm referring to his ones for being suspicious of ID, arguments that I share.

How about dealing with the actual arguments.

And personally, the way Steve responded to me, I found amusing.

Divine Frenzy said...

@Bugay:

It is available online for those willing to read their posts to determine if that is indeed the case or a mischaracterization on your part. I know you're a co-contributor on Hays' blog and his good friend and I know you don't have the greatest history with Prejean as well. You have motive to discredit my message, I believe with character assassination tactics of the same level as your recent post, but the readers of this blog and outside your circle may judge for themselves whether his words are true and if his record is still relevant with the present exchange and any in the future. My reply was just a heads up for Feser that he's dealing with an infamous online personality (rather than a spambot, but whichever is the case, he's not impressed.)

Reading the update, it seems to me that he's using his better judgment and leaving it at that. The reply's low quality that Scott pointed out probably contributed to that decision. A much more significant rule, which I hope we both can agree with whether we think it applies here or not, is if your fellow interlocutor refuses to properly engage with or present arguments, respond as charitably and joyfully as possible.

@Rhology:

I would be interested in reading a post on cussing by Feser. I found his post on joking, relevant for his series on the immorality of lying, interesting and would expect similar interest in such a post. You'd have much more to interact with as well. As far as I'm concerned, Scripture is pretty clear to watch what you say.

George R. said...

Here's the syllogism that the anti-ID 'Thomists' seem to be using:

1) ID rejects Darwinism.
2) I like Darwinism.
3) I also like to go around calling myself a Thomist.

Therefore, Thomism is incompatible with ID. QED

Anonymous said...

As a scientist and a former staunch Calvinist (now an "almost Catholic") who left the movement in part because of the unavoidable association with young-Earth creationists and ID proponents, I've heard a lot of "Steves" in my day.

Everything you've said about "Steve" is true, but unfortunately you are likely spitting into the wind. He and his ilk take "challenges" of their position as confirmation (Jesus said you'd be persecuted, after all), and yet they clearly perceive mere challenges of other positions as tantamount to disproof.

Thank you for the book recommendations, by the way, Dr. Feser.

Gary Black said...

--Sorry, I keep moderating myself and have to delete previous comments--

Divine Frenzy,

I found your link very useful. I read the entire exchange and it was one of the things that spurred my first remark. During that exchange it was quite obvious that Steve will interpret Prejean in whatever light is most beneficial for Steve. It casts serious doubt on Steve's ability to do impartial exegesis. [This would be relevant to anyone looking at Steve as any authority on Biblical interpretation.]

My favorite part of the exchange is when Steve says "the purpose and practice of the GHM is widely attested in Scripture itself." Steve's argument is that we should use grammatico-historical method (GHM) and never allegory in our interpretation of Scripture. He states, "Incidentally, there is no such thing as 'moderate' allegorization ... Once you cut the text free from its historical moorings, you’re at sea without a map, compass, or coastline."

I found this hilarious because the New Testament quotes the Old in a way we know contradicts the original meaning of the OT author. Meaning, that -if anything- Scripture rejects that GHM is the only method we should use in Scriptural exegesis. The NT writers of Scripture sometimes use allegorical interpretations of the OT authors.

Gary Black said...

I hope George R. is available the next time I need to know the secret desires of those around me.

Greg said...

George R.

2) I like Darwinism.

The "anti-ID 'Thomists'" don't "like" Darwinism. I am not quite sure what is meant by that. Feser certainly does not frequently appeal to Darwinism as a justification or support for anything. And he rejects Darwinism with respect to philosophical psychology, human ensoulment, and original sin. I also believe he follows Oderberg in arguing that immanent causation cannot be derived from transient causation.

So his rejection of ID seems to have little to do with "liking" Darwinism.

Charles said...

I have to say that after reading Steve's blog, I agree there is little there, other than name dropping and more name dropping. I am sure the guy is well read. So, I think that was the mission, rather than to critically examine Feser. In fact, he falls prey to his own critique of Feser, with regard to being more of a follower than a thinker. Most intellectually driven Reformed thinkers tend to do that. "Is it Van Tillian? Ok. Then I'm for it. Is it Schaefferian presuppositionalism? Then I am against it." That's nice to know how you feel, Mr. Reformed guy...but do us a favor and embellish a bit more on what you're saying.

George R. said...

Greg, trust me, Feser likes Darwinism. Granted, he's not a Darwin absolutist like most of the demented screwballs we have running around the universities today. Nevertheless, he's still happy to accept Darwinism as an explanation for things which anybody with half a brain can see it cannot even come close to explaining.

What's more, it's Darwinism, not ID, that's incompatible with Thomism, because it does away with the substantial forms of animals, as I've explained before in these comboxes.

Matt Sheean said...

on profanity:

phrases like "damn such and such" or, if you like, "blessed such and such" are pretty unique. They don't seem to be cursing - "damn" or "blessed" in the examples don't modify the word in question in the way they normally do in other contexts. When we call marriage a "blessed union" for instance, it's meant that the union really is blessed, that it has a blessing. Perhaps, too, when we say that something was a "damn shame" we mean that it was the sort of thing that really was beyond redemption. But "damn arguments" is a different case. "damn" just serves to emphasize "arguments" , but it seems to me that this kind of speech just has to involve words out of context. It's a kind of absurdism that emphasizes the thing that the speaker wants to point to. By being absurd they emphasize just how much attention they want to give to the thing in question.

Greg said...

George R.

What's more, it's Darwinism, not ID, that's incompatible with Thomism, because it does away with the substantial forms of animals, as I've explained before in these comboxes.

How so? The two issues that might be raised against substantial forms from a Darwinist perspective are vagueness and inconsistency with the principle of proportionate causality. (Unless you have something else in mind?)

The problem with the principle of proportionate causality is only apparent, though, since the evolutionary ancestor is not the only efficient cause.

And vagueness threatens substantial forms whether one accepts Darwinism or not. Whether the fuzzy boundaries between species are just there (since they are visible presently, whatever your commitment to Darwinism is) or arose through natural selection, vagueness has to be addressed. Darwinism itself is irrelevant.

Edward Feser said...

It is a sin. Dr Feser ought to repent of it.

I play cards and occasionally dance too. Also, I wear buttons and don't churn my own butter. And my wife wears shoes in the kitchen even when she's pregnant.

"Steve," Rhology, George R., et al. provide a useful reminder that the nuts and cranks aren't all in Jerry Coyne's combox.

BTW, Greg, it's a complete waste of time trying to get Captain George "Ahab" R. to stop chasing his Darwinian whale. As everyone else in our dimension knows, I've never once appealed to Darwinism in criticizing ID theory. As I said above, the two criticisms I've consistently put forward have to do with (a) ID's incompatibility with classical theism and (b) its incompatibility with the Aristotelian philosophy of nature.

George R., though, is so pathologically obsessed with Darwinism that he'll accept any crappy argument against it, and thus cannot bear the thought that someone might reject ID theory who is not somehow selling out to the dreaded Darwinian menace. If someone says "Extraterrestrials visited my room last night and told me Darwinism is false" and you say "Well, I don't believe in extraterrestrials," George R. will accuse you of denying the existence of extraterrestrials because you are in love with Darwinism.

(Come to think of it, "George R." may be a spambot too. Better adjust that spam filter setting...)

Daniel Joachim said...

George R.: Here's the syllogism that the anti-ID 'Thomists' seem to be using:

1) ID rejects Darwinism.
2) I like Darwinism.
3) I also like to go around calling myself a Thomist.

Therefore, Thomism is incompatible with ID. QED


I think I would like to see a source of that. You know? A source? At least one reference? A tiny one?

I don't quite see the point of writing in a combox if one doesn't want to learn, argument or interact with others.

To a related question: How deep is mechanical or/and materialist philosophy engrained into "Darwinism"? I keep getting mixed messages.

George R. said...

Greg, don't take what Ed said about me seriously. He's always kidding around like that.


Now let me try in a few words to show you why Darwinism is incompatible with Thomism.

According to Thomist philosophy, natural substances have what are called substantial forms, which are the principles of natural things' being what they are. For example, the substantial form of a horse is the formal cause of the horse being a horse.

OK, that's pretty straight forward .

Now looking at the Darwinist scenario, we start off here on Earth with no horses at all. For according to the them, life begins in its simplest forms. There are not large animals, only amoeba or some such similar one-celled beings. The horses, as we are told, are not to evolve until later, according to the mechanisms of random mutation and natural selection. But here's a question for you Thomistic evolutionists: Where does the substantial form of the horse come from?

Now for creationists (such as St. Thomas and George R.) the answer to that question is simple. It comes from the mind of God, Who introduced it into matter when he created the horse ex nihilo.

But for you evolutionists, the answer is rather elusive. You've got your amoeba. You've got your billions of years. But you don't have the substantial form of a horse, and without it you can't have a horse.

But if you want to reconcile Darwinism with Thomism, Greg, you have to tell me where the substantial form of the horse comes from in the Darwinist scenario.

I await your answer.

Good luck.

Anonymous said...

So George, you think Darwinism was created by enemies of God?

Step2 said...

George R.,
Under a Thomistic perspective, please explain where you think chance comes from, since all things are known by, caused by, and oriented to God.

Greg said...

George R.,

The substantial form still comes from the mind of God. Whether some other organisms evolve into a horse or the horse is created ex nihilo, it is true that, "God causes it to be that (a horse exists)." Thomists don't hold that primary and secondary causality are generally in tension, so why is it different in the case of evolution?

When a horse gives birth to a foal, God is not removed from the equation in the communication of the substantial form horse to the foal. Neither is God removed from the equation if some entity with substantial form X (not horse, but its immediate evolutionary predecessor) gives birth to the foal with the form horse.

Greg said...

(To that last sentence, it can be added: as long as the universal horse preexists in the mind of God, in satisfaction of the principle of proportionate causality.)

grodrigues said...

@George R:

"But if you want to reconcile Darwinism with Thomism, Greg, you have to tell me where the substantial form of the horse comes from in the Darwinist scenario."

Unless you have left something out from your comment, this is not an argument against Evolution per se, but an argument against the instantiation of *any* substantial forms hitherto uninstantiated (unless by direct divine fiat), and thus it is likewise an argument against say, standard cosmological accounts of the History of the Universe. For example, the universe, as it expanded and cooled down after the Big-Bang, went through several stages where certain symmetries break, particles like electrons show up, then quarks combine into hadrons like protons and neutrons, then atoms form, then complex molecules, etc. So assuming all these things (from electrons to hydrogen atoms to complex molecules) have substantial forms, they would have to be created directly by God. You are free to reject the standard cosmological account of course, but to repeat myself, the problem -- if it is a problem -- is not exclusive of Evolution.

Anonymous said...

@Edward Feser

I play cards and occasionally dance too. Also, I wear buttons and don't churn my own butter. And my wife wears shoes in the kitchen even when she's pregnant.

"Steve," Rhology, George R., et al. provide a useful reminder that the nuts and cranks aren't all in Jerry Coyne's combox.


I'm a Catholic, usually agree with what's written here, and usually I don't agree with Steve, Rhology and the others. But all this is a manifestly unfair caricature.

Tom said...

@Scott: If you don't mind my asking, what are you, if not Catholic? You certainly seem like a Thomist/classical theist, and I seem to remembering you defending belief in the resurrection a few posts back. Are you a Christian in the first place?

Anonymous said...

I'm a Catholic, usually agree with what's written here, and usually I don't agree with Steve, Rhology and the others. But all this is a manifestly unfair caricature.

Not really. It's the problem of having a group of people with the flaw (among others) of "will never admit they are wrong, and will go all in when they're exposed as wrong". So long as they're right or not obviously wrong, things look great. It's when they're obviously wrong that the insanity becomes evident.

George R. said...

Greg,

You are correct. The substantial form comes from the mind of God. However, how this can be maintained in the Darwinist scenario is not easy to see.

As I've pointed already, in the creation-scenario it's very easy to see. God creates the horse ex nihilo, by which act material nature receives the form of the horse from His mind. He also, by this same act of creation, creates the secondary cause by which other horses can be generated in the future. In fact, this created secondary cause also receives from the mind of God the form of the horse, for the latter is its final cause or that for the sake of which the secondary cause acts.

Now let's go back to your theistic darwinist scenario. You've got the idea of a horse in the mind of God. So far, so good. But what have you got in the natural world? Just a bunch of amoeba and the secondary causes of amoeba. There are no horses, nor are there any processes of generation by which horses may come to be. How can the idea of the horse is the mind of God be introduced into this amoeba-world except by an act of special creation?

Granted, God could theoretically create the secondary cause of the horse before the horse itself comes into being. But this doesn't help the darwinist position at all; for the secondary cause itself would be a creature requiring special creation. Moreover, as I've said, the creation of a secondary cause includes the introduction of the substantial form of the thing to be generated as the final cause of the created secondary cause. So really, such a secondary cause would imply the creation of two substances instead of just one. But as we all know, the horse and the secondary cause of the horse are one and the same.

So you see, Greg, having the idea of the horse in the mind of God and a bunch of amoeba wriggling around in the natural world really isn't going to do us much good without special creation. But the good news is that this God not only knows all things, but can also do all things, and in fact He has. For He is the Creator of heaven and earth, and all that is seen and unseen -- and we are NOTHING but the work of His hands.

Anonymous said...

Oh my! My my! Feser used the dreaded "d" word! Say it ain't so! Whatever will I do?



....yeah, that dishonest distraction tactic isn't going to work.

Scott said...

@Tom:

"@Scott: If you don't mind my asking, what are you, if not Catholic?"

Non-denominational classical theist and mostly Thomist, not terribly far from Mortimer Adler before his final conversion to Catholicism. I won't be the least bit surprised if I end up doing the same.

Tom said...

@Scott: Well, you'd better get to it, you might not have the good fortune to live to 98! Seriously, thanks. I always enjoy reading your posts here, and you've had great answers to my questions.

rank sophist said...

George R.,

God creates the horse ex nihilo, by which act material nature receives the form of the horse from His mind.

Actually, that's not the case. The substantial forms of animals are transmitted venereally, via ontic causality alone (ST I q118 a1. God creates the horse ex nihilo by providing it with being; not with a substantial form.

George R. said...

rank sophist,
Obviously Thomas is referring there to generation by secondary causes, not creation ex nihilo.

So assuming all these things (from electrons to hydrogen atoms to complex molecules) have substantial forms, they would have to be created directly by God.

It's pretty obvious that elements can combine with other elements to form different substances altogether. For these substances, then, creation of them ex nihilo is not absolutely required. However, creation of the process by which they are generated, along with the existence of the elements involved in their process of generation, is absolutely necessary and presupposed.

This doesn't mean that I believe that the Big Bang is at all possible, because I don't.

rank sophist said...

George,

Obviously Thomas is referring there to generation by secondary causes, not creation ex nihilo.

That's because creation ex nihilo has nothing to do with the substantial forms of non-humans. It relates to human souls and to the being of substances in general, but not to the individual substantial forms of plants and animals. The causes of these forms are wholly material, without any special intervention by God.

Scott said...

Thanks, Tom.

יאיר רזק said...

Totally unrelated, but: I wanted to purchase Scholastic Metaphysics on Kindle, but it isn't available. Is it in the works, so I can set aside some money for it, or not? (For various reasons I only purchase digital, and my budget for book purchases won't be renewed for a long time).

Yair

grodrigues said...

@George R.:

"It's pretty obvious that elements can combine with other elements to form different substances altogether. For these substances, then, creation of them ex nihilo is not absolutely required. However, creation of the process by which they are generated, along with the existence of the elements involved in their process of generation, is absolutely necessary and presupposed."

What I am still missing is what *exactly* is different in the case of say, Horses to use your example, than the case of say elementary particles, atoms, complex molecules, whatever. If it can happen in the realm of fundamental Physics and Chemistry, why not in the realm of Biology? Nothing in your comments so far tells me where to the line is drawn.

DNW said...

It occurred to me that my earlier remarks directed at the publication and rebuke of Feser's "sin", may not have been particularly constructive. Even without my mentioning of names.

This, insomuch as my sarcastic piling-on for the purposes of sneering at the mealy mouthed sissy-fication that has done so much damage to Catholic Christianity and its public image and credibility, and my insinuating that the critic should lighten up, get some perspective, or worse, "grow a pair", only indirectly address the exact issue mooted.

So, as a sincerely offered contribution which you practicing Christians might find relevant, allow me to offer up a scripture which I seem to recall having encountered sometime in the past.


"Matthew 18:15

15 Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother."

Here is a link to Professor Feser's e-mail

http://www.edwardfeser.com/contact.html

Anonymous said...

Hi Professor Feser,

Great post as always! I've profited much from your work.

I was hoping to attend your talk at Biola on PSR and the Principle of Proportionate Causality. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to.

Question: Will you be writing a blog post on the subject any time soon?

Thanks again for all your work!

Jerem y Taylor said...

grodrigues,

I don't necessarily support George's contention, but my understanding is that when matter takes on forms, then its potentiality becomes limited. Prime matter is pure potentiality, but the potentiality of iron, for example, is far more limited.

Maybe I have this wrong, but wouldn't the substantial form of one animal lack the potentiality to be or produce another - it is one stage back where matter had the potentiality to be either a cat or a dog. This is a different situation to the other changes in form you because they may pass away and their matter lose their form and so be able to take on another one. When can a new form enter into the process of a living being, however? A dog, as long as it is alive, will always be a dog, and it presumably would only have dog offspring.

Maybe it is part of the potentiality of living things to be other living things? Though this seems strange to me.

George R. said...

grodrigues, I think what you're asking is that since elements are able to generate things specifically different from themselves, then why not living things? Well, theoretically they can. There seem to be certain specifically differing animals that can mate with each other and generate a hybrid (or third) species. But this has nothing to do with Darwinism, and it certainly does not mean that an animal that generates its own kind when it mates with its own kind can start to generate a different kind of animal altogether.

Moreover, how does the possibility of hybridization help the primordial amoeba-world of the Darwinist scenario? The amoeba doesn't mate with anything, let alone a different species. If the amoeba generate amoeba, that's all they'll ever generate -- even after a trillion years.

Kevin Vail said...

I suppose I'm not particularly young (43) but I am a Calvinist and I do read your blog and books with great interest. Keep up the good work!

grodrigues said...

@Jeremy Taylor:

"I don't necessarily support George's contention, but my understanding is that when matter takes on forms, then its potentiality becomes limited. Prime matter is pure potentiality, but the potentiality of iron, for example, is far more limited."

It is one thing to say that the potentialities are limited, it is quite another to assert definite limits on what those potentialities actually are. And what is more, to assert those limits on general Thomistic principles, not say, on empirical considerations or what have you.

Once again let me revert to the standard cosmological account: in the beginning there were no electrons (say); about 10^-12 to 10^-6 seconds after the Big Bang, the Higgs field acquires a vacuum expectation value, the electroweak symmetry breaks, and lo and behold an electron pops in the Universe, and an hitherto uninstantiated form is instantiated. I am using this example as merely illustrative (and the standard cosmological account is highly tentative anyway); for even if George rejects it, since he also rejects that the Universe is eternal, then either he accepts that nature has in itself principles to "educt form out of matter" to borrow an Aristotelean turn of phrase, and can generate or unlock new forms, or he must say that *all* the forms were already instantiated since the beginning of the universe. But on what grounds, general Thomistic grounds, could he possibly make such a sweeping statement? And *if* one countenances the generation or unlocking of new forms at the level of fundamental Physics or Chemistry, why not biology? What fundamental metaphysical principle is he appealing to?

Thomists who think Evolution theory essentially correct may be wrong on their judgment, but if indeed they are wrong, it does not seem that they are wrong on any inconsistency with Thomistic principles. I confess that it would be delightfully and impishly funny to have such a demonstrative proof, I am just not betting on our ever having one -- for reasons both good and bad.

@George R.:

"I think what you're asking is that since elements are able to generate things specifically different from themselves, then why not living things? Well, theoretically they can."

If I am understanding you right, pretty much so. But see my response to Jeremy.

Steve said...

Prime matter is pure potentiality, but the potentiality of iron, for example, is far more limited.

More limited than what? Anything that has being is either pure act, or some mixture of act and potency. There is nothing that is prime matter (pure potentiality) and has being, so prime matter must be the ultimate limitation since it does not, and could not, have being as prime matter.

Steve M

dover_beach said...

This maybe of interest to readers here, not only because the author was recently mentioned recently in the comments as having written a scholarly book on the idea of Species recently: http://scientiasalon.wordpress.com/2014/05/01/information-is-the-new-aristotelianism-and-dawkins-is-a-hylomorphist/

dover_beach said...

'Recently' three times? I'm Trinitarian even in my mistakes.

Jeremy Taylor said...

grodrigues,

It is one thing to say that the potentialities are limited, it is quite another to assert definite limits on what those potentialities actually are.

I don't disagree with this. But as I said above, it does seem rather strange to me that a dog would have the potential to give birth to a non-dog.

This is the important difference, as far as I can see, between evolution and the cosmological examples you bring up. In the latter, either it is not as strange that the matter in question should take on a new form, or the old substantial form passes away and the matter takes on a new form. In evolution there isn't really a point where this happens, as far as I can see. Accepting evolution, from an Aristotelian point of view, does mean you must accept it is the potentiality of one species to procreate another, I think. This may be true, but, as I said, it does seem a little strange to me.

Steve M,

I mean that prime matter is unlimited in it is potentiality, its ability to take on forms. This is, indeed, the reason its existed is posited by Aristotelians and others. When you take more promixate material causes, like iron or oak, their potentiality to take on forms, as is my understanding at least, is more limited.

I think Mortimer Adler somewhere uses the example of water, which cannot take on the form of a chair.

Alyosha said...

So, let me get this straight. The same guy ("Steve") who said this:

//A misunderstanding can be more philosophically fruitful than a correct understanding (of a philosopher's actual position). For what ultimately matters in philosophy is the truth or falsity of the idea, not the truth or falsity of the attribution. //

...also says that the only reason to be interested in the compatibility of Thomism and ID is "vested interest in Thomism"?

I thought what ultimately mattered in philosophy was the truth or falsity of the idea as opposed to the attribution. Shouldn't anyone interested in ID be interested in the arguments that have been made against it? And, shouldn't any Christian interested in ID be interested in whether it is compatible with Classical Theism (the historically dominant position among Christian thinkers)?

This Steve guy seems like a joke...

George R. said...

grodrigues writes:
"Thomists who think Evolution theory essentially correct may be wrong on their judgment, but if indeed they are wrong, it does not seem that they are wrong on any inconsistency with Thomistic principles. I confess that it would be delightfully and impishly funny to have such a demonstrative proof, I am just not betting on our ever having one -- for reasons both good and bad."

I disagree. I think several such demonstrations can be offered. condsider the following brief arguments:

1) The substantial forms of things in nature are ideas in the mind of God, and matter stands in potency to receiving these ideas. But according to A-T philosophy, no potency can reduce itself to act. Therefore, if matter is to receive a substantial form, it must be introduced by God Himself from His own mind, which action is creation ex nihilo not evolution. In fact, the evolutionists have no answer as to how the substantial form goes from the mind of God into matter by evolutionary principles, but this doesn't prevent them from believing it anyway.

2) Substantial forms are the principles, or causes, of all natural things. But in evolution, it is natural things that are the causes of substantial forms. Thus, A-T metaphysics is stood on its head.

3) The evolutionary Thomists agree that substance per se is the composite of substantial form and primary matter. They also agree that once a substance exists, it can not change its quiddity as long as it exists. Therefore, if evolution (or gradual change of the quiddity of things generated by nature) is true, it must first take place in the principles of the substances to be generated. Now these principles are substantial form and primary matter, as we have already said. But the substantial form cannot be changed, because form qua form is pure act, and is not in potency to any change. Nor, however, can the primary matter be changed, because primary matter qua primary matter is not determined by any form whatsoever, and only that which receives a form is changed. Therefore, it is metaphysically impossible for the principles of substances to be changed. Evolution is false.

Even though I consider these proofs to be demonstrative, I do not really think that the evolutionists will be at all convinced by them. That's because evolution is their religion, and they are religious fanatics.

Scott said...

@George R.:

Your first argument affects far more than evolution and, if sound, would do away with any and all secondary causation that results in new substantial forms. Hydrogen and oxygen, for example, combine to form a new substance, water, with a new substantial form. On the usual A-T account, they must therefore each have within them the causal power to participate in such a reaction, and the substantial form of water must be in some way "in" them virtually so that they can confer it. On your view, it seems that God would have to step in every time hydrogen combusts in order to introduce the substantial form of the reaction product. Your account, whatever its other merits may be, isn't A-T as far as I can tell, and it has at least a faint aroma of occasionalism.

Your third argument appears to be based on the misconception that evolution requires substantial forms to undergo change. It does not. Evolution does not require the substantial form of, say, Archaeopteryx to change to the substantial form of bird; it requires only that the substantial form of Archaeopteryx have a causal power to participate in the generation of other substantial forms, somewhat as hydrogen has the causal power to participate in the formation of both water and sulfuric acid.

I've dealt implicitly with your second argument as well, but I'll leave the explication as an exercise for the student. ;-)

George R. said...

Scott, I already addressed secondary causes above.

Here's what I said to Greg:
"Granted, God could theoretically create the secondary cause of the horse before the horse itself comes into being. But this doesn't help the darwinist position at all; for the secondary cause itself would be a creature requiring special creation. Moreover, as I've said, the creation of a secondary cause includes the introduction of the substantial form of the thing to be generated as the final cause of the created secondary cause. So really, such a secondary cause would imply the creation of two substances instead of just one."

"Here's what I said to grodrigues:
It's pretty obvious that elements can combine with other elements to form different substances altogether. For these substances, then, creation of them ex nihilo is not absolutely required. However, creation of the process by which they are generated, along with the existence of the elements involved in their process of generation, is absolutely necessary and presupposed."

Even if God only creates the process whereby X is generated instead of creating X itself, He still has introduced the substantial form of X into nature by an act of ex nihilo creation of the secondary cause that is directed toward the generation of X. In other words, the substantial form of X is the final cause of the secondary cause.

You write:
"it requires only that the substantial form of Archaeopteryx have a causal power to participate in the generation of other substantial forms"

Substantial forms cannot be generated, but are the cause of those things that are generated. Only that which has matter can be generated. This is fundamental A-T philosophy. I think what you meant to say is that other substances are generated with new substantial forms. But those new substantial forms must exist somehow before substances can be generated that possess them. You have not explained how these 'other substantial forms' have existence.

Scott said...

@George R.:

"Even if God only creates the process whereby X is generated instead of creating X itself, He still has introduced the substantial form of X into nature by an act of ex nihilo creation of the secondary cause that is directed toward the generation of X."

Fine, but it's perfectly consistent with A-T that that's included in God's act of creation. Why does this specifically tell against evolution?

"I think what you meant to say is that other substances are generated with new substantial forms."

Yes. Thanks for the correction.

"But those new substantial forms must exist somehow before substances can be generated that possess them. You have not explained how these 'other substantial forms' have existence."

Sure I have (at least in general), and I did it in (I hope) the same way that Aquinas did:

Species, also, that are new, if any such appear, existed beforehand in various active powers; so that animals, and perhaps even new species of animals, are produced by putrefaction by the power which the stars and elements received at the beginning.

Summa Theologica, I.73.1 reply 3

rm said...

Hey Scott,

As long as your worldviews are being probed, where do you fit on the Thomistic spectrum? I know you've expressed admiration for a number of different 'types' of Thomists, Gilson, Oderberg, Garrigou-Lagrange, the RF/Laval school, etc in the past.

What are your deserted island Thomism books?

Thanks.

Mr. Green said...

Jeremy Taylor: I do think it incorrect though that ID is incompatible with Classical Theism. Maybe this is because I'm not sure what is being referred to as ID.

Since it's not a trademarked term, it is typically abused as much as "evolution" or "creation" in such arguments, and hence many discussions that employ the phrase are worthless from the get-go (well, Internet discussions, certainly... but then Sturgeon's Law surely applies here).

Does ID have to refer to a well-developed and mechanistic philosophical position, or can it just refer to scientific and mathematical critiques of the science of Darwinism?

I'd say neither, if we go by a reasonable definition that takes it primarily to have something to do with "intelligence" and "design". (Also, it depends on what we mean by "darwinism"... did I mention how badly terms get abused in any discussions about special evolution?)

It seems clear to me that the central point of interest in ID is that notion that some things clearly demonstrate their deliberate design (as opposed to being merely accidentally ordered, or showing "as-if" intentionality). And I take it as obvious that this is so: for example, if you found a pile of papers printed with Hamlet on the floor of a printers' shop, it wouldn't violate any law of physics to suppose that tray after tray of type accidentally fell over and marked up some pages, but nobody would actually believe that a complete and accurate copy of Hamlet "just happened" to tip over. And if ID is taken to mean a scientific claim, we can certainly be more precise and calculate how many possible possible positions a tray of type could fall into, etc., and come up with an empirically-based (un)likelihood. All of which is obviously compatible with classical theism. (Questions about biological evolution are of course a particular application of this principle — what the answer turns out to be when we ask ID questions about biology is something for biologists to figure out.)

Now certainly, "ID" could be taken to include all sorts of additional positions and claims, such as the views of individuals like Dembski or Behe et al.; and such particular views (e.g. a mechanistic view of nature) are problematic. Likewise, "darwinism" could be taken to be not merely a statement about mutation/survival of biological populations but to include bogus metaphysical claims about "undirected causes", etc., and of course those particular views are also thoroughly problematic. However, given the rather limited definition of ID above, I don't see any incompatibility, and for that matter neither have I seen any direct argument there is one in that limited sense.

Mr. Green said...

George R.: 1) ID rejects Darwinism.
2) I like Darwinism.
3) I also like to go around calling myself a Thomist.


Except that (1) is false. At least, given the moderate sense of "darwinism" which is all that can be claimed scientifically. And if you take "darwinism" to mean something which ID does reject — i.e. to mean something "undirected" — then it is rejected by Thomism too. Which illustrates the need for clear definitions up front. (Perhaps I should mention how almost any discussion about biological evolution tends to trample all over attempts at sane terminology….)

There seem to be certain specifically differing animals that can mate with each other and generate a hybrid (or third) species. But this has nothing to do with Darwinism, and it certainly does not mean that an animal that generates its own kind when it mates with its own kind can start to generate a different kind of animal altogether.

And it certainly does not mean that it can't, either. If God wants a X to mate under certain conditions with another X and produce a Y, then by golly, neither you nor I will stop Him. As to having nothing to do with "darwinism", I'm lost as to what you mean by that.



Scott: Your third argument appears to be based on the misconception that evolution requires substantial forms to undergo change. It does not.

I was looking (in vain) for a previous exchange with George R., and you've reminded me that this was one of the key points. People often talk about special evolution as though it really were about animals "changing" their substance (including actual biologists, who then have the nerve to complain that people don't understand evolution!), but of course it is populations that evolve, not individuals. And I seem to recall coming to some sort of agreement with George R. on this issue, which allowed for evolution in a broad sense being metaphysically possible. Which is why I always harp on the importance of the definitions: if "special evolution" refers to a historical sequence which includes Xs generating Ys at occasional points, then it is entirely compatible with Thomism. If it means something else... then not so much. I'm confident that the Thomists who accept evolution do not include materialism or transmogrification of forms or anything like that in their understanding of it.

Anonymous said...

George R.: You've got your amoeba. You've got your billions of years. But you don't have the substantial form of a horse, and without it you can't have a horse. But if you want to reconcile Darwinism with Thomism, Greg, you have to tell me where the substantial form of the horse comes from in the Darwinist scenario.

Well, that's easy: the substantial form of horsiness comes from God, same as everything does. The interesting question is when and where. Can God create an embryonic horse in the womb of another animal? Of course He can, He's God. An equine embryo created (ex nihilo) in a chipmunk or parakeet will surely not come to a good end, but if God created it directly in the uterus of an animal that, although not substantially a horse, was very much like a horse, then that horse could very well be born and thrive.

Now here's the interesting thing: what do all these creations ex nihilo look like to biologists? Miracles are not the biologist's bailiwick, so they will be invisible — each science has its proper methodology, and all the biologist sees, using his proper tools of empirical observation, is an animal almost like a horse giving birth to an animal that is a horse. Indeed, given that the scientist works only with appearances, he may not even be able to tell precisely which animals are horses, only that he has a progression of organisms that are more or less like horses. In other words, the biologist observes evolution, in what he would consider a darwinian process. (Obviously, I am using "darwinian" in the reasonable moderate sense, with no metaphysical nonsense about "undirectedness".)

Therefore we have demonstrated, quite simply, that special evolution is possible, even for Thomists. Philosophers can argue about what actually is going on at the metaphysical level, or whether the process I have described ought to be called "evolution", but if all biologists mean is a description of that process, they might as well call it that. As a biological term, it cannot carry any metaphysical implications one way or the other (no matter how much certain individual biologists want it to, or misinform the public in regards thereof).

But we can go further: God could not only create new animals at just the right points in history to produce an "evolutionary" chain; He could also create a world wherein certain organism properly produce new species on their own. The original substantial form would of course have to be created by God — just as God creates the substantial form of every new human being — the only difference is that each human requires a new substantial form, whereas subsequent horses don't require a new individual substantial form once the first horse has come into existence. The similarity is that every human being is conceived as part of a natural biological process, even though God co-operates in creating the new soul along with the material process. Thus it is obviously possible for God to do the same thing in creating each new animal form in co-operation with biological processes (such as an almost-horse conceiving an actual horse). The examples already cited by GRodrigues, Scott, Rank Sophist — not to mention the ever-popular quotation from Aquinas himself about "new species, if any such appear..." — clearly indicate that Thomism does not require that a substance be limited to causing only new instances of that same substance. So not only is special evolution trivially possible in appearance, it is clearly at least theoretically possible in a way that quite well fits the observations and general intent of biologists (again, ignoring all the mechanism, randomism, etc.-ism that is no part of genuine biology anyway).

Scott said...

@rm:

"What are your deserted island Thomism books?"

Ed's, of course, and probably also Garrigou-Lagrange, a couple of the River Forest/Laval crew (Benedict Ashley and William Wallace for sure) and George Hayward Joyce (especially Principles of Natural Theology).

Oderberg's Real Essentialism would probably make the cut too, but I just recently bought it and I haven't finished it yet. I'm also about to order James Ross's Thought and World: The Hidden Necessities and it won't surprise me if that one winds up on the shortlist as well. I might also include James Madden's recent Mind, Matter, and Nature.

I have a fair shelf or three of others that I'd like to take along too (Cronin, Coffey, the Rickabys, Phillips, Boedder, Harper, McInerny, and so forth), but the ones I've listed are the most important. For lighter reading I might throw in some Veatch and Adler.

(I'd want Aquinas's own works too, but I'm taking that as read and assuming your question is about other books.)

Where I fit on the Thomist spectrum is probably a combination of what Ed calls Neo-Scholastic Thomism and River Forest/Laval Thomism (and I agree with him that these aren't incompatible), but with perhaps a bit more Platonism.

ccmnxc said...

Hey Scott, would you be willing to give some thoughts regarding the books by Ashley and Wallace?

I own the latter but have yet to read it, and I haven't bought the former. What would you say (I recall there was some discussion in the Strange Notions thread, but if I recall you didn't have Wallace's book and hadn't quite finished Ashley's)? Thanks.

Scott said...

@ccmnxc:

"Hey Scott, would you be willing to give some thoughts regarding the books by Ashley and Wallace?"

Sure. I haven't finished Wallace yet, but Ashley is brilliant. I'll make some general remarks here, and if you want to know anything more specific, let me know.

The relation between the Neo-Scholastic and the Laval/River Forest schools seems to me to be that the former emphasizes the order of being and the latter the order of knowledge. Ashley in particular is emphatic that we have to know something about empirical reality in order to draw any conclusions about what is fundamentally true of it (a subject which he prefers to call "metascience" rather than "metaphysics"). But it seems we don't have to know much: the fact that change occurs is sufficient to ground quite a lot of essential metaphysics.

That point seems to me to be quite sound, and consonant with Ed's insistence on the fundamentality of the act/potency distinction in Scholastic Metaphysics.

That's not a very detailed comment, but I'll try to say more if you want something more specific.

Scott said...

Also, monk68 might have something to say here. I know he's said Ashley is one of his treasures and he thinks well of Wallace too.

Anonymous said...

Ashley is great. Be prepared for a dense read though. I am still wading my way through it because I have had to re-read some of the chapters to really absorb the content. I really enjoyed the first few chapters that provide a summary of all the different flavours of Thomism and other philosophers who have contributed to the subject of metaphysics in various ways.

He is unafraid to engage scientific arguments or discoveries to illustrate his points, which I find really helpful since Thomas' examples are so outdated and, typically based on bad science. Honestly, I think if someone had the stomach for it, you could probably make Thomas' writings much more accessible by simply replacing his examples with current examples.

Again, I'm really enjoying it, but I feel like I could re-read him three times and still not absorb all he has packed into that book.

To be honest, I have sometimes had to return to Ed's Aquinas to figure out what Ashley actually means in some places. Ed does such a great job at making these ideas more accessible in an engaging way. I'm looking forward to his new book too.

Cheers,
Daniel

ccmnxc said...

Thanks guys. Scott, if I think of anything, I'll let you know, but I think I'll put Ashley's book on the wishlist.

Anonymous said...

@Alyosha:
This Steve guy seems like a joke...

Intellectually, I agree with you, but unfortunately, there are enough anti-Catholic bigots out there that it's worth pointing out that they exist. (See, e.g., John Bugay). I, for one, didn't realize that there were still that many anti-Catholic nuts out there until I started dealing with these people. I think it's important to point out from time to time that this is just ugly disdain and insult with a veneer of rationality on it. Scratch the surface of this bunch, and you find irrational malice against all things Catholic.

-- J. Prejean

rm said...

Thanks, Scott as always. What are you thoughts on the Gilson approach to Thomism?

For the River Forest/Laval Thomists are there any good introductory books to that school (outside of more general books like Dr. Feser's). I know Ashley has a book called How Science Enriches Theology, and I think Wallace has other books as well. Any thoughts on those?