Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Linked in


Two new papers from David Oderberg: “Is Form Structure?” and “The Metaphysics of Privation.”

Donald Devine and I have been debating the merits of John Locke for years.  Don offers his latest thoughts at The Federalist in “The Real John Locke -- And Why He Matters.”

Stratford Caldecott -- Catholic writer, G. K. Chesterton Research Fellow at St. Benet’s Hall, Oxford, and Marvel Comics fan -- has cancer.  Marvel has stepped up to grant him a dying wish, and the stars of the Marvel movies have given him a touching tribute.  Fr. Z has the story, as do The Independent and the Catholic Herald.

Terry Teachout’s new biography of Duke Ellington is reviewed at The Weekly Standard.

Is resistance to “same-sex marriage” futile?  Over at National Review Online, Ryan T. Anderson argues that it is not.

Also at NRO, Thomas Hibbs watches Mad Men while reading Dante.

Straussian political philosopher Steven B. Smith is interviewed at 3:AM Magazine.  So is metaphysician John Heil.

Guitarist Jon Herington is interviewed about touring with Steely Dan and other stuff.

At The American Spectator, John Derbyshire reports on the “Toward a Science of Consciousness” conference in Arizona.  (Behind a pay wall, I’m afraid.)

If you haven’t yet seen the new Guardians of the Galaxy trailer, here it is.  Director Edgar Wright has quit the Ant-Man flick.

So whaddaya think of Wikipedia?  Spiked expresses what will perhaps forever be the main complaints.  (Whoever did my entry has made some… kind of odd choices.  Plus for some reason they still have me teaching at LMU and visiting at Bowling Green.  Weird.)

41 comments:

Matt Sheean said...

ugh, I'm really bummed about Edgar Wright not being on the Ant Man movie anymore. But Guardians looks sweeeet.

Ismael said...

Thank you Prof. Feser for sharing! As usual, very interesting material!

I just downloaded Oderberg articles and look forward to reading them!

I do have a couple of Joun Heil books on my shelf, still have to rerad them properly (I just browsed through them so far), so thyanks for the reminder :)

==========

Regarding Wikipedia:

I think it's both a wonderful and Horrible tool. :D

Let me explain: I think it is greatfor looking stuff up for a "quick bite" of knowledge, but should NOT nerver considered autoritative or fully trutsworthy.

I often find several mistakes in it.

I must say the English Wikipedia is quite decent, but the Italian one (which I hate) is often so biased and fullo of nonsense (often written by new atheists it seems).

I mostly agree with Spiked!, regarding wikipedia. I find it useful, but it's no substitute for researching a topic properly.

rm said...

I was sorry to hear of Stratford's illness, but that did make for a nice story.

Haven't read any of his books yet personally. Any fans of his here?

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I'd like to know more about Stratford if anyone is familiar with his material.

Curio said...

Saw Oderberg give a talk on the metaphysics of good and evil, and it was excellent. This article on privation will hopefully whet my appetite until he finishes his book on the subject.

Happy said...

I've read Stratford Caldecott's _The Radiance of Being_ in which he uses a Balthasarian, ecstatic, dynamic Trinitarian approach to address contemporary issues like the relationship between science and religion and religious pluralism. A good read with some valuable insights.

Sad to hear of his illness, but the Marvel story was great. I especially enjoyed the reasons his daughter gave for his appreciation of Marvel comics (hope and fascination, which are perhaps the sanest intellectual dispositions of which we are capable, and the triumph of good over evil). I never got into comics when I was a kid, but my son loves them, and it's nice to be able to take him to movies with the above mentioned qualities. I'm sure Stratford will love Captain America 2.

Arthur said...

I'd love to see Professor Feser write a post on the privation view of evil.

Personally, I find it very interesting and partly-convincing but I also have some doubts about it.

Jeff Licquia said...

Fixed the Wikipedia references to LMU and Bowling Green, and fixed up some references and external links.

Tom said...

On a less Aristotelian note, I recently found these two articles which discuss problems with the concept of the substantial form. They seem to take far more care with Scholastic arguments than most philosophers do, and I was wondering if there was any chance of a response from either Dr. Feser or the many fine commentators here?

http://www.anselm.edu/Documents/Institute%20for%20Saint%20Anselm%20Studies/Abstracts/4.5.3.2c_51Hill.pdf

http://www.anselmphilosophy.com/substance/

On a side note, the guy who taught me an introductory class in philosophy gets mentioned in the first one, which is kind of cool.

Anonymous said...

Tom,

Others may want to chime in, but at a glance the author seems to be taking reductionism as truth and then arguing that substantial forms can't be made to 'work' as they used to given that. But if that's the case, then the fact that the A-T philosophers in question reject reductionism from the outset undercuts the move the paper tries to make.

Scott said...

Yeah, I really don't see any cause for alarm or even surprise in the observation that a "bottom-up" account of substantial forms won't do what the classical account did. Of course it won't.

Nor do I see any attempt to deal with the replies that were and/or could have been made to the early modern rejection of substantial forms. It just seems to be taken as read that they're right out, and something new has to be substituted under the same name.

Scott said...

By the way, here they are as live links:

Substantial forms and the rise of modern science (Benjamin Hill)

What killed substantial form? (David Banach)

Gary Black said...

I haven't gotten through both of them yet, but the second one basically states that if the reductionist is correct (presumed during the coarse of the argument), then substantial form is found in the most reduced particle. This is a point I believe Ed has made many times. The authors says [paraphrasing] that reductionism points to its own limitations.

Tom said...

@Scott: Thanks for the working links.

Sorry about the dead ones and the double post), they were working just fine for me. At any rate, the first seemed like the more insightful article to my amateur eyes, as it went into detail about the arguments against substantial form and gave at least lip service to the replies of the Thomists at the time.

Anonymous said...

Sorry if this is a tad off topic Dr. Feser, but I was reading through your critiques of ID theory and was wondering how exactly the A-T ideas of matter and form fit in with the discoveries of modern science, specifically atomic theory.

Greg said...

This isn't related to anything in particular...

Has anyone seen this argument against (confessional) classical theism? Here it is:

1. If classical theism is true, then the universe began to exist without a material cause of its existence.
2. All concrete objects that begin to exist have a material cause of their existence.
3. The universe is a concrete object.
4. Therefore, classical theism is false.

(It seems to me like premises (2) and (3) should address material objects, since God is a "concrete object" (rather than an abstract object) but obviously couldn't have a material cause. But the argument would still be valid.)

His argument for (2) is that it would be justified by the same justifications that (some) classical theists raise for the principle that everything that begins to exist has an efficient cause (the intuitive justifications, that is, ie. the lack of known counterexamples and intuition). His target here seems to be WLC.

With respect to intuition, it seems that one could respond that intuition cannot be an autonomous guide to causal principles. (One could easily have an untutored intuition that "everything has a cause," though that leads to a contradiction if ungrounded per se causal series are impossible.) But otherwise, these sorts of considerations seem to motivate the act/potency approach to developing a causal principle, rather than the metaphysically lite approach taken by WLC, for instance.

However, what seems like another avenue for the classical theist is to reject (1) by turning some atheological arguments on their head. Sometimes it is suggested, in response to the kalam cosmological argument, that even if the universe's past is bounded in time, there is no "first" instant of time, and for every instant of time there is some instant preceding it (like the geometric sequence 1, 1/2, 1/4, 1/8, 1/16, ...). But on Aquinas's more robust classical theism, one could claim then that God creates and sustains the universe, and the universe began in time (in the sense that its past is finite), even though at each state, the universe has a prior material cause.

Thoughts?

James said...

Another link of possible interest: Hilary Putnam started a blog.

Scott said...

@Greg:

"Has anyone seen this argument against (confessional) classical theism?"

Yes, and a couple of us have addressed it before on this blog. Here's what I had to say about it:

(1) Ig God creates a bronze statue ex nihilo, that doesn't (so far as I can tell) mean the statue doesn't have any material cause at all; it just means it doesn't have a prior material cause. In other words, I see nothing in the idea of a material cause that strictly requires it to precede what it causes in time.

(2) But even if I'm wrong about that, no matter (pun intended). Not everything has a material cause (immaterial substances like angels don't), and if creation ex nihilo turns out to involve another exception, so what?

Scott said...

Erratum. Under (1), for "Ig" read "If".

Greg said...

Ig God creates a bronze statue ex nihilo, that doesn't (so far as I can tell) mean the statue doesn't have any material cause at all; it just means it doesn't have a prior material cause. In other words, I see nothing in the idea of a material cause that strictly requires it to precede what it causes in time.

Right. But the argument doesn't seem to claim that the concept of material clause involves having a temporally prior material cause. He is saying that there is as much support for his principle of prior material causes as there is for Craig's principle that whatever begins to exist has an efficient cause (namely, the support of intuition and the absence of a counterexample).

Brandon said...

I've seen it before. The argument is more modest than it looks; (3) can be taken as fixing what is meant by 'concrete object', and (2) is plausible. It's very misleading to put it in terms of 'classical theism', rather than the very specific doctrine of creation ex nihilo, which is well downstream from the primary arguments for classical theism, but the argument is quite reasonable. And it doesn't have any implications for whether the world is caused by God or not.

It's actually Objection 1 of ST 1.46.1 and Objection 2 of QD de Potentia, q. 3; and in both cases Aquinas simply argues that (2) is not self-evident or demonstrable. And I think it's exactly right on Aquinas's principles, anyway, to say that the argument is at least as plausible as the Kalam argument. (Aquinas's own position, of course, is that strict demonstration one way or another on this point is not possible. Creation ex nihilo cannot be ruled out, but cannot be demonstrated, either; it is known by revelation.)

I think an interesting question is what St. Bonaventure would say about it. I haven't looked closely at Bonaventure on this point for years, but, while he does accept something like a Kalam argument, I think he would also regard exapologist's argument as a reasonable argument -- he just thinks that there are good reasons to reject (2) based on what it would imply about time.

Mr. Green said...

Greg: 1. If classical theism is true, then the universe began to exist without a material cause of its existence. [etc.] Thoughts?

I think the author doesn't know from classical theism. For starters, his Craigy approach is hardly going faze[r] your traditional Scholastic. Whatever he means by "material cause" it isn't what classical metaphysics means — Scott is of course completely right regarding this — and in fact he apparently means something like "material efficient cause", which seems problematic for his parallel. (There's no instinct that all causes must be material, and plenty of counter-examples (such as thought).) There's the stereotypical butchering of QM. And then he talks about "priming our intuitions". Sigh. And now he's going on about classical theism's apparently requiring a temporal beginning for the universe... oh, good grief, I give up already. I knew I shouldn't have looked into that abysmal link! I don't have the fortitude of a BenYachov!!

Greg said...

Brandon,

It's very misleading to put it in terms of 'classical theism', rather than the very specific doctrine of creation ex nihilo, which is well downstream from the primary arguments for classical theism

I agree. Ex-Apologist seems rather attached in his explanation to characterizing it as an argument against classical theism, but it is merely an argument against creation ex nihilo. But it's fair to say that most classical theists want to argue that creation ex nihilo is possible.

Then there's also the issue that he seems to take Craig as the paradigmatic instance of "classical theism". Craig is more of a classical theist than some, but he rejects a lot of classical theism, and I believe does not apply the label to himself.


Mr. Green,

Whatever he means by "material cause" it isn't what classical metaphysics means — Scott is of course completely right regarding this — and in fact he apparently means something like "material efficient cause", which seems problematic for his parallel. (There's no instinct that all causes must be material, and plenty of counter-examples (such as thought).)

It seems to me like he is using material cause in a similar sense to the way in which an Aristotelian would use it. Perhaps it would clarify to rewrite his first two premises in this way:

1*. If classical theism is true, then the universe began to exist without a prior material cause of its existence.
2*. All concrete objects that begin to exist have a prior material cause of their existence.

That there is a "material efficient cause" (or prior efficient cause) is not a standard principle of Aristotelianism, you are correct. But he is claiming that there is as much support for a material efficient cause (ie. that the material cause of every material thing which begins to exist existed temporally prior to its existence) as there is for a plain efficient cause. He is basing this on the fact that Craig argues that "whatever begins to exist has a cause of its existence" by appealing to our intuition and the lack of counterexamples. Well, we also have no sensible counterexamples of his "material efficient cause", and I'm not sure intuition is against it.

I agree with Brandon that it is pretty modest, and it puts some strain on the kalam defender in the respect that the kalam defender wants to affirm a principle of efficient causality but not of "material efficient causality," but the justifications for the two principles, it is claimed, are similar. The argument is something of a tu quoque.

The argument reminds me of Hume's argument for compatibilism.

And now he's going on about classical theism's apparently requiring a temporal beginning for the universe...

Well, his taking Craig as a paradigm classical theist, which I agree is a bit odd. But I think he would be happy to admit that though the classical theism of Aquinas et al is consistent philosophically with a beginningless universe, most classical theists, being Christians, are theologically committed to a temporal creation ex nihilo, and would not want to find that classical theism is therewith inconsistent.

Greg said...

"material efficient cause" (or prior efficient cause)

Oops. Should be: "material efficent cause" (or prior material cause)

And other small errors which don't seem to detract as much...

Prince Randoms said...

Wow, Putnam is blogging? I guess better late than never.

Prince Randoms said...

And the esteemed Sean Carroll is there to greet him.

Anonymous said...

But I think he would be happy to admit that though the classical theism of Aquinas et al is consistent philosophically with a beginningless universe, most classical theists, being Christians, are theologically committed to a temporal creation ex nihilo, and would not want to find that classical theism is therewith inconsistent.

I don't think that's a risk, since the classical theists who are Aristotileans and Christians would be letting revelation be their guide in that case, so something stronger than a TQ would be necessary to concern them.

Anonymous said...

I suddenly realize that the argument argument isn't even successful for the atheist. If the universe was caused by something that itself was caused, then it would seem that a form of theism is still true on those terms alone. And the God of classical theism still is left standing, just now with smaller-g gods?

Greg said...

I don't think that's a risk, since the classical theists who are Aristotileans and Christians would be letting revelation be their guide in that case, so something stronger than a TQ would be necessary to concern them.

The argument purports to show that creation ex nihilo is impossible, not merely that someone has failed to demonstrate it. (Or, another way of putting it: that we have no more reason to accept the kalam argument as apodeictic than we have to accept this argument as apodeictic.)

Maybe it leads to something of an aporia for a kalam defender, if the past must be finite but the demand of the "material efficient cause" is that there is an eternal material substratum.

I suddenly realize that the argument argument isn't even successful for the atheist. If the universe was caused by something that itself was caused, then it would seem that a form of theism is still true on those terms alone. And the God of classical theism still is left standing, just now with smaller-g gods?

He doesn't seem to be disputing that there is some sort of first cause. (Though he understands this in a temporal sense, since again he is addressing the kalam argument.) His material efficient cause (which he claims has as much support by intuition and lack of counterexample as the "whatever begins to exist has a cause" principle) would imply that there is some eternal material substratum, which contradicts the kalam's premise that the universe began to exist.

It's misleading to characterize the view he is arguing against as "classical theism," since perhaps a classical theist willing to countenance, say, an eternal universe, would not be bothered by this. But it would seem to be difficult for Christianity.

Greg said...

It's misleading to characterize the view he is arguing against as "classical theism,"

It's misleading for him to characterize the view he is arguing against as "classical theism"...

Scott said...

"It's misleading for him to characterize the view he is arguing against as 'classical theism'..."

Very much agreed.

Anonymous said...

Greg,

The argument purports to show that creation ex nihilo is impossible, not merely that someone has failed to demonstrate it. (Or, another way of putting it: that we have no more reason to accept the kalam argument as apodeictic than we have to accept this argument as apodeictic.)

I don't think that's going to work. In fact, I don't believe Craig argues that his argument shows that the alternative is impossible. Impossibility comes in with claims about an infinite past. That everything begins to exist has a cause, the universe began to exist, and so on... that's not really meant to show the impossibility that whatever begins to exist has a cause, especially insofar as reference to our experience is made. It's about consistency and coherency.

What you're saying would have to be cashed out as "ex-apologist is arguing that not even an omnipotent God could create ex nihilo in the sense that Christians mean", and the argument you've provided hasn't even begun to tackle that.

His material efficient cause (which he claims has as much support by intuition and lack of counterexample as the "whatever begins to exist has a cause" principle) would imply that there is some eternal material substratum, which contradicts the kalam's premise that the universe began to exist.

Then he's going to run into the problems regarding past-infinity, which is where Craig really does start talking about impossibilities. Maybe he can argue this is an eternally existent material substratum (superstratum?) that is outside of time. But at that point he's going to be stumbling backwards into conceding something that looks so close to theism that he should be more worried about his argument than the Christian.

Greg said...

I don't believe Craig argues that his argument shows that the alternative is impossible. Impossibility comes in with claims about an infinite past. That everything begins to exist has a cause, the universe began to exist, and so on... that's not really meant to show the impossibility that whatever begins to exist has a cause, especially insofar as reference to our experience is made. It's about consistency and coherency.

What you're saying would have to be cashed out as "ex-apologist is arguing that not even an omnipotent God could create ex nihilo in the sense that Christians mean", and the argument you've provided hasn't even begun to tackle that.


Craig claims that his argument is sound, and if his argument is sound, then temporal creation ex nihilo occurred.

I am a bit confused about what you are saying in the bolded portion. What ex-apologist is arguing seems to be that if we accept weak justifications for the "whatever begins to exist has a cause" principle (let's call this the accidental efficient cause), then we no longer have principled reasons for rejecting the principle that "whatever material thing begins to exist has a preexisting material cause" (the material efficient cause).

The material efficient cause, though, implies that the universe had a prior material efficient cause when it came into existence. So then God did not create the matter of the universe, and it is not genuinely creation ex nihilo.

Suppose that the impossibility of an infinite temporal regress is established by some argument. Then one has an inference to the falsity of the material efficient cause.

But since the justifications for the material efficient cause are the same as those that justify the accidental efficient cause (ie. intuition and lack of counterexamples), there does not seem to be a good reason to accept the accidental efficient cause either, even if an infinite past is impossible. But then an inference to a creator is unwarranted.

One way to rebut the argument would be to provide stronger justification for the accidental efficient cause, which perhaps could be done with an act/potency approach.

Anonymous said...

Greg,

Craig claims that his argument is sound, and if his argument is sound, then temporal creation ex nihilo occurred.

I think you are confusing Craig's arguments. Craig does claim that an infinite past is impossible, from what I've read. He does defend the principle that whatever begins to exist has a cause, but I don't think he actually provides an argument that it's impossible for something to exist without a cause. It's taken as a premise, and the problems with rejecting that premise are argued for, which includes consistency issues and more.

What ex-apologist is arguing seems to be that if we accept weak justifications for the "whatever begins to exist has a cause" principle (let's call this the accidental efficient cause), then we no longer have principled reasons for rejecting the principle that "whatever material thing begins to exist has a preexisting material cause" (the material efficient cause).

That wouldn't work either. For one thing, it seems superficially obvious that ex's principle is stronger than Craig's, so a reason would need to be given for why to take the stronger version. Second, that's still not getting you to the impossibility of creation ex nihilo. Third, it's leaving out what Craig does argue is an impossibility, which is an infinite past.

there does not seem to be a good reason to accept the accidental efficient cause either, even if an infinite past is impossible.

Well, no. One of those two competing principles can remain standing even if an infinite past is impossible, and it's not Ex's. Not unless ex wants to start really getting specific with his "material" cause, and I think that's going to walk him right into "God but by another name".

Greg said...

He does defend the principle that whatever begins to exist has a cause, but I don't think he actually provides an argument that it's impossible for something to exist without a cause. It's taken as a premise, and the problems with rejecting that premise are argued for, which includes consistency issues and more.

I don't think he does either, like ex-apologist is not arguing that it's impossible for something to exist without a "material efficient cause." Ex-apologist implies that the two justifications for Craig's principle are intuition and lack of counterexamples. I am not familiar enough with Craig's writings to say whether he is right in saying that those are the only two justifications Craig gives. You are are also referring to "consistency issues".

For one thing, it seems superficially obvious that ex's principle is stronger than Craig's, so a reason would need to be given for why to take the stronger version.

Is it?

Second, that's still not getting you to the impossibility of creation ex nihilo.

The "material efficient cause" principle, if true, would imply that creation ex nihilo is impossible, since it would suggest that the universe had a prior material cause, and thereby would not have been created "from nothing."

Third, it's leaving out what Craig does argue is an impossibility, which is an infinite past.
[...]
Well, no. One of those two competing principles can remain standing even if an infinite past is impossible, and it's not Ex's.


Well, maybe the issue here is that I have generally not been convinced by Craig's arguments from mathematics that an infinite past is impossible in principle, so in assessing ex-apologist's argument, I tend to think of that premise as scientifically supported. (The reasons that Craig gives in his debates I find utterly unconvincing. But he is a smart guy, so I suspect he gives better ones in his more scholarly writings.) I agree that if the impossibility of an infinite past can be demonstrated (ie. from some sort of a priori mathematical argument, rather than from the state of contemporary cosmology), then ex-apologist's argument is baseless.

Anonymous said...

Ex-apologist implies that the two justifications for Craig's principle are intuition and lack of counterexamples.

There's also a matter of consistency and avoiding ad-hocness, among other things.

Is it?

"A cause" versus "A (particularly specific type of) cause"? I think so.

The "material efficient cause" principle, if true, would imply that creation ex nihilo is impossible, since it would suggest that the universe had a prior material cause, and thereby would not have been created "from nothing."

In terms of the argument given, it wouldn't prove or even imply impossibility. I think you are confusing "what likely happened given our knowledge and inferences" with "what could have happened". If I provide arguments and evidence that John ate the last cupcake, I have not "proven it was impossible for David to have eaten the last cupcake". It may be less likely, but impossibility is something else.

I agree that if the impossibility of an infinite past can be demonstrated (ie. from some sort of a priori mathematical argument, rather than from the state of contemporary cosmology),

Craig, as far as I know, never argues the impossibility of an infinite past due to the state of contemporary cosmology. He regards it as a logical problem. He does point at the state of contemporary cosmology to buttress the claim that the universe is past-finite in another sense, but this is where Craig really does claim that an infinite past is in fact impossible.

Greg said...

There's also a matter of consistency and avoiding ad-hocness, among other things.

I don't see why these would not apply to ex-apologist's principle as well.

"A cause" versus "A (particularly specific type of) cause"? I think so.

It doesn't seem to me like Craig's cause is merely a cause in general; it is specifically an agent (efficient) cause (what analytic philosophers usually mean by cause).

For instance, ex-apologist's "material efficient cause" could be called a "cause," but it would not satisfy Craig's principle in the absence of some agent. It simply states that the material cause (in the Aristotelian sense) of whatever begins to exist already exists.

In terms of the argument given, it wouldn't prove or even imply impossibility. I think you are confusing "what likely happened given our knowledge and inferences" with "what could have happened". If I provide arguments and evidence that John ate the last cupcake, I have not "proven it was impossible for David to have eaten the last cupcake". It may be less likely, but impossibility is something else.

Hence my saying that it would imply impossibility "if true." He doesn't claim that his principle is demonstrably necessary, only that it has a level of support comparable to Craig's causal principle.

Again, I agree that that will not be sufficient for him if the argument for the finitude of the universe's past is necessary (as it would be if Craig's mathematical arguments succeed).

Craig, as far as I know, never argues the impossibility of an infinite past due to the state of contemporary cosmology. He regards it as a logical problem. He does point at the state of contemporary cosmology to buttress the claim that the universe is past-finite in another sense, but this is where Craig really does claim that an infinite past is in fact impossible.

Sorry, I am being loose with "impossible." I mean that he uses contemporary cosmology and a priori mathematical arguments to argue for the premise that the universe had a beginning. I don't think of the mathematical arguments as being particularly strong, so I do not think of that premise as apodeictic, though if it is, then he can reject ex-apologist's material efficient cause by modus tollens (since it would not be established as strongly as an a priori argument for the impossibility of an infinite past).

Anonymous said...

Greg,

I don't see why these would not apply to ex-apologist's principle as well.

Insofar as it's a question of choosing between Craig's and Ex's principle, it wouldn't.

It doesn't seem to me like Craig's cause is merely a cause in general; it is specifically an agent (efficient) cause (what analytic philosophers usually mean by cause).

Craig's principle isn't that everything that begins to exist has an agent cause, but that everything that begins to exist has a cause. Then Craig examines what the cause could be in the case of the universe.

Hence my saying that it would imply impossibility "if true."

But that seems wrong, for the reasons you just quoted.

Sorry, I am being loose with "impossible." I mean that he uses contemporary cosmology and a priori mathematical arguments to argue for the premise that the universe had a beginning.

But previously you were saying that classical theists of a Christian bend should be upset with ex's argument precisely because their reliance on revelation would be trumped by an argument arguing that ex nihilo creation was impossible. Are you dropping that?

Greg said...

Insofar as it's a question of choosing between Craig's and Ex's principle, it wouldn't.

I don't know what the "it" here is referring to. Do you mean "they" (the justifications, ie. consistency and avoiding ad hocness)?

Craig's principle isn't that everything that begins to exist has an agent cause, but that everything that begins to exist has a cause.

It seems to me like the sense of "cause" that Craig is employing, though it is not a strict efficient cause, is not as general as the Aristotelian use (ie. a "because"). So it does not seem like Craig's principle is obviously more general than ex's.

For if an Aristotelian "material cause" were included in Craig's sense of cause, then every material object which by definition has a material cause would satisfy Craig's principle.

But that seems wrong, for the reasons you just quoted.

The "material efficient" causal principle would tell against the finitude of the past if it were true. The principle is not demonstrated, though, so if there were an a priori argument for the finitude of the past, then I agree that one could take that as showing that the material efficient causal principle is false. But if the argument for the finitude of the past is based on controvertible empirical data, then it seems like the material efficient causal principle is inconsistent with it.

But previously you were saying that classical theists of a Christian bend should be upset with ex's argument precisely because their reliance on revelation would be trumped by an argument arguing that ex nihilo creation was impossible.

By classical theists here, we mean those deploying a kalam argument (so not really what the term generally refers to when used on this blog) and therefore arguing that the universe is past-finite and created by God.

So it is true that if the material efficient cause is not demonstrated, then we are not certain that the ex's counterargument holds, but obviously such Christians do not want to say, "On the basis of revelation, I reject an argument that purports to employ a principle as well-supported as my principle of causality." If one is invoking a principle that is equally plausible in one's positive argument for theism, then dismissing its counterpart seems a bit ad hoc. (So for example, Aquinas offers more than intuition and lack of counterexamples in support of his causal principle, so it is not ad hoc to dismiss the material efficient cause on account of its non-demonstrability.)

That was my thought originally. I admit I feel less confident about it, and you are convincing me against it. And in any case, I took a look at a recent question on Craig's site about his debate with Sean Carroll, and it seems like Craig argues for his causal principle with more than intuition and lack of counterexamples.

Anonymous said...

Greg,

I don't know what the "it" here is referring to.

It refers to the quoted statement.

It seems to me like the sense of "cause" that Craig is employing, though it is not a strict efficient cause, is not as general as the Aristotelian use (ie. a "because"). So it does not seem like Craig's principle is obviously more general than ex's.

I don't know how to respond to seemings, beyond saying how things seem to me. In fact, it seems that Craig's view of a cause is general enough that it would allow ex's own proposed cause to be a possibility, which would then be rejected on the already covered grounds. (It cannot be material because... and so on.)

What ex would need to do is argue that his narrower cause is better than Craig's, but that would also mean he has more work to do in a sense.

But if the argument for the finitude of the past is based on controvertible empirical data,

Are you aware of just what arguments WLC offers about the finitude of the past? Are you under the impression he hinges this on cosmological data? If so, you should read him again. His primary argument is philosophical. Modern cosmological data is a support to the claim, but not to the philosophical argument for the claim.

Be sure to read Craig directly, not Craig as interpreted by ex. (Actually, you seem to be doing this given your comment's end.)

By classical theists here, we mean those deploying a kalam argument (so not really what the term generally refers to when used on this blog) and therefore arguing that the universe is past-finite and created by God.

I thought we were talking about classical theists, period. And Kalam itself, from what I read, is aimed primarily at the impossibility of an infinite past.

So it is true that if the material efficient cause is not demonstrated, then we are not certain that the ex's counterargument holds, but obviously such Christians do not want to say, "On the basis of revelation, I reject an argument that purports to employ a principle as well-supported as my principle of causality."

Remember, ex's argument doesn't touch the existence of the classical theist God even if it was successful (and I don't believe it is.) Nor is ex's argument aimed at the powers of God, so it's not even necessary to reject it here. You may mean rejecting his principle, but even ex doesn't seem to say his principle is superior. He's fighting tooth and nail for a draw on this question, and even a draw wouldn't do what he seems to think it would do.

I don't think rejecting a well-supported principle is particularly troubling to Christians in this context anyway. It's extraordinarily well supported that dead men stay dead, all things being equal.

Greg said...

I don't know how to respond to seemings, beyond saying how things seem to me. In fact, it seems that Craig's view of a cause is general enough that it would allow ex's own proposed cause to be a possibility, which would then be rejected on the already covered grounds. (It cannot be material because... and so on.)

Well I did give a reason for saying why material causes likely would not be included by Craig's principle... namely that every material entity has a material cause, and if that were sufficient to satisfy Craig's principle, then material entities would all have sufficient causes.

Are you aware of just what arguments WLC offers about the finitude of the past? Are you under the impression he hinges this on cosmological data? If so, you should read him again. His primary argument is philosophical. Modern cosmological data is a support to the claim, but not to the philosophical argument for the claim.

Be sure to read Craig directly, not Craig as interpreted by ex. (Actually, you seem to be doing this given your comment's end.)


I am aware that Craig offers arguments apart from cosmology for the finitude of the past. I said that I do not find the arguments he tends to give in debates (ie. from the oddness of doing arithmetic with infinity) very persuasive, so I tend to think of that premise as scientifically supported, though I suspect that, because he is a smart guy, he has better arguments in his scholarly work. That is my own bias which colors the way I tend to view the kalam argument, but you are right that I should delve into Craig's more scholarly work.

I thought we were talking about classical theists, period.

The argument treats Craig as a paradigm classical theist. Classical theists in the sense used on this blog already do not have to worry about the argument, in my view, because they can treat the material efficient cause as non-demonstrative, while they have separate justifications for their causal principle. (Though that response seems open to Craig as well.)