Friday, May 16, 2014

Pre-Christian apologetics


Christianity did not arise in a vacuum.  The very first Christians debated with their opponents in a cultural context within which everyone knew that there is a God and that he had revealed himself through Moses and the prophets.  The question, given that background, was what to think of Jesus of Nazareth.  Hence the earliest apologists were, in effect, apologists for Christianity as opposed to Judaism, specifically.  That didn’t last long.  As Christianity spread beyond Judea into the larger Mediterranean world, the question became whether to accept Christianity as opposed to paganism.  Much less could be taken for granted. 

Still, significant common ground for debate was provided by Greek philosophy.  In Book VIII of The City of God, Augustine noted that thinkers in the Neoplatonic tradition had seen that God is the cause of the existence of the world; had seen also that only what is beyond the world of material and changeable things could be God; had understood the distinction between the senses and their objects on the one hand, and the intellect and its objects on the other, and affirmed the superiority of the latter; and had affirmed that the highest good is not the good of the body or even the good of the mind, but to know and imitate God.  In short, these pagan thinkers knew some of the key truths about God, the soul, and the natural law that are available to unaided human reason.  This purely philosophical knowledge facilitated Augustine’s own conversion to Christianity, and would provide an intellectual skeleton for the developing tradition of Christian apologetics and theology.

In yet other cultural contexts, however -- such as the religions of the far East -- the Christian apologist could presuppose even less than what was known to the Greeks.  The seventeenth-century Jesuit missionary Roberto de Nobili sought to remedy the problem by making use of the rich conceptual apparatus provided by Hindu philosophy in order to convince learned Hindus of the truth of a Thomistic natural theology, which could in turn be used as a stepping stone to Christian revelation. 

Nor is it that hard to find common ground here.  Hinduism affirms a single self-existent and unchanging divine reality, even if this reality is usually conceived of in pantheistic rather than theistic terms; and there are explicitly theistic strands too in the Hindu philosophical tradition.  Hinduism also has a notion of the soul, even if its doctrine of reincarnation takes the idea in a direction foreign to Christianity.  In its affirmation of an objective moral order that operates like a law of nature rather than an arbitrary divine command, the notion of karma parallels that of natural law (though of course there are radical differences too).  In the Chinese context, Taoism, Confucian ethics, and Neo-Confucian metaphysics also provide a rich set of conceptual resources by which a discussion of natural theology and natural law might proceed.

But in the modern West, even less than that can be taken for granted.  The Buddhist critic of Hindu metaphysics at least thinks the debate is well worth having.  Though in substance his views are yet farther still from Christianity than those of the Hindu, he is at least at the philosophical level more or less in the same conceptual universe.  But as I noted in my recent TAC talk calling for a return to Scholastic apologetics, the typical modern Western secularist doesn’t regard theism, much less Christianity, even worth the bother of refuting.  And he is often as dismissive of philosophy itself as he is of the theology the traditional apologist would ground in philosophical arguments.   It is, not always but often, empirical science alone that he will take seriously.  Given this scientism, you need first to show him why he needs to take metaphysics seriously, and then go from there to natural theology, before you can finally turn to the defense of Christian revealed theology.  (Not that that first task is hard to accomplish if one’s interlocutor is intellectually honest.  Scientism is not hard to refute.  For the refutation, see chapter 0 of Scholastic Metaphysics.  For the ocean of metaphysics any possible natural science presupposes, see the rest of the book.)

The trouble with contemporary apologetics

So, the modern apologist has his work cut out for him.  Though Christianity did not arise in a vacuum, it currently finds itself, at least in the contemporary Western context, in something approximating a vacuum.  The religious and philosophical milieu within which Christian revelation is intelligible -- and thus within which an intellectually serious and compelling Christian apologetics must be situated -- has largely been forgotten.  And unfortunately it is not only secularists who have forgotten it, but Christians themselves, including self-described Christian apologists

I have often complained that it is not just New Atheist types, but too many contemporary Christian thinkers, who are operating with a seriously deficient conception of God and a seriously deficient set of background metaphysical assumptions.  That is part of the problem I have in mind here.  A sound apologetics must be formulated in terms of classical theism and classical (Aristotelian, Neoplatonic, Scholastic) metaphysics.  But there is more to it than that.  We need also to rediscover the depth, scope, and rigor of apologetics as it was understood in the Neo-Scholastic tradition.  Rightly understood, apologetics is not a grab bag of ad hoc moves designed merely to win over converts by whatever means are at hand.  It is not a kind of rhetoric.  It is a kind of science, in the broad sense of a systematic body of objective knowledge.  It has a philosophical foundation and a logical structure, a proper ordering of topics integrated into a theoretically coherent whole.  It contains no gaps that require that the chain of logical argumentation suddenly be interrupted, and the intellect turned off so that will or emotion can take the reins.  And if it is not treated this way -- as a serious intellectual enterprise -- it will not be taken seriously by most intelligent people, and will not deserve to be. 

One problem with too much contemporary apologetics is that it reflects little awareness of this theoretical structure of the discipline and the proper ordering of its subject matter.  Consider approaches which jump straight to the Resurrection of Jesus as an argument for Christianity, or even as an argument for theism.  This might be effective with some people who have no strong convictions either way vis-à-vis Christianity or theism, or with a theologically conservative Jewish interlocutor who already affirms the truth of Abrahamic religion and just needs convincing that Christianity represents its correct development.  But considered as a completely general “opening move,” suitable for immediate deployment against naturalists and atheists of any stripe, this approach is in my view seriously wrongheaded.  A sophisticated naturalist supposes that he has good reason to think events like resurrections just can’t happen, and good reason to think the body of religious teaching associated with this particular resurrection story is a priori implausible.  So unless this set of general background assumptions is first undermined, he will understandably think himself perfectly justified in shrugging his shoulders and dismissing even the strongest evidence for the Resurrection as just one of several odd pieces of data we find here and there in history -- a curiosity perhaps, but not something that could by itself undermine what he takes to be an otherwise well-established naturalism. 

Of course, some apologists would at least preface a treatment of the Resurrection with an independent argument for God’s existence.  But even that is not, by itself, an adequate prolegomenon.  For one thing, not every argument for God’s existence will get you to the specific conception of God needed in order to establish the plausibility of a resurrection.  For another, the existence of God is by no means the only piece of background philosophical knowledge which can and should be put in place before a specifically Christian apologetic begins.  I will return to this issue below.

Another problem with too much contemporary apologetics is that it takes a “kitchen sink” approach that seems more interested in persuading the listener than in presenting the truth.  Hence an apologist will sometimes dump out onto the page a bevy of arguments that have been or could be given for some claim, leaving it vague whether he actually accepts all of them himself.  This is the apologist-as-salesman, happy as long as you walk out of the store with something, and not too particular about what it is.  Welcome to 31 Theological Flavors!  Come on in and sample our wide array of proofs for God’s existence.  See one you like?  Excellent choice, shall I box it up for you or will you be wearing it right away? 

The trouble here is not that one or more of the arguments might not in fact be good, and sincerely believed by the apologist to be good.  And of course, if an argument really is good, it remains so even if you throw a bunch of questionable arguments in with it.  The point is rather that uncritically putting forward anything that might help “make the case” dilutes the intellectual seriousness of the enterprise, and reinforces the false perception of apologetics as mere rhetoric rather than true philosophy.

At this point I need to anticipate an obvious objection.  Surely, the atheist or secularist critic will say, any apologetics must of its nature be merely rhetorical rather than truly philosophical or scientific in spirit.  For the apologist (so the objection continues) is engaged in putting forward reasons  for conclusions which he has already decided beforehand are true, conclusions he originally believed for reasons other than the ones he now puts forward in his role as an apologist (for example, on the basis of what parents and religious authorities told him when he was younger).  And that sort of task is intellectually unserious, even intellectually dishonest.

So many a secularist will say.  But if he is honest with himself, the secularist will see that he doesn’t really believe this.  Consider that almost everyone who believes what modern science has to tell us does so on the basis of what some authority has told him -- parents, teachers, makers of science documentaries, writers of pop science books, and the like.  Very few people are capable of carrying out the study necessary to master even a single scientific discipline, and no one can master all of them.  Most people have to rely on the expertise of others to know what they know of a scientific nature.   But no secularist considers this irrational or dishonest.  No secularist would say that you can only rationally believe what science says if you have worked it out for yourself, and done so from first principles, without parents and teachers having first taught you the conclusions before you learned the arguments.

Consider also books like Richard Dawkins’ The Blind Watchmaker, Philip Kitcher’s Abusing Science, Michael Ruse’s Darwinism Defended, and Jerry Coyne’s Why Evolution Is True.  It is undeniable that these are works of apologetics -- Darwinian apologetics.  They are in no way tentative and dispassionate explorations of their topic, but written precisely to convince the reader that Darwinism is true and to defend it against its critics.  And while Darwinians are happy to acknowledge that such books, like all books, might be wrong on this or that point of detail, they will be very, very upset if you do not firmly agree with the overall thrust of the books. 

Such books, and science books more generally, also set forth arguments few or none of which their authors actually knew of when they first accepted the conclusions the arguments are meant to support (e.g. when they accepted them in school, on the basis of their teachers’ authority, or at best on the basis of simplified and sometimes mistaken explanations that their teachers gave them).  Nor were the arguments that are summarized in such books actually discovered by anyone else in a way that mirrors the order of presentation in the book itself.  In science, what Hans Reichenbach called the “context of discovery” is much, much messier and haphazard than the “context of justification” would indicate.  Scientific textbooks give you the “finished product,” and their arguments and order of exposition don’t necessarily mirror the way in which the knowledge was actually arrived at historically. 

Now, secularists do not consider any of this in any way objectionable.  Though science textbooks and works of Darwinian apologetics are essentially giving you after-the-fact justifications for conclusions that were originally accepted by their authors on the basis of authority -- and justifications that do not entirely reflect the reasoning that historically led to the acceptance of the conclusions by the wider scientific community in the first place -- no secularists will for that reason dismiss such works as mere “rationalizations” of “prejudice.”  Nor does the fact that the conclusions are presented in a way that is far from tentative, with critics dealt with dismissively or even polemically, lead the secularist to regard such works as mere rhetoric rather than true science.

In that case, though, the secularist cannot consistently dismiss works of theological apologetics a priori as per se intellectually unserious or contrary to a truly philosophical or scientific approach to their subject.  He must acknowledge the possibility that such works are relevantly parallel to scientific textbooks or to books defending scientific theories against skeptics -- that they are, like science textbooks, systematic presentations of ideas and arguments that were historically arrived at in a more haphazard and unsystematic way.  He must consider the arguments on their own merits, and cannot reasonably try to short-circuit debate by dismissing the genre in which they are found. 

The proper order of apologetics

So, what is the correct order of topics in a philosophically rigorous apologetics -- the kind I have attributed to Neo-Scholastic writers?  The key point to emphasize here is how much must be, and can be, established by purely philosophical arguments before one even gets to addressing the claims of Christianity specifically.  A rich system of “natural apologetics,” as it is sometimes called, must precede specifically Christian apologetics if the latter is to have its proper intellectual foundation.  And arguing for the existence of God is only one part of this task.  Let me sketch out the order of topics I have in mind.  (Mind you, I am not stating the arguments of natural apologetics or Christian apologetics here.  That would take a book.  I am sketching out what a complete system of apologetics would involve, and does involve in the best authors on the subject.)

I. Metaphysical prolegomena

“Natural apologetics” presupposes a number of basic metaphysical assumptions.  So too, at the end of the day, does specifically Christian apologetics, and indeed the whole system of Christian dogmatic theology when given a rigorous intellectual articulation.  Specifically, I would argue, these background assumptions include the key elements of Scholastic metaphysics: the theory of act and potency, the Scholastic theory of causal powers, the principle of causality, the principle of finality, formal and material causes, the Scholastic account of substance, the distinction between essence and existence, and so forth.

To some extent the notions in question can be introduced and defended in the course of giving this or that argument in “natural apologetics.”  For example, you could at least introduce the theory of act and potency in the course of setting out the argument for the existence of an unactualized actualizer (i.e. “unmoved mover”).  And you typically won’t find, in old Neo-Scholastic works on apologetics and natural theology, a section or chapter devoted specifically to metaphysical prolegomena.  One reason is that the metaphysical background assumptions in question were perhaps somewhat more widely known and less controversial in those days.  Another is that there were in any event a great many Neo-Scholastic works devoted entirely to metaphysics and philosophy of nature.  The interested reader could easily be directed to such works if he had questions about the background metaphysics.

These days, however, there is so much ignorance and misinformation regarding the metaphysical underpinnings of Scholastic arguments in “natural apologetics” that I think a prolegomenon devoted to those underpinnings is necessary.  (That is why you have to plow through 50 pages or so of abstract metaphysics in The Last Superstition and Aquinas before you get to natural theology, philosophical anthropology, and natural law.  There are still book-length treatments available too.)

II. Natural theology

Natural theology involves, of course, arguments for the existence of God.  But it involves a lot more than that.  For one thing, the key arguments of natural theology -- the sort I have defended in many places (e.g. here, here, here, and here) -- do not merely get you to some deity or other.  They get you to nothing less than the God of classical theism, specifically.  That is to say, they get you to a cause of the world which is pure actuality rather than a mixture of actuality and potentiality; subsistent being itself rather than merely one being or existent among others; absolutely simple or non-composite; absolutely necessary; immutable and eternal; and something which could not in principle have had a cause of its own but is self-existent.  They get you to a God who is, accordingly (and contra pantheism), necessarily utterly distinct from the world (since the world is temporal, changeable, composite, a mixture of actual and potential, etc.).  They get you to a God to whom we must attribute intellect, will, omnipotence, omniscience, and perfect goodness.  They also show that God causes the world not merely in the sense of having gotten the ball rolling 13 billion years ago, but in the more fundamental sense that he conserves the world in being at every instant.  They show that if he were not continuously causing the world, the world would instantly collapse into nothingness. 

Natural theology also establishes that there is a natural order of “secondary causes” that is both distinct from but depends upon God as primary cause.  Natural, secondary causes are real causes (so that occasionalism is ruled out), but they can act only insofar as God imparts causal power to them (so that deism is also ruled out).  This is the idea of divine concurrence with natural causes.  When worked out it entails, on the one hand, that there is a natural order of things that can be known and studied whether or not one affirms the existence of God.  Given just that natural order, certain things are possible and certain things are impossible, and the “laws of nature” revealed by natural science tell us which is which.  But on the other hand, the doctrine of divine concurrence tells us that since this entire natural order operates only insofar as the divine primary cause concurs with it, there is also the possibility of a supernatural order of things -- an order of things over and above the natural order, for the sake of which the latter might be suspended.  (Notice that “supernatural” here has a technical meaning that is unrelated to the sorts of things popular usage of the word suggests.  It has nothing to do with vampires, werewolves, zombies, and the like -- which, if they existed, would be part of the “natural” order in the relevant sense, rather than supernatural.)

Now both of these ideas -- that some things are impossible given just the natural order of secondary causes, but that the divine primary cause might act in a supernatural way -- entail the possibility of miracles.  For a miracle in the strictest sense is impossible in the natural order, and thus can only be caused by what is supernatural, which means it can only be caused by God.  (Note that the natural order of things broadly construed includes angels, which, like us, are creatures which must be preserved in being by God and whose actions require divine concurrence.  Hence a miracle in the strictest sense could not be caused even by an angel, since it is a suspension of the order to which even angels are subject.  Obviously, “miracles” in the looser sense of remarkable events outside the ordinary course of things could be caused by beings other than God, but these would be preternatural rather than strictly supernatural.) 

Natural theology also establishes divine providence, which entails that God provides the means by which the things he has created can attain the ends for which they exist, and that he allows evil in the world only insofar as he draws greater good out of it.

So, a completed system of natural theology, at least as developed in the Scholastic tradition, tells us quite a bit.  It establishes the existence and key attributes of the God of classical theism, the doctrines of conservation, concurrence, and providence, and the possibility of miracles.   It thereby tells us not only that there is a God but that he is not a lame “watchmaker” god of the Paley sort (which Hume and Dawkins rightly think would require a cause of his own), that he is not an impersonal Absolute or identical with the world (as pantheism claims), and (given conservation, concurrence, providence, and the possibility of miracles) that he is not an absentee god of the deist sort.  A necessary condition for any of the world religions being true, then, is that it is consistent with all of this.  That rules out, among other candidates, Buddhism and pantheist forms of Hinduism.

III. Philosophical anthropology

That’s just the beginning of what “natural apologetics” tells us.  Let’s turn to human nature.  The Scholastic argues that the human soul is to be conceived of as the substantial form of the living human being, related to the body as form to matter.  The intellectual and volitional powers of the soul are, it is argued, essentially immaterial, operating without direct dependence on any bodily organ.  This in turn leads to the conclusion that the human soul is naturally immortal.  For since the intellect and will do not directly depend on the body when a human being is alive, they do not perish with the death of the body.  Hence the human soul, reduced to its intellectual and volitional powers, carries on after the loss of our corporeal functions.  (I’ve defended these claims in various places, e.g. here and here.)

A consequence of this view is that the soul, because of its immaterial powers, cannot have a natural cause.  Each individual human soul requires a special divine creative act, an act which goes beyond divine conservation of, and concurrence with, the ordinary course of nature. 

Another consequence is that a disembodied soul is not a complete human being, but, as I have said, only a human being reduced to its intellectual and volitional powers.  For the complete human being to be restored would require that the corporeal functions be restored; that is to say, it would require a resurrection from the dead.  Now there is nothing in the natural order of things that can accomplish this.  Like the coming into existence of a new individual human soul, a resurrection would, the Scholastic argues, require a special divine act.

Though not naturally possible, such a resurrection is nevertheless supernaturally possible because the human soul is immortal.  If there were nothing that persisted between the death of an individual human being and his resurrection, the resurrected human being would not really be the same human being, but only a duplicate.  (This is why a non-human animal cannot be resurrected.  Since such animals have no immaterial operations, there is nothing left of the individual after the death of its body.  The most that could come into being after Rover’s death is an exact duplicate of Rover, but not Rover himself.)

Your soul, on this analysis, is also the form of your body, specifically.  It is, on the Scholastic analysis, metaphysically impossible for a human soul to be reincarnated in the body of another human being, much less a non-human animal.  It is only ever your body that could come once again to have your soul.  That entails that the standard reincarnation doctrines are not correct accounts of human nature -- a major strike against all forms of Hinduism and Buddhism.

Among the other things that all of this tells us is that the divine cause of the world, who conserves it in being at every instant and concurs with every exercise of natural causal power, takes a special interest in human beings insofar as he acts in a special way, beyond his ordinary conserving and concurrent activity, when a new individual human soul comes into being.  Moreover, what he creates thereby is something immortal -- something which persists not only well after the brief three score and ten years allotted to most of us, but forever.  But in the natural course of things, it only exists in a complete way (i.e. together with the body) for a short span of time. 

This tells us that if any religion is true, it cannot be one which denies either the special significance of human beings or personal immortality.  Philosophical anthropology also at the very least strongly indicates that if any of the allegedly revealed religions is true, it will be one which teaches a doctrine of the resurrection.  For while a resurrection is not strictly required given our nature and the special interest God evidently take in us, it is especially fitting given our nature and the special interest God takes in us.

IV. Natural law and natural religion

The mainstream Scholastic position is that the binding force of morality, and at least the broad outlines of its content, can be known via natural reason.  Among the many other things about the natural law that we can establish through philosophical arguments is that our highest end is God, that individually and socially we owe him worship, and that religion is therefore absolutely essential to healthy moral and social life.  What all this entails in detail is spelled out in standard Scholastic manuals of ethics.  A necessary condition of the truth of any religion (or of any non-religious view of things, for that matter) is that it be consistent with what the natural law tells us about the content and binding force of morality.

However, human experience also tells us a few other crucial things about the moral life.  First of all, while it is possible for unaided human reason to discover a great deal in the way of natural theology and natural law, in practice very few people have the leisure or intelligence to do it, and even those who do tend to do so very imperfectly.  As with natural science, the acquisition of a rigorous and systematic body of knowledge of a “natural apologetics” sort is very difficult and is the work of many generations.  Though there is, in different cultures, always some knowledge of a natural theological and natural law sort, given the limitations of our nature it is in practice invariably mixed with greater or lesser amounts of error.  Hence in practice our knowledge even of our natural moral and religious obligations is often severely deficient.

Furthermore, even when we are aware of our moral obligations we tend to find them very difficult to fulfill.  This is in part because of the strong pull of our passions against our reason even in the best of circumstances, and also because in the course of actual human life there is often a dramatic mismatch between moral virtue and this-worldly rewards.  In practice the good often suffer and the evil go unpunished, and this, needless to say, can be extremely demoralizing. 

Now as I have said, the arguments of natural theology and philosophical anthropology establish that God takes a very special interest in us, that our highest end is to know him, and that we have a destiny in the hereafter.  Natural law arguments also tell us what we need to do in order to achieve our natural end.  Yet though it is in principle possible for us to know all this through unaided reason and to live in accordance with the natural law, in practice it is very difficult to do so.  This makes it a priori fitting and indeed highly plausible that God would provide special assistance, beyond what our very limited natural faculties provide.  That is to say, it makes it a priori highly plausible that he would provide a special revelation.

The only means by which we could know with certainty that such a revelation has actually occurred, though, is if it is backed by a miracle in the strict sense of a divine suspension of the natural order.  Anything less than that -- anything that could have been produced by natural or even by preternatural causes rather than a truly supernatural cause -- would, for all we know, be bogus.

V. Christian apologetics

It is only at this point that a specifically Christian apologetics properly begins.  “Natural apologetics” tells us to look for a special divine revelation.  It tells us that this revelation will have to be backed by a miracle in the strict sense -- something that only God could in principle have caused.  And it tells us that this revelation will have to be consistent with everything we know from natural theology, philosophical anthropology, and natural law.  As we have seen, given what we know from those fields, that rules out quite a lot.  In fact, among the great world religions, it rules out the religions of the far East and tells us to look instead to the Abrahamic traditions.  The reason is in part that the content of the religions of the far East is too greatly out of harmony with what we know from natural theology and philosophical anthropology, and in part because it is in the Abrahamic religions rather than the far Eastern ones that we even find in the first place claims to a divine revelation backed by miracles.

Now while there are miracle stories in the Islamic tradition, and even the occasional attribution of a miracle to Muhammad, it is remarkable how little emphasis is placed on the miraculous in Islam compared to Judaism and Christianity.  Indeed, the chief miracle attributed to Muhammad is supposed to be the Qur’an itself.  But of course, whether the Qur’an is even preternatural, or indeed even something naturally improbable -- let alone something that could not in principle have come about except through a supernatural, divine cause -- is, to say the very least, highly doubtful.

When we turn to Judaism we find that there are no significant miracles affirmed by it that are not also affirmed by Christianity.  Hence, suppose it were established beyond any doubt that (say) the miracles attributed to Moses really happened.  That wouldn’t establish the truth of Judaism as opposed to Christianity, since the biblical passages telling us about these miracles are considered scriptural in both religions. 

Now the Resurrection of Jesus Christ is something else altogether.  For one thing, if it really happened, it cannot possibly have had a natural or even preternatural cause.  Only God himself could have caused it.  And if it really happened, it decisively establishes Christianity as opposed to Judaism, and indeed as opposed to any other religion.  This is why Christianity has historically staked everything on this particular miracle.  “If Christ is not raised,” St. Paul tells the Christian, “your faith is worthless.”  But if he was raised, then the Christian faith is rationally established. 

So, was he raised?  Here, I maintain, is where the work of the most formidable scholars of the Resurrection -- of a William Lane Craig, say -- should enter the picture.  If a skeptic is convinced of the truth of naturalism, and you present him with no reason to doubt his naturalism except the defense of the Resurrection developed by a writer like Craig, then it seems to me perfectly understandable why such a skeptic would regard that defense as inconclusive at best.  However, suppose instead that the claims of natural theology, philosophical anthropology, and natural law sketched above can all be independently established.  Seen in that context, I maintain, the arguments of writers like Craig are compelling.

That is by no means to deny that there are important considerations other than the Resurrection.  For example, I would argue that it is only in light of the Incarnation, of God in the flesh suffering with us, that the problem of evil can be dealt with in a practically and emotionally satisfying way (as opposed to a bloodlessly intellectually satisfying way).  And it is highly plausible that, given his special concern for us, God would will to answer the needs of our emotional nature, so as to make absolutely evident his love for us.  (Notice that I am not fallaciously “appealing to emotion” here; I am not saying “Proposition p is emotionally satisfying, therefore p is true.”  Rather, I am appealing to what God would plausibly will as conducive to our well-being given that we are by nature creatures of emotion as well as of reason.)  I would also argue that the supernatural end revealed by Christianity -- the beatific vision -- does greater justice to our rational nature than do the natural ends posited by other purportedly revealed religions.  (Since I say this as a critic of Henri de Lubac, this is a claim I would obviously want to formulate very carefully in a fuller treatment!) 

Obviously much more could be said.  But this is not a post about Christian apologetics per se, and it is a post that is already too long.  The point is that the full power of distinctively Christian claims about God and man can only be appreciated within the context of a fully developed “natural apologetics.”  Scholastic writers of a previous generation understood this.  You will find the approach I advocate followed in old books like Paul Glenn’s Apologetics, Anthony Alexander’s College Apologetics, Michael Sheehan’s Apologetics and Catholic Doctrine, John McCormick’s Natural Theology, and in many multi-volume works of dogmatic or fundamental theology in the Neo-Scholastic period.  The trouble with such works (other than the fact of their often being out of print and hard to find) is that, being old, they do not address the sorts of objections a contemporary analytic philosopher or a contemporary skeptical biblical scholar might raise.

Hence there is an urgent need for Catholic theologians and philosophers to return to the task of writing works of apologetics with the depth, breadth, analytic rigor, and systematic character prized in the Scholastic tradition.  (It is only fair to note that the Eastern Orthodox philosopher Richard Swinburne is something of a model, having produced over the decades an apologetic oeuvre of remarkable depth, breadth, analytic rigor, and systematic power.  If only he were a Scholastic, and if only he weren’t a theistic personalist!) 

418 comments:

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scottlbuchanan said...

Hi Prof. Feser,

Great post. Just on the resurrection: have you read N.T. Wright's "The Resurrection of the Son of God"? It's perhaps the most formidable defence of the resurrection as a historical event yet published.

Also, just finished reading TLS for the second time. Even better this time around. I'm letting the arguments really sink in.

rank sophist said...

Really fantastic article. I think that certain fine points in it are up for debate, but it's very solid and complete even if you don't agree with absolutely everything.

Anonymous said...

Prof. Feser,

Could you possibly please expand on the earliest, contra-Judaism apologetics? I must say I find Christianity in an inferior position in regards to Judaism as it has to explain (a) why we should accept another revelation and holy book, in addition to those of Judaism, and (b) why God's eternal laws suddenly changed. Numerous atheist comments on blogs and discussion boards address features of Christianity that are simply not applicable to Judaism (e.g. was Jesus resurrected, why we should not accept homosexuality but can mix linen and wool).

I can see you argue in this post that the resurrection of Jesus is a key argument for Christianity, as it bases a revelation on a clear miracle. Is this an argument that was historically used in those early apologetics? Or is it a later development?

Anon1

Anonymous said...

"Hence the earliest apologists were, in effect, apologists for Christianity as opposed to Judaism, specifically. That didn’t last long. As Christianity spread beyond Judea into the larger Mediterranean world, the question became whether to accept Christianity as opposed to paganism. Much less could be taken for granted."
You might want to consider the recent works of scholars like D. Boyarin who show a more subtle relationship between early Christianity and early Judaism.

Greg said...

Anon

Numerous atheist comments on blogs and discussion boards address features of Christianity that are simply not applicable to Judaism (e.g. was Jesus resurrected, why we should not accept homosexuality but can mix linen and wool).

There seem to be more advantages to Jesus's resurrection. Sure it's another thing to defend, and sure atheists will dispute it. But it is one miracle that is at least proximate enough to be historically defended; I'm not sure what someone defending Judaism would defend instead.

Some Christians might face difficulties in justifying our acceptance of biblical prohibitions against homosexuality, but Catholics at least can refer to the natural law tradition. There are natural law arguments against homosexuality, but there are not natural law arguments against mixing linen and wool. (That said, the suggestion that biblical prohibitions against homosexuality are as plausibly set aside as mixing linen and wool seems rather tenuous to begin with.)

Anonymous said...

Professor Feser,

You have written both extensively and lucidly about metaphysics, epistemology, natural theology, etc., but (unless I am missing something) you have written very little about specifically Christian apologetics (beyond a couple of off-hand remarks which seem like Josh McDowell). I suspect that in some ways you are bluffing and that you simply don't have any intellectually compelling reasons to e.g. accept the Infancy Narratives as being historically accurate despite the fact that they invoke an implausible census and seem to place the birth of Jesus both before and after the death of Herod.

ccmnxc said...

You have written both extensively and lucidly about metaphysics, epistemology, natural theology, etc., but (unless I am missing something) you have written very little about specifically Christian apologetics (beyond a couple of off-hand remarks which seem like Josh McDowell). I suspect that in some ways you are bluffing and that you simply don't have any intellectually compelling reasons to e.g. accept the Infancy Narratives as being historically accurate despite the fact that they invoke an implausible census and seem to place the birth of Jesus both before and after the death of Herod.

Well, you need to keep in mind that Ed is indeed a philosopher and not someone who is necessarily an expert in apologetics contra Jews or Muslims, for example. This is why he is perfectly happy to gesture towards guys like Craig and Swinburne, who have actually done a significant amount of study and/or written book-length defenses of events like the Resurrection.
And, of course, one doesn't have to claim the infancy narratives are entirely accurate from a historical standpoint to believe that there is still a solid enough historical core in the NT to make a defensible case for the Resurrection (which is ultimately the main question at hand). So I think the whole "You are bluffing and have no rational support for X," is either irrelevant (given your example), uncharitable, or both.

Mr. Green said...

Anonymous: I suspect that in some ways you are bluffing

Really, that's it? Aren'tcha gonna double-dog dare him or anything??
Boy, the quality of trolls around here is sure going downhill....

Crude said...

A fantastic post, Ed, and thanks for it.

Edward Feser said...

Hello Anon1,

The trouble with such critics is that they have no interest in the first place in finding out what the point of such prohibitions was. They're just looking for things to mock, and thus treat them as if they were a bunch of arbitrary prejudices pulled out of thin air.

You don't have to be a Jew, a Christian, or even a theist to see that this is intellectually dishonest. A historian or anthropologist looking at an ancient culture from a purely neutral and scientific point of view knows that there are always reasons for customs and prohibitions that seem strange to us, and sets about trying to look for the reasons.

Now some of what you find in the Mosaic law reflects completely contingent historical circumstances of that time and place, some of it reflects deeper principles of natural law applied to those concrete circumstances, and some of it reflects what was necessary for realizing the theological point for which the old covenant was given in the fist place.

Christianity has, of course, an entire theology of the old covenant. Its entire point, Christianity maintains, was to prepare for the Incarnation. Now I would say that there is no way you can understand why ancient Israel was the way it was apart from that fact.

For example, why was there such a consistent and relentless hammering on the "God is one" theme and such harsh condemnation and treatment of idolaters? Why the imperative to separate Israel out from the other pagan cultures?

All this seems odd and offensive if you think the point of every human society ought to be to facilitate celebration of the multicultural smorgasbord. But it makes perfect sense if the point was to prepare for the Incarnation. Because what needed to be hammered home absolutely unambiguously, if the Incarnation was properly to be understood, was a radically monotheistic conception of God. If people hadn't "gotten the message" that God is radically distinct from the world, radically unlike any creature, wholly other from us, etc., then the Incarnation would have been completely misunderstood. It would have been understood as just one more god-with-a-lower-case-g showing up in human guise, or some such. And the crucifixion would have been just one more dying-and-rising-god-with-a-lower-case-g. Big whoop.

Instead, the idea of the Incarnation was absolutely shocking. That was the point; if it hadn't been shocking, it would have been entirely misunderstood. It was the idea of the infinite creator of the material and angelic worlds, radically unlike any idol, any man, or even any finite spirit, becoming a man, entering into that material creation. For an entire culture to understand the truly astounding nature of this idea, it has to have gotten the monotheism thing "down pat." It has to have developed such a horror of polytheism, idolatry, and the like that it will understand that what the Incarnation is all about is not what those condemned practices were all about -- it's not a matter of God being merely "a god" among others, not a matter of something that was already material anyway just morphing into a new shape, etc.

(continued below)

Edward Feser said...

(continued from above)

Same thing with the Trinity. Unless you have monotheism on the brain, then when you hear the doctrine of the Trinity -- and in particular that Jesus was God and the Father is God and yet Jesus is not the Father -- then you're going to think it is just one more riff on a polytheistic pantheon. And of course even after 2,000 years many people wrongly think it has to be that if it is to make sense.

But it's not that, and it had to be made clear from the outset that however you want to wrap your mind around the Trinity, you should not do so by thinking of it in polytheistic terms. And to do that, you needed, again, to have the idea of monotheism absolutely hammered home.

Now with this or that individual thinker you might nail it home with fancy philosophical arguments. But with an entire culture that won't work, because most people can't understand fancy philosophical arguments. For an entire culture to get monotheism down pat, you need the idea entrenched in its laws and culture.

That's why ancient Israel was the way it was. And, especially given the historical period, that's why it was as rough as it was on non-monotheists. Even then, of course, there was constant backsliding and need for prophets to be sent to tell the leaders and the people to cut it out with the idolatry. But by the time of Jesus the message had sunk in.

Obviously secularists won't agree with the theological background behind such an account, but the point is that for them merely to say things like "Gee, the law code in ancient Israel wasn't very tolerant!" is by itself entirely question-begging and not a serious criticism at all. Nor is it any good for critics to ask rhetorically why the law would be changed between the old covenant and the new -- as if this were something Christianity hasn't offered an explanation of.

Anonymous said...

This is a blog post of amazing breadth and depth, and I thank you for writing it and for inaugurating us into the scholastic tradition of apologetics. Three points in response.

1. I would like to hear more about the claim that God has a special care for humans. Granted, on scholastic premises the human soul is directly created by God, but on those same premises that is the only way such a soul COULD be created. And the rest of creation is conserved in being, so we should have to say why this doesn't indicate a special interest in it on God's part. Finally, the soul is only immortal if God conserves it in being upon its separation from the body. It's not clear to me that we have evidence either way on what God does with the soul upon death, and we would need to know that to know he has a special interest in humans.

2. I have no problem with you handing off to Craig when it comes to defending the historicity of the resurrection. That's in his wheelhouse more than yours, perhaps. But at this point the scholastic metaphysics will, despite the preparatory role it may have served, become largely irrelevant as regards the purely historical question of the resurrection. And on that point, it does seem to me that there are some truly viable rival theories crafted to account for the data of the texts that mention the resurrection, one being the Christ myth theory (I affirm this even after familiarizing myself with recent arguments against the theory, including those of Maurice Casey and Bart Ehrman).

3. Brevity must be the soul of apologetics, and even your summary of what you think is required for a sound apologetics would be too long for most people to digest. I'm not sure I see any way around this if this is the approach you are committed to, but it's a problem worth thinking about, and perhaps ultimately just living with.

All nit-picking aside, thanks again for such a thought-provoking post, a real fresh point of view, which is rare.

-Kent

Edward Feser said...

Anon at 6:46,

Yes, as Mr. Green notes, that's a pretty troll-ish comment.

But in answer to your question, the reason, as I would have thought obvious, is that there are only 24 hours in the day. Can't do everything at once, sorry. And as not only the post above, but the nature of my work overall makes clear, I think that you can't properly set out specifically Christian apologetic arguments unless the philosophical background -- not only natural theology, but also philosophical anthropology and natural law -- are set out, as well as the background metaphysics. hat's what my attention is focused on right now. Eventually I do intend to say a lot more about the specifically Christian issues.

And as ccmnxc said, there are already other people saying a lot about matters like the resurrection. But there are not enough people talking about the Scholastic philosophical background that in my view should form the context within which those arguments should be understood. Naturally, then, my focus has been on the latter.

machinephilosophy said...

Exemplary as usual, Ed. Somehow you just keep kickin butt at both ends of the spectrum of oscillating philosophical insanities. And the constructive new exchanges with Parsons are getting you massive well-deserved street cred.

As the hardest working man in the philosophy business---and The Godfather of Philosophical Soul---whenever you speak you should come out on stage with a satin cape on, and then have a couple of attendants take it off just before you begin.

You don't have to do the fall-to-your-knees thing, though. That's what those jive turkeys typical of the Christian apologetics crowd should be doing---as they cognitively repent of their bumbling doublemindedness about rationality.

Fat chance of that happening, though, since those Elmer Fudds don't even realize that all their arguing implicitly assumes the Thomistic view of reason in spite of of their schizoid experientialist and blik-faith claims to the contrary.

George R. said...

why we should not accept homosexuality but can mix linen and wool

You mix linen and wool? That's disgusting.

BenYachov said...

>one being the Christ myth theory?

It this the weird belief among some Atheists that Christ as a historical person never existed as opposed to the more reasonable skeptical belief that he existed but his activities where embellished by his followers?

Because Jesus Mythers are the Young Earth Creationists of Atheism IMHO.

BenYachov said...

I mean imagine someone went around claiming Joseph Smith never existed but was a fictional character created by the Mormon Church or early Mormons? Or imagine some other weirdo claiming Muhammed never existed(actually that, if you can believe it, has been done recently).

Kruppe said...

"And on that point, it does seem to me that there are some truly viable rival theories crafted to account for the data of the texts that mention the resurrection, one being the Christ myth theory (I affirm this even after familiarizing myself with recent arguments against the theory, including those of Maurice Casey and Bart Ehrman)."

I'm curious, anonymous--what precisely about the various Christ-myth theories do you find plausible? Thanks.

Daniel said...

This post might be rather controversial. Whilst I have great respect for Christianity and have increasingly come to view the Catholic Church as the most culturally and intellectually beneficial institution in Western history, I think the wedding between Apologetics and Natural Theology/Theology of Being has not been to the benefit of the latter in recent years.

Within our civilisation the concept of Christianity has come to eclipse the concept of God, the latter of which is surely the more fundamental concept as it underlies the possibility of any coherent religion and the very question of being itself. This is not to make any assertion about the truth or falsity of Christian claims – I abstain from that entirely – only that within societies which are now largely post-Christian and only informed by the fading after images of the Scriptural theology on which they were founded God has come to be seen as at best an indescribable personal experience and at worse a character in a narrative. Even – and often especially – those who are abundantly secular remain thralls to a childishly pictorial take on the Christian vision. Two things suggest themselves:

1. If anything, what would currently benefit the current metaphysical scene is a wave of secular even any-religious Classical Theists (say, within the New Essentialist movement) as it would help break the lazy neural firing patterns of the Christians-repressed-my-she-goat type, thus would serve to weed out a lot of the one suspects largely politically motivated dilettante Naturalism rampant in academia.

2. Increased attention to the fields of Comparative Theology and Phenomenological analysis of the Sacred which receive very little mainstream attention in the Anglo-American sphere. Said sciences straddle the boundary between Natural Theology and a mystical/religious vision in that they attempt to explore and elucidate the relationship between human life and Transcendence.

Addendum: the Jesus as lower-case-god option is interesting as those early critics of Christianity like Porphyry, who were every inch Classical Theists, were happy to consider the founder of that religion as a miracle worker or lower case god but found the idea of his being the Absolute incarnate grotesque and risible. It’s a criticism which undercuts the rather silly ‘Lord, Liar or Lunatic’ type arguments which assume Naturalism.

rank sophist said...

One thing I should mention. In the technical sense, even many of the apologetics in which Prof. Feser engages here are rhetorical and probable. As he gets closer to a particularly Christian revelation, his arguments rely more and more on inductive examples, enthymemes and "endoxa", presented in a positive light. In other words, he drifts away from the certain knowledge of demonstration. There is nothing wrong with this, and he does not claim to be providing proofs in places where he isn't. The only issue is that he claims from the outset that apologetics is scientia--"a systematic body of objective knowledge". This seems to suggest that his post will not appeal to endoxical, inductive or enthymematical arguments, which it then proceeds to do on subjects such as resurrection and the need for special revelation. Prof. Feser also states that rhetorical persuasion is the business of irrational appeals to willpower and emotion, breaking with Aristotle's tripartite classification of rhetoric as logos, pathos and ethos. None of this ultimately diminishes his great post--but it adds an unnecessary layer of self-contradiction, which could confuse unbelievers.

Duke of Earl said...

Because Jesus Mythers are the Young Earth Creationists of Atheism IMHO.

Worse, because while you can find hundreds, or even thousands, of credentialled scientists who believe the Earth was created a few thousand years ago, you might find one (at a stretch) credentialled historian who accepts the Jesus-Myth.

Ann Olivier said...

Prof. Feser --

It seems to me you underestimate the challenge for apologists in our culture. There is, I think, a lack of appreciation of metaphysics not only among scientists but also among much of the rest of the educated and semi-educated classes. Abstractions are said to be "mere" abstractions, thoroughly unreliable graspings towards the facts of the world. Until metaphysics is respected, apologetics won't get far.

Emotivism is the current dominant method for judging not only ethical questions but also for judging matters of fact and of principle. Consider the phrase "I feel that . . ." -- it governs everything from "I feel that man will never reach Saturn" to "I feel that abortion is right" to "I feel that God exists". "I feel, I feel it all" is the jubilant cry of latter day Romantics as they try to know the world.

Until the general culture learns what intellectual knowledge is, isn't and what its value is, I doubt that the apologists will be able to persuade many people of the truth of the Faith, unless, of course, they appeal only to feelings. That might work for many.

Not that there is no place for any feeling/affective response in apologetics, but I think it has yet to be made clear just which affective responses are relevant and which aren't. (The notion of "fittingness" is, I think, very much a part of this issue, but it has yet to be mined metaphysically.)

I also think that appeals to the Buddhists will have to be quite different from appeals to Hindus and the other Asian faiths. But that's a whole other story, one in which Buddhist experience of spirit(s) will predominate as evidence. But their experiences are, I think, evidence of a sort, and they cry for exploration. (The Buddha was at least a great descriptive psychologist, and, therefore, relevant.)

By the way, your point that science is presented as a fait acompli, not as the outcome of a de facto imperfect process, is spot on! The basic sciences are *rife* with contradictory implications (hundreds of them, or so I've read!), but the scientists don't tell you that in either high school or in college.

I have one more serious gripe against the apologists: they do not counter the secularist claim that there is no evidence for religious belief. Nonsense: there's a mountain of evidence for religious belief, and the apologists should make that clear. It just isn't empirical, and it is largely subjective, non-provable-to-others experience. But evidence it is.

P. S. If you and other apologists started using a term such as "surnatural" or even "ubernatural" (ugly term) instead of "supernatural" we could avoid a good bit of misunderstanding with the secularists. "Supernatural", with its ordinary meanings, just drags in a lot of irrelevancies.

P.P.S. I second scottbuchanan's recommendation of N.T. Wright's "The Ressurection of the Son of God".

Georgy Mancz said...

Great post, professor Feser!

@Daniel

To the P.S.
I'm not quite sure it "undercuts" the trilemma C.S. Lewis presented, as I don't think it assumes naturalism: it works perfectly fine with classical theism, say; at any rate, to even consider Christ being a lower-case-god would require, I believe, demonstrating the existence of lower-case-gods (or are we to presuppose their existence?..; moreover, it can be argued that Christ did claim to be the God of Israel, YHWH, so supposing that Christ was in fact a god rather than God falls under the Liar option of the trilemma. If the Resurrection did happen (as I believe it did) and Christ claimed to be God (and He did), but He was in fact some angelic being, that would entail God validating a lie - an absurd conclusion.
Now, the arguments from fittingness, I believe, overcome the 'grotesqueness' objection, if it even is one, for there is nothing known about God from natural theology that logically precludes the Incarnation.

Brian said...

Professor Feser,

Beyond a mere Christian apologetics, of course, is a Catholic apologetics that demonstrates that the Catholic Church is the bearer and guardian of the full Christian revelation. Catholic apologetics makes mere Christian apologetics stronger. Catholic apologetics opens up to seekers a whole history of the miraculous down to the present day . The Resurrection is the miracle upon which Christianity rests, yes, but absent sound arguments against the Resurrection, these latter-day miracles serve as motives for the Church's credibility AND the historicity Resurrection. This is because the Church teaches the Resurrection, and these miracles only make sense against the backdrop of the Christian story.

IMO, there should be a Craig for Fatima. A Craig for Guadualupe, Lourdes, La Sallette, and Kibeho. For Damascus, Quito, and all the approved credible Marian apparitions. There should be a Craig for the Eucharistic miracles of Lanciano, Buenos Aires, and the others. There should be a Craig for stigmata, for the miraculous icons in Bolivia, Syria, Korea, Japan, and other places.

All that being said, I get the sense that Protestant arguments for the historicity of the Resurrection are missing a Catholic touch, not using all the resources available to them to defend it. This is what I am currently researching.

Paul Kelly said...

Hello, Dr. Feser! I love your blog, and this particular post was very interesting.

I want to briefly ask, do you think the PSR might go on to support a Hindu pantheism? After all, although you say God's existence and essence are the same, I can't help but feel that "essence", in God's case, is somewhat of a misnomer. What you are really saying is that God is just existence, and you don't literally mean that his essence is existence because essence is a type or limited form of Existence (much like Sartre couldn't literally have thought existence precedes essence!)

This seems to just be your position, but then the question emerges, where did essences come from? This duality, this ontological distinction, would seem to support that both being and essence come from something deeper, like a Hegelian absolute.In Platonic lingo, you'd need a "meta-one" that the one and the phenomenal world would be expressions of.

If this is correct, do you think a Hindu apologist could make, say, the Hindu milk miracle or ian Stevenson's reincarnation cases sufficiently reasonable?

ccmnxc said...

If this is correct, do you think a Hindu apologist could make, say, the Hindu milk miracle or ian Stevenson's reincarnation cases sufficiently reasonable?

I realize this is only tangential to your main point, but it seems that the milk miracles can simply be explained through the process of capillary action in which liquids essentially "climb," making it look like the statue is actually drinking the milk.

Greg said...

Paul Kelly

What you are really saying is that God is just existence, and you don't literally mean that his essence is existence because essence is a type or limited form of Existence (much like Sartre couldn't literally have thought existence precedes essence!)

No, that isn't what Feser is "really saying." Aquinas argues for a real distinction between essence and existence in created beings. To say God's essence is his existence is to say that in God, the distinction between essence and existence is just logical; essence and existence are actually identical. Essence is not just a limited type of existence in general.

Paul Kelly said...

Hey, Greg.

As prof Feser correctly points out, the ultimate explanation of reality cannot be composed of metaphysical parts. I'm afraid that if existence and essence are genuinely different categories, they require some deeper metaphysical explanation to unite them via the PSR.

I agree that they must be and are different. Essence means a particular mode or delineation of Being into a type, a lesser category. Change and permenance are two metaphysical categories that require a deeper metaphysical unity. Doesn't the PSR lead to pantheism rather than the theists dualism between created and uncreated things?

Ccmnxc,

Is it plausible that this happened simultaneously and to so many people? I agree that it can be naturally explained, but imagine if this happened in antiquity. There is no way we could have retrospectively explained away the testimony.

In any case, I do say the work of Ian Stevenson is more impressive than Craig's work on the resurrection, in my opinion.

ccmnxc said...

Is it plausible that this happened simultaneously and to so many people? I agree that it can be naturally explained, but imagine if this happened in antiquity. There is no way we could have retrospectively explained away the testimony.

Well, yeah, since capillary action is a basic scientific/natural phenomenon. It can happen at any time and any place given the right conditions. The part of the statues that "drink" the milk, from what I've observed, are essentially tubes. This means that the milk, given its cohesion (surface tension) plus adhesion to the inside of the tube, acts against gravity and makes it look like the milk is being sipped away.

I'm hesitant to say "Miracle falsified thanks to Science" since atheists use it all the time when they have no idea what they are talking about, but it seems, from the examples I have seen at least, the such an phenomenon can be explained scientifically and rather easily.

ccmnxc said...

As for Ian Stevenson, after doing a brief look on good ol' Wiki, it seems he himself admits to not knowing how these traits survive death nor their mechanism for being transferred into living beings. So I'd say, while he may not have been able to narrow certain traits down to heredity or environment, it seems that such a large part of the reincarnation picture is missing as to make it epistemically irresponsible to conclude that reincarnation is true. This especially given the problems you run into from philosophy of mind such as identity theory, the version of the soul necessary for reincarnation and how it stacks up to, say hylemorphic dualism, etc.

Paul Kelly said...

Fair enough about the science. I guess the point that can still be taken away is about the challenge of retrospective explanation of miracles. I'm sure if you challenged these people, there stories would grow to meet the challenge. Even if you asked or challenged these hindus about it the next day it would likely evolve, setting aside whatever the gap was from the events to the earliest Jewish oral tradition (even early dates of the Pauline formula have several months go by).

Stevenson's main arguments are based on case studies where people report factually verifiable information that they seemingly couldn't have had (no contact, no internet yet, etc). He was modest because he didn't have the philosophical framework/scientific paradigm to state it in. Given such a paradigm, I think we'd have good reason to believe in Hinduism.

The variety of religious experiences also support Hinduism because Hinduism most straightforwardly explains what seems like a sea of contradictory of experiences but makes sense from Hindu metaphysics.

My point here is that, although Feser's point is logically correct, the philosophy + miracle stories is a format that very many religions could exploit.

Brian said...

Notice, Paul, not just any kind of "miracle story." They have to be public and meant to support or otherwise be associated with a supernatural revelation meant for our belief. So in principle, let's grant "miracle stories" in other religions. If they are not public or intelligibly meant to furnish divine credentials, like the miracles of Christ, we don't need to pay attention to them.

Vaal said...

Prof Feser,

I think today's post was excellent. And I understand you have not meant to present arguments per se. I think your criticisms of many types of apologetics are well expressed and on the mark. But, hell, I would think that
as a biased atheist wouldn't I ? :-)

Whatever you think of W.L. Craig's particular evidentialist argument for the Resurrection, your "apologist as salesmen" description is very apt for his apologetics. He avails himself of this grocery-store technique all the time in his debates. When cornered on any difficulties, e.g. the interaction problems with substance dualism which he knows will be hard to untangle in front of an audience, he'll make a pitch like "Well, there are Christians who are monists, so even if substance dualism weren't cogent, it does not defeat Christianity." He's constantly grab-bagging from different philosophical/theological/denominational positions to get out of whatever spot he's in, without actually putting it in some cogent whole. (He attempts more consistency in his own philosophical writing, but in his apologetics/debate mode, he's definitely an axe-grinder).


Scientism is not hard to refute.

I've occasionally encountered what you are calling "scientism," but at least among most of the atheists I've mixed with over the years, I don't think their philosophies fit so well into that easily refuted box.


"A sophisticated naturalist supposes that he has good reason to think events like resurrections just can’t happen, and good reason to think the body of religious teaching associated with this particular resurrection story is a priori implausible. "

I think that description tends to give the wrong impression of the position that many atheists hold, including those who would call themselves philosophical "naturalists."

I do not rule out miracles or resurrections a priori, or as strictly "impossible." Vetting miracle claims like a Resurrection will end up employing empirical inference, and empirical inferences tend to be tentative. It's always possible we are wrong even about such apparently study theories as the 2nd law of thermodynamics, so we need to keep open to other possibilities - to anything that is true.

Same with miracles and resurrections. In that sense I can say with the theist "Sure…it's *possible* a miracle occurred." The problem is: how would we KNOW?
What criteria are we to use to decide a miracle happened or not? There are so many confounding factors to navigate before deciding "Yup, this one's a miracle!"
The main area of disagreement between us concerning miracles is on this issue: whether Christians are being "epistemologically responsible" and consistent in navigating all the problems of human bias, alternate possible explanations, etc.

In her article "My God Problem" Natalie Angier expressed this pithily:

"I admit I'm surprised whenever I encounter a religious scientist. How can a bench-hazed Ph. D., who might in an afternoon deftly purée a colleague's PowerPoint presentation on the nematode genome into so much fish chow, then go home, read in a two-thousand-year-old chronicle, riddled with internal contradictions, of a meta-Nobel discovery like "Resurrection from the Dead," and say, gee, that sounds convincing? Doesn't the good doctor wonder what the control group looked like?"

As wry as her comment is, it captures the essential question of consistency that I and many atheist keep bringing up for religious dogma.

Vaal said...

Prof Feser you set yourself an admirably high bar when you declare that a miracle must be "impossible in the natural order." You take a "true resurrection from the dead" to be such an example, but as you obviously realize, that Jesus truly rose from the dead is precisely what can not be assumed when making an argument for the Resurrection. How in the world, from the distance of thousands of years, via an ancient text, could you possibly show Jesus actually died and lived again? That is rule out as "impossible" any naturalistic explanation, or even establish the level of factual basis to make the next step to "therefore God did it?" And make all that consistent with accepting the demands of empirical rigour in other areas such as science, for even the mundane claims, let alone boundary-pushing or extraordinary hypotheses? I've never seen any Christian, Craig included, do this without an obvious, gross lowering of the bar to let the Jesus miracle hop over. (But I think I've blathered enough on that subject before, already).

And on a similar note, Prof Feser you are basing a miracle on that which is "not possible in the natural order." I wonder, then, how you decide when something is a "miracle," vs when you've found out you were simply wrong about how something in the natural order works. After all, plenty of things that were thought "impossible" were based on understanding of the natural order that were superseded by new knowledge. Michael Behe asserted the impossibility of the bacterial flagellum arising via evolution, without Mr. Intelligent Designer. But..whoops…he was presented in Dover with piles of research establishing the plausible evolutionary pathways for that bacterial feature.
This is only one example that shows how fraught with problems the whole "attributing X to divine intervention" has always been.

There's certainly a lot more to comment on, but I'll have to leave it at that for now.

Peace,

Vaal

Greg said...

Paul Kelly

As prof Feser correctly points out, the ultimate explanation of reality cannot be composed of metaphysical parts. I'm afraid that if existence and essence are genuinely different categories, they require some deeper metaphysical explanation to unite them via the PSR.

As I said, essence and existence are generally (ie. in all beings but God) distinct. Aquinas's argument for this is based on the contingent nature of created beings. (So of course it does not apply to a non-contingent being, such as God.)

In God, essence and existence are identical, ie. they differ in sense (a conceptual/logical distinction) but not in referent (they both refer to and are identified with God).

In beings in which essence and existence are distinct, you are correct, their composition must be explained. But the fact that they are identical in God does not allow one to generalize universally that essence is "a type or limited form of Existence" or "a particular mode or delineation of Being into a type, a lesser category" in general. (The inference there would be invalid, plainly.)

Change and permenance are two metaphysical categories that require a deeper metaphysical unity.

Change is not really a metaphysical category on the A-T analysis. Change is the reduction of potency to act (potency being correlative of essence, and act being correlative of existence). It can be explained in terms of what is in potency and what is in act, then, and is not really a category itself standing next to existence. (Though I'm not sure if this is exactly what you are claiming.)

Paul Kelly said...

Brian,

Certainly just being a story in a tradition won't work. I'm sorry if I came across so simplistically because that would be rude to Prof Feser!

I honestly believe there are all sorts of supernatural accounts from various traditions that seem to me to be quite powerful; equal to or greater than the resurrection. Ian Stevenson's work on reincarnation is some of the most compelling.

I honestly think the best argument for Hinduism is the variety of religious experience which is a constant argument from miracles. Hinduism alone has the metaphysics to handle these without awkwardly calling them satanic, misinterpretations, or something equally explanatorily awkward.

So, there is this strategy that could be employed by a range of religions. Of course, the response could be "let's have that discussion then! Do Hindu metaphysics work? Is there plausible metaphysical context for their miracles?" That point is fair.

When I first Feser's way, I thought there was something extra special about the way metaphysics could support Christianity, but then I realized that there are all sorts of metaphysical systems which could retrospectively support particular, particularist claims of religion that could be used as context to support particular supernatural events. The fact that this argument type isn't special and the historical evidence for the resurrection isn't special, took some excitement about this strategy out for me.

That doesn't mean Christianity is false or that fesers strategy is wrong. That said, I'd love an answer to my question about the PSR because it is more pressing on me.

Thanks :)

Paul Kelly said...

Greg,

I don't see how essences mean the same thing when we are talking about God's essence vs, say, a cat's essence. My question concerns the fact that there seems to be a metaphysical dichotomy here. We have essences of the cat's, which is different from how God is essentially Existence.

Where does potency emerge from if God is pure act? What does the metaphor of forms being "virtually" in God mean if God has no parts? To put it another way, how and why could Being,which lacks nothing,create beings which lack things?

ccmnxc said...

Where does potency emerge from if God is pure act? What does the metaphor of forms being "virtually" in God mean if God has no parts? To put it another way, how and why could Being,which lacks nothing,create beings which lack things?

It seems that this improperly treats potency as a thing, similar to how atheists like Krauss treat nothing as a thing. We agree that things cannot give what they don't have, but "giving" potency really isn't giving at all; It is taking away. Potency is merely the lack of actualization - the lack of something. So in this sense, God is not giving something he doesn't have, since giving doesn't actually describe creating something with potency

Greg said...

Paul Kelly

I don't see how essences mean the same thing when we are talking about God's essence vs, say, a cat's essence. My question concerns the fact that there seems to be a metaphysical dichotomy here. We have essences of the cat's, which is different from how God is essentially Existence.

Well, essence doesn't mean the same thing when we speak of God's essence and of a cat's essence. The uses are analogical, not univocal.

Where does potency emerge from if God is pure act?

Anything that is not God will have potency (otherwise it would be pure act, which is necessarily unique). So if God can produce things with acts of existence distinct from his, then God can create beings with potency. And observation tells us that the antecedent is true.

What does the metaphor of forms being "virtually" in God mean if God has no parts?

That's not a metaphor. However, it is supposed to be analogous to the way that the human intellect possesses forms virtually when it cognizes them.

BenYachov said...

Please forgive me if I am a little testy but as you all know I am BenYachov.

I was born testy.

BenYachov said...

I've decided not to vent at Vaal's mistakes.

I'll let kinder persons then myself do it.*

It's better for everybody & better for my blood pressure.

*Granted that is pretty much everyone here.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Vaal,

Obviously we have discussed these issues many times by now, and I'm still waiting for you to properly answer my objections in the last thread.


And on a similar note, Prof Feser you are basing a miracle on that which is "not possible in the natural order." I wonder, then, how you decide when something is a "miracle," vs when you've found out you were simply wrong about how something in the natural order works. After all, plenty of things that were thought "impossible" were based on understanding of the natural order that were superseded by new knowledge. Michael Behe asserted the impossibility of the bacterial flagellum arising via evolution, without Mr. Intelligent Designer. But..whoops…he was presented in Dover with piles of research establishing the plausible evolutionary pathways for that bacterial feature.
This is only one example that shows how fraught with problems the whole "attributing X to divine intervention" has always been.


To me this looks a lot like question begging. What you seem to be implying is that there is a correct naturalistic answer that we will miss if we ever allow a miracle to be our explanation of a phenomena.

What is more, surely this can be turned around and asked of you, by never allowing the paranormal to be part of our explanation of a phenomena, might we miss a real paranormal explanation?

What we need to do is find the true or best explanation.

Lucas Krief said...

Since nobody seems to take issue with your treatment of Judaism, I think it's high time for me to do so.

1) "The very first Christians debated with their opponents in a cultural context within which everyone knew that there is a God and that he had revealed himself through Moses and the prophets." / "Hence the earliest apologists were, in effect, apologists for Christianity as opposed to Judaism, specifically."

A more historically informed perspective is seen in recent works such as Border Lines and The Jewish Gospels. I don't think you have to agree with what he says, but you'd think to make such a claim while some have deeply challenged it is unhelpful on the parts of the reader who whould take what you say for granted (as it has been the consensus view for quite a while). In any case, what Boyarin, IMHO, forcefully demonstrates is that there was no such opposition at the time of the Gospels. Thus, the "earliest Christians" were also Jews and didn't define themselves against the Jews but with them, as a part of them. Only later would you witness the so-called "parting of ways". Needless to say, the arguments used by Augustine and other Church Fathers are extremely weak and question-begging.

2) Let me turn to what I have found is sheer non-sense. And I am sorry to say that because I like your blog and the philosophy you do there.

"Christianity has, of course, an entire theology of the old covenant. Its entire point, Christianity maintains, was to prepare for the Incarnation. Now I would say that there is no way you can understand why ancient Israel was the way it was apart from that fact."

"For example, why was there such a consistent and relentless hammering on the "God is one" theme and such harsh condemnation and treatment of idolaters? Why the imperative to separate Israel out from the other pagan cultures?

All this seems odd and offensive if you think the point of every human society ought to be to facilitate celebration of the multicultural smorgasbord. But it makes perfect sense if the point was to prepare for the Incarnation."

If this is it, let me say that's not very convincing. You say the only explanation is the fact that all these things/books etc. were written/made for the sake of the incarnation. What about the actual reason given by the actual texts? That Israel has to be separate from the nations because it has been chosen. Jews have had no problem with this claim both prior Christianity and after it. I don't see how you could seriously maintain that the ONLY way this would make sense is because of the incarnation. It is perfectly possible that Yahweh chose the Israelites without sending his son. Not only is it perfectly possible, it is believed by many people. I don't see how "if you think the point of every human society ought to be to facilitate celebration of the multicultural smorgasbord" enters in the picture. Where do take this from the biblical texts? And even if that were the case, you might still argue that separation is a necessary first step before this 'multicultural smorgasbord'. It might be a weak explanation, but it is an explanation nonetheless.

Needless to say, you would leave the Jews unconvinced.

Neither would it convince the Greeks. Porphyry, for example, need not have been "hammered" by monotheists to find compelling that there ought to be the One as an absolute principle. And yet he was highly critical of the incarnation. He was a full-blown polytheist, or a henotheist if you want, and yet he criticized. Nor do I think wouldn't this have happened without the Jews. Witnes Plato, Aristotle, the Middle-Platonists (of which it is doubtful that they were influenced by Jews, such as Philo) and the Stoics to a certain extent. Few if any would have agreed that the incarnation has happened, let alone is possible.

Lucas Krief said...

So: 1) the incarnation is neither the strongest nor the sole explanation for the facts about ancient Israel. (You might think that before making such a claim you would quote some historians who are not parti-pris). 2) the incarnation was not accepted by the Greeks either, and they were arguably not very influenced by monotheists claims. If anything, they were either highly critical of it, or integrated it into their system. Cf. Numenius' attitude to the god of the Israelites.

In any case, if that really was the point you might also think that the Israelites would really have hammmered the point home, and not sunk as you say, by the time of Jesus. But this also displays ignorance of works in the biblical scolarship.

3) Final point, which has little to do with my earlier criticisms.

"But it's not that, and it had to be made clear from the outset that however you want to wrap your mind around the Trinity, you should not do so by thinking of it in polytheistic terms. And to do that, you needed, again, to have the idea of monotheism absolutely hammered home."
I have worked on Augustine's De Trin., and have read many Church Fathers. I have also seen how people like Marius Victorinus justify the trinity. I didn't see a compelling argument for why you should not take that to mean, not that there are three gods, but at least that god is not simple. And if that's the case, then "classical theism" crumbles. So on your part merely to insist that it's not the case is question-begging. Perhaps I have yet to be illuminated.

Lucas Krief said...

You'd have corrected the few typos yourself, I take it.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Vaal,


I've occasionally encountered what you are calling "scientism," but at least among most of the atheists I've mixed with over the years, I don't think their philosophies fit so well into that easily refuted box.

You served up pretty bog standard scientism here yourself. You started arguing that natural science is the test for all human knowledge, or this is how I read your early posts on this blog. It was pointed out the implications of this was absurd (that we cannot know where our friends live without scientifically testing it, etc., etc.) and you then changed your mind and tried to argue natural science was just a part of a general empiricism (but somehow arguing that natural science was still the paradigm or epitome of knowledge so miracles can be ruled out).

As wry as her comment is, it captures the essential question of consistency that I and many atheist keep bringing up for religious dogma.

No, what you keep bringing up (apart from seeming to often beg the question by making unsupported distinctions between the naturalistic and the paranormal) is the false dichotomy that inductive knowledge must have the same methodology and level of probability of natural science or be dismissed. You do not really explain this or the place of other kinds of knowledge, like common sense and experience, historical knowledge, legal knowledge or reasoning, and so on.

Obviously, the theist simply does not accept that we cannot conclude (at least tentatively) a miracle has taken place only if the evidence is of the kind and quality that one would expect from the laboratory testing of some hypothesis in natural science. Rather, the theist clearly thinks that miracles are more like historical events or events investigated by detectives or in court, with the sort of evidence and methodology we commonly use in these cases. Of course, there may be scientific knowledge made use of (like testing materials or whatever), but the primary methodology is not that of natural science.

Jeremy Taylor said...

*This 'we cannot conclude' should have read 'we can' conclude'.

Steven Dillon said...

Hey Ed, I was just discussing what things like Jesus' resurrection might mean for Paganism last week: http://paganphilosophy.blogspot.com/2014/05/monotheism-in-pagan-world.html?m=1

What do you think?

Tom G said...

Val,

I think you are misunderstanding the question at hand with respect to Jesus' resurrection narrative. The question is to be answered is not only that of the resurrection event, but also the other events surrounding the resurrection which are generally excepted by most scholars including the empty tomb, post resurrection appearances to faithful, conversation of the enemies of the Church, martyrdom of the eyewitnesses, rapid growth of The Way, etc.. given the background information. The background information includes, as Ed has established in his blog post, the existence of God, the immateriality of the human soul, the Old Testament descriptions of the messiah, and Jesus' divine claims. Thus given this background information, which is pre-established, what is the best explanation of the biblical accounts from the pool of live options which must include, to avoid question begging, both super natural and natural explanations.

BenYachov said...

>I didn't see a compelling argument for why you should not take that to mean, not that there are three gods, but at least that god is not simple.

Divine Simplicity means God contains no physical or metaphysical distinctions. That is God has no parts and God contains no potency that is put into act.

The distinctions of the divine relations/persons are neither physical nor metaphysical but mysterious in nature and I don't know what you mean by "argument"? You can't use any species of natural theology or philosophical argument to prove the Trinity. The Trinity is solely the product of divine revelation & revelation is interpreted by the Church.

>And if that's the case, then "classical theism" crumbles. So on your part merely to insist that it's not the case is question-begging. Perhaps I have yet to be illuminated.

One does not have to be a Trinitarian to be a Classic Theist see Moses Ben Mamion.

You definitely need to learn way way more then you know.

With all due respect you don't know enough Catholic or Orthodox doctrine correctly to even attempt an argument.

Lucas Krief said...

Let me take up your claims bit by bit.

‘Divine Simplicity means God contains no physical or metaphysical distinctions. That is God has no parts and God contains no potency that is put into act.’

You might push it further: divine simplicity entails no distinction AT ALL within the divine essence. If there’s a distinction, it is not one but multiple. Even if it is a very unified multiplicity. Cf. Plotinus’ argument that a thinker can’t be one. I don’t see why you would have to restrain your claim about simplicity to ‘physical or metaphysical distinction’. This is question-begging since you think there are other distinctions that don’t count, and yet don’t justify your first statement.

‘The distinctions of the divine relations/persons are neither physical nor metaphysical but mysterious in nature and I don't know what you mean by "argument"? You can't use any species of natural theology or philosophical argument to prove the Trinity. The Trinity is solely the product of divine revelation & revelation is interpreted by the Church.’

I have no idea of what you mean by a distinction that is ‘mysterious in nature’ but I can’t see how a distinction within one entity can still make it one in all respects. If there’s a distinction, there’s at least one respect in which it is not one because you can distinguish this aspect from this other aspect. E.g., since the father is not the son, there is a distinction. Perhaps not polytheism, but surely not divine simplicity. And if THIS is the product of ‘divine relation & revelation is interpreted by the Church’, why do you refuse it to the much more reasonable claim of the Jews that they have been chosen? And this entails that Christianity is not true. (I know you could claim something like: Christianity is the true heir of Judaism, but again merely to INSIST on this doesn’t get you very far). Divine revelation against divine revelation, I might as well choose what seems at least acceptable if I want to hold on to ‘classical theism’.

‘One does not have to be a Trinitarian to be a Classic Theist see Moses Ben Mamion.’ What exactly is your point? I know that, and am precisely saying that the trinity jeopardizes claims about simplicity. By the way, it is Moses ben Maimon, not Mamion. Hence he’s being called Maimonides in the Latin West. You seem to assume that because I’m not too sympathetic to Christian classical theism I don’t know enough about it. Yet you clearly didn’t say anything I didn’t know or anything that might be counted as a reasonable response to my objections.

’You definitely need to learn way way more then you know.’ Sure. This is not going to work though. Since this is ‘divine mystery’, what else could I know that I don’t know? Don’t hesitate to tell me if there is special access to this. (I know the Augustinian credo ‘Believe so that you may understand’. But why should I believe THIS rather than THAT?.)

’With all due respect you don't know enough Catholic or Orthodox doctrine correctly to even attempt an argument.’
I’m really sorry to hear this, given that you’ve given me no reason at all to dismiss my objection. Though why don’t you say that to Feser when he himself criticizes Judaism? Couldn’t a Jew reply: you don’t know enough about Judaism to even attempt an argument. Would you take that as a reasonable response? Double standards, or wishful thinking? Both?

Scott said...

@Lucas Krief:

"You might push it further: divine simplicity entails no distinction AT ALL within the divine essence."

You might, except that you wouldn't be justified in doing so by the argument(s) that got you to divine simplicity in the first place. The overarching point of divine simplicity, recall, is that God must be such as to require no further explanation outside Himself.

That does mean, as Ben says, that He can't include any real physical or metaphysical distinctions, because if He did, there would be composition in Him and we'd still need an explanation of how the "parts" of which He was composed got together," so to speak.

But divine simplicity isn't threatened by distinctions (including logical ones between e.g. God's existence and His essence) that don't entail that God is composed of parts or otherwise call for further explanation outside of God Himself.

Edward Feser said...

Lucas,

Naturally, I am aware that the issues vis-a-vis Judaism and Christianity are complex. I was not pretending to do justice to them, because the post is not about that set of questions per se.

The same goes, for that matter, for what I said about Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, Confucianism, and Islam. An adherent of any of those religions could say "Feser, you didn't do justice to these religions!" Well, no, I wasn't claiming to -- it's a blog post on another subject (and some of the stuff you criticize wasn't even that, but just some remarks in a combox), and I wasn't trying to address every question that would have to be dealt with in a book-length treatment.

Lucas Krief said...

Scott and Edward, thanks for your answer. Let me address them in turn.

1) Edward,

‘Naturally, I am aware that the issues vis-a-vis Judaism and Christianity are complex. I was not pretending to do justice to them, because the post is not about that set of questions per se.’

Sure, but you were making really strong claims that I don’t think any pious Jew would accept. This, I take it, had to be said. Nor do I see their historical plausibility anyway. I also take it that before saying something, be it in a combox, in a blogpost, or in a book, you have to have good grounds for it.
Be that as it may, thank you for your kind answer and forgive anything that might have sounded aggressive.

2) Scott,

Thanks for your answer. It helps clarifying what I wanted to bring out. I should have been more precise.

‘You might, except that you wouldn't be justified in doing so by the argument(s) that got you to divine simplicity in the first place. The overarching point of divine simplicity, recall, is that God must be such as to require no further explanation outside Himself.’

I agree.

‘That does mean, as Ben says, that He can't include any real physical or metaphysical distinctions, because if He did, there would be composition in Him and we'd still need an explanation of how the "parts" of which He was composed got together," so to speak.

But divine simplicity isn't threatened by distinctions (including logical ones between e.g. God's existence and His essence) that don't entail that God is composed of parts or otherwise call for further explanation outside of God Himself.’

. So let’s make a distinction about distinctions. There are distinctions without differences. Those are not the distinctions I want to talk about. I don’t think there’s even a logical distinction, on ‘classical theism’, between the essence and the existence, the goodness and the beauty, etc. You might as well drop the label ‘distinction’. There’s only one entity here, simple in all respects. (Granting the truth of those claims, that is to say). Distinctions that do make a difference, on the other hand, are what matter. I don’t see how the trinity can be construed so that the distinction between persons be of the first kind (distinctions without differences); and this is precisely because, e.g., the father is not the son. If goodness weren’t beauty, and beauty weren’t being, yet all goodness, beauty and being were to coincide in one entity, I wouldn’t call that entity one in all respects. I would call it uni-multiple, like the Neoplatonists call the intellect. So the problem is: if the trinity is conceived as being a distinction of the first type, then it is not really a trinity; if it is conceived as a distinction of the second type, it really is a trinity but is not simple anymore.

I do understand that this is a mystery. And you might also say that this mystery is beyond reason. But in this case you should say that there is an unresolved tension here, and not conceal it behind the veil of authority. Perhaps this unresolved tension is merely as yet unresolved, that is in our present state. Perhaps not.

Al said...

. . . the Resurrection of Jesus Christ is something else altogether. [...]. This is why Christianity has historically staked everything on this particular miracle.

The problem is, we never get the miracle of the Resurrection. It was only available to people living in a small area of first century Palestine. All we get is a varied chain of hearsay stretching two thousand years. That may be many things, but miraculous it surely isn't, or we'd be unable to choose between the myriads of truth claims that come from ancient traditions.

In fact, among the great world religions, it rules out the religions of the far East and tells us to look instead to the Abrahamic traditions.

I don't think that incompatibility with what philosophy tells us necessarily warrants the conclusion that Eastern traditions can be dismissed. If picture of the divine given by, say, the Vedas, conflicts with the knowledge obtained by philosophy of religion, we can explain that away by saying that the receptors of the Vedas misunderstood and bungled the message, and then reinterpret it in a more consistent way with that philosophy. We wouldn't get traditional Hinduism, but neither would we get Abrahamic religion.

I'm not saying this should be done, only that it can be done. And it seems to me that Christians can't really object to this modus operandi, since this is what they apply to Judaism. For Christianity to be true, ancient Jews must have misunderstood the point of their own Revelation, since they rather famously thought the idea of an incarnated deity a "scandal".

BenYachov said...

@Lucus

>You might push it further: divine simplicity entails no distinction AT ALL within the divine essence.

That begs the question since that is NOT THE CATHOLIC CHRISTIAN DEFINITION of divine simplicity. It is true Jews and Muslims believe there are no real distinctions in God at all including mysterious one's. But we would expect them to teach that & that is the difference between us.

OTOH I would still maintain to know the Jewish view or Muslim one is correct vs the Trinitarian one would require divine revelation not philosophical argument. Philosophical argument and natural reason can only tell you God contains no physical or metaphysical distinctions. It can’t tell you anything else beyond that.

Divine revelation in the NT reveals to us their are mysterious unfathomable real distinctions by relation of opposition subsisting the the divine nature. They are understood via negative theology. We can say what they are not but not what they are in the absolute sense since what they are is by dogma a divine mystery.

>I have no idea of what you mean by a distinction that is ‘mysterious in nature’ but I can’t see how a distinction within one entity can still make it one in all respects.

How is it rational to equivocate between different types of distinctions? There is no physical or metaphysical distinctions in God’s Essence and thus there are no physical or metaphysical distinctions between the divine persons/relations. thus in essence they are one. Their distinctions whatever they are are not distinctions in essence. The distinctions between persons are real in that one divine person is not the other predicated as a divine person but these distinctions are mysterious in nature. That is they are by dogma a divine mystery. To suggest otherwise it to the Christian a vile heresy and repudiation of Christianity. Disbelieve it all you like. That I have no beef with & leave judgements to Almighty God. But it is our doctrine and our rules and we will only defend our doctrine not what someone thinks our doctrine should be.

Do this and we will get along splendidly.

>Divine revelation against divine revelation, I might as well choose what seems at least acceptable if I want to hold on to ‘classical theism’.

The argument is "does the NT consist of divine revelation and is Jesus the Messiah foretold in the OT”? Fine. But you can’t cite the divine simplicity as an argument against it. Unless Jews formally define divine simplicity to mean no distinctions of any kind in which case the problem is equivocal terminology. Like Reformed or Lutheran types using the term “Justification” which means one thing to them but something different to those of us who except the Council of Trent.

BenYachov said...

>I’m really sorry to hear this, given that you’ve given me no reason at all to dismiss my objection.

I’m only saying your understanding of Christian doctrine is faulty. I’ve studied it for a quarter of a century. So I think I should know.

>Though why don’t you say that to Feser when he himself criticizes Judaism?

I will absolutely defer to a knowledgeable Jew or Rabbi on what is the Jewish view over professor Feser or Aquinas or event the Pope any day of the week. Heck I know enough about Judaism to know the few pot shots Aquinas took are way off. The talmud does not teach God can sin. Aquinas was wrong to claim it did. I believe in letting people explain their OWN religion & others must learn from them(belief is another matter). We can find common ground and learn what the critical difference is then try and figure out who is likely more correct.

But forgive me it’s a pet peeve of mine when non-Catholics try to tell me what actual Christian doctrine is & they are wrong.

>Couldn’t a Jew reply: you don’t know enough about Judaism to even attempt an argument.

If a Jew told me that my first instinct would be to consider that he is likely right. I believe the Catholic Church can infallibly define the content of Christian doctrine but not the doctrinal content of other religions. That would be stupid.

I’ve defended Jews and the Talmud in the past against so called “Catholic Apologists” who claimed the Talmud authorized Pedophilia and other nutty crap & I’ve endured Fundamentalists who never read the Council of Trent who insist the Catholic Church teaches the condemned doctrine of the heretic Pelagius for justification.

You don’t have to be a believing Catholic to argue with me. But you have to get our doctrines right.

I absolutely believe with all my heart we owe you the same consideration & I WILL smack down any "Catholic" here who does different.

Shalom.

BenYachov said...

>I don’t think there’s even a logical distinction, on ‘classical theism’, between the essence and the existence, the goodness and the beauty, etc.

If there where no logical distinctions in God then via the divine simplicity we would say God condemns with his mercy and forgives with his justice.

So I think we need to straighten out our terms.

Scott said...

@Lucas Krief:

"I don’t think there’s even a logical distinction, on ‘classical theism’, between the essence and the existence, the goodness and the beauty, etc."

If you mean that those things aren't genuinely distinct in the real object, then of course you're right. But that's exactly why the distinction is called a "logical" one.

"I don’t see how the trinity can be construed so that the distinction between persons be of the first kind (distinctions without differences); and this is precisely because, e.g., the father is not the son."

Again correct, but Catholic doctrine doesn't say otherwise. Although I didn't directly address the doctrine of the Trinity, part of my point was that there isn't any logical problem (or any threat to the doctrine of divine simplicity) involved in recognizing that there are distinctions of some (unknown to us but intelligible in themselves) kind in God, as long as it's understood that they're not any kind of distinction that would re-introduce the need for an explanation of God extrinsic to Himself.

And it's not as though the Church teaches that God was "put together" from the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit by folding Tab A into Slot B. I have seen some churches called "Assembly of God," but I don't think that's what they mean either. ;-)

Matthew Rodriguez said...

Good point regarding the Resurrection. I always thought it was problematic to argue for the Resurrection with naturalists who wouldn't think that a Resurrection is even possible! They're always just going to think some other outlandish theory is just as probable as a Resurrection.

Matt Sheean said...

"OTOH I would still maintain to know the Jewish view or Muslim one is correct vs the Trinitarian one would require divine revelation not philosophical argument. Philosophical argument and natural reason can only tell you God contains no physical or metaphysical distinctions. It can’t tell you anything else beyond that."

Hi, Ben, this is a little off topic from the conversation, but this quote reminded me of a question that's been rolling around in my skull for a few years (mostly because I haven't actually got off my butt and read anything pertaining to it specifically). I've had the thought (I think it was brought on by Buber's I and Thou) that there's something to the idea that God must have in Himself a richer kinda of personhood that might be argued philosophically. My very crude thought here is that God is personal and that there is something about being personal that is communal. Furthermore, God did not create the world out of a need in Him (He didn't make the world so that there could be a "Thou" to his "I"). As a matter of history, the triune nature of God has been revealed, so we cannot know empirically whether or not a multiplicity of persons in the Divine unity could have been deduced, but it doesn't seem impossible to me that the multiplicity could not have been deduced in principle (even if, erroneously, two instead of three had been deduced, or four instead of three, etc). Sorry, that was a rather rambling comment, I hope it makes sense.

BenYachov said...

>Buber's I and Thou

Father Wilson once recommended that book to me. I never did get around to reading it either.;-)

>God must have in Himself a richer kinda of personhood that might be argued philosophically.

We might argue theologically after the fact on the implications of the Trinity but I think the thing is we can't start with natural reason conclude there is a God and then discover apart from divine revelation that God is a Trinity.

But after the fact arguments I don't think that is what Aquinas objected too.

Cheers.

Matt Sheean said...

yes, sorry, I wasn't quite clear. It seems pretty plain to me that knowing that God was a trinity specifically would not be demonstrable by reason alone. What I mean was that I don't see why there couldn't be an argument for a multiplicity of persons in God. Philo's Logos seems to go some distance in this direction. I might be way off base here, it just seems to me that it is intuitive that God would be more than one person or be expressed in more than one aspect, something like that. Then Jesus comes along and articulates these relationships in the Godhead and "aha" everything is a bit clearer (however ineffable it remains).

dguller said...

Lucas:

You might push it further: divine simplicity entails no distinction AT ALL within the divine essence

This is actually something that has come up within my discussions with other individuals here.

From what I was told, the key way to understand this that only one kind of distinction is prohibited in the divine essence, and that is one that involves potency of any kind. That is because the divine essence is pure act, and thus is utterly devoid of any potency whatsoever. Furthermore, if God is composed of parts, and those parts involve potency, then the very identity of pure act is dependent upon potency, which violates the doctrine that act is prior to potency, and thus act cannot depend upon potency.

With regards to physical parts, they inherently involve potentiality, because those parts themselves are composed of form and matter, and thus are composed of act and potency. Since they are partially in potency, they cannot be predicated of God. So far, so good.

With regards to non-physical parts that are really distinct, one part would have to be in act, and another part would have to be in potency. For example, the non-physical and really distinct parts of a composite entity, i.e. its essence and existence, are such that the former is in potency and the latter is in act. That is because the essence could potentially be actualized by other composite entities. So, again, if A and B are parts of God, and A is in act while B is in potency, then A and B cannot be parts of God at all. Only A can be predicated of God, and A would have to be identical with the divine essence, as per the doctrine of divine simplicity.

However, if there are really distinct and non-physical parts, A and B, and A is necessarily in act, and B is necessarily in act, then A and B can be really distinct parts of God. To reject this conclusion, you would have to demonstrate that for any really distinct and non-physical parts, A and B, A is in act and B is in potency. Without demonstrating this principle, you simply lack any reason to reject all real distinction in God.

ccmnxc said...

Okay, anyone know why Amazon all of a sudden seems to no longer be selling Scholastic Metaphysics? It's not even listed as out of stock; there is simply one "Buy new" option for $83.

ccmnxc said...

Oops, saw my question was answered elsewhere. Sorry.

BenYachov said...

@dguller

>May 18, 2014 at 6:34 PM

I'm stunned. I don't think I can find anything here to disagree with. Well small thing....use of the term "parts" makes me a bit uncomfortable(because it's not traditional language) but you have defined it seems within the pale of Christian orthodoxy. So it's more of a super minor quibble. But as I said. It seems to be correct IMHO.

Good job.

@Scott read what dguller wrote above & tell me what you think so I know I am not crazy.

BenYachov said...

Still dguller use of the term "parts" is a bit of a novelty.......

In addition to Scott can Brandon comment on this as well?

Lucas Krief said...

Well thank you all for your answers. My little objection certainly suggested more than what I intended.

To take up your remarks in turn.

BenYachov,

I think you've misunderstood what I was claiming. I don't claim to define the Catholic credo, or any credo for that matter. I neither claim to say what Jews ought to think, or anyone else for that matter either. What I'm probing is the consistency of the credo, which I do know to a certain extent. And this is exactly what many Christian as well as non-Christian philosophers/theologians have done. So I don't see how that invites the rebuke you've made.

Scott,

'If you mean that those things aren't genuinely distinct in the real object, then of course you're right. But that's exactly why the distinction is called a "logical" one.'

I agree with you here. It's just a semantic matter. Nor is it nitpicking, as BenYachov seems to think.

'Again correct, but Catholic doctrine doesn't say otherwise. Although I didn't directly address the doctrine of the Trinity, part of my point was that there isn't any logical problem (or any threat to the doctrine of divine simplicity) involved in recognizing that there are distinctions of some (unknown to us but intelligible in themselves) kind in God, as long as it's understood that they're not any kind of distinction that would re-introduce the need for an explanation of God extrinsic to Himself.'

Any kind of multiplicity will do, if you run the regress of unity. That is, it must be entirely and absolutely simple. We could take up the first paragraphs of Proclus' Elements of Theology or VI.9.1 in Plotinus for this regress. That kind of distinction, intelligible or not intelligible to us, is a kind of distinction that introduces multiplicity. So long as you're working with unity/multiplicity, something in which a real distinction is found cannot be wholly unique. Q.E.D.

dguller,

'From what I was told, the key way to understand this that only one kind of distinction is prohibited in the divine essence, and that is one that involves potency of any kind. That is because the divine essence is pure act, and thus is utterly devoid of any potency whatsoever. Furthermore, if God is composed of parts, and those parts involve potency, then the very identity of pure act is dependent upon potency, which violates the doctrine that act is prior to potency, and thus act cannot depend upon potency.'

I disagree. That's if you think the key conceptual pair is actuality/potency. It might be key, but it's not the only one. Cf. my earlier remarks on unity/multiplicity.

So although your reasoning is subtle and interesting I feel entitled to reject it, simply because actuality/potency is not the only kind of conceptual pair that's of interest here. To take my earlier example: if you say that something is good, that it is beautiful and that it is just and you maintain that its goodness is not its beauty which in turn is not its justice, you could say that there's nothing of relevance for actuality/potency but that it's still not an absolutely simple entity.

Lucas Krief said...

Not 'unique', but simple.

dguller said...

Lucas:

That's if you think the key conceptual pair is actuality/potency. It might be key, but it's not the only one. Cf. my earlier remarks on unity/multiplicity.

You have to remember that those conceptual pairs are related. Actuality is coextensive with unity by virtue of the fact that each is a transcendental. So, the more actuality a thing has, the more unity it has, and the most perfectly actual a being is, the more perfect unity it has.

actuality/potency is not the only kind of conceptual pair that's of interest here. To take my earlier example: if you say that something is good, that it is beautiful and that it is just and you maintain that its goodness is not its beauty which in turn is not its justice, you could say that there's nothing of relevance for actuality/potency but that it's still not an absolutely simple entity.

Except that, again, its degree of goodness, and its degree of beauty, will be coextensive with its degree of actual being, and hence with its degree of unity, as well. They are all interconnected by virtue of being transcendentals.

Furthermore, if you want to approach matters from a Neoplatonic standpoint, then it is interesting to note that Plotinus rejected the Aristotelian position that the fundamental principle of reality was an intellect as prime mover, because of the inherent multiplicity of intellection, and thus the Intellect is the first emanation of the One, which is the true fundamental principle of reality, and thus lacking multiplicity whatsoever. But that solution simply does not work, because the One must also be multiple in some sense.

Plotinus writes:

“[The One] is then in a greater degree something like the most causative and truest of causes, possessing all together the intellectual causes, which are going to be from him and generative of what is not as it chanced but as he himself willed” (Enneads VI.8.18).

Lloyd Gerson interprets this as meaning that the One virtually contains the Intellect, which necessarily means that it must virtually contain the multiplicity of the Intellect, i.e. the intelligible forms that the Intellect eternally contemplates. So, even in the One, there must be multiplicity, albeit a different kind of multiplicity.

Lucas Krief said...

'You have to remember that those conceptual pairs are related. Actuality is coextensive with unity by virtue of the fact that each is a transcendental. So, the more actuality a thing has, the more unity it has, and the most perfectly actual a being is, the more perfect unity it has.'

Well then, you can take it either way. If it's not fully unified, fully simple, it's not fully actual. And you got the reason you wanted in the first place. But I don't think it's necessary to go this far, and I'd rather leave transcendentals aside since you can't assume that they're correct just like this.

'Except that, again, its degree of goodness, and its degree of beauty, will be coextensive with its degree of actual being, and hence with its degree of unity, as well. They are all interconnected by virtue of being transcendentals.'

You merely reinforce my point. If you accept that it's multiple in some respect, then it's going to be potential in some respect. But that was by way of example, not the stating of a profound doctrine or something along those lines.

'Furthermore, if you want to approach matters from a Neoplatonic standpoint, then it is interesting to note that Plotinus rejected the Aristotelian position that the fundamental principle of reality was an intellect as prime mover, because of the inherent multiplicity of intellection, and thus the Intellect is the first emanation of the One, which is the true fundamental principle of reality, and thus lacking multiplicity whatsoever. But that solution simply does not work, because the One must also be multiple in some sense.'

There are many things wrong here. First, I think they're correct in assuming that they assumed, viz. that an intellect cannot be simple in all respects. Which gives you another reason to reject divine simplicity for the trinity. But that wasn't my original point so I wonder why you bring this.
Your talk of 'first emanation' needs to be qualified.

Emanation is/used to be hot topic in Plotinian scolarship and merely to assume the word without explaining what it is, or its equivalent in Greek or what Plotinus would have taken it to mean is highly misleading. I suggest you drop the label or explain clearly what you mean by this.

You say their solution can't work, because the One must be multiple in some respect. Why? Your appeal to the text you quote is almost questing-begging: there are many places in the Enneads where Plotinus explicitly denies that everything is contained virtually within the One. You'd certainly need a stronger textual basis to claim that. And handwaving to Gerson is not helping either, since there are important controversies on this too. You can't simply say 'Gerson thinks that Plotinus thinks X' so 'Plotinus thinks X'. Certainly not on the basis of a SINGLE passage (not even in Greek, mind you). Also, perhaps to bring some more context: VI.8 is to take, by Plotinus' own words, to take with caution. It is filled with warnings that everything in it is not to be taken at face value.
But this is by the way and just because I think it should be said against your absolute confidence in Gerson's rendering and interpretation of the text. It is by the way, because you can turn to Iamblichus or Damascius to find that they defended the absolute oneness of the One, its absolute ineffability, etc., etc. Perhaps Plotinus has been ambiguous for certain reasons. They were not. You might think that its being a principle makes the One multiple in some respect, and I encourage you to read Damascius to see if you find his answers satisfying. But merely to insist that the One ought to be multiple on the basis of a controversial interpretation doesn't get very far at all.

Jim S. said...

In "A Preface to Metaphysics," Jacques Maritain has a short comment on Islamic metaphysics (see the fifth lecture). He explores what the principle of identity -- being is being -- would mean if applied by Muslims and Christians to the Divine Essence. Accordingly, they might use the same formula and say the same words, but they would come up with diametrically opposed viewpoints. Both would understand that “God is God,” but the error in Islam, Maritain says, “is to apply the principle of identity to God as it is applied to a creature, delimiting Him and confining Him within Himself.” He is immured, as it were, in a kind of lifeless transcendence. On the other hand, in the West’s tradition of classical theism, the formula “God is God” would be convertible with the transcendentals, and, ultimately with the revelation granted St John, that “God is Love.” Apart from its mystics, Islam has a somewhat limited idea that God is Love, a notion typically expressed as compassion, as in the formula of the Bismullah, which is recited before reading each of the suras in the Koran, “In the Name of God the Compassionate (or Gracious) and Merciful ...” Yes, the Christian might respond, God is compassionate and He is merciful, -- but He is also Pure Love. He is Love itself. Thus when the classical theist says that God is Pure Act or that He is Being Itself, he understands those concepts to mean that God’s Being is superabundant -- It overflows Itself, sort to speak. It is in this love-filled overflow of Being that Christians dimly perceive the mysteries of the Trinity and the Incarnation.

dguller said...

Lucas:

First, I think they're correct in assuming that they assumed, viz. that an intellect cannot be simple in all respects.

Which I agree with.

Which gives you another reason to reject divine simplicity for the trinity.

There are better reasons available to reject the Trinity as inconsistent with divine simplicity.

You say their solution can't work, because the One must be multiple in some respect. Why?

It won’t work by virtue of the doctrine of Neoplatonic participatory causality. According to that doctrine, “every cause pre-embraces its effect before its emergence, having primitively that character which the latter has by derivation” (Elements of Theology, 65), and that “one thing is in another up to the first, which is the Principle … [which] encompasses all the other things” (Enneads, V.5.9). So, if the One is the cause of differentiated reality, then the One must pre-contain, in some way, that multiplicity. If the One lacked this kind of multiplicity, then it could not be the cause of differentiated reality at all.

Thus, either the One is the cause of differentiated reality, or it is not. If the former, then the One must pre-embrace a (virtual) multiplicity within itself, which is then actually expressed via differentiated particulars that participate in the One. If the latter, then it cannot be the source of reality at all, and thus reality is independent of the One. Either way, you lose a key Neoplatonic doctrine, i.e. either the absolute simplicity of the One or the One’s status as the fundamental principle of reality.

The Masked Chicken said...

Dear Prof. Feser,

About 10 years ago I realized the need for such a pre-apologetics book and I thought I might write one, although not at the level of sophistication you put forth and including some other additional topics that can no longer be taken for granted to be understood among commonly educated people: basic logic, an understanding of cognitive biases, a basic history of philosophy, how to evaluate an argument, the distinction between rhetoric and argument, the structure of argumentation, different types of proofs, etc.

It was my observation back then that many scientists simply do not understand the philosophical assumptions underlying their craft, but, nevertheless, import their technics and assumptions into other disciplines, often with poor results. Beyond that, well-meaning Christians are bring sent out to do apologetics who are so poorly trained in terms of the necessary background knowledge of metaphysics, basic philosophy, the history of Christian thought, etc., that even though they hold the most profound of truths, they are easily flustered in either communicating them or properly defending them from people who adopt a, "scientific (skeptical)," stance, because they simply do not understand the types of arguments that would be both effective and respected among those listeners.

Alas, my own research in other areas and my general lack of ambition has put this book lower on my list of things-to-do than other things.

You are a much better qualified person to write such a book than I and I, for one, encourage you, even more, since I suspect you might already be tending in that direction, to write it. The modern apologetics community has needed such a rigorous re-iteration of its philosophical foundations for years. Not everyone has the time or money to read the original source material or attend college classes, but I think such knowledge will become increasingly necessary in the wake of the streamroller that is the developing modern scientific society. You have already started presenting this material in such popular books at, The Last Superstition, and classroom texts, such as Aquinas and Scholastic Metaphysics, but there is a lot more to be presented to situate modern apologetics in as full a context as possible. So, another book...?

I just wanted to let you know that you are not alone in your observation that now is the time for such a pre-apologetics work to be written. I look forward to whatever you have the time to write about these issues in the future.

The Masked Chicken

Mr. Green said...

Vaal: As wry as [Natalie Angier's] comment is, it captures the essential question of consistency that I and many atheist keep bringing up for religious dogma.

I'd call it more smart-alecky than wry ("meta-Nobel discovery"?!). It does make me suspect that her understanding of science is as poor as her understanding of the Bible. The problem is that "consistency" doesn't mean anything without a context in which to be consistent, and the context here is based on the metaphysics, which is why Feser here and folks in the previous comments keep insisting that the metaphysical foundation has to be established first.

In theory, if you wanted to know whether your wife loved you, you could measure electrochemical reactions in her brain, but even neurologists don't actually do that. You could decide that Bob is serious when he says he drove to work at 30mph but not when he says he drove 1234567890mph by pulling our your sliderule and doing some quick relativistic calculations, but in reality we instead observe that the latter is not serious because it is the kind of thing Bob thinks is funny, and the former is not. It's not consistent to demand applying the scientific method when it isn't called for. To use the old example, you're complaining that because we used a metal detector to find metal, we're being inconsistent by not using it when we look for wood. On top of which, also ignoring that most of the time we identify metal without even using the metal-detector!

Or consider the list of amazing survivals you linked to in the other thread: Far be it from me to challenge a prestigious peer-reviewing scientific journal like Cracked.com, but taking the descriptions at face value, why would we assume that those occurrences were not miracles themselves? In fact, I checked the academic citations, and some of them were indeed cited as miracles by the doctors involved! So again, arguing from different foundations is not productive. It's like criticising Japanese poetry when you don't speak any Japanese. You might think it's "epistemologically irresponsible" to claim that a word means X here and the same word means Y there, but that isn't an inconsistency — it just shows that Japanese poetry is not a trivial subject and you need to study the foundations before trying to go further.

Michael Behe asserted the impossibility of the bacterial flagellum arising via evolution, without Mr. Intelligent Designer. But..whoops…he was presented in Dover with piles of research establishing the plausible evolutionary pathways for that bacterial feature.

Perhaps you mean the development of the immune system? I pointed out last time that this makes it sound as though you've missed the point of ID, and even more so in this context. But all that really says is that new information might lead us to change our minds. That's not even worth mentioning — unless you actually have some new information about the topic to hand. For example, if you have new scientific evidence demonstrating that a dead man can bring himself back to life, we're all ears.

Scott said...

@Lucas Krief:

"That kind of distinction, intelligible or not intelligible to us, is a kind of distinction that introduces multiplicity."

The doctrine of divine simplicity says that God is not in any way composed of parts. The intellect is said to be simple in the same sense. Real or apparent "multiplicities" that don't involve division/divisibility into parts are not ruled out in either case.

Basically, what you and dguller are demonstrating at this point is that if the doctrine is taken to say more than it means, it can be used to undermine not only Trinitarianism but (classical) theism generally.

Lucas Krief said...

Scott, dguller. An answer is forthcoming, I've just had a busy day.

Crude said...

I just want to chime in on one claim here:

Michael Behe asserted the impossibility of the bacterial flagellum arising via evolution, without Mr. Intelligent Designer.

Complete bull, and this is routinely claimed, but no quotes are ever provided. Multiple errors at work here, grave ones.

1) Behe never played the 'impossible' game. What he has said is that, based on what we know about the processes involved, it is extraordinarily unlikely for the flagellum to have arose. He rejects claims about "impossible": The strongly-emphasized point of his paper was to show exactly what I discussed in my posts: the extreme improbability (not “impossibility”, which is for suckers — one can’t prove a negative in science) of re-acquiring the ancestral structure/ function, either by direct or indirect reversal.

2) Behe doesn't argue against irreducible complex structures, including the BF, 'arising via evolution' - because Behe is quite comfortable with the claim that they did. (You'd think the fact that Behe expressly accepts Common Descent would give people some clues here.) The key is that 'evolution' is broad, and itself can be used by an intelligent agent - we're just dealing with artificial selection and/or non-random variation at that point.

3) Building off 2, that's why claims about how 'all these papers indicating that the bacterial flagellum evolved' are red herrings. What they typically mean is that there are indications that parts of the BF were present in an organism's evolutionary history - 'this part of the BF was apparently playing this other distinct role before the BF came about'. But Behe doesn't care about that unless it can be persuasively argued or demonstrated that this took place only with such and such processes. If it's possible, but extraordinarily unlikely, you're right back into Behe's game.

3.a) To really understand a common trick with 3, imagine the following: You have the current Bacterial Flagellum BF-A. Let's say it's discovered that BF-1 was preceded ancestrally by BF-1. BF-1 was a structure that included BF-A in its entirety, plus a host of other functions/structures - but BF-1 lost those functions and structures until it was stripped down to BF-A. You can say 'we have evidence that BF-A evolved!' And you sure do. In context, it does nothing to refute what Behe is driving at. Likewise, say that BF-A is composed of parts BF-X, BF-Y and BF-Z. You have evidence that all three were present in ancestors, performing different functions. Great - but if the odds of BF-X, BF-Y and BF-Z coming together to form irreducible structure BF-A are extraordinarily low, Behe's argument is still untouched.

Anyway, I don't think ID is science, but I like to clear these things up in the faint hope that doing so will lead to better criticisms of ID. Naive, but hey, it's something to do.

Vaal said...


Well, since I had been looking for a post similar to this from Prof Feser, I should probably add some more comments.

I find that reading Prof. Feser's post only re-affirms just how big the gulf is that Christians have to cross to make their claims in revelation remotely reasonable. Although Prof Feser isn't presenting all the arguments per se in the post, there are enough claims of logical connections in there to set off many alarm bells for me. So many issues and objections arise as I read the claims that it's hard to know where to start. But just some comments anyway….

Vaal

Crude said...

I find that reading Prof. Feser's post only re-affirms just how big the gulf is that Christians have to cross to make their claims in revelation remotely reasonable. Although Prof Feser isn't presenting all the arguments per se in the post, there are enough claims of logical connections in there to set off many alarm bells for me.

What you should really take away from the post - and which pretty well shatters modern atheism at its core - is that revelation isn't necessary to establish before making the case for God's existence.

So insofar as atheists aim their guns at revelation, they're at the wrong target. Sink the reasonableness of accepting any revelation claim across the board, and God still remains. And even on that front the attempts by the Cult of Gnu have been sorely lacking.

Vaal said...

FESER: "Now as I have said, the arguments of natural theology and philosophical anthropology establish that God takes a very special interest in us, "

Only if, it seems to me, one accepts the type of abstractions and cherry-picking from experience one sees in Christian theology/apologetics, including what I see from Thomism. Even IF we allow God specially created human souls, God allied this soul to our physical existence that suggests no "special interest" is being taken in human beings. Experience does not suggest we would expect this Being wants to "help us" in any way, given the amount of random fate and intellectual confusion He regularly allows.

FESER: "that our highest end is to know him,"

Except that this seems at odds with the wider facts of human experience. See above, and below…

FESER: "Yet though it is in principle possible for us to know all this through unaided reason and to live in accordance with the natural law, in practice it is very difficult to do so."

Exactly. This is the issue I raised in a previous thread. Look at how difficult it is for most to correctly comprehend God - your own post said there is so much misinformation and misunderstanding on the subject that one has to plow through volumes of abstruse argument to arrive at a correct understanding (so far as possible) of God. As I have said, it is a very odd thing that God has left this project to what amounts to a tiny portions of humans, including yourself, to elucidate this knowledge of Him for the rest of us. How is that "a priori" of particular plausibility for an Omni-Being's plan?

The amount of religious confusion in the world- spanning from non-belief, through to non-Christian beliefs, through to all the disputes among Christianity itself - undermines the very claim that God has "knowing Him" as the end for human beings (or our intellect). In fact, the very way our brains/intellect even WORKs seems at odds with such a claim. Here's one list of the cognitive biases endemic to human reasoning:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_cognitive_biases

It seems to me absurd that human reasoning suggests an All Knowing, All Powerful Being designed our intellect, let alone designed it to successfully arrive at knowledge of Himself. It's hard to imagine any plan, design or "end" more obviously destined to fail.

(And of course you can't appeal to revelation in an explanation, e.g. The Fall, as that would obviously be begging the question in arguing FOR belief in revelation).

Vaal said...

FESER:"This makes it a priori fitting and indeed highly plausible that God would provide special assistance, beyond what our very limited natural faculties provide.  That is to say, it makes it a priori highly plausible that he would provide a special revelation."

I don't see this as a priori plausible at all, for reason already given. I do not see how it follows "a priori" that one would expect an Omni-Being, having reliable knowledge of Himself as our end, would do such a royally botched job of designing creatures and their environment such that it is guaranteed we will be confused. And then that to remedy his own design, He has to then go and intervene to set us straight. What's the point of doing it the horrendously inefficient way in the first place?

Secondly: How is the specifically Christian story of this method of "specially revealed knowledge" reasonable, let alone suggested a priori or made probable metaphysically?

The purported end-game of our human reason is knowledge of God, but we need help through God providing a special revelation. And yet the way God goes about this is to manifest in one incredibly short period of time, thousands of years ago in the desert, get killed, and reveal his risen self as a proof, to a handful of people for an even BRIEFER time, and then disappear. This handful of people get this fleeting revelation, the 99.9999 percent who did not see the risen Jesus at the time don't get it, everyone who lived previously didn't get it, and the billions living after the event just get hearsay claims about it. And these claims will be set among the huge amount of noise of competing religious, superstitious claims.

So God created us as beings prone to bias and error getting in the way of our knowing Him, prone to believing wrong things about the supernatural and disagreeing on religion, and then "remedied" this by appearing in a manner GUARANTEED to leave most people non-believers in that revelation, and to leave even those who DID believe it such ambiguity that over time Christianity only keeps splintering into sects - many thousands and counting! - with their own particular ideas of what revelation means.

I do not see any promise in metaphysics making this form of revelation " a priori" more reasonable at all, given the countless other ways an Omni-Being could reveal knowledge of Himself, in much more efficacious ways. All attempts I've seen are so strained and ad hoc only already committed Christians could possibly think they ought to be taken seriously. (And I'm sorry, I don't see anything in Prof Feser's post suggesting anything better is on the way).

Vaal said...

FESER: "Now the Resurrection of Jesus Christ is something else altogether.  For one thing, if it really happened, it cannot possibly have had a natural or even preternatural cause.  Only God himself could have caused it."

And there is also another massive problem I have been harping on: Establishing the reasonableness of believing The Resurrection in concert with accepting the rational for skepticism and rigour in science on the other. The Christian who accepts science must accept the epistemic reasoning from experience behind it. He must know and accept what it looks like when we are being truly mindful of all the elements that need to be controlled and ruled out. This caution is revealed even in relatively mundane matters, for instance determining whether a new drug is efficacious at all, even when we are capable of intense, direct examination of the evidence, it's done in all sorts of strict controls to rule out bias in the subjects and experimenters, and then we ask for repeated confirmation. Hence the vast majority of drugs don't pass this test, and the ones that do often must survive between 10 and 15 years of study! This is simply to vet claims of whether a drug has an effect on blood pressure, or headaches.

But then the Christians turns around and says we can, from the perspective of thousands of years removed from a purported event, with no direct access to a body or other physical evidence, not even direct access to eyewitnesses, from a set of conflicting claims in an ancient book, successfully diagnose a man "dead" and "risen from the dead." And we can be so sure of this diagnosis that we must conclude the intervention of the Creator Of The Universe, and ought to organize our life around this claim.

For non-Christians who recognize no reason to give Christian claims special privileges, the gulf between this type of bar lowering for evidence and the skepticism even Christians will employ within science, is so vast as to be shooting up "special pleading" flairs all over the place.

All this, and much more, is why the project of apologetics for special revelation, including A-T metaphysics handing off to people like William L. Craig, doesn't look remotely promising to me, if an outsider is who you are supposed to try to convince.

But hey…when this New Synthesis of Apologetics finally arrives, if ever, we can take another look. :-)

Vaal

Vaal said...

Crude,

I believe your "correction" of my post about Behe doesn't hold up.

"Behe never played the 'impossible' game."

Yes he did.

As Wikipedia states:

"Behe came to believe that there was evidence, at a biochemical level, that there were systems that were "irreducibly complex." These were systems that he thought could not, even in principle, have evolved by natural selection, and thus must have been created by an "intelligent designer," which he believed to be the only possible alternative explanation for such complex structures."

But one doesn't have to appeal to Wikipedia: Behe's own writings play the game.
From his "Molecular Machines"

http://www.discovery.org/a/54

"An irreducibly complex system CANNOT be produced directly by slight, successive modifications of a precursor system, since any precursor to an irreducibly complex system is by definition nonfunctional."

and:

Since the irreducibly complex cilium CAN NOT have functional precursors IT CAN NOT be produced by natural selection, which requires a continuum of function to work. Natural selection is powerless when there is no function to select. We can go further and say that, if the cilium CAN NOT be produced by natural selection, then the cilium was designed.

All of that is essentially to say "not possible via evolution."

Now, you may want to say here "but Behe was talking strictly of direct pathways, he acknowledged the possibility of alternate paths and possible co-option of features along the way." Yeah, sure, he made such caveats here and there in a lip-service level - much like his wink-wink appeal to Aliens as a possible Intelligent Designer. But he remained constantly dismissive of the actual research in support of such pathways.

This was fairly typical of his attitude to such propositions:

http://www.discovery.org/a/1831

Ending, naturally, with "The irreducible complexity of the flagellum remains unaltered and unexplained by any unintelligent process, despite Darwinian smoke-blowing and obscurantism."

My memory did slip there, admittedly: I talked of the bacterial flagellum, Behe's poster child, but I'd forgotten it was Behe's stance on the human immune system to which I was referring re the Dover Trial.

Behe had stated of the immune system:

"the complexity of the system dooms all Darwinian explanations to frustration"

There's his wonderful absolutist-sounding language again.

And yet he was presented with around 50 articles/studies on the possible evolutionary origin of the human immune system.

http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/dover/day12pm.html

And, of course, if there IS a scientific, evolutionary answer to the human immune system, it's not Behe who would find it, as he continued to declare even at the trial that the search for an evolutionary answer would "not be fruitful."

Which all goes to speak to the point I was making. Prof Feser wants to talk about having to adduce the supernatural causes to explain what is "impossible" in the natural order…but as he knows we infer what is "impossible/possible" by our study of the natural order. And declaring things "impossible" (or so improbable as to be essentially impossible) has over and over flown back into the faces of those who have made such declarations. I don't see Prof Feser's answer for when we ought to start adducing the supernatural vs our current possible (probable!) ignorance of what is possible in via the natural.

Matt Sheean said...

Vaal,

That we are prone to error in our understanding is not a refutation of any occurrence of revelation or of the end of our faculties being the knowledge of God, since such a line of argument supposes that knowledge is at least an end of those faculties (otherwise a misunderstanding would not be described as "wrong" or "error").

I'm not convinced either that our being prone to error would make it less likely that God exists or less likely that if He does that He would be "smart enough" to know that special revelation was a waste of time. Christianity in particular, and religion in general, seems to have been pretty successful and only seems to be lost altogether on a few stubborn individuals such as yourself.

Matt Sheean said...

also,

that we are prone to error cuts both ways. As I mentioned in a previous thread...

If we are prone to error, that is to say that an error in cognition is more likely to occur than not to occur. Our assessment of the truth of this thesis is just as likely to be an error as not to be. Adding more failsafes and so on will each be as likely to be an erroneous failsafe as not to be, so any system designed to prevent error will overall have an inscrutable tendency to error. Suffice it to say I am opposed to arguing for anything from the human tendency to disagree or to make mistakes in cognition. We have to be more clear about exactly what we mean be "wrong beliefs" or what it is to err in our thinking and what we mean by being prone to do so unless we find ourselves sawing happily at the branch upon which we are perched.

Vaal said...

Crude,

So insofar as atheists aim their guns at revelation, they're at the wrong target.

You mean, they are not aiming at the decoy you'd prefer they aim at ;-)

New Atheists are completely justified in aiming at religion rather than simply "God," as it is the dogma, scriptures, and revelations around which most believers organize their lives and predicate their actions, (especially in the Abrahamic Religions).

And it is in revelation and "faith" in revelation in which the most egregious exceptions in critical thinking are made, and which carry the most pressing consequences.

They are smart and have the significant target on their bullseye, and no amount of jumping and waving and pointing "over there" to other metaphysical arguments will work to distract them from the "revelation" and dogmas that actually energize the acts of Christians and other believers.

Vaal

Crude said...

Vaal,

Yes he did.

He did not, and the quotes you provided back up my claim, not yours.

As Wikipedia states:

Wikipedia is incorrect, and you'll notice that Wikipedia gives no quote of Behe on this front.

Let's look at your quotes. The first one, I'm going to add emphasis where needed.

"An irreducibly complex system CANNOT be produced directly by slight, successive modifications of a precursor system, since any precursor to an irreducibly complex system is by definition nonfunctional."

Since the irreducibly complex cilium CAN NOT have functional precursors IT CAN NOT be produced by natural selection, which requires a continuum of function to work. Natural selection is powerless when there is no function to select. We can go further and say that, if the cilium CAN NOT be produced by natural selection, then the cilium was designed.

Notice the 'directly'. You know why Behe is saying this? Because he's talking in the context of natural selection. His point is that natural selection can only act on results that are already instantiated in an organism - but if you remove any part from an IC structure, the IC structure will by definition not function.

But there's more to evolution than natural selection.

So again, your claim here is wrong: Behe never argued that it was 'impossible for these things to evolve'. He's arguing that, given what mechanisms are proposed to be at work in evolutionary theory, the odds of their producing such and such mechanisms are extremely low.

And that is not impossible.

Yeah, sure, he made such caveats here and there in a lip-service level

Er, in other words, he said what I said he did, and did not say what you said he did? Well yeah. That's the point.

What you're saying here reads an awful lot like 'Yeah, but if I put it that way, Behe sounds far more reasonable and reserved in his claims, and we can't have that, so let's erase that because I bet he doesn't mean it.'

There's his wonderful absolutist-sounding language again.

That 'absolutist-sounding language' contrasts with his actual words in other contexts:

"The National Academy of Sciences has objected that intelligent design is not falsifiable, and I think that’s just the opposite of the truth. Intelligent design is very open to falsification. I claim, for example, that the bacterial flagellum could not be produced by natural selection; it needed to be deliberately intelligently designed. Well, all a scientist has to do to prove me wrong is to take a bacterium without a flagellum, or knock out the genes for the flagellum in a bacterium, go into his lab and grow that bug for a long time and see if it produces anything resembling a flagellum. If that happened, intelligent design, as I understand it, would be knocked out of the water. I certainly don’t expect it to happen, but it’s easily falsified by a series of such experiments."

So much for absolutism - he's entirely open to his being wrong on this front.

And yet he was presented with around 50 articles/studies on the possible evolutionary origin of the human immune system.

I could dump 50 articles/studies on the possibility that young-earth creationism is true on your lap. What in the world would that establish? The question is whether those studies disproved Behe's claims, or even damaged those claims. Apparently, they didn't.

Crude said...

And, of course, if there IS a scientific, evolutionary answer to the human immune system, it's not Behe who would find it, as he continued to declare even at the trial that the search for an evolutionary answer would "not be fruitful."

Of course, if there is a "scientific, ID answer" to the origin of the human immune system, it won't be mainstream evolutionary biologists who find it either, since they rule ID from the outset.

So?

And declaring things "impossible" (or so improbable as to be essentially impossible) has over and over flown back into the faces of those who have made such declarations.

It really hasn't - especially since Feser's talking metaphysics, not science. Science is filled to the brim with purported *natural* explanations turning out to be false. It's as harmful to naturalist confidence as anything else, yet this point seems lost on naturalists.

Ultimately Feser is saying that we need to look to reason - including metaphysical and philosophical reason - to begin deducing what could well be a sign from God, in context, to begin with. That's tremendously reasonable. Even putting aside metaphysical certainties for a moment, the bare possibility of a hypothetical natural explanation for any given phenomena apparently doesn't suffice to show one should doubt said phenomena - hence you have Jerry Coyne and other Gnu atheists yammering about what particular miracle would make them provisional believers on the spot.

Jonathan Garcia said...

Vaal, probably i am missunderstanding your point, but are you suggesting that we need modern science in order to know that a man that was crucified in a Roman Cross actually died?

Scott said...

@Vaal:

Mostly I'm going to leave it to others to reply to you, but I do want to make a couple of brief points.

"All of that is essentially to say 'not possible via evolution.'"

No, it's to say "not possible via natural selection," which is what Behe himself explicitly states in the passage you quotes.

As Crude has already pointed out, that doesn't amount to a denial that an irreducibly complex structure arose through evolution at all—just a statement that if it did, it was through artificial selection or some other means/mechanism that couldn't be reduced to natural selection. Your implicit view here that If it ain't natural selection, it ain't evolution is coloring your interpretation of Behe (not to mention betraying a lack of historical perspective on evolutionary theory).

Also, the statement that "[a]n irreducibly complex system CANNOT be produced directly by slight, successive modifications of a precursor system" is not a statement that any specific structure or system is irreducibly complex—though of course you're right that Behe has also said that various specific structures/systems do qualify as such.

I'm no friend of either Behe or the ID movement, and the egg on Behe's face actually provides support to Thomistic criticisms of ID. But you might want to be a little more careful with your (ahem) absolutist-sounding language.

Scott said...

(I see Crude got in ahead of me on pretty much every point I made plus some of his own.)

Crude said...

Vaal,

You mean, they are not aiming at the decoy you'd prefer they aim at

Not at all, since 'atheism' is a belief that no God/god(s) exist. If the existence of God or god(s) is left to the side, then atheists are leaving atheism to the side as well. They aren't even 'anti-theists' at that point. They're just people all angry and upset about these or those religious beliefs.

New Atheists are completely justified in aiming at religion rather than simply "God," as it is the dogma, scriptures, and revelations around which

So long as you want to say that New Atheists are completely justified in not arguing for, uh... atheism, but instead for arguing against the religions they dislike, be my guest. That suggests they're even more pig ignorant than they usually come across as. (See below.)

They are smart

*snrrk*

and have the significant target on their bullseye,

Not really, Vaal. As I said, if the claim is that God/god(s) does not exist - and, by the by, this happens to be the particular claim they have overwhelmingly tried to back up - then they really have screwed up majorly, and continue to do so whenever they focus on revelation rather than theism.

Not that I think their fortunes improve no matter what they focus on, intellectually speaking. Remember the disaster that was the Ultimate Boeing 747 Argument? The whole "Brights" campaign? Dawkins yammering about the importance of evidence for belief in God, and summary inability to even name what that evidence could be for him? PZ Myers declaring outright that no evidence could ever convince him, and Jerry Coyne's fight with him - thus showing that prominent atheists /can't even agree on what evidence for God would even look like/?

But throughout it all I at least thought that the atheists knew that, by claiming 'God does not / likely does not exist', they realized that they needed to argue exactly that. According to you, they were just confused, and they don't really have any care whether God does or doesn't exist.

That's a hell of a thing.

Vaal said...

Matt,

I'm not saying that we don't often desire to know what is "true." Clearly, that is what we tend to want.

But that is entirely different from suggesting that we ought to conclude we were "designed" with the end of knowing truth, including knowing truth about God. Because then you actually have to look at the real world and ALL the evidence for how our intellect works, the biases built in to the process, all the challenges built into our circumstance for getting such truth. Taken together, it is not suggestive of the design of an All Knowing/All Powerful Being designing us for such truth.

The analogy I gave before "We really wanted to drive from Iowa to New York. Tom gave us his car so it's clear he really wants us to get there." Except that Tom has also poked multiple holes in the gas tank.
Looking at one aspect to the experience in isolation may seem to support the case, but you've got a problem if there are other details that don't support the inference so well.

And all the well known impediments in our thinking, manifest in all the actual confusion in the world, do not suggest to me that a Perfect Designer had in our design the aim of our having reliable knowledge of Him.

As to your second post, it's not sawing off the branch we are sitting on to notice all the difficulties we face in arriving at reliable knowledge.
None of it entails knowledge is impossible. But, again, the difficulties there are, and their character, are certainly not suggestive of a Perfect Designer with the goal of our knowledge of Him.

It's similar to the problem of Plantinga appeal to the "sensus divinitatis." A knowledge supplied to us by a Perfect Being, which just happens to be kind of broken
in lots of people. And hence we get ad hoc appeals to "sin" and the like to justify this.

Vaal

Scott said...

@Vaal:

"The Christian who accepts science must accept the epistemic reasoning from experience behind it. He must know and accept what it looks like when we are being truly mindful of all the elements that need to be controlled and ruled out."

Then again, anyone who accepts science must accept that not all knowledge can seriously be expected to meet this specific and highly context-dependent epistemic standard—in part because if it did have to, there would be no science.

Matt Sheean said...

Vaal,

I do not conclude that we were designed with the end of knowing truth. We have a facility for reason, the end of which is truth. God could not make a being with a facility for reason and make it such that it's end was not knowledge (anymore than He can make square circles).

I do not see the similarity to the senses divinitatis, nor did I appeal to sin. All I said was that the very notion of an error in reasoning already supposes an end by which the error can be understood as error (whether or not we want to know the truth or not is irrelevant).

Jinzang said...

"I don't think that incompatibility with what philosophy tells us necessarily warrants the conclusion that Eastern traditions can be dismissed. If picture of the divine given by, say, the Vedas, conflicts with the knowledge obtained by philosophy of religion, we can explain that away by saying that the receptors of the Vedas misunderstood and bungled the message,"

To pick a nit, the distinctive philosophy of Hinduism is set out in the Upanishads and not the Vedas, which are collections of ritual practices.

Jeremy Taylor said...

I see Vaal does not even try and answer my objections any more. But Scott brings up one of the most important. I believe Vaal's general response is that scientific knowledge is the paradigm or archetype of all knowledge, and all our other genuine knowledge can be cashed out in scientific terms. This is why, somehow, we can trust our knowledge of where our friends live, without scientific testing, but can't ever have knowledge of the paranormal.

It seems to me he has some work to do to make this a passable argument.

Vaal said...

Crude,

You aren't refuting what I wrote.

That quote of yours from Behe only states his claim that his hypothesis is falsifiable. So what? Of course he wants to say that, to seem scientifically respectable.

That there is a way to show him wrong doesn't contradict that Behe thinks he's right, and he does so by saying he has identified structures or systems that are "not possible" by appeal to evolutionary pathways.

And he has made a number of triumphant-sounding claims to that effect. His "my theory is potentially falsifiable" in no way contradicts
the confidence in which he has dismissed possible evolutionary explanations.

As to the articles on the immune system, I followed the debates on it on and off for years and as I understand it, there are indeed viable evolutionary pathways. If you fall for Behe's and the DI's goal-poast-moving critiques, well, that's too long a debate to have here.

"Of course, if there is a "scientific, ID answer" to the origin of the human immune system, it won't be mainstream evolutionary biologists who find it either, since they rule ID from the outset."

No they don't. They ask that such a theory be actually scientific and practicable, which ID currently fails.

"It really hasn't - especially since Feser's talking metaphysics, not science."

No he isn't. Not as it pertains to the portion relevant to my critique.

Prof Feser wrote, in his blog post: "Given just that natural order, certain things are possible and certain things are impossible, and the “laws of nature” revealed by natural science tell us which is which."

My questions draw from that claim, and ask "how do we decide X is a miracle, vs something yet unknown about the natural order? This gets precisely to the problems of supernatural-of-the-gaps, and Behe-type problems as well.

"Science is filled to the brim with purported *natural* explanations turning out to be false. It's as harmful to naturalist confidence as anything else, yet this point seems lost on naturalists."

Couldn't be more wrong. I have re-iterated until blue in the face here that it is *precisely* the fact that even mundane natural explanations (e.g. for a drug's efficacy) can be so daunting to confirm, and because the crucible of science burns away so many cherished hypotheses, that many atheists decry the confidence religious have in their dogmas! We are saying "Look, THIS is how tentative and careful we are about coming to conclusions in science…why aren't you taking similar care?"

Which does not mean of course "therefore science isn't reliable." Obviously, it has produced quite a bit of reliable information. But it has done this because it takes the epistemological problems we face more seriously, more responsibly, than religious do when affirming their scriptural claims.

Vaal

Jeremy Taylor said...

Dguller,

It won’t work by virtue of the doctrine of Neoplatonic participatory causality. According to that doctrine, “every cause pre-embraces its effect before its emergence, having primitively that character which the latter has by derivation” (Elements of Theology, 65), and that “one thing is in another up to the first, which is the Principle … [which] encompasses all the other things” (Enneads, V.5.9). So, if the One is the cause of differentiated reality, then the One must pre-contain, in some way, that multiplicity. If the One lacked this kind of multiplicity, then it could not be the cause of differentiated reality at all.

Thus, either the One is the cause of differentiated reality, or it is not. If the former, then the One must pre-embrace a (virtual) multiplicity within itself, which is then actually expressed via differentiated particulars that participate in the One. If the latter, then it cannot be the source of reality at all, and thus reality is independent of the One. Either way, you lose a key Neoplatonic doctrine, i.e. either the absolute simplicity of the One or the One’s status as the fundamental principle of reality.


I do not think the first horn of your dilemma is correct. I do not see that having the possibility of separate manifestation means there is a distinction in the One itself, not a real distinction anyway. It is only outside the divine essence that there is any separation. The distinctions in the essence are only virtual, from our point of view - just as the distinction between the transcendentals is only from our point of view.

Vaal said...

Jonathan Garcia,


Vaal, probably i am missunderstanding your point, but are you suggesting that we need modern science in order to know that a man that was crucified in a Roman Cross actually died?

I think we need modern-science level of vetting such a claim, yes.
That is being consistent with the empirical demands we would, and do make, within science, especially for controversial hypotheses.
This suggestion is only odd or shocking to Christians because they have for so long been used to accepting much lower standards for their religious claims. "Well, this IS how God revealed himself, so it must be just hubris and impractical to demand more!"
If you say "Well, we just aren't going to GET the kind of evidence you would demand…it happened long ago and all we have are interpretations of the claims" then, yes, all the worse for establishing a Resurrection.
Like I said, historical method must be consistent with science, and recognize when it is not in a position to contradict science (or what we know of the "natural order" in Prof Feser's way of speaking). We can provisionally accept claims that are not "extraordinary" and violate the way things seem to be now, and hence it's not unreasonable to accept a claim that a census was taken, or a war was started or won, etc. All those things happen in our experience and so don't require EXTRA rigour and skepticism. But once you try to say something extraordinary happened, like a Resurrection, THEN you have to realize a higher standard of scrutiny needs to be brought to ALL the purported facts of the case. And there is just no way, 2,000 years later, that we have the type of access to bodies, evidence, eyewitnesses, that we ought to demand, to vet all the necessary claims.
We wouldn't even take 12 people's "eyewitness accounts" of a resurrection TODAY to medically declare it happened, let alone claims from mostly unknowns thousands of years ago! (And Christians in the rest of their daily life recognize this - you didn't see Christians falling all over themselves to make trips to venerate Sathya Sai Baba, despite his claims to be God and despite his millions of followers, and despite that all sorts of Christ-like miracles were claimed by his adherents for him).

Vaal

Crude said...

Vaal,

You aren't refuting what I wrote.

I actually am. You made this claim: "Michael Behe asserted the impossibility of the bacterial flagellum arising via evolution, without Mr. Intelligent Designer"

I've been providing quotes showing A) Behe never claimed that it was impossible for 'evolution' to produce the BF, just very unlikely, B) what Behe did claim wasn't possible was for natural selection to select for functions that did not exist yet, which is just straightforward.

That quote of yours from Behe only states his claim that his hypothesis is falsifiable. So what? Of course he wants to say that, to seem scientifically respectable.

He didn't just claim that; he flat out gave a scenario that would change his mind. And I gave that quote to show that Behe isn't certain of his view, just as I gave the quote showing that he expressly discounts talking in terms of 'impossible' with science.

And he has made a number of triumphant-sounding claims to that effect. His "my theory is potentially falsifiable" in no way contradicts the confidence in which he has dismissed possible evolutionary explanations.

Yep, he's confident in his view. But he expressly dismisses claims of impossibility - I provided quotes saying as much. Changing the subject to 'but there are other things Behe said which are objectionable' is not a conversation I'm interested in having. I'm arguing against what you said, not what you could possibly say.

No they don't. They ask that such a theory be actually scientific and practicable, which ID currently fails.

Considering "ID is not science" is the express claim of most of its opponents, you're wrong on that front. They don't say 'not currently science but it could well be sometime'. It'd destroy their argument.

Prof Feser wrote, in his blog post: "Given just that natural order, certain things are possible and certain things are impossible, and the “laws of nature” revealed by natural science tell us which is which."

And that quote is given in context of Feser talking about metaphysical claims, natural theology, and more. This alone should clue you in: " (Notice that “supernatural” here has a technical meaning that is unrelated to the sorts of things popular usage of the word suggests. It has nothing to do with vampires, werewolves, zombies, and the like -- which, if they existed, would be part of the “natural” order in the relevant sense, rather than supernatural.) "

We are saying "Look, THIS is how tentative and careful we are about coming to conclusions in science…why aren't you taking similar care?"

To be perfectly honest, Vaal - this fails the smell test. What's more, being tentative and careful isn't the crux of New Atheist criticisms at all - otherwise they'd be satisfied with theists who said 'I'm coming to the conclusions I am with the realization I can be wrong, but as it stands these particular explanations seem like the most reasonable ones to me.'

On the flipside, you only have to go as far as EO Wilson fighting with (by now, several decades out of scientific work) Dawkins to show how the 'careful, tentative' thing as a canard.

Again - look at PZ Myers and Jerry Coyne. Neither are tentative in their conclusions. Not even their views about evidence for God, over which they themselves can't find agreement.

Sorry, this one just doesn't wash. It's not the lack of care or being tentative about conclusions that bothers the New Atheists - it's the conclusions themselves. If you don't believe me, go to Jerry Coyne's blog and say that, after reviewing the evidence and arguments, you have tentatively come to believe in God's existence, but you realize you could be wrong and continue to await more information.

Show me the one who congratulates you. In fact, tell me how long until you're banned.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Vaal,

"Look, THIS is how tentative and careful we are about coming to conclusions in science…why aren't you taking similar care?"

Because they are dealing with different kinds fields of inquiry with different levels of probability involved.

You might as well ask why does the historian not take similar care? But I don't see suggesting that the historian is negligent for allowing for the existence of Julius Caesar without scientific testing.

Besides, could not the rationalist keen on deduction ask of the natural scientist, why does he not take as much care as the the rationalist? The natural scientist makes use, after all, of much inductive knowledge, whereas the rationalist limits his use of induction and prefers the certainty of deduction.

Vaal said...

Scott,

"Then again, anyone who accepts science must accept that not all knowledge can seriously be expected to meet this specific and highly context-dependent epistemic standard—in part because if it did have to, there would be no science."

I don't know if you saw much of the "New Atheists" blog post thread where I went into much more detail on that subject.

I have argued from the outset that any epistemology must be pragmatic (given our obvious limitations) and hence, no we WOULDN'T rightly demand every claim or proposition has to meet scientific levels of investigation. That wouldn't be…pragmatic.

Rather, if science is nonetheless represents when we are being MOST careful, our most concerted effort, and our most "epistemologically responsible" in studying empirical claims, then we should be proportioning our confidence with respect to that fact. That we can use a much looser empiricism - which we do daily in deciding what car to buy, where the leak is coming from in the roof, or whether our friend attended the hockey game. But the more a claim departs from our general experience, the more careful we will want to be in accepting such a claim, and hence the more "epistemologically responsible" and "scientific" we are going to want to be about it.

That's why I can accept the claim by my friend that he lives in a house down the block - it's entirely plausible given our experience and presumably there is no other impeding reason to be skeptical. But when he says he drove faster than the speed of light in his car, or resurrected someone from the dead…then
we get more empirically demanding, and science offers the type of standards we should be shooting for. It shows us what it's like when you want to be REALLY careful about how you afford your confidence to a claim.

So there is no self-refuting, collapsing sort of empirical quicksand here, as many erroneously suggest.

(And I've gone into much more detail on this before, as I said)

Vaal

Gotta go for now....

Crude said...

Jeremy,

You might as well ask why does the historian not take similar care? But I don't see suggesting that the historian is negligent for allowing for the existence of Julius Caesar without scientific testing.

I think it gets even worse when you look at how New Atheists themselves typically talk about these topics.

To give one example: Richard Dawkins claims 6.9~ confidence (on a scale of 1-7) that God does not exist. What scientific test or experiment is in play?

Better yet, when asked what evidence could convince him he's wrong, he has severe trouble naming any.

How's that epistemic responsibility working for Dawkins?

Vaal said...

Scott,

Sorry, just meant to add:

What follows is that if scientific knowledge represents the conclusions from our most rigorous, careful empirical inquiry, then it makes no sense to use a LESS rigorous form of inquiry to overturn our MORE rigorously attained knowledge. In other words, the speed of light or the 2nd law of thermodynamics have been vetted by our most careful inquiry. That's why we don't just accept "Joe saw X traveling faster than light last night" or "Ed claims
he saw the 2nd law of thermodynamics violated last night" as warrant for our saying "Yeah, sounds reasonable, science be damned."

Same with historical claims. Yes we can accept provisionally all sorts of historical claims, but once they start violating what we know scientifically about how the world seems to be - e.g. miracle claims - then we ought not use that weaker empirical method to affirm claims that would violate our strongest empirical understanding. Just as it's absurd to say "Well, we can't establish
a perpetual motion machine was possible 2,000 years ago scientifically, we CAN establish it in historical grounds." Same for purported resurrections from the dead. We'd need more contemporary available evidence for such a thing, just as we demand for many other empirical claims.

Vaal

Crude said...

Vaal,

What follows is that if scientific knowledge represents the conclusions from our most rigorous, careful empirical inquiry, then it makes no sense to use a LESS rigorous form of inquiry to overturn our MORE rigorously attained knowledge.

For one thing, it's not clear that science is 'more rigorous' than non-science in all respects. Metaphysics and philosophy deals with some claims *more rigorously* than science can possibly hope to investigate them - often in part because the questions are entirely outside the scope of science to begin with.

Yes we can accept provisionally all sorts of historical claims, but once they start violating what we know scientifically about how the world seems to be - e.g. miracle claims - then we ought not use that weaker empirical method to affirm claims that would violate our strongest empirical understanding.

There's no violation of what we "scientifically know about the world" when it comes to miracles, since miracle talk is automatically *outside* of the bounds of science to begin with. You - and many others - write this kind of claim as if science is "the study of what God can and can't do". It's not, and it never will be. It's a far more narrow method of inquiry, complete not only with limitations, but foundational assumptions. Remove those assumptions or go beyond those limitations, and you're not dealing with science anymore.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Vaal,

What follows is that if scientific knowledge represents the conclusions from our most rigorous, careful empirical inquiry, then it makes no sense to use a LESS rigorous form of inquiry to overturn our MORE rigorously attained knowledge. In other words, the speed of light or the 2nd law of thermodynamics have been vetted by our most careful inquiry. That's why we don't just accept "Joe saw X traveling faster than light last night" or "Ed claims
he saw the 2nd law of thermodynamics violated last night" as warrant for our saying "Yeah, sounds reasonable, science be damned."


Well, that is very much a caricature example of how an intelligent person would investigate a paranormal claim.

But, much more importantly, you are clearly making an apples and oranges comparison. The methods of natural science are used to investigate how nature (it quantifiably measurable and testable side, anyway) usually operates - to discover the laws of nature, to use a common if somewhat questionable phrase. A paranormal claim is not a claim about the normal functioning of nature and will generally not be completely amenable to the methods of natural science. And, of course, natural science, by itself, says nothing about what violates the laws of nature or whether this is possible.


Crude,

I just reskimmed Dawkins's God Delusion and Christopher Hitchens's God is Not Great. I was again struck by how silly these works are. I had only skimmed the philosophy chapter of Dawkin's work before, and that is awful. But so is much of the rest of the work. Dawkins even manages to discuss abortion by assuming the non-religious person must be a utilitarian and must think that a fetus is not a person. And yes, they both seem quite sure of their conclusions - even when patently silly.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Vaal,

Rather, if science is nonetheless represents when we are being MOST careful, our most concerted effort, and our most "epistemologically responsible" in studying empirical claims, then we should be proportioning our confidence with respect to that fact. That we can use a much looser empiricism - which we do daily in deciding what car to buy, where the leak is coming from in the roof, or whether our friend attended the hockey game. But the more a claim departs from our general experience, the more careful we will want to be in accepting such a claim, and hence the more "epistemologically responsible" and "scientific" we are going to want to be about it.

But, again, you are neglecting the differences between different fields of inquiry and their different methodologies, which may have different levels of certainty attached.

Natural science has a specific field of inquiry - that which is quantifiably measurable and testable. Only this field of inquiry is readily amenable to its full methods.

But there are other fields of inquiry. Take historical claims. Not claims about things that violate the usual workings of nature in the past, but just normal historical claims. These claims we can sensibly scientifically test; rather, we use the historical method to come to conclusions, knowledge, about them. This knowledge may often be more tentative than the most firmly established scientific knowledge, but it is considered valid knowledge nonetheless.

Nor does it seem sensible, to me at least, to suggest this historical method is reducible to the scientific method, is somehow able to be cashed out in its terms. Rather, if anything, both methods seem to represent adaptions of basic means of human knowledge to different fields - giving scientific knowledge no privilege or dominance.

Jeremy Taylor said...

- that should have been we cannot sensibly scientifically test historical claims.

Vaal said...

Crude,

I'm afraid you keep missing the point I've been speaking to.

"And that quote is given in context of Feser talking about metaphysical claims, natural theology, and more. This alone should clue you in:"

Of course it's in the context of his metaphysical claims. But didn't you read his full post?
The problem is you can't stay metaphysical all the way to revelation, as something like the purported Resurrection is an EMPIRICAL CLAIM. And such empirical claims sit also in the context of how we vet other empirical claims, and in the context of our background knowledge of the "natural order." If there is no "natural order" to begin with that establishes it is impossible to "naturally" rise from the dead, then a resurrection wouldn't establish the miraculous! It wouldn't establish any necessary supernatural intervention in the natural order, as Prof Feser argues.

That's why, as Prof Feser rightly recognizes in his post, how we establish knowledge of the natural order is also very relevant. Prof Feser's answer is that we can understand what is possible in the natural order by studying it via natural science: "When worked out it entails, on the one hand, that there is a natural order of things that can be known and studied whether or not one affirms the existence of God.  Given just that natural order, certain things are possible and certain things are impossible, and the “laws of nature” revealed by natural science tell us which is which. "

And this is where that particular issue I'm raising comes in. What's the rule, the heuristic, the method, by which we say "ok, THIS is supernatural intervention in the natural order" vs "THIS is something in the natural order that we have been ignorant about."?
How do you tell ignorance of the natural order from miraculous intervention? When do you abandon the road to further natural inquiry? Because once you have DECLARED something a "miracle" that is tantamount to saying, on Prof Feser's account "IMPOSSIBLE
naturalistically." Hence it's a stop sign, a "we don't need to look any further for a naturalistic explanation because there isn't one."

The problem isn't that there is in principle such miracles; the problem is looking at the epistemological consequences if you don't have a good method of deciding "miracle" from "current ignorance"! If you throw in the towel too soon you lose potential knowledge about the natural order. And we need to be especially cautioned about this because there is almost nothing in common experience (e.g wind, rain, earthquakes, disease…) that hasn't at one time or another been attributed to the supernatural - but for which we now have "natural order" explanations via science. Humans clearly have a strong urge to use the supernatural as an "explanation," at the expense of shutting down further inquiry, so it seems we have to be particularly cautious in this regard.

Vaal said...

Michael Behe is just one example to highlight this problem of "when to throw in the towel on natural order explanations and punt to the supernatural (or in Behe's case invoke a "Designer" which, while it can in principle invoke a "natural designer," it's functionally equivalent in terms of stopping potential roads of scientific inquiry via evolution).

Behe's declaring how his "theory" can be falsified has nothing to do with this point.
I can declare confidently that no human can run 1,000 miles per hour unaided. I could also
say it could be falsified by someone showing up and being tested to run 1,000 miles per hour, unaided. But that it can be falsified has little to do with the utter confidence I might proclaim that anyone actually CAN or WILL run 1,000 miles per hour any time soon.
So a falsifiable belief doesn't undermine a very strongly held belief, and it is the STRENGTH of Behe's belief, stated quite unequivocally about the "irreducible complexity" and hence unevolvibility of bacterial flagellum's and immune systems, that is the problem.
If it turns out they are amenable to evolutionary explanation, Behe will be the last to know since he's throw-in the towel. And it turns out there ARE good reasons to think there are potential evolutionary pathways for those biological features.

Which is just one example that speaks to the point of "When drawing inferences about the natural order as to what is possible or impossible, HOW do we draw that line and when, given the consequences of getting it wrong?"

I have wondered what Prof Feser's answer would be, as to how we make this decision. Because it will have significant consequences everywhere, especially scientifically.

Clear enough now, I hope?

Vaal

Ben Dunlap said...

Vaal, do you think:

(a) the Resurrection of Christ, as traditionally understood, could in principle have a natural explanation, OR

(b) the 1st-century accounts of the Resurrection can not be accepted as compelling evidence by a 21st-century truth-seeker, OR

(c) both of the above?

Never been quite clear to me, in reading your comments here, which line of attack you prefer. They seem more or less mutually exclusive to me, at least at this hour and without reflecting on it extensively.

Vaal said...

The same sliding scale is applied to historical claims. There are all sorts of claims from or about historical persons that we can pragmatically believe, because they may explain this or that other set of facts, and the phenomena represented in the claims (e.g. some purported military campaign by J. Caesar) fit comfortably into accepted experience, and do not challenge it.

But if the claim involves something extraordinary, outside of our experience, and which challenges how we think the world seems to operate - e.g. Caesar
rose from the dead - then we should say "Hold on, MORE is hanging on this than just another military conquest…" and we would want to push that scale higher in terms of our demands for verification. If we don't have access to the type of verification "historically" that we'd demand if such a claim were made today, then that claim is out of luck. It may be "true" but it's just the case that we don't have access to a level of certainty a rational person would want to have in order to start revising his current knowledge of what is possible or not.

Think about it: if 12 guys emerged from the forest swearing up and down they'd seen a perpetual motion machine and were willing to die for that belief, that wouldn't matter a wit in terms of the scientific vetting of that claim. It's just not a good enough standard of evidence to upend our understanding of what is possible. Placing those guys in the distant past and saying "well, now it's a historical claim, so we can tentatively accept it with less certainty" is no more rational. There is no reason to accept it with any certainty TODAY and thus no more to accept it if made by a group in the past. In either context, that type of evidence is not the type we'd need to determine it's veracity. Which is why we demand so much more, via science.

That's why I keep saying "historical certainty" (particularly the type that relies on human claims, vs physical evidence) doesn't provide the level of certainty
one ought to desire for establishing the validity of an extraordinary claim.

And this is why, in fact, historians generally DON'T CLAIM to have validated extraordinary claims like resurrections, levitations, sightings of ghosts, etc.
Any decent historian will tell you that is out of their purview. So it's not as if I'm saying anything radical here!

Vaal

Vaal said...

Oh dear, the above post was meant as a second part. Please completely ignore it as I will re-post them in proper order. Sorry.

Vaal

Vaal said...

Jeremy,

"But, again, you are neglecting the differences between different fields of inquiry and their different methodologies, which may have different levels of certainty attached."

No I'm not neglecting that issue: I'm directly addressing it.

That is exactly what I'm saying: different methods will allow for different levels of possible certainty, and that is what we have to weigh when putting them all together in a coherent whole picture of reality. You don't use the method with LESS certainty attached to it (e.g. many types of historical inferences) to overcome the knowledge you've gained with MORE certainty attached to it (e.g. many examples of scientific knowledge).

It's about how careful you want to be with affirming a claim, and when you want to be at your most careful.

Say I order ice cream and I ask if there are any nuts in it. I'm told "no" by the server who handed it to me. Fine, good enough. I have no specific reason to be skeptical OR to be especially cautious. Nothing big really hangs on the truth of her claim, I have better things to do than bring in a team of scientists to dispute her, so it's rational and pragmatic for me to just believe her.

But for my son it's different. He has a peanut allergy. Whereas I could be fine with taking a server's word for there being no peanut contact with the food, my son can not. It's MUCH MORE IMPORTANT for him to be MORE SURE than I need to be, because his life depends on it. And we find we often have to go through several layers of staff, often to looking at packages and how they handle food, to confirm the answer with the confidence we require. (And we've had plenty of experience enforcing how skeptical we need to be that the first person we ask will know what he is talking about).

So that "pragmatic epistemological consideration" that I keep talking about, that sliding scale, will be moved depending on just how much more confident we want to be about a particular claim, how much more sure, which often comes down to what is RIDING on the claim.

This is why we can accept our Neighbor's mere word that he bought a car yesterday. Pragmatic concerns of time and effort suggest we take his word, rather than waste time demanding stricter verification. His claim fits neatly into our everyday experience of such things, and nothing of major concern rides on our being more sure of it. But if our neighbor claims his car goes faster than light, then A LOT MORE HANGS on that claim. Much more is at stake in terms of how it would challenge our worldview and enlarge our understanding of what is possible. And since we would want to be MUCH MORE SURE about such a claim, we will want to put it to appeal to much more strict standards of inquiry - scientific in this case.

Vaal said...

The same sliding scale is applied to historical claims. There are all sorts of claims from or about historical persons that we can pragmatically believe, because they may explain this or that other set of facts, and the phenomena represented in the claims (e.g. some purported military campaign by J. Caesar) fit comfortably into accepted experience, and do not challenge it.

But if the claim involves something extraordinary, outside of our experience, and which challenges how we think the world seems to operate - e.g. Caesar
rose from the dead - then we should say "Hold on, MORE is hanging on this than just another military conquest…" and we would want to push that scale higher in terms of our demands for verification. If we don't have access to the type of verification "historically" that we'd demand if such a claim were made today, then that claim is out of luck. It may be "true" but it's just the case that we don't have access to a level of certainty a rational person would want to have in order to start revising his current knowledge of what is possible or not.

Think about it: if 12 guys emerged from the forest swearing up and down they'd seen a perpetual motion machine and were willing to die for that belief, that wouldn't matter a wit in terms of the scientific vetting of that claim. It's just not a good enough standard of evidence to upend our understanding of what is possible. Placing those guys in the distant past and saying "well, now it's a historical claim, so we can tentatively accept it with less certainty" is no more rational. There is no reason to accept it with any certainty TODAY and thus no more to accept it if made by a group in the past. In either context, that type of evidence is not the type we'd need to determine it's veracity. Which is why we demand so much more, via science.

That's why I keep saying "historical certainty" (particularly the type that relies on human claims, vs physical evidence) doesn't provide the level of certainty
one ought to desire for establishing the validity of an extraordinary claim.

And this is why, in fact, historians generally DON'T CLAIM to have validated extraordinary claims like resurrections, levitations, sightings of ghosts, etc.

Any decent historian will tell you that is out of their purview. So it's not as if I'm saying anything radical here!

Vaal

Mr. Green said...

Vaal: including what I see from Thomism

But you don't see anything from Thomism because you refuse to learn the language. I don't know what you think you see, but you are once again criticising Japanese poetry without speaking Japanese and expecting people to take you seriously.

Experience does not suggest we would expect this Being wants to "help us" [given] random fate and intellectual confusion He regularly allows.

That doesn't make any sense. At least not in Japanese.

undermines the very claim that God has "knowing Him" as the end for human beings

You apparently think that "knowing God" means being able to get top marks on a theology exam. Not even close. Time to learn some Japanese.

You mean, they are not aiming at the decoy you'd prefer they aim at

Since this is something Crude himself believes, it can't be a "decoy". I know this is the Internet and you have to try to get in some zingers, but that one doesn't make sense in Japanese or in English.

New Atheists are completely justified in aiming at religion rather than simply "God,"

They can aim at whatever they like, but saying, "Well, we may be wrong in this big thing but you're wrong in that little thing" is not really the most convincing strategy. If they want to rename themselves the "New Theists" and go around saying, "Hey, we can't quibble with the whole God business, we just want to discuss which religion is best", then I say go for it. Of course (rationally) arguing about which Japanese poems are better than others still requires learning Japanese, so I won't hold my breath.

the difficulties there are, and their character, are certainly not suggestive of a Perfect Designer with the goal of our knowledge of Him.

Nobody "suggested" it. (And nobody used the word "Designer" — and given Ed's well-known antipathy for ID the way you keep bringing up Behe suggests just one more way in which you don't understand what you're arguing against.) If you bothered to find out what the actual claims are that are being referred to here, you'd find they are metaphysically deductive demonstrations, not the grab-bag of approximate arguments against which you are trying to argue.

Mr. Green said...

Vaal: And hence we get ad hoc appeals to "sin" and the like to justify this.

I don't think you understand what "ad hoc appeal" means. (Do you think the Higgs boson is an ad hoc appeal to justify mass?)

it is *precisely* the fact that even mundane natural explanations (e.g. for a drug's efficacy) can be so daunting to confirm, and because the crucible of science burns away so many cherished hypotheses, that many atheists decry the confidence religious have in their dogmas!

Wait, so the whole problem is that atheists are envious of certain religious confidences because they're stuck with "this is more or less the best we can do, at the moment"?? Man, mathematicians must really chafe their knickers.

I think we need modern-science level of vetting such a claim, yes.

Well, um, OK. Find a doctor, describe the relevant conditions of beating and crucifixion, and ask him whether the patient would survive. Don't forget to come back and post the answer.

That is being consistent with the empirical demands we would, and do make, within science, especially for controversial hypotheses.

Who's "we", paleface? Are you saying that you don't believe in the Higgs boson, or that 100% faith counts as an empirical demand for you?

Like I said, historical method must be consistent with science, and recognize when it is not in a position to contradict science

Only if science recognises when it can't contradict history.

Rather, if science is nonetheless represents when we are being MOST careful, our most concerted effort, and our most "epistemologically responsible" in studying empirical claims

Well, it's not. That is just flat-out wrong. What you actually mean is that science is the most "epistemologically responsible" way to do science. Assuming, of course, that you ignore all the mistakes, frauds, wild goose chases, feuds, and other epistemologically sub-optimal behaviour that real scientists engage in. So what you actually actually mean is that science when done well is the epistemologically responsible way to do science. Just as metaphysics done well is the epistemologically responsible way to do metaphysics. And history done well is the epistemologically responsible way to do history. Etc. (Oh, yes, and learning Japanese well is the responsible way to — well, I'm sure you get the idea.)

Vaal said...

Ben Dunlap,

Both.

Though I'd put A more like:

A) the CLAIMS (or beliefs) of a Resurrection of Christ, as traditionally understood, could in principle have a natural explanation,

I don't see how they would be mutually exclusive.
The accounts of 1st century people, and in the specific case of the apostles etc, are not good enough evidence that a resurrection happened or to rule out natural explanations.
It's not even good enough to know with required certainty that their stories would even be the same if we were able to directly question all the relevant witnesses.

These are just some of the tools of inquiry that are lost to the vast gulf of time.

If God chose that way to reveal Himself, it's surely not our fault He did so in a way
that removes our ability to be truly certain it happened.

Vaal

(I'm trying to keep up here, may have missed some people)

Vaal said...

Mr. Green,

Thanks, but I'm afraid I couldn't find much of substance to reply to in a post that was pretty much all invective.

If you want to actually address any of my arguments, rather than simply characterize my posts, be my guest.

I'll wait for a more serious reply.

'night...

Vaal

Vaal said...

Wait, Mr. Green, I just noticed this as it was almost relevant:

"Well, um, OK. Find a doctor, describe the relevant conditions of beating and crucifixion, and ask him whether the patient would survive. Don't forget to come back and post the answer."

Ok,

And here's an assignment for you:

Find a doctor, ask the doctor if someone would survive shooting by an 8 man firing squad, including a coup de gras finishing shot at close range to the head.
Ask the doctor about the odds of surviving. Don't forget to come back and post and answer.

Then you might want to look at the fact someone did in fact survive such an attempted execution, Wenseslao Moguel.

http://listverse.com/2008/12/18/top-10-amazing-execution-survival-stories/

Or show a doctor, or anyone, the collapse of the world trade centre. Then ask, what are the odds someone inside there on the 22nd floor would survive?
What kind of odds do you think people will give? And yet…it happened:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/september-11-attacks/9530013/911-survivor-tells-how-he-surfed-15-floors-down-the-collapsing-tower.html

And then reflect on the fact there are many, many tales of incredible survivals…they proliferate in every war, and happen every year.

Then reflect on the fact there have been quite a number of instances of people being declared dead, who "rose again" afterward (I have provided several examples in the other thread). And that resurrection claims in general are not unknown now (see Sai baba resurrecting people, and other indian God men for whom adherents have claimed their resurrection) or in the distant past.

Then reflect on the problem of whether we ought to rule out "improbable survivals" when vetting claims of rising from the dead.

And get back to me :-)

Vaal

Jeremy Taylor said...

Vaal,

I realise you weren’t responding to me, and you made a separate response to me later, but I just want to comment on some things you said to Crude.
When do you abandon the road to further natural inquiry? Because once you have DECLARED something a "miracle" that is tantamount to saying, on Prof Feser's account "IMPOSSIBLE
naturalistically." Hence it's a stop sign, a "we don't need to look any further for a naturalistic explanation because there isn't one."


But aren’t all knowledge claims some form of a stop sign? I suppose it depends how provisional or certain one’s claim is, but I think you are going to have to establish a difference between naturalistic and non-naturalistic claims beforehand before you can make this particular complaint against allowing for the existence of miracles into a proper point. Otherwise, it is hard to see why you are claiming only paranormal claims are a stop sign in our knowledge, in a negative way.

The problem isn't that there is in principle such miracles; the problem is looking at the epistemological consequences if you don't have a good method of deciding "miracle" from "current ignorance"! If you throw in the towel too soon you lose potential knowledge about the natural order. And we need to be especially cautioned about this because there is almost nothing in common experience (e.g wind, rain, earthquakes, disease…) that hasn't at one time or another been attributed to the supernatural - but for which we now have "natural order" explanations via science. Humans clearly have a strong urge to use the supernatural as an "explanation," at the expense of shutting down further inquiry, so it seems we have to be particularly cautious in this regard.

I think much of this is very questionable. To say we throw in the towel and lose potential knowledge about the natural order requires the distinction you try and make in the rest of the paragraph between naturalistic and non-naturalistic claims; otherwise, it just begs the question

But the argument for that distinction is open to great question, it seems to me. For a start it seems to rely on the implication that natural science has largely explained all of our experience of the world – hence you refer to it explaining what was once considered mysterious. Much could be said about such a claim, on both sides, but I don’t think it is true. There are many anomalies science has not explained and which it often doesn’t even address (Cf. Charles Fort, John Michell, and the like). There are also many aspects of reality which it is at least questionable that science can explain (at least so far as that science is dealing with the naturalistic alone), many of which will be familiar to those discussing the limits of science (those to do with subjective experience and consciousness are probably amongst the most well-known). So, I don’t think the idea that science has explained everything else is quite accurate.

Also, there is the point that a paranormal incident seems to be something different to explaining thunder or rain. If a number of people say they have seen a ghost, that could be prima facie evidence for the paranormal in a way in which thunder and rain are not. I’m not sure the best way to express it, but I think there is a distinction there. Besides, in the case of a paranormal incident, this is not like the normal functioning of nature that natural science usually investigates. It is not necessarily the case, unlike rain and thunder and whatever, that it is amenable to scientific investigation in the same way, and therefore it seems strange to just lump it in with our investigations of natural phenomena.

Jeremy Taylor said...

On Behe and strong convictions:
Firstly, I don’t think naturalists are immune from this. I would argue that the knee-jerk ruling out of the paranormal, even without investigating specific claims properly, is itself allowing one’s beliefs to stop one from a thorough search for truth. I mentioned in a previous thread once seeing a T.V show in a Scottish 4 year old who had the memories, apparently, of a U.S pilot killed in the pacific during the war. They interviewed a psychologist who said something like that science had ruled out the afterlife. That one would be an example. Another example might be your own response to my George Orwell’s ghost sighting, where you dismissed it based on seeing things through glass and momentarily when one turns one’s head, despite, obviously, neither being applicable in the context (glass not being present and Orwell seeing the figure for a number of seconds unlike blurs we might see when we turn our heads).

Secondly, I’m not sure strong convictions do prevent one seeking the truth properly. Chesterton, indeed, wrote an essay about the topic of convictions and impartiality when it came to jurors, which is worth reading (http://www.gutenberg.org/files/11505/11505-h/11505-h.htm#THE_ERROR_OF_IMPARTIALITY. I think that convictions may often fire people to search for knowledge and that, as long as they are not completely closed to what contradicts their beliefs, do strong beliefs and the search for truth conflict. Besides, if others can critique their claims, then there is double reason to think strong beliefs need drown out truth.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Vaal,


You don't use the method with LESS certainty attached to it (e.g. many types of historical inferences) to overcome the knowledge you've gained with MORE certainty attached to it (e.g. many examples of scientific knowledge).

What do you mean by overcome? Natural science does not prove naturalism is correct. It cannot do that. Using other methods to investigate the paranormal does not necessarily overcome scientific knowledge.


So that "pragmatic epistemological consideration" that I keep talking about, that sliding scale, will be moved depending on just how much more confident we want to be about a particular claim, how much more sure, which often comes down to what is RIDING on the claim.

Again, this does not seem to take into account that different kinds of knowledge for different fields of inquiry. If one cannot investigate most paranormal claims as one would investigate something in a scientific experiment in laboratory conditions, then that does not mean one cannot gain knowledge about it.

You might wish to make the argument – and I think you tentatively hint at it – that we cannot allow for the truth of paranormal claims because they would require be so extraordinary that they’d have to have the level of certainty associated with natural science to accept them. But you need a much better argument for this. You don’t really say why such claims must be established with the certainty of science. I’m not talking about revelations and religions necessarily. Yes, I suppose, leaving aside philosophical supports and the like (and like Dr. Feser I don’t think the correct way to argue for a revelation is to start with a miracle claim without prior philosophical support), one might say that one paranormal event is not enough to base a religious belief in unless it can be investigated to the certainty of natural science. But why we cannot assess a specific claim and conclude the evidence points at least tentatively towards it being true, or perhaps only towards it not being dismissible, I don’t see. If I’m investigating a claim of a ghost sighting, why can I never come to the conclusion that even leaves open the possibility it was genuine (ie., suspend judgment) unless it can be known to the certainty of natural science. It seems much more common sense that we can assess specific claims in depth and if the evidence seems to point in the direction of a paranormal investigation, we not have to balk because we cannot scientifically test this or know it with the certainty of natural science. I might even mention that if one investigated many, many accounts, one might be able to say, at least tentatively, something on a broader scale than just a specific incident – and, again, I just don’t see why this must have the methodology and certainty of natural science to be even a possibility – but I’ll leave that discussion aside.

To properly construct an argument in this regard you need to guard strongly against question begging. Such an argument seems to heavily rely on the idea our almost all of our experience is naturalistic and would seem to me to conflict with those who, like Dr. Feser and me, give philosophical grounds for thinking paranormal events likely, at least in some situations.

Historians often let their philosophical presuppositions to determine their views. C.S Lewis refers to this tendency himself – many NT historians think such and such a book must be written after the temple fell, for example, because it seems to predict this. But this presumes there cannot be true predictions. I think the methods of the historian are separable from the biases and opinions of many modern historians.


RD Miksa said...

Dear Vaal,

Just a couple of points:

You said:

”What follows is that if scientific knowledge represents the conclusions from our most rigorous, careful empirical inquiry, then it makes no sense to use a LESS rigorous form of inquiry to overturn our MORE rigorously attained knowledge. In other words, the speed of light or the 2nd law of thermodynamics have been vetted by our most careful inquiry. That's why we don't just accept "Joe saw X traveling faster than light last night" or "Ed claims he saw the 2nd law of thermodynamics violated last night" as warrant for our saying "Yeah, sounds reasonable, science be damned."

And:

Think about it: if 12 guys emerged from the forest swearing up and down they'd seen a perpetual motion machine and were willing to die for that belief, that wouldn't matter a wit in terms of the scientific vetting of that claim. It's just not a good enough standard of evidence to upend our understanding of what is possible. Placing those guys in the distant past and saying "well, now it's a historical claim, so we can tentatively accept it with less certainty" is no more rational. There is no reason to accept it with any certainty TODAY and thus no more to accept it if made by a group in the past. In either context, that type of evidence is not the type we'd need to determine it's veracity. Which is why we demand so much more, via science.

I’m sorry, but this is just incorrect. The fact of the matter is, in the real world, as evidence, ideal testimonial evidence always trumps scientific physical evidence (this is one of the reasons why a coherent confession is the most powerful form of judicial evidence that there is). And there is one simple reason for this fact: science, even ideal science, is by its very nature provisional and is thus, in principle, always susceptible to reasonable doubt. By contrast, ideal eyewitness testimony—meaning completely reliable, credible, multiple, and independent eyewitness testimony—is, in principle, not open to reasonable doubt. And thus, in any head-to-head match-up between ideal scientific evidence and ideal eyewitness evidence, the eyewitness evidence is more powerful.

Continued...

RD Miksa said...

Continued...

First, let me give you a mundane example of this fact that stems from personal experience:

It’s winter-time. We have a situation where a prowler / peeping-tom is moving through the city peering in the windows of different women. One night, at 8:00 pm, a woman is at home, she looks out her window and sees a hooded man with his hands against the window staring back at her in the dark. The man then tries to get the window open. The woman screams. The man runs. The woman then calls the police right away. The police arrive. They find a foot impression in the snow. They find three fingerprints on the window. They find a cigarette-butt a few meters from the window. And they also find a piece of ripped cloth a few meters away from the window as well. The police collect all these. The Forensic Identification Section then does an immediate analysis of the fingerprints and the foot impression. The forensic evidence provides a positive hit to a male that is known to police: he is a Sex Offender, has been arrested for Trespass At Night in the past, and has also been known to commit Break & Enters. All the forensic signs point to this male. As such, police rush out and arrest the male that very night at one of the shelters that he routinely stays at (the shelter is five kilometers from the scene where the peeping-tom incident happened). And upon arresting the male, police discover that the piece of ripped cloth that they found at the scene matches a rip that the male has in his coat. Furthermore, the foot impression from the scene matches the male’s size and boot thread.

However, after arresting the male, police start interviewing witnesses at the shelter. And then a problem arises. Three shelter workers, all of whom know the male in question very well, testify that they not only remember that the male in question was there at 8:00 pm that night, but they distinctly remember it, because 8:00 pm is the nightly check-in time for the shelter and all three shelter workers checked the male into the shelter at that time. They clearly, directly, and distinctly remember this male, whom they know well, being at the shelter at 8:00 pm. In addition, different people attending the shelter also remember standing in line with the male at 8:00 pm, talking to him, etc.

Now, given this testimonial evidence, and given the fact that the woman was certain that the peeping-tom incident happened at 8:00 pm, and further given the fact that there is no physical way that the male could have gotten to the shelter from the scene in that short amount of time, the fact is that no police officer would charge the male in such a case. Why? Because the testimonial evidence overrides the forensic evidence in such a case, even if the forensic evidence and the testimonial evidence seems to be in opposition at this point.

Now the male in question may have been at the scene on another night, say, trying to commit a
Break and Enter, which is how the forensic evidence may have gotten there, but he was definitely not there for the incident in question as the testimonial evidence affirms. And even if it was never discovered that the male was there on another night (perhaps he never admitted to it), the fact is that in this case, the forensic, physical and scientific evidence would be overridden by the testimonial evidence provided even though they seem to contradict each other.

So there we have it: a scenario, which occurs in real-life, where testimony trumps forensic/physical evidence.

Continued...

RD Miksa said...

Continued...

But perhaps such an example is too mundane. Perhaps it does not show that testimonial evidence beats science when it comes to such things as the “laws of nature” and what we regularly see occurring. So then, in light of this additional objection, let’s consider this strange-but-fun thought-experiment:

Say that science tells you that the existence of vampires—blood-sucking denizens of the night that disintegrate when killed—is impossible. You know that this is what science says. Say, furthermore, that one day, you fall into a coma. A year later, you wake up. Immediately upon waking up, you see a news cast that tells you that the “Vampire War” is over. Wondered what the hell is going on, you change the channel. Another news cast tells you that the “Vampire War” is over. Again, you wonder what the hell is going on. So you ask the nurse. She dispassionately tells you that over the last year, people turned into vampires and there was war with them. She adds that though there is absolutely no scientific explanation for how it happened, it nevertheless did. Next, the doctor tells you the same thing. Then, after being released from the hospital, five random strangers on the bus tell you the same thing. And a police officer does as well. Then you see a story in a newspaper that tells you the same. And so on and so forth as you make your way home.

Now remember, because vampires disintegrate at death and because they do not appear on video or film, the only evidence that you have for their existence is testimonial evidence. So here you have a head-to-head confrontation between science (vampires cannot exist) and testimony (vampires did exist). What is the rational course of action to take? I contend that it is obvious that we would believe the testimony over the scientific evidence. In fact, I don’t even think that we would need to talk to 12 people before we would be rational in believing that vampires did exist.

And why is this the rational course of action? Because, as stated earlier, science, by its very nature, is provisional and thus always susceptible to reasonable doubt. And therefore, science may very well have been wrong about the possible existence of vampires; indeed, it would not be unreasonable to believe that science was wrong in this case. By contrast, ideal testimony—such as would be had in the case above—is beyond a reasonable doubt, and thus is stronger in terms of its evidentiary value than science is. And indeed, it would be unreasonable to disbelieve this amount of testimonial evidence. So again, in terms of evidentiary weight, ideal testimony always trumps ideal science. Now I readily admit that for certain claims more testimonial evidence is needed, but my point is just that, ultimately, claims supported by ideal testimony always trump claims supported by ideal science.

Take care,

RD Miksa
www.idontgiveadamnapologetics.blogspot.com

RD Miksa said...

Dear Vaal,

One more point:

You said:

But if the claim involves something extraordinary, outside of our experience, and which challenges how we think the world seems to be … we would want to push that scale higher in terms of our demands for verification. If we don't have access to the type of verification "historically" that we'd demand if such a claim were made today, then that claim is out of luck. It may be "true" but it's just the case that we don't have access to a level of certainty a rational person would want to have in order to start revising his current knowledge of what is possible or not.

And I hope you realize that you have just given us the very ammunition we need to reject naturalism and all its attachments, such as Blind-Watchmaker Darwinism. After all, naturalism requires that abiogenesis (life from non-life) occurred, and yet all our experience tells us that life only comes from life. And naturalism tells us that consciousness emerged from unconscious matter, and yet all our experience tells us that conscious material entities only arise from other, already conscious material entities. And Darwinism tells us that macro-evolution occurs, and yet all our experience shows us that species remain essentially fixed and that such things as dogs—for a crude example—do not become cats, or elephants, or monkeys.

And given that the naturalistic answers to these problems fall into the categories of either 1) we don’t know, or 2) mysterious forces, or 3) just-so stories and wild inferences, then clearly it is not rational for me to revise my beliefs concerning the obvious impossibility of naturalism’s extraordinary claims.

Now, if you wish to have a full treatment of this type of reasoning against naturalism, see my paper “Hume and the Argument Against Naturalism’s Miracle Claims” located here: http://www.idontgiveadamnapologetics.blogspot.ca/2014/04/essay-hume-argument-against-naturalisms.html.

Take care,

RD Miksa
www.idontgiveadamnapologetics.blogspot.com

Crude said...

Vaal,

Because once you have DECLARED something a "miracle" that is tantamount to saying, on Prof Feser's account "IMPOSSIBLE
naturalistically." Hence it's a stop sign, a "we don't need to look any further for a naturalistic explanation because there isn't one."


Actually, what Ed seems to be saying about the resurrection is that it's impossible for anyone but God, /given the metaphysical background he is working with/. That metaphysical background is essential. Hence: "It is, on the Scholastic analysis, metaphysically impossible for a human soul to be reincarnated in the body of another human being, much less a non-human animal."

As for stop signs, you need to recognize this: any given conclusion about a topic is a stop sign. Pretty obvious, given it's called 'conclusion'. If you reply 'But in science a conclusion is tentative, it may be overturned in the future given new data or arguments!' But so too can a conclusion about a miracle be, so what's the problem?

Likewise, miracles are not simply 'declared'. They're investigated, considered in light of the evidence and our understanding of the world, and then we reach a conclusion. This is precisely what Jerry Coyne insists people should do - what he differs on is his requested content. He's waiting around for 900 foot tall super-Christs to walk around in Chicago. Just as the Bible said there should be, no doubt.

The problem isn't that there is in principle such miracles; the problem is looking at the epistemological consequences if you don't have a good method of deciding "miracle" from "current ignorance"!

Considering Ed laid out a whole lot of considerations under which to consider miracles, and considering people in general tend to do that - again, there's no problem here. Are you really arguing that the big flaw here is that people think that a man rising from the dead is right now reasonable to infer as the work of a God, and they should instead be holding out for /natural/ resurrection explanations?

And we need to be especially cautioned about this because there is almost nothing in common experience (e.g wind, rain, earthquakes, disease…) that hasn't at one time or another been attributed to the supernatural

Common claim, but absolute bull on inspection. What those tended to be were not 'supernatural explanations' but 'strange natural explanations'. I'd say that, outside the specific technical way Ed is talking, the supernatural/natural divide doesn't even exist, and never really has.

Crude said...

Michael Behe is just one example to highlight this problem of "when to throw in the towel on natural order explanations and punt to the supernatural (or in Behe's case invoke a "Designer" which, while it can in principle invoke a "natural designer," it's functionally equivalent in terms of stopping potential roads of scientific inquiry via evolution).

Behe explicitly makes an inference based on current data that he more than once says is open to falsification and is by no means guaranteed. What in the heck do you want from him, Vaal? Why is it that every other scientist on just about any other topic can come to a tentative conclusion and it's okay, but holy hell, when Behe does it the whole scientific system is in danger of collapse?

And in Behe's case he even expressly says that the designer, /by scientific inquiry alone/, can't even be judged to be supernatural - so it's not even a 'supernatural' problem.

I could also say it could be falsified by someone showing up and being tested to run 1,000 miles per hour, unaided. But that it can be falsified has little to do with the utter confidence I might proclaim that anyone actually CAN or WILL run 1,000 miles per hour any time soon.

...Are you really telling me that declaring that 'humans cannot run 1000 miles per hour unaided' is some kind of crazy claim that we shouldn't make because it closes off inquiry?

So a falsifiable belief doesn't undermine a very strongly held belief, and it is the STRENGTH of Behe's belief, stated quite unequivocally about the "irreducible complexity" and hence unevolvibility of bacterial flagellum's and immune systems, that is the problem.

Oh wait, no, it's strongly believing humans cannot run 1000mph unaided that's the problem?

And at this point, Vaal - your argument against Behe reduces to psychoanalysis. Worse, psychoanalysis of a version that you A) have no good evidence of, given Behe's replies, and B) which your own New Atheist advocates are *expressly* guilty of. Hence Richard 'Evolution is a fact not a theory' Dawkins and his 6.999~/7 confidence in atheism. Hence PZ 'There can be no evidence for God' Myers. Hence all the rest.

Clear enough now, I hope?

Er...

Glenn said...

Vaal,

A preface:

I once heard a talk given by a recovered alcoholic. His drinking had been so bad, he said, that he had frequently hallucinated. And his hallucinatory experience was such that normal, everyday activities sometimes became perilous affairs. One example he gave had to do with his being a pedestrian.

He'd get very nervous when wanting to cross the street at a busy intersection. He knew it was safe to cross the street when the light was green, sure. But given his propensity to hallucinate, he hadn't much confidence that a light he saw as red was actually red, or that a light he saw as green was actually green. And he knew that if he saw a green light, but was hallucinating and the light actually was red, he might wind up as road kill if he attempted to cross the street.

But then – aha! -- he came up with a solution.

He would wait at the busy intersection until a number of other pedestrians showed up, and when they started to cross the street, he'd cross with them. His reasoning was that the majority of the other pedestrians who showed up were unlikely to be hallucinating alcoholics such as he himself was, and their starting to cross the street would serve as a reliable indicator that the light really was green, and, therefore, it would be safe for him to cross the street with them.

He was proud of his ingenuity. "I may be an alcoholic, but I'm a resourceful alcoholic."

But then he remembered that he had a propensity to hallucinate. And, given his propensity to hallucinate, how could he be sure the other pedestrians were really there? If he saw other pedestrians starting to cross the street, but was hallucinating and there really were no other pedestrians present, he might wind up as road kill if he attempted to cross the street along with the figments of his imagination.

So much for the preface.

Here's one list of the cognitive biases endemic to human reasoning: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_cognitive_biases

Before any list of cognitive biases is given, a 'definition' of "cognitive biases" is given. And the 'definition' of "cognitive bias given is as follows:

"Cognitive biases are tendencies to think in certain ways."

I find it interesting that -- not unlike that recovered alcoholic who, when he was an alcoholic yet to recover, thought he could overcome his perceptual hallucinations by relying on his perceptions -- you carry on as if the way to overcome "the cognitive biases endemic to human reasoning" is to develop tendencies to think in certain ways.

dguller said...

Jeremy:

I do not think the first horn of your dilemma is correct. I do not see that having the possibility of separate manifestation means there is a distinction in the One itself, not a real distinction anyway. It is only outside the divine essence that there is any separation. The distinctions in the essence are only virtual, from our point of view - just as the distinction between the transcendentals is only from our point of view.

I was responding to Lucas’ point that if X is absolutely simple, then X must lack any distinction of any kind, including a virtual distinction. The point is that absolute simplicity only prohibits certain kinds of distinctions, i.e. those that involve potency of some kind, but it is perfectly consistent with other kinds of distinction that do not involve potency of any kind, including virtual distinctions.

Personally, I don’t understand what a virtual distinction is supposed to be. It seems to be something in between a logical distinction and a real distinction, but since those two distinctions are mutually exclusive, I don’t see where a virtual distinction would fit. A logical distinction is a distinction that only exists in the mind, and does not also correspond to reality, whereas a real distinction is one that exists in the mind, and also corresponds to reality. So, either a distinction in the mind corresponds to reality (i.e. is a real distinction) or does not correspond to reality (i.e. is a logical distinction). Where does a virtual distinction fit into this schema?

dguller said...

Glenn:

I think the important point about cognitive biases is that they occur automatically and often outside of our awareness. Usually, that is not a problem, but under certain circumstances, they can be highly misleading and direct us towards falsehood. It is important to be aware of our biases, when they can lead us astray, and how to correct for them when necessary.

Glenn said...

dguller,

Yes, that is true. At the same time, it is nothing new.

Man's endeavor to overcome, get around or compensate for his less than perfect use of thought, as well as his pursuit of 'right thinking' has been going on for thousands of years.

That humans are and always have been error-prone doesn't magically become a new and profound insight simply because modern-day people have seen fit to crank out a new term ("cognitive biases").

And that humans are error-prone (i.e., 'suffer' from cognitive biases), is not a reason sufficient unto itself for dismissing claims or postulations one happens not to agree with.

Scott said...

@Vaal:

"I have argued from the outset that any epistemology must be pragmatic (given our obvious limitations) and hence, no we WOULDN'T rightly demand every claim or proposition has to meet scientific levels of investigation. [...] So there is no self-refuting, collapsing sort of empirical quicksand here, as many erroneously suggest."

I'm afraid that's not going to cut it.

It's not just a matter of pragmatically accepting the plausible "claim by my friend that he lives in a house down the block." It's also a matter of accepting claims like (to choose a few more or less silly examples at random) The laboratory remained in existence during the entire experiment, The experimenter was accurately and truthfully reporting the reading on the oscilloscope, The materials being tested will behave the same way outside the test apparatus as they do in it, and The test drug we gave Group A didn't spontaneously mutate into, or get replaced by, something else when we weren't looking. (And, arguably more seriously, The results of the experiment are in some way due to the natures of the substances being tested and even No miracle intervened.)

You may say these claims are not extraordinary, but there are metaphysical outlooks according to which at least some of them are, or should be, very extraordinary indeed. It's only by implicitly ruling out such metaphysics, and implicitly relying on something like Aristotle's and Aquinas's, that you can make the claims you make about epistemological rigor and still adopt a "pragmatic" attitude toward certain propositions that appear more "plausible."

The point is that you can't even do an experiment without a whole host of assumptions of this nature, and in consequence, the results of the experiment are in the end no more reliable than such assumptions. It would indeed be self-undermining to claim that Science® provides reliable, epistemically responsible results even though (e.g.) metaphysics, eyewitness testimony, and common sense don't, or even might not.

In order to tell when a claim is "extraordinary," you have to rely, implicitly or explicitly, on some understanding of what an ordinary claim is. And you won't settle that by experiment.

dguller said...

Glenn:

And that humans are error-prone (i.e., 'suffer' from cognitive biases), is not a reason sufficient unto itself for dismissing claims or postulations one happens not to agree with.

True. In fact, that is yet another cognitive bias, i.e. that we overly scrutinize claims that disagree with our beliefs than our beliefs themselves.

The question is what to do when one becomes aware of this bias. The solution is to examine one’s own beliefs and the beliefs of others according to the same evidentiary standard in order to maximize fairness. However, there are a number of possible ways of doing this, and which is chosen will depend upon the situation that one finds oneself in.

If one is using lower evidentiary standards S1 for one’s own beliefs and is using higher evidentiary standards S2 for the beliefs of others, then one can (a) use S1 for one’s beliefs and the beliefs of others, (b) use S2 for one’s beliefs and the beliefs of others, or (c) use an evidentiary standard S that is between S1 and S2 for one’s beliefs and the beliefs of others.

Regardless of whether one chooses to use (a), (b) or (c), the very fact that one consciously must make this decision will make the subsequent investigation much more honest and fair by not implicitly distorting the inquiry itself in favor of one’s own beliefs. And that would also apply to the other cognitive biases, as well, because once one has been made aware of their existence, then one must come to terms with them in some way, ideally by minimizing their influence as much as possible.

Matt Sheean said...

piggybacking on Scott...

It also seems clear enough from Vaal's quote provided by Scott that it is all but explicitly stated that the kind of knowledge that we must accept pragmatically without scientific investigation is a sort of necessary evil. If we could subject it to ideal scientific conditions we would, but since it would not be feasible to do so we must make do.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Vaal,

I forget to say something of importance on historical knowledge.

Now you have tried to draw a distinction between historical knowledge that is used to support claims consistent with the normal workings of nature and claims not so consistent. However, I think this misses an important point.

That point is that historical knowledge - and I mean normal knowledge with no hint of the paranormal involved - is an example of a kind of knowledge generally and reasonably accepted without using the methods of natural science. What is more, historical knowledge, as a body, includes knowledge that is often quite a lot less certain than the best scientific knowledge. As someone with qualifications in history, I will say that there are great debates in historiography. Some stress the need for careful, independent of prior narrative or philosophy as possible (so called scientific history, most notably associated with Ranke), whereas other stress that facts cannot exist independent of narrative and philosophical interpretation (the view of those who stress a philosophy of history from Hegel to Toynbee to the post-modernists). And there are differences in what historians or historiographers think qualifies as legitimate historical knowledge, how far speculation is allowed to run. But what is true is that acceptable historical scholarship does include much that is not known with significantly less certainty than something known through scientific laboratory testing.

Now you are trying to argue, or hinting at it, that paranormal claims are so extraordinary they require the certainty of natural science's methods. But if these methods are not amenable, in general, to investigating the paranormal, then, seeing as we do allow other methods and levels of certainty to be accepted as knowledge in their own way, why can't we get knowledge of the paranormal in other ways. I don't think you have successfully made the case that paranormal claims require the methods and certainty of natural science or must be dismissed out of hand.

Jeremy Taylor said...

- that should have "Some stress the need for careful for investigation of facts"

Jeremy Taylor said...

Dguller,

Okay, I missed the proper context.

You are clearly using Scholastic terminology about distinctions and I'm not sure how the Platonic perspective fits in.

Glenn said...

dguller,

> The solution is to examine one’s own beliefs and the beliefs of others according to the same evidentiary standard in order to maximize fairness.

By definition, your solution entails being cognitively biased. IOW, your solution entails switching one or more "cognitive biases" for one or more other "cognitive biases".

But if "fairness" is to be "maximized", then perhaps the thing to do would be to have a disinterested third party do the examining, so as to, you know, avoid the examination being colored by some as yet unnoticed or undiscovered cognitive biases on your part, or the part of your counterpart.

Of course, that so-called disinterested third-party would have to be guided by standards of one kind or another (unless you wouldn't mind a capricious judgment of your beliefs being rendered).

This means that that disinterested third-party would end up tending to think in certain ways.

And this means that that disinterested third-party, charged with examining your beliefs, as well as those of your counterpart, would necessarily conduct his examination of your beliefs and your counterparts' beliefs while under the influence of -- guess what? -- cognitive biases.

dguller said...

Glenn:

And this means that that disinterested third-party, charged with examining your beliefs, as well as those of your counterpart, would necessarily conduct his examination of your beliefs and your counterparts' beliefs while under the influence of -- guess what? -- cognitive biases.

That is why cognitive biases can never be eliminated, but only minimized. So, either we act in such a way to minimize their distorting influence in our investigations, or we do not. I think that the former would have a higher chance of successfully discovering the truth than the latter, just as minimizing the distorting factors of a telescope would improve its accuracy and reliability. I presume that you would agree, but then again, that may just be a cognitive bias of mine. ;)

Scott said...

@Jeremy Taylor:

"[H]istorical knowledge - and I mean normal knowledge with no hint of the paranormal involved - is an example of a kind of knowledge generally and reasonably accepted without using the methods of natural science."

For example, that Michelson and Morley performed an experiment in 1887 that supported a then-extraordinary claim.

Arthur said...

Just to chime in...

If Vaal is suggesting that Science is the most reliable knowledge we have, that cannot be correct.

Science depends on other kinds of knowledge (mathematics being and obvious example), and, just as a conclusion cannot be more certain than its own premises, Science cannot be more certain than its own foundations.

If Science is rational, its foundations must be yet more rational.

Jeremy Taylor said...

To be fair to Vaal, I don't think he is saying - at least not any more - that natural science is superior to rational knowledge, necessarily.

I think he is only referring to natural science as being the most certain form of what we might call empirical knowledge.



Matt Sheean said...

dguller,

It seems to me that we could have two people with roughly the same beliefs about the world (and we'll assume that the beliefs are pretty reasonable beliefs to have, in the abstract). In one, however, the beliefs are the result of "cognitive bias", but the other has come by their beliefs through a lot of hard work and concern to minimize the biases. Though their routes were different, they both came to the same destination, more or less. Would we say that the one who's beliefs are the result of prior biases doesn't after all have reasonable beliefs, or would we say that some biases are, after all, good or reasonable biases (or more likely to produce true beliefs about the world than other biases)? I'm inclined to think that some biases are good sorts of biases to have, and that some such biases might actually be come to through proper habits of thought.

Glenn said...

dguller,

> That is why cognitive biases can never be eliminated, but only minimized.

I agree.

> So, either we act in such a way to minimize their distorting influence in our investigations, or we do not.

Again, I agree.

> I think that the former would have a higher chance of successfully discovering the truth than the latter, just as minimizing the distorting factors of a telescope would improve its accuracy and reliability.

It depends. Sometimes others can see us better than we see ourselves, and sometimes we’re privy to relevant things within ourselves which are not available for others to take into consideration.

> I presume that you would agree, but then again, that may just be a cognitive bias of mine. ;)

Since I I have half agreed, and half disagreed (“It depends”), your cognitive bias has only led you half astray. This time. ;)

Glenn said...

Btw, how is it that the expert testimony of a psychiatrist in a court of law tends to favor the prosecution's case when that psychiatrist is a prosecution witness, and tends to favor the defense's case when that psychiatrist is a defense witness?

dguller said...

Jeremy:

Now you are trying to argue, or hinting at it, that paranormal claims are so extraordinary they require the certainty of natural science's methods. But if these methods are not amenable, in general, to investigating the paranormal, then, seeing as we do allow other methods and levels of certainty to be accepted as knowledge in their own way, why can't we get knowledge of the paranormal in other ways. I don't think you have successfully made the case that paranormal claims require the methods and certainty of natural science or must be dismissed out of hand.

But you have mentioned in the past that the evidence for a paranormal claim would be virtually identical to scientific evidence, but with the exception that it would be non-replicable and non-quantifiable (to some extent). Since the replicable and quantifiable nature of scientific evidence is precisely what increases its reliability, the fact that these factors are absent from paranormal investigations has the unfortunate result that the latter are less certain than the former. The same goes for historical investigations, i.e. they are less certain than scientific investigations, because there is no way to repeat a historical event in the present moment. In other words, the more one is able to repeat a phenomenon in the present for further study, the more certainty one can have in the results of that study.

Now, that would leave evidence such as the testimony of witnesses and physical evidence of some kind. Even if those kinds of evidence are neither replicable nor quantifiable, it still remains true that one must somehow control for distorting factors that would make both the eyewitness testimony and the physical evidence unreliable in this context. In historical study, one looks for independent witnesses, corroboration of testimony with physical evidence, and so on. The reason why one must do so is because eyewitness testimony, for example, can be highly inaccurate on the basis of misperception, misinterpretation and misremembering. There is also the possibility of transmission errors in the documentary record. So, a scholar must take these possibilities into consideration, and minimize their presence, or eliminate them altogether, if possible, in order to increase the likelihood that the result of their inquiry corresponds to the truth.

With regards to paranormal claims, one would have to possess a methodology that would rule out distortions in the eyewitness testimony on the basis of misperception, misinterpretation, and misremembering, as well as outright fraud and deception, which could be done by recording the testimony of multiple and independent eyewitnesses as soon as possible after the event in question. One would also have to rule out natural explanations of the alleged paranormal phenomenon, which would have to include the possibility of a highly unlikely and random confluence of natural events. In fact, the investigation turns out to look like a standard scientific investigation, with the exception of being non-replicable, and possibly non-quantifiable.

dguller said...

Glenn:

It depends. Sometimes others can see us better than we see ourselves, and sometimes we’re privy to relevant things within ourselves which are not available for others to take into consideration.

Exactly. It depends upon the circumstances. Sometimes we should use lower evidentiary standards, and sometimes we should use higher evidentiary standards. But it is never permissible to use different standards for the same question, because that would inherently distort our findings, and thus be fundamentally dishonest and unfair.

Btw, how is it that the expert testimony of a psychiatrist in a court of law tends to favor the prosecution's case when that psychiatrist is a prosecution witness, and tends to favor the defense's case when that psychiatrist is a defense witness?

Because of the well-known cognitive bias of “money talks”.

George LeSauvage said...

@Vaal:

Sorry to pile on, but there are several problems with your case.

1. As Scott points out, your position entails several bases, all of which are philosophically debatable. E.g., your advocacy of "pragmatic" epistemology, your naturalism, and your view that science is, in itself, the best possible approach to these questions. All are precisely the kinds of thing addressed, normally, in this blog (and anywhere else that metaphysics or natural theology is discussed), but which discussion you have several times - in other threads - objected to as somehow irrelevant. How can they be irrelevant when they are at the very basis of the disagreement.

2. Crude has clearly hit the nail on the head on one point, that your arguments do not support atheism at all, but are only efforts at refuting Christianity. Nothing you have said would bother any member of any other religion. Your response, "You mean, they are not aiming at the decoy you'd prefer they aim at ;-)

New Atheists are completely justified in aiming at religion rather than simply "God," as it is the dogma, scriptures, and revelations around which most believers organize their lives and predicate their actions, (especially in the Abrahamic Religions).
is clearly irrelevant to his point. It is no better than saying "Phlogistons and the ether were proven false, therefore all science is false."

Remember, Ed Feser is a philosophy professor; natural theology is one of his specialties. And natural theology is precisely what you haven't touched at all.

3. You seem to have a problem with distinguishing explanans and explanandum. 2 examples:

a. In exchange with Crude, you have repeatedly ignored his point that rejecting natural selection, as a full & adequate explanation of how evolution happens, is not to reject evolution itself.

It is amazing how often this error is made, even by real professional scientists. E.g., I've seen it offered (by Pinker) that examples of evidence which would falsify natural selection would include fossils of rabbits found with those of trilobites, and TV sets found on the moon. Obviously, neither would do so.

b. Again, you reject the Fall, and sin, as explanations why we don't have unanimity here. But you must distinguish 2 senses in which those words are used. In one sense - that of the Biblical account of Adam and Eve - yes, that would be an appeal to evidence you reject, and not germane.

But in another sense, the words are commonly meant only as referring to the effects Christians attribute to the Fall. While the word "sin" is somewhat out of fashion among non-religious people, the concept is not.

Now the fundamental point is hard to dispute - man is very imperfect, intellectually and morally. Your own arguments show you do believe that intellectually at least, man is very fallible. What Christianity attributes to the Fall, you seem attribute to bias, superstition, poor reasoning, and the like. But you are so attributing. And it is that datum, and not the theory of its origin, which people mean when using sin or the Fall as expanations.

George LeSauvage said...

@dguller:

While I mostly agree with you about cognitive bias, there is one problem here. Some of what is so called is simply the perfectly rational tendency to accept that which fits into our existing knowledge and beliefs about the world, and to be skeptical about that which doesn't. And that is itself and important part of rational thought.

Given the limits of individual knowledge, it's hard to see how to get around that. The best we can do is constant give-and-take of ideas.

@Jeremy Taylor:

Good points about history. But I don't think Ranke (or any 19th C historian I know of) went far enough. They all thought an overriding theory of history, or at least, grand theories of certain eras or patterns, could be discerned, analogous to scientific theories derived from experiment.

The trouble is that all such theories do, in fact, end up being Procrustean in handling the facts. Marxism is the most obvious example, but there are plenty of others. Burkhardt's notion of "The Renaissance" is another case.

RD Miksa said...

Dear dguller,

You said:

But you have mentioned in the past that the evidence for a paranormal claim would be virtually identical to scientific evidence, but with the exception that it would be non-replicable and non-quantifiable (to some extent). Since the replicable and quantifiable nature of scientific evidence is precisely what increases its reliability, the fact that these factors are absent from paranormal investigations has the unfortunate result that the latter are less certain than the former. The same goes for historical investigations, i.e. they are less certain than scientific investigations, because there is no way to repeat a historical event in the present moment. In other words, the more one is able to repeat a phenomenon in the present for further study, the more certainty one can have in the results of that study.

First, I would refer you to the comments I made above (twenty or so comments before this one) to see why your claim here is mistaken. Ideal testimonial evidence always trumps ideal scientific evidence.

Second, just consider this: My wife had fruit for breakfast this morning. That is a historical fact. And I am more certain of this historical truth that she had fruit this morning for breakfast than I am of any scientific theory currently on offer. And I am rational to take this stance. Furthermore, there are countless historical truths of which I am more certain than any fact of science. For example, that George Bush was President, that World War 2 happened, that Albert Einstein existed, etc. The fact is, historical investigations, based on eyewitness testimony, are, if ideal, more certain than scientific facts, for science, being provisional, is, in principle, always susceptible to reasonable doubt, whereas ideal eyewitness testimony is not.

The question, therefore, is not whether, ultimately, testimonial evidence is better evidence than scientific evidence, because it is. The question is how much testimonial evidence is needed to override what science tells us.

Take care,

RD Miksa
www.idontgiveadamnapologetics.blogspot.com

dguller said...

Matt:

Would we say that the one who's beliefs are the result of prior biases doesn't after all have reasonable beliefs, or would we say that some biases are, after all, good or reasonable biases (or more likely to produce true beliefs about the world than other biases)? I'm inclined to think that some biases are good sorts of biases to have, and that some such biases might actually be come to through proper habits of thought.

I think that there is an ambiguity to “reasonable” here. It may be reasonable to use a heuristic bias, if there is a limited amount of time to make a decision, compared to a more time-consuming process. In this case, it would be pragmatically useful, and thus reasonable from a practical standpoint. However, if there is sufficient time, then a more consciously thorough process of inquiry would be more reasonable. In this case, it would be more rationally defensible in the sense of being based upon more firm evidence. So, I think that it would depend upon the scenario, and what one means by “reasonable”.

Glenn said...

dguller,

Exactly. It depends upon the circumstances. Sometimes we should use lower evidentiary standards, and sometimes we should use higher evidentiary standards. But it is never permissible to use different standards for the same question, because that would inherently distort our findings, and thus be fundamentally dishonest and unfair.

Re "same question":

Suppose two people ask to borrow $100 from me for two weeks. Person A is known to always make good on his debts in a timely manner, and person B is known to rarely make good on his debts. According to the first half of your response, my answer to the two would-be borrowers' requests would rightly depend on the circumstances, so that it would be fine for me to say “Yes” to person A, and “No” to person B. But according to the second half or your response, it would be unfair of me to do just that.

Re "evidentiary standards":

Suppose a person who professes some particular belief, yet repeatedly acts in a manner discordant with his stated belief. One observer, noticing the lack of harmony between the stated belief and the actual behavior, might conclude that the person’s true belief is contrary to his stated belief, and consistent with his actual behavior. Another observer, noting the same lack of harmony, might conclude that that person is bedeviled by akrasia. What set of evidentiary standards would reliably enable one to correctly work out which of the two conclusions is closer to the truth of the matter?

dguller said...

RD:

Ideal testimonial evidence always trumps ideal scientific evidence.

First, you are assuming that testimonial evidence is not “scientific”. I think that what you mean is that ideal eyewitness testimony is better than ideal objective tests using scientific instruments. And even those objective tests would have to be read and interpreted by some technician, and thus some testimony would be involved even here.

Second, I would revise your above construal in just one minor detail. Ideal testimonial evidence would be equivalent to ideal scientific evidence. If they are both truly ideal, then they would not diverge at all, but would rather converge to the same conclusion. If there is a divergence, then they are not both ideal, and in that situation, the more ideal evidence would trump the less ideal evidence.

That is a historical fact. And I am more certain of this historical truth that she had fruit this morning for breakfast than I am of any scientific theory currently on offer.

The question is not whether you are more certain, but whether you should be more certain.

First, you would have to ask why you believe that your wife had breakfast this morning. Did you observe her eating breakfast? Did you observe her making breakfast, but not actually eating it? Did you see her sitting at the breakfast table beside an empty plate? Did you smell food on her breath when you kissed her goodbye? Did she tell you she ate breakfast, even though you did not actually witness it? All of the above had different degrees of reliability with respect to the conclusion that she ate breakfast.

Second, I think that you would agree that the more distant in time the testimony, the more unreliable it becomes, because of the numerous opportunities for distortion from the event in question to the current recollection of the event. So, even if you are correct regarding current events, when we are talking about ancient events, then a high degree of skepticism is warranted, especially for extraordinary claims, such as miracles. To demonstrate a miracle, one must first cross a high threshold of ruling out natural explanations. This is what the Catholic church actually practices, and so this is no unfair standard of mine. The fact that we simply cannot rule out alternative natural explanations of alleged miracles in the ancient world because of the inherently fragmentary nature of the historical record means that we cannot determine whether a miracle actually occurred in the past or not.

The fact is, historical investigations, based on eyewitness testimony, are, if ideal, more certain than scientific facts, for science, being provisional, is, in principle, always susceptible to reasonable doubt, whereas ideal eyewitness testimony is not.

Eyewitness testimony is not the issue per se, because as I mentioned above, eyewitness testimony is an inherent and essential part of scientific inquiry. The issue is the quality of the eyewitness testimony, as well as the degree to which it is corroborated by other independent eyewitness testimony, as well as physical evidence. So, with regards to George W. Bush being president, or Albert Einstein existing, not only are there hundreds of independent eyewitnesses available, many of which are still alive, as well as reams of physical evidence, i.e. photographs, videos, signed documents, and so on, this would not just be a matter of excellent eyewitness testimony, but also its strong corroboration by physical evidence. If thousands of people said that George W. Bush was present, but there was no physical evidence at all, then that would be highly suspicious.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Dguller,

But you have mentioned in the past that the evidence for a paranormal claim would be virtually identical to scientific evidence, but with the exception that it would be non-replicable and non-quantifiable (to some extent).

Well, I'm not quite sure what you mean by virtually identical, but on my best reading of this sentence I don't think I have said this. I have expressed belief in many different fields and methods of study.

Since the replicable and quantifiable nature of scientific evidence is precisely what increases its reliability, the fact that these factors are absent from paranormal investigations has the unfortunate result that the latter are less certain than the former. The same goes for historical investigations, i.e. they are less certain than scientific investigations, because there is no way to repeat a historical event in the present moment. In other words, the more one is able to repeat a phenomenon in the present for further study, the more certainty one can have in the results of that study.

Well, I think it must be borne in mind that there may be distinctions within these broader methodologies we are marking out: not every area of natural science is investigated exactly the same way. And I'm not sure (and I don't have a proper argument on the point) but I'm not quite willing to say it is definitely correct that natural science is always, when done properly, more certain than historical and other varieties of empirical knowledge. But I'm willing to grant this for the sake of argument. I don't think it takes away from my argument.

As for the rest of your post, I largely agree. I don't though see much problematic in it for my position.

Glenn said...

Vaal,

Mr. Green,

Thanks, but I'm afraid I couldn't find much of substance to reply to in a post that was pretty much all invective.


Well, thank goodness Mr. Green exercised some restraint, and didn't go all out by saying that people who refuse to learn Japanese before criticizing it often find themselves lost in a rabbit hole. ;)

dguller said...

Jeremy:

Well, I'm not quite sure what you mean by virtually identical, but on my best reading of this sentence I don't think I have said this. I have expressed belief in many different fields and methods of study.

What I meant was that they would involve a combination of eyewitness testimony and physical evidence of some kind. The only difference is that the events in question would not be replicable, and would probably not be quantifiable (to some extent). That seems pretty consistent with that you have been saying all along, but I’m open to being corrected with regards to how your investigation differs from what I just described.

As for the rest of your post, I largely agree.

Great.

I don't though see much problematic in it for my position.

First, say that you have an event E, and E appears to be supernatural or miraculous. E could be due to (a) a highly unlikely conjunction of fairly common and natural causes, (b) natural causes that we simply do not understand at this time, or (c) supernatural or paranormal causes. The problem is how to distinguish (a), (b) and (c) with respect to E. If there is a possible sequence of natural causes that could account for E, then (a) would be the most likely option, because unlikely sequences of natural causes occur all the time, and thus are actually fairly common. However, if there is a gap in the causal sequence such that no known natural cause could fill it, then matters become much more complicated, because one is left with (b) or (c), and there is simply no reliable methodology to distinguish between the two at this point in time. Perhaps future study would discover a natural explanation of that gap, or perhaps there is a natural explanation, but it is unachievable by virtue of our cognitive limitations. Or maybe there are supernatural beings that do, in fact, intervene in the world in such ways. We simply do not know, and should be agnostic at this time.

Second, say that you are correct regarding the veracity of paranormal claims. There would be significant practical consequences of that truth, because that would mean that any information that is communicated within those events should be treated as equal, or superior, to ordinary testimony. For example, if someone claims that a ghost told them that John murdered his wife, then should that be admitted into John’s trial, or of the trial of Peter, who is accused of killing John’s wife? Should the legal authorities painstakingly tease through the numerous paranormal testimonies, much as they would tease through the ordinary testimonies of eyewitnesses? Furthermore, if an event is deemed to be supernatural, then should it be further investigated from a scientific standpoint? If yes, then why? What possible benefit could there be, unless it was possible that the supernatural event was actually a natural event that we lacked a theory to explain? But if that is a possibility worth investigating, then the supernatural claim was not demonstrated to begin with.

Any thoughts?

Matt Sheean said...

dguller,

I don't think your response capture quite what I meant. In this case, perhaps it would be better if I said that the set of beliefs that both individuals hold is roughly the same and that the set of beliefs in question is true for all we know, or about as true as any set of beliefs any individual can hold. They believe the right sorts of beliefs about the world (however one could know that). It's not a practical concern that am I after, whether or not it would be more practical to go with one's biases or not. Rather, some biases might just be good biases to have, efficacious for the formation of true beliefs. It might be good for instance, to believe that "whatever changes is changed by another" even if the contingencies of circumstance land us in a time and place in which there is overwhelming evidence to the contrary, since that evidence might eventually turn out to be "evidence". Something like that. The desire to see the First Way proven correct might further motivate us to find further proofs of the soundness of the premise in question, and we might go to our grave suffering accusations of rationalizing for the sake of a bias.

Vaal said...

Jeremy Taylor,

I agree you raise a pertinent issue here about "knowledge stopping," though it is one I spoke to before:

"But aren’t all knowledge claims some form of a stop sign? I suppose it depends how provisional or certain one’s claim is, but I think you are going to have to establish a difference between naturalistic and non-naturalistic claims beforehand before you can make this particular complaint against allowing for the existence of miracles into a proper point. Otherwise, it is hard to see why you are claiming only paranormal claims are a stop sign in our knowledge, in a negative way."

As I've already explained, I use "natural" and "supernatural" as terms of convenience - anyone I'm talking with can define the division as he wishes (which is why I'd asked you for your definition before).

If I'm talking to someone who believes in ESP, Ghosts, demons etc and who considers those entities in the category of "supernatural" then, fine be me. But if talking to a Prof Feser, I can go with his distinction, which is generally between God as primary cause (Supernatural Cause) and the "natural order of secondary causes" - the latter basically amounting to the "nature" that he says is studied by science. Okey-dokey, no problem.

If someone has an issue with either of those uses of the term "Natural/Supernatural" I simply ask "ok, give me your distinction, so we can be on the same page." Which is why I'd asked that a few times of you, earlier.

So, when I'm talking to the Thomists here, I'm happy using their "Natural/Supernatural" distinction to get things rolling. If you use a different distinction, please explain it and why.

For me, it's not a question of words or categories, I'm interested in "how you know" WHATEVER it is you would claim to know. And if it's in the empirical realm, as a Resurrection would be - or seeing/hearing a ghost - then I just want to know the method by which you evaluate such claims. And also how consistent you are being in doing so (which, if you allow for the methods of science, you will have to show consistency with those methods, or good reasons for departing from a scientific approach without special pleading etc).

Vaal said...

Jeremy,

As to the "knowledge stopping" issue:

Generally speaking, empirically/scientifically we want to know:

1. That a phenomenon actually exists.
2. HOW that phenomenon works.

They type of "knowledge" that I refer to that would be "stopped" is the second type that allows us to understand and predict our experience - e.g. "natural explanations of the processes and causes."

Take someone breaking out into a rash and choking for air. We observe 1. that phenomenon exists. But then ask, 2, what's the explanation? "X caused it supernaturally" as an "explanation" is not going to be as helpful and fruitful as determining her condition was caused by allergic reaction to peanut protein she had ingested, and when we have THAT kind of knowledge for the process of how it happens, we can go on to develop epinephrin treatments to save lives.

That is the type of "knowledge" I'm saying is "stopped" by appeal to the supernatural, insofar as the "supernatural" explanation would stop
the motivation for finding a natural explanation, while leaving us no wiser about how a phenomenon "works."

How, for instance, would God have risen (or raised Jesus) from the dead? Dunno. Miracle. Supernatural. Don't be so crude and mechanistic in your thinking, silly boy.

Do naturalistic explanations "stop knowledge" as well? Not in a manner relevant to my point, because I'm talking about the *specific* type of knowledge - knowledge of natural processes - that allows us to understand, predict and control our environment. That's the type of knowledge we typically give up when appealing to "supernatural" explanations. One may say "but we've learned something about the supernatural!" Maybe, maybe not, but we would have become ignorant about the natural in the process, and that is the risk.

(Aside: I have not seen every treatment of ID by Prof. Feser, but his recent post about it left me disappointed that he did not acknowledge this problem, but instead decried that the ID of Behe/Dembski et all wouldn't get you to the God of classical theism! Anyway…)

It may well be TRUE that a God exists who can intervene supernaturally, or that miracles TRUELY happen. But, as I've said over and over, we have to look at the epistemological (and other) costs involved when deciding WHEN to appeal to those explanations over "natural" explanations.

There is much riding on Prof Feser's conception of "Supernatural Explanation", insofar as Prof Feser's appeal to the supernatural depends upon considering a "natural order" explanation to be strictly impossible. That seems to be a pretty strong door to swing shut on natural inquiry, so I want to know when we ought to conclude "supernatural" vs "we are ignorant about the possible natural cause."

And I've asked the same questions of you.

As I've written before, my general answer to this problem is to simply keep consistent: Any supernatural intervention into the "natural" realm becomes an empirical issue, and so we stay consistent with our empirical demands. If we want to know THAT the supernatural produced some effect, we should demand similar levels of evidence for what we demand elsewhere for extraordinary, or improbable, or boundary-pushing claims. Anecdote isn't good enough.

Vaal

Vaal said...

Well, being the atheist on the spit here, replies are proliferating beyond my ability to respond.

Jeremy,

"To be fair to Vaal, I don't think he is saying - at least not any more - that natural science is superior to rational knowledge, necessarily.

I think he is only referring to natural science as being the most certain form of what we might call empirical knowledge."


Thank you for getting that right! (And pointing it out to others).

That is why I have over, and over said "Once X has entered the empirical realm…."

Cheers,

Vaal

Al said...

For example, that Michelson and Morley performed an experiment in 1887 that supported a then-extraordinary claim.

The problem is, we can actually perform Michelson and Morley's experiment today and get the same result.

Now, imagine that the Michelson-Morley experiment had somehow been performed two thousand years ago. Imagine, further, that our only source for it are some notes made by their students, made at least decades after the event, which do not always agree on the details, but which do agree on one fundamental point: that the experiment proved the existence of aether. No other evidence for the existence of aether was then found until today. Would we be justified in upholding the existence of aether based only on those ancient texts?

Matt Sheean said...

"I'm talking about the *specific* type of knowledge - knowledge of natural processes - that allows us to understand, predict and control our environment. "That's the type of knowledge we typically give up when appealing to 'supernatural' explanations."

See, this sort of thing is frustrating, Vaal. When somebody like Jeremy or Dr Feser or whoever distinguishes between primary and secondary causes, natural and supernatural explanations, it is in the light of the knowledge of what would count as a natural process that one distinguishes between the two. We don't give up the knowledge, we just don't. I can't figure out how to state something like that more plainly. You're just wrong, in error, etc when you say things like this. To use an example from a previous thread: If a man should die (be really actually stone cold dead) and come back from the dead, the cause must be super-natural (as in beyond natural causes, those causes the knowing of which leads us to pursue the question of a cause beyond them). The question is not whether or not there is a natural cause of such a thing, but whether or not it did happen or could happen at all.

Scott said...

@Al:

"The problem is, we can actually perform Michelson and Morley's experiment today and get the same result."

Presumably so, but that's irrelevant to the point I was making. Even the repeated experiments, once they've been performed, count as "history" too. Unless I perform the experiment myself, I have to rely on something beyond Science® in order to believe that it ever happened at all—and even if I do perform it myself, once I'm done, that's history as well. There's simply no getting around the reliance of science on things like eyewitness testimony and at least a basic realistic metaphysics—even, and perhaps especially, when it's making extraordinary claims.

Vaal said...

RD Miksa,

"I’m sorry, but this is just incorrect."

Actually, it's completely correct. Built into the methods of science is a sober acknowledgement of how unreliable we are, and the kind of checks and balances required to wee through bias and error. The specific examples of claims that I raised wouldn't be accepted on face value, scientifically, and that is indisputable.

Are you seriously…seriously!?…proposing that if twelve guys emerged from a forest and all we had was their claim of seeing a perpetual motion machine, that this would be scientifically sufficient for accepting that claim, and overturning the laws of thermodynamics?

Have you no idea how ludicrous that proposition would be, and why, to the scientific community?

Do you remember the "faster than light neutrinos" story not long ago?
An entire team of scientists, working on the OPERA experiment, reported the observation of neutrinos travelling faster than light.
These were trained scientists, specialists in their field, using the latest equipment in their observations. And what was the reaction of the scientific community?

Skepticism. Caution. "Hold on, this isn't confirmation yet of such a claim…"

Because obviously this was an anomalous situation and if true would represent a violation of special relativity. The scientific community knew we needed MORE than this one set of observations (accompanied btw by physical test results!). And the scientists who observed it ALSO knew to be cautious - that people even at their most cautious and "ideal" are error-prone, and that even if the results survived initial scrutiny, this would only represent the tip of a program of testing such a claim.

It turned out the skepticism was warranted as further inspection revealed a technical flaw in the equipment set up. Scientists are well aware of the problems of human bias and error, which is why they don't just leap to believing a report of some extraordinary phenomenon - they demand much more in terms of testable evidence and repeatable results. It's how science produced as much reliable knowledge as it has.

But be my guest: take the claim "12 guys emerge from a forest claiming to have seen a perpetual motion machine, but we have no other evidence for their claims" to the community of physicists, and tell them that is good enough to overturn their current scientific theories of thermodynamics.

Be prepared for the sound of laughter.

Vaal said...

RD Miksa,

The rest about eyewitnesses, while fun, thank you, was a red-herring if you can do not show that my example was wrong - that the scientific community would reject the claims as I described it.

But as for this:

"By contrast, ideal eyewitness testimony—meaning completely reliable, credible, multiple, and independent eyewitness testimony"

"Completely reliable" rather begs the question. If witnesses (or any witness) were "completely reliable" of course we wouldn't need physical evidence. We'd have Completely Reliable evidence.
But the whole problem is that eyewitness evidence is well known to often be unreliable! And DNA evidence is indeed overturning lots of eyewitness testimony:

"Why Science Tells Us Not to Rely on Eyewitness Accounts"

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/do-the-eyes-have-it/

Even the people we would hope would be MOST reliable - scientists well aware of their own tendencies toward bias and who attempt steps to control for bias - are just as susceptible to error as anyone else.

Why do you think there are protocols such as "double-blind testing" in many areas of science? Why do you think single trials and experiments, even by the most competent teams of scientists, are typically not held as good enough to establish confidence - why does science ask for repeated trials and repeatable results?

"In fact, I don’t even think that we would need to talk to 12 people before we would be rational in believing that vampires did exist."

At this point I guess that doesn't surprise me :-)

There are whole churches full of people speaking in tongues who claim
they are channeling God. Sorry, not good enough reason to believe them.
There are millions of devotees to Indian God men who claim bounteous miracles. You aren't clamouring to become a devotee of those God-men any faster than I am, on the basis of eyewitness claims.

And either way, as I've been relating all of this to skepticism regarding revelation and The Resurrection, it would be one tall order to depict the ancient accounts of scripture as "ideal witnesses" given we have no direct access to either the writers of the Bible OR the witnesses the purport to speak for, to cross examine them and decide how trustworthy and reliable they are.

Vaal

Step2 said...

"We hear of the conversion of water into wine at the marriage in Cana as of a miracle. But this conversion is, through the goodness of God, made every day before our eyes. Behold the rain which descends from heaven upon our vineyards; there it enters the roots of the vines, to be changed into wine; a constant proof that God loves us, and loves to see us happy. The miracle in question was only performed to hasten the operation, under circumstances of present necessity, which required it." - Benjamin Franklin

"For Popper (if not for some of his later admirers), falsifiability was not a crude bludgeon. Rather, it was the centerpiece of a richly-articulated worldview holding that millennia of human philosophical reflection had gotten it backwards: the question isn’t how to arrive at the Truth, but rather how to eliminate error." - Scott Aaronson

I don't want to be harsh on Vaal since I'm also deeply skeptical of supernatural claims, yet there is a point at which empiricism begins to closely resemble the motto of the Chicago City News Bureau - "If your mother says she loves you, check it out." Anyway, nobody wants to end up like poor Mr. Shatner.

Vaal said...

Scott,

Yet again, I have addressed all that before here.

"The point is that you can't even do an experiment without a whole host of assumptions of this nature, and in consequence, the results of the experiment are in the end no more reliable than such assumptions.

Of course.

What you seem to still be missing is this: I haven't been arguing for MY metaphysics. I have said "let's start with A-T metaphysics. Let's GRANT THOSE for now. And granting them, let's look if you are reasoning consistently ONCE YOU GET INTO THE EMPIRICAL REALM."

Once you get into the empirical realm, we can talk about the way most of us reason and why. I just had a plumber over trying to trace a leak. In trying to decide on the cause, we had to acknowledge that various different problems could have caused the water running down our bathroom ceiling - leak from the outside roof, from water getting into the exhaust outlet, from water leaking from an upstairs sink, from water due to a leaking pipe in the wall, in the ceiling, etc. Given multiple possible causes, we went about controlling for and ruling out each cause. A plumber who simply ASSUMED one answer
without bothering to rule out other possibilities, and checking his work afterward, would be recognizable by us all as an irresponsible plumber.

This, as you know, is just standard, rational
empirical inquiry - it arises directly from the problem of variables - where there can be multiple options for explaining a phenomenon, it is rational and epistemologically responsible that you arrive at your conclusion in a way that has some way of apportioning more confidence to one explanation over another.

Now, if your metaphysics actually changes all that - if tracing plumbing problems - and and infinite number of other examples - are somehow managed differently, and for different reasons, on the basis of your metaphysics…do tell.

But we both know there is no such difference. You will demand all the due diligence as anyone else, be it in inspecting home problems, or determining the guilt of an accused, etc.

The same goes for the scientific enterprise. Do you accept the rational for double-blind experiments or not? The rational for hypothesis testing and predictions, or not? Do you understand and accept the scientific demand for careful repeatability of results …or not? Are you going to re-write how and why science is done based on your metaphysics? If so…do tell.

But you aren't, are you?

That's why I can say "Look, if you ACCEPT that the scientific method has
sound rational for it's empirical demands…which you no doubt do, and Prof Feser himself already has appealed to "natural science" as valid!…then
let's see if your empirical reasoning concerning claims of an ancient resurrection are CONSISTENT with the type of skepticism you accept in science, let alone in all sorts of other areas of every day empirical inquiry.

Again: unless your metaphysics, which are accepted for argument, changes all these things, it's a red herring to go on the tangent you did.

"In order to tell when a claim is "extraordinary," you have to rely, implicitly or explicitly, on some understanding of what an ordinary claim is. And you won't settle that by experiment."

Uhm…actually even if you start in metaphysics, you must continue on into empiricism and the end game of how you settle what is "ordinary" IS in fact "by experiment" (were "by experiment" denotes generally the "natural sciences.")

Prof Feser has already acknowledged that we establish what is "normal" in the "natural order" via the natural sciences. That is how we come to recognize the difference between "how things normally operate" and supernatural intervention.

Perhaps you might wish to re-visit Prof Feser's posts :-)

Vaal

Vaal said...

George LeSauvage,

See my reply to Scott.

Also:

"Crude has clearly hit the nail on the head on one point, that your arguments do not support atheism at all, but are only efforts at refuting Christianity."

By all means, Crude can bang as long as he wishes on the nail of his choosing. I'll be over here, discussing the particular issue I'm interested in at the moment: in this case whether Thomists can give any more cogent arguments for revelation, Christ's resurrection etc, than any other Christians.

"In exchange with Crude, you have repeatedly ignored his point that rejecting natural selection, as a full & adequate explanation of how evolution happens, is not to reject evolution itself."

I'm sorry, that's too vague. I don't actually recognize a reference to anything I've written there, so…examples please? (And I'll clarify if necessary).

Re "sin/Fall"

"Now the fundamental point is hard to dispute - man is very imperfect, intellectually and morally. Your own arguments show you do believe that intellectually at least, man is very fallible. What Christianity attributes to the Fall, you seem attribute to bias, superstition, poor reasoning, and the like. But you are so attributing. And it is that datum, and not the theory of its origin, which people mean when using sin or the Fall as expanations."

I'm sorry, but I can't see the point you are making.

Yes, we suffer all the error-prone reasoning it seems we agree upon.

And that's the problem: it does not support the claim that we have been created with the end of coming to reliable knowledge of God.

So what else are you trying to say about our cognitive biases etc? When you say the "fall" or "sin" are still terms being used as "explanation"…what do you mean?

Cheers,

Vaal

Vaal said...

Matt,

"We don't give up the knowledge, we just don't."

Ok. A miraculous Resurrection Of A Dead Body occurs.

Show me this knowledge: if it happens, how does it happen, by what process?

Let's compare how useful and fruitful your explanation will be compared to the type of explanations we gain via naturalistic explanations, through science.

Vaal

Matt Sheean said...

Vaal,

Your claim was that we must abandon the knowledge of natural processes when we appeal to the supernatural.

I quote you,

"That's the type of knowledge we typically give up when appealing to 'supernatural' explanations."

but we do not give up the, "knowledge of natural processes - that allows us to understand, predict and control our environment" (as you said) when we propose that some event has a supernatural explanation. We, given our knowledge of natural processes and what being "natural" entails, suppose that some event, like the resurrection of a dead person, must be the result of an agency beyond the natural physical realm. I was not, for the purposes of this point, arguing that any such event occurred.

You are wrong, I say again, in error to suppose that any appeal to the supernatural must or even typically require us to "give up" our knowledge of the natural. To be as clear as possible, I repeat again that it is our knowledge of what would count as a natural process that would cause us to imagine that some purported event, whether it has happened or not, must be the sort of thing that requires some supernatural cause.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Dguller,

What I meant was that they would involve a combination of eyewitness testimony and physical evidence of some kind. The only difference is that the events in question would not be replicable, and would probably not be quantifiable (to some extent).

I suppose. That seems to apply to a lot, if not most, empirical evidence. Many paranormal claims are, of course, based on witness statements alone and some, like crop circles, based only on physical evidence.


First, say that you have an event E, and E appears to be supernatural or miraculous. E could be due to (a) a highly unlikely conjunction of fairly common and natural causes, (b) natural causes that we simply do not understand at this time, or (c) supernatural or paranormal causes. The problem is how to distinguish (a), (b) and (c) with respect to E. If there is a possible sequence of natural causes that could account for E, then (a) would be the most likely option, because unlikely sequences of natural causes occur all the time, and thus are actually fairly common.

I simply do not see that this need be the case. For a start you are being altogether too abstract. Each purported paranormal incident is a specific one, with its specific events and evidence. What you are saying, then, is that in each one we must a priori always prefer a very unlikely naturalistic explanation to a paranormal one, whatever the evidence says. I see no reason for this distinction.

You imply the standard, our common experience is naturalist line as a sort of explanation but I don't think this works for two reasons. Firstly, it is up for question whether our experience is naturalist. Secondly, as I said, paranormal incidents are specific and therefore unique. They are therefore different from our common experience. So even if the latter were entirely naturalistic, I don't see why that should predetermine the possibilities we allow in the distinct circumstances of a paranormal incident.

Of course a paranormal incident is unlikely by definition, but not necessarily always more unlikely than a naturalistic explanation in a specific context.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Continued.....

There would be significant practical consequences of that truth, because that would mean that any information that is communicated within those events should be treated as equal, or superior, to ordinary testimony.

I don't see why it should be treated as superior. It would have the authority as knowledge that its level of certainty deserves. So far the scenario you bring up is concerned, there is the complicating fact that ghostly sightings - and indeed many paranormal events - are not straightforward as such. But ghosts have been used to discover crimes, especially murders, and even today psychics have been used successfully, I believe, in tracking criminals. As for a courtroom. Well, that moderns might look askance is not actually an argument against something per se (some might say it was an argument for something), but it would be near impossible to have the jury vet such claims whilst they're always vetting the case itself. Besides, the paranormal is often bound up with one's philosophical assumptions, which would make its use as evidence doubly hard.

Furthermore, if an event is deemed to be supernatural, then should it be further investigated from a scientific standpoint? If yes, then why? What possible benefit could there be, unless it was possible that the supernatural event was actually a natural event that we lacked a theory to explain? But if that is a possibility worth investigating, then the supernatural claim was not demonstrated to begin with.

Well, one benefit would be to increase our knowledge. If we can use the methods of natural science to say something more about the incident then there is nothing wrong with that. The paranormal and the scientific do not coincide completely, but they are not necessarily mutually exclusive. As you mention above, there can be physical evidence, and that can be scientifically assessed whilst in no one implying we have changed our evaluation of the incident.

Besides, if we did conclude a paranormal event was likely genuine, that is not a certain claim. So, if it is possible, I see no reason against shedding more light on the claim by having more scientific knowledge of it, if possible. This does not imply, to me, we are disallowing the paranormal conclusion. Incidentally, the same often happens with naturalistic claims - they are may be accepted but not with complete certainty and then if there is room for more investigations to be done, they will be.

Matt Sheean said...

It occurs to me as well that the "knowledge of natural processes" is itself not a natural process.

Do I have to give up the knowledge of natural processes to appeal to the knowledge of natural processes?

Al said...

@Scott

I did not deny the "reliance of science on things like eyewitness testimony and at least a basic realistic metaphysics". In fact, I entirely agree with this.

The problems is, we still have to evaluate the eyewitness testimonies. Pure thought is, unfortunately, unable to prove that the Resurrection or any other event really did happen.

If we suspect that the official account of the Michelson-Morley experiment is flawed, we can do it again, and we'll be able to evaluate if our results match the results said to have been obtained by Michelson-Morley. Other doubts may arise about the experiment, but not about what the results were.

We can't do that with the Resurrection (for instance). Therefore, far from having a miracle in order to establish the truthfulness Christian revelation, all wehave is hearsay. If the Resurrection really did happen, it benefited those hundreds of people who witnessed the risen Jesus, but that does us no good at all, since we weren't there and have no way of being sure of what happened.

The only way I can see out of this conundrum is to change the argument and say that the miracle is not really necessary and that hearsay is enough. "Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed" and all that. But if, then, a miracle is not necessary for belief, then we lose the ground upon which Feserian apologetics wants to justify belief in Christianity...

Jeremy Taylor said...

Vaal,

On stopping our knowledge, I can't help but think your main point just begs the question. You appear to be saying that there is a correct, naturalistic explanation we are missing by accepting the possibility of paranormal explanations.

Besides, I see no reason why your argument cannot be turned around on you. By disallowing any possibility of a paranormal explanation you are stopping us having possible knowledge of one. A paranormal conclusion might mean that further understanding of an event is limited, but that does not stop it being the best explanation necessarily.


And I don't see why allowing paranormal explanations would hamper scientific investigations. It is an important point of mine that, whilst not being entirely mutually exclusive, natural science and the paranormal are largely different domains. But even where they overlap, and one could make use of natural science, I don't see why being open to paranormal explanations would prevent all the scientific testing possible being carried out. Your conclusion would only hold if those who accepted the paranormal somehow refused to make use of natural science or obey its legitimate conclusions (remembering science is silent on whether the usual workings of nature can ever be set aside). And there are plenty of naturalists around to try and scientifically refute the paranormal.

Anonymous said...

The only way I can see out of this conundrum is to change the argument and say that the miracle is not really necessary and that hearsay is enough.

It's not a change of the argument, and it's not able to be called "hearsay" without begging the question. What makes hearsay what it is is the inability to establish credibility of the reports. Multiple witnesses and other evidence goes towards that.

Likewise, Ed obviously didn't meant we witnessed the resurrection. Adequate report of it will do just fine.

Al said...

@Anonymous 9:58

Ed obviously didn't meant we witnessed the resurrection. Adequate report of it will do just fine.

Here's what Ed said in the OP:

The only means by which we could know with certainty that such a revelation has actually occurred, though, is if it is backed by a miracle in the strict sense of a divine suspension of the natural order.

Perfect, say I. Do it then. Show me that. Show me Jesus Christ coming back from the dead and I'll become a Christian in a heartbeat.

The problem is, you do not do that. You point me out to ancient texts, which contain the words of those who witnessed it happening two thousand years ago. That is, you point me to paper, ink, and words, neither of which is miraculous.

The miracle you need, by your own admission, is Christ being resurrected. I take you at your word, and just say "show me that then".

Mr. Green said...

Vaal: Thanks, but I'm afraid I couldn't find much of substance to reply to in a post that was pretty much all invective.

You're welcome, but what invective? A touch of sarcasm perhaps; but how seriously can someone be taken who refuses to act seriously? (After multiple people point out that you are misunderstanding the position you're trying to criticise, you continue to argue against what you imagine that position to be instead of what it actually is.) There is no need to be afraid: there is in fact not much in my post to reply to, since it was mostly pointing out various misunderstandings in the hope that you might be encouraged to, you know, find out what it is you're talking about. There's little point in my addressing your arguments, when your arguments are not addressed to me (or anyone else here) in the first place.

(Of course, there was one question I asked that you could have replied to but ignored: the rather relevant and quite serious question about whether you do not accept current scientific information about the Higgs particle, or whether you consider that accepting that information on faith counts as an "empirical demand". Given what you have been saying, I don't see how any third option is available to you.)

Bob said...

@Mr. Green

Of course, there was one question I asked that you could have replied to but ignored: the rather relevant and quite serious question about whether you do not accept current scientific information about the Higgs particle, or whether you consider that accepting that information on faith counts as an "empirical demand". Given what you have been saying, I don't see how any third option is available to you.

You should always be skeptical, however you could, in principle, repeat the experiment for yourself.

What you couldn't do, even in principle, is repeat the historical resurrection of Jesus Christ.

That is kind of a significant distinction between the two cases you are attempting to analogize here.


dguller said...

Jeremy:

I simply do not see that this need be the case. For a start you are being altogether too abstract. Each purported paranormal incident is a specific one, with its specific events and evidence.

And if there is any such incident that does not fit into my above framework, then I’d be interested to know more about it.

What you are saying, then, is that in each one we must a priori always prefer a very unlikely naturalistic explanation to a paranormal one, whatever the evidence says. I see no reason for this distinction.

The distinction is based upon the mutual exclusivity of natural and supernatural causes. A supernatural cause is necessary when an event occurs that could not possibly be accounted for by a natural cause. Hence, if there is a natural cause that could account for the event, then we have no reason to postulate a supernatural cause, because it is unnecessary. That doesn’t mean that there wasn’t a supernatural cause, but only that we have no reason to postulate one in that context.

Furthermore, unlikely natural events occur all the time, and we have no need to postulate supernatural explanations of them. For example, the odds of getting a royal flush of spades in poker is about 650,000 to 1, but you would not claim that some supernatural force assisted you in acquiring that hand, simply because it was highly unlikely. If there is a sequence of natural causes that led to the event in question, then there is no need to postulate a supernatural cause at all.

Of course a paranormal incident is unlikely by definition, but not necessarily always more unlikely than a naturalistic explanation in a specific context.

The reason that the naturalistic explanation is always to be preferred is that once you have allowed that we can exclude a naturalistic explanation and prefer a supernatural one, then where exactly do you draw the line? Why exclude the supernatural and paranormal from even everyday experiences? Maybe invisible ghosts are guiding your conduct at this very moment, and you simply do not know?

I don't see why it should be treated as superior. It would have the authority as knowledge that its level of certainty deserves.

If someone claims to have seen the ghost of a murder victim, and that ghost declared who the murderer was, then if ghosts are real, then that should be admitted into the evidence of a murder trial. In fact, it would be the equivalent of an eyewitness testimony, and thus would be more reliable than other eyewitnesses who simply say the accused in the proximity of the murder scene, for example. The reason why such evidence is never included in a criminal trial is that it is notoriously unreliable, and notice that even if a psychic helps an investigation, it is to direct them to natural evidence that can be used in a trial. The psychic is never introduced into the trial itself.

dguller said...

As for a courtroom. Well, that moderns might look askance is not actually an argument against something per se (some might say it was an argument for something), but it would be near impossible to have the jury vet such claims whilst they're always vetting the case itself.

Why? The jury is expected to vet expert scientific testimony as part of their duties. So, why shouldn’t they also be required to vet paranormal evidence? The point is that if one agrees with your position, then paranormal evidence should be part of any criminal investigation. If a psychic shows up and claims that a spirit provided evidence regarding an investigation, then that should be admitted into the record and presented at trial. Sure, the trial may look like the Salem witch trials, but so what? According to you, there is nothing wrong with that, because these are real phenomena, and thus should be treated accordingly. So, if someone claims that a spirit told them that another person physically harmed them, then the matter should be investigated by the authorities. Otherwise, it is mere prejudice. Right?

Well, one benefit would be to increase our knowledge. If we can use the methods of natural science to say something more about the incident then there is nothing wrong with that. The paranormal and the scientific do not coincide completely, but they are not necessarily mutually exclusive. As you mention above, there can be physical evidence, and that can be scientifically assessed whilst in no one implying we have changed our evaluation of the incident.

First, the paranormal and the scientific are mutually exclusive. You yourself said that distinct methods are needed to investigate paranormal events than natural events.

Second, the scientific investigation would only say more about the natural causes of the incident. It would say nothing about the supernatural causes, which are precisely what we want to understand further.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Dguller,

A supernatural cause is necessary when an event occurs that could not possibly be accounted for by a natural cause. Hence, if there is a natural cause that could account for the event, then we have no reason to postulate a supernatural cause, because it is unnecessary. That doesn’t mean that there wasn’t a supernatural cause, but only that we have no reason to postulate one in that context.

I’m sorry but I don’t see the force of your argument here. It seems that if we are talking abstractly, without looking at specific paranormal claims, you are just repeating your claim that any unlikely naturalistic claim is to be preferred to a paranormal claim, without supporting it. If we do have specific paranormal claims in mind, then whether a naturalistic cause could account for the event will depend upon the best reading of the evidence, but I see no reason in your argument that we should always balk at a paranormal explanation if the evidence is pointing that way.
The reason that the naturalistic explanation is always to be preferred is that once you have allowed that we can exclude a naturalistic explanation and prefer a supernatural one, then where exactly do you draw the line? Why exclude the supernatural and paranormal from even everyday experiences? Maybe invisible ghosts are guiding your conduct at this very moment, and you simply do not know?

I think this is fallacious. A paranormal claim is, by definition, unusual. Natural science has its domain of investigating the normal workings of nature, especially those aspects of it which are quantifiably testable and measurable. In this domain it can proceed without paying any attention to things like invisible ghosts. The paranormal, obviously, cannot be the normal and no one is claiming it is. This seems to me a quite clear dividing line. A ghost may walk through a wall, but that doesn’t mean walls stop being generally solid things, or that you’d have accept the latter if you accepted the former.

On trials and the paranormal, I think the important point is that we maintain a very high level of evidence before a conviction. Someone who accepts the possibility, indeed probability, that there are genuine paranormal incidents is under no obligation to accept all such claims. He may, upon investigation, find that a claim seems false or that there is no evidence and he cannot say one way or the other (he suspends judgment). If a psychic or ghost can provide enough evidence to satisfy the high levels of certainty required for a trial, then I personally will not say it is illegitimate to call on them in a court of law. But, when it comes to ghosts, you’d need to vet both the claim of seeing a ghost and the truth of what the ghost said, which would be very, very hard. And, as for the psychic, you’d need to know they had genuine abilities and believe beyond a reasonable doubt they were telling the truth about what those abilities uncovered in this specific instance – again, a very high burden.

I could turn these questions around on you. If the archangel Gabriel appeared in a courtroom, to the Intellectus of those present so that they know it is certainly him, and he plants in the heads of those present the certain knowledge of the accused’s guilt, should the jury convict the latter on this evidence alone?

You yourself said that distinct methods are needed to investigate paranormal events than natural events.

Not necessarily. If a ghost was sighted by a number of people and it left behind some goo, for example, the usual methods of science cannot be easily used on the ghost sighting itself. But we could scientifically investigate the goo. As for any such findings being purely naturalistic, perhaps (I think some of this depends on how we define naturalistic – the goo would certainly be corporeal to be so investigated), but in the context they might shed some light on the genuinely paranormal (if, for example, the goo had remarkable properties and was like nothing ever seen before).

Lucas Krief said...

Sorry for the delay.

1) The Neo-Platonists could not agree that the One contains virtually all things. Plotinus says that it has the power of all things in the sense that it has infinite power. But that's not to say it virtually contains all things.

2) Then you're right that there's the problem of derivation of multiplicity from unity. But as I said, this is the problem that they tackled. You might think it's not working, but it's no reason to disregard their earlier arguments.

3) Scott, I'm saying that the trinity involves real multiplicity in god, thus that it can be said to have parts, if you like. But I don't see why the language of parts should play an important role: we can simply maintain that a multiple thing cannot be ultimate, running the regress of unity.

dguller said...

Lucas:

1) The Neo-Platonists could not agree that the One contains virtually all things. Plotinus says that it has the power of all things in the sense that it has infinite power. But that's not to say it virtually contains all things.

There is a good reason why they could not agree. To agree would be to admit a kind of multiplicity into the simplicity of the One, but to disagree would be to deny that the One has causal power at all, because causes pre-contain their effects in a different mode of being, and thus if the One causes X, then X must be pre-contained within the One in some way.

There are basically three solutions here:

(1) Affirm a kind of multiplicity into the One, but demand that it be an indistinct and unified multiplicity that is devoid of divisibility and potency, i.e. a virtual multiplicity.
(2) Affirm that the principle of proportionate causality is only operative from the Intellect downwards, and that the One has a unique kind of causality, i.e. a non-proportionate causality.
(3) Affirm that the One is ineffable, and thus cannot spoken of in a positive fashion at all, leaving one with a radical negative theology.

Neoplatonists toyed with all of the above, but seem to have found none of them satisfactory. To endorse (1) would compromise the absolute simplicity of the One, which they did not want to do. To endorse (2) is to affirm a kind of creation ex nihilo, because the multiplicity that begins to exist with the Intellect literally comes from nothingness. However, the Neoplatonists would reject the possibility of creation ex nihilo altogether, preferring an emanationist metaphysics in which effects are derived from a pre-contained version of themselves within the causes. To endorse (3) is to deny oneself the ability to speak positively of the One at all, including affirming that the One has causal power at all, which the Neoplatonists did not want to do.

2) Then you're right that there's the problem of derivation of multiplicity from unity. But as I said, this is the problem that they tackled. You might think it's not working, but it's no reason to disregard their earlier arguments.

I’m not disregarding their arguments. I’m saying that their arguments fail to solve the problem.

Chris said...

Dguller/Jeremy,

What are your thoughts on this more Vedantin pov,

"In metaphysics, it is necessary to start from the idea that the Supreme Reality is absolute, and that being absolute it is inifinite. That is absolute which allows of no augmentation or diminution, or of no repetition or division; it is therefore that which is at once solely itself and totally itself. And that is infinite which is not determined by any limiting factor and therefore does not end at any boundary; it is in the first place Potentiality or Possibility as such, and ipso facto the Possibility of things, hence Virtuality. Without All-Possibility, there would be neither Creator nor creation...

The infinite is so to so speak the intrinsic dimension of plenitude proper to the Absolute; to say Absolute is to say Infinite, the one being inconceivable without the other. We can symbolize the relation between these two aspects of Supreme Reality by the following images: in space, the absolute is the point, and the infinite is extension; in time, the absolute is the moment, and the infinite is duration. On the plane of matter, the absolute is the 'ether'- the underlying and omnipresent primordial substance- whereas the infinite is the indefinite series of substances; on the plane of form, the absolute is the sphere- the simple, pefect and primordial form- and the infinite is the indefinite series of more or less complex forms; finally, on the plane of number, the absolute will be unity or unicity, and the infinite will be the unlimited series of numbers or possible quantities, or totality.

The distinction between the Absolute and the Infinite expresses the two fundamental aspects of the Real, that of essentiality and that of potentiality; this is the highest principal prefiguration of the masculine and feminine poles. Universal Radiation, thus Maya both divine and cosmic, springs from the second aspect, the Infinite, which coincides with All-Possibility."

- F.Schuon

Matt Sheean said...

Bob,

"You should always be skeptical, however you could, in principle, repeat the experiment for yourself."

Plenty of things are true and are also, in principle, not repeatable.

dguller said...

Chris:

it is in the first place Potentiality or Possibility as such, and ipso facto the Possibility of things, hence Virtuality. Without All-Possibility, there would be neither Creator nor creation

I would disagree with this, although I would agree with the overall intention of it. The Absolute cannot be potentiality, because it must be pure act, and thus must be utterly devoid of any potentiality whatsoever. However, the Absolute is the source and cause of potentiality. The only way that I can make sense of this is that potentiality as such exists in a virtual mode of being in the Absolute, i.e. pure act. So, the Absolute is the source or origin of potentiality by virtue of the virtual presence of potentiality as such in the Absolute.

We can symbolize the relation between these two aspects of Supreme Reality by the following images

I don’t like any of those analogies. They all seem to model the infinite as it manifests itself in creation, i.e. as a sequential unfolding of one thing after another without end. That is not how the infinite exists in the Absolute. There is no sequential unfolding at all, because the Absolute is atemporal and unchanging, meaning that there cannot be one thing then another. There is an unlimited and fully present “totality” without end, which is a radical paradox, because fullness and limitation are tightly related, and seem to come apart here.

The distinction between the Absolute and the Infinite expresses the two fundamental aspects of the Real, that of essentiality and that of potentiality

Again, I would disagree with this to some degree. The Absolute and the Infinite are only notionally distinct, meaning that although they present as distinct to our minds, they are one and the same in reality.

But I'm certainly no expert on this stuff. These are just my thoughts.

Maolsheachlann said...

If we had world [and intellect] enough, and time....isn't this apologetics in an ideal world?

And does it suggest that Christian believers who don't have an adequate understanding of the metaphysical underpinnings don't realy believe?

Of course, you could just recommend The Last Superstition, and I do that, but what if they never read it?!?!

Greg said...

If we had world [and intellect] enough, and time....isn't this apologetics in an ideal world?

Belief acquisition is generally pretty messy. So yes, this is all pretty ideal.

And does it suggest that Christian believers who don't have an adequate understanding of the metaphysical underpinnings don't realy believe?

I take you to mean "know" rather than "believe". (In other words, you are asking, If this is the apologetic case for Christianity, and supposing that it is true, are those believers who acquire their belief through typical religious means actually in possession of knowledge?)

But in any case, no. Most of what I know about quantum mechanics and history is knowledge, but I could not replicate the experiments that established quantum mechanics, nor could I tell you what primary source documents went into our current understanding of history. For the typical believer to possess knowledge, he would not have to go through the whole apologetic enterprise; his belief would have to be true, and the epistemic channels through which he acquired it would have to be valid. But for there to be knowledge, the average believer does not necessarily have to go through all the apologetics. (This was one of Plantinga's major preoccupations with reformed epistemology. Some Catholic authors who have approached the issue are James Ross and Linda Zagzebski. But this is slightly different from what Feser is doing.)

Vaal said...

Mr. Green,

No problem, really, on the sarcasm. I have a thick skin. It's just that your post mostly gave your characterization of my posts, rather than actually *showing* where my arguments fail or "misrepresent," that's all. I try my best to apportion my time to those who respond to the arguments, or to my questions.

"(After multiple people point out that you are misunderstanding the position you're trying to criticise, you continue to argue against what you imagine that position to be instead of what it actually is."

And I believe the same charge applies to the other side here, who have often argued with a caricature in their head of what they think I "must" be ignorant about, vs what I've actually written. (Others who have made the same charge you do here were simply wrong - in "enlightening me" they repeat information I already understood and which, if they'd been more careful in reading, they would have seen was acknowledged in what I'd written).

If, rather than just throwing out the charge of my misunderstanding, you could give an example where I have "misunderstood" a position - for instance making false claims about what Thomists believe - I would be grateful.

Cheers,

Vaal

Vaal said...

Mr. Green,

As to your question about the ad hoc nature of the Higgs Boson:

Scientific hypotheses can span quite a range. Usually when trying to explain certain observations, a hypothesis will be derived from implications already present in accepted theories, and hence be strongly attached to those theories in that sense. But one can also propose hypotheses that at least appear more "ad hoc" - in the sense of not being a direct implication from existing theory, but rather being a "good fit" explanation "if true."

It is this very fact about the nature of "explanations" that lead to the scientific demand for things like "testable consequences" in hypotheses, to distinguish which among them deserved more of our confidence. A scientist is in principle free to hypothesize that Invisible Green Dragons give particles mass, so long as
it would explain observations better than another hypothesis, and provide testable implications that can be verified.

Some physicists did indeed express some reservations about the Higgs, as coming off as to suspiciously "convenient" a hypothesis, Lawrence Krauss most publicly.
Other physicists disagreed, obviously.

But like a good scientific hypothesis, the Higgs Boson was clearly seen as promising enough, and had TESTABLE implications, such that they could test the hypothesis, as they famously did.

Now, I don't find you clear on why you are talking about "Faith" as related to the Higgs Boson. For one thing, it was not confirmed on "faith" but on evidence.
If scientists were only going to go on "faith" they wouldn't have spent 40 years and billions of dollars testing and looking for evidence.

Or do you mean I might have "faith" in the Higgs Boson? If that's what you mean, again that wouldn't be the case. It has (or some form of it) been confirmed
via scientific testing. But since I didn't do the tests myself, am I only going on "faith" to believe the scientists? No. I'm using reason.

When I ask the scientists "how do you KNOW that?" I receive a description of the process used that strikes me as an "epistemologically sound and responsible approach."

Science also is able to demonstrate knowledge - show me we can do things we would be unable to do, had scientific knowledge been false (examples: all the useful fruits of science and engineering, medicine, biology, aircrafts, getting to the moon, building computers, the whole shebang).

So, generally speaking, "science" strikes me as a sound approach to apportioning confidence in one explanation over another concerning the world, and I enjoy the fruits of it's success daily. Hence my conclusion that I can believe certain things scientists tell me is a conclusion from knowing it's methods, and the evidence of it's success…not simply on "faith."

Though, again, I'm not sure exactly what connection you were trying to draw with "Faith" and the Higgs Boson in the first place.

Cheers,

Vaal

Vaal said...

Jeremy,

Remember that my position is not that we should be closed to the Paranormal, or to the supernatural, miracles etc. We should be open to whatever is true about reality.

But my argument has continually been: we have to navigate this space in the most responsible, consistent, pragmatic manner possible (in epistemological terms).

That means having consistent standards for any empirical claim, be it of a "paranormal" entity or any other entity that has empirical consequences, like rabbits, rain-drops, protons, etc. (Whether you personally think paranormal/supernatural entities are "material" or not, you are arguing some have empirical consequences, e.g. that we can perceive their existence sometimes).

As I've said before, we generally have two questions to answer:

1. That a phenomenon exists.
2. How it works.

If a supernatural or paranormal entity exists, it would be wonderful to be able to determine that. And in principle, some paranormal claims COULD
show evidence, and I would accept the presence of those entities. If someone is claiming a Ghost can manifest visibly, or someone can walk on water, or produce bread out of thin air or whatever, with appropriate testing I would be happy to say "Well, looks like this phenomenon really does happen!"

But then when it gets to the "how it works" part - that is where the "supernatural" is brought in as an EXPLANATION for how something happens - e.g. "X happened miraculously!" - then there are the cautions I'm bringing up. That is, insofar as an appeal to "miracle" will leave us no wiser as to a process for how it happened, we are left in mystery.

That's why, as I say, Intelligent Design is a good example: even though in principle the ID could be "natural," it, like claims of "miracle" leaves us in mystery. Like I said, take any medical or biological text book and start replacing all the descriptions with "An Intelligent Designer Did It (by means we do not know)" and watch how the knowledge in the book gradually vanishes, with one big mystery in it's place.

Do the same for "miracle" or "supernatural" or "paranormal." If those do not replace those scientific descriptions with alternate understandings of a process, in terms of understanding "how something works" they too would replace knowledge with mystery.

So when we are faced with trying to find an explanation for some "X," while it may be true it happened "miraculously," we'd better be especially sure about it, since it makes the process a mystery. What if there WAS a natural explanation, a process we could have uncovered, it could have been very useful to us? And, in fact, people through ought history have appealed to "miracles" that were fortunately supplanted by natural explanations that gave us more knowledge, and better predictive power.
You've got people all over still trying to say we ought to appeal to miracles rather than scientific/natural explanations (e.g. Fundies, Creationists who would dismiss scientific accounts for how the universe formed, for explaining the diversity of species - evolution - etc, or who think the supernatural is being efficacious where it is likely not, e.g. faith healing…)

So this is a live problem.

If the paranormal or the "supernatural" has an empirical effect, it is in principle testable, and we should hold it to the same standards we do when apportioning our confidence in any other empirical investigation.

How would you say we can establish the existence of a paranormal entity? As duller has explained, how do you provide some method of confidence-building that doesn't end up essentially the same as scientific testing?

Vaal

Matt Sheean said...

Vaal, you said,

"If, rather than just throwing out the charge of my misunderstanding, you could give an example where I have "misunderstood" a position - for instance making false claims about what Thomists believe - I would be grateful."

Mr. Green said,

"You apparently think that "knowing God" means being able to get top marks on a theology exam. Not even close. Time to learn some Japanese."

in response to what you said, which was,

"The amount of religious confusion in the world- spanning from non-belief, through to non-Christian beliefs, through to all the disputes among Christianity itself - undermines the very claim that God has "knowing Him" as the end for human beings (or our intellect). In fact, the very way our brains/intellect even WORKs seems at odds with such a claim."

and I said,

"That we are prone to error in our understanding is not a refutation of any occurrence of revelation or of the end of our faculties being the knowledge of God, since such a line of argument supposes that knowledge is at least an end of those faculties (otherwise a misunderstanding would not be described as "wrong" or "error")."

Mr. Green correctly pointed out that you failed to understand what it means in the Thomistic lingo for something to have an end, and what I said might have helped you get some distance to understanding just what the Thomists mean here when they say that "our highest end is to know Him".

Now, you could trust that Mr Green knows a little bit more about Thomism than you (just like you trust those scientists at CERN to know what they're doing), and just might be correct when he quotes a statement you made and judges it to be a naked misunderstanding of the notion of an "end" as the Thomist understands it.

I provided a short argument to the effect that if you want to acknowledge that an error in cognition really is an error then it must be an error according to some end, namely the formation of beliefs that accord with reality.

Taking a cue from STII Q1, man's last end is his happiness, which is found in a proper knowledge of the good, and goodness being convertible with being and God being Being Itself is therefore the Good that man seeks (the fulfillment of his happiness). Man, knowing God, will know the good (the 2nd chapter of Dr Feser's Aquinas is very helpful here).

Whether or not the intellect realizes this end is immaterial to the argument. It's worth noting that it is not an end that the intellect is actually able to realize with its own resources (indeed, God could not, I think, even make an intellect that could realize this end of its own resources - ST1 Q79A1). Rather, it is the intellect's striving toward truth, toward God, that puts the intellect on the right track, so to speak. Insofar as you strive to know the truth, I think the Thomist would say, you (wittingly or not) strive to know God.


Jeremy Taylor said...

Vaal,

We cannot have consistent standards for empirical phenomena, exactly (depending on how you define consistent in this context). This is because there are different methods and levels of certainty for different phenomena. We investigate historical claims - ones that involve nothing paranormal - in a different way to scientific ones and they have different levels of certainty. I don't think this is troubling. It has been generally accepted.

As for the paranormal and explanations, I think the main point is that if the paranormal is true it would be wrong to rule it out because it is harder to get a full understanding of paranormal phenomena than natural ones. That is the way it goes.

Besides, through comparison of numerous paranormal incidents and the use of philosophical investigation and traditional accounts we may come to some greater knowledge. This is precisely what some investigators, like Colin Wilson and Patrick Harpur have done. They have investigated many, many incidents and drawn comparisons, and they have also drawn on traditional accounts of the paranormal as well as on Platonic philosophy. Now such an entreprise is more akin to a historical study than a strictly scientific one, but that does not mean it cannot yield some extra knowledge.

You seem to end by repeating the accusation that if we allow for the paranormal explanations we have to allow for any such claims. I have refuted this numerous times. If someone makes a claim and the evidence points against it, then we can reject it. If they make a claim and there is no evidence but also no reason to dismiss it then we might suspend judgment. Remember, accepting the paranormal does not mean one does not accept the scientific findings about the usual workings of nature.

Besides, accepting a paranormal explanation as likely does not mean we cannot use all the scientific methods possible, now and in the future, to further investigate the claim. So, indeed, a natural explanation may be found.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Vaal,

On Thomism, I can only suggest you read Dr.Feser's works, especially The Last Superstitution, Aquinas, and Scholastic Metaphysics, or you at least read a good introduction.

You cannot expect in depth tuition here.

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