Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Logorrhea in the cell


In a recent post I commented on a remark made in one of the comboxes by a reader sympathetic to “Intelligent Design” (ID) theory.  At the ID website Uncommon Descent, Vincent Torley has responded, in a post with the title “Hyper-skepticism and ‘My way or the highway’: Feser’s extraordinary post.”  The title, and past experience with Torley, led me to expect that his latest piece would be short on dispassionate and accurate analysis and long on overheated rhetoric and misrepresentation.  Past experience with Torley also led me to expect that it would simply be long, period, indeed of gargantuan length.
 
Both expectations were confirmed.  Having cut and pasted Torley’s post into MS Word, I find that it comes to 42 pages, single-spaced.  I envy Torley that he has time to write up a 42-page single-spaced commentary on a blog post written in reply to a reader’s combox remark.  Why he thinks I (or other people with jobs, families, hobbies, etc.) would have time to read such a thing, I have no idea.  As to the content, well, since Torley thinks you can infer quite a lot even from brief phrases, he’ll be happy to know that I agree with him to this extent: Having read the first section and quickly scanned a couple of other passages of his opus -- and seen how badly he there distorts what I wrote -- I infer that it would be a waste of time (time I don’t have in any case) to read the rest. 

Consider that first section.  Why does Torley label me a “hyper-skeptic”?  Surely that is a rather odd accusation to fling at someone who (as Torley later acknowledges) thinks the existence of God can be demonstrated via philosophical arguments.  The reason, it turns out, is this.  Recall that the reader to whom I was responding suggested that if we found the phrase “Made by Yahweh” in every human cell, there would be “only one thing we can reasonably conclude.”  Torley assures his own readers that:

[Feser] thinks a secularist would have every right to disregard the discovery, and treat it as a pop-culture-influenced hallucination…

and

Feser… argues that if scientists had found a message in the cells of every human being’s DNA, referring not to God, but to Quetzalcoatl or Steve Jobs, it would be perfectly rational for us to dismiss the discovery as a collective, pop culture-induced hallucination…

and

Feser evidently thinks that this would be a rational way for an atheist to respond to the discovery of a message referring to God in everyone’s DNA: to not only deny that God was responsible, but to deny that an intelligent being was responsible.  Reading that left me speechless.

End quote.  Note that by “left me speechless” Torley apparently means “led me to churn out 42 single-spaced pages in reply.”

It doesn’t take a very close reading of what I wrote to see that Torley has badly misrepresented it.  I neither said nor implied that it would be “perfectly rational” to interpret phrases like the ones in question as hallucinations or as something other than a product of intelligence, nor did I say or imply that “a secularist would have every right to disregard” such weird events.  What I said is that determining what to make of such weird events would crucially depend on epistemic background context, and that if we concluded that God was responsible (as of course we well might), then that epistemic background context would be doing more work in justifying that judgment than the weird events themselves would be.  Whether you agree with this or not, there is nothing remotely “skeptical” about it, nor is there anything at all in it that implies either that we could never be justified in believing that God was the source of such a message or that a secularist would, all things being equal, be rationally justified in denying that God was the source.

I find that this modus operandi is evident in many of the responses ID sympathizers make to my criticisms: First, egregiously misrepresent what I have said, at such prodigious length that the resulting cloud of squid ink completely obscures the unwary reader’s view of what I actually wrote or what the dispute is really about; second, evince befuddlement and outrage that I could say the silly and horrible things wrongly attributed to me; third, sanctimoniously express regret that ID sympathizers and Thomists aren’t on more “friendly” terms (as Torley puts it). 

Could such a pattern -- albeit it is a pattern of cluelessness -- itself be a mark of intelligent design?  Indeed it could be, in the sense that you have to be a rational animal in the first place in order to exhibit the kind of irrationality that some ID folks do. 

There’s more, but, as I say, I’ve read very little of Torley’s post and don’t have the time or inclination to read any further.  I do see on a quick scroll-through that Torley makes other odd and false statements, like:  “The argument which Feser most frequently touts as a knockdown demonstration of God’s existence is a re-vamped version of St. Thomas Aquinas’ Fifth Way.”  I don’t know why he says this.  Of course, I do indeed defend the Fifth Way, but it is most certainly not the argument I “most frequently tout as a knockdown demonstration of God’s existence.” I would have thought it obvious from my books, articles, and many, many blog posts that it is the cosmological argument in several of its versions that I regard as the chief demonstration of God’s existence.

A final comment: In the combox of my recent post, I said in response to a reader’s remarks that “as far as I know, none of my critics on the ID side has even addressed” my argument that a mechanistic philosophy of nature tends toward occasionalism (an argument that I develop in my Nova et Vetera article “Between Aristotle and William Paley: Aquinas’s Fifth Way”).  Torley replies:

Hello, Professor? Hello? One year ago, I emailed you to inform you about my Uncommon Descent post, Building a bridge between Scholastic philosophy and Intelligent Design (January 5, 2013), in which I addressed the very point you raised. I realize that you’re a very busy man, but one year is a rather long time. In any case, I address the charge that Intelligent Design is tied to occasionalism, later in this post.

Well, as I said, “as far as I know” no ID defender had addressed the claim in question, and I’ve never read the blog post Torley is referring to.  I thank him for the correction.

That post of Torley’s, by the way, comes to 39 pages single-spaced.  His other posts on these subjects (many of which I also haven’t read) are equally gargantuan.  Mr. Torley should know that in addition to all the other reading and writing I have to do (most of which, last year, was devoted to work on Scholastic Metaphysics), I have stacks of books and papers, many of them written or edited by friends, that have been sitting here next to my desk for longer than a year waiting for me to read, and in some cases review, them.  Preternaturally long-winded blog posts written by people with a track record of misrepresenting what I write are, I have to confess, not even at the bottom of any of these stacks.

332 comments:

1 – 200 of 332   Newer›   Newest»
Vincent Torley said...

Hi Ed,

I don't like having my honesty or ability to read impugned, so I'll quote your own words:

"If we found in every human cell a phrase referring to Kilroy, round squares, the Matrix, or Steve Jobs, we would judge it far more likely that someone, somehow, is playing a massive joke on us than that the Matrix or round squares exist, or that Kilroy or Steve Jobs is responsible. Nor would we judge that a 'transcendent intelligence' — if by that we mean a strictly divine one (i.e. an intellect that was infinite, purely actual, perfectly good, etc.) — was responsible. (Indeed, I would say that when we understand what it would be to be the divine intellect, we can see that such a frivolous action would be ruled out. And we might not even attribute the scenario to intelligence at all; on the contrary, you might judge that everyone’s cognitive faculties — or maybe just your own (including your perceptions of what other people were reporting about what they’d seen in the cell) — were massively malfunctioning and producing pop-culture-influenced hallucinations,"

which I paraphrased as:

"if scientists had found a message in the cells of every human being's DNA, referring not to God, but to Quetzalcoatl or Steve Jobs, it would be perfectly rational for us to dismiss the discovery as a collective, pop culture-induced hallucination."

You also wrote that a secularist who had what he believed to be good independent reasons for thinking that Yahweh does not exist "might conclude instead that the whole thing was a gag foisted upon us by Erich von Däniken's extraterrestrials, or by a cabal of Christian biotech whizzes — or maybe that it is just a massive cognitive malfunction on his part, caused by his excessive fear of the Religious Right,"

which I paraphrased as:

"Feser evidently thinks that this would be a rational way for an atheist to respond to the discovery of a message referring to God in everyone’s DNA: to not only deny that God was responsible, but to deny that an intelligent being was responsible."

I think that's a pretty reasonable interpretation. If it isn't, then you might like to try writing more clearly. The fact is, I was scrupulously careful in making sure I'd summarized your thought accurately. I went over it again and again. Don't you dare accuse me of distorting your words.

By the way, my posts are designed to be read online. That way, if you come across a not-so-interesting passage, you can scroll past it and return to it later, once you've grasped the general gist of the post. That's the way I read your posts. I don't know why anyone would be silly enough to print one of my posts out on paper.

The reason why my posts are so long is very simple: you criticize ID on so many grounds. Replying to them all and documenting the evidence that I'm right takes up lots of space. Do you think I enjoy sitting up at midnight writing that stuff?

But since you're so allergic to reading long posts, here's a very short summary of what I wrote in response to your hyper-skepticism:

1. If scientists came across the message "Made by Yahweh and discovered by Sarah Smith on Wednesday, July 28, 2014 at 11:45:32 GMT, 100 years to the day after the outbreak of World War I" in very human's DNA, and if the same message were found in ancient human DNA, then there could be absolutely no doubt that God was responsible.

2. You assume that the only reason God would have for leaving a “Made by Yahweh” message in every human being’s DNA is to demonstrate His existence to an unbelieving world. But what if God intended to leave a message in every human being’s DNA, not as a way of conclusively demonstrating His existence, but as a way of disproving materialistic accounts of the origin of our DNA?

To be continued...

Vincent Torley said...

3. I disagree with the claim that a well-documented case of a corpse coming back to life could only be ascribed to God. For the problem is that what looks like a resurrection might not actually be a resurrection. To simulate a resurrection, then, all that an advanced race of aliens would have to is very rapidly remove the corpse from the scene, transform another individual into a replica of what the deceased person looked like while he/she was still alive, and rapidly transport that person to the place where the corpse was before – all in the blink of an eye. Ridiculously far-fetched? Yes, of course. But is it demonstrably impossible? No. Then there's the demon problem: St. Thomas writes that demons can't bring a dead body back to life, but he says demons are capable of producing collective hallucinations: “the demon, who forms an image in a man’s imagination, can offer the same picture to another man’s senses.” (ST I, q. 114, art. 4, ad. 2)

4. The argument you put forward to undermine the inference that the discovery of a “Made by Yahweh” message in every human cell would point to God as its Author rested on a counter-scenario: what if we found the message “Made by Quetzalcoatl,” or “Made by Steve Jobs” instead? What would we infer then? But the point is that we haven’t found such messages. You're relying on a counterfactual scenario whose metaphysical possibility has never been demonstrated.

5. A more interesting question is what we should infer if instead we discovered the message “Made by Alec the alien from Alpha Centauri” in every human cell, instead of “Made by Yahweh.” In this case, we have no positive grounds for doubting the veracity of the message: for all we know, there might be a planet orbiting Alpha Centauri which supports intelligent life. For my part, the first question I would ask, if such a discovery were made, is whether it could be a hoax perpetrated by scientists on Earth. But if the unanimous verdict of biologists around the world were that such a feat lay well beyond the capabilities of contemporary scientists, then I would tentatively conclude that an alien named Alec from Alpha Centauri was indeed responsible for putting the message there. Wouldn’t you?

6. Your hyper-skeptical claim that if we found the message “Made by Yahweh” in every human cell, we might rationally conclude that we were all suffering from a collective hallucination, could be used to undermine belief in every miracle – including a resurrection from the dead, which Feser has argued could only be the work of God. For the belief in the resurrection rests on the testimony of just 500 eyewitnesses.

7. If you think it's metaphysically possible in the real world that a collective hallucination could make us all believe that there are messages in each and every cell in our bodies when in fact there are no such messages, then a skeptic might reasonably ask: "Why should I trust my senses at all, as a reliable source of knowledge?" But this would undercut the reliability of a posteriori arguments for the existence of God. So your skepticism is self-refuting.

Got to go to work. That's all for now.

TheOFloinn said...

Actually, it's not at all unusual for folks to "see" signals in noisy data. How long did we see the canals on Mars as evidence that there had once been intelligent life there? In the end, even the canals weren't real. If there is evidence of design anywhere in nature, it lies in the rules and not in any alleged exceptions or "low probability" structures. In this light, Darwin's theory (to the extent that it reflects a physical law of nature at all) provides mild additional support for the existence of God.

(There is no such thing as a probabilitysimpliciter absent an a priori model and what appears at first blush to be a low probability value may only mean that the model is not adequate.)

malcolmthecynic said...

(Professor?) Torley,

I'm no philosopher and no Dr. Feser, but I do want to make a quick mention about this quote of yours:

which I paraphrased as:

"if scientists had found a message in the cells of every human being's DNA, referring not to God, but to Quetzalcoatl or Steve Jobs, it would be perfectly rational for us to dismiss the discovery as a collective, pop culture-induced hallucination."


But that is NOT what Dr. Feser said. You removed all of the qualifiers. I'll just quote the very article you're responding to:

I neither said nor implied that it would be “perfectly rational” to interpret phrases like the ones in question as hallucinations or as something other than a product of intelligence, nor did I say or imply that “a secularist would have every right to disregard” such weird events. What I said is that determining what to make of such weird events would crucially depend on epistemic background context, and that if we concluded that God was responsible (as of course we well might), then that epistemic background context would be doing more work in justifying that judgment than the weird events themselves would be.

Now, you can accuse Dr. Feser of not writing clearly, but frankly I got what he meant without him needing to write that clarification. I get that you were trying to be scrupulously accurate, and I believe you. But I think the error here is on you, not Dr. Feser.

E.Seigner said...

Dear Mr. Torley,

The problem I see is that you are in active proselytisation mode. Does it make sense to do it to Mr. Feser? I mean, he is already Christian :)

Being a philosopher as he is, I suspect that ID theory is not really interesting to him. He puts forth his philosophical reasons to dismiss ID theory not with a view to serious engagement, debate and dialogue, but only because it's a topic in this world we live in. On the convincing-to-compelling scale, ID theory is uninteresting, i.e. off the scale.

Maybe Mr. Feser does not quite see it this way, or he would not put it this way, but I do. I see it this way and I put it this way because it is this way to me.

Under the Signature In The Cell post, a sincere ID theorist made his best to reconcile Thomism with ID. His compromise recommendation turned out to be God of the gaps. If this is what ID theory has on offer, then it is uninteresting for consistent theists - and should be.

Any God worth the name would be eternal and ever-present. Since I see it this way, does it make sense to evangelise to me? The fact that ID theory is just an evangelisation/apologetics gimmick makes it philosophically all the more uninteresting...

Glenn said...

Vincent,

I don't like having my honesty or ability to read impugned, so I'll quote your own words:

"If we found in every human cell a phrase referring to Kilroy, round squares, the Matrix, or Steve Jobs, we would judge it far more likely that someone, somehow, is playing a massive joke on us than that the Matrix or round squares exist, or that Kilroy or Steve Jobs is responsible. Nor would we judge that a 'transcendent intelligence' — if by that we mean a strictly divine one (i.e. an intellect that was infinite, purely actual, perfectly good, etc.) — was responsible. (Indeed, I would say that when we understand what it would be to be the divine intellect, we can see that such a frivolous action would be ruled out. And we might not even attribute the scenario to intelligence at all; on the contrary, you might judge that everyone’s cognitive faculties — or maybe just your own (including your perceptions of what other people were reporting about what they’d seen in the cell) — were massively malfunctioning and producing pop-culture-influenced hallucinations,"

which I paraphrased as:

"if scientists had found a message in the cells of every human being's DNA, referring not to God, but to Quetzalcoatl or Steve Jobs, it would be perfectly rational for us to dismiss the discovery as a collective, pop culture-induced hallucination."


Your having called that a 'paraphrase' is a strong indication that: a) you have a poor understanding of the meaning of the word; or, b) your ability to read is legitimately subject to question.

malcolmthecynic said...

And this:

1. If scientists came across the message "Made by Yahweh and discovered by Sarah Smith on Wednesday, July 28, 2014 at 11:45:32 GMT, 100 years to the day after the outbreak of World War I" in very human's DNA, and if the same message were found in ancient human DNA, then there could be absolutely no doubt that God was responsible.

Here's the thing: Nothing that Dr. Feser wrote actually precludes him from agreeing with you completely.

Glenn said...

Oops. I now see that malcolmthecynic has already addressed that particular point.

Edward Feser said...

Don't you dare accuse me of distorting your words.

Well, I do dare to accuse you. Vincent. In fact I double dare. So nyah nyah.

Not that I think you intentionally distorted what I wrote. I think you were just being careless because you’re really, really annoyed at me for criticizing ID again and wanted to hit back hard -- “ready, fire, aim” and all that. I see it from ID folks all the time.

But that you did distort what I wrote is beyond dispute. And what’s important is not the stuff you’re now quoting. What’s important is all the stuff you’re not quoting from my original post that clearly shows that I was not saying what you claimed I was saying.

Hence in the first section of my original post, in regard to the “made by Yahweh” example I said:

Context is everything…

by itself such a weird event wouldn’t give us reason at all to affirm the existence of any “transcendent intelligence,” much less Yahweh…

independent reasons are what's really doing the heavy lifting in the thought experiment, not the “Made by Yahweh” stuff…

If we’re to judge that Yahweh, rather than extraterrestrial pranksters, hallucination, or some other cause, was behind such an event, it is considerations other than the event itself that will justify us in doing so.

End quote. All of that makes it obvious that what I was saying was, NOT that we can never know whether such a message was from Yahweh, but rather that we could know that such a message was from Yahweh from the context and from independent reasons rather than from the message considered by itself And there is nothing “hyper-skeptical” about that, any more than it is “hyper-skeptical” to say that in order to determine whether Plato (say) really wrote such-and-such a text attributed to him, you need to know that Plato was a real person, whether the text came from the time he was alive, whether it matches his style and usual themes, whether anyone else claimed authorship, etc.

(Continued)

Edward Feser said...

(Continued)

Then, in the third section of the post you were responding to, I wrote:

I have never said that God cannot reveal himself through sentences, artifacts, and other things having accidental rather than substantial forms, nor does anything I have said imply that. Of course God can cause artifacts to exist miraculously, he can cause a voice to be heard from the sky or from a burning bush, and for that matter he could also cause “Made by Yahweh” to appear in every human cell. And of course he can, and has, revealed himself via miraculous actions like some of these. I don’t think it has ever occurred to any Thomist to dispute any of that. It simply isn’t what is at issue.

What is at issue is the context in which such events could be known to be divine revelations -- and, in particular, whether such events could by themselves constitute evidence for the existence of God for someone who didn’t already know that God exists. For there are different sorts of miracles, and different sorts of context in which they might be interpreted.

I then gave examples of contexts in which certain sorts of miracles would not be understood by their intended audiences, and then said:

Contrast the sorts of contexts we find with biblical miracles like the burning bush or the voice from the sky at Christ’s baptism. The audiences in these cases were people who had no doubt that God exists -- indeed, that the God of Israel, specifically, exists -- and that he reveals himself via unusual events of this sort. Nor, given their cultural context, would it have occurred to them to wonder whether extraterrestrials or a CIA-type organization might be responsible instead. It is, as it were, as if they were already “waiting by the phone” for God to “call” in one of these ways, and all he needed to do was to make it happen. Etc. etc.

Once again, it is obvious from the context that I was NOT presenting a “skeptical” position of any sort. I was not saying that we can’t know that messages of such-and-such a sort have been revealed, but rather merely noting what sort of context would have to be in place for us to know that they have been revealed. Indeed, I explicitly said that such contexts HAVE been in place.

So, you very clearly DID distort what I wrote. You say that you “went over it again and again.” The key, though, is to go over it dispassionately rather than in the heat of righteous indignation. In that case, doing so once would have been enough.

By the way, speaking of not reading things carefully, I never said that I printed out your posts. I said only that I cut and pasted a couple of them into MS Word to get a word/page count. After I see that, believe me, the last thing I want to do is click “Print.” Ink is expensive.

malcolmthecynic said...

Mr. Torley,

1. If scientists came across the message "Made by Yahweh and discovered by Sarah Smith on Wednesday, July 28, 2014 at 11:45:32 GMT, 100 years to the day after the outbreak of World War I" in very human's DNA, and if the same message were found in ancient human DNA, then there could be absolutely no doubt that God was responsible.

I still don't agree. Consider a materialist seeing such a thing. He doesn't think spiritual things like the God Yahweh to be possible even in theory. His reaction can very reasonably be "Either Yahweh has been a time-traveling alien this whole time or a time-traveling alien is messing with us."

In fact, given the fact that if materialism is true Yahweh's (as we understand Him) existence is literally an impossibility, then one of the ONLY logical explanations the materialist can give is that one. The only others I can think of would have to involve some sort of psychotic break.

Anonymous said...

This reminds me of Craigs' argument that if objective moral values exist, God exists. Taken by itself this argument doesn't point to God (maybe aliens created this universe and are responsible for OMV's). Craigs' other arguments are needed to make the case God exists and is therefore likely the prescriber of OMV's.

Michael said...

Oh please, why is this even a debate? Reality contradicts the evolutionists.

Has life ever been observed evolving from non-life? - No

Can the scientific community, what with all their intelligence and resources, create life from non-life? - No

Has speciation ever been witnessed in nature? - No

Has an explosion in outer space ever been observed resulting in the formation of new stars, planets and galaxies? - No

Evolution is an atheist-driven philosophy applied after the fact in order to explain away God. If they can convince society that we're nothing more than the products of random chance, if they can successfully dehumanize the population and eliminate God's law, they can institutionalize their Marxist-humanist nonsense and lord over the "useful idiots."

In short, they want to replace God with themselves - a disaster in the making.

Happy said...

Greetings, Dr. Feser,

A general observation: What do you suppose the implicit philosophical basis for most people's already having belief in God (prior to miraculous self-disclosures) actually was in biblical times? As I recall, an implicit form of the argument from design was by far the most prevalent in the biblical and patristic eras.

Just sayin' . . .

Nick Corrado said...

Michael,

Three of your four questions have nothing to do with biological evolution and all four answers are false. Evolution is not atheist-driven, not a philosophy, is not post hoc, and doesn't explain away God. It reduces nothing to random chance, it dehumanizes no one but merely affirms our nature as rational animals, it just is God's law, and it has nothing to do with Marxist-humanist nonsense or useful idiots. It deifies nothing and no one.

The only claim you got right is that this is not a debate.

Sources:
http://www.theguardian.com/science/2010/may/20/craig-venter-synthetic-life-form

http://evolution.berkeley.edu/evolibrary/news/100201_speciation

http://www.universetoday.com/49446/planet-formation-observed-around-massive-stars/

Greg said...

Well I'm glad to see you two getting along so well...

Ed, since it was my brief argument which became the result of a 4400 word response from you and 42-page rebuttal from VT, I'd like to follow up on something. You write:

If we’re to judge that Yahweh, rather than extraterrestrial pranksters, hallucination, or some other cause, was behind such an event, it is considerations other than the event itself that will justify us in doing so.

But this does not mean the message "Made by Yahweh" carries no weight. Of course context matters; my argument presupposes as much. Prior knowledge of Yahweh as creator, transcendent, etc. is what would make message so appealing.

In fact the conclusion that Yahweh is indeed the cause of the message comes from the context surrounding the message itself. If it was found universally it could not be reasonably the creation of human agency (such as brilliant Christian scientists), if it was found written in Hebrew in fossils dated prior to the written Hebrew language it could not be from prankster extraterrestrials (unless they could time travel). And the message itself, "made by Yahweh," would rule out any perfect, non-deceptive being not named Yahweh.

So I'll concede it would be logically possible for Christian biotech whizzes to put this message on every human cell we find. I'll concede that it is logically possible for a highly advanced alien race to time travel in order to trick us into thinking Yahweh exists and created humans. And I'll concede that it is logically possible that a very powerful deceptive force could falsely reveal itself as "Yahweh." I just don't see how any of these things are reasonable to conclude, which was my argument all along.

Daniel said...

Though I concur about his having over-emphasised and perhaps misinterpreted certain aspects of the A-T critique of ID Torley is to be commended for attempting to engage with the relevant issues on a philosophical level and not just doing the Born-Again-Carnap bit. His article on Paley and Mechanism is most interesting too (not that it does much to help Paley – it’s just interesting to note that something akin to the Boylean take on Mechanism and Final Causality persisted).

Ed, will your forthcoming volume on Philosophy of Nature touch on Abiogenesis? I hope so as it would be most valuable.

BenYachov said...

"Made by Yahweh"

Found in the cell coded on the DNA.

Well I am a scifi geek after all.

I would find it rather odd the Almighty would choose to encode that in English instead of Biblical Hebrew or Greek.

I would first suspect some Atheist joker used some genetically engineered proteus nanovirus or similar nano-tech to re-write human DNA to have a laugh at the expense of the Mechanistic Creationist types.

Now a planet with a volcanic mountain range that spelled out in large flaming red letters WE APOLOGIZE FOR THE INCONVENIENCE.

That would be a better example.

BenYachov said...

Oh and Vincent.

YOU ARE KILLING ME!!!!

Oy!

Bilbo said...

Hi Ed,

I'll let you and VJ fight it out, but I'm curious about something you wrote on the origin of life:

No contemporary A-T theorist accepts the mistaken scientific assumptions that informed Aquinas’s views about spontaneous generation. But might a contemporary A-T theorist hold that there could be some other natural processes (understood non-mechanistically, of course) that have within them the power to generate life, at least as part of an overall natural order that we must in any event regard as divinely conserved in existence? He might, and some do. But the actual empirical evidence for the existence of such processes seems (to say the least) far weaker now than it did in Aquinas’s own day, precisely because no one any longer believes that spontaneous generation is an ongoing natural process; and the confidence that naturalists have that purely natural processes can generate life rests, I would submit, on their commitment to metaphysical naturalism rather than on actual empirical evidence

Hence, some A-T thinkers conclude that the first living things could not have arisen out of inorganic processes in any way and must have been specially created by God in an extraordinary intervention in the natural order.


So because of empirical evidence, some A-T philosophers are willing to believe that the origin of life was a special act of creation. Let's assume, for the sake of argument, that ID proponents are correct about the empirical evidence and that it was beyond the ability of nature to produce most of evolutionary history. Is there anyway to reconcile that with A-T metaphysics?

Greg said...

Ben,

The example can be amended however you please. Should the phrase be in Hebrew and found universally in human remains prior to the advent of nano-technology (or should we discover messages emanating from a quasar 500 million light years away), would one still be reasonable to be an atheist?

Vincent Torley said...

Hi Ed,

Thank you for your response. I have cooled down a bit, and I see you have too.

You maintain that I have (unintentionally) distorted your words. So I'll cut to the chase and reproduce the quote I provided in shortened form:

"If we found in every human cell a phrase referring to Kilroy, round squares, the Matrix, or Steve Jobs, ..... you might judge that everyone's cognitive faculties ... were massively malfunctioning and producing pop-culture-influenced hallucinations."

I've deliberately omitted the other conclusions you might draw: there's no need to rehash them. What got my attention was that nowhere in the entire post (and I went over it carefully) did you attempt to distance yourself from that judgement. Nowhere did you say, for instance: "Some people might judge that everyone was suffering from a hallucination, but I think that would be an irrational conclusion to draw." Since you didn't reject the inference as irrational, I was forced to conclude that you regarded the collective hallucination scenario as a real possibility, just as you regarded the "massive practical joke" explanation as a live possibility.

Ditto for the "Made by Yahweh" scenario, where you wrote that a secularist who had what he believed to be good independent reasons for thinking that Yahweh does not exist "might conclude instead that ... it is just a massive cognitive malfunction on his part, caused by his excessive fear of the Religious Right." (I'm skipping over the other options.) Once again, not a hint of disapproval on your part of the secularist/atheist drawing this conclusion. That's why I concluded that you regarded the inference as rational, given the atheist's erroneous worldview.

Finally, you mounted a strong argument that God wouldn't leave a message like that in the cell, anyway: it would be an ineffective way of revealing His existence. That led me to conclude that you would regard it as rational for us to treat the "Made by Yahweh" message in the same way as the "Made by Quetzalcoatl" message - which means that collective hallucination would be a real possibility.

Sounds funny? That's how my mind works.

If you had simply argued that we couldn't infer God's existence from the "Made by Yahweh" message, but that we could infer that some intelligence was responsible, I would have had no quarrel with you, Ed.

You wrote a lot about context in your post. I read those passages too. You made some excellent points, Ed. Why didn't those passages cause me to question my interpretation of your views? Because as an ID theorist, I happen to think it's absolutely obvious that we can identify some messages as the work of an intelligent designer, regardless of context. (Think of "Contact" and the discovery of the first 100 primes, or my long message referring to Sarah Smith and WWI.) Once again, nowhere in your post did you acknowledge this basic point. From my reading of your post, it seemed to me that you were saying that context was essential when drawing the inference that a message was the work of an intelligent agent. I would profoundly disagree.

I'd like to bury the hatchet, so I'll ask you two questions:

1. Do you agree that if a message saying "Made by _____" were discovered in every human's cells, it would be irrational to explain away the discovery as a mass hallucination, regardless of whether the message referred to God, Quetzalcoatl, or Steve Jobs as its author?

2. Do you agree that if the message were suitably long and specific (say, 100 characters of perfectly grammatical English with no repetition), it would be irrational not to ascribe the message to an intelligent agent, regardless of the message's context?

Say yes to both and I'll gladly acknowledge I misread you, in a public forum.

Scott said...

Vincent, your two questions merely repeat your error. In each case you're presuming quite a bit of context and just not calling it that. (For example, "100 characters of perfectly grammatical English" wouldn't look like any such thing to anyone who didn't already read English. For that matter, given a hundred of anything, there's some cipher according to which the series encodes any 100-character string you care to choose.)

Your example from Contact (the first 100 primes) is better. Even here I'd say that some minimal context is required, but it doesn't matter much, since Ed neither said nor implied that the interpretation of every possible message required massive amounts of context.

Anonymous said...

Oh boy...

Correct me, Professor Feser and others, if I misstep here, but the singularly important to this whole business is that the inference [of the atheist, that a biologically-inscribed message is not God's doing] WOULD BE RATIONAL "given the atheist's erroneous worldview"; YOUR ARGUMENT does nothing to show why we should disregard, say, materialism in the first place (and thus accept God's influence in the proceedings, and not, i dunno, the eventual necessity of any occurrence given an infinite universe).

Atheist: 'There are only material things'

You: 'But there is a message on a cell from God!'

Atheist: 'Only matter exists, you're wrong. Even if we don't know how it got there, it was not how you say, and you can't ever prove otherwise'
---------- THE END.

The order in the universe is most certainly God's work, but your argument gives no one a reason to believe it who does not already.

Anonymous said...

But singularly important to the whole business* excuse my spelling.

Also, how "your mind works" is even less interesting than your argument. Maybe if you distanced yourself from the former as an influence in judgement, you might understand why no one here takes the latter seriously.

Bones said...

Greg said:

"The example can be amended however you please. Should the phrase be in Hebrew and found universally in human remains prior to the advent of nano-technology (or should we discover messages emanating from a quasar 500 million light years away), would one still be reasonable to be an atheist?"

What if the atheist had grounds for believing that it was logically impossible for God to exist? What would his options be? He could only interpret the event as one of the possibilities within his framework. (Aliens, super-intelligent beings, random chance, whatever...)

Now, of course, you could argue with the atheist that he doesn't have solid grounds for his refusal to accept God's existence. But any such argument would ultimately boil down to metaphysical considerations - the kind that Ed has been explaining for years now. Probabilities would mean nothing to someone who, for more fundamental reasons, refuses to believe that God could exist. In order to convince him, you need to get down to metaphysical fundamentals.

Think of it this way. If we were to find a message encoded within a quasar 500 million L.Y. away that spelled out most of a complex mathematical proof - but came up with the wrong answer - would we be justified in rejecting our understanding of the logical structure of mathematics? Of course not. We know, on principle, otherwise. I think for the atheist who rejects God on prior grounds, any sort of "complex message" will ultimately fail to convince for a similar reason.

Vincent Torley said...

Hi Scott,

When I say "context" I don't mean "knowledge of the English language." That's given. I mean any other background information or events that might be used to interpret a message.

Re the cipher: all I'm assuming here is that there's a good independent reason, based on probability-related considerations for regarding the cipher as correct. Case in point: based on probability-related considerations, I wouldn't expect the shortest intelligible message in someone's DNA to be 100 characters long. I'd expect lots of shorter fragments - words and phrases - to be lying around too.

Finally, I'm not asking Ed whether he thinks massive amounts of context are required for all messages. My question is simply whether Ed accepts that some messages can be identified as such, independent of context (apart from knowledge of the language in question). That's all I want to know.

Vincent Torley said...

Hi Bones,

You wrote:

"Probabilities would mean nothing to someone who, for more fundamental reasons, refuses to believe that God could exist. In order to convince him, you need to get down to metaphysical fundamentals."

I know of very few atheists who set the probability of God's existence to exactly zero. P.Z. Myers is one of the few examples that comes to mind. (Maybe John Loftus, as well.) Most atheists would say there's a very small chance that God exists.

Anonymous said...

You're assuming "the universe is infinite, everything happens eventually" is NOT a good explanation for even a fifteen-thousand word long short story inscribed on a cell; that is, you assume an ontology your atheist adversary will almost certainly disagree with, depriving your argument of what little potency it possesses. You haven't given anyone a reason to think that chance can't account for order, or that we even can reason from cause to effect outside for more than colloquial purposes. Experience doesn't furnish us with the tools to infer from the words to either God or any other cause [Kant and Hume would say] as a more reasonable source thereof.

However people may have argued to God in the past, we live in a post-Kantian wasteland; it is impossible to maintain face without addressing exactly the sort of epistemic-metaphysical issues Dr. Feser takes you to task for not addressing (you thus invariably adopt assumptions that terminate in skepticism or invite skeptical retorts). And if we aren't trying to convince anyone, why bother at all?

Vincent Torley said...

Hi Ed,

Just one more thing. The reason why I referred to your revamped version of Aquinas' Fifth Way in your post rather than your extended version of the cosmological argument (which I know you are very fond of) is that only the Fifth Way refers explicitly to God as an Intelligent Agent. Proving that God is utterly necessary, absolutely simple and Pure Being doesn't directly address the question of His intelligence, and I take it that most people would not concern themselves with a God Who wasn't intelligent. That was why I focused on the Fifth Way.

My criticisms of your version of the Fifth Way come to less than 3,000 words. You can find them by scrolling down to the heading "What I see as the logical flaws in Feser’s argument" in Part 3 of my post, which is titled, "Does Feser's proof of God's existence work?" I don't think 3,000 words is excessive; it's a summary of what I wrote in my online post, "Feser’s Fifth: Why his up-to-date version of Aquinas’ Fifth Way fails as a proof, and how to make it work." Hopefully you'll have time in the near future to read the 3,000-word summary, at least. Cheers.

Vincent Torley said...

Anonymous,

I've written several posts about the multiverse and why it doesn't make sense. Try this one (see the list of posts at the end): http://www.uncommondescent.com/intelligent-design/vilenkins-verdict-all-the-evidence-we-have-says-that-the-universe-had-a-beginning/

You might also like to try this one, written in response to Sean Carroll:
http://www.uncommondescent.com/intelligent-design/is-god-a-good-theory-a-response-to-sean-carroll-part-two/

And if you don't like what I've written, try this article by Robin Collins:
http://commonsenseatheism.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/09/Collins-The-Teleological-Argument.pdf

That's a start. Cheers.

E.Seigner said...

Vincent Torley: My question is simply whether Ed accepts that some messages can be identified as such, independent of context (apart from knowledge of the language in question).

Notice how you say "identified" here instead of "interpreted" even though "interpreted" is what you inevitably mean.

The answer is no, absolutely not. It doesn't even require A-T to conclude this. In linguistics it's equally straightforward: The definiteness of the interpretation is proportionate to the context. Without context, there's no interpretation whatsoever.

Josh said...

Anyone remember that scene in the Coen Bros. A Serious Man, about the dentist who discovers the ominous Hebrew message inside his patient's mouth? Seems apropos for contextual analysis...

Daniel said...

@Vincent Torley,

Actually in in The Last Superstition and in innumerable blog-posts on the subject Ed has discussed how the First Way and other Cosmological Arguments establish the Divine Intelligence via Proportionate Causality. A potted version can be found in his video lecture here:

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

Scott said...

@Vincent Torley:

"When I say 'context' I don't mean 'knowledge of the English language.' That's given. I mean any other background information or events that might be used to interpret a message."

That may well be what you mean by it, but surely for present purposes you would be better served by trying to make sure you understand what Ed means by it.

And it seems more than tolerably clear that he's arguing that some context is required even to recognize something as a "message" at all in the first place. Given his earlier remarks along these lines (here, for example), I'd be very surprised if he didn't count knowledge of a language as part of this context. At any rate, I certainly do.

Novak said...

Do these criticisms of biological ID from the A-T perspective apply equally well to cosmological "fine-tuning"?

I have to confess that, though biological ID has never really moved me on any level, I've always found fine-tuning to be very intuitively appealing. Not as an argument for God as classically conceived, but rather as a big obstacle to metaphysical naturalism. Unlike in academic biology, where hardly anybody really pays much mind to biological ID, in cosmology you've got droves of godless experts readily acknowledging the explanatory poverty of this physical universe to account for cosmological fine-tuning and then inadvertently sounding a note of concession by appealing to the empirically unverified idea of the "multiverse."

Even David Bentley Hart, who's about as classical as is possible to get, had this to say in his most recent book:

"As for theistic claims drawn from the astonishing array of improbable cosmological conditions that hold our universe together, including the cosmological constant itself, or from the mathematical razor's edge upon which all of it is so exquisitely balanced, these rest upon a number of deeply evocative arguments, and those who dismiss them casually are probably guilty of a certain intellectual dishonesty. Certainly all of the cosmos's exquisitely fine calibrations and consonances and exactitudes should speak powerfully to anyone who believes in a transcendent creator, and they might even have the power to make a reflective unbeliever curious about supernatural explanations. But, in the end, such arguments also remain only probabilistic, and anyone predisposed to explain them away will find plentiful ways of doing so" (emphasis mine)

I agree with Hart, but since I think it better to view such arguments as potential invalidators of naturalism rather than as positive proofs for the existence of God, I don't see the problem with them being "probabilistic," and I don't see why they must necessarily get in the way of establishing God as classically conceived. As to the former, most philosophical arguments are probabilistic anyway, and as to the latter, such arguments will get in the way only if they imply that God is some sort of external architect or designer working on his creation from "outside" in an ad hoc manner. But if modestly expressed, they don't need to imply that.

Vincent Torley said...

Hi E. Seigner,

You write:

"Without context, there's no interpretation whatsoever."

Let me ask you this. What about the discovery of the monolith on the Moon in Arthur C. Clarke's 2001? Here, the structure is ascribed to an intelligent agent simply because the lengths of its sides are in the ratio 1:4:9. Surely no context is required here.

Greg said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
E.Seigner said...

Vincent Torley: What about the discovery of the monolith on the Moon in Arthur C. Clarke's 2001? Here, the structure is ascribed to an intelligent agent simply because the lengths of its sides are in the ratio 1:4:9. Surely no context is required here.

How did Arthur C. Clarke interpret it? "Mystery!" "Need more data." i.e. not enough context :)

Context is not just other observable stuff around the stuff that we observe. Context in this context is, crucially, our metaphysical assumptions. If we happen to believe in Zeus who would be likely to put up heavy perfectly shaped blocks, then we'd be very tempted to conclude this way. The interpretation of any message in the cell, formulated whichever way, would be dependent on metaphysical assumptions precisely the same way. Atheists would invariably interpret it in a different way than theists.

E.Seigner said...

@Vincent Torley
As might be clear from my last comment, I have not read the novel. I have only seen the film. Reading a synopsis now, I see that apparently the block was supposed to be some alien device. But my point stands. In the film the block was precisely a mystery. And it was a mystery for the ape-men.

This all lucidly illustrates that interpretation occurs within a context, within the metaphysical framework of the one who interprets. Having seen only the film, I had no way to unambiguously attribute the block to intelligent design - and I didn't :)

Andrew said...

Mr Torley,

You wrote:

If scientists came across the message "Made by Yahweh and discovered by Sarah Smith on Wednesday, July 28, 2014 at 11:45:32 GMT, 100 years to the day after the outbreak of World War I" in very human's DNA, and if the same message were found in ancient human DNA, then there could be absolutely no doubt that God was responsible.

To reply in less than 100 grammatically-correct Latin characters: Nego Simpliciter.

When I used to teach biology and introductory sciences, we always started with the basics of reasoning and some elementary logic -- the "Scientific Method" and all -- including lots of exercises. One in particular was to solve a mystery from clues. Of course the clues do not give all the data needed, you have to back out the missing information based on eliminating other possibilities.

Your error is related to this kind of reasoning. For there to be "absolutely no doubt" all of the other possibilities have to be eliminated: your co-workers playing a cruel prank, the modification of DNA by some intelligent secondary agent (other than God), etc.

You don't do that, though. You jump immediately to God and ignore other possibilities.

Further even to call the discovery a message assumes the conclusion, since a message is only caused by an intelligent agent, since only intelligent agents can express ideas. But was the "message" even an effort to communicate an idea, or is the observer interpreting some phenomenon as such an effort.

If I hear the "minor third bird" -- as we call some local species who sings two notes a minor third apart -- and determine only an intelligent agent can produce an interval, and is thus trying to communicate an idea, I would be simply wrong. The bird is doing what it naturally does, and is a non-intelligent agent.

If I see sticks in the form of an arrow, I might conclude that it was a "message", but it may just be that the sticks fell from trees that way.

Of course it is difficult to imagine some non-Intelligent agent causing a more complex "message", but not impossible, since for it to be a message we have to show intention. For this we would need a non-subjective determination of when a "message" necessitates an intelligent agent. So far all I have seen from Drs. Behe and Dembski, et al. has been a sliding and subjective scale for "design". At what point is something "irreducibly complex" and if further study determines that the parts could been assembled in a step-wise fashion then what?

Indeed, this is in my view the fundamental error of ID. It does a very good job of questioning the Darwinian process, but fails miserably in conceeding that somehow there are things which may not be designed -- that certain things escape an intelligent final cause.

For us Thomists, everything acts for an end, so everything is designed. Nothing escapes design. The very search for design therefore is meaningless.

Rather, seeing that even non-intelligent beings acts for an end, they must have been given this end by an intelligent being ... or the Fifth Way.

This is perhaps the weakest of the Thomistic arguments for the existence of God, but still far stronger than a subjective and superfluous search for "design".

Mr. Green said...

Anonymous: This reminds me of Craigs' argument that if objective moral values exist, God exists. Taken by itself this argument doesn't point to God (maybe aliens created this universe and are responsible for OMV's).

I'm not familiar with the details of Craig's argument, but the general idea works. (Whatever the aliens supposedly did, it would be only relatively objective unless they themselves had the right kind of objectivity, and so on not ad infinitum until you reach God.) That is, objective morality is an example of directedness, and hence the argument succeeds as a version of the Fifth Way.

Andrew said...

Then you write:

What about the discovery of the monolith on the Moon in Arthur C. Clarke's 2001? Here, the structure is ascribed to an intelligent agent simply because the lengths of its sides are in the ratio 1:4:9. Surely no context is required here.

And such an ascription is possible, but certainly not the only possibility.

That there is such a ratio is certainly not definitive any more than the hexagonal columns of Devil's Tower or the Giant's Causeway demonstrate an intelligent agent.

malcolmthecynic said...

Dr. Feser, I think you should be made aware that Lydia McGrew of What's Wrong With the World has put up an objection to your posts.

Now, I think it was dishonest of her to post the objection without linking to you, quoting you, or mentioning you when she is very obviously talking about positions you have very recently written about, but whether or not you think this is dishonest is your call I guess. As she puts it, the argument has "surfaced yet again (never mind where)", except it is an argument nobody ever made.

At any rate, she "paraphrases" your argument, and rather badly. I'd like to see you take a look at that one as well.

http://www.whatswrongwiththeworld.net/2014/07/more_on_arguments_from_signs_a.html

Mr. Green said...

TheOFloinn: Actually, it's not at all unusual for folks to "see" signals in noisy data.

True, but it's even less unusual for folks to see signals in signalling data. There will always be some explanation for a given pattern, and some inferences will be more reasonable in a certain context than others.

If there is evidence of design anywhere in nature, it lies in the rules and not in any alleged exceptions or "low probability" structures.

It can be both. As you say, any measure of probability assumes a model, and for models X and Y, we may be able to say that such-and-such circumstances are more likely given one than the other.
Of course, the catch is that there might be yet another model Z that is even better still….


Scott: For that matter, given a hundred of anything, there's some cipher according to which the series encodes any 100-character string you care to choose.

Yes, but according to the scenario, we fortunately do read English (or Hebrew, etc.). That background context is part of the argument. If we were playing cards and I manage to get four aces every time it's my turn to deal, I feel quite confident that your response will not be, "Eh, four aces is as (un)likely as any other four random cards!" It's statistically true, but the context of playing the game gives it additional meaning. (Hence the business about "specified" complex information.) So the example might not mean what we think it means, but it means something.

John Holmes said...

Watching the news on T.V. I see stories of innocent children being killed in the Israeli/Palestine conflict, the Ebola virus killing thousands in impoverished parts of Africa, and a devastating drought in our nation's biggest agricultural state, California, that is resulting in staggering losses to farmers.

So, fellow Christians, can I get a big "Praise Jeezus" for all of the blessings that our wonderful Lord is showering upon our world!!!??????

Thank you Jezuuussss!!!!!! Thank you for our many blessings!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Vincent Torley said...

Hi Andrew,

Thanks you for your posts. To take your points in reverse order, I wrote about the Giant's Causeway and contrasted it with Arthur C. Clarke's monolith on the Moon in my (relatively short) post, "CSI Revisited" at http://www.uncommondescent.com/intelligent-design/csi-revisited/ .

You write: "For us Thomists, everything acts for an end, so everything is designed." I ask: why? I've critiqued Ed's argument on this point in my latest post; perhaps you have a better one. I'd like to hear it.

You write that ID "fails miserably in conceding that somehow there are things which may not be designed." It does no such thing. All it concedes is that there are there are some things or patterns which cannot be scientifically shown to have been designed. That's all. As Professor Dembski has said repeatedly, ID proponents freely allow that there are many other things that may have been designed which ID's scientifically limited methods are incapable of detecting.

You ask: "At what point is something "irreducibly complex" and if further study determines that the parts could been assembled in a step-wise fashion then what?" Answer: we can say on scientific grounds that a structure is designed if it exhibits specificity and the probability of its occurrence as a result of non-foresighted natural processes falls below a certain threshold (say 10^-150). So the thing you need to do is compute the probabilities for the structure in question.

Referring to the discovery of a message in the cell, you write that "even to call the discovery a message assumes the conclusion, since a message is only caused by an intelligent agent, since only intelligent agents can express ideas." True, but my point is that in at least some cases, probability assessments can rule out the possibility that a meaningful string of symbols is the result of chance and/or necessity; hence one is forced to conclude that it was sent intentionally.

Re the discovery of the long string "Made by Yahweh and discovered by Sarah Smith on Wednesday, July 28, 2014 at 11:45:32 GMT, 100 years to the day after the outbreak of World War I" in everyone's DNA, you write that I ignore the possibility that my co-workers playing a cruel prank, or that an intelligent secondary agent modified the DNA. In my post, I stipulated that the same message was discovered simultaneously in laboratories around the world, and that it was found in Neanderthal DNA too. I think that would rule out fraud. Perhaps one could suppose that Satan subsequently modified the DNA, but Thomists usually don't credit him with such extensive powers. But I'm open to correction on this point.



Mr. Green said...

Anonymous: And if we aren't trying to convince anyone, why bother at all?

See, this is one of the problems I have with dismissals of ID: bother because[/if] it's true! As I said in the previous thread, I don't dispute any of the specific metaphysical criticisms, but it in no way follows that there are not issues involved which are interesting and worthwhile in themselves. If a certain argument works only in a certain context, then fine: don't try to apply it outside that context, but do apply it inside!

Andrew: For us Thomists, everything acts for an end, so everything is designed. Nothing escapes design. The very search for design therefore is meaningless.

Again, that's obviously false. Vast swathes of the human enterprise are dedicated to "design" one way or the other, including all of art and literature. We should not try to make design do things it cannot do, but there is a huge distance between "can't do everything" and "meaningless".

Mr. Green said...

Novak: Do these criticisms of biological ID from the A-T perspective apply equally well to cosmological "fine-tuning"?

Some do, but others certainly do not: in particular, problems about imminent teleology and substantial forms do not, because the universe is not a substance. If stars and planets are arranged in certain ways, that is extrinsic teleology, and thus is relevantly comparable to a machine. (As always, the devil is in the details.)

[Especially the definitional details: I broke my own rule about never using the terms "evolution", "creation", or "ID" without explicitly indicating what is meant. The context of these last few posts implies we're talking about biology, but such cosmological questions are obviously just as much about intelligence and design.]

Edward Feser said...

Vincent,

A quick reply to your 9:33 am comment:

First, let’s stick to the point: As the quotes I gave above from my “Signature in the cell” post show, it was clear from the post itself that I was not saying anything remotely “skeptical,” let alone “hyper-skeptical.” I was, again, merely emphasizing how much our judgments about weird cases like the ones described would depend on independent, contextual factors. That’s very different from saying that no judgment would be better than any other -- something I didn’t say and wouldn’t say, since it is obviously ridiculous. Why did I not discuss how plausible or implausible this or that particular interpretation would be given various possible contexts? Because that was not the point of the post. In any case, the fact that I did not do so is simply irrelevant, because what I did say sufficed to make it clear that I was not pushing “hyper-skepticism.”

Second, I don’t know why you say that if I “say yes to both [of the questions you raise, then] I'll gladly acknowledge I misread you, in a public forum.” You either misread what I wrote in my “Signature in the cell” post or you didn’t, and I have shown that you did. Whether and how I answer these new questions of yours is completely irrelevant to that. Therefore, the decent thing for you to do is simply to admit that you misunderstood me, regardless of whether or how I answer your questions. Owning up to a mistake is something you just do, not something you make conditional on a quid pro quo.

In any event, other readers have already pointed out what is wrong with your questions. Of course context would be relevant to interpreting such messages. Now, I can easily imagine contexts in which it would be extremely unreasonable to say “Oh, this is a hallucination” and I can easily imagine contexts in which it would not be. If we describe various possible contexts in enough detail, we can certainly see how they would make a clear answer possible. That’s why there’s nothing remotely skeptical about what I said. Give us a specific context and sure, we can decide “This suggested interpretation is just indefensible” or “That suggested interpretation is extremely plausible.” But it’s silly to say “Let’s abstract from all context and then ask what the most probable source of the phrase is.” As Mike Flynn pointed out above, there’s no such thing as the most probable source absent all context.

Edward Feser said...

BTW, Vincent’s attempt to wriggle out of the problem context poses for his position is like certain point-missing attempts to solve the “commonsense knowledge problem” in AI. As Hubert Dreyfus argues, it makes no sense to think that intelligence can be reduced to a set of explicitly formulated rules and representations, because there are always various context-dependent ways to interpret the rules and representations. To say “Oh, we’ll just put the ‘right’ interpretation into the rules and representations” completely misses the point, since it just adds further rules and representations that are themselves subject to alternative context-dependent interpretations.

Vincent is doing something similar when he tries to come up with these goofy examples of really long messages written in the cell. It completely misses the point, because that’s just further stuff the import of which depends on a larger context. It also completely misses the point to shout “Skepticism!”, just as an AI defender would be completely missing the point if he accused Dreyfus of being a skeptic. There’s nothing skeptical about it. We can know what the context is and thus we can know what the right interpretation is; we just can’t know the right interpretation apart from all context.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Green,

Well said, I should have qualified: "what is the point of using ID arguments to convince people who do not believe in God that He exists?"

Mr Torley,

The example of skeptical argumentation I provided was (also) insignificant; the point was that (and I quote myself, sorry) "you assume an ontology your atheist adversary will almost certainly disagree" with. There is no reason to accept any evidence or data of any sort what so ever as proof of the existence of God in the presence of an ontology that excludes immaterial entities in the first place. Messages (and data supposedly indicating the um, unlikelihood? of an infinite universe) signify nothing in themselves (other than perhaps exactly what they are, if even). An interpretive framework is required to derive the existence of God from anything what so ever. When you speak of what "cannot be scientifically shown to have been designed", you presume the ability of human intelligence to accurately infer God or the (lack of a) multiverse from what might be understood as relevant information; vast swathes of humanity disagree with you on this point, for some cogent (though ultimately incorrect, I obviously think) philosophic reasons. If I were to opine that causality is only a mode of understanding actually disparate phenomena,and that because usually causes seem to precede effects that you wrongly conclude this message did also, or that it is impossible to ascertain if a mad scientist is simulating every experience you have, what good is ID to demonstrate that God exists or that messages=intelligence? In any of these scenarios even an explicit passage of scripture bestowed on a man by God in person would pose no infallible significance; it would be impossible to know with certainty that reality outside his head corroborates his understanding thereof, or that high probabilities indicate more than a conscious imposition on meaningless phenomena. If ID cannot assist in addressing these problems, which have been at the root of (what I will charitably label the "literate variety" of) atheism for centuries, then it should not be extended as proof for the existence of God. Incredulity at outlandish skeptical suggestions unfortunately poses zero indubitable philosophic meaning. God deserves better.

Again, unless someone assumes your ontology and pays zero attention to any sophisticated variety of philosophic skepticism, ID (and, in principle, any sort of inferential reasoning) will evidence nothing but that IF (in the universe as you understand it) certain signs mean what you say they do, IF human intelligence can know reality and IF God can exist, he probbbbbbably left them.

"Surely no context is required here"- yea, 'cept all that ^

Scott said...

@Mr. Green:

"Yes, but according to the scenario, we fortunately do read English (or Hebrew, etc.). That background context is part of the argument."

Everything you say here is true, but the words I've bolded make me think we're not actually disagreeing.

My own perhaps insufficiently clear point was, in fact, that we need some sort of "background context" in order to interpret a sequence (of four aces, say) as significant. That this context is "part of the argument" doesn't make it any less a context.

Vincent Torley said...

Hello Ed,

I've put an UPDATE and a second UPDATE near the top of my original post. I've also posted an online comment that should alert readers to the change, and to your response to my post:

http://www.uncommondescent.com/intelligent-design/hyper-skepticism-and-my-way-or-the-highway-fesers-extraordinary-post/#comment-509222

It may not have been the point of your original post, Ed, but I do wish you had made your clarifying remark, "Now, I can easily imagine contexts in which it would be extremely unreasonable to say 'Oh, this is a hallucination' and I can easily imagine contexts in which it would not be" in your original post. It would have saved us both a lot of time.

Cheers.

Thomas Donnelly said...

@Michael
@Nick Corrado

Michael, thank you for your questions. They expose evolution and big-banging for the shams they are.

Nick Corrado, I regret that Berkeley refuses to let me access their files, so I cannot comment on your first reference. As for your other citations, they are merely the standard boilerplate bloviation and hand-waving speculation that evolutionists and big-bangers customarily indulge in to distract attention from the fact that they simply can't support their case with hard data.


Vincent Torley said...

Anonymous,

You write: "If I were to opine that causality is only a mode of understanding actually disparate phenomena,and that because usually causes seem to precede effects that you wrongly conclude this message did also, or that it is impossible to ascertain if a mad scientist is simulating every experience you have, what good is ID to demonstrate that God exists or that messages=intelligence?"

Intelligent Design is not intended to demonstrate God's existence. How many times do I have to repeat this?

Regarding the design of the multiverse: Intelligent Design would say that if it exhibits a high degree of specificity, the most reasonable interpretation is that it was designed.

Re the denial of causality: it was still fashionable to quote Hume when I was at uni, but the mood of skepticism seems to have dissipated amid the public outcry about smoking causing lung cancer and more recently, about greenhouse gases causing global warming. I don't see too many skeptics about the reality of an external world now that everyone is running round convinced that the planet is in mortal peril (I'm not: I'm a lukewarmer).

Andrew said...

Vincent,

I appreciate your response, but you seem to miss the point of my critique.

When an observer makes an observation he is presented with various possible explanations, we cannot have absolute certainty, or (to use your equivalent own term) "absolutely no doubt" unless all possible alternatives are excluded. The best one can say absent this to give a relative probability of a certain explanation.

Probability is about as weak a proof as one can get. It's not without its place, to be sure, but we're in the realm of "Pascal's Wager", not Metaphysical certainty.

To say : "we can say on scientific grounds that a structure is designed if it exhibits specificity and the probability of its occurrence as a result of non-foresighted natural processes falls below a certain threshold (say 10^-150)" is really to admit that there is not an objective standard for determining what is designed. All one can say if it passes whatever arbitrary threshold you set is that it is "improbable". Certainty cannot be established on the basis of probabilities.

So when you say: "[M]y point is that in at least some cases, probability assessments can rule out the possibility that a meaningful string of symbols is the result of chance and/or necessity; hence one is forced to conclude that it was sent intentionally," you are simply incorrect. Chance does not cause anything. It is by definition a perturbation in an order. Necessity also is not a cause. Further, probability cannot "rule out" anything except to say it is highly unlikely -- perhaps even probably never occuring in the history of the Universe even once -- but not Metaphysically impossible.

Place whatever conditions on it, that this "message" was in the DNA of every living thing. Still there would not be "absolutely no doubt", though I would admit, it would be highly improbably that this was not intentional. Still, we're not dealing with absolutes, as we do do in philosophy.

Further, we have no idea if that "string of symbols" is actually a "message" at all. Was a meaningful idea to be communicated? Are we reading this idea into the observation?

In Dr. Behe's Edge of Evolution for instance I don't recall him saying that the sheer improbability of a multi-binding site change leaves (again to use your words) "absolutely no doubt" that it hasn't happened. It certainly does make the long-term Darwinian scenario extremely unlikely, but it does not prove (in the demonstrative sense) design or even guided evolution.

You've written a lot to have mentioned this monolity and Giant's Causeway, but that was not the point of the argument at all. The causeway was produced by secondary causes built into the natural laws. There is no reason the fictional monolith could not have been. Plus, let us also remember we're talking about an imaginary thing, that.

You wrote: [Andrew] write[s]: "For us Thomists, everything acts for an end, so everything is designed." I ask: why

Everything acts for an end, or it does not act (Cf. Aristotle, Physics II.8). The end is its goal or the purpose for which it acts. Everything acts according to its nature, which comes from its form (Cf. St. Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Physics, II.7), which comes from its Creator either directly or indirectly. That Creator, because he is perfectly in act (Cf. Aristotle, Metaphysics, XII.8), could not come to know something since this would require potency, but knows everything and maintains everything in its existence, thus, nothing escaping his intelligence or will (Cf. Aristotle, Metaphysics XII.11), everything was designed by Him from all eternity to act as it has, and this considers even the free choices of intelligent creatures.

Vincent Torley said...

Hi Ed,

My very last comment on this thread: would you (or anyone else) like to respond to my criticisms of your version of the Fifth Way in my post at http://www.uncommondescent.com/intelligent-design/hyper-skepticism-and-my-way-or-the-highway-fesers-extraordinary-post/ ? Over to you.

Vincent Torley said...

Hi Andrew,

Look like you posted just as I was. One sentence reply to your argument in the last paragraph: all it shows is that the Unmoved Mover cannot come to know anything; what it fails to establish is that it knows anything in the first place. And now I really must go.

Andrew said...

Vincent,

You wrote : Intelligent Design is not intended to demonstrate God's existence. How many times do I have to repeat this?

Pray, tell. What exactly is ID intended to do? What exactly are you trying to demonstrate?

If it is to demonstrate an intelligent cause of life (i.e. Creator of Life), how exactly is it not trying to demonstrate the existence of the only possible such Creator, God?

Or because you intentionally just stop at a probably intelligent cause of a certain biological form, and don't then look for the ultimate cause of that form, does it somehow then not qualify as an argument for the existence of God?

Andrew said...

Vincent,

You wrote: One sentence reply to your argument in the last paragraph: all it shows is that the Unmoved Mover cannot come to know anything; what it fails to establish is that it knows anything in the first place.

No offense intended, but you reasoning skills and reading skills are pretty crummy.

(1) I never mentioned an "Unmoved Mover".

(2) A being always in Act, and Creator of all things, by necessity knows all things. Just because one does not to "come to know" does not mean that one does not know, just as to say that the Unmoved Mover does not come to be does not mean that He does not exist.

If you presume to critique the Scholastic arguments, perhaps you ought to familiarize yourself with its arguments.

Andrew said...

Mr. Green,
I wrote : For us Thomists, everything acts for an end, so everything is designed. Nothing escapes design. The very search for design therefore is meaningless.

You replied : Again, that's obviously false. Vast swathes of the human enterprise are dedicated to "design" one way or the other, including all of art and literature. We should not try to make design do things it cannot do, but there is a huge distance between "can't do everything" and "meaningless".

My explanation based on Aristotle and St. Thomas is above in one of my last comments to Vincent.

To clarify, that something is "designed" means it has been created with a purpose or end (or final cause) by an efficient cause.

Action requires a final cause. Everything acts for an end, and does so according to its nature. It's nature comes from its form which ultimately comes from the design of the Creator.

If anything in the Universe escaped the design (or plan) of God, then God is not God.

If nothing escapes God's knowledge and will, thus his plan for the entire Universe, then all is designed by Him.

Anonymous said...

So ID won't prove God, you missed the point about the multiverse (still haven't >justified <framework in which design does indeed signify intelligence, this is keystone to account of significance or objective intelligibility of any sign), and more personal information irrelevant to philosophic truth (I don't see many ID theorists around the uni these days either, does that count for anything according to your logic?). This has been a most unfruitful exchange, barring my new understanding that some people like to know ID is true for a reason not pertinent to the demonstration of God's existence (?)

Crude said...

I've got nothing to say right now except 'Logorrhea in the cell' was a pretty witty title. Well done.

Edward Feser said...

Hello Vincent,

Re: your update, OK, thanks for that.

Re: your criticism of my defense of the Fifth Way, I do intend to read it (and I also intend to read your response to what I say about occasionalism etc.). It won't be right away only because I've got so much other stuff going on, but I definitely intend to get to it before long.

The whole truth said...

You guys obviously have a lot of spare time. Arguing about things that haven't happened and will never happen is really a waste of that spare time. No one has ever found "Made by Yahweh" in a cell and no one ever will. Yahweh, or ywhw, doesn't exist and neither do any other so-called 'Gods'.

You guys might as well be arguing about whether "Made by The Cat In The Hat" will be found in cells or other body parts. All of that religious gibberish you guys believe in, promote, and argue about is just a bunch of antiquated, monstrous, impossible fairy tales. Isn't it way past time for you all to grow up and accept reality?

Anonymous said...

The whole truth - lol, always amusing to see a clueless atheist swagger in like John Wayne. We need that occasionally - for context!

Arthur said...

'antiquated, monstrous, impossible fairy tales...'

Nice rhetoric, TWT. Have you got anything substantial to say, or is that it?

Daniel said...

Talking of context The Whole Truth has surprisingly enough made a very good point and one I was planning to mention i.e. that to use the name ‘Yahweh’ is to risk unnecessary complications, since the being ‘Yahweh’, could in the absence of further elaboration, be considered as defined by purported actions in Hebraic scriptures and wisdom fables – it could, in other words, merely be a superior being, a lower-case ‘god’, something inadequate and perhaps even irrelevant. The Thomist arguments, not to mention virtually all other arguments of classical Natural Theology both East and West, keep us mindful of what is truly meant by the term ‘God’ as opposed to a ‘god’, that which is Absolute Being and the Ground of All Being. I have said this before but the great theological breakthrough of Pre-Socratic thought, maybe even Greek thought as a whole, was the realisation that God is a necessary being, one that doesn’t just happen to exist but one the non-existence of which is logically contradictory.

Anglophone culture has developed the unfortunate and downright erroneous tendency to equate talk of God with Christianity, a tendency which as Christianity became increasingly divorced from its intellectual heritage and works (one cannot equate this divorce with Protestantism thought it occurred within the framework of 20th century Protestantism) ended up turning God into a character in Hebrew mythology/history, a cross between Solomon and the Orphic Zeus. Ironically enough Bible-thumping is at least as common amongst atheists as it is Christians as is well demonstrated here. To burrow a quote the picture is holding them captive and in this case it is one of two lines intersecting.

FormFactor said...

There's nothing quite so lovely
As christians getting ugly.
With each other that is.

Daniel said...

Further failure to think outside Christianity detected.

Another point: such people sometimes have recourse to appeal to ridicule along the lines of comparison to Zeus, vampires, werewolves and such things along with statements of ‘impossibility’. In doing so they miss an important point, namely that said ‘impossibility’ is really an appeal to cultural associations. If one wishes to determine whether or not a being is possible one must ask whether its essence would entail any logical contradiction – in fact I recall Ed quoted Hilary Putnam making a similar point in that latter’s Renewing Philosophy. This is of course a point any serious philosopher ought to be familiar with be they atheist or theist.

(Having said that atheists who admit an indefinitely extended Multiverse and that a being could come into existence without any cause seem liable to end up with some very interesting neighbours given the Principle of Plenitude)

Anonymous said...

"A being always in Act, and Creator of all things, by necessity knows all things." Why? Please explain.

Scott W. said...

There's nothing quite so lovely
As christians getting ugly.
With each other that is.


I'm not sure why someone would take pleasure in ugliness, even if a contentious debate could be construed as ugly.

In any case, what's your point? That Christians are imperfect? Nay, even sinners? That's not news. Got anything substantial to contribute?

Porphyry said...

"Now, I can easily imagine contexts in which it would be extremely unreasonable to say “Oh, this is a hallucination” and I can easily imagine contexts in which it would not be."
Wow I had no idea Ed Feser allowed for the possibility of radical perceptual skepticism. You learn something every day.

E.Seigner said...

malcolmthecynic: Dr. Feser, I think you should be made aware that Lydia McGrew of What's Wrong With the World has put up an objection to your posts.

Lydia is not in dialogue with Ed. I mean, it appears that she secretly imagines she is, but there are two good reasons to be cautious about this. First, she immediately shouted down all references to Mr. Feser as soon as such appeared in her combox. Second, a closer reading reveals that she is arguing against something called "prior probabilities". I had to look closer to see what they are - a Humean innovation that Lydia is at pains to wrestle with. She appears to be trapped in the relevant Humean metaphysics too and I'm sure she tacitly thinks "prior probabilities" are where Ed argues from, but since this is mistaken, and a correction is not welcome, there's nothing to do there.

The Irish Thomist said...

The whole truth said...
You guys obviously have a lot of spare time. Arguing about things that haven't happened and will never happen is really a waste of that spare time. No one has ever found "Made by Yahweh" in a cell and no one ever will. Yahweh, or ywhw, doesn't exist and neither do any other so-called 'Gods'.

You guys might as well be arguing about whether "Made by The Cat In The Hat" will be found in cells or other body parts. All of that religious gibberish you guys believe in, promote, and argue about is just a bunch of antiquated, monstrous, impossible fairy tales. Isn't it way past time for you all to grow up and accept reality?


Seriously you need to read the actual debate and not drop such meaningless attempts at insulting peoples intelligence. One side at least would agree with you on your point - thats how far off you are.

Anyway...

DNW said...

The whole truth said...

You guys obviously have a lot of spare time. Arguing about things that haven't happened and will never happen is really a waste of that spare time. No one has ever found "Made by Yahweh" in a cell and no one ever will. Yahweh, or ywhw, doesn't exist and neither do any other so-called 'Gods'.

You guys might as well be arguing about whether "Made by The Cat In The Hat" will be found in cells or other body parts. All of that religious gibberish you guys believe in, promote, and argue about is just a bunch of antiquated, monstrous, impossible fairy tales. Isn't it way past time for you all to grow up and accept reality?
August 1, 2014 at 2:38 AM "



You have obviously missed the entire point, which is the question of the grounds or conditions requisite for making sound inferences.

But, speaking of facing reality.

My own area of interest is in determining once and for all whether there is a principle of logic or otherwise which can conclusively demonstrate that the very persons who assert that all value is imputed rather than intrinsic or inherent, need under some indubitable principle or other, to be consistently accorded the presumptive status of having human value and serious rights themselves.

What social utility value they might even sometimes be said to have, is less than obvious.

As it is, I'm becoming convinced that they need not be accorded any such respect on their own account. And, that such as they may from time to time be granted is merely a matter of form, rather than substance and entitlement.

Very liberating to throw off the old perspectives and look down at the neurotic, weak, attention seeking, but nonetheless solidarity pimping, relativists, through their own interpretive lenses.

Hope this helps.

Vishy said...

Andrew: "If it is to demonstrate an intelligent cause of life (i.e. Creator of Life), how exactly is it not trying to demonstrate the existence of the only possible such Creator, God?"

How about a superhuman extraterrestrial intellect, not necessarily any transcendent god, esp the classical god. ID cannot and could never demonstrate the existence of the classical god. All it purports to do is infer to the most likely explanation of the proximate cause of "certain biological features." For me, this is OOL in particular. No transcendent god necessary.

Vishy said...

Irish Thomist: "Isn't it way past time for you all to grow up and accept reality?"

Do you feel better now?

Scott said...

@Vishy:

The Irish Thomist didn't write that. S/He was quoting The whole truth.

Vishy said...

My apologies

The whole truth said...

DNW said:

"You have obviously missed the entire point, which is the question of the grounds or conditions requisite for making sound inferences."

So then, please tell me how believing in, promoting, and arguing about antiquated, monstrous, impossible, religious fairy tales can provide the grounds or conditions for making sound inferences?

And here's something you guys should seriously think about: Replace the biblical words 'God', 'Yahweh', and 'Jesus', with the words 'Harry Potter' or 'The Flying Spaghetti Monster'. Would you still believe in, promote, and argue about christianity, the bible, and its interpretations? There is exactly as much evidence to support the existence of 'Harry Potter' or 'The FSM' as there is for 'Yahweh', or 'Jesus', or any other so-called 'God', NONE.

"But, speaking of facing reality."

Yeah, if only more people would face reality and stop pushing insane, religious fairy tales.

Arthur said...

TWT, do you have any idea how brainwashed you sound?

Calling something 'antiquated, monstrous, impossible, religious fairy tales' tells us exactly nothing about what the problem is. Is this your idea of serious thinking? It's my idea of insubstantial rhetoric. Indeed, you're essentially repeating yourself despite me calling out this rhetoric for what it is earlier.

Give us an argument or go home. (That's what you're supposed to be good at, isn't it?) Slogans like 'Face reality!' aren't going to impress anyone, nor should they.

'There is exactly as much evidence to support the existence of 'Harry Potter' or 'The FSM' as there is for 'Yahweh', or 'Jesus', or any other so-called 'God', NONE.'

I think there's at least three problems with this:

1 - 'Harry Potter' or 'The FSM' are complex, finite, contingent beings, and thoroughly unlike God. Indeed, that's pretty much the whole point. I'm not even a Thomist and I still understand this. Even if you happen to disbelieve in both 'The FSM' and God, I fail to see how you could disbelieve in both for analogous reasons.

2 - What, in your view, is 'evidence for God' meant to be like? We'll have to know if we're to reliably judge whether there is any.

3 - What role does 'The FSM' or 'Harry Potter' actually play in your argument? None, I suspect. If you wanted to tell us that 'there's no evidence for God', you could just say it. Instead, like so many others, you're fixated on colourful imagery of Flying Spaghetti Monsters and Celestial Teapots. Do you actually think this is how serious arguments are given?

It's pretty clear that you don't even understand what you're writing because you can't put it into your own words.

Edward Feser said...

Guys, don't feed trolls. Do you really think you're gonna get any more out of this guy than a third, fourth, or fifth repetition of the same sophomoric shtick?

Don't waste your time, and don't give others an excuse to crap up the combox with drivel. Thanks.

Arthur said...

Sorry, Feser, I know you're right. It's just fun is all.

Part of me wishes I could get a sensible argument out of these guys. I do actually want to see the best atheist arguments possible.

Crude said...

I won't feed the trolls, but I do love it when the people who believe in inexplicable brute-fact magical universes out of nothingness, uncaused try to accuse other people of believing in magic and not accepting reality.

Doubly better when they insist that science has shown this to be true, since then you get the bonus of them showing themselves to not just be immune to reason, but scientifically illiterate on top of it all. ;)

malcolmthecynic said...

First, she immediately shouted down all references to Mr. Feser as soon as such appeared in her combox. Second, a closer reading reveals that she is arguing against something called "prior probabilities". I had to look closer to see what they are - a Humean innovation that Lydia is at pains to wrestle with. She appears to be trapped in the relevant Humean metaphysics too and I'm sure she tacitly thinks "prior probabilities" are where Ed argues from, but since this is mistaken, and a correction is not welcome, there's nothing to do there.

The person who brought up Dr. Feser was me with a different username. I think it is pretty much undeniable that Lydia MEANT TO respond to Dr. Feser, since her paraphrase of his views at the very least corresponds heavily to the language he used, and fits Torley's undeniably bad paraphrase pretty well.

It's dishonest of her to try and claim that the paraphrase has "cropped up again" when a read-through of Dr. Feser's post tells us that this is obviously false. But we're not allowed to prove it, because we can't quote Dr. Feser!

She can have her fun down the rabbit hole making people try to defend arguments nobody made.

The whole truth said...

Arthur,

I'm brainwashed? No, you are, and so are all of the other people who believe in and promote so-called 'Gods'. And arguing about which is the correct interpretations or 'philosophy' of christianity or any other religion is a monumental waste of time. It's all MYTHS.

You say that you want an argument and I assume that you mean a valid argument on your terms, but the only argument that needs to be made is that you and other god pushers are brainwashed and indoctrinated into believing ridiculous, religious fairy tales.

You guys could be doing something worthwhile instead of trying to be King of the hill in your useless assertions and debates about who's right or wrong about the way in which 'God' should be viewed/defined, worshiped, and promoted.

You obviously didn't get it about Harry Potter or The FSM. Oh, and neither of them is a "being". They're FICTIONAL, just like your so-called 'God'. You claim that Harry Potter or The FSM are "thoroughly unlike God", yet you actually have NO idea whatsoever what your or any so-called 'God' is like. You only have what other people have claimed it to be like mixed with whatever you've imagined it to be like.

Have you ever noticed that a lot of other people don't believe in, worship, or promote the same so-called 'God' that you do, and that very few, if any, people agree on the particulars of christianity, 'God', 'Jesus', etc.?

In other words, religious fairy tales can be and are manipulated and modified to the liking or brainwashing/indoctrination levels of the 'believer' (actually 'sucker'). You, like other god pushers, think that your way is the right way, but what makes you right and so many others wrong? Look up the word 'narcissist'.

grodrigues said...

@Arthur:

"I do actually want to see the best atheist arguments possible."

Me too. But it is not an ignorant dumbass troll that is going to make "the best argument possible", or even so much as an argument, so not point in wasting time. Pearls to swine and all that.

Alan Fox said...

Arthur writes:I do actually want to see the best atheist arguments possible.

Seriously?

The one that works best for me is the obvious fact that the gods and dogmas currently on offer are human inventions.

Add the obvious fact that there is no evidence supporting the truth of religious claims and I find the demand that atheists need to argue against gods and dogmas a little premature.

Sorry for the derail. I am more interested in the differences between Dr. Feser and Vince Torley on the validity of "Intelligent Design" as a philosophical point of view and have been following some of what Torley posts on Uncommon descent - the remaining site where one or two ID advocates gather.

I commend Dr Feser for rejecting "Intelligent Design" as a failure, though I suspect not for the same reasons.

Michael said...

Nick Corrado, of course evolution is dehumanizing. That's its whole purpose, to make people 'reason away' God and then we're no better than pond scum, i.e. Goebbel's Big Lie. The Nazis taught their children that they were the result of evolution and then brought them to the zoo in order to visit their distant relatives.

Daniel said...

See all this talk of gods and dogmas suggests there is some confusion or misuse of terms. There may well be gods but that typically isn't what theists, certainly Classical Theists, are interested in -what they discuss is Ontotheology 'God' as Absolute or Ground of Being.

Talk of 'dogmas and gods' suggests a religious context, and whilst of course Theism is a Necessary condition for some religions it does not on its own imply them any more than, say, the existence of mammals implies the existence of tigers or unicorns. One might well hold that all religions are poisonous nonsense whilst recognising the existence of God a la Ontotheology.

@Michael, none of the rhetorical uses Evolutionary theories may be put to have any bearing on their truth or falsity (though they ought to be dragged out into the open). Also the relatives remark seems odd: physiological and genetic kinship between Man and the higher apes is established and isn’t usually something ID theorists would criticise even if they should reject the Darwinian account.

Alan Fox said...

Daniel writes:

There may well be gods but that typically isn't what theists, certainly Classical Theists, are interested in -what they discuss is Ontotheology 'God' as Absolute or Ground of Being.

Is there any evidence that "Absolute Ground of Being" has any existence beyond in the imagination of those that discuss such ideas?

Daniel said...

Yes, it is the subject of whole schools of philosophy up to the present day. If we weren't interested in the question of exploring the truth of the matter we wouldn't bother with this whole philosophy lark.

Two good books for looking at this in a historical context are David Conway's The Rediscovery of Wisdom and Mark Anderson's Pure: Modernity, Philosophy, and the One, neither of which are I believe written by Christians or devotees of any particular religion. Of course you may disagree or see problems with some or all of the arguments in question but even then there is still no question that what is being debated is doctrinal religion.

Scott said...

@Daniel:

I've been looking for Conway's book for a couple of years now and the only copies I've found are being offered at insanely high prices. (I even wrote to one seller to ask whether they'd consider a lower price and got no reply.) Do you know of anywhere it's available for significantly less than $190?

Mr. Green said...

Alan Fox: Add the obvious fact that there is no evidence supporting the truth of religious claims and I find the demand that atheists need to argue against gods and dogmas a little premature.

Oh, good grief. There's tons of evidence. Someone might try to argue that at the end of the day, he does not find the evidence quite good enough to convince him. But to claim there is "no" evidence simply shows that someone has no clue what he's talking about (or that he doesn't understand the word "evidence").

Which means it's time to invoke the "no feeding" rule.

Alan Fox said...

Oh, good grief. There's tons of evidence. Someone might try to argue that at the end of the day, he does not find the evidence quite good enough to convince him. But to claim there is "no" evidence simply shows that someone has no clue what he's talking about (or that he doesn't understand the word "evidence").

Apologies if I hit a nerve. Whenever I hear or read theists making pronouncements I always wonder "How do they know that,"

Tons of evidence for the "Absolute Ground of Being"? That isn't what someone thought, dreamed, believed and wrote, embellished, made up?

Alan Fox said...

Daniel writes:

Of course you may disagree or see problems with some or all of the arguments in question but even then there is still no question that what is being debated is doctrinal religion.

Apologies, Daniel. I just spotted that this comment was directed at me. Thanks for the book recommendations but the problem for me is that arguments do not really work for me. Dr. Feser's fifth way argument, for example is based on a premise (I would say an assumption) that existence is causal rather than accidental ("Therefore some intelligent being exists by whom all natural things are directed to their end; and this being we call God.") that is unjustified.

However foggy or prone to logorrhea the author might be in his presentation of the arguments, they always seem to be built on similar assumptions. It is the evidence that supports those assumptions that seems to be lacking.

Crude said...

Apologies if I hit a nerve.

No nerves hit, Alan. Your particular brand of Cult of Gnu ignorance is downright bland around these parts - we've seen your sort a hundred times before (usually better in form), so we're used to this particular schtick.

We can even forgive you for being unable to recognize the evidence spoken of, since when it comes to evaluating such arguments it 'makes yer head sumfin awful' and all that. Dear God, they use hard to understand words! They use /logic/ and /reason/ of all things!

The pressure and pain to which those nasty theologians put on people of your particular limitations. It is a shame.

Crude said...

The one that works best for me is the obvious fact that the gods and dogmas currently on offer are human inventions.

Oh, and do feel free to substantiate this claim. Give us the arguments, Alan. Give us the evidence.

Alas, I highly suspect that all you'll be able to offer are words that someone thought, dreamed, believed and wrote, embellished, made up.

And not a particularly intelligent someone, at that.

Arthur said...

Alan Fox:

'The one that works best for me is the obvious fact that the gods and dogmas currently on offer are human inventions.'

Calling something 'obvious' is the oldest trick in the book. Don't question it, it's 'obvious'! You've also confused an argument with a fact. A 'fact' could be one of the premises of an argument, but not the whole thing. Then again, I doubt you care about such logical niceties.

A related point is that surely, to some extent, scientific theories are 'human inventions' too. We know that the Theory of Gravity isn't exactly correct, but as an approximation it still clearly has rational worth. Since when do beliefs need to be entirely free of 'human invention'?

'Add the obvious fact that there is no evidence supporting the truth of religious claims and I find the demand that atheists need to argue against gods and dogmas a little premature.'

More waffle. Which 'religious claims', specifically, do you have in mind? What would 'evidence' for them be like? I'm quite sure you won't tell us because you're just reciting rhetoric.

I also notice that you're coming up with excuses not to actually put forward an argument. Aren't rational arguments meant to be what you Followers of Reason are meant to be good at?

'Is there any evidence that "Absolute Ground of Being" has any existence beyond in the imagination of those that discuss such ideas?'

Sounds like you don't understand the difference between Imagination and Conception.

DNW said...

Edward Feser said...

Guys, don't feed trolls. Do you really think you're gonna get any more out of this guy than a third, fourth, or fifth repetition of the same sophomoric shtick?

Don't waste your time, and don't give others an excuse to crap up the combox with drivel. Thanks.
August 1, 2014 at 6:28 PM "



Yeah, they seem to find it impossible to argue on point. Even when you give them a chance. As was the case here wherein the troll refused to address the matter of evidence and its informing context, and instead preferred to perseverate on its obsession with religious faith per se.

That apparent inability to deal with the logical issue though, whatever the etiology of the trait, is a rather interesting phenomenon in itself, and probably worthy of some consideration; possibly in another forum or thread.

This is something most ardent atheists seem to share with a surprising number of political leftists: they have a low level of tolerance for anyone engaging in ground-level analytic not to their taste. Their objection seeming to be that it takes what they view as socially owned energy away from their preferred projects.

Marx was a good example of that. Convinced by his own anti-metaphysical metaphysics, he was offended at the idea that anyone should be permitted to engage in metaphysical speculations, even of the kind which are clearly not just a form of deracinated supernaturalism.

This totalitarian-like impulse, this will to command what others should attend to or labor at, the demand you "Quit looking at that!", and which inevitably emerges from what are supposedly altruistic and humanistic concerns with man as he ostensibly "really is", is a peculiar thing.

One of the type was not long ago quoted as musing as to how atheism and scientism seemed to go more or less hand in hand with left-wing politics; (as was the case with himself) though he could not say why.

My guess is that there is a particular psychological trait - not likely too flattering to the possessors - which in the style of John Haidt's researches, will before too long serve to explain the connection.

In any event, I have never had any success in getting those polemical mockers of "souls" and advocates of the pointlessness of existence, to explain to me why it is they subsequently take umbrage when one applies such an evaluation to them in particular.

We merely explicitly grant that they themselves in particular are reduced to the pointlessness lack of intrinsic value which they ascribe to the human condition in general; and, that on their own analysis, they cannot be said to deserve more.

Is that not perfectly rational?

BenYachov said...

>"Made by Yahweh"

>Found in the cell coded on the DNA.

A better real life example would be the Fine Tuning of the Universe. We have the six proverbial numbers that if there is a slight deviation by about 10 decimal points the Universe as we know it goes puff!

I had this discussion a long long while ago with Professor Oerter our Atheist Physicist friend.

I concluded that Fine Tuning gives us pause as to the existence of a creator. In that is seems reasonable based on it to conclude the divine providence of a creator for the fine tunings. But I also conceded to him that by itself I don't think it's an argument that strongly forces belief.

I concluded God's existence must be shown based on philosophy and philosophical argument in the manner of Aristotle and Aquinas.

But these last gasps of Paley are at best mere icing on the cake but not the cake itself.

Alan Fox said...

AF wrote,

The one that works best for me is the obvious fact that the gods and dogmas currently on offer are human inventions.

Crude wrote:

Oh, and do feel free to substantiate this claim. Give us the arguments, Alan. Give us the evidence.

Alas, I highly suspect that all you'll be able to offer are words that someone thought, dreamed, believed and wrote, embellished, made up.

And not a particularly intelligent someone, at that.


Would you agree that there is more than one version of "god"? In fact wherever humanity has existed in a social context and left evidence, some sort of religion or cult played a central role. The list of religions is long and diverse. They demonstrate the breadth and limits of human invention.

Alan Fox said...

Arthur wrote:I also notice that you're coming up with excuses not to actually put forward an argument. Aren't rational arguments meant to be what you Followers of Reason are meant to be good at?

You must be confusing me with someone else. I have no wish to argue you out of a sincerely-held belief. Plus it is difficult for me to prove a negative. I assert that no gods exist. There is no evidence they exist, and whenever the question:

"How do you know that?"

is put, the answers are unsatisfactory. I go with the simpler conclusion that, until evidence that a particular "god" exists is presented, I'll continue to treat the idea as a work of human imagination. You are free to treat it as truth.



Alan Fox said...

DNW wrote:

In any event, I have never had any success in getting those polemical mockers of "souls" and advocates of the pointlessness of existence, to explain to me why it is they subsequently take umbrage when one applies such an evaluation to them in particular.

I parse that as "I don't understand why people are offended when I insult them". Is that a fair reading?

Arthur said...

'I'm brainwashed? No, you are, and so are all of the other people who believe in and promote so-called 'Gods'.'
'I have no wish to argue you out of a sincerely-held belief.'


Here's the funny thing; I'm not even a theist, though I'm consistently mistaken for one when I defend theism. Look at my posts again. Nothing I've said draws on any specific religious premises or even presumes that God exists. Indeed, even if I were an atheist I don't think that would change what I've said in my posts at all. Must someone who objects to bad arguments for atheism be a theist? Surely atheists themselves are meant to oppose bad arguments... right?

Would you agree that there is more than one version of "god"?

Personally, no. I think it's many different understandings of the same God, and that remains the case whether or not He exists. Maybe you're a fan of the One God Further argument? It trades on this confusion. You also seem to be confusing 'religions' with 'God'. Indeed, Gods, dogmas and religions seem to be hopelessly entangled in your mind.

I notice both Alan Fox and TWT seem to have appealed to religious diversity to suggest that God doesn't exist:

'The list of religions is long and diverse. They demonstrate the breadth and limits of human invention.'
'Have you ever noticed that a lot of other people don't believe in, worship, or promote the same so-called 'God' that you do, and that very few, if any, people agree on the particulars of christianity, 'God', 'Jesus', etc.?'

Trouble is, I don't think this is a good argument. Surely people disagree about say, the exact particulars of the Universe, but that hardly means that the Universe doesn't exist, or that scientists who claim to be investigating the Universe are just making things up. Should a believer in Quantum Theory abandon it entirely just because some people don't 'agree on the particulars' of its interpretation? Since when is something only rational when it's unanimous?

What this argument requires, I think, is not merely disagreement, but irreconcilable disagreement. And why would that be? Let me guess, it's because there's 'no evidence', etc.

Arthur said...

Alan, I think it's pretty clear that your position is wafer-thin.

You keep saying that there's 'no evidence' for God, but you never tell us what evidence for God is meant to be like.

You keep saying that the arguments for God 'do not really work' for you and that 'the answers are unsatisfactory', but you never mention any specific arguments or any specific fallacies.

You'd be better off giving us specifics, but I'm quite sure you never will.

The whole truth said...

Wow, after reading more responses from the god pushers I feel very confident in saying that they're just pain nuts.

And there's also this from Arthur: "... I'm not even a theist...". That is a LIE. In fact, there are multiple lies from the god pushers. Arthur's own comment shows that he's a a liar: " Indeed, even if I were an atheist...".

Hey Arthur, atheists don't believe in ANY so-called 'God(s)'. Since you're not an atheist you must believe in at least one so-called 'God', which makes you a theist.

And I just have to say something about this from Daniel: "Yes, it is the subject of whole schools of philosophy up to the present day."

LOL, LOL, and more LOL. Do you actually believe that "whole schools of philosophy" (whatever that is) establishes "that "Absolute Ground of Being" has any existence beyond in the imagination of those that discuss such ideas"? Apparently you do believe that. Amazing.

The whole truth said...

pain should be plain

Alan Fox said...

Arthur writes:

Surely people disagree about say, the exact particulars of the Universe, but that hardly means that the Universe doesn't exist, or that scientists who claim to be investigating the Universe are just making things up.

I am not aware that anyone disputes whether the universe exists. Maybe some do (I think there is some US fundamentalist sect that claims the Earth is flat and the sky a dome over it) but I or anyone else inclined to borrow or buy a telescope and make observations can check for themselves the observations that have been made over centuries. Sure people argue over details but only the deluded might suggest the universe is not real.

Should a believer in Quantum Theory abandon it entirely just because some people don't 'agree on the particulars' of its interpretation? Since when is something only rational when it's unanimous?

Quantum theory is based on research, observation and experiment. Empiricism not rationalism. Rationalism is only as good as the assumptions on which the reasoning is based.

I ask again, most here seem to be convinced there is one god - the Catholic version. How do they know?

Alan Fox said...

Arthur writes:

Alan, I think it's pretty clear that your position is wafer-thin.

Well, it's not complicated. I think that the various ideas for gods and dogmas that I am so far aware of bear the unmistakable imprint of human invention. There is no evidence that any gods impinge on the real world. Now, you can say that I can't prove that and you'd be right. Russell's teapot and Sagan's dragon make that point. But, what, other than human invention, are the stories of gods based on?

You keep saying that there's 'no evidence' for God, but you never tell us what evidence for God is meant to be like.

I am really, really convinced there are no such things as gods, so it is a bit difficult for me to suggest what might constitute evidence for one. Lots of phenomena that might once have been regarded as "magic" have become explicable. Why should the default reaction to a seemingly unexplainable phenomenon be "God did it" rather than "I don't know"? I wasn't convinced that Neale Donald Walsch really had conversations with God. I don't think Joseph Smith's dictation of the "Book of Mormon" was divinely inspired. Mohammed and the Koran? Nope. He just made stuff up.

You keep saying that the arguments for God 'do not really work' for you and that 'the answers are unsatisfactory', but you never mention any specific arguments or any specific fallacies.

You'd be better off giving us specifics, but I'm quite sure you never will.


So God exists unless I disprove Him. He is a guy, right? How would you know?

Allan Wolf said...

I too commend Dr. Feser for rejecting Intelligent Design, since it relies far too heavily on biological evolution, and there just is no evidence for biological evolution. Oh, sure, plenty of people talk about it, but it's all human invention. Did any of these biological theories come from God? Or Klingons?? Nope, 100% from human imagination. Even the very words they use to tell us about these fantasy theories are all completely man-made! So we all agree: there is simply no evidence for evolution. And don't ask me what might constitute evidence, either, because there isn't any, so how can I describe it? You can't describe something that doesn't exist, that would be like asking me to draw a picture of a unicorn: impossible!

Now, if you believe in any of this for no reason, well, I wouldn't try to talk you out it. It's not like I can prove my point. I'm just saying that having made sure not to look into the relevant matters at all, the only rational course of action is for me to assert that my unfounded assumptions must be right. I'm sure you all can see how perfectly reasonable I'm being about this.

Scott W. said...

So God exists unless I disprove Him

I don't see how you got that conclusion from:

You keep saying that the arguments for God 'do not really work' for you and that 'the answers are unsatisfactory', but you never mention any specific arguments or any specific fallacies.

You'd be better off giving us specifics, but I'm quite sure you never will.


What I think most people are interested in is a specific argument made by theists that is fallacious or invalid. And note that well--I doubt if anyone is interested in an argument you find personally unsatisfactory, but rather an argument that you can demonstrate is invalid. If you can, let's hear it. If you can't, just say so and spare everyone the endless ambiguity.



Jeremy Taylor said...

Maybe it is my Platonic love of symbol and myth talking, but I do think there might be something profitable in developing the Chestertonian defence of fairy tales, just to annoy the "I don't believe in fairy tales" crowd.

It is quite clear the two Gnus in this thread are drooling morons, I don't see much point in developing for them.

I mean this is sophomoric:

Empiricism not rationalism. Rationalism is only as good as the assumptions on which the reasoning is based.

And empiricism is only as good as the rational inferences which knit together our experience. And what is this the fact that deductive reason makes use of induction and assumptions supposed to say against theistic use of reason.

As DNW pointed out, these trolls seem to have a hard time staying on point; they seem to be trying to spray bile on as many points of theism as possible, but it robs their posts of what little force they might have had.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Dr. Feser's fifth way argument, for example is based on a premise (I would say an assumption) that existence is causal rather than accidental ("Therefore some intelligent being exists by whom all natural things are directed to their end; and this being we call God.") that is unjustified.

Existence is causal. We observe, at the very least, what appears to be regular cause and effect. Are you arguing for a radical Humean position that would make all apparent regular causation chance? Do you even know what you are arguing?

Certainly, the proofs of God rely on premises like those you vaguely allude to, but Dr. Feser and other defenders of them generally prove those that need proving and reply to objections, your childish and incoherent talk of assumptions notwithstanding.

Jeremy Taylor said...


Would you agree that there is more than one version of "god"? In fact wherever humanity has existed in a social context and left evidence, some sort of religion or cult played a central role. The list of religions is long and diverse. They demonstrate the breadth and limits of human invention.

I'm a Platonic universalist and perennialist. How is this an argument against a position like mine? How does the diversity of faiths count as evidence against someone who thinks that the divine reaches out to all cultures, just as all healthy cultures reach out the divine?

I actually agree religious diversity is problematic to exclusivist believers of particular faiths (though I see little to be gained in trying to convert them to universalism and much to be lost), but it has to be made into one premise of a proper and detailed argument, not just used as the sole premise. On its own it proves nothing against the truth of a particular faith.

Alan Fox said...

Jeremy Taylor wrote:

It is quite clear the two Gnus in this thread are drooling morons...

The scope of your argument is impressive!

Alan Fox said...

Jeremy Taylor asks:

I'm a Platonic universalist and perennialist. How is this an argument against a position like mine?

I have no clear idea what your "position" might be. You are free to hold it*. I was merely pointing out that an argument that purports to demonstrate the existence of god only works as self-vindication, validation or justification.

Though raised as an Anglican, I never developed a childhood belief in any gods, so the circular reasoning I see from Dr. Feser doesn't have a point of engagement with me. There might also be a cultural element, as a kid my recollection is of the general community view being Catholics as devils incarnate but I'm probably not unique in struggling to overcome ingrained prejudice.

*subject to that view being justification for oppressing others such as women, especially in developing countries in Africa and South America, and for equivocating over the treatment of paedophile priests.

Alan Fox said...

What I think most people are interested in is a specific argument made by theists that is fallacious or invalid. And note that well--I doubt if anyone is interested in an argument you find personally unsatisfactory, but rather an argument that you can demonstrate is invalid. If you can, let's hear it. If you can't, just say so and spare everyone the endless ambiguity.

I'm not sure how less ambiguous I can be when I assert that all gods and dogmas are plainly human inventions and all arguments that purport to demonstrate a god, dogma or "Absolute Ground of Being" are circular and question-begging.

I'd also add that the human propensity for story telling and story believing is an important element in the expansion of culture and civilization. Getting people to self-police is a cheap and efficient way to organise a society. There's probably an evolutionary element to it.

Greg said...

@ Alan Fox

I was merely pointing out that an argument that purports to demonstrate the existence of god only works as self-vindication, validation or justification.

Isn't the role that an argument plays in the understanding of the person who makes it irrelevant to whether or not it is probative? People surely tend to develop and offer arguments for positions that they have come to believe already, but that is generally irrelevant to the dispassionate assessment of their arguments (and it is also far from particular to religion).

the circular reasoning I see from Dr. Feser doesn't have a point of engagement with me.

To what circular reasoning are you referring? You've mentioned that you don't find a premise of one of Feser's arguments compelling, but that wouldn't make his reasoning circular so I'm sure you're referring to something else. (I haven't read this conversation very closely, so perhaps I am missing something.)

Scott W. said...

all arguments that purport to demonstrate a god, dogma or "Absolute Ground of Being" are circular and question-begging.

I assert that all gods and dogmas are plainly human inventions

Physician, heal thyself.

Greg said...

@ Alan Fox

all arguments that purport to demonstrate a god, dogma or "Absolute Ground of Being" are circular and question-begging.

All arguments? Statements like this suggest that cognitive bias is far from limited to theists. Consider a few professional philosophers who have developed arguments for God's existence: Edward Feser, John Haldane, David Braine, Barry Miller. Do you seriously believe that all of their arguments (whether or not you find them persuasive) suffer from the exact same fallacy? These are arguments that have been published in books and academic journals and have been vetted by colleagues.

Back when Feser was an atheist and was pitching an unconventional but still naturalistic theory in philosophy of mind, I doubt anyone would make such bald assertions about how "all" arguments like his were circular. But when it comes to theism, the need to pin some fallacy to all arguments is just too great--so one posits (offering no evidence) that swathes of trained philosophers make the same error over and over again. The account is pathological enough to suggest that "story telling" and "myths" play an important role in someone else's maintenance of belief.

Alan Fox said...

Isn't the role that an argument plays in the understanding of the person who makes it irrelevant to whether or not it is probative? People surely tend to develop and offer arguments for positions that they have come to believe already, but that is generally irrelevant to the dispassionate assessment of their arguments (and it is also far from particular to religion).

Sure an argument can stand on its own merits. But an argument that assumes its conclusion is only going to persuade those already emotionally attached to that conclusion. If, as I am not, one is not persuaded that "everything has a cause" then the argument based on that assumption does not get off the ground.

Greg said...

@ Alan Fox

But an argument that assumes its conclusion is only going to persuade those already emotionally attached to that conclusion. If, as I am not, one is not persuaded that "everything has a cause" then the argument based on that assumption does not get off the ground.

Again, you're going to have to substantiate the claim that such arguments patently assume their own conclusions. The example you give here is obviously not an example of begging the question, because the premise "everything has a cause"* does not contain an assumption that God exists, and Feser argues for his causal principle on separate grounds (in, for example, Scholastic Metaphysics).

*Cosmological arguments also do not use this premise. They actually can be adapted to show that this premise is false, since if everything has a cause (assuming the proper sense of cause), then ungrounded essentially ordered causal series would be possible, but one could argue on separate grounds that they are not.

Alan Fox said...

Greg asks:

All arguments? Statements like this suggest that cognitive bias is far from limited to theists. Consider a few professional philosophers who have developed arguments for God's existence: Edward Feser, John Haldane, David Braine, Barry Miller. Do you seriously believe that all of their arguments (whether or not you find them persuasive) suffer from the exact same fallacy? These are arguments that have been published in books and academic journals and have been vetted by colleagues.

Does William Lane Craig count as a professional? If so, I'd include him as a best example of the genre.

Back when Feser was an atheist and was pitching an unconventional but still naturalistic theory in philosophy of mind, I doubt anyone would make such bald assertions about how "all" arguments like his were circular. But when it comes to theism, the need to pin some fallacy to all arguments is just too great--so one posits (offering no evidence) that swathes of trained philosophers make the same error over and over again. The account is pathological enough to suggest that "story telling" and "myths" play an important role in someone else's maintenance of belief.

Not withdrawing anything, but frankly, this does not matter. The arguments, as a demonstration of logic, may be irreproachable (this does not apply to Craig) but if the initial premises are false or imaginary (unfalsifiable, if you prefer) it still boils down to a reinforcement of a prior belief.

Greg said...

@ Alan Fox

If, as I am not [already emotionally attached to the conclusion], one is not persuaded that "everything has a cause" then the argument based on that assumption does not get off the ground.

Perhaps we are meant to read this as the argument that theistic arguments are question begging. If so, then I think you should check the definition of that term, because you don't understand it.

But in general, this is poor reasoning for discrediting theistic arguments. If your point is that theists only accept the premises of such arguments only because they want grounds for the conclusion, then it seems that you are the one begging the question (and being uncharitable in general), since theists generally offer reasons why their premises are true. (Feser certainly argues that his causal principle is true without making any appeals like, "If we don't accept this premise, then the conclusion doesn't follow, but the conclusion has to follow to save my theism!" Barry Miller gives metalinguistic reasons why "Fido exists" must be analyzed as "Fido exists by virtue of _____".)

You rather seem to be exhibiting the cognitive bias of which you accuse theists in regarding your lack of emotional attachment toward the conclusion as a reason for disregarding a premise that proponents of such arguments have argued for on neutral grounds.

Alan Fox said...

Perhaps we are meant to read this as the argument that theistic arguments are question begging.

The point was particular. I disagree with the claim that everything has a cause. The inability to predict when a particular radioactive nucleus will decay, when the overall rate of decay is predictable enough to use as a clock is enough to refute that claim.

Greg said...

@ Alan Fox

Does William Lane Craig count as a professional? If so, I'd include him as a best example of the genre.

William Lane Craig is a professional. However, you are the one making sweeping claims about all theists. To refute your claim, I need only provide a single example of a theist who does not commit the simplistic fallacy of which you accuse all theists. Producing an example of a single theist who commits the fallacy does not vindicate your lack of charity.

That said, while I don't find Craig's arguments persuasive, I don't think that they manifestly beg the question. If he did, it would be rather straightforward for his debate opponents to call attention to the fallacy, and he would not perform so well in his debates. He states his arguments in valid syllogistic form, so you are free to quote them and show how the conclusions are contained in one of the premises. (Well, you needn't bother--because it's now clear that when you said "circular reasoning" and "question begging," you were not actually referring to those fallacies, and were just throwing terms out there.)

The arguments, as a demonstration of logic, may be irreproachable (this does not apply to Craig) but if the initial premises are false or imaginary (unfalsifiable, if you prefer) it still boils down to a reinforcement of a prior belief.

So when you go on to post elsewhere on the internet, please keep your charges of question begging to yourself, because that is not what you mean. What you mean is that you believe the arguments, though valid and (in some cases, to be sure) free of informal fallacy, to be unsound because one or more of the premises is false.

Then you go on to psychologize and speculate that the reason theists produce unsound arguments is because they are reinforcing prior beliefs.

This point should apply to philosophical reasoning in general. So J. J. C. Smart and Bernard Williams argue contrary positions; they may both be wrong, but they can't both be right. Therefore the one who is wrong is not just making an error, but can be faulted for trying to reinforce his prior beliefs, believing in imaginary premises just because he wants rational grounds to believe his conclusion.

By the way, "false" and "unfalsifiable" do not mean the same thing--or, at least, to assert that they do is a tendentious philosophical claim that was abandoned by almost all philosophers several decades ago. So if your objections to theistic argument are based on such tenuous philosophical hypothesis, then you should be clear about your controversial philosophical commitments. This would imply that there is no reason why others should regard your criticism of theistic argument as obvious.

Greg said...

@ Alan Fox

The point was particular. I disagree with the claim that everything has a cause.

But as you indicated where I quoted you, you also find theists' emotional attachment to their conclusion (and your own emotional detachment) to be relevant to the falsity of the premise.

This all strikes me as very odd. Why is philosophical argument such a personal issue for you? Why can you not simply say, "I believe this premise is false"? As we've seen, when you disagree with theists, you accuse them of committing fallacies even though, when pressed, you admit that you really just think their arguments are unsound, and the accusations of fallacies really have to do with your analysis (unrelated to the argument) of their emotional commitments. I am not sure if you behave like this toward other people with whom you disagree, but if you are anything like other new atheists, then I doubt it. (People who disagree over interpretations of quantum mechanics seldom accuse their opponents and colleagues of basic fallacies that they have not, in fact, made.)

Scott said...

"I disagree with the claim that everything has a cause. The inability to predict when a particular radioactive nucleus will decay, when the overall rate of decay is predictable enough to use as a clock is enough to refute that claim."

We can't predict it, so it must not have a cause? What arrant nonsense.

Alan Fox said...

By the way, "false" and "unfalsifiable" do not mean the same thing....

Good grief! You manage to miss the nuance and compound by stating the obvious! Of course they are different. False means demontrably so and falsifiable means"cannot be shown to be wrong by empirical means".

And regarding sweeping condemnations of theists: my point has always been that arguments that don't start in reality can't end in reality. And reality means particles and fields not essences and entities.

Real life intervenes. So to anyone genuinely interested in exchanging views, I'll look in again when I have time.

Greg said...

@ Alan Fox

Good grief! You manage to miss the nuance and compound by stating the obvious! Of course they are different. False means demontrably so and falsifiable means"cannot be shown to be wrong by empirical means".

Oh please. Obviously I recognize that an unfalsifiable proposition may not be false. My point was that the position whereby unfalsifiable propositions should be treated as false for the purposes of argument is a tenous philosophical position. You were taking this view, since you implied ("false or imaginary (unfalsifiable, if you prefer)") that for the sake of philosophical argument, "false," "imaginary," and "unfalsifiable" are intersubstitutable. The distinction you've drawn is closer to the classic philosophical position that is now widely rejected and which you've still left unargued for.

And regarding sweeping condemnations of theists: my point has always been that arguments that don't start in reality can't end in reality. And reality means particles and fields not essences and entities.

Actually, you specifically claimed that all (ie. a sweeping condemnation) arguments for the existence of God beg the question ("all arguments that purport to demonstrate a god, dogma or "Absolute Ground of Being" are circular and question-begging.").

Then there is the precious irony that here you are begging the question against theists like Feser who have given a number of arguments against scientism in a number of places...

benyachov said...

I prefer to the term "Positivism" over the term "Scientism".

Granted they are synonymous but I have found when arguing with Gnus psychologically they associate "scientism" with Science and the rejection of Scientism with the rejection of Science.

Much like Protestants who treat the Catholic/Orthodox rejection of Sola Scriptura with a rejection of the authority of Scripture.

So I recommend using the term "Positivism".

I think this is good advice but I am not dogmatic about it.

Scott said...

@Ben Yachov:

"I prefer to the term 'Positivism' over the term 'Scientism'."

In this instance I think that's quite apt, since our Gnu troll seems to think "false" means "demonstrably false" (whereas those of us not under the spell of verificationism/falsificationism think it just means "untrue," demonstrably or otherwise).

Of course he also seems to think that a statement is "falsifiable" when it "cannot be shown to be wrong by empirical means" (my emphasis), so perhaps he's not the most reliable source as to his own views.

ccmnxc said...

And regarding sweeping condemnations of theists: my point has always been that arguments that don't start in reality can't end in reality. And reality means particles and fields not essences and entities.

Well, you've done a rather good job of obscuring this point throughout the conversation. But that aside, I don't think anyone here is particularly beholden to your reductive version of reality. After all, I think most of us are still waiting to see how particles and fields explains the problems that have arisen in the philosophy of mind, for example (something Dr. Feser has touched on rather a lot). Simply assuming reality really boils down to fields and particles and then claiming that our arguments fail because of this is simply to beg the question.

So there are a couple things I'd like some expounding upon, namely arguments for these two claims:

1. "...all gods and dogmas are plainly human inventions"

2. "...And reality means particles and fields not essences and entities."

And to preempt any attempts to shift the burden of proof, these are claims you have made. I have made no claims about God, religion, or anything therein; so I guess you can see me as this: A skeptic who is skeptical of your assertions.

Glenn said...

Scott,

Of course he also seems to think that a statement is "falsifiable" when it "cannot be shown to be wrong by empirical means" (my emphasis), so perhaps he's not the most reliable source as to his own views.

I had noticed that. But, truthfully, it wasn't unexpected (being, as it is, a predictable outcome stemming from the unpredictable decay of a participle (e.g., 'Only that can be falsified which cannot be shown to be wrong, etc')).

Scott said...

@Glenn:

I couldn't possibly fail not to disagree less.

Um, or else it's the opposite.

;-)

Glenn said...

Scott,

You simply must try harder.

;)

Greg said...

I think it's useful to distinguish positivism and scientism as well, though no doubt our friend is beholden to both.

Positivism: false or imaginary (unfalsifiable, if you prefer)
Scientism: And reality means particles and fields not essences and entities.

The schools are probably about the same, but they connote slightly different attitudes.

Note that both questions were begged, shamelessly.

Jeremy Taylor said...

The scope of your argument is impressive!

Are you sure? You seem to ignore all my arguments.

Jeremy Taylor said...

I was merely pointing out that an argument that purports to demonstrate the existence of god only works as self-vindication, validation or justification.

This has already been said, but you are engaging in the classic fallacy of trying to explain away an argument according to dubious purported motives before you have refuted it.

BenYachov said...

An Open Statement to all Gnus(sans Rational Atheists who know some philosophy).

Stop F***ing around, put down your copy of the GOD DELUSION & pick up a copy of the works of Jack Smart or Thomas Nagel.

Stop tailoring your anti-Theist polemics for the limited Mechanistic Theistic Personalists over at UNCOMMON DESCENT. That is just gay!

(Of course by "gay" I don't mean homosexual.
I mean "gay" as in George Lucas declaring the whole Star Wars Expanded Universe non-Canon Legends! I mean WTF! SO LUKE IS NOT REALLY MARRIED TO MARA JADE? ARE YOU F***ING KIDDING ME!!!!)

Try taking on some real Theism as embodied by Classic Theism.

Learn philosophy and ditch the Positivism.

AG Flew at the height of his Atheism in the 50's dropped Positivism because it is so hopelessly self-contradictory and incoherent. You might as well be a Young Earth Creationist and be done with it.

That is all.

Alan Fox said...

Scott wrote:

My point was that the position whereby unfalsifiable propositions should be treated as false for the purposes of argument is a tenous philosophical position.

I would have thought an indefensible position.

You were taking this view, since you implied ("false or imaginary (unfalsifiable, if you prefer)") that for the sake of philosophical argument, "false," "imaginary," and "unfalsifiable" are intersubstitutable.

I can see how you wrongly inferred this from what I wrote. I could have been clearer by including the word "either". As in "either false or unfalsifiable". A false claim can be demonstrated to be erroneous and an unfalsifiable claim cannot. I brought in imaginary as a synonym for unfalsifiable. I have also used "non-disprovable" in the past. Stick to unfalsifiable if you prefer.

Sorry for causing you to argue with me about something on which there is no disagreement.

Alan Fox said...

I don't think anyone here is particularly beholden to your reductive version of reality.

Well, of course not. I don't possess the level of arrogance needed to tell others what to think. As far as I am concerned, it is everyone's basic human right to think what they want. Actions, based on those thoughts, are a different matter.

Alan Fox said...

Ben Yachov exhorts:

put down your copy of the GOD DELUSION

Never been inclined to borrow or buy it. I don't recall anyone I know mentioning it. I think the book was more popular in the US.

*Assumes Mr Yachov is including Alan Fox in his note to GNU atheists. Not that I reject the soubriquet - I find it rather endearing. Like being called a cad or a lounge lizard in Bertie Wooster novels.

Alan Fox said...

ccmnxc wrote:

So there are a couple things I'd like some expounding upon, namely arguments for these two claims:

1. "...all gods and dogmas are plainly human inventions"


I hardly think it deniable or controversial. Any current, historical or prehistoric society that has left evidence demonstrates this universal human trait. We love styories. We love to tell stories. The diversity and yet the similarities indicate something common and deep in the human psyche.Story tellers evolve into shamans, evolve into priests and leaders.

2. "...And reality means particles and fields not essences and entities."

The classical four elements plainly fail at explaining the observed properties of the observable universe. It seems science has moved on anqd quantum theories test the old philosophical ideas of things and entities. The boundary between a thing and not-a-thing is not sharp. The law of non-contradiction and so on do not work at the quantum level. If philosophers want to start being taken seriously again in the real world they might benefit from looking at current scientific theories and discoveries, rather than being stuck in the classical age.

And to preempt any attempts to shift the burden of proof, these are claims you have made. I have made no claims about God, religion, or anything therein; so I guess you can see me as this: A skeptic who is skeptical of your assertions.

As I said, I'm not telling you what to think or believe, that's the theists.

PS

Did you struggle hard to come up with that pseudonym? ;)

Alan Fox said...

Sorry. Pressed "publish" when I intended to "edit".

Cleaner version:

The classical four elements plainly fail at explaining the properties of the observable universe. It seems science has moved on and quantum theories test the old philosophical ideas of things and entities to destruction. The boundary between a thing and not-a-thing is not sharp. The law of non-contradiction and so on do not work at the quantum level. If philosophers want to start being taken seriously again in the real world they might benefit from looking at current scientific theories and discoveries, rather than being stuck in the classical age.

grodrigues said...

@Alan Fox:

"The law of non-contradiction and so on do not work at the quantum level."

Please, go peddle your anti-scientific rubbish somewhere else.

Alan Fox said...

Ah! The grodruiges that wrote:

...indeterminacy is *not* lack of causation, but let us forego that for the sake of argument. It still does not follow what Rosenberg thinks it does. For what does (2) mean? Remember that Rosenberg insists that it is a matter of *experiment*. It is impossible, even in principle, to have two identical lumps of radioactive material so (2) is impossible to replicate in experimental practice. Maybe Rosenberg will concede and then say, forget the lumps and take just two radioactive atoms. But (2) is still impossible to obtain, even in principle, for among other things, they will be different in space-time location or in some other accident for otherwise we would not know that they are different. Heisenberg's principle says that it is impossible for us to have an experimental setup with two identical atoms even with respect to energy or other similar observables. So what can Rosenberg be appealing to? Ultimately, it can only be to quantum indeterminacy and to some metaphysical interpretation of it. Kick in Craig's response to defuse it.

I presume. :)

grodrigues said...

@Alan Fox:

So you can copy-paste some random quote made more than a year ago. Your skills are impressive and a true cause of envy.

Still, would you kindly peddle your anti-scientific rubbish somewhere else?

Glenn said...

Alan Fox: And reality means particles and fields not essences and entities.

Real life intervenes. So to anyone genuinely interested in exchanging views, I'll look in again when I have time.


That's funny.

"I can't talk anymore just now about how reality means particles and fields because real life intervenes."

Those pesky particles and fields, always interrupting exchanges of views.

Greg said...

@ Alan Fox

You're responding to me, not to Scott.

You say that "the position whereby unfalsifiable propositions should be treated as false for the purposes of argument" is "an indefensible position." But then you go on to say:

I could have been clearer by including the word "either". As in "either false or unfalsifiable". A false claim can be demonstrated to be erroneous and an unfalsifiable claim cannot.

The difference in meaning between "false" and "unfalsifiable" is not the point of contention here. As I pointed out, an unfalsifiable claim is not necessarily false.

The original context was:

The arguments, as a demonstration of logic, may be irreproachable (this does not apply to Craig) but if the initial premises are false or imaginary (unfalsifiable, if you prefer) it still boils down to a reinforcement of a prior belief.

If you are substituting "either false or unfalsifiable" for "false or imaginary (unfalsifiable, if you prefer)", then your original point was that arguments with unfalsifiable premises should be treated like arguments with false premises. (This is true because an argument that is valid and free of informal fallacy, ie. "irreproachable as a demonstration of logic", can only be faulted by having a false premise. And you are saying that arguments with unfalsifiable premises are flawed in the same sense in which straightforwardly unsound arguments are flawed.) In other words, you were advocating what you now say is "an indefensible position."

The issue (still unresolved) is that none of your distinctions have changed the fact that what you're peddling is logical positivism. My original point (still unanswered) was that this is a virtually universally abandoned philosophical position, the truth of which cannot merely be asserted without argument, as you have done.

Greg said...

The law of non-contradiction and so on do not work at the quantum level.

This just in: Einstein need not bother about showing that the Copenhagen interpretation is incomplete, because it's inconsistent.

Alan Fox said...

Greg said:

If you are substituting "either false or unfalsifiable" for "false or imaginary (unfalsifiable, if you prefer)", then your original point was that arguments with unfalsifiable premises should be treated like arguments with false premises. (This is true because an argument that is valid and free of informal fallacy, ie. "irreproachable as a demonstration of logic", can only be faulted by having a false premise. And you are saying that arguments with unfalsifiable premises are flawed in the same sense in which straightforwardly unsound arguments are flawed.) In other words, you were advocating what you now say is "an indefensible position."

No.

The be-all and end-all of what I was saying is that claims can be provisionally true, supported by evidence, or demonstrably false, where evidence contradicts the claim. Alternatively a claim can have no real entailments, in which case one can neither support it evidentially nor disprove it. Russell's teapot is an example. That is what I think and what I have been trying to say and Russell's teapot, being imaginary, is why I think of non-disprovable claims as imaginary (I also like the allusion to complex numbers but, whatever). I hope it is clear enough now for you.

Greg said...

@ Alan Fox

That is what I think and what I have been trying to say and Russell's teapot, being imaginary, is why I think of non-disprovable claims as imaginary (I also like the allusion to complex numbers but, whatever).

And you think that all unfalsifiable claims are relevantly like Russell's teapot?

The be-all and end-all of what I was saying is that claims can be provisionally true, supported by evidence, or demonstrably false, where evidence contradicts the claim. Alternatively a claim can have no real entailments, in which case one can neither support it evidentially nor disprove it.

Are these statements provisionally true or demonstrably false? To which entailments would you appeal if you were to support your assertions here with evidence?

Alan Fox said...

The issue (still unresolved) is that none of your distinctions have changed the fact that what you're peddling is logical positivism. My original point (still unanswered) was that this is a virtually universally abandoned philosophical position, the truth of which cannot merely be asserted without argument, as you have done.

I'm not peddling logical positivism. Even A J Ayer abandoned it. I'm more sympathetic to Dewey and Rorty: especially Rorty as he took a realistic view of the progress and future of philosophy. But then I'm not peddling anything. I arrived here because Vince Torley sometimes used to post on a blog I follow and I often read (well, scan through) his posts at Uncommon Descent. The Feser post led me to look in on th Feser post he linked to and some of the comments here just sucked me in.

Not to say it is my first visit. I did spend a little time a while ago reading comments here and posted a few comments (I think that was when BioLogos was popular and I seem to recall some to and fro between commenters from both site).

Alan Fox said...

Jeremy Taylor wrote:

You seem to ignore all my arguments.

I don't see anything directed at me from you that I have ignored.

Alan Fox said...

And you think that all unfalsifiable claims are relevantly like Russell's teapot?

I think it is a good example of an unfalsifiable claim. Another example of an unfalsifiable claim would be that my soul will not die when my body does. I happen to think this a nonsensical claim but I can't disprove it. There's no way to check.

Scott said...

"Scott wrote:…"

No, I didn't.

Alan Fox said...

Scott says "no, I didn't".

Right. I misattributed a comment to you when it was the commenter Greg.

Greg said...

@ Alan Fox

I think it is a good example of an unfalsifiable claim. Another example of an unfalsifiable claim would be that my soul will not die when my body does. I happen to think this a nonsensical claim but I can't disprove it. There's no way to check.

Well, I think we can agree that if I make the bare assertion that your soul will subsist after your bodily death, you won't be compelled to believe it. Prima facie, though, these would be very different sorts of unfalsifiable claims. One is unfalsifiable in practice simply because we don't have the means to search the reaches of space for a small teapot that by hypothesis is difficult or nearly impossible to detect. The teapot scenario is generated by someone's imagining it and proposing it for consideration. The claim about the soul could be rooted in imagining some "ghostly aura" of sorts that continues after my death, but I think most people, even those who believe it naively and without supporting philosophical argument, tend to believe it because of the nature of their direct subjective experiences. So while they may both be unfalsifiable, there is little reason to suspect that they are similar with respect to being imaginary claims. (You also say that you think the soul story is "nonsensical," but the source of this intuition can't be Russell's teapot, since Russell's teapot though unfalsifiable is far from nonsensical.)

All that leaves unaddressed the possibility that such a claim is the conclusion of an argument (a possibility which I--being the person who makes the claim--would obviously have to substantiate if I want to be taken seriously). Feser's favorite arguments for that conclusion tend to begin with the indeterminacy of the physical related to the work of Quine, Goodman, and Kripke.

Do you think that Quine's theses about the indeterminacy of translation and underdetermination of the evidence for scientific theories are unfalsifiable? What about Goodman's claims about his predicate "grue"? (Or do you think their claims are false? And if you think they are false, is it on the basis of an appeal to evidence?)

Also, you did not respond to the questions about the status of your claims about the possible statuses of claims:

claims can be provisionally true, supported by evidence, or demonstrably false, where evidence contradicts the claim. Alternatively a claim can have no real entailments, in which case one can neither support it evidentially nor disprove it.

Are such claims provisionally true based on current evidence, demonstrably false, or more like Russell's teapot?

Greg said...

I wrote:

So while they may both be unfalsifiable, there is little reason to suspect that they are similar with respect to being imaginary claims.

I'll add that there is little reason to suspect such a thing in the first place. You said:

That is what I think and what I have been trying to say and Russell's teapot, being imaginary, is why I think of non-disprovable claims as imaginary (I also like the allusion to complex numbers but, whatever).

You're speaking of "why I think of non-disprovable claims as imaginary," so I won't assume that you are claiming to make a valid inference here. But obviously coming up with an example that is imaginary and non-disprovable does not show that what is non-disprovable is imaginary. I can also come up with examples that are imaginary and disprovable; I'd just have to imagine some false scientific hypothesis that could be refuted by experiment. I couldn't say that "[X Experiment], being imaginary, is why I think of [disprovable] claims as imaginary"--or, at least, if I did, it would be sheer sophistry.

Alan Fox said...

All that leaves unaddressed the possibility that such a claim is the conclusion of an argument (a possibility which I--being the person who makes the claim--would obviously have to substantiate if I want to be taken seriously). Feser's favorite arguments for that conclusion tend to begin with the indeterminacy of the physical related to the work of Quine, Goodman, and Kripke.

Not familiar with the subject but it appears Goodman's nominalism was an attempt to eliminate set theory from mathematics. I can see parallels with the sort of reality that I conceive of where only particles can be indistinguishably identical. Things are all different. I am not the same as I was a moment ago.

Alan Fox said...

You're speaking of "why I think of non-disprovable claims as imaginary," so I won't assume that you are claiming to make a valid inference here.

Yes, this arises from another time and another place where the confusion of antonyms for "natural" (artificial, supernatural, unnatural etc) led me to suggest "real" and "imaginary" for natural and supernatural in the sense of detectable (however remotely) or undetectable. It's taking a while for the memes to catch on.

But obviously coming up with an example that is imaginary and non-disprovable does not show that what is non-disprovable is imaginary. I can also come up with examples that are imaginary and disprovable; I'd just have to imagine some false scientific hypothesis that could be refuted by experiment. I couldn't say that "[X Experiment], being imaginary, is why I think of [disprovable] claims as imaginary"--or, at least, if I did, it would be sheer sophistry.

Not seeing your distinction. Russell's teapot - imaginary:soul - imaginary!

Anonymous said...

Positivism as per Feser is defined as is the view that all real knowledge is scientific knowledge – that there is no rational, objective form of inquiry that is not a branch of science.

Logical Positivism I believe would encompass Mathematics as well as Science.

BenYachov said...

>Never been inclined to borrow or buy it. I don't recall anyone I know mentioning it. I think the book was more popular in the US.

So that makes you slightly more rational then we took you to be. Good job. Well done.

>*Assumes Mr Yachov is including Alan Fox in his note to GNU atheists. Not that I reject the soubriquet - I find it rather endearing. Like being called a cad or a lounge lizard in Bertie Wooster novels.

It’s more on the level of being called an uneducated, anti-intellectual, anti-rational & superstitious backwoods person….without belief in “gods”. Otherwise known as an Atheist Fundamentalist.
.

Wither you choose to identify with the above or hopefully aspire to be so much more is up to you.

Glenn said...

Mr. Fox wrote (4+ years ago):

I think scientists would generally claim that science can only detect, observe, measure and study real phenomena. Religion and philosophy are not restricted in any way except by the limits of human imagination. Problems arise only when religion dogmatists make claims that are factually and demonstrably wrong.

Some brief comments:

I think scientists would generally claim that science can only detect, observe, measure and study real phenomena.

One wonders whether the so-called scientific method, or any 'method' utilized by science, qualifies as a real phenomenon. If it does, then how is it detected, observed and measured?

(No need to ask how it might be studied, for it is well known that it is studied in a manner which is not wholly unlike the manner in which other non-physical things are studied.)

Religion and philosophy are not restricted in any way except by the limits of human imagination.

This seems to say that religion and philosophy are restricted neither by nor to the exclusive -- and excluding -- domain of physical matter, i.e., it seems to acknowledge that religion and philosophy encompass more than does science.

Problems arise only when religion dogmatists make claims that are factually and demonstrably wrong.

If this is true, then it would seem to follow that no problem arises when a so-called 'religion dogmatist' makes an unfalsifiable claim.

Greg said...

@ Alan Fox

Yes, this arises from another time and another place where the confusion of antonyms for "natural" (artificial, supernatural, unnatural etc) led me to suggest "real" and "imaginary" for natural and supernatural in the sense of detectable (however remotely) or undetectable. It's taking a while for the memes to catch on.

You've lost me here.

You were saying that Russell's teapot is "why you think of" non-disprovable claims as imaginary, ie. because Russell's teapot is imaginary and also non-disprovable. I was only saying that I would extend you the kindness of not imputing to you the plainly invalid inference from "Russell's teapot is imaginary and non-disprovable" to "Things that are non-disprovable are imaginary".

Not seeing your distinction. Russell's teapot - imaginary:soul - imaginary!

For someone who spent a lot of time bemoaning (or trying to bemoan) putatively question-begging theists, you beg quite a few questions and make quite a few assertions in the face of argument. There's not even an attempt at justification.

You said you think of non-disprovable claims as imaginary because of Russell's teapot. I'm pointing out that people's bases for believing in an immoral soul are generally not imagination, so there is a relevant disanalogy from what you regard as the important factor in regarding non-disprovable claims as imaginary.

Not familiar with the subject but it appears Goodman's nominalism was an attempt to eliminate set theory from mathematics. I can see parallels with the sort of reality that I conceive of where only particles can be indistinguishably identical. Things are all different. I am not the same as I was a moment ago.

I wasn't asking for your opinion on the philosophers I listed. I'm only interested in how you conceive of the status of their claims and how that relates to how you see the status of your own claims. You know, the points relevant to our discussion that you consistently ignore.

Greg said...

Also, just to repeat:

claims can be provisionally true, supported by evidence, or demonstrably false, where evidence contradicts the claim. Alternatively a claim can have no real entailments, in which case one can neither support it evidentially nor disprove it.

Are such claims provisionally true based on current evidence, demonstrably false, or more like Russell's teapot?

DNW said...

It doesn't appear that "real life" intervened for Mr. Fox after all.

Maybe he would be good enough to leave a link to his own blog where these matters could be discussed in the free ranging and whimsical manner that seems to appeal to him.

That would serve to keep Feser's comment box from being junked up with polemical trolling, and provide Fox with the opportunity to demonstrate that he has the capacity to act responsibly himself.

Alan Fox said...

Maybe he would be good enough to leave a link to his own blog where these matters could be discussed in the free ranging and whimsical manner that seems to appeal to him.

The Skeptical Zone is where I am most likely to be found these days. All are welcome.

I like "whimsical"!

Alan Fox said...

Greg writes:

I'm pointing out that people's bases for believing in an immoral soul are generally not imagination, so there is a relevant disanalogy from what you regard as the important factor in regarding non-disprovable claims as imaginary.

Well, that would be the crux of our disagreement. I think people do imagine "souls".

Alan Fox said...

If this is true, then it would seem to follow that no problem arises when a so-called 'religion dogmatist' makes an unfalsifiable claim.

Rather an ugly phrase. I think I should have written religious dogmatist or just dogmatist.

Can't think of an issue with an unfalsifiable claim, yet. The default should always be we are free to have our own thoughts and our own beliefs. Elizabeth I put it well with her "I have no desire to make windows into men's souls" though I'll concede practice fell somewhat short of the declaration.

Alan Fox said...

Are such claims provisionally true based on current evidence, demonstrably false, or more like Russell's teapot?

I was suggesting there are three categories of claim. Those that coincide with evidence and can be considered provisionally correct but always open to challenge from fresh evidence. Those that are contradicted by evidence. Those that are untestable.

Greg said...

@ Alan Fox

Well, that would be the crux of our disagreement. I think people do imagine "souls".

I said, qualifedly, that some people do:

The claim about the soul could be rooted in imagining some "ghostly aura" of sorts that continues after my death, but I think most people, even those who believe it naively and without supporting philosophical argument, tend to believe it because of the nature of their direct subjective experiences.

But I don't imagine a soul. A soul is immaterial, so it is impossible to imagine. (It might be said that such people are imagining something other than a soul, at least as Aquinas, Feser, and I use that term.)

I was suggesting there are three categories of claim. Those that coincide with evidence and can be considered provisionally correct but always open to challenge from fresh evidence. Those that are contradicted by evidence. Those that are untestable.

So what is implicitly asserted here is that (a) there are no truths that may be considered more than provisional and that (b) the category of what may be considered to be true excludes the category of what is untestable. I don't know what (b) could be, since it is unclear what could support it empirically. If we should regard it as true (provisionally?) then that would imply that we could regard as true claims that are untestable, which is (b)'s own contradictory.

Though I suppose this position is relatively nonthreatening to theism or systematic philosophy in general since any implications that might be drawn from it rely on this well-argued gem: "Russell's teapot, being imaginary, is why I think of non-disprovable claims as imaginary." (Assuming we should regard the status of a claim as "imaginary" as philosophically relevant. It seems more like an attempt at armchair psychology than a real epistemic distinction.)

ccmnxc said...

Well, I'm probably late to the party with this response, but oh well.

I hardly think it deniable or controversial. Any current, historical or prehistoric society that has left evidence demonstrates this universal human trait. We love styories. We love to tell stories. The diversity and yet the similarities indicate something common and deep in the human psyche.Story tellers evolve into shamans, evolve into priests and leaders.

I won't deny that people are prone to making stories or even that some (many?) deities evolved out ancient narratives in one form or another. But the word "all" is a pretty expansive one. The Jews had an excellent oral tradition and would have passed down their religious tradition through oral means rather often. They even saw God and theological truths through their own paradigm and worldview. Now, it also depends on how you define the word "stories." If you are thinking in terms of books you read to children at bed-time, which are basically going to be non-real almost by definition, then I reject the obviousness that the Christian God was created in such a way. If you mean stories which are more oral traditions that have some mixture of truth and some mixture of fantasy (or even simply un-truth), then I don't think one is justified in immediately inferring that the theological claims present are the untrue part. So what you did here was perhaps provide a nice, if over-simplified model as to why some stories evolved into religion. However, the "all" claim (or even concrete particulars) really wasn't substantiated.

The classical four elements plainly fail at explaining the observed properties of the observable universe.

What classical four elements? Earth, air, water, and fire? If so, then sure, I agree.

It seems science has moved on anqd quantum theories test the old philosophical ideas of things and entities. The boundary between a thing and not-a-thing is not sharp.

Let's say I grant this (though some examples would be rather nice). My answer would still be along the lines of "So what?" Strikes me as more of an epistemic problem, so I'm not sure how that justifies throwing essences, for example, out the window.

The law of non-contradiction and so on do not work at the quantum level.

(Continued below)

ccmnxc said...

(Continued)

Oh how I long for the days when a contradiction implied something was wrong and that the theory should be changed, not go full speed ahead into the arms of incoherence. First of all, if you are running into contradictions in the quantum realm, considering how reliant it is on mathematical formalism, you might want to check to see whether the two halves on each side of the equals sign do, in fact, equal each other. Second of all, I'm not sure how one can attach rules to the law of non-contradiction (as in, situation X allows for contradictory results but not situation Y) considering such rules themselves would need the law of non-contradiction to be axiomatic. So saying it only applies to the quantum level strikes me as already assuming the law of non-contradiction to be true. I think I would actually like to see some examples of these so-called contradictions. Finally, math itself relies on such an axiom, and since QM is rather reliant upon math, it seems that it simply kicks the chair out from under it and makes the claim self-refuting. Though, then again, if you are willing to embrace contraditions, perhaps self-refutation doesn't bother you all that much.

If philosophers want to start being taken seriously again in the real world they might benefit from looking at current scientific theories and discoveries, rather than being stuck in the classical age.

Right, I forgot philosophers never payed attention to science. Maybe we should start a new branch of philosophy, known as philosophy of science, or the like. But of course, if I asked scientists to reciprocate and learn some philosophy, we'd end up basically getting a version of the Courtier's Reply.

As I said, I'm not telling you what to think or believe, that's the theists.

You mean aside from the assertions you made earlier regarding the truth of religion, reality basically being particles and fields, and the law of non-contradiction being falsified on the quantum level? Well, I suppose.

Did you struggle hard to come up with that pseudonym? ;)

No struggling involved. Keyboard mashing is quite easy, in fact.

DNW said...

Alan Fox said...

The Skeptical Zone is where I am most likely to be found ... All are welcome."


Apparently not, since you have to register with Wordpress in order to comment; unlike the situation with Feser's site.

Mark that as a significant difference in attitude and opportunity in his favor, right there.

But I'll probably eventually get around to using my Wordpress account to comment.

Since, I'm still interested in knowing why those who categorically announce that man is soulless and his life ultimately meaningless, should find it insulting to have it granted as applying specifically to them.

Perhaps soulless people with cosmically meaningless lives want love too. Not that that should necessarily mean anything to anyone else.

George LeSauvage said...

@ccmnxc:

I don't think your analysis of "stories" here is quite right.

1. There is nothing to prevent telling even children true stories. My father certainly did, of his time in the navy. (Well, mostly true - he was a leg-puller supreme.) My childhood reading included books not only about Pooh and Dorothy, but also John Paul Jones. And I knew the difference, even then. (It is also true that an adult distaste for fairy tales is a recent fad. One that leaves us feeling something missing. Sci Fi is the loophole, currently.)

The simple fact is that we like stories, true or not.

2. More important, why bother trying to refute someone who argues by making up Just So stories like "Story tellers evolve into shamans, evolve into priests and leaders."? This is just a habit, of long standing, among the atheists, old and Gnu. But at least Mencken was entertaining when he imagined history as happening as he wanted it to.

I do think you're on stronger ground about non-contradiction. People make this mistake all the time, confusing an actual logical contradiction, with an event which we just assumed to be impossible.

grodrigues said...

@ccmnxc:

"Oh how I long for the days when a contradiction implied something was wrong and that the theory should be changed, not go full speed ahead into the arms of incoherence."

This, of course, is the ultimate reason why all this talk of QM violating the law of non-contradiction is complete rubbish.

It is complete rubbish because a theory that is inconsistent entails, by the principle of explosion, everything and its denial, so its predictive power is exactly zero.

It is complete rubbish because such a state of affairs was never observed, and will never be observed. The reasons I hope, are obvious.

It is complete rubbish because if indeed we had such a proof of the inconsistency of QM, it would have been abandoned a long ago.

It is complete rubbish, because with the possible exception of Deepak Chopra, no serious physicist ever maintained this absurdity. None at all. You will not find it on any QM textbook. A physicist like N. Bohr is at pains, in every single paper he wrote on the foundations of QM, to underline the logical consistency of the theory. It is partly *because* he needs to preserve logical consistency, that he goes on to discuss at length things such as the principle of complementarity or to argue that certain classical notions loose their sense and meaning in the quantum realm.

You can depend upon it: if someone starts yapping about QM violating LNC, then he is an ignoramus who has absolutely no idea of what he is talking about.

Jeremy Taylor said...

I don't see anything directed at me from you that I have ignored.

You are either blind, stupid, or dishonest. Call it Jeremy's trilemma.

E.Seigner said...

...with the possible exception of Deepak Chopra, no serious physicist ever maintained this absurdity. None at all.

Actually, Lawrence Krauss brought this up as his main (only?) argument in debates against Craig. Something like "Quantum physics shows that the universe is very strange and doesn't follow the laws of logic. Therefore Craig is wrong."

grodrigues said...

@E. Seigner:

I suppose in an informal debate, and for Mr. Krauss, any and all kind of dishonest sophistry is allowed?

Believe me, he would not dare to put *that* to the scrutiny of the physics community. Whatever its flaws, accepting inconsistent theories is (still?) not one of them.

Alan Fox said...

Only time to post a quick link to a comment at The Skeptical zone.

Whilst I may be wrong about assumptions in your premises can take you wherever you want your conclusions to get you, I am not alone in thinking so.

Alan Fox said...

Oops

link

Alan Fox said...

...you have to register with Wordpress in order to comment; unlike the situation with Feser's site.

The site uses Wordpress software but is not hosted at Wordpress. Registration involves picking a user name and supplying an email address to which a password (that you can change) is sent. Anyone can create a new email account purely for the purpose if they are paranoid. The first comment from new accounts is automatically held for moderation.

It's vastly less clunky once the account is running than Blogger.

Alan Fox said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alan Fox said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Glenn said...

Alan Fox,

"Oops", indeed.

You link to a comment which appears under your post, which post contains a link to a post by Mr. Torley, which post by Mr. Torley opens as follows:

"In his reply to my latest post [sic], Edward Feser took me to task for focusing exclusively on the teleological argument instead of his favorite argument: the cosmological argument (which includes St. Thomas Aquinas' first, second and third ways)."

Some questions seem to be in order:

Q: Did Dr. Feser take Mr. Torley to task (in the reply linked to by Mr. Torley (which reply is the OP above))?

A: Yes, he did.

Q: Did Dr. Feser take Mr. Torley to take for focusing exclusively on the teleological argument instead of his favorite argument?

A: No, he did not.

Q: Did Dr. Feser take Mr. Torley to task for exhibiting poor reading skills?

A: Yes, he did.

Q: Did Mr. Torley say he didn't like his reading skills being impugned?

A: Yes, he did.

Q: Did Mr. Torley explicitly deny that his reading skills are poor?

A: No, he did not.

Q: Had Mr. Torley written, "The argument which Feser most frequently touts as a knockdown demonstration of God's existence is a re-vamped version of St. Thomas Aquinas' Fifth Way"?

A: Yes, he had.

Q: Did Dr. Feser say of that statement that it is "odd and false"?

A: Yes, he did.

Q: Did Dr. Feser go on to say of Mr. Torley's statement, "I don't know why he says this"?

A: Yes, he did.

Q: Did Dr. Feser further say, "Of course, I do indeed defend the Fifth Way, but it is most certainly not the argument I 'most frequently tout as a knockdown demonstration of God's existence'"?

A: Yes, he did.

Q: Did Dr. Feser conclude his response to Mr. Torley's statement by saying, "I would have thought it obvious from my books, articles, and many, many blog posts that it is the cosmological argument in several of its versions that I regard as the chief demonstration of God's existence"?

A: Yes, he did.

Q: Did Dr. Feser take Torley to task for focusing exclusively on the teleological argument instead of his favorite argument?

A: No, he did not.

Q: Did Mr. Torley say that "a revamped version of St. Thomas' Fifth Way" is "[t]he argument which Feser most frequently touts as a knockdown demonstration of God's existence"?

A: Yes, he did.

Q: Is that revamped version the argument which Dr. Feser "most frequently touts as a knockdown demonstration of God's existence"?

A: No, it is not.

Q: Did Dr. Feser say that it is not?

A: Yes, he did.

Q: Did Dr. Feser say what it is that he regards as "the chief demonstration of God's existence"?

A: Yes, he did.

Q: Did Dr. Feser show Mr. Torley's statement to be false?

A: Yes, he did.

Q: Did Dr. Feser correct Mr. Torley's false statement?

A: Yes, he did.

Q: Has Mr. Torley provided additional warrant for others to continue to question his reading skills?

A: Yes, he has.

Q: Are Mr. Torley's reading skills poor?

A: The appearance is that they may be. But the reality may be that they are just fine, and that Mr. Torley simply massages and mischaracterizes certain of Dr. Feser's statements that the result might better serve what he himself wishes to say.

Gottfried said...


"The Skeptical Zone"

Hmmmm...

I've often wondered: when and how did "skeptic" come to mean "one with a smug, dogmatic, and unquestioning belief in scientistic materialism"? Was it contemporary with the redefinition of "humanist" to "one who denies the existence of the soul, free will, and any sort of human exceptionalism"?

DNW said...

Alan Fox on his web site:

"The first comment from new accounts is automatically held for moderation."

No shi ... I mean, "You don't say" ... you obviously have a regular free speech hot zone goin' on over there.

So, all you have to do is register with Wordpress ( I already do have an account but the site doesn't recognize it - or automatically admit my blogging ID) and then submit your first post, and voila.

Well, sort of, almost, kind of.

Since the appearance of such a comment is subject to prior res... ... er, that is to say, moderation and approval.

The more you make excuses Alan, the worse it gets. Doesn't it.

DNW said...

Anonymous Gottfried said...


"The Skeptical Zone"

Hmmmm...

I've often wondered: when and how did "skeptic" come to mean "one with a smug, dogmatic, and unquestioning belief in scientistic materialism"? Was it contemporary with the redefinition of "humanist" to "one who denies the existence of the soul, free will, and any sort of human exceptionalism"?

August 6, 2014 at 10:57 AM"



Must have been about the time they began to take offense at the suggestion that we grant that they are what they say they are: soulless, pointless, and not in any way special or intrinsically entitled.

If X applies to all members of a class

And if they are members of that class,

Then ...

No wonder they seem to despise logic.

Alan Fox said...

DNW wrote:

No shi ... I mean, "You don't say" ... you obviously have a regular free speech hot zone goin' on over there.

I think so. I suspect you don't get out much.

So, all you have to do is register with Wordpress ( I already do have an account but the site doesn't recognize it - or automatically admit my blogging ID) and then submit your first post, and voila.

As I said, it is not hosted at Wordpress. Rester with a username and provide an email address where the password can be sent. It's standard with Wordpress software.

Well, sort of, almost, kind of.

Since the appearance of such a comment is subject to prior res... ... er, that is to say, moderation and approval.

The more you make excuses Alan, the worse it gets. Doesn't it.


Well, the choice is yours. Spin it how you want.

Greg said...

@ Alan Fox

Only time to post a quick link to a comment at The Skeptical zone.

Whilst I may be wrong about assumptions in your premises can take you wherever you want your conclusions to get you, I am not alone in thinking so.


The post, by a fellow Kantian Naturalist, is:

Here’s my deliberately naive response to arguments of the general sort that Feser offers.

Generating a “demonstration” or “proof” of the existence of God is trivially easy, because all one needs to do is build all the information into the premises. The conclusion follows necessarily from the premises because all deductively valid arguments are tautologies. It’s trivially easy to construct a proof of the sort:

(1) By “God,” one means anything that has the following characteristics: {x, y, z . . }
(2) necessarily, if there is a P such that {a, b, c . . . }, then there is a y such that {x, y, z . . . };
(3) there is a P such that {a, b, c . . . }
———–
Therefore, God necessarily exists.

Proving that God exists isn’t hard — in fact, it’s not just easy but trivially easy, as long as all the hard work has gone into formulating the required premises in the first place.

It’s the argument which leads up to and establishes those premises that’s the hard part!


This is unbelievably naive.

First of all, this has nothing to do with God or Feser. Whatever point Kantian Naturalist has to make would apply to all deductive arguments, for the existence of God or anything else. So it's not just that "[p]roving that God exists isn't hard" but that "proving anything isn't hard"--oops. Somewhere reasoning went astray.

Perhaps in the fact creating a logically valid argument with the conclusion "God necessarily exists" is not "proving" or "demonstrating" that God exists. On this count, Kantian Naturalist has worked to hard to come up with an example. Here are two others: "God necessarily exists; therefore, God necessarily exists." "p and not p; therefore, God necessarily exists." Both are valid; arguably the first is sound. But neither is probative, the first because it commits an informal fallacy and the second because it is unsound.

In his article "Has the Ontological Argument been Refuted?", Bill Vallicella usefully defines:

Suppose we say that a deductive argument is probative just in case it is (i) valid in point of logical form, (ii) possesses true premises, and (iii) is free of informal fallacy.W e can then say that an argument is normatively persuasive for a person if and only if it is both probative and has premises that can be accepted, without any breach of epistemic propriety, by the person in question. If the premises of a probative argument would be accepted by any reasonable person, I will call such an argument demonstrative\

The reason philosophers (analytic philosophers, at least) are meticulous about the structure of their arguments is that the logic is pretty easy to get right. Discussion and disputation of premises is where everything interesting happens. It's breathtaking that Kantian Naturalist feels the need to point this out and even more breathtaking that he thinks it constitutes a "response" to Feser. (Assuming he means "response" in the sense of a reason not to accept Feser's arguments.)

It's obviously right that "assumptions in your premises can take you wherever you want your conclusions to get you." But that is pretty irrelevant since Feser argues for his premises at considerable length... (ie. see Scholastic Metaphysics). It's not like Feser lists his premises and says, "Look! I proved God."

Greg said...

In another article ("From facts to God: an onto-cosmological argument") Bill Vallicella gives the following argument:

(1) It is possible that facts exist.
(2) If it is possible that facts exist, then an external unifier necessarily exists.
(3) Therefore an external unifier necessarily exist.

(Then he provides an argument that his external unifier is God.) Clearly stating such an argument is worthless, which is why he spends 25 pages defending the premises.

Alan Fox said...

Greg writes:

So what is implicitly asserted here is that (a) there are no truths that may be considered more than provisional and that (b) the category of what may be considered to be true excludes the category of what is untestable. I don't know what (b) could be, since it is unclear what could support it empirically. If we should regard it as true (provisionally?) then that would imply that we could regard as true claims that are untestable, which is (b)'s own contradictory.

I don't know where you get your b) from. Set theory is for mathematics. Of course one could imagine that an untestable claim might be true. I would rather suggest that an untestable claim may become a testable claim due to advances in observation and measurement. There is the ultimate boundary of the past and future light-cone, outside of which all is unknowable and not subject to testing.

Alan Fox said...

Greg writes:

The reason philosophers (analytic philosophers, at least) are meticulous about the structure of their arguments is that the logic is pretty easy to get right. Discussion and disputation of premises is where everything interesting happens. It's breathtaking that Kantian Naturalist feels the need to point this out and even more breathtaking that he thinks it constitutes a "response" to Feser.

Perhaps he has read through some of the comments here and felt he needed to be clear. But that is the point I have been making too. The argument is manipulation of the premises. The choosing of the premises is all.

Greg said...

@ Alan Fox

I don't know where you get your b) from.

Well, you said:

I was suggesting there are three categories of claim. Those that coincide with evidence and can be considered provisionally correct but always open to challenge from fresh evidence. Those that are contradicted by evidence. Those that are untestable.

Your first and third categories are exclusive. (One need not read this in terms of set theory. But you purport to offer a disjunction of types of claims, and disjunctions are either exclusive (ie. the truth function xor) or not (ie. the truth function or)).

Now, you did not specify that the disjunction was exclusive, but it has to be. A claim can't be both untestable and evidential. (This depends on what one takes to be evidence. For example, I think we have "evidence" that substantial forms exist, but I would agree that the claim that they do is not testable by some specialized physical science. But I don't think you would accept that usage of "evidence." So the first and third categories are mutually exclusive, and the proposition disclosing the disjunction of your categories therefore implies my (b).)

Alan Fox said...

A claim can't be both untestable and evidential.

Agreed. But a currently untestable claim might nonetheless be true and could be confirmed so at some later time.

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