Friday, September 19, 2014

Q.E.D.?


The Catholic Church makes some bold claims about what can be known about God via unaided reason.  The First Vatican Council teaches:

The same Holy mother Church holds and teaches that God, the source and end of all things, can be known with certainty from the consideration of created things, by the natural power of human reason…

If anyone says that the one, true God, our creator and lord, cannot be known with certainty from the things that have been made, by the natural light of human reason: let him be anathema.

In Humani Generis, Pope Pius XII reaffirmed this teaching and made clear what were in his view the specific philosophical means by which this natural knowledge of God could best be articulated, and which were most in line with Catholic doctrine:

[H]uman reason by its own natural force and light can arrive at a true and certain knowledge of the one personal God, Who by His providence watches over and governs the world…

[I]t falls to reason to demonstrate with certainty the existence of God, personal and one… But reason can perform these functions safely and well only when properly trained, that is, when imbued with that sound philosophy which has long been, as it were, a patrimony handed down by earlier Christian ages, and which moreover possesses an authority of an even higher order, since the Teaching Authority of the Church, in the light of divine revelation itself, has weighed its fundamental tenets, which have been elaborated and defined little by little by men of great genius.  For this philosophy, acknowledged and accepted by the Church, safeguards the genuine validity of human knowledge, the unshakable metaphysical principles of sufficient reason, causality, and finality, and finally the mind's ability to attain certain and unchangeable truth.

Of course this philosophy deals with much that neither directly nor indirectly touches faith or morals, and which consequently the Church leaves to the free discussion of experts.  But this does not hold for many other things, especially those principles and fundamental tenets to which We have just referred…

If one considers all this well, he will easily see why the Church demands that future priests be instructed in philosophy "according to the method, doctrine, and principles of the Angelic Doctor," since, as we well know from the experience of centuries, the method of Aquinas is singularly preeminent both of teaching students and for bringing truth to light…

End quote.  Similarly, in his address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences of November 22, 1951, Pius XII says:

[T]he human intellect approaches that demonstration of the existence of God which Christian wisdom recognizes in those philosophical arguments which have been carefully examined throughout the centuries by giants in the world of knowledge, and which are already well known to you in the presentation of the "five ways" which the Angelic Doctor, St. Thomas, offers as a speedy and safe road to lead the mind to God.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church reaffirms the teaching of Vatican I and of Pius XII that God’s existence can be known with certainty by the natural light of human reason, and even teaches, more specifically, that we can “attain certainty” about God’s existence via “proofs” which begin “from movement, becoming, contingency, and the world's order and beauty.”  Most of these are, of course, among the approaches taken by Aquinas’s Five Ways.  In Fides et Ratio, Pope St. John Paul II also reaffirmed the teaching of Vatican I and Pius XII on the power of human reason in theological matters:

[T]he First Vatican Council… pronounced solemnly on the relationship between reason and faith. The teaching contained in this document strongly and positively marked the philosophical research of many believers and remains today a standard reference-point for correct and coherent Christian thinking in this regard…

Against the temptations of fideism… it was necessary to stress the unity of truth and thus the positive contribution which rational knowledge can and must make to faith's knowledge…

Surveying the situation today, we see that the problems of other times have returned…

There are… signs of a resurgence of fideism, which fails to recognize the importance of rational knowledge and philosophical discourse for the understanding of faith, indeed for the very possibility of belief in God…

[M]odes of latent fideism appear in the scant consideration accorded to speculative theology, and in disdain for the classical philosophy from which the terms of both the understanding of faith and the actual formulation of dogma have been drawn. My revered Predecessor Pope Pius XII warned against such neglect of the philosophical tradition and against abandonment of the traditional terminology…

Pope Leo XIII… revisited and developed the First Vatican Council's teaching on the relationship between faith and reason, showing how philosophical thinking contributes in fundamental ways to faith and theological learning.  More than a century later, many of the insights of his Encyclical Letter have lost none of their interest from either a practical or pedagogical point of view—most particularly, his insistence upon the incomparable value of the philosophy of Saint Thomas.  A renewed insistence upon the thought of the Angelic Doctor seemed to Pope Leo XIII the best way to recover the practice of a philosophy consonant with the demands of faith.

End quote.  To be sure, the Church has not officially endorsed any specific formulation of any particular argument for God’s existence.  All the same, in her authoritative documents she has gone so far as to speak of God’s existence as something susceptible of “certainty,” “demonstration,” and “proof”; has commended “classical philosophy” specifically as providing the best means of showing how this is possible; and has held up Aquinas and the general approaches taken in his Five Ways as exemplary.  Pius XII even went so far as to imply that the “metaphysical principles of sufficient reason, causality, and finality” -- to which formulations of arguments like Aquinas’s typically appeal -- are not only “unshakable” but are so connected to matters of faith and morals that they are not among the things to be left to “free discussion” among theologians. 

Quod erat demonstrandum?

Needless to say, many modern readers find all of this baffling.  They find it baffling that anyone could be so confident that God’s existence is demonstrable, and baffling that anyone could think it demonstrable in the specific way in question -- via arguments like Aquinas’s Five Ways and metaphysical principles like the principle of causality, the principle of sufficient reason, etc.  Indeed, they think it obvious that God’s existence is not demonstrable, and obvious that arguments like the ones in question do not work.

Though this attitude is common and even held with great confidence, there is no good justification for it.  There are three main problems with it.  The first is that those who exhibit it typically do not even understand what writers like Aquinas actually said, and aim their dismissive objections at crude caricatures.  I have documented this at length in several places, and will not repeat here what I’ve already said elsewhere (such as in my book Aquinas, in my Midwest Studies in Philosophy article “The New Atheists and the Cosmological Argument,” and in blog posts like this one, this one, and others).  Suffice it to say that if a skeptic assures you that cosmological arguments essentially rest on the premise that “everything has a cause,” or supposes that Aquinas was trying to prove that the world had a beginning in time, or suggests that Aquinas never explains why we should suppose a First Cause to have divine attributes like unity, omniscience, omnipotence, etc., that is an absolutely infallible sign that he is utterly incompetent to speak on the subject. 

A second problem is that those who are dismissive of the very idea that the existence of God might be demonstrable typically hold arguments for God’s existence to a standard to which they do not hold other arguments.  For instance, the mere fact that someone somewhere has raised an objection against an argument for God’s existence is commonly treated by skeptics as showing that “the argument fails” – as if an argument is a good one only if no one objects to it but all assent to it upon hearing it.   Of course, skeptics do not treat other philosophical arguments this way.  That an argument for materialism, or against free will, or whatever, has its critics is not taken to show that those arguments “fail.”  The attitude in these cases is rather: “Well, sure, like any philosophical argument, this one has its critics, but that doesn’t mean the critics are right.  At the end of the day, the objections might be answerable and the argument ultimately correct, and we need to keep an open mind about it and consider what might be said in its defense.”  In general, even the most eccentric philosophical arguments are treated as if they are always “on the table” as options worthy of reconsideration.  Mysteriously, though, arguments for God’s existence are refused this courtesy.  The mere fact that Hume (say) said such-and-such two centuries ago is often treated as if it constituted a once-and-for-all decisive refutation. 

Related to this is a tendency to approach the subject as if a successful argument for God’s existence should be the sort of thing that can be stated fairly briefly in a way that will convince even the most hardened skeptic.  Again, no one treats other arguments this way.  If a fifty page article on materialism, free will, utilitarianism, etc. fails to convince you, the author will say that you need to read his book.  If the book fails to convince you, he will then say that the problem is that you have to master the general literature on the subject.  If that literature fails to convince you, then he will say that the issue is a large one that you cannot reasonably expect anyone decisively to settle to the satisfaction of all parties. 

By contrast, if you suggest that the existence of God can be demonstrated, many a skeptic will demand that you accomplish this in an argument of the sort which might be summarized in the space of a blog post.  If such an argument fails to convince him, he will judge that it isn’t worth any more of his time, and if you tell him that he would need to read a book or even a large body of literature fully to understand the argument, he might even treat this (bizarrely) as if it made it even less likely that the argument is any good! 

Then there is the common tendency to suggest that defenders of arguments for God’s existence have ulterior motives that should make us suspicious of their very project.  Once again, the skeptic does not treat other arguments this way.  He doesn’t say: “Well, you have to be very wary of arguments against free will or for revisionist moral conclusions, because their proponents are no doubt trying to rationalize some sort of activity traditionally frowned upon.” Nor does he say: “Atheist arguments are always suspect, of course, given that people would like to find a way to justify rejecting religious practices and prohibitions they find onerous.”  For some reason, though, the very fact that a philosopher defends an argument for God’s existence is treated as if it should raise our suspicions.  “Oh, he must have some religious agenda he’s trying to rationalize!”

Now there is no good reason whatsoever for these double standards.  They reflect nothing more the unreflective prejudices of (some) atheists and skeptics, and in some cases maybe something worse – a dishonest rhetorical tactic intended to poison otherwise fair-minded people against taking arguments for God’s existence very seriously.  But I submit that these unjustifiable double standards play a major role in fostering the attitude that there is something fishy about the very idea of demonstrating the existence of God. 

A third, and perhaps not unrelated, problem with this attitude is that those who take it often misunderstand what a thinker like Aquinas means when he says that the existence of God can be “demonstrated.”  What is meant is that the conclusion that God exists follows with necessity or deductive validity from premises that are certain, where the certainty of the premises can in turn be shown via metaphysical analysis.  That entails that such a demonstration gives us knowledge that is more secure than what any scientific inference can give us (as “science” is generally understood today), in two respects.  First, the inference is not a merely probabilistic one, nor an “argument to the best explanation” which appeals to considerations like parsimony, fit with existing background theory, etc.; it is, again, instead a strict deduction to what is claimed to follow necessarily from the premises.  Second, the premises cannot be overthrown by further empirical inquiry, because they have to do with what any possible empirical inquiry must presuppose.

For example, Aristotelian arguments from motion begin with the premise that change occurs, together with premises to the effect that a potential can be actualized only by what is already actual (the principle of causality) and that an essentially ordered series of causes cannot regress to infinity.  The first premise is in a sense empirical, which is why the argument is not a priori.  We know that change occurs because we experience it.  However, it is not a premise which can be overthrown by further empirical inquiry, because any possible future experience will itself be a further instance of change.  (We can coherently hold, on empirical grounds, that this or that purported instance of change is unreal; but we cannot coherently maintain on empirical grounds that all change is unreal.)  The other premises can be defended by various metaphysical arguments, such as arguments to the effect that the principle of causality follows from the principle of sufficient reason (PSR), and that PSR rightly understood can be established via reductio ad absurdum of any attempt to deny it.  (See Scholastic Metaphysics for detailed defense of the background principles presupposed by Thomistic arguments for God’s existence.)

Now, the problem is this.  Contemporary philosophers tend to work within a conceptual straightjacket inherited from the early modern philosophers.  In particular, and where epistemological matters are concerned, they tend to think in terms inherited from the rationalists, the empiricists, and Kant.  Hence when you put forward an argument that you claim is not an inference of empirical science, they tend to think that the only other thing it can be is either some sort of “conceptual analysis” (essentially a watered-down Kantianism) or an attempt at rationalist apriorism.  And since arguments for God’s existence are obviously attempts to arrive at a conclusion about mind-independent reality itself rather than merely about how we think about reality or conceptualize reality, the assumption is that if you argue for God’s existence in a way that does not involve an inference of the sort familiar in empirical science, then you must be doing something of the Cartesian or Leibnizian rationalist sort.

As I argue in Scholastic Metaphysics, this is simply a false choice.  Thomists reject the entire rationalist/empiricist/Kantian dialectic, and maintain an epistemological position that predated these views.  But modern readers who are unfamiliar with this position, and falsely suppose that it must be an exercise in rationalist metaphysics, sometimes come to expect the trappings of rationalist metaphysics.  In particular, they will expect geometry-style proofs, highly formalized arguments from axioms and definitions, which can be stated crisply in the course of a few pages and be seen either to succeed or fail upon a fairly cursory examination.  When a Thomist does not put forward an argument in this style, the skeptic supposes that he has failed to produce a true demonstration.  But this simply mistakes one kind of demonstration for demonstration as such, and begs the question against the Thomist, who rejects rationalist epistemology and methodology.  (Students of the Neo-Scholastic period of the history of Thomism will be familiar with Thomist criticisms of “essentialism” -- in Gilson’s specialized sense of that term, which is different from the way I or David Oderberg use it -- and of “ontologism.”  These are essentially criticisms of the Leibnizian rationalist approach to metaphysics and natural theology.)

Presenting theistic arguments in this pseudo-geometrical formalized style can in fact inadvertently foster misunderstandings, which is why I tend to avoid that style.  You can, of course, set out an argument like the Aristotelian argument from motion in a series of numbered steps, as I do in my ACPQ article “Existential Inertia and the Five Ways.”  However, the argument contains a number of crucial technical terms -- “actuality,” “potency,” “essentially ordered,” etc. -- which are not explained in the argument thus stated.  Even if you somehow worked definitions of these key terms into the formalized statement of the argument, that would simply push the problem back a stage, since you would have to make use of further concepts not defined in the formalized statement of the argument.  The idea that such an argument (or any metaphysical argument) could be entirely formalized is a rationalist fantasy.

The trouble is that by presenting such semi-formalized arguments -- “Here’s the proof in ten steps” -- you risk encouraging the lazier sort of skeptic in his delusion that if such an argument is any good, it should be convincing, all by itself and completely removed from any larger context, to even the most hostile critic.  Naturally, it will never be that, because it will not properly be understood unless the larger conceptual context is understood.  But the lazy skeptic will not bother himself with that larger context.  He will simply take the brief, ten-step (or whatever) semi-formalized argument and aim at it any old objections that come to mind, thinking he has thereby refuted it when in fact he will (given his ignorance of some of the key background concepts) not even properly understand what it is saying.  (That is why a reader of a book like my Aquinas has to slog his way through over 50 pages of general metaphysics before he gets to the Five Ways.  There are no shortcuts, and I do not want to abet the lazy or dishonest skeptic in pretending otherwise.) 

Now, I submit that when we take account of these three factors underlying the common dismissive attitude toward the very idea of demonstrating God’s existence – the widespread misconceptions about what the traditional arguments for God’s existence actually say; the arbitrary double standard to which these arguments are held; and the common misunderstanding of what a “demonstration” must involve – we can see that that attitude is simply not justified.   Meanwhile, the approaches to demonstrating God’s existence represented by arguments like the Five Ways in fact are -- when fleshed out and when correctly understood -- convincing, as I have argued in several places (e.g. in Aquinas and in the ACPQ article). 

The Church’s insistence that the existence of God is demonstrable is not, in any event, an attempt to settle a philosophical issue by sheer diktat.  It is rather a carefully considered judgment about what must be the case if Christianity is to be rationally justifiable.  What the Church is doing is distancing herself from fideism by affirming the power of unaided reason and affirming the duty of Christians to provide a rational justification of what Aquinas called the “preambles” of the Catholic religion.  (I’ve discussed the crucial role that proofs of God’s existence and other philosophical arguments play in Christian apologetics here and here.)  It is not an expression of blind faith but precisely a condemnation of blind faith. 

So, something Catholics and New Atheists can agree on.  Isn’t that nice? 

258 comments:

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Daniel said...

The emphasis on philosophy of Nature and wider metaphysical issues as opposed to focusing immediately upon various proofs in themselves is a great strength of the Scholastic approach to Natural Theology as opposed to the contemporary Theist-Personalist approach by Craig and co.(it also gives the lie to the suggestion that the Scholastics were only interested in philosophy in as much as it served Apologetics).

Could you clarify one point for me though: did or did not the Church affirm a dogmatic rejection of the Ontological Argument in its endorsement of the Twenty-Second Thomistic Thesis? If so, it amounts to the same as dogmatically declaring an argument incorrect and beyond discussion. I cannot remember if the Thesis were proclaimed to be binding or just heavily advised as the surest way - I thought it was the latter, in which case the accusation is happily unwarranted.

Thomists, let's be clear on something: Do you hold that Thomas' own criticism of the O A amounts to the remark that since all cognition begins with sensation, we cannot know the nature of God a priori, thus cannot say a priori that the Deity is a possible being? This is a statement that fair-minded Thomists like Joyce, Phillips, McInerny and Donceel endorse. Unfortunately, a number of others have shown a duplicious tendency to try to interpret the Saint's remarks in any number of other ways, including something akin to Kant's statement of Existence not being a predicate (which is pretty grotesque, considering the Thomist stance on the Real Distinction and the pivotal role it plays in A-T metaphysics).

Daniel said...

My apologies. That should read 'amounts to the same as dogmatically declaring an argument correct and beyond discussion'

rank sophist said...

The idea that such an argument (or any metaphysical argument) could be entirely formalized is a rationalist fantasy.

Loved this line. It's true: metaphysics is too messy to be captured fully in the language of the logical positivists. (A point dguller has had trouble grasping in the past, I think.) Good post overall, too.

Greg said...

By contrast, if you suggest that the existence of God can be demonstrated, many a skeptic will demand that you accomplish this in an argument of the sort which might be summarized in the space of a blog post.

Actually, they'll request that you do it in a comment on a blog post.

Anonymous said...

For example, Aristotelian arguments from motion begin with the premise that change occurs, together with premises to the effect that a potential can be actualized only by what is already actual (the principle of causality) and that an essentially ordered series of causes cannot regress to infinity. The first premise is in a sense empirical, which is why the argument is not a priori.

Couldn't we say that the first way is almost entirely based on empirical premises, not just in a sense.

For example,

1-the principle that change occurs is based on the fact that all we observe in the material world is changeable. All we know is ens mobile.

2-The principle of causality is also an empirical fact based on observation of the material world. It is an inherent aspect of change that, as you say, a potential can be actualized only by what is already actual (the principle of causality).

3-The third principle seems to be that in the material world, there is nothing that exists that moves itself because everything in the material world is by nature, a composite. Again, an empirical fact.

4-Because essentially ordered series of causes cannot regress to infinity or nothing would ever go from potency to actuality, (something that must empirically be true) there must be a prime mover that starts all such causal chains.

5-For that prime mover to be a prime mover, it must be immaterial and simple (since as stated above in 4, such a prime mover cannot in principle exist in the material world) for it to be the cause of its own existence and that of all other material things dependent on its efficient causal action.

I guess I am confused perhaps as to what consitutes empirical inquiry and what consitutes metaphysical inquiry. Because, if what I say above is coherent, then I can't see how what you say here is true:

Second, the premises cannot be overthrown by further empirical inquiry, because they have to do with what any possible empirical inquiry must presuppose..

Perhaps I need to reread Aquinas.

Cheers,
Daniel

John West said...

I have to say, after the last couple weeks of dealing with fantastically reticent, almost squeamish fellow Catholics on campus, I think I've come around concerning the faintly ecrasez l'infame attitude I catch around here.

I know Christ said to turn the other cheek, but surely there is some biblical justification for not being a total pushover.

Either way, it's comforting to see doctrinal affirmation of natural theology.

Scott said...

@Daniel:

(1) The principle that change occurs is based on the fact that we observe change, but it doesn't (and for the purposes of the argument needn't) be taken to mean that all we observe is changeable. All we need to ground the argument is one occurrence of change.

(2) The principle of causality is "empirical" in the Aristotelian-Thomist sense of the word, but not in the "empiricist" sense. The principle is self-evident and there is no possible "empirical" experience or experiment that could overrule it.

(3) I'm not quite sure what you're trying to say here. The principle in question (in what Ed takes to be its most fundamental version, and for whatever it's worth I agree) is that anything that is reduced from potency to act is thus reduced by something already in act. This principle doesn't hold because everything in the material world is composite, although that's also true. (And this principle is "empirical" only in the same sense that (2) is.)

(4) I'm also not sure what you mean when you say that, in an essentially ordered series, it's an "empirical fact" that nothing would go from potency to actuality without a Prime Mover. That's a metaphysical fact (if it's a fact at all, as I think it is—and more importantly, of course, so does Aquinas).

(5) The argument is not that the Prime Mover must be immaterial and simple because it can't be material; on the contrary, the argument is that it can't be material because it must be simple. (And even this much doesn't follow, I think, from just the First Way alone.) And according to Aquinas, at least, it's simply incoherent to regard the Prime Mover as "the cause of its own existence."

Scott said...

"Perhaps I need to reread Aquinas."

Or Joyce.

Anonymous said...

Or Joyce.

Thanks for the link. I think a better understanding of natural theology is a good next step.

And thank you for your comments and corrections.

Cheers,
Daniel

Asteele said...

The problem here is that skeptics have every reason to wonder why the arguments for the existence of God have not convinced the relevant body of experts, and in fact, that body has overwhelmingly rejected them.

To the extent that the post addresses this, appealing to a entire emporium of philosophical antiques that has also been rejected by the relevant body of experts,is probably a tough see for people who don't already shop there.

Daniel said...

In other words they shrug and let someone else do their thinking for them? That might be conceivable on a person level but is really more of a failure to engage with an issue rather than anything

John West said...

Asteele,

That depends on what you mean by the relevant body of experts. It's not at all clear that the majority of philosophers know or care that much about the subfield of philosophy of religion. But as I understand (if someone else is more familiar with the statistics, please correct me), the majority of philosophers of religion are convinced by at least some of these arguments. So the people who have actually studied the subject matter tend to find it convincing.

Now, there's almost certainly selection bias among the body of people that become philosophers of religion, but nonetheless. What do you mean by "the relevant body of experts"?

Anonymous said...

I think the impossibility of making it short and sweet is huge here. My non-denominational friends take the "there's no way I could every figure out which Church is actually the right one", "you can't PROVE any philosophy" approach and are effectively impossible to get through to... They don't even want to have discussions about anything near this ballpark.

Asteele said...

I think taking philosophers of religion as the relevant body of experts has obvious problems. Even then, it turns out their intense study of religion leads them to only twice the rate of atheism as the general population.

John West said...

Asteele,

Thank you for your reply. Could you cite your source? I would also like the source for the rate of atheism in the general population, if possible. In the latter case I ask because, for instance, twice the rate of an extremely low rate only appears impressive.

Also, perhaps you could let me know who you propose as body of relevant of experts?

Greg said...

The problem here is that skeptics have every reason to wonder why the arguments for the existence of God have not convinced the relevant body of experts, and in fact, that body has overwhelmingly rejected them.

Well, a beginning of an explanation might be located in the fact that plenty of sharp philosophers misrepresent the arguments they reject in explaining why they reject them. Russell is an example. (Although given his more serious grasp of the argument in his discussion with Father Copleston, the question arises of whether or not he was aware of offering a facile treatment of the first cause argument in "Why I am not a Christian," where he even claimed to have believed the argument for a time.)

Another response is that this is another instance of holding theistic arguments to a different standard than any other argument in philosophy. If the relevant body of experts is constituted by professional philosophers, then skeptics "have every reason" to doubt why there is not consensus in philosophy, ie. for whatever their preferred flavor of materialism happens to be.

To add to that last point, it is natural that there is disagreement in philosophy. Philosophy is dialectical and people tend not to argue philosophically for positions where there is already widespread agreement. In that light, arguments for the existence of God are a bit interesting, because there have been times when philosophers (the scholastics) have made such arguments as the Five Ways for conclusions that they accepted on antecedent alternative, and in their view sufficient, grounds. Furthermore, they accepted some of such arguments while disagreeing on others (like St. Anselm's argument in the Proslogion).

Crude said...

I think taking philosophers of religion as the relevant body of experts has obvious problems.

Why? And more than that, it's the least obviously problematic, and most relevant, of any 'body of experts'.

Me, I'm of the mind that appeals to any 'body of experts' as decisive is flawed reasoning. Saying that skeptics 'have every reason to wonder why' the arguments haven't convinced everyone is the beginning of a route to questioning. It's not the justification for a particular conclusion.

Even then, it turns out their intense study of religion leads them to only twice the rate of atheism as the general population.

And overwhelmingly more theistic belief than non-experts, even in the same broad field.

As to the claim that people reject philosophy and metaphysics and therefore won't be persuaded by Thomistic appeals, etc - I agree that's likely. For those people, I only demand consistency: eschewing metaphysical claims should be as total as possible. Naturalism, anti-theism, materialism... these are yet more metaphysical claims.

I've run into too many people who want to be skeptical of metaphysical claims and philosophical arguments, but who blink when it comes time to give up the ones they like.

Greg said...

@ Crude

Why? And more than that, it's the least obviously problematic, and most relevant, of any 'body of experts'.

Me, I'm of the mind that appeals to any 'body of experts' as decisive is flawed reasoning.


I agree. Taking philosophers of religion to be the relevant body of experts may yield a biased sample, as religious practitioners are probably more likely to study philosophy of religion. On the other hand, broadening the sample to include other philosophers may yield a sample of narrowly professionalized philosophers who have not studied the relevant arguments outside of an introductory undergraduate course, and who have always had a disdain for the philosophy of religion subdiscipline as a result of a teenage apostasy.

It's hard to tell who is supposed to be the body of experts.

Crude said...

Greg,

Not to mention, academia is host to its own culture, it's own influences, political and social and otherwise.

Again, I don't hold it against people necessarily who just say 'I can't handle this philosophy and metaphysics, I want nothing to do with it'. I think they're poorer for it, but people have limited time. Just don't do that then whip around and philosophize at me, thank you. Or for that matter, anyone else.

I'm not sure I've run into anyone who can pull that off in anything close to a consistent way.

Thomas Henry Larsen said...

Asteele,

The problem here is that skeptics have every reason to wonder why the arguments for the existence of God have not convinced the relevant body of experts, and in fact, that body has overwhelmingly rejected them.

Out of curiosity, what in your view is the “relevant body of experts” in this case?

I hope it doesn’t include people who are under the impression that cosmological arguments for theism are based on premises like “everything has a cause.”

Edward Feser said...

Asteele,

Let's cut the crap, shall we?

Consider just the data point to which Thomas Larsen alludes, viz. that a large number of the "experts" who "overwhelmingly reject" arguments like the cosmological argument sincerely believe that the ridiculous "Everything has a cause" straw man has something to do with what Aristotle, Aquinas, Leibniz, et al. thought.

Now that tells you nothing about the cosmological argument itself and absolutely everything about the "experts," namely that they are no less prone to groupthink, confirmation bias, mindless repetition of cliches, etc. than anyone else.

It also says much about a certain kind of "skeptic" that he is always looking for excuses to avoid actually engaging the arguments of theists rather than answering the arguments. (Hence Myers' blatantly question-begging "Courtier's Reply" dodge, etc.) When someone asks, not "What does the argument say?" but "What do the experts say about the argument?", we can be pretty sure we're dealing with a person who is not interested in truth, but rather in furthering an agenda.

Alan Aversa said...

Interestingly, there was a debate at Vatican I about whether to say God can be "known" versus saying He can be "demonstrated", and they opted for the former term.

Thomas Henry Larsen said...

Ed, I agree that there’s a deplorable lack of engagement with actual arguments for God’s existence on the part of many sceptics.

Nonetheless,

When someone asks, not "What does the argument say?" but "What do the experts say about the argument?", we can be pretty sure we're dealing with a person who is not interested in truth, but rather in furthering an agenda.

– seems a bit far. Surely it is quite reasonable to respond to a sceptic who alleges that Jesus never existed by pointing out that the vast, vast majority of experts disagree with him, and leaving it at that?

Asteele said...

John: It's in the same study you were referencing. 20% of philosophers of religion said they were atheist, which I believe, but did not check, is about twice as high as the general population.

Others: The question is whether or not the 5 ways hold as successful arguments, and whether Thomism's metaphysics are correct. I'm not sure that they are the logical experts on either of those.

Anonymous said...

The question is whether or not the 5 ways hold as successful arguments, and whether Thomism's metaphysics are correct. I'm not sure that they are the logical experts on either of those.

They're the closest that fit the bill, and they're overwhelmingly theist.

Keep in mind, the rest of the philpapers study isn't particularly kind to the atheist position. Taken as a whole, the various philosophers don't even put naturalism in the majority. Shall we therefore conclude that naturalism is far from tenable?

John West said...

10% atheism is sometimes cited for the US (from a Gallup poll for all that's worth). Chalmers's survey, however, examined the US, UK, Australia, Canada, and continental Europe.

Just quickly, I referenced Wikipedia - but included the sources cited for the pages there - to see how countries besides the US stack up. The percentage of convinced atheists in the general population in Australia is 10%, but the percentage claiming they are not religious is as high as 49% (Win-Gallup International). The percentage of the general European population that is atheist is apparently around 20% (European Commission, 2010). In Canada, the percentage of atheists in the general population is anywhere from 21% (Canadian Press Harris-Decima) to about 30% (Canadian Ipsos Reid Poll), and in the UK it's anywhere between 8% who self identity as atheists and 30% who claim they don't believe in a God (Cambridge Companion to Atheism). Obviously the methodology behind each of these surveys is going to vary widely, and so one must be quite careful, but it does still suggest that the claim that 10% of the general population relevant to the Chalmers survey is atheist is a touch low. Anyway, it seems unlikely your ratio of the percentage of atheists in the general population to the percentage of atheist philosophers of religion checks out.

I've also heard skepticism expressed as to whether or not Chalmers bothered to survey any philosophers at Christian universities, which would further reduce the number of Christian philosophers of religion accounted for by Chalmers's survey.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Asteele,

You haven't shown, yet, anyone whose expertise on philosophy is the same as experts in physics or law or similar. So, for a start, you need to show we have good reason to think that philosophy is like these areas, where experts deserve general trust.


You also need to show that the reason philosophers, or whoever, do not agree with the Five Ways and Thomstic metaphysics is that, despite having good knowledge of them, they have rationally concluded they are likely to be wrong. This is not self-evident correct. Indeed, Dr. Feser has already given an example which shows that many philosophers have dismissed Cosmological Arguments based on a strawman. In fact, a cursory glance at human history and human nature should remind us that even the clever have often been misled or blinded by prejudice or bias or ignorance.

Jakub Moravčík said...

Then there is the common tendency to suggest that defenders of arguments for God’s existence have ulterior motives that should make us suspicious of their very project. Once again, the skeptic does not treat other arguments this way. He doesn’t say: “Well, you have to be very wary of arguments against free will or for revisionist moral conclusions, because their proponents are no doubt trying to rationalize some sort of activity traditionally frowned upon.” Nor does he say: “Atheist arguments are always suspect, of course, given that people would like to find a way to justify rejecting religious practices and prohibitions they find onerous.” For some reason, though, the very fact that a philosopher defends an argument for God’s existence is treated as if it should raise our suspicions. “Oh, he must have some religious agenda he’s trying to rationalize!”

I do not say I completely do not agree, but let´s be honest. Are the atheist bound by some dogmatic sentence, finished with "let them be anathema" (i.e. let them be excluded from the companion of salvation")? No. Are catholics? Yes. So I think that the allusion from atheists to catholics concerning the ulterior motives is more justified than vice versa.

Anonymous said...

It seems for Dr Feser that if someone doesn't accept any of the five ways they have " misread " the arguments. We all understand by now the second way doesn't rest on "everything has a cause", but how do you disprove something coming out of existence from thin air as Hume says, whether it can happen or not, not being able to DISPROVE something coming out of thin air seems to diminish aquinas's argument as a strict DEMONSTRATION. And what about the other ways, for instance the third way, Anthony Kenny says the first part fails because how are we to prove that ALL contingent beings would HAVE to go out of existence at THE SAME TIME at some point given an infinite amount of time if there was nothing necessary. There is no way to prove a necessary being because you cannot disprove an overlapping series of ONLY contingent beings lasting infinitely. Its logically possible that they could all go out of existence together, but so is the possibility that they could overlap infinitely. Possibility isn't a demonstration. Now if you say they have an aristotelian meaning of "possibility" meaning all contingent things have an "inherent tendency to go out of existence together" where did the inherent tendency to go out of existence "together" instead of just "individually" come from

Tom said...

Those are actually good points, how could you prove that if there were only contingent beings, they would have to go out of existence together eventually and that something couldn't appear out of nothing

Irish Thomist said...

@Ed

A second problem is that those who are dismissive of the very idea that the existence of God might be demonstrable typically hold arguments for God’s existence to a standard to which they do not hold other arguments. For instance, the mere fact that someone somewhere has raised an objection against an argument for God’s existence is commonly treated by skeptics as showing that “the argument fails” – as if an argument is a good one only if no one objects to it but all assent to it upon hearing it. Of course, skeptics do not treat other philosophical arguments this way. So glad somebody made this point - I see it all the time.

Also this was a very valid point at least when it comes to strong theistic arguments;
It also says much about a certain kind of "skeptic" that he is always looking for excuses to avoid actually engaging the arguments of theists rather than answering the arguments.
I see this a lot when it comes to Aquinas.

Thankfully not all atheist's are so dishonest; but usually on the internet (debates) this is the case to some degree (for whatever reason). I had read somewhere about online debates actually leaving both sides with reinforced bias (maybe something to do with the 'backfire effect'). Anyway that was a tangent.

Asteele said...

Annymous: If almost 50% of philosophers supported a Thomistic understanding of God and the universe, I'd say that was strong evidence it needed to be taken very seriously.

John: Your the one who introduced the survey as evidence as to the beliefs of philosophers of religion, now you want to reject, that's ok, it was your evidence.

Jeremy: I'm not sure what you want me to prove. It is an anthropological fact that only a small minority of philosophers believe in Thomistic metaphysics, and this number has been declining for a long time. This leads one to a certain parsimonious explanation.

Edward: When you come to a difficult technical question, asking what the experts think about it is a perfectly good step to take.

Daniel said...

So, after five hundred years plus of Cartesian scepticism and Critical Thinking the answer is: go with what the Schools say? That’s a somewhat surprising conclusion. The time was when proper Sceptical philosophers used the fluctuating nature of common consensus as an argument against its validity. On a completely unrelated topic, what do people think of the following rebuttal to Hume?

Hume: Sir? I can verily conclude that nothing exists that is not in some way sensed.

Baldrick: Have you taken leave of your wits, m’lord? Even philosophers know things exist when they’re not in the room.

Hume: My apologies, given that this is the opinion of the mass of men of all ages it must be correct.

Now, one is welcome to put this down to pique on my part but it amuses me how inane, trivial remarks not worthy of comment attract a great array of lengthy responses whilst more in depth queries often go un-noticed. Now to my queries about the O A and Thomist Natural Theology – simple yeses and noes would suffice.

Daniel Joachim said...

@Anon 12:20

I would rather phrase it as: If they dismiss them through handwaving, show evident signs of misunderstanding them, and haven't shown any good arguments to why the Ways are faulty, then they need to do so.

Demonstration from logical necessities can fairly be described as "demonstration" to me. Please examine the arguments against Hume or Popperian falsibility already given in this blog, or books.

And last: Kenny isn't exactly a stranger here. I don't think that arguments shows anything interesting. First of all: Given infinity and tendency of corruption -> All things would necessarily go out of existence at one time. Second, and more important: This is really irrelevant anyway, since all you need to succeed with the proof, is one single contingent thing, to conclude that there has to exist an uncontingent being, which after further examination turns out to be Existence itself, aka God.

Or as Lonergan or Spitzer phrases it: For conditioned realities to even exist, there has to exist at least one unconditioned realities, that relies on no external reality to fulfill the conditions of its existence. Showing that the number of conditioned realities are circular or infinite would do nothing to make their existence even possible.

@Jakob

Certainly you're not saying that most Atheists doesn't hold to dogmas to protect their view of ontology?

“In truth, there are only two kinds of people; those who accept dogma and know it, and those who accept dogma and don't know it.”
- G. K. Chesterton

What a writer Chesterton was!

Daniel said...

All of the Anon and co remarks doing nothing to check my growing suspicion that the vast majority of atheists who comment on here aren't actually interested in what professional atheist philosophers say. I mean: instead of marching on here and challenged people about points from, say, J.H. Sobel's Logic and Theism or Graham Oppy's Arguing About Gods, they just come up with a lot of old sub-Logical Positivist stuff.

Daniel Joachim said...

Ouch. Bad typo in my third paragraph:
"I don't think that arguments shows anything interesting."

Should be, put more clearly:
"I don't think that your stated argument shows anything interesting."

Of course arguments are interesting! :)

dover_beach said...

"When you come to a difficult technical question, asking what the experts think about it is a perfectly good step to take."

I think we can discount as 'experts' anyone that has demonstrated a failure to understand the precise technical question involved by, for instance, imaging that the technical question at issue was 'Everything has a cause' rather than 'Whatever is changed is changed by another'.

Anonymous said...

"This leads one to a certain parsimonious explanation."

Not by necessity though, since there are competing explanations. And it's not like we have to rely on parsimony alone, since the alternate explanations can be readily tested/explored as Jeremy explains:

"You also need to show that the reason philosophers, or whoever, do not agree with the Five Ways and Thomstic metaphysics is that, despite having good knowledge of them, they have rationally concluded they are likely to be wrong. This is not self-evident correct. Indeed, Dr. Feser has already given an example which shows that many philosophers have dismissed Cosmological Arguments based on a strawman. In fact, a cursory glance at human history and human nature should remind us that even the clever have often been misled or blinded by prejudice or bias or ignorance."

Brandon said...

The entire body of philosophers is not going to be the relevant body of experts for any specialized topic, whatsoever; philosophy is much too large a field for it to be even remotely plausible, a fact that anyone who actually does philosophy can easily recognize. It also fails to grasp the expertise-structure of academic philosophy, in which philosophers becomes specialists, and thus plausibly experts, on very narrow topics, and leverage that for greater insight into a broader field around them, in which 'expert' is not exactly the right term. I've studied more philosophical modal logic than most, and it would merely be a sign of remarkable stupidity if I regarded myself as an expert in the field. No sensible person would expect someone specializing in philosophy of physics to be an expert on a question in aesthetics, unless they also do specialized work on that particular question. When talking about the entire body of academic philosophers we're usually talking 'people who are more likely than the general population to have heard of the issue, and who are more likely than not to have some familiarity with some aspects of the issue, and among whom experts in that particular issue are more likely to be found'; we're not talking experts, simpliciter. One might as well just take college graduates generally as 'experts' in the field; it's only slightly less profligate a method in who gets to be counted as an expert.

The expertise-structure of philosophy of religion is weird in itself, though, because it is currently a derivative field; almost all the work in the field (outside of historical and comparative work) consists of testing out ideas originally worked out elsewhere (usually epistemology, although analytic metaphysics and philosophy of science are also relatively common). Most philosophers of religion are epistemologists, or philosophers of science, or such, who also do philosophy of religion. It does not, or need not, affect their status as experts on something in the field, but nonetheless complicates the question of how anyone else can draw on them qua body of experts without specific knowledge of how they are experts.

In any case, I don't think it's particularly problematic if people doubt the arguments because of their assessment of where the experts tend; in this case, it's muddled thinking, but as long as it's genuine doubt, it's essentially harmless. The problems would arise mostly with those people who aren't merely doubting the arguments but treating them as actively and definitely to be rejected despite not knowing much about them at all; this is an intellectual vice, with pernicious effects.

John West said...

Asteele,

Right, so you concede the statement you were making then. Good.

John West said...

(The fact that the survey may have been biased against the claim I was making, does not in any way weaken its use for making the claim. The point was rather that, if anything, the evidence would be more in my favor.)

Cole Glass said...

The misunderstanding and abuse of metaphysics by certain misotheistic pendants, who would peddle their tastes and prejudices as conclusions demonstrated by philosophy, history, science, &c., ought to be contextualized by the “ideological manufacture” that nowadays determines everything from public policy to unimportant nonsense. This “ideological manufacture” is inherently inimical to thinkers like St. Thomas Aquinas because it is the progeny of those who, centuries ago, opposed the Angelic Doctor and the philosophy he had clearly presented. It is a test of how ideologically oriented the historian is, to ask him why this opposition came to be. What can be said, as Professor Feser has mentioned in several writings, is that this opposition ultimately originated in an abhorrence for the ramifications of Thomism upon the interiority of the individual; that the Five Ways would lead to the virtue of religion; that the ethics of natural law would demand an adherence to a morality antithetical to the dynamics of “instant gratification;” and so on. The “rationalizing of the irrational” seems to be the occupation of the misotheistic intelligentsia, but their ideological orientations and prejudices make them blind to the fact that it is the irrational that is doing the rationalizing.

Jakub Moravčík said...

@Daniel Joachim:

Certainly you're not saying that most Atheists doesn't hold to dogmas to protect their view of ontology?

I don´t say that many of them aren´t (couldn´t be) dogmatic, but they are not under threat of some "atheistic eternal damnation". Catholics are.

Irish Thomist said...

@ Asteele
Argumentum ad populum, argumentum ab auctoritate are obviously very important in your view, no?

I have just come to Thomism myself after rejecting a myriad of other flawed ideas. There is a Thomistic revival(again) as Prof. Edwards blog among other places on the internet might suggest to you - stay tuned. :)

[Well maybe I tend towards a Thomistic Personalism but I reject some aspects and formulations on the personalist side (so don't expect me to quote or defend 'personalists' at all) and I think it needs refinement - nor do I think St. Thomas Aquinas was beyond error or that his thinking can not be built upon further]

Irish Thomist said...

@Jakub Moravčík

I don´t say that many of them aren´t (couldn´t be) dogmatic, but they are not under threat of some "atheistic eternal damnation". Catholics are.

I just want to point out that would be a very very bad reason (alone) to be a Catholic. Truth is more important. Fear of Hell and Desire for Heaven alone are not what the mystical theologians suggest should be our supreme goal ( please may nobody confuse 'destination' for 'goal' as I mean it here in this context - I shall not bother replying to any such straw men). This would be only a 'mercenary relationship with God' - and likely a selfish (imperfect) one to some degree in relation to others.

Greg said...

@ Jakub

I don´t say that many of them aren´t (couldn´t be) dogmatic, but they are not under threat of some "atheistic eternal damnation". Catholics are.

Suppose we grant this distinction. What is your point? Why is it more relevant than some distinction invoked in favor of the theist? Many atheists would "lose" quite a lot if they admitted the conclusions of (for instance) Feser's arguments. That is probably why disagreement over religion is such a personal issue for folks like the new atheists.

We can go back and forth, back and forth. I don't mean to present an alternative distinction and say, "Ha! Atheists are on average more cognitively biased in their assessment of theistic arguments than are theists!" To be sure, some (perhaps many) theists are cognitively biased, and some (perhaps many) atheists are cognitively biased. Even if it were true that theists are on average more cognitively biased, so what? That does not generate any general reason to disregard their arguments.

Feser's point where you originally quoted him was not that atheists in fact are more liable to ulterior motives than are theists. His point was that atheists, like theists, may have ulterior motives. In other areas of philosophy, we don't play an "ulterior motive game," trying to one-up our interlocutors by being more dispassionate. So to say that Catholics might have a type of ulterior motive that atheists do not have misses the point.

Irish Thomist said...

@Greg

So to say that Catholics might have a type of ulterior motive that atheists do not have misses the point. I see that being blog post material... if the topic hasn't come up yet here. The Old Psychologist's fallacy is in 'the house'.

Anonymous said...

If almost 50% of philosophers supported a Thomistic understanding of God and the universe, I'd say that was strong evidence it needed to be taken very seriously.

So the fact that almost 50% of philosophers support a non-naturalistic understanding of the universe is strong evidence that it needs to be taken very seriously?

Ty said...

I think that a given expert's opinion on a certain argument only has weight if his expertise actually encompasses that argument. I've noticed that many contemporary philosophers do not even bother *understanding* anything before Descartes--ergo, they cannot be said to be experts in the required sense. They might be profoundly insightful when it comes to reading modern material, but that only gets you so far.

I would be very interested in seeing the percentage of atheists in the subset of philosophers who make a serious effort to understand the medievals.

Ty said...

Note: I say "medievals" because it seems that many lovers of Classical philosophy suffer from the same problem. Here's a quote from my "Readings in Ancient Greek Philosophy" textbook:

"Every university and and college, every intellectual discipline and scientific advance, every step toward freedom and away from ignorance, superstition, and *enslavement to repressive dogma* is eloquent testimony to the power of their invention. If they had not existed, our world would not exist."

(Introduction, pg viii, emp. mine)

Dogma is seen here as inherently irrational and something that the philosophical project begun by the Greeks leads us away from. There is not even a mention of the possibility of a principled, reasoned dogmatism Ed argues for here (the assent of faith following the preambulei fidei). Not a whiff of the medievals who managed to synthesize this possibility with the rational self-scrutiny demanded by Classical philosophy.


Another quote, comparying Hesiod with the pre-Socratics:

"Hesiod requests the help of the Muses for the claims he will make. He then reports on the births of the gods with the Muses' authority as his source. In relying on the Muses, *Hesiod does not infer his account of the cosmos from natural evidence. Nor does he think appeals to evidence are necessary: the divine warrant offered by the Muses is sufficient for his purposes.*"

(Introduction, pg 3)

Now, this writer is mostly correct. His framework, however, suggests that he would see a tension in the Scholastic method. This makes me wonder if he's engaged the Greek tradition as it has been understood and expanded upon in traditions outside of Ancient Greece, or if he considers everything between the death of Plotinus and the Enlightenment as a corruption of "pure" philosophy.

If Feser is reading this:

How have your experiences been with the more classically inclined historians of premodern philosophy? Do they take Aquinas + Co. seriously?

Anyone else with experience is welcome to chime in.

K said...

over at KeithBJ's blog, I found link for this; http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/09/18/why-take-a-stance-on-god/

K.D.: My favorite theistic example is the cosmological argument, particularly as William Rowe discusses it in his “Two Criticisms of the Cosmological Argument.” This is the argument that tries to show that we need to posit God as the reason the universe exists. Negatively, it’s clear to me that this argument does not really establish its conclusion. For it to work you have to accept a quite strong form of the Principle Sufficient Reason (roughly, the claim that everything must have a reason)

But positively, given the state of the philosophical discussion, which has produced good responses to the apparently knock-out objections, someone could certainly be reasonable in accepting the argument.


English being my 2nd language, I'm not sure about meaning of verb "posit".

Greg said...

English being my 2nd language, I'm not sure about meaning of verb "posit".

It just means that you suppose that some entity exists to explain something else. I see smoke in the distance; I posit that there was fire.

"Posit" can have a bit of a probabilistic, hypothetical connotation that defenders of some cosmological arguments would deny. For example, Feser claims his argument is a demonstration, in the scholastic sense of that term, whereas if I posit fire as the cause of smoke, it's certainly possible that I am wrong, even given that I am correct that there is smoke.

John West said...

"For it to work you have to accept a quite strong form of the Principle Sufficient Reason (roughly, the claim that everything must have a reason)"

I'm not so sure a "quite strong" (though it seems vague to me) version of the PSR is needed. For instance, Stephen Davis's version uses one that is restricted to only everything that exists and it still does the job.

But, I would add to all that, that I find most people - atheist or otherwise - /do/ accept a fairly strong PSR. At least, until they realize it leads to a conclusion they don't like. Then suddenly it's a problem.

Georgy Mancz said...

@John West

That's very true, at least it has been, in my experience.
In fact, atheists routinely ask the defender of a theistic position to name the reason for something related to God (think of "the problem of evil" and the like). Of course, it can be said that these questions are asked on supposition of the truth of a religious claim, but I don't think that's actually the case, as the same people will go on to insist on causal inferences when comes to other questions (say, discussing the r-eee-al reason the theist holds this position); what I think is telling that the only instance PSR or PC is seriously attacked is when it comes to the cosmological arguments, but we here all know that, don't we? so forgive me this rant.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Jeremy: I'm not sure what you want me to prove. It is an anthropological fact that only a small minority of philosophers believe in Thomistic metaphysics, and this number has been declining for a long time. This leads one to a certain parsimonious explanation.

Well, it certainly leads you to a certain conclusion, but, again, this conclusion simply doesn't follow unless you can prove certain other things:

1. Philosophy is an area where the expert consensus should have default acceptance.

2. Contemporary philosophers are aware and knowledgeable of the Five Ways and Thomistic metaphysics.

3. Humans, even intelligent ones, rarely don't accept valid rational arguments when presented with them.

Even if you proved these, you'd still only have a very provisional conclusion, but you have proved none of them. So, your conclusion simply doesn't follow

Anonymous said...

Repeating what Brandon said, because it's important:

In any case, I don't think it's particularly problematic if people doubt the arguments because of their assessment of where the experts tend; in this case, it's muddled thinking, but as long as it's genuine doubt, it's essentially harmless. The problems would arise mostly with those people who aren't merely doubting the arguments but treating them as actively and definitely to be rejected despite not knowing much about them at all; this is an intellectual vice, with pernicious effects.

Jeremy Taylor said...

That is true, but such an assessment is still questionable: do the experts being appealed to actually have a good knowledge of the arguments concerned.

Greg said...

Well, ceteris paribus, expert testimony means something, but is obviously defeasible. It is particularly weak in philosophy where there is a lot of specialization. To know that a lot of philosophers don't take an argument seriously doesn't tell you nothing. It is warrant for defeasible doubt. But it should be entirely unsurprising that on closer analysis, the majority of philosophers are wrong.

Santi Tafarella said...

The irony here is that when Pope Pius XII writes that Thomas offers "a speedy and safe road to lead the mind to God," he doesn't hold in his attention the fact that the Holocaust, which he failed to speak out against during WWII, is likewise a speedy "road to lead the mind" away from God.

So if one maintains that beauty, say, of a mountain vista can lead one to the conclusion that God exists, it is likewise possible to maintain that standing at the gates of Auschwitz can lead one to the conclusion that God does not exist.

Theodor Adorno famously asked how one can write poetry after the Holocaust.

Likewise, how does one reason about God's existence without passing through the gates at Auschwitz? That's not just a question for Pius XII, but for all of us.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Greg,

That is certainly true. But there is surely a distinction between them not taking it seriously when they have a good knowledge of it and present reasonable objections, and when they have very little knowledge of it and offer few sensible objections.

Most contemporary analytical philosophers, no doubt, would not take many arguments of Shankara or Nagarjuna seriously. But I doubt they have any real serious idea of their thought or could offer meaningful, specific objections.

It doesn't, perhaps, mean absolutely nothing that they disagree with these thinkers, because they are still in some sense involved in thinking about the nature of reality and knowledge, but I don't think you'd even find that much of a foundation for meaningful doubt in such cases.

grateful to God said...

Ed,

Thanks much again!

This is an Awesome post diagnosing some of the illogical ways of atheists in their rejection of theism.

I am confused about your comment on rationalist metaphysics.

How is A-T different than rationalist metaphysics?

Often, in encyclopedia type entries, Plato, Aristotle, Alfarabi, Avicenna, Maimonides, Aquinas seem to be described as rationalists.

What is the distinction?

E.Seigner said...

@grateful to God

It says in the post that rationalism here means "the Cartesian or Leibnizian rationalist sort" and is distinguished by rationalizing.

Gottfried said...

Pius XII did not "fail to speak out against the holocaust." In fact he was praised, I believe, by the NY Times, Einstein, and the chief Rabbi of Rome for his courageous moral witness. Like the "everything has a cause" argument, this is merely another popular atheist meme founded on ignorance, hearsay, and slander.

Daniel said...

@Santi,

My apologies if what I am going to say sounds very cold and inhumane. It is of course understandable how terrible situations lead people to consider these questions with a depth and urgency they may never have done so before.

For instance in the occurrence you out-line one only has to consider the case of the psychiatrist Victor Frank whose experience in the concentration camps brought him to the realisation that it was meaning and responsibility which were central to human-personhood, and that behind all the new radical ideologies of the 20th century lurked an ultimate nihilism. It cannot merely be called a since he was a practising Jew at any rate (though later expanded this into a more ecumenical religious humanism) but a being thrown to direct percept of issues he had only known until now by acquaintance (his conclusion was that thought Sartre's definition of Hell was probably wrong it was infact both the problem and the solution of Evil).

However from a philosophical basis I think one should not start with such beginnings. Beneath them all is the assumption, unquestioned by 'normal' people, that there are objective moral values, that there is something innately wrong with the Holocaust and such antics. Yet what warrant does Adorno of all have to claim such things A Priori? Why shouldn't one not embrace amorality and take joy in the spilling of blood and the celebration of ruin? To him one might say: How can you appeal to ungrounded moral assurance after Nietzsche and Hume?

Atheists (not to mention a good number of theists) have one hell of a taxi-cab problem with moral values. After dismissing objective moral values as relative or ‘too queer’ they do not realise that they cannot call them back the moment they want to talk about ‘suffering’.

Daniel said...

...To be perfectly just and include the theist aspect of that last remark we might also add: 'or in a Divine arbitrary fiat'

Daniel said...

... And to be totally fair on atheists they could try to undercut this by basing a Realist theory of ethics on D.M. Armstrong's Realism with regards to Universals. So I suppose the ultimate losing party is neither specifically atheist or theist just Nominalist.

Anonymous said...

@Grateful to God

In post-Cartesian epistemology (theories of knowledge), rationalism is associated with thinkers that give primacy to reason in accounting for the origin of our ideas/concepts. This is commonly juxtaposed with empiricism, where primacy is given to experience (although such a distinction is often simplistically applied). Kant's transcendental idealism sought a synthesis of these positions as he conceived them.

Alan Fox said...

Pius XII did not "fail to speak out against the holocaust." In fact he was praised, I believe, by the NY Times, Einstein, and the chief Rabbi of Rome for his courageous moral witness. Like the "everything has a cause" argument, this is merely another popular atheist meme founded on ignorance, hearsay, and slander.

I think the best that can be said for Pius XII is that evidence is mixed. See here for an analysis that seems reasonably objective.

Pacelli [later Pius XII] lived in Germany from 1917, when he was appointed Papal Nuncio in Bavaria, until 1929.

An interesting period in German history.

Daniel said...

Alan's comment is disturbingly balanced and accurate.. It is of course worth keeping in mind in such cases that many individuals who were horrified by the events of the Holocaust were still pretty Anti-Semitic in a petty sort of way.

Not that I am necessarily impugning any individuals under discussion here with such stances mind, just voicing a general observation.

Al said...

I think the best that can be said for Pius XII is that evidence is mixed.

In other words, people living in safety, seventy years after the event, analysing the situation with plenty of time and various sources of information, can come to the conclusion that the Pius XII's leg room was larger than what he himself thought it was, right these in the midst of events, surrounded by Axis states, his own personal safety dependent on fascist tolerance, with conflicting sources of information and little time to sift through it all.

That's not much of an indictment. If we can condemn - not just criticize - people for "not having done all they, we estimate today, could have done", then the first culprits are those well-known Holocaust-enablers, Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt, who failed to order bombings on the railway tracks leading to the death camps, which they could easily have done.

Without being a specialist on the issue myself, Rabbi David Dalin's take seems reasonable:

For Jewish leaders of a previous generation, the campaign against Pius XII would have been a source of shock. During and after the war, many well-known Jews -- Albert Einstein, Golda Meir, Moshe Sharett, Rabbi Isaac Herzog, and innumerable others -- publicly expressed their gratitude to Pius. In his 1967 book Three Popes and the Jews, the diplomat Pinchas Lapide (who served as Israeli consul in Milan and interviewed Italian Holocaust survivors) declared Pius XII "was instrumental in saving at least 700,000, but probably as many as 860,000 Jews from certain death at Nazi hands."

http://www.weeklystandard.com/Content/Public/Articles/000/000/000/504iizii.asp

JesseM said...

For example, Aristotelian arguments from motion begin with the premise that change occurs, together with premises to the effect that a potential can be actualized only by what is already actual (the principle of causality) and that an essentially ordered series of causes cannot regress to infinity. The first premise is in a sense empirical, which is why the argument is not a priori. We know that change occurs because we experience it.

Philosophers could have different understandings of what "change" might mean, based on different philosophies of time. One would be based on the "presentist" understanding that there is an objective "present moment" and that future events don't exist yet--in this view, "change" could represent things coming into being that didn't exist before. The other could be based on the alternative "eternalist" view that sees all times as equally real, part of a fixed four-dimensional spacetime, with "present" being a term that's relative to the person using it, like "here"--in this view, "change" could just refer to various quantities (such as the position of an object in space) having different values at different times, in much the same way that we can talk about a "change" in the value of the function y=x^2 between x=2 and x=3. Does Aquinas' first cause argument still work if we assume only the latter, eternalist notion of "change"? Would an advocate of the argument conclude that facts about timeless mathematical truths require a "cause" just as much as physical events, for example?

Irish Thomist said...

@Santi Tafarella

You refuted yourself right here;
he failed to speak out against during WWII, is likewise a speedy "road to lead the mind" away from God.

Go learn some history, I mean actual history, please.

Between a propagandic play and a book that helped invent this - people haven't taken the time to study the actual details. Even the author has had to step back from the book in some of the details, which has also had it's main thesis corrected and refuted; despite all this time the myth still lingers. Do me a favour and shove it with the flat earther middle ages myth, thanks.

Have a nice day.

JesseM said...

Gottfried wrote:
Pius XII did not "fail to speak out against the holocaust." In fact he was praised, I believe, by the NY Times, Einstein, and the chief Rabbi of Rome for his courageous moral witness.

Not that any one person's opinion is of great significance in evaluating Pius XII's actions, but in fact the idea that Einstein found Pius XII to be praiseworthy is actually a myth. He was quoted making very positive comments about the actions of "the church" in an article (he didn't specify the Pope or the Catholic church in the quote), but as explained in http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Albert_Einstein#Misattributed, the author of the article had preceded the quote with "In this connection it is worth quoting in free translation a statement made by Professor Einstein last year to one of my colleagues who has been prominently identified with the Protestant church in its contacts with Germany", and when Einstein was asked about the quote in a letter he responded with:

The wording of the statement you have quoted is not my own. Shortly after Hitler came to power in Germany I had an oral conversation with a newspaper man about these matters. Since then my remarks have been elaborated and exaggerated nearly beyond recognition. I cannot in good conscience write down the statement you sent me as my own.

The matter is all the more embarrassing to me because I, like yourself, I am predominantly critical concerning the activities, and especially the political activities, through history of the official clergy. Thus, my former statement, even if reduced to my actual words (which I do not remember in detail) gives a wrong impression of my general attitude.


That section of the wikiquote page also quotes him being highly critical of the Catholic church and the Pope in an interview with William Hermanns, where he said:

The concentration camps make the actions of Ghengis Khan look like child's play. But what makes me shudder is that the Church is silent. One doesn't need to be a prophet to say, 'The Catholic Church will pay for this silence.'

And when Hermanns asked him "Isn't it only human to move along the line of least resistance?" he responded:

Yes. It is indeed human, as proved by Cardinal Pacelli, who was behind the Concordat with Hitler. Since when can one make a pact with Christ and Satan at the same time? And he is now the Pope! The moment I hear the word 'religion', my hair stands on end. The Church has always sold itself to those in power, and agreed to any bargain in return for immunity. It would have been fine if the spirit of religion had guided the Church; instead, the Church determined the spirit of religion. Churchmen through the ages have fought political and institutional corruption very little, so long as their own sanctity and church property were preserved.

Irish Thomist said...

@JesseM

Either way it doesn't change the fact (appealing to Einstein - who like everyone else at the time had a limited knowledge of how and what the Church did or did not do) that many members of the Church, lay and religious alike including, as is now known in better detail today, the Pope of the time done a great deal to save Jews and others even risking their own life in the process.

Sure the Pope being human did make mistakes and errors of judgement but he certainly was not indifferent to the Jewish plight.

There is a good book on the issue called 'myth of hitlers pope'.

Alan Fox said...

The concordat smoothed Hitler's path to power. Whether Cardinal Pacelli was aware of this when agreeing to it might be clarified by allowing access to Vatican documents which are still under seal.

Anonymous said...

Since when can one make a pact with Christ and Satan at the same time?

He'd have to ask the kapo and the various jewish leaders who did exactly that, including the judenrats.

The excuse in those cases is always, "If they would have resisted, it would have been worse for everyone, including themselves. They did what they could in a deadly situation."

And we're talking about jewish councils which explicitly helped turn over jews to the nazis on a regular basis.

By any reasonable standard, the Church's conduct during the holocaust was not just acceptable, it was largely heroic. We're talking about an era where, a country over, the OTHER major secular political power at the time in Europe was killing clergy en masse. (Where were the atheists and leftists when this was happening? No one ever asks, since the answer was "pulling the triggers".) The criticism of the church here amounts to, "Sure, their actions were heroic. But not SUFFICIENTLY heroic. Also, mistakes were made here and there!"

The chief rabbi of Rome at the time had another view.

Alan Fox said...

We're talking about an era where, a country over, the OTHER major secular political power at the time in Europe was killing clergy en masse. (Where were the atheists and leftists when this was happening? No one ever asks, since the answer was "pulling the triggers".)
So mass killing is OK "cos Soviets did it too"? Pius XII is not accused of mass killing, just accommodation with Nazi Germany.

JesseM said...

I don't really understand your point--by making a comparison with the kapo and judenrats are you suggesting their own actions were "largely heroic" as well, or are you just saying their decisions were understandable since they were trying to save their own skin? If the latter, wasn't Einstein's argument that the Church chose to save its own skin rather than take a course that would have led to more persecution of the Church by the Nazis, but could also have helped save more lives? Consider in particular his line that "Churchmen through the ages have fought political and institutional corruption very little, so long as their own sanctity and church property were preserved". Again I'm not suggesting that we take Einstein's opinions as gospel, just that bringing up the self-preserving actions of the kapo etc. seems like a very poor counter-argument to his criticisms of the Catholic church.

Tony said...

Alan and JesseM, I am curious about something: do you find the Concordat repugnant because of its actual terms, or because it was made with the government of Germany?

As I read over the terms of the treaty, I find that it is (a) very, very similar to treaties made with other countries after WWII, especially after Vatican II. In fact, other than 2 specific provisions, it is an innocuous document of statecraft between parties who simply WON'T see eye to eye. The 2 troubling provisions are:

Article 14 specified that the appointment of a bishop by the Pope was subject to the regime's confirmation that no political impediment existed.

Article 16 specified that Bishops must take an oath of loyalty and respect the government whilst ensuring their clergy did the same.


Article 14 was considerably less restrictive than the arrangements of selecting bishops at various times in the past - such as when certain kings claimed (and exercised) the right to nominate bishops. And the basic context of loyalty in Article 16 had already been hashed out decades earlier (after Vatican I) when Cardinal Newman proved that bishops can and ought to be loyal to their country in all matters - except those that defy God's laws, and in that respect they are bound to obey God rather than man just the same as all other men are so bound.

The problems with the treaty mostly lie in fact that Germany would't actually follow it and would interpret it contrary to its intended sense. That is to say, it's not true that the content of the document is abhorrent to good order between religion and the state.

As to objections with the treaty being made with Germany: 2 facts are important. First, opposed parties make treaties all the time, and we normally think of this as part of the advance of civilization. Reagan made treaties with the Soviet Union, knowing it was the "Evil Empire." Also, the Concordat was not with the Nazi Party, it was with the German state. Germany was not intrinsically evil.

Second, while the treaty negotiations were going on, the Nazi Party was merely the largest party driving government policy, they did not hold a majority. At least for a time, there was sufficient reason to treat with Germany as with a legitimate state under a legitimate government. In the later events it became more clear that such negotiating was problematic because of its legitimizing effects, but you don't get to decide prudential matters based on future knowledge and future facts. Before those events took place the most one can claim about the prudence of such acts (negotiating) is probable. But good and wise men disagree on the probability of future outcomes, and the prudent course, all the time. Some good, smart people thought Solidarity - even with the pope negotiating with Jeruzelski - could not achieve much in Poland, for example. That JPII's intervention with the government WAS helpful is now beyond doubt. There is no one-size-fits-all principle
"do not negotiate with evil people".

Anonymous said...

JesseM,

I don't really understand your point--by making a comparison with the kapo and judenrats are you suggesting their own actions were "largely heroic" as well, or are you just saying their decisions were understandable since they were trying to save their own skin?

The justification for the judenrat, at the least, wasn't that they were trying to "save their own skin". It was that they were trying to do what they could in the situation they were in by minimizing the loss of life and saving who they could, not just themselves (unless "themselves" means "Jews", which would be a silly metric to use here). In the judenrat case, this wasn't just an avoidance of outright conflict: it was active rounding up and deportation of jews to the camps. That is vastly worse than what the Church is being accused of, but they argue that they did it because the alternative to this was indiscriminate slaughter.

And before you say, "Come on, it's the Catholic Church. They had a lot of members in Germany, that wouldn't have happened!", I'm going to repeat: you didn't have to go very far to the East to find a church with far more membership, proportionally, being butchered bloodily by the secularists.

So, your two choices are incomplete: there's a third option, namely that sometimes the most reasonable course of action may be to work behind the scenes rather than be pointlessly open and defiant.

If you think that the refusal to engage in acts that are suicidal and won't even be ultimately helpful, but are nevertheless arguably "heroic", is condemnation-worthy, then consider: you're condemnation-worthy yourself, and so is Alan. There is no shortage of very "heroic" things you can be doing right now to prevent this or that injustice, and which will very likely get you killed. Opportunities for mass-martyrdom and heroism didn't run out in 1945.

Alan Fox said...

I suggest looking up Ludwig Kaas, his role in the passing of the Enabling Act, and his links to Cardinal Pacelli.

Anonymous said...

Tony,

The problem is that we're having a conversation about the role and actions of the Church in World War II, but really, at the same time we're not. The conversation we're really having is about the Church in the 21st century as a social force some people don't just object to, but despise. So any perceived error, no matter how distance or reasonable, becomes a despicable example of failed morality.

Amusingly, you can see a similar example of this going on with none other than Richard Dawkins right now. Dawkins was one of the world's greatest thinkers, an intellectual giant of reasoning and of evolutionary biology among atheists... until he started to step on the wrong toes about feminism and Islam. Now he's a mediocre ex-scientist who spouts nonsense, at best a popular science author who isn't even all that good in that capacity, and in hindsight he's said horrible things (see his child abuse talk) that at the time were ignored or downplayed. What changed wasn't a discovery about his past, but his becoming an intellectual enemy (or even an insufficiently enthusiastic supporter of this or that political/social goal) to some of his once-allies in the present.

So really, the evidence doesn't matter for people animated by such concerns. Any positive act of the Church can be dismissed, any perceived negative act can be magnified to absurdity. The Church, early into the nazi's democratic rise, negotiated with the party? How horrible. Also, Father Kolbe probably could have saved many more lives than he actually did. What a selfish man.

JesseM said...

In the judenrat case, this wasn't just an avoidance of outright conflict: it was active rounding up and deportation of jews to the camps. That is vastly worse than what the Church is being accused of, but they argue that they did it because the alternative to this was indiscriminate slaughter.

Again, the question here is whether you think this is a good argument against Einstein's position, not whether you personally think the Catholic church's actions were the best ones. Unless you believe Einstein would have said the judenrat were right to do what they did, this doesn't seem relevant. And even if Einstein would have been more sympathetic to the judenrat than the Catholic church, I don't think this would show his position was inconsistent--in the case of the judenrat they could have a high degree of certainty that the Nazis would be happy to massacre Jews if they presented the slightest inconvenience, whereas with the Catholic church we just have a speculation that it's possible that the Nazis would have rounded up Catholics and put them in concentration camps if the Pope had been more adamantly anti-Nazi. While I won't deny it's possible they might have done this with the clergy I think we can be pretty confident they wouldn't have tried to kill all German Catholics, who made up about a third of the population at the time according to this article. And the Nazis did not have an explicitly anti-religious ideology unlike the Soviets, so that comparison isn't too convincing unless you are just making the general point that totalitarian states can be ruthless when it comes to persecuting large segments of the population (though even the Soviets mainly went after religious leaders, they didn't attempt to kill the entire population of believers).

Although the Pope taking a stronger anti-Nazi stance might have put the clergy at risk, it's not as if it would have been a purely symbolic gesture, exhorting Catholics everywhere to shelter Jews or help them escape might have convinced a lot more Germans to do so.

JesseM said...

Tony wrote:
And the basic context of loyalty in Article 16 had already been hashed out decades earlier (after Vatican I) when Cardinal Newman proved that bishops can and ought to be loyal to their country in all matters - except those that defy God's laws, and in that respect they are bound to obey God rather than man just the same as all other men are so bound.

That provision about "except those that defy God's laws" is critical--if it wasn't already obvious that the persecution of Jews that was already happening in 1933 when the Concordat was made represented such defiance (such as the general boycott of German Jewish businesses on April 1 1933, well before the signing of the Concordat on July 20), the church still could have condemned the Nazi persecution of Jews in stronger terms later (presumably voiding the Concordat), whether during the war or during earlier instances of the Nazi state ratcheting up persecution (like the Nuremberg laws of 1935, or Kristallnacht in 1938).

Tony said...

the church still could have condemned the Nazi persecution of Jews in stronger terms later (presumably voiding the Concordat),

I will agree that when the Church came out with a condemnation of some Nazi law, the Nazis might claimed that was a violation of the treaty. However, (a) the loyalty required in article 16 is that of the bishop, not "the Church", so a condemnation in Rome couldn't actually be in violation of 16. And (b), a violation of a treaty does not automatically nullify the treaty as a whole. It often happens that treaties have their own provisions for a joint (or 3rd party) tribunal to hear dispute on acts which violate the terms, and correctives to same. In any case a violation of a treaty provision may lead a party to repudiate the treaty, but their repudiation is normally an independent act, the violation is not something that automatically dissolves the treaty. (c) While the Nazis might claim a condemnation by a bishop or priest violated the terms, they wouldn't necessarily make the claim stick: Article 16 does have qualifying language in it (or otherwise even a calculating Vatican wouln't have accepted it:

Article 16

Before bishops take possession of their dioceses they are to take an oath of loyalty either to the Reich governor of the state (Land) concerned or to the President of the Reich respectively, according to the following formula:

"Before God and on the Holy Gospels I swear and promise, as becomes a bishop, loyalty to the German Reich and to the State (Land) of . . . I swear and promise to honour the legally constituted government and to cause the clergy of my diocese to honour it. With dutiful concern for the welfare and the interests of the German state, in the performance of the ecclesiastical office entrusted to me, I will endeavour to prevent everything injurious which might threaten it."


Naturally any bishop can interpret "injuriou" to include moral and spiritual injury.

Tony said...

Sorry, that was "injurious".

Anonymous said...

JesseM,

Again, the question here is whether you think this is a good argument against Einstein's position, not whether you personally think the Catholic church's actions were the best ones. Unless you believe Einstein would have said the judenrat were right to do what they did, this doesn't seem relevant.

I'm not trying to get the ghost of Einstein on board. My target is the reasoning, not the endorsement.

Yes, I do think it's a good argument against Einstein's position by way of comparison. Maybe it would also show evidence of an inconsistency on his part, but unless we can get Egon Spengler involved in this conversation, he's not exactly here to defend himself.

While I won't deny it's possible they might have done this with the clergy I think we can be pretty confident they wouldn't have tried to kill all German Catholics, who made up about a third of the population at the time according to this article.

Care to tell me what the population of Russian orthodox were in Russia when the purge happened there?

You're guesstimating with the benefit of hindsight, and even the hindsight isn't as clear as you need it to be. By the way, do tell me: is it easier or harder to hide and protect and help jews when you also have to hide and protect and help clergy and Catholics?

Or are we going to raise the bar even higher now, and say that the clergy just shouldn't have even bothered helping Catholics and clergy in such a case?

You hesitate before condemning the judenrat, based on hypothesized suspicion about what they thought the lay of the land would be if they did resist openly. The Church gets no such consideration, for the crime of assisting and resisting (but not nearly as much as someone thinks they should have.)

The lack of an explicit anti-religious attitude among the nazis is irrelevant: they were already treating conventional Christianity, and the Catholic church in particular, as a problem to eventually be dealt with. ISIS doesn't have a strictly anti-religious platform by definition. How safe do you think Christians feel given that?

And the defense of "Well the Russians didn't kill ALL of the orthodox" is likewise unconvincing. They killed more than enough to destroy a large part of the Church, and the body count among clergy and believers both was substantial.

To use the ISIS comparison again, I suppose you're also harshly condemning the Christians left in those areas for not openly condemning ISIS treatment of the Yazidis? Cowards, I'm sure, looking out for themselves and paying the jizya. How dare they.

Although the Pope taking a stronger anti-Nazi stance might have put the clergy at risk,

What makes you think it's just "the clergy" and not "the clergy, the laity, and indirectly, jews"? Do you think it becomes easier or harder to shelter jews, as many clergy did, when there's an explicit and defiant anti-nazi stance taken?

If you think the Church can be condemned for failing to risk the lives of clergy and Catholics (and in the process making it that much harder to help the jews) because maybe, possibly, in theory you suspect they could have helped more, then fine: hold yourself to the same standard. Have you risked the lives of yourself and your family today in the open and explicit service of one of the many moral causes that exist in this fallen world? No? Let's give you a handicap in advance, and we'll assume that you're at the very least risking your life and your family's life by helping out, but in a far less obvious way. Say, hiding Yazidis in your attic in Iraq while putting up an image of compliance.

Well, shame on you, you're a terrible person.

Daniel said...

I'd like to point out that the moral behavior or lack of on the part of various Catholic figures during WWII has about as much relevance to A-T metaphysics as did Einstein's Jewish ethnicity to the General Theory of Relativity. If any argument of Thomist Natural Theology succeeds or fails then it does so regardless of whether there are any intelligent contingent beings at all.

@ Sourgrapes,

Ask a sensible question about Church endorsement of Thomistic Natural Theology and the Ontological = get completely blanked. Make arbitrary Pietist appeal to authority: Storm of erudition from multiple individuals including Ed himself Make irrelevant remark about members of the clergy during the Holocaust = surge of interest!

Daniel said...

... that should of course be 'Ontological Argument'.

Alan Fox said...

Anonymous wrote:

If you think the Church can be condemned for failing to risk the lives of clergy and Catholics (and in the process making it that much harder to help the jews) because maybe, possibly, in theory you suspect they could have helped more, then fine: hold yourself to the same standard. Have you risked the lives of yourself and your family today in the open and explicit service of one of the many moral causes that exist in this fallen world? No? Let's give you a handicap in advance, and we'll assume that you're at the very least risking your life and your family's life by helping out, but in a far less obvious way. Say, hiding Yazidis in your attic in Iraq while putting up an image of compliance.

A bit of an emotional ramble! The point at issue is whether Pius XII, in his role as papal nuncio in 1933, had an opportunity to thwart rather than assist the passing of the 19333 Enabling Act. Did his close associate, Lugwig Kaas, leader of the Centre Party, need to give such enthusiastic support to the act that put Hitler in power?

Well, shame on you, you're a terrible person.

Odd conclusion!

Alan Fox said...

Daniel wrote:

I'd like to point out that the moral behavior or lack of on the part of various Catholic figures during WWII has about as much relevance to A-T metaphysics as did Einstein's Jewish ethnicity to the General Theory of Relativity. If any argument of Thomist Natural Theology succeeds or fails then it does so regardless of whether there are any intelligent contingent beings at all.

It's a debatable point whether A-T metaphysics exists other than in the minds of men. On the other hand, claiming the moral high ground while not necessarily keeping to that moral high ground does leave one open to the charge of hypocrisy.

JesseM said...

Care to tell me what the population of Russian orthodox were in Russia when the purge happened there?

I don't know much about Soviet history, but from what I gather from articles online such as this one, it seems like the Soviets outlawed the practice of the religion and executed tens of thousands of members of the clergy, but did not attempt to round up and imprison/execute the millions of ordinary believers. I don't want to minimize the horror of what they did do, but it doesn't support your imagined scenario where Nazi Germany would try to imprison/execute a third of the German population.

You're guesstimating with the benefit of hindsight, and even the hindsight isn't as clear as you need it to be.

What do I "need it to be"? My point is that unless you have a high degree of confidence that speaking out will do more harm than good, the most morally admirable, heroic thing to do would be to stick up for your principles and help people in trouble even if the outcome is uncertain, rather than one's first instinct being to say "well, I can imagine some scenarios where speaking out might do my own community so much harm that it would outweigh whatever help we could give to another community, so I'll keep my head down while this other community is massacred, hoping that a certain number of our community will choose to help of their own accord without the need for any encouragement". I find it perfectly understandable that a given community would place their own safety first rather than putting themselves at risk to help a different community, but my position is not that the church's actions were horrible and worthy of the strongest possible condemnation, I'm just responding critically to your attempt to cast their actions as "heroic".

By the way, do tell me: is it easier or harder to hide and protect and help jews when you also have to hide and protect and help clergy and Catholics?

Again, I think a scenario where all members of the laity need hiding/protection is far-fetched, and if we're just talking about the clergy, how would there numbers actually compare to the number of Jews who needed protection? Are you confident that any increase in the number of Catholics who would be motivated to try to shelter people at risk would be outweighed by the increase in the number of Catholics who would need sheltering, so that there would be no net increase in the number of people who would try to shelter Jews? Once again, I'm not arguing that we can be confident of the contrary, just that in a situation like this where you can have no strong confidence either way, the more heroic thing to do is to take a risk and stand up for the principle of trying to help a community that's being persecuted and massacred.

JesseM said...

(response to Anonymous, continued):
You hesitate before condemning the judenrat, based on hypothesized suspicion about what they thought the lay of the land would be if they did resist openly. The Church gets no such consideration, for the crime of assisting and resisting (but not nearly as much as someone thinks they should have.)

I never made any black-and-white comment "condemning" the leaders of the church, as I said above I find it understandable that church leaders would value protecting their own community above protecting another and thus putting their own at risk, this is a perfectly natural human instinct. I am just responding to your own comments about my original post discussing Einstein's views, specifically your argument that the church's actions were heroic, the best they could have done under the circumstances. Your post to Tony suggests you think that anyone who argues for a different view must have some anti-Catholic agenda, but I assure you that is not the case, I tend to take the contrarian position against anyone who extols the virtuousness of their own favored group or leaders in any morally ambiguous historical situation (if someone argued that Roosevelt did the best he possibly could to help the Jews I would argue against that too). And really I would be much more interested in discussing philosophical issues than questions of historical morality--if anyone would be willing to comment on my earlier post from the 21st about presentist vs. eternalist notions of "change" and whether the first cause argument still works even if we assume the eternalist view, I'd greatly appreciate it.

Daniel said...

@Alan Fox,

And the charge of hypocrisy may well be justified - it's just a completely different point from that of the metaphysical questions.

'It's a debatable point whether A-T metaphysics exists other than in the minds of men'

No, the truth or falsity of a proposition does not depend on men. If, say, the proposition 'The Human Intellect is Immaterial' is false then it is false whether or not we are around to judge it as such.

Irish Thomist said...

I'm dropping out of the WWII polemic... seems some people just like the fiction to much. Oh bad old Pro-Nazi Catholic Church that just watched this all happen. Quite frankly that narrative makes me sick considering how many Catholics (and I might add other Christians) suffered the Jewish fate under the Nazi when caught trying to save them. I also wonder why the very direct document written in German (not Latin) by the then Pope against the Nazi is happily ignored? Was it Mit brennender Sorge or some other such writing? I forget which one Pius XII had a hand in writing.

Irish Thomist said...

I never made any black-and-white comment "condemning" the leaders of the church, as I said above I find it understandable that church leaders would value protecting their own community above protecting another and thus putting their own at risk, this is a perfectly natural human instinct.

Now hold on a second that is jokingly over simplistic. Surely the fact that the Pope was taking (as previous Popes had) A PUBLIC stance of neutrality to lesson either the victimization of Christians also and in the Popes worries a 'fear of something worse' for the Jewish people IS NOT choosing one over the other. There is no way anyone knew early on the details of what was going on at Auschwitz- but even if they did he likely meant this in relation to the retaliatory escalation that would occur as happened elsewhere when the bishops openly defied the Nazi.

I am genuinely angry at such unwarranted defamation and make believe! Sure HE DID make mistakes but not because he didn't try to save them; quite the opposite was in fact true!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

John West said...

"It's a debatable point whether A-T metaphysics exists other than in the minds of men. On the other hand, claiming the moral high ground while not necessarily keeping to that moral high ground does leave one open to the charge of hypocrisy."

There are, I think, at least two senses of the word hypocrisy, that people use. In the first, people are preaching a morality but not even trying to live to up to it. The first sense should be avoided. In the second, people are preaching a morality and genuinely trying to live up to it, but failing to live up to it perfectly. Since people rarely successfully perfectly live up to their own moral ideals, I think the second type of hypocrisy is actually a sign of a healthy society. Given the human condition, the only society without hypocrisy is a society where no one tries to live up to any standard of morality at all - then there is nothing for anyone to be hypocritical about.

John West said...

trying to live up to or saying anyone else should*

Irish Thomist said...

I might add even if the Pope gave precedence to Catholics that would be the very thing he would be obliged to do as that is where his primary responsibility would be. Even to make out that would be selfish or heartless would simply be a lie. The fact is he reached out to whomever needed help.

On that note I really am dropping out - the fact is the people bringing this up just want to win an argument and score points - regardless of the truth. Who cares if you blacken peoples names falsely right, as long as you 'win' an argument?

There are many bad Popes to pick on including ones that had children and sold the Papacy etc.

There are also genuine faults that members of the Church have had.

This one is inaccurate and slanderous.

John West said...

So, maybe someone can help out an amateur, and point me to where I could read more about the difference between theistic personalism and classical theism. Whenever I hear someone say theistic personalism, all I can think of is the ridiculous folk belief that God is sort of... a guy, with a beard.

Anonymous said...

but it doesn't support your imagined scenario where Nazi Germany would try to imprison/execute a third of the German population.

Thank Christ I didn't say they would. I suggested that the reaction would not necessarily be limited to the clergy, and I pointed at Russia as an example. Believe me, it wasn't just the clergy who suffered for their religious beliefs.

My point is that unless you have a high degree of confidence that speaking out will do more harm than good, the most morally admirable, heroic thing to do would be to stick up for your principles and help people in trouble even if the outcome is uncertain,

You're confusing "sticking up for your principles and helping people" with "speaking up", and you're likewise confusing "painting a target on your chest and the chests of others" with heroism.

I take it you also believe that the French Resistance was cowardly, because they engaged in acts of subterfuge and worked behind the scenes in many cases, rather than always openly declaring their intentions and identifying members of their resistance?

I'm just responding critically to your attempt to cast their actions as "heroic".

What you've been doing is strongly suggesting that the "heroic" thing to do would have been to announce open and defiant resistance to the nazis, which I argue would obviously have made even *more* targets and likely visitors to the camps, made the people who could have helped the jews obvious suspects and thus unable to help them. You've meanwhile excused the judenrat from actually taking part in naming, accounting for and rounding up jews because you imagine they thought it wouldn't help. The Church, meanwhile, gets nowhere near that consideration here.

The backhanded "understanding" about how understandable it would be for the Church to place its own well-being among the well-being of others is no understanding. They assisted where they could, with dire risks associated with being caught in that assistance. A person who tries to help others at risk to himself, but who doesn't openly shout from the rooftops that he's opposing the evil, is not saving his own hide. He's actually taking risks, but trying to be reasonable.

I never made any black-and-white comment "condemning" the leaders of the church, as I said above I find it understandable that church leaders would value protecting their own community above protecting another and thus putting their own at risk, this is a perfectly natural human instinct.

Just as I certainly don't suggest your sincerity is suspect, as it's quite natural and human to hold other humans to standards of morality that one otherwise does not even attempt to reach on their own.

Wait a second. Does that sound backhanded? A bit like an olive branch extended, after it's been swished around in the sewer? Huh.

What I find more understandable is your reluctance to admit that the Church offered assistance to the jews and others during those events, and instead condemn them for not doing the one thing that would cripple their ability to assist even behind the scenes, with the very real risk that even more people would die.

I tend to take the contrarian position against anyone who extols the virtuousness of their own favored group or leaders in any morally ambiguous historical situation

It's a mystery as to why I think the Church's record in World War II is heroic. Also, to heck with that Sugihara. Sure, he helped many jews, but did he defiantly and openly oppose the nazis? No? Hero indeed.

Thank you for the moral chiding, Bl. Jesse of Comment.

Irish Thomist said...

@ John West

I am going to guess William Lane Craig has written something on that.

Irish Thomist said...

@ Anonymous

I doubt the people who brought up WWII actually care much what happened. The narrative is a popular myth among Catholic haters.

You will get more of the same. Best to just bring this back to the topic of OP.

'Sure the Pope should have spoken out more bluntly, I'm sure there are many people saddened by the fact not enough Christians joined their Jewish neighbors in Auschwitz. Damned Pius XII for not causing the deaths of many additional people. [/sarcasm]'

Daniel said...

@John West,

Certainly, Ed gives a nice summary here:

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.co.uk/2013/04/craig-on-theistic-personalism.html#more

And a round-up of posts here:

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.co.uk/2012/07/classical-theism-roundup.html#more

Two books recommended in that first article, The Battle for God and Creating God in the Image of Man, present analysis and criticism of the more extreme aspects of Theist Personalism.

Richard Swinburne and Alvin Plantinga (see the latter's Does God Have a Nature?) set the tone for Theist Personalism with subsequent individuals like Craig carrying it on. Movements like Open Theism and Process Theism are really outside the mainstream even for the Personalists though.

If there are any more questions I can help with please just ask.

John West said...

Irish Thomist,

Man that guy's prolific.

John West said...

Daniel,

Thank you.

Step2 said...

Likewise, how does one reason about God's existence without passing through the gates at Auschwitz?

Good question, here is a partial answer from Dr. Beck.

JesseM said...

You're confusing "sticking up for your principles and helping people" with "speaking up", and you're likewise confusing "painting a target on your chest and the chests of others" with heroism.

The aspect of your argument that seems most wrongheaded to me is your apparent certainty that speaking out against the persecution of the Jews would have done nothing positive and merely painted targets on their chest. When speaking about historical what-ifs it seems obvious to me that we can only speak in terms of subjective estimates of the relative likelihood of various possible outcomes, and that in many cases there is no clear winning candidate for what "would have happened", but rather a number of plausible alternatives. So I certainly acknowledge that speaking out in this way might have ended up doing more harm than good, but would you acknowledge the contrary, that if the Pope had spoken out more against the persecution of the Jews, the increased number of Jews saved might have far outweighed the increased number of Catholics killed? This isn't a rhetorical question, so please give me a clear answer as I think it will help clarify where you disagree--I'm not sure if you really are as confident as you sound that speaking out would have done more harm than good, or whether you would realistically acknowledge uncertainty but say that in situations like this where the outcome is uncertain, it's more "heroic" to take a more cautious approach.

I take it you also believe that the French Resistance was cowardly, because they engaged in acts of subterfuge and worked behind the scenes in many cases, rather than always openly declaring their intentions and identifying members of their resistance?

French Resistance fighters were not already in a position of authority such that large numbers of people who were on the fence about the appropriate response to the Nazis would likely be swayed by a Resistance member publicly identifying themselves as such--again, just speaking in terms of my subjective sense of the probabilities, not saying there's no chance that speaking out could have helped (but I take it in this case you would agree with me about the probabilities). But Catholics do listen to a great degree to what the Pope has to say, so in this case it seems to me that there is a reasonably good chance (again, not any sort of certainty) that if the Pope had condemned persecution of Jews in the strongest terms and exhorted Catholics everywhere to consider helping them if they understood the risks, then enough fence-sitters would have been swayed to make a significant difference in the number of Jews who survived. Again, do you feel totally confident that your particular narrative about what would have happened in this what-if scenario is the correct one, and that the alternate scenario I suggest above would have no significant probability?

JesseM said...

Reply to Anonymous, continued:
What you've been doing is strongly suggesting that the "heroic" thing to do would have been to announce open and defiant resistance to the nazis, which I argue would obviously have made even *more* targets and likely visitors to the camps, made the people who could have helped the jews obvious suspects and thus unable to help them.

So it's "obvious" that my possible scenario where the increase in number of Jews saved outweighs the increase in number of Catholics killed is not what would have happened? It almost sounds like you're arguing that it's totally foolish to speak against a regime like the Nazis, so the Pope would have been a fool to do so. But it's worth pointing out that the Pope did issue some strongly-worded encyclicals against aspects of Nazi policy (like the "euthanizing" of the mentally handicapped) and ideology (like an "idolatrous" attitude towards the centrality of race), just not anything specific about what was happening to the Jews. And some of these encyclicals did to some extent result in persecution of Catholic leaders in Germany, and the Pope and other church officials presumably understood that they were risking even more serious persecution: for example the article on the Mit brennender Sorge mentions that "The regime further constrained the actions of the Church and harassed monks with staged prosecutions", but that "state officials and the Party reacted with anger and disapproval. Nevertheless the great reprisal that was feared did not come."

So, would you say church leaders were foolish to stick their neck out even in this fashion, or would you take a sort of Panglossian view that they chose the best possible balance between open defiance and keeping their mouth shut, that if they had chose either a smaller degree of speaking against the Nazis or a larger one (say, one that specifically condemned the persecution of the Jews) it would "obviously" have resulted in a worse possible world?

A person who tries to help others at risk to himself, but who doesn't openly shout from the rooftops that he's opposing the evil

So, the church shouldn't have shouted from the rooftops that he was opposed to the evil of euthanizing the mentally handicapped? Or will you put on your Panglossian spectacles and say that was wise and heroic, but saying something similar about the Jews would have been utterly foolish?

Just as I certainly don't suggest your sincerity is suspect, as it's quite natural and human to hold other humans to standards of morality that one otherwise does not even attempt to reach on their own.

Wait a second. Does that sound backhanded? A bit like an olive branch extended, after it's been swished around in the sewer? Huh.

No, actually it doesn't sound particularly backhanded to me, even though you meant it to be. I see nothing wrong with having different standards for what one considers "heroic" from what one considers "good but not particularly heroic, the sort of thing you might expect from a decent but fairly risk-averse person". My arguing against your attempt to put Pius's actions in the first category when I believe they fall into the second in no way implies that I think my own life falls into the first category, or that I think I would have been likely to act any differently in his shoes.

Rick Hawk said...

I'm getting mixed messages here.

A second problem is that those who are dismissive of the very idea that the existence of God might be demonstrable typically hold arguments for God’s existence to a standard to which they do not hold other arguments.

The point of this seems to be that if you hold the arguments to too high a standard they prove unconvincing. So we should overlook any flaws in the arguments in the same way that we would overlook the flaws in arguments on other subjects.

What is meant is that the conclusion that God exists follows with necessity or deductive validity from premises that are certain, where the certainty of the premises can in turn be shown via metaphysical analysis.

Then this part seems to turn a complete 180 and say that the argument is inescapable deductive logic. If that were true then we could hold it to any standard and it would still be just as inescapable. Why would holding it to the wrong sort of standard be a problem if it meets the highest possible standard?

Then there is the common tendency to suggest that defenders of arguments for God’s existence have ulterior motives that should make us suspicious of their very project.

Here again we're asked to lower our standards and not be suspicious. Honest philosophers trust that their arguments stand on their own merits, especially arguments that are deductively valid and have premises that are demonstrated. The ones who are worried that you might be suspicious are the ones who are trying to trick you.

Is Edward Feser trying to undermine his own message?

Brandon said...

The point of this seems to be that if you hold the arguments to too high a standard they prove unconvincing.

This is not his point, as is perfectly obvious from the very next sentences, which gives as an example not a standard that is "too high" but a standard that cannot be, and is not, consistently applied.

Here again we're asked to lower our standards and not be suspicious. Honest philosophers trust that their arguments stand on their own merits, especially arguments that are deductively valid and have premises that are demonstrated.

This is not even coherent. If honest philosophers trust that their arguments stand on their own merits, this by parity requires that arguments be assessed on their own merits, and not on insinuations of ulterior motives, since otherwise the people assessing the arguments are not honest philosophers.

Irish Thomist said...

@JesseM,

We could answer every objection but I see no point.

If anyone was to refute every point you made in excessive detail for a blog post reply I am convinced you would have no desire to let go of this myth; like all the others who just happen to like this make believe spin and narrative. You would just find some other reason to continue.

E.Seigner said...

@Rick Hawk

Ed: A second problem is that those who are dismissive of the very idea that the existence of God might be demonstrable typically hold arguments for God’s existence to a standard to which they do not hold other arguments.

Rick: The point of this seems to be that if you hold the arguments to too high a standard they prove unconvincing. So we should overlook any flaws in the arguments in the same way that we would overlook the flaws in arguments on other subjects.

Me: No, the problem here is that you failed to consider what Ed immediately says next: For instance, the mere fact that someone somewhere has raised an objection against an argument for God’s existence is commonly treated by skeptics as showing that “the argument fails” – as if an argument is a good one only if no one objects to it but all assent to it upon hearing it. Of course, skeptics do not treat other philosophical arguments this way. If someone brings up an objection to an argument, it doesn't in itself say that the argument is flawed. It might be the objection that is flawed, and there are standards to determine which one is the case. The failure to adhere to the standard may lead you to believe that the argument is flawed even when the objection is flawed. Ed's point is not calling to overlook the flaws, but to keep to an equal standard.

Ed: What is meant is that the conclusion that God exists follows with necessity or deductive validity from premises that are certain, where the certainty of the premises can in turn be shown via metaphysical analysis.

Rick: Then this part seems to turn a complete 180 and say that the argument is inescapable deductive logic. If that were true then we could hold it to any standard and it would still be just as inescapable. Why would holding it to the wrong sort of standard be a problem if it meets the highest possible standard?

Me: Since you were wrong in the beginning, Ed's point is not taking a 180 degree turn at all. As should be evident from the above, the quality (and equality) of the standard matters. Nothing can be randomly held to "any standard and it would be just as inescapable", if you know what standard means in the first place.

Ed: Then there is the common tendency to suggest that defenders of arguments for God’s existence have ulterior motives that should make us suspicious of their very project.

Rick: Here again we're asked to lower our standards and not be suspicious.

Me: Not simply suspicious, but suspicious of ulterior motives. Ulterior motives, if you are legitimately suspicious of them, have to be settled separately from the merits of the argument. This is the standard. And, once again, you failed to consider what Ed said immediately next.

Rick Hawk said...

@E.Seigner

I see what you mean about the standards. Feser phrased it in a very unfortunate way, making it sound like people had no right to apply greater scrutiny to arguments for the existence of God than they would apply to other arguments.

If all he meant to complain about was irrationally discarding an argument because at least one person is unconvinced, then I wish he would have just said that instead of bringing up double-standards. A double-standard is no problem at all if your argument is being judged on the higher standard. Using a ridiculous illogical standard would be just as much a problem if it were the only standard.

Not simply suspicious, but suspicious of ulterior motives. Ulterior motives, if you are legitimately suspicious of them, have to be settled separately from the merits of the argument.

You do not need to settle ulterior motives separately or in any other way. If the possibility of ulterior motives is making you distrustful, then that's a good thing. Trust is for gullible people and it has no place in philosophy. Above all, don't trust anyone who tells you that you have too much suspicion, or that your suspicion is being distributed unfairly. If someone tells you that you shouldn't suspect ulterior motives that is practically an admission of ulterior motives, so naturally we should suspect ulterior motives from the people who tell us not to suspect ulterior motives.

The fact that Feser is so eager to get people to stop worrying about ulterior motives is a sign that he has some ulterior motives himself. Fortunately motives don't matter in philosophy, and I wouldn't trust him even if I knew he had no ulterior motives.

Brandon said...

Feser phrased it in a very unfortunate way, making it sound like people had no right to apply greater scrutiny to arguments for the existence of God than they would apply to other arguments.

He did nothing of the sort; your reading was an unreasonable interpretation of what was actually written.

Anonymous said...

Jesse,

The aspect of your argument that seems most wrongheaded to me is your apparent certainty that speaking out against the persecution of the Jews would have done nothing positive and merely painted targets on their chest.

What I have, and all I need for my argument, is the claim that it was a very reasonable suspicion. That reasonable suspicion alone is sufficient to blunt, even eliminate, the condemnation that the failure to speak out was a moral failing, and especially your repeated claim that this was a matter of choosing to save their own skin.

Again, do you feel totally confident that your particular narrative about what would have happened in this what-if scenario is the correct one, and that the alternate scenario I suggest above would have no significant probability?

Your alternate scenario leaves out an important bit of information: by taking the act you mention, the Pope would automatically be singling out every loyal Catholic, particularly the clergy, for additional scrutiny and quite possibly worse. If the Pope went out and said, "We support the French Resistance! Every clergy is under papal order to hide members of the French Resistance if they ask for it!", exactly how useful are clergy going to be in hiding members of the French Resistance from that point on?

It almost sounds like you're arguing that it's totally foolish to speak against a regime like the Nazis, so the Pope would have been a fool to do so.

It sounds like I'm arguing that there's such a thing as pushing, and pushing too far. Your own sources mention that there was a great worry about reprisals for going as far as they did. The blackjack equivalent here is the Pope being at 15, asking for a hit, and getting a 19. Your response is to say that the REAL moral thing to do would be to hit again, because a 21 is worth the risk.

The Church had already denounced racism, its position was made clear. What evidence do you even have that there were a sizable number of "fence sitters" who, having not already gotten the message of the Church in those previous announcements, would have gotten it with one more message? Apparently zero.

But zero is quite enough for the purposes of sneering at the Church.

No, actually it doesn't sound particularly backhanded to me, even though you meant it to be. I see nothing wrong with having different standards for what one considers "heroic" from what one considers "good but not particularly heroic, the sort of thing you might expect from a decent but fairly risk-averse person".

Your definition of "not particularly heroic actions of risk-averse people" apparently means "saving hundreds of thousands of lives, speaking out against the very policies that led to the issue in question... but wait, I think maybe you could have done even more, therefore you're not heroic".

I suppose we can use parallel reasoning with the nazis. Sure, they killed the jews... but they actually could have tortured them far more than they did. Therefore we can classify them as "rather non-decent" but not as evil or wicked or anything. Likewise, the judenrat were monsters, and jews largely have themselves to blame for the holocaust, because you can imagine possible acts they could have engaged in to save themselves, but didn't. Even if those acts were extremely likely to be counterproductive.

If you're going to use the "fall short of the extreme mark and I'll reclassify you as far lesser" routine, use it all around.

Scott said...

@Rick Hawk:

"Feser phrased it in a very unfortunate way, making it sound like people had no right to apply greater scrutiny to arguments for the existence of God than they would apply to other arguments."

That's very obviously not what he said or meant, and his phrasing is not to blame for your misconstrual.

"If all he meant to complain about was irrationally discarding an argument because at least one person is unconvinced, then I wish he would have just said that instead of bringing up double-standards.…Using a ridiculous illogical standard would be just as much a problem if it were the only standard."

Except that his point was, again very obviously, not just that it's irrational to discard an argument for that reason, but that it's especially irrational to discard only certain arguments but not others for that (already irrational) reason. (Indeed, the very fact that the practitioners of this standard don't apply it across the board is itself evidence that they already know the standard is flawed.)

"You do not need to settle ulterior motives separately or in any other way."

Good, so you agree with part of Ed's point: that it's unreasonable to dismiss an argument merely on the grounds that you think the arguer has ulterior motives. The other part is, as above, that it's even more unreasonable to apply this already flawed standard only to certain arguments and not to others.

"The fact that Feser is so eager to get people to stop worrying about ulterior motives is a sign that he has some ulterior motives himself. Fortunately motives don't matter in philosophy, and I wouldn't trust him even if I knew he had no ulterior motives."

What a load of hooey.

Daniel said...


'Fortunately motives don't matter in philosophy, and I wouldn't trust him even if I knew he had no ulterior motives.'

I struggle to see how the two statements in that sentence are related...

"The fact that Feser is so eager to get people to stop worrying about ulterior motives is a sign that he has some ulterior motives himself.'

Well I don't know if they can be called 'ulterior' since they are fairly explicit and out there - he wants people to seriously engage with the issues even if they disagree and not fall back on some pop-cliche or caricature that no one in the field would ever take seriously.

Greg said...

@ Rich Hawk

Trust is for gullible people and it has no place in philosophy. Above all, don't trust anyone who tells you that you have too much suspicion, or that your suspicion is being distributed unfairly. If someone tells you that you shouldn't suspect ulterior motives that is practically an admission of ulterior motives, so naturally we should suspect ulterior motives from the people who tell us not to suspect ulterior motives.

I think you may be confusing philosophy with schizophrenia.

Rick Hawk said...

@Scott

Except that his point was, again very obviously, not just that it's irrational to discard an argument for that reason, but that it's especially irrational to discard only certain arguments but not others for that (already irrational) reason.

Unfortunately that's not as obvious as it should be. The whole post is fairly dripping with the idea that arguments for the existence of God should be judged fairly, just as you would judge arguments for any other philosophical idea. He brings up the notion of a double-standard. He tells us not to distrust the argument especially just because it's an argument for the existence of God.

The problem is that it's all total nonsense. Arguments are either sound or they are not sound. If your sound argument isn't convincing then you rewrite it until it is convincing, because arguments are how people get convinced of things. Begging that people read your argument with a better attitude is bizarre, since the audience has no responsibility to be convinced.

It leaves a strong impression of someone telling us to treat his arguments gently, like he is alarmed that we would study his arguments for longer than we study other people's arguments. It's like he's saying, "Hey, that's not fair! Why so suspicious of me?" The fact that he seems so worried is ample reason to be suspicious and check his arguments with extra care for possible hidden fallacies. Worse, it suggests that he knows about hidden fallacies already and is hoping people won't notice.

JesseM said...

Reply to Anonymous pt. 1:
What I have, and all I need for my argument, is the claim that it was a very reasonable suspicion.

So would you advocate a general moral maxim that "if others are in desperate straits, you shouldn't help them if you have a reasonable suspicion that any attempt to do so might backfire and not only fail to save them, but also harm you and people you care about"? Or are there some extra subtleties that would lead you to say in some examples of this class of situation, a person should take action despite a reasonable suspicion it might backfire in this way?

That reasonable suspicion alone is sufficient to blunt, even eliminate, the condemnation that the failure to speak out was a moral failing, and especially your repeated claim that this was a matter of choosing to save their own skin.

"Save their own skin" was just a colloquial way of saying that his decision not to speak on the matter of the Jews was motivated by a desire to avoid a risk to his own group, analogous to the head of a German household who feels sorry for Jews but refuses to shelter any because of the risk it would present to other members of their own family (in both cases the motive obviously isn't purely selfish, but it does involve putting the safety of one's own group above desire to help others outside the group). Since you yourself say that avoiding possible harm to Catholics was the reason not to speak out about the Jews, I think your objection here really boils down to not liking my choice of wording, as opposed to disagreeing with what I actually meant by it.

I also don't think I ever used words like "condemn" or "moral failure". These words suggest a very black-and-white view of moral judgments, but as I've said, I tend to see most situations as involving a continuum of better and worse courses of action; for example, it might be most morally admirable and "heroic" for a middle- or upper-class person to donate nearly all their income to charity, but I would hardly "condemn" the vast majority who fail to do so, or say they are guilty of "moral failure". As I said before, there are plenty of choices that I wouldn't label as "heroic" but I would still say are "good but not particularly heroic".

Your alternate scenario leaves out an important bit of information: by taking the act you mention, the Pope would automatically be singling out every loyal Catholic, particularly the clergy, for additional scrutiny and quite possibly worse. If the Pope went out and said, "We support the French Resistance! Every clergy is under papal order to hide members of the French Resistance if they ask for it!", exactly how useful are clergy going to be in hiding members of the French Resistance from that point on?

It's a fair point that it probably wouldn't have been wise to advocate specific courses of action like sheltering Jews, but how about just clearly condemning the Nazis' treatment of the Jews and expressing sympathy for their plight? Condemning the Nazi killing of the mentally handicapped didn't lead to increased searches of Catholic residences to make sure they weren't hiding a handicapped person, as far as I know.

JesseM said...

Reply to Anonymous pt. 2:
It sounds like I'm arguing that there's such a thing as pushing, and pushing too far.

Yes, as I expected, you are taking the Panglossian position that he struck the best possible balance. Do you have some sort of special intuition about alternate histories that allows you to see that the statement about the mentally handicapped was a reasonably safe amount of "pushing", but if he had made a similar statement about the plight of the Jews it would have been "pushing too far" and would have created a far greater risk of serious reprisals? Speaking of alternate histories, if we could look into an alternate history where Pius did issue an encyclical condemning the treatment of the Jews, and in the 2014 of this alternate history there was a basically identical alternative version of you (i.e. a person whose mind was nearly identical to yours except for a few differences in his memory of WWII history) having a discussion about the Pope's actions in WWII, somehow I doubt that this alterna-you would say that Pius took a needlessly foolish risk and that he would have been wiser to keep quiet. Likewise, in an alternative history where Pius judged it to risky to speak out against the killing of the handicapped, I doubt the alterna-you in that history would be condemning him as too cautious. If you really were applying some consistent general moral standards to this particular case, free of any significant bias to rationalize the actions of those you feel an allegiance to, then that would imply that if nearly everything about your mind including these standards remained the same, but your knowledge of Pius' public statements in WWII was changed, you would be forced to conclude that Pius had been unwise, even foolish or cowardly, in making these alternate statements. Instead, I suspect each version of you would be equally Panglossian, confidently affirming that he lived in the history where Pius had made the best of all possible choices about how far to push Hitler publicly.

Your own sources mention that there was a great worry about reprisals for going as far as they did.

Would you say they had grounds for a "reasonable suspicion" that their statements about the mentally handicapped would lead to more serious reprisals that what actually occurred? If so, see my question about what general moral maxim you are advocating above.

The Church had already denounced racism, its position was made clear.

The Mit brennender Sorge encyclical does not make a blanket condemnation of all race-based values or policies, rather it says "Whoever exalts race, or the people, or the State, or a particular form of State, or the depositories of power, or any other fundamental value of the human community - however necessary and honorable be their function in worldly things - whoever raises these notions above their standard value and divinizes them to an idolatrous level, distorts and perverts an order of the world planned and created by God". So, the implication is that racial thinking stands alongside things like loyalty to one's State as something that has a "necessary and honorable … function in worldly things", the danger is when a person "divinizes them to an idolatrous level". A German Catholic might well infer that the Encyclical was condemning the tendency of Nazism to put race at the center of all moral thinking, but that there was nothing inherently un-Catholic about trying to expel Jews from the country or confine them to ghettos or camps (assuming this Catholic was not aware of how deadly conditions were there, and thought of them in much the same way that Americans thought of Japanese-American internment camps), any more than it would have been un-Catholic to expel people with ideologies that were explicitly hostile to the State, like Communists.

JesseM said...

Reply to Anonymous pt. 3:
What evidence do you even have that there were a sizable number of "fence sitters" who, having not already gotten the message of the Church in those previous announcements, would have gotten it with one more message? Apparently zero.

What evidence do you have that the Nazi response to a condemnation of the treatment of the Jews would have been much harsher than their response to the condemnation of killing the handicapped? We are both just speculating about possible consequences of a historical what-if, I made clear that I'm not making any claim to know that a public statement would have resulted in many more Jewish lives saved, just that it seems plausible that it might have, just as it is also plausible it might have led to much more serious persecution of Catholics.
If you think large numbers of fence-sitters is not even remotely plausible as a speculation, consider: if you have two strongly different opinions on a given controversial issue, and you sample a population of millions that includes people who take both of those contrasting opinions, isn't it almost always true that among this large population you will find people who take just about all the gradations of positions between the two limiting cases? In this case, the two limiting cases could be the opinion that Jews were the equals of any other German citizen and Hitler's treatment of them was a great tragedy, and the opinion that Jews were a pernicious influence on the country and Hitler would be wise to remove them from the German population by any methods short of murder; do you doubt that some number of German Catholics held each of these opinions? If not do you think it's an unreasonable speculation that among the 20 million or so Catholics in Germany, there would have been large numbers supporting all sorts of different gradations in between these?

Your definition of "not particularly heroic actions of risk-averse people" apparently means "saving hundreds of thousands of lives, speaking out against the very policies that led to the issue in question…

I'm talking specifically about Pius and any other Vatican higher-ups who had a significant influence on what was said in the encyclicals and other public statements--when you say they saved "hundreds of thousands" are you talking about these few individuals, or a much larger group like Catholic clergy everywhere? And if the former, what specific actions are you pointing to?

I suppose we can use parallel reasoning with the nazis. Sure, they killed the jews... but they actually could have tortured them far more than they did. Therefore we can classify them as "rather non-decent" but not as evil or wicked or anything.

I do think there are degrees of evil and wickedness too, but actions need to pass some intuitive threshold of wrongness for me to label them with such terms, and I certainly think the Nazis pass this threshold, regardless of whether we can imagine a world in which they were even more evil. And to me "heroism" also requires passing some threshold of being willing to take significant risks or make large sacrifices, I don't see that Pius did that in the case of the Jews, though I would say his public stance against execution of the handicapped was heroic, and there were other Catholics who I think did behave heroically in their attempts to help Jews.

JesseM said...

One last thing to add. While doing some more reading about this subject I came across a very detailed, historically-informed article on the subject of Pius and other Catholic leaders' statements about the Jews in WWII, "The Holocaust: What Was Not Said" making a better case than I could about all the missed opportunities to make even slightly stronger statements against anti-Semitic Nazi policies and ideology. A noteworthy thing about this article is that the author is a Catholic priest (this blog post also mentions that he's "a priest of the Opus Dei Prelature and a professor of ethics and political philosophy at Rome’s Pontifical University of the Holy Cross"), and it was published in the Catholic journal First Things; even if one isn't convinced by his case, I think it helps show that all criticism of Pius' actions is not motivated by anti-Catholic prejudice. If you have time to read it, please tell me what you think.

Brandon said...

It leaves a strong impression of someone telling us to treat his arguments gently, like he is alarmed that we would study his arguments for longer than we study other people's arguments.

One of the things that's noticeable about all of Rick Hawk's comments is the lack of serious evidence for any of the claims; the original 'evidence' was neither accurate nor rationally coherent, as shown by other comments, and the bulk of the work is done by vague psychologizing about motivations and Rick Hawk's 'impression', which, it has already been pointed out, is unshared. And all of this is based on Ed's passing comment about "the common tendency to suggest that defenders of arguments for God’s existence have ulterior motives that should make us suspicious of their very project", which is explained just a few sentences later in terms making quite manifest that it is not a general claim about ulterior motives nor even a claim about all kinds of ulterior motives -- yet another example of interpretation magically floating free of any accountability to real evidence. Catch a phrase, leave the text on a stream of associations that create an 'impression' which is then treated as if it were the actual evidence, then dismiss the phantom created by the 'impression' as nonsense. Never treat the text as proposing a list of problems for objections; just characterize the listing of the problems as being "like he is alarmed" and the author as 'seeming' "worried" and top it off by saying that this impression -- notice that all of this comes from the impression about what the argument is 'like', not from any actual evidence of the text about what it is -- "suggests that he knows about hidden fallacies already and is hoping people won't notice". Thus the fact that Ed diagnoses some objections as fallacious by sleight of hand and unsubstantiated insinuation becomes treated as a reason for thinking that Ed is the one committing fallacies.

It's a good way to pretend to be arguing something without ever getting close to doing so.

Scott said...

@Nick Hawk:

"Unfortunately that's not as obvious as it should be. The whole post is fairly dripping with the idea that arguments for the existence of God should be judged fairly, just as you would judge arguments for any other philosophical idea."

What, "fairly dripping" isn't "obvious" enough for you? Or did you imagine there was a significant difference between your second sentence and the point of the relevant portion of Ed's post?

"[A]rguments are how people get convinced of things."

Well, they're one way, at any rate. They're clearly not the only way, though, as your own post demonstrates [all emphases mine]:

"It leaves a strong impressionlike he is alarmed…"

"It's like he's saying…"

"The fact that he seems…"

"Worse, it [the 'fact that he seems'] suggests…"

…all presented without a single direct quotation from the post itself. But Brandon has already given a complete reply on this point, so I'll content myself with a précis of his post:

What a load of hooey.

Jeremy Taylor said...

JesseM,

I think the point is that many of those who attack Pius XII over his actions in the holocaust make quite strong allegations. I don't think these can supported.

Yes, one could say he could have done more. But that would have put the Church at risk, a risk, incidentally, that most of Pius's critics are unlikely to have run. In fact, I would go as far to suggest that the only real accusation that could be made against Pius and the Roman Church in the holocaust is that it didn't live up to its own teachings. Most of secular critics of the Church would not live up to those teachings either - unless one is Dietrich Bonhoeffer or Sophie Scholl, then perhaps we should withhold one's censure.

Besides, it was a complex and uncertain time. Perhaps Pius did all he thought he could. We can't really tell. It is far from certain much would have been gained by further confrontation with the Nazis.

Finally, as much as it would offend the secularists, surely the Church's first duty is to save souls and not lives. Its first duty is to try to bring people to Christ's community and minister to that community. Bringing the Church into a headlong confrontation with the Nazis may have gained little but left the Church all over Europe in a precarious position. One can argue at length about priorities: how much should the Church compromise to prevent persecution of it, but there is certainly a case to be made that the primary duty of the Church is to minister to its congregation.

Timotheos said...

@ Scott

Nick: "It leaves a strong impression…like he is alarmed…"

"It's like he's saying…"

"The fact that he seems…"

"Worse, it [the 'fact that he seems'] suggests…"

Scott: "What a load of hooey."

I wouldn't be so hard on him Scott; it's obvious from these quotes that he's only Humean... [*rimshot*]

Scott said...

@Timotheos:

Ba-dump tish. I see what you did there…;-)

JesseM said...

@Jeremy Taylor:

I basically agree with your characterization, and I also agree that some critics of Pius make stronger allegations which don't seem fair given the constraints he felt he was operating under. The point I was arguing with Anonymous was just that one shouldn't go too far in the opposite direction and lionize Pius' decisions in regards to the Jews as "heroic", or confidently claim that any attempts to speak out about the persecution of the Jews would have been foolhardy and obviously useless (especially during the earlier years when Hitler's power wasn't as absolute, a point made in the article from First Things I linked to in my last comment).

Rick Hawk said...

I recognize that I cannot read Feser's mind and so I cannot know with certainty what he really meant. Perhaps he wasn't really asking for fairness as if his arguments weren't strong enough to stand up to unfairness. He could have been more explicit about that, but there's no point in complaining.

There's an even bigger issue in the first problem. People don't need to have read one word of Aquinas to know that Aquinas failed. All you need is a little Kant. We've got phenomena and noumena. In other words, that which we can observe and that which causes our observations. Clearly noumena exist since you have observations forced upon you by something other than yourself, but no one can ever see past the phenomena to discover anything about the noumena.

It's like you have an impenetrable box and you want to know what is inside the box. You can either accept that you will never know what is in the box, or you can be comforted by someone telling you a story about what is inside the box. Maybe you'll decide that the box must contain an exact miniature representation of the world outside the box. That would be very comforting because it means that you can learn anything you want to know about the content of the box just by observing the world. It's unfortunate that it's only a story, but on the bright side it doesn't make the slightest difference if you misunderstand the story.

I've read the five ways and I acknowledge that I don't properly understand them. It's clearly based on metaphysics that need to be explained elsewhere. Why can't something be the efficient cause of itself? Everything I know about has an efficient cause other than itself, but how is anyone supposed to know that's a universal rule? I guess that's just part of the story.

Is there really some immaterial unmoved mover? If a rock is being moved by the unmoved mover, how is that any different from the rock moving itself? We're never going to see the unmoved mover, but nothing stops us from telling comforting stories about it.

"Anything which is capable of not existing, at some point in time or other does not exist." That could really use some support. It's too bad that we can't check to see if it's true.

"If therefore all things are capable of not existing, there was a time when nothing existed in the universe." Clearly there is a premise being used to support that conclusion somewhere in the metaphysics, because the third way alone gives no indication of why things couldn't just take turns existing.

The fourth way has the wildest metaphysics of all. "Fire which is hot in the highest degree is the cause of all hot things." I enjoy fantasy stories, but this one sounds a bit too silly for me, and since I have four other ways to choose from I'll just skip this one.

"We observe that certain things which lack knowledge, such as natural bodies, work for an end. This is obvious because they always...operate in the same way so as to attain the best possible result." It's funny that Aquinas feels the need to explain the bit about working for an end and doesn't bother to tell us how he knows the things lack knowledge. A rock falls downward rather than wandering aimlessly. If we accept that being so direct requires knowledge, then why not just attribute knowledge to the rock? I'm sure there's a delightful story about that in Aquinas's metaphysics.

I really want to read Feser's books which promise to explain these things, especially Aquinas, but I just can't bring myself to buy it, since understanding the story doesn't prove the story. I know in advance that it is impossible to prove these sorts of metaphysical stories, so I would feel like a total fool for spending even one penny on such an obvious scam.

John West said...

'I really want to read Feser's books which promise to explain these things, especially Aquinas, but I just can't bring myself to buy it, since understanding the story doesn't prove the story. I know in advance that it is impossible to prove these sorts of metaphysical stories, so I would feel like a total fool for spending even one penny on such an obvious scam.'

So you don't really want to read Feser's books then?

Scott said...

@Nick Hawk:

"People don't need to have read one word of Aquinas to know that Aquinas failed. All you need is a little Kant."

Obviously that's not "all you need," as there are plenty of people who don't think Aquinas "failed" and yet know far more than "a little" Kant.

You might wish to pursue your researches a little further before declaring that our attempts to understand the world are over before they've begun.

"I acknowledge that I don't properly understand [Aquinas's five ways]."

I'd have happily taken your word for that, but thanks for the demonstration.

Feser's Aquinas would be an excellent place to start if you want to improve that understanding, but it won't help unless you're prepared to drop your Kantian baggage—in particular, your easy but self-stultifying assumption that we just can't ever actually understand anything about the world.

If (despite John West's well-founded suspicion to the contrary) you really do want to read Feser's books, you might begin to prepare by asking yourself…

"I know in advance that it is impossible to prove these sorts of metaphysical stories[.]"

…how, on your Kantian principles, you could ever possibly know such a thing in advance.

Rick Hawk said...

@John West

So you don't really want to read Feser's books then?

I certainly do. If I had a copy, or a local library had a copy, I would eagerly read it to discover exactly what makes people think it let's them see beyond the phenomena, and I'm sure that Feser is a fine writer. I just wouldn't want to help support the book if it fails to deliver on its promises, and I'm almost sure that it does.

I expect that Aquinas is a careful and thorough explanation of the metaphysical story that Aquinas swallowed, but I can't imagine that I would swallow it and I'm not really interested in hearing about it purely for historical curiosity.

On the other hand, if the book did live up to its promises then it would be worth every penny of its price and more. So I'm going to continue to desire reading it and imagine what reading it would be like, but I'm not going to read it when I have such solid philosophical reasons to believe that it would just be disappointing.

grodrigues said...

Rick Hawk:

"There's an even bigger issue in the first problem. People don't need to have read one word of Aquinas to know that Aquinas failed. All you need is a little Kant."

There is an even bigger problem with this issue. People don't need to have read one word of Kant to know that his critique failed. All you need is a little Aquinas.

But Cofey's destruction of Kant (hey, I can also inflate my rhetoric) in the two volumes of "Epistemology" may also help.

Anonymous said...

Nice. I found the Coffey book online: https://archive.org/stream/epistemologycoff01coffuoft#page/xii/mode/2up

Cheers,
Daniel

Rick Hawk said...

@Scott

Feser's Aquinas would be an excellent place to start if you want to improve that understanding, but it won't help unless you're prepared to drop your Kantian baggage—in particular, your easy but self-stultifying assumption that we just can't ever actually understand anything about the world.

It is easy, isn't it? Among philosophers the skeptic is king because he believes only those things which can be proven, and therefore he is never wrong. It's unfortunate that it means the skeptic can know almost nothing, but that's how you avoid mistakes.

It turns out that it's not stultifying, and it is actually very practical. Science is like weaponized skepticism: doubt everything, and take all verifications as merely failed attempts at falsification. The ideal scientist will assume things are true when it is impractical to check them, but he won't allow himself to actually believe because no matter how many times it is checked, it will always be falsifiable. When someone like that tells you something, you can trust it more than you could trust anything from any other source, including your own senses. Your senses can be fooled, but an ideal scientist does everything humanly possible to avoid being fooled.

It's better to know almost nothing than to be fooled even slightly. At least when you know almost nothing you still have a solid foundation that may one day allow you to learn more.

I'm not encouraged by the way Feser talks about skeptics as if he weren't a skeptic himself. How can I trust that Feser hasn't been fooled if he's willing to believe things that haven't been proven?

Scott said...

@Rick Hawk:

Good, then you acknowledge that you don't, after all, "know in advance that it is impossible to prove these sorts of metaphysical stories[.]" Case dismissed.

I'd recommend taking grodrigues's advice; Coffey is quite good.

Tony said...

Rick, why the qualifiers? Why the "almost"? Why limit the skepticism to things that haven't been proven, why not remain skeptical even of things that have been proven? Why not assume the possibility that the principle of non-contradiction might turn out to be false, or even (this is for fun) was true at one time but later on become untrue? Why trust that things that have been proven once REMAIN proven?

Your very use of the notion "proven" depends on a metaphysical framework of thoughts. That metaphysical framework assumes certain things as true. They haven't been proven. Why do you do that?

Daniel Joachim said...

It's better to know almost nothing than to be fooled even slightly. At least when you know almost nothing you still have a solid foundation that may one day allow you to learn more.

Well, other than completely invalidating the scientific project itself though. A-not-too-small inconvenience. Science needs saving...from you.

And no, the skeptic can never learn more, because he's floating in mid-air. You'll never acquire any foundations for any inquiry. And dude, to (in my dreams) paraphrase Coffey, that'z some real bad azz faulty epiztemology.

And that's even prior to you starting to misrepresent views you obviously don't like. (Yeah, we get it)

Daniel Joachim said...

To quote my dear Chesterton once again.

"Therefore the modern man in revolt has become practically useless for all purposes of revolt. By rebelling against everything he has lost his right to rebel against anything."

Rick Hawk said...

@Tony

Why limit the skepticism to things that haven't been proven, why not remain skeptical even of things that have been proven?

That's a good point. There's never any harm in taking things as tentative. There's no reason to ever decide that you are right and something else is wrong. Just make assumptions that seem to work for you until such time that they seem to stop working.

Unfortunately I lack the capacity to doubt the law of noncontradiction. I don't know what it would look like to discover that the law of noncontradiction is false. Even if a counterexample to the law hit me in the nose, I'd have no way of recognizing it. I'd be happy to have a proof of God's existence that is as solid as the law of noncontradiction.

Chad Handley said...

Pardon the interruption.

Scott, Theodicy #2 is now up on IndyPlanet.

(Sorry, everybody. This is my only way to contact Scott.)

Rick Hawk said...

@Daniel Joachim

Well, other than completely invalidating the scientific project itself though. A-not-too-small inconvenience.

Skepticism doesn't invalidate the scientific project. Skepticism is the foundation of the scientific project.

Good scientists don't look for truth. They only look to tear down ideas. Sometimes scientists need to invent new ideas to tear down when there aren't enough ideas, but that's not really their job. Science ignores ideas that are unfalsifiable exactly because there is nothing for science to do in that case. When a scientist discovers something the other scientists all rush to try to prove it wrong. And when scientists grudgingly admit that they can't prove an idea wrong no matter how hard they try, then we have a good foundation for guessing that it is probably true until some clever scientist comes along to finish the work that his predecessors started.

John West said...

"When someone like that tells you something, you can trust it more than you could trust anything from any other source, including your own senses."

How are you going to verify what this person is like, or hear what this someone tells you if not with your senses?

Jeremy Taylor said...

Maybe it is the Platonist in me, but I would say man was made to know. Knowledge and belief come first, even in our journey to understand the world, whereas doubt and scepticism are parasitic upon these.

To make a philosophy out of doubt and scepticism shows a very distorted view of things.

Wasn't it Cardinal Newman who said it was better to believe all things than to doubt all things?

Scott said...

@Chad Handley:

Just ordered it and looking forward to reading it. Thanks and congratulations.

Chad Handley said...

Rick Hawk's take on science makes it easy to understand why biologists are so welcoming of critiques of evolution. Before now, I've never understood the warm welcome Intelligent Design theorists receive at every scientific gathering. Feyerabend and Kuhn be damned, turns out scientists like it when the theories they've been working on for their entire careers turn out to be false. Who knew?

Rick Hawk said...

@John West

How are you going to verify what this person is like, or hear what this someone tells you if not with your senses?

You can't verify that. Verifying things is very hard. That's why science never tries to verify things. Science only tries to falsify things.

I didn't say you should believe what a scientist tells you. If he's a good scientist then he doesn't believe it either. He's only saying it because no one has found a way to falsify it yet. That's why you should just trust it as much as you would trust anything from other sources, because it's the best you're going to get.

Chad Handley said...

Thank you, Scott!

Scott said...

@Rick Hawk:

"When a scientist discovers something the other scientists all rush to try to prove it wrong."

What, you mean by trying to make observations that contradict the alleged discovery?

Fine, let's suppose they succeed in making such observations. Then how do they know (a) that those observations really do contradict the discovery, and (b) that the supposed discovery must therefore be false?

Scott said...

@Chad Handley:

"Feyerabend and Kuhn be damned, turns out scientists like it when the theories they've been working on for their entire careers turn out to be false."

Well, ideal scientists do, anyway.

It's a puzzlement, though, how Rick Hawk knows what those are. Even if he's met some (which I doubt), how does he know they're "ideal," and what does that even mean? And how hard has he sought counterexamples that might disprove his claim?

John West said...

Despite the Kant name drop (which made me pause and worry I was being ungenerous for a moment), isn't this intro. to epistemology level stuff? If you can't know anything, then how can you know you can't know anything? If you probably don't know anything, then you probably don't know you don't know anything. I see no reason why a principle of skepticism should receive special pleading from its own criteria - it certainly isn't anything like as well established as the PNC.

Scott said...

@Rick Hawk:

"That's why science never tries to verify things. Science only tries to falsify things."

I have a certain number of marbles in this bag. How would you go about falsifying that the number was odd without also verifying that it was even?

Daniel Joachim said...

It's a puzzlement, though, how Rick Hawk knows what those are. Even if he's met some (which I doubt), how does he know they're "ideal," and what does that even mean? And how hard has he sought counterexamples that might disprove his claim?

Oh, that's nearly more brilliant than Chad's pun. Haven't you heard about the Platonic Scientist? He's also got such sweet long hair, the voice of a prime Josh Groban, and have starred in several movies along Morgan Freeman.

And yeah: He really loves truth (or at least the accumulation of knowledge) even though there can be no first principle that tells him why truth (or knowledge accumulation) is a thing worth exalting in the first place.

Chad Handley said...

That's why science never tries to verify things. Science only tries to falsify things.

Drivel. They look for evidence to confirm their theories. Certainly, no amount of evidence could ever completely verify a theory, but biologists don't go to work everyday hoping to disprove evolution.

Falsification isn't a strategy for doing science, it's a proposed line of demarcation for separating what counts as science from what doesn't. And as Feyerabend,Sokal, Brichmont, and a host of others have explained, it doesn't even do that job very well.

Daniel Joachim said...

Sorry, sorry. Of course, I meant "she". A Platonic Scientist could only be a female. At least, that's what my precious girlfriend revealed to me.

Man, either way this Scientist needs his own TV-series.

Scott said...

@Nick Hawk:

"Unfortunately I lack the capacity to doubt the law of noncontradiction. I don't know what it would look like to discover that the law of noncontradiction is false."

Then how do you know you lack the capacity to doubt it? For that matter, how do you know you don't both have and lack that capacity?

Or is there perhaps a deeper reason why you seem to be unable to conceive any sort of counterexample to the PNC, and indeed one that applies not just to "phenomena" but to "noumena"?

[To be continued on next week's episode of "The Platonic Scientist"…]

Jeremy Taylor said...

John West,

Indeed, surely man must know first in order to doubt. This seems obvious not just intellectually, but so far as basic human existence is concerned. If men approached the world doubting first, it is unlikely they could survive long.

John West said...

Also, that reply dodges my question. It doesn't at all reply to it.

John West said...

Well said.

John West said...

^Mr Taylor

Rick Hawk said...

@Scott

Then how do they know (a) that those observations really do contradict the discovery, and (b) that the supposed discovery must therefore be false?

(a) Your own observations are one of the few things that you can really be sure about. You can't be sure that your observations are telling you the truth, but you can be sure that the observations are happening. If I saw a ghost I couldn't be sure that a ghost was really there, but I could be sure that an image of a ghost really came to me somehow, perhaps by hallucination.

(b) Scientists don't trust falsifications any more than they trust other kinds of ideas. One single experiment isn't enough. If one scientist finds something that seems to falsify a popular idea, then other scientists jump on the chance to repeat that falsification until it seems that anyone can falsify the idea at any time, and only then will scientists lose interest. Even then they don't really believe the idea is false because they are aware that no amount of experimentation ever proves anything. They are skeptical, as we all should be.

It's a puzzlement, though, how Rick Hawk knows what [ideal scientists] are. Even if he's met some (which I doubt), how does he know they're "ideal," and what does that even mean? And how hard has he sought counterexamples that might disprove his claim?

Ideal scientists aren't real. They are imaginary people who live their lives according to the scientific method. They are easier to talk about than real scientists who always get their science mixed up with their personal lives and have unscientific beliefs.

But even real scientists almost always love it when theories they have worked on their whole lives turn out to be false. When that happens it always a revolutionary step forward in the science of their field, and there is nothing that scientists like better than that, especially when it gives them a ton of new theories to try to falsify.

They don't usually like Intelligent Design people because those people try to avoid saying anything that can be falsified.

@Chad Handley

Certainly, no amount of evidence could ever completely verify a theory, but biologists don't go to work everyday hoping to disprove evolution.

That's probably true, and a sprinter doesn't go to work hoping to run faster than a bullet. It's not because they don't want to do it. It's because they think it's too much to hope for, so they focus their attention on more attainable goals.

Scott said...

@Rick Hawk:

"(a) Your own observations are one of the few things that you can really be sure about."

Irrelevant. I asked you how your hypothetical scientists can know that an observation contradicts a proposed theory. Does their Spider-Sense™ tingle? Does the Platonic Scientist come and whisper it in their ears? Or are they (and you) secretly relying on an unacknowledged fundamental principle here?*

But while we're on the subject, hey, wait a second…

"We've got phenomena and noumena. In other words, that which we can observe and that which causes our observations."

…just how in the gosh-darn blankety heck do you know that? What makes you think there's anything that "causes" our observations? Are you perhaps secretly relying on yet another unacknowledged fundamental principle here?**

"(b) Scientists don't trust falsifications any more than they trust other kinds of ideas."

Again irrelevant. I asked you how your hypothetical scientists can know that a proposed theory must be false just because some observations contradict it.

----

* The Principle of Noncontra_iction. That's all the vowels; spin or solve.

** The Principle of Cau_ality. That's all the vowels; spin or solve.

Chad Handley said...

But even real scientists almost always love it when theories they have worked on their whole lives turn out to be false. When that happens it always a revolutionary step forward in the science of their field, and there is nothing that scientists like better than that, especially when it gives them a ton of new theories to try to falsify.

lolwhut?

Where are you getting this from?

You clearly haven't read much history of science, as what you've described is pretty much exactly the opposite of what the history of science records. Scientists who live to see the theories they built their careers on overturned almost never convert to the new theory. They fight to preserve the old one. As Thomas Kuhn observed, new scientific theories only become dominant when all the scientists educated under a previous theory die. Scientists aren't superhumanly unbiased people, and they no more welcome learning that much of what they believed was false than the rest of us would.

Chad Handley said...

just how in the gosh-darn blankety heck do you know that?

Hey! Watch your language!

Rick Hawk said...

@Scott

I asked you how your hypothetical scientists can know that an observation contradicts a proposed theory.

There's really no trick to it. Let's take a simple example. I've let go of many apples and every time the apple has fallen straight to the ground. So I get the theory that apples will always fall straight to the ground when released. That's a good theory because it explains all my observations with a simple rule, and it is clearly falsifiable.

When presented with the theory, a scientist will attempt to falsify it by releasing an apple and watching what happens. If the scientist sees the apple do anything other than fall straight to the ground, then that contradicts the theory. If that observation is a hallucination or an magic trick, that doesn't matter to science. Of course they try to avoid hallucinations, but no one can verify that their observations actually correspond to an underlying reality, so in principle they just take any observation at face value.

Science isn't concerned with truth, only with tearing down ideas. A scientist has no more reason to believe that his falsification proves anything than a barber believes that cutting hair proves anything. They're just doing their jobs, scientist falsifying ideas and barbers cutting hair.

What makes you think there's anything that "causes" our observations?

Perhaps "cause" is the wrong word. All I know is that I have observations and so I am forced to imagine that they come from somewhere. I can imagine that I'm a disembodied mind floating through a sea of pure observation, but if so then that sea is the noumena. Is everything I experience a direct conversation with God with his mind hooked to mine so that I experience what he thinks, and he reacts to my actions? If so, then God is the noumena. If you can think of how there could be no noumena at all, then please let me know because I would love to be able to doubt the existence of noumena.

@Chad Handley

Scientists who live to see the theories they built their careers on overturned almost never convert to the new theory. They fight to preserve the old one.

Naturally they would be sentimental about it since they are only human, but when they fight the new theory they are exactly doing their job. A scientist may hate a theory for some personal reasons, but tearing down theories is also his occupation. A barber doesn't need to hate hair to cut it any more than a scientist needs to hate a theory to try to falsify it.

Don't expect a scientist to show he is happy with the arrival of a new theory by nodding in agreement. Scientists like to falsify stuff, so that's what they will always try to do. If you really want to annoy a scientist, instead of trying to tear down his theory, what you should do is spread around an unfalsifiable theory.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Science isn't concerned with truth, only with tearing down ideas.

And how would they do that? Would it not be true that they had or had not torn down an idea?

Besides, why would they do this? Just because they enjoy tearing things down and not building them up? And why should we accept your view of science?

And what about in our lives. Is it really enough that an idea just hasn't been falsified to put our trust in it? If there is danger, would we trust something on these grounds alone? I think this also goes to a point I've seen Dr. Feser make, namely, that this sort of anti-realism in the sciences makes it almost miraculous that we have had so much success in these fields. If we are not getting at a reality or a truth in any significant way, then surely this is true: our success is miraculous.

Rick Hawk said...

@Jeremy Taylor

And how would they do that? Would it not be true that they had or had not torn down an idea?

They probably hope it's true, but it's not the job of a scientist to worry about that. Leave truth to the philosophers. A scientist is doing his job just by making observations and noting whether they match or contradict the idea.

Besides, why would they do this? Just because they enjoy tearing things down and not building them up?

If you have an idea that is false and no one even bothers to check it, then that is going to cause you nothing but trouble. You might end up trying to control the weather with human sacrifices, all because you have no scientist who doubts your idea and is willing to spend time trying to tear it down.

Also, scientists can be useful because you can throw random ideas at them and they will check each one, and then eventually you might stumble upon one that they can't falsify. If they can't falsify it, then you can probably find some use for it. Even if it's not actually true, you can make money off an idea that seems to work every time.

Is it really enough that an idea just hasn't been falsified to put our trust in it?

Certainly not. Right now I can make up dozens of ideas that haven't been falsified, but you shouldn't trust any of those. The ideas you should trust are the ones that have had scientists all over the world trying to falsify them for years. I'm not saying you should believe those ideas, but they should eventually earn some tentative trust.

If people have been trying to deliberately falsify the idea for ages, then you should feel good about hoping that the idea won't accidentally be falsified while it's holding your airplane up over the ocean. Even so, that's not a guarantee. If you want to feel safer, get more scientists working on it.

If we are not getting at a reality or a truth in any significant way, then surely this is true: our success is miraculous.

Don't underestimate how much work scientists put into this. They had to falsify countless ideas to find the ideas that seem to work for us now. An idea that seems to work most of the time can be good enough to get you to the moon. You just have to hope that it isn't falsified for the first time on the launch pad.

Chad Handley said...

Don't expect a scientist to show he is happy with the arrival of a new theory by nodding in agreement. Scientists like to falsify stuff, so that's what they will always try to do.

The history of science tells us that scientists like to falsify theories that threaten the dominance of the theories they were trained in. In that way they very much resemble philosophers, priests, politicians, and other human beings. We all like to falsify theories that threaten our previously held beliefs.

Serious question, where do you get your ideas about how science works? You seem to just be quoting platitudes. Even the most ardent falsificationists are usually willing to admit that individual scientists typically resist the falsification of theories they have invested years of their lives in. Such falsificationists say that the enterprise of science as a whole eventually embraces the falsification of an theory and the emergence of a new one, but only very slowly and against great resistance from the older scientific community.

As Feyerabend points out in Against Method, quite often scientists don't try to falsify a rival theory so much as discredit it. And to rid themselves of a rival theory, they're every bit as likely to use propaganda, political pressure, career pressure, and financial pressure as they are to use experiment. Textbook scientific heroes like Galileo and Newton were not above using extremely shady methods to rid themselves of rivals.

Rick Hawk said...

@Chad Handley

Scientists are certainly people and science doesn't tell you what theory you should choose to try to falsify. Scientists are free to use wild guesses, personal preference, or vague feelings about certain theories being more beautiful than other theories. If there's a radical new theory in your field, then that's always going to be a tempting target until it is firmly established that no one is going to be able to falsify it and all the people trying to falsify it give up or die.

There's no reason why a scientist should become dogmatically attached to a theory. It's not as if falsifying a theory wipes out all of the work he put into it. Newton's theories have been famously falsified, but they are still immensely useful. The falsification hasn't taken anything away from Newton; it has only advanced science.

And to rid themselves of a rival theory, they're every bit as likely to use propaganda, political pressure, career pressure, and financial pressure as they are to use experiment.

That's a curious historical fact. It's sad that those people couldn't be more committed to science, especially when they are so great at science as Galileo and Newton. There's a fine line between genius and madness, so it should be no surprise that the most brilliant scientists are also eccentric, but it's still tragic.

John said...

"a potential can be actualized only by what is already actual"

It might be useful to show how this principle applies to the formation of a star.

Basically, given an amount of gas, mostly hydrogen, in a region, gravitational attraction will cause molecules to come together. At some point in time, density and pressure at the core is so great that nuclear fusion begins, and a star is born.

In this case, in which the original dispersed gas had the potential to become a star, what was the "already actual entity" that actualized the dispersed gas' potential?

grodrigues said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
grodrigues said...

@Rick Hawk:

"Good scientists don't look for truth. They only look to tear down ideas. Sometimes scientists need to invent new ideas to tear down when there aren't enough ideas, but that's not really their job. Science ignores ideas that are unfalsifiable exactly because there is nothing for science to do in that case. When a scientist discovers something the other scientists all rush to try to prove it wrong. And when scientists grudgingly admit that they can't prove an idea wrong no matter how hard they try, then we have a good foundation for guessing that it is probably true until some clever scientist comes along to finish the work that his predecessors started."

This is the foolish talk of a typical Science Dork who has never set foot on a lab, who has never done an iota of Science, who has never talked to any bona-fide scientists. It is not only false, it is ridiculously false.

Of course Scientists look for the Truth; they try to understand the workings of nature -- *that* is their job. If it indeed were true that "Good scientists don't look for truth. They only look to tear down ideas." then there would be no difference between a scientist and a slanderer. Neither "all other" scientists "rush to try to prove it wrong". Really, where do you live? On cuckoo fantasy land? It is not only a practical impossibility, it would be a *very stupid* thing to do. If everyone were out rushing to prove someone else wrong nothing would be discovered, and there would be no *secure foundation* on which to build *new* results.

Of course Scientists look out for ways to corroborate the theories that at the moment, they think are the best. This image of them as skeptical hounds tearing each other's works apart is just a ridiculous Myth (an impossibility *also* as a matter of psychology). Historical question: how many experiments were needed to establish General Relativity? A cursory look at the history of physics shows how stupendously false it all is.

Or maybe it is the case that like you, I am not "looking for truth" but just tearing down *your* ideas?

Prof. Feser pegged it down real well: it is the scientismists who have the least *understanding* of what they pay lip service to.

note(s): I suspect we are being trolled; I may be confusing people in my head (and if I am apologies and dismiss everything in this note) but Rick Hawk started by complaining about "mixed messages", of the signs that Prof. Feser has ulterior motives, then he veered to appeals to Kant to demolish arguments that he Rick Hawk does not understand, now he is down at how Scientists are skeptical hounds tearing at each other's work, presumably for the fun of it, since according to Mr. Hawk they sure as hell are not "look[ing] for truth".

John West said...

Grodriguez,

So you think it's just a brutal satire?

Rick Hawk said...

@grodrigues

If it indeed were true that "Good scientists don't look for truth. They only look to tear down ideas." then there would be no difference between a scientist and a slanderer.

Slander wouldn't work. You can't falsify an idea in science by attacking the person who suggests the idea. You're expected to observe something that contradicts the idea and be able to repeat that observation so that anyone can see it who wants to see it. No amount of lying will get anyone anywhere in real science.

If everyone were out rushing to prove someone else wrong nothing would be discovered, and there would be no *secure foundation* on which to build *new* results.

You have that completely backward. It is only by trying to prove things wrong that we can have a secure foundation for anything. Trying to prove things right leads to nothing but cherry-picked evidence and confirmation bias. At best it encourages people to ignore inconvenient evidence, but it can just as easily lead to suppression of evidence. People who are advocating an idea don't search for truth; they only search for things that agree with them. For those people the answers that they find will always be exactly what they are looking for.

If it were possible to really prove the idea then that would be no problem, but nothing scientific can ever really be proven. All you can do is accumulate supporting evidence, and if you look hard enough you can find evidence to support almost anything. It's called pseudoscience and there are whole industries built around it.

Real science works by skepticism. Start with an idea about how the universe works, then instead of searching for evidence to confirm it as a pseudoscientist would do, you try as hard as you can to show that the idea is wrong. You're going to end up tearing down your foundation over and over, but when you finally find something that you can't tear down no matter how hard you try, then you will truly have a secure foundation.

This image of them as skeptical hounds tearing each other's works apart is just a ridiculous Myth (an impossibility *also* as a matter of psychology).

If there aren't skeptical hounds trying to tear apart the works of science then we have no reason to trust the works of science. They haven't proven themselves strong enough to withstand the hounds. How could science makes such amazing achievements if it's not brutal to its ideas? If even one bad idea is allowed to be taken as fact it would subvert the course of science.

John West said...

It does not follow from the fact that scientists apply methodological skepticism in their work that they do not seek truth. It also does not follow that all they do is try and tear down ideas. You're waffling, Mr. Hawk.

John West said...

Yeah, no. Coming up with hypotheses is a basic part of the scientific process - again, first year stuff.

grodrigues said...

@Rick Hawk:

"People who are advocating an idea don't search for truth; they only search for things that agree with them."

According to you Scientists are not looking for truth either but only in tearing down other ideas so what?

And yet here you are, advocating for the truth of *your* ideas, so should I take it that you are just searching for "things that agree with [you]"?

"Trying to prove things right leads to nothing but cherry-picked evidence and confirmation bias."

And trying to "prove things wrong" does not? Talk about "cherry-picked evidence and confirmation bias". So when someone is trying to prove that p is false he is automagically a paragon of righteousness? To prove p is false is to prove that not-p is true. To prove that p is false is to prove that "p is false" is true. But these purely logical connections would make of your ideal scientist a pseudo-scientist and we cannot have that can we?

"If it were possible to really prove the idea then that would be no problem, but nothing scientific can ever really be proven. All you can do is accumulate supporting evidence, and if you look hard enough you can find evidence to support almost anything. It's called pseudoscience and there are whole industries built around it."

So according to you:

(1) No scientific proposition can really be proven. By this, I take it you mean proven with a 100% degree confidence. This is a red herring, but let us roll with it.

(2) The only thing you can is accumulate supporting evidence. By this, I take it that you mean that while one cannot have a 100% degree confidence one can have higher degrees of confidence (say 90% or 95%, just in case we are forced on gun point to put a number on it).

(3) If you look hard enough, you can find support for almost anything. By this, I take it that you mean that anything can be believed and some supporting evidence could even be found for the belief but that the available evidence is not proportional to the degree of confidence of the belief.

While this is all fine and well (with some important qualifications), so what? There are two features that stand out in your comments: first, how most of it is waffle irrelevant to the issues under discussion. Nothing in (1), (2) or (3) has any specific connection with what scientists do, qua scientists, and could be said in equal measure of just about anything. Neither it has any internal connection with trying to prove things false (as opposed to prove things true) since the same remarks apply. The second feature is the complete lack of evidence for just about anything you say.

"Start with an idea about how the universe works, then instead of searching for evidence to confirm it as a pseudoscientist would do, you try as hard as you can to show that the idea is wrong."

Since quite obviously you are not a Scientist, how do you know this reflects the practices of actual scientists? (hint: it does not).

"You're going to end up tearing down your foundation over and over, but when you finally find something that you can't tear down no matter how hard you try, then you will truly have a secure foundation."

And how do you know you have reached such a state? The answer is obvious, if we consistently follow your principles: we do not. Ergo, we never have a secure foundation for knowledge. So your talk about the successes of Science is so much bafflegab.

"If even one bad idea is allowed to be taken as fact it would subvert the course of science."

You really have no idea what you are talking about. The History of Science is also a vast procession of bad ideas. Some were shot down and buried six feet under ground, some are still lumbering around like zombies. We simply have not managed to find a universal Zombie-idea detector.

Contrary to what may be expected, this is *not* fun; so I am done here.

Glenn said...

Rick Hawk,

You hoist yourself with your own petard:

You make the claim that,

..."Real science works by skepticism. Start with an idea about how the universe works, then instead of searching for evidence to confirm it as a pseudoscientist would do, you try as hard as you can to show that the idea is wrong"....

...only three sentences after making the claim that,

..."If it were possible to really prove the idea then that would be no problem, but nothing scientific can ever really be proven."

But if nothing scientific can ever really be proven, and science proceeds by showing that this, that or the other idea is wrong, then, since few if any (of sound mind) will accept the showing of this, that or the other idea to be wrong unless it can be shown (more or less)conclusively to be wrong, i.e., unless it can be proven to be wrong, then it follows that science does not proceed in a manner which is scientific but in a manner which is, as you would label it, pseudoscientific. For to endeavor to show that one idea is wrong is to have another idea in mind which one believes to be correct, i.e., it is to have a second idea, believed to be correct, that the first idea is wrong--and the endeavor to prove that former idea wrong is an endeavor to search for evidence to confirm the truth of latter idea. On your own terms, then, science is just another instance, albeit a more sophisticated instance, of pseudoscience.

IOW, you hoist yourself with your own petard.

(So, if the content, tenor and tone of the comments of others suggest that... if you get the impression that... if it seems like... i.e., if you feel like... you've being skewered by several different commenters here, rest assured--you have actually done it to yourself, and others have been considerate and kind enough to point it out.)

Scott said...

@grodrigues:

"I suspect we are being trolled[.]"

I share that suspicion. I think someone may be yanking our chains.

Glenn said...

Ha. Grod's comment was not yet showing when I posted mine.

To prove p is false is to prove that not-p is true. To prove that p is false is to prove that "p is false" is true. But these purely logical connections would make of your ideal scientist a pseudo-scientist and we cannot have that can we?

Bingo.

Scott said...

@John:

"In this case, in which the original dispersed gas had the potential to become a star, what was the 'already actual entity' that actualized the dispersed gas' potential?"

When the molecules of gas are brought together by gravitational attraction, they're acting on one another.

It's perhaps an open question whether a star counts as a "substance" for A-T, but I'd be inclined to say not—and I'm fairly confident a cloud of widely dispersed gas wouldn't count as one. On that view, "dispersed gas" becoming "a star" is shorthand for umpty-bajillion actual molecules actualizing one another's potencies. At every moment of the process, the entity doing the actualizing is already actual.

Scott said...

(If the molecules of gas actually do combine into a new substance with its own substantial form, that's not especially problematic either. It happens e.g. every time hydrogen and oxygen combine to make water.)

Alan Fox said...

ED Feser wrote in the OP:

A second problem is that those who are dismissive of the very idea that the existence of God might be demonstrable typically hold arguments for God’s existence to a standard to which they do not hold other arguments. For instance, the mere fact that someone somewhere has raised an objection against an argument for God’s existence is commonly treated by skeptics as showing that “the argument fails” – as if an argument is a good one only if no one objects to it but all assent to it upon hearing it.

I'm sceptical of the existence of the various proposed gods on offer precisely because there are no demonstrable entailments. It's a question of evidence rather than argument. Taking the Catholic God, for example; there is absolutely nothing anyone can point me to that indicates the existence of such a God other than "revelation".

Should I be more sceptical of, say, revelation from Bahá'u'lláh? Why not equally sceptical?

Chad Handley said...

I share that suspicion. I think someone may be yanking our chains.

With some of these New Atheist types, who can tell anymore?

Brandon said...

Alan, you said:

I'm sceptical of the existence of the various proposed gods on offer precisely because there are no demonstrable entailments. It's a question of evidence rather than argument. Taking the Catholic God, for example; there is absolutely nothing anyone can point me to that indicates the existence of such a God other than "revelation".

Should I be more sceptical of, say, revelation from Bahá'u'lláh? Why not equally sceptical?


I'm not sure what problem is being proposed here. Since Baha'i is a monotheistic religion explicitly recognizing Jewish and Christian prophets, we aren't dealing with various gods here; the question at hand would be, "Which position is most probably true with respect to the one God, on the evidence?"

And that question, of course, would require looking at exactly what one can take as given, either because it's known about the one God, or because it is a probable inference from the evidence. Since it's by definition as irrational to be skeptical without appropriate reasons as it is to be dogmatic without appropriate reasons, there's no way to assess how skeptical one should be without reference to the actual arguments and evidence available.

Daniel said...

'Should I be more sceptical of, say, revelation from Bahá'u'lláh? Why not equally sceptical?'

Except we're not talking about Revelation here. An individual could well accept the various arguments and conclusion Ed and co set forth and still at the end of the day turn round and say: 'Well the God of Classical Theism certainly exists, however I still think that religion stuff is a lot of toxic rubbish, particularly those brutish Hebrews'.

Alan Fox said...

Brandon asks:

I'm not sure what problem is being proposed here. Since Baha'i is a monotheistic religion explicitly recognizing Jewish and Christian prophets, we aren't dealing with various gods here; the question at hand would be, "Which position is most probably true with respect to the one God, on the evidence?"

Don't forget the god of Islam. The Baha'i faith considers Mohammed a prophet, too. So, why should I not be more sceptical of Catholicism and not consider Baha'i the more plausible story?

And that question, of course, would require looking at exactly what one can take as given, either because it's known about the one God, or because it is a probable inference from the evidence.

And what is there to take as given?

Since it's by definition as irrational to be skeptical without appropriate reasons as it is to be dogmatic without appropriate reasons, there's no way to assess how skeptical one should be without reference to the actual arguments and evidence available.

You think there's no reason not to take whatever anyone tells you at face value?

Irish Thomist said...


Alan Fox said...

The concordat smoothed Hitler's path to power. Whether Cardinal Pacelli was aware of this when agreeing to it might be clarified by allowing access to Vatican documents which are still under seal.


Sounds erroneous. Any academic and profession can apply to use the Vatican archives for research (I presume some documents from Pius' time would be there?) . People just don't have a clue what they are talking about in their about in their atheistic apologetic's. People don't know that the 'Secret Archives' aren't actually secret with the exception of one section (that is about confessions etc. in relation to things that used to require the Popes permission). The Latin word 'Secretum' means something slightly different than the word 'secret would in English, which is where some of the nonsense comes in for the conspiracy theorists.

Anyway we shall all know more detail when Pius is canonized (because his term as Pope will be investigated in depth).

Irish Thomist said...

Taking the Catholic God, for example; there is absolutely nothing anyone can point me to that indicates the existence of such a God other than "revelation".

@Alan Fox
1) Can you clarify your terms please.
2)'Revelation' ruled out a priori because revelation is false is a circular argument.
3)There is evidence apart from revelation.
And so on...

Rick Hawk said...

@grodrigues

So when someone is trying to prove that p is false he is automagically a paragon of righteousness?

That's roughly correct. In science there is an real difference between proving an idea false and proving an idea true because the ideas are always rules that are phrased to describe the world. So you get things like "all apples will always fall when released." Notice that logically this could be proven wrong by just a single counter-example, so in principle there is no need to build up a mountain of evidence just to prove it false, and cherry-picking evidence is meaningless. You either have the counter-example or you don't. This is what is known as being falsifiable and it is true of everything that science deals with.

Even though the idea is logically simple to prove false, the fact that no one can fully trust any observation means that science still wants a mountain of evidence to falsify a thing, and even that doesn't really prove anything. This is no problem since science is naturally a skeptical occupation and skeptics understand that not believing things is a good thing.

By this, I take it that you mean that while one cannot have a 100% degree confidence one can have higher degrees of confidence (say 90% or 95%, just in case we are forced on gun point to put a number on it).

If something in science has a high degree of confidence then we have no choice but to take it as 100% if people wanted to take bets on it. When I say it can't be proven I mean we can't know it is true. Apples will always fall when released with 100% confidence, but I have no way of proving that gravity won't reverse itself tomorrow, so I don't really know. Science doesn't have access to the real rules that underlie reality; all it has are observations, and it behaves accordingly.

Science never claims to know anything. That's why I say that science doesn't search for truth. No matter what a scientist does, all he will ever get is falsifiable theories which might be falsified at any time. If he's being scientific, he really shouldn't believe any of it. That doesn't stop a merely human scientist from forgetting that it's falsifiable, but he's not doing science when he does that.

@Glenn

For to endeavor to show that one idea is wrong is to have another idea in mind which one believes to be correct, i.e., it is to have a second idea, believed to be correct, that the first idea is wrong.

That's not how skepticism works. There is no dilemma between believing p and believing not p. You are free to believe neither. Skeptics do it all the time. So when a scientist falsifies p he doesn't need to prove not p.

Brandon said...

Alan,

Why would I forget Islam? It changes nothing at all.

So, why should I not be more sceptical of Catholicism and not consider Baha'i the more plausible story?

And as I already said: "And that question, of course, would require looking at exactly what one can take as given, either because it's known about the one God, or because it is a probable inference from the evidence. Since it's by definition as irrational to be skeptical without appropriate reasons as it is to be dogmatic without appropriate reasons, there's no way to assess how skeptical one should be without reference to the actual arguments and evidence available."

And what is there to take as given?

I have no idea what you can take as given. Why would you expect anyone else to know what you yourself can take as given or not?

You think there's no reason not to take whatever anyone tells you at face value?

If you re-read what I said, you'll see quite clearly that any such claim is logically inconsistent with what I actually said.

Jeremy Taylor said...

I don't think he is a troll. There is something in his manner makes me think he is earnest. But he is being moronic: as if scientists always proceed in the negative and never try to positively understand the empirical world. Who would have thought that scientists were so apophatic and mystical!

I was going to respond to him, but I see others have done it better than I can, and there just isn't enough time for this nonsense.

Glenn said...

Rick Hawk,

@Glenn

> For to endeavor to show that one idea is wrong is to have another idea in mind which one believes to be correct, i.e., it is to have a second idea, believed to be correct, that the first idea is wrong.

>> That's not how skepticism works.

Non sequitur. Your comment, and my response to it, had to do with what scientists do or don't do, and not with how skepticism works or doesn't work. Or are you now pretending that "science" and "skepticism" are equivalent, as are "scientists" and "skeptics"?

>> There is no dilemma between believing p and believing not p. You are free to believe neither. Skeptics do it all the time. So when a scientist falsifies p he doesn't need to prove not p.

You can falsify something without proving it to not be true? Sounds like a neat trick.

Ah, I see it now; I am mistaken about your use of "falsify".

When you talk about falsifying, you mean altering things so that what isn't true appears to be true. Is that it? (It must be, for in that case you don't have to prove the thing falsified to be "not true" (and you probably shouldn't even try--at least not if you want have a chance of getting away with the attempted deception (although, truthfully speaking, you haven't any such chance here)).)

Scott said...

@Rick Hawk:

"Apples will always fall when released with 100% confidence, but I have no way of proving that gravity won't reverse itself tomorrow, so I don't really know."

Wait, did you just say that we're (you're) 100% confident of something that you don't know and that may be falsified tomorrow?

"Science doesn't have access to the real rules that underlie reality[.]"

Not even the Principles of Noncontradiction and Causality, on which (as I've pointed out) they (and you) are relying? I ask because, from the way in which you've been implicitly relying on them so far, they sure look like rules about "noumena" and not just "phenomena." (By the way, "phenomena"/appearances are part of the real world too, aren't they?)

"Science never claims to know anything."

So, then, to whatever extent you claim to know this, your statement is un- (or pseudo-) scientific. What is its epistemic status, then?

"[W]hen a scientist falsifies p he doesn't need to prove not p."

As Glenn says, that must be a neat trick. Are you claiming that it's possible to falsify a proposition without to the same extent verifying/confirming its negation? If so, then what in heaven's name does "falsify" mean to the people of your planet?

Scott said...

Oh, and…

"Apples will always fall when released with 100% confidence, but I have no way of proving that gravity won't reverse itself tomorrow, so I don't really know."

…does that mean that, logically and rationally, you can't rule out miracles?

Rick Hawk said...

@Scott

Wait, did you just say that we're (you're) 100% confident of something that you don't know and that may be falsified tomorrow?

Yes, exactly. It has to be 100% because even 99.9% is too low to represent my confidence that an apple will fall when released. If you wanted to bet that an apple would not fall, then you could name any odds that you wanted and I'd still take the bet. You can bet $1 to my million and that would just be an easy dollar for me.

Even so, I'm still self-aware enough to realize that I don't have any magical access to the underlying nature of reality. As a skeptic I make assumptions rather than having beliefs.

Not even the Principles of Noncontradiction and Causality, on which (as I've pointed out) they (and you) are relying?

I can agree that the principle of noncontradiction really does apply to the underlying reality, since a contradiction is always absurd. Unfortunately that doesn't tell us anything.

If we knew that causality really applied to the underlying reality, that would be far more interesting than noncontradiction, but unfortunately causality is just a conclusion that we can draw from watching one phenomenon follow another consistently every time, and any conclusion drawn that way might be wrong.

By the way, "phenomena"/appearances are part of the real world too, aren't they?

No, phenomena are just ideas in your mind which is practically the definition of something which is not real. On the other hand, that would depend on what you want to call real.

So, then, to whatever extent you claim to know this, your statement is un- (or pseudo-) scientific. What is its epistemic status, then?

It's analytic knowledge, like knowing that bachelors are unmarried. Obviously scientists claim to know things and they even search for truth by accumulating evidence in favor of an idea, but when they do that they aren't doing science. Barbers play softball, but that doesn't mean softball is part of being a barber.

Are you claiming that it's possible to falsify a proposition without to the same extent verifying/confirming its negation?

No, I'm not saying that. When you observe something that contradicts an idea you can put it on the scoreboard as one point against the idea and one point for the negation, but that's a long way from proving the negation. The negation of a scientific idea is usually not a scientific idea. The idea that some apple will sometimes not fall when released would require mountains of evidence to be convincing. You would almost need to let each person see it for himself, but even then you haven't proven anything since it could just be a hallucination and nothing in the idea should make you expect that you can keep repeating it forever to each new person who wants to check it.

Instead of taking on that herculean task, what you should do is simply stop believing the original idea. There's no need to believe the negation, since the negation is a practically useless idea about one apple at some point in history. You can't make money off an idea like that.

Does that mean that, logically and rationally, you can't rule out miracles?

Yes, it means exactly that. We can't rule out miracles, nor the existence of God. There are countless things we can't rule out. Skeptics hate to make claims so you should expect to have a hard time getting one to rule anything out.

Glenn said...

Rick Hawk,

1. Scott: Wait, did you just say that we're (you're) 100% confident of something that you don't know and that may be falsified tomorrow?

You: Yes, exactly. It has to be 100% because even 99.9% is too low to represent my confidence that an apple will fall when released. If you wanted to bet that an apple would not fall, then you could name any odds that you wanted and I'd still take the bet. You can bet $1 to my million and that would just be an easy dollar for me.

Me: Although I'll be taking an approach somewhat different from the approach Scott is taking, it does seems rather obvious that, given the conditions that you yourself have established, your million is going to fly the coup a whole lot faster than Scott's dollar:

2. You (earlier): Apples will always fall when released with 100% confidence[.]

As mentioned in another comment under a different OP, I purchased one half of two apples last night (i.e., I purchased one apple (aka a single apple)).

Along with the two oranges I had also purchased, the one apple, aka single apple, is sitting on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator in the kitchen.

Pardon me, I'm being unnecessarily anthropomorphic; and it is perhaps better to say that, notwithstanding such things as, e.g., the earth's rotation about its axis and its revolution about the sun, the apple is at rest (on the bottom shelf (of the refrigerator (in the kitchen))).)

Always willing -- within reason, of course -- to test new ideas, I decided to conduct a little experiment, one designed to test the interesting hypothesis now being hawked by none other than yourself, namely, the hypothesis that "Apples will always fall when released with 100% confidence."

It is true that the hypothesis is formulated in an ambiguous manner, so that, assuming lack of access to a crystal ball, one cannot be quite certain just what is meant; that is, one cannot be quite certain whether it is meant that: a) apples released with 100% confidence--i.e., apples released in a manner either extremely non-wishy-washy-like or radically non-wimpy-like -- will fall; or, b) one can be 100% confident that apples will fall when released.

Undeterred by this uncertainty, I just now went into the kitchen, opened the refrigerator door, made sure the apple was not levitating, i.e., that it was indeed resting on the bottom shelf of my refrigerator, and took hold of it in a manner which may described as "gripping the apple". Then, while gripping the apple at rest on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator, I directly released my grip, thereby precipitating an indirect release of the apple.

Guess what?

That's right--the apple did not fall.

Of course, this little experiment was conducted not with apples but with a single apple. And since your hypothesis mentions apples, it may be that my little experiment, amusing as it may have been, did not actually test your hypothesis.

Still, I have two arms, with one hand at the end of each, and there seems to be no reason to anticipate, expect or predict that, were I to grip with each hand a different apple at rest on the same bottom shelf of the refrigerator, and release said grip of each apple at the same time, the outcome would be any different--other than that it would be the case that apples did not fall rather than that an apple did not fall.

3. You (later): The idea that some apple will sometimes not fall when released would require mountains of evidence to be convincing.

Uh-huh.

Chris said...

I assumed Rick came on here to get someone to buy him a copy of Aquinas.
Surprisingly, no-one has taken him up on that.

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