Saturday, November 15, 2014

DSPT symposium papers online (Updated)


Last week’s symposium at the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology in Berkeley was on Fr. Anselm Ramelow’s anthology God, Reason and Reality.  Some of the papers from the symposium are now available online.  In my paper, “Remarks on God, Reason and Reality,” I comment on two essays in the anthology: Fr. Ramelow’s essay on God and miracles, and Fr. Michael Dodds’ essay on God and the nature of life.  Fr. Ramelow’s symposium paper is “Three Tensions Concerning Miracles: A Response to Edward Feser.”

UPDATE 11/16: Fr. Dodds' paper "The God of Life: Response to Edward Feser" has now been posted at the DSPT website.  Also, a YouTube video of all the talks and of the Q & A that followed has been posted.

158 comments:

Glenn said...

Ha. I read, "A better analogy might be to think of the world as music and God as the musician who is playing the music," and immediately think, "But he's not a jazz musician, is He?" Then find at the bottom of the para in a parenthetical comment, "Classical theists have long had a fondness for Bach, but perhaps they should switch to John Coltrane or Thelonious Monk!"

Of course, we all know that God, having a higher end in view, permits some classical theists to have a fondness for the likes of Coltrane and Monk.

Just joshing. ;)

Thanks for posting the links.

Glenn said...

(I should add that there's been way too much rancid cotton candy in the comments of late, so the substantial food is doubly appreciated.)

Scott said...

"That's the craziest liturgical music I've ever heard! What kind of monk did you say you were?"

"Thelonious, baby."

Daniel said...

The last part of that paper on the applicability of the term Life to God comes just when it's needed! At the risk of taking this further would anyone know any recent work on the Aristotelian understanding of God's activity as Divine Self-Gnosis, of God possessing perfect Cartesian transparency as it were? I know Gerson has written a paper critiquing this idea from a Neo-Platonic point of view and would be interested in hearing if there are any more modern defences/elaborations of it. Oddly I don't think Ed mentions it in Aquinas

(The question of God's self-transparency was an issue that came up in the thought of the later Fichte and of Schelling, both of who had recourse to the idea that since there could be no subject/object division in God then it stood to reason that God transcended the concepts of Subject and Object - I think it derives from an equivocal use of those terms myself but that's probably better left for another time)

Mr. Green said...

Glenn: Of course, we all know that God, having a higher end in view, permits some classical theists to have a fondness for the likes of Coltrane and Monk.

Of course, this might be defensible in addition to a fondness for Bach; it would be hard indeed to imagine a legitimate reason to switch from Bach. We should also remark that Bach was a renowned improviser in his own day.

monk68 said...

Dr. Feser wrote:

"As Fr. Ramelow goes on to note, qua supernatural, miracles can only have a divine
cause and must not be confused with the extraordinary but still merely preternatural
effects an angel might produce. Finite spirits are still part of the natural order, as
Thomists understand the natural order."

I understand that a miracle qua *super*natural must derive from a divine source given all of the relevant background metaphysics. However, from an epistemic point of view, how would one differentiate a true *super*natural miracle from an extraordinary [but merely] *preter*natural manipulation?

For any given miracle claim considered in isolation, this strikes me as a significant problem within the neo-scholastic apologetic enterprise, where it is crucial to first establish the criteria by which an event may be recognized as modally supernatural (i.e. a miracle proper)and not merely a preternatural phenomena, before proceeding to consider specific miracle claims in defense of the fact of a divine [and not merely preternatural] revelation.

Perhaps when the broader context in which the event occurs is brought to bear that difficulty diminishes or disappears.

Thoughts?

Anonymous said...

Does theology, especially that based on the idea of a creator-God have anything to do with Reality?

All modes of human religion and science are point of view based systems of presumed knowledge that prescribe and limit what is known and what is allowable to be known.

All modes of human religion and science are attempts to tribalize and thus to localize and control knowledge, such that it characterizes and protects a collective political, social, and cultural mode of mind.

All modes of human religion and science are systematic patterns of mind that are impulsed to acquire or assimilate all particular subjects in order - by objectifying, naming, categorizing, symbolically representing, and systematically interiorizing and enclosing them - to appropriate, exploit, control, replace, and ultimately, eviscerate and annihilate them.

All modes of human religion and science seek to dominate all subjects (including the Divine as subject), via substitution ideas - either by means of sacred conceptual language, such as Deity myths and otherwise religious modes of philosophical language, or by means of secular conceptual language such as materiality myths and otherwise scientific modes of philosophical language.

All modes of human religion or science - including all Deity myths or God-ideas, and all materiality myths or objective-reality-ideas - are artifacts of the human ego-effort to protect and extend the local interests of human collectives by means of idea-invocation, wherein and whereby Reality is identified as an opponent, objectified as an other, invoked as an ally, indulged and exploited as a captive, and, at last, desecrated and destroyed as a convicted criminal and victim via a universal scapegoat "game".

In the domain of humanly created religion the "catholic" church is obviously the most "successful" example of this enclose and destroy universal scapegoat "game". Even while all the time pretending otherwise and using Thomistic metaphysics (etc) to justify its destructive presence and actions in the world.

Greg said...

All modes of human religion and science are attempts to tribalize and thus to localize and control knowledge, such that it characterizes and protects a collective political, social, and cultural mode of mind.

Wow. That's deep.

Edward Feser said...

Sigh. Here we go again.

Or not. Guys, let me just say this once: DON'T FEED TROLLS. Ignore them. Completely. Completely. Got it?

Let's not crap up another combox. Stick to the subjects discussed in the papers linked to. Ignore cranks, ignoramuses, muddleheads, and other irrational persons. Completely. OK?

That is all.

Scott said...

@Mr. Green:

"We should also remark that Bach was a renowned improviser in his own day."

He was indeed. "An improvised five-part fugue based on a theme randomly suggested by the King? Sure, no problem, but what am I supposed to do with my left hand?"

Thomas Henry Larsen said...

Ed, you write,

The problem is rather that to make an argument from miracles plausible, a great deal of specifically theological background work has to be done. One has to give an account of what a miracle is, and to do that properly requires an understanding of the Scholastic notions of divine conservation and concurrence, which in turn requires an understanding of the notions of causality operative in arguments like the First Way and the Second Way.

I share your inclination to argue first for the existence of God and then for the resurrection of Jesus in light of that background context (the classical approach). However, it’s unclear to me why a person must be able to give an account of what a miracle is before she can argue (or accept an argument) for a particular miracle – in the same way that a person need not be able to give a precise definition of what a tree is, of the kind that a biologist would accept and not be able to find exceptions to, to conclude on the basis of other people’s testimony that an oak tree in the local park down the road has been cut down. Of course she must have some concept of what a tree is, but similarly most reasonable interlocutors will agree that a man rising from the dead “on the third day” would be a paradigmatic example of a miracle if it occurred.

Glenn said...

Thomas Henry Larsen,

it’s unclear to me why a person must be able to give an account of what a miracle is before she can argue (or accept an argument) for a particular miracle – in the same way that a person need not be able to give a precise definition of what a tree is

Here's an oblique response, beginning with your acknowledgement that,

Of course she must have some concept of what a tree is,

It is probably safe to say that most people will have some concept of what a tree is. But what assurance have I that my 'some concept' lines up well with someone else's 'some concept'? Here's Abbott and Costello, each with some concept of what a tree is:

Abbott: "Say, did you know that acorns grow on trees?"

Costello: "Of course; everybody knows that. Acorns grow on trees, just like bananas grow on trees. Acorns grow on oak trees, and bananas grow on banana trees."

Abbott: "Well, acorns do grow on oak trees, sure. But bananas don't grow on trees."

Costello: "What do you mean bananas don't grow on trees?"

Abbott: "Just that: bananas don't grow on trees."

Costello: "Look--isn't that a banana tree over there?"

Abbott: "Sure, that's a banana tree."

Costello: "And aren't bananas growing on it?"

Abbott: "Sure, bananas are growing on it."

Costello: "Well, if you can see that that is a banana tree, and you can see that bananas are growing on it, how can you contradict yourself by saying that bananas don't grow on trees?"

Abbott: "I'm not contradicting myself. It's very simple: bananas, which grow on banana trees, don't grow on trees."

In short, and continuing with the obliqueness, to make an argument from trees plausible, what constitutes a tree must be firmly established, and merely some concept of what a tree is isn't good enough--for that 'some concept' might, e.g., include an herb when, actually, herbs are to be excluded. (And, in other cases, it might exclude something which, actually, ought to be included.)

Petronius Jablonski said...

The movie analogy is also illuminating when thinking about free will. If I go back to my favorite scene in The Big Lebowski, Donnie's ashes always hit the Dude. The prior frames would need to be different for a different outcome. In the same way, were I able to return to an earlier point in my life, only a minor act of creatio ex nihilo could change it.

I'll argue that God is nothing like the Coen brothers. Job & Ecclesiastes are pure John Ford.

JohnD said...

Dr. Feser,

Can you reply to Dr. Ramelow's first critique of your response?

In other words, how can laws that are metaphysically necessary be suspended? Since, doesn't such suspension imply they weren't really metaphysically necessary to begin with?

Peace,
John D.

Greg said...

@ JohnD

Can you reply to Dr. Ramelow's first critique of your response?

In other words, how can laws that are metaphysically necessary be suspended? Since, doesn't such suspension imply they weren't really metaphysically necessary to begin with?


I think the idea here is that laws are generalizations from the dispositions of things to act in certain ways. So their is a distinction between a law (a thing having certain potencies) and its exercise. On a concurrence theory of divine action, God does not just have to sustain the beings with such and such potencies in existence, but must concur with the activity of those potencies if things are to happen. So that a being with a determinate nature has such and such potencies is metaphysically necessary; the powers to act in such and such ways follow from the essence. But it is open to God not to concur with the exercise of those powers.

(Concurrentism is opposed to "mere conservationism" and "occasionalism". On mere conservationism, God conserves beings in existence, but the beings act on their own. So for God to suspend a law, God would have to interfere with a being's activity. On concurrentism, the action requires God's activity, so God can suspend the exercise of a power without 'violating' the power itself.)

rigadoon said...

One problem people have with miracles is that they seem lawless. If they were lawful, then we might find out the law and they would no longer be miracles. If they are not lawful, then there is something completely arbitrary or random loose in the world.

I suggest a response to this is that the words and deeds of God are like the absolute monarchs of old: every word or deed is a law that cannot be changed.

John West said...

As far as persuasiveness, I think most atheists find it hard enough to accept the deductive proofs for God, or the mere existence of immaterial entities - so utterly foreign to most atheist metaphysics. I worry asking them to accept probabilistic arguments, for by definition uncommon occurences, asks too much.

dover_beach said...

Feser panel now available on youtube, people.

Thomas Henry Larsen said...

Link.

monk68 said...

Well I see that at about the 1:50 mark within the video Q and A, someone raised the same question I asked earlier; namely, from an epistemic POV, how would one differentiate between a truly supernatural event (a miracle proper), and a preternatural phenomena (perhaps caused by angelic agency whether benevolent or diabolical). I do not believe an adequate answer was provided.

The trouble, as I mentioned before, for those like Dr. Feser (and myself) who would like to see a revival of the neo-scholastic apologetic tradition, is that one of the key conditions for establishing the historical fact of a divine revelation (as distinct from the truth of the *content* of divine revelation) is that one first establish the happening of temporal events whose causality is recognizable as modally *super*natural and not merely preternatural (angelic). For only the former establishes the fact of a *divine* revelation.

Of course, course, given this epistemological problem one could perhaps pursue the neo-scholastic apologetic enterprise while affording a wider degree of probability to its conclusions than traditionally allowed, but it would be better if there were some objective criteria by which to distinguish supernatural activity from preternatural activity.

JohnD said...

Greg,

Thanks for your reply. You said at the end,

On concurrentism, the action requires God's activity, so God can suspend the exercise of a power without 'violating' the power itself.

This seems to be a succinct statement of the doctrine of concurrentism. But, what does this make of the idea of something having a genuine power? In other words, if the power requires God to concur with it in order for it to be actualized, then is it not true that the power is not power at all? At least not in the sense of actually having what it takes to actualize something.

Greg said...

@ JohnD

But, what does this make of the idea of something having a genuine power? In other words, if the power requires God to concur with it in order for it to be actualized, then is it not true that the power is not power at all? At least not in the sense of actually having what it takes to actualize something.

Well, the concurrentist would say no, because the exercise of a power is not just God's activity. The created being that is acting must concur also. (That is not to say that the objection could not be raised that concurrentism collapses into occasionalism. The aim of concurrentism is to navigate extremes.)

grodrigues said...

@monk68:

"The trouble, as I mentioned before, for those like Dr. Feser (and myself) who would like to see a revival of the neo-scholastic apologetic tradition, is that one of the key conditions for establishing the historical fact of a divine revelation (as distinct from the truth of the *content* of divine revelation) is that one first establish the happening of temporal events whose causality is recognizable as modally *super*natural and not merely preternatural (angelic)."

If I am understanding you right, Prof. Feser has addressed this, if not in the specific details of the arguments, at least in broad outline. I am thinking specifically of a pair of posts. The first being

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.pt/2014/05/miracles-id-and-classical-theism.html

From which I quote the last paragraph:

"Thoroughly explaining why a resurrection is not even in principle possible via natural causes requires some background in philosophical anthropology. I’ll say more about that, and about miracles more generally, in a forthcoming post. Suffice it for present purposes to note that if Lydia is saying that there are some miraculous interventions which involve events which under some descriptions might have a non-divine cause, then I think she is correct. But if she is saying that all miracles involve events which under any description could in principle have had a cause other than God, then I think that is seriously wrong. That would undermine the very possibility of knowing that a divine revelation has ever actually occurred."

And then continuing here:

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.pt/2014/05/pre-christian-apologetics.html

from which I quote:

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

And then specifically on the resurrection:

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

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

Anonymous said...

Really enjoyed the talks. Fr. Ramelow's response was excellent, I don't think I would care to have a debate with him!

Linus

monk68 said...

grodrigues,

Thank you for the response. However, I remember carefully reading those posts, and after rereading the sections you quote I still see nothing therein which addresses the *epistemological* problem I (and the fellow in the video) raise. IOW, while I agree with everything Dr. Feser says about the background metaphysics by which supernatural agency may be distinguished from natural (secondary causal) agency within the realm of changeable being (i.e. from a theoretic-ontological POV); I do not see how those ontological principles considered in themselves solve the *epistemological* problem involved in differentiating a truly supernatural event from one caused by *preter*natural (angelic) agency.

The reason is that it seems quite likely that an angelic cause might produce phenomena within nature so different from the known capacities of secondary causality, that (taken in isolation from a context) one would remain unable to establish whether some such event exceeding the known abilities of nature was caused by angelic activity versus divine (supernatural) activity. And as the quotes you provide show, the necessity of making such a distinction is crucial for establishing the *fact* of a divine revelation.

In short, if the only two factors involved in identifying a proper miracle were a clear understanding of the differences in causality between properly super-natural activity and natural (secondary) causality within the material order, all would be well. But although preternatural agents such as angels are technically part of the “natural” order in that they are contingent, secondary, etc., their *activity* would seem to be capable of producing effects within nature which *from our point of view* go beyond the known capacities of secondary causes within the realm of changeable being. As such, their activity would seem capable of mimicking true (super-natural) miracles. This situation seems to introduce an epistemological problem which renders opaque our ability to rigorously identify alleged miracles as certainly supernatural.

It seems to me that in order to effectively carry out the neo-scholastic project of establishing the historical *fact* of a divine revelation one either needs additional metaphysical criteria by which to distinguish supernatural from preternatural agency (perhaps identifying/explaining what are the metaphysical limits of preternatural activity), or else one may need to bring in the historical relgio-cultural context surrounding some event exceeding the capacities of nature in order to establish or raise the probability of divine causality over against merely preternatural causality. Of course, in the modern context establishing the fact of either modally supernatural or modally preternatural activity would be a fine accomplishment given the hegemony of naturalism / scientism, etc., but only the vindication of the fact of a properly divine revelation in human history allows the apologetic enterprise to proceed to its culmination in support of Catholic/Christian theism.

As far as I know I have read every neo-scholastic apologetic work written and available in English, but I cannot recall this specific problem being directly raised or addressed, although I need to go back and carefully review the English rearrangement of RGL’s masterwork “De Revelatione per Ecclesiam Catholicam Proposita” produced by Walshe. I have a faint memory of the subject being touched upon there.

-Pax

grodrigues said...

@monk68:

"It seems to me that in order to effectively carry out the neo-scholastic project of establishing the historical *fact* of a divine revelation one either needs additional metaphysical criteria by which to distinguish supernatural from preternatural agency (perhaps identifying/explaining what are the metaphysical limits of preternatural activity), or else one may need to bring in the historical relgio-cultural context surrounding some event exceeding the capacities of nature in order to establish or raise the probability of divine causality over against merely preternatural causality."

Assuming I am reading Prof. Feser correctly, such a distinction can be made by looking at the *specific* effects brought about, e.g. the resurrection, the example Prof. Feser mentions, and the central example of Christian apologetics. If the resurrection happened, that it was brought about by God is a conclusion of natural theology; and if it is this that are in doubt, then the place to look at is the arguments that lead us to arrive at the conclusion, a conclusion grounded in the distinguishing characteristics of the divine creative activity (although at the moment, if you ask me to articulate this exactly, I probably could not do it). But then, it is unclear what the specific *empirical* problem is supposed to be. If on the other hand, you are asking for some criteria for other classes of miracles, where it is not clear whether the effects could be brought by some agency other than God, than that indeed is a thornier question to which I do not know the answer.

edit: correction of some annoying typos.

grodrigues said...

Sigh. With every correction a new mistake seems to be introduced: "and if it is this that are in doubt" -> "and if it is this that is in doubt".

Matt Sheean said...

My response to monk's conundrum here might be too simplistic (I should note as well that I am skeptical of the existence of angels as such), but I am also suspicious that the problem he raises involves an over-complication. It seems to me that the biblical answer to this epistemic problem is to look to what the miracle is supposed to reveal. If it is out of line with e.g. the deliverances of natural theology, then we would have reason to believe that the miracle has an impish origin. If, on the other hand, the miracle is in no way at odds with what we already understand of God's character, I second grodrigues' statement that it is unclear just what the epistemic problem is. If God brings it about that x happens, or brings it about that an angel causes x to happen, so long as something is revealed by it that would not have been otherwise within our own plane of existence, the question of the mode of its delivery, unless the mode were explicit (as in the case of angelic visitations in the Bible), it would be impossible to distinguish the source except by the aforementioned distinction to be made between veridical miracles and "false signs and wonders" (to be more specific, miracles that point to the Divine and those that might after all involve something preternatural but point instead to a simulacrum of the Divine).

Anonymous said...

Prof. Feser, are you and Fr. Ramelow related? The resemblance is striking.

http://www.dspt.edu/faculty/bio/anselm-ramelow-op

Scott said...

@monk68 et al.:

If God can cause a resurrection (supernaturally), then can He not create an angel that can do so (preternaturally)? And if He can, then how could we ever be certain that a particular resurrection was directly caused by God rather than by an angel created by God?

And why would it matter as proof of revelation? For example, the creation of the angel that preternaturally caused the resurrection would itself still have been a supernatural event, wouldn't it?

Scott said...

(Surely God could have created a world in which human bodies resurrect naturally. If so, then it would be odd if He couldn't endow angels with the power to cause such resurrections preternaturally!)

monk68 said...

Scott,

“If God can cause a resurrection (supernaturally), then can He not create an angel that can do so (preternaturally)?”

I agree God could certainly enable a preternatural agent to produce an effect that exceeds the known capacities of the secondary causal order. In that case, the effect could be regarded by human observers as supernatural (though by mediation).

However, with respect to resurrection, I went back to Walshe’s re-arrangement of RGL’s work concerning the nature of miracles. He seems to argue that a resurrection is essentially an act of creation because it involves the immediate production of a substantial being (bringing together of body and soul), the re-formation of an existent. Since there is an infinite gap between being and non-being, the act of creation (any act of creation) wherein this gap is traversed requires an infinite power (this being true not only at the original creative moment but so long as a being is conserved in existence). Hence, if I understand him, a resurrection (or any immediate change of substantial being) must necessarily be supernatural. A preternatural (contingent, finite) agent could not - even in principle - bring about such an effect (although perhaps an angelic agent could physically move a corpse and mimic the appearance of resurrection – more on that sort of thing below). Walshe/RGL speak of “first order” miracles being of this type (their coming about can be shown as metaphysically impossible for any agency besides God). And that was just the sort of metaphysical limit/explanation I was looking for to distinguish between supernatural and preternatural agency for apologetic purposes.

“And if He can, then how could we ever be certain that a particular resurrection was directly caused by God rather than by an angel created by God?”

If what Walshe/RGL wrote about creation/resurrection is true, then we might be able to argue that resurrection is necessarily supernatural and unmediated. But I think your question remains applicable to other effects/events which exceed the known capacities of changeable being but which do not necessarily involve immediate change or creation of substantial being. These, Walsh/RGL refer to as second or third order miracles. About these, there might be no means by which to epistemologically distinguish between direct, versus mediated, supernatural activity.

“And why would it matter as proof of revelation? For example, the creation of the angel that preternaturally caused the resurrection would itself still have been a supernatural event, wouldn't it?”

Right - that’s the most important question. If one knew the agency to be benevolent, the mediated nature of a supernatural event would not diminish the proof of revelation at all. The trouble (it seems to me) would arise if the agent were diabolical. In that case, the effect might mimic the supernatural, even though the cause would be solely preternatural (i.e.*not* a mediated supernatural causality). If that were the case, then obviously such an event would not entail a divine revelation. Again, the question would arise how *we* would distinguish the difference between such a (diabolical) effect and a truly supernatural effect (whether direct or mediated). Maybe the Judeo-Christian tradition sports enough first order miracles that we need not worry about this question. Still, Walshe/RGL provide a list of criteria by which one might recognize diabolical agency over against supernatural agency (whether direct or mediated). Some of these include character of any persons involved in the event or telling of the event, the longevity of the event (for instance, a dramatic healing - does it last), and perhaps most importantly, the message the even is given in support of. So basically, as I and others wondered out loud, the broader context of the event would have to be brought to bear in order to determine the source or supernatural quality of second and third order miracles. That works for me. I wish I had re-approached Walshe/RGL before I asked the original question.

-Pax

Anonymous said...

Here's an interesting take on divine activity:

http://renewaldynamics.com/2011/09/28/the-spirit-of-creation-modern-science-and-divine-action-in-the-pentecostal-charismatic-imagination/

It combines an emergentist approach with a semiotic realism, which seems like a vague phenomenology. To me, this approach, in general, looks like a metaphysical coat-rack on which one could hang different root metaphors, in other words, a heuristic from which competing models might proceed.

For example, even if the heuristic, itself, appears agnostic as to whether a given downward causation violates physical causal closure via a robust telos or otherwise might derive from an analogous minimalist telos, this semiotic approach seems to suggest that some notions of formal and/or final causation
are indispensable to reality's intelligibility and, further, that there are no grounds for a priori ruling out either the robust or minimalist conceptions. Given this seemingly noncontroversial (and logically valid) framework, competing metaphysical accounts
then argue, variously well, for different levels of abductive plausibility with pragmatic and reductio appeals and such.

Even though certain facts cannot be interpreted as miracles in a syllogistically decisive manner, when properly argued, certain events can be interpreted as miraculous in an eminently reasonable manner. When I say "interpretation," I mean that, beyond a mere factual description, a certain belief enjoys normative impetus, gifts existential actionability. As Walker Percy would say, it's not just information but NEWS.
With no sacrifice of epistemic virtue, one can with confident assurance live as if the event were a miracle, while in no peril of moral error or practical danger.

My late friend, Jim Arraj, who ran innerexplorations.com , and who often discussed Aristotelian and Existential Thomisms (Maritain especially), spoke of what he intuited as "deep and dynamic formal fields" and that sounded very right-headed to me. Some laws might be "necessarily dynamic"? At least in certain models?

Great discussion and generous sharing of symposium resources. Thanks.
jb

Jack Ferrara said...

@ Thomas Henry Larson

Hey, just a clarification point about the Link you posted. I probably missed something, so please don't think I'm trying to undercut you or anything, this is an honest question:

During the lecture, when Dr. Feser talks about miracles and creation etc. I was wondering, does classical theism hold that God is separate from creation, and if God is responsible for maintaining said creation does that mean he is responsible for things like the Lisbon earth quake?

For anyone else reading this and wondering, yes I really am this sophomoric honestly. I have a lot to learn so please don't think I'm trying to jerk you guys around.

grodrigues said...

@Scott:

"Surely God could have created a world in which human bodies resurrect naturally. If so, then it would be odd if He couldn't endow angels with the power to cause such resurrections preternaturally!"

I am not so sure -- it would certainly not be the bodies of human beings, but some other rational beings, sufficiently alike unto us that we could call them "human". Either way, since monk68 already outlined what I was trying to get at, I will only point out to Of The Resurrection, Q75, A3, "Whether the resurrection is natural?" and his answer is

"On the contrary, There is no natural return from privation to habit. But death is privation of life. Therefore the resurrection whereby one returns from death to life is not natural.

Further, things of the one species have one fixed way of origin: wherefore animals begotten of putrefaction are never of the same species as those begotten of seed, as the Commentator says on Phys. viii. Now the natural way of man's origin is for him to be begotten of a like in species: and such is not the case in the resurrection. Therefore it will not be natural."

There are two claims here, one is directly relevant to any resurrection, the other only to the specific mode of resurrection in glorified bodies. He then goes on to say:

"Now nature cannot be the principle of resurrection, although resurrection terminates in the life of nature. For nature is the principle of movement in the thing wherein nature is---either the active principle, as in the movement of heavy and light bodies and in the natural alterations of animals---or the passive principle, as in the generation of simple bodies. The passive principle of natural generation is the natural passive potentiality which always has an active principle corresponding to it in nature, according to Metaphysics viii, 1: nor as to this does it matter whether the active principle in nature correspond to the passive principle in respect of its ultimate perfection, namely the form; or in respect of a disposition in virtue of which it demands the ultimate form, as in the generation of a man according to the teaching of faith, or in all other generations according to the opinions of Plato and Avicenna. But in nature there is no active principle of the resurrection, neither as regards the union of the soul with the body, nor as regards the disposition which is the demand for that union: since such a disposition cannot be produced by nature, except in a definite way by the process of generation from seed. Wherefore even granted a passive potentiality on the part of the body, or any kind of inclination to its union with the soul, it is not such as to suffice for the conditions of natural movement. Therefore the resurrection, strictly speaking, is miraculous and not natural except in a restricted sense, as we have explained."

Daniel said...

@Jack

Well God is the cause of these events mediately in as much as His creation is also His conservation of the world. The immediate cause those is the shifting of the tectonic plates and ultimately the various elementary particles which make up the mineral substances of earth acting upon one another. Put it this way God is the cause of these only in as much as he is the cause of my choosing to build a city here rather than there though I make this choice by my own free will. There is also more advanced details on what Divine Conservation implies with regards to a substance's powers and privations but that would take a while to explain here.

The last chapter of this book is good on the subject if I recall correctly:

http://www3.nd.edu/Departments/Maritain/etext/pnt.htm

Scott said...

@grodrigues:

"I am not so sure -- it would certainly not be the bodies of human beings, but some other rational beings, sufficiently alike unto us that we could call them 'human'."

I agree and that occurred to me as well. However, I wasn't assuming that the bodies were resurrected via their own causal powers in this hypothetical world—just that nature was in some way arranged/contrived in order to cause such resurrections by possibly external means. I'm not sure that's much more plausible, though.

Scott said...

(By the way, I tried to follow your link and it just leads back to this page.)

grodrigues said...

@Scott:

"By the way, I tried to follow your link and it just leads back to this page."

Sorry, my bad. Here is the correct link: Of The Resurrection, Q75, A3.

Jack Ferrara said...

@ Daniel

Thanks for the idea. Just a thought though (I'm asking this only 'cause I'm trying to think about potential criticisms people might raise if I try to use similar defenses) what if one argued God more culpable because as all knowing God could know that given said laws of nature eventually these tectonic plates would shift in such a way that when people freely chose to build at Lisbon this event would occur…or is this not how Thomists portray God (I ask that sincerely, because it's clear to me I'm quite a novice)?

Scott said...

@grodrigues:

Thanks. I'll have to read it a few more times before I can fully digest Aquinas's argument, but he's most definitely addressing the question whether the human body has even a "passive potency" to be united with a soul. If he's right that it doesn't, then that settles the matter: it can't happen "naturally."

Anonymous said...

@Jack, not speaking for Thomists, in particular, but vaguely for natural theologians, in general, best I can interpret them.

The problem of evil in light of the best God-concepts out there seems to have 3 aspects that are most salient: 1) the logical problem, for which they formulate a defense; 2) the evidential problem, for which they formulate a theodicy; 3) the existential problem, for which they formulate responses to alleviate suffering.

Best I can tell, the best theologians and atheologians recognize that there is no intellectual problem, because the best logically valid defenses just aren't controversial. Quite simply, they work as far as establishing the intelligibility of the concepts in a logically consistent way.

As far as the evidential problem, one way of putting this is that, just because our God-concepts enjoy intelligibility regarding THAT God can be conceived as thus and such, it doesn't necessarily follow that His being partly apprehensible in exercising His will, in general, means that He must also be wholly comprehensible, i.e. such that we could pretend to understand HOW God effects His Will, in particular situations.

Thus the atheological lament that, when it comes to the logical problem, no evidence is allowed, and when it comes to the evidential problem, no logic is allowed. That's much too facile a critique, though I understand why its gets launched. However, most of the heavy conceptual lifting has already been done in the original philosophical formulations of the God-concepts, formulations that most often will pre-empt many of the ad hoc questions that get raised regarding the problem of evil, questions not fully apposite to this or that formulation, which can be incredibly nuanced.

The simple answer, expecting the above prose was too dense, is that one best consider the original God-concepts and their philosophical formulations, first, not evidential issues raised or theodicies offered.
One will likely see the issue in a different light and ask different questions --- not necessarily getting the answers but getting, instead, more comfortable in abiding the mysteries!
jb

Irish Thomist said...

I find the talk of causality and God's activity interesting. I hold to a modified view that isn't quite Mere Conservationism, Divine Concurrentism or Occasionalism. I'm also not sure if I embrace Ed's way of describing miracles. Here it is helpful to supplement one's philosophical knowledge with other sources on the matter.

Irish Thomist said...

@Jack Ferrara

God is not a thing among things so he does not dwell 'alongside' nature or in nature strickly speaking.

Also as I pointed out above I have a view of Divine causality which excludes God 'causing' in any direct sense natural disasters and goes some way in pushing concurrentism in a direction which explains the 'why' of 'natural evils' or rather why things are as they are.

Daniel said...

Care to explain said view anywhere Irish Thomist? We'd be most interested to hear (this isn't meant sarcastically btw in case it appears so).

Scott said...

@Irish Thomist:

I second Daniel's interest.

Irish Thomist said...

@Daniel & Scott

I would love to but sadly not until I have written it out and teased out some of the details - then I shall upload a paper on it to my blog. The basics of it are that God gives to nature a dignity by permitting it to act according to its nature (form/final causality etc.) and its 'end directedness' or teleology in a manner that is somewhat 'chaste' (in relation to God's power) so to speak. He holds off the direct application of his power and in a certain sense he does not micro manage the universe, Contra ocassionalism of course. The reason I think this would be the case is to give nature (and mostly we rational animals/human persons) a dignity to act inhering in its nature.

The idea could somewhat be said to push Divine Concurrentism a tiny nudge towards Mere Conservationism but that is a major oversimplification.

Irish Thomist said...

You can replace the first instance of 'nature' with 'things' or the 'universe' or whatever if it makes the first sentence of my last reply flow any better.

Irish Thomist said...

Condensing the point also made it a little garbled. I am not saying God is not the ultimate cause of things but rather that God is inclined to mitigated his causal power through secondary causes and also to manifest it in such a way as to give to things a 'power' to act (even if he is that which underlies all such possibilities by sustaining it all).

Tom said...

Off topic, I know and I apologize, but this was linked to on the O'Floinn's site, and I found it quite interesting: On Jonathan Edwards' philosophy. Considering this blog's focus on the errors of modern philosophy (Christian and atheist), I thought it might be good material.

Jack Ferrara said...

@Daniel
@ Irish Thomist

Okay, thanks so very much! This makes things a lot clearer!

Does God choose to give secondary causes 'power' to act so they can have greater freedom you think (e.g. rather than control and maintain all creation he allows it to develop in it's own way)?

Thanks.

Scott said...

@Jack Ferrara:

"[R]ather than control and maintain all creation he allows it to develop in [its] own way[?]"

According to Aquinas, especially as interpreted by Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, this is a false alternative. God is absolutely in charge of everything in every detail, but that doesn't mean everything He wills occurs by necessity; on the contrary, He's perfectly capable of determining that the result He wants occurs contingently. In short, He's made a world in which creation develops in its own way exactly as He wants it to.

Jack Ferrara said...

@Scott

Ah, my apologies. I'm quite a novice here, so sorry if I sound foolish.

My only question is though (and I apologize if I'm missing the point) doesn't this interpretation open up to the sort of criticism that say Nick Trakikis or Epicurus would raise? If he wills every detail, why does he will details that directly conflict with each other?

Scott said...

@Jack Ferrara:

You don't sound foolish at all; your questions are entirely normal and natural ones.

"If he wills every detail, why does he will details that directly conflict with each other?"

Both Augustine and Aquinas would say that He does so in order that He can bring greater goods from such conflicts. I gather (from this thread and previous ones) that Irish Thomist has a somewhat different view, so I'll let him speak for himself if he wants to do so.

Daniel said...

I think in the context of Natural Theology one should be careful to distinguish God's Goodness qua Omnibenevolence from the more basic attribute I shall term Omnibeatificness, the later meaning that the Deity lacks nothing and exists in perfect bliss in the Divine Self-knowledge. Both Aristotle's God and Plotinus One are Omnibeatific though without consciues attention to the world which they merely generate creation from eternity and over which they not exercise a providence (at least on orthodox interpretations of Aristotle). With this in mind, and even without it, the so called 'Problem of Evil' turns out to be a debate over the divine attributes. Someone who makes the ohh so provocative claim that God might be evil is welcome to do so thought they must realise that in raising the argument they have ceded their atheism.

@Irish Thomist,

Okay, we look forward to seeing that paper when it’s finished. I am glad you have went ahead with the blog idea mentioned a while back too.

Thinking aloud but one problem I see with those who champion 'Mere' Conservationism in the context of miracles is that it tempts the atheist to begin prattling about the Law of the Conservation of Energy – itself a highly dubious concept and one that would stand in need of reinterpretation in the light of the shift from Laws of Nature to Natures at any rate.

John West said...

Daniel,

Given atheists have other independent reasons for resisting theism, couldn't they just phrase their evil god objection as a conditional?

Jack Ferrara said...

@ Scott

Aha, good point. I greatly appreciate the lengths you're going to help me get this :)

Definitely an interesting idea, but doesn't that undermine Divine Omnipotence however (e.g. why would an all powerful God use a conflict to create a greater good instead of simply making it to design in the first place?)?

@ Daniel
Now that's really interesting. My only thought is didn't Dr. Feser argue this conception of God leads to Deism (or am I confusing it for a different movement?)?

Daniel said...

@John West,

Well in the case outlined the Problem of Evil and the Evil God challenge would be rightly seen as not being an objection to Theism in itself only a certain view of the Divine Attributes. Independent objections would of course stand or fall without reference to it.

@Jack Ferrara,

Ed does state that it's closer to Deism and could lead to it, though without someone making a good deal of further arguments to that effect we need not take it as so - there is nowhere near such a close kinship between Mere Conservationism and Deism as there is between, say, Occasionalism and Pantheism. In fact given the Classical understanding that God creates from Eternity and not from Time and the metaphysics that underpin this it would be hard to see how one could assert Deism on these lines. All of the Five Ways along with most other Classical arguments lead to this Eternal Creation and Conservation as well.

Scott said...

@Jack Ferrara:

"[W]hy would an all powerful God use a conflict to create a greater good[?]"

This isn't a complete answer, but some goods positively require prior conflict—forgiveness, for example.

Generally, it's worth bearing in mind that God doesn't just want the result; He wants the entire process (e.g., not just the existence of an oak but the process acorn-becoming-oak, to borrow an example from Christopher Martin).

Matt Sheean said...

@Daniel

My understanding of the "evil god" objection is that it is an attempt to evince some performative inconsistency in theodicy. If, so it goes, you think that an evil god is unlikely because of all the good things in the world, then the same applies to the converse. Its a sort of defense of the problem of evil, right? That's one of the things I remember being angered by with Law's presentation of it, he kept trying to present it as some novel argument when it was only an amusing twist on the evidential POE.

Irish Thomist said...

@Scott

Both Augustine and Aquinas would say that He does so in order that He can bring greater goods from such conflicts. I gather (from this thread and previous ones) that Irish Thomist has a somewhat different view, so I'll let him speak for himself if he wants to do so.

An accurate observation but I'm not saying this isn't true in some sense. I also do agree with them but I just think that some propositions on the metaphysics of Gods active power are not 'the finished' picture yet and much more work needs done. I certainly hold that POE can be better understood in light of a modified concurrentism.

@Jack Ferrara

I must clarify that I am not saying that God isn't what causes all things to be in the here and now. That would mean a universe without a self necessary first cause!!!

@Daniel

Thanks. I think the matter is rather complex and as I say I am working out the details and will likely require some help from persons more experienced than I in the process (as most people do with such things).

Aloysius said...

@monk68:

I noticed that you had questions about how to discern true miracles and whatnot, and I thought I would provide you with some texts from RGL's De revelatione per ecclesiam catholicam proposita that I translated for someone at the Facebook Thomism Discussion Group (of which I am an admin, and which I would encourage you to join, as we have a number of very knowledgeable scholars present there -- including Daniel De Haan, Kevin Timpe, Brian Kemple, and Rob Koons). Here's my original comment; perhaps it will help. (Texts are from De revelatione, tom. II, cap. XIX, art. 3, §1 etc.

On p. 74 he makes a distinction of orders, dividing miracles into three types: first, second, and third. Miracles of the first order are those such as transubstantiation (which is not perceptible by our senses); those of this order that are perceptible to us are: the coexistence of two bodies in the same place (perceptible to us), the glorification of the body, and the «transmutatio cursus caelestium corporum». Miracles of the second order are resurrection and the restoring of sight to the blind. Miracles of the third order are such things as the conversion of water into wine and the multiplication of loaves.

Miracles of the third order seem to be the relevant sort here: they are not above the power of nature with respect to the substance of the fact, but only with respect to the mode of making. Cf. St. Thomas, in II Sent., dist. 18, q. 1, art. 3, ad 4: «quamvis conversio aquae in vinum non fuerit supra facultatem naturae quantum ad substantiam facti, tamen fuit supra eius facultatem quantum ad modum faciendi: non enim potest natura aquam in vase existentem subito in vinum convertere, sed per digestionem et maturationem uvae.» As G-L puts it (p. 78), «this change, because it happens in an instant, and not by mediating accidental alterations, is the immediate eduction of the form of wine from the potency of matter, and hence it is not able to be produced except by Him who has immediate power over matter, namely by God who alone is able to move matter most profoundly from within, and not merely from without. In other words, the form of wine is not in proximate potency but only in remote potency in the matter of water…whence the *immediate* formal conversion of water into wine is not in the natural potency of the subject, by reason of the *mode* by which it is done, but is only in the obediential potency of the subject which is under the divine power.»

He writes later on that «the supernaturality of other miracles of the third order generally are known with moral certitude from the physical and moral circumstances»:

«Frequently it is evident physically that these facts surpass the powers of corporeal agents because of the manifest disproportion, and because the laws of nature are determined to *one thing* while, in these extraordinary cases, the effect is produced by an agent which in the very same circumstances produces wholly *diverse* effects, as if it were gifted with liberty.

But from this, it does not follow that these effects surpass the powers of all created agents, even spiritual agents. Whence it is necessary to consider, besides the nature of the deed, its circumstances, not only physical but moral and religious. Thus it is able to be discerned, whether a fact may come into being from a good or evil spiritual agent: for if from these circumstances no evil appears, then that extraordinary fact legitimately may be considered to come forth from God, at least mediately, namely by mediating angels or good spirits.»

[contd.]

Aloysius said...

[contd.]

G-L then quotes St. Thomas, in II Sent., dist. 7, q. 3, art. 1, ad 2, where the Angelic Doctor gives three ways of distinguishing the signs of demons from those of good angels: from the efficacy of the operating power, from the usefulness of the sign, and from the end:

«Ad secundum dicendum, quod signa facta per bonos possunt distingui ab illis quae per malos fiunt, tripliciter ad minus. Primo ex efficacia virtutis operantis: quia signa facta per bonos virtute divina, fiunt in illis etiam ad quae virtus activa naturae se nullo modo extendit, sicut suscitare mortuos, et hujusmodi; quae Daemones secundum veritatem facere non possunt, sed in praestigiis tantum, quae diu durare non possunt. Secundo ex utilitate signorum: quia signa per bonos facta, sunt de rebus utilibus, ut in curatione infirmitatum, et hujusmodi; signa autem per malos facta, sunt in rebus nocivis vel vanis, sicut quod volant in aere, vel reddunt membra hominum stupida, et hujusmodi: et hanc differentiam assignat beatus Petrus in itinerario Clementis. Tertia differentia est quantum ad finem: quia signa bonorum ordinantur ad aedificationem fidei et bonorum morum; sed signa malorum sunt in manifestum nocumentum fidei et honestatis. Et quantum ad modum differunt: quia boni operantur miracula per invocationem divini nominis pie et reverenter; sed mali quibusdam deliramentis, sicut quod incidunt se cultris, et hujusmodi turpia faciunt. Et ita signa per bonos facta, manifeste possunt discerni ab his quae virtute Daemonum fiunt.»

G-L then goes on to confirm this by citing Benedict XIV, who in his work De beatificatione servorum Dei writes:

«False miracles [are able] to be discerned from true miracles by the efficacy, utility, mode, end, person, and occasion.» [Miracula falsa discerni a veris, efficacia, utilitate, modo, fine, persona et occasione.]

[contd.]

G-L then goes on to confirm this by citing Benedict XIV, who in his work De beatificatione servorum Dei writes:

«False miracles [are able] to be discerned from true miracles by the efficacy, utility, mode, end, person, and occasion.» [Miracula falsa discerni a veris, efficacia, utilitate, modo, fine, persona et occasione.]

[contd.]

Aloysius said...

[contd.]

After having discussed the physical circumstances (wherein it is determined “whether extraordinary healings or similar effects are natural or not”), he goes on to treat of moral circumstances, “from which the aforementioned extraordinary facts are able to be discerned from diabolic tricks.” Referencing St. Thomas’ treatment (ST IaIIae, Q. 7, art. 3) of the seven circumstances of the human act (quis, quid, ubi, quibus auxiliis, cur, quomodo, quando), he writes:

«Whence for knowing whether some extraordinary fact is a true miracle, it is necessary to consider after its nature and physical circumstances, why it is done, what is done, by which it is done, in what way, by which helps, where, and why.

A. The why or propter quid. The end of a miracle ought always to be the glory of God, because a miracle is the work of God, and the order of ends ought to correspond to the order of acting. A miracle concurs to the glory of God, as it confirms either a doctrine revealed by God or the sanctity of some servant of God.

This end is able to be considered twofold: a) as it is first in intention, it is declared by the miracle worker before the production of the miracle, and b) as it is last in execution, thus it is manifested in the moral effects of the miracle.

a) Under the first aspect is had this rule: A miracle made in the name of God the creator in confirmation of some revelation to be accepted by all is not able to be false, particularly if the miracle worker first announces it; because it is repugnant to the infinite goodness, wisdom, and truthfulness of God that he permit His name to be interposed in order to substitute a false miracle for a true, and that He allow his name to be adduced unto a witness of a lie, from which men necessarily and invincibly would be led into error contrary to that which they owe to God and is necessary for their salvation.

b) The end is manifested also in the execution, and true miracles are known from the effects or fruits: for if from these followed permanently the worship of the supreme Divinity, the destruction of the worship of demons, the reformation of morals into conformity to right reason, the concord of citizens and social life, it is impossible that miracles of this sort might come about by a demon author unto its own destruction. This rule is taken from Origen, lib. 2 of Contra Celsum.

On the contrary if some wonders only tend to feeding curiosity, if they lure to shameful and scurrilous things, if they favor arrogance and disobedience, and disturb the peace and concord of society, they cannot be born of God. Thus are excluded many tricks of paganism, Mahometism, and Buddhism.

B. What is done. If an extraordinary fact is in any way contrary either to truth or honesty, if it is ridiculous, it is not the work of God, but of the Devil. Thus are excluded many illusions of paganism, attributed to dishonest gods; likewise the tricks spoken of in the books of Buddhism, thus e.g. when Buddha fights with the king of serpents, his entire body is converted into fire; another time he runs through the entire firmament of the heavens from the eastern part all the way to the western part, in the meantime releasing water from one eye, from the other fire. Likewise the disciples of Mahomet say that he divided the moon into two parts and compelled it to pass through his sleeve and afterward that he joined the two parts into one. Likewise the tricks of the fakirs today are frequently ridiculous and not useful, as e.g. to sit on pins.

[contd.]

Aloysius said...

[contd.]

C. By whom it is done. True miracles are recognized from the morals and doctrine of those who perform them. If they give honorific teaching to God, conform to right reason, lead to good morals and favor social life, if the same match accurately life and morals to the norm of this doctrine, if they are rich in sanctity of life, zeal for the glory of God, modesty, humility and charity, miracles of this sort are true. And thus without a vicious circle the miracle confirms doctrine and through it it is confirmed; for it confirms that which is obscure in doctrine and in its origin, and it is confirmed through doctrine, as this already appears excellent for manifesting and honoring God and for reforming morals.

If on the contrary the person acting is vicious, arrogant, wicked, trifling, inconstant, restive, impatient, boasting of his own defects, if he proposes doctrine manifestly irrational, irreligious, immoral, the wonders which he makes evidently are not divine.

Indeed miracles, as St. Thomas explains, sometimes are able to occur through evil ones who preach the true faith and invoke the name of Christ, but then it appears from the circumstances that the miracle occurred only in confirmation of divine truth and not for commending the life of that man whom God used. “Whence,” St. Thomas says, “true miracles are not able to be made by evil men who declare false doctrine for the confirmation of their doctrine, although sometimes they might be done for the commendation of the name of Christ, which they invoke and in virtue of the sacraments, which they administer.”

D. In what way. If in the mode of acting something shameful, violent, crude, or unsuitable is discovered, it is not a miracle. Thus are excluded the many tricks of magicians. They accomplish true miracles who perform piously, reverently, and with humility.

E. By what helps. True miracles are done by invocation of the divine name, indeed in the name of God the creator. If on the contrary the means employed seem blasphemous, shameful, and absolutely ridiculous, it is not a miracle.

In the consideration of this circumstance, there ought to be had the ratio of the times, places, and persons, to which the divine action is able to accommodate itself.

F. Where. If it is among vain, unworthy men, as happens in many tricks of spiritism and hypnotism, it is not a miracle.

G. When. When there is no necessity or fittingness of a miracle, there is no miracle, as happens in the tricks of the fakirs or spiritists. And thus Christ refused to perform miracles before Herod for feeding curiosity.

If all these circumstances taken at once are in favor of a miracle, it is morally certain that the extraordinary fact comes forth from God, at least mediately, namely by mediating good angels.

This intrinsically moral certitude is corroborated from the consideration of the infinite goodness, wisdom, and truthfulness of God, for God is not able to permit deceit in this case, from which invincible error would follow necessarily in a thing of such great moment.»

Aloysius said...

Addendum: I afterward posted a follow-up comment clarifying something things in the above text from RGL, to wit:

«I should also say that the word "doctrine" there can also be rendered "teaching" -- which I actually did in the very next sentence: "If they give honorific teaching [doctrinam Deo honorificam] to God..." I must have missed that inconsistency. It may be the cause of some confusion here, seeing as the word "doctrine" has significantly more religious implications. I would translate it is "teaching" rather than the more suggestive "doctrine".

I also didn't translate part of that sentence as properly as I should have: I think that it more properly should say: "If they give teaching honorific to God, conformed to right reason, leading to good morals and favoring social life" --- as if to imply that the good morals and social life are *consequences of* the teaching being honorific to God and conformed to right reason. The Latin is "Si nempe tradant doctrinam Deo honorificam, rectae rationi conformem, bonos mores inducentem et vitae sociali faventem..." Basically, I did not translate the participles as participles, but rather as indicatives. My mistake.»


I hope that this may be of some help to you. Please ask me if you've got any questions about RGL's words (original Latin text, etc.), and I'll see what I can do.

God bless,

Timothy

Aloysius said...

You can view the entire above comment/translation in an undivided state here on my Drive (hopefully this link will work):

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0BwXeYDOAuZDGWnh5a09fbXF3M0E/edit?usp=docslist_api

Some texts from St. Thomas on the subject of miracles and the wonders wrought by demons:

ST Ia, Q. 114, art. 4:
http://www.newadvent.org/summa/1114.htm#article4

ST IIaIIae, Q. 178:
http://www.newadvent.org/summa/3178.htm

Cf. also ST Ia, QQ. 110-114 in general. (You probably already know of these Questions, really.)

In addition, you might also peek at In II Sent., dist. 7, q. 3:

http://www.corpusthomisticum.org/snp2005.html#4077

John West said...

Matt Sheean,

Law's argument is that for every claim that can be made about Good God, there is a symmetrical claim that can be made about Evil God. Therefore, if a person believes it is probable Good God exists, he is required to believe it is equally probable Evil God exists. If he believes it is improbable Evil God exists, he is required to believe it is equally improbable Good God exists.

Pretty much what you said, I think, except evidential arguments from evil try to show that it is more probable Evil God exists, or that there is too much evil for Good God to exist?

John West said...

I know it's off-topic from the OP, but Law's Evil God challenge paper:

http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayFulltext?type=1&fid=7247672&jid=RES&volumeId=-1&issueId=-1&aid=7247664&fromPage=cupadmin&pdftype=6316268&repository=authInst

Glenn said...

John,

Here is Dr. Feser on Law's "evil-god challenge".

Greg said...

@ John West

Law's argument is that for every claim that can be made about Good God, there is a symmetrical claim that can be made about Evil God. Therefore, if a person believes it is probable Good God exists, he is required to believe it is equally probable Evil God exists. If he believes it is improbable Evil God exists, he is required to believe it is equally improbable Good God exists.

If memory serves, the main claim is that theists should only accept theodicies for the consistency of God and evil if they would also accept theodicies for the consistency of Evil God and good. If he would allow the existence of goodness to count against the existence of Evil God, then he is being inconsistent.

The 'challenge' requires that you bracket metaphysical considerations. It also has no force if you don't understand (prior to any metaphysics) the existence of goodness to count against the existence of Evil God. So it is really a pretty weak challenge. A theist can, for example, hold that there is a demonstration of God's existence and goodness, while something that is 'God' (i.e. pure actuality) could not be evil, so there is no reason to look at goodness in the world and infer that it is unlikely that Evil God exists.

Greg said...

To add, given disagreements historically over the nature of God, good, and evil, it would make very little sense to give too much precedence to preanalytic understandings of all three of those things. (And if one rejects the classical understanding of God, good, and evil before running the Evil God challenge, then presumably one would already be rejecting the classical theist conception of God, since one is basically rejecting all of the background metaphysics that classical theists take to be necessary for their understanding of God! So the challenge could not accomplish very much.)

Another interesting consideration is based on a fact I heard recently. Religiosity apparently boomed in Western countries after World War II, whereas many philosophers have the intuition that the World Wars marked a shift after which Christian belief could not be the same. In practice, though, a boom in religious practice after the wars suggests that according to a common preanalytic understanding of God and evil, God and evil are not inconsistent (or improbable). The Evil God challenge may simply be reifying what a philosopher claims is the preanalytic understanding of God and evil, which, detached as most atheist philosophers are from religious practice, very well might not be an actually preanalytic understanding of God and evil.

John West said...

Greg,

" A theist can, for example, hold that there is a demonstration of God's existence and goodness, while something that is 'God' (i.e. pure actuality) could not be evil, so there is no reason to look at goodness in the world and infer that it is unlikely that Evil God exists."

Could you to expand on this thought? Bill Craig brought up this objection in his debate with Law. But the way Craig phrased it, it sounded like a mere semantic quibbling. I remember thinking, "Okay, well, call it Evil Deus or something - it's the same in every other way." It sounds like you're saying something much more substantial - that something that is pure actuality etc., simply could not be evil because it would lead to some sort of contradiction.

John West said...

Oh, I didn't see your second post until just now. Sorry if mine is now redundant.

John West said...

Glenn,

Thank you.

Greg said...

@ John West

Could you to expand on this thought? Bill Craig brought up this objection in his debate with Law. But the way Craig phrased it, it sounded like a mere semantic quibbling. I remember thinking, "Okay, well, call it Evil Deus or something - it's the same in every other way." It sounds like you're saying something much more substantial - that something that is pure actuality etc., simply could not be evil because it would lead to some sort of contradiction.

I doubt Bill Craig's point was too similar to mine. My point is that the classical theist has an understanding of God as metaphysically ultimate, pure actuality, etc. He also has a metaphysics of the good whereby something that is pure actuality is necessarily good. So it would not make sense to say that Pure Act is evil.

There could be other 'gods,' but they would not be pure actuality. So if they were evil, then they would still not be God in the sense that the classical theist means, for God would still be metaphysically ultimate and they would be in some way derivative. (So in that connection, see Feser's post on the 'one more god' objection.)

Craig may have a tougher time making that argument. I admit I'm not entirely familiar with how all of his natural theology comes together, i.e. on what basis he says that God is good. I don't think he endorses a metaphysics of the good as a Thomist does. I know he has a moral argument for God's existence, which I've never found very convincing. But he may have some way of handling Law's objection; it would be tougher if he takes the inference to God's goodness to be primarily evidential.

John West said...

Greg,

"So in that connection, see Feser's post on the 'one more god' objection."

If by the "one more god" objection you mean the standard bit of New Atheist rhetoric, then I will later. The "one more god" objection is obvious piffle, though.

"Craig may have a tougher time making that argument."

It seemed like a good argument when I was thinking of God from the theistic personalist perspective. After reading Dr. Feser's reply, I now see it doesn't even dent classical theism.

I don't even remember terms like pure actuality coming up when I was reading theistic personalists' works.

Greg said...

@ John

If by the "one more god" objection you mean the standard bit of New Atheist rhetoric, then I will later. The "one more god" objection is obvious piffle, though.

Right. Feser's point is that on classical theism, there may be 'gods' like the Greek pantheon, but it would follow that they are still creatures. The same would be true of an evil 'god'.

I don't even remember terms like pure actuality coming up when I was reading theistic personalists' works.

I wouldn't expect it to!

Daniel said...

@Matt Sheen,

I may well be wrong here since I only glanced at the original Law outbursts but I thought one of the distinctive claims he made in the case of his challenge was that every Theistic proof could just as easily be used to prove the existence of Evil God (which as Ed then and Greg now rightly remark is absurd given the metaphysical underpinnings of the Classical proofs). Alternatively if we want to use Theistic Personalist speak a 'Maximally Evil Being is one which cannot exist in any Possible World.

Law's argument is that for every claim that can be made about Good God, there is a symmetrical claim that can be made about Evil God. Therefore, if a person believes it is probable Good God exists, he is required to believe it is equally probable Evil God exists. If he believes it is improbable Evil God exists, he is required to believe it is equally improbable Good God exists.

My initial response to this would just be to say: so what? If we have equal evidence for God possessing the Attribute Omni malevolent as opposed to Omnibenevolent' then we should merely be forced to suspend judgement until further notice on God's moral character. Either way if this is the only problem Law has we can clap him on the back and welcome him to the Theist camp. The EGC and the Problem of Evil as a whole gambles on the presumption that the Theist won't dare drop Omnibenevolence as a Divine Attribute even for the sake of the argument.

Scott said...

@Daniel:

Yeah, that's been my response to the POE for many years now. If we're willing to allow the possibility that God isn't "good" in the same sense that we are(n't), then the problem just loses its force altogether. And if God turns out to be "good" in some other sense (as I think is the case), so much the better.

Anonymous said...

This is from Fr. Anselm Ramelow, O.P.:
As one of the contributors, I would like to acknowledge the importance of the question of how to distinguish truly supernatural events from merely “preternatural” ones, i.e. such as can be worked by finite spiritual agents (good or evil). This is important not just apologetically, but even within the parameters of Christianity itself - e.g., when the Church has to distinguish proper private revelations from demonic mayhem.
I have a whole article (hopefully) forthcoming, where I outline Aquinas’ thought on the matter. I cannot reproduce this on a blog. Much, of course, hinges on the question of what kinds of things require omnipotence to be produced. To offer an additional suggestion: miracles are often used to confirm prophecy. But prophecy is in a sense itself miraculous, if it turns out to be true (such as in Fatima). This is good evidence of divine activity especially where it concerns long range predictions involving free human acts: no demon could have knowledge of such events. What is “on display” in these cases is not so much divine omnipotence, but divine omniscience.

John West said...

Man, you guys really aren't troubled by the POE at all, are you?

Matt Sheean said...

@daniel

I think this is the mistake here: "every theistic proof could just as easily be used to prove the existence of evil God"

I think Greg gave the best summary above after, "if memory serves..." Law isn't at all interested in whether or not some other kind of God could be shown to exist, he's just trying to show the theist that they're committed to some principle that would force them to agree to something awkward. I think there's a certain similarity to zombie arguments in phil of mind. Nobody thinks that they show that there are zombies, as far as I understand, just that some sort of physicalism is false.

John West said...

Scott,

How do you handle the morality-written-on-the-heart passage, for this response?

Scott said...

@John West:

"How do you handle the morality-written-on-the-heart passage, for this response?"

I don't see anything especially problematic about it. What I mean when I say God may not be "good" in our sense is just that He isn't a "moral agent" like we are, doesn't have "obligations" that He might or might not fulfill, and so forth. (Brian Davies is particularly good on the subject.) But that we have the law written on our hearts just means that we have knowledge of what's good and bad/evil for us to do or not to do. I don't see any conflict between our by nature seeking good and avoiding evil and God's not being a "moral agent."

Greg said...

@ John West

Man, you guys really aren't troubled by the POE at all, are you?

I admit that I don't find it very troubling. When I was an atheist I did not count it among my reasons for being an atheist. It has always seemed to me that, if something like Christianity is possible, then the problem of evil couldn't be sound. I wouldn't say that it is always easy to answer, but I don't share the intuitions behind it.

Scott said...

@John West:

"Man, you guys really aren't troubled by the POE at all, are you?"

I haven't been an atheist for many, many years, but like Greg, when I was one in my youth, the POE wasn't on my list of reasons. Part of the issue is that, as Aquinas implies, there just isn't any such thing as the best of all possible worlds, and part of it is that the recognition of evil as evil already seems to involve an implicit acknowledgement of God's existence.

John West said...

Scott,

This does make more sense. I'll read Davies's book.

John West said...

Greg,

"[...] I don't share the intuitions behind it."

Voltaire's Le Pour et le Contre influenced me quite a lot at 14. Le Pour et le Contre is basically an expertly written smear against God, depicting him as a tyrant. Maybe it primed me.

Step2 said...

Hmmm. If God is good in a sense that we don't understand then why couldn't he be evil in a sense we don't understand? Furthermore, it seems better to talk about divine good and evil in a teleological sense since that is supposed to be something that has been revealed. In other words, if the heavenly kingdom doesn't exist as the ultimate reward then God is a provider of false hope and therefore evil.

John West said...

Well, the point was that he's simply not a moral agent, not that he's either good or evil in senses we don't understand.

John West said...

He's*

Greg said...

@ Step2

If God is good in a sense that we don't understand then why couldn't he be evil in a sense we don't understand?

Well, classical theists hold God to be good in a sense that we don't understand, but what does that mean? They hold him to be good in a way that is analogous to the way that creatures are good; they hold creaturely goodness to be derivative of God's goodness, however that is. He is, in fact, the 'limit case' of creaturely goodness (to use Barry Miller's term). We are not acquainted with God's goodness in the way that we are acquainted with (say) human goodness, and in that respect we don't understand it.

But given a privation view of evil, God could not be evil, even by analogy with creaturely evil.

Step2 said...

The responses appear to be going in different directions. If God isn't a moral agent what is the point of describing him in moral terms? If our goodness is a derivative of God's goodness, and we are moral agents, how is it supposed to be analogous?

Also, the privation view of evil seems to violate the PSR as evil ultimately springs from nothing, a cosmic brute fact.

John West said...

Probably better to prefer Greg's response to mine, Step2. I just heard about this today, and may have misunderstood.

Daniel said...

One thing which amuses me about the Problem of Evil is that people suddenly start throwing words like 'evil' and 'good' around without any thought as to the epistemic warrant for such properties. Why should the atheist be allowed to bypass issues like The Fact/Value distinction or Mackie's Queer Fact problem? Also even if we take it for granted that there is an objective 'good' and 'evil' without justifying their ontological foundations why should one set of values, say for instance the one that says flaying children alive is 'evil' rather than 'good, be assumed to accord with this objectivity than another?* Such arguments pray on an unreflective knee-jerk 'moral' reaction, something on its own little more than Ayer's 'squeals and cries of animals in pain'.

*This was the core of that 'Nazi philosopher' query I set Santi.

If God isn't a moral agent what is the point of describing him in moral terms?

You are correct, there isn't any. On the Classical Goodness is not restricted to moral agents so we need not concern ourselves with it.

Also, the privation view of evil seems to violate the PSR as evil ultimately springs from nothing, a cosmic brute fact.

To an extent this begs the question against the Privation view in that it assumes Evil to be an actual entity and thus in need of a PSR. On the Privation view defender's terms you would be asking something akin to 'what is the PSR of Nothingness'?

The causal activity which leads to an evil is real though the evil itself is just the disruption of another entity's manifesting its natural properties(for instance the blow of a blade to a limp and the blade's passing through flesh is an instance of real causal activity but the wound, which we are forced to speak of positively due to linguistic constraints, is a reduction of the body's casual functioning).


Voltaire's Le Pour et le Contre influenced me quite a lot at 14. Le Pour et le Contre is basically an expertly written smear against God, depicting him as a tyrant.

Not that I endorse such a position but were he to have responded Leibniz ought to have asked Voltaire why he, one instance of 'one little two legged annimal', had the capacity to decide cosmic standards like 'Good' and 'Evil'. Also words like 'tyrant', 'suffering', 'vices' et cetera have the taint of value about them.

Daniel said...

Actually the point about the PSR is based on a confusion between the Real and the Logical order, the PSR belonging to the latter. Things like 'holes' or 'deceleration' have no positive existence but we can still ask what is the PSR for circumstances in which the event of absence occurs.

Greg said...

@ Step2

If God isn't a moral agent what is the point of describing him in moral terms? If our goodness is a derivative of God's goodness, and we are moral agents, how is it supposed to be analogous?

Moral goodness is only part of human goodness. 'Good' is not a moral term.

Particularly, though, there will be moral agents if there are agents who are rational and can choose in such a way that perfects themselves. Their limitedness, their potential to be what they ought to be, is what generates their obligations and makes them moral subjects. God is not a moral agent because, as Pure Act, he does not have ends that he ought to fulfill.

Also, the privation view of evil seems to violate the PSR as evil ultimately springs from nothing, a cosmic brute fact.

I think this would equivocate on what constitutes an explanation. Evils qua evil lack being and in that respect don't require an explanation. But evils are 'constructed,' so to speak, out of other activities which are perfectly explicable according to the PSR.

A crude analogy would be a hole. The privation view of holes does not seem to violate the PSR.

Irish Thomist said...

@Scott & others on Law

I'm noticing that one major objection against Law really needs stated. Wait for it...

God is not a moral agent (at least in the sense that we are) and his whole argument makes no sense metaphysically speaking.

I know that might shock him (and some people of different theistic stripes) but it is none-the-less the case, on a Thomistic reading of things as I would understand it. Also morality must be rooted in something objective (or else it is some kind of make believe) and a Thomist considers the metaphysical underpinning to be God's very nature rather than Divine fiat (although I will add Thomas Aquinas was not entirely consistent on this point - but that's a complex issue).

Irish Thomist said...

Step2 said...

The responses appear to be going in different directions. If God isn't a moral agent what is the point of describing him in moral terms? If our goodness is a derivative of God's goodness, and we are moral agents, how is it supposed to be analogous?

Also, the privation view of evil seems to violate the PSR as evil ultimately springs from nothing, a cosmic brute fact.


You seem not to understand the sense in which 'good' is used metaphysically. Moral good being something participating more fully in the perfection of its nature. While I reject Saint Anselm's ontological argument I certainly think it and Plotinus Emanation ex deo works as an analogy (not in the context he meant of course) for participation in perfection and the fullness of 'being' (per se), of which God is the 'Maxima'.

John West said...

Daniel,

I've been reviewing Voltaire's work the last few months. He's remembered as a philosopher, but I cannot find one serious philosophical work he wrote. Does he do better in political philosophy, or something?

Needless to say, his poem's influence had nothing to do with philosophical rigor.

Daniel said...

@John West,

Not really. Despite all the noise he made nothing he wrote on the subject of politics had the influence of Rousseau or Montesquieu. To be fair he was primarily a playwright and a satirist and only gets counted as a philosopher because he articulated common views more eloquently than others. He was a philosophical popularizer at best.

@Irish Thomist,

To be fair we have mentioned that a couple of times in response to Stept2.

While I reject Saint Anselm's ontological argument

Because we cannot know that the Deity is possible A priori? Care to elaborate on that? I don't agree with Anselm's first argument - 'existence in the mind' is a dubious notion - but admit to finding Thomists possessed of a bad habit of attributing all sorts of criticisms of these arguments as a whole to Thomas.

Brandon said...

John West,

The work by Voltaire that comes closest to being a serious philosophical work is Letters Concerning the English Nation. It does have some interesting ideas, but it's fairly lightweight as far as argument goes. Daniel's quite right that he would be better considered a philosophical popularizer than anything; he's at his best when writing poetry or fiction, and almost the only philosophical things anyone remembers from him are satirical.

So I suppose he's a philosopher in somewhat the same way John Cleese is -- certainly has studied philosophy, occasionally makes excellent points, but is in the end usually more interested in the joke or satire than the point itself.

Irish Thomist said...

@Daniel

Sorry I have replied a few times to comments only to go back and read that a reply has been made with my same line of thinking in the mean time. So then it would seem someone replied to Step2 before me. Is that what you are saying?

Thomas did reject the ontological argument. Although I never said that an ontological argument with a better formulation is not in fact possible (if I did at any stage I do retract such a statement - as I am learning and growing in my perception of philosophy). Nor have I stated that Thomas Aquinas counter argument was a knock out for ontological arguments. I think there is more to be said for Anselm's argument if it implies by a reformulation something of human nature itself rather than an act of thinking which points to knowledge. This in turn of course for Saint Thomas brings in to play how we come to know things etc. That is over simplistic as you can guess.

Scott said...

@Irish Thomist:

"So then it would seem someone replied to Step2 before me. Is that what you are saying?"

Daniel was just noting that before you posted, several of us had already pointed out in this thread that God is not a "moral agent" in the same sense that we are. (I believe I was the first, in a response to John West.)

Step2 said...

@Daniel
On your terms I am asking something akin to ‘what is the PSR of the serpent’? For that matter how do explain away all the biblical accounts of evil entities?

We are not “forced” to speak of a wound positively, each wound has its own nature and structure and effects. Likewise with other things commonly considered evil such as contagions and poisons. They aren’t all purely negative, but even if they were your position is like saying only positive numbers are real numbers and negative numbers are instead a type of nothingness.

Daniel said...

Step2 wrote,

On your terms I am asking something akin to ‘what is the PSR of the serpent’? For that matter how do explain away all the biblical accounts of evil entities?

First of all I am not a Christian and thus have no need to explain such things.

Secondly there is well known point in Christian theology that all entities are good in as far as they possess being though by their actions they may deplete themselves as moral entities. The whole idea behind the crime of the demons is that they endeavour to reject God on whom their power and freedom to do still depends. It's not a position I endorse myself. So the the notion of an 'evil' entity as if it were some black palette-swap of a 'good' entity is an idea which belongs neither in Classical metaphysics nor in Christianity.

Likewise with other things commonly considered evil such as contagions and poisons. They aren’t all purely negative, but even if they were your position is like saying only positive numbers are real numbers and negative numbers are instead a type of nothingness.

These entities are only poisons per accidens in their effect on the human organism. Arsenic is a natural substance and in as much cannot be considered more 'evil' than, say, Water or Silver*, in its own existence - what we call the 'evil' involved is the way it can if ingested in large enough quantities interfere with the workings of the human body and prevent various organs fulfilling their function, this failure of course being a privation.

As for Numbers I would be inclined to treat them as abstractions from existents (One being a Transcendental) and thus on those grounds claim that the Negatives are only the an application of the main Number series which can only hold in the mind ens rationis - if one has five substances and removes seven the results will be no different to if one removes five, a simple experiment which should tell against the possibility of instantiating negative Numbers. Of course Mathematics are not my specialist area so on this I shall turn you over to others here more learned than I.

*There may as well be beings to some substances which are virtually inert to us humans are deadly poisonous.

Daniel said...

Apologies that should be:

'Secondly there is well known point in Christian theology that no entity is evil by its own nature and that all entities are good in as far as they possess being though by their actions they may deplete themselves as moral entities.'

Daniel said...

@Irish Thomist,

My apologies, I never implied you had that habit of attributing any old criticism to Thomas', I was just asking since assumed (yes, this was unfair jumping to conclusions) that you held Thomas' criticism* to be true and thus was interested in what exactly you took it to be. For what it's worth I think the epistemic version of the OA is doomed to collapse into the modal version anyway since what one is really talking about is an essence which entails existence and not about a noetic subject, ‘not the thought of the thing but the thing thought of’ as someone once said.

No worries about the Law thing. I was just surprised since Scott had made that point and linked to the Davies book a couple of comments back.

*Random aside: I have a theory that the main target of Thomas’ criticism of that argument is not Anselm but Bonaventure, and in particularly that latter’s concomitant idea that we have a ‘virtually innate’ idea of God.

Step2 said...

@Daniel
By the same token so called good entities are per accidens in their effect on humans and it doesn’t make a bit of difference whether it is natural or artificial. I would hope this doesn’t mean you deny the reality of good entities. The helpful or harmful effect on humans is the subtext for the conversation; I’m not sure what your point is in trying to modify the subtext.

I’m sure your proof against the possibility of debt would be traumatic for the economy. More interestingly it may make subtraction itself impossible since all subtraction can be represented as addition using a negative number.

Daniel said...

By the same token so called good entities are per accidens in their effect on humans and it doesn’t make a bit of difference whether it is natural or artificial.

Indeed, non-biological Natural Kinds have no standard of Goodness as they instantiate their essence without allowing degrees of variation. This was the subject of a debate between Scott, myself and others a time ago.

I’m sure your proof against the possibility of debt would be traumatic for the economy.

The 'entities' referred to in economics, for instance 'dollars' are not Natural Kinds just the product of free human agreement and thus have no ontological reality. Economics is a rule governed game. So fortunately sic it won't be going away.

More interestingly it may make subtraction itself impossible since all subtraction can be represented as addition using a negative number.

Which begs the question against my questioning the reality of Negative Numbers. In fact it is equivalent to saying that because I have claimed a 'hole' is not a positive entity I cannot make a hole in this piece of paper.

John West said...

Step2,

I'm not sure I follow equating the absence of something with negative numbers. Isn't what Daniel is saying more akin to talking about 0?

John West said...

Daniel,

I'm told certain physicists believe that if we added (seems ambiguous, their expression) in the universe, the result would be nothing. How would theoretical entities like anti-matter check out on your view of numbers?

John West said...

added together everything in the universe*

John West said...

(Also, I may be seriously misunderstanding the physics in my question to Daniel. If so, I apologize to any scientists on the blog.)

Daniel said...

@John West,

Certainly not! There's nothing that makes a Positron more or less real than an Electron. It's not a failure of an Electron to instantiate its essence (as was said inorganic Natural Kinds do not admit of privation) but a different particle with its own essence. The words 'negative' or 'positive' are used in an equivocal sense here just as they are when referring to e.g. negative and positive electric charges.

The same may actually be the case with regards to Negative Numbers (after all -3 is not a 'failed' 3 but a completely different number with different numerical properties) - my suggestion on this point was only a very tentative one.

I'm told certain physicists believe that if we added (seems ambiguous, their expression) in the universe, the result would be nothing.

That may well be true but the way the statement is phrased contains an unnecessary and we would argue false assumption of Mereological Nihilism, that all that 'really exists' are the base level particles/fields. Since for example an apple or a hydrogen atom possesses its own substantial form it exists proper and ceases to do so when eaten or split.

Daniel said...

@John West,

Sorry misread that first point (about the universe becoming nothing on addition). I assumed what you were saying was a take on the old 'if we could increase energy levels within the universe it would collapse/fly apart' thing. I am not sure what they mean by 'addition' in the context you mention either but even if it be true it’s not important to my point per say as the vanishing/destruction would be due to some specific characteristic or property of material nature and not 'formal' i.e. based on any identity whatsoever in the sense that numerical properties are.

Irish Thomist said...

@Scott

It sometimes can be that by the time one gets to reply someone else has made the same point or that the parts of the conversation we were not following already had those things pointed out.

Scott said...

@Irish Thomist:

It happens all the time; as Daniel said, no worries.

I'm sure the only reason he commented on it (and I know the only reason I did) was that your post seemed to imply that you had been following the part of the conversation in which the earlier statements had appeared. (It was, after all, addressed to "Scott and others on Law," and you specifically remarked that you were "noticing that one major objection against Law really needs stated.")

Irish Thomist said...

@Scott

I think I was following it. Sometimes I skim over comments or scan read (not always intentionally). There can be several discussions overlapping in the comments (which is interesting but hard to distill at times).

On another (of topic) note I wouldn't mind some of your input on my blog. What topics and books should I cover?

Apart from that I don't want to derail the thread so feel free to post anything (if you want of course) there, not here (as that would mess up Ed's comments).

Irish Thomist said...

I think Matt Sheean started that off at any rate on the 21st.

The problem is the argument only disproves a benevolent God (am I right in saying that?) which at any rate doesn't get us to Atheism, not even Agnosticism for that matter - not that its a nice proposition in reality!

Jeremy Taylor said...

My experience of Stephen Law is that, despite the fact he's a professional philosopher, he is a rank sophist little different a garden variety Gnu. He would no doubt be quite happy with the theist suggesting our (specially that of 21st century Western left-liberals) idea of goodness and God's are not always identical. He would then just try and use any such admission in a purely rhetoric way. He isn't interested in serious understanding of theism.

John West said...

Jeremy Taylor,

So you think Stephen Law lacks historical perspective when defining Good?

To be fair, I find few - if any - atheist philosophers interact with classical theism at all. It is as if, after a thousand years, they all gave up.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Having some experience with Stephen Law, I would say he is even quite happily ignorant of much theistic thought and/or intellectually disingenuous.

I have literally seen him, in the combox of his blog, quite blatantly quoting people out of context, create obvious strawmen, and that sort of thing.

I would say he is mostly interested in scoring rhetorical points about theism.

John West said...

Wow.

You know, I've heard this of Dr. Law before, though. What a shame.

Daniel said...

But Jeremy are you saying that 'Jesus never existed' is not a good objection to the first premise of the Cosmological Argument?

@John West,

To be fair this partly because the initial instigators of the Philosophy of Religion movement such as Plantinga, whose treatment of the Cosmological and Teleological arguments in God, Freedom and Evil are more caviller than that of most professional atheists, and worst still Swinburne, who doesn't even admit God is a necessary being, had little interest in historical theistic traditions beyond a certain point.

John West said...

Daniel,

I had heard about Swinburne's strange conjecture that God is not a necessary being. But this is Swinburne's position, not Eastern Orthodox belief, right?

Daniel said...

@John West,

No, not at all (the EO understanding of God is essentially the Classical one though they often err towards more Neoplatonic terminology than that of the Scholastics). Don't quote me on this but I believe he first articulated those views whilst still an Anglican and thus long before his conversion to Orthodoxy. They stem from his having an antediluvian 'Positivist friendly' metaphysics.

Brian Leftow, a philosopher who really ought to get more exposure on this blog, has an interesting article on Swinburne and the question of Divine Necessity here:

http://journals.cambridge.org/repo_A76DEo0v

@Irish Thomist,

Congrats with the Blog! Hope to say something on Personalism and Dietrich von Hildebrand entries later.

Scott said...

@Irish Thomist:

"I wouldn't mind some of your input on my blog. What topics and books should I cover?"

Just one thought offhand: I enjoyed the interview with James Hannam (I accidentally bought his book twice before I found out it had been released under two different titles!) and I'd be delighted to read more such interviews.

John West said...

"They stem from his having an antediluvian 'Positivist friendly' metaphysics."

I haven't read much of Dr. Swinburne's work, so I hesitate to judge him specifically.

But I've never understood what some Christians hope to accomplish by conceding so much to positivism. It has always seemed to me that if any theism is true, it entails a rather impressive spiritual realm. Without that realm, swathes of theistic religions make no sense beyond a handful of arguments.

Step2 said...

@Daniel
In fact it is equivalent to saying that because I have claimed a 'hole' is not a positive entity I cannot make a hole in this piece of paper.

You can make a pinhole camera aperture or rudimentary sieve if you feel like it; what is impossible is the descriptive claim not the act.

@John West
I'm not sure I follow equating the absence of something with negative numbers. Isn't what Daniel is saying more akin to talking about 0?

If it was zero then it couldn't be detected or considered a privation. If you add or subtract zero you have the identical thing you had before. On the other hand if you negate some or all of a thing you have deprived it of its wholeness or functionality, and there is an implied “ought” that things should be whole or functional.

John West said...

Step2,

To return to your original comment: "They aren’t all purely negative, but even if they were your position is like saying only positive numbers are real numbers and negative numbers are instead a type of nothingness."

But if I understand it correctly, on Daniel's view, if negative numbers exist they exist and are not a deprivation of anything. Conflating them with evil, then, would seem to just beg the question against his deprivation-of-good view. If negative numbers do not exist, then conflating the two agrees with him.

You don't need to add an anti-something to something to deprive it. You only need to take away a something. We can show this using jelly beans.

Daniel said...

John West has summarised my points nicely.

My reasons for scepticism regarding negative numbers, a point on which I stress I am not an expert, is not because they represent a kind of 'evil' or anything to do with that but because I can see no way in which they would instantiated in the material world - perhaps in symmetrical arrangements or something of that kind may be? Were I a Platonist I would happily grant the existence of negative numbers without shedding a tear over it

If a negative number has ontological existence it has a difference essence i.e. different numerical properties from its positive counter-part and any other number be it positive or negative. So -3 is no more an 'evil' 3, a 3 which has failed to instantiate its essence, than is 2 or 4 or, to draw a more broad analogy between Gold and 'Anti-Gold' (Gold with a Positron rather than an electron).

Step2 said...

@John West
You don't need to add an anti-something to something to deprive it. You only need to take away a something.

Adding a negative X is mathematically identical to (taking away) subtracting a positive X. The properties of math are not question begging.

@Daniel
So -3 is no more an 'evil' 3, a 3 which has failed to instantiate its essence...

Then your previous examples make no sense. Wounds, holes, and deceleration(?) have not "failed to instantiate their essence", they are reductions and subtractions from a previous state. You are also ignoring that it is the combination of the operands that produces the evil, not the operands in isolation.

Glenn said...

If I had three cancerous tumors (which I don't, and never did (and, God willing, never will)), I'd probably roll out the red carpet for the 'evil' -3.

Scott said...

@Step2:

The mathematics of subtraction aren't at issue. What's at issue is whether, and if so how, negative numbers might be instantiated in the physical universe.

Physically, taking away an electron (which is arguably a physical instantiation of subtraction) is not the same thing as annihilating it with a positron (cancelling it with something like its physical "negative"). You can do the first without doing the second, just as you can "take away" things that (like jelly beans or apples) may not have physical anti-equivalents.

As Daniel implies in his "gold" example, we can certainly conceive of an "anti-apple" as an apple with its particles replaced by anti-particles. But as far as we know, our universe doesn't contain any, and in any case we certainly don't need them in order to "take away one apple."

Daniel said...

@Wounds, holes, and deceleration(?) have not "failed to instantiate their essence", they are reductions and subtractions from a previous state

And their being reductions and subtractions is exactly why we call them privations i.e. their being a lack of essential order, an absence rather than a presence.

Scott said...

In other words, Daniel's point about negative numbers is just that you can keep taking away apples only until you're out of apples; there's no such physical thing as "three apples fewer than none at all." Of course if you owe someone ten apples and you have only five to give him, you owe him five more apples, and regarding yourself as "having -3 apples" for accounting purposes is unexceptionable. But that doesn't mean you physically have three apples fewer than zero.

Scott said...

Heh, that last example is a bit messed up arithmetically, isn't it?

Change the threes to fives. ;-)

John West said...

Step2,

Your reply is non-sequitur from what my full comment said.

Step2 said...

@Scott
What's at issue is whether, and if so how, negative numbers might be instantiated in the physical universe.

My very limited understanding of quantum mechanics is that it is based on the physical reality of negative probabilities. Which sounds kind of weird but pretty much everything about QM is weird.

As a more direct answer, Daniel wants to limit the result to positive numbers or zero. Even though I disagree, all it means is that the positive operand must be greater than or equal to the negative operand. There is no requirement that negative numbers be ruled out completely to allow for his claim.

@Glenn
If I had three cancerous tumors (which I don't, and never did (and, God willing, never will)), I'd probably roll out the red carpet for the 'evil' -3.

Thanks for pointing out the danger of assuming the "ought" of privation. Sometimes privation is a good thing.

John West said...

Daniel and Scott,

If one admits states of affairs, can one argue instantiations of negative numbers?

Incidentally, one can represent every positive integer as a product of negative numbers. Does that mean all things are products of deprivations of things, or am I taking this analysis too far?

John West said...

(To clarify that second paragraph, I question this introduction of pure mathematics into the conversation. Normally, I would be all for it, but I think part of the conversation is getting lost behind analogy here. I say this, by the way, grudgingly and as someone whose area of study is pure mathematics.)

John West said...

Well, unless we're accepting a mathematikoi-type take on the universe.

Irish Thomist said...

@Scott

Well it seems that Matthew Ramage might be open to some such thing (busy man as is Ed so I won't even ask him!), so I shall see mid-December. I have a few others I hope to make contact with. Any book suggestions and authors I should consider?

Anyway, that's enough of that (as I don't want to get off topic from the DSPT symposium - of which I only got time to look at the Q & A thus far!).

Glenn said...

Step2,

@Glenn
If I had three cancerous tumors (which I don't, and never did (and, God willing, never will)), I'd probably roll out the red carpet for the 'evil' -3.

Thanks for pointing out the danger of assuming the "ought" of privation. Sometimes privation is a good thing.


On a blog populated by people with an interest in things scholastic, 'privation' does have an "ought". (It ought to, anyway). I was just making light of the notion that -3, or any negative number, might qualify as 'evil' in a scholastic sense.

Certainly, if I had three cancerous tumors, I'd want to be 'deprived' of them (and right quickly). And it is true that, informally speaking, to be deprived of something is to experience a privation. But neither the removal of cancerous tumors from my body, nor the state of my body after their removal, would, in a scholastic sense, qualify as a 'privation'.

Scott said...

@Glenn:

"But neither the removal of cancerous tumors from my body, nor the state of my body after their removal, would, in a scholastic sense, qualify as a 'privation'."

Indeed, your having them would.

John West said...

So, on Scholasticism, a deprivation is any interference in the natural order, or something? Scholastic Metaphysics just got here. I should, I hope, at least be able to start talking about the right concepts.

Scott said...

@John West:

A privation is just an absence. It's not (or at least it needn't be) an interference with the natural order; it happens all the time in the natural order, as in Aquinas's example of the "form of fire" causing the "privation of the form of air or of water." As far as "evil" is concerned, the point is just that it ultimately consists of a privation caused by something that is, in itself, good, and therefore isn't any sort of positive being or substance in its own right.

Scott said...

For example, being killed by a cheetah is a privation, and thus an "evil," for the gazelle, but in and of itself the cheetah's action is a fulfillment of the cheetah's nature and thus "good" insofar as it's anything positive.

Scott said...

As for those hypothetical tumors: each one is something positively existing in its own right, but someone's having them would be a privation in the sense of a falling short of perfect health, and that's precisely what makes them "evils" befalling that person.

John West said...

Thanks. This is all quite different from what I'm used to reading about theist moral systems.

Scott said...

@John West:

"This is all quite different from what I'm used to reading about theist moral systems."

I'm sure of it. And we haven't even gotten to the strictly moral part yet! (That doesn't come in until rationality does. Only a rational being can make choices based on an intellectual understanding of one's nature and judge whether, and how well, a proposed action accords with the axiomatic moral principle Do good and avoid evil.)

Step2 said...

@Glenn
I was just making light of the notion that -3, or any negative number, might qualify as 'evil' in a scholastic sense.

I had originally intended the analogy in a strict numerical sense, as in denying that negatives exist in the set of real numbers would alter the definition of "real numbers". Obviously things went a bit sideways from there.

And it is true that, informally speaking, to be deprived of something is to experience a privation. But neither the removal of cancerous tumors from my body, nor the state of my body after their removal, would, in a scholastic sense, qualify as a 'privation'.

I'm going to disagree with part of your statement. The state of your body after their removal, if it involves for example removing a limb or most of an organ, is still a privation. You could fairly say it is a lesser privation than the consequence of not removing the tumors, but it is unclear why I would think the final objective state is not a privation.

Glenn said...

Step2,


Obviously things went a bit sideways from there.

It happens; no biggie (as we used to say (looong before Al Gore invented the internet)).

I'm going to disagree with part of your statement. The state of your body after their removal, if it involves for example removing a limb or most of an organ, is still a privation. You could fairly say it is a lesser privation than the consequence of not removing the tumors, but it is unclear why I would think the final objective state is not a privation.

I had anticipated an objection like this before making the statement. ;) My prepared response was that the making of the objection indicates an awareness of the basic point.

To take it a bit further, the state of my body sans the tumors is not in a state of privation because of their removal.

If, as not infrequently happens, non-tumorous parts are also removed (that, e.g., the tumorous parts themselves may be removed), then it may be the case that, as you suggest, a privation is involved.

But if only the tumors, and nothing but the tumors, are removed, why might one think the final state is a privation?

Glenn said...

(s/b "...why might one think the final state is a privation (in a scholastic sense)?")

Step2 said...

@Glenn
But if only the tumors, and nothing but the tumors, are removed, why might one think the final state is a privation?

As you mention, my objection was qualified to cases where healthy limbs and tissues are removed as a necessary part of removing the tumor. In other cases it depends on where and how large the tumors are. Basically, tumors can damage and to a lesser extent replace healthy tissue. So even if it is possible to target only the tumors without any major side effects from the treatment there can still be permanent reductions in functionality as a lingering effect of the tumors.

Scott said...

@Step2:

Sure, but in that case it's still not the removal of the tumors that results in the privation.