Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Religion and superstition


The Routledge Handbook of Contemporary Philosophy of Religion, edited by Graham Oppy, has just been published.  My essay “Religion and Superstition” is among the chapters.  The book’s table of contents and other details can be found here.  (The book is very expensive.  But I believe you should be able to read all or most of my essay via the preview at Google Books.) 

192 comments:

Ismael said...

Great!

Anonymous said...

Ed:

I was unable to access your chapter today; is it a tweaking of "The last Superstition"? I perused the book, at $180 it might be worth the investment, if nothing more than to have you, Caputo, Marion, Trakakis between the same 2 covers.

You do not engage these thinkers in your blog (I wonder why--don't think I need to see another anti-Hart piece).

Ismael said...

Hi Anon!

I had the pleasure to paruse the book and Feser's chapter does not treat the same subjects of The Last Superstition (TLS).

TLS basically is a philosophical criticism and refutation of "new atheism" and scientism and (eliminative) materialism in particular upon which new atheism is (usually) built upon.

Feser's Chapeter in "Routledge Handbook" deals rather with the differences between what "Religion", "Superstition" and "Magic". Here Feser does not critique atheism, rather critiques the mistaken view that some atheists have: i.e. that religion is the same as "superstition" or "magic".

Feser thus explains what (legitimate) religion is, what superstition and idolatry are (and are not) and the key differences between religion and magic.

--

There IS a critique of New Atheism in the book, or rather a critique of how shabbily new atheist are at critiquing religion, written by Trent Dougherty and Logan Paul Gage from Baylor university.

Here basically they pick apart (quite successfully I must add, not surprisingly since Dawkins argument is incredibly bad) the "new atheist super-argument" proposed by Dawkins (and rehashed by all others without even thinking critically about it).

To be fair TLS does very much the same job as that chapter, in many respects.

Alex said...

Thank you for linking to the Google preview, Dr Feser. I managed to read the whole paper without purchasing the book, so today was a victory for my finances.

Maolsheachlann said...

these views can be reconciled, or is Chesterton just flat-out wrong here?Dr. Feser, I hope you don't mind me going off topic. But I've just watched (for the second time) the video of your lecture on miracles from the Berkely conference.

I don't know if you have read the famous chapter on miracles-- "The Ethics of Elfland"-- in which Chesterton defends miracles on the grounds that the laws of nature are arbitrary and, essentially, magical-- "All the terms used in the science books, "law," "necessity," "order," "tendency," and so on, are really unintellectual, because they assume an inner synthesis which we do not possess. The only words that ever satisfied me as describing Nature are the terms used in the fairy books, "charm," "spell," "enchantment." They express the arbitrariness of the fact and its mystery. A tree grows fruit because it is a magic tree. Water runs downhill because it is bewitched. The sun shines because it is bewitched."

If I understand your lecture correctly, you seem to be saying that this thesis of Chesterton's is the opposite of the truth. Which, I suppose, rather perturbs me considering how influential the chapter has been with so many readers, me included. Do you think both of these views can be reconciled, or is Chesterton just flat out mistaken?

Maolsheachlann said...

Sorry, the book to which I refer is "Orthodoxy". Apologies for the muddled text at the start, it's some copying and pasting gone wrong.

Daniel said...

@Maolsheachlann,

Indeed, judging Chesterton from that passage alone one might fairly conclude that he is describing 'Nature', in all its 'arbitrary mysteriousness', along the same lines as those of a welknown Scottish philosopher. As J.C. Smart is once reported to have said: the Laws of Nature are really just cosmic coincidences.

(It's worth remembering just how much of Hume's attack on casual necessity derived from Malebrance and the Occasionalists - by their view everything is a case of miraculous intervention)

Anonymous said...

Didn't Coyne already put the "What is religion, and what is it's place?" issue to rest in his latest book?

Maolsheachlann said...

Thanks Daniel. I think it's a pretty fair summation of the chapter.

I've heard that Martin Gardner included this chapter in a philosophy of science anthology. I guess as a Chesterton fanatic I was quite proud of his layman's insight!

Daniel said...

Just looked at the Dougherty and Gage article.

I wonder: in all seriousness ought a student of philosophy of religion really devote the time to reading The God Delusion? It's pretty much a waste of space for both atheist and theist parties. Better to have Oppy dancing about with a pencil in each nostril and a pair of underpants on his head singing ‘Look at me, look at me! Look at me, not at him, at me’.

Another thought....

Does Dawkins acutely understand the basics of QL and Modal semantics? For some reason I have my doubts here.

Ismael said...

@Daniel

I would say... YES. Let's not make the same mistake of the New Atheists and actually listen to them and engage their arguments.

For two reasons:

1- ignoring an argument only leads to strawmen in the future. Also if the argument is bad, it only leaves the idea that it's worth something... while debunking it puts it in its grave.

2- Unfortunately there are many people who take Dawkins & Co. seriously. By showing the flaws in their arguments we also expose them as the intellectual frauds that they are.


==

@Anon
"Didn't Coyne already put the "What is religion, and what is it's place?" issue to rest in his latest book?"

If by putting the "issue to rest" you mean write a bunch of nonsense, then yes LOL.

Jerry Coyne in most of the book criticizes works that he never read (and it shows)... something that he has done many times, by the way.

Coyne tries to take on the Christian Scholarship, people like NT Wright and others, without the knowledge to do so and just makes a mess of things.

Besides Coyne thinks all religeous people think alike. First of all not all Christians hold the very same beliefs... but even more important different religions tend to believe quite different things, often.

Coyne just attacks his personal strawmen, as usual.

John West said...

Daniel wrote: I wonder: in all seriousness ought a student of philosophy of religion really devote the time to reading The God Delusion? It's pretty much a waste of space for both atheist and theist parties. Better to have Oppy dancing about with a pencil in each nostril and a pair of underpants on his head singing ‘Look at me, look at me! Look at me, not at him, at me’.

Qua student of philosophy, no. Dance, Oppy, dance.

Crude said...

I wonder: in all seriousness ought a student of philosophy of religion really devote the time to reading The God Delusion? It's pretty much a waste of space for both atheist and theist parties.

I think it's important to clear up misconceptions and misunderstandings where possible. With Dawkins and company, the biggest misconception is 'These guys now what they are talking about, and their intellects and opinions should be respected.'

JohnD said...

Ed,

Any timetable on FIVE PROOFS FOR GOD's EXISTENCE?

Edward Feser said...

Hi JohnD,

The plan has been to get that done by the end of the summer and then work exclusively on the phil of nature book. And I'm pretty much still on track with that.

BTW, JohnD's got some inside info, but for those who don't, the book in question will not be on the Five Ways. Most of it will be on arguments I have not yet discussed at length. But I'll say more when the time comes.

ccmnxc said...

Hey Ed, that's awesome! I didn't know you had a natural theology book in the works.
On a similar track, do you have an estimated release date for your anthology of essays? Thanks.

Greg said...

Amazon currently says June 30, which I think is a month later than it used to say.

Greg said...

How about that book on capital punishment?

Anonymous said...

Chapter 1: "Feminist approaches to religion". Oh, great.

Ismael said...

@Anon

the chapter reviews the current femminists approaches to religion, it does not preach it.

Since the "femminist voice" has been quite vocal recently, I think it merits review, whatever it merits of flaws.

Bruticus said...

Hi Professor Feser,

Speaking of philosophy of religion, have you ever responded to the problem of Divine Hiddeness? As far as I know, Philosopher Travis Dumsay responds to this problem from a Thomistic perspective in the 2013 American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly. Do you also know other Thomists who respond to this problem? Thank you for your time and work!

Arthur said...

For what it's worth, I'd also like something on Divine Hiddeness.

E.Seigner said...

How is Divine Hiddenness a problem? Air is invisible. Space is invisible. Is that a reason to deny their existence? Divine Hiddenness is an answer, not a problem.

Anonymous said...

As women or females comprise half of the human population, and do intrinsically possess or embody a completely different feeling-sensibility than that of males, it is completely appropriate that the topic "feminist approaches to religion" is included in this book and elsewhere too.
I am sure that Saint Hildegard of Bingen who is recognized as a Doctor of the Church would agree.

Men are angular. Women are spherical. If you paint women, you paint the whole universe. every woman is a particularization of the one thing - the "She", the universal power.
A woman's body rotating expresses the unity of existence. It is all just "She".

In their hard edged angularity men automatically and unconsciously slice up the intrinsic unity of existence-being into an endlessly multiplied phantasmagoria of separate beings and things.

Arthur said...

'How is Divine Hiddenness a problem? Air is invisible. Space is invisible.'

Indeed; I made the same argument myself before.

I think the main difference is that God, unlike air and space, is supposed to want a relationship with humans and want people to believe He exists. Further, God is meant to be omnipotent and able to 'do anything', so in some ways you'd expect even the most stubborn sceptic to be bombarded with evidence for God.

You can presumably see the putative problem even if you don't agree it's a real problem.

Anonymous said...

"As women or females comprise half of the human population, and do intrinsically possess or embody a completely different feeling-sensibility than that of males, it is completely appropriate that the topic "feminist approaches to religion" is included in this book and elsewhere too.
I am sure that Saint Hildegard of Bingen who is recognized as a Doctor of the Church would agree.

Men are angular. Women are spherical. If you paint women, you paint the whole universe. every woman is a particularization of the one thing - the "She", the universal power.
A woman's body rotating expresses the unity of existence. It is all just "She".

In their hard edged angularity men automatically and unconsciously slice up the intrinsic unity of existence-being into an endlessly multiplied phantasmagoria of separate beings and things."




But feminism tries to eliminate the "he/she" distinction.

Gottfried said...

A woman's body rotating expresses the unity of existence.

Ommm.

Anonymous said...

In line with the first anon's comment, Id like to see Feser engage with some continental thinkers, like Foucault or Derrida. Not just pointing out the obvious (deconstruction is incoherent, etc), but examining where the thinkers have interesting insights and so forth.

Alat said...

I too would like to see Prof. Feser tackle Divine Hiddenness.

It's the main stumbling block I have in order to become a theist.

Most of the others were removed by reading this blog and Feser's books...

John West said...

The problem of Divine Hiddenness sounds like a fancy relabel of the old evidentiary challenge. If that's the case, Ed meets that challenge with the Five Ways in Aquinas.

I was going to write that it may be more interesting to see a post against Oppy's more sophisticated version of the challenge in his Best Argument Against God, but the reply will be essentially the same there, too.

Greg said...

I haven't thought that divine hiddenness poses a substantial problem, for Catholics at least, since Catholics can claim that the Church has made Revelation available and that the turning from the Church in modernity was an instance of human error and sin. Incidentally, though, in a way, something like divine hiddenness has almost always been my response to Protestants and sedevacantists: If either of those were true, then Christ would have failed to establish a Church that can withstand the gates of hell, so Christianity of all sorts would be false.

Greg said...

@ John West

That Oppy book looks pretty interesting. Too bad I'll never spend $56 on a 100-page book. (Well, I guess you could get it for $35 used.) But I'm particularly interested in the claim that all the data is explained just as well given naturalism as it is given theism. If naturalism must reject PSR and theism does not have to, then that claim would seem to be hard to maintain. But maybe Oppy carves up the relevant issues differently.

Greg said...

I haven't thought that divine hiddenness poses a substantial problem, for Catholics at least, since Catholics can claim that the Church has made Revelation available and that the turning from the Church in modernity was an instance of human error and sin.

Obviously I admit how thoroughly western-centric this argument is. That said, if (as I think a Catholic has to argue) tradition is epistemologically reliable, then there is a channel in the world for attaining knowledge of God that is not at all like disputable philosophical argument. It's a channel, moreover, that has created and sustained Christian cultures for long periods.

The other reason I have generally found divine hiddenness unproblematic, which constitutes a response to the gesturing toward other cultures, is the Church's teaching on invincible ignorance. Divine hiddenness will be a subproblem of evil; but hiddenness itself is only a natural evil if its implications are, say, profoundly and gratuitously unfair (i.e. you go to hell because you were born in some aboriginal society on some island). But hiddenness does not have to have those implications given various sorts of theism. Or is divine hiddenness supposed to pose some other problem that I am not grasping here?

John West said...

Greg,

Too bad I'll never spend $56 on a 100-page book. (Well, I guess you could get it for $35 used.)

Check Scribd.

Greg said...

Doesn't look like anything by Oppy is on Scribd.

When I get back to school, though, the library might have it.

ccmnxc said...

Hi Greg.

I think one could argue that we would expect God to reveal to others Himself on the grounds that knowledge of Him is a good in itself, and God, being just, would bring about a state of affairs where people could justly worship Him, which gets difficult if one does not know God. So let's say there is a sincerely seeking atheist who, due to invincible ignorance, is not under threat of hell for unbelief. One could still argue that his seeking sincerely and not coming to find God is a strike against God insofar as he is being deprived of a good, and there is a lack of justice (both because he cannot justly worship God as well as the fact that He is deprived of the knowledge of his Creator). Now, this is getting rather close to POE territory, and perhaps a defusing of the POE could adequately defeat this as well.
One further quip is that those advocating divine hiddenness often appeal to the whole "Seek and ye shall find..." verse as a means of expecting that God will reveal Himself to sincere seekers. So even if there is not a threat of punishment in not coming to find God, some may still hold that God would more adequately reveal Himself anyways.

John West said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Greg said...

@ John West

Well, I don't know how I missed that.

Incidentally, I can also get an online copy through my university's library.

Greg said...

@ ccmnxc

One could still argue that his seeking sincerely and not coming to find God is a strike against God insofar as he is being deprived of a good, and there is a lack of justice (both because he cannot justly worship God as well as the fact that He is deprived of the knowledge of his Creator).

I would agree that this sounds a lot like POE to me, if it's simply a matter of explaining how one could lack knowledge of God given that knowledge of God is a good. A response to POE will explain in general why the fact that people sometimes lack what is good for them doesn't contradict God's justice.

One further quip is that those advocating divine hiddenness often appeal to the whole "Seek and ye shall find..." verse as a means of expecting that God will reveal Himself to sincere seekers.

This version seems a bit more challenging to me; thanks for that. I imagine the appropriate way to handle such verses is as one handles the more general claim made throughout the Gospels that, if one asks, then one will receive. People evidently do not receive everything that they pray for; the receiving is understood in terms of binding oneself to God's will. Likewise, if one seeks sincerely, one 'finds' eventually, but not necessarily on one's own terms.

John West said...

Greg,

I have don't know who goes through the trouble of scanning every page of books, but they've saved me an awful lot of money over the last year.

But I'm particularly interested in the claim that all the data is explained just as well given naturalism as it is given theism. If naturalism must reject PSR and theism does not have to, then that claim would seem to be hard to maintain. But maybe Oppy carves up the relevant issues differently.

My main problem with Oppy is that he doesn't spend account for the views of classical theism in his argument. So it comes off as irrelevant to classical theism.

He does talk about the PSR in his book on infinites and Arguing About Gods but, if I recall right, even there he has trouble with Pruss's formulation of the PSR and leaves off suggesting he has modus tollens reasons for rejecting the relevant cosmological arguments anyway.

John West said...

Omit "have", obviously.

Alat said...

@Greg

Or is divine hiddenness supposed to pose some other problem that I am not grasping here?

Why does it - divine hiddenness - exist at all?

If invincible ignorance is a good enough answer to the problems raised by divine hiddenness, then why did God go to the trouble of partially revealing himself - at all? It would have been better to remain fully unknown. No scripture, no prophets, no nothing.

As the old wag has it:

Eskimo: 'If I did not know about God and sin, would I go to hell?'
Priest: 'No, not if you did not know.'
Eskimo: 'Then why did you tell me?'


If, on the other hand, the argument is that a better knowledge of God is a good in itself (and I would think it is), then we fall into the problems mentioned in "ccmnxc"'s comment.

Greg said...

@ Alat

If invincible ignorance is a good enough answer to the problems raised by divine hiddenness, then why did God go to the trouble of partially revealing himself - at all? It would have been better to remain fully unknown. No scripture, no prophets, no nothing.

Knowledge of God is perfective of man. The invincible-ignorant response does not claim that you are just as well off if you don't know about God as if you do; it claims that it's not unjust that some people won't hear about God during their lifetimes. So the pointlessness of Revelation would not follow from the soundness of the invincible-ignorance response.

If, on the other hand, the argument is that a better knowledge of God is a good in itself (and I would think it is), then we fall into the problems mentioned in "ccmnxc"'s comment.

Well, that is the argument, but then what problem does divine hiddenness propose over and above POE? Knowledge of calculus is a good in itself that not everyone possesses.

Greg said...

Eskimo: 'If I did not know about God and sin, would I go to hell?'
Priest: 'No, not if you did not know.'
Eskimo: 'Then why did you tell me?'


I suppose it's worth commenting on this, though it would astonish me that anyone would take it seriously.

The priest's answer is wrong; it should be "I don't know". It's possible that the Eskimo is not culpable here, but it's not necessarily the case. Even someone who had never been told about God may be guided by conscience. Of course his conscience might have been formed by someone malicious. Maybe then he really didn't know and isn't responsible. There's no general answer; even with details we cannot judge the case. But I know that God is ideally just and doesn't condemn anyone who does not deserve to be condemned.

Then there will plainly be other reasons for evangelizing... The purpose of life is not avoiding hell but loving God. It's possible that someone who does not hear about God will not be condemned; but he might flourish to a greater extent if he does learn about God. Likewise, it is good for the priest to spread the Gospel message. (We are talking here about what is good about the priest's evangelizing; part of that is his growth in virtue. His growth in virtue, of course, doesn't enter into his own motivation for evangelizing, just as one gives to the poor out of love for the poor and for God, rather than in order to become more charitable.) The modern mind might have trouble seeing what (given the truth of theism) might be good about evangelization that is not purely instrumental.

Santi said...

A person who blames a car wreck on a broken mirror is doing the same thing as a clergyman who blames an earthquake in Hollywood on filmmakers breaking God's commandments. It's a correlation-causation fallacy.

When the Jews blamed their exile into Babylon on their failure to adhere to the letter of the Torah, they were being superstitious. When first century Christians blamed Titus' destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE on the Jews' rejection of Jesus, they were being superstitious (and antisemitic).

Scott said...

Santi, go away. Please. Now.

Santi said...

The two specific examples above of superstition from monotheistic history are not marginal to that history, but front and center. You don't get Judaism without the belief that God has a covenant entailing rewards and punishments for good and bad behavior, a promise of land, a divine preference of one tribe of people over all others, and a belief that God specifically prefers worship and sacrifice from the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

Likewise, the spark for the long history of Christian antisemitism in Europe derived from the superstitious belief, grounded in the Gospel of Matthew, that Jews have a blood curse on them for rejecting Christ at the time of his crucifixion.

You also don't get the Christian Church apart from the doctrine of supersessionism (the belief that the Church has taken over from the Jews the distinction of being God's chosen people--as evidenced by their rejection of God's only son at the time of his crucifixion, and their subsequent exile from Israel by Titus after they did that).

Supersessionism is grounded in a correlation-causation fallacy and narcissism: two characteristics of superstition.

In his essay, therefore, Feser is straining out some very trivial distinctions between superstition and religion, while swallowing some enormous camels. In even raising the topic in such a way as to focus distinctions, it serves to remind one of just how interwoven superstition and religion actually are.

Feser's essay feels as if one has had a teeth cleaning in which the dental hygienist did only one side of the mouth.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Greg writes,

If either of those were true, then Christ would have failed to establish a Church that can withstand the gates of hell, so Christianity of all sorts would be false.

Wouldn't a lot of that depend on one's definition of the Church. Certainly, in the case of Sedevacantists they could be said to have a Church.

Anyway, when it comes to divine hiddenness in general, doesn't a lot come to spiritual imagination. Divine hiddenness would be meaningless to the Platonist who saw all things as reflections of eternal forms, part of a great spiritual chain of being reaching out to God, and saw the world suffused with spirituality and the sacred. It is really based on a modern imagination that tends to see the world as mechanistic and physical, cut off from God and higher realms of being, even if it accepts the existence of God abstractly.

There would still be the question of why such an imaginative atmosphere has spread so far in the modern world. But that is a somewhat different question.

Skywatcher said...

@ Alat and subsequent commenters.

"Priest" answered incorrectly to "Eskimo", displaying ignorance of Catholic dogma. "Extra Ecclesiam nulla salus" ("Outside the [Catholic] Church there is no salvation") is a dogma of the Church, defined infallibly at least three times by Popes and Councils. No one can enter Heaven unless he has been Baptized, professes and practices the Catholic Faith, and dies in the state of grace (no unconfessed mortal sins on his soul).

Beginning with the time of the first public preaching of the Gospel (presumably at the first Pentecost), there are no exceptions to that rule. If "Eskimo" was truly inculpably unaware of the requirements for salvation, he would not be charged with a sin against faith, but he would be condemned to hell for any mortal sins he may have committed. If he was guiltless of mortal sin, he would go to Limbo, that part of Hell where there is no demonic torment.

Jeremy Taylor said...

But surely such a position is in fact strange: to say we must be saved only by explicit belief and practice of the Christian revelation, when that revelation was not available to a good swathe of human throughout history. There is always the Calvinist shrug and pointing to God's purposes to explain this, but is there another explanation?

Joe said...

I am a newcomer to Dr. Feser's blog, as well as, The Last Superstition. I perused the archives and learned of how immensely busy the professor is, but also saw commentators mention that questions can be directed to them. I have a couple of fundamental questions re essentially-ordered causal series in TLS's section on the Unmoved Mover. Please email me if you're a Thomist who's interested in walking me through some issues.

Glenn said...

Skywatcher,

"Priest" answered incorrectly to "Eskimo", displaying ignorance of Catholic dogma. "Extra Ecclesiam nulla salus" ("Outside the [Catholic] Church there is no salvation") is a dogma of the Church, defined infallibly at least three times by Popes and Councils. No one can enter Heaven unless he has been Baptized, professes and practices the Catholic Faith, and dies in the state of grace (no unconfessed mortal sins on his soul).

Of possible interest:

1. "Outside the Church there is no salvation"

846 How are we to understand this affirmation, often repeated by the Church Fathers? Re-formulated positively, it means that all salvation comes from Christ the Head through the Church which is his Body[.]

[However,]

847 This affirmation [of "Outside the Church there is no salvation"] is not aimed at those who, through no fault of their own, do not know Christ and his Church:

Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience--those too may achieve eternal salvation.

2. Catechism of the Catholic Church 1260. "Since Christ died for all, and since all men are in fact called to one and the same destiny, which is divine, we must hold that the Holy Spirit offers to all the possibility of being made partakers, in a way known to God, of the Paschal mystery." Every man who is ignorant of the Gospel of Christ and of his Church, but seeks the truth and does the will of God in accordance with his understanding of it, can be saved. It may be supposed that such persons would have desired Baptism explicitly if they had known its necessity.

3. Dogmatic Constitution On The Church, LUMEN GENTIUM, Solemnly Promulgated By His Holiness Pope Paul VI On November 21, 1964

16. ...Those also can attain to salvation who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, yet sincerely seek God and moved by grace strive by their deeds to do His will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience. Nor does Divine Providence deny the helps necessary for salvation to those who, without blame on their part, have not yet arrived at an explicit knowledge of God and with His grace strive to live a good life. Whatever good or truth is found amongst them is looked upon by the Church as a preparation for the Gospel. She knows that it is given by Him who enlightens all men so that they may finally have life...

Alat said...

@Greg

Thanks for taking the time to comment. BTW, the Eskimo/Priest story was tongue-in-cheek, and I agree with everything you wrote on it specifically.

what problem does divine hiddenness propose over and above POE? Knowledge of calculus is a good in itself that not everyone possesses.

Calculus is not necessary for human flourishing or for attaining supernatural salvation, so I don't think you really want to compare knowing calculus and knowing God.

I'll detail what the stumbling block of "divine hiddenness" means to me in a lengthier comment later.

@Skywatcher

I'm hardly an expert on it, but it seems to me your rendering of the meaning of Extra ecclesiam nulla salus is too strong. Do you have the references of the Popes and Councils at hand?

I find it hard to conceive that anyone would ever have converted to Christianity if what you say is true. "Hey, I'm converting to this new revelation that teaches all my ancestors have no chance of Heaven!" doesn't seem so appealing if you have a healthy relationship with your forebears. If this is the case, and I end up becoming convinced Catholicism is true, then I'll aim for Limbo, not for Heaven, and this is counter-intuitive, to say the least.

John West said...

You will probably get a faster response if you just post them here, Joe.

Alat said...

@Greg - and anyone else who might have difficulty going to sleep...

Let's take the existence of the God of classical theism as a given. That doesn't in itself tell us he wants to establish a personal relationship with us, but makes it reasonable to imagine that he does.

So, let's also assume that God gives us a Revelation to allow us to come closer to Him.

Now, there are several ways He can do that. I'm told He chose one specific way: he inspired prophets and then - according to Christianity - He came down Himself. But how could we recognize it was God's own doing, and not someone else's? So God also backed His prophets, and later Himself, with miracles which only God Himself could possibly perform.

Now, I have no particular problem with this form of Revelation. God wanted to communicate with us, and He did, in His own way, and to the extent He thought feasible or useful.

Now comes the problem, or at least my problem.

This all happened a long time ago. I wasn’t there. Nor was anyone to whom I can appeal for knowledge.

The Israelites fleeing Egypt, say, or the inhabitants of first-century Judaea, had the opportunity of witnessing plenty of miracles that demonstrated, if they were willing and able to see it, that Moses and Jesus were backed by God. This in no way interfered with their free will, as can be readily surmised by the Golden Calf or by the fact most first-century Judeans did not abandon Judaism. If the miracles had interfered with their free will, I would imagine God would not have performed them.

I’m told I should accept the truth of Christianity because of the Resurrection. But how do I know the Resurrection, and all of sacred history for that matter, actually happened? Because I read about it in books, and I hear ordinary people talking about it. Nothing miraculous about either option, no sign that either is really backed by God’s power. Besides, there are versions with a pedigree as old as this one which tell a different story, that say Jesus was not the Messiah, that the revelation has been updated by Muhammad, or that this is all wrong and the correct answer is in the Vedas and Upanishads, to mention just a few of the options.

How can I possibly know the way? To evaluate the evidence, I would need training in philosophy (to establish the praeambula fidei). Then I’d have to learn several ancient languages: Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, Latin, and probably others. Then I’d have to hunt the manuscripts, both of Scripture and of the early believers. Then I’d have to trace their origin and derivation until today. Then I’d have to get a profound knowledge of the history, geography, customs, etc. of the related places. And this is just for Christianity! For, in order to evaluate the truth claims of the other contestants, I’d have to do all this for the other options too, and not get astray or wrong in any part of the chain. Needless to say this is impossible, and if salvation required it, no one could be saved.

Alat said...

God’s Revelation teaches about the cosmic struggle and our little part in it, with our eternal destiny at stake – and if God chose to reveal it, I suppose it’s because He thought it relevant that we knew it. But, if that is the case, why such a clumsy method, so vulnerable to error, so vulnerable to misunderstanding, so vulnerable to chance? I’m told God fashions Himself each and every human soul. Why doesn’t He also instill in us the basic information about the dramatic scene we’re about to enter, and what our choices really are? The only answer I’ve been able to find is that this would infringe our free will, but I fail to see how. I’m not sure God exists, and this certainly affects the way I play my small part in the drama. Satan, however, has no such doubts – and this did not affect his ability to freely choose his way in the least.

I can see just a few ways out of this conundrum. First, God does not exist, and therefore there are errors in the philosophical demonstrations of His existence which my ignorance or stupidity failed to perceive. Second, God exists but did not give us a Revelation. Third, God exists, gave us a Revelation, but doesn’t much care if we’ll find it – it’s not necessary for His purposes, whatever they might be. Fourth, God exists and gave us several Revelations, all of them partly true, and doesn’t much care which of them we adopt, if any.

Fifth, strict predestination: God exists, gave us one Revelation, but concerns himself only with the Elect, whom He will make sure come to know and adopt it. The rest of us are only chaff. This is the option I find most congruent with His method of giving Revelation. That’s the only explanation I have been able to come up about why He is supposedly very evident to some people at some times – and even to the demons! – and hidden for other people and other times (including, in this case, me). He gives evidence to those He wants, either in the past or, I imagine, even in the present, but hides Himself from those He doesn’t want.

The first four options tell me I shouldn’t care much about religion, though I wonder whether they're really coherent. The fifth is coherent, I think, but very unappealing. It tells me that God has chosen not to reveal Himself to me, up to now at least, so the only proper answer is still the same: I shouldn't care much about Him.

In the meanwhile, onwards I go, as one of Pascal’s unhappy seekers.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Alat,

What about the fourth option? It seems to me that much more could be said about that option and you do not do it justice.

Greg said...

@ Alat

BTW, the Eskimo/Priest story was tongue-in-cheek, and I agree with everything you wrote on it specifically.

No problem. It reminds me a bit of another odd thing that people sometimes say about the Sacrament of Confession. Sometimes you'll see it claimed that living out a Christian life is pointless, because you can just confess your sins at the end. Besides the problem of knowing exactly when you will die, one can see how you could drive a truck through the hole in that argument...

Calculus is not necessary for human flourishing or for attaining supernatural salvation, so I don't think you really want to compare knowing calculus and knowing God.

I am responding to what you and ccmnxc suggested. ccmnxc wrote, "One could still argue that his seeking sincerely and not coming to find God is a strike against God insofar as he is being deprived of a good..." You wrote, "If, on the other hand, the argument is that a better knowledge of God is a good in itself (and I would think it is), then we fall into the problems mentioned in "ccmnxc"'s comment." The claim being rebutted was that divine hiddenness is evidence against God's existence because it's itself an evil/privation. So I'd maintain that the comparison to knowing calculus is sound if that is the basis for taking divine hiddenness to tell against God's existence.

Now, I think you are making a distinct claim here that is more promising. But I think one can take "knowing God" in multiple senses such that either a) everyone has a chance to know God or b) not knowing God does not impair human flourishing or the attainment of supernatural salvation in the way you suggest.

Skywatcher brought up extra ecclesiam nulla salus. One might worry that that doctrine has not sufficiently been attended to in the postconciliar Church. But here is Pope Pius IX on the doctrine:

Well known is the Catholic teaching that no one can be saved outside the Catholic Church. Eternal salvation cannot be obtained by those who oppose the authority and statements of the same Church and are stubbornly separated from the unity of the Church and also from the successor of Peter, the Roman Pontiff.
...
There are, of course, those who are struggling with invincible ignorance about our most holy religion. Sincerely observing the natural law and its precepts inscribed by God on all hearts and ready to obey God, they live honest lives and are able to attain eternal life by the efficacious virtue of divine light and grace since God who clearly beholds, searches, and knows the minds, souls, thoughts, and habits of all men, because of His great goodness and mercy, will by no means suffer anyone to be punished with eternal torment who has not
the guilt of deliberate sin.


(I see Glenn has already covered some of this ground.)

So one can be invincibly ignorant of the Catholic Faith and still "know God" in a sense sufficient for beatitude. They might not "know God" as they might if they were, say, raised by a Catholic family and schooled in the School. Ceteris paribus, they would be better off if they knew God in the stronger sense. We also cannot look at a person's life and determine whether he knows God in this sense, so the missionary who adopts indifferentism on this basis is making a grave mistake.

In that case, if divine hiddenness is taken to be the sort of hiddenness that threatens to imperil innocents to hell because of something totally outside of control, then there is not really any divine hiddenness. But if divine hiddenness is bad simply because there is a lack of knowledge which is always bad considered in itself, then divine hiddenness is no problem over and above POE.

Greg said...

@ Jeremy Taylor

Wouldn't a lot of that depend on one's definition of the Church. Certainly, in the case of Sedevacantists they could be said to have a Church.

It does depend on one's definition of the Church. What I should have mentioned is that a sort of pan-denominational Protestantism could probably evade the argument, if it admitted that something called 'the Church' did subsist among Catholics throughout the medieval period. But I find that view of the Church unattractive for other reasons, and that sort of Protestantism would be conceding that it's fine to be Catholic, or, for that matter, just about anything else.

I assume Sedevacantists agree with Catholics that Christ established a Church headed by Peter as the Bishop of Rome. They hold also that there were valid popes up until whichever modern pope they think was the last, but now the seat is empty. I may be straw manning here, since I have not studied their claims in a lot of detail, but it seems like much of what Sedevacantists would like to claim against Protestants (i.e. that Christ authoritatively established Peter as the first pope) would commit them to a view of the papacy and Christ's institution of it that is inconsistent with holding that the Church could fall into the state they claim it is presently in.

Brandon said...

Alat,

In addition to some of the other things people have said, there is no single, paradigmatic type of "personal relationship", so you seem to be presupposing from the beginning some ideal picture of personal relationship with God drawn from some kind of religious tradition -- or perhaps it's from somewhere else, but in any case it's not clear why you take it to be necessary for personal relationships to have to work the way you do. Our ordinary human personal relationships consist almost entirely of probabilities, guesses, contingent things we can only know in a loose sense; but you expect rigorous demonstration in your first comment. Nor does it have an obvious connection with everything that religious people have regarded as a personal relationship with God. Most Catholics -- including especially Pascal, whose Wager was specifically designed to convince agnostics to take actual religious practices seriously -- would note that the thing you don't mention at all is any kind of participation in religious practices, or any mediation through anyone or anything other than yourself; and a Sikh might wonder how a Guru would fit into your characterization at all. And participants in the same religion will quite often claim very different kinds of relationships with God. So there seems to be an important step missing right at the beginning: which kind of personal relationship matters?

Because if classical theism is taken as given, as you say, you already do have some kind of personal relationship with God: on classical theism, God is the source and sustainer of your being, the light of your understanding, and your capacity to love, in short all that makes you a person at all, all of which are directed to God as their end. That's pretty straightforwardly what most people would call at least a minimal personal relationship: it's bound up with you as a person, God is directly involved, it's a closer relationship than you can have with friends or family, and so forth. But that's apparently not enough; so we have the immediate question of how personal, and in what way personal, the personal relationship has to be before you'd count it as being enough.

Santi said...

In relation to divine hiddenness, it’s interesting that, in his essay, Feser classes extraterrestrials among the gods.

Extraterrestrials aren’t supernatural beings, so why mention them?

I think it’s because we all intuit that conspiracy theories belong to the family of superstitions: unseen Others with powers far beyond our own (extraterrestrials, the Illuminati, the Bilderbergers) are like ghost birds, fluttering just beyond full comprehension, leaving a trail of vague dots to connect. For those who believe in them, they work in a hidden and mysterious manner to bring about this or that.

So it's hardly a surprise that a post on superstition by Feser elicits in the thread accompanying it a fraught discussion of God's hiddeness.

Like extraterrestrials, God is hidden--and why God remains hidden is a mystery. God's mind, like the extraterrestrial's mind, is beyond the human mind. Why don't the aliens just land on the White House lawn? Why did God allow the Holocaust? Why hasn't Jesus come back already? Why won’t the aliens help us? God's ways--and the extraterrestrials’ ways--are not our ways.

So superstition is agent detection. It's the conviction that mysterious beings, principles, or laws are at work behind the scenes.

Superstition, overeager to make sense of a thing, won't take contingency, the haphazard, chance, nature, randomness, or Occam's razor for an answer.

But maybe the simplest explanation is that God and the extraterrestrials in their UFOs, and "the princes of the powers of the air" (demons) are ghost birds. Maybe their vaunted superior minds aren't actually at work after all. Perhaps they're the proverbial black cats in a black room that aren't there.

Greg said...

@ Alat

Thanks also for your most recent couple posts. I have a few things to comment but can't type them up at the moment.

DNW said...

"When the Jews blamed their exile into Babylon on their failure to adhere to the letter of the Torah, they were being superstitious."


Yeah ... that's like blaming a cowardly jerk-off for inviting the disdain of others.

Joe said...

John West, I'll give it a shot here.

Summarizing TLS's section on the First Mover, in essentially-ordered causal series:
o Each member depends simultaneously on other members which depend simultaneously on others, etc. Thus we trace downward in the present, not backwards in time.
o The later members are mere instruments of the first member and have no independent causal power of their own.
o If there was no first member, such a series would not exist at all.
o If the last member does actually exist, then the series cannot go back infinitely, even theoretically. There must be a first member.

Dr. Feser then returns to the example of the stone & stick. Continuation of the series of causes is dependent on the earliest member causing (i.e., stone{stick{hand{arm{muscles{neurons{nervous system{molecular structure{atomic basis{electromagnetism, gravitation, the weak &a strong forces, and so on). My question is about the "and so on". What or who is the first member in that series?

Are we tracing every essentially-ordered causal series existing in the here and now to the same first member, i.e., God?

Scott said...

@Joe:

Are we tracing every essentially-ordered causal series existing in the here and now to the same first member, i.e., God?

Yes.

Skywatcher said...

@Jeremy Taylor

But St. Peter declared exactly that: There is no other name by which we must be saved. [I quote from imperfect memory, and therefore slightly paraphrase. I trust I have the gist right.]

To address what I take to be the heart of your concern: there is nothing Calvinist here. But to focus (sentimentally) on the large numbers who have undoubtedly been lost is to look at the situation backwards. God will save anyone who sincerely follows the graces He sends him. Remember, God desires that all men be saved. Therefore he continually showers all of us, no matter who or where we are, with actual graces that prompt us to seek the truth. Anyone who sincerely cooperates with these graces will be led to the one true Ark of Salvation, the Catholic Church, and will be Baptized. God's arm is not shortened. St. Thomas points out that even if a man were raised among wolves with no contact with human civilization, if he is of good will, God would send him a missionary or even an angel to teach him the Faith and Baptize him. Those who do not find the true faith have only themselves to blame, either because they have not cooperated with those graces, or because God, in His mercy, knowing that they would reject grace, withholds grace from them so that they will not commit the greater sin of rejection.

Joe said...

@Scott

So if we return to the Stick & Stone example, would we conclude the chain like this:

stone{stick{hand{arm{muscles{neurons{nervous system{molecular structure{atomic basis{electromagnetism, gravitation, the weak & strong forces...{God

How would the human intellect/will fit into the equation, because the human person decided to push the stick?

I apologize if this seems so rudimentary, but it's my first attempt into metaphysical philosophy.

Daniel said...

@Alat, well given that there are proofs which appear to work why not adopt position no. II as a ground-base whilst testing the truth claims of the later options?

But St. Peter declared exactly that: There is no other name by which we must be saved.

Re this and the eskimo example there's an element of cyclicality here. The eskimo has to take on faith the specifically Catholic claims about Original Sin and Salvation - in a sense he/she to accept Christianity in order to find the arguments for it compelling. So in other words the correctness of the Five Ways and their like would give the eskimo reason to accept the existence of the God of Classical Theism but alone no reason to accept the truth of any given revelation.

Skywatcher said...

Glenn:

"Extra Ecclesiam nulla salus" is far more than an affirmation -- it's a dogma, proclaimed infallibly numerous times, and demanding belief and submission, not sophistic attempts to explain it away. Your sources are not infallible, and are thereby of no standing when compared with the following, which were all infallibly proclaimed.

"There is but one universal Church of the faithful, outside of which no one at all is saved." (Pope Innocent III, Fourth Lateran Council, 1215.)

"We declare, say, define, and pronounce that it is absolutely necessary for the salvation of every human creature to be subject to the Roman Pontiff." (Pope Boniface VIII, the Bull Unam Sanctam, 1302.)

"The most Holy Roman Church firmly believes, professes and preaches that none of those existing outside the Catholic Church, not only pagans, but also Jews and heretics and schismatics, can have a share in life eternal; but that they will go into the eternal fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels, unless before death they are joined with Her; and that so important is the unity of this ecclesiastical body that only those remaining within this unity can profit by the sacraments of the Church unto salvation, and they alone can receive an eternal recompense for their fasts, their almsgivings, their other works of Christian piety and the duties of a Christian soldier. No one, let his almsgiving be as great as it may, no one, even if he pour out his blood for the Name of Christ, can be saved, unless he remain within the bosom and the unity of the Catholic Church." (Pope Eugene IV, the Bull Cantate Domino, 1441.)

Dogma, once proclaimed, cannot change.

A couple of pertinent quotations from Scripture:

"Jesus answered: Amen, amen I say to thee, unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God." (John 3:5)

"And He said to them: Go ye into the whole world, and preach the Gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is Baptized, shall be saved: but he that beieveth not shalll be condemned." (Mark 16:15-16)

"Going therefore, teach ye all nations; Baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and behold I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world." (Mt 28:19-20)

"Without Faith it is impossible to please God." Heb. 11:6"

Scott said...

@Joe:

So if we return to the Stick & Stone example, would we conclude the chain like this:

stone{stick{hand{arm{muscles{neurons{nervous system{molecular structure{atomic basis{electromagnetism, gravitation, the weak & strong forces...{God

How would the human intellect/will fit into the equation, because the human person decided to push the stick?


Yes, and yes.

Also keep in mind that the stone/stick example is really an illustration. Bear with me for this next bit, because it's crucial.

The modern English word motion is perhaps not the best word for what Aquinas was on about. We inherited it from medieval Latin motio, but the real idea here is change.

And—here's the crucial bit—"change," for Aquinas, includes just continuing to exist. He has a nice argument that because we can know what a thing is (a phoenix, for example) without knowing that it is, there's a real distinction between essence and existence. In Aristotelian terms, the former is in potency to the latter. So, again, in a certain technical sense, continuing to exist counts as a sort of change—an actualization of a potency.

And that means that at the head of the causal series (I'm deliberately not distinguishing properly here between Aquinas's First and Second Ways) there must be a Being of Whose essence it is to exist. Without such a Being, none of the elements of the per se causal series could continue to exist at all. There's a Scholastic principle stating that anything that has being has it from itself or from another; stones and sticks and arms and muscles and neurons aren't the sorts of thing that account for their own existence, so they must have their being from another. And a cause can't confer what it doesn't have, so the fundamental cause must be Being Itself: the "I AM" we know from the book of Exodus.

The basic idea is that God must exist in order for anything else to exist.

grodrigues said...

@Joe:

Apologies for butting in, but let me add the following to what Scott said. The way you *seem* to be thinking is the following. Say we have a causal series (I am blurring the distinction between the First and the Second way, but this is not important and can be cleaned up)

(A) ... -> c_n -> ... -> c_0

Now you seem to think that Aquinas comes along and says that the chain is missing its head, that is:

(B) God -> ... -> c_n -> ... -> c_0

But this is a highly misleading picture; instead of (B) you should start with (A), put God above it and have arrows shoot out from Him towards every member of the series (my ascii skills are lousy, so hopefully this verbal description is clear enough). This is important because, first, (B) is misleading in potentially fatal ways. One is that it seems to make of God yet another item in the inventory of the universe; just as we have rocks, trees, planets and persons, there is also this being, a rather exotic one as it turns out to be, whom everybody calls God. But this elides something that Aquinas is at pains to maintain, that God is not *a* being, or *a* cause, but rather Being itself, but rather the Cause of causality.

This also impinges on the direct question you ask. Aquinas wants to say that God is the primary cause of Free Will, just as he is the primary cause of every motion or secondary cause. But if we take (B), it seems to imply that God is the cause of Free Will in the exact same sense a secondary cause is the cause of its effect, but this is in contradiction to what Aquinas understands Free Will to be -- acts that somehow are up to "us", free of compulsion or necessitation. Contradiction is avoided by maintaining that God is the cause, but as primary cause, of Freely Willed acts, in other words, God is the First cause of every motion in its proper kind, whether motions of a Free Will or not. Now somebody could interject here and object that for acts to be really Free they would have to be absolutely free of any determination, even from God qua primary cause. Aquinas would respond with a puzzled look and retort that one is asking for an impossibility, as there can be no motion absolutely free from God -- after all, that is what the the First Way proves. Just as the concurrent, primary activity of God is a necessary precondition for there to exist any causality at all, so is the concurrent primary activity of God a necessary precondition for there to exist any Freely Willed acts in the first place.

Hope it helps (and that I have not botched and maimed Aquinas too horribly)

Scott said...

Thanks to grodrigues for making a very important point.

But this is a highly misleading picture; instead of (B) you should start with (A), put God above it and have arrows shoot out from Him towards every member of the series (my ascii skills are lousy, so hopefully this verbal description is clear enough).

How's this?

G->c_n
O->…
D->c_0

(Okay, not great in the preview, but I'll leave it.)

Joe said...

@Scott
@GRodrigues

Can't say "I got it!" But can say I'm starting to get this. :)

I did misunderstand the causal series to have God at its head as the first member, whereas, now I see that God is the first member of every member of the series. Where I do want to slow down and try to better understand, is the argument that he sustains in existence every thing that exists. IOW, for every thing to continue to exist, why must God be involved? Is that because EVERY existing thing is always moving/changing from potentiality to actuality and, therefore, requires a cause or mover? This is difficult to wrap my head around, because I'm looking at my rug right now and wondering why it requires God to sustain it in existence at this moment. Seems like I'm making another huge error somewhere.

John West said...

Greg,

Sometimes you'll see it claimed that living out a Christian life is pointless, because you can just confess your sins at the end. Besides the problem of knowing exactly when you will die, one can see how you could drive a truck through the hole in that argument...

Incidentally, during the early medieval period there were a number of kings that waited until right before death for baptism. They thought that by doing this, they could live however they desired and still go to heaven.

Alat,

God’s Revelation teaches about the cosmic struggle and our little part in it, with our eternal destiny at stake – and if God chose to reveal it, I suppose it’s because He thought it relevant that we knew it. But, if that is the case, why such a clumsy method, so vulnerable to error, so vulnerable to misunderstanding, so vulnerable to chance? I’m told God fashions Himself each and every human soul. Why doesn’t He also instill in us the basic information about the dramatic scene we’re about to enter, and what our choices really are? The only answer I’ve been able to find is that this would infringe our free will, but I fail to see how. I’m not sure God exists, and this certainly affects the way I play my small part in the drama.

Molinists might argue that it's possible God ordered the world such that all the people for who special revelation was completely unavailable were people who would have chosen to turn away from God in any possible world they had access to special revelation.

One may object that means a fairly huge percentage of people would have turned from special revelation even if they had received it, and that this seems implausible. In response, the Molinist might say that it only appears to be a large percentage of people from our limited, temporal perspectives, but that given the exponentially faster population growth now when almost the entire world has access to special revelation, it's won't ultimately turn out to be a large percentage of people. Too bad I think Molinism is false. But, possibly, non-Molinists can fashion a similar reply.

Also, it's worth mentioning that on this view, the people who would have turned away from special revelation might have still responded to natural revelation such that they were saved even if they would not have responded positively to special revelation, but that's another matter.

Scott said...

@Joe:

[N]ow I see that God is the first member of every member of the series.

Yeah, that was the important point that grodrigues brought out clearly. Another way to make the same point is that the members of the causal series are secondary causes, whereas God ia a (the) primary cause. What I mean is this: beings other than God (you and I, for example) have a sort of "derivative" power to make things happen, but we wouldn't have it if God weren't eternally endowing us with it. That's what it means to say that God is the cause of causes/causality.

Where I do want to slow down and try to better understand, is the argument that he sustains in existence every thing that exists. IOW, for every thing to continue to exist, why must God be involved? Is that because EVERY existing thing is always moving/changing from potentiality to actuality and, therefore, requires a cause or mover? This is difficult to wrap my head around, because I'm looking at my rug right now and wondering why it requires God to sustain it in existence at this moment.

This is a very common sticking point, and I had to get past it myself. It does seem that once something exists, it should just continue in existence.

But consider your rug more closely—or, more properly, it's not a "thing" in its own right, so instead consider its contituent parts, which I'll take to be the molecules that compose it (although it doesn't much matter if its constituent parts turn out to be something else). Each such molecule has a nature or essence: the what that it is, the principle by which it exists. Does that nature or essence contain the explanation for the molecule's existence?

Aquinas says no. And if he's right (which I think he is), then the continuing existence of the molecule requires every bit as much explanation as its initial existence. If it's not part of the nature/essence of something to exist in the first place, so it seems to me, then it's also not part of its nature/essence to perpetuate it in existence.

If that's right, then the ongoing existence of the molecules of your rug does require an extrinsic explanation.

Scott said...

@Joe again:

A key point here is that for Aquinas, "existing" is an act—something that something does. It may help to keep that in mind.

Joe said...

@Scott
@GRodrigues

Aquinas says no. And if he's right (which I think he is), then the continuing existence of the molecule requires every bit as much explanation as its initial existence. If it's not part of the nature/essence of something to exist in the first place, so it seems to me, then it's also not part of its nature/essence to perpetuate it in existence.

I got it! Scott, that's very helpful. Thank you!
I'm going to continue working through this and will need to get through Aquinas' First and Second Way. I hope I can reach back out to you (and GRodrigues) the next time I get stuck. :)

Scott said...

@Joe:

I'm going to continue working through this and will need to get through Aquinas' First and Second Way. I hope I can reach back out to you (and GRodrigues) the next time I get stuck. :)

Please do! I don't claim to be an expert but I'll be happy to assist when I can. I won't speak for grodrigues but he's always been happy to help as well. And there are many others here who can pitch in.

DeusPrimusEst said...

Slightly OT but can anyone help out with an essay on Kant? Specifically, I'm writing on his "fideism", where he holds religion is properly a matter of subjective faith vs objective knowledge. In short, he denies we can know anything about God.

What I would like to know is: why this faith-based conception of religion is inadequate, apart from merely being incorrect? Why should natural knowledge of God be preferable to what he proposes?

If anyone could offer their thoughts, I'd be much obliged.

Scott said...

@DeusPrimusEst:

What I would like to know is: why this faith-based conception of religion is inadequate, apart from merely being incorrect? Why should natural knowledge of God be preferable to what he proposes?

If we couldn't have natural knowledge of God, what would we be having faith in?

I'm not saying everybody does, or even should, believe in God based on reasoned arguments. But such reasoned arguments have to be possible in principle in order for faith to have a foundation. Otherwise, whom would we be trusting?

Glenn said...

Skywatcher,

Thanks for the response.

Dogma, once proclaimed, cannot change.

One and the same thing may be understood variously. But that there may be varying understandings of a particular proclamation is hardly, on its own, sufficient evidence that any one of the understandings necessarily involves a change in the dogma proclaimed.

A couple of pertinent quotations from Scripture:

Thank you for these as well.

I'd like to post in turn what I think are some pertinent quotations. They aren't from Scripture, but from Pope Innocent III, Fourth Lateran Council, 1215:

o We firmly believe and simply confess that there is only one true God, eternal and immeasurable, almighty, unchangeable, incomprehensible and ineffable, Father, Son and holy Spirit, three persons but one absolutely simple essence, substance or nature.

o This holy Trinity, which is undivided according to its common essence but distinct according to the properties of its persons, gave the teaching of salvation to the human race through Moses and the holy prophets and his other servants, according to the most appropriate disposition of the times.

o There is indeed one universal church of the faithful, outside of which nobody at all is saved, in which Jesus Christ is both priest and sacrifice.

Here also is a quotation from Scripture:

o For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them. Matt. 18:20

If Scripture is right, and Pope Innocent III is right, then perhaps it would follow that where two or three are gathered together in Christ's name, there one may find the universal church.

Scott said...

It's not really apropos of anything, but if nobody minds, I'd like to comment on the general graciousness of the posters to this blog.

I can be a bit snarky at times, and so can others. But the snarkiness seems to be generally well-aimed, and the exceptions are few.

Glenn said...

Skywatcher,

You to Jeremy: But to focus (sentimentally) on the large numbers who have undoubtedly been lost is to look at the situation backwards.

It doesn't seem clear that Jeremy was speaking from sentimentality; in fact, his query seemed rather rational. And since St. Thomas was mentioned in your response to Jeremy, it may be helpful to quote what he wrote rather than rely on an abbreviated paraphrasing of it:

"Granted that everyone is bound to believe something explicitly, no untenable conclusion follows even if someone is brought up in the forest or among wild beasts. For it pertains to divine providence to furnish everyone with what is necessary for salvation, provided that on his part there is no hindrance. Thus, if someone so brought up followed the direction of natural reason in seeking good and avoiding evil, we must most certainly hold that God would either reveal to him through internal inspiration what had to be believed, or would send some preacher of the faith to him as he sent Peter to Cornelius (Acts 10:20)."

DeusPrimusEst said...

Scott,

Thanks for your reply. It's obvious now I think about it; of course we need to know that there is a God before we can have faith in Him.

This is quite interesting:

"I'm not saying everybody does, or even should, believe in God based on reasoned arguments."

I would say that they should, though. For surely, whatever beliefs a person may hold, they ought to be able to say why they hold them? But I do agree the arguments have to actually be there as a foundation, which seems to imply that at least someone must know them. I would say it is a fuller faith (contra Kant, who limited reason precisely "to make room for faith") that has a greater foundation, and therefore knows more of God. Am I wrong?

Scott said...

I would say that they should, though.

Well, 1 Peter 3:15 certainly seems to agree.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Greg,

I too am not an expert on their views, but it seems to me that the Church could endure whilst being a beleaguered, persecuted remnant. It has done this before. I suppose it would depend upon how important the strength of the visible Church is, how the Bishop of Rome must be appointed (I believe some Sedevacantists have set up rival Popes), and how long the See of Rome can remain unoccupied.

Skywatcher,

If you are referring to the quote that we are saved through Christ. That, of course, depends on whether it is Christ the man or Christ the logos.

There is, shall we say, something unsatisfying about the argument of St. Thomas that you give. Why would we think that those who not reached through missionaries were necessarily of less merit than those who were? It seems quite an ad hoc claim.



John West said...

Skywatcher,

But St. Peter declared exactly that: There is no other name by which we must be saved.

But what's the context of this quote? It sounds like it could mean what you suggest. On the other hand, it could be taken as trivially true. Trivially true in that even if there were non-Christians that are saved, every person that is saved would still be saved only through Christ because Christ died for all our sins—even if they never knew of Him in life. There is simply no other way one could be saved. The context may clarify.

John West said...

Alat wrote: I’m told I should accept the truth of Christianity because of the Resurrection. But how do I know the Resurrection, and all of sacred history for that matter, actually happened? [...] Then I’d have to learn several ancient languages: Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, Latin, and probably others. Then I’d have to hunt the manuscripts, both of Scripture and of the early believers. Then I’d have to trace their origin and derivation until today. Then I’d have to get a profound knowledge of the history, geography, customs, etc. of the related places. And this is just for Christianity! For, in order to evaluate the truth claims of the other contestants, I’d have to do all this for the other options too, and not get astray or wrong in any part of the chain. Needless to say this is impossible, and if salvation required it, no one could be saved.

I'm not so sure arguments for the historicity of the Resurrection provide a good foundation for Christian particularism anyway. Since any such argument is fundamentally abductive in reasoning, it is at best probably true. I think this causes problems.

I think people committed to the truth of a paranormal (used, strictly, in the literal sense of outside the norm) event because of a probability ought to also be committed to the truth of all paranormal events equally or more likely to have ocurred. The resurrection of Christ is a paranormal event. Hence, I think people committed to the truth of the Resurrection because of a probability (ie. because abductive, historical investigation) ought to be committed to the truth of all paranormal events equally or more likely to have ocurred than it.

If, based on the same type of historical investigation, the paranormal events confirmatory of any other religion are equally or more likely to have occurred than the Resurrection, then I think that rather undermines attempts to affirm Christianity on the back of these historical, secular investigations into the Resurrection.

What's worse, depending on the data available at any given point, even if in fact all these other paranormal events didn't happen, there may still be no way to tell this from the historical method. I've been told the same as Alat, but it seems to me a bad idea to pin one's particularism on investigations into the historicity of any such event.

It may just be that, for the Christian, there is a point at which one must accept certain truths de fide. Though, perhaps it can be argued indirectly that one ought to accept those truths.

John West said...

occurred^

Crude said...

Alat,

How can I possibly know the way? To evaluate the evidence, I would need training in philosophy (to establish the praeambula fidei). Then I’d have to learn several ancient languages: Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, Latin, and probably others. Then I’d have to hunt the manuscripts, both of Scripture and of the early believers. Then I’d have to trace their origin and derivation until today. Then I’d have to get a profound knowledge of the history, geography, customs, etc. of the related places. And this is just for Christianity!

Do you use this same bar of required evidence for other topics?

I mean - to accept common descent or evolution, do you say "Well, now I have to pick up degree-equivalent knowledge in multiple scientific disciplines including biology and archaeology, perform experiments to ascertain whether or not evolution is capable of the large-scale changes being credited to it (and this is assuming I have enough time!) and..."?

Scott said...

Good news: Ed's Neo-Scholastic Essays seems to be coming out this week. Amazon says my copy will be arriving on Thursday.

Santi said...

DNW:

Jesus was also despised and rejected of men.

And it's one thing to make distinctions between religion and superstition, it's another to make important distinctions.

So when Feser starts his essay by writing that "Superstition is to religion as rashness is to courage," better analogies would be:

(1) Superstition is to religion as rape is to marital rape.
(2) Superstition is to religion as a beach burger stand is to MacDonald’s.
(3) Superstition is to religion as lying is to propaganda.
(4) Superstition is to religion as a communal experiment is to Socialism.
(5) Superstition is to religion as planting a tree is to the Forestry Service.

In other words, religion institutionalizes superstition, making it systematic, collective, rational, efficient, and effective to certain purposes (often self-serving of the institution of religion in terms of increasing its power, prestige, and property). Religion gives superstition ideological and intellectual cover.

So the better analogy is not of something ignoble or foolhardy to something noble (since when is religion not grounded in fear?), but of something local to something institutional.

For example, prior to the feminist revolution, it was widely taken for granted that men possessed the bodies of their wives; that wives ought to submit to advances coming from husbands. A woman, it was thought, contracted her body out in marriage, and that first consent could not be revoked. The bed could not be used by women as an instrument of power and autonomy. To be raped in marriage was barely conceivable because the institution of marriage hindered its conceptualization in that context. The institution caused people to not see oppression as oppression; to not see rape as rape.

Likewise with religion: it causes people to not see superstition as superstition.

So what's the solution? With regard to marital rape and rape in general, it took feminist consciousness raising to bring the two practices together (rape outside of marriage and rape within marriage). Distinctions were in need of being reduced, not multiplied.

Likewise with institutional superstition and superstition.

So to make the sorts of arbitrary and fine-grained distinctions between institutional superstition and superstition that Feser does is to cast fog over the forest. One sees the individual and nearby trees of superstition, but not the forest of superstition that is religion.

Crude said...

To flesh out my question to Alat further.

I think there's a kind of game that comes into play when questions of theism, particularly theism when wrapped up in religion, comes up.

The sort of evidence, understanding and knowledge that's expected of us with regards to belief seems to change pretty drastically depending on their orientation towards the topic. So Richard Dawkins regards a religious upbringing as equal to or worse than out and out sexual molestation of children - and his reason for that belief comes down to 'It's a hunch' or 'Well I heard some testimony from an admirer stating as much'. He regards that as pretty well sufficient evidence to justify his belief. Ask him what evidence would be sufficient to change his mind about God, and he sets the bar so ridiculously high that he admits he can't even think of anything that would manage it.

So no, I'm pretty skeptical of the idea that to rationally accept Christianity, one has to throw themselves into mastering multiple languages, becoming an expert in archaeology, etc. The barrier to belief seems a lot lower - but what's important is to recognize where one is setting the bar and why. Likewise for belief in most things.

The idea that one has to be an absolute expert about claim X to reasonably, provisionally belief X is true (or false) is just another bit of secular superstition - which, historically, have always been the most harmful, degrading superstitions to both the individual, and society at large.

Scott said...

@Crude:

I'm pretty skeptical of the idea that to rationally accept Christianity, one has to throw themselves into mastering multiple languages, becoming an expert in archaeology, etc.

Surely there's at least some reason for accepting it on the authority of the Church.

Daniel said...

@Scott,

Thanks for the heads up on Essays. I'm a bit surprised there hasn't been any formal announcement about this.

On another topic a certain suggestion, one which I was initially a little skeptical of, has thus far worked surprisingly well in this combox.

Crude said...

Scott,

Surely there's at least some reason for accepting it on the authority of the Church.

I agree that there absolutely is. That I'm not disputing. I just disagree with what one poster suggested was apparently a necessity in order to accept it.

Anonymous said...

Please do not feed the trolls, DNW!

Timocrates said...

@ Santi,

Thanks for that. I think I'm going to go and throw up now.

Anonymous said...

Santi,

You do not define your terms. Superstition is 'beyond belief'. It is essentially a religious concept since religion is the domain of belief. Belief is 'mediated knowledge' i.e. not scientia.

Religion or 'reli leggio' is a system of universal pre-civil law involving a creedal allegiance to certain dogmatic facts and corresponding principles. The central cult of a religion involves a recognition of the divine in terms of some concrete and particular instance i.e. a revelation tradition. Affirmation of the original instance is reaffirmed via ritual action and moral adherence. And so on, etc.

That which is belief or 'doxa' irreducibly so is only to be found within such a domain as described. Therefore the concept of some instance or pattern to be judged solely on grounds of belief inheres only within this domain i.e. whether or not this or that instance is either 'beyond belief' or coherent, etc.

Rape is a form of recreational sex wherein one party does not consent to the interaction. Recreational sex is immoral. Therefore, etc. and now we've arrived at a point of even fewer distinctions.

What is wrong with 'power', 'institutions', 'systems', 'prestige', etc.? I don't understand your continual use of these terms as if to excite the reader by way of certain lyrical, speech-pattern repetitions. How is a marriage not a contract for the establishment of a certain micro-society i.e. the family? How is 'the bed' as you call it purposed for any other object other than the fulfillment of the contract?

Also, what is 'feminist consciousness'?

Anonymous said...

Postscript,

Ignore my spelling of 'religio' as 'reli leggio'. Remembering words by mere sound will often lead to error.

Anonymous said...

Anon,

Do not feed the trolls! Never respond to Santi. It just isn't worth it.

Timocrates said...

@ Anon,

I agree with almost everything you said, except that recreational sex is immoral. It is not between married people because in part God made man and woman to enjoy each other and benefit from it, both morally and spiritually. Of course, the apparently random act of a man and his wife having intercourse might seem like pure sport, but it is not. God would not use the union of a man and a woman as a template for man's soul's union with God if there was anything remotely illegitimate about it. In fact, Jesus Christ himself affirms this primordial bond of man and woman, which has always been distinctive of Christian faith and the same's idea of the family, which is enduring even to this day in the West.

"Recreational sex" between a newly wed man and woman is not only sinless, but arguably pleasing to God. It goes beyond the natural, which it undoubtedly is. A man and his wife in marital bliss is such a perfection even in this life that the Lord dares build a theology upon union with Himself on it. Rare is such love and bliss, but not unintelligible and definitely not unimaginable.

A newly-wed married couple may enjoy each other as much as they please. In fact, Christian tradition even encourages this. I suppose, if there can even be disagreement on this point, that we must debate and define what "recreational" means. Man and wife are allowed and privileged to know each other; and in fact, abstaining from that right of bliss of enjoyment of one another as such is meritorious before God exactly because it is the forsaking of a natural and proper good (abstaining from evil is not praiseworthy; but abstinence for the sake of Christ between married person for the love of Him is - as everyone knows - meritorious).

Maimonides said...

It's every bit as horrendous as it sounds.

iwpoe said...

Does Feser every directly address objections to religion such as those found in Cognitive foundations of religion by Todd Tremlin? Clearly the idea that you can start with a set of naturalist assumptions about mind to then prove what's assumed is the general error, but the idea of religion is "agent detection" and "theory of mind" gone haywire is very seductive and difficult to rebut in specific to those who profess it.

Santi said...

Perhaps the most revealing part of Feser's essay is when he quotes Hayek endorsing the idea that it's okay to believe things that have not "been demonstrated to be true." This is followed not many sentences later with Feser explicitly writing this: "Certain roles and practices may have benefits that we cannot see."

In other words, Feser is providing in his essay rational justification for religious superstition.

And what are the sorts of religious superstitions that win Feser's seal of approval--and excuse making? Here are some of them:

--We may reasonably owe "reverence or dulia" to "angels and saints."
--False conceptions of the one true God do not constitute superstition, as with those who believe in "anthropocentric 'theistic personalism'" (such as Alvin Plantinga), and those who "may think of Him as an old man with a long white beard."
--Quoting The Catholic Encyclopedia, Feser endorses the view that people who worshiped "the 'false gods' of the heathen" may have been worshiping "the only true God they knew," and so their impulse was rightly directed to the divine--and therefore, to that extent, they were not engaging in superstition.
--Belief that prayer and the sacraments are efficacious, and that miracles, angels, and devils "cause unusual events to occur" are not superstitious beliefs (!).
--Belief in "disembodied souls" is not superstitious, but "fully intelligible."

So what is superstitious? Atheism. It's the last superstition. Why? Because to believe that there are things not fully "intelligible through and through" is to be superstitious. So long as you believe that God is intelligible through and through, and that God's ways are intelligible through and through (though appearing mysterious to our feeble intellects), then you're not superstitious.

But when atheists conclude that maybe some things just happen by accident ("shit happens"), or exist as brute facts (as with the idea that matter and the laws of nature have no particular cause, but just have always existed), then these atheists are, for Feser, engaged in the height of superstition.

All things happen to an intelligible purpose--God's purposes. Even the Holocaust (presumably).

Who else is superstitious besides atheists? These would include those who conjure devils for purposes of power, astrologers, believers in extraterrestrials, conspiracy theorists, and alternative medicine practitioners.

And these, of course, have their analogs among religionists (faith healers for alternative medicine practitioners; prophets for soothsayers; those who hope Jesus will one day fly down from the sky for those who hope UFOs will one day fly down from the sky, etc.), but this still doesn't make religious believers superstitious. Why? Because their hearts are in the right place, and their intentions are directed at the right object (God). For Feser, the right attitude and object is all (trust in God and institutional religious authorities vs. fear of the unknown; piety vs. impiety; faith vs. doubt; belief in--if not demonstration of--intelligibility vs. unintelligibly, etc.).

And if this doesn't convince you to decouple religion from superstition, Feser wants the reader, at minimum, to at least cut some slack to the Dark Ages. In the last sentence of his essay, he quotes Peter Dendle as writing the following: "There is little sense in singling out the Middle Ages, then, as a time of especially pronounced or absurd superstition."

In other words, traditional religion is not superstition, and, well, if you say it is, it's certainly no worse than the superstitions that circulate in non-religious circles today, so there.

This is what passes for an intellectual defense of superstition in religion.

It also happens to be an inadvertent reminder, not intended by Feser, of why one should not deploy philosophy in the service of--as the handmaid of--theology.

Crude said...

iwpoe,

but the idea of religion is "agent detection" and "theory of mind" gone haywire is very seductive and difficult to rebut in specific to those who profess it.

First, Ed's entire line of argument avoids the sort of problem that the 'agency detection' argument is talking about to begin with. It proceeds on a empirical/logical argument grounds, rather than some suspicion about what may or may not be the cause of a particular coincidence, some kind of feeling, etc.

That said...

It's pretty easy to rebut: just ask them what the scientific test is to determine that people are, in fact, wrong when they detect or suspect agency at work in nature, particularly at the scales relevant to what the religious believer is talking about. Arguing that 'we believe this because (hypothetical and flimsy evolutionary psychology argument here)' goes absolutely no way towards answering the question 'Yes, but is there in fact agency at work in our universe on these scales?'

Keep in mind that the cost is pretty high here for the naturalist: if they say "We don't know" (and they're going to have to say 'we don't know', because a scientific test for this sort of agency doesn't exist, and never will exist), then - if they're relying on science to inform their worldviews - they're done. Apparently the best scientific reply that can be mustered to questions about whether evolution in particular, or reality in general, is suffused with agency and intent of some kind is 'We don't know'.

But this knock doesn't swing against the theist, or even the generally religious, since they're not committed to a worldview that leans exclusively on science anyway. Agnosticism about these topics is fatal to the atheist, expected of the agnostics (which is why agnostics are not atheists, and never will be), and pretty well irrelevant to the theist/religious.

iwpoe said...

@ Crude:

Thank you. That does seem helpful. That said, what do you do with his list of so-called examples of agency detection gone wrong?

Do you know of a direct reply to Tremlin?

Crude said...

That said, what do you do with his list of so-called examples of agency detection gone wrong?

It's not clear what there is to do with such a list, given what I've said. Say that I hear rustling in the bushes and misattribute it to a cat, when the nearest proximate cause was in fact the wind. What does this gain Tremlin? It can't be 'there was no ultimate agency behind the rustling of the bushes', since ultimate agency is off the scientific table one way or the other - but ultimate agency is precisely what he's going after.

Otherwise it's just a case of the genetic fallacy.

Santi said...

Anonymous:

As for feminist consciousness raising, it's about seeing the systems of oppression that keep women from achieving full equality.

As for institutions, I'm not against institutions as such. For example, I think the U.S. military, as an institution, was a good thing during WWII, for it was instrumental in the defeat of Hitler.

But I do not think superstition is a good thing, and, unfortunately, religious institutions are the chief industrial manufacturers of superstition and conspiracy-mongering in the 21st century. Not the alternative medicine industry; not the smattering of television psychics on late-night television; not teen-inspired Wicca incense shops in Salem; not communism or fascism. Religious institutions.

Eisenhower was right, after leading the US military as an institution, both as a general and then as a president, to warn, when he retired, of a growing military-industrial complex.

In the 21st century, there is a superstition-industrial complex fueled chiefly by religious institutions.

And it's not just now. Religion has a historic and longstanding conspiracy and superstition problem--it is scarcely distinguishable from these--so Feser's denial that "true religion" has an unusual problem with superstition is akin to the global warming denialist who denies the human contribution to global warming.

If you can't even imagine the link between "true religion" and superstition, or if you deny the link--or don't see it as a problem--then you don't have to deal with the problem.

But it's important to call things what they are: "true religion" is really and truly pervaded with superstition--and always has been.

It's not a bug, it's a feature.

If you make that difficult to see; if you try to muddy the definition of superstition in such a way that "true religion" is scarcely touched by it, then you move into the territory of Orwell.

History and facts on the ground matter. It's little wonder there are so few professional philosophers in the 21st century who find the New Thomism persuasive, for it's so insular and impervious to history and reality testing. The New Thomism puts philosophy into the service of theology in a way that is very near to being autistic.

But if one lived at the time of Aristotle, one might retort to the conclusion that women must have fewer teeth than men by actually opening mouths and counting them. With regard to superstition, all one has to do is look around, survey history, and see with one's own eyes that superstition and religion are horse to carriage. Remove the harness of superstition from religion, and the carriage would seize up.

Miracle, mystery, and authority is the chief currency of religion.

Crude said...

iwpoe,

To add on to what I've said already.

One of the problems when dealing with 'naturalistic'/'scientific' critiques of theism, particularly metaphysics, is that you often get a whole lot of claims smuggled in that are illegitimate. You see this pretty often with evolution itself - the claim gets thrown out that evolution is purposeless and pointless, it aims at nothing, but it sneaks in the view that this is somehow a testable, scientifically tractable claim (or that it's automatically assumed to be right because, 'the theory says..!') Not only that, but it's been tested successfully.

Ask for the actual tests, and lo and behold, you don't get anything. At best you get some ad hocery claims about what God should be doing if God actually exists, which always quickly melt away into assumptions about God's existence, intentions, etc - not exactly scientific stuff.

Now, you mentioned the appeal such an explanation has, and I don't doubt there is some subjective appeal. But I think it's similar to how there's appeal to the view that 'atheism is primarily caused by people who are enamored with this or that sin and see a justification/'out' with atheism'. Sure, you can say it fits the data rather well. But saying it's a scientific view is a big joke.

iwpoe said...

@ Santi

You are an annoyance. Please stop writing. You have no thoughts but only the recitation of certain secularist themes with a few flourishes. Were you to formalize your arguments they would all show themselves as unequivocally bad, tendentious, or reliant upon rhetorical appeal and vagueness. Only the (limited) charm of your prose saves educated people from seeing this, and it is probably this lack of regular rejection that keeps you from turning inward.

iwpoe said...

@ Crude

The appeal lies on the level of rhetoric, not logic. It is psychologically hard to break from the existing frame, and an account that both falls within the existing frame and adds to its complexity in a way that isn't *rhetorically* absurd is very hard to dispel. In these cases the interlocutor will rarely be satisfied with a refutation at the higher level. He will want you to refute the new complexity and as many possible variations on it before he'll even consider the higher-level critique, since it's obvious to him that the higher level critique is false in *some way* when he's found a lot of explanatory power at a lower level.

I myself could fall into the same scheme right now if I took this psychological account of the hold a belief can have over a person and the procedure for dispelling that hold as a *reductive* psychology of belief formation itself. I could hold that belief systems are *nothing but* frames with not truth content, and that the more sophisticated the frame the more invested a person is in it and the more work an interlocutor has to do with counter sophistications et al never getting to any kind of truth. etc. etc.

Of course the general error would be the assumption that there is no such thing as truth content, but I might insist over and over how 'my account of investment in framework complexity explains so much of the actual findings we see when we talk to others' and then insist that in trying to refute that general claim you are being blind to the research, etc etc etc. I'm not sure what to do with a person trapped in that cycle. It's not as if belief formation is all reducible to a kind of mechanistic psychology, but it certainly cycles and ossifies in a machine-like manner for many people much of the time.

Santi said...

Iwpoe (or anyone else who cares to jump in):

I fairly summarized the whole of Feser's essay just a couple of posts up from this one. (It starts with a discussion of Feser's quoting of Hayek). All you need to do is point out what of importance I missed or got wrong in the outlining of Feser's argument.

And are transubstantiation and the Ascension of Mary superstitions or not? Should these be considered bugs or features of "true religion"?

iwpoe said...

@ Santi

"I fairly summarized..."

No you didn't. You surely know so, and if not you're not worth talking to. You are setting yourself up to be an intellectual vortex- like a secular leftist equivalent of a talk-radio host. Be quiet.

Jeremy Taylor said...

I think it has become clear by now the only way to react to Santi is to ignore him completely, or tell him to go away and others not to feed the troll. Anything else just encourages him to vomit forth his usual mindless nonsense.

Crude said...

iwpoe,

The appeal lies on the level of rhetoric, not logic.

I agree, but I thought you were asking me a logic question, not rhetoric.

If you're asking me how to deal with that claim on a rhetoric level, it's going to depend on the person - and frankly, I think at that point 'scientific arguments' like that are usually a false target anyway. I'm someone who rejects the idea that "scientism" (the whole 'they hold science and scientific reasoning in such high esteem that..!' schtick) is a large motivation for atheism - in large part because the atheists I've run into who supposedly hold it in such high esteem are pig ignorant of it. They like /the idea/ that they're beholden to science, because science is impressive, and being beholden to science seems like the sort of thing a smart person would be. Actual science doesn't mean much to them. Worse, it can be boring, complicated, or even indicate things they dislike.

So I guess start there. Are you really running into people who are just enthralled by the rhetorical power of an evolutionary psychology declaration that falls apart upon greater inspection? Or is that just a front for another motivation? From there, there's a lot of ways to go.

Santi said...

I don't look at Feser's blog very often, nor do I enter a thread very often, so I'm happy to play through the static and shunning of some of the regulars when I actually feel like saying something. They're free to ignore, I'm free to speak.

If I lived in a Muslim country, I really would have to shut up, so I'm happy not to shut up. And if I lived at the time of Shelley, I'd be expelled from university if I spoke my mind (as Shelley was). So go as ape-shit with invective, pleas to leave, shunning, and hand-wringing as you want, boys. I have a free soul. It touches me not. Welcome to America in 2015, where, not just Catholics, right-wing blood and soil nationalists, and Protestants, but Jews, atheists, internationalists, pragmatists, gays, environmentalists, lesbians, pagans, Muslims, the unaffiliated, vegetarians, empiricists, liberals, agnostics, feminists, and Caitlyn Jenner (!) aren't closeted, notice things, and speak.

And did you know that Caitlyn Jenner is a fricken Republican! I don't even know where to start with that one! Talk about trolling!

But remember that "trolling," like time, is relative to the (e)motion of the observer.

From the vantage of Jerry Coyne and Richard Dawkins, for example, the religionists who enter threads at atheist sites, or set up blogs to counter theirs, or write books with provocative titles (such as Feser's anti-atheist and gay equality ridiculing book, "The Last Superstition") are "trolling" Coyne and Dawkins (and gay people). Dawkins calls the books responding to his "God Delusion" "fleas."

And we live in the Internet age, gentlemen. You can't expect Feser to troll atheists and agnostics, as he does in this very post, linking to an essay where he accuses us of being superstitious, and then not expect to actually hear from at least one or two real atheists or agnostics who notice. It's not like you're going to casually bash us, and then expect us to self-closet.

And everything--absolutely everything--finds its way to that great collective thread called Google Search. Every provocative, controversial, discomforting, or unwanted opinion or idea expressed anywhere on the web can be called "trolling" because someone who doesn't want to be exposed to it is going to, sooner or later, stumble upon it anyway.

Feser knows this. It's why he has a blog. It's why he enters his own threads sometimes. It's why he wrote a book with an inflammatory title and attacked in it gay rights in alternations of argument, disdain, and ridicule. Feser's a tough guy. He's hard on homosexual equality.

But wielding the rhetorical sword and playing the confidence and provocation game out in the open cuts both ways on the web. There's no hiding behind an Oz curtain once you enter the fray. It's one reason traditional religion is having such difficulties in the 21st century. Absent places like Iran, there's no monopoly of religion enforced by the state. The zeitgeist is no longer about hierarchy, proclamation, and controlling the flow of opinion within a tight knit circle. It's about democracy, dialogue, empiricism, and the open marketplace of ideas.

But the religious ark doesn't fare well on the open seas of unfettered thought and dialogue, and can't patch the Internet holes fast enough, and people are noticing--and talking back--and frequently walking off the ark, sometimes two-by-two (as with gay and lesbian couples; as with heterosexual couples who support their equality and dignity).

People are tired of the priest scandals; the pervy ministers; the Orwellian failures of religion to deal honestly with its problems--its problems with evolution, with relevance, with women, with psychological terrorism.

It's problems with superstition.

Crude said...

Regarding the whole question of 'rhetoric'...

I think one of the problems with the way most people think about the topic is that they tend to measure it in terms of immediate results, against the most obvious people. So, 'How do I get an on the spot conversion, or major concession, from a person so invested in atheism that they're willing to (typically, for our purposes) spend considerable amounts of their leisure time arguing the topic with strangers?'

That's a pretty rotten metric. Even the atheists and others who have shifted their views on this blog never did so as a result of a single interaction, from what I saw. Some reported a shift of views after reading Ed's books. Others changed their views over time. And still others just dug in their heels and jumped for anything, including naturalist magic (brute facts, etc) to resist any amount of movement on the topic.

Now, I'm just a nobody, and my track record mostly involves growling at people. But I stand by the idea that for some atheists - I'm thinking largely of the Cult of Gnu style here - it's actually pretty pointless to try and talk with them. The best you can do many times is just talk at them. If you talk with them, you're giving them an enemy who they must defeat, and who all of their mental energy will be devoted to trying to find some way, any way, to insult, question, make look bad, etc. Even if they fail on every front, they're not mentally invested in actually 'considering what's being said and being open to the possibility that they were wrong'.

If you talk at them? If you remove 'the enemy, who they are currently fighting' from the equation? Then all they have left to do anything with is what's being said. Even that may not work, since a good number will just walk away if there's no one to fight, or if they encounter something that worries them, go search for someone to fight with. But in general, the more you can get them focusing on the arguments and the concepts (as opposed to the people), the better.

Or so my view is anyway.

iwpoe said...

@ Santi

"I don't look at Feser's blog very often..."

Clearly, and yet here you are.

Anonymous said...

The point, troll, is that you do not argue properly. You string together fallacies with tedious rhetoric and pollute the combox. Those here would be quite happy to hear from sensible, knowledgeable atheists who make reasoned arguments and inquiries, as you well know. You do none of this. Now, go away until you do.

iwpoe said...

@ Crude

I ask the logic question for me. Sometimes I find neuroscience talk so mesmerizing that I'm not sure precisely what I'm supposed to say in reply. I remember once when I was sitting in on a seminar on the metaphysics of mind and the professor insisted that some present thinker held on the basis of the modularity of brain apparati that the mind was, in fact not a unitary phenomena. This was all very impressive, but then I asked whether that isn't simply an issue of the fallacy of composition and pointed out that in the history of philosophy the mind has traditionally, at least as far as Plato, been broken down into numerous faculties without any worry about the unity of the mind, noting further that a disunity of mind is contrary to all phenomenology of experience and, at least on first glance, seems to present innumerable problems with respect to knowledge itself and metaphysics more generally. I was unable to shift him from the basic commitment that 5 brain bits = 5 minds, which is boggling both since no one thinks that 5 mind bits (memory, will, foresight, imagination, etc) = 5 minds and boggling on even a basic mereological level- for, five animal parts (4 legs and a head) /= five animals. The man was so *sure* of what he was talking about that I began to doubt myself. After all, he's the sitting professor, and I don't hold any kind of institutional position- maybe I'm crazy.

That situation obviously opens itself to the rhetorical problem as well, but the logic needs to be clear for me so that I'm not approaching it as *just* another rhetorician. The rhetorical situation after that is obviously variable. Sometimes you point out a problem to a man and he becomes tripped up or perplexed and falls silent. Sometimes he shifts to patronizingly assuming that you've misunderstood him. Sometimes he slots you into some default image of "the opposition" and begins to argue with you *as if* you're *really saying* X where X is some caricature or unrelated nonsense. It is a process with *some* people, and it's hard to know who you can shift around ahead of time.

Santi said...

Anonymous:

It’s not my reasoning processes that are giving a pass to superstition, it’s Feser’s, for when you mix Aquinas with superstition you get what I’ll call Aquinastition.

So I’m not the Aquinastitionist here (an intellectual Thomist who makes sophisticated apologies for religious superstition.)

An Aquinastitionist says he opposes all superstition, but actually makes intellectual excuses and exceptions for superstition—specifically, religious superstition. I think it’s undeniable that this is what Feser does in his essay; he carves out a space for distinguishing acceptable from unacceptable superstition.

So we’ve got two sorts of persons here. The first is the epistemically cautious theist interested in Aristotle and Aquinas. This is the philosophically oriented person who is persuaded by the cosmological argument, and leaves it at that.

Aristotle, for example, rejected atomism and surmised that there must be some sort of an unmoved mover, but attached no particular superstitious beliefs or behaviors to that conclusion.

But then there is the Aquinastitionist. This is the philosophically oriented person persuaded by A-T metaphysics, but who defends certain forms of religious superstition as good. She may even be a practitioner of religious superstition—and thus a practitioner of Aquinastition—and therefore Aquinastitious.

But there’s a third person here, which I’ll name, in honor of Stevie Wonder’s song, “Silly Superstition,” the Silly Aquinastitionist.

The Silly Aquinastitionist accepts A-T metaphysics, believes in various religious superstitions, and combines these with still other forms of superstition (conspiracy theories, UFOs, etc.). In other words, the Silly Aquinastitionist is a full-on practitioner of Silly Aquinastition. She (or he) is the Caitlyn Jenner of Aquinastitionists—as far out and imaginative as you can push Aquinastition. If there’s a bead to finger, she’s there. If there’s a ring or foot to kiss or rub for luck, yes! Church on Sunday, Alex Jones on Monday.

Umberto Eco, by the way, called the mixing of authoritarian religious traditionalism with conspiracy theories and the occult a symptom of what he coined Ur-Fascism.

Miracle, mystery, and authority combined with Aquinas equals Aquinastition.

Joe Calandrino said...

Ed:

I've read your piece in the Routledge handbook. Clearly you do this sort of thing very well. You are able to achieve both a conciseness and completeness by presenting your subject with precision and brevity. I do not think your argument succumbs to your own critique as others have suggested.

Regrettably, I cannot say the same for your co-contributors. The handbook is, overall, a disappointment. Especially disappointing are the articles on postmodern and phenomenological approaches to religion and belief, which do not consider the most recent writings of the thinkers presented.

You make good use of Putnam and Hayak (I remain dubious about your use of the Catholic Encyclopedia)as you make distinctions among religion, superstition and imperfect worship in terms of intelligibility and coherence; I fear that your piece might suffer as critical evaluation of the handbook places its usefulness in doubt.

I don't think my money was well-spent.

iwpoe said...

@ Santi

"Aquinastitionist..."

Don't make up stupid terms, fool.

You are at no point engaging with the actual text. it would be open to a platonist who totally rejects religious revelation to agree with Feser's article. don't waste other people's time with false and misleading screeds.

Jeremy Taylor said...

The interesting thing is that there is an argument hidden in Santi's latest post. It is not a particularly good or insightful one, and it is implicit and mostly implicit, hidden behind silly rhetoric, but it is there. The problem is that long experience has taught us all here that he is totally incapable of further refining and defending his argument. If, as often happens, some hapless interloper responds to the argument, Santi will simply reply with more idiotic verbiage and gross fallacies and not in any sense develop or defend his substantial points. This is why he gets called a troll and told to go away, whatever lies he puts out about it being simply about his atheism.

iwpoe said...

I've argued with that sort of poster for nearly 20 years. This community has done an excellent job of marking him out at the waste of time so that he doesn't abuse the confidence of unsuspecting and sincere posters. It's maddening to work on a reply for 30 minutes, an hour, 3 hours etc to somebody who's just going to scramble it up, make mush out of it, and then return to their original nonsense. It can actually scare people away from contributing.

Even now my first impulse is to go through what he's saying line by line, correct him, and hope to get him back to something sane. No one can truly desire to live in confused thought, and he's sufficiently literary that he must have *some* sense that he's just not there.

iwpoe said...

@ Joe

You mean like Zizek and Marion? I'm a Heidegger guy, so I wasn't too disappointed. I think the theological turn guys and others simply have the misfortune of belonging to a generation that isn't dead yet, so they resist summary. Both movements are oriented toward big pictures, rather than widely shared small problems, so it's really rather a kind of difficulty to have a living author who could shift the picture around on you all of a sudden. Heidegger does so at least 2 major times. So I understand. Good essay compilations are available on both topics.

I was actually disappointed they let Tremlin's 'well science says...' article in the compilation. he can't be so blind to see that what he saying can't possibly touch any of the things he's talking about.

Santi said...

Iwpoe:

If theologians can generate new vocabularies, why can't I?

And yes, Feser is akin to the faitheist (an atheist who is not religious, but who apologizes for religion). A term is needed for the Thomist who says he's not superstitious, but who casts a friendly eye toward the religiously superstitious, apologizing for their behavior, and I've suggested it: Aquinastitionist.

Take, for instance, the apparitions of the Lady of Fatima over the skies of Portugal in 1917. How is belief in these sky apparitions not akin to those who believe, say, that the lights over Phoenix in March of 1997 were UFOs? If you don't know what I'm making referencing to, Wikipedia has a surprisingly long and detailed article on the Phoenix Lights, illustrating just how elaborate such superstitions can become.

Glenn said...

Santi,

1. I see at least one UFO nearly every day.

Sometimes, i.e., infrequently, I even take a picture of one or more of the UFOs that I see.

No big deal. And no superstition involved.

A UFO is an 'unidentified flying object'. And many of the flying objects I see are unidentified.

Occasionally, it is true, I do recognize that the flying object is a bird.

I am, however, on the wrong side of astuteness when it comes to identifying birds.

So, if it isn't, say, a pigeon, seagull, parrot, hawk, crow, blue jay, eagle or turkey buzzard, then, yep, that there qualifies as a UFO -- aka, an unidentified flying ornith.

2. Of course, not all unidentified objects are flying. In fact, some unidentified objects are flitting.

Now,

2a. Anyone who has read one or more of your comments can't help but to get the distinct impression that there had been a plethora of objects flitting through or about your mind prior to and/or at the time of your writing.

2b. Given the usual lack of evidence of normative rationality in your comments, it is clear that many of the objects flitting through or about your mind have not been properly identified.

2c. An object not properly identified is an object which, in effect, and for the intent and purpose of normative rationality, remains unidentified.

2d. It therefore follows that, when your finger-tips are put to the keyboard, your mind is, or has been, swarming with a slew of unidentified flitting objects -- aka, UFOs.

2e. It further follows that, in mocking UFOs, you are mocking the goings-on of your own mind.

3. ...can generate new vocabularies, why can't I?

New vocabularies are comprised of new terms. And a new term is a neologism.

Example:

Santiation - the act or process of polluting an environment (often with IIFOs -- aka, improperly identified flitting objects).

iwpoe said...

@ Santi

You can, but you shouldn't because you're a fool. Thomists do so to make technical distinctions. You do so for childish reasons.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Santi,

Here's an idea. Why don't you make your arguments in a straightforward, clear, and concise manner, instead of hiding them amongst tedious and pointless rhetoric and verbiage?

If you don't want to be called a troll, this is what you must do. It is clear you are making a point about the beliefs of the religious resembling superstition and the religious claiming more certainty than their arguments allow. Express this as a proper argument, with rhetoric and innuendo. Then maybe you will not be told simply to go away. Until you do this, go away.

Jeremy Taylor said...

- that should be without rhetoric and innuendo, of course.

Santi said...

Jeremy:

Nietzsche once said that life without music would be a terrible mistake.

The human mind functions by the music of metaphor, and is well assisted by metaphor. Metaphor is life. Metaphor is part of the truth.

Argument stripped clean of metaphor doesn't present a clearer image of one's thought.

Argument absent metaphor is a tree absent bark. You don't have the real tree when you strip away the bark; you don't have the Essence of Tree before your gaze; you don't have the Truth. You have a dead tree. You have a tree that isn't represented whole. You have a tree missing something.

The truth is the whole, and part of the truth is in the bark, as any dog will tell you.

Hate metaphor? Shakespeare is notorious for flitting from metaphor to metaphor in a manic way, and there's far more living truth in Shakespeare than Aquinas' Summa (which Aquinas himself recognized at the end of his life, calling his writing straw, and going silent).

Silence is metaphor in absentia. Silence and metaphor are non-dual aspects of one another. Metaphor is what you fill the silence with. Silence waits on metaphor; on the contingency of the new life that sees things that are surprising.

So if you're going to bring any novelty into existence at all, and see something with fresh eyes, you've got make room for the leap from branch to branch, and that room is emptiness and silence.

One needn't always be the ant, tracing down to foundations hidden uncertainly in the dark loam, then working one's way tediously up and out again after imagining that, yes, contact has been kept with the root (as you imagine it).

Metaphors are epiphanies. This is that! So many epiphanies in Shakespeare.

And Jesus used them: "This is that which was spoken of by Daniel the Prophet..."

So when I read Feser's essay, I thought: Feser has just written out a Thomistic version of a faitheist argument. This is that! Atheists can be faitheists and Thomists can be, well, what? Thomastitious.

Santi said...

Glenn:

I confess your analogy made me smile. And it's kind of a backhanded compliment to say to me that my thought is non-normative, not properly identifying premises, too contingent, too variant, impossible to trace--for that is what life is.

Darwin recognized this; Joyce recognized this in his experiments with stream of consciousness writing.

And of course, Jesus recognized this. "The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but you don't know where it comes from, or where it is going. So is everyone born of the spirit."

Jesus must have been accused of being an anti-foundationalist of some sort; someone not following the letter of the law and of handed-down tradition; someone fluttering about. A ghost bird. A UFO.

And the Hindus haven't missed this aspect of existence either, identifying it with God (as Jesus did). Who thinks the thoughts that flit through your mind in each moment? Do you think your thoughts? Who's the you to which thoughts present themselves to awareness? Behind the flittings is a ghost bird; an unidentified flying object presenting itself to the gates of your awareness, which you then take to be you. "I just had this thought, and now this one, and now that." But who's really having those thoughts? The Self (the Atman) behind the self is always an unidentified flying object.

So this is a philosophy blog, and this thread has evolved quite contingently to a question of foundations. I think the truth is the whole; it's non-dual. The branches are every bit as important to attend to as the roots. Marginalize the branches, and you don't get the whole truth of the root. Every poet thinks this; every artist. I'm not in bad company here.

You think foundations are central, and the branches derivative; that you've got to keep the tap root always present to mind. You want roots in place before you'll flit from branch to branch. Ghost birds displease you, but here's what displease me: ghost roots.

You imagine that you've traced out the ghost roots of your arguments to their ghostly foundations--the Mind beneath all minds, not available to perception, but surmised accurately by you.

I say you're deluding yourself; you're insufficiently agnostic about your own method. Metaphysics is not math. That's your mistake. Metaphysics is exposed as undercover metaphor, poetry, and narrative any time one asks of the metaphysician: "Why did you start your argument there, and stop it here?"

Your ghost birds aren't sufficiently out in the open air, but beneath the Earth, dark and inaccessible, like bats. Which is why so few scientists and no major philosophers of the past 400 years have been Thomists.

That's my complaint with your position. Your UFOs, your ghost birds, are ghost bats.

"Why did you pick that ghost bat from which to start and stop all your arguments?"

Look, for instance, at what your own version of "normative reasoning" (your ghost bat) has brought you to: rationalizing religious superstition.

The branch flitterer sees religious superstition for what it is. Isn't it curious that Thomism, for all its assertions of being rational through and through, muddies this up?

Blinkers are useful tools in some circumstances, but sometimes you've got to remove the blinkers from the horse.

Or, to change the metaphor, sometimes it's good to work the tree like a bird, not an ant.

Glenn said...

Santi,

When I gave an example of a neologism, I provided a new term and it's defintion.

I failed, however, to provided an example.

Thank you for correcting my oversight.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Santi,

This is a combox. It is a place where concise and clear argument is best.

Certainly, there are times when rhetoric, analogy, and metaphor may support an argument, but it still important to have a clear and concise argument supported by the rhetoric, rather than an argument supporting the rhetoric.

Your rhetoric is bad and tedious because it obscures rather than illuminates your argument. You do not develop your arguments in a rigorous and sustained manner. You leave them implicit, often flitting from point to point, and drenching everyone in wild, obscure verbiage. No one in a sensible combox is going to bother trying to reconstruct mediocre arguments from the deluge of nonsense you put forward. This is why you are rightly called a troll.

Either start developing your arguments better, using rhetoric only to illuminate, and also only use sensible rhetoric and not flitting from spurious metaphor to spurious metaphor, or go away.

iwpoe said...

@ Santi

"for that is what life is"

What life *is*?

So life is in fact something that can be known despite all that blathering noise about mystery?

Santi said...

I admit I'm too manic and wordy, and I apologize for that. I can dial that down. But it's also true that those who disagree with me here have a similarly bad tendency: imagining that making it about me can function as retort and sufficient distraction to the issues I actually do try to raise.

Example: I asserted that, just as the faitheist is an atheist who makes excuses for religious faith, so the Aquinastitionist is a Thomist who makes excuses for religious superstition. Feser in his essay is an obvious instance.

Is that conceded? Am I supposed to guess?

Another example: I noted that Feser addresses no hard cases surrounding superstition in relation to religion, and so I offered one: the parallels between the apparitions of Fatima and the Phoenix Lights. I would regard both as folk superstition, but I don't know what others would say about this because the Oz curtain doesn't come down.

Glenn said...

I noted that Feser addresses no hard cases

He's a busy man with more important things to occupy his time, so don't take it personally.

iwpoe said...

@ Santi

"the issues I actually do try to raise"

Okay, well now that you're being succinct, what actually are those, in specific? You've filled your prior posts with so much effusive bullshit that I hardly understand the actual "issue" you have.

As near as I can tell, you often seem to be saying little more than 'religious people often have many superstitions', but Feser acknowledges this, so it's not an "issue" for him.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Santi,

The reason you are ignored is the one I mentioned: you do not make clear and concise arguments, generally. You commit gross fallacies and don't seem to care, and even your flawed arguments are often hidden in rhetoric, and rhetoric at that.

Your latest post is an improvements, even your relatively succinct presentation of your current argument is hard to make sense of:


Example: I asserted that, just as the faitheist is an atheist who makes excuses for religious faith, so the Aquinastitionist is a Thomist who makes excuses for religious superstition. Feser in his essay is an obvious instance.

What excuses? You don't show, one, what is superstition as you understand I; two the degree to which Dr. Feser is making excuses for it; and, three, the ways in which religious superstition can or cannot be excused. Behind the annoying jargon (why encourage idiots who would coin words like faitheists?), you just seem to making controversial assertions you need to explain and support.


Anonymous said...

Thanks Ed. I have a couple of your books: Scholastic Metaphysics, Aristotle on Method and Metaphysics, Philosophy of Mind, Aquinas - A Beginner's Guides, and Lock. They are (actaully you are) tremendous! Thanks for that.

Santi said...

Jeremy:

All arguments are flawed arguments, and "arguments...hidden in rhetoric," for we can always deconstruct the premises from which any argument starts and stops.

It's how we've ended up, in the 21st century, with a relativist, pragmatic, and democratic culture. The Enlightenment didn't just deconstruct Scholasticism, it ended up, after 400 years, deconstructing itself.

So it largely has to do with how generous we're prepared to be with the speaker; whether we're willing to start and stop our arguments where the speaker does.

Perceptions of rationality v. irrationality can often boil down to a conservative v. liberal thing. Feser, for example, starts his essay deploying a dubious analogy that functions to bias the reader to place religion in a superior position to superstition. For you, you already agree with this premise, so you let Feser's first gambit of the essay pass without comment. I don't. I notice how the analogy is functioning as rhetoric, and offered (earlier in this thread) counter analogies.

Santi said...

Jeremy:

As to showing in Feser's essay where he gives a pass to religious superstition, I actually did make a brief list earlier in the thread which you may have missed. My first observation was to notice that he quotes Hayek endorsing the idea that it's okay to believe things that have not "been demonstrated to be true," and that "Certain roles and practices may have benefits that we cannot see."

And I quoted directly Feser's own phrasing surrounding those things, normally taken to be conventionally superstitious, that he nevertheless excludes from his definition of superstition:

--We may reasonably owe "reverence or dulia" to "angels and saints."
--False conceptions of the one true God do not constitute superstition. Thus Protestants like Plantinga who believe in "anthropocentric 'theistic personalism'" and who "may think of Him as an old man with a long white beard" are not being superstitious.
--Quoting The Catholic Encyclopedia, Feser endorses the view that people who worshiped "the 'false gods' of the heathen" may have been worshiping "the only true God they knew," and so their impulse was rightly directed to the divine--and therefore, to that extent, they were not engaging in superstition.
--Belief that prayer and the sacraments are efficacious, and that miracles, angels, and devils "cause unusual events to occur" are not superstitious beliefs.
--Belief in "disembodied souls" is not superstitious, but "fully intelligible."

You can drive a Mack truck of superstition through this list.

And notice, Jeremy, that Feser carves out a space for all sorts of religious superstition here--yet refuses to define it as such. This, I submit, is an abuse of language.

And also notice that Feser provides no specific examples of religious superstition (what distinguishes the legend of Fatima and the resurrection of Jesus from other oral, rural, or populist generated folk superstitions throughout history--such as the Phoenix Lights and the sun standing still in the Book of Joshua?). Feser keeps the issue of superstition in the abstract in such a way that his general comments cannot actually be pinned down to even a single instance.

And if you grant certain premises, just about everything is logically possible, and therefore defensible as "intelligible" (Feser's phrase). It's "intelligible" that we could all be living in a computer simulation, and not know it. It's "intelligible" that we could live in a multiverse. It's "intelligible" that God exists, even after the Holocaust. It's "intelligible" that the Virgin Mary appeared to Catholic children as a glowing light from a tree in Portugal in 1917. It's "intelligible" that UFOs might be influencing history behind the scenes. But are any of these things true? And why should we believe them?

And, Jeremy, I did define superstition earlier in this thread. I defined it as hyperactive agent or pattern detection (supernatural or hidden) where a contingent or natural explanation will do. I also defined it in relation to the habit of confusing correlation with causation, providing some straightforward examples:

--A person who blames a car wreck on a broken mirror is doing the same thing as a clergyman who blames an earthquake in Hollywood on filmmakers breaking God's commandments. It's a correlation-causation fallacy.

--When the Jews blamed their exile into Babylon on their failure to adhere to the letter of the Torah, they were being superstitious. When first century Christians blamed Titus' destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE on the Jews' rejection of Jesus, they were being superstitious.

Glenn said...

Santi,

All arguments are flawed arguments [...] for we can always deconstruct the premises from which any argument starts and stops.

You forgot to provide an example.

But you were kind enough earlier to have corrected a similar oversight on my part, so permit me to return the favor:

"I am experiencing an inner pain. It is not possible for this experience of pain to be permanently banished, but at least it can be alleviated -- by engaging in certain actions, by adopting certain attitudes, or by subscribing to certain views."

Glenn said...

Santi,

And, Jeremy, I did define superstition earlier in this thread. I defined it as hyperactive agent or pattern detection (supernatural or hidden) where a contingent or natural explanation will do. I also defined it in relation to the habit of confusing correlation with causation, providing some straightforward examples:

--A person who blames a car wreck on a broken mirror is doing the same thing as a clergyman who blames an earthquake in Hollywood on filmmakers breaking God's commandments. It's a correlation-causation fallacy.


It is true that your first words in your first comment under this OP were exactly that, i.e.,

"A person who blames a car wreck on a broken mirror is doing the same thing as a clergyman who blames an earthquake in Hollywood on filmmakers breaking God's commandments. It's a correlation-causation fallacy."

It is also true that, in that essay of his which has gotten your knickers in such a twist, Dr. Feser wrote,

"Obviously, a form of worship of the true God... might be epistemically defective in that it involves a credulous tendency to find religious significance in...events that have none[.]... [S]uch practices are superstitious and therefore instances of vice[.]"

Question: Are rational readers of and clear-headed contributors to this blog being superstitious when believing that a teacher of literature, in addition to being capable of reading, is capable of understanding what he reads?

Jeremy Taylor said...

Santi,

Your point about arguments and rhetoric is obviously fallacious, unless you maintain that all arguments are the same quality. Whatever the limits of discursive reason and argumentation, there are clearly arguments that are obviously that grossly fallacious and buried in rhetoric, even dubious rhetoric. We can all see which arguments are more clear, concise, and well reasoned an which are not. If you have trouble perhaps you could purchase a book on informal reasoning and introductory logic.

I am not sure what you are trying to prove with part about Hayek and the list you draw up, that you say you can drive a lorry through. It seems clear enough that you are assuming much of his position on these issues is nonsense, presumably because you are assuming a heavily sceptical (or pseudo-sceptical, depending upon your viewpoint) and naturalistic/empiricist basic viewpoint, as you do throughout your comments on the matter. But you don't turn this assumption into an explicit argument in this part of your post.

And, Jeremy, I did define superstition earlier in this thread. I defined it as hyperactive agent or pattern detection (supernatural or hidden) where a contingent or natural explanation will do. I also defined it in relation to the habit of confusing correlation with causation, providing some straightforward examples:

What do you mean by a natural explanation will do? This could have any number of meanings. Surely, a lot will depend upon one's general worldview. Sceptics, or pseudo-sceptics, always think there is a natural explanation. I myself, aside from being a Platonist and a Christian, am something of a Fortean and have a great interest in the paranormal. I believe in ghosts and what C.S. Lewis called the Longaevi. As someone who has considered these matters at some length, including a long discussion here with Dguller, who allowed the existence of the paranormal but thought it would undermine natural science to ever consider paranormal explanation if there was any possible natural explanation, I know how much depends on one's metaphysics, worldview, and views of knowledge.

I don't see why it is necessarily superstitious to believe something with a possibly natural explanation does have, or doesn't also have, a non-natural one. Even when there has been a natural explanation, I don't see that it necessarily superstitious to believe that other forces may be at work as well. After all, if the Christian is correct, then it follows there may well be other forces at work, even in some natural phenomena. Now, there are all sorts of issues raised here, about our knowledge and deciding what is and what isn't paranormal or miraculous, but your point seems to require further explanation.

Santi said...

Glenn:

Focus. Notice what Feser actually wrote. He said that is it logically possible that someone "MIGHT [have]...a credulous tendency to find religious significance in...events that have none."

That very comment is why I entered this thread. I didn't miss it. I thought, "Feser or his thread supporters need to address specific instances," and when I offered some, I note that no one touched them.

I sought to make flesh what was only being treated as theoretical. I offered examples of correlation-causation fallacies that are not just common to religion, but central to the very narratives of two of the three major monotheisms (the role of Jews in Christian history, and the role of Babylon in Jewish history). The tragic experiences of Jews in both the sixth century BCE and the first century CE are infused with a "religious significance" that almost certainly "has none," and such beliefs I submit are "superstitious and therefore instances of vice."

My position is that the Jews didn't end up in Babylon in the sixth century BCE because they'd broken the covenant of their ancestors with their tribal deity, and Jerusalem wasn't destroyed in 70 CE as punishment by God for Jews killing his divine son forty years earlier. I say that these are correlation-causation fallacies grounded in superstition. What say you?

And I note that neither you nor Feser--nor anyone else in this thread--sustains a direct engagement with any particular hard case that a skeptic might point to as superstition in monotheistic religion, explaining why it's not superstition.

So permit me a single analogy (I'll try not to be wordy). If one distinguishes, say, obscenity from free speech, but no test case ever reaches the Supreme Court, there is doubt about how such a distinction might actually apply to the law. One Supreme Court justice in the 1960s famously said of obscenity, "I know it when I see it."

So that's my question for the Aquinas supporters here. Do you know superstition when you see it? Did the Jews end up in Babylon because they were naughty boys and girls? Did Jerusalem get destroyed because the Jews crucified Jesus? Or are these just silly folk superstitions that made it into some of the central written narratives of two of the major monotheistic religions?

And I submit that these two instances are not just superstitions, but factoids. A factoid is something a culture or religious group takes to be true--and treats as true--but which has little foundation in reliable reporting, and may not be true. A factoid is something that takes on a life of its own without first being properly established.

How, therefore, does one separate factoids from "true religion" (Feser's phrase)? There is not a single religion anywhere on the planet that is absent factoids that are grounded in populist, oral, or folk superstitions. And these factoids are rarely marginal, but often central to the rationale of the religion's ongoing existence (Jesus' resurrection and ascension, God giving land to the Israelis as a divine inheritance, the Church superseding the Jews as God's chosen people, God giving Mohammad a book, Peter being given the spiritual keys of heaven by Jesus, etc.). And since this is the case, how can "true religion" ever really be untangled from superstition and factoids?

If believing superstitions and factoids is a vice, what is "true religion" but the systematic, industrial, and institutional output of vice?

Jeremy Taylor said...

Note, as a Platonic universalist and something of a Fortean, I have my own criticisms of Dr. Feser's essay, though I agree with a lot of it.

For example, although I agree that the devotion due to God and that to the Gods of Hinduism or Greco-Roman religion, should they exist, is different, I am not sure no devotion could be due to the latter. Dr. Feser does note he is talking about absolute devotion that is alone due to God, but I think more could be said on lesser devotion, what is called veneration in the theology of the icon. The status of gods in what is known (accurately or not) as polytheism is controversial. Within the Platonic tradition the pagan gods were identified with cosmic principles and ideal beings worthy of veneration. Whilst it is hugely controversial, there is evidence that polytheism have sometimes treated their gods in this way. I think it would be acceptable and not superstition or idolatry.

On magic, I am not sure it is correct that magic or pagan gods and spirits, as Dr. Feser quotes Hilary Putnam saying, are supposed to be intrinsically inexplicable. This is going back into the controversial territory of trying to understand the beliefs of traditions like polytheism and believers in magic and the occult, but a good argument can be made that many of those who believe in such forces do have something not dissimilar to the Platonic idea of theurgy. The forces being conjured are not, therefore, unintelligible, simply not corporeal and largely not possible of scientific explanation.

I also think the essay suffers a little from the narrow Christian perspective on the paranormal, that tends to see paranormal entities as either angelic or demonic, and the Aristotelian perspective that tends to downplay, though not eliminate, the great chain of being and the interactions of higher realms of being on our corporeal realm. That is all fine, but the essay seems to be trying to look at these issues from a neutral, non-Christian perspective. The role of theurgy and ritualistic or sacred magic and sciences are somewhat ignored.

Jeremy Taylor said...

By the way Santi, although your arguments seem somewhat flawed to me, you are making arguments relatively clearly and without tedious rhetoric. Good on you. Keep it up.

Jeremy Taylor said...

To respond to your points in reply to Glenn, who will no doubt have respond himself as well,

The reason your points were ignored is that you were written off as a troll who it useless to try and have a sensible discussion with, quite understandably. Your posts in this thread, until reasonably were of the same kind that led people here to this legitimate conclusion.

You seem to be arguing that the plight of the Jews in Babylon could not have had a supernatural cause. Where is the evidence for this? Christians and Jews obviously believe they did, based on their revealed religious traditions. I think you need to think seriously about what argument you are trying to make. In the past you have conflated arguments and jumped from argument to argument. Are you trying to argue that it is superstitious from the Christian and Jewish perspective to accept that God brought about the exile into Babylon? Or are you making a broader attack on the whole religious tradition (which would seem off-topic, by the way)?

You also seem to ignore levels of truth in Scripture and religious traditions and the role of myth and symbol in religious traditions and man's and society's knowledge. You also seem to assume, unargued for, a highly sceptical and rationalist perspective on acceptance of paranormal and supernatural claims and to knowledge. Dr. Feser notes some of the problems with such positions when he quotes Hayek, but you largely do not properly respond. There is all through your posts on this thread, an assumption that most or all paranormal and supernatural claims are obviously bogus, superstitious, and perhaps pernicious, but you do not argue for it.

iwpoe said...

@ Jeremy Taylor

"For example, although I agree that the devotion due to God and that to the Gods of Hinduism or Greco-Roman religion, should they exist, is different, I am not sure no devotion could be due to the latter."

Though I doubt a Christians would admit this much, presumably if they existed, they would be due the reverence or dulia owed to angels and saints. I don't know what ontological status Zeus or Vishnu would have. They may be demons and thus not due any respect. They may be legitimate immortals of some sort misrecognized as God (as angels, Platonic forms, or some reified aspect of God's being might, for instance, be). It's hard to know, and I'm not personally sure how one would know.

Santi said...

Jeremy and Glenn:

I've only started commenting at this blog since Fall of 2014, and when I do enter a thread, it's because I have a live interest in that particular subject. I don't care about trolling, I care about ideas--and because I care about them, I press my questions and ideas hard (both at myself and others). I look for weakness and vulnerabilities in my views, as well as in other people's, and that latter behavior can make me seem to some disrespectful and trollish. But I'm the sort of person who actively seeks out disconfirming evidence--as well as people who passionately hate what I'm sympathetic toward. Why? Because I know they'll see something I miss (in myself and the issue). They'll make me think; they'll lead me to interesting books and films.

I believe, for example, that global warming is happening because of humans, but I actively seek out the most intelligent voices who say the opposite because I want to understand them and their positions. I don't live far from Vegas, and I almost went, last year, to an anti-global warming conference, just to experience first-hand the subculture and see what I think of it. Had I gone, and asked skeptical questions of speakers, I can imagine audience members grousing that I had trolled the conference; that I'm irrational, etc.

I've had some wild conversations with global warming denialists--and they've been beneficial. I'm not trying to convince the denialists, I'm trying to understand them.

It's intellectual chess. You need somebody on the other side of the board.

Sometimes at my own blog, people will come around who want to argue with me about something I've written, and I never say to myself, "That's a troll." I say, "Thank you!" Their presence is a gift. I love to learn new things. I'm manic and voracious that way.

My interest in Thomism, I must confess, is waning; I get it. It doesn't impress me (unfortunately). I wanted it to. I'd love to hear arguments for God's existence that are persuasive to me. Thomism doesn't take me off the fence of agnosticism, though. And I don't forsee Feser bringing up many live issues for me going forward. The key issues that I salivate to surround literature, art, existentialism, Hume, ecology, Rorty, consciousness, feminism, physics, Buddhism, evolution, the Holocaust, gay equality, Nietzsche, and why people believe weird things (the supernatural, hell, etc.).

Thus I can't see myself entering future threads on gay equality, evolution, natural law, consciousness, or God's existence. I feel like I've milked for understanding what the Thomist positions are on these issues, and where I think they make sense--and where they don't.

Thus when Feser argues about the differences between Scotus and Aquinas, or with David Hart on the issue of whether animals have souls (a ludicrous topic, in my view), what I see is the narcissism of small differences--and little that is of particular interest to me.

And Feser is downright, well, medieval on homosexuality, so I've given up on him there.

If Feser ever goes into a phase where he critiques Buddhism or attempts to explain how God's existence can still be maintained after the Holocaust, or makes the case for hell's existence, or sasses Nietzsche or Hume in a sustained way, you would almost definitely find me showing up in threads on those subjects (at least for a time). Likewise, there's an older post of Feser's in which he critiques quantum physics in relation to essentialism that I haven't read yet, but that I might have a closer look at, then want to comment on.

The issue of superstition--the subject of this particular thread--is of interest to me, so I'll be here posting ideas as I reflect on it more, hoping to get at least a bit of feedback from people who see it differently from me.

Santi said...

Jeremy:

You wrote: "You seem to be arguing that the plight of the Jews in Babylon could not have had a supernatural cause. Where is the evidence for this? Christians and Jews obviously believe they did, based on their revealed religious traditions."

I can't prove a negative. It seems to me that the burden of proof is on the person who claims that something supernatural is at work--and if there is no evidence of this, why believe it?

Imagine an earthquake in Hollywood, and somebody said, "You seem to be arguing that the earthquake could not have had a supernatural cause. Where is the evidence for this?"

And isn't the following part of your comment a form of question begging? "Christians and Jews obviously believe...based on their revealed religious traditions."

But it is the revealed religious traditions that are under suspicion of being superstitious here. I've given you a mechanism for how I think superstition enters religious tradition. What starts as a folk superstition ("The Isralites were naughty, therefore God punished them with Babylonian exile"; "The Jews killed God's son, so God let Titus destroy Jerusalem forty years later"), enters a religious tradition as a factoid (a thing TAKEN to be true by the community, but which was never properly established as BEING true).

So you need, Jeremy, two things: (1) an alternative and more plausible theory than my own as to how such beliefs enter the mainstream religious traditions; and (2) evidence and good reasons for thinking that something supernatural went on in these two instances in the first place.

Absent these, it's superstition. I don't think any religious tradition should get a pass on being superstitious simply because the superstition has morphed into a factoid which the tradition simply takes to be true without argument.

Superstitions far back in time that have become factoids remain superstitions. One shouldn't attempt to use the passage of time and the inabilitiy to re-litigate ancient claims as an excuse to go ahead and believe them "based on...revealed religious traditions" (your phrase).

The revealed nature of the tradition is as much in question as the supernatural claim that has become a factoid.

Glenn said...

Santi,

Focus. Notice what Feser actually wrote. He said that is it logically possible that someone "MIGHT [have]...a credulous tendency to find religious significance in...events that have none."

That very comment is why I entered this thread. I didn't miss it. I thought, "Feser or his thread supporters need to address specific instances," and when I offered some, I note that no one touched them.

I sought to make flesh what was only being treated as theoretical.


You (sort of) politely request that I focus on the very passage I initially quoted to you, and which you now repeat with emphasis on the term 'might'.

It seems reasonable to me to suppose that the term 'might' was used in lieu of, say, the term 'would' for at least two reasons:

1) the generic 'someone' may or may not have the tendency mentioned -- and if boiled down to a particular someone, that particular someone indeed may have the tendency mentioned; but if boiled down to some other particular someone, that particular someone indeed may not have the tendency mentioned; and,

2) to attach religious significance to an event or occurrence, which on its own has none, may be an act of superstition, but isn't necessarily an act of superstition (even if it should be the case that the one attaching the significance has the credulous tendency previously mentioned).

Regarding 2), it may be said that likewise attaching secular significance to an event or occurrence, which on its own has none, isn't necessarily an act of superstition.

For example, the third Sunday in June, on its own, hasn't any significance. Yet neither the designation of the third Sunday in June as Father's Day nor the actual observance of Father's Day itself necessarily constitutes an act of superstition.

To render explicit what has been implied:

Determining the reason behind the attachment of significance to an event or occurrence is not unimportant when seeking to determine whether in fact that attachment does involve superstition, and the mere fact that importance has been attached to an event or occurrence (which on its own has none) is not, on its own, conclusive proof that superstition is involved.

(Interestingly, the belief that the mere fact that importance has been attached to an event or occurrence (which on its own has none) is, on its own, conclusive proof that superstition is involved, itself seems to be a candidate for inclusion under the heading of 'superstitious beliefs'.)

Now, if that passage is what galvanized you to enter this thread, then you could have simply said something like,

"Feser does provide some examples in his essay of what might constitute religious superstition, but I think the examples he offers are overly general and devoid of important details, and it would be nice if he would one day do a post in which more specific examples are treated in greater depth."

And if your humble-and-free-of-ulterior-motives attempt was merely to seek to have a calm and rational discussion on more specific examples with greater detail, you could have simply added,

"Until he gets around to that, if he ever does, I'd like to mention some of the more specific examples I have in mind. They are X, Y and Z. If anyone cares to comment on or discuss any of these in a calm and rational manner, I'd appreciate it. Thanks."

Santi said...

Glenn:

I suppose I'd have an easier time getting Doris Day into bed than for me to get a straight answer from you. But I'll try again. I asked you a direct and simple question: "My position is that the Jews didn't end up in Babylon in the sixth century BCE because they'd broken the covenant of their ancestors with their tribal deity, and Jerusalem wasn't destroyed in 70 CE as punishment by God for Jews killing his divine son forty years earlier. I say that these are correlation-causation fallacies grounded in superstition. What say you?"

The rubber hits the road in the "for instance," and these are the two "for instances" I'm asking you to address. Jeremy took a crack at it, and I appreciate that. I respectfully replied to Jeremy. Your turn now. And I'll ask like the Wolf in Pulp Fiction with a polite, "Pretty please," since I know you like that.

Glenn said...

Santi,

A necrophiliac fantasy, and a Harey Keitel imitation? Both due to my not having answered a question? Yikes. And you want to talk about correlation-causation fallacies? Double-yikes.

FYI, I hadn't seen your earlier question, as I hadn't not read the entirety of your comment.

And, btw, now that you have repeated the question I hadn't seen earlier, I do see that you are saying that your position is that "that the Jews didn't end up in Babylon in the sixth century BCE because they'd broken the covenant of their ancestors with their tribal deity", and that "Jerusalem wasn't destroyed in 70 CE as punishment by God for Jews killing his divine son forty years earlier" are "correlation-causation fallacies grounded in superstition".

Given that you're an ironist, and I'm not a mind reader, I really don't know if there's a dissonance between what you meant to say and what you actually said, or if what you actually said is what you meant to say.

I also don't know if you yourself know which of those two options is the real case.

But you needn't attempt to clarify, as this is, I think, one of those instances where it is appropriate to say that ignorance is bliss.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Santi,

You are not accused of trolling because you ask discomforting questions or anything like that. You are accused of trolling because, (1), your posts are often lacking in explicit arguments and heavy on rhetoric, and tedious and annoying rhetoric at that; (2), because when you do make arguments you often post gross fallacies, jump around from argument to another, and seem blissfully unaware of such basic problems in your reasoning.

On the Jews and their exile, I think you miss the point. We are arguing about whether his is superstitious for them to believe this. You need to address this argument, not wider discussions about the validity of the Jewish and Christian traditions and whether they are wrong, at least not until you explicitly tie the latter to the main argument. The point of this thread and argument is not to try and prove the entirety of the Christian or Jewish revelations and religious traditions. Those questions have been discussed here before and will be again, but that is not the point of the thread.

At the moment, your argument is simply an appeal to naturalism and empiricism, and a not completely explicit one at that. You are essentially arguing that the Jewish and Christian are superstitious because they believe in paranormal or supernatural events without enough evidence for them. This is just the usual sceptical or naturalist position. I am not sure it adds anything to a discussion on superstition.

Jeremy Taylor said...

iwpoe,

Well, I think it would all depends upon one's metaphysical perspective. There are arguments, for example those of Platonists and those that invoke the mundus imaginalis that would make claim about the status of these beings as ideal entities, principles, aspects of God, and the like, though it is not necessarily the case that, in these perspectives, they exist as separate beings in the sense corporeal beings do. It would all depend upon the validity of the metaphysics.

I think what it is called veneration in the theology of the icons could be due to them. It depends upon the spiritual tradition. Some traditions, like a lot of Semitic monotheism tend to downplay (Islam is an obvious example, though even here there are the divine names) veneration of all but God, whereas other traditions more happily balanced veneration with devotion to God. I think there is truth in both sides.

iwpoe said...

@ Santi via Jeremy

Santi should know that I don't think he's a troll a bad poster and a fool because I'm a Christian or because of any other kind of late and religious commitment I have. I myself am a Platonist, & I find the idea of religious revelation to be dubious: Platonism seems sufficient, and all of the other traditional monotheistic religion seem to do very little but supplement what you could find in a thoroughgoing platonic metaphysics or else simply make claims on behalf of a god whose content is of unknown value. I understand sin- that's in Aristotle -but I don't understand salvation hell or the pathos of Christ. We "miss the mark" ('sin' harmatia) because flaws in our constitution distort our actions away from our nature or because we are ignorant or willful. Sin is its own hell and the conviction that it is blessed is a kind of self delusion. The cure for sin is either medical, educational, or therapeutic. What does the defeat of death or Satan or any of the other Christian accoutrement add to any of that?


Every time I see him post I want to correct it line by line, but when I read his replies to other people it's immediately clear that no matter how much effort I put into talking to him he's just going to go down some pathway of bullshit sophistry irrelevance and waste my time. That's why he's a troll. If he were just ignorant, then I would be willing to talk to him. But he's not. He's willfully ignorant and attempts to convince other people to be willfully ignorant just like himself.

Santi said...

Jeremy and Glenn:

Jeremy wrote: "On the Jews and their exile,...We are arguing about whether his [it?] is superstitious for them to believe this."

Well, okay, let's argue about that directly. I say yes. Why? Because it is tied up with obsessive-compulsive behavior. What say you to that?

What, after all, could be more superstitious than to fret over the bad consequences of not running through a course of ritual and ethical behaviors perfectly, and then, when something bad happens, concluding that one's failure to do the behaviors perfectly caused the bad thing to happen?

Something that hasn't yet come up in this thread is the relationship of reinforcement schedules to superstition in religion. Every Muslim that prays five times a day; every Catholic or Hindu fingering beads; every Orthodox Jew bowing at the Wailing Wall; every person walking compulsively in circles around the Kaaba at Mecca (as we speak); and every Hindu eating exclusively sattvic foods, is being rewarded with either a reduction of anxiety or a hit of endorphins, exactly like a child who skips over sidewalk cracks or a pigeon pecking a particular pattern for a pellet to drop down a shoot.

And if these things aren't done, the behavior does not just go unrewarded, but the hyperactive agent detection system kicks in, searching out evidence that punishment from a father figure is on its way.

When Christians claimed Jews killed Jesus in 30 CE, and then likewise claimed that Titus's destruction of Jerusalem was God's wrath for that, it was exactly the same complex of superstitions as when the Jews surmised Babylonian exile to be the product of the wrath of God.

The very human failures of reasoning in both instances were: (1) magical thinking (if I respond to x correctly, y won't happen); (2) correlation-causation fallacy (I didn't respond to x correctly, and it caused y to happen); (3) hyper-active agent detection ("somebody, not merely some thing, is surely behind this undesired event"); and (4) confirmation bias ("I'm on the hyper-lookout for that somebody, and the least evidence of his hand at work confirms what I already believe").

BF Skinner was certainly struck by the curious similarities between lab animal reinforcement and human religious behavior--and thus when you combine OCD with magical thinking you get, well, superstition.

Superstition and religion, it appears, are intimately and universally tied up with a large family of obsessive-compulsive behaviors.

So are these bugs or features of what Feser calls "true religion"?

And do you personally believe, Jeremy and Glenn, that Babylonian exile and the destruction of Jerusalem were punishments from God for the Jews' bad behavior? If so, how do you defend these as non-superstitious beliefs?

iwpoe said...

@ Santi

My favorite part is where you say this:

"The very human failures of reasoning in both instances were: (1) magical thinking (if I respond to x correctly, y won't happen); (2) correlation-causation fallacy (I didn't respond to x correctly, and it caused y to happen); (3) hyper-active agent detection ("somebody, not merely some thing, is surely behind this undesired event"); and (4) confirmation bias ("I'm on the hyper-lookout for that somebody, and the least evidence of his hand at work confirms what I already believe"). "

You are so lost that you don't even understand that you have no argument. You are just giving names to accusations, and pretending that you've demonstrated something. You are a massive sophistical case of begging the question.

You are doing *precisely* what you were accused of previously "simply an appealing to naturalism and empiricism".

Santi said...

Jeremy:

You wrote, "Surely, a lot will depend upon one's general worldview. Sceptics, or pseudo-sceptics, always think there is a natural explanation. I myself, aside from being a Platonist and a Christian, am something of a Fortean and have a great interest in the paranormal. I believe in ghosts and what C.S. Lewis called the Longaevi."

I think the "always" needs qualification in your second sentence. You're projecting here. You clearly have a strong proclivity to hyperactive agent detection (you "believe in ghosts"), and imagine that those who critique this trait as a driver of superstition must surely have a hyperactive proclivity to non-agent detection. It's simpler than this: the evidence for the existence of ghosts and the paranormal does not exist (or is elusive at best, to put it politely).

Belief in the supernatural isn't so much about worldview as evidence. The evidence is not there. Over the past four hundred years, scientists and intellectuals, liberated to think and explore freely--and not in forced conformity with any religion--have caused the historic retreat of the demon haunted world. It's not that most people enter the subject of the paranormal with a naturalistic bias, it's that empiricism has sufficiently vanquished (for most reasonable people) the theses that once accompanied belief in the paranormal.

Examples: scientists might have discovered over the past four hundred years that minds exist away from brains. It's the opposite. They might have discovered that mental states don't correlate with brain states. It's the opposite. They might have discovered robust evidence for PSI phenomena. It's the opposite. They might have discovered that vitalism is true. It's the opposite. They might have discovered the biblical chronologies of the age of the Earth are accurate; that the sun can stop in its tracks in the sky; that the ark of Noah is on Mount Ararat. It's the opposite.

After four hundred years of scientific discovery, it's no longer a worldview issue, it's an empirical issue.

And for those who resist the empirical conclusion, well, then it's largely a psychology issue (hyperactive agent detection; OCD; hyper-religiosity; cognitive dissonance, etc.).

Of course, if you have a book that you think provides evidence for the existence of ghosts and the paranormal, etc., I'm certainly open to reading it.

I know of Dean Radin's books, for instance, but they don't impress me. Might you know of someone besides Radin who might attempt to appeal to evidence for the existence of the paranormal in a convincing way? Is there a subculture of Thomists and Christians I'm unaware of that write books about the paranormal--the existence of devils and hell, etc.--in a serious way, and from the vantage of evidence?

Santi said...

iwpoe:

What then is your definition of two things: (1) true religion; and (2) superstition? What do you regard as specific historical examples of the practice of each? What fundamentally distinguishes your examples from one another--making the religious example not at all superstitious, and the superstitious example not at all religious?

Glenn said...

Santi,

Every Muslim that prays five times a day; every Catholic or Hindu fingering beads; every Orthodox Jew bowing at the Wailing Wall; every person walking compulsively in circles around the Kaaba at Mecca (as we speak); and every Hindu eating exclusively sattvic foods, is being rewarded with either a reduction of anxiety or a hit of endorphins, exactly like a child who skips over sidewalk cracks or a pigeon pecking a particular pattern for a pellet to drop down a shoot.

And if these things aren't done, the behavior does not just go unrewarded, but the hyperactive agent detection system kicks in, searching out evidence that punishment from a father figure is on its way.


I'm unclear as to what you mean by "hyperactive agent detection system".

Is it an "agent detection system" which is hyperactive?

Or is it a "detection system", designed and constructed for the purpose of ascertaining the presence of a 'hyperactive agent'?

If the former, then I think your contraption is in need of adjustment.

If the latter, then I hope, for the pigeon's sake, that you're not the father figure a pigeon's 'hyperactive agent' "detection system" is on the lookout for when the pigeon fails to peck a particular pattern.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Santi,

Translation of your latest post: You are a naturalist, empiricist, and pseudo-sceptic.

To be fair to you, you are at least making arguments now. I wouldn't even say that particular post is trolling.

On the other hand, your latest post has a pretty poor argument, especially for its length. All you really declare is that you are naturalist and empiricist and think highly of modern science. I already knew this. I am not convinced that trying to argue more on the issue is worth it.

Whether there is robust scientific evidence for paranormal phenomena is certainly not settled. I do not have data to hand, but the certainly been research to support various kinds. But natural science tends to investigate what is quantifiably measurable in the corporeal world, which tends to be what is normal, what regular. It is the nature of natural scientific methods that they, therefore, would have a hard time investigating many paranormal phenomena.

There are clearly different methodological ad tools for investigating different fields of inquiry. You seem to have forgotten this. Indeed, you go so far as to make the scientistic claim that science would have discovered if the brain and mind were separate. We tend not to use the scientific method but historical study to investigate historical matters, and much paranormal investigation has to be conducted more like history study or legal reasoning than like the natural sciences. Russell Kirk, for example, saw several ghosts in his ancestral mansion, Piety Hill, in Mecosta Michigan, and so did many guests in the place, until it burned down in 1975. To investigate such claims there is little scope for scientific inquiry. What you'd have to do is investigate the witnesses and try to assess their claims. If you can't come to a conclusion you just suspend judgment (rather than dismiss them like a pseudo-sceptic). George Orwell saw a ghost. His materialism caused him to dismiss it as an hallucination, but one could investigate the phenomena and decide for oneself what seems the best explanation. But conclusion is that it seems unlikely to be made up or an hallucination, but that little more can said.

I have explained to you many times - including in the sentence you quote - that I am not a Thomist (though I have great respect for Thomism), but a Platonist. Charles Fort is the best place to start with for investigating the paranormal.

Your post to me and Glenn on the Jews and Babylon is close to your trolling form, unfortunately. It includes far too much obscure comparisons and jargon. It is also, as has been pointed out, question begging nonsense, not worth responding too.

Jeremy Taylor said...

- that should been that it was my conclusion, based on the evidence, that Orwell's ghost in the East Anglian Churchyard was neither made up, nor an hallucination, and probably not an optical illusion.

Obviously, before agreeing it best to assess paranormal claims in the way I suggest, there are metaphysical and epistemological issues to be ironed out. And I don't just mean that many are wedded, explicitly or implicitly, to a naturalism and scientism that makes them balk at such suggestions. That is not a legitimate objection. But there are more legitimate epistemological queries, and I had an interesting discussion here with Dguller about some of them. I doubt you, Santi, will be able to discuss this topic so insightfully, but we live in hope, as superstitious as that may be.

iwpoe,

I too am a Platonist, though of a definitely mystical and Hermetic bent. A strong part of my Platonism, or Platonism-Hermeticism, is the Mundus Imaginalis that most recently Henry Corbin wrote about in depth. I would argue that God, the divine, wishes us always to return to him. To very poorly and carelessly relate some of my beliefs about religious tradition and Christianity in particular:

Although to finally return to God (theosis), we at last will have to shed all images and symbols, we tend to return to him through the chain of being, making use of the fact that each realm of being reflects and symbolises those above it. Symbols here being understood as partaking in what they symbolise, much as icons are in the theology of the icon, and, when approached correctly, being capable of leading the Nous towards what is symbolised. For human beings, individually and collectively, the imaginal, that realm of being between the individual and the supra-individual, the formal and the supra-formal, is especially important our spiritual journeys. It is here from whence comes much sacred imagery and imaginal worlds. I would argue it is here that valid religious and mystical traditions come from. These allow those within a particular human collectivity the symbols, sacraments, and imaginal world providentially allied to a religious discipline and spiritual ethos, to efficaciously move towards God.

When it comes to Christianity, I would argue it plays just this important role in tutelage, sacrament, and symbol. I would also argue that the death and resurrection of Christ is a potent symbol of God's triumph over evil, over separation and privation. It shows that despite the fact creation involves, from a Platonic perspective, a descending separation of the One through the dyad, God is always at the heart of all things and draws them back to him. I think the incarnation, too, is a great symbol of the unity of creation in God, though one that does not blur the distintion between God and creation. Philip Sherrard, though he rejected aspects of Platonism, does I think describe the way that the trinity and incarnation, at least in Eastern Orthodox doctrine, profoundly expresses the relationship of the divine to creation in a way a Platonist can largely agree with.

Santi said...

Jeremy:

You wrote: "It is the nature of natural scientific methods that they, therefore, would have a hard time investigating many paranormal phenomena." Notice you said, "a hard time," not impossible. Science is always difficult; investigators have to figure out creatively how to get at the truth of matters. Then they abduct from the range of theses on offer and select the one that BEST accounts for whatever evidence is available.

Thus with regard to your Orwell example, we know that cultural suggestibility and hallucinations occur, but we don't have any evidence that ghosts exist (or how they would interact with the material world if they did). Physicists know of no ghosts interacting with matter, pushing it around in purposeful or unpredictable ways. They might have stumbled upon such phenomena over the past four centuries, but never have.

So scientists, to accept your claim, would need to prefer a thesis over others that carries with it, not just a greater number of dubious premises, but premises that are more complicated and convoluted. A simpler thesis is hallucination born of fatigue, wishful thinking, cultural suggestion, stress, etc. Orwell was correct to choose the hallucination thesis for his own experience. To do otherwise would be to indulge in unwarranted superstition.

I do wish you would take seriously my attempt to discuss the Babylon and Titus issue. I regard these as hard cases, not at all marginal to two major monotheistic traditions. It's why I chose them; not to troll, but to probe at the point where the "superstition separate from true religion" thesis appears obviously dubious. I felt I fairly laid out my claims, and you're not explaining why you take them to be something unworthy of response.

One thing I do find annoying in trying to talk to the intellectually religious in these threads is that they have the habit of hiding behind an Oz curtain of ridicule. I explicitly put forward theses, but they won't, so I can't really evaluate how sensible they are in their process of reasoning (or even capacity for reasoning). To your occasional credit, you sometimes do tell me what your counter thesis is.

But most seem to be signaling to their like-minded fellows that, of course, they can defend their position, but laughter and derision will do.

And I take this to be a bluff.

Santi said...

Glenn:

Regarding what I mean by "hyperactive agent detection system," I'm thinking of the following: (1) the brain is modular and has among its modules something we could designate as an agent detection system; (2) evolution works on a continuum of variation, which means that some people have different contingent set points for their agent detection systems (some more or less active, from hyperactive at one end of the spectrum to nominally active at the other); and (3) the agent detection system is generally biased by natural selection toward the hyperactive side of the continuum (it's generally better to assume that a rustling in a bush might be a large cat, and be anxious about it, even if it's usually just the wind).

So agent detection systems that are biased toward assuming agents are behind just about everything account in some significant measure for the evolution of religion/superstition.

God and over-arching conspiracy theories thus unify our agent detection proclivities at the grandest scale. They are the ultimate superstitions; the last superstitions; all superstitions rolled up into One. If it's not God, it's the Bilderbergers.

Santi said...

I'd also like to raise in this thread on superstition the issue of IGNORANCE. If a bush rustles, we might approach it with caution, but once we've investigated, and find there is no large predator behind it, we have moved from ignorance to knowledge. Our hyperactive agent detection system initially biased our approach when we were in a state of ignorance and anxiety, but that can now stand down. When we investigate, we learn what is in fact the case, and we no longer are in need of engaging our hyperactive agent detection systems on that particular matter.

I submit that something like this is what has happened collectively, within global culture, over the past 400 years (since the scientific revolution and the Enlightenment). Religion and superstition were the sources for our first theses when we were in ignorance, and these theses were grounded in hyperactive agent detection (devils, gods, God, angels, ghosts, systems set in place by divine agents, etc.). WE ARE NO LONGER IN IGNORANCE.

And because religion and superstition have had such an atrocious track record spanning millennia, we now tend, in the 21st century, to make science our "go to" source for our first theses as to what's going on. This isn't "scientism," it's pragmatism. We have science now. There are many things on which we no longer have to speculate about concerning whether there is a supernatural agent acting behind the scenes. We know.

What I suggest is that if we tend to cling to agent detection explanations even after scientists have discovered more "wind things" than "agent things" at work in objects--and historians have discovered more "contingent things" than "conspiracy things" behind history--then we are being superstitious--and willingly so. We're ignoring what science and historiography have worked out over the past four centuries.

I have a colleague in one of the science departments at my college who said this to me recently (I'm paraphrasing): "I'm less sympathetic to the young earth creationist of today than the one from, say, four hundred years ago because the latter was simply in ignorance, but the former is in willful ignorance."

Put another way, you can't unspill the milk of the last four centuries. We have moved from innocence to experience.

Now this gets to the issue of religion in relation to superstition. Science has not yet looked behind all of our anxious bushes yet, and so agent detection can retreat ever further to the boundaries of our knowledge, and always say, "Beneath it all is still an Agent, however distant from empirical access. This is the Ultimate Agent: a personal, holy, all-knowing designer God who wants our obedience and submission."

But we don't really know this, and if history is any indication, it's probably an incorrect thesis. (And notice how similar the all-knowing and controlling God thesis is to the all-knowing and controlling Bilderberger thesis.)

I submit that we believe in God (the last superstition) because we were once afraid of lions.

Glenn said...

Santi,

I'd also like to raise in this thread on superstition the issue of IGNORANCE.

Every time you open your mouth (so to speak) on this blog, you introduce that very issue.

Justin Barrett, who is credited with having coined the term "hyperactive agent-detection device" (in his _Exploring the natural foundations of religion_ (2004)) lists some outstanding questions, one of which is the following:

"From a cognitive perspective, does religious ritual differ (cognitively) from superstitious observances or from magic?"

Let's assume it doesn't.

So what?

There are principled distinctions between the negative number 65, the positive number 191 and the graphics character ┐ -- even though each one of the three, when encoded in a computer's memory, is encoded in the exact same bit pattern: 10111111.

There also are principled distinctions between religion and superstition -- even if it should turn out that they do not, in the sense meant by Barrett, cognitively differ, and that they are unpinned by the exact same neural structure or activity.

The basic point at issue here has been addressed on this blog in numerous posts, and discussed in hundreds of subordinate comments.

You can blather on and on, say, about how, e.g., since 'referent' is a term used to denote that which refers to something else, as well as a term used to denote that to which reference has been made by something else, there is no difference between 'that which refers to' and 'that which has been referred to'. But you'll just succeed in doing what you consistently displayed an uncanny knack for doing -- making yourself look like an idiot.

- - - - -

Btw, since that is paranormal which is not scientifically explainable, all of your behavior here qualifies as paranormal behavior.

Glenn said...

(Some errata:

(1. "(2004)" s/b "(2000)"

(2. "you consistently" s/b "you have consistently"

(3. "paranormal behavior" s/b "paranormal phenomena")

Jeremy Taylor said...

Santi,

I did mean impossible. There are obviously areas of paranormal investigation where scientific inquiries can help, such as if a substance is left behind, just as there are areas of historical studies where scientific methods are of use. But there are areas of both paranormal investigations and history where the scientific method is inappropriate.

The point about abduction ignores the very issue of differing methods of study. It is like saying that because I have been over a field with a metal detector and found nothing, there must be no man-made artefacts under the soil, even stone or wood or fabrics.

Now these are complex issues. There are all sorts of questions about our knowledge and methods, and what sort of explanations are valid and when, but you can't dismiss paranormal phenomena with the lazy scientism you are pushing.

The Orwell example is a good one to show the lazy, quick assumption of pseudo-scepticsm. Orwell was a convinced materialist. He himself wrote off the ghost as an hallucination. This means he was unlikely to have lied in the letter he wrote about it to a friend. If it was an hallucination it was a peculiar one, as his consciousness seems in no other way to have been altered and he did not suffer other hallucinations during his life (at least when he was well). Now it is true he was in a famously haunted Churchyard, though in the daytime, but, as I said, he was a materialist, but that still counts against the truth of the phenomena a little, though not a lot I think. He did not see the ghost head on, but slightly to the peripheries of his vision, but it was not a momentary sighting, like an optical illusion, as it walked at least twenty foot across the Churchyard. It went out of sight and Orwell followed it, only to not see it, when he came around the corner, when he should have done if it were a normal person walking normally. It may have been someone who ran or went out of sight some unexpected way, though this seems unlikely. Given the evidence, I would say we should suspend judgment but allow that something unusual and not of a ready explanation at this time occurred. Your conclusion would likely be we should assume a naturalistic explanation and rule out paranormal ones entirely. But you need to establish this in a systematic and detailed way, based on a proper epistemology, not just assume it lazily.

Oh and stop whining. You are ridiculed and mocked legitimately. You have a tendency to troll, as noted many times, by not arguing much but relying on endless, tedious, and silly rhetoric. And in the past, when you do make actual arguments, you tend to jump around from argument to argument, post gross fallacies, and the like. Your reputation here is entirely your own fault and entirely deserved. That said, although I find the arguments in your latest posts mediocre, you have largely stopped actually trolling. If you keep it up and continue to improve your arguments and further cut down on the annoying rhetoric, your reputation will likely be rehabilitated here. That is how you will end the ridicule and be taken seriously.

iwpoe said...

@ Santi

"I have a colleague in one of the science departments at my college"

Jesus, really? What sort of professor are you?

"What I suggest is that if we tend to cling to agent detection explanations even after scientists have discovered more "wind things" than "agent things" at work in objects"

First, you are complaining about parts of religion that are frankly irrelevant to its truth. Maybe angels exist, maybe they don't, but this is irrelevant to God's existence. You are engaged in some kind of bizarre fallacy of association- even if God were just a mundane object amongst others, the fact that angels, devils, God and false miracles are associated by way of Christianity does not imply that if some or all of one or more of these classes of things isn't real that the others aren't. Many experiences of angels may be wishful thinking- I don't know, but what does that have to do with God?

Second, you understand that there are no means in the material sciences to detect directly mental agents- they do not possess extension *as such* so they are not direct objects of those sciences, and they are rarely relevant to the work? No amount of advancement in computer-aided research or particle colliers or any of the other bullshit that dazzles your disorganized mind has or in principal can ever address that. Consider what a physicist would have to say about a father playing ball with his young son. If you were acting strictly within the kinds of data selected for and described well by work in physics what of importance would you ever capture about the scene? You wouldn't even capture the fact of the scientist himself studying the phenomena and his methodology, though it would be obviously there to anyone else. Anyone who has done work in phenomenology and the sciences (but Kuhn also goes through some of this) usually covers this, and it is for this reason I wish Feser had an understanding of phenomenology, since it would greatly aid in his detail and descriptive abilities when talking about scienctism.

Psychology, history, the social sciences and the humanities "detect" minds, but only because they operate already within the preview and themes of mental life.

Moreover, you and everyone else who uses this embarrassing 'hyperactive agent detection' argument simply have a shitty argument. Tell me, without all your ornamental lists of "agents" you think to be dubious, what exactly the argument is supposed to be:

1. The mind (brain) has an agent detection system that is sometimes wrong.
2. ???
∴ Therefor God isn't real.

The fact that God is himself an agent isn't helpful, since, presumably, we do often detect real agents. Nor does the error-prone nature of the faculty help, since we also, quite obviously, have an *object* detection faculty which is regularly mistaken and we never the less have no good reason to believe that there are, for instance, no objects nor no ultimate object-of -objects (indeed, this kind of metaphysics seems to be what cosmology, even in the physical sciences, is all about).

Also, it seems to me that the cosmological argument (and most of the other arguments for god, except very *bad* arguments from design) would still be valid and sound even if we had *no* agent detection system- let alone a hyperactive one.

Finally, you keep bringing up pragmatism. Have you even read Rorty (I can't even hope that you've read James)? Or did you just hear about pragmatism in grad school and at wine parties? Pragmatism slashes all metaphysical necks. You can't have pragmatism and the empiricism and naturalism you use to argue. A general anti-metaphysical atheism can follow from pragmatism, but it can't strictly rely on the kinds of arguments you're making.

Glenn said...

Ah.

Justin Barrett...lists some outstanding questions...

Ah? "Oops" is more like it.

I did not mean to imply that Barrett had listed some questions which are excellent, only that he had listed some questions which, as he himself had indicated, were not yet adequately dealt with. He used the heading "Outstanding questions", and then, beneath that, listed some questions which, at the time of his article, had yet to be properly attended to (see at the top-left corner of PDF page 6 here).

- - - - -

Indeed, as Anders Lisdorf noted seven years later, in the conclusion of his "What's HIDD'n in the HADD? – A cognitive conjuring trick?"):

"This investigation [into what Barrett has referred to as the Hyper Active Agency Detection Device] has also shown that supplying an evolutionary explanation about how a stipulated cognitive function would have been adaptive is sometimes detrimental to understanding the phenomenon at hand. Because of the eagerness and easiness with which an adaptive function was supplied, reflection on the phenomenon seized. Further reflection and research into philosophy and neuroscience would have revealed the insufficiency of the argument[.]"

Santi said...

Jeremy:

You wrote: “I would say we should suspend judgment [concerning Orwell’s ghost report] but allow that something unusual and not of a ready explanation at this time occurred.”

Since I’m in a coining of terms mode, let’s call your position “Agnostsurpise!” You don’t believe in ghosts, Mr. Skeptic or Mr. Agnostic? Well, life has a way of surprising, so keep an open mind. Someday you may be in for one hell of an agnostsurprise!

And of course that’s why I call myself an agnostic rather than an atheist. I try to stay open to surprise.

But an agnostsurprise! (which perhaps should always be accompanied by an exclamation mark) is a double-edged sword: obviously it’s reasonable to keep the mind open to surprise and epiphany—but any individual is capable of flipping views quite suddenly, not just from skepticism to paranormal belief, but from paranormal belief to skepticism.

And since iwpoe doesn’t think I’ve even read James (let alone Rorty), I can’t resist recalling James’ “The Divided Self” (probably easily found online), in which he notes how the testimonial narrative of “I once was lost, but now I’m found, was blind, but now I see,” can go in the direction of atheism to theism—or from theism to atheism. James refers to this as shifting to a new state of equilibrium, in which a very small event in a person’s life can trigger one into a new mode of perception and existence.

But while we maintain our openness to agnostsurprise!, where does that leave us in the present?

I say it leaves us with Hume’s admonition to apportion our beliefs to the evidence as sensibly as we can. It leaves us with weighing probabilities and competing narratives; with abduction tempered with caution and ongoing reality testing.

Santi said...

Thus, Jeremy, when you write that if one goes “over a field with a metal detector,” and comes up empty handed, one should not conclude that there are “no man-made artefacts under the soil,” I, of course, agree.

But if I’m weighing competing claims about what’s in that field, I want the metal detector. It provides data that can move me—if I’m apportioning my beliefs to the evidence--toward a state of greater or lesser belief in what’s likely to be out in that field. If a thorough sweep of the field by a metal detector finds nothing, it not only narrows the search to, say, wood and stone, it weakens the position of the person who makes an open claim about human artifacts being out there.

And if I then tackle the entire field with a shovel to a depth of ten feet, finding nothing yet again, this in turn does not eliminate the “there’s something out there” thesis.
But at a certain point, the credibility of the believer starts to unravel, and the subject gets dropped. Fewer and fewer people treat the thesis as worthy of serious debate. The language for talking about the field simply changes. The subject changes, as Rorty so often notes.

Now let’s make this relevant to today. For four hundred years, science has been looking at the cosmos from numerous angles, and its never found a ghost, a UFO, the actions of devils, the power of psychics, or miracles. It finds matter and forces; it finds minds only and ever attached to brains.

And it's not just scientists, but psychologists, archaeologists, anthropologists, and historians who have developed critical methods for evaluating evidence, including testimonial evidence--all to the detriment of those making supernatural claims.

At some point the variety of paranormal theses simply died for intellectuals. Perhaps Auschwitz was the final straw for magical thinking, but whatever was the trigger that caused a new state of intellectual equilibrium (to use James’ language), it was long in coming.

Your belief in the paranormal is a hold-out position, Jeremy. You might, against all the inertia of the past four hundred years of digging, be right that there really is something out there; that we’ve been looking in all the wrong places, with the wrong tools. We could all be in for an agnostsurprise! with Jesus or UFOs--or a host of angels--coming in the clouds (or whatever). But most educated people, for good reasons, doubt it.

iwpoe said...

Answer the arguments, sophist! Any idiot can parrot literary themes to establish a nice sounding position. It would be like Feser saying nothing but 'like Bonaventure says...' in the style of the Confessions. I didn't question whether you read Rorty or James because I wanted to establish that you had moved your eyes across the pages. I wanted you to see that your pragmatism and empiricism and naturalism (and a version of your progressivism) were incompatible, as Rorty will tell you in many places with arguments.

Glenn said...

Santi,

...can’t resist recalling James’ “The Divided Self” (probably easily found online), in which he notes...

o "There are persons whose existence is little more than a series of zig-zags, as now one tendency and now another gets the upper hand."

o "Now in all of us, however constituted, but to a degree the greater in proportion as we are intense and sensitive...does the normal evolution of character chiefly consist in the straightening out and unifying of the inner self. The higher and the lower feelings, the useful and the erring impulses, begin by being a comparative chaos within us--they must end by forming a stable system of functions in right subordination."

Jeremy Taylor said...

Santi,

Now you seem to have retreated to you rhetorical trolling. Not your trolling at its worst, but trolling nonetheless. It is a shame because you were doing better.

Most of your two last posts to me is made up of empty, and silly, rhetoric. Certainly, I believe that pseudo-sceptical naturalists are strangely adverse (for those claiming to be sceptics) to suspending judgment. But that wasn't my main point in the Orwell example. Rather, I was trying to show that if one tries to avoid metaphysical debates (though one cannot completely), and simply examines the evidence for paranormal claims using the appropriate methods for each part of the evidence, and putting it all together, one can make a good case for believing (with varying degrees of confidence) some cases, suspending judgment on others, and thinking others unlikely (again with various kinds of confidence). The sceptic who writes off all claims with carefully looking at the evidence in this way, unless he can put forward a very good argument for why such paranormal explanations should be written off (and this is where metaphysical and broader epistemological discussions enter the picture), is in fact a pseudo-sceptic who is not sufficiently open-minded, critical, and ready to carefully weigh the evidence.

Your point response to metal detector analogy seems simply fallacious ad question begging. You seem to be suggesting that nothing being found by the metal detector is a big clue for whether or not their are non-metal artefacts under the field - which is just fallacious. You also invoke, in textbook scientistic fashion, as Dr. Feser has written on, the success and continued development of our metal detectors as a reason to be confident that non-meta artefacts cannot be found, which is obviously fallacious.

To abandon the analogy, in no sense do you seriously address the differing methods of study for different fields of phenomena and study, from history to legal reasoning to natural science to philosophy to the knowledge needed for everyday life. You give no proper argument for why the scientific development of recent centuries has meant that paranormal explanations should not be considered and that the existence of paranormal entities and phenomena, if not strictly and completely and disproven, should be treated as if they are as disproven as anything can be.

Jeremy Taylor said...

- that should been "the sceptic who writes off all claims without carefully looking at the evidence in this way".

Stacey Gates said...

Hello everyone am on this blog to testifying about the goodness of EDUDU ZADSON TEMPLE in my life for helping me bring back my lost love in a space of 48 hours. I saw comments of how he helps people amend broken relationship and bring back lost love and decicded to let him help me also when i lost my ex 5 months ago. To cut it all short it is the evidence of his fast results that reuslted to me testifying about his good works. If you are in such situation, cry no more but contact Dr Zadson on eduduzadsontemple@yahoo.com and experience an amazing turn around in your situation...

Santi said...

Glenn:

I read the William James quotes you offer above, not just as descriptions of the individual's journey, but of our collective journey from infancy to adulthood. The new and stable intellectual consensus, arrived at after four hundred years of intensive debate and scientific development, is that religious miracle claims are false, and those who persist in believing in them are superstitious. They are artifacts of humanity in its intellectual infancy. And any claims to supernatural or miraculous occurrences today (paranormal or otherwise) are almost certainly nonsense.

But maybe you're aware of a contemporary book, compelling to you, that makes a case for still believing supernatural claims--or perhaps you have a positive case that you've thought out for believing in miracles. If so, please share.

But my question for you is: Why should the majority intellectual consensus flip at this point? And can you provide one example of what you take to be a compelling account of a miracle?

I'll recommend a documentary for you (and, of course, for Jeremy and whoever else is interested): "Ghost Bird" by Scott Crocker. Maybe on Netflix--but if not, worth locating.

Santi said...

Jeremy:

You wrote: "...if one tries to avoid metaphysical debates (though one cannot completely), and simply examines the evidence for paranormal claims using the appropriate methods for each part of the evidence, and putting it all together, one can make a good case for believing (with varying degrees of confidence) some cases..."

It's difficult to evaluate your claim here absent an example. Name a single miracle or paranormal event that you think one is not being superstitious in believing.

You've already noted that Orwell's ghost sighting is not a good example "for believing," but merely one on which judgment might be reserved.

Please offer a good example in which a reasonable person would say, "Of all the possibilities on offer here, the miraculous explanation clearly holds the lead position. It warrants belief, not merely reserved judgment."

Glenn said...

Santi,

I read the William James quotes you offer above, not just as descriptions of the individual's journey, but of our collective journey from infancy to adulthood.

The quotes I offered above are from the James' chapter to which you yourself had called attention. And you called attention to it insofar as it relates to the individual. Your tendency to see it as applying to the individual has, apparently, given way to a tendency to see it as applying to "our collective journey from infancy to adulthood."

Is this is zig? Or is it a zag?

Also, who makes up the 'our' in 'our collective journey'?

Given your earlier expression of pride in being 'non-normative', it isn't clear whether by 'our' you mean to refer to those comprising the class of 'non-normatives' (i.e., people whose “thought is non-normative not properly identifying premises, too contingent, too variant, impossible to trace“), or you mean to include yourself in that class which you have been, until now, happy to exclude yourself from.

Glenn said...

Santi,

I'll recommend a documentary for you (and, of course, for Jeremy and whoever else is interested): "Ghost Bird" by Scott Crocker. Maybe on Netflix--but if not, worth locating.

1. I have located a website having to do with the documentary.

2. On the left-side of that site's front page is a series of links, including one for "Read the Reviews".

3. The page which comes up when the "Read the Reviews" link is clicked also has a number of links, the second and third of which are for downloading the GHOST_BIRD_PRESS_BOOK and the Ghost Bird Pull Quotes.

4. I downloaded the GHOST_BIRD_PRESS_BOOK, and noticed that the 6th blurb, from ARTFORUM, reads: "Ghost Bird considers the ways in which collegial debate, intellectual rigor, and a collective desire for objective truth are in danger of extinction." (The emphasis is part of the blurb.)

5. I then wondered why someone who considers himself complimented when it is suggested that his "thought is non-normative, not properly identifying premises, too contingent, too variant, impossible to trace", would recommend a documentary for which the above mentioned blurb is considered (by the website pushing the documentary) a worthy advertisement.

6. I then considered two possibilities:

a) either that person is on the lookout for something which'll at least temper his -- pardon my saying so -- flightiness; or,

b) he's attracted to, and would like others to have exposure to, the documentary for its emotive content or effect.

7. Of the two possibilities, a) and b), I think it is possibility b) which represents the most likely case.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Santi,

Why is a further example needed to understand that if one assess the evidence as neutral as possible (I am not saying, certainly, that metaphysics is not important, but we can assess the evidence prior to making large metaphysical assumptions), weighing up each piece of the evidence and trying to come to an overall conclusion, like one might in detective work or historical research - suspending judgment if need be.

The Orwell example seems a good illustration, and one, if one can suspend judgment, that already implies that there might be valid paranormal explanations, or at least areas where we cannot be sure of naturalistic explanations.

Remember, there are different levels of certainty for different claims and for different methods and areas of study. Paranormal claims are, of course, close to history and not to natural science in this regard. I see no huge problem for those who believe in the possibility of paranormal explanations and entities to admit that. To come to any grand conclusions about such entities could only occur if one surveyed a huge range of claims and evidence, and would have to include important philosophical and metaphysical input. Such grand theories are distinct, to a degree, from examining individual claims in the most critical, careful, and neutral way possible. The main thrust of the exchange on paranormal investigation is a critique of your knee-jerk scientism and naturalism when it comes to such investigation, not to settle the whole question of paranormal entities. Try not to blur propositions and arguments.

Other examples could be discussed, but I don't see the need, and I don' trust you, Santi, to attend not seize on irrelevances if I did try and bring in other examples.

Santi said...

Jeremy and Glenn:

Absent specific examples, it's hard to know why the current intellectual consensus, arrived at for good reasons over the past four hundred years, should now do a zigzag back to taking supernatural beliefs, religious or otherwise, seriously.

For instance, I notice that the editor of the Blackwell volume, atheist Graham Oppy, in an essay he wrote (available online) on Bertrand Russell's "Why I'm Not a Christian," writes the following: "I think that there are no good arguments--no arguments that ought to persuade nonbelievers to change their minds--for Christian belief..."

Oppy also writes this in the same essay: "It has always seemed to me that there is no God hypothesis to which I ought to give more than negligible credence. More generally, it has always seemed to me that there is no kind of supernatural hypothesis that deserves non-negligible credence. Reality is described by science; there are no metaphysical spooks hiding behind the scenes."

Neither of you are offering any good examples of what you take to be real supernatural occurrences, nor are you offering other good reasons for a person like Oppy to shift his position.

Santi said...

Jeremy:

With regard to Orwell, and the scattered ghost sighting that people periodically report, your thesis runs into yet another (fatal?) problem: photobombing.

If your thesis is correct--that people sometimes stumble upon supernatural apparitions with their eyes, not just in their imaginations--then cameras should be randomly picking up images of these apparitions, at least periodically, as well. After all, both the eye and the camera lens respond to the photons that reach them.

Photographers have been taking photographs for over 150 years now, and digital photography is now very near to all pervasive.

Where are all the ghost photobombings of our selfies (like the end of the Haunted Mansion ride at Disneyland)?

Do you, Jeremy, know of any photographs of ghosts that you take to be credible?

Do you also have a theory as to why, when people report ghost sightings, that the ghosts they see appear human and are wearing gowns or clothing of some sort? Why would supernatural minds independent of brains need a head or eyes to look out from in the first place? Are these accouterments just for us?

And why aren't ghosts ever obese? Why is it, that when people claim to see apparitions, they describe them as being pretty much of average build? And why is it, when angels are seen, they tend to be symmetrical and gendered male, and when they're believed to be fallen angels, they tend to be asymmetrical, ugly, and also gendered male?

And why do sightings of the Virgin Mary tend to be culturally conditioned (Mary as a European white girl)?

How do such things fit in with your ghosts-and-angels-are-real thesis?

Jeremy Taylor said...

Your first post is just bilge. You ignored my actual arguments about methods of knowledge and the like and ask for further examples without any hint that you intend to engage in sensible discussion.

The camera question is valid, but it doesn't seem to carry the weight you wish to give. For a start, there are many instances of ghosts and paranormal entities allegedly caught of camera. Secondly, cameras, especially before ten to fifteen years ago, weren't just on phones. It wasn't just like someone would always have a camera handy if they saw a ghost. Thirdly, we don't necessarily know the degree to which these entities or phenomena are susceptible to being caught on camera.

This point about cameras adds little to the Orwell example. At best it is just a slight pause for thought about accepting ghostly as genuine paranormal phenomena. It doesn't change, or hardly at all, our specific investigation of the evidence in this case of Orwell's sighting. If you think it does, please show in detail how. This will also give some proof about how much it would be worth discussing other examples with you.

I did not mention a ghosts-and-angels are real thesis. The second half of your second post is full questions that miss the point. I am not trying to argue for some hypothesis about ghost and the paranormal or classify such phenomena. Your questions essentially all rely some implicit idea of what sort of paranormal entities these phenomena would be if they are real. I, rather, was concentrating entirely on showing the flaws of your knee-jerk scientism as a refutation of investigating specific paranormal cases whilst allowing paranormal explanations as a live option. This is separate for trying to come to some sort of conclusion about the phenomena.



Glenn said...

Santi,

1. While there are things in themselves regarding which I am not indifferent, when you are arguing for or against something, in the way you know how, it is not that which you argue for or against towards which I am not indifferent.

2. Regarding the narrowly circumscribed "intellectual consensus" to which you refer, see the 2nd para, and 1st sentence following, here.

3. Regarding Oppy, haven't read him, and haven't any plan do so.

4. Regarding Russell, have read some of him, including the essay you mention, but continue to miss the significance of the fact that he gave utterance to his personal belief.

5. Regarding the collection of things for which I have not provided reasons for adopting, let it be noted that amongst that uncountable mass is the fact that I have not provided reasons -- never mind good reasons (or even a single, specific reason (good or not)) -- why you might want to strive to be level-headed or even-keeled.

Glenn said...

s/b "...any plan to do so."