Wednesday, April 6, 2016

The smell of the sheep (Updated)


Being insulted by the pop atheist writer John Loftus is, to borrow Denis Healey’s famous line, like being savaged by a dead sheep.  It is hard to imagine that a human being could be more devoid of argumentative or polemical skill.  Commenting on my recent First Things exchange with atheist philosopher Keith Parsons, Loftus expresses bafflement at Parsons’ preference for the Old Atheism over the New Atheism.  Unable to see any good reason for it, Loftus slyly concludes: “Keith Parsons is just old.  That explains why he favors the Old Atheism.”  He also suggests that Parsons simply likes the attention Christians give him.

Well, as longtime readers of this blog will recall from his sometimes bizarre combox antics, Loftus certainly knows well the reek of attention-seeking desperation.  Sadly, being John Loftus, he tends to misidentify its source.
 
Something else that never occurs to Loftus is that if he really wants to know why Parsons prefers the Old Atheism to the New, he might, y’know, try checking to see what Parsons actually said about that in his letter to First Things.  (You’d think a purportedly tough-minded, science-based skeptic like Loftus might prefer this method of gathering actual evidence to that of, say, going with whatever lame ad hominem explanations popped into his head.  Or at any rate, you’d think that if you hadn’t actually had to deal with John Loftus before.)

Now, what Parsons actually said is that the trouble with New Atheist writers is “their logical lacunae and sophomoric mistakes” when addressing philosophical matters, and their tendency to “tar everything with the same brush” rather than distinguishing more sophisticated religious arguments and claims from cruder ones.  “[D]efeating your opponents’ arguments,” says Parsons, “requires (a) taking their best arguments seriously, and (b) doing your philosophical homework.”  The “Old Atheists” were more likely to do that than the “New Atheists.”  Hence Parsons’ preference.  He simply prefers to address what the best arguments of the other side actually say, rather than attacking straw men, begging the question, and committing other fallacies.  What could Loftus possibly object to in that?

The answer, of course, is that if attacking straw men, begging the question, and committing other fallacies were ruled out of bounds for New Atheists, Loftus would find himself suffering from permanent writer’s block.  Consider his reasons for holding, contra Parsons, that the New Atheism is superior to the Old.  The New Atheism, says Loftus, is willing to tell “the whole truth and nothing but the truth about religion,” and to expose the “irrationality” of arguments for religion, which “deserve little or no respect.”  New Atheist intellectuals “are so convinced religious faith is wrong from within their own disciplines they will venture outside their disciplines, disregarding the fact that people like Feser and Parsons will call them ignorant for doing so.”

But of course, Parsons’ point is precisely that New Atheists do not in fact tell “the whole truth and nothing but the truth about religion.”  Rather, they tend to attack straw man, to criticize weak arguments while remaining silent about more interesting and formidable ones, etc.  Parsons’ point is precisely that some religious ideas and arguments, despite being (in Parsons’ view) mistaken, are nevertheless not simply “irrational” or “deserv[ing of] little or no respect,” but rather ought to be responded to seriously.  Parsons’ point is precisely that those academic New Atheists who have “ventured outside their disciplines” have not earned the right to do so, because they have proven themselves incompetent where matters of philosophy and theology are concerned.  And it is not just that critics like Parsons and I call them ignorant; we have shown that they are in fact ignorant by citing a great many specific examples of straw men they have attacked, questions they have begged, arguments they have ignored, and so forth.

Loftus says absolutely nothing to show that Parsons is wrong about all of this.  He simply asserts that Parsons is wrong.  That is to say, he simply begs the question.  Which means that he does exactly the kind of thing Parsons accuses New Atheists of doing -- in the very act of trying to defend the New Atheists against Parsons.

Pretty obviously a problem, you might think.  But maybe Loftus can’t see the obvious because he’s got his head lodged so far up that goofball hat he’s always wearing.  Or at least, that’s where he thinks it’s lodged.

(Related reading: My First Things review of Jerry Coyne’s Faith versus Fact, which was the occasion for my recent exchange with Keith Parsons, can be found here.  A follow-up post on the book can be found here.  A couple of years ago, Parsons and I engaged in a much more substantive and very fruitful series of exchanges, an index to which can be found at The Secular Outpost.)

UPDATE 4/8: Keith Parsons offers a polite and reasoned reply to Loftus at the Secular Outpost.  Naturally, Loftus says that he refuses to respond to Parsons, other than to whine that Parsons is “attack[ing]” him, is “ignorant,” and that the Secular Outpost is “unfair.”

Got that?  In Loftus’s mind, Parsons’ offering a polite and reasoned defense of himself against Loftus’s argument-free, evidence-free ad hominem attack on Parsons is tantamount to Parsons unfairly and ignorantly attacking Loftus.  Loftus evidently has lifetime pass to New Atheist Fantasyland.

195 comments:

FM said...

"eing insulted by the pop atheist writer John Loftus is, to borrow Denis Healey’s famous line, like being savaged by a dead sheep. "

Haha you made my day!

Loftus is such an awful atheist apologist. All his criticism amount to nothing more than fallacies, mostly appeal to emotion, I feel.

Actually reading his books I have coined the term "John Loftus Syndrome":
the illness of persons who come from a (partially) irrational religious background (in Loftus case was Envangelical Fundamentalism, you know those who believe the world is 6000 y/o) and proceed to become even more irrational and angry atheists because some of their beliefs have been wrong.

Unfortunately this trend I have seen more than once and it's quite sad.

Son of Ya'Kov said...

New Atheists are mentally & intellectually inferior. Loftus is still in his mentality a fundamentalist Protestant sans the belief in gods. He is useless and will likely never be anything more than he is.....

John Quin said...

It seems quite clear that Loftus's preference for New Atheism is that it WORKS when it comes to changing hearts and minds. The truth of Atheism seems to be axiomatic so why argue over it.
Amusingly this just IS cult based reasoning, assume that the word of the 'leader' is true and then try any tactic that will get converts.

Legion of Logic said...

Reading that Loftus article was the intellectual equivalent of watching those epic fail videos where skateboarders and bikers and other would-be daredevils wipe out in horrible ways. It's funny to watch, but you just can't help but feel sorry for them, either.

New Atheism is filled with wannabe and self-described intellectuals, most of whom have no idea what they are doing besides repeating insults and one-liners they found on the internet.

BD Sixsmith said...

One might infer that while Mr Loftus is a passionate critic of religion he is also a believer in supernatural powers. And he seems to think that he himself is blessed with ESP!

Daniel Joachim said...

From the linked Loftus-comment in the OP.

John Loftus:
By writing [The Last Superstition] you have merely taken on easy targets. Try me on for size. I'd love to learn from you where I am wrong, if I am. Readers of my book say I am to atheism what Tiger Woods is to golf or what Babe Ruth was to baseball, and that my book does for the 21st century what Thomas Paine and David Fredrick Strauss did for the 18-19th centuries.

As someone who's had an encounter with some of Loftus' work, along with some exchanges with the likes of Victor Reppert, Randal Rauser and David Marshall, even though it was clearly a waste of time compared to the often insightful "old atheism", the above comment still has me laughing in stitches.

I'll nickname Loftus the "Tiger Baby" for reference from now on.

Not to mention Loftus most likely admitting not to have read the book a few comments afterwards:

John Loftus:
Professor Feser, I think you've made yourself clear, and I think I understand what you're doing in your book. But I think I would surely still disagree with you even if I would learn from reading it.

Tim Lambert said...

Be careful, Ed... You don't want loftus making a fake blog that criticizes you. Then having him act like, "hey guys, I just found another blog that is also critical of Feser. Crazy, huh??"

TheOFloinn said...

Funny how often people who worship reason fail to use their own.

David M said...

What a bombastic twit. "Why is such a man alive?" (Dmitri Karamazov, referring to his father.)

Gerard O'Neill said...

I'm quite happy to have the label 'New Atheist' pinned on me, if by 'New Atheist' you mean someone less willing to listen to pseudo-philosophical waffle and logic-chopping.

Don Jindra said...

It's not "New Atheism." It's the culture. There's been a general loss of civility. Disrespect has become a badge of honor. Atheism has always been trashed by Christians. So it's hypocritical to expect better behavior in return, especially when superficial honesty is in fashion. Nevertheless, that's no excuse. Everyone suffers when people stop playing nice. So we get this year's political shenanigans -- and then what?

David M said...

Don may be partly right here: it's the culture. New Atheists are stupid and rude because the culture is stupid and rude. In the old days people would never speak with such sneeringly ignorant disregard because they knew they would be challenged to a duel.

Fide Dubitandum said...

The more I interact with the New Atheists, the more convinced I am that the problem is that (their sloganeering to the contrary) they aren't actually interested in what is true. Rather, they're interested in winning arguments through sound-bytes and one-liners.

At least, this would explain why they so frequently repeat a slogan after it's been explained why it's both demonstrably false and self-contradictory, why they feel that no expertise is necessary to comment on academics, and openly redefine the theist's terms in order to create strawmen.

I've even had New Atheists do me the "favor" of offering me what they thought were good arguments for theism, and responded to my telling them that the arguments in question were terrible with something like hurt feelings. They claim to not understand why I'm dismissing their olive branch when they were trying to offer me "wiggle room" in the debate. It actually catches them off guard when I tell them that I'm less interested in "wiggle room" than in what is actually true.

Of course, they probably reinterpret that as one more debate move—one more attempt to sound intellectual, as opposed to what should be the actual point of a debate. My guess is that they've so thoroughly absorbed the political-appeal-to-pathos-not-logic style "debates" of modern culture that they literally can't comprehend that some debates are actually about logic.

Case in point, we have Gerard O'Neil in the comments attacking Feser for "pseudo-philosophical waffle and logic-chopping". What's interesting about this isn't that it's wrong. We expect that from New Atheists, but that one somehow things claiming that Feser's rather simple argument (which basically amounted to: "Loftus didn't actually give us any reason whatsoever to think he is right, or answer any of the reasons why he is wrong.") as "logic-chopping".

Similarly, can anyone really accuse Feser of "waffle"? Really?

This kind of behavior is completely baffling, unless one assumes that New Atheists aren't much interested in whether or not what they say is true. Likely as not, they don't read past the first paragraph of a theist's article. By that point, they've lost interest and respond to what they assume must be in the rest of it.

We've seen this before, and I think the only thing that explains it is the idea that these people don't actually care one bit about they truth.

Daniel Joachim said...

@Gerald O'Neill
I'm quite happy to have the label 'New Atheist' pinned on me, if by 'New Atheist' you mean someone less willing to listen to pseudo-philosophical waffle and logic-chopping.

No, that's not what it mean. What made you think so?

And when did "less willing to listen" become a badge of honor, while "logic-chopping" is phrased as a term in the negative? :)

nieuwbooy said...

A sample of his genius "why is it that methodological naturalism has made this modern world possible, achieving astounding results from the computer chip to the internet to modern medicine to forensics to meteorology to plate tectonics to nuclear technology, and so on and so forth, but that when it comes to investigating an ancient collection of superstitious writings with obvious pseudonymous interpolations that we shouldn’t apply that extremely fruitful method to those writings?"

Loftus seems to think here that because methodological naturalism has been useful for "the computer chip to the internet to modern medicine to forensics to meteorology to plate tectonics to nuclear technology, and so on and so forth" that we should use it to explain supernatural phenomena. But isn't this blatant scientism? Methodological naturalism is of course useful in these areas he has mentioned but that does not mean that they can discover or confirm the truths about religion. It's a bit like saying "seeing with your eyes is an incredible thing and it has allowed us to see many things but you're telling me I have to use my ears to hear? Why should I give up seeing? I don't care about my other senses if I can't see it with my eyes it doesn't exist!" He also seems to commit the fallacy of chronological snobbery when he calls the Bible "ancient" as if merely because of its age it is less trustworthy. Finally he begs the question when he calls the Bible "superstitious writings" by asserting something as true which is still under debate.

Brandon said...

To an extent the New Atheists are the atheists our era deserves, since we live in a world rife with the idea that self-identification is identity. Atheism as such admits of infinite varieties, so when they join together in communities, however loose, they have to focus on what they regard as their perceived point of superiority over everyone around them -- which from their perspective is rationality. You can do this either by deliberately holding yourself to higher standards, even if you risk the embarrassment of failing in the attempt to meet them, or by simply self-identifying as rational. And the latter is the kind of path that leads to rampant hypocrisy, regardless of the community.

Loftus, though, is another level entirely; he seems to be just layers and layers of self-aggrandizing.

David M said...

Yes. It reminds one of Anscombe's analysis of modern moral philosophy. They continue to use words like 'rational' but clearly have no notion of the context that was (is) required for such words to (continue to) be meaningful.

Gerard O'Neill said...

I'll let you in on a little secret: Nearly everything we call 'knowledge' or 'fact' is not so, but is assertion -- and I include a large proportion of so-called science in this.

Take the field of Evolutionary Psychology. It has a fancy, science-y name; it developed from sociobiology (it has "biology" in its name, so science!); famous academics think it's awesome; they have journals etc. But there's a problem -- it's garbage.

The people here miss the point when atheists (or this atheist at least) say that Theology is bunk, because most human intellectual endeavours are in the same boat.

Daniel Joachim said...

@nieuwbooy

No, no, no. Methodological naturalism has nothing to do with the success of natural science (or technology). One can easily investigate nature using the tools of modern science, without also presupposing that we have to build fences around the natural world as a causally closed system, which is one of the many thesis that naturalism really subscribes to.

In one way, natural science presupposes a wide apparatus of presuppositions that are notoriously hard to defend on a mere, naturalistic view. One could more fruitfully even talk about "methodological theism", echoing the logocentric ideas that gave rise to the methods of modern science in the 1200-1300s, to rationally investigate an ordered, demarcated nature.

But of course. Naturalists of the Loftus type, tend to view "methodological naturalism" as synonymous with scientists not letting ghosts, gods, angels and spirits interfere with their experiments. Which is of course...terribly confused.

Gerard O'Neill said...

I'm aware that EP is a new discipline, and that its unreliability is an outlier of sorts, with Biology, Physics etc being somewhat immune to these problems. Well, no.

The further you get from the core of the physical sciences, the more speculative it gets. Anyone who reads about physics will know there is something of a crisis in the field, or more accurately the theoretical side of it -- it just doesn't seem to be going anywhere.

Medical science is even worse. Perhaps the majority of research done today is useless or plain wrong.

nieuwbooy said...

@Daniel Joachim

I figured that because methodological naturalism, as I understand it, presupposes that there exists only the natural world it automatically and necessarily rules out the possibility of miracles like the Resurrection. So if you are reading the Bible with a worldview that necessarily presupposes that naturalism is true and supernaturalism is false you are begging the question against supernaturalism. It's similar to someone who says "things only exist that can be seen with the eyes but this book says things exist which can be heard so this book must be false".

Kareem Guimba said...

These "New Atheist" need to be crushed pronto. It used to be funny watching them embarrass themselves but now its just annoying.
(Is dguller still on this blog because I would like to get in contact with him).

Daniel Joachim said...

@Gerald

I'll let you in on a little secret: Nearly everything we call 'knowledge' or 'fact' is not so, but is assertion -- and I include a large proportion of so-called science in this.

Sounds like you're little secret is an assertion as well. So I hope you won't mind me regarding it as bunk. :)

Daniel Joachim said...

Sorry, nieuwbooy. I should have been more precise.

I meant to address your quote with Loftus' absurd claim of "methodological naturalism has made this modern world possible". :)

laubadetriste said...

1. @Gerard O'Neill: "I'm quite happy to have the label 'New Atheist' pinned on me, if by 'New Atheist' you mean someone less willing to listen to pseudo-philosophical waffle and logic-chopping."

2. @Brandon: "To an extent the New Atheists are the atheists our era deserves, since we live in a world rife with the idea that self-identification is identity. Atheism as such admits of infinite varieties, so when they join together in communities, however loose, they have to focus on what they regard as their perceived point of superiority over everyone around them -- which from their perspective is rationality. You can do this either by deliberately holding yourself to higher standards, even if you risk the embarrassment of failing in the attempt to meet them, or by simply self-identifying as rational. And the latter is the kind of path that leads to rampant hypocrisy, regardless of the community."

Read 1.
Read 2.
Laugh.
Repeat as often as needed to brighten your day.

@Daniel Joachim: "One could more fruitfully even talk about "methodological theism", echoing the logocentric ideas that gave rise to the methods of modern science in the 1200-1300s, to rationally investigate an ordered, demarcated nature."

For those interested, and also for those who would self-identify as New Atheists, Dr. Feser has covered that ground (see the blog archive), and from time to time has recommended such books as this one and this one and this one.

DNW said...

"Don Jindra said...

It's not "New Atheism." It's the culture. There's been a general loss of civility. Disrespect has become a badge of honor. Atheism has always been trashed by Christians. So it's hypocritical to expect better behavior in return, especially when superficial honesty is in fashion. Nevertheless, that's no excuse. Everyone suffers when people stop playing nice. So we get this year's political shenanigans -- and then what?
April 7, 2016 at 7:44 AM "




Real social war, or collapse, if all goes well.

laubadetriste said...

@Gerard O'Neill: "The people here miss the point when atheists (or this atheist at least) say that Theology is bunk, because most human intellectual endeavours are in the same boat."

↑That : genuine skepticism¹ :: Henry Ford : genuine history

¹Sextus Empiricus, Charron, Bayle, Shestov...


In fact, now I feel a hunger for the good stuff. Here's a morsel:

"This is the first great fact to notice about the speech of God, which is the culmination of the inquiry. It represents all human skeptics routed by a higher skepticism. It is this method, used sometimes by supreme and sometimes by mediocre minds, that has ever since been the logical weapon of the true mystic. Socrates, as I have said, used it when he showed that if you only allowed him enough sophistry he could destroy all sophists. Jesus Christ used it when he reminded the Sadducees, who could not imagine the nature of marriage in heaven, that if it came to that they had not really imagined the nature of marriage at all. In the break up of Christian theology in the eighteenth century, Butler used it, when he pointed out that rationalistic arguments could be used as much against vague religions as against doctrinal religion, as much against rationalist ethics as against Christian ethics. It is the root and reason of the fact that men who have religious faith have also philosophic doubt. These are the small streams of the delta; the book of Job is the first great cataract that creates the river. In dealing with the arrogant asserter of doubt, it is not the right method to tell him to stop doubting. It is rather the right method to tell him to go on doubting , to doubt a little more, to doubt every day newer and wilder things in the universe, until at last, by some strange enlightenment, he may begin to doubt himself."--Chesterton, "Introduction to Job"

jmhenry said...

Feser: [Loftus] does exactly the kind of thing Parsons accuses New Atheists of doing -- in the very act of trying to defend the New Atheists against Parsons.

TOF: Funny how often people who worship reason fail to use their own.

So it looks like we have yet another case of Walter Mitty atheism. Parsons essentially says that New Atheists should come out of their sentimentalist Fantasyland and actually be rational instead simply labeling oneself as rational. Loftus responds like someone still trapped within the sentimentalist Fantasyland, thus proving Parsons' point.

DNW said...

I took a trip to this Loftus guy's blog, saw a few pictures of him dressed in black boasting of "blaspheming the holy spirit", read his whining about how he was ill treated and unlovingly judged when he fell victim to the temptation of Potiphar's wife, and learned how all conversions and deconversions are emotion and crisis based - so there.

The upshot? No one need feel any moral obligation to take this John Loftus fellow seriously: Not as an intellect, not as a man, not as a moral being with intrinsic value and respectability; and, not even as an atheist. Quite a personality though.

I do believe I might have met someone a bit like him in the past. Long ago.

I recall an overcast summer weekend when I was standing on the shore of a small north woods lake which was accessible only by fire trail. Very few visitors.

After a while of poking around, a sedan came bouncing down the two track and parked up on the embankment visible through the woods. Eventually, a tall and thin man, followed by a diffident girl-woman with her arms folded across her chest, emerged from the woods about 50 yards away, and came down the path to the shore.

He was dressed all in black; and was wearing cowboy boots, as well as one of those black renegade style Western hats - the kind with a string of silver medallions around the base of the crown. On his hip he sported a black six-gun rig, also decorated with silver, or at least some kind of shiney metal bits. He looked over at us, saying nothing, acknowledging nothing, and went ambling away along the shoreline, the girl following. Eventually he became more serious looking, or disturbed, and began a kind of stalking; as if he half expected something to leap from the water which he would then shoot in midair.

On reaching a patch of shallow reeds just off the shore, he pulled out the gun, which appeared to be a long barreled .22, and began shooting at something ... it must have been frogs. He would shoot a number of times, pause to slowly and deliberately reload, and then begin the stalking process again. The woman always trailing along a respectful distance behind. The way he went about it was as if he were administering righteous vengence; or at least performing a great service to mankind which just happened gave him a grim kind of incidental satisfaction. Just doing his duty ... whatever that was.

After about twenty minutes, a hundred or so rounds expended, and mission apparently completed, he turned back, glanced at us again, and walked up the lake basin slope to the woods and his car. He and she got in, and then drove away down the undulating fire trail.

I'm not sure there is any moral to it all, and it was long ago. I was about 12 and the frog slayer guy was probably already in his early 30's. By the look of it, Loftus is my age or even younger. So I'm pretty sure it wasn't Loftus. But I cannot get the resemblance out of my mind.

Legion of Logic said...

A wannabe Doc Holliday ridding the world of the dangerous Frogs of the Lake with his awe-inspiring .22 revolver is a perfect analogy for what New Atheists perceive themselves as doing vs what they are actually doing.

TheOFloinn said...

The key term in "methodological naturalism" is "methodological." That is, it is the method that appeals to natures. It was perhaps best explained by St. Albert the Great when he wrote:
"In studying nature we have not to inquire how God the Creator may, as He freely wills, use His creatures to work miracles and thereby show forth His power; we have rather to inquire what Nature with its immanent causes can naturally bring to pass." --Albertus Magnus, De vegetabilibus et plantis
IOW, methodological naturalism was devised by Christians from their doctrine of secondary causation:
"Nature is nothing but the plan of some art, namely a divine one, put into things themselves, by which those things move towards a concrete end: as if the man who builds up a ship could give to the pieces of wood that they could move by themselves to produce the form of the ship."
-- Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on Physics II.8, lecture 14, no. 268
Ontological naturalism otoh is a different kettle of fish.

Mr. Green said...

Ed: You’d think a purportedly tough-minded, science-based skeptic like Loftus might prefer this method of gathering actual evidence

If he's like Loftus, then I would expect evasion, irrationality, more evasion, and a cheap plug for his book.



The OFloinn: Funny how often people who worship reason fail to use their own.

"Their own"? But people worship things that are transcendently beyond their own nature, right?



Daniel Joachim quoting John Loftus: Readers of my book say I am to atheism what Tiger Woods is to golf

An adulterer??

or what Babe Ruth was to baseball

Of course, they were actually referring to the candy bar. I guess arguing with Loftus is rather like trying to hit a pitch with a chocolate bar — you get your hands dirty but won't make any contact. (If you try too hard, you might get a beanball, which will leave your head dizzy and ringing for the rest of the day.)



DNW: By the look of it, Loftus is my age or even younger. So I'm pretty sure it wasn't Loftus.

Bearing in mind that the only real knowledge comes from ❗️SCIENCE™❗️, do you have any scientific evidence that Loftus isn't vain enough to put up a decades-old picture of himself?
(On the other hand, you didn't mention anything about cowboy-man repeatedly shooting himself in the foot, so that actually would provide an empirical basis for distinguishing the two of them.)



Legion of Logic: Reading that Loftus article was the intellectual equivalent of watching those epic fail videos where skateboarders and bikers and other would-be daredevils wipe out in horrible ways.

...if they then got up and implored you to learn their awesome moves by buying their book!!!


You gotta admit — what Loftus lacks in ability to follow a syllogism to the end even if you spot him both premises and the conclusion, he makes up for in chutzpah. Amusingly enough, he showed up at Victor Reppert's site just the other day spouting off how Science™ is the best and only path to knowledge, so Bob Prokop asked him why he wasn't a scientist. He ignored the question. Then I asked him what experiment he did to arrive at his conclusion. He evaded the question, then evaded some more, then awkwardly plugged his book and quoted someone saying that there is no such thing as scientism because ...scientism is true! (Seriously. It's like shooting frogs in a barrel with these guys.)

Fide Dubitandum said...

@Gerard O'Neill,
It's hard to tell what your argument is here. I've listed the possibilities:
1. Theology is "bunk" because you, personally, dismiss other fields like evolutionary psychology.
2. Theology is "bunk" because anything which doesn't pass the same tests held up by the hard physical sciences is "bunk".
3. Theology is "bunk" because most everything everyone knows is "bunk".

Perhaps there's something else here, but none of these are rational reasons to dismiss theology (or anything else).
#1 is obviously false, and I doubt that you would claim that this was your argument.
#2 is a blatant argument from scientism. The reasons why this is false have been pointed out many times (for instance here: http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2010/03/1174/)
#3 is simply a dismissal of knowledge. Moreover, it is a dismissal of knowledge that is itself a sweeping claim of great knowledge (as if the speaker knows more than the overwhelming majority of experts in the world). Beyond that, one needs to offer a reason (other than the scientism of option #2) to exclude theology from your short list of subjects giving us "real knowledge".

In short, I suspect that this is yet another faith-statement of scientism, which has been addressed many times over.

Whitefrozen said...

Fun fact: the copy of Stanley Jaki's 'Road of Science and the Ways to God' that I own used to belong to Loftus. I know this because it has his little imprint thing on the inside (I didn't notice at the time who it was on Amazon I was buying it from). Nearly every page is 50% or more underlined, too. Too bad he didn't retain any of it.

Anonymous said...

Who does the Loftus doofus think he's kidding? The greatest quote of all was when he challenged Feser to take on a "real" intellectual and scholar (Loftus!). Hilarious!

Mr. Green said...

Kareem Guimba: These "New Atheist" need to be crushed pronto.

Gosh, no. What they mostly need is to be ignored, because there are so many serious people with serious questions and interests out there who deserve the time and attention. Most people are never going to be atheists anyway, but a lot of them might become interested in genuine religion and philosophy if they had a chance to be exposed to it properly.

Mr. Green said...

Anonymous: The greatest quote of all was when he challenged Feser to take on a "real" intellectual and scholar (Loftus!).

I'm impressed that John realises that would be a big boost for him! But rumour has it that "L.O.F.T.U.S." is actually an AI experiment gone wild… apparently an attempt by Baron Robert Bishop of "Word and Catch Fire" to create an Internet posting-bot to promote Christianity. Unfortunately, it was programmed to mimic the style of Facebook-using millennials, ostensibly to appeal to their sarcastic modern sensibilities, but with the unintended result that the AI quickly evolved into a snarky, reverse-psychological "Poe-bot", presumably aiming to make religion look better by posing as an anti-intellectual opponent who spews irrational uninformed "new atheist"-style screeds.

They took it off-line for a while to try and improve the programming by feeding it a variety of books, but when reactivated it started a flood of comments touting rubbishy fictional New Atheist books of its own. (The silver lining is that these imaginary tomes are about as incoherent as real New Atheist publications, so no real harm was done.)

Mr. Green said...

Daniel Joachim: Methodological naturalism has nothing to do with the success of natural science (or technology). One can easily investigate nature using the tools of modern science, without also presupposing that we have to build fences around the natural world

Of course; and it's not just that so many great scientists have not been naturalists ("methodological" or otherwise), but that science was invented by people who rejected naturalism! One is led to wonder what this alleged "methodological naturalism" is supposed to be doing differently from what all those non-naturalist scientists did. In fact, if it did something else, wouldn't it therefore not be following the scientific method? And yet, as I have said elsewhere, "naturalists" seem to do science pretty much the same way as Newton and Galileo and Mendel and Lemaitre and Einstein and Albertus Magnus and Kepler and Collins and Bacon and Pascal and Boyle and Leibniz and Whewell and Maxwell and Carver and Kelvin and... so many others.

(On the other hand, as you noted, it certainly adds lots and lots of problems of trying to ground and justify science. Maybe we should look on it more as job-security for naturalistic philosophers!)

Daniel Joachim said...

@Mr Green

Exactly, which brings us to...

@TOF

The key term in "methodological naturalism" is "methodological." That is, it is the method that appeals to natures.
(...)
IOW, methodological naturalism was devised by Christians from their doctrine of secondary causation:


That's interesting, and I think we all agree that the success of natural sciences depends on investigating secondary causation. But I also wonder what the term of methodological naturalism is supposed to add here?

I think of methodological naturalism as something that can limit our philosophical commitments while conducting scientific inquiry. And we can obviously do scientific inquiry without turning to naturalism for the time being.

The scientific methods aren't meant to explore teleology, primary causation or divine purposes in nature, just as my compass isn't meant to tell me about the evolution of biological organisms. But that just leaves me as an agnostic from the method alone - not a naturalist.

And of course. When examining philosophical foundations, the story is a completely different one.

So I guess I don't see what the term "methodological naturalism" is supposed to add the practice of scientific investigation of secondary causation. Any elaboration would be highly appreciated, as I have given this some thought.

Last. Some examples where "methodological naturalism" seems to be used as a stronger commitment.

Stanford starts out like this: In what follows, “methodological naturalism” will be understood as a view about philosophical practice. Methodological naturalists see philosophy and science as engaged in essentially the same enterprise, pursuing similar ends and using similar methods."

RationalWiki (not a solid source, I know, but typical for this kind of attitude) describes it as: "Methodological naturalism is the label for the required assumption of philosophical naturalism when working with the scientific method."

Daniel Joachim said...

@Whitefrozen

Fun fact: the copy of Stanley Jaki's 'Road of Science and the Ways to God' that I own used to belong to Loftus. I know this because it has his little imprint thing on the inside (I didn't notice at the time who it was on Amazon I was buying it from). Nearly every page is 50% or more underlined, too. Too bad he didn't retain any of it.

That IS interesting. And Jaki is a very educational read as well, even though he looks to escalate in polemics towards the end of his career.

So wouldn't one think that 50% underlining would imply that some actual...learning was being done?

Rob said...

@Daniel
Everyone knows that highlighting 50% of the text is bad note-taking. Now you have a YELLOW page of stuff you still have to learn! I think we've actually found the root of the problem for this poor man. :)

Jim Wyss said...

Apply water to burned area.

HypeAnon said...

Oh wow!
We gotta get Loftus to come over here and try to PWN Feser on his own book.

Feser, no offense to you, I'm sure you're a knowledgeable guy. But Loftus is something else. Take in his criticisms and be considerate with them.
I will warn this, if you get too testy with him you won't be the first PhD Philosopher who was sent home packing after trying to debate with the guy.

Anonymous said...

Oh deary me this last comment is just sittin there like a baby deer on the I95 and several big rigs are comin round the bend...

Whitefrozen said...

What's funny is that it's not just underlining. There's probably three or four different colours of highlighter that he used - green, yellow, blue - that correspond to different underlining colours. Notes in the margins, in the text, hand drawn lines connecting different thoughts in the text. Kind of interesting. It's like a diary.

Anonymous said...

I'm an atheist. I've heard this argument (atheists sometimes use weak arguments against the existance of God) many times. The corollary appears to be "therefore God exists", however, I'll have to assume that's not what's being argued here (although it does look a bit like that).

The point is, it's not up to atheists to disprove the existence of God but up to theists to prove it. If there is a convincing argument in favour of the existence of God, would someone please provide it?

Taylor Weaver said...

Sometimes I come to this combox not to learn anything, but to silly the naive drive-by philosophising that occurs.

It's like looking at a wreck on the motorway as you pass.

Taylor Weaver said...

*to see

Phones....

laubadetriste said...

@Anonymous April 8, 2016 at 8:08 AM: "I'm an atheist. I've heard this argument (atheists sometimes use weak arguments against the existance of God) many times. The corollary appears to be 'therefore God exists', however, I'll have to assume that's not what's being argued here (although it does look a bit like that). / The point is, it's not up to atheists to disprove the existence of God but up to theists to prove it. If there is a convincing argument in favour of the existence of God, would someone please provide it?"

...and on your right, you'll see the blog archive, which contains the stuff that we've already gone over. After "You too can read read what's publicly available," the next stop on the damn obvious tour is "Hold your steak knife by the dull end"...

ccmnxc said...

Oh deary me this last comment is just sittin there like a baby deer on the I95 and several big rigs are comin round the bend...

Hype's been around for awhile here. He had an almost identical post with Hallquist a few years ago. No worries; he's joking.

The point is, it's not up to atheists to disprove the existence of God but up to theists to prove it. If there is a convincing argument in favour of the existence of God, would someone please provide it?

"Convincing" is a loaded term, as it typically chases out to "convincing to me," and your psychology is something we have no power over.

laubadetriste said...

@Taylor Weaver: "Sometimes I come to this combox not to learn anything, but to silly the naive drive-by philosophising that occurs. / It's like looking at a wreck on the motorway as you pass."

Sometimes diverting, I agree. But what *is it* about this blog that attracts those naïfs?

(I would have used a stronger word, but then you seem like a nicer person than I am...)

I don't get it. I wouldn't jump in the middle of a sailing blog and start running my mouth about bowlines and clove hitches. I wouldn't wade into a French cooking blog and start bragging about my coq au vin. I would do what in fact I did here, six or seven years ago, and bloody read first.

Anonymous said...

What is it about scholars in other fields who come to philosophy and suppose they are experts in that field as well? Why do they suppose philosophy is so easy to understand that, hey, they don't even need to do any hard work understanding it?

TheOFloinn said...

RationalWiki (not a solid source, I know, but typical for this kind of attitude) describes it as: "Methodological naturalism is the label for the required assumption of philosophical naturalism when working with the scientific method."

Hence, why "Rational"Wiki is not a solid source. If we read their definition carefully, we find out that methodological naturalism is the label for assuming naturalism in our methodology. Duh? But it's not clear what they mean by "philosophical naturalism" or why it might be "required."

TheOFloinn said...

Hype: The point is, it's not up to atheists to disprove the existence of God but up to theists to prove it. If there is a convincing argument in favour of the existence of God, would someone please provide it?

ccmnxc: "Convincing" is a loaded term, as it typically chases out to "convincing to me," and your psychology is something we have no power over.


True dat, ccmnxc. Arguments are not supposed to be convincing. They're supposed to be valid. Convincing can be accomplished by persuasive rhetoric (a la Sanders, Trump, et al.), by ridicule, by bombast, by sheer volume. Most importantly, they are convincing because the listener is already convinced before he even hears it. Hence, Hype will never find a convincing argument for something which he does not want to accept in the first place.

Eric MacDonald said...

I continue to enjoy your blog, Edward. You really do put Loftus in his place, and, yes, his hat was the first thing that struck me about him when I first visited his blog, probably the first and the last time I visited his blog. At the time I said, in the comments, "Get rid of the hat, John, it makes you look stupid." (Or something along those lines.) Then I got hold of a copy of his book (first one, I think). I can't remember its title, and I threw it out, one of the few books I have bought that really deserved to be trashed. I love this comment from your post above:

"The answer, of course, is that if attacking straw men, begging the question, and committing other fallacies were ruled out of bounds for New Atheists, Loftus would find himself suffering from permanent writer’s block."

Hilarious.

Anonymous said...

TheOFloinn: "Arguments are not supposed to be convincing. They're supposed to be valid."

Okay, give me a valid argument.

Brandon said...

Okay, give me a valid argument.

It's almost trivially easy. An example of a valid argument (by 'moved' is meant changed in the Aristotelian sense of the word):

(1) Either the moving of what is moved would be an infinite regress of movers or it would have an unmoved first mover.
(2) An infinite regress of movers implies that there is something that is both moved and unmoved in the same respect, which is a contradiction.
(3) Some things are moved.
(4) What is moved is moved by another.
---- Therefore there is an unmoved first mover.

All quite basic and formally valid; thus the only question is how strong one can make the support for (2) and (4). So, now (1) it was pointed out to you that your first request was obviously rigged and (2) you've been given the valid argument you requested on your second attempt. Do you have any other questions that you think somehow are essential to this topic?

Anonymous said...

Brandon:

I don't find the 'unmoved mover' argument to be convincing (or valid) for the following reasons at least:

1. Change (or movement) isn't necessarily a genuine feature of the universe when viewed from a block time perspective.

2. There is no reason why an infinite regress cannot exist.

3. Change (or movement) isn't necessarly 'caused' by other change (or movement).

4. An 'unmoved mover' wouldn't necessarily be God - assuming that's what you were implying.

Note that my four points don't one-to-one correspond to the four points you listed except by coincidence.

laubadetriste said...

@Anonymous April 8, 2016 at 2:41 PM:

You're already mistaking *valid* for *sound*. Not an auspicious beginning when attacking a philosophical argument...

[Gets out popcorn.]

Brandon said...

(I) We already went over the 'convincing' part. Did you not grasp any of the points made by ccmnx or TheOFloinn before you just fired off a response to them. Demanding that other people convince you is sheer intellectual laziness; it is your responsibility to be convinced rationally, and the most you can request of other people is that they give you their reasons; if you are not convinced when they do so, it may be a defect in their reasons, or it may be a defect in you, and there is no way to determine which just from the fact that you are not convinced.

(II) Validity is a formal characteristic of argument. It does not depend on your private, and here irrational, opinion. The argument given is provably valid: (1) and (2) by disjunctive syllogism result in the conclusion that if there is a moving of things moved, it has an unmoved first mover. (3) and (4) together logically require the conclusion that there is a moving of things moved; and this combines with the previous by modus ponens to get the conclusion that there is an unmoved first mover for it.

None of your comments in any way address matters relevant to the validity of argument, so why you think they give reason to think the argument is not valid is a complete mystery.

Taylor Weaver said...

Man, you guys sure?? Coulda sworn they mentioned the criteria of 'convincedness' in my logic class.

TheOFloinn said...

I don't find the 'unmoved mover' argument to be convincing (or valid) for the following reasons at least:

You asked for an example of a valid argument, not a convincing one. You cannot hold a conversation hostage to the thickest wit in it. No argument can ever "convince" someone with a deep emotional conviction to the contrary.

1. Change (or movement) isn't necessarily a genuine feature of the universe when viewed from a block time perspective.

Parmenides and Zeno ride again! Achilles never catches the tortoise! However, we cannot hold reality hostage to a mathematical model, either. If there is no change, how can there be different coordinates along the t-axis?

2. There is no reason why an infinite regress cannot exist.

The reason was given in the argument. An accidentally-ordered regress can indeed be infinite, were it not for the Big Bang; but that is physics. But the argument involves the actualization of potentials, 'motion' in the Aristotelian sense [kinesis].

3. Change (or movement) isn't necessarly 'caused' by other change (or movement).

It isn't. It is imparted by other movers, not by 'change' or 'movement.' Give a counter-example; otherwise, Newton's First Law is fairly convincing.

4. An 'unmoved mover' wouldn't necessarily be God

The given argument did not claim to conclude to that, so this is not an objection to its validity, only an expression of fear regarding its ultimate implications.
++++

Here's an example to which you cannot bring the baggage of your personal beliefs:
1) All squelmish are booligious.
2) Krumlik is a squelmish.
3) Therefore, krumlik is booligious. QED

laubadetriste said...

@Anonymous April 8, 2016 at 1:54 PM: "Okay, give me a valid argument."

@Brandon: "It's almost trivially easy..."

I have a proposal for next time (now that Brandon has started in). On the one hand I am quite proud of the welcome shown by this blog to true students of philosophy, and also to folks who have not yet read widely or long. This welcome is something I myself have contributed to; and of course, none of us would be here had not someone, at some earlier time, given us help.

Likewise, I am proud of the sharing here between folks more knowledgeable about one discipline and another. Our conversation would the poorer had we not (recently, e.g.) TheOFloinn on statistics, or George LeSauvage on naval history, or Tony on papal pronouncements.

On the other hand, I am irritated that every couple of weeks, some space cadet comes 'round in a drive-by (as Taylor rightly called these occurrences), and says (I paraphrase) "[I read *Sophie's World* once in high school and] I demand that you explain the Western philosophical tradition to me from the beginning! [keeping in mind that I will devote no more attention to your efforts than I have to this blog generally, or indeed to my own education]"

My proposal is this: Next time one of these types comes 'round, and in a show of bad faith makes his peremptory demands, we reply like so:

"Nuh-uh. Ain't gon' be yer trained monkey."

Brandon said...

"Nuh-uh. Ain't gon' be yer trained monkey."

I'm tempted, and have said similar things in other situations (although I usually say, "I'm not a dancing pony to perform on your command"). It's one thing when there's an actual specific question by someone who's actually trying to understand the arguments; then it's just a matter of clarification, and everyone can potentially benefit from that.

But there are always those people who seem intent on forcing people they disagree with to do all the rational work just so that they don't have to do it themselves; and one just wants to say, "Take responsibility for your own intellectual life; other people are not your intellectual nursemaids." I'm reminded of a commenter who came around about three years back, I guess, who came in asking some question about how Aristotelian metaphysics related to relativity theory; I don't remember the exact details, but I think TOF pointed out some very general points of similarity as he often does, I recommended some of Heisenberg's work as a possible first starting point for how one might go about addressing the topic, and so on from other commenters, all of which were taking it as a genuine question. (And to be sure, there's a lot of work to be done on matters like that, and not enough people to do it thoroughly.) But in reality what the commenter meant was more like 'I think it's stupid to accept Aristotelian metaphysics because it seems to me to be inconsistent with relativity theory, although I can't be bothered to identify any particular point on which it might be, so prove to me the consistency of every part of Aristotelian metaphysics with every part of relativity theory.' To which the only answer could be, 'Nobody's obligated to do all the work for you; come back when you actually have some specific puzzle or problem that people might benefit from'.

Of course, the tricky thing is that there are always people who are somewhere in between, and one doesn't want to dismiss all of them out of hand. And, likewise, there are always cases where people just express themselves badly, and it's not always straightforward to tell which people have serious questions that they just haven't communicated well.

John Loffers (Anonymous) said...

If John is a lover of reason he should begin an exchange with you Edward as did other atheists. You know actual arguments and a real discussion. That way all the big talk can be proven or exposed. Either way it will prove fruitful for his readers.

TheOFloinn said...

I especially like the "block universe" thingie. It presupposes a point of view outside the universe from which it can be viewed "externally." But this is often put forward by those who otherwise contend that there is nothing outside the universe. Certainly, if you choose a coordinate system cleverly, you can "freeze" time. But if you choose your coordinate system cleverly, you can place the earth motionless at its center. The Tychonic model was mathematically equivalent to the Copernican and made all the same predictions. However, the usefulness of a mathematical model does not require the physical world to go along with the gag, as Hawking said (though more elegantly).

laubadetriste said...

@Brandon: "Of course, the tricky thing is that there are always people who are somewhere in between, and one doesn't want to dismiss all of them out of hand. And, likewise, there are always cases where people just express themselves badly, and it's not always straightforward to tell which people have serious questions that they just haven't communicated well."

True.

I confess to being sometimes curt, and sometimes indulgent (as with He Who Must Not Be Named But Rhymes With Mozarella).

We could use something like what one finds on Reddit r/bodyweightfitness: "Read the Sidebar Before Posting," a very good FAQ, etc. The Classical Theism boardhost *does* gesture in that direction.

laubadetriste said...

@TheOFloinn: "However, the usefulness of a mathematical model does not require the physical world to go along with the gag, as Hawking said (though more elegantly)."

The Feser Blog Genie has heard your implicit wish, and if he ever gets off his lazy genie butt will include, in his proposed Bibliography for the Unprepared, a section on the mathematization of the world-picture:

The Metaphysical Foundations of Modern Science

Science and the Modern World

Physics and Philosophy: The Revolution in Modern Science

The Mechanization of the World Picture: Pythagoras to Newton

To Save the Phenomena: An Essay on the Idea of Physical Theory from Plato to Galileo

The Analysis of Matter

The Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology: An Introduction to Phenomenological Philosophy

Greek Mathematical Thought and the Origin of Algebra

Lectures and Essays

The Origin of the Logic of Symbolic Mathematics: Edmund Husserl and Jacob Klein

The Blog Genie takes suggestions, and is not above bribery.

Lazarus said...

To slightly misquote that other odd Atheist Captain, "John Loftus is the most unpleasant character in all of fiction."

Kyle said...

Can anyone explain how someone able to teach philosophy (see Loftus's Wikipedia entry) seems unable to *do* philosophy (see his ... well his everything)?

I had never heard of the guy until this article from Ed (curse you Ed! I was happy! I used to smile!), but I'm just bemused as to how someone who has had both the philosophical, and theological education Loftus appears to, and so who should have not only a reasonable level of ability in precision argumentation but also a knowledge of the serious arguments used in natural theology, can seem to be utterly devoid of all of the above.

I mean, it's one thing for a Richard Dawkins to not have encountered, to any depth, classical theism and the like of Aquinas, say, and as a result to be able to produce something as inane as The God Delusion and not be embarrassed; in fact it's also one not entirely dissimilar thing even for someone like a Flew to not have encountered the same; but a philosophically trained former apologist such as Loftus? No, someone like that acting as if they have no philosophical depth would be weird. And yet weird it seems to be. What's the deal?

No, really -- and forgive me if stray into the eschatological for a second -- but WTF is going on with the world? Modern science types with little or no understanding of philosophical ideas are being treated like all-purpose intellectual heroes by society at large. An increasingly overt assault is taking place on philosophy itself, again primarily resulting from a misinterpretation of the undoubted progress of science resulting not only in scientism, but in *unquestioned* scientism. So not only does our typical New Atheist not know philosophy, increasingly he believes he doesn't *need* to know philosophy. In fact, there are already hints that the NA argument is that *no one* needs to know philosophy because all we need to know can known by, and maybe even *only* by, science.

And then that's all swirled together in a heady and headlong rush towards the individual-exalting position that The Good is equivalent to nothing more than That Which Does Not Harm Anyone Else, while at the same time both rejecting any of the kinds of arguments actually needed to produce the very notion of an objective Good, while embracing the mind-numbingly-moronic view that empirical science can do that job.

The words "hell" and "hand-basket" come to mind. So I repeat, WTF?

Kyle said...

And, I should say, the words "That Hideous Strength".

Timocrates said...

He's young; therefore, he prefers instinct and his basest emotions to intelligence. Give him some soda and a ticket to the movies and he will not attempt to defend anything.

Timocrates said...

@ Kyle

Don't confuse pop-media (e.g. Hollywood, NYT, etc.) with society at large. Those organizations exist nowadays to manipulate and brainwash actual society into acting against their interests and popularizing actions and behaviour that do the same.

Markk said...

Long-time lurker here. Going back to the 'block universe' thing mentioned by another commenter above ...

I've seen it mentioned a few times on atheist websites as a way to get around the need of the universe for a cause.

Assuming that we are in such a block universe, does it really do away with the need for a cause? If I was to hazard a guess, it wouldn't have a beginning and would be immutable, so wouldn't need a cause on that basis. Does it make sense to describe a block universe as being divisible into parts, or being contingent?

I don't have the philosophical chops to answer this question.

(Just after typing the above, I found this elsewhere on this blog: "A second point is that unlike Parmenides’ own block universe, the block universe of Minkowski is supposed to be governed by laws that are contingent. And if they are contingent, then, the Aristotelian-Thomistic philosopher will argue, they are merely potential until actualized. That means that even if there were no real change or actualization of potency within an Einsteinian four-dimensional block universe, the sheer existence of that universe as a whole would involve the actualization of potency, and thus something like change in the Aristotelian sense (and thus in turn an actualizer or “changer” distinct from the world itself, though that’s a subject of its own)."

Taylor Weaver said...

Ed updated with the link to a snarky, short, substance less whinefest by Loftus.

Surprise surprise. Loftus wrote a new, longer post. Seems quite incommensurable to anything Parsons had said.

So, it is what one would suspect. If you want a quick laugh, check it out.
http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.co.uk/2016/04/the-arrogance-and-ignorance-of-keith.html?m=1

Mr. Green said...

Markk: Assuming that we are in such a block universe, does it really do away with the need for a cause?

Even something without a beginning (say, because it existed through an infinite past or because it comprehended all of time) would still need to be created, so it still needs an efficient cause. And of course, it would also have to have material, formal, and final causes too. And a blocky universe most certainly has both physical and metaphysical parts, and it certainly is contingent (there are obviously plenty of ways the universe could be that it isn't, regardless of blockiness).

But we don't even have to get into all that. Saying that time is some sort of four-dimensional structure in no ways shows that there isn't any such thing as change. That would be like saying that redness being a 400THz frequency of light proves that nothing is red! But of course discovering what redness is [assuming for the sake of argument colour to be nothing more than electromagnetic frequencies] doesn't prove that there is no redness — indeed, it proves that there is! We do not explain light of a certain frequency by imagining some hypothetical "redness": red things are what we actually see, the fundamental reality that gives us any basis for talking about light in the first place.

Likewise, explaining what time is [if it really were just 4-D whatever] would not be to somehow make "change" disappear — if it is an explanation of change, then "change" just is the thing that it explains! Maybe time or change turns out not to be what we might have thought it would be like, but the argument is not based on some theory about what time must be like; it simply starts from the undeniable reality of change that we all observe all the time. We don't care about how that works; all we care about in this context is that things do, in fact, somehow, some way, change.

(Even if someone supposes that there isn't really any such thing as change, we still experience it, and that experience is something. Even if it's a hallucination, well, then our hallucinations change! Again, the details aren't relevant, because all we need to know is that something somewhere changes, whatever that might mean.)

David M said...

From Loftus's takedown of Parsons for being 'arrogant' and 'elitist' (because they make some effort to actually understand and respond to sophisticated theistic arguments): "And scientists like Richard Dawkins and Jerry Coyne know more than enough to argue sophisticated Christian philosophers are wrong, even though they don't know as much as they do to respond on their turf." IOW, even though they don't know how to put together an intelligent argument, they can still make stupid irrelevant rebuttals to arguments that they don't understand which will make other stupid people feel good and which will make intelligent people laugh at them for being such bombastic jackasses. Thumbs-up, boys!

David M said...

rather: "...(because *he makes* some effort ...)"

Rob said...

I must admit one of my many vices is the pleasure I get when Polite Brandon gets irritated and turns into Stop Interrupting Me And Wasting My Time Teacher Brandon.

Robert said...

I think that the shallowness of new atheist intellectualism can be explained by the tendency of most people to decide their opinions based on some authority they identify with. The arguments of the "other" are automatically rejected, even if they correspond to deeply-held beliefs. An instance from the unrelated argument over Syrian refugees illustrates this point.

During a recent Canadian debate, the conservative side pointed out the horrific record of gang rape and violence by migrants in Europe as justification for caution about migrants. The pro-immigration/asylum liberal worthies ridiculed their concerns as being grounded in conservative sex-obsession and bigotry. This tactic got a hearty positive response from the crowd. It played exactly to their preconceived image of conservatives: stodgy, old, white men who hate people that are different from them and don't have enough fun(sex!), so why should anyone else?

Mark Steyn's powerful rebuttal questioned how such liberals and feminists could ignore the central tenets of their belief system and trivialize those same concepts when voiced by him with a "cartoon character" portrayal of conservativism. It didn't matter to the liberals or to the crowd that in any other circumstance they too would be appalled by gang rape and sexual violence. The liberal and feminist believed their own propaganda: their evil conservative opponents are incapable of genuinely caring about victims of rape, it's just a debate tactic so any argument they make isn't worth engaging.

It seems to me that the unreasoned and unengaging approach of new atheists isn't just a result of holding to this heuristic of ad hominem/authority because it validates other reasoned beliefs. Instead it is because a cartoon of theism and theists is what motivates their atheism in the first place. If a feminist can discount rape because it supports a conservative argument, a 'rational' new atheist can discard reason and not bat an eye if it aids a theistic argument.

DNW said...

"I had never heard of the guy until this article from Ed (curse you Ed! I was happy! I used to smile!), but I'm just bemused as to how someone who has had both the philosophical, and theological education Loftus appears to, and so who should have not only a reasonable level of ability in precision argumentation but also a knowledge of the serious arguments used in natural theology, can seem to be utterly devoid of all of the above."


Take a look at his actual curriculum vitae.

A history of science major from a good state land grant university would probably end up with just as many if not more critical thinking skills as has Loftus.

I'm not mocking West Lansing Bible College, or wherever he went, but it is clear that the guy has nothing like superior intelligence, much less brilliance.

He's clearly a kind of second tier crank operating at full rpm in an attempt to smooth out a certain emotional imbalance. I guess he figures the hat provides some of that.

By the way, and this is just a general thread question: How would one go about establishing that some physical phenomenon had no beginning? What would it really mean to say that? What would one actually be saying/implying about the attributes of this phenomenon? Could one possibly be saying more than "We don't know because we cannot see beyond the container, and we therefore conclude that there is no 'outside' "? Do we really understand enough about the concept of time and its relation to reality to be able to make such an assertion with any certainty?

What kind of domain of be-ing, is self-existent?

Sometimes I get the impression that when these people are talking, it is not so much about unvarnished reality and a critical stance, as it is a matter of pulling a Marx or a Gore Vidal: Demanding a particular kind of social allegiance to a certain kind of sensuous [in the Marxist sense] life-stance. You know, the social anthems of armpit sniffers like, say, Walt Whitman.

laubadetriste said...

@Robert: "During a recent Canadian debate, the conservative side pointed out the horrific record of gang rape and violence by migrants in Europe as justification for caution about migrants. The pro-immigration/asylum liberal worthies ridiculed their concerns as being grounded in conservative sex-obsession and bigotry. This tactic got a hearty positive response from the crowd. It played exactly to their preconceived image of conservatives: stodgy, old, white men who hate people that are different from them and don't have enough fun(sex!), so why should anyone else?"

That was a powerful moment. The whole debate is very good, but this clip shows the lead-up, and the immediate response.

laubadetriste said...

@Mr. Green: "Likewise, explaining what time is [if it really were just 4-D whatever] would not be to somehow make "change" disappear — if it is an explanation of change, then "change" just is the thing that it explains! Maybe time or change turns out not to be what we might have thought it would be like, but the argument is not based on some theory about what time must be like; it simply starts from the undeniable reality of change that we all observe all the time. We don't care about how that works; all we care about in this context is that things do, in fact, somehow, some way, change."

Yup.

"That hurts."
"No, it only *feels like* pain."
"That's the same damn thing."

"I see red."
"No, it only *looks like* red."
"That's the same damn thing."

"Things change."
"No, you only *experience* change."
"That's the same damn thing."

Something something dirt rugs sweeping...

laubadetriste said...

@Lazarus: "To slightly misquote that other odd Atheist Captain, 'John Loftus is the most unpleasant character in all of fiction.'"

That makes me sad, because I remember with genuine fondness Dan Barker from twenty years ago, when his book (much better as it was then) was called "Losing Faith in Faith." Some time since, after I stopped paying close attention to him, he seems to have changed--or at least, his book did. I think the man must have changed for the book to have changed so. I saw it in a bookstore one day, when it came out in 2008, and was excited, thinking it new. It was in fact only the old book, re-titled "Godless" and defaced.

Maybe "defaced" is too strong a term. I describe it as I found it, still with some good parts, but--a curate's egg.

Robert said...

@laubadetriste,

Thanks, I should have posted a link. The real deal makes a lot more sense than my ham-fisted attempt to summarize. Steyn has the full debate available for free on his site: http://www.steynonline.com/7503/live-in-toronto-steyn-farage-vs-arbour-schama

SV said...

In progressivism, what matters is not what is said, but who has the say.

The progressive mind divides the world into the oppressed and the oppressors. The oppressed have to be helped.

When emotions towards the oppressed are overwelming and the hatred of the oppressors is immesurable, to make rational arguments hoping they would change the realiry seems too long and too uncertain. That's why things like logic, truth, reason are scrapped, and applied are more effective persuasion methods like shutting up the opponents, intimidation, criminal persecution.

The new atheists are typical progressives. The are not interested in what you say. They would just like you to shut up, or even better to disappear entirely.

The best approach is not to give them this pleasure.

John Loffers (Anon) said...

For those who want to. Why not ask what he is doing? I personally would love to see an exchange with Loftus with those outside his narrow evangelical type experience of Christian philosophy. It would, I hope, do him some good. I don't have any of these social media options, as listed below, myself.

Respect and courtesy help discussions when a person is willing to be reasonable or rational.

https://twitter.com/loftusjohnw
https://www.facebook.com/jwloftus
http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.co.uk/2016/04/the-arrogance-and-ignorance-of-keith.html

Taylor Weaver said...

If you check out his blog he had a rational discussion with Parsons. See where that ended up. Even in the interview you can see his snarky tone. His vested interest is in declaring the death of philosophy of religion, so I am highly skeptical that any experience with Christian philosophy will do any good at all. The guy doesn't give a shit about discussion.

Timocrates said...

@ David M,

Your post is glorious.

Anonymous said...

Edward, watch yourself, it's not likely you've ever faced an intellect the size of Loftus. Just ask him!

Timocrates said...

@ lauba,

Scarcely the worst example of what my dear native country has become.

That being said, Canada is absolutely right that refugees of any sort
(economic or political, say) must be accepted. That is our absolute obligation as the West. We have zero rights to rule if we do not rule by and according to moral principles.

Now, as regards the trash, the filth and barbarian rapists who see our principles as a license, they must be punished. I mean punished by punishment of the body. They must experience pain - and pain in their very flesh. We must simultaneously have mercy and compassion for those people who - through no fault of their own - have been robbed of a country and a homeland. At the same time - and in fact for the same reason - we must severely punish evil-doers.

Someone coming to one of our free countries, be it the UK or Germany or the USA, openly and as claiming to be refugees, do not get political rights in our society. They know that. They don't expect it. They are seeking refuge, and it is the Law -both old and new- that dictates that we must accept them. I might detest their espoused religion or irreligion, but I don't get to choose whether or not I accept them: that is just the Law.

It is a crime that so many Syrians are being rendered incapable of calling Syria their home. Those responsible for this crime should be destroyed. It is perfectly true that physical reality dictates we have only so much space, so many resources to share and - moreover - we too have a right to live in safety, security, stability and peace, insofar as reality allows it. Hence we have a right - the right of life - from time to time to say no or refuse, because we have ourselves and others and dependents to think of. But that being said, neither Canada nor the USA in reality wants for space or resources. That it seems that way and is made to feel that way is a crime against the people of those countries; but though we might be forced to suffer an injustice does not mean we have the right to cause injustice to others. We need reform, no doubt. But we haven't the right to dictate anything to anyone if we refuse to be humane.

Robert said...

@Timocrates,

"We have zero rights to rule if we do not rule by and according to moral principles."

I wouldn't worry about losing some mythical moral high ground necessary to "rule." Since MacMillan and the winds of change, the West has done everything possible to avoid even the appearance of ruling. There seems to be a pretty strong consensus that the civilizing mission is just a patronizing excuse for rich whites to exploit areas like the Middle East. The last US politician to attempt a watered down version of it is considered a joke and his successor was elected in a "referendum" on that crusade.

Lame calls to help refugees are like my fat priest's exhortatioms about "social justice." The American electorate has no right to portray the helping of refugees as a moral imperative. It created the mess when it voted to abandon the nascent pluralist state its soldiers paid so much to establish. And all just when the new Iraq needed the credibility of checks and balances provided by American "rule." I laugh in the face of any liberal who hypocritically says we need to protect the very same people I was protecting from the very same terrorist scum I spent years hunting. All while they whined because the war would use the money better spent on their precious entitlements. I seem to remember a fair amount of demonizing from these same people. I've got news: liberal America voted on helping the Middle East in 2008 when it actually mattered. The outcome was a big 'don't care.'

Anyone who really cared about Syrians would not oppose 'fixing' the real problem: ISIS. With violence. In Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon. Accepting a few refugees is merely a palliative so that guilty liberals can feel better about betraying the Iraqi people and their own soldiers.

So we have really already caused an "injustice to others" and now the liberals want us to bring this problem they caused here to plague our own families. Somehow we deserve this because we have no "wants for space or resources." Is there no end to the end to the hypocrisy and self-deception of these so-called humanists?

Timocrates said...

@ Robert,

That moral high ground is not mythical. You lose it and American citizens and businesses will be violently shut down everywhere. It's not hard to stop trading oil in USD. America is not that powerful.

You have to help refugees. It sucks. It sucks even worse for the poor bastards who have to claim refugee status.

I stand by what I said.

Robert said...

@Timocrates,

I don't think the Politburo in China lets Apple build phones there because of some perception they have that Americans are better than them. It is hard to imagine Saudi Princes sitting in their American built private jet and deciding to sell us oil because we staunchly support women's rights and freedom of religion. In fact, the moral high ground you see is just as easily seen as weakness or pretentious posturing by foreigners who live in the 'real world.'

As to your original claim, that we should help all refugees, what is its logical conclusion? Import the world's entire poluation? Why should we ignore the plight of the people still in Syria? Clearly you're not squeamish about spending other people's money, since you would spend their money on the whole lot if only they could get here to be refugees. It even sounds like you wouldn't mind us fatcat Americans having to give up some of our 'excess space.' A little coerced charity is good for us after all.

So why not save Syria? Your policy solution is to ignore the real problem and import one at home. If you're unwilling to reign in chaos overseas what makes you think you have the right to impose on me here? It is hypocrisy to advocate the imposition of refugees on America while ignoring those in Syria.

Anonymous said...

Loftus is no worse as a philosopher than many, even most, false face Christian talking heads.For example the talking heads at the Stand To Reason website, any and everyone at Liberty "University", Bob Jones "University", most all small town Protestant Bible based "universities" too, and almost everyone associated with the Southern Baptists.
J P Moreland
William Lane Craig
N T Wright
Ravi Zacharias
Wolfhart Pannenberg

laubadetriste said...

@Timocrates: "@ lauba, / Scarcely the worst example of what my dear native country has become. / That being said, Canada is absolutely right that refugees of any sort
(economic or political, say) must be accepted. That is our absolute obligation as the West. We have zero rights to rule if we do not rule by and according to moral principles."

Whenever people call me "lauba," of course I immediately think of the immortal words of the poet Shaggy:

"Mr. lauba lauba, mmn..., Mr. lauba lauba, heheh girl, Mr. lauba lauba, mmn...,
Mr. lauba lauba...
She call me Mr. Boombastic, say me fantastic, touch me in me back,
she says I'm Mr. Ro...mantic, call me fantastic, touch me in me back she say
I'm Mister Ro... Smooth just like a-silk,
Soft and cuddly hug me up like a quilt,
I'm a lyrical lover no take me for no filth
With my sexual physique Jah know me well built... "

I agree that we must accept refugees. And that a true Christian could say otherwise would seem implausible, given certain items of biblical history which I trust I need not belabor.

But who are the *refugees*? That was indeed a subject of the Munk debate.

And to what extent does that one obligation perhaps conflict with another? A most fascinating aspect of Thomist thought was the the implication that in some sense, goods cannot ultimately conflict. I had before been reading my Isaiah Berlin and John Gray, and was astonished.

Too, I was reminded of my grandparents. They were not philosophically sophisticated people. Raised in poverty during the Great Depression, they climbed into the middle class, but no further. Yet--I found out later--they hosted boat people from Cambodia, and refugees from Kenya. Perhaps one day I will hold high office, and my opinions will be important. Meanwhile, I ask myself, what cheap satisfaction is it to be on the right side of history, if I am no friend of my neighbor?

Taylor Weaver said...

Did Anon seriously just compare Loftus to scholars who actually contribute to their relevant fields of study and publish in peer reviewed journals?

Even if you don't like WLC's rhetoric, he has published prolifically, and not just in evangelical presses. Just do a search on EBSCOHOST or any other academics search engine. Same with Wright. While some of his work on Paul and Jesus can be homogenising (he simplifies and categorises the mentalities of ancient groups a bit too much, IMO, and you can see legit critiques by guys like Crossley), he has done good for NT studies broadly, but also in smaller areas of research such as Empire studies.

And, Pannenberg? I doubt Anon even knows who he actually is. Putting him in the same category as Zacharias is just... Silly.

This is one of those moments where it is painfully obvious someone doesn't know what they are talking about!

Robert said...

@laubadetriste,

I think there is a false dichotomy here. I played into it with imprecise language in my last post. I don't have any problem with helping Syrians fleeing violence or with actually helping put an end to the conflict. After all, I risked my life and was willing to kill people for the same goal in Iraq. It is the resettlement of millions of Syrians/Iraqis as a new protected class that I don't care for.

I find it particularly galling to be lectured by my fellow Americans about doing my part since they did all they could to make the region collapse into anarchy. 70% of them favored removing an evil tyrant from power in 2003. The focus on WMD was unfortunate, since there was already a general consensus stemming from Saddam's legacy of brutality especially throughout both parties in congress.

It's not my place to dictate to Canadians the form of help they wish to provide, but Mark Steyn and Nigel Farage make good points why resettlement is a bad idea. At least it's not the self-serving German rationale: we'll accept refugees because we have demographic and need them as cheap labor.

laubadetriste said...

@Taylor Weaver: "And, Pannenberg? I doubt Anon even knows who he actually is. Putting him in the same category as Zacharias is just... Silly."

Yup. But then I am unsure what Anonymous April 10, 2016 at 1:10 AM meant by, "Loftus is no worse as a philosopher than many, even most, false face Christian talking heads." The "false face" bit seems to imply that he had a moral critique in mind.

@Robert: "It's not my place to dictate to Canadians the form of help they wish to provide, but Mark Steyn and Nigel Farage make good points why resettlement is a bad idea."

That they do.

TheOFloinn said...

the resettlement of millions of Syrians/Iraqis as a new protected class that I don't care for.

I don't think millions are making their way here. It's that ocean thingie. Europe may be hurting. There are only about eight million Hungarians, give or take, so they are clearly at risk of losing their identity under such an influx. But the USA already has a sizable Syrian population, in Allentown PA, for example. They've been there since the 1920s, and are split about 50-50 on the new ones. The old Syrians are mostly Christians and mostly support Assad. (It takes a brutal secular dictator to keep the slaughter in check. Example: Libya after Qaddafi, Egypt after Mubarak until the Army stepped in.) The other Arabs around here are mostly Lebanese -- there is a Maronite church here in town -- and have supplied us with judges and deacons.

When the US population was way smaller, it was inundated by hundreds of thousands of Irish fleeing the Famine and the Fenian uprisings, and the Protestant Establishment here was very much opposed to their coming, since they would change the whole American way of life. There was even a law moved that would prevent any immigrant from ever becoming a US citizen. There was also much hoo-hoo over the German immigrants, who didn't even speak English! In 1852, our county schools had about 80% students who spoke German or German and some English. Only about 20% spoke English only.

Michael Crichton once wrote that the surest antidote for panic was to read a newspaper from even thirty years ago and regard what had people's shorts in a knot back then, and ask how much of it causes agita today.

Anonymous said...

TheOFloinn:

"You asked for an example of a valid argument, not a convincing one"

Actually, I asked for a convincing one but was dissuaded from that by commenters on here who like to play word-games.

1. [block universe] "Parmenides and Zeno ride again! Achilles never catches the tortoise! However, we cannot hold reality hostage to a mathematical model, either. If there is no change, how can there be different coordinates along the t-axis?"

It would appear that reality is mathematical in nature, so we can "hold reality hostage to a mathematical model", as long as it's the right model. That mathematical model would be static. There can be "different coordinates along the t-axis" without change if the t-axis is translated into a static coordinate system.

2. [infinite regress is possible] "The reason was given in the argument. An accidentally-ordered regress can indeed be infinite, were it not for the Big Bang; but that is physics. But the argument involves the actualization of potentials, 'motion' in the Aristotelian sense [kinesis]."

I *think* you're agreeing with me here that an infinite regress is a problem for Aristotle, not for reality. Reality does not contain any "actualisations" of "potentials" - those are imaginary inventions. Incidentally, I've never seen a *convincing* argument as to why there cannot be an infinite regress from a philosophical standpoint either. It appears to be down to a failure of imagination, not a failure of logic.

3. [change causes change] "It isn't. It is imparted by other movers, not by 'change' or 'movement.' Give a counter-example; otherwise, Newton's First Law is fairly convincing."

I was thinking of Brandon's (Mr. wordplay) "What is moved is moved by another", which isn't actually well-defined. (In fact, where exactly *are* all these terms defined?!) My counter-example would be movement caused by gravity, but it doesn't make any difference anyway because of the infinite regress fail. (And all the other fails.)

4. [the unmoved mover is God] "The given argument did not claim to conclude to that, so this is not an objection to its validity, only an expression of fear regarding its ultimate implications."

Now I'm starting to get the impression that everyone on here is engaged in pointless word games. Obviously, the 'unmoved mover' is supposed to be God - do you disagree? I did ask for an argument in favour of God. As for "an expression of fear", that is patently ridiculous. I was afraid of demons, the devil and other nonsense when I was a kid, then I grew up. I've not forgiven religion for lying to me when I was a child though. It's far more likely that religious believers are afraid that God doen't exist, as even people like the current Archbishop of Canterbury apparently have doubts. Incidentally, the 'unmoved mover' corresponds much more closely with the laws of physics than with 'God'.

Finally, you make a funny. I think.

It's odd that you criticise me for bringing "personal baggage" to an argument about the existence (or otherwise) of God. Perhaps you'd prefer it if I had no ideas of my own at all and merely repeated discredited arguments from dusty old books as you appear to?



laubadetriste said...

@TheOFloinn: "Michael Crichton once wrote that the surest antidote for panic was to read a newspaper from even thirty years ago and regard what had people's shorts in a knot back then, and ask how much of it causes agita today."

That's something that greatly interests me: to what degree is *it* (that causes agita today) the same as even thirty years ago?

I do see a lot of old-newspaper quoting (so to speak) that proceeds by simply assuming that it is the same. "We've had immigrants before...," etc. Likewise I see folks who, contrariwise, cannot even ask whether contemporary Syrians are relevantly like (say) 19th-century Sicilians.

One of the more valuable parts of Simon Schama's contribution to the debate was in pointing out that among previous immigrants were anarchists, etc.

Eduardo, the Unknown said...

Anon: I am an atheist...I believe the laws of nature are all gods... But not quite the gods that religion told me... Maybe. *sarcasm*

Anon ALL YOU have to do is say:

"Hey I know the arguments"

"Well I disagree with such and such passage, this can't be real because *present argument showing different conclusion*"

"So what you people have to say about the argument I presented showing that Aquinas or Aristotle is wrong"

------------------

It is not HARD dude. Now we know you dont know shhhh-T about the argument, you ask WHERE are such terms defined! Well the blog actually clarifies it! So you sound mostly unserious, and the fact of your bitching about religion and how it lied to you, all seems... Emotional.

Just admit, you wanna bitch about religion, you wanna make religion pay but since you can't make a abstract concept pay you wanna bitch at religious people. I know and you know.

Just let it go... ;-)

laubadetriste said...

@Anonymous April 10, 2016 at 12:25 PM: "It would appear that reality is mathematical in nature..."

I know you haven't even got an argument for that claim. Nice try, though. :)

(BTW, if you want a place to start on why that's not so, and coming from a secular point of view, *The Analysis of Matter* by Bertrand Russell that I linked too, ↑above,
is a good place to start.)

"Reality does not contain any 'actualisations' of 'potentials' - those are imaginary inventions."

Sheerest bluff. To start understanding why such things are requisite, you can start with Karl Popper's *World of Parmenides*, around page 16. (The whole book is brilliant, though.)

(Do keep in mind before you bluff any further that Popper was quite conversant with contemporary physics, including, yes, relativity. I mention him because I suspect you retain a chronological snobbery about authors who wrote before the advent of Einstein. Heisenberg is of course another good place to start. I already linked in this post to him as well.)

"Incidentally, I've never seen a *convincing* argument as to why there cannot be an infinite regress from a philosophical standpoint either. It appears to be down to a failure of imagination, not a failure of logic."

The OFloinn already pointed out that, "You cannot hold a conversation hostage to the thickest wit in it." And Brandon already elaborated, "We already went over the 'convincing' part. Did you not grasp any of the points made by ccmnx or TheOFloinn before you just fired off a response to them? Demanding that other people convince you is sheer intellectual laziness; it is your responsibility to be convinced rationally, and the most you can request of other people is that they give you their reasons; if you are not convinced when they do so, it may be a defect in their reasons, or it may be a defect in you, and there is no way to determine which just from the fact that you are not convinced." So, Anonymous, you put me in the odd position of having to ask: Is there something you don't understand about what the word "convince" means--

"Cause (someone) to believe firmly in the truth of something."

--and why that too-psychological word is not relevant to logical argument?

Really, do tell us if so. We can go over that again more slowly.

"I was thinking of Brandon's (Mr. wordplay)..."

Incidentally, a signal indication to everyone here that you haven't thought this through is that you think any of this is "word-play" or "word-games".

laubadetriste said...

"The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter—’tis the difference between the lightning-bug and the lightning."--Mark Twain

I've heard stories about people who say things like what you said, in some of the basic sciences. "Why do people have to make things so complicated with all the Latin names and fancy math? It's like they're trying to be deliberately obscure!" Of course, those people usually blow themselves up in a lab or die by poisoning, and subsequently have little effect on research. In philosophy, it is less directly dangerous. They just stunt the education of the young.

"'What is moved is moved by another', which isn't actually well-defined. (In fact, where exactly *are* all these terms defined?!)"

Those terms are defined in many, many places, as you would know had you read this blog before running your mouth--or indeed, had you read most any notable philosophy or indeed much literature of at least the last two thousand years.

In this case, "what" is a shorter, Old English-derived stand-in for "any damn thing at all" (as I would phrase it--Brandon can correct me here if I miss any important nuance of his argument).

And he already defined "moved": "by 'moved' is meant changed in the Aristotelian sense of the word".

For more explanation, you might start here or here or here.

Do let us know if you need help with "is," "by," and "another." To be fair, "is" has a lengthy history running at least from Ancient Greek to Bill Clinton. :)

"My counter-example would be movement caused by gravity..."

A "counter-example" should be an example that counters. To my bemusement, you have picked one that works as an example in Brandon's argument.

(Go 'head, try it.)

"Obviously, the 'unmoved mover' is supposed to be God - do you disagree? I did ask for an argument in favour of God."

You did. And one was given to you. There are more steps that come after that, but why should anyone proceed if you're stuck here? Do you disagree that, in general, anyone learning anything for the first time out to grasp the first step before moving on to the next step?

It's funny, Brandon just finished saying: "I'm reminded of a commenter who came around about three years back, I guess, who came in asking some question about how Aristotelian metaphysics related to relativity theory... But in reality what the commenter meant was more like 'I think it's stupid to accept Aristotelian metaphysics because it seems to me to be inconsistent with relativity theory, although I can't be bothered to identify any particular point on which it might be, so prove to me the consistency of every part of Aristotelian metaphysics with every part of relativity theory.' To which the only answer could be, 'Nobody's obligated to do all the work for you; come back when you actually have some specific puzzle or problem that people might benefit from'." And here you are, stuck on the first step, and asking for explanation of the next steps. Why, it's like déjà vu all over again...

laubadetriste said...

"It's far more likely that religious believers are afraid that God doen't exist, as even people like the current Archbishop of Canterbury apparently have doubts."

Yes, and so did Mother Teresa, and St. John of the Cross, and C.S. Lewis...--but you don't even know what those doubts mean. :)

"Incidentally, the 'unmoved mover' corresponds much more closely with the laws of physics than with 'God'."

That's an important thought. It's been had before, by many "word-players" over at least the last nine hundred years. Keep on working at that thought and you might start to understand this here first step we're on.

Or read a book. That might be quicker. No sense reinventing the wheel, amirite?

"Perhaps you'd prefer it if I had no ideas of my own at all and merely repeated discredited arguments from dusty old books as you appear to?"

Well, describing yours both as "ideas" and as "your own" is a little generous. I would say of you and religion what Keynes said of practical (business) men and economists:

"The ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed the world is ruled by little else. Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist."--*The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money*

As for "dusty old books," you too-quickly reveal your callowness. You should have saved that for later, so you could plead your defense by reason of ignorance: "That wasn't on the teacher's assigned reading list," etc.

But three further points:

1. "The real objection to modernism is simply that it is a form of snobbishness. It is an attempt to crush a rational opponent not by reason, but by some mystery of superiority, by hinting that one is specially up to date or particularly 'in the know.' To flaunt the fact that we have had all the last books from Germany is simply vulgar; like flaunting the fact that we have had all the last bonnets from Paris. To introduce into philosophical discussions a sneer at a creed’s antiquity is like introducing a sneer at a lady’s age. It is caddish because it is irrelevant. The pure modernist is merely a snob; he cannot bear to be a month behind the fashion."--Chesterton

laubadetriste said...

2. "If you join at eleven o’clock a conversation which began at eight you will often not see the real bearing of what is said. Remarks which seem to you very ordinary will produce laughter or irritation and you will not see why – the reason, of course, being that the earlier stages of the conversation have given them a special point. In the same way sentences in a modern book which look quite ordinary may be directed at some other book; in this way you may be led to accept what you would have indignantly rejected if you knew its real significance... Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books. All contemporary writers share to some extent the contemporary outlook – even those, like myself, who seem most opposed to it. Nothing strikes me more when I read the controversies of past ages than the fact that both sides were usually assuming without question a good deal which we should now absolutely deny. They thought that they were as completely opposed as two sides could be, but in fact they were all the time secretly united – united with each other and against earlier and later ages – by a great mass of common assumptions. We may be sure that the characteristic blindness of the twentieth century – the blindness about which posterity will ask, “But how could they have thought that?” – lies where we have never suspected it, and concerns something about which there is untroubled agreement between Hitler and President Roosevelt or between Mr. H. G. Wells and Karl Barth. None of us can fully escape this blindness, but we shall certainly increase it, and weaken our guard against it, if we read only modern books. Where they are true they will give us truths which we half knew already. Where they are false they will aggravate the error with which we are already dangerously ill. The only palliative is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books."--C. S. Lewis

3. "...discredited arguments from dusty old books...": Descartes's *Geometry,* *The Communist Manifesto,* "*The Origin of Species,* *Introduction to the Analytical Art,* the *Federalist Papers*... All you have to do is start naming old books to see the bovine fatuity of *that* statement.

But perhaps I assume too much in thinking you could name old books...

Brandon said...

Actually, I asked for a convincing one but was dissuaded from that by commenters on here who like to play word-games.

As was pointed out explicitly to you, being convinced is a psychological state and as such it depends as much on extrinsic factors as anything rational. There is no way for anyone on the planet to know beforehand what you will find convincing, since it could, for all anyone can tell, depend as much on your mood, your pre-existent biases, your state of mental health, or any number of other things. This is true of everyone and everything; 'convincing' is not a rational standard of argument, but simply of one's personal regard for it, which may or may not be based on anything rational.

As was also pointed out, as a matter of the ethics of inquiry, it is irresponsible to expect other people to do your intellectual work for you. Everyone has as their own responsibility to be convinced rationally -- of the right things at the right time in the right way. No one can fill that function for anyone else. It is your responsibility to make good arguments convincing for yourself; trying to get others to do it for you shows a lack of serious regard for intellectual inquiry.

But, in any case, you did in fact ask for valid argument when TOF pointed out that arguments were for validity. Which was given to you, provably; and what we discovered is that you demanded a valid argument without having the faintest clue what was meant by validity. Now that it has not turned out well for you, you suddenly about-face again and complain that it was all about word-games and go back to talk of being convinced. But why (particularly) should anyone be impressed by whether arguments don't convince someone who apparently doesn't know what validity is, one of the most basic concepts in the evaluation of arguments?

And we see that you are still failing to take the points to heart:

Incidentally, I've never seen a *convincing* argument as to why there cannot be an infinite regress from a philosophical standpoint either.

Where is the error in the psychological point made above? Where is the error in the ethical point made above? What, precisely, is the reason anyone should care whether random Anonymous on the internet is convinced?

to be continued

Brandon said...

(continued)

But all the evidence so far is that you are simply making things up as you go along. Case in point:

I was thinking of Brandon's (Mr. wordplay) "What is moved is moved by another", which isn't actually well-defined. (In fact, where exactly *are* all these terms defined?!)

I in fact explicitly pointed out that the 'moved' in question was to be understood in terms of the Aristotelian account of change; if you haven't bothered to inform yourself about the latter, you've no business pretending to be in a position to evaluate the argument. There are, beyond this, only two possibilities about what 'not well-defined' means here:

(1) You are claiming that there is not enough given to make it possible for you, doing rational diligence, to understand the terms of the argument. But why would anyone jump immediately into criticisms of an argument whose terms he already knew he didn't understand, rather than (as a reasonable person would) trying to clarify those terms first?

(2) You are claiming that there is something defective about the meaning of the terms. But then why waste everyone's time with this futzing around, when you could (like a reasonable person) easily go back to the explicit background, Aristotelian accounts of change, and place the locus of the discussion there?

I mean, seriously: Who is the person is most likely to be guilty of mere playing around with words -- the one who explicitly focuses on formal features and provides an explicit reference point (Aristotelian account of change) to meaning, or the one who gives a bunch of arbitrary criticisms of an argument, keeps talking very, very vaguely about how arguments don't 'convince' him, and then, after all this begins complaining about how things are well-defined, as if it weren't obvious that that would have been the first place to go if you were seriously interested in investigating an argument?

Brandon said...

* complaining about how things are not well-defined

(Obviously a negation dropped out there!)

TheOFloinn said...

Part 1.
It would appear that reality is mathematical in nature, so we can "hold reality hostage to a mathematical model", as long as it's the right model.

A model is an attempt to capture some aspect of physical reality. That does not mean it is physical reality. The epicycles predicted the positions of the planets with remarkable accuracy, but that did not make them physically real. In particular, while the model, in obedience to Ockham's Razor, has only as many variables as necessary to obtain reasonably accurate results, the real world may have as many factors as it has. Models tend to go bad at the margins: i.e., at extreme values, at boundary values, and the like. That is why we can model the heights of adult Frenchmen (as Quetelet did) using a Normal distribution without expecting that any Frenchman would ever be ten feet tall, even though the Normal distribution runs to infinity.

We never know if we have the right model because of the underdetermination of physical theories, but models are abstracted from reality in any case.

That mathematical model would be static. There can be "different coordinates along the t-axis" without change if the t-axis is translated into a static coordinate system.

You are assuming your conclusion. The "different coordinates along the t-axis" just is what we would experience as "change". That's like saying the earth will stop moving if we translate the axes into a geostatic coordinate system. You can try that on the traffic cop the next time he stops you for speeding: "But officer, motion can't happen in a block universe!"

I *think* you're agreeing with me here that an infinite regress is a problem for Aristotle, not for reality.

Actually, if our current models are correct, it's a problem for physical reality. Regress too far and you bump into the Big Bang and can go no further. But in any case, that is not what is meant in the very moving argument here.

TheOFloinn said...

Part 2.
Reality does not contain any "actualisations" of "potentials" - those are imaginary inventions.

If our current models are correct, it can be seen in very pure form in the collapse of the wave function in quantum physics. Initially, the cat is potentially alive and potentially dead, but it is actually neither, in the Copenhagen view, until it is actualized by an observer. But the world is full of things that are potentially some thing but not [yet] actually so. A green apple is potentially red. It is also potentially yellow. It is not actually red, but it can be moved by sunlight to redness. (In the absence of sunlight, it will move to yellow.) A pile of building materials is actually a pile of building materials, but is potentially a house, a scaffold, a grandstand, or any of several structures. These various states are in what we might call superposition (to borrow a term) until the builder "opens the box" by making a decision on what he will build. (Let's say a house.) Thereupon, the various potentialities "collapse" onto a single state, what we might call the "actual potential," and building commences. The development from 'pile-o-lumber' to 'house' is 'motion' (in Greek, 'kinesis'). At the end, the building materials are actually a house. Similarly, a lump of clay is potentially a pot and can be actualized by a potter.

We make the same distinction when we speak of 'potential energy' and 'kinetic energy' or when we talk about 'activating' a mechanism.

TheOFloinn said...

Part 3.
Incidentally, I've never seen a *convincing* argument as to why there cannot be an infinite regress from a philosophical standpoint either. It appears to be down to a failure of imagination, not a failure of logic.

Be wary of relying on the imagination rather than on the intellect. Not everything imaginable is possible.

In a series of instrumental movers, none of the movers possesses the power to move another unless it is itself being moved. The clarinet cannot play Mozart's Concerto in A unless its keys [and reed] are being moved concurrently by Sharon Kam's fingers [and embouchure]. Those fingers cannot move the keys unless their muscles are concurrently moving. These in turn depend on real-time nerve impulses, the motor neuron firings, and so on. But none of them has the power to produce the Concerto unless it is concurrently being actualized by a prior mover. (Not necessarily prior in time: all this is happening concurrently.) Even the will of Sharon Kam might be said to be moved by Mozart himself, who wrote the music she is producing, or by the conductor, who is coordinating her play with that of the other musicians. If you remove any mover in the sequence, all subsequent movers become inert. If Ms Kam is caught up in the Rapture or is abducted by aliens prior to that wonderful series of arpeggios near the end of the first movement, the clarinet will fall silent to the concert hall floor and no more music will be made. Ditto if the reed were to split or a sudden paralysis overcome her. In any case, in any series in which the motivating power of a mover depends on it being itself concurrently being moved, the series must terminate in a first mover. Otherwise, none of the other movers in the series will be able to act.

This is not true of series ordered accidentally. Once a domino has struck the next domino, it can vanish from the universe and the remaining dominoes will still topple. Such a series might regress in time without limit (were it not for the Standard Model in physics) because the subsequent movers in the series do not depend on the continued action of the previous movers in order to propagate their motions. There need not be a First Domino. However, the perceptive reader might wonder whether there is a Primary Cause that is not one of the dominoes that is responsible for arranging the dominoes in such a fashion in the first place! After all, it is the form or arrangement of the dominoes the imparts the toppling power to all the dominoes in the series.

Similarly, a email may be forwarded in principle without bound. Everyone who receives it from another, sends it on to someone else. He is a "Sent Sender". But even if this series regresses to infinity, the act of forwarding an email does not account for its content, so logically there must be an "Unsent Sender"; i.e., someone who composed the email in the first place, even if he lives in a parallel universe and seeded the email simultaneously to all points of our block universe.

Anonymous said...

Loftus needs to dump that hat immediately if he wants to look half-serious.

TheOFloinn said...

Part 4.
I was thinking of Brandon's (Mr. wordplay) "What is moved is moved by another", which isn't actually well-defined.

Newton put it this way: a body in motion will continue indefinitely in rectilinear motion unless acted upon by an outside force. 'outside force' and the 'moved by another' are equivalent. All that is said here is that a thing cannot self-accelerate (change its own motion).

My counter-example would be movement caused by gravity

Are you serious? A body being moved by gravity is being moved by another. To wit, per the current Standard Model, the presence of mass creates a distortion in the field of Ricci tensors; i.e., it "bends space." This warp in space-time forms geodesics along which the first body moves. So for example, a ball struck by a bat moves as it does because it was accelerated initially by the bat and subsequently by the Earth itself. Similarly, the Earth is moved by the gravitational dimpling of the Sun, etc. etc.

You would have been better served by citing the cat walking across the room as an example of self-movement. And indeed, this property is largely definitive of life. However, Aristotle's objection was to motion-as-a-whole, and in the cat's case, the cat (a whole) is being moved by her legs (a part), the legs are being moved by the muscles, etc. all the way back to the cat's instincts or appetites.

Interestingly, Newton did not "define" gravity, either; and said so in his Principia. One can only imagine an Anonymous of an earlier age objecting to this newfangled theory on that basis.

Obviously, the 'unmoved mover' is supposed to be God

Not all of them are. When a cat moves across a room intending to lap a bowl of milk, the bowl of milk moves the cat without being moved itself. The milk bowl is for that motion an unmoved mover; but it is not God. The laws of physics might be considered unmoved movers, except that they are simply descriptions and have no causal powers at all.

Eventually, one arrives at God, but that requires a number of subsequent theorems. You can't prove everything all at one, so you have to prove something first.

A series of posts on the whole argument can be found here:
http://tofspot.blogspot.com/2014/07/first-way-some-background.html

The End

laubadetriste said...

@TheOFloinn: "...the very moving argument here."

"Moving." Heh. :)

@Anonymous April 10, 2016 at 12:25 PM: "My counter-example would be movement caused by gravity..."

Your previous counterexample, that of the block universe--I presume you're that same Anonymous; why can't these people pick names? the truant officers are likely not watching this blog--you brought up to claim that, "Change (or movement) isn't necessarily a genuine feature of the universe..." But this purported counterexample seemingly could be a counterexample only if "movement caused by gravity" were "a genuine feature of the universe".

So are you attempting something Whitmanesque--

Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)
.

--or are you being a more garden-variety sort of inconsistent, and throwing whatever you can at Brandon's argument, whether or not it fits with what else you've said?

Kyle said...

@Timocrates said:

"Don't confuse pop-media (e.g. Hollywood, NYT, etc.) with society at large...."

You're right. There's definitely an availability heuristic at play here. Still, it does seem like some of it getting worse is real and not just an imagined decline from the good old days. I know, I know.; very Four Yorkshireman-esque. Cue repeated harp glissandos, swirly "back in time" transition:

Classical Theist 1: Ah, when ah wur a lad, we nivvir 'ad Noo Atheists. Only good old fashioned, Old Atheists, respectable like, wi' arguments an' everythin'
Classical Theist 2: Old Atheists!? Yow wur lucky yow were. We nivvir had *any* atheists. We 'ad t' make do with grumpy old Father Crampsey for apologetics practice!
Classical Theist 3:Apologetics practice!? Ee, yow were lucky! All we 'ad was cracked mirror and an' old copy of Fundamentals o' Cath'lic Dogma by yon Ludwig Ott, and it were 'alf chewed up by Joan of Arc, the parish cat
Classical Theist 2:Cat!? Yow 'ad a Parish cat? Ah yow our bloody lucky yow were. In ma' day we had to eat cat for breakfast and ...
Classical Theist 1:Breakfast! Bloody luxury. When ah wur ah lad....

etc

ccmnxc said...

You know, I've never really understood this whole block universe business since it basically kicks out the empirical foundations from beneath any physical theory. Unless one can establish the concept of a block universe completely a priori, the lack of change makes the entire theory a non-starter since change is required for any observation.
But all that aside, I gotta ask, Anonymous, do you actually deny the reality of change, or are you simply bringing up the idea of a block universe as a convenient objection you yourself would reject anyways?

Though maybe you've already answered my question: Reality does not contain any "actualisations" of "potentials" - those are imaginary inventions.

DNW said...

" ... even people like the current Archbishop of Canterbury apparently have doubts."

Lawdy. The archbishops of Canterbury, no less. They were Christians at one time weren't they? Long long ago ...

Whether God exists or not, there certainly exists a sub-race of bureau inhabiting niche-seeking pseudo males, all of which seem broadly to have not only more or less the same social and theological views, but the same visage: that of the middle-aged almost-bearded lady. That simpering facial flaccidity is virtually universal in the type. Some try to add dash to their image by sporting sparse mustaches or scraggly neck-beards that cannot seem to rise much above the jawline. Others not quite so fortunate ... might wear hats. Perhaps something like the way in which alcoholics used to deploy those oversize gradient tint eyeglasses.

I know that none this tells us anything about God, but it might tell us something important about a certain kind of atheist materialist on the materialist's own terms and assumptions.

This probable phenomenon I mention, is of course nothing in the way of news to humanity. It was merely news to me at one time.

I thought that my sharp eyes had noticed something no one else had noticed, or at least had mentioned; refraining perhaps out of politeness and a misplaced sense of fellowship and shared humanity. So I was pretty surprised when I read in old books how a good proportion of clerics and government workers both, were described in the 19th century.

In the case of the Archbishop of Canterbury, that would amount to one and the same thing.

Yea, like tares, they have always been among you.

DNW said...



If I were an atheist, I would find the block time theory unsettling from a moral action point of view. Unless all were predetermined, it would tend to mean, under some scenarios at least, that actions taken by moral actors had a kind of literally enduring significance which we tend to discount from our calculations of moral responsibility, now.

Of course in an intrinsically meaningless reality that was sure to evaporate and annihilate us completely - if those two ideas are even block universe compatible somehow - it might not be such a daunting fact.

But the queer thing is how the curiously extreme notion of the radical significance of all sin in traditional Catholic theology, i.e., what is broadly referred to as a karmic view of moral action by some psychologists, is in some sense offered reinforcement by the idea of a block universe. These acts in some sense remain eternally present.

What you do, does not merely completely dissipate in lost heat.

Imagine then just for the sake of argument, that God is real, and that the block universe is your reality.

One possible conclusion?

You're in real trouble, man.

Themistogenes said...

Loftus’ opinions have been adequately treated. Let’s see the follow-up to the entry on falsification!

Erich said...

Regarding change and the block universe:

I think the matter is rather simple. By "change" we mean nothing more than a difference between the state of a thing/space/system at time 1 and its state at (a later) time 2.

Whether we have "block theory" of the universe or not is irrelevant; this definition holds perfectly well either way. And either way we may proceed to ask deeper causal questions as well: why does the universe, block or not, have the properties it has? Why is it there? Why is experience related to time differently than to other dimensions?

The notion of a block universe is thus irrelevant to the notion of change and not immediately relevant to any other causal questions.

Eduardo "you've got to be kidding" said...

Well guess what... That is not the definition of change they are using. Should be obvious from the comments.

laubadetriste said...

@Erich: "I think the matter is rather simple. By "change" we mean nothing more than a difference between the state of a thing/space/system at time 1 and its state at (a later) time 2."

"For every complex problem there is a solution that is neat, simple, and wrong."--Mencken

Why so?:

"The notion of a block universe is thus irrelevant to the notion of change and not immediately relevant to any other causal questions."

@Anonymous April 8, 2016 at 2:41 PM: Change (or movement) isn't necessarily a genuine feature of the universe when viewed from a block time perspective."

@ccmnxc: "You know, I've never really understood this whole block universe business since it basically kicks out the empirical foundations from beneath any physical theory. Unless one can establish the concept of a block universe completely a priori, the lack of change makes the entire theory a non-starter since change is required for any observation."

The "notion of a block universe" is *highly* relevant to the "notion of change" because in a block universe there is no change. Note that that is "immediately relevant to... other causal questions" because without change, there isn't much causation. (He said with droll understatement...)

Erich said...

@Eduardo - it is not obvious from the comments that any clear definition of change is being used. That's why I proposed one which I think is clear and which corresponds to, for example, scientific usage. If you adopt it, the block theory directly expresses change. Does anyone else's use of it here contradict it? I don't see how.

@laubadetriste - Your Mencken quote was quite unnecessary. You're simply incorrect that there "is no change" in a block universe. A block universe consists of a time dimension (a variable), together with a set of other dimensions (with their variables), in particular spatial dimensions. An object or system has a state at time t1 corresponding to the value of the other variables at time t1. It has a different state at time t2 corresponding to the state of those variables at time t2. The difference between those two states is exactly what my definition calls change, and that's pretty much the common usage: a difference in the state of a system corresponding to a difference in time.

This is why the block theory poses no threat to any thomistic/aristotelian arguments concerning movement, change, kinesis, etc., and does not make time an "illusion" as is often claimed, and can be pretty much ignored as an unenlightening distraction. I would think fans of Feser would welcome this. I have no commitment to the block theory beyond simple space-time diagrams in QM and in relativity, I suspect it cannot be correct picture on other scales for other reasons, and don't see that it really "solves" any problems at all to be honest, but as a Thomist I need not care one way or the other.

Eduardo said...

Erich, well i think they mean potentialities being actualized. But... I am starting to realize that I might have a misconception about this block universe thingy, will have to lurk you people some more.

Yeah I am lazy... Dont wanna go to the webz find the answer lol... U_U...

Erich said...

@Eduardo - yeah, the question of act/potency made me stutter for a second too. But a thing's potential is a part of its current being, so if the potential is actualized, then the thing's being, its "state" as it were, changes, and that inflection point is thus "in" the block universe.

My point is not that the block universe is actually some great alternative way of looking at things – the very opposite, in fact: it has no real effect on the kinds of issues Thomistic philosophy answers to. I mean, it's certainly interesting (not to mention very useful in physics) that we can map out time as a dimension and imagine a spatial "block," but doing so tells us nothing about why we experience change, how free will fits into the picture, what the nature of causality is, and so on. Nor does it contradict anything in the Thomist account. It's a wash, basically.


Eduardo, the teacher said...

Well you do seem to be using the concept as I have thought it is defined.

Guess I agree... Unless the idea is that.... For instance imagine a body in position A and position B. Two different coordinates on a axis, at two different times. The idea is that, the obejct in position A exists eternally the same way, nothing really happens, and the same thing goes for position B. It is as if they exist independent of one another, basically saying forces fields and whatever is just completely wrong, is just cute inventions we created to explain stuff but deep down are false. Basically myth in the secular sense. Lol poor physicists... Must never tell qny of this to my professors or they will expel from the course XD. (Yep, I do physics...)

Anyways, i guess the idea.... Well it fails because you would have to explain why we go from A to B, you would have to create some mental trick for the senses, but never know of they are real! Is just... Interesting... Well as a bar talk!

Erich said...

@Eduardo – I think the "block universe" idea is tricky because it expects us to take a sort of God's-eye view of the universe: past, present and future are all laid out in an eternal picture that stands outside of time. But, not being God, we tend to see this picture as static, just a block sitting there doing nothing as we watch it and out mental clock ticks, which makes us think, well, nothing really happens in that block.

But the block (should it be a possibility) is just a description of the evolution of the universe. So if we want to explain why the block his the structure that it does, we'll need to define things like objects, forces, and so on. Look at, say, a moon orbiting a planet, your body in positions A B C etc. We see that it describes a circle (or rather a spiral) in the block. Well, why? To explain it, the existence of a force, such as Newton's gravity, being a part of the state of the universe at each point in time, serves as an excellent a way of describing the acceleration of the planet. The existence of the force Newton proposed would account for the regularity, the "shape of the block." That's just ordinary physics (not to suggest that Newton was an ordinary scientist!).

The question of whether physical laws as we describe them are realities or just convenient descriptions scientists use is an old philosophical question, but the block universe idea doesn't bear on it one way or the other.

Anyway, I think is more than bar talk, since it seems a waste of time for defenders of Artistotelianism or Thomism to worry about "block theories." They're simply beside the point. Which is not to say I don't want to go to the bar!

Eduardo said...

Well if the block is just the description than yeah you save the whole structure of knowledge. But I remeber a friend of mine talking about the block in the first idea. The standing still, eternal black mono... Block!

Well this block thing reminds of WLC saying that the Kalam doesn't work if there is B-theory of time, saying that he sees no reason why a block should have a beginning.

About physics....yeah agreed newton would be extremely succesful in the block universe. Well Newton was a special guy in terms of intellect, I learn not to put scientist in pedestals, you know don't make that golden bull scientist your god hahahaha, otherwise you become a Gnu. But i learned to see the value in the things they did, which in turn made me an oddball! You know people just don't get how can any one like science without becoming plagued in the head with scientism...

laubadetriste said...

@Erich: "Your Mencken quote was quite unnecessary."

Mencken quotes--like ice cream, pretty girls, and lazy afternoons--are never necessary.

"You're simply incorrect that there 'is no change' in a block universe."

Am I? Well, then I'll happily retract my drollery. But before I do, a few points.

"A block universe consists of a time dimension (a variable), together with a set of other dimensions (with their variables), in particular spatial dimensions. An object or system has a state at time t1 corresponding to the value of the other variables at time t1. It has a different state at time t2 corresponding to the state of those variables at time t2. The difference between those two states is exactly what my definition calls change, and that's pretty much the common usage: a difference in the state of a system corresponding to a difference in time."

So far as I can tell, by "that's the common usage," you mean that that's the common usage of the word "change." But of course it isn't. The common usage isn't anything so abstract and symbolic. (And if you take a step back, why *would* the *common usage* be anything so abstract and symbolic? By coincidence I did link ↑up above to some books that recount the invention of algebraic symbolism in mathematics, and the tremendous change that caused. "Common usage" my ass.) You can perhaps see this best in dictionary definitions: Change: "The act or instance of making or becoming different"--OED; "To become different; to make (someone or something) different; to become something else."--Merriam-Webster; etc. No *systems,* no *states,* no *correspondence,* no *dimensions,* and no *variables.*

(Now, you could say that yours is the correct *analysis* of what change is--or the correct *explanation* of how change occurs. But then, those are different things, aren't they?)

Also, you obscure the key part of the "block" theory, namely the "block" part. You know how in American TV drug commercials there's that bit at the end where a calm voice reads quickly through a long list of possible side effects, and sometimes there's a doozy? "...can lead to dry mouth, sneezing, itchy elbows, explosive fatal decompression of the brain pan, thirst, drowsiness..." Well, in this case the scandal (or anyway, the main scandal) hides in your word "consists." *Consists.* "A block universe consists of a time dimension (a variable), together with a set of other dimensions (with their variables), in particular spatial dimensions." Of course, these dimensions (time + space) are identical *as dimensions.* (BTW, Cartesian coordinates are also not in "common usage" to describe change.) An interesting consequence is that all times past and future are identically "present" in just the way that spaces to my left and right are present when I'm in-between them. Just as I don't need to turn left for there to be space to the left of me, so I don't need to wait for tomorrow for my tomorrow to be "here." It's already "here," and also my past is still hanging around (just like the space to my right), because the *only difference* now *consists* of a difference in "variables" identifying extensions along "dimensions."

laubadetriste said...

Many physicists recognized this. And they knew--some of them had studied at German Gymnasiums, after all--that the "block universe" is an old idea, perhaps as old as Parmenides, depending on how you count (see my Popper link, ↑above). The term in English in a recognizably similar sense goes back at least to 1882. And in 1898 H. G. Wells could have his Time Traveller say, "...any real body must have extension in four directions: it must have Length, Breadth, Thickness, and—Duration. But through a natural infirmity of the flesh, which I will explain to you in a moment, we incline to overlook this fact. There are really four dimensions, three which we call the three planes of Space, and a fourth, Time. There is, however, a tendency to draw an unreal distinction between the former three dimensions and the latter, because it happens that our consciousness moves intermittently in one direction along the latter from the beginning to the end of our lives... Really this is what is meant by the Fourth Dimension, though some people who talk about the Fourth Dimension do not know they mean it. It is only another way of looking at Time. There is no difference between Time and any of the three dimensions of Space except that our consciousness moves along it... For instance, here is a portrait of a man at eight years old, another at fifteen, another at seventeen, another at twenty-three, and so on. All these are evidently sections, as it were, Three-Dimensional representations of his Four-Dimensioned being, which is a fixed and unalterable thing... Scientific people... know very well that Time is only a kind of Space."

Then along comes Minkowski, who unifies space and time mathematically. What does he say in 1908?: "The conceptions of time and space which I wish to develop here have arisen on the basis of experimental physics. Therein lies their strength. Their tendency is radical. From now on space-in-itself and time-in-itself are destined to be reduced to shadows, and only a sort of union of the two will retain an independent existence."

Then along comes Weyl in 1918 and says, "However deep the chasm may be that separates the intuitive nature of space from that of time in our experience, nothing of this qualitative difference enters into the objective world which physics endeavours to crystallise out of direct experience. It is a four-dimensional continuum, which is neither 'time' nor 'space'. Only the consciousness that passes on in one portion of this world experiences the detached piece which comes to meet it and passes behind it, as history, that is, as a process that is going forward in time and takes place in space."

(Note that word "intuitive." Shades of Kant!)

laubadetriste said...

Then along comes Eddington in 1920--who seems to have been the one to popularize the term "block universe" with regard to relativity--and what does he say?: "The idea of putting together space and time, so that time is regarded as a fourth dimension, is not new. But until recently it was regarded as merely a picturesque way of looking at things without any deep significance. We can put together time and temperature in a thermometer chart, or pressure and volume on an indicator-diagram. It is quite non-committal. But our theory is going to lead much further than that. We can lay two dimensional surfaces sheets of paper on one another till we build up a three-dimensional block; but there is a difference between a block which is a pile of sheets and a solid block of paper. The solid block is the true analogy for the four-dimensional combination of space-time; it does not separate naturally into a particular set of three-dimensional spaces piled in time-order. It can be re-divided into such a pile; but it can be re-divided in any direction we please."

So you had a term and some ideas already in currency, and then when some guys who read a lot made a new discovery they were reminded of them (the ideas and the term), so they started using the term to describe one of the implications of the discovery, which was like the ideas. (Which seems only natural. What do *you* think of when you hear the word "block"? Block. Stumbling block. Slab. Hunk. Brick. There's something ponderous, something hefty, something resistant, something immobile [un-move-able] about that word.)

"The question of whether physical laws as we describe them are realities or just convenient descriptions scientists use is an old philosophical question, but the block universe idea doesn't bear on it one way or the other."

True. But that's because you put the cart before the horse. "[W]hether physical laws as we describe them are realities or just convenient descriptions" is a question *prior* to the question whether any *particular* physical laws obtain (such as those regarding relativity).

laubadetriste said...

"I mean, it's certainly interesting (not to mention very useful in physics) that we can map out time as a dimension and imagine a spatial 'block'... [...] ...the block (should it be a possibility) is just a description of the evolution of the universe."

No map is the territory, of course (except Borges's). But you simply assume that the block theory is (merely) a (bad) map (or an imagining). Which is begging the question. If we only "imagine" that the universe is a block, then of course it's not a block. But that's not because of anything to do with the block theory. It's because we're only imagining. Ditto with your other misleading terms, "map" and "description."

(In fact, a good deal of the work done by your paragraphs--I do not say "argument"--seems to be done by misleading use of words.)

But two can play that game...:

Cop: "How tall was the suspect?"
Witness: "Oh, I'd describe him as very tall."
Cop: "So, what, maybe 6'5", 7'?"
Witness: "Oh no, more like 4 feet tall or so."
Cop: "I thought you said he was very tall."
Witness: "No, I only *described* him as very tall. Here, let me show you where he went. Have you got a map of Shanghai?"
Cop: "The murder was an hour ago in Brooklyn."
Witness: "Oh, I'm going to use the Shanghai map *as if* it showed Brooklyn..."

Now, it may be that recent physicists have started treating the block theory like a toy--"interesting," as you say, but of no real import. Or it may be that there has been some development that radically re-characterized it. I wouldn't know. (Actual physicists on this blog, please chime in.) But here's the thing: if so, then people ought not therefore to keep using the same name as if nothing had changed. They ought to stop calling a "block universe" what is no longer accurately characterized as a block universe.

Erich said...

@laubadatriste - I'm certainly flattered by the lengths you have gone to deconstruct my misleading word-games, hidden scandals, and mis-aligned horses, but I assure you my intentions are good and that we are on the same side.

I'm not sure it's worth much time to go over it, as I believe we are pretty much in agreement about the inability of any "block universe" idea to be coherent and to pose any challenge to Aristotelian or Thomistic philosophy at once. But I'll respond to a few things.

The difference you point out between my slightly formalized definition of change and your dictionary-quoted definition corresponding to "common usage" is, as far as I can see, inconsequential. The common use of the word "change" is actually more abstract and symbolic than my slightly "physicized" version of it, which was an simple accommodation of the common-sense notion to the specific "block" idea at hand). In "the act or instance of making or becoming different," every concept is neatly matched by one in my simple definition: "becoming" indicates a temporal difference or direction, and to be "different" is to be different from something else, meaning we have characterizations of things (states/systems/what have you) which may vary. Since every "block theory" of the universe I have ever come across, including every one you adumbrate, allows us to identify non-temporal differences associated with temporal differences, I see no justification for anyone saying that there is no change in such a system, and any proponent of a "block theory" who says as much is simply wrong, is he not?

It should in any case be be clear that I am not trying to provide a deep analysis of what change is, much less any explanation for it.

I quite like your description of the periodic resurgence of the term: "when some guys who read a lot made a new discovery they were reminded of them (the ideas and the term), so they started using the term to describe one of the implications of the discovery, which was like the ideas." The word "block" has a certain gravity and provides the impression of physics uncovering yet again strange and counterintuitive marvels.

You confuse me, however, with this: "[Y]ou put the cart before the horse. '[W]hether physical laws as we describe them are realities or just convenient descriptions' is a question *prior* to the question whether any *particular* physical laws obtain (such as those regarding relativity)." How did I suggest otherwise (I would hardly intend to), and what does this have to do with the implications of a block theory?

(cont'd)

Erich said...

(cont'd)

You also confuse me here: "No map is the territory, of course (except Borges's). But you simply assume that the block theory is (merely) a (bad) map (or an imagining). Which is begging the question. If we only 'imagine' that the universe is a block, then of course it's not a block. But that's not because of anything to do with the block theory. It's because we're only imagining. Ditto with your other misleading terms, 'map' and 'description.'"

A block theory is a kind of theory (loosely speaking). The word "block" is a metaphor used in the name of that theory. The universe is not literally a block whether or not the block theory is correct. The word "block" describes certain aspects of the theory rather like a (multidimensional) map. If words are being used misleadingly it starts with the word "block" in the name of the theory. And though you claim I have used the words "map" and "description" misleadingly, you don't say where or how.

The fact that one can envision space-time as a static block is perhaps its greatest disadvantage: it leaves out the radical difference between time and everything else, and thus tempts one with the impression that change must be illusory. Come to think of it, the situation is not unlike what we find amongst radical materialists who claim, seeing that the brain is just a collection of electrical and chemical systems like any other and finding, with Leibniz, no ghosts in it, that consciousness must be an illusion. But in fact what is revealed are the limits of materialism.

Returning to your quote from Weyl: "However deep the chasm may be that separates the intuitive nature of space from that of time in our experience, nothing of this qualitative difference enters into the objective world which physics endeavours to crystallise out of direct experience. It is a four-dimensional continuum, which is neither 'time' nor 'space'. Only the consciousness that passes on in one portion of this world experiences the detached piece which comes to meet it and passes behind it, as history, that is, as a process that is going forward in time and takes place in space."

Would you agree that this reveals something of the profound limitations of the "objective world" revealed by physics' block-like space-time continuum? It seems to confess directly that it provides no account of a key qualitative aspect of our experience.

Erich said...

@laubadatriste

Clarification above: "The fact that one can envision space-time as a static block is perhaps its greatest disadvantage:" replace with "a great drawback."

TheOFloinn said...

From now on space-in-itself and time-in-itself are destined to be reduced to shadows, and only a sort of union of the two will retain an independent existence.

And yet 'yesterday' does seem to differ quite a bit from 'over yonder.' Something about entropy and thermodynamics.

Space and time are surely linked, but I can draw a parabola -- say the arc of a cannonball -- on an XY coordinate graph, placing time on the horizontal and height on the vertical and the entire lifecycle of the cannonball is there all at once. I am not sure that this means that the cannonball was physically all at once; only that a mathematical model has been extremely useful for its purpose.

laubadetriste said...

@Erich: "I'm not sure it's worth much time to go over it, as I believe we are pretty much in agreement about the inability of any 'block universe' idea to be coherent and to pose any challenge to Aristotelian or Thomistic philosophy at once."

We are in agreement on that, yes. But it is not about that that I object.

To make a deliberately fanciful parallel, suppose we were in agreement that the US ought to maintain good diplomatic relations with Canada. But suppose you thought so because Canada is an important trading partner with the US, and shares much in terms of culture and political traditions, and is an ally overseas--but I thought so because I thought it important to lull Canadians into a false sense of security while preparing an invasion to support the President's flagging poll numbers. In that case, while it would be true in one sense that we are pretty much in agreement--and that sense might be useful in, say, securing funding for the State Department--yet in another sense we might be very much at odds.

So, here, in a sense which is useful in disputing with folks like Anonymous April 8, 2016 at 2:41 PM, yes, you are quite right, we are on the same side. Furthermore, I don't doubt that your intentions are good. Sterling even.

Hence:

"Would you agree that this reveals something of the profound limitations of the 'objective world' revealed by physics' block-like space-time continuum?"

Yes, I would agree, with the caveat that "revealed" is a word prejudging one of the matters under dispute.

But to return to my reservations:

"A block theory is a kind of *theory* (loosely speaking). The word 'block' is a metaphor used in the name of that theory. The universe is not literally a block whether or not the block theory is correct. The word 'block' *describes* certain aspects of the theory rather like a (multidimensional) *map*."

↑That is a bad way to put it. Why so? Because (to put it metaphorically), you've conceded an important ground of dispute in favor of unimportant and indefensible ground. Yes, the block theory is a "kind of *theory* (loosely speaking)"/"a metaphor"/"just a description"/a "*map*". But so is every other explanation we could give of anything at all, no matter how false and (more importantly) no matter how true. You've leveled the high ground and the low. They are all exactly equal *in terms of being a kind of theory (loosely speaking)/a metaphor/just a description/a map*.

laubadetriste said...

"He had sent a herald to Thrasybulus and inquired in what way he would best and most safely govern his city. Thrasybulus led the man who had come from Periander outside the town, and entered into a sown field. As he walked through the corn, continually asking why the messenger had come to him from Corinth, he kept cutting off all the tallest ears of wheat which he could see, and throwing them away, until he had destroyed the best and richest part of the crop. Then, after passing through the place and speaking no word of counsel, he sent the herald away. When the herald returned to Corinth, Periander desired to hear what counsel he brought, but the man said that Thrasybulus had given him none. The herald added that it was a strange man to whom he had been sent, a madman and a destroyer of his own possessions, telling Periander what he had seen Thrasybulus do. Periander, however, understood what had been done, and perceived that Thrasybulus had counselled him to slay those of his townsmen who were outstanding in influence or ability; with that he began to deal with his citizens in an evil manner."--Herodotus

"By skillful use of the 'new machine of war,' the fortress of the Protestants was reduced so that they were left holding a book the authenticity of which they could not establish, and the meaning of which they could never be certain; they were left with only the fallible faculties of man to employ for a task that they could not show they were to be used for... The Protestants, however, saw that the same sceptical approach could be used on its inventor, with the same effective results. The 'new machine of war' appeared to have a peculiar recoil mechanism that had the odd effect of engulfing the target and the gunner in a common catastrophe [...] ...the Catholics could not be harmed by the sceptical bombardment issuing from their own guns, since they had no position to defend. Their view was grounded in no rational or factual claim but in an accepted, and unquestioned, faith in the Catholic tradition. They saw, as Maldonado had suggested, that if they once doubted this faith by traditional acceptance, they, too, would be pulled down into the same quicksand in which they were trying to sink the Reformers. And so one finds an implicit fideism in many of the French Counter-Reformers that can be, and probably was, best justified by the explicit fideism of the nouveaux pyrrhoniens."--Popkin

How many times have you heard some doorknob say that evolution is "just a theory"? Where on earth do those people get the idea that "theory" is a deprecatory term? That to the extent that something is a theory--because it is a theory!--therefore it is not accurate, or doesn't apply, or is speculation? (cf.: "That's your opinion..." As if some opinions weren't better than others!) What if someone said that the continents do not drift *because* plate tectonics is a theory? Well, you've given away the farm on that one. Ditto with "metaphor" and "map" and "description". And that is so because you have argued that ours is not a block universe *because* block theory is a kind of theory (loosely speaking)/a metaphor/just a description/a map.

laubadetriste said...

(Yes, I realize that that was not the whole of your argument. But I already agreed with the good part.)

"Since every 'block theory' of the universe I have ever come across, including every one you adumbrate, allows us to identify non-temporal differences associated with temporal differences, I see no justification for anyone saying that there is no change in such a system, and any proponent of a 'block theory' who says as much is simply wrong, is he not?"

He is wrong, but not for *that* reason. Now that you have said that "A block universe consists of a time dimension (a variable), together with a set of other dimensions (with their variables), in particular spatial dimensions," you can't then say that there is change *because* you can "identify non-temporal differences associated with temporal differences": those "non-temporal differences associated with temporal differences" you have just defined away as variables. Your move there is like that of the eliminative materialist who, having *defined away* the color red as a certain range of wavelengths of electromagnetic radiation, would claim that *red* is still there *because* he can identify non-wavelength differences associated with wavelength differences. He would be wrong; but he would be wrong, *not* because there is in fact red in his theory (=change in the block theory), *nor* because his theory is a theory; but because (as at last, yes, I agree with you) his theory left something important out.

"'Take what you like,' said God, 'take it, and pay for it.'"--old proverb, quoted by Antony Flew

"And though you claim I have used the words 'map' and 'description' misleadingly, you don't say where or how."

You used them misleadingly when you used them to imply that, *because* the "block universe" is a "map" or "description" (or metaphor), *that* explains why, in a particular regard (such as "a key qualitative aspect of our experience"), it is inaccurate, or untrue. Hence my sarcasm about the cop and the witness: Were a cop to ask a witness for a description, he would implicitly be asking for a true description. And to the extent that my witness gave a false description, it was not because he gave a description, but because he was false. Likewise, if someone were to offer to point to a cop on a map where a murderer fled to, he would implicitly be offering to point on an accurate map. And to the extent that he was pointing on an inaccurate map, it was not because the map was a map, but because it was inaccurate.

So too there are apt metaphors:

"Every stink that fights the ventilator thinks it is Don Quixote."--Stanislaw Lec

...and there are inapt metaphors:

"Long separated by cruel fate, the star-crossed lovers raced across the grassy field toward each other, two freight trains, one having left Cleveland at 6:36 p.m. traveling at 55 mph, the other from Topeka at 4:19 p.m. at a speed of 35 mph."

...and the difference does *not* consist in whether something is a metaphor.

laubadetriste said...

Etc.

And the leveling of all theories, metaphors, descriptions, and maps as *alike equally* theories, metaphors, descriptions, and maps, is important because, as in point of historical fact once happened with the leveling of all texts, authorities, words, and interpretations (see Popkin, ↑above), it destroys the basis for rational discrimination. And that is something we do not want where, as Crude put it once, "all evidence indicates that the culture is hurtling towards a variety of subjectivisms, skepticism of anything that isn't doctrinally mandatory (including, at times, skepticism itself), and more. Again, I'm not saying that this is some kind of good news for Christians - far from it. But it's bad news for just about everyone, atheism included."

Apologies for my long-windedness.

Mr. Green said...

Laubadetriste: Mencken quotes--like ice cream, pretty girls, and lazy afternoons—

—are alway necessary!

...are never necessary.

Oh. Well, it amounts to the same thing.

"...can lead to dry mouth, sneezing, itchy elbows, explosive fatal decompression of the brain pan, thirst, drowsiness...”

Ha. And ouch. (I wouldn’t mind so much were it only non-fatal explosive decompression of the brainpan!)

(BTW, Cartesian coordinates are also not in "common usage" to describe change.)

I took Erich to be making a point similar to mine. And I can accept that “being different at different times” is an ordinary enough notion of “change” in the sense that the physicists are more or less layering their jargony detail “on top of” the common-sense notions. Anyone who uses spatial terms like “before” or “beaft, er, “after” is thinking of time as a timeline, and co-ordinates like “at the café after work” are close enough to Cartesian even if it hasn’t occurred to one to draw them out on graph paper. On the other hand…:

Just as I don't need to turn left for there to be space to the left of me, so I don't need to wait for tomorrow for my tomorrow to be "here.”

Yes, and that seems to me to be the fatal flaw in taking the blocky view that literally. It’s a poor sort of memory that only works backwards... indeed, surely an impossible one in 4-D; and when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however non-sciencey-sounding, must be the truth. Indeed, some of the passages you quoted are very suggestive on this point, with their talk of “moving through” the block-universe. If our mind/consciousness/whatever “travels” through 4-D space, then the whole block-world exists inside time (or some “higher level of time”). So even those folks (perhaps unwittingly) acknowledge that change is not [fully] explained this way.

But I would argue (and I think Erich is also arguing) that you can accept the blocky view in some sense without necessarily accepting it in the self-refuting sense. Of course, leaving out the purported solution to what change “really” is takes a lot of the fun out the theory, but you’re still left with something. In fact, I would say it’s useful enough that block-headed physicists won’t be giving up — it can’t quite be just a model, because Relativity demands that time and space be linked in a way that’s more real than simply modelling them both as axes on the blackboard. What appears to be time to one observer will appear to be space to another, and vice versa: so while you presumably can separate time from space if you have to (metaphysically), physically it would be too inelegant — one of those conspiracy theories I mentioned in the other thread.

Anonymous said...

laubadetriste:

"Your previous counterexample, that of the block universe [snip] you brought up to claim that, "Change (or movement) isn't necessarily a genuine feature of the universe..." But this purported counterexample seemingly could be a counterexample only if "movement caused by gravity" were "a genuine feature of the universe"."

I'm not clear exactly what your objection is here. Taken literally, you're claiming that counterexample 1 could be true only if counterexample 4 is true. I think you mean if counterexample 4 is *false*? Either way, your objection is false. The original argument consists of a sequence of four statements. If any one of those statements is false, the whole argument fails. My counterexamples only need to establish the falsity of *any* of the arguments and do not need to be consistent with one another. (Although I would argue that they are.) You need to demonstrate that *both* of the counterexamples you mention are false.

(I didn't realise I could pick a name - maybe I will next time.)

Justin Green said...

Change happens. Lest this sound like an Obama bumper sticker, even B-theorists of time don't seem to have an adequate explanation for why our impression or experience of "time" involves change. This, "change" is a fundamental reality of at least part of our universe, namely human consciousness. And at that point, "change" has to be dealt with as such, which B-theorists of time consistently fail to do.

I'm a novice at philosophy and science. This blog and its commenters consistently educate me. However, unless I'm missing some major philosophical argument, "block universe" advocates and B-theorists of time "have some 'splainin' to do. Period.

Erich said...

@laubadatriste: Your eloquent expansiveness is appreciated, and yes, we are on the same side. And your font of quotations both serves you well and is quite a delight!

But though your "friends of Canada" analogy might be a good one, I am not at all certain it actually applies, since you continue to ascribe to me mysterious and sometimes rather naive positions I did not mean to suggest. I must have expressed myself with less precision than I had hoped – but I do suspect some eagerness on your part to peg me for a kind of opponent I'm actually not.

In your first section, you agree with me about the limitations of "block-like" physical theories as described by Weyl, but "with the caveat that 'revealed' is a word prejudging one of the matters under dispute." Under dispute by whom? Do you mean under dispute between the two of us, or between the two (or more) of us on the one hand and the fellow who thinks the "block universe" poses trouble for Thomism on the other? I should hope not to be pre-judging, but rather actively making judgments, concerning what block theories really have to offer.

In your second section, I believe you have misunderstood my point about the phrase "block theory." I am a scientist (though I am changing professions) and I'm quite aware of the difference between theory and reality. I am in no way trying naively to "disenfranchise" block theory as "merely" a theory like some Young Earth Creationist trash-talking evolution.

Let me rephrase my point: any theory that takes the dimensionality of space-time, fixed to the physical state of the universe at each coordinate in space-time, as an eternal "block", thereby uses the word "block" purely metaphorically. That in itself fine in principle; our everyday language will often do to name things and offer insight metaphorically – but as we agreed, this particular word suggests to the mind's eye a rather too-robust, too-heavy picture of a static thing, a picture that thereby misleads some into thinking that genuine change does not exist within a universe described by that theory. But it does exist, if by "change" we mean roughly what we generally mean by it. To say that it didn't would require some other sense of "change" far far removed from what is meant by it in common parlance and even in, say, Newtonian physics. The word "block" is thus a misleading metaphor, in a way that the word "drift" in "continental drift" is not. That's all.

Erich said...

(cont'd)

You are absolutely right that there are good and bad metaphors. That was precisely my point! I still think we align with Canada consistently.

Next, in your third section, you have the following: "Now that you have said that 'A block universe consists of a time dimension (a variable), together with a set of other dimensions (with their variables), in particular spatial dimensions,' you can't then say that there is change *because* you can 'identify non-temporal differences associated with temporal differences': those 'non-temporal differences associated with temporal differences' you have just defined away as variables."

"Defined away as variables?" I have no idea what you mean by "defined away" in this context. At any given point in time, variables will have values, and there will exist differences in these values corresponding with differences in (the value of) time; these relations we call change. Nothing has been defined away. Things are there, differences are there, time is there – and therefore change is also there, by definition. There is no parallel with eliminative materialism as you claim. I have defined nothing "away;" I have eliminated nothing.

You are mistaking me, I think, for the block theorist who then goes on to say something like, "because this whole block exists eternally, and everything is just a value on a variable somewhere, then 'change' is only nominally 'there'; change is just a name for one relation we can define among a billion others; it is really an illusion." But this is what I am claiming to be the false conclusion our dear block-head is tempted to come to, seduced by the dastardly "block" metaphor. That would be the misstep that corresponds to eliminative materialism.

What I would go on to say is something like this: "Because this whole block exists eternally, it provides no insight into the absolute differences we observe and experience between time and spatial dimensions. It misses something essential about time, and therefore about change, even if it accommodates the concepts."

You also say that I used the words "map" and "description" predicated of the "block universe" to explain why it is inaccurate or untrue. It's simply not what I did – again, what I was pointing out was how the concept of a "block" does a disservice to the map or description. Again, I know quite well what maps, models, and metaphors are. "Block" is not a problem for its simply being a metaphor: it's a problem for connoting stasis.

I share your Crudean concerns completely!

@Mr. Green:

Yes, I think we pretty much agree. I don't think, though, that Relativity really interferes with the basic "blocky" idea – it just means that the block is constrained by certain topologies. But beyond that, yes, the blocky view does not have to be ultimately self-refuting – yet it will always be missing something.

"What change really is" – yes, that's where the fun is! Though change is "really there" in a block universe, it looks arbitrary; it is a function only of our subjective prioritization of time over other dimensions, something we only experience as change. And what becomes of the laws of thermodynamics, of biological evolution? Why should it be that we experience life as a directional aspect in time that corresponds to these directional movements, despite their being on utterly different scales, and of utterly different character?

Block theories are great for certain domains of physics, but they neither challenge Thomism to the extent that they are true, nor do they come close to offering any insight into some pretty basic ontological questions…

laubadetriste said...

I thought this morning over breakfast that I might make my position clearer on theories and maps, etc., if I summarized it briefly. So:

The fact that all theories/descriptions/metaphors/maps are selective (except Borges's) and eo ipso leave some things out ("no map is the territory"), or are false to them, does not at all explain or justify why any particular theory/description/metaphor/map leaves out, or is false to, any particular thing. The claim that it does is dangerous because it it is self-undermining to rational discrimination, especially for people ("late moderns," as TOF sometimes calls them) already in the habit of sapping rational discrimination. We know this in part because, starting five centuries ago, Catholics already made a similar mistake.

@Mr. Green: "Ha. And ouch. (I wouldn’t mind so much were it only non-fatal explosive decompression of the brainpan!)"

Ho, Mr. Green! I'll have you know I'm prepared for you this day. Nothing to spit out, nothing to choke on. I don't care how far your tongue extends into your cheek, you can do your sly and whimsical worst!

"...the physicists are more or less layering their jargony detail 'on top of' the common-sense notions."

This presumes that the "jargony detail" is jargon and detail--and that it *can be* "on top" of the common-sense notions, as opposed to essentially constitutive of some other notions, perhaps continuous with or related to them, but not the same. Which is one of the items under dispute, and hence begging the question.

To make a deliberately simple (perhaps simplistic) parallel, in order to avoid as much as possible any issues of physical interpretation: Suppose you said that "In right-angled triangles the square on the side opposite the right angle equals the sum of the squares on the sides containing the right angle." (Euclid 1.47: the Pythagorean Theorem.) And then suppose then I said, "Geometers are more or less layering their jargony detail 'on top of' the common-sense notion that 'The whole is greater than the part.'" (Euclid Common Notion 5.) Would I not be misleading to the point of falsehood? Sure, 1.47 *sounds kinda like* CN 5, and sure it follows from CN 5 (together with CN 1-4 and Definitions 1-23 and Postulates 1-5 and [most of] Propositions 1-46)--but isn't it an importantly different animal? So, I claim, with (e.g.) "To become different" and "the difference between those two states [corresponding to variables t1 and t2 along a dimension]".

"Anyone who uses spatial terms like 'before' or 'beaft', er, 'after' is thinking of time as a timeline, and co-ordinates like 'at the café after work' are close enough to Cartesian even if it hasn’t occurred to one to draw them out on graph paper."

Most violently and emphatically not so.

laubadetriste said...

Now, perhaps you and Erich do so. That you can tell me. But if so, I think you are like those W.E.I.R.D (western, educated, industrialized, rich, and democratic) undergraduates who, through no fault of their own, have so misled psychology for so long. You may remember the story: how, once upon a time, psychologists desired to apply the experimental method to psychology, and so crafted experiments scientifically to explore human psychology. How, despite their desire to be objective about *human psychology as such*, nevertheless they managed to experiment on a test group that was 68% from the US (67% of those being psychology undergraduates) and 96% from Western industrialized nations. How they didn't notice (why would they? the experimenters, too, were W.E.I.R.D., and the results were often unsurprising) literally for decades. How, when people actually started to check those decades of results against results from (e.g.) villages in Africa, they were shocked to find that the discrepancy between what they expected of *human psychology as such*, and what instead they found, extended even so far as to such seemingly neutral phenomena as many optical illusions. (A physical trick of the human brain, you thought? Gotcha!)

"Anyone who uses spatial terms like 'before' or 'beaft', er, 'after' is thinking of time as a timeline..."

What could it be there that tells you that people--"Anyone": all people!--must be thinking of time as a *line*? (What do you think a *line* is? "A line is breadthless length."--Euclid, Definition 2?) What about those who used those terms (or cognate or similar terms in other languages) when time was thought in the West, or where time is now thought, to be cyclical--or merely very different? What about time as a river, or a clock, or the circuit of the sun--all in notable respects very un-line-like?

"...and co-ordinates like 'at the café after work' are close enough to Cartesian even if it hasn’t occurred to one to draw them out on graph paper."

Why would you think that "at the café after work" is "close enough" to coordinates--*co-ordinates*, orders together, ordinals together...? (This is why I brought up the eliminative materialist against Erich: the eliminative materialist, having defined [e.g.] *red* as a certain range of wavelengths, honestly thinks that because he finds a certain range of wavelengths, therefore he sees red, oblivious to the difference.)

And "draw them out on graph paper"? As if, first of all, *graph paper* were basically equivalent to *Cartesian coordinates,* and as if, further, graph paper (and Cartesian coordinates) had not themselves great effect on people's thinking.

laubadetriste said...

That is, I think, a root of this mess: not considering the history of some of the things that surround us so closely that we no more notice them than we usually notice air. It is odd to consider that there was a time before the alphabet, and before writing, and before the clock, and before all the stuff that James Burke goes on about--and that all those inventions radically changed the way people thought. It is odd to consider the commonplace that Plato thought in the terms of some of the advanced science of his day (geometry), and Descartes likewise (hydraulics), and Freud (whatever the Ludwig Büchner stuff is called, I forget)--

--but it is odder still to consider that we too are radically influenced, including, in this case, by the mathematization of the world-picture. I already
↑linked
on this post to some books about that. But I remember most vividly a lecture by a teacher of mine: two hours on how the equals sign altered the math of Aristotle. It was fascinating. (Think about it: *how did equations work*, exactly, two thousand years without an equals sign?) You know how we around here talk about "being" and "motion", and how new people come around and accuse us of mumbo-jumbo, because *they don't know the history*?--how, all their lives, they never encountered what is in fact the main tradition of Western philosophical thought?--how, sometimes, it takes years to "get it"? Well, this is that big.

laubadetriste said...

@Anonymous: April 15, 2016 at 5:54 AM: "I'm not clear exactly what your objection is here. Taken literally, you're claiming that counterexample 1 could be true only if counterexample 4 is true."

No, taken literally (which is how I meant it), I claimed it seems that those two counterexamples are inconsistent with each other. 1. "the block universe" is (I claimed) seemingly inconsistent with 2. "movement caused by gravity".

You could of course argue that the inconsistency is *only* seeming, not real. The tack some of the other folks here have taken would imply that. As I've argued, I think they (and by implication, you) are wrong.

"My counterexamples only need to establish the falsity of *any* of the arguments and do not need to be consistent with one another."

In one sense you are quite right. No one need be consistent to show that an argument fails. I might criticize [insert classical theistic argument here] by way of dialectical materialism *and also* by way of Scientology. But in another sense, we owe respect to the truth, even though we have but part of it.

"(I didn't realise I could pick a name - maybe I will next time.)"

Please do. You see how expansive these disputes can get. Take half a dozen people, each making as many important points, and give some of them the same name... Oy vey!

I once criticized someone here for not doing something which in fact he had done five times, all because of a confusion over who was which and where was what. Quite embarrassing.

I believe the name "Wolfsbane Thunderheart, Breaker of Nations, Esquire" has yet to be taken.

laubadetriste said...

@Justin Green: "...even B-theorists of time don't seem to have an adequate explanation for why our impression or experience of 'time' involves change."

I should acknowledge, for the record, that the aboriginal block universe of the Eleatics, the B-series block universe of J. M. E. McTaggert, and the quasi-Kantian block universe of those German physicists, are not all the same thing, even though in the relevant sense (I argue, many have said, and no one has yet disputed) they amount to the same thing.

"I'm a novice at philosophy and science."

Welcome! I'm not a novice, but I'm still as confused as a horse asked to book a holiday.

Welcome again! Mind the punji sticks and the caltrops! It really is fun once you get past that.

laubadetriste said...

@Erich: "Your eloquent expansiveness is appreciated, and yes, we are on the same side. And your font of quotations both serves you well and is quite a delight!"

You flatter me. I am flattered. And I like the archaism "font." Darmok and Jalad, at Tanagra. Temba, his arms wide!

In turn, you are a damnably reasonable, considerate, and patient person. Stop it. You are making it hard for me to argue with you.

"But though your 'friends of Canada' analogy might be a good one, I am not at all certain it actually applies, since you continue to ascribe to me mysterious and sometimes rather naive positions I did not mean to suggest. I must have expressed myself with less precision than I had hoped – but I do suspect some eagerness on your part to peg me for a kind of opponent I'm actually not."

Well--I very well might be *wrong.* The difference--between what I think I heard, and what you think you said--lies perhaps in that *suggestion*. As Dr. Feser said recently, "That happens sometimes. Philosophers don’t always correctly understand all the implications of the premises to which they are committed." And likewise with other sorts like you or me.

"Under dispute by whom? Do you mean under dispute between the two of us, or between the two (or more) of us on the one hand and the fellow who thinks the 'block universe' poses trouble for Thomism on the other?"

Between the two (and more) of us on the one hand and the fellow who thinks the "block universe" poses trouble for Thomism on the other. "Revealed" implies *revealed to be true*, which we both agree is false, but which you seem to think is not even genuinely revealed anyway.

"I am a scientist (though I am changing professions) and I'm quite aware of the difference between theory and reality. I am in no way trying naively to 'disenfranchise' block theory as 'merely' a theory like some Young Earth Creationist trash-talking evolution."

Cool.

"Let me rephrase my point... [...] That's all."

Now *that* makes a lot of sense, and is well-put, and I agree, and you said it first.

"You are absolutely right that there are good and bad metaphors. That was precisely my point! I still think we align with Canada consistently."

They *do* have the best pancake topping.


laubadetriste said...

"At any given point in time, variables will have values, and there will exist differences in these values corresponding with differences in (the value of) time; these relations we call change. Nothing has been defined away. Things are there, differences are there, time is there – and therefore change is also there, by definition. There is no parallel with eliminative materialism as you claim. I have defined nothing 'away;' I have eliminated nothing."

This is where that pesky word "consists" comes in that I talked about--very different form the phrase "corresponding to" that I also noted. "’Tis the difference between the lightning-bug and the lightning." That difference--and I refer not to the difference in the word, but the difference in what the word signifies--is great.

"You are mistaking me, I think, for the block theorist who then goes on to say something like, 'because this whole block exists eternally, and everything is just a value on a variable somewhere, then "change" is only nominally "there"; change is just a name for one relation we can define among a billion others; it is really an illusion.' But this is what I am claiming to be the false conclusion our dear block-head is tempted to come to..."

"Block-head." Heh. :) That's damn funny. Wish I'd thought of that.

Ok, well, if *that's* what you meant, then I concede that I was wrong, and you were right.

"What I would go on to say is something like this:..."

Seems fair.

"...what I was pointing out was how the concept of a 'block' does a disservice to the map or description... 'Block' is not a problem for its simply being a metaphor: it's a problem for connoting stasis."

Ok... but it's the case that the metaphor "block" (as opposed to [say] "pudding," or "tornado") was chosen because of something about the block theory, and not the other way around. It is not the case that people heard the word "block" and thought that the theory connoted stasis. It is rather the case that the theory connoted stasis, and so people chose to call it by the pre-existing name "block".

"Though change is 'really there' in a block universe, it looks arbitrary; it is a function only of our subjective prioritization of time over other dimensions..."

I know you were talking to Mr. Green, but he won't mind: Whaddya mean, "change is 'really there' in a block universe"? It is precisely on the grounds of our "subjective prioritization of time over other dimensions" that one sort of those block-theorists (the quasi-Kantian German physicist ones) denied that change is real.

"And what becomes of the laws of thermodynamics, of biological evolution? Why should it be that we experience life as a directional aspect in time that corresponds to these directional movements, despite their being on utterly different scales, and of utterly different character?"

Damned if I know. What song did the Sirens sing, and by what name did Achilles go amongst the women?

Justin Green said...

Thanks for the welcome, laubadetriste!

This blog and blogs like it (and the associated bloggers' books) have pretty much turned my television into an ugly piece wall art.

I've been reading this blog for a couple of years now, but am not enough of an intellectual ninja to comment often :)

I think Professor Feser did a blog or two on time, but I could be mistaken. Will go and look. I do know Craig is an A theorist proponent, and I have read his book some years ago on time. The impression I always have is that time is more of a blob of constantly changing mass, with different parts of the mass changing at different rates due to gravitation or acceleration (much the same)... I liked Craig's book, but it always makes me nervous when he begins dabbling in physics.

And then you have the fact that just because something can be accurately modeled mathematically does not entail that's the entire story!

Erich said...

@ laubadatriste: Thank you for your patience (and endlessly edifying quotations) as I moved asymptotically toward saying what I meant. . . I am new to this forum, and there are so many styles, so many levels of intelligence and experience and degrees of passion, that it is difficult to know how to present an idea in an optimally clear way.

Your comments toward the end I find especially interesting:

"it's the case that the metaphor 'block' (as opposed to [say] 'pudding,' or 'tornado) was chosen because of something about the block theory, and not the other way around. It is not the case that people heard the word 'block' and thought that the theory connoted stasis. It is rather the case that the theory connoted stasis, and so people chose to call it by the pre-existing name 'block'.

Hmmm… I think there's a chicken-or-the-egg dilemma here. I suspect things may have worked back and forth in a sort of mutual reinforcement, rather than in one direction only. Let me offer a sort of just-so story. Science of the modern west had increasingly thought of space in terms of a coordinate system, exemplified by axes, nicely typified by a cube, from which we are magically removed – and adding another dimension, time, retains this block-like image, from which we are also removed; yet no "stasis" is yet implied. It is our magical removal from this block – which one can call blocked-shaped at this point – that now has it floating before our eyes in the blackness of the void, as we from a God-like perspective peer into it and perceive its in and outer shape and structure, all at once, all of it perfectly still – wherewith all the further, non-spatial connotations of "block," especially "stasis," begin to sink in. So there's been a back-and-forth between the naming of the model and our perception of the model as implying an ultimate stasis.

What I meant for Mr. Green was that "change is really there" in the formal sense: temporal differences in the block corresponding to certain non-temporal differences in the block. The question then is, does this formal definition of "change," perfectly applicable to the block universe and perfectly in tune with what we generally mean by change, have any natural significance beyond the subjective prioritization of time? The blockhead raised on Kant and cabbage says no. But the subjective prioritization of time is no small matter (nor are other purely physical inconveniences, like the laws of thermodynamics, which display temporal asymmetries and depend upon the specifically time-symmetry of conservation of energy).

I think between the two of us we have hit upon a striking analogy: that the overly-devoted block theorist (the "statist," perhaps?) makes a mistake parallel to that made by the overly-reductive materialist who sets up a neuro-physical model of the brain and then says consciousness is illusory. If the sheer sensations of feeling and perception are not "primary data," I don't know what is – yet in both cases the models are understood so as to demand it be illusory. And in both cases one can say that 1. to the extent that they are correct – yes, the mind does subsist on neuro-physical events, and yes, the universe does have time as a dimension akin to space – they are incomplete in having nothing to say about the directionality of temporality and possibility of subjective experience, or 2. to the extent that they seek to be complete, their failure to say anything about the directionality of temporality and possibility of subjective experience shows they are incorrect.

Does that make sense? It's always interesting to find a form of error that recurs, and the analogy is too good here to be a coincidence. Anything to be made of it?



Anonymous said...

(Still anonymous for now.)

The notion of God as being omniscient and outside of time implies that 'he' sees a block universe. Just sayin'

TheOFloinn said...

The notion of God as being omniscient and outside of time implies that 'he' sees a block universe. Just sayin'

The block universe thus presupposes the existence of God. Nyuk, nyuk.

Erich said...

@anonymous and @The OFloinn -- yeah, but there's something wrong with that. It's C. S Lewis's metaphor too, in a sense, that God stands outside all this temporally to see it "all at once." But my intuitions tell me this is too much the Calvinist God, but a gambling Calvinist God: sitting beside of an object that spontaneously contains the histories of free will, making it indistinguishable from a roll of the dice. It devalues temporality somehow. I can't quite put my finger on it.

laubadetriste said...

@Justin Green: "I've been reading this blog for a couple of years now, but am not enough of an intellectual ninja to comment often :)"

Ah, but that's just what a ninja *would* say, isn't it? I'm on to you, you master of stealth and disguise...

@Erich: "Let me offer a sort of just-so story..."

"...if in our treatment of a great host of matters regarding the Gods and the generation of the Universe we prove unable to give accounts that are always in all respects self-consistent and perfectly exact, be not thou surprised; rather we should be content if we can furnish accounts that are inferior to none in likelihood, remembering that both I who speak and you who judge are but human creatures, so that it becomes us to accept the likely account of these matters..."--*Timaeus*.

"If the sheer sensations of feeling and perception are not 'primary data,' I don't know what is – yet in both cases the models are understood so as to demand it be illusory. And in both cases one can say that 1. to the extent that they are correct – yes, the mind does subsist on neuro-physical events, and yes, the universe does have time as a dimension akin to space – they are incomplete in having nothing to say about the directionality of temporality and possibility of subjective experience, or 2. to the extent that they seek to be complete, their failure to say anything about the directionality of temporality and possibility of subjective experience shows they are incorrect."

Makes sense. Seems likely.

"Statist" has too many political overtones to be well-used there. "Stasisist" would seem closer, but is ugly and sibilant. "Blockhead" is nice--partisan, but then intended to be.

@TheOFloinn: "'The notion of God as being omniscient and outside of time implies that "he" sees a block universe. Just sayin' / The block universe thus presupposes the existence of God. Nyuk, nyuk."

Heh. :)

TheOFloinn said...

contains the histories of free will, making it indistinguishable from a roll of the dice

It is hard for us being in the painting to realize that the painter is not one of the images; or in a play to realize that the playwright is not a cast member. Ophelia drowned because she despaired at Hamlet's rejection of her -- He told her to go to a nunnery -- and jumped in a river. But she also drowned because that's how Shakespeare wrote the play. There is a different sort of causation at play. (For the analogy-impaired: I am not claiming that Life is a scripted play, but that the relationship of the author, who sees the play as a completed whole, and the character, who sees it only as it unfolds, have a relationship similar to that of outside v. inside the block.
+++
There is nothing in free will that forbids anyone from knowing the choice ahead of time. The essence of the choice is that it is undetermined, not that it is random. My wife almost always knows what I will pick at the diner; but that does not determine that I will choose it.
+++
The block universe also sheds an intriguing light on abortion. Since the human being in the block universe is a four-dimensional "worm" of who we see only a three-dimensional cross section, there is clearly no material "break" in the thread.

Erich said...

@The OFloinn

Well, yes, but God does not write plays in which people drown themselves or are burned in gas chambers – yet these things happen. We are meant to improvise our parts.

I don't follow your point about abortion, intriguing as it is. Can you elaborate? What do you mean by a "break in the thread?"

TheOFloinn said...

Think of a person as a cross section of a 4-D "thread" running along the time dimension. There is no break or discontinuity in this thread, running all the way back to its coordinates of origin.

but God does not write plays...

Yes, that's why it is only in an analogous sense.

Erich said...

@TheOFLoinn: Yes, but what does that have to do with abortion?

laubadetriste said...

@Erich: "Yes, but what does that have to do with abortion?"

I speculate that TOF is obliquely saying the facts that 1. The "block" is *continuous*, and 2. It is *arbitrary* in what way you can divide it (see Eddington ↑quote), jointly suggest that on kinda-materialist terms there is no justification for claiming that something/someone is not alive/a person at one point, but is the next. The block theory implies a sorites paradox. Also, a person (and all else from jelly beans to WWII) being "four-dimensional 'worm[s]'", in a sense they are what they are ab ovo (Wells ↑quote), which sounds kinda like being what one is from conception.

laubadetriste said...

...*at one point* representing, of course, *in one plane*, and also *in one solid*...

Erich said...

@laubadatriste: I don't think that can be. It's not exactly arbitrary in what way you divide the block, since even for Eddington, certain divisions are encoded in very the structure of the block, a structure determined by observed facts and laws. And again, since there is no obvious way in which the block actually deflects Thomistic/Aristotelian interpretation (not that I have seen), there's no reason that we won't find final and formal causes in the block's structure, and we will almost certainly need them to understand the block's structure – so the notion of something being living/human should be no less identifiable in the block than without it.

laubadetriste said...

@Erich: "I don't think that can be."

Don't think that can be what TOF was saying, or don't think that can be what the block theory implies, or don't think that can be true?

If the first, I have no dog in that fight. As I said, I was speculating, and I was doing so to try to make clear what TOF might have meant, in order to answer your question. He might very well have meant something very different. :)

If the third, then of course we established that we agree.

If the second, then what still interests me is the way you seem to argue. (I say "seem" here to acknowledge you said I read things into your words that you do not intend, and also to acknowledge I said your words imply things that you may not intend.)

To take, again, a parallel: Suppose you read a work of serious scholarship and history addressing early Christianity in Marxist terms. It would perforce be naturalistic in approach *in principle* and in fact. Suppose too that you could genuinely establish, via *some other* history and philosophical argument, that contrary to that Marxist study, there was a supernatural element in early Christianity. Would it not be the case that, despite your (by hypothesis) having established that supernatural element, nevertheless that is *not* what the Marxist study said?

I make that parallel because you have again said things which would seem to imply that, because something is not true, therefore block theory doesn't say it.

For example, *if* you meant "can be" #2 above, how am I to read this?:

"...since there is no obvious way in which the block actually deflects Thomistic/Aristotelian interpretation (not that I have seen), there's no reason that we won't find final and formal causes in the block's structure..."

Do you mean to claim that, because *you* (and I) can see no way for the block theory to deflect A-T interpretation, and we may *in the future* find final and formal causes in the block's structure, therefore you "don't think [it] can be" that that theory, which was formulated *decades before we were born,* in fact has the implications you don't think it does?

laubadetriste said...

(I should add, just in case, that yes, I know that implications of theories can be found which were previously unknown. That is not what I am talking about. And if that is what you are talking about, if you are claiming that block theory does not exclude change *because* we might find out so in the future, then I would say that that is ad hoc, and you might as well add we might discover tomorrow that dialectical materialism is really erotic idealism.)

Erich said...

@laubadatriste - Thanks for your comments. I tried to pack too much into one paragraph, I think.

Of course, I realize you were suggesting a way of interpreting TheOFloinn – should he return to this curlicue conversation dangling at the end of an otherwise abandoned thread, perhaps he can enlighten us!

As for your which-of-three question: all but the first!

I suppose it could be true that this was what TOF was saying, but if so I'd reply that it doesn't follow.

You ask in your hypothetical Marxist scenario: "Would it not be the case that, despite your (by hypothesis) having established that supernatural element, nevertheless that is *not* what the Marxist study said?"

Well, yes, the Marxist analysis contained no supernatural elements, and the new analysis does, so the new analysis says something the old one didn't.

It comes down to this: what elements of an analysis of abortion receive any new light on the basis of a block theory? Does the block theory say anything new that was not said before, or deny anything that was said before? I need a concrete example, really, since I don't see a priori how, say, the definition of human life and its beginning would need to be rethought in light of the block theory. We've already established that the block theory does not in fact deny the reality of change; nor does it, as far as I can see, preclude or render unnecessary the reality of any A-T notion of cause, so it's hard to see how a block theory changes anything. I might be wrong, and perhaps we may "one day discover" (as you put it) that the block theory really does throw, say, final causes for a loop, in which case certain arguments about the personhood of a fetus might fail. But other than that I can't see any way that the block, embedded with little worm-like traces we call human lives, should enlighten us one way or the other.

Unless you're doing Feynman diagrams or light cones, block theory seems to be positively unenlightening!

laubadetriste said...

@Erich: "...light cones...unenlightening!"

Heh. :)

"I need a concrete example, really, since I don't see a priori how, say, the definition of human life and its beginning would need to be rethought in light of the block theory."

Fair enough. And since I myself have nothing interesting to say about abortion per se, yes, we'll have to wait for TOF. Why, that salty old sea-dog cultivates obliquity like a bonsai...

Mr. Green said...

Laubadetriste: What do you think a *line* is? […] What about time as a river […]

Ah, but I never said a straight line. In fact, I was thinking of a line just as something linearly- or totally-ordered, so basically with a “before” and “after” (but not a “sideways”). Anyway, no one’s ever accused me of not being weird, but I only meant a fairly mild claim to the effect that ordering events before or after others covers the “-ordinate”, and specifying both the where and the when covers the “co-“; so that depicting time (and space) as Cartesian co-ordinates does not [necessarily] require adding something new, but is a representation of something Heraclitus and the Hopi already had. (Didn’t we see Heraclitus and the Hopi playing at the Palladium that time?)

as if, further, graph paper (and Cartesian coordinates) had not themselves great effect on people's thinking.

I concede I was getting a bit too cute there; but of course that’s the fascinating thing about a change of perspective. New or different information is not always required to come up with amazing insights — just a different way to look at information we already had. So portraying space-time as a block doesn’t have to require adding concepts beyond then and now, here and there (and thus won’t contradict Thomism, etc.); whether looking at it that way provides new insight beyond those minimal concepts is another question, and where the problems start.

(Think about it: *how did equations work*, exactly, two thousand years without an equals sign?)

I remember seeing a copy of the page where Recorde invents the equals sign. It was hard to look at the symbol without seeing it as “equals”. (And of course, the idea was that the two lines in “=“ were meant to be equal to each other, despite the asymmetrical sloppiness with which it is usually handwritten!)

I know you were talking to Mr. Green, but he won't mind:

I’ve always thought it strange for people to hold a conversation in public, and then object when the public joins in!



Erich: If the sheer sensations of feeling and perception are not "primary data," I don't know what is – yet in both cases the models are understood so as to demand it be illusory.

Yes, the models leave something out, but in both cases it is a mistake to suppose that that amounts to an insight that it is not there in reality!

It's not exactly arbitrary in what way you divide the block, since even for Eddington, certain divisions are encoded in very the structure of the block, a structure determined by observed facts and laws.

Relativity does add something new with the concept that there is no unique way to slice up the block into temporal segments. (You can slice up the block from your point of view like a stack of frames of film, but from my perspective, I will slice the block up differently, at an angle to yours — which indeed isn’t arbitrary). But again, I agree that that isn’t a problem for the relevant Thomistic arguments. Plus it is distinct from the claim that there is no change at all.

there's no reason that we won't find final and formal causes in the block's structure

I’d say the structure just is form; and I think final causes can be reasonably viewed a forms pointing across time. So in a “static” world, final causes will simply look like formal causes. Though to repeat our point, it doesn’t follow from that that they aren’t actually final causes in reality.

Erich said...

@Mr. Green – yes, we agree. Relativity does introduce a certain "topology" to the block that prevents us from thinking in terms of time-slices, but this is not of much consequence here.

There is one thing block theory might be good for, at least it was so for me: block theory made a little more intuitive the notion that God sustains the universe at all times. For a long while I was unhappy with the idea that the universe could not sustain itself, that it would "collapse" if God did not at every moment "hold it up." Collapse where? What force is it resisting that, if removed like a trap-door, would let it fall?

The block idea helps a bit in this regard. The whole kit and kaboodle, the entire shape and history of the universe, time included, is simply there, suspended in the void, as it were, defying nothingness, ex nihilo. And that is either simply the way it is, which is absurd, or grounded in some source of being, which is God. So for me it makes a helpful analogy.

Justin Green said...

The block universe concept as I've heard it described (I realize there are variations) all seem to reduce change and cause & effect to mere coincidence. It just happens that this four-dimensional blob is arranged so that the constituent coordinate objects through the four dimensions make mathematical and ordinal sense, display an increase in entropy, etc. But on the 4d block universe view, there doesn't seem to be any logical requirement that this be the case.

Further, my personal experience of the past and future make it difficult for me to accept an absolutely static block universe. My awareness of the past grows dim and less and less of my finite future remains uncertain. For my experience to be as such, even if a block universe interpretation is correct, and my measurable, physical components past, present, and future are all eternal, there is a point of view in which they are not, namely my conscious awareness, which is changing. Even if my future actions are determined, there is still my awareness of those actions, decisions, locations, etc., which are changing relative to my conscious awareness. Something changes. I'm not able to see how this can be otherwise, and no mathematical model seems to account for this.

If a B-theory, block universe is correct, then change and cause & effect seem illusory, and that doesn't seem to bode well for arguments from motion.

But I think it more the case that those theories are missing something and making too much reality out of mathematical models' correlations.

Justin Green said...

In fact, the following is a common example of what I read about B-theory...

"The B-theory or ‘tenseless’ theory says the opposite - that tenses have no mind-independent reality (though they might involve relations between times and, for instance, utterances) and that the apparent flow of time is merely psychological. Debates between A- and B-theorists have continued with increasing intensity in recent years."

From a paper, A New Problem for the A Theory of Time, Philosophical Quarterly (50) 2000.

This description of B theory already admits the problem, namely that minds or conscious entities do experience the flow of time, change, etc.

In which case they need to account for this self-admitted exception. It's a slight of hand to hand wave away the experience of the passage of time as merely an illusion, but to offer no account of how that illusion comes to be.

In other words, except for our consistent individual experience of change, nothing really changes, and we cannot account for this change, but we argue change is merely an illusion.

The illusion of change requires change or motion! Or so it seems to a simpleton like myself.

Anonymous said...

@TheOFloinn: "The block universe thus presupposes the existence of God. Nyuk, nyuk."

No, it doesn't, other than in circular argument land. (As I'm sure you know) Suppose God can 'see' colours. Does that mean the existence of colours presupposes the existence of God? No.

Kyle said...

@Anonymous said: "No it doesn't."

Does too!

Anonymous said...

@Kyle: "Does too!"

I have asperger's and express myself literally. If you think that's funny, good luck to you.

Anonymous said...

@Anonymous "It would appear that reality is mathematical in nature..."

@laubadetriste: "I know you haven't even got an argument for that claim. Nice try, though. :)"

My evidence is that all fundamental physical theories are expressed in the language of mathematics.

Anonymous said...

The way I read this post, Ed Feser's argument seems to be that because atheists only attack 'straw man' positions of weak arguments in favour of God, that somehow means they can't attack strong arguments. This is false:

1. 'Weak', 'straw man' arguments in favour of God are the ones actually held by the vast majority of religious believers. Example: it says so in the Bible/Koran. Notice that the 'weak' arguments here would be considered the strongest arguments in any other area as they refer to actual evidence. That they are considered weak here is very revealing.

2. 'Strong' arguments in favour of God are nothing of the sort. Example: 'cosmological' argument. This is not a strong argument as it is circular, is constructed from a series of steps which are all questionable, does not follow on logically and is entirely based on philosophical wordplay.

laubadetriste said...

@Anonymous April 28, 2016 at 6:25 AM: "@Anonymous "It would appear that reality is mathematical in nature..." / @laubadetriste: "I know you haven't even got an argument for that claim. Nice try, though. :)" / My evidence is that all fundamental physical theories are expressed in the language of mathematics."

I note that that still isn't an argument. I presume therefore that you did not follow up with the book I mentioned in my next sentence after the one you quoted: "(BTW, if you want a place to start on why that's not so, and coming from a secular point of view, *The Analysis of Matter* by Bertrand Russell that I linked too, ↑above, is a good place to start.)" Or the book after that from the same comment... Or the book after the book after that from the same comment...

You know, ↑those books were written by non-theists. You needn't feel threatened in reading them.

And of course now we know also that you didn't follow up by reading any of the blog posts you were pointed to. This would be the part where your ignorance becomes culpable. It's one thing to claim that the cosmological argument is weak, having read little about it; it's quite another thing to do so after people have shown you where to read, and have even deferred to you to the extent of giving you references congenial to your capacity.

But very well. So you claim that "reality is mathematical in nature" *because* "all fundamental physical theories are expressed in the language of mathematics". OK. Let me stipulate for the purpose of your "argument" that all fundamental physical theories are expressed in the language of mathematics, which in fact you have not shown; and further, that you have made a meaningful distinction between "fundamental" physical theories and non-"fundamental" physical theories, which you have not; and further that you you have shown a way in which it could make sense to say that "reality is mathematical in nature"--that way being supported (or not) by "evidence"--which you have not; and further that you have shown that the way in which something is "expressed" is probative of its nature, which you have not. Let me stipulate for the purpose of your "argument" all those and ask:

laubadetriste said...

If "reality is mathematical in nature" *because* "all fundamental physical theories are expressed in the language of mathematics", does that mean that reality is visible in nature because all fundamental physical theories are expressed in language that is visible? Does that mean that reality is symbolic in nature because all fundamental physical theories are expressed in language that is symbolic? (Ooooh, reality symbolic of *what*...? :P) Does that mean that reality is printed in nature because all fundamental physical theories are expressed in language that is printed? Does that mean that reality is (partly) Greek in nature because all fundamental physical theories are expressed in language that is (partly) Greek? Does that mean that the part of reality that is non-mathematical language is mathematical in nature because all fundamental physical theories are expressed in the language of mathematics? (Or does that mean that that non-mathematical language is not real...? :P)

"It is not always realised how exceedingly abstract is the information that theoretical physics has to give. It lays down certain fundamental equations which enable it to deal with the logical structure of events, while leaving it completely unknown what is the intrinsic character of the events that have the structure... All that physics gives us is certain equations giving abstract properties of their changes. But as to what it is that changes, and what it changes from and to--as to this, physics is silent."--Russell, *My Philosophical Development*

If you have trouble getting ahold of *The Analysis of Matter*, part of it is excerpted in chapter 65 of Russell's *Basic Writings* from Routledge Classics. A particularly fine attempt is made in Lovejoy's *Revolt Against Dualism* to apply one "physical theor[y] expressed in the language of mathematics", relativity, to such phenomena as error, hallucination, memory, and dreams. And of course there is the sea of material to be approached via the 84 links in Dr. Feser's Mind-body problem roundup.

Do reply that you don't have time to read all these references you've been given, yet you *do* have the time to comment on them without knowledge.

laubadetriste said...

@Anonymous April 28, 2016 at 7:09 AM: "The way I read this post, Ed Feser's argument seems to be that because atheists only attack 'straw man' positions of weak arguments in favour of God, that somehow means they can't attack strong arguments."

As Dr. Feser said on another post: Why can’t these guys stay on topic? Or read?

He said nothing about atheists generally. He was explicitly discussing the New Atheists, and indeed in this very post distinguished them from (as they have been called) the Old Atheists.

It would be an extraordinary oversight for Dr. Feser to make such a silly accusation against atheists generally, as he was an atheist. And he has repeatedly--almost until he must be blue in the face--gone out of his way to praise the seriousness of non-New Atheists--for example, here and here and here.

"Weak', 'straw man' arguments in favour of God are the ones actually held by the vast majority of religious believers. Example: it says so in the Bible/Koran. Notice that the 'weak' arguments here would be considered the strongest arguments in any other area as they refer to actual evidence. That they are considered weak here is very revealing."

Yes, it is indeed revealing. Not the way you think, of course. But then that you think so is also revealing. I suppose I am going to have to start calling this sort of objection the "Middle School" objection for short--middle school being the last time I remember popularity looming so large in anyone's estimation of truth. There is of course a genuine argument to be made from consensus--but then, that's not what you're talking about.

laubadetriste said...

I note too that you make a passing sneer about "actual evidence", without of course addressing any of the evidence that has been offered to you--such as that there is change.

"'Strong' arguments in favour of God are nothing of the sort. Example: 'cosmological' argument. This is not a strong argument as it is circular, is constructed from a series of steps which are all questionable, does not follow on logically and is entirely based on philosophical wordplay."

Ah. :) So you have decided again to repeat yourself. Very well. Let me repeat Brandon's argument:

"(1) Either the moving of what is moved would be an infinite regress of movers or it would have an unmoved first mover. / (2) An infinite regress of movers implies that there is something that is both moved and unmoved in the same respect, which is a contradiction. / (3) Some things are moved. / (4) What is moved is moved by another. / ---- Therefore there is an unmoved first mover."

This argument is demonstrably not circular. (Go on. Do show us how that first disjunction contains nothing but the conclusion of the argument.) That the steps in it are all questionable is mere assertion. And up-post a number of folks addressed the "questions" you actually had. (I presume you're the same Anonymous--here we go again with the anonymi...) And of course you haven't bothered to reply to previous criticism of your prattle about "wordplay". So:

"Nobody's obligated to do all the work for you; come back when you actually have some specific puzzle or problem that people might benefit from."

Kyle said...

@Anonymous: "I have asperger's and express myself literally. If you think that's funny, good luck to you."

Sorry, I must have missed the big flashing "WARNING: I HAVE ASPERGER'S!!!!" sign, you attached to your comment. Silly me.

And is it possible that for your part, you missed that my "Does too!" was a link to a YouTube video? Here it is again, this time all written out in full an' everyfink: https://www.youtube.com/embed/UA6VGT8Xe8M?start=30&end=39&autoplay=1. And even if I do say so myself, *not* having posted that, given its Olympic grade aproposity (what? it's a word; or should be!), would have been a crime against comedy.

Anonymous said...

@ Kyle:

"Sorry, I must have missed the big flashing "WARNING: I HAVE ASPERGER'S!!!!" sign, you attached to your comment. Silly me."

I accept your apology.

Anonymous said...

@ laubadetriste:

I make three short comments, you reply with four extremely long comments. I'm sure there's a name for that debating tactic and if not, there should be.

Incidentally, I didn't address your previous comments as I didn't notice them (I know!) but thank you for pointing them out to me now. Having quickly skimmed them, I have to wonder if you seriously expect me to plough through multiple lengthy comments filled with patronizing, self-satisfied nonsense? Some of us have work to do.

In conclusion, you clearly find the cosmological argument convincing. In my view, that means that:

1. You're very easily convinced indeed.

2. You've read too much theology. (In which 'too much' means 'any')

Or both.

laubadetriste said...

@Anonymous May 5, 2016 at 2:02 PM: "I make three short comments, you reply with four extremely long comments. I'm sure there's a name for that debating tactic and if not, there should be."

Name it as you please. It is easier for you to name it than to reply to it, and I would not want to tax you so far as to have you respond to the truth of something rather than the length of it. I suggest you use a name alluding to the history of writers having thoughts occasioned by fruit, dainties, and household objects--like Augustine with pears, Newton with the apple (apocryphal, I know), Faraday with the candle, Proust with the Madeleine, and Chesterton and Huxley with chalk.

While you're at it, you could read Huxley the agnostic on Berkeley and Hume--no, sorry, that would be longer than "three short comments"...

"Having quickly skimmed them, I have to wonder if you seriously expect me to plough through multiple lengthy comments filled with patronizing, self-satisfied nonsense? Some of us have work to do."

Why yes, I *do* expect you to read what you claim to understand well enough to comment on.

(Note to self: with this Anonymous, avoid references to anything *longer* than "three short comments"--that is, logic, mathematics, computer science, chemistry, crystallography, mechanics, relativity, thermodynamics, climatology, ecology, geodesy, geography, hydrology, meteorology, oceanography, volcanology, astronomy, cosmology, geology, anatomy, anthropology, neuroscience, botany, ecology, ethology, genetics, immunology, paleontology, parasitology, physiology, sociobiology, toxicology, zoology, archaeology, criminology, demography, economics, history, law, linguistics, political science, psychology, sociology, engineering, agriculture, engineering, epidemiology, pharmacy, nursing, bioethics, cybernetics, forestry, statistics, philosophy, history--

--I note with amusement that the list of things longer than you are willing to read before commenting on is itself longer than you are willing to read before commenting on--

--and make sure too that this Anonymous doesn't also need his food cut into little pieces for him, with someone to tell him that broccoli is little trees and that the other vegetables are planes coming in to land...)

"In conclusion, you clearly find the cosmological argument convincing. In my view, that means that: / 1. You're very easily convinced indeed. / 2. You've read too much theology. (In which 'too much' means 'any') / Or both."

Duly noted: according to this Anonymous, reading *any* of a subject is too much, before pretending to have understood it enough to comment. I must say, I am half surprised that you admit to having read so little as we thought you had. Usually the ignorant engage also in greater hypocrisy.

Taylor Weaver said...

I've been waiting with bated breathe to see what this most recent Anonymous would respond with, and I was unpleasantly surprised to see that, as with all the other dinguses, he merely deflects. Because, of course, *some* of us have work to do!

Poor baby!

Unfortunately, it seems that understanding what his interlocutor is saying isn't the type of work he is willing to do. It is much easier to block up comboxes with self-satisfying shite.

What a sad attempt. Though, it does provide a bit of fun to see laubadetriste, as usual, write something entertaining and lucid.

Mr. Green said...

Laubadetriste: (Note to self: with this Anonymous, avoid references to anything *longer* than "three short comments"--that is

...a song by Lehrer & Sullivan, isn't it?


There’s… mathematics, logic, and computer science, chemistry;
There’s agriculture, bioethics, geodesy, forestry;
   Philosophy, psychology, and nursing and demography,
   Hydrology, and botany, mechanics, crystallography;
     Then history, cosmology, and epidemiology —
     Geology, astronomy, and sociobiology!
       Ecology and engineering, pharmacy, geography,
       Anatomy, zoology, and law and oceanography!

       Chorus: These are some fields about which our chutzpahtic friend Anonymous
       Will cluelessly write comments that entitle to pounce on him us…
       He'd fit right into one of those eschatic paintings by Hieronymous!


Genetics, cybernetics, anthropology, ethology;
Statistics and linguistics, neuroscience, archaeology —
   In short, in matters that demand a shred of curiosity,
   He is the very model of New Atheist pomposity!

   Chorus: For posting with a bankruptcy epistemologetical,
   He really ought to be a fair bit more apologetical!

laubadetriste said...

@Mr. Green: "...a song by Lehrer & Sullivan, isn't it?"

Heh. :)

Half a page, half a page,
Half a page onward,
All in the valley of Meh
Rode the six hundred [word limit].
“Forward, Brigade 'gainst Light!
Baseless charges!” he said:
Into the valley of Meh
Rode the six hundred [word limit].

“Forward, Brigade 'gainst Light!”
Was there a man gainsayed?
Not tho’ the writer knew
Some one had blunder’d:
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to scrawl, then fly:
Into the valley of Meh
Rode the six hundred [word limit].

Canons to right of them,
Canons to left of them,
Canons in front of them
Arguments numbered;
Heedless of TAB and DEL,
Boldly they rode and fell,
Into the jaws of Meh,
Into the mouth of "Well..."
Rode the six hundred [word limit].

Flash’d all their cupboards bare,
Flash’d heads full just of air
Doing seppuku there,
Disclaiming reading, while
All the world wonder’d:
Plunged in confusion, smoke,
Right thro’ good sense they broke;
Footnote, citation
Reel’d from the sudden stroke
Abused and plundered.
Then they rode back, but not
Not the six hundred [word limit].

Canons to right of them,
Canons to left of them,
Canons behind them
Arguments numbered;
Heedless of TAB and DEL,
While horsesense also fell,
They that fought hard to spell
Came thro’ the jaws of Meh,
Back from the mouth of "Well...",
All that was left of them,
Left of six hundred [word limit].

When can their worry fade?
O what great fools they made!
All the world wonder’d.
Honor what makes them fade!
Honor Light, not Brigade,
Not the six hundred [word limit]!

laubadetriste said...

(...the Charges of the Bright Brigade...)

Anonymous said...

@ Taylor Weaver:

"It is much easier to block up comboxes with self-satisfying shite."

I agree, but you're being too rude to Mr./Mrs. laubadetriste now - even *I* didn't describe his/her stuff as "self-satisfying shite" (although it is, of course!)

@ laubadetriste:

(1) [...] it would have an unmoved first mover.
[...]
(5) Therefore there is an unmoved first mover.

Circular!

laubadetriste said...

@Anonymous May 16, 2016 at 7:21 AM: "I agree, but you're being too rude to Mr./Mrs. laubadetriste now - even *I* didn't describe his/her stuff as "self-satisfying shite" (although it is, of course!)"

I presume that since you resort to "I know you are, but what am I?", therefore you have abandoned or conceded all your claims so far, save that Brandon's argument is circular. Speaking of which...

"(1) [...] it would have an unmoved first mover.
[...]
(5) Therefore there is an unmoved first mover.

Circular!"

I did say, "This argument is demonstrably not circular. (Go on. Do show us how that first disjunction contains nothing but the conclusion of the argument.)" You have misread the phrase "contains nothing but" as what would be the word "includes". Now admittedly, the phrase "nothing but" can be tricky; but I assure you that it does in fact alter the word "contains", such that the phrase "contains nothing but" means having several words in common between the conclusion and the first premise does not make an argument circular.

(And how do we know that you think having several words in common between the first premise and the conclusion makes the argument circular? Well, it's not the disjunction, because you removed that... and it's not the logical form, because you removed that... and it's not any of the premises, because you removed those...)

(If you think having some words in common is a problem, you should try having no words in common!)

(I suppose I should cut you some slack. You did identify those words. And identifying words is an important step towards using them correctly!)

So let me illustrate your error with a parallel. Take the famous argument:

laubadetriste said...

1) All men are mortal.
2) Socrates is a man.
3) Therefore, Socrates is mortal.

The equivalent to what you then said would be:

"1) ...are mortal.
[...]
3) Therefore, Socrates is mortal.

Circular!"

(Very like a Trump tweet, that, BTW. Sad!)

Now, you might have argued, say, along Mill's lines that the syllogism is a petitio principii because "We cannot be sure about the mortality of all men unless we are already sure of the mortality of every individual man." But that's not what you did. No, not you.

Here's what you should do with your logical discovery:

1. Go tell the makers of textbooks like this one and this one and this one and this one and this one and this one and this one. They've got to know!
2. Invent a time machine.
3. Go back in time to tell Jevons and Whately and Nicole and Arnauld. Stop the madness before it happens!
4. Go play hopscotch in an asparagus patch.