Sunday, July 24, 2016

The Last Superstition in Brazil


My book The Last Superstition, having appeared a few years back in a German translation, will soon be available in Brazilian Portuguese.  The publisher is Edições Cristo Rei, and the book is being kicked off by way of a crowdfunding campaign.  The book cover can be seen above.  (Yes, that’s me they’ve drawn in front of the blackboard.  You can guess who the other guys are.)

105 comments:

Eduardo said...

Ahhahhah I love the cover. I love Dawkins skeptical look... And Sam Harris blank stare.

Did you had an input in this, or was it made by a fan?

Johnny Caustic said...

Love it. Now I'm very sad that drawing doesn't adorn the cover of my English-language copy.

Gerard O'Neill said...

Feser has an epic case of Dunning-Kruger.

John Quin said...

yawn

Kiel said...

Can't say I see much of a resemblance, Ed. Oh, and the other guys need to have their fingers in their ears.

Anon2 said...

https://translate.google.com/translate?hl=en&sl=pt&tl=en&u=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.kickante.com.br%2Fcampanhas%2Fultima-supersticao

Daniel Joachim said...

I hate to say it, but this cover far beats your own. That previous yellow cover nearly scared me out of reading it several years ago, as a Norwegian largely unfamiliar with both Thomism and this Catholic Feser guy. I'm glad I refrained from that temptation, and kept on going.

I hope to see this cover on a 2nd edition in English as well. I've borrowed out my own two copies so many times that I've lost track of them, and need to purchase a third one. :)

Crude said...

Cute, but Hitchens should be a zombie by now.

Glad to see the book spreading!

Anon2 said...

Dunning-Kruger, really? Said the person who suggested it to be a good idea nuking everyone so as to end world suffering. I take for granted you are trolling. If not I am genuinely concerned about you.

I think it is fair to say that term applies more to Richard Dawkins. Richard isn't even a lay man when it comes to philosophy. On the other hand, good philosophers take time to study the natural sciences. Also I take it for granted Edward didn't draw the picture. Besides the picture indicates that Edward is teaching Thomistic philosophy, of which discipline he is actually a qualified expert in that area.

Anon2 said...

So when are the Chinese, Japanese, Icelandic and French additions be coming out? :D

Conor said...

To be honest, is anyone even going to KNOW who the other guys are any more?

Anon2 said...

@Crude
I am not sure how that might work out on the cover?
http://i0.kym-cdn.com/photos/images/original/000/968/156/9d6.jpg

Gerard O'Neill said...

Anon2

'Nuclear Nirvana' is derived from an article that John Dolan wrote for The eXile years ago. It had a big impact on me, as did Schopenhauer.

On Dawkins, he is what he is: a reliable advocate for science and secular principles, an excellent fundraiser, a competent but not world-class biologist.
Dawkins is not a polymath, or a deep philosophical thinker. He's not the Atheist Pope either.

Anon2 said...

One issue with Dawkins views on 'science' is that it has become too much about ideology and not the application of the method. Much of his views on evolution seem to have been superseded (i.e. that evolution is founded on random mutations and selection alone). He certainly is an advocate for secular principles like hubris.

I don't think the accusation of Schopenhauer's personal insincerity should be overlooked, for the same reason's Karl Marx's real-world indifference to works was a falsification of his 'prophecy'.

Anon2 said...

Sooo many typos in that last comment.

Fred said...

Mr Pot, meet Mr Kettle.

Crude said...

On Dawkins, he is what he is: a reliable advocate for science and secular principles,

He gave up on the former a while ago. The latter? He gets attacked and protested now - at secular events. Since they find his principles, and behavior, abhorrent. (Funny, just as he rarely says things that make sense!)

an excellent fundraiser, a competent but not world-class biologist.

He gave up biology a long time ago, and he was never known for his work there. He was known for his pop-sci writing.

And fundraiser? How'd Reason Rally 2016 do on fundraising? Keep in mind I know the answer to that question.

The New Atheists have fallen, gent.

Anon2,

Ha! Not bad.

The original Mr. X said...

I hate to say it, but this cover far beats your own. That previous yellow cover nearly scared me out of reading it several years ago, as a Norwegian largely unfamiliar with both Thomism and this Catholic Feser guy. I'm glad I refrained from that temptation, and kept on going.

Seconded. The cover for the English version is just awful.

Crude said...

I was about to say that I liked the cover, but then I realized I took that thing off a while ago and I was about to sing the praises of a standard blank book.

Then I googled because 'Wait, how did that look?' and holy crap, that ain't easy on the eyes.

I am forced to agree with the others. Still needs a zombie.

FM said...

@ Gerard O'neill

"Feser has an epic case of Dunning-Kruger."

You are just a troll, so perhpas answering you is a bad idea, but is anyone has "Dunning-Kruger" is the new-atheists, since they are (barely) competent in their fields but presuppose to know about philosophy or theology and anything else without doing their homework.

One for example would say that Dawkins treatment of Aquinas is sophomoric, only for the fact that sophomores would not write something that dimwitted (if they want to pass a class that is) an SADLY enough Dawkins was the best attempt among the so-called 4 horsemen.

---

"Dawkins is not a polymath, or a deep philosophical thinker. He's not the Atheist Pope either."

Yes at least you recognize that. Yet Dawkins seems to disagree with you, since he and his cronies appear to comment outside the area of their expertise more than a kid on caffeine draws outside the lines

---

"Thanks for the insight, fucktard."

I think this says a lot about your general level or culture, intellect and mannerism.

Thank you for the splendid (albeit redundant) clarification.


FM said...

@Daniel Joachim

"at previous yellow cover nearly scared me out of reading it several years ago"

Going on on a tangent: ironically yellow is the color of fear, traditionally. Cowards are called yellow bellies and "Giallo" (Yellow in Italian) movies were slasher horror-thrillers, hence also associated with fear.

ALthough in Italy Yellow is also associate with mistery detective novels, since Agatha Christie (and similar Authors) were printed on paperbacks with yellow spines.

No this has nothing to do with anything... just a fun (I hope) fact. :D

grodrigues said...

@Anon2:

"Said the person who suggested it to be a good idea nuking everyone so as to end world suffering. I take for granted you are trolling."

I would just wish these trolls, that belong in a cage in a Zoo not in civilized society, would be consistent and start the nuking program with themselves. Instead we have to suffer a eunuch telling us, as if anyone cared, what use he is going to put his right hand to.

Anonymous said...

Gerry go to your room right this instant and no supper...step away from the banana.

Crude said...


Gerry's throwing fits already? Man, the Cultists of Gnu are a lot more fragile nowadays. I guess that's what happens when your movement swirls down the toilet of schisms, infighting and feminism.

But look on the bright side - at least they have shining stars to replace Hitchens. Like Richard Carrier!

Bwahahaha.

DNW said...

Eduardo,

I cannot say that I would recommend the book. It's a real ego bruiser.

Just when you think that you have figured most of this "negative implications of abandoning realism" stuff out all on your own - except for a few areas here or there which you have not had time to consider, or a few areas wherein your thoughts remain somewhat inchoate - along comes this Feser fellow and lays it all out systematically, rigorously, comprehensively, thoroughly, and in language of unusual expressive clarity. The pugnacity and the ruthless dismantling of the A+ cult of self-regard's "arguments", is just a fringe benefit thrown in, you might say.

Left me depressed for a week. Felt as though I had showed up at the race track with a go-cart the day after the stock cars had been and left.

Professional thinkers ... Bah!

DNW said...

Crude said...


Gerry's throwing fits already? Man, the Cultists of Gnu are a lot more fragile nowadays. I guess that's what happens when your movement swirls down the toilet of schisms, infighting and feminism.

But look on the bright side - at least they have shining stars to replace Hitchens. Like Richard Carrier!

Bwahahaha.

July 25, 2016 at 9:13 AM"



Is he still doing - whatever it is that he was supposedly doing? I thought that I read he had launched off into a new career as a polyamorous receptacle ... or something.

DNW said...

grodrigues said...

@Anon2:

"Said the person who suggested it to be a good idea nuking everyone so as to end world suffering. I take for granted you are trolling."

I would just wish these trolls, that belong in a cage in a Zoo not in civilized society, would be consistent and start the nuking program with themselves. Instead we have to suffer a eunuch telling us, as if anyone cared, what use he is going to put his right hand to.
July 25, 2016 at 8:52 AM




He seems to have gotten worse since I suggested he get out of doors and try some physical exercise, rather than wishing death on all humanity, just because he feels shitty. Looks like it didn't help.

There was another thing I might have cynically suggested he try, but I forbore, since most here are Christians and would be aghast if I recommended he do something that might land him in even bigger trouble - eternally. It didn't seem the right thing to do.

Crude said...

Is he still doing - whatever it is that he was supposedly doing? I thought that I read he had launched off into a new career as a polyamorous receptacle ... or something.

Carrier's polyamory has been on the rocks, what with it requiring multiple people wanting to have sex with Richard Carrier.

DNW said...

Anonymous Crude said...

Is he still doing - whatever it is that he was supposedly doing? I thought that I read he had launched off into a new career as a polyamorous receptacle ... or something.

Carrier's polyamory has been on the rocks, what with it requiring multiple people wanting to have sex with Richard Carrier.

July 25, 2016 at 9:56 AM"



What! Are there no restrooms left in Central Park? Has he been banned from all bus and train station facilities?

DNW said...



Back on Topic. We recently learned that the works of Aristotle had, at last report, not (unbelievably I would think) been translated into Portuguese.

In the meantime at least, the Brazilians will be treated to the modern work of a moderate realist in the Aristotelian tradition, as he applies his critical scalpel and reductive acids to the drintling of the priests of the A+ cult.

Anonymous said...

They should publish Feser's dismantling of Rosenberg, Coyne, and Krauss (on this blog) in a book. Would make a great follow-up to TLS.

Anon2 said...

@FM

"SADLY enough Dawkins was the best attempt among the so-called 4 horsemen"
He isn't. If anything he is among the worst. Although Lawrence Krauss is just as bad, if not worse at times (not one of the so called four).
Also to be charitable I do not think any of them are a lost cause. I also think we sometimes need to step back from being "keyboard warriors" and remember that people are at different stages in their lives, have had different experiences and have different temperaments. Nobody deserves what Christians would call grace. We need to love and listen to those we disagree with at times; both intellectually and morally.

Anonymous said...

Amen to that...would it were possible, or likely.

Geremia said...

Awesome. I've been impressed by the academic freedom and intellectual openness of Brazilian academia, so I'm sure your book will find a good audience there.

laubadetriste said...

@Crude: "Then I googled because 'Wait, how did that look?' and holy crap, that ain't easy on the eyes."

Some here denigrate the cover, without having used it aright. So it is incumbent upon me to mention that a matador friend in Seville swears by it, and insists it has saved his life several times; and that a fisherman friend once signaled a passing ship with it, having run out of flares clinging to the flotsam of a wreck in the Java Sea.

"Carrier's polyamory has been on the rocks, what with it requiring multiple people wanting to have sex with Richard Carrier."

Heh. :)

Gerard O'Neill said...

On Richard Carrier, I don't think much would be lost to secular advocacy if he were to be excluded. He promotes a fringe theory without much intellectual rigor, and seems to have an exaggerated sense of his own abilities. His blog didn't generate a lot of traffic at FtB either.

Anonymous said...

Hahaha, I love that cover. The German cover by editiones scholasticae is beautiful as well, but it's a little boring in contrast...

Untenured said...

I know you probably have zero control over the graphic design of the cover, but just a few light hearted remarks:

-It's clear who all four are supposed to be, but the drawings of Dawkins and the late Hitch bring more immediately to mind Richard Rorty and Oscar Wilde.

-The uncomfortable and slightly clueless "scolded child" expression on Stiller's face is apt in so many ways.

-The image of Dennett isn't smug enough. He needs to be wearing a barely repressed smirk of self-assured moral and intellectual superiority.

At any rate, glad to see the book making the rounds outside the U.S.

Anon2 said...

@Edward Feser
In all seriousness, I would love to see more of the great work by English Thomists finding there way to places like China. Believe it or not there is a growing interest in St. Thomas's ethical theory in various Chinese universities.

Home

Gene Callahan said...

"Feser has an epic case of Dunning-Kruger."

I think what Gerard means is this:

"highly skilled individuals may underestimate their relative competence and may erroneously assume that tasks which are easy for them are also easy for others." (Wikipedia)

None of the other people on the cover are remotely competent to tackle these issues, so I think this quote applies.

Craig Payne said...

Dear Anon2: You need to find the work of William Carroll of Oxford. He has been organizing Thomistic seminars in Chinese universities for a while now; for example, I believe he took or is taking Fr. Thomas Joseph White there. He has also brought Chinese students here to the U.S., to the Aquinas conferences at Mt. St. Mary College in Newburgh, New York.

DNW said...

Gene Callahan said...

"Feser has an epic case of Dunning-Kruger."

I think what Gerard means is this:

"highly skilled individuals may underestimate their relative competence and may erroneously assume that tasks which are easy for them are also easy for others." (Wikipedia)

None of the other people on the cover are remotely competent to tackle these issues, so I think this quote applies.

July 26, 2016 at 7:12 AM"



What Gerard, who is typical of his kind, means, is this:

"I woke up with a headache this morning and feel enervated. Humanity should die"

"Today I feel somewhat better. I think I'll go and piss on Feser's front porch. That will prove I exist and still count for something."


The relevance to the death penalty argument is this: If you think that Gerard's attention seeking and ultimate fate should concern you for some reason or another, you will probably be against the death penalty.

This is not to imply that a nihilist might not also be opposed to the death penalty as well, since his feelings of glee in de-structing all positive seeming achievements and relationships, depend on his continued ability to annoy. Obviously, death would put an end to the one thing the Nihilist does in fact value.

Hell, is full of the type, so Christian doctrine tells us.

Eduardo said...

DNW

Hey don't feel bad about it... Feser cheats by studying under people who had 2500 years of a head start.

Phaser is a cheater heheheh

Mannn if only I wasn't drier than the Sahara on money!!! The possibilities!!!!

DNW said...



Apologies to Crude.

I should have clicked the bloody link. If I had, I would have discovered that you had covered the very issue I imagined I was introducing.

It's like reading one of Feser's books; and belatedly finding that he has already systematically published on everything "I brilliantly thought of".

Gerard O'Neill said...

Nuclear Nirvana is not some temper tantrum, but a moral doctrine of the highest order. I'm wasting my time debating it here it seems.

grodrigues said...

@Gerard O'Neill

"Nuclear Nirvana is not some temper tantrum, but a moral doctrine of the highest order. I'm wasting my time debating it here it seems."

You have not debated anything whatsoever -- but maybe you do not know what the word means.

And this is not the first time you have affirmed, with all the self-importance of a pompous buffoon, that you are "wasting your time here". Let me tell you, indeed you are. The truth is that I suspect that no one here is quite ready, or interested, in having a eunuch monkey advertising the activities of his right hand. We indeed do not deserve you; go back to whatever cage you inhabit. And fully live that "moral doctrine of the highest order".

Anon2 said...

The fact you keep repeating the "Nuclear Nirvana" thing makes me think you are just trolling. Poe's Law has been mentioned here before I am sure?

Why are you here Gerard O'Neill if not to troll? You attack and assert, however you do not offer a polite or rational discourse. You have watched too many Bond movies and thought the villains were on to something magical *enter LSD induced trance*, or you have ingested poisonous abstract ideas (likely made of pasta) with no real relation to reality *Aristotle now frowning with great ferocity on the contrived conjecture* that make mass murder of all humanity an "ethical" decision! Hold on is that not an oxymoron to begin with? Ethical-Murder (c)

Anon2 said...

Our Gerard O'Neill?

https://shadowtolight.wordpress.com/2014/12/08/oops-when-the-hate-mail-doesnt-match-the-narrative/

Anonymous said...

Now look here Gerry old nick it's just not on all this nuclear whatsit I suggest you pop round to the Star and Garter and sink all this nihilistic tosh inside a few pints of the....man it's true Wodehouse looks easy but it isn't.

Marc McKenzie said...

Speaking as an illustrator, I have to say that I really like this cover--it is definitely eye-catching.

@Gerard O'Neill: "Nuclear Nirvana is not some temper tantrum, but a moral doctrine of the highest order. I'm wasting my time debating it here it seems."

Of course you're wasting your time debating it here--because this "doctrine" is pure madness. But I suppose that in the minds of madmen, genocide is A-Ok.

Anon2 said...

I direct you to my link above. It is an article about our Gerard O'Neill. I think he is a troubled youth just venting his frustrations on the internet.

Anonymous said...

Don't you guys enjoy his posts? They are super funny, you'll read that kind of stuff on 4chan boards for philosophy and literarure and the fun comes from being unsure if he is genuine or roleplaying.
It's like reading Žižek or watching his videos on ideology of poop.

Gerard O'Neill said...

It's like reading Žižek... -- now there's a low blow

On the Jerry Coyne thing, I will note that pudding-basin dude has denied involvement:
https://thenodster.wordpress.com/2015/02/07/dear-jerry-coyne/

Anon2 said...

Why the profile image change from this https://www.tineye.com/search/0a9334311406f48b648269f8d2b567350b7ac2f8/?pluginver= ?

Anon2 said...

I might add that your last profile picture is very similar to pictures on questionable websites.

DNW said...

Anon2 said...

I direct you to my link above. It is an article about our Gerard O'Neill. I think he is a troubled youth just venting his frustrations on the internet.

July 27, 2016 at 3:15 AM



Sometimes, despite themselves, trolls do inadvertently provide fodder for the topic at hand, if only in a general way. This thread is on getting The Last Superstition" published in Brazil. The Last Superstition is a review [in measure] of the hollow pretensions of the A+ crowd; their superficiality, their philosophical vacuity and uh ... trying to avoid a vulgar trope here ... their self-congratulatory and self-gratifying communal exercises.

Whether or not the troll here is the crapulous youth in the linked materials, and whether or not the youth in the linked materials is the same person who e-mailed Coyne contemptuous comments regarding his nose, the remarks themselves beg to be looked at in light of the atheist movement's own set of assumptions regarding the ontological status of moral propositions.

I have no idea even now if Coyne is "Jewish" in any appreciable sense of the term or not. But while Coyne may easily dismiss a matter which he seems to have himself thought worthy of public comment, as a mere matter of trollish anti-Semitism, an interesting question remains after Coyne has so disposed of the issue.

In what sense, in Jerry Coyne's moral universe, is anti-Semitism, "wrong"? Is it awkwardness? The mere gaucherie of a callow youth eager to offend and using any means he can come up with? Is it an technical offense, like coloring outside the lines; as we try to create the world we want to create: a project which is itself justified only because it just happens we have been historically conditioned to want to do so?

Many atheists have been observed, from the comfort of their academic chairs, noting that atheism does not technically entail left-wing, or collectivist, or humanist politics or preferences, but that "it just seems to work out that way". Yeah, so saith an atheist with a sinecure.

And then a youthful atheist troll tosses a bomb at their feet.

How they dealt with it on a substantive level, if they do at all, is what promises insight.

Collectively tittering your disapproval "How vulgar! How not our values! How outre!" suffices as a response only so long as the would-be evaluator never has any real prospect of putting his contemptuous judgment into political action.

But as Rorty has famously, or infamously said, and as Feser has quoted him as saying:

" I do not claim to make the distinction between education and conversation on the basis of anything except my loyalty to a particular community, a community whose interests required re-educating the Hitler Youth in 1945 and required re-educating the bigoted students of Virginia in 1993. I don’t see anything herrschaftsfrei [free from moral authoritarianism] about my handling of my fundamentalist students. Rather, I think those students are lucky to find themselves under the benevolent Herrschaft of people like me, and to have escaped the grip of their frightening, vicious, dangerous parents .... It seems to me that I am just as provincial and contextualist as the Nazi teachers who made their students read Der Stürmer; the only difference is that I serve a better cause. ..."

Perhaps Coyne can do better, and has ... somewhere.

Gerard O'Neill said...

"the ontological status of moral propositions"

Comrade, please. Someone sent an old weirdo a nasty email. You're over-analyzing things.

The Anti-Monitor said...

So against my better judgement I went to

http://exiledonline.com/feature-story-the-case-for-nuclear-winter

to see what all the fuss is about. It confirms what my brother has often told me, which is that many, perhaps most, artists are stupid beyond belief, even if what they produce may occasionally contain traces of merit or value of some sort.

The only thing worthy of note about blokes like O'Neill is that there is still something at the core of his being that takes itself seriously, no matter how much he tries to convince himself and the rest of the world of the contrary. Another 19-forever cosmic joker with rusty bells in his duncecap.

Crude said...

The only thing worthy of note about blokes like O'Neill is that there is still something at the core of his being that takes itself seriously,

But it's a moral doctrine of the highest order you guys!!! Most assuredly NOT mental masturbation for failed poets.

More seriously, I object to the idea that there's something worthy of note about these blokes.

Agnostic Would Like to Get Thomas said...

Talking about TLS' content... How sound do you think the First Way is ? - just curious. I don't get any of the QV, personally.
Could you recommend to me any good, clear, online articles on the First Way ? I know Dr. Feser is recognized as an authority when it comes to Thomism. I know most of you guys surely got to understand the Quinquae Viae through his works. I'm not questioning his writing skills. I just *personally* don't get the Quinquae Viae, and after months of thinking, this is getting quite frustrating. I want to know whether there really is something to God after all (or not at all), and therefore whether I have to consider believing in him or stick to a perfect agnosticism.

Agnostic Would Like to Get Thomas said...

If I had to sum up what I don't get, it'd probably be : 1) I don't get why an infinite regress is impossible, 2) Why go from Unmoved Mover to Unmovable Mover ? And everything we've ever observed until now is changeable, thus, the idea of something absolutely unchangeable is therefore completely extraterrestrial to me... What do you think ?

Timocrates said...

@ Agnostic,

Infinite regresses are impossible because they lack the necessary preconditions for their being.

An actual change, for example, necessarily presupposes the existence of something that can change or be changed. If we render that lacking or impossible, then no change can occur. But because we understand and know things to be really the case or possible, we sometimes are tempted to just ignore any problems with their being even if we are ultimately - by logical assumption or consequence - contradicting its reality or possibility.

Granting that X is, then it is impossible that it be impossible that X (actually) is. Sometimes we can confuse this sort of necessity with absolute necessity; hence we can imbibe a materialism that takes material existence totally for granted: after all, it can't be impossible that material things be because they manifestly are; hence, some might conclude that material existence is a per se kind of necessity rather than a conditional kind of necessity.

laubadetriste said...

@Agnostic Would Like to Get Thomas: "If I had to sum up what I don't get, it'd probably be : 1) I don't get why an infinite regress is impossible, 2) Why go from Unmoved Mover to Unmovable Mover ?"

1) I won't add to Timocrates's comment except to say that it would be helpful if you were more specific: What *about* the impossibility of an infinite regress don't you get?

For that is after all a big topic, and there's little sense checking into Hilbert's Hotel if we needn't. :)

2) The answer to this question would seem to depend on either an answer to question #1, or else a clarification of it.

"And everything we've ever observed until now is changeable, thus, the idea of something absolutely unchangeable is therefore completely extraterrestrial to me... What do you think ?"

I think that your choice of adjective is significant and revealing, for of course we have long observed many literally extraterrestrial things (the Moon, etc.), and remaining Earth-bound has been an imposition man has been free of, even before the invention of the means *bodily* to transport us. So you are like a man who rejects stars because he hasn't got a rocket. And your confusion over what has been observed is like that between someone who wonders why people think there are stars, who have never traveled to them, and others who wonder why people doubt there are stars, who can perfectly well look up.

"Show me a man with both feet on the ground, and I'll show you a man who can't put his pants on."--attributed to Mark Twain

Similarly, we have long had the capacity to discover things that we cannot observe, and so why you should confine yourself to what we've observed I don't know. There are literally countless examples available, from numbers to strings to laws to melodies to purposes, depending upon just how far you take "observed". But I think you know all those, and so I think your confusion there in fact reduces to the thought that an explanation must be a certain limited kind of thing. Which is a very old dispute:

laubadetriste said...

"Some of them drag down everything from heaven and the invisible to earth, actually grasping rocks and trees with their hands; for they lay their hands on all such things and maintain stoutly that that alone exists which can be touched and handled; for they define existence and body, or matter, as identical... Therefore those who contend against them defend themselves very cautiously with weapons derived from the invisible world above, maintaining forcibly that real existence consists of certain ideas which are only conceived by the mind and have no body. But the bodies of their opponents, and that which is called by them truth, they break up into small fragments in their arguments, calling them, not existence, but a kind of generation combined with motion."--the Battle of the Gods and Giants, in Plato's *Sophist* 246

As I recall, I first "got it" when reading about the Second Sailing and Augustine's ascent:

"And thus by degrees I was led upward from bodies to the soul which perceives them by means of the bodily senses, and from there on to the soul’s inward faculty, to which the bodily senses report outward things--and this belongs even to the capacities of the beasts--and thence on up to the reasoning power, to whose judgment is referred the experience received from the bodily sense. And when this power of reason within me also found that it was changeable, it raised itself up to its own intellectual principle, and withdrew its thoughts from experience, abstracting itself from the contradictory throng of fantasms in order to seek for that light in which it was bathed."

But still I needed some marinading in the blog posts around here. Which is all to say that if you're as thick as I am, then "good, clear, online articles" are hardly going to do the trick--although I grant they are helpful.

laubadetriste said...

(sigh) html...

*Sophist* 246

Agnostic Would Like to Get Thomas said...

Okay okay okay, first things first, thanks for all the answers.

What I don't get about the (alleged) impossibility of an infinite regress, is why there would need to be a First Mover (not in a temporal sense but in a hierarchical sense - at least I did understand this). Why would an infinite number of causes acting simultaneously (...) be impossible ?

Then, if it is established that an infinite regress is indeed impossible - and that a First Mover (or Unmoved Mover) therefore exists, how can you go from "the Unmoved Mover has to not be changed by anything *at the moment* it changes all the other (intermediary) movers" to "the Unmoved Mover has to *never* be changed by anything" ?

Furthermore, even if you could convince me that the Unmoved Mover is never changed by anything, why assume it has always existed ? Something can come to exist and *then* have no potential, isn't it ?

Gerard O'Neill said...

There is nothing to suggest that an infinite regress is impossible.

You can make accurate statements about infinities, provided they are bounded, eg:
Euler's e, which is an infinite sum but has a limit 2.71828...
So you can make claims about this infinity that are undoubtedly true, ie: e < 3.

Unbounded infinities are a harder case. In terms of empirical validity, there appears no way to chase them down (in this case I am thinking specifically of the creation of worlds). I think this may be beyond the limits of human comprehension.

Agnostic Would Like to Get Thomas said...

"There's nothing to suggest that an infinite regress is impossible".

So Aquinas is recognized as one of the best philosophers ever to have lived (...) but he says absolutely nothing whatsoever to defend one of his *favorite* argument's *main* premises, upon which it stands or fall.

There HAS to be something to suggest that at least *this* kind of infinite regress is not possible. I'm certainly not ready to believe Aquinas was a village idiot.

grodrigues said...

@Anonymous Agnostic Would Like to Get Thomas:

"Why would an infinite number of causes acting simultaneously (...) be impossible ?"

It is not the infinitude of the causal chain (which is what I take it is what you mean by "infinite regress") that is the gist but its instrumentality. See Edwards on infinite causal series.

"Then, if it is established that an infinite regress is indeed impossible - and that a First Mover (or Unmoved Mover) therefore exists, how can you go from "the Unmoved Mover has to not be changed by anything *at the moment* it changes all the other (intermediary) movers" to "the Unmoved Mover has to *never* be changed by anything" ?"

I am not understanding what you are trying to get at since the insertion of "*at the moment*" is unrelated to everything else, and the distinction of the Unmoved Mover is not that is never "changed by anything", but that He cannot undergo any change at all because He is pure act with no admixture of potency.

Maybe what you want to ask is even if we conclude to a First Mover, why is the First Mover not simply First and unmoved in one respect relevant to the given causal chain rather than "absolutely" unmoved, which boils down to a charge that the argument is missing a step. Am I correct?

"Something can come to exist and *then* have no potential, isn't it ?"

If a something comes into existence, of course it has potentialities. To have come in existence is to be a composite of essence and existence, and therefore to be in potency for substantial change (even if in actuality it does not undergo substantial change).

grodrigues said...

@Gerard O'Neill:

"You can make accurate statements about infinities, provided they are bounded"

There are different sorts of things that get labeled "infinity" and mathematicians prove all sorts of things about them. Boundedness is connected with only a specific and rather narrow set of such phenomena, and even in those cases, it has nothing to do with whether "accurate statements" can be made or not.

The Euler constant is a real number like any other; it is usually defined as the limit of a sequence, but this is not specific to the Euler number (*) since any real number can be given (in an infinite number of ways) as the limit of a sequence. Neither are infinitely great sequences "a harder case" in any relevant sense. They have their uses (e.g. in asymptotic analyses to measure growth rates), with some restrictions they *can* be assigned a limit (e.g. build an appropriate compactification), etc. and etc.

(*) the Euler number is transcendental so defining it via an infinitary process of some sort is a necessity. But the transcendental numbers are the overwhelming majority of real numbers (in more than one sense), so this is nothing specific to the Euler number.

And of course, this is all completely irrelevant to Aquinas' arguments.

"I think this may be beyond the limits of human comprehension."

Your limited mind is not the universal measure of the human mind (thank God for that).

Mr. Green said...

Agnostic: Why would an infinite number of causes acting simultaneously (...) be impossible ?

Note that Aquinas doesn't say that infinities are impossible — it's the infinite regress in this particular case that is the problem. I like the example of a mirror: if you ask where the light came from that this mirror is reflecting a perfectly good and accurate answer may be, "It was reflected off this previous mirror." But then we can ask where that previous mirror got the light from, and the mirror before that, and so on. Mirrors only reflect light, not produce it, so even if there were — somehow — an infinite number of mirrors all lined up to reflect light off each other, the light would still have to be generated by something, or all the mirrors would just be sitting there in the dark. Now having an infinity of mirrors may or may not be a problem in itself (for one thing, even if you could acquire that many mirrors, where would you put them all?) — but the issue we're interested in is not whether it's possible to have an infinity of mirrors, but whether an infinity of mirrors explains where the light came from. And of course it doesn't: for the mirrors to do any reflecting, there must somewhere be a light-source, not merely light-reflectors; what's impossible is explaining the light by an infinite regress. And of course such regressions are just as problematic when it comes to existence.

Agnostic Would Like to Get Thomas said...

grodrigues :

"Maybe what you want to ask is even if we conclude to a First Mover, why is the First Mover not simply First and unmoved in one respect relevant to the given causal chain rather than "absolutely" unmoved, which boils down to a charge that the argument is missing a step. Am I correct?"

Mm. In short, what I mean is : why should the Unmoved Mover *always* be Unmoved ? (Or "at no point be moved", to put it in other terms).

Mr Green :

That's one quite interesting example you've come up with there... I think I see what your point is.

So now I only really have one problem left, which is the step from Unmoved Mover to Unmovable Mover.

I could easily see why an Unmovable Mover / Never-Changing Cause of all changes would HAVE to be God-like.
Something that cannot change nor be changed would have to always exist, and as the Cause would be the Cause
of every instance of change, at the end of the day, the whole thing produces a pretty God-like picture.

But a Unmoved Mover ?

Can't really see in what way God would fit the description (or vice-versa), and I know His attributes.





grodrigues said...

@Anonymous Agnostic Would Like to Get Thomas:

Straight from "Aquinas", Natural Theology chapter, First Way section:

There is still a further question, however. Even if it is granted that the First Way takes us to an unmoved mover, why should we hold (as Aquinas does) that this mover is also unmovable? As Scott MacDonald suggests, it may be that a first mover of the sort whose existence is established by Aquinas’s argument is one that is capable of motion even if, qua first mover, it does not in fact move. In other words, for all Aquinas has shown, a first mover may well have certain potencies which are not in fact being actualized, at least not insofar as it is functioning as the first mover in some series of efficient causes ordered per se. Perhaps its potencies are actualized at some other time, when it is not so functioning; or perhaps they never are. But as long as it has them, it will not be something that can be characterized as “pure act,” and thus, given Aquinas’s own commitments, it will not be identifiable with God. To get to a first mover of pure act, and thus one which is truly unmovable, would require in MacDonald’s view some further argument, in which case the argument from motion could succeed as an argument for God’s existence only by being “parasitic” on such a further argument.

Yet MacDonald is, I think, mistaken. Consider how the series we have been describing would have to continue beyond the point at which we left it, with the hand’s potentiality for motion actualized by the arm, the arm’s potentiality for motion actualized by the flexing of certain muscles, the muscles’ potentiality for flexing actualized by the firing of certain motor neurons, and so on and so forth, all simultaneously. All of this depends in turn on the overall state of the nervous system, which depends on its molecular structure, which depends on the atomic basis of that molecular structure, which depends on electromagnetism, gravitation, the weak and strong forces, and so on and so forth, all simultaneously, all here and now. That the molecules composing the nervous system constitute a nervous system specifically amounts to their having a certain potency which is here and now actualized, that the atoms composing the molecules constitute just those molecules amounts to their having a certain potency which is simultaneously actualized, and so on. To account for the reduction of potency to act in the case of the operations or activities of the hand, the muscles, and so on, we are led ultimately to appeal to the reduction of potency to act vis-à-vis the existence or being of ever deeper and more general features of reality; for “it is evident that anything whatever operates so far as it is a being” (QDA 19). But the only way to stop this regress and arrive at a first member of the series is with something whose very existence, and not merely its operations or activities, need not be actualized by anything else. This would just be something which, since it simply exists without being made to exist by anything, or is actual without being actualized, is pure act, with no admixture of potentiality whatsoever. For suppose it had some potency relevant to its existence (its existence being what is relevant to its status as the end of the regress as we have continued it). Then either some other thing actualizes that potency, in which case we haven’t really stopped the regress after all, contrary to hypothesis; or some already actual part of it actualizes the potency, in which case that already actual part would itself be both pure act and, properly speaking, the true first mover. Now, having no potency to actualize, such a being could not possibly change or move. Thus we have reached a first mover that is not only unmoved, but unmovable.

Agnostic Would Like to Get Thomas said...

grodrigues,

Yeah I've had a copy of Aquinas for quite a long time, now : thanks for quoting this passage, but I've already read it a couple times ^^' ... Guess I'll have to read Aquinas again. Perhaps I don't get Aquinas because my mother tongue isn't english while
my copy's in english ? Idk. Was everything *immediately* crystal-clear to you guys, the first / second times you read your copy of Aquinas or TLS ?

Mr. Green said...

AWLtGT: Was everything *immediately* crystal-clear to you guys, the first / second times you read your copy of Aquinas or TLS ?

Sr. Rodrigues may be an exception, being a genius and all, but it definitely takes multiple readings to fully absorb all these ideas. Remember that not only are you learning something new, and sometimes tricky, but you also have to un-learn all the modern philosophical ideas that you have picked up from the surrounding culture. (It's quite interesting how much Aristotelian or Scholastic thought survives in everyday common-sense, but also surprising how many wrong ideas we have acquired even without realising it.) I wouldn't worry about getting stuck on a particular argument; if you keep reading (Feser's work or anyone else's), and if you try on your own to answer questions the way an Aristotelian might (even when you don't know the official answer), you will gradually get more used to thinking in a traditional way. It can take years and years — I don't say that to be discouraging, but because there are so many interesting things for us to discover... so enjoy the ride!

laubadetriste said...

@AWLtGT: "Was everything *immediately* crystal-clear to you guys, the first / second times you read your copy of Aquinas or TLS ?"

↑What Mr. Green said.

Also, an entrée into such matters is through studying Neoplatonism. (I don't mean that directly it will help you to understand the First Way; I mean that it will help free you from your self-imposed minority, which will bear fruit in later understanding.) As Brandon said once:

"If you just look very briefly and vaguely Neoplatonism, students just think it's weird. But start getting into details, when they start to realize that the weirdness is heavily argued, at great length, by arguments to which they often have no ready answer at all, and things change. I have had -- and I mean this quite literally -- students freak out, try to shout me down, or storm out. Fortunately those are not hugely common, but I have had all of them happen. There's no other topic that more consistently gets students arguing so intensely that it becomes difficult to keep them from all arguing at once. When people say that liberal arts, or philosophy, should challenge students' beliefs, they usually mean religious beliefs. I tell you true, if you really want to challenge the actual beliefs your students have, go over Plotinus's arguments for the One, or Boethius's argument in Book III of the Consolation of Philosophy that all human beings naturally seek the Good, which is God, which the One, and that true happiness consists in being God -- not being godlike, being God -- or even just go into detail into the Divided Line and how Neoplatonists argue for various things that Plato represents by means of it.

And surprising as it might be, I think it's less of a surprise if you think about it: it really is radically different than anything most people are taught, but if you actually get into it, it is very tightly argued. It's alien to almost all the obvious features on which modern man congratulates himself for being reasonable about -- and it attacks these very features as not merely unreasonable but irrational, with arguments that modern people usually have never even thought of, and so have no defenses against. They can wave their empiricism, or whatever, at it, and it will look at them sardonically and proceed to eat their arguments. And why wouldn't it, really? Most of them have been building their philosophical views of the world by patchwork and piecemeal over a couple of decades; it doesn't really matter whether Neoplatonism is true or false, they're not going to have anything that can compete with any of the major examples of a philosophical approach that spanned centuries of intense and systematic philosophical discussion, ate most of its competitors, and spread itself through vast numbers of cultures from Spain to Persia. It's a mighty dragon, Neoplatonism, mighty enough to mock their assumptions as ridiculous. And never having come across the full thing, they don't have many weapons against it. Of course, that's all a melodramatic way of putting it; but really getting into Neoplatonism is generally like taking students through the looking-glass into a world they've never imagined."

laubadetriste said...

@Gerard 'Neill: "There is nothing to suggest that an infinite regress is impossible."

Really? Fancy that. Nothing *even to suggest*?

Note: You did not say, The suggestion that an infinite regress is impossible is wrong because when you think about it like so, you can see that x, y, and z...

*Nothing* to suggest? Those silly millennia of philosophers, getting all worked up literally over nothing! Not even a little something. Not even a something that looked like something else. Not even a something that they misunderstood. No, over *nothing*.

And to think that the drivers-by here wonder why the regulars often don't take their thinky-thoughts seriously.

"You can make accurate statements about infinities, provided they are bounded, eg:
Euler's e, which is an infinite sum but has a limit 2.71828...
So you can make claims about this infinity that are undoubtedly true, ie: e < 3. /
Unbounded infinities are a harder case. In terms of empirical validity, there appears no way to chase them down (in this case I am thinking specifically of the creation of worlds). I think this may be beyond the limits of human comprehension."

It's been said before ad nauseum, but I suppose it bears saying again, that an infinite regress is not identical to an infinity is not identical to a transfinite number is not identical to an infinite series and etc. Of course all these similar-sounding names are in certain senses related, and what we know about one can inform what we know about another. But to claim that an infinite regress is possible *because* we can make true statements about a bounded infinity is as such merely to make a category mistake.

@AWLtGT: "So Aquinas is recognized as one of the best philosophers ever to have lived (...) but he says absolutely nothing whatsoever to defend one of his *favorite* argument's *main* premises, upon which it stands or fall. / There HAS to be something to suggest that at least *this* kind of infinite regress is not possible. I'm certainly not ready to believe Aquinas was a village idiot."

Out of the mouths of babes.

grodrigues said...

@Anonymous Agnostic Would Like to Get Thomas:

Let me highlight again the key passage:

"But the only way to stop this regress and arrive at a first member of the series is with something whose very existence, and not merely its operations or activities, need not be actualized by anything else. This would just be something which, since it simply exists without being made to exist by anything, or is actual without being actualized, is pure act, with no admixture of potentiality whatsoever. For suppose it had some potency relevant to its existence (its existence being what is relevant to its status as the end of the regress as we have continued it). Then either some other thing actualizes that potency, in which case we haven’t really stopped the regress after all, contrary to hypothesis; or some already actual part of it actualizes the potency, in which case that already actual part would itself be both pure act and, properly speaking, the true first mover. Now, having no potency to actualize, such a being could not possibly change or move. Thus we have reached a first mover that is not only unmoved, but unmovable."

There are two recognizable, key components in this reasoning. First, to stop the regress in a given causal chain, the First Mover is such that His existence is not in potency, or in which essence and existence are indistinct and not in composition. Second, that in such a being there cannot be any admixture of potentiality, that is, it is "unmovable" or impassable. I do not know what exactly you are struggling with, but my suggestion is to start with Prof. Feser's stock example of a causal chain and try to find a likely candidate to fit the role of First Mover. Could it be some material body in the universe? Why or why not? And if not a material body maybe an angel or a demiurge of sorts? Why or why not?

@Mr. Green:

Thank you very much for the very kind, extravagant and over the top praise (which is just one more reason to say thank you). I have had the fortune and the privilege of meeting people far more intelligent than me, and in such numbers, that whatever intelligence God has thought fit to bestow me I tend to not think much of it. And to be completely honest, intelligence is overrated and while I cannot substantiate this historical claim, it seems to me to be a rather modern obsession.

Agnostic Would Like to Get Thomas said...

Thank you for all the answers.

Perhaps... If I *try* to reconstruct Aquinas' argument from what I think I have understood, you would then be able to see where exactly I've misunderstood the First Way.

So here's what I *think* I have understood so far :


Whatever goes from potential to actual, must necessarily be caused to do so by something that is actual.

Now, it is not possible for a thing to be both potential and actual at the same time.

Therefore, whenever something goes from potential to actual, it must necessarily be because of something that is actual, *and* not it-self. (...That's what Aquinas means by "whatever moves, is moves by another", or am I *already* mistaken ?)

Now, if thing Z goes from potential to actual thanks to thing Y, and that Y itself goes from potential to actual thanks to thing X, and that X itself goes from potential to actual thanks to thing W (and so on, and so forth), all simultaneously, X Y and W, although *participating* in causing Z, do not suffice by themselves to explain why Z is caused.

At the end of the day, only something whose existence *isn't* going from potential to actual, can explain the whole causal process. Otherwise there'd just be an infinite number of things having only *received* causal power, and nothing at all that would grant them the aforesaid causal power (it would be like a car functioning without an engine, isn't it ?)


After that, I still do not understand the reasons Aquinas gives before he concludes that an Unmovable Mover must exist.


1) If many bright people are persuaded that some argument works, that argument is probably rationally defensible.
2) Many bright people are convinced by Aquinas' First Way.
3) Therefore, Aquinas' First Way is probably an argument that is rationally defensible.
So here, I just assume Aquinas *does* provide a rationally defensible reason why we must conclude to the existence of
an Unmovable Mover, but I constantly fail to understand it.

It feels a bit like being half-deaf and trying to understand somebody you're 100% sure is telling you something extremely interesting. But because you're half-deaf, you unfortunately never understand. Feel the frustration I have unleashed upon you. But I talk too much.

bmiller said...

Anonymous Agnostic Would Like to Get Thomas


I think that folks here would like to help clear things up for you, but perhaps don't quite get what it is that you are struggling with. Let me see if I can understand from some of your statements from above.


1) So now I only really have one problem left, which is the step from Unmoved Mover to Unmovable Mover.

I could easily see why an Unmovable Mover / Never-Changing Cause of all changes would HAVE to be God-like.
Something that cannot change nor be changed would have to always exist, and as the Cause would be the Cause
of every instance of change, at the end of the day, the whole thing produces a pretty God-like picture.

But a Unmoved Mover ?


2) Whatever goes from potential to actual, must necessarily be caused to do so by something that is actual.

3) At the end of the day, only something whose existence *isn't* going from potential to actual, can explain the whole causal process. Otherwise there'd just be an infinite number of things having only *received* causal power, and nothing at all that would grant them the aforesaid causal power (it would be like a car functioning without an engine, isn't it ?)


It seems that sometimes you make a distinction between Unmovable Mover and Unmoved Mover and can't quite see how one implies the other. Let me make a proposal and see if it makes sense to you (or if I'm way off).

Since motion or change is something going from potency to act, something that is unmovable or unchangeable has no potency to change to act by definition (Unmovable Mover). By the same token, nothing can cause a change in the Unmovable Mover since it is pure act with no potency to change into actuality (Unmoved Mover).

Elizabeth Gormley said...

@Agnostic Would Like to Get Thomas said...

“After that, I still do not understand the reasons Aquinas gives before he concludes that an Unmovable Mover must exist.”

I think that your problem might be here:

“Therefore, whenever something goes from potential to actual, it must necessarily be because of something that is actual, *and* not it-self. (...That's what Aquinas means by "whatever moves, is moves by another", or am I *already* mistaken ?)”

Perhaps an analogy with a similar concept in Physics would help.

All energy is divided into two classes: potential energy and kinetic energy. Potential energy is the stored energy in an object due to its position or state. Kinetic energy is the energy released when the object is in motion. In order to release potential energy of an object, an outside force must act on that object.
For example: you are holding a ball over the edge of roof of a building. The ball has potential energy due to the fact that, when released, gravity (which is a force) will pull on it and cause it to fall to the ground. When you release the ball it loses potential energy and gains kinetic energy. The ball can’t release its potential energy itself – something must act on it.

There are lots of things in motion in the universe and something is always acting on something else, but it is logical to think the universe had a beginning or “first event.” First there was nothing and then there was something. I think that the “Big Bang” is still the current theory. But whatever “nothing” was, it had potential to become “something.” And it could only become “something” by some force acting on the “nothing” (causing the Bang).

That is what happens with physical objects, living things are more complicated. That’s why philosophers use “potential” and “actual.” And hopefully that was helpful. (I often feel half deaf when it comes to philosophy too. :) )

laubadetriste said...

@Elizabeth Gormley: "But whatever 'nothing' was, it had potential to become 'something.'"

I find your analogy fruitful, but wish to add that this sentence may confuse if one hastens by the quotation marks. For I would be surprised if a philosopher ever claimed that nothing had the potential to become something. Some recent scientists (Lawrence Krauss et. al) have claimed that a something, which they called "nothing", became a something else. But it was by that misuse of words that they earned the irritation of David Albert and us Merciless Medievals around here. :)

Elizabeth Gormley said...

@laubadetriste

I'm sure you're right. I put it in quotes because I was still speaking of physics. Physicists don't think of the pre-big bang state of the universe as nothing, but some sort of pre-matter state. But then they've been confused about matter - like most philosophers - since quantum mechanics came on the scene. :)

grodrigues said...

@Anonymous Agnostic Would Like to Get Thomas:

As bmiller said, while you have told us where in the proof you are stumped, it is not at all clear why exactly you are stumped.

Allow me to add this. The First Way is a response to the question of what is the proper, direct cause of motion as such, not of this or that particular motion. For each particular motion, the mover must be actual with respect to the particular motion (and where the "actual with respect to the particular motion" admits of further distinctions that we have no need of now), but for the cause of motion as such, the mover must be, and now I will surround this in scare quotes, "must be actual with respect to motion as such", that is, it must be pure act and impassable.

Now you could object, and rightly so, that I have made a sleight of hand here because it is not clear why motion as such needs a proper cause. The type of principle at work here would be readily admitted by the Scholastics; Prof. Feser, while not appealing to any such principle, weaves it into the proof itself in the quoted passage to achieve the same end.

The First Mover as the cause of motion as such, explains many other things. For example, many read St. Thomas First Way as purporting to prove that any causal chain like

... -> e_n -> ... -> e_0

must realy be of the form

G -> ... -> e_n -> ... -> e_0

with God at the head. But this is wrong on several counts. It threatens to collapse into occasionalism as now God is a mover in the *same* sense as every other mover e_i, and the first such, so that all motions are in fact done by God. It demotes God as the cause of motion as such, or primary cause, to just another mover in the world or secondary cause, albeit a very special one. Why the modern empirical sciences have nothing of relevance to comment on these proofs since their proper object is not motion as such or its causes, but special kinds of motions and their proper, secondary causes. Etc. and etc.

Elizabeth Gormley said...

@grodrigues

“Why the modern empirical sciences have nothing of relevance to comment on these proofs since their proper object is not motion as such or its causes, but special kinds of motions and their proper, secondary causes. Etc. and etc.”

But, if I’m not mistaken, they do. In physics, the law of Conservation of Energy implies a first mover. No object moves all by itself and the universe can’t lose energy – it’s either in a potential or kinetic state, so something had to set the universe in motion.

Elizabeth Gormley said...

Sorry, I meant to say all matter has kinetic or potential energy, not that the universe, as a whole, is in one state or another. Anyway, some external force had to set the universe in motion.

laubadetriste said...

@Elizabeth Gormley: "Anyway, some external force had to set the universe in motion."

"External" how?

"If some one farthest traveller runs forth
Unto the extreme coasts and throws ahead
A flying spear, is't then thy wish to think
It goes, hurled off amain, to where 'twas sent
And shoots afar, or that some object there
Can thwart and stop it? For the one or other
Thou must admit and take. Either of which
Shuts off escape for thee, and does compel
That thou concede the all spreads everywhere,
Owning no confines. [...] And so
I'll follow on, and whereso'er thou set
The extreme coasts, I'll query, 'what becomes
Thereafter of thy spear?' 'Twill come to pass
That nowhere can a world's-end be..."--De rerum natura

And "force" why?

"...to introduce force as the cause or 'principle' of motion (or of an acceleration) is to introduce 'an occult quality'..."--Popper, "A Note on Berkeley as Precursor of Mach and Einstein"

Of course, God is not a force. And if--per impossible--He were, that would be rather a Deistic demotion for the poor bearded old chap.

...or maybe a Chardinian demotion: "“Love is the most universal, the most tremendous and the most mystical of cosmic forces. Love is the primal and universal psychic energy. Love is a sacred reserve of energy; it is like the blood of spiritual evolution."

grodrigues said...

@Elizabeth Gormley:

"But, if I’m not mistaken, they do. In physics, the law of Conservation of Energy implies a first mover. No object moves all by itself and the universe can’t lose energy – it’s either in a potential or kinetic state, so something had to set the universe in motion."

Given that a) the First Way is concerned with the cause of motion as such and b) concerned with what sustains motion in the here and now, not with origins, what may or may not have happened in some more or less distant past, or what "set the universe in motion" to use your expression, it is mysterious what exactly is the reason why you say "they do".

There are also other problems with what you say. I know of no result on physics that from the law of conservation of energy goes to a first mover. And the way you state it, there can be *no* such result. Conservation of energy (or any conserved quantity, really) simply tells us that along the evolution of a closed system, energy remains constant. It is silent about origins and beginnings (or boundary conditions). Conservation theorems about the universe as a whole are a very tricky business, when not simply meaningless, etc. and etc.

Elizabeth Gormley said...

@laubadetriste
I am speaking of physics. It was an analogy. This is what the Big Bang theory is all about - how did matter and energy enter the universe? It's an origin theory about how that matter and energy came into the universe.

I'm afraid I don't know what context your quote on Popper is referring to. I can't imagine its referring to physics. Force is measured in the same units as energy - like gravity is a force on a falling ball - same units of measurement. So I don't understand what that is about. I'd really like to know, so if you could tell me I'd appreciate it.

@grodrigues Again, it was an analogy. Somehow all that energy entered the universe. Even a closed system has an original state where energy was introduced into the system. I'm not really sure why it's not clear that an external force is necessary to release the potential energy in an object to set it in motion. At some original point in the universe all that energy was released. Matter will never spontaneously begin to move on its own.

If you put matter into a closed system with only potential energy - it will remain that way - unmoved. That's why the law of conservation implies an outside or external force to set the universe in motion from some original point of time.

Elizabeth Gormley said...

@laubadetriste and @grodrigues

On further thought, perhaps neither of you think that the universe has an origin. Is that it? I think that this would be in opposition to current scientific thought, but its been awhile since I looked into these things.

Also, physicists treat the universe as a closed system because they don't know where energy could go (What does it mean to be outside the universe? That's one of the reasons why alternate universes pop up - but it's just an mathematical abstraction). And so, it makes sense to treat it as a closed system. But, we do not know, for a fact whether it is closed or not.

Elizabeth Gormley said...

*But we do not know, for a fact, whether it is closed or not.

Elizabeth Gormley said...

@laubadetriste
So, I read through this.

"...to introduce force as the cause or 'principle' of motion (or of an acceleration) is to introduce 'an occult quality'..."--Popper, "A Note on Berkeley as Precursor of Mach and Einstein"
https://books.google.com/books?id=iXp9AwAAQBAJ&pg=PA269#v=onepage&q&f=false

So Berkeley says science is all explanation, not true understanding. Okay. We don't know what a force actually is. Or matter either. I agree. We can't know anything directly - goodness that's what quantum mechanics tells us. We are limited even in our explanations of how the universe works - let alone being able to observe it directly - we'll never be able to explain in mathematical terms because we can't even measure sub-atomic phenomena directly.

But that doesn't mean there isn't a physical world out there. Or is that what you believe - as Berkely believed - that there is nothing physical behind physical phenomena? If so, why bother with having a debate with another person? You can falsify everything by appealing to the fact that we can't know anything directly.

You must have some reference frame to work with about how the universe is and why we are here. Otherwise how do decide what to do with your day?

Agnostic Would Like to Get Thomas said...

Mm.

Ok, I think I'm just gonna need to re-read the book.

Anyway, thank you guys for all these precious comments, I'll re-read them as well until I (finally) get Thomas.

On a somewhat more subjective fashion, however, which Viae is the easiest one to get ?
And how certain are you that the Quinquae Viae are successful arguments (like 90/100 or something) ?

Cheers

Agnostic Would Like to Get Thomas said...

(Cause I tend to value the opinion of people who are both intelligent *and* knowledgeable, and, as you seem to be just that...)

Cheers

Elizabeth Gormley said...

@Agnostic Would Like to Get Thomas said...

"And how certain are you that the Quinquae Viae are successful arguments (like 90/100 or something) ?"

All arguments have difficulties. The only way to understand an argument is to embrace it and see it through to the end. Of course, that's easier to do if it speaks some element of truth to you to begin with.

We don't get certainty in this life, and if there's no pain in holding (and sometimes letting go of) a particular position then you never fully engaged in it. Seems so to me anyway. :)


Agnostic Would Like to Get Thomas said...

@Elizabeth Gormley

I think I understand what you mean.
That's some interesting insight, thank you :M

Elizabeth Gormley said...

@Agnostic Would Like to Get Thomas said...

You're welcome. I hope you "get it" and "it gets" you. :)

grodrigues said...

@Elizabeth Gormley:

"Again, it was an analogy. Somehow all that energy entered the universe. Even a closed system has an original state where energy was introduced into the system. I'm not really sure why it's not clear that an external force is necessary to release the potential energy in an object to set it in motion."

Maybe I was not entirely clear, so let me frame things this way. In your first response to me you took issue with me saying that "the modern empirical sciences have nothing of relevance to comment on these proofs". Everything you have said just makes the point for me: the modern empirical sciences are indeed irrelevant for Aquinas' arguments. That was my first point.

But maybe "the modern empirical sciences", maybe considerations of the type you adduce, can serve as the basis of *some other* type of argument. I do not dispute that. What I disputed was the cogency of the argument you sketched. In the quoted portion above now you say "it was an analogy", so it is not even clear how the argument is supposed to work. You say that "Even a closed system has an original state where energy was introduced into the system", but this can, and has been, resisted. For example, because the universe is not just any kind of closed system, but is the totality of physical reality, spacetime included, so it is far from clear what "origin" or "beginning" means, appeal to conservation laws is useless, etc. and etc. And this is not a matter of whether I believe or not that "the universe has an origin". As a fairly orthodox Christian, I do believe in such, and I even, think that the Kalaam has more teeth that St. Thomas allows it. Rather, this is a matter of what can be established and on what basis.

My third point, which will just be a reiteration of a point made by laubadetriste is that even if, and a big if, you can make the argument work, as it stands it does not establish the existence of God but of at best, some demiurge. And while such arguments are not completely useless (they do the charitable work of riling up a considerable subset of atheists, which is always fun) as no good argument is useless since it is teaching us something, at the end of the day it does not matter much, because we -- or at least myself -- are not interested in demiurges but in the One True God.

Elizabeth Gormley said...

@grodrigues

I'm sorry, I think we are misunderstanding each other here.

By "beginning" I mean the moment when matter first appeared - that's pretty much the same question as when space/time came into existence. And conservation laws are all over that question. That's why you've got all those crazy explanations about alternate universes when scientists can't account for all the mass in the universe. Where did it go?

The big bang theory came out of evidence that the universe was winding down (achieving maximum entropy in a closed system). It's the 2nd law of thermodynamics that points to a beginning of the universe. Again it's all about the conservation of energy here. The universe - according to current scientific theory - had a beginning and will have an end.

http://www.allaboutscience.org/second-law-of-thermodynamics.htm

But, I wasn't trying to prove God exists from that, though some people - see that link - believe that it does. I was simply trying to help explain the difference between "potential" and "actual" by using the physical example of "potential" and "kinetic" energy as an analogy.

Sorry for the confusion.

Elizabeth Gormley said...

@grodrigues

P.S. My confusion with you was your insistence that the scientific community doesn't think there is a beginning to the universe.

What does "not just any kind of closed system" mean?

By definition either a system is closed or it isn't. There's no other kind as far as I am aware.

grodrigues said...

@Elizabeth Gormley:

Apologies for the late reply.

"By "beginning" I mean the moment when matter first appeared - that's pretty much the same question as when space/time came into existence. And conservation laws are all over that question. That's why you've got all those crazy explanations about alternate universes when scientists can't account for all the mass in the universe. Where did it go?"

This is confused and / or wrong. If spacetime came into existence, then it is meaningless to speak of "the moment" spacetime came to be. Laws of conservation, as understood by physicists, are *not* "all over the question" because conservation laws are concerned with the time evolution of *existing* systems, not with the coming to be of systems, and of the whole of spacetime at that (*). If they were, then the coming to be would *not* be a beginning but merely a change, which is precisely what the beginning of the universe *cannot* be.

(*) Even more generally, general covariance of general relativity implies that no *global* evolution exists, so conservation laws for the universe as a whole are meaningless or must be construed in some way other than the usual, classical one.

"Alternate universes", by which I presume you mean things like the multiverse come about for a couple of reasons. Once again, the explanations may be good or awful (my take is the latter), but what is the relevance to the very *precise* points I am disputing? Neither I can understand what is the relevance of "all the mass in the universe"that the scientists cannot account for, which goes under the rubrics of dark energy, dark matter, etc.

"But, I wasn't trying to prove God exists from that, though some people - see that link - believe that it does. I was simply trying to help explain the difference between "potential" and "actual" by using the physical example of "potential" and "kinetic" energy as an analogy.

Sorry for the confusion."

*That* was what you were trying to do? Then apologies for so thoroughly and completely misunderstanding you.

"P.S. My confusion with you was your insistence that the scientific community doesn't think there is a beginning to the universe."

I nowhere insisted on that.

"Beginning of the universe" has a specific technical meaning in physics (or in general relativity, to be more precise). It is, roughly, "a spacetime boundary in the past" where this is cashed out in terms of non-extension of geodesics. It is not necessarily what we coloquially mean by beginning -- which, and the reason why I am being pedantic to the point of mentioning it, is one way in which atheists try to resist this type of arguments.

Elizabeth Gormley said...

@grodrigues


"Beginning of the universe" has a specific technical meaning in physics (or in general relativity, to be more precise). It is, roughly, "a spacetime boundary in the past" where this is cashed out in terms of non-extension of geodesics. It is not necessarily what we coloquially mean by beginning -- which, and the reason why I am being pedantic to the point of mentioning it, is one way in which atheists try to resist this type of arguments."

Although I have a degree in physics, I've not kept up for years. I would love to hear more about this "spacetime boundary in the past" where this is cashed out in terms of non-extension of geodesics." I understand basically what you are saying and I can already see why atheists use it to avoid the "beginning". But I also know that "spacetime" is a mathematical abstraction. If you could point me to some reading material I would appreciate it.

Dark matter or Dark energy is another mathematical abstraction without observational data to support it. It's a guess. Just like the multiverse. Have we ever seen a multiverse - no we haven't. It's a guess. A hypothesis.

I have to cut this short. Sorry. I will be out of touch for a few days. But I have loved our conversation and want to continue it. I understand your passion for the subject here and I share it. Thanks for answering back. :)

DNW said...

Gormley to Rodrigues

"I have loved our conversation and want to continue it."


Your conversation has obviously been more productive than this one between Robert Wright and Lawrence Krause. Krause is the one with the prominent paunch and wearing a Stetson style fedora, as seen on the viewers' right.

Now, in the link above, you may not actually learn much exact about the ostensible subject matter, i.e., the beginning of the universe, but you will gain a great deal of insight into Lawrence Krause.

And yes I know that YouTube videos are, for some reason and by some people considered otiose, but then it rather depends on what you seek to extract from them.
And no, the hat doesn't really succeed in making Larry look any more like your virile and outdoorsy great grandfather from Kentucky, and any less like Larry Krause.

Maybe what Krause needs to do is try to project a slightly different image; with say, a black leather vest and a black 1980's country music renegade hat with big silver medallions on the hat band. Oversize lens half smoke tint eye-glasses would undoubtedly complete the look, and confirm both his authority and his iconoclasm.

And hats of that general sort are very popular with the bolder of the New Atheists this season. Just ask John Loftus.

Elizabeth Gormley said...

@DNW Thanks for the recommendation for the video - sorry it's taken so long to respond. I am very interested in this topic right now. I am trying to fit watching the whole thing this week. Hopefully my work schedule will slow down.

Actually I love the hat trend these days even if it's more about our cultural identity crisis rather than style. It's very big in Austin - where all the hipsters live and is trickling down I-35 to New Braunfels. I like where you're going with recommendations for "Don't call me New Atheist" - as long as it doesn't extend to black leather pants.

I have no idea who John Loftus is. :)

@grodrigues Hi, again.

Elizabeth Gormley said...

@DNW I did the laundry while watching halfway through the video. Like so many physicists these days, he believes QM reflects reality in a way we will never be able to confirm through scientific observation. We describe photons as a particle with mathematics under certain observational conditions. Under other circumstances we use math that describes that same energy as a wave. Is it a wave? Is it a particle (massless particle)? Or is it something else that we don't have the mathematical tools to describe because we can't observe it directly? Physicists have spun more fairy tales about the universe since QM came on the scene then the Brothers Grimm. :)