Saturday, September 2, 2017

Flew on Hume on miracles


Having looked recently at David Hume on induction and Hume on causation, let’s take a look at Hume’s famous treatment of miracles.  To be more precise, let’s take a look at Hume’s argument as it is interpreted by Antony Flew in his introduction to the Open Court Classics edition of Hume’s essay Of Miracles.  This being Hume, the argument is, shall we say, problematic.

Hume, as Flew emphasizes, intends to make an epistemological point rather than a metaphysical one.  He isn’t saying that miracles are not possible (though, of course, he doesn’t think they ever actually occur).  Rather, he is saying that we can’t ever be justified in believing that a miracle has occurred.

The reason, Hume says, is that a miracle is supposed to involve the overriding of a law of nature.  Yet any evidence that some regularity really is a law of nature is ipso facto evidence that it has not been overridden, whereas any evidence that it has been overridden is ipso facto evidence that it is not really a law of nature.  Hence, the notion of a miracle as the overriding of a law of nature, though metaphysically coherent, is not epistemologically coherent.  We couldn’t ever have good reason to think that any regularity is both a law and also has been overridden.

One problem with this argument noted by Flew is that it is hard to reconcile with the rest of Hume’s philosophy.  For the argument presupposes that a law of nature holds as a matter of objective necessity.  The idea is that it is naturally impossible for a resurrection from the dead to occur (for example), so that a supernatural cause is required in order to make this happen.  Yet Hume is committed to the view that there are no objective necessities in nature.  That is the upshot of his account of causation.  As far as the objective facts are concerned, anything in principle might occur: The bread that once nourished us may poison us the next time we eat it, water might freeze at 900 degrees Fahrenheit, etc.  Our conviction that these sorts of things can’t happen is grounded only in subjective habits of expectation, not in the objective facts.  So, why shouldn’t we judge that miracles might occur, given Hume’s account of causation?  Indeed, if someone is convinced by that account, shouldn’t he be more inclined to think that miracles sometimes occur?

Flew’s way of dealing with this problem is to propose simply ignoring it for purposes of evaluating the argument about miracles.  That may seem brazen, but a case could be made for doing so.  One could say: “Believers in miracles and other non-Humeans believe in objective necessities, so they should find Hume’s argument a challenge, whatever Hume himself thought about objective necessities.”  I don’t think a Humean could say this, though.  A consistent Humean line on causation, it seems to me, would require giving up Hume’s argument about miracles, precisely for the reason given above.  If you’re going to make necessity observer-relative, then to be consistent you’d better be prepared to agree that all kinds of weird stuff might plausibly happen in mind-independent reality, including divine interventions in the ordinary course of things. 

So, salvaging Hume’s argument about miracles would require giving up his view about causation and admitting that there are after all objective necessities in nature.  However, this brings us to a second problem with Hume’s argument, which Flew does not address.  Hume presupposes that to characterize something as a law of nature is to regard it as an absolutely exceptionless natural regularity.  That is to say, if I say that it is a law of nature that A’s are followed by B’s, then what that entails (Hume thinks) is that, in the natural order of things, in every single case an A will be followed by B.  That is why he thinks there is a conflict when someone says both that there is evidence that something is a law and that there is evidence that it has been overridden.  For evidence that it has been overridden is ipso facto evidence that it is not absolutely exceptionless after all.

But one need not believe in absolutely exceptionless regularities in order to believe in objective necessities and laws of nature.  A claim like A‘s are followed by B’s could instead be interpreted as saying that A’s have a causal power to produce B’s which is necessarily triggered if certain conditions obtain but not otherwise.  If those conditions are very common, then A’s will indeed usually be followed by B’s, but that is compatible with there being exceptions.  In that case, though, there will be no incoherence in thinking both that there is strong evidence that it is a law of nature that A’s are followed by B’s and that there is evidence that in some particular case an A was not followed by a B.  Of course, on this interpretation of laws, B might not follow even if there is no miracle.  But that only reinforces the point that there is no epistemic incoherence in claiming both that a certain regularity is a law and that it doesn’t always hold, whether that claim is made by a defender of miracles or by anyone else.

There is a third problem with Hume’s argument.  Flew, following Hume, makes a big deal of the point that in evaluating historical claims, we need to make use of our background knowledge about how the world works.  Hence if we know that in general, dead people stay dead, then we ought to factor this knowledge in when evaluating some historical claim to the effect that a resurrection has occurred.  In particular, if we know independently that dead people tend to stay dead, then that gives us reason to be skeptical about some report to the effect that a certain person rose from the dead.  This, Flew thinks, is Hume’s main insight.

That is all well and good as far as it goes, but it doesn’t go nearly as far as Flew and Hume think it does.  They seem to think that this point suffices to justify a completely general skepticism about miracle claims.  But it does no such thing.  It all depends on what is included in the body of background knowledge about how the world works. 

Hence, suppose we have no independent reason whatsoever to believe that there is a God who can cause miracles, no reason to believe that there is an incorporeal aspect to human nature that survives the death of the body, etc.  Suppose further that we encounter in some historical text a claim to the effect that such-and-such a person rose from the dead, but where the account provides no context that would make this alleged event in any way intelligible.  For example, suppose there are no records of people widely believing that this resurrection occurred, no record of the person in question having predicted that he would rise from the dead, no record of any corroborating evidence such as a missing corpse, etc.   Suppose, in short, that the account gave the impression that the purported resurrection was just a random anomalous event that had no significant impact on later events and was not preceded by anything that would in any way lead us to expect that it might occur.

In that case, when we factor in our general knowledge that dead people tend to stay dead, it is certainly very reasonable to conclude, as Flew and Hume would, that the resurrection story is bogus and can safely be dismissed out of hand by historians.  So far so good.

But suppose instead that we have independent and very solid grounds to believe that God exists, that we have independent very solid grounds to think that human beings have immortal souls that survive the deaths of their bodies and could in principle be reunited with those bodies if God acted specially to make this happen, and so on.  Suppose also that we not only come across a claim that a resurrection has occurred, but also find that the person who was purportedly resurrected is said to have predicted that this would happen, that many people at the time believed that he really had been resurrected and were even prepared to lay down their lives on the basis of this belief, that the tomb in which his corpse was laid was found to be empty, etc.  Given all this background knowledge, it would not be reasonable to dismiss out of hand this miracle claim.  It might still be false, but one would have to consider all the evidence very carefully before drawing that conclusion, and could not justifiably rule it out peremptorily, as Hume and Flew want to do.

Flew considers something like this objection, and his reply is that, if someone appealed to divine revelation in order to justify the background assumption that there is a God who might cause miracles, etc., then this would land the defender of miracles in a circular argument.  He would be using the miracle claim as evidence that a divine revelation has occurred, and using the claim that a divine revelation has occurred as evidence for believing that the miracle really happened.

This position would indeed be circular, but the problem is that in making this reply, Flew is attacking a straw man.  Or at least, the defender of miracles certainly need not appeal to some purported divine revelation in order to justify the background knowledge claims in question.  On the scenario I was describing, the appeal would be instead to purely philosophical arguments for the existence of God, the immortality of the soul, etc.  As long as that is the kind of background information that the defender of the miracle claim makes use of, then there is no circularity at all.  (Of course, the philosophical arguments in question would have to work, and whether such arguments succeed is controversial.  I think they do work, but the point for the moment is just that there would be no circularity in appealing to them.)

To be sure, some apologists do try to defend the resurrection of Jesus without first setting out this kind of background argumentation in natural theology and philosophical anthropology.  In my opinion, that is a mistake, at least as a general approach to Christian apologetics.  As I have discussed elsewhere, the traditional approach to apologetics, which in my view is the correct approach, is to begin by doing a great deal of work of a purely philosophical nature – regarding the existence and nature of God, the immortality of the soul, the natural law approach to morality, etc. – before getting to specifically Christian claims.  Only in the context of the former can the force of the latter be properly understood. 

I’m not claiming that there is no context in which one might proceed in some alternative fashion.  To take only the most obvious sort of example, if some philosophical naturalist literally saw a rotted corpse sit up in front of him, saw its flesh reconstituted before his very eyes and the body start walking and talking, etc., it would of course be silly for him to say: “Hmm, well, this might really be happening, but before deciding let me first go read some books about natural theology and see if there are any good arguments for God’s existence.”  Some rethinking of his convictions would obviously be called for just on the basis of that bizarre experience itself.

However (and needless to say) very few people are ever in a situation remotely as dramatic as that.  Hence, where general work in apologetics is concerned, the right approach is to begin by setting out, on purely philosophical grounds, a general metaphysical picture of the world that would make miracles intelligible and plausible. 

In any event, it is only if we presuppose naturalism that Hume’s argument could have the completely general force against miracle claims that Flew thinks it has.  If we have independent philosophical reason to think that naturalism is false, then that force is undermined and we have to consider the evidence for various miracle claims on a case-by-case basis rather than dismissing them wholesale the way Hume wanted to do.

(For more on the nature of miracles, and on the background metaphysical context in terms of which miracle claims should be evaluated, see chapter 6 of Five Proofs of the Existence of God.)

61 comments:

  1. Excellent post, Dr. Feser! I'm enjoying you're latest book, Five Proofs for the Existence of God, and was wondering what you thought about other arguments for God's existence which you've largely stayed away from in your professional work

    (here I'm thinking of arguments like Koons developed on the possibility of intuitional knowledge, or Craig's arguments from the applicability of mathematics to the physical world, cosmic Fine Tuning for the development of intelligent life and observational astronomy, the initial cosmological singularity's being a past extremity to the universe--and the finitude of the past on the other contemporary cosmological models--, the existence of person-independent moral truths, the "bias" towards simplicity in nature which exists or at any rate science assumes as an explanatory virtue, etcetera).

    You seem often to express disfavor for some of these arguments because they adduce scientific evidence for one of their premises, stating that we ought not to rely on arguments which could be overturned by future scientific theorizing. The problem with this response, I think (assuming it fairly characterizes your position), is that the point here is that to the same extent we're confident of the scientific consensus on the relevant issues, we can be confident of the premises of those arguments and so God's existence (given the truth of the other intuitively plausible premises). Thus, if you take the modest position that a scientist is justified in expressing confidence in a scientific consensus such as the finitude of the past, you can take scientific confidence in the truth of the premise. I just don't see how the fact that they rely to a degree on scientific evidence does anything to override their efficacy as arguments, and I ask with my sincerest "please" that you would dedicate a blog entry or two to them. (And on the moral argument developed by Craig and Mark D. Linville, for that matter and so far as I know, you've never responded.)

    Thank you for inspiring me, and please also keep up the great work!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Feser (I assume) doesn't agree with the moral argument because he is a natural law theorist. In that sense morality only indirectly depends on God. Perhaps accepting final causation puts the emphasis on a fifth way style argument. In that case though, it will be the fifth way doing the heavy lifting, not mind independent reality.

    Briefly, Feser has mentioned that we shouldn't put to much emphasis on fine tuning, perhaps because of the suggestion of the multiverse.

    Now, as i see it, and I would be interested in Feser's opinion on this, but I see the Augustinian proof as a deductive version of Craig's mathematical applicability argument. On Scholastic realism, we can see why maths is so applicable. Abstract objects like numbers etc are inherent to things and we can abstract mathematical truths in our intellect. On one hand Craig's version allows for nominalism or realism, but the conclusion is a somewhat weak best explanation. Feser's conclusion is stronger.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "Feser (I assume) doesn't agree with the moral argument because he is a natural law theorist. In that sense morality only indirectly depends on God."

      I don't see why that takes away any force from the moral argument. All you have to concede, which the Thomas clearly does, is that there are 1. moral truths and 2. these moral truths could not exist on atheism. Then it's just a matter of showing that atheistic moral realism is extremely implausible and that our moral intuitions are strong reason to conclude moral realism in the absence of independent evidence in favor of the naturalist's moral antirealism.

      "Briefly, Feser has mentioned that we shouldn't put to much emphasis on fine tuning, perhaps because of the suggestion of the multiverse."

      The multiverse is a cry of desperation from the naturalist, for numerous reasons: on the contemporary multiverse models which would be required to explain the fine tuning, we run into a devastating objection to the effect that empirical knowledge is impossible to reconcile with belief in the multiverse (this is the Boltzman Brains Problem, see Robin Collin's website and essays and William Lane Craig's resources for more on this). Furthermore, such a multiverse has no empirical evidence in its favor, it's extravagant enough to be dismissed as any other skeptical scenario (since by it the atheist is committed to saying unicorns exist, that they are merely one of infinitely many versions of themselves, etc), it cannot explain all fine tuning (since there are basic laws the multiverse model posits which would be both finely tuned and common to all sub-universes) and on the current models the production process for each sub-universe itself requires fine-tuning.

      "On one hand Craig's version allows for nominalism or realism, but the conclusion is a somewhat weak best explanation. Feser's conclusion is stronger."

      Sure, but that's no reason for Dr. Feser not to mention it. I think it deserves some attention considering that the mathematical structure of the world represents an explanatory hole for the naturalist, who must say that it either simply has no explanation or "just had to be that way" (and for the reasons discussed in formulating the fine-tuning argument, we know the mathematical structure of the universe is not due to physical necessity), whereas the theist can plausibly infer an Intelligent Source who plans out His creation in His mind according to various patterns and consistencies which express themselves as mathematical laws in the natural world.

      Delete
    2. Well, unless a fifth way style argument goes through, the athiest could help himself to natural law theory without needing God. That is the point. Whether natural law entails the existence of God depends on arguments using the core principles of natural law (like final causation). If it does entail God, it would be because of othet arguments than morality. On natural law then, morality doesnt get you closer or further to God by itself, without other arguments.

      Im familiar with the Boltzmann Brain problem but Sean Carroll has produced a model which dodges some versions of BB. So the multiverse isn't done yet. Though it certainly has hurdles to jump before it becomes tenable in my opinion. I think the most honest approach is to admit that we have to wait and see whether the multiverse can overcome said problems. Im agnostic at the moment.

      Now i think the Augustinian proof just is an answer to the applicability of mathematics!

      Delete
    3. So you're saying that if there were no God, moral truths could still exist? I think this is just demonstrably false, so if that's what natural law theory requires, I don't see myself being convinced of natural law theory. The concept of a moral truth isn't even intelligible on atheism. What does it mean to say moral values just "supervene upon" natural states, in some occult way? On atheism, morality is just the by-product of sociobiological conditioning, and humans are utterly worthless chunks of matter without any dignity or moral dimension whatsoever. For think, if atheism were true, humans are mere fractions of fractions of dots on a fraction of a dot lost in an indifferent and hostile universe, doomed to die individually and collectively within a time as infinitesimal as our size relative to the universe. For when our light is snuffed out, in relation to the amount of time before and after the existence of humanity, it will be so virtually insignificant as to justify saying we hardly ever existed at all, but for the blink of an eye.

      And in that blink of an eye will have been every human who ever existed, all meeting the exact same result irrespective of whether they lived as a saint or as Hitler. They're talk of "love" is there mere dramatization of dopaminergic dependency and sexual selection, their desire to produce another chunk of matter with another chunk of matter. As Dawkins puts it, we are machines for propagating DNA, and we dance to its music. What does it mean to say we have any worth at all, any moral value whatsoever--why should one aggregate of particles, because it tends more-so towards reproductive success than others, suddenly obtain something such as "intrinsic moral value"? On atheism, it is just fantastic to think that somehow we are in fact dignified, and for an atheist to live inconsistent with this by championing moral causes is a mere demonstration of their deep cognitive dissonance.

      On the fine-tuning argument, the numerous objections I mentioned still hold for Sean Carrol's models, and which have received additional criticism for which I direct you to the work of Robin Collins and William Lane Craig's debate with him.

      I don't think the Augustinian proof is essentially the same as that from the Applicability of Mathematics; rather, I think both work as relatively independent arguments, and should be kept that way. The Applicability of Mathematics (TAM) is a great argument to establish Divine Intelligence, and a concomitant to the Fine-Tuning Argument (FTA).


      Delete
    4. Momified: ''So you're saying that if there were no God, moral truths could still exist?''

      Under natural law theory, moral truths occupy the same status of objectivity as the rest of reality.

      Because, under natural law, morality is grounded in the natures of things which are objective and independent.

      Just as you don't need to directly appeal to God when investigating nature (even though he is the ultimate and first sustaining cause of it), you also don't need to directly appeal to Him when investigating morality.

      While it is certainly true that morality is ultimately based in God because the natures of things, which are universals, inhere in God's Intellect, and because the natural end of things is ultimately only sustained by God, one need not appeal to God directly when doing morality and ethics.

      An atheist could in principle use natural law to get to objective morality, even though the arguments clearly establish that God must be the ultimate source of it, without appealing to God directly.

      In other words, under natural law theory, while God is certainly the ultimate source of all things including morality, the arguments that establish God are much less direct than modern moral theories where arguments for God are much more direct.

      So while natural law is certainly different from the system of morality you might be familiar with, both moralities derive from God; it's just the case that natural law doesn't depend on God in a manner as direct as William Lane Craig's arguments attempt to show.

      Delete
    5. @Momified,

      Another important rejoinder is the fact that it is hard to be an Aristotelian who supports natural law, and also be an atheist.

      Phillipa Foot may be an example of an atheistic Aristotelian, as well as Ayn Rand.

      But in general it is rare to find Aristotelians who reject belief in God, because the arguments for the existence of God are so compelling under Aristotelianism that the system is simply a natural fit for theistic belief, and it is also a well known fact that Aristotelianism is historically intimately connected to theism in a way which clearly implies that theism is simply the natural conclusion of Aristotelianism.

      Delete
    6. It sounds to me, then, that though you prefer to explicate morality in terms of natural law as an ethical theory, you nevertheless affirm that without God moral truths would not exist. Given that, that's all we need to establish God's existence from morality, as we see in Craig's syllogism:

      (Premise) 1. If God did not exist, moral truths would not exist.

      (Premise) 2. Moral truths do exist.

      (Conclusion) 3. Therefore, God exists.

      This is simply an exercise of the generally accepted rule of inferential logic known as Modus Tollens, or "denying-the-consequent". Seeing as the argument is logically valid and, I think from what you said, compatible with Thomism, I don't see why Dr. Feser hasn't endorsed it and developed or at least responded to it in his professional work.

      Delete
    7. In relation to atheism, naturalism and morality, I think David Bentley Hart put it best:

      "...the conscientious naturalist has no choice but to try have it both ways: morality is a contingent product of a brute amoral nature; moral reasoning is binding upon the conscience of any rational man or woman. Ask no further questions. The classical theistic perspective, if nothing else, does not burden one with so embarrassing a paradox."

      There are two pertinent questions here: whether objective moral facts exist, and whether there is any real moral obligation. Naturalism and atheism cannot ever account for this.

      Even if the the naturalist affirms natural law theory, they are left with a brute amoral nature, of which we are a purposeless accident. And we're supposed to think anything really matters, and that discerning the essence of something and the fulfillment of that essence is of any relevance to a purposeless existence? The naturalist's view of reality is impoverished, and this is especially so as regards morality.

      Delete
    8. @JoeD,

      Actually there are a a growing number of non-theistic Aristotelians associated with the Powers movement in Analytical ontology. If people want an example of a modern secular ethical theory which is very close to Natural Law check out the account Quentin Smith gave in his latest debate with Craig.

      Delete
    9. @Jason,

      One might also point out that on theism the nature which is being fulfilled will be radically different from that on any atheistic natural law account. Which more accurately captures the human nature we experience?

      Delete
    10. @OA Police,

      Are you a theist?

      Delete
    11. Yes, just one dissatisfied with Natural Law as a theistic ethical theory. I used to post quite a bit here and on Pruss' blog a couple of years ago - main interests philosophy of religion and modal theories.

      (My original user name was Daniel, but this lead to confusion so I switched to this. Plus Thomists need frequent mortification over their strawmanning over the glorious ontological argument)

      Delete
    12. Although morality does not depend directly from God, an objective morality still leads to God being necessary.

      -

      "Plus Thomists need frequent mortification over their strawmanning over the glorious ontological argument)"

      The ontological argument is not a priori rejected by Thomists. The problem was that Anselm's argument was flawed, hence Thomas Aquinas rejected it

      This does not mean Thomists reject every ontological argument.

      Delete
    13. @OA Police
      The point of Saint Anselm's Proof was to show that the nature of God entails the existence of God, correct? Thomists agree that God's nature in a sense entails His existence, but that isn't enough for the proof to succeed. We must actually know God's nature, to show how His existence follows therefrom. In other words, we happily acknowledge that the argument is [i]valid,[/i] but traditionally the problem has been that Anselm's Proof rests on knowledge of God that we can't have [i]a priori.[/i] But in acquiring such prerequisite knowledge, we end up demonstrating God's existence along the way anyhow.
      I won't try to speak for anyone else, but sometimes I think the original argument can be salvaged, if we accept that whatever God is like, He must be worth worshiping.

      @Momified
      Nobody has argued that Dr. Craig's moral argument is invalid. It seems evident that the objection has been that the argument is redundant, because before you can level it effectively, you need to do all this background work that leads to God in a more direct fashion, especially showing that final causation depends on God. If final causation does not depend on God, then it seems that premise (1) of the moral argument fails on natural law theory. And that's the problem.

      Delete
    14. The ontological argument is not a priori rejected by Thomists. The problem was that Anselm's argument was flawed, hence Thomas Aquinas rejected it

      This is true, albeit probably not for the reasons Thomas raised.

      This does not mean Thomists reject every ontological argument.

      This is true. There is no prima facia reason why Thomists should reject ontological arguments. However there is a strong historical tradition of them doing so, for no reason it seems other than sheer bigotry (a certain Analytical Thomist rushes to reassure his readers that accepting the Real Distinction would not entail the truth of the ontological argument – I was very tempted to write to him asking if he would similarly reassure people that the Act/Potency distinction wouldn’t entail the truth of the cosmological argument). They also have a deceitful tendency to interpret Thomas own criticism in a myriad of different ways depending on the circumstance.

      (Graham Oppy, no friend of the argument, gives Thomas criticisms short shift in his study of the OA. If the Thomist criticisms are such deadly knock-down objections one wonders why few professional atheism philosophers bother with them)

      Grace and RustSeptember 7, 2017 at 6:10 AM

      @OA Police
      The point of Saint Anselm's Proof was to show that the nature of God entails the existence of God, correct? Thomists agree that God's nature in a sense entails His existence, but that isn't enough for the proof to succeed. We must actually know God's nature, to show how His existence follows therefrom. In other words, we happily acknowledge that the argument is [i]valid,[/i] but traditionally the problem has been that Anselm's Proof rests on knowledge of God that we can't have [i]a priori.[/i] But in acquiring such prerequisite knowledge, we end up demonstrating God's existence along the way anyhow.
      I won't try to speak for anyone else, but sometimes I think the original argument can be salvaged, if we accept that whatever God is like, He must be worth worshiping.


      Note I didn’t mention Anselm’s own rendering. Although the Pros. 3 reading might be accepted the OA I have in mind is the modal variation employed by Craig (which is also Leibniz’ version albeit hashed out in possible world terms). As for having knowledge a priori that is a confusion between the psychological and the logical – in order to understanding the possibility of a divine attribute* one doesn’t first have to prove a being with said attribute actually exists (not that the historical order in which these things were discussed matters so much but historically the Church fathers were discussing the attributes before the Cosmological Argument became popular).

      I'm not saying the OA is the most powerful argument but any objection to its possibility premise is an objection to theism anyway, so in providing positive proof of the possibility and compossibility of the attributes as a defensive measure the theist may as well turn this into a positive argument.

      *Caveat: possibility of a divine simple being also functions as a modal argument, for said being cannot be contingent.

      Delete
    15. Of course there are Thomists who discuss the OA more sympathetically - Davis, Pruss, Koons and arguably Leftow: however this tend to be the Thomists more engaged with contemporary Analytical Philosophy of Religion. The manulist types just toe the part-line of rejecting it, interpreting Thomas' criticism in any way they like. This has an overall negative effect on those who come to Philosophy of Religion/Natural Theology through Thomism.

      Delete
    16. @OA Police
      I won’t be able to offer many more replies besides this one, since I’m still getting back into the swing of things this semester, and there are others I’ve been meaning to get back to.
      I’ll start by pointing out that your assertion of “sheer bigotry” seems clearly uncalled for. The suggestion, for example that the tradition generally rejects modern modal theories (and certain other theses the more well-known ontological arguments depend on), judging by your later statements, seems not to have crossed your mind. Maybe there is a prima facie reason for this general rejection? I won’t claim to know, but since you act as if you do, I’d be obliged to hear some of your background in the topic; it should make good reading in my spare time.
      Your later statement, that “They also have a deceitful tendency to interpret Thomas own criticism in a myriad of different ways depending on the circumstance,” also seems uncalled for. In fact, it seems even more egregious than your previous outbursts. It’s as if you don’t know that the tradition has been fairly diverse for centuries. But then, I don’t know your background.
      (And as it strikes me, your temptation to ask that “certain analytical Thomist” your question about the act/potency distinction was well-suppressed, by the way.)

      You also said “Graham Oppy, no friend of the argument, gives [Thomist] criticisms short [shrift] in his study of the OA. If the Thomist criticisms are such deadly knock-down objections one wonders why few professional atheism philosophers bother with them”. Considering that the force of almost any criticism of a position depends on the specific background it was developed in, that may well explain it! No atheist is a Thomist, so we should expect no atheist would find those objections suitable. Did Oppy’s work address Thomist objections within their specific background, or did he dismiss them on other grounds?

      So let’s look at your response to me, personally:
      “Note I didn’t mention Anselm’s own rendering. Although the Pros. 3 reading might be accepted the OA I have in mind is the modal variation employed by Craig (which is also Leibniz’ version albeit hashed out in possible world terms).”
      You’ll have to excuse me for not being able to read your mind. When I went over your other comments, none of them implied anything about which versions of the argument you favored. Instead, you complained about strawmanning THE “glorious ontological argument.”
      You then try to rebut my assertion the argument requires knowledge of what God is like. “[I]n order to understanding the possibility of a divine attribute* one doesn’t first have to prove a being with said attribute actually exists”. But that’s irrelevant. My objection isn’t “we need to prove that God exists to use the ontological argument,” as should have been clear from when I said “in acquiring such prerequisite knowledge, we end up demonstrating God's existence along the way anyhow.” The objection was that we need to acquire knowledge of what God would have to be like if He exists before we can use the argument, but that the act of acquiring this knowledge leads us to other demonstrations of God’s existence. The argument is no longer an a priori proof, the way Anselm had intended, and even becomes redundant. As can be seen, your complaint that my objection confuses the psychological and the logical has absolutely no place.
      I’m not sure what I should make of your following paragraph. I’m sure you wouldn’t dare accuse Thomists of denying the argument’s “possibility premise,” if by that you mean “It’s possible that God exists.” The problem is whether we can derive “God exists” from that. That requires showing that necessary existence is essential to divinity. Now I agree we can do that. But my understanding is that your modal argument also requires a certain modal theory, and as I said above, at least some Thomists have problems with modern modalities.

      Delete
    17. I’ll start by pointing out that your assertion of “sheer bigotry” seems clearly uncalled for. The suggestion, for example that the tradition generally rejects modern modal theories (and certain other theses the more well-known ontological arguments depend on), judging by your later statements, seems not to have crossed your mind. Maybe there is a prima facie reason for this general rejection? I won’t claim to know, but since you act as if you do, I’d be obliged to hear some of your background in the topic; it should make good reading in my spare time.

      My area of interest is philosophy of religion and metaphysics of modality. I have read most modern accounts of modal theory from Analytical Thomists and general Aristotelians. If you want to know more about my background look at the posts on ‘modality’ or ‘OA’ here:

      http://classicaltheism.boardhost.com/profile.php?id=4

      As for Thomists rejecting modern modal theories, they will (rightly I’d say) reject accounts that assay possible worlds as independent abstract objects or concreta and instead take possible world semantics to refer to God’s powers and propositional knowledge. Pruss has an entire book on the topic, a condensed version of which is contained in his essay ‘The Possible and the Actual’ – Ed also gestures at this account when he briefly touches on possible worlds in the course of his discussion of the Augustinian Proof.

      (Thomas own account is not fully clear as it contains elements of the powers theory, something worked out in a far more substantial way by Scotus, and Aristotle’s primitive temporal account)

      Your later statement, that “They also have a deceitful tendency to interpret Thomas own criticism in a myriad of different ways depending on the circumstance,” also seems uncalled for. In fact, it seems even more egregious than your previous outbursts. It’s as if you don’t know that the tradition has been fairly diverse for centuries. But then, I don’t know your background.

      Scholastics post-Thomas have certainly considered the argument and given differing verdicts (including revision which much improve it a la Scotus); as I said further down my criticisms are directed at the manualists and those who followed them. Cf Maritain, Gilson, Lagrange, Holloway and Joyce (who to be fair gives a very fair-minded reading) and O'Callaghan and Oderberg amongst the moderns

      You’ll have to excuse me for not being able to read your mind. When I went over your other comments, none of them implied anything about which versions of the argument you favored. Instead, you complained about strawmanning THE “glorious ontological argument.”

      I assumed the principle of charity, that you would focus on the version of the argument taken most seriously by contemporary philosophers. It’s usually simpler to discuss Plantinga’s version for clarities sake but we can discuss the modalised version Anselm himself gave if need be.

      I’m not sure what I should make of your following paragraph. I’m sure you wouldn’t dare accuse Thomists of denying the argument’s “possibility premise,” if by that you mean “It’s possible that God exists.” The problem is whether we can derive “God exists” from that. That requires showing that necessary existence is essential to divinity. Now I agree we can do that. But my understanding is that your modal argument also requires a certain modal theory, and as I said above, at least some Thomists have problems with modern modalities.

      Which modal theory is this? I’ve mentioned those relevant to the account above. One doesn’t even have to spell the argument out in possible world semantics (Scotus, Leibniz and Harteshorne), although that’s useful as it helps make it clear to the reader that we are not talking about existence, necessary existence or what have you as a property like ‘redness’.

      Delete
    18. @OA Police
      I have to keep this short, since I’m between classes.
      First, I’d like to thank you for directing me to that post from Classical Theism. My only regret is that I haven’t been on there in a long time, but I’ll take a look at that soon.
      “I assumed the principle of charity, that you would focus on the version of the argument taken most seriously by contemporary philosophers. It’s usually simpler to discuss Plantinga’s version for clarities sake but we can discuss the modalised version Anselm himself gave if need be.”
      I was running on the principle of charity when I addressed your vague allusion to THE “glorious ontological argument”! What version of the argument deserves that title more than one of Anselm’s original versions? That you expect a stranger to focus on the version contemporary philosophers take most seriously doesn’t follow from the principle of charity, but from knowledge about you, personally. But that’s just nitpicking on my part.

      Delete
  3. Flew mentions background information, but in a paper published in epistemology journals the McGrew's argue that evidence can both ways, so that a miracle can be evidence for God. Also, when they argue for the resurrection modelled with Bayesian probability, they argue that the Bayes factor (the specific evidence) at least pushes the burden of proof on the skeptic to maintain such a low prior probability (background information). Just as a matter of principle, the athiest's background information should be influenced by new evidence.

    I think you would agree with this Dr, Feser, with your comment on someone seeing a reanimated corpse in front if their eyes.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Dr. Feser,


    Since we are talking about anomalous events as regards the laws of nature, what would an Aristotelian think if, say, water were to turn into cold orange juice once it reached the temperature of 100 degrees Celsius?

    This would be a completely anomalous event, and would happen for no reason, and I would really like to see what an Aristotelian would have to say about possible anomalies happening in the course of nature.

    After all, there are many anomalies in nature that we cannot explain, and the very fact that the Aristotelian views the laws of nature as just immanent causal regularities which allows for exceptions here and there seems like an interesting idea that could be employed to, say, explain how it is even possible that water could deviate from it's natural causal course by turning into orange juice several times, without explanation.


    And what's even more important is that quantum mechanics views the laws of nature as inherently probabilistic.

    Water could in fact turn into orange juice at a 100 degrees, a brick could in fact turn into flowers when it hits glass, and particles literally could randomly organise themselves in a certain point and freeze a random object.

    All of these anomalies are perfectly possible, they are just so extremely unlikely that they simply cannot happen within our universe's lifespan.

    What is the A-T explanation of this account of the laws of nature? Are probabilistic accounts of nature which are inherent in QM, which do allow for all sorts of random anomalies in principle, compatible with A-T?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. While quantum field theory (please don't discuss quantum mechanics, that theory has been superseded) is indeterminate, it does not mean that anything goes, or bricks can turn into flowers or water into orange juice. Objects are still bound by the conservation of energy, momentum, electric charge and so on.

      The indeterminacy of quantum field theory simply means that even given complete knowledge of the state of the material universe at one moment in time, we wouldn't be able to predict precisely what will happen at the next moment in time. But we can predict what sort of things might happen. It is not a free-for-all, but
      a choice between a small number of options.

      For example, we know that an down quark might decay into an up quark and W^- boson (which subsequently might decay into an electron and anti-electron neutrino). Quantum field theory tells us that decays such as this might happen, if energy and momentum are conserved. It gives us a means to compute the probability that such an event would happen in a given time frame. But it also tells us that it is impossible for an electron to decay into a proton and photon, and that numerous other decays are impossible.

      In short, quantum physics is a) indeterminate and b) tells us that without a direct act of God it is impossible for water to turn into orange juice (while the total energy and momentum of the water and orange juice might be the same, it would still require individual molecules to become other molecules where conservation laws are broken). Not just an exceptionally low probability; impossible.

      Delete
    2. Ah, so on QFT such drastic things are in fact impossible.

      So this means that anomalies aren't actually possible, but what about actual anomalies then? If an actual anomaly happened, what would be the explanation?

      Is it reduced to God, or will there be something natural to explain it?

      Delete
    3. JoeD - you wrote earlier "there are many anomalies in nature that we cannot explain" then you continued your argument by talking about water turning into orange juice. Nobody seems to have ever seen this happen, so why not use an example out the "many" that you say actually exist.

      Delete
    4. Hmm, ignoring quantum field theory for now, it seems that your examples aren't something that an A-T view could tolerate. Exceptions to regularities are tolerated, but there still needs to be an explanation, such as something that prevents it from attaining its natural ends. If samples of water happened to turn into orange juice at 100ºC without an observable cause, A-Tists would have to assert that there must still be some explanation, even if we can never know what it is.

      Delete
    5. @Grace and Rust,

      I guess my mistake was to add the ''for no reason'' clause in there.

      It's kind of obvious that if water really did turn into orange juice, everyone would be asking themselves ''Why did it happen? What's the cause?''

      But I do realise now that saying that water turned into orange juice for no reason would be to claim that it's a brute fact, so yeah.

      But still, would A-T's have no problem with water turning into orange juice provided that there is still a cause, even if it turns out to be very exotic? Say a random quantum fluctuation that manipulated the information of the water in it's wave-function and changed it in such a way that it became orange juice?

      I'm reminded of a video made by Owchywawa where he discusses whether or not something can pop out of nothing. He makes a rejooinder to the effect that empty space could have something in it's nature that allows it to sometimes randomly produce stuff out of nowhere, but that this is completely irrelevent to classical theism because empty space is not nothing and still in fact has an essence distinct from it's existence.

      But the only problem I can see with the quantum fluctuation explanation would be that this would mean that nature is fundamentally made out of information which can be manipulated, which means that the physical matter of water could change it's form if the fundamental information were to be changed.

      This might play havoc with the A-T conception of Prime Matter (which doesn't physically exist) and Form ( which does) because we might then have to conclude that the information that is fundamental to reality is in fact the Prime Matter.

      Delete
    6. @JoeD
      I don't find it problematic to suppose that an exotic cause transmuted water into orange juice, except perhaps insofar as it messes up our theories of physics. For an advocate of A-Tism, the prime matter just lost the form of water and gained the form of orange juice. (I really, really want to reword that for some people, but I don't know how!) If that has a cause, it seems like A-Tists can allow for it.

      Now, I don't know what to say about "manipulat[ing] the information of the water . . . [so] that it becomes orange juice," but I don't believe this is actually problematic. This information is not Prime Matter, since it is what makes said matter to have its specific properties and final ends. You actually implied as much when you gave your example; if the information were the Prime Matter, then by changing the information, we end up destroying the original stuff, and replacing it with new Prime Matter. But you appear to believe that something is still there to do the transforming.

      Delete
    7. So A-Tists don't have a problem with water turning into orange juice not because it's Prime Matter was changed, but because an underlying physical part of it (i.e. quantum information) was changed?

      But one interesting thing that this brings up is the similarity between the A-T thesis that Prime Matter cannot be destroyed and created anew, and the first law of thermodynamics that states that energy can neither be created nor destroyed.

      For example, it seems logically possible that the first law of thermodynamics could be suddenly erased and thus a form of change would occur where the law no longer applies to any physical system.

      Such a possibility is also countenanced by physicists who believe in the multiverse when they claim that universes could exist where the laws of physics are completely different, such as a universe where the laws of thermodynamics no longer apply, which basically means universes where energy is both created and destroyed, and also universes where the arrow of time runs backwards and instead of going towards increasing corruption and entropy, things go towards more order and stability.

      Would an A-Tist be able to countenance such a possibility where energy is in fact created and destroyed and/or where the arrow of time runs backwards, that is, if the multiverse really existed and such universes really did exist in it as well?

      Delete
    8. @BB
      You are wrong on several points:

      "(please don't discuss quantum mechanics, that theory has been superseded)"

      Quantum mechanics has not been superseded at all. Quantum field theory is simply quantum mechanics, but taking in account relativistic effects and quantizing fields.

      It's not however a new theory or framework, but simply a completion, just like special relativity completes classical mechanics at very high speeds.

      Still QFT still rests on the postulates of QM and it's basic ideas.

      To note that relativistic quantum mechanics came out over 80 years ago from Dirac and others and so did quantum field theory, so they are not new compared to quantum mechanics.

      The only difference today is that Feynman and others managed to solve the renormalization problem.

      --

      "The indeterminacy of quantum field theory simply means that even given complete knowledge of the state of the material universe at one moment in time, we wouldn't be able to predict precisely what will happen at the next moment in time. But we can predict what sort of things might happen. It is not a free-for-all, but a choice between a small number of options."
      First of all you don’t even need to invoke QFT for this, in any case don’t confuse “indeterminacy” with “stochastic behavior”
      Indeterminacy is related to the measurement of observables and the Heisenberg uncertainty principle for pairs of observables which have non-commutating operators.
      The stochastic behavior, which you refer to, means that for some observables, we cannot know a priory the value of it, but we can only have a probability distribution for it.

      Moreover, it does not have to be a “a choice between a small number of option”. The position of an electron in a hydrogen atom has INFINITE number of position it can be, from the nucleus to basically infinity. Of course, the probability to find it even 1 micrometer away from the nucleus is so small that it is extremely unlikely.
      What is quantized, for example in the hydrogen atoms, is the energy and angular momentum of the electron. There you have limited options.
      For the rest, yes, quantum theory does not allow anything to happen, but everything that happens must follow some basic rules.
      You do not even have to go invoke particle decay, just absorption of photons by an hydrogen atom is already a clear example: it will only absorb certain energies.

      Delete
  5. And one more, even more important thing I want to mention.

    Dr. Feser, you mention in the OP how the A-T account of human nature and philosophy could account for how and why a person was raised from the dead.

    A person's soul is the form of the body, and only the God of classical theism could bring an immaterial rational form back into a body to revive it.

    While this is a perfect apologetic to explain why it is impossible that aliens could have raised Jesus from the dead, or why it's impossible that we just so happen to live in a universe in the multiverse where particles randomly happened to reverse the course of death for a body, it does raise certain questions.

    For example, what if other religions have a story of a person being resuscitated from the dead?

    More specifically, what if we were to encounter stories from primitive tribes with primitive religions claiming that their elders have raised a person from the dead via the help of entities other than God?

    After all, only God could actually raise a person from the dead, so does this entail that we would have to conclude that God helped these primitive tribes, despite the fact they were calling upon entities/spirits that are not God?

    This seems like a problem that the A-T view of human nature would have to adress.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's a mainly historical question. Not a problem for A-T philosophy per se

      Delete
    2. What I'm most interested in, though, is what would be the A-T response to that? Would he have to admit that God acted in a fashion that seemingly confirms other religions authenticity, or at least helped out primitive tribes and thus further pushed them into their animistic beliefs?

      Indeed, what would be the Christian explanation of such an event then? If the A-T philosopher admits such a thing could happen, would the A-T Christian have the same response available

      Delete
    3. I don't see what the problem is here. That God may have some purpose in "seemingly confirm[ing] other religions authenticity" is possible; He did harden Pharoah's heart, after all. A-T does not, and in the nature of things cannot, offer an explanation of everything God does or might do. That's not philosophy's job. Someone well versed in both theology and history might have something useful to say about it, but even there, the degree of certainty (absent revelation) would be less.

      For instance, the background conditions of the Incarnation involve the Jews being a vassal state of Rome, in a world already Hellenized for three centuries. That would seem to entail that God was working through such obviously unedifying careers as those of Phillip, Alexander, Julius, and Octavian. I don't see a problem with that.

      Delete
    4. 1: How does the hardening of the Pharaoh's heart mean that God was seemingly confirming the authenticity of another religion? Could you please elaborate your example there?

      2: So you are implying that, if a raising from the dead were to occur in another religion, that God could have some purpouse for that as well? That does seem likely, perhaps, but how is your analogy of God using hellenisation and Roman conquest a parallel to, say, a tribesman raising a corpse from the dead using spirits?

      Delete
    5. I simply referred to Pharaoh's heart as something undesirable when considered in itself, in isolation from it's context, but which served God's plan. That's all.

      The instance of what good came out of the tribesman's raising a corpse would have to be considered in its context. But no one I know of claims to be able to discern all God's purposes in His actions. Scripture itself encourages the opposite attitude. At most, when we know how things turned out, and enough about the background, we can see a little (hence my Roman/Hellenistic example). Surely writers could come up with hundreds of scenarios where the reanimation ends up spreading Christianity, for instance.

      Delete
    6. Ah, so this is a case where God's Divine Providence plays a part right?

      A-T metaphysics establishes independently that only God can raise a person from the dead, but also that Divine Providence is real.

      These 2 things coupled together with Christianity entail that, whatever the case, because God exists independently, all of it is part of His providence, whether we can understand how or what he plans to do with it, or not.

      Delete
  6. It all depends on what is included in the body of background knowledge about how the world works. . . . [S]uppose . . . that we have independent and very solid grounds to believe that God exists, that we have independent very solid grounds to think that human beings have immortal souls that survive the deaths of their bodies and could in principle be reunited with those bodies if God acted specially to make this happen, and so on.

    Newman makes a similar argument in his Grammar of Assent when dealing with Hume's arguments about miracles.

    ReplyDelete
  7. JoeD,
    When you talk about water turning into orange juice, do you have in mind a particular sample of water, such as water in this particular jug that has turned into orange juice or do you mean that all the samples of water are turning into orange juice?

    ReplyDelete
  8. @Gyan,

    I have in mind a particular body of water, such as a regular glass container.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Just two points, one of them small:

      1. Please understand that, in A-T, when a given substance (that is, a particular substance, like this water) changes to a substance of a different kind ("species" in A-T), what changes is the form. The whole point of Prime Matter is that it is the part that doesn't change, that which persists. In your case, the change in the "underlying physical part of it (i.e. quantum information)" would be a case of this, a change of form. (The word "information" is itself a clue to this.)

      2. Less important, while I see your point that the persistence of Prime Matter is a bit like the 1st Law of Thermodynamics, that fact cannot be used to read either one into the other. To do so would take a lot more than simply a certain parallelism.

      Delete
    2. 1: So the underlying quantum information is NOT the Prime Matter, rather it is still the form? If that's the case, then this means that change in underlying matter which is NOT Prime Matter can result in a change of form, right?

      2: Does this mean that the persistence of Prime Matter is independent of the First Law? If so, wouldn't this entail then that A-T could accept the possibility of a universe where the First Law doesn't hold? Or a universe where corruption runs backwards?

      Delete
    3. 1. The point really is just that Prime Matter isn't "matter" in the sense that modern physics uses the term. But "change in underlying matter" wouldn't result in, but be the result of change in form. (Assuming that the change is a change from one type of substance to another; otherwise it would be a change of accidents in the same substance, as when our hair turns grey.)

      2. Since Prime Matter, per se, is neither matter nor energy as physics uses those terms, the 1st Law wouldn't seem to be relevant. Since Newton came centuries after Aquinas, and millenia after Aristotle, I don't see why they'd be upset if he weren't exactly right. But how far that is so is beyond me; there may be a sense in which it would be a problem for them. So far as "corruption running backwards", I'm not sure. In A-T corruption would happen according to the potentials of the substances corrupted, that is, to their essences. But the door is open that there may be odd cases.

      One thing I don't understand is the frequent implication that changes in modern science should be problems for premodern philosophy. I don't say that's what you're doing (I'm not sure) but it is common and odd.

      Delete
    4. 1: So the substantial change that results in hydrogen and oxygen forming water is a change in Prime Matter taking on form? And when the hydrogen and oxygen combine together at the purely physical level, that is enough to change the Prime Matter's form then?

      2:So Aquinas wouldn't have a problem with a real Perpetual Motion Machine, or energy being created and destroyed as well then? If so that answers my first question about A-T being compatible with denial of the laws of conservation.

      And as for time running backwards, the idea is basically that a universe exists where time literally runs backwards.

      Energy does not get corrupted, but rather it's nature is to get ordered together.

      I suppose that according to your answer such a thing is perfectly possible in A-T?

      Delete
  9. 1. Not quite. "[C]hange in underlying matter which is NOT Prime Matter can result in a change of form" cannot be the case. The change IS a change in form, full stop.

    2. No, even calling them "independent" too strongly implies they are related in some sense. They really have nothing to do with each other. They just look alike from certain points of view. Since the First Law was formulated well after A-T, I don't see how the latter would have a problem with the absence of the former.

    I think your problem is that you are thinking of all this too much in terms of modern physics. That's not what A-T is talking about. It's like those who ask how A-T physics (modern scientific sense) would work differently than it does today. Answer: It wouldn't; the matter at hand is the metaphysical conclusions people read from modern science which would change, not the method. THAT is what the debate is about. (Or maybe I'm wrong about this last.)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. 1: Understood. But the change I'm refering to when water turns to juice is that a certain quantum fluctuation changed the underlying information of the water, and configured it in such a way that it gave rise to orange juice.

      A similar thing could also occur when one were to melt down, say, a random piece of coal and moss and divide it at the atomic level, and then reorganise those atoms to form the structure of a cat, and thus end up with a living cat being created from atoms of non-living things being specifically arranged at the atomic level.

      Admitting for the sake of argument that this was possible, and interesting conclusion arises: A) Anything is potentially everything at the atomic scale, and B) This is similar to melting down a rubber ball and it's loosing it's spherical form and gaining the form of a molten mass of rubber. This means that re-arranging atoms and molecules to create something new can in fact change the form of a thing.

      In fact, this shows there are at least 2 ways of changing the form of a thing:

      1) By changing it's physical constituents in a way that gives rise to something new

      2) By acting directly on the Prime Matter without actually touching any of the material constituents.

      A quantum fluctuation that turns water into orange juice would be an occasion of 1) then.


      2: So A-T metaphysics would have no problem with a universe where the First Law does not apply, as well as a universe where time (corruption) runs backwards. right?

      Delete
  10. The problem with Hume's miracle critique is that the prior probability for belief in miracles should be based upon background knowledge as opposed to experience. If you take the example of the Indian prince being justified in not believing in ice, since he has never experienced it, this is where the problem lies. One could show the Indian prince coconut oil turning into a solid, since its freezing point is 76 degrees, and then explain to him the process of solidification, and explain that something similar happens to water at a lower temperature, and due to his geography he will never experience this temperature, hence he will not experience ice, but it is reasonable to believe in ice. Once this background knowledge is established, then ice suddenly becomes reasonable to believe in for the Indian prince. The issue that I would have with the alleged resurrection of Jesus is that there seems to be no context in which this miracle takes place, it seems to be an absurd event. If for example the traditional notion of original sin was correct that there was this fall from a pristine state of justice that happened 6000 years ago, then this would create a context in which the miracle seems very reasonable. Through one man sin entered the world, through another it was redeemed type of context. The reverse engineering of people like Kenneth Kemp towards original sin and evolution actually show that what was original sin has to be squeezed into a box that makes it into a silly narrative. I remember a discussion between Gary Habermas and James Crossley on the minimal facts argument, and Gary Habermas stated at the very beginning and at the end that he is not arguing for the minimal facts without adding worldview presuppositions, but never went into what those worldview presuppositions are. The Christian that I have seen do that is Dale Allision, but his worldview presuppositions seem to be faith based claims based upon hope, and not something that could be shown to be true. Here is a selection from Craig's site on Dale Allison's book http://www.reasonablefaith.org/dale-allison-on-the-resurrection-of-jesus

    "He begins his investigation by confessing both his reasons for wanting to believe in Jesus’ resurrection and his reasons for doubting it. His four reasons for having a proclivity toward affirming Jesus’ resurrection are: (1) The teaching of Jesus is left hanging without a dramatic, post-mortem endorsement; (2) a God who intervenes in history is preferable to the distant God of Deism; (3) Jesus’ physical resurrection is a compelling affirmation of the goodness of the material world; and (4) Jesus’ resurrection gives hope for personal immortality (pp. 214-9). I myself share all of these proclivities."

    I don't hold to any of these four, and these seem like statements that cannot be proven to be true as I said earlier, but something to hope for.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The moral of the story is that a lot of leg-work needs to be done before the minimal facts argument even works. You've basically summed up what Dr. Feser has said on his blog several times (most notably here: http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2014/05/pre-christian-apologetics.html) The minimal facts argument only has force for people who don't have what they think are very good reasons for denying the possibility of miracles. Otherwise, the best one can do is get them to say "Well, we just don't know how to explain all of this, not yet anyway."

      I also agree with you that Original Sin, if it provides an explanation for human death, and shows our need for redemption, gives us a context for the resurrection of Christ. However, you're not so clear on why evolution forces people into either rejecting Original Sin, or else accepting a "silly narrative," in part because you name-dropped someone without telling us how he drew his conclusions, or even where he does so. Not to be rude, but I don't believe you can be clear on that; I expect that if you clarified it enough, you would see that the heavy lifting behind your assertion is actually done by your other philosophical commitments, rather than by the science.

      Delete
    2. I was referring to an article by Kenneth Kemp titled, "Science, Theology, and Monogenesis". I find the form fitting of original sin into evolution that he tries to do in his article as being reduced to a silly story that is open to being ridiculed, "monkey sex" or "zombie sex". That is not point though. The point is that if the original conception of original sin was found to be true, and that there was a pristine state of justice with no death and suffering, and something bad happens, and then we start to see death and suffering enter into the world, this would be objective evidence that forces the skeptic to acknowledge that the Christian worldview has merits. If "original sin" gets to be explained more as "original sinfulness", and by that I mean an existential outlook about the suffering in the world and man's alienation, then the skeptic would just say that this is just your existential outlook, but there is no objective basis to it whatsoever, the Muslim and the Hindu over there have a different "myth" to explain their condition, and I am not using the word myth to mean that it is false. Without this objective evidence version of original sin, it seems as if the worldview presuppositions of the Christians to argue from the minimal facts to Jesus are more based upon an existential outlook, like to ones that I referenced from Craig's site about Dale Allison's book titled, Resurrecting Jesus. He is a believer in the resurrection, but his reasons seem to be based more upon hope and wish, instead of objective evidence.

      "He begins his investigation by confessing both his reasons for wanting to believe in Jesus’ resurrection and his reasons for doubting it. His four reasons for having a proclivity toward affirming Jesus’ resurrection are: (1) The teaching of Jesus is left hanging without a dramatic, post-mortem endorsement; (2) a God who intervenes in history is preferable to the distant God of Deism; (3) Jesus’ physical resurrection is a compelling affirmation of the goodness of the material world; and (4) Jesus’ resurrection gives hope for personal immortality (pp. 214-9). I myself share all of these proclivities."

      I share none of these views, and you can't prove them to be true of false, they seem to be preferences. This is my point.

      Delete
    3. Original Sin isn't typically part of the background suppositions which ground the evidence for the resurrection though. The resurrection rests on (1) the existence of God (2) God interacting in the world (3) God choosing the interact in the world as revelation

      Delete
    4. Take an analogy from Buddhism. 1) There is suffering 2) There is a cause of suffering 3) There is the possibility of the cessation of suffering 4) There is a path to the cessation of suffering. This could be seen as a type of medical diagnosis. 1) Disease 2) Diagnosis 3) Cure 4) Treatment. Basically, there needs to be a reason for the resurrection, and that has to be more than a deity performing an act of magic that only he can perform. The resurrection should have a reason, and that reason is based upon evils in the world having a cause in an original sin event. Outside of that it seems arbitrary. Now, I think you assume that context, but since you don't have objective evidence of original sin, it becomes more of an "existence communication". Now to be honest, the existentialist in me does not see a problem with this, since we are not just bloodless rational beings that deal only with logical argumentation and probabilities, but with lived experience. The problem is that I have completely different "existence communications" than you do, and how does one argue that? Here is some background.

      https://www.pdcnet.org/pdc/bvdb.nsf/purchase?openform&fp=faithphil&id=faithphil_1988_0005_0002_0168_0184

      Here is the important sentence, ". My thesis is that existence communications are comparable in their resistance to objective forms of adjudication to first principles, and comparable in their “self-involving” characteristics to teleological principles about the “raison d’etre of existence"

      Here is an article that has a title that goes into this.
      http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1741-2005.2009.01291.x/abstract

      Delete
    5. @Nyklot
      It looks to me that you’ve confirmed my point that your philosophy would be doing the heavy lifting. But you also give the impression that you agreed with that. Since you said that the silliness isn’t your point, I won’t worry about it.
      Now I think I should point out that I said we need Original Sin to explain /human/ death and /our/ need for redemption. The suffering and death of other species is not important for Original Sin. This “solves” your problem with existential outlooks here, in the sense that it shows that there is a matter of fact, rather than merely a subjective view. It isn’t about “original sinfulness,” and actually involves a change in the world. However, it still leaves the skeptic open, since he can say that, as far as the record shows, humans have always died. On the other hand, the skeptic has this way out even on the non-evolutionary views of Original Sin, so the point becomes moot. So saying, showing that the resurrection is both possible and probable given the facts we have about God and history would suffice to show that Christianity has merits. In other words, a skeptic may have a defeater for one of the conditions that makes the resurrection intelligible, but in the case of Original Sin, that is far from sufficient for doubting the resurrection itself. Worse, if the resurrection happened, that is very strong reason to think that Original Sin is true. Since his historical defeater only works against very specific theories of Original Sin, it doesn't contribute.

      You then observe that "you can't prove [Allison's view] to be true of false, they seem to be preferences." But that isn't much of an objection; we don't need absolute proof, we just need for these views to be reasonable. You don't even need those views to justify the resurrection! You seem to be confusing subjective motivations with objective evidence and background conditions.

      Delete
  11. How does Hume's critique deal with evidence? If we have, for example, good evidence for a miracle or paranormal claim, does Hume's critique mean we must discount that? I know Hume himself developed the critique precisely because he was flummoxed by the miracles, and evidence for them, associated with the tomb of François de Pâris. But, unless one thinks the laws of nature, as we know them, always hold, then it seems to me witness testimony and other evidence is always going to be important. It must figure, at least, in how we judge the whole situation and our background knowledge.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. @Grace

      First, you can't use your metaphysical-historical context to support the resurrection, if you use the resurrection to support your metaphysical-historical context. That would be circular reasoning.

      Second, to see death as an aberration from what was meant to be, and to see humans as needing redemption cannot be proven to be objectively true to the non-Christian. These are more of what I alluded to earlier as "existence communications". I think Allison is being honest in that he states for the resurrection to be the best explanation he will have to add in worldview presuppositions. I think the idea of presuppositions seem arbitrary, so if I were a Christian, I would adopt the Kierkegaardian position of existence communications, in that the Christian worldview has the highest degree of "“self-involving” characteristics to teleological principles about the “raison d’etre of existence"".

      I don't think that having an existential support for your religion is a bad thing, if you only have that it is a bad thing, since you could be accused of fideism. I don't think only having a religious system where you having a first principle that is simple, pure actuality, and infinite is good either, even though this is necessary. I think the ideal is when these two are synthesized. You might find this article interesting.

      https://www.pdcnet.org/pdc/bvdb.nsf/purchase?openform&fp=acpq&id=acpq_2014_0088_0003_0559_0571

      I think this is an interesting sentence, "At the same time, Lonergan would rightly object to what at times seems at least to be Hegel’s annulment of religious mystery, and the claim Hegel sometimes seems to make that the cognitive achievements of philosophy result in a sublation of the existential concerns of religion.", though I believe this could be a caricature of Hegel as some dry and bloodless idealism, but the point is interesting, should we sublate these existential concerns?

      Delete
    2. It's not neccessarily original sin that is presupposed as background information for the resurrection. Natural law theory of ethics and the inability to be ethical by our own effort would be relevant for the intervention of God and His reasons for intervening. Also, philosophical anthropology and the arguments concerning it and the existence of the soul claim that show a specific interest in humans. Again, independent reasons from original sin that provide some intelligibility and plausibility to a miraculous intervention.

      Delete
    3. @Nyklot:

      "First, you can't use your metaphysical-historical context to support the resurrection, if you use the resurrection to support your metaphysical-historical context. That would be circular reasoning."

      There's no circularity here. The resurrection isn't being used in that manner, neither as grounds nor as evidence for the metaphysics. (It's hard to see how it could be.)

      Delete
    4. @Nyklot
      First, I’m not using my metaphysical-historical context to support the resurrection, and then using the resurrection to support my metaphysical-historical context. I thought I made it clear that Original Sin simply isn’t part of the metaphysical-historical context to begin with. Is it a matter of history? Perhaps. Does it assume a certain metaphysics? Perhaps. But that doesn’t make it part of the context being used to support the resurrection.

      Second, as I told you above, /we don’t need to *prove* these assumptions/. In the case of Allison’s views, they only need to be reasonable starting points. (Actually, it seems we can dispense with them here!) In the case of the other two beliefs you cite, that death is an aberration, and that humans need redemption, we don’t need to assume those before we can accept that the resurrection narrative is possible, or that it happened. That it happened within a particular, larger context is evidence for Original Sin, which isn’t even a starting assumption. Instead, we infer that doctrine’s truth in order to explain why the event actually occurred, /given that it did/. That you bring it up again, with the context of existential communications, suggests to me that part of our dispute is that you want objective motivations for them, apart from belief in the resurrection. That can be done, but it strikes me as entirely secondary.

      Third, I haven’t implied anywhere that having existential support for Christianity is a bad thing. The worst that can be said is that I have left them out of this context because they’re not essential to defending the resurrection narrative.

      Delete
    5. Let us use this definition / explanation of what reasoning to the best explanation is

      "In this paper I want to cast doubt on the claim that there is a legitimate process of reasoning to the best explanation which can serve as an alternative to either straightforward inductive reasoning or a combination of inductive and deductive reasoning. I shall argue a) that paradigmatic cases of acceptable arguments to the best explanation must be considered enthymemes and b) that when the suppressed premises are made explicit we have all of the premises we need to present either a straightforward inductive argument or an argument employing both induction and deduction."

      In case anyone is interested it is the abstract by an article written by R.A. Fumerton titled, "Induction and Reasoning to the Best Explanation". Let us focus on a and b, more so b. What are your suppressed premises that add to the minimal facts that make the resurrection the best explanation.

      Minimal Facts
      1) that Jesus died by crucifixion
      2) that very soon afterwards, his followers had real experiences that they thought were actual appearances of the risen Jesus
      3)3) that their lives were transformed as a result, even to the point of being willing to die specifically for their faith in the resurrection message
      4)that these things were taught very early, soon after the crucifixion
      5)that James, Jesus’ unbelieving brother, became a Christian due to his own experience that he thought was the resurrected Christ
      6)that the Christian persecutor Paul (formerly Saul of Tarsus) also became a believer after a similar experience.

      Background context that supports resurrections
      ???
      ???
      ???
      ???
      ???
      etc.

      There needs to be a background context that makes it the best explanation, give me the list like Gary Habermas has given the six minimal facts.

      Delete
    6. Obviously, in order to claim the resurrection is the best explanation of the facts you have to argue it was a miracle rather than a natural event.

      - God exists

      In order to make it plausible that God would intervene you would give arguments for the soul like the argument from Ross on the indeterminancy of the physical to show that God has intervened before and with humans in particular.

      -God has intervened in the world before and with humans in particular

      Those are just two 'implicit' premises, but they are two of the most important. In order to appeal to a miracle, you obviously need God to exist and if he has intervened before it would make it plausible to appeal to His action again.

      - more broadly, you would want reasons to think it plausible for God to raise Jesus from the dead particularly. This would include evidence from what he did and said etc.

      Are you familiar with Bayesian analysis? It deals with most of this. Theres mountains of papers on it. Its probably the best way yo model probability ( ;) ) and that's just what inference to the best explanation is!

      Delete
    7. @Callum

      The problem with using a Bayesian analysis is how do we assess the prior probabilities of events or conditions.

      As far as the background context that you give, if grant that God exists, I find the God which is a pure act and simple to have problems with ideas like Trinity, counterfactual free will to create, miracles, revelation, and grace. I think Divine Simplicity coheres better with the Vedantic Brahman, and it seems that David Bentley Hart does so as well given the title of his new book.

      Also, I don't see why a Jewish apocalyptic prophet is that special as to warrant resurrection over another person.

      Delete