Thursday, December 8, 2022

Is God’s existence a “hypothesis”?

Over at Twitter I’ve caused some annoyance by objecting to the phrase “the God hypothesis.”  The context was a discussion of Stephen Meyer’s book Return of the God Hypothesis: Three Scientific Discoveries That Reveal the Mind Behind the Universe.  My view is that to present theism as a “hypothesis” that might be confirmed by scientific findings is at best irrelevant to actually establishing God’s existence and at worst harmful insofar as it insinuates serious misunderstandings of the nature of God and his relationship to the world.  Since Twitter is not a medium conducive to detailed and nuanced exposition, here is a post explaining at greater length what I mean. 

First, what is a hypothesis?  Wuellner’s Dictionary of Scholastic Philosophy provides a useful first approximation:

hypothesis, n. a conditional or provisional explanation of observed facts or of their connection with each other; a tentative explanation suggestive of further experiment and verification.

“Conditional,” “provisional,” and “tentative” are crucial terms here, but I hasten to emphasize that I am not objecting to someone’s taking a conditional, provisional, or tentative attitude as such.  Suppose, for example, that someone said that he was contemplating Aquinas’s First Way or Leibniz’s cosmological argument, and so far was willing to accept them provisionally or tentatively but was not certain that they were successful proofs.  Am I claiming that such a person must be guilty of a misunderstanding of the nature of God or his relationship to the world?  Not at all, even though I personally think both those arguments happen to be successful demonstrations of God’s existence.  Again, it is not tentativeness as such that I am objecting to.

The problem is with the specific way that a hypothesis is provisional or tentative, and that way is indicated by Wuellner’s reference to the need for “further experiment and verification.”  But it is brought out better by another definition of our term, this time from John Carlson’s Words of Wisdom: A Philosophical Dictionary for the Perennial Tradition:

hypothesis (n.): As used in the natural sciences, a predictive judgment about an empirical event that will occur under a describable set of conditions.  (Hypotheses are sometimes generated by more general theories; if the predicted events in fact occur, the hypotheses are said to be confirmed, and this in turn provides additional rational support for the theories in question.)  Also: “hypothetical” (adj.), “hypothetically” (adv.).

Now, I am citing works in the Scholastic tradition to reflect the point of view from which I approach these matters, but on this particular issue I don’t think Wuellner’s and Carlson’s account differs in any relevant way from what your average non-Scholastic philosopher or scientist would say.  The idea is, first, that a hypothesis is a tentative explanation of some empirical event that will occur under certain conditions.  Hence, suppose some effect E occurs under certain conditions of type T.  We might hypothesize that a cause of type C is responsible, and then go on to test this by bringing about an instance of C under conditions of type T and seeing whether an instance of E follows.  If it does not, we might form some new hypothesis, to the effect that it is another sort of cause (of type D, say) that is responsible.  But even if our prediction is confirmed, it is possible in principle that it is nevertheless not really C that is producing E, but some other causal factor that is merely correlated with C.  So we’d need to do further testing to rule that possibility out.  And in any event, if there really is some causal connection between C and E, only such empirical investigation is going to reveal it, because the causal relationship between them, even if real, is going to be contingent.  Again, it will be possible that something other than C is the cause, so that the most that further testing can do is render this supposition improbable (even if, perhaps, highly improbable).

Now, this sort of relationship between C and E is simply not like the relationship between God and the world as that is understood by classical theism.  God’s creating the world is not a matter of making it the case that this specific thing happens in the world rather than that specific thing.  Rather, creation is a matter of making it the case that there is any world at all.  Moreover, theism holds that the fact that there is any world at all is something that could not even in principle have obtained in the absence of divine creative action.  For classical theism, if we’re talking about a view according to which the world might have existed apart from God, but simply happens not to do so, then we’re not really talking about theism but rather about something that only superficially resembles it.

Of course, the atheist will deny that the world has this character, and I’m not denying for a moment that showing that the atheist is wrong about that requires argumentation.  The point is that the kind of argumentation involved will not be a matter of forming empirical hypotheses and then testing them (using Mill’s Methods, or appealing to probability theory, or whatever).  That’s just a category mistake.  It is instead going to involve metaphysical reasoning that begins with much deeper facts about the world – for example, the fact that the things that make it up are compounds of essence and existence or of actuality and potentiality – and arguing that nothing that is like that could exist even for an instant without a sustaining cause that is not composite in such ways.  (Longtime readers will understand what I am talking about, but for the uninitiated, these are examples of concepts appealed to in Thomistic and Aristotelian arguments for God’s existence, which I have expounded and defended at length elsewhere.)

Certainly it would be absurd to suppose that such reasoning is like the hypothesis formation and testing familiar from natural science.  For example, it would be absurd to suggest that something whose essence and existence are distinct might in principle be sustained in being by something other than ipsum esse subsistens, and that we need to come up with some empirical test to show that this is unlikely.  That would be as absurd as, say, a Platonist arguing that something other than the Form of the Good might in principle be responsible for things having whatever measure of goodness they have, but that this is improbable given the empirical evidence.  Or it is as absurd as a mathematician proposing that there is solid confirming empirical evidence that makes it probable that 12 x 48 = 576.  The point isn’t that we don’t need to provide an argument for the claim that 12 x 48 = 576, or for the claim that there is such a thing as the Form of the Good, or, again, for the claim that the world could not exist even in principle apart from God.  The point, again, is that the kind of argumentation we would have to give would not involve forming hypotheses and then coming up with ways to test them empirically.  That simply would not reflect the nature of mathematical facts, or the nature of the Form of the Good (if such a thing exists) and its relation to particular instances of goodness, or the nature of God and his relationship to the world.

Of course, someone might claim that there are no good arguments other than those that involve empirical hypothesis formation and testing.  (Good luck making sense of mathematics on that supposition.)  But whether that really is the case is precisely part of what is in dispute between classical theism and atheism of the kind inspired by scientism.  Hence, without an independent argument establishing that such arguments are the only respectable ones, such an objection would simply beg the question.

Now, someone might also object that an argument need not get you all the way to God to get you part of the way.  And that is perfectly true.  Suppose, for example, that some version of the argument from contingency (such as those defended by Avicenna, Aquinas, and Leibniz) really does demonstrate the existence of an absolutely necessary being.  That would certainly do much to establish classical theism, even if one did not go on to show that this necessary being had further divine attributes such as omnipotence and omniscience.  For necessity itself is one of the divine attributes, which radically differentiates God from everything else, so that to establish that something exists of necessity is a crucial step on the way to a complete argument for theism.

Could it be said, then, that even if arguing via empirical hypothesis formation and testing does not get us all the way to God, it can still be useful in getting us part of the way?  Well, to be fair, I’d be happy to consider a specific purported example to see exactly what such an objector has in mind.  But if the reasoning involved is like that described above, then I would answer in the negative. 

Suppose I kept finding leaves in my yard near a certain tree, and hypothesized that my neighbor was intentionally dumping them there.  Suppose you pointed out that the number and arrangement of the leaves is perfectly consistent with their having fallen there from the tree as a result of the wind, or because squirrels or other animals are knocking them off the branches.  Suppose I responded: “Sure, my argument doesn’t go all the way to establishing that my neighbor is responsible, but the evidence gets me at least part of the way there.”  You would no doubt be unimpressed.  Sure, my neighbor could have put the leaves there, but there is simply nothing in the evidence that requires such a distinctively human cause (as opposed to an inanimate cause like the wind, or a non-human animal).  So the support the presence of the leaves gives my hypothesis is negligible at best.

Similarly, hypothesis formation and testing like the kind described above, whatever else might be said for it, simply doesn’t deal with phenomena that require positing a divine cause, specifically.  And the reason, again, is that such hypothesizing deals only with questions about why some natural phenomenon is this way, specifically, rather than that way, whereas divine creative activity has to do with why such phenomena exist at all; and that it posits causes which merely could be, but need not be, responsible. 

The point I am making is essentially the same as the one Kant famously made when he argued that what he called “physico-theological” arguments (an example of which would be Paley’s design argument) cannot in the nature of the case get us to God, but only to a kind of architect of the world.  The reason is that they explain at most why the world is arranged in a certain way, but not why it exists at all, and thus do nothing to establish causality of the strictly creative kind that is distinctive of God.

That is by no means to deny that such arguments might pose serious challenges to certain purported materialist or naturalistic explanations of this or that phenomenon.  But to undermine some particular naturalistic explanation, however important, is not the same thing as establishing theism.  The relationship between the two sets of issues is more complicated than that.

104 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. "Suppose, for example, that someone said that he was contemplating Aquinas’s First Way or... I personally think both those arguments happen to be successful demonstrations of God’s existence."

      The First Way attempts to use scientifically testable observations as a basis for logical arguments for the existence of god.

      The First Way is an argument from motion, which is offered in the general sense of change of heat in the example of heat-fire-wood. Motion is also used in its more common literal sense, as positional translation through space, in the example of hand-staff.

      Thus, if one is using the First Way as an argument for the existence of god then the assertion of the existence of god is indeed a scientific hypothesis in that the examples of the First Way are scientifically falsifiable.

      Science has already falsified the argument from motion, therefor the god hypothesis has been scientifically falsified, to the extent it depends upon the First Way, which has already been falsified.

      The statement "the staff moves only because it is put in motion by the hand" is clearly false, as the staff will move ad infinitum (as Aristotle posited for motion in the void) absent an impeding medium. The fundamental error of Aristotle, Aquinas, Feser, and the majority of posters here is in failing to realize that space, for motion, is the functional equivalent of the void, and everything is in space, including the hand and the staff.

      The false statement by Aquinas that "the staff moves only because it is put in motion by the hand" is based on the false notion that absent a continuous mover the staff will slow, and stop, and its motion will be lost, therefore, it was incorrectly thought, a mover is required to keep it moving.

      In truth, all objects in the universe are part of a system of perpetual motion such that motion is never lost, only transferred and mutually perpetuated in some form.

      "arguing that nothing that is like that could exist even for an instant without a sustaining cause"
      Feser has this back to front in a very strange inversion of logic.

      If material exists at time1 and continues to exist at time2 that is no change in the existence of that material, therefore no changer is called for to account for no change.

      If material exists at time1 and ceases to exist at time2 that is a change in the existence of that material, therefore a changer is called for to account for the change in the existence of that material.

      Sustained existence = no change, therefore, no changer.
      Unsustained existence = change, therefore, a changer.

      Pretty simple. How Feser and all the good posters here can be confused on such an obvious point is a puzzlement indeed.

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  2. Natural reason remains fallible. This is also true for natural theology. Seen from the point of faith, however, the existence of God is a praeambulum fidei. This means that for the Christian, belief in the existence of God participates in the certainty of faith or supernatural revelation.

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    1. There is no such "certainty" certainty though, because epistemically the belief in a religious doctrine will always be less than certain. And the same goes for God's existence with all the traditional attributes (omniscience etc).

      Talk of "certainty of faith" is at best confusing

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    2. God's supernatural revelation cannot be uncertain. And faith is not a mere human work but God's work in us, i.e. grace.

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    3. "God's supernatural revelation cannot be uncertain."

      This is confused. While it is certain that *if* a revelation is from God, that revelation is certainly true, there is no way that a human being can be truly epistemically certain of a religious faith, that it really is from God, etc.

      No one can know that e.g. "Catholicism is true" with the same certainty that they know "2 + 2 = 4" or the principle of non-contradiction.

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    4. Well, then you don't know the difference between faith and reason.

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    5. Perhaps. But whatever it is, I take it as absurd to suggest one could have epistemic certainty about a religion. That can't work.

      And I do think a lot of talk about faith is confused. The only definition that seems to make more sense to me is something like "trust in what one cannot see" or more broadly trust in what one doesn't know by himself - a knowledge by trust, such as when I know something about physics because some expert physicists have assured me even though I never demonstrated it for myself or did any experiments about it. That's faith. In the case of a religion it could come about as trusting what an authority says because you think they are backed up by God (but you need rational reasons for affirming that backing-up, and you can't be certain of that)

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    6. @RunDec, you write:

      And I do think a lot of talk about faith is confused. The only definition that seems to make more sense to me is something like "trust in what one cannot see" or more broadly trust in what one doesn't know by himself…

      More traditionally, faith is simply a trust based on evidence. It is never a grope or a blind hope. You also write:

      There is no such "certainty" certainty though, because epistemically the belief in a religious doctrine will always be less than certain.

      How certain are you of that? If you are to any degree less than certain of that claim, then the door is open for as much religious certainty as a claimant says. If not, then I think you bear the burden to explain.

      No one can know that e.g. "Catholicism is true" with the same certainty that they know "2 + 2 = 4" or the principle of non-contradiction.

      And you know this how? The fact that a claimant may not be able to demonstrate to others the validity of a claim in the same manner as one can demonstrate a mathematical formula does not invalidate the claim. A personal revelation is just that—personal. One would not expect others to have the same insight without a similar revelation. The fact that my certainty cannot convince you doesn’t mean that I am any less certain.

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    7. "How certain are you of that? If you are to any degree less than certain of that claim, then the door is open for as much religious certainty as a claimant says. If not, then I think you bear the burden to explain."

      Irreflectively, I think I am not 100% certain about that. But if I reflect enough on the matter, I think I might be able to reach 100% certainty - in that case, what could you respond?

      Nevertheless, as of now, I admit that I am not 100% certain of it. So what? Although Cartesian doubt is possible for me on that point, it still strikes me as obvious that no one can have absolute certainty of their own religious tradition. It is crazy to think one can be as sure of "Catholicism is true" as one can be of "2 + 2 = 4". My lack of certainty about that is not a "gotcha". There is nothing inconsistent with holding (without absolute certainty) that there can be no absolute certainty about the truth of an entire religion.

      (Notice, also, that I am not claiming there can be no absolute certainty of anything. As a matter of fact I am an infallibilist and I think we can know some things with perfect Cartesian certainty, and infallibly so. But the amount of things we can be truly certain of is very small. The first principles for example, like Non-Contradiction.)

      So, so what if I am not absolutely certain? I still think it's crazy to suggest you can be absolutely certain that the Catholic Church is the one true church founded by Christ (who by the way was really raised from the dead, and by God, not by any other occurrence or being) etc. You are not certain of that. You might be VERY confident about it, for whatever reason, but you're not certain of it. And if you say you are, then I think you are confused.

      "A personal revelation is just that—personal. One would not expect others to have the same insight without a similar revelation. The fact that my certainty cannot convince you doesn’t mean that I am any less certain."

      Sure. I just think you are entirely confused - much like an atheist who says he is certain that the Christian God doesn't exist - and won't buy it. It's absurd to suggest a contingent fact (such as the truth of Catholicism, if it is true) dependent on so many other historically contingent facts, etc., could be the kind of thing a human being could be certain of. And if I had a "personal revelation" about it, I could still question whether I was hallucinating, jumping to conclusions, or whatever - even if I am nevertheless convinced of the revelation! - because it still wouldn't be anything like knowing that contradictions are impossible, that A = A or whatever.

      It also doesn't reflect the reality of religious belief in life. Ordinary believers are not certain of what they believe - except if they say so in a vulgar and irreflective manner. They can be very strongly convinced and pious. But they also struggle with doubts from time to time, and are capable of wondering whether it really is true (even if they believe), and so on.

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  3. I think that the problem of "god hiphotesis" is a problem of theism personalist, present in different hue of philosophers of that faction. WLC with your KLC, although bright, in my humble opinion, fail to explain the concept of God and go more deeper in the concepts of contingency and necessity; this concepts showing a cogent way that the real question about God is that which is the fundamental of reality: something contingent, or a abstract, or concrete necessity.

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  4. Thanks Professor for your work. I can’t begin to describe how much I have learned from you and how you have help develop a deeper understanding and conception of God in my life.

    In the Last Superstition, you outlined five levels of conception of God that a theist can have. Each of the of levels reducing its anthropomorphic limitations. I think level 2 and level 3 are juxtaposed in this post: theistic personalism a level 2 and classical theism a level 3. William Lane Craig has expressed his level 2 conception in this manner: you can use scientific information in a philosophical argument to make theological conclusions. Where you have said that theological philosophy or natural theology should be grounded in the philosophy of nature not the natural sciences. Although I like your leaf analogy in showing that level 2 partial explanation would be deficient, I was wondering wouldn’t a level 4 (unitive experience) and level 5 (beatific vision) conception render a level 3 conception deficient as well, consequently undermining a classical theistic approach? Shouldn’t we just see each conception on a pathway to a mature and fuller understanding of God? Or would you argue that a level 2 conception of God, despite some ostensible apologetic utility, does more damage than good, in a way that a level 3 conception does not when compared to a level 4 and 5? And if so how so?
    Greg Matthews

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  5. No. God's existence is not a human hypothesis. It is a belief, although the belief is neither universal, nor uniform. Donald Davidson said beliefs are one class of propositional attitude. John Dewey said...they are adventures...and (therefore), shady. Searle may have categorized them as institutional rules---though I doubt Professor Searle would have gone that far. I can't ask him---maybe you can?
    Whatever the case may be, the existence OR non-existence of God is not a problem of philosophy. It is a matter of faith, which itself is subject for speculation. And that, in any practical sense, is all that religion and philosophy do have in common, save possibly, metaphysics. It is not so confusing. It depends on interests, preferences and, uh, motives.

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    1. Unless you mean by "God" the deity of the some particular faith, them this seems wrong.

      God existence, at least the God of The Philosopher, is a question discussed by philosophers with the same level of rigor and argument that any other topic for the last 2300 years at least. Professor Feser itself got back to theism thanks to arguments from natural theology.

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  6. The "God Hypothesis" is just another Ultimate Why question, which Paul Edwards addressed many years ago in a Intro to Phil textbook

    "Regarding our second issue, cosmic why questions, Edwards begins by considering what he calls “the theological why.” The theological answer to the theological why posits that a god answers the question of meaning. Major difficulties here include how we could say anything intelligible about such disembodied minds, as well as all of the other difficulties involved with justifying such beliefs. Edwards focuses particularly on whether the theological answer really answers the question, mentioning a number of philosophers in this regard: “Schopenhauer referred to all such attempts to reach a final resting place in the series of causes as treating the causal principle like a ‘hired cab’ which one dismisses when one has reached one’s destination. Bertrand Russell objects that such writers work with an obscure and objectionable notion of explanation: to explain something, we are not at all required to introduce a “self-sufficient” entity, whatever that may be…Nagel insists that it is perfectly legitimate to inquire into the reasons for the existence of the alleged absolute Being…”[ii] Thus, the theological answer appears to be one of convenience that does not fully answer our query; rather, it stops the inquiry by asking no more why questions.

    Edwards differentiates the theological why question—are there gods and do they provide the ultimate explanation?—from what he calls the “super-ultimate why.” A person posing this latter question regards the theological answer as not going far enough because it does not answer questions such as “Why are there gods at all?” or “Why is there anything at all?” or “Why does everything that is, exist?” The theological answer simply puts an end to why questions arbitrarily; it stops short of pushing the question to its ultimate end. One might respond that it is obsessive to continually ask why questions, but most reflective persons do ask “Why does anything or everything exist?” suggesting that the question is basic to thoughtful persons. Of course, it may be that we just don’t know the answer to this ultimate mystery—all we can say is that the existence of anything is a mystery, its ultimate explanation remaining always beyond us.

    According to Edwards, while some philosophers take the ultimate why question seriously many others argue that it is meaningless. The reason for this is that if a question cannot in principle be answered, as so many philosophers claim about this super ultimate why question, then that question is meaningless. Critics of this view agree that the question is radically different from all others but disagree that it is meaningless. They respond that ordinarily, questions must in principle be capable of being answered to be meaningful, but not in the case of this ultimate question. Yet if a question really cannot be answered, and if all possible answers have been ruled out a priori, is that not the very definition of a meaningless question?

    Another way of arriving at the conclusion that the question “why does everything exist?” is meaningless, is to consider how when we ordinarily ask “why x?” we assume the answer is something other than x. But in the case of “why anything at all?” it is not possible to find something outside of everything to explain everything. So meaningful why questions are those which are about anything in the set of all things, but if our why question is about something other than everything, then why has lost its meaning because it is logically impossible to have an answer."

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    1. "Another way of arriving at the conclusion that the question “why does everything exist?” is meaningless, is to consider how when we ordinarily ask “why x?” we assume the answer is something other than x. But in the case of “why anything at all?” it is not possible to find something outside of everything to explain everything."

      This is false; the question is patently meaningful - we understand what is being asked and the mystery that it is dealing with, the mystery of why things exist. It would also be uncharitable to treat as *meaningless* a question that has captivated so many of the best and most influential philosophers throughout history. "Why is there something rather than nothing?" isn't anywhere close to "why do colorless green ideas sleep furiously?". It falsely assumes that if we cannot give an answer with something other than x (to use the example) then the question has no meaning.

      Edwards just begs the question by assuming that there is no answer when there IS an answer, one that has been proposed again and again by philosophers: that it is necessary for something to exist. Why is there anything at all? Because it's impossible for there not to have been anything at all. That is surely an intelligible answer.

      "why has lost its meaning because it is logically impossible to have an answer."

      It's just false that it is logically impossible to have an answer. The answer is precisely that it is logically impossible for no things to have existed. There is something rather than nothing because it's impossible for therr to have been absolutely nothing; there is something that is necessary, which could not have failed to exist, and this is why there is something. There isn't an answer beyond necessity, but that doesn't make the answer unintelligible and certainly doesn't mean we shouldn't accept it; we explain things with necessity all the time in mathematics, philosophy, etc. Plus, if one didn't accept that then they'd have to accept brute contingent things which is irrational (or at least seen as a heavy cost even for those who don't accept PSR)

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  7. My sincere thanks to anon. Was unfamiliar with Edwards. Must read him, myself.

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  8. Dr. Feser said: "The point I am making is essentially the same as the one Kant famously made when he argued that what he called “physico-theological” arguments (an example of which would be Paley’s design argument) cannot in the nature of the case get us to God, but only to a kind of architect of the world."

    While true, the proponent of arguing for God via the 'hypothesis' / best explanation (abductive) route could then claim that 'God being the architect' is the best hypothesis of which architect it is. Thus, something like Paley's argument can get you to God. I have a forthcoming paper in TheoLogica arguing for this: that the theoretical virtues of beauty, simplicity, and unification make it rational to believe that, for example, the personal creator posited by the kalam (or fine-tuning) is actually a perfect being (i.e., God) rather than some lesser creator being.

    Rad Miksa

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  9. Well, you know why they have to present it as a hypothesis. They’re trying to get people inhabiting a secularized culture to not simply dismiss ID out of hand. It’s like talking about theism before you discuss Christianity.

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  10. The philosophical mind focuses on the mere existence of God, but the scientific mind looks for something more: Meyer calls it intelligence. Feser writes as if everyone is a philosopher. No so.

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    1. WCB

      Maybe not.

      https://philpapers.org/rec/BOUWDP

      A survey of beliefs of professional philosopher.

      72.8% - Atheist
      11.6% - Theists
      12.6% - other

      On sites like this, many might assume many or even most philosophers are theists. That seems to not be true if surveys like this are good.

      YMMV
      WCB

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    2. At the very top of the list, with a discrepancy more than double the second highest, is the question of God’s existence. 86.78% of non-specialists said yes to atheism, and by contrast only 20.87% of philosophers of religion said yes to atheism.

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    3. But in philosophy of religion - the branch of philosophy that specifically deals with God, God's nature, arguments for and against theism, etc - the percentage changes and it's almost 70% of theists.

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  11. I'd disagree with the analogy to leaves on the ground though; design arguments are more like finding a bunch of leaves organised in a perfect triangle, which obviously can't be caused by non-intelligent causes, but either by animals or humans.

    And so arguments from design get us closer to God insofar as they purport to show evidence which points to an intelligent cause, and one that's above us as well. Which COULD still be explained by agents other than God, but at least that narrows things down a lot - they have to be intelligent and powerful agents.

    Furthermore, it gives credibility to accounts which say God is the one who created life on Earth directly, which is a pre-existing claim which can be supported somewhat, in a real way, with design arguments, even though not strictly proved by them.

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  12. My charitable reading of Meyer and others is to think of them as positing God as an ultimate explanatory principle. Yes, God's existence can be demonstrated through reason alone. But the metaphysics backing that up is Platonic/Aristotelian. One can alway opt for the Humean route and just be stubborn in their fundamental commitments to bruteness and unintelligibility. It seems to me that we must posit the metaphysics from which our arguments derive as a 'hypothesis,' albeit a hypothesis which make the world intelligible by giving an ultimate explanation.

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    1. I don't think that it is right to call the ur-platonist metaphysics a hypothesis, for the user of the classical arguments to God existence will normally not try to posit that the materialistic metaphysics of the average atheist is less probable than his, but that it is self-contradictory and so has 0% probability of being true.

      Positing the necessary principles for the argument to work as hypothesis seems a modern phenomenon as well. Even WLC, when discussing Aquinas, notes that the saint criteria of a trustworth argument is very strict when compared with his own. Well, from what i can see St. Thomas was just following the normal rigor of his time.

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    2. Thanks for the comment. I want to think that you're right but I need to think more on it.

      I was struck by the debate Dr. Feser had with Arif Ahmed over the first way. Ahmed, IIRC, said that because Hume's claim that something can come from nothing is not logically contradictory, it couldn't be decisively refuted. Because of that, it might seem that the Humean option is still always 'out there' as a slim possibility. Hence, the metaphysics of ur-platonism have to be posited in a sense and not definitively held.

      Perhaps you're right though in that a performative contradiction is the way to go.

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    3. I guess it seems a more epistemical question. Not only the ur-platonists are influenced by the ancient view of a science as giving deductive knowledge of its object but the worldview easily goes with the idea that we can be certain of metaphysical views, so it seems reasonable that the view is so associated with a high confidence on the power of human reason.

      I can see were you are comming from, though. Even ur-platonists like Plutarch*, St. Augustine and St. Thomas tend to see human reason alone as not very capable of stablishing certain truths because of how much good thinkers views vary, so it aways seems possible that our ar-tight argument for our view has a problem we do not know.

      *from what i can remember

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  13. WCB

    Yes, God is a hypothesis. We start by observing the facts of the existence of the physical, material Universe.

    Hypothetical brute facts that explain the existence and nature of the brute fact(s) are hypotheticals. Physics all they way down, gods (plural), one God, or possibly something so alien to our way of thinking we can not yet understand that.

    If God, what is the proven, demonstratable nature of that God. Eternal? Can anybody demonstrate that with real evidence? Not opinion. God is eternal. Classical Christian
    Theologians. How can we test that opinion? God as described by Classical theologians has too many problems. Theological fatalism vs problem of evil and free will. And many other issues that make that God impossible.

    Alister McGrath, well known theologian started a project in the 70's, Scientific Theology. An effort to put theology on firm foundations using the successful approach of hard science. So far, this has gone no where. All theology is opinion, hypthesis and sub-hypotheses and nothing more.

    WCB

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    1. @WCB

      First you say this:

      "If God, what is the proven, demonstratable nature of that God. Eternal? Can anybody demonstrate that with real evidence? Not opinion. God is eternal. Classical Christian
      Theologians. How can we test that opinion?"

      Which sounds like the old and boring empiricist insistence that it is either empirical evidence or opinion. If we get only this, the idea seems that matters of philosophy are only opinion and so God existence and atributes, being not on the reach of science, can't ever be know.

      Now, the classical cosmological arguments start with premisses which empirical evidence needs, like the PSR, so this epistemology is already problematic, but the post gets even worse when we get here:

      "God as described by Classical theologians has too many problems. Theological fatalism vs problem of evil and free will. And many other issues that make that God impossible."

      So, philosophical reasoning DO work after all, hun? These objections* you mention appeal to non-empirical evidence as much as the Five Ways, something like theological fatalism is WAY beyond what something like the scientific method can be useful at deciding, so if we followed the criteria given before them these alleged problems would be also mere opinion and so the Christian God existence would still be possible.

      It seems that we need to stop and discuss our criterias before judging things, man. Can YOUR theological views(atheism is one btw) be stablished?

      *nitpick, but should not "free will" be conected with "theological fatalism"?

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    2. «We start by observing the facts of the existence of the physical, material Universe.»

      Hey, not so fast. How do you go from "observing" right to "physical" and "material"? What do you say to Berkeley's proof that matter is nonexistent?

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    3. WCB

      Berkeley. The problem of persistent objects. If there was an object all observe, but leave and stop observing, and the return, they will once again observe the object. How does that work? Berkeley tells us God observes it, conserving its existence.

      What if it is an apple that later is observed to have become rotten and moldy? How does God explain that?

      Consider an Inquisition torture chamber with its many instruments of torture. Nobody is in the chamber. So God makes these instruments persistent by observing them. Does God have choice? Can he decide to stop observing them, making them go away? If so and God does not, that makes God an ac omplice to torture. But God is biblically claimed dogmatically to be merciful, just, fair and compassionate. If not, g
      God most certainly is not omnipotent, or powerful. How to explain that away metaphysically. Idealism as per Berkeley has severe logical problems. So does dogmatic claims of God's providence and God's immanence for the same reasons.

      WCB

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    4. WCB
      @Talmid

      "It seems that we need to stop and discuss our criterias before judging things, man. Can YOUR theological views(atheism is one btw) be stablished?

      *nitpick, but should not "free will" be conected with "theological fatalism"?"

      Very much so. Ihave posted on that several times here and go no real answer.

      The Bible asserts God foreknows the future. Isaiah 41, 43, 46 etc.
      God creates all.

      If so, God must choose an initial state of the Universe he will create. From whatever state God chooses, God knows what will happen in that Universe. No sentient being in that Universes has free will.

      Now, God having foreknowledge of the future as we are told, will know 13.75 years ago this Universe will have evil mongols, Nazis, Fascists, and Communists. A trillion years ago, God knew in the future he would creat a Universe, and what initial states of creation he would choose.

      We are told dogmatically God is infinitely eternal. So from any point in the past no matter how distant, God knew when he would create a Universe, what initial state of creation God would choose, and the future existence of Mongols, Nazis et al. When did God get to choose any of this? God then has no free will it seems We are all victims a
      Of an eternal, mindless fate, even God.

      Suppose Hans is fated to become a Nazi, join the SS and commit many horrific atrocities as commander of a Nazi death camp. God has no choice, Hans has no choice, so does eternal hell for the sins of Hans make sense.?

      I have posted this (the short version)
      On the net repeatedly, and have yet to see anybody truly answer my little Problem Of Theological Fatalism. Which pretty much seems to make the God of classical theism impossible.

      WCB

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    5. @WCB

      Well, seeing how your evidence here is exactly what the philosophers use when arguing for God existence them we can conclude that your original post is mostly filler and the only part were you were really saying something you agree with is on the "God as defined by christians is impossible" part.

      Seeing how all i wanted to show is that your appeal to empiricism was not sincere, it seems like i won today :)

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    6. WCB

      @Talmid

      You missed the whole point of my demonstration. The propositions God foreknows the future and creates all leads directly to the conclusion free will is impossible in the material Universe. And taken to its final conclusion, even an etrnal God that foreknows the future has no free will.

      All of this demonstrates that everything was fated to be from all eternity to be as it was, is and will be.
      All of this makes God a mere mechanism of creation, and God has no free will, contradicting classical theology. All classical theologians who attempted to deal with the subject of God's foreknowledge and free missed all of this. All of it.

      WCB

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    7. WCB posts in bad faith. He is a Gnu Atheist.

      Not a Philosophical Atheist. Joe Schmit he is not.

      U make me sad WCB. Will you never embrace reason?

      Delete
    8. WCB

      As a matter of fact I also agree that foreknowledge is ultimately incompatible with free will, and I therefore reject foreknowledge, but I don't think your argument works.

      I would respond by saying that you are confusing God's knowledge of an action with its causes. Proponents of foreknowledge would specify that God's knowing what you will freely do is precisely that: God's knowing what you will freely do. His knowledge doesn't cause your choice. Your choice comes first; God knows your choice because it's the choice you make. It's a contingent fact that is ultimately explained by you. God only knows it as a result of you making the choice.

      I would also call attention to an important caveat: most proponents of foreknowledge do not actually accept that God "ALWAYS" knew everything that would happen, at least not without qualification. God's foreknowledge of creaturely acts is dependent on their existence, God first has to create them "before" he can have any knowledge about what they'll do. The one exception to this would be Molinists, who believe that God has "middle knowledge" and therefore knows not only future choices but also "futuribles" and counterfactuals of freedom. So "before" God created the universe that would have Hitler, he did not know (at least not for certain) what Hitler would do. And as soon as God created the universe that would have Hitler in it, it was already "too late" and God would know all that would happen (because it would happen).

      God's foreknowledge of his own choices is more complicated to discuss. Since God is outside of time, he wouldn't really know "in advance" what he would do. There was no "in advance" before the creation of temporal things. So even defenders of foreknowledge would probably not accept that God "foreknew" what he would create. God just freely chose what to create, and with his choosing God knew what he was choosing, that was all.
      As for God's foreknowledge of his "future interferences" in creation, one could respond either that it would be the same case as with creatures (God's choice has a priority over the foreknowledge and is not caused by it) or again God has no foreknowledge of himself because he is timeless even in his actions.

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    9. I am not sure how Foreknowledge is incompatible with free will? It seems they work well together.

      But yer critique of WCB's lame analysis is spot on. Too bad the boi will either ignore U or mindlessly repeat himself.

      It is his MO.

      PS. Good to have an informed critic here. Well done.

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    10. WCB

      @ RunDec

      The point you make is exactly what theologians have claimed since Augustine.

      The point I am making is that if God creates all, and has foreknowledge of future events, God will know all that happens in any Universe's initial state of creation.

      That guts the claims God's foreknowledge does not mean God is responsible for all that exists, including horrendous evil and suffering. Apparently, even the pre-Christian Essenes realized something like this. Their sect manuals from the Dead Sea Scrolls explicitly claim everything is predestined by God.

      Then if we take the claims God is eternal, without beginning, and has foreknowledge of future events, things get weird quickly.

      I always enjoy pushing the metaphysical envelope, pushing claims to their logical conclusion.

      WCB

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    11. Called it. He didn't address even one of your points RunDec. He just ignored what you said and repeated himself.

      WCB you are so predictable I can set mae watch by ya...

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    12. As a matter of fact I also agree that foreknowledge is ultimately incompatible with free will

      Foreknowledge is not inconsistent with free will. But Christian teachings on grace go beyond foreknowledge.

      Every Christian denomination prays that so-and-so converts. Isn't that a little strange? In Disney's Aladdin, Robin Williams as the genie tells Aladdin that he can't wish that Jasmine fall in love with him, because it would take away her free will. But Christians have no problem asking G-d that he make so-and-so fall in love with Him.

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    13. Also the remark by the Fatima spirit that many souls are damned because nobody prays for them is not logically consistent with free will.

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    14. Except God can and does from all eternity foreknow all the actual prayers that will ever be uttered and can from all eternity choose which He will answer and then will from all eternity that the Universe unfolds accordingly.

      God can will conditionally. God can freely choose to do X if you or I do y?

      God can also foreknow from all eternity He will grant special graces to persons because He foresee them praying for said individuals & wills to grant it.

      God can and does use premotion.

      https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B7SKlRTfkUieaUQwYWtxaF9kMzQ/view?resourcekey=0-vmQ8DueYPtmTUar8DZrviA

      God is the first cause of our will's willing things but we are the true secondary causes otherwise divine occationalism is true and it isn't.

      > In Disney's Aladdin, Robin Williams as the genie tells Aladdin that he can't wish that Jasmine fall in love with him, because it would take away her free will. But Christians have no problem asking G-d that he make so-and-so fall in love with Him.

      Well in Bruce Almighty the Morgan Freeman God does make Jennifer Aniston's character freely fall in love with Bruce in the End when he couldn't do it with God's powers.

      Bruce. "Now you are just showing off!".

      We are like 2d shapes in flatland. We cannot conceive of a cube or sphere. God can and does cause us to freely will things and by doing so does not deprive us of being the true secondary causes of our choices.

      I must say this was more challenging then the nonsense WCB repeats ad nausium.

      This is how you do it WCB. Stop being a tool.

      PS I am going to punt on Fatima since I tend to take a St John of the Cross view of private revelations. I ignore them and such revelations can contain doctrinal error if I believe Pope Benedict XIV and of course I do.

      Cheers mate.

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    15. God is the first cause of our will's willing things but we are the true secondary causes otherwise divine occationalism is true and it isn't.

      This doesn't admit a coherent interpretation, except as Baruch Spinoza's analogy of the conscious rock:

      Further conceive, I beg, that a stone, while continuing in motion, should be capable of thinking and knowing, that it is endeavoring, as far as it can, to continue to move. Such a stone, being conscious merely of its own endeavor and not at all indifferent, would believe itself to be completely free, and would think that it continued in motion solely because of its own wish. This is that human freedom, which all boast that they possess, and which consists solely in the fact, that men are conscious of their own desire, but are ignorant of the causes whereby that desire has been determined.

      Judaism has always judged Christianity's views on grace as equivalent to the Buddha's view that good karma determines whether you accept the Dharma. The difference is that Christian grace has counterfactual definiteness while Buddhism leaves it undefined.

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    16. Which Christian view of Grace?

      We Catholics reject Calvinism. I am thinking maybe you are channeling that and not Thomism?

      Divine Occationalism says God is the cause of everything. Fire doesn't burn wood. God is burning the wood and the fire just appears to be doing it.

      In Secondary Causality, Fire is really burning the wood.

      Of course divine occationalism creates a thin line between pantheism and regular classic theism.

      I read somewhere many Muslim theologians are divine occationalists. But I never heard of Jewish one's being that?

      Anyway the doctrine of premotion is the key.

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    17. We Catholics reject Calvinism. I am thinking maybe you are channeling that and not Thomism?

      From what I studied, Thomism and Calvinism differ only on these three points:

      1. Whether G-d is the active author of sin. This is denied in Canon 6 of the 6th Council of Trent, which states that G-d caused the vocation of Paul but did not cause the betrayal of Judas. Calvinists would say G-d caused both.

      2. Whether G-d only named the names of the elect when He was dying on the cross. Calvinists regard it as blasphemous to say that a creature's free will can overpower Christ's sacrifice and thereby nullify it, so they see his dying as being limited in scope, and that for the reprobate it is as if Christ is an abstract Heavenly being (kind of like "The Angel of the L-rd" of the Hebrew Bible) who never became man (but will appear as the judge of the reprobate on the Great White Throne Judgment).

      3. Whether man is capable of doing any good by his own power. Thomists say yes, but natural goodness doesn't merit any kind of Heavenly reward. Calvinists say no, and that things which appear to be naturally good are tainted by impure motivations. Basically original sin vs. total depravity. On this point the Calvinist view seems more consistent with G-d's justice.

      Outside of those three, they do agree.

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    18. Not really because Calvin's views are in no way identical with the doctrine of Premotion which Calvin knows nothing about or discusses. There are similarities but they are not the same.
      For example efficacious grace is in a sense irresistible in that it always infallibly secures the co-operation of the will to conversion. With Calvin irresistible grace is just divine brute force overriding the will.

      Thomist believe Grace which is merely sufficient is resistible.

      We have radically different views on the divine mechanism that move things in the world.

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  14. Belief in the bodily resurrection of Jesus defies good critical thinking skills and common sense.

    If God the Creator came to earth in human form, performed numerous fantastical miracles including raising people from the dead; was publicly tried, convicted, and executed by a governor of the Roman Empire; but three days later, rose from the dead and appeared in "heavenly form" to multiple groups of eyewitnesses, including one crowd of over 500 people, SOMEONE would have recorded the dates of these events. But no one did. These stories are legends, folks. If these extraordinary, fantastical, but undated claims were made by any other religion you would laugh and not give it another second of your time. Jesus may have existed, but the fantastical tales about him are clearly legends. Period.

    https://lutherwasnotbornagaincom.wordpress.com/2022/12/10/gary-i-doubt-you-could-go-toe-to-toe-with-a-knowledgeable-christian-apologist/

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  15. Hi Ed,

    The central problem with the design argument, as you point out, is that in and of itself, it can only take us to a cosmic architect, who could be merely a Demiurge, rather than a Creator. But I put it to you that traditional, cosmological arguments have a problem of their own: all they establish is the existence of an Ultimate Cause, or Necessary Being, which may or may not be personal - i.e. an intelligent moral agent.

    Defenders of the traditional arguments typically attempt to rectify this deficiency by arguing that (i) the Ultimate Cause or Necessary Being must be Pure Being itself, (ii) Pure Being is infinite and utterly unlimited, and (iii) anything which is infinite and utterly unlimited must be intelligent and capable of moral agency - not merely as one agent among many, but as the Agent from which other agents derive their ability to act.

    The problem with this line of reasoning, as I see it, is that even granting (i) and (ii), (iii) does not follow. Intelligence is not a mode of being; therefore even a perfect and unlimited Being need not be intelligent. Nor does God's intelligence follow from his being the Ultimate Cause, for the cause of X need not possess any knowledge of X. One might try to argue that whatever contains the form of X must somehow know it, but this is dumbing down the definition of knowledge. There is no reason to suppose that the mere ability to produce an object’s form gives the producer a knowledge of that form – even in cases when the producer is an immaterial agent. How do we know that He is acting intentionally, in producing the forms which are instantiated in our universe?

    The only solution to this problem, as I see it, is to make the notion of a Personal Agent ontologically fundamental, and attempt to argue that impersonal agents (such as bodies) are, in fact, pale imitations of personal agents: blind rule-followers stripped of any intentionality. John Macmurray defended this approach to God in his Gifford Lectures of 1953-54, later published as "The Self as Agent" and "Persons in Relation." But then, that takes us back to personalistic theism, doesn't it?

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    1. WCB

      As Hume explained, design arguments are actually analogies. God as a watchmaker. But large works of man require many men. Maybe there is no God, but analogically, many gods needed to create a Universe. Or perhaps no designer but an organic cause, like a cosmic carrot. The design argument for God is at bottom, a fallacy, proof by definition.

      WCB

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    2. But I put it to you that traditional, cosmological arguments have a problem of their own: all they establish is the existence of an Ultimate Cause, or Necessary Being, which may or may not be personal - i.e. an intelligent moral agent.

      Defenders of the traditional arguments typically attempt to rectify this deficiency by arguing that (i) the Ultimate Cause or Necessary Being must be Pure Being itself,...


      Interestingly, St. Thomas gives five separate proofs for the existence of God, the fifth of which hinges explicitly on intelligent action, requiring an intelligent agent. While this is concededly not the cosmological argument, there is no reason why the same person cannot argue the cosmological argument AND the order of the universe argument to assert that the root "cause of being" and the root "cause of order" is an intelligent God.

      Sure, you could ask why those have to arrive at the very same God, but there's no reason to assume this is particularly difficult to address.

      Nor does God's intelligence follow from his being the Ultimate Cause, for the cause of X need not possess any knowledge of X.

      But you cannot go the other way: it is impossible for the root cause of the order being different from the cause of being of everything (but itself), because if the cause of being is not intelligent, it cannot be the source of the intelligence that is the source of order in the universe, and it is impossible that the cause of being of the universe act independently of the cause of the order and still be the root cause of being of an ordered universe.

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    3. "One might try to argue that whatever contains the form of X must somehow know it, but this is dumbing down the definition of knowledge"

      Why exactly do you say this? What part of knowledge of a thing is not adequately captured by this definition?

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    4. Hi Tony,

      You refer to the argument from order (Aquinas' fifth way). Ed's reconstructed version of the argument is by far the most sophisticated version put forward by any Thomist scholar. I discussed it a few years ago in an online article: https://www.angelfire.com/linux/vjtorley/feser6.html

      Here's the money quote:

      "The key premise upon which the argument bases its claim that there is an Intelligent Being guiding Nature is that the behavior of natural objects is not only oriented towards the production of certain effects, but also that it is oriented towards future effects, at a fundamental level. This premise is questionable on scientific and philosophical grounds. To establish his case, Feser needs to rebut the claim that the apparently future-oriented behavior of objects can be explained more simply, in terms of their present-oriented tendencies."

      Feser then goes on to argue that there are only three ways in which an end could conceivably exist: (a) in reality; (b) in the mind of an intelligent being seeking to realize it; and (c) as a Platonic abstraction (this is what I call the Three Ways Principle). Feser contends that future ends can only exist in sense (b). However, the Three Ways Principle is questionable.

      Future-oriented behavior would indeed suggest a guiding intelligence, but the hypothesis is superfluous and falls foul of Occam's razor. See here (and especially Problem Number One):

      https://www.angelfire.com/linux/vjtorley/feser6.html#three

      The solution which I propose depends on a rejection of prime matter and of a real distinction between a thing's essence and its existence.

      You also argue that "if the cause of being is not intelligent, it cannot be the source of the intelligence that is the source of order in the universe," but this assumes that intelligence can only come from something intelligent - something which an atheist is not likely to grant. More generally, the claim that order can only come from something intelligent needs to be fleshed out. For me, the fact that the laws of nature are written in the language of mathematics (and elegant mathematics at that) points to an intelligent source. But a Demiurge would not be subject to these laws, so the Fifth Way's proponents need to explain why the cause of the Demiurge has to be intelligent. (Recall that in Greek mythology, Chaos is the father of all the gods.) Cheers.

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    5. So VJ yer still insisting on not making a distinction between univocal comparisons between God and Creature vs Analogy?

      Still stuck in Theistic Personalism land...

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    6. @Vicent

      It is true that the philosopher can't stablish a first cause and them say it is God while never showing that it is inteligent, but that seems largely a trivial observation, for people working on cosmological arguments today call what you are talking about stage 2 of the cosmological argument(stage 1 is showing there is a cause) and several older thinkers, while not using the stage distinction, argued for it.

      In fact, just from memory, Plato, Avicenna, Aquinas and Leibniz all argued for the first cause having a intellect with arguments diferent from the cited. Notice that this saves the cosmological arguments from the kantian objection that Ed cited, for these thinkers used exactly the premisses of the stage 1 of the cosmological arguments to argue for the first cause personhood. I don't think the user of the design argument can go to stage 2 soo easily.

      Also, at least Ed defended a argument like you cited while trying to show exactly why the first cause containing of the forms need to be in a way similar to a intellect, so it is unfair to say that the argument does not do its goal.

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    7. Christianity in practice requires theistic personalism to work. All of the saints had a very theistic personalistic understanding of G-d. This is why the ontological argument (which every logician agrees is nonsense) is so crucial to scholastic thought: because it is the only way you can make the classical theistic G-d of Judaism become a person, because persons are greater conceivable beings than non-persons. That is the loaded chamber of the ontological argument.

      Love in Christianity is also warped. Judaism has chesed, which is the affirmation of being, but it is very different from Christian love, which everyone is waking up to learn is, in fact, evil. All the younger people say "there's no hate like Christian love" because the world is seeing the Truth.

      If you want a religion that isn't a type of idolatry, go practice Judaism. Gentiles have only 7 commandments to follow.

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    8. No God is personal because He has intellect and Will and not in the univocal way a creature has intellect and will.

      Catholicism and Eastern Orthodox Church Fathers have no conception of a Theistic Personalist God. That is a post enlightenment concept.

      Yer thinking of (some) of the Protestants.

      Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy are closer to Judaism. I think you are thinking of Lutheranism.

      >This is why the ontological argument (which every logician agrees is nonsense) is so crucial to scholastic thought:

      Thomists reject that argument mate.

      https://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2011/04/descartes-trademark-argument.html

      https://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2010/11/anselms-ontological-argument.html

      https://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2021/02/can-thomist-reason-to-god-priori.html

      Cheers.

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    9. Classical Theism does not deny that God is personal. "Theistic personalism" is just a terrible name for what is basically the idea that God has distinct parts (such as a power distinct from his intellect, distinct from his essence, whatever).

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    10. Neo-Theism is another term I've heard for Theistic Personalism.

      The later is popularized by Fr Davies who makes the distinction between Calling God personal in the proper sense vs saying God is exactly like a human person only more uber.

      Which He is not.

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    11. @Son of Yakov Thank you for the correction. It's good to know that Thomas rejected it.

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    12. No worries mate. Happy Holidays and Happy Chanakah

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    13. That last one was me? I thought I was signed in on that Computer?

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  16. Or it is as absurd as a mathematician proposing that there is solid confirming empirical evidence that makes it probable that 12 x 48 = 576

    For the product of two small numbers, this is absurd. But for the product of two large numbers, verifying an equality is in practice an empirical task, even if theoretically it can be done a priori.

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  17. Positing God as a scientific hypothesis is dangerous. Hypotheses are by definition falsiable, so there is always a risk that your hypothesis gets falsified.

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    1. God is no more a scientific hypothesis than Reductionist Materialism is one. They are philosophical and metaphysical propositions. They have to be defended with Philosophical argument or challenged with philosophical defeaters.

      Positivism is tedious.

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    2. Och aye the noo Jimmy!

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  18. The knowledge that God exists, i.e., that He is actual, is certainly not a matter of faith: understanding that God exists requires no faith but is very simple knowledge accessible to all honest people, where by honest we define people who do not declare false the true or true the false.
    From a logical point of view, the existence of God is not an axiom, in that it is not a self-evident statement in itself; it is not a hypothesis for the excellent reasons developed by Prof Feser; it is not a conjecture in that it is not a judgment based on non-evidential data: the existence of God is a reality that is logically proven, that is, it is a theorem, that is, grounded in logic, but also one that can be intuited by anyone, even without the pedantic and explicit use of formal logical reasoning.
    I refer, for example, to the work of Christoph Benzmüller (preprint arXiv:2202.06264, 2022) for the very short proof and I limit myself to quote here the three axioms he uses:
    (1) for any entity the lack of any property is not positive, (2) any property caused by another positive property is necessarily also a positive property, (3) "being divine" is a positive property.
    The discussion is thus to be centered not on the existence of God as such but on the meaning of each of these axioms in our real world.
    As Feser himself well points out, only considerations of necessity, and never of contingency as such, can lead to the truth of the claim of God's existence.
    Humans, at 90 percent, usually intuitively perceive the unity of being, its positivity, and come to the conclusion that there must be a God aimed to maintain the coherence of what is good, positive and non-contradictory in their own experiential experience, that is, they "experience" these three axioms and they honestly intuit the only possible logical consequence.

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  19. If not a hypothesis then an axiom perhaps?

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    1. Showing that God existence is axiomatic seems to me the goal of ontological arguments. Dr. Feser did comment on St. Anselm and Plantinga versions and he does not think they work, so he probably would not see God existence as axiomatic.

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  20. I really enjoy Meyer's critiques of evolution. But yes, I completely agree with this.

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  21. WCB

    @Son of Yakov

    Ad hominem attacks are not arguments. Back to the problem of theological fatalism.
    If God foreknows the future and creates all, and is eternal, we soon find this creates serious problems for classical theology.

    In the end, taken to its logical conclusion, no body has free will and all is predestined by a mysterious metaphysicl fate that creates all as it is.

    My little reductio ad absurdum is how we do metaphysics.

    WCB

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    1. You could be a respectable & respected Atheist WCB if only you would learn actual philosophy & stop repeating nonsense you have been corrected on before.

      Trolling doesn't become you. Do better son.

      We dinnae see Joe Schmit acting this way. Or Walter Acker.

      Seriously do better.

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    2. Why do you not actually address WCB's often excellent points Son of Yakov instead of launching ad hominem attacks and your obligatory accusations of trolling? You need to do far better Son.

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    3. Really WCB I have it on good authority people here think you are a troll and joke. You could be so much more.

      Learn how to formulate actual philosophical defeaters. Read some Schmit. It would be a good start.

      You are just making atheists look bad by not doing it.

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    4. Schmid* not Schmit, right?

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    5. Most likely Schmid. Anyway he's grand. His worst offense is he is overly verbose in his responses. But he looks young he will grow out of it.

      He has a future ahead of him in philosophy.

      Atheists who wish to argue against Classic Theists should put him on their reading list otherwise they shouldn't bother.

      I'm serious.

      Merry Christmas.

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  22. Well look, everyone. This is a holy season. A joyful time. Be charitable. Don't try to score debating points. It does no good. But I know it's tempting. In my younger days, I used arm wrestle. I was small but deceptively strong. When I would down a bigger guy, I didn't gloat or smirk. Hell, I complimented them. Always be kind to others. Even people you disllike or who irritate you. I have sometimes taken issue with WCB, but I have done with humor. Merry Christmas.

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  23. Guys, as Anonymous says, let's cut it out with the personal attacks. I won't approve any more comments with that kind of stuff in them, so kindly let the matter drop.

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  24. What I don't get is why people think theistic personalism is pejorative. It seems to me that the prime charge against classical theism is that it (in their view) paints a picture of God that is insufficiently personal. Theistic personalism seems like a perfectly reasonable label.

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    1. It leads to a LOT of confusion. Many people think that classical theists are denying the personhood of God and are therefore positing that he is impersonal. Another problem is that personalism is itself a school of philosophy, Karol Wojtyla for instance was a defender of thomistic personalism.

      And the main charges against divine simplicity aren't that it makes God "insufficiently personal", but that it makes God incoherent, a property, that it leads to problems with contingency, knowledge, and more.

      I just use composite theism or parts theism instead (I would use neo-theism but some said it could be pejorative too) since the main disagreement is over whether God has any distinct parts or not (whether accident and substance, powers and essence, whatever)

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    2. @RunDec Let's not forget Scotistic accounts of divine simplicity also exist, which do admit that the distinct attributes we predicate of God ARE indeed distinct IN God independently of our mind's grasping it. Yet they still keep the simplicity because they don't make the attributes separable accidents.

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    3. What do you mean by separable accidents? Because if Scotists posit that the attributes are really distinct in God, but are not themselves distinct accidents, then they could only be distinct essences (which would be absurd). If by separable it means that the accident could exist apart from the essence, then composite theists also generally deny that (most composite theists also deny that God has proper parts, they just tend to think his attributes are like distinct accidents).

      AFAIK Scotists posit formal distinctions in God, but the very concept of a formal distinction seems to me confused or absurd (it either ends up as a real distinction or a purely logical distinction)

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    4. @RunDec

      Not necessarily - one example sometimes given to explain a formal distinction is like the angles and sides of a triangle; it's logically impossible for any of them to exist separately from the other, so they're part of one being, but they're not the exact same thing either.

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    5. @RunDec Also, Scotists deny not only that God's attributes could exist separately from God, but they also deny that God could exist without the attributes as well. The attributes can neither exist independently of God, nor can God be without them as if the accidents could be removed and just cease to exist upon removal.

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    6. "one example sometimes given to explain a formal distinction is like the angles and sides of a triangle; it's logically impossible for any of them to exist separately from the other, so they're part of one being, but they're not the exact same thing either."

      So? A real distinction doesn't imply separability. Thomists are very insistent upon this point - for example, with the essence and existence distinction. They are really distinct, but not separable.

      If the angles and sides of a triangle are truly distinct, then they are really distinct. Even if one is always necessarily co-instantiated with the other. I still see no merit in formal distinctions: it still strikes me as a completely confused notion. Either a distinction is real or purely logical in some way.

      "The attributes can neither exist independently of God, nor can God be without them as if the accidents could be removed and just cease to exist upon removal"

      Fine, but if the distinction between attributes is a real one it will still fall prey to Aquinas's arguments. If the distinction is not real, but only logical, then we still have the traditional thomistic divine simplicity. "Formal distinction" still seems absurd to me.

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    7. @RunDec Yeah, Scotists reject the distinction between essence and existence as being akin to form and matter, and also reject the specific Thomistic ontology this entails.

      They view the distinction between essence and existence as a formal distinction because it lacks separability. And that's where the meaningfulness of the formal distinction comes in - it's a real distinction in reality but not such that the things in question have "their own being" which would entail separability.

      Even if one doesn't think formal distinctions apply to God, they are a real concept.

      Scotists could answer Aquinas's argument in a few ways - I don't really remember them off hand, but one thing that comes to mind (likely not an actual argument used) is that God doesn't depend on his attributes coming together to form the whole that is Himself. The attributes aren't like that.

      Though that's just my stab in the dark.

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    8. @JoeD

      If that's so, then a formal distinction basically collapses to a real distinction without separability. I'm okay with that, but it would simply be another kind of real distinction, one which thomists would accept anyway (at least some cases of real distinction entail separability; others do not, according to thomists - and I agree).

      I don't see how that gets out of Aquinas's arguments though. You basically asserted that God wouldn't depend on his attributes coming together to form a whole. That's an assertion. The problem is that if the attributes are in fact distinct from God, then they are not God - they are not the divine essence. But then where do these distinct attributes come from? Since they are distinct from the divine essence, they cannot exist a se (otherwise they would be another instance of necessary existence/pure esse which is what the Divine Essence is). But then they will be caused by God (which would be impossible and/or superfluous, because it would be a case of a cause actualizing itself), and would in some manner actualize God (which would be impossible, etc). It's the same reason why God cannot have accidents. It doesn't matter whether the attributes are separable or not.

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  25. In Dr. Feser's twitter account there was a response to the original tweets that I think captures what seems to me a very obvious problem with this criticism of Meyer. Jonathan wrote: "I don’t think the point of these arguments is to make God contingent, but to argue for his existence probabilistically. I don’t see an issue with arguing for a metaphysically necessary being with abduction." To object to this is to say that a contingent argument necessarily entails that the being argued for is contingent. That seems to me quite obviously false. It is the argument that is being characterized as contingent and this does not tell us that the being argued for is either contingent or necessary.

    Dr. Feser responded to this tweet saying: "I know they don't intend to make God contingent. But if an argument leaves it even possible that the world might exist apart from X, then to establish X isn't to establish God (Note that that doesn't entail that X is not God, but only that the arg doesn't establish that X is God)" My response to this is that their aim is not to "establish" God (i.e. the God of Classical Theism who is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob). ID folks are very explicit about this. Their goal is not a scholastic demonstration. After all their arguments are contingent and proceed by way of abduction following the work of Pierce. That this approach does not get us all the way to classical theism and the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob seems to me no grounds for criticizing it as though it accomplishes nothing.

    This appears to me like an older brother who is an exceptional and developed artist criticizing his younger brother for making initial efforts at art because those efforts are not as precise and clear. What would be the point of such an attack? It would certainly seem to me unnecessarily discouraging to the younger brother especially when the two approaches are not mutually exclusive.

    The point I am making is consistent with Wuellner's definition: "a conditional or provisional explanation of observed facts or of their connection with each other". This can be taken in two ways. It can either entail that the existence of the thing that explains the phenomena is contingent and that its relationship to the thing caused is contingent *OR* it could mean that the explanation qua explanation is contingent (i.e. a contingent argument). Is it not entirely consistent with classical theism to recognize the latter possibility with abduction? It is not obvious to me why not.

    It seems that Dr. Feser's answer to this is that an abductive approach can only show causal links that are themselves contingent ("because the causal relationship between them, even if real, is going to be contingent.") It is not clear to me why Dr. Feser thinks it is the case that contingent arguments entail that the being argued for is itself contingent and this seems to me to get at the crux of the issue.

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  26. On a relevant but distinct sidenote, I have noticed that Thomists occasionally treat ID as a whipping boy without understanding it. I don't think that this has occurred here, but I have seen Thomists who act as though the the ID movement is a Protestant thing because it somehow involves the denial of secondary causality. If this were true, it is hard to explain why important Catholic philosophers like Ben Wiker or Catholic thinkers from CUA like Jay Richards would be involved with it. In fact, I know that this is not true because one of the very reasons that I converted from Protestantism to Catholicism in the wake of my graduate study at Wheaton was because I recognized the truth and profundity of secondary causality and how this accounted for the Catholic account of cooperation with grace. I seen nothing within ID that necessarily excludes this sort of causality even if it does not explicitly appeal to it. I have also seen a professed Thomist dialogue with Dr. Behe (a fellow Catholic and a biologist who wrote Darwin's Black Box) and even written about his work and it is obvious from the exchange that this person did not take the time to understand what Behe was saying.

    This brings me back to my point above. I don't think it is fruitful to discourage the good that is done by ID (or is the suggestion that *no good* is done?) by criticizing it for not getting us all the way to Classical Theism or a link way the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. What it does do for many is get them away from a thorough going secular, materialist worldview. Dr. Behe has had many folks tell him that his work saved their faith in God. Now if scholastic demonstrations get them further, that need not cause us to criticize ID for also moving them away from materialism and atheism and toward theism. Although the critique in the post above is a critique of Meyer's work (or the suggestion made by the title of his work), I think the same principle is applicable.

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  27. "Rather, creation is a matter of making it the case that there is any world at all."

    Beyond the focus of Thomistic proofs on God as the cause of the existence of the world, it seems to me that even more can be done with proofs that were not thought possible at the time of Aristotle or St. Thomas. This would require somewhat of a partnership between Thomism and the work of scientists of an ID bent.

    Aristotle thought that there was no possible philosophical demonstration that the world was created in time and not eternal. St. Thomas agreed. This pertains to species or kinds in that they imagined the philosophical possibility that the forms of various animal kinds have been generating offspring eternally. Inferences from the fossil record however show that this is not the case. So we have to account for the origins of these various kinds or species.

    Now the suggestion that such a question has always been approached in a metaphysically neutral way is naive. We have to have some idea of what a species is before we even approach this question. On this point, the classical and medieval realist account of a species is radically different from the Darwinian account which was influenced by a nominalist metaphysics. The darwinian account looks for minute differences to distinginguish species and so you have various small mouth bass "species" in such a view based on some amount of (now) genetic variation. The problem with this approach is that the amount of genetic variation to determine a distinct species is completely ad hoc and the nominalist idea that things are ultimately radically particular actually eliminates species all together.

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  28. In contrast to this, the realist account see an inextricable link between the formal cause of a thing (which is the species) and the final cause (the pursuit of life via certain acts). In the scholastic dictum agere sequitur esse (to do follows upon to be). So we look at what a thing does and this points back toward what it is (its form). All animals pursue the end of life, but they do so in distinct ways and it is those distinct ways that naturally distinguish the species not some percentage of genetic difference randomly selected by some guy in a lab for no principled reason. After all, people were able to dinstinguish species before the work of Mendel. This does not make the work of Mendel unimportant but it does mean that we need a non nominalistic account of species that is not based on some random overlap of genetic code, but is instead based in principles observable in nature outside the lab. After all, I don't need a geneticist to tell me what a dog is and that it is distinct from a cat. The fact that the classification of species is now the exclusive privelege of geneticists is not an inevitable outworking of some scientific theorem. Instead it results from the imposition of nominalist metaphysics and its account of species onto the whole program.

    For those who strictly follow the river forest principle that metaphysics must always follows physics and that the modern sciences are a subset physics (natural philosophy), I would suggest that they pass along this memo to folks like Darwin because he clearly did not receive it. For those in doubt about this, read the work of AC Crombie who was a part of the Pontifical Academy of the Sciences and wrote and magisterial (pardon the irony) three volume work on the modern history of the sciences following his two volume account of the classical and medieval backdrop. In an article summarizing his three volume work, he identifies what he calls various "styles" of European scientific thought that are variously influenced by either nominalism or realism.

    So, like it or not, metaphysics has influenced the way that the modern sciences have developed and we cannot take on the modern sciences as a metaphysically neutral part of our natural philosophy without it having a potentially negative effect on our metaphysics. Again, those who think that we can are, on this point, naive.

    So, a realist metaphysics coupled with scientific facts could approach the origin of the various kinds in order to suggest the relationship between God and the “kinds” or “species” or “forms” of things. This would fit well with the kinds or forms or species as existing in the mind of God as exemplar causes. This entails arguments not just for the existence of the universe in a broad sense, but rather of God as the cause of the kinds or species of things. It seems to me that there is important exploration that is wide open on this point and would, again, involve a partnership between a Thomist and a scientifically informed ID theorist.

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  29. "Could it be said, then, that even if arguing via empirical hypothesis formation and testing does not get us all the way to God, it can still be useful in getting us part of the way? Well, to be fair, I’d be happy to consider a specific purported example to see exactly what such an objector has in mind."

    What about an abductive argument that suggests that the cause of the universe appears to be intelligent? The argument purports to do nothing more than suggest that this would "account for the data" but does not claim to have accomplished a scientific demonstration.

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  30. "That is by no means to deny that such arguments might pose serious challenges to certain purported materialist or naturalistic explanations of this or that phenomenon. But to undermine some particular naturalistic explanation, however important, is not the same thing as establishing theism. "

    If they show that theism accounts well for the data and does so more consistently than atheistic materialism, then it has shown, in its own way, that atheistic materialism is not the only rational approach to scientific data. Now this opening to theism is not the same thing as a conclusive demonstration that atheism is absurd and that theism is necessarily true, but to show that theism accounts for the scientific data (e.g. that the world is intelligible, ordered according to number, etc.) is not to accomplish nothing.

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  31. @Michael

    It seems to me that Ed criticism of ID seems that it tends to aproach things with exactly the wrong nominalist metaphysics of the materialists* and so fails to let the atheist see that his world view is absurd in every way, not only on its lack of a God. He also said before that the view failure to give us more that a demiurge tends to promote a wrong conception of God that the atheists do find reasonable problems with, not the real One.

    Now, are these dificulties enough to dismiss the whole thing? Perhaps or perhaps not, i admit that i dont know ID. But it does seems to be a block against getting people to think in ur-platonists ways, and that is bad.

    *can it do diferently? I dont know.

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    1. Talmid,

      I am not aware of any ID theorist who explicitly or implicitly denies the real extra mental existence of universal formal causes or affirms that only individuals exist. In other words, I know of none who deny realism and affirm nominalism either implicitly or explicitly. So that is not in any way a part of their program. If Dr. Feser has spelled out somewhere that they do so implicitly, I would be very interested to read this and to see the case for it. I am not aware that he has made this argument, but again would be interested to see it if he had done so.

      I would also be interested in knowing where he makes the case that they argue for a demiurge and that this creates confusion. That seems to me much more plausible, but I would still like to see the case for that spelled out if you could provide the link to the blog post or direct me to a publication where this was argued.

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    2. Hey Michael, i'am sorry for taking this long for responding, but there you go:
      http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2010/05/id-versus-t-roundup.html?m=1

      As i don't really have interest on ID, i admit that i never followed the discussion, but it seems that Ed did discuss this a lot.

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    3. Wow. That is quite a slew of posts on this topic. I wasn't following the blog at that time so thank you Talmid locating this and posting it.

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  32. I remember to have read a similar line of argument in a book by David Bentley Hart. For what is worth I agree with both of you and I am happy to know that both of you agree on this very important point at least.Thanks you prof. Feser for your posts and your books that have provided me with nourishment fir my mind and spirit. A reader from Italy

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  33. The "fine-tuning" of the universe, the finding that many cosmological constants appear to be tuned to incredibly tight tolerances for the Big Bang to have occurred without the universe collapsing on itself or expanding too quickly for stars or matter to have formed, is one interesting empirical finding that suggests a Designer responsible for the universe. Theoretical physicists have posited the Multiverse as an alternative explanation for this finding. Why can't the Multiverse be accepted as an alternative first cause? Why is it necessary for the Necessary Being to have a will? Or to be non-contingent? Whatever properties ascribed to God that provide Him His causal primacy could be ascribed to a Multiverse. If we're willing to posit a Being Who is uncreated and exists before all time, I don't see why it's a logical challenge to ascribe those properties to an impersonal structure like the Multiverse.

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    1. Thinkers like William Lane Craig do provide arguments against a multiverse being the best explanation. Besides him there are other thinkers today using the fine-tunning argument.

      But seeing how Ed did say that design arguments cant take us to the God of Classical Theism them he is probably not your guy for this question.

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