Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The road from atheism

As most of my readers probably know, I was an atheist for about a decade -- roughly the 1990s, give or take.  Occasionally I am asked how I came to reject atheism.  I briefly addressed this in The Last Superstition.  A longer answer, which I offer here, requires an account of the atheism I came to reject.

I was brought up Catholic, but lost whatever I had of the Faith by the time I was about 13 or 14.  Hearing, from a non-Catholic relative, some of the stock anti-Catholic arguments for the first time -- “That isn’t in the Bible!”, “This came from paganism!”, “Here’s what they did to people in the Middle Ages!”, etc. -- I was mesmerized, and convinced, seemingly for good.  Sola scriptura-based arguments are extremely impressive, until you come to realize that their basic premise -- sola scriptura itself -- has absolutely nothing to be said for it.  Unfortunately it takes some people, like my younger self, a long time to see that.  Such arguments can survive even the complete loss of religious belief, the anti-Catholic ghost that carries on beyond the death of the Protestant body, haunting the atheist who finds himself sounding like Martin Luther when debating his papist friends. 

But I was still a theist for a time, though that wouldn’t survive my undergrad years.  Kierkegaard was my first real philosophical passion, and his individualistic brand of religiosity greatly appealed to me.  But the individualistic irreligion of Nietzsche would come to appeal to me more, and for a time he was my hero, with Walter Kaufmann a close second.  (I still confess an affection for Kaufmann.  Nietzsche, not so much.)  Analytic philosophy would, before long, bring my youthful atheism down to earth.  For the young Nietzschean the loss of religion is a grand, civilizational crisis, and calls for an equally grand response on the part of a grand individual like himself.  For the skeptical analytic philosopher it’s just a matter of rejecting some bad arguments, something one does quickly and early in one’s philosophical education before getting on to the really interesting stuff.  And that became my “settled” atheist position while in grad school.  Atheism was like belief in a spherical earth -- something everyone in possession of the relevant facts knows to be true, and therefore not worth getting too worked up over or devoting too much philosophical attention to.

But it takes some reading and thinking to get to that point.  Kaufmann’s books were among my favorites, serious as they were on the “existential” side of disbelief without the ultimately impractical pomposity of Nietzsche.  Naturally I took it for granted that Hume, Kant, et al. had identified the main problems with the traditional proofs of God’s existence long ago.  On issues of concern to a contemporary analytic philosopher, J. L. Mackie was the man, and I regarded his book The Miracle of Theism as a solid piece of philosophical work.  I still do.  I later came to realize that he doesn’t get Aquinas or some other things right.  (I discuss what he says about Aquinas in Aquinas.)  But the book is intellectually serious, which is more than can be said for anything written by a “New Atheist.”  Antony Flew’s challenge to the intelligibility of various religious assertions may have seemed like dated “ordinary language” philosophy to some, but I was convinced there was something to it.  Kai Nielsen was the “go to” guy on issues of morality and religion.  Michael Martin’s Atheism: A Philosophical Justification was a doorstop of a book, and a useful compendium of arguments.  I used to wonder with a little embarrassment whether my landlord, who was religious but a nice guy, could see that big word “ATHEISM” on its spine -- sitting there sort of like a middle finger on the bookshelf behind me -- when he’d come to collect the rent.  But if so he never raised an eyebrow or said a word about it.

The argument from evil was never the main rationale for my atheism; indeed, the problem of suffering has only gotten really interesting to me since I returned to the Catholic Church.  (Not because the existence of suffering poses a challenge to the truth of classical theism -- for reasons I’ve given elsewhere, I think it poses no such challenge at all -- but because the role various specific instances of suffering actually play in divine providence is often really quite mysterious.)  To be sure, like any other atheist I might have cited the problem of suffering when rattling off the reasons why theism couldn’t be true, but it wasn’t what primarily impressed me philosophically.  What really impressed me was the evidentialist challenge to religious belief.  If God really exists there should be solid arguments to that effect, and there just aren’t, or so I then supposed.  Indeed, that there were no such arguments seemed to me something which would itself be an instance of evil if God existed, and this was an aspect of the problem of evil that seemed really novel and interesting.  

I see from a look at my old school papers that I was expressing this idea in a couple of essays written for different courses in 1992.  (I think that when J. L. Schellenberg’s book Divine Hiddenness and Human Reason appeared in 1993 I was both gratified that someone was saying something to that effect in print, and annoyed that it wasn’t me.)  Attempts to sidestep the evidentialist challenge, like Alvin Plantinga’s, did not convince me, and still don’t.  My Master’s thesis was a defense of “evidentialism” against critics like Plantinga.  I haven’t read it in years, but I imagine that, apart from its atheism and a detail here or there, I’d still agree with it.  

I was also greatly impressed by the sheer implausibility of attributing humanlike characteristics to something as rarefied as the cause of the world.  J. C. A. Gaskin’s The Quest for Eternity had a fascinating section on the question of whether a centre of consciousness could coherently be attributed to God, a problem I found compelling.  Moreover, the very idea of attributing moral virtues (or for that matter moral vices) to God seemed to make no sense, given that the conditions that made talk of kindness, courage, etc. intelligible in human life could not apply to Him.  Even if something otherwise like God did exist, I thought, He would be “beyond good and evil” -- He would not be the sort of thing one could attribute moral characteristics to, and thus wouldn’t be the God of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.  (Richard Swinburne’s attempt to show otherwise did not work, as I argued in another school paper.)  The Euthyphro problem, which also had a big impact on me, only reinforced the conclusion that you couldn’t tie morality to God in the way that (as I then assumed) the monotheistic religions required.

Those were, I think, the main components of my mature atheism: the conviction that theists could neither meet nor evade the evidentialist challenge; and the view that there could be, in any event, no coherent notion of a cause of the world with the relevant humanlike attributes.  What is remarkable is how much of the basis I then had for these judgments I still find compelling.  As I would come to realize only years later, the conception of God I then found so implausible was essentially a modern, parochial, and overly anthropomorphic “theistic personalist” conception, and not the classical theism to which the greatest theistic philosophers had always been committed.  And as my longtime readers know, I still find theistic personalism objectionable.  The fideism that I found (and still find) so appalling was, as I would also come to see only later, no part of the mainstream classical theist tradition either.  And while the stock objections raised by atheists against the traditional arguments for God’s existence are often aimed at caricatures, some of them do have at least some force against some of the arguments of modern philosophers of religion.  But they do not have force against the key arguments of the classical theist tradition.

It is this classical tradition -- the tradition of Aristotelians, Neo-Platonists, and Thomists and other Scholastics -- that I had little knowledge of then.  To be sure, I had read the usual selections from Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas and Anselm that pretty much every philosophy student reads -- several of Plato’s dialogues, the Five Ways, chapter 2 of the Proslogium, and so forth.  Indeed, I read a lot more than that.  I’d read the entire Proslogium of Anselm, as well as the Monologium, the Cur Deus Homo, and the exchange with Gaunilo, early in my undergraduate years.  I’d read Aquinas’s De Ente et Essentia and De Principiis Naturae, big chunks of Plotinus’s Enneads, Athanasius’s On the Incarnation, Augustine’s Concerning the Teacher, and Bonaventure’s The Mind’s Road to God.  I’d read Russell’s History of Western Philosophy -- hardly an unbiased source, to be sure -- but also a bit of Gilson.  All while becoming an atheist during my undergrad years.  And I still didn’t understand the classical tradition.

Why not?  Because to read something is not necessarily to understand it.  Partly, of course, because when you’re young, you always understand less than you think you do.  But mainly because, to understand someone, it’s not enough to sit there tapping your foot while he talks.  You’ve got to listen, rather than merely waiting for a pause so that you can insert the response you’d already formulated before he even opened his mouth.  And when you’re a young man who thinks he’s got the religious question all figured out, you’re in little mood to listen -- especially if you’ve fallen in love with one side of the question, the side that’s new and sexy because it’s not what you grew up believing.  Zeal of the deconverted, and all that.

You’re pretty much just going through the motions at that point.  And if, while in that mindset, what you’re reading from the other side are seemingly archaic works, written in a forbidding jargon, presenting arguments and ideas no one defends anymore (or at least no one in the “mainstream”), your understanding is bound to be superficial and inaccurate.  You’ll take whatever happens to strike you as the main themes, read into them what you’re familiar with from modern writers, and ignore the unfamiliar bits as irrelevant.  “This part sounds like what Leibniz or Plantinga says, but Hume and Mackie already showed what’s wrong with that; I don’t even know what the hell this other part means, but no one today seems to be saying that sort of thing anyway, so who cares…”  Read it, read into it, dismiss it, move on.  How far can you go wrong?

Very, very far.   It took me the better part of a decade to see that, and what prepared the way were some developments in my philosophical thinking that seemingly had nothing to do with religion.  The first of them had to do instead with the philosophy of language and logic.  Late in my undergrad years at Cal State Fullerton I took a seminar in logic and language in which the theme was the relationship between sentences and what they express.  (Propositions?  Meanings?  Thoughts?  That’s the question.)  Similar themes would be treated in courses I took in grad school, at first at Claremont and later at UC Santa Barbara.  Certain arguments stood out.  There was Alonzo Church’s translation argument, and, above all, Frege’s wonderful essay “The Thought.”  Outside of class I discovered Karl Popper’s World 3 concept, and the work of Jerrold Katz.  The upshot of these arguments was that the propositional content of sentences could not be reduced to or otherwise explained in terms of the utterances of sentences themselves, or behavioral dispositions, or psychological states, or conventions, or functions from possible worlds, or anything else a materialist might be willing to countenance.  As the arguments sank in over the course of months and years, I came to see that existing naturalistic accounts of language and meaning were no good.  

Not that that led me to give up naturalism, at least not initially.  A more nuanced, skeptical naturalism was my preferred approach -- what else was there, right?  My studies in the philosophy of mind reinforced this tendency.  At first, and like so many undergraduate philosophy majors, I took the materialist line for granted.  Mental activity was just brain activity.  What could be more obvious?  But reading John Searle’s The Rediscovery of the Mind destroyed this illusion, and convinced me that the standard materialist theories were all hopeless.  That Searle was himself a naturalist no doubt made this easier to accept.  Indeed, Searle became another hero of mine.  He was smart, funny, gave perfectly organized public lectures on complex topics without notes, and said whatever he thought whether or not it was fashionable.  And he wrote so beautifully, eschewing the needless formalisms that give a veneer of pseudo-rigor and “professionalism” to the writings of too many analytic philosophers.  “That is how I want to write!” I decided.  

Brilliant as he was as a critic, though, Searle’s own approach to the mind-body problem -- “biological naturalism” -- never convinced me.  It struck me (and seemingly everyone else but Searle himself) as a riff on property dualism.  But there was another major influence on my thinking in the philosophy of mind in those days, Michael Lockwood’s fascinating book Mind, Brain and the Quantum.  Lockwood was also a naturalist of sorts, and yet he too was critical of some of the standard materialist moves.  Most importantly, though, Lockwood’s book introduced me to Bertrand Russell’s later views on these issues, which would have a major influence on my thinking ever afterward.  Russell emphasized that physics really gives us very little knowledge of the material world.  In particular, it gives us knowledge of its abstract structure, of what can be captured in equations and the like.  But it gives us no knowledge of the intrinsic nature of matter, of the concrete reality that fleshes out the abstract structure.  Introspection, by contrast, gives us direct knowledge of our thoughts and experiences.  The upshot is that it is matter, and not mind, that is the really problematic side of the mind-body problem.  

This was truly revolutionary, and it reinforced the conclusion that contemporary materialism was shallow and dogmatic.  And that Lockwood and Russell were themselves naturalists made it once again easy to accept the message.  I got hold of whatever I could find on these neglected views of Russell’s -- Russell’s The Analysis of Matter and various essays and book chapters, Lockwood’s other writings on the topic, some terrific neglected essays by Grover Maxwell, some related arguments from John Foster and Howard Robinson.  David Chalmers and Galen Strawson were also starting to take an interest in Russell around that time.  But once again I found myself agreeing more with the criticisms than with the positive proposals.  Russell took the view that what fleshes out the structure described by physics were sense data (more or less what contemporary writers call qualia).  This might seem to entail a kind of panpsychism, the view that mental properties are everywhere in nature.  Russell avoided this bizarre result by arguing that sense data could exist apart from a conscious subject which was aware of them, and Lockwood took the same line.  I wasn’t convinced, and one of my earliest published articles was a criticism of Lockwood’s arguments on this subject (an article to which Lockwood very graciously replied).  Chalmers and Strawson, meanwhile, were flirting with the idea of just accepting the panpsychist tendency of Russell’s positive views, but that seemed crazy to me.

My preferred solution was to take the negative, critical side of the Russellian position -- the view that physics gives us knowledge only of the abstract structure of matter -- and push a similar line toward the mind itself.  All our knowledge, both of the external world described by physics and of the internal world of conscious experience and thought, was knowledge only of structure, of the relations between elements but not of their intrinsic nature.  I would discover that Rudolf Carnap had taken something in the ballpark of this position, but the main influence on my thinking here was, of all people, the economist and political philosopher F. A. Hayek.  The libertarianism I was then attracted to had already led me to take an interest in Hayek.  When I found out that he had written a book on the mind-body problem, and that it took a position like Russell’s only more radical, it seemed like kismet.  Hayek’s The Sensory Order and some of his related essays would come to be the major influences on my positive views.  

But they were inchoate, since Hayek was not a philosopher by profession.  That gave me something to do.  Working out Hayek’s position in a more systematic way than he had done would be the project of my doctoral dissertation, “Russell, Hayek, and the Mind-Body Problem.”  (Both here and in the earlier Master’s thesis link, by the way, Google books overstates the page count.  I wasn’t that long-winded!)  This was, to be sure, a very eccentric topic for a dissertation.  Russell’s views were marginal at the time, and are still not widely accepted.  Probably very few philosophers of mind even know who Hayek is, and fewer still care.  But I thought their views were both true and interesting, and that was that.  (If you want advice on how to climb the career ladder in academic philosophy, I’m not the guy to ask.  But you knew that already.)  

Spelling out the Hayekian position in a satisfactory way was very difficult.  Lockwood had presented Russell’s position as a kind of mind-brain identity theory in reverse: It’s not that the mind turns out to be the brain, but that the brain turns out to be the mind.  More precisely, visual and tactile perceptions of the brain of the sort a neurosurgeon might have do not tell us what the brain is really like, but present us only with a representation of the brain.  It is actually introspection of our own mental states that tells us the inner nature of the matter that makes up the brain.  It seemed to me that Hayek’s position amounted to something like functionalism in reverse:  It’s not that the mind turns out to be a kind of causal network of the sort that might be instantiated in the brain, or a computer, or some other material system -- understood naively, i.e. taking our perceptual experience of these physical systems as accurate representations of their intrinsic nature.  Rather, introspection of our mental states and their relations is actually a kind of direct awareness of the inner nature of causation itself.  We shouldn’t reduce mind to causal relations; rather we should inflate our notion of causation and see in it the mental properties we know from introspection.

So I then argued, and wrote up the results both in the dissertation and in another article.  But the views were weird, required a great deal of abstractive effort even to understand, and one had to care about Hayek even to try, which almost no philosophers of mind do.  To be sure, Searle was interested in Hayek in a general way -- when Steven Postrel and I interviewed him for Reason, and when I talked to him about Hayek on other occasions, he even expressed interest in The Sensory Order in particular -- but this interest never manifested itself in his published work.  Chalmers very kindly gave me lots of feedback on the Hayekian spin on Russell that I was trying to develop, and pushed me to clarify the underlying metaphysics.  But his own tendency was, as I have said, to explore (at least tentatively) the panpsychist reading of Russell.

And yet my own development of Hayek might itself seem ultimately to have flirted with panpsychism.  For if introspection of our mental states gives us awareness of the inner nature of causation, doesn’t that imply that causation itself -- including causation in the world outside the brain -- is in some sense mental?  This certainly went beyond anything Hayek himself had said.  In my later thinking about Hayek’s position (of which I would give a more adequate exposition in my Cambridge Companion to Hayek article on Hayek’s philosophy of mind), I would retreat from this reading and emphasize instead the idea that introspection and perception give us only representations of the inner and outer worlds, and not their intrinsic nature.

This, for reasons I spell out in the article just referred to, offers a possible solution to the problem that qualia pose for naturalism.  But because the view presupposes the notion of representation, it does not account for intentionality.  Here my inclinations went in more of a “mysterian” direction.  I had long been fascinated by Colin McGinn’s arguments to the effect that there was a perfectly naturalistic explanation of consciousness, but one we may be incapable in principle of understanding given the limitations on our cognitive faculties.  I thought we could say more about consciousness than McGinn thought we probably could, but I also came to think that his mysterian approach was correct vis-à-vis the intentional content of our mental states.  Lockwood and Hayek said things that lent plausibility to this.  

I would later largely abandon the Hayekian position altogether, because it presupposes an indirect realist account of perception that I would eventually reject.  (That took some time.  The influence of indirect realism is clearly evident in my book Philosophy of Mind.)  But I had come to some conclusions in the philosophy of mind that would persist.  First, as Russell had argued, physics, which materialists take to be the gold standard of our knowledge of the material world, in fact doesn’t give us knowledge of the intrinsic nature of matter in the first place.  The usual materialist theories were not even clearly thought out, much less correct.  Second, a complete naturalistic explanation of intentionality is impossible.  

But I was still a naturalist.  It was also while still a naturalist that I first started to take a serious interest in Aristotelianism, though at the time that interest had to do with ethics rather than metaphysics.   Even before I became an atheist I had been introduced to the Aristotelian idea that what is good for us is determined by our nature, and that our nature is what it is whether or not we think of it as having come from God.  After becoming an atheist, then, I became drawn to ethicists like Philippa Foot, who defended a broadly Aristotelian approach to the subject from a secular point of view.  Her book Virtues and Vices and Alasdair MacIntyre’s After Virtue were the big influences on my thinking about ethical theory during my atheist years.  

One consequence of this was that I always took teleology seriously, because it was so clearly evident a feature of ordinary practical reasoning.  (How did I reconcile this with naturalism?  I’m not sure I then saw the conflict all that clearly.  But in any event I thought that teleological notions could be fitted into a naturalistic framework in the standard, broadly Darwinian way -- the function of a thing is to be cashed out in terms of the reason why it was selected, etc.  I only later came to see that teleology ultimately had to be a bottom level feature of the world rather than a derivative one.)

After Virtue also taught me another important lesson -- that a set of concepts could become hopelessly confused and lead to paradox when yanked from the original context which gave them their intelligibility.  MacIntyre argued that this is what had happened to the key concepts of modern moral theory, removed as they had been from the pre-modern framework that was their original home.  I would later come to see that the same thing is true in metaphysics -- that the metaphysical categories contemporary philosophers make casual use of (causation, substance, essence, mind, matter, and so forth) have been grotesquely distorted in modern philosophy, pulled as they have been from the classical (and especially Aristotelian-Scholastic) framework in which they had been so carefully refined.  As I argue in The Last Superstition, many of the so-called “traditional” problems of philosophy are really just artifacts of the anti-Scholastic revolution of the moderns.  They flow from highly contentious and historically contingent metaphysical assumptions, and do not reflect anything about the nature of philosophical reflection per se.  And the standard moves of modern atheist argumentation typically presuppose these same assumptions.  But I wouldn’t see that for years.

I was on my way to seeing it, however.  Several crucial background elements were in place by the late 90s.  Fregean and related arguments had gotten me to take very seriously the idea that something like Platonic realism might be true.  (I would later see that Aristotelian realism was in fact the right way to go, but the basic anti-naturalistic move had been made.)  The arguments of Searle and others had shown that existing versions of materialism were no good.  Russellian arguments had shown that modern science and philosophy had no clear idea of what matter was in the first place.  Whatever it was supposed to be, though, it seemed it was not something to which one could assimilate mind, at least not if one wanted to avoid panpsychism.  Naturalism came to seem mysterious at best.  Meanwhile, Aristotelian ideas had a certain plausibility.  All that was needed was some systematic alternative to naturalism.

Then, in the late 90s, while still a grad student, I was given an opportunity to teach a philosophy of religion course, followed by several opportunities to teach “intro to philosophy” courses.  In the latter, I wanted to focus on topics that would be of interest to undergrads who might have no general interest in philosophy.  Since everyone had some interest in religion (even if only, in some cases, a hostile interest), arguments for God’s existence seemed a good topic for at least part of the course.  Naturally, that was a topic for the philosophy of religion course too.  So, I had a reason to revisit the subject after having given it relatively little thought for many years.

At first I taught the material the way so many professors do: Here are the arguments; here are the obvious fallacies they commit; let’s move on.  I never came across like Richard Dawkins, but I no doubt did come across like Nigel Warburton (say): politely dismissive.  And, as I gradually came to see, totally ill-informed.  The “line ‘em up, then shoot ‘em down” approach was boring, and the arguments seemed obviously stupid.  Yet the people who had presented them historically were obviously not stupid.  So, it seemed to me that it would be interesting to try to give the arguments a run for their money, and to try to make it understandable to the students why anyone would ever have accepted them.

So I started to read and think more about them.  I came to find William Rowe’s approach to the Leibnizian sort of cosmological argument interesting and pedagogically useful.  He didn’t seem to accept the argument, but he made it clear that asking “What caused God?”, “How do we know the universe had a beginning?”, etc. weren’t really serious objections.  He also made it clear that the thrust of the argument had to do with what was a straightforward and undeniably serious philosophical question:  Should we regard the world as ultimately explicable or not?  If not, then the argument fails.  But if so, then it does seem to make it plausible that something like God, or at least the God of the philosophers, must exist.  And it didn’t seem silly to wonder whether there might be such an explanation.  Richard Taylor’s clear, punchy chapter on natural theology in his little book Metaphysics made the same point, and made for a useful selection for the students to read.  

Naturally, I had already long been aware of this sort of argument.  The difference was that when I had first thought about it years before I was approaching it as someone who had had a religious background and wanted to see whether there was any argument for God’s existence that was really persuasive.  Russell’s retort to Copleston, to the effect that we can always insist that the universe is just there and that’s that, had then seemed to me sufficient to show that the argument was simply not compelling.  We’re just not rationally forced to accept it.  I had, as it were, put the argument on trial and it had been unable to establish its innocence to my satisfaction.  But now I was approaching it as a naturalist who was trying to give my students a reason to see the argument as something at least worth thinking about for a class period or two.  I was playing defense attorney rather than prosecution, but a defense attorney with the confidence of someone who didn’t have a stake in his client’s acquittal.  Already being a confirmed naturalist, I could be dispassionate rather than argumentative, and could treat the whole thing as a philosophical exercise.  

And from that point of view it started to seem that Russell’s reply, while it had rhetorical power, was perhaps not quite airtight philosophically.  Sure, you could always say that there’s no ultimate explanation.  And maybe there’s no way to prove otherwise.  But is it really true?  Is it really even more plausible to think that than to think that there is an explanation?  Guys like Rowe and Taylor, by no means religious fanatics or apologists but just philosophers entertaining a deep question, seemed to take the question pretty seriously.  Interesting, I thought.  Though for the time being, “interesting” -- rather than correct or persuasive -- was all I found it.  

Then there was Aquinas.  At the high tide of my undergrad Brash Young Atheist stage, I had taken a class on medieval philosophy with the late John Cronquist, an atheist professor at Cal State Fullerton who was absolutely contemptuous of Christianity.  Campus apologists of the Protestant stripe were a frequent target of his ire, though he had a choice quip or two about Catholicism as well.  He was one of the smartest and most well-read people I have ever known -- the kind of guy you find intellectually intimidating and hope not to get in an argument with -- and I liked him very much.  One of the odd and interesting things about that course, though, was how respectfully Cronquist treated some of the medievals, especially Aquinas.  He said that compared to them, contemporary pop apologists were “like a pimple on the ass of an athlete.”  (I remember him dramatically pointing to his own posterior as he said this, for emphasis.)  He obviously didn’t buy the Scholastic system for a moment, but he treated the material as worth taking a semester to try to understand.  And he said a couple of things that stood out.  First, for reasons I don’t recall him elaborating on much, he seemed to think that the Third Way in particular might have something to be said for it.  Second, he said that the mind-body problem, which he seemed to think was terribly vexing, really boiled down to the problem of universals.  For years I would wonder what he meant by that.  (I now think it must have had to do with the way our grasp of abstract concepts features in Aristotelian arguments for the immateriality of the intellect.) 

At the time I filed these remarks away as curiosities (just as I had then regarded the material we covered in the class as mere curiosities).  But I think his example made it easier for me, years later, to take a second look at Aquinas as I prepared course material.  I look back at my first lectures on the Five Ways with extreme embarrassment.  If you’d heard them, you’d have thought I was cribbing from an advance copy of The God Delusion, if not in tone then at least in the substance of my criticisms.  But that started slowly to change as I read more about the arguments and began to work the material into my lectures.  A good friend of mine, who had also gone from Catholicism to atheism and was a fellow grad student, was familiar with William Lane Craig’s book The Cosmological Argument from Plato to Leibniz, and seemed to find it useful in preparing his own lectures on the subject.  Our discussions of the arguments were very helpful.  Furthermore, Atheism and Theism by J. J. C. Smart and John Haldane had recently appeared, with Haldane defending, and Smart treating respectfully, some old-fashioned Thomistic arguments for the existence of God.  Such materials opened up a new world.  The way I and so many other philosophers tended to read the Five Ways was, as I gradually came to realize, laughably off base.  

The immediate effect was that I found a way to teach the Five Ways without seeming like I was putting fish in a barrel for the students to shoot at.  I still didn’t agree with the arguments, but at least teaching them was getting interesting.  I recall one class period when, having done my best to try to defend some argument (the First Way, I think) against various objections, I finally stated whatever it was I thought at the time was a difficulty that hadn’t been satisfactorily answered.  One of my smartest students expressed relief: She had been worried for a moment that there might be a good argument for God’s existence after all!  (Anyone who thinks wishful thinking is all on the side of religious people is fooling himself.)  

None of this undermined my commitment to naturalism for some time.  I published my first several journal articles while still in grad school, and two of them were criticisms of the doctrine of the Trinity.  (I’m now a staunch Trinitarian, of course.  But once again, it turns out that I still more or less agree with the arguments I then presented.  The versions of Trinitarianism I then attacked are, I continue to think, wrong.  But Trinitarianism itself is true.)  

But the language of act and potency, per se and per accidens causal series and the like started to enter my lectures on Aquinas, and before long, my thinking.  It was all very strange.  Aquinas’s arguments had a certain power when all of this metaphysical background was taken account of.  And there was a certain plausibility to the metaphysics.  There were reasons for distinguishing between actuality and potentiality, the different kinds of causal series, and so forth.   Yet no one seemed to talk that way anymore -- or, again, at least no one “mainstream.”  Could there really be anything to it all if contemporary philosophers weren’t saying anything about it?  And yet, precisely because they weren’t talking about it, they weren’t refuting it either.  Indeed, when they did say anything about Aquinas’s arguments at all, most of them showed only that they couldn’t even be bothered to get him right, much less show why he was mistaken.  Arguments from current philosophical fashion are bad enough.  But when most philosophers not only do not accept a certain view, but demonstrate that they don’t even understand what it is, things can start to smell very fishy indeed.

And so they did.  I already knew from the lay of the land in the philosophy of language and philosophy of mind that the standard naturalist approaches had no solid intellectual foundation, and themselves rested as much on fashion as on anything else.  Even writers like Searle, who I admired greatly and whose naturalism I shared, had no plausible positive alternative.  McGinn-style mysterianism started to seem like a dodge, especially given that certain arguments (like the Platonic realist ones) seemed to show that matter simply is not in fact all that there is, not merely that we can’t know how it can be all that there is.  Some secular writers were even toying with Aristotelian ideas anyway.  The only reason for not taking Aquinas and similar thinkers seriously seemed to be that most other academic philosophers weren’t taking them seriously.  And yet as I had come to learn, many of them didn’t even understand Aquinas and Co. in the first place, and their own naturalism was riddled with problems.  Against Aquinas, for naturalism -- the case increasingly seemed to come down to the consensus of the profession.  And what exactly was that worth?  

It isn’t worth a damn thing, of course.  Careerists might not see that, nor might a young man more excited by the “question what your parents taught you” side of philosophy than all that “objective pursuit of truth” stuff.  But a grownup will see it, and a philosopher had sure as hell better see it.  

I don’t know exactly when everything clicked.  There was no single event, but a gradual transformation.  As I taught and thought about the arguments for God’s existence, and in particular the cosmological argument, I went from thinking “These arguments are no good” to thinking “These arguments are a little better than they are given credit for” and then to “These arguments are actually kind of interesting.”  Eventually it hit me: “Oh my goodness, these arguments are right after all!”  By the summer of 2001 I would find myself trying to argue my wife’s skeptical physicist brother-in-law into philosophical theism on the train the four of us were taking through eastern Europe.

There’s more to the story than that, of course.  In particular, it would take an essay of its own to explain why I returned to the Catholic Church, specifically, as I would by the end of 2001.  But I can already hear some readers protesting at what I have said.  I don’t mean the New Atheist types, always on the hunt for some ad hominem nugget that will excuse them from having to take the actual arguments of the other side seriously.  (God Himself could come down from on high and put before such people an airtight ontological proof of His existence while parting the Red Sea, and they’d still insist that what really motivated these arguments was a desire to rationalize His moral prejudices.  And that their own continued disbelief was just a matter of, you know, following the evidence where it leads.)  

No, I’m talking about a certain kind of religious believer, the type who’s always going on about how faith is really a matter of the heart rather than the head, that no one’s ever been argued into religion, etc.  It will be said by such a believer that my change of view was too rationalistic, too cerebral, too bloodless, too focused on a theoretical knowledge of the God of the philosophers rather than a personal response to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

But the dichotomy is a false one, and the implied conception of the relationship between faith and reason not only foolish but heterodox.  As to the heterodoxy and foolishness of fideism, and the correct understanding of the relationship of faith and reason, I have addressed that set of issues in a previous post.  As to the “heart versus head” stuff, it seems to me to rest on an erroneous bifurcation of human nature.  Man is a unity, his rationality and animality, intellect and passions, theoretical and moral lives all ultimately oriented toward the same end.  That is why even a pagan like Aristotle knew that our happiness lay in “the contemplation and service of God,” whose existence he knew of via philosophical argumentation.  That is why Plotinus could know that we “forget the father, God” because of “self-will.”  While the pagan may have no access to the supernatural end that only grace makes possible, he is still capable of a natural knowledge of God, and will naturally tend to love what he knows.  

As Plotinus’s remark indicates, that does not mean that the will does not have a role to play.  But that is true wherever reason leads us to a conclusion we might not like, not merely in matters of religion.  And once you have allowed yourself to see the truth that reason leads you to, what reason apprehends is (given the convertibility of the transcendentals) as good and beautiful as it is real.  If you find yourself intellectually convinced that there is a divine Uncaused Cause who sustains the world and you in being at every instant, and don’t find this conclusion extremely strange and moving, something that leads you to a kind of reverence, then I daresay you haven’t understood it.  Of course, there are those whose heads and hearts are so out of sync that they cannot follow both at the same time.  But we shouldn’t mistake this pathology for an insight into human nature.

Speaking for myself, anyway, I can say this much.  When I was an undergrad I came across the saying that learning a little philosophy leads you away from God, but learning a lot of philosophy leads you back.  As a young man who had learned a little philosophy, I scoffed.  But in later years and at least in my own case, I would come to see that it’s true.

287 comments:

1 – 200 of 287   Newer›   Newest»
Thursday said...

And as my longtime readers know, I still find theistic personalism objectionable.

One of the problems with classical theism though is that, for most people, they tend to find the classical theist god extremely unattractive, even disgusting.

Anonymous said...

One of the problems with classical theism though is that, for most people, they tend to find the classical theist god extremely unattractive, even disgusting.

I think Richard Dawkins is unattractive and disgusting, but if the arguments for his existence are solid, that's the case.

And it's not the problem for "most people" by a longshot anyway. (The classical theism part. Not sure how many think Dawkins looks dorky.)

Gene Callahan said...

"Russell avoided this bizarre result..."

I don't get this reaction to panpsychism. Whitehead accepted the panpsychist result Russell sought to avoid, and while he might be wrong about this, his philosophy strikes as anything but "crazy." And Peirce and W. James were a couple of other, not obviously crazy people, who arrived at panpsychism.

Gene Callahan said...

"for most people, they tend to find the classical theist god extremely unattractive, even disgusting."

Thursday, I seriously doubt that 1 out of 100 people could even gave a vague sketch of what this figure looks like, so how could they possibly find it "disgusting"?

Lazarus said...

Fascinating post, thank you!

Josh said...

A marvelous story. I think your last paragraph must refer to Francis Bacon's remark about "depth in philosophy bringing one's mind to religion."

Brandon said...

Thursday: One of the problems with classical theism though is that, for most people, they tend to find the classical theist god extremely unattractive, even disgusting.

No doubt there are exceptions, but in my own experience this tends to be due to lack of understanding of a particular idea or two -- people who think immutability means inertness, and the like. Plus, as Anonymous and Gene note, "most people" seems a bit strong.

Of course, it's possible that there are people who, while genuinely understanding it, find the Good Itself extremely unattractive and disgusting. That seems a bit of an overreaction; but if that's a problem, it's one well beyond anything I know how to solve.

mattghg said...

One of the problems with classical theism, though, is that it doesn't seem to have much to do with the God revealed in the Bible.

Of course, I completely disagree with the contention that sola scriptura 'has absolutely nothing to be said for it'. I wonder if your have practised what you preach and bothered to actually engage the most able defenders of the doctrine on their own terms.

Will said...

Thanks for posting that. Apart from your intellectual honesty, it makes plain how withered the conception of philosophy among naturalists is.

'Philosophy, that leaned on Heaven before,
Shrinks to her second cause, and is no more.'
- Alexander Pope, 'The Dunciad', 1728 - when everyone got 'Enlightened'

Will said...

@mattghg

Scripture itself says that it is not a sufficient guide to salvation.

Arthur said...

"learning a little philosophy leads you away from God, but learning a lot of philosophy leads you back."

Funny, Sir Francis Bacon said basically the same thing. "A little philosophy inclineth man's mind to atheism, but depth in philosophy bringeth men's minds about to religion." Maybe you were paraphrasing him.

Oh, and mattghg...
I'm not a Catholic, but as far as I know the main problem with Sola Scriptura is that it's self-defeating. Where in scripture does it tell us to adhere to Sola Scriptura? I don't know if I'm "engaging the most able defenders of the doctrine on their own terms", but that seems a good place to start.

Catholic Skywalker said...

Thank you for the story of your journey. I am constantly told, and I agree to some extent, that man is converted more by the heart than the head.

But I have to believe that reason and argument can point the way home too, or the faith is irrational.

David T said...

Ed,

It's interesting that your eventual appreciation of the medievals came about because you were inadvertently forced into their form of argument in your teaching duties. I mean the requirement to clearly present the best case for your opponent's position before you set out to refute him, as Aquinas does in his Summas. You adopted the sed contra and were forced to get beyond the superficialities.

Brian said...

Sola scriptura-based arguments are extremely impressive, until you come to realize that their basic premise -- sola scriptura itself -- has absolutely nothing to be said for it.

I agree that the irony of sola Scriptura is that is an unbiblical doctrine, but it simply not true that the Catholic cannot go toe-to-toe with a non-Catholic Christian in terms of Scripture. Going straight to the incoherence of sola Scriptura implies that we cannot argue from Scripture, and that just is not true.

David T said...

The opposition of the head and the heart doesn't make sense because without the head (i.e. knowledge), the heart has no object, and without the heart (desire), the head has no motivation to seek the truth.

Anyone passionate about the truth is ultimately seeking God (even if they don't know it), because God is the ground of truth. I think this is at least one of the morals of Ed's story.

William M Briggs said...

Once more we see the clear advantage of teaching introductory courses. Nothing focuses the mind better than trying to describe the fundamentals in the simplest way possible. Too, the students' questions can be especially sharp and jarring.

I often wonder why professors seek to avoid these courses. Maybe they're afraid the same thing that happened to Feser will happen to them!

monk68 said...

Ed, Thank you for this wonderful autobiographical sketch. I would be quite interested to read "the rest of the story" with respect to the grounds you discovered for linking the God of classical theism, and His activity in human culture, with Catholicism.

Pax

Acolyte4236 said...

Ed,

Good article and a good way to tease out the role of the psychology of belief (regardless of content).

Ironic that you were at CSUF. I was there 98-2000. Consequently we probably know many of the same people like Merrill Ring, Al Flores and such. ring of course was always my favorite.

That said, the term "classical theism" seems either parochial or mistaken. The Cappadocians for starters don't seem to be talking about the deity of "Classical" theism.

As for some commenters remarks on immutability, showing that deity is pure act in terms of activity will show that God is not inert, but shifting from one end of the spectrum to another seems of no help. The intuitive problem is how does pure actuality square with a picture of deity who freely chooses between options? That is a much harder nut to crack.

chris said...

awesome, thanks for sharing.

Syphax said...

I really enjoyed this. Anything that shows a personal side to the thought process, I like.

Edward Feser said...

Hello all, thanks for your comments. Some brief responses:

Thursday,

I don't know about "most people." I do know that some people who don't like classical theism aim their criticisms at a caricature. E.g. they seem to think that the classical theist thinks of God as a Platonic Form or something, or that the God of classical theism is incapable of loving us in any meaningful sense. I've addressed this issue in my post "God, man, and classical theism."

Gene,

I was not suggesting that panpsychists are literally crazy or without serious arguments. That was just a quick way of noting that I didn't find the view at all plausible. Naturally in a treatment of panpsychism I would explain why I don't find it plausible, respond to the arguments for panpsychism, etc. But the post is not a post on that subject.

mattghg,

No offense meant to my Protestant friends and readers. But I thought it important briefly to indicate how sola scriptura entered into my development toward atheism. But a complete response to that doctrine would take a separate post.

Re: classical theism and the God of the Bible, I've addressed that too in my post "God, man, and classical theism."

Brian,

I'm not denying that. I was only indicating how rhetorically powerful sola scriptura is, and in particular the effect it had on me at the time.

It also depends on the doctrine, though. E.g. scripture based defenses of the Catholic understanding of the Eucharist are much stronger than scripture based arguments against contraception.

So, I think it is correct to say that Protestants don't have as strong a case as they think they have, even given sola scriptura. But I also think it would be silly to go so far as to suggest that all the other main issues of Catholic-Protestant dispute could be solidly resolved in favor of Catholics even given sola scriptura. But perhaps you'd agree with that. Anyway, this was not the topic of the post and would require a separate treatment.

Acolyte4236,

Yes, Merrill Ring was a terrific teacher from whom I learned much, and a nice guy. In fact he was the one who taught the seminar in logic and language that I referred to in the post.

Re: the term "classical theism," I'd have to hear more of what you find objectionable in order to respond, but keep in mind that in the present context the point was just to distinguish the historical Christian theological tradition from more anthropomorphic modern and popular conceptions of God, rather than to settle any argument (or beg the question) in favor of this side or that in any dispute between older Western and Eastern theologians.

Eduardo said...

So doctor, ever asked what you were doing different to think that the arguments you found invalid are now valid?

Syphax said...

I do have a question, Dr. Feser, if you'll allow it. I have been following William Lane Craig for a while and he's a lot more insistent on a sort of spiritual confirmation by the Holy Spirit - and that is how he knows the truth of Christianity (this is how I understand his view). The arguments for the existence of God, for him, are maybe "permissions" to believe, or provide space for someone to then be influenced by the Holy Spirit, rather than logically coercive statements (statements that "force" those who understand them to eventually submit and be convinced). As such, Craig has said that if he somehow saw evidence contrary to the existence of God, or that Jesus wasn't raised from the dead, he would STILL be a Christian based on this Holy Spirit experience.

So my question for you is, you have been a theist for longer than you were an atheist now. So as far as is reasonable to answer, are you still open to evidence to the contrary - that God does not exist, or that Jesus did not really rise from the tomb, or whatever? Do you claim some kind of Holy Spirit confirmation that would keep you in Christianity even if you saw evidence to the contrary?

I hope this question came out in the manner it was intended (genuinely curious, not challenging).

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this Professor Feser.

I would challenge the internet New Atheist types to compare your journey with that of Hitchens, who became an atheist at age eight or so because he could just see that all religious beliefs are nonsensical (one wonders how well he could possibly have understood them at eight years of age, and of course it seems he never moved beyond the understanding of an eight year old with respect to these matters), or with that of Dawkins, who became an atheist after discovering evolution in his teens (as if all God is needed for is to explain speciation), or even with that of Loftus, who became an atheist after a moral failing on his part led to his being mistreated by his church, and which in turn led him to discover evolution and modern biblical scholarship. It seems obvious to me that the contrast between your story and theirs puts paid to the New Atheist lie about who's really committed to rationality as effectively as your arguments themselves do!

Anonymous said...

Another excellent post. This has fast become my favourite blog.

Edward Feser said...

Eduardo,

Well, as I said, it was a gradual process. You start out thinking there's this whole battery of serious problems with the arguments: they arbitrarily assume that God is an exception to the need for a cause; they have no reason for ruling out an infinite regress; they offer no reason for attributing the various divine attributes to a first cause; etc. As time goes on and you see how these objections are based on misreadings and/or ignorance of the underlying metaphysics, the reasons you had for thinking them invalid disappear. If you read what I say about the arguments in my books you'll know both what objections I used to accept (mainly the ones most critics accept) and why I no longer accept them.

Pattsce said...

Just one of your best posts. I really enjoyed reading this. Thanks, Ed.

Edward Feser said...

Syphax,

Well, those are big questions requiring a treatment of their own, but briefly I'd say:

1. One needs to be careful to avoid confusing metaphysical and epistemological questions, which I think is often done in this context. Do I think that the Holy Spirit was guiding me when I came to see God's existence, etc.? Absolutely. Did that play (and does it play now) any role in my reasons for believing in God? Absolutely not. If someone wants to know why I think God exists, they can read my various writings defending the arguments for God's existence, because those are my reasons. I wouldn't say to them "Oh, and also I've got this experience of the Holy Spirit." That's got nothing to do with it.

Compare: When someone believes something because he can see it, his optic nerves are playing a big role in the process. But that typically has nothing to do with his reasons for believing what his eyes tell him. He doesn't say "Well, I've examined my optic nerves and I think they're in pretty good shape, etc." Most people don't even know anything about their optic nerves. Talking about optic nerves is important when we want an explanation of the physiology of perception, but not necessarily in the justification of perceptual beliefs. Similarly, to say (as we should) that grace can play a role in a person's coming to realize that God exists doesn't entail that that fact plays a role in a person's justification for believing in God. It doesn't mean that he ought to say "Well, my grounds for believing in God are that He's gotten me through grace to believe in Him." And that would be a pretty bad argument anyway, since it's hard to see how to cash it out except in a subjectivist or fideist way.

See the post I linked to above, where I discuss faith and reason, for more.

(continued)

Edward Feser said...

(continued)

2. Re: being open to evidence to the contrary, well, yes and no. That makes it sound like theism is a kind of empirical explanatory hypothesis, and as I've argued many times, that's just a complete misunderstanding of the grounds and content of the classical arguments. Theism goes much deeper than that sort of thing, both metaphysically and epistemologically. It's rationally more secure than mere empirical hypotheses, not less.

A better analogy would be belief in the external world or in the laws of logic. Am I open to arguments against the view that I'm not in the Matrix, or against the law of non-contradiction? Well, sure, in the sense that any philosopher is willing to consider and think through such arguments. Do I seriously expect there to be good arguments that will get me to doubt my senses wholesale or to give up the laws of logic? Of course not.

That's what classical theism, rightly understood, is like. It isn't that hard to prove God's existence. What takes great effort is showing people how the reasons they think it's hard rest on a lot of historically contingent bad theory that they've imbibed from the surrounding intellectual culture, but for which there really are no good reasons and which lead to absurdity to boot. That's why only a small part of The Last Superstition is devoted to presenting arguments for God's existence and so large a part is devoted to general metaphysics, history of philosophy, etc. It isn't arguing for God's existence that's hard. It's clearing away the gigantic pile of modern intellectual rubbish that keeps people from properly understanding the arguments that's hard.

Dealing with atheists is in that sense like dealing with people who've become convinced that there are no good reasons to believe in the external world and solid arguments for believing it's an illusion. Only sophistries could get you to believe such nonsense, but the sophistries can be very clever and rest on philosophical mistakes so deep and complicated that it takes a lot of work to extricate someone from this weird tissue of confusions he's worked himself into.

"OK, Feser, but that just kicks it up a level. For maybe you're wrong about that whole analysis of the intellectual lay of the land itself! What about that, huh?" Well, OK, fine, show me that I am and I'll hear you out. Maybe I'm also wrong to think that there's a computer in front of me now -- maybe it's Descartes's demon making me think so. That doesn't entail that my not taking the suggestion seriously for a moment is irrational.

The bottom line, then, is that this "being open to counter-evidence" theme that atheists (including my younger self) always raise as if it were extremely problematic itself rests on a number of philosophical assumptions that require careful articulation and evaluation.

Champlain said...

Thanks for the post. “The Last Superstition” was very useful in showing that there is a logical argument from certain metaphysical principles to the necessary existence of God.

Most of the atheist arguments I come across assume one or all of the following: materialism, logical empiricism, or positivism.

It usually comes down to this:

Atheist: I do not believe anything without physical evidence.
Rational Person: Really?
Atheist: Absolutely!
Rational Person: Can you provide physical evidence for the existence of the square root of two?
Atheist: Uhh…uhh…It is in my head!

This is pretty much what I have seen from the “new” atheists.

Eduardo said...

Well Dr Feser spoke about the evidentialist chellenge, but I dunno. To me in order to set forth a challenge based on evidence someone must first know what evidence the phenomena or object leaves behind, otherwise one is eternally blind to the evidence. Without saying that the meaning if the word evidence flutuates from people to people, and that will cause the same evidence to be of different strentghts to two different people.

Dr, when I get my international card, I will read your books. Was a shame that the essay about the idea that G*d maintains reality at all times if Aquinas arguments are interpreted correctly was only half pre-visualized in google books. But I will do my best to get your books n_n

John Burford said...

Professor Feser,

I'd be interested in reading a second post on your return to Catholicism that you mention at the very end of the post. It's always good to hear both the human side and to see the development of someone's thought.

I also have a question for you about theology. Personally, as I've started studying all of this stuff over the past year, my natural inclinations have been towards natural theology/philosophy of religion. Reading about proofs for the existence of God, divine simplicity, etc. I like it because it seems so rational, "pure", etc. I also like learning about natural law theory, Catholic sexual ethics, etc.

But I'm having something of a problem delving into actual theology. Learning about heaven, resurrection of the body, etc. seems so much "messier" than natural theology and philosophy. I've read some theology, but in the back of my mind I can't get rid of the feeling "Well, now I'm about to willfully indulge in some superstition" even though I don't actually consciously believe that. Do you have any tips for overcoming this?

Best,
John

John Burford said...

On a side note, can I just mention that I find it funny that today a refusal to consider anything beyond empirical evidence, even when this means ignoring truths that can be established by pure reason, is considered "intellectual"?

I have a feeling that Aristotle, Aquinas, etc. would have seen a lot of modern atheists as intellectually equivalent to somebody who willfully keeps one eye shut.

BeingItself said...

Penn Jillete, of Penn and Teller, wrote and sings a song devoted to agnostics, deists, and other vague believers in a nebulous 'sophisticated' god.

The chorus is: "F*ck You! You're an atheist."

Edward Feser said...

John,

The thing to keep in mind is that while revealed theology differs from natural theology in basing itself on divinely revealed data, (1) that the data have in fact been divinely revealed is itself something that can be known through reason, and (2) the analysis of revealed truths, and their relationship to the truths of natural theology, natural law, etc. makes use of the same philosophical tools as natural theology does. So, revealed theology is no less rational than natural theology.

The best advice is to start with Scholastic writers, because they follow this rational method in a systematic way. Non-Scholastic writers have their insights, but even those insights are best understood when fitted into the Scholastic framework.

Obviously I regard Aquinas and the Thomist theologians who developed his system as the high point of Scholasticism, but Scotists, Suarezians, et al. should be read too. Writers from the last couple of centuries like Matthias Scheeben, Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, et al. are particularly helpful, and it would also be useful to consult old manuals like the Pohle-Preuss volumes on theology, which I think have largely been reprinted recently. This kind of material will make it clear how systematic and rigorous theology can be. And there are good recent theologians too (Steven Long, Matthew Levering, Fr. Thomas Joseph White, et al.) who respect this tradition.

Syphax said...

A lot to chew on in your response, but it's a really good one. I really appreciate you taking the time to write me back. Take care.

Vincent Torley said...

Hi Ed,

Thanks for a wonderful post. I had always wanted to hear your story about what prompted you to return to theism. It's a fascinating account.

Re theistic personalism:

1. I think it would be a good idea if the term "theistic personalism" were more rigorously defined. In your post, "God, man, and theism", you define it as the notion that God is a person like we are, only without our bodily and other limitations. I'd have to disagree with that definition. I'd define it as the belief that personal acts such as knowing and loving can be ascribed to God and human beings univocally. By that definition, St. Anselm the Great and Blessed John Duns Scotus were theistic personalists, as well as being classical theists.

2. On a spiritual level, the problem I have with Aquinas' doctrine of analogy is a simple one. It fails to answer the most basic question: why should I love God?

"That's easy," you might say. "He made you. He loves you. He has taken a special interest in you, giving you an immortal soul so that you can enjoy eternal happiness with Him."

"Not good enough," I would reply. The fact that He made me and endowed me with an immortal soul constitutes no reason to love Him unless He made me lovingly and intentionally. But on Aquinas' account, terms such as "love" and "intention" cannot be applied to God in the way they are applied to human beings. All we can say is that they mean something like what they mean when applied to us, only infinitely greater. But that only invites the further question: what does "like" mean here? And what does "great" mean? If there are no terms we can apply univocally to God, then it is hard to see how analogical terms become intelligible, when applied to God.

More generally, it seems to me that you're trying to define "love" in functional terms, as a propensity to give lots of good things to someone. I don't think that works, even for human fathers.

If "God has a propensity to give me what is good for me" is all it means when I say that God loves me, then certainly I would obey Him, in order to receive the good things that He has promised me, but why on earth would I bother loving Him back? In the first place, He doesn't love me "from the heart", so why should I reciprocate? Second, He wouldn't appreciate it anyway, as on Aquinas' account, He doesn't love in the same sense as we do. Third, there's no way He could justly demand that I love Him "from the heart", instead of simply acting as if I loved Him in that way - i.e. by having faith and performing acts of charity towards other people, but without any inward love of God. (In other words, "going through the motions.")

But if there is one thing Scripture is clear about, it is that God DOES expect us to love Him back, from the heart. As Deuteronomy 6:4-5 puts it: "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength."

So I'm inclined to think that there is something deficient about the doctrine of analogy, if it tends to weaken one's motives for loving God.

Thoughts?

Daniel Smith said...

I too was raised a Catholic but left after finding the lack of scriptural support for things like 'praying to entities other than God', too wide a gap to span.

Then, after years of Pentecostal Protestantism, I found the lack of depth and scholarship in the sola scriptura set too wide a gap to span as well.

So now I'm a Protestant who has rejected sola scriptura but who remains a Protestant because I trust the bible more than I trust the Catholic Church.

Does that make sense to anyone but me?

Anyway... Thanks Dr. Feser for sharing that.

After saying all that, I would like you to explore two avenues in future posts:

1. Your reasons for your eventual rejection of Libertarianism.

2. An in-depth discussion of your objections to Protestantism - and Luther in particular.

John Burford said...

@ Daniel Smith

I'd recommend Robert Currie's book "Born Fundamentalist, Born Again Catholic." Excellent book that played a major part in my own conversion to Catholicism. He writes about his conversion and analyzes scriptural support for a host of doctrines. The main thing everything comes down to is the role of Peter.

@ Professor Feser

When you say to rely on the Scholastic tradition, did you have any particular works on revealed theology by the Scholastic tradition in mind? Preferably something beginner-friendly.

John Burford said...

@ Professor Feser

Oh, and I've actually met Fr. White. I've asked him a few theology questions and he pointed me in the direction of your blog, from which I've derived much benefit so far.

BeingItself said...

"Man is a unity, his rationality and animality, intellect and passions, theoretical and moral lives all ultimately oriented toward the same end."

That is almost certainly false.

See: The Self Illusion: How the Social Brain Creates Identity by Bruce Hood

or Self Comes to Mind: Constructing the Conscious Brain by Antonio Damasio

and many others.

Josh said...

Vincent,

On a spiritual level, the problem I have with Aquinas' doctrine of analogy is a simple one. It fails to answer the most basic question: why should I love God?

That's quite all right with me, as that wasn't what the doctrine of analogy was supposed to answer. What an incredibly irrelevant critique. That Aquinas, a follower of Augustine, ya know, the "our hearts are restless until they rest in thee" guy, had a deficient understanding of God's love, is a just a touch hard to swallow.

Anonymous said...

Penn Jillete, of Penn and Teller, wrote and sings a song devoted

Pretty much the maximum level of intellectual discourse you're equipped to handle, BI: dorky joke songs written by global warming denialists. ;)

That is almost certainly false.

Nah, it's almost certainly true.

Stop recommending books based on cursory amazon review references, and start actually reading books, particularly ones you may not agree with immediately right away.

dmw said...

@ Daniel Smith:

Regarding 'praying to entities other than God,' you should examine Aquinas, Summa theologiae 2-2. Q. 83. art. 4 and Suppl. Q 72. art. 2.

Brian said...

John Burford, since all of theology is revealed, "revealed theology" could refer to any of a number of different divisions within theology.

The Catholic intellectual tradition usually maintains a distinction between theodicy and theology proper. Theodicy, also known as natural theology, treats of God merely insofar as what can be known by the unaided light of reason. It is applied philosophy. Theology proper, on the other hand, treats of God insofar as what can be known through Revelation.

And so, revealed theology is just theology, and vice versa. Which division of theology, in particular, would you like to study? Fundamental theology? Dogmatic theology? Moral theology? Spiritual Theology?

In any case, I would get my hands, first of all, on the following:

-The Holy Rosary
-The Holy Bible (RSV Catholic Edition)
-The Catechism of the Catholic Church
-Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma
-The Teaching of the Catholic Church (in two volumes)

I consider those to be essentials, but not everyone would agree. Frank Sheed has two beginner's books on theology, but you should check out the books Feser has recommended on this blog. Google "Scholastic's Bookshelf."

Glenn said...

Vincent,

On a spiritual level, the problem I have with Aquinas' doctrine of analogy is a simple one. It fails to answer the most basic question: why should I love God?

We may analogize in the following manner:

When we humans hate another, we tend to be closed to and not receptive of what comes from that other. Conversely, when we love another, we tend to be open to and receptive of what comes from that other. So, if we love God, we're more likely to be open to and receptive of what comes from Him.

From this perspective, then, i.e., in the context of this analogy, God's expectation that we love Him is not a demand that we complete a quid pro quo, but simply a desire that we be open to and receptive of what comes from Him.

John Burford said...

@ Brian

I would say that I'm already somewhat familiar with philosophy of religion, fundamental theology and moral theology. What I'm more interested in right now is addressing my weaknesses in stuff like high/low Christology, Mariology, eschatology, etc.

I have Sheed's beginner book on theology, but I'm running into barriers reading it, primarily because I know so little philosophy of the mind. He was talking about spirit and how a purely physical mind couldn't generate abstract ideas like justice, and I was thinking "What is he talking about?" Similar to Feser's "duh, it's just brain activity" phase that he describes himself as growing beyond.

Any suggestions?

Brian said...

I definitely re-recommend the "essentials," then. In particular, Ott's Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma and Smiths' The Teaching of the Catholic will definitely give you a solid foundation for topics like Christology. However, there are whole books dedicated to the topic that could be more helpful to you. I have not become that specialized yet, though. A good manual is usually good enough for me. :)

Mr. Green said...

Vincent Torley: But if there is one thing Scripture is clear about, it is that God DOES expect us to love Him back, from the heart. As Deuteronomy 6:4-5 puts it: "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength."

From your context, you seem to be misinterpreting "heart" in the modern sense, i.e. to mean "gut". Our guts are the seat of our feelings, those things beyond our control that come to us from outside. "Heart" traditionally referred to our wills, our strength or fortitude or courage or determination, that we control, that comes from inside. Somehow, "heart" has come to mean the exact opposite of what it really means, which certainly sheds some light on how mixed-up modern society is. (E.g. marriage is about "love", right? so if something makes me feel good, then I can define it as a "marriage"… until it doesn't feel so good any more, then the marriage is over. Etc.)

Second, He wouldn't appreciate it anyway, as on Aquinas' account, He doesn't love [sic] in the same sense as we do.

Correct, God does not want us to love Him because He selfishly gets some warm squishy feeling out of it. God always acts from the "heart": He is a will; but He has no guts, so He never acts outs of selfishness. He needs nothing, wants for nothing, can get no "good feelings" and so always acts out of willing our good, never out of desire for feeling good.

Third, there's no way He could justly demand that I love Him "from the heart", instead of simply acting as if I loved Him in that way - i.e. by having faith and performing acts of charity towards other people, but without any inward love of God. (In other words, "going through the motions.")

And we see now that since love is an act of will, to "act" in that way is exactly what love is. (Certainly you could pretend to have faith or charity, but if you are actually doing those things, i.e. you are willing them, then it's not a pretence.)

If "God has a propensity to give me what is good for me" is all it means when I say that God loves me, then certainly I would obey Him, in order to receive the good things that He has promised me, but why on earth would I bother loving Him back?

Not sure when you say "is all it means" what more there could be — God's giving me everything I need sounds like a deal that can't be beat. But obedience vs. love is a false dichotomy; again, understanding that love is correctly seen to be willing, obedience is an act of love. In fact, since love is to will what is best for someone, and the only thing that is good for God is simply to be God, and God is a Will, then to love God is will God, to will God's will — i.e. to obey Him.

(I suppose that is where the whole corruption of love/heart came from — love means obedience, but obedience is no fun. Much more gratifying to substitute self-centredness for self-giving, and if you can get people to still call it "love" and turn their hearts of flesh into hearts of intestinal tubing, it will sound good too.)

John Burford said...

Does anyone know of a blog like Dr. Feser's (intellectual, but approachable), but that focuses on topics like biblical theology, Christology, etc. instead of philosophy/natural theology? I'm having a hard time finding anything between a basic manual and incredibly abstruse, theoretical treatises.

Edward Feser said...

Vincent,

Thanks for your response. Re: theistic personalism, I think you're missing the key point. I would say that the crucial difference between theistic personalists and classical theists is probably the doctrine of divine simplicity, which the former (usually) reject and the latter insist upon. One of the implications of this difference is that for the theistic personalist God is in effect a member of a genus, whereas for the classical theist He is not, because there is in Him no composition at all, not even of genus and difference.

That is the key reason it is an error to think of God as "a person." You might almost say that "a" is more the problem than "person" is. For this makes God a member of a class, one instance alongside others of a genus. And that is precisely what He cannot be for classical theism. That makes of Him, in effect, a kind of creature. And that puts Him (I would say) at the top of a slippery slope, at the bottom of which is the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

This puts Scotus on the classical theist side rather than the theistic personalist side. It is true that as a Thomist I think the doctrine of analogy is the right way to explicate all this, but that is secondary to divine simplicity.

And I have emphasized over and over again that I am not for a moment saying that God is an impersonal force or some such thing. God has intellect and will, so He cannot be impersonal. It's just that He is not "a person" in the sense of being one instance alongside others of a kind. (Also, there are three Persons in God, not one -- another, specifically Christian, reason not to refer to God as "a person.")

Re: love, yes, merely having "a propensity to give me what is good for me" is not love. A machine could have such a propensity. But when did any classical theist say that such a "propensity" is what God's love is? To love is to will the good of another, and a machine cannot will anything, because it has no intellect. But God does love us precisely because He wills our good.

It's true that this does not involve feelings, because feelings are bodily and God is not bodily. Or rather, He is not bodily in his divine nature. But of course, Christ is God Incarnate, and in His human nature He does have feelings.

If someone is looking for feelings in God, then, the answer is not to reject classical theism -- a God that is not the God of classical theism is no God at all, but just a glorified creature. The answer is to accept Christianity, which teaches that the God of classical theism became man in Christ.

Alan Fox said...

Mischievous question!

Is there anything he published during his atheist period that Professor Feser can link to? There is a character who posts at Uncommon Descent called Gilbert Dodgen who often refers to his former atheism but it appears it was a very anonymous phase in his life.

Colin McGinn's "Why I am an atheist" struck a chord with me and the feeling that Prof. Feser suggests that McGinn is a pre-theist rather than an atheist makes me wonder whether this would not better describe his own self-described atheist phase.

Gyan said...

Prof Feser,

"To love is to will the good of another"

Is that to be all?.
Is there no notion of enjoying the other?
Of seeking the other?

Since God is Love, it would be seem to be improbable that Love can be philosophized adequately.

Aaron said...

It's intersting that Ed mentioned Divine Hiddenness and Human Reason. That book is probably the main reason why I'm hesitant to consider myself a theist; I presently have to settle for "theistically-inclined agnostic." The problem of evil hasn't been much of a problem for me, unless one considers divine hiddenness to be a subset of the problem of evil.

monk68 said...

John,

You wrote:

"Does anyone know of a blog like Dr. Feser's (intellectual, but approachable), but that focuses on topics like biblical theology, Christology, etc. instead of philosophy/natural theology? I'm having a hard time finding anything between a basic manual and incredibly abstruse, theoretical treatises."

Please check out "www.calledtocommunion.com". It is designed to foster dialouge btwn Reformed Christians and Roman Catholics. But the theological articles are absolutely top notch *and* quite readable. Though you may not be interested in Reformed-Catholic issues per se, the very nature of the site entails that the articles which explicate Catholic doctrine are clear and precise. Simply peruse the "Index" tab and go from there. You will not be disappointed with the theological writing of Bryan Cross and other contributors there.

-Pax

monk68 said...

John,

Bryan Cross, BTW, is also a highly trained and articulate Thomistic philosopher in his own right (he teaches philosophy at the Univ. of St. Louis I believe), in addition to being an excellent theologian. That combination you may find very helpful in bridging the gap between natural theology and revealed theology.

-Pax

mattghg said...

@Alan Fox,

In this very post he has linked to his master's dissertation and his doctoral dissertation, both of which were written while he was an atheist.

Vincent Torley said...

Hi Ed,

Thanks very much for your response. I would of course agree with you that it's utterly wrong to describe God as a person; he's a Trinity of persons. And I'm very glad to see you agree that merely having a propensity to give someone what is good for them is not the same thing as loving someone. Love is indeed an act of the will.

I've been reading your recent writings on Divine simplicity with close attention. As you point out, there is a very profound divide between theists who acknowledge Divine simplicity and those who don't.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Feser,

You and I are about the same age, so I am having a hard time reconciling these two statements in your post:

"I was brought up Catholic, but lost whatever I had of the Faith by the time I was about 13 or 14. Hearing, from a non-Catholic relative, some of the stock anti-Catholic arguments for the first time -- “That isn’t in the Bible!”, “This came from paganism!”, “Here’s what they did to people in the Middle Ages!”, etc. -- I was mesmerized, and convinced, seemingly for good. Sola scriptura-based arguments are extremely impressive,..."

and

"As I would come to realize only years later, the conception of God I then found so implausible was essentially a modern, parochial, and overly anthropomorphic “theistic personalist” conception, and not the classical theism to which the greatest theistic philosophers had always been committed."

My question is what sort of Catholic education did you receive up to the age of 13? I know that my religious education required teaching of the the arguments for classical theism. For my Confirmation exam I had to know Aquinas's five ways. Not just memorize them, but put them into my own words to show that I had an understanding of them. Consequently sola scriptura arguments and arguments against a "theisitic personalist" god did not sway me because that wasn't the sort of God Catholics believe in. I already knew that sort of god was implausible. But it seems from your post that you had a different educational experience.

Are the requirements for Catholic religious education that variable from parish to parish?

-L

George R. said...

This unwillingness to accept the concept of divine simplicity stems from the fact that people just don’t understand substantial being. The crucial point to grasp is that ALL substantial forms, from the least to the greatest, are perfectly simple. There is no more complexity in the substantial form of a man than in that of a rock. It is true that substantial forms are the cause of complexity in nature. However, just as the cause of motion is not itself moved, so neither is the cause of complexity itself complex.

The thing about substantial forms, of course, is that none of them exist in reality per se, except for one.

Brian said...

"L," OH MY GOD. When did you have that religious education and where? Pre-Vatican II? And a Catholic school?

Needless to say, that is quite impressive. While you were learning about philosophy in Confirmation I was busy making collages and talking about my feelings. No substantial content whatsoever. If anyone asks why the Church is in the state it's, now you know. We are in a terrible crisis.

The Deuce said...

Ed:

McGinn-style mysterianism started to seem like a dodge, especially given that certain arguments (like the Platonic realist ones) seemed to show that matter simply is not in fact all that there is, not merely that we can’t know how it can be all that there is.

The problem with mysterianism seems to me to be worse than it just being a dodge. As I understand it, the premise of mysterianism is that naturalism is true, but that it's simply beyond the ability of our mental faculties to understand how matter (as conceived under naturalism) can account for consciousness and intentionality.

But wasn't the naturalistic conception of matter defined by human minds in the first place? The whole problem arises from the fact that this mechanistic definition of matter that humans defined lacks any conceptual ability to explain consciousness and intentionality.

Since it's our own definition, presumably we understand it, so to say that naturalism is true would seem to imply that we do understand the fundamental nature of matter. But the mysterian wants to say that even though naturalism is true, we just can't understand matter well enough to know, in principle, how it can possibly account for consciousness and intentionality. But, then, isn't this an admission on the part of the mysterian that his naturalistic definition of matter is incomplete, and that there is more to the nature of matter that he doesn't understand (just as the Thomist asserts, incidentally)? And if the naturalistic definition of matter is incomplete, doesn't that imply that naturalism is false? It seems to me that the mysterian tries to have it both ways, even though they contradict each other.

Alan Fox said...

mattghg said...
@Alan Fox,

In this very post he has linked to his master's dissertation and his doctoral dissertation, both of which were written while he was an atheist.

July 18, 2012 5:07 AM


They link to books for purchase. Hard to tell from the blurb what line is taken on atheism in them. Living in France, I am unlikely to find them in the local library. I just wondered if maybe Prof. Feser had anything available in PDF.

The Maestro said...

@John Buford, take a look at this site: http://iteadthomam.blogspot.com/

Anonymous said...

Brian,

"L, OH MY GOD. When did you have that religious education and where? Pre-Vatican II? And a Catholic school?

Needless to say, that is quite impressive. While you were learning about philosophy in Confirmation I was busy making collages and talking about my feelings."

This was post-Vatican II during the 1980's in New York. I should be clear that I mean weekly 'Sunday School' not a parochial school. And while we did learn philosophy it was at a basic level, good enough for high school kids. Didn't mean to confuse.

I thought it was the standard to be taught the arguments for classical theism during Catholic Confirmation. We were told it wasn't enough to know what Catholics believe, but why they believe it. Otherwise there was no point in getting confirmed.

I think what influenced the curriculum was that the religious education teachers and priests at my parish were older and adhered to a Pre-Vatican II mentality.

-L

Joe H. said...

Everyone thinks panpsychism is crazy until they read Thomas Nagel.

The mind remains such a mystery to us that I'm reluctant to dismiss a view just because it appears prima facie bizarre.

Also, if I was theist, I'd simply accept one horn of the Euthyphro dilemma (viz. it's right because God says it is) and embrace divine command theory. Seems to me a move Kierkegaard would be sympathetic with.

Anonymous said...

@ Joe H

Divine command theory is based in theistic personalism because it implicitly relies on an anthropomorphic God who could have conceivably willed something different.

In classical theism, a rejection of both horns as a false dilemma in favor of saying that God's nature is the very standard for goodness makes perfect sense. It makes sense because there can be no distinction between God's nature and what he wills, since God is perfectly simple.

Austin said...

Hi Dr. Feser,

I've been following your blog for a while now and reading your books (read Aquinas, halfway throught TLS) and this post is well written and enlightening. I am curious though, because I don't see any mention of Jesus in this post, and can't recall any mentions of him in other posts or your book.

It seems like the arguments of Plato, Aristotle and Aquinas can only get us to Classic Theism (at least the ones you discuss... I would be surprised if Aquinas hadn't argued for Jesus's resurrection elsewhere), while neglecting the most central and important act of this God- namely, the incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection and ascension (what I think is called the Paschel Mystery). Have you argued anywhere for the historical Jesus and his resurrection? What part did the historical Jesus play (if any) in your conversion?

Edward Feser said...

Austin,

If you scroll up a bit you'll see that I do mention Christ, and in particular the centrality of the Incarnation for a full understanding of God's love for us, in my response to Vincent Torley.

Also, you will find that I do say something about Jesus in about the middle of TLS. And you'll also find relevant discussions here on the blog (e.g. search for my posts on the meaning of the Passion and Resurrection).

Amway, naturally, He was absolutely central to my conversion to Catholicism. But that isn't what the main post is about. It was about my return to theism in general.

I will confess, though, that you won't find any emotional "Praise the Lord" stuff in anything I write. I admit to finding that sort of thing extremely distasteful and tacky. Not that the spiritual life should not involve our emotions as much as our reason and will -- far from it. I find a reverent and solemn Mass, or Aquinas's prayers before the Eucharist, or Augustine's Confessions, all very moving.

But emotions are of their nature unstable. They wax and wane, and in any event what we feel or don't feel is always to be judged in light of what we think and what we will.

Intense emotional experiences are in my view the wrong place to look either for a sincere conversion or a healthy spiritual life. People who focus on that sort of thing are bound to have a superficial spiritual life, and are needlessly setting themselves up for a crisis of belief when the intense feelings go away. And they give ammunition to those who falsely think that Christianity rests on such emotion. It might sometimes involve that, but it doesn't, or at least shouldn't, rest on that.

Perhaps you wouldn't necessarily disagree -- I'm not trying to put words in your mouth, but simply to comment on an attitude that I suspect underlies the thinking of those who might want me to say more about Jesus when I talk about the grounds for affirming God's existence.

BenYachov said...

Amen Prof Feser!!!!!!!!!!!!!


Emotions have their place & can be useful but basing belief or non-belief on emotion is a waste of time.

Grace & Intellect moving the Will that is what it is all about!

Daniel Smith said...

dmw: Regarding 'praying to entities other than God,' you should examine Aquinas, Summa theologiae 2-2. Q. 83. art. 4 and Suppl. Q 72. art. 2.

Thank you for pointing that out. I've read the arguments of Aquinas on this matter and find them unconvincing.

My objection is twofold:
1. If God intended us to pray to dead people, surely we would see at least some examples of the practice in Scripture.

2. Why is it in any way necessary? We can pray directly to God (who alone has the power to do anything about our petitions) so why waste time praying to dead people who may, or may not, hear us?

Anonymous said...

Daniel,

Death cannot separate us from the love of Christ. Romans 8:38-39

Jesus is the vine and we are the branches. The good branches are not cut off at death. They are alive in heaven. John 15:1-6

We are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses encouraging us on as we run the race. Hebrews 12:1

The prayer of the righteous availeth much, and who is more rigtheous than a saint in heaven.
James 5:16, (especially Mary the Mother of God, John 2:3-11)

The souls under the altar in the heavenly Temple are aware of what is going on on earth, and pray to God accordingly. Revelation 6:9-11

The angels and saints in heaven present the prayers of the "saints" on earth to God in the heavenly Jerusalem. Revelation 5:8

St Paul (and St James) encourages us to pray for each other, and Paul himself asks for prayers and
prays for the Church (as well as offers his sufferings on behalf of Christ's Body, the Church). St. Paul wouldn't do this if God only wanted us to pray directly to Him!
Ephesians 6:18-19, Romans 15:30, James 5:16, Colossians 1:24

take a look at this link for more: http://www.scripturecatholic.com/saints.html

Brian said...

Daniel, have you taken a look at Called to Communion, the blog for Catholic/Protestant dialogue? Since this blog is primarily about philosophy and natural theology, I suggest going to that blog for discussion on Catholic and Protestant theology.

Sobieski said...

@John Burford

You might find Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange's Reality a helpful work.

For Christology, I found his Our Savior and His Love for Us helpful. His commentary on the third part of the Summa Theologiae is also available online.

Sobieski said...

@Dr. Feser

Excellent blog and story. I too would be interested to learn about your reversion to the Faith.

Another area of interest that I have been wanting to learn more of your thoughts on is classical liberal and libertarian politics and economics. The little I have read of your writings, it seems like you take a more moderate view on the matter. Some Catholics (e.g., Tom Woods) seem to think the Church has no business speaking about economic matters because they are of a purely scientific nature. This objection sounds more Cartesian than Aristotelian to me inasmuch as the latter view would hold economics as a moral science, I think.

In any event, resources that have shaped my thinking on the matter thus far are encyclicals like Rerum Novarum and books by authors like Heinrich Pesch, SJ (The National Economy) and E. Cahill (The Framework of a Christian State).

If you have any articles, prior blog posts or something in the pipeline, I would be interested to read it.

Best wishes to you and yours.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Feser,

Thank you for a great read -- this is one of my favorite posts of yours from years of reading your blog.

By the by, my own experience was almost the reverse of yours. I was educated in the Aristotelian-Thomistic tradition you defend, and only later was my philosophical world view opened up by being exposed to other ideas, theistic and naturalistic. During years of gradually separating myself from the insular intellectual A-T communities I was a part of, I felt like I was shaking free of a cult. I had little idea that the milieu I was in would be considered oddball by more mainstream types (I didn't even know the landscape well enough to see this). This has nothing to do with how I see the soundness of anyone's arguments on any side; I am still figuring that part out. That was just my experience on an emotional level.

Anonymous said...

Academic philosophers and "theologians" persist in the silliest kind of sophomoric debates about the "existence of God". The arguments range between the "proof" offered by Reason and the "proof" offered by Revelation. But both kinds of "proof" are nothing more than the poor servants of the adolescent dilemma of "rationalism".

To ask if God exists is already to doubt God's existence absolutely. It reflects a commitment to the presumption that God does not exist until it is absolutely proven otherwise. Once it is presumed that the existence of God is in doubt or in need of "proof", the dreadful dilemma of separation from God has already solidified, and neither inner Reason nor outer Revelation has sufficient Power to liberate the individual from the subtle and fundamental despair that is inherent in such Godlessness, or what is in effect always actively dramatized atheism.

The search for "proof" of the existence of God is really a search for reasons to be Happy. But the existence of God cannot be "proven" to the point of Ecstasy, or the spontaneous awakening of the opposite of irreducible doubt. The question "Does God exist or not?" is itself a proposition - it IS doubt, it IS the idea of separation from ecstatic Fullness, it IS the self-image of Narcissus at the pond, it IS the emotional contraction of the body-mind from God, Life, and all relations. Reason and Revelation are only a hedge around the fear-saturated separate self, around the pond of narcissus. A false tightly armored sanctuary/fortress for the wounded self, who presumes himself to be trapped in the dead ends of the machine of nature.

Only the Realization of God is the unique and actual healing of the self-bound and heart-wounded Man (male or female). And to Realize God each person must first enjoy profound insight into the irreducible dilemma behind all of his/her questions, which means that he/she must confess the awful despair that always lingers in us even in the face of all of our "answers".

On the basis of that insight we are able to perceive and feel that there is no separate self and thus reasons for doubt. And we will thus Realize the Radiant Transcendental Being or Condition that is obvious prior to the functional fear-based contraction/collapse of the body-mind-complex.

Which is to say that Right Life only begins when "sin" has been transcended. And not a moment before.

rank sophist said...

Anon,

Most here don't endorse that kind of fideistic, quasi-Ockhamite theology. You're welcome to it, but don't expect anything positive to come from that post.

Eduardo said...

I am cool with perspective really XD. I like those ways to see things, you see it adds something like Martial Arts feel to philosophy. If you could call that philosophy that is.

Anonymous said...

The Process that is True Religion has its origin in the nonverbal intuition and direct heart-felt experience of the Reality, Life-Power, and Consciousness that pervades and transcends the world and the body-mind of Man. There is truly no verbal-mental argument that can convince anyone that there is the Divine Reality. The Divine Reality is beyond and prior to both knowledge and doubt, which are only conventions of mind and experience. The Divine Condition is Realized only through ecstasy or self-transcendence, beyond knowledge and doubt. The Living God can be neither doubted nor known, but only Realized. God must only be loved whole-bodily and totally.

The Process that is True Religion is inherent in the psycho-biological structures of every human being. The structures of the religious process are already in the biological anatomy of the human individual. But the development of those structures depends upon CULTURAL adaptation.

True Religion is the product of the inherent biological, or total psycho-physical urge to the evolutionary fulfillment and ultimate self-transcendence of Man in the Radiant Reality, or Life-Principle, in which he and the world are arising. True Religion is the PROCESS itself - the evolutionary and self-transcending process of the psycho-biological transformation of Man. Which can only occur one at a time when any and each individual enters into or submits to the Process.

Where is the Living religious and Spiritual Culture that even knows anything about this, let alone facilitates it?

The usual religion is only associated with symbolic cosmologies and archaic belief systems. In that case, true religious and Spiritual acculturation is suppressed and obliged to remain at an infantile level. And the more adolescent movement of scientific materialism has gradually, and also rightly, destroyed the credibility of such childish religious culture.

The phenomenon generally and popularly known as religion is a childish, even infantile, expression of our possible higher acculturation and evolution. It is always associated with childish cultism, symbolic rituals, and irrational belief systems that can never be penetrated to the point of establishing the True and Universal Spiritual Process.

Indeed most/all of what is promoted as religion actively prevents such a Process from occurring. Even while prattling on about metaphysics and the medieval dreams/delusions of Aquinas!

Eduardo said...

Watch out anon XD, you are started to make some claims there, and they must be backed up !!! hahahhah

Anonymous said...

Christianity, which teaches that the God of classical theism became man in Christ
This is flat out false – and again provokes the two primary objections to your work: (i) the gross overvaluation of the role (Aristotelian) metaphysics plays even according to traditional Catholic teaching itself; and (ii) the consequent tendency to characterize the faith actually required of Catholics as such as a form of emotionalism or, worse, fideism for simply being faith. According to Catholic teaching to interpret and defend the assent of the intellect to what is ultimately of the faith does not, and never has, entailed metaphysical commitments of any sort, let alone specifically Aristotelian or Thomistic commitments. The attempt to identify philosophy as such with metaphysics, metaphysics as such with Aristotelian metaphysics, and, worst of all, Christianity with classical theism is contrary to Catholic teaching.

Edward Feser said...

Anon,

OK, got it, thanks. Now, before you threadjack the combox, be warned that further such logorrhetic comments will be deleted.

Edward Feser said...

BTW, my previous remark was directed to the Anon of 12:02 am. I don't know if the Anon of 12:14 am is the same person. The latter's remark is at least less opaque, though other than that it's got nothing going for it.

Eduardo said...

Well personally I never had in my childhood any knowledge of philosophy within Catholicism.

But that hardly means that Aquinas or Aristotle were not important to the Church.

I mean... I don't think you gonna have a good sunday school by starting with essence, motion, potency and final causes. And anyway, the way to Christ isn't exactly a single one... is the way to salvation that is hardcore.

Edward Feser said...

Hello Eduardo,

I don't know if you were responding to me or to Anon @ 12:14 am. But in case it isn't obvious, I suppose I should note that his remarks are a mixture of errors and straw men and do not correctly represent either my views or Catholic teaching.

Eduardo said...

Dr Feser ... I was talking to Anon really XD.

Well if he is just attacking "Feezer" intead of "Fay-zer" than all is cool then.

* By the way ... I also use to call you Feezer too. It feels more natural for some reason *

Anonymous said...

Sorry for the off topic but you gotta love gems such as this one, posted on that internet geek technology forum, Slashdot. :-)

" >There is nothing inherently evil about Christianity of Islam.

Sure there is: they both require you to put non-Bayesian means ahead of Bayesian means as a way of knowing reality, and that is the root of all evil.

In the case of religions, scripture and ecclesiastical authority are the favoured non-Bayesian means. In the case of political organizations, party doctrine and ideology are the favoured non-Bayesian means.

Whenever anyone attempts to induce someone to abandon the only possible consistent way of knowing reality--Bayesian reasoning about systematic observations and controlled experiments--they are committing the most fundamental act of evil possible."

buju banton said...

Come on, Anon. Didn't you ask him how he verified the consistency of Bayesian reasoning, given that Bayesian reasoning is the only consistent way of knowing reality?

Apologies to the computer nerds in this blog, but this is why I dislike most of y'all. All these guys do is read through a couple of Wikipedia entries, pick up some terminology they don't fully understand, and then use it to augment their Internet posts to "sound smart." Their thought process goes probably like "hmmm, yes, with all this fancy terminology everyone will think I'm some sort of aloof genius/renaissance man and my weak ass argument will appear indestructible." You know, just like Dennett and that guy who writes walls of texts in this combox on how his arcane knowledge of biology and computer science makes him invulnerable to criticism.

That deliberate obscurity and pseudo-erudition doesn't impress and is off-putting to anyone who has actually studied the subject matter you are casually referring too. I say that because Bayesianism is actually quite cool and helpful in statistics (as I'm sure someone like the OFloinn would agree), but bringing it up like that is weak sauce and completely unnecessary. Weak, weak, weak.

Sorry Dr. F for the inflammatory rant, I'm just having a great morning.

Oh an BI: Penn Jillete is a sperg with Tourette's. Just sayin'.

Nick Corrado said...

Speaking of Bayesians, I'd like to hear Professor Feser's view of them, particularly in light of the LessWrong crowd of rationalists.

Ismael said...

Great post, I was awaiting for this one for a long time.

Also very interesting discussion in the combox.


In a sense your posts reminds me of Flew's 'There is a God'. He tales a different road, but he also went from staunch atheist to 'believer'... not quite a religeous believer, but a theist in any case.

Flew also mentioned that some of his great influences for his transition were Aristotle.

Eduardo said...

"You know, just like Dennett and that guy who writes walls of texts in this combox on how his arcane knowledge of biology and computer science makes him invulnerable to criticism. "

LOL. I seriously wonder who that could be!

rank sophist said...

Since I forgot to do so in my last post, I'd like to join (most) everyone here in thanking Prof. Feser for sharing this story. Very inspiring. I have a feeling that it might convince a few newbies to give the whole A-T thing a look.

Anonymous said...

Re: Penn Jillette and his song

Atheists ain't got no songs.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lFWA1A9XFi8

Anonymous said...

I recently had a discussion with a Scientologist about the existence of the soul and referred her to this blog for a possible proof. The following was her reply which I see problems with but I wonder if anyone else would care to comment..

'As to Feser, Aquinas and Aristotle, I agree that if you accept their functional definitions of things, you can arrive at a category of thing called "soul," but I disagree that in any respect any of them have successfully logically proved the existence of anything non-material. Aristotle's proof of soul could actually be said to be proof of DNA.

Scientology, likewise, engages in functional definition: "A thetan is what does this and this, and we can identify it by the products of its acts; a mind is what does this and this, and we can both identify and characterize it by its products and by how it reacts to these and these manipulations or stimuli: and a body is subject to the same observations as a mind and more, as its anatomy can be observed directly while the anatomy of the mind is observed only once-removed."

Everything starts from certain assumptions, and only assumptions which can be demonstrated can result in proof. To my knowledge, perception and will, the assumptions of Scientology, can only be demonstrated by personal experience - in other words, by reference to themselves. Self-referent assumptions cannot result in a proof in logic, or in the "real world."

The philosophical "proofs" of which you speak are replete with self-referent assumptions. A lot of "it is what it is what it is." For instance, I challenge you to demonstrate that the "form," "nature" or "essence" of a thing is different from the thing. Similarities between things do not impute a common "nature" to them. These philosophers wind up where they are going, but only because of the way their starting points and destinations are functionally defined.

The catch-22 of any effort to escape objectivism is the inability to prove inception. It's easy to demonstrate that a person "wants" something, and that this "want" can be translated into a plan and the plan into action. The spiritualist/dualist will say this demonstrates awareness and will, and the objectivist will argue that the "want" was triggered by a physical/chemical/electrical reaction to some earlier stimulus of a physical nature. Neither theory of inception can be proved - though the objectivist appears, in his mind, to be winning the argument right now because electrodes can be implanted in brains and make people do things. However, since objectivism is, itself, non-falsifiable, there's no particular reason for anyone to believe it instead of dualism (which, to me, is not mind vs body, but thetan vs mind/body) or "multi-ism."

The biggest problem of dualism is the problem of interaction. If something is not physical, how does it interact with something which is physical? Well, the problem of interaction is the problem of assuming that all things are, in one fashion or another, physical and therefore cannot affect each other without "some mechanism of interaction." When you remove spirit from the realm of the material, however, you can no longer demand that it follow material rules. You cannot demand that it "interact," that it be detectable, that it be measurable, that it be in physical terms definable at all. Hence, if you're going to "prove" spirit, in a logic which relies on physically verifiable assumptions, the "soul" you prove is going to be a physical thing or property'

Josh said...

Anon (right above me),

I disagree that in any respect any of them have successfully logically proved the existence of anything non-material.

Ask her what the logical proof is of a thetan's existence, pls. Then tell her you don't want to buy anything.

rank sophist said...

The Scientology argument above is pretty bad. She clearly has no grasp of Aristotle's philosophy. Bringing up the "interaction problem" and claiming that the proof of the soul is instead "proof of DNA" shows that much. As for the claim about form being an illusion, this is, itself, a philosophical position: nominalism. It happens to be replete with logical difficulties, particularly with regard to induction.

Suffice it to say that Aristotle's moderate realism and his position on the non-physicality of the mind is completely unscathed by this argument.

Eduardo said...

Remember that martial art stuff I was talking about hahahhaha.

This is just like that, different ttpes of experiences, just show you a different picture of the world...

By the way. Is there any against how one should start a philosophical school... Or philosophers have a common set of elements they wanna discuss, and evey philosophy has to some how argue from their point of view about those elements.

In the beginning of the Actus Assendi article, it said it was controversial if there was anyway to do philosophy properly... But considering some people are willing to throw logic under the bus...

So any ideas?

Daniel Smith said...

Death cannot separate us from the love of Christ. Romans 8:38-39

Jesus is the vine and we are the branches. The good branches are not cut off at death. They are alive in heaven. John 15:1-6

We are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses encouraging us on as we run the race. Hebrews 12:1

The prayer of the righteous availeth much, and who is more rigtheous than a saint in heaven.
James 5:16, (especially Mary the Mother of God, John 2:3-11)

The souls under the altar in the heavenly Temple are aware of what is going on on earth, and pray to God accordingly. Revelation 6:9-11

The angels and saints in heaven present the prayers of the "saints" on earth to God in the heavenly Jerusalem. Revelation 5:8

St Paul (and St James) encourages us to pray for each other, and Paul himself asks for prayers and
prays for the Church (as well as offers his sufferings on behalf of Christ's Body, the Church). St. Paul wouldn't do this if God only wanted us to pray directly to Him!
Ephesians 6:18-19, Romans 15:30, James 5:16, Colossians 1:24


I remain totally unconvinced. I don't find any of those scriptures the least bit compelling. Some are not even relevant - just because other people pray doesn't mean we are supposed to pray to them! That last one was especially bizarre to me. How is Paul's admonition even connected to the notion that God wants us to pray to dead Christians?

I'm sorry. I don't really want to derail this thread. Perhaps I'll take Brian's suggestion and go to the Called to Communion website, as well as Josh's suggestion to read Robert Currie's book. To be honest though, this is not something I'm really convinced is even worth pursuing. It would take a lot to convince me and, from what I've seen here and in my many past conversations with Catholics, it's just not there. Sorry.

Tom said...

I'm sure this question has been asked and answered hundred of times, so I apologize in advance. I can't seem to locate what I'm looking for anywhere.

Can someone help with squaring God's simplicity and his interacting with his creation? It seems like if God is actually interacting with people, as He does in the old Testament, he is changing. This doesn't seem to be a Cambridge Property situation as it is not a relationship change but a real interaction. Where am I going wrong?

chemistwholovestoread said...

I owe you,Dr.Feser,a great debt for introducing me to the classical arguments for gods existence and traits,a system based in reason found in natural moral law in which we can ground morality without appeal to divine revelation, and philosophy in general.Aside from what seems like the more than occasional jab at protestants that aren't named William Craig and there contributions to apologetic's ,I thoroughly enjoy and find your work,whether book or blog,to be very engaging.But I must say as someone studying to be a chemical engineer,I find your frequent dismissal and mocking of intelligent design to be disheartening.

I would agree without hesitation that the classical arguments for an unmoved mover are far more potent when the objective is to develope something more like a proof for god

BenYachov said...

>The biggest problem of dualism is the problem of interaction.

No that is the biggest problem with Cartesian dualism(& it can be applied to Property Dualism).

I think I speak for all Thomists and Thomist wannabes here when I say "Screw Rene Descarte that frekin Smeghead!"

The interaction problem is not a problem for Hylomorphic dualists.

The soul is the substantial form of the human person.

If I may speak analogously: How can a form have an interaction problem with the matter it instantiates?

Does a ball have an interaction problem with it's spherical form?

I think not.

Do some homework anon.

Anonymous said...

“The contemplation and service of God”

Say, that's the -Eudemian- formulation of what the happy life consists in, not the Nicomachean formulation (explicitly, at least). Have you ever written on the relation between Aristotle's two ethical treatises, Edward? I'd be interested to read it because I just wrote a review of Anthony Kenny's new Eudemian Ethics translation. Personally I really like Sarah Broadie's take on it in "Ethics with Aristotle."

-Chris Wolfe

P.S.- Welcome back to the church! I really enjoyed hearing your story.

chemistwholovestoread said...

But I happen to think I.D. theorist are doing the public a service demanding that evolutionist start to apply more rigor to their theory the so lacks it.Surely asking them to explain the origin of specified information in the DNA molecule,when from everything we know randomness degrades function in information ; the origin of the first cell from non-living chemicals,with theories of chemical affinities and RNA world dying a slow death; and a glaring inequality- with the amount of modifications needed at the cellular,molecular, and morphological level-working against the Darwinian model in the fossil record.While I.D. could never access the characteristics of the designer and is probably something short of a proof even if accepted as a correct biological theory,for who knows maybe crick was right about the whole alien thing,it still is the best explanation of our observations in science to a growing number of people and is challenging an Darwinian orthodoxy that has for too long gotten away with just so story's that in any other field of study would have been chucked long ago.

The point being,that there is room for both approaches in the fight against reductionist.


P.S.
The Last Superstition was an eye-opener and Aquinas cleared up a lot of things for those of us who don't study philosophy.

This was a continuation from early post.

Eduardo said...

Ben, look at me and tell me. You suffer from this unexplicable urge to get in a debate don't you?

Anon, is not talking for himself, read the comment again and carefully.

By the way I know you suffer because I suffer from the same disease

Brian said...

To be honest though, this is not something I'm really convinced is even worth pursuing. It would take a lot to convince me and, from what I've seen here and in my many past conversations with Catholics, it's just not there. Sorry.

One thing to keep in mind is the dramatic paradigmatic differences that may prevent you from actually seeing the strength of Catholic arguments. It is very much analogous to the differences between modern philosophers and classical philosophers.

I encourage you to look into Called to Communion. Christian unity is very important.

Sobieski said...

Another great website is Nick's Catholic Blog. He has some devastating critiques of Sola Fide.

Anonymous said...

How can a form have an interaction problem with the matter it instantiates?


Okay, so you've essentially conceded that all our thoughts, feelings, and actions are fixed by neural substrates. That's what you get when you reject Cartesianism. "Form" does no conceptual work in establishing the existence of libertarian freedom, which is the precondition for all morality.

Eduardo said...

Wait a moment. Why exactly you give up on libertarian freedom ???

Hmmmm u_u I know we are threadjacking but I heard that before, in some other blog.

rank sophist said...

"Form" does no conceptual work in establishing the existence of libertarian freedom

This is pure ignorance. I recommend that you acquaint yourself with the writings of Aristotle, Aquinas and the scholastics in general on this matter.

Alan Fox said...

I'm still genuinely interested in how Dr. Feser's atheism manifested itself? Was it purely internal and left no written record?

Anonymous said...

Alan, ask a library to source the two works for you. I'm sure there has to be at least one academic library or university associated library in France.

Alan Fox said...

Alan, ask a library to source the two works for you. I'm sure there has to be at least one academic library or university associated library in France

Oh, sure there are and I am not far from both Montpellier and Toulouse. But first could Dr. Feser, you or anyone confirm that atheism (from an atheist perspective) is the theme of these books because that is what interests me. I am aware of many people making the transition either to or from atheism but the return to one's original faith (in spades, it seems in Dr. Feser's case) is something I have not come across.

I am curious as to how Dr. Feser's atheism manifested itself. It it's something Dr. Feser is not interested in duscussing, no problem; it's his blog.

Alan Fox said...

If it is...

BenYachov said...

>Okay, so you've essentially conceded that all our thoughts, feelings, and actions are fixed by neural substrates. That's what you get when you reject Cartesianism.

So you haven't actually read anything on Hylemorphic dualism have you? You only know Cartesian dualism which we all reject anyway which renders virtually all your objects to non-starters.

>"Form" does no conceptual work in establishing the existence of libertarian freedom, which is the precondition for all morality.

Since when does a Thomist have to believe in "libertarian freedom"? I mean he could but it's not required. I tend toward a Compatiblist/Mysterium view myself.

Like Brian Davies I believe God causes me to act freely. I am free because of God causality not in spite of Him.

rank sophist said...

Since when does a Thomist have to believe in "libertarian freedom"? I mean he could but it's not required. I tend toward a Compatiblist/Mysterium view myself.

Like Brian Davies I believe God causes me to act freely. I am free because of God causality not in spite of Him.


I agree on this one.

It's worth mentioning, though, that scholastics like Duns Scotus and Ockham both argued for libertarian free will on the basis of the human form. I, personally, find their voluntarist conclusions appalling in comparison to Aquinas's beliefs--but they still disprove Anon's point.

Austin said...

He Dr. Feser,

I do agree with what you said for the most part. To paraphrase what you said, when we rest faith on emotion, we will eventually be led astray as our emotions necessarily undulate. Proper faith should be based on belief, which is, in my opinion an intellectual exercise.

On the contrary, I think emotions should follow faith instead of the other way around. I think certain truths, when understood properly should move us emotionally. God's love for us shown in his incarnation, crucifixion and resurrection should, when properly understood, invoke a strong emotion. But the emotion follows the truth of the acts, not the other way around.

Do you agree with that? I too, have a distaste for overly emotional-based Christians, especially charismatics, but also general evangelicals who seem to base their faith on emotion. On the other hand, I think it is proper and right to say "praise the Lord" when we recognize the things he has done for us all and us personally. Every good thing is a gift from God, is it not?

Pastor Spomer said...

Sola Scriptural as it was ment by the Lutheran is more modest a teaching, compared to the way it has been understood by later Protestants.

Anonymous said...

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-11161493

There is no place for God in theories on the creation of the Universe, Professor Stephen Hawking has said.

He had previously argued belief in a creator was not incompatible with science but in a new book, he concludes the Big Bang was an inevitable consequence of the laws of physics.

Eduardo said...

There are posts talking about that claim anon, just look for them.

Without saying I saw crticis everywhere. I wanted to see the calculus he did and the interpretation of the same to have a better idea what he means, but philosophically speaking * the part of God and stuff * I think he is not all that great.

Anonymous said...

Wait...are Thomists believers in something akin to "determinism," perhaps "teleological determinism"? I thought there was room in Thomism to believe that human beings are "prime movers," as it were, that we aren't ultimately enslaved to our material bodies, and that our current physical actions aren't ultimately due to physical events that occurred in the distant past before we came into being, but in light of BenYachov's and rank sophist's comments about compatibilism being the position most compatible with Thomism I'm beginning to have doubts.

(For the record, I find compatibilism to be a vacuous cop out. If you are roughly a determinist of any kind you cannot coherently assert that any past event was a deviation from the "way things ought to have been" or that "it should not have occurred." It makes as much sense as saying that "that asteroid at the other end of the galaxy should not have flown into that star a million years ago," and - to my mind - that inability undercuts morality.)

Eduardo said...

Well maybe you ought to dig something about Mind in the right part of the page, in those thomistic material, or search for mind in the blog posts ...

rank sophist said...

Anon,

Thomists (and Aristotelians generally) don't believe that the mind is material. Through argument, it's possible to show the intellect and will to be immaterial powers housed wholly in the form. This is the basis of Aquinas's argument for the immortality of the soul.

Thomistic "compatibilism" is totally unconnected to the contemporary debate about determinism. Rather, it relates to arcane details regarding causation between the intellect and will. The idea of "physical events that occurred in the distant past" controlling our current behavior isn't even a concern.

David T said...

Which also means that you fuck-tards worship a god that squatted over a hole and took a shit!!!

Of course this remark deserves no response, but it does inadvertently reveal one of the reasons I find Christianity plausible.

First, notice the implication that natural bodily functions are degrading and not worthy of the noble. Simply being incarnate is humiliating; our natural religious impulse is that God, who is more noble than us, must be a being who does not share the humiliations of our embodied existence. We are naturally religious Platonists (which is why the natural religions, in their higher forms like Platonism and Buddhism, envision an escape from mortal existence).

But Christianity runs counter to our intuitions with respect to God. It says the opposite of what we would naturally think, and what natural religions generally think: It says God deliberately took on the humiliations of becoming incarnate, including taking on the necessity of the bathroom as well as dying the most humiliating of deaths. It is "foolishness to Greeks."

I don't find it plausible that Christianity was simply made up, or was just the next increment in natural religious development. Its basic doctrine runs counter to natural religious development, and as the commenter notes, it is also something we find, at face value, absurd. Of course it may be that Christianity is still false, but it will take an explanation equal to its unique nature to convince me.

Benyachov said...

>There is no place for God in theories on the creation of the Universe, Professor Stephen Hawking has said.

Atheist Philosopher Graham Oppy (arguing against Atheist philosopher Q. Smith) argues against the idea the Hartle-Hawking cosmology mandates Atheism.

http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/graham_oppy/smith1.html

Hawking is not a philosopher. He is out of his league.

I would take their arguments against the existence of God seriously.

But the brain dead nonsense of Hawkings or your average Gnus are no better then the servings of sophistry we get from Young Earth Creationists.

Gnus are just intellectually inferior.

George R. said...

Yachov writes (in one of his familiar riffs):
But the brain dead nonsense of Hawkings or your average Gnus are no better then the servings of sophistry we get from Young Earth Creationists.

Perhaps, Ben, you might be so kind as to give us an example of YEC sophistry in order to illustrate your point.

Anonymous said...

RS:The idea of "physical events that occurred in the distant past" controlling our current behavior isn't even a concern.

Don't you think it should be though? It seems like it would bear significantly on the subject of responsibility.

BenYachov said...

@George R

First let me just remind you there is no Salvation Outside the Catholic Church and running around claiming Pope Benedict isn't the real Pope puts your soul in mortal danger.

Repent & return to the True Church.

Just saying.

As too your question.

>Perhaps, Ben, you might be so kind as to give us an example of YEC sophistry in order to illustrate your point.

The idea that the Second Law of Thermal Dynamics refutes evolution.

This is a common/classic argument found among the ANSWERS IN GENESIS crowd. It's a category mistake since it takes a Law of Physics & treats it as if it where a metaphysical principle.

Sort of akin to Gnu Atheist chuckleheads who treat the First Way "Whatever is moved is moved by another" as if it where a statement about physics instead of metaphysics.

Eduardo said...

Shit, you don't really know how to counter argument the second law. First, the second applies to living things? YEAH, it does. Does it pretty much show that evolution in a sense of increasing number of parts and more and betterly arranged systems can't happen ? NO, it doesn't. Is it because the earth the earth is an open system and the sun offers us energy? No this reply is the most stupid thing anyone that thinks they know science can say, when someone say something like that, he is literaly saying, that because the sun is shining buildings will eventually just be created from dirt. And that makes me laugh really hard because this reply was actually propagated by scientists and I just can't understand why. What is the real reply to the second law? The correct answer to the second law when applied to the part of the creatures is.... It is because we eat and take energy of the food, and that maintains the overall entropy and could eventually lower it, the sun is only inderectly involved and even so, in order to use certain types of energy you need the correct body part to do it. So no problem in evolving because ... We eat, is as simple as it goes

That is the correct snswer to that "challenge".


And the troll up there is Truth over Faith aka Trolling over Reason

Sobieski said...

@David T

St. Thomas makes a simlar point:

"Those who place their faith in this truth, however, 'for which the human reason offers no experimental evidence,' do not believe foolishly, as though 'following artificial fables' (2 Peter 2:16).

For these 'secrets of divine Wisdom' (Job 11:6) the divine Wisdom itself, which knows all things to the full, has deigned to reveal to men. It reveals its own presence, as well as the truth of its teaching and inspiration, by fitting arguments; and in order to confirm those truths that exceed natural knowledge, it gives visible manifestation to works that surpass the ability of all nature. Thus, there are the wonderful cures of illnesses, there is the raising of the dead, and the wonderful immutation in the heavenly bodies; and what is more wonderful, there is the inspiration given to human minds, so that simple and untutored persons, filled with the gift of the Holy Spirit, come to possess instantaneously the highest wisdom and the readiest eloquence.

"When these arguments were examined, through the efficacy of the abovementioned proof, and not the violent assault of arms or the promise of pleasure, and (what is most wonderful of all) in the midst of the tyranny of the persecutors, an innumerable throng of people, both simple and most learned, flocked to the Christian faith. In this faith there are truths preached that surpass every human intellect; the pleasures of the flesh are curbed; it is taught that the things of the world should be spurned. Now, for the minds of mortal men to assent to these things is the greatest of miracles, just as it is a manifest work of divine inspiration that, spurning visible things, men should seek only what is invisible." (SCG I, ch. 6)

Admirable is the name of God! Long live Christ, the King!

Terence M. Stanton said...

A.M.D.G.

I can speak for a lot of people when I say I would greatly look forward to a post as to why you are a Catholic and not a member of another religion, Dr. Feser. Have fun in Australia.

George R. said...

Ben,

I’m not all that familiar with “the ANSWERS IN GENESIS crowd.” Perhaps you can give an example of how they use the Second Law as a metaphysical principle instead of a physical one. On the face of it, however, I fail to see how using the Second Law as an argument would necessarily be sophistical.

Look, the evolutionists argue that all the order in the universe arose during billions of years by dint of nothing more than laws of nature. It’s perfectly reasonable, therefore, for the creationists to point out that there exists a certain law of nature (the Second Law) that would seem to render such a spontaneous self-ordering physical impossible.

Now I’ll admit that I’ve seen a little bit of hand-waving from the YECs on certain issues, such as the starlight problem and radiometric dating. However, the sophistry of the Darwinsists (and I’m afraid I have to include theistic evolutionists in this bunch) just seems to rain down in torrents. The reason for this may be that Darwinism as a thesis does not have a leg to stand; for it’s basically nothing but the theory that everything just happened for no reason. Therefore, were its proponents to eschew all sophistical arguments, I’m afraid they wouldn’t have any arguments whatsoever. The creationists, on the other hand, are defending a thesis which is, a priori, perfectly rational: that all contingent beings were created by a infinitely powerful and eternal being. (The theistic-evolution position is, I believe, nothing more than a weird hybrid of these two positions, and, in my opinion, is rather the result of a desire for compromise than of any rational consideration.) In short, the creationists have posited a principle that is capable of bringing about the entire visible universe, I.e., God, whereas the Darwinists have posited a principle that is not capable bringing about anything at all, I.e., Nothing. This is why I believe that creationism will never, ever be defeated, no matter how much all the “smart people” rant and rage against it.

BenYachov said...

>On the face of it, however, I fail to see how using the Second Law as an argument would necessarily be sophistical.

So you don’t really understand the difference between making a metaphysical argument vs an argument from physics?

The Second Law of Thermodynamics states that in all energy exchanges, if no energy enters or leaves the system, the potential energy of the state will always be less than that of the initial state." This is also commonly referred to as entropy.

It is a Law of physics that states things given time things will run out of energy and run down.

Creationists misuse this as metaphysical claim that all things move toward a state of disorder thus Evolution which is seen as a tendency within life to become more ordered must not be true since it “contradicts” this Law of physics.

Bulltshit! Even if Young Earth Creationism where true & evolution was wrong you can’t use the Second Law of Thermodynamics to argue evolution was wrong.

What does energy loss have to do with wither lifeforms can evolve or not? Nothing at all. The whole argument is a category mistake for chuckleheads!

>Look, the evolutionists argue that all the order in the universe arose during billions of years by dint of nothing more than laws of nature. It’s perfectly reasonable, therefore, for the creationists to point out that there exists a certain law of nature (the Second Law) that would seem to render such a spontaneous self-ordering physical impossible.

No it is not reasonable to use a Law of physics like a metaphysical principle anymore than it is reasonable for someone like Prof Oretor to treat the First way like a Law of physics.

If you want to claim things have an inherent tendency not to Evolve & require some external intelligent agent to act upon it. Fine make that argument. But don’t equate it with the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Energy loss has nothing to do with wither or not species can or cannot overtime evolve.

Even if God choose to make the Universe we now live in a mere few thousand years ago and used fiat acts of creation to create species without any natural selection or evolution of any sort.

You still cannot conceptionally use a Law of Physics that tells us about energy loss in closed systems as a principle that makes evolution impossible.

BenYachov said...

>However, the sophistry of the Darwinsists (and I’m afraid I have to include theistic evolutionists in this bunch) just seems to rain down in torrents.

So in other words "So's your Old Man!"?

That doesn't change the brute fact you cannot use a Law of Physics to make a metaphysical argument.

Even if Evolution is false and YEC true the 2nd law "argument" is terrible.

rank sophist said...

Don't you think it should be though? It seems like it would bear significantly on the subject of responsibility.

Assuming that decisions are material events, then sure. But Thomists deny that claim.

Glenn said...

First let me just remind you there is no Salvation Outside the Catholic Church

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

Alan Fox said...

Still curious about Dr Feser's "atheist" phase!

Anyone?

Eduardo said...

Alan

I think he just absorved the work of other atheists, and never thought much about talking about it. Perhapshe felt he was just one of many, so no need to talk about stuff everybody knows, or stuff that was just suppose to be the natural outcome of his position.

So perhaps there is no atheist phase written in detail.

Alan Fox said...

So perhaps there is no atheist phase written in detail.

I suspect you are right. :)

Anonymous said...

I think I will link to your blog and share it. You are the first person I know of that came from athiesm to Faith because of the study of St.Thomas et.al. The athiests I am in contact with and most Catholics as well really don't understand Thomism because they haven't studied him.

Alan Fox said...

I can speak for a lot of people when I say I would greatly look forward to a post as to why you are a Catholic and not a member of another religion, Dr. Feser.

I can confirm that at least one other reader would be interested as to why, having rejected (I am not sure what flavour of Catholicism Dr. Feser grew up in) Catholicism, he became an "atheist" and then decided to rejoin the traditional Catholicism he now espouses.

Alan Fox said...

The athiests I am in contact with and most Catholics as well really don't understand Thomism because they haven't studied him.

I find the atheists I am in contact with don't understand the teachings of the Buddha because they haven't studied him, either. What can you do?!

Eduardo said...

call it a day and live our lives ?

XD I mean it man, it goes through my head everytime I see a Gnu posting

Touchstone said...

@George R

Look, the evolutionists argue that all the order in the universe arose during billions of years by dint of nothing more than laws of nature. It’s perfectly reasonable, therefore, for the creationists to point out that there exists a certain law of nature (the Second Law) that would seem to render such a spontaneous self-ordering physical impossible.
The Second Law does not concern "self-ordering", or "ordering" at all, of course. So this objection just misunderstands the principle asserted in the Second Law. The Second Law concerns thermodynamics (hence the name - "Second Law of Thermodynamics"), not "order" as is it casually understood in these contexts.

As a physics professor once asked our class: which has more entropy: a) a child's bedroom with everything perfectly cleaned and straightened out, shirts folded in their draws, desk perfectly organized, bed made, floor free of toys or dirty laundry, or b) that same child's bedroom completely messed up, with all the clothes thrown on the floor, sheets ripped off the bed, toys strewn all about?

The answer is: neither. There entropy is the same. You'd have to burn down both versions of the bedroom into fine ash and measure the energy generated by that process for each to see how much energy available for work remained in each case. The socks being on the floor, all the laundry strewn about does NOT impact the thermodynamic entropy. If you think this answer is wrong, you're badly mistaken about what "order" means in the context of the Second Law.

This, then: that would seem to render such a spontaneous self-ordering physical impossible is not a coherent objection based on the Second Law.

I think the more interesting observation here is that the Second Law *is* a metaphysical principle, in that is a "physical principle governing physical principles", and thus a "meta-physical principle", contra what Ben Yachov and others seem to be suggesting here, but for now, I think I'll just point out that the the basis for this objection is misgiven.

-TS

Touchstone said...

@George R, (con't)


Now I’ll admit that I’ve seen a little bit of hand-waving from the YECs on certain issues, such as the starlight problem and radiometric dating.

Oy. That's one way of putting it. Like saying Bernie Madoff seemed to flirt just a bit with ethically problematic policies in running his business.

However, the sophistry of the Darwinsists (and I’m afraid I have to include theistic evolutionists in this bunch) just seems to rain down in torrents. The reason for this may be that Darwinism as a thesis does not have a leg to stand; for it’s basically nothing but the theory that everything just happened for no reason.
That doesn't sound like either the science I've been taught and practiced, or anything I've read from the people who lead the thinking and practice in this field. Scientific epistemology understand "ultimate knowledge" to be fool's errand -- explanations have to break down at some level, else you have infinite regress, or religious superstition taking over. But such an understanding does not imply there is "no reason", but rather that ultimacy is not within our grasp, epistemically.

Therefore, were its proponents to eschew all sophistical arguments, I’m afraid they wouldn’t have any arguments whatsoever. The creationists, on the other hand, are defending a thesis which is, a priori, perfectly rational: that all contingent beings were created by a infinitely powerful and eternal being. (The theistic-evolution position is, I believe, nothing more than a weird hybrid of these two positions, and, in my opinion, is rather the result of a desire for compromise than of any rational consideration.) In short, the creationists have posited a principle that is capable of bringing about the entire visible universe, I.e., God, whereas the Darwinists have posited a principle that is not capable bringing about anything at all, I.e., Nothing. This is why I believe that creationism will never, ever be defeated, no matter how much all the “smart people” rant and rage against it.
I don't doubt that creationism, like much religious superstition, will persist for a very long time. Evolution is an exceedingly slow process, and such superstitious impulses are deeply ingrained in our evolved psychology.

But it's incorrect to say that science has not posited a principle for the development of the universe; this is cosmology. And while we are necessarily limited in terms of our ability to empirically verify any meta-universal hypothesis (if we could judge the idea by empirical means, it would necessary place that *in* our universe, by definition), the principle advanced by science is not the egregious offense to parsimony that the creationist superstition is: the hypothesis holds that the fundamental laws of physics render the scientific void (which is distinct from a 'philosophical nothing') unstable, and unstable in universe-generating ways. Parts of this may be confirmable in our own experience -- we may at some point be able to witness and verify the creation of 'daughter universes' spawning from our own, which would bolster the idea that our universe was spawned by the same dynamics.

The point being, though, that science doesn't have any substantial competition from creationist or other similar conjectures in providing an explanation for how 'anything at all' comes to be. It's not ultimate, or certain, but its substantial, grounded in real knowledge of *this* universe, which is something competing ideas cannot claim.

-TS

BenYachov said...

@Alan Fox

>I find the atheists I am in contact with don't understand the teachings of the Buddha because they haven't studied him, either. What can you do?!

Well if they wish to conclude it is somehow "wrong" they should first learn something substantive about it. Just enough so they can articulate intelligently why they think it is "wrong".

Or they can just practice the Gnu Atheist art of Ready! Fire! Aim!

Which is just sad.

BenYachov said...

@Touchstone

>I think the more interesting observation here is that the Second Law *is* a metaphysical principle, in that is a "physical principle governing physical principles", and thus a "meta-physical principle", contra what Ben Yachov and others seem to be suggesting here, but for now, I think I'll just point out that the the basis for this objection is misgiven.

No the Second Law is solely a scientific Law of physics and it is incoherent to claim it is a metaphysical principle. Granting a godless reality you are irrational for believing that. My Spidey Senses detect a possible fallacy of equivocation.

>The point being, though, that science doesn't have any substantial competition from creationist or other similar conjectures in providing an explanation for how 'anything at all' comes to be. It's not ultimate, or certain, but its substantial, grounded in real knowledge of *this* universe, which is something competing ideas cannot claim.

The above in bold is a philosophical and metaphysical claim and an irrational incoherent claim.

What was it Beckweth said? 1949 called and they want their Positivism back!

SCIENTISM ROUND UP.

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2011/03/scientism-roundup.html

No offense to you.

Cheers.

Eduardo said...

Metaphysication of the second law XD!

Touchstone said...

@Ben Yachov,

No the Second Law is solely a scientific Law of physics and it is incoherent to claim it is a metaphysical principle. Granting a godless reality you are irrational for believing that. My Spidey Senses detect a possible fallacy of equivocation.

"Solely a scientific law" doesn't help your case. The distinction between "law" and "theory" in science is a metaphysical one; it's a "law" in the sense that it describes a "fact about facts", a meta-principle, a universal concept.

This is why I took a moment to use the extra language I did in my previous post ("physical principle governing physical principles"). I'm not equivocating but rather distinguish a scientific sense of metaphysical principle from a... religious or abstract philosophical one. The Second Law is not a mechanism, but a conclusion about the nature of being in our universe. It's metaphysics from a scientific perspective.

A popular chestnut on the Laws of Thermodynamics captures the metaphysical nature of them with a bit of humor:

Zeroth: You must play the game.
First: You can't win.
Second: You can't break even.
Third: You can't quit the game.


There is no 'theory' as such that can support that kind of formulation. That is what "law" does here, in science -- it promotes a web of theories into a metaphysical conclusion. It's just a form of metaphysics that's scientifically grounded, and which regards a Thomistic denotation of metaphysics as distinct and parochial with respect to it.

-TS

Glenn said...

TS,

If all scientific laws are taken to be metaphysical principles, it will not follow that all metaphysical principles are scientific laws. Therefore, with respect to metaphysics, it is science that is parochial.

reighley said...

Hasn't this body agreed by now that there is some overlap between what we have been calling "science" and what we have been calling "metaphysics"?

Eduardo said...

Surely there might be.

But... as far as shit goes, the dust is so high we can't really know where those borders are.

Perhaps we could debate about that, get some nice decent debaters U_U ... most folks around here will be out of that group of course

rank sophist said...

Touchstone,

The Second Law is an abstraction based on inductive data. It is a term for a certain category of observed phenomena. Beings may universally exhibit the behavior described by the Second Law, but this seems to be intrinsic to said beings rather than imposed from the outside. As a result, the Second Law is not metaphysical: it merely describes inductive observation of a deeper metaphysical principle.

reighley said...

@Eduardo,

"most folks around here will be out of that group of course"

tsk. If I had any delusions of competence I wouldn't be carrying my torch into the bottom half of other people's comboxes. We must all do the best we can with the minds we have.

Perhaps I will leave the question of whether one can coherently involve a physical fact in a metaphysical argument to another time (I think one can, for the record). But could someone at least tell me whether we are referring to the second law of thermodynamics that is a statement about heat, or the one that is a statement about statistics. Because I could see how the two ideas might have different metaphysical content even though the physics is generally presumed to be the same.

grodrigues said...

@Touchstone:

"Scientific epistemology understand "ultimate knowledge" to be fool's errand -- explanations have to break down at some level, else you have infinite regress, or religious superstition taking over."

False dichotomy. There is (at least) a third hypothesis, which also happens to be the correct one: science, conceived in the modern sense, does not give the ultimate explanations.

Touchstone said...

@Glenn,

If all scientific laws are taken to be metaphysical principles, it will not follow that all metaphysical principles are scientific laws. Therefore, with respect to metaphysics, it is science that is parochial.
Agreed, but I've not claimed such, of course. I'm quite aware there metaphysical propositions that are not scientific in their formulation. I was pointing out, contra Ben Yachov (I believe it was) that laws are metaphysics-laden insofar as they abstract and universalize (hence the "meta-") notions we draw from theory.

On the parochial comment, my point was not that Thomistic or religious metaphysics see scientific metaphysics as particular in their own way, but rather that "their" metaphysics tends to be understood as "normative" metaphysics, leading to reaction like Ben Yachov's. That's a function, in my understanding, of a parochial perspective -- "this here where we live is the land of metaphysics, the land beyond is something else, other".

Scientists engaging in metaphysics, insofar as they do with abstractions drawn through scientific law, are not given to thinking that, say, Thomistic metaphysics are not metaphysics, even if they are seen as eccentric and particular forms of metaphysics.

-TS

Touchstone said...

@Rank Sophist,

The Second Law is an abstraction based on inductive data. It is a term for a certain category of observed phenomena. Beings may universally exhibit the behavior described by the Second Law, but this seems to be intrinsic to said beings rather than imposed from the outside.

"Intrinsic to said beings" would be a Thomistic or some other view's metaphysical inference; from a scientific (mechanical) perspective, matter and energy are "imposed from the outside" -- that's precisely what the Second Law implies.


As a result, the Second Law is not metaphysical: it merely describes inductive observation of a deeper metaphysical principle.

That's as metaphysical as a proposition gets. How do you suppose metaphysics gets done. From the days of Aristotle and long before, metaphysical propositions are drawn from our more local and physical experiences. The Second Law is a particularly "deeper" insight into the "nature of nature"; see the long running debates on the problem of Maxwell's Demon, perhaps the quintessential physics question over the last couple centuries; information cannot be garnered through immaterial or supernatural means, and as such, no Perpetual Motion Machine is possible, even in principle, as the costs of acquiring information are always more expensive in terms of invested energy than the energy yielded through by gaining that information (Maxwell's demon in his thought experiment was mistaken because any such Demon needed to actually expend energy to locate, analyze and separate individual molecules in order to separate the 'colder' from the 'hotter" candidates into different reservoirs).

The failure to understand the metaphysical nature of these abstractions, these, principles about principles, is what had prompted me to use "parochial" above.

-TS

Daniel Smith said...

BenYachov: First let me just remind you there is no Salvation Outside the Catholic Church

Are you really saying that the sacrifice of Jesus alone is not enough to save anyone? That salvation depends on belonging to a man-made organization as well?

That the blood of Jesus is insufficient? That it must be enhanced by joining up with your particular denomination?

That the cross has no power outside the confines of the Catholic church?

If you're really saying those things - then you're a religious bigot.

Perhaps it is YOU who needs to repent!

Glenn said...

TS,

That's a function, in my understanding, of a parochial perspective -- "this here where we live is the land of metaphysics, the land beyond is something else, other".

Thank you for clarifying your earlier comment. I'm now wondering if you're willing to clarify your clarification.

You say that to say, in effect, "This here where we live is the land of metaphysics, the land beyond is something else, other," is to give indication of the existence of an underlying parochial perspective (i.e., the statement itself is a function of a parochial perspective).

Do the rules of characterization change when the statement is, in effect, "This here where we live is the land of (say) empirical science, the land beyond is something else, other"?

That is, would you likewise understand this second statement to be a function of a 'parochial perspective'?

As a separate question, do you feel that the metaphysical aspect of the laws of science constitutes--or should be taken to constitute--"normative" metaphysics?

BenYachov said...

@Daniel Smith

You are a big hypocrite.

So you believe there is no Salvation apart from Jesus Christ? Well what about the followers of Mohamed? Or Buddha? Or Hindus?

So what you are saying is some poor pagan slob born on a desert Island who is never meets a missionary will go Hell regardless if he is a good person or not?

(You see Daniel where your irrational view gets you?)

Back to reality. Daniel I am a Catholic Christian & I believe the Catholic Church is the One True Church & I don't apologize for it.

Ever!

You are no different to me than any other religious liberal who thinks different non-Christian religions are equal ways to salvation & equally true.

FYI I don't believe all non-Catholics are automatically damned because that is the teaching of the Church.

Didn't you read Glenn's quote?

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

>Are you really saying that the sacrifice of Jesus alone is not enough to save anyone? That salvation depends on belonging to a man-made organization as well?

>That the blood of Jesus is insufficient? That it must be enhanced by joining up with your particular denomination?

The same Jesus Christ said to His Apostles "He who hears you hears me. He who rejects you rejects me.

Jesus wants us to submit to the authority of His Church.

You can choose to put the human traditions of the so called reformers above Jesus. But I cannot in good conscious do so.

I am not a bigot. I am a consistent. Bigotry comes from ignorance and your Daniel are clearly ignorant of Catholic teaching.

Not my problem.

Now back to touchstone....

Touchstone said...

@Glenn,


Do the rules of characterization change when the statement is, in effect, "This here where we live is the land of (say) empirical science, the land beyond is something else, other"?

That is, would you likewise understand this second statement to be a function of a 'parochial perspective'?

Yes, it would be equally parochial to dismiss, say, Thomistic metaphysics as "not metaphysical". The principle works both ways.


As a separate question, do you feel that the metaphysical aspect of the laws of science constitutes--or should be taken to constitute--"normative" metaphysics?

Well, part of the underlying objection from me is this notion of "normative" for metaphysics. Metaphysics exist where we are offering and considering abstractions and transcendent propositions about physics, about nature. "Normative" is problematic.

Scientific metaphysics -- the kind that are conclusions and inferences (like the Second Law) that are based on a network of performative theories
as opposed to metaphysical axioms like the hunch that our sense experience is to some significant degree veridical, have only as much force and relevance as those axioms.

If one accepts the axioms that underwrite scientific epistemology -- that performative models are performative because they actually *do* substantially reflect the nature and behavior of our extra-mental world -- then metaphysical propositions like "matter cannot be destroyed" carry weight, based on that epistemology.

But it's important to note the "value chain" there: metaphysical axioms that get science off the ground drive scientific epistemology which then, at length and in review, drives conclusions that metaphysical in nature. If one doesn't accept scientific epistemology, "matter/energy are conserved" carries no weight at all as a metaphysical insight.

-TS

Glenn said...

For the record, my response above to a comment made by BenYachov was not an attempt to get on his case. Not at all. While I figured the comment was nothing more than jocular ribbing, I also figured that it might be taken out of context by some readers, and seen as being an assertion of official dogma. Thus CCC 1260 was quoted for clarification, and not for correction.

Glenn said...

TS,

Thank you for the additional clarification.

Would it be fair to say that you see metaphysics, insofar as it encompasses more than the metaphysical aspects of the laws of science, as being concerned with things / matters / questions more in a general way, whereas science is concerned with similar or like things less in a general way and more in a particular / nittygritty / nuts-and-bolts kind of way?

BenYachov said...

>Solely a scientific law" doesn't help your case. The distinction between "law" and "theory" in science is a metaphysical one; it's a "law" in the sense that it describes a "fact about facts", a meta-principle, a universal concept.

A Physical Law is an observed physical regularity in nature. Not some stupid Platonic form. A metaphysical principle refers to the nature of being.

You are equivocating between empirical science vs philosophy of nature & thus mudding the waters here.

> I'm quite aware there metaphysical propositions that are not scientific in their formulation. I was pointing out, contra Ben Yachov (I believe it was) that laws are metaphysics-laden insofar as they abstract and universalize (hence the "meta-") notions we draw from theory.


Rather I was trying to make a simple argument as to why a YEC can't use the Second Law to argue against the posibility of Evolution since it is a clear catagory mistake.

The tendency for the physical universe to run down and eventually die does not equal species changing over time or improving via natural selection.


>On the parochial comment, my point was not that Thomistic or religious metaphysics see scientific metaphysics as particular in their own way, but rather that "their" metaphysics tends to be understood as "normative" metaphysics,

Rather you are equivocating between the inductive conclusions of discipline of empirical science(i.e. physical laws) with the philosophy of empiricism & or the philosophy of nature.

The 2nd law of thermaldynamics is not in any cohernent sense a metaphysical principle.

Observed physical reqularities in nature may be related to metaphysical principles (such as potency & actuality in Aristole's philosophy of nature. The fact our sense observe things change and yet have a permanancy about them). But an observed regularity itself is not a metaphysical principle.

In the case of the 2nd Law the tendency for physical things to lose energy has nothing to do with other natural forces causing complexities to be formed among physical things in the interum of losing of energy.

eroth: You must play the game.
First: You can't win.
Second: You can't break even.
Third: You can't quit the game.

But you can still get a high score and have complexy arise during the game.

So I reject your irrational claim the 2nd Law is a metaphysical principle.

Still a catagory mistake confusing empirical science with philosophy of nature.

Touchstone said...

@Glenn,

Would it be fair to say that you see metaphysics, insofar as it encompasses more than the metaphysical aspects of the laws of science, as being concerned with things / matters / questions more in a general way, whereas science is concerned with similar or like things less in a general way and more in a particular / nittygritty / nuts-and-bolts kind of way?

I'd resist that as a description of my views. Science proper is pragmatic, empirical, model-based, "nuts and bolts" to use your term. But scientific metaphysics are not the same. They derive from a scientific epistemology, which eliminates wide swaths of speculation and conjecture that other areas of philosophy (like theology) help themselves to liberally, but the scope and depth of the metaphysical conclusions are, in my view, can be and often are just as general/fundamental as any other approach to metaphysics.

If you look at a conjecture like "matter is conserved", for example, not as a physical principle, a rule that accurately describes dynamics in our universe, based on our experience, but as a metaphysical principle -- matter as somehow *fundamentally* conserved, indestructible, eternal, constant, and across any and all universes -- you have gotten completely away from "nuts and bolts", and are trafficking in propositions of the most general and (meta-)universal kind; it isn't even important at level what we might thing matter/energy are, or what dynamics it has at a practical level. The salient part of the metaphysical conjecture is that of meta-universal conservation: we suppose that may be a feature of base reality itself, in a way that transcends any particular universe or physical context.

That's not like the Thomistic intuition about motion, for example (from potency to actuality), which is similarly general, but epistemically more of a tautology than the scientific concept of conservation. They are "equally general" and fundamental, but derive from very, very different epistemic standards.

Scientific metaphysics, then, are (or can be) fully competitive with Thomistic (or Franciscan, or Buddhist, or Islamic occasionalist, or...) metaphysics, but are distinguished from them by the epistemology that grounds them. It's not a "more practical" or "nuts and bolts" form of metaphysics in my view.

-TS

rank sophist said...

"Intrinsic to said beings" would be a Thomistic or some other view's metaphysical inference; from a scientific (mechanical) perspective, matter and energy are "imposed from the outside" -- that's precisely what the Second Law implies.

TS, your position on laws implies a lawgiver. This is what the earliest mechanists believed--which is why their scientific terminology (such as "law") contains theological baggage. In addition, a law is unprovable in principle. This makes its usefulness for science doubtful.

That's as metaphysical as a proposition gets. How do you suppose metaphysics gets done. From the days of Aristotle and long before, metaphysical propositions are drawn from our more local and physical experiences.

That isn't what I said. I didn't say that the Second Law was metaphysical knowledge based on experience: I said that it was an inductive generalization of a metaphysical principle. For Aristotle, the principle that results in the Second Law's appearance would be contained in the form (probably within the forms of material things).

The failure to understand the metaphysical nature of these abstractions, these, principles about principles, is what had prompted me to use "parochial" above.

Thomism seems more conducive to science than does this unprovable "law". I don't particularly want to get into this debate with you again, but this system of yours is incredibly vulnerable to Goodman's paradox and the problem of induction. If we only gain knowledge of "laws" through inductive generalization--with no forms/natures involved--, then grue is unavoidable.

Big Mama said...

Got here via Andrew Sullivan. I've skimmed the comments looking for what I assumed would be several pointing out the striking parallels between your story and that of C. S. Lewis (described in Surprised by Joy), and have been surprised not to find any.

bpuharic said...

As an atheist, I read this essay feeling like Feser's female grad student who was 'relieved' to find there's really no argument for God. She was right. There's not.

One thing that should tip him off there's something wrong is much of his argument is based on physics (the "Cosmological" problem; the nature of matter), yet he quotes or analyzes precisely ZERO physicists. Remarkable.

He then sneaks the nose of the camel under the tent by describing a feeling there's something wrong with the 'intrinsic' description of matter vs the 'abstract'.

What? What do these mean? Perhaps this is why physicists, like Nobel Prize winner Steven Weinberg have said contemporary philosophy is of little use to physics.

He also says an introspection of mental states finds they are caused by other mental states. Does this not, he asks, suggest causation can be in some sense mental? Well, no. Spandrels, as S. J. Gould noted, can explain much of our mental processes.

And Christians have yet to explain why there is death, from a teleological viewpoint. Feser spends ALOT of time telling us 'materialists' can't 'intrinsically' explain matter (a god of the gaps if there ever was one), but fails to tell us why ALL organisms have died BEFORE Christ. If sin is part of our makeup (original sin) and leads to death, then what of coacervates that are 4 billion years old? What sin did THEY commit? In short, he fails to describe the nexus between the supernatural and the natural, which is, ultimately, the death of the Christian religion. Christianity is a cultural belief. It's not 'true'. And Feser has done a poor job of telling us why he thinks it IS true.

Eduardo said...

Wow, what a trainwreck!

bpuharic said...

Eduardo said... Wow, what a train wreck!

Ah, I guess the problem with satire like this is that it's too hard to tell from the real thing!

rank sophist said...

bpuharic,

I bought it hook, line and sinker--my jaw hit the desk. Good one.

Eduardo said...

Not at all, you are just more proof to why I should no empathy towards atheists.

And you have, just asserted stuff. You atheists think that intimidation and assertation is how someone talk to people with different world views.

Anonymous said...

Religious philosphers and the new atheists talk past one another. The new atheists (other than the ace debater Hitchens) tend to be scientists who know and care little about the works of theology and moral philosopy. As scientists they start with the observable universe, which they study with great sophistication, and refuse to leap in logic or imagination past the limits of the observable world. The Religious philosophers are usually out of their league discussing matters of modern science.

The new atheists can make complete sense of the world within their naturalistic restrictions but their empiricism cannot answer such fundamental questions that most reflecting people are asking as: Why should we behave one way rather than another? The religious philosophers have plenty to say on such questions but find themselves fighting a rearguard action against many of the major scientific advances of the past two centuries.

One can blithely accuse the new atheists of ad hominem attacks (itself an ad hominem attack) but what other kinds of attacks are to be made against new earth creationists like Aristotle, Aquinas and their modern disciples?

bpuharic said...

Unfortunately someone seems to have logged in as me and claimed what I wrote was satire. Not in the least. I suggest if you folks can't handle the truth you leave the argument to Tom Cruise.

BenYachov said...

We are not falling for that again.

Fool me once shame on you. Fool me twice shame on me.

Side note?

Leah it seems set up this Atheist/Theist turring test where a Theist would gone on line an pretend to be an Atheist & an Atheist vice versa and the test subjects would interact with them and try to guess the real Atheist or Theist.

I wonder if bpuharic is channeling that?

Eduardo said...

Assert, intimidate ... and say nothing of substance. Man if atheism is true definitely is not atheists that will show me this.

Eduardo said...

Some how now A-T is young Earth Creationism.

Dude I give up! XD that was awesome.

And it is amazing ... how it always goes straight to to aseertion, "yeah A believes B". And why is that? "Well it is so obvious from my perspective!!! THERE CAN'T POSSIBLY BE ANY OTHER WAY TO SEE THIS!!!"

Wow, no wonder guys liek PZ myers say that you don't win debates by sound argumentation XD!

Touchstone said...

@Rank Sophist,

TS, your position on laws implies a lawgiver. This is what the earliest mechanists believed--which is why their scientific terminology (such as "law") contains theological baggage. In addition, a law is unprovable in principle. This makes its usefulness for science doubtful.

The equivocation between 'law' as prescriptive (theological/teleocentric sense) and 'law' as descriptive (scientific sense) is just a persistent problem that won't go away so long as their is a casual interface between the two concepts, theology and science bumping into each other. "Law" as used in the modern sense, as in Second Law of Thermodynamics neither indicates nor denies a lawgiver, where 'lawgiver' implies some kind of mind or will or personage.

"Provable" is a problematic term in science. Scientific epistemology is eliminative, which means we don't acquire knowledge in the "it is proven" sense, but rather we eliminate less performative hypotheses and models, adopting the "least problematic and least falsified" as our current champion representing current knowledge. An essential feature of a scientific law is that it is operative without empirical exception -- universally consistent as far as we can tell. It's not "provable" any more than any theory is. Science only falsifies and takes away. The most "proven" theory is always open to being improved, and found 'less wrong' (e.g. upgrading from Newtonian physics, which were impressive in their own right to the much more high powered model that is GR).

Science doesn't understand "prove a law", conceptual, beyond 'fail to falsify after lots of tests'.

That isn't what I said. I didn't say that the Second Law was metaphysical knowledge based on experience: I said that it was an inductive generalization of a metaphysical principle. For Aristotle, the principle that results in the Second Law's appearance would be contained in the form (probably within the forms of material things).

Well, the basis is experience, for Aristotle and myself (and you, and...), yes. But "form" is a linguistic construct, a façon de parler in that context, and doesn't venture or add anything. If you doubt this, note that "form" is conspicuously absent from *any* model that interacts with our experience, and isn't liable to it in the least.

I'm not saying you can't mix that in as you like, but it's no different than supposing there really is an 'immaterial aether' that is fixed, and which everything moves through and within, which is just completely impassible to experience and scientific inquiry. Yeah, ok, add that in as you like, but it's just superfluous, impotent, inert.

-TS

Touchstone said...

@rank sophist, (con't)


Thomism seems more conducive to science than does this unprovable "law".

It is, and this is a damning shortcoming. It's a trivial approach to the problem, "philosophy by definition". The notion of form is perfectly unfalsifiable, even and especially in practical terms, precisely so that it can be and is conducive to ANY and ALL empirical outcomes. It's not a synthetic concept, to cast it in Kantian terms, but is instead tautological, and tautologies are by nature much more conducive in such situations because they are trivial truths, definitions.

I don't particularly want to get into this debate with you again, but this system of yours is incredibly vulnerable to Goodman's paradox and the problem of induction. If we only gain knowledge of "laws" through inductive generalization--with no forms/natures involved--, then grue is unavoidable.
Goodman's Paradox leverages Humes problem of induction -- which is certainly a problem, if a manifestly soluble one in pragmatic terms -- but Goodman's own contribution is not one that operates at this level. "Grue" explores the problem of semantic predicates, and the question of "entrenchment" of physical and metaphysical concepts in our collective knowledge, and thus our language (which is why Goodman and his critics spend so much time on the question of 'properly basic' properties).

The superability of the problems of induction -- we anticipate the sun rising tomorrow just as it has for a million days in a row before, without any deductive grounds for doing so, and "get away with it" to our own utilitarian ends! -- is not Goodman's contribution. If you boil away the question that Goodman laid on top of inductive indeterminacy (the "grue" particulars), you have in residue the same problems Hume and others identified long before. That doesn't mean Goodman isn't an interesting contributor here, but he's not an innovator on the problem of induction, but on other issues.

That's pretty far afield from the subject of this thread, but I guess since that keeps coming up, it's good to say a thing or two on the question.

-TS

bpuharic said...

Anonymous has a point about science not being prescriptive in terms of norms, morals, etc. He's right; neither science nor atheism can establish morals. Neither can ballet dancing. It's simply not their job. Edmund Burke in his 'Reflections on the French Revolution' grounded change, ironically enough, in tradition. Theology is now useless and theologians are not, in contemporary society, educated people. Perhaps philosophers are. It's someone's job to cremate the corpse of theology. Those who are inventive and creative may be able to find a way to ground morals in human experience.

Anonymous said...

In the comments: "As time goes on and you see how these objections are based on misreadings and/or ignorance of the underlying metaphysics, the reasons you had for thinking them invalid disappear. If you read what I say about the arguments in my books you'll know both what objections I used to accept (mainly the ones most critics accept) and why I no longer accept them."

In other words: ad hominem, ad hominem, buy my book. Brilliant.

Eduardo said...

Ad Hominem = Refuting an argument attacking the person doing the argument.


But apparently the TRUTH IS.... ad hominem = talking that someone is wrong, or that certtain objections are wrong

... ... ... no comments.

bpuharic said...

BenYachov said… Fool me once shame on you. Fool me twice shame on me.

What, that utter misunderstanding of the term "cosmological", not being able to tell the difference between science and philosophy, and insular ignorance of Christian thought didn't strike you as a calm, considered, intelligent retort? What if I call theologians some more names? Except for renowned Christian theologian Tom Cruise, of course!

Anonymous said...

I wrote: In other words: ad hominem, ad hominem, buy my book.

By the way, just because some of you appear to have trouble recognizing satire, let me point out that I was being perfect sincere. My comments *were* ad hominem. And I'm against buying books because that leads to reading them and that leads to the risk of actually learning stuff. Some of my friends say you should buy books so you can burn them, but I say no way. To do that you have to touch them! I might get book cooties, ewwww!!!

bpuharic said...

I was under the impression this was a blog for adults. Someone apparently can't handle the fact atheists exist, and keeps adopting my user name. Can't say I'm surprised given the level of Christian hostility, including Feser, to atheists

Eduardo said...

Thanks people, for a moment there I thought you people had brains XD... but hey people makes mistakes.

Thanks for trolling ( two thumbs up ), now go back to the lair you people came from 8D! the payment is in the exit

BenYachov said...

@bpuharic

Awesome satire! Excellent imitation of a Gnu Atheist! I am really impressed!

You could post for hours over at PZ Myers and none of them would know the difference(not that it would take much effort to fool those neanderthals).

At last a "troll" whose posts I can enjoy.

David T said...

Touchstone,

You seem to know a lot about the nature of science. I was wondering how you (or anybody else) comes to know that; that is, what distinguishes true science from false science...

Anonymous said...

To read this is to read my story. (I add, minus the Hayek.)

A resolute atheist as an undergraduate and years after, philosophy opened my eyes to what I considered to be the lunacy of religious belief. I felt I had "seen the obvious" and pitied the poor (usually literally) souls who clung to "fairy-tale" myths. But, I was also convinced, after serious and deep study, that something like panpsychism had to be true and that the materialist dream was founded on suppositions that we're simply not well-founded. Thomas Nagel's arguments, both for the reality of the mind-body problem and the transcendental authority of reason, we're tent-poles of belief for me; his self-proclaimed atheism made them all the the more convincing.

As time has moved on, the implications of a principled panpsychism came to imply an theistic conception of the world, though only recently have I really been able to articulate this. As I studied more cosmology and consciousness science, a picture of a truly monistic, ordered, mental universe became persuasive and compelling.

Seeing this to be the case and developing arguments to my own satisfaction for the hypothesis, I came to feel that contemporary defenders of God we're simply doing a horrible job at it. The resort to medieval language, the reticence toward endorsing reason as the ultimate arbiter of intellectual disputes, the failure to appeal to the minds at the forefront of human thought...God needed a much better 21st Century hearing than this. In the end it was the teleological vision of a technological singularity, combined with the intransigent contradictions of the mind/body problem in a materialist framework, that led me to a conception of the world as singular, mental, intentional, and intelligible. This was the picture of the world most obviously beautiful and good to my mind and that's two out of the three Platonic values. Best to assume it's true too.

Thanks for sharing this analysis and personal story. I think a new, scientifically informed theism is on the way and the resurgence of atheism in the last ten years was a necessary ideological house-cleaning to make sure certain antiquated conceptions of the divine were eliminated as options in intellectual discourse. (It's a kind of dialectical POV I perceive here.)On the internet, I see the stirrings of a new and rich theism which attempts to use the concepts of science to better position God in the context of a causally explicable world.

Touchstone said...

@David T,

You seem to know a lot about the nature of science. I was wondering how you (or anybody else) comes to know that; that is, what distinguishes true science from false science...

It's just a gauge agains the metaphysical axiom of science, that our experience is veridical to the extent we can build performative models of nature.

"True" is the term we apply to performance. Models that can be falsified but are not (yet), and which are also novel in their predictions and explanations, and economical.

If the model works against experience, is falsifiable and is economical, you have what science would call "true" -- this is correspondence between sensory experience and models of extra-mental reality.

That criteria get applied to all the competing hypotheses and theories. It's not a matter of caprice; once you accept science's metaphysical axioms, the results, the objective analysis of the empirical tests of the model render judgment on any given hypothesis or theory.

"False science" is a not a term I'm clear on. But, young earth creationism would be an example of a scientific claim -- the earth is less than 10,000 years old -- that has been falsified along many different lanes of testing. It's a scientific idea that's false, if that's what you mean by "false science".

Other propositions -- the Thomistic/Aristotelian idea of "motion", for example, is just not scientific. It can't be given semantics for "true" or "false", and is definitional rather than propositional about the state of extra-mental world. It's 'true' in the trivial sense that any definition is true (by definition!), but it's not 'true' or 'false' as a subject of science, and doesn't pretend to be.

-TS

Glenn said...

our experience is veridical to the extent we can build performative models of nature.

A certain Anonymous (who, for reasons not to be mentioned, shall remain unnamed) wants to know whether his experience of consuming Orange Sherbet last week was veridical.

And another Anonymous (who, likewise for reasons not to be mentioned, though we may say without risking the betrayal of a confidence that they are not the same reasons, shall also remain unnamed) has considered what might be possible responses (as well as possible responses to the possible responses).

a) "I've already said that experience is veridical if performative models of nature can be built. Since performative models of nature can be built, indeed have been built, yes, your experience of having consumed Orange Sherbet last week is veridical." ("Yea.")

b) "When I say that experience is veridical to the extent that we can build performative models of nature, naturally I refer to the building of models of nature which address the experience in question. Therefore, unless a performative model can be built which addresses your experience of having consumed Orange Sherbet last week, then I must say that, disappointing as it may be to you, no, your experience of having consumed Orange Sherbet last week was not veridical." ("Boo.")

c) "Since we have only your say-so that you consumed Orange Sherbet last week, your claim is unfalsifiable. And since it is unfalsifiable, your (alleged) experience of having consumed Orange Sherbet last week is not a subject fit for science." ("I beg your pardon. Do you really mean to say that there are aspects of reality which are outside the domain of science? Isn't this to say that when it is said that science is concerned with reality, what is really being said is that science is concerned with a circumscription of reality, a limited part of reality, or a 'subset' of reality?")

cont...

Glenn said...

d) "If only you had said that you consumed Orange Sherbet earlier this morning! Then your claim might have been falsifiable!

"We could have collected relevant samples, subjected them to appropriate analysis, and reached a proper conclusion. If that proper conclusion supported your claim that you consumed Orange Sherbet earlier this morning (and by this I mean to say if that proper conclusion did not contradict said claim), then we would have to think about whether a relevant performative model might be built which could address your claim.

"Yes, we would still have to think in terms of a performative model. The analysis results could only tell us whether there was Orange Sherbet in your body, and not how it might have gotten there. The claim that you consumed Orange Sherbet earlier this morning, while seemingly unfalsifiable, actually is unfalsifiable, but nonetheless may be taken to have credence in light of the fact that evidence of Orange Sherbet was discovered within the confines of your body.

"You see, by claiming to have 'consumed' it, you would have implied that Orange Sherbet was willing, voluntarily and purposely introduced into your body--by none other than yourself-- through that orifice colloquially referred to as a 'mouth'. But we'd need a performative model to test whether this might indeed have been the case. For one can be never certain about matters like this; at least not without the aid of performative models.

"Who knows? Perhaps a gun was held against your head, and you were ordered to eat the Orange Sherbet upon penalty of death for failing to do so. Perhaps you first melted the Orange Sherbet, then introduced it into your body with the assistance of a hypodermic needle. Perhaps you were Sherbet-boarded by a psychotic Mr. Softee. The suppositions are... Aha. There's another one. You may have found a new use for a suppository...

As you can see, the possibilities are surprisingly numerous. At least I think they are... hmm...

"Hold on. I'm going to construct a performative model which, hopefully, will enable us to better determine whether there indeed may be numerous possibilities. I think there might be. But it is so easy to fool oneself into thinking that that is veridical which is not. And without the guiding influence of performative models, one may suddenly find that one has inexplicably gone off the rails. So, you just wait right there, and I'll be back in a few months or years, and then we can continue this interesting discussion..." ("May I consume more Orange Sherbet while you're gone?" ("Certainly. I have nothing against Orange Sherbet. Indulge to your heart's content. Just hold off on ruminating over whether your experience of the consumption of it is or is not veridical. Like I said, we'll continue addressing this fascinating question when I get back."))

David T said...

TS,

I don't think I explained my question clearly.

"True" is the term we apply to performance. Models that can be falsified but are not (yet), and which are also novel in their predictions and explanations, and economical.

If the model works against experience, is falsifiable and is economical, you have what science would call "true" -- this is correspondence between sensory experience and models of extra-mental reality.


I wasn't asking for further clarification of what science calls true, or how it works with models, but how you know that this is the right way to define science versus any alternatives.

Daniel Smith said...

BenYachov: You are a big hypocrite.

Prove it!

So you believe there is no Salvation apart from Jesus Christ? Well what about the followers of Mohamed? Or Buddha? Or Hindus?

1. They're not Catholics so...

2. How do you know what I believe about that?

So what you are saying is some poor pagan slob born on a desert Island who is never meets a missionary will go Hell regardless if he is a good person or not?

1. He's not a Catholic so...

2. When did I say that?

(You see Daniel where your irrational view gets you?)

I'm not the one putting words in other people's mouths. The truth is, you have no idea what I believe. You just painted me with your "he's a Protestant" broad-brush and assumed a butt-load of things about me.

And you never answered my questions (other that to say you're proud to be a Catholic).

Daniel Smith said...

BenYachov: First let me just remind you there is no Salvation Outside the Catholic Church

I don't believe all non-Catholics are automatically damned because that is the teaching of the Church.

How does "I don't believe all non-Catholics are automatically damned" square with "there is no Salvation Outside the Catholic Church"? Does the Church really teach that there is no salvation apart from it AND that - apart from it - you can be saved?

Or are you just blowing smoke?

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

How does that square with "there is no Salvation Outside the Catholic Church"? You've only shown that the Church teaching doesn't jibe with your "no Salvation Outside the Catholic Church" pronouncement.

Care to elaborate?

Tom said...

How does that square with "there is no Salvation Outside the Catholic Church"? You've only shown that the Church teaching doesn't jibe with your "no Salvation Outside the Catholic Church" pronouncement.

It is my understanding that the Catholic Church asserts that people who do not consider themselves Catholic may still be saved but it is still through the Church from which they are saved. Put another way, they are saved through the Catholic Church whether they acknowledge it or not.

Sobieski said...

@Daniel Smith

How does "I don't believe all non-Catholics are automatically damned" square with "there is no Salvation Outside the Catholic Church"? Does the Church really teach that there is no salvation apart from it AND that - apart from it - you can be saved?

As Christians wouldn't we all agree that if someone is saved he is saved by the merits of Jesus Christ even if such a person is, say, a Muslim? The Catholic teaching is that all who are saved are saved by virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ. As Christ established a visible Church with sacraments as the ordinary means for the distribution of the graces merited by His atonement on the Cross, Catholics hold further that there is no salvation outside of His body, the Church. If God established things this way, then it is an error to say we are only saved by Christ apart from the Church He founded as the means to salvation.

That said, the Church has taught both before and after Vatican II that those who through no fault of their own are ignorant of the truth can *possibly* be saved. Maybe they will judged according to the natural law. That is ultimately in God's hands, but if they are saved, they are saved by virtue of Christ and His Body, the Church. The normative and surest means of salvation is through membership in the Church Christ founded. Just being a Catholic isn't sufficient, however, as one has to be in the state of grace, have faith, etc., but it is a basic requirement.

Touchstone said...

David T,


I wasn't asking for further clarification of what science calls true, or how it works with models, but how you know that this is the right way to define science versus any alternatives.

Ahh, well OK, but that's a point I've come to be repeating just as frequently here, I'd say. The "rightness" is hung on the metaphysical axiom of the (generally) veridical quality of our sensory experience. If it's taken as an axiom -- remember, an axiom isn't an axiom if you justify it, it's deployed out of necessity for the enterprise -- then a separate system, what we call a "model" that mirrors and predicts the system of nature (our extra-mental reality) provides an index for the "rightness", the veridicality of the models we maintain as isomorphisms for the world at the other end of our senses.

As for why that axiom should be deemed necessary, on an elemental level, we are not at liberty to do otherwise, and are "hardwired" empiricists who take our senses to be veridical at a visceral level, no matter what kinds of sophistry we may deploy against it; to demonstrate this in a dramatic way, light a cigarette lighter under your hand and let the flame lick your hand for a few seconds.

You can try to deny the veridicality of that sense-data, but your brain stem will overrule you, and cause your hand to pull away.

At a more epistemic level, the veridicality of sense experience, if accepted as axiomatic, permits an epistemic foundation that incorporates means for some level of error detection and correction through feedback loops. Unlike the hyper-rationalist, to choose a competing alternative, for example, the scientific thinker has a heuristic that operates under the axiom that provides a measure of objective judging. This means that the scientific thinker has tools to aide in minimizing bias, and detecting errors that the pure rationalist can't have, through the harnessing of objective confederation of our experiences.

If you accept the veridicality of sensory experience, then, and put value on an epistemology which can demonstrably "keep you honest", under the aegis of that commitment to veridicality of the senses, there aren't any other options. The Thomist, for example, can't falsify fundamental propositions that underwrote whole categories of thought. That's a choice people can make, but it's made as an exercise in an epistemology that doesn't provide a means of error correction or feedback loops that come from outside own's own mind. It's overwhelmingly and pervasively subjective, and thus prone to the epistemic problems that go with that.

The same is true of any number of other epistemologies you could name. The scientific epistemology is unique in the rigor and demands it places on itself in terms of corrigibility and accountability to extra-mental input. It is liable to correction and training by information from outside the mind, and information not beholden to subjective overrides (based on its axiom), and that is kind of rigor and epistemic architecture that many find appealing because it affords for correction and cumulative adaptation. A Thomist, or Buddhist, or Franciscan, or a Sikh, or a Jain or a Taoist who embraces the epistemologies those worldviews represent over a scientific one is unable to avail themselves of those epistemic benefits.

Maybe that boils down to saying "error correction and good measures of objectivity are priorities" is the basis for the "rightness" (that's a problematic term in this context!) or preferability of a scientific epistemology.

-TS

Glenn said...

Just 'footnoting' some of what Sobieski has said...

1. "Outside the Church there is no salvation"

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

[However,]

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

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

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

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

Bartholomew said...

God made human beings with dirty finger nails, bad breath, and nasty digestive systems, especially when humanity was encumbered with a lack of toilet paper and decent plumbing. And he also allowed innocent animals to ravage each other and suffer disease and disaster for millions of years before humanity ever came on the scene. This implies, inescapably, that God has a twisted sense of humor, in which case God has a deficiency, in which case God does not exist.

QED.

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