Intelligent Design

On not putting all your theological eggs into one basket

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If you had to summarize your reasons for believing in God in ten words or less, how would you do it? Here’s what I’d say: “The world is contingent, complex, fine-tuned, rule-governed, mathematical and beautiful.” For me, these features of the world point towards a Being Who is necessary (or self-explanatory), perfectly integrated, and limitlessly intelligent, creative and bountiful – a Being in Whom we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28).

As you can see, I’ve listed not one but several features of the natural world which (I believe) point to the existence of a Creator. Here’s a question. How would you react if someone told you that you didn’t need to list all these features: just one of these properties of the world – namely, its property of being composed of multiple parts – was enough to take you all the way to God? What’s more, they add, you don’t need to consider the world as a whole: just a single hydrogen atom will do, for even the simplest thing in the natural world can be shown to be composite. They also tell you that from considering this property of a hydrogen atom, we can establish the existence of not just any old God, but the God of classical theism! That, you might say, would be a pretty tall claim, and you might reasonably demand to see the evidence. So how would you react if you were told that there was not only evidence, but proof: a metaphysical demonstration which conclusively establishes the existence of the God of classical theism, and that this proof comes in no less than several different versions!

That, you might say, would be a wonderful proof. But you would surely want to check it, to see that it actually worked. As anyone who is familiar with the history of mathematics knows, proofs can often take hundreds of years to construct. Metaphysical demonstrations aren’t the same as mathematical proofs, of course, but they do have one thing in common: the rate of progress is painstakingly slow, and it can take centuries to formulate a rigorous proof that’s free of any logical “gaps” in the argumentation.

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Part A – Feser’s claims and my views on them

Part B – The gist of Feser’s arguments

Part C – What’s wrong with Feser’s arguments, in a nutshell

Part D – Feser’s valuable work in expounding Aquinas’ philosophy

Part E – The First Way

Part F – The Second Way

Part G – The Third Way

Part H – The Fourth Way

Part I – The Fifth Way

Part J – The equivocation in Feser’s argument for God’s absolute perfection

Part K – Conclusion

The danger of putting all one’s theological eggs in a single basket

The title for this post was suggested by a comment made by the Thomist philosopher Edward Feser, in his 2011 article, “Existential Inertia and the Five Ways” (American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly 85 (2):237-267):

…[N]atural substances are contingent. But why are they contingent? … Aquinas’s answer is that they are composite in various ways, and it is this compositeness that entails that they cannot enjoy existential inertia. Only something non-composite, and thus something necessary (indeed something divine) can in his view have that. (p. 259)

Likewise, on page 256 of his article, Feser identifies “being metaphysically composite — being, that is to say, a compound of form and matter, or of essence and existence, or, more generally, of act and potency,” as the feature which determines whether a thing (or substance) is unable to remain in existence without a conserving cause.

In these passages, Professor Feser identifies “compositeness” as the central attribute of things which tells us that they must have an utterly indivisible, all-perfect First Cause Who is Pure Act and Existence itself. What I intend to argue in this post is that this amounts to putting all one’s theological eggs in one basket. It is dangerous to single out one attribute of natural objects and argue for God’s existence solely on that basis. There are many attributes of things which point to their having a Creator Who maintains them in existence; rather than singling out one of these attributes, a policy of “letting a hundred flowers blossom and a hundred schools of thought contend,” to quote a memorable phrase of Mao Zedong’s, would be a wiser and more prudent course of action.

That was why I wrote above that “the internal complexity and law-governed mathematical behavior of material substances, coupled with the fine-tuning of the laws and constants of Nature, can all be seen as reflections of the contingency of the cosmos and all that is in it.” All of these facets of reality can be seen as indicators that the cosmos is not self-sustaining: it requires an external Cause.

Part A – Feser’s claims and my views on them

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(a) Feser’s tall claim: each of Aquinas’s Five Ways proves classical theism

The “tall claim” that Thomist philosopher Edward Feser makes is that each of Aquinas’ Five Ways, when suitably fleshed out and properly understood, conclusively establishes the existence of the God of classical theism. This is borne out by what Professor Feser has to say about metaphysical demonstrations in his recent book, Scholastic Metaphysics: A Contemporary Introduction (Editions Scholasticae, 2014):

For Aristotle and Aquinas, the truths of philosophical theology may not be expressible in mathematical language and are not based on specific predictions or experiments, but that does not make them less certain than the claims of physics. On the contrary, they are more certain, because they rest on strict demonstrations which begin from premises that any possible physical science must take for granted. (2014, p. 12, emphasis mine – VJT.)

Feser is even clearer about this point in his earlier book The Last Superstition (St. Augustine’s Press, South Bend, Indiana, 2008), where he summarizes the thrust of Aquinas’ Five Ways:

Metaphysical arguments of the sort Aquinas is interested in … take obvious, though empirical starting points, and try to show that from these starting points, together with certain conceptual premises, certain metaphysical conclusions follow necessarily… Hence Aquinas argues that, given that we observe things that exist, undergo change, and exhibit final causes, there necessarily must be a God who maintains them in existence at every instant. (2008, p. 83, emphasis mine – VJT.)

In his book Aquinas (Oneworld, Oxford, 2009), Feser emphasizes that St. Thomas Aquinas’ Fifth Way was intended not as a probabilistic argument for the existence of God, or even as an abductive argument which concludes that the order we find in Nature is best explained by God, but rather as a deductive argument which establishes that the causal regularities we observe in Nature can only be explained by God:

[W]hile Paley and his contemporary successors claim only that the existence of a designer is probable, Aquinas takes the Fifth Way conclusively to establish the truth of its conclusion. Related to this, whereas the design argument is typically presented as a kind of quasi-scientific empirical hypothesis, Aquinas’ argument is intended as a metaphysical demonstration. His claim is not that the existence of God is one possible explanation among others (albeit the best) of the order that exists in the universe (which is how “God of the gaps” arguments proceed) but rather that it can be seen on analysis to be the only possible explanation even in principle. (2009, pp. 111-112, bold emphases mine – VJT.)

Famously, Feser contends that the existence of even one thing in the natural world which behaves in a regular fashion – say, a single hydrogen atom – is sufficient to conclusively demonstrate the existence of God. As he puts it in The Last Superstition: “Even if the universe consisted of nothing but an electron orbiting a nucleus, that would suffice for the Fifth Way” (2008, p. 116). That’s a very tall claim.

The empirical assumptions underlying the Five Ways are minimal and pretty uncontroversial: things change; things have their own natures, which make them the kinds of things they are; things come into being and go out of being; things exhibit varying degrees of unity; and things possess their own natural dispositions (e.g. table salt’s disposition to dissolve in water). Additionally, Feser makes the metaphysical claim that things which are composed of parts of any kind require an external explanation for the existence, as well as the logical claim that any series of explanations (as opposed to mere conditions) must ultimately terminate at some point. (As applied to causes, that means that even if an infinite regress of what Thomists call accidental causes were possible, an infinite regress of per se causes is impossible.) And that’s it. Feser believes that once a person accepts these modest, reasonable claims, the existence of the God of classical theism logically follows, as an inescapable conclusion.

In The Last Superstition, Feser does concede that “metaphysical reasoning is not infallible,” as “it is always possible that someone attempting a metaphysical demonstration has made a mistake somewhere” (2008, p. 83). But it’s pretty clear from what he has written that Feser is convinced his argument for God is absolutely airtight. And in a recent combox comment, he insists that metaphysical demonstrations are fundamentally different from probabilistic arguments, even if their premises are philosophically controversial:

…[I]f a philosopher’s purported demonstration embodies philosophical assumptions that other philosophers would challenge, it doesn’t follow that this attempted demonstration is really just a “probabilistic” argument after all.

(b) My view on Feser’s claims, and why I believe they deserve a fair hearing

In a recent post titled, “An Aristotelian Proof of the Existence of God?”, I critiqued a talk given by Thomist philosopher Edward Feser, which I interpreted as a serious attempt to provide such a proof. The argument contained some logical gaps which I exposed. Professor Feser has since contacted me, however, and informed me that he never intended to provide anything like a full proof in his one-hour talk, but only a partial draft, as he was talking to a lay audience. He also suggested that I consult his book Aquinas (Oneworld, Oxford, 2009), and his 2011 article, “Existential Inertia and the Five Ways” (American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly 85 (2):237-267), for a fuller version of his proofs of the existence of God, which are based on his reconstruction of St. Thomas Aquinas’ Five Ways. For a fuller treatment of the underlying metaphysical concepts, Feser’s more recent work, Scholastic Metaphysics: A Contemporary Introduction (Editions Scholasticae, 2014) was also recommended (and very kindly forwarded) to me. Since I believe that everyone deserves a fair hearing, I’ve devoted this post to a detailed examination of Feser’s arguments. (I should add that this will be my last post in response to Professor Feser for the foreseeable future.)

My own position, as I made clear elsewhere (see here and here), is that the cosmological and teleological arguments for the existence of God are very powerful – indeed, I would say that they establish God’s existence beyond reasonable doubt to any genuinely open-minded person, but I would not go so far as to call them “metaphysical demonstrations” which “conclusively … establish” the existence of God as “the only possible explanation” for the existence of the natural world, as Feser claims the Five Ways do (Aquinas, 2009, pp. 111-112). I think that’s too strong a claim, at the present time: the logic of the Thomistic arguments needs to be tightened. What I would maintain instead is that the scientific enterprise presupposes the existence of a law-governed cosmos, and that if the laws of Nature are not the product of a Mind, then scientists’ faith that these laws will continue to hold is unwarranted. Finally, I certainly would not argue that all of the attributes of the God of classical theism can be rigorously demonstrated, as Feser does.

Readers will recall that I have previously spoken highly of Professor Robert Koons’ paper, A New Look at the Cosmological Argument (American Philosophical Quarterly 34 (1997):193-212), and Professor Paul Herrick’s paper, Job Opening: Creator of the Universe—A Reply to Keith Parsons (2009). Neither of these papers, however, attempted anything like a complete derivation of the attributes of the God of classical theism. Feser’s book Aquinas attempts just that: in the course of what it calls “a brief survey” of Aquinas’ arguments, it endeavors to show that God is Being Itself, and it goes on to argue that He is utterly unique, immutable, immaterial, incorporeal, eternal, infinitely powerful, intelligent, perfectly good, and simple.

Part B – The gist of Feser’s arguments

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(a) A thumbnail sketch of the Five Ways

In his 2011 article, “Existential Inertia and the Five Ways” (American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 85, No. 2, pp. 237-267), Feser provides a useful summary of the Five Ways:

The first argues that the existence, even for an instant, of composites of act and potency presupposes the simultaneous existence of that which is pure act; the second argues that the existence, even for an instant, of composites of essence and existence presupposes the simultaneous existence of that which is being or existence itself; the third argues that the existence, even for an instant, of composites of form and matter presupposes the simultaneous existence of an absolutely necessary being; the fourth argues that the existence, even for an instant, of things which are many and come in degrees of perfection presupposes the simultaneous existence of something one and absolutely perfect; and the fifth argues that the existence, even for an instant, of finality or directedness toward an end presupposes the simultaneous existence of a supreme ordering intellect. (p. 240)

I will provide a detailed critique of the logic of each of the Five Ways below. For now, I’d like to draw readers’ attention to the fact that Feser construes each of the Five Ways as an argument from the compositeness of things to the existence of a Being Who is Pure Act (the conclusion of the First Way) or Whose essence and existence are identical (the conclusion of the Second, Third, Fourth and Fifth Ways, as Feser interprets them).

(b) Feser’s derivation of the attributes of God

In his book, Aquinas (Oneworld, Oxford, 2009), Feser attempts to derive the various attributes of the God of classical theism which were listed above (headings are mine):

[Unity]
…[O]n Aquinas’ view there can only be one being whose essence and existence are identical, and thus which is Pure Being. Hence it is necessarily one and the same being on which all proofs converge. This would obviously entail, for the same reason, that there can only be one God… For there to be more than one such being, there would have to be … some perfection that one has but the other lacks. But as Pure Act, such a being would be devoid of all imperfections and privations, since imperfections and privations are just different ways in which something could fail to be in act or actual. (p. 121)

[Immutability, immateriality, incorporeality and immutability]
Several attributes seem to follow immediately and obviously from God’s being Pure Act. Since to change is to be reduced from potency to act, that which is Pure Act, devoid of all potency, must be immutable or incapable of change (ST I.9.1). Since material things are of their nature compounds of act and potency, that which is Pure Act must be immaterial and thus incorporeal or without any sort of body (ST I.3.1-2). Since such a being is immutable and time (as Aquinas argues) cannot exist apart from change, that which is Pure Act must also be eternal, outside time altogether, without beginning or end (ST I.10.1-2)…. (p. 122)

[Infinitude, omnipotence]
As the cause of the world, God obviously has power, for “all operation proceeds from power” (QDP 1.1; cf. ST I.25.1). Moreover, “the more actual a thing is the more it abounds in active power,” so that as Pure Act, God must be infinite in power (QDP 1.2; cf. ST I.25.2)…. (p. 123)

[Will]
We can also conclude, in Aquinas’ view, that “there is will in God, as there is intellect: since will follows upon intellect” (ST I.19.1). Why do will and intellect necessarily go together? … In sentient beings, namely animals, [the] inclination towards the perfection of their forms is called appetite. And in beings with intellect it is called will… [A]s with our attribution of power, intellect and other attributes to God, our attribution of will to him is intended in an analogous rather than a univocal sense… (pp. 123-124)

[Perfection]
Since something is perfect to the degree that it is in act or actual, God as Pure Act must be perfect (ST I.4.1). Given the convertibility of being and goodness, God as Pure Act and Being Itself must also be good, indeed the highest good (STI.6)…. (p. 124)

[“Personality”]
Though his possession of … something analogous to what we call intellect and will… entails that he is in some sense “personal,” … God is nevertheless not a “person” in the sense that we are, with all the limitations that expression implies… (p. 126)

[Simplicity]
For Aquinas, God is “simple” in the sense of being in no way composed of parts (ST I.3). As has been said, he is both incorporeal and immaterial, and thus cannot have any bodily parts nor be composed of form and matter. But neither does he have even any metaphysical parts. For as we have also seen, on Aquinas’ account there is no distinction between essence and existence in God. Unlike everything else that exists, he just is his own existence, and just is his own essence, for these are identical. (p. 126)

Part C – What’s wrong with Feser’s arguments, in a nutshell

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For the benefit of those readers who absolutely cannot abide long posts, here is a short summary of my conclusions:

(1) God need not be as simple as Professor Feser believes Him to be. In particular, there is nothing to prevent Him from having accidental properties. For Feser, the mere fact that things have parts entails that they are contingent, from which it follows that God (Who is a necessary Being) cannot have parts of any kind, whether physical or metaphysical. But as far as I can tell, nowhere in his writings does Feser explicitly define what a part is, or what a whole is. Several definitions of “part” are possible: we could define a part as any element of a whole which is: (i) less than the whole; (ii) physically capable of being separated from the whole; (iii) capable of at least being intellectually conceived of as existing separately from the whole, even if it cannot be physically separated from that whole; or (iv) logically prior to the whole, and also contrary to some other element of that whole on a conceptual level, even if its existence outside that whole is utterly inconceivable. (The priority requirement in definition (iv) is important: without it, the three persons of the Trinity would be parts of God, which is contrary to the Christian faith.) Definitions (i) and (ii) are too restrictive: the former applies only to quantitative parts, while the latter would mean that elementary particles such as quarks cannot be called parts of the protons and neutrons they comprise, because they can never be observed in isolation. In his Scholastic Metaphysics: A Contemporary Introduction (Editions Scholasticae, 2014), Feser acknowledges that some Scholastic philosophers (e.g. Scotists and Suarezians) would favor definition (iii), but adds that he rejects this definition, as a Thomist philosopher (see p. 77). I am led to conclude that Feser would prefer definition (iv) (see pp. 73-74). Defining a whole is no easy matter either: for instance, is an aggregate such as a sand-pile a whole? How about an ice crystal, then? Or what about an assemblage of interacting parts, such as an automobile? And why, exactly, is an organism any more of a whole than an automobile? Professor Feser provides some helpful clarification of these matters in an online post of his, entitled, Nature versus Art (30 April 2011), where he explains that the parts of natural objects must have an inherent tendency to function together, and that this tendency arises from the fact that they share a substantial unity: they are parts of one thing, making them a genuine whole. Artifacts, on the other hand, lack this unity: their parts have no inherent tendency to function together. In other words, the parts of a genuine whole must enhance its functionality as a unit. Thus Feser’s claim that the parts of a whole need to be kept together by an external agent and are therefore contingent, appears to be really a claim about the internal functionality of a whole. However, a thing and its non-essential properties don’t comprise a whole in the sense envisaged by Feser, since (a) a thing and its non-essential properties are no more of a whole than the thing without those properties, and (b) a thing’s non-essential properties don’t enhance the thing’s functionality as an integrated unit. Hence by Feser’s logic, then, a thing and its non-essential properties would not necessarily require an external agent to join them together. As we’ll see below, this is an important point, as Feser wants to argue that the Prime Mover, being utterly simple, has no real properties, whether essential or non-essential. (The only properties Feser is willing to ascribe to God are “Cambridge properties”, which are not really properties of God as such, but of creatures which are related to Him.) But since a thing and its non-essential properties is no more of a whole than the thing without those properties, it therefore follows that if a being were capable of generating its own non-essential properties – for example, in the way that free agents do when they make choices about the direction of their lives, and acquire certain properties in the process – then there would be no need to look for an external cause of its having those properties. One might still want to want to ask why the thing had those properties at some times and not at others; however, if the thing in question were outside time (as God is), the question would not arise. (I might add for the benefit of readers that the Catholic Church has never ruled one way or the other on the question of whether God has any accidental properties: the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215 declared only that God’s “essence, substance or nature” is “absolutely simple.”)

(2) Professor Feser’s reconstruction of Aquinas’ First Way assumes that even the most elementary things in the material world are composed of a mixture of potency and act – as he puts it, “whatever the metaphysical details turn out to be vis-a-vis the structure of events and substances, they will involve the actualization of potency.” In other words, Feser maintains that potency and act are equally fundamental, in the make-up of things. However, there are good philosophical grounds for rejecting this view. For potency of any sort – whether it be a passive capacity or an active one – can only exist within something actual, which explains and grounds the capacity in question. Feser himself acknowledges in his Scholastic Metaphysics (2014, p. 38) that “a thing’s potencies are grounded in its actualities.” (Think of a boxer’s active capacity to knock a man out and his passive capacity to be knocked out: both capacities are grounded in his actually possessing a human body, made of flesh and bone, with a hard skull encasing a very delicate brain.) It is curious, then, that later in his book (see pp. 171-175), Feser feels compelled to argue that even a natural object’s essence or substantial form (which is sometimes called its “first act”) is underlain by prime matter, which is nothing but pure passive potency, totally devoid of any form. Only prime matter, he argues, can explain why different kinds of objects are limited to some locations in space-time and not others – although how something purely potential can determine an object’s actual location he does not say – and how one kind of object can change into another kind. Feser does briefly consider (pp. 173-175) the possibility of a rudimentary kind of perduring substance (or “secondary matter”) underlying all physical change, but dismisses this suggestion on the grounds that there appears to be no such perduring stuff in Nature (but what about quantum fields?) and also because we would still need to answer the question of why this stuff is still at least capable of being corrupted (Feser thinks that only an underlying potency could explain this fact, but only because he envisages corruption as akin to decomposition – which begs the question). In the end, Feser provides no convincing reason why natural substances have to be composites of potency and act. And if they are not a mix of potency and act, then they must be essentially actual in some way – which, incidentally, implies that the notion of “pure passive potency” (a.k.a. prime matter) as the ultimate substrate of change is mistaken. That being the case, it seems that the ultimate constituents of the material world could be metaphysically simple after all, contrary to Feser’s claim that contingent things are invariably composite in their essence and that only God is simple. (I’ll address the question of what grounds the contingency of things, below.)

(3) Feser doesn’t appear to realize that when his reconstruction of Aquinas’ First Way is properly interpreted, it points to the existence of a Self-Actualized First Actualizer rather than an Unactualized Actualizer. In other words, Feser’s argument fails to establish that God is Pure Act: all he manages to show is that there exists an indivisible thing that’s capable of maintaining something in existence, without needing to be activated by anything else, in either its act of existence or its operations. (Of course, God’s Being or substance is entirely actual and contains no potency, but God’s Being alone cannot explain the existence of the world, since God has to perform some creative act in order to make the world. In so doing, He timelessly actualizes Himself, as I will show.) It is a fallacy to argue, as Feser does, from “There must be an Actualizer whose power to actualize does not need to be actualized by anything else” to “There must be an Actualizer which is totally devoid of potentiality and incapable of being further actualized – in other words, a Being Who is Pure Act.” Indeed, it is easy to show that any being – call it X – which maintains another thing – call it Y – in existence is itself necessarily actualized thereby. For X’s action of maintaining Y in existence gives X the contingent property of being the cause of Y’s existence – a property which X would not have, were it not conserving Y in being. And if X’s action is a contingent one while X’s being (or existence) is necessary, then X’s action must be distinct from X’s being. Hence there can be no being which is both responsible for keeping some other thing(s) in existence and incapable of being further actualized, as Feser claims. Nor will it do to suggest, as Feser does, that the act of maintaining something in existence is a mere “Cambridge property” which entails no change in God; for the point here is not whether it entails a change in God but whether it (timelessly) actualizes Him in a way that He would not have been actualized, had He not chosen to conserve that thing in being. Thus any being X which maintains another being Y in existence must be capable of being actualized in many different ways. (Whether the actualization occurs inside or outside of time is beside the point.) To deny this conclusion, one would have to claim either that X can maintain Y in existence without performing any operation, or that the necessary operation whereby X exists is somehow identical with the contingent operation whereby X conserves Y in being. Neither alternative makes any sense, and if Feser were to seriously propose either of these alternatives (which he doesn’t), his argument would then constitute a reductio ad absurdum for a skeptic, who might then construe Feser’s argument as a proof of atheism. What Feser actually proposes, however, is something different: an ad hoc exception to his version of the Principle of Causality in the case of God. In his book, Scholastic Metaphysics (2014, p. 105), he asserts, with Aquinas (ST I.2.3) that “nothing can be reduced from potentiality to actuality, except by something in a state of actuality,” and he additionally insists that this dictum applies not only to the actualization of passive powers (such as the capacity of glass to be shattered), but also to active powers (such as a hammer’s power to shatter glass) since even an active power “is incomplete relative to the activity it underlies” and thus needs actualization. But then, in the very next sentence, Feser makes an exception for God: since God is Pure Act, His active powers are not mixed with any potency, so His active powers need no actualization from outside in order to be exercised. The distinction is irrelevant, however; for if an active power is essentially incomplete relative to the activity it exercises, then the exercise of that power must actualize its possessor to some degree. An author may have the active capacity to write a novel – indeed, she may have the entire plot written “in her head” for many years – but the actual publication of her novel is what makes her actually an author; and in a similar fashion, we can say it is not God’s detailed plan for how He could or would create the world, but His (timeless) decision to create, that actualizes Him as the Author of the cosmos.

(4) A Self-Moved First Mover – or more precisely, a Self-Actualizing First Actualizer -could still be (timelessly) actualized by the creatures it maintains in existence, if it chose to endow creatures with the power to actualize their Creator. I have argued that Aquinas’ First Way points to the existence of a Self-Moved First Mover – a Being that’s capable of maintaining something in existence, without needing to be activated by anything else – rather than an Unmoved Mover. Such a Being would still be capable of (timelessly) actualizing itself, through its contingent operations. However, I see no reason why such a Being could not give the things it maintains in existence the power to (timelessly) actualize it, by communicating information about their “comings and goings” back to their Creator. It may be objected that this would render the First Mover passive, as this Being would need to be actualized by other beings in order to be informed about their activities. Nevertheless, the First Mover would not need to be activated by other beings in order to perform the vital activity of maintaining those beings in existence, so I see no difficulty here. This is highly relevant in connection to the question of God’s foreknowledge: although Feser rejects the view that we are literally characters in a story that God has invented, he nevertheless maintains that God foreknows our free choices in much the same way as the author of a novel knows what the characters in her story will do: as he puts it, God’s being the Ultimate Cause is “no more incompatible with human freedom than the fact that an author decides that, as part of a mystery story, a character will freely choose to commit a murder, is incompatible with the claim that the character in question really committed the murder freely.” Feser thinks this kind of causality is compatible with libertarian freedom, whereas the action of a mad scientist who controls people’s choices by some electronic device implanted in their brains would manifestly be incompatible with genuine freedom. However, I maintain that there is no significant difference between the two scenarios, for in both cases, the agent in question (the author or the mad scientist) knows what his subjects will do by controlling their choices, and if my choices are determined by circumstances beyond my control, they are not free. To illustrate my point, ask yourself this: would it make any sense for author J.K. Rowling to reproach Voldemort for performing his dastardly deeds? Of course not: she made him do them. I might add that Feser’s “author” metaphor for God’s ultimate causation of human choices would make God the author of every foul thought, word and deed hatched by the mind of man. (Molinism is another theory which claims to reconcile God’s foreknowledge with human freedom while leaving God purely active, but I don’t think this solution makes us any more free, as a God Who knows what I would do in every possible situation and Who then decides to actualize a particular situation and place me in it, thereby determines my choice and thus negates my freedom.) The solution to the problem of how God knows our choices which I endorse is the Boethian one: that God is (timelessly) informed of my free choices by His creatures, in what theologians call knowledge of vision (scientia visionis) – rather like a watcher on a high hill, except that God, being outside time, can view the past, present and future at once. (This is also the solution adopted by most rank-and-file believers, who tell their children that God “sees” everything, even though He is incorporeal.) Feser evidently thinks that it would be contrary to God’s sovereignty for Him to need to be informed by His own creatures of their activities; whereas I would argue that if God has freely chosen to give creatures the power to inform Him of their activities in this way, then there is no loss of sovereignty on God’s part. Also, the classical theist doctrine of God’s impassibility need not be interpreted as meaning that creatures have no power to causally influence their Creator; on a more sensible interpretation, it simply means that creatures have no power over God’s Being, His actions or His reactions. Another advantage of the proposal that God is capable of being informed by His creatures is that would resolve the problem of qualia (the irreducibly subjective properties of our experiences, such as the redness of a tomato or the sour taste of lemon): for if God’s knowledge were entirely active and in no way passive, then He could know qualia only by objectifying them, which is by definition impossible. But if God can somehow see the world “through our eyes” (or for that matter, directly experience the world Himself) then the problem disappears. In other words, what I’m claiming is that God must be capable of subjective experiences, because if He weren’t, either He would not be omniscient (which is contrary to classical theism), or human beings would lack both subjectivity and libertarian freedom (which is contrary to everyday experience).

(5) Even if we were to grant that Feser has demonstrated the existence of a Being Who is Pure Act, Feser’s argument (Aquinas, 2009, p. 121) that a Being Who is Pure Act lacks no perfection and must therefore be all-perfect commits two elementary fallacies. First of all, it confuses the mere absence of a perfection with an imperfection, which is the lack of a perfection where it ought to be present. A sheep missing a leg is imperfect and defective; but the absence of legs in a fish is no defect. Second, the argument merely establishes that the First Cause (Who is Pure Act) contains no imperfections within its being – which is quite different from establishing that the First Cause contains all perfections. To be fair to Feser, he has another argument up his sleeve: Thomistic Thesis II, which states that “Act, because it is perfection, is not limited except by Potency, which is capacity for perfection,” from which it follows that Pure Act “is unlimited and unique.” In his work, Scholastic Metaphysics (2014, p. 37), Feser illustrates this point with the example of a rubber ball, whose constituent matter (which receives the form of “roundness”) prevents it from having a perfectly round shape. But what Feser overlooks is that even perfect roundness is inherently limited: for example, something which is perfectly round cannot be omnipresent, and its roundness also renders it capable of being decomposed into parts. There seems to be no reason in principle, then, why something could not be purely actual, and yet limited. Such a being could conceivably instantiate some perfections, but not others. A purely actual being need not be an infinite being.

(6) Aquinas’ second, third, fourth and fifth ways, on Feser’s reconstruction, are seriously weakened by the fact that they all make the controversial assumption (disputed even by many Scholastic philosophers) that there is a real distinction between a thing’s essence (or what it is) and its act of existence, coupled with an additional assumption that it is meaningful to characterize God as Pure Existence. (As far as I can discover, St. Augustine was the first to characterize God in this way.) Feser offers an arguments for the first assumption in his book, Aquinas, but it is inconclusive: the famous “phoenix” argument (I can know what a phoenix is without knowing whether it exists or not) does not show that there is a real distinction between a thing’s essence and its existence, but merely establishes that there’s a difference between asking “what” and asking “whether.” The question as to whether I exist or not can be represented as a simple binary variable: true or false; but my act of existence is certainly much more than a yes-no affair. In his book, Scholastic Metaphysics (2014, pp. 241-243), Feser puts forward two additional arguments for a real distinction between essence and existence: first, the essence of a natural object has a mere potential for existence (as shown by the fact that natural objects come into existence and go out of existence), whereas existence itself is something actual; and second, if the essence of a natural object were not really distinct from its existence, then it would have existence by its very nature, and thus would not be contingent (as natural objects are) but necessary. But the first argument only makes sense if one (absurdly) conceives of the essence of an as-yet-nonexistent natural object as literally waiting to have existence “breathed into” it; while the second merely shows that “existence” is not an essential property of natural objects, in the way that being a quadruped or a mammal is an essential property of being a cat. In support of his second assumption – that we can meaningfully characterize God as Pure Existence – Feser argues (Aquinas, 2009, p. 30; Scholastic Metaphysics, 2014, pp. 36-37) that a thing’s actuality can only be limited by its built-in potencies, and that a being devoid of potency would therefore be unlimited. He then goes on to argue (Aquinas, 2009, p. 121) that there can only be one being for whom essence and existence are identical – for if there were two such beings, they would have to be distinguished by virtue of their forms. But Feser’s first argument fails to consider the possibility that certain kinds of actuality might simply be intrinsically limited – think of roundness or squareness, for instance – without the need for any potency to limit them, while his second argument merely demonstrates that there can only be one being, at most, whose essence is Pure Existence, without any formal constraints. What needs to be established, however, is the legitimacy of characterizing anything as “Pure Existence” in the first place. There are powerful prima facie philosophical arguments for why a skeptic might regard the notion of “Pure Existence” as utterly meaningless: first (as skeptic Jonathan M.S. Pearce has argued), “Pure Existence” has no properties; second, the concept of “existence” conveys no information whatsoever, which is why the sentence “There is a being” tells us absolutely nothing, while the sentence “There is a dog” is genuinely informative; and third, the attempt to substitute “Being” or “Pure Existence” into religious utterances about God results in unintelligible nonsense – for a few examples, try these: “Pure Existence created the world”; “Pure Existence spoke to Moses 3,300 years ago and struck the Egyptians with ten plagues”; “Pure Existence wants you to go to church on Sundays”. [Let me be clear: I am not denying that we can legitimately speak of God as “Pure Existence”; what I’m arguing is that we cannot meaningfully speak of God in this way until we’ve addressed the question of what it means for God to exist in the first place – a topic I discuss in paragraph (9) below.] It is also very odd to speak of God’s “conjoining” an essence to its act of existence, as Feser does: for the conjoining A and B surely presupposes that A and B already exist. Now, Feser has previously insisted that his argument for God’s existence does not depend on there being a real distinction between essence and existence: he thinks he can argue for God from the concept of a Being Who is Pure Act. In his own words: “I do not think one needs to argue for the essence/existence distinction in order to show that things require a sustaining cause. I think act/potency can do it by itself.” Since, as we have seen, Feser’s reconstruction of Aquinas’ First Way (which uses the act-potency distinction to argue for the existence of an all-perfect Being Who is Pure Act) is invalid, it seems that Feser has to fall back on philosophically controversial assumptions about essence and existence, and about the notion of Pure Existence, in order to argue for the existence of God, since Aquinas’ second, third, fourth and fifth ways, as interpreted by Feser, are all based on these unproven assumptions. That being the case, Feser’s reconstructions of Aquinas’ second, third, fourth and fifth ways cannot be regarded as metaphysical demonstrations, since key premises in these arguments lack adequate argumentative support.

(7) Aquinas’ Fifth Way is the only one of the Five Ways that explicitly argues for God’s intelligence: natural objects, contends Aquinas, have to be guided by an intelligent being towards their built-in goals. (On Feser’s interpretation, this is because these goals are future, as-yet-unrealized states, and natural objects lack foresight.) However, Feser’s reconstruction of Aquinas’ Fifth Way, while ingenious, is open to the fatal objection that the intelligent being who guides natural objects towards their built-in ends might itself need to be maintained in existence by a second Being Whose essence and existence are identical (the God of classical theism). In that case, it would need to be established that this second Being is also intelligent. Unfortunately, Feser makes no attempt to do this: in his book Aquinas (2009, p. 118), he blithely asserts that “there would have to be a higher intelligence” guiding the first intelligent being, but fails to explain why such a being would require guidance of any sort: all it would require, it seems, is something to conserve it in existence. Thus Feser’s argument fails to show that God is intelligent. I might add that Feser’s argument, when taken to its logical conclusion, would appear to preclude natural objects from having active powers, which Feser himself insists that they possess. For if natural objects need to be guided by an Intelligence to their respective ends, then it is hard to see how they can be said to possess an active, built-in tendency to reach those ends, as Feser contends they do. Additionally, Feser’s claim that all natural objects have a built-in tendency to move towards future states appears doubtful: as I explain below, one can account for their behavior equally well by assuming (more modestly) that they are oriented towards the present states that they realize.

(8) In my opinion, the assertion that the behavior of natural objects is governed by prescriptions provides a far better foundation for the argument that these objects require intelligent guidance in order to attain their built-in ends. As I have argued elsewhere, if the laws of Nature are purely descriptive in content, then scientists have no good reason to believe that these laws will continue to hold at all times and places. I also believe Feser is absolutely correct in construing laws as statements about things’ causal powers: to speak of laws themselves as causing anything smacks of Platonism. In conforming to laws, then, things are obeying rules (prescriptions) and behaving as they ought to behave. Prescriptions, or “ought-statements,” must therefore be part of the warp-and-woof of natural objects themselves – a very odd state of affairs which makes no sense unless natural objects are the product of some Intelligence. On the view I am proposing, this Intelligence is not required in order to guide natural objects towards their built-in ends but in order to issue the prescriptions in the first place, and to continue to “utter” them, as it were – for to speak of a prescription as remaining in existence in the absence of any Prescriber is unintelligible. Finally, if natural objects embody prescriptions, then we can properly speak of them as having active powers. It might be objected that this view fails to explain why individuals belonging to the same natural kinds are distinct. My reply is that because they have different spatiotemporal locations, they differ in degree of power they exert on one another.

(9) As I see it, the root of the metaphysical problem regarding essence and existence is that we don’t really know what it means for something to exist in the first place. Feser (following Aristotle and Aquinas) construes existence as a dynamic activity: instead of saying that a thing is, we should speak of it as “izzing,” if you like. This is correct far as it goes. But what kind of activity is it? Dr. William Dembski has recently argued in his book, Being as Communion (which I have not yet read), that in order for a thing to be real, it must be able to communicate with other things. That being the case, the reality of things is grounded in their ability to interact with other things – including their Creator, as I suggested in (4) above. Specifically, Dr. Dembski suggests that things can be said to be real by virtue of the fact that they communicate information with other things. I would add that the information in question needs to be fully specified at all levels. (For instance, it would not be enough for God to create Adam from dust merely by saying, “Dust, become a man,” as that fails to specify what kind of man Adam is to be – how tall, what blood type and so on.) That leaves us with the question of what it means for God to exist. The activities which are traditionally regarded as characterizing God – namely, knowledge and love – can be viewed as acts whereby God continually communicates with Himself – which is why the doctrine of the Trinity is of central importance (God the Son and God the Holy Spirit being God’s knowledge and love of Himself, respectively, as St. Augustine originally wrote). God’s necessity cannot be grasped by us, but if Mind (which is characterized by knowledge and love) is the Ultimate Reality then a Being Whose essence is defined by nothing else could not fail to exist. We can also see why the Ultimate Reality has to be a Mind, as it makes no sense to speak of information in the total absence of mind. The contingency of created things may therefore be rooted in the fact that they are not capable of receiving information about everything, but are limited by their specific forms (which are effectively information filters). Thus the internal complexity and law-governed mathematical behavior of material substances, coupled with the fine-tuning of the laws and constants of Nature, can all be seen as reflections of the contingency of the cosmos and all that is in it. As perceptive readers will have noticed, this is not unlike Aquinas’ claim that a thing’s existence is limited by its form. What differentiates the claim being made here, however, is that it actually attempts to address the question of what it means for a thing to exist. Without proof that the speculative answer given to this question is the correct one, however, it would be quite inappropriate to speak of any argument for God’s existence which is based on this answer as a metaphysical demonstration.

I might add that the foregoing analysis of existence also explains why mathematical objects (such as triangles) are not real, and why fictional characters are not real either. The reasons why triangles are not real are that: (a) they don’t exchange information with one another: they just stand in splendid isolation; and (b) they don’t have any power to interact with their Creator. And the reasons why fictional objects are not real are that (a) they cannot be called true objects, since they are not fully specified by their human authors (to see why, just ask yourself this: what color is the house where Harry Potter lives, and how big is it?); and (b) they are incapable of interacting with their human creators (Draco Malfoy can startle Harry Potter, but he can’t startle J.K. Rowling).

What I’m suggesting, then, is that the world is not like a book authored by God, in which the characters have no freedom. Instead it is more like an interactive video game. God is the game creator.

Part D – Feser’s valuable work in expounding Aquinas’ philosophy

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I have on previous occasions described Professor Feser as a matchless exponent of the thinking of St. Thomas Aquinas. I would add that although I disagree with some of its conclusions, Feser’s book Aquinas (Oneworld, Oxford, 2009) is as good an account of Thomistic philosophy as readers are ever likely to see during their lifetimes. And I seriously doubt whether anyone could possibly do a better job of revamping Aquinas’ Five Ways for a 21st century audience than Feser does, in his book.

The book, however, does not express any of Aquinas’ Five Ways in the form of a logical syllogism. That omission is remedied in Professor Feser’s 2011 paper, “Existential Inertia and the Five Ways” (cited above), which is written as a critique of the view, held by some philosophers, that the natural world does not need God to maintain it in being, once He has created it. On this view, the world has a built-in tendency to remain in existence, without any need for God to conserve it in being. This view is commonly known as the existential inertia thesis. Feser’s paper, “Existential Inertia and the Five Ways,” upholds the traditional view, held by Jews, Christians and Muslims down the ages, that the world could not in principle continue to exist for even an instant, without the conserving action of God – a view which is often referred to as the Doctrine of Divine Conservation. Feser contends that each of Aquinas’ Five Ways can be understood as a logical syllogism which directly implies the truth of the Doctrine of Divine Conservation, and he chides defenders of the existential inertia thesis for failing to effectively address these arguments contained in these syllogisms. In the course of elaborating his argument, Feser also responds to the arguments of writers like Mortimer Adler, John Beaudoin, J. L. Mackie, and Bede Rundle, who have defended the existential inertia thesis.

Let me state up-front that I fully agree with Professor Feser that the existential inertia thesis is utterly false, as well as being contrary to the principles of Thomism (and for that matter, classical theism). I, like Feser, accept the Doctrine of Divine Conservation: things could not remain in existence, even for an instant, without the conserving activity of God. But in his 2011 paper, Feser goes further: he attempts to show that each of the Five Ways, when properly understood, can take us all the way to the God of classical theism, although they converge on this conclusion from different directions. In other words, the Five Ways point not just to the existence of a mysterious First Cause (whatever that might be), but to the existence of a Being Who is fully actualized, and Who is incapable of being further actualized: a First Mover Who is not only unmoved but also unmovable. Such a Being contains no potency of any sort: it is Pure Act. Since it is utterly devoid of potentiality, this Being must be an absolutely simple entity, without any parts that can be assembled or separated from one another: in other words, it has no matter that is capable of being divided, and no properties either (for its attributes are identical with its substance). What’s more, this Being is not just any old being: it is Being Itself, which means that its essence is inseparable from its act of existence. That in turn, according to Feser, implies that the Being is infinite – for a thing is limited only by its essence, and a Being Whose essence is Existence Itself would contain no limitations of any kind. Moreover, since this Being directs things towards their built-in ends in a reliable manner, it can be fittingly described as intelligent, and since it steadfastly maintains the world in existence and enables the creatures in it to flourish, this Being can also be said to be benevolent. The terms “intelligence” and “benevolence” can be predicated of God only in an analogical sense, however, as God’s intelligence and benevolence utterly transcend ours.

In his 2011 article, Feser’s main concern was to show that the Doctrine of Divine Conservation could be adequately defended, by a proper understanding of the chain of argumentation contained in Aquinas’ Five Ways. And it would be fair to say that Feser has succeeded admirably in accomplishing this objective: he has definitely put the traditional doctrine “on the map,” while making a very powerful case for God’s existence. But there is a big difference between a powerful case and a rigorous demonstration – and as we’ve seen, Feser thinks he has accomplished the latter. Now, I have repeatedly argued in previous posts that the existence of God can be established beyond reasonable doubt. However, I would also maintain that the existence of God cannot be established with the degree of ironclad certainty that Feser believes it can. I feel obliged to point this out, because tall claims warrant rigorous scrutiny, and if Feser’s proof turns out to be a failure, then it would be better for him if a fellow-believer (such as myself) pointed this out than if an unbeliever did.

What I’ll be arguing in this post

I have argued on a previous occasion that Professor Feser’s metaphysical assumptions are not as modest as they may at first appear, and that when they are fully unpacked, it turns out that his interpretation of Aquinas’ Five Ways hinges on up to twenty different assumptions, and that the truth of some of these is by no means obvious. But I won’t be taking that tack in this post. Instead, I intend to take Feser’s empirical, metaphysical and logical assumptions listed above as given, and argue that even so, Feser’s arguments still fail to establish the truth of classical theism. The only metaphysical assumption Feser explicitly makes which I’ll be calling into question is the Thomistic claim that there is a real distinction between a thing’s essence and its act of existence. Feser himself thinks that he can demonstrate God’s existence even without this assumption: in a recent combox comment, he stated:

I do not think one needs to argue for the essence/existence distinction in order to show that things require a sustaining cause. I think act/potency can do it by itself… (See “Existential Inertia and the Five Ways” and Scholastic Metaphysics.)

As we’ll see below, however, no less than four of Aquinas’ Five Ways, as reconstructed by Feser, hinge on this tenuous distinction between essence and existence. Only the First Way refrains from making this assumption; consequently if it fails, Feser’s arguments can no longer be considered demonstrative.

Without further ado, let us have a look at Feser’s construal of Aquinas’ Five Ways.

Part E – The First Way

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[N.B. Quotes below are taken from Professor Feser’s 2011 article, “Existential Inertia and the Five Ways” (American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 85, No. 2, pp. 237-267) unless indicated otherwise.]

The First Way is otherwise known as the argument from motion to an Unmoved Mover, where by “motion” Aquinas means change of any sort and where by “change” he means the reduction of potency to act (or potentiality to actuality)…But I would suggest that the heart of the argument … can be expressed exclusively in the language of act and potency… [T]he thrust of the argument is best understood in terms of substances rather than events. For the occurrence of an event ultimately presupposes (for an Aristotelian like Aquinas, certainly) the existence of a substance or substances; and the existence of a natural substance involves, no less than the events it enters into does, the reduction of potency to act. (2011, p. 241)

To account for the reduction of potency to act in the case of the operations or activities of the hand, the muscles, and so on, we are led ultimately to the reduction of potency to act vis-a-vis the existence or being of ever deep and more general features of reality; for “it is evident that anything whatever operates so far as it is a being” (QDA 19). (Aquinas, Oneworld, Oxford, 2009, p. 75.)

Feser’s reconstruction of Aquinas’ First Way

1. That the actualization of potency is a real feature of the world follows from the occurrence of the events we know of via sensory experience.
2. The occurrence of any event E presupposes the operation of a substance.
3. The existence of any natural substance S at any given moment presupposes the concurrent actualization of a potency.
(The idea here, as Feser writes, is that “whatever the metaphysical details turn out to be vis-à-vis the structure of events and substances, they will involve the actualization of potency, and that this presupposes the operation of that which is pure act.”)
4. No mere potency can actualize a potency; only something actual can do so.
5. So any actualizer A of S’s current existence must itself be actual.
6. A’s own existence at the moment it actualizes S itself presupposes either (a) the concurrent actualization of a further potency or (b) A’s being purely actual.
7. If A’s existence at the moment it actualizes S presupposes the concurrent actualization of a further potency, then there exists a regress of concurrent actualizers that is either infinite or terminates in a purely actual actualizer.
8. But such a regress of concurrent actualizers would constitute a causal series ordered per se, and such a series cannot regress infinitely.
( By way of explanation, Feser writes: “T]he idea … is that if A’s existence depends on the concurrent existence and actualizing activity of some further actualizer B, and B’s existence depends on the concurrent existence and actualizing activity of some further actualizer C, then we clearly have a series ordered per se which can terminate only in that which can actualize without itself requiring actualization — something that just is, already, purely actual.”)
9. So either A itself is purely actual or there is a purely actual actualizer which terminates the regress of concurrent actualizers.
10. So the occurrence of E and thus the existence of S at any given moment presupposes the existence of a purely actual actualizer. (pp. 241-242)

Critical remarks

In my opinion, the argument successfully demonstrates the existence of a First Cause of change which can actualize without needing to be actualized. What it fails to show is that this First Cause is incapable of being actualized, and that this First Cause is unique.

(a) God: unmoved or self-moving? Determining or determined?

First, contrary to what Feser asserts, Aquinas’ First Way (as Feser reconstructs it) establish the existence, not of an Unactualized Actualizer, but of a Self-actualized Actualizer, capable of actualizing itself in an indefinite number of ways, depending on which things it happens to maintains in existence. Here’s why. Necessarily, every operation of a substance (or agent) actualizes it in some way. Necessarily, an agent’s act of maintaining a thing in existence is an operation of some sort. And if the thing which is maintained in existence is contingent (as Feser rightly holds natural objects to be), then the agent’s act of maintaining it in existence is a contingent action. However, the First Mover is a necessary being, so its act of existence must also be necessary. Since it is logically impossible for one and the same action to be both contingent and necessary, it follows that the agent’s operation of maintaining a thing in existence must be distinct from the agent’s own act of existence – and hence, distinct from the agent’s essence, since (as Feser argues) for the First Mover, essence and existence are identical. Since an operation which is distinct from an agent’s essence cannot belong in the category of substance, it must belong in the category of accident instead: in other words, the operation itself is not a thing, but a modification or property of a thing – in this case, the First Mover. Hence the First Mover must have accidental properties: insofar as it maintains anything in existence, it is itself actualized in some way. The point I am making here is simply that any agent is necessarily additionally actualized by any contingent operations it performs – and it makes no difference here whether the agent is time-bound or timeless. All that matters is that the agent’s operations are contingent. (I should emphasize, however, that the actualizations of the First Mover arising from its operations do not enhance or perfect the First Mover as a being, as they are merely non-essential properties of that being.)

Why does all this matter? Feser’s arguments for God’s unlimited perfection take as their starting point the premise that God is Pure Act, and that He is incapable of being further actualized. But if God is not Pure Act, then his argument collapses.

Now, Feser might attempt to reply to the above argument by contending that a being composed of substance and accident would be a composite of the two, and that beings composed of parts require an external cause to hold those parts together. But I would argue that an agent’s contingent operations (which are non-essential properties of that agent) do not need an external cause to bind them to the agent: they belong to the agent simply by virtue of the fact that they are performed by that agent. Nothing else is needed to “tie” them to their agent, as it is conceptually impossible for actions to exist without an agent.

Aquinas’ three arguments (Summa Theologica I, q. 3, art. 6) against the possibility of God having any properties (or accidents) also miss the mark, when applied to God’s contingent operations. First, Aquinas argues that there can be no potentiality in God, as there would be if he were actualized by His properties. Second, he contends that Absolute Being cannot have anything added to it. Third, he maintains that there can be no accidents (or properties) in God, as they would be logically posterior to God’s substance – “Whence as God is absolute primal being, there can be in Him nothing accidental.” However, all the foregoing arguments show is that if God has any properties, then they cannot be part of Him. An indivisible substance such as God might be “fully actual” in the sense that it requires nothing to hold it together. However, this substance might still be capable of undergoing further actualization as a result of its own choice to create a world and maintain it in existence.

(b) A Self-Actualized First Actualizer could still be (timelessly) actualized by the creatures it maintains in existence

I might add that if the First Mover is capable of actualizing itself by performing the contingent operation of maintaining a thing in existence, then there is no reason in principle why the First Mover could not endow that thing with the capacity to actualize the First Mover. This has obvious implications for the question of how God knows our free choices. If (as Feser apparently holds), God knows our free choices by determining them (as the author of a novel determines the actions performed by the characters in her novel), then it makes no sense to describe them as free. As Elizabeth Anscombe put it in her 1971 lecture, Causality and Determination: “My actions are mostly physical movements; if these physical movements are physically predetermined by processes which I do not control, then my freedom is perfectly illusory.” Anscombe’s target in her lecture was the compatibilist claim that one can believe in both physical determinism and ‘ethical’ freedom, but it seems to me that her argument works against theological determinism as well. If God determines my choices then I am not free: it’s as simple as that. But as Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange points out in Volume II of his work, God: His Existence and Nature, there really are only two options here: “God determining or determined: there is no other alternative.” (As I explained above, Molinism doesn’t offer a third way out, either: for if God infallibly knows what I would do in such-and-such a world, and then decides to create that world, instead of some other world, then He thereby determines my choices.) Consequently, if one believes in libertarian freedom – a fact which I consider to be as certain as the existence of an external world – it follows that free creatures must have the capacity, built into them by their Creator, to make God (timelessly) aware of whatever choices they make. God, then, is (timelessly) informed by His creatures, but only because He gave them the power to inform Him when He created them.

I should add that if (as Professor Feser appears to maintain, if I read him aright) God knows our choices in the way that the author of a book knows what his/her characters are doing, then that would entail that God is the Ultimate Author of all of the following:

  • every human perversion ever dreamed up by twisted human individuals – for the ideas that these people had originally came from God;
  • every argument for atheism that any philosopher has ever formulated;
  • every fallacious argument that any philosopher has ever made;
  • every evil plan that anyone has ever had;
  • every badly thought-out plan that anyone has ever had;
  • every immoral work of literature;
  • every second or third-rate work of literature (including every rejected novel and every unfinished one);
  • every dirty joke and every sick joke;
  • every corny or unfunny joke, and every bad pun;
  • every cruel or unkind word ever uttered by one human being to another;
  • every foolish word ever uttered by one human being to another;
  • every bad deed that anyone has ever done; and
  • every stupid thing that anyone has ever done.

Does Professor Feser really wish to maintain that God is the Ultimate Author of all these things? I sincerely hope not.

Feser may object that my proposal that God is (timelessly) informed by creatures of their activities is at odds with the classical theistic doctrine of God’s impassibility. However, the doctrine of Divine impassibility need not be understood as affirming that creatures have no power to causally influence their Creator, as Thomistic philosophers have traditionally taught. Instead, the doctrine can be interpreted as the (more modest) claim that creatures have no power over God’s Being, no power to control their Creator’s actions or reactions, and above all, no power to make Him suffer: we cannot make God upset, for instance, and we cannot hurt God. And indeed many defenders of the doctrine have understood it in precisely this way.

(c) God’s absolute perfection

I conclude, then, that if the First Way takes us anywhere, it takes us to a very different kind of God from the one envisaged by Professor Feser. But there is more: if it is false to say that God is Pure Act, then any argument for God’s absolute perfection which is based on the premise that God is Pure Act is thereby rendered invalid. I shall critique such an argument below, in the section titled, “The equivocation in Feser’s argument for God’s absolute perfection.”

Part F – The Second Way

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[N.B. Quotes below are taken from Professor Feser’s 2011 article, “Existential Inertia and the Five Ways” (American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 85, No. 2, pp. 237-267) unless indicated otherwise.]

Feser’s explanatory comments

…[T]he existential proof presupposes Aquinas’s famous doctrine … of the real distinction between essence and existence in everything other than God. The proof seeks to show that nothing in which essence and existence are distinct could exist even for an instant unless there is something in which essence and existence are identical — something which just is ipsum esse subsistens, Subsistent Being Itself — conjoining its essence to an act of existence and thereby maintaining it in being. (p. 244)

The argument for an Uncaused Cause, as I have interpreted it, … holds that S’s essence, and thus S itself, is merely potential until that essence is conjoined with an act of existence. But if S or S’s essence did this conjoining, then S would be the cause of itself, which is impossible. Hence the conjoining must be done by some cause C distinct from S. But the distinction between S’s essence and existence that this presupposes is as real after S first comes into existence as it was before… Hence the conjoining of S’s essence and existence by a cause distinct from S must be maintained at any moment S exists. (p. 245)

Feser’s reconstruction of Aquinas’ Second Way

1. That efficient causation is a real feature of the world is evident from sensory experience.
2. Nothing can be the efficient cause of itself.
[In his book, Scholastic Metaphysics, Feser explains why: “The reason a cause must be distinct from its effect is that to cause is to actualize a potency, and no potency can actualize itself but must be actualized by something already actual” (2014, p. 108). ]
3. The existence of any natural substance S at any given moment presupposes that its essence is concurrently being conjoined to an act of existence.
4. If S itself were somehow conjoining its own essence to an act of existence, it would be the efficient cause of itself.
[As Feser puts it in his 2011 article: “The argument … holds that S’s essence, and thus S itself, is merely potential until [its] essence is conjoined with an act of existence. But if S’s essence did this conjoining, then S would be the cause of itself, which is impossible” (p. 245).]
5. So there must be some concurrent efficient cause C distinct from S which is conjoining S’s essence to an act of existence.
6. C’s own existence at the moment it conjoins S’s essence to an act of existence presupposes either (a) that C’s essence is concurrently being conjoined to an act of existence, or (b) that in C essence and existence are identical.
7. If C’s existence at the moment it conjoins S’s essence to an act of existence presupposes that C’s own essence is concurrently being conjoined to an act of existence, then there exists a regress of concurrent conjoiners of essences and acts of existence that is either infinite or terminates in something whose essence and existence are identical.
8. But such a regress of concurrent conjoiners of essence and existence would constitute a causal series ordered per se, and such a series cannot regress infinitely.
9. So either C’s own essence and existence are identical, or there is something else whose essence and existence are identical which terminates the regress of concurrent conjoiners of essences with acts of existence.
10. So the existence of S at any given moment presupposes the existence of something in which essence and existence are identical. (pp. 244-245)

Critical remarks

In my opinion, the argument successfully demonstrates the existence of a First Cause of the existence of things. What it fails to show is that this First Cause is the unique cause of the existence of all things, and that it is the only Being Whose essence and existence are identical.

Aquinas’ Second Way, as reconstructed by Feser, hinges on the contentious claim that there is a real distinction between a thing’s essence and its existence, and that the former stands in relation to the latter in the same way as potency stands in relation to act. Feser himself acknowledges as much, in his remarks on the Second Way:

The proof seeks to show that nothing in which essence and existence are distinct could exist even for an instant unless there is something in which essence and existence are identical—something which just is ipsum esse subsistens, Subsistent Being Itself—conjoining its essence to an act of existence and thereby maintaining it in being. (p. 244)

The argument …holds that [a substance] S’s essence, and thus S itself, is merely potential until that essence is conjoined with an act of existence. (p. 245)

Like most Thomistic philosophers, Feser holds that that there is a real distinction between a thing’s essence (or nature) and its act of existence. To most of my readers, the notion that a thing’s nature might be in some way distinct from its act of existence will sound very odd, so I shall illustrate the point with the aid of a concrete example: the Thylacine, or marsupial wolf, commonly known as the Tasmanian tiger, because of the striped markings on its back.

The argument (which dates back to Avicenna) goes as follows: I can understand what a thylacine is (i.e. its essence), without knowing whether any Tasmanian tigers still exist, or not. (The last one is believed to have died in captivity in 1936, but there have been claimed unofficial sightings since then.) Therefore, the argument concludes, a thing’s “whatness” (or essence) must be distinct from its actual existence. But all the argument really proves is that there is a linguistic distinction between “what” and “whether.”: “What is an X?” and “Are there any Xs?” are two fundamentally different questions. The argument fails to establish that there is a real distinction between a thing’s essence and its existence.

I have already discussed two other arguments put forward by Feser for a real distinction between essence and existence in his book, Scholastic Metaphysics (2014, pp. 241-243): first, that the essence of a natural object has a mere potential for existence (as shown by the fact that natural objects come into existence and go out of existence), whereas existence itself is something actual; and second, that if the essence of a natural object were not really distinct from its existence, then it would have existence by its very nature, and thus would not be contingent (as natural objects are) but necessary. However, the first argument presupposes a picture in which the essence of an as-yet-nonexistent natural object receives existence when it is generated (which begs the question); while the second merely shows that “existence” is not an essential property of natural objects. What I am maintaining, however, is that a thing’s existence is not a property of that thing; it simply is the thing itself. (What else could it be?)

If we wish to postulate any kind of distinction between a thing’s essence and its act of existence, the most economical supposition is that the distinction is merely a logical one. Indeed, many Scholastic philosophers (notably Scotists and Suarezians) take the view that there is merely a logical distinction between essence and existence, rather than a real one, as an article in the Catholic Encyclopedia acknowledges. But if the distinction between a thing’s essence and its act of existence is not a real one, then we can no longer appeal to the alleged compositeness of things as proof of their contingency.

That being the case, Feser cannot legitimately claim that Aquinas’ Five Ways are metaphysically certain arguments which “conclusively … establish” the existence of God, if it turns out that these arguments hinge on a philosophical claim – that there is a real distinction between a thing’s essence and its existence – which even Scholastic philosophers regard as contentious. But as we’ll see below, not only Aquinas’ Second Way, but also his Third, Fourth and Fifth Way, appeal to a real distinction between a thing’s essence and its existence, on Feser’s reconstruction of these arguments. And since the First Way (as we have already seen) fails to demonstrate its conclusion, it follows that none of Aquinas’ Five Ways can properly be called metaphysical demonstrations, in their present form – which is not to say that they won’t be demonstrative a century from now, when the arguments have been fleshed out further.

Having said that, the fact that there is even a logical distinction between a thing’s essence and its existence still requires some sort of explanation. For what it suggests is that things are contingent: after all, if I can understand what they are without knowing whether they are, that would seem to indicate that the reason for their existence lies outside themselves. In his essay, Job Opening: Creator of the Universe—A Reply to Keith Parsons (2009), philosopher Paul Herrick proposes what he calls a Principle of Daring Inquiry to capture this philosophical intuition:

When confronted with the existence of some unexplained phenomenon X, it is reasonable to seek an explanation for X if we can coherently conceive of a state of affairs in which it would not be the case that X exists.

Can the contingency of things take us to God, then? To answer that question, we need to examine Aquinas’ Third Way.

Part G – The Third Way

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[N.B. Quotes below are taken from Professor Feser’s 2011 article, “Existential Inertia and the Five Ways” (American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 85, No. 2, pp. 237-267) unless indicated otherwise.]

Feser’s explanatory comments

…Aquinas is happy to concede, at least for the sake of argument, that matter might be a kind of necessary being. Moreover, he recognizes the existence of other non-divine necessary beings as well, such as angels and even heavenly bodies (which, given the astronomical knowledge then available, the medievals mistakenly regarded as not undergoing corruption). This should not be surprising when we keep in mind that getting to the existence of a necessary being is only the first half of the Third Way. The second half is devoted to showing that any necessary being that does not have its necessity of itself must ultimately derive it from a necessary being which does have its necessity of itself. In particular, it is Aquinas’s view that even if matter and form, angels and heavenly bodies count as necessary beings of a sort, they do not have their necessity of themselves but must derive it from an absolutely necessary being, namely God. (p. 247)

Feser’s reconstruction of Aquinas’ Third Way

1. That the particular substances revealed to us in sensory experience are contingent is evident from the fact that they are generated and corrupted.
2. Their generation and corruption presuppose matter and form, which are neither generated nor corrupted and are thus necessary.
3. But matter of itself is pure potency and material forms of themselves are mere abstractions, so that neither can exist apart from the other; and even when existing together they cannot depend on each other alone on pain of vicious circularity.
[Feser adds: “Nor will it do to suggest that any particular form/matter composite might have its necessity of itself, even apart from the fact that such composites have an inherent tendency to go out of existence. For since in purely material substances matter depends on form and form depends on matter, we would have a vicious explanatory circle unless there was something outside the form/matter composite that accounts for its existence”(2011, p. 247).]
4. So matter and form do not have their necessity of themselves but must derive it from something else.
5. Material substances are also composites of essence and existence, as are non-divine necessary beings like angels, and any such composite must have its essence and existence conjoined by something distinct from it.
6. So these other necessary beings too must derive their necessity from something else.
7. But a regress of necessary beings deriving their necessity from another would constitute a causal series ordered per se, which of its nature cannot regress infinitely.
8. So there must be something which is necessary in an absolute way, not deriving its necessity from another and (therefore) not a composite of form and matter or essence and existence. (2011, p. 248)

Critical remarks

In my opinion, the argument successfully demonstrates the existence of a Necessary Being Whose necessity is not derived from that of any other being. What it fails to show is that this Necessary Being is unique, and that it is the only Being Whose essence and existence are identical.

Feser’s reconstruction of the Third Way hinges on there being a real distinction between a contingent thing’s essence and its existence. As he puts it:

Then there is the fact that material objects are composites of essence and existence as well, as are disembodied human souls and angels; and for reasons already stated, such composites must be sustained in being by something in which essence and existence are identical. (2011, pp. 247-248)

Feser’s construal of the Third Way is therefore vulnerable to a similar criticism to the one that was made above regarding the Second Way: if the distinction between a thing’s essence and its act of existence is not a real one, then we can no longer appeal to the alleged compositeness of things as proof of either their contingency (in the case of objects that are generated and corrupted) or their derived necessity (in the case of angels and everlasting substances).

Once again, it would seem philosophically prudent to look for another feature of things apart from their compositeness, in order to justify the powerful metaphysical intuition – and in my view, a correct one – that things which can even be intellectually conceived of as non-existent require an external cause for their existence. (The fact that things obey rules, and that the cosmos is fine-tuned and mathematically elegant are additional indicators of its contingency.) Basing an argument for God’s existence on compositeness alone amounts to putting all one’s theological eggs in a single basket.

Part H – The Fourth Way

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[N.B. Quotes below are taken from Professor Feser’s 2011 article, “Existential Inertia and the Five Ways” (American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 85, No. 2, pp. 237-267) unless indicated otherwise.]

Feser’s explanatory comments

The Fourth Way … is very widely misunderstood, perhaps even more so than the other arguments. For example, it is often assumed that Aquinas is arguing that every attribute that comes in degrees must have its fullest exemplar in God; and it is then objected that this entails such absurdities as that God must be the supreme exemplar of smelliness. But in fact Aquinas is concerned only with what the Scholastics called the transcendentals — being, one, good, true, and the like — which, unlike smelliness, sweetness, heat, cold, red, green, etc., are predicable of everything without exception. (2011, p. 249)

That in which essence and existence are distinct, and which is thus limited in being, depends upon that which just is pure existence or being. But being is convertible with goodness, unity, truth, etc. Hence that which is good only in some limited way must depend on that which is pure goodness, that which has unity only in some limited way must depend in on that which is absolutely one, and so forth. (2011, pp. 249-250)

Feser’s reconstruction of Aquinas’ Fourth Way

1. The things of our experience exhibit goodness, unity, and the other transcendentals only to some limited degree.
2. But they can do so only insofar as they participate in that which is good, one, etc., without limitation.
3. Moreover, the transcendentals are convertible with one another, and ultimately with Being Itself.
4. So there is some one thing which is being itself, goodness itself, unity itself, and so forth, in which the things of our experience participate to the degrees they do.
5. But that in which things participate is their efficient cause.
6. So the one thing which is being itself, goodness itself, unity itself, etc., is the efficient cause of the things of our experience. (2011, p. 250)

Critical remarks

In my opinion, the Fourth Way establishes the existence of a Being Whose unity, goodness and truth are not derived from any other being (in other words, a self-existent being), but once again I think additional argumentation is required to show that such a Being is unique, let alone infinite.

Feser’s reconstruction of the Fourth Way explicitly assumes that there is a real distinction between a natural object’s essence and its existence, as he freely acknowledges:

Just as that in which essence and existence are distinct — that is to say, that which has being only in a limited way — could not in Aquinas’s view exist for an instant if it were not sustained in being by that which just is Being Itself, so too he thinks that that which has goodness, unity, etc., only in a limited way could not exist (or at least not exist qua good, one, and so forth) even for an instant if it were not sustained by that which just is supreme goodness, unity, etc. (2011, p. 250)

The second premise of Feser’s argument, that we can describe things as existing, as one, and as good, only insofar as they participate in that which is being, unity and goodness without limitation, requires further justification. If one accepts the Thomistic principle that act can only be limited by potency, then the premise makes sense; however, as I have argued above, it is by no means certain that this principle is true.

Another argument one might make is that the notion of being admits of no limitation. But a skeptic might retort that the notion of being contains nothing positive either.

Feser’s argument also assumes that one can legitimately speak of a “thing which is being itself.” But a skeptic might object that the notion of such a thing is nonsensical, since “Being Itself” can have no properties, whereas the Creator of the world must have at least some (non-essential) properties.

A more powerful objection relates to the very concept of being or existence: it might be objected that the concept is an empty one, as sentences in which the name of a kind of object is replaced with the word “being” are thereby rendered uninformative: compare “There is a dog in the park” (an informative utterance) with “There is a being in the park” or in more natural English, “There is something in the park” (uninformative). One might argue that the latter sentence tells us that the being in question has a spatiotemporal location, but the work here is being done by the words “in the park”: the sentence, “There is a being” tells us nothing at all.

I am not saying that the concept of “Being Itself” is wrong. What I am saying is that by itself, it is theologically unilluminating: we need some additional positive concept of what God is. Defining God as Pure Mind, Whose nature is to know and love perfectly, is more helpful.

Part I – The Fifth Way

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[N.B. Quotes below are taken from Professor Feser’s 2011 article, “Existential Inertia and the Five Ways” (American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 85, No. 2, pp. 237-267) unless indicated otherwise.]

Feser’s explanatory comments

Aquinas… regards teleology as immanent to the natural order, as manifest in even the simplest causal processes rather than only in complex phenomena, and as something that leads us conclusively to the existence of a supreme intellect rather than merely as a matter of probability. (2011, p. 251)

The basic idea is this. A cause cannot be efficacious unless it exists in some way. But in the case of the final cause of some unintelligent causal process, the cause in question does not exist in the natural order. For instance, the oak is the end or final cause of the acorn, and yet until the acorn develops into the oak, the oak does not actually exist in the natural world. Now with artifacts, the final cause can be efficacious because it exists (or rather its form exists) in the mind of the artificer. For example, a building is the final cause of the actions of a builder, and it serves as a genuine cause despite its not yet existing in the natural order by existing at least as an idea in the builder’s intellect. Now unless there is some third alternative, this is how the final causes operative in the order of unintelligent natural things must exist, for they have to exist somehow in order to be efficacious. But there is no third alternative, given Aquinas’s rejection of Platonism.… So, there must be an intellect outside the natural order directing things to their ends, where these ends pre-exist as ideas in said intellect. And notice that this must be the case at any moment at which natural substances exist at all, for they retain their inherent causal powers and thus their immanent finality or end-directedness at every moment at which they exist. (2011, pp. 252-253)

Feser’s reconstruction of Aquinas’ Fifth Way

1. That unintelligent natural causes regularly generate certain specific effects or ranges of effects is evident from sensory experience.
2. Such regularities are intelligible only on the assumption that these efficient causes inherently “point to” or are “directed at” their effects as to an end or final cause.
3. So there are final causes or ends immanent to the natural order.
4. But unintelligent natural causes can “point to” or be “directed at” such ends only if guided by an intelligence.
5. So there is such an intelligence.
6. But since the ends or final causes in question are inherent in things by virtue of their natures or essence, the intelligence in question must be the cause also of natural things having the natures or essences they do.
7. This entails its being that which conjoins their essences to an act of existence, and only that in which essence and existence are identical can ultimately accomplish this.
8. So the intelligence in question is something in which essence and existence are identical.

Critical remarks

I believe that the Fifth Way, as construed by Feser, completely fails as a demonstration. It fails to establish even the existence of a Cosmic Intelligence, and it also fails to show that this Intelligence is a Being Whose essence and existence are identical.

I note in passing that Feser’s reconstruction of the Fifth Way once again assumes a real distinction between a thing’s essence and its existence:

…[T]he claim is that a natural substance could not have the final cause or end it has even for an instant without some intelligence distinct from it ordering it to that end, which (it is argued) entails in turn that this intelligence must be keeping its essence conjoined to an act of existence at every such instant. (2011, p. 254)

1. The argument, if successful, proves too much. Taken to its logical conclusion, it would appear to preclude natural objects from having active powers. For if natural objects need to be guided by an Intelligence to their respective ends, then it is hard to see how they can be said to possess an active, built-in tendency to reach those ends, as Feser contends they do.

2. The key premise upon which the argument bases its claim that there is an Intelligent Being guiding Nature is that the behavior of natural objects is not only oriented towards the production of certain effects, but also that it is oriented towards future effects, at a fundamental level. This premise is open to the philosophical objection that the apparently future-oriented behavior of objects can be explained more simply, in terms of their present-oriented tendencies – e.g. the tendency of sodium and chloride ions in a crystal of table salt to dissolve when they encounter liquid water.

3. Contrary to what Feser claims, his argument does not succeed in establishing that the intelligent being (or beings) guiding natural objects towards their built-in goals (or “ends”) also endows them with their very natures. In his article, Feser argues that “since the ends or final causes in question are inherent in things by virtue of their natures or essence, the intelligence in question must be the cause also of natural things having the natures or essences they do” (2011, p. 254), which implies that an object’s built-in ends are a consequence of its nature. However, it does not follow from this fact that anything which causes a natural object to have those ends must therefore cause it to have the nature it has. To establish this conclusion, one would need to argue for the reverse: that an object’s ends determine its nature.

4. Feser’s argument also fails in its attempt to prove that the intelligent being who endows the various kinds of natural objects with their finality and form, which distinguish them from other kinds of objects, also endows these objects with their prime matter (the formless, featureless substrate underlying a substantial change, where an object of one kind changes into an object of another kind). Thus Feser is unable to establish that the intelligent being is anything more than a mere Demiurge, who generates forms but is not responsible for the existence of matter.

5. Feser’s argument fails to demonstrate that the intelligent being who endows natural objects with their matter, form and finality (i.e. the being who is the author of these objects’ essences), also sustains those objects in existence. For if (as Feser maintains) there is a real distinction between an object’s essence (or nature) and its existence, then the activity of defining an object’s formal, material, final and efficient causality – and thereby giving it an essence – is quite distinct from the activity of endowing that essence with existence – or as Feser puts it, conjoining that essence with its own act of existence. Hence, if we grant Feser’s essence-existence distinction, it no longer follows that the Intelligence which guides things towards their built-in ends and endows them with their natures (or essences) must also be responsible for keeping them in existence.

6. Feser’s argument leaves open the theoretical possibility that the intelligent being who maintains objects in existence might itself be maintained in existence by another Being Whose essence and existence are identical (the God of classical theism). In that case, it would need to be established that this latter Being is also intelligent. Unfortunately, Feser makes no attempt to do this. Thus Feser’s argument fails to show that God is intelligent.

Part J – The equivocation in Feser’s argument for God’s absolute perfection

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Feser’s clearest statement of the Thomistic arguments for God’s perfection can be found in his book Aquinas (Oneworld, Oxford, 2009), where he writes:

…On Aquinas’ view there can in principle be only one being whose essence and existence are identical, and thus which is Pure Being. Hence it is necessarily one and the same being on which all five proofs converge. This would obviously entail, for the same reason, that there is and can be only one God. For there to be more than one God, there would have to be some essence that the distinct “Gods” all share, each with his own individual act of existence. But since God is that being in whom essence and existence are identical, who just is existence or being itself, there is no sense to be made of the idea that he shares an essence with anything else, or has some act of existing alongside others (S.T. I.11.3). (2009, p. 121)

In the foregoing passage, Feser makes what seems to be an illicit logical leap: assuming that there is a being whose essence is identical with its own act of existence, it does not follow that such a being is Pure Existence.

Why might Feser make such an assumption? A clue can be found in a remark he makes earlier on in his book (the passages in quotation marks are from Aquinas’ De Ente et Essentia, Chapter IV):

[For Aquinas], something whose essence is its existence would depend on nothing else (e.g. matter) for its existence, since it would just be existence or being. But there could only possibly be one such thing, for there could be no way in principle to distinguish more than one. We could not coherently appeal to some unique form one such being has to distinguish it from others of its kind, “because then it would not simply be an act of existing, but an act of existing plus this certain form”; nor could we associate it with some particular parcel of matter, “because then it would not be subsistent existence, but material existence,” that is, dependent on matter for its being (DEE 4). (2009, p. 30)

However, there still seems to be a gap in the logic in the above passage. It simply does not follow that something whose essence is identical with its existence would be to be existence or being: all that follows is that it would to be its own existence. In other words, “existence” can take various forms, depending on the kind of being we are talking about. Aquinas rejects this supposition, however, “because then it would not simply be an act of existing, but an act of existing plus this certain form.” What Aquinas is implicitly assuming here is that since the concept of “existence” contains no limitations per se, it can only be limited by something distinct from it which receives it – in this case, a thing’s form. The principle that Aquinas is appealing to is neatly encapsulated in the second of the Twenty-Four Thomistic Theses, which states: “Act, because it is perfection, is not limited except by Potency, which is capacity for perfection. Therefore, in the order in which the Act is pure, it is unlimited and unique; but in that in which it is finite and manifold, it comes into a true composition with Potency.” (Aquinas invokes this principle in his [Summa Theologica, I q. 7 art. 1, a. 2; Summa Contra Gentiles, lib. 1 cap. 43 and Super Sent., lib. 1 d. 43 q. 2].) In other words, anything actual (such as a thing’s existence) can only be limited by some potency which is distinct from it. Professor Feser invokes the same principle in his work, Scholastic Metaphysics (2014, p. 37), where he illustrates his point with the example of a rubber ball, whose constituent matter (which receives the form of “roundness”) prevents it from having a perfectly round shape. But what Feser overlooks is that even perfect roundness is inherently limited: for example, something which is perfectly round cannot be omnipresent, and its roundness also renders it capable of being decomposed into parts, since it is spatiotemporally extended.

There seems to be no reason in principle, then, why something could not be purely actual, and yet limited.

In his book Aquinas (Oneworld, Oxford, 2009), Feser argues that God’s unlimited perfection can be demonstrated from the fact that He is Pure Act:

Aquinas also gives two other reasons for holding that the being whose existence is argued for in each of the Five Ways is necessarily unique. For there to be more than one such being, there would have to be some way to distinguish one from another, and this could only be in terms of some perfection or privation that one has but the other lacks. But as Pure Act, such a being would be devoid of all imperfections and privations, since imperfections and privations are just different ways in which something could fail to be in act or actual. Hence there can be no way even in principle to distinguish one such being from another, and thus there could not possibly be more than one (S.T. I.11.3). Furthermore, the order that characterizes the world gives it a unity that is explicable only if there is also unity in its cause (S.T. I.11.3). (2009, p. 121)

The passage above contains two logical flaws which should be obvious to most readers. First of all, Feser is confusing the mere absence of a perfection with an imperfection, which is the lack of a perfection where it ought to be present. For example, having four legs is a perfection in a sheep, but not in a goldfish. Thus a fish which has no legs is not imperfect on that account. One could conceive of two fully actualized, simple beings: Being One which is characterized by a single perfection, A, and Being Two, which is characterized by a different perfection, B. Being One does not have perfection B, but it is by no means deficient on that account, for its nature requires it to possess only one perfection: A. Likewise, Being Two is none the worse for not possessing perfection A.

The second flaw in Feser’s argument is that it merely establishes that the First Cause (Who is Pure Act) contains no imperfections within its being – which is quite different from establishing that the First Cause contains all perfections. Absence of imperfections does not entail possession of all perfections.

I conclude that even if Feser were able to establish the existence of a Being Who is Pure Act, he has failed to demonstrate that such a Being must be all-perfect or unique.

Part K – Conclusion

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Arguing for God’s absolute perfection is difficult. I would argue that to do it properly, we need a positive notion of what God is. Characterizing God as “Being Itself” at the very outset is (I maintain) unhelpful, as we lack a positive concept of “being.” It seems better, then, to characterize God as Pure Mind (which includes intellect and will) than as Pure Being, for at least we have some idea what these terms mean.

Professor Feser is welcome to criticize the theological position which I have defended here. If he does so, however, I hope he will concede that his own arguments are (at the present time) less than fully demonstrative. I hope that he will reconsider his views and/or further his case, and I wish him all the best for the future. I am happy to give Feser the last word in our exchange, so the ball is now in his court.

377 Replies to “On not putting all your theological eggs into one basket

  1. 1

    If you had to summarize your reasons for believing in God in ten words or less, how would you do it? Here’s what I’d say: “The world is contingent, complex, fine-tuned, rule-governed, mathematical and beautiful.”

    I think I see the problem.

  2. 2
    Andre says:

    In ten words or less….

    Dirt can neither make itself or come alive by itself.

  3. 3
    Joe says:

    RB thinks he sees the problem yet seems to be unable to say what that alleged problem is. Weird.

  4. 4
    Heartlander says:

    Ten words or less:

    Human consciousness and conscience cannot ultimately come from mindlessness.

  5. 5
    Dionisio says:

    #1 Reciprocating Bill

    I think I see the problem.

    What problem?

  6. 6
    Joe says:

    Perhaps the “problem” is that although you may be able to summarize your reasons for believing in God in ten words or less, you will need a great many more words to defend that summation.

  7. 7
    Moose Dr says:

    Personal experience, miracles in my life, Judaism’s prophecies, life itself.

  8. 8
    smordecai says:

    Human, a bad joke that Evolution played on Mother Nature.

    Since I don’t like this alternative to the idea of the existence of God and life after death, I choose to believe the evidence for design.

  9. 9
    Mung says:

    Reciprocating Bill:

    I think I see the problem.

    I think I see the problem too.

    Just for fun, let’s turn it around:

    If you had to summarize your reasons for disbelieving in God in ten words or less, how would you do it?

    Here’s what I’d say: “The world is necessary, simple, un-tuned, arbitrary, chaotic and ugly.”

  10. 10
    rhampton7 says:

    And for fairness sake, Ed Feser’s take on the author. Ouch:

    At the ID website Uncommon Descent, Vincent Torley has responded, in a post with the title “Hyper-skepticism and ‘My way or the highway’: Feser’s extraordinary post.” The title, and past experience with Torley, led me to expect that his latest piece would be short on dispassionate and accurate analysis and long on overheated rhetoric and misrepresentation. Past experience with Torley also led me to expect that it would simply be long, period, indeed of gargantuan length.

    Both expectations were confirmed.

  11. 11
    Phinehas says:

    Best explains existence of matter, information, life, consciousness, and morality.

  12. 12
    Mung says:

    Is God Pure Act or is God a composite of act and potency?

    Or is God not real?

    If God is Pure Act does that not preclude any other being from being Pure Act? IOW, any other being must be composite.

  13. 13

    Dionisio:

    What problem?

    Can’t you see it?

    Joe:

    Perhaps the “problem” is that although you may be able to summarize your reasons for believing in God in ten words or less, you will need a great many more words to defend that summation.

    Nope.

    Mung:

    I think I see the problem too.

    I’m afraid not.

  14. 14
    Dionisio says:

    #13 Reciprocating Bill

    No, I don’t see it. Can you describe it, so I can see it?
    Thank you.

  15. 15
    DavidD says:

    Mung to Regurgitating Bill
    Here’s what I’d say: “The world is necessary, simple, un-tuned, arbitrary, chaotic and ugly.”

    You left out, “And I love to wallow & root around in it with my fellow scent gland sniffing friends”

    OP: If you had to summarize your reasons for believing in God in ten words or less, how would you do it? Here’s what I’d say: “The world is contingent, complex, fine-tuned, rule-governed, mathematical and beautiful.”

    All of that is a given which even other forms of Religion get and understand [including Atheism in which they is a code of silence to admit the reality around them]. But for me it’s the way of life recommended in the Bible when applied, it’s powerful recommendation of living life works every time. No other philosophy, or self-help books nor seminars, etc come even close. And this is irrespective of what other so-called devout religious people may have done through out centuries when they ignored or watered down that word for their own purpose.

  16. 16
    vjtorley says:

    RHampton7

    It’s a free country. Professor Feser is entitled to write whatever he wishes about me on his own blog. For my part, I have always spoken of him on this blog with respect, even when I vigorously disagree with him.

  17. 17
    DavidD says:

    Rhampton7
    “And for fairness sake, Ed Feser’s take on the author. Ouch:”

    vjtorley:
    “It’s a free country. Professor Feser is entitled to write whatever he wishes about me on his own blog. For my part, I have always spoken of him on this blog with respect, even when I vigorously disagree with him.”
    ————-

    rhampton7 had nothing of value to add to the discussion other than some imaginary winning number default response, even if it only was in his own mind.

    Now having said that, there is an interesting trend or pattern here which seems to be consistent time and again among most evolutionists. Dr Cornelius Hunter for example points out countless examples of published articles where there are no proofs whatsoever are given for saying the subject has evolved, other than the usual invoking of the name of Darwin or insertion of the term Evolution into the article, after all, evolution is taken as a given. Dr Hunter often get’s a barrage of arrogant “Burden Shifters” who have no more answer as to how something mentioned in the target article evolved any more than the article they are defending which did nothing but supply the necessary Emperor Worship with incense in the alter. But rather time and again the Burden Shifters demand, “Please tell us how your gawd of yours created this creature” or whatever.

    Professor Feser:
    “Past experience with Torley also led me to expect that it would simply be long, period, indeed of gargantuan length.”

    They really are not interested in any answer which would satisfy their phony hunger for truth and to Cornelius credit, he often says he doesn’t know, which is the correct answer. No one can truly know as no one living was there from the start, but then that’s why we have inference in science. Nevertheless, under such discussions where the demand is made and insisted upon to “provide your own evidence please”, Vjtorley, BA77, Upright BiPed and others have provided [admittedly] lengthy list of references and intelligent followup discussion for which the opponent merely lifts their leg, pisses on the material and scratches the ground in an arrogant huff as if to say, you provided nothing of import or factual proofs [even though facts mean entirely different things within the universe in which they dwell].

    One of the dead give aways which reveals they never actually once looked at the material provided by other participants in the subject being discussed is that if you look at the time stamp to their post reply response, it is not enough time to properly take in and digest the material provided at their insistence. Ultimately as most are aware, nothing about these people prove or reveal that they are truly interested in any way with the truth of a matter and the evidence in this world to back it up.

    rhampton7 just wasn’t interested and his only purpose was leg lifting.

  18. 18
    DavidD says:

    Proverbs 17:16 Living Bible (Tynedale)

    16 “It is senseless to pay tuition to educate a rebel who has no heart for truth.”

  19. 19
    Joe says:

    The “problem” is obviously RB…

  20. 20
    Joe says:

    I think I see the problem too.

    I’m afraid not.

    No, you’re just afraid.

  21. 21
    E.Seigner says:

    DavidD

    No one can truly know as no one living was there from the start, but then that’s why we have inference in science.

    We have inference in science with its well-known problem of induction. We can empirically observe the sunrise every morning, but will the sun also rise the next morning? Science would say yes, because there’s always been sunrise insofar as we know, but metaphysics says -rightly – that this is just a probabilistic assumption, not a certain truth.

    Logic and metaphysics can tell a difference between certainty and probability, while science can only deal with probabilities. This is why it’s odd that you think you can say “No one can truly know…” without qualification. Since scientific certainty does not exist, you have a metaphysical statement here. Metaphysical statements that imply that they are scientific certainties are inherently flawed.

    Torley’s crusade against Feser is fundamentally ill-conceived. Feser is not putting his theological eggs in one basket. Theology is not his main interest at all. Scholastic metaphysics is his main interest, and he views everything else from that perspective. It just so happens that scholastic metaphysics, which is an exercise in logical certainties, provides proof of God,* and in the name of intellectual honesty Feser is committed to the conclusions of the metaphysics. The issue of theological eggs and chickens is secondary.

    There are many ways to get people wrong, and one sure way to get them wrong is to misunderstand what is certain to them and what is merely probable. To you metaphysics seems entirely speculative, whereas to Feser inductive reasoning not just seems, but is metaphysically demonstrated to be probable at best, never certain. When you have different definitions of certainty and you fail to acknowledge this up front, then what follows is talking past each other.

    * Metaphysical proofs are certain demonstrations. Conclusions follow necessarily. However, to think that the conclusions should convince everyone equally is to misunderstand how logic works and how psychology works. For example, Torley relentlessly insists on mixing up metaphysical proof with what he assumes should be scientific empirical certainty – even though the latter cannot logically exist and even though he appears to be making distinctions as he goes on talking and talking. My favourite one in the current post is this: “…the root of the metaphysical problem regarding essence and existence is that we don’t really know what it means for something to exist in the first place…” I’d reply: Sure, you don’t know what it means to exist, but this doesn’t mean nobody knows. Another basic failure is to know the meaning of term “part”, offer a few options and not hit on the right option. The right option is that to have “parts” is the same as to be “composite” as opposed to being “simple” i.e. indivisible and immutable. Here’s a clue: Basic metaphysical terms acquire meanings in contradistinction, same as in mathematics. To not know this means to not know how metaphysics works. To not know what it means to be a part means to not know what it means to be composite, not to mention that to not know what it means to exist logically means to not know what it means to exist as this or as that or as such or as anything. It means to not know anything of act, potency, time, timelessness, and many other things that this post is supposed to be about. It means Dr. Torley was not qualified to write this post in the first place. Feser’s metaphysical proof does not convince Dr. Torley because he is not qualified to understand it and because he has developed a personal gripe.

  22. 22
    Silver Asiatic says:

    My favourite one in the current post is this: “…the root of the metaphysical problem regarding essence and existence is that we don’t really know what it means for something to exist in the first place…” I’d reply: Sure, you don’t know what it means to exist, but this doesn’t mean nobody knows.

    In what way do you disagree with the explanation of that quote following William Dembski’s explanation of what it means to exist?

  23. 23

    Dionisio:

    No, I don’t see it. Can you describe it, so I can see it?

    Where’s the fun in that? It’s as plain as a pikestaff:

    If you had to summarize your reasons for believing in God in ten words or less, how would you do it? Here’s what I’d say: “The world is contingent, complex, fine-tuned, rule-governed, mathematical and beautiful.”

  24. 24
    Silver Asiatic says:

    It’s as plain as a pikestaff</blockquote.

    It's as obvious as the seashell on the staff of a pilgrim's pike, with clear symbolism and meaning about where he's going. Ok, I'll bet we all got that one immediately.

  25. 25
    Dionisio says:

    #23 Reciprocating Bill

    Still don’t see it. Sorry, but you definitely have to work on your communication skills. It seems like you have problems with presenting your own ideas. I thought no one could do worse than me in that area, but apparently I’m not alone in that group.
    You may give it another try if you want to. Thanks.

  26. 26

    Still don’t see it. Sorry, but you definitely have to work on your communication skills.

    It’s staring all of you in the face. I could convey it in fewer than 10 words. But where is the fun in that?

  27. 27
    Daniel King says:

    My guess is that the problem that Bill sees is in the excerpt he quoted:

    If you had to summarize your reasons for believing in God in ten words or less, how would you do it? Here’s what I’d say: “The world is contingent, complex, fine-tuned, rule-governed, mathematical and beautiful.”

    (Hint: try putting it into a syllogism.)

  28. 28
    Box says:

    VJTorley,

    thank you very much for this magnificent article. The presumed distinction between essence and existence is indeed counterintuitive.
    A question about this:

    Feser: (…) the essence of a natural object has a mere potential for existence (as shown by the fact that natural objects come into existence and go out of existence) (…)

    I must assume that by ‘essence of a natural object’ is meant the shape of a natural object (let’s say the shape of a heap of sand), since the principle of mass conservation informs us that the parts of a heap of sand don’t pop in and out of existence. Am I correct?
    I must say that I find the concept of a potential essence (shape?) of a heap of sand that pops in and out of existence rather odd. One starts to wonder how many potential essences of heaps of sands are out “there”?

  29. 29
    Joe says:

    Daniel King- Are you saying that if we put it into a form it was never meant to take then we would see this “problem”? Really?

  30. 30
    Mung says:

    I think RB meant to write “It’s as plain as a pike-staff.”

  31. 31
    Mung says:

    Box:

    I must assume that by ‘essence of a natural object’ is meant the shape of a natural object…

    Um, no.

    By the way, available online:

    Essence and Existence

    Thomas Aquinas: On Being and Essence

    De Ente et Essentia

  32. 32
    Mung says:

    Everything has two principles that explains its being, essence and existence. In all beings except for God, these principles are both required in order for the actually existing individual thing to be. Each is distinct from the other, yet this distinction is a real, not merely logical, one.

    http://www.aquinasonline.com/Topics/essencex.html

  33. 33
    Dionisio says:

    #26 Reciprocating Bill

    Definitely I better stay away from these difficult philosophical discussions and go back to the tangible stuff found in engineering and lately also in serious biological science, as it’s shown in well over 300 examples of complex biological mechanisms, still poorly understood by science, which are posted in this thread:

    http://www.uncommondescent.com...../#comments

    There nobody can get away with philosophical chitchat or vague pseudo-science talking.

    Perhaps that’s why the third way scientists got fed up with so much hogwash being written out there and decided to take a different approach, away from the orthodox neo-Darwinian dogmas. However, eventually they might be left behind, when fourth, fifth,… ways will defect and try newer paths.

  34. 34
    Box says:

    Mung,
    Thank you, for the links. I couldn’t get a clear concept of what ‘essence’ is, hence my question. From the OP:

    (…) a thing’s essence (or what it is) (…)

    (…) a natural object’s essence or substantial form (which is sometimes called its “first act”) is underlain by prime matter, which is nothing but pure passive potency, totally devoid of any form.
    [my emphasis]

    From aquinasonline.com:

    Essence may be described as the “what” of a thing. It is the quiddity of the thing, that which is known about it by our forming of a concept. It is a formal principle since for material reality; it is abstracted by the human intellect.

    So I guess that is meant that the abstraction of a heap of sand (and not its form) pops in and out of existence.

  35. 35

    Dionisio:

    Definitely I better stay away from these difficult philosophical discussions…

    It’s nothing as highfalutin’ as that. Any first grader will immediately understand it.

    And it’s staring you in the face.

  36. 36
    Dionisio says:

    #35 Reciprocating Bill

    Hey buddy, would you mind helping me to answer some outstanding questions in cell fate determination mechanisms, like the timing of the centrosomes segregation in the intrinsic asymmetric mitosis and the precision of the mitotic spindle checkpoints detection of the kinetochores/microtubules connection tensions?
    There are more questions, but you could start from the above.
    Thank you in advance for your willingness to help with this. What you wrote in #35 clearly reveals that this whole molecular biology thing is very easy for you
    Let me close quoting what you just wrote to me:

    It’s nothing as highfalutin’ as that. Any first grader will immediately understand it.
    And it’s staring you in the face.

    Ready to start?

  37. 37
    Box says:

    What bothers me about 1-5 ways reasoning is the central role of completely inert objects. Obviously an external explanation is necessary when a billiard ball is moving. And surely, when only billiard balls are considered, this reasoning leads to the mysterious Unmoved Billiard Ball.
    What seems to be completely ignored is that we know of a completely different category of ‘things’ which are anything but inert objects. Living organisms – and people in particular – are displaying all sorts of internal causation.
    “Nothing can move itself”, we are told again and again, but surely Aquinas and Feser are only considering things like billiard balls. How about life guys? Arguably we change, move, actualize potentialities, because we want tonot because of some external actualizer.
    When one wants to know who God is, why start one’s investigation with inert billiard balls and not with life? Potentiality and external actualizers may be a concept for understanding the movement of billiard balls, but is it a concept for understanding life and agency? And if not, why would it constitute a path to understanding God?

  38. 38
    Mung says:

    Further:

    That a thing is or has existence, is a principle really distinct from its quiddity. In no case (except for God) does the essence of a thing indicate anything about whether that thing really is. The essence of a horse that exists, and the essence of a horse that doesn’t are absolutely the same, namely horse-ness; a horse’s existing is totally different from what kind of a thing it is. Therefore, there must be something about really existing things that accounts for this very existing, and it is not their essence; it is their existence. Existence then is that which makes essences to be, to exercise the act of existing. St. Thomas indicated the activity of being, existence, with the Latin of “to be”, esse.

    http://www.aquinasonline.com/Topics/essencex.html

  39. 39
    Mung says:

    Box, I highly doubt that a pile of sand would qualify as a natural substance as that term would be used or understood by the Scholastics, but I am no expert.

    But do you dispute that a pile of sand can come into and go out of existence? Or a car? Or a human body?

    I’m not sure what point you’re trying to make.

    VJT, unfortunately, has yet again introduced a massive missive which only a few are likely to understand, given that so few people possess the requisite background knowledge and VJT doesn’t provide it.

    For a fuller treatment of the underlying metaphysical concepts, Feser’s more recent work, Scholastic Metaphysics: A Contemporary Introduction (Editions Scholasticae, 2014) was also recommended (and very kindly forwarded) to me.

    Yes, that was quite nice of him. I highly recommend this book.

  40. 40
    Mung says:

    VJT:

    If you had to summarize your reasons for believing in God in ten words or less, how would you do it? Here’s what I’d say: “The world is contingent, complex, fine-tuned, rule-governed, mathematical and beautiful.” For me, these features of the world point towards a Being Who is necessary (or self-explanatory), perfectly integrated, and limitlessly intelligent, creative and bountiful – a Being in Whom we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28).

    My question is, how do these things argue for the existence of God, how many arguments for the existence of God do they reduce to, and how do those arguments differ from those of Aquinas in his Five Ways?

    I find it a bit odd that WLC finds the moral argument for the existence of God one of the most compelling, and yet you don’t even mention it in your top ten. Why not?

  41. 41
    Mung says:

    VJT:

    If we wish to postulate any kind of distinction between a thing’s essence and its act of existence, the most economical supposition is that the distinction is merely a logical one.

    It’s not clear why you think that “the most economical supposition is that the distinction is merely a logical one.”

    I would argue that the most economical supposition is one that doesn’t rely on their being a human mind to make the logical distinction, and thus it is the supposition of realism that is the most economical.

    VJT:

    Indeed, many Scholastic philosophers (notably Scotists and Suarezians) take the view that there is merely a logical distinction between essence and existence, rather than a real one, as an article in the Catholic Encyclopedia acknowledges.

    But you seem to take this fact as in some way refuting the position of Aquinas and substitute that in lieu of actually making an argument that there is no real distinction.

    Suarez, at least, appeared to be a product of the age in which he lived.

    The main reason why a philosopher’s theory of distinctions is important is that his solution to the problem of distinctions is a key to his concept of being. For distinctions are based on the nature of being; therefore a metaphysician’s view of the nature of distinctions leads to an understanding of his doctrine of being itself. 29

    29. This point has been fully discussed by Michael V. Murray, S.J., in his hitherto unpublished doctoral dissertation, The Theory of Distinctions in the Metaphysics of Francis Suarez, Fordham University, 1944. Dr. Murray advances cogent reasons, well fortified by historical research, for his conclusion that Suarez was thoroughly imbued with the widespread nominalism of his time.

    In reading Disputation VII the student can profitably ponder whether any ideas developed in it support the suggestion put forth by a scholar of our own day, who is both a profound philosopher and a shrewd appraiser of intellectual trends:

    Everything is accounted for if we recall that Suarez lived in a nominalist milieu, and that, despite his avowed reaction in favor of realism in logic, he did not fully succeed in keeping his metaphysics free from this influence.

    – J. Marechal.

    – Cyril Vollert, SJ. Francis Suarez: On The Various Kinds of Distinctions. p. 12

    VJT:

    But if the distinction between a thing’s essence and its act of existence is not a real one, then we can no longer appeal to the alleged compositeness of things as proof of their contingency.

    That’s a pretty big IF. Other people disagreed with St. Thomas and therefore Feser could be wrong isn’t a convincing argument.

  42. 42
    Box says:

    Mung: But do you dispute that a pile of sand can come into and go out of existence? Or a car? Or a human body?

    I assume that by “come into and go out of existence” you mean that the shape is changed – that the arrangement of the parts is changed? If so, no problem here.

  43. 43

    Dionisio:

    Hey buddy, would you mind helping me to answer some outstanding questions in cell fate determination mechanisms, like the timing of the centrosomes segregation in the intrinsic asymmetric mitosis and the precision of the mitotic spindle checkpoints detection of the kinetochores/microtubules connection tensions?

    Try to imagine all life as you know it stopping instantaneously and every molecule in your body exploding at the speed of light.

    In all seriousness, if I were to answer in three words or less I’d say, “That’s a bad idea.”

  44. 44
    Dionisio says:

    #43 Reciprocating Bill

    Das ist eine Verschwendung von Zeit. 🙁

    Auf wiedersehen!

  45. 45
    kairosfocus says:

    VJT: Quite a discussion, and of course there is a much bigger backdrop.

    RB: There is a problem indeed with a ten words or less project . . . it is a headline level summmary of a huge and hard matter. But, as a summary considered on comparative difficulties, VJT has got a good cluster there.

    Mung: I suspect the morality case would take in too many words or invites even more serious misunderstandings. E.g. try — oughtness is binding and requires adequate explanation.

    KF

    PS: Sobering anniversary . . .

  46. 46
    kairosfocus says:

    Mung, VJT is engaging a significant philosopher who dismisses the design inference initiative on the presumed strength and cogency of his arguments. That makes it important to assess. So, there is a technical element as a case is being made at responsible length and level. But onlookers will find it hard to follow the play-by-play. KF

  47. 47
    StephenB says:

    For what it is worth, my position is as follows:

    I think Aquinas’ first four arguments are air tight proofs that atheism cannot possibly be true. Indirectly, then they prove the existence of a Supreme Being, the only reasonable candidate for which would be God.

    I am not sure that a discussion about potency and act is even necessary to make the argument from the fact of movement to a conclusion for an unmoved mover. We know that things move and change and that the cause of such activities must ultimately come from the outside for the same reason that causes are outside of their effects

    Accordingly, I think we need an unmoved mover, not simply a self-mover, to serve as the first cause. Even human agents, who are clearly causal agents in their own right, are not the sole explanation of the effects that they produce. The power by which they exercise their agency does not, nor can it, come from them.

    The fifth proof, I would argue, is probabilistic. I don’t understand how it could be otherwise. In that sense, it is a little different from the first four.

  48. 48
    Box says:

    StephenB #47,

    SB: I think Aquinas’ first four arguments are air tight proofs that atheism cannot possibly be true.

    I think the four arguments prove that there must be at least one thing that doesn’t have an external cause for actualization (movement), existence, necessity and transcendentals. This thing is clearly not matter.

    SB: Indirectly, then they prove the existence of a Supreme Being, the only reasonable candidate for which would be God.

    I agree with you, but I also agree with V.J.Torley that pure act, all-perfectness and infiniteness are not demonstrated.

    SB: I am not sure that a discussion about potency and act is even necessary to make the argument from the fact of movement to a conclusion for an unmoved mover. We know that things move and change and that the cause of such activities must ultimately come from the outside for the same reason that causes are outside of their effects.

    Why must all causes be outside of their effects? Why can it not be a feature of reality that some things are self-movers? As I argued in post #37, what seems to be ignored is life in general and human agency in particular. We clearly do not have a universe filled solely with billiard balls and one Unmoved Mover on the outside.

    SB: Accordingly, I think we need an unmoved mover, not simply a self-mover, to serve as the first cause. Even human agents, who are clearly causal agents in their own right, are not the sole explanation of the effects that they produce. The power by which they exercise their agency does not, nor can it, come from them.

    It doesn’t follow that we need an unmoved mover and not a self-mover, to serve as the first cause. If self-movement is a genuine feature of reality, then surely it can be an attribute of the First Cause. Human agents are not the sole explanation of the effects they produce, but they are (partly) self-movers nonetheless. Indeed the fact that humans are not the sole explanation of the effects they produce points towards a fundamental First Mover. However from this it doesn’t follow that this First Mover has to be unmoved instead of self-moved.

  49. 49
    E.Seigner says:

    Silver Asiatic

    In what way do you disagree with the explanation of that quote following William Dembski’s explanation of what it means to exist?

    You mean “Dr. William Dembski has recently argued…, that in order for a thing to be real, it must be able to communicate with other things.” The big problem with this is that it won’t do to equate “real” and “existing” without a comment on why and how. Dr. Torley should argue for that they mean the same thing and demonstrate how it works. Plus he should demonstrate that it’s all relevant when interpreting Feser. None of this is the case here.

    On Dembski’s point, I’d say that to be able to communicate, if it means to be perceptible, it means to have a level of importance or to be relatively real, but it does not mean existing in the ultimate sense. Communication, perception or “detection” does not get you to the ground of all being. Dr. Torley does not know what it means to exist, so he makes it up as he goes along, but in the process he misses the meaning altogether. Dembski does not save him here.

  50. 50

    KF

    There is a problem indeed with a ten words or less project . . . it is a headline level summmary of a huge and hard matter.

    Its a grower, not a shower.

    But that’s not the problem to which I refer.

  51. 51
    kairosfocus says:

    RB: Pardon but I am not playing at rhetorical guessing games, I am pointing out that VJT has outlined a powerful worldviews case in that summary, but that it needs to be fleshed out in the context of comparative difficulties across live options. Cf here for an unrelated discussion I had to put up on the weekend. KF

  52. 52
    Joe says:

    Seeing that RB refuses to state what this alleged problem is, it is a given it isn’t a problem for anyone but him.

  53. 53
    E.Seigner says:

    KF # 51

    4: So, I say: Pi, Pj etc “beg the question” or the like.

    (All, to escape the “bite” of Q —

    . . . which may be a subtle question-begging itself.)

    This kind of rejection is both irrelevant and question-begging if there’s no alternative view compared to which Q would be a weaker option.

    If there’s an alternative view with more coherence and explanatory scope, then the rejection of Q is not necessarily to escape the “bite” of Q, but it’s a rational choice of a more adequate option over a less adequate one.

    It doesn’t suffice to demonstrate Q. Logic is basically circular (as Wittgenstein understood) and anything can be proven with the careful wording of the premises. In addition to having a valid argument, the argument has to be sound, i.e. relevant to the actual case at hand, applicable to the real world.

    Q has to explain reality and do it better than an immediately available alternative. “Better” of course is a relative term that requires its own definition when doing the comparative analytical critique between Q and its alternative. Nothing is just *better, full stop* but better in this or that sense.

    Dr. Torley here does not manage to show why or how the view he criticizes is bad (even though he evidently thinks it’s bad) and doesn’t even attempt to provide a superior alternative. He merely shows that he doesn’t understand what he criticizes (this he has said much more directly and in less words several times earlier, so it’s not news).

    Btw, KF, I think your presentation of the FSCO/I concept is the best post on this site I have read thus far http://www.uncommondescent.com.....say-to-us/ It doesn’t get over the very basic problems ID has, but it’s the best exposition of the central concept. Infographics are cool.

  54. 54
    Silver Asiatic says:

    E.Seigner #49

    Communication … does not get you to the ground of all being.

    Do you disagree that communication is the “kind of activity” that characterizes existence?
    If so, how do you answer the following:

    Feser (following Aristotle and Aquinas) construes existence as a dynamic activity: … But what kind of activity is it?

  55. 55
    E.Seigner says:

    Silver Asiatic

    Do you disagree that communication is the “kind of activity” that characterizes existence?
    If so, how do you answer the following: “Feser (following Aristotle and Aquinas) construes existence as a dynamic activity: … But what kind of activity is it?”

    You splendidly emulate Torley’s tactics. It goes like this:

    – F’s argument involves “existence” as an important term.
    – T doesn’t understand what “existence” is, so he redefines it, replacing it with a term he likes better.

    The key (and the problem) here is exactly that T replaces what he doesn’t understand with what he likes better for no other reason than that’s what he likes better. He reduces the argument to the level of his own understanding and criticizes it from there.

    To answer your question, I’d say that *existence as dynamic activity* means absolute interdependence, i.e. everything is causally related. In Aristotelian terms it would be the framework of the four causes coextensive with the universe.

    Existence as dynamic activity definitely doesn’t mean action of this entity on another entity, because this would focus the term “existence” on “action”, thus missing the “entities”. Conversely, focusing one’s view of existence on the “entities” would miss the “action”. Both focuses are reductive and therefore problematic.

    Same with communication. It is not self-evident at all to say “Existence is communication”. I mean, you can say this, and you can build a fair argument for it, but this would have no force against F’s argument for the simple reason that you are not using the same terms. You can only refute someone’s argument when you define the terms the same way.

  56. 56
    Silver Asiatic says:

    The key (and the problem) here is exactly that T replaces what he doesn’t understand with what he likes better for no other reason than that’s what he likes better. He reduces the argument to the level of his own understanding and criticizes it from there.

    That’s a fair point and I hope the value of these kinds of discussions is to get understanding on definitions like this … how would you define existence differently?

    To answer your question, I’d say that *existence as dynamic activity* means absolute interdependence, i.e. everything is causally related. In Aristotelian terms it would be the framework of the four causes coextensive with the universe.

    Just curious (I’m not asking loaded questions), you defined dynamic activity as a relation – either to “everything” or in terms of the four causes in relation to the universe. Is the term interdependent a problem for non-contingent being? Is it possible to explain dynamic activity as “not the action of this entity on another entity” and also “the action implied in dynamic activity” at the same time?

    Same with communication. It is not self-evident at all to say “Existence is communication”. I mean, you can say this, and you can build a fair argument for it, but this would have no force against F’s argument for the simple reason that you are not using the same terms. You can only refute someone’s argument when you define the terms the same way.

    Why is it not self-evident that the dynamic activity is communication (for the reasons explained)?
    Also, what terms are being defined differently than F’s argument with this approach?

  57. 57
    vjtorley says:

    Mung

    Thank you for your post. You ask:

    Is God Pure Act or is God a composite of act and potency?

    I would answer that if we consider God’s Being or substance alone, then it is purely actual and contains no potency. However, God’s Being alone cannot explain the existence of the world, since God has to perform some creative act in order to make the world. In so doing, He (timelessly) actualizes Himself. I argued above that in making the world, God also (timelessly) makes Himself able to be actualized by His creatures: thus He is in potency to them. These actualizations and potencies, however, are not part of God’s Being or substance; they are contingent (or non-essential) accidental properties of God.

    By the way, thank you very much for kindly providing the links to Box and the helpful quotations from St. Thomas Aquinas. Unfortunately, my computer is still down, which means that I have to visit Internet cafes every two or three days in order to post anything online. In the meantime, I’m deeply grateful for your assistance.

    Regarding my ten-word answer to the question of why I believe in God, namely, “The world is contingent, complex, fine-tuned, rule-governed, mathematical and beautiful,” you ask: “how do these things argue for the existence of God, how many arguments for the existence of God do they reduce to, and how do those arguments differ from those of Aquinas in his Five Ways?”

    Excellent question. The contingency of the world (which we can conceive of as coming into being and ceasing to exist) points to its having a Necessary Cause, God. The complexity of the world, which is made up of disparate parts, points to its having a Cause which either has no parts or whose parts are fully integrated and inseparable from one another. The fine-tuning of the cosmos suggests that it is a put-up job, generated by a Super-Intellect monkeying with the laws of physics, as the astronomer Fred Hoyle put it. The existence of rules governing the cosmos (namely, the laws of Nature) points to a Cosmic Rule-maker. The fact that the laws of Nature are mathematical in form and also unusually elegant (from a mathematical point of view) shows that this Rule-maker is capable of language and possesses a Mind far greater than our own. As for how many arguments they reduce to, I’m not sure, but I’d say at least four (contingency, complexity, laws of Nature and fine-tuning). The contingency argument is obviously related to Aquinas’ Third Way. The complexity argument doesn’t relate to the Five Ways, but makes the point that the First Cause cannot be made up of disparate or separable parts (which is a point Aquinas makes in the Summa Theologica, I, q. 3). The argument from the existence of rules in the cosmos (laws of Nature) which are both mathematical and beautiful cannot be found in Aquinas because at the time when he wrote, the laws of Nature had not yet been formulated in a mathematical fashion. But Aquinas makes two teleological arguments which touch on similar themes. His first argument (which is not included in the Five Ways) is based on from the harmony of the cosmos, and can be found in his Summa Contra Gentiles Book I, chapter 13, paragraph 35, where he writes: “Contrary and discordant things cannot, always or for the most part, be parts of one order except under someone’s government, which enables all and each to tend to a definite end. But in the world we find that things of diverse natures come together under one order, and this not rarely or by chance, but always or for the most part. There must therefore be some being by whose providence the world is governed. This we call God.” This is somewhat different from the teleological argument Aquinas uses in his Fifth Way (Summa Theologica I.2.3), which starts from the basic fact that “things which lack intelligence, such as natural bodies, act for an end, and this is evident from their acting always, or nearly always, in the same way, so as to obtain the best result.” In this argument the emphasis is on uniformity rather than harmony. (Not too many people know that there are two teleological arguments in the writings of Aquinas.) The fine-tuning argument was not used by Aquinas because the existence of constants of Nature was unknown at the time when he wrote.

    You also ask:

    I find it a bit odd that WLC [William Lane Craig] finds the moral argument for the existence of God one of the most compelling, and yet you don’t even mention it in your top ten. Why not?

    Short answer: (a) it’s a tricky argument, and (b) I was limiting myself to ten words or less. Too many people misconstrue the moral argument as an argument that if God does not exist, then all is permitted. Anyone who believes in natural law (as Aquinas did) would reject such a view. One can still argue of course that the existence of “oughts” of any sort presupposes the existence of God. But that argument boils down to the existence of rules in the cosmos, which I mentioned in my ten-word answer.

    Re the alleged real distinction between essence and existence: if you refer to paragraph (6) of Part C of my post, you’ll see that I critiqued no less than three distinct arguments put forward by Feser for a real distinction, and found them all wanting.

    Referring to the diversity of opinion even among Scholastic theologians on the real distinction between essence and existence, you write: “Other people disagreed with St. Thomas and therefore Feser could be wrong isn’t a convincing argument.” But if Feser claims to have put forward a rock-solid argument which turns out to be based on a highly controversial premise disputed even by Scholastic theologians, then that does undermine his claim to have provided a metaphysical demonstration of the existence of God, unless he can demonstrate the truth of the premise in question. As I’ve mentioned, I examined three arguments provided by Feser for this premise in my post, and found them deficient. I think it’s fair to conclude that Feser still has some work to do.

    And as for Suarez being a product of his time: who isn’t?

    Thank you once again for your comments.

  58. 58
    vjtorley says:

    E. Seigner,

    Thank you for your post. In response to my criticism of Professor Feser for not defining “part,” you accuse me of a failure of comprehension:

    Another basic failure is to know the meaning of term “part”, offer a few options and not hit on the right option. The right option is that to have “parts” is the same as to be “composite” as opposed to being “simple” i.e. indivisible and immutable…. To not know what it means to be a part means to not know what it means to be composite….

    I’m sorry, but this really won’t do. If you define simplicity in terms of indivisibility, and “having parts” as the contrary of simplicity, then what you’re basically saying is that to have parts means to be divisible. I have to ask: what kind of divisibility are you talking about? Do you mean “physically divisible” or “logically divisible”? If the former, then you’ve opted for my second definition of “part” in paragraph (1) of Part C above; if you mean the latter, then you’ve opted for my third definition. But as I pointed out in my essay, Feser explicitly rejects both definitions, because he is a Thomist: unlike Scotists and Suarezians, he doesn’t think that the parts of a thing need to be separable from one another – which is why he maintains that a thing’s essence and its act of existence, although physically and logically inseparable from one another, are nevertheless really distinct parts of a thing.

    You also mention immutability. However, nowhere in his writings does Feser attempt to define the term “part” in terms of immutability, and for a very good reason: the notion of composition cannot be defined in terms of a thing’s ability to change, as the latter presupposes the former. Your definition puts the cart before the horse. I provided a reference in Scholastic Metaphysics: A Contemporary Introduction (Editions Scholasticae, 2014, p. 74) to support my claim that for Feser, the defining feature of a part appears to be that it is contrary to some other element of the whole, on a conceptual level, which is the fourth definition I provided. Feser does not explicitly state this, but if you also look at what he says on page 77, you’ll see that it’s a reasonable conclusion to draw from his writings.

    You also write:

    Dr. Torley was not qualified to write this post in the first place. Feser’s metaphysical proof does not convince Dr. Torley because he is not qualified to understand it and because he has developed a personal gripe.

    I have immense respect for Professor Feser as a metaphysician. I just don’t think his revamped versions of Aquinas’ Five Ways, in their current form, are demonstrative. Feser has repeatedly touted his arguments as metaphysically certain demonstrations which conclusively establish the existence of the God of classical theism. I think he needs a reality check, and I thought it would be better coming from a fellow believer who has some sympathy for his philosophical views than from a skeptic who has none.

    As for my not being qualified to discuss Thomistic metaphysics, here is a (very partial) list of books (many of them highly metaphysical) about St. Thomas Aquinas and his Five Ways which I had already read and digested by 1986, before Feser was even 18 years old:

    Réginald Garrigou-Lagrange, “God, His Existence and Nature: A Thomistic Solution of Certain Agnostic Antinomies” (St. Louis, Mo. London, B. Herder Book Co., 1934)
    Eric Mascall, “He Who Is: A Study in Traditional Theism” (Longmans, Green and Company, 1943)
    Frederick Copleston, “A History of Philosophy, Vol. 2: Medieval Philosophy – From Augustine to Duns Scotus” (Doubleday, 1946-1974)
    D. J. B. Hawkins, “Being and Becoming” (Sheed and Ward, 1954)
    Edward Sillem, “Ways of Thinking About God” (Darton, Longman and Todd, 1961)
    Anthony Kenny, “The five ways: Saint Thomas Aquinas’ proofs of God’s existence” (Studies in ethics and the philosophy of religion, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1969)
    Dennis Bonnette, “Aquinas’ Proofs for God’s Existence: St. Thomas Aquinas on: ‘The per Accidens Necessarily Implies the per se'” (Springer, 1972)
    Germain Gabriel Grisez, “Beyond the New Theism: A Philosophy of Religion” (University of Notre Dame Press, 1975)

    I’ve been thinking about the Five Ways, on and off, for about 35 years. I think it’s fair to say I understand them and their underlying metaphysics pretty well.

    I might also add that I have a Ph.D. in philosophy.

    And may I humbly ask what your philosophical qualifications are, and how you would define existence?

    I should add that I regard Feser’s picture of God as theologically harmful, insofar as Feser appears to hold (if I read him aright) that God knows our choices by determining them, much as a human author knows the choices made by the characters in her story by determining the story’s plot. I think that takes away our freedom: for if our choices are determined by circumstances beyond our control then we are not free. I also think that a God Who is incapable of having subjective experiences could never have designed qualia, such as the redness of a tomato or the taste of coffee.

    Finally, you write:

    To you metaphysics seems entirely speculative, whereas to Feser inductive reasoning not just seems, but is metaphysically demonstrated to be probable at best, never certain.

    This is an odd statement. I’ve never claimed that all metaphysical statements are uncertain: indeed, I would argue that the existence of God is certain beyond reasonable doubt, as I stated in my post. What I do maintain, however, is that metaphysical arguments won’t convince atheists, because they don’t trust metaphysics as a valid source of knowledge in the first place. That’s why I think scientific arguments for God’s existence (such as the fine-tuning argument) are useful: once people are open to the notion of a Mind behind the cosmos, they may be forced to re-examine their anti-theistic metaphysical biases. As for inductive reasoning, I have already argued in a previous post of mine that the inductive logic used by scientists would have no rational warrant if there were no God. Finally, I would not say that the case for God’s existence is inductive, but abductive. God can explain the logical contingency, the complexity, the order and harmony and the fine-tuning of the cosmos; atheism has no explanation.

  59. 59
    vjtorley says:

    Reciprocating Bill,

    I guess the problem you see with my ten-word answer is that it makes no explicit reference to God. That’s because I was limiting myself to ten words. My point was that the features of the world which I listed were surprising features for which atheism has no explanation but for which theism has a ready explanation: God made the world with the aim of revealing His existence to His creatures.

  60. 60
    vjtorley says:

    StephenB,

    Thank you for your thoughtful response. Let me just say that in referring to God as a Self-Moved Mover, I don’t mean that God is capable of change, but that He timelessly actualizes Himself. And I would agree that the power whereby humans actualize their agency cannot come from them.

    Re Aquinas’ first four ways: personally, I would say that the first three ways successfully establish the existence of (a) a First Cause of change which can actualize without needing to be actualized, (b) a First Cause of the existence of things, and (c) a Necessary Being whose necessity is not derived from any other being, although of course additional argumentation is required to show that this First Cause or Necessary Being is unique. Regarding the Fourth Way, I would say that it establishes the existence of a Being Whose unity, goodness and truth are not derived from any other being, but once again I think additional argumentation is required to show that such a Being is unique, let alone infinite.

    Where I felt Feser’s argument was particularly weak was in his argument for God’s unity and absolute perfection. I think a lot more philosophical spadework needs to be done in this area before Feser can claim to have demonstrated the truth of classical theism.

    Anyway, thanks once again for offering your perspective on the Thomistic arguments.

  61. 61
    vjtorley says:

    Hi kairosfocus

    Thank you for your posts. I’d be interested to hear how you would answer the question I posed at the beginning of this post – although I’d be happy to give you a sentence of up to 25 words, as I’m sure you’d have something interesting to offer us.

  62. 62
    vjtorley says:

    Hi everyone,

    I’m typing this from an Internet cafe and my time is up. Back in 48 hours!

  63. 63
    Joe says:

    VJTorley-

    I guess the problem you see with my ten-word answer is that it makes no explicit reference to God.

    Wait, the explicit reference to God was made in the question those ten words are answering. If you have to repeat the question to include that reference in your answer, then your ten words are used up well before the actual answer.

  64. 64
    Joe says:

    I’m typing this from an Internet cafe…

    I get this image of virtual reality cafe… 😎

  65. 65
    E.Seigner says:

    Silver Asiatic

    Just curious (I’m not asking loaded questions), you defined dynamic activity as a relation – either to “everything” or in terms of the four causes in relation to the universe. Is the term interdependent a problem for non-contingent being?

    Absolute interdependence describes the universe full of contingent entities. The universe reveals existence as dynamic activity. But dynamic activity of the universe full of contingent beings does not describe existence in the ultimate sense. Existence in the ultimate sense is non-contingent being.

    Is it possible to explain dynamic activity as “not the action of this entity on another entity” and also “the action implied in dynamic activity” at the same time?

    When I said “Existence as dynamic activity definitely doesn’t mean action of this entity on another entity” I meant that existence is beyond that or not merely that. Action of this entity on another entity is an atomic view on activity. You may get a model of interaction from this observation, but it won’t be applicable to all entities, not to mention all activity and all existence.

    You wanted to take Dembski’s conflation of reality and existence, that he describes as communication, and absolutize that. This is problematic. Communication is real, sure enough, but communication is not all there is to reality. Similarly, “existence as dynamic activity” is not all there is to existence.

    There are degrees of existence and degrees of reality. Consider this statement from Aquinas, already helpfully quoted here earlier: “The essence of a horse that exists, and the essence of a horse that doesn’t are absolutely the same, namely horse-ness;…” This statement presupposes that essences exist or are real, right? Then there are horses – both horses that exist and horses that don’t – but their essence is the same. When the essence and existence meet, there will be a real extant horse. Otherwise there may be an imagined horse, a unicorn or such.

    Imagination is the play of the same essences, but the entities of imagination are not real. However, the essence is real. Imagination exists, but it exists in a different way than the empirical universe. Non-contingent being exists in yet another way than the dynamic activity of the empirical universe. This is what it means to say there are degrees of reality. It can be analyzed as a hierarchical structure.

    Why is it not self-evident that the dynamic activity is communication (for the reasons explained)?

    Communication is not all there is to dynamic activity, for the reasons explained.

    Also, what terms are being defined differently than F’s argument with this approach?

    Most recently we discussed “existence”. Another term Torley struggled with was “part”,* when F said “composed of parts” which is the same as composite, as opposed to simple, indivisible, non-composite. In an earlier post Torley eminently struggled with “context”.

    It’s been a problem throughout that Torley – unnecessarily, but conveniently for himself – redefines terms and then “sees a problem” and “refutes” based on what he made up. It’s particularly a problem when the definition he made up is flawed and problematic even in common-sense perspective, such as when you equate “existence” and “communication” that we already discussed.

    * And as I am typing this, Torley demonstrates his ignorance of this rather ordinary metaphysical term again. Seriously, it’s not a specifically scholastic term to need any wrestled or forced definition. It’s the same logical term in all historical shapes and stripes of metaphysics, be it classical antique, scholastic, continental, analytical, Hindu, Buddhist, etc. It’s common knowledge, and should be basic education for a PhD in philosophy.

  66. 66

    VJ:

    I guess the problem you see with my ten-word answer is that it makes no explicit reference to God. That’s because I was limiting myself to ten words.

    Nope, nothing like that.

    Honestly, I thought you’d all spot the problem in response to my first reference, and share a chuckle (particularly in light of the 16,000 words that followed).

    But obtundation doth overtake UD.

  67. 67
    Joe says:

    Perhaps RB can’t count and he thinks there are more than 10 words in “The world is contingent, complex, fine-tuned, rule-governed, mathematical and beautiful.”

  68. 68
    Joe says:

    RB:

    Honestly, I thought you’d all spot the problem in response to my first reference,…

    We can’t spot what you think that you see and your first reference was about what you think you see.

    Obviously obtundation doth overtake RB

  69. 69
    StephenB says:

    Box

    t doesn’t follow that we need an unmoved mover and not a self-mover, to serve as the first cause.

    I agree. My point was that a self mover is necessary but not sufficient. The self mover must also be unmoved.

  70. 70
    Silver Asiatic says:

    E.Seigner #65

    But dynamic activity of the universe full of contingent beings does not describe existence in the ultimate sense. Existence in the ultimate sense is non-contingent being.

    How would you answer the question of what “Dynamic Activity” refers to? What kind of activity is it? You’ve explained what it is not – but not what it is.

    When I said “Existence as dynamic activity definitely doesn’t mean action of this entity on another entity” I meant that existence is beyond that or not merely that. Action of this entity on another entity is an atomic view on activity. You may get a model of interaction from this observation, but it won’t be applicable to all entities, not to mention all activity and all existence.

    Again, you explained what existence is not, but how do you define what existence is? VJT asked you that question also so it would be better for you to respond to him rather than me if you prefer.

    This statement presupposes that essences exist or are real, right? Then there are horses – both horses that exist and horses that don’t – but their essence is the same.

    How would you prove that the essence of an imaginary thing exists?

    Non-contingent being exists in yet another way than the dynamic activity of the empirical universe.

    Is the universe the source of the dynamic activity or is the non-contingent being the source?

  71. 71
    Vishnu says:

    Box: Why must all causes be outside of their effects? Why can it not be a feature of reality that some things are self-movers?

    Indeed. Ultimately, cause and effect is no better an explanation than the self-effected, because nobody understands how cause and effect works “at the bottom.”

    I would hazard a guess, that at the “bottom”, it’s ALL self-effectualization.

    Ah, the mystery of existence.

  72. 72
    Vishnu says:

    On the nature of “parts” and “composition” and transcendence…

    Lay down and look up at the blue sky. You are seeing a “field” of blue. Your consciousness is in a “state of “blueness at that point. Is that unified field a bunch of “parts?” My experience says no. It is “one” on a level that is beyond logical description. Moreover, the entire experience is beyond logical description.

    If that isn’t a clue to the nature of reality, then what else is?

    Consciousness is primary.

    Just food for thought.

  73. 73
    kairosfocus says:

    E-S:

    Today is voting day here, so again I am still very busy . . . and it may get worse for the next few weeks if a new govt forms over this weekend. So, attention here at UD is snippets for now.

    I pointed out the Green shift of denying the consequent to reject the antecedent in my post elsewhere.

    I then observed as highlighted:

    1: {P1, P2, . . . Pn} => Q

    2: I reject Q, and argue:

    3: ~ Q => ~ {P1 AND P2 AND. . . AND Pn}

    ________________________________

    4: So, I say: Pi, Pj etc “beg the question” or the like.

    (All, to escape the “bite” of Q —

    . . . which may be a subtle question-begging itself.)

    The answer to this is of course to compare difficulties on coherence, factual adequacy and explanatory power . . . neither an ad hoc patchwork trying to stop the next leak nor simplistic . . . and to hold to a view that rests as far as possible on hard to deny premises and facts . . .

    That is why a worldviews level comparative difficulties approach avoids begging the question. I request that you acknowledge that context, and I am fully aware that this is a major task. We are talking about worldviews and hard problems here — the core stuff of phil as VJT is bringing out in the OP. (Cf my 101 level advice to students here and the tipsheet here.)

    On the subject of FSCO/I, explain to us on basic sampling theory how a blind sample — random, random walk, “real world Monte Carlo” etc that stands as 1n in 10^60+ of a space or 1 in 10^150 of a space can reasonably be expected to empirically capture identifiable, specific and deeply isolated zones.

    Where, the first fraction relates to the 10^57 atom solar system across 10^17 s and at a rate of 10^-14 s per sample of configs of 500 bits per atom, and the latter to a similar sample of the 10^80 atoms of the observed cosmos relative to the config space for 1,000 bits.

    I often compare the former to a 1 straw scale sample blindly taken from a haystack 1,000 LY on the side superposed on our galactic neighbourhood; comparably thick to the galaxy at its central bulge. Such a sample will reliably pick straw and nothing else.

    As to the pre-occupation with smooth hill climbing on incremental changes, at best that is after you are already in an island of function. The FSCO/I challenge is to get TO such an island. First, at OOL, then at origin of novel body plans. Just for genomes the first is 100 – 1,000 kbits of info to be found, the second 10 – 100+ mn, dozens of times over.

    Where also, by its nature as the product of many correct, correctly organised and coupled parts, FSCO/I is naturally to be found in deeply isolated islands in the config space.

    And with that let’s return to the focus for this thread.

    KF

  74. 74
    kairosfocus says:

    PS: I should note too that until the implication Q was found, the inclination was to accept the premises, >>we also face the consequent problem that if at first one accepts P1, P2, . . . Pn and draws out Q as a consequence but does not like Q, one can reject Q to deny one or more premises . . . >>

  75. 75
    E.Seigner says:

    Silver Asiatic

    How would you answer the question of what “Dynamic Activity” refers to? What kind of activity is it? You’ve explained what it is not – but not what it is.

    As I have said, the terms in metaphysics acquire meaning in contradistinction. This is so in most basic logic, really. For example cold. What is it? What is cold in itself? It so happens that cold only has a meaning in contradistinction with warm.

    Same with “dynamic activity”, which is what one might consider when musing about the difference of essence and existence, and about the nature of Aristotelian actuality. The point here is really Aristotelian actuality. Actuality is to be understood in contradistinction with potentiality. And the point is that actuality and potentiality are different kinds of existence. Contingent beings have derived existence, i.e. their essence and existence are distinct, while in non-contingent being essence and existence are one, inseparable.

    To try to redefine and relabel this entire conceptual system in Dembski’s terms (such as “…the reality of things is grounded in their ability to interact… things can be said to be real by virtue of the fact that they communicate information…”) means to engage Dembski rather than Feser and to miss Feser’s (and Aristotle’s and Aquinas’s) point altogether.

    Again, you explained what existence is not, but how do you define what existence is? VJT asked you that question also so it would be better for you to respond to him rather than me if you prefer.

    VJT is not playing according to the rules. This only makes matters worse for him. He should know the rules. He even has the degree on it, so he should know better.

    Some of the rules are: Understand what you are criticizing. Don’t redefine the terms. Don’t ignore the metaphysical presuppositions. When you don’t know the technical terms, when you fail to identify the presuppositions, you are not qualified.

    My point is that the words that VJT is puzzled over are not even technical terms. They are elementary dialectics.

    How would you prove that the essence of an imaginary thing exists?

    Let’s re-read Aquinas: “The essence of a horse that exists, and the essence of a horse that doesn’t are absolutely the same, namely horse-ness;…” So, if essences exist, then essences of imaginary things also exist. To believe otherwise is to be inconsistent.

    This is the metaphysics where Thomists argue from, i.e. it’s a presupposition or a premise underlying the arguments. You cannot deny the premise without disproving it. Alternatively, you can postulate a better premise, but then you must demonstrate how yours is better.

    Is the universe the source of the dynamic activity or is the non-contingent being the source?

    In classical theism, the universe and non-contingent being are not two different things, even though they are logically or analytically distinct. Universe appears autonomous, but the universe is really an entity dependent on non-contingent being the same as all other entities are. Whereas non-contingent being is not an entity at all, not a being that can be classified or categorized, but the ground of all being. Being Itself. Existence Itself.

    Universe appears to have dynamic activity, but it’s derived, not self-sufficient. Activity, existence, motion, life, and everything else that the universe has or derives, is not imparted as such. Aquinas has the doctrine of analogies here combined with the doctrine of divine simplicity, something that Feser has written about more brilliantly than I have seen other modern Western authors do, e.g. http://edwardfeser.blogspot.co.....heism.html

    This is the concept of God (as absolutely simple ground of being, Existence Itself, the unity beyond all diversity) that Dr. Torley characterizes as “theologically harmful”, even though his understanding of it is yet another overly literal interpretation of an analogy, i.e. a misunderstanding. Plus it’s a fundamental misunderstanding to assume that Feser’s motives are theological. Feser does metaphysics first and foremost. It just so happens that Feser’s preferred metaphysical system (Thomism) arrives at the kind of God it arrives at. And it just so happens that this is the concept of God all major classical theologians throughout history agree on. So to describe this as “theologically harmful” is to get something fundamentally wrong about Feser, about theology, about metaphysics, and maybe about some more things.

  76. 76
    Silver Asiatic says:

    E.Seigner

    To try to redefine and relabel this entire conceptual system in Dembski’s terms (such as “…the reality of things is grounded in their ability to interact… things can be said to be real by virtue of the fact that they communicate information…”) means to engage Dembski rather than Feser and to miss Feser’s (and Aristotle’s and Aquinas’s) point altogether.

    I think the reference to Dembski was pointing to an alternative view.

    This is the metaphysics where Thomists argue from, i.e. it’s a presupposition or a premise underlying the arguments. You cannot deny the premise without disproving it. Alternatively, you can postulate a better premise, but then you must demonstrate how yours is better.

    I don’t think you can prove or disprove the premise – that’s why it’s a presupposition. You could deny the premise that essences exist simply by not finding convincing reasons to accept that they do. You can’t prove they exist and you also can’t disprove they exist. Essences are a philosophical concept that have to be accepted or not. It may be, from God’s perspective, that there are no essences of things. We don’t know that.

    And it just so happens that this is the concept of God all major classical theologians throughout history agree on.

    I think virtually no prominent theologians in the Church today accept or use Thomistic categories, vocabulary or definitions – including the past 3 popes.
    Why do you think that is?

  77. 77
    Mung says:

    SA:

    I think virtually no prominent theologians in the Church today accept or use Thomistic categories, vocabulary or definitions – including the past 3 popes.
    Why do you think that is?

    Because the Church relies on it’s tradition, which is in great part, at it’s core, Thomistic. No need to go over ground that’s already been trod.

  78. 78
    Mung says:

    Box:

    What bothers me about 1-5 ways reasoning is the central role of completely inert objects. Obviously an external explanation is necessary when a billiard ball is moving. And surely, when only billiard balls are considered, this reasoning leads to the mysterious Unmoved Billiard Ball.

    Feser:

    Newton’s principle [of intertia] is concerned solely with local motion, change with respect to place or location. When Scholastic philosophers speak of “motion,” they mean change of any kind. This would include local motion, but also includes change with respect to quantity [number of grains in a pile of sand?], change with respect to quality [sure to go down if A_b starts to participate?], and (in an extended sense of “motion”) change from one substance to another. More to the point, for the Scholastic, all such change involves the actualization of a potency. Hence what Aquinas’s principle is saying is that any potency that is being actualized is being actualized by something else (and in particular by something that is already actual).

    – Feser, Edward. Scholastic Metaphysics: A contemporary Introduction. p. 119.

    Again, I cannot say how much I recommend this book. It’s content is easily within the grasp of the lay person.

    Now can you see why an “unmoved mover” is necessary?

    E.Seigner, thank you for your comments. Some much needed groundwork must be laid for people to understand what is being argued for or against.

  79. 79
    Silver Asiatic says:

    I took the time to read this entire post and I found it to be very excellent and informative. Thanks to Dr. Torley for this and I encourage you to keep writing very long posts. It does take a while to develop these arguments and I appreciate the effort made to put these complex issues in clear terms.

  80. 80
    Silver Asiatic says:

    Because the Church relies on it’s tradition, which is in great part, at it’s core, Thomistic. No need to go over ground that’s already been trod.

    That was an admirable attempt to answer that. The Church’s official teachers haven’t used Thomistic vocabulary or categories for almost 4 decades. There’s a reason why that happened. You can see it in the writings of Pope Benedict XVI, for example — and he’s a brilliant theologian.

  81. 81
    Silver Asiatic says:

    Indeed, it is easy to show that any being – call it X – which maintains another thing – call it Y – in existence is itself necessarily actualized thereby. For X’s action of maintaining Y in existence gives X the contingent property of being the cause of Y’s existence – a property which X would not have, were it not conserving Y in being. And if X’s action is a contingent one while X’s being (or existence) is necessary, then X’s action must be distinct from X’s being. Hence there can be no being which is both responsible for keeping some other thing(s) in existence and incapable of being further actualized, as Feser claims. Nor will it do to suggest, as Feser does, that the act of maintaining something in existence is a mere “Cambridge property” which entails no change in God; for the point here is not whether it entails a change in God but whether it (timelessly) actualizes Him in a way that He would not have been actualized, had He not chosen to conserve that thing in being. Thus any being X which maintains another being Y in existence must be capable of being actualized in many different ways. (Whether the actualization occurs inside or outside of time is beside the point.) To deny this conclusion, one would have to claim either that X can maintain Y in existence without performing any operation, or that the necessary operation whereby X exists is somehow identical with the contingent operation whereby X conserves Y in being. Neither alternative makes any sense, and if Feser were to seriously propose either of these alternatives (which he doesn’t), his argument would then constitute a reductio ad absurdum for a skeptic, who might then construe Feser’s argument as a proof of atheism.

    This is a classic paradox that I’ve always wondered about — a very key point.

  82. 82
    Mung says:

    part, n. a certain portion, piece, member, fraction, or component of a thing or composite whole.

    c.f. essential part, integral part, logical part, material part, organic part, quantitative part, signate part, substantial part.

    Dictionary of Scholastic Philosophy

  83. 83
    Mung says:

    Hi VJT, and thanks for your replies.

    I’ll try to restrict my inquiry and be patient in waiting for response. If you want to save my posts and develop a response offline (if your internet cafe allows it) it’s fine with me. no rush.

    To SB you reply:

    Let me just say that in referring to God as a Self-Moved Mover, I don’t mean that God is capable of change, but that He timelessly actualizes Himself.

    But to be moved is to be changed. So what you must mean is that God is the Self-Changed Changer Who Does Not Change.

    How do you resolve this apparent contradiction?

    To be actualized is to move (change) from potential to actual. Do you deny this?

    To be capable of change is to be a composite of actuality and potential. [That which is not actual cannot change. Absent potential, there is nothing to change to.]

    That which is composed of actuality and potentiality is not a necessary being. Do you say that God is not a necessary being?

    That which is in potential is not perfect. Do you say that God is not perfect?

  84. 84
    kairosfocus says:

    On trends, almost certainly will get worse . . .

  85. 85
    Mung says:

    SA, Can you offer examples of where the Catholic Church has declared that St. Thomas Aquinas was wrong?

    More specifically, can you offer examples of where the Catholic Church has declared that St. Thomas Aquinas was wrong in his metaphysics?

  86. 86
    Mung says:

    VJT:

    Characterizing God as “Being Itself” at the very outset is (I maintain) unhelpful, as we lack a positive concept of “being.” It seems better, then, to characterize God as Pure Mind (which includes intellect and will) than as Pure Being, for at least we have some idea what these terms mean.

    Pure Mind. How is it that we have a better concept of this than of Being? Don’t angels have intellect and will? What differentiates God from an angel?

    That a thing exists is readily apparent. Whether that being has a mind (will or intellect) is nowhere near as apparent.

    How is it that you can maintain that “we lack a positive concept of being”?

    There’s Suarez and On Beings Of Reason. And there is Suarez and On The Essence Of Finite Being As Such. And then there is Suarez, in On The Various Kinds Of Distinction:

    The present disputation seems necessary at this point to complete our treatise on the attribute or property of being we call unity.

    And then there’s Aquinas and On Being and Essence.

    Are we to believe that neither Aquinas nor Suarez offered a positive concept of being?

  87. 87
    E.Seigner says:

    Silver Asiatic

    I don’t think you can prove or disprove the premise – that’s why it’s a presupposition. You could deny the premise that essences exist simply by not finding convincing reasons to accept that they do. You can’t prove they exist and you also can’t disprove they exist. Essences are a philosophical concept that have to be accepted or not. It may be, from God’s perspective, that there are no essences of things. We don’t know that.

    So, your alternative to the groundwork that enables the methodical analysis is to reply: “We don’t know.” Now there’s just one more little thing left for you to do: Show how ignorance is better than analysis 🙂

    I think virtually no prominent theologians in the Church today accept or use Thomistic categories, vocabulary or definitions – including the past 3 popes.
    Why do you think that is?
    […]
    The Church’s official teachers haven’t used Thomistic vocabulary or categories for almost 4 decades. There’s a reason why that happened. You can see it in the writings of Pope Benedict XVI, for example — and he’s a brilliant theologian.

    According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, the reason is that “Positive theology is more necessary in our days than it was in the thirteenth century” to address the threats and errors of Modernism. This was recognized already by Leo XIII and Pius X, both Thomist theologians. The Encyclopedia continues, “But both pontiffs declare that positive theology must not be extolled to the detriment of Scholastic theology. In the Encyclical “Pascendi”, prescribing remedies against Modernism, Pius X, following in this his illustrious predecessor, gives the first place to “Scholastic philosophy, especially as it was taught by Thomas Aquinas”; St. Thomas is still “The Angel of the Schools”.” http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/14663b.htm

    So I don’t see this your way at all. The theology and metaphysics are still the same. It’s acknowledged that the essentially apophatic argumentation in Thomism, which is the key to understanding the doctrine of divine simplicity, does not appeal to the modern world and hence is not diplomatically (evangelically) effective, but it should be a given that what appeals to people and what is diplomatically effective does not change the essential truth. Tactics may change how facts *seem* (and this is exactly why one employs tactics, VJT knows this very well), but they don’t change how the facts *are*. The facts in Catholic perspective are as Aquinas says they are.

    But theological topics here provide an easy digression from the main point. The main point is metaphysics, and I think I covered metaphysics well enough for now, because you have nothing to say about it any more and you tend to move on to theology.

    Theology is beside the point, but I’m saying a few words to reveal my own standing. I cannot defend Thomist theology effectively because I am not a Christian at all. I adhere to Advaita Vedanta. From this perspective, Thomist metaphysics is immediately graspable for me, but the theology as reconciled with Christian revelation looks slightly convoluted. From Advaita point of view, Trinity is an unnecessary complication and all the debate about personality versus impersonality of God is entirely a non-issue. Simply, where God is, personal and impersonal are the same thing. End of story.

  88. 88
    Andre says:

    This discussion was excellent but did God not describe Himself perfectly to us when he said;

    “I AM WHO I AM”

    And when Christ was here he said;

    “I tell you the truth,’ Jesus answered, ‘before Abraham was born, I am!”

    The great I AM!

  89. 89
    kairosfocus says:

    Andre, the I AM concept is indeed important and translates philosophically into necessary and eternal being, self-moved. Thus also immaterial . . . Spirit. KF

  90. 90
    kairosfocus says:

    PS: Self moved here means a first, initiating cause not passively moved by another, cf Plato. KF

  91. 91
    Silver Asiatic says:

    Mung

    SA, Can you offer examples of where the Catholic Church has declared that St. Thomas Aquinas was wrong?

    There has always been at least some opposition (Augustinians and Scotists especially) to Thomism in the Church but Catholic teaching will not select only one of several competing schools of philosophy, as long as there is nothing heretical taught.
    On that, however, unfortunately St. Thomas was wrong about the Immaculate Conception — so, sometimes even a very good philosophical system can lead to the wrong conclusions (even in the mind of a saint).

    More specifically, can you offer examples of where the Catholic Church has declared that St. Thomas Aquinas was wrong in his metaphysics?

    As above, you won’t find direct statements on this but you can observe how Catholic theology is presented now, and how discussions are framed. There are reasons why the Church moved away from using Thomistic categories, although some of that remains present in Catholic teaching.
    Thomism as a philosophical system can be correct, but as with any philosophy it is limited. Catholic theology since the 19th century has been working to overcome those limits.
    Keep in mind, there is a sector of the Catholic Church called Byzantine Catholicism (or Eastern Catholicism) where Thomism is an entirely foreign concept. Eastern Catholics have an ancient theology that never used Thomistic categories or language.
    Modern philosophy, for all of its errors and confusion, did offer strong challenges to Thomism, and the 3 most recent popes were trained in modern philosophy (as well as Thomism) and have reconciled modern criticisms with Christian belief (just as Thomas tried to reconcile Aristotle with Christianity).

    I love the teaching of St. Thomas (and himself as a person and a saint), it’s just that I get concerned when some people (Dr. Feser?) seem to make his teaching like a sacred dogma — and also when people take an arrogant attitude about Thomistic terms and concepts as if that’s the only possible true philosophy. There’s a lot of room for new ideas, and Thomas would agree (he called his own writings “straw” compared to the ultimate reality that he experienced mystically).

    I agree with Dr. Torley’s concern here that the admirable attempt by Dr. Feser to come up with a, supposedly, impossible to refute argument proving the existence of God is overstating it quite a bit.

    I also agree that we do not fully know what existence is — considering that the ground of existence is God himself, and while we might be great philosophers and know the correct definition of all the Thomistic vocabulary — we’ll still have a very long way to go to claim a full understanding of the Ineffable, Infininite, Omnipotent and Omniscient One. Yes, the neo-Thomists are very smart, but little humility would help us here.

    We’re trying to probe an endless mystery. We gain a bit of light and understanding here and there. We can arrive at solid conclusions. But let’s not mistake that for absolute proof. I think Dr. Torley shows that in this OP.

  92. 92
    Silver Asiatic says:

    Mung 85

    This might help from Wikipedia (see the last sentence especially). What it doesn’t explain is why the Church began to prefer other philosophical expressions. That is more difficult to discover (I think Pope Benedict explains it in one of his books).

    Aquinas shifted Scholasticism away from neoplatonism and towards Aristotle. In this he was influenced by contemporary Islamic philosophy, especially the work of Averroes. The ensuing school of thought, through its influence on Catholicism and the ethics of the Catholic school, is one of the most influential philosophies of all time, also significant due to the number of people living by its teachings.

    Before Thomas’s death, Stephen Tempier, Bishop of Paris, forbade certain positions associated with Thomas (especially his denial of both universal hylomorphism and a plurality of substantial forms in a single substance) to be taught in the Faculty of Arts at Paris. Through the influence of traditional Augustinian theologians, some theses of Thomas were condemned in 1277 by the ecclesiastical authorities of Paris and Oxford (the most important theological schools in the Middle Ages). The Franciscan Order opposed the ideas of the Dominican Thomas, while the Dominicans institutionally took up the defense of his work (1286), and thereafter adopted it as an official philosophy of the order to be taught in their studia. Early opponents of Thomas include William de la Mare, Henry of Ghent, Giles of Rome, and Jon Duns Scotus.

    Early and noteworthy defenders of Aquinas were his former teacher Albertus Magnus, the ill-fated Richard Knapwell, William Macclesfeld, Giles of Lessines, John of Quidort, Bernard of Auvergne, and Thomas of Sutton.[citation needed] The canonization of Aquinas in 1323 led to a revocation of the condemnation of 1277. Later, Aquinas and his school would find a formidable opponent in the via moderna, particularly in William of Ockham and his adherents.

    Thomism remained a doctrine held principally by Dominican theologians, such as Giovanni Capreolo (1380–1444) or Tommaso de Vio (1468–1534). Eventually, in the 16th century, Thomism found a stronghold on the Iberian Peninsula, through for example the Dominicans Francisco de Vitoria (particularly noteworthy for his work in natural law theory), Domingo de Soto (notable for his work on economic theory), John of St. Thomas, and Domingo Báñez; the Carmelites of Salamanca (i.e., the Salmanticenses); and even, in a way, the newly formed Jesuits, particularly Francisco Suárez, and Luis de Molina.

    The modern period brought considerable difficulty for Thomism.[108] By the 19th century, Aquinas’s theological doctrine was often presented in seminaries through his Jesuit manualist interpreters, who adopted his theology in an eclectic way, while his philosophy was often neglected altogether in favor of modern philosophers. Many think the manualist approach had more in common with Duns Scotus than it did with St Thomas—thus is more properly labeled Neo-Scholasticism. And in all this, the Dominican Order, was having demographic difficulties. Pope Leo XIII attempted a Thomistic revival, particularly with his 1879 encyclical Aeterni Patris and his establishment of the Leonine Commission, established to produce critical editions of Thomas’s opera omnia. This encyclical served as the impetus for the rise of Neothomism, which brought an emphasis on the ethical parts of Thomism, as well as a large part of its views on life, humans, and theology, are found in the various schools of Neothomism. Neothomism held sway as the dominant philosophy of the Roman Catholic Church until the Second Vatican Council, which seemed to confirm the significance of Ressourcement theology. Thomism remains a school of philosophy today, and influential in Catholicism, though “The Church has no philosophy of her own nor does she canonize any one particular philosophy in preference to others.”[109]

  93. 93
    Andre says:

    KF so God is uncaused but the cause of everything else…. aka the first move……

  94. 94
    Silver Asiatic says:

    E.Seigner

    So, your alternative to the groundwork that enables the methodical analysis is to reply: “We don’t know.” Now there’s just one more little thing left for you to do: Show how ignorance is better than analysis 🙂

    An admission of ignorance is better than a false pretense of certainty. The truth is better than falsehood. As I explained, essences may not exist at all. This philosophical system should not be presented as if it is irrefutable. That’s the whole point of this OP. The claim from Dr. Feser is of a very high degree of certainty – an irrefutable proof. But that’s not the case – you can’t prove your premises. You also seemed to claim a great deal of certainty about the meaning of “existence”, but you’d be more accurate to plead ignorance. What you know about existence is built on assumptions which you cannot prove. Existence is God – the fullness of being. True, you know something about it, but you really know very little in comparison to what it is.
    Yes, analysis is certainly valuable, but the arrogance that some modern neoThomists take to these difficult questions, as if they have the only-possible true understanding of such things, is troubling. Thomas himself regarded his writings as “straw” in comparison with the reality he experienced.
    So, a little humility would help. Thomism has limits and modern philosophy (as well as discoveries in modern science) has revealed those limits and we should be aware of that.

    According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, the reason is that “Positive theology is more necessary in our days than it was in the thirteenth century” to address the threats and errors of Modernism. This was recognized already by Leo XIII and Pius X, both Thomist theologians.

    Interesting reference from almost 100 years ago. 🙂 Let’s consider contemporary theology also.

    In the Encyclical “Pascendi”, prescribing remedies against Modernism, Pius X, following in this his illustrious predecessor, gives the first place to “Scholastic philosophy, especially as it was taught by Thomas Aquinas”; St. Thomas is still “The Angel of the Schools”.” http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/14663b.htm

    True in the early part of last century. Again, you might consider looking at Catholic theology over the last 50 years or so.

    It’s acknowledged that the essentially apophatic argumentation in Thomism, which is the key to understanding the doctrine of divine simplicity, does not appeal to the modern world and hence is not diplomatically (evangelically) effective, but it should be a given that what appeals to people and what is diplomatically effective does not change the essential truth.

    That’s a very good insight and a good point. However, there are many reasons why Thomism does not appeal to the modern world. As a philosophical system, it does express essential truths, but it also has some strict limits and is not effective in countering ideas of modern science (Darwinism, Quantum physics, neurology).

    Tactics may change how facts *seem* (and this is exactly why one employs tactics, VJT knows this very well), but they don’t change how the facts *are*. The facts in Catholic perspective are as Aquinas says they are.

    Aside from scientific and theological errors in Thomas’ writings, yes there are truths and facts — however there are limits and omissions as well. The move to modern philosophical ideas is not merely one of tactics. The modern critique has been a challenge and, at its best, has exposed some gaps and problems for classical philosophy and theology that Thomas was not aware of.

    But theological topics here provide an easy digression from the main point. The main point is metaphysics, and I think I covered metaphysics well enough for now, because you have nothing to say about it any more and you tend to move on to theology.

    Thomas was interested in theology over the metaphysics.

    Theology is beside the point, but I’m saying a few words to reveal my own standing. I cannot defend Thomist theology effectively because I am not a Christian at all. I adhere to Advaita Vedanta. From this perspective, Thomist metaphysics is immediately graspable for me, but the theology as reconciled with Christian revelation looks slightly convoluted. From Advaita point of view, Trinity is an unnecessary complication and all the debate about personality versus impersonality of God is entirely a non-issue. Simply, where God is, personal and impersonal are the same thing. End of story.

    Thanks for sharing your personal background. I can understand your concern about the Trinity. Actually, I think the Dembski quote we discussed is an another attempt to view God as communion (communication) of persons.

    I also don’t think we can arrive at the Trinity via metaphysics alone. Christian revelation provided a lot of knowledge.

    I’ll echo Mung in a previous post and say thanks also for your participation here.

  95. 95
    Silver Asiatic says:

    Mung 86

    Pure Mind. How is it that we have a better concept of this than of Being? Don’t angels have intellect and will? What differentiates God from an angel?

    We probably use the same distinctions: contingency, the limits of an angel’s thought, identity (9 choirs of angels each with a unique mission), origin (angels’ minds are created), limits of knowledge.
    Mind might be better than being because we have more understanding of the active power of a mind, vs the active power of being. That’s the positive explanation that may be missing in being.

    How is it that you can maintain that “we lack a positive concept of being”?

    Ii can’t answer for VJT, but being harder to describe, perhaps. We can say something about mind – communication and information. With being, we just say “it is”.

    We describe levels of being in their perfections — although that can be difficult. Does a sea urchin have less perfection (less being?) than a mollusk? Because of operations and capabilities we could decide this philosophically but it can get very difficult.

    Maybe we could measure the perfection of mind easier than of being. We might say that even plants have intelligence — but it’s less perfect than that of animals. Thus, there’s a hierarchy of intelligence. That could be easier to understand than perfection of being.

    I’m not arguing this for certain (I don’t know really) but it could be a good improvement — making something more clear — to speak in terms of mind, along with that of being.

  96. 96
    Box says:

    StephenB #69, thank you for your clarification.
    I mistakenly thought that you opposed the possibility of a self-mover. This was induced by the following:

    StephenB #47: We know that things move and change and that the cause of such activities must ultimately come from the outside for the same reason that causes are outside of their effects. [my emphasis]

    In my concept of a self-mover – who is one and indivisible -, it cannot be said that causes are outside of their effects. IOW cause and effect collapse into a self-mover.
    Your general statement about the relative position of cause and effect obviously is at odds with my understanding of a self-mover, for this reason my questions.

  97. 97
    vjtorley says:

    E. Seigner,

    Thank you for your post. I will keep my remarks brief. You write:

    Let’s re-read Aquinas: “The essence of a horse that exists, and the essence of a horse that doesn’t are absolutely the same, namely horse-ness;…” So, if essences exist, then essences of imaginary things also exist. To believe otherwise is to be inconsistent.

    The quotation is from Aquinas’ On Being and Essence, which he wrote in 1253, when he was only 28 years old. It does not necessarily represent his mature thinking. In any case, it is absurd to speak of “a” horse that doesn’t exist. How many non-existent horses are there, and how would you count them? There is, after all, only one true concept of a horse. There may be many mental images of horses which we can construct, but as you’re perfectly well aware, an image is not a concept.

    You write that “if essences exist, then essences of imaginary things also exist.” Do you have any idea how silly that statement sounds? By definition, imaginary means non-existent. To say that “if essences exist, then essences of imaginary things also exist” is to say that if essences exist, then essences of non-existent things also exist. But if the thing in question is non-existent, how can you say that its essence exists? That’s a contradiction.

    You also write:

    In classical theism, the universe and non-contingent being are not two different things, even though they are logically or analytically distinct. Universe appears autonomous, but the universe is really an entity dependent on non-contingent being the same as all other entities are. Whereas non-contingent being is not an entity at all, not a being that can be classified or categorized, but the ground of all being. Being Itself. Existence Itself.

    As I’ve shown in a previous post, St. Anselm of Canterbury, Blessed Duns Scotus and (on occasion) even St. Thomas Aquinas referred to God as “a being.” Here’s St. Anselm in The Proslogion, Chapter II: “And indeed, we believe that you are a being than which nothing greater can be conceived.” And here’s Blessed John Duns Scotus in A Treatise on God as First Principle: “God is a being conceived without contradiction who is so great that it would be a contradiction if a greater being could be conceived” (4.65). Finally, St. Thomas Aquinas, in his Summa Contra Gentiles, Book I, Chapter 43, paragraph 8, states that “God is a necessary being through Himself.”

    To say that God is not a being but rather, Being Itself, will get you into real theological difficulties. Try these sentences: “Being loves you and each of the 108 billion people who have ever lived.” “Being knows who assassinated JFK.” “Being told the Israelites to refrain from eating pork.” “Being is tri-personal.” None of these sentences make any sense. Only an individual can be the subject of these sentences, in order for them to make sense.

    I wrote above that characterizing God as “Being Itself” at the very outset is (I maintain) unhelpful, as we lack a positive concept of “being.” The terms “one,” “good” and “true” do not take us very far either: all they tell us is that whatever a being is, it is not something else, and that it is a genuine instance of whatever type of thing it is. That’s why I prefer to think of God first in terms of intellect and will: we all know what thinking and choosing are, and of course the Bible tells us that God is love.

    Finally, you refer to “the concept of God (as absolutely simple ground of being, Existence Itself, the unity beyond all diversity) that Dr. Torley characterizes as ‘theologically harmful.'” What I referred to as “theologically harmful” (see comment 58 above) is the notion that God knows our choices by determining them, much as a human author knows the choices made by the characters in her story by determining the story’s plot. That’s theological determinism, and it’s irreconciliable with libertarian freedom. And yes, I will fight that false notion of Divine sovereignty, tooth and nail.

    Of course, if you wish to believe that you have no more freedom than a character in a Harry Potter novel, then that is your privilege. Cheers.

  98. 98
    vjtorley says:

    Hi Mung,

    Thank you for your questions. With reference to my description of God as Self-Moved Mover – or rather, a timelessly Self-Actualizing Actualizer – you write:

    But to be moved is to be changed. So what you must mean is that God is the Self-Changed Changer Who Does Not Change.

    Strictly speaking, I would not say that God is moved, or changed; what I would say is that He can be actualized by creatures when He is informed of their “comings and goings,” although He does not need to be actualized in order to maintain them in existence or maintain their operations.

    You also write:

    Pure Mind. How is it that we have a better concept of this than of Being? Don’t angels have intellect and will? What differentiates God from an angel?

    We all know what it means to think, choose and love. Love is an act of the will. John Wesley wrote (correctly, I think) that love is God’s primary attribute, although I would place knowledge alongside it, as the two are inter-twined.

    What differentiates God from an angel is that God’s knowledge and love are infinite and all-encompassing.

    With regards to your question about Aquinas being wrong in his theology, let us remember that he (like his medieval contemporaries) defended the death penalty for heretics. He also had some rather strange ideas about what God could justly command us to do. In his Summa Theologica I-II q. 94 art. 5, (reply to objection 2), he wrote that everything (including humans lives, goods and spouses) ultimately belongs to God, Who could order us to dispose of them as He wishes:

    Reply to Objection 2. All men alike, both guilty and innocent, die the death of nature: which death of nature is inflicted by the power of God on account of original sin, according to 1 Samuel 2:6: “The Lord killeth and maketh alive.” Consequently, by the command of God, death can be inflicted on any man, guilty or innocent, without any injustice whatever. In like manner adultery is intercourse with another’s wife; who is allotted to him by the law emanating from God. Consequently intercourse with any woman, by the command of God, is neither adultery nor fornication. The same applies to theft, which is the taking of another’s property. For whatever is taken by the command of God, to Whom all things belong, is not taken against the will of its owner, whereas it is in this that theft consists.

    Many other theologians taught the same thing, of course, or much worse: Ockham taught that God could even command children to hate their parents. Anyway, St. Thomas Aquinas was not infallible.

  99. 99
    vjtorley says:

    Andre,

    Thank you for your post. You wrote:

    This discussion was excellent but did God not describe Himself perfectly to us when he said;

    “I AM WHO I AM”

    The name “YHWH” is a deepy mysterious one. It may have originally been derived from the old Semitic root ??? (hawah) meaning “to be” or “to become”. What the name tells us is that God is a mystery Who cannot be grasped by us.

    But the Bible also tells us that God is love, and we can all relate to that. What that tells us is that since God’s love for us is infinite, we must love Him to the best of our limited abilities in return. Thanks again.

  100. 100
    Mung says:

    Hi VJT:

    With regards to your question about Aquinas being wrong in his theology, let us remember that he (like his medieval contemporaries) defended the death penalty for heretics.

    I don’t recall asking any question about Aquinas being wrong in his theology. Are you referring to this question?

    Mung:

    More specifically, can you offer examples of where the Catholic Church has declared that St. Thomas Aquinas was wrong in his metaphysics?

    This was written in response to something SA wrote, so I don’t expect you need to say any more on this unless you just wish to. I consider it a rabbit hole. I don’t think St. Thomas was infallible. I’d prefer to discuss more substantive issues. 🙂

    Have you finished reading Feser’s Scholastic Metaphysics?

  101. 101
    Mung says:

    VJT:

    Strictly speaking, I would not say that God is moved, or changed; what I would say is that He can be actualized by creatures when He is informed of their “comings and goings,” although He does not need to be actualized in order to maintain them in existence or maintain their operations.

    Thank you Dr. Torley for your time, your defense of ID, and your responses. I’d like to focus a little more directly on the question of act and potency.

    First, do you dispute [deny, reject, disagree with] the Scholastic metaphysics of act and potency?

    In what sense to you say that God can be actualized? Do you mean this in the same sense that the Thomists speak of actualization?

    pure act 1. simple perfection (of any kind) without imperfection; mere perfection free of potency. 2. strictest sense. unqualified perfection of existence, which is neither present in nor united with nor limited by any passive potency.

    Dictionary of Scholastic Philosophy

    Are you saying that in your view God is not pure act?

    The notion of that which is absolutely pure actuality or actus purus is the core of Scholastic philosophy’s conception of God, and its existence is the upshot of the key Scholastic arguments for God’s existence.

    – Feser, Edward. Scholastic Metaphysics: A Contemporary Introduction. p. 38

    So this act/potency distinction is even more fundamental and more important to get right than the essence/existence distinction.

    If you part ways here with the Scholastics then it will be no wonder that you disagree with Feser.

  102. 102
    Mung says:

    vjt @ 58:

    That’s an impressive list of books on the Five Ways. Which one would you say best explains the underlying metaphysics of the arguments St. Thomas Aquinas presents in the Five Ways?

  103. 103
    E.Seigner says:

    Silver Asiatic

    An admission of ignorance is better than a false pretense of certainty.

    Correct. Then again, definite certainty is better than ignorance. A metaphysical demonstration trumps probabilistic assumptions anytime anywhere. At least when one is metaphysically inclined, which I am.

    Silver Asiatic

    Yes, analysis is certainly valuable, but the arrogance…

    Are you accusing me of arrogance and of false pretense of certainty? You can only do it by means of proof, not by hint or assertion. If no proof is forthcoming, I can rightly accuse you of false humility.

    I find the OP very pretentious in that it assumes that it suffices to raise doubts about what existence is and what part is against a metaphysical argument and consider it thereby refuted. If we have doubts about the nature of existence and how things are composed, then everything extant and composite is thereby refuted! Seriously, the simple fact is that when you don’t know what these things are, then you are evidently not up to the task of refuting metaphysical arguments. The same applies to your doubt about essences, SA.

    In addition to all other disagreements I have with Dr. Torley, there’s the disagreement on how metaphysical arguments work. He says, “Metaphysical demonstrations aren’t the same as mathematical proofs, of course, but they do have one thing in common: the rate of progress is painstakingly slow, and it can take centuries to formulate a rigorous proof that’s free of any logical “gaps” in the argumentation.”

    This plainly means that Dr. Torley finds metaphysics as such unappealing altogether and he would serve the world better concentrating on some other area. For me metaphysics is neither painstaking or slow. I find it mentally easy and instant, not “centuries to formulate a rigorous proof”. Formulating it is only as slow as the speed of typing. Any gaps in the reasoning are directly discoverable by giving sufficient attention to one’s own trail of thought.

    VJT

    You write that “if essences exist, then essences of imaginary things also exist.” Do you have any idea how silly that statement sounds? By definition, imaginary means non-existent.

    Imagination certainly exists. Plans are imaginary, but they exist and they really help to get things done. Dreams are imaginary but you get real scare out of nightmares. Hallucinations are imaginary, but when they persist, you will be put away – in reality. Unless you are a metaphysical nihilist or a sloppy thinker, you cannot dismiss imaginary things by mere wave of hand.

    VJT

    To say that “if essences exist, then essences of imaginary things also exist” is to say that if essences exist, then essences of non-existent things also exist. But if the thing in question is non-existent, how can you say that its essence exists? That’s a contradiction.

    Essences don’t exist in the same way as objects, and On Being and Essence was to examine the way different things, such as physical objects, sentience and non-sentience, mathematical and abstract objects, universals, etc. exist. Essences don’t exist the same way as physical objects or biological entities.

    All in all, you are being profoundly disingenuous here, because in OP you admitted you have no idea what existence even means (you phrased it “We don’t really know…” a few times when Aquinas certainly appears to know and has much to say about it) and weighed a few options without hitting on the right one. Consequently your critique doesn’t even begin to be pertinent. Well, I know, you did it tactically to sidestep the dialectics necessary to investigate the nature of existence. This tactic does get you to the dismissal of what you criticize, but only for the wrong reasons.

    To you it may seem prudent to divide your “theological eggs” between Aquinas’ Five Ways and your own hypothesis of “We don’t know…”, but if Aquinas (or at least Feser’s presentation of Aquinas) is wrong and you have nothing better to replace it with, it doesn’t really save the situation, does it? To replace a solid metaphysical analysis with self-admitted ignorance may be humble, if you insist, but it does nothing to further knowledge.

  104. 104
    Silver Asiatic says:

    E.Seigner

    You responded to both Dr. Torley and myself in the same post so I want to be careful to say that I am not answering for him. We may not agree on various points (for example, I raised the topic of admitting ignorance and he may not agree with that — I think he has an alternative view that I do not have).

    A metaphysical demonstration trumps probabilistic assumptions anytime anywhere. At least when one is metaphysically inclined, which I am.

    I understand that but there’s a time and a place for both kinds of arguments. When analyzing scientific proposals, it’s necessary to use probabilistic arguments since science cannot really prove its conclusions in the same way that you can prove a logical deduction.
    Yes, metaphysically, if you accept the premises, then you can arrive at truths through demonstration. That is a higher degree of certainty.
    But in this post, Dr. Torley is pointing to some gaps in the logical demonstration.
    It was Dr. Feser who made the claim that his proofs were irrefutable but I think Dr. Torley raises several questions about that. It’s more than just humility to admit that there is no perfect philosophical system or that we don’t have absolute and full certainty about what existence is. It’s really just stating the truth. It’s not that we know nothing about existence, but there are still open questions.

    I apologize if it sounded like I was accusing you — I didn’t intend that. I was speaking in general terms, not personally.

    If we have doubts about the nature of existence and how things are composed, then everything extant and composite is thereby refuted! Seriously, the simple fact is that when you don’t know what these things are, then you are evidently not up to the task of refuting metaphysical arguments. The same applies to your doubt about essences, SA.

    Philosophy is an on-going process. We can develop better arguments. That’s actually what Dr. Feser did. Why reformulate Thomas’ arguments? It’s not just tactics, but the use of language changes and our understanding of psychology and science and behavior has changed. St. Thomas’ teaching has held up quite well for 800 years (and Aristotle’s for a lot longer than that) but there’s always room for improvement. God made it that way (in my opinion) so that future generations will still be able to create new and better arguments.

    But raising doubts about what existence is, and what essences are is not to refute everything we know. As Dr. Torley pointed out, even some Thomists disagree that there is a real distinction between essences and existence. So, to question essences and what that term refers to is not to doubt everything we know. The fact is, these metaphysical concepts are strongly denied and debated so it’s essential to be able to prove that they are correct — and those proofs have to be very convincing. For example, can I imagine something that does not have an essence? Why not? Can I imagine that I’m living in a world where everything is false or everything is an illusion (Berkeley’s critique)?

    It’s the same with God’s pure actuality. How was God’s pure actuality affected by the act of creating the universe? Was there a potentiality involved in the creative act? Also, since God sustains the universe, is there some contingency involved in that sustaining relationship?
    Those are questions Dr. Torley asked and they remain challenging.

    Unless you are a metaphysical nihilist or a sloppy thinker, you cannot dismiss imaginary things by mere wave of hand.

    I’ll just answer this one point directed to Dr. Torley …
    Yes, we might say that “only a nihilist” would demand proof that imaginary things exist or that imaginary things have real essences — but that’s exactly what we’re interested in. We’re trying to convince nihilists — not primarily fellow-theists. This is why we can’t assume that our first-principles or assumed-premises will be accepted as a matter of common sense. Materialists are looking for empirical evidences and that’s why ID arguments focus on that. ID is not saying that metaphysical arguments are unnecessary, but only that probabilistic arguments can be more effective in countering Darwinism or scientism in general.

  105. 105
    Mung says:

    SA:

    For example, can I imagine something that does not have an essence? Why not?

    This is just off the cuff, so I could be totally out in left field, but my answer would be no, you cannot conceive of anything, by imagination or whatever, that has no essence.

    Why not?

    Because to conceive of a thing is just to think that it has an essence.

    quiddity, n. essence; the answer to the question, “what is it?”; the definition.

    To conceive of a thing is to give it some definition.

  106. 106
    E.Seigner says:

    Silver Asiatic

    Yes, we might say that “only a nihilist” would demand proof that imaginary things exist or that imaginary things have real essences — but that’s exactly what we’re interested in. We’re trying to convince nihilists — not primarily fellow-theists.

    The OP is an attack against “tall claims” by a fellow theist. It includes some minor discussion about what might convince atheists better of the existence of God, discussion which I regard as secondary to the main point. But if it’s the main point, then…

    To me it seems that to undermine a metaphysical demonstration with doubts about what a part is or what existence is, and to replace “tall claims” with the “We don’t really know…” hypothesis hardly makes any of this more convincing. Of course you are free to disagree as you please.

  107. 107
  108. 108
  109. 109
    Silver Asiatic says:

    This is just off the cuff, so I could be totally out in left field, but my answer would be no, you cannot conceive of anything, by imagination or whatever, that has no essence.

    Why not?

    Because to conceive of a thing is just to think that it has an essence.

    By imagining the thing, have I given it an essence that it did not have before I imagined it? If so, I guess that would be a creative act ex nihilo — poofing an essence into existence from nothing.

    Can I imagine that there are things that exist, that I cannot conceive of? If so, then wouldn’t that be imagining things that have no essence?

    What about a being where you cannot distinguish essence from existence?

    With imagination, I think we can ask a lot of questions. In fact, I think we can imagine illogical or irrational things also.

    When we try to imagine God, we’re thinking of something that transcends human reason — in fact, God is not really what we would call a “thing”. But we can still imagine God.

  110. 110
    Silver Asiatic says:

    To me it seems that to undermine a metaphysical demonstration with doubts about what a part is or what existence is, and to replace “tall claims” with the “We don’t really know…” hypothesis hardly makes any of this more convincing.

    You may be right, but perhaps there’s a middle path between tall claims and absolute ignorance. But along with that, I think honest debates about these things can be helpful in strengthening the value of metaphysical arguments. For example, Dr. Torley’s critique mentioned that Dr. Feser needed to do more to show that there is a real distinction between essence and existence. If anyone can meet that challenge, then the Thomistic argument is strengthened.
    That would be a very good thing, in my opinion.
    Challenges from skeptics give us a chance to re-frame the argument and maybe offer something more convincing in the future.
    I think Dr. Torley mentioned that many times — he seems to be writing with respect for the effort but with friendly criticism that should help.
    That’s my view anyway.
    I am much more concerned about Dr. Feser’s opposition to ID theory than about how he states his arguments on the existence of God.
    The question of whether God’s creation of the universe is compatiable with non-contingency and non-potentiality is a challenge to answer. What are your thoughts on that?
    Finally, it seemed to me that there was a fair criticism offered regarding the definition of God as “the fullness of being” — for the reasons given. While it is true logically, it does leave a strange impression about the nature of God. The idea that God is “pure mind” seems reasonable to me, but I don’t know what the criticisms to that view are yet.
    One of the criticisms of Thomism offered by some prominent 20th century Catholics was that there wasn’t enough attention given to “the heart” — in the nature of God or of humanity. I’m thinking of someone like Deitrich von Hildebrand, for example. He believed that the revelations of the Sacred Heart of Jesus taught us something philosophically — that perhaps there was an over-emphasis on the intellect in Aristotelian views.
    We do “pray with the heart” as well as with the mind. As Dr. Torley mentioned, “God is love” and we learned that by Christian revelation but also since creation was an act of love as of the intellect.

    Those are a few scattered thoughts — intended not to denigrate Thomism but as some questions from a layman who has studied St. Thomas’ teachings for years (and I admit I am far from mastering them).

  111. 111
    Silver Asiatic says:

    This new book looks interesting:
    Aquinas’s Ontology of the Material World: Change, Hylomorphism, and Material Objects

    Also:
    God without Parts: Divine Simplicity and the Metaphysics of God’s Absoluteness

    Those both look good – thanks.

  112. 112
    Mung says:

    SA, in brief, no one is trying to imagine God.

    more later

  113. 113
    Mung says:

    VJT, given your long association with the arguments of the “Five Ways,” I find it unlikely that your real disagreement is with Edward Feser. What say you?

  114. 114
    Mung says:

    Let’s do a short review of what VJT says has been successfully demonstrated (by Feser’s version of the Five Ways of St. Thomas Aquinas):

    VJT on the First Way:

    In my opinion, the argument successfully demonstrates the existence of a First Cause of change which can actualize without needing to be actualized.

    VJT on the Second Way:

    In my opinion, the argument successfully demonstrates the existence of a First Cause of the existence of things.

    VJT on the Third Way:

    In my opinion, the argument successfully demonstrates the existence of a Necessary Being Whose necessity is not derived from that of any other being.

    VJT on the Fourth Way:

    In my opinion, the Fourth Way establishes [Mung: successfully demonstrates] the existence of a Being Whose unity, goodness and truth are not derived from any other being (in other words, a self-existent being)…

    VJT on the Fifth Way:

    I believe that the Fifth Way, as construed by Feser, completely fails as a demonstration.

  115. 115
    Mung says:

    Silver Asiatic:

    By imagining the thing, have I given it an essence that it did not have before I imagined it?

    Did it exist before you imagined it? How can you impart an essence to something that existed prior to your imagination of it?

    Silver Asiatic:

    If so, I guess that would be a creative act ex nihilo — poofing an essence into existence from nothing.

    Only if you assume that there is no real distinction between essence and existence.

    🙂

  116. 116
    vjtorley says:

    Hi Mung,

    Thank you for your very thoughtful comments. I loved the Amazon links to Tedd Arnold’s books about parts. You certainly have a sense of humor 🙂 Among the more serious books you recommended, James Dolezal’s “God without parts” appears to be the most interesting, although I think I’d find myself pretty much in agreement with what he says, since (according to one of the reviews) the doctrine he’s defending is that God’s essence is utterly simple – a doctrine which I also uphold, as I made clear in my OP.

    Re your review: I agree that the first Four Ways successfully demonstrate the existence of at least one First Cause of change which can actualize without needing to be actualized, and of a Necessary Being which is self-existent and whose necessity is not derived from that of any other being and which is also a First Cause of the existence of (some or all) things. But that’s the easy part.

    One still has to show that this Being is unique, intelligent, infinite and possessing every perfection which does not contain within itself any limitation. That’s the hard part.

    You also asked regarding my list of books in #58:

    Which one would you say best explains the underlying metaphysics of the arguments St. Thomas Aquinas presents in the Five Ways?

    I would personally recommend Dennis Bonnette’s “Aquinas’ Proofs for God’s Existence: St. Thomas Aquinas on: ‘The per Accidens Necessarily Implies the per se.'” This much-neglected book is a real philosophical gem. Of course, Garrigou-Lagrange’s “God: His Existence and Nature” is also essential reading. On an autobiographical note, however, I would caution against reading Volume II. It contributed in no small way to my loss of faith, from 1989-2004, as Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange upheld the view (definitely a minority view among Catholic theologians today, and even in the author’s day) that God predestines all our acts. As he put it: “God determining or determined: there is no alternative.” He seemed to think the latter alternative was heretical, and at the time I was convinced he was right on that point. I have now changed my view: I think God can be determined and still maintain His sovereignty. But more of that some other time.

  117. 117
    Silver Asiatic says:

    It never existed. it’s imaginary. So how does it have an essence? I just imagined a thing that doesn’t exist. I wouldn’t think it has an essence. What’s the essence of a glowing pink cloud of alien fairy-dust? I guess the essence is whatever I want. How about a god like Zeus? Does he have a god-essence?

  118. 118
    Mung says:

    SA,

    All you have done is highlight the necessary distinction between essence and existence.

    I just imagined a thing that doesn’t exist.

    How do you know that this thing that you just “imagined” does not exist?

  119. 119
    vjtorley says:

    Silver Asiatic,

    I really appreciated this comment of yours, which hit the nail on the head:

    We’re trying to convince nihilists — not primarily fellow-theists. This is why we can’t assume that our first-principles or assumed-premises will be accepted as a matter of common sense. Materialists are looking for empirical evidences and that’s why ID arguments focus on that. ID is not saying that metaphysical arguments are unnecessary, but only that probabilistic arguments can be more effective in countering Darwinism or scientism in general.

    That says it all. Thank you.

  120. 120
    vjtorley says:

    E. Seigner,

    Thank you for your posts. You write:

    Imagination certainly exists. Plans are imaginary, but they exist and they really help to get things done. Dreams are imaginary but you get real scare out of nightmares. Hallucinations are imaginary, but when they persist, you will be put away – in reality.

    None of the items you mentioned above are things (i.e. substances) with a nature of their own, as well as essential properties. A plan has no essence; neither does a dream or a hallucination. So the relevance of the examples to the question of whether there is a real distinction between essence and existence is zero.

    You then continue:

    Essences don’t exist in the same way as objects, and On Being and Essence was to examine the way different things, such as physical objects, sentience and non-sentience, mathematical and abstract objects, universals, etc. exist. Essences don’t exist the same way as physical objects or biological entities.

    But now you’re spoiling your case. Previously you were arguing for a real distinction between essence and existence; now you’re conceding that essences have an existence of their own.

    By the way, I don’t dislike metaphysics, as you appear to believe. I simply insist that like mathematics and the empirical sciences, it should have a well-defined method for proving its claims. One can check a mathematical proof to see that it is valid. One can check the results of an experiment by performing more experiments. How does one check an alleged metaphysical proof? Without logical or mathematical notation of some sort, it seems that checking amounts to saying, “I have read the argument and I can’t spot any flaws in it.” There has to be a better way.

    One Thomist philosopher who (to his great credit) is seriously attempting something more rigorous is Professor Robert Koons, the author of a blog called The Analytic Thomist. It looks interesting, and I might check it out. Cheers.

  121. 121
    E.Seigner says:

    Silver Asiatic # 104

    The fact is, these metaphysical concepts are strongly denied and debated so it’s essential to be able to prove that they are correct — and those proofs have to be very convincing. For example, can I imagine something that does not have an essence? Why not? Can I imagine that I’m living in a world where everything is false or everything is an illusion (Berkeley’s critique)?

    It’s the same with God’s pure actuality. How was God’s pure actuality affected by the act of creating the universe? Was there a potentiality involved in the creative act?

    Silver Asiatic # 117

    It never existed. it’s imaginary. So how does it have an essence? I just imagined a thing that doesn’t exist. I wouldn’t think it has an essence.

    As I said above, imaginary things are not flatly non-existent. Plans, dreams, hallucinations, etc. are imaginary, but they have real effects. If the effects are real, it’s quite controversial to say that the cause (the plans the dream, etc.) is unreal and does not exist. It surely exists in some sense, and it calls for examination how it exists and what’s the explanation. It requires a special effort to explain imaginary things away.

    The concept of essence works in the following way. When you imagine something, this act has some preconditions. You imagine something based on something. Imagination is extremely flexible so you may think you have no basis and no limit to your imagination, but actually you do. Your mind is the limit. Your mind is the “matter” (material cause) from which you form your imaginary things and the flexibility of your imagination depends on the flexibility of your mind. These are the preconditions to imagining anything.

    The essence of imaginary things is that around which or based on which you imagine. For example, unicorns are essentially horses with a tusk. Real biological taxonomy and of physical objects occurs the same way – by means of cataloguing and comparing the similarities, the differences, and the unique features.

    Taxonomy aims to capture the essence of the ontological structure and to describe the essence of every thing. In the process of cataloguing one may discover gaps in the taxonomy. For example when Mendeleyev formulated the periodic table of the chemical elements known to him, he was able to describe some of the elements that had not yet been extracted. He did this by observing the gaps in his taxonomy. And, sure enough, the missing elements were soon found and they matched the expectations. Their essence had been found out before the elements themselves had been discovered.

    Hopefully these examples, about imaginary unicorn and the not-yet-found chemical elements, give some idea what essence is and also serve to illustrate the point of the distinction of essence and existence. I claim that imaginary things exist and I do it based on the fact that the mind that imagines exists, i.e. the essence of imaginary things is certainly there regardless if the thing itself is consciously imagined or not. Then again, imaginary things certainly don’t exist the same way as physical things, and similarly essence is not the same as existence. Some say essences subsist rather than exist. But for me it sounds more straightforward to say that they exist in another way or in another sense.

    Silver Asiatic # 110

    I am much more concerned about Dr. Feser’s opposition to ID theory than about how he states his arguments on the existence of God.

    Maybe you should be more concerned about your unquestioning acceptance of ID theory. Try your best to make it more convincing for some outsider, then you will see how not everyone finds the same things convincing. For me personally, “convincing” is a side issue. Consistent and coherent is more important.

    Dr. Torley says that “the logic of the Thomistic arguments needs to be tightened”. If one hasn’t understood the depth and breadth of the logic of Thomistic arguments or if one disagrees with it, then one might agree with Dr. Torley. But regardless if one agrees or disagrees with Thomism or with Dr. Torley, the task of tightening the logic of Thomism can reasonably be undertaken by someone with tighter logic than Thomism has. There are too many different ways in which the OP can be read. For example Mung discovered that the OP nearly completely agrees with Aquinas’ Five Ways as presented by Feser, even though Dr. Torley says right up front that he disagrees and has much to dispute at length. I said that Dr. Torley disagrees the wrong way and for the wrong reasons. The problems that Dr. Torley sees in Feser’s argumentation are really his own, which I determine based on the fact that the bulk of the criticism revolves around the semantics of basic words. Whereas you say it’s a friendly criticism and that the main points are addressed to atheists, not against Feser. Whose logic needs to be tightened?

    VJT

    None of the items you mentioned above are things (i.e. substances) with a nature of their own, as well as essential properties. A plan has no essence; neither does a dream or a hallucination.

    …says the guy who just yesterday didn’t know what essence was. And still doesn’t say what it is 🙂

    It’s your forum here so you are free to come up with your own definition for the concept of essence as soon or as late as you please. But as long as you haven’t overcome the “We don’t really know…” hypothesis, I simply acknowledge your position.

  122. 122
    E.Seigner says:

    VJT

    But now you’re spoiling your case. Previously you were arguing for a real distinction between essence and existence; now you’re conceding that essences have an existence of their own.

    Two is a number. But it’s not just any number. It’s just two, a specific number. It won’t do to consider “two” and “number” as synonyms. The same way, essences exist, but it’s not just any kind of existence. There’s a specific way in which essences exist. Essence exists, but essence is not the same as existence.

    Some say essences subsist rather than exist, and they think by this magical relabelling they are avoiding the problem, but I say that the problem or paradox is imaginary, merely apparent. Your imagination is either good enough to grasp the solution or it isn’t.

    PS In the previous comment to Silver Asiatic I included a quote by him that I thought to reply to because I have a solution, but I reconsidered. I can see that the question “How was God’s pure actuality affected by the act of creating the universe?” can raise doubts and requires an explanation, but my explanation would not be the right answer to him.

  123. 123
    vjtorley says:

    Hi E. Seigner,

    Thank you for your post (#121). You refer to me as “the guy who just yesterday didn’t know what essence was.” What I said in my OP was that “we don’t really know what it means for something to exist in the first place.” I was talking about existence, not essence.

    As for what an essence is: in Feser’s words, “The essence of a thing is just that which makes it the sort of thing it is” (Aquinas, Oneworld, Oxford, 2009, p. 24). The real question is what a thing (or substance) is. I wouldn’t call a triangle a thing or substance, because it has no active or passive powers. Ditto for plans, dreams and hallucinations. The real distinction between essence and existence, which was defended by Feser, was meant to apply to natural objects (and also to angels), not to geometrical objects or mental concepts, and certainly not to mental images.

    You write that “unicorns are essentially horses with a tusk.” That quote perfectly encapsulates what I don’t like about fictional objects: their specifications are too incomplete for us to even say that they have a proper essence. For instance, is the tusk of a unicorn made of bone, or is it made of keratin (the material out of which hair, nails and the exterior of animals’ horns is composed), or both? The definition does not say. However, the difference between an animal with a bony projection sticking out of its head and a horn made of keratin projecting from its head is a vital one – especially if you think out the embryonic and fetal developmental instructions you’d have to modify in order to convert a horse into a unicorn. So I’d be inclined to say that a unicorn has a pseudo-essence – we can picture it easily enough, but it lacks the level of specificity that characterizes a true essence.

    As for my OP, I think my position is clear enough. For instance, here’s what I said about Aquinas’ First Way, as construed by Feser:

    In my opinion, the argument successfully demonstrates the existence of a First Cause of the existence of things. What it fails to show is that this First Cause is the unique cause of the existence of all things, and that it is the only Being Whose essence and existence are identical.

    Later on, when discussing God’s absolute perfection, I wrote:

    I conclude that even if Feser were able to establish the existence of a Being Who is Pure Act, he has failed to demonstrate that such a Being must be all-perfect or unique.

    How could I have been clearer? And are these points merely verbal ones? I think not.

  124. 124
    E.Seigner says:

    VJT

    Thank you for your post (#121). You refer to me as “the guy who just yesterday didn’t know what essence was.” What I said in my OP was that “we don’t really know what it means for something to exist in the first place.” I was talking about existence, not essence.

    You are right. It’s been Silver Asiatic who has directly doubted if essences exist and what they even are, whereas your trouble has been rather with the distinction of essence and existence. To me it looks like you two have the same problem, because the solution from my point of view is the same. However, I admit that from your point of view the problems look different and at least you, Dr. Torley, are familiar with the literature that elaborates the concept of essence.

    VJT

    You write that “unicorns are essentially horses with a tusk.” That quote perfectly encapsulates what I don’t like about fictional objects: their specifications are too incomplete for us to even say that they have a proper essence.

    You seem to conceive of essence as something like the Aristotelian form that enlivens the matter and is imperceptible without material contact, i.e. substance = matter + form (as Aristotle says in Metaphysics). Since you doubt if (human) mind is material or substantial in its own right, you also hesitate to say that imaginary things are real and exist.

    However, here’s a quick fix for you. In the OP you arrived at the conclusion that God is Pure Mind. Pure Mind is the source of our existence. Surely that which imparts existence to everything is itself also existent, and existent in a higher sense. We exist based on whatever essence Pure Mind endows us with. Inasmuch as we are in harmony with our essence, we can be said to be serving our natural purpose in the universe and fulfilling God’s purpose (final cause).

    On the other hand, things are unnatural, deviant, and people sinful inasmuch as they are not in harmony with their essence. When one is out of tune with one’s own essence it does not mean non-existent, but it illustrates the function that essence performs in existence.

    Isn’t this what essence means in Aristotelian-Thomistic discourse? And doesn’t this explain the distinction of essence and existence? If deviant existence denotes an extant thing which is not in harmony with its own essence, then essence is not the same as existence. Pure Mind is absolute harmony, and therefore its essence equals its existence.

    Now, since all our existence is ongoing in God’s Pure Mind and you don’t hesitate to affirm the reality and existence of that, it should not be too far-out to affirm some essence and some existence of human imaginary things. It may be essence and existence of a different degree or of a different kind, but there are sure points of comparison with physical reality.

    I personally do not adhere to Aristotelian concepts of essence, substance, existence, and matter, so it’s difficult for me to use the words consistently in Aristotelian-Thomistic way. When I say “unicorns are essentially horses with a tusk”, then “essence” here basically means “definition”, which in some contexts sticks out as dubious for Aristotelians. However, what I just outlined in the previous paragraphs should be sufficiently Aristotelian and helpful to clarify the terms that you unnecessarily sought to redefine.

    As to the overall point of the OP, sure there is a point and it’s clear enough, because there clearly is massive motive force behind the text. It’s just that I completely disagree with the analysis you present and the conclusions arrived at thereby 🙂

  125. 125
    vjtorley says:

    Hi E. Seigner,

    You second-last paragraph was quite revealing. You wrote: “I personally do not adhere to Aristotelian concepts of essence, substance, existence, and matter, so it’s difficult for me to use the words consistently in Aristotelian-Thomistic way.” But earlier on, you claimed that Silver Asiatic and I were not qualified to write on such matters. That seems a little odd, to say the least. May I ask if you’re an academic (or a retired one, perhaps)?

    You write that I “doubt if (human) mind is material or substantial in its own right.” I would answer that the human mind is certainly not material, as thinking (i.e. reasoning and understanding intellectual concepts) is a non-bodily act. As to the mind’s being a substance, Aquinas would answer that the human soul is not a substance in its own right, but the form of a substance (man). Hylomorphic dualism sounds like a reasonable position – it’s certainly superior to Cartesian dualism. However, the data from near-death experiences collected by Dr. Bruce Greyson in recent years seems to suggest that the separated soul really is a substance in its own right, and not just the better part of one, so to speak. Right now, I prefer to keep an open mind.

    I had the good fortune to be able to access a computer today. I’ll probably be back in a day or two.

    Finally, thank you for the explanation of essences that you proposed. I would happily agree with your statement that we exist based on whatever essence Pure Mind endows us with. Cheers.

  126. 126
    E.Seigner says:

    VJT

    You second-last paragraph was quite revealing. You wrote: “I personally do not adhere to Aristotelian concepts of essence, substance, existence, and matter, so it’s difficult for me to use the words consistently in Aristotelian-Thomistic way.” But earlier on, you claimed that Silver Asiatic and I were not qualified to write on such matters. That seems a little odd, to say the least. May I ask if you’re an academic (or a retired one, perhaps)?

    The qualification to effectively criticize this or that point of view or argument should not depend on the personal preference and not so much even on the acquired academic degrees. It depends on the competence in the subject matter. As you admit, my explanation clarified things for you, so evidently I have competence in the subject matter. I have my degrees too, but in a different area.

    VJT

    Hylomorphic dualism sounds like a reasonable position – it’s certainly superior to Cartesian dualism. However, the data from near-death experiences collected by Dr. Bruce Greyson in recent years seems to suggest that the separated soul really is a substance in its own right, and not just the better part of one, so to speak. Right now, I prefer to keep an open mind.

    Open mind to you seems to mean liberty to criticize based on doubt and lack of understanding. Open mind to me means ability to comprehend different points of view and to address their actual internal incoherence, not projected or imagined defects.

    The Aristotelian system with its multiple substances and forms and essences is ultimately unsatisfactory to me, because there seems to be no meaningful way to enumerate the substances, no consistent basis to tell shapes apart from forms and degrees apart from kinds. In Western terms, Neoplatonism a la Plotinus feels most natural to me: There’s just one substance, one essence which is spirit, and matter is its opposite polarity, its shadow.

    The universe is emanation from the substance. The entities that fill the universe have shape and essence depending on their material predisposition on one hand and degree of spiritual capacity (grace) on the other. Ultimately, material predisposition has no importance (and all meticulous Aristotelian and scientific analysis thereof is futile) while grace has all the importance. This is not even dualism, but spiritual monism. I have made up my mind on this quite open-mindedly.

  127. 127
    Silver Asiatic says:

    I just imagined a thing that doesn’t exist.

    How do you know that this thing that you just “imagined” does not exist?

    Through observation.

    I imagine myself at 5 pm EST today flying through the window. But that event does not exist because in reality I am sitting here.

    We might say that the imagined thing as a thought exists. But there are a lot of problems with that. We can’t measure or compare or analyze the thing I imagined. We don’t know when it was created. We don’t know if I destroyed it — or is it infinite and will exist forever?

    Speaking about the essences of imagined objects will create lots of paradoxical issues. Is there potentiality and act in an imagined being? Is is pure act? Is there a substance? Can anyone validate something about my imagination that can be called “true”? How would anyone know what I imagined? You could know my explanation but not the thing.

    The problems with this go on endlessly. When did this imaginary thing receive its existence? What parts does it have? What preserves it in existence? How is an imaginary being classified in the hierarchy of perfections? Is one imaginary being greater than another (St. Anselm comes to mind here).

    If imaginary beings exist, then they possess being and confer good on reality. If I create an imaginary being, did I confer something good upon myself? Would I then create more imaginary beings to create more good for myself?

    To have existence is to participate in the good and the true. To what extent is one imaginary being more true than another? Is one therefore better than another? In metaphysical terms, in terms of being, is Batman better or worse than Superman? Does one have more fullness of being than the other?

    How do we distinguish the essence of an idea from the existence of an idea? Since the essence of a thing is the idea of a thing — what is the essence of an essence?
    How do we abstract essences from imaginary things?

    Does an imaginary thing change? Is it infinite? Can I imagine something illogical, irrational or which has no potential to exist?

  128. 128
    Silver Asiatic says:

    There’s just one substance, one essence which is spirit, and matter is its opposite polarity, its shadow … Ultimately, material predisposition has no importance (and all meticulous Aristotelian and scientific analysis thereof is futile) while grace has all the importance. This is not even dualism, but spiritual monism. I have made up my mind on this quite open-mindedly.

    To me this seems like a refutation of Dr. Feser’s argument which relies on Aristotelian analysis.

    In your view there is one essence, in the Thomistic view there are multiple essences.

    When I say “unicorns are essentially horses with a tusk”, then “essence” here basically means “definition”, which in some contexts sticks out as dubious for Aristotelians.

    Yes, I think you’re giving essence a different meaning since the definition of an imagined thing must be created subjectively and it does not refer to any substance of the thing.

    The point I’m raising here is that metaphysical demonstrations are often not as clear and absolutely certain as some would claim them to be. They have great value but you, yourself, raise serious doubts about the Aristotelian system, and in fact, you do not adhere to it.

  129. 129
    Silver Asiatic says:

    VJT #119

    Thank you! I’m glad something I said actually helped. 🙂

  130. 130
    Silver Asiatic says:

    VJT #120

    One Thomist philosopher who (to his great credit) is seriously attempting something more rigorous is Professor Robert Koons, the author of a blog called The Analytic Thomist. It looks interesting, and I might check it out.

    I noticed this review by Professor Koons:

    ‘William Dembski is one of the most original and rigorous thinkers of his generation, and his new book, Being as Communion, pulls together in a satisfying way the many threads in the theory of design and information that he has developed over the last 15 years. Philosophical and theological critics of the “intelligent design” movement need to read this book, since here Dembski definitively smashes the common caricatures and misrepresentations of the movement, including the notion that ID is committed to a metaphysics that is mechanist, dualist, interventionist, or occasionalist. Dembski argues persuasively that information cannot be simply identical with its physical manifestations, and that the concepts of information and teleology are indispensable tools for the contemporary metaphysician.’
    Robert C. Koons, University of Texas – Austin, USA

    Being as Communion

    From my experience, most Thomists are not as open-minded towards new ideas. Credit to Prof. Koons for that.

  131. 131
    E.Seigner says:

    Silver Asiatic

    To me this seems like a refutation of Dr. Feser’s argument which relies on Aristotelian analysis.

    In your view there is one essence, in the Thomistic view there are multiple essences.

    You evidently don’t know what a refutation means. Refutation is an argument that is meant to supercede another argument, such as what VJT is doing in the OP (poorly). I noted my rejection of Aristotelianism, but I didn’t try to give any reason to anyone else to do the same. I have my own views on independent grounds. This does not prevent me from understanding Thomism and defending its obvious virtues against those who should know better.

    Silver Asiatic

    Yes, I think you’re giving essence a different meaning since the definition of an imagined thing must be created subjectively and it does not refer to any substance of the thing.

    Given everything you said earlier, this is coming out of the blue. You don’t know what essence is, and there’s no evidence that you now suddenly know. Therefore I can safely disregard what you are saying here.

    Silver Asiatic

    The point I’m raising here is that metaphysical demonstrations are often not as clear and absolutely certain as some would claim them to be. They have great value but you, yourself, raise serious doubts about the Aristotelian system, and in fact, you do not adhere to it.

    Metaphysical demonstrations trump probabilistic assumptions anytime anywhere. I do not adhere to Aristotelianism, but this is because there’s another metaphysical demonstration that I prefer. I do not replace a metaphysical assumption with doubts about basic concepts.

    Metaphysical demonstrations are absolutely clear and certain, so determining their comparative superiority is easy. ID theory does not have these virtues. I have been taking a look here for a while and it seems to have no virtues at all, sadly.

    Moreover, since you say what you say about imaginary things in # 127, you are clearly way out of your range of competence here. Someone who so profoundly doubts his own mind is not qualified to lecture anyone about certainty. When you irrationally dismiss imagination, something that anyone can verify first-person, then you are not saying anything valuable about the nature of imagination, whether it exists or not. Instead, you are effectively convincing me to doubt your reason.

  132. 132
    Silver Asiatic says:

    Metaphysical demonstrations trump probabilistic assumptions anytime anywhere.

    Yes, the fact that 2=2=4 is more certain than quantum theory, so demonstrations of basic math may trump the probabilistic arguments of theoretical physics any day — but what are we really saying here?
    If you want to use metaphysics to argue for or against scientific proposals, I don’t think you’re going to be very successful.

    I do not adhere to Aristotelianism, but this is because there’s another metaphysical demonstration that I prefer. I do not replace a metaphysical assumption with doubts about basic concepts.

    If Aristotelian assumptions are not correct, then that should raise doubts about them. How do we verify whether your view of spiritual monism is correct vs the Thomistic view? Is this based on certainty or merely which is “most likely to be true” – a probabilistic argument.

    Metaphysical demonstrations are absolutely clear and certain, so determining their comparative superiority is easy.

    Yes, the simpler the proposal (as above 2+2) the more certain the demonstration can be.

    ID theory does not have these virtues. I have been taking a look here for a while and it seems to have no virtues at all, sadly.

    ID engages empirical science, not metaphysics, for reasons I gave. Do you have an alternative to Darwinian theory? Or do you just raise doubts about it and provide nothing better? Or perhaps you embrace Darwinism. How about a theory on the origin of life? Do you have that?

    Someone who so profoundly doubts his own mind is not qualified to lecture anyone about certainty.

    You assume that the doubts I raised were my own. They are merely the doubts that our opponents raise. These are the doubts that have been raised in contemporary science and philosophy for about a century or more. ID engages science and materialism.

    When you irrationally dismiss imagination, something that anyone can verify first-person,

    A first-person verification is subjectivism. We can also deceive ourselves. We can be subject to illusions.

    Instead, you are effectively convincing me to doubt your reason.

    We argue every day here with people who doubt reason. You are assuming that reason exists, but you need to prove that and not merely assume it. ID is offering arguments about the origin of reason in human beings. If Darwinism is correct, and that is the majority view in academia today, then reason is a biological function. Thoughts are an epiphenomena of an evolutionary process. Everything is reducible to material.

    Metaphysical arguments will miss this point entirely. To speak of imaginary beings as “existing in some way” is to question what existence is (and you claimed to know what it is). How does a dream have an effect on the mind? If the mind generates the dream, does the mind control the dream? If not, what controls it. Is the dream contingent on matter? What evidence do you have of this?
    Let’s take it farther, you talked about the “limits of the mind” in creating imagination – what are those limits, precisely? How do you know there are any limits to the mind? What evidence do you have of that? We see in mystical literature that people encounter spiritual things that transcend their imaginations. In Christian teaching it is believed that the soul can receive God and see God ultimately. Is it necessarily true that every imagination we have is generated only from “things we already knew about” – like unicorns? Or could our imaginations receive entirely new information from God?

  133. 133
    Silver Asiatic says:

    VJT

    Of course, Garrigou-Lagrange’s “God: His Existence and Nature” is also essential reading. On an autobiographical note, however, I would caution against reading Volume II. It contributed in no small way to my loss of faith, from 1989-2004, as Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange upheld the view (definitely a minority view among Catholic theologians today, and even in the author’s day) that God predestines all our acts. As he put it: “God determining or determined: there is no alternative.” He seemed to think the latter alternative was heretical, and at the time I was convinced he was right on that point. I have now changed my view: I think God can be determined and still maintain His sovereignty.

    This was extremely helpful – thank you. I had never seen that before. I’ve read 3 books by Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange (going through his 2-vol three ages of the interior life right now) so that is very good to know. When I reached Q 23 in the Summa on Predestination I had to stop and skip it. I found that topic very damaging, spiritually.

  134. 134
    Silver Asiatic says:

    E.Seigner

    Maybe you should be more concerned about your unquestioning acceptance of ID theory. Try your best to make it more convincing for some outsider, then you will see how not everyone finds the same things convincing.

    I will try …

    ID starts with the idea that it is possible to recognize evidence of design (intelligent action) in the world around us. Do you agree that it is possible to do that?

  135. 135
    E.Seigner says:

    Silver Asiatic

    If Aristotelian assumptions are not correct, then that should raise doubts about them. How do we verify whether your view of spiritual monism is correct vs the Thomistic view? Is this based on certainty or merely which is “most likely to be true” – a probabilistic argument.

    The comparative superiority of a metaphysical system over another presupposes comprehension of both systems. Until there is no comprehension of this kind, then whatever works will be good enough as long as it’s sufficiently relevant for practical purposes. The problem with ID theory is that it has no consistency in any sense, neither terminological, metaphysical, or scientific experimental relevance.

    The ID camp is utterly disorganised. I have been reading around on this blog and some other pro-ID websites, such as evolutionnews.org. This one here is most vocal and unfortunately least coherent. Others are less vehement and more diplomatic, but the overall defects remain the same. The defects:

    – No sensible terminology to build hypotheses on
    – No coherent metaphysical stance
    – Also no consistent philosophical neutrality so as to make the theory respectable
    – No scientifically relevant track record over the decades
    – The leading names are sometimes blatantly open about their ulterior motives, and at other times embarrasingly evasive, so the project cannot even begin to be scientifically sound.

    Silver Asiatic

    ID engages empirical science, not metaphysics, for reasons I gave. Do you have an alternative to Darwinian theory? Or do you just raise doubts about it and provide nothing better? Or perhaps you embrace Darwinism. How about a theory on the origin of life? Do you have that?

    This article was pretty interesting http://www.touchstonemag.com/a.....3-06-037-f
    I agree with the overall analysis of Aristotelianism and Thomism there in the sense that I think it represents Aristotelianism and Thomism faithfully. However, I emphatically disagree with its attempt to reconcile ID with Thomism. The article faithfully represents Aristotelianism and Thomism, and deserves all the credit for this, but in the end it misrepresents the ID theory 🙂

    Silver Asiatic

    We argue every day here with people who doubt reason. You are assuming that reason exists, but you need to prove that and not merely assume it. ID is offering arguments about the origin of reason in human beings.

    No, ID is not offering such arguments. ID claims to offer empirical evidence in favour of an intelligent designer and it stops there at the level of claims. It doesn’t rise to the level of evidence, apart from some faulty application of analogies that I have seen here in earlier discussions.

    I am assuming that reason exists, yes, because this is a necessary precondition for us to have a dialogue. To atheists I say – if you have no mind, if you have no rational free will and no sense of responsibility of your own, then how can you have anything serious to say, anything more worth considering than I have? And the case is closed. Necessary precondition to dialogue is to have a discussion partner with a rational mind and good faith. Pointless to talk to monkeys.

    Note that this is a metaphysical argument and works without any empirical evidence. Also, no empirical evidence can ever refute it, not even in principle. If the atheist produces empirical evidence that indeed the mind is just a fully deterministic mechanistic brain-function, that free will is an illusion and autonomous reasoning is fiction, then rational talk ends there, and this proves my point as well as his.

    Silver Asiatic

    Metaphysical arguments will miss this point entirely. To speak of imaginary beings as “existing in some way” is to question what existence is (and you claimed to know what it is).

    I know what existence is, yes. As it happens, the article I linked to agrees with my view of existence. For example, formal causes exist: “What is an exemplar cause? It is a type of formal cause—a sort of blueprint, the idea according to which something is organized. For Thomas, these ideas exist separately from the things they cause. For instance, if a boy is going to build a soapbox derby car, the idea in his mind is separate from the form of the car; yet the car’s form expresses the idea, or exemplar cause, in the boy’s mind. Exemplar causes actually do something. They are “practical ideas,” writes Doolan.”

    Remember how I said imaginary things, e.g. plans, exist, and they get things done? The quote here makes the same point. Whereas Dr. Torley flatly said, “By definition, imaginary means non-existent,” which is incompatible with Thomism. The subtle fact is that immaterial and imaginary things produce real effects in the physical world, such as the formal cause of any species shapes matter into the individuals of the species, or nightmare – purely imaginary by itself – produces real fear and corresponding observable physiological effects, such as trembling, sweat, maybe screaming, etc. If the effects are real, then the cause is also real, i.e. existent, is it not?

    It’s quite important to note that formal causes and final causes are immaterial, i.e. empirically undetectable by definition. This is where the article goes wrong. The author correctly recognizes that formal and final causes are immaterial, yet he manages to consider “the pursuit of signs of intelligent design in nature” a worthwhile enterprise. If you know the metaphysical categories of any philosophical system of your preference, then you know that a project that aims to empirically detect the immaterial is based on a fundamental category error and cannot succeed.

    Feser has an analogy to this effect: It’s like trying to detect the painter in the painting. Now, sure enough, the painter may have inserted his self-portrait in the painting, but this would be incidental to the painting, not the categorically right place to look for the painter. If you indeed get lucky this way with detecting the painter, you’d still be seeing only the painted painter there, never the real deal. This is the kind of fundamental category error when you mix up material and immaterial.

    Silver Asiatic

    ID starts with the idea that it is possible to recognize evidence of design (intelligent action) in the world around us. Do you agree that it is possible to do that?

    Absolutely not. Whatever conclusions one draws from empirical structures in the exterior world, the conclusions are a projection of metaphysics of the scientist, based on his presuppositions and prejudices, education, cultural context, etc. Except that they are not called prejudices in science, but hypotheses. It’s a well-known fact in science that the procedure and results of the experiment crucially depend on how the hypothesis is formulated.

    Formal and final causes are proper elements of design, both human and divine design, but they are immaterial, and the immaterial is outside the scope of empirical sciences. They are solidly within the realm of philosophy though. Consider the watchmaker analogy. For Paley the coherent functional structures in nature look like clockwork and he infers a watchmaker. Dawkins also observes the same data and he agrees that it looks like clockwork, but he says it’s all “natural”. Dawkins “detects” only the blind watchmaker.

    The same data, radically different conclusion. Why? Philosophical projection. No amount of empirical data can touch philosophical presuppositions, definitely not when the presuppositions are well rehearsed and entrenched. It always works the other way around – presuppositions are projected into the interpretation of the data. The philosophical framework does all the job of interpreting all the way from the hypothesis to the conclusion. The data on its own does nothing.

  136. 136
    StephenB says:

    SA

    ID starts with the idea that it is possible to recognize evidence of design (intelligent action) in the world around us. Do you agree that it is possible to do that?

    ES

    Absolutely not. Whatever conclusions one draws from empirical structures in the exterior world, the conclusions are a projection of metaphysics of the scientist, based on his presuppositions and prejudices, education, cultural context, etc. Except that they are not called prejudices in science, but hypotheses. It’s a well-known fact in science that the procedure and results of the experiment crucially depend on how the hypothesis is formulated.

    [a] What metaphysical projection do you claim is necessary to detect design in an ancient hunter’s spear?

    [b] Do you contend that there is no way to differentiate between that same spear and a rock formed by wind, air, and erosion?

  137. 137
    Silver Asiatic says:

    E.Seigner

    Interesting reply – thank you. I don’t want to discuss all the points you raised before you address the questions StephenB asked you.

    I’ll just look at this though …

    AS: ID engages empirical science, not metaphysics, for reasons I gave. Do you have an alternative to Darwinian theory? Or do you just raise doubts about it and provide nothing better? Or perhaps you embrace Darwinism. How about a theory on the origin of life? Do you have that?

    ES: This article was pretty interesting http://www.touchstonemag.com/a…..3-06-037-f
    I agree with the overall analysis of Aristotelianism and Thomism there in the sense that I think it represents Aristotelianism and Thomism faithfully. However, I emphatically disagree with its attempt to reconcile ID with Thomism. The article faithfully represents Aristotelianism and Thomism, and deserves all the credit for this, but in the end it misrepresents the ID theory

    I asked you some questions and you sent me to Touchstone magazine to discuss Thomism.

    Let’s focus and try again.

    Do you have an alternative to Darwinian theory? Or do you just raise doubts about it and provide nothing better? Or do you embrace Darwinism?
    Do you have a theory on the origin of life? How do you view current hypotheses regarding the origin of life? Do you accept them?

  138. 138
    StephenB says:

    E. Seigner

    Why? Philosophical projection. No amount of empirical data can touch philosophical presuppositions, definitely not when the presuppositions are well rehearsed and entrenched. The difference between It always works the other way around – presuppositions are projected into the interpretation of the data. The philosophical framework does all the job of interpreting all the way from the hypothesis to the conclusion. The data on its own does nothing.

    It is true that data can never interpret itself. However, the philosophical justification behind a rational interpretation of the evidence lies in the decision to accept or reject reason’s rules, which exist not as presuppositions but rather as self-evident truths; i.e, the law of causality, non-contradiction, identity etc. Aquinas makes it clear that some truths are self evident, which means that they are not mere presuppositions. A presupposition may or may not be true. A self-evident, by definition, must be true.

  139. 139
    StephenB says:

    A self-evident [truth], by definition, musts be true.

  140. 140
    StephenB says:

    E. Seigner:

    It’s a well-known fact in science that the procedure and results of the experiment crucially depend on how the hypothesis is formulated.

    I just dropped several objects from varying heights and discovered that they all fall at the rate. How does that result depend on the way my hypothesis is formulated.

    Also, where on earth did you ever get the idea that a philosophical projection is the same thing a scientific hypothesis?

    Formal and final causes are proper elements of design, both human and divine design, but they are immaterial, and the immaterial is outside the scope of empirical sciences. They are solidly within the realm of philosophy though. Consider the watchmaker analogy. For Paley the coherent functional structures in nature look like clockwork and he infers a watchmaker. Dawkins also observes the same data and he agrees that it looks like clockwork, but he says it’s all “natural”. Dawkins “detects” only the blind watchmaker.

    Biological information is immaterial. Are you saying that science may not investigate biological information?

  141. 141
    E.Seigner says:

    @StephenB

    Welcome back, the guy of faulty analogies. Here are some of the ways in which your analogy about the ancient hunter’s spear is faulty:

    – The archeologist is not detecting the design in the spear, but establishes the comparability of the artefact with other artefacts. It’s the other artefacts that the archeologist already knows to be spears that determine whether the new finding is also a spear or not. The context determines.
    – What’s relevant in archeology is the way in which the artefact compares with other findings, not the design of the artefact per se. When it’s established that it’s a spear, it sure enough means there’s a designer of the spear and probably also a hunter (those two may not be necessarily the same person), but this is not derived from the design of the artefact, but from the fact that it’s a spear.
    – The designer and the hunter are inferred from context already examined and ready for comparison, the same way as the spear itself is.
    – The inference to the designer and the hunter follows indirectly from the fact that it’s a spear. The inference is indirect, i.e. finding a spear never means finding the designer. The designer and the hunter will be separate findings. The fact that it’s a spear is also established indirectly based on other earlier similar findings, not based on the design of the artefact itself. It’s all contextual.
    – If it’s established that it’s a spear, then the designer and the probable hunter are utterly trivial inferences. The inference to the designer and hunter is uninteresting for the archeologist. What interests the archeologist more is the specifics of the culture, such as if the people were more hunter-gatherers or agricultural or urban, what was hunted and why, etc. Similarly, when you see a book, what interests you least is if it has a writer (of course it has a writer). What interests you more is if it’s worth reading, whether it has pictures in it, whether the author is known, etc. If the author exists is a completely unimportant question.
    – Moreover, if you read a book without a cover, so you don’t know who the author is, and a few friends read the same book, the impressions you get from the book, the kind of conclusions you draw what kind of person the author might have been who’d write such a book, what might this or that aspect of the story mean, etc. will be very personal, subjective, even though you all read the same book. Similarly there will be many aspects open to subjective interpretation with the archeological artefact based on who is interpreting.

    The basic failure of ID theory is not whether there’s some structure, design, or information in this or that thing – everybody agrees that there is. The basic failure is to establish what the structure means, if anything. There’s no agreement on if this or that structure means a designer or not, and why it should mean a designer, and if it does, then so what. The basic failure is the lack of method that would distinguish between an intelligent cause and any other cause. Analogies won’t wash. Scientists use plenty of analogies, but they don’t take them literally – and they shouldn’t, because it’s merely an analogy. Unambiguous empirical data on this cannot logically be had, because data is always open to interpretation and to interpret it you need a method and method is precisely what you don’t have.

    And I won’t address any more faulty analogies, thank you very much.

    Silver Asiatic

    Do you have an alternative to Darwinian theory? Or do you just raise doubts about it and provide nothing better? Or do you embrace Darwinism?
    Do you have a theory on the origin of life? How do you view current hypotheses regarding the origin of life? Do you accept them?

    My views are off topic here. But briefly, the alternatives to Darwinian theory are creation (by God, as in the Old Testament, or by Demiurge as in Plato’s Timaeus) and emanation (of matter from spirit, as in Neoplatonism). The latter is what I hold to. It’s worth noting though that from human point of view emanation would look non-different from evolution 🙂

    I am looking at the same facts as Darwinists. We describe the apparent evolution from lower species to higher the same way based on the similarities between species, but emanation explains better the rather solid distinctions or gaps between species. The cause for similarities is common descent, and the cause for differences is the tendency towards diversification, which however has its environmental restrictions. Emanation also has the concept of devolution, i.e. there’s a way to tell if the species are progressing in development or regressing.

  142. 142
    E.Seigner says:

    @StephenB

    This one is too easy to ignore:

    I just dropped several objects from varying heights and discovered that they all fall at the rate. How does that result depend on the way my hypothesis is formulated.

    Your hypothesis evidently was to figure out whether the objects fall at the same rate. Had your hypothesis been about if and how the objects break at different heights, you would not have cared about the speed and you would have a different conclusion, even though otherwise the experiment would have been the same.

    And it’s embarrassing that you don’t see these objections coming. Too embarrasing.

  143. 143
    StephenB says:

    E Seigner

    Welcome back, the guy of faulty analogies. Here are some of the ways in which your analogy about the ancient hunter’s spear is faulty:

    I made no analogies, nor did I say anything about archeologists. You must be projecting your philosophical prejudices on my inquiry.

    Here is the question again:

    Can you differentiate between the apparent design in an ancient hunter’s spear and a rock formed by wind, air, and erosion. Or, if you have a hang up about archeology, can you differentiate between a naturally-formed pile of sand on the beach and a sand castle?

    The basic failure of ID theory is not whether there’s some structure, design, or information in this or that thing – everybody agrees that there is.

    A moment ago, you claimed that the archeologist depends on a broader context to assign design to a spear. Now, you agree that the design is inherent and can be detected in the artifact. Please affirm one position and negate the other.

    The basic failure is to establish what the structure means, if anything. There’s no agreement on if this or that structure means a designer or not, and why it should mean a designer, and if it does, then so what.

    Please try to rephrase that comment into comprehensible prose.

    That may be one of the most confused parts of a The basic failure is the lack of method that would distinguish between an intelligent cause and any other cause.

    The methods are specifically designed to make that distinction.

    Analogies won’t wash.

    ID doesn’t argue by analogy. You really ought to investigate a subject before you comment on it. You really should.

    Scientists use plenty of analogies, but they don’t take them literally – and they shouldn’t, because it’s merely an analogy. Unambiguous empirical data on this cannot logically be had, because data is always open to interpretation and to interpret it you need a method and method is precisely what you don’t have.

    So now you are claiming that ID has no methods? Aren’t you even curious about what you think you know and don’t?

  144. 144
    StephenB says:

    E Seigner

    Your hypothesis evidently was to figure out whether the objects fall at the same rate. Had your hypothesis been about if and how the objects break at different heights, you would not have cared about the speed and you would have a different conclusion, even though otherwise the experiment would have been the same.

    And it’s embarrassing that you don’t see these objections coming. Too embarrasing.

    You are stumbling over your own misguided assertions. You claimed that the “results” of the experiment “depend” on the hypothesis. The results are used to negate confirm the hypothesis, but they don’t depend on it. If they did, they they would change with each new hypothesis. The results depend on the laws that govern the activity. Even if I hypothesized that the object will not fall at all or that they would all fall at the same speed, the results of the experiment would not vary.

  145. 145
    Silver Asiatic says:

    E.Seigner

    But briefly, the alternatives to Darwinian theory are creation (by God, as in the Old Testament, or by Demiurge as in Plato’s Timaeus) and emanation (of matter from spirit, as in Neoplatonism). The latter is what I hold to. It’s worth noting though that from human point of view emanation would look non-different from evolution 🙂

    You did not mention the origin of life, but I’ll assume that you accept something like Darwinism for that also.
    Darwinism holds that variety in nature arose from the first life form – like bacteria, through random mutations and natural selection.
    You have added an undefined spirit, from an unknown origin that had an unobservable effect on matter. It seems your idea adds nothing. Darwinian processes remain the same with emanation or without it.

    I am looking at the same facts as Darwinists. We describe the apparent evolution from lower species to higher the same way based on the similarities between species, but emanation explains better the rather solid distinctions or gaps between species.

    I don’t understand how emanation explains gaps between species. You observe gaps. Now you present a hypothesis to explain those gaps. Your hypothesis is that some kind of spirit had an observable effect on the development of nature, right? Is this an intelligent spirit? If so, you observe the effect of an intelligent agent on nature, right?

    The cause for similarities is common descent, and the cause for differences is the tendency towards diversification, which however has its environmental restrictions.

    Of course you need a lot more evidence than merely “similarities”. Just because two things look similiar does not mean one evolved from the other. Apparently, you believe that human beings evolved from ape-like beings, which evolved eventually from single-celled organisms (and eventually from inorganic matter). So, do you accept that human reason is a modification of an ape-like brain from mutations?
    Is human morality also a product of biological evolution?

    Emanation also has the concept of devolution, i.e. there’s a way to tell if the species are progressing in development or regressing.

    I think I’m being kind by saying that this is incoherent and that you have zero evidence to support any of these claims. You could cite some scientific papers which support your view on devolution or whether evolution causes species to progress or not. You speak of higher and lower species and I wonder if there is scientific evidence for that also. Evolution acts without purpose or direction. It is a process built on random, chance mutations. If you observe something different in nature, it would be very good to know what that is, where you see it, how you measure it and what support you have for your view.

  146. 146
    E.Seigner says:

    StephenB

    A moment ago, you claimed that the archeologist depends on a broader context to assign design to a spear. Now, you agree that the design is inherent and can be detected in the artifact. Please affirm one position and negate the other.

    Interpretation always depends on context, and this means infinite factors, because context in abstract sense is infinite. Anyway, if you want me to affirm one position and negate the other in your false dichotomy, then no, design is never inherent. It’s always the interpreting person who does the interpretation, i.e. the interpretation is always subjective and context-dependent. The artefact itself has no say on how it may be interpreted, even though everything will be interpreted some way or another whenever there is an interpreter.

    Context is very powerful. Dawkins agrees that everything looks designed in some sense. Daniel Dennett agrees that he believes in God in some sense (namely, when it’s said “God is a word”). In some sense, everybody agrees in some sense and the failure of ID theory is to make relevant distinctions and specifications.

    So now you are claiming that ID has no methods? Aren’t you even curious about what you think you know and don’t?

    The problem is that I have asked you about methods earlier in another discussion. What I got in response was a series of analogies how all other people work, not how ID theorists work. I’m not expecting any better now, but okay: What are the methods?

    (I won’t touch analogies and concepts that I have already refuted. I also note the way you tacitly sidestep every refutation as if it never happened.)

  147. 147
    StephenB says:

    E Seigner

    Interpretation always depends on context, and this means infinite factors, because context in abstract sense is infinite. Anyway, if you want me to affirm one position and negate the other in your false dichotomy, then no, design is never inherent. It’s always the interpreting person who does the interpretation, i.e. the interpretation is always subjective and context-dependent. The artefact itself has no say on how it may be interpreted, even though everything will be interpreted some way or another whenever there is an interpreter.

    No. We apprehend the design; we do not project it. I gather that is why you evaded my simple question about the existence of design in a sand castle. Although you know the design is present in the object and that you can detect it, you refuse to acknowledge what you know.

    For some reason, you want to attribute the design to the subject which investigates it rather than the object that is being investigated. In that sense, you are a lot closer to being a Kantian than a Thomist. St. Thomas would never agree with your intellectual strategy of avoiding scientific evidence. Why you would call yourself a Thomist is a mystery.

    Context is very powerful. Dawkins agrees that everything looks designed in some sense. Daniel Dennett agrees that he believes in God in some sense (namely, when it’s said “God is a word”). In some sense, everybody agrees in some sense and the failure of ID theory is to make relevant distinctions and specifications.

    Context is vitally important, but you are misapplying the idea. Dennett is simply abusing the language and equivocating with words. Your claim that ID theory doesn’t make relevant distinctions is manifestly false. It is ironic that you provide no context for such a generalized statement after pontificating on the importance of context.

    The problem is that I have asked you about methods earlier in another discussion. What I got in response was a series of analogies how all other people work, not how ID theorists work.

    No, you didn’t ask about ID’s methods at all. If only you had exhibited that kind of intellectual curiosity I would have been much edified. On the contrary, you insisted that ID’s methods are not used by other disciplines, as if you already knew what those methods were. So, I had to take time out to provide examples of those other disciplines.
    Context, context, context. You preach about the importance of context, but you don’t exercise that same due caution in practice.

    I’m not expecting any better now, but okay: What are the methods?

    The scientific method, which ID uses, follows these steps–observation –> hypothesis –> experiment –> conclusion. Intelligent design begins with the observation that intelligent agents produce complex and specified information (CSI). Design theorists hypothesize that if objects were designed, they will contain CSI. They then test for CSI and draw the appropriate conclusion.

    Some of the more specific methods, all of which you are unfamiliar with, include (but are not limited to) the following:

    Inference to the best explanation,

    Appeal to causes already in existence,

    Appeal to causes known to produce the effects in question,

    Abductive reasoning,

    Testing through Irreducible complexity,

    Testing through the explanatory filter,

    and reverse engineering,

    (I won’t touch analogies and concepts that I have already refuted. I also note the way you tacitly sidestep every refutation as if it never happened.)

    I did not sidestep your false objection. I pointed out that ID does not argue by analogy. What is it about the word not that you do not understand.

    Rather than make claims based on what you have heard from others, you really ought to ask intelligent questions and use the feedback you receive to illuminate you mind.

    If you have any other objections, please list them. Meanwhile, I will give you a pass on several nonsensical claims of yours that I refuted (unless you continue on your present course).

  148. 148
    Daniel King says:

    The scientific method, which ID uses, follows these steps–observation –> hypothesis –> experiment –> conclusion.

    That’s it! That’s where ID goes wrong.

    The correct sequence is:

    observations -> hypothesis -> more observations OR experiment -> better hypothesis -> more observations/experiments -> better hypothesis -> ad infinitum

  149. 149
    Upright BiPed says:

    It’s simply amazing Stephen. Loads of pompous objections, without a single meaningful principle or observation behind any of them. Isn’t it interesting – all these objectors who claim that ID argues from analogy never seem to be able to address the evidence.

    Good luck.

  150. 150
    Mung says:

    This little gem should not be overlooked:

    E.Seigner:

    I am assuming that reason exists, yes, because this is a necessary precondition for us to have a dialogue. To atheists I say – if you have no mind, if you have no rational free will and no sense of responsibility of your own, then how can you have anything serious to say, anything more worth considering than I have? And the case is closed. Necessary precondition to dialogue is to have a discussion partner with a rational mind and good faith. Pointless to talk to monkeys.

    Note that this is a metaphysical argument and works without any empirical evidence. Also, no empirical evidence can ever refute it, not even in principle. If the atheist produces empirical evidence that indeed the mind is just a fully deterministic mechanistic brain-function, that free will is an illusion and autonomous reasoning is fiction, then rational talk ends there, and this proves my point as well as his.

  151. 151
    Mung says:

    E.Seigner,

    I have a question about something you wrote above which I hope you can find time to address, if you think it interesting enough to warrant a response.

    Why do you think ID is about formal and/or final causes rather than efficient causation?

    IOW. ID sets itself to be at odds with Neo-Darwinism, which is a theory of efficient causation. Or do you think that Darwinism is also an attempt to explain formal and final causes and is equally unscientific?

    thanks

  152. 152
    Mung says:

    Silver Asiatic:

    I imagine myself at 5 pm EST today flying through the window. But that event does not exist because in reality I am sitting here.

    You’re equivocating. You began to talk of things and now you speak about events in order to affirm your theory about things as if they were the same.

    Your task is to imagine a thing that cannot be described. Of course by describing it you have just asserted it has an essence. And then by claiming it does not exist you have just agreed that essence really is distinct from existence.

  153. 153
    E.Seigner says:

    Mung

    Why do you think ID is about formal and/or final causes rather than efficient causation?

    Why do you think I think any such thing?

    I have not found ID to be about anything intelligible, consistent, coherent, or scientific. See the list of defects of ID in #135. That’s what I think about ID.

    Mung

    IOW. ID sets itself to be at odds with Neo-Darwinism, which is a theory of efficient causation. Or do you think that Darwinism is also an attempt to explain formal and final causes and is equally unscientific?

    As adherents to classical philosophies, such as neo-Scholastics, Thomists, Neo-Aristotelians and Neoplatonists would say (and have said), if it’s not about formal and final causes, then it’s reductive, too narrow, non-different from Darwinism and incapable to reveal anything fresh in science.

    And as Thomist (and other philosophically and theologically savvy) proponents of ID have said in response to this, ID actually is about formal and final causes (see the article I linked to in #135). If ID is about formal and final causes, this raises the question: What method does ID have to detect the immaterial? Logically, such empirical method cannot even be had, but if such a method exists, then where is it? What results has it produced?

    The answer of course is that the different proponents of ID can be mutually contradictory about method and aims precisely because there is no method at all. The aims are ulterior, un-scientific. As Dembski put it:

    ID’s critique of naturalism and Darwinism should not be viewed as offering a metaphysics of nature but rather as a subversive strategy for unseating naturalism/Darwinism on their own terms.

    This explains perfectly why ID theorists can’t agree what they are studying, if it’s efficient or final or formal causes, if it’s information or complexity, design or intelligence, cells, gods or aliens, and how the so-called study occurs, if it’s detection or inference. Many of these things are mutually exclusive, both in scientific and in logical terms. This all can happen because there’s nothing positive or scientific in the project to begin with. It’s a quasi-political reaction against Darwinism. Science (if any, I haven’t detected any yet) in the ID project is subjected to the ulterior motive.

  154. 154
    Joe says:

    LoL! @ Daniel King- There isn’t any “proper” sequence and there isn’t any scientific method.

    As for E.Seigner, that person doesn’t seem to have a clue

  155. 155
    Joe says:

    Dear E.Seigner,

    ID makes scientifically testable claims, unlike unguided evolution. That means ID can be tested and potentially falsified. ID has the physical evidence- the design is physical and nothing you can say will ever change tat simple fact.

    ID is based on three premises and the inference that follows (DeWolf et al., Darwinism, Design and Public Education, pg. 92):

    1) High information content (or specified complexity) and irreducible complexity constitute strong indicators or hallmarks of (past) intelligent design.

    2) Biological systems have a high information content (or specified complexity) and utilize subsystems that manifest irreducible complexity.

    3) Naturalistic mechanisms or undirected causes do not suffice to explain the origin of information (specified complexity) or irreducible complexity.

    4) Therefore, intelligent design constitutes the best explanations for the origin of information and irreducible complexity in biological systems.

    Those are the core concepts of ID and to falsify Intelligent Design all one has to do is demonstrate that natural selection can produce irreducibly complex biological systems.

    As Dr Behe said:

    Now, one can’t have it both ways. One can’t say both that ID is unfalsifiable (or untestable) and that there is evidence against it. Either it is unfalsifiable and floats serenely beyond experimental reproach, or it can be criticized on the basis of our observations and is therefore testable. The fact that critical reviewers advance scientific arguments against ID (whether successfully or not) shows that intelligent design is indeed falsifiable.

    In fact, my argument for intelligent design is open to direct experimental rebuttal. Here is a thought experiment that makes the point clear. In Darwin’s Black Box (Behe 1996) I claimed that the bacterial flagellum was irreducibly complex and so required deliberate intelligent design. The flip side of this claim is that the flagellum can’t be produced by natural selection acting on random mutation, or any other unintelligent process. To falsify such a claim, a scientist could go into the laboratory, place a bacterial species lacking a flagellum under some selective pressure (for mobility, say), grow it for ten thousand generations, and see if a flagellum–or any equally complex system–was produced. If that happened, my claims would be neatly disproven.(1)

    How about Professor Coyne’s concern that, if one system were shown to be the result of natural selection, proponents of ID could just claim that some other system was designed? I think the objection has little force. If natural selection were shown to be capable of producing a system of a certain degree of complexity, then the assumption would be that it could produce any other system of an equal or lesser degree of complexity. If Coyne demonstrated that the flagellum (which requires approximately forty gene products) could be produced by selection, I would be rather foolish to then assert that the blood clotting system (which consists of about twenty proteins) required intelligent design.

    Let’s turn the tables and ask, how could one falsify the claim that, say, the bacterial flagellum was produced by Darwinian processes?

    The criteria for inferring design in biology is, as Michael J. Behe, Professor of Biochemistry at Leheigh University, puts it in his book Darwin ‘ s Black Box: “Our ability to be confident of the design of the cilium or intracellular transport rests on the same principles to be confident of the design of anything: the ordering of separate components to achieve an identifiable function that depends sharply on the components.” That is the positive case. For example:

    As I posted in an earlier blog:

    The ATP Synthase is a system that consists of two subsystems-> one for the flow of protons down an electrochemical gradient from the exterior to the interior and the other (a rotary engine) that generates ATP from ADP using the energy liberated by proton flow. These two processes are totally unrelated from a purely physiochemical perspective*- meaning there isn’t any general principle of physics nor chemistry by which these two processes have anything to do with each other. Yet here they are.

    How is this evidence for Intelligent Design? Cause and effect relationships as in designers often take two totally unrelated systems and intergrate them into one. The ordering of separate subsystems to produce a specific effect that neither can do alone. And those subsystems are composed of the ordering of separate components to achieve a specified function.

    ATP synthase is not reducible to chance and necessity and also meets the criteria of design.

    * Emergent collective properties, networks, and information in biology, page 23:

    In the same vein, ATP synthesis in mitochondria can be conceived of and explained only because there is a coupling between ATP-synthase, the enzyme responsible for ATP synthesis, and the electrochemical potential. Hence ATP synthesis emerges out of this coupling. The activity of ATP-synthase alone could have in no way explained ATP synthesis. It is the merit of Mitchell, to have shown that it is precisely the interaction between two different physico-chemical events that generates this novel remarkable property. (italics in original)

    Next we take a look inside ATP synthase-

    “Thermodynamic efficiency and mechanochemical coupling of F1-ATPase”:

    Abstract:

    F1-ATPase is a nanosized biological energy transducer working as part of FoF1-ATP synthase. Its rotary machinery transduces energy between chemical free energy and mechanical work and plays a central role in the cellular energy transduction by synthesizing most ATP in virtually all organisms. However, information about its energetics is limited compared to that of the reaction scheme. Actually, fundamental questions such as how efficiently F1-ATPase transduces free energy remain unanswered. Here, we demonstrated reversible rotations of isolated F1-ATPase in discrete 120° steps by precisely controlling both the external torque and the chemical potential of ATP hydrolysis as a model system of FoF1-ATP synthase. We found that the maximum work performed by F1-ATPase per 120° step is nearly equal to the thermodynamical maximum work that can be extracted from a single ATP hydrolysis under a broad range of conditions. Our results suggested a 100% free-energy transduction efficiency and a tight mechanochemical coupling of F1-ATPase.

    Highly effiecient, irreducibly complex, and no way- physiochemcially to get the two subunits to come together-> there’s no attraction and no coupling.

    See also:

    Davies et al., “Macromolecular organization of ATP synthase and complex I in whole mitochondria,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

    Tamás Beke-Somfai, Per Lincoln, and Bengt Nordén, “Double-lock ratchet mechanism revealing the role of [alpha]SER-344 in F0F1 ATP synthase,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

  156. 156
    vjtorley says:

    Hi E. Seigner,

    Thank you for your post. First,
    I’d like to comment on your argument against atheism:

    To atheists I say – if you have no mind, if you have no rational free will and no sense of responsibility of your own, then how can you have anything serious to say, anything more worth considering than I have? And the case is closed. Necessary precondition to dialogue is to have a discussion partner with a rational mind and good faith. Pointless to talk to monkeys.

    Note that this is a metaphysical argument and works without any empirical evidence. If the atheist produces empirical evidence that indeed the mind is just a fully deterministic mechanistic brain-function, that free will is an illusion and autonomous reasoning is fiction, then rational talk ends there, and this proves my point as well as his.

    I’m afraid this is far too simplistic, if one is arguing with an intelligent atheist.

    1. Very few atheists claim that human beings don’t have minds. Only eliminative materialists claim that. Reductive materialists (who are much more common than eliminative materialists) claim that each person has a mind, but that the mental states are reducible to material processes, while central state materialists claim that mental states are identical to brain states. And of course, there are many other varieties of materialism as well, which take the reality of mind for granted.

    2. I should point out, however, that the existence of mental states (including reasoning) does not logically imply the existence of an “I” or “self” who has these states. Descartes famously asserted “I think, therefore I am” in his Cogito (and before him, Aristotle, St. Augustine, Shankara and Gomez Pereira made similar assertions), but if the Cogito is treated as a metaphysical syllogism, then it is invalid. The philosopher Gassendi (a priest and a contemporary of Descartes’) long ago pinpointed the problem with Descartes’ inference: the move from the observation (made on the basis of introspection) that thinking is occurring to the conclusion that I am having these thoughts is an illicit one, because it assumes what it sets out to prove, i.e. the existence of a particular person with a capacity for thought (O III (DM) 289a-290a; R 82-86). Nietzche was even more cutting in his critique: “When I analyze the process that is expressed in the sentence ‘I think,’ I find a whole series of daring assertions that would be difficult, perhaps impossible to prove: for example, that it is I who think, that there must necessarily be something that thinks, that thinking is an activity and operation on the part of a being who is thought of as a cause, that there is an ego, and, finally, that it is already determined what is to be designated by thinking.” (Beyond Good and Evil, section 16). Finally, in recent times, the Catholic philosopher Elizabeth Anscombe famously contended that the term “I” does not refer to anything in her 1975 essay, “The First Person” (available online). Of course, there are powerful philosophical arguments for the existence of a self, but one-line arguments which simply assert that the denial of the existence of a self is inherently self-refuting make the move far too quickly, in my opinion. (A better line of argument might be to ask someone disputing the existence of a self: “Whom are you trying to convince?” 🙂 )

    3. Although most atheists are materialists, most of them profess to believe in moral responsibility, and all of them claim to believe in the validity of reasoning. Now, you may think that determinism entails the end of rational discussion – and I would say you are right, when it comes to speculative as opposed to pragmatic reasoning – but you have to argue for that position. Just asserting it as self-evident won’t do. As the philosopher Elizabeth Anscombe (no friend of materialism) pointed out several decades ago in a dispute with C.S. Lewis, the fact that my inferences are logically determined does not automatically render them invalid. Just as Lewis took Anscombe’s advice to heart, and reformulated his Argument from Reason after his 1948 debate with her at Oxford, you need to sharpen your argument against materialism. You also have to show that your own philosophical viewpoint (Neo-Platonism) is reconcilable with the existence of moral responsibility, before critiquing the compatibilist account of moral responsibility which most materialists adopt. For example: is the One Substance that you believe in capable of immoral acts? If the answer is yes, then the One is not God. If the answer is no, then who is it that performs these acts? The fairies?

    I should add that your personal philosophy appears to be inconsistent. You write:

    In Western terms, Neoplatonism a la Plotinus feels most natural to me: There’s just one substance, one essence which is spirit, and matter is its opposite polarity, its shadow.

    If matter is the opposite pole of spirit, and not its mere negation, then spirit and matter are essentially complementary (like Yin and Yang), which entails that each can only be defined in terms of the other, which in turn entails that an inherent duality lies at the heart of reality. That contradicts your assertion that there’s just one substance. Also, if there’s just one substance, then one and the same being is responsible for both Nazism and the opposition to it during WWII – which means that this substance you postulate is fighting against itself. That sounds incoherent to me.

    As to your accusation that Intelligent Design’s methodology is not scientific: I wonder how you (as a non-scientist) would explain the awkward fact that it has managed to attract physicists, chemists and biologists to its cause – and even a couple of Nobel Prize winners (Brian Josephson and Richard Smalley, for instance).

    Finally, your assertions that “interpretation always depends on context” and that an object can only be identified as an artifact of a certain kind (e.g. a spear) by comparing it with other artifacts of the same kind (e.g. other spears) are empirically false. Evidently you haven’t read about the archaeological controversy relating to eoliths, from 1885 to 1940. The claim was that certain stones discovered in Europe had been flaked by humans, but it was subsequently shown that glaciation and erosion could produce the same effects. This is a perfect example of the explanatory filter being applied to rule out a design inference.

    As to how we can identify an object as an artifact without a context: consider Arthur C. Clarke’s monolith. Even if we knew nothing of its function, the specific dimensions of the monolith would still warrant an inference to the fact that it was designed.

    Or to use a less hypothetical example: the function of Acheulean hand-axes remains the subject of intense archaeological controversy to this day, but no-one doubts that they are artifacts.

    I might add that Richard Dawkins has written in one of his books (I forget the reference) that archaeologists are often able to identify the function of an object from examining its structure, and on this point, he is surely correct. You don’t need to know anything about human beings to be able to infer that knives are for cutting. To use a hypothetical example: an alien visiting Earth long after the demise of the human race could easily make the same inference, if it were to uncover human knives.

  157. 157
    Silver Asiatic says:

    You’re equivocating. You began to talk of things and now you speak about events in order to affirm your theory about things as if they were the same.

    Myself with the capability to fly. You wanted to know if that thing existed.

    Your task is to imagine a thing that cannot be described.

    Ok, I just did. What essence does that thing have?

    Of course by describing it you have just asserted it has an essence.

    I asked several questions about the nature of imaginary things.

    And then by claiming it does not exist you have just agreed that essence really is distinct from existence.

    When I dream something is my description of the dream the essence of the things I dreamed about? Does it matter if I describe my dream accurately or not?

  158. 158
    E.Seigner says:

    @Joe

    Thanks for the attempt to give an idea of the methods of the ID theory. Let’s take a look at the first tenet:

    1) High information content (or specified complexity) and irreducible complexity constitute strong indicators or hallmarks of (past) intelligent design.

    I assume high information content and irreducible complexity both mean not just the quantity or density of data, but also its structure and stability. If so, and the terms are compatible with the mathematical modelling of complex systems, then unfortunately the tenet is false. Nobody necessarily sees any need for any designer there or for hallmarks of design. Complexity is complexity and stability is stability, no big deal. Any designer here is as irrelevant as the experimenter in the physics lab or the mathematician who runs the model. Of course the experimenter is always there, this goes without saying, and this is exactly why it’s completely irrelevant and uninteresting.

    However, I suspect that the terms are not quite as used in the modelling of complex systems. And I don’t care to know why. It’s enough to notice that irreducible complexity is a term exclusive to ID theory and rejected by scientific community at large, so doesn’t it sort of mean that the term is dubious? What stops you from using standard scientific terms? Also, I have not seen any coherent definition of the term “information” during my time here. It’s getting too obvious that it doesn’t exist.

    If your method indeed is mathematical modelling of complex systems, then it’s good for you to know that this has given a strong recent surge to the metaphysical theory called emergentism which is a kind of materialistic epiphenomenalism. This much about strong indicators of intelligent design.

    But I understand that your attempt was sincere. Your attempt was the best thus far. Thank you and I will be remembering this statement of yours:

    There isn’t any “proper” sequence and there isn’t any scientific method.

    VJT

    If matter is the opposite pole of spirit, and not its mere negation, then spirit and matter are essentially complementary (like Yin and Yang), which entails that each can only be defined in terms of the other, which in turn entails that an inherent duality lies at the heart of reality. That contradicts your assertion that there’s just one substance.

    You know well about Yin and Yang and it already became obvious that you are dualistically inclined. Any metaphysical theory one adopts, language is dualistic and doesn’t lend itself to an easy description of monism. My metaphysics is off topic here anyway. You can argue with Plotinus. I already saw how you argue about Aquinas.

    VJT

    Evidently you haven’t read about the archaeological controversy relating to eoliths, from 1885 to 1940. The claim was that certain stones discovered in Europe had been flaked by humans, but it was subsequently shown that glaciation and erosion could produce the same effects. This is a perfect example of the explanatory filter being applied to rule out a design inference.

    This proves my point very well. Nothing in the eoliths showed reliably that they were designed. Eoliths themselves remained the same all along, right? This tells me that no design was there to be scientifically detected. As people’s other assumptions changed, their view about the eoliths changed. This is the power of context.

    The same point applies to Odyssey’s monolith. In the movie it has one meaning, in the book it has another meaning. You can watch the movie and read the book and come up with a third meaning altogether. Then do the same again and reconsider as many times as you like.

    Anyway, the examples, illustrations, comparisons and analogies that have no connection with ID at all are strongly conveying the message that ID has nothing of its own to say. I got the message.

  159. 159
    Silver Asiatic says:

    Brief definitions of key ID-related terms
    http://www.uncommondescent.com/glossary/

  160. 160
    Joe says:

    E Seigner:

    I assume high information content and irreducible complexity both mean not just the quantity or density of data, but also its structure and stability. If so, and the terms are compatible with the mathematical modelling of complex systems, then unfortunately the tenet is false. Nobody necessarily sees any need for any designer there or for hallmarks of design.

    LoL! Is that the best you can do? Really?

    Complexity is complexity and stability is stability, no big deal.

    It is more than mere complexity and more than mere stability that leads us to the design inference.

    However, I suspect that the terms are not quite as used in the modelling of complex systems.

    No one is talking about mere complexity.

    It’s enough to notice that irreducible complexity is a term exclusive to ID theory and rejected by scientific community at large…

    That is a lie or perhaps just your ignorance.

    Also, I have not seen any coherent definition of the term “information” during my time here.

    LoL! Sir Francis Crick defined information wrt biology. ID uses it in the same manner.

    Thank you and I will be remembering this statement of yours:

    There isn’t any “proper” sequence and there isn’t any scientific method.

    Strange, I got that from scientists, textbooks and university websites.

  161. 161
    Joe says:

    Science is a process:

    There is no such thing as “THE Scientific Method.”
    If you go to science fairs or read scientific journals, you may get the impression that science is nothing more than “question-hypothesis-procedure-data-conclusions.”

    But this is seldom the way scientists actually do their work. Most scientific thinking, whether done while jogging, in the shower, in a lab, or while excavating a fossil, involves continuous observations, questions, multiple hypotheses, and more observations. It seldom “concludes” and never “proves.”

  162. 162
    Joe says:

    Yes, Intelligent Design is both testable and falsifiable. Intelligent Design relies on Newton’s First Rule, meaning agencies are only added when REQUIRED. Therefor to refute ID and any given design inference all one has to do is step up and demonstrate that blind and undirected processes can account for it. IOW all evos have to do to stop ID cold is to actually step up and A) produce a tyestable hypothesis for their position and B) produce positive, supporting evidence.

    However all evos can do is cry foul and say “blind, undirected processes is a strawman!”- yet it is a given that natural selection, genetic drift and HGT are all blind, purposeless processes and all mutations are undirected-> that is given the current theory of evolution. IOW evotards are so clueless they don’t even understand the theory they try to defend!

    So there you have it – just start supporting your position and ID will go away.

    How is ID tested? As in positive evidence?

    1- See above as the way to the design inference is THROUGH the blind watchmaker

    2- The criteria for inferring design in biology is, as Michael J. Behe, Professor of Biochemistry at Leheigh University, puts it in his book Darwin ‘ s Black Box: “Our ability to be confident of the design of the cilium or intracellular transport rests on the same principles to be confident of the design of anything: the ordering of separate components to achieve an identifiable function that depends sharply on the components.”

    So if nature, operating freely cannot account for it AND it meets that criteria, some agency is required and we infer design (or at least agency involvement).

    It is basically the same process that archaeologists use to determine artifacts and forensic science uses to determine a crime has occurred.

  163. 163

    Joe quotes Behe:

    In fact, my argument for intelligent design is open to direct experimental rebuttal. Here is a thought experiment that makes the point clear. In Darwin’s Black Box (Behe 1996) I claimed that the bacterial flagellum was irreducibly complex and so required deliberate intelligent design. The flip side of this claim is that the flagellum can’t be produced by natural selection acting on random mutation, or any other unintelligent process. To falsify such a claim, a scientist could go into the laboratory, place a bacterial species lacking a flagellum under some selective pressure (for mobility, say), grow it for ten thousand generations, and see if a flagellum–or any equally complex system–was produced. If that happened, my claims would be neatly disproven.

    I fail to see how this would disprove ID was involved if the flagellum was, in fact, generated in the experiment. Does Behe erroneously assume that there could be no intelligence at work in such a situation? Just because you can observe the formation of intelligently designed artifacts doesn’t mean they were not intelligently designed. If I saw rocks, apparently by themselves, shuffle around and spell out “created by random processes and natural law”, I’d still know some form of intelligence was behind it.

  164. 164
    Phinehas says:

    The problem with being so arrogant as to think you know it all is that you will be inevitably dismissed as ignorant when it is revealed that you obviously don’t.

  165. 165
    Silver Asiatic says:

    I fail to see how this would disprove ID was involved if the flagellum was, in fact, generated in the experiment.

    Behe: “The flip side of this claim is that the flagellum can’t be produced by natural selection acting on random mutation, or any other unintelligent process.”
    If you can show the production of the thing by experiment and natural processes, there is no need to cite ID as the explanation.

    Does Behe erroneously assume that there could be no intelligence at work in such a situation?

    No, he’s proposing that we can observe where intelligence is required. You could claim that ‘everything is designed’ as E.Seigner has done on this thread. But you then cannot distinguish the output of a random, natural process from a designed output.

    If I saw rocks, apparently by themselves, shuffle around and spell out “created by random processes and natural law”, I’d still know some form of intelligence was behind it.

    If you see a pile of rocks at the base of a hill after a landslide, you normally wouldn’t claim that an intelligent agent was required to form that pile.
    But you couldn’t disprove that an invisible intelligence created that exact pile.
    In the example above, you cannot cite a natural law or precedent by randomness to explain what you see.

    ID is focused on areas where intelligent activity can be observed as opposed to random outputs or natural processes.

  166. 166
    Joe says:

    William J. Murray:

    I fail to see how this would disprove ID was involved if the flagellum was, in fact, generated in the experiment.

    I agree – Behe doesn’t or didn’t grasp the concept of evolution by intelligent design. That is organisms were designed to evolve- think evolutionary and genetic algorithms, ie evolution by intelligent design.

    That said if such a system did evolve and did so within a short time frame, I would take that as evidence for that concept. I am pretty sure you would also.

    However Behe made a specific claim, the experiment just needs some tweaking to reflect those claims. One of the tweaks would be to determine that genomic changes are indeed unitelligent, chance events.

  167. 167
    Joe says:

    Also Lenski has given us a good glimpse as to the number of genrations required- it will be well over 50,000, as opposed to Behe’s 10,000.

  168. 168
    Phinehas says:

    ES:

    The same point applies to Odyssey’s monolith. In the movie it has one meaning, in the book it has another meaning. You can watch the movie and read the book and come up with a third meaning altogether. Then do the same again and reconsider as many times as you like.

    And all of those “meanings” are based on the likelihood that it was designed.

  169. 169
    Joe says:

    Just a mere mention of the word information wrt biology causes convulsions so intense that if all the anti-IDists were together it would cause an earthquake. Yet a little history demonstrates that Sir Francis Crick talked about biological information in his “Central Dogma”. For example:

    Information means here the precise determination of sequence, either of bases in the nucleic acid or on amino acid residues in the protein.

    Each protein consists of a specific sequence of amino acid residues which is encoded by a specific sequence of processed mRNA. Each mRNA is encoded by a specific sequence of DNA.  The point being is biological information refers to the macromolecules that are involved in some process, be that transcription, editing, splicing, translation and functioning proteins. No one measures the biological information in a random sequence of DNA nor any DNA sequence not directly observed in some process. The best one can do with any given random DNA sequence is figure out its information carrying capacity. You couldn’t tell if it was biological information without a reference library.

    And Leslie Orgel first talked about specified complexity wrt biology:

    In brief, living organisms are distinguished by their specified complexity. Crystals are usually taken as the prototypes of simple well-specified structures, because they consist of a very large number of identical molecules packed together in a uniform way. Lumps of granite or random mixtures of polymers are examples of structures that are complex but not specified. The crystals fail to qualify as living because they lack complexity; the mixtures of polymers fail to qualify because they lack specificity.

    As far as I can tell IDists use the terms in the same way. Dembski and  Meyer make it clear that it is sequence specificity that is central to their claims.

    That is the whole point- if sequence specificity matters the tighter the specification the less likely blind physical processes could find it. Yup those dreaded probabilities again, but seeing yours doesn’t come with a testable model it’s all we have. See Is Intelligent Design Required for Life?

    With that said, to measure biological information, ie biological specification, all you have to do is count the coding nucleotides of the genes involved for that functioning system, then multiply by 2 (four possible nucleotides = 2^2) and then factor in the variation tolerance:

    from Kirk K. Durston, David K. Y. Chiu, David L. Abel, Jack T. Trevors, Measuring the functional sequence complexity of proteins, Theoretical Biology and Medical Modelling, Vol. 4:47 (2007):

    [N]either RSC [Random Sequence Complexity] nor OSC [Ordered Sequence Complexity], or any combination of the two, is sufficient to describe the functional complexity observed in living organisms, for neither includes the additional dimension of functionality, which is essential for life. FSC [Functional Sequence Complexity] includes the dimension of functionality. Szostak argued that neither Shannon’s original measure of uncertainty nor the measure of algorithmic complexity are sufficient. Shannon’s classical information theory does not consider the meaning, or function, of a message. Algorithmic complexity fails to account for the observation that “different molecular structures may be functionally equivalent.” For this reason, Szostak suggested that a new measure of information—functional information—is required.

  170. 170

    Silver_Asiatic said:

    If you can show the production of the thing by experiment and natural processes, there is no need to cite ID as the explanation.

    If such an experiment produces a working flagellum, we cannot “observe” the quality of the process as being “natural law”, “random”, or “intelligently guided”. Depending on what the experiment produced, we would infer that it was because of a certain kind of process. If it produced a series of bacteria that spelled out “these bacterial results were brought to you by your creator”, just because it occurred under observation in a lab in a short time doesn’t mean it was generated by natural law & chance. The same is true if a flagellum or a working nanotech radio the bacteria uses to communicate with us.

    Behe was apparently assuming (falsely) that no intelligence could be actively affecting the bacteria in the lab experiment. If intelligence created the flagellum before, it can certainly do so in a lab experiment under our very noses.

  171. 171

    Joe said:

    That said if such a system did evolve and did so within a short time frame, I would take that as evidence for that concept. I am pretty sure you would also.

    Overwhelmingly compelling evidence. If you can’t expect RM & NS to generate the flagellum in the lifetime of the universe, doing so in a short lab experiment would be proof of intelligence guiding it.

  172. 172
    Upright BiPed says:

    E.Seigner,

    You continue make empty claims. An clear example of irreducible complexity, for instance, can be given to you that would immediately force you into blind absurdity to argue against.

    You simply do not know what you are talking about.

  173. 173
    Joe says:

    William J. Murray:

    If you can’t expect RM & NS to generate the flagellum in the lifetime of the universe, doing so in a short lab experiment would be proof of intelligence guiding it.

    It all depends on who you talk to as to what is expected from NS. Futuyma, in his biology textbooks, declares NS is the only process known to produce adaptations and I am sure he will consider the flagellum to be an adaptation.

    However, as I have said, Lenski has given us a gauge and the gauge is pointing towards “empty” with respect to the creative powers of differing accumulations of genetic variation. That dog, natural selection, is a lap dog and it ain’t huntin’.

  174. 174
    Silver Asiatic says:

    If such an experiment produces a working flagellum, we cannot “observe” the quality of the process as being “natural law”, “random”, or “intelligently guided”.

    We observe what happens under certain conditions.
    Behe: “place a bacterial species lacking a flagellum under some selective pressure (for mobility, say), grow it for ten thousand generations, and see if a flagellum–or any equally complex system–was produced”.

    If a flagellum is produced, repeatedly via unbiased conditions, we can conclude that a natural process produced it. We can predict the result. In the same way, if we put water in a freezer and then later observed it turned into ice, we conclude that the natural process of freezing caused it.
    We can’t prove that an intelligence did or didn’t go into the freezer and change the water to ice.

    But we did observe a regularity – something predictable.
    If we predict the outcome successfully enough times, then we conclude that there is some consistent natural process that causes flagelli to emerge from bacteria.

    If it produced a series of bacteria that spelled out “these bacterial results were brought to you by your creator”, just because it occurred under observation in a lab in a short time doesn’t mean it was generated by natural law & chance.

    I’m not fully getting the meaning of your example though. We can imagine a lot of things — perhaps a human embryo emerged from bacteria in a test experiment and grows to adulthood in 10 minutes. What did that prove or not prove? Magic happens?

    Behe was apparently assuming (falsely) that no intelligence could be actively affecting the bacteria in the lab experiment. If intelligence created the flagellum before, it can certainly do so in a lab experiment under our very noses.

    How do we know that “intelligence created the flagellum before?” Perhaps no intelligence like that exists. We may falsely assume that no intelligence is involved in turning water into ice. Or it may be that there is no intelligence that creates flagelli. If we can create them in the lab, then where is the evidence of intelligence?

  175. 175
    Mung says:

    : Being and Essence

    In order to understand why Thomas insists upon distinguishing between beeing and essence in creatures and identifying them in God it is expedient first that we have a firm grasp of what is meant by terms such as “being” and “essence.” In brief, “being” can be understood in two distinct (though related) senses. First, it can denote an existent as a whole subsisting entity. It is in this sense that we identify rocks, plants, unintelligent animals, and humans as beings. In Latin, this sense of “being” is rendered as ens and is indicative of complete subsisting entities as they exist in reality. Second, “being” can also signify a constituent within a complete subsisting entity that accounts for its actuality in the real world. This sense is typically denoted by the Latin term esse and indicates the principle of a being’s existence rather than its existence as an actual entity; this is “being” understood as that by which anything that is exists. Finally, “essence” (essentia), as the term itself suggests, derives from the notion of being and signifies that which possesses esse. Like esse, it is also regarded as an internal constituent and principle of a complete being (ens), not subsisting as an existent in itself. It functions as that by which a being is what it is. In sum, the three terms each applying to the same substance, possess roughly the following distinct connotations: ens denotes the subsisting thing itself (entitativeness); esse indicates that by which it is (isness); and essentia signifies that by which it is what it is (whatness).

    – James E. Dolezal. God without Parts: Divine Simplicity and the Metaphysics of God’s Absoluteness. pp. 95-96

  176. 176

    If a flagellum is produced, repeatedly via unbiased conditions, we can conclude that a natural process produced it.

    Why is that?

    We can predict the result.

    What difference does that make?

    In the same way, if we put water in a freezer and then later observed it turned into ice, we conclude that the natural process of freezing caused it.

    It’s not the same thing. Frozen water has no functionally specified complex information. The flagellum does. If we put water in the freezer and then later saw that it had frozen in a pattern that read “this pattern of ice crystals is brought to you by your creator”, then we would know intelligence was involved.

    If we can create them in the lab, then where is the evidence of intelligence?

    The evidence for intelligence lies in the FSCI of the thing in question, not how fast or under what conditions it was generated, or if anyone was watching.

  177. 177
    Silver Asiatic says:

    Why is that?

    If we observe that experimental tests in unbiased conditions create predictable, repeated, consistent outputs, then that process is considered a natural law of some kind. There would be no evidence that an intelligence would be required. Ordinary natural processes create the effect.

    We can predict the result.

    What difference does that make?

    If the effect is predictable without having to refer to an intelligence of some sort, then science concludes that this is an ordinary process in nature. There would be no evidence of the influence of an intelligent agent if the effect can be shown in the lab under conditions that replicate the natural environment.

    If we can create them in the lab, then where is the evidence of intelligence?

    The evidence for intelligence lies in the FSCI of the thing in question, not how fast or under what conditions it was generated, or if anyone was watching.

    How would you test the idea that “FSCI can only be produced by intelligence”?

  178. 178
    StephenB says:

    Joe

    There isn’t any “proper” sequence and there isn’t any scientific method.

    In a specific sense, I would agree, with you. After all, no one has the right to tell an individual scientist how he should proceed. His research question will dictate his specific methods. No problem there.

    In a general sense, though, it is a different story. Remember who you are addressing. Your adversary says that ID begins with a presupposition. In order to correct that egregious error, it is necessary to point out that the process begins with an observation, not with a presupposition. Indeed, no presupposition can be found in the process at all.

    We recognize that the sequence inherent in the process as ::: observation –> hypothesis –> experiment –> conclusion, is universal; it cannot be reversed or shuffled. Accordingly, the evidence must call the shots and the process must reflect that principle. By contrast, our adversary thrives by drawing its conclusions before they consider the evidence. They seek to harmonize the evidence with their ideology. Witness the comments on this thread.

  179. 179

    If we observe that experimental tests in unbiased conditions create predictable, repeated, consistent outputs, then that process is considered a natural law of some kind. There would be no evidence that an intelligence would be required. Ordinary natural processes create the effect.

    Computers produce predictable, repeated, consistent outputs. Are you saying those outputs are the result of a system organized by natural law and chance? Of course not. A factory can predictably, reliably and consistently produce a circuit board; is the circuit board the product of natural law and chance? Of course not.

    Just because something can be reliably predicted doesn’t mean it can be reduced to natural law.

    I see you repeatedly ignore my hypothetical examples. If you stuck some water in a freezer, and it froze in the pattern of the sentence “this ice pattern was generated for your benefit by your creator”, would you conclude that natural or intelligent agency was responsible? If you used evolutionary techniques on a strain of bacteria for a month and the bacteria spelled out “this pattern in the bacteria was created for your benefit by your creator”, would you conclude that a natural law or intelligence was responsible?

  180. 180
    Joe says:

    StephenB- I tell our adversaries that the only presupposition ID makes is that humans can determine nature of things we observe, which includes but is not limited to, what is it, how does it work (what does it do) and how did it come to be the way it is. 😎

  181. 181
    Silver Asiatic says:

    Computers produce predictable, repeated, consistent outputs. Are you saying those outputs are the result of a system organized by natural law and chance?

    Those are not observations of things in nature – like bacteria turning into flagella. Computers are human artifacts. Because we understand natural or physical laws, we can create predictible outcomes in computers.

    Of course not. A factory can predictably, reliably and consistently produce a circuit board; is the circuit board the product of natural law and chance? Of course not.

    Again, we use and imitate natural laws to create predictible results. Yes, when we find predictable results in nature we conclude there is a law-like process and it’s not evidence of intelligence.

    Just because something can be reliably predicted doesn’t mean it can be reduced to natural law.

    What would be an example of this in nature? Something predictable that is not the function of natural law?

    If you stuck some water in a freezer, and it froze in the pattern of the sentence “this ice pattern was generated for your benefit by your creator”, would you conclude that natural or intelligent agency was responsible?

    Intelligence.

    If you used evolutionary techniques on a strain of bacteria for a month and the bacteria spelled out “this pattern in the bacteria was created for your benefit by your creator”, would you conclude that a natural law or intelligence was responsible?

    That’s a result that is not found in nature – so intelligence. Flagella are found in nature though. They’re found repeatedly. If it can be shown that flagella can be formed through natural processes in a lab via evolutionary techniques, then that’s what nature does.

    Ok, now back to my question. How do you know that FSCI is always the result of intelligence? How would you validate or falsify that idea?

  182. 182
    Daniel King says:

    Joe @161:

    There is no such thing as “THE Scientific Method.”
    If you go to science fairs or read scientific journals, you may get the impression that science is nothing more than “question-hypothesis-procedure-data-conclusions.”

    But this is seldom the way scientists actually do their work. Most scientific thinking, whether done while jogging, in the shower, in a lab, or while excavating a fossil, involves continuous observations, questions, multiple hypotheses, and more observations. It seldom “concludes” and never “proves.”

    Excellent own goal. Thank you.

    With friends like you, ID doesn’t need enemies.

  183. 183
    Mung says:

    Mung: Your task is to imagine a thing that cannot be described.

    Silver Asiatic: Ok, I just did.

    If you cannot describe it, there is no reason to believe you have imagined a thing.

    Silver Asiatic: What essence does that thing have?

    What thing?

  184. 184
    Mung says:

    VJT:

    (6) Aquinas’ second, third, fourth and fifth ways, on Feser’s reconstruction, are seriously weakened by the fact that they all make the controversial assumption (disputed even by many Scholastic philosophers) that there is a real distinction between a thing’s essence (or what it is) and its act of existence, coupled with an additional assumption that it is meaningful to characterize God as Pure Existence.

    I find it confusing that you appear to disagree with Feser about this “assumption” and yet find his formulations of the 2nd, 3rd and 4th ways to be successful demonstrations of the things you allow. (See my post @ 114)

    Isn’t this essential to his arguments?

    The question as to whether I exist or not can be represented as a simple binary variable: true or false; but my act of existence is certainly much more than a yes-no affair.

    It’s not whether you exist, that’s just silly. That things exist is assumed to be obvious.

    It’s about the principle according to which or by which they exist, not whether they exist. (See my post @ 175)

  185. 185
    Silver Asiatic says:

    If you cannot describe it, there is no reason to believe you have imagined a thing.

    Think about mystical things which are indescribable – there are some in the New Testament (man taken up to the third heaven). How about the nature of the resurrected or transfigured Jesus? I can imagine it but do I therefore know its essence? But even simpler, things we encounter in dreams are often not describable.

    The essence of a thing cannot be dependent on how I describe it. If I describe it inaccurately, does it have an “inaccurate essence”? Or does it have an essence that I don’t know about? If I don’t know about it, who will?

    Essences themselves are imaginary things. I have the essence or nature of humanity. But there is no thing called “humanity” — it’s an idea. We imagine it exists.
    Some will say that essences cannot exist on their own without a corresponding existence. But if imaginary things exist, then ideas like essences exist.

    If an essence is an existing thing, what is its essence?

    You can see how quickly this will move into an infinite loop of essences.

  186. 186
    vjtorley says:

    Hi Mung,

    Thank you for your posts. In response to your query about my views on Aquinas’ Second, Third and Fourth Ways, I think they successfully demonstrate the existence of a self-existent, necessary uncaused cause, but fail to demonstrate the existence of a unique being in whom essence and existence are identical. Arguing for an uncaused cause or a necessary being does not require the postulation of a real distinction between essence and existence. That’s a completely separate question.

    Thank you very much for the quote from James Dolezal’s book, “God Without Parts.” I’d like to comment on this sentence: “In sum, the three terms each applying to the same substance, possess roughly the following distinct connotations: ens denotes the subsisting thing itself (entitativeness); esse indicates that by which it is (isness); and essentia signifies that by which it is what it is (whatness).” These distinctions are all well and good, but where is the argument that they must be real distinctions, as opposed to purely logical ones? Dolezal speaks of esse as “the principle of a being’s existence rather than its existence as an actual entity.” But again I ask: where is the argument that this “principle” must be really distinct from the actual existence of a thing?

    My point about the question of whether I exist being represented by a binary variable related to the phoenix argument, which goes like this:
    (1) I can conceive of the essence of a phoenix – i.e. I know what it is.
    (2) In so doing, I may have no conception of whether the phoenix actually exists.
    (3) Thus the essence of a phoenix is really distinct from its actual existence.

    But that’s a bad argument. All it shows is that there’s a distinction between what a phoenix is (its essence) and whether a phoenix exists, which is irrelevant to the question: is there a real distinction between what a phoenix is (its essence) and its act of existence?

    The following argument would be a good argument for a real distinction between essence and existence, if premise (2) were correct (which it isn’t):

    (1) I can conceive of the essence of a phoenix – i.e. I know what it is.
    (2) In so doing, I may have no conception of what it means for a phoenix to actually exist.
    (3) Therefore there must be a real distinction between what a phoenix is and what it means for a phoenix to actually exist.

    The above argument is unsound, but it is at least valid.

  187. 187
    E.Seigner says:

    @Mung

    The concept of essence that Silver Asiatic struggled with and that Dr. Torley thinks has not much explanatory value (I have read some older posts by Dr. Torley and in one place he manages to say that essence is an “attribute”, i.e. just a property or characteristic or part among others) is easy enough to describe.

    Aristotle says in Metaphysics that matter+form=substance. Now, the form is the formal cause, the immaterial idea that shapes the matter to make it the kind of thing it is. This is the essence of the thing. In Aristotelian system, the Aristotelian form equals essence.

    Form=essence should straightforwardly apply to Aquinas also. In Aristotelianism every thing is/has its own substance, which means there are many substances, whereas in Neoplatonism absolutely everything is based on the same general substance. Also, Neoplatonist substance is simple, as opposed to Aristotelian composite substances. Thus in Neoplatonism substance equals essence and formal differences between things are, well, formal, ultimately inessential. Among Western philosophies I happen to prefer Neoplatonism.

    Essence is that irreducible quality which makes a thing the thing. It’s not a part and it’s not quantifiable. It’s immaterial and therefore elusive to point out in words. In living things, it can be called the soul. For example, when you describe or define a dog, you could say it’s a quadruped mammal, but in truth a dog that is missing a limb or even missing all limbs is still a dog. The essence is still there.

    This way you can part by part remove what’s inessential in the thing and approach the essence, yet you cannot point out the essence directly. This is the method in apophatic theology too. The doctrine of divine simplicity requires largely apophatic approach.

    Upright BiPed

    You continue make empty claims. An clear example of irreducible complexity, for instance, can be given to you that would immediately force you into blind absurdity to argue against.

    You simply do not know what you are talking about.

    I have my own examples based on which I argue against physicalist assumptions. One of their assumptions is that lower levels of matter, nano/particle/quantum levels, are somehow more fundamental than the upper levels, objects, humans, mind, etc. For example wings don’t fly. Birds fly. Physicalists may think that a bird is just two wings and some other parts – put the right parts together in the correct configuration and you will get a bird. This is the reductive mechanistic view of nature. The flaw here is that this assumption fails to distinguish a living bird from dead or stuffed one.

    To get a true bird, you need some added quality to the parts to make the entirety actually work. Quality, not quantity. Essence, not yet another part. It so happens that the essence is immaterial. Even airplanes are not just two wings put together. If airplanes are meant to fly too, they need a distinct added quality – the pilot – to make them complete.

    This is how I argue against reductionism and for irreducibility. It’s irreducibility, but it’s not irreducible complexity. Complexity has nothing to do with it. Behe’s mousetrap example that he uses to illustrate irreducible complexity also has really nothing to do with complexity, only with irreducibility. To think in terms of complexity here is not just an unnecessary complication, but an error, miscomprehension.

    Essence is quality, not a quantity, and it’s immaterial. Based on the doctrine of divine simplicity that most lay Christians somehow know nothing about (and even some theologians are not consistent with), immaterial is absolutely simple. Complexity is the wrong approach to take when considering the immaterial, both doctrinally and logically.

  188. 188
    E.Seigner says:

    VJT

    My point about the question of whether I exist being represented by a binary variable related to the phoenix argument, which goes like this:
    (1) I can conceive of the essence of a phoenix – i.e. I know what it is.
    (2) In so doing, I may have no conception of whether the phoenix actually exists.
    (3) Thus the essence of a phoenix is really distinct from its actual existence.

    But that’s a bad argument. All it shows is that there’s a distinction between what a phoenix is (its essence) and whether a phoenix exists, which is irrelevant to the question: is there a real distinction between what a phoenix is (its essence) and its act of existence?

    The badness of your attempt to demonstrate the badness of the argument is immediately revealed when the phoenix is replaced with a regular living entity, e.g. a dog. Any particular dog exists for a time and then ceases to exist. Are we agreed on that living things are non-existent pre-birth and post-death?

    Now, in strict Aristotelian system I assume every particular dog probably has its own form (formal cause) whereas the species of dogs has some general formal cause, dogness or such. Aquinas elaborated on this and called the general form of species “exemplar cause”, which is supposed to be the idea of dogness in God’s mind, whereafter every dog, as soon as it comes to existence, takes its shape.

    The exemplar cause, i.e. the formal cause in God’s mind, is eternal. The exemplar cause is the essence of the things, such as dogs, whereas dogs themselves are born and die, i.e. come into existence and depart. This way essence is distinct from existence.

    And this distinction of essence and existence applies whoever conceives of the essence. Humans may think of many things, but it doesn’t necessarily bring the things into existence just so. To bring anything into existence is a special effort of craftsmanship etc., but whatever is brought into existence this way is conceived first, i.e. its essence predates the existence. Therefore essence and existence are distinct.

  189. 189
    E.Seigner says:

    VJT

    These distinctions are all well and good, but where is the argument that they must be real distinctions, as opposed to purely logical ones?

    Ah, I see now what your issue is about. Logical distinctions are somehow not real to you. Well, to me it’s real enough whenever it’s relevant enough. No need to get hung up on the word “real” when it may mean relevant or important, and the distinction of essence and existence is definitely important in this context.

    Your point depends on whether it’s relevant to make it a matter of ontological distinction rather than logical distinction. I suppose by “real distinction” you mean ontological distinction, right? This in turn depends on your ontology. Yet what ultimately matters here is Aquinas’ ontology. Or really Feser’s, because you are disputing Feser here.

    So, you have to establish that it should be and really is an issue of ontological distinction and that Feser’s ontology entails corresponding inconsistencies. I won’t be holding my breath.

  190. 190
    Joe says:

    There is no such thing as “THE Scientific Method.”
    If you go to science fairs or read scientific journals, you may get the impression that science is nothing more than “question-hypothesis-procedure-data-conclusions.”

    But this is seldom the way scientists actually do their work. Most scientific thinking, whether done while jogging, in the shower, in a lab, or while excavating a fossil, involves continuous observations, questions, multiple hypotheses, and more observations. It seldom “concludes” and never “proves.”

    Excellent own goal.

    Supporting what I claimed is an own goal? Are you really that ignorant?

  191. 191
    Joe says:

    ES:

    It’s irreducibility, but it’s not irreducible complexity.

    Elements are irreducible.

    Complexity has nothing to do with it.

    Perhaps not to you but to those of us that understand science and math, it has everything to do with it.

  192. 192
    Joe says:

    So I show Danial King in 148 to be wrong and Daniel comes back and sez I scored an own goal. Amazing…

  193. 193
    Silver Asiatic says:

    VJT 186

    My point about the question of whether I exist being represented by a binary variable related to the phoenix argument, which goes like this:
    (1) I can conceive of the essence of a phoenix – i.e. I know what it is.
    (2) In so doing, I may have no conception of whether the phoenix actually exists.
    (3) Thus the essence of a phoenix is really distinct from its actual existence.

    On the first premise, I wonder if you can really know what this imaginary being is. You only know your thoughts of it. I can know the essence of any particular dog that I’ve never seen because I have seen other dogs.
    I think this would be true for any fictional creature. Does the character Falstaff have a human nature? Does Donald Duck have the essence of a duck? Does ET have the essence of an alien?

    As I see it, thoughts and imaginations are not things that have essences. Even a thought that is a plan or design is not the essence of the thing which is created because the created/existing thing is not the same as the internal thought of it.

    I don’t think the thoughts of God, for example, are things that have essences. The concept that God has multiple thoughts each with its own essence is a problem in explaining divine simplicity. As I mentioned earlier, God’s act in creating the universe is difficult to explain along with the idea that God is Pure Act without potentiality.

    For me it’s a mystery that philosophy can’t explain. It’s like how Jesus is eternally begotten of the Father.
    Christianity was a major problem for some of the Greek philosophers of the time – for this very reason. A triune God, a Son begotten of the Father and the divine logos which became matter are all philosophical problems.

    I think Christianity benefits greatly from pre-Christian philosophies and Thomism showed the compatibility between them. But Thomas eventually deferred to Christian revelation. The philosophical structures pointed to truths (proof of theism), but were never sufficient or complete-enough on their own for a full understanding of the meaning of reality.

    Someone mentioned on UD once that “Hebrew philosophy” (Proverbs, parables of Jesus, sermon on the mount) was quite different from classical philosophy. Proofs of the existence of God are given very simply and then a philosophy of life follows after that – with the assumption that only a fool would deny the existence of God (the fool says in his heart there is no God).

  194. 194
    E.Seigner says:

    @Silver Asiatic

    Your logic is based on the thesis “I don’t know, therefore nobody knows”. It’s brilliant because it always works. Nobody can argue with that. The sad part is that nobody can get wiser either.

  195. 195
    Silver Asiatic says:

    E.Seigner

    Speculative analysis has its value so these discussions can be worthwhile and yes, we can grow in wisdom through them.

    I’ll offer this on your previous comment …

    I am assuming that reason exists, yes, because this is a necessary precondition for us to have a dialogue. To atheists I say – if you have no mind, if you have no rational free will and no sense of responsibility of your own, then how can you have anything serious to say, anything more worth considering than I have? And the case is closed. Necessary precondition to dialogue is to have a discussion partner with a rational mind and good faith. Pointless to talk to monkeys.

    Note that this is a metaphysical argument and works without any empirical evidence. Also, no empirical evidence can ever refute it, not even in principle. If the atheist produces empirical evidence that indeed the mind is just a fully deterministic mechanistic brain-function, that free will is an illusion and autonomous reasoning is fiction, then rational talk ends there, and this proves my point as well as his.

    If this is true, and it seems so to me — then we really wouldn’t need any arguments for the existence of God.
    Atheists have removed themselves from the discussion. So we just have believers left to talk about it.

  196. 196
    E.Seigner says:

    Silver Asiatic

    If this is true, and it seems so to me — then we really wouldn’t need any arguments for the existence of God.
    Atheists have removed themselves from the discussion. So we just have believers left to talk about it.

    Atheists as a logical category have removed themselves from the discussion, yes, but as socially connected people they inevitably keep hearing and talking. As fallible humans they even might reconsider, but it’s honestly not up to anyone to tell someone else when and how to convert.

    Religious people have their defects too. Everybody wants to recruit members to their own sect, but the same way as membership of the atheist sect works based on voluntary choice, so should it be with any other sect too. Faith has a chance to be genuine only when people get to rationally decide for themselves.

  197. 197
    Silver Asiatic says:

    Atheists as a logical category have removed themselves from the discussion, yes, but as socially connected people they inevitably keep hearing and talking. As fallible humans they even might reconsider, but it’s honestly not up to anyone to tell someone else when and how to convert.

    We could say that not only have they removed themselves, but the one argument you gave against atheism is sufficient. You wouldn’t need to prove anything more.

    My point here is that several kinds of arguments supporting the existence of God can be helpful in the discussions (thus not putting all eggs in one basket). If you find atheists who respond well to ID arguments (philosopher Anthony Flew for example), then I think that would have value.

    Religious people have their defects too. Everybody wants to recruit members to their own sect, but the same way as membership of the atheist sect works based on voluntary choice, so should it be with any other sect too. Faith has a chance to be genuine only when people get to rationally decide for themselves.

    True. I don’t think ID contributes much to those kinds of arguments. I think most theists accept the ID proposal, including Christian theistic evolutionists who argue against it. (You can’t explain a miracle without ID detection).

  198. 198
    E.Seigner says:

    Silver Asiatic

    (You can’t explain a miracle without ID detection).

    Great theologians, Aquinas among them, have analyzed how God creates. The example of creation is the universe, for everyone of us to see. What does it look like? It looks naturally ordered thoughout. Everything is in its natural place in the whole and does its natural thing befitting the whole. Nothing’s missing, nothing is superfluous.

    Miracles would be no different from this. God would not make anything out of place. Wondrous, unexpected, and unforgettable, yes, but also perfectly appropriate right there and then. Miracles would be nothing extraordinary for God, but a natural part of ordinary act of creation. Ordinary creation and miracles are the same for God.

    For example Lazarus rose from the dead. It’s a miracle that he rose, yes, but everybody recognized him precisely as the same Lazarus, not one-foot-in-the-grave Lazarus or better-than-ever Lazarus. Any changes, particularly marked changes in Lazarus would have made recognition harder and it would not have been the same Lazarus. After regaining life there were no signs on him of having been dead. He was just like any other human being. No ID theorist or anyone could detect anything miraculous about him. He’d perfectly fit the system.

    Same with all other miracles. Even the miracles for masses, such as feeding 3000 and 5000 would feel natural. Only a few people knew that there was not enough bread for everyone. Miracles are discrete modest occurrences and they leave no signs after the fact. The only way to detect a miracle is testimony of witnesses or be a direct witness oneself. Few people earn this right. Miracles are not meant to convince skeptics and not meant to be found out by random passers-by.

    Anyway, enough of my point of view. Tell me how you explain a miracle with ID detection.

  199. 199
    StephenB says:

    If you go to science fairs or read scientific journals, you may get the impression that science is nothing more than “question-hypothesis-procedure-data-conclusions.”

    But this is seldom the way scientists actually do their work. Most scientific thinking, whether done while jogging, in the shower, in a lab, or while excavating a fossil, involves continuous observations, questions, multiple hypotheses, and more observations. It seldom “concludes” and never “proves.

    I don’t find much relevance to this quote. The subject matter on the table is that some scientific activities, when conducted, depend on prior activities. No one is claiming that scientists always go through each and every step of the process.

    What matters is the logical order of events. One cannot produce the “results” of a test for a hypothesis without first establishing the hypothesis, and one cannot establish a hypothesis without first making an observation. I can’t imagine why anyone would try to dispute this.

    Daniel King’s objection is equally irrelevant. No one is suggesting that scientists don’t use feedback loops or posit successive hypotheses. This has nothing to do with the question of which steps must come first. Accordingly, ES is wrong. The scientific process does not allow for the intrusion of ideological priors.

  200. 200
    StephenB says:

    ES:

    Miracles would be no different from this. God would not make anything out of place. Wondrous, unexpected, and unforgettable, yes, but also perfectly appropriate right there and then. Miracles would be nothing extraordinary for God, but a natural part of ordinary act of creation. Ordinary creation and miracles are the same for God.

    The sixty members of the Lourdes International Medical Community would disagree with you. It is the duty of these scientists to determine whether any alleged medical miracle is inexplicable by current medical science.

    The investigation is conducted from the bottom up, that is, it is based solely on the evidence. Indeed, the whole point is to include a variety of philosophical world views and contexts, including those held by both believers and non-believers.

    This open-door policy prevents personal biases and prejudices from shaping the results. If, as a diverse group of specialists, they decide that the event was likely not the result of natural causes, they turn the matter over to the Church.

    At that point, the Church’s leaders, drawing on the findings of medical science, use their best judgment to decide if the event best explained by [a] a natural cause or [b] by the special intervention of an intelligent agent (Miracle by God). In other words, they make an informal inference to design.

  201. 201
    E.Seigner says:

    StephenB

    Accordingly, ES is wrong. The scientific process does not allow for the intrusion of ideological priors.

    You mean me? I’m sorry, but of course I hold that the scientific process allows no ideological priors. But how did this become a topic here? What I actually claim is that ID theory is not scientific in the first place, so this issue doesn’t even arise for ID.

    Or can’t you distinguish logically necessary metaphysical assumptions and scientific training, without which the scientific process cannot even get started, from ideological bias which basically entails tinkering with the results and would be found out in empirical science anyway? Well, not my job to clear this up for you. Besides, as per Dembski, ID theory is an ideological bias, namely aimed to subvert Darwinism, and I say that this is one of the reasons why ID theory doesn’t even begin to be science. None of my problems with ID theory is a science problem. All the problems are due to (or point to) the fact that it’s not science.

    Seriously, I’m done with ID. Only here for the philosophy now.

    The sixty members of the Lourdes International Medical Community would disagree with you. It is the duty of these scientists to determine whether any alleged medical miracle is inexplicable by current medical science.

    And how do they determine it? Based on testimony alone. I don’t deny that they are medical experts, but they are just a consultation body. They do not oversee and witness miraculous processes themselves. People don’t go to them to be examined before the alleged miracle. It’s consultation based on post facto testimony. I already mentioned this in my post, so it’s disappointing that you even dare to bring this up as if it proved anything contrary to what I said.

  202. 202
    Joe says:

    E. Seigner:

    What I actually claim is that ID theory is not scientific in the first place, so this issue doesn’t even arise for ID.

    ID fits the definition of science- it is based on observation and our knowledge of cause and effect relationships. Its claims can be tested and either confirmed or falsified.

    Darwinism should never have been accepted. It is a house of cards. And the scientific reason why ID needs to dispense with materialistic evolution is due to Newtons Four Rules of scientific investigation. I brought that up earlier, did you miss it?

    That means if you had any idea what science entails you would know why materialistic evolution A) has to be actively considered (it is), B) be found wanting (it has been a total failure) and that brings us to C) does it meet the design criteria?

    So you can’t rant about ID not being science. It is clear that you don’t know what science is. 😛

  203. 203
    Mung says:

    E.Seigner:

    This is how I argue against reductionism and for irreducibility. It’s irreducibility, but it’s not irreducible complexity. Complexity has nothing to do with it.

    I actually think I understand what you’re saying.

    Ric Machuga makes much the same point regarding Intelligent Design in his book In Defense of the Soul.

    “…no definition of life in terms of mathematical complexity will ever capture the essence of what it is to be alive.”

  204. 204
    StephenB says:

    E Seigner

    And how do they determine it? Based on testimony alone.

    No, they use x-rays, MRI’s, or any other kind of technology or fact based science.

    I don’t deny that they are medical experts, but they are just a consultation body. They do not oversee and witness miraculous processes themselves.

    Of course they don’t oversee the miraculous processes. They study the “effects” of miraculous or natural processes.

    People don’t go to them to be examined before the alleged miracle. It’s consultation based on post facto testimony. I already mentioned this in my post, so it’s disappointing that you even dare to bring this up as if it proved anything contrary to what I said.

    You really think that the sixty medical experts that conduct the evaluation don’t know the difference between events before the fact and after the fact? For that matter, where did you ever get the impression that they don’t have access to medical records before the fact?

    Given your denial of the facts, I wonder if you could share with me how you think the commission makes their determination that medical science cannot explain the event. Also, tell me how you think the Church can use those findings to draw the conclusion that a miracle occurred without making an inference to design.

  205. 205
    Axel says:

    Do ‘before and after’ x-rays have to be contemporaneously time-stamped, like a video?

    Plenty of potential design inference in the documentation attaching to this Lourdes cure, E Seigner, anyway:

    http://www.faithandfamily.org......raynor.htm

    Hilarious account of his arrival at Liverpool railway station, of which the following is a very brief excerpt:

    ‘My wife went down to the station with her friend, Mrs Reitdyk. It seemed as if all Liverpool had gathered there. The people had seen the news of the miracle in the evening papers and had come down to see me. There were extra police on duty to handle the crowd, while railway officials stood at the entrance to the platform to keep the people from rushing the train.

    With difficulty my wife and her friend reached the platform gate, where she told the official that she was Mrs Traynor and asked to be allowed through.

    “Well,” replied the man, “all I can say is that Mr Traynor must be a Mohammedan, because there are seventy or eighty Mrs Traynors on the platform already!”‘

  206. 206
    Mung says:

    Silver Asiatic:

    My point here is that several kinds of arguments supporting the existence of God can be helpful in the discussions (thus not putting all eggs in one basket).

    VJT implies (or asserts) that Feser is “putting all his eggs in one basket” and that by implication Feser believes that ID’ists ought to do likewise. I find this claim tendentious. I would hesitate to take it too seriously. It’s not always easy to separate the rhetoric from the arguments, but in this case I think we have rhetoric outweighing argument.

    But I’m not going to argue about it. I am just going to offer an opinion. I’d rather return to the substance, from which we have gone a bit far afield.

  207. 207
    Mung says:

    re: my post at 206. Even Aquinas had his Five Ways, and Feser follows suit. Why does Feser have his “Five Ways” if only one will do?

    IOW, if I were VJT, I would focus on Feser’s “one and only one way” and attack that, rather than assert that Feser has “one and only one way” and attack Feser’s Five Ways.

    But then, I am not VJT, and I think we can all be glad of that!

  208. 208
    Steve says:

    How does a collection of building material become organized into a structure labeled “The Empire State Building”?

    A thought. and what is The Thought? A vision, an imagination of……The Empire State Building!!!!!!!!

    Seems more of a transformation rather than some disconnected, separate existence of The Thought vs The Building.

    ….unless of course you are Charles the Step-Wise and you wisely see that ‘no essence’ was required for “The Empire State Building” since it is entirely conceivable that hundreds, perhaps thousands of people, ambling about the city, perchance carrying various pieces of building material, over time would bump into each other in various, unexpected ways….resulting over time of course, in the the emergence of a gargantuan protrusion rising up from the ground….

    …snaps back to reality from that tangerine dream of emergent bliss….

    ….as I was saying…the essense of “The Empire State Building” is a congregation of weight-less, form-less, mass-less, invisible, undetectable (with SOTA gadgetry), no-things called…

    A thought.

    Communion as Being, indeed.

    E. Seigner: As I see it, thoughts and imaginations are not things that have essences. Even a thought that is a plan or design is not the essence of the thing which is created because the created/existing thing is not the same as the internal thought of it.

  209. 209
    StephenB says:

    Mung

    Ric Machuga makes much the same point regarding Intelligent Design in his book In Defense of the Soul.

    You might find Benjamin Wiker’s review of IDOS edifying. It’s easy to find on the internet.

  210. 210
    Mung says:

    SB,

    Thank you! I will try to do so.

    Do you remember how I was led to Machuga in the first place? It was from Oderberg’s book. So I decided to go to the source.

    I haven’t finished the Machuga book yet, only a few chapters so far (including his chapter on ID).

    But I do see parallels between his argument against ID and that offered by E.Seigner. That’s what I found interesting.

    Is there a link to the review that doesn’t require that I sign up for something?

    in searching i came across:

    The Fifth Way, Scientism, and Intelligent Design

  211. 211
    Mung says:

    E.Seigner:

    This is how I argue against reductionism and for irreducibility. It’s irreducibility, but it’s not irreducible complexity. Complexity has nothing to do with it.

    That’s not just how you argue against reductionism, it’s also how you argue against ID. Or do you construe ID to be a species of reductionism?

    I was just going to let this slide, but since it comes up again…

    In my post @151 I asked:

    Why do you think ID is about formal and/or final causes rather than efficient causation?

    IOW. ID sets itself to be at odds with Neo-Darwinism, which is a theory of efficient causation. Or do you think that Darwinism is also an attempt to explain formal and final causes and is equally unscientific?

    To which you replied (153):

    Why do you think I think any such thing?

    Well, for starters, here’s what you also said in that same post @ 153:

    As adherents to classical philosophies, such as neo-Scholastics, Thomists, Neo-Aristotelians and Neoplatonists would say (and have said), if it’s not about formal and final causes, then it’s reductive, too narrow, non-different from Darwinism and incapable to reveal anything fresh in science.

    So you find ID to be too reductive, because it is not about formal and final causes? What else is there, apart from material and efficient causes?

    Why not just say that you agree that ID is about efficient causation, but that efficient causation cannot be understood apart from formal and/or final causation?

    [btw, this is the position Feser takes.]

    From that same post:

    And as Thomist (and other philosophically and theologically savvy) proponents of ID have said in response to this, ID actually is about formal and final causes (see the article I linked to in #135).

    But you disagree. You claim that ID is not about anything at all.

    As for where I got my ideas about what you think, reflect on your post @ 135. Given your subsequent posts I think I nailed it.

  212. 212
    StephenB says:

    Mung, I use a formula for providing a link and I lost it yesterday. However, if you use the bing search engine, just write in “Review of Ric Machuga, In Defense of the Soul” and Wiker’s review will appear in pdf form. Google will not get you there.

  213. 213
    Mung says:

    VJT @ 136:

    Arguing for an uncaused cause or a necessary being does not require the postulation of a real distinction between essence and existence. That’s a completely separate question.

    Is it “a completely separate question”?

    According to Aquinas, the world or “all that there is” can be exhaustively described in terms of two ontological types — namely, God and creature. As Aquinas sees it, God is a simple incorporeal being — where the mark of incorporeality is the lack of spatial extension. By contrast, creatures are a mix of corporeal and incorporeal beings — where these can be either simple, as in the case of angels, or complex, as in the case of ordinary material substances or bodies.

    – Brower, Jeffrey E. Aquinas’s Ontology of the Material World

    So how is it that the real distinction between the existence of creatures and their essence is not s fundamental aspect of Aquinas’s Five Ways?

    VJT:

    Arguing for an uncaused cause or a necessary being does not require the postulation of a real distinction between essence and existence.

    That’s not the question. If you have an argument for an uncaused cause or an argument for a necessary being that does not require the postulation of a real distinction between essence and existence I am sure there are many interested parties.

    My question is about the argument of Aquinas. Apparently, Aquinas felt that this distinction was necessary. Do you assert that this real distinction did not enter into the Five Ways of Aquinas?

  214. 214
    E.Seigner says:

    Joe

    Darwinism should never have been accepted. It is a house of cards. And the scientific reason why ID needs to dispense with materialistic evolution is due to Newtons Four Rules of scientific investigation. I brought that up earlier, did you miss it?

    Plenty of people of faith working in biology. They don’t see the threat and contradiction to Newton’s rules the way you do. Besides, ID defines itself as opposition or resistance to materialistic evolution, according to Dembski. If this is true, then ID never accepted materialistic evolution and there’s no additional need to dispense with it.

    StephenB

    You really think that the sixty medical experts that conduct the evaluation don’t know the difference between events before the fact and after the fact? For that matter, where did you ever get the impression that they don’t have access to medical records before the fact?

    Look again at what I said about miracles. I said that they would look natural, not miraculous. Natural and miraculous are the same thing for God, and miracle healings are actually the best example to illustrate this point. Healthy people are not miraculous. Healing, even miracle healing means restoring people to normal. Healthy people don’t look “intelligently designed” as opposed to ordinary “non-intelligently designed” people. I even gave an example of Lazarus raised from the dead. It’s surely a miracle, but nobody detected any intelligence, design, or complexity there out of the ordinary.

    How many of those medical experts are ID theorists? Does any of them have anything to do with your movement? Have they even heard of it? Hardly anyone in continental Europe knows or cares. ID is some remote American innovation. Lourdes medics don’t count as a defense for ID theory because they don’t represent it.

    Besides, you cited them in response to my paragraph where I said, among other things, that miracles are “wondrous, unexpected, and unforgettable, yes, but also perfectly appropriate right there and then.” How would the Lourdes medics disagree with this? Do they hold that miracles are ordinary, predictable, forgettable, but also completely inappropriate to the situations when they occur? It must be that you are arguing against someone else, not me, so why did you quote me there?

    If you could just put intelligence or design on some Darwinist’s table for him to look at or give a test to him that you performed first and they can reproduce (which is the only scientifically relevant kind of meaning applicable to “ID detection”, a term you have used as if it made perfect common sense even though it doesn’t), then you’d have your point. What I see here are accumulating examples not related to ID, i.e. not related to intelligence, design, complexity, to an ID scientist or detection of any of those things. I see examples that are so incoherent that they don’t even count as examples. The quota of this is long overfilled by now.

    StephenB

    I wonder if you could share with me how you think the commission makes their determination that medical science cannot explain the event.

    Based on what do medical experts consider a healing “explained” as opposed to miraculous? I don’t think the distinction even is that rigorous. It’s like warm versus cold. I myself had a recovery that doctors said was miraculous, so they are probably quite used to miracles. But let’s say that a recovery is “explained” when it’s treated by doctors with the right kind of treatment and the healing takes at least some time. This was all true in my case. Now, remove the doctors overseeing the procedure, remove any explicitly applied treatment and make it instantaneous, and that’s the miracle. But the result is the same, it will look perfectly natural after the fact.

    Do you disagree? How do you define it?

    StephenB

    Also, tell me how you think the Church can use those findings to draw the conclusion that a miracle occurred without making an inference to design.

    So you imply that the Church cannot conclude a miracle without “inference to design”? All you have to do is quote a Church document that roughly says “we made an inference to design and therefore must conclude it’s a miracle”. I’m making it even easier for you: mere “inference to design” regardless of miracles will be enough.

    Besides, even if you found “inference to design” (which you won’t), atheists would still deny this because they are Church documents, not medical documents. Lourdes Medical Bureau is a consultation body in the service of the Church, not of the medical profession, and their journals are Church documents – exactly the kind of documents where you could find your “inference to design” (good luck with it). But atheists and sceptics would say they are Church documents, not medical documents, and they’d be right from their own point of view.

    Mung

    That’s not just how you argue against reductionism, it’s also how you argue against ID. Or do you construe ID to be a species of reductionism?

    I’m trying to be as clear as I can: ID is so full of self-contradiction that all kinds of positive attributes could apply, but none of them consistently.

    Mung

    Why not just say that you agree that ID is about efficient causation, but that efficient causation cannot be understood apart from formal and/or final causation?

    [btw, this is the position Feser takes.]

    I would or could, with difficulties. But the greatest trouble is that I have seen that ID fails to agree with itself on what kind of causation it’s about. Some proponents say it’s the same scientific understanding of causation as in physics, chemistry, and Darwinist biology. Some proponents argue that this by itself doesn’t contradict the formal and final causes because ID doesn’t explicitly exclude them. Others, as in the article I referred to, explicitly bring in the complete Aristotelian-Thomistic framework of causation. Still others speak of “intelligent cause” which is evidently something unique to ID theory and needs clarification both in itself and vis-a-vis other causes. “Human cause” could make sense, as this is a common-sense legal and social concept, but ID does not define “intelligent cause” this way. It could be “miracle detection” but there are good reasons why miracles are not in the purview of science.

    In the light of all previous discussion, it’s evident that no ID-ist will ever clarify causation to anyone else, because they haven’t clarified causation to themselves. The words thrown around here are an obvious routine already, so nobody sees the problem.

  215. 215
    Joe says:

    E. Seigner:

    Plenty of people of faith working in biology.

    Atheism is a faith.

    They don’t see the threat and contradiction to Newton’s rules the way you do.

    I don’t see any threat nor contradiction to Newton’s rules. What are you blathering about?

    Besides, ID defines itself as opposition or resistance to materialistic evolution, according to Dembski.

    It is for the scientific reasons provided.

    If this is true, then ID never accepted materialistic evolution and there’s no additional need to dispense with it.

    You obviously have absolutely no clue what you are saying. ID doesn’t care what it is called and all design-centric venues must dispense with non-design causes before reaching a design inference- that is what science demands.

    As I said you are obviously ignorant wrt science and you keep proving it with your responses.

    ID fits the definition of science- it is based on observation and our knowledge of cause and effect relationships. Its claims can be tested and either confirmed or falsified.

    Deal with that or just admit that you are too afraid to do so.

  216. 216
    Joe says:

    E Seigner:

    I’m trying to be as clear as I can: ID is so full of self-contradiction that all kinds of positive attributes could apply, but none of them consistently.

    That is your unsupported opinion and an unsupported opinion only.

    E. Seigner:

    “Human cause” could make sense, as this is a common-sense legal and social concept, but ID does not define “intelligent cause” this way.

    It doesn’t? Can you provide a reference? Human cause is part of our knowledge of cause and effect relationships. Human cause shows us what it takes an intelligent agency to produce. IOW we know when humans act as they tend to leaves traces of their actions behind.

    E Seigner:

    In the light of all previous discussion, it’s evident that no ID-ist will ever clarify causation to anyone else, because they haven’t clarified causation to themselves.

    And yet we have done just that.

  217. 217
    kairosfocus says:

    ES:

    Pardon, but this is how the guild has chosen to exert its collective authority on origins science:

    . . . to put a correct view of the universe into people’s heads we must first get an incorrect view out . . . the problem is to get them to reject irrational and supernatural explanations of the world, the demons that exist only in their imaginations, and to accept a social and intellectual apparatus, Science, as the only begetter of truth [[–> NB: this is a knowledge claim about knowledge and its possible sources, i.e. it is a claim in philosophy not science; it is thus self-refuting]. . . . To Sagan, as to all but a few other scientists, it is self-evident [[–> actually, science and its knowledge claims are plainly not immediately and necessarily true on pain of absurdity, to one who understands them; this is another logical error, begging the question , confused for real self-evidence; whereby a claim shows itself not just true but true on pain of patent absurdity if one tries to deny it . . ] that the practices of science provide the surest method of putting us in contact with physical reality . . . .

    It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes [[–> another major begging of the question . . . ] to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute [[–> i.e. here we see the fallacious, indoctrinated, ideological, closed mind . . . ], for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door . . . [From: “Billions and Billions of Demons,” NYRB, January 9, 1997. If you imagine this is quote mined or is an idiosyncratic personal view, kindly cf the fuller annotated excerpts here and onwards.]

    No authority — individual or collective — is better than the facts, reasoning and underlying assumptions at work. And here we see a priori evolutionary materialism imposed on the evidence and forcing a conclusion written into those assumptions, never mind the dismissive characterisation of those who dare object.

    Philip Johnson’s reply in November that same year was apt:

    For scientific materialists the materialism comes first; the science comes thereafter. [[Emphasis original] We might more accurately term them “materialists employing science.” And if materialism is true, then some materialistic theory of evolution has to be true simply as a matter of logical deduction, regardless of the evidence. That theory will necessarily be at least roughly like neo-Darwinism, in that it will have to involve some combination of random changes and law-like processes capable of producing complicated organisms that (in Dawkins’ words) “give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose.”

    . . . . The debate about creation and evolution is not deadlocked . . . Biblical literalism is not the issue. The issue is whether materialism and rationality are the same thing. Darwinism is based on an a priori commitment to materialism, not on a philosophically neutral assessment of the evidence. Separate the philosophy from the science, and the proud tower collapses. [[Emphasis added.] [[The Unraveling of Scientific Materialism, First Things, 77 (Nov. 1997), pp. 22 – 25.]

    KF

  218. 218
    kairosfocus says:

    ES: The warrant for the design inference is a bit off topic for this thread, but I think you would need to convince me that the inductive analysis outlined here embeds self-contradictions, or else stand revealed as asserting what you cannot back up . . . i.e. a failed rhetorical dismissal argument. Where, too, we can start from the point that the existence of humans as designers shows that designers and designs are possible and often manifest highly characteristic traces in the resulting artifacts (which extends to things such as intelligence, purposefulness etc too). There is no good reason to hold that humans exhaust the set of possible designers, and so we are entitled to infer design on observing characteristic signs thereof. As to inference to a designer of the observed cosmos, that is shaped by its own signs of design embedded in the basic physics and cosmology of a world showing fine tuned adaptation to the possibility of C-Chemistry aqueous medium, cell based code and algorithm and von Neumann self replicator using life forms, cf here and onward linked references. KF

  219. 219
    kairosfocus says:

    ES, on first principles of right reason, including sufficient reason (which in light of modes of being leads to causality) I suggest a glance here on at 101 level. It might be instructive to do the exercise of lighting and observing a match in light of the fire tetrahedron used by fire fighters, if you lack a basic understanding of necessary and sufficient causal factors and associated effects. KF

  220. 220
    Silver Asiatic says:

    VJT implies (or asserts) that Feser is “putting all his eggs in one basket” and that by implication Feser believes that ID’ists ought to do likewise. I find this claim tendentious. I would hesitate to take it too seriously. It’s not always easy to separate the rhetoric from the arguments, but in this case I think we have rhetoric outweighing argument.</blockquote.

    That seems reasonable. For me, the fact that Feser is mistaken about ID is more of a concern than his over-reaching on metaphysical arguments. I think he has done an admirable job in making Thomism more accessible to the public. He is a very good teacher in that regard.

    ID will survive the Thomists' mistaken criticism. I think the debate will help both sides, even though I can't believe that anti-ID Thomism (or Christian theistic evolution) will survive another decade.

  221. 221
    Silver Asiatic says:

    VJT implies (or asserts) that Feser is “putting all his eggs in one basket” and that by implication Feser believes that ID’ists ought to do likewise. I find this claim tendentious. I would hesitate to take it too seriously. It’s not always easy to separate the rhetoric from the arguments, but in this case I think we have rhetoric outweighing argument.

    Sorry – reformatted and adding a comment at the end …

    That seems reasonable. For me, the fact that Feser is mistaken about ID is more of a concern than his over-reaching on metaphysical arguments. I think he has done an admirable job in making Thomism more accessible to the public. He is a very good teacher in that regard.

    ID will survive the Thomists’ mistaken criticism. I think the debate will help both sides, even though I can’t believe that anti-ID Thomism (or Christian theistic evolution) will survive another decade.

    Mung #211

    Why not just say that you agree that ID is about efficient causation, but that efficient causation cannot be understood apart from formal and/or final causation?

    [btw, this is the position Feser takes.]

    Interesting. That does seem to be Feser’s position. How would you answer that?

  222. 222
    StephenB says:

    E Seigner

    Based on what do medical experts consider a healing “explained” as opposed to miraculous? I don’t think the distinction even is that rigorous. It’s like warm versus cold.

    It’s based on nature’s known capacities and limitations. Accordingly, the distinction is quite rigorous, as in—We think nature can do this vs We think nature cannot do this.

    By definition, a miracle is an unusual event. If it wasn’t unusual, there would be no reason for the commission to investigate it. If the Church accepts the event as a miracle, it is saying that a Divine intervention, and not nature, was the cause. It is a difference in kind, not degree.

    I myself had a recovery that doctors said was miraculous, so they are probably quite used to miracles.

    I celebrate your recovery, but I have no way of knowing if it was a miracle since I am not privileged to know the facts. Also, we are using words differently. I (and the Church) define a miracle as an unusual Divine intervention, whereas you seem to define it as a natural event. Yes, the word “miracle” can be used as a rhetorical device for dramatizing ordinary occurrences, but its literal meaning is just what I have expressed.

    You appear to be arguing that God never works without using nature’s laws and that He never intervenes in a special way. In other words, you appear to reject real miracles as defined by the Church. Am I misreading your comments?

    Now, remove the doctors overseeing the procedure, remove any explicitly applied treatment and make it instantaneous, and that’s the miracle. But the result is the same, it will look perfectly natural after the fact.

    I agree that the results will be the same, and it will appear perfectly natural after the fact. That doesn’t mean that the causes of those results will be the same or that those causes cannot be ascertained.

  223. 223
    Mung says:

    Mung #211

    Why not just say that you agree that ID is about efficient causation, but that efficient causation cannot be understood apart from formal and/or final causation?

    [btw, this is the position Feser takes.]

    SA #221

    Interesting. That does seem to be Feser’s position. How would you answer that?

    I think he make a good point. But I don’t see that it raises any issue for ID so I never felt like I needed an answer for it.

  224. 224
    Silver Asiatic says:

    In my view, you can study effects of efficient causation without needing to bring formal and final causation into the analysis.

  225. 225
    Mung says:

    SA @ 224,

    That’s certainly the position of modern science!

  226. 226
    Mung says:

    E.Seigner:

    In the light of all previous discussion, it’s evident that no ID-ist will ever clarify causation to anyone else, because they haven’t clarified causation to themselves.

    Doesn’t mean some of us aren’t working on it.

    But again, given that ID sets itself in opposition to Neo-Darwinism, and Neo-Darwinism is about efficient causes, and given that the ordinary Joe probably associates “cause” with efficient cause, why not take as a reasonable starting point that ID is about efficient causes?

    And why do you not think that the most reasonable interpretation of an intelligent cause would be as an efficient cause?

    After all, if you have a watchmaker, it’s pretty silly to argue that the watchmaker is the material cause of the watch, or the formal cause of he watch, or the final cause of the watch. Isn’t it?

  227. 227
    vjtorley says:

    E. Seigner,

    I have been reading your recent posts on Aquinas and miracles, and I have to say that they betray an abysmal ignorance of the facts.

    Great theologians, Aquinas among them, have analyzed how God creates. The example of creation is the universe, for every one of us to see. What does it look like? It looks naturally ordered throughout…

    Miracles would be no different from this… Miracles would be nothing extraordinary for God, but a natural part of ordinary act of creation. Ordinary creation and miracles are the same for God.

    Miracles are discrete modest occurrences and they leave no signs after the fact. The only way to detect a miracle is testimony of witnesses or be a direct witness oneself. Few people earn this right. Miracles are not meant to convince skeptics and not meant to be found out by random passers-by.

    Anyway, enough of my point of view. Tell me how you explain a miracle with ID detection.

    Here’s what St. Thomas Aquinas actually had to say on miracles. In his Summa Contra Gentiles Book III, chapter 99, paragraph 9 (That God Can Work Apart From The Order Implanted In Things, By Producing Effects Without Proximate Causes), he writes:

    [D]ivine power can sometimes produce an effect, without prejudice to its providence, apart from the order implanted in natural things by God. In fact, He does this at times to manifest His power. For it can be manifested in no better way, that the whole of nature is subject to the divine will, than by the fact that sometimes He does something outside the order of nature. Indeed, this makes it evident that the order of things has proceeded from Him, not by natural necessity, but by free will.

    Here, Aquinas says that God’s power and voluntary agency “can be manifested in no better way … than by the fact that He sometimes does something outside the order of nature.” So much for the claim that “Ordinary creation and miracles are the same for God.” Aquinas’ remarks about miracles manifesting God’s power also indicate that he would have had no qualms whatsoever about appealing to supernatural effects, in order to convince skeptics of God’s existence: the fact that the effect is outside the order of Nature “makes it evident” that the natural order is maintained simply by the will of God, and publicly manifests God’s power. Indeed, “it can be manifested in no better way.”

    Aquinas reasserts this view in his Quaestiones Disputatae de Potentia Dei (Disputed Questions on the Power of God) Q. VI article I, where he asks: can God do anything in creatures that is beyond Nature, against Nature, or contrary to the course of Nature? He replies:

    I answer that, without any doubt God can work in creatures independently of created causes … and by working independently of created causes he can produce the same effects and in the same order as he produces them by their means: or even other effects and in a different order: so that he is able to do something contrary to the common and customary course of nature.

    These remarks contradict your claim that “Ordinary creation and miracles are the same for God.”

    As for miracles being witnessed only by relatively few people, I wonder if you have ever visited the Eucharistic Miracles Website, set up by the Real Presence Eucharistic Education and Adoration Association? You’ll see reports of dozens of miracles approved by the Catholic Church (to which St. Thomas Aquinas belonged) involving consecrated hosts which have been repeatedly photographed and analyzed by scientists, and found to be made of (non-decaying) flesh. The miracle of Lanciano is an especially convincing case. That’s about as public as you can get. You may object that the actual miracle itself (where the consecrated host changed from having the appearance of bread to appearing like real flesh) took place centuries ago, but I would argue that the continued preservation of a piece of flesh over a period of several centuries is itself an ongoing miracle that science can and should investigate. I should also mention the fact that in the seventeenth century, the Italian mystic, St. Joseph of Cupertino, was seen floating in the air (sometimes for hours on end) on at least 1,000 occasions, by vast numbers of people (not just a few thousand). The man was the phenomenon of the seventeenth century: his feats of levitation converted skeptics. I wrote about him last year in an Uncommon Descent thread here.

    Finally, you should be aware that Intelligent Design theory does not postulate miracles in order to explain the origin and development of life on Earth (although it is certainly open to their having occurred, and many ID advocates believe that they did in fact occur). But if a miracle did occur, ascertaining its specificity would obviously be no problem, if it were stipulated in advance. The only question remaining would be the probability of the event in question. If it fell below the stipulated threshold of 1 in 10^150 used in Dembski’s explanatory filter, then the inference which an Intelligent Design advocate would draw would be that an intelligent agent had produced the effect, since we would not expect Nature to produce even one such specified event, in the history of the observable cosmos. If in addition the event contravened a known law of Nature, the ID advocate would have to infer that the agent in question was outside the order of Nature. And that’s where intelligent design inferences would stop. We could not infer that the agent responsible was the God of classical theism.

    Given the fact that you are neither a philosopher nor a scientist, I find your insistence that Intelligent Design is not a science to be rather tiresome (and just a little arrogant, as well). You haven’t defined what a science is, and the only reason you have put forward for its not being a science – namely, its alleged anti-Darwinian bias – could be turned on Darwinism itself, as its methodological anti-design bias is patently obvious. I should add that leading evolutionists such as Professors Jerry Coyne and Larry Moran have both conceded that Intelligent Design could be empirically verified; they happen to believe, however, that the facts point the other way. That means that on their view, Intelligent Design is a science – it just happens to be bad science. To argue that it is not a science is simply pretentious: there have been dozens of attempts to show why it doesn’t qualify as a science, and they have all failed.

    This will be the last post on my side in our lengthy exchange. If you wish to reply, then you will have the last word. Cheers, and best wishes.

  228. 228
    vjtorley says:

    Mung,

    Thank you for your posts. You write:

    IOW, if I were VJT, I would focus on Feser’s “one and only one way” and attack that, rather than assert that Feser has “one and only one way” and attack Feser’s Five Ways.

    OK, here goes. As I see it, Feser’s “one and only one way” really boils down to this:
    (1) A composite of any sort – whether it is composed of quantitative parts, of matter and form, or of essence and existence – require a cause to conserve it in existence. Moreover, this cause cannot be merely an event; it must be an agent, or substance.
    (2) Because it is a composite of matter and form, each and every agent (or substance) in the natural world is composite, which means that every natural agent requires a (per se) cause to conserve it in existence.
    (3) As existence per se is unlimited, and as a thing can only be limited by some potency lying within it, it follows that each and every finite substance, whose perfections are limited in some way, must be a composite of essence and existence (where the former is in potency to the latter); hence, every finite substance requires a cause to conserve it in existence.
    (4) An infinite regress of (per se) causes is impossible.
    (5) Hence there must be some Being which is absolutely simple, in which essence and existence are identical, and which contains no matter that needs to be combined with a form – indeed, no potency of any kind.
    (6) Such a Being must also be infinite and hence absolutely perfect and unique.

    As I see it, this is far too simplistic an argument. Premise (2) is doubtful: as I have argued in my OP, unless one accepts the reality of prime matter (pure passive potency) and also that there is a real distinction between essence and existence – matters which are controverted even among Scholastic philosophers – it is impossible to show that natural objects are necessarily composite. There could be some ultimate constituents of the natural world which are metaphysically simple, and which, by Feser’s logic, do not require a cause.

    Premise (3) is also mistaken. Certainly, the bare notion of “existence” contains no limitations, but it has no positive content either. Thus “existence” per se is not infinite in any positive sense of the word, but only in a negative sense. Also, the Thomistic view that a thing’s limitations arise from its built-in potencies, which constrain its existence, is far from self-evident: many positive perfections are limited by nature and require no potency to constrain them, and we may say the same for a thing’s essence: it is limited simply because it is the kind of thing it is. To view a thing’s essence as an empty vessel or mold into which existence is “poured” is a bad metaphor. Things are limited simply by virtue of being what they are. To be limited does not therefore imply composition. Hence Feser’s argument that finite beings require a cause breaks down.

    My own view is that a thing is finite if its essence contains built-in rules or norms to which it must conform, and which constrain its way of operating. A Being with no constraints on its modus operandi could be called infinite. Since everything in Nature is defined by rules of some sort (a.k.a. laws of nature) and since even intelligent beings in the natural world are constrained in their ways of thinking, we are forced to postulate the existence of a Being with no such built-in constraints. However, I wouldn’t call this argument a proof, because I think the notion of a built-in constraint on a thing’s modus operandi (which indicates that it operates according to a rule set by some Cosmic Rulemaker) needs to be fleshed out, and described more rigorously.

    Hope that helps. No reply from Professor Feser yet.

  229. 229
    Silver Asiatic says:

    Mung 225

    That’s certainly the position of modern science!

    And I think that says something about what Prof Feser is misunderstanding in his dismissal of ID.

  230. 230
    Silver Asiatic says:

    VJT:

    You’ll see reports of dozens of miracles approved by the Catholic Church (to which St. Thomas Aquinas belonged) involving consecrated hosts which have been repeatedly photographed and analyzed by scientists, and found to be made of (non-decaying) flesh.

    Today is the feast of St. Januarius, 3rd century martyr, whose blood is believed to liquify in a glass reliquary around this date every year. It’s controversial but “design detection” has been used to determine if the phenomenon is due to natural causes.

  231. 231
    Silver Asiatic says:

    VJT

    I answer that, without any doubt God can work in creatures independently of created causes … and by working independently of created causes he can produce the same effects and in the same order as he produces them by their means: or even other effects and in a different order: so that he is able to do something contrary to the common and customary course of nature.

    The quotes from Thomas that you provided are irrefutable, as I see it. I am very sympathetic with today’s classicists and Thomists. I see the goodness in those systems. But unfortunately, they’re wrong. They’re obviously wrong about ID and they basically have to contradict their own religious views to argue against ID. Or else they have to create new theologies which make no sense — namely, that there are no miracles. Suppposedly for them, everything would be a manifestation of natural processes, including resurrections and spiritual manifestations. I’ve heard some claim “nothing is random”.

    The key to all of this is the idea that since God is perfect, then what he created is perfectly ordered. If that’s the case, then miracles are not needed – God’s order is enough. This idea leads to the notion that “evolution is a expression of God’s perfect order in nature”. Everything in the classical view happens by perfect laws – so Darwinism is just one of those.

    We’ll set aside the fact that Darwin came up with his notion in order to explain why the world is actually disordered. Darwinism is the supposed proof that disorder and chaos actually caused the ordered parts of the universe – the rest is left in chaos.

    The classical model doesn’t understand creation, as sad as that is for me to say. Yes, there is evidence of perfect order. That’s why ID works so well. We can recognize perfect order (mathematical symmetry and fine-tuning) because there is also disorder.

    In my theological view, God made it that way for a reason – to give a message. I don’t see God as the architect or engineer of nature and life (he does bring those skills but not that alone). God is the author of beauty, and what we observe in nature is that beauty is not a function of order alone. In fact, it’s not order which gives variety — which is a hallmark of the beauty in nature. Otherwise, we would say that the more ordered a thing, the more beautiful but it doesn’t work that way.

    Life is beautiful not because it is perfectly ordered but because there is a contrast of order and disorder. There is the triumph of order over disorder – but both elements remain in tension.

    The life that God created is a drama — it shows the beauty of struggle against disorder or sometimes the use of disorder to bring about beautiful results.

    This idea doesn’t work in the classical model. That’s why the anti-ID Thomists are very conflicted. They have to defend Darwinism as a mechanism in an ordered universe, but Darwinism is all about chaos and randomness — it’s the philosophy of disorder at work. So then the Thomists will reject Darwinism on metaphysical grounds — but replace it with what? Special creation? Some other kind of self-organizing natural law?

    It’s a paradox to say that “God is the author of disorder”. There is not a good way to explain it. Some Thomists will claim “what we see as disorder is really order from God’s view” – ok, but then there’s no way to claim that the universe is ordered. The fact that the universe exists would mean “ordered” and as true as that may be, it’s not convincing and is impossible to prove. Why not say “non-existence is order” also?

    In any case, Thomas himself could see that God uses miracles to manifest His power. Miracles show God’s power even more than natural laws For [his power] can be manifested in no better way than by miracles.

    There are more paradoxes here, but the fact is, we recognize miracles. Nothing therefore prevents us from recognizing aspects of intelligent design in nature.

    It’s the same concept. Not everything looks designed. Not everything looks like a miracle. Life and the univsers is a work of art – not engineering alone. As with every great work of beauty, there is light and dark, order and disorder, things we know and mysteries.

    There is beauty in order and simplicity, but taken purely, there would be no need for God to create an incredibly varied universe with trillions of people, each one different and unique. But there’s beauty in that magnificent creation of humanity with all its diversity.

  232. 232
    StephenB says:

    Silver Asiatic,

    Interesting comments. In my judgment, Aquinas’ metaphysics (and his epistemology) make(s) more sense and provide(s) a more compatible rational partner to Christian faith than any philosophical system ever conceived. The problem, I think, is what neo-Thomists try to make of it, particularly their infernal habit of trying to rigidize something that was meant to be far more flexible.

    It’s almost as if they were to approach a doctor of medicine and say, “Your tools for analyzing systolic and diastolic blood pressure are too mechanistic. They reduce humans to machines and undermine the Christian teaching about the existence of the human soul. Further, I am not telling you this tall tale on my own authority. St. Thomas Aquinas said the same thing. His actual words may dis-confirm my claim, but you will just have to trust me.”

    If these serial misrepresenters make it to heaven, and I sincerely hope that they do, St Thomas will be there waiting for them to extend his warmest greetings—with a bucket of Gatoraide.

  233. 233
    Silver Asiatic says:

    LOL StephenB. “Just trust me”, I’m a Thomist. That says it. I hope St. Thomas is that friendly to his misrepresenters also. 😉

  234. 234
    E.Seigner says:

    Thanks, KF. To inject some fear of the materialistic world view you quote a book titled Billions and Billions of Demons. So you are making an argument from authority where demons are the authority. Had you read your Bible (or believed your Bible rather), you’d know that demons know that God exists and they tremble. (My joke may go lost on you, but at least you see that I don’t think much of that quote.)

    kairosfocus

    I think you would need to convince me that the inductive analysis outlined here embeds self-contradictions, or else stand revealed as asserting what you cannot back up…

    Nobody answers my concerns, so that’s futile. But I’ll go through the routine one more time and make my questions specific to that post on FSCO/I.

    According to the post, there’s a threshold of “sufficient complexity to not plausibly be the result of chance”. Above this threshold, the complexity is assumed to be plausibly caused by “intelligence”. Below this threshold, the complexity is assumed to be plausibly caused by chance.

    First, the threshold of complexity as set in the post is clearly arbitrary. The threshold, above which things (things, structures, or circumstances? or any of those?) are “sufficiently complex” and below which things are supposedly “too simple”, is a random point that is not justified by anything.

    Second, since complexity itself is undefined, “threshold of complexity” doesn’t actually say what it is a threshold of. This doesn’t pass the laugh test.

    Another issue is how you use “chance”. In probability theory (which the post uses), “chance” is contrasted with certainty, not with intelligence the way it’s done in the post. So perhaps instead of “chance” (as in “result of chance”) you meant to say deterministic causes, because (physical) determinism contrasts with intelligence better, and this is the contrast you seem to have intended.

    But also physical deterministic causes don’t contrast with intelligence per se. They contrast properly with non-deterministic causes which, being non-deterministic, are not empirically quantifiable. This in turn underscores the need to comprehend your connection with philosophy and to elaborate a sophisticated framework of causes for yourselves, which you haven’t done.

    In summary, every aspect of this framework is problematic.

    @VJT
    Nothing Aquinas says contradicts my claim that ordinary creation and miracles are the same thing for God. Nature appears distinct from miracles to us, and that’s the distinction Aquinas makes from human perspective, but for God creation and miracles are all one single act. As Aquinas says: “The whole of nature is subject to the divine will…”

    The sentence where I quote this from is syntactically not quite natural modern English. I’d reconstrue the relevant sentence for ease fo reading as: “The whole of nature is subject to the divine will, and this can be manifested in no better way than by the fact that sometimes He does something outside the order of nature.” He occasionally does something outside the the order of nature, i.e. He does miracles uncommon to us, because without miracles we’d be lulled into thinking that nature is self-sufficient and can run its course by itself.

    Miracles are different from natural course, different from the way nature runs by itself when left to its own devices – and from this miracles can be identified by witnesses, which is our point of view, not God’s – but the effects of miracles won’t leave traces. Only human activity leaves signs like “a gigantic non-natural event has taken place here”. Miracles are really nothing else but restoration of normalcy, as miracle healings exemplify.

    StephenB

    You appear to be arguing that God never works without using nature’s laws and that He never intervenes in a special way. In other words, you appear to reject real miracles as defined by the Church. Am I misreading your comments?
    Yes, you are misreading. Curiously, your misreading is diametrically opposite to the meaning VJT attributes.

    StephenB

    I agree that the results will be the same, and it will appear perfectly natural after the fact. That doesn’t mean that the causes of those results will be the same or that those causes cannot be ascertained.

    Effects of natural causes are natural, and when miraculous results look the same, then how do you distinguish the causes? We only get to the (empirical) causes through the effects, and this is the reason why I say miracles are empirically indistinguishable. Miracle is only ascertainable when the whole event is witnessed. Reproducible lab experiments will never become miraculous events, because reproducible is ordinary and ordinary is never miraculous. Moreover, it’s preposterous to assume that miracles could be bottled or reliably reproduced. Therefore miracles will forever remain outside the purview of science.

    After thinking about it, I’d say that miracles are, from our point of view, just a time function. They are a time function in terms of effects that concern physical and biological events. I mean, physical and biological events take time in nature, but miraculous physical and biological events are basically instantaneous. The purpose of miracles, however, is never physical or biological, but psychological and spiritual. They are to affirm faith, to confer grace, and such. This again should tell why miracles cannot enter the purview of science.

    For the above reasons, ID theory as a miracle science will be worthless, because the idea of miracle detection is itself a contradiction in terms. It’s a contradiction in terms for the same logical metaphysical reasons that apply to the idea of design detection or detection of intelligent causes too.

  235. 235
    kairosfocus says:

    ES:

    I observe your dismissive language and it leads me to wonder.

    For instance, have you taken time to work out how many fast chem rxn time events — 10^-14 s [about the time of one cycle of vibration for red light] — 10^57 atoms can carry out in 10^17 s? The ratio of that to the number of possibilities for 500 coins — 3.27*10^150 — is comparable to drawing a one straw sized sample from a cubical haystack 1,000 LY across, about as thick as our galaxy at its central bulge. With 1,000 bits, the size of the comparable haystack for the config space would dwarf our observable cosmos of some 90 bn LY across and some 10^80 atoms, of duration some 10^17 s.

    In short the search challenge in question is real, it is not made up. Compared tot he set of possibilities for 500 or 1,000 bits, our solar system or observable cosmos just do not have search resources to escape the needle in haystack challenge.

    And in fact, on trillions of cases in point (start with the Internet) every case of FSCO/I beyond these reasonable thresholds we have seen the causal process of is as a matter of observed fact, produced by design.

    The search challenge comparison case of fast ionic rxns using up the resources of our solar system or cosmos, counting every atom as an observer and every rxn time as an observation . . . the give the atom a tray of 500 or 1000 coins flipped and observed every 10^-14 s approach . . . underscores the search challenge. And it gives an analytical reason why the observation is not just a brute inexplicable fact. A small sampe from a big haystack with relatively few needles, without any need for major probability calcs, will predictably come up straw not needle.

    Where by its nature of being complex, organised constrained configs to attain function, FSCO/I will naturally be rare in the relevant config space, and will come in clusters (think, tolerance for variations that will still work in a complex machine), or as has often been described, islands.

    In short this is not about arbitrary set-ups and assumptions, there is a serious — though not that difficult — empirical and analytical basis.

    Back on topic . . .

    KF

  236. 236
    kairosfocus says:

    PS: If outcomes of a processor are predetermined by initial circumstances, we have programming not genuine intelligence at work. Indeed, trying to reduce intelligence to neural networks and associated electrochemistry ends up in self referential incoherence due exactly to the determinism, i.e. you have locked out room to actually thing instead of follow the programming regardless of logical relationships, just cause effect chains at work. And injecting chance into that will get us no closer to real reasoning, this is appeal to grand delusion, which is self referentially incoherent. And by mechanical necessity [a la F = m*a] and chance [a la toss a fair die or take in sky noise or Zener noise etc] I would consider these to be commonly understood mechanisms frequently studied in the sciences.

    PPS: Complexity is easily understood in terms of bit depth to specify or describe function. Surely, a single on/off switch has just two possibilities, and a cascade of 3, 8, 16 has 2^16 possibilities and 500, 2^500 = 3.27*10^500, etc. The complexity has grown with bit depth. That basic concept is quite enough to do what we want as description on n-length strings is WLOG. AutoCAD etc specify complex engineered entities in 3-D on coded strings of binary digits, on a routine basis.

  237. 237
    kairosfocus says:

    PPPS: ES, we have been through the definitionitis game over and over over the years. Let’s just say, there is a reason why objectors to design thought at UD seldom resort to definition derby these days.

  238. 238
    StephenB says:

    E. Seigner:

    Effects of natural causes are natural, and when miraculous results look the same, then how do you distinguish the causes?

    The effects may look the same in terms of the way the body functions, but they may not look the same in terms of the medical evidence. If it is a natural healing, for example, a scar is often present. If a scar is expected and non appears, that would a clue that an intelligent agent may have bypassed physical laws.

    We only get to the (empirical) causes through the effects, and this is the reason why I say miracles are empirically indistinguishable. Miracle is only ascertainable when the whole event is witnessed.

    Well, no, not really. The before and after X rays will often reveal a great deal of information. Also, the time element will be a clue. A natural scar would not form in five minutes. Again, you are dismissing the methods of the Lourdes International Commission without giving them due consideration. I encourage you to investigate that realm.

    Reproducible lab experiments will never become miraculous events, because reproducible is ordinary and ordinary is never miraculous.

    If anyone here ever claims that a lab experiment is a miracle, you be sure and send them to me and I will be happy to correct them.

    Meanwhile, please reflect on the fact that you have contradicted yourself once again: First, you claimed that miracles are ordinary and natural; now you are saying that they are extraordinary and unnatural.

    Moreover, it’s preposterous to assume that miracles could be bottled or reliably reproduced. Therefore miracles will forever remain outside the purview of science.

    Actually, that is not the case. Eucharistic miracles have been preserved and can be readily observed in real time. Medical science has already provided the necessary tests to confirm the presence of living human flesh and blood. At the same time, medical science (or nature) cannot explain the phenomenon. Thus, we infer that it is a miracle. Indeed, every consecrated host is a miracle. Again, I encourage you to investigate these matters with an open mind. Facts are facts.

    Alas, you have contradicted yourself yet again. First, you say that miracles cannot be detected because they cannot be observed in real time. Now you are saying that science couldn’t investigate them even if they did occur in real time. On the contrary, if Moses could come back and part the waters of the Red Sea, a meteorolgist who happened to be present would certainly provide evidence that natural causes were likely not at work.

    After thinking about it, I’d say that miracles are, from our point of view, just a time function. They are a time function in terms of effects that concern physical and biological events. I mean, physical and biological events take time in nature, but miraculous physical and biological events are basically instantaneous. The purpose of miracles, however, is never physical or biological, but psychological and spiritual. They are to affirm faith, to confer grace, and such. This again should tell why miracles cannot enter the purview of science.

    God often uses them to increase faith, but that is not always the reason. It certainly is not the reason that He parted the waters when Moses raised his arms. Meanwhile, I have already refuted your claim that science never studies miraculous events (note the Eucharistic miracles and the healings at Lourdes), so there is no reason to revisit that subject.

    For the above reasons, ID theory as a miracle science will be worthless, because the idea of miracle detection is itself a contradiction in terms. It’s a contradiction in terms for the same logical metaphysical reasons that apply to the idea of design detection or detection of intelligent causes too.

    ID is not a miracle science. Humans detect design every day. ID simply formalizes and quantifies the process.

  239. 239
    kairosfocus says:

    ES, I suggest you look here to have a clearer view of what intelligent design is/is not. KF

  240. 240
    Mung says:

    How many theological eggs can fit into a metaphysical basket?

  241. 241
    Mung says:

    E.Seigner, I do hope you will craft a response to my post #226.

    Do you hold that efficient causes as well not amenable to the methods of scientific inquiry?

  242. 242
    Mung says:

    VJT, thank you for your responses. You do display the qualities of a teacher.

    In addition to pursuing the very interesting topics you opened in the OP I’m trying to get a handle on where you are coming from.

    I believe you are a Catholic. Is that correct?

    But you would not describe yourself as either a Thomist or as a neo-Thomist with respect to your philosophy? Is that also correct?

    Would you align your philosophy with any of the Scholastics? Duns Scotus, Suarez? Or can you say who or what has most influenced your philosophical thinking?

    Do you accept or reject the doctrine of divine simplicity? Please feel free to expand on your answer.

    Hoping you’re get the computer issue resolved!

  243. 243
    Mung says:

    VJT:

    OK, here goes. As I see it, Feser’s “one and only one way” really boils down to this:

    (1) A composite of any sort – whether it is composed of quantitative parts, of matter and form, or of essence and existence – require a cause to conserve it in existence. Moreover, this cause cannot be merely an event; it must be an agent, or substance.

    I don’t find much to disagree with here, but that could just be because I’m a noob not able to tease out all the relevant distinctions.

    To put it another way, there is either being or non-being. Non-being cannot be a cause.

    Within the realm of being we have contingent/created beings (c/cb’s) and a Necessary Being (NB) (there can be only one NB). C/CB’s must have a cause. [The NB must either have no cause or be self caused. Need to investigate which.]

    The fundamental distinction that can be made between c/cb’s and a NB is that c/cb’s are composed, whereas the NB must, of necessity, be simple.

    And so far, this really has nothing to do with Feser per se, this is the position of Thomas Aquinas.

    So having said that:

    [Please forgive me if you’ve already answered any of these in your post.]

    Do you disagree with my statement that this is the position taken by Aquinas?

    Do you agree/disagree that there can be only one necessary being?

    Do you take issue with the claim that c/cb’s are composed?

    Do you take issue with the claim that God is simple?

    Do you agree/disagree that it is by means of this fundamental distinction between composite beings and the simple being (God) that Aquinas establishes his arguments for God’s existence?

  244. 244
    E.Seigner says:

    @kairosfocus

    In short the search challenge in question is real, it is not made up. Compared tot he set of possibilities for 500 or 1,000 bits, our solar system or observable cosmos just do not have search resources to escape the needle in haystack challenge.

    This happens to be the tiny little bit that I agree with, as long as we talk about the model in pure abstract sense, unapplied to any specific circumstances. However, as soon as we get empirical, the problem is that it doesn’t say what it is a search of. What is the needle in question?

    Now, inasmuch as ID theory is an anti-Darwinist rally, then the needle in question must be their exclusively deterministic thesis and, sure enough, this is an unsupported thesis. Though I’d say this is not like searching for a needle in haystack, but more similar to waiting for Godot.

    However, the alternative to the deterministic thesis can’t get any better than “since the direction of evolution looks specific, there must be some specific cause other than random chance, but we don’t know what it is” which is regularly conceded by many biologists anyway! But the ultimate nature of causes of life is irrelevant to their method and they can continue their work undisturbed. Since we cannot empirically ascertain any other cause, this leaves only random deterministic causes that everybody is used to. I agree that random deterministic causes are logically and statistically insufficient to have given rise to life and to propel evolution across species, but as long as there’s no experimentally ascertainable empirical alternative (and logic dictates that there never will be an empirical alternative), it’s better to honestly acknowledge the fact that God chooses to work in secret, not in the midst of pigeon-sellers and moneychangers who yell at the marketplace.

    StephenB
    You misread me pretty mightily. Hard to correct every passage where you argue against what you imagine me saying rather than against what I actually say. I pick out these points:

    If anyone here ever claims that a lab experiment is a miracle, you be sure and send them to me and I will be happy to correct them.

    Meanwhile, please reflect on the fact that you have contradicted yourself once again: First, you claimed that miracles are ordinary and natural; now you are saying that they are extraordinary and unnatural.

    Again: The effects of miracles look completely natural to us after the fact, always did, and necessarily would. The miraculous event itself is extraordinary to the witnesses and, if we don’t figure it out properly, then one might say it’s “unnatural” too, but this only from human perspective, whereas from God’s perspective miracles are non-different from ordinary creation.

    What’s really unnatural when comparing lab experiments and miracles are the lab experiments! The effects of miracles are distinguished by exceeding naturalness when compared to lab experiments. Experiments, tests, measurements, dissections, etc. are contrived, despite the regular claim that this way we experimentally arrive at so-called laws of nature.

    It so happens that we define laws of nature the way we define them, but when you examine the metaphysics of the whole issue, then: We are examining the created universe which is in itself a miracle (in Catholic cosmology they talk about creatio ex nihilo, which is a logical contradiction, but an indisputable dogma), yet we call it natural!

    This means that God’s works are miraculous but natural, whereas human deeds, lab experiments among them, are commonplace but unnatural. Human activity gives rise to A4’s, .doc files, cars and concrete buildings, but God’s activity gives rise to natural entities that seamlessly and harmoniously integrate with the rest of the universe. (Which incidentally means that if ID theory attempts to conflate both human activity and God’s activity under the term “intelligent cause”, it cannot get off the ground due to inherent self-contradiction, failing to discern what must be discerned.)

    StephenB

    Eucharistic miracles have been preserved and can be readily observed in real time. Medical science has already provided the necessary tests to confirm the presence of living human flesh and blood. At the same time, medical science (or nature) cannot explain the phenomenon. Thus, we infer that it is a miracle. Indeed, every consecrated host is a miracle. Again, I encourage you to investigate these matters with an open mind. Facts are facts.

    And which medical journal has published these facts and stands by them? I mean a medical journal that an atheist or skeptic would agree is such, as opposed to a medical expert in service of the Church.

    There is a difference between “doctrinal facts” (dogmas) and empirical experimental facts. You basically claim that the miracles of the sacraments can – experimentally and empirically – be readily given to atheists, whereas – doctrinally – atheists should not be able to receive the blessings of the sacrament. Doctrinally, they can only receive it in proportion to their conversion. If what you are saying is true, then everybody who’s had a bite on some cracker would be a catholic by now, whereas in reality most of those who receive the sacramental blessing by the priest at church service are ordinary sinners.

    Seriously, there’s no special need to investigate logical self-contradictions other than resolve them.

    StephenB

    Alas, you have contradicted yourself yet again. First, you say that miracles cannot be detected because they cannot be observed in real time. Now you are saying that science couldn’t investigate them even if they did occur in real time. On the contrary, if Moses could come back and part the waters of the Red Sea, a meteorolgist who happened to be present would certainly provide evidence that natural causes were likely not at work.

    A meteorologist could be present, even with his tools alright, but, as far as the doctrine is concerned, he would not be an unconcerned impartial meteorologist. The parting of the waters of the Red Sea was for a double purpose – to let the chosen people through and to eliminate Egyptians. The Egyptian witnesses of the event didn’t survive to tell the tale.

    Would you be equally confident about meteorological observation of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah? Remember what happened to Lot’s wife? There was a reason for this. There are no unconcerned impartial parties involved in miracles.

    If you make miracles empirically observable for unconcerned people, then you allow that atheists and skeptics can define miracles regardless of doctrine. This license is unnecessary to atheists and skeptics, because they already define miracles their own way (such as, miracles don’t exist or they are at best lucky coincidences and at worst collective hallucinations) and will consistently find ways to disagree about the nature of miracles.

    You’d better stop on this topic. Metaphysically you have no understanding how miracles should/could empirically appear, and doctrinally you are not taking them seriously enough. Moreover, whatever we affirm of miracles has absolutely zero effect on the validity of ID theory anyway. Futile discussion.

    Mung #226

    But again, given that ID sets itself in opposition to Neo-Darwinism, and Neo-Darwinism is about efficient causes, and given that the ordinary Joe probably associates “cause” with efficient cause, why not take as a reasonable starting point that ID is about efficient causes?

    And why do you not think that the most reasonable interpretation of an intelligent cause would be as an efficient cause?

    After all, if you have a watchmaker, it’s pretty silly to argue that the watchmaker is the material cause of the watch, or the formal cause of he watch, or the final cause of the watch. Isn’t it?

    Everybody with some idea of metaphysics of nature and of philosophy of science, including the Thomist ID-proponent I linked to in #135, understands that efficient causes are insufficient. If ID theory affirms first and foremost only efficient causes, i.e. physical deterministic causes and instrumental causes, then it has nothing relevant to say about the alleged “intelligent cause” other than what is already there in sciences. But what’s really at issue is not just that the concept of “intelligent cause” is irrelevant, but that it’s also incoherent.

    The watchmaker is just an analogy and does not exhaust the nature of all kinds of causation. Does God work like human watchmaker? Yes, in some sense. Or does God work like a spider who is the material of its own web? Again, yes, in some sense. Or is God like a parent to a child? Yes again, in some sense. And there are many other senses too that apply and need to be ordered in relation to each other. No analogy should be blown out of proportion and assumed to be universally applicable when it’s not.

  245. 245
    Joe says:

    E, Seigner:

    Now, inasmuch as ID theory is an anti-Darwinist rally,…

    Grow up already.

    ID fits the definition of science- it is based on observation and our knowledge of cause and effect relationships. Its claims can be tested and either confirmed or falsified.

  246. 246
    vjtorley says:

    Hi Mung,

    Thank you for your questions. I’ll try to answer them as best I can. You ask:

    I believe you are a Catholic. Is that correct?

    That is indeed correct.

    But you would not describe yourself as either a Thomist or as a neo-Thomist with respect to your philosophy? Is that also correct?

    Yes. I have immense respect for the philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas, whom I consider to be one of the greatest philosophical synthesists of all time. However, since I disagree with Aquinas on certain metaphysical issues, I could not call myself a Thomist or neo-Thomist.

    Would you align your philosophy with any of the Scholastics? Duns Scotus, Suarez? Or can you say who or what has most influenced your philosophical thinking?

    As I’ve indicated in previous posts, my thinking is closer to that of Duns Scotus, and I also have a lot of time for Suarez. Boscovich is another thinker who has influenced me through his dynamism, although I’ve read only a little about his work. I wouldn’t place myself in any particular camp, however. For instance, I endorse a Boethian view of God’s foreknowledge (as I explained in my OP), and while ordinary believers also tend to adopt this view, I can’t think of any Catholic theologian, doctor or Church Father (except maybe Origen and Boethius) who has done so.

    Do you accept or reject the doctrine of divine simplicity? Please feel free to expand on your answer.

    I accept the teaching of the Catholic Church that God’s essence is absolutely indivisible. The Catholic Church has not ruled on the question of whether God’s operations are distinct from His essence, and whether God has accidental properties relating to His free, contingent choice to create and sustain the world. As I explained in the OP, I don’t see how God could possibly create and sustain the world without having those properties.

    Within the realm of being we have contingent/created beings (c/cb’s) and a Necessary Being (NB) (there can be only one NB). C/CB’s must have a cause… The fundamental distinction that can be made between c/cb’s and a NB is that c/cb’s are composed, whereas the NB must, of necessity, be simple… Do you disagree with my statement that this is the position taken by Aquinas?

    I would agree with your statement hat this is Aquinas’ position. For Aquinas, God’s simplicity is His key attribute-generator, so to speak: from it, all His other attributes follow. Thomas Williams takes the same view in his article on Duns Scotus in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. I think that before we ask whether God is simple, we have to ascertain what He is, and I would define God as a Being Whose nature is to know and love perfectly, without any built-in constraints on His manner of knowing and loving. Given such a definition, we can infer that since a composite being would need a cause to conserve it in existence, it would not be self-explanatory; hence its modus operandi would be constrained by the being(s) responsible for maintaining it in existence.

    Do you agree/disagree that there can be only one necessary being?

    I agree. I just don’t happen to think Aquinas’ (or Feser’s) arguments attempting to prove this point are terribly convincing. I think a more convincing argument would be that there can only be one intelligent being whose nature is not internally constrained by any rules defining its modus operandi, as there would be no way of distinguishing two such beings.

    Do you take issue with the claim that c/cb’s are composed?

    They may well be. However, I don’t think anyone has proven that yet. The attempt to argue that contingent beings are composites of essence and existence seems to rest on faulty logic, and even Thomists admit that the matter-form distinction wouldn’t apply to angels. Personally, I’m skeptical of the Thomistic notion of prime matter as pure passive potency.

    Do you take issue with the claim that God is simple?

    No. I accept that God’s essence is absolutely simple. Please see my comments above.

    Do you agree/disagree that it is by means of this fundamental distinction between composite beings and the simple being (God) that Aquinas establishes his arguments for God’s existence?

    In Feser’s reconstruction of the Five Ways, each Way is presented as an argument based on the compositeness of contingent beings. Personally, I doubt whether Aquinas himself intended his Five Ways to be taken in this way: only the Fourth Way highlights the notion of God’s simplicity and unity. However, it is certainly true that in the Summa Theologica I, q. 3 (the follow-up to the Five Ways), God’s simplicity plays a central role, and if one were attempting to beef up Aquinas’ Five Ways for a modern audience, Feser’s reconstruction is about as good a job as anyone could possibly do. Hats off to him for that.

    I hope that answers your questions, Mung. Cheers.

  247. 247
    kairosfocus says:

    ES:

    Pardon, but you have come across as having been led to look at design thinking through the selectively hyperskeptical critiques of those who are only looking for a rationalisation of an a priori Lewontinian or fellow-traveller dismissal. And this is still off-topic on this thread.

    I would suggest that by contrast, instead of announcing grand dismissals, it would be much less polarising and far more productive — assuming at least clarification as a goal — to have asked rather than started from dismissals that sound implicitly loaded with “you must be ignorant, stupid, insane or wicked.”

    Having noted such, I pause to comment on what seems pivotal in your latest comment to me. (Remember, in context, there is a gov’t transition in process.)

    Now, the context of configuration spaces is a general mathematical context with broad applicability . . . an ASSET not a liability. (I originally looked at such through dropping momentum terms in phase spaces, as are commonly studied in physics and engineering.)

    In the context of design detection in science, we are looking at:

    (a) configurational possibilities for plausible molecular entities in a Darwin’s pond or similar postulated pre-life env’ts

    (b) Genome-space and amino acid chain space extensions for first life and for major multicellular body plans

    (c) The linked issue of configs of string data structures with n-state elements:

    . . . -*-*-*- . . .

    (d) the point that as per AutoCAD etc such strings can encode effectively any spatial congig of arranged, coupled components, thus consideration on strings is WLOG

    (e) the concept of functionally specific operation points and clusters of such in a config space . . . i.e. local isolation of “islands of function” in config spaces

    (f) the issue of relatively tiny finite search resources limiting blind (as opposed to intelligent) search of such config spaces . . . grounds of the needle in haystack, blind search challenge

    (g) the point that on empirically linked considerations, 100 – 1,000 kbase prs is a reasonable estimate for genome scale for first life and 10 – 100+ Mbase prs, for major body plans

    (h) the linked point that our 10^57 atom solar system is our effective limit for direct chemical interactions, and that our observed cosmos is about 10^80 atoms, setting reasonable upper limits on feasible search . . . which turn out to be well below the config space scope or credible degree of isolation of islands of function

    (i) the point that the requisites of functional organisation of large numbers of components that need to be properly arranged and coupled to work, naturally leads to islands of function [cf protein patterns in AA sequence space in the wider context of chemical possibilities of molecules and atoms in a Darwin’s pond type scenario]

    In short, the FSCO/I threshold and linked needle in haystack search challenge are not irrelevant to the origin of life and major body plans challenge. Nor is the relevance a particularly abstruse matter of complicated analysis. This isn’t rocket science, especially if one has done a modicum of statistical thermodynamics or has at least met the statistical thought behind the rationale for the 2nd law of thermodynamics.

    Beyond, is the issue of cosmological fine tuning, where it appears credible that we live in an observed cosmos . . . the only actually observed one (never mind multiverse speculations) . . . that sits at a deeply isolated finely tuned island of function that allows a cosmos with possibility of C-Chemistry, aqueous medium, cell based life. With the physics setting the first four elements as: H, He, O, C, with N close. Stars, rest of elements, water, organic chem, proteins. That is the broad context in which say, Sir Fred Hoyle stoutly defended the view that our cosmos is a put-up job.

    And more, much more.

    I again suggest that you read the linked NWE article, and the resources here at UD under the resources tab, especially the weak argument correctives. The previously linked articles will help also.

    KF

  248. 248
    kairosfocus says:

    VJT:

    I see:

    . . . before we ask whether God is simple, we have to ascertain what He is, and I would define God as a Being Whose nature is to know and love perfectly, without any built-in constraints on His manner of knowing and loving. Given such a definition, we can infer that since a composite being would need a cause to conserve it in existence, it would not be self-explanatory; hence its modus operandi would be constrained by the being(s) responsible for maintaining it in existence . . . . I think a more convincing argument would be that there can only be one intelligent being whose nature is not internally constrained by any rules defining its modus operandi, as there would be no way of distinguishing two such beings.

    Would you care to draw that out a tad, and maybe bring in greatness of being and maximality as appropriate?

    KF

    PS: Sorry on a messed up b-quote

    PPS: How is your computer story?

  249. 249
    kairosfocus says:

    FYI, OT F/N: To get a picture of what is holding me down, here is a prelim look towards what looks like a needed workshop for much of the local civil service on project management in the context of sustainability guided strategic programmes of action to be done with an in-formation institute. KF

  250. 250
    Mung says:

    Scott Ambler. Classic.

  251. 251
    Mung says:

    Hi VJT and thank you for your response @ 246. With respect to what you’ve written in it I have only one comment at the present.

    The attempt to argue that contingent beings are composites of essence and existence seems to rest on faulty logic, and even Thomists admit that the matter-form distinction wouldn’t apply to angels. Personally, I’m skeptical of the Thomistic notion of prime matter as pure passive potency.

    It seems to me that the important thing to consider is not essence-existence composition but act-potency composition and this seems to be born out by Thomas’s identification of God as pure act and prime matter as pure passive potency.

  252. 252
    Mung says:

    I. There is but one only, living, and true God, who is infinite in being and perfection, a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions; immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty, most wise, most holy, most free, most absolute;

    http://www.reformed.org/docume.....ch_II.html

    “…denial of the DDS [doctrine of divine simplicity] leads to the denial of God’s absoluteness. The logical consequence of denying the DDS is that God is regarded as merely another being within the world, even if the most supreme instance of such being … the following chapters in this study endeavor to uphold God’s absoluteness by arguing that he alone is the final sufficient explanation for himself and all others things and that it is his simplicity that explains why this is the case.”

    God without Parts: Divine Simplicity and the Metaphysics of God’s Absoluteness

  253. 253
    vjtorley says:

    Hi kairosfocus,

    Thank you for your post. My computer looks as if it will have to be replaced, but I can’t say when that will be. In the meantime, I’m getting by with occasional visits to Internet cafes and a few other palces where I can access the Internet for a while.

    Re greatness of being: I’m not opposed to the concept, but I think it needs to be rigorously defined. Feser seems to think that a simple being is, ceteris paribus, greater than a complex one, and he also believes in the psychic hierarchy. It’s going to be hard to persuade an atheist that a human being is not only greater than a dog or a tree but also more of a being than either of them. Actually, Godel’s definition of greatness in his version of the ontological argument looks promising. That’s as far as I’ve got for now, in my thinking on the subject.

  254. 254
    kairosfocus says:

    VJT: Ouch, I trust things settle soon. I am of inclination that a phablet or tablet — separate keypad, please — a 12″ screen netbook and a desktop/wall-sized AIO [~ 30 or 40″ resp] may be the way to go. For the last, a remote keyboard. The only one of these that justifies Windows or even Linux is the netbook. Android looks like a sweet-spot, esp. as APK building skills propagate into an ecosystem. KF

    PS: I hear you on greatness of being. My own thoughts are it is time to stop handing hyper-skepticism the red-ink pen, and to challenge on worldview foundational issues. As you know, I take foundations, first principles of right reason and moral foundations as well as foundations for credibility of mind very seriously. The vision of greatness of being looks to me very promising and I can see the attractions of ontological arguments in that context. (This may be a useful reference, onlookers. And I am by no means so sure that S5 . . . a chain of “modes” collapsing principle — is overly strong! (Save, that it points where many would not go . . . a serious candidate necessary being is either impossible or else actual.) But then, I openly argue that we have real rights which entails OUGHT is real, thus the IS-OUGHT gap is bridged, thence there is but one serious candidate: the inherently good, creator-God who is maximally great, necessary, Reason Himself, and the root of reality.)

  255. 255
    kairosfocus says:

    F/N: I see an emerging convergence between desktops to all in one super-tablets of about 30″ screen size on one side and hang on wall TV’s of maybe 40″ on the other. KF

  256. 256
    Mung says:

    VJT:

    Feser seems to think that a simple being is, ceteris paribus, greater than a complex one, and he also believes in the psychic hierarchy. It’s going to be hard to persuade an atheist that a human being is not only greater than a dog or a tree but also more of a being than either of them.

    Most atheists don’t have the slightest clue what it means to be a “simple being.”

    But most atheists also lack even a rudimentary understanding of ontology.

    otoh, it would seem intuitively obvious, even to the most die-hard atheist that complex things are harder to come by than simple things.

    Therefore, the first being to have existence must be the simplest.

    It’s going to be hard to persuade an atheist that a human being is not only greater than a dog or a tree but also more of a being than either of them.

    Humans cause computers to exist. Computers do not cause humans (or anything else to exist). It follows that humans are “more of a being” than computers.

    But God is not “more of a being” than humans or the other things that he causes to exist in the same sense that humans are more of a being than computers. God is in a completely different category.

    What would be the point of convincing an atheist that God is “more of a being” if all it leads to is a belief that God is regarded as merely another being within the world, even if the most supreme instance of such being?

  257. 257
    E.Seigner says:

    @kairosfocus

    I would suggest that by contrast, instead of announcing grand dismissals, it would be much less polarising and far more productive — assuming at least clarification as a goal — to have asked rather than started from dismissals…

    And what do you think I am doing here? I am articulating my problems with the concepts so you can answer them.

    I again suggest that you read the linked NWE article, and the resources here at UD under the resources tab, especially the weak argument correctives. The previously linked articles will help also.

    Wrong answer. The problems emerged when I was reading the article and the resources section on this site. I didn’t come here pre-loaded with “grand dismissals”. I arrived at the dismissals after having taken a look at the “correctives”. All the attempts at explanation are only reinforcing the problems, not answering them.

    Thanks for trying though.

  258. 258
    kairosfocus says:

    ES:

    Pardon as I don’t have a lot of time for going in circles — patently not so.

    You are rather obviously following a well-worn, fallacy-riddled route that reflects well known distortions propagated by known sources over the past 15 years or so.

    The real root problems probably lie in worldview level issues, starting with the first principles of right reason and the framework of inductive warrant that grounds scientific claims.

    For instance, can you identify a credible case of origin of 500+ bits of FSCO/I where the causal process has been observed and is manifestly blind chance and/or mechanical necessity not design by an intelligence? I put it to you, not — or you would trumpet from the rooftops . . . and after dozens of attempts were shot down, suddenly that approach was dropped.

    Now, there is all sorts of pretence to find flaws in conception and reasoning, which on pursuit spin into endless circles of evasions driven by worldview level agendas.

    In answer, I give a pretty direct challenge: show us a case that on observation overturns the inductive inference that FSCO/I and particularly digitally coded info beyond the 500 bit threshold is a reliable, tested sign of design, on trillions of cases in point. Failing that, we are epistemically, inductively and even scientifically warranted to hold that (subject to onward empirical evidence) FSCO/I is per the vera causa principle and inference to best explanation, a reliable sign of design as key cause.

    On this, the best scientific explanation of C-chemistry, aqueous medium, encapsulated, intelligently gated metabolising cell based life manifesting kinematic self replication per von Neumann, is design. Likewise, the dozens of major multicellular body plans show the same sign, to an even more intense degree. Further to this, the observed cosmos — the ONLY observed cosmos — manifests complex fine tuning that points in the same direction.

    The first cluster are consistent with design of life on earth showing features that could be explained on an advanced molecular nanotech lab some generations beyond Venter et al.

    It is the last that points to extracosmic designer smart and powerful enough to make a cosmos a serious contender.

    And, in the end, the design inference isn’t rocket science pivoting on the dynamics of inverted pendulums, nonlinearities, instabilities, materials constraints, and the like.

    It is pretty straightforward and in the reach of a serious 6th former or College Freshman.

    A smart 12 year old willing to bone up on some math and background sci can figure it out.

    It takes considerable ideological priming not to see it and to find concepts like functional specificity pivoting on particular arrangement of parts, design, intelligence, mechanical necessities such as gravity, chance such as tossing dice, random walk searches or samples, etc strange and inexplicably puzzling.

    KF

  259. 259
    kairosfocus says:

    PS: I forgot, these days, inductive reasoning and knowledge are suddenly suspect.

  260. 260
    Joe says:

    E. Seigner- the major issue is that your “problems”, while perhaps not pre-loaded, are definitely contrived.

  261. 261
    E.Seigner says:

    kairosfocus

    You are rather obviously following a well-worn, fallacy-riddled route that reflects well known distortions propagated by known sources over the past 15 years or so.

    The real root problems probably lie in worldview level issues, starting with the first principles of right reason and the framework of inductive warrant that grounds scientific claims.

    Sorry, but if “the real root problems lie in worldview level issues”, then they are not “following a well-worn, fallacy-riddled route that reflects well known distortions propagated by known sources…” 🙂 A well-worn fallacy-riddled route of distortions is not a world view in any meaningful sense. Let’s go with the hypothesis of disparity of the world views, shall we?

    The first problem is already at your concept of “inductive warrant”. Induction is okay within its limits. Problems arise when you disregard the nature of inductive reasoning and absolutize it to all reasoning.

    kairosfocus

    For instance, can you identify a credible case of origin of 500+ bits of FSCO/I where the causal process has been observed and is manifestly blind chance and/or mechanical necessity not design by an intelligence? I put it to you, not — or you would trumpet from the rooftops . . . and after dozens of attempts were shot down, suddenly that approach was dropped.

    Given what I take origins, causality, and observations to be at the world view level, there can be no “credible case” on this issue at all. My problem is not with whether “blind chance and/or mechanical necessity” is a more credible case than “design by intelligence”. My problem is: What does “design by intelligence” even mean in the first place? How is it distinguished from “blind chance and/or mechanical necessity? How do you observe the distinction?

    The answer to this could be the NWE article, but the article simply states that there is a “threshold of sufficient complexity to not plausibly be the result of chance” and takes it for granted that merely by positing the threshold everything is explained by itself. But it’s not explained.

    The threshold arguably provides a plausible measure to distinguish chance/mechanicity from “design by intelligence” but it doesn’t say what the distinction really entails. The distinction is merely plausible by an observable measure (plausible meaning potentially unreliable), which means that there must be some other way to ensure the actual distinction, so please tell the actual distinction.

    Which brings us to the next problem: The actual distinction is a logical impossibility. First, chance/mechanicity is something very overwhelming. It entails both mechanical necessity, i.e. deterministic causes, and chance, i.e. the entire cloud of probabilities. What is left outside mechanical necessity and the entire cloud of possibilities is empirically *nothing*. You are a really great man if you can help me over this issue and give some rational content to the opposite of chance/mechanicity.

    What the threshold does is set an arbitrary point beyond which there exists complexity that you believe must be caused by something else than deterministic causes, but since the threshold is arbitrary, then the belief is also arbitrary, particularly when you have not defined those non-deterministic causes and proven by some independent means that those causes exist and operate at all. By “independent means” I mean you have to show it by some other means than the threshold, because the threshold only measures complexity, not its causes, whereas your point is really about the causes, not about complexity.

    Looks like you believe that complex things plausibly have some other cause than mechanical determinism, and that this cause can be plausibly inferred merely by noting the complexity. My issue with this is fundamental: Ultimately everything goes back to a single cause, yet things and objects of the universe are very different from each other, so complexity of a thing per se tells nothing about its causes or origins.

    kairosfocus

    It takes considerable ideological priming not to see it and to find concepts like functional specificity pivoting on particular arrangement of parts, design, intelligence, mechanical necessities such as gravity, chance such as tossing dice, random walk searches or samples, etc strange and inexplicably puzzling.

    What is puzzling is that you think those concepts prove what you think they prove.

    Every single thing has a particular arrangement of parts and with some design (structure). How does arrangement of parts – which is everywhere – say anything about whether it was caused by chance or not? If it was not caused by chance and not by mechanical necessity, then what justifies you to say it was caused by “design by intelligence” rather than, for example, that it was uncaused altogether? Is there a way to eliminate “uncaused things”? Probably you have “inductive warrant” to say that this is a silly question, but similarly I have “inductive warrant” to say that intelligence is non-different from deterministic causes. Namely, human mind determines stuff about things and sets some actions going, so it’s an as deterministic a cause as any other. The result of human action can be either silly things (such as questions about “uncaused things”) or nothing notable (such as fruitless ideas) along with obviously constructed cars and houses – among which even the most complex are not as complex as some things in nature, so complexity has nothing to do with determinism versus intelligence. So much about “inductive warrant”.

    In summary, intelligence, if we take it to be a cause (which is a somewhat controversial thing to say by itself), is indistinguishable from any other cause, and complexity is not a measure of intelligence as a cause. Intelligence and complexity don’t even remotely correlate. And even if they did (which they don’t), correlation is not directly controvertible to causation. And the fact that there’s no correlation between them prevents me from taking seriously any assumption that complexity is somehow caused by intelligence in particular, as opposed to some other cause.

    And now tell me what “well-worn, fallacy-riddled route” I have been following. If I reflect “well known distortions propagated by known sources over the past 15 years or so” then surely you can point out the sources, along with the answers. If the questions are known, then you have answers too. What I have got from you thus far is merely “Show me a credible case of origin of some incredible thing…” which is not an answer, but a statement that embeds presuppositions that I have issue with. I have issue with the belief that such origins can be ascertained at all, and furthermore with the belief that “threshold of sufficient complexity” is the means to ascertain origins.

    kairosfocus

    I forgot, these days, inductive reasoning and knowledge are suddenly suspect.

    Somehow I always knew about the black swan problem long before my education put a name on it. But the issues I have with ID theory are not limited to the problem of induction. I am not skeptical about inductive warrant per se. I think above I just showed you how the inductive warrant can lead one to an entirely different conclusion, so it does not get you where you think it does.

  262. 262
    Andre says:

    E.Seigner…

    Perhaps it would be applicable to think about what chance really means in this context?

    chance

    “the occurrence of events in the absence of any obvious intention or cause”

    I don’t know about you but truthfully I tell you chance by itself can not do anything…. and even if I chuck in grand old time it still won’t do anything, you see the law of causality rules this universe……

  263. 263
    kairosfocus says:

    ES:

    I have a transition in progress and little time for endless circles of debate, so I will draw back to core empirical focus. (I trust others will have time to take up conceptual fog bank games.)

    I repeat, the matter is a simple one of inductive inference on a readily observable phenomenon, FSCO/I.

    For convenience I clip wiki’s summary on the million monkeys theorem, on random text generation:

    One computer program run by Dan Oliver of Scottsdale, Arizona, according to an article in The New Yorker, came up with a result on August 4, 2004: After the group had worked for 42,162,500,000 billion billion monkey-years, one of the “monkeys” typed, “VALENTINE. Cease toIdor:eFLP0FRjWK78aXzVOwm)-‘;8.t” The first 19 letters of this sequence can be found in “The Two Gentlemen of Verona”. Other teams have reproduced 18 characters from “Timon of Athens”, 17 from “Troilus and Cressida”, and 16 from “Richard II”.[24]

    A website entitled The Monkey Shakespeare Simulator, launched on July 1, 2003, contained a Java applet that simulates a large population of monkeys typing randomly, with the stated intention of seeing how long it takes the virtual monkeys to produce a complete Shakespearean play from beginning to end. For example, it produced this partial line from Henry IV, Part 2, reporting that it took “2,737,850 million billion billion billion monkey-years” to reach 24 matching characters:

    RUMOUR. Open your ears; 9r”5j5&?OWTY Z0d…

    This is about 10^100 short on config space and underscores the needle in haystack on very limited search resources problem. Where the issue is not to hill-climb within an island of function, but to FIND one in the broader config space.

    The obvious reason you are finding selectively hyperskeptical conceptual difficulties (their name is legion), is that the evidence is not going where you wish to go.

    As to just what is intelligent design — exactly a case of an artificial conceptual difficulty, it is exactly what we see all around us accounting for a technological age, starting with text in posts in this thread, the underlying algorithms and software on our PCs, the PCs and the rest of our environment of technology.

    No reasonably informed, experienced rational person in our day and age can genuinely not know intelligence and design as empirical matters, and as sufficiently definable as an observable phenomenon to freely speak of it. For direct instance, you have never seen me but on the strength of text in this thread you know an intelligent designer has acted, not lucky noise on the Internet. Yes, it is logically conceivable for lucky noise to be that lucky but for reasons similar to those for the stat form of the 2nd law of thermodynamics, with extremely high confidence we see that intelligence is the morally certain explanation, not lucky noise. And that is something you routinely do in going about on the Internet or even using a phone for voice conversation.

    Yes, those are directly comparable cases.

    Likewise, you will be familiar with chance phenomena such as the clashing uncorrelated causal chains and nonlinearities involved in the effective randomness of coin or dice tosses. (A coin is a 2-sided die in any case.)

    If you want other cases that seem to be directly random, Zener noise and sky noise will work.

    Then, the reliability with which mangoes and apples drop from trees at initial accel 9.8 N/kg, and the moon’s orbit reveal mechanically necessary laws in action, here directly leading to the breakthrough case of Newton’s Gravitation law. Which reliably yields a low contingency result — under closely similar initial conditions, closely similar outcomes will reliably happen.

    These, and elaborations have long since been embedded in the fabric of science and broader serious thought.

    Going further, highly contingent outcomes under closely similar start-points, the well known alternatives are chance or design. If an aspect of a situation shows FSCO/I for reasons already outlined, design is the reliable conclusion.

    I will waste no time on debates on limits and provisionality in inductive or empirical knowledge. They are general, and we all know the ways they are routinely handled with confidence enough to trust our lives to medicines, bridges and aircraft. So suddenly indicting design inferences on grounds of inductive knowledge limitations is selectively hyperskeptical. And, ever so familiar after years of such rhetorical games.

    So, I find objections pretending to find immense difficulties specific to design thought, selectively hyperskeptical. And, frankly, with a difficult transition in progress, I find such a waste of precious time. I provide enough of an outline here, to show why I expect better than that.

    I should note also that there is a common objection oh it’s humans we see not intelligences. (And no, at this point I write with onlookers in mind so I will not only respond to things specific to you but with things that can pop up in mind too.)

    In answer, there is no evidence or good reason that humans exhaust the set of possible or actual intelligences capable of FSCO/I. There is every good reason to see that FSCO/I is a reliable sign of intelligent design as cause, and it is reasonable to accept that the sign, as a reliable index, may point to other intelligences out there.

    Sorry, time to go.

    KF

  264. 264
    Silver Asiatic says:

    The first problem is already at your concept of “inductive warrant”. Induction is okay within its limits. Problems arise when you disregard the nature of inductive reasoning and absolutize it to all reasoning.

    Evidence where those problems occurred?

    kairosfocus

    For instance, can you identify a credible case of origin of 500+ bits of FSCO/I where the causal process has been observed and is manifestly blind chance and/or mechanical necessity not design by an intelligence?

    I believe you answered “No, I cannot identify a credible case where blind chance or mechanical necessay was the cause”. If you dismiss intelligence as a possible cause then you can’t understand archeology, SETI research, forensics, code decryption algorithms … but we’ve been over this a dozen times now.

    My problem is: What does “design by intelligence” even mean in the first place?

    There is design by natural mechanism: snowflake
    There is design by intelligence: House, car, computer

    I’m confident that you understand this.

    How is it distinguished from “blind chance and/or mechanical necessity?

    Are you able to observe the outcomes of a random process? If not, then you can’t do any science at all.

    How do you observe the distinction?

    Randomness can be studied statistically. We look at characteristics – mean, median, standard deviation, normal distribution, slope, etc.
    We distinguish randomness from a biased outcome — where samples are “intelligently selected” and not taken randomly.

    If you don’t want to understand this, then you can’t do statistics or science.

    The answer to this could be the NWE article, but the article simply states that there is a “threshold of sufficient complexity to not plausibly be the result of chance” and takes it for granted that merely by positing the threshold everything is explained by itself. But it’s not explained.

    Key word “plausibly”. It’s not “merely positing a threshold”. You failed the challenge to show a credible cause — your claim that chance can produce the challenge is “not plausible”.

    The distinction is merely plausible by an observable measure (plausible meaning potentially unreliable), which means that there must be some other way to ensure the actual distinction, so please tell the actual distinction.

    No, not “merely plausible”, but just “plausible”. That means “fits within a range of probabilities”. Something can also be called “improbable”. That’s the way science works. That’s how you make a distinction. That’s the actual distinction. We look for a range of probabilities. Some events fall outside of the range.
    An event that has odds of 10^80 of occuring is what we call “virtually impossible”.

    What is left outside mechanical necessity and the entire cloud of possibilities is empirically *nothing*.

    Outside of chance and necessity we have intelligence. Animal intelligence, insect intelligence, fish intelligence, human intelligence. It’s not nothing.

    You are a really great man if you can help me over this issue and give some rational content to the opposite of chance/mechanicity.

    It’s not “opposite” but rather “a known cause of specified complexity”. Thus archeology.

    What the threshold does is set an arbitrary point beyond which there exists complexity that you believe must be caused by something else than deterministic causes, but since the threshold is arbitrary, then the belief is also arbitrary, particularly when you have not defined those non-deterministic causes and proven by some independent means that those causes exist and operate at all.

    Not arbitrary. It uses known statistical measures of probability. That’s how science excludes certain causes. Non-deterministic causes are known and proven. We can see the effects in lab testing. Hybridization, for example.

    My issue with this is fundamental: Ultimately everything goes back to a single cause,

    Final cause vs efficient cause. There is a difference.

  265. 265
    E.Seigner says:

    @Andre

    I know what chance is. Chance by itself is no problem.

    The problem is that KF lumps chance together with mechanical necessity (i.e. deterministic causes) and contrasts this lump with “design by intelligence”. The further problem is that the contrast is not solid, but it’s a point on a continuum, where the point is “a threshold of sufficient complexity”, i.e. the continuum is continuum of complexity, where one end is said to be caused by chance and mechanical necessity and the other end by “design by intelligence”.

    (Compare this model with temperature, which is a continuum. On one end there’s cold, on the other there’s warm. Let’s settle on some point of “sufficient warmth” beyond which we call everything warm. Is it really uncontroversial to say that beyond that point of temperature things are also beyond certain density? That the scale of temperature “plausibly” shows density or magnetism or some other physical quality too?)

    I don’t have much issue with any concept here by itself, but I have fundamental issues with the overall model and with what the model is claimed to show. The fact that every next person who stands up for the ID theory shows zero understanding of the model is not helping at all. Looks like nobody here has approached these concepts systematically. When you accept it uncritically and are unable to explain what it’s about, then this is all for the worse.

    KF

    There is every good reason to see that FSCO/I is a reliable sign of intelligent design as cause, and it is reasonable to accept that the sign, as a reliable index, may point to other intelligences out there.

    As it stands, it’s a bare assertion that goes against the ordinary meaning of design (you are seriously saying “design as cause” as if this had some meaning) and, frankly, against the meaning of pretty much every other word you use. This is not some small issue.

    What you call intelligence seems to be the wrong word for whatever you mean by it. If it’s a cause, then you have not shown how it’s different from other causes, and certainly you have not shown how it’s related to complexity, if at all. I gave you an honest opportunity to try to make sense by answering some common-sense questions, but you turned it down.

    Silver Asiatic

    There is design by natural mechanism: snowflake
    There is design by intelligence: House, car, computer

    I’m confident that you understand this.

    And complexity is supposed to tell the difference between them? Are you still being serious here?

    (Not to mention that this is a post about theology. If you think that natural mechanism is a non-intelligent cause, instead of divine creation, then we have come full circle – again.)

    Silver Asiatic

    If you dismiss intelligence as a possible cause then you can’t understand archeology, SETI research, forensics, code decryption algorithms … but we’ve been over this a dozen times now.

    We’ve been over this a dozen times now and you have not shown how those other disciplines relate to ID theory at all. Given your convoluted understanding of those other disciplines and assuming that your kind of people work on ID, then this is one more reason to believe that ID theory cannot work.

    Silver Asiatic

    No, not “merely plausible”, but just “plausible”. That means “fits within a range of probabilities”. Something can also be called “improbable”. That’s the way science works. That’s how you make a distinction. That’s the actual distinction. We look for a range of probabilities. Some events fall outside of the range.

    I know that some thing can be statistically more plausible than some other. The problem is not about the distinction between plausible and non-plausible, but the fact that there’s nothing else in the model. What the model really calculates is that there’s complexity to such and such a degree, whereas all the claims are about intelligence and design as causes, which is not established at all.

    Silver Asiatic

    Outside of chance and necessity we have intelligence. Animal intelligence, insect intelligence, fish intelligence, human intelligence. It’s not nothing.

    I said empirically nothing. Noticed that? I don’t deny intelligence, but intelligence happens to be immaterial, therefore empirically undetectable. Not just implausible or “virtually impossible” to detect, but undetectable by definition, i.e. to speak of detecting intelligence is a contradiction in terms. And “known intelligences” only properly include humans.

    Silver Asiatic

    Final cause vs efficient cause. There is a difference.

    Yes, and the difference is over your head. Dembski has been insisting that ID theory makes no metaphysical claims, but you completely ruined it.

  266. 266
    StephenB says:

    SB: Eucharistic miracles have been preserved and can be readily observed in real time. Medical science has already provided the necessary tests to confirm the presence of living human flesh and blood. (The Lanciano miracle). At the same time, medical science (or nature) cannot explain the phenomenon. Thus, we infer that it is a miracle. Indeed, every consecrated host is a miracle. Again, I encourage you to investigate these matters with an open mind. Facts are facts.

    E. Seigner

    And which medical journal has published these facts and stands by them? I mean a medical journal that an atheist or skeptic would agree is such, as opposed to a medical expert in service of the Church.

    Among other places, it was published in a medical journal (Quaderni Sclavo di Diagnostica Clinica e di Laboratori in 1973), and the project was confirmed by secular doctors from the World Health Organization, some of whom are atheists. The fact of the ongoing miracle can be witnessed by anyone, including atheists—not that the normal atheist would ever display sufficient intellectual curiosity to bother with it.

    There is a difference between “doctrinal facts” (dogmas) and empirical experimental facts.

    That should help you to understand why I presented you will an empirical fact and why you should not inject irrelevant comments about dogmas.

    You basically claim that the miracles of the sacraments can – experimentally and empirically – be readily given to atheists, whereas – doctrinally – atheists should not be able to receive the blessings of the sacrament.

    I claimed no such thing. I simply stated as an afterthought that every consecrated host is a miracle. By definition, it would have to be so. It should be obvious that the Lanciano miracle is of a different kind since a consecrated host at Mass does not leave detectable signs of organic life cannot be investigated by science.

    Please stop making irrelevant statements in order to evade refutation. Obviously, you have forgotten the point. Contrary to your claims, science can, in some cases, investigate miracles. Such was the case with the Lanciano miracle. Accept the refutation and move on.

    If what you are saying is true, then everybody who’s had a bite on some cracker would be a catholic by now, whereas in reality most of those who receive the sacramental blessing by the priest at church service are ordinary sinners.

    That statement is too nonsensical to merit a response.

  267. 267
    E.Seigner says:

    StephenB

    Among other places, it was published in a medical journal (Quaderni Sclavo di Diagnostica Clinica e di Laboratori in 1973), and the project was confirmed by secular doctors from the World Health Organization, some of whom are atheists.

    But this concerns the Lanciano miracle that you mention only now, not the Lourdes miracles that we were talking about, right?

    What is the Lanciano miracle? Once upon a time, namely 8th century, eucharist elements turned into flesh and blood. What does the medical report from 1973 say? That the elements examined were human flesh and blood. The actual miracle – i.e. the elements turning into flesh and blood – remained undetected.

    Contrary to your claims, science can, in some cases, investigate miracles. Such was the case with the Lanciano miracle. Accept the refutation and move on.

    I had already dropped the topic, but now you turned up claiming to have refuted something. Contrary to your claims, you haven’t refuted anything.

  268. 268
    Andre says:

    E Sneiger.

    Honestly coming into our backyard and telling us how to trim the edges will win you no favors. You analogy using temperature is perhaps a deflection or perhaps part of your inability to understand our view, My first question about your continuum is this…. does warm know what warm feels like? Does warmth have any concept of itslef , it surroundings and what its possible function could be? No it does not warmth is warm it just is. But it will always have a sufficient cause. We do not argue that design is just a Willy Billy thing thus Its God…… Perhaps you need to see what we are saying…. its is not about the molecules, it is how they are arranged. It is not about the information either it is how it is arranged, as beings with intelligence we recognise other possible intelligent or non intelligent causes. We can encode and decode…. That is the hallmark of intelligence. I accept this as a universal trademark of consciousness.

  269. 269
    Silver Asiatic says:

    E. Seigner

    SA There is design by natural mechanism: snowflake
    There is design by intelligence: House, car, computer

    I’m confident that you understand this.

    ES And complexity is supposed to tell the difference between them?

    500+ bits of FSCO/I

    You already failed that challenge, remember?

    If you think that natural mechanism is a non-intelligent cause, instead of divine creation, then we have come full circle – again.)

    Perhaps some misplaced confidence on my part. If you can’t tell the difference between what chance/natural mechanism produces and what intelligence produces, then you won’t be able to understand this.
    Try to produce a Shakespearean sonnet through chance or natural mechanism.

    We’ve been over this a dozen times now and you have not shown how those other disciplines relate to ID theory at all.

    SETI searches for evidence of an unknown intelligence operating within the universe manifested via complex, specified code which is improbably the output of chance or mechanism.

    ID searches for evidence of an unknown intelligence operating within the universe manifested via complex specified code with is improbably the output of chance or mechanism.

    If you can’t see how these disciplines are related then you can’t understand SETI, Forensics or Archeology.

    I know that some thing can be statistically more plausible than some other.

    That’s a very good start. It should put an end to your absurd demand that science needs to show metaphysical demonstrations. We’re looking at the most probable explanation for a phenomena. That’s how it works. Thus far, you have no explanation at all. Again, ID has support from accredited scientists working in several fields. I don’t think anyone even knows what your personal theory of evolution is. Thus far, you seem to accept materialist evolution, and therefore your mind is entirely the product of natural mechanisms – reducible to physics. That’s how the science works. You either accept it or not.

    The problem is not about the distinction between plausible and non-plausible, but the fact that there’s nothing else in the model.

    500+ bits of FSCO/I

    Remember? Give it a try.

    What the model really calculates is that there’s complexity to such and such a degree,

    Very good! Functional specified complexity. You can read about it in a peer-reviewed paper here:
    http://www.tbiomed.com/content/4/1/47

    Give that a try and let me know what you think, ok?

    whereas all the claims are about intelligence and design as causes, which is not established at all.

    I guess we have to repeat – if you can’t tell the difference between what chance/natural-mechanism produces and what intelligence produces, then you can’t do science.
    The anti-ID scientists know this. But for whatever reason, you can’t quite get it.

    Noticed that? I don’t deny intelligence,

    Very good! The fact that you have been denying that we can observe the effects of intelligence was a problem.

    but intelligence happens to be immaterial, therefore empirically undetectable.

    The effects of intelligence, E. Seigner. The effects of intelligence. That’s what is empirically observable. That’s how it works. We observe the effects and infer a cause. We don’t claim or need to observe the intelligence directly or empirically. That’s how archeology works. Stonehenge. That’s how SETI works. Observe the effects, infer the most plausible cause.

    And “known intelligences” only properly include humans.

    No – not correct.

  270. 270
    Barry Arrington says:

    E.Seigner @265:

    The further problem is that the contrast is not solid, but it’s a point on a continuum, where the point is “a threshold of sufficient complexity”, i.e. the continuum is continuum of complexity, where one end is said to be caused by chance and mechanical necessity and the other end by “design by intelligence”.

    As often happens in these discussions, you have made a category error between ontology and epistemology. No, there is no “continuum” like the one you describe. Ontologically, “design” is completely discrete from chance/necessity. Epistemologically, design can be detected beyond a certain threshold of specified complexity (note, I said “specified complexity” not “complexity”).

    Thus, there is no point on a continuum where complexity is sufficiently great that we call the cause “design” instead of chance/necessity. Chance/necessity are capable of producing effects with extremely high complexity. No design inference is warranted unless the complexity is accompanied by a specification. Conversely, some designed things are very simple, and for these things it is impossible to infer design with any confidence.

    Examples:
    ;dklfj;aslofjADO’FIJASDO;FIJZD;V,ZCDDdka;dasdjfa;sdfjasdfasdfald;fklsdce
    This is a very complex string of letters that was produced by chance.
    Cat
    This is a very simple string of letters that was produced by design.
    A design inference is appropriate in NEITHER case. The first string fails to conform to any specification. The second string, while it was in this case designed, could have been easily produced by a monkey banging on a keyboard. Accordingly, if we did not know the provenance of the string, we would not be entitled confidently to assert “design.”

  271. 271
    kairosfocus says:

    ES: I have a few moments before an appointment, and I see:

    KF lumps chance together with mechanical necessity (i.e. deterministic causes) and contrasts this lump with “design by intelligence”.

    Nope.

    I point out that there are three distinct well known causal factors, known for millennia.

    Mechanical necessity is known based on its signature, natural, lawlike regularity. Which comes out in low contingency under similar initial conditions.

    High contingency rules this our as key cause of the relevant aspect of what is being investigated. Where, there are two known causal factors behind that, chance and/or design.

    The two, for relvant purposes, in key cases are distinguished by the fact that FSCO/I with extremely high reliability is produced only by design. Where it is not just complexity but functional specificity that must be present.

    The responses you have been making make it maximally unlikely that you have seriously read say the UD weak argument correctives, or even the glossary.

    Gotta go now,

    KF

  272. 272
    kairosfocus says:

    PS: ES may find this a useful point of reference, or at least onlookers might. KF

  273. 273
    E.Seigner says:

    Andre

    Honestly coming into our backyard and telling us how to trim the edges will win you no favors.

    So I should be worried about my favours rather than clarify the ID theory?

    Andre

    You analogy using temperature is perhaps a deflection or perhaps part of your inability to understand our view, My first question about your continuum is this….

    My continuum was only to tell you how I understand the ID theory. And it was in parentheses so you could focus on the important, not on the unimportant. Instead of questioning my continuum, clarify yours. Either you show me how I misunderstood ID theory or I take it that I didn’t misunderstand anything and all the problems stand.

    Silver Asiatic

    500+ bits of FSCO/I

    You already failed that challenge, remember?

    You mean when KF said “For instance, can you identify a credible case of origin of 500+ bits of FSCO/I where the causal process has been observed and is manifestly blind chance and/or mechanical necessity not design by an intelligence?”? But how does the amount of bits, be it small or big, tell you about origins one way or another? The challenge simply assumes that it does, but it doesn’t answer the question.

    I don’t buy into the presuppositions of the challenge and that’s why I “failed” it. But presenting me with the challenge does not answer my question, so this is the failure of the tactic.

    The question: How does this “threshold of sufficient complexity” correlate with, let alone plausibly prove the different types of causality? (And the fact that the different types of causality are as many as the ID proponents here is not helping matters further.)

    Besides, I was happy enough to lay the ID theory rest. I already understood that it merits no further attention.

    Silver Asiatic

    http://www.tbiomed.com/content/4/1/47

    Give that a try and let me know what you think, ok?

    “CONCLUSIONS: For future extensions, measures of functional bioinformatics may provide a means to evaluate potential evolving pathways from effects such as mutations, as well as analyzing the internal structural and functional relationships within the 3-D structure of proteins.”

    What there can be said to be “caused by design” as opposed to “mechanical necessity” as shown by the “threshold of sufficient complexity”?

    Silver Asiatic

    I guess we have to repeat – if you can’t tell the difference between what chance/natural-mechanism produces and what intelligence produces, then you can’t do science.
    The anti-ID scientists know this. But for whatever reason, you can’t quite get it.

    For whatever reason, you are consistently unable to tell me what the difference is. You claim that the difference is measurable, but as long as you are actually measuring something else than characteristics that are unambiguously related to causes, you are simply failing to address the issue.

    I tell you that the difference is not in the amount of bits or the “threshold of sufficient complexity” and this precisely because I understand that the difference has nothing to do with complexity. There are things produced by “intelligent causes” so simple, so unspecified, that it should be self-evident that complexity has nothing to do with it.

    Silver Asiatic

    The effects of intelligence, E. Seigner. The effects of intelligence. That’s what is empirically observable. That’s how it works.

    The effects of *all* possible causes are observable. What makes intelligent causes so special that you can specifically tell them apart from other causes? If it’s the “threshold of sufficient complexity” and nothing else, then it won’t get any more ironic than this.

    Silver Asiatic

    We observe the effects and infer a cause. We don’t claim or need to observe the intelligence directly or empirically.

    Yet people here, including yourself, routinely talk about “detecting intelligence” and “design detection”.

    Silver Asiatic

    That’s how archeology works. Stonehenge. That’s how SETI works. Observe the effects, infer the most plausible cause.

    Actually this is not how they work. But we’ve been over this a dozen times, no need to repeat it. And whichever way they work sheds no light on how ID works (if it works).

    Barry Arrington

    As often happens in these discussions, you have made a category error between ontology and epistemology. No, there is no “continuum” like the one you describe. Ontologically, “design” is completely discrete from chance/necessity. Epistemologically, …

    Thanks for pointing this out, even though it only seems an error to you because I probably construe metaphysics differently from you (whereas you were supposed to have no metaphysics at all). And it is irrelevant to my argument anyway.

    What is relevant to my argument is phrases like “intelligence detection” and “design detection” which are a straightforward *ontological* category error under any metaphysics, except perhaps eliminative materialism. But let’s ignore this yet again.

    Barry Arrington

    …design can be detected beyond a certain threshold of specified complexity (note, I said “specified complexity” not “complexity”) […] No design inference is warranted unless the complexity is accompanied by a specification.

    And specification is what? Is it functionality? And this is detected how? Is it not projected or interpreted or assumed but really empirically detected apart from complexity? By what measure?

    (Let me guess: It’s the same “threshold of sufficient complexity”. It is supposed to show complexity and specifity at the same go.)

    kairosfocus

    The two [chance and design], for relvant purposes, in key cases are distinguished by the fact that FSCO/I with extremely high reliability is produced only by design. Where it is not just complexity but functional specificity that must be present.

    Which leaves you to explain functional specificity. The Resources section only turns out a quote from L. Orgel: “Living organisms are distinguished by their specified complexity. Crystals fail to qualify as living because they lack complexity; mixtures of random polymers fail to qualify because they lack specificity.”

    If specificity is distinguished from complexity as radically as you and Barry imply, then it surely has its own measure. The questions again: Specificity is detected how? Is it not projected or interpreted or assumed but really empirically detected apart from complexity? By what measure? If the same “threshold of sufficient complexity” is supposed to show functional specificity too, then no further comment from me on ID theory.

    Besides, what made L. Orgel wrongly try to define life as complexity and specificity, when the real criteria are reproduction, metabolism, growth, response to stimuli, etc?

    kairosfocus

    The responses you have been making make it maximally unlikely that you have seriously read say the UD weak argument correctives, or even the glossary.

    The responses I am getting make it likely that I have read them closer than anyone else. Except perhaps the people who wrote them, of which you are evidently one 🙂 And I would really rather discuss the philosophy instead.

  274. 274
    Barry Arrington says:

    E.Seigner @ 273

    And specification is what? Is it functionality? And this is detected how? Is it not projected or interpreted or assumed but really empirically detected apart from complexity? By what measure?

    ES, here are two 12-line groups of text:

    Group 1:

    OipaFJPSDIOVJN;XDLVMK:DOIFHw;ZD
    VZX;Vxsd;ijdgiojadoidfaf;asdfj;asdj[ije888
    Sdf;dj;Zsjvo;ai;divn;vkn;dfasdo;gfijSd;fiojsa
    dfviojasdgviojao’gijSd’gvijsdsd;ja;dfksdasd
    XKLZVsda2398R3495687OipaFJPSDIOVJN
    ;XDLVMK:DOIFHw;ZDVZX;Vxsd;ijdgiojadoi
    Sdf;dj;Zsjvo;ai;divn;vkn;dfasdo;gfijSd;fiojsadfvi
    ojasdgviojao’gijSd’gvijssdv.kasd994834234908u
    XKLZVsda2398R34956873ACKLVJD;asdkjad
    Sd;fjwepuJWEPFIhfasd;asdjf;asdfj;adfjasd;ifj
    ;asdjaiojaijeriJADOAJSD;FLVJASD;FJASDF;
    DOAD;ADFJAdkdkas;489468503-202395ui34

    Group 2:

    To be, or not to be, that is the question—
    Whether ’tis Nobler in the mind to suffer
    The Slings and Arrows of outrageous Fortune,
    Or to take Arms against a Sea of troubles,
    And by opposing, end them? To die, to sleep—
    No more; and by a sleep, to say we end
    The Heart-ache, and the thousand Natural shocks
    That Flesh is heir to? ‘Tis a consummation
    Devoutly to be wished. To die, to sleep,
    To sleep, perchance to Dream; Aye, there’s the rub,
    For in that sleep of death, what dreams may come,
    When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,

    Both groups are complex. One group was constructed through random strokes on a keyboard. The other was designed. Can you tell which is which?

    Certainly you can. And just as certainly it is not the degree of complexity that allows you to tell the difference. If anything, the random group is more complex than the designed group.

    If the designed group is less complex than the chance group, there must be something other than complexity that allows you to detect design. What do you think that something is?

  275. 275
    kairosfocus says:

    ES:

    Pardon a direct observation, but reading to object via selective hyperskepticism instead of to understand and correlate to the real world will reliably lead to needless misunderstandings and confusion.

    FYI, your problem here is not — rpt, NOT — with design thinkers.

    For neither functionally specified complex information nor specified complexity as concepts applied to the world of life originated with design thinkers.

    Just to illustrate, here are two key cites in the literature, from the 1970’s . . . yes, the decade before the first design theorists began their work, and about twenty years before Dembski, Meyer and Behe became leading champions:

    ORGEL, 1973: In brief, living organisms are distinguished by their specified complexity. Crystals are usually taken as the prototypes of simple well-specified structures, because they consist of a very large number of identical molecules packed together in a uniform way. Lumps of granite or random mixtures of polymers are examples of structures that are complex but not specified. The crystals fail to qualify as living because they lack complexity; the mixtures of polymers fail to qualify because they lack specificity. [The Origins of Life (John Wiley, 1973), p. 189.]

    WICKEN, 1979: ‘Organized’ systems are to be carefully distinguished from ‘ordered’ systems. Neither kind of system is ‘random,’ but whereas ordered systems are generated according to simple algorithms [[i.e. “simple” force laws acting on objects starting from arbitrary and common- place initial conditions] and therefore lack complexity, organized systems must be assembled element by element according to an [[originally . . . ] external ‘wiring diagram’ with a high information content . . . Organization, then, is functional complexity and carries information. It is non-random by design or by selection, rather than by the a priori necessity of crystallographic ‘order.’ [[“The Generation of Complexity in Evolution: A Thermodynamic and Information-Theoretical Discussion,” Journal of Theoretical Biology, 77 (April 1979): p. 353, of pp. 349-65. (Emphases and notes added. Nb: “originally” is added to highlight that for self-replicating systems, the blue print can be built-in.)]

    If you are willing, you will easily see that common computer files of reasonable size are FSCO/I, that genetic info and proteins exhibit FSCO/I, and that moving beyond string structures, functionally specific complex organisation such as is in many assembled systems is the same.

    I suggest the exercise of creating a blank .doc file, then opening it — notice, the apparently useless repetition — and changing a few characters at random. Save. Then, try to open as a word processing file. Predictably, fail as corrupt. FSCO/I in action.

    Similarly, think about how much effort goes into making sure the correct part is put in correctly in an engine or a similar machine.

    BA’s examples above are good ones, and here is the example from Ch 8 of the very first ID technical work, TMLO by Thaxton et al:

    1. [Class 1:] An ordered (periodic) and therefore specified arrangement:
    THE END THE END THE END THE END

    Example: Nylon, or a crystal . . . .

    2. [Class 2:] A complex (aperiodic) unspecified arrangement:
    AGDCBFE GBCAFED ACEDFBG

    Example: Random polymers (polypeptides).

    3. [Class 3:] A complex (aperiodic) specified arrangement:
    THIS SEQUENCE OF LETTERS CONTAINS A MESSAGE!

    Example: DNA, protein.

    Your hyperskeptical belabouring of something that is as simple as the functional specificity and complexity of this post’s text, in order not to see or to dismiss the point it makes therefore inadvertently demonstrates just how strongly and directly the trillion-case empirical base of known cause of FSCO/I supports the inference that it is a reliable sign of design.

    Please, think again.

    KF

  276. 276
    Joe says:

    E. Seigner:

    We’ve been over this a dozen times now and you have not shown how those other disciplines relate to ID theory at all.

    Other than the fact they, as with ID, use tried and true methodologies to differentiate between nature, operating freely and when an intelligent agency acted?

    And specification is what? Is it functionality? And this is detected how? Is it not projected or interpreted or assumed but really empirically detected apart from complexity? By what measure?

    I already went over this, but here it is again:

    Biological specification always refers to function. An organism is a functional system comprising many functional subsystems. In virtue of their function, these systems embody patterns that are objectively given and can be identified independently of the systems that embody them. Hence these systems are specified in the same sense required by the complexity-specification criterion (see sections 1.3 and 2.5). The specification of organisms can be crashed out in any number of ways. Arno Wouters cashes it out globally in terms of the viability of whole organisms. Michael Behe cashes it out in terms of minimal function of biochemical systems.- Wm. Dembski page 148 of NFL

    from Kirk K. Durston, David K. Y. Chiu, David L. Abel, Jack T. Trevors, Measuring the functional sequence complexity of proteins, Theoretical Biology and Medical Modelling, Vol. 4:47 (2007):

    [N]either RSC [Random Sequence Complexity] nor OSC [Ordered Sequence Complexity], or any combination of the two, is sufficient to describe the functional complexity observed in living organisms, for neither includes the additional dimension of functionality, which is essential for life. FSC [Functional Sequence Complexity] includes the dimension of functionality. Szostak argued that neither Shannon’s original measure of uncertainty nor the measure of algorithmic complexity are sufficient. Shannon’s classical information theory does not consider the meaning, or function, of a message. Algorithmic complexity fails to account for the observation that “different molecular structures may be functionally equivalent.” For this reason, Szostak suggested that a new measure of information—functional information—is required.

    Functionality is observed. Science starts with observations. And from the observations we try to figure out what we are observing, how it works/ what’s it do and how did it come to be the way it is.

    You do realize that there is only one reality behind the existence of what is being observed and that science is for figuring out that reality.

  277. 277
    StephenB says:

    E. Seigner

    But this concerns the Lanciano miracle that you mention only now, not the Lourdes miracles that we were talking about, right?

    No, all the Lourdes miracles have been examined by scientists and many find there way in medical journals.

    What is the Lanciano miracle? Once upon a time, namely 8th century, eucharist elements turned into flesh and blood. What does the medical report from 1973 say? That the elements examined were human flesh and blood. The actual miracle – i.e. the elements turning into flesh and blood – remained undetected.

    You are not even trying to be rational. It isn’t the turning into human flesh and blood that has been scientifically detected. It is the ongoing existence of living flesh and blood under those conditions, which is a miracle. Do I really have to explain why each verified miracle is a miracle? Must I go through them one at a time?

    SB: Contrary to your claims, science can, in some cases, investigate miracles. Such was the case with the Lanciano miracle. Accept the refutation and move on.

    I had already dropped the topic, but now you turned up claiming to have refuted something. Contrary to your claims, you haven’t refuted anything.

    You dropped the topic because you were refuted.

    It could be “miracle detection” but there are good reasons why miracles are not in the purview of science.

    Do your really think that you are the first person to falsely claim that science cannot investigate miracles? Do you really think that you are the first person to place arbitrary limits on science in order to discredit all design inferences, both those which have nothing to do with miracles, such as ID, and those which do?

  278. 278
    Silver Asiatic says:

    BA 274

    Both groups are complex. One group was constructed through random strokes on a keyboard. The other was designed. Can you tell which is which?

    I’m going to guess that she doesn’t want to answer and therefore learn about ID, but rather play on the little amusement park ride we call the merry-go-round.

  279. 279
    Barry Arrington says:

    SA @ 278. Probably.

  280. 280
    Upright BiPed says:

    E.Seiger,

    279 comments, and still its looks much the same. You seem to have a hard time engaging in material evidence. You replace that engagement with empty proclamations and so on and so forth.

    You say:

    If specificity is distinguished from complexity as radically as you and Barry imply, then it surely has its own measure.

    Specification has no measure, because it can’t. I can measure weight, and velocity, and angle, but not specification. If specification could be measured in a system then the system could not specify anything at all. Specification can only be demonstrated, not measured.

    Do you know why?

    If we input the nucleic codon UUC into a ribosome, it will specify phenylalanine for binding as a product of that input. If we change that input to CUU, then it will specify leucine in its place. And if we change that input to UCU, then serine will be specified instead. Without these specifications, the first living cell on earth could never be organized. But none of these things can be measured, and have never been measured.

    Do you know why?

  281. 281
    Andre says:

    E.Seigner

    Perhaps I can show you with a practical example.

    Search for a schematic of what is required to broadcast a radio signal or for transmitting information on a network. Then do some research on how information is transmitted inside cells.

    This is not an analogy it is plain and simple engineering principles at work in both.

    Some really simple questions for you in light of the example….

    What good is information without an encoder, medium, input, output or decoder?

    Can you honestly believe or envision such a process coming about by any chance mechanism?

    Why do you think we are unable to detect these type of systems as designed?

  282. 282
    E.Seigner says:

    StephenB

    No, all the Lourdes miracles have been examined by scientists and many find there way in medical journals.

    Except in the one you cited. Anywhere else then?

    StephenB

    Do I really have to explain why each verified miracle is a miracle? Must I go through them one at a time?

    Just one would have sufficed. First you chose the Lourdes miracles, then Lanciano. You still have the opportunity.

    As to all others with whom I have been talking about complexity and specificity, thanks for discussion. Upright BiPed says it clearest:

    Specification has no measure, because it can’t.

    When I am not convinced by your typing some scribble first and then English I’m not being hyperskeptical but as rational as usual. How many of you here can tell from Chinese characters if they mean anything or were typed by a cat? There are cases, such as Voynich manuscript, a whole calligraphical book with beautiful pictures, i.e. obviously composed by a purpose-driven human, where experts are unable to determine what the text says (even though pictures are right there and should help a lot) or if it’s just an elaborate joke. And this is not skepticism of the experts, but their actual inability to decode the text. Specificity or functionality or whatever you actually mean by it is not as obvious as you think it is and does not work the way you think it works, and this is a matter of where science stands, nothing to do with selective skepticism.

    Andre

    What good is information without an encoder, medium, input, output or decoder?

    Indeed, without these things it’s not even information.

    Andre

    Can you honestly believe or envision such a process coming about by any chance mechanism?

    Is science honestly a matter of belief?

    Andre

    Why do you think we are unable to detect these type of systems as designed?

    It’s not called detection. It’s either presupposition or derived from context. Some engineer might think a particular radio was made by a monkey (I have actually heard one say so), but this changes nothing about the nature of radio engineering. Similarly, whether biological entities were “caused by design” or naturally evolved is irrelevant to biology.

  283. 283
    Upright BiPed says:

    E.Seigner,

    So, in practice, the defense of your position continues to rest on the simple strategy of not engaging the evidence. And from this, you draw your certainty.

    Specificity or functionality or whatever you actually mean by it is not as obvious as you think it is and does not work the way you think it works

    You suggest here that you know how “it works”. So I am asking how you think it works.
    Do you know why specification cannot be measured?

  284. 284
    Upright BiPed says:

    Surely, with all your gratifying bravado, you have something to offer in the way of model – no?

  285. 285
    StephenB says:

    E. Seigner

    Except in the one you cited. Anywhere else then?

    Yes, the reports from the Lourdes Commission have been included and assessed in medical publications such as the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine and the Journal of the History of Medicine and the Allied Sciences. However, I have no intention of trying to persuade you that the miracles are authentic. It is clear that you will go to any length to avoid evidence. The point is that science does study miracles and your claim to the contrary is refuted.

  286. 286
    Joe says:

    E. Seigner:

    Similarly, whether biological entities were “caused by design” or naturally evolved is irrelevant to biology.

    That is just stupid talk. Geez even Dawkins realizes it makes all the difference in the world.

  287. 287
    Barry Arrington says:

    Dear Readers,

    Notice the all-too-typical progression E.Seigner has demonstrated once again for us:

    Materialist makes false claim about ID.

    ID proponent explodes false claim and asks materialist to acknowledge his error.

    Materialist never gives an inch, bobs and weaves, and tries to change the subject.

    At 265 E.Seigner trots out a version of the hoary old “ID proponents just think complex things must be designed” error. He writes:

    The further problem is that the contrast is not solid, but it’s a point on a continuum, where the point is “a threshold of sufficient complexity”, i.e. the continuum is continuum of complexity, where one end is said to be caused by chance and mechanical necessity and the other end by “design by intelligence”.

    At 274 Barry puts up two 12-line groups of text, one random, the other designed. The random group is more complex than the designed group, and Barry asks:

    If the designed group is less complex than the chance group, there must be something other than complexity that allows you to detect design. What do you think that something is?

    At 278 Silver Asiatic makes a prediction:

    I’m going to guess that [E.Seigner] doesn’t want to answer and therefore learn about ID, but rather play on the little amusement park ride we call the merry-go-round.

    At 282 E.Seigner confirms Silver Asiatic’s prediction:

    When I am not convinced by your typing some scribble first and then English I’m not being hyperskeptical but as rational as usual. How many of you here can tell from Chinese characters if they mean anything or were typed by a cat?

    Notice E.Seigner’s strategy. Dismiss the question and change the subject. No, E.Seigner I am not going to let you get away with it. I am going to point out your intellectual cowardice for all to see. I will repeat my questions from 274 and give you a chance to redeem yourself. If you continue to dodge the questions you will be shown not at “rational as usual” but for an intellectual coward. Here they are:

    Both groups are complex. One group was constructed through random strokes on a keyboard. The other was designed. Can you tell which is which?

    Certainly you can. And just as certainly it is not the degree of complexity that allows you to tell the difference. If anything, the random group is more complex than the designed group.

    If the designed group is less complex than the chance group, there must be something other than complexity that allows you to detect design. What do you think that something is?

  288. 288
    kairosfocus says:

    BA: ES also needs to process the actual sources for and original context of CSI and FSCO/I in the analysis of what makes cell based life distinct, in Orgel and Wiken. As was noted in 275. Notice, nigh on 20 years before Dembski et al took up the challenge. KF

  289. 289
  290. 290
    StephenB says:

    Barry @287, ES and I had a similar confrontation @ 136 and 143:

    (Is design detection possible)

    ES

    Absolutely not. Whatever conclusions one draws from empirical structures in the exterior world, the conclusions are a projection of metaphysics of the scientist, based on his presuppositions and prejudices, education, cultural context, etc. Except that they are not called prejudices in science, but hypotheses. It’s a well-known fact in science that the procedure and results of the experiment crucially depend on how the hypothesis is formulated.

    SB

    [a] What metaphysical projection do you claim is necessary to detect design in an ancient hunter’s spear?

    [b] Do you contend that there is no way to differentiate between that same spear and a rock formed by wind, air, and erosion?

    Welcome back, the guy of faulty analogies. Here are some of the ways in which your analogy about the ancient hunter’s spear is faulty:

    – The archeologist is not detecting the design in the spear, but establishes the comparability of the artefact with other artefacts. It’s the other artefacts that the archeologist already knows to be spears that determine whether the new finding is also a spear or not. The context determines.
    – What’s relevant in archeology is the way in which the artefact compares with other findings, not the design of the artefact per se. When it’s established that it’s a spear, it sure enough means there’s a designer of the spear and probably also a hunter (those two may not be necessarily the same person), but this is not derived from the design of the artefact, but from the fact that it’s a spear.
    – The designer and the hunter are inferred from context already examined and ready for comparison, the same way as the spear itself is.
    – The inference to the designer and the hunter follows indirectly from the fact that it’s a spear. The inference is indirect, i.e. finding a spear never means finding the designer. The designer and the hunter will be separate findings. The fact that it’s a spear is also established indirectly based on other earlier similar findings, not based on the design of the artefact itself. It’s all contextual.
    – If it’s established that it’s a spear, then the designer and the probable hunter are utterly trivial inferences. The inference to the designer and hunter is uninteresting for the archeologist. What interests the archeologist more is the specifics of the culture, such as if the people were more hunter-gatherers or agricultural or urban, what was hunted and why, etc. Similarly, when you see a book, what interests you least is if it has a writer (of course it has a writer). What interests you more is if it’s worth reading, whether it has pictures in it, whether the author is known, etc. If the author exists is a completely unimportant question.
    – Moreover, if you read a book without a cover, so you don’t know who the author is, and a few friends read the same book, the impressions you get from the book, the kind of conclusions you draw what kind of person the author might have been who’d write such a book, what might this or that aspect of the story mean, etc. will be very personal, subjective, even though you all read the same book. Similarly there will be many aspects open to subjective interpretation with the archeological artefact based on who is interpreting.

    The basic failure of ID theory is not whether there’s some structure, design, or information in this or that thing – everybody agrees that there is. The basic failure is to establish what the structure means, if anything. There’s no agreement on if this or that structure means a designer or not, and why it should mean a designer, and if it does, then so what. The basic failure is the lack of method that would distinguish between an intelligent cause and any other cause. Analogies won’t wash. Scientists use plenty of analogies, but they don’t take them literally – and they shouldn’t, because it’s merely an analogy. Unambiguous empirical data on this cannot logically be had, because data is always open to interpretation and to interpret it you need a method and method is precisely what you don’t have.

    And I won’t address any more faulty analogies, thank you very much.

    (I explain the ID does not argue from analogy)

    SB: Here is the question again:

    “Can you differentiate between the apparent design in an ancient hunter’s spear and a rock formed by wind, air, and erosion. Or, if you have a hang up about archeology, can you differentiate between a naturally-formed pile of sand on the beach and a sand castle?”

    ES [silence]

  291. 291
    E.Seigner says:

    @Barry

    I am not a materialist. See the last paragraph of #87. I came here to discuss philosophy and theology, but ID theory is annoyingly in the way.

    StephenB

    SB: Here is the question again:

    “Can you differentiate between the apparent design in an ancient hunter’s spear and a rock formed by wind, air, and erosion. Or, if you have a hang up about archeology, can you differentiate between a naturally-formed pile of sand on the beach and a sand castle?”

    ES [silence]

    This silence has two meanings. First, these questions have already been answered by me many times. For example see what you quoted just before. That’s the answeer right there.

    Second, these questions are meaningless because they show nothing essential about science as such, nothing essential about any discipline, and they have led me not an inch closer to understand ID theory. I am frankly appalled at the trivialization of archaeology, linguistics, and of every other science that you bring up here. If ID is like that (and all signs show that it is) then why make this any more embarrassing than it already is?

    Now you have clarified to me once more that ID theory consists in telling heaps of sand apart from sand castles. If so, then everybody over two years old is an ID specialist. I got this message a long time ago, but I prefer areas that require more intellectual rigor and specialized training. No need to abase yourself further.

  292. 292
    kairosfocus says:

    SB: I have seen Phil Harding of Channel 4’s Time Team. The speed with which he spots a flint tool as an artifact has to be seen to be believed, based on characteristic signs of deliberate shaping. As to potsherds and the way they are used to give a rough date . . . the notion of accidental formation does not even enter. KF

  293. 293
    Silver Asiatic says:

    Now you have clarified to me once more that ID theory consists in telling heaps of sand apart from sand castles. If so, then everybody over two years old is an ID specialist.

    Hilarious. 200 posts ago she insisted that it was impossible to recognize design in nature. So we gave her the simplest example that even a 2-year old could understand. Then she says basically, ‘of course, even a two-year old knows that, ID must be for idiots’.

    More fun than a merry-go-round. Maybe like Whack-a-Mole. Good comedy ES

  294. 294
    kairosfocus says:

    ES: Actually, the issue of the interpretation of traces from the remote past on vera causa cases that establish signs and causes, is a significant scientific point. And, I would suggest that as of now there is no blind chance and/or mechanical necessity based empirically validated account of the origin of FSCO/I. Where, such FSCO/I is clearly at the heart of cell based life from its outset. And, the fine tuning and organisation of the physics of the cosmos that supports such life is again scientifically enriching. Where, I can safely add, the evidence of computational devices is such that it speaks volumes to the typical evolutionary materialist accounts of mind. Just, the evidence is not going where evolutionary materialists and fellow travellers would wish. And, that has been so for decades now. The Emperor and retinue may well say the procession must go on, but it does not change the status of the cry from the little child who so innocently blurted out the truth. KF

  295. 295
    Upright BiPed says:

    I prefer areas that require more intellectual rigor and specialized training.

    good grief

  296. 296
    kairosfocus says:

    F/N: Some cases of design detection are indeed simple enough for a two year old. Such as sand castle vs pile of sand. Others need say a seven or eight year old, say string of legitimate English text vs nonsense string. Others, to be more than dependent on say-so need exposure to thermodynamics, info theory, biochem and/or molecular biology, as well as relevant mathematics — a bit of familiarity with configuration spaces or state spaces or phase space helps as well as some sampling theory. Some knowledge of algorithms, codes, processor architectures, organisation and associated execution machinery is an asset. Knowledge of some basic history and phil of science as well as broader issues in epistemology and logic will also be good. In itself, not rocket science [that starts with the phase space analysis of an inverted pendulum . . . ], but not trivial either. KF

  297. 297
    kairosfocus says:

    PS: I should add, a deep respect for truth and a recognition of science as a sober-minded, useful but fallible pursuit of the truth about our world based on experience, observation, inductive analysis, etc, is vital.

  298. 298
    StephenB says:

    E. Seigner

    This silence has two meanings. First, these questions have already been answered by me many times. For example see what you quoted just before. That’s the answeer right there.

    No, the answer is not there. It is an evasion and a refusal to answer a simple question, similar to your refusal to answer Barry’s question.

    Second, these questions are meaningless because they show nothing essential about science as such, nothing essential about any discipline, and they have led me not an inch closer to understand ID theory.

    Meaning no undue disrespect, but I am not interested in your uniformed perspective about the significance of the question. I am interested only in your answer.

    I am frankly appalled at the trivialization of archaeology, linguistics, and of every other science that you bring up here. If ID is like that (and all signs show that it is) then why make this any more embarrassing than it already is?

    Again, I am not currently interested in your uninformed perspective about the relationship between ID an archeology, I am interested only in your answer to my question (or Barry’s question).

    Now you have clarified to me once more that ID theory consists in telling heaps of sand apart from sand castles. If so, then everybody over two years old is an ID specialist. I got this message a long time ago, but I prefer areas that require more intellectual rigor and specialized training. No need to abase yourself further.

    Please do not trust your instincts to inform you about which parties are abasing themselves in this situation. Now, back to your metaphysical fantasies. You are on record as saying that a design inference is impossible in the absence of philosophical projections. My question, then, does not allude to, or purport to summarize, ID theory in any way. It is a response to your carelessly formulated assertion.

    Now that we have put your nonsense aside, let’s get back to it. Can you detect the difference between meaningless jibberish versus a well-written paragraph, or a naturally formed lump of sand versus a sand castle, or a naturally formed rock from an ancient hunter’s spear? Yes or no.

  299. 299
    E.Seigner says:

    StephenB

    You are on record as saying that a design inference is impossible in the absence of philosophical projections. My question, then, does not allude to, or purport to summarize, ID theory in any way.

    If your question is in no way related to ID, it’s irrelevant. It’s all the more irrelevant because I have already answered about a dozen versions of it in the same manner. You summarized it correctly: A design inference is impossible in the absence of philosophical (cultural, contextual, etc.) projections. In fact, what you call “design detection” is precisely such a projection.

    We recognize sand castles because we have seen castles before. Archaeologists recognize spears because they know from before what a spear is. This is to do with how we culturally relate shapes, not with what the shape is by itself. We recognize English text because we learned the language. To someone who never learned English, English text and gibberish are both gibberish, just like Chinese is gibberish to those who never learned Chinese.

    That’s the answer, for the last time. The only thing you have been able to do with it is to repeat the question. Try something new, seriously.

  300. 300
    Joe says:

    LoL!@ E. Seigner- Archaeologists know what a spear is, not only from its shape, but also from the marks left behind from a some intelligent agency working the stone. It is those signs of work that tell archaeologists and forensic scientists that an intelligent agency was involved. And all investigators understand that the determination makes all the difference in the world as to how the investigation will proceed.

    Sand castles represent a class of objects that can only be explained via an intelligent agency. When we see one we know that some intelligent agency was there.

  301. 301
    Joe says:

    E. Seigner:

    A design inference is impossible in the absence of philosophical (cultural, contextual, etc.) projections.

    That is incorrect. A design inference is impossible in the presence of philosophical (cultural, contextual, etc.) projections. All objections to ID and the design inference are philosophical- albeit misguided philosphy.

  302. 302
    Andre says:

    E.Design

    So you know that you can’t know. The obvious next question is how do you now?

  303. 303
    StephenB says:

    E Seigner

    You summarized it correctly: A design inference is impossible in the absence of philosophical (cultural, contextual, etc.) projections. In fact, what you call “design detection” is precisely such a projection.

    No. Either you are projecting your philosophy of design onto the artifact, or else the artifact is revealing its inherent design to you. It is logically impossible that your conclusion could be the result of both a projection and an inference.

    Archaeologists recognize spears because they know from before what a spear is.

    That isn’t true, but it doesn’t matter because it begs the question. How did they know it was a spear and not a rock the first time they made such a discovery? Or, returning to the present observation, how do they know that wind, air, and erosion didn’t form the present artifact that appears similar to what they have observed in the past?

    We recognize sand castles because we have seen castles before.

    That also isn’t true and also begs the question. What if it is a 100 story sand castle with a completely new form? Or what if the form is not a sand castle but one that resembles your grandfather’s face? How do you know that wind, air, and erosion did not form either of these artifact? How do you know that they just give the mere appearance of design and nothing more?

    That’s the answer, for the last time. The only thing you have been able to do with it is to repeat the question.

    You haven’t answered the question at all. It’s either a yes or a no. No shuffling is required.

    Try something new, seriously.

    OK. You visit the planet Mars and notice a large machine with thousands of integrated parts that performs an obvious function. It is a product of natural causes or was it intelligently designed? Why did you answer the way you answered?

  304. 304
    StephenB says:

    Correction: How do you know if they are really designed or if they just give the appearance of design?

  305. 305
    Mung says:

    It’s a shame E.Seigner’s first initial isn’t D.

    Then we could have D.Seigner here arguing against any designer. 😉

  306. 306
    Mung says:

    E.Seigner, for what it’s worth, I do hope you’ll stick around long enough to discuss Dembski’s new book when it becomes available and when it comes up for discussion here.

    He thus shows that information is more fundamental than matter and that intelligible effectual information is in fact the primal substance.

    A Paradigm Shift in the Making: William Dembski’s Revolutionary Breakthrough

    cheers

  307. 307
    Mung says:

    Feser does have a response up, of sorts.

    Q.E.D.?

    Linked in a previous post from his site:

    First Way

  308. 308
    Mung says:

    Mung: Do you take issue with the claim that created/contingent beings are composed?

    VJT: They may well be. However, I don’t think anyone has proven that yet.

    Setting aside for now beings such as angels, and dealing strictly with the material world, has Aquinas, Feser, or any other philosopher shown to your satisfaction that material beings are/must be composed?

    At the very least, ontologically speaking, they are composed of act and potency.

    In God without Parts, Chapter 2 is Simplicity and the Models of Composition. Dolezal lists six models of act-potency composition, all of which (compositions) are denied of God:

    * Bodily Parts
    * Matter and Form
    * Supposit and Nature
    * Genus and Species
    * Substance and Accident
    * Essence and Existence

    P.S. Harking back to something I wanted to follow up on from an earlier post, upon further reading, God should not be thought of as self-caused.

  309. 309
    Mung says:

    Design detection requires hours and hours of specialized training, as any two-year old can testify.

    Some very simple things are designed.

    Some things that behave in a law-like manner are designed.

    Because intelligent design theory cannot identify such things as designed, it cannot give us a reliable indicator of design that does not give false negatives.

    Therefore ID theory is incoherent and useless.

    E.Mung

  310. 310
    E.Seigner says:

    StephenB

    Either you are projecting your philosophy of design onto the artifact, or else the artifact is revealing its inherent design to you. It is logically impossible that your conclusion could be the result of both a projection and an inference.

    What the artifact reveals is gibberish until you relate it to other similar shapes. When you don’t know English, grammatical English will look like gibberish to you. There’s no inherent design of English in written text, but a social convention called English. The same letters can be used to write many other languages. Are all those languages inherently there?

    StephenB

    That isn’t true, but it doesn’t matter because it begs the question. How did they [archaeologists] know it was a spear and not a rock the first time they made such a discovery?

    If they don’t know what a spear is, then they haven’t been through school yet and cannot be properly called archaeologists. When they have been through the training, then they already know. It begs the question only if you think that you can answer the chicken and egg problem by selecting either chicken or egg.

    StephenB

    What if it is a 100 story sand castle with a completely new form?

    No matter how many stories, windows, flags, etc. you add, all castles, including sand castles, are just an elaboration of a basic house, a cuboid with embellishments.

    StephenB

    Or what if the form is not a sand castle but one that resembles your grandfather’s face?

    And you don’t know your granfather’s face either? And if you know it, doesn’t it beg the question? When you first saw it, how did you know it was your grandfather’s face?

    StephenB

    How do you know that wind, air, and erosion did not form either of these artifact? How do you know that they just give the mere appearance of design and nothing more?

    That’s precisely what we don’t know, not directly anyway. We just assume the likelihood. We know directly only when we see someone build the artefact, and then when we later see a similar artefact, we assume it was built the same way. We gradually become more confident in projecting our assumptions, that’s all there is to it.

    StephenB

    You haven’t answered the question at all. It’s either a yes or a no. No shuffling is required.

    Which one was first, chicken or egg? And how do you know, in scientific terms? No shuffling.

    Mung

    He thus shows that information is more fundamental than matter and that intelligible effectual information is in fact the primal substance.

    This has been done much better before, e.g. the hologram principle. And there’s been the idea of spirit primary in relation to matter all along. Nothing new in that paradigm.

  311. 311
    Upright BiPed says:

    There’s no inherent design of English in written text

    facepalm

  312. 312
    StephenB says:

    Mung

    Feser does have a response up, of sorts.

    It is an excellent presentation. In my judgment, he is right. Aquinas’ philosophical proofs for God’s existence are solid–and certain. It is a scandal that they have been put in competition with ID’s scientific arguments–as if there wasn’t enough room for both of them.

  313. 313
    StephenB says:

    E. Seigner

    That’s precisely what we don’t know, not directly anyway. We just assume the likelihood. We know directly only when we see someone build the artefact, and then when we later see a similar artefact, we assume it was built the same way.

    How, then, would you answer my last question? You visit the planet Mars and notice a large machine with thousands of integrated parts that performs an obvious function. It is a product of natural causes or was it intelligently designed?

  314. 314
    StephenB says:

    E Seigner

    There’s no inherent design of English in written text, but a social convention called English.

    You don’t think that authors design their paragraphs?

  315. 315
    E.Seigner says:

    StephenB

    How, then, would you answer my last question? You visit the planet Mars and notice a large machine…

    That it’s a machine is already a projection. Nothing is inherently a machine. It may resemble things that you have seen before that you are used to call “machine”. To assume the same of the new thing means to project on it what you know of other things from before. That’s the essence of comparison on analogies.

    StephenB

    You don’t think that authors design their paragraphs?

    We both know that the paragraphs alternately in gibberish and in English typed by Barry earlier were all “designed” by him. Use FSCO/I to demonstrate that the paragraphs have different causes. Good luck.

  316. 316
    kairosfocus says:

    Re 314:

    E Seigner: There’s no inherent design of English in written text, but a social convention called English.

    SB: You don’t think that authors design their paragraphs?

    Game over.

    KF

  317. 317
    StephenB says:

    E. Seigner

    That it’s a machine is already a projection. Nothing is inherently a machine. It may resemble things that you have seen before that you are used to call “machine”. To assume the same of the new thing means to project on it what you know of other things from before. That’s the essence of comparison on analogies.

    The only sense in which we project anything is to define it as a machine and call it by that name. Our projected words and definitions, however, do not make it a machine. It is a machine because of what it is, that is, because of its nature. It has that nature either because an intelligent designer built it that way on purpose or because nature formed it by chance.

    Projection plays no role in its coming into existence. None whatsoever. So your claim that nothing is inherently a machine is as false as any claim can be. My question, though, persists: What do you conclude when you observe this machine? Design or chance?

    SB: You don’t think that authors design their paragraphs?

    We both know that the paragraphs alternately in gibberish and in English typed by Barry earlier were all “designed” by him.

    I know that Barry typed (or copied) the message in gibberish, but I don’t know if he designed it. The evidence doesn’t tell us either way. What makes you think that he did?

    I know for a fact that Barry did not design the meaningful paragraph. According to the evidence, it was designed by William Shakespeare. What made you think that Barry designed it?

    Use FSCO/I to demonstrate that the paragraphs have different causes. Good luck

    It’s very easy to demonstrate. As the number of characters in a meaningful or specified paragraph increases, the likelihood that it was designed also increases. It’s just a question of counting the letters. Why is that a problem for you?

  318. 318
    E.Seigner says:

    StephenB

    Projection plays no role in its coming into existence. None whatsoever.

    Indeed (as if I claimed otherwise). Also FSCO/I plays no role in its coming into existence. None whatsoever. Furthermore, FSCO/I plays no role in guessing or “detecting” how it came into existence, whereas assuming if it’s a machine or whatever determines our approach to it and the approach makes all the difference in what we make of the thing.

    StephenB

    It’s very easy to demonstrate. As the number of characters in a meaningful or specified paragraph increases, the likelihood that it was designed also increases. It’s just a question of counting the letters. Why is that a problem for you?

    One persistent problem is that “specified”, the way you use it, means absolutely nothing. From your examples (and Barry’s) you use the word “specified” in such an elusive way that I don’t wonder at all why ID is not mainstream. It cannot even be measured.

    “Meaningful” however means something, yes, and rational agency can be determined purely from the meaning. No need to count the letters.

    StephenB

    I know for a fact that Barry did not design the meaningful paragraph. According to the evidence, it was designed by William Shakespeare. What made you think that Barry designed it?

    And you can tell this because you counted the letters? Or is it perhaps because you have read Shakespeare before…

    So, since FSCO/I has nothing to tell, let’s move back to the actual topic. Aquinas’ Five Ways, Feser’s exposition and Torley’s critique of it, proofs of God in general. What are your comments?

  319. 319
    Joe says:

    E Seigner:

    If they don’t know what a spear is, then they haven’t been through school yet and cannot be properly called archaeologists.

    So nature cannot produce something that resembles a spear- really? Obviously E Seigner doesn’t have any training beyond obfuscation.

  320. 320
    kairosfocus says:

    ES:

    I again draw to your attention, this from Wiki on random document generation in its Infinite Monkeys Theorem article, cited as testimony against known ideological bias of the dominant faction of that online project:

    One computer program run by Dan Oliver of Scottsdale, Arizona, according to an article in The New Yorker, came up with a result on August 4, 2004: After the group had worked for 42,162,500,000 billion billion monkey-years, one of the “monkeys” typed, “VALENTINE. Cease toIdor:eFLP0FRjWK78aXzVOwm)-‘;8.t” The first 19 letters of this sequence can be found in “The Two Gentlemen of Verona”. Other teams have reproduced 18 characters from “Timon of Athens”, 17 from “Troilus and Cressida”, and 16 from “Richard II”.[24]

    A website entitled The Monkey Shakespeare Simulator, launched on July 1, 2003, contained a Java applet that simulates a large population of monkeys typing randomly, with the stated intention of seeing how long it takes the virtual monkeys to produce a complete Shakespearean play from beginning to end. For example, it produced this partial line from Henry IV, Part 2, reporting that it took “2,737,850 million billion billion billion monkey-years” to reach 24 matching characters:

    RUMOUR. Open your ears; 9r”5j5&?OWTY Z0d…

    This maxing out so far at about 24 ASCII characters [a config space of about 10^50 possibilities for strings of that length], is a factor of about 10^100 or so short of the scope of config space that is imposed by a 500 bit FSCO/I limit.

    In short, as has been repeatedly noted but ignored by you in haste to erect and knock over strawmen, there is a joint specificty-complexity criterion that is applicable to whether it is plausible that a functionally specific text [here, in English] is reachable by blind chance and mechanical necessity on solar system or observed cosmos scale resources.

    As was worked out and shown to you or linked, but which has obviously not been studied with intent to understand and address on reasonable understanding by you.

    You sadly, continue to demonstrate the pattern of selectively hyperskeptical snipping, strawman caricature, pretzel twisting etc that have already landed you in the absurdity of being unwilling to acknowledge that there is a recognisable difference between text in English and what is the overwhelmingly likely outcome of a random process.

    If it were a matter of an isolated case, we could shrug our shoulders and say, typical.

    But, it is not; there are unfortunately many who will find themselves misled by this.

    Which, brings us full circle to the warning issued by Plato, 360 BC.

    KF

  321. 321
    kairosfocus says:

    F/N: Plato’s warning on the implications and tendencies of evolutionary materialism (including effect on those who are fellow travellers):

    >> Ath. . . . [[The avant garde philosophers and poets, c. 360 BC] say that fire and water, and earth and air [[i.e the classical “material” elements of the cosmos], all exist by nature and chance, and none of them by art, and that as to the bodies which come next in order-earth, and sun, and moon, and stars-they have been created by means of these absolutely inanimate existences. The elements are severally moved by chance and some inherent force according to certain affinities among them-of hot with cold, or of dry with moist, or of soft with hard, and according to all the other accidental admixtures of opposites which have been formed by necessity. After this fashion and in this manner the whole heaven has been created, and all that is in the heaven, as well as animals and all plants, and all the seasons come from these elements, not by the action of mind, as they say, or of any God, or from art, but as I was saying, by nature and chance only. [[In short, evolutionary materialism premised on chance plus necessity acting without intelligent guidance on primordial matter is hardly a new or a primarily “scientific” view! Notice also, the trichotomy of causal factors: (a) chance/accident, (b) mechanical necessity of nature, (c) art or intelligent design and direction.] . . . .

    [[Thus, they hold that t]he Gods exist not by nature, but by art, and by the laws of states, which are different in different places, according to the agreement of those who make them; and that the honourable is one thing by nature and another thing by law, and that the principles of justice have no existence at all in nature, but that mankind are always disputing about them and altering them; and that the alterations which are made by art and by law have no basis in nature, but are of authority for the moment and at the time at which they are made.- [[Relativism, too, is not new; complete with its radical amorality rooted in a worldview that has no foundational IS that can ground OUGHT.] These, my friends, are the sayings of wise men, poets and prose writers, which find a way into the minds of youth. They are told by them that the highest right is might [[ Evolutionary materialism leads to the promotion of amorality], and in this way the young fall into impieties, under the idea that the Gods are not such as the law bids them imagine; and hence arise factions [[Evolutionary materialism-motivated amorality “naturally” leads to continual contentions and power struggles; ], these philosophers inviting them to lead a true life according to nature, that is, to live in real dominion over others [[such amoral factions, if they gain power, “naturally” tend towards ruthless tyranny], and not in legal subjection to them. >>

    Ideas have consequences.

    KF

  322. 322
    kairosfocus says:

    VJT:

    I took a moment to look at EF’s QED blog post as just linked.

    I note especially this:

    _____________

    >> . . . I submit that . . . unjustifiable double standards play a major role in fostering the attitude that there is something fishy about the very idea of demonstrating the existence of God.

    A third, and perhaps not unrelated, problem with this attitude is that those who take it often misunderstand what a thinker like Aquinas means when he says that the existence of God can be “demonstrated.” What is meant is that the conclusion that God exists follows with necessity or deductive validity from premises that are certain, where the certainty of the premises can in turn be shown via metaphysical analysis. That entails that such a demonstration gives us knowledge that is more secure than what any scientific inference can give us (as “science” is generally understood today), in two respects. First, the inference is not a merely probabilistic one, nor an “argument to the best explanation” which appeals to considerations like parsimony, fit with existing background theory, etc.; it is, again, instead a strict deduction to what is claimed to follow necessarily from the premises. Second, the premises cannot be overthrown by further empirical inquiry, because they have to do with what any possible empirical inquiry must presuppose.

    For example, Aristotelian arguments from motion begin with the premise that change occurs, together with premises to the effect that a potential can be actualized only by what is already actual (the principle of causality) and that an essentially ordered series of causes cannot regress to infinity. The first premise is in a sense empirical, which is why the argument is not a priori. We know that change occurs because we experience it. However, it is not a premise which can be overthrown by further empirical inquiry, because any possible future experience will itself be a further instance of change. (We can coherently hold, on empirical grounds, that this or that purported instance of change is unreal; but we cannot coherently maintain on empirical grounds that all change is unreal.) The other premises can be defended by various metaphysical arguments, such as arguments to the effect that the principle of causality follows from the principle of sufficient reason (PSR), and that PSR rightly understood can be established via reductio ad absurdum of any attempt to deny it [KF –> That is, it is self-evident but there is a pons asinorum price to be paid to access it]. (See Scholastic Metaphysics for detailed defense of the background principles presupposed by Thomistic arguments for God’s existence.)

    Now, the problem is this. Contemporary philosophers tend to work within a conceptual straightjacket inherited from the early modern philosophers. In particular, and where epistemological matters are concerned, they tend to think in terms inherited from the rationalists, the empiricists, and Kant. Hence when you put forward an argument that you claim is not an inference of empirical science, they tend to think that the only other thing it can be is either some sort of “conceptual analysis” (essentially a watered-down Kantianism) or an attempt at rationalist apriorism. And since arguments for God’s existence are obviously attempts to arrive at a conclusion about mind-independent reality itself rather than merely about how we think about reality or conceptualize reality, the assumption is that if you argue for God’s existence in a way that does not involve an inference of the sort familiar in empirical science, then you must be doing something of the Cartesian or Leibnizian rationalist sort.

    As I argue in Scholastic Metaphysics, this is simply a false choice. Thomists reject the entire rationalist/empiricist/Kantian dialectic, and maintain an epistemological position that predated these views. But modern readers who are unfamiliar with this position, and falsely suppose that it must be an exercise in rationalist metaphysics, sometimes come to expect the trappings of rationalist metaphysics. In particular, they will expect geometry-style proofs, highly formalized arguments from axioms and definitions, which can be stated crisply in the course of a few pages and be seen either to succeed or fail upon a fairly cursory examination. When a Thomist does not put forward an argument in this style, the skeptic supposes that he has failed to produce a true demonstration. But this simply mistakes one kind of demonstration for demonstration as such, and begs the question against the Thomist, who rejects rationalist epistemology and methodology. (Students of the Neo-Scholastic period of the history of Thomism will be familiar with Thomist criticisms of “essentialism” — in Gilson’s specialized sense of that term, which is different from the way I or David Oderberg use it — and of “ontologism.” These are essentially criticisms of the Leibnizian rationalist approach to metaphysics and natural theology.)

    Presenting theistic arguments in this pseudo-geometrical formalized style can in fact inadvertently foster misunderstandings, which is why I tend to avoid that style. You can, of course, set out an argument like the Aristotelian argument from motion in a series of numbered steps, as I do in my ACPQ article “Existential Inertia and the Five Ways.” However, the argument contains a number of crucial technical terms — “actuality,” “potency,” “essentially ordered,” etc. — which are not explained in the argument thus stated. Even if you somehow worked definitions of these key terms into the formalized statement of the argument, that would simply push the problem back a stage, since you would have to make use of further concepts not defined in the formalized statement of the argument. The idea that such an argument (or any metaphysical argument) could be entirely formalized is a rationalist fantasy.

    The trouble is that by presenting such semi-formalized arguments — “Here’s the proof in ten steps” — you risk encouraging the lazier sort of skeptic in his delusion that if such an argument is any good, it should be convincing, all by itself and completely removed from any larger context, to even the most hostile critic. Naturally, it will never be that, because it will not properly be understood unless the larger conceptual context is understood. But the lazy skeptic will not bother himself with that larger context. He will simply take the brief, ten-step (or whatever) semi-formalized argument and aim at it any old objections that come to mind, thinking he has thereby refuted it when in fact he will (given his ignorance of some of the key background concepts) not even properly understand what it is saying. (That is why a reader of a book like my Aquinas has to slog his way through over 50 pages of general metaphysics before he gets to the Five Ways. There are no shortcuts, and I do not want to abet the lazy or dishonest skeptic in pretending otherwise.)

    Now, I submit that when we take account of these three factors underlying the common dismissive attitude toward the very idea of demonstrating God’s existence – the widespread misconceptions about what the traditional arguments for God’s existence actually say; the arbitrary double standard to which these arguments are held; and the common misunderstanding of what a “demonstration” must involve – we can see that that attitude is simply not justified. Meanwhile, the approaches to demonstrating God’s existence represented by arguments like the Five Ways in fact are — when fleshed out and when correctly understood — convincing, as I have argued in several places (e.g. in Aquinas and in the ACPQ article).

    The Church’s insistence that the existence of God is demonstrable is not, in any event, an attempt to settle a philosophical issue by sheer diktat. It is rather a carefully considered judgment about what must be the case if Christianity is to be rationally justifiable. What the Church is doing is distancing herself from fideism by affirming the power of unaided reason and affirming the duty of Christians to provide a rational justification of what Aquinas called the “preambles” of the Catholic religion. (I’ve discussed the crucial role that proofs of God’s existence and other philosophical arguments play in Christian apologetics here and here.) It is not an expression of blind faith but precisely a condemnation of blind faith.>>
    ______________

    There is of course much in that which is reasonable, however in some ways the project seems to be overkill. The ordinary common sense individual will not be able to access something like that for many reasons. Not least, s/he has to earn a living, support a family and live a life.

    (For instance, I have had one major transition related emergency requiring a trip to a Minister’s home, then ferrying duties already, with more pending dealing with the UD backlog and there is a book I am still reading and marking up. Yesterday, I had to get out a date-sensitive blog post on a globally important matter regarding Jihadism and genocidal intent and set up venues and meetings for a significant development opportunity, and more.)

    Yes, there may indeed be strong proofs that with high certainty point to the reality of God, on pain that reversing them to reject conclusions to deny premises and challenge background details lands the objector in big trouble with logic, epistemology, worldview adequacy and rationality. But if they are not readily accessible, that is a problem.

    I suggest, there may be detail problems with any particular person’s formulation without undermining the overall case. But, access is a challenge.

    I would suggest that when Paul wrote:

    Rom 1:18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world,[g] in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things [—> statues and pics in temples or museums and labels: religion or science make little difference to the point] . . .

    . . . he primarily had in mind:

    1 –> We tend to suppress unwelcome truth we know or should know which leaves us responsible for our ignorance.

    2 –> The sense of know-ability is tied to what is PLAIN, made plain by God through the constitution of our nature as rational, conscious, knowing, en-conscienced beings in a common world that is full of signs of its design and creation.

    3 –> Thus in viewing knowledge as warranted, credibly true belief, the relevant warrant is to moral certainty . . . one is irresponsible to reject, dismiss, distort or neglect the warrant on what is plain.

    4 –> This does not require deductive certainty or axioms indisputable to all rational agents or indubitable . . . post Godel not even Maths can meet this.

    5 –> all it requires is the strength of a rope: individual fibres twisted together mutually reinforce gaining length and strength. Braiding and twisting with maybe knitting into a network with useful knots then give overall cumulative strength to reliably carry a heavy load.

    6 –> and in this context, there is plenty of room for updated classic arguments, AND for empirical and historical evidence as well as worldviews analysis.

    7 –> So, there is room enough to look at design evidences and arguments. Where, FSCO/I in cell based life does not require in principle more than an advanced molecular nanotech lab. It is signs of cosmological design that point powerfully beyond the visible world to a designer and maker able to create a cosmos fitted for C-Chemistry, aqueous medium cell based life. The strands reinforce.

    KF

  323. 323
    E.Seigner says:

    kairosfocus

    You sadly, continue to demonstrate the pattern of selectively hyperskeptical snipping, strawman caricature, pretzel twisting etc that have already landed you in the absurdity of being unwilling to acknowledge that there is a recognisable difference between text in English and what is the overwhelmingly likely outcome of a random process.

    The difference is that one of them is meaningful. Surely you saw me say that.

    Thankfully you are getting back to the topic:

    There is of course much in that which is reasonable, however in some ways the project seems to be overkill. The ordinary common sense individual will not be able to access something like that for many reasons. Not least, s/he has to earn a living, support a family and live a life.

    Just like everything else in this life, philosophizing requires its sacrifices. Not everybody has been made a philosopher, so the sacrifices are not required from everybody, but some people are born like this and they really need to think things through to their intellectual satisfaction. It’s at least as important as emotional satisfaction to other people. There will be much in life that philosophers miss because of this, but there will be an appropriate reward too. Plato’s allegory of the cave is about this, I’d say.

    kairosfocus

    Yes, there may indeed be strong proofs that with high certainty point to the reality of God, on pain that reversing them to reject conclusions to deny premises and challenge background details lands the objector in big trouble with logic, epistemology, worldview adequacy and rationality. But if they are not readily accessible, that is a problem.

    If all the entailments and implications are not readily accessible to the objector, then the objector is not philosophically qualified and requires either a philosophical upgrade or reorientation to a different area of interest. This is a rational way to handle the situation without any real hazard to anyone.

  324. 324
    kairosfocus says:

    ES: many, many well established disciplines require technical knowledge and reflection to access the key results, especially where some are inclined to dispute. Pons Asinorum is a classic case for school geometry. On issues such as are at the focus of this thread, there are many who dispute in the most sophomoric fashion and imagine they have mastered the matters sufficiently to pronounce with imagined authority. Mr Dawkins’ The God Delusion readily springs to mind. I am also saying that there are some things on the matter of existence of God, that cumulatively make a morally certain case, such that those who dismiss or deny exhibit a case of turning from wht they know or should know. KF

  325. 325
    kairosfocus says:

    PS: Recal, ES, the side discussion developed in response to and answering of your intervention. A FTR.

  326. 326
    E.Seigner says:

    kairosfocus

    …there are some things on the matter of existence of God, that cumulatively make a morally certain case, such that those who dismiss or deny exhibit a case of turning from wht they know or should know.

    When people dismiss or deny, they are not necessarily denying what they should know. They may have not arrived yet at the point where they even could know. The certainty of the case simply has not cumulated to the point where they could recognize it. Cumulative certainty takes time.

    And different people have different views on what certainty is. For example for me, probabilistic plausibility is inherently full of uncertainty and doubt. The only kind of certainty is logical and metaphysical.

  327. 327
    kairosfocus says:

    ES: One should know whether one is in a position to proclaim so momentous a knowledge claim in one’s own right. Open-minded agnosticism is defendable, as a way of saying, I have doubts and questions. But the assertion or implication that one has warrant to deny the existence of God or to imply that, is beyond what you have a right to. Where, remember, part of the matter in play is, the reflection of our finding ourselves under obligation of ought . . . e.g. that we have rights and ought to be treated fairly in that light (cf. how we so often quarrel). Such puts some pretty serious matters on the table. KF

  328. 328
    StephenB says:

    SB: How, then, would you answer my last question? You visit the planet Mars and notice a large machine.

    E. Seigner

    That it’s a machine is already a projection. Nothing is inherently a machine. It may resemble things that you have seen before that you are used to call “machine”. To assume the same of the new thing means to project on it what you know of other things from before. That’s the essence of comparison on analogies.

    So, you are saying that a machine is a machine only insofar as I project my cultural understanding onto it, and if I don’t make that projection, it isn’t a machine at all? Apparently, you don’t believe a thing can be what it is unless we give it a name.
    Still, I notice that you avoided my question yet again. You have observed the machine (or your projection or whatever you think is happening). Was it the product of design or could it be explained by nature’s operations.

    We both know that the paragraphs alternately in gibberish and in English typed by Barry earlier were all “designed” by him. Use FSCO/I to demonstrate that the paragraphs have different causes. Good luck.

    How is it that you always manage to change the subject and avoid the question? Do authors design their paragraphs or don’t they? Is that design inherent in the written paragraph or is it not?

    Aquinas’ Five Ways, Feser’s exposition and Torley’s critique of it, proofs of God in general. What are your comments?

    I think Feser’s account of Aquinas’ five ways is correct to this extent: A law requires a law-giver and a moving object requires a mover from the outside, which ultimately requires an unmoved mover. The best and only reasonable candidate for the lawgiver and unmoved mover is God. I don’t think there is any way to escape that logic.

    Feser is incorrect insofar as he believes that Thomistic philosophy cannot be reconciled with ID science. Aquinas’ metaphysical model leaves plenty of room for information technology and all of its implications.

    Interestingly, though, you and Feser are not even close to being on the same page. His realistic epistemology (Thomistic), which is correct, holds that we can know a thing for what it is. He would never agree with your Kantian notion that we cannot recognize a machine for what it is or that we must project our past experiences on it in order to know its essence. Feser would passionately disagree with your bizarre notion of “projection.” which is really just another form of irrational nominalism. If you were to tell Feser that we cannot apprehend a dog as a dog and a cat is a cat or a machine as a machine without the aid of cultural or philosophical projection, he would be appalled.

  329. 329
    StephenB says:

    kairosfocus,

    Excellent comments @322. Also, you write,

    Yes, there may indeed be strong proofs that with high certainty point to the reality of God, on pain that reversing them to reject conclusions to deny premises and challenge background details lands the objector in big trouble with logic, epistemology, worldview adequacy and rationality. But if they are not readily accessible, that is a problem.

    I agree on both counts. The traditional cosmological arguments do, in my judgment, hold up (even without science as a backup), but few there are who have the opportunity to study them formally. Those who do will likely be subjected to an atheist/agnostic professor who will filter those arguments through his anti-theistic bias and discredit them without giving them a fair hearing.

    Eventually, we will have to return to these proofs in order to salvage the cultural intellect. Science alone cannot support a life of the mind. Meanwhile, though, ID’s empirical arguments are ideal for those who have been trained by the ruling class to hate philosophy and worship science.

    Feser’s error is in believing that ID cannot provide corroborative evidence to support his metaphysical arguments. Fortunately, ID does not make the reciprocal error by lampooning the traditional arguments. Philosophers and scientists should work together. We need a two-pronged approach to save the culture, if, indeed, it can be saved at this point.

  330. 330
    E.Seigner says:

    StephenB

    Feser would passionately disagree with your bizarre notion of “projection.” which is really just another form of irrational nominalism. If you were to tell Feser that we cannot apprehend a dog as a dog and a cat is a cat or a machine as a machine without the aid of cultural or philosophical projection, he would be appalled.

    Not sure if he would passionately disagree and be appalled. He emphasizes the importance of context in determining reality to quite a degree, same as me. Dr. Torley has taken issue with this point earlier, because it looks like ID theory wants to claim possibility of ascertaining communication without context (which is untenable of course).

    It’s the consideration of context that I call projection here. To call any thing anything requires context. We need something based on which to call a thing whatever we want to call it, i.e we need a vocabulary, a point of comparison, etc. and these are obviously not in the thing itself, but in us, and we project this framework of interpretation on the thing in order to give it a meaning or value-judgment. There are other points of disagreement I have with Feser (we have quite different metaphysics), but this is hardly one of those.

    The crucial importance of context is standard in linguistics. Context is the basis of determining similarities and differences. Context is the basis of determining if a particular string of shapes is a text at all, and if it is, then if it is a message. Someone may be quoting Shakespeare, but without context appropriate for Shakespeare it may not count as a meaningful message, whereas in a different context, for example to impress some teenage girl, it just might do the trick.

    Shapes of actual letters are widely varying (particularly evident in hand-writing), actual spoken sounds vary as widely. There are always misprints, misspoken words, etc. In dysgraphic cases it’s particularly evident how context ensures the delivery of the message.

    Context has its equivalent in information theory too. Shannon information is information vis-a-vis a probability distribution of its objects. Without the probability distribution, no information value can be determined for a given string of the objects. The probability distribution of the objects is the background context that enables to calculate the information value of a given string.

  331. 331
    Silver Asiatic says:

    Shannon information is information vis-a-vis a probability distribution of its objects … The probability distribution of the objects is the background context that enables to calculate the information value of a given string.

    And therefore it is not possible to calculate the probable information value of a given string, right?

  332. 332
    E.Seigner says:

    Silver Asiatic

    And therefore it is not possible to calculate the probable information value of a given string, right?

    The ordinary example is flipping a fair coin. The probability distribution for each side of the coin is p=1/2. The result of a single flip equals 1 bit of information based on the equation I(p)=log(1/p). Without the probability distribution, the information value cannot be calculated.

  333. 333
    StephenB says:

    E. Seigner

    Not sure if he would passionately disagree and be appalled. He emphasizes the importance of context in determining reality to quite a degree, same as me. Dr. Torley has taken issue with this point earlier, because it looks like ID theory wants to claim possibility of ascertaining communication without context (which is untenable of course).

    It is one thing to say, as Feser does, that one cannot make a design inference without considering the context, it is quite another thing to say, as you do, that one cannot apprehend a dog as a dog or a machine as a machine without making a cultural or philosophical projection. I assure you that Feser would not support that leap because I understand and agree with his Thomistic epistemology.

    Meanwhile, my questions persist:

    Would a machine on Mars that performs a function be a product of intelligent design or natural causes.

    Do authors design their paragraphs or don’t they? Is that design inherent in the written paragraph or is it not?

  334. 334
    E.Seigner says:

    StephenB

    It is one thing to say, as Feser does, that one cannot make a design inference without considering the context, it is quite another thing to say, as you do, that one cannot apprehend a dog as a dog or a machine as a machine without making a cultural or philosophical projection. I assure you that Feser would not support that leap because I understand and agree with his Thomistic epistemology.

    If you agree that context is everything, then there’s no leap there. Based on classical structuralist theory, discrete units of language are only something in distinction from each other and they are nothing in themselves. There cannot be a language with only one sound or a writing with only one letter. There have to be several units of language, i.e. what really must be there is distinctions. Similarly, if the world consisted only of dogs, then there would really be no dogs in the meaningful sense, because there’s nothing to distinguish them from. If you disagree with this, then you disagree that context is everything. This tenet is fundamental to philosophy of language, and I apply it to epistemology too without any problem.

    As to your questions, read #299 and #318. As I said then, all you do with the answers is to repeat the questions. Try something different.

  335. 335
    Upright BiPed says:

    ESeigner,

    It cannot even be measured.

    Do you know why?

  336. 336
    Mung says:

    kf:

    I again draw to your attention, this from Wiki on random document generation in its Infinite Monkeys Theorem article…

    Makes me wonder if those metaphorical monkeys ever read Shakespeare.

  337. 337
    StephenB says:

    E. Seigner

    If you agree that context is everything, then there’s no leap there.

    Contest is not “everything.” It is simply one of many factors that must often be taken into account.

    As to your questions, read #299 and #318. As I said then, all you do with the answers is to repeat the questions. Try something different.

    No, the questions are completely different as they are based on your previous feedback. Here they are again:

    Would a machine on Mars that performs an obvious function be a product of intelligent design or natural causes?

    Do authors design their paragraphs or don’t they? If so, is that design inherent in the written paragraph or is it not?

  338. 338
    StephenB says:

    Based on classical structuralist theory, discrete units of language are only something in distinction from each other and they are nothing in themselves. There cannot be a language with only one sound or a writing with only one letter. There have to be several units of language, i.e. what really must be there is distinctions.

    Why is that relevant to our discussion?

    blockquote>Similarly, if the world consisted only of dogs, then there would really be no dogs in the meaningful sense, because there’s nothing to distinguish them from.

    The fact of existence has nothing to do with linguistic distinctions. Nothing.

    If you disagree with this, then you disagree that context is everything.

    Context is not everything.

    This tenet is fundamental to philosophy of language, and I apply it to epistemology too without any problem.

    The problems are there and they are big. You just don’t recognize them.

  339. 339
    StephenB says:

    Similarly, if the world consisted only of dogs, then there would really be no dogs in the meaningful sense, because there’s nothing to distinguish them from.

    The fact of existence has nothing to do with linguistic distinctions. Nothing.

    If you disagree with this, then you disagree that context is everything.

    Context is not everything.

    This tenet is fundamental to philosophy of language, and I apply it to epistemology too without any problem.

    The problems are there and they are big. You just don’t recognize them.

  340. 340
    vjtorley says:

    Hi Mung,

    Thank you for your post. With regard to Feser’s recent post, “Q.E.D.?”, I don’t think it constitutes a refutation of my OP, as Feser nowhere mentions me by name; nor does he address any of my arguments against the cogency of his attempted demonstration of God’s existence. He also makes no attempt to critique the rival metaphysical position which I have defended in my OP. I will, however, make some comments on a few remarks that Feser makes in his post. He writes:

    To be sure, the Church has not officially endorsed any specific formulation of any particular argument for God’s existence. All the same, in her authoritative documents she has gone so far as to speak of God’s existence as something susceptible of “certainty,” “demonstration,” and “proof”; has commended “classical philosophy” specifically as providing the best means of showing how this is possible; and has held up Aquinas and the general approaches taken in his Five Ways as exemplary.

    I’m sorry, but I think Feser is overstating his case here. The Catholic Church has never officially stated that a “demonstration” of God’s existence is possible, let alone that such a demonstration already exists, or that Aquinas’ Five Ways constitute such a demonstration. (Statements by Pope Pius XII at a papal allocution in 1951, in which he spoke highly of Aquinas’ Five Ways, can hardly be considered official statements; and in any case, Pope Benedict XVI has stated that the Church has no official philosophy.) The Church does indeed speak of “proofs” of God’s existence, but it also refers to them as “converging and convincing arguments,” rather than demonstrations. And while the Church teaches that man’s reason can know with certainty that there is a God, it does not say whether this certainty is simply certainty beyond reasonable doubt, as I claim, or certainty in the sense that God’s existence can be shown to be “the only possible explanation even in principle” for the order in the world, as Feser claims.

    Here’s what Vatican I says:

    The same Holy mother Church holds and teaches that God, the source and end of all things, can be known with certainty from the consideration of created things, by the natural power of human reason…

    And here’s what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says (Section One, Chapter One):

    31 Created in God’s image and called to know and love him, the person who seeks God discovers certain ways of coming to know him. These are also called proofs for the existence of God, not in the sense of proofs in the natural sciences, but rather in the sense of “converging and convincing arguments”, which allow us to attain certainty about the truth. These “ways” of approaching God from creation have a twofold point of departure: the physical world, and the human person…

    36 “Our holy mother, the Church, holds and teaches that God, the first principle and last end of all things, can be known with certainty from the created world by the natural light of human reason.” Without this capacity, man would not be able to welcome God’s revelation. Man has this capacity because he is created “in the image of God”.

    Regarding demonstrations, Feser contends that while there are arguments which demonstrate the existence of God, they cannot be fully formalized, because they need to be understood in their metaphysical context:

    Presenting theistic arguments in this pseudo-geometrical formalized style can in fact inadvertently foster misunderstandings, which is why I tend to avoid that style. You can, of course, set out an argument like the Aristotelian argument from motion in a series of numbered steps, as I do in my ACPQ article “Existential Inertia and the Five Ways.” However, the argument contains a number of crucial technical terms – “actuality,” “potency,” “essentially ordered,” etc. – which are not explained in the argument thus stated…

    The trouble is that by presenting such semi-formalized arguments — “Here’s the proof in ten steps” — you risk encouraging the lazier sort of skeptic in his delusion that if such an argument is any good, it should be convincing, all by itself and completely removed from any larger context, to even the most hostile critic. Naturally, it will never be that, because it will not properly be understood unless the larger conceptual context is understood. But the lazy skeptic will not bother himself with that larger context.
    … (That is why a reader of a book like my Aquinas has to slog his way through over 50 pages of general metaphysics before he gets to the Five Ways. There are no shortcuts, and I do not want to abet the lazy or dishonest skeptic in pretending otherwise.)

    Two comments are in order here. First, even if Feser is right in saying that the arguments for God’s existence cannot be fully formalized, they can still be set out in syllogistic form, and the logic of the syllogism itself can be critiqued. In my OP, I examined the arguments that Feser put forward in his 2011 paper, “Existential Inertia and the Five Ways,” and found them logically deficient – especially the First and Fifth Ways. Put simply, they fail to establish what they set out to establish. Feser needs to remedy that. He can’t just say, “The answer lies in the background metaphysics.”

    (Having said that, I would fully agree with StephenB’s comment above that a law requires a law-giver. But that is a different argument from the one Feser presents in his book Aquinas.)

    Second, I don’t buy Feser’s excuse for long-windedness. Jerry Coyne, in his book Why Evolution is True, was able to summarize not one but several arguments for Darwinian evolution in a little over 150 pages, in lucid prose that anyone could understand. In my OP, I was able to summarize the background metaphysics underlying Feser’s argument in far less than the 50 pages that Feser required in his book, Aquinas. If I were to provide a more detailed account, I would require perhaps three or four pages for Aquinas’ First Way, two pages each for Aquinas Second and Third Ways, and three pages each for the Fourth and Fifth Ways. That’s a little over a dozen pages: roughly a quarter of the 50 pages that Feser devotes to the background metaphysics in Aquinas. In fact, I have often thought of setting up a Web page for each of the Five Ways, with hyperlinks to explain the key metaphysical terms and answer common misunderstandings of the arguments. I might add that for years, Feser has been saying that people need to do more reading before they are qualified to critique his version of the Five Ways. First it was his book, The Last Superstition (2008). Then we were told that a more academic presentation of the Five Ways could be found in his 2009 book, Aquinas. Then we were told that a formal presentation of each of the Five Ways as arguments could be found in his 2011 article, “Existential Inertia and the Five Ways.” And more recently, we are told that Scholastic Metaphysics (2014) is indispensable if one wants to understand the metaphysics underlying the Five Ways. Well, I have all these, and I’ve been reading books about the Five Ways, and it is my considered opinion that Feser has come nowhere close to demonstrating the existence of the God of classical theism. As I’ve argued above, too much in his argument hinges on premises which are contentious even among Scholastic philosophers – premises, I might add, which he has no hope of getting atheists to accept. In chapter 1 of his Scholastic Metaphysics, Feser states that metaphysical claims can be epistemically justified by the fact that they are presupposed by science: if these claims were not true, scientific knowledge would be impossible. Feser has failed to demonstrate that the scientific enterprise would grind to a halt if there were no such thing as prime matter, or if the distinction between essence and existence proved to be merely logical rather than real.

    Finally, I should point out that if Feser’s version of the First Way is correct, then God knows our choices by determining them – which means that we have no libertarian freedom. Consequently, if you believe in libertarian freedom, you must believe that Feser’s version of the First Way is wrong. I have argued above that what the First Way actually proves is the existence of a Self-Actualizing Actualizer, rather than an Unactualized Actualizer.

  341. 341
    E.Seigner says:

    StephenB

    Context is not everything.
    […]
    The problems are there and they are big. You just don’t recognize them.

    The only problems you have pointed out thus far is your disbelief and assumption that Feser might disagree with me. However, in this blog post Feser has a section I. Context is everything, perfectly in line with philosophy of language. Based on this tenet Feser rejects what ID theorists would like to see as the most certain “detection of intelligent design” – signature in the cell. It has nothing to do with skepticism. It has everything to do with the way we determine meanings, quite normally. The same way as a scribble on paper “Kilroy was here” doesn’t necessarily mean that Kilroy in fact was here, English text “Made by Yahweh” in cells is also open to interpretation based on context. Dr. Torley has dedicated blog posts here to viciously bash this approach, so here ID theorists disagree with Feser, but I don’t.

    Philosophy of language most directly applies to interpretation of meanings, but it’s applicable to determining all notions. We are not recognizing a dog simply due to its dogness in Aristotelian terms, but due to the fact that dogness is distinct from catness, ratness, etc. We are telling the dog apart from everything else and that’s how we are able to determine it’s a dog. Now tell me what are the big problems with this approach.

    VJT

    I think Feser is overstating his case here. The Catholic Church has never officially stated that a “demonstration” of God’s existence is possible, let alone that such a demonstration already exists, or that Aquinas’ Five Ways constitute such a demonstration. […]The Church does indeed speak of “proofs” of God’s existence, but it also refers to them as “converging and convincing arguments,” rather than demonstrations.

    The Catechism, as quoted by you, says: “…the person who seeks God discovers certain ways of coming to know him. These are also called proofs for the existence of God, not in the sense of proofs in the natural sciences, but rather in the sense of “converging and convincing arguments”, which allow us to attain certainty about the truth.”

    This quote explicitly rejects scientific proof of natural sciences, which necessarily must include the arguments promoted in ID theory, for example signature in the cell. The kind of proof that we are left with must be philosophical and internal. I’m not even a Catholic, but this is perfectly in line with how I understand God’s nature. Immaterial is empirically undetectable by definition and both believers and non-believers must live with this fact.

  342. 342
    Andre says:

    E.Seigner

    Again, ID is not God detection, it is design detection, does the positive detection of design have philosophical implications? Yes but that is after the fact not before it!

    I’ve given you a practical example in posts further up you even agreed with me on some points, there is no known natural mechanism that can account for these designs, and hoping in vain for it to perhaps finally be revealed one day is folly! Natural processes are incapable of creating specified complexity, to think it does is a misnomer because how do these processes specify? It’s like giving a rock the ability to select where it wants to fall….. It isn’t going to happen, not in the past not in the present and not in the future.

    The inference is clear, only intelligence is capable of doing this, I told you before we can distinguish intelligence because it can both encode and decode. I accept this as a universal trait. You can stand on your head an whistle whatever tune you like but confusing yourself that ID is God detection is just plainly false, that means SETI is God detection, forensics is God detection and Archaeology is God detection, your notion is absurd to say the least.

    Now here is the question for you? Do things have the appearance to have been designed for a purpose or do we see them as actually designed and with a purpose?

    I see them designed with a purpose, a heart pumps, veins carry our blood through the whole body, the anus excretes rubbish after the fuel from the food we eat is extracted, we have a processor, memory banks, response systems, survival systems, filtering systems the list is endless.

    Maybe I’m at an advantage on this because I’m an engineer and I build these type of systems for a living, of course the ones I build are inferior to the existing systems in biology.

    Who did it? We don’t know for sure but we know with absolute certainty that it was NOT by any natural processes because natural processes are incapable of finding solutions to engineering issues. You are welcome to protest but then the burden of proof that theses systems can invent themselves is on you. Evidence please?

  343. 343
    StephenB says:

    E. Seigner

    Philosophy of language most directly applies to interpretation of meanings, but it’s applicable to determining all notions. We are not recognizing a dog simply due to its dogness in Aristotelian terms, but due to the fact that dogness is distinct from catness, ratness, etc. We are telling the dog apart from everything else and that’s how we are able to determine it’s a dog. Now tell me what are the big problems with this approach.

    Your approach does not reflect reality. Linguistic distinctions have nothing to do with the fact of existence. Believing otherwise prompts you to confuse what we say about things with the things themselves. You do it all the time. You even denied that a machine is a machine.

    Second, your philosophy disempowers you to the point that you are unwilling to answer scrutinizing questions, such as:

    **Would a machine on Mars that performs an obvious function be a product of intelligent design or natural causes?

    **Do authors design their paragraphs or don’t they? If so, is that design inherent in the written paragraph or is it not?

  344. 344
    E.Seigner says:

    Andre

    Again, ID is not God detection, it is design detection, does the positive detection of design have philosophical implications? Yes but that is after the fact not before it!

    It certainly has implications before the fact, because we have to agree what “design” is and what it means before the fact.

    StephenB

    Your approach does not reflect reality. Linguistic distinctions have nothing to do with the fact of existence. Believing otherwise prompts you to confuse what we say about things with the things themselves. You do it all the time. You even denied that a machine is a machine.

    Machine is not a necessary fact of existence, but a linguistic and cultural notion that we have. Take away the notion, e.g. present your machine to some stone-age people, and you will see a totally different approach to the thing. Anthropologists know this very well. What you are essentially saying is that anthropology does not reflect reality, but this only illustrates how out of touch ID theory is with all other sciences.

  345. 345
    Andre says:

    E.Seigner

    “Design is a process of developing purposeful and innovative solutions that embody functionality.”

    Is this definition ok? What else do you need?

    Can we agree on this definition before we go search for any god?

  346. 346
    Joe says:

    E. Seigner- It is obvious that it is YOU who is out of touch with science. It is a safe bet that if we could show a modern machine to stone-age people that they would not infer that nature produced it.

  347. 347
    Andre says:

    Yes E Seigner

    Check this tribe out when they saw a machine for the first time…

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sLErPqqCC54

    Or how about this tribe’s reaction to technology? They know instinctively that its not natural

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vuXkT_mNJbo

  348. 348
    E.Seigner says:

    @Andre

    Nice videos. Notice how in the second video the tribesmen treat the white man upon encounter. Doesn’t it look like they take him to be non-natural? 🙂

    The point is that the distinction of natural versus else is not as universal as you think it is. It’s funny that even you and I (or ID theorists and Feser) cannot agree on it, but you think it’s so objective and indisputable that even stone-age tribes should have it your way.

    Besides, see how in the second video the tribesman covers the smartphone with a leaf, as if afraid that the mirror image could bite or have some psychic effect. This is the occult world view: Everything is spiritually alive and must be treated accordingly with caution.

    To me it looks like the more appropriate distinction to describe the behaviour of the tribe is novel versus familiar. It definitely does not match your distinction of natural versus designed. And I don’t agree with your definition of design either.

  349. 349
    StephenB says:

    SB: Your approach does not reflect reality. Linguistic distinctions have nothing to do with the fact of existence. Believing otherwise prompts you to confuse what we say about things with the things themselves. You do it all the time. You even denied that a machine is a machine.

    E. Seigner

    Machine is not a necessary fact of existence, but a linguistic and cultural notion that we have. Take away the notion, e.g. present your machine to some stone-age people, and you will see a totally different approach to the thing. Anthropologists know this very well. What you are essentially saying is that anthropology does not reflect reality, but this only illustrates how out of touch ID theory is with all other sciences.

    Unbelievable! Adios!

  350. 350
    kairosfocus says:

    F/N: Wiki on design, speaking against known ideological interest as usual:

    Design is the creation of a plan or convention for the construction of an object or a system (as in architectural blueprints, engineering drawings, business processes, circuit diagrams and sewing patterns).[1] Design has different connotations in different fields (see design disciplines below). In some cases the direct construction of an object (as in pottery, engineering, management, cowboy coding and graphic design) is also considered to be design.

    More formally design has been defined as follows.

    (noun) a specification of an object, manifested by an agent, intended to accomplish goals, in a particular environment, using a set of primitive components, satisfying a set of requirements, subject to constraints;
    (verb, transitive) to create a design, in an environment (where the designer operates)[2]

    Another definition for design is a roadmap or a strategic approach for someone to achieve a unique expectation. It defines the specifications, plans, parameters, costs, activities, processes and how and what to do within legal, political, social, environmental, safety and economic constraints in achieving that objective.[3]

    Here, a “specification” can be manifested as either a plan or a finished product, and “primitives” are the elements from which the design object is composed.

    In short if we have something in hand, we can reverse engineer it to see the specification based on the manifested specification in the object.

    What design is is not mysterious or suspect.

    KF

  351. 351
    E.Seigner says:

    @StephenB

    I did some re-reading of our exchanges from nearly a month ago. You asked me then too about Martian machines and got the answer. Unbelievable that you are never satisfied.

    @KF

    Also, what design is not is “a process of developing purposeful and innovative solutions that embody functionality”. Design as a process and things “caused by design”, that’s mysterious and suspect.

  352. 352
    StephenB says:

    E. Seigner:

    I did some re-reading of our exchanges from nearly a month ago. You asked me then too about Martian machines and got the answer. Unbelievable that you are never satisfied.

    You are not telling the truth. How convenient that you do not reproduce your alleged answer to show that I am wrong. It’s easier to just make false claims. I am never “satisfied” with people who do not tell the truth.

  353. 353
    Mung says:

    Upright Biped,

    It cannot even be measured because it is immaterial.

  354. 354
    Mung says:

    E.Seigner:

    The Catechism, as quoted by you, says: “…the person who seeks God discovers certain ways of coming to know him. These are also called proofs for the existence of God, not in the sense of proofs in the natural sciences, but rather in the sense of “converging and convincing arguments”, which allow us to attain certainty about the truth.

    Point to ES.

    Scientific “proofs” are only probabilistic and can be overturned.

    But ID never claimed to be anything other than a probabilistic and uncertain “proof” as if “designed” is incapable of refutation by further evidence.

    So -0.25 for failing to make the appropriate distinction.

    How does one score 3/4ths of a goal?

  355. 355
    Upright BiPed says:

    Mung, ES didn’t answer my question at #280 because his arguments against ID would fold up into the incoherent dumpster fire they really are. He is an anti-intellectual, and sadly, a coward.

  356. 356
    Mung says:

    UBP,

    Someone else has identified ES as a “her.” Don’t know if that’s correct. Perhaps someone should ask.

    But intellectual coward? Really? You ought to know how abhorrent I find such labeling. Or not.

    ES is here to discuss philosophy and/or religion.

    Perhaps if you could frame the physical evidence in an ontological/epistemological way. 😉

  357. 357
    Upright BiPed says:

    Mung,

    It was his/her poor logic coupled with his/her lack of knowledge that I wanted to address, but it turns out that this was his/her most jealously-defended territory, so…

  358. 358
    Mung says:

    heh. The intellectual defense of ignorance.

    i like it.

  359. 359
    the bystander says:

    I have come to understand that ID is deductive reasoning – since complex processes cannot evolve unguided, there has to be an intelligent agent. What or how this agent intervenes is not known.
    My question is ‘Why is there no attempt to identify the agent?’. Why leave it to imagination and belief of a person?

  360. 360
    Mung says:

    the bs:

    I have come to understand that ID is deductive reasoning – since complex processes cannot evolve unguided, there has to be an intelligent agent.

    Is that supposed to be an example of deductive reasoning?

  361. 361
    Upright BiPed says:

    bystander,

    Why is there no attempt to identify the agent?’

    There is nothing in the physical evidence to identify the agent.

    Also, there is no necessary edict within ID that complex processes cannot evolve in some way, but what endows a process with the physical capacity for Darwinian evolution could not have evolved itself into being. To organize a living cell capable of Darwinian evolution requires a system of symbols and a translation apparatus to impart specification to those symbols while maintaining the physical discontinuity between arrangement of the symbols and their post-translation effects. It also requires the construction details of this system to be simultaneously instantiated in the very information that it makes possible. Without this, life would not exist.

  362. 362
    E.Seigner says:

    @Upright BiPed

    Didn’t I agree with your core proposition in #280 (namely that specification has no measure, because it can’t)? What more do you want? We agree with the core claim, even though from different perspectives, so we’ve done with this question really. Disagreements lie elsewhere.

    Supposing that specification has no measure and can’t have it, yet it’s a necessary aspect of FSCO/I, then it makes no sense to talk about measuring FSCO/I. It makes no sense because specification, a key aspect of FSCO/I, is not measurable. The same way it makes no sense to talk about detecting design, because when there’s no measuring going on, then self-evidently there’s also no detection going on.

  363. 363
    vjtorley says:

    E. Seigner writes:

    The Catechism, as quoted by you [VJT], says: “…the person who seeks God discovers certain ways of coming to know him. These are also called proofs for the existence of God, not in the sense of proofs in the natural sciences, but rather in the sense of ‘converging and convincing arguments’, which allow us to attain certainty about the truth.”

    This quote explicitly rejects scientific proof of natural sciences, which necessarily must include the arguments promoted in ID theory, for example signature in the cell. The kind of proof that we are left with must be philosophical and internal. I’m not even a Catholic, but this is perfectly in line with how I understand God’s nature. Immaterial is empirically undetectable by definition and both believers and non-believers must live with this fact.

    1. For the umpteenth time, ID does not claim to be able to prove the existence of the God of classical theism, with His attributes of simplicity and infinity. Even the fine-tuning argument does not tell us whether the Designer of the cosmos is complex or simple.

    2. The fine-tuning argument can, however, tell us that the cosmos was designed by an intelligent being. The astronomer Fred Hoyle, who was an atheist, recognized this point when he wrote:

    Would you not say to yourself, “Some super-calculating intellect must have designed the properties of the carbon atom, otherwise the chance of my finding such an atom through the blind forces of nature would be utterly minuscule. A common sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a superintellect has monkeyed with physics, as well as with chemistry and biology, and that there are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature. The numbers one calculates from the facts seem to me so overwhelming as to put this conclusion almost beyond question.” (Engineering and Science, November, 1981. pp. 8–12)

    If one proceeds directly and straightforwardly in this matter, without being deflected by a fear of incurring the wrath of scientific opinion, one arrives at the conclusion that biomaterials with their amazing measure or order must be the outcome of intelligent design. ( Hoyle, Fred, Evolution from Space, Omni Lecture, Royal Institution, London, 12 January 1982; Evolution from Space (1982) pp. 27–28 ISBN 0-89490-083-8; Evolution from Space: A Theory of Cosmic Creationism (1984) ISBN 0-671-49263-2)

    3. You write that “Immaterial is empirically undetectable by definition.” That’s only true if you imagine detection as picking up a physical signal. The signal that ID uses functional, specified complex information. And if there are features of the cosmos as a whole that identify it as designed, then it is rational to infer that the cosmos as a whole was designed. And since matter is by definition that which is constrained by the laws of Nature which define the cosmos, it follows that anything outside the cosmos must be immaterial. (By the cosmos, I mean not just the observable universe but also the multiverse, if there is one: Dr. Robin Collins’ excellent essay, “The Teleological Argument” explains why a multiverse would have to be fine-tuned itself, in order to generate even one universe like ours.) So once can legitimately infer on scientific grounds that the Designer of the cosmos is immaterial, even if one cannot know whether this Designer is simple and/or infinite.

    4. For my own part, I think that arguments for the existence of the God of classical theism are non-probabilistic; they are inferences to the most reasonable explanation for the fact that we live in a law-governed, contingent, fine-tuned and mathematically elegant cosmos, inhabited by intelligent beings who are capable of asking the big questions. That ought to be good enough for us.

  364. 364
    vjtorley says:

    Hi Mung,

    You ask:

    Setting aside for now beings such as angels, and dealing strictly with the material world, has Aquinas, Feser, or any other philosopher shown to your satisfaction that material beings are/must be composed?

    At the very least, ontologically speaking, they are composed of act and potency.

    In God without Parts, Chapter 2 is “Simplicity and the Models of Composition.” Dolezal lists six models of act-potency composition, all of which (compositions) are denied of God:

    * Bodily Parts
    * Matter and Form
    * Supposit and Nature
    * Genus and Species
    * Substance and Accident
    * Essence and Existence

    As I argued in my OP, I don’t think it can be shown that material objects must be composed of act and potency, as regards their substance. Indeed, if every potency is grounded in something actual (as I argued) then it would be impossible for the substantial form of a material object to be underlain by pure pasive potency, as Feser claims. There may however be multiple levels of actuality in a thing – i.e. multiple substantial forms, as many Scholastic philosophers argued. I might add that few Scholastics agreed with Aquinas’ view that prime matter is purely passive.

    Now let’s look at the six forms of composition which Dolezal contends an Uncaused Being cannot possess:

    * Bodily Parts

    I agree that a being with bodily parts could not be uncaused. However, that fact alone doesn’t show that its ultimate constituents could not be uncaused.

    * Matter and Form

    See my remarks above. This is only relevant if one believes in prime matter (pure passive potency).

    * Supposit and Nature

    If there are some material objects that are “one-of-a-kind,” then this distinction would not apply to them. Quantum fields might be entities of this sort.

    * Genus and Species

    The fact that a thing belongs in a genus does not show that it is composite. Consider a one-dimensional point on a line, a two-dimensional point on a plane and a three-dimensional point in our space. All of these belong in the genus “points,” but by definition none of them have parts (being points).

    * Substance and Accident

    I have argued above that a being with its non-essential accidents is no more of a whole than the being without those accidents. Consequently, there is no need to ask what “binds” a substance to its non-essential accidents. I have also argued that even God, Whose substance is utterly simple, must have non-essential accidents relating to His properties as Creator.

    * Essence and Existence

    See my remarks above. Only if there is a real distinction between the two can one speak of parts here.

    In a nutshell: the attempt to infer God’s properties from the fact that He is simple in His substance will not take us very far. Conceivably, even a material substance might be simple. A surer route to uncovering God’s attributes, in my opinion, lies in arguing from the fact that material beings are constrained in their manner of operating by certain rules (which we call laws of Nature), to the conclusion that there must be an Intelligent Cosmic Rulemaker Whose essence is not constrained by such rules.

    I might add that although I reject the notion of a real essence-existence distinction, I do think it is reasonable to ask why a thing whose nature can be fully grasped without knowing whether it actually exists or not, happens to exist. And the only satisfactory answer to that question is that there is a Being Whose nature is broad enough to define what it means for anything to exist. If Mind is the Ultimate Reality and if for a contingent being to exist means for it to be fully specified by this Mind (in terms of the rules that define its manner of acting), and to possess powers that enable it to interact with other beings and with its Creator, then we have the answer that we are looking for.

    You add:

    P.S. Harking back to something I wanted to follow up on from an earlier post, upon further reading, God should not be thought of as self-caused.

    I completely agree. God is self-explanatory but not self-caused. Causes, bu definition, are logically and ontologically prior to their effects, and God cannot be prior to Himself.

  365. 365
    kairosfocus says:

    F/N: How to measure FSCO/I, courtesy an observationally anchored recognition of relevant function, using a metric model that extends Shannon metrics and is closely related to common file size metrics, less a complexity threshold — as was drawn to ES’ attention long since but was conveniently ignored. (And, I point to Durston et al also and their H-metric extensions as one moves from null to ground to functional state . . . in short had Es a greater regard for truth in his or her remarks, the above confident manner declarations simply would not have been made.) KF

  366. 366
    E.Seigner says:

    VJT

    For the umpteenth time, ID does not claim to be able to prove the existence of the God of classical theism, with His attributes of simplicity and infinity.

    From your exchanges with Feser it’s impossible to avoid the impression that ID theory is, according to you, supposed to get us to some God, and that this God would not be contradictory with classical theism. Moreover, you insist that this is at least equal to, if not better than, philosophical proof, even though this point happens to go against the Catechism.

    Besides, God of classical theism doesn’t have simplicity as attribute. Simplicity means that there are no distinct attributes. Multiple attributes of God are seen in classical theism as the same kind of problem as multiple gods.

    VJT

    You write that “Immaterial is empirically undetectable by definition.” That’s only true if you imagine detection as picking up a physical signal. The signal that ID uses functional, specified complex information.

    Indeed, I imagined that ID theory should either hold to the common-sense meaning of detection or to the scientific meaning. Thanks for clarifying that it’s neither of those.

  367. 367
    Silver Asiatic says:

    Someone else has identified ES as a “her.” Don’t know if that’s correct. Perhaps someone should ask.

    Design detection tells me E.Seigner is a woman.

    E. Seigner, is your first name Elizabeth?

    We know another Elizabeth, E.L.

    I had a long reply here explaining that I was taught (in ancient times) – how a gentleman should respond to a woman. But it’s all socially-wrong to say such things and I’m learning post-modern etiquette so let’s just pretend I didn’t say that, and I deny it anyway. I didn’t say it. It’s an illusion. It’s not objective. It’s just marks on your digital screen. This is not the English language, it just accidentally looks like it. This post wasn’t by me. What is “me”? What is “what”? What is “by”? This reply was accidentally generated by UD via a random occurrence. God designed everything so God designed this post. Blaming me for this is looking at an efficient cause while ignoring the Final Cause.

    … did I get away with it?

  368. 368
    E.Seigner says:

    Silver Asiatic

    Design detection tells me E.Seigner is a woman.

    E. Seigner, is your first name Elizabeth?

    Get practical. Figure it out with the help of FSCO/I.

    … did I get away with it?

    You need more practice http://www.elsewhere.org/pomo/

  369. 369
    Silver Asiatic says:

    I didn’t need any FSCO/I this time.

    I’ll work on my pomo – thanks.

  370. 370
    Mung says:

    Hi VJT,

    I want to clarify something. When we speak of a composite of matter and form, we are not saying that this being is composed of parts (a matter part and a form part). Composition does not preclude unity. Do we agree on that? So any introduction of “parts” needs to be properly placed in a context in which it’s actually appropriate.

    ———-

    You’ve described three different species of points. Whether they have parts is irrelevant to the Genus-Species distinction.

    ———-

    Earlier you agreed that there can be only one necessary being, but we haven’t really explored why this must be the case yet. Would this being be one in which the essence of this being and the existence of this being were identical?

    This is the position of Aquinas (and Feser). Do you disagree on this point? If so, can you explain why you disagree?

    IOW, if God’s existence really was distinct from God’s essence, could this being really be God, could this being really be a necessary being?

    ———-

    Now, to cut to the chase, since I know you still have internet issues…

    Since you accept that there can be only one necessary being, and

    If you accept that the existence and the essence of this being must be identical, else this being would not be a necessary being,

    Then, does it not follow that in a created being, a contingent being, that the essence-existence distinction must be a real distinction?

    Isn’t the reality of the existence-essence distinction the very basis upon which it is argued that some beings are contingent?

    IOW, if there is a being other than God who has it’s existence in reality the same as it’s essence, that being must be a necessary being. Since there can be only one necessary being, that being must be God.

  371. 371
    Mung says:

    Mung:

    I want to clarify something. When we speak of a composite of matter and form, we are not saying that this being is composed of parts (a matter part and a form part).

    I take that back.

    “Matter and form are said to be intrinsic to a thing because they are parts which constitute the thing.” (DPN 3.48-50)

    “They [i.e., matter and form] are said to be related to a compound as parts to a whole, or as what is simple to what is complex.” (DPN 4.42-43)

  372. 372
    vjtorley says:

    Hi Mung,

    Thank you for your post. You wrote:

    Earlier you agreed that there can be only one necessary being, but we haven’t really explored why this must be the case yet. Would this being be one in which the essence of this being and the existence of this being were identical?

    This is the position of Aquinas (and Feser). Do you disagree on this point? If so, can you explain why you disagree?

    IOW, if God’s existence really was distinct from God’s essence, could this being really be God, could this being really be a necessary being?

    Since you accept that there can be only one necessary being, and

    If you accept that the existence and the essence of this being must be identical, else this being would not be a necessary being,

    Then, does it not follow that in a created being, a contingent being, that the essence-existence distinction must be a real distinction?

    Isn’t the reality of the existence-essence distinction the very basis upon which it is argued that some beings are contingent?

    IOW, if there is a being other than God who has it’s existence in reality the same as it’s essence, that being must be a necessary being. Since there can be only one necessary being, that being must be God.

    As to why there can only be one necessary being, I would argue that firstly, there can only be one Being whose acts of understanding and willing are not constrained by any modus operandi or built-in rules – for if there were two such beings, they would be indistinguishable – and secondly, there can only be one Being whose activities not only define what it means for it to exist, but what it means for other beings to exist, as well.

    I don’t think we can argue that there can only be only one being for whom essence and existence are identical: as I indicated above, I believe that there are no good arguments for a real distinction between the two, although I’d agree that only in a necessary being are the two logically identical. (In contingent beings there is a logical distinction between the two.)

    As I indicated in my OP, there are many reasons for regarding created beings as contingent, not just one. The fact that they obey rules is sufficient in itself to show that their existence is dependent on a Cosmic Rulemaker. Also, the fact that they don’t explain their own existence makes it reasonable to posit a Transcendent Being Who can explain their existence. Fine-tuning and complexity are additional reasons.

    Finally, although I think it’s true to say that God is His Own existence, I don’t think it’s very helpful to say (as St. Augustine did) that God is Pure Existence. We can only say that once we have a concept of God (as an all-knowing, all-loving Being) which tells us what it means for Him to exist, and what it means for contingent beings to exist (namely, to conform to rules, devised by the Mind of God, which define the ways in which these beings interact with one another and their Creator). Then and only then can we say that since God is the Mind which generates the rules which characterize these beings, He is the Source of all existence, and can consequently be called Pure Existence.

    I hope that helps.

  373. 373
    the bystander says:

    Thanks for those who answered my questions. Of course I am not satisfied :-). I just wanted to know why even an attempt has not been made to identify an agent or why there is no plausible theory of how and when the agent intervenes in the various biological process, but I guess we have to wait for someone from ID community to take charge.

  374. 374
    Silver Asiatic says:

    I just wanted to know why even an attempt has not been made to identify an agent or why there is no plausible theory of how and when the agent intervenes in the various biological process, but I guess we have to wait for someone from ID community to take charge.

    ID is a scientific project. Science requires empirical observations. So, ID would have to observe agents or an agent in order to identify an agent. What ID observes in nature are the effects or outputs of an intelligent agent.

    It’s like if SETI discovered a coded radio signal in space. It would be evidence of intelligence, but nobody would be able to identify the agent transmitting the signal without discovering and observing the agent.

  375. 375
    Mung says:

    Hi VJT, and thank you for your continued interest.

    I also thank you for not beating me over the head with what I said about “parts” before I had a chance to do further reading and correct myself. 🙂

    So we agree that there can be only one necessary being, and much for the same reason, but not arrived at via the same reasoning.

    …if there were two such beings, they would be indistinguishable…

    There would be nothing to differentiate the two beings, and thus they would be he same being.

    I don’t think we can argue that there can only be only one being for whom essence and existence are identical: as I indicated above, I believe that there are no good arguments for a real distinction between the two, although I’d agree that only in a necessary being are the two logically identical. (In contingent beings there is a logical distinction between the two.)

    But I just did make such an argument in my post @ 370.

    A being for whom it’s essence and it’s existence are really identical would be indistinguishable from God.

    What you don’t seem to grasp, yet, is that asserting that the distinction is not a real one but only a logical one doesn’t resolve the issue. The distinction must be real, else the being is indistinguishable from God.

    I’d agree that only in a necessary being are the two logically identical.

    But not identical in reality? Please explain.

    thank you

  376. 376
    vjtorley says:

    Hi Mung,

    Sorry for my late reply. I’d just like to address the argument in #370 above, since you asked for my response. You wrote:

    Since you accept that there can be only one necessary being, and

    If you accept that the existence and the essence of this being must be identical, else this being would not be a necessary being,

    Then, does it not follow that in a created being, a contingent being, that the essence-existence distinction must be a real distinction?

    Isn’t the reality of the existence-essence distinction the very basis upon which it is argued that some beings are contingent?

    IOW, if there is a being other than God who has its existence in reality the same as its essence, that being must be a necessary being. Since there can be only one necessary being, that being must be God.

    I accept that the essence and existence of a necessary being must be identical. That means that identity of essence and existence is a necessary condition for qualifying as a Necessary Being. However, a necessary condition is not the same as a sufficient condition. Even if there were other beings whose essence and existence are identical, that would not make them necessary beings.

    You ask whether the reality of the existence-essence distinction is the very basis upon which it is argued that some beings are contingent. Certainly it is for Aquinas and for some other thinkers who were influenced by Avicenna’s interesting argument. I don’t happen to share their view.

    I would argue that a Necessary Being should be the sort of being whose activities not only define what it means for it to exist, but what it means for other beings to exist, as well. In other words, a Necessary Being has to be a Being whose essence solves what I call the “existence riddle” in general terms, for all beings (including itself). Since there can only be one universal solution, there can only be one Necessary Being.

    If the activities of thinking and willing define God’s existence, and if contingent beings exist by virtue of being fully specified (in relation to God and other beings) and being willed into existence by God, then God’s existence can be said to be a universal solution to the riddle of existence.

    Anyway, I think I’ll leave it there. Thank you for the interesting exchange.

  377. 377
    Mung says:

    VJT:

    I accept that the essence and existence of a necessary being must be identical.

    I don’t know what you mean when you make this affirmation.

    You can affirm that you accept that the essence and existence of a necessary being must be identical, but this says nothing about whether you think there is a real distinction between essence and existence.

    More importantly for this particular discussion, you fail to explain how in your view there can be a contingent being in which the essence and existence can be identical, but this contingent being is not a necessary being.

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