Intelligent Design

Refuting Coyne’s myth: Science progresses but theology doesn’t

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In a recent post over at Why Evolution Is True, Professor Jerry Coyne repeats the tired old canard that science progresses but theology doesn’t:

When lecturing on their incompatibility, I always mention that although science has progressed enormously in the past few hundred years, theology has not. That is, we know no more about the nature or existence of God than we did in, say, 800 C.E. Hell, theologians aren’t sure whether there’s one god or many gods (as Hindus believe), or a red-horned devil, not to mention more trivial issues like whether the wine and crackers at communion are wholly Jesus’s blood and body (“transubstantiation”) or only partly Jesus’s blood and body (“consubstantiation”). The only “progress” theology has made has been forced upon it by science, which made it abandon time-honored tenets of belief like Adam and Eve, Noah’s Flood, and the Exodus. Theology is like postmodern lit-crit: it wobbles from pole to pole but never arrives anywhere…

One need consider only this: if theology has arrived at “some truth concerning the world,” then that “truth” is flatly denied by adherents of other faiths. There is in fact no unanimity among religions about how many Gods there are, what God is like, what God’s commands are, whether there’s a hell or an after life of any sort, how you get saved, whether you’re reincarnated, and so on. There are, for example, more than 34,000 denominations of Christianity alone, and that doesn’t include all those other religions. And all of them differ not only in claims about the nature of God and how one is saved, but about things like divorce, sex, gay rights, and birth control…

There is, of course, no schism like this in science, which would be pretty much a straight line. There is no Hindu science, no Muslim science, no Catholic science — there’s just science, which does apprehend real truths (albeit, of course, provisional ones), and ones agreed on by scientists of all stripes, faiths, and ethnicities.

First, Coyne is making an apples-and-oranges comparison here. Certain rules of exclusion apply within the scientific community: to borrow one of Coyne’s examples, if you question the scientific truth that the chemical formula for benzene is C6H6, you will be treated as a crank or an ignoramus, and shunned by any self-respecting scientist. The term “theology,” by contrast, is used by Coyne to include religions of all stripes. No-one can get kicked out of Coyne’s “theology” – except by becoming an atheist! So it is hardly surprising that absurd and bizarre opinions continue to proliferate within the field of “theology,” as defined by Coyne.

Second, it would have been fairer of Coyne to compare the scientific enterprise with a religion that possesses (and sometimes wields) the power to excommunicate people whose views are deemed unacceptable – because that is, after all, what the scientific establishment does. Within any given religion, one usually finds that over time, teachings do progress. To see what I mean, try comparing what the Nicene Creed defined about God in 325 A.D. with what the Fourth Lateran Council decreed in 1215 A.D., or for that matter, what the Westminster Confession declared in 1647. Within Judaism, Moses Maimonides’ Thirteen Principles of Faith, which were drawn up in the 12th century, are now widely accepted by Jews today as a fundamental statement of Jewish belief. One thousand years ago, there was no such common statement.

Third, if one looks at the world’s major religious groups, one finds that the about two-thirds of the 85% of the world’s people belong to one of the three Abrahamic faiths: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Another 15% or so of the world’s religious adherents are Hindus, most of whom believe in one ultimate Divinity, Brahman. (Coyne’s claim that Hindus are polytheists is sheer nonsense.) So if one looks at the consensus view of the majority of the world’s religious adherents, once can discern major shifts in religious opinions over the course of time.

As an example of progress in theology, I’d like to list the following propositions, which are currently accepted by a solid majority of the world’s religious adherents, but which were accepted only by a tiny minority 2,000 years ago, and by almost nobody 3,000 years ago. I invite readers to add to the list as they see fit.

1. There is one God.

2. God does not have a body or bodily passions. God is a spirit.

3. God is omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent and omnipresent. That is, God can do anything within reason; God knows everything in the past, present and future; God is compassionate and all-merciful; and God’s power extends throughout the cosmos.

4. God is infinite.

5. God is immutable. God does not change.

6. God is not capricious.

7. God is the sole Creator and Sustainer of the universe. Everything in the cosmos is upheld by God’s command.

8. God is not a blind force, but a personal Deity. God has a personal relationship with each and every individual.

9. God is just. God rewards the good and punishes the wicked.

10. God is merciful. God is always ready to pardon a repentant sinner.

11. God is impartial. Distinctions of rank, race, sex, color or creed mean nothing to God. All individuals are equal in God’s sight.

12. God disapproves of the deliberate killing of innocent people.

13. God disapproves of infanticide.

14. God disapproves of killing girls.

15. God disapproves of euthanasia. In particular, God disapproves of killing the sick and elderly.

16. God disapproves of suicide.

17. God disapproves of ritual human sacrifices.

18. God disapproves of slavery.

19. God disapproves of domestic violence.

20. God disapproves of child abuse.

21. God disapproves of cruelty to animals.

22. God disapproves of compulsion in matters of religion.

23. God expects us to treat others as we would like them to treat us.

24. God expects us to bury our dead, instead of leaving their corpses lying in the street to be eaten by animals.

25. God expects us to not only be faithful to our spouses, but to love them as well.

26. God expects us to educate our children, both boys and girls.

27. God expects us to be honest and truthful in our dealings with friend and foe alike.

28. God expects us to be kind to strangers.

29. God expects us to help the poor, sick and needy.

30. God expects us to donate money to charity.

31. People who die in a state of friendship with God will enjoy happiness in Heaven with God for all eternity.

32. There will be a future resurrection of the dead and judgment will be pronounced on every human being.

33. God has at various times spoken to the human race through various prophets. God has communicated messages to these prophets, not only about God’s nature, but also about our duties to others.

=================================================

Most of the world’s religious people living today believe in the above propositions. The proportion of people who believed in these propositions 3,000, 2,000 or even 1,000 years ago was much smaller than it is now. I’d call that progress. Wouldn’t you?

And now, four questions for Professor Coyne.

First, can you name even ONE scientist who was instrumental in getting large numbers of people to accept any of the ethical propositions listed above?

Second, do scientists have an agreed position on things like “divorce, sex, gay rights, and birth control,” to quote from your own list?

Third, is there a scientific method for reaching agreement on ethical matters?

Fourth, are there any ethical facts? (If I understand Coyne correctly, his answer to the last question is negative.)

97 Replies to “Refuting Coyne’s myth: Science progresses but theology doesn’t

  1. 1
    vjtorley says:

    I welcome comment from readers, but unfortunately, I won’t be able to respond for a couple of days. My apologies.

  2. 2
    Alan Fox says:

    I’d like to list the following propositions, which are currently accepted by a solid majority of the world’s religious adherents, but which were accepted only by a tiny minority 2,000 years ago, and by almost nobody 3,000 years ago.

    This is a very bold assertion. How does one go about establishing what a majority of the world’s religious adherents thought 2 or 3 thousand years ago? Indeed, how does one establish who those people are today and what they are thinking? Is there some polling evidence you are referencing?

    I’d like to see some indication that your assertions are based in evidence rather than supposition before addressing them.

  3. 3
    Alan Fox says:

    I remind you and other commenters that you said “a solid majority of the world’s religious adherents”.

    The US is 300,000; the world’s 7 billion.

    Population clock

  4. 4
    JoeMorreale1187 says:

    There is definitely more believers than atheists like Coyne that’s for sure!
    And anyway what personal progress has he made to himself when:

    (1) atheism and materialism are self refuting

    (2) The fairy tale theory of goo to You by way of the zoo blind , unguided , purposeless NDE has not been proven and has been falsified and yet out of delusion , convenience or wilful ignorance he still chooses to believe in it!!

    So he is only mocking himself and hiding and finding false comforts and consolation in the fact that these myths are still disgracefully the official institutionalised dogmas and deluding and arrogantly believing himself that he is speaking from a position of superiority and authority .

  5. 5
    bornagain77 says:

    as to this comment:

    “The only “progress” theology has made has been forced upon it by science, which made it abandon time-honored tenets of belief like Adam and Eve, Noah’s Flood, and the Exodus.”

    Excuse me??? First, ‘science’ is not possible without Theological presuppositions in the first place:

    Presuppositional Apologetics – easy to use interactive website
    http://www.proofthatgodexists.org/index.php

    The Great Debate: Does God Exist? – Justin Holcomb – audio of the 1985 debate available on the site
    Excerpt: The transcendental proof for God’s existence is that without Him it is impossible to prove anything. The atheist worldview is irrational and cannot consistently provide the preconditions of intelligible experience, science, logic, or morality. The atheist worldview cannot allow for laws of logic, the uniformity of nature, the ability for the mind to understand the world, and moral absolutes. In that sense the atheist worldview cannot account for our debate tonight.,,,
    http://theresurgence.com/2012/.....-god-exist

    could Mr. Coyne please return those Theistic presuppositions since he finds no need for Theism?

    As well:

    The Non-Mythical Adam and Eve! – Refuting errors by Francis Collins and BioLogos – August 2011
    http://creation.com/historical-adam-biologos

    CMI has a excellent video of the preceding paper by Dr. Carter, that makes the technical aspects of the paper much easier to understand;

    The Non Mythical Adam and Eve (Dr Robert Carter) – video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8ftwf0owpzQ

    Adam, Eve and Noah vs Modern Genetics by Dr Robert W. Carter – 11 May 2010
    Excerpt: It comes as a surprise to most people to hear that there is abundant evidence that the entire human race came from two people just a few thousand years ago (Adam and Eve), that there was a serious population crash (bottleneck) in the recent past (at the time of the Flood), and that there was a single dispersal of people across the world after that (the Tower of Babel).1 It surprises them even more to learn that much of this evidence comes from evolutionary scientists.
    http://creation.com/noah-and-genetics

    More lines of evidence are presented here:

    Book Review; Who Was Adam?: A Creation Model Approach to the Origin of Man:
    Excerpt: The Bible claims that there was a genetic bottleneck at the Genesis flood. Whereas all females can trace their ancestry back to Eve (through the three wives of Noah’s sons), all males trace their Y-chromosomes through Noah (through his three sons). This predicted discrepancy for molecular dates of mitochondrial DNA and Y-chromosome data is actually seen in the scientific literature.
    http://www.godandscience.org/n.....05-09.html

    Does human genetic evidence support Noah’s flood? – Fazale Rana – video
    http://www.metacafe.com/watch/4116168

    As to Noah’s flood, well it might surprise Mr. Coyne to know there is now mounting evidence for global catastrophic flooding approx. 13,000 years before the present:

    Humanpast.net
    Excerpt: Worldwide, we know that the period of 14,000 to 13,000 years ago, which coincides with the peak of abundant monsoonal rains over India, was marked by violent oceanic flooding – in fact, the first of the three great episodes of global superfloods that dominated the meltdown of the Ice Age. The flooding was fed not merely by rain but by the cataclysmic synchronous collapse of large ice-masses on several different continents and by gigantic inundations of meltwater pouring down river systems into the oceans. (124)
    What happened, at around 13,000 years ago, was that the long period of uninterrupted warming that the world had just passed through (and that had greatly intensified, according to some studies, between 15,000 years ago and 13,000 years ago) was instantly brought to a halt – all at once, everywhere – by a global cold event known to palaeo climatologists as the ‘Younger Dryas’ or ‘Dryas III’. In many ways mysterious and unexplained, this was an almost unbelievably fast climatic reversion – from conditions that are calculated to have been warmer and wetter than today’s 13,000 years ago, to conditions that were colder and drier than those at the Last Glacial Maximum, not much more than a thousand years later. From that moment, around 12,800 years ago, it was as though an enchantment of ice had gripped the earth. In many areas that had been approaching terminal meltdown full glacial conditions were restored with breathtaking rapidity and all the gains that had been made since the LGM were simply stripped away…(124)
    A great, sudden extinction took place on the planet, perhaps as recently as 11,500 years ago (usually attributed to the end of that last ice age), in which hundreds of mammal and plant species disappeared from the face of the earth, driven into deep caverns and charred muck piles the world over. Modern science, with all its powers and prejudices, has been unable to adequately explain this event. (83)
    http://humanpast.net/environme.....ent11k.htm

  6. 6
    bornagain77 says:

    Further assorted notes on Catastrophic Global Flooding 13,000 years before present:

    Evidence for Catastrophic Mega-Floods approx. 13,000 years before present from around the world
    https://docs.google.com/document/d/1sXjqFo9osUO4pWfxsx3Brb565KvqfVIaP1vtDGa95tg/edit

    And the Exodus, contrary to what Mr. Coyne believes, is now confirmed with startling archeological evidence:

    Exodus Revealed – Startling Evidence For The Hebrew Exodus From Egypt – documentary video
    http://vimeo.com/39498729

    The Exodus Conspiracy – The Real Mount Sinai in Saudi Arabia – video
    http://vimeo.com/39597664

    The following video is also stunning with its archeological confirmation for authenticity of the Bible:

    The Physical Ashen Remains Of Sodom and Gomorrah – video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FwTVFk1HK3Y

  7. 7
    Joe says:

    Well evolutionism hasn’t made any progress. Does Jerry think that evolutionism isn’t science?

    And what does a materialist know of “real truths”- they live in denial.

  8. 8
    Axel says:

    High time you went to Confession, Gerald.

  9. 9
    buffalo says:

    Truth does not change. Revelation is truth. How many times does God have to speak it?

    Human reasoning of our observations is subject to revision. It can be reversed at a moments notice. Revelation cannot be pruned back but our understanding gets fuller.

  10. 10
    Axel says:

    Don’t wait until Trinity Sunday, Gerald. And take Sean with you. He’s been a bad boy, too.

    If you have to dragoon him by drugging him, so be it. A few slaps by a parish nun should bring him round and make him sit up. No need for hard, Tridentine slaps; just a few slaps hard enough to make him sit up and be a good Catholic boy. Well, we are over-represented in the prison population in the UK, but I expect that’s the missionary spirit involved, as well.

  11. 11
    Axel says:

    No, we do tend to be a wild lot. Both sexual persuasions. We’ll leave out the third fourth, fifth, etc, persuasions.

    But forget the drug business. You’d both already be high on ETIIN* And I wouldn’t mind betting Greg is your pusher!

    *Everything Turning Itself Into Nothing.

  12. 12
    Axel says:

    Someone must have spiked my cup of tea! That acronym should have been NTIIE: Nothing Turning Itself Into Everything!

  13. 13
    msnyder says:

    I´d like to add that theology helps science development!. If you want to go slow in science think as an evolutionist, think that 80% of human genoma es trash…

  14. 14
    Mung says:

    Coyne is so freaking ignorant. It’s pathetic really.

    I bet he’s never even heard the term “progressive revelation.”

    “But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come.”

    …J. P. Moreland … who has collaborated with the odious William Lane Craig …

    lolz

  15. 15
    Mung says:

    Oh, so now Alan wants evidence.

  16. 16
    Mung says:

    You have to love how the global flood now took place before the earth was created.

    Even Young Earth Creationism is evolving!

  17. 17
    JoeMorreale1187 says:

    At the end of the day the scientific evidence has not disproven the Adam and Eve pbut of scripture simple because it has not been proven that humans descended from chimp ancestors so Jerry Coyne’s odious arrogance is in vain.
    The Quran makes it clear that the great Flood was regional and not Global and therefore does not contradict the archeological evidence that has shown for eg that Egyptian dynasty or kingdom of the time was not interrupted which logically it would have had the flood been global.
    If one visits the Cairo museum they will find the Pharoe of Moses pbuh time that God promised his body would be preserved as a SIGN to mankind which shows that the story of Moses , the exodus and parting of the sea happened.

  18. 18
    msnyder says:

    …too many qualifying adjectives for a scientis forum}

  19. 19
    JDH says:

    The real score:
    1. Science progresses in actually giving answers to a few very easy questions. ( That extremely small set answerable by controlled repeatable experiments ).

    2. Theology answers the questions that science can’t even approach.

  20. 20
    Axel says:

    Precisely, JDH. But scientism is even below that, since its acolytes still cling to the brutish, metaphysical misapprehensions which mechanistic physics gave rise to in the minds of the atheistically-inclined; while, to earn their living, the latter today parasitically attach themselves to quantum mechanics, recently empirically proved to be the ultimate paradigm, which cannot be improved upon.

    As BA pointed out, the fact that it deals with particles proper to a reference-frame outside space-time, doesn’t phase them one bit. Well, when nothing can turn itself into everything, what could possibly surprise them.

    Oh. There is one thing: the quixotically unpredictable behaviour of Evomalution, the ultimate ‘garbage in – garbage out’ hypothesis. A never-ending pageant of Forrest Gump chocolate surprises, unfortunately found to have melted down and become slightly decayed.

  21. 21
    Barb says:

    I take issue with Coyne’s comment here: “The only “progress” theology has made has been forced upon it by science…”

    Has Coyne ever considered that the Bible makes mention of scientific facts? And that these facts were recorded hundreds, even thousands of years, before scientific progress caught up to what God had recorded in his Word?

    When the Bible was being written, many people believed that various gods inhabited the world and that those gods, not natural laws, controlled the sun, the moon, the weather, fertility, and so on. Those who believed in the one true God knew this: the true God revealed to them that he governs the universe by precise laws, or statutes. For example, more than 3,500 years ago, God asked his servant Job: “Have you come to know the statutes of the heavens?” (Job 38:33) In the seventh century B.C.E., the prophet Jeremiah wrote about “the statutes of heaven and earth.”—Jeremiah 33:25. So the universe is not governed by deities, but by rational laws.

    Consider also: the earth is suspended in space. “He is stretching out the north over the empty place, hanging the earth upon nothing.”—Job 26:7, stated about 1613 B.C.E.

    And: the earth is round. “There is One who is dwelling above the circle of the earth.”—Isaiah 40:22, written about 732 B.C.E.

    Furthermore, water moves in a cycle. “All the winter torrents are going forth to the sea . . . To the place where the winter torrents are going forth, there they are returning so as to go forth.”—Ecclesiastes 1:7, written before 1,000 B.C.E.

    Tell me, Professor Coyne, when did science note that the earth was round, or note the water cycle’s existence, or the physical laws of the heavens? Was it before the Bible was written? No? Then where exactly are you getting this (mis)information that science forces theology to progress, when the facts clearly show otherwise?

  22. 22
    Mung says:

    The Dutchman Hans Lippershey invented the telescope in 1608. He owed his “aha” moment, at least according to legend, to children playing with lenses in his shop, where he made spectacles. (The Wonder of the Universe)

    So, science apparently proceeds from childish activity.

    Out of the mouths of babes, Dr. Coyne.

  23. 23
    Mung says:

    I do not know what I may appear to the world, but to myself I seem to have been only like a little boy playing on the sea-shore, and diverting myself now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.

    – Isaac Newton

    Far be it from today’s “scientists” to know humility, eh Mr. Coyne?

  24. 24
    William J Murray says:

    There are few things on that list I agree with, but then i never claimed to be in the theistic majority.

    I don’t think “disapproval” or “punishment” are terms I’d apply to God, which would conflict with many things on that list.

  25. 25
    Mung says:

    I wonder if next Coyne will be complaining about the lack of progress in arithmetic.

    By the way, how does one measure the “progress” of either science or religion?

    Scientifically, I mean.

  26. 26
    bornagain77 says:

    As to the progress of science being antagonistic to Theism, I wonder which progress of science Coyne has been looking at?

    To dust my list off:

    1. Materialism predicted an eternal universe, Theism predicted a created universe. – Big Bang points to a creation event. –

    2. Materialism predicted time had an infinite past, Theism predicted time had a creation. – Time was created in the Big Bang. –

    3. Materialism predicted space has always existed, Theism predicted space had a creation (Psalm 89:12) – Space was created in the Big Bang. –

    4. Materialism predicted that material has always existed, Theism predicted ‘material’ (what is seen) was created from that which is unseen. – ‘Material’ was created in the Big Bang.

    5. Materialism predicted at the base of physical reality would be a solid indestructible material particle which rigidly obeyed the rules of time and space, Theism predicted the basis of this reality was created by a infinitely powerful and transcendent Being who is not limited by time and space – Quantum mechanics reveals a wave/particle duality for the basis of our reality which blatantly defies our concepts of time and space. –

    6. Materialism predicted that consciousness is a ’emergent property’ of material reality and thus has no particular special position within material reality. Theism predicted consciousness preceded material reality and therefore consciousness should have a ‘special’ position within material reality. Quantum Mechanics reveals that consciousness has a special, even central, position within material reality. –

    7. Materialism predicted the rate at which time passed was constant everywhere in the universe, Theism predicted God is eternal and is outside of time – Special Relativity has shown that time, as we understand it, is relative and comes to a complete stop at the speed of light. (Psalm 90:4 – 2 Timothy 1:9) –

    8. Materialism predicted the universe did not have life in mind and life was ultimately an accident of time and chance. Theism predicted this universe was purposely created by God with man in mind – Every transcendent universal constant scientists can measure is exquisitely fine-tuned for carbon-based life to exist in this universe. –

    9. Materialism predicted complex life in this universe should be fairly common. Theism predicted the earth is extremely unique in this universe – Statistical analysis of the hundreds of required parameters which enable complex life to be possible on earth gives strong indication the earth is extremely unique in this universe. –

    10. Materialism predicted much of the DNA code was junk. Theism predicted we are fearfully and wonderfully made – ENCODE research into the DNA has revealed a “biological jungle deeper, denser, and more difficult to penetrate than anyone imagined.”. –

    11. Materialism predicted a extremely beneficial and flexible mutation rate for DNA which was ultimately responsible for all the diversity and complexity of life we see on earth. Theism predicted only God created life on earth – The mutation rate to DNA is overwhelmingly detrimental. Detrimental to such a point that it is seriously questioned whether there are any truly beneficial mutations whatsoever. (M. Behe; JC Sanford) –

    12. Materialism predicted a very simple first life form which accidentally came from “a warm little pond”. Theism predicted God created life – The simplest life ever found on Earth is far more complex than any machine man has made through concerted effort. (Michael Denton PhD) –

    13. Materialism predicted it took a very long time for life to develop on earth. Theism predicted life to appear abruptly on earth after water appeared on earth (Genesis 1:10-11) – We find evidence for complex photo-synthetic life in the oldest sedimentary rocks ever found on earth –

    14. Materialism predicted the gradual unfolding of life to be self-evident in the fossil record. Theism predicted complex and diverse life to appear abruptly in the seas in God’s fifth day of creation. – The Cambrian Explosion shows a sudden appearance of many different and completely unique fossils within a very short “geologic resolution time” in the Cambrian seas. –

    15. Materialism predicted there should be numerous transitional fossils found in the fossil record, Theism predicted sudden appearance and rapid diversity within different kinds found in the fossil record – Fossils are consistently characterized by sudden appearance of a group/kind in the fossil record, then rapid diversity within the group/kind, and then long term stability and even deterioration of variety within the overall group/kind, and within the specific species of the kind, over long periods of time. Of the few dozen or so fossils claimed as transitional, not one is uncontested as a true example of transition between major animal forms out of millions of collected fossils. –

    16. Materialism predicted animal speciation should happen on a somewhat constant basis on earth. Theism predicted man was the last species created on earth – Man himself is the last generally accepted major fossil form to have suddenly appeared in the fossil record. –

    Since most of these are fairly recent findings which are due to the ‘progress of science’, I certainly see no conflict between the progress of science and Theism.

  27. 27
    NickMatzke_UD says:

    “one finds that the about two-thirds of the 85% of the world’s people belong to one of the three Abrahamic faiths: Judaism, Christianity and Islam”

    Eh?? “[A]bout two-thirds of the 85% of the world’s people”?

    The wikipedia article you link to says Christians + Muslims + Jews = ~54% of the world, I guess you’re saying 2/3 of the world’s religious people… Too bad the split is so deep between the Christians and Muslims….

  28. 28
    Joe says:

    Wow, that was a devastating critique by Matzke. Might as well just remove this topic from the blog.

    LoL!

  29. 29
    kairosfocus says:

    H’mm:

    the odious William Lane Craig

    Well poisoning . . . instead of facing the problem tha the leading New Atheist spokesman dares not get int eh same debate-ring with WLC.

    (And the rest of the cite is little better.)

    Telling.

    KF

  30. 30
    bornagain77 says:

    Of interest to the “odious William Lane Craig”

    Upcoming William Lane Craig debate this friday Feb 1

    Is Faith in God Reasonable? Debate: Alex Rosenburg vs. William Lane Craig – video

    You may sign up to watch the live debate for free here
    http://live.biola.edu/

    Overview of debate:

    What hath Jerusalem to do with Athens? Or what hath faith to do with reason? Drs. William Lane Craig and Alex Rosenberg will debate this all important and pervasive question concerning the reasonableness of faith in God. The nature of the question in this debate is no mere academic matter. The question of God is the most important question. One’s answer to it will impact nearly all other beliefs one holds from common notions of morality to politics and from our interest and investigation of our world to what we take to be our purpose(s) in life. Is “faith” foolish? By this, should it be understood to be blind? Or is it reasonable and, if so, by what measure and to whom is it foolishness?

    For many, Mark Twain is right on the mark when he said that “Faith is believing something you know ain’t true.” Yet the great thinkers of Judaism and Christianity like Philo, Moses Maimonides, Thomas Aquinas, and John Calvin considered faith to be an extraordinarily important virtue (moral and/or intellectual)! Indeed, it is not only the condition by which salvation is appropriated in these Abrahamic faith traditions (which are taken by insiders to actually be knowledge traditions), but it is the basis for movements from Mother Teresa’s compassion and our concern for the poor to Isaac Newton’s inspiration in science in light of God’s creation of the world and man being made in God’s image. Is faith in God reasonable? Ought we to have faith in God?

  31. 31
    kairosfocus says:

    F/N: I think the matter starts before we speak of faith in God. We need to work out the relationship between faith and reason with particular reference to the roots of our worldviews, e.g. here on. Actually, Craig and others speak of a key balance: a reasonable faith, in a context where all worldviews have clusters of first plausibles, i.e faith points, leading to comparative difficulties analysis. Then, we can compare major worldview alternatives and see whether generic theism and then any particular tradition makes sense. KF

  32. 32
    Mung says:

    Did you see how little the theory of gravity changed over the decades? What a worthless theory.

  33. 33
    Mung says:

    Matzke:

    Too bad the split is so deep between the Christians and Muslims.

    What are you supposed to do when someone claims your religious texts are a lie? Find a way to get along?

    Funny thing about Darwinism, it doesn’t matter if it’s true.

    That’s science for you!

  34. 34
  35. 35
    JoeMorreale1187 says:

    Matzke:

    Regardless of the differences between Muslims and Christians which are and can be best discussed on other sites elsewhere there is one massively important thing we do share in common and that is that are common foe and enemy from an intellectual point of view is the scourge and falsity of atheistic/materialistic ideologies , scientism and methodological naturalism .

    U might enjoy the differences between us to your convenience but the belief that we share in a transcendent Creator God of the Universe is vastly and infinitely superior to that .

  36. 36
    Kantian Naturalist says:

    For those interested in the history of the debate between anti-teleological materialism and purposive creationism: Lucretius’ On the Nature of Things is indispensable. (“Know thy enemy,” if you will.) I read this version but there are many others, including a translation free on-line from the Internet Classics Archive. There are also prose translations — but why would anyone want to read one of those?

  37. 37
    Mung says:

    Anti-teleological materialism is a contradiction in terms.

  38. 38
    Kantian Naturalist says:

    Anti-teleological materialism is a contradiction in terms.

    What? Why?

    And given that you clearly understand the family of views I was trying to indicate with that term, what would you have recommended I use instead?

  39. 39
    Mung says:

    Matter itself has specific properties and behaves in predictable ways, else nothing could be made from matter.

    That very aspect of matter makes it teleological.

    A materialism that denies teleology is incoherent, because teleology is required for materialism.

    🙂

  40. 40
    Kantian Naturalist says:

    Hmmm. I can see where you’re coming from, but that’s a much more generous construal of ‘teleology’ then what I’m comfortable with. That basically reads “teleological” as a synonym for “predictable,” and I’d want to make some further distinctions here.

    Consider a ball rolling down a slope. In one sense, that ball has a ‘goal’: the end of the slope at which it will come to a rest. But that goal need not figure in the explanation of why the ball has the velocity that it has. The laws of physics are both necessary and sufficient to explain the ball’s velocity.

    Whereas teleological explanations are explanations where the laws of physics are necessary but not sufficient, where instead the goal or end of the action plays an essential role in an intellectually satisfying explanation.

    In those terms, the view of the anti-teleologists, from Democritus through Epicurus to Spinoza and well beyond, is that teleological explanations are pseudo-explanations, and that they seem to provide intellectual satisfaction only because we are ignorant of the underlying efficient causation. (Spinoza is completely clear on this point, in Ethics I, Appendix; I’m reading his critique of teleology back into Epicurus and Democritus. It’s been too long since I’ve read Lucretius to know for sure that he would put the point as Spinoza does.)

    I just finished read A Revolution of the Mind by Jonathan Israel. In doing so, I was struck by — among other things — how the critics of Spinoza, Bayle, d’Hollbach, D’Alembert, Diderot, Priestly, and Paine would talk about how dangerous their materialism was: that it would unleash chaos, unchain the passions, destroy morality, etc. — all the same allegations that one sees leveled against “atheists”, “materialists,” “naturalists” nowadays. Very little changes under the sun.

  41. 41
    Timaeus says:

    Mung:

    “Matter itself has specific properties and behaves in predictable ways, else nothing could be made from matter.

    “That very aspect of matter makes it teleological.”

    If I understand your claim here, it seems to be the same as the claim I have seen elsewhere in the past several months on the internet, i.e., that any natural law or regular property is, by its very nature, teleological. So if a rock, under the influence of gravity, rolls down a mountainside and crushes a car, that is an example of final causation, not just of efficient causation.

    The first thing to be said about this use of “teleology” is that it is non-standard. No one in the history of ideas, to my knowledge, has used “teleological” in this way until very recently.

    As far as I can tell, this sudden change in usage in recent months comes from Edward Feser. It is unclear to me whether he himself endorses it, or whether it is an application of his ideas that he himself has not made (and might disagree with), but at least one person has acknowledged getting it from Feser.

    Now I’m not going to claim that I know as much about Aquinas, or even about Aristotle, as Ed Feser, but I do know that this understanding of “teleology” is not standard.

    Normally, teleology refers to the direction of actions by ends, purposes, or goals, rather than by mere pushes and pulls. Thus, teleology is expressive of “final cause” (from Latin finis, end, goal) as opposed to “efficient cause” (from Latin efficio, effect, get something done, move something someplace).

    As Kantian points out above, the standard anti-teleological account of the West is beautifully expressed in Lucretius, De Rerum Natura. Opposing accounts in the ancient world included those of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. The language of ends and purposes in natural action came into the West in a big way through Scholasticism, which was based on the new translations of Aristotle into Latin.

    Feser must know all of this, and he must know that Lucretius’s idea of what makes things move is quite different from Aristotle’s (and since Aquinas adopted Aristotle’s philosophy of nature, from Aquinas’s as well). To lump together two such different ideas — things move because of collisions of blind matter (efficient cause), and things move (or change) with a definite end in mind (final cause), is a major confusion.

    I suspect that Feser may have in mind the fact that “natural law” as conceived since the 17th century is different from the Lucretian notion of nature. And so it is. But that still does not make it teleological in the Classical sense of Aristotle or Plato. A crippled plane falls, not because it is “trying” to hit the ground, but because it is attracted to the ground by a universal law, a law which has nothing to do with the specific nature of either the ground or of crippled planes. It has to do with masses and distance. A wounded bird would also fall, and would fall (neglecting air friction) at the same rate as any other object of the same mass. And the wounded bird would just as soon hit the ocean as hit land; it is indifferent what sort of massy object awaits it at the other end. And if the falling object were positioned between Jupiter and earth, and fell to Jupiter rather than the earth, it would not be because the object “chose” or “had a natural inclination to” find Jupiter specifically rather than the earth specifically; it would always move toward the object with greater gravitational attraction, indifferent to *what* the object was. Placed halfway between Saturn and Mercury, it would fall to Saturn; but placed halfway between Saturn and Jupiter, it would fall to Jupiter. This proves that the falling object has no special affinity for Saturn, or the earth, or any other planet. It is not being guided by “ends” or “goals” in the normal sense of the word; it is being guided by a *rule*.

    Now, if Feser wants to say that rules are inherently “teleological”, well, he can use words any way that he wants to. But then the discussion becomes confusing, because historically people have used “teleology” to mean guidance toward specific ends — ends tied to the nature of the object in question (acorns tend to become oak trees), or determined by an outside intelligence, e.g., God or a human artificer. Such a broadening of the meaning of “teleological” would need justification — it would have to be shown that more is gained, intellectually, by including a wider set of phenomena under “teleology” than is lost by abandoning the precision and historical familiarity of the older meaning. Has Feser anywhere provided such a justification?

  42. 42
    nullasalus says:

    Timaeus,

    Has Feser anywhere provided such a justification?

    Feser develops his argument in TLS and Aquinas primarily, along with some blog posts (no links onhand, sorry.) His argument on that front primarily focuses on the Fifth Way and what he argues was meant by formal/final causes.

    A crippled plane falls, not because it is “trying” to hit the ground, but because it is attracted to the ground by a universal law, a law which has nothing to do with the specific nature of either the ground or of crippled planes.

    I think Feser would disagree on this front, and argue that it wasn’t the ‘specific nature of the plane’ per se, but of intrinsic powers of matter in such and such a situation.

    things move because of collisions of blind matter (efficient cause), and things move (or change) with a definite end in mind (final cause), is a major confusion.

    Again, I’m pretty sure Feser’s view of final causes (which he contends is Aquinas’ and others’ view) is not that of definite ends per se, but natural intrinsic regularities. He maintains that formal/final causes are at work even in the most banal operations of nature – rock rolling down a hill, etc – and thus teleology is present.

    I’m not doing his argument justice here, but I’m trying to explain where Feser is coming from on this topic. And one of his themes is that the Aristotilean/intrinsic powers/teleological talk is supposed to be stripped from the naturalist/materialist understanding of nature, but nevertheless keeps showing up and may well be rationally unavoidable.

    “Special affinities” or “definite ends” talk, I’m almost certain he’d reject as misunderstandings, or regarding teleology as extrinsic rather than intrinsic.

  43. 43
    nullasalus says:

    I will say that I’ve not seen Feser say that ‘anti-teleological materialism is a contradiction’. I have seen him argue that materialism tends to collapse either into unworkable/incoherent systems (eliminative materialism) or unknowingly slides right back into Aristotilean and anti-materialistic positions. (In TLS he makes some remarks about the attempt to make computationalism coherent only really working if you go right back to something akin to an A-T metaphysic without realizing it.)

  44. 44
    Mung says:

    Hi Timaeus. This is a question we’re not likely to settle here. 🙂

    Chapter 5: Teleology and Elements

    There is a dispute about which sciences Aristotle actually countenanced and provided teleological explanations for. A case in point is the elements – simple bodies like earth, air, water, and fire. Are they teleologically explicable?

    One might think that on an issue this fundamental there would be consensus. But although all are agreed that it is an issue with far-reaching implications, scholars are divided on the point.

    – Johnson, Monte Ransome. Aristotle on Teleology

    Don’t blame Feser for my views, he merely got me interested. I’m blazing my own trail here and hopefully not in a tinder-dry forest.

    But it seems inconceivable to me that Aristotle would abandon any of his four causes. Don’t they all operate together?

    cheers

  45. 45
    Mung says:

    “Form is that by which a particular thing actually exists.”

    – David S. Oderberg quoting Aquinas.

    Here’s one basic line of my thinking.

    Whatever it is that the materialist thinks exists, that which they call upon to cobble everything else together by sheer number of attempts and finding things that can be plugged together to make other things, has form, else it does not exist.

    Anything that has form has a formal cause.

    Anything that has a formal cause, has a final cause.

    Anything that has a final cause, is teleological.

    Is that impeccable, or what, lol.

  46. 46
    Ian Thompson says:

    Further to the discussion of Aristotle, Feser and teleology:

    I outlined some of the issues here in a blog post Final Causes: Needed, or Always Present?. An extract —

    The issue between Feser and the mechanists is whether the final causes are those of only the parts, or of a being as a whole. The two options are:

    1. Maybe the final causes are those that depend on the final causes of the microscopic parts. This is the mechanistic or reductionist explanation.

    2. Or maybe the organism’s final causes are more global or macroscopic aims, such as eating, growth, reproduction, or even mental desires for pleasure or satisfaction. These are the ‘organismic’ or ‘wholistic’ final causes.

    In contrast to Feser’s claim, we see that it is not the absence of final causes which leads to the reductionist account. Rather, it is the choice of specific final causes as the source of the observed behavior. Are the important final causes those related to the organism (and its desires) as a whole, or only those of its microscopic parts? The modern predilection is to choose the microscopic final causes. Hence the desire to read books about brain cells, neurons, and genes. It is the reason why the idea of a selfish gene has become popular.

    This choice (between microscopic and macroscopic final causes) is the important choice to be made when trying to understand living creatures. We do not automatically understand them better by trying to postulate the existence of final causes, because (in fact) final causes never really went away. The question is whether they are (in modern language) local or global.

  47. 47
    Mung says:

    It is central to real essentialism that historical origin and essence are separate notions. This is explained by means of the fourfold distinction of causes. We have already noted that essence has a material cause, in the sense that all material substances are compounds of form and matter. For substances that have a natural goal or purpose (paradigmatically, living things), there is also a final cause – that to which substances with teleology naturally tend. Substances have in addition, and as I have already explained at length, a formal cause – the substantial form that makes them what they are. But they also have an efficient cause – that by which they come into existence.

    – Oderberg, David S. Real Essentialism

    So a substance has a material, formal and efficient cause, but may or may not have a final cause? How so?

    What natural substance has no natural goal or purpose?

    What natural substance has no natural tendency?

  48. 48
    Mung says:

    Timaeus:

    … that any natural law or regular property is, by its very nature, teleological. So if a rock, under the influence of gravity, rolls down a mountainside and crushes a car, that is an example of final causation, not just of efficient causation.

    How is a rock rolling down a mountainside and crushing a car a natural law or a regular property of the rock?

    So, no. Briefly, and perhaps I can post more on this later, a rock rolling down a mountainside and crushing a car is not a substance.

  49. 49
    Timaeus says:

    Hi, null. Good to hear from you again.

    On a small point, you seem to have misread me. You wrote:

    “I think Feser would disagree on this front, and argue that it wasn’t the ‘specific nature of the plane’ per se, but of intrinsic powers of matter in such and such a situation.”

    If that’s what Feser would say, it wouldn’t be in disagreement with me — it was the exact point I was making: the specific nature of planes has nothing to do with why the damaged plane falls, or how fast it falls (in a vacuum); the cause is the plane’s *mass*. But in Aristotle the operation of the four causes are intimately connected with *the kind of thing that the object is*, not with some generic property common to all things, such as “mass.” So there is a problem with simply transferring notions such as final cause or teleology from the original Aristotelian context to a new context (17th-century physics) where many of the working assumptions are radically changed.

    My concern was that Mung was using an ancient/medieval vocabulary (teleology, final causes) in a context that wasn’t necessarily congenial to it. I was wondering how far “teleology” can be stretched in meaning before it becomes so different that it would be better to use a different word.

    Anyhow, you seem to be confirming that Feser uses “teleology” to cover any “natural intrinsic regularities.” In other words, he uses it more broadly than many historians of philosophy and historians of science would. That’s why I was asking: Does Feser simply *use* the term “teleology” in this extended sense, to cover any rule-bound behavior in nature, without justifying the usage? Or does he show awareness that some of his readers might be puzzled by his broader usage, and *explain* why (in his view) the extension is warranted?

  50. 50
    Mung says:

    “To put it in ontological terms: were there no for the sake of which, there would be no powers, potentials, or mechanisms.”

    – Monte Ransome Johnson

    Timaeus:

    Or does he show awareness that some of his readers might be puzzled by his broader usage, and *explain* why (in his view) the extension is warranted?

    I think he does, though when I first read it I hardly understood it, it was all so new to me.

    I’ve posted the relevant quote from Feser before, but it basically mirrors the above quote. The other causes make no sense in the absence of the final cause.

  51. 51
    Mung says:

    My concern was that Mung was using an ancient/medieval vocabulary (teleology, final causes) in a context that wasn’t necessarily congenial to it.

    That’s the idea!

    Though KN was the one who brought up Lucretius.

    😉

  52. 52
    Timaeus says:

    Mung:

    Your vocabulary in 47 and 48 above needs some explanation. The last word in 48, “substance,” makes no sense as a response to my analysis of the falling rock, and it’s unclear in 47 whether you are using the Aristotelian or modern meaning of “substance.”

    I don’t know how much Aristotle various people here have studied, so I apologize for redundancy if I state what they already know: for Aristotle the basic unit which undergoes change is the *ousia*, a word generally translated as “substance” but which could also be rendered by “entity.” The problem with the translation “substance” is that in modern usage “substance” means “material stuff” such as wax, salt, grease, wood, metal, etc. But anyone who has that meaning in mind won’t understand Aristotle.

    For Aristotle, a horse is a “substance.” Its “causes” (aitia) are material, formal, efficient, and final. The efficient cause would be the act of siring by the stallion father upon the mare mother; the formal and final causes would lie in the seed which gives the horse its form and “strives” to become a grown horse, and the material cause would be the matter out of which the horse’s body is made. But if a horse falls out of a plane, and plunges to the ground, nothing of its nature as “horse” is involved. How Aristotle would have calculated the speed of its fall, I have no idea, but the modern way of doing it abstracts from all “horseness” and considers only the mass. (The shape of the horse would be involved due to air friction, but in a vacuum the shape would be irrelevant, so ideally the “horseness” has no bearing on what happens. The particular material composition of the horse would also be irrelevant, though its mass would be relevant; but an ox might have the same mass, so again horse-nature is not involved.)

    The point is that modern physics abstracts from the concrete reality that Aristotle had in mind when he spoke of “causes” of “substances.” And “teleology” in most histories of ideas and histories of science etc. is connected with one in particular of Aristotle’s causes — the final cause. So when one uses a word that was originally associated with “final cause” and an analysis in terms of “substances” in a radically new context in which reality is seen as masses in motion, one is just inviting intellectual confusion. UNLESS one explains why the extension of meaning of “teleology” is warranted. I’m not accustomed to hearing scholars describe all events that occur via “natural laws” as “teleological,” and so I’ve raised the question whether this extension of meaning does more harm than good, i.e., makes things muddier rather than clearer.

    On the example of the rock rolling down the hill — no, crushing cars is not an intrinsic property of the rock — but it is a property of any mass set free to fall toward the surface of the planet. That is a regular tendency. Therefore, apparently, you and Feser would both call the downward motion of the rock “teleological.”

    And actually, I would agree in that particular case, because in the ancient cosmology, “down” was the natural place of “earth” — where rocks would naturally congregate. But for modern physics there is no natural tendency of “earth” different from the natural tendency of “air” and “fire” and “water” (the other three ancient elements) and there is no natural “down” direction, and rocks have no tendency to go “down” but only to be attracted to other masses — such as the earth. If Saturn suddenly materialized a foot above the freed rock, the rock would fall “up” to Saturn, not “down” to earth. So the whole teleological language of “natural place” and “down” has been abandoned by modern physics.

    The most you could say is that bodies are “naturally” drawn to each other. If you want to call that “teleology” — fine. But it’s a teleology radically transformed from that of the ancient Greeks, and that needs to be explained, in order to avoid confusion — *especially* when it comes from Feser, who is championing Aquinas, whose physics comes from Aristotle, and from Feser, the critic of *modern* thought (and certainly it was modern thought that abolished the physics of Aquinas and Aristotle). It appears that Feser is trying to “rescue” something of the Aristotelian notion of causality so that it still applies to modern physics — but it’s not clear that this can be done, just as it’s not clear that one can have a reverent Church service where the music is ragtime.

  53. 53
    Kantian Naturalist says:

    As I was taught to think about Aristotelian physics, the “four causes” aren’t distinct types of cause but different ways of thinking about cause.

    For example, if we want to know why a bronze sphere is as it is, we can talk about the shape of the sphere, or the material out of which it is shaped, or the process of shaping it, or the reason why it has the shape that it does. Each of those will have some importance, but it is the for-the-sake-of-which which yields the deepest insight into why this particular piece of material underwent the process of being shaped into the shape that it is.

    I don’t know if this is quite correct, but here’s one way of thinking about the difference between Epicureanism and Aristotelianism. In Epicurean physics, all causation involves “pushing” — one piece of matter pushing against another piece of matter. In Aristotelian physics, there are not only “pushings” but also “pullings”. (Actually, I’m not so sure there really are “pushings” in Aristotle’s physics!) But what is pulled is not the material (hule) alone but the form-plus-matter, the unified substance — that’s what’s pulled. The ‘actualization’ of ‘potentiality’ is basically something like a pulling of the morphe into concrete embodiment. Different kinds of things are pulled in different ways because of the specific differences in their forms, so Aristotelian physics doesn’t allow for a conception of homogeneous matter that everywhere obeys the exact same laws. And what does the pulling, ultimately, is the god, the unmoved mover. (Maybe “unpulled puller” would be more apt!)

    For whatever it’s worth, my understanding of Aristotle is primarily indebted to the outstanding translations of Physics and Metaphysics by Joe Sachs, and also Jonathan Lear’s nice book on Aristotle. I’ve read several books on the origins of modernity, but the two that made the deepest impact on me is Theology and the Scientific Imagination by Amos Funkenstein and Passage to Modernity by Louis Dupre.

  54. 54
    Mung says:

    Aristotle found teleology so evident in nature that he asked himself how his predecessors had been able to avoid seeing it there, or, still worse, had denied its presence. He explained their error on the grounds that they were deceived on the notions of matter and substance. The subsequent history of philosophy ought to confirm the correctness of his diagnosis, for insofar as the Aristotelian notion of substance as a unity of matter and form survived, the notion of teleology remained indisputable; but as early as the seventeenth century Bacon and Descartes deny the notion of substantial form (a form which constitutes a substance by its union with a given matter) and the notion of final cause becomes inconceivable.

    – Gilson, Etienne. From Aristotle to Darwin and Back Again

  55. 55
    nullasalus says:

    T,

    Good to hear from you as well.

    But in Aristotle the operation of the four causes are intimately connected with *the kind of thing that the object is*, not with some generic property common to all things, such as “mass.”

    Sure, but even with Aristotle (given my understanding) you don’t get intrinsic properties with artifacts like planes. Hence his comparison between a bed made of straw and a tree, and how the two are dissimilar. So even there, whatever the mechanical operations of the plane may be, the intrinsic properties are going to have more to do with the fundamental plane components. Extrinsic ones are another matter.

    Does Feser simply *use* the term “teleology” in this extended sense, to cover any rule-bound behavior in nature, without justifying the usage? Or does he show awareness that some of his readers might be puzzled by his broader usage, and *explain* why (in his view) the extension is warranted?

    He does get into that, yes. Of course, he also is going to call foul on popular historical readings of Aquinas and Aristotle, etc, if they’re coming from a modernist viewpoint. He explains why he rejects, say, “the fifth way as a proto-view of Paley” and “Aristotle as a functionalist” and so on.

    So – and of course I haven’t justified or even explained his view here – I think his reply would be that he’s not extending anything. He’s going back to the original concept of these words, that modern thinkers have typically, intentionally or not, warped.

    Also, I think Feser would reject ‘law talk’. It’s not that he says ‘Newton’s laws are all just formal/final causes!’ per se. I think he sees intrinsic natures as an alternative to that.

  56. 56
    Mung says:

    Although relatively little on this subject survives from Epicurus’s own pen, we are fortunate to find many of his arguments eloquently expounded in the Latin verses of his follower Lucretius. I shall shortly turn to a selection of them.

    The main target of attack is clearly the Timaeus

    ACK!

    Sedley, David. Creationism and Its Critics in Antiquity.

  57. 57
    Mung says:

    Timaeus,

    I should have provided more context to my comment in 48 but didn’t want to type it all out at the time. But rainfall isn’t a substance. Water is. My point was you were making a category error, as was KN with his ball and slope.

    RE: 47 I thought it would be more clear than it apparently is.

    I will say more abut substance later, but for the moment we need only note that typical substances are animals, plants, human beings, lumps of matter such as gold, wood, rock, as well as atomic and subatomic particles, molecules, drops of water, clouds of gas, and so on.
    – Oderberg, p. 66

    Are you aware of any atomic or subatomic particles that have no natural tendencies?

    Please visit my #45. See any error in logic?

  58. 58
    Mung says:

    nullasalus:

    He explains why he rejects, say, “the fifth way as a proto-view of Paley” and “Aristotle as a functionalist” and so on.

    What’s a functionalist?

    “Everything is defined with respect to its function: the function of each thing – what it is able to do – is what it truly is…” (Meteor iv 12, 390a 10-16)

  59. 59
    Timaeus says:

    Hi, Mung.

    Perhaps I need to state my main point more simply.

    I’ve spent about 35 years now studying the likes of Plato, Aristotle, Hobbes, Bacon, Descartes, etc. in the primary sources, and studying major secondary sources — commentaries on these thinkers and books by historians of philosophy/science/ideas such as Burtt, Oakley, Collingwood, etc. In all that time, I have not come across the notion that mere “obedience to natural laws” or “behavior in accord with natural properties” is in itself “teleological” behavior. I’m not making a point about the correctness or incorrectness of anyone’s philosophical analysis here. I’m making a point about *vocabulary*. Scholars don’t (or didn’t — if something has happened in the past few years, I may be behind the times) usually use “teleological” in that sense.

    Indeed, modern science is generally regarded as having purged teleology from its account of nature, denying that natural things pursue any “natural ends” or have any “final causes.”

    So if a chlorine atom strips an electron from a sodium atom, that would be, in normal modern parlance, “non-teleogical” causation; there is no “final cause” directing electrons of sodium atoms to join up with electrons of potassium atoms. There is a general tendency for metallic atoms to lose electrons, and a general tendency for halogens to acquire them, but those do not belong to “sodium-as-such” or “chlorine-as-such”; they are not properties of particular “substances” (to use Aristotle’s term temporarily) such as the sodium atom and the chlorine atom; they are properties belonging to electrons in the electronic configurations of atoms generally. Again, in modern science (I’m speaking of 17th C + science, and bracketing out quantum and relativity considerations for the sake of the point I’m making), the world of causation is describe as “matter” being directed by “laws,” rather than “substances” achieving “ends.”

    Now if you want to argue that the phenomena we describe in terms of “laws of nature” are, in a deep way, “end-driven” and thus are, in a sense “teleological,” and therefore different only in kind, not in essence, from the kind of teleological phenomena Aristotle and the ancients were talking about — go ahead. But be aware that even as you try to show the “sameness” of these two descriptions, others are going to object to you by pointing out the “differentness” of them. You are going to have to show that there is something corresponding to the ancient notion of “end” even in the modern analysis. You are going to have to provide some exposition.

    Still, if you really believe the oak-acorn and oxidation-reduction exhibit fundamentally the same reality of end-driven behavior, you have the right to make the case for a new usage, and to try to persuade others to adopt it, too. I just want to make sure that you know that many people will misunderstand you — notice that Kantian Naturalist had similar puzzlement about your use of the term, and there was no collusion in our replies — and that some of those who will misunderstand you are quite well-versed in the subject-matter. If you realize this, and are willing to engage in the effort to translate your language into that of most people, that’s fine. But simply to drop one-liners, or offer very brief suggestions, that materialism implies teleology, is not going to communicate what you mean very effectively to the people you presumably want to reach.

    If I were to use a “natural regularities imply teleology” line of argument, I would use one quite different from yours. I would not argue that obedience of particles and masses to laws, per se, implies teleology. I would argue that *the particular set of properties* of atoms and elementary particles, and *the particular set of laws and constants* seem set up to produce a particular end — intelligent, humanlike life. That is, not the presence of regularity *as such*, but the peculiar “contents” of the regularity that the universe in fact displays, would be my focus. See, e.g., the work of Michael Denton, *Nature’s Destiny*. And if this sounds too “Paleyite” and not “Thomistic” enough for Feser’s taste, well then, he can shoot me.

  60. 60
    nullasalus says:

    Mung,

    What’s a functionalist?

    A philosophy of mind position.

  61. 61
    William J Murray says:

    It seems to me that “natural law” (as it is used today) is just a way of whitewashing the obvious teleology found in nature. Why should objects have predictable patterns of behavior when the “matter” they are comprised of has no intrinsic form other than a field of quantum potential?

    Why should any clump of quantum potentials do anything at all, much less anything in a predictable pattern that can be used towards an end? It’s easy to divorce “natural law” from “teleology” if you don’t have to explain what the heck “natural law” is, or why it should exist at all.

  62. 62
    Kantian Naturalist says:

    In re: Timaeus @ 59, yes, that sounds about right to me as well — both about the general vocabulary and about how to re-conceptualize the argument for teleology in response to anti-teleological, mechanistic physics — in effect, “scale up” to the laws of physics as a whole.

    Slightly off-topic, last night I found this: “The Fine-Tuning of the Universe for Intelligent Life“. It’s a critique of Victor Stenger’s critique of the fine-tuning argument. Apparently Stenger doesn’t think there really is any fine-tuning. (I don’t know if this is really what Stenger claims. I haven’t read his book and don’t plan to.)

  63. 63
    Mung says:

    Timaeus,

    The way I understand what you have been saying is that my application of teleology to inanimate objects is illegitimate.

    Or perhaps you are saying that the application is not illegitimate but the way in which I am attempting to do so is illegitimate.

    Am I just not correctly grasping your point?

    Or is it just a matter of timing?

    In the past I might have been correct to raise this argument, but now, after the advent of modern science, I cannot argue in this manner.

    Or is it just a matter of communication?

    I cannot speak this way, because people will not understand me.

    re: Feser.

    I find this quote:
    “…there can be no satisfying explanation of almost anything that doesn’t make reference to final causes. (TLS 135)”

  64. 64
  65. 65
    Kantian Naturalist says:

    This is interesting:

    As to the suggestion that “there is no static ‘Form’, because life is constantly and mindlessly changing,” this sort of talk, though also very common, is just muddleheaded. If species A gives rise to species B, that does not entail that the form of an A somehow morphed into the form of a B — whatever that could mean — but rather that organisms that had the form of A gave rise to organisms with a different form. The form itself doesn’t change, any more than erasing a triangle from a blackboard changes the form of triangularity. What happens in that case is that the matter which had the form of a triangle now has the form of a pile of dust particles — not that the form of triangularity has itself changed, so that the geometry textbooks would have to be rewritten to make reference to dust particles instead!

    What I find intriguing here isn’t just that one could endorse this alongside everything in evolutionary theory, but also that one could endorse this without anything like theism. For the question between theism and naturalism could be phrased as, “given that there are substantial forms, where do they come from?”

    In Aristotelian metaphysics, of course, the forms have no origins; they are eternal. But there’s a coherent view somewhere around these parts, I think, that goes along with this much of the Aristotelian story but then veers off by developing an account of morphogenesis: the origins of form.

  66. 66
    Mung says:

    Teleology is not an ideology, a superstition, a fallacy, a faith, or a projection, but a fact. We observe that every visible thing in nature acts for an end (final causality) and according to its essence or distinctive nature (formal causality). Birds grow wings and fly; fish grow fins and swim. Even chemicals act for ends: water freezes at 32F. If there were no end-directed, end-determined action, things would act randomly. They do not. Therefore there is.

    Kreeft, Peter. Summa Philosophica

  67. 67
    Mung says:

    KN:

    What I find intriguing here isn’t just that one could endorse this alongside everything in evolutionary theory…

    I think it would make more sense than writing a book on the origin of species while denying that there is any such thing as a species. 🙂

    …but also that one could endorse this without anything like theism.

    One has to wonder whether Aristotelianism would be more acceptable if it were divorced from theism. While I obviously accept theism, that’s one idea I am trying to explore.

    By the way, your earlier comment about an unpulled puller has obvious parallels in Christianity. There are a number of Christian authors who write on this. God as a “puller.”

    But from Scripture alone we have the obvious:

    “Author and Finisher of our faith.”

    “Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End”

  68. 68
    Mung says:

    An efficient cause determines matter to be shaped into one form or another, but a final cause answers a different question: why the efficient cause produces this given effect rather than some other. We cannot confuse the two questions, or reduce either one to the other: (1) What caused this effect? and (2) Why did it produce this effect rather than some other one? Efficient causality supplies the power, but final causality focuses it.

    Kreeft, Peter. Summa Philosophica

  69. 69
    Mung says:

    The reason why eclipses are not explained according to the cause for the sake of which, is that they are not substances. There is nothing in the natural phenomenon of of an eclipse, however regular it might be (and it is far more regular than rainfall) that corresponds to a thing in a state of completion. The moon being screened by the earth is not a state of completion of the moon, the earth, or the sun. It was established in Chapter 3 that teleological explanations have to be made with reference to specific substances, and substances that do achieve such states of completion, and so can be identified as beneficiaries of the end. Since an eclipse is not a substance, it is not explained that way. Similarly, rainfall is not a substance. Water is a substance, and so it can be teleologically explained. But it would be bad science to explain the existence of water or the phenomenon of rainfall with reference to how it relates to animals or other beings. To Aristotle’s credit, he does not explain it that way. The teleological explanation of water discusses its properties and principles – what Aristotle calls the functions of water, principles intrinsic to water.

    – Johnson, Monte Ransome. Aristotle on Teleology

  70. 70
    Timaeus says:

    Mung:

    Re 63 and ff.:

    No, my point has nothing to do with animate versus inanimate objects *per se*. Some inanimate “substances” in Aristotle’s sense (certainly artificial objects) clearly have “final causes.”

    Part of the problem is that you are citing interpretations of Aristotle by very recent authors, such as Kreeft and Monte Ransome Johnson, the latter of whom I’ve never even heard of, and neither of whom are necessarily authoritative interpreters of Aristotle. I was raised in the “classical” understanding of Aristotle and I understand his remarks on teleology in that light. But the books and articles in which you find this classic interpretation will in most cases not be found on the internet, and you will have to go to a university library to read them, or buy them online. Any of the great Oxford, Cambridge, Chicago or Harvard scholars of old — David Ross or Cornford or McKeon etc. — should confirm my interpretation.

    I also think that there is a problem in that Aquinas, though certainly a very fine student and analyst of Aristotle (one of the best ever), had some interests — Biblical and Christian ones — that were alien to the purposes of Aristotle, and I am not convinced, as Feser and others are, that Aquinas has not to some extent distorted the original Aristotelian teaching in order to fit into his Christian Aristotelian view of things.

    That said, I will summarize: if you are determined to say that the existence of natural laws *at all* automatically implies teleology, then I can, for the purpose of following your argument, adjust temporarily to what you mean by “teleology.” But I don’t think that your wider usage of teleology is as intellectually *useful* as the narrower one which focuses on ends of particular substances. (Or, the fine-tuning argument for an anthropocentric universe, on the end or purpose of the fundamental laws and constants of nature.)

    Thus, Newton teaches us that a body, if not affected by an outside force, will continue in a straight line. For you, apparently, that proves that nature is teleological. I would not say so, because the body has no aim or end in its continuation in a straight line. It is not as if there is some target at the end of the straight line that it is trying to hit (think acorn and oak). Further, “body” is an abstraction common to a variety of “substances” in the Aristotelian sense; it is not a “substance” in the sense that a horse or a man is. So the attachment of causes to the notion of substance in Aristotle gets lost. None of the points you have made have addressed these defects of the wider definition.

    That’s all I have time for on this thread. But I forewarn you that, in conversing with others here, I intend to use “teleology” in the more restricted sense that I’ve indicated. I won’t quarrel with your more extended sense, now that I know what you mean, but I won’t enter into discussions that presume the validity of your extended sense. So readers here should be forewarned that you and I are using the term in different ways.

  71. 71
    Timaeus says:

    Mr. Murray (61):

    I think that certain questions need to be separated.

    The question: “Why are there natural laws at all?” is a good one, and on the basis of that question, one can proceed to various arguments for the existence of God. (Whether or not those arguments are successful is another matter, but that is not my point here.)

    The question: “Why do some natural objects show the particular forms of end-directness that they show?” is also a good question, and on the basis of that question, one can again proceed to various arguments for the existence of God. (And again, whether such arguments for the existence of God are valid is not what I’m addressing here.)

    However, the two questions are different questions, and I think that the term “teleology” is best applied to the second question, not the first.

    The disagreement we are having is that Mung (along with apparently Feser and others) thinks that the term “teleology” applies to the first question as well. I am contesting, as a point of *history* — the history of usage of the term — that it has generally *not* been applied in this way.

    One of the problems of modern debates on these subjects, I’ve found, is that people with only cursory training tend to pick up terms “by ear” (i.e., by “guessing from context” — a lazy strategy consecrated by post-1960s schoolteachers, but an abomination from a scholarly point of view) as they read books or internet columns etc., and rarely do a careful study of the origin and history of the terms before they start using them. They thus often repeat these words, using them in confident-sounding sentences, on the basis of a very imperfect understanding.

    Thus, words like “teleology” and “gnostic” and “dualism” and “deism” and “providence” and “random” get thrown around with many different meanings, and writers don’t specify which meaning they are employing (as if think the meaning they have guessed is universally accepted), and this produces intellectual confusion. It’s because I’ve constantly seen discussions bogged down by this problem that I’m trying to restore a little historical and philological discipline to the discussion here.

    If teleology is *defined* in a certain way, then *of course* the existence of any natural laws at all points to teleology. But if teleology is defined in another way, natural laws *alone* do not imply teleology. It would thus help if, before writers assert that the existence of natural laws imply teleology, that they *define the term “teleology”*.

    I doubt I can say anything more that is clear on this subject. But I would urge anyone who speaks about final causes, teleology, etc. to read the relevant passages in Aristotle’s *Physics* (preferably in a good scholarly edition with notes discussing the vocabulary), and also to read the standard academic histories of science, in which one will find, fairly regularly, the affirmation that one of the main changes between ancient and modern science (the latter of which certainly believed in natural laws!) was the abandonment of a teleological in favor of a non-teleological view of nature.

  72. 72
    Mung says:

    Timaeus:

    Part of the problem is that you are citing interpretations of Aristotle by very recent authors, such as Kreeft and Monte Ransome Johnson, the latter of whom I’ve never even heard of, and neither of whom are necessarily authoritative interpreters of Aristotle.

    I’m glad I could introduce you to someone new!

    If Aristotle studies are your cup of tea you really might want to check out Aristotle on Teleology.

    Review here.

    As should be clear by now, I wasn’t greatly moved by Johnson’s criticisms of anthropocentric and cosmic teleology. However, great stretches of this book are clear, persuasive, and well-documented. Johnson is, then, to be congratulated on having written a comprehensive and stimulating study on an important topic. Anybody interested in teleology will want to read and probe the arguments of this book.

    I hope you are encouraged that I don’t just uncritically accept what someone else has written and then parrot it without caring to attempt to understand it.

    This is all very new to me, but I am trying to do my homework. 🙂

  73. 73
    Kantian Naturalist says:

    But I would urge anyone who speaks about final causes, teleology, etc. to read the relevant passages in Aristotle’s *Physics* (preferably in a good scholarly edition with notes discussing the vocabulary)

    The edition I like to use is Aristotle’s Physics: A Guided Study. The translator, Joe Sachs, has a very specific axe to grind in his translations of Aristotle: he wants to get away from all the Latin terms that have crept into the discussion of Aristotle. This is both good and bad.

    It’s bad, because one won’t find in Sachs’ translations the ‘standard’ terms that we find in Aquinas or in modern Thomism, so it can be tricky to piece together the commonalities. (Aquinas, I believe, used Latin translations from Arabic translations. The detailed story of how Aristotle was discovered and interpreted is in Aristotle’s Children: How Christians, Muslims, and Jews Rediscovered Ancient Wisdom and Illuminated the Middle Ages, which I recommend very highly.)

    The advantages of Sachs’ translations, however, are considerable, because he is trying to present, in very accessible English, a version of Aristotle that isn’t refracted through Scholastic vocabulary, and that makes the very real (but subtle) differences between Aristotelianism and Thomism easier to grasp.

    As Timaeus correctly pointed out, Aquinas has concerns and commitments that aren’t Aristotelian. For example: as a Christian, Aquinas beliefs that God created the world ex nihilo. Aristotle has no such notion, since he argues (in the Physics) that the cosmos has no beginning in time. So Aquinas has to think through just what divine creativity really amounts to, and this brings him to focus much more on the idea of prima materia, ‘primary matter,’ which Aristotle doesn’t really have, matter which has no form to it at all.

    (Some scholars have suggested that the Scholastic doctrine of prima materia is an ancestor of Descartes’ notion of res extensa; that seems basically right to me. It has also been suggested that the Scholastic doctrine of substantial form — which also has no clear analogue in Aristotle, so far as I know — is the ancestor-concept of Descartes’ concept of the mind, res cogitans. So one can think of Cartesian metaphysics as basically saying that human beings are the only finite things that have forms, in the Scholastic sense. For more on this, see Between Two Worlds: A Reading of Descartes’s Meditations and Physiologia: Natural Philosophy in Late Aristotelian and Cartesian Thought.)

  74. 74
    Timaeus says:

    Mung, you wrote:

    “If Aristotle studies are your cup of tea you really might want to check out Aristotle on Teleology.”

    And if Aristotle studies are *your* cup of tea, you ought to check out the *classic* accounts of Aristotle’s thought, and not rely exclusively on the new-fangled ones. 🙂

    “This is all very new to me, but I am trying to do my homework.”

    Yet your argumentative “tone” — if I may put it that way — is not the tentative tone of someone who finds these things “all very new” but the tone of someone who believes himself to have come up with decisive and issue-settling arguments. Speaking as someone for whom this material is *not* “very new,” I can say that such overconfidence is intellectually dangerous.

    I would add that there is no replacement for knowing the primary sources (start with Aristotle’s Physics) very well; and it’s best to struggle through the primary sources, no matter how tough they are, for as long as one possibly can, before going to secondary sources, because they tend to “color” all one’s subsequent reading of the primary sources afterward.

    I get the strong impression that your discussion is based on (1) very modern secondary sources, and not at all on (2) classic secondary discussions and (3) the primary texts (beyond snippets quoted by your modern secondary sources). Am I right? Or have you actually spent a great deal of time reading significant amounts of Aristotle and Aquinas on your own? If so, I hope you will reference passages in the future, and give your own (not someone else’s) exposition of the passages, so I can see how you are interpreting the sources. That would greatly facilitate communication. But enough. Back to work for me.

  75. 75
    Mung says:

    Kantian Naturalist:

    The detailed story of how Aristotle was discovered and interpreted is in Aristotle’s Children: How Christians, Muslims, and Jews Rediscovered Ancient Wisdom and Illuminated the Middle Ages, which I recommend very highly.)

    I thought I had purchased that but it looks like maybe I hadn’t. Thanks for the reminder! (At least now it’s on Kindle.)

    …and that makes the very real (but subtle) differences between Aristotelianism and Thomism easier to grasp.

    Again thanks for the recommendation. That is one of the things I am trying to tease apart. What would ‘pure’ Aristotelianism look like. How was Aristotle changed by the Muslim and Scholastic scholars?

    Do you know of any books that treat of that second question specifically?

    By the way, I have quoted Johnson a couple time. He’s anti-id (after a manner of speaking). 😉

    Monte R. Johnson is an associate professor of Philosophy at the University of California, San Diego. He teaches and researches the works of classical Greek philosophers, especially Democritus and Aristotle, and their influence on subsequent philosophy and science. He is currently working with D. S. Hutchinson on a critical edition, translation and commentary on Aristotle’s lost dialogue, the Exhortation to Philosophy (Protrepticus).

    For easier reading than what you are suggesting!

    http://www.amazon.com/dp/0684838230

    http://www.amazon.com/dp/068481868X

    lol

  76. 76
    Timaeus says:

    Kantian:

    Thanks for all your able discussion and references in your last couple of posts. I’ll consult some of this material when I can. Must run.

  77. 77
    Timaeus says:

    Footnote re Mung to Kantian:

    “That is one of the things I am trying to tease apart. What would ‘pure’ Aristotelianism look like.”

    The obvious way of settling that question is to read Aristotle himself!

  78. 78
    Mung says:

    Timaeus,

    It seems that you have taken my comments the wrong way.

    If I’ve been offensive I apologize.

  79. 79
    Mung says:

    Timaeus:

    The obvious way of settling that question is to read Aristotle himself!

    In Greek or in Latin?

    As KN pointed out, it’s not easy to “read Aristotle himself.”

    My understanding is that when someone reads Aristotle they are not really reading Aristotle anyways, but his followers.

  80. 80
    Mung says:

    But perhaps I am confusing what he wrote with the order in which it ought to be presented.

  81. 81
    Mung says:

    So, KN:

    For those interested in the history of the debate between anti-teleological materialism and purposive creationism: Lucretius’ On the Nature of Things is indispensable.

    Are ‘anti-teleological materialism’ and ‘purposive creationism’ the only two options?

    Does Lucretius fall in the camp of anti-teleological materialism?

    Was his opponent purposive creationism?

    cheers

  82. 82
    Mung says:

    Timaeus,

    I have no intention of meekly folding in the face of your onslaught.

    While I am open to your analysis of how I say things, it’s no substitute for an analysis of what I say.

    1.) I used the word teleology without defining it.

    Big deal. So did KN.

    Say we define teleology as follows:

    the study of ends or purposes

    To which I would add *function.

    Anti-teleological materialism :

    1.a.) The subject of study is real but can’t be studied.

    1.b.) There is no subject of study except as imagination.

    1.c.) There is no subject of study.

    Where are you, Timaeus?

    * – is function the means by which we ascertain end or purpose?

  83. 83
    Kantian Naturalist says:

    Are ‘anti-teleological materialism’ and ‘purposive creationism’ the only two options?

    Does Lucretius fall in the camp of anti-teleological materialism?

    Was his opponent purposive creationism?

    Well, all this isn’t really my area, you know. Most of what I know is what I’ve picked up from Sedley and a few other sources here and there.

    But, I would say, “no,” “yes,” and “yes,” respectively.

  84. 84
    Timaeus says:

    Mung:

    @ 78:

    No, you haven’t been offensive, and you owe me no apology. I wasn’t complaining about your manners, merely about what seemed to me to be overconfidence in the lines of argument you were offering, and what seemed to me to be a reliance upon current opinions rather than the primary texts.

    @79:

    I’m not sure why you speak of reading Aristotle in Latin. He wrote in Greek, so Latin would be a translation. If one can’t read Greek, one might as well read a good English translation as a Latin one.

    As for the business about whether Aristotle actually wrote Aristotle, well, the only Aristotle we have, or ever will have, is the textual corpus that comes down to us as “Aristotle”: Categories, Nichomachean Ethics, Physics, Metaphysics, De Caelo, etc. There’s no hope of “getting behind” those texts to some allegedly different teaching of “the historical Aristotle.” So all we can do is interpret the texts we’ve got.

    As for the undoubted fact that Aristotle can be at times hard to understand — well, read him more slowly, then. Read with intensity for no more than an hour at a time. If you get only 4 pages per hour read, you’re doing fine. That’s better than reading a scholarly summary of Aristotle at 30 pages per hour, or a vulgar summary at 60 pages per hour. And there are books you can get to assist which don’t end up controlling your interpretation. Peters’s book on Greek philosophical terms, for instance. But the main point is that no one who has not read the actual text of Aristotle should ever pretend to know what Aristotle taught. And that’s true of Aquinas or of any author. Secondary sources should be consulted as aids to interpretation, not as the basis of one’s interpretation.

    Also, if you have a day job, you can probably take a Greek philosophy course in the evening, if you live reasonably near a large urban center that has a major college or university. It would be better to read Aristotle’s own writing under the tutelage of a scholar, than to read a book about Aristotle without actually reading Aristotle.

    @82:

    What onslaught? I said clearly that if you insisted on using “teleology” with a broader meaning, I would let it go, and simply not participate in discussions that presumed that meaning. I indicated that I would “live and let live,” with you using an extended meaning and myself using the conventional, more restricted meaning.

    Yes, teleology can mean “the study of” ends and purposes, but often it refers to just the existence of ends or purposes. For example, when we ask: “Is there teleology in nature?” that is a technically inaccurate, but still understandable, way of asking: “Are there ends or purposes in nature?”

    I don’t have a clue what your alternatives (1a, 1b, 1c) mean. But I can tell you that Lucretius does provide a classic example of “anti-teleological materialism.” In fact, I can’t think of any “materialisms” (in the Western setting, anyway) that aren’t “anti-teleological.” But of course “materialism” is one of those terms that is used differently by different people, so if we start on that, we may end up repeating the problem with “teleology,” and that’s not something I care to do. 🙂

    What I *would* suggest is that you read Lucretius’s *De Rerum Natura* (“On the Nature of Things”) — it is much easier to understand than Aristotle. After you have read it, you will see what I’ve been intending all along by “teleology” (and the denial of teleology).

  85. 85
    Mung says:

    KN,

    You recommended On the Nature of Things as “indispensable.”

    Why?

    I say that materialism denies things and natures.

    The alternative is that materialism affirms things and natures.

    A materialism that affirms things and natures is incoherent.

  86. 86
    Mung says:

    What I *would* suggest is that you read Lucretius’s *De Rerum Natura* (“On the Nature of Things”) — it is much easier to understand than Aristotle. After you have read it, you will see what I’ve been intending all along by “teleology” (and the denial of teleology).

    ok, you talked me into it, lol.

  87. 87
    Mung says:

    Timaeus,

    Why are you suggesting that I read Lucretius to understand your view of teleology? Shouldn’t I be reading Aristotle?

    I gather that your view of teleology is non Aristotelian?

    Does that mean that your view of teleology is likewise contrary to Aquinas’s interpretation of Aristotle?

    That would certainly explain your disagreement with Feser.

  88. 88
    Timaeus says:

    Mung:

    Lucretius gives *the* classic statement in the West of the *non-teleological view of nature* — a notion which you (and apparently Feser) think to be self-contradictory, since for you (and apparently for Feser), the very fact that nature exists means that there are ends or purposes in it.

    But if I were to tell you in 1903 that heavier than air flight was possible, and you denied it because some theoretical physicist named Feser had proved it to be impossible, and I took you to Kitty Hawk and showed you the flight of Orville Wright, it would be incumbent upon you to abandon your theory and renounce your master Feser. I am hoping that once you read Lucretius, you will understand that in fact a non-teleological understanding of nature is quite possible. Ask yourself, in his scheme, what the *telos* of any of the atoms is. But read the book first.

    But of course you should read Aristotle as well. Read the *Physics*. But it might be wise to read the *Categories* first.

    Actually, my view of teleology *is* partly Aristotelian. But I think that Feser misunderstands Aristotle’s view of natural ends. (Based on his blog posts — I haven’t read his books.) Also, I don’t think that Aristotle had the monopoly on teleological thinking — on some questions Paley (whose writing Feser appears to dismiss on the basis of a stereotype of Paley rather than what Paley actually wrote) is much clearer and more precise. And there are internal strains in Aristotle’s thought — some of which are well-discussed in Sedley’s book.

    I think Aquinas’s interpretation of Aristotle is probably better than Feser’s interpretation of Aquinas’s interpretation of Aristotle. 🙂

    I don’t actually disagree with Feser on everything. I think we would have virtually complete agreement on the errors of modern philosophy from Bacon onward; but I go further; I think that even Aquinas is still too modern. I think it was a big mistake to cast Christian theology in Aristotelian terms. Nobody could have done it as well as Aquinas; and Christian Aristotelianism is far from the worst theology imaginable; but at its best, it’s still (in the words of a wise man) a “darkening” of Christian truth. A Platonist I am, and a Platonist I shall remain. (Which does not exclude admiring and supporting much that is in Aristotle and Aquinas.)

  89. 89
    Mung says:

    …the very fact that nature exists means that there are ends or purposes in it.

    I would not put it that way. There are potentially many ways in which nature might exist according to which it would be utterly unintelligible. It could be totally random. Total chaos.

    So what is it that makes the universe non-chaotic? Why is it intelligible at all? What is it that allows for distinctions and abstractions?

  90. 90
    Mung says:

    I expect that my copy of On the Nature of Things will arrive tomorrow, but in the meantime:

    In Aristotle’s view of the world, everything that exists or comes to be “by nature” comes to be or changes, unless prevented, for a purpose and towards an end, and is present for the sake of that purpose or end. This goal-directedness is an internal tendency possessed by all natural things, which means that teleology operates among all of nature…

    – Leunissen, Mariska. Explanation and Teleology in Aristotle’s Science of Nature

    I hope you won’t be too disappointed to hear that Feser is not my master.

  91. 91
    Timaeus says:

    Hi, Mung.

    Re 90:

    Exactly! And it’s that understanding of nature that 17th-century science explicitly denied, as Lucretius had denied it 1800 years earlier.

    17th-century science, however, imagined an *externally-imposed* teleology, whereby “laws” forced “bodies” (or later “matter”) into orderly patterns. So it, like Aristotelianism-Thomism, was opposed to the “chance” understanding of the Epicureans.

    What Feser appears to want to do is to go back to the metaphysics of Aristotelianism-Thomism, i.e., to deny the metaphysical foundations of modern science. That’s a pretty tall order, since modern science *works* and A-T science mostly *didn’t*. Still, I’m sympathetic with reactionaries like Feser, and I like his idea — only I would like to go further back, past Thomism (still too modern) to pre-Scholastic Platonist metaphysics.

    Feser also has to explain how he intends to keep modern science (I assume he will keep using his computer and keep driving a car), while denying the understanding of nature that underlies it. Is he going to live in the 13th century in his metaphysics, and in the 21st century in his science? With his mind split right down the middle, with scientific truth in one compartment and metaphysical truth in the other, and no clear connection between them?

    This is one problem I have with one source that Feser admires — Gilson. Gilson was a great scholar, and I love much of his writing. But in his book on Darwin and Aristotle, Gilson seems to simply surrender the field of causal explanations for evolution entirely to modern science, with its restriction to efficient-cause explanations, while allowing teleological interpretation of evolution by keeping the interpretation of evolution in the field of philosophy of nature — i.e., Gilson compartmentalizes. This is the difficulty faced by all modern Thomists. They *must* compartmentalize, because the unity of thought achieved by A-T has now been shattered.

    You see, I don’t accept Feser’s fundamental premise, i.e., that the four causes are a purely metaphysical analysis that cannot touch modern science. I think that *for Aristotle* (and probably also for Aquinas, but I will restrict myself to Aristotle), the four causes were principles of *physics* as well as *metaphysics*. And I think the two can’t be disentangled in his thought. (His two books by those names don’t correspond to the modern distinction, by the way.) I think that if you deny final causation *in natural science*, you have already broken faith with Aristotle (and probably with Aquinas as well).

  92. 92
    nullasalus says:

    What Feser appears to want to do is to go back to the metaphysics of Aristotelianism-Thomism, i.e., to deny the metaphysical foundations of modern science.

    Feser would probably argue that people often confuse metaphysical claims for scientific claims, and that the ‘metaphysical foundations’ for modern science are anything but rapt, clear and unified. You can still see people trying to make sense of ‘laws of physics’, or whether to be realists or anti-realists with regards to science, or.. etc.

    Another way of putting it is, there seem to be multiple ways of getting to modern science – some are incoherent (Feser would argue naturalism is so), some are not (A-T).

    Feser also has to explain how he intends to keep modern science (I assume he will keep using his computer and keep driving a car), while denying the understanding of nature that underlies it.

    He does so. He even points at contemporary non-Thomists who, largely without the theological motivations, arrive at more or less the same conclusions as a broadly Aristotilean perspective would have. Not to mention argued modern habits of failing to exorcise teleological explanations despite claims to the contrary.

    I don’t even see why you’re throwing out the line about 13th century metaphysics, as if the date meant anything – especially in light of your thinking that simply doesn’t go back far enough. Nor is it the case that Feser argues metaphysics is frozen in time and can’t be updated or continually discussed, etc.

    This is the difficulty faced by all modern Thomists. They *must* compartmentalize, because the unity of thought achieved by A-T has now been shattered.

    Except they do not, and they have no need to. What they do is better called absorbing than compartmentalizing – they’ll recognize that a given portion of an explanation (say, a mechanical explanation) is typically fundamentally incomplete, and that a complete explanation is going to require reference to metaphysics. Also that ultimately, metaphysical references are unavoidable anyway.

    You see, I don’t accept Feser’s fundamental premise, i.e., that the four causes are a purely metaphysical analysis that cannot touch modern science.

    Actually, Feser’s premise is broader than that. My understanding is that he thinks metaphysical claims are largely prior to scientific claims – and as a result, talk of refuting a metaphysical claim through science is wrong-headed. That doesn’t just apply to his metaphysical view, but such views generally – you’re not going to find Descartes’ mental substance under a microscope, you’re not going to sit down in the lab one day and empirically show that all that exists is thought a la Berkeley, etc.

    I think that if you deny final causation *in natural science*, you have already broken faith with Aristotle (and probably with Aquinas as well).

    Feser doesn’t deny final causation in natural science. And if you think he does, all I can say is – I really think you should actually read The Last Superstition and/or Aquinas.

  93. 93
    Timaeus says:

    null:

    Thanks for chiming in.

    I have not read Feser’s books. That’s why I haven’t commented on them one way or the other. I have read scores of posts on his blog site. I base my notion of his views on his arguments there — while fully acknowledging that I might have to modify my views after reading his books.

    One of the reasons I haven’t got to Feser yet is that I feel I still have to read many of the primary sources in the tradition, and many of the key secondary sources. Right now, I’m doing a slow and careful read of Paley’s Natural Theology. A while back it was Aquinas’s study of Creation in the Summa Contra Gentiles. But these things take immense amounts of time, and the writings of modern professors get put on the back burner.

    I have to admit that another factor is the academic arrogance that Feser frequently projects on his blog site. I have disliked the somewhat supercilious way he has responded to a number of good critics, with Ph.D.s in philosophy quite as good as his own, including Vincent Torley and Jay Richards. He sometimes seems to forget that he is dealing with peers, not slow undergrads. And he’s not the only one. His pal Beckwith is similarly arrogant. There’s something overbearing about converts to Thomism, it seems. (“I once was blind, but now I see” — and now must convince everyone else that they are blind, too.)

    I’m also not too pleased with Feser’s non-neutrality in the culture war between ID and TE. Feser has consistently rejected ID arguments for a designer for their theological implications — allegedly they promote a “non-classical” kind of theism which in Feser’s view is not Christian. (Of course, Christian for Feser means Catholic, but let’s leave that issue aside.) OK, so let’s say, for the sake of argument, that Feser is right. Let’s say he is right to reject theories about origins if they imply ideas about God — that are heretical or in violation of classical theism. But when has Feser ever criticized the inadequate theology of the BioLogos or ASA TEs — which is generally *much* farther away from classical Christian thought than ID is? BioLogos flirts with Open Theism and all kinds of heretical ideas about providence and free will and randomness and nature’s creativity which Feser must loathe. But in his blog writing it gets a free pass. So why the partisanship? If he’s going to get involved in the debates over theology and science, why doesn’t he do so in a more even-handed way?

    (This criticism applies to Beckwith as well, who took shots at ID from the safety of the BioLogos website; yet if Beckwith really endorses Thomism, he must have more contempt for the theology of BioLogos than for that of ID. So what happened there? Did personal resentment and political considerations triumph over truth in Beckwith’s behavior at that moment? If so, he has never transcended that; two or three years later, he still hasn’t said boo to any of the heresies of BioLogos — it has been not the Thomists, but the Protestants like Jon Garvey who have done all the dirty work there.)

    All that said, I do think Feser is quite a clever fellow, and I do think many of his arguments are very good. I also am in great sympathy with his critique of modern philosophy, both in spirit and in many details. So I probably will get around eventually to reading what he has to say.

    Here is a remark for you: If Feser does not deny final causation in natural science, then he shouldn’t be so dead set against Paley. But he is. Oh, I understand his *theological* objection against Paley. He has said that Paley-like thinking about design yields the wrong kind of God, a God incompatible with classical theism. I think he’s wrong on that, but that is not the point I’m addressing. The point is that if it is legitimate to have final causes in natural science, then there should be no *scientific* objection to the *type* of argument that Paley employs to show design, or to the *type* of argument used by Behe and Dembski. So then Feser would be saying — what? That design arguments are OK in science, but not in metaphysics, because they lead to the wrong God? But that’s hash, if God is the creator of nature which natural science studies.

    Now if you tell me that Feser doesn’t explain all of this sufficiently on his blog site, and that I can’t really understand Feser until I’ve read his books, then fine; let’s put off this discussion until I have. I promise to give him a fair shake. But here I’ve been responding to people who are quoting Feser at me and demanding a response, and all I can give in the short term is a response based on his blog columns. If people want more than that from me, they will have to wait until I’ve read at least one of the books. And I can tell you right now that, given the back-up of other books and assignments, it won’t be for 6 months or so.

  94. 94
    nullasalus says:

    Timaeus,

    Always nice to speak with you.

    I have disliked the somewhat supercilious way he has responded to a number of good critics, with Ph.D.s in philosophy quite as good as his own, including Vincent Torley and Jay Richards. He sometimes seems to forget that he is dealing with peers, not slow undergrads.

    Arrogance doesn’t really seem to be in short supply in these conversations, for better or for worse. And one can be polite in tone while at the same time slighting someone in fact.

    I think Ed does tend towards the sarcastic side. But I also think he tends to be content to do his own thing, focusing on his portion of metaphysics and philosophy, without taking many shots at ID or otherwise, unless someone brings the subject up. Which is usually and ID proponent trying to hook Thomism to ID somehow.

    He also tends not to talk much about Christianity or even Catholicism compared to the time he spends on far more broad topics – natural law and such.

    (Of course, Christian for Feser means Catholic, but let’s leave that issue aside.)

    That’s really not fair. If you’ve followed his blogs, you’re going to see that he spends shockingly little time on Christianity or Catholicism, period, save for how it relates to natural law thought or teleology. Most of the time if he’s criticizing anyone, it’s materialists and New Atheists. Yes, he’s Catholic, and he’s had some posts about Catholic viewpoints, but largely in the terms I’ve mentioned.

    But when has Feser ever criticized the inadequate theology of the BioLogos or ASA TEs — which is generally *much* farther away from classical Christian thought than ID is?

    Insofar as BioLogos endorses a theistic personalist view of God, he’d be criticizing them indirectly. He seems not to bother criticizing them directly because they are, for most purposes, just irrelevant to his aims – metaphysics and philosophy, which BL tends not to get into in any deep way. The one time a storm was being kicked up about the reality of Adam and Eve, Feser weighed in with a view that was probably contrary to the most popular BL alternative.

    Really, how relevant is BL anyway? What do they do that’s noteworthy, other than now and then (unfairly) griping about YECs and ID?

    On the flipside, most times when Feser targets ID, it’s usually in response to himself being targeted, or at least pressured about why he’s not on the ID bandwagon. I’ve even seen Feser being described as a kind of quisling sucking up to the Darwinists, when really, what he has to say about science and nature is probably more threatening to Dawkins style Darwinists than the basic ID line in some ways, since it subverts the whole project.

    The point is that if it is legitimate to have final causes in natural science, then there should be no *scientific* objection to the *type* of argument that Paley employs to show design, or to the *type* of argument used by Behe and Dembski. So then Feser would be saying — what? That design arguments are OK in science, but not in metaphysics, because they lead to the wrong God?

    Why should he be saying much of anything? I recall Ed’s said that he thinks ID proponents have been treated unfairly, and that his opinion of them is not to endorse that treatment. But otherwise, it’s a whole other field than the one he’s concerned with, certainly as far as he thinks. He believes Paley’s arguments have to do with extrinsic, not intrinsic, teleology – something other than final causes. Let’s say he’s wrong. Okay, blind spot on his part. But if you’re aware of the blind spot, it should be easy to understand why he’s just not interested.

    And what could he do besides, say, write a couple lines expressing his sympathies, and leave it at that?

  95. 95
    Timaeus says:

    Thanks, nullasalus.

    Let me say that I’m not in favor of pressuring Feser into agreeing with ID. Nor do I think he is a traitor for not agreeing with ID. I have no problem with philosophical critics of ID — as I’ve shown with Kantian Naturalist here.

    To the extent that what you say is part of the story — that many ID folks pressure the Thomists to come onside, and berate them if they don’t — I agree with you. There is no reason why Feser should be bullied into accepting conclusions he doesn’t agree with as a philosopher.

    But the position of Feser (and Beckwith) is stronger than that. They have said that the kind of God that could be inferred from design inferences of the ID or Paley type is not the God of classical theism — and thus by implication not the Christian God. They have thus made a theological claim — and that’s where my problem with them lies.

    My wisecrack about Catholicism had to do with this. I wasn’t trying to take a shot at Feser for being Catholic. I admire Catholicism, and for that matter, I admire Thomas Aquinas (though “Thomism” as a fixed theological commitment I cannot endorse). Rather, I meant that his Thomistic and Catholic understanding of God is very naturally compatible with what he calls “classical theism” — it is largely from the Western Christian tradition that he draws his notion of classical theism in the first place. But I’ve noticed a good deal of what I would call the Hebraic or Biblical idea of God seems missing from the God of Feser (and Beckwith). Their “classical” God is one, pure act, infinite, eternal, etc. — all language that is very Greek and very philosophical. But it lacks Biblical “guts”; the way the God of the Thomists “acts” seems to be quite different, in some cases, from the way the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob acts. Put crudely and inaccurately, the God of the Bible is a “doer” in a sense which to “classical theism” must be regarded as crude pictorialization for the masses. Or put another way, the tidy, neat God of classical theism (nowhere tidier or neater than in Aquinas) needs, in my view, to be balanced with the terrible and the arbitrary God, captured in different ways by Rudolf Otto and voluntarist theologians such as Ockham and Scotus, if one is trying to capture the Biblical (as opposed to “classical”) idea of monotheism.

    And this is not unconnected with the question of univocity. While no one would suggest that God is *fully* understandable in human terms, if the God of the Bible is a “doer” in a very concrete sense, then there is no reason why his making should not be in crucial ways like our making, and no reason why his designs should not be detectable by human reason. Or put more crudely, if the God of Paley is not the God of the tidy theoretical construct called “classical theism” — so what? That does not matter to a Christian whose orientation is not toward philosophical theology, but toward the Biblical revelation of the God who acts in nature and history. And here I think that Feser and Beckwith overstep their bounds, when they move from *expositing* the Thomistic understanding of God (a perfectly reasonable thing to do) to using it as the measuring stick for other forms of theism, including some which — in my view — are a good deal more Biblical than Thomas’s view.

    Now this may all sound odd coming from a Platonist, but actually the love of Platonists for some aspects of Hebraic thought is quite old in the Christian tradition.

    Anyhow, I don’t really want to engage Feser in this indirect way. If I am going to invest time challenging Feser, I’ll do it directly, on his blog site, and after I’ve read his books. I see no point in engaging with him when I have only a superficial view of his thoughts and can talk only to people who admire him, and not to the man himself. But at the moment I have no desire to fight with Feser. There are greater dragons to slay. So I’ll drop this subject for now.

  96. 96
    StephenB says:

    Timaeus, as a Platonist, are you attracted to the work of St. Bonaventure?

  97. 97
    Timaeus says:

    StephenB:

    Unfortunately I know St. Bonaventura only through secondary sources. It seems to me that I recall some important connection of him with Platonism. The impressions I have of his thought are positive, but without reviewing it, I can’t say anything useful.

    Anyhow, Platonism survived throughout the Middle Ages, even after Aristotelianism became big. There are Platonic elements (probably derived more from neo-Platonism than from the tiny bits of Plato available to the Middle Ages) in Aquinas as well. But Platonism did not become dominant again until the Renaissance. It enjoyed favor throughout the Renaissance and into the 17th century. It combined in a creative way with Hebraism throughout that period. (Which doesn’t fit with the narrative of certain Protestant apologists of the last 100 years who would pit Platonism starkly against Biblical thought.) And of course the writings of the Inklings are saturated in Platonism. So it’s one of the great philosophical vehicles for Christian thought.

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