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In debating Jerry Coyne, Michael Egnor tries philosophy…

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That’s novel. Neurosurgeon Michael Egnor is a Thomas Aquinas. fan and Jerry Coyne is a Darwinian evolutionary biologist:

In my ongoing debate about God’s existence with biologist Jerry Coyne, who writes at Why Evolution Is True, frequent reference is made to Aquinas’ Five Ways, particularly to his Prime Mover argument. It is the most popular formal argument for the existence of God, and it is often misunderstood and, when understood, often misrepresented. Atheists, in my experience, never get it right. If they did, they wouldn’t be atheists.

The first three of Aquinas’ Five Ways share a similar logical structure, and are called the cosmological arguments. More precisely, these arguments probably ought to be called the cosmogonical arguments, because they are proofs based on origins of things. I’ll stick with habit and call them cosmological, but keep in mind that what ties them together is that they are proofs of God’s existence based on the beginnings in nature.

In this post I’ll lay out the logical structure, and in coming posts I hope to apply the structure to three kinds of beginnings in nature: the beginning of change, the beginning of causes, and the beginning of existence itself.

The cosmological arguments have two cornerstones: the law of non-contradiction, and the metaphysics of potency and act. Both principles are Aristotelian, developed in fullest form by St. Thomas Aquinas.:

Michael Egnor, “ Introducing Aquinas’ Five Ways” at Evolution News and Science Today

Most people today may not have learned in school that the Scholastics, including Aquinas, restored the importance of classical Greek and Roman learning in Europe, incorporating the thinking processes into philosophy, including natural philosophy (later, science) and theology. So, although Aquinas was a theologian and, in the Catholic tradition, a saint, much that he talks about is not especially “religious.”

But here’s Aquinas in “religious” mode, in case you wondered:

More by neurosurgeon Michael Egnor on how the mind differs from the brain:

Science points to an immaterial mind. If one did not start with a materialist bias, materialism would not be invoked as an explanation for a whole range of experiments in neuroscience.


Neuroscientist Michael Graziano should meet the p-zombie. To understand consciousness, we need to establish what it is not before we create any more new theories.

Further reading on the abstract nature of thought:

A simple triangle can disprove materialism. Conventional descriptions of material processes do not help much when we are trying to account for abstract thought.


Four researchers whose work sheds light on the reality of the mind: the significance of Wilder Penfield, Roger Sperry Benjamin Libet, and Adrian Owen. The brain can be cut in half, but the intellect and will cannot, says Michael Egnor. The intellect and will are metaphysically simple.

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2 Replies to “In debating Jerry Coyne, Michael Egnor tries philosophy…

  1. 1
    bornagain77 says:

    Of semi related note to quantum mechanics and logic. Since in quantum entanglement,,, ” If Alice measures her electron and finds it spinning up, she knows instantly that Bob’s is spinning down, even if he’s a galaxy away. ”

    More evidence to support quantum theory’s ‘spooky action at a distance’ – Adrian Cho – Aug. 28, 2015
    Excerpt: If Alice measures her electron and finds it spinning up, she knows instantly that Bob’s is spinning down, even if he’s a galaxy away.

    And thus since ‘spooky action at a distance’ quantum entanglement (and measurement) obviously employs the basic logical operation of a NOT gate

    Basic (Logic) Gates and Functions
    Excerpt: The NOT gate is an electronic circuit that produces an inverted version of the input at its output.

    then this logical “NOT” property of ‘spooky’ entanglement recently allowed researchers to ‘teleport’ a CNOT logic operation between separated ions. (Which was and is one of the crucial first steps in successfully building a quantum computer)

    Physicists ‘teleport’ logic operation between separated ions – MAY 30, 2019
    Excerpt: The NIST team teleported a quantum controlled-NOT (CNOT) logic operation, or logic gate, between two beryllium ion qubits located more than 340 micrometers (millionths of a meter) apart in separate zones of an ion trap, a distance that rules out any substantial direct interaction. A CNOT operation flips the second qubit from 0 to 1, or vice versa, only if the first qubit is 1; nothing happens if the first qubit is 0. In typical quantum fashion, both qubits can be in “superpositions” in which they have values of both 1 and 0 at the same time.,,,
    The NIST work also integrated into a single experiment, for the first time, several operations that will be essential for building large-scale quantum computers based on ions, including control of different types of ions, ion transport, and entangling operations on selected subsets of the system.

  2. 2
    bornagain77 says:

    I like the way Egnor clarifies potentiality and actuality in regards to Schrödinger’s Cat.

    Introducing Aquinas’ Five Ways – Michael Egnor – October 3, 2019
    Excerpt: Potentiality (or potency) is an intermediate state between non-being and being. It is the capacity to receive form — the capacity to become a defined existing thing. It is not the thing itself, however, it is only capacity. Potency is not actual.
    Actuality (or act) is the state of actually being in a defined way — full reality.
    The classic example of potency and act is a sculptor sculpting a statue. The marble is in potency to be a statue until the sculptor sculpts it, at which time it becomes actually a statue. The bare marble isn’t nothing, but it isn’t a statue yet either. It is something intermediate — it is potentially a statue.,,,
    And Now for Schrödinger’s Cat
    3) There is a common atheist objection to the Aristotelian principle of non-contradiction, using a famous paradox in quantum indeterminacy. The argument is that the principle of non-contradiction is disproven by the paradox of Schrödinger’s cat, in which a cat in a box with poison that can be released by a radioactive emission can be simultaneously alive and dead — in a suspended state between life and death — until the box is opened and it is observed. This would seem to be a situation in which A is not-A simultaneously. Before observation, the cat is both dead and alive. This, however, is a misunderstanding of the metaphysics. In fact the paradox of Schrödinger’s cat is better understood in an Aristotelian framework. There is obviously no materialist mechanistic framework in which it is comprehensible. In the Aristotelian framework,, the cat is in potency for life and death, not in actuality for either. It is only on observation that the cat is alive or dead. That is, it is only with observation that potency is raised to act and the law of non-contradiction apples. Only the Aristotelian principle that potency is not actuality makes sense of the cat’s indeterminate state.,, Of all of the metaphysical perspectives on tap, the least acceptable is the materialist mechanical perspective — i.e. “nature is atoms in the void, and nothing more.” The most acceptable, in light of the indeterminacy inherent to the quantum state, is Aristotelian potency and act.,,,
    Quantum indeterminacy (exemplified by Schrödinger’s cat) is a striking example of Aristotelian potency, and collapse of the quantum waveform is an example of reduction of potency to act, and the law of non-contradiction is necessary to even talk about metaphysics or science meaningfully. It is materialist mechanical philosophy, not Aristotelian metaphysics, that is incompatible with quantum mechanics.

    I would also like to add, and as Egnor himself pointed out last year, even the law of non-contradiction can find no grounding within Coyne’s ‘materialist mechanical philosophy’.

    Naturalism and Self-Refutation – Michael Egnor – January 31, 2018
    Excerpt: Furthermore, the very framework of Clark’s argument — logic — is neither material nor natural. Logic, after all, doesn’t exist “in the space-time continuum” and isn’t described by physics. What is the location of modus ponens? How much does Gödel’s incompleteness theorem weigh? What is the physics of non-contradiction? How many millimeters long is Clark’s argument for naturalism? Ironically the very logic that Clark employs to argue for naturalism is outside of any naturalistic frame.
    The strength of Clark’s defense of naturalism is that it is an attempt to present naturalism’s tenets clearly and logically. That is its weakness as well, because it exposes naturalism to scrutiny, and naturalism cannot withstand even minimal scrutiny. Even to define naturalism is to refute it.

    On top of that, Coyne’s materialistic philosophy holds, at its foundational base, that there is no rhyme or reason for why the universe exists, nor any rhyme or reason for why we ourselves exist. Everything is just particles in ‘random’ motion, i.e. chaos, Yet our ability to even comprehend the universe with science in the first place, and as Einstein himself pointed out, is a ‘miracle’ that is inexplicable to Coyne’s atheistic worldview:

    “You find it strange that I consider the comprehensibility of the world (to the extent that we are authorized to speak of such a comprehensibility) as a miracle or as an eternal mystery. Well, a priori, one should expect a chaotic world, which cannot be grasped by the mind in any way.. the kind of order created by Newton’s theory of gravitation, for example, is wholly different. Even if a man proposes the axioms of the theory, the success of such a project presupposes a high degree of ordering of the objective world, and this could not be expected a priori. That is the ‘miracle’ which is constantly reinforced as our knowledge expands.
    There lies the weaknesss of positivists and professional atheists who are elated because they feel that they have not only successfully rid the world of gods but “bared the miracles.”
    Albert Einstein – Goldman – Letters to Solovine p 131.

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