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Can We Make Sense of the World?

World

Is reality intelligible?  Can we make sense of it?  Or is the world at bottom an unintelligible “brute fact” with no explanation?  We can tighten up these questions by distinguishing several senses in which the world might be said to be (or not to be) intelligible.  To make these distinctions is to see that the questions are not susceptible of a simple Yes or No answer.  There are in fact a number of positions one could take on the question of the world’s intelligibility – though they are by no means all equally plausible.

Consider first the distinction between the world’s being intelligible in itself and its being intelligible to us.  Suppose there is, objectively speaking, an explanation of why the world exists in the way it does. Whether we can grasp that explanation is another question.  Perhaps our minds are too limited to discover it, or perhaps they are too limited to understand the explanation even if we can discover it.

Might we turn this around and suggest also that the world could be intelligible to us but not intelligible in itself?  This proposal seems incoherent.  If the world is not intelligible in itself, how could it be intelligible to us?  To be sure, we might think that we’ve grasped some explanation even when we haven’t, but that is not the same thing.  That would be a case of its merely seeming intelligible to us while not really being intelligible in itself, not a case of its really being intelligible to us while not really being intelligible in itself (whatever that could mean).  So we have an asymmetry here: While something could be intelligible in itself but not necessarily intelligible to us, if it really is intelligible to us – and doesn’t just seem to be – then it must also be intelligible in itself.

A second distinction we might draw is that between the world’s beingthoroughly intelligible and its being only partially intelligible.  This distinction is an obvious one to draw if we think in terms of intelligibility to us.  For it might be that the world is intelligible in itself but, while not entirely intelligible to us, at least partially intelligible to us.

Might the world be partially (but not thoroughly) intelligible in itself? Philosophers like Bertrand Russell and J. L. Mackie seem to think so, insofar as they think that we can explain various natural phenomena in terms of the laws discovered by empirical science, but hold also that the most fundamental level of laws cannot itself be explained, and must be regarded as a brute fact.  For the reasons given above, however, it would seem incoherent to hold that the world is thoroughly intelligible to us while only partially intelligible in itself. If it is only partially intelligible in itself, it could only ever be partially intelligible to us.

With these distinctions in mind, we might identify the following possible positions on the question of the world’s intelligibility:

A. The world is thoroughly intelligible in itself and thoroughly intelligible to us: We might call this the “strong rationalist” position. Very few philosophers seem ever to have held it, but Parmenides might be an example of someone who did.

B. The world is thoroughly intelligible in itself but only partially intelligible to us: We might call this the “moderate rationalist” position. It was the view of Plato, Aristotle, and Aquinas and seems to have been the position of the continental rationalist philosophers. (The word “rationalism” is, of course, used in many senses.  Aristotle and Aquinas were not “rationalists” in the “continental rationalist” sense of being committed to innate ideas.)  The continental rationalists were not “strong rationalists” in our sense, insofar as none of them seems to have held that the world is thoroughly intelligible to us.  For example, Descartes did not think we could fathom God’s purposes in creating nature as He did; Spinoza thought that we know only two of the infinite attributes of the one infinite substance, viz. thought and extension; and Leibniz did not think our finite monads had the clarity of perception that the infinite monad that is God has.

C. The world is thoroughly intelligible in itself and completely unintelligible to us: It is not clear that anyone has ever actually defended this position. “Mysterian” naturalists like Colin McGinn and Noam Chomsky would not be examples of philosophers taking this position, because while they claim that there might be some aspects of reality that we can never understand, they don’t claim that this is true of every aspect of reality, or even, necessarily, that it is thoroughly the case with respect to any aspect. Their position would seem rather to be a variant on either B above or D below.  Nor would the even more skeptical naturalisms of Heraclitus, Hume, or Nietzsche seem to be instances of C.  If you’re going to present a theory to the effect that metaphysics is a mere projection of human psychological tendencies, or an expression of a will to power, or whatever, then you are implicitly claiming that at least part of nature (namely us and our tendency toward metaphysical theorizing) is at least partially intelligible.  These thinkers too seem committed instead to some variation on either B or D.

D. The world is only partially intelligible in itself and only partially intelligible to us: As indicated above, this seems to be the view of naturalistically-oriented philosophers like Russell and Mackie, who believed that science gives us real knowledge of the world but that the fundamental laws of nature in terms of which it explains all the others are brute facts that cannot themselves ultimately be made intelligible.

E. The world is only partially intelligible in itself and completely unintelligible to us: As with C, it is not clear that anyone has ever actually defended this position.

F. The world is completely unintelligible in itself and completely unintelligible to us: Once again, this does not seem to be a position that anyone has actually ever held. And once again, thinkers who might seem to have held it can be seen on reflection not to have done so. For example, Gautama Buddha might seem to be an example of a thinker committed to F, but he really wasn’t.  For even to hold (as the Buddha did) that there is no abiding self or permanent reality of any sort is to make a claim about the world that is intended to be both intelligible and true.  And even to recommend (as he also did) against indulging in much metaphysical speculation in the interests of pursuing Enlightenment is to presuppose that there is an objective, intelligible fact of the matter about what would hinder Enlightenment.  The Buddha too seems in fact to have been committed to something like a variation on either B or D.

Indeed, it is very difficult to see how one could defend either the view that the world is completely unintelligible in itself or the view that it is completely unintelligible to us.  For how could such a view be defended?  If you give an argument for the conclusion that reality is unintelligible in itself, it would surely have to rest on premises about reality.  You would be saying something like “Reality is such-and-such, and therefore it is unintelligible.”  But however you fill in the “such-and-such,” you will be referring to some intelligible feature of reality, or will in any event have to do so if your argument is itself going to be both intelligible and convincing.  And in that case you will in effect have conceded that reality is not after all completely unintelligible.  By the same token, if you give an argument for the conclusion that reality is unintelligible for us, then you will have to appeal to premises either about some intelligible feature of reality itself, or about our cognitive faculties – which are themselves part of reality – and in that case you will, once again, have implicitly conceded that reality is at least partially intelligible.

So, D would seem to the closest one could come plausibly to claiming that reality is unintelligible.  But I think that even D is not really coherent.  Suppose I told you that the fact that a certain book has not fallen to the ground is explained by the fact that it is resting on a certain shelf, but that the fact that the shelf itself has not fallen to the ground has no explanation at all but is an unintelligible brute fact.  Have I really explained the position of the book?  It is hard to see how.  For the shelf has in itself no tendency to stay aloft – it is, by hypothesis, just a brute fact that it does so.  But if it has no such tendency, it cannot impart such a tendency to the book.  The “explanation” the shelf provides in such a case would be completely illusory.  (Nor would it help to impute to the book some such tendency after all, if the having of the tendency is itself just an unintelligible brute fact.  The illusion will just have been relocated, not eliminated.)

By the same token, it is no good to say “The operation of law of nature C is explained by the operation of law of nature B, and the operation of B by the operation of law of nature A, but the operation of A has no explanation whatsoever and is just an unintelligible brute fact.”  The appearance of having “explained” C and B is completely illusory if A is a brute fact, because if there is neither anything about A itself that can explain A’s own operation nor anything beyond A that can explain it, then A has nothing to impart to B or C that could possibly explain their operation.  As the Scholastics would say, a cause cannot give what it does not itself have in the first place.  A series of ever more fundamental “laws of nature” is in this regard like a series of instrumental causes ordered per se.  The notion of “an explanatory nomological regress terminating in a brute fact” is, when carefully examined, as incoherent the notion of “a causal series ordered per se in which every cause is purely instrumental.”  And thus Mackie’s and Russell’s position is itself ultimately incoherent.

The only truly coherent positions one could take on the question of the world’s intelligibility, then, are A and B.  And A is, needless to say, not very plausible, even if coherent.  So, some variation on B seems to be the most plausible view to take on the world’s intelligibility.  Why do people bother with D, then?  The answer is, I think, obvious.  It is very hard to affirm either A or B without committing oneself either to classical theism or pantheism.  For once it is conceded that the world is at least in itself completely intelligible, it is hard to see how this could be so unless the most fundamental level of reality is something absolutely necessary – something that is not a mixture of potentiality and actuality but rather pure actuality (as the Aristotelian would say), something which is in no way whatsoever composite but absolutely metaphysically simple (as the Neo-Platonist would say), something which is not a compound of essence and existence but rather subsistent being itself (as the Thomist would say).  However one elaborates on the nature of this ultimate reality, it is not going to be identifiable with any “fundamental laws of nature” (which are contingent, and the operation of which involves the transition from potentiality to actuality within a universe of things that are in various ways composite).  One might still at this point dispute whether the ultimate reality is best described in terms of the theology of classical theism or instead in terms of some pantheistic theology.  But one will definitely be in the realm of theologyrational theology, natural theology – rather than empirical science.

If one wants to maintain a defensible atheist position, then, one has to try to make something like D work, as Russell and Mackie (and my younger self) did.  One has to claim with a straight face that the world is intelligible down to the level of the fundamental laws, but beyond that point suddenly “stops making sense” (as Talking Heads might put it).  For one has to say, not that the world has some ultimate explanation that is non-theistic, but rather that it has no ultimate explanation at all.  And in that case one can hardly claim to have provided a more “rational” account of the world than theism does.  To paraphrase what Copleston said to Russell, if you refuse to play the explanatory game, then naturally you cannot lose it.  But by the same token, it is ludicrous to claim that you’ve won it.
 
 
NOTE: Dr. Feser's contributions at Strange Notions were originally posted on his blog, and therefore lose some of their context when reprinted here. Dr. Feser explains why that matters.
(Image credit: Archangel Sanddevas)

Dr. Edward Feser

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Dr. Edward Feser is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Pasadena City College in Pasadena, California. He has been a Visiting Assistant Professor at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles and a Visiting Scholar at the Social Philosophy and Policy Center at Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio. He holds a doctorate in philosophy from the University of California at Santa Barbara, a master’s degree in religion from the Claremont Graduate School, and a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and religious studies from the California State University at Fullerton. He is author of numerous books including The Last Superstition: A Refutation of the New Atheism (St. Augustines Press, 2010); Aquinas (Oneworld, 2009); and Philosophy of Mind (Oneworld, 2007). Follow Dr. Feser on his blog and his website, EdwardFeser.com.

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  • A popular version of D is that the world is intelligible only to the limit that it is intelligible to us. At that limit, science employs the mathematics of probability.

  • Damon

    I do not believe in phenomena that are inherently unintelligible. If I am ignorant about some phenomena - if it seems weird, bizarre, or mysterious to me - this is a fact about my state of mind, not a fact about the phenomena itself.

    Perhaps human beings will never develop a coherent understanding of reality, perhaps there will always be phenomena, like the fundamental workings of the universe, that we find mysterious. But to worship a phenomena because it seems so wonderfully mysterious, is to worship your own ignorance.

    • Mike

      Do you then think that the PSR is true? Principle of sufficient reason.

      • Damon

        I do. As stated above, I don't believe that anything is inherently mysterious or inexplicable. Mystery and confusion exist in the map, not the territory.

        When I was a young child I didn't know how cars worked. I couldn't understand how grown-ups were able to operate them by just inserting a key and pushing on a peddle; it was mysterious and, I thought, magical. Then when I got a little older I found a labeled diagram of a car's internal parts. It illustrated how inserting the key into the ignition causes the battery to power up sending electricity to starter motor which turns the crankshaft which gets the pistons moving, etc. etc... Then when I became a teenager I learned even more about the inner workings of cars, and how to maintain one and do basic repairs. By then cars no longer seemed mysterious.

        Today you and I both know that the inner-workings of cars are "non-mysterious", even if we don't have a perfect model of how our cars work in our minds. But there are still a lot of things you and I would both call "mysterious" just because we haven’t entirely succeeded in opening them up and understanding their moving parts (i.e. consciousness, dark matter, the Big Bang, etc.)

        In the past our ancestors called a lot of things mysterious too. Stars and planets, flight, and the processes of life were all things past generations considered to be totally mysterious, but today we understand they have ordinary physical explanations. I treat these examples as lessons from the past that we should not give up too early on trying to understand how something works just because we consider it "mysterious."

        It's important to bear in mind, I think, that mystery doesn't exist outside our own states of ignorance. If we have a question about a "mysterious" phenomena that question will only be answered one of two ways: a) we will find a non-mysterious answer to our question, or b) we will learn enough new information that our question no longer makes sense.
        Nothing that actually exists is inherently mysterious.

        • David Nickol

          Today you and I both know that the inner-workings of cars are "non-mysterious" . . . .

          I think, in light of Feser's article, for cars to be non-mysterious, one would have to be able to explain down to the quantum level (where applicable) things like combustion, inertia, and so on. One can know Newton's First Law of Motion (Inertia), but is it possible to understand why it is true? I just read a science fiction novel (Redemption Arc) by Alastair Reynolds in which human beings discover/invent inertia-suppressing technology for spaceships. It seems to me if you can't fully explain the how and why of inertia (and many other things, too) cars have a lot of mystery to them.

          • Damon

            This is a really good point. For every phenomena we find mysterious, there are only really three options for approaching it. We can seek to explain it, where we attempt to understand the phenomena by deconstructing it, or we can ignore it - simply not ask why or how, never follow up on the question, or perhaps never even think of the question in the first place. But there is also a third option, where we neither seek to explain the phenomena, nor ignore it, but rather allow ourselves to be swept up in the sensation of mysteriousness; in other words, we can worship it.

            An explanation of the car still leaves us mystified by the workings of its engine; an explanation of the engine still leaves us mystified by the process of combustion; an explanation of combustion leaves us mystified by chemistry; an explanation of chemistry leaves us mystified by atoms; an explanation of atoms leaves us mystified by electrons and nuclei; an explanation of nuclei leaves us mystified by quantum chromodynamics and quarks, an explanation of where quarks came from leaves us mystified by the Big Bang; an explanation of the Big Bang leaves us mystified by...

            Well, we don't know that part yet. We're still waiting for scientists to come up with an explanation for the Big Bang, and maybe one day we'll get a perfectly good one. Even then, however, we'll still have another mysterious explanation that needs explaining. It's no surprise, then, that some of us have decided in favor of a new option, an Explanation That Needs No Explanation, a place where the chain ends. And this, they say, is the only explanation worth knowing.

            But as I stated in my comment above: to worship a phenomena because it seems so wonderfully mysterious, is to worship your own ignorance. Nothing in the universe is inherently mysterious - nothing that is real, that is. If you or I find a phenomenon to be mysterious, this is a fact about our state of mind, not a fact about the phenomenon itself.

            So far as anyone has been able to determine, the universe itself has only a single level of fundamental physics - where everything is computed in terms of quarks. There is nothing inherently mysterious about it. But it also seems there will always be aspects mysterious to us. How we choose to respond to these "mysteries" - whether we try to explain them, ignore them, or worship them - is up to each of us.

            Here's hoping we each choose wisely.

          • Michael Murray

            So far as anyone has been able to determine, the universe itself has only a single level of fundamental physics - where everything is computed in terms of quarks.

            Besides quarks there are also fundamental leptons and a bunch of bosons. (I think).

            Elementary fermions:

            Matter particles

            Quarks:

            up, down

            charm, strange

            top, bottom

            Leptons:

            electron, electron neutrino (a.k.a., "neutrino")

            muon, muon neutrino

            tau, tau neutrino

            Antimatter particles

            Antiquarks

            Antileptons

            Elementary bosons:

            Force particles (gauge bosons):

            photon

            gluon (numbering eight)[1]

            W+, W−, and Z0 bosons

            graviton (hypothetical)[1]

            Scalar boson

            Higgs boson

            Sorry to nitpick!

          • William Davis

            I wonder if we'll ever be able to bust these particles apart to find even MORE subparticles of these subparticles. Sometimes nature does seem much like an onion.

          • Michael Murray

            String theory? But nobody has any idea yet how to test it. Maybe in the next 100,000 years or so?

          • Doug Shaver

            I think, in light of Feser's article, for cars to be non-mysterious, one would have to be able to explain down to the quantum level (where applicable) things like combustion, inertia, and so on.

            And I don't think that my inability to explain all those things down to that level implies God's existence.

          • David Nickol

            And I don't think that my inability to explain all those things down to that level implies God's existence.

            Do you actually believe that's what Feser is arguing or what I am saying? How could your ability or inability to explain the simplest or the most complex matters have any bearing on whether or not God exists?

          • Doug Shaver

            Do you actually believe that's what Feser is arguing or what I am saying?

            It was my best guess. It is this forum's purpose to defend theism, isn't it?

          • William Davis

            Just because something works, doesn't mean we know why it works. You make a very serious point. Einstein explained why gravity exists, matter curves space time. He could not, however, explain the new question he created...Why does gravity curve space-time? Answering that question could lead to another major revolution in physics. Right now, it looks like a brute fact, but that does not mean it IS a brute fact. Brute facts are simply facts we don't currently have an explanation for. Perhaps brute facts are the atheist cop out for not searching for an explanation, and God is the theist's cop out for not searching for a further explanation. I believe brute facts exist, but I don't know how we can be sure if something really is a brute fact because we can't predict future explanations and discoveries. I'm not saying we shouldn't accept things as brute facts of course, but our acceptance doesn't make it "true".

          • David Nickol

            On the one hand, I can see the appeal of the idea that everything is intelligible, but on the other hand, I have a hard time imagining that—even if God created an intelligible universe—there would be no "brute facts." Can't God create a brute fact? Doesn't intelligibility pretty much rely on brute facts at some level? Is it possible to have math without axioms?

            Here's a question. Could God have created a universe in which pi was a rational number, or even an integer?

          • William Davis

            That's a good question that I don't know if anyone can answer. I tend to think the universe could only be one way, the way it is, but that is just a belief without any real knowledge (just like the belief that the universe is completely intelligible.) If pi was something different, the universe would be a very different place. If pi were different, what we call a circle would no longer be a circle. This would have implications on orbits, on the shape of planets and stars, on everything.
            One of my favorite arguments for God is the argument from design, that God calibrated all of these values so that life would be possible. What we find, however, is that if many of these numbers were much different from what they are, the universe would basically fall apart...at least that is what the math says. Some physicists theorize that if we changed all the numbers at one time we could imagine a different universe that would work, but these "special numbers" seem to be related to each other. Perhaps God can do anything that is possible, but only so many universes are possible.
            We expect that explanations will eventually bottom out in brute fact that have absolutely no explanation, I just argue that we can never completely know if something is a brute fact. You can only know you were wrong when you find an explanation for a "brute fact" but you can never see the future to be sure that no one will EVER find an explanation to your brute fact, so you can never be 100% confident. Scientific history is littered with brute facts that were not brute facts at all.

          • Phil

            but on the other hand, I have a hard time imagining that—even if God created an intelligible universe—there would be no "brute facts." Can't God create a brute fact? Doesn't intelligibility pretty much rely on brute facts at some level?

            Hey David,

            Actually, how you proposed this "brute fact" showed forth the fact that it is not actually a "brute fact". For something to be a brute fact means that it has no explanation whatsoever for its existence--it simply is. Well, to say that God created this "brute fact" is give an explanation for this "brute fact's" existence. So therefore, it cannot properly be called a brute fact. It has a rational explanation for its existence.

            In regards to your second question--no, there are no brute facts in all of reality. Science itself only makes any rational sense if we assume that ultimately all of reality is intelligible (this doesn't mean that our human intellect can know all, as Feser pointed out). Some might say that God is THE brute fact. This would be a misunderstanding. The difference between a brute fact and God is that God is not unintelligibile, but rather God completely "explains" himself. God is completely intelligible, but only to himself! And God wishes for us to be with him so as to contemplate this reality of himself for all eternity--and we will come to know God more and more for all eternity without end!

            The reason for holding that God actually exists is because the physical cosmos itself cannot in principle completely explain itself. That is why the "God hypothesis" is not something that is thrust upon our scientific knowledge. Rather, the existence of God cannot be proven or disproven through science, and the nature of the physical cosmos itself points towards the existence of God.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            In regards to the second question--no, there are no brute facts in all of reality. Science itself only makes any rational sense if we assume that ultimately all of reality is intelligible (this doesn't mean that our human intellect can know all, as Feser pointed out).

            The brute facts provide the intelligibility. It is a category error to suggest that they themselves must be intelligible. It also is a question that does not necessarily make sense.

            The difference between a brute fact and God is that God is not unintelligibile, but rather God completely "explains" himself. God is completely intelligible, but only to himself!

            I see no reason to suppose that God is completely intelligible to himself. Not sure what it means for beings to be intelligible, in general, but even with some definition, I see no reason to suppose that God is intelligible completely to himself. Not saying that it is incoherent to say that God is intelligible to himself (you have to provide a definition first), but it seems to be one of those things that is unknowable.

            The reason for holding that God actually exists is because the physical cosmos itself cannot in principle completely explain itself.

            No, it does.

            Rather, the existence of God cannot be proven or disproven through science. The nature of the physical cosmos itself points towards the existence of God.

            I would say just the opposite. What part of the physical cosmos points to the existence of God?

          • Phil

            The brute facts provide the intelligibility. It is a category error to
            suggest that they themselves must be intelligible. It also is a question
            that does not necessarily make sense.

            I don't quite understand what it being said here. A brute fact is something that is not intelligible. For something to be intelligible means that it can be known and understood. A "brute fact" has no explanation for its very existence--therefore it cannot be known or understood. The only "explanation" for a brute fact is that it simply is. Well, this doesn't explain anything, we already know that it is, we are trying to understand how it exists, as it does right now.

            Not saying that it is incoherent to say that God is intelligible to
            himself (you have to provide a definition first), but it seems to be one
            of those things that is unknowable.

            For example, we can get to know ourselves through inner reflection about how we exist, and why we exist, etc... But we can never have even a perfect knowledge of ourself. God is completely transparent to himself. He is a complete act of understanding. He completely understands himself and all of creation. (Don't try to anthropomorphize God, as that will only make trying to think about this impossible. I only used the human example as analogy.)

            What part of the physical cosmos points to the existence of God?

            All of the material cosmos (i.e., all of matter/energy, multi-verses, etc) is contingent, or to use the word from the article back a couple months ago--it is "conditioned". This means that material objects do not hold within themself the reason for its own existence. This means that a non-contingent (or "unconditioned") entity must be the explanation for the contingent realities existence. If matter/energy by its very nature is contingent, this means the answer lies outside of matter/energy.

            (I'd recommend go back to the article series on "The existence of an unconditioned reality", as that did a good job of showing this.)

          • David Nickol

            I am trying to figure out if not eventually reaching "brute facts" doesn't itself set up something like an infinite regress. You implied in another message that if science reaches a "brute fact"—let's imagine that a certain fundamental constant of nature has a value of X—it is not really a brute fact, because the theist can say, "The reason it has the value of X is because God made it that way." But if God if entirely intelligible (if only to himself), couldn't he always be asked, "Why did you set the value at X?" And then to every answer, you could keep asking, "Why?"

            So the question in my mind about the intelligibility of the universe is whether for the universe to be fully intelligible, it is necessary to have some brute facts. At some point in an explanation, perhaps for the concept of intelligibility to make sense, you have to reach a point where you say, "Well, that's just the way things are."

          • Phil

            But if God if entirely intelligible (if only to himself), couldn't he always be asked, "Why did you set the value at X?" And then to every answer, you could keep asking, "Why?"

            Yes!! And this is where things start coming together! The human person has an infinite desire for truth, joy, and peace. We don't say, "Yeah, I'll take this much happiness and truth...and then no more". No! We say, I want to stay perfectly happy and joyful, learning the truth for ever and ever. That is what the deepest desire of the human heart is!

            So an infinite act of truth, joy, and peace is the only thing that completely fulfills this desire. And since we are finite creatures, anything that is finite could never, by matter of principle, "complete" something that is infinite. Something infinite is "never-ending"; it has "no limits or boundaries".

            That is why only union with God (i.e., heaven) makes sense as the complete fulfillment of the human person. We are able to exist in union with God and are able to contemplate truth for eternity. There is always more!

            let's imagine that a certain fundamental constant of nature has a value of X—it is not really a brute fact, because the theist can say, "The reason it has the value of X is because God made it that way."

            Just as a clarification--for most things answering that "God made it that way", would not truly be a fully intelligible answer. The answer to a question is always "why" and "how" it exists as it does (this is what science itself searches after). Obviously for some things, in this life, we may not be able to answer the "why" and "how" questions fully, but when we are in union with God, the things that we could only rationally say "this appears to be the way God created it" will become clearer and clearer for all eternity, i.e., the "why" and "how" will become answered.

            So the question in my mind about the intelligibility of the universe is whether for the universe to be fully intelligible, it is necessary to have some brute facts. At some point in an explanation, perhaps for the concept of intelligibility to make sense, you have to reach a point where you say, "Well, that's just the way things are."

            Your big danger here is that if there truly is a point where the universe actually is a brute fact (and I don't mean that it only appears to be a brute fact to our intellect, but rather it actually is a brute fact), then we are in big trouble! The reason for this is we are thrown into complete skepticism about all the "truths" we have seemingly discovered. We have no reason to believe that the "truths" we have discovered are actually true, or only appear to be true. We have no reason to believe the truth that we have discovered is not all "illusory". But when we show that complete skepticism is a false belief, we then reject anything that leads to saying that complete skepticism is true (since that leads to a logical contradiction).

            So we can rationally reject the position that the universe is only partially intelligible or not intelligible at all. In other words, if complete skepticism is false, then there are no brute facts in all reality.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            I don't quite understand what it being said here. A brute fact is something that is not intelligible. For something to be intelligible means that it can be known and understood. A "brute fact" has no explanation for its very existence--therefore it cannot be known or understood. The only "explanation" for a brute fact is that it simply is. Well, this doesn't explain anything, we already know that it is, we are trying to understand how it exists, as it does right now.

            I wouldn't call them brute facts. Something like Newton's law of universal gravitation is very intelligible. It is also the source of the how we understand gravitation.

            For example, we can get to know ourselves through inner reflection about how we exist, and why we exist, etc... But we can never have even a perfect knowledge of ourself. God is completely transparent to himself. He is a complete act of understanding. He completely understands himself and all of creation. (Don't try to anthropomorphize God, as that will only make trying to think about this impossible. I only used the human example as analogy.)

            You think God has all of these attributes, but I do not see why he must necessarily have them.

            (I'd recommend go back to the article series on "The existence of an unconditioned reality", as that did a good job of showing this.)

            I do not think that the Karlo's arguments follow. It was an interesting series though. I wrote about some of my disagreement here:

            http://strangenotions.com/important-features-of-the-metaphysical-proof-for-god/#comment-1745545349

          • Yes, however problematic (or not) our understandings of reality's efficient causations, questions will always beg regarding any putative material causations and/or putative intentional (i.e. personal) explanations, neither to be a priori ruled out.

          • re: The brute facts provide the intelligibility. It is a category error to suggest that they themselves must be intelligible. It also is a question that does not necessarily make sense. <<<

            I think I'm better grasping your claim.

            The brute facts, being axiomatic, provide the explanatory adequacy for this or that reality. Then, analytically, by the very definition of a brute fact, the explanatory regress for this or that reality halts. But that conclusion is already embedded --- not only in its premises, but --- in the definition, itself.

            How does one avoid the charge of being arbitrary in a priori adopting a stance that one set of axioms invites a meta-systemic proof, while this set of axioms would not? One would have to know, for example, whether the fallacy of composition obtains and we don't know enough to prove that because we don't know whether or not concepts like nothingness or necessities successfully refer to metaphysical realities.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            I wouldn't really call them brute facts. They are answers to questions on how the universe operates. They are the laws of physics. They provide a type of intelligibility to the universe, which Feser conflates with an intelligibility of a different kind.

            I don't think the theories of physics are axiomatic, I think they are answers to questions. Perhaps I am misunderstanding. I suppose we could consider Newton's law of universal gravitation to be axiomatic, but the problem is that it is wrong and only works for special cases. If the universe was completely intelligible, I suppose we could consider the laws to be axiomatic, but I don't think we can know if it is possible to capture the universe with physics.

            How does one avoid the charge of being arbitrary in a priori adopting a stance that one set of axioms invites a meta-systemic proof, while this set of axioms would not? One would have to know, for example, whether the fallacy of composition obtains and we don't know enough to prove that because we don't know whether or not concepts like nothingness or necessities successfully refer to metaphysical realities or not.

            Could you rephrase? I am not completely sure what you are getting at. I have an idea :-)

          • Check out the latest SN post and the link to Feser re: fallacy of composition.

            As for the nature of axioms, check out Hawking:

            http://www.hawking.org.uk/godel-and-the-end-of-physics.html

            Explanatory attempts can be layered, providing different types of intelligibility, such as when we ask why a kettle is boiling. Whether a given question probes a physical account or a personal intentional stance or even
            an analytic clarification of terms, it deserves an answer. Cosmological questions beg.

            The most nonsensical stance of all, whether theological or atheological, is that which suggests that reality's everything one fully expects it should be per one's chosen interpretive stance.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            With regard to fallacy of composition, I hold that it is the responsibility of the arguer to make the case that his argument is safe from the fallacy of composition.

            After reading the Hawking article, F seems like a viable option. I have an undergraduate degree in physics, so I have a decent understanding of basic quantum mechanics and relativity (meaning I can solve problems), but I do not understand all of the physics.

            I do not think Gödel's theorem applies to mathematical models of the physical world. One doesn't prove physics equations like one proves propositions in mathematics. (At least not in my experience.)

          • Phil

            After reading the Hawking article, F seems like a viable option.

            I'm confused--if you believe that (F) might be true, this means that you hold that physics has not actually explained anything at all?

          • Ignatius Reilly

            I wouldn't pick it, but I could see how it could be argued. I would say that all of our physics explanations fall short of actually explaining reality and are merely our approximate working model.

          • Phil

            I would say that all of our physics explanations fall short of actually explaining reality and are merely our approximate working model.

            I would agree with this statement as being actually true about reality, but if we hold that physics has said something (anything!) even remotely true about reality, then we cannot hold that reality is completely unintelligible.

            Even to say that it is rational to believe that the earth is round is to admit that at least one thing is intelligible in all of reality.

            Actually to say that reality is unintelligible is to try and make an intelligible statement about reality! Holding that reality is completely unintelligible is therefore rendered incoherent.

          • >>> With regard to fallacy of composition, I hold that it is the responsibility of the arguer to make the case that his argument is safe from the fallacy of composition. <<<

            I would, too, in order to consider the argument conclusive but not to consider the argument reasonable.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Sure. I suppose my problem with most contingency/first cause arguments that I see is that they either rely on premises that are likely false due to our knowledge of physics or they contain premises whose truth value is completely unknown.

            That and while the argument themselves may be valid and consistent, I usually find the reasoning from first cause to the tri-Omni to be very suspect.
            As always, Johnboy, I enjoy these discussions. :-)

          • Nyet! re: physics in any way critiquing metaphysical premises of cosmological arguments

            Yes, such interpretive heuristics don't add information (but they can facilitate inquiry if suitably constructed)

            re: the conceptual compatibility of divine attributes, see:
            http://infidels.org/library/modern/doug_krueger/krueger-mchugh/mchugh1.html

            Ignatius, thank you and likewise.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            I think they do add information. For instance, if Aquinas is right, he added the information of the tri-Omni God.

          • He added an abductive-transductive inference, not information.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Why aren't inferences information?
            What would we properly call information?

          • An abduction is a conjecture in search of a criticism, an hypothesis in search of an experiment, an argument in need of a proof, logical validity in search of soundness, a musing in search of a falsification, Sherlock in search of Watson's: "brilliant deduction!" (Actually, ordinarily, Watson was mislabeling abductions as deductions." Inferential cycling does gift information, all those things above for which we search.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Fair enough. It wouldn't seem to have much actionable impetus though.

          • Think about this longer ;)

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Haha fair enough. I think I have involved myself in too many conversations at once. I'm going to take a break from this for tonight.
            Take care.

          • Phil

            Hey Johnboy,

            If I am reading you correctly here, I think you might be a little off. Aquinas, and others, that are putting forth philosophical arguments are normally not using any abductive reasoning.

            A philosophical argument uses deductive and inductive reasoning. As you probably know, you propose a philosophical argument by forming a deductive argument, and then you use inductive reasoning to support your premises in that deductive argument.

            That is what Aquinas ultimately did with his argument from contingency. So if the premises are true, the conclusion is necessarily true.

          • Hey, Phil. Yes, there's indispensable deductive clarification. I view inference as irreducibly triadic, trialogical, each form presupposing the others and completing a hermeneutical spiral. My observations regarding natural theology are more prescriptive, norming how I feel it best be approached, not descriptive, observing how others happen to be approaching it. In that regard, I have definite opinions regarding what various natural theologians have actually accomplished via their arguments and argumentation versus what they or others might imagine they've accomplished. I thus interpret Aquinas' "proofs" as working hypotheses. Theological interpretations employ concepts that may or may not successfully refer to reality and predicates that may or may not really apply, so, we cannot a priori know whether our premises are true. This isn't to say they are unreasonable, only that they are much weaker, philosophically, than many seem to imagine.

            See: http://strangenotions.com/debunking-one-of-the-worst-argument-against-atheism/#comment-1725873955

          • Phil

            Theological interpretations employ concepts that may or may not successfully refer to reality and predicates that may or may not really apply, so, we cannot a priori know whether our premises are true. This isn't to say they are unreasonable, only that they are much weaker, philosophically, than many seem to imagine.

            I gotcha, Thanks for the response!

            The reason why I think a philosophical argument, like Aquinas', could be so powerful is if the premises that are used are very simple and so general. Premises like "things change" and the like are things that really can't be denied. There is usually then just one single premise that is needs to be debated a little more than the others. And if we can establish that premise to be true, beyond a reasonable doubt, then we could conclude that the conclusion is true, beyond a reasonable doubt.

            The one mistake that I believe many of us moderns make is trying to use science to prove/disprove a philosophical point. If our philosophical argument is correct, that means that there is nothing that science could discover that would disprove it, since philosophy comes before science in the order of knowledge.

            Anyway, just some thoughts!

          • The one mistake that I believe many of us moderns make is trying to use science to prove/disprove a philosophical point. If our philosophical argument is correct, that means that there is nothing that science could discover that would disprove it, since philosophy comes before science in the order of knowledge.

            .

            Exactly. The way I like to say it is that while description, evaluation, norming and interpreting are methodologically autonomous, they are axiologically integral, each alone, insufficient, all taken together, necessary, for every human value-realization.

            To wit, then: The normative (philosophy) mediates between the descriptive (science) and the interpretive (phenomenology) to effect the evaluative (meaning).

            Or, as Maritain might say: The dianoetic mediates between the perinoetic and the ananoetic to enjoy truth, beauty, goodness, freedom and love.

          • The reason why I think a philosophical argument, like Aquinas', could be so powerful is if the premises that are used are very simple and so general.

            .

            The reason such propositions are so very compelling is that they are so very closely related to the implicit logic of common sense. A philosophical drill down into the basic structure of common sense reveals it to be fallible and justified pursuant to leaps of epistemic faith.

            Evolution gifted us with fast and frugal heuristics that enjoy tremendous adaptive significance as we navigate our unique ecological (even cosmic) niche. The implicit methodological stipulations of those heuristics, of common sense, should not be a priori extrapolated into metaphysical necessities even though they derive, first, from certain indispensable metaphysical presuppositions.

            None of this is to suggest that such as the provisional adoption of principles of sufficient reason and causation or, even, that such as a leap of faith in the ontological implications of same, would not be eminently reasonable, philosophically, and vitally actionable, existentially, hence defensibly truth-indicative. It's way more pragmatically defensible than that limp of skepticism that would a priori deny those principles --- no, not necessarily sacrificing the methods of science or even moral and practical reasoning --- forfeiting the possibility of ultimate meaning. One could consistently adopt an agnostic stance toward their ontological implications.

          • btw, there's a great deal of abductive reasoning implicit in the metaphysical systems that get employed, as elaborated into root metaphors like being, substance, essence, necessity, existence and other concepts, which then get tacitly assumed and unconsciously embedded in the argumentation, unquestioningly and unreflectively

          • Without contradicting you, in my recollection, Hawking suggested --- not that those particular theorems apply, but --- that Godel-like constraints would apply, analogically, you know, like Feser's and my causes. ;)

          • Ignatius Reilly

            That is an analogy that I can understand.

        • Mike

          Interesting, thanks for answering.

  • Ignatius Reilly

    Indeed, it is very difficult to see how one could defend either the view that the world is completely unintelligible in itself or the view that it is completely unintelligible to us. For how could such a view be defended? If you give an argument for the conclusion that reality is unintelligible in itself, it would surely have to rest on premises about reality. You would be saying something like “Reality is such-and-such, and therefore it is unintelligible.” But however you fill in the “such-and-such,” you will be referring to some intelligible feature of reality, or will in any event have to do so if your argument is itself going to be both intelligible and convincing. And in that case you will in effect have conceded that reality is not after all completely unintelligible. By the same token, if you give an argument for the conclusion that reality is unintelligible for us, then you will have to appeal to premises either about some intelligible feature of reality itself, or about our cognitive faculties – which are themselves part of reality – and in that case you will, once again, have implicitly conceded that reality is at least partially intelligible.

    To paraphrase: I can't imagine how someone would argue for proposition A therefore proposition A is false. For someone who talks a lot about what serious philosophers do, Feser is being manifestly unserious.

    What if the intelligible part of reality is that it is fundamentally unintelligible. I.E. What if we can show that our mathematics is incapable of describing the universe at the most fundamental level? Would Newton's laws count as intelligibility? Intelligibility is tied up with mathematics, so to talk about intelligibility without some talk about how mathematics makes the universe intelligible, is "sophistry and illusion"

    Now, if we are talking about the intelligibility of pain and suffering, it would seem that one could logically hold that these things are completely unintelligible itself, but not to us or vice versa. Or unintelligible in every way. Feser doesn't give us a very rigorous definition of unintelligible, so it is tough to say.

    So, D would seem to the closest one could come plausibly to claiming that reality is unintelligible. But I think that even D is not really coherent. Suppose I told you that the fact that a certain book has not fallen to the ground is explained by the fact that it is resting on a certain shelf, but that the fact that the shelf itself has not fallen to the ground has no explanation at all but is an unintelligible brute fact. Have I really explained the position of the book? It is hard to see how. For the shelf has in itself no tendency to stay aloft – it is, by hypothesis, just a brute fact that it does so. But if it has no such tendency, it cannot impart such a tendency to the book. The “explanation” the shelf provides in such a case would be completely illusory

    The shelf is resting on the ground. Within Newtonian Mechanics, this system is completely describable. It is a trivial problem. It is resting on the ground, because the normal force the shelf exercises on the book cancels out the downward force of gravity, so the book remains in equilibrium.

    The shelf stays aloft, because it is also in equilibrium. This is also manifestly unserious of Feser.

    By the same token, it is no good to say “The operation of law of nature C is explained by the operation of law of nature B, and the operation of B by the operation of law of nature A, but the operation of A has no explanation whatsoever and is just an unintelligible brute fact.”

    Laws of nature are relationships between the parts of nature. The laws emerge with the universe.

    Why do people bother with D, then? The answer is, I think, obvious. It is very hard to affirm either A or B without committing oneself either to classical theism or pantheism

    Or maybe D is true.

    For once it is conceded that the world is at least in itself completely intelligible, it is hard to see how this could be so unless the most fundamental level of reality is something absolutely necessary – something that is not a mixture of potentiality and actuality but rather pure actuality (as the Aristotelian would say), something which is in no way whatsoever composite but absolutely metaphysically simple (as the Neo-Platonist would say), something which is not a compound of essence and existence but rather subsistent being itself (as the Thomist would say).

    Special pleading and incoherent definitions do not make for an argument. The universe explains the laws of the universe as the laws explain the universe. They emerged together.

  • Luke Cooper

    Why isn't G. The world is thoroughly intelligible in itself and may or may not be thoroughly intelligible to us; we don't yet know. an option? Seems to me to be consistent with an agnostic atheist's position. Why force the choice? Isn't the A-F list somewhat of a false hexalemma?

    • GCBill

      I was wondering why the agnostic/atheist has to deny the full intelligibility of the universe. However, in keeping with the epistemic humility theme, I'd avoid making a hard commitment to it as well. Rather, I'd say "G. The world may or may not be thoroughly intelligible in itself, but is at least partially intelligible to us." Actually, this describes my own skeptical realist position fairly well. :)

      • Luke Cooper

        Good call. I like your wording better and it I think is more in keeping with epistemic humility :)

        • Phil

          This (G) position is simply saying that either Feser's option (A) or (B) is true. It wouldn't add any other options that aren't already there.

          GCBill's position is rationally indefensible. (I'll respond to that separately above.)

          • Luke Cooper

            As I understood, choosing two positions wasn't an option. Maybe it was an oversight, but I think Feser was trying to force the reader to choose one of his presented positions as if they covered the entirety of possible positions. The position I would have chosen wasn't presented as an option; thus, G. (but see GCBill's G. or Johnboy's H. for more defensible wording).

          • Phil

            On an epistemological level one can say that one of those two positions is most likely true. But Feser is making an ontological claim. He is making a claim about the actual structure of reality; the way that reality actually is.

            So (A) and (B) cannot both be true about reality at the same time. Either the world is partially or fully intelligible to us. It can't be both partially and fully intelligible to us at the same time!

            So you can hold your position (G) as an epistemological claim. But you can't hold it as an ontological (i.e., metaphysical) claim. Because if you do, you are saying that the world is both partially and full intelligible to us at the same time--which of course is an incoherent belief.

          • Luke Cooper

            But Feser is making an ontological claim.

            Then why didn't he say that? I'd rather Feser himself made that comment.

            So you can hold your position (G) as an epistemological claim. But you can't hold it as an ontological (i.e., metaphysical) claim.

            I know the conditions in which my claim holds. You're doing the same thing as Feser: Trying to prematurely force a choice on the reader. Why should I be forced to make ontological claims about the universe when my position (GCBill's G or Johnboy's H) doesn't even make strong epistemological claims about the universe? It's a silly exercise.

          • Phil

            Then why didn't he say that [that this was a philosophical argument for an ontological conclusion]? I'd rather Feser himself make that comment.

            To my knowledge this was taken from his blog. And his blog is a hardcore philosophical blog (he is, in my humble opinion, one of the most talented philosophers of our day). So he wouldn't explain on his blog that he is making a philosophical argument for an ontological claim--this would be kind of assumed, as it can be seen clearly that he is not a scientist.

            So I guess you either have to be able to tell when someone is making an ontological claim using reason and logic and when one is using the scientific method to test a scientific theory (though I don't think there was anything in his essay above that would get someone thinking he was testing a scientific theory).

            I know the conditions in which my claim holds. You're doing the same thing as Feser: Trying to prematurely force a choice on the reader. Why should I be forced to make ontological claims about the universe when my position (GCBill's G or Johnboy's H) doesn't even make strong epistemological claims about the universe?

            Actually, I may hold the same belief as you epistemologically. Feser and I are merely saying that reason and logic tells us that both of them can't be true at the same time. We are forcing you ontologically, not epistemologically.

            So you and I can stay happily undecided epistemologically; we are only forced ontologically.

            [Though, I do think reason and logic points us, finally, towards (B), but I do think (A) is a real option.]

          • Luke Cooper

            So you and I can stay happily undecided epistemologically; we are only forced ontologically.

            Why am I forced to stake out and defend an ontological position? Why isn't "I don't yet know" a perfectly acceptable answer? Am I missing something?

            What if someone gives me 1/3 of the pieces to a puzzle of a beach scene, then forces me to decide whether or not there's small beach ball pictured in it? I don't see a beach ball in the pieces I was given, but I also know that I'm missing 2/3 of the pieces to the puzzle, so any claim I would make about the ontology of the beach ball would be little more than a guess.

          • Phil

            Why am I forced to stake out and defend an ontological position? Why isn't "I don't yet know" a perfectly acceptable answer? Am I missing something?

            Would you say that it is rational and logical to say that the entire cosmos is both fully intelligible and partially intelligible at the same time?

            It is reason and logic that forces you to make an ontological decision. (Unless you want to throw out reason and logic.)

            What if someone gives me 1/3 of the pieces to a puzzle of a beach scene, then forces me to decide whether or not there's small beach ball pictured in it?

            Feser and I are not forcing you to say if there is a beach ball or not. We are forcing you to say that either the mess of pieces you have form a partial picture or they form a complete picture. (But of course you don't know yet.)

            You don't even need the whole puzzle or pieces ever to be able to rationally hold that the puzzle does not form both a complete picture and a partial picture at the same time.

            It's "either/or", not "both/and".

          • Luke Cooper

            I made no such claim that the universe is both fully and partially intelligible at the same time. Did you not read GCBill's G? "...the world is at least partially intelligible to us." What is confusing about that position?

          • Phil

            I think this is all based upon a misunderstanding. Remember, I am merely claiming that the world could not be both (A) and (B) at the same time. Whether it is either (A) or (B), or some
            other option can stay up for debate.

          • Luke Cooper

            Haha. Yes, definitely a misunderstanding :) I did not claim that both A and B were simultaneously ontologically true. I hope I didn't imply it.

          • Phil

            No worries! Either I misread, or you wrote something that implied something you didn't intend.

            Either way, I was very confused how someone could hold the position I thought you were defending!

          • Michael Murray

            he is, in my humble opinion, one of the most talented philosophers of our day.(

            Based on what ? Prizes, awards, recognition of his peers, your own knowledge of the field ?

            This is a serious question about how you make such a judgement across the whole enormous field of philosophy ?

          • Phil

            This would be based upon ones ability to use the methodology of the study of philosophy to a extraordinary degree, and also has a vast knowledge of the field. Pretty much like anymore would judge someone who is good in their field--a talented scientist would be one who is skilled in using the methods of whatever field of science they are in, and has a vast knowledge of that field.

      • Phil

        Hey GCBill,

        This position that you propose is rationally indefensible. If the world is at least partially intelligible to us, then the world is either fully or partially intelligible in and of itself. (See paragraphs 2 and 3 in Feser's essay above for why this is the case.)

        • Ignatius Reilly

          What does it mean for the universe to be thoroughly or partially intelligible in itself?
          Consider the intelligibility of the physical universe. We could say that a phenomena is intelligible if and only if it can be described with mathematics - meaning we can predict the evolution of the system in time.
          This definition talks about one time of intelligibility that we, arguably, partially have. I'm not sure what it would mean to say that these phenomena are partially intelligible in and of themselves without recourse to what observers with mathematics have done. Intelligibility is tied up with observation on our end.
          Now, one could talk about the intelligibility of the universe in and of itself by positing that the universe has laws (or relationships) that exist, which make the universe intelligible to itself - by the existence of these laws. The universe is partially intelligible to us, so far as we can find these laws.
          The point is that when we are talking about the intelligibility of the universe and the intelligibility of the universe in and of itself, we have to define what we mean by both things.
          When Feser asks for the laws to be intelligible, he is committing a category error. The laws are what intelligibility rests on. To ask for the intelligible reason behind the laws, requires another definition of intelligibility. Otherwise, it is like asking what is the volume of a triangle.

          • Phil

            What does it mean for the universe to be thoroughly or partially intelligible in itself?

            For something to be intelligible, in and of itself, simply means that it is possible of being known and understood. But that doesn't mean that there is something around that can understand it. For example, before humans existed, during the time of the dinosaurs, a tree was just as intelligible as it is now. The difference now is that there is a being that can actually understand and have knowledge of the workings of a tree, and what a tree is. If the tree was not an intelligible object in the first place, it doesn't matter what or who tried to understand it--it couldn't be understood! You cannot understand something that is not, in and of itself, able to be understood; this would be a good way of summing up this important distinction.

            When Feser asks for the laws to be intelligible, he is committing a category error. The laws are what intelligibility rests on. To ask for the intelligible reason behind the laws, requires another definition of intelligibility. Otherwise, it is like asking what is the volume of a triangle.

            I apologize, as I don't quite know what what you are trying to point out here? The best I can throw out at this point is if we hold that the laws that describe reality are coherent and intelligible, this means that the actual reality that they describe is, in and of itself, intelligible.

          • Michael Murray

            The dictionary says that intelligible has two definitions:

            adjective
            1. capable of being understood; comprehensible; clear: an intelligible response.
            2. Philosophy. apprehensible by the mind only; conceptual.

            The philosophical definition seems different. I wouldn't regard a tree as being apprehensible by the mind only. Depending on what apprehensible means I guess. I think we can form a model in our minds that is a reasonable approximation to the tree but I'm not sure we can apprehend the whole tree like we apprehend mathematics or logic say.

          • Phil

            The philosophical definition seems different.

            No, you're exactly right. Capable of being understand, of being known, is exactly what I've been throwing out as what it means for something to be "intelligible".

            (I should say the mainstream philosophers, from ancient to modern times, that I have studied have never thrown out anything far from this in regards to intelligibility.)

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Suppose we talk about the intelligibility of gravity. Gravity is intelligible in itself, if it follows some type of law or relationship. Gravity is partially intelligible to us, because we have an understanding of how gravity operates with Newton's law of universal gravitation and general relativity. We do not have a complete understanding of gravity and it might be true that a complete understanding is impossible.

            However, if we did discover a complete theory of gravity, that theory would mean that gravity is completely intelligible to us and completely intelligible in itself. However, it is a nonsense question to ask: "is the complete theory of gravity intelligible?" The theory is the explanation. This is where Feser commits a category error.

            It could be argued that physics is simply a model for the world, but does not uncover anything about the world per se, it is just our subjective modeling. I do not hold to this position, but I do not think that this position was sufficiently argued against.

          • Phil

            Suppose we talk about the intelligibility of gravity. Gravity is
            intelligible in itself, if it follows some type of law or relationship.

            From a philosophical POV, we would say that gravity is intelligible if it is capable of "being understood" or of "being known".

            In other words, for something to be understood, if does not need to be able to be mathematically modeled. Mathematics is only one way that part of reality can be understood. For example, we both understand what "peace" is. But peace is not something that can be mathematically modeled, but it is something that intelligible to us. We can point out instances of peace, and we can recognize when we are "at peace".

            We do not have a complete understanding of gravity and it might be true that a complete understanding is impossible.

            Whether gravity is completely intelligible, in and of itself, is completely separate from the question of whether it is fully intelligible to us--with our limited human intellect. It could very well be the case that gravity is fully intelligible, in itself, but only partially intelligible to us.

            In fact, there are good rational (i.e., philosophical) reasons to hold that all of reality is intelligible, in itself.

            However, it is a nonsense question to ask: "is the complete theory of gravity intelligible?" The theory is the explanation. This is where Feser commits a category error.

            Remember, we are not talking about the theory. (Scientists can debate whether the theory of gravity itself is coherent.) There is a distinciton between theory and reality. Our job is to properly describe reality using the proposed theory--but we would never say that the theory equals reality. The theory simply describes the way reality is.

            Dr. Feser is primarily doing philosophy, and philosophers are interested in reality itself. We are asking whether the actually existing gravity, whatever that may be, is actually intelligible.

            It could be argued that physics is simply a model for the world, but does not uncover anything about the world per se, it is just our subjective modeling. I do not hold to this position, but I do not think that this position was sufficiently argued against.

            That is a great philosophical question. Obviously this is not a scientific question. Science assumes that the world can be rationally modeled. If science didn't believe this to be the case, we would stop doing science right away! And any scientist that continued would be insane!

            I hold, along with many others, that the world is intelligible through and through. (To hold the opposite leads to a logical contradiction.) So that means I would tell the scientist, "Keep going! Science is a rational endeavor ad you are discovering actual truths about the intelligible world!

          • Ignatius Reilly

            In fact, there are good rational (i.e., philosophical) reasons to hold that all of reality is intelligible, in itself.

            That are non empirical?

            Remember, we are not talking about the theory. (Scientists can debate whether the theory of gravity itself is coherent.) There is a distinciton between theory and reality. Our job is to properly describe reality using the proposed theory--but we would never say that the theory equals reality. The theory simply describes the way reality is.

            Dr. Feser is primarily doing philosophy, and philosophers are interested in reality itself. We are asking whether the actually existing gravity, whatever that may be, is actually intelligible.

            I think this is our main point of contention. Aside from theories of gravity, in what way do we partially understand gravity?

            Physics is a particular type of intelligibility. Just because the universe has mathematical intelligibility does not mean that the universe has other types of philosophical intelligibility. This is why I think Feser makes a category error.

          • Phil

            I think this is our main point of contention. Aside from theories of gravity, in what way do we partially understand gravity?

            Theories of gravity are proposed explanations for the way gravity actually exists. In the end, to propose a theory of gravity is to assume that gravity is actually intelligible, in itself. If gravity isn't intelligible, then proposing a theory of gravity is trying to explain something that can't be explained! Which of course is irrational.

            Just because the universe has mathematical intelligibility does not mean that the universe has other types of philosophical intelligibility.

            If the universe is actually mathematically intelligible, that means it can be known, which means it is intelligible to us to at least a certain extent. It could very well be intelligible beyond what we can know. You are exactly correct, that there are different ways to know things. So we have to use the proper tools for the job. (i.e., not using philosophy when science is the proper tool; not using science when philosophy is the proper tool, etc.)

            Dr. Feser is talking in the broadest of terms. So that's why I'm not yet seeing the charge of "category mistake" have any substantial argument behind it. Though I still may be missing what you are trying to say, as it isn't quite clear yet.

            That are non empirical? [In regards to the fact that there are good rational (i.e., philosophical) reasons to hold that all of reality is intelligible, in itself.]

            That depends on what you mean by "empirical". If it means that it can be tested using the scientific method, that doesn't make sense. To test something using science is to assume that it is intelligible in the first place and can be known. So you can't use science to tell you whether reality is itself intelligible.

            So what do we use? We use reason, through the rigors of philosophical reasoning and logic. Philosophy is based upon experience (i.e., based upon empirical experiences), but then we reason about that data, and what it means. Obviously, philosophy doesn't use scientific tests, since it isn't science. It discovers deeper truths about reality that science cannot, because science has limited itself.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Dr. Feser is talking in the broadest of terms. In the order of knowledge, philosophy comes prior to science. So if a philosophical truth is discovered, there is nothing that science could discover that could undermine it. So that's why I'm not yet seeing the charge of "category mistake" have any substantial argument behind it. Though I still may be missing what you are trying to say, as it isn't quite clear yet.

            Philosophy and science are interrelated. One is not prior to another.

            Gravity is partially intelligible through the laws of physics. The laws of physics provide the intelligibility. Gravity may perhaps be completely intelligible, but that is not particularly important to the argument that I am trying to make.

            Feser argues that the fundamental laws must be intelligible, but this is an equivocation on the type of intelligibility that we are talking about. We know that the physical universe is partially intelligible, because we have the laws of physics.
            However, it is a category mistake to then claim that things like pain or suffering are intelligible. Intelligibility is divided into categories. To use physics as an example of how we achieve partial intelligibility, then claim that the universe is completely intelligent in all ways is an equivocation or a category error.

          • Phil

            Feser argues that the fundamental laws must be intelligible, but this isan equivocation on the type of intelligibility that we are talking about.

            Try reading Feser's essay again by replacing every instance of "law" with the phrase "way(s) in which they act" (or some variation of that phrase to make it proper english!), and see if that helps clear up anything.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Feser:

            As indicated above, this seems to be the view of naturalistically-oriented philosophers like Russell and Mackie, who believed that science gives us real knowledge of the world but that the fundamental laws of nature in terms of which it explains all the others are brute facts that cannot themselves ultimately be made intelligible.

            If the law should be replaced with "ways in which they act", science is not longer a reason for intelligibility and F becomes a viable option. Indeed, Russell and Mackie may fit in Feser's F column.

          • Phil

            In your quote, Feser is making the point that science uses theories (i.e., laws) to explain the way that nature functions. The natural question then comes up, "(1) why is it that nature functions in predictable ways that can be explained through laws, and (2) why are the laws what they are?"

            Russell and Mackie hold that these two questions are brute facts. The "laws" are unintelligible brute facts that explain intelligible realities (i.e., nature).

            There is no rational explanation for them. The fact that matter/energy acts in ways that can be rationally modeled and is intelligible is itself unintelligible. It isn't that we can't know the answer to these questions--it is that the laws themselves are irrational and have no explanation. (Obviously Feser and I would both point towards issues with this belief, but that's for another time.)

            (This might have been what you were trying to get at for some time, so thank you for putting it in this way!)

          • Ignatius Reilly

            The natural question then comes up, "(1) why is it that nature functions in predictable ways that can be explained through laws, and (2) why are the laws what they are?"

            So with regard to these questions, I could put Russell in the F column?

          • Phil

            Actually....

          • I think Russell would probably be (D).

            He believes that the world is partially intelligible, but that there are some "brute facts". Therefore those brute facts are not intelligible. (But how we can thrust intelligibility upon something that is unintelligible is the issue with this view though.)

            Playing devil's advocate:

            We could thrust intelligibility upon something unintelligible by mistake, bewitched by and employing a useful but erroneous interpretation.

          • Phil

            We could thrust intelligibility upon something unintelligible by mistake, bewitched by and employing a useful but erroneous interpretation.

            The thing with this is if we have an erroneous understanding, this would seem to imply that there is a true understanding that we have not yet discovered. Therefore, this entity is not truly unintelligible.

            Put a different way, I don't think it is possible to have even an erroneous understanding (i.e., intelligibility) in regards to something that unintelligible in and of itself.

            ------

            Now, it could be the case that something only appears to be intelligible to us. This obviously brings up the issue of skepticism, because then we can't--even in principle--tell the difference between something that is actually intelligible and something that only appears to be intelligible.

            I would hold that skepticism can be shown to be false by contradiction. Therefore, I would hold that we can reasonably believe that all of reality is intelligible, in and of itself [Feser option (A) or (B)]. Whether or not the human intellect is capable of actually grasping all of intelligible reality is a separate issue.

          • The thing with this is to say that we have an erroneous understanding seems to imply that there is a true understanding that we have not yet discovered. Therefore, this entity is not truly unintelligible.

            That's one interpretation. Another alternative is, as you acknowledged, skepticism. But our responses to same are not as straightforward as charging it as self-refuting:

            http://www.galilean-library.org/site/index.php/page/index.html/_/essays/introducingphilosophy/20-epistemology-2-r37

            My response of choice is fallibilism, justified pragmatically, which adopts a theory of truth provisionally, basically saying, if objective verities indeed obtain, this approach would converge on them, haltingly but inexorably, in other words, weakly. If they do not, my approach remains practical due to sufficient uniformities in nature, which themselves evolved and which, however spatially local or temporally ephemeral, will suit our purposes until the sun burns out, until a nuclear bang or an ecological whimper.

          • Phil

            I think my position might fall toward a type of fallibilism as well. I would acknowledge that we could hold a false belief for seemingly justified reasons, but of course, we are still holding a false belief. But if we have actually true and rationally justified reasons for holding something, then our belief coming from this must be true (obviously this is an ontological statement, and comes from the belief that the human intellect is actually capable of grasping truth). Obviously sometimes our reasons for holding a belief are themself false, and we only learn this after further investigation.

            I would say that to hold any position that leads to complete skepticism at an ontological level in regards to the human person itself, must be rejected. If an assumption puts the human person in a position where it cannot actually tell the difference between a belief that is actually true, and a belief that only appears to be true, then we must, philosophically, reject that original assumption. I just don't see any way to rationally accept a complete skepticism as being actually true.

          • Most indeed are critical realists.

            The distinction between a justified belief and a justified true belief is significant because an interpretation of reality might not be robustly warranted, epistemically, but still suitably justified, normatively. To make this concrete, given competing but equiprobable interpretations, when informatively disadvantaged, we may still, nevertheless, be performatively, coerced, akin to what William James called a forced, vital and live option. We see something coiled up on the floor of a dimly lit room and, unsure whether it's a rope or a snake, we leave it alone. Turns out, it was a rope. Our interpretations of reality, in my pragmatic realism, have behavioral consequences, existential actionability and value-realizations because epistemology is inherently axiological. This is to say that one way to conceive belief, beyond a mere cognitive proposition or conceptual map-making, is as an existential disjunction, a living as if within our participatory imaginations, not inconsistent with Tillich's faith as ultimate concern. More than propositional assent, faith involves a way of moving, living and enjoying being.

            As far as ontological stances, I distinguish between primal and/or ultimate realities and proximate realities because the uniformities we enjoy may be very local, not universal, much less multiversal. If nonuniformities predominate in a reality of foaming quantum vacuums and evaporating black holes (with or without scale symmetries), where innumerable big bangs birth uncountable universes and multiverses, each with
            unique emergent regularities, questions of material, formal, final and efficient causations, along with explanatory probes, will continue to beg, but it's not inconceivable that metaphysical necessities might not be actual and that reality's probabilities would only map to fuzzy logics and set theories, which, themselves, would reaxiomatize with every moving ontic target. The whole might very well continue to beg for an explanation, but, otherwise accounted for by the dynamical parts, why couldn't a root metaphor like changes changing reflect a brute primal fact, even if a hypothetical observer would have no way of knowing same? Just returning to the point that one cannot a priori know whether a fallacy of composition is in play or not, whether or not an account is brute or lends itself to further explanation. It's an epistemic knife that slices in both ontological directions, yielding undecidability, in principle, just not in practice.
            Not sure I'm saying this all well, especially since I'm trying to occupy a hermeneutic that I don't inhabit, in order to better interpret others' objections on their own terms.

          • Phil

            Thanks for the insightful response. (And you are correct, as I find myself situated mostly in the Aristotelian-Thomistic tradition, I would consider myself a epistemological realist--in between skepticism and complete certainty. Though obviously, metaphysically, I do hold there to be objective truth.)

            but it's not inconceivable that metaphysical necessities might not be actual and that reality's probabilities would only map to fuzzy logics and set theories, which, themselves, would reaxiomatize with
            every moving ontic target.

            My thought here would be--if what you are saying is correct, then it seems there actually is no such thing as "metaphysical necessities"? In the end, I would find that very hard to rationally defend that such things as the principle of non-contradiction and principle of sufficient reason are not metaphysical necessities.

            ----

            I am having a hard time understanding what exactly you are saying after the quoted section above. As you have been probably told before, your writing style is very dense! Maybe if you could phrase things as if you are talking to someone who merely has an undergrad degree in philosophy, and continues to study philosophy as a hobby, it would help me out greatly! ;)

          • Some wholes can be explained by looking at the individual explanations of their parts and some can't. We don't know which type of explanation would suffice for reality writ large because we don't which type of whole it is. Russell couldn't successfully charge theists with a fallacy of composition (using the wrong explanatory scheme for a given whole) because he couldn't know either.

            In my modal phenomenology, re: metaphysical necessities, I have no need of that hypothesis. It's not a matter of sacrificing first principles. For possibilities, noncontradiction doesn't apply, only excluded middle. For actualities, both apply but I employ nonstrict identity, which I appreciate requires a lot of unpacking, but it has to do with a more dynamical approach than static, more process than substance, but kind of in-between-ish. For probabilities, noncontradiction applies but excluded middle does not.

          • Phil

            Some wholes can be explained by looking at the individual explanations of their parts and some can't. We don't know which type of explanation would suffice for reality writ large because we don't which type of whole it is.

            My contention towards this would be that if it would be ultimately incoherent to believe that a "property" (especially a metaphysical property) of the whole would not be the same as the parts, one could conclude, metaphysically, that the part and whole share this same property.

            So, again, to hold that something, which is incoherent, is actually true would seem to thrust the human person back into a complete state of skepticism (which I don't think can be defended as being actually true.)

          • My contention towards this would be that if it would be ultimately incoherent to believe that a "property" (especially a metaphysical property) of the whole would not be the same as the parts, one could conclude, metaphysically, that the part and whole share this same property.

            Not clear to me that we're talking about the same thing. I'm thinking of Aristotelian saying that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, in the context, for example of an emergentist heuristic, where novel properties emerge, unpredictability, from the combination of constituent parts, sometimes. We don't need metaphysical thought experiments, just physics, chemistry, biology and consciousness to illustrate the notion.

          • I just don't see any way to rationally hold that a complete skepticism is actually true.

            If only that criterion, alone, would suffice! ;-)

            You could argue for it informally like we argue for rationality. But your informal appeals couldn't be pragmatic or reductio ad absurdum because rationality claims those. :)

          • Phil

            If we have two positions in all reality and number (1) is rational, coherent, and consistent, and (2) cannot be held coherently and rationally, would you then say we have no good reason to believe that (1) is actually the most rational position to hold as being actually true?

          • If one broadly conceives rational to include practical reasoning, of course. Like I said: pragmatic and reductio.

            If one narrowly conceives rational in terms of formal syllogistic proofs, then, no.

            If one appeals to the self-evidential , then I get wary that an ostensibly critical realism may be on a slippery slope, for all practical purposes, toward a naive realism, that a self-described fallibilism might be creeping toward infallibilism.

          • Phil

            Gotcha, I just see no way to uphold the human person's ability to come to truth about reality, without at the same time holding that if only two positions are available and one is actually incoherent, then the alternative must be true. If one can't do that, it seems like the human person is trust into a complete skepticism where objective truth no longer exists.

          • There's no escaping, seems to me, that our ontological posits precede our epistemological musings.

            Our methodological parlors already come well appointed with a veritable suite of metaphysical furnishings. We could say they are non-acquisitional because we don't have to go shopping for them. Philosophically, we could say they are non-propositional because we don't have to prove them. I suspect this all matches what Polkinghorne meant in epistemology models ontology.

            Too many philosophical "schools" seem to me to be on metaphysical shopping sprees, unaware that their methodological parlors are already divinely appointed (double entendre intended, use merriam webster definitions 1.a. and/or 2.a. per one's own a/theologic disposition).

            An economically minded, common sensical phenomenology enters the parlor and takes an inventory of such furnishings as possibilities, actualities and probabilities, describes their features, like noncontradiction, excluded middle, identity, uniformities and nonuniformities, and, perhaps, may even notice the existence of other tenants (let's call them minds.

            An astute tenant will properly gather that these furnishings are not only incredibly sturdy but happen to be priceless, time-honored antiques. They not only needn't be acquired, already being furnished, but they best not be disposed of and needn't be replaced as they've already proved their worth.

            As with any old building, which has gone through many owners and tenants, we will come across old paperwork, such as inventories of furnishings, which may even be written in other languages, interpreting the nature of this piece or that, describing it this way or that. For example, take the uniformities lanterns, which light up the dim corners of the parlor. Some inventory-takers have suggested these uniformities are necessitarian, law-like and prescriptive in operation (adverting to nomicity), while others have suggested they are descriptive regularities. Most have called them by their colloquial name, causes. Whether the lanterns work because of nomicity or regularity needn't be resolved as long as they throw off sufficient light.

            Again, as with any old building, there will have been furnishings brought in that just don't "fit" or don't function and could be removed, even best be removed.

            Gotcha, I just see no way to uphold the human person's ability to come to truth about reality, without at the same time holding that if only two positions are available and one is actually incoherent, then the alternative must be true. If one can't do that, it seems like the human person is trust into a complete skepticism where objective truth no longer exists.

            .

            Skepticism, regarding this or that piece of furniture, needn't be interpreted as a thoroughgoing attitude toward the entire suite. In fact, it may only take the form --- not whether a furnishing should be dispensed with, and not even whether or not it is useful, but --- of skepticism regarding how it works (e.g. nomicity versus regularity).

            The reason I suggested caution in appealing to the self-evident in not because we cannot be very reasonably assured that there are invaluable, even indispensable, metaphysical furnishings already provided, a veritable complete set even, but, because isolated pieces in inventory really don't belong, for one reason or another. We cannot walk into that parlor and a priori say
            that every furnishing necessarily has the same metaphysical vintage and methodological legacy as the others but it would be silly to deny that the entire suite thereby necessarily lacks value.

            So, we don't reason infallibly from a given metaphysical presupposition (furnishing) of our methodological stipulations (parlor) to an ontological necessity (it necessarily belongs to the suite), but it would be intuitively absurd and manifestly impracticable to deny that most of those furnishings very probably belong in that suite.

            There don't seem to me to be only two positions available, naive realism vs radical skepticism. No one is forced to argue that ALL of the furnishings must EITHER remain OR get tossed. One of the chief problems in metaphysical schools is not the supposed under-appreciation of the principle of noncontradiction, as so many imagine, but the over-application of excluded middle.

            Thus, when it comes to that third modal category beyond possibilities and actualities, or potentialities and acts, what Scotus called the formal distinction and Peirce called thirdness, we prescind from necessity to probability, keeping noncontradiction, setting aside excluded middle. And as phenomenologists understand, the logic of this modal category works, pragmatically, indispensably even, should one aspire to evade absurdity, even as essentialists and nominalists debate nomicity vs regularity accounts of reality's uniformities.

            Bottom line:

            philosophically, faith in reality's rationality is not a syllogism but a justified belief ...

            theologically, faith in God is not a syllogism but a justified belief ...

            Faith is way under-rated in philosophical parlors.
            Syllogistic arguments are way over-rated in theological parlors.

            At least, that's the way I uphold the human person's ability to come to truth about reality. It's called common sense. I never took a philosophy course in my life. Most of it sounds like total poppycock to me, which I have read about and studied and then have deployed mostly in an effort to demonstrate how it all subverts from within. Phenomenology studies the modal and logical structure of common sense, heralds its strengths, trumpets its limitations and recognizes faith's indispensable role in everyday life.

            That's my attempt to more accessibly unpack my dense prose per your polite request. Not sure I succeeded, as it's not a gift but a challenge I still struggle with.

          • Phil

            Thank you for writing this drawn out response. It helps a lot to get at exactly what you are saying! (I plan to read over it again to reflect on the things I didn't pick up on the first time.)

            -----

            My first thought is that I agree with you completely that we should be wary of accepting things with strong conviction that we simply say are "self-evident".

            As I have hinted at before, my main contention would be that if a position cannot be coherently defended and held, I see no reason to give this position any real merit over the alternative position (or another alternative position) that is coherent and can be rationally defended.

            For example, take these two positions:
            (a) The human intellect cannot come to any objective truth about reality. (i.e., complete skepticism is true)
            (b) The human intellect can come to, at least some, objective truths about reality.

            These are the only two options we have. I would hold that in position (a) cannot be coherently defended, while position (b) can. This puts us in a very good position to declare with great certainty that (b) is the actual truth of reality.

            Once we do that, any other position that we might take about reality that would rationally lead us to conclude that complete skepticism is true (i.e., position (a)) would have serious doubts as its own validity as a true statement about reality.

            Anyway, just some thoughts.

          • Sure, Phil. And, approach it from the stance that you and I are not disputing destinations, only designating the route we must have traveled. For, you see, we are all born with common sense and have traveled a distance to arrive at certain positions regarding reality. Many know WHAT they believe but have difficulty articulating WHY it's justified. It's like they got to their destination in the same vehicle as you and I, except that they were locked in the trunk, while, due to curiosity and self-critique, we were blessed to be riding in the back seat, looking out the window, while Aquinas and GK Chesterton took turns driving, Common sense, combined with faith, is the destination. Any who use this approach can be epistemically competent, but most seem to be unconsciously competent to a degree. Some study philosophy and get stupider than they were before, for with logic being such a powerful vehicle, starting with an empty concept or faulty premise, the world's greatest logicians can get further from the truth, faster and more efficiently, than any poor imbecile could ever dare to aspire.

        • GCBill

          I agree with what you're saying, and so I'm trying to figure out what's wrong with what I wrote. Did you take "may or may not be intelligible" to mean that it's possible that the world isn't intelligible in itself at all? If so, know that I actually don't mean that; I meant to convey that the world is partially or fully intelligible in itself, and that we aren't in a position to know which is the case. Or am I misreading you?

          • Phil

            I meant to convey that the world is partially or fully intelligible in itself, and that we aren't in a position to know which is the case

            I gotcha, that makes much more sense!

    • William Davis

      Sounds right to me. Let's keep making more sense of the universe until we can't anymore, then figure out what we are doing wrong so we can keep making even better sense of it. Perhaps we seek God not because God exists, but on some fundamental level, we want to be God. We want to control the world, we want to make the world the way WE want it to be i.e. we want to remake the world in our image. Since the scientific revolution, we've been doing a good job of it. The odd fact is that by being humble intellectually, one can continue to improve and learn more. When one assumes he already has the "Truth" he becomes lazy and quits looking.

      If you could go back to the time of Christ with a few pieces of the technology we have today, especially antibiotics, people would think you were a god.

      If God actually does exist, perhaps we can progress to the point we can actually KNOW he exists.

      • Luke Cooper

        Let's keep making more sense of the universe until we can't anymore, then figure out what we are doing wrong so we can keep making even better sense of it.

        If only it were that easy! I think we're getting closer to approximating the laws of nature, but perhaps the paths that we're on now will never get there. Kind of like how, in a maze made of glass (i.e., scientific theories), we could hypothetically get really close to exiting the maze (i.e., to discover the laws of nature), even so far as seeing it is just one or two glass partitions away. However, the path that leads to the exit might be way back near the beginning of the maze, not at the last divergence. This analogy is probably way off, but it's one that is fun for me to think about.

    • Well said!

    • Mike

      Fair dinkum but a stretch..."science of the gaps" IMHO but i see your point.

      • Luke Cooper

        How else do you propose that we proceed, Mike? Should we throw up our hands, fill in our unknowns with God-did-it's and say, "Oh well, we tried"? No. Until proven otherwise (if that's even possible), we should continue to proceed as if A. is true, that "The world is thoroughly intelligible in itself and thoroughly intelligible to us." If the Christian God exists and designed our universe, it seems to have left a crumb trail for us to follow. So why not?

        • Mike

          I am confused by your comment.

          What do you suppose we'll "find out" by figuring everything out about the physical universe; suppose we solve every single "scientific problem", then what?

          My grade school math teacher once said that even the most complicated math was a sinch compared to problems like what is good and how should ppl live - i didn't understand what he meant as he seemed brilliant to me but now i do understand.

          • Luke Cooper

            What do you suppose we'll "find out" by figuring everything out about the physical universe; suppose we solve every single "scientific problem", then what?

            I have no idea what would be possible, or if "figuring everything out" is even possible. I'm sure others have thought about this hypothetical more than I. Some ideas are the eradication of diseases and disabilities, interstellar travel, explanations of consciousness, and increasing our lifespan. Of course, we could use our understanding for harm, as well; new discoveries open the door to new ethical gray areas. The questions of "what is good and how should people live?" could be studied using scientific methods, but many philosophical questions could remain. Or not. I don't know!

          • Mike

            "good" must at some point = voodoo, seems to me.

          • Mike

            ok sorry i am into the vino tonight so excuse my replies.

          • William Davis

            Lol, drunk dialing on SN? We disagree on a lot, but I think you'd be fun to hang out with ;)

    • Peter

      From a materialist perspective, human consciousness stems from the greatest known level of material complexity the entropy-driven universe has managed to achieve, namely the human brain. Therefore insofar as humans comprehend the universe, it is the universe beginning to comprehend itself.

      Over time that complexity could grow further. Indeed, there may be instances across the cosmos where it has done so already, where sentient species have evolved brains of greater complexity and acquired greater comprehension of the universe. This would represent the universe naturally increasing its comprehension of itself.

      My point is that, even from a purely materialist perspective, the universe appears to have a purpose. It is wholly intelligible to start with and, through its entropy-driven evolution leading to greater complexity, is acquiring greater intelligibility of itself. There are no limits to the degree of complexity and therefore self-understanding that the universe can achieve in the aeons to come.

      From the standpoint of sheer logic, I cannot see how materialists can deny that the universe has a purpose which, driven by the relentless engine of entropy, is to ultimately and thoroughly comprehend itself. Consequently, the only conclusion materialists can arrive at about the universe is that it is a living growing entity destined to achieve complete awareness and self-understanding. To the materialist, the universe is becoming its own God and we as humans are the constituent parts. Atheism is redundant.

      • Luke Cooper

        I've seen you try to make this argument with others. Sorry--I see no reason to take your claim seriously that the universe has purpose. You're trying to force your conclusion as if we know enough about the universe that your claim is inevitable. This is precisely what Dr. Feser was trying to do.

        • Peter

          As a materialist you cannot deny that, in us, the universe is acquiring consciousness and self-comprehension. We are not freaks but the necessarily outcome of an entropy-driven universe. Ours is a universe where self-comprehension is necessary on a potentially widespread scale. The universe knew in advance that it would acquire consciousness and self-comprehension.

          • Luke Cooper

            Seems like mystical nonsense to me. How do you back up these claims?

          • Peter

            I don't need to. They are no more nonsensical than your own claims that the universe has no purpose.

          • Luke Cooper

            But I don't claim that the universe has no purpose. I'm agnostic on that idea. However, I see no evidence that the universe has or has to have a purpose, so I do not have the belief that it does or must. You're the one making the claim here.

          • Peter

            You don't claim that the universe has no purpose because you see no evidence that the universe has no purpose, just as you see no evidence that the universe has a purpose.

            In other words, you don't know either way. So why can't you afford the same consideration to those who believe that the universe has a purpose as you would to those who believe that it doesn't?

          • Luke Cooper

            you see no evidence that the universe has no purpose

            No, I didn't say that. I think there is evidence that the universe has no purpose, so I do have the tentative belief that it has no purpose (I just don't claim to know for sure). For example, scientists estimate that 99.9% of species that have ever existed on Earth have gone extinct, mostly through cataclysmic events. To me, that's evidence of lots of purposeless death via natural selection, not purpose. I do think it's a fluke that humans exist today and think that we could go extinct as a result of another cataclysmic event, perhaps of our own doing this time.

          • Peter

            How can extinctions be purposeless if they lay the foundations for the eventual achievement of sentience? You may respond that sentience could have been achieved without the extinctions, but how can you possibly know that?

          • Luke Cooper

            how can you possibly know that?

            For the second time, I'm agnostic on the idea of a purposeful universe; I don't make knowledge claims in either direction.

            You're conflating issues of possibility / probability and purpose. Say I told you that I can purposefully roll a seven with two. You don't believe me, but I roll two dice and they sum to seven. Would you then believe me that I can roll a seven on purpose? I doubt it; seven is the most common result of a two-dice roll, so I was probably betting on the odds. You might believe me if I repeatedly rolled sevens, but we don't have the luxury of seeing the outcomes of multiple dice rolls with the universe; we only know how the dice fell in this one. Maybe sentience is the most common result of a big bang dice roll--I don't know. But I also don't know how you can attribute purpose to the universe, when, for all we know, sentience is similar to a rolling a seven with two dice: definitely possible, though still not probable (non-seven results are more probable), and unknowable as regarding purpose with our sample size of one universe.

          • George

            The universe knew in advance?

      • George

        Heat death puts a damper on your conclusion of the "ultimate" fate for the universe. I'm not particularly fond of heat death but I don't have a theory to get around it. Do you?

        • Peter

          The mass of the newly-discovered higgs boson suggests that the universe is on the very edge of stability and could collapse in on itself in the distant future. Such a finding would tend to undermine the certainty that the universe will last forever in thermal equilibrium.

          • George

            That's fascinating. It would still mean the ultimate fate of the universe isn't a state of self-awareness/however you like to word it.

          • Peter

            If it is likely that the universe is transient instead of permanent, that would reinforce its sense of purpose not weaken it, even from a materialist point of view.

            A universe ending after widespread consciousness and self-understanding had been achieved would be far more deemed to have existed for that purpose than a universe which lasts forever. A universe lasting forever would be deemed to exist for nothing other than merely existing.

    • You kind of anticipated where I was headed, which is: H. We do not know yet whether the world is thoroughly intelligible in itself and/or thoroughly intelligible to us..

      The reason I suggest that is because we cannot a priori know whether or not we have committed a fallacy of composition/ in begging for an explanation for the world as a whole. If the concept nothing successfully refers to reality, as in Why is there something rather than nothing? - then, seemingly, no problem, because it would seem to follow that logical necessities map to metaphysical necessities. Even if we choose not to reify nothing and ask, instead, Why is there something rather than something else?, we still cannot a priori know whether the totality of something-else-ishness begs explanation beyond those given for every dynamical event, where regularities, themselves evolve in a reality best described by the root metaphor change.

      So, the problem that confronts us remains the move from the analytic to the a posteriori,
      from logical to metaphysical necessity, from parts to wholes, from methodological stipulations to ontological decisions. We cannot a priori determine whether brute facts obtain or mereological questions truly beg.

      No one has proven that certain indispensable methodological stipulations, like the principles of causation and sufficient reason, must be metaphysically true. They have only demonstrated that, if they are untrue, we shall be unfortunate. No, one cannot argue against the proposition of PSR without stipulating to its axioms, but that doesn't explain or prove or give a reason for adopting those axioms, except on pragmatic grounds (not that those cannot be at least weakly truth-indicative, only to admit that it's too controversial and strong a claim to suggest that those or other analytic grounds are robustly truth-conducive).

      So, Scottish verdict for both Russell and Coplestone: not proven.

      • Luke Cooper

        Yes, I definitely like your H. and GCBill's G. (which I think is similar enough to your H., but I could be convinced otherwise) better than my G.

        As for the rest, I think I agree with the other points I think I understood you making :) As I've said before, I really need to hone my understanding and use philosophical terminology. I'm not used to discussing philosophy with philosophers, so my coarse vocabulary usually conveys my points well enough. Definitely not so here!

  • We experience reality as a fugue of continuities and discontinuities, the systematic and the random, pattern and paradox, symmetry and asymmetry, order and chaos, regularities and irregularities, static and dynamic, tendencies and anomalies, axiomatic givens and emergent novelty, as possibilities, actualities and probabilities.

    Nowhere in reality do we encounter physical necessity, only provisional methodological stipulations to logical necessities, where both the principles of noncontradiction (PNC) and excluded middle (PEM) hold. Because of temporal asymmetry, we stipulate -- not to strict, but ---
    nonstrict identity.

    In our phenomenological modal logic, then, for possibilities, PNC folds but PEM holds, for actualities, both PNC and PEM hold, and for probabilities, PNC holds but PEM folds. Additional provisional methodological stipulations include principles of causation (PC) and sufficient reason (PSR). Finally, in navigating our probabilistic physical reality, provisionally, we adopt a methodological naturalism because, whenever our journey to knowledge has abruptly halted, we cannot a priori know whether we'll eventually move again, as soon as our epistemic modeling horsepower enjoys enhancement, or, instead, whether we've driven into some ontological cul de sac, thus permanently thwarted.

    The search, then, for a Theory of Everything (TOE), presupposes axiomatic necessities, not only the logical necessities of our closed formal symbol systems but metaphysical necessities, which would represent reality's putative givens (primitives, axioms and forces). Godel's theorems suggest we are constrained in our formulations of TOEs, forced to choose between consistency or completeness.

    What Godelian incompleteness doesn't mean, however, is that one couldn't write down a complete, consistent TOE, only that one couldn't prove it, formally. Think about this. Russell and Whitehead had to get halfway through the Principia before proving the axioms that demonstrate that 2+2=4. I don't know about you, but, to me, while I'm sure the proof of those axioms is mathematically indispensable, they are, for all practical purposes, uninteresting, so obvious are their fruits, which I can taste and see. So, all godelian constraints aside, who knows, perhaps one day a TOE will be written down or spoken, the truths of which will be so taste-and-see-able that the proof of its axioms will be similarly uninteresting.

    It'll be the FIRE breathed into the equations that'll light our paths and warm our hearts.

    Now, I don't extrapolate from my methodological naturalism as a provisional stipulation to a philosophical naturalism as a metaphysical necessity. It may --- not unreasonably --- be considered ontologically suggestive but, clearly, cannot be considered ontologically decisive. Intelligibility needs to be rigorously defined and thoroughly disambiguated before we extrapolate from such methodological stipulations as PSR and PC to claim they are --- not just ontologically suggestive, but --- decisive. Intelligibility, as a concept, takes us full circle back to our fugue of regularities and irregularities and so on, how local and/or universal they might present.

    However, we're not dealing, here, with a probabilistic description, empirically and factually, but a plausibilistic interpretation, explanatorily, about rules we can model but not formally explain.
    Those who proffer competing explanatory attempts must traffic in abductive hypotheses and deductive clarifications without the benefit of inductive testing. In aspiring for consistency and completeness, take a serious look at the alternatives to natural theology and how plausible certain quantum interpretations (there are dozens!) are, for example, such as Many Worlds.

    What a great quote: if you refuse to play the explanatory game, then naturally you cannot lose it. But by the same token, it is ludicrous to claim that you’ve won it.. I'll concede that theism(s) is not ontologically decisive, metaphysically necessary, merely from the extrapolation of indispensable methodological stipulations (just like methodological naturalism does not concluded to a philosophical naturalism), but it would be silly to say theism is unreasonable. Competing explanatory accounts cannot be finally adjudicated probabilistically, plausibilistically or rationally with robust epistemic warrant. The question that emerges, then, is whether they can be normatively justified in a more weakly truth-indicative way, assuming one subscribes to a theory of truth (and it's rather entertaining to argue with those who do not). Atheist David Eller doesn't countenance pragmatic arguments against faith because they aren't sociologically rigorous or anthropologically sound, suggesting certain atheological equestrians dismount their high horses and focus, instead, on the truth-value of competing claims. For all the reasons discussed above, good luck to Eller on that front because he's going to need it. Taste and see. Taste and see.

    • Ignatius Reilly

      I'll concede that theism(s) is not ontologically decisive, metaphysically necessary, merely from the extrapolation of indispensable methodological stipulations (just like methodological naturalism does not concluded to a philosophical naturalism), but it would be silly to say theism is unreasonable.

      Theism in general, no, but some theisms are unreasonable. Especially when we have very good reason to believe that the metaphysical premises are unsound.

      Those who proffer competing explanatory attempts must traffic in abductive hypotheses and deductive clarifications without the benefit of inductive testing.

      Explanatory in what way? I can use physics to fully explain Feser's book on a shelf example. To assume that their is another explanation on top of that - that the laws of the universe needs explaining seems to be question begging. Plus, I'm not sure what an explanation would look like. In example, if I was asked to provide a solution to a simple algebra equation, I would expect the answer to be a number of some kind. However, if someone asks for an explanation of the universe, I am not at all sure what an explanation should look like, nor do I think that positing theisms is necessarily explanatory. It would seem that it just pushes the explanation question to God, and then special pleads about God.

      • That's right, like atheological critiques, theisms vary in reasonableness.

        Explanatory as in inference to the best explanation (IBE) employing a dyadic inferential cycle of abductive hypothesizing and deductive clarifying, leading, often, to competing tautologies, often equiprobably, which then fall back to dueling plausibilities and implausibilities, intuitions and counterintuitions, not decisively. Explanatory adequacy employs a triadic inferential cycle of abduction, deduction and induction, probabilistically.

        • Ignatius Reilly

          There is part of the that thinks theism is an answer in search of a question, especially when it comes to "ground of all being" line of reasoning, which is what Feser is usually after.

          However, when it comes to the existential questions, the questions certainly come first.

  • Doug Shaver

    If one wants to maintain a defensible atheist position, then, one has to . . . claim with a straight face that the world is intelligible down to the level of the fundamental laws, but beyond that point suddenly “stops making sense” . . . .

    No, I don't. I will not equate "I can't explain it" with "it makes no sense."

    • Yes, it is one thing to assert it makes no sense regarding reality's primal horizons, in and of themselves, rejecting theological accounts as variously implausible, which amounts to an agnostic atheism. It would be quite another to claim that a given natural theological explanation makes no sense, being not only implausible but meaningless, which would amount to an ignostic atheism, which most avoid (at least after their sophomore year of philosophy).

      • Ignatius Reilly

        It would be quite another to claim that a given natural theological explanation makes no sense, being not only implausible but meaningless, which would amount to an ignostic atheism, which most avoid (at least after their sophomore year of philosophy).

        It would seem to me that a given theological explanation could be implausible, meaningless, or incoherent, but that does not mean that all theological explanations are those things.

        I am not particularly fond of certain expositions of Christianity. I would argue that those expositions are not pragmatic, and also that they may be implausible and incoherent. For example, certain ideas of God as punisher are not pragmatic, nor are they very coherent.

        Edit: incoherent, because infinite punishment is incoherent with infinite justice

  • David Nickol

    If I'm getting the point, this seems to be somewhat analogous to the "unmoved mover" argument. If the universe is intelligible at all, it has to be entirely intelligible, because intelligibility isn't really intelligibility if you give

    • explanation Y for the basis of Z
    • explanation X for the basis of Y
    • explanation W for the basis of X

    and so on, until you get to

    • explanation C for the basis of B
    • explanation B for the basis of A

    At which point you say, "A just is. It's a brute fact." That (the argument appears to me to say) causes arguments B through Y to topple, because ultimately they aren't based on anything intelligible.

    Consequently, you must at some point reach an "inexplicable explanation" (analogous to an unmoved mover) to avoid infinite regress, and the "inexplicable explanation" is God.

    • Michael Murray

      I don't actually see the problem if intelligibility just means that we can only explain how thing "A" relates to thing "B". A lot of scientists are happy to settle for that. As Richard Feynman said better than I can

      People say to me, "Are you looking for the ultimate laws of physics?" No, I'm not... If it turns out there is a simple ultimate law which explains everything, so be it — that would be very nice to discover. If it turns out it's like an onion with millions of layers... then that's the way it is. But either way there's Nature and she's going to come out the way She is. So therefore when we go to investigate we shouldn't predecide what it is we're looking for only to find out more about it. Now you ask: "Why do you try to find out more about it?" If you began your investigation to get an answer to some deep philosophical question, you may be wrong. It may be that you can't get an answer to that particular question just by finding out more about the character of Nature. But that's not my interest in science; my interest in science is to simply find out about the world and the more I find out the better it is, I like to find out...

      • David Nickol

        It does not seem to me that the quote from Feynman addresses the philosophical argument that I think Feser is making, and which I was merely trying to describe above from my own point of view. I am not exactly sure what it means to say the universe is "intelligible," but I think I can see the intuitive appeal of an argument that if it is partially intelligible, it must be completely intelligible in principle. We human beings may never fully understand everything, but it seems to make sense (whether it is right or wrong, I don't know) to argue that we have gotten this far in understanding, say, physics, but it may be the case that no matter how smart we are, we will reach a point where things are not simply too difficult for us to understand, but where they don't make sense at all.

        Having said that, it was on my mind at the time I wrote the above that Feser's argument, in being analogous to the "unmoved mover" argument, was less than compelling, since I don't find that argument conclusive. I know it makes theists tear their hair out in frustration when people say things like, "If everything that begins to exist must have a cause, then what caused God?" But all the arguments that rely on God as the alternative to having some kind of infinite regress don't strike me as compelling. That may be because there's something wrong with me, but at some level, I am just going on gut feelings. I know if an argument is compelling if it compels me to accept it, in somewhat the same way I know if a comedy is funny by whether it makes me laugh. I think questions about the existence of God cannot be answered satisfactorily by purely intellectual arguments. I would not want to debate the existence of God with Edward Feser on network television, since I am sure he would demolish me, but that doesn't mean he can convince me.

        • Michael Murray

          Yes I see what you mean. Feynman is addressing more the question of whether chains of explanations might not terminate. The more I have thought about this since I made that post the more I am not sure what "intelligible" means in this article.

          This bit of the original article puzzles me:

          By the same token, it is no good to say “The operation of law of nature C is explained by the operation of law of nature B, and the operation of B by the operation of law of nature A, but the operation of A has no explanation whatsoever and is just an unintelligible brute fact.” The appearance of having “explained” C and B is completely illusory if A is a brute fact, because if there is neither anything about A itself that can explain A’s own operation nor anything beyond A that can explain it, then A has nothing to impart to B or C that could possibly explain their operation.

          Why is this "no good" and why would anyone expect to do better ? What would a better explanation of C even look like ? Does the fact that I don't see a problem with this state of affairs mean I don't think the world is intelligible ?

          Usually in science there is a belief that that these sequences of explanations are making things simpler in some sense. Not sure I could defend that to a philosopher but I think a physicist would say there are less variables and simpler equations as you go down the chain. Of course that requires you to think something like this is simple

          http://www.cs.kun.nl/~freek/sm/sm4.html

          • William Davis

            That's one hell of an equation :)

  • Gray

    On the surface of things, this seems to be a sleight of hand type of religio/obscurantist /philosophical pseudo intellectual type of article....similar to the shell game with the pea, now you see it now you don't....guess which thimble the pea is under?, an exercise in erudite, intellectual subterfuge to disguise the fact that the emperor, in a manner of speaking
    has no clothes on and is meant to distract people from the real issues. Sorry if I seem a bit jaded, but so often the shell game in one form or another seems to be used to promote the reasonableness of Catholicism or other isms be they political or religious.

  • Papalinton

    Dr Feser: "One might still at this point dispute whether the ultimate reality is best described in terms of the theology of classical theism or instead in terms of some pantheistic theology. But one will definitely be in the realm of theology – rational theology, natural theology – rather than empirical science."

    This is a punt straight to supernaturalism, without substantiation. At best it is an argument assembled around personal proclivity. To use Feser's 'shelf' analogy, he seeks to posit these various permutations of theology together with Thomist philosophy, as if they sit on that shelf outside of the 'known' universe, outside the space-time continuum and unaffected by them. After a good start to the opinion piece, the wheels fall off the moment he attempts to inveigle theological explanation into the argument, rather than engaging the more honest and simple, "I don't know".

    No. The argument for a theological explanation has not been made. I might add, theology/theo-based philosophy is largely being superseded by scientific explanation as a basis for properly grounded decision making in the community. This is most especially illustrative when and where theology make the same claims about us, the environment, the world, the universe as does science, but are counter to the empirical and inferential evidence, proofs and facts that lie at the foundation of scientific explanation.

    Today, it is a question of whether we persist with theology/religion and faith as an explanatory tool or do we look to a more robust, evidence-based, epistemologically grounded explanatory paradigm?

  • David Nickol

    Can We Make Sense of the World?

    From today's New York Times:

    Don’t Expect Math to Make Sense

    . . . .Pi is irrational, meaning it cannot be expressed as the ratio of two whole numbers. There is no way to write it down exactly: Its decimals continue endlessly without ever settling into a repeating pattern. No less an authority than Pythagoras repudiated the existence of such numbers, declaring them incompatible with an intelligently designed universe [emphasis added].

    And yet pi, being the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter, is manifested all around us. For instance, the meandering length of a gently sloping river between source and mouth approaches, on average, pi times its straight-line distance. Pi reminds us that the universe is what it is, that it doesn’t subscribe to our ideas of mathematical convenience. . . .

    • Michael Murray

      Pi is worse than irrational. It's transcendental. Meaning that it doesn't satisfy any polynomial equation with integer coefficients or in other words that you can't write down an equation consisting of powers of pi with integers for coefficients which all adds up to zero. Unless the coefficients are all zero of course. This makes it worse than things like the square root of two which satisfies the equation x^2 - 2 = 0 and are called algebraic.

      I'm not so sure pi is out there in the real world. Pi is in lots of models we make of the real world.

      Pi reminds us that the universe is what it is, that it doesn’t subscribe to our ideas of mathematical convenience. . . .

      Indeed. Shame we seem to always forget this and starting demanding that the universe explain itself and tell us our purpose.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Algebraic_number

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transcendental_number

      • Loreen Lee

        Thanks for this. I've had the constant temptation to say: what- with all of the 'transcendental proofs', theological and mathematical, how can anyone say that they are making 'sense' of the world?. And this without considering the often chaotic state of everyone's life. Oh! well. I've said it now.....Or am I just repeating your thought????

        • Michael Murray

          I don't think that the use of transcendental to describe these numbers is of any particular significance. You could call them "non-algebraic" as they are the numbers which are not algebraic numbers. There is some history here

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transcendental_number#History

          • Loreen Lee

            I read but 'without much understanding'. But thanks for your introduction to such (a) concept(s). And it's OK. I still have the philosophy of Kant, which is a systematic effort to reconcile the 'empirical' with the 'transcendental'.....It was the use of the word 'sense' which I found a little 'nonsensical': i.e. humorous!!. Thanks again.

          • Loreen Lee

            And Einstein is 136 years old today. Please pass the pie!!! March 3/14/15 Enjoy.

            http://www.nbcnews.com/science/science-news/happy-birthday-einstein-relativity-faces-new-frontier-n323326

          • William Davis

            Yeah, "transcendental" carries a lot of philosophical baggage that doesn't apply to transcendental numbers. I agree that math may be all in our heads, but it works better to describe nature than anything else we've found so far.

    • Doug Shaver

      I don't get how "making sense" of mathematics has anything to do with anybody's ideas about "mathematical convenience." And I could not care less about Pythagoras's theory of intelligent design.

      • David Nickol

        The only thing I can figure out from this comment is that you seen to have some kind of chip on your shoulder. Do you actually have any points to make about the OP or the "imperfections" of mathematics?

        • Doug Shaver

          I thought I was responding to a point you were trying to make by quoting the article.

    • William Davis

      I'm of the school who thinks the universe is completely intelligible, but that it is very difficult for our biological brains to comprehend it, they didn't exactly evolve for that purpose. Here is one fact in math I always found fascinating

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Euler%27s_identity

      pi is irrational
      e is similar to pi, and is irrational
      i is worse, the square root of negative 1, it is imaginary, the square root of negative 1 can't exist (no number times itself can equal negative one)

      Yet here we are, with Euler's identity. The most important numbers in math all coexist in one simple, and quite true equation.
      I think this is a demonstration of partial intelligibility and an inherent beauty in mathematics.

      • William, don't we use the square root of negative one as a heuristic device to posit a finite, yet unbounded, universe? Not suggesting such a concept maps to any known physical realities, only supposing it might could be employed consistently, given a certain set of axioms.

        And how cool are Fibonacci recurrences!? Although trained as a biologist, my first exposure to those relationships was related to technical analyses of stock market behaviors. It's not terribly compelling to me in the latter sense but very fascinating in biological applications.

        Happy Pi Day, everyone!

        • William Davis

          I'm actually uncertain of the metaphysical implications of imaginary and complex numbers (this is probably something I should look into) but it seems like they were all we used in electrical engineering. People do not realize it, but every time they make a phone call, their voice is sampled and converted into a signal using fourier analysis. Both fourier transform

          http://upload.wikimedia.org/math/6/d/e/6deb703001eb6e6ed0ad032d0a03c482.png

          and fourier series

          http://upload.wikimedia.org/math/2/a/3/2a327002f224c81f2056bcdbd90b0314.png

          One amazing application of fourier transform is in mass spectrometry. Being able to analyze the light being emitted from an object to determine the elements it is composed of is pretty amazing and incredibly useful. Fourier analysis is also used in radar and other fields like astronomy, optics, and geology.

          They never taught us why we used imaginary numbers so much, most of the engineering professors took these things for granted much like 2+2 = 4. Whether or not imaginary numbers are really "out there", they sure are useful for modeling what is out there. I'm sure you know fourier analysis is just one of 100s of uses of complex numbers. Like complex/imaginary numbers it is amazing how something as abstract as fibonacci recurrences show up in the real world.

          • Instead of imagining the origin of our space-time-mass-energy plenum in terms of a spatial singularity, we employ a temporal point. Because the taking of the square root of one produces a complex number, metaphysically mapping as a higher dimension, physically manifest as asymmetric temporality (the proverbial arrow of time). 

            This avoids many of the problems with spatial singularities, such as classical theory and relativity breaking down as we approach T=0, and allows for quantum effects on a cosmic scale, due to an infinestimally small cosmos. 

            But what type of quantum event?

            Particles arise in vacuums by borrowing surrounding energy. To conserve energy, such a spontaneous particle and anti-particle annihilate each other within a quantum time limit, remaining virtual, while net energy remains the same.

            Now, in classical theory, black holes allow no thermal energy escape. What if black holes could evaporate by allowing the emission of quantum radiation? If, when a spontaneous particle pair arises, should one escape the black hole, while the other gets trapped, they will both become real, the former carrying mass-energy away, spatio-temporally, and asymmetrically (arrow of time), the latter shrinking the black hole.

            Conceptually, then, by using the square root of negative one, we can model a cosmic origin that's conceivably consistent with both classical and quantum theory.

            Metaphysically, while there would be no problematic T=0 and our conceptualizations of efficient causation would need tweaking, the T at singularity would be symmetric, which, of course, seems absurd. Absurdity, however, might be weakly truth-indicative, but it's not infallibly truth-conducive?

            Theologically, it wouldn't amount to a hill of beans to me, but the more philosophically naive, including theological and atheological cohorts, enjoy arguing over the implications for reality's intelligibility (just to say that I'm not being totally off-topic). ;-)

          • William Davis

            I wasn't aware of that use of imaginary numbers, thanks for the info. I probably should do more research on the Big Bang, that is one weakness in my knowledge.

          • >>> I'm sure you know fourier analysis is just one of 100s of uses of complex numbers <<<

            Well, no, I'm not mathematically inclined or even conversant with engineering. I take what they say on faith, such as when driving over the Mississippi River, here, on a new suspension bridge, where I have a confident assurance in things I hope for, a conviction of things unseen, like, for example, making it to the other side.

          • William Davis

            A person with no faith is a person doomed to serious anxiety, on this we clearly agree :)
            I think a large part of my belief in determinism comes from engineering. Everything in engineering depends on extremely precise determinism, especially electronics. This stuff is incredibly unforgiving, software eats you alive for one little mistake. It's amazing how end users can find "mistakes" that you never imagined or tested for. When I branch out into other fields, determinism seems much harder to find, and we are both aware of the problems for determinism in quantum mechanics. Interestingly "error" seems to be an important part of biology and natural selection, while error is the nemesis of all bridge builders and other engineers (thankfully, lol). I think our background training does have a large effect on how we view philosophical topics. While determinism is an everyday reality in my world, it does not mean I should apply it to every level of reality, though it is hard not to do.

        • Ignatius Reilly

          Without any physical phenomena we would still have mathematical reasons to want Complex Numbers.

          For instance, it allows us to factor x^2 + 1. (x + i)(x - i).

          In general, Complex numbers allow us to write any polynomial with real coefficients as a product of linear factors.

          http://www.sosmath.com/algebra/factor/fac09/fac09.html

          • Thanks for using an algebraic example. Nothing else could've helped me. :)

    • William Davis

      I'd also like to point out that there are multiple ways to derive pi, doing it in calculus was fun. Some of the derivations end up with elegant results, especially the one's involving series.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pi

  • Strictly speaking, per my reading, Feser's not claiming his philosophical theology is metaphysically decisive, that his argument has been made, only that it enjoys epistemic parity with any competing explanatory accounts of primal reality. And many theological accounts, both natural theologies prior to faith and theologies of nature within the faith, do strongly converge on, even overlap with, highly speculative, modern theoretic cosmologies.

    No, these explanatory accounts do not achieve explanatory adequacy as they can only cycle dyadically between transductive-abductive (meaning analogical-hypothetical) inference and deductive clarifications. Now, whether that's due to epistemological constraints or ontological occulting, we can't a priori know, so we assume the former so as not to prematurely block inquiry. That's what mapping the territory of reality's primal horizons yields, presently, at this stage of human inquiry. Yes, such accounts tend to have their conclusions embedded --- not only in their premises, but --- in the very definitions of their concepts. That's the inescapable nature of interpretive heuristics, which aren't necessarily untrue only probabilistically uninformative.

    Such interpretive heuristic precede all scientific inquiry and form part and parcel of common sense, itself, which uses the fast and frugal heuristics of alternating conjecture and criticism. If tautological in nature, still, not all are equally taut. There are criteria like external congruence, internal coherence, logical consistency, interdisciplinary consilience, abductive fecundity and a host of other epistemic virtues that come into play, normatively and philosophically, that can increase the heuristic value of such stances. Few have done a better job than the late Stanley Jaki in inventorying the virtues of the philosophical preambles of our Abrahamic traditions.

    Many interpretive heuristics have opened the way to paradigm shifts and conceptual breakthroughs, often constructed by thought experiments in armchairs. Only when these stances become hypothetically falsifiable, empirically measurable, inductively testable and probabilistically accessible, for whatever reason, usually methodological enhancements, do our interpretive heuristics get appropriated by the descriptive sciences, where they can cycle triadically through abductive, deductive and inductive interest, contributing to our scientific modeling power.

    It's still way early in any attempt to probabilistically adjudicate between competing quantum interpretations. It's rather silly to imagine we could therefore tackle even the para-Big Bang, much less any putative atemporal, nonspational horizons. The silliest notion of all, though, is the plaintive scientistic whine that interpretive heuristics, normative philosophies and hypothetical metaphysics get out of science's way. What a facile, puerile category error, especially once considering that philosophy paves the way for science.

    Regarding most atheological critiques, then:

    Logically,without a competing explanatory attempt (only an a priori assertion of supposedly brute facts), <i<where is your victory?. Evidentially, with only critiques from incredulity (i.e. the implausible and counterintuitive), where is your sting? Pragmatically, no serious anthropologist of religion, not even the atheistic, would throw herself off the parapet of his ivory tower in order to argue against religion on those specious grounds.

    • Ignatius Reilly

      It seems to me that Feser claims that B is true and that D is only argued by atheists who do not want to become classical theists or pantheists.

      • I believe that 1) B is true 2) thoroughly reasonable and 3) eminently actionable, existentially, 4) ontologically suggestive, but not 5) metaphysically decisive or formally provable, philosophically. Are you suggesting his approach differs from mine?

        • Ignatius Reilly

          Yes, I think he holds that B is metaphysically decisive and formally provable.

          • Hmmm, I find that hard to believe.
            At the same time, I find it hard to believe how very certain many seem to be regarding their natural law syllogisms and deliverances pertaining to sex and gender moral realities, especially the amount of normative impetus they imagine the rest of us should concede to same.

            Intelligibility requires an explanation, which generally can be 1) a posteriori and probabilistic, e.g. physical sciences 2) a priori and essentialistic, e.g. formal, syllogistic proofs or 3) intentional, e.g. personal motives and reasons.

            Whichever explanatory route one takes regarding primal realities, how does one avoid some form of bruteness? To the extent that explanatory adequacy overcomes cognitive dissonance, incredulity and dumbfoundedness, the positing of a putative self-subsisting existence still leaves my feeble brain infinitely loopy, even if it's more intuitively satisfying.

            For all intents and purposes, though, in realizing life's deepest meanings and highest values, even its lesser goods and temporal, ephemeral satisfactions, evaluatively speaking, I observe that I'm not much concerned with formally proving all of the axioms of all of the mathematical fields undergirding all of the engineering marvels that practically foster my communal enjoyments and sustain my unitive moments with others. That's to simply say that those explanations aren't terribly interesting to me. 

            Hawking made a similar point regarding a putative final theory, which might one day be so helpful, so useful in its predictions, that we won't be engaging in theoretic hand-wringing because it won't have a formal proof (due to godelian-like incompleteness).

            So, there's a type of epistemological sufficient reason that relates to reality's intelligibility to us, descriptively, and there's a type of axiological sufficient reason that relates to reality's value to us, evaluatively and affectively. Should I ever attain a beatific vision, that shall be sufficient, indeed!

          • Ignatius Reilly

            He seems to think that the other 5 are incoherent. If that is true, then only his option is remaining. I think he is wrong on nearly every count.

            Intelligibility requires an explanation, which generally can be 1) a posteriori and probabilistic, e.g. physical sciences 2) a priori and essentialistic, e.g. formal, syllogistic proofs or 3) intentional, e.g. personal motives and reasons.

            But I do not think we can ask for intelligibility out of the answers. For instance, if we ask what is the formula which computes the area of a rectangle, the answer would be length x width. That formula is part of why rectangles are intelligible. It does not make sense to ask intelligibility questions about the formula. Likewise, it does not make sense to ask intelligibility questions about the laws of the universe.

          • Yes, I see what you mean about his coherency arguments.

            When he says For one has to say, not that the world has some ultimate explanation that is non-theistic, but rather that it has no ultimate explanation at all, it does make sense to distinguish competing accounts as explanatory vs brute, as far as intelligibility might be concerned. Where I am invoking epistemic parity between the accounts, however, is in the observation that neither realizes explanatory adequacy, as far as comprehensibility might be concerned. In the latter sense, one has abandoned abductive-transductive hypothesizing, while the other continues to reason analogically and inferentially, constructing and reconstructing interpretive heuristics in an ongoing explanatory attempt.

            I do not follow your reasoning that it does not make sense to ask intelligibility questions about the formula or the laws of the universe. That seems the equivalent of suggesting that, because of godelian constraints, we should abandon the quest for a theory of everything. In one's anxiety to annihilate metaphysics, much less theology, one must take care not to vanquish science along with it.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            I prefer my metaphysics to be as light as possible. I want to use assumptions that are self-evident and/or necessary to proceed. So, I would assume without much fuss that the universe that we observe is real, and we are not in some kind of matrix or whatever. However, I see no reason to assume PSR and I consider it very bad metaphysics to assume that potentials cannot be self-actualized because of Quantum Mechanics. I suppose I want to whittle down metaphysics to what I can be most sure of and see where that lands me. If I need more assumptions to make any sense of the universe, I suppose I will have to toss them in there for pragmatic reasons.
            I'm only recently an atheist, so I don't have a complete philosophy anymore. My Catholic philosophy consisted of a stance against the dogmatism and Thomism that is in the Roman Catholic Church. Relationships with God are personal and influenced by culture - I would have left it at that and not spent time on silly arguments like the five ways. A theist me, would probably raise very similar objections to this article that I have thus far raised. The terms are ill defined and the conclusions do not fall from the premises.

            Whenever we ask a question, we have an answer type that we are looking for. When I solve an algebraic equation, I expect my answer to be a number. When I ask how far NYC is from where I am standing, I expect the answer to be a distance. Similarly, when we ask questions about the physical universe and its intelligibility, we expect laws or relationships written in mathematics. If I say the universe is completely intelligible, I mean that it is completely intelligible with regard to it having laws/relationships that could be discovered by minds great enough.
            It is a different question of intelligibility to ask, "why does the universe exist? or why does it have laws? " At this point, I am not remote sure what the answer should look like, so I think it fails a criteria that I would have for sensible questions. Obviously, some theists want God to be the answer, but that is an answer in search of a question. Furthermore, this has nothing to do with the partial intelligibility of the universe via the laws of physics. Feser commits a massive category error by conflating the two.

          • You charge category error but I don't see it. Feser's hypotheses are not just abductive but transductive, proceeding by analogy not conflation. Feser hasn't demonstrated that the principles of sufficient reason and causation are more than methodological stipulations. You haven't demonstrated that naturalism is more than a methodological stipulation. And those two points remain however you and Feser finally choose to disambiguate intelligibility.

            You cannot a priori maintain that only probabilistic reasoning is meaningful, that abductive-transductive hypothesizing is not sensible without falling into the epistemic abyss of logical positivism and radical empiricism (and theological ignosticism). The descriptive sciences, normative philosophies and interpretive heuristics of highly speculative theoretic cosmology and philosophical theology are subtly related and logically intertwined. In other words, you risk being arbitrary in defining your categorial demarcation criteria.

            By pointing out some of the subtleties in the relationship between scientific cosmology and theology, we do not intend to claim that the two are nonoverlapping magisteria (to borrow a phrase from Stephen Jay Gould). To the contrary, contemporary cosmology is fascinating precisely because it has such intricate logical relations with traditional metaphysical and theological issues..http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/cosmology-theology/

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Perhaps it isn't properly called a category error. Feser says:

            Suppose I told you that the fact that a certain book has not fallen to the ground is explained by the fact that it is resting on a certain shelf, but that the fact that the shelf itself has not fallen to the ground has no explanation at all but is an unintelligible brute fact. Have I really explained the position of the book? It is hard to see how. For the shelf has in itself no tendency to stay aloft – it is, by hypothesis, just a brute fact that it does so. But if it has no such tendency, it cannot impart such a tendency to the book. The “explanation” the shelf provides in such a case would be completely illusory.

            The book stays aloof because of the normal force the shelf exerts on the book. The system is in equilibrium and the laws of physics explain it.

            The answer to Feser's question is physics. It is a complete explanation for why the book stays aloft. This is the type of partial intelligibility that we have.

            Feser then conflates:

            “The operation of law of nature C is explained by the operation of law of nature B, and the operation of B by the operation of law of nature A, but the operation of A has no explanation whatsoever and is just an unintelligible brute fact.” The appearance of having “explained” C and B is completely illusory if A is a brute fact, because if there is neither anything about A itself that can explain A’s own operation nor anything beyond A that can explain it, then A has nothing to impart to B or C that could possibly explain their operation.

            There is absolutely now reason that these laws should be "intelligible." They are the intelligible part of the universe. He uses the idea that the physical universe is intelligible (via science) and then smuggles in a very broad idea of intelligibility.

            I do not know what it means to ask "is the law of gravitation intelligible" aside from how we perceive it in physical systems. Until Feser provides a definition of this type of intelligibility, I can't comment on it, but can only point out that a definition is needed.

            I think you and I read Feser very differently. You seem to think that he is simply advocating for epistemic parity; I see him as a smug dogmatist.

          • You likely have read a LOT more Feser than I have.

            What I have read of his seems philosophically rigorous regarding the defense of the reasonableness of his/my general interpretive stance.

            It sounds like what you see, beyond the above, is an argument by him that his interpretation is necessarily philosophically preeminent.

            I would still be on his side in that regard, too, for all practical purposes.

            For his part, he might be arguing from a foundational epistemology, while I can only defend a nonfoundational approach or, at most, a weak foundationalism.

            I haven't delved into those philosophic distinctions, examining his thought in that light.
            But his polemical style has raised my sneaking suspicions in that regard, similar to the comment I made earlier regarding the amount of normative impetus folks like him imagine their natural law deliverances might have for sex and gender moral realities.

            I'm sympathetic to your complaint regarding style points and appreciate it could well be grounded in substance (Aristotelian pun intended).

          • Ignatius Reilly

            It sounds like what you see, beyond the above, is an argument by him that his interpretation is necessarily philosophically preeminent.

            I would still be on his side in that regard, too, for all practical purposes.

            Of course! One should think their views to be correct, while allowing that their view may get proven wrong in the future and that other also have valid views.

            Are you a Thomist? You always struck me as someone more influenced by pragmatism and existentialism. Feser is a pretty committed Thomist.

            My first Fesser article is linked below. It did not make for a good first impression.

            http://strangenotions.com/if-everything-requires-a-cause-what-caused-god/

          • I know of about a dozen Thomist schools, including the existential school (I incline toward Maritain) analytic (like Haldane & Anscombe) and even a semiotic focus (Deely). And phenomenological, too. It's not a monolithic approach and requires more disambiguation than the word intelligibility.
            But, no, I'm not a Thomist. While a metaphysical realist, I'm otherwise metaphysically agnostic regarding which root metaphor (substance, process, experience, social-relational, etc) might best model reality. I superficially appropriate only the broadest modal categories and logic of Charles Sanders Peirce into a vague phenomenology, which I employ as a meta-critique of metaphysics.

            My theology of nature resonates with a panentheism, which I call my pan-semio-entheism, because it brackets metaphysics. I am most sympathetic to a tehomic panentheism, where tehomic refers to a deep, formless void (chaos?), which would correspond to the nihilo in creatio ex nihilo (rather than an absolute nothing).

            My comparative theology is polydoxic, pluralistic, downplaying the significance of apparent conflicts between the great traditions.

            The most prominent nonfoundationalist approach in Roman Catholicism, as grounded in Peirce's pragmatic semiotic realism, was articulated by my fellow New Orleanian and yat, the late Donald Gelpi, S.J.. He was a prolific author, so has much on Amazon and no too little on Google.

            My approach is summarized here:
            http://www.academia.edu/7739396/With_John_Sobert_Sylvest_Reasons_and_Values_of_the_Heart_in_a_Pluralistic_World_Toward_a_Contemplative_Phenomenology_for_Interreligious_Dialogue_Studies_in_Interreligious_Dialogue_20_2_2010_170-93

          • >>> Whatever one thinks of these sorts of arguments, there is no inconsistency in them, nor any ad hoc exceptions to general principles. <<<

            Feser's right. The defense is spot-on. It doesn't mean that cosmological arguments necessarily succeed, only that they don't fail in the precise manner so many have wrongly imagined and mistakenly argued.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            That was the wrong article. I can't find the first Feser article that completely infuriated me. Feser tends to mock those that disagree with him, which I wouldn't mind if his mockery had the rudiments of wit. But I digress. The problem with that article is that Feser replaces the "unsophisticated atheist strawman" with:

            What they would say is that every actualization of a potential has a cause,

            In light of modern physics, this statement is untenable.

          • That causal inference may not be ampliative, but it's not untenable. It's an interpretive heuristic, a level of abstraction above descriptive science. That said, I prefer Peirce's triadic formulation, which goes beyond Aristotelian act and potency to add relation, somewhat related to what Scotus called a formal distinction.

            Not to worry, the Thomists argue with the Scotists just as vehemently as they do with the materialists.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Untenable is too strong a word. The problem I have with a metaphysics that accepts such a principle is that I see observational reason as to why it is probably false. This experimental evidence is not conclusive but it is suggestive. Meanwhile, I do not see a reason to accept the premise.

            Saying the premise is metaphysical, when metaphysical is becoming a code for untestable, unable to be disproved logically, and unproven but consistent I'm not sure what I say. Mathematics has method, science has method, and I thought philosophy had method, but I am not longer sure what it is. I do not know how Feser's statement could be proven of disproven to Feser. I know how I go about philosophy/science etc, but I don't understand what a Thomist that holds to Feser's statement would find persuasive. I haven't seen the principle argued for - usually all the focus is on shutting down counter-examples.

            To me, the statement is about the nature of the physical universe. As such, it is an empirical statement that can be question by a combination of science and philosophy. If I observe seemingly causeless things, based on my philosophical notions of causality, then I don't hold to Feser's principle.
            I would point out that Aristotle would not have divorced physics from metaphysics. I'm not sure if Aquinas would either, but I am more conversant in Aristotle.

          • Much more simply, think of any observable effects as would be proper to no known causes. One would employ transductive-abductive inference and deductive clarifying in a dyadic hermeneutical cycle. Put another way, one would hypothesize from analogy, devising competing interpretative heuristics for a given set of descriptive facts. Should inductive testing become available, one would probabilistically extend one's hermeneutical cycle to triadic inference and new information could be added to one's system, as knowledge would advance, inexorably but fallibilistically. The rules of inference provide the norms, philosophically, as we proceed, first, descriptively, empirically observing facts, then interpretively, via an inference to the best explanation, then probabilistically, at our earliest scientific convenience.

            Forget the word, metaphysics, methodologically speaking. The same cartographic methods described above are operating throughout inquiry. It's the nature of the territory being mapped that stumps the epistemic panel, now here, now there, then elsewhere. Ontological horizons recede and we call what lies beyond meta. Just use the word beyond as in beyond my fence, beyond my yard, beyond biology, beyond physics. The fact that a reality lies beyond doesn't change our methods, our probes, our questions, our definitions of intelligible or explanatory. (btw, re: those latter definitions, I use them here as broadly conceived in common sensical ways).

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Much more simply, think of any observable effects as would be proper to no known causes.

            Virtual particles?

          • yes, spontaneous quantum field disturbances or even a rock flying over one's fence ...

          • Ignatius Reilly

            but if it has no known causes, wouldn't we then reject the Thomist's premise?

          • I don't understand your question. Which premise?

          • Ignatius Reilly

            every actualization having a cause

          • gotcha

            not suggesting it's uncaused only that the cause is unknown and is being explored

            also, especially where field concepts are involved, not only efficient but formal causes are being invoked

        • Ignatius Reilly

          Depending on the definition of intelligibility - I could see many reasons for holding B to be true.

  • Luke Cooper

    I think a point of confusion is that Dr. Feser doesn't adequately operationalize what would and would not meet his threshold of intelligibility. For example, if a scientist developed a "theory of everything" that explained everything in our known universe without anomalies, would Dr. Feser say that our universe would then be intelligible? Or would our universe still remain unintelligible by his definition of the term, because we still might not know why the theory of everything is the theory of everything?

  • Mike

    To paraphrase what Copleston said to Russell, if you refuse to play the explanatory game, then naturally you cannot lose it. But by the same token, it is ludicrous to claim that you’ve won it.

    Yes seems that atheism wants to only go so far but no further - they (materialist/naturalists) try to "smuggle" in morality in a similar fashion IMHO.

    • Doug Shaver

      But by the same token, it is ludicrous to claim that you’ve won it.

      Not a problem, if the game can't be won anyway.

  • Peter

    To the strict materialist the above questions about the world, i.e. universe, do not exist because there is nothing outside the universe to ask these questions about it. To the materialist we are not separate from the universe but part of it, the conscious part, so any questions we ask represent the universe asking questions about itself.

    Whatever level of comprehension we achieve of the universe represents the universe acquiring a degree of intelligibility of itself. Whether the universe is capable of fully understanding itself is a meaningless question to a materialist. To a universe growing in self-comprehension, each level of understanding would represent the maximum intelligibility it can have of itself. It would not know that there is greater intelligibility until it acquired it.

    This, then, is an argument against materialism. How can a universe growing in self-comprehension be aware that its self-comprehension is finite and that there is a lot more that it can know about itself? Surely the only agent that can do that is one with an overview of the universe, an agent whose origin is outside of it.

    Perhaps the human mind is not an integral part of the universe as materialists claim, but originates from outside the universe. Perhaps each human mind is a reflection, an image and likeness, of the Creator himself.

    • Doug Shaver

      Whatever level of comprehension we achieve of the universe represents the universe acquiring a degree of intelligibility of itself.

      Metaphorically, perhaps. I don't think it's literally true.

      How can a universe growing in self-comprehension be aware that its self-comprehension is finite and that there is a lot more that it can know about itself?

      The question is irrelevant if the universe has no self-comprehension.

      Perhaps the human mind is not an integral part of the universe as materialists claim, but originates from outside the universe.

      Yes, perhaps so. But I see no reason to think so. Possibility is not probability.

      • Peter

        Of course it's literally true. As materialists, we would simply represent that material part of the universe which is conscious. Nothing more and nothing less. Where do you get metaphorically from?

        • Doug Shaver

          Where do you get metaphorically from?

          From the non-identity of the part with the whole.

          • Peter

            Doesn't the non-identity of the part with the whole sort of prove my point?

            A star represents that material part of the universe which synthesises elements. It is still identified as being part of the whole. So why not sentient life, unless of course it is not part of the whole to start with?

          • Doug Shaver

            Doesn't the non-identity of the part with the whole sort of prove my point?

            I don't see how, but maybe I'm misunderstanding you. Are you not arguing: We understand the universe, and we are part of the universe, therefore the universe understands itself?

          • Peter

            Yes, and we are not metaphorically part of the universe but literally physically part of it.

          • Doug Shaver

            we are not metaphorically part of the universe

            I didn't say we are. I said that we could say metaphorically that the universe understands itself.

  • Dr Feser seems to be using the term "intelligible" in a way that I am unfamiliar with. To me "intelligible" means makes sense to minds. I am unaware of any other kind of mind than a human mind. Even if a god exists, or we were able to create a form of real artificial intelligence, these would be the same kind of thing as our own minds, but with more capacity. Anything that might be intelligible to these other minds might not be understood by us but I would still say they are intelligible to us.

    If something is "intelligible" only to some other kind of mind or something that is categorically different than our own minds, I do not see why we would use the same term "intelligible".

    But notwithstanding this, I do not see how theists are doing anything other than taking the position that god is a brute fact of the cosmos, which is no more of an explanation than stating the shelf is a brute fact, in his example. God never explains anything to me in these discussions, it takes the place of an explanation.

    • Gray

      Dr Feser seems to be using the term "intelligible" in a way that I am unfamiliar with.

      That is probably because of the penchant of apologists to deliberately obfuscate and and attempt to confuse even their own adherents lest they go astray.

      The definition of "intelligible" seems clear enough to me....and seems to line up with your understerstanding of same....and that of any other reasonable person:Oxford dictionary:says: Oxford dictionary:Able to be understood; comprehensible.

  • Joe Aboumoussa

    Seems that D is reductionism & empiricism once again. Those philosophies not only do away with the possibility of God as an explanation for anything, but they reduce the human person in many cases to an advanced creature, just a hair different in DNA than a chimp, rather than a being created for its own sake and endowed with unique gifts and dignity. Belief in partial intelligibility of the universe and partial understanding of it (scientism perhaps?) truncates human experience and objective knowledge and paves roads that lead to troubling ends.

    For example, Neil Degrasse Tyson has given several lectures, some with Dawkins (search on Youtube - there's plenty), about why intelligent aliens, if they exist and are advanced in technology and knowledge, haven't contacted us yet. In one forum, Tyson responded (paraphrase) that an alien talking to a human would be like a human talking to a chimp, so why are we surprised that they wouldn't bother to contact us. Another time, he mockingly compared our greatest scientific discoveries to a child's refrigerator art and stated that aliens wouldn't need to bother communicating with us because we're so beneath them. Sounds self-deprecating (since he's a scientist) but there's a scary presupposition working in his mind. His logic could boil down to: aliens, if they exist, are at best A) Scientists with no imagination or curiosity to even attempt communicating or interacting with us in a positive way (we're not even worthy to be pets, just bugs under a rock or prokaryotes under a microscope, if that), B) patronizing snobs who aren't interested in associating with us riffraff (a waste of time), or at worst C) a master race that regards us as commodity or rubbish (a favorite subject for sci-fi).

    First this reduces the worth of being to the levels of IQ, science, and technology as the ultimate measurement of meaning, worth, and importance. Second, it insults aliens, if they exist, assuming that higher evolved intelligence makes one a soulless jerk or if not completely without passion and virtue, at least indifferent to the parts of the universe around them (Some scientists! They're apparently only interested in brute facts like some "brights" are here on Earth). Third, it reveals the darkness of materialistic ideologies which hold haughty views of physical science and low views of humanity and philosophy. Seems the human materialist is the one who judges man's self worth based on supposed IQ, not the hypothetical alien. It is beneath him to stoop down, literally and figuratively, to the child's level in order to relate to the other and meet the immature one where he or she is at. No wonder Dawkins can boldly say on Twitter that a woman who conceives a baby with down-syndrome should abort and try again. Is it any surprise that Tyson mocks by analogy a child's artwork made with love for a parent who loves the child? Keep these men away from hospitals, orphanages, soup kitchens, and kindergarden classes. They're too smart to associate with what Dickens's Scrooge called the "surplus population".

    Thank God that Infinite being stoops down in divine accommodation to communicate to finite creatures what we lack, and lifts us up in love, truth, and goodness to share in His own being as children of Perfection itself. When we reduce intelligibility, meaning, truth, knowledge, love, purpose, etc. to fundamental laws of physics, chemistry, etc. we create a world where there's no room for God, aliens, or the love of fellow men in whatever state of existence or condition humanity finds itself in, a.k.a- hell.

    What a lack of imagination and character on the part of reductionists and empiricists!